Keep reading

By: Michael L. Tan - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/CDN Digital | April 28,2021 - 08:00 AM

With the pandemic, World Book Day passed almost unnoticed last April 23, a date chosen because it is the death anniversary (same month, day, and year!) of two of the world’s greatest writers: Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare.

I did wonder how the pandemic has affected book reading and am pleasantly surprised to find out, from online news stories, that while bookstores suffered because they had to close during lockdowns, online sales actually went up in many countries.

I have no figures for Philippine online sales but I have ordered books, with satisfactory results, from local and international bookstores. My children, barred from going to public places, became hooked to online shopping and among their greatest thrills has been receiving books.

One daughter pressured me to get her an Audible subscription, for online audiobooks, but has hardly used it. Her explanation: she prefers old fashioned books where you can turn the pages.

Which I think is wonderful even if the subscription did cost me. Although I used her credits for audio books, I haven’t gotten around either to listening to any of the books. I figure I’ll get to audiobooks when I’m older and have visual difficulties, by which time I’ll probably also have hearing problems. Sigh.

But really, there’s so much more joy in reading rather than listening. I will add that a lot of the “reading” we do on the internet is really scrolling; in fact, there’s even a new word coined, doomscrolling, to describe the habit we have now of looking for bad news especially around COVID-19.

The internet is destroying reading because much of what is posted are really short texts, with users (not readers) attracted more by photos and sound bites. Add on the deluge of fake news, misinformation, and disinformation with little time for people to process. Worse, the way the internet works is that based on your choice of websites you are channeled to other similar sites. The goal is to get you to buy more stuff similar to what you already bought and the same principles are used with ideas, you are sent to echo chambers where you get more and more opinions similar to your own, prejudices and all.

There are, to be sure, good stuff to read on the internet. Novels are hard to read online or on electronic formats but there’s good literature, not too long, to be found. Look for poetry, short stories.

The more serious newspapers, meaning not the gossipy tabloids, like The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, plus magazines like The Atlantic and The New Yorker, have substantive news articles and essays. The Guardian, reflecting how the British read voraciously, have many “Long Read” articles.

Practice another language you might have learned and need to brush up. With The New York Times, many articles appear with options to read in another language, usually Spanish or Chinese, but I found one old article, “They Are Slaughtering Us Like Animals,” about the war on drugs, that was available in Filipino as well.

Try to find at least one journal in your profession. Because I have several, I end up reading journals in the social sciences, medicine, public health, veterinary medicine, and education. I’m gratified that more and more, these journals cross disciplinary boundaries, even featuring literary pieces and human interest articles.

The pandemic has led many newspapers, magazines, and journals to offer part of even all (as in the case of The Guardian) of their publication’s content for free, but with many ads, which is fine.

Here I am talking more about adult reading fare. Do give more attention to looking for what children can read and that can include the newspapers and magazines I named.

There’s also a lot of good literature posted. Visit the Academy of American Poets website and sign up for a free daily mailing of curated poems, with a good mix of ethnic backgrounds for the poets, including Filipino-Americans, and read with your kids. I like the way the poets also write up a short background about why they did the poem.

Local bookstores, including the ones with overstocks (e.g. Books for Less) have been reopening, but kids are still barred from entering. For now they’ll have to depend on online orders. I hope in the very near future children will be allowed out, and into bookstores, museums, and other places to stimulate the mind actively more than games or streaming video channels.

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TAGS: COVID-19, doomscrolling, Miguel de Cervantes, william shakespeare, World Book Day

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