Filipino Reader Fridays: Being a Filipino Reader

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On August - 26 - 2011

As part of an event to promote the upcoming Filipino Reader Conference, I’ll be participating (or trying to) in Filipino Fridays, where Filipino readers discuss a weekly topic. For this week, I’m going to talk a bit about advantages and disadvantages to being a reader in the Philippines.

I can only speak as to the advantages and disadvantages to being a reader in Metro Manila, and what answers I give should be read with the awareness that there will likely be more disadvantages and less advantages the farther you get from a major metropolis.

There are quite a few good things about being a reader in the Philippines today. Book prices (prose and non-fiction, but not comics) are generally lower than other countries (and we have some excellent, if chaotic, second-hand bookstores), and speaking as someone who lived in the days of the true National Book Store monopoly, the selection of titles is very good. Hell, sometimes we even get big releases before the U.S. does (hello, “Ghost Story”).  Another benefit that many people take for granted is that we also have the best selection of Philippine-published books in the world. That’s something that I have a renewed appreciation of, having just met Rochita Loenen-Ruiz the other day, an amazing Filipino spec fic writer who is based in the Netherlands, and who spent a lot of time during her visit home acquiring research materials for her stories. (To see how she applies this research, and her Ifugao background, to her stories, here’s an example of her work: “Hi Bugan ya Hi Kinggawan.” She also has a story in “our upcoming anthology, Alternative Alamat”) For someone who loves reading about Philippine history and komiks, it’s hard to imagine a better place to be. Can you imagine how hard it would be to get the latest Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology, or Trese case, abroad?

As for disadvantages, there are quite a few, which I’m always happy to name: First, let’s go with the still unresolved book tax issue; our lack of public libraries (and the lack of support given to the libraries that do exist); the need to have a U.S. address to buy Kindle books at their actual prices (or at all); a lack of conventions that prominently feature and discuss prose fiction; few specialty/genre-focused bookstores; few author-reader events (readings, book tours, panels); lack of a functioning Espresso Book Machine (okay the last is true for almost everywhere in the world, but a boy can dream, can’t he?).

I have a lot on my “cons” list, not because I’m utterly dissatisfied with the way things are, but because reading is something I care deeply about, and so I’m always aware of the problems because I want the local situation to get better–especially now that I have a child. It’s good to be a reader in the Philippines (especially now with the active book communities, online and off)–but we can, and should, make it better.


8 Responses to “Filipino Reader Fridays: Being a Filipino Reader”

  1. Monique says:

    With the many disadvantages that you mentioned above, may I ask what you do in order to compensate or cope? I have a child, too, and I agree that if the situation in our country (or at least, as you specified, in the metro) doesn’t improve where books and reading are concerned, then it would be such a shame.

    • Paolo Chikiamco says:

      In the short term, the Internet can be very helpful, unless one has an attachment to physical books (which I love, but can do without). The Internet seems to have taken the place of libraries, insofar as research is concerned, and digital distribution systems allow me to access foreign books (even some highly specialized ones) without having to worry overly much about import duties. The Internet is also where I’m able to find other people willing to talk (and argue) about books I love and loathe, which will do–I suppose–until the first Philippine Fantasy Convention.

      In the long term and for the big picture, supporting causes/bringing attention to issues is the best we can do. To be voiceless is to be ignored, so as readers, we need to make as much noise as possible :)

      As for my daughter, well, she’s better situated than most. After all, she already has a library waiting for her–mine ;) (Unless she wants to read realist fiction, in which case she’s starting from scratch.)

  2. Chachic says:

    There are still a lot of disadvantages to being a reader here in the Philippines but it’s gotten better over the years. I remember the days when National monopolized the market. Fully Booked has way better stocks so I buy most of my books there. It also helps that online bookstores like Book Depository now have free worldwide shipping. But yes, like you, I’m hoping that the local situation will still get better.

    • Paolo Chikiamco says:

      I remember when have the Fantasy section was just Dungeons and Dragons novelizations, and two-thirds of the remaining books were the series novels of Tolkien, Eddings, Brooks, Modesitt, Card and Jordan. (Not a knock on the quality, but a knock on the variety.) So yeah, it’s gotten a lot better–and even Fully Booked stocks pale in comparison to what’s available on the Kindle, at least for genre fiction/non-fiction.

  3. So that’s what the thing in the office is! Espresso Book Machine. Looked like a printer on steroids :)

  4. Jinky says:

    You should patent that Espresso Book Machine .. perhaps collaborate with the lady that did the “Nitflex” book idea here in this FF group (was it Ms. Esguerra?). Anyway, bummer on the frustrations .. lots to bring up to the Reader Conference and initiate a solution. :)

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