Time has become a privilege one carves out from these days of want and fear: time to muse, to make sense of what’s going on, to read. Reading is crucial: an act of will, of resistance.
Slogging through the tremendous crowd on the last day of the Manila Book Fair last September, one gaped at the teeming mass (it wasn’t a meet-and-greet for a K-pop superstar, after all) and realized that 1) reading is alive and well (granting the books chosen and purchased would be more than just fodder for tweets and IGs), and 2) local book publishing is a budding force.
The Indie Village was in there pitching, holding its ground cheek by jowl with the established outfits including the university publishing houses. Formally (a necessary ritual), a number of authors were present for the requisite book-signing. Importantly (now being a function of our times), face masks were firmly in place.
At the Anvil Publishing stall, the queue for Ambeth Ocampo’s signature on the 32nd-anniversary edition of his “Rizal Without the Overcoat” snaked for yards, as did another queue to the cashier that required a male staffer to stand at a shifting point with a sign indicating where harried buyers should fall in line. One managed to plant a foot and then another into the stall, greeted Ambeth, and gestured with wonderment at the seeming madness. He smiled a tad wearily and said the crowd was even bigger the day before.
Elsewhere in the sprawling SMX Convention Center, Everything’s Fine’s Katrina Stuart also said hordes of young people were swarming the book fair. Gantala Press’ Faye Cura confirmed this, as did Balangay Books’ Bebang Siy.
Not that anyone was heard complaining. There may be hope yet in Rizal’s hope of the motherland—provided that the learning poverty among Filipino children is scientifically addressed, and that funds appropriated by the Department of Education are applied to the purpose and not to shadowy surveillance activities.
After a little more than an hour in the cheerful commotion, one emerged glassy-eyed but happily toting a modest—by virtue of an immodest lack of wherewithal—share of the embarrassment of riches within: “Variations on Forgetting” by Mariejo S. Ramos (Central Books Supply Inc.); “The Battle of Marawi” by Criselda Yabes (Pawikan Press); “Ang Compedio ng mga Imposibleng Bagay” by Carlo Paulo Pacolor (Everything’s Fine); Leon Ma. Guerrero’s translations of Rizal’s “El Filibusterismo” and “Noli Me Tangere,” and “Banaag at Sikat” by Lope K. Santos (Anvil); “Pasalubong” by Maria Rilke Arguelles (Grana-PH Book Publishing); and “Mangled Mornings” by Aida F. Santos and “Makisawsaw” by enthusiastic chefs (Gantala Press).
“Mangled Mornings,” Santos’ poems of love, grief and strength published in 2019, will soon be followed by another collection if the poet’s labors in her plant-festooned and memory-drenched home in Quezon City are sustained; if the publishing boom delivers on its promise; and if it’s true that our times constantly trigger (even as they clamp) expression, poetic or otherwise.
Time is a resource at once ponderous and quicksilver. But always fateful: “As I lay me down to sleep/,” Santos wrote in her title poem, “The breeze whispers, stand up/ And be counted, fight/ For bloodied bodies and mangled parts.”