There is a force that sets my feet walking toward secondhand bookstores, especially Booksale and other independent shops where the owners somehow became my friends.
I love the feel of preloved books—their cracked spines, the yellowed pages and that wonderful old-book smell that sets my imagination running wild, thinking about where the books have been before I’ve found them, forlorn on the shelf, offering the world’s next great adventure.
I started buying books—book hoarding, as some may put it—two years ago, a year after I graduated college. I’ve always liked hanging out inside bookstores, but before, I either borrowed or downloaded my books. And my pitiful shelf then contained only a few paperbacks I’ve gotten from friends, and the last two Harry Potter books.
I remember buying my first Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions, which I got for P50. It disintegrates every time I try reading it, but remembering the day I got it feels like the first nonblood-related kiss I got on the cheek—so tender and sweet.
When I look at my shelf, I marvel at how these stacks of paper could contain such stories, of different worlds and epics. The story of how I found the book somehow adds to the joy of reading it, as if the search for the book is part of the story, a prelude of some sort, that wonderful gate to a magical place where all sort of things can happen.
I feel lucky every time I come home from a secondhand bookstore—sometimes poor and lucky, but most days lucky.
The first time I saw Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita at Booksale, it felt like I died and Nabokov greeted me in literary heaven, saying “It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever ever sight.” I bought it, along with Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending, for a little more than P500. It was a great day. I thanked the Booksale gods and left the store. I couldn’t afford a cab afterwards, but it was marvelous. I went home walking on clouds.
Even though I like finding books for myself (like an explorer hunting for treasure), I also make it to a point to visit independent secondhand booksellers. I like talking to shopkeepers who have a genuine love for books and reading, whom I can always count on for a good suggestion and the occasional discount.
There is this bookseller in the Manila City Hall underpass who liked Alan Silitoe’s The Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner so much that he almost gave it to me practically for free. It’s fun to talk to someone so passionate about books, and I leave these stores happy with my purchase and with a renewed faith in humanity.
I also look forward to the feeling of seeing for the first time an author I love and adore on a secondhand shop. The first time I saw Murakami at Booksale, my heart skipped a beat. When I stumbled upon Susan Sontag’s Reborn Journals, I did a little jig. I almost cried when I bought Italo Calvino’s The Baron in the Trees for less than P200. Every time I see Mario Vargas Llosa’s books on sale, my heart sings. And whenever I see a book I love but already have, I feel like shoving it to my fellow shoppers, urging them to buy the book and take it home, running toward a bigger, brighter and better future.
I can almost track every secondhand bookstore near me and I can’t resist dropping by every time I’m near one. It is the proximity of books that I like. I often wonder how people can sell their copies of books like Matilda or any of David Sedaris’ but I just shrug the thought off and thank the previous owners, whoever they are, for giving up something so precious so people can buy/read these amazing books for such a low price.
And every time I’m inside a store and some newbie exclaims, “So cheap and so many!” I just smile and whisper, “Welcome to heaven.” ☁