May 18

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Finding My Home In Books: Luminosity and Awakenings by Myra Garces-Bacsal

I’ve always had a love affair with books. I began reading at age two (or so my mother claims). When I was six years old, my well-meaning teachers would ask me to read long passages from thick books in front of a classroom filled with sixth-graders and high-school students to show how such a wee-little-thing could read with what-I-would-assume-to-be relative fluency. I was quite the little reading freak back then. I was treated with equal parts awe, fear, resentment, and downright antagonism when I would not read on demand during recess for the older kids. This was my first awakening on how books can transform one from a revered precocious reader to an object of scorn and ridicule.

 

When I was ten, I started reading my older cousins’ Harlequin and Mills and Boon novels. This was when I grew tired of reading the Childcraft and Charlie Brown Encyclopedia that my parents fed me at the time. I also devoured the Sweet Valley High series and immersed myself in the Wakefield twins’ fast-paced drama. When my teacher discovered that I was reading adult-themed novels (I attended an all-girls Catholic school), I received a long, stern lecture after class about how reading trashy romance novels would transform me into a boy-crazy girl who would most likely get pregnant at age 15. This was my next awakening of how books can have the power to transform a reader from a conservative, keep-your-nose-clean Catholic school-girl to a heavy-lidded, hip-swaying wench clinging desperately onto half-naked men (as was illustrated in the book covers).

 

When I was thirteen, I fell in love with the classics that my older cousin would let me borrow on occasion. I relished how the words of Mark Twain rolled off my tongue, how my heart would ache alongside Jo in Little Women, and how I had roaring, seaside adventures in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped. Alas, I had to return the books back in a few months’ time. And so I learned how to record myself reading the books aloud in cassette tapes so that I can own the words (it took too much time to write them down in my notebooks, yes I tried that too) – and this was before the very concept of audio books was even invented. This provided illumination on how a book can actually take on different forms.

 

When I was in high school, I discovered bestselling novelists like Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steele, John Grisham. This was the time when the walls of my home were falling apart and I readily lost myself in the pages of a book. It was comforting to see how the words made sense, how bad guys got their comeuppance in the end (or not), and how broken hearts eventually found a way to heal amidst the wreckage. This made me realize how books can create that fog-induced haze that serves as a lifeline to a gasping reader, and how books can effectively allow one an escape to anywhere but here.

 

When I was in university, I was overwhelmed by the reading materials found in our library. Since I had no basis for comparison, my booknerd heart was easily pleased. I did not mind that the titles were decades old, the book spines suffered from scoliosis, the pages yellowed and dying. No matter. I devoured Wharton, D.H. Lawrence, Dickens. At the same time, I was fumbling my way around the darkness of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Clive Barker while continually being brought back to light by the likes of James Redfield, Neale Donald Walsch and Thomas Moore. This was when I recognized how reading can allow one to welcome the shadows while bathing in moonshine and faerie glitter, and that I loved being in the in-between.

 

In graduate school, I moved on to Paulo Coelho, Isabel Allende, Salman Rushdie, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Anne Tyler. Then Poetry found me with Pablo Neruda, Rabindranath Tagore, Luis Cernuda. These writers showed me that strange worlds have no boundaries and that exquisitely-worded phrases and dream-like states can leap off the pages. In poetry, I found my heart’s song.

 

When I became a mother, I grew tired of adult novels and their attempts to understand the world through big words, shrieking profundities, and deep-seated revelations amounting to nothing. Then I found The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales in a thrift store. This book radiated in my hands, showing me that postmodern picture books’ blazing absurdity and fearless debunking of beloved tales can turn familiar characters inside out and back again and stretched even further to joyful heights of witticism, word play, and stunning art. Now this laughing-at-the-face of intellectual posturing, this I like. I rediscovered children’s literature and saw the many worlds I can inhabit in Shaun Tan’s The Arrival and the blurry edges of realities in David Wiesner’s Tuesday. I learned how children’s books can be a portal to enchantment leading to self-discovery and an awakening to the many worlds around you.

 

When my family and I moved to Singapore, I was apprehensive that I wouldn’t be able to find like-minded individuals.

 

My book club back in the Philippines – GatheringBooks

My book club back in the Philippines – GatheringBooks

 

My colleagues at the teacher-training institute where I teach told me that kids are far too busy preparing for examination to concern themselves with book clubs that won’t be assessed in school, and that folks are too stressed-out to come together to discuss poetry or young adult literature.

 

Nearly seven years now in Singapore, I have found my reading tribe: several of them, in fact. There is my book club with young readers that I meet regularly at the public library:

 

GatheringReaders at the Jurong West Public Library, Singapore

GatheringReaders at the Jurong West Public Library, Singapore

GatheringReaders at the Jurong West Public Library, Singapore

GatheringReaders at the Jurong West Public Library, Singapore

another book club with aspiring and published writers, artists, librarian:

 

Saturday Night Out for Book Geeks, Singapore

Saturday Night Out for Book Geeks, Singapore

Saturday Night Out for Book Geeks, Singapore

Saturday Night Out for Book Geeks, Singapore

 

and a fledgling book club at my own teacher-training institute with academics from various fields and specializations:

 

GatheringReaders at the National Institute of Education, Singapore

GatheringReaders at the National Institute of Education, Singapore

 

GatheringReaders at the National Institute of Education, Singapore

GatheringReaders at the National Institute of Education, Singapore

 

 

 

 

I realized that when I give out a call to fellow dream-makers and word-weavers – they will come, because there is no other place to be. Reading is home.

 

Myra Garces-Bacsal is an Assistant Professor at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. She is the Programme Leader of the Masters and Bachelor’s Program in High Ability Studies and Gifted Education. She serves as the Programme Director of the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content held annually in Singapore. Myra shares her passion for reading and book hunting in her website that she shares with Iphigene Daradar and Fats Suela: http://www.gatheringbooks.org.