I have a dilemma. I would soon be moving to a two bedroom condo unit that boasts economy of space, meaning most of the things that accumulated all my life has got to go.
As I peruse my room it seems that the thing that had built up most in twenty years are … my books. Everywhere I look books - in the shelves, on the table, on the bed, even crawling on the floor.
What will happen to the tons of books that are a part of me as my memories are?
There is no one book that touched my life. To say so would be telling a lie, for there were hundreds of them that kept me awake for so many a night. The second that my toddler eyes engaged with the words of Doctor Seuss, words like cat, hat, box, fox, I was hooked.
There were no sacred grounds for me. I read in my room, I read in the bathroom, I read on the sofa, I even read in the closet. My yaya kept her Tagalog classics in there next to the blankets, and discovering them was one of the best things that happened to my young life. I started with Mars Ravelo’s Darna and ended up with Vincent Benjamin Kuah’s Cecilia’s Lullaby.
I remember my old .school’s library. It was filled with musty odor, dank and mystifying. Rows and rows of books lined up like hoarded antiquity. As I walked down the narrow spaces between the shelves, the sunrays brought millions of tiny floating specks casually landing on the book covers. They were like fireflies in the afternoon.
Was I Nancy Drew, whipping up her magnifying glass to hunt for clues? Titles were like an array of cryptic messages, asking to be unearthed and brought to light.
A book is a puzzle, an enigma to be solved.
There were secrets untold and there were secrets that waited for me to unfold. In high school, spotting an Agatha Christie paperback would be enough to give me goosebumps. It was the utmost pleasure to outthink the author by getting ahead of the story. It was even utter bliss to be completely wrong! Hercule Poirot tickled me pink for the most horrendous self aggrandizement in the annals of mystery novels. He is horribly arrogant but dreadfully funny. His repartees with his partner Hastings will delight even hardcore Sherlock Holmes fans.
A book is a nanny, a teacher, and a mother.
It had opened its pages and welcomed me with open arms. There were times that reality seemed too bitter to swallow that I found solace in a corner with a book in my arms, safe in the knowledge that although the world may not be right, there was Atticus, Scout, Huck, Levin, Silas and all the other unforgettable imperfect characters who gave me strength and wisdom and restored my belief in humanity.
My favorite book “Sightings” by Susan Trott introduced me to Buster. Trott said of Buster, “the good hearted ones are always the strongest, the most courageous, the most intelligent, i.e. clear thinking, because they’re unfettered by ambition, greed, fear, and other crummy needs humans are heir to that drag us down and make us craven or base”.
This book took me to a place where reality and myth touched intimately. Imagine the crystalline sea and characters as insouciant and blithe as the weather.
A book holds its meaning until you are ready to realize its wisdom. It gives meaning when meanings do not exist. I found the meanings that I looked for in the pages of “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. At a time when I was surrounded by people who took drugs for amusement, who thought that freedom entitled them to drink alcohol and throw the nights away in bars and parties, I found eternal values in the chronicles of bygone strangers.
Now I have to choose. Which one should I let go? Is it the crusty “Silas Marner” who has held that darling girl and protected her with his life? Or is it this coffee stained copy of “Anna Karenina”?
Oh, my dear old quixotic friend, how I adore your misadventures! But off you go. Slowly and painfully, I select a title, touch its jacket and perhaps feel if it has a message for me, still.
The story that haunted me by its beauty is Henry James’ “Beast in the Jungle”. This is the story of a man who thought something terrible was about to happen to him, that the “beast” would spring upon him. And so he waited, not knowing that the woman who waited with him, waited who “knows with what passion”, was the only escape from the nothingness that was about to happen to him. Then she died and left him all alone. He travelled around the world only to find out that the thing that mattered to him the most was to be beside that tiny slab of grass that was her tomb.
A book is a journey.
To have traversed the Mississippi River with Huck Finn was a rite of passage for me. In reading his books, you never really know when the laughter ends and the recognition of truth begins. Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer are characters Filipinos would relate to. We find humor in everything, we grit our teeth during hard times, and we forgive like hell.
And so I pack my books in boxes, like children off to school, or to some other place in another country. I have this terrible ache in my guts.
This box goes to my son in Macau, this box to my niece, this box to a colleague, this one to a friend.
I have some books left, the ones I cannot let go.
I have learned through bouts with our weather the importance of knowing what to value and what to discard .The possibility that I would read them again or that one of my children will keeps me holding on. I read them once sometimes twice. But the pages turn rust and brown
Perhaps it is time to let go.
A book is a tree that grows in our minds.
It is rooted deeply, connecting us to all that we hold dear in life.
It is a comfort to know that wherever the books end up, they will not die but keep on growing.
Do you see that last page where it says “The End” ?
Well, it doesn’t. And holding that thought, I smile.