Saturday, August 13, 2016

Beyond pages

WHAT do you call the second or the third copy of a book you lend or give to friends?

And how do you call those books that first mushroom and then tower beside your bed?

Do you organize your bookshelf by author, title or genre? Or just by a book’s peculiar hold on your book-mad self?

I took away questions when I left the Presents & Such Café & Tea Room one Friday evening. I walked back to the university, retraced my steps, and somehow ended home without minding the weekend traffic for once.

Even as I sit to compose this piece, the questions still niggle: what do you call the books you first read as a child, lose in the interstices of a life, and then remember while looking through a window misted by a late afternoon drizzle?

Is the feeling the same for books you come back for in a store and never meet again?

How do you describe the daze with which you wander around for days after the last page is turned?

Or the bizarre conditions that afflict readers dealing with the last page. Some must first read the last page. Others are torn between rushing to the end and slowing down to delay the moment of emerging from the spell and returning to life beyond the pages.

Books weave a spell. We agreed that afternoon in the café and tea room along Gorordo Ave.

Eileen and I discussed syllabi. Loy juggled, from answering messages about her coming book launch to ruminating how the zucchini’s confusion about its identity makes it ideal for her ratatouille.

By the time Frankie opened up about her plan to set up a public reading nook in Bantayan, books, past and present, had long been sitting with us and steering the conversation.

Loy remembered when the arrival of a book was so rare, it had to become collective property. She and her siblings and cousins passed a book around until that novel’s characters became an intersecting circle of invisible friends.

Regularly taking a bus to the city, Loy noticed the owner’s son often rode as well. That he was tall, lean and dashing did not escape her attention.

Neither did his books. She found not just a way to get him to lend her, a complete stranger, the new titles but also to wait until her circle of family and neighbors had finished the novels.

Till now, Loy still has the habit of walking inside her kitchen to bring out some titles from her collection.

Eileen calls these books the “keepers,” such as the mint and illustrated copy of Gene Stratton Porter’s “A Girl of the Limberlost,” discovered when Loy was a girl and seen again in a secondhand bookstore.

She has another copy you can borrow from her. The books shelved in the café belong to a second category. Loy doesn’t mind if, after lingering over apple pie and coffee, a customer brings a volume home.

Ei, though, cannot find a specific name for these extra copies. Yet, while keepers effortlessly hold our heart and imagination within their pages, the ones we give away often have the strongest spell.

After Frankie parted with her heirloom collection of “National Geographic” magazines, given by an aunt who stirred her love for reading, to start a reading nook for mothers at the daycare center, she overheard a woman whisper in awe to a companion as they scanned the photographs in this classic publication about explorations: Who knew such worlds existed?

Reading brings us inward but also releases and liberates. Now, how do you call that?

( 09173226131)

* First published in the August 14, 2016 issue of Sun.Star Cebu’s Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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