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ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Thank God for Spring Cleaning. Or one will never realize how many relevant and irrelevant things one has accumulated through years of being the world’s greatest pack rat.

The relevant ones? Books, books, more books.

Do I have my favourites? Books I would first run out with if the house catches on fire? I got into trouble with the missus early in our married life. She asked: “If you were to choose between your books and your children, who would you save first?” I should have realized that she placed a rather earnest stress on “who”; as an English teacher, would I have taken the hint, before I would commit the “most idiotic blunder ever committed on earth since Adam bit of the apple proffered by a liberated Eve?”

The irrelevant things? Dusty book, musty books, more books, dusty shelves that I am too lazy to clean annually. The housekeeper also known as the homemaker helped me with this decision. I cannot, for the life of me, ever consider anything “irrelevant or useless” once I have acquired them. Not clothes, bric-a-bracs, travel mementoes, rose petals between book pages….Or I would not lay claim on the title of the universe’s most shameless pack rat.

Have I ever lived down that “books-first-the-children-can-always-run” polemics in a house conflagration scenario? During my children’s and grandchildren’s birthday parties these days, my wife almost always starts the Great Conversations with “Did you know, children, that your Dad once said that he would save his books first before he would round you up in the event of a house fire?” To keep peace, I would be the nicest person to everyone from then on throughout the social gathering of lynchers. How can one justify this cretinous, moronic, imbecilic faux pas? (Italics, a description from one of the literarily-inclined grandchildren.)

In the most gentle and penitent tone, I would always recall what a high school lesson taught me about Books. Was it not Francis Bacon who said that books are one’s best friend --- not dogs, nor cats, nor wives --- they will never abandon you. Because I will never part with any of these material possessions – the only things I admit I am materially-attached to. The children would, on cue, pipe in with a chorus: “Sure, Dad.” When the littlest grandchild chimes in: “Sure, Dad!” I know I have to be able to justify my vinculum, my bonding, my attachment, my troth to my books.

When my spring cleaning (annual dusting) starts, I always start with my collection of the Great Books of the Western World. The almost fetishist caress I shower on these 54-volume work, edited by Robert Maynard Hutchins and published with the editorial advice of the faculties of the University of Chicago, is required by their having been purchased in the mid-60’s. Not fragile, because of my almost “paternal” attention, and they were my prized possession when I started teaching the Humanities in a Benedictine school for men. They also are my permanent link, next to my now-faded baccalaureate diploma, to a Liberal Education that has must have saved the world hundreds of times over because world leaders who sought to supplant war with lasting world peace share this education for civility with me.

These Great Books and Great Ideas have become part of a Great Conversation with a world that expects rational men and women. It has become the bases for communication in a humanized, civilized, and peaceful world. The liberal education includes the volumes written by the team of Hutchins in Volumes 1-3 (The Great Conversations, The Great Ideas I, The Great Ideas II), Greek literature written Homer (Vol. 4), Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes (Vol. 5); History by Herodotus, and Thucydides (Vol. 6); Philosophy by Plato (7); Aristotle I (8); Aristotle II (9); Hippocrates, Galen (Science, Medicine, 10); Euclid, Archimedes, Appolonius, Nicomachus (11); Lucretius, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius (12); Virgil (13); Plutarch (14); Tacitus (15); Ptolemy, Copernicus, and Kepler (16); Plotinus (17); Augustine (18); Thomas Aquinas I (19); Thomas Aquinas II (20).

Dante (21); Chaucer (22); Machiavelli and Hobbes (23); Rabelais (24); Montaigne (25); Shakespeare I (26); Shakespeare II (27); Gilbert, Galileo, and Harvey (28); Cervantes (29); Francis Bacon (30); Descartes and Spinoza (31); Milton (32); Pascal (33); Newton and Huygens (34); Locke, Berkeley, and Hume (35); Swift and Sterne (36); Fielding (37); Montesquieu and Rousseau (38) Adam Smith (39); Gibbon I (40); Gibbon II (41); Kant (42); American State Papers, the Federalist, and John Stuart Mill (43); Boswell (44); Lavoisier, Fourier, and Faraday (45).

Hegel (46); Goethe (47); Melville (48); Darwin (49); Marx and Engels (50); Tolstoy (51); Dostoevsky (52); William James (53); Sigmund Freud (54); The Great Ideas Volumes 2 and 3 (from Angel to World).

Thus, art and literature, science, philosophy, cosmology, history, epistemology, phenomenology, theology, and politics, and all the known fields of human knowledge have been covered. My continuing education continues. Up to my dottage, you ask? It’s here already, and I have matriculated.

Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization has made me a willing and happy, globe-trotting cosmopolitan. Reading through the 11 volumes of Durant is running through the civilization of humanity. The volumes start with I. Our Oriental Heritage; II. The Life of Greece; III. Caesar and Christ; IV. The Age of Faith; V. The Renaissance; VI. The Reformation; VII. The Age of Reason Begins; VIII. The Age of Louis XIV; IX. The Age of Voltaire; X. Rousseau and Revolution; XI. The Age of Napoleon and The Lessons of History. Why, these have been my best guides for what pictures to take during our retirement trips!

Recently, with the gift cards the family has given me on my 66th birthday, I included a volume entitled “501 Must-Read Books” published by Great Britain’s Bounty Books in 2006. The volume includes what the team of editors and writers consider the best books of Children’s Fiction, Classic Fiction, History, Memoirs (Biography), Modern Fiction, Science Fiction, Thrillers, and Travel. While I have read quite a number of the Classic and Modern Fiction, I look forward to reading (and buying) some work from Europe and Asia included in this tome. Regrettably, it did not include Poetry. (It is a good project to get into: The Must-read Poetry Books, although it might never sell well, except to libraries of the world. We will look into it.)

Before 501 gathers dust in my annually-cleaned shelves, I resolve to list down for this blog the must-read Modern Fiction books in subsequent entries.

On my weekly visits to the homes of my children and my grandchildren, I have noticed that books seem to be the most ubiquitous items in all their rooms, including the grandchildren’s. (And unreturned books they have borrowed from my library.) They outnumber those China-made plastic toys, cabinets of china and such. I realize, of course, that this being the Information Age, the sources of information, knowledge, and hopefully wisdom must be the most essential items in the house. Books, despite the infernal presence of the idiot box? (TVs in all the rooms! Mon Dieu! I did not even have a radio when I was growing up in the boondocks of the Philippines!)

I am biding my time before I ask them the question: In the event of a fire in your house, and Daddy and abuelo, (grandpere, grandpa, ‘lolo), happens to be around and too old and senile to run, who would you save first?

I pray they will answer that query in my favour. Or books be damned!

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