Detours from home: I’m glad I bought all those books

Marj Casal Handog

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Detours from home: I’m glad I bought all those books
When the bookstores closed, I turned to my long-forgotten to-be-read pile

[Editor’s note: Detours from home is a Rappler column where readers can share about the new things they’ve been doing while in quarantine. BrandRap and Detours editor herself shares how she rediscovered her love for reading books from her long-forgotten pile. You, too, can share your own Detours from home story.]

Remember that time you bought 15 books at the Manila International Book Fair? And after reading about 3 of those, got another 10 at National Bookstore’s Warehouse Sale? Let’s not even get started on those random trips to Fullybooked and Booksale, promising to just “look around” but ending up leaving with at least one book that is “such a steal” or something “I’ve been looking for!”

We know it’s a bad habit – buying more than what we can probably read in a lifetime – that we even looked for a Japanese word to justify our actions. It’s called Tsundoku, which literally means “reading pile”.

But it’s not like we’re just collecting books. We do intend to read them – when the right time comes. We’ve imagined going on a two-week vacation doing nothing but reading or, dreadfully, being confined to a hospital, restricted from strenuous activities that we have no choice but to read books day and night. And while none of those are actually happening yet, we sometimes say we are saving all these books for when we retire to keep ourselves from being bored out of our wits.

We will find the time to read these books – we always say to our detractors. We don’t know when exactly. We just know. Apparently, that time would finally come in the year 2020.

When stores started closing down during the quarantine, I first worried about where to get food and other essential supplies. And then I worried about where to get my books. I couldn’t go out, bookstores weren’t delivering because books are (disappointingly) not considered essential. How will I be able to read that one book I like but I, unfortunately, do not own yet? 

Staring at my bookshelf, my to-be-read pile looked down on me like a salesperson eavesdropping on my conversation with myself. It’s as if they, feeling a little shy, wanted to politely interrupt my thoughts and tell me: “Remember when you said there will come a time that you’ll finally be able to read all of us? Well, it looks like that time is now.”

And so reluctantly, I pulled out one of the books I have started before but couldn’t finish. Maybe because I had more important things to do or because I had a shiny new book that I felt more like reading at the moment.

After dusting it off, I was reminded of when I got that book. It was titled “The Makioka Sisters” by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki which I got from La Solidaridad Bookstore – a quaint, local shop owned by Filipino writer, F. Sionil Jose. In an Instagram post recalling this visit, I shared how regretful I was that I’ve only recently visited this bookstore when it was just in the same street as my university 12 years ago.

LA SOLIDARIDAD BOOKSTORE. A local shop owned by F. Sionil Jose.

I sluggishly read that book for two weeks. It was probably because I was still coming to terms with what was happening then – rising cases of coronavirus infections and deaths, staggered announcements of a stricter lockdown – that I couldn’t read as quickly as I used to. 

It was discouraging at first because I take slow progress as a cue that I’m not enjoying the book and that it’s time to move on to a new one. That would have been the case if we weren’t in quarantine. Aside from the disturbing fact that I didn’t have a lot of reading options, I also didn’t have anywhere I needed to be. So, I thought why not just stick it out to the end no matter how long that might take?

And so I did. Every night before going to bed, with Spotify’s “Night Rains” playlist in the background, I endured with the Makioka Sisters as they suffered through one marriage rejection after another for their reserved sister Yukiko. And when Taeko, the youngest Makioka sister, almost drowned in a flood, got infected with dysentery, and had a miscarriage. I was rewarded with visions of cherry blossoms in Kyoto and fireflies in Kobe. 

I then moved on to sympathize with a 19th century China concubine who fulfilled her dreams (or was it a nightmare?) of going to the Forbidden City to save her family from poverty, bear the emperor’s child, and after much sufferings and betrayals, become the last empress in “Empress Orchid” by Anchee Min (a book I got from one of my random trips to Booksale in Makati Cinema Square).  

When I’ve had enough of the patriarchal society, I turned to a dystopian one where babies are not born and are segregated according to their designated life roles, where people don’t get old (at least physically), are totally satisfied with their life, and are not afraid to die in “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley (I got this book from the UP Diliman-famous Roel’s Bookshop). I thought that Mustapha Mond, The Resident World Controller, might have a point when he asked what’s so bad about a world without wars and diseases. 

More so while I was reading Alain de Botton’s “Status Anxiety” (from my MIBF 2019 haul) and was reminded that people will do just about anything to keep or strive for a higher status so we would laugh at their punchless jokes and thirst for their trivial life updates. 

Right now I’m in the middle of a book called “The Mermaid Chair” by Sue Monk Kidd (a Booksale find) about a forty-something married woman who had been aching to go out of the house and travel – a book has never been more relatable – to her childhood home in Egret Island, South Carolina. She’s in a sticky situation, though. Stuck with her mother who is a distressed widow and finding herself falling in love with a Benedictine monk. So, I’ll leave anything that might be common in us at “aching to travel.”

BOOKSHELFIE. A part of my bookshelf at home. All photos by Marj Casal/Rappler

Nowadays, I feel like I have gotten better at reading not just by how fast I can finish a book again (averaging at 3-5 days per book now) but by how I’m now able to let every book simmer. I’m no longer just in a race to finish my Goodreads Reading Challenge. I’m reading to fill the void that going out and meeting people has left behind.  

With my own life story now on hold, reading has been helping me move forward through one different world after another. I have been traveling vicariously through my books’ characters to Tokyo, Osaka, London, and Paris.

I’m proud to say that I only have 5 books left in my to-be-read pile. But Fullybooked is also (fortunately or unfortunately?) now open to book deliveries. I may or may not have added some books to my cart but considering how this “horrid” habit has actually saved me from going bookless, didn’t buying all those books turn out to be a good decision after all? I’m just so glad I did. –

Marj is Rappler’s BrandRap editor, a Tsundoku. She’s slowly weaning from Kdramas to read all the books from her pile. 

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Marj Casal Handog

Marj Casal heads the content team of BrandRap, Rappler’s sales and marketing arm. She helps create native advertising campaigns for brands like San Miguel Brewery, Shell, GCash, Grab, BDO, and more.