The Acquisitions & Appreciations of a Bibliophile

Posted: January 8, 2011 in Books?? What Books?!, Snapshots of the Good Life
Tags: , , , , , ,

—– As a descendant of families of the learned and well-read, I am very fortunate indeed. As fate would have had it, I was born here in the United States. At an early age, though, I had to accompany my parents when they returned to the land of their birth, the Philippines. Their love of books and of knowledge was never diminished, so we accumulated a modest collection of volumes during my formative years. I read a lot of these voraciously as a child. I had already read about the history of Western Civilization by the time I was ten. Back then, before the Age of the Information Superhighway, our only outlets were TV, newspapers and magazines, and the first two were already suspect under the dictatorship of Marcos. My father had friends whom he’d take us to, who were also intellectuals, and happily shared stashes of Time and Newsweek with us, as well as the current in popular books that had made it through the censors.  Good, valuable stuff like that was rare to come across. There were no accessible public libraries, and our choices were usually the local bookstore or the British Consulate, an hour’s ride away by jeepney. Yet, nothing seemed to stop me from going great lengths to find good, quality reading, and much of my early teens found me roaming both.

So when I emigrated here to the United States, I experienced a euphoria of sorts. While there was the fairly low cost of food (back in 1980’s, a few dollars could get you a lot), cars, and of course, freedom — I saw the Mother Brain, Knowledge and Intelligence Central. And of course, books — plenty of them. My brother took me to the very first public library I was to see, the Amelia Earhart Branch Library in North Hollywood, where, in a sense, my eyes were opened for the very first time. I remember seeing a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, and becoming wide-eyed with excitement over it.  That was nothing compared to the wide variety of reading I would see at bookstores later on. While I was unemployed for the first few months, though, I had to be happy with a stash of books from the library.

In two months, when I got my very first job, flipping burgers at a Wendy’s, I followed Erasmus’ example: “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” Before my brother and I both realized, we had already begun to amass a small collection that we took with us. My first purchases were not anything special, just books about soldiers and current events, mostly. Fast-forwarding 24 years into the future, I look at my shelves, and the boxes of books that I’ve collected — bought or acquired for free, or greatly-reduced prices — and realize a collection of just about 1,000 volumes! Along the way, I sold off the majority of what I had, at least twice; I had also sold a few of my textbooks online.

Sadly, bookstores and printed media have hit a twilight of sorts. With the advent of digitization, of e-Readers and online reading, it has been harder to justify the presence of a standing bookstore. In the past few years, I’ve seen a few — both for new and used books — close its doors down permanently. Twelve years ago, a bookstore chain I had come to appreciate, Waldenbooks, went out of business. In a way, I should be alarmed; the writing had already been on the wall for quite some time. Far from being spurred to buy more, I’m actually slowing down my buying. For one thing, there are space constraints. There’s also the problematic issue of transporting them from place-to-place. When I moved from my one-bedroom apartment in Canoga Park back in 2008, I realized that I had never hauled off so much shit on my own. In fact, I had nearly twice the amount of stuff I had to move, as compared to when I moved in there in 2000.

2011 marks an interesting beginning for me as a book-owner, because I don’t really have the urge or need to acquire yet more books. I don’t think I’ll stop completely, either. I just won’t acquire them as prodigiously as I did in the past. I can’t say I’m necessarily in a rush to sell all of them, either… although the temptation to make some quick money occasionally calls. Instead, I find myself doing something I might do for another 20 years with these books: Actually read them. Just because I acquired 1,000 volumes in fairly short time span, and am a fairly fast reader, does not mean I’ve read all of them. And if I did, have I truly appreciated them? With rare and quality books being dispersed at ridiculously low values, I now see myself as a fringe part of bibliophiles who are saving print knowledge. I have accounted for those that are physically here; there are other books that are now digitized, and easily downloaded (some you might even get for free). We are the cultural equivalent of Noah’s Ark, in a time when real-time information and a lot of noise distort and confuse sensible people everyday.

This morning, I rediscovered two books I’d bought. Both of them were by Guy Murchie, a lover of knowledge, of wisdom, and a practicing member of the Baha’i faith. I had bought both of these volumes with my partner, one at a used bookstore in Venice Beach; the other at the Borders in Pasadena. I always knew that I would come full circle to them, and in a certain sense, I am continuing that cycle of wisdom and learning.

Copyright Anabasius 2011

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