Sunday, January 29, 2006

Pick it up please

I picked up some books at Frontpage yesterday and spent the whole night curled up in bed re-reading T. H. White's The Once and Future King. I knew it was a futile attempt, but I had this uncontrollable urge to finish the book in one sitting. I first read it when I was in high school and was hopelessly hooked to it. For most of my high school life, T. H. White was my hero, my idol, my god. I saw the book carelessly thrown in with a bunch of books that is best characterized as its derivatives - the Narnia books, Dune, Tolkien, etc. It hurt me deeply that no one was picking up the book. I wanted to give a lecture right there and then about how this book is far more superior than the Harry Potter series, or perhaps even the Tolkien books.

But sadly, such is the power of advertising. Bestselling status is determined not by the actual value of a book, but by how well-crafted the advertising campaign is. Case in point: Harry Potter. Before you start sharpening your axes, let me say that I do love Harry Potter as well - though I do not look at it as literature; it is a great read, yes, but it is not something one can discuss in comparative literature class.

I picked up a few books by local authors too. I noticed that there is an avalanche of compilations of personal essays that are being passed off as literature lately. Of course, it is possible that I am simply being an intellectual prick. I do think that the more local authors get published, the better it will be for Philippine publishing. However, I hope that someday publishers would be a little more discriminating in their choices; or that editors would try to establish a balance between craft and popular appeal. Some books I scanned contained personal essays that my high school composition class teacher would have scoffed at.

Two books I picked up were Adrian Fulhorn's series of essays on management (the essays are interesting both in terms of content and in terms of the writing style - the management gobbledygook is trimmed down and there is a major effort to be understood) and Umberto Eco's book of essays. It was very heartening to note that Umberto can write sentences that do not require 500 mg. of paracetamol to go with it. The essays are actually very easy to read, unlike his novels which require superhuman effort to keep focused on.

Why do some writers write in a deliberately heavy style?!? Sometimes it does seem to me that the whole world is playing a literary version of "The Emperor's New Clothes." Very few people can understand so much of what is written but no one seems willing to admit it. Somehow, there is this misguided notion that if something can't be understood, it must be very intelligent.

Well, excuse me. I think that if I do not understand something, it is not necessarily my fault. It is the writer's fault. Why bother writing something if it can't be understood anyway?

But back to T. H. White and his ilk. Guys, if you do come across a copy of The Once and Future King, please pick it up. I promise you, it will be worth it.


jtagregado said...

man. you were in a warehouse full of books? asteeg

jher said...

why don't you just let me borrow your t.h. white books? di ba ang fave mo si terry goodkind? lol