IF the “bahay kubo” had bigger floor space, would we now be a nation of readers?

I contend that books tend to proliferate like molds. My husband says that’s the kind of thinking that keeps us perennially running out of house space.

A couple I know rent the apartment beside theirs to store their library; his and hers, I stress. He said he could go solo and I could cohabit with my books.

Had our ancestors been more into reading, our contemporary huts should include, along with the family altar and wall of children’s diplomas, a shelf or two of reading material.

From Patricia May B. Jurilla’s “Bibliography of Filipino Novels 1901-2000” (University of the Philippines Press, 2010), I learn that the early Tagalog novels did not even impose that much on spatial constraints.

“Quite a number,” she writes, were “booklets, chapbooks, or pamphlets… resembling novenas.” Citing the standards set by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), Jurilla said a “proper” book must have at least 49 pages.

Since her book about lists concentrates on books, Jurilla also did not include fictional works that were published as serials in newspapers, magazines, and popular publications, such as “komiks (comic books)”.

The popular success of serialized fiction—with writers, readers, and publishers—as the cheaper and more entertaining medium also whittled down the growth of Tagalog (Filipino) novels.

Books written in Tagalog faced stiffer competition with films and telenovelas. Jurilla does not venture into the impact of the digital sphere, but I can speculate how e-books and online user-generated content, such as those found in Wattpad, affect local publishing.

What lessons can be applied from Jurilla’s study for nurturing the writing of and reading in the 12 other major indigenous languages: Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon, Waray-Waray, Bikol, Kapampangan, Pangasinan, Maranao, Tausug, Maguindanao, and Kinaray-a?

Commitment from the same triumvirate: writers, readers, and publishers.

We need also translators to enable Filipinos to appreciate the literature of other regions.

We need the academe and other advocates from the community to promote the voices of the Filipino Others so that, as Jurilla quotes Resil L. Mojares, the “Golden Age” of Filipino novels will represent a watershed both in terms of “artistic and social illuminations,” as well as “quantity of the novels produced”.

More than the freeing of literal space is required. No less than the unmooring of our narrative space will free the Filipino imagination.