Book fair affair

THIS year’s Manila Book Fair is over. I spent about P3,000 and brought home 12 books, one a first novel by a friend. It was a lean harvest this year. Some favorite publishing houses were absent while those who were present had nothing new to offer. Even the prices were not that affordable. A textbook on “writing for the media” was offered at P4,000++ (original price P6,000++) while the annual subscription for the New Yorker magazine was pegged at P15,000++ (original price P18,000++).

No wonder nobody wants to read these days! Nobody can afford education anymore. Most of those who were at the fair were students who were required by teachers to go. “The Pupil”

was there to sign autographs, but nobody seems to be buying whatever the band was selling. (Vice President Jojo Binay was there to the amusement of the yayas who were waiting for their wards at the lobby.)

Good that Clarissa Militante had her first book (a novel) released the day before I visited the fair. I had one good reason to be there aside from collecting freebies (back issues and bookmarks) from booths of magazine dealers and flirt with credit card representatives who persist on getting your name and address in exchange for a plastic water tumbler.

Clark’s first novel has been long-awaited. After five chapters, I say it’s worth the wait. It’s the story/stories of ordinary people in this our beloved land. It’s a story of generations, of relatives, of the past, the present and the future. It’s a crime story, a love story, a story that begins somewhere and who knows if ever it will end soon. It’s a story of our country that all of us should read. “Different Countries” is Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jose Rizal writing. (Unfortunately, who reads Rizal or Marquez except if it’s assigned by teachers? And who wants to spend P295 for the newsprint edition fo Clark’s book that speaks of poor people in poor villages?)

There was a time in the past when people get knowledge from books and magazines. Even the characters of Clark’s book dream of buying books to acquire knowledge, of going to school, of rising from poverty and overcoming “issues” like militarization, enforced disappearances, rebellion and human rights violations. These days, people go to the Internet for information, not knowledge, and to the streets to fight for human rights.

Reading and writing seem to be a dying activity. Authors are a dying breed of people, publishing a commercial enterprise, wisdom a dream, and book fairs an opportunity to be seen, an affair to be attended and a chance to have one’s photograph taken with a popular singer or politician.

Gone were the days when the book fair was an awaited event for lovers to hold hands while hunting for a rare copy of Neruda’s collection or Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel or for Greg Brillantes’ collection of hometown stories. Like so many affairs, the book fair seems to have been just another affair to remember. Joe Torres

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