What follows is the second part of my essay on the implications of the Future of the Book Conference and the Manila International Book Fair, which happened last month. Part 3 remains unwritten as of posting time. Hey, I have a life too, you know. :p
PART 3: FOTB, MIBF, and new forms of literature
There’s no question about the Manila International Book Fair contributing to the social aspect of reading — it’s like Comic-Con for the bookish, where nerds gallivant in bibliophilic camaraderie (or metaphorically slit each other’s throats for that One Book In Short Supply that they’ve been lusting after). So, let’s move on, shall we?
A few weeks ago, I read an article at Salon.com lamenting all this e-book hype and its supposed detriment to the social aspect of reading. Whatever would happen to the bookstore meet-cute (in which a boy and a girl grab the same book at once, and their hands touch, their eyes meet, and sparks fly in the space between their spectacles, out of mutual attraction or book avarice)? To the book as artifact and heirloom, gifted to a friend or lent to exes who never gave them back? To the literati’s reservation of the privilege to snigger at that kid reading Breaking Dawn on the train? To lining up at book launchings to have your favorite author sign your book? A book is more than a bound sheaf of papers and ink; it’s like a time capsule — it holds all these sentiments and memories and inane comments in the margins you wrote when you were young and stupid enough not to use a pencil, comments that would be debated most ardently if the book in question landed on the shelves of the library or the used book store.
For a time, I thought that the rise of the e-reader, like the rise of the iPod and other “selfish” (as a professor called it) devices, would further make the consumption of cultural products a solitary experience. Seeing what that pretty girl at the table across you in the café is reading could generate conversation; seeing the blank white back of her laptop probably wouldn’t. A book bargain find can make for an excellent gift, but only the very rich or the very thoughtless or both would even dream of lending the novel in his iPad (and the device with it) to any but the most obsessively careful friend — who reads really, really fast. And you wouldn’t ask Dana Delgado to sign the back of your Kindle unless you’re that crazy for “In Saudi Arabia“ or for her.
However, Gege Sugue’s presentation about social networking for the bookish made me realize that though in some respects, the rise of e-books and e-readers may promote a certain sense of detachment with the (e)book, their attendant technologies like social media actually foster the communal aspect of readership and enable conversations between the author and the readers; the publisher/distributor and the readers; the publisher and the author; and a reader and fellow readers. Twitter alone (not to mention Facebook or the geekier Shelfari) facilitates this interaction and feeling of community. Consider the following: I follow my favorite authors like Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, and Douglas Coupland on Twitter, get updates directly from them, and ask them questions sometimes; Lucy of Fully Booked on Twitter recommends books, announces sales, and engages its customers and readers; Justin of @shitmydadsays got a book deal because of his Twitter posts; and my friends and I often discuss books and other nerdy stuff on Twitter.
It would be great if local publishers harness the force of this online Filipino reading community to gain a larger audience for Philippine literature. They could, for example, maintain links with key people in web-based book clubs like Flips Flipping Pages and direct them to online zines, invite them to book launches, offer to be a partner in their events, organize talks with local authors be those discussions virtual or personal, etc. to cultivate a market for their books. Gege Sugue said that they discuss mostly foreign books because such books are more accessible — they’re easy to find at book stores, even at Booksale — and they’re cheaper than local titles, although I disagree with that last thing. I think the problem is more about awareness of the good Filipino stuff that’s out there — it’s about promotion, it’s about reviews, it’s about generating interest outside of the academe. In this age of the internet, that can be more easily done.