Cheap thrills



Jullie Y. Daza Jullie Y. Daza

Manny Sison owns a priceless collection of Chinese blue-and-whites. The collection has grown to museum size, which he keeps in his hometown in Isabela.

Manny is rarer than you and me in another sense, i.e., he has made it his life’s business to “make reading affordable.” Notice he doesn’t say affordable books, but to attempt an explanation between one and the other would require space I do not have, not on this page and not between my ears.

At any rate, Manny was my schoolmate in UST, where our college was distinguished by the impressive-sounding title of Faculty of Philosophy and Letters (Philets for short). Literature and journalism were the main draws, followed by philosophy, in those days when public relations and advertising were worth a mere six units. It was assumed that Philets enjoyed literature, they read more books than students in the other colleges except law and medicine, but what we read was more interesting -- romance, tragedy, biographies (mostly of writers), history, the Bible, Shakespeare, dailies and weeklies. If we did not remember names and dates we could always create our own and call it fiction. To cut a long story short, Manny was led to his vocation by a love for books.

In today’s prices, “affordable reading” translates to the cost of importing previously owned books, soft covers and hardbounds, fiction and nonfiction, arriving at the rate of eight 40-ft containers every month and priced from P30 to P115. Magazines are a dime a dozen. Where he sources them – one guess is public libraries in the US – is a trade secret; what is not secret is how avid readers flock to Book Sale in the malls to get their hands on current and past bestsellers, classics, works by hitherto unheard-of authors. (That’s how I discovered Martha Grimes and M.C. Beaton.)

“Real” bookstores, like Manny’s bargain basement outlets, are finding it harder to stay afloat in an ocean of digital knowledge. Signs point to a paperless planet. What gives hope is Hollywood, of all things, and its fallback on books and, yes, comics, for its audience-pleasing content!