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Pinoy Kasi

Filipino books

/ 09:50 PM November 24, 2011

“Manila was the world’s first global city,” writes D. M. Irving in the first chapter of his book, “Colonial Counterpoint: Music in Early Modern Manila,” which was published last year by Oxford University Press. It is a bold statement, but Irving presents strong evidence to support his assertion that Manila was a global entrepot that linked “people, ideas and commodities.”

Irving gives colorful descriptions of Manila in the 19th century, bustling with sights (great edifices) and sounds (languages of the world, and, of course, music). He also mentions that Manila was a “major center of European print culture in East and Southeast Asia,” producing thousands of books beginning with “Doctrina Christiana” in 1593. Many of the books were of a religious nature because for more than 200 years, the only printing presses were those of the Dominicans, Franciscans and Jesuits.  But in 1811 the first newspaper, Del Superior Gobierno, was established, followed by new printing presses in Manila and other urban centers.

What has happened in more recent times? I looked up figures from Unesco on the number of new book titles published each year in various countries. Their latest compilation lists these countries as the leaders: the United States with 288,000 (I’m rounding off figures), the United Kingdom with 206,000 and China with 136,000.

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More books in Afghanistan?

I went down the list looking for the Philippines.  There was  India ranking seventh with 21,000 Hindi and 18,000 English titles. Indonesia was 19th with 24,000 and Thailand, 29th with 13,000. Hong Kong had a separate entry from China, coming in 34th with 9,000 titles. I was beginning to get alarmed. Just where was the Philippines?  Afghanistan was 49th with 2,795. Then, finally, the Philippines appeared, ranking 53rd with 1,507.

I was shocked that they were still citing 1996 figures for the Philippines. I am sure our output has increased through the years, but we are probably still a long way off from many other countries, including our neighbors. We certainly can’t plead a small population either for our meager output.

I thought about our print production during the recent National Book Awards ceremonies. Organized by the National Book Development Board and the Manila Critics Circle, these awards are given annually for several categories. I was among the judges in the last round so I did see the many books that had been nominated. The Filipino book publishing industry is alive, but I have concerns about the output, both in terms of quantity and quality.

I got some insights into the problems reading through the National Book Awards program booklet, which listed all previous winners by categories. It is telling that awards have been given out nearly every year for biographies; in several years awards went to autobiographies.

More science books needed

In contrast, there were several categories where no National Book Awards were given for several years.  Short fiction had awardees only in 2004 and 2006, which tells us we are better at producing long novels . . . and that the short fiction that does appear isn’t too worthwhile. I have noticed the rare times I see a woman reading books on the LRT. It’s either a prayer book or one of those pulp romance novels.  (Well, at least the women read. The men watch the women.)

Because I teach in several colleges in UP, I am particularly concerned about missing awards in the social sciences and philosophy, in the natural sciences and in medicine.  No philosophy book has gotten a National Book Award since 2001.  And when I was asked by the board to give my evaluation of 38 books nominated for the social sciences category, I had to tell them I was almost ashamed the better social science books were written by non-social scientists or, more specifically, scholars from the arts and humanities. Since I do teach in our Philippine Studies doctoral program (which is administered by the College of Social Sciences, College of Arts and Letters and the Asian Center), I could at least be proud of the winner in this category, Rhoderick Nuncio, who is one of our graduates. His book has this mysterious title: “Sanghiyang sa Mundo ng Internet.”

Paging professor emeritus and marine scientist Flor Lacanilao and his e-group, which has been complaining about the lack of scientific journal publications. I think something has to be done as well about writing natural science books for the public. Look at the awards given out for this category in recent years. In 2003 there was “Fishes of the Philippines” by Genevieve Broad. (It took a British Volunteer to produce that much-needed book.) No awards were given in 2004 and 2005. In 2006 the winners were “A Guide to Families of Common Flowering Plants in the Philippines” and  “Introduction to Complementary and Alternative Medicine.” In 2007 it was “Living with Nature in Our Times” and in 2008 it was “Diabetes is BitterSweet.” After two years without awards, Grace Reyes’ “Watersheds Sheltering Life” made it this year.

Note that the more recent awards for science were books on health. Yet there is a separate National Book Award category for medicine and for which, so far, only three books have received awards: “The Healing Cut: Filipino Surgeons Write about Human Drama” edited by Maria Socorro Naguit (2000), “The Truth About Coconut Oil” by Conrado Dayrit (2005), and “Bone Tumors in Filipinos” by Edward Wang and Ariel Vergel de Dios (2007).  There have been no National Book Awards for medicine since then.

Just a week after the National Book Awards I was at a national conference of the Reading Association of the Philippines in Dipolog, where several booths had been set up for children’s books. I was encouraged by the number of local children’s books available, with many wonderful titles and themes but many of those on display were imported. As for the local children’s books, all were in English or in Tagalog-based Filipino, making me realize that I have yet to see a children’s book in Cebuano or one of the other eight Philippine languages that have more than one million speakers each.

There’s hope yet, but we need to intensify our campaigns to get Filipinos not just to read, but also to love, books. And the way to do that is to produce more local books about the Philippines.

Two plugs:

Anvil Publishing is launching books for children and young adults, including Ed Maranan’s “Secret of the Cave” and “The Google Song,” this Saturday at 3 p.m. at National Bookstore, Robinson Ortigas branch. Discounts will be given for the new titles.

If you have time after the launch, catch a piano concert of 11-year-old Dipolog prodigy Misha Romano, a product of home schooling, including piano lessons from his mother. He performs Chopin, Debussy, Beethoven and Haydn on Nov. 26, 5 p.m, at Balay Kalinaw in UP Diliman. Tickets are limited so it is best to reserve or buy tickets ahead of time. Call 748-4152.

TAGS: featured columns, Filipino books, opinion
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