Best bargain books

My thanks to good friend Gigi, whose latest question set my heart racing today. "Is book lust a mortal sin?" Nothing venial about her musings. They led me to pitch-perfect Jessica Zafra, a sometime colleague from the late, lamented Today newspaper (well, I was there for only 10 months, editing the Today Folio, but it was a thrilling ride). Her "Biblioholics Support Group" is right on the money.

You have a problem. Not a real problem—very pleasant as problems go, but still a sort of problem. You can’t stop yourself from buying books …

Most of the comments were from fellow sinners, reminiscences about that desultory afternoon when one succumbed to temptation, that clean, well-lighted room where another’s (book) lust could no longer be denied. I emphatized, completely.

Just a sample of sinners: Jego, who proposed canonization for the Booksale guy, because "Booksale made it possible to buy books and still have enough for siopao and sago." (Santo, subito!)  Sparks, who confessed to leaving sinful signs, or rather occasions for sin, all over the place: "I have books collecting dust on my shelves. I have books I haven’t even opened from the packaging yet. I have books in my trunk, under the car seat, on the backseat, under my bed, in my nightstand, under my nightstand. I have a book right now, accompanying me everywhere I go. " Or El Capitan Montressor, who wrote, simply, of his object of desire: "Them Russians: gotta love ’em."

Many other comments struck me; but for some reason, this one by Character Malfunction was like a slap in the face (that is, when you need to wake yourself up; like a tabo of cold water, to change metaphors): "But I feel most accomplished when I ransack the bins at booksales and find gems like Albert CamusThe Stranger for 18 pesos and James Joyce‘s Dubliners for 25 pesos!"

Here’s to that sense of accomplishment many of us feel, on those days when we can’t wait to get out of the mall because, surely, the bookstore guard would find us to say there has been a terrible error, about the price of the book we just bought, and won’t we be kind enough to walk back to the bookstore with him; you know, those days when we want to find the nearest exit before the bookstore manager or cashier or clerk realizes that someone, somewhere, had made a costly mistake.

To Jessica’s support group, I raise my list of five best book bargains.

  1. Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones, at a flea market in Tomas Morato some 20 years ago: P5.
  2. Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis, from a Philippine Library Materials Project per-kilo sale in Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro, also about 20 years ago: probably about P5 too.
  3. Robert Hughes’ Nothing if Not Critical, from a Honolulu second-hand bookshop, last May: $1.
  4. Richard Wilbur’s Responses, from one Booksale bin (I think), a long time ago: probably P30.
  5. The Stories of John Cheever, in that handsome, impossibly thick red paperback, early in the 1990s: P25.




Filed under Notes on Readings

6 responses to “Best bargain books

  1. Heh. Are you trying to set up an internet meme? 😉

    My best-buy bargains?

    (1) a complete collection of Ernest Hemingway’s short stories in TPB format (Books for Less)
    (2) a complete collection of Franz Kafka’s short stories also in TPB (ditto)
    (3) The very rare Essential Harlan Ellison hardbound (National Bookstore)
    (4) A signed hardbound edition of Tim Powers’ Declare. (Books for Less)
    (5) An ARC of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Booktopia)

    The last one was a best-bargain because the bookshop gave it to me for free way before the book ever came to these shores. 😀

  2. alcuin

    sir john,

    that borges book is a real find. here are some of mine:

    1. julio cortazar’s Hopscotch for around P20 in a book sale stall inside broadway centrum.

    2. garcia marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold from a National Bookstore bargain bin.

    3. Salman Rushdie’s Midnight Children hardbound at half-price also from a National Bookstore bargain bin.

    4. a battered copy of Camus’ The Stranger in Recto for P10. namahalan pa ako nun.

    i can’t remember the others.

    a friend also managed to score antonio gramsci’s “Prison Notebooks” from booksale, twice!! lucky guy.

  3. hi! read your entry and that of jessica’s. doesn’t everyone have this kind of affliction?

    Hmmm…. best bargain?

    1. Yoshikawa’s Taiko (booksale) P160
    2. Rare books like 1831 Churchill&Stephenson’s Medical Botany (P10), 1884 Millspaugh’s Botanical Prints (P5), 1899 Nuevo Diccionario Español-Ingles (P10), from our library. (Pity they didn’t know what they were selling cuz if they did some research, they would have gotten a windfall in antique books)

  4. Jojo

    Odd none of you folks bought Filipino authors. For me it there were three: Hernando Abaya. Betrayal in the Philippines (a classic on how Roxas et. al., sold Pinas back to the Americanos) which I found in a stall in the now-empty Colon district in Cebu and bought for 2 pesos; the 4 volumes of Tadhana by Ferdinand Marcos (but ghost-written by UP’s foremost historians: Zeus Salazar, Samuel Tan, Serafin Quiason, Romeo Cruz) – at a bangketa in Recto two weeks after EDSA 1 (All for 25 pesos); and Austin Craig’s bio of Rizal, hardcopy, for 10 pesos at a UP book sale.

  5. Book Lust

    I admit I am as addicted to books as Jessica, Gigi, and John are, complete with my own stack of unread stuff. For the most part, I justify my purchases with the excuse that I am assembling a professional library, and true enough, a lot of the books I …

  6. sa akin naman ay nakabili ako ng edward said’s representation of an intellectual for P35 sa sm southmall natl bookstore, franz kafka collection for P200 sa powerbooks – a few days later naging P1,000+ na ito, iris murdoch’s the black prince sa bargain books ng sm north natl bookstore, at di ko alam kung may mga history/philosophy books pa sa popular bookstore o ubos na.

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