Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Remembering Dick and Jane
I was at that time just barely five years old and they were my first introduction to the world of reading. The books belonged to my older brother and sister who were already in the first and second grades of elementary school but when the sudden mood would strike me, I would clumsily leaf through them, look at the brightly colored illustrations and slowly trace one finger over the large printed text below them while trying to silently mouth out the words.
Look at Dick and Jane. See them play. See Spot run. Dick and Jane were, of course, brother and sister. Spot was their dog. Puff was their cat. Sally was their baby sister. Together with their parents and friends they lived happy and fun lives in a neighborhood that was reminiscent of my childish understanding of what was the best of post-World War II, white and middle-class, suburban Middle America.
It helped that the illustrations I saw that were idealized depictions of an America of a long and bygone era, of a time even before I was born because it was essentially the same America I saw affirmed in the old movies I occasionally watched with the rest of the family in the movie houses of that time and on late afternoon motion picture reruns on the newfangled color television set our immediate neighbor in the city owned and whose flickering images we could barely make out when we stood on tiptoes and peered into their living room from our vantage point just outside their first story window.
Nowadays, of course, the Dick and Jane readers are considered passé. In an age that stresses political correctness, racial equality and multiculturalism, they have become embarrassingly irrelevant and culturally insensitive. They have value only as collectible historical curios and it is said that well preserved first editions of these books can be worth $200 or more.
Whatever the deficiencies and inadequacies these readers had, they did much to arouse my interest in reading. These readers were the first to beckon and introduce me the wonderful world of books. They cajoled and enticed me to set my then small, wobbly and ungainly feet firmly on a path of reading and learning I was never to venture away from. They started me on a habit that eventually became a consuming obsession that was to open my mind to a vast and unlimited universe of untapped knowledge and boundless imagination.
I remembered the Dick and Jane books when I learned yesterday that President Benigno Aquino III had just signed into law Republic Act 10556 which declares every November 27 of every year as "Araw Ng Pagbabasa" (Day of Reading) which seeks to highlight government programs to promote literacy and reading skills among students all over the country. November 27 is actually the birth date of the late Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., the President's father who everyone knows is considered a national hero in the Philippines for his opposition to the Marcos dictatorship in the 1970's and the early 1980's. He was well known as a book lover and he would have been extremely pleased to have his birth anniversary commemorated every year in such a manner.
I find it sadly ironic that, in a world where practically all of the greatest flowerings of of human creativity in the field of literature and the written word since the dawn of recorded history can be had and made available in an instant to almost anyone anywhere, the habit of reading as well as the inclination to read has become so largely passé and irrelevant like the Dick and Jane books I was once so enthralled with.
Yet the youth of today in this country, except for a few and lucky minority, have only disdain if not contempt for the written and printed word. They prefer the multi-sensual and multimedia titillation and appeal of cable television and the internet. They prefer empty, virtual experiences that leave nothing to the imagination, that fail to stimulate the mind and force it to think and ponder. They have essentially become mental sponges absorbing all yet producing little that is singularly creative or original in return.
It is high time that the government should try to encourage and promote healthy reading habits in its schools and among all Filipinos irregardless of their age and level of education. It does not matter if one has to thumb through the pages of real books or merely flick through with a finger on a touchscreen or through a mouse cursor on a computer monitor the virtual pages of an e-book or e-magazine. What matters is that everyone, particularly the young, rediscovers once more the pleasures, the wonders and rewards of reading.
Nowadays, in fact, I do most of my reading on an e-book reader on a tablet PC. That is not because I like it more that way but because it is easier (and cheaper!) to get new books and other reading items through digital files than through the actual acquisition of the real materials themselves.
But there is nothing that appeals to me more and gives me more tangible and tactile pleasure than the feel of an honest to goodness, real book in my hands. Ah! The warm, smooth and papery texture of the pages, the clean, fresh, inky scent of new books or the musty yet appealing aroma of well-worn but well-loved and much thumbed-though ones. In the end, these are all the same to me.
Merely an inviting prelude, a sensual appetizer to the unfettered worlds of fun, adventure and learning that I am about to jump heedlessly into.