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.