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Reading (PJI editorial 8 April 2005)

SOME people can read patterns up above. They’ll find an odd configuration drawn up with today’s solar eclipse— it’s a figure of a cross formed by planets Venus, Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto plus the sun. The mix of energies in that pattern is taken as an ill omen. Important figures in the judiciary and religious leaders retire or leave for good under such a star-crossed design.

Pope John Paul II who spent a life of the spirit went even before those planets could arrange themselves in a cross pattern.

So did 89-year old Nobel laureate Saul Bellow, the creative spirit behind such oddball characters as Eugene Henderson—“Henderson the Rain King”-- a quixotic violinist who raised pigs and sought a higher truth and moral purpose in life.

In his novels, Bellow wrought out stragglers like Moses Herzog and Albert Corde, plunked ‘em down in situations that made them grapple with large-scale insanities and inanities of the 20th century.

Bellow stayed mostly in his farm in Vermont; he was largely a self-taught cook, a gardener, a violinist, a sports fan, winner of the 1976 Nobel Prize for Literature and a clutch of writing honors that include three National Book Awards and a Pulitzer Prize.

Too, Bellow was a voracious reader: "I never tire of reading the master novelists. Can anything as vivid as the characters in their books be dead?"

Bellow’s novels fetched a paltry P50 each or less in the 1990s in most Book Sale outlets scattered throughout the metropolis. These days, those books would stay dirt-cheap likely priced in the range of P80 to P100 each in those same stalls that sell ukay-ukay books. They’ll still be a delight to pore and muse over.

Ah, in a nation of text maniacs, a P300 load barely lasts a week for plying out small talk and nonsense done in butchered spelling and fractured grammar. Such atrocities pass off as communication.

Bellow once said: "You're all alone when you're a writer. Sometimes you just feel you need a humanity bath. Even a ride on the subway will do that. But it's much more interesting to talk about books. After all, that's what life used to be for writers: they talk books, politics, history… Nothing has replaced that."

The Philippines packs around 84 million people in its territory. All the nation’s dailies add up to less than two million copies a day—and most folks would rather cough up P300 mobile phone load that barely lasts a week for a bit of a read.

That sucks.


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