I was rummaging through a stack of bargain books in National Bookstore the other day when suddenly I remembered how I spent my first paycheck. I was still working then as an assistant for a local film festival and had a measly salary. But I was okay with it because during that time I only had three obsessions in life: movies, books and sex. Since I was working in a film festival I got my steady fill of art films but books were a bit expensive and sex was still a dream. (I was a late bloomer.) Every time I had money I would go to National Bookstore and inspect every title on the bargain rack. If I was being daring I would look for books that I was particularly interested in. I remember being obsessed with the Beatniks at that time. I couldn’t exactly understand their writing, much less what they were writing about but I was still in the closet and William Burroughs’ bravado was an inspiration. Through the years, I had acquired a few of Burroughs books, including the seminal Naked Lunch, which is unreadable, and The Ticket That Exploded, which is just as incomprehensible. But I loved Burroughs’ much earlier book, Interzone. It was a collection of stories that was written before his experimental stage so it was written in plain English. Every night I would read it and would be astounded as to how Burroughs was able to map out the pain and anger and lust that I was feeling at that time. The process was certainly cathartic.

For me the best time to purchase a book is on a dark, stormy night. There is nothing sexier than being inside a bookstore, rifling through the aisle and touching the dry pages with your fingertips while outside a storm is raging. I bought Catcher in the Rye during inclement weather. I went out of the store, tucked the book under my arm, and struggled not to get too wet as I walked home. Once inside my room, I took off my drenched clothes, sat on the bed in my underwear and began reading. I felt as if I just came from cruising and had successfully taken home a man. I fell in love with Catcher in the Rye immediately after I finished reading the first few pages. It all seemed too familiar and too close to home. Since then, I have been a fan of Salinger. I have read all of his nine books and I dream of reading the other ones that he reportedly refuses to publish. I even went on to tell my friends that Salinger has no right to deprive us of his books because Holden, Buddy, Seymour and Zoe already belong to us.

I think the last time I deeply fell in love with a character was when I read The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I first saw the movie, which I loved from the opening sequence down to the last text on the closing credits. After watching it, I simply refused to get out of the theater. As in my friends had to drag me out. I was already working for a newspaper then and I deliberately missed some of my deadlines just so I could read the book. The movie was the appetizer and the book was the main course. I saw myself in Frodo: small and frail but with enough guts to wade through the dark lands and get through the gates of Mordor.

I was so into the book that my friend Rochelle and I even had a falling out just because of it. It was also the year that Rico Yan died and I was assigned to cover his burial in Paranaque. Rochelle was lamenting the actor’s death (though she was never a fan) and I insensitively suggested that Frodo’s “death” in Two Towers was more significant. I said that the actor was being celebrated more for his untimely death than his body of work. Rochelle suggested that I should have my head checked because I preferred a fictional character over a real person. But, I told her, Frodo is more real to me than Rico Yan. Then we stopped communicating for about a month.

The last time I had the chance to do some serious reading was when I left the show last year. In the last five years, I was too busy arranging shoots and editing VTRs that I had no time to even visit a bookstore. Fortunately though, I was able to buy good books when I still had the time and money. And as I waited for my future employers to call me, I devoured several titles: Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Chronicle of a Death Foretold and Love in the Time of Cholera, Hamilton Paterson’s Ghost of Manila, Peter Birskin’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason, and Girls Guide to Fishing. I even read some trashy ones too, which I also enjoyed.

I don’t know if the TV job or life itself had something to do with it but even if I thoroughly enjoyed reading the abovementioned books, my excitement has somehow waned. I no longer feel the rush that I normally have whenever I crack open a new book. The inexplicable pleasure that I once felt every time I read the first few sentences was no longer there. I couldnt even recognize myself in some of the characters despite the fact that I bought the book specifically because I initially saw myself in them. I couldnt live vicariously through books anymore. I felt more like a spectator, like a TV viewer.

I thought of this as I stood there in front of the bargain bin in National Bookstore. I felt a little sad because 1.) I was broke and couldn’t afford anything and 2.) I was no longer as fascinated with the books as I once before. So I made mental notes on buying a book once I got a job and to try to at least bring back my fascination with the written word. It was all very dramatic and significant.

But then I realized that I was beginning to be like those fallen aristocrats who obsess about the money and power that they have lost so I stopped myself. I noticed too that I was being indulgent and even maudlin. I told myself that I didn’t lose anything. Reality just caught up with me.


kawadjan said…
"Once inside my room, I took off my drenched clothes, sat on the bed in my underwear and began reading. I felt as if I just came from cruising and had successfully taken home a man." -- i love these lines. i can totally relate.

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