I’m currently reading “Not a Virgin” by Nuril Basri, an Indonesian author. It’s a nice reprieve from the mostly western authors I read. It’s a welcome distraction from the corona-v craze.
Someone on Twitter pointed out that watching certain TV shows may make you recoil at scenes where characters “carelessly” touch each other or make any type of contact. It’s sort of how I feel when reading certain works of fiction, especially in this one where the main characters live in cramped spaces. I had to take a short break from reading fiction because I’ve been reading Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, which was such a timely read. There are lots to unpack, and if I feel like it, I might write a book report about it like a high school student would. One of my takeaways from it is that Sapiens will not make you root for human existence. It was a borrowed copy so I tried to finish reading it soon because I feel like it needs to be passed on to others. But it’s too late. Book lending is now a thing of the past.
Thinking about lending books or buying secondhand books? You can forget about doing either of that now. In the first place, there are many reasons not to lend or borrow books. Reason number one: people who borrow books take an eternity to read the book you lent them while some completely forget they borrowed a book from you. As for borrowing books, I really don’t see the point (although I do borrow extremely popular books that I otherwise would never read but that I wouldn’t mind reading if you shove it in my face often enough. Also, it’s nice to accept someone’s recommendation every once in a while). What I’m saying is that I have a lot and don’t need to be borrowing that often.
But the reasons not to lend or borrow books are more compelling now. Only lend books if you have no wish to get a book back. The secondhand books trade may be slightly affected too because in everyone’s minds, ALL secondhand books are previously owned by coronavirus carriers. If you’re one of those who think this, remember that many of the books in bookstores were also caressed by staff and customers. But although the book industry appears to be screwed, there seems to be a surge in book buying in certain parts of the world, which is encouraging.
There is a way to prevent the publishing industry from being screwed. Order more books online and hope for the best. The “best” being a scenario where people who will handle the packaging, shipping, and delivery are of great health. In any case, getting books delivered to you is worth the risk.
“Not a Virgin” is a coming-of-age story narrated by an Indonesian boy whose father kept referring to him as spoilt. The father isn’t mean. I’ve only started reading so I’m guessing more issues will be uncovered in the next few chapters.
But here’s the thing with me and reading and the coronavirus. I need to be spending the rest of my precious days reading something worthwhile. I no longer care too much about doing something great for myself (like finishing a manuscript or winning a Palanca Award or any award) because no one cares anymore except a tiny part of myself. Although, of course, we still need to do not-great but kind things such as donating and mobilizing help for the needy.
I still find time to read, as crazy as it sounds. The two hours in the morning that I’m no longer able to spend sleeping, I allot for reading. So, I try to read only books that are worth my time.
There’s not much I/we can do about books that have already been published. Stories with “heavy” themes like growing up gay in a Muslim country could be compelling, but if I were reading such a story right now (I am), it better be moving and the prose must be shockingly great and tender. I know that’s probably too much to ask for any gay Indonesian writing about his difficult childhood in the slums of Jakarta, but time is ticking so fast.
As a result of such monumental expectations, writers of fiction now might feel undue pressure to create stunning pieces. As a person who likes to read fantasy, writers should still write fantastical stories of teenagers going to school or stories with characters who take public transportation without a mask.
“Not a Virgin” is off to an okay start. I try to fight the urge to cringe while reading about people able to carry on with their lives at the salon and at the slums, not knowing they could catch a virus and die. A hundred pages in and I’m hooked mainly because of the characters. The gay parlorista Paris is revered at school and at the beauty salon where he works because he has great hair and skin and because he has money and drives a nice car. The straight main character Ricky is all set in his journey to be a parlorista’s kept man. I’m unlikely to read about kept Muslim boys in the stories of Mavis Gallant, Ian McEwan, and Alice Munro, so I’m going to keep reading.