A: How often do you watch TV?
B: Rarely.

A: Why?

B: I have many more important things to do.

A: Don’t you find time to rest?

B: I do, of course.  I always find time to rest.

A: And so why don’t you watch TV then?

B: I just don’t think it’s a good way of resting.

A: Duh!  Don’t you think watching TV is fun?

B: Oh, very much.  I think it’s very entertaining.  You know what? I used to study in front of the television when I was in elementary and high school.

A: Cool.  I do the same!

B: But I regret having done that.

A: Ooops.  Why?

B: I should have read more books.

A: That’s not fun.

B: Have you tried it?  I thought the same way before.

A: Nope.  But the words of the book do not move, you know.  And many times, they do not have illustrations.  I do not get entertained.

B: Of course, we are not in Hogwarts where books are interactive.  But how can you say that you are not entertained—and that it’s not fun—if you do not even read books?

A: It’s just my impression.  I do not even manage to finish reading all the required books in class.  How will I find time to read other books?

B: Lessen your TV time.

A: No, please, no.  That’s ‘sacred’ time for me.

B: That reminds me of what a foreign actor said about TV.  Want to hear it?

A: Sure!

B: “I find television very educational…

A: You see…

B: But am not yet done with the quotation.  He said further: “Every time someone turns it on, I go to another room and read a book.”

A: You seem to say the same things.  What do you mean?

B: Not exactly.  I still do watch TV sometimes but I am very discerning as to what I watch.  I do not just turn it on and zap channels to check what’s up.  I usually know what I want to watch and at what time.  Usually I ask a friend to record a show that I want to watch so I can view it later and skip the commercials.  I also ask for recordings of a friend’s show or game so I could be up to date with his performances.  In this way, I save time.  Besides, I always try watching with someone else.

A: What about that “reading a book instead” which seems to be your common ground with the actor you quoted.

B: Oh yes, as I told you earlier, I was a bit hooked on TV when I was younger until I discovered the value—and fun—of reading.

A: How did you start?

B: A friend introduced me to it.  He realized that I do not read much outside of academic books.  In order to encourage me to start the habit, he gave me very light and easy-to-read books.  Looking back, I now realize that they were like bait…

A: That you bit?

B: Yes, and I began to want to read more, until I could already handle the classics.  It is like discovering a whole new world of fun!

A: Really?

B: Yes.  Reading books give you a sense of fulfillment—an inner joy—that a TV show cannot provide.   It also helps you reflect—something that is lacking in this ‘instant’ world where everything has to be done right away, which makes people more and more impatient.  As a consequence, reading increases your capacity to learn.  But you have to discover that yourself.

A: But can’t you help me appreciate it a bit more so I could also discover the same?

B: I will try but there is no substitute to your own effort to read, okay?

A: Go!

B: Reading helps you to reflect.  First of all, it calms your senses.  You need not just external silence to read, but above all, internal silence.

A: What’s the diff?

B: You may be externally silent because you don’t speak but you could be internally noisy—you may be talking to yourself or allowing your imagination to go wild.

A: Oh, I experience that.

B: The habit of reading helps calm your senses—you need that internal silence, focus and concentration for you to understand what you read.  In this way, you are developing your inner potencies—those that make you more of a man (as compared to an animal), especially your capacity to think.  It also helps direct your internal senses, especially your imagination and memory.  That is why you have to choose books that will enhance these faculties and not corrupt them.  I will go more into that later.

A: Okay.  What are those classics you mentioned earlier?  You seemed to imply that they were not that easy to read…

B: If you are not prepared to think.  I mean, if you have not learned how to have internal silence, which could be developed after spending some time reading.  What are called classics are books that have withstood the test of time. Although they were written several decades and centuries ago, they are still relevant to our present time.

A: Why?

B: Because they speak about human nature which remain the same, its ups and downs, its powers and failures, the adventures of man that inspired the human spirit to continue to struggle to outdo himself, to strive for excellence…

A: What are these books?  You look very excited talking about them.

B: Before I answer that, I want to tell you that you should not just read any book.  In as much as you discern what you watch on TV—if you truly care about your personal development—you also have to be discerning on what you read.  As I read in a poster in Spain one day encouraging young people to read books: “You are what you read.”

A: Personal development?  Aren’t these just forms of entertainment?

B: Yes, they are forms of entertainment, or better ways of getting rest.  But they affect the way you think and view life—what with the ideologies they may espouse.

A: You mean that what I watch and read affect me?

B: Yes, of course, because you are not a stone.  You are a person with intellect, free will and emotions.  If you keep on allowing yourself to be exposed to forms of entertainment that debase the human spirit—like films with pornographic content, songs full of curses, titillating romance novels, and the like—they affect you in some way, and may make you start developing habits without your realizing it.  They eat up your soul little by little until it becomes maimed and incapable of reaching greater heights—of appreciating the more noble things in life like true love, friendship, patriotism, altruism, and the like.

A: You seem to be so passionate about this topic.

B: As I told you, I used to study in front of the television.  That’s how much I was hooked to it.  And I would like to advise young people not to do the same—not to fall into the same mistake and discover far greater adventures in life, like that of reading…

A: How do you advise me to start?

B: I can now answer your question on what books I refer to. There are actually many. What convinced me to be very selective in the books I read aside from the fact that I do not want to be maimed by bad reading is a talk I heard more than a decade ago on reading.

A: What did the speaker say?

B: What first caught my attention was his accent.  He was a Filipino with a very strong Australian accent.  He spent more than a decade in Australia doing his PhD.  I did not understand most of his talk since I could not make out his accent at the start.  But I thought he was a credible speaker given his background.  The only thing I remember from his talk was a very practical advice on choosing the books we read.  He invited us to calculate—his PhD was in engineering, you know—how many books we think we could read in our lifetime.  Then he gave a number which I do not remember.  Let’s say, 500.  Then he asked us to make a list of all the books we want to read and the books that we have to read: classics, biographies, history, philosophy, theology, and so on.

A: You made a list yourself?

B: Not really.  He asked us to make a mental note.  Then he said that surely our list is longer than what we are capable of reading in our entire life.  And so he challenged us to weed out the books which will never help us improve and—more so—those that may lead us to false ideologies and ways of life, and those romance novels that only serve to titillate our senses and make our imagination go wild.

A: How did you decide which ones to choose?

B: It’s not that I really have a list of those 500 books.  Another point I learned is the value of asking for advice before I read a book.  And so, I always have a couple of books to read at any point in time.  And before I finish one, I already look for another one to read and I seek advice about the advisability of reading it.  That gives the person I ask for advice enough time to check the book out.

A: But does that not curtail the excitement of reading a new book?  I mean, why do you have to ask for advice?  You will lose the thrill of being among the first to read a new release!

B: Aside from the adage that there is virtue in waiting, your question reminds me of what Winston Churchill said about new books.

A: The famous English wartime Prime Minister?

B: Yes. He said: “There is a great deal of difference between the tired man who wants a book to read and the alert man who wants to read a book. There is a good saying that when a new book appears, one should always read an old one.”

A: What does he mean?

B: I do not know exactly.  Perhaps he was precisely referring to the classics—books whose quality has been tested by time and remain to be relevant to the contemporary world.  He may also refer to books that espouse timeless ideals that help build and enrich culture, because he also said that “Books in all their variety are often the means by which civilization may be carried triumphally forward.”

A: So what books do you recommend then?

B: First, look for someone who can advise you on books that are worth reading given your interests and also one who can assess the philosophical undertones of the book so that you do not get negatively influenced by its ideas.

A: What if it is a required reading in class?

B: Well, tell him so that he could assess the book sooner.  You may also check my favorite on line book adviser, almudi.org, before you ask for personal advise.

A: Really?  That’s available for everyone to access?

B: Yes.  I use it all the time.  I first check out the book I want to read before I ask for advice.  If the classification says it has some dangerous ideas, I usually move on to the next book I want to read.  Then I ask for personal advice.

A: What if the book I am asked to read in class is not there yet?

B: Then tell your ‘book adviser’ about it.  Perhaps he would skim through it and tell you what sections you have to be careful with.  He may even give you ‘antidotes’…

A: What are those?  It sounds like medicines.

B: Perhaps you may call them that way, book medicines—even vitamins.  They are meant to provide you with good ideas—tools, if you want—to face the ‘bad’ ones that you are going to read. It’s like going to a battle.  You have to be prepared and have the right equipment so you end up winning, although you may have to suffer some bruises.  And after reading it, perhaps you yourself can make a review of the book and send it to almudi.org in order to help contribute to their library.

A: Okay.  I gotta go.  Have to check almudi if my social science readings are there.  But you have not told me yet about your favorite authors.

B: You better get going.  We can discuss that some other time.  Just always remember to bring a book with you wherever you go.  And make sure it’s always a good one.

A: Alright!