book-hunting in japan

I grew up in a house full of books and other things to read – none of which came to us in pristine, brand-new condition.

Some my father literally fished out of somebody’s trash can. The love of reading comes from our mother (though she’s now more into Netflix) and since there isn’t much on the household budget to spare on ‘entertainment’, he would keep an eye out on books and magazines among junk people put on the streets and gift them to her. On one corner, we had a shelf of used textbooks from some snotty private school in Cebu. I spent summers ironically buried in those schoolbooks but it wasn’t like I was trying to study or anything, at the time I just really found them fascinating – with their many illustrations and still-sturdy spines – very much unlike the battered ones we have to contend with in public school. Somewhere on the floor, there was perpetually a pile of National Geographic Magazine from the 70s or 60s (yes, true vintage) which my father bought from garage sale for something like 500 pesos (then a fortune to us). We had moldy readers’ digests, outdated fashion magazines, faded technical books, photocopies of college texts, torn pages of I don’t even know which book anymore. When our eldest finished college and started working, one of the things she would spend her salary on were books for us. There was this World Almanac which I hogged and hid in my closet. I didn’t want my younger sister playing with it, fearful that she might break the accompanying CD. I ended up never using that CD – not even once. One time, she bought a very thick coloring book. I’m sure it was meant for my then kid sister – but this was the first coloring book we’ve ever had at home and this was a time before Netflix and WiFi in every household – so everyone took turns coloring the pages. My brothers and their ‘abstract’ spin on their ‘artwork’, my mother who was fond of putting a title on what she colored – one cartoon of a man accidentally stepping on a hose and getting himself wet, for example, was ‘A day in a fool’s life’. Our youngest, on the other hand, insisted on making everything pink. And of course, there was the entire Harry Potter series which I borrowed from my Ate and did not return for years. I loved high school but one of my fondest memories from that era was not in school but a walking distance away – Booksale inside EMall. That was my happy place. There I would spend hours carefully scanning which book to spend a week’s worth of jeepney fare on, and then happily walk home with it inside my bag. Good thing I didn’t live far.

I never found these stories from my childhood shameful, or even sad. I still don’t. In fact, I’m very fond of these memories. Now, as an adult, I find myself not buying any brand new book unless I really have to. They just don’t feel… right. Even here in Japan where it’s a challenge to find English titles – let alone used ones, I find myself dutifully visiting used books shops knowing full well that they would have no more than a paltry selection of English publications. Stumbling on gems such as this Sheldon though – with just the perfect amount of wear on the cover and that nostalgic smell of old paper – it’s worth it.

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