they called me “walking encyclopedia”.

I was called this in high school, along with worse names. It had something to do with my love for books, how I would rather curl up in the stacks in the Pasay City Adventist Academy library, reading what were called “mission stories”, ’50s books on feminine deportment and hygiene with quaint sketches on how to properly put on a brassiere, and everything that I could find on ancient Egypt, while my classmates were playing volleyball and gossiping and forging strong relationships that for some remain to this day.

I’ve always been a loner. I’m not anti-social – I have hundreds of acquaintances, a great many friends, and a few very close ones. But I often preferred to spend my time reading rather than doing something else. My relationships were with fictional or historical characters, with facts and romance and adventure, and with the fancies of my own imagination.

Here are some of the books on my bedside table. Most of them I read in 2008.

They shouldn’t be stacked up on my night stand like this. They should be in the bookcases in the living room. But there isn’t any more room on the shelves, where books are crammed two-deep. Others are piled against the wall.

The books used to be in the living room, but now they have invaded my bedroom, sprouting against the walls like fungi.

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This stack rests under the a/c in my bedroom. Another stack is by the long mirror next to the closet. A third one is…hmm, I’d better stop here.

Do I mind the disorganization and chaos, like a bookshop exploded in my home? No, because (one) I made the mess myself; (two) the books make me feel comfortable and somehow safe. A house without books will never be a home for me. When I enter other people’s residences and I cannot find a single codex or publication, the hairs on the back of my neck and arms rise. I am not kidding. I cannot imagine how one can live without reading. For me is essential and necessary to sustain life, like eating and breathing.

Yes, I exaggerate somewhat. But I think of my worst nightmares, my greatest fears, and living in a world without books is close to the top of the list.

We are fortunate to live in a country where the press is (relatively) free and the Internet is uncensored and there are many bookstores that offer a wide assortment from around the world. There are places on this planet where there are no books, or what they have is heavily censored and many other titles are suppressed, where the Internet and publications are fiercely monitored by state-appointed censors who block websites or black out nude people’s private parts on magazine pages with a marker.

There are places on this planet where women are not taught to read.

There are places on this planet where no one can read.

Let’s not waste our freedom to access information.

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3 Comments on they called me “walking encyclopedia”.

  1. TAO
    22 January 2009 at 6:37 am (3283 days ago)

    If only books could be shrunk to the size of a matchbox when not in use! That would be perfect since I also have the too many books and too little space problem. I know we have electronic methods of delivering information but the printed book is so perfect functionally and tactilely that I could never give them up. Even worse is when you move and wind up with boxes that would give an Olympic weightlifter pause before trying to raise them. It’s brave of you to display some of your books for all to see since everyone has a few books that you might not want people to know you read. Someon would probably give me a strange look if they saw I had “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales” on the shelf behind me. But it is one of the funniest and clever children’s books ever! :P

    You sentiments about reading and freedom of information are wonderful. I also live in a country that doesn’t censor or restrict what we can read and am very thankful for it. Keeping those rights is always an ongoing battle wherever you are and those who enjoy them should never forget it. Now that I’ve sounded like a PSA I’ll just thank you for the blog entry and go read something subversive or just plain fun.

  2. Jenny
    22 January 2009 at 4:55 pm (3282 days ago)

    Hi, Tom! I agree. If only there were an electronic alternative that would give the same tactile pleasure and ink-and-paper books. I’m seriously considering getting a Sony e-Reader, but the hassle of finding e-copies of my favorite books daunts me. Feedbooks is great, though for classics.

    I don’t mind letting other people know I still read children’s books and Agatha Christie mysteries. :) I’m no book snob. My tastes are eclectic – as long as they consist of words strung together in a coherent order, then, baby, come to mama! :)

    As a journalist and a reader, freedom of the press is important to me. We are fortunate to live in countries where we can read – and write -what we want. I hope the day comes when the world achieves 100% literacy and freedom of the press.

  3. al
    28 January 2009 at 3:15 am (3277 days ago)

    hi jen,

    i’d say books have their places. i do have a book (or some other reading material) with me to read on the bus/tram on my way to/from work, and occasionally at home (where we deliberately have no telly). however, it’s not always practical to have a book to read, esp not at work. i can’t be seen reading non-work material during working hours – i’m sure i’ll get told off if i do that.

    so, i’m reading two e-novels on the internet. very handy! it keeps me occupied (and more importantly, awake!) whilst looking busy. i just hide the e-novel screen behind another real-work screen when someone passes by :-) . my habit hasn’t been discovered – not yet.

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