Monday, November 12, 2012

Just deserts

THREE things must be in place to acquire more books than can be read in a lifetime: an excuse, opportunity, and a book sale.

Any reader may argue that the first two are superfluous. The third condition is both excuse and opportunity.

I will not argue although shortly before lunch on a weekday, I had all three. The excuse was finishing the marathon of enrolling for another semester at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman. The opportunity was a free afternoon to spend with last semester’s book allowance intact in my pocket.

The book sale is the yearend slash-off of all titles in stock at the UP Press.

On my sixth month in this city, I have yet to visit all 11 “little bookstores” listed by my favorite Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist, Michael L. Tan, in an article published by Sunday Inquirer Magazine last May 1, 2011.

Not an insignificant part of the charm of these “little bookstores” is not just helping these brave ventures survive, as Tan suggests, but it is the high likelihood of asking about a title from a member of the sales staff who is most likely also a reader, not just someone who knows books as stock numbers in a list, specially not in an obnoxiously pushy bestsellers’ list.

As the stipend of public fellowships hardly covers bus fare to Baguio (so one can browse around in the intriguingly named Mt. Cloud Bookshop), I have settled for now on the four or five bookstores located within Quezon City.

Because it is in my campus and there was a large outdoor sign shouting “Sale” in frantic red letters designed to grab the attention of even those with myopia and astigmatism, the UP Press became the object of last Tuesday’s quest.

If you have a car and have no problem about stuffing it with books, you can park under the trees and escape, that is if you still have space after your purchases to recline your seat and flip through “Ordinary Time: Poems, Parables, Poetics” by Gemino H. Abad (P100).

However, if you only have both feet, no wheels, and the self-delusion that you will “only look around,” take the “Ikot” jeepney from Quezon Ave. After the jeepney turns right at the University Ave. (with the iconic view of the Oblation framed by Quezon Hall), then turns left for Roxas Ave., get down at the waiting shed and follow the trees that lead to the UP Press bookstore at E. de los Santos St.

The UP Press has its website (, both the old and the redesigned, and a Facebook fan page. Both are useful for those seeking books through virtual and more efficient means.

I like to come upon books as you chance upon strangers with whom you feel you’ve shared a past. So while there are the three preconditions, sweetening the deal are other incidentals: walking under the trees, watching a mother wait for her tired and cross child to catch up, finding a deserted second floor with an air of concentrated silence, doubtless from unseen readers flipping pages.

The bookstore is close on weekends and for lunch. Mark, though, opens the store for browsers even if it’s not yet 1 p.m. Since my visit last January, another room has been opened. Many of the titles are academic. Several books, including those on creative nonfiction and writing, made me pull a chair and read. “The knowing is in the writing,” Jose “Butch” Y. Dalisay Jr. writes of the practice of fiction. It’s an insight that resonates in journalism, too.

After nearly three hours, I leave the UP Press bookstore in the company of three: Abad, Dalisay and Tan (“Revisiting Usog, Pasma, Kulam”). This bookstore insists that visitors bring their own green bag, whether they buy or pretend not to buy and only “look around”.

That I had my own green bag already unfurled after Mark totaled my purchases proves that, preconditions or not, self-knowledge is an occupational curse for readers and book sale addicts.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov 11, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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