Lifestyle Business

A passion for books and press freedom

BULL MARKET, BULL SHEET - Wilson Lee Flores -
When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes. – Dutch humanist and writer Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536)

Is the pen really mightier than the sword... what about against shotguns? Can promoting book reading and untrammeled press freedom help in the quest to liberate the Philippines from the age-old semi-feudal warlord politics dominating many rural provinces and which has caused so many unsolved murders of journalists in recent years?

A group of five journalists crusading to defend beleaguered or slain rural journalists and who love books recently banded together to open a nice little bookshop called Bound at 105 Scout Castor Street (just a few blocks off Tomas Morato Avenue behind Grappa’s Restaurant), Quezon City.

Bound is a book lover’s dream, due to its specializing in second-hand but good-quality books sold at rock-bottom prices. Its selection ranges from the profound to the profane, from classics to erotica, war and sexuality, history, memoirs, anthologies, the environment and every theme in between, plus religious and children’s books.

The owners of Bound bookstore are National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) chairman and Philippine Graphic editor-in-chief Inday Espina-Varona, ABS-CBN TV broadcaster Bernadette Sembrano, NUJP secretary-general and New York Times stringer Carlos "Caloy" Conde, NUJP officers May Rodriguez and Rowena Carranza-Paraan.

Bound bookstore shares its telephone line (411-7768) and the leased commercial townhouse unit with the NUJP national headquarters on the second floor. The existence of Bound bookstore on the first floor helps lower the rental costs of the NUJP office upstairs. All five co-owners are journalists and first-time entrepreneurs. NUJP is now at the forefront of a campaign seeking justice for numerous cold-blooded killings of journalists, mostly in the rural provinces where political and military warlords are often enraged by media exposes on their widespread corruption, inept governance and human rights abuses.

The five journalists got together for this bookstore venture after the 2004 National Book Award won by the book Unholy Nation, Stories from a Gambling Republic published by Claretian Publications. This volume is a powerful indictment of the pernicious socio/moral/cultural effects of gambling, and among the contributors were Bernadette Sembrano who wrote on the Catholic Church’s role, and Caloy Conde who wrote the story on masiao gambling.

It was Bernadette Sembrano who discovered the space for rent, oversaw construction of the shop and now takes charge of old books. She said: "We personally select all the books we sell here. Our topics range from the inspirational to the erotic (laughs)... I’m a strong advocate of true people empowerment, that’s why I’m part of Gawad Kalinga and Singles for Christ. I believe the high price of imported books is a kind of social injustice. Although I studied Business Administration at UP, this is my very first business venture. It is sad that not a lot of people are reading books. Although I’m connected with television, I am saddened that rather than read, more people prefer to spend hours watching TV rather than reading. People should read more. Sometimes I jokingly wonder, maybe the leaders of our society don’t want the masses to read, so they will be easier to manipulate? We should learn not to depend on government. No matter how poor you are, you still have the capacity to help yourself and others."

Inday Varona said: "We the owners of Bound believe we have a mission to promote reading through affordable books. We’re also bargain hunters so lots of the books are really cheap – cheaper than the bargain bins! And you won’t have to wade through trash to find the gems because we’ve already done that for you. We encourage people to consign their old books here for sale. Some donate their books, with part of the proceeds going to our NUJP Defense Fund for Journalists to defray legal costs of victims of violence. Just today, we received 35 books donated by a certain Sunshine Yu whom none of us even personally knew. We also got a lot of great books from the collection of business journalist Raul Valino. Many others. We encourage people not to horde their books, because books are meant to be read."

Varona said: "Bound aims to be a cultural and intellectual melting pot without pretensions. We’ll soon be having painting and photography exhibits, also poetry and short story readings."

In my three visits to Bound, among the bargain books I purchased were The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx (P30); Robert Kennedy and His Times by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (P30); RFK, A Candid Biography of Robert K. Kennedy by C. David Heymann (P150); and The Will to Live On, This is Our Heritage by Herman Wouk (P50).

More than their taking up the cudgels for slain journalists, the Bound bookshop entrepreneurs are admirable for their earnest efforts in promoting love of reading. Let’s deploy TV/radio, print media, government resources and pop culture stars to push a national habit of reading, all the way to the grassroots level. Who knows, one of those poor kids in a barrio public library might grow up to be the high-tech Bill Gates of Asia, or an enlightened "philosopher king" and leader of our republic.
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Thanks for all your messages. Comments are welcome at [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected], or P.O. Box 14277, OrtigasCenter, Pasig City.











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