Booksale closes a chapter, creates a lifetime of memories
There’s a burgers and burritos stall where a Booksale booth used to stand at my local supermarket. Several weeks before the burger joint appeared, I was aghast to find an empty corner in the same spot where, for many years, heaps of used books and magazine back issues had beckoned readers from far and wide. Where did my Booksale go? The answer was a no-brainer. With the pandemic’s relentless pummeling of the retail industry, it was only a matter of time before Booksale began to yield to the blows of lockdowns and job losses everywhere. Inevitably one day, the space that Booksale had vacated was transformed into a purveyor of yet more fast food.
I’ve written about the amazing finds I’d made at several Booksale stores in Metro Manila: the chapter books that bridged the gulf between the big board books that my then kindergartner devoured and the novels that my son now enjoys. The cheap finds were a major draw, but there was more to Booksale than just bargain books: it was a place that had played an unforgettable part of our youth and adulthood.
Booksale was our preferred meet-up point. Customers were free to browse the books for as long as they wished without being shot daggers by the sales clerks. Your friends could arrive unfashionably late, but that copy of Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay had kept you so entranced, unmindful of the passing time, that all was forgiven. A former colleague had confessed to finishing Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull by reading a copy bit by bit at a Booksale branch on his way home. Profoundly touched by the story, he would buy the book one day.
The hardbound textbooks that Booksale had sold for a fraction of their original price saw us through many college courses and professional examinations. I’m partial towards imported textbooks, because of their thick glossy paper, colorful illustrations, and thorough explanations of concepts. While reviewing for the 2011 Licensure Examination for Teachers, I picked up a hardbound copy of Algebra and Trigonometry and Their Applications, by Larry Joel Goldstein. Copyright 1993, the 800-page tome was all I would need to earn my PRC license.
A Booksale store, too, held sentimental meaning for some. Daunted by the new faces and surroundings at her university, an introverted college freshman found solace in the quiet corner of a Booksale across the street. She would eventually make friends at uni, but she’d be forever grateful to Booksale for giving her a convenient escape when social conventions proved too exhausting. I have a deeply personal Booksale story myself. The Makati Cinema Square (MCS) Booksale was where I whiled away the time as my mom underwent dialysis at a clinic on nearby Santillan St. twice a week. Each dialysis session lasted approximately 4 1/2 hours and could sometimes feel longer if you had nothing to do but stare mindlessly at the TV. My mom, while still hooked up to the dialysis machine, would doze into an after-lunch nap, while I stepped out for a quick browse through Booksale’s children’s books to see if there’s any thing I could bring home to my son. My mom fought valiantly for nine years. I haven’t been back to the MCS Booksale since she passed in 2013.
Who could forget the thrill of unearthing unique treasures in Booksale’s stacks of unsorted books? From a box of paperbacks, I’d fished out a lightly worn copy of Gail Parent’s Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York, a book that I would immediately love and now count as one of my all-time favorites. I was particularly fond of out-of-print children’s books and Richard Scarry’s big board books that delighted my then preschooler. Thanks to Booksale’s reasonable price, we’d managed to amass a small library of Dr. Seuss and Sesame Street Little Golden Books. When my son outgrew his children’s books, we donated them to Caritas Manila, so they would continue to delight more children with their wonderful stories.
One book that I’ve kept to this day is an I Can Read hardcover called Truck Drivers: What Do They Do? written by Carla Greene and illustrated by Leonard Kessler. As a young boy obsessed with trucks, my son had read the book over and over, pointing to specific illustrations described in the text as he read. The book was one of the first he’d learned to read by himself, and it now occupies pride of place in our bookshelf. Bought for a throwaway price of 15 pesos, the book had borne the markings of a library discard, but its cover was clean and its pages pristine. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” had never rung truer. Another former library book I’d snagged at Booksale was “We’re Taking an Airplane Trip,” by Dinah L. Moche. Illustrated by Carolyn Bracken, the book shows the fun side of flying, something that’s slowly being taken away by today’s absurd security protocols and safety paranoia. It’s a must-have for children with the flying jitters.
Booksale is not going away just yet. Several stores remain open, while the beloved used bookstore chain dips its toe in the deep, roiling waters of e-commerce. Don’t hold your breath for a straightforward online store; the current process of checking prices and stock availability remains frustratingly low-tech. You have to ring up the branch manager to find out if they have the book you want. This can get tedious, as not all branches will have the same inventory of books. It also takes away the fun of hunting for that rare gem in heaps of unsorted paperbacks. But if you care about Booksale’s continued survival, you’ll accept that calling up individual branches is a minor inconvenience in exchange for keeping Booksale sustained through these unpredictable times. In the meantime, you can pay these physical stores a visit, and for God’s sakes, buy something. We’re all in this together.