Posts Tagged ‘books’

pop goes the world: celebrating love and literature

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  7 February 2013, Thursday

Celebrating Love and Literature

Once in a while I feature in this column the literary events of the season, and here’s what’s happening in this month of love:

* * * * *

When you have a lost a loved one, how do you mourn?

Each person finds a way of coping. Support groups help; articles and books yield valuable tips. But ultimately, each one deals with grief and the pain of loss on an individual basis.

University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Arts and Letters associate professor, published poet, and performance artist Nerisa del Carmen Guevara lost her beloved to violence last year. This year, she spearheaded an interdisciplinary project at UST that brings together 11 colleges including the College of Science and the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery in a collaborative effort that explores the many different forms and faces of love.

“Making: Love in Fourteen Collaborative Acts” will run from February 11 to 15 at the Main Lobby of the historic UST main building. It will showcase fourteen literary works – poems and excerpts from stories, essays, and plays – translated into other forms of art and science, all focused on love.

The project is organized under the wing of the UST Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies (CCWLS) headed by Dr. Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo (also professor emerita of the University of the Philippines College of Arts and Letters).

“Making: Love” carries further the old UST Creative Writing Center’s project “Brushes with Words and Chords,” which featured works of literature, painting, and music.

The artists and collaborators will be at the exhibit for meet-and-greet and photo opportunities. On closing night, they will read from or perform their work.

Professor Guevara invites the Thomasian community and the public to the event. She adds, “I will be performing on February 15. This performance is called “Elegy.” I have collaborated with an architect, a mathematician, and a musician. I asked them to build me a bridge between life and afterlife.”

This is a love-in of literary, artistic, and scientific proportions. Bring your Valentine to UST to witness, experience, and taste “Making: Love.”

* * * * *

This event comes soon after the revitalized CCWLS under Dr. Hidalgo revived the UST literary journal “Tomas,” during an event that also saw the blessing of the Center’s new offices.

Established in 1998, the center used to be under the Faculty of Arts and Letters but is now an autonomous unit under the Office of the Rector. “Tomas” will be published every semester.

But wait, there’s more from UST. “The Varsitarian,” UST’s 84-year-old student publication, is organizing the 5th UST J. Elizalde Navarro National Workshop in Criticism on the Arts and Humanities and is now accepting applications.

The workshop will be held in Baguio City from May 26 to June 1 this year.

Fellowships will be awarded to 12 promising young critics who wish to enhance their analytical, research, and writing skills. Applicants must submit a scholarly, properly documented essay, 15-25 pages, on the following art forms – painting, sculpture, architecture, dance, drama, music, film, photography, and literature – on or before March 15, along with an updated resume and a recommendation letter from an academic mentor or art critic.

Send email to workshop convener Associate Professor Ralph Semino Galan at ralphseminogalan@gmail.com for details.

* * * * *

The admirers of Jose Garcia Villa will have a chance to see books and papers from his personal library at the Ateneo de Manila University starting today, February 7, 4:30 pm, at the Pardo de Tavera Room of the Rizal Library Special Collections building.

The Villa Estate donated rare Filipiniana, documents, and ephemera to the Rizal Library. The exhibit runs until May 30.

* * * * *

Tomorrow, February 8, the Literature Section of the University of San Carlos will hold “Minugbo: A Forum on Contemporary Visual Media” in Cebu City.

The forum will feature lectures by Jiji Borlasa (who will speak about Cebuano filmmaking), Anne Lorraine Uy (storytelling through pictures), and Diem Judilla (cinematic writing for short films).

This is a parallel event of the short film contest sponsored by the Section.   *** 

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nancy milford: savage beauty

Nancy Milford’s Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay (Random House, New York: 2002)

Once in a while you stumble across a gem of a work so well-written and meticulously researched that you thank all your stars of fortune for such a book falling with serendipity into your grateful grasp.

Nancy Milford’s biography of American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay draws on previously unpublished family-preserved material – letters, photographs, drafts – to paint a realistic and highly detailed picture of her subject.

The trade paperback cover of Nancy Milford’s excellent biography of Millay. Sharing the spotlight is a Dancheron fountain pen. 

The title comes from Millay’s “Assault” (1921), portraying Beauty as a threat and menace, upsetting the usual convention of the poet paying tribute to it as a virtue.

Millay (b. 1892) was precocious, a genius; the muck of obscurity and poverty failed to conceal the blazing light of an intellectual beacon. Growing up unconventionally during the tail-end of Victorian times with a single parent (her mother, Cora, had sent her gentle but irresponsible father Henry away) and two sisters (Norma and Kathleen), “Vincent”, as she was called, entertained herself with books and writing. From her youth, her works regularly saw print in the children’s magazine St. Nicholas and in other publications; at twenty, her poem “Renascence” placed fourth in a literary contest and was included in an anthology, although many critics said her work should have won.

On the strength of the publicity of this occurrence, Vincent gained a scholarship to Vassar, and later settled into a life of writing poetry, plays, and prose. She was a free spirit, married to Eugen Boissevain until his death, but both of them openly engaged in affairs, she with lovers of both sexes. Her later life was marked by medical problems and addiction to alcohol and morphine.

Writing in 1929 to her lover, George Dillon, she begs him to visit her and Eugen at Steepletop, their home on a blueberry farm in New York state:

Sweetheart, what it means is: will you please come to visit me in my crazy, unfinished, half-finished, disorderly house, where there is a place for nothing, & nothing in its place, except the only important things in the world. – I want to show you the tiny pool we built, absurd, nothing at all, & the hut in the blueberry pasture where I wrote The King’s Henchman, I want to sit on the edge of your bed while you have your breakfast – I want to laugh with you, dress up in curtains, be incredibly silly, be incredibly happy, be like children, and I want to kiss you more than anything in the world.

Vincent lived life on her own terms, staying true to her core philosophy expressed in her “First Fig” (1918):

My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night. But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—. It gives a lovely light!

Beyond the text, the book itself is of interest as an artifact. It has a story. It is pre-loved. I bought it a couple years ago from a poet, University of the Philippines creative writing professor Chingbee (Conchitina) Cruz, when she culled her library prior to leaving for New York to take up doctoral studies.

 The half-title page of the book bears her chop – a rubber-stamped “C” in sapphire ink, ornamented with scrolls and foliage.

She must have bought it second-hand too, or received it as a gift from someone else’s library, because the inside front cover bears a dedication from “Kate” to her “Mama”.

“Kate” lives in Los Angeles now, and gives the book to her “Mama” who might be living in Pennsylvania, where the “brown-gray” landscape is a “desolation.”

Too bad the dedication is not dated, but it must have been written between the publication date, 2002, and the date I acquired it from Chingbee, perhaps in 2010 or 2011.

This pre-owned copy has an interesting dedication written on the inside front cover. Once more the Dancheron makes an appearance.

The book as text and the book as artifact: I think Vincent, who spent her life writing, would have appreciated the many ramifications of presenting the written word.

All photos taken with an iPhone 4S, edited with Snapseed.

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how to reach the top

Image reblogged from this Tumblr.

What were the books that shaped your thinking and gave wings to your imagination? What books do you read now that give you inspiration, new ideas, and worlds to escape to?

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krip yuson: lush life

Last year, through the social connectivity magic of Facebook, I had the privilege of “meeting” writer Krip Yuson and  adding him to my list of Friends. From time to time he’d comment on links I’d post on my Wall. One particular weekend, I found a handful of literary links that he was quite pleased with, enough to send me an autographed copy of his newest book Lush Life: Essays 2001-2010 (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2011).

I received the package he sent via LBC the morning I had to leave for the racetrack to attend a horseracing event. Excited, and wanting to savor the treat, I took the parcel along with me.

“Lush Life” nestled in the base of the Metropolitan Association of Race Horse Owners (MARHO) mother trophy, created by sculptor Ed Castrillo from brass. The event was held at Santa Ana Park in Naic, Cavite, from 15-20 November 2011.

Alfred “Krip” Yuson is a prolific, multi-awarded essayist and columnist who writes a column on literature and culture for the Philippine Star and teaches poetry and fiction at the Ateneo de Manila University.

Here’s an excerpt from “Getting Literary in Oz-Land”, first published in Philippines Graphic magazine, 29 May 2006. I love the Heinlein reference:

Walking through the Botanical Gardens [in Sydney] one early evening, I chanced in on a midsummer open-air concert featuring Tchaikovsky’s “1812″. The freebie audience I joined manifested the national character. Aussie couples, families, and large, motley groups were all lolling about in their comfort zones on the grass lawns and hillocks, romancing their beers. Some lay supine on mats, taking in the night sky as the musical strains led to the climactic crescendo-cum-cannonade – which was of course accomplished by real cannons by the bandstand.

Fireworks lit up that night sky to complement the cannonade, the mighty percussion, and ascending, spiraling strings. Oh what a scene to be in, to be part of – no stranger in a strange land, but one in the midst of casual if sublime revelry, all senses gratified, even one’s sense of marvelous environment.

Krip autographed the book’s flyleaf for me.

The collection of 75 essays is “proof, were further proof needed, that [Krip] has few equals in the field of non-fiction,” says UST Publishing House director and University of the Philippines creative writing professor emerita Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo.

The book, she adds, “demonstrates how a life fully lived – its dizzying heights scaled, its dark depths plumbed – combined with a large soul, an ironic vision, an unfailingly playful sense of humor, and the gift of bending the language to his every whim, are what lead to great writing.”

Not only did Krip send me a copy of his book, he also, with thoughtfulness and kindness, sent me a pack of Pei Pa Koa throat lozenges, which I shared with the racecallers at Santa Ana Park that cool November day.

Clutching the pack of Krip’s Pei Pa Koa, I pose with Philippine Racing Club’s Santa Ana Park racecallers – Vergel Caliwliw, Romy Cheng Tejada, and senior racecaller Ricardo de Zuñiga, whose father was racing writer and poet Oscar de Zuñiga. November 2011.

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doug allyn: the jukebox king

Doug Allyn wrote this short story that was anthologized in Best American Mysteries Stories 2003. ” The Jukebox King” is set in a blues bar in the 1930s, and being a blues fan, I found this passage interesting:

Brownie’s Lounge on Dequinder was buzzing by seven, jammed tight by ten. Selling Stroh’s beer by the gallon. Straight up. No glasses. Shop rats guzzling the brew out of the pitchers. Getting high, feeling mighty. Ready to hear some blues.

John Lee Hooker’s trio came on at nine, kicking out jams on Brownie’s postage-stamp dance floor. Big John wailing on his old Harmony guitar, James Cotton on harmonica, and a pick-up bass player.

No drummer. No need for one. If you can’t feel the beat when John Lee stamps his size 13 Florsheims on a hardwood dance floor, you’d best lie down. You might be dead.

John Lee Hooker sings “Hobo Blues” at the American Blues Festival in 1965. Screenshot from video here.

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aldous huxley: crome yellow

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) was an English poet and author, a humanist and pacifist. Some of his novels – Antic Hay, Point Counter Point, and Crome Yellow – dealt with the manners and hypocrisy of the upper class, while Brave New World was a peek into a dystopian future.

Here’s an excerpt from Crome Yellow (1921), where Denis Stone, a young poet, talks to the jaded critic Mr. Scogan:

“That’s the test for the literary mind,” said Denis; “the feeling of magic, the sense that words have power. The technical, verbal part of literature is simply a development of magic. Words are man’s first and most grandiose invention. With language he created a whole new universe; what wonder if he loved words and attributed power to them! With fitted, harmonious words the magicians summoned rabbits out of empty hats and spirits from the elements. Their descendants, the literary men, still go on with the process, morticing their verbal fomulas together, and, before the power of the finished spell, trembling with delight and awe. Rabbits out of empty hats? No, their spells are more subtly powerful, for they evoke emotions out of empty minds. Formulated by their art the most insipid statements become enormously significant.”

Crome Yellow was Huxley’s first published book, and is part of the tradition of English country house stories.Though after this speech by Denis, Mr. Scogan deflates him with a puncturing comment (you have to read the book to get the full flavor of the humor), it’s still an enchanting passage that shows how Huxley felt about words and writing, and it captures exactly how I feel about it, which is what I do, and is my life’s work – it’s magic, it’s a superpower.

Aldous Huxley portrait here.

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pop goes the world: much ado about gloria

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  24 November 2011, Thursday

Much Ado About Gloria

Was what was done to former president and current congressperson Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo right or wrong?

The debate continues to smolder, and because of its deep political significance has pushed other no less interesting topics to the side – the murder of Ramgen Revilla, the anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre, the controversial victory of boxer-cum-lawmaker Manny Pacquiao over Juan Manuel Marquez, the dismal medal haul of the Philippine team in the SEA Games.

Having listened to and read various opinions on the subject, I’ve noticed that they tend to fall into two categories – “mercy” and “justice”.

The “mercy” side points to how frail and ill the former president looks in recent photographs and that she should have been allowed to leave the country for medical reasons, and that it’s a poor thing to beat someone when she’s down, and that her mugshots should not have been released to the media.

The “justice” side emphasizes the rule of law, that Macapagal-Arroyo should answer for the electoral sabotage committed during her time and that she apologized for. (Her flat, emotionless voice saying “I. Am. Sorry” for the “Hello, Garci” incident, without sounding at all sorry, is a stock sound effect of radio talk shows.)

If Macapagal-Arroyo believes herself innocent of any charges, then let her face her accusers with head held high (a posture she is forced to adopt anyway given the rigidity of her halo vest). If she is truly innocent, she need not leave the country right at the moment, since several specialists have opined that her condition is not life-threatening and that the Philippines has the equipment and expertise to care for her properly at this point.

Instead, the dramatic incident at the airport smacked of an escape try, exactly like Ramona Bautista’s red-veiled night flight. The timing was fishy, it was suspect. It was as if they had received a tip that there would be cases filed against her, thus the desperate attempt.

There is a definite sense of wrongness there – why did Macapagal-Arroyo try to leave the country so hurriedly that way, in that cloak-and-dagger fashion, with the props of the ambulances and the wheelchair?

Why, if she is so sick, was she wearing skinny leather pants and platforms when they tried to flee that night? Do you know how hard it is to get into leather pants, especially the skinny kind, when you’re well and healthy, let alone so ill that you’re wearing a halo vest that drastically limits mobility and your condition ostensibly so bad that you have to go abroad for medical attention? It makes you wonder if her mobility is all that compromised.

All these questions raise red flags. The entire thing seems contrived, and glaringly so to the discerning person. Macapagal-Arroyo and her camp should not be surprised at the lack of public support and sympathy for her, though intellectuals relish the debate on the matter.

That’s just my opinion, and everybody has one. In the end, I believe in the rule of law. Morality that is based on religion will differ among the various faiths with their constructed doctrines and dogmas; likewise, the standards of morality based on culture will differ from country to country. To be fair and just to all its residents, a nation should be founded upon secular law and it is this law that must be used to determine what is right or wrong.

In this case concerning the former president, as in all cases, let the law prevail. Let the judiciary be true to the spirit of their commitment to the people and to the nation and put what is right and fair above personal interest and utang na loob.  Let them bring out the truth in this case, apply the law to the former president as it has been applied to others, and show the world that the Philippines is a nation that hews to the law.

In the words of the prophet Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everlasting stream.”

* * * *

Award-winning writer Dr. Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, director of the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House since 2010, revealed there will be a Christmas sale of their publications, the date and venue to be announced. UST-PH was named Publisher of the Year last November 12 at the 30th National Book Awards night at the National Museum. The award is given out yearly by the Manila Critics Circle and the National Book Development Board.

Among the eminent writers in their stable are National Artists for Literature Virgilio S. Almario and F. Sionil Jose, columnists and professors Krip Yuson, Dr. Jose Dalisay Jr., and Dr. Michael L.Tan,  and musician/writer Lourd de Veyra.

* * * *

The University of the Philippines Institute of Creative Writing has extended to November 29 the deadline of submission of applications to the 51st UP National Writers Workshop.

The workshop is for writers in mid-career and will be held in Baguio City in April 2012.

I had the privilege of becoming a workshop fellow last year and it was a transformative experience. The feedback from the panelists and fellows were helpful and inspiring, the workshop activities eye-opening, and the friendships forged during the week-long event heartwarming.

Another reason for the workshop’s continued success is its venue. Baguio City is cool, calm, and pleasant, and its art scene warm and nurturing, a positive atmosphere that encourages the blossoming of the artist in everyone. Baguio is not just the market, Good Shepherd, and Minesview Park. Do visit Mt. Cloud bookshop, Hill Station Café at Casa Vallejo, Namaste, the BenCab museum and its café at the basement, VOCAS, Ayuyang, Café by the Ruins, Choco-Late de Batirol at Camp John Hay, and the other interesting pockets of creative and culinary pleasure that the locals will be happy to show you.  *** 

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo image here. UST-PH logo here. 51st UP-NWW logo here.

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pop goes the world: sotto’s scare tactics

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  3 November 2011, Thursday

Sotto’s Scare Tactics

The most frightening thing I’ve ever seen during a  Halloween season came from  Senator Tito Sotto – and he didn’t even wear a mask or costume.

His statement in the media on the birth of the symbolic 7 billionth baby was disturbing because it was downright irresponsible, negating the ill effects of rapid population growth.

He shrugged off the fears of a population explosion, saying that even if the world population doubled to 14 billion, “all of us could still fit in the state of Texas.” (Texas, according to Wikipedia, is the “second largest US state by area and population,” its oil wells, cattle ranches, and beautiful big-haired women sprawling over 696,241 square kilometers.)

Senator Sotto also said the birth of Danica May, one of the United Nations’ symbolic “7 billionth babies”, at Fabella Memorial Hospital last October 30 “should be a celebration of life and not be used to spread fear about population growth.”

This was most likely in response to Indian health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s statement that the birth of the 7 billionth baby was “not a matter of joy but a great worry…We shouldn’t be celebrating.” Interpreting this as coming from a macro point-of-view, the minister’s point was that hitting that number should spur the development and implementation of solutions on how to slow the population growth rate and improve the standard of living for most, if not all, people on the planet.

United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki Moon echoed this, saying the “terrible contradictions” of “lavish lifestyles for a few, but poverty for too many others” leads to the question “What kind of world has baby 7 billion been born into?”

Sotto’s statement about Texas parallels Pro-Life Philippines Foundation, Inc.’s arguments.  A newspaper report quoted the foundation’s website as stating that “six billion people on the earth today would fit within the state of Texas, with each family having a house with a little yard. So it is not a question of area. The problem is the growing concentration of large numbers of people in certain cities, caused by the deterioration and lack of opportunities in the rural areas…” with the result that “cities are confronting serious problems with basic infrastructure, health services, food supplies, education, transportation, sewage disposal, and housing.”

But Pro-Life and Sotto are looking at the problem upside-down and are arguing against themselves. No one has said it is a question of area or space. It is a question of living space, of arable space, of usable space. Not all areas are safe nor appropriate for habitation. Not all areas are suitable for agriculture or food production.

And not all countries have solved the problems Pro-Life itself has pointed out – infrastructure, sewage, housing, and so on. Billions all over the world live in poverty, fear, and ignorance.

In this country alone, the homeless families sleeping at the center islands of major thoroughfares, with sex their primary diversion because they can afford hardly anything else, not even a roof over their heads, are a compelling reason to pass the reproductive health bill.

The expansion of a country’s population when that country cannot provide a satisfactory standard of living for its people is folly. It is crass irresponsibility. It is downright criminal.

The knee-jerk reaction would be to accuse the senator of lacking critical thinking skills and a capacity for logic and reason. The fair thing to say would be that his thinking and resultant stand stems from religious doctrine and other cultural sentiments that many other Filipinos share – that, as the senator said, artificial birth control methods are “abortifacients”, that those advocating population control measures “shouldn’t be smarter than God…He has a process of life and death and they should not interfere with God’s process.”

But this line of thinking is self-serving. If the senator were consistent, then he should also believe that sick people shouldn’t go to hospitals and seek treatment for their illnesses. No one should drink medicines. Because doing so would “interfere with God’s process,” would it not?

* * * * *

To know more about this and other global issues, we need to do our research and seek out information. For everyone to be able to do this we need to spread literacy by instilling a reading culture. A person who reads – and I don’t mean this in a merely functional sense – is empowered to gain knowledge for himself. It’s like teaching a man to fish for himself instead of giving him fishes on a handout basis, which merely instills a mendicant mental culture, dependent on what the media supplies.

A major drawback to the development of a reading culture in the Filipino milieu is the lack of access to books. Without access to printed materials, how can people be encouraged to read?  We have few community public libraries, and the ones run by the government carry only outdated materials.

For instance, the one nearest my home – the Sta. Ana, Manila, library – though a sunny, well-lit place furnished with antique tables and chairs that I coveted from the time I first visited a decade ago, only has musty old books and no magazines. Over the years I’ve donated three balikbayan boxes full of books to that library, sometimes unceremoniously dumping them on the doorstep after office hours. I haven’t been back to there to see what happened to the books I gave; it was enough for me that those books were out there, benefiting someone, anyone.

A bit of good news related to this is that the Department of Education has declared November as “National Reading Month” to instill in the youth interest in the printed word. Among the DepEd’s planned activities are a Read-a-thon, to discover outstanding readers in class; the DEAR program, which encourages students to read 20 minutes daily; and the shared reading or mentoring program.

But these activities all take place inside schools. We need initiatives that will spread the word, literally, outside that context.

Now here’s an idea. There’s something called World Book Night, held in London for some years now, with the US to follow suit for the first time next year, on 23 April. The event was created to coincide with World Book Day, founded by UNESCO in celebration of books and reading around the world.

On World Book Night, volunteers hand out free books to passersby on sidewalks and street corners. The books are selected and donated by participating publishers.

Strangely, the venture’s effect is an increase in book sales. Sales of three of the books given away in 2010 surged in the triple digits: Nigel Slater’s “Toast” rose 367%, John le Carre’s “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” (a classic thriller) soared 106%, and Seamus Heaney’s “New Selected Poems” climbed by 102%. Given that, perhaps Philippine publishers might consider doing something similar next year.

We don’t even have to give away new books – pre-loved ones are fine. If you have been touched by books, if reading has transformed your life in any way, then help spread the love and the magic. Calling on government agencies, private corporations, and book-loving individuals to join forces in organizing a Philippine World Book Night! ***

Photo of Senator Sotto taken by JennyO. Baby Danica image here. Homeless woman image here. WBN poster here.

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kahlil gibran: the prophet

It was in a small indie bookstore in South Pasadena – The Battery – that I came upon a little book by Kahlil Gibran that I had not read for couple of decades.

 The Battery bookshop, South Pasadena, California. October 2011.

It was The Prophet, Gibran’s tour-de-force of poetry. I was introduced to it in my teens by The Beloved, who pointed out to me the wisdom in its mystical, Biblically-cadenced passages.

I bought that little book  - hardcover, 4.5 by 5.5 inches, with dust jacket, pre-owned – for six dollars, and consider it money well spent. It’s just the right size to tuck in a back pocket or purse, and take out from time to time to immerse in the flow of language and philosophical ideas.

Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931) was born in Lebanon and migrated with his family to the United States in 1895.

He was a painter, writer, and poet. His most popular work, The Prophet, has never been out of print. He is the third best-selling poet in history, behind Shakespeare and Lao-Tzu.

From the chapter on Love:

Then said Almitra, Speak to us of Love.

And he raised his head and looked upon the people, and there fell a stillness upon them. And with a great voice he said:

When love beckons to you follow him,

Though his ways are hard and steep.

And when his wings enfold you yield to him,

Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.

And when he speaks to you believe in him,

Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.

Image of Kahlil Gibran here.

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pop goes the world: indie bookstores

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  6 October 2011, Thursday

Indie Bookstores Thrive

San Francisco, California – When it was announced that US mega-bookstore chain Borders filed for bankruptcy early this year and gradually shut down its stores over the succeeding months, it was a shocking manifestation of the changing paradigm of bookselling.

Borders was one of my favorite places to visit; I could lose myself for hours browsing the shelves, going gaga over the sale and clearance items. I used to get Taschen artbooks there for only $9.95 each, marked down from some impossibly (for me) expensive price like $50 or $70. When it shut down, booklovers and bookstore-hang-outers like myself mourned. Where now, I thought, would I get my ink-and-paper book fix when in the US?

Where huge, unwieldy corporations may flounder and fail, small, independent bookstores may thrive. And that’s what I found all over Northern California. In Fremont, my mother steered me to Half-Price bookstore. The ambiance is like a library; they stock new and used books. They buy used books in good or mint condition from people and re-sell them for much less, making books more affordable and allowing older titles to remain in circulation.

At Rockridge in Oakland, along College Avenue, I was pleasantly surprised to find two indie bookshops – Diesel bookshop and Pegasus Books. Diesel carries new books, stationery, and store logo t-shirts, among other things. They have a good art section and a collection of Moleskines and other journals such as Penguin (the covers are of Penguin titles).

Diesel storefront.

Pegasus purveys new books and old (the latter under the name Pendragon Books). Two pillars at their shop were covered with bookmarks carrying the logos of other bookstores in a warmhearted show of solidarity for the bookselling community, competition be damned.

Pegasus/Pendragon storefront.

At both places there was a feeling of coziness, community, and caring not found at the commercial chains. It’s a struggle for small booksellers to stay financially viable in these precarious economic times, and admiration is due to those who keep the flame burning.

Tomorrow I’ll be visiting the Argonaut Bookshop on Sutter Street in San Francisco. It was founded in 1941 and was the basis for the Argosy bookshop featured in the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock movie “Vertigo” which I watched for the first time the other night. My stepfather handed me the DVD, knowing I would be entranced by a 1950s San Francisco in moody, textured Technicolor, the streets decked out with finned cars, men in hats and suits, and women in flaring skirts and carefully-coiffed hair. The movie’s Argosy shop is a booklover’s dream, with its wooden shelves crammed with volumes of all sorts of sizes; I want to see the real thing, and what it looks like now.

Not too far away, on Clement Street, is the Green Apple bookshop, founded in 1967 and which now sells new and used books, music, and DVDs. It is “perennially voted the best used and/or independent bookstore in the Bay Area” by readers of various publications, says their website.

Given the ongoing global recession, a decline of the reading culture, and the increasing popularity of e-books (my own e-book collection exceeds 5,000 titles), which are convenient and cheap, brick-and-mortar stores may soon become a thing of the past. Yet as a form or an artifact, I don’t believe the ink-and-paper codex format will ever die out. Physical books will always have their devotees.

Indie booksellers have a more viable business model than the usual, selling used titles along with the new. That reduces waste and encourages reuse and sharing. We sell used books in Manila too – Booksale comes to mind, as do the little kerbside stalls in Morayta and elsewhere in the University Belt. But there isn’t a store in Manila quite like the indie shops I’ve visited here in NorCal and come to love. Perhaps I might open one someday, a bookstore-cum-coffee shop. Now that’s a warm and fuzzy thought.

* * * * *

November will be literary month in Manila, and the National Book Development Board has a couple of important events lined up.

NBDB and Manila Critics Circle have announced the finalists for the 30th National Book Award; winners will be revealed at the awarding ceremonies on November 12 at the National Museum.

Due to space constraints I cannot list all the finalists here, but among them are:   Literary Division – Fiction Category: Blue Angel, White Shadow, Charlson Ong ; Below The Crying Mountain by Criselda Yabes; Gun Dealers’ Daughter by Gina Apostol; and Lumbay ng Dila by Genevieve L. Asenjo, PhD.

Nonfiction Prose Category: Sagad sa Buto: Hospital Diary at Iba Pang Sanaysay, Romulo P. Baquiran Jr.; Sarena’s Story: The Loss of a Kingdom, Criselda Yabes; and Builder of Bridges: The Rudy Cuenca Story, Jose Dalisay Jr., PhD, and Antonette Reyes.

Poetry Category: Bulaklak sa Tubig: Mga Tula ng Pag-ibig at Himagsik, Maria Josephine “Joi” Barrios, translated by Mark Pangilinan; Care of Light: New Poems and Found by Gemino H. Abad, PhD; Everyday Things by Fidelito C. Cortes; and If I Write You This Poem, Will You Make It Fly, Simeon Dumdum Jr.

Literary Criticism/Literary History Category: Gitnang Uring Fantasya At Materyal Na Kahirapan Sa Neoliberalismo: Politikal Na Kritisismo Ng Kulturang Popular, Rolando B. Tolentino, PhD; Imagination’s Way: Essays Critical and Personal, Gémino H. Abad, PhD; and Banaag at Sikat: Metakritisismo at Antolohiya by Maria Luisa Torres Reyes.

For the finalists in the Non-Literary Division and other categories, visit nbdb.gov.ph.

On November 16 to 18, two Pulitzer Prize winners will grace the 2nd Manila International Festival at the Ayala Museum in Makati, joining other international and local authors, publishers, literary agents, and book lovers to celebrate books, literature, and the craft of writing.

The event’s theme is “The Great Philippine Book Café”. Among its activities are panels on different topics about reading and literature, performances, book launches, and a book fair. For details, visit http://www.manilaliteraryfestival.com.

Novelists Junot Diaz (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, winner in 2008) and Edward P. Jones (The Known World, winner in 2004) are the event’s guest speakers, where they will also engage in conversations and book signings. It’s time to dust off your copies of their books and re-read them, bring them to the Festival, and have them autographed. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these famous authors up close and personal.  *** 

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