The World, according to Google, has about 130 million unique books. This includes the Doctrina Christiana of 1593, Francisco Balagtas’ Florante at Laura, José Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere, Angela Manalang Gloria’s complete poems, and Eileen Tabios’ I Take Thee, English, for My Beloved. When I typed in the keyword “Philippines,” almost four million titles appeared, and one, in particular, caught my eye–Daniel Everton, Volunteer-Regular: A Romance of the Philippines by Israel Putnam, published by Funk and Wagnalls in 1902. The frontispiece shows a young woman, presumably “Mercedes,” in baro’t saya (blouse and skirt). The first chapter begins with:
IT was past four o'clock of a sultry day toward the close of the dry season. The cooling breath of the southwest monsoon, sweeping from Borneo and the islands of the Sulu Sea, had, during the earlier hours of the day, struggled in vain to make headway against the heat of the tropical sun. But now, as the day declined, there was a marked change in the atmosphere. The blistering rays of noon-day removed from the moist earth, it began to cool and the air took on a delicious freshness.
The afternoon drill was over, and several soldiers had thrown themselves upon the earth in the shade of a grove of cocoa-palm trees. From their position they could watch the tiny breakers creep closer with the rising of the tide, and see the sparkling waters of the Straits stretching away to the rugged, mountainous coast of Panay.
While a fictionalized account of a soldier in the Philippines in the early years of the American colonial period, the quoted passages stirred in me a sense of nostos, of “returning home”. It is, after all, a literary landscape evocative of my great-grandparents’ childhood, albeit colonialized and confined. Of course, the spareness of the narrative and universality of the theme glossed over the historical realities of two subsequent wars flanking a people’s struggle for independence and self-rule. But this is romantic fiction, and I am, first and foremost, a reader, and readers have to keep an open mind in order to connect meaningfully with their authors. To date, I have read over a thousand books, and each one generously and repeatedly brought me to a different world and a different world into mine.
With the advent of e-books with pages designed to resemble pages of traditional print books, the debate among readers rages on: do we continue buying and reading books in the traditional format, or should we invest in an e-reader and start downloading our favorite books? According to a recent Rasmussen report, 810 out of a thousand adults surveyed in the US still prefer conventional paper books, while 80 would much rather download their reading material to an e-reader. The tougher question, though, is: which is the more ecologically responsible choice, the harvesting of 30 million trees to make paper for the publishing industry, or the use of energy for the production, utilization and eventual disposal of electronic book readers? The carbon footprint of the iPad2, according to Apple, is 105 kg CO2; whereas the carbon footprint of a single book, according to Ecolibris, is 4.0143 kg CO2. In the long run, an e-reader seems to be the greener choice, but only if its owner downloads and reads more than forty books per year.
Dear fellow readers, welcome to our 35th issue in celebration of BOOKS. We feature poems by 2010 GFLA Poetry winner JoAnn Balingit and Ruminations by Remé A. Grefalda; an essay by M.R. Gonzales Wedum on the Rizal Collection at the Library of Congress, an analysis of Eileen Tabios’ Silk Egg by Nicholas T. Spatafora, excerpts from the anthology Remembering Rizal edited by Edwin A. Lozada, an interview with Jessica Hagedorn by Terry Hong, narrative by Edna Manlapaz and short stories by Marianne Villanueva. In our Gallery, we are showcasing "Florida Impressions" by Geej Langlois. Our Bookshelf displays recent works by The Filipino American National Historical Society, Manilatown Heritage Foundation, and Pin@y Educational Partnership, Candy Gourlay, Jessica Hagedorn, Edwin A. Lozada, John Nery, Cristina Querrer, Patria Rivera, Bobby Timonera, and R. Zamora Linmark.
Eleven years ago, I started going to public libraries more often, like the Free Library of Philadelphia and the New York Public Library. That way, I thought, I could indulge my love of books while reducing my carbon footprint. Lately, I frequent the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library in San Jose and the San Francisco Public Library because of the many Filipino-related materials they have. When I do buy books, I do so in support of Filipino authors or poets. Otherwise, I go to antiquarian or second-hand bookshops. The smell and feel of old books brings me somewhere past home, to a different world that is not any less delightful. And all roads open up from there.
San Francisco, September 2011