I try not to see patients on weekends, but this Saturday, it was inevitable. I had scheduled an urgent chemotherapy, which went well. On the third floor, I gave discharge instructions to a patient—a friend's father—just before he left for home. I drove to Gensan to see a few more patients. I had hoped I'd finish just before lunch time so I could make it back home and perhaps join my brothers in watching a Netflix World War 2 documentary. But it was 11:30, I was hungry, and I had an intense craving for a decent burger. I dined at Army Navy in Veranza. Sleepy after the meal, I went to Booksale, this paradise of pre-loved books, the only one of its kind in Region 12, to my knowledge.
The lady at the counter was oblivious to my presence. The silence was a relief; it was almost like entering a library at lunchtime. Outside the store, the crowd was massive. The mall's parking area was packed. People lined up in restaurants. Fathers and mothers carried their children or held their hands, as if telling them, "This is the outside world, kids!" The city was coming alive. If not for the ubiquity of face masks, one would think COVID was no longer a clear and present danger.
It seemed natural for me to proceed in the clockwise direction. There were unopened boxes on the tiled floor. Could there be a Mavis Gallant collection inside them? But I was too excited to see what was on display that I did not bother the lady at the counter to open the boxes for me. On the shelves were many new books I hadn't seen before. The last time I'd been to Booksale was three months ago.
I started with the religious section, with old leather bound Bibles and contemporary works, many of them about prosperity and marriage. I don't bother with these books most of the time, as I prefer to read Augustine or Calvin, whose works are almost never found in stores like this. But I was surprised to see Dr. Russel Moore's book, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel. It was a hardbound copy. Dr. Moore's books are rare finds, but I'm a huge fan. I even subscribe to Moore to the Point, his newsletter. Dr. Moore quotes Walker Percy's words on the first few pages:
By remaining faithful to its original commission, by serving its people with love, especially the poor, the lonely, and the dispossessed, and by not surrendering its doctrinal steadfastness, sometimes even the very contradiction of culture by which it serves as a sign, surely the Church serves the culture best.
Amen, brother. I grabbed the book right away.
The next section was hardbound fiction. (A seasoned visitor of Booksale understands there are no strict sections: a work of fiction can be found among the boring, outdated books on pharmacology.) I saw a P.D. James thriller, Death Comes to Pemberley, and picked it up immediately. Carefully removing the first layer of books on third row, I found Joyce Carol Oates's novel, The Falls. I've only read Oates's short stories, not her novels, so it was a thrill to pick the blue but battered copy from behind.
I turned to the coffee table books, the most expensive ones in the store (which means they cost Php 400-600), because they're printed in glossy paper, often with colored photos. I grabbed Julia Turshen's cookbook, Now & Again, to give to Manong Ralph. He reads much more than I do and has become what we call in the family a home chef. Thankful, he seemed excited to try out recipes from the Rosh Hashanah chapter. I've always envied Rabbi Shtisel when he devoured his meals. Shtisel is one of my absolute favorites in Netflix.
I largely ignored self-help books, magazines, and textbooks, and headed straight for the center table brimming with romance and autobiographies of people I didn't recognize. Imagine my delight when I found P. G. Wodehouse, a writer I turn to when sentences escape me, or when I need a good laugh. The book is called "The Gold Bat and Other School Stories." He dedicates this book to "That Prince of Slackers, Herbert Westbrook." What fun it must have been to be around him.
My favorite find of the day was Paul Theroux's Riding the Iron Rooster, a travelogue about his trip to China by train. The copy cost Php 25, discounted from the original Php 35. I hadn't completed any of his books, but I watched the Apple series Mosquito Coast and started reading the novel on which it was based. But I'd read enough about him to know that he writes in longhand, he has a beautiful home in Hawaii, and he thinks about traveling a lot. He's also pretty cool.
I was getting sleepy around books and went to Coffee Bean to drink iced Americano because the Gensan heat was stifling, even with the gathering clouds. With no one else watching (the students were glued to their iPads and books; I wasn't sure if they were my students), I tore the brown bag filled with my new old books, smelled the pages, and began with the Theroux:
The bigness of China makes you wonder. It is more like a whole world than a mere country....