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Tuesday 17 September 2019
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Book Junkie on the beach

Ishmael Samad takes reading to Manzanilla seaside

Ishmael Samad at his book shop, The Book Junkie, on Manzanilla Beach. PHOTOS BY ANGELO MARCELLE
Ishmael Samad at his book shop, The Book Junkie, on Manzanilla Beach. PHOTOS BY ANGELO MARCELLE

Imagine sunshine, cool sea breeze on your face, quiet except for the ocean waves, the rustling of the leaves of the coconut trees, the occasional car passing by, and the swish of a turning page.

Whether you’re looking for good conversation or want to read in a peaceful environment, The Book Junkie is the place for you.

Located along the Manzanilla Mayaro Road, on the stretch of coconut trees, grass, flowers and asphalt after what locals call the Cocal Bridge, and in the midst of vendors selling produce, is a shed bursting with books of all kinds. The space is small and can only host a few visitors at a time but a few chairs outside under the shade of the awning is the perfect place to just be.

The Book Junkie is a used book shop, a library where people can come and read, as well as a book club where people can pay $100 for the year to borrow as many books as they wish. It includes a very eclectic collection of novels, books on philosophy, science, theology, history, politics, world affairs and more.

Owner, human rights, animal rights and political activist, Ishmael Samad, said they are miscellaneous books bought over the years at garage sales, book sales, bazaars, etc, and a few from his personal library. He claims to have one of the finest personal libraries in the country and one day he would like to get another “cabin” to house part of his library so people can have access to it.

He said since he opened in mid June, people have been “bowled over” by the novelty of a bookshop on the beach, and they believe he is offering people an experience. He said people visit to bring him books, but some also want to meet “Sledge,” the man who beat down the gate of the Cascade home of former Udecott chairman, Calder Hart, with a sledgehammer in 2010.

Activist Ishmael Samad speaks about his journey to open a book shop on Manzanilla Beach.

“I want the country to know that I’m no longer in the demolition business and I’m not going to lose heart over that. They will find me down at Kernahan junction promoting the love of books and reading!”

To do that he leaves his Maraval home on Fridays and opens on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 am, and sometimes 6 am, to 6 pm. He said he goes to the shop early to experience the sun rise over the Atlantic.

He said most of his visitors are intelligent, young adults because they learned about the Book Junkie on Facebook after a kind stranger took pictures and made him a Facebook page. He said he is not surprised by his main clientèle because, “Nothing will ever replace the book. I’ve always had faith in that and I think reading is making a comeback.”

Books and nature

Samad said reading and collecting books have been his great passions, and books are part of his DNA. As a youth he spent his days at the San Juan Library where he developed his love of reading and books. In fact, his first and last jobs were at book shops, and he used to sell encyclopaedias.

He said the idea of having a book shop occurred to him while he was conducting a bird watching tour into Nariva Swamp, Bush Bush Wildlife Sanctuary. He applied for a stall in the Sangre Grande market where half the stalls were vacant, but was told no books were allowed. Then, one day during a tour he noticed the empty shed and looked into renting it.

“The idea of the books has been coming to me ever since I started doing my birding tours. My idea was a place to store my books and hawk them on the street. I just love sharing books. Since I got refused (at the market) I was looking for another place so I grabbed it. I don’t expect to make money but maybe I would make friends.”

He said people need to get away from urban areas and Manzanilla is a great way to experience the beauty of the country. He has also had meaningful conversations with people who lost their religious convictions and he believes many others were experience such.

A relaxing view from inside The Book Junkie.

“After all my activities you know what I’ve discovered? That life begins at 75! I think I’ve finally found my calling. I would like to think that providence put me here at The Book Junkie, for them to rethink why they have abandoned their faith, to give them a new perspective.

“I think I am providing that outlet for people to recharge their batteries. We have to reconnect with the natural world. There’s something mystical about nature. Every blade of grass, feather on a bird, every butterfly makes a statement that there is a God. You can’t help seeing the grandeur and majesty of the natural world and the logical explanation for it. You can’t help thanking God for the wonderful world He made.”

He said in spite of all its problems he loves TT with a passion. He said much of the landscape is still beautiful, the culture is amazing, and the food is excellent. TT, he said, has produced great people like Nobel prize winners VS Naipaul and Derek Walcott, who he said Trinidadians must claim, as well as people like the first prime minister Dr Eric Williams, economist Lloyd Best, historian CLR James, and calypsonians Garfield "Ras Shorty I" Blackman and Slinger "Sparrow" Francisco and more. “To be born a Trini is to win first prize in the lottery of life.”

Still an activist

Samad told Sunday Newsday he reads widely but he most admires playwright William Shakespeare who “plumbed the depths of the human condition” like no other author.

From the play Othello he quoted, “Good name in man and woman, dear my lord, Is the immediate jewel of their souls: Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing; 'twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands; But he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed.”

As stated in the quote, he believes his most important possession is his “character” and said integrity is his favourite word. Therefore he can not retire from activism. What bothers him the most at the moment, he said, is the extrajudicial killings, as well as the murder rate of the country. He said he was born a Muslim and is now a Christian so he believes human life is sacred. Unfortunately life is being destroyed throughout the country.

“Something has gone tragically wrong on the hills of Laventille. The young men are killing senselessly.... The root problem of all the lawlessness and the killing is because they don’t believe in God, they don’t believe there is an afterlife, they don’t believe there is a day of judgement. To me the most powerful and beautiful idea to enter the human mind is the idea that there is a God... There is a quote: Devoid of a spiritual life, man is capable of any atrocity.”

Acknowledging that his ideas are drastic, he said if he was the prime minister he would go live in Laventille and jog around morning and evening so that the police and army presence would bring a stop to the killing. And if he was the minister of national security he would call a state of emergency to circumvent human rights and put every man not working into a bootcamp for the army to instil discipline and teach them the ten commandments by heart – especially thou shall not kill, thou shall not steal, and thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s house.

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