Son of a book: ‘Street kid’ sells old books to pursue law
MANILA, Philippines – A book saved his life when he hit rock bottom.
Nineteen-year old Justin Decastro was homeless a day after Christmas in 2014. Broke but articulate, he applied at a call center in shorts and slippers.
“I don’t have pants,” he told the interviewer. The call center turned him down because he did not have an address. “Your English is good but you are unstable,” the interviewer said.
It was not the first time he faced rejection. After he stopped attending classes at the University of Sto Tomas, where he was studying Political Science, he knocked on the door of a politician in a city hall. He asked for assistance, but without a letter, he was told he could not be accommodated. He left home due to family problems, and he needed to survive on his own.
From bookstand to bookstore
All Justin had were 14 books, his dream to become a lawyer and public servant, and the streets that did not abandon him.
In January, he sold the books along Tomas Morato in Quezon City. He bought more old books and resold them. By early March, his bookstand grew into a collection of hundreds of books. Cool Beans Cafe, a coffee shop at Maginhawa St in Quezon City, is now hosting Decastro.
Decastro did not only start to earn money. He also gained the admiration of strangers who bought books from him, gave him more, and retold his story on social media. He met more friends and reconnected with old ones.
Dominque Manahan, a fresh graduate from Ateneo who teaches in a public school as a Teach for the Philippines Fellow, was one of the people Decastro touched based with through Facebook.
Manahan, who attended the same high school as Decastro, said.
“This boy can do greater things if he can continue his studies. He can be one great of a lawyer.”
According to her, Decastro graduated valedictorian both in elementary and high school.
Manahan is one of the people helping Decastro set up a bookstore in Quezon City – an eccentric one where debates are held, activists discuss advocacies, and artists gather.
According to Decastro, he envisions the shop to be a depository of books, a space for people like him who do not have a store where they can sell and talk about books. He says he needs help to pay rent, but if the venture succeeds, he can share the space with other small booksellers.
“I don’t believe in competition. There are many brains to feed in this country,” Decastro said.
Free books for corrupt politicians
The minds of politicians are a target market, Decastro said. Politicians will get books for free if they answer his question: “Are you corrupt?”
“If he admits he is, he gets all my books,” Decastro quipped.
Decastro strongly advises politicians to read books: “You might learn something because you’re not performing well. Whoever you are, you’re not reading right now, that’s why the country is like this.”
“Our country is already rotten. The culture is already damaged so deeply,” Decastro said, commenting on a problem that he wants to solve one day through public service - his end goal – perhaps in his home province Romblon.
Decastro is cynical about the state of politics, but he is optimistic it can be a tool to change people, starting with their mindset.
“Through my knowledge of the law I’ll be a good politician. By being a good politician, perhaps I can do something macrocosmically relevant for this country. By doing something relevant for this country, perhaps, I could die and tell myself: ‘Ah, this is a life worth-living!'”
The difference, he said, is that he will be a leader who is not bogged down in procedure and processes.
“Perhaps this country needs an eccentric leader, a creative leader. Papasukin kita kahit walang letter (I will welcome you to my office even if you don’t have a letter),” he said.
Boy who cried books
How Decastro approaches life is how he sells books. He tells buyers a story and its moral lesson. He starts with his own.
He likens himself to the boy in the fable who cried wolf. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Decastro attempted to take his own life several times. It is the wolf he has been confronting, he said.
“What is your wolf is like asking, ‘What is your problem?’” he said. Decastro added, explaining the origin of his monicker "The boy who cried books":
“The good thing is there’s always a book that can understand your problems. Cross that wolf out, and I’ll recommend a book for those problems.”
He has read a lot of books, perhaps as many as the number of women he has been with, he joked. But there was one book that enticed him – Paulo Coelho’s novel Veronika Decides to Die. The book tells the story of a woman who has a blissful life but decides to end it by overdosing with sleeping pills.
Decastro recommends the book and see how it will change your perspective about life as it did his, or any book in his bookstand:
“From this day to that day (when I decided to die), I will live my life to the fullest. I’ll eat more. I’ll be happy and inspire more people. I’ll talk to more people. I will not waste a single day. Eventually, I’ll reach that day, and I’ll look back. F*ck! Life is amazing. Then I’ll text 888 (emergency number): ‘Extend!’” – Rappler.com
If you want to buy books from Justin or donate books to his bookstore, contact him on Twitter via the hashtag #TheBoyWhoCriedBooks, or visit his Facebook site. You can also contact him at 09357054087.