Books and Me


Collect books, even if you don’t plan on reading them right away. Nothing is more important than an unread library.
~John Waters

I must confess, I cannot resist books. When I migrated to Canada nine years ago, I very painfully parted with about 2,000 books, at least, and only because my sister-in-law offered to buy them for her daughter, who wanted to study comparative literature or some such course. Those were only the books I collected, of course, and did not include any books I borrowed or read in libraries. The books I kept with me, following me across the ocean in several boxes were hardbound coffee table books, encyclopedia-types, art books, and my whole collection of dictionaries and writer’s references which I know would be hardest to replace, besides being in constant use and creating an unmatchable reference collection. Since I arrived, I have bought and borrowed dozens more, many of which I’ve read and disposed of by donating here and there or passing on, others I’ve kept in my bookwormy habit in case I want to read them again or simply because I want them around, mostly the fantasy and sci-fi ones, because that’s where my writing feels like going when it finally has the chance. Above all, there is a new shelf slowly filling up with books I acquired because I want to read them—eventually. I have found even less time to read now that I am no longer a student, juggling work, job searching, art, writing, editing, balcony-gardening, cooking, writing, baking, following insanely addictive TV series—because that’s another area I want to explore to take my playwriting—volunteer work, teaching, volunteer teaching, consulting, networking, keeping house (which tends to be very minimal, with so many other things to occupy me), and my cat. Oh, yes. And sleeping. I still always bring a magazine or book in my purse (one reason my purse is always heavier than it needs to be) to read while waiting—for a bus, an appointment, an order, my doctor, etc.—and have about 5 or 6 books in my “next to read” pile under the “currently reading” book on my bedside table. My “books to read” shelf is, of course, next to my other bedside table with its mini bookshelf full of books to read, as well, all within reach of my bed. Once read, the books go back to the spare room which is a library-computer-art-storage room where the tall shelves are, along with a few boxes of books read-and-good-to-donate-because-I’m-not-reading-them-again—basically, contemporary literature, best sellers that are not likely to go classic, and fast lit—my action-adventure-detective-mystery-spy pile which I don’t plan to collect anymore because, at this age, I need to start thinking of unloading so my kids don’t have to swim through tons of book. I’m leaving instructions to have them all donated to a book bank or library or school, if I don’t give them away, swap them, or sell them off first. Whenever possible, I’ll grab the book from our well-stocked bright, airy, air-conditioned public library (nothing like the dark, musty archives of dated, poorly maintained, and skeletal public libraries in the Philippines) because I just don’t need to keep a copy of every book I’ve read (thank goodness for our school library where I grew up—I’d never get all those books to fit into my room!). Nothing compares with the feeling of a book in your hands and the anticipation of discovering what lies between the covers—where you’ll go, whom you’ll meet, what they’ll do. My younger self could stay up all night, night after night, trying to finish a book just because I didn’t want to leave its world. My much older self still wants to do that but finds the call of sleep often more powerful than the call of the printed words, the characters, the worlds I am transported to. Thankfully, those things also come in my sleep, even when I don’t hold a book in my hands. When I die, I want to be buried with a book in my hands—I don’t know which one yet, maybe one I still haven’t read that might entertain me for a while in the afterlife, maybe the one I’ll be holding and trying to finish as I draw my last breath. Ever since I was a child, I’d marvelled at epitaphs people had on their tombstones. I want mine to read “Her life was her book.” I might think of another way to word it, but I’m fine with that for now. I just look forward to that day when I’ll be sitting on some shelf listening in awe to the conversations my books have in that infinite library in the sky.

A great portion of my early book collections were classics, of course. I had a whole bookshelf of literary classics by playwrights from every literary period that ever existed in the Western world, as well as several from the Eastern world. I had every drama by the Greek and Roman playwrights. I had miracle plays and mystery plays from the medieval ages. I had the complete works of Shakespeare—because no self-respecting playwright or literary major would be caught without them! I had Spencer and Marlowe. I had all manner of Victorian drama. I had Reformation drama, Black drama, Edwardian drama. I had absurd plays, which became my favourite. Brecht, Ionesco, Camus, Capek, and Gogol sat side by side with Eliot, Williams, and Wilde. They partied at night while I slept, I’m sure with Simon, Osborne, Stoppard, and Wolfe. G.B. Shaw and Pushkin would heatedly discuss politics with Fitzgerald and Solzhenitsyn. Then Lao Tzu might walk up and calm them while Kikuchi Kan laughed down at them from an upper shelf. In another bookshelf, James Joyce and Yeats might be reminiscing Ireland with Michener on one of his rest stops from his travels, or talk about existentialism with Mishima and Kawabata while Kierkegaard, Kafka, Nietzsche, and Dostoevsky convinced Salinger and Camus to get real. Clavell, Caldwell, and Follett would argue the finer points of medieval architecture with Tolkien, while Carroll and Twain played pranks on Lewis and Auel and London lit a fire under them all. They would all, of course, poke fun at the shelf where Leithold and other unremembered names projected abstractions and other complex formulations while debating the validity of theorems. (After university, that shelf stayed at the bottom, out of reach, isolated, and eventually half-forgotten.) The second most active shelf, of course, was where Yeats, Eliot, Blake, Shelley, Longfellow, Browning, and Wordsworth spun silvery cobwebs around Sappho, Oates, Browning, Lowell, and Dickinson.

365 Things to Look Forward to – Number 14: Finishing a book


14. Finishing a book

Every time I start reading a book, I look forward to finishing it. Admittedly, I haven’t finished every book I’ve ever started reading, so finishing a book is really something I look forward to. Except when the book is exceptionally dull or convoluted or just plain unreadable.

I have always been an avid book reader. Ask all my classmates in grade school and high school. They’ll confirm that. They used to call me a bookworm, I took special pleasure in that nickname. I always carried a book in my pocket…if it would fit…or in my bag, if it was any bigger than my pocket. And if I didn’t have a bag, I’d still a have book in my hand, wherever I went.

During breaks and before and after class, you’d always know where to find me–either in the library or on the grass, reading. I never really thought much about my reading habits back then…I just wanted to read anything and everything I could get my hands on, especially if it was fiction. My choice of reading material, of course, changed according to the times and the need and my mood and interests at the moment.

At present, I have several I am reading simultaneously…not that I read them all at the very same time. Just that I am reading them all. I have a couple of books on words I’m chewing through (sheer pleasure), a suspense novel (pleasure and time-filler), an art book (study), the latest issue of Reader’s Digest (bus-stop and out-of-my-handbag reading), a crafts book (self-study), a book on freelance writing, and a book on children’s writing and publishing. Oh, and a science fiction anthology somewhere. There are also a couple of other books that I started but temporarily shelved because I didn’t think I felt like reading them, as they seemed pointless at the moment. And a dictionary of slang that I recently acquired, and another book of quotations.

These books are in different places, mostly, and I grab them when I feel like reading and am in a particular spot of the apartment. Some I read continuously—I could read my novels forever, if I didn’t have to go anywhere or do anything else. I don’t know anyone else who will understand how I read books this way, but that’s how I read books. I used to finish novels in a day of guerilla-reading, sometimes as quick as in an hour–which was the length of lunch break in high school. Now, I usually leave novels to my bed-time reading. Anywhere from 1 chapter to an hour before turning off my bedside lamp to sleep, or the same before I get out of bed in the morning, when I don’t have to be anywhere shortly after I wake up. So it takes me considerably more time finishing a book of leisurely nature nowadays.

Regardless of the type of book I am reading, when I decide to finish it, I keep at it. Others, I don’t see myself finishing any time soon. Dictionaries and other word books, books of quotations and all sorts of anecdotes and wise or witty words are books I enjoy nibbling at, much like a box of assorted chocolates, whose flavours I want to last forever. You take them a bit at a time so you can savour each delectable bite-size treat, look forward to taking another treat and relishing a completely different experience, and when the box is gone, look forward to another box.

Novels and other fiction of best-selling  nature are like spicy hot salsa you can have on top of anything you want, really, but you don’t leave it in your mouth long. Those books, you finish fast.

Science fantasy, fantasy, and period literature are a mixed bag of spices leaving different flavours in your mouth. Some you swallow quickly, some you want to roll around in your mouth before swallowing. Some you try once, others, you use over and over again.

Books for learning are books that either reinforce what I already know or can do, help me recall and practice what I want to strengthen, or provide me with completely new knowledge or details of old knowledge that I never knew before. These can be anything from business books to language books to arts and crafts books. These are my cooking books, my problem-solver books, and other how-to books. Most of these, I finish reading but return to every now and then, because I most likely would not have read it in detail the first time around. Usually, I just skim over these books and if I find something immediately useful, I jot it down. Otherwise, I make a mental bookmark then return to the book when I need it.

I’ll admit I have books that I acquired because they looked like something I might try later on…and I still do have a handful of books that are untouched, unread. Thankfully, they don’t rot like real food would. They’d be the dried fruit or dried mushrooms or something like that, that you can keep forever until you want to use them. I suppose they’d have a musky, concentrated flavour as well, which I’d have to sprinkle with generous helpings of magazine reading.

Which brings me to reading magazines. These are all icing on cake, though some of them have exceptional flavours or flavours you want to experience over and over again. I thoroughly enjoy going through the pictures and trying out recipes from these magazines. Some of them provide me with vicarious experiences that I know I will never have—plunging down the ocean depths to examine sea life or sunken treasure…living in deserts or forests or mountains…travelling to destinations around the world that would never be in your average travel brochure. These are experiences of alternate lives I might have lived had I chosen to go down those paths of archaeology, exploration, and science.

Some of you who know me are probably wondering, where are the classics? I love classical literature. I even majored in literature. My genre of choice is drama, and I had books on drama that are hard to find.  I had boxes of books of classical literature, the bulk of which are drama–and my nieces know that, because those books are now with them–except for a treasured few that I have kept, and a few more that I have acquired since setting roots in new ground. I did acquire a membership to The Folio Club, which can provide me with all the classics I want, in classic binding, at classic prices, which I can’t really afford. And some of those books, because I have already read them but wanted classic copies to grace my shelves, remain in their clear plastic wrap. Mint editions, that may one day be worth a fortune. Who knows, I may yet have grandchildren who will be bookworms as their grandmother was. I am done collecting classics. Nearly every book of classic literature that I bought, I have read. I have also read classic literature that was not in my old collection, nor in my new collection, because they were library books that I could not keep. I have even read some classic literature on-line. And I have read classic literature from Papa’s Classics Club collection, that I truly wish Mama had deemed fit to give to me. But of course, that wish is like asking for the moon. But the books I read are already in my heart, the stories squirrelled away in some neural wiring in my brain. The only real and extensive collection I have and continue to build is my collection of word books–dictionaries, etymologies, idioms, euphemisms, quotes, and such. My fascination with words far exceeds my fascination with literary plots and themes, because the plots and themes repeat themselves; the words don’t.

I will still read literature that may one day be the stuff of classic literature, and certainly, I hope to write more literature and eventually publish work that might be remembered vaguely in the annals of literature hundreds of years from now. I will still read literature that will be forgotten once a new best seller climbs to the top of the list, as well as literature that only a few people will ever care to read, and I certainly, as well, hope to write some of that literature and earn a living out of it.

But in the meantime, I am a reader, and nothing will stop that. I know that, if I ever lose my sight, I will have audio books and braille books to fill up the dark space before me with the multi-coloured images and scenes of books written by people for people like me who look forward to turning that last page of a book and take a long look once again at the front and back covers, maybe hold the book close to the heart, before putting it away on a shelf or in a box for others to read.