‘Club’ in my college days meant one thing: disco clubbing which I’d been a member, kind of, occasionally. Outside of that club, though, I’ve always wanted to be a member of a book club or start one. But in the City and elsewhere (at least in the towns and other cities here I’ve been), I couldn’t find one. The absence of book clubs I believe correlates with the absence of public libraries and where there’s one the lack of modern book collections (even in highly-urbanized cities such as Baguio City. Works of fiction in the City Library are still from the 80s) therefore where your money is therethere your heart is also.
Many Filipinos’ hearts are not in sharing knowledge to the wider community nor in collectively adding to and expanding the knowledge or literary base. People are more into religion-based “clubs” (which has the effect of instigating turf wars further dividing the community rather than uniting it). Local tourists make a visit first to the churches and healing and miraculous spots in their destinations rather than to the local museum or library.
Our communities lack truly civic-oriented activities. I say truly because where there are civic-oriented groups and organizations their movements and activities often are infused with religious convictions following the religion of the leader or officers. Civic leaders and officers invoke and pepper their statements with the ‘God’ word that at some point it sounds more like fuck. If you ask me, these people are the ones who’ve not taken the Bible to heart. Who do you think I am? was that not God-made-man’s question posed to a disciple? Do not take the Lord’s name in vain is that not the number one commandment?
The ‘God’ word is the most used and abused word in this country. And mostly for vanity– to score a vote, raise public esteem of oneself (s/he must be God-fearing so s/he must be good is the most naive conclusion), wash one’s hands in public off a wrongdoing or issues needing one’s decision, put fear in people’s hearts so that they won’t look elsewhere, and the like.
Literature is a good reason to start a truly civic-oriented activity. Has any community- or neighborhood-based civic group read and discussed for instance Florante at Laura, or Biag ni Lam-ang? Ah, adults especially would rather gather to gamble, gossip-a-thon, or pick at each other’s heads for lice, no?
In many villages in the Visayas (I saw these only in this Island group), there are public “Reading Corners”, a collaboration between the Barangay LGU and the DepEd/public village achool, set up on public space along village roads. These are nipa-and-bamboo huts big enough to sit twelve persons at a time. Village folks design the huts accordingly using recycled locally-available materials.
Incredible that those villages, mired in poverty statistically-speaking, actually have public spaces that promote and support “love for reading”! But also confounding to live in a country of parallel worlds– on one, poor villages with colorful reading venues, and on the other, wealthier towns and cities with drab-looking and poorly-maintained or even non-existent public libraries. How is that? Even then, they share a commonality: under-utilization of the structures and lack of modern literary collections. The starter collection donated to the Reading Corners 20+ years ago has not been added to. They’re utilized only during Reading Month celebrated by the village school thus also lacking relevant materials they were gradually used for purposes other than reading.
There’s this theory on the stages by which a society undergoes modernization and progress:
The Philippines, according to it’s leaders, is now in Stage Two. This generalization though is a classic case of averages painting a rosier picture of everything, because when you’ve a cross-sectional experience of socio-economic realities in the Islands, you’d know that large swathes of communities in the countryside more pronounced in Visayas, and in marginalized pockets across Luzon and Mindanao are at Stage One. “Stage Two” is what’s happening to the country’s metropolitans ie. Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, Metro Davao, Metro Iloilo as well as rapidly urbanizing capital towns and cities where steady streams of large investments are poured into eg. Subic-Clark. The rest of the country are somewhere in between Stage One and Two, in transition.
Implicit in the model is the concept of productivity or that which fuels a country’s progress up the ladder of growth. Productivity is determined by capital resources of which one is labor and intellectual capital or knowledge another. The Philippines has a surplus of labor but what quality is this labor? In the absence of machines, for tasks that don’t ask much, like hauling boxes from Point A to Point B, men (and well women too) who are healthy and can follow basic instructions are employed. This quality of labor, however, need to be upgraded in order to achieve higher productivity. And to upgrade it, we need knowledge ie. inventions in the form of new tools and strategies eg. specializations and management frameworks toward accomplishing more goods and services of excellent quality within a given time.
This brings us back to books and the imperative to survive and stay relevant by a never-ending acquisition of knowledge and then new knowledge – through research and development – that in turn produces new goods and services in support of a growing and expanding economy. The point is, we don’t read books just for the sake of reading because that would be burdensome and pointless! We do it for a purpose which is to improve ourselves, communities, society, nation, country. The lack of relevant books and appropriate venues for the continuing knowledge acquisition of the public implies that priorities lie somewhere else.
(But what thoughts on a weekend. A colleague said to me once, “hey, you’re orgasming again…in your head! You need to also do that here” indicating my body. Whaaat? I said, too surprised to say anything more. He laughed. Then I laughed as well. I laughed until my stomach ached. But back to my weekend reading and bed.)