Looking Back

More than one can read in a lifetime

/ 12:24 AM October 07, 2016

When I was once asked what Filipiniana titles I remember from my childhood, two came to mind: “Philippine Tales and Fables” by Manuel and Lyd Arguilla (1957) that I found in our home library and “Creatures of Midnight” by Maximo D. Ramos (1967) that I first read in the school library.

“Creatures of Midnight” was the first Philippine title I ever owned. I found a copy in the former ATO Bookshop on Session Road in Baguio, and I remember saving my allowance for horseback riding to acquire it. It was my favorite book for a time—an illustrated reference to all the aswang, ghouls, and witches in Philippine lower mythology that came complete with ways to ward them off.


The aswang have since faded from memory because they are incapable of existing in an urban setting. How can the manananggal fly in a city without getting caught in TV antennae, electric cables, and cell site towers? How can it feed on unborn babies from a mother’s womb with its long pointed tongue when urban Pinoys do not live in houses with thatched roofs or bamboo slat flooring anymore? How can the aswang that makes you lose your way survive in the age of Waze and GPS? How can the aswang that turns into a dog roam about the city without being run over by cars or made into pulutan by boisterous men drinking on street corners?

I have outgrown the aswang of my childhood but still plan to rework Ramos’ book into something more contemporary and call it “The Aswang Survival Guide.”


The first “rare” Filipiniana title I ever owned was a 1915 “Report of the Governor General of the Philippines” that I bought from the Philippine Education Company (or Peco) in Makati. It was in the same arcade as another bookstore called Erehwon that I was to realize only as an adult was “Nowhere” spelled backwards. It is odd that National or Goodwill bookstores did not figure in my childhood. Aside from Peco and Erehwon, there was Alemars near Rizal Theater that is now Makati Shangri-La, and Bookmark in another arcade that is now Glorietta. Then there was Popular Bookstore on Doroteo Jose in Manila that we would visit even on days of heavy rain, when benches were used as a bridge to cross a flooded street into the bookshop. La Solidaridad was already around, but I don’t remember my father taking me there. I first visited La Solidaridad when I was in college. I had heard that F. Sionil Jose held court in the mezzanine above the bookshop, and I thought he lived in the mansion next door. I was to learn later, and too late, that writers did not earn enough to afford a mansion.

While my father passed on his love for books and reading to me, it was only in college that I focused on Filipiniana and embarked on a disciplined and systematic collection of books that would grow into my reference library. Three people gave me this gift: Doreen G. Fernandez, E. Aguilar Cruz, and Teodoro A. Agoncillo. While I had access to the enviable Filipiniana collection in Ateneo de Manila University’s Rizal Library the urge to build my own collection was inspired by Cruz’s library.

I remember that fateful day: Cruz and I were chatting over a long lunch in his apartment. He stood up, pulled a book from his shelf, and from the spine I deduced it was one of the prewar publications of the National Library under Teodoro M. Kalaw. The thick tome was “Cartas sobre la Revolucion” by Mariano Ponce. Cruz opened to the frontispiece, covered the caption on a photograph of two men and asked: “This is a photograph of Mariano Ponce and Dr. Sun Yat-sen. Can you point out Ponce to me?” Naturally, I pointed to the seated man in a suit—and was surprised that the man in Japanese attire was Ponce and the man in the suit was Sun Yat-sen. From then on I always indulged my curiosity and learned to doubt everything until proven.

Today my library is dispersed in four different locations, and aside from physical books I have a whole library in an external drive. The thought that I have more books than one can ever read in a lifetime is what makes life what it is for me.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: books, bookstores, filipiniana, Reading
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