Being a Reader in the Philippines

Filipino Friday is a weekly meme that aims to promote the upcoming Filipino Reader Conference on September 14 and will be held during the Manila International Book Fair, SMX Mall of Asia, Meeting Room 2. Today’s topic is how hard or easy is it to be a book lover in the Philippines.

Oh yay, a post where I get to rant about my book-related frustrations. *rolls up sleeves* Sorry if this post will seem too whiny, I don’t usually focus on the negative aspects of being a Filipino reader because I want my blog to be a happy place. But here we go… If you’ve been reading my blog for a while then you know that I’ve mentioned that we don’t have good public libraries over here. I’ve heard that we actually do have libraries but I’ve never been inside one. The only libraries that I’ve experienced were my school libraries. So that’s one big frustration but I’ve gotten used to that because in a country where most people struggle to put food on the table, books can be considered luxury items. Like I always say, I’m just thankful that I have a job that allows me to purchase the books that I want to read.

Another frustration is the availability of books. We have several major bookstores in the country – National Bookstore, Powerbooks and Fully Booked but their stocks aren’t that great. Fully Booked is my favorite local bookstore because they have the best selection but I’ve still encountered problems with reservations and orders. There have been times when I’ve reserved a book and I see it on their shelves before I get a notification from customer service about my reservation. When there’s something that I really want, I bug the hell out of their sales people, call every branch to inquire and sometimes it works.

The situation has gotten better though now that online bookstores like the Book Depository and Better World Books have free worldwide shipping. I can just order the books that aren’t available here and wait a couple of weeks for them to arrive. I also have a Kindle so I can order ebook editions of the books that I want if I can’t wait for an actual copy to be delivered or if it’s cheaper than the paperback/hardcover. I also get to read review copies on my Kindle when authors send ebooks or through NetGalley or GalleyGrab. I wouldn’t be able to read review books if not for my Kindle because US and UK publishers aren’t willing to send actual copies all the way over to the Philippines.

Other advantages include cheaper book prices if they’re available here. The books are priced lower than the price printed on the books. We also don’t have to wait for books to be translated here because most people read English books. English is the medium of instruction in schools so I guess that’s one of the main reasons why we don’t need translations. I consider that a good thing because I can read US, UK, Canadian and Australian books in their original form.

Oh wait, bringing up Aussie books reminded me of another frustration – I don’t read that many books by Filipino authors. Why? Because the kind of books that I read don’t get written by Filipino writers. I read a lot of young adult (YA) books and I’m jealous at how vibrant the Aussie YA community is. There are so many awesome Aussie YA books out right now (my favorite Aussie author is Melina Marchetta) and I keep wondering why we don’t have something similar here in the Philippines. So many authors write in English too and I think we’re all aware of how big YA is right now. I really don’t know why there aren’t more excellent Filipino YA books. If I was any good at writing, I’d come up with one. LOL.

Another thing that I love about the local scene is how active Filipino readers are both online and offline. I feel lucky that I’ve met blog and reader friends through Filipino Book Bloggers, the Filipino Goodreads group and even Flips Flipping Pages (when I drop by during some of their discussions). And I’m also getting to know more Filipino readers through the Filipino Friday memes. So while it isn’t easy to be a book lover in the Philippines, I still think it’s a lot of fun. 🙂 What about the rest of you, what do you think are the perks or difficulties of being a reader in the Philippines?

31 thoughts on “Being a Reader in the Philippines

  1. Interesting point about not having to translate .. it’s wonderful that the Philippines is strong in education that way. ~Happy for you too that you’ve got great accessibility to books. –btw, I probably wouldn’t have turned into a bookworm if I didn’t have this great public library nearby .. books add up and cost money!! –Oh, one day I’ll give e-reader a good shot so that a wider range of books would be at my fingertips …just not ready right now. 😀

    Have a great weekend Chachic … tender moments for me to befriend my countrymen. 🙂

    • Yep, book purchases really add up and it’s so hard to control my book buying habit. It’s gotten better this year than last year because I have such a huge TBR pile. I’m jealous that you have access to a great public library, no need to worry about buying the books that you want to read. And since you can just borrow books, you don’t have to get an e-reader to make things easier for you. 😛

  2. are those all your books? 🙂

    wonderful points — i just kept nodding, nodding, nodding. libraries! why aren’t there more?

    as for e-readers, i have not yet succumbed. 🙂

    • Hi aloi! Yes, that’s a picture of the bookshelf in my room. 🙂

      Being a reader in the Philippines is frustrating, right? But still a lot of fun so it’s all good.

      I’m actually surprised at the number of people who have purchased e-readers. So many of my friends have them now.

  3. I’ve never felt a strong urge to find our public libraries here. I haven’t seen a single one yet! Guess that’s an indication of how little priority the government gives for literacy.

    I haven’t read a lot of local books either. But I do have a plan to change that. I agree it will be easier if we had great YA books too seeing that’s the trend right now.

    And you’ve got your books organized by color? Awesome!

    • I don’t think I’ve met anyone who has been inside one of our public libraries. Never felt the urge to look for one though although I am curious and would like to see one at least once.

      We talked about reading local books during the first Filipino Book Bloggers meet up last year and I think we all promised we’d read more of them but that hasn’t happened yet. LOL. I would really love to have more Filipino YA books.

      That was before. More pictures can be found here. They’re now in the process of being arranged alphabetically by author, haven’t found the time to finish it though.

  4. libraries are costly, in the first place. funding to develop public libraries come from the government. a city or municipal library get its budget from the LGU. sadly, in spite of a republic act on the development and maintenance of barangay libraries, LGUs rarely allot budget for it. last i heard, the new director of the national library has toured the islands, visiting barangay, city and municipal libraries. a ray of hope?

    i wish to see the day when private citizens would support local public libraries more. not just in the provision of books and reading materials, but in instilling in people the importance of reading and that stories and information can be created and rendered in many ways. not just in print format.

    • Yep, libraries cost a lot of money and I think it’s pretty obvious that it’s not a huge priority of the government right now. What you said about the new director of the National Library sounds hopeful. I hope there’s something that he can do about the situation.

  5. you can’t read in public (like on the train or in a cafeteria) without being labeled as weird, a loner, or a nerd. oh well. but there are rare times I feel it’s slowly improving.

    • Sometimes, I think the people who’d give you such labels are only doing so to feel better about themselves. Because the truth is they know they’re not smart enough to read what you’re reading. 😉

    • Really? Hmm I guess I never minded. I studied in a science high school so it was a given that everyone there was a nerd. 😛 In college, people read and studied in every available space on campus so it wasn’t that big of a deal. I’ve gotten used to that because I read on my own wherever I go, in the mall while waiting, in restaurants when I eat by myself, in the train when there’s enough space, etc.

    • And we’re not even aware of what’s out there, right? Publishers don’t make an effort to reach out to book bloggers and readers. Sigh. But yes, I’m hoping for Filipino books in the genres that I read.

  6. Oh crap. I wasn’t aware of the Filipino Friday meme. I would have joined. But anyways, I have never been to a public library myself. The only libraries I’ve ever been at were at my former & current universities. And the books aren’t that good. I’m currently a student at DLSU-D, and when I read their fiction books at the library, the want to borrow them weren’t there because the covers are destroyed/altered, and the pages are torn. Sometimes, I don’t get it how they were able to get the five-star rating with those books still present at their library.

    And I agree that there are not much of Pinoy YA books. I would like to write some since writing supernatural creatures like me sounds easy. LOL.

    And great point about not needing to use translators. I’m not exactly saying that Filipinos are great in conversing in English, but what’s great yet odd about Filipinos, we’re better at understanding English than conversing using it. Well, at least most of us are.

    • Hey, it’s not too late to join the Filipino Friday meme! Feel free to put up your post whenever you can, just add it to the Mr. Linky when you’re done. And if you want to interact with other Filipino readers, you can always browse through the list and comment on their posts. 🙂 That way, they can drop by your blog too.

      I don’t think I ever got to borrow fiction books from my Ateneo’s library back when I studied there for college. I usually stayed in the library to study or to borrow reference books for papers. Not even sure if there were any fiction books available there.

      There really should be more Filipino YA books, a lot of readers are interested in reading those kinds of books.

      Whenever foreigners say that Filipinos have a good grasp of English, I just shrugged and took that for granted. It wasn’t until I went to Bangkok early this year that I realized what they meant. It was really difficult to go around because not everyone could speak in English. Not like here where even jeepney or tricycle drivers will understand when you ask for directions.

  7. The photo made me immediately think that you think it’s hard being a book lover here (because of the myriad books that need to be shelved, haha).

    I am also frustrated with the dearth of Filipino books that I’ve read. Blame my colonialism! But yes, I have just finished Syjuco’s Ilustrado. So you see, I’m working on it. 🙂

    • I do have shelving problems. It’s been months since I started arranging my books alphabetically by author and I’m still not done! I have no idea when I’ll finish it.

      I do blame it on colonialism! But still, there are so many Filipino readers and authors out there, I wonder why the aren’t more novels? And most of the ones that become popular are by balikbayans (like Ilustrado).

      • “And most of the ones that become popular are by balikbayans (like Ilustrado).”

        More often than not, the average Filipino reader will only read a Filipino author if the author’s already “vetted” by other countries. Or at least that’s my totally unscientific observation. XD

        What I find amusing is that for some of these balikbayan authors, I find some of their works hard to relate to because they talk about an experience of being Filipino (if that’s what they’re talking about) that is so far removed from my own. Either they overly romanticize it, or they turn up the poverty porn potential.

      • I actually agree, Filipinos are more eager to read books that are popular in other countries. The colonial mentality again. Or maybe they’d read it because it’s the “in” thing, you know how people are, nakikiuso.

        You’re one step ahead of me, I don’t even read books by balikbayan authors because I have a feeling I won’t be able to relate to them. 😛 LOL at “poverty porn potential.” I plan to read Leche by R. Zamora Linmark even though it’s a balikbayan novel because it looks interesting (and I already received a copy).

  8. Well, during the few instances that I’ve been to discussions about YA in the Philippine scene, what seems to be the problem is that A LOT of Filipino writers still see YA as “demeaning” to them. All of them want to write the great Filipino socio-political novel.

    • I heard that most Filipino writers want to write the great Filipino socio-political novel but this is the first time I’ve heard that they see YA as demeaning. Grrr. I wonder if they think the same thing for genre fiction in general? Because there are a lot of speculative fiction writers in the local scene. Although most of them write short stories instead of novels, I think.

      • I think I heard it first last year, during the big conference that the NBDB organized that had Vikas Swarup and everything. Ramon Sunico of Cacho Publishing — which has a few YA books — was the one that said that most authors he approached about writing YA gave him the impression that they found YA “below them”. So there. XD

      • That was Lit Out Loud, right? Can’t remember if I got the name right. I met Ramon Sunico (I think Tarie called him Rayvie or something like that) during the Tall Story launch. I feel bad that that’s the response of the Filipino authors. 😦 And I should probably read more Cacho books so I can review them here on the blog.

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