Nov 302014

In the age of social media where people spend hours in front of computers, cell phones and other gadgets, it might be wise to reacquaint oneself with the feel of a good book, still the best cure for a lingering attention deficit disorder.

Paging all scholars of the late Franz Arcellana, from Francis Quina to Pia Benosa and a couple of others whose names presently escape me. You might be interested to join a gargantuan yet momentous cataloguing of books from his library at the old residence in Maginhawa Street, UP Village by February 2015, and to turn over the first tranche to the Arcellana Reading Room at the Institute of Creative Writing in Diliman around the time of the annual writers’ workshop.

True, though the workshop is now held in Baguio only a symbolic turnover may be done there, but actual transfer will be in Quezon City lowlands. This is considered to be a race against time, elements, and the Bureau of Internal Revenue, which seeks to collect tax arrears from the estate and has issued threats of garnishment of a potential national shrine. In the age of Internet and fast-food streaming and collection targets, who needs books?

My poor mother, may she also rest in peace, thought the world of those books and so never sold the house that contained them, all three floors of them. She was practically hounded to her grave, aside from cirrhosis, by tax demand letters as the original amount of six figures perhaps through calculations of some batty mathematician ballooned well into seven including penalties, a mystery how a government that prides itself on caring for senior citizens did not even consider waiving the penalties.

But I guess that is the way of government, they take away with the right hand what they give with the left, and while doing it drown you in press releases. President Cory Aquino gave Franz Arcellana the National Artist award in 1990; now the present administration’s tax henchmen and possible kabarilan want to recoup part of the money that went with the award to help refurbish state coffers. The books to be donated to the state university will hopefully be considered as some form of tax break to help defray arrears incurred by the estate 12 years since father’s death in 2002. That is, in lieu of any amnesty — not exemption — forthcoming from the tuwid na daan. As they say, asa ka pa.

Perhaps the National Commission for Culture and the Arts can also help out with a grant to the cataloguers, if not the National Historical Commission or even the Quezon City government that might find reassuring the fact that there is a library amid all those restaurants and foodie joints, though admittedly in a state of disrepair after having gone through Ondoy, Milenyo, as well the usual suspects: dust and mildew and the occasional, odd book thief; snakes, rats, but look, ma, no termites.

In the age of social media where people spend countless hours in front of computers or before cell phones and laptops and tablets and other gadgets, it might be wise to reacquaint oneself with the feel of a good book, still the best cure for a lingering attention deficit disorder and its attendant malaise. Not everything has to be instant. There is such a thing called life of the imagination, and we are not trying to be corny when we say this and neither are there tears welling in our eyes.

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But tears almost did one night upon encountering the sidewalk book store underneath the Boni station MRT, where the books were laid out on pavement not at all haphazardly near a bus stop and an Andok’s joint, and where a seller of sinaing na tulingan was trying to dispose of her merchandise before the long ride back to Laguna. I had at times encountered a similar ambulant book store in front of Manila City Hall, beside the vendors of assorted peanuts and cellphone accessories on a similar maybe darker sidewalk, with the candles blazing in the night though we were nowhere near All Souls’.

The titles were an impressive lot, a good number of literary works like Kundera, Llosa and even obscure ones you might find more affordable at Book Sale; some politics too delving on the radical à la Pimentel that might have been rescued from a water damage sale in the old Popular Bookstore along Doroteo Jose, a landmark surely no longer there. Some books were still wrapped in plastic or cellophane and may have seen better days in better lighted book stores.

The proprietor seemed to be well read and in a friendly way asked what we were looking for or interested in, politics? It reminded me of one of my father’s stories set during wartime Manila, “How To Read” that had its protagonist taking his 10 favorite books out on the street to sell in anticipation of his wife’s giving birth to their first child. He was worried about the coming hospital bill.

Zacarias — that’s the lead character’s name — winds up not selling any and instead just rereads the books on the sidewalk or that place he had put up his makeshift stall. When he returns home lugging the stuff his wife Belle heavy with child amusedly tells him that she knew he didn’t have it in him to part with the books. She also tells him not to worry, something will turn up. The story is assumed to be mostly autobiographical.

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