Sunday, April 26, 2015

Books that dumb down


My April 26, 2015 column.
“You must write a book!” When I was younger, this was the suggestion often made at social occasions to someone who has had a string of achievements, or had a colorful life, or went through a major learning experience. The suggestion was indicative of how people used to equate being a book author with a certain threshold of wisdom, or at least quality experiences – the idea being that one writes a book so that people can learn vicariously from the author.  
For example, I recently picked up Armida, the book on Armida Siguion-Reyna because I knew it would yield a veritable trove of insights. Siquion-Reyna has been a strong force in the local culture scene, thanks to her feisty disposition and the many causes and battles that she immersed herself in, from propagating the kundiman, to producing and acting in movies that dared to explore new themes, to abolishing censorship, etc.  This is the same reason I picked up and read similar books in the past about titans of industry, national artists, and other distinguished personalities.
Although I buy and read all kinds of books, I do have a particular bias for Filipiniana books, or at least what is being passed off as such. I try - and the operative term here is “try”- to read as many Filipino authors as I can. I must admit that I am not always successful in the attempt; many Filipino authors are just “difficult” to read and not just in the literary sense.  
Publishing a book seems to be the “in” thing for local celebrities and as a result there’s been a cottage industry of books authored by radio and television show hosts, local stylists, models, and yes, actors and actresses. 
I am told the two best-selling books of Morning Rush disc jockeys Chico Garcia, Delamar Arias, and Gino Quillamor started the trend. The books were compilations of the funniest entries to their morning show’s daily Top Ten segment. The books were a hit because the entries were admittedly funny, and because the show has been on the air for decades they happened to have a wealth of material waiting to be compiled and published. The problem was that everybody else followed suit. 
Others also put together the stuff that they dish out regularly in their radio shows and packaged them into what they are passing off as, well, books. The results are embarrassing because the published products are pitifully threadbare, both in terms of quantity and quality of material. The books basically confirm what many have suspected all along - there’s really not much to go by in terms of substance once we’ve taken away the fluff, the hysterics, and the antics from these people and their shows. 
Other celebrities have also jumped into the bandwagon. I was surprised to discover that a young television star has come up with a book, which basically gives advice on how to survive break-ups. I still am not sure what exactly has made her an expert on break-ups. Two of the country’s top female models have also co-written a book on what it is like to be them. These are in addition to the growing stack of books written by other local celebrities on basically the same topic – themselves. Even the supposed bestseller book on how to make one’s mother proud, which is being shamelessly hawked by someone with supposedly unquestionable integrity, has turned out to be quite a dud - it’s basically a compilation of snippets of commentaries and testimonials of some famous people, and definitely nothing that has not been said more eloquently in other books or magazines.
Of course I am aware that everyone has the right to express themselves and publish as many books as they want. They are not pointing guns at people to coerce them into buying the books after all.  But surely everyone realizes that by lowering the standards of published materials, particularly books, we’re contributing to the already massive efforts - by movies and television, among others - to dumb down Filipinos? 
Heaven truly help us if these books authored by celebrities become the new standard of what a book is supposed to be.

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