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 Camus‘ The 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.
Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones, at a flea market in Tomas Morato some 20 years ago: P5.
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.
Robert Hughes’ Nothing if Not Critical, from a Honolulu second-hand bookshop, last May: $1.
Richard Wilbur’s Responses, from one Booksale bin (I think), a long time ago: probably P30.
The Stories of John Cheever, in that handsome, impossibly thick red paperback, early in the 1990s: P25.