“You already have too much books, ano ka ba,?” Mother reminds me. To which I quip, “Mother, one can never have too much books. There is no such thing. Brooke Astor once said that when you have books, you will never get bored.” It was a kind of reflex answer, and an exculpation for my growing collection and obsession.
My love affair with books began about 4 years ago with a single book. When I ordered a copy of Empress Bianca by Lady Colin Campbell on Amazon.com, I didn’t realize how much it would change the course of my life. The book is a thinly veiled novel version of the life of billionairess Lily Safra whose two rich husbands, Alfredo Monteverde of Brazil who shot himself in the head in their bedroom, and Edmond Safra of Monaco who died in a fire accident together with his Filipino nurse in the Panic Room of his 10,000 square foot Belle Epoque mansion in the South of France, both died while married to her, thereby arousing suspicion, and catapulting her International Socialite status into a scandal-ridden victim of the media. She was painted a harlot and was accused by some as a murderess, but nobody filed any case against her. Some say she was much too powerful and too rich to be touched.
However, what really resonated with me from the whole book was how much of Bianca’s (Lily) Mexican husband, Alfredo Monteverde, actually is a lot like me — he was a manic-depressive (bipolar) businessman afflicted with mood disorders, having bouts of severe debilitating lows, euphoric highs, and sudden outbursts. He would go on shopping sprees, break up with girlfriends out of the blue (I don’t do this), get uncharacteristically irritable, and would sometimes cry in his room for days on end, refuse to go out and work, and lose his appetite for business — his infectious entrepreneurial spirit that has helped build their family’s business empire together with his father.
But the thing that made me love the book was a line that said Alfredo’s ‘biggest competition is himself.” After having read that line, I just knew that I will never see books the same way again. I knew that somewhere in the world, someone is just like me. That someone trying to connect with me through a character in a novel or through the voice of reason and logic, a person who has accumulated enough experiences that could create a profound difference in my life and of others, too.
Some of the people who have seen my collection always register a look of surprise and disbelief. Their eyes widen, and their jaws drop forming an o-shaped mouth as if breathing an oxygen of incredulous gasps. The routine for my “library tour” is, first, show them some of the books I read, then, I recommend some of them according to the “tourist’s” preferences, and beam with pride for my collection. I don’t usually lend them except when the person borrowing it really loves reading, too, and has a certain kind of credibility for returning things. Otherwise, I won’t be able to part with any of them because each one is like a missing piece of The Truth Puzzle. However, I give away the ones I have already read — or the ones I have decided to stop reading halfway through — that just weren’t my cup of tea at all.
HOW THE COLLECTION BEGAN
I discovered, out of boredom and curiosity, Booksale, a retailer of used books 3 years ago. I stepped out of the office, and decided to take a little window shopping break when I saw the big capitalized white letters on the sign of this tiny space in the mall: BOOKSALE — sale being the operative word. It was just too alluring an invitation to resist. Of course, back then, before I entered the store, I have already read a lot of books and I enjoyed reading almost all of them — but my obsession wasn’t full-blown yet.
When I entered I felt overcome with such joy, and I am not exaggerating this. I can’t exactly find the right words, but all I know was that I was awash with a beautiful sensation. I was surprised by my reaction. I became the boy in Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, the kid in that proverbial candy store, excited and thrilled at the prospect of finding some good chocolates, but in my case, books. I searched and rummaged through the rubble of books in the narrow shelves of the cluttered store. That’s when I saw one copy of An Enduring Love: My Life With The Shah, the book authored by her Imperial Majesty, the Empress of Iran, Farah Pahlavi. Being a royalist, I immediately grabbed it before some other royalist gets his hands on it.
Suddenly, I had an epiphany. I remembered. It all made sense. It was because of Empress Bianca — the reason why I felt that beautiful sensation when I entered the store. It was the reason why the idea of finding books I could connect with on a soul-stirring level was so intense that my emotions could have materialized themselves into palpability. If you were a bibliophile like myself, then you’d know what exactly I’m talking about.
YOU HAD ME AT 5 PESOS
When I visit Booksale, I would sometimes sit on the floor and go through the lowest shelves of the stores where they keep the cheapest books. I would say “Eureka!” in a singsong fashion whenever I see a book I had always wanted to read. I can’t believe some of the books were being sold at only P5 and P10 — and these were books sold at National Bookstore or Fully Booked between P300 and P500. They were practically the best bargain any reader could ever hope to get. I even saw an exact hardbound copy of Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Ram Charan. I had already bought a copy from National Bookstore for P1110. Then I checked the tag price at Booksale — P114 only!
I began frequenting Booksale more and more since then. It started with 1,000-peso worth of books — about 15 books. Then, it went higher, as high as P15,000 worth of books. I would wish I could’ve bought them all, but I had to make do with what whatever amount of money. Still I’d go home feeling immensely satisfied, giddy — almost intoxicated from my recent shopping spree. For a week or so, my thirst for more is quenched, my hunger for more books to devour gratified.
Then, the obsession takes hold again. I smile and head on over to the mall.
I go to Booksale because I am compelled by my need to visit it — to feel that natural high I get from being inside it. The world just seems pregnant with the promise of endless possibilities of the best finds — the prospect of finding that great novel or enlightening book at bargain prices is just delectably enticing. How could anyone refuse that kind of opportunity?
CHRISTIAN GREY IS JUST TOO GAY
Of course, being an entrepreneur, I naturally started out by searching for nonfiction books about business, biographies, memoirs, and autobiographies of notable political, business, and social figures. I was addicted to self-help books, living and breathing the philosophies of some of the world-renowned personal development and business gurus like Stephen Covey, Benjamin Graham, and Peter Drucker. As I began my journey of reading and book collecting, I became more aware of the books that I really like. Just leafing through the first pages of the book to read the Prologue or Introduction, or reading the synopsis of the story at the back of the book, gave me a feel of what the tone the entire book will take on. It was easier to determine the voice and style of the author that way. Time and experience have taught me which books are for me.
Of course, there were the occasional chick literature (teen, vampire romance) books that my sister or some girl friends would suggest I read. I’d buy the book or borrow it from them, but I realized, eventually, that books like Fifty Shades of Grey are much too shallow a book for me. It was just too gay — too erotic and too sexy to be taken seriously. I stopped reading the Book One halfway through because it was really intended for teen girls, bi-curious teen boys, closeted homosexual men, or hopeless romantic women, not for people who enjoy reading the classics and Tolstoy. There just wasn’t so much depth and soul to the characters; no life experiences that serve as pivotal points of their lives to speak of, and no trials that mold and strengthen the resolve and principles of the protagonists. The characters are weak, the writing insipid, weak, lackluster. Some, though, like my sister Cielo, and one of my best friends, Raquel, are amused and quite smitten by Christian Grey.
I like books that challenge the way I think like Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death; books that show the woes and troubles of humanity like Heidi Julavits’ The Mineral Palace; books that mirror the tribulations and failures of the common man (or woman) like David Rabe’s Dinosaurs on The Roof; books that celebrate the life of heroes and tragic lovers like the classic Romeo and Juliet; books that depict the Gilded Age and Society like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby; books that capture the human condition in vivid hues and details like Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace; books that can change the course of history or the trajectory of a person’s life like Napoleon Hill’s The Law of Success; and books that bring to light the plight of the poor such as James Joyce’s The Dubliners.
RESPECT FOR THE AUTHORS
Books by Virginia Woolf, Henry James, Plato, Marcus Aurelius, Ernest Hemingway, Scott F. Fitzgerald, Alan Hollinghurst, Edith Wharton, Louis Auchincloss, Dominic Dunne, Lady Colin Campbell, Nancy Mitford, Leo Tolstoy, Wally Lamb, biographies and memoirs of Nobel Prize laureates, Presidents, Shahs, Queens, CEOs and Pulitzer Prize winners, to name a few, are the ones that I really love. These are the authors that I admire because their style is one that I prefer — contemplative, resolute, intellectual, even philosophical. I don’t like namby-pamby, qualified writing. Not at all. It does nothing for me, it does not stimulate me, and it most certainly does not make that connection I need in a book.
Yes, I am a book snob, and I won’t apologize for it. I am no apologist. Nonetheless, I still like people no matter what their preferences are, no matter what books they read. I don’t judge a person by the cover of the book he reads.