A Short History
I’ve always been a voracious reader for as long as I could remember. My love for all things literary started pretty early, and I devoured each and every book I laid my tiny, uncalloused hands on.
Over the past week, I was telling my sister a story of how I was book-hunting back in January 2004 with a friend in Alabang. I told her how that that day was one of my happiest memories in the Philippines.
My parents flew to the U.S. the night before and my sisters and I ended up staying in Manila for the night. The next day, I met up with a friend and together, we looked for Tibok: Heartbeat of the Filipino Lesbian in bookstores. While the attempt was unsuccessful, I felt a sense of freedom roaming the streets of Manila as a 16 year old, looking for a book that first affirmed my identity.
My mother’s father was also a big reader, and his living room was filled with hardcover titles of crime and investigation, American politics, memoirs and autobiographies. I would “borrow” a book every now and then and pore through the lives of American presidents (as well as the First Ladies’), loving the feeling that with a turn of a page, I’m suddenly thrust in a world that I knew nothing of.
I also went through long episodes of reading the Sweet Valley High series, Danielle Steel, Jude Deveraux and other mass paperbacks that familiarized me with Western culture. I would borrow these from my high school library consistently and not long enough, I was out of books to check out.
I started venturing out to bookstores around the city (San Fernando, Pampanga) and Clark Air Base, where I would come up with lesbian paperbacks from the now defunct Naiad Press. I remember feeling like I knew lesbians from San Francisco (after reading “Swashbuckler”), even lesbian farmers/ranchers in Montana. There were also dyke fairy tales that amused me — a whole anthology of them. I usually found these books in thrift stores and to this day, I still wonder who the first owners of those books were.
When I came to the U.S., books became my salvation. I visited the first library to ever open its doors to me, the Serramonte Public Library in Daly City. I hauled so many titles that I did a thorough research on: Jeanette Winterson, Alice Walker and other LGBT titles that I could find. Dealing with the pain of migration was heartbreaking, reading was the balm.
And then I started working at a bookstore in San Francisco, where I had access to literally every book that I could think of. Not only was I privy to employee discounts, the bookstore also encouraged its employees to “borrow” books one at a time free of charge as long as they were returned in good condition.
Every major shift in life that I’ve experienced have always been book-ended by a title, and I can look at my shelves lovingly and know at which points in my life were they with me, and how much I’ve grown so much with them.
I spend mornings, evenings, lunch breaks turning pages slowly, or fervently. My heart does a little flutter when I walk and see someone holding a book. I let out a smile when I see readers in transit.
“Libromance” is the combination of the Tagalog word “libro” which translates to book, and romance. It encapsulates my own sentiment when it comes to books — the writers, the stories, the worlds within that are waiting to be discovered. This blog is my corner of sharing what I read, for the purpose of connecting and revealing truths about ourselves that we have yet to uncover.
Pia Cortez is a poet and a writer from Pampanga, Philippines, currently residing in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her favorite word aside from libro is bukang-liwayway, or “dawn” in English.
She can be reached at hello [at] libromance [dot] com
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