Toff De Venecia’s book collection is as diverse as the many interests he has. While he juggles his duties as Young Star columnist, Chalk Magazine Lifestyle Editor, 9 Works Theatrical partner and producer, and at times, Ateneo Blue Repertory director, his shelf boasts of the same variety: one part fiction, one part creative inspiration, many parts theater scripts and references, and a pile of magazines that’s grown too big to fit in.

A school assignment of 22 books to finish over one Christmas break jump-started Toff’s reading history, and from there, he admits to have already taken a liking to more visually enticing work.

“In Harry Potter, if there was a letter, they would illustrate the letter for you. The same thing happened for the Da Vinci Code. If there was a reference for the the Last Supper, they illustrated it for you. Basta me, I like reading great stories, but I’m also very visual. It really helps if there are illustrations that help these ideas.”

During a spontaneous trip to a bookstore in his high school years, Toff picked up his first of many X-Men titles.

“I found myself not even in the literary section, but in the comic book section, and then I saw this cover of the new X-Men. It was a class photo, and I only recognized three X-Men there who weren’t even in their standard costumes anymore. It was Jean Grey, Wolverine, and Cyclops, and all of these students who I didn’t know. It was the Grant Morrison run of X-Men, one of the best ever.”

Since pursuing theater, he has also referred to and collected books on producing and directing:

“I never studied theater, [so] I do collect books on directing and producing and I also have a lot of vocal scores. I do enjoy collecting scripts. If I’d seen them on Broadway, I just like having the written version of it, if there was a particular line that resonated with me, I can go back to that.”
He also devotes most of his time keeping himself up to date with magazines, collecting up to 20 titles per month, including everything from Vanity Fair to Teen Vogue to Rogue.

Recently, while starting a personal project to finish 26 books this year (two per month), he  finished Gregory Maguire’s Wicked.

“It’s so nice,” Toff adds enthusiastically, “I’ve watched the musical twice and the book adds a different dimension to a story I know so well.”

Toff talks to us about a few of the titles that have always stayed with him, since that first reading assignment years ago.

The Giver by Lois Lowry (Part of the 22 book assignment)

“The prospect of a world set in black and white and how they’re not allowed to feel… and then there was this sort of deviant who had the strength to escape that village, I really liked that because I always found myself as a deviant of sorts. I’ve always lived some sort of ‘extraordinary’ life. It was always different, it was never really a traditional kind of life, what with politics and showbiz, and then my house burning. There’s so many extraordinary things that happened to me in my life and I was just really able to relate that to the novel. Of course, when I read it, some of the things that had happened to me now hadn’t happened to me yet but there was already all of that living in the political and the showbiz scene that I was able to establish with that character.”


Animal Farm by George Orwell (Also part of the 22 book assignment)

“I loved that it was like a satire on politics but told through the plight of animals. I ended up taking political science in college and of course my family was rooted in politics so there was something about that that was rooted in me.”


Damn Good Advice by George Lois

“A book that I got for Christmas from my [Young Star] editor [Raymond Ang], really good and again I’m not really ma-text. I love having visuals, and I liked how in that book, the articles are short but they’re very effective and there was always a visual to accompany it.”



“I just really like the story of the mutants, and because I grew up watching the series. It was so easy to translate that visual experience into something that was on paper…I like mutants, they’re always in the underside of society. I don’t know, I always relating with the underdog for some reason. I know, it’s so Pinoy! If it’s a story about underdogs, I can always relate.”


Love You Forever by Robert Munsch

“There were times when I read that book orally, maybe five to six times when I read it to people and all the times I cried. There’s just something about ‘I love you forever, I love you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby will be,’ how the role reverses towards the end, how he’s the one who’s cradling his mother. It’s sort of open ended, but it’s also coming full circle.”



Toff’s column comes out every Friday in the Philippine Star’s Young Star section. He also updates a blog about Manila theater scene, Theaterati, and you can tweet him @imcalledtoffee.  He just started his second book for the year, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. 🙂

For a previous Show Your Shelf feature, click here: Kitkat Pecson’s Corner of Color

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