Saturday, November 08, 2008


G is a bottomless wonder. Since college, I’ve seen her cram in a lot of stuff—communication theories, jokes about men, law studies, jokes about men, liaison pressure, jokes about men, possible studies in finance.

Looking at that unflappable, endless profile, a stranger can have no inkling of the oceans sloshing inside.

But if you were to spend an hour with her, G can’t help but give herself away.

One, she whets her waspish wit on anyone born unfortunately not female.

Two, food commands her absolute focus but not as much as obsession no. 3—coffee.

Yet, last Friday, I was racked with doubt and seriously considered revising the Rules of G after my friend exhibited alarming unpredictability.

For a full 20 minutes and 37 seconds, she abandoned a steaming platter of spicy back ribs.

After placing her order for lunch, G excused herself, saying she would return after “quickly checking out something” in the mall.

When she finally returned, I thought my friend was a little too bright-eyed.

Later, after G ignored her brewed coffee for a full millisecond, I watched her with concern.

Just as I was beginning to wonder if something, or someone, she ate was wreaking havoc inside my bottomless friend, G takes out three things from her purse, which holds a notebook, phones, a coffeemaker and its back-up.

The three books rivet my attention.

And I end up plotting to murder my friend.

G turned out to be one of the first to check out “Their Books,” a benefit sale of books and magazines that were owned, read, reread and hoarded by what must be the most rabid sub-species of book lovers: writers.

Those familiar with the malady know that reading is a two-edged possession. At the outset, a person simplistically thinks that buying makes one own a book. But when turning a page already holds one in thrall, the balance of power shifts to the irreversible, and the possessor becomes the enslaved.

Short of the divine, can any earthly force induce a book lover to part with his opiate?

Now on its third and last day on the second floor of Ayala Center Cebu, positioned just across Watson’s, the sale is organized by the Tsinelas Association Inc., a group of volunteers that has been helping public school children and their families.

(Check out The Tsinelas Diaries ( to find out what this tireless bunch has been doing, from contributing chairs and setting up libraries to sending upland high school scholars through college.)

To fund two months of free art lessons for selected public schools, Tsinelas cajoled journalists, artists, musicians and just about anyone that cannot be trusted around a pen to contribute the books that moved them, blew a chill through them, made them howl when they saw the moon.

If you want to feed a book habit on a Third World budget or just desire to own a copy that was possessed by (or once possessed) your favorite writer, check out “Their Books” before mall closing today.

G’s coffee actually went cold while we examined her finds. We smelled the paper, tasted how the first pages read, and left the best for last: finding out who owned the books.

Her “Chicken Soup for the Soul” was well-thumbed by Louie Nacorda, memory warrior extraordinaire, whose collection of antiques and intimacy with old Cebu and Church lore confuse many to refer to him, very seriously, as “Monsignor.”

Black without relief and nearly unreadable, the signature scrawled on the inside cover of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories” is unmistakably Insoy’s of Missing Filemon. The disenchanted seminarian and Bisrock diehard is also the tireless idealist behind Tsinelas and their collective dream of helping children discover the world of ideas and possibilities.

G’s last book was the easiest to place. Handsome, pristine and rare, the hardbound collector’s copy of Sylvia Plath’s poems was signed by the flowing but precise pen of Isolde D. Amante. Plath rivals Hemingway as America’s most prominent writer-suicide. Less morbidly, she shares with Amante, Sun.Star Cebu journalist and Peryodistang Pinay blogger, an ear for words and feel for nuances.

Looking across at G, I contemplate slitting my friend’s throat and walking away with her copy of Plath/Amante’s poems. Then I shudder, and the murderous thought abandons me. I return G’s books, smiling.

I have my revenge: her coffee’s cold and “Their Books” is still on. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 9, 2008 edition


ForzaMillan said...

I just got around to reading this now as I could not read SSC last Sunday. I have one "owned, read, reread and hoarded by what must be the most rabid sub-species of book lovers: writers" -- you. So I must be as lucky as G, but it didn't cost me a nice cup of warm coffee. Whatever happened to the books that I ... never mind. ;-)

Mayette Q. Tabada said...

Hi, Migo

Which book did you buy? Or was that a magazine? It was difficult for me to part with the books. To be honest, I released the ones with whom I made the briefest acquaintance. I do give away books to specific persons, including a student who dunked her title in the toilet :-)

I have all the books you gave me, including the one that depressed me, briefly. I gave you one of my oldest books, the Fellowship copy I first found and owned/was owned by.

G, who has some of my books, said that I always made a note about the moment I found a book. The ones I am most attached to--read from elementary and high school days--have a painfully conscious handwriting I quickly outgrew. I think your Fellowship has a bunny signature, with my initials, no? That book is pretty close to me because I found it after I first read LOTR in the STC library. When I wanted to reread Tolkien, the books were gone!

So that was a joy to find this baby blue copy of Fellowship in a booksale, even though it took Hollywood's blockbuster trilogy to finally land the complete set in my collection.

On the day I plotted to do away with G, Eileen Mangubat passed by. I told her that I counted, among my favorites, the Mills & Boon romances, Barbara Cartland historical love stories and whodunits (from Agatha Christie to Ruth Rendell) that I am still fixated on. Ei said I should give away these romances already.

But I think I'll hold on to these and require the boys to read them as a boon to their future girlfriends, no?


ForzaMillan said...

My comment did not turn out well. I meant that I did not need to get anything from the sale because I already have one from you. Yes, it is the Fellowship, with what looks like a bunny (with a lot of imagination I think I see the bunny) and MQ.
I didn't mean the books I gave you --although they would probably fetch a good price because they are now used by you -- and gave you bits of depression. The other books I gave to other writers.