the selfish reader

it was probably one of the most bizarre questions i have ever been asked recently, mainly because it isn’t one i’d expect to hear from anyone. a friend of mine turned to me last week and said, in an enquiring tone, that i don’t read much. i was shocked by it because i will admit that among the many things i am not very modest about, one is the fact that i read more than most people. at least, most people i know. apparently, his statement was the result of observation: i do not post my reading habits on facebook. my response to his query was even more surprising, since i took it very well. i did not lash out at him and his ignorant mistake, or criticize his poor choice in books that i will never read. instead, i very calmly replied that i do read. and read a lot.

“like what?” fiction, i said, but also added that lately, i’ve been reading biographies and travel essays, since i decided sometime ago that i was the pico iyer or the jon krakauer of the philippines.

“you don’t read novels too much, no?” he retorted, and there lay one of my concerns when he first made the observation: that his reading list consists mostly of bestselling crime or mystery novels, a genre i am not the least familiar with. the books on his shelf will never find space on mine, and i might even consider some of them as trash instead of reading material. my personal canon is very specific, and i don’t see reading or literature as a means to socialize, that is, i don’t read a book because it’s popular, or to have a way of connecting with other people who also profess to read. i read for my own personal satisfaction, and that is also the reason i don’t post my literary appetite and consumption patterns online: since i read not to impress people, or to inform them about what’s on my shelf, or to crow about how smart, sophisticated, literate, or current i am. i have no claim of being extremely well-read. the only claim i’ve made is that i am not, and that i ought to be reading more. the most voracious among us readers are too busy reading to post updates on facebook.

i pity those who read only for the purpose of letting people know what they’ve read, or so that they can post something on facebook and be seen as this well-read consumer of sub-standard literature. i find people who post pictures of books they’re supposed to be reading at cafés or at the beach as pretentious, even more so those who post quotes from books when they have not read the source of the passage in its entirety.

facebook, along with twitter, instagram, and other social media platforms have become wide-open windows by which we judge people, and through which we monitor their actions and stalk their activities. it may look as if i post a lot online, but in comparison to others, i actually don’t. it may not be very obvious, but i exercise restraint to the point that i’ve been accused as a non-poster. i envy those with the maturity to resist sharing everything online, unlike many who turn to facebook as if it’s absolutely necessary to let the world know that one is social, busy, lucky, and blessed. so pardon me if i don’t say much about the movies i’ve seen, the meals i’ve eaten, the places i’ve been to, the sunsets i’ve watched, the friends i’m with, the times i spend with my parents, the exclusive events i get invited to. their purpose is for my personal satisfaction, and i find no need to feed a curious public with slices of my so-called life, when they may actually not even be interested in my morsels. i choose to let facebook capture only a small aspect of my world. and it would do no one any harm to do so as well.