Wednesday, June 06, 2007

On Filipino Books

I was reading Tin's entry entitled Re: Nagbabasa Ka Ba?, (translated as "Do you read?") which is a reaction to Virgilio Armalio's Keynote at RodCon. Tin's proposal to solve the problem of a lack of Filipino literature (to clarify, Filipino literature in the sense that it's written in Pilipino, rather than literature written by Filipino writers, and from now on I will refer to as "Filipino books" for the sake of a common definition) is to purchase such books regularly (by whatever definition you define regular to be). The problem I have with that proposal is that I don't believe in what I call "charity book purchases". If you're buying a book and then read it, well and good. But if you're buying a book for the sake of supporting the author or cause alone and not reading the book, that's where I have a problem.

That's not to say I haven't made charity book purchases myself. It's just that there are a lot of righteous causes in the world, and the local book publishing industry has its own share of causes. I mean while we're at it, there's the local children's book industry, the local fiction industry, etc. There are many causes that need to be supported and at the end of the day, I can't support them all. There's also the question of its feasibility in the long run. If x number of people bought enough Filipino books to make publishers take note, what happens when the publishers do start churning out Filipino books en masse and the x number of people who bought them out of charity simply stopped buying them?

I'm not saying don't buy Filipino books. I'm saying buy them if they have value to you. If you read them, well and good. If you plan on giving them to someone who loves to read in Filipino, that's okay too. But if it's simply to sustain the local Filipino book reading industry, it'd better have value of some kind to you. Because as much as local book publishers enjoy the influx of people taking interest in Filipino books, they'd appreciate more if it was sustainable. And I think that's the real problem--how do we make a thriving Filipino book publishing industry sustainable? (And I honestly don't have an answer to that right now.)

A dilemma any bibliophile (or any fan really) faces is allocating funds for the books they read. It's also why people tend to stick to genres: we only have a budget to purchase x number of books so most likely, most of the books we purchase will revolve around the books we love. This is well and good when it comes to personal enjoyment but it's also a vicious cycle in determining what books we read. If we only stick to authors and genres that we're familiar with, how can we expand our reading horizons? If we are to make Filipino books sustainable, that dilemma must be solved as well--how do we divert readers to take a look at Filipino books? And at the end of the day, Filipino books should be able to sustain itself and make itself viable... if authors like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling are pop genre writers, at least they're making the genre profitable and drawing readers in to their respective fields. Do they have literary/artistic merit? Many people will argue but the point is, they make publishing such books possible. (An author that I think comes close is Luwalhati Bautista and her novel Bata, Bata, Paano Ka Ginawa? but this book might also be a symptom of the textbook epidemic, in the sense that this book is required reading for schools hence the numerous reprints.)

Of course Bhex made a relevant comment to Tin's blog post. One of the problems the Filipino book industry is having problems is because well, let's face it, not every Filipino considers Filipino to be the national language. And if I were to be honest about things, Filipino was deemed our national language simply because it was chosen by the people with influence at that time for whatever reason (whether it's our Spanish colonizers, the revolutionist who strove for national freedom, or the Cory administration). Several theories have been thrown around why Filipinos are resisting it, from the fact that we're an archipelago to a lack of willingness to be part of the nation called The Philippines. But the fact is, not everyone is embracing Filipino wholeheartedly, whether it's the people residing in Visayas or Mindanao.

I'll be honest--perhaps the only reason why I'm accepting Filipino as the national language is because I was raised with it (usually from school). Add that to the fact that I'm residing in Luzon. If tomorrow, the president arbitrarily chose Ilocano to be the national language, I'll most likely oppose it simply because I'm more comfortable with Filipino than say, Ilocano. But it is important to have a national language, not necessarily for the value of the language itself, but rather because it's a language we can identify with as a people.

That's not to downplay the importance of English of course. Another problem I have is people who polarize the issue. Why must it always be a choice of English or Filipino? Why not both? As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, I don't believe in specialization. Human beings are multi-talented and are capable of assimilating a lot of cultures and skills. English and Filipino can sit side by side with one another, with Filipinos being bilingual. While language plays an important role, it's not the only element that determines our nationality.

Going back to the lack of Filipino books, or better yet, a lack of Filipino readers, the problem I think is not unique to the Philippines. Getting the public to read voraciously is a problem a lot of countries face. And while others are quick to point fingers as to the cause, from television to computers to comics (and in fact Virgilio Almario limits Filipinos' reading habits to tabloids and komiks in the keynote), I think a more important point is whether Filipinos are literate in Filipino, irregardless of what they're reading (whether it's a newspaper, a magazine, a comic, or a web page).

I do think getting Filipinos to read is a good cause. Getting them to read solely books, on the other hand, is a battle I think we should wage in the future rather than the present. Is there a lack of Filipino-written work? Sure. But book publishing isn't perhaps our only answer. Since most people who'll be reading this will be reading it via my blog, I think it's a fair question: when did you last read a Filipino-written blog? I mean sure, I have friends who blog solely in Filipino. I even have people who share their most intimate moments (whether it's cursing the world or sharing their most private of joys) in Filipino and write the rest of their entries in English. But I'll admit, most of the blogs I read are in English. So I think that's something we can work on (not necessarily to blog in Filipino or read all blogs that are in Filipino--that would be too one-sided--but rather to encourage such writing).

Then there's the issue of whether the Filipino language is truly on the decline. Most of local television, for example, is in Filipino rather than in English (to my own personal chagrin). Local usage, on the other hand (but bear in mind I'm in Luzon), is somewhere between English and Filipino, most likely a hybrid language (which we call Tag-lish) but that is to be expected of multilingual cultures. And if we're speaking solely about Filipino books, haven't those cheesy, paperback romances always been selling? Is it in Filipino? Yes. Is it well written or does it have artistic merit? Well, as you know, there'll be critics who'll doubt it. But that, I think, is a sign that there is a market for Filipino books. We simply need to catch their attention.

1 comment:

Abigail said...

It's great to hear that you're in touch with your English speaking and Pilipino speaking sides. I grew up here in America, but my parents spoke in Tagalog all the time. I never really could talk to them in Tagalog because I feel like I need to formally learn the language. I understand them plenty, but I want to speak to them. I'm a teenager, so there's still time for me to continue learning.

I was just wondering if there were any contemporary Pilipino-Filipino books. I love reading, but I've never really read a book in Pilipino. I've read Han Ong, but his stuff is in English. Hopefully there is something you can recommend for a young adult reader.