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F SIONIL JOSE's Solidaridad, the Bookshop
by Leah Guerrero

Source: http://bnext.net/Feature/2002/featstory0610a02.html.

Along the stretch of Padre Faura street in Ermita, tucked between a restaurant and a run-down building, you will find the Solidaridad Bookshop. Owned and managed by National Artist F. Sionil Jose, considered the foremost Filipino novelist in English, this unpretentious place has been called, time and again, "the best little bookstore in Asia."

I stumbled onto Solidaridad by accident. It was during my freshman year in college when I first discovered this gem, but I did not yet realize its worth then. I remember being disappointed during that first visit upon discovering that it does not carry the usual array of fiction novels found in other bookstores. Subsequent visits and a widening of my literary fare, however, soon convinced me of the rarity of such a place.

The place seems like one of those ordinary bookshops you see along the alleys of Manila, though this one was brighter and cleaner. But appearance does deceive, as the shop's small interior and almost spartan design does not tell its role, as the Philippine Daily Inquirer put it, as a "cultural beehive where artists and writers gather to discuss literary, artistic, social, and political currents."

Even the simple sign outside does not herald the fact that it has been graced by numerous writers from here and abroad. But all one has to do to see the evidence is to browse through their collection of foreign and local books. From history, economy, to arts and sociology to religion and of course, literature, the shop more than lives up to its reputation.

Most prominent are Sionil Jose's collection of fiction. They have the original Rosales saga in five books and the condensed The Samsons. Ermita goes for 250 Philippine pesos (US$50 at Php50=$1) and the The Tree, the shortest among the 5 Rosales books, goes for Php95. Fairly affordable prices for Filipino literature such as these.

Also available among the shop's numerous collection of Filipino literature are Bamboo Dancers (NVM Gonzales) and Nick Joaquin's Manila, My Manila. There are poems by Cirilo F. Bautista and a collection of short stories by Edilberto K. Tiempo. A collection of Palanca awardees in the 1990s and a collection of Filipino folktales are also available.

But literature is not the only selling point of the bookshop, as history also occupies its shelves. Noticeable are Renato Constantino's works and the different books about Joseph Estrada's downfall

Contemporary Filipino works are also included in their collection. Eros Pinoy, An Anthology on Contemporary Erotica in Philippine Art and Poetry (edited by Yuson, Cabrera and Aviado) tries to define eroticism, Filipino style through poems, stories and visual images made by the country's top writers and artists. Even Gary Lising's books are available.

Craft books, cook books and along with coffee table books of the visual arts can also be found here. Even new-age books are available. Merde, Excursions in Scientific, Cultural and Socio Historical Coprology by Ralph A. Lewin discusses the broad subject of fecal matter (I kid you not!!).

Also available are books from China, Japan and the Southeast Asia. Works of writers like Anna Kavan, Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita, Speak Memory), James Joyce and Bernard Malamud can also be bought at decent prices. There are also different newspapers and magazines available. The only concession to ordinariness is their sparse collection of Signet Classics and books from authors such as Tami Hoag and Robert Ludlum, which can be bought at any other bookstore.

I think the best thing about Solidaridad is the importance it gives to Filipino writers and their works. It has the largest display of Philippine books anywhere in the Philippines. It introduced me to the treasure that is Filipino literature. It made me realize how the works of Filipino writers and artists are at par with their foreign counterparts. This is where I broadened my horizons to include Filipino folktales and lore. My discovery of Sionil Jose's Rosales saga alone is enough reason for me to recommend the place to everyone. So if you are looking for an alternative to Powerbooks and National Bookstore, try visiting this little corner of Manila where literary treasures await you.
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