Where to go to if you cannot find a novel to eatBy Simeon Dumdum Jr.
Cebu Daily News
I’ve just been to a bookshop. The way I am, immediately I took a direct route to the poetry shelves, hoping to find a title that would prime up my own writing, my pumps having been unproductive for something like two weeks. Having no luck there, I slipped behind the stand and walked before a stack of books, supposedly the latest offering under the classification, novel.
Purely out of curiosity and with no intentions of buying, I examined the titles, which for me have great importance and possessed of the power to make or break a book. As I scanned the titles, I kept a mental rating of their quality. “Against All Enemies” fell to the bottom of my list. How can one be anything to one’s enemies except against? And if one be not against some enemies, then the word needs a redefinition?
“The Sly Company of People Who Care” earned a smirk. Surely, one cannot be both caring and deceitful. (Incidentally, a back cover endorsement declared that the book was “by a ferociously gifted writer”—which made me wonder if the author was a top-of-the-line, hand-to-hand combatant).
As title, “How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accent” was a bit of a letdown. Was this all that they lost? But, of course, the novel could be about tongue piercing.
“Our Kind of Traitor” evoked the remark an American president supposedly made about a Latin American dictator—“He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch”—and so partook of the humdrumness of a cliché. If only the title were changed to “Our Kind Traitor.” The novel could acquire and be helped by something like a Dostoevskian dimension.
As I was about to leave, I caught sight of an unpretentious, serious-looking title, “Why We Broke Up.” I imagined that the story would be about a relationship that went sour, and the events that led to its dissolution.
Blunt and plain-spoken, the title could have been worded as, “Do You Also Want to Leave?” For then the moment of its utterance would coincide with the moment of the other’s departure. Such a title would have more immediacy and drama.
In fact, this was what Jesus said to the Twelve. John writes that after he fed upwards of five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish, Jesus spoke to the crowd that followed him to the other side of the lake about the bread of heaven, the bread of God that gives life to the world. When they asked him for this bread, Jesus told them that he was the bread, the living bread, and that unless they ate his flesh and drank his blood, they would not have life within them. Because of this many of the disciples left in discontent, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
Abandoned, Jesus turned to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
Had I seen this title on the shelf, I would have stopped to examine the book. Obviously the story would be about the parting of two people. But I would feel that the title was aimed at the reader, at me, and who would know that the book somehow allowed for a reading on a level other than the immediate, one that directly addressed itself to the reader.
Still I would leave.
In the Gospel incident, the Twelve decided to stay. Speaking for himself and for them, Peter answered Jesus, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…”
In the case of the bookshop, it offered only books, words that were uneatable and subject to decay. But, for a change in these faithless times, I should go for the words of eternal life, which being as consumable as food I want to eat, just as Jeremiah did: “When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart, Because I bore your name, O Lord, God of hosts.”