Book Bigayan 2009 was a rousing success.
It took us a while to find the venue–I thought that I would be able to see Malate Church from Roxas itself–but upon arrival I couldn’t help but note how appropriate the meeting point was. Everyone clustered around a sculpture of a bespectacled man sitting on a bench and holding a newspaper as he gazes across the sea (waiting for the books to come in perhaps?)
Our taciturn host turned out to be Mr. Arsenio H. Lacson, journalist, lawyer, guerilla, and Mayor of Manila, who survived three attempts on his life, twice disarming the unlucky attackers.
Luckily, the weather was very cooperative:
Nothing but blue skies, shining on me…
Things worked out in the end as we ended up arriving at the venue just before Gang of Rock Ed showed up and started the ball rolling.It was interesting seeing Gang in person–even if you didn’t know what she looked like, if you’ve ever heard her over the radio her voice was unmistakable. She also exuded an easy camaraderie with the crowd, most of whom (like myself) she’d probably never met before.
I hope she was able to charm the on-scene reporter as well. There was a young woman with a recorder and a cameraman on-hand, I assume based on the nearby truck that they belonged to the GMA-7 news crew.
I overheard Gang giving the reporter an overview of the Book Blockade situation (I wonder if the reporter had known of the whys-and-wherefores of the event beforehand or had just been tipped off regarding a strange gathering of bibliophiles along Manila Bay). The reporter also talked to the members of a family who had been the beneficiaries of some of the donated books, and I smiled when I saw the children show the reporter the books they’d chosen from the piles. They seemed happy with their hauls.
[More after the cut]
They weren’t alone.
Visually estimating the number of people in a crowd is not one of my many talents (I’ve yet to win a “guess the number of beans in the jar” contest) but suffice it to say that the same was sizeable, with people coming from all walks of life.
The books available for “recycling” were as diverse as the people present: I saw foreign books, local books, medical encyclopedias, self-help books, picture books,high fantasy, high school text books, short story anthologies, three-novel series sets… you name it. James Joyce’s Ulysses was lying somewhere between a thriller and “The Fellowship of the Ring.”
My own books, as promised–with a few additions.
While there was no specific order–which would have been difficult to do given the flux of acquired books being replaced by the arrival of new donations–through wise edict or crowd-wisdom, the school materials found their way to one side of the baywalk while the more commercial titles congealed at the other end. [And no, lest anyone ask, this was not in any way meant to be a categorization according to “educational value” nor a justification thereof.]
People adhered strictly to the five book maximum from what I could see, save for permitted transgressions–such as when a public school teacher requested for a full set of science books that came in bundle. I resisted the urge to max-out the five book allotment for myself and my wife but I did manage to emerge with two books for myself, and one for my ever versatile wife/navigator/photographer:
More than the books I received, it was seeing people walk away clutching my donated books tightly to their chests that brought the widest smile to my face. A man in a yellow shirt, cradling his five book allotment carefully, approached me and thanked me in a heartfelt voice. Never good at dealing with the unexpected, I think I managed a smile and a wave before he hopped on his bike and sped off.
I don’t know if the man had taken any of my own donations–but it didn’t really matter. We weren’t really individuals out there by the sea, although individuality did shine through in the books we chose to bring, the books we chose to keep. In the giving and receiving of knowledge, of stories, we were a collective, a community. Some people might see the Book Bigayan as tangential to the movement to overturn the customs’ duty on imported books, an event of merely symbolic value. I think that is true that it has a symbolic value–but that symbolism I think, should not be underestimated. Symbols, metaphors, stories–there is power in these. The Book Bigayan exemplifies the spiritual, ethical core of the counter-Customs argument, one which goes beyond the occassionally insular language of the legal sphere: this is about how books are more than merely units of potential revenue, how the value of a text is not limited to the number of formulas it contains.
Books are important because books bring us together.
I’m sure our host would agree.
Congrats to the Rock Ed gang (pun not-intended) and everyone who donated or received books from which we have learned, or from which we shall now learn.