Don't take our books away!  

Posted by Laya in , , ,

Were it not for Robin Hemley's article, it seems, we would not have known that imported books might not be available to us in the future. (Backgrounder on the Great Book Blockade of 2009 here.) Reactions have been flying fast and furious. It seems everyone has put in their two cents and more... you only have to search #bookblockade on Twitter to see how people are reacting to this issue.

Robin Hemley has brought the issue to the attention of the AWP, but the Department of Finance is standing its ground on the matter, even daring critics to take the matter to court.

With the elections so near, and the reputation of customs for corruption, some people view the DOF's position with a jaundiced eye. There was, after all, mention of the need to fill a quota as the initial impulse for the imposition of a tariff on books. Add to that the now-famous lines:

"For 50 years, everyone has misinterpreted the treaty and now you alone have interpreted it correctly?" she was asked."Yes," she told the stunned booksellers."


I spent my childhood in the back of beyond; my only friends were books and magazines, most of them foreign books, thanks to librarian aunts and the donations of the Asia Foundation that made their way to our distant province.

Those books were my window to the world that no one else in our small barrio saw or cared much about. I eagerly devoured The Black Tulip, Son of Black Beauty, The Crusader, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond along with back issues of Life and Reader's Digest. I accompanied Dick, Jane, Spot and Sally, and later Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, on their adventures, all while confortably ensconced in the old rattan lounger by the front window of our sala.

I might not have left my childhood home till late into my teens, but because of my books I had long ago traveled to Switzerland and Rome, London, Paris, New York and California. I might not have met other people outside of our small, tightly knit community, but I knew that the Dutch wore wooden shoes, that the Quakers were peaceable people, and that gypsies lived in wagons and traveled all over Europe. Those books may have been fiction, but they were an education in themselves.

My school used to enter me in those general info quiz bees, which I often won. That was the difference between someone who studied reviewers for the sake of winning a contest or acing an exam, and someone who read for the love of reading and learning.

Perhaps the weirdest victory I ever had was in the division quiz bee in the English language and literature category when I was in high school... my aunt got really mad at me the night before because I preferred to read Reader's Digest instead of going through the reviewers she had compiled for me. Among the articles in that issue of the Digest was one on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and the Gulag Archipelago, for which he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

And the deciding question that won me the division championship in English that year was, surprise, surprise: Who was the Russian writer who won a Nobel prize for his book on concentration camps? My closest competitor, of course, looked at me disbelievingly when I gave the correct answer, for we certainly weren't taught about Solzhenitsyn in high school.

The next year, I again won the championship for answering correctly that the story of El Cid Campeador (Rodrigo Diaz y Vivar) was the epic of Spain (everyone else answered Don Quixote, which is a novel, not an epic, but which is probably the only Spanish work mentioned in our high school lessons). Again, that was because at home we had copies of excerpts from both books.

Whenever I got the chance to be in a library, I read. I used to volunteer to accompany my aunt to district teachers' conferences, just so I could check out the venue's library. She would ask the school librarian to let me use the library, and I would stay there, contentedly reading till someone came to collect me for lunch or to go home. Sometimes those books were dusty but showed no signs of use; a lot of children didn't bother to use the library or worse, weren't allowed in for fear they would damage the books. I certainly recall that I knew the libraries of the municipal elementary and high schools better than that of my own barrio school, because the latter was opened only once or twice in the five years I was a pupil there.

Were it not for those books, I would still be there, content to live my life bounded by the four corners of our town. Without the windows into a different world that those books had given me, I would never have known that there is still so much out there to be seen, known, felt and experienced. Without those books, I would long ago have succumbed to people convincing me that I was not good enough to go out there. Yet here I am now, and here you are, reading this blog from wherever in the world you are. Here I am now, still writing. Because of those books.

And they now want to take that away from us.

If the book blockade had been enforced decades ago, I wonder if I'd be where I am today.

This entry was posted at Tuesday, May 19, 2009 and is filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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