READING is a form of waiting. Recently, I settled down to read while waiting for my son to fetch me from a mall.
Long after I met friends, long after the mall closed, long after the café took final orders, long after taxis left the queue with indefatigable midnight explorers, I turned the pages of my book, which I bought when I decided to wait.
It rained steadily, miserably the whole day, which curtailed some of my plans. Since commuting home a bridge away was bound to be an interminable, miserable wait, I opted for an interminable, pleasurable one: reading until my son’s work was done.
If there is anything graduate school taught me, it is to read with purpose. It is the same lesson middle age teaches me: one cannot read everything ever written; therefore, one must choose, in keeping with a reasonable estimate of one’s lifespan, the writing one spends time with.
Lifelong readers may want to interject at this point to underscore the inestimable complexity of what seems to be a deceptively simple insight: how does one choose what to read?
A lifetime of reading is also waiting time to seek and find myself as a reader. In the first 50 years of my life, I read what was required, what was available, what was given, what was free, what could be borrowed. Most of all, what I wanted to read.
Looking back on the paperbacks, textbooks, classics, fiction, library books, pornography, comic books, newspapers, magazines, manifestos, poetry, and Jingle music chord books I picked up, I think, foremost, I enjoyed myself.
I also wondered what I was missing by being such a hedonist.
When I hit the middle of a century, I realized I couldn’t prudently expect another 50 years to fool around with. Besides, even if I wanted to, I quickly fall asleep now when reading in bed, roll over too many eyeglasses, banish peevishly to the bottom of the tottering pile those writers whose main thought I cannot ferret out after so many rereading, and so on and so forth.
Yet, middle age has slowed me down, too, to appreciate more the turning of a book’s last page. Instead of a fiesta, I gladly settle for siesta, grateful already when I finish a chapter or two before dozing off.
The book I chose to wait with on that evening vigil was VJ Campilan’s “All My Lonely Islands.”
It is a book set in the Global South: Batanes, Manila, Bangladesh. It is written by a Filipina. And while reading the novel in the company of other women checking their phones while waiting for their partners, I discovered that the narrator is named Crisanta, my sister’s namesake.
As a nod to my younger reading self, I am still curious about the world I have always enjoyed.