Commentary

Searching for the girl who reads

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All the girls I ever fell for were girls who read. By “fell,” I mean the absolutely-could-not-get-her-out-of-my-mind-for-years-until-she-posted-her-engagement-ring-on-Facebook-and-prominently-tagged-me kind. The pretty ones are easy to forget, especially if they stop being pretty the moment they open their mouths. It is the girls who read who gently slip their fingers into your subconscious and never let go.

In my last year at the UP College of Law, I received the most curious Christmas gift: a physical Harvard Law School application package. This girl procured one from Boston but told me I should use it instead. She wrote poetry, was on her school’s debate team, and performed as a dancer. And she loved to read. She could spend an entire afternoon in a bookstore and confessed her silly habit of reading the last chapter first, so as not to waste time on a book whose ending she would hate. She made me help complete her hardcover Nicholas Sparks collection, cementing my comfort in my masculinity. There was only one thing wrong with her: She was double-majoring in law and philosophy in another country.

Girls who would rather shop at Shakespeare & Co. than the Champs Élysées are absolutely wonderful. Bookstores are amazing places for flirtation; the best ones have inviting coffee nooks. Picture the opening of Erich Segal’s “Love Story,” minus awkward library rules on silence. Best of all, girls reveal their personalities in bookstores. One once rooted me to where I stood for half an hour with her tale of a pair of artists separated in different dimensions, their tale told through the artfully drawn postcards and letters in her hand. There is something liberating about listening to a girl who sees the world in dreams.

Take it from the Ayala #MuseumValentines Twitter campaign. There is something uniquely enchanting about a girl gushing about how the vigor of a Juan Luna painting moves her or why “Les Miz” made her cry. A girl who reads is the perfect companion in the hidden alleys of all the fantastic places that books, paintings and theater whisk one away to.

Before law school, I went on a monthlong tour of China with 200 other students and thought I would never see my bus seatmate again. She was a London School of Economics student who noted that my Ateneo senior-year material was what she studied in freshman year—but it is hard to be offended by a London accent (and those attached lips, in particular). I met her five years later when I visited New York for the first time and she happened to be working on Wall Street. We saw “Rent” on discount tickets, her magical smile adding to the magical music. We walked out laughing that our unfamiliarity with American culture made the plot incomprehensible, then laughed again when we realized the play was based on an Italian opera.

It was an unforgettable introduction to Manhattan’s skyscrapers and how fast New Yorkers can walk in high heels.

I often overthink whether I find a girl interesting. My tell is when I find myself wanting to borrow her favorite book. My subconscious says it is an ingenious way to gauge her true inner self. A girl made me read “Memoirs of a Geisha” well before the movie came out. I was soon absorbed in an intriguing conversation about a geisha’s preparation ritual, down to how a small amount of skin is left unpainted, just enough to hint at the woman under the costume. Another girl drew me into reflection on Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” though I still wonder whether she identified with Dagny Taggart’s determined individualism or the attempt to portray integrity in capitalism. And any girl who names “Pride and Prejudice” as her favorite novel is certain to be interesting.

I am an introvert at heart and find it refreshing to move from self-absorption to absorption into the world of a girl who reads, led deeper by a mesmerizing voice that makes hours pass unnoticed. It is fascinating to penetrate, if one is able, the many layers of her mind as it is to turn the pages of a hardbound book. It is the cutting edge of sexy to be a little too passionate about something in today’s world of designer oversized glasses and the fake geek girl meme. It is refreshing to see a world you never saw before through someone else’s imagination, or see this world just a little more vividly. A girl who reads can juggle images of the world as it appears, the world as it really is, and the world as it should be. A girl who reads fits in Steve Jobs’ “Think Different” commercial, the one that ends with “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

The dilemma is that girls who read are infinitely more difficult to find. Everyone knows where to find girls who party, but girls who read? It is probably more difficult to project beauty and intelligence in a coffeehouse’s gentle afternoon warmth, without the aid of alcohol, makeup and a little black dress, yet the girl who reads might be so subtle and unassuming one just might miss her. Manila is not the place to wait for a train and peek whether the satchel beside you has “Pride and Prejudice” or “Fifty Shades of Gray.” The anonymity of iPads and tablets further makes improbable the casual glimpse of a book jacket.

One is left to chance upon that knowing smile and that glint of wonder in her eye when one meets her glance. Which is how many great novels begin.

Oscar Franklin Tan (www.facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan, Twitter @oscarfbtan) teaches constitutional law at the University of the East. “Oscar’s Little Black Book” refers to the Philippine Law Journal citation manual and the poetry compilation he gave away as a law school graduation gift.

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