As a pupil of Dadiangas Philippine Chinese School (now Junior Cultural Academy), i discovered the library at the faculty room. The books were all contained in one medium sized cabinet! I was able to borrow and read the books in it in one year (because we were allowed to borrow only one book at a time). But i discovered at Grade Five that a Grade Six pupil was a fellow bookworm. So from her I was able to borrow the Wizard of Oz book series and others (Enid Blyton & Bobbsey Twins).
We were lucky to have the Philippine Readers series written by Camilo Osias and illustrated by Fernando Amorsolo for our English classes from Grades 1 to 6. The series contained an exciting mix of myths, legends, classics, prose and poetry. The poem Abou Ben Adhem by James Leigh Hunt stands out in my memory because of the line may his tribe increase! In Filipino class, we had our fill of Mga Kuwentong Griyego (Greek Myths) and were further entranced by Edith Hamilton's Greek Mythology in high school.
Aunt Evelyn initiated me to book hunts/haunts. She would bring me to Pauline's which sold magazines and occasional books. She once gifted me an issue of Jack and Jill magazine and boy! did she ever regret that. The magazine was ideal reading for young bookworms like me. It had stories galore and colorful illustrations, but what kept me occupied was the centerfold. It was a cutout-pop up project of castles, seascapes, underwater scenes. So with scissors in hand and glue in another, i would proceed to cut and paste portions that should be joined. The finished product I would further paste in a clean coupon bond creased in half and then I would request the labandera (washerwoman) to iron it for me. After that first issue, i was hooked on Jack and Jill and would pester Aunt Evelyn to buy me the monthly issue on display. Eventually she would go by herself to Pauline's on the sly. When I get a place in the periodical top ten in class, i would ask my parents to buy me an issue of Jack and Jill as a reward.
When Aunt Evelyn pursued her education degree at Notre Dame University in Cotabato City, she would bring me along during the summer session for a brief vacation there. And again we would hunt/haunt the few bookstores there. While there, she would have a coterie of college boys escorting her and the official chaperon (me!). I would eavesdrop while she discussed books with her coed friends and male admirers. Her book choices veered towards the Catholic church-approved ones like those written by Archbishop Fulton Sheen. I remember asking her innocently what Sheen's book It Takes Three to Get Married when only the groom and bride do so (at my age love triangles and orgies were still far from my pristine mind.) She said the priest that officiates the wedding represents Christ as the third person in it. Every summer, she would bring home the books she was able to buy during the school year. These books would be kept in the glass covered bookcase in Lola's house. The top shelf would be locked and and the books like Sheen's were off-limits to me because of their adult content. The second shelf contained Thomas Hughes' Tom Brown's School Days and other "safe for kids" books. The lower two shelves was stacked with Reader's Digests and other magazines. I would spend many a summer afternoon reading on a sofa. Lola or one of my aunts would find me asleep on it during siesta hour clutching a book or magazine to my chest.
On my own, I started my book hunt/haunt in Dadiangas (old municipal name of Gensan). Aside from Pauline's, there were a handful of bookstores cum school and office supplies stores. There was one next to the Talion building in Magsaysay Avenue which sold religious books and other novelty items. Uncharacteristically, i was more drawn to the novelty items. Once I asked money from Lola, Mama, aunts and uncles so i could buy the small carton cylinder on a string which made bird sounds when twirled overhead.
In high school, there was Crown Bookstore owned by the Napalas and City Bookstore. I would scrimped my weekly allowance so I could buy books I'd like to read. The very first book I bought was the science fiction Those Who Watch by Robert Silverberg (book cover shown in this page). It was about three aliens who came to earth and assumed the features of an old man, a young man and a pretty woman.
A resident alien and Ram's Bombay Bazar owner, Mr. Jethanand Balani, once showed me his collection of books on India, Gandhi and others. Unfortunately, these were written in Hindi. I remember visiting classmates' homes and seeing their 30+ volume encyclopedia sets displayed prominently in their living rooms. In the 70s, encyclopedias seemed to be the status symbol of the local middle class. I would needle my classmates why they had to copy homework from me when they had encyclopedias within their reach while I had to do research in the high school library. They would answer back that their mothers never allowed them to handle the volumes for fear that these might fall apart and get torn. An encyclopedia salesman almost closed a deal with my parents. At only P300 a month, they could get the whole set plus bonus sets of science volumes, etc. But they balked at the last minute. Later as a teacher, when I was able to buy a desktop computer set, the first cd-roms I bought were the Encarta and Britannica encyclopedia.
In college, I widened my book hunt/haunt to Davao City where Notre Dame of Dadiangas College had its school publication, The Vox, printed. As its editor in chief in second year college, I went through scrutiny by the Media Board based in Davao City. It was the Martial Law way of censoring college school papers and each article went through a fine-toothed comb by its director, Gil Abarico. The Vox, to my recollection, was the only college school paper in Gensan allowed for publication in 1973-74. While there, Deciderius Erasmus' "When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food" became my guiding principle and with it, I was able to buy my first hardcover book Roots by Alex Haley. While it is fiction, Haley's epic novel drove home to me how slavery changed the course of the lives and history of black people. It shamed me because before reading Roots, everything I knew about blacks were based on s/explotation books written by Kyle Onstott and Lance Horner.