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Book Lust

For Allan




Contents of my loot bag from the Manila International Book Fair in World Trade Center:

Jose Saramago, Seeing.
Elio Frattaroli, Healing the Soul in the Age of the Brain.
Mitcham Mackey, ed., Philosophy and Technology.
Richard H. Popkin, ed., The Philosophy of the 16th and 17th Century.
Andrew M. Greeley and Mary G. Durkin, ed., The Book of Love.
Hegel, On Art, Religion and the History of Philosophy.
George Battaile, On Nietzsche.
Gianni Vattimo, Nietzsche: An Introduction.
Gary Cox, Sartre: A Guide for the Perplexed.
Matheson Russell, Husserl: A Guide for the Perplexed.
Various Poets, Metaphysical Poetry.
Augustine, The Confessions.
Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others.
Italo Calvino, Numbers in the Dark.
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Poor People.
Apuleius, Cupid and Psyche.
Apollonius, Jason and the Golden Fleece.
Penguin Dictionary of World History.
Allan Popa and Cirilo Baustista, ed., Latay sa Laman.

And mind you, it wasn't like all I did was hunt the above down. Actually, most of the afternoon was spent on the "mass" book launch of which my friend, the Poet, was part. He co-edited an anthology of poems by the young blood, as it were, of Philippine poetry. So along with some of his friends from their group, I watched the two-hour program attended by the literati. It was my first time in a long while to attend such a thing as I have been rather delinquent in the prior invitations of my friend in poetry readings or book launches. I remember some years ago when I accompanied the Teacher to some book launches where everyone knew each other, everyone knew what to do, and everyone was a good writer.

As a mere spectator, neither indifferent nor envious, it was a delight to observe writers: how they conducted themselves (nonchalantly, snobbishly, or excitedly), how they dressed (some angsty, some seriously or both--like Bien Lumbera wearing a short-sleeved barong with jeans and sandals ala Quentin Tarantino), or how they spoke (where I realized that being a good writer did not automatically make you a good speaker), etc., etc. Well, the nugget of wisdom I took home was that writers were a cross between stiff academics and anxious, young atheists; in other words, they were normal in the (very) good sense of the word. They are humble, simple, fun-loving but passionate, artistic and nerds with class. Again, normal. Perhaps, like me. Even if I was an outsider, I enjoyed it.

***

But I digress from the guilt-free shopping I had done.

The damage was done in only three stores: A Different Bookstore, Powerbooks and National. I know that sounds absurd for these stores are very much available and they offer pretty much the same thing. But as Allan and I found out in our initial run through of the whole book fair (we decided it wise to first know your enemy by surveying the lay of the land before attacking its parts, or stores, that is), the other, more specialized shops were rather expensive, marketing their books for libraries and bulk buyers. But to be sure, they had the goods. I saw an almost complete set of the Cambridge Companion Series and I was setting my sights on the Leibniz, Husserl and Merleau-Ponty editions. Allan found an enlarged copy of Emily Dickenson's Herbarium being sold at an absurd P8,000. I also saw a copy editor's manual and Routledge primary readings on philosophy of psychology among others. But upon second thought, since they would pretty much annihilate my pocket money, I decided to go for more than less: so I retreated to my familiar stores.

Naturally, since there was no Fully Booked (they plan on organizing their own book fair--the nerve!), I went to A Different Bookstore first. I had gotten to know most of the people there, from Ma'am Queenie who's the manager and the salespeople like Mavic. So they assisted me well, I talked to them and was able to get additional discounts for the books. They had limited stocks on philosophy (of which I complained) so I went through their literature and non-fiction. But my prized buy there was the Nietzsche introduction by a known commentator in a known series. Prized because it will sure help me a lot when I get to the Nietzsche part of my thesis as it contains a critique of Heidegger's interpretation of the philosopher with a hammer, which is basically my starting point. I also got a Hegel, which I pray to God may help me in the labyrinth I am in right now in trying to understand him again for the thesis. (I bore you so much right now.) After all was said and done, I could have gone home a happy man after A Different Bookstore.

But there was Powerbooks to battle with, which rather recently has been boosting their philosophy section. I got the introductions to Sartre and Husserl (which again, or so I tell myself, are for the thesis), and affordable primary texts on philosophy of technology and the 16th and 17th century (the first for a future project and the last for the present project). While it was a bit more expensive in there, I consoled myself with a free book bag and a notebook which I will never use.

Yet the surprise of the day was National Bookstore. In a place which others snubbed, I found a lot of hidden finds there mostly for my selfish self but also for others. I got a total of nine books there for half the price of what I spent in A Different Bookstore for five books! And what made it even sweeter was that I was able to use the gift certificates I received as a prize from an essay contest they sponsored. In other words, they were gifts I freely--and excitedly--received. In turn, I got the following for others:
The Penguin Portable Shakespeare for my younger sister who is collecting Penguin Books. (And I got a free Penguin stuffed toy to boot).
Some chic lit book for my other sister (which the saleslady called "chicklet").
How to Walk in High Heels for my girlfriend.
After the dust cleared and the damage was done, I was as tired as a soldier after a war. But instead of going home bloodied, I went home even richer than when I first came there with my savings. And what made me richer still was Allan giving me a copy of his book--my real prized find.

***

Allan, his friend who was also a writer, and I then went out for dinner happy and proud. But after my second beer, the next thing I knew was Allan bringing out a poem by Frank Bidart, his mentor, and had his friend read it. They discussed it. Amused, I asked, "Is this what you do when you go out? You read poems?" To which they responded, "Yes." Hiding a smile, Allan--my frustrated teacher of poetry who has not yet given up with this dimwitted student--explained it to me line by line.

It's title was "The Collector" and it was a new poem that "the last great modernist" had just sent to Allan and being so, was still a work in progress. I am guilty with the sin of reduction but it is (I think) about a book collector who, in every attempt to buy or get a book, fervently hopes that with this or that book the promise of satisfaction--of this being the final and last one book I shall need--would be fulfilled. That in every attempt to acquire this book, the very possession of it is the act by which desire (eros) is terminated. Well, if you think about it, why get a book of it does not fulfill such a desire? The gesture itself of grabbing this copy, of taking it home to your library, of placing your name on it, all reek not yet of internalizing it by understanding it but more so initially of possessing it even externally by being able to call it "mine."

Yet of course, the desire to possess and make it "mine" may be the first--and necessary--step for the desire to understand and make it "me." But the collector may not necessarily be concerned with such distinctions; he may even not be interested too much in assimilation than in acquisition. Such is the vanity of collecting; and yet this is also its beauty. Beauty? Yes.

Because the collector's desire, as he finds out, can never be fulfilled: for to fulfill it--for this book to end all desire--means to no longer desire, that is, to no longer be a collector. But a collector is a collector by definition because of that infinite desire; and for that desire to remain infinite--to remain beautiful--it must never be fulfilled. Hence no collector ever wished to complete his collection. That would be death. And there is no other better object to collect than books where infinite desire longs for what infinitely escapes it. Like an Apollo who was doomed to desire a Daphne who in turn was cursed to have to flee the sun god.

This is why this business of collecting is no vanity. It is poverty. As poor as my empty wallet now shows.

a

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