Welcome to Reading Around the Globe, a series here on Reader Voracious Blog geared at fostering a culture of understanding in the bookish community about access to books in various countries around the world. Each post in the series highlights a full interview with one international reader. You can read more about this series and catch up on previous interviews on the master post.
- What is your name? Shealea
- Blog URL? I blog at Shut Up, Shealea.
- Twitter handle? @shutupshealea
- Where do you live? I live in Southeast Asia. More specifically, I was born, raised, and currently reside in the Philippines.
- Do you find that there is a culture of reading where you live? If not, tell us a bit how you came to be one! Absolutely not. While there are a number of Filipino book bloggers (such as myself) and perhaps even a number of Filipino readers whom you can encounter on social media, we comprise a very small minority relative to the entire Filipino population. In one of my more recent blogging projects, namely #Augvocacy2018, I, together with 24 other amazing Filipino voices, have actively discussed the importance of fostering a culture of reading in the Philippines. I will be offering my two cents on this advocacy soon, but you can also refer to my girl Kate’s post for some insight regarding the conditions of our country.But anyway, how did I become a reader? I got into reading because of privilege. I was born into a middle class family that has been able to support me in more ways than I can count. My family is financially secure enough that I can focus on my responsibilities as a student (instead of having to work at an early age just to make ends meet), and in turn, my education (and, as I’ve mentioned, financial security) has provided me and continues to provide me greater access to resources that so many Filipinos don’t even dream about because a lot of them cannot even afford to learn how to read, much less invest in reading as a hobby when they’re struggling to survive on a daily basis.In a country where millions of people are living below the poverty line, I am a reader because I can afford to be one.
- What kinds of books do you enjoy reading? Diverse titles! Growing up, in most forms of media, I rarely encountered fictional characters that looked like me or that I could personally identify with. On those rare occasions, media representations were likely stereotypical or problematic. But now we have more opportunities to learn more about other cultures and other experiences from authentic voices. We get to read real stories that, for the longest time, were overlooked, misrepresented, and worst of all, deliberately silenced. My favorite genres have always been science fiction and fantasy (SFF), and this year, I’ve become increasingly fascinated with Asian-inspired SFFs or even any SFF written by Asian authors. (Speaking of which, I cannot recommend Fonda Lee’s Jade City enough times!)
- Have you always been a reader? Yes! When I was very little, my grandmother always took the time to read to me every night. I’ve always been more than a little curious, so I immediately wanted to understand the words on the pages on my own. Little by little, my grandmother taught me how to read – and I’ve never really stopped since then!Currently, I’m a Communication Research major in the University of the Philippines Diliman (obviously the best university in the country, 1/2 kidding). My degree program demands a lot of academic reading. Just last semester, I had to work on three entirely unrelated researches simultaneously! When I’m not reading for leisure, I’m typically reading for school.
- Do you also read books published in your native language/published locally to you? If so, tell us a bit about what kinds of books are published in your country! Unfortunately, I don’t. I’m actually a lot more fluent in English than in Filipino (our national language) or in Kapampangan (the language spoken in my province). I really wish I could eventually excel in Filipino and in Kapampangan, though!
- Are there libraries where you live? If so, what kinds of books can you find there? Are you able to get the books that you want? There are, but Philippine libraries are mainly used for academic or research purposes. You won’t find any fiction there. On the rare occasions that you do, those books are quite outdated.
- How prevalent are English published books where you live in bookstores? (For example, books printed by HarperCollins.) Very. There’s usually just one shelf for books in the Filipino language, and then the rest of the space is dedicated to English books. However, our bookstores are generally small and offer a limited selection of English books. A lot of the time, you have to file a request for a book that’s not in stock, which requires you to pay 2 to 4 times the original price of that book.
- Do you use NetGalley or Edelweiss to request electronic galleys for review? If so, what kind of success rate would you estimate for you personally? I’ve never really understood how Edelweiss works so I stick to NetGalley. I am currently on a review request ban as I have around 60 e-ARCs I have yet to read and review. However, I do think it’s worth noting that most of these e-ARCs were obtained before NetGalley updated its policies and became more restrictive towards international readers such as myself.While I don’t actively request for review copies due to my ban, I still occasionally browse through catalogues. A lot of the time, the titles aren’t available for request. I can only ‘wish’ for them. And this is an experience that a lot of my fellow international friends have had multiple times, too.
- Do you experience hurdles or barriers to access for the kinds of books that you read? Please explain if so. Reading is truly a privilege in my country. As I’ve mentioned earlier, we don’t really have libraries that are built for leisure or recreational reading. Most new releases don’t make it to our bookstores either, even titles like A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, which features a short story inspired by Filipino folklore. Ordering books online typically means having to pay ridiculously high shipping fees, and while there are sites like Book Depository that deliver to the Philippines for free, our local postal system isn’t exactly reliable. I have lost count of the number of times I claimed damaged packages from the post office or the times my books have gotten lost in the mail.
- If you could make one change to the publishing landscape, what would you do?
Decentralize and branch out the publishing industry! Most, if not, all the industry’s headquarters are located in the United States. And that’s not fair at all, in my opinion. Publishing companies should branch out and establish smaller bases in countries outside of U.S., particularly in non-Western areas. That way, they can more easily reach out to authors, book bloggers, and readers from different places and different walks of life! Books would significantly be more accessible (e.g. less expensive to send new releases to bookstores outside the U.S., more opportunities for book bloggers to receive ARCs).
- Help other international bloggers out… What resources do you use to obtain the books that you want to read? I’ve actually written a post about this. Sometimes I make Twitter threads about ongoing Kindle book deals (for $2.99 or less), so follow me via @shutupshealea and check out the hashtag ‘#QuickKindleSteals’.
- Do you have any other experiences as a reader around the world that you would like to share? Yes! I recently received a personalized, signed copy of my most highly anticipated 2018 release from none other than my favorite author! Around a month ago, she sent me a direct message on Twitter, telling me she appreciated the work that I do as a diverse book blogger (i.e. actively promoting her – and other authors’ of color – books) and offering to send me an early copy of her upcoming release. I was absolutely stunned, overwhelmed, and overjoyed. (Spoiler alert: I said yes with just about a million heart emojis.) Sometime after that, Mike Chen, 2019 debut author of Here and Now and Then, helped me get my hands on a digital ARC of his science fiction novel after he learned that it was on my wish list of books. I also received nearly 20 books for my 22nd birthday last August from authors, fellow Filipino book bloggers (special shout-out to my #BookishSecretTita, Erika from The Nocturnal Fey), and book bloggers and readers from all over the world.Most recently, the stars aligned in my favor and I was lucky enough to receive an e-manuscript of Joan He’s upcoming 2019 debut novel, Descendant of the Crane, which is pitched as a Chinese-inspired Game of Thrones.I’m sharing these wonderful experiences not because I want to brag or anything, but because they encapsulate two important messages that I’d really like people, especially international readers/book bloggers such as myself, to remember:
(1) Authors are incredibly kind, exceedingly generous, and generally awesome! They love their readers (that’s us!) as much as they love writing. Don’t hesitate to let them know how much you admire them or how much you love their work. They deserve to hear it. Authors deserve to be thanked, to feel appreciated, and most of all, to be supported!
(2) It is tough to be an international reader from a marginalized community. The odds are not just rarely in our favor, but are actually, deliberately stacked against us as well – and that can be really, really disheartening. That’s why it’s important for us to have each other’s back. It’s important that we raise each other up, support each other’s works, help each other if we have the resources to do so, and build a genuinely inclusive bookish community. It is tough out there, but with the right support system, we can keep going.
Please note that all experiences reflected in the interviews are personal and are not meant to generalize what reading access is like in each country. If you are interested in participating please DM me on Twitter.
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