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  • By Diana G Mendoza

'They don't read Camus'

Manila — I have vague memories of when I first read a book, but what I can recall is that some time when I was in grade school, I got hold of a book of short stories written by Filipino authors that my dad read in the afternoons. One day after he put down the book to take his nap, I leafed through the book’s loose and torn pages and started reading.

The stories were wonderful. I was in a different world. I learned things that grade school didn’t teach me. Suddenly, school became archaic. In the next days, I read all the short stories even before my dad finished the book because I still saw him reading it while I searched for other books to read in the house.

I didn’t have many reading adventures on top of textbooks. My real journey with books started in college, as soon as I put down the Mills and Boons and Nancy Drews and fell in love with the humanities section of the university library. I read beyond the required readings and the library helped a lot since I didn’t have money to buy my own books.

This was so even when I started working, although I was able to buy books once in a while. Reading is a requisite for writers and journalists, and for those in the profession who are into books, the world is in harmony.

In one newspaper that I worked in, the editor gifted us news reporters with books, already in neat plastic covers. As the editor constantly asked us which books and authors we like, we didn’t hesitate to tell him. Some of us found copies of the books on our desks the next day.

But we didn’t want to take advantage so we went to the bookstores to hang out. There were times when we just leaf through and read a book we couldn’t afford, or hold the book while we walk around the aisles until we put them back and not buy.

When used bookshops became a craze, we tried selling books, knowing that another person might love the book. A friend found out that her book landed in the hands of a film actress, who was elated to learn that the book was owned by a journalist.

Through the years, my journalist-friends remained book lovers and bibliophiles. Books helped us decide on whether or not we were interested in a guy. We still judge people by the books they read. In this day and age of Kindle, we insist on reading real, printed books. We love the smell of print and texture of paper. The only explanation I can give is that it is the unbreakable habit of the analog generation.

We remained true to our vice, which is books, even with the advent of splurging for designer stuff. We use clothes we like and practical tote bags to put our junk in; it didn’t matter which rack we bought them from. Because we don’t fancy signature products, we tend to scoff at the younger people who loved shopping more than reading but wanted to be like us and told us they also read books. When we checked what they were reading, one proudly said she had a Sidney Sheldon, the other said Joan Collins.

My friend whose used book was bought by an actress once gifted me with an Albert Camus, and wished the shopping generation would also read the French philosopher and Nobel Prize-winning author and journalist known for his philosophy of “absurdism” and existentialism. It was probably a copy of The Stranger but on the book’s front flyleaf, she wrote to me, “They don’t read Camus.” I reminded her that sadly, today’s youth are not like us anymore; they don’t read much either, Camus or any other author.

Diana Mendoza is a longtime journalist based in Manila.

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