V-Day Special: A Dose of Romantic Realism

#GetLit, Love, Soul + Spirit, Sunday Spotlight

No matter what you call it, February 14 is always either welcomed or dreaded every time it comes around. I mean, we can choose not to honor it at all and celebrate these other things instead: One Billion Rising (a global campaign to end violence against women), Singles Awareness Day (the anti-Valentine’s) or my personal favorite, doubling up on self-love.

But what’s up with this Hallmark-manufactured holiday that has pervaded our culture so predominantly? Is it just a perk of capitalism or is it really an honest-to-goodness celebration of love beyond the flowers, chocolates and fancy dinners?

Like it or not, there’s something about Valentine’s Day that induces a wellspring of well-meaning and well-intentioned actions. I went to my local grocery store last night to pick up a bunch of ingredients for a recipe and lo and behold — a section of the store was filled with red balloons, ornate flower arrangements and a queue of men/dads/uncles with something in hand. More than the material expressions of love, I think there’s actually more to the holiday than gifts or anything else. And it dawned on me: what it comes down to is a primal need for intimate and authentic connections with the people around us. 

It is in our human nature after all, to want and need these connections. I guess what conflates how we view and experience intimate relationships is the notion of romance. I’ve been thinking a lot about this since I read Alain de Botton’s The Course of Love (check out my 2-part book review here!), a fictional story about a couple and their relationship interjected with philosophical and psychological musings on love. When The Sorrows of Love book was published by The School of Life (also founded by de Botton), I knew instantly that it was something I wanted to highlight:

Love has, quite unfairly, come to be associated with being happy. However, it is also one of the most reliable routes to misery.

We tend to treat our sadness individually, as if it were unique and shameful. But, as this book explains, there are some solid reasons why love should be highly sorrowful at times. The good news is that, by understanding our romantic troubles and griefs, seeing them in their proper context and appreciating their prevalence, we will cease to feel so alone and so cursed.

This essay is not a study in despair; it is a guide to a more consoling, humane, and in its own way, joyful perspective on the complexities of love.

So what’s Romantic Realism and why do we need it? Here’s a gist of the book in photos:

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And in the spirit of this day — I’m giving away three digital copies of the book! Sign up for the blog by sending an email to hello@libromance.com or filling out the form below:

No matter what you do thought, make sure this day is yours and spend it the way you see fit, honoring what feels true and authentic to you.

From my bookish heart to yours,
Pia xx

Deviant Lives, with Carmen Maria Machado (A Book Review of ‘Her Body and Other Parties’)

Book Reviews, Fiction, Love, Writing

I picked up Carmen Maria Machado’s book of short stories Her Body and Other Parties (Amazon | Indiebound) after seeing it on the National Book Awards shortlist for fiction. The title first drew me. I looked up to see who Machado was and found she’s a queer Latinx (yes!), which made me want to read her work even more. And whoa. As soon as I finished one story, I knew I was in for a wild, beautiful ride.

The first story on the book called The Ribbon was my first introduction to Machado. Hers is a concise but weighty voice, one that told the story but kept important details hidden. It was both what she is and what she isn’t saying that drew me even closer to the text, a kind of magnetic pull impossible to resist.

I think it’s also in the way she writes about women in the book, filled with audacious desire and a wonderfully overwhelming presence that had me enthralled. They were eerie in their brilliance, as if something hummed underneath the story line.

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Sunshine Like a Stick of Butter, with Rachel Khong (A Book Review of ‘Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel’)

Book Reviews, Fiction, Love

It was just few years ago when my grandmother, who I was named after, started leaving plates of food on the table. For my grandfather, she says. At that time my gramps, a notorious womanizer, has been dead for at least 10 years. She then started accusing household help of stealing items she’s kept away, or for sneaking out when she’s sent them to run errands for her.

I was about 7,000 miles away from her when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She passed soon shortly after that.

Grandma was on my mind when I first started reading Rachel Khong’s Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel (Amazon | Indiebound), a story about a year-long care-giving of a daughter for her ailing father suffering from the same sickness.

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After her mom suggested she move back for a year to help care for her father, Ruth slowly establishes a life back at their home in southern California. In the midst of reacquainting herself with her father’s new ways (a sour temperament, always holed up in his home office), she also recounts moments from her last failed relationship.

Ruth cooks for his father, studies and avoids what could exacerbate his symptoms, is diligent in ensuring he takes what he needs. But it isn’t so simple, she finds out. It started with him forgetting his wallet, then forgetting to turn the faucet off until it got to a point where he would show up to teach a class at the university on the wrong day.

In one of many attempts of trying to regain “normalcy” in his life, Ruth and some of his father’s mentees and colleagues employ an elaborate set-up. As agreed upon by everyone, they would pretend that he is back in the university teaching, as the “students” pretend to move the class from one place on campus to restaurants across town to avoid being caught. His father seems to be his old self back.

Loving in Ireland, with John Boyne (A Book Review of ‘The Heart’s Invisible Furies’)

Book Reviews, Fiction, Love, Soul + Spirit

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Before I picked up John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies (Indiebound), I must confess that I barely knew anything about Ireland. The most I’ve read about the country and its history was from Michael Pollan’s book The Botany of Desire, wherein he mostly talked about how a crop, the infamous potato, from a historical, political and epistemological context in the country.

The book centers around Cyril Avery, an Irish gay man who survived. Emphasis on the last word because he did, in every essence, survived everything he went through from being carried in his mother’s womb in the beginning of the book until its last page.

I was traipsing in the Riviera Maya when I started reading the book so that probably made it a little harder for me to get acclimated to. While I was burying my feet in the warm Caribbean sand, it occurred to me that The Heart is probably not the best beach read (whatever that means). But I forged ahead, certain that Boyne had an important story to tell with Avery.

And boy did he! I wasn’t prepared for the kind of violence in the book, even though it’s the kind I’ve known throughout my life even as a young girl in the Philippines. Ireland in 1945 following the declaration of a free Irish State in 1922 was largely influenced by the Roman Catholic Church. Spain brought Catholicism to the Philippines in the 1500s as part of conquest strategy, while Catholicism in Ireland dates back to the fifth century with a history rich with violence itself.

This violence brought on by the Catholic Church: from Cyril’s mother’s exile from her town after getting pregnant out-of-wedlock to the pervasiveness of homophobia in Irish society which resulted to violent deaths. It wasn’t surprising then when one of the characters, whose lover was murdered by his own father on accounts of being gay, would say this:

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On Love & Refuge, with Mohsin Hamid (A Book Review of “Exit West”)

Book Reviews, Fiction, Love

When Warsan Shire, Nigerian poet wrote No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark, I knew that in spite of my experiences as an immigrant, I knew nothing about being a refugee.

Since the refugee crisis broke in the Middle East, I’ve read different stories about the forced migration of millions of people from Libya, Syria and other countries to neighboring nations and particularly Europe.

Much of the focus in the media has been the trek itself — from buses of refugees in the Balkans, boats carrying migrants capsizing in the Mediterranean sea from Libya to Italy, where they could be met with people smugglers and human traffickers.

Over a year ago, I wrote about how I’ve always turned to literature to try to make sense of things. As I plow through my #FinestFiction reading list, the refugee crisis came to light again as I picked up Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (Amazon | Indiebound).

The book follows the lives of reluctant lovers (at first), Nadia and Saeed in the process of living, of leaving. Saeed is very much the son of his parents, timid and reserved, while Nadia is out on her own, having left the roof of her parents’ house as soon as she was able to. She dons black robes for protection, as she rides her motorcycle through the city of an unspecified country.

ExitWest - QuotesIt is a love story as much as it is a story of migration and transitions. Instead of focusing on the journey out, what Hamid focused on was how wars move and change people. In Exit West, he showed this up close.

The unfolding war within the city felt personal. It felt incredibly intimate. One day Nadia and Saeed would meet after spending the day in their respective offices, the next day they were left wondering why one of their bosses stopped coming to work, eventually closing down the business.

Electricity went out. People locked themselves in, bolted their doors. Neighbors became militants. With attacks happening daily and fearing for their lives and safety (and sanity), the two sought to find a way out.

Doors, which became prominent throughout the book, became the mode of transportation. I found it funny that I was reading about doors again, after just having read Magda Szabó’s The Door. After paying an agent and putting their trust in a man they barely knew, they waited and prayed for passage.

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Soon they were in settled in a camp in Mykonos. And then in a mansion in London. And then in another camp, where they worked daily to build homes for other refugees. And finally, in the Marina past San Francisco.

They passed through many doors, as other people around the world did in search of home, of love, of safety. With each time they emerged from the other side, they became more of themselves. That even though they went through the same horrific situations, as victims of xenophobic and racist attacks, Hamid focused more on the ebb and flow of their relationship.

I once read a Goodreads review that summed up this book in a phrase: quietly brutal, quietly beautiful. This book was a brilliant read that made me tear up multiple times. Hamid’s language is simple, his words sparse but searing as he narrates a tale of love and refuge, of how we seek safety and comfort in foreign places, in each other, from strangers.

In her poem, Warsan also wrote no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear saying – leave, run away from me now, I don’t know what I’ve become. As much as time changes all of us, being far-flung changes the dynamics and the chemistry of love. Nothing is ever the same, and the key is to let it all out in the open, whether it changes us or not.

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Exit West (Amazon | Indiebound) by Mohsin Hamid
Riverbed Books (240 pages)
March 7, 2017
My rating: ★★★★★
Exit West

What You Know, What You Don’t: A Story of Marriage by Lauren Groff

Book Reviews, Fiction, Love

“Paradox of marriage: you can never know someone entirely;
you do know someone entirely.”

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Trust Green Apple, a local bookstore which has been my go-to for a decade now, to hand you the next best read just when you needed it. Right there on the corner of a long table of bargain books was Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies (Amazon | Indiebound) at $7.95. Of course I had to get it.

And what a wonderful decision it was to walk away from the bookstore, holding between my calloused brown fingers a world I was about to submerge in, the world of Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite and Mathilde Yoder.

I usually balk, roll my eyes, make a face at the mention (even hint) of “chick lit.” Aka beach reads. Aka “light lit” that to this day, I’m still challenging exactly what it comprises of. To be fair though, someone gifted me with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love (Amazon | Indiebound) after I’ve repeatedly ignored it or walked past it on shelves and ended up loving it. Absolutely loving it, no matter how problematic it was.

But this was no chick lit as I had originally assumed. I was also slightly comforted by the “National Book Award Finalist” sticker on the cover because I have so much trust in Lisa Lucas. Fortune Smiles (Amazon | Indiebound) by Adam Johnson won that year.

A unity, marriage, made of discrete parts. Lotto was loud and full of light; Mathilde, quiet, watchful.

Fates and Furies is the story of Lotto and Mathilde’s marriage, told from both their viewpoints. Fates is Lotto’s side while Furies is Mathilde’s. The novel begins with quite possibly the most tender scenes I’ve ever read, just a few moments right after the couple gets married and each is lost in his or her own thoughts. On the beach, the ocean all to themselves. And then it pans out to Lotto’s childhood — from how his parents met, his youth and the eventual death of his gentle giant of a father, Gawain.

After his father’s untimely death, Lotto plunges within himself straight into a dark, deep well. This is where I first started to root for him and his happiness.

He began to live for the sand, the beer, the drugs; he stole his mother’s painkillers to share. His sorrow for losing father went vague during the day, though at night he still woke weeping.

It was through his friends, particularly Chollie (who reminded him of his father) and through Mathilde that he was able to feel at home, with himself again.

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Throughout the first part of the book, it’s easy to be enamored of Lotto just like how every girl in their world seemed to be. From his days in college to his newfound fame as a playwright later on, his was a character that enchanted and captivated you. I don’t know if it’s his profound loneliness that made you want to empathize with him, but even at his lowest he was lovable.

His father’s death had been so sudden, forty-six, too young; and all Lotto wanted was to close his eyes and find his father there, to put his head on his father’s chest and smell him and hear the warm thumpings of his heart. Was that so much to ask?

An Unlikely Currency: Books

Book Reviews, Love, Soul + Spirit

Peso, dollar, time. As a Filipino teenager who migrated to the U.S. in the early 2000’s, my understanding of currency has always been mangled. I always used to marvel at the peso-dollar rate when I was still in the Philippines, not knowing the economic implications of how a dollar is worth fifty times more than the peso. The dollar was pervasive in the country, with thousands leaving its borders for better opportunities abroad.

As I got older, I had to wrap my head around the intangible currency of time. Of how one can buy, spend or invest time in something or on someone; how it can be measured, and of what so little or a lot of it equates to. And how people are increasingly in favor of this intangible currency versus its tangible form on paper.

I wasn’t really thinking about these things until I started reading Nina George’s debut novel, The Little Paris Bookshop. Jean Perdu, the main character, owns a bookshop called the Literary Apothecary which rests atop the Seine River in Paris. The Literary Apothecary is a floating book barge filled with numerous titles, comfy chairs, cats (Kafka and Lindgren) wherein you can come in with an ailment (mostly of the heart) and sure enough, come out with a title that promises of a cure.

One of my favorite things in the book was Perdu’s process for compiling what he called his “Encyclopedia of Emotions for Literary Pharmacists”: A for ‘Anxiety about picking up hitchikers’, E for ‘Early risers’ smugness’ and Z for ‘Zealous toe concealment, or the fear that the sight of your feet might destroy someone’s love for you.’ It reinforces the way that words are able to capture emotions so succinctly and in this case, quite literally.