Saturday, November 14, 2009

Time with Books, Time with Friends

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die…a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-7).

The annual National Book Awards is a timely occasion to speak about the best books published in our country and to celebrate Filipino excellence in writing and publishing in the past year. The best books offer texts, images, and blank spaces that generate active reflection and meaningful action. Bad books breed mere words in which the more the words the less the meaning, and the multiplication of mere words is the work of the fool or the scoundrel.

As the prospective candidates for next year’s elections engage in mature and premature campaigning, our society will become noisier with both empty words and effective words, words that bring fresh air and foul air with showbiz glitter. More than ever, we shall need periods of quiet reflection to help us tell the difference between the relevant and the trivial, the reality and the hyperbole, the attainable and the unattainable. Reading a good book can help our spirits seek or create light even in the midst of deep dark heat.

Reading a good book in a reflective way is like interacting with a true friend, whose word is reliable and who helps enlighten and enliven us. An Ilokano proverb says: “To libro iso ti gayyem/ Nga saan amo a masoctan ti rupana” (A book is a friend/ you can never change its face).

With true friends with whom we can eat and take in words of wit and wisdom, time is better spent. The Good Book reminds us: as there is a time for everything, a time to be born and a time to die, everything is breath; everything is transient. Life is short especially for the children of the streets, the sons of the soil, and the daughters of the dumpsite.

Everything we do or produce is transient. Thus, many men especially rulers throughout history have been obsessed with producing something that endures, something that would enable them to live beyond the grave at least in human memory. Some scholars and pseudo-scholars produce books in the hope that they would be in libraries forever or at least become footnotes in future books.

In the transience of our lives, we should waste no time, but spend it with true friends, or use it to seek true friends, both friends of the written word and friends of the breathing and living word, as every person is a story or an anthology of stories.

For the past 28 years, members of the reading public have found it easier to discover books as friends, or to choose new friends of the written word, through an annual recognition of the finest among local books, authors, and publishers, and for this the Manila Critics Circle (MCC) deserves the gratitude of government, the book industry, and our reading public.

Two years ago, the Manila Critics Circle invited the National Book Development Board to be a full partner in the organization of the National Book Awards. As part of our 5-year National Book Development Plan, the NBDB considers book awards and the promotion of award-winning books among the priority activities for the development of the creative sectors in the book industry and for the enhancement of industry competitiveness.

In the MCC-NBDB partnership, we have instituted a pre-screening process that involves reputable academic institutions and professional organizations in the short-listing of nominated books in various categories. The NBDB and the MCC recognize and are grateful for the invaluable help of various institutions, organizations, and individuals in the pre-screening process and in the selection of the finalists and winners. This year is another milestone because not only will the National Book Awardees receive beautifully designed trophies, all of them for the first time will receive modest cash prizes also.

We congratulate this year’s awardees and finalists. Their books will become part of a 28-year collection, which can offer a foretaste of the book-lovers’ Paradise, the paradisal library where knowledge of good and evil, power and weakness, life and death has to be digested by everybody who wants to stay there.

The National Book Awards and Philippine Book Development have gone a long way, yet we still have many miles to go in pursuit of our dream of a Filipino nation that eats well, reads well, and achieves well: a nation of lifelong learners and lifelong achievers. This is not the time to give up on the dream. We are on our way, and occasions like the National Book Awards keep us hopeful that the time will come when we will get there.