When I was four, my mom lost patience trying to teach me how to read.
But already fascinated with the written word at such a young age, my mom tells me that I ended up teaching myself how to read: I paid attention when she’d read me my bedtime story, and when I wearied of tea sets and teddy bears, I’d pick up a book and marvel at the strange symbols on the page, the feel of the paper, and the smell of the ink. Soon, I graduated to those read-along books that came with an audio tape and in elementary school, 200-page, unillustrated books were standard fare for me.
When I’m zealous about something in particular, I assume everyone else is too so imagine my shock when it was proven otherwise. In high school, after being assigned a 50-page reading assignment of Les Miserables, a classmate seated behind me muttered, “Ugh, I hate to read!” My jaw dropped open to form a perfect “O,” mimicking the shape of my eyes. Catching my expression, said classmate shrugged and flippantly said, “It’s boring.” I felt like I’d just been insulted.
As an adult, bookstores are my toy stores. In the same way that other women buy bags and shoes, I buy books. When evaluating the cost of something, cookbooks are my currency. Recently, an establishment wanted to hire me for a project of theirs but I balked when they mentioned the (practically nonexistent) fee. “Please! That’s not even enough for one cookbook!” I wanted to tell them.
Multi-awarded writer and bibliophile Butch Dalisay once wrote that “A book is only as good as its reader. An interesting, intelligent book comes alive only in the hands of an interested, intelligent reader … but it’s the reader’s imagination that ultimately shapes and defines the outcome. Reading is a skill as much to be developed and recognized as writing.”
In the various talks I’ve given on food writing, I always stress that a writer must love to read. Period. The lessons imparted to a reader are tremendous, and a book’s price ”“ unlike other material things ”“ doesn’t reflect its value. Sometimes a P120 book proves more valuable than one twice that price.
Booklovers are a picky lot: some want only brand new books, some demand hardbacks only; some cover their books in plastic wrap, a practice others find egregious; I’ve also encountered bibliophiles who refuse to crack the spines of their books, something I find rather eccentric since it renders the point, which is reading, pointless.
As for me, I’m not that picky. I love hardbacks and paperbacks equally, brand new or secondhand. I do subscribe, however, to that practice of covering my books in plastic wrap, especially my cookbooks because I take them with me to the kitchen, where all sort of spills and stains happen.
I share with you now a list that I never thought I’d share. After all, everyone has secrets, even when it comes to food. Aside from reading books, I get an equal if not loftier high from buying books, mostly cookbooks, food literature, and English usage books. I also have a soft spot for true crime books, especially those of Ann Rule. (Didn’t know that about me, did you?)
I know where all the important (at least to me) bookstores are in Manila as well as which bookstores to target for my specific interests. Conversely, I also know which branches to avoid. Fully Booked is my utopia, especially the Bonifacio High Street and Greenhills Promenade branches. Powerbooks Live! at Greenbelt 3 and the National Bookstore in Glorietta 3 are the best stocked among the National Bookstore chain, and I go to NBS Bestsellers at Galleria for hard-to-find/won’t-find-this-anywhere-else books.
But ah, I have a special place in my heart for used bookstores, the biggest spot of which is reserved for BookSale. A secondhand bookstore targeted to “bring reading closer to everyone,” I’ve nabbed some of my best-loved books from here. (See cover photo above). One of my biggest coups was nailing a copy of Jeffrey Alford’s and Naomi Duguid’s book, “Home Baking,” for only P465 (selling at Fully Booked for P1,800++). Sweet!
If your book interests are similar to mine, here’s a list of my favorite secondhand bookstore branches in Manila:
Of course I’ll start with this one. They have enough branches scattered all over the country to fulfill everyone’s inner bookworm but there are some I go to more than others. The BookSale branches at Makati Cinema Square and Mall of Asia (MOA) are the biggest and best stocked. The MOA store is particularly beautiful, neatly-arranged books in a white, cool atmosphere. The Cubao branches, Farmer’s Market and Shopwise, carry titles I don’t find anywhere else and the books are in pristine condition. These branches are very small though, so I wear pants and comfortable shoes to facilitate bending, neck-craning, and stretching. Special mention goes to the BookSale branches at Greenhills (there are two). The one in Shoppesville especially, is where I was able to find a used copy of “American Classics” by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated.
BOOKS FOR LESS
I miss the branch along Pearl Drive fronting the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P). It had a huge cookbook section. Fortunately, the Valero Street branch suffices. Books for Less prices its books much higher than Booksale but that’s because the books are arranged in an orderly fashion, there are stools to squat on while peering into the lowest shelves, and there are proper chairs and tables to sit at while deliberating which books to buy. If you still don’t have a copy of the Silver Palate series by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, then this is the place to go to. When I’m in the area, the Books For Less branch on A. Roces near Morato in QC makes me happy as does the branch in SM Hypermart in Ortigas.
BUY THE BOOK
I just love a store whose name gets straight to the point. I believe this is owned by the National Bookstore group although the attendant at the Market! Market! Branch is loathe to tell me that. I have a sneaking suspicion that the cast-off books from the National Bookstore on the first floor are kicked up to the 3rd floor to be sold. I’ve found many hardbound books here, usually mysteries and chick lit stuff. They also have the widest range of travel books from all the heavyweights like Frommer’s to Lonely Planet et al. Their cookbook selection however, makes me wince. In the two years that I’ve been frequenting Buy The Book, they’ve only added to this category once. Ouch. From the three or so branches of this store in Manila, choose the one you like and stick with it. Once you’ve been to one, you’ve been to all.
NATIONAL BOOKSTORE SUPERSTORE
This is the mother of all National Bookstores, the biggest, and aside from the satellite branch in Crossings Department Store along Scout Borromeo in Q.C., is the only one that has floors dedicated to bargain and used books. As you can see from the photo below, the discounted books are haplessly thrown into piles while others are scattered willy-nilly on tables at the far corner of each floor. The fourth floor, where textbooks are located, is bargain central ”“ the amount of books here will astound you and, if you’ve been browsing for a while, will make you fall to your knees in mercy. There are almost too many books here (mostly) arranged by category. Privacy is a given since the shelves are so high and there is a low number of people who will venture this far. Save for some errant couples who attempt to sneak stolen kisses between the shelves, the presence of roving security guards immediately squashes such lascivious efforts.
CHAPTERS AND PAGES (C&P)
As far as I know, C&P only has one branch, and that’s at Market! Market! on the first floor of the Fashion Market. It’s a small place, not too many books either but the books they do have are those I don’t find anywhere else. I became the proud owner here of David Rosengarten’s “It’s All American Food” and I’ve come across titles by Jamie Oliver and David Lebovitz. Chapters and Pages also has scheduled exhibits at the lobby of Glorietta 3 (the entrance facing Landmark Supermarket) as well as the lobby of Park Square facing True Value.