jenilleWHILE sorting donated books to be put on sale for a charity event called Their Books last week, I felt I had to post the following advisory in our event’s Facebook page:

Their Books would like to advise donors to make sure no personal documents are included in their donations. Their Books has found diaries, planners, photo albums and similar items carrying information about the owners’ finances, family woes and failed relationships. Although grieving over the death of a pet dog and having a jerk for a boyfriend are a universal experience, some people might find other uses of these pieces of personal information.

Their Books vows to help the owners of the information cope with the pain by burning the evidence. But with the volume of donations we’re receiving, it’s not impossible some love letters tucked between the pages will slip undetected and find their way to the shelves. For that we don’t want to be held responsible. At the end of the day, it’s all about the love of the written word and nothing more.

Earlier that day, fellow Sun.Star Cebu editor and columnist Mike Limpag handed me a diary he had found among the books deposited by a donor at the gate of our office building. Mike, a Their Books supporter, was protective enough of a fellow book lover to salvage the diary from the pile of Jane Austens and Julie Garwoods. The item—old, dusty and beaten—contained private information, some so painful even a stranger like me cried copious tears while reading an entry about the owner’s unmet cravings for sundae and French fries.

The next hours saw me commiserating with a single mother who had poured all her pain and anguish unto McDonald paper napkins and tucked them in the pages of her beloved romance novels. The scribbling was so heart-wrenching that for a while I saw tears when there were only ketchup stains.

Mike’s discovery had me scanning the pages of the other books piling up in my work station at the newsroom to check if their donors had not inadvertently left juicy clues about their private lives in between the pages. Most of these books were donated by people who just want to share their love for the written word with fellow book lovers and help raise funds for charity. The least I can do to repay their generosity is to make sure their grocery lists and unpaid bills don’t end up in other people’s bookshelves.

There was a ticket stub to a Pilita Corrales concert at the Cebu Coliseum; an estampita of Saint Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, the patron saint of teachers; a rose petal flattened by time; a plane ticket to Cebu in which the passenger scribbled in bold red “Goodbye Caloocan;” a bus ticket to Santander, Cebu; a doctor’s prescription for painkillers; a photo of Christine Reyes in a pocket calendar; a pink handkerchief with the word “forever;” a stick of Pall Mall; and many other items that speak volumes about their owners.

It’s amazing how a book can be a witness to one mother’s dreams of a better world for her family. In the margins of a book on motherhood, the reader poured out her love for her son: “Finally, a bicycle for you this summer, my little boy.” And in the margins of the next chapter she wrote, “Daddy, this year’s going to be better.” I was relieved the donor didn’t write her name in the book. It made it to the book sale.

We receive hundreds of books for Their Books. And as I warned, we can’t be hundred percent sure we can remove all love letters hidden between the pages.

But at one point, it got us thinking, is all this screening necessary? If the owners of these books cared about their ugly fights with their lovers so much as to document these in paper napkins, why hide them in books that they know they would be giving away in the future?

Books and book lovers  never cease to intrigue us. See you in the next book sale.

SUN.STAR CEBU, SEPT. 28, 2010