THE moment I learned all five boxes of my beloved books are gone, it was like that moment a significant other confirms what you’ve been suspecting for a while but never had the courage to confront.
Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration.
But it nonetheless felt like a punch in my stomach. Five years, hundreds of them, thousands of hours searching for them… countless times admiring them… For a moment I had the urge to wail right on the floor.
I have always been fond of reading since very young but I didn’t turn into a hungry bibliophile until about five years ago. I can even remember that particular time I rediscovered the high of owning a new book. It was a sad, boring day and I was wandering aimlessly at a mall. This unassuming secondhand bookstore with its hushed interior and shelves packed with hundreds of CHEAP books comforted me like no other. As I write this, I see how big a role this bookshop played in my crazy hoarding. Though I would later find other vendors and indie bookshops.
That day, I took home Anne Packer’s ‘The Dive from Clausen’s Pier’. Its weight in my arm made me feel less alone; like I was in control of life again, that I can become a better person again. It doesn’t matter that it’s only a book and I might even end up not liking it. Just having another human’s struggle with life in the form of text albeit fictional made me feel that.
And it happened again and again. From Michael Crichton to Egyptian’s Book of The Dead to Nietzsche to War and Peace. Over the years, I bought books when I have spare cash, when I’m near broke, when I’m sad ,anxious, bored; when I feel inspired, when disenchanted. Sometimes I buy because I really want to read a particular book, or I find the cover art exquisite; more often I buy just because I think I should have this Nobel-Pulitzer -Prize winning-Critically-acclaimed-life-changing-Profound-Intellectually-Orgasmic-book. You know, FOMO. Most times I just WANT TO READ ANYTHING. And always, the thrill of finding a treasure hidden among the piles and stacks was there.
Just looking at all the books strewn across my room waiting to be devoured assured me of future happiness—and redemption! I don’t think there’s a bibliophile out there who’d tell himself, “imma just buy this book but I won’t read it,” at least in the beginning. Though I bought because of aesthetics, the intention to sit with a book to the end was there. Soon enough I bought so many books I could only wished to have read. My to-read list grew so long it was silly. My Goodreads account currently reading tab looked as bad. I worried about how to find more time to read. I started to run out of space. I started to get stressed by the possibility of fire and flood and theft. I started feeling guilty.
It isn’t bad at all. Books made me what I am in more ways I can ever articulate. I may not have those cool gadgets or trendy wardrobe but I was proud of my book collection. At the risk of romanticizing, it has become a way of living for me. It is how I make sense of all the mess in my life and the world. Apart from the knowledge gleaned from nonfiction volumes, I wondered really, what would have happened to me had I not learned about and lived other people’s lives.
What would have solitude consisted
of if I never fell in love with reading?
But just as someone impulsively reach for a tub of ice cream to cope with negative feelings, in hindsight, I treated my book collecting as an escape. I thought that if I finish this self-help book, I can start again. Life will be better. That if I could only claim to have read this massive classic, I will be ahead of the game. Instead, it turned into a pleasure seeking activity in its own end.
I had all the good intentions. I told myself I would write helpful reviews, gain an audience; I will open a little store, I would write like my favorite authors. Get published. I would know so much and I’ll be an interesting person. And I will find people who are as interested in stories as I am. I will be happy and fulfilled. I thought. And I thought wrong.
Because having all those books and planning to read them never created that life for me. Much as I have gained insights about human nature I never used them effectively in my relationships. I didn’t actively apply the methods and practices from the self-development volumes. I didn’t practice my writing. I didn’t go out of my way to meet new people who would introduce me to other exciting things. I placed the thrill of owning above sharing. The mental stimulation over results. I didn’t look at myself hard and ask how can I make the most out of this hobby? I let the hobby – the addiction run me.
When I decided to move, all five big boxes full of books had to be left in the care of the then in-charge of my previous dorm. Months passed and indeed the image of unread books gathering dust in the dark never left my mind. More than that though, I feared they would eventually be disposed or stolen. I promised to claim the boxes and figure out how to restore, sell, give away, or binge read them. I had even dropped by a few times just to make sure they’re where they should be.
My fears were confirmed this month, as I was about to give them a safer place . A new owner acquired the whole dorm building and had the stuff in the storeroom cleared.
They’ve apparently renovated the room and had it rented.
When I asked where my books are, the new caretaker told me nonchalantly “ay wala na, tinapon na , “ I wanted to lash out at her stupid face.
“uhm kase po ibinilin ko yan kay ate , alam nyang babalikan ko… “ went my pointless reply.
I stood on their dirty floor, and my old life stared back at me.
I used to stay in this decrepit dorm with the hideous noise of the vehicles and their poisonous smoke and told myself every day that I will get better, no more unhealthy brooding, no more procrastination, no more living in fear. And I didn’t. I let the days passed me by sheltered by the emotional safety net that are my books.
But that’s not me anymore. I’ve changed.
I was shaking but with a few sighs and a gentle self-talk, I walked out of the building determined not to let this news get me.
I let the lessons slowly appear. And these are what I realized after:
We don’t have so much time. It’s okay not to know everything. Seriously, if you don’t think Sartre or Nick Joaquin can help you with your career or give you a good time, then don’t buy his book. If you suspect or feel that something’s off with your pastime no matter how they glamorize or romanticize it, stop and take an objective look at yourself. Know your goals. Though you all share the love for books you are not like all the other bookworms .And you shouldn’t be.
I will never regret the experience of losing myself in pages
I will never regret the experience of losing myself in pages, of having cognitive orgasms and epiphanies only books give. But had I exercised regularly five years ago instead of lurking too long at bookshops, saved money and invested it or managed my time before panic-buying, I would have seen way better results in my life by now.
Of course this is by no means negating the idea of hoarding books or reading a lot. No.
But it should never get in the way of necessary life experiences. You cannot shop or binge watch your way through life in the same way you cannot read through it. Nothing will ever replace real life actions.
Read a lot. But live more. :)