Books and so much more at the 29th Philippine Bookfair

Posted at 09/14/08 12:26 PM

The 29th Philippine Bookfair at the SM Mall of Asia SMX Convention Center is, as usual, a treasure trove with rich pickings with more than just lots and lots of books  on sale. Given the limited time we had to get an overview of this year's bookfair, we tried to cover as much of the sprawling trade area which occupies Halls 1-4 of the SMX ground floor as we could. (The 29th Philippine Bookfair is ongoing until September 16, 2008)

First of all, you simply must get a map of the venue's layout for easier navigation through the trade fair; there are more than 300 booths and having the map (They hand it out at the entrance--be sure to ask for it.) certainly saves you time and energy.

We recommend that you visit first the National Book Development Board exhibit at Aisle A Booth Number 33. Why? Simply because as reader and buyer of books, it's good to be made aware of what the NBDB is actually doing to promote reading in the Philippines.

Ironically, it is during the Philippine Bookfair, when book lovers from all over gather to indulge their literary passions, that we can be blind to the reality that the Philippines is not a nation of readers. While the Philippine Bookfair has been successful enough to be an annual event over nearly three decades, there are millions upon millions of Filipinos who do not read books for many different reasons.

The NBDB has several projects ongoing to encourage people, especially the young, to get into the reading habit.

One of these projects is the "Tulaan Sa Tren" project where posters showing excerpts of poems by acclaimed Filipino poets (including Jose Corazon de Jesus, Rio Alma, Cirilo Bautista, Benilda Santos, Marjorie Evasco, Jose Lacaba, Vim Nadera and Conchitina Cruz) are displayed inside the Light Rail Transit coaches plying the Monumento-Baclaran route.

The LRT coaches will also play recordings of celebrities reading the poems. These celebrities include Edu Manzano, Miriam Quiambao, Nikki Gil, Matt Evans, Lyn Ching-Pascual, Romnick Sarmienta, Rhea Santos, Christine Bersola-Babao, Chin-Chin Gutierrez and Harlene Bautista. The "Tulaan sa Tren" is the brainchild of NBDB Executive Director Andrea Pasion-Flores, a lawyer and a published short story writer as well.

So check out the NBDB booth to learn more about how you can help "infect" others with your love for reading.

Bibles Galore

It makes sense: How could somebody like God pass up the chance to get his book out at the Philippine Bookfair? Not that He's such a desperate publisher/author: His Holy Bible is still the Number One Best-Selling Book in the world, with 6 billion copies sold.

Why is the Bible is such a best-seller? Marketing. Looking at the piles and piles of Bibles at the bookfair, it seems that God's Marketing Department has got everything covered in terms of niche marketing: there seems to be every type of Bible for every type of individual on Earth.


Here's a partial list: The Back Pack Bible (Grab It and Go!);The World's Smallest Bible; The Holy Bible in CD-ROM; The Kids' Bible; The For Girlz Only Bible; and the The Self-Confessed Sex Addict Like Michael Douglas and David Duchovny Bible (vacuum-wrapped in latex)

We also noticed that the Christian booksellers are now selling books with rather edgy topics and titles. We saw Christian self-help books with titles like "What Women Wish Men Knew About Sex" (and all along we thought men didn't know anything else but)  and "Don't Go Out on A Date Naked".

We never knew that nude dating among Christians had become a problematic phenomenon--it must be an attempt to re-acquire the blissful state of innocence of the Garden of Eden amongst those in the Christian Dating Scene.

Data Salvation

The creeping Christianization of the Philippine Bookfair doesn't end there: We were always taught for thousands of years that Jesus Christ is our Savior. It appears that he really is and in more ways than one.

Get ready for this: A 1-Gigabyte USB flash drive in the shape of a Cross is available at the Catholic Book Center at Booth 202 Aisle H. On the outside, the flash drive looks like an ordinary wooden Cross pendant. You pull off the base, however, and seemingly miraculously, it turns into a Data Savior.


Jesus really saves--even your data. We were told, perhaps jokingly, that this Cross-and-flash drive is always virus-free.

The Cross USB flash drive also has a built-in Penance Software: in case  you download pornographic words and images into it, the Penance Software turns all your data into Hail Mary's and Apostles' Creeds.

Seriously though, the Cross USB looks useful enough to ward off vampires while saving your digital files at the same time. One can imagine Van Helsing plugging one into Dracula's notebook PC just for laughs.

Van Helsing: "Hey, dude, sorry I left my flash drive plugged into your ASUS Eee PC. Could you hand it over here, please?"

Dracula: "Sure, no prob... gyeaaarrrggh! My hand! It's on fire!"



This year's bookfair also has a variety of events scheduled at various meeting rooms and function rooms in the SMX. From story-telling sessions to writing seminars to book launchings, there's an entire slew of reading and writing related events and seminars at the bookfair. (For a list of these events go to www.manilabookfair.com)

On the day we went to the book fair we attended a Pistant Panitik event sponsored by the University of the Philippines. The event was a "Writers Cafe" where veteran writers Jaime An-Lim, Benilda Santos, Dinah Roma-Sianturi, Jose Wendell Capili and Charlson Ong talked about their lives and careers as writers.

We missed Benilda Santos' talk but were able to listen to Jaime An-Lim read his 500-word short story "Son" from the anthology "Fast Food Fiction" edited by Noelle de Jesus. There was great applause afterwards, attesting to the mastery with which An-Lim crafted his piece.

Dinah Roma-Sianturi stressed the importance of developing a voracious appetite for reading before one becomes a professional writer.

Chinoy genre pioneer Charlson Ong shared his experience of getting rejection slips from various American publishers like Random House, etc. after he sent them one of his novels.  He explained that the rejection letters actually said that the evaluators liked his novel--the problem is, none of the publishers knew what to do with it.

In short, none of those American publishers knew how to sell to the American reading market a Filipino novel written by a Filipino-Chinese . And as we all know, under our wonderful global capitalist system, if you and yours cannot be sold, then you might as well not exist. You are worthless.

"It was a reality check. The rest of the world does not know us as Filipinos. We do not exist in the world's imagination," said Charlson, who paused to entertain questions and comments from the audience. But how could we even speak after his deflating statement? We do not exist in the world's imagination. Hardly an ice-breaker.

It was a good thing that Charlson was followed by Wendell, who is not only a literary artist but also a Bear Brand milk TV commercial endorser in the same league as Vilma Santos and Eugene Domingo; you can always count on Wendell to entertain by dishing out the goods on himself and other writers.



The Capili Effect

We learned quite a few things from Wendell's talk, including the trivia that long-legged, six-foot tall venerable poet, gay activist and scholar J. Neil Garcia was a former Chinese Garter champion.

One of the academics who perished so that Wendell could get promoted--just kidding! (Model skeleton at Gentle Star Trading Corp Booth)

Wendell, who has a Ph.D., is--according to Wendell himself--not brilliant. Just very lucky. Wendell was so serious about his statement that he then detailed the course of his entire academic and modelling career to convince us that his success is all a result of luck.

Unfortunately, Wendell also mentioned that quite a number of those lucky breaks resulted directly from the misfortune of others: Wendell got a prestigious grant at Cambridge because the American who should have received it was caught man-whoring at a Tokyo club for lonely wives of expats and CEOs; Wendell got promoted to higher and higher academic positions because a lot of older academics were dying, going insane, getting devoured by incubi, etc. One elderly academic was even stabbed dead by his carpenter, ergo, Wendell is promoted again!

So the next time any of us fails to get a job; fails to win the lottery; fails to get a raise; or fails to get a spot on TV, we now know why: God is giving it instead to Jose Wendell Capili, nyeheheheh. 

Wendell is extremely self-effacing; I congratulated him on his Bear Brand endorsement and he replied, "Thank you. That took all of 40 takes."







 Life-sized stories

Ignore the fear and trembling you feel deep down in your wallet and take your kids to the 29th Philippine Bookfair. It would be a magical experience for them even if all you can afford to buy them are the story books on sale. 

Filipino folklore comes alive at the Bookfair in sculptures like this, depicting Juan Tamad (The Lazy Boy)

If you have the money, of course, you can buy them model science kits on astronomy, biology, etc. (Gentle Star Trading Corp., at Booth Number 362 Aisle O) as well as any of the books and educational items spread out through the bookfair.

What's really important is to pass onto them the experience of expanding their imaginations, their intellect and their interior worlds through the magic of reading.  The magic begins right outside the bookfair entrance: You and your kids will see life-sized sculptures of classic characters from Phililppine folklore and mythology, as well as contemporary children's fiction,  all rendered with great artistry and detail.

So for the sake of your kids, have then marvel at the imaginative sculptures outside the bookfair entrance--then go to Adarna House, Inc. Front Row Hall 3, and buy them the children's books from which many of the sculptures were taken. To know from which book a sculpture was based, check out the information sheet attached at the base of the figure.

Why do we read? Why do we write? Why do we even speak? That's because the human mind cannot stay sane, cannot stay human,  without stories. It is only through stories that we can make sense of life. And books are by far still the best way for all of us to get that all-important dose of Story every now and then.