GOING to houses which had volumes of encyclopedia as a kid made me wish I could have my own book collection as well. Since then, I have been saving for books, be it Zaide’s Rizal textbook or Great Speeches for the Young Orator. When I won third place in the First Ramon Magsaysay Essay Writing Contest in 1998, I saw a small book fair in SM North EDSA the next day and spent almost half of the P10,000-prize money, which made my mother cry because she wasn’t able to use it for the other needs of the family in Tarlac.
Although it’s true that most Filipinos would like to talk and listen rather than write and read, the Manila International Book Fair, or MIBF, every September has proven time and again that Filipinos are becoming a nation of book readers and collectors. So, apparently, it is not the lack of love of learning that was the problem but the previous lack of access to readings materials.
The fact is that from the time it was started 40 years ago in 1980, when it was only held at the now demolished Philcite, it has moved to bigger and bigger venues: the Philippine Trade Training Center (1990-1992), Megatrade Hall in Megamall (1993-2003), World Trade Center (2004-2007) and from 2008, the SMX Convention Center.
I went to my first MIBF when I was a provinciano freshman at the University of the Philippines Diliman and I went to Megatrade Hall on Sept. 8, 2001. The only photo I got from the event was a souvenir one by Goodwill Bookstore with the hosts of my favorite morning show, “Alas Singko y Media”: Bobby Yan, Cheri Mercado, Connie Sison and Cheryl Cosim. I also met there one of the creators of my favorite children’s show “Batibot,” the late Rene Villanueva, who signed my copy of his children’s book Bertdey ni Guido about the EDSA Revolution. Villanueva is of course considered one of the “Fathers” of Philippine Children’s Literature.
Now managed by Primetrade Asia Inc., the MIBF is now described as “the biggest and longest running book fair in the Philippines,” which “provides an avenue for foreign and local publishers, distributors, booksellers, agents, authors and talents to converge, exchange ideas and collaborate.” Like what happened to me in 2001, for the young students who flock to the MIBF, creating networks with renowned authors may inspire them to develop their creativity.
Since 2001, except for just a few of the years immediately after, the MIBF has become an annual journey for me, creating memories of bringing the current girlfriend or just being with friends, and I know thousands share my sentiments. The highlight of my #LakingMIBF journey would be hosting the opening program of the 35th MIBF in 2014 and conducting with professor John Ray Ramos our first “Gabay Saysay: Basic Tour Guiding for Local History” at the 36th MIBF in 2015.
We have come a long way from stone tablet to tablet, from “Egypt to E-book” as one title of a history of the book suggests, yet man’s yearning to learn and to express himself remains. From the Doctrina Cristiana, the Philippines’ first printed book, to wattpad, high printing costs and even colonial language barrier did not stop many Filipinos to access knowledge through the written word. This in itself is an inspiring story.
Although e-books have emerged in recent years, the phenomenon did not take off as fast in the Philippines. We still like to flock to book sales. Apparently, touching and feeling a book while reading is still a satisfying experience to many. But unlike Europeans who after reading a book would pass the book to someone, many of us collect, but space is a huge problem. I myself had assembled a book collection in Manila and Tarlac, a large portion of which I lost in the National Heroes Day fire that gutted my childhood home in Tarlac. The thought was devastating for a book lover, but months ago when I lost some books to termites I had conditioned myself to let go of things that will be lost. That’s why I was surprised that many books I collected from years of sweat and toil were actually saved from the fire, though sustaining smoke and water damage. I shall then push through with previous arrangements to loan most of them to what will be “The Xiao Chua Public History Collection” at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Valenzuela, so that our students can have access to what I consider a life’s work.
So next week, my MIBF journey continues as John Ray and I hold our first book signing at the MIBF with the launch of our children’s book by Kahel Press on Andres Bonifacio. Although I wish to temper my hoarding, fire will never consume my love for books.