Friday, August 16, 2002

One Last Haven

In a nation where comic adaptations of literature are more sought than the book itself, in a country where most bookstores have the same selection and owned by the same people, a land whose illiterate surpasses that of the educated, there exists a bastion unique to the Philippines. It is called Book Sale, and it is home to the most avid book hunter.

As much as I love purchasing books locally, the Philippines has little to be desired when it comes to book selections. I mean only the most popular books get shelf space at bookstores. Sidney Sheldon, Anne Rice, Tom Clancy? but what about the other great fiction writers of the modern day? And for all the numerous branches of Powerbooks and National Bookstore, once you've seen one, you've seen them all. Only Goodwill comes close to matching National Bookstore's popularity and even then, half of their stock (if not more) is identical to National Bookstore. Of course, there are the other less famous bookstores: Popular Bookstore, Bibliarch, and A Different Bookstore. But even then, their selection is small and their prices tend to be heavier on the wallet.

Perhaps a great dissatisfaction I have with National "Bookstore" is also the fact that they tend to sell more supplies than books. Visit the smallest National Bookstore branch and you'll see them selling paper, plastic, pens, wrappers, videos, magazines, and cassettes. Whatever happened to the book in bookstore?

Book Sale, on the other hand, is true to its name. For one thing, their shop is littered with books. You'd see hardcovers and paperbacks along their shelves, books in both mint and awful conditions. The Book Sale price tag is in every one of them and they're at least half of what you'd normally get them for, if not cheaper. Perhaps the best attribute I find about Book Sale is that when you visit a Book Sale branch, it's different from another Book Sale branch. The books available are just plain diverse.

One quirk of mine is to visit Book Sale every week. That's the rate at which their shipment comes in, in contrast to other bookstores that usually take a month or two. Sometimes, I find a rare find, such as T. H. White's The Once and Future King. At other times, it's a disappointment, but it never ceases to amaze me at the diverse selections that come in.

Both old and new (although don't expect the latest releases to pop up) books can be found and it's something to pay P100 for a book that would elsewhere cost you nearly P400. Of course sometimes, the books are in a sad, sad condition. They're still readable though and that's what's ultimately important. Of course there are books that come in mint condition and I once even saw Dune books that were in better condition than the ones in my bookshelf.

And of course, there's the "sale" part in Book Sale. You don't have to wait for half a month for books to become affordable. I could come in with my weekly allowance and buy a few books without worrying that I can't pay for it. Of course just to be sure that the book I'm buying is the one I want, I can browse through them and read them, unlike the sealed ones found in other bookstores.

That's not to say Book Sale is perfect. One of its strongest points is also its weakness. It's too diverse and too random. What's available today might not be available tomorrow, even if you look for it in another branch. Then again, that's part of the thrill, knowing that something's within reach yet difficult to obtain. The place is also quite accessible as it's scattered all over Metro Manila. The same can't be said for the other specialty bookstores. However, if you want your books to be in perfect condition, Book Sale isn't the place to look for it unless you're feeling lucky. Most books there have a history: they've been read, reread, dropped, soaked, stumbled upon, etc.... They're not one among many. They are as unique as the readers who are looking for them. Books found there are books you can cal your own. And it's a better tale to tell during the rainy storms compared to a book you bought off the shelf at some shop or newsstand.

Yes, I am a frugal book lover. I want to spend less for the best. Sure, I could always borrow a book from someone else, but it's different when you own a book, even if it's in tatters. My books have personality: they have a history, they are hard to find, and they have a price tag of less than one hundred pesos.

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