All right. I admit it. Not buying books is MUCH harder than not buying clothes. I'm trying very hard not to buy books. Every time I even begin to think about buying a book I restrain myself. Even so, this month I bought three books, so that I'm halfway through my year's quota after only three months.
But I think I had such good reasons for buying these books. Their purchase was unavoidable. However, I expect I will feel that way, for new and unexpected reasons, about every book I buy this year.
While I was in Manila I visited Solidaridad bookshop.
The bookshop opened in the mid-60s and has always been owned by renowned Filipino novelist, publisher and commentator F Sionil Jose. It's located in Ermita which is one of the old bayside areas of Manila. In the seventies, when I first visited the bookshop, Ermita had already passed its period of grandeur, but still had some interest as a rather bohemian place where writers, academics, political activists and journalists congregated. The centre of Manila has moved westward since then and Ermita is now very tatty and down at heel. But the bookshop somehow survives. It still stocks an interesting selection of literature and, in particular, a good range of Filipino literature.
Even though English is widely spoken in the Philippines, and journalism and comment in English is robust and widespread, few novels are written - either in English or local languages. F Sionil Jose has been the most prolific Filipino novelist in English, writing novels in a realist tradition that deal with issues of family, of class, of identity and of dislocation. I've read a number of his works over the years and so when I discovered a new 2011 publication, The Feet of Juan Bacnang, I couldn't resist purchasing it. It was the perfect place to buy a copy.
The second purchase was equally meant to be. I bought a detective novel - Charlson Ong's Blue Angel, White Shadow. Given the relative scarcity of Filipino novels in English, and my liking for detective fiction, this also was irresistible.
The third purchase? Well, if you ever plan to travel to Macao and you're as addicted to reading as I am, make sure you travel with a good supply of books. I finished the single book I'd taken with me soon after I arrived in Macao and went searching for a bookshop. I'm sure the concierge at my hotel had been asked for many things in his job, but someone seeking directions to a bookshop was clearly well outside his experience. I could easily have found Rolex watches or Parisian couture clothes, but books were much rarer. Eventually I stumbled on a Portuguese bookshop with a small but interesting selection of books in English where I bought a copy of Andrew McGahan's 2006 novel, Underground. It's not one of McGahen's best works (I was very impressed by Last Drinks, set in the era of the Fitzgerald enquiry into police corruption in Queensland) but it's an interesting political comment on the dangers of repressive political leadership in Australia in a post 9/11 world.
So, buying all three books was either irresistible or unavoidable. But I do have to count them in my year's total. I'm coming to the conclusion that I set an impossibly low target for the year.