One of the downsides of life after graduating from school (or in my case, life in between schools) is letting go of university library privileges. It was admittedly something I’d taken for granted during parts of my life as an undergraduate student. Until the day I win the lottery and have enough splurging money for books, or the day that someone gifts me with a library, I have to work with my limited allowance to help me satisfy that irrepressible craving for the written word.
As tempting as it is to live by Erasmus’ words: “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes,” today’s modern bookworms have to be a little more creative and practical with finding more things to read and fill up their bookshelves, without resorting to fasting or moving to a nudist colony. Over a series of misadventures, I’ve learned (the hard way) some ideas for always making sure that there’s something to read…without emptying my wallet entirely:
1. Getting books online: Not necessarily the e-books one needs a credit card for. For net-savvy bookworms, there are always Project Gutenberg and other online archives of books. These are the places where one can find relatively old books such as classics or obscure manuscripts no longer being carried in our bookstores. Some of my favorite finds there include Plato’s “Symposium” and Rousseau’s novel “Emile”—the former would have cost me several hundred in a store, and the latter is virtually absent from most establishments. A word of caution though: sometimes these online manuscripts have typographical errors or fuzzy graphics caused mainly by encoding or scanning errors. It’s worth checking a few pages for the quality of the text before downloading those precious megabytes.
2. Waiting for sale season: After Christmas and the middle of the year are blessed times for bibliophiles; when else do stores paste 50% off tags on their books? It’s the perfect time for me to see if I can finally afford the books that seem to be taunting me from the shelves each time I visit these stores. Getting *that* one particular book is worth braving the crowds milling around the shelves, the disorganized piles on the tables marked 70% off and above, and the hassled bookstore staff.
3. Frequenting the bargain bin: Some time ago, I discovered that one particular bookstore in the vicinity of my part time job always had a table or two for books priced at “100 pesos and below”. On some days, the wares seemed to consist mostly of obscure hardbound fiction books, cookbooks, diet books, back issues of manga, and occasionally even children’s books. However, after learning to get up to my elbows in manuscripts. I was able to discover unusual gems in the pile: biographies, Filipino essays, and in one case, a memoir called “The Man Who Forgot To Read”…and each of them cost less than a frappucino at the nearby coffee shop. A large bookstore’s bargain bin can be a booklover’s dream: many books eventually end up in this pile if they aren’t being “moved” off the shelves at a regular price. Of course, by the time they end up in the bargain bin, these books may have already acquired some damage such as torn pages and wrinkled covers. It is wise for the bookworm to carefully inspect any bargain manuscript before heading to the counter. At same time, one must not delay too long with getting bargain books. To this day I’m regretting my putting off purchasing a quiz book on Shakespeare, out of a principle of delayed gratification. By the time I returned to the store for my weekend treat, the book was already in the hands of some other deserving person.
4. Booksale, Books For Less and second-hand book stores: For some readers, these stores are the Holy Grail of book shopping. These are the shops where one can find very obscure manuscripts, and occasionally even collectors’ items such as books with autographs, or first-edition copies of novels. Sifting through these stores is also like going through the bargain bins of larger bookstores: one has to go through quite a bit of detritus before getting to the good stuff. The price ranges at these stores are reasonable: textbooks and thick “trade books” can go for several hundred pesos, novels (especially romances) for a hundred or even as low as thirty pesos. My favorite find from these stores is a beautiful book of haikus with pictures from Japanese wood prints and paintings. The price: one hundred pesos.
5. Turning the bookstore into your library: The ultimate solution for reading on a shoestring: going back repeatedly to the store to finish a book in installments. It may not be the most ethical or commercially sound solution, but sometimes it is the only way to gauge if one truly wishes to acquire a particular book. After all, if it was worth one read, however interrupted, it may be worth rereading and even adding to one’s collection. At the very least, reading and browsing in a bookstore can be a good and inexpensive way to spend a prolonged lunch hour or a lazy weekend afternoon. One walks away with a little learning at a relatively low cost.
I’m very sure that other bookworms and bibliophiles have their other strategies and tricks for getting their literary fixes. I’d love to hear more in the comments. After all, no good quest ever was finished on a solo effort, and the same can be said for the quest for good books. Happy reading!