For those who don’t live in the Philippines, and/or aren’t familiar with its cities and regions: when Filipinos say “Manila”, oftentimes we refer to Metro Manila — composed of several cities plus one municipality known mainly for balut. It (Metro Manila) has also been called the Gates of Hell by Dan Brown. Sometimes I agree with that label, sometimes I don’t.
As for the actual city of Manila, I’ve been to different places within its borders for the past few months, for work and in my personal time. I was a regular many years ago due to work (a former client’s office is in the Ermita area), and it’s fun for me to rediscover “secret” shortcuts and see new things in a very old city.
The latest Manila adventure brought me and a friend to a small, almost-50-year-old bookstore along Padre Faura, within walking distance of Robinson’s Place Manila (because “malling”, ‘yo).
We were in the area anyway, and we’ve always said we wanted to check it out. So off we went on a sweltering Saturday afternoon, because bookstore visits are always fun for us. 😛
(Tip: Best to park at Robinson’s Place and just walk to Solidaridad. It’s not that far from the Padre Faura exit. You can also park right in front of the store, but slots aren’t guaranteed.)
Owned by National Artist F. Sionil José and operating since 1965, Solidaridad Book Shop — a.k.a. the “best little bookstore in Asia” — should be a mandatory inclusion on every bookworm’s must-visit list. The shelves are full of foreign hard-to-find titles and limited editions, but also (and more importantly!) a wide selection of classic and contemporary works from Filipino writers working across genres.
It was also amusing for me to see the counter lady reading The Snowden Files by Luke Harding. I took that sight as a sign: I’m gonna leave with one or a few books in my bag, and a much thinner wallet. I just knew it.
Of course, the owner’s works are offered in abundance, including all the novels in the Rosales saga, and spread out from the counter to several shelves in the left side of the store. That left side (and right up to the rear middle section) also houses books by other Filipino authors, with work ranging from fiction to historical accounts to textbooks and children’s books to classical work. Found recent titles like EDSA Uno, A Narrative and Analysis with Notes on Dos & Tres and Demons of the New Year, the latter having a PhP250 price tag if I remember right.
We spent most of our time browsing the shelves on the front right side up to the back, with the shelves crammed with modern bestsellers, classics, and limited editions of titles like James and the Giant Peach. There are also dedicated areas for Chinese, Japanese, and Middle Eastern literature; erotica; science, anthropology and theology books; and industry handbooks and guides, among others. The sale and magazine sections are worth a long look, too.
I was so focused on the books that I didn’t notice the little details, at least until we were about to pay for our books. The walls are adorned with posters and printed quotes from writers, and we also saw a pen that F. Sionil José got after a Martial Law-era break-in at the bookstore.
What I loved the most about Solidaridad? If you’re like me and you shiver at the thought of even coming within arm’s length of the Twilight Saga, or mommy porn a la Fifty Shades of Grey, you’ll be damn happy to know you won’t find them here. Gotta love stores with a nicely curated book selection. (Spot the overused “hipster” word!) The selection isn’t exactly for mass market, but it won’t turn off “common readers”, either.
Within an hour, I had picked out four books, and had to drop them off at the counter before I could grab more. In the end, I returned one book to the shelves, and bought three.
This is the part where we talk about money. Solidaridad doesn’t accept credit cards, so you need to have enough cash on you if and when you plan to go book shopping here. There are ATMs nearby, but if you ask me, it would be better for you to withdraw money inside the mall before you go here.
Prices are also higher compared to other bookstores. Most of the imported titles I looked at are within the PhP700-PhP1500 range, but there are books (like the aforementioned Demons of the New Year) below PhP300, and plenty of titles on the sale counter as well. As in any bookstore, you have to browse and dig for a while before finding gems, but the price ranges may make bookworms on a strict budget stop and say “next time nalang“.
We left around 5PM, with a promise to come back. I hope I get to do so within the year — and hopefully, with the National Artist for Literature in the house.
Solidaridad Book Shop
531 Padre Faura St., Ermita, Manila
(632) 254-1086, (632) 254-1068
solidbookshop (at) yahoo (dot) com
Open from Mondays to Saturdays, 9AM-6PM