Looking Back

Collecting pens, books – even brooms

Nancy Silberkleit, co-CEO of Archie Comics, was in town last weekend to speak at the annual Philippine Readers and Writers Fair, organized by National Bookstore and Raffles Makati. Over merienda, I introduced her to guinataang bilo-bilo, itemizing the ingredients: ube [purple yam] that gave the coconut milk cream its rather unappealing color, the stewed saging na saba, and soft rice flour balls. She liked it enough for a second helping.

Silberkleit collects brooms from the different countries she visits to promote Archie Comics, and asked where she could buy two everyday Philippine brooms. Unfortunately, none were to be had in the Filipiniana sections of Landmark, Rustan’s or even Tesoro’s, so I suggested a local market for a walis tingting. If she could manage it, I also suggested getting a walis tambo, because she would have a choice of text on the handle: Baguio, Manila, Philippines, or even custom-made with her name.


There is no limit to what one can collect, the only issue being price and availability. So the range can run from vintage watches or paintings by Pablo Picasso to brooms and softdrink bottlecaps.

Browsing the Archie Comics displayed at the fair, I noted that the Archie and gang I knew from my childhood were still available for nostalgia and readers of my generation. But while I have, unfortunately, grown into an adult, Archie remains the same age, although he has been redesigned to appeal to millennials. Archie is buffed from the gym and dressed in the latest fashion to face the 21st-century world.


Looking at Archie Comics, old and new, reminded me of times I would look at my students and declare that I would sell my soul to have their young bodies with my old brain! Alas, Oscar Wilde was right when he lamented that youth is wasted on the young. God or nature is fair; Einstein’s brain doesn’t come with Rafael Nadal’s body and good looks yet.

Collections and collectors change, too. Before he went onstage to speak on “Reading the Filipino Classics,” Butch Dalisay sat in the holding room for show-and-tell. We both like fountain pens — almost obsolete in the age of the ballpen, tablet and smartphone. We compared the pens we prepared for book signing — Pelikans and the Montblanc Agatha Christie, an elegant black pen shaped like a blunt murder instrument, ornamented with a silver serpent with ruby eyes. The problem is that ink blots on the newsprint used in our books, so I brought a felt-tip sign pen for this purpose, and even a permanent marker Sharpie to sign the slip case that gathers a special dozen-set of my “Looking Back” books.

While Dalisay and I agree on pens in a digital age, we differed on books. He has been collecting, on trips abroad and on eBay, Filipino authors published abroad. He had with him a paperback edition of Carlos Bulosan’s “America is in the Heart,” where the figures on the cover looked more like Mexican wetbacks than Filipinos. He had assorted American literary publications where Manuel Arguilla and Jose Garcia Villa short stories first saw print. While his focus was on Philippine authors, I asked if he also collected American authors who wrote about the Philippines or Filipinos, because there is an obscure John Steinbeck story that revolves around a Pinoy character.

Dalisay was taken aback when I narrated how I was currently downsizing my library in preparation for the rewards of senior citizenship. Books grow like weeds in the homes of writers and academics. We cannot resist books, especially those acquired for rainy days like these. Not all books are read cover to cover at once; some are bought for reference, some are bought for work, others are meant for pleasure. Much of my reference material is in digital form. I can bring my library in an external drive, I don’t have to suffer allergic reaction to book dust, or require reading glasses because I can zoom and enlarge at whim.

Dalisay, on the other hand, pines for the feel of paper on his fingertips, the beauty of engraved typefaces, the scent of an old book. Some books are meant to be appreciated physically, but most of them we only need for their contents. I don’t need a priceless first edition autographed copy of the “Noli Me Tangere” when I can have a soft copy on an iPad. I don’t think we have seen the death of the book yet, just a change in its format.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Archie Comics, book collecting, Butch Dalisay, fountain pens, Looking Back, Nancy Silkerkleti
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