Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Social Scientist @ The 33rd Manila International Book Fair

It was that time of the year once more when wages are set aside and daily allowances saved up for the much awaited event among Filipino bibliophiles: the Manila International Book Fair!

In its 33rd run, the longest running book fair in Asia aims to attract more Filipinos to the event and encourage the love of reading to everyone, but most especially to males (Hence, the all-male book ambassador line-up). But the MIBF need not to entice me with bibliophile geeks, gays, and nerds just to go and visit. Having attended my 1st MIBF in 2009, I’ve made it a point to religiously attend since then and now I’m in my fourth year. Each year, the book fair always had something special in store for enthusiasts like me which made us come back for more. But what makes this year’s MIBF special is that I got to spend it with a fellow bibliophile and writer, Clarrise, whose blog “Orchestroscopy” I’m a huge fan of.

Fans line up for Ramon Bautista's book signing. (Photo by Clarrise E.)
We went on a Saturday, on the 2nd to the last day of fair, which, when combined with a 3-day weekend sale, a CosPlay event, the collegiate basketball games, and a few rainshowers, made the SM Mall of Asia the smallest and most cramped mall in the world. Upon entering the Main Hall of the SMX Convention Center, the quintessential red and white arch of the country’s National Bookstore would greet visitors. Over to the right is book fair newbie, Fully Booked, the country’s fastest growing upscale bookstore. As my new buddy and I (it was the first time we met in person) strolled to the aisles and sections of the fair, we found more stalls selling religious books, big publishing companies (Rex, Diwa, Edcrish, Scholastic, and more), and companies selling educational tools and materials. I can’t help but have a sarcastic grin: this is just what we need every year in a book fair—big bookstores and publishers and tons of religious crap!

Gone are the rare stalls that offer one-of-a-kind books in prices that range from reasonable to dirt cheap. Back in 2009, I was able to buy a lot of stuff for a budget of Php 1000, including a Reader’s Digest atlas for my Geography students. Back then, Diwa Learning Systems still sold books and back issues of their classic Bato Balani and Damayan magazines. Now, their booth’s look and feel somehow gives you the feeling of being in a Consumer and Electronics Show rather than a book fair. And anywhere in the fair, you won’t find a unique and artsy bookmark which made my buddy a bit disappointed.

I don’t know if Pasay City has already banned plastics, but it doesn’t help the environment to know that the MIBF still uses plastics to package the merchandise they're selling. I hope this issue will be addressed in next year’s fair by encouraging readers to bring their own shopping bags.

The fair is not without its share of good traits as well. Amazingly, there are still a lot left for the kids as the major children’s book publishers are still around and going strong. Passing by Precious Hearts Publications, we saw the Tagalized version of contemporary bestselling novels such as Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight”, and Suzanne Collin’s “The Hunger Games”. While it was only after the fair that I found out that these versions had a lot of language flaws, at least someone is setting a trend in the publishing industry by making foreign works more appealing to locals. However, let’s not bring up the issue of local works being translated and marketed to foreigners, as it is another issue that would take more than a blog post to tackle.  

UP and Ateneo de Manila Press have also offered a lot of great works from less-known but equally talented writers. For my MIBF haul, I was able to snag:

My MIBF haul from UP Press and Ayala Museum (Photo by the author)
“100” by UP Writer’s Club
A collection of bittersweet literary works by UP students

“And the Geek Shall Inherit the Earth” by Carljoe Javier
The first published work of a self-confessed geek and contains hilarious but amazingly realistic anecdotes of his daily experiences as a geek.

“The Filipino is Worth Blogging For” by Angela Stuart Santiago and Katrina Stuart-Santiago
An indie publication by a mother-daughter tandem and contains their positions and considerations of some of the country’s most crucial political and social issues to date.

“Pogi Points” by Stanley Chi
The not-so gentleman’s guide to looking good [for girls], as the sub-headline says.

While there were some disappointments on our part (my buddy didn’t get her bookmarks and wasn’t able to have her picture taken with Ramon Bautista), for me, this year’s book fair experience made quite a memorable impression me. It was the first time I’ve attended the book fair with a person who shares my passion for books and writing. All throughout our time together, we’ve exchanged ideas about our favorite authors and books, our writing styles and experiences, and got to learn more about each other on a personal level. What started as two mere online acquaintances turned out to be kindred spirits now embarking on a expedition to a great friendship!

“It was the most refreshing time I’ve had in months”, Clarrise said right after we parted and called it a night. I couldn't agree more. TSS

You can also read Clarrise's thoughts about the 33rd MIBF in her blog.

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