READING ON THE GO


“We have plenty of time to get there. We are actually early, Miss,” said Pak Diyan, who was tasked to take me to the airport.
“No problem, Pak. I have my book,” I replied through the rearview mirror, waving one of the books I had packed in my rucksack.

Part of the marvels of traveling has always been the fact that I can read at the airport. There is a lot of waiting going on for, say, the check-in counter to open, for your turn to check-in, to board the plane, and the journey itself. I find myself reading more than making use of the entertainment system, if there is one.

This trip had me bringing an eclectic collection of books for the brief sojourn to Singapore. It was a preventive measure against buying another book at Periplus and another tsundoku. This Japanese word refers to that condition where you have a lot of reading materials piling up with the good intention of reading them but never get around to it. I am in the midst of clearing tsundoku pile one which started collecting in a little corner of my room last July.

Gustave Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” was a serendipitous find at – of all places – a corner bookstore near the entrance of Siloam hospital ( I went to see an eye specialist). It was a steal at Rp50,000 and was the only copy left. I did a little jig of joy eliciting this odd look from the cashier who probably thought I was on medication. My interest in the book began after I had seen that Michelle Pfeiffer movie where she played a divorced woman who falls in love again with the character of Daniel Day Lewis, but society then was unforgiving of such dalliances. I had to put down “Madame Bovary” every now and then, brought down by the author’s heavy writing style and Madame Bovary’s silliness and sufferings. My emotions vacillated between wanting to berate her for her shallowness and commiserating with her. The drama at times became too difficult to bear. However, I am determined to see how Madame Bovary fares. My plowing through the pages of Flaubert’s work led me to dive into Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”. Like a breath of fresh air, there wasn’t the heaviness that shrouded me in “Madame Bovary”; Anna Karenina was feistier in temperament, less caught up in romantic fantasies, and eschewed frivolity.

Rick Riordan’s “Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard” series is a break from the other heavy books (e.g. I am half-way through Mario Vargas Llosa’s “The Way to Paradise” and hemming and hawing with Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw”). His reworking of the mythologies of Greek, Roman, Egyptian and now Norse have gotten my students reading, so I need to keep myself abreast with what is happening. In the Riordan style of demystifying the pantheon of gods and goddesses from each mythology, the second book, “The Hammer of Thor”, had me snickering or laughing at the untimely moments drawing stares from people around me. I especially liked the fact that he characterized Thor the Viking that he truly is – a undeniably strong lout with a voracious appetite. The inclusion of a Muslim as a Valkyrie, Samirah “Sam” al-Abbas, is a much applauded move: it deconstructed the misconception of veiled women as unable to do anything apart from pray and follow tradition.

Lastly, the name Italo Calvino is not a stranger to me. He is one of the authors my father reads to this day and our book hunts would always involved looking for his works. I found “The Path to the Nest of Spiders” in this pop-up book store in a mall, which my wonderful man bought for me, and the purchase brought a smile to the pop-up owner’s smile. He approved the purchase. I am moving through the Preface written by Calvino and I feel like I am back in one of literature classes in university, a place I am perfectly at home at. Finally, I have the opportunity to discover the wondrous author in his first novel.

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