Reckless Healing
The papers being sorted; the drawers emptied

National Book Week is meaningless & vain

Francis Nii - "A meaningless and derisory celebration that should not be called National Book Week"


One year ago, Francis Nii wrote this article proposing how Papua New Guinea’s annual book week could be more relevant and useful by focusing on locally-authored books. Like much of what Francis wrote, his words were perceptive but ignored. This failure to listen to and act on good advice underpins much of PNG’s failure to progress the interests of its people….

KUNDIAWA - It is high time the meaningless and vain annual National Book Week was changed to make it become the vehicle for stimulating tangible benefits to writers and readers.

Every August features National Book Week. In Papua New Guinea gaudy banners of all sizes rustle in the dusty wind. Written on them is an ostensibly witty theme that nobody cares about.

Empty-minded school children in colourful uniforms fill the city arena for the annual event.

For them, it is one of those playtimes. Their predecessors have celebrated it and so will those who come after them.

Whether there is gain for them or not, it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, they will go home without a locally-authored book. That they knew. They had experienced it before.

High ranking government officials and distinguished dignitaries mingle at the overly draped grand podium. It’s their day to showcase their oratory eloquence.

Pompous speeches of vanity ring out in crescendo. Blind ovation reverberates into emptiness in the scorching atmosphere.

No national author is present for the event. No locally-authored book is on exhibition. It is supposed to be a National Book Week celebration of locally-authored books, isn’t it? Who knows why? Who knows what kind of books they celebrate?

A meaningless and derisory celebration that should not be called National Book Week. A slap in the face to the multitude of national authors in this country.

No one even knows or cares to how many national authors there are in the country. Nor what kind of books they produce. Nor what their books look like. Nor how good their stories are. They don’t know and they don’t care to know the importance and value of the books that have been written.

BooksSo what is the meaning of the annual National Book Week? What is its purpose? What kind of benefits are there and for whom?

The children go home without seeing a locally-authored book. They don’t embrace a copy on their way home, let alone read one. Is it because Papua New Guineans don’t write books?

No. There are many national authors publishing all kinds of books from non-fiction to fiction, as well as collections.

There is no meaning when national authors are ignored. There is no purpose when nationally authored books are neglected and cannot be read. It is absurdly unfair when the younger generation cannot read books about their own history and culture.

Yet it is called National Book Week and is celebrated year after year with all the pompous grandeur without locally-authored books. Sad vanity, isn’t it?

It’s time to reconsider. Make the occasion more meaningful. Recognise local authors. Make available their books. Stimulate opportunities for tangible benefits everyone – authors and readers alike.

The PNG government and the National Library and Archives need to make a drastic policy shift.

Local authors and their books must be given recognition. Their books must be made available at such important occasions, including National Literacy Week, for school children and the general public to take these books home and to read them.

Revive the provincial public library network throughout the country and stock them with locally-authored books.

Make National Book Week an occasion of celebrating and promoting our own books. It should be the vehicle for nurturing readership for locally-authored books


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Lindsay F Bond

Stay still a grinding
Seek so be finding.
Relational booth keeps national book week
Librational hoop peeps rational look weep
Vocational loot sweets stational food eek
Mutational loop tweets actional moot steep.

Michael Dom

Hi Lindsay, I'm on that schedule.

Lindsay F Bond

In 2014, after being at the awards evening of Crocodile Prize, I went on to Tufi and was pleased to see a retired primary school teacher, Evertius Sore, who I had last seen in 1971, Evertius having been then a year as Head Teacher at Sasembata succeeding the lady to whom I was wed.

Evertius was much interested in my possession of the Crocodile Prize anthology, so I gifted it to him.

His delight in that publication was quite something to see, dramatised by seeing Evertius avidly reading, not resting from doing so, the whole while his eyes were emitting the fluids of impairment and his need of medical attention, so transfixed his delving into that book. A pivotal image I cherish.

So I advocate and urge, put the writings of PNG into the hands and longer possession of teachers.

When the teachers evidence activity, the learners, the young will adopt it as appropriate lifestyle.

Give a name to it, call it 'kindy for mobils', then will come to be the normality of "a child reading a book outside of school."

Philip Kai Morre

Last Friday I was invited to give a talk on the importance of books during the national book week.

While Francis was still at the funeral home, I paused for a moment to pay tribute to this great man of insight and authenticity.

The children and authorities at the gathering knew this great man and talked about his books. The next day, several students approached Arnold Mundua and me and congratulated us for our books they had read.

When I gave the speech, I was critical and made reference to the colleges and school in Simbu which do not have libraries.

I told the education authorities to buy more books and set up libraries in all schools because 80 percent of knowledge comes from books. We have seen the benefit of books and every book has values and insights of its own.

Michael Dom

Although many school kids often do enjoy reading picture story books while at school, and small numbers may occasionally pass through a library as a little afternoon or weekend adventure, to find a child reading a book outside of school on their own volition is a rare occurrence.

International school students probably do better in developing personal reading habits in their pupils.

And this socialised education phenomenon helps to perpetuate our neo-colonised mind set: reading of your own volition is seen as a purely intellectual pursuit for the wealthy, not a normal activity for plebians.

That is why, to counteract, we should be promoting the writing of PNG books for all ages, starting from kindergarten through to university.

Encouraging PNG authored books is a means of reclaiming our heritage - our right to tell our own stories in our own way.

We do not call for the demotion of non-PNG authored books - that's daft.

We call for the promotion of our PNG authored books.

That is independence.

Lindsay F Bond

Politicians might favour events that are decorated and bound.
Librarian staff may stick to events they open, read and shelve.
So people like to have a win. Very human.
Folk will appreciate James staying that course he's long trod.
PNG Attitude has evidence again of reader blinking interest.
Writers comment briskly, even Francis in effect of paged words.

Philip Fitzpatrick

The national library and the few surviving libraries in PNG are in a parlous state James. Even the library at UPNG is largely stocked with dusty old copies of books from many years ago.

Even if the libraries wanted to buy books by PNG writers they are so starved of funds that this would be largely impossible.

Most of the books going into PNG schools are now sourced through companies owned by corrupt politicians or public servants. As a consequence the books they supply are overly cheap and often not well-suited to PNG.

The private and mission schools are a little better off because they purchase better quality books from companies like Scholastic and Pearsons.

If the PNG government had begun nurturing locally written and produced books after independence the situation would be much better but they never did that.

The national library and other libraries, as far as we know, have never put any pressure on the government to do that. Maybe they thought it would be futile or maybe they just didn't care.

We supplied them with Crocodile Prize anthologies and other books by PNG authors but they never came back with requests for more copies.

Francis was right in the article republished from 2019 that Book Week is a charade. Politicians and bureaucrats pretending to care when they really don't give a stuff.

James E Boyce

National Book Week in PNG is neither meaningless nor vain, although, indeed, it may often find that its goal to promote reading among young people has once again been pursued in vain. But, let's be entirely clear: its goal is to promote reading among young people; its goal is not simplistically "the vehicle for nurturing readership for locally-authored books".

When I ran the National School Library Service in PNG nearly 35 years ago, I followed and expanded upon an idea created by my predecessor, Mr Iain Crossland of Scotland. He started, and I greatly expanded, a massive depository of children's books in the basements of the National Library. Lists of available books were sent out regularly to School Libraries all over the country, and they could choose books to add to their collections. We bought these books almost entirely with foreign/UN grants. The PNG government contributed very little to the development of local public or school libraries.

We did, indeed, buy mostly foreign books: We could get them on the cheap, so we had lots of books for the kids. There were then almost no PNG creators of children's books. There were a few, published by struggling publishers who believed in their authors and who believed in the country. And we bought every single book they published, even though they cost more; and we distributed them to every school library that wanted them.
When I left my post, I turned it over not to another expat, but to a well-qualified Papua New Guinean librarian. I was thrilled to do so, It seemed as if I had done something worthwhile.

Thirty-five yeas later, I just cannot comprehend what has happened. Public libraries almost extinct, school libraries totally inadequate, and local authors, if more prolific, apparently ignored (as, why shouldn't they be, if libraries are nowhere?

I am deeply offended by Mr Nii's offhanded reference to "Empty-minded schoolchildren". I don't know if he was one of the schoolchildren to whom I once delivered books, if he is a disgruntled author, or what. But, I can tell you, in the many school visits I made during my time in Papua New Guinea, I met not a single school child who was "empty-headed" (and even fewer teacher/librarians who were "empty-headed". The kids I met were enthusiastic and hoped that being in school would make their livesand those of their families better. The teachers, and especially the school librarians believed (and hoped) that getting their kids to read a wide variety of writing (not just literature) was going to equip them to be better people, better citizens and just "better". That's a hope that almost every librarian has, whether or not it is realistic. I was personally overwhelmed by the hope and belief in the future that I encountered among the school librarians and schoolchildren that I spent time with in PNG.

I hear his criticism of "the process" and of "the [h]igh ranking government officials and distinguished dignitaries, but I also hear an unreasoned and unreasonable diatribe.
Children are not supposed to go home from a National Book Week event with any book (unless Mr Nii or someone else supplies them). I agree with him (as I would have 35 years ago): "Recognise local authors. Make available their books." But don't turn it into a means of selling books by local authors.

I also agree with him to : "Revive the provincial public library network throughout the country and stock them with locally-authored books." But stock them fully, with books from everywhere.

If "[n]o one even knows or cares to how many national authors there are in the country. Nor what kind of books they produce. Nor what their books look like. Nor how good their stories are. They don’t know and they don’t care to know the importance and value of the books that have been written," then I would respond to Mr Nii that you need to fix that; it is not the responsibility of libraries and librarians (as much as we may take it on) to convince people to read your work.

You may be deeply offended, James, but if you had read a little further you would have learned that Francis Nii, a more distinguished, scholarly and wise man than you seem to be, and who knew more about literature in Papua New Guinea than you seem interested in learning, died on Sunday last week - KJ

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