by Agnes Manalo

Shelfwalking ~ Agnes Manalo - Bookbed

There are books by favorite authors, books I’ve been meaning to read since their appearance on some list or another, irresistible bargain books, books with pretty covers, etc. They sit, unread, on my shelves for years. Once I’ve read them, I have to figure out what to do with them.

A favorite book is an easy decision—back to the shelf, between spines of similar color and height. A terrible book bought cheaply is another easy decision—the Little Free Library. Less easy decisions: a book that appears masculine, literary—my uncle, to his towers of cobwebbed books beside his old reading lamp—or feminine, also of some literary merit, acceptable physical condition—one of many friends, sometimes to return to me, oftentimes not.

But what about the horribly expensive books that I loathed, or the books I love now but will dislike upon rereading? (The former I give to B., the latter are still undecided.) What about the books I can’t finish reading? What about the unique editions, usually out of print, interesting cover art and all? What about the series I so carefully completed, only to find out while reading the last book that I’d outgrown them all? I want to save them, I say, for when I open up a secondhand bookstore. Of course, I’ll want an eclectic a collection as possible; I’ll want good books no one has ever heard of, books with no literary acclaim but with a line or a paragraph that strikes a chord in me. I’ll want the retro cover art, the obscure publishers, the awkwardly sized paperbacks.

On the other hand, I live in a tropical country. Our house is not air-conditioned. The window-to-room ratio is such that direct sunlight hits everything for hours at a time. And my books are already mostly secondhand or old stock. I’m 23, and my library smells about twice my age. I’m a careless reader, leaving deliberately broken spines, dog-eared or even torn-off corners, water droplets and Cheetos dust secreted away into the binding. No one would buy books in such deplorable condition.

There is the option, of course, of not doing anything about it. But I have filled four shelves with upright books and books lying on top of those. I’ve cleared out clothes from the bottom shelf of my closet to make room for more books. I have books hidden away in what should be a laundry hamper as well as under my bed. The books I bought more recently are still in limbo in my dorm room, on the shelf and also in my closet. There are books in the bathroom, next to the towels, and I mix some of my books in with everyone else’s, on the communal bookshelf. Sooner or later, I’ll start keeping them in the fridge. ☁️

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