Thursday, May 28, 2009


I grew up in a country where books were (are) expensive. It was a big deal for my parents to work to buy the encyclopedia and various classics and have them line the living room of my childhood home in the Philippines. I was raised revering the Book and I continue my respect today. And I have been a reader all my life, loving books even before I became a writer.

In the past few weeks, I've had to help my son develop an art project for his sixth grade -- an "altered books" project. To "alter" the books -- and write on their pages, cut up the pages, collage other material onto the pages -- is to destroy the originals.

My son is in a class attended by 12-13-year-olds. What does it mean for them to consider the book as something that can be destroyed?

My son was only in our house for a few weeks before he started this project. Our house is crammed with books, and he knows his mother writes/makes books. He (to my appreciation) first balked when I had to explain the concept of an altered book. He balked at destroying a book.

Of course he had to do the assignment and will finish/submit it this week. And I've ceased to worry about whether the experience might make him revere the book less. His homework assignment should be more than mitigated by living in a household where books are clearly cherished.

But how many of his young classmates -- in a world where reading becomes less and less a popular activity -- might take the wrong lesson from this project? What if they come from a non-reading household and now are taught it's okay to destroy a book (even if for "art") before they learned to love/respect a book?


But, despite my meditations on this matter, I suggested/encouraged my son to choose one of my books to alter, to destroy. Although my son brought home a couple of books from class to alter (it looks like his art teacher may have collected from reject piles for purpose of this project), I told him to go ahead and use one of mine.

This, moithinks, is one meaning of being a poet. It's a straddled paradox that's very very irritating.

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