Bookstore heaven for book aficionados

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By Brian P. Sales, Kathleen T. Valle, and Mary Meysil B. Yamat

While the trends and preferences in books continuously change, there is also a corresponding increase in readers’ itching desire to scour alternative book stores that can nourish their bookworm tendencies. Some of these stores are relatively new while some have been around for decades. But all of them are committed to offering alternative quality titles to book lovers who are adventurous enough to look for them.

A consignment bookstore

Just a few steps from Katipunan Ave., Aeon Bookstore serves as a haven for classical works of renowned poets and writers.

Owned by Marilou Consing, a Literature graduate from the Ateneo de Manila University, Aeon opened in August 2002, initially carrying award-winning titles.

“My initial concept was to carry only award-winning titles such as Nobel and Pulitzer prizes, and Man Booker prizes. Then I quickly realized this was very limiting so I decided to concentrate on the area of humanities and literature,” Consing said.

While Aeon carries the works of Dante Alghieri, Homer, and the like, it also caters to a much wider audience with a rich collection of theology, philosophy, poetry, literary and popular fiction, memoirs, and criticism, and even books on high crime. Aeon also specializes on hard-to-find books under these categories because of Consing’s meticulous system of acquiring books.

“I wrote publishers abroad, mainly American, made deals with their representatives and then sent in my book orders to them,” Consing said. She decided to consign rare books after considering the hardships of being a commercial bookstore such as leasing and other contracts.

Aeon also sells pre-owned books which widen the store’s market in spite of it being independent. Now, Consing says the store caters mostly to students, teachers, and bookworms from nearby colleges like the Ateneo, University of the Philippines, and Miriam College—even writers as well.

“I would love to expand perhaps near the UST area or De La Salle (University),” Consing explained. “Running a bookstore is very capital intensive; it doesn’t really make a lot of money. In my case because I am very small and cater to a very specialized market. It just makes enough to get by.”

A peek into a National Artist’s library

For over four decades, the Solidaridad book shop has been esteemed as a treasure trove for those eager to unravel the wonders of local and foreign masterpieces. The owner, no less than National Artist for Literature Francisco Sionil Jose, keenly chooses the extensive titles for his quaint bookstore along Padre Faura street, a stone’s throw away from Robinson’s Place.

Upon the arrival of book catalogues from abroad, the acclaimed Filipino writer in English, a former Varsitarian editor in chief, handpicks the books according to his criteria.

“First, does it interest me? Would it interest other people? There’s a lot of junk coming out and other book shops are not very careful in the selection of the books they offer,” Jose said. “This is what distinguishes Solidaridad from the rest.”

A favorite stop-over of local and foreign writers and journalists, Solidaridad has been in existence since 1965, along with a publishing house of the same name. Both are housed on a three-story structure which belongs to the family of Jose’s wife, Teresita.

At first, Jose thought the publishing house would generate more money but it turned out that the bookstore, born out of his wife’s suggestion, has been the one supporting the former.

The unassuming one-level shop is in essence, Jose’s own mini library, except that the books neatly lined up on low shelves are for sale. Prices range from a hundred to a little over a thousand pesos a piece. Solidaridad also has a diverse selection of books on the humanities, history, psychology, literary criticism, Spanish, and Asian literature from Japan, Korea and China, among others.

While other bookstores offer the usual array of beauty and lifestyle magazines, Solidaridad carries political and current events magazines and journals.

An interesting mix of coffee table books on various arts, crafts, and food are also available. Even the once controversial Power and the Glory: the Cult of Manalo by Ross Tipon can be found in Solidaridad, one of the few stores which carry the title.

Works of more familiar authors like Mario Puzo, Isabel Allende, Salman Rushdie, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez are also available.

Solidaridad also boasts of a broad selection of Philippine literature featuring the fiction, poetry collections, and essay compilations of the country’s premier writers like Nick Joaquin, NVM Gonzales, Edith Tiempo, Pete Lacaba, Paz Latorena, and Gregorio Brillantes.

But probably the bookstore’s piece de resistance remains to be the award-winning titles by Jose himself. A shelf is solely dedicated to Jose’s The Rosales Saga in different languages as well as Ben Singkol, Gangrene, Ermita and the rest of his works in both hardbound and paperback.

Concealed from the public eye

Despite Araneta Center’s fresh face, there is still a pocket of resistance in Cubao that shows signs of its timeless charm. The Marikina Shoe Expo is a quaint alcove, where Datelines, a small but distinctive bookstore, is housed.

Book-loving journalists Joe Torres and Iris Gonzales have dreamt of owning a bookstore for a long time. At first, they wanted a place that would provide books for writers, especially journalists.

“It would be nice if people like us, writers or journalists, could have a place to find books that will help improve (our) craft,” Gonzales said.

However, when they opened last year, the customers asked for children’s books, books on politics, philosophy and Filipiniana, so they began expanding their collection.

The tawny walls, diffused lighting, pieces of potted plants, old-fashioned furniture, and books placed in shelves and coffee tables add to the “settled-in” feel of the place, which makes browsing more pleasant. Rare CDs of well-renowned Filipino musicians dating back to the 70’s are offered as well. Adding to the store’s personal touch are souvenirs acquired by the owners from their trips in and out of the country.

Being a wide reader himself, Torres personally handpicks Dateline’s acquisitions and often recommends them to patrons. Despite having day jobs, (Torres is a senior editor for www.abs-cbn.com and a writer for Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, while Gonzales is a reporter for BusinessWorld), they always try to be in the shop after work.

Datelines also carries titles by authors such as John Grisham and Robert Ludlum, Toni Morrison, and Ernest Hemingway. Aside from the usual, there are a lot of books that will attract those who go for alternative, non-fiction works like Weapon’s of Mass Deception: the Uses of Propaganda in Bush’s War on Iraq by Sheldon, Rampton and Stauber, Sa Loob at Labas ng Piitan by Jose Maria Sison, and The Legend of the Fourth King by Edzard Schaper.

One can also obtain Torres’ best-selling book, Into the Mountains, which won a National Book Award for Journalism in 2002, and Mondomanila by Norman Wilwayco, which won a Palanca in 2002.

Hardcover editions at half-price are available. In addition, their second-hand books can go for as low as P5 to about a hundred.

Being booklovers themselves, Torres and Gonzales know how mainstream bookstores burn a hole in anyone’s pockets. By supplying low-priced books to readers, they try to promote reading among Filipinos.

“There is no alternative to publishing, there is not quite an experience as reading,” he said. “Books are symbol of knowledge and gaining knowledge is not as fleeting as browsing the internet.”

A portion of the store is also put up for functions such as poetry readings, book launches, workshops, lectures and exhibits.

Montage Vol. 9 • February 2006