I have always believed that people are born with specific natural talents, and mine just happened to be reading and collecting books. It’s so easy to write off someone as a nerd or geek because of certain preoccupations. I avoid such blanket terms because, ultimately, they mock or make fun of something that could turn out to be valuable and meaningful to anyone who wishes to take up the habit.
I mince no words when I say that I do have obsessive tendencies. But I think you can forgive me for my last book haul, which cost me almost a third of my monthly income. I could not give up the opportunity to grab a few more Deleuze and Guattaris and some Rushdies. I do not buy new books monthly, but when I finally convince myself that a handful of new titles won’t hurt, I make sure that I will still have money left for some rice and eggs.
My lack of financial literacy notwithstanding, my habit of collecting books helped creates a security blanket I could always rely on. No, that security does not involve posting some of my books on social media to sell as secondhand finds for others because I am already starving. I try not to sink so deep into poverty by working extra hours and projects when I haphazardly add things to my digital cart and forget that I am neither an Ayala, Marcos, or any illustrious (barf!) family in the Philippines. Nevertheless, I experience a strange relief when the new books finally arrive. I hold them carefully, imagining who else may have benefited from them before. The feeling is almost identical to welcoming home old family members who have been away for years. There is a relief, and there is the urgent need to find space for them in a shrinking home that’s already full of gizmos, trinkets, and, of course, other books. Our space is barely 10 meters by 10 meters, but the volume of books we have rivaled any library. You might be thinking — how the hell was I able to fit so many books into a space that’s only slightly larger than a shoebox?
When you are forced to contend with the limitations of ‘tiny house living’ as so many YouTube channels glorify it, you develop a certain mindset. And by that, I want to say that I had to learn how to use a drill on a concrete wall one day because my darling had already purchased almost 5,000 pesos worth of stained wooden planks. The pre-cut wooden shelves were beautiful, no doubt about it. Each plank measured a foot by six feet, and they were stained darkly, revealing the ornate grain. They looked breathtaking and even more expensive than they were. But they were still loose planks, and they will remain just pretty pieces of wood if I don’t do something soon. Maria helped drive screws into the wood so we could secure the angular brackets onto the wood. Since we had six planks that needed three metal brackets, it took us a few hours to finish that job since we didn’t have any attachments on the drill for wooden screws. During this time, I cursed under my breath and was already half thinking of just dumping all the books into plastic baskets again because this was too much work.
Drilling holes into the old wall of the apartment took hours. We’ve missed two meals throughout the day, and I was downright pissed because it took so long to drill all the holes for all the planks, and I was hungry. My right shoulder was already in danger of caving in, and my legs ached from the added strain of balancing my overweight self on top of the sturdiest table we had, which measured roughly one foot by three feet. I suddenly remembered that people have died from standing on small chairs doing innocuous things like getting cereal from a high cupboard. I carried a large drill in my right hand, leaning into the wall while punching six holes per shelf. I’m sure I was safe. Sure.
Why do others do it? I have no idea. It’s probably a mania of some sort, like what Baudrillard believed. Collecting stuff makes you want to collect more. What makes Monopoly addictive? You want more of that Monopoly cash on top of putting your businesses on the board. Books are expensive, so buying new ones is almost always not an option unless it’s a locally published title and another indie publisher needs help pushing out new titles. I buy from indie publishers wholeheartedly — many of them publish good stuff. While some are only there for marketing, money-making, and generally just selling trash, a handful of indie publishers are sincere in their efforts. I love that they do not publish garbage pretending to be books. With money being so scarce, we have to spend our hard-earned cash on good books.
Acquiring books makes me feel that I’m not so downtrodden, being a citizen of this benighted country. We’re already downtrodden the moment you’re born as a Filipino. Yes, material prosperity has a lot to do with it. When surrounded by so much poverty and demotivation, you become obsessed with avoiding poverty, no matter how impossible that may seem. While others buy cars and houses, I buy books. At 34, I am already at the age where I’ve given up on specific dreams. I’ve never dreamed of owning a big house or a fancy car. We have a Chinese-made electric bike that could give us roughly twenty kilometers per charge. I feel like I’m driving a Ferrari when I’m lurching forward at 35 km/h on our e-bike. That’s how much I don’t want or like big, fancy cars. I could spend much more on books than I ever will on my ride. Letting go of the dough for the e-bike was a hard decision, given that I use a 4-year-old secondhand PC for work and a cheap Android phone that’s almost the same age. But I knew that we needed a way to get around, and it was the best solution. I have no plans of turning my life upside down by buying a car that I know will eventually demand repairs and maintenance I cannot afford.
But this is the weird thing about my life decisions. I can’t afford to buy books, either. My meager stipends from freelance writing put me just a bit above most blue-collar workers. So I shouldn’t be buying books at all. But here I am, buying, collecting, reading, and still dreaming through writing. I will forever be inseparable from books, no matter how hard I try to ignore the desire to buy more. When I am in danger of starving if I buy more books, I turn to PDF and EPUB files. The experience is never the same, and I think of buying books even more as I strain to read on the small phone screen.
Maybe I’ll hunt for more books soon.