Much ado about books

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

Bibliophilia is the love and passion for books. And for booklovers, recent articles and studies on the future of books have both good news and bad news. The internet and digital age was predicted to bring about the near demise of books. The “on demand” access to movies, television shows, and music would supposedly lure away attention of readers from the printed word. It was predicted by many futurologists that the few books remaining would be in electronic form (e-books) or other similar formats using digital technology.

However, none of these doomsday prophecies have come true. In fact, according to a recent supplement on the future of books in the Economist magazine, while it is true that books faced more competition, the number of readers has not dropped as steeply as predicted.

For bibliophiliacs like me who still prefer books in printed form and still believe that a book is composed of printed words on paper, there is also spectacular news. According to the same magazine, “...they are still willing to cart them around too, The much ballyhooed decline of the physical book has been far from fatal.”

Many publishing companies like Simon & Schuster had said four years ago that by 2013 half of all the books sold would be e-books. But the Economist essay proclaims, “...last year e-books accounted for around 30% of consumer book sales (not including professional and educational books) in America, the largest book market in the world and the country where e-books took off most quickly. In Germany, the world’s third-largest, e-books were around 5% of consumer book sales last year according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, a consultancy. The growth rate of e-books has recently slowed in many markets, including America and Britain. Publishers now expect most of their sales to remain in print books for decades to come — some say forever.”

In the Philippines, the book market has still a long way to go, but is making progress. According to a recent study by the National Book Development Board (NBDB), an agency attached to the Department of Education, there are an average of 6,000 new titles published every year. In an NBDB readership survey in 2012, 88% of Filipino adults read non-school books. The book genres most read are fiction (particularly romance novels), cooking, history, humor and comic books. There are already 1,000 e-books available from local e-book publishers and approximately three million Filipinos have read e-books.

There are certain surprising facts in the same essay on the future of books. For example, it said: “Sales of e-readers, the most popular of which is the Kindle, are in decline.”  Enders Analysis, a research firm, in a recent report said: “In a few years’ time, we will look back at e-readers, and remember them as one of the shortest-lived of all consumer media devices.”

I believe that sounding the death knell for e-books is premature. The world of books has enough room for both e-books and printed books to co-exist. But why has the printed book retained such large scale readership?

Some have said that it is because readers crave “immersive experience.” That is why readers are still willing to read big books with hundreds of pages. And they are willing to carry around these physical books. The Economist essay has added other interesting motives. It said: “Physical books make better gifts; many people still want bookshelves in their homes. Parents who feel that their children are spending too much time with screens go for printed books as an alternative, which means a new generation is growing up in contact with print.”

The essay on the future of books is actually titled “From papyrus to pixels.”  It is the story of the journey of books in different forms. Every booklover has their own story of personal journey in reading that led to their passion (and sometimes obsession) for books.

Mine started in grade school and high school in Bacolod City, with parents who were very strict with allowance unless it was for purchasing books. My parents’ rooms had overflowing bookshelves. Before we graduated from high school, my four siblings and I already had bookshelves and personal libraries in our individual bedrooms. Our personal tastes were mostly different but there were overlapping genres that captivated us. I developed an early preference for history, historical fiction, biographies and philosophy. My late brother Ed had a passion for military books, especially about Napoleon. We both shared an obsession with science fiction and bought all the books of Isaac Asimov. My sister, Rosario Cruz-Lucero had a greater literary taste, while like many also undergoing a Nancy Drew stage. She is now a member of the Palanca Hall of Fame, having won the Palanca Award six times.

When I went to college at La Salle in Manila, I joined The LaSallian, the campus publication. During the years I was writing and editing, I met several members of the staff who were serious book readers. We had a core group that would sometimes meet as a book club. I remember the other core members included Peter Garrucho, Ramon Henson, Prospero Hernandez, Pinko Salas, and Ned Bulatao. I discovered new genres like politics, civil rights, fantasy, Filipiniana, and classic fiction.

Today, I literally have thousands of books in my personal library and wall to wall, floor to ceiling bookshelves in my bedroom, family den and office. For me it is a book only if I can feel, hold and own it. And I continue to discover new genres.

One sad news for those who share my passion is the demise of favorite book stores. In the 1960s and 1970s, as a student in La Salle and then the Asian Institute of Management, my favorites were Erehwon in Makati, Solidaridad in Padre Faura, National Book Store in Avenida Rizal, and Popular Book Store in Quezon City.

It was a sad day when PowerBooks along Pasay Road closed. But I am glad the Ramos family continues to sell books in their outlets. I am very happy that Fully Booked bookstores have started branching out, from their main outlet in Bonifacio High Street to other areas like Alabang and Taft Avenue, in front of De La Salle University. And whenever I am abroad, bookstores remain part of tour highlights.

The dictionary continues to define a book as a printed or literary work. Perhaps, this definition will evolve in the future. But whatever form it may take, it is worthwhile remembering that the wisest, most important, most read books were written hundreds or thousands of years ago. Timeless and classic. Just like the pure bliss of bibliophilia.

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Write Away! Weekend at Where The Write Things Are on Oct. 25, 2014

How about writing a story during your sem break? Let our award winning guest author Weng Cahiles show you how in an intensive workshop open to kids and teens on Saturday, Oct. 25, from 1-5 p.m. at the Canadian American School The City Club Alphaland Makati. The best person to do that as she began writing even as a young student and is a book lover/book hoarder who dreams of a house by the beach with bookshelves and a garden. Her first book is a children’s book published by Adarna House about her favorite hero, Andres Bonifacio, “What Kids Should Know About Andres and the Katipunan” which won at this year’s National Children’s Book Award.

For more details contact 0917-6240196 or [email protected]

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E-mail: [email protected]

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