Rizal the Reader: What Would Rizal Read In the 21st Century?

As Jose Rizal was taught by his mother, Doña Teodora Alonso, to appreciate reading at an early age; young Filipinos learn how to read with their parents or other family members.

If Rizal was alive today, what would he read? What kind of reader would Rizal be in the 21st century?

Would he brave the crowd during the annual Manila International Book Fair? Would he mark his calendar whenever National Bookstore announces its Cut-Price Sale?

Would he also check out the Goodreads website to pour over book reviews and write his own ones? Would he be interested in having an Amazon Kindle or still stick to the printed books? Would he prefer hardbound books versus paperback copies? 

Those thoughts were running through my head as I was browsing the thousands of books featured at the Big Bad Wolf Book Sale in Cebu last July. It was the first time for the Malaysian-owned roving book fair to come to the shores of Cebu and it wasn't disappointed with the reception it received. Cebuano book lovers came out in droves and flocked to the sale venue every day that they were open.

The Big Bad Wolf Book Sale even gained some social media notoriety as netizens argued over relevance, prices, titles, and pseudo-readers versus bookworms.

Dulce Extranjera

Two things that we know of Jose Rizal was that he was a reader and book collector. When he left Hong Kong for Manila in 1892, he left his valuable collection with his friend Jose Ma. Basa. He thought that he'll be able to send for his collection once he has settled.

After his execution in 1896, his books were the subject of a legal battle between Josephine Bracken and the Rizal family. Bracken was claiming that as the 'widow' of our National Hero, she has the right to the library and some money provided by Rizal in his will.

Unfortunately, there was no proof that they were married, nor was she mentioned in a will. Rizal did write on the eve of his execution a short love letter to Josephine. The prayer book where he wrote that message is now displayed in the National Museum of Fine Arts in Manila. In his letters to his sisters and mother, Rizal showed them how much Josephine meant to him. But all of these could not prove that they were indeed married. 

Josephine Bracken even tried to include Ferdinand Blumentritt in the legal fray. She wrote Blumentrit that Rizal bequeathed his library to him. Showing considerable tact, Blumentrit did not allow himself to be dragged into the fight by not replying to Bracken's correspondence.

Jose Ma. Basa returned Rizal's book collection to the Rizal family. Alas, most of the books did not survive World War II.

In his book, Rizal without the Overcoat, Ambeth Ocampo wrote about Rizal's meticulous bookkeeping. Rizal would splurge on book purchases but stingy when it comes to food and service tips.

The love for books is something I have in common with Jose Rizal. I just need to be as organized as he was. He even created his own bibliography cards to keep track of his collection. Luckily, some of these biblio cards were saved and still exist today.

What Would Rizal Read

Since Rizal was a polyglot, I can imagine his library full of books in Spanish, German, French, and maybe even in English. His vast collection would have included popular 19th Century writers like Victor Hugo, Emile Zola or Charles Dickens.

He definitely read Alexandre Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo as the book's revenge plot echoed in his El Filibusterismo. Another French author that Rizal read would be Victor Hugo and his Les Miserables. Some of Les Mis elements can be seen in Noli Me Tangere as well.

Rizal was such a fan of Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish storyteller, that he translated in Tagalog Andersen's fairytales for his nephews and nieces. He even made illustrations to accompany the stories.

Anvil Publishing came out with a compilation titled, Hans Christian Andersen and Jose Rizal: From Denmark to the Philippines. It has Andersen's fairy tales in English and Rizal's Tagalog translation plus his illustrations.

I went back several times to the Big Bad Wolf book sale during the 10 days that they were in Cebu and as I walked through tables overflowing of books with genres that include bestsellers, art, business or economics, history, cookbooks, architecture, photography, and self-help, I kept thinking of titles that would appeal to Rizal.

Rizal being the Philippine's version of a Renaissance man had an eclectic taste when it comes to reading. His interests cover a wide array of topics ranging from Natural History to Anthropology to Philosophy to Governance and even Popular fiction.

As I was looking at the books in my cart that day in Big Bad Wolf, I was inspired to come up with a list of book titles that I could recommend to Rizal if he were still alive today.

I wouldn't include any hardcore scientific or anthropologic researches or journals since my list is more for leisure reading.

The list wouldn't have any Filipino authors for now. I'm planning to have a separate entry for that subject. Rizal would definitely be proud to know that Philippine literature is vibrant and robust.

Not everyone knows that when Rizal graduated from the Ateneo Municipal de Manila in Intramuros aside from earning a bachillerato, he also had a certificate in land surveying.

He would love looking at the different maps featured in the following books: A History of the World in 12 Maps and Great Maps: The World's Masterpieces Explored and Explained, both authored by Jerry Brotton. Another book would be by Beau Riffenbaugh, Mapping the World The Story of Cartography.

Ernest Hemingway and Rizal have a lot in common; one will be Cuba. Rizal was on his way to serve as a doctor in Cuba when he was detained and imprisoned in 1896.

In his later years, Hemingway made Cuba his second home. He even wrote his prize-winning novella, The Old Man and the Sea, during his Cuban halcyon days.

Another Hemingway book that Rizal might relate to is A Moveable Feast. It's all about Hemingway's life in Paris when he was starting his writing career.

If Hemingway and Rizal were to meet, they would be talking while sipping mojitos or Rhum cokes; reminiscing their Parisian lives and comparing notes on their expatriate experiences.

Rizal might also be attracted to Japanese author, Haruki Murakami's existentialism and mind-boggling characters and stories. Like his 19th century generation, they were fascinated with Japanese culture and the arts. Rizal even traveled to the land of the morning sun before heading back to the Philippines in 1892.

Paulo Coelho and Gabriel Garcia Marquez would pique the interest of Rizal, especially how these South American authors tackle the theme, Magical Realism, in their stories. I have a feeling Rizal would take pleasure in reading Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera and his epic, A Hundred Years of Solitude.

Would he feel a kinship with them as well seeing that our countries were former colonies of Spain?

Rizal spent a year in London conducting his research at the British Museum. He was there from 1888 to 1889. Jose Rizal was annotating Antonio Morga's Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas. It was his way to de-stress after writing and publishing Noli Me Tangere in 1887.

When Rizal was in London, the infamous Ripper murders filled the headlines. For Filipino conspiracy theorists, they even suggested that Rizal was Jack the Ripper! I'm wondering if he read Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle while he was in London. The first Holmes adventure, A Study in Scarlet, was published in 1887.

One book that would definitely excite Rizal would be Antoine de Saint-Exupery's Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince). It has that combination of self-discovery and whimsical aspects that the Philippine hero would find endearing. Another reason this book could be close to his heart is the two Chabacano translations of it that were recently published.

Would Rizal be interested to read J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series or Rick Riordan's take on Greek and Roman Mythologies? Would he be reading whodunit mysteries or would he be a serious reader and just stick to Non-Fiction?

What would Rizal's opinion be about Dan Brown's novels, Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code, and The Lost Symbol which tackled controversial conspiracy theories (in their individual plot lines) about the Roman Catholic Church and the Masonic Society?

I can only imagine Rizal's surprise look if he finds out about Amazon's Kindle or the different reading apps that let people read without an actual printed book in their hands.

I think Rizal the book collector will go crazy over the millions of books that are available to people now. Compared to a hundred years ago in which only the elites could afford to buy books.

If Rizal is still alive today, I would love to have merienda with him and talk about books. That will definitely be a memorable time.