Passions and Obsessions

Into my rabbit hole of reading

I was restless from being homebound.
Somehow the universe conspired

Author's husband Rolly Fernandez devoting an empty nester's time to reading, his dream being to build a library in honor of his father (Photo by Babeth Lolarga)

All Filipiniana books in the author’s home (Photo by Babeth Lolarga)

Now that my husband Rolly Fernandez and I are empty nesters with progeny living, studying, and working abroad, we look forward to breaks from our routine house chores so we can retire to our bed and read to our heart’s content.

His being a reader is among the high points that endeared him to me when we were still a-courting. He always stopped to leaf through a brochure, a magazine, or a book when we went out on dates.

His dream was to build a library in honor of his father, Liberato Fernandez, himself a reader. I had no such ambition, though. All I wanted was more books to supplement the ones we had at home since we were children, particularly The Children’s Hour series that my parents bought when I was in fifth grade. I reread those stories until I was in high school.

In high school, a progressive nun named Sr. Auguste, SPC, became the librarian, apart from her duties as our Religion teacher and class adviser. So hip was she that she played volleyball with us after classes. I appreciated her for introducing me to the Existentialists like Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. She stocked the shelves with their books and didn’t raise an eyebrow when I checked them out.

I discovered Simone de Beauvoir and her novel The Mandarins in college upon the recommendation of my Stylistics mentor Nieves Benito Epistola. It is something I’d read again when stranded on an island.

During this pandemic, hubby and I knew I had to stay sane and not aggravate my bipolar disorder through cabin fever. He knew I was restless from being homebound for weeks on end. Somehow the universe conspired. We couldn’t visit galleries, museums, and bookshops in their physical locations. But as we worked, taking turns on the computer, we each happened to visit book sites, particularly Filipiniana outlets, in Facebook and other social media platforms.

When the Aklatan Book Fair happened last year, we ordered online some Ateneo University Press titles at a discount with the promise of home delivery in Baguio. When the books got to us through Shopee, we couldn’t hail the delivery guy who brought them (he had motored off) because when we peeled off the wrapper, the books’ pages were muddy and soiled. We surmised that the books must have fallen while being wrapped or they were already in an un-pristine state when they were wrapped in Manila paper (not even bubble-wrapped to prevent any warping along the way).

Anyway, I immediately wrote a letter to Ateneo Press director Karina A. Bolasco citing what happened, accompanying my complaint with pictures of the books’ state. Post-haste, she sent through her staff a replacement of the whole bundle at no extra cost. Rolly was pleased and again settled down to read when the package arrived.

We’ve had pleasant transactions with Katya Guerrero of at 123 Pioneer Street, Mandaluyong City, pre-COVID-19 days. Sometimes she’d give us discounts on books that are increasingly hard to find like Marian Pastor Roces’ hefty Gatherings: Political Writing on Art and Culture.

I miss Katya’s store and shop talk. It’s one of the rare bookstores that has a long study table that allows you to take down a title from their shelf, sit down, then browse through it before deciding to purchase it or not. Rolly’s biggest purchase there is the twin-volume book on the life and art of painter Elmer Borlongan. I confess to not having opened it yet—Rolly has gone through it already—because it’s way too heavy to take to bed with me.

I read in bed with piles of pillows supporting my head and with the window providing natural light, as does Rolly. It has become such a habit that it’s hard to pry him off his bed when I call him down for meals.

That’s one advantage of being empty nesters

That’s one advantage of being empty nesters. Now that my daughter and grandchild live elsewhere, we are really not obliged to keep to a set routine by way of setting an example for our 10-year-old Kai.

And since we are seniors already with erratic sleeping hours at night, we use the time after our midnight pee to read a book until drowsiness returns.

I am most pleased with the services provided online by Fully Booked and Solidaridad Bookshop. I go to the former for foreign titles, Rolly turns to the latter for his Filipiniana fix with the assistance of the shop’s Cesar Quinagan, National Artist F. Sionil Jose’s and wife Tessie’s longtime right-hand man. Soli, as it is fondly called, also emails a monthly list of new Filipino titles available.

Charlson Ong in the author’s library (Photo by Babeth Lolarga)

Rolly is amid reading Charlson Ong’s latest novel White Lady, Black Christ after being done with Takao Watanabe’s Father of Philippine Independence: The Struggle of General Emilio Aguinaldo. Hubby, a full-fledged Caviteño, says the book is sympathetic to both Bonifacio and the first President of the country.

The author’s husband believes this book is ‘sympathetic’ to both Aguinaldo and Bonifacio. (Photo by Babeth Lolarga)

Cesar is so efficient that once Rolly deposits the payment for his orders, he wraps the books lovingly and sends them quickly to the courier. The books are in my bibliophile partner’s hands within 24 hours. When we expect a delivery, we stay put at home and Rolly avoids errands that take him to downtown Baguio.

Although it probably is a computer-generated response whenever I place my Fully Booked orders, the package arrives safely (safe from accidents and changes in the weather). Not only are the books bubble-wrapped, they are protected by sturdy packing carton.

That is how Anthony Bourdain’s World Travel, Patrick DeWitt’s novel French Exit, the Korean illustrated books Love Is… Parts 1 and 2 by Puuung, Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s nature essays World of Wonders et al arrived. For a minimum order amounting to P799, Fully Booked delivers without charge.

In Baguio, we leave the virtual world and actually step into Mt Cloud Bookshop at No. 1 Yangco Road. It’s our gesture of supporting local. We try to keep our time there at a minimum so we’re not tempted to go over our respective budgets.

A book calling out to the author (Photo by Babeth Lolarga)

But recently I went overboard when I glimpsed in a video interview of co-owner Feliz Lim Perez by the National Book Development Board the spine of a Maurice Sendak title, one that I had seen two years ago but failed to buy. It was still there, calling out to me.

I placed my order through the shop’s Facebook Messenger. They answered promptly and after the weekend passed, a delivery man on motorbike handed over the heavy tome to my husband whose only comment to me was, “A book as heavy as this—it must have cost you much.”

I neither confirmed nor denied, but let me tell you, the satisfaction within my soul runs deep.

Read more:

Why I campaigned for Noynoy in 2010

I still need Anthony Bourdain to teleport me away from my armchair

Know, maximize our textile edge—the natural fibers from all over

Goldens make our hearts full

My daughter’s wedding: Barely beating the pandemic

About author


She is a freelance journalist. The pandemic has turned her into a homebody.

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