Look: A Reader Discovers Gold at The Library of Unread Books in Escolta

The past month has been intense in Manila, judging from the news. But not all were negative, many have been positive and we at WheninMaila.com will strive to share these inspiring stories. One of them is The Library of Unread Books, which showcased at the First Coworking Community in Escolta from June 29 to August 26.

Open to the public, the reference library was made up of donated books that are unread by their previous owners. According to the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design that organized the event, the Library stems from a deep-seated longing for books. “By receiving and revealing that which people choose not to read, the Library is the result of a collective gesture that traces the perimeters of unwanted knowledge.”

One of the Library’s pilgrims, Lorna Lovelace, shares her experience:

Library of Unread Books by Lorna Lovelace

In The Library of Unread Books, there is a feeling of anticipation, a delight over the unknown.

Tsun-doku. (noun) the act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piling it up together with other unread books.

Guilty as charged, I would have to admit that I am constantly buying books and piling them in stacks here at home. It seems habitual for me at this point already. I have lost count of the number of books I have, about 300 (maybe). And yet, I do think that about 80% or 85% of this collection is unread–but I just keep on buying more. There are odd times while I’m in the middle of reading that I would absentmindedly stare at my book piles and think to myself, “just how many lifetimes do I need in order to read all these?”

I believe there’s something about unread books that pulls me to them. When I read about a library of unread books about to be launched somewhere in Manila, I immediately took note of it, and vowed to give this place a visit. The Library of Unread Books is actually a travelling library of donated books, currently in exhibition by the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design at the First United Building in Escolta, Manila. It was originally a part of a series of assemblage sculptures in Singapore, compiled by artist, Heman Chong. The library is intended to be a 10-year-long project with another artist collaborator, Renée Staal.

First United Building Escolta

Escolta used to be one of the most glamorous districts in Manila. Its air of nostalgia is an ideal venue for a library steeped in longing for unread books. In the photo is the First United Building, an Art Deco Building that hosts spaces for start-ups and social enterprises.


Accompanying me in my visit is a mass-market paperback copy of Dragonflight, a sci-fi novel and the first installment in the Pern series by Anne McCaffrey. It’s been with me for years and, just like the other books I have at home that have been gathering dust, it remains unread to this day. I don’t even remember skimming its pages at all. Since I was not keen on reading a series of books, I decided to bring it to a place where somebody might give it the attention it needs – The Library of Unread Books.

One might actually think that this antilibrary could be full of trash – a collection of books that remains unread because they are unreadable, not worthy of one’s time and money. But you’ll be surprised to see a pile of gold in here: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Strange Library by Haruki Murakami, No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre, The Stranger by Albert Camus, 1984 by George Orwell, all in pristine condition. Some were rare copies and first-print publications.

I am not surprised to hear visitors say, “I am so wanting to bring that book home.” Everybody seems tempted to bring yet another piece of object home, like a souvenir from a beach trip, ending up on a shelf, to become unnoticed again.

the Library of Unread Books - First United Building Escolta

What should I read next? A hungry reader asks.

Why are we always drawn to the unknown? There is that element of surprise in every unread book, and it seems to me that the unread ones are much more important than those we have already read. I think one of the best feelings that I get once I’ve finished reading a book is that feeling of anticipation that builds up in me as I wonder, “what should I read next?”

One can never have too many books, it seems. The process of book buying, reading, and learning is just never ending. So is the mystery behind all these unread pages waiting to be unraveled by a hungry reader like me. I do think that we are all unread books waiting to be explored in a library. At the back of our mind, maybe we are saying: “Hi, you’re on page one. This is who I am. Please continue reading.”

With that, an adventure that was waiting to happen finally begins.

After the run of The Library Of Unread Books in the Philippines, it was packed and shipped to Casco Projects in Utrecht, Netherlands.

Did you get to visit The Library of Unread Books? Share your experience in the comments below!

Photos by Lorna Lovelace and the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design


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