18 May 2009

Manila Times column for 17 May 2009: "Getting ‘them’ to read ‘us’"

original post here.

By Libay Linsangan Cantor
Getting ‘them’ to read ‘us’

If we don’t have access to foreign books, will Filipinos reacquaint themselves with local books and rediscover our own classic and contemporary writers? Well, that remains to be seen.

So much has been written about that “Great Book Blockade” thing about the Bureau of Customs placing tax on imported books (which violates a certain treaty, so it seems, that stipulates books should remain tax-free), presumably the reason why local bookstores haven’t had new titles for months now. Book lovers decried this move, with some citing it as “just another corrupt move of the government.”

If we debate about the corruption practices in this country, it would take months. But let’s stop and see its connection to how we could persuade readers to read local authors instead. If our country imported less foreign titles, will local readers read local titles more? Instead of howling that they want their latest Twilight series book or the latest Dan Brown-penned mystery, could the government perhaps persuade them to take home the latest Anvil, Milfores or UP Press-published anthology of new writings from local authors instead? I don’t know. As Jose Dalisay Jr. once said in a public lecture, “Filipinos love to read; they’re just not reading us.”

In film, we have the Metro Manila Film Festival, which stipulates that at least in ten or so days in December, all films to be shown within Metro Manila should be local films only, banning foreign titles. In a country where ticket sales of Hollywood movies fare better than locally produced ones, that’s a very nice incentive, even if it seems like such a token kind of incentive. Now do we have something similar for authors?

It often saddens me when I visit mainstream bookstores in the metro, as they all have very impressive shelves of a lot of books from most regions of the world. But when I want to look for my own country’s latest titles, it’s sad that the salesperson directs me to a small little nook, corner or wall entitled “Filipiniana” as if I am entering a section of a library where one enters to research for academic purposes only. I wonder when Dalisay, Kerima Polotan, Lakambini Sitoy or Luis Katigbak would share the same sectioning with Salman Rushdie, Chuck Palahniuk or Jeanette Winterson. Am I dreaming? I certainly hope not.

Call me crazy but one day, when I want to buy local titles, I don’t want to go to specialty shops in Manila or specialty bookstores of local presses just to avail of them anymore. I want to buy them in local bookstores where at least half of its titles are local. There are so many Filipinos out there writing in their own languages; where are their books?

Comments? Suggestions? E-mail libay.scribevibe@gmail.com. She is also at libaycantor.multiply.com.

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