MANILA, Philippines - There’s a common notion in the literary community that if you haven’t won a Palanca/Free Press/National Book Award, you’re a nobody.
It’s a fiction that we writers and critics tell ourselves — outside of that small community of winners and entrants, these awards barely register. These awards have little to do with how the greater reading public consumes texts.
Despite award-giving bodies’ attempts to promote reading of the winning works (for example, when the Palanca Foundation uploads copies of winning works online), awareness of these awards and their impact is still confined to a very small literary community.
This is the context in which we find the Filipino Readers’ Choice Awards — one where accolades bear very little weight, and where there is a disconnect between who is reading in this country, and who is deciding what works deserve to win.
According to Honey de Peralta, one of the founders of the awards and an active member of Filipino Book Bloggers, the FRCA was borne out of a lament that award-winning titles were often inaccessible to mainstream readers due to their content and format, and that awards tended to create false distinctions such as “literary” and “genre” in the publishing industry.
The FRCA, then, hopes to act as the pulse of the reading public: what books are people reading, and what are they enjoying the most?
With these lofty goals in mind, how will the FRCA work?
1. According to FRCA organizer Tarie Sabido, all interested readers can nominate books in every category from August 9 to 23.
2. Any book may be nominated as long as it was published in the Philippines between January 1st and December 31st, 2012.
3. From August 24 to September 6, the public may vote for one nominee per category online, and the 3 books with the most votes in each category will make the shortlist.
4. From Septermber 7 to October 18, 3 judges per category (active book bloggers and book club members, except for the children’s book category, which will have 3 kid judges) will review the shortlist and decide on one winner.
5. The winners will be announced at the 3rd Filipino ReaderCon on November 9.
The mechanics of the FRCA are a dramatic departure from how literary contests are normally judged in the Philippines. Unlike, say, the Palancas, where the names of judges are a secret (albeit a very thinly disguised one) until the awards on September 1, nomination and selection are a lot more accessible to the greater public.
Critics of the FRCA might say, “What would a bunch of book bloggers, who may not even have degrees in literature or creative writing, who may not even write themselves, know about what what makes a good book?”
That criticism is part of a very large irresolvable debate on who gets to call art art, and who gets to set the standards for its quality. On one side would be critics and academics, people who do possess professional training in criticquing and producing art, and on the other side, laymen, who appreciate art even without the technical jargon needed to describe it.
Of course, this isn’t a perfect description of the tension between high and low brow — some so-called experts can claim to have more popular taste, while some laymen might claim that they are more high-brow in their leanings.
Out with the old guard, in with the new
In terms of creating a wider and more active reading public, admittedly, the Philippines has a long way to go. Not everyone has access to books or libraries, and not everyone can participate in online discourse on what they’re reading.
Moreover, reading, whether it’s in print or electronic form, is still an activity that costs money, which not everybody has these days. Nonetheless, the FRCA is a small but important step. Perhaps, by allowing more readers to be heard, we are also getting readers to think about what they read and why, and to generate buzz for books that may not necessarily have critical attention, but are engaging their readers.
The FRCA is in its second incarnation this 2013, and is now accepting nominations from book lovers young and old, male and female, highbrow and lowbrow...every kind of reader is welcome.
If you have a favorite book in mind and would like to be heard, go to the ReaderCon website and make your choice. - Rappler.com