Thursday, November 30, 2006

Serendipity in a second hand book store

Yesterday I was in a BookSale outlet in Goldcrest doing my usual browsing. After having gone through the children’s books situated at the end of the first gondola, I went to the paperback novels just below the rack where the coffee table books were arrayed. It was a routine movement that I have done tens of times before. I always started from the end of the first gondola working my way through the other end, which was occupied by the cookbooks. After the culinary section I would turn right from the corner and stay over for a while going through the non-fiction paperbacks. At the upper rack of the paperbacks were technical books on computers, economics, child-rearing, useful stuff to some but completely irrelevant to me. What is conspicuously absent are the current best selling authors. Instead, you would have a smattering of old best sellers most of which the younger browsers would not be acquainted with.

From there another short stretch then you turn right again and be at eye level with more coffee table books. I stopped buying coffee table books because they were no longer at bargain prices. Despite the yellowed pages and the torn jackets of most the prices would range from five hundred to a few thousand pesos. My usual budget during this forage is about a hundred and fifty pesos. With this I could manage to buy three books on a lucky day.

Again like in the first display there were paperbacks and an assortment of short story anthologies like the New Writers from The south, literary reviews (I was hoping I could find old copies of the Literary Horizons, a selection of short stories and essays from the budding writers of the fifties and the sixties), and nonfiction on a wide range of subjects. This was at the other end of the gondola.

With that I would have covered the full length of the store. There are days that I would retrace the route taken and do another round of scavenging for the third or the fourth time.

If you have little time to spare don’t go to bargain books outlets. You have to be without time pressure. There is no semblance of order at all in the way they display their books. Except for the general headings such as children’s books, cookbooks, magazines after that you are on your own. After that lame attempt at order the whole place becomes a bedlam of authors, topics, genres and it would easily take you more than hour and a half to find a particular book that you were searching for, besides, you would probably not find what your were looking for. The books sold in this kind of store are discards, donations coming from libraries of schools, public libraries and from personal libraries whose owners have passed on and have left his collection to unappreciative heirs…but, prepare to be rewarded by a gem every now and then.

Finding something that you really like is a joyful experience. One should not come here with something specific in mind. You must allow yourself to be surprised by a find. My idea of a find is a combination of content and cost, a real value for money book.

It was one if those lucky days. I bought three items one of which was a New York Times collection of daily crosswords for thirty pesos, a back issue of The New Yorker with a short story by David Sedaris (my daughter’s favorite) for forty five pesos and a book on writing, specifically, a book on encouraging budding writers to keep at it…this was for less than a hundred. The book’s title was Wild Mind. When I picked it up from the lower shelves the attraction was not because it was about writing. In fact I thought it would be about the chronicles of a character with a mean streak, a hell’s angel’s odyssey or a pulp fiction type of story. The title was provocative enough for me to read the jacket copy and was glad to find out that it was one of those books which satisfied my criteria of substance and cost.

The book is all about the encouragement of budding writers. It is about letting go, about being unshackled from inhibitions and not to be hamstrung by grammar, spelling, punctuations and other conventions that impede the creative flow. Being an elderly novice and an off and on writer, this book could help me to be more persevering with the craft I am stumbling to master.

Book scavenging has a lot going for it. The satisfaction of buying literary treasures for a pittance is immensely fulfilling. The joy of just being around books, all sorts books brings inexplicable delight.

Inside the second hand bookstore the place can transform into an ancient, cramped and musty reading room. In a flash fantasy, from where you stand could espy an antiquity master leaning at the far end of the room in rapt attention to a monograph, while another, a famous university don, is perched on the gondola’s end leafing through a tattered paperback. At the first turn of the corner a renaissance great is rummaging at the lower tiers of shelves. Your favorite eccentric is seated on the floor unmindful of the illustrious crowd, absentmindedly tapping his pipe on the floor visibly amused of what he is reading. You couldn’t wish for a more congenial company.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Scratch Pad

The last time I wrote was months ago.
It must have been from sheer laziness that I neglected to pick up the pen again to populate white space with black streaks, curves and dots. They may remain as such…meaningless splatters of black on white since there seems to be nothing to write about.
But I am following one writer’s advice of just to keep that writing hand moving and with the theory of a million monkeys typing all at the same time for thousands of millennia would by happenstance come up with something of literary value.
I do not expect to have the luck of a million monkeys today. I know that at the moment my mind is full of crap and nothing paper worthy would come out of my present train of thought. I should live life more so that I could restock my treasury of experiences, widen my knowledge, get better insight into things and into people. My self imposed reclusion is taking its toll on my ability to project myself into other personalities and somehow stunts my imagination. My mind hasn’t been stimulated for quite a while that some atrophy might have set in.
Still I should keep at it. I must form this habit of moving my writing hands at all times. This could be likened to casting a gigantic seine into the ocean for it to gather all that it encounters on the seafloor and those pelagic aquatic life forms residing along the mid-water line. This indiscriminate harvest could lead to writing about things that I hardly know anything about. But since they got dragged up by this ravenous sea catchall they must be given thought and a few lines…only because they were there. Together with the marine detritus some rough gems may be resurrected from the ocean’s bounty. Some stray truths that could start the premise of a piece of writing or some highly individual character that could be developed into a fascinating story.

“Life is wonderful” is one truth that one could use as basis for a piece of writing whether fiction or non-fiction. But it should have a more specific sub premise otherwise it would be ineffective in setting one off to a writing start. Now, there could be hundreds of sub premises that one can generate from “life is wonderful”. Think of the blessings that you have benefited from since you saw light in this world and you will come up with something like “caring for the less fortunate is rewarded by good fortune” or “happiness comes to those who give happiness to others”. A basic truth like “war is hell” has been used by countless writers and yet they never cease to provide us with enjoyable literary renditions emanating from a generic observation. Again, this is because one can get to more specific sub premises of which there are countless numbers of. “Avenging the cruel death of a beloved in the hands of the enemy never appeased the soul” or “the lives of the innocent wasted at wartime is an ignominy that will visit us in peace time” make for interesting story development.
We could go on and on with observations on life and the hundreds of sub premises that can emanate from them. The observations are as they purport to be… mere observations and not incontestable facts but they are most real to some and truisms to those who experienced their reality no matter how fleeting. But these are mere suppositions to those who just learned them as an outsider looking in. There is nothing wrong with that. One could make a statement about life from pure vicarious experience. Any person can, in fact, manufacture their own basic premises without having to validate it by real experience. It is not possible for any one person to experience every conceivable emotion, event, fame or shame. The writer must hypothesize, make a supposition, create scenarios and develop interesting personalities and then converge them into a literary form

Saturday, November 04, 2006

What's a guy to do?

When I was nearing retirement, I read some articles on how to prepare for such a state. There were a lot of practical suggestions such as keeping one foot still on the trade that one was in prior to retirement…a gradual moving away from a lifelong routine. It makes sense to do this. One might find oneself feeling totally inadequate when into a completely alien territory that one has no known competence on. It could be very depressing. Some of the doable endeavors that presented themselves were to be a figurehead president of a research company which some former colleagues were planning to set up. Others were consultancy with a handful of companies, teach market research in the university, write teaching modules and do seminars. I dismissed each one thinking that I may not be able to stand the pressure no matter how small they were. I do not need the tensions and the pressures that go with the acceptance of any of these responsibilities.
My health was not ideal by the time I reached retirement age. I have had diabetes for more than fifteen years and was already on regular insulin shots and just a few years back my ticker was largely constricted and they had to perform an angioplasty procedure to repair the blocked arteries. All my diseases are stress related.
The wild and wooly badlands of advertising in the sixties, the pressure of managing brands in highly competitive fast moving consumer goods markets plus the rigors of running and satisfying the sales and profit targets of an American multinational company for more than a decade have exacted their toll on my health. With some amount of braggadocio I have said that earning the next million is not worth it. However, this could be very true with the high cost of medical care these days.
So, moneymaking activities have been ruled out.
A suggestion that I liked best was on farming. I had fantasies about living off the land. You know, the joy of growing things with your manure dirtied hands. Small time farming, an orchard and some vegetable patches to take care of would be heavenly. I had the notion that I could be a good handyman and it would be nice to take up woodcraft as something to do while the vegetables are growing and the trees are waiting for the next fruiting season. I was bent on doing all these. In a trip to the US I bought a few small power tools and had a craft table made with a work platform. I had to move on to the next suggestion when my wife declared that she was not a farm girl and have no intentions of becoming one now.
In addition to all these, it was suggested to have some cerebral pursuits. This was, also, to my liking. I would have a lot time in my hands to revisit all the novels and poems I read during my college days.
I took stock of the books that I had in my possession. I found out that I have not bought any new fiction except for a few of the more recent books of Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favorites. All the rest of fiction books on the shelves were from what I acquired when I was in my twenties. My shelves were teeming with management books, books on marketing and research, psychology and a few inspirational pieces and how tos.
I now frequent second hand bookstores in search of favorite and familiar authors during my college years. These authors have now been replaced in the best sellers list by the young contemporary writers. I have been often rewarded by this browsing habit. Hemingway is hardly known to the younger readers, and so with Herman Hesse, Steinbeck, Willa Cather, Welty, Asimov, DH Lawrence, CS Lewis, Updike, Arthur C Clarke, Mccullers and other great writers of the nineteenth and twentieth century. The prices that they tag on to these precious literary works are absurdly low and insulting to the authors. I shouldn’t complain. I have managed to restore my library with the works of these fine authors for a pittance.
Just revisiting old favorites and reading other works of my admired authors is all that I do now. Idleness is not so bad after all. I get all the excitement that I need from the restocked treasury of experiences in my library.