Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Strangers When We Meet

Last night, I was in the Greenhills branch of Book Sale, stalking through the shelves of secondhand tomes as usual, when I realized something.

Another book hunter was in the same store.

Call it arrogance or ignorance, but when I'm searching for bargain book finds at secondhand stores, I usually assume I'm the most serious, most dead-set, most well-informed and perceptive book buyer in the place. I have an idea of which volumes are worthwhile and hard-to-find, which authors are worth trying or following, and even which books are overpriced and will be marked down soon. I like to delude myself that everyone else is just there for a cheapo copy of, say, The DaVinci Code or some Judith Krantz novel or something, or maybe a computer reference manual, or the latest FHM. Yeah, we all like to feel superior in some way, right? No matter how stupid that way may be.

But last night, as I was methodically making my way through the piles of new deliveries, I noticed that there was one other person in the store who was spending quite a lot of time making sure that she was being thorough. I noticed as well that she was lugging around a slowly-growing stack of acquisitions. A sort of unhurried race was suddenly underway: I avoided the areas she had already scoured, and wended my way towards the unexplored shelves. I rapidly built a stack of my own: nonfiction by Neal Stephenson, a novel by Alain de Botton, a marked-down hardbound copy of The Corrections, Animal Land by Margaret Blount, a biography of The Chieftains for Yvette -- good stuff. At one point, I agonized over a huge hardcover collection of Annie Lebowitz's photographs, entitled American Music and featuring everyone from Delta blues singers to Beck, but at over P600 it seemed a little pricey for a Book Sale find.

My competition had been there before I arrived, and she wrapped up her business and ambled over to the counter first. She addressed the salespeople like they were old friends, and I gathered that she was a regular. I glanced at her collection. Excellent choices: books by solid, widely-acclaimed authors, but, luckily, nothing I really really would have wanted -- except for the Wodehouse. Very Good, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse to be exact. Thank God I have an old beat-up copy, inherited from my grandmother, I thought to myself. Whew.

I walked up to her and commented on her acquisition of the Jeeves book. "Good choice, that," I said. She seemed pleased, and started talking about how expensive the Wodehouse volumes were in the non-secondhand bookstores, and about how ol' P.G. was an influence on Terry Pratchett -- "You've read Terry Pratchett, right?" she said, not really as a question -- and how this was actually her first Jeeves book. I told her that in my opinion, the Jeeves stories were far and away the best things Wodehouse had written, and that she was in for a treat. It was a brief exchange, and though we parted with absolutely no idea who the other person was -- not even names were mentioned -- it was undeniably pleasant, in a manner that only conversations that are solely about things one has a passion for can be. No personal issues: just talk about books, and authors. "I miss strangers," Margie said when I told her about it, as she recalled the coffeeshop culture of London.

What does all this have to do with music, you may ask. Well, nothing much, except that of course music is one of those things one can instantly bond with strangers over. Remember meeting Emmily and her husband Dan in Malate last week and, quite early into the conversation, talking about which Smiths albums were our favorites? (I'm tempted to name Meat is Murder, by the way -- thank you Allan Tabilog, for lending me your copy all those years ago). That was a lovely night, with good company and good conversation, and food and (yay) drink aplenty. Dan opening for The Flaming Lips at a festival of music and literature -- I loved hearing about that.

Of course, he also disturbed us both with his pronouncement that he used to be so obsessed with music -- "But I find that as I grow older, I care about it less and less." *Insert blood-curdling scream of grief and denial here* Then again, I look at Tita Pep, who has yet to be disappointed by PJ Harvey and who thoroughly enjoyed the new Eminem, and my own mother, who -- thanks to my sister Marien -- is now a fan of The Shins, The Postal Service and, yes, The Flaming Lips, and I think: well, it's not inevitable. And if I ever do stop caring about music, or books, you may kick me, "so hard that your grandchildren will feel it," as you once so endearingly threatened.


starshuffler said...

Emmily was in town??? Dang.

You have an Über-cool mom, Luis. My mom can't stand anything I put in the cd player. Hmf.

Luis K. said...

My Mom's never been averse to consuming pop cultural stuff, as long as her busy schedule allows it -- not that she's one of those aging wannabe hipsters who wants to remain "in." She just gets curious, tries stuff out, keeps an open mind, and likes some of it. I remember succeeding in getting her to read my beloved Teen Titans comics when she was homebound and pregnant with my sister. Much later, I tried to get her hooked on Sandman but she was too busy managing the stores again to get into it by then. ;p