A love affair with books


W- and I got to know each other over lots of carpool conversations. One time, he gave me a lift downtown. I asked him to drop me off at the Lillian Smith library, which was just a few blocks from my dorm. I had just discovered that I could order books online and have them delivered to a branch close to me, and I was looking forward to a quiet evening with a pile of books.

I hadn’t expected forty-two books to arrive all at once.

I called W- on his cellphone and explained the situation. He drove back, loaded the books into his car, and helped me take the books to my place.

I wonder what he must thought when he saw me with those two large piles of books and big puppy-dog eyes.



After we cleared the dinner settings, W- sat down with Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age. He was nearly done with it, and had been amused by Stephenson’s occasional geek references (pirates and ninjas! Lisp!). I started reading You’ve Got to Be Believed to Be Heard. When I finished before he did, he said, “Sometimes, you scare me.” I made slurping sounds, and he laughed. We joke about this–I practically inhale books. Most nonfiction books are easy to skim. On the other hand, fiction and really well-written non-fiction are meant to be savoured.



“I have some more books for you,” W- said as he walked in the door. He had dropped by the library at his workplace and picked up a few books: one book on women and success, and another book on design.

He often brings home books he knows I’ll like. Two weeks ago, he brought home books about leadership, management, and workplace engagement. Before that, he brought home books on productivity, life, and comics.

He reads them as well. He likes how I bring a constant stream of books into his life, and often enjoys reading my finds.



We went to the library today. W- and I were browsing through the section for graphic novels. Flight Vol. 4 (Kazu Kibuishi) caught my eye. I picked it up and browsed through it, then tucked it into my to-read pile. When I looked up, I noticed that W- already had the next volume in his. That made me smile.



“There seem to be about fifty new books in my account,” W- said over lunch.

I’d borrowed a great idea from a friend and had someone go through my long list of things to read, requesting them from the library if available. My assistant must have put the requests on W-‘s library card instead of mine.

He laughed and corrected himself. “Okay, seventeen outstanding holds.” He read a few titles and smiled. He knows who I am, what I read, and why I read what I read.


I often tell people that my two main reasons for putting up with Toronto’s winters are W- and the Toronto Public Library. In some countries like my homeland, books are hard to get. I want to change that. Someday.

  • “I want to change that. Someday.” Why not “now”?

  • Because right now, dealing with corruption is a scary thing, and I haven’t figured out good ways to deal with it yet. It doesn’t seem fair to deal with it from a distance, either: to just raise money and send books safely from Toronto, and to leave the hard work of organizing and managing such a library to people at home.

    My dad once undertook to clean up R. Hidalgo Street in old Manila, to promote it as a photographer’s destination. He was successful, and he and a number of other photographers held a street photo exhibit there. But in order to clean it up, they had to convince the street vendors to move to a street with less traffic. Many vendors were unhappy with this arrangement. My dad must’ve rocked someone’s boat, because he started receiving anonymous death threats. Between the death threats and the hassle he was going through with the new local government (the old one had supported his plans), my dad decided not to pursue the project any further. The street relapsed into its crowded, confused state. From time to time, the photographers and shopkeepers along that street still urge him to come back and lead them, but he no longer wants to.

    I can invest my charity budget in other things that can make a difference. I support microfinance, for example, and I look forward to being able to invest in entrepreneurs in the Philippines if Kiva can find partners in the Philippines. When deciding between the ease and benefits of microfinance (where I can have a multiplying effect on the local economy) or the uncertainty and effort of trying to establish a local library system in the Philippines (and I would still need someone to arrange physical space, manage it, and so on), it’s much easier–and more trackable–to invest in microfinance, and who’s to say that might not have a more direct impact on society?

    Room to Read is an excellent role model, but not something I have the mindspace to organize or fundraise for right now. =)

  • *learned something from your awesome response*. =)

    Perhaps signing this petition can do something: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/no-to-the-philippine-book-blockade