Book hunting would help alleviate the scarcity of reading material in our schools, universities and libraries writes RUSSELL SOABA
The weeks following the National Book Week in August and the beginning of preparations for the Independence celebrations in September should be an ideal period we could regard as a book hunting season. Armed with bilums, pocket note books and pens we could go out on a book hunting spree. A travel book left at the airport by a tourist, or a rare book spotted at a second-hand clothes shop, would do nicely as our first shot at the sitting ducks of a lucky find in this hunting season.
Sometimes we could come across a book we have once read at high school, such as Day That I Have Loved or Cry the Beloved Country. Other times we would be fortunate enough to spot Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird at an unlikely corner of the Waigani Market, among electrical appliances as spare parts displayed for sale. Occasionally, perhaps, we would come across that dreaded text book that we couldn’t get hold of right at the end of the semester when we were advised in earnest to base our thesis on it or risk not seeing our names on the graduating list.
Such expeditions would help us alleviate some of the problems we experience in the scarcity of reading material in our schools, universities and libraries. In fact, ours is the only country in the world where books are considered unnecessary commodities, simply because there are no plans for them in every clever budget passed by the government.
A parent whose child studies literature at UPNG, for example, might complain of spending extra on “hidden costs” for texts, aside from meeting the nominal fees of tuition and board which amount to five or six thousand kina. But this difficulty can be overcome if we regard times such as this very week in September as our annual book hunting seasons in preparation for the following years of study.
A book hunting season pays a lot of dividends in the end. It is a time when we search for and find that rare and out of print book about to be auctioned. It is also a time when we must produce a new book that will sell as fast as the Independence celebrations itself.
There are several people who can help us make these book hunting expeditions become successful. Firstly, parents of students studying literature. A parent whose job demands a lot of conference travel is in an advantageous position. During those busy travels overseas the parent can always spare 10 minutes to visit a book stall (most major shopping malls usually include a book supermarket) to buy their child a book. That child in turn will bring the book to us and announce that perhaps we in literature need it more because he is majoring in Mathematics or Law. I can cite two occasions when I received some of the most needed books for my literature courses this way, thanks to students and their generous parents who understood the needs of our department.
On yet another occasion, a former student of mine who went away to read law at Deakin University, brought home for me a copy of T.S. Eliot’s The Sacred Wood.
The second lot are the academics themselves. Here also, I would like to acknowledge a gift I similarly received from Professor Lawrence Kalinoe (School of Law) who brought home for me from one of his conference travels a copy of Professor Paul Sharrad’s study of Albert Wendt, the Samoan writer – a book we use extensively in our literary criticism courses.
And the list would go on.
Following these examples of how we could treat September as a book hunting season, I believe the exercise would be an enriching one for us, long before we think of getting that school fee loan from BSP or Teachers Savings and Loans for next year.
Now with the limited amount of learning resource material made available to us, how we manage to survive with our students each semester is a miracle. A good number come to school prepared. They in turn help others and the rest of us get by, especially in the area of photocopying when our own machines are exhausted or have actually expired. Since the 1990s we have been spreading the word among our good students that in order to excel in literary studies one has to spend one’s own money. Sometimes I feel guilty enough to ask if I can reimburse a student’s K10.00 spent on photocopying for the benefit of all of us in a literature class to which the reply I get is, “Oh, no, sir; don’t worry. We are doing this for our own good.”
But writers particularly must take this idea seriously. Every time a book is published, several copies must be deposited with us so that we can include them in our course offerings. It is pointless publishing and operating out there, in isolation, when our students are in dire need of reading your work.
Finally, one other group of people who can help in this book hunting exercise is our successful business men and women themselves. There is always a kind of premonition in store somewhere that makes them believe that books mean virtually nothing to them, particularly works of fiction, drama and poetry. When I was invited to the Institute of Business Studies for the book week in August by Mrs Anere and colleagues, I was asked by a lecturer there if there could be ways through which those in the business sector and those in the humanities would come together and form some sort of collaborative partnership that would help us all one way or another. I responded immediately that the question was an important one, because as with other instances of partnership liaisons I did not see why people of two different entities altogether could not converge to have a party with books.
By a party with books I mean simply having a gathering where books are displayed and viewed and bought to be given away as gifts, especially to certain segments of society which need them most. A good business man or woman is not quite the one who dreams of becoming a prophet of Wall Street one day, but the one who, instead of having so many hours of restless and sleepless nights, actually relieves himself or herself of all worry and anxiety by buying a book in September and sending it away by sea or surface mail to, for example, the Literature Department of the University of Papua New Guinea. Think how much you would be giving back to the nation if you did that.