“PANIC BUYING.” This was how a national daily captioned the snaking queues of people pushing carts loaded with books during a recent book fair in Pasay City.
The event duplicated the mammoth crowds that turned up and hauled away brand-new copies of books that had as much as 90 percent of their selling price slashed off in similar fairs conducted last year in Manila, Cebu, and Davao.
According to the organizers, the popular choice last year was fiction.
Stories created from imagination appeal to readers looking for “light” reading to relax with. Yet, short stories and novels frequently bring us to unexpected places, confronting what we may have avoided without even being conscious of avoiding such.
Fiction is my first and abiding love. Yet, it was only a few years back, in a graduate class on poetics, that I realized how I was blindly reading fiction.
In that class, I was the only one majoring in journalism. All my classmates and the professor were writing poems, short stories, and novels. My classmates who were at least a decade younger than me, and my professor, decades older than me, did not just bracket the generations of Filipinos writing in fiction. They were familiar with many Filipino writers I had never read or read about.
So I made it a habit after class to walk to the university bookstore and look for the works of Filipino authors that cropped up in the discussions. Whenever I was in mall bookstores, I looked for Filipinos writing in English because while fiction is my natural environment, the Filipino language plunges me into deep-seated anxieties and sinkholes of meaning.
Following this collect-and-read pattern, I note that the past seven years have seen greater visibility of Filipino fictionists in bookstores. Yet, there is still a proliferation of established authors whose “classic” works are being reprinted.
Remembering my classmates’ manuscripts-in-progress, as well as speculating on the works being critiqued in writing workshops and awarded in literary contests held across the nation, I wonder about the paucity of publicly accessible titles written by Filipino fictionists: the young, the emerging, the regional, and the transnational.
Where do the works go? If we yearn to be a nation of readers, shouldn’t we also be reading the works created by Filipinos to balance a diet nourished by other imaginations?
Some years ago, a novel by a Filipina was marketed as the “first Filipino detective story.” My friend R. countered that Nick Joaquin’s “Cave and Shadows” deserves that first distinction.
What about the second, third, fourth...? There’s a hunger to be sated.