Goodreads is an application I recently use. It feels good to share what have you read and what did you think about it, what are you reading and what will you read, to people who actually care. It feels good because I found it hard to find people who can share their thoughts on books with me. I started to realize it when I was in an airport, waiting for a flight to take me from Detroit Michigan to Pennsylvania. I was with three other Indonesian girls and 4 American girls. The American started to talk about Shakespeare, casually. They were like, “My favorite is Romeo and Juliet.” // “Are you kidding me? It was just about stupid teens who made bad decisions because they had crush on each other!”/ And then about Othello and other Shakespeare’s I could not remember. I remember that I felt jealous, though. I thought, “Should I start a conversation with my Indonesian friends about Indonesian classics’? Like Siti Nurbaya? Oh no, never mind. I never really read that book. Hmm what about first wave poets? Oh but I didn’t read theirs either. I just learned about their names, not their works, in high school. Okay then let’s talk about Pramoedya’s! I read Pramoedya’s. Oh but they didn’t. What about Remy Sylado’s? Oh never mind!!”
Okay I might exaggerate a little bit, but the frustration is real.
Maybe the first frustration is because we Indonesian young people don’t have the same basic knowledge about Indonesian classic literature. When we were in high school, teachers made us memorize who wrote what, and who belongs to which generation. Some teachers are probably good enough to ask the students read the book, and ask them to re-tell. But not in my school, memorizing name and title was the best I could ask for, and I think the same thing happened in many other schools. Now this is unfortunate because without actually reading the books, we wouldn’t know the story (obviously), we wouldn’t know the message the writers were trying to deliver, we wouldn’t know the literature trend in Indonesia and how it transforms, and we never learn to appreciate and to enjoy literatures. That’s why nowadays you’ll see more people tweeting and facebooking, instead of reading, while waiting for bus.
Second, I was unhappy because there are only limited group of people that I can talk about Pramoedya’s or Goenawan Muhammad’s with. Until I realized that this is not necessarily a bad sign. It’s not like people doesn’t like to read, but probably they just read different books. For example, I like reading history. A wise man said that we only live for a short time, but if we learn history, it’ll feel like we live for hundreds of years. But I don’t read self-help or motivation books like Chicken Soup for whomever souls, or how to be rich, or how to get married in 3 weeks. It simply because most of the time I can’t relate with the situation described by the writers, and because different people give different advices. For instance, now I’m confuse which one is right, “When you love someone you shall let him go” or “If you love someone you have to fight for him no matter what.”
People read because they need what’s inside it. I need to read Sophie’s World because I want to get to know world’s philosophers, The Africans because I want to learn Africa through a person who experienced the continent directly, and Harry Potter because I need some adventures. Others read Chicken Soup for the souls because she wants to fix her relationship with her mother, or How to be a Success Entrepreneur because he is about to start his own business. Who knows, someday, I’ll carefully read Why Men Marry Bitches? because I’m too exhausted failing in relationship.
We can still estimate qualities of books though, I believe; which one is good book and which one is not. I’m going to use my father’s theory in it. My father is a curator and an art critic, he told me that good paintings are the one fulfilling the two aspects: the power of attracting, and the power of intruding. By attraction, it means the painting looks good, eye-appealing. It should also be painted in certain techniques to show your expertise and that you’re mastering art. Last but not least, the painting should tickes you with a meaning. Beautifully painted and awesomely scratched, a painting will not be valuable if it does not deliver any strong and meaningful messages. I think the theory can be applied to books too. Therefore I can argue that Goenawan Muhammad’s Catatan Pinggir is a good writing, or a collection of good writings, in the case of Kumpulan Catatan Pinggir. Goenawan Muhammad tells you attractive story, for example in one his text titled El Cambio (Catatan Pinggir 9, p.229, Tempo August 10 2008), even the title makes you wonder. He wrote about the newly elected US President Obama, and how the man who once called out for change, will finally go with the flow of power and politics. GM wrote beautifully. He own rich dictions, process them perfectly into poetic, seducing, yet straightforward sentences, “Akhirnya, Obama kembali ke dalam kisah yang biasa: sejarah politik adalah sejarah kembang api. Pada suatu hari yang gelap, sebuah partai atau seorang tokoh politik dengan cepat terlontar bercahaya ke angkasa, bak bintang luncur dengan suara riuh. Tak lama kemudian, ia tak tampak. Ia malah mungkin jatuh sebagai arang yang getas.” Finally, each of his writings makes you stunned, think, contemplate…
I like to find people grading books, now we can start a conversation. We can talk casually, why you read those books and why I read these. Or, when we start to grade them, we can skip our personal tastes and discuss what aspect takes to make it a good read or a bad read.