I love reading. I was very fortunate to grow up in a home filled with books, and with people who had the time and patience to read those books to me. My early favorites were the fairy tales, of course – Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast and Snow White. But I remember loving one Berenstain Bears story book so much that I memorized it, word for word, even before I was actually able to read well enough on my own. You can just imagine how many times that story was read to me – by my parents, my aunts and uncles, my cousins.
There are others who are not as lucky. There is a statistic that says that “(c)hildren from low-income households average just 25 hours of shared reading time with parents before starting school, compared with counterparts from middle-income homes who average about 1,000 to 1,700 hours of shared reading time.” These figures were arrived at in the 1990s, by an author named Marilyn Jager Adams, and quoted in her book “Beginning to Read: Thinking And Learning About Print.” She may have made these findings decades ago, may have limited her scope of research to kids in America, but I suspect that these figures remain true even today, in 2014. I suspect, though I hope that I am mistaken, that these figures may be even more dismal for us here in the Philippines.
I hope that this will change in the coming days. Reading accounts for so much more than we think. There is a study that says that one’s reading aptitude in the third grade can help determine one’s likelihood to succeed later on in life. The study found that a student who can’t read on grade level by the 3rd grade is four times less likely to graduate high school than a child who does read proficiently by that time.” There is an often-cited American report which says that prisons look at a city’s third grade reading scores to determine how many prison cells they’re going to need in the future: if more tests are low, they know that they will have to build bigger prisons. The true source of this fact can no longer be verified, but I cannot help but think of how very plausible it sounds.
Reading is what teaches us to imagine. Allow me to quote one of my idols because I cannot say it better. Neil Gaiman, in pleading the case for reading said that when you read “(y)ou get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.” Even as you go about the world around you, you are able to understand that “the world doesn’t have to be like this. Things can be different.”
Reading challenges us to change. It dares us to be better. It calls us to question the realities around us. In her novel “How Reading Changed My Life”, Pulitzer-prize winning author Anna Quindlen notes that “sedition has been the point of the written word”. I like that idea. I think of Rizal and of other revolutionary writers whose words helped liberate their people. But I think too of how writers and readers are able to do the same thing today. When we read, we rebel against the established orders of our minds, we revolt against our preconceived notions of the world. When we read, we help prevent our culture’s descent into irrelevance. I cannot help but think of our own writers here in the Philippines, who continue to write despite the knowledge that it will never make them rich, that many of those whom they write for will never be able to read what they have written. They write anyway.
As a new writer and a lifelong reader, I dare to imagine a different world. I want you to imagine with me. I see a world where Filipino authors are as ubiquitous as foreign ones, where their books are as widely read as foreign titles. A world where a child can dream of being a writer because it is a career that will sustain, as well as excite him. If you can imagine that, then maybe you can imagine how many years ago, a little girl sat quietly in a corner, reading a book, and wishing so badly that she could write one. That girl now stands before you. Imagined things can become real.
I invite all of you to a reading revolution. I invite you to crack open a book and fall in love with it. Let it tell you how it can make your life better. Let it tell you how you can make the world better. Your new world awaits. Just turn the page.