Secret Lives of Books

Fridays are my absolute favorite day of the week. Except maybe for Saturdays and Sundays, which I am completely in love with. Haha. Can you imagine life without weekends? Because I can, but I don’t want to.


Last night after work, I went to Ayala Museum to check out the exhibit Secret Lives of Books by book designer Karl Castro. The moment I saw the title, I was sold. Totally love the literary wink. Apparently yesterday was International Museum Day so the Ayala Museum was holding a free museum admission for anyone interested. There was a great turnout and the museum was almost full.


The Secret Lives of Books features the stories – from conceptualization to collaboration – of 20 book designs that Karl has done over the years. I especially loved the Killed Studies part of the exhibit where he generously put on display some of the discarded book covers that he labored on.

“But sometimes it’s not necessarily better, just something else. Oh well, such is life.” | I LOVE IT.

I realized last night that book designers are so underrated. Most people would credit the writer, not knowing that completing the whole reading experience is the book designer who’s responsible for the very first thing about the book that catches your attention – the cover itself, which we know we shouldn’t judge, but we do anyway.


It was also such a treat to see Karl’s (yes, first-name basis talaga hahaha) with one of my favorite Filipino writers, Sir Ricky Lee.



Trivia: my undergrad thesis was a study Ricky Lee’s novel Para kay B using postmodern theory and metafiction elements. Okay, I had to go to our university’s library system to check out my thesis and here it is:

The Ultimate know-it-all: A study on the role of the narrator and other features of metafiction in Ricky Lee’s Para kay B

And the abstract:

Ricky Lee’s use of Postmodernism in his novel Para kay B (O Kung Paano Dinevastate ng Love ang 4 Out of 5 sa Atin) is the primary focus of this study. The novel chronicles the love stories of its five women characters- stories which embody several critiques in issues regarding gender, love, and politics. Postmodern concepts such as the use of the features of metafiction are used in analyzing the said novel. Using Patricia Waugh’s ideas on metafiction found in her book Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction, the study is able to prove the status of Para kay B as a work of metafiction because of the presence of these characteristics in the novel: (a) it makes use of an overly intrusive and creative narrator; (b) it problematizes the relationship between literature and reality, and; (c) it calls for a continuous breaking down of particular conventions of fiction writing. The significance of these characteristics lies in their ability to embody the critiques that Lee is making on Philippine society.

Excuse me for a moment, I’m a bit teary-eyed all of a sudden. Haha. Oh how I miss my life as a literature student. But this post is about Karl and his amazing exhibit, so let’s go back to that, shall we?

I shall try to limit my kwento and make this a photo diary kind of entry because you can never really recapture any museum experience. You have to be there, otherwise any recreation will just be mere glimpses of what really transpired.

Sir Ricky Lee


Some cover studies for Para kay B. Sorry for the poor quality of photos; can’t use flash inside the museum. The final cover is a pink version of the semi-final version. I like the first draft at the upper left side, probably because I’m such a sucker for anything handwritten.

Side note: What happened to not making too much kwento? Hahaha.

Dear Karl, they’re not ugly.
Really enjoyed this part. I have to say, though, that the final ending is my favorite.

Just a quick side note: I remember having a conversation with my fried a couple of months back and try as I might, I just couldn’t find the word that I was describing. I kept referring to it as some kind of dangerous trap. It was only last night when I finally remembered the word I was looking for: tropes. Thanks, Karl!

Concrete manifestation
Karl’s body of work includes photography books as well

He also has a thing or two to say about typography, one of the biggest buzzwords in today’s design world. (Yuck, akala mo naman expert ako sa “today’s design world”. Hahaha)

See the difference? Galing, ‘no?
I remember having read somewhere: “When in doubt, use Helvetica black.”

Karl is also one of the creative forces behind the genius and contagious movie poster of one of my favorites and modern-day classic, That Thing Called Tadhana. There was a separate section dedicated entirely to the movie poster and its counterpart book cover.

That thing called adaptive design
Symbol (Visual) + Voice (Text)
Antoinette Jadaone on Karl Castro. Huhu ang galing po ng tandem niyo.

The Secret Lives of Books is at the second floor of the museum and when I couldn’t take all the bookish goodness anymore because I might hyperventilate or something (OA!), I went to the third floor to check out what else is in store. That’s where I saw this and of course I had to take part. Hehe.


On my small leaf-shaped green piece of paper, I wrote: PILIPINAS KONG MAHAL.

Another side story: Inside one of the audio-visual rooms, I was seated beside a young couple who was too engrossed in the historical account of the Martial Law era. I couldn’t help but think how cute it was that their Friday date night was at the museum. Oh okay so it’s past midnight and my defenses are usually down around this time so I’m going to say it: My fragile little heart might have also been broken a little when I saw them because I realized I was alone again, naturally.

(Okay, that was a bit awkward. But moving on…)

The exhibit pieces themselves were arresting enough, but the curation made it a truly quite an experience. I mean, look at the writings on the wall. The text and the style, I’d say it’s nothing short of genius.

Power and duty
“Books, I concede, are my passion, and Christ knows passion is sustaining love even after thorns, betrayals, giant nails.” | I cried a little inside after I read this. So beautiful.


Thank you, Karl.





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