Robin Hemley's Article 'The Great Book Blockade of 2009' Sparks International Attention

Great Book Blockade
Illustration by Eric Agoncillo Ambata

Published earlier this month, Robin Hemley's article 'The Great Book Blockade of 2009', has already become an international news item. In this nonfiction piece, Hemley (faculty member of the University of Iowa's Nonfiction Program) describes how the Philippines broke an international U.N. Treaty and taxed imported books in violation of that treaty. Less than two weeks after release, the article quickly transcended from the internet blogosphere into the mainstream media, catching the attention of UNESCO and spurring calls in the Philippine Senate for an investigation.

Hemley's interest in the affair began when he spent the better part of a year from 2008 to late spring of 2009 in the Philippines with his family on a Guggenheim Fellowship. He wrote several articles during his time there, including the six-part series 'Dispatches from Manila', but none had sparked as much attention as this piece. Much of the media frenzy began when a timeline of the entire controversy, including Hemley's breaking of the story, was posted on Manuel L. Quezon III's blog, The Daily Dose. It has also been reported in the Manila Bulletin, where Hemley is credited with coining the phrase 'The Great Book Blockade'.

You can read Robin Hemley's article on McSweeney's Online Tendency and his comments about it on his blog,


Since this article was published, Phillipine President Arroyo has lifted the 'blockade.' UNESCO condemned the Philippines for breaking its international treaty obligations. Effective immediately, and in a large part because of the attention that Robin Hemley's article brought to the incident, there will be no taxes on imported books. Read his wrap up article on the Far Eastern Economic Review website.

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