Women in Translation: Five Women Authors You Need to Read for #WITMonth

August seems to be a gift for lovers of the printed word: August 9 is National Book Lovers’ Day, and I just recently discovered that it is also Women in Translation Month.

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Founded by Meytal Radzinski, WITmonth was first celebrated in 2014 aiming to honor the work of women writers and to give recognition to their work in translation. Apparently, only 30% of work that has been translated in English are by women. This means that there is still so much literature out there, from critical and necessary voices, that the rest of the world don’t have access to.

There are some complexities though that I do want to acknowledge, such as the assignation of English as the de facto language of the world, and how this celebration caters to English speakers and readers only. It can be said in the same vein that we all need to seek out the work, voices and stories written in other languages, by perhaps learning a little bit of other languages ourselves.

I also have my own self-criticism when it comes to language. Even though my first language is an ethno-dialect (Kapampangan, since I grew up in the province of Pampanga in the Philippines) followed by Tagalog, I can read and write more effectively in English. I guess you can say that that’s how pervasive and all-encompassing Western influences are in my home country, but I’ll save that story for another post.

But complexities within the self, in the translation and publishing industries aside, I am ecstatic that at the moment, there is movement towards a global collaborative project to help remedy the discrepancy between the amount of works by women published in English translation, and how they are critically received. And I am all for it.

Three writers come to mind immediately: Filipino writer Lualhati Bautista, Hungarian writer Magda Szabó and Rabih Alameddine’s book An Unnecessary Woman.

51cdofnjrql-_sx287_bo1204203200_I read and reviewed Lualhati Bautista’s book Desaparesidos a few weeks ago, a novel about a family who survived martial law in the Philippines. The book was written entirely in Filipino and it took me some time to get through parts of it. I wanted to read more texts by Bautista after finishing the book, to delve more into Filipino literature specially work written only in our language. Still, I knew that there was a lot of significance in ensuring that her work is also accessible to non-Filipino folks, who could gain a lot in understanding the people’s historical and political contexts.

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The Door by Magda Szabó was another searing read, set in a small town in Hungary.The book was originally published in 1987 and was translated in 1995 for American publication by Stefan Draughon, and again in 2005 by Len Rix for British publication. This was a searing read for me. I still remember Emerence, one of the main characters in book, quite vividly.

51vj2zhpybl-_sx333_bo1204203200_I remembered Alameddine’s book An Unnecessary Woman too, a book about a woman who translated books and noted classics for herself, starting with a new book at the beginning of every year. A woman who reveled in the company of books, in the dutiful work of translating, not for other people but only for herself.

Other than these titles, I haven’t really come across other books by women authors in translation, but it’s something I want to read more of. This list from Words Without Borders is aspirational, and I’ve noted so many titles that I plan on adding to my own TBR list.

I’m particularly interested in the work of Asian writers like Han Kang, although I wouldn’t shy away from Svetlana Alexievich or Elana Ferrante. I want to read about perspectives that challenge the American norm, style and voice. I want to engage in text that views the world outside of my own very Western-centric bubble.

After combing through lists online and this non-exhaustive trove of newly translated work by women authors, here are five women authors you and I should read this year:

Han Kang
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The South Korean novelist Han Kang won the Man Booker International Prize for fiction on Tuesday for her surreal, unsettling novel, The Vegetarian, about a woman who believes she is turning into a tree. Widely praised by critics in the United States and Britain, The Vegetarian is Ms. Han’s first work to be translated into English. (The New York Times)

Qiu Miaojin
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“One day it dawned on me as if I were writing my own name for the first time,” the narrator of Notes of a Crocodile declares in the early pages. “Cruelty and mercy are one and the same.” This way of reframing dualities within a binary system — and pummeling that system — is the soul of this thrillingly transgressive coming-of-age story by the Taiwanese writer Qiu Miaojin. Bonnie Huie’s translation is nothing short of remarkable — loving, even; one gets the sense that great pains have been taken to preserve the voice behind this lush, ontological masterwork. (The New York Times)

Carmen Buollosa
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Carmen Boullosa (born in Mexico City in 1954) is one of Mexico’s leading novelists, poets, and playwrights. She has published fifteen novels, the most recent of which are El complot de los románticos, Las paredes hablan, and La virgen y el violin, all with Editorial Siruela in Madrid. Her works in English translation include They´re Cows, We’re Pigs; Leaving Tabasco; and Cleopatra Dismounts, all published by Grove Press, and Jump of the Manta Ray, with illustrations by Philip Hughes, published by The Old Press. Her novels have also been translated into Italian, Dutch, German, French, Portuguese, Chinese, and Russian. (Words Without Borders)

Svetlana Alexievich
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In conversations with Svetlana Alexievich, it quickly becomes apparent that she is more comfortable listening than she is talking. That’s hardly surprising: the Belarusian writer has spent decades in listening mode. Alexievich, now 69, put in thousands of hours with her tape recorder across the lands of the former Soviet Union, collecting and collating stories from ordinary people. She wove those tales into elegant books of such power and insight, that in 2015 she received the Nobel prize for literature. (The Guardian)

Basma Abdel Aziz
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Basma Abdel Aziz is a psychiatrist, writer, and sculptor. A long-standing vocal critic of government oppression in Egypt, she is the author of several works of nonfiction. In 2016 she was named one of Foreign Policy’s Global Thinkers for her debut novel, The Queue, which was also nominated for the longlist for the 2017 Best Translated Book Award. She lives in Cairo. (Words Without Borders)

If you have any other recommendations, leave them in the comments below and happy WITmonth!

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Books for Days: My August Reading List

A quick update: I met my reading goals last month! Every book in my July reading list was crossed off, with a day to spare (which gave me a good head start for August).

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You can find my book reviews here, with another one coming out next week for Magda Szabó's The Door:

I Paint My Reality by Frida Kahlo
The Botany of Desire 
by Michael Pollan
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
 by Arundhati Roy
Gagamba: A Novel by F. Sionil José

I usually read 4-5 books a month, giving myself a week to finish each one. But my #FinestFiction reading challenge has actually challenged me to change it up a bit, so that I can meet my goal of reading all of the books longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize by October.

And I'm off to a great start! I've already finished two on my list, and I'm slowly making my way through two new ones. Two of the books on the list are actually advanced reader copies, and I'm so delighted that I got the chance to read and review them. I also started using Book of the Month, which lets me buy copies at a much cheaper price.

I'm doubling my reading efforts this month, and already I feel a slight tinge of anxiety because I know I'm on a schedule. So how do I manage to read up? The biggest thing is cutting up screen time. If there is any indication of how I should find more time to read, the previous week was a successful trial.

In a day, I managed to find about 2-3 hours of reading time — on my breaks at work, when I'm moving my car (which is every two hours), after dinner, before bed. On days when I'm not in meetings, you can usually find me curled up on the couch, with a book in hand and a cup of tea in the other.

On Tuesday last week, I finished Mohsin Hamid's Exit West on my lunch break. It felt so disorienting to be immersed in the life of the main characters of the book, this couple who fled their homeland, and know so many intimate details about them while I slowly walked back to my desk.

I also noticed how a thread of connection in each title coarses through what I read: the edition of The Door I have is written with a preface by Ali Smith, whose book I'm getting ready to read in a couple of weeks. Doors were also a common theme in Exit West, as I stared at many, many entryways in my physical realm.

With each book I finish, my world gets bigger. And I am humbled by the fact that the more I learn, the less I know. I let it all sink in. I like to think that there are many, many rooms within my body, where each of the most memorable characters I've read live. Emerence from The Door lives somewhere in my chest, Anjum from The Ministry of Utmost Happiness behind a door in my left shoulder.

Here are this month's titles:

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Amazon | Indiebound)
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay (Amazon | Indiebound)
The Fix by Jonathan Tepperman (Amazon | Indiebound)
How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry (Amazon |Indiebound)
Tuwing Ikatlong Sabado (Every Third Saturday) by Words Anonymous, edited by Juan Miguel Severo (Goodreads)
Autumn by Ali Smith (Amazon | Indiebound)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Amazon | Indiebound)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Amazon | Indiebound)

If you've read or are currently reading any of these titles, let me know in the comments below. Happy reading!

#FinestFiction: Reading the 2017 Man Booker Longlist

Since the 2017 Man Booker Prize longlist came out, I’ve been stewing on this thought: so many books, so little time. After my pseudo-dramatic rant on Friday, and after perusing the aisles and shelves of Green Apple Books & Music in San Francisco, I made my decision: this summer, I’ll be reading all of the books on the longlist. 

What is the Man Booker Prize? Here’s a little history:

From the very beginning of what was originally called the Booker Prize there was just one criterion – the prize would be for “the best novel in the opinion of the judges”. And 45 years later that is still a key sentence in the rules.

‘It is a measure of the quality of the original drafting that the main ambitions of the prize have not changed. The aim was to increase the reading of quality fiction and to attract “the intelligent general audience”. The press release announcing the prize elaborated on this: “The real success will be a significant increase in the sales of the winning book… that will to some extent be shared not only by the authors who have been shortlisted, but, in the long run, by authors all over the country.”

Since I started this blog last year, I’ve become more aware of the literary industry in different aspects. Recognition like the Man Booker Prize, Pulitzer and National Book Awards have helped me decide which books to read, and which books to pay attention to. In an ocean of titles, a lone sailor needs all the help she can get.

In addition to classics that I haven’t read, I look to these key events throughout the year to give me an idea of what  to read next along with book club recommendations (thank you, Oprah!) and national bookseller lists (thank you Michiko Kakutani and Pamela Paul!).

Once the winner is announced, oftentimes I find myself wishing I could identify with the judges’ call — whether I agree with their choice or vehemently oppose it. Last year, I attempted to read the shortlist for the National Book Award but only got to two out of five. I had run of time, and my TBR list was overflowing.

So what books will these be? Here’s a quick video:

2017 Man Booker Prize Longlist: 

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (US) (Faber & Faber)
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Ireland) (Faber & Faber)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Ireland) (Canongate)
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (UK) (4th Estate)
Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK) (JM Originals)
The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (India) (Hamish Hamilton)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US) (Bloomsbury)
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (UK-Pakistan) (Bloomsbury)
Autumn by Ali Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
Swing Time by Zadie Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (US) (Fleet)

Called the #FinestFiction, I’m happy to say that I’ve read three of the books on the list (links to the book reviews above). That means I have ten books left, and I’m gearing up to read Exit West by Mohsin Hamid next after finishing Magda Szabó’s The Door. Last year’s winner was Paul Beatty’s The Sellout which I also reviewed on the blog. With about a month and half before the shortlist comes out and two months and a half until the announcement of the prize winner, I’m thrilled to discover what the judges have seen in these titles.

baroness20lola20young2c20201720man20booker20prize20chair20of20judges20-20credit20janie20airey2028329_3“Only when we’d finally selected our 13 novels did we fully realise the huge energy, imagination and variety in them as a group.  The longlist showcases a diverse spectrum — not only of voices and literary styles but of protagonists too, in their culture, age and gender.  Nevertheless we found there was a spirit common to all these novels: though their subject matter might be turbulent, their power and range were life-affirming – a tonic for our times.”

–Baroness Lola Young,
Chair of the 2017 Man Booker Prize judges

Hope you can join me in this challenge by reading one, two, three or all of them!

A Brief, Personal History with Food

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

I gifted Michael Pollan’s Food Rules (Amazon | Indiebound) to all my aunts and uncles one Christmas, along with a plant. The slim volume just came out a few months before that and I thought of it as the best manifesto for eating, the perfect holiday present. Since reading In Defense of Food (Amazon | Indiebound), I’ve become a huge Michael Pollan fan. I loved how he dissected the most mundane things like grocery shopping, and turned them into such internally provocative gestures which revealed a lot more about ourselves and the world we live in that we initially thought of. (I’m not sure how well the books were received though — we are a family of carnivorous folks with a penchant for rich and salty food).

 This time around, I’m back to another one of Pollan’s book: The Botany of Desire (Amazon | Indiebound). I’ll save all the details of the book for the review later this week but reading it touched on something I’ve been thinking about for a while now.

As I get older (and as what older folks used to tell me), my body is not just as receptive as it was before to food. Sure, I’ve gained a few pounds and it’s been a lot harder to shed most of it than when I was 25 (I have a really high metabolism which is a curse and a blessing at the same time, if you ask me). I’ve also never been into sweets before (even as a young kid)  but these days, a week can’t go by without a cup of milk tea with tapioca. I tend to bobafy myself pretty consistently, just check my Instagram story.

I know which food is good for me, and I know which food will make me feel like crap. After a recent trip to the Philippines, I was jet lagged and depressed for days. After waking up at 2 on a Thursday morning feeling like I need to pack my bags and move back to the homeland, I decided to make myself some food. I fried some SPAM and eggs, ate it with rice and crawled back to bed, feeling a lot more at peace. I slept like a baby.

My own trips to the grocery store (Trader Joe’s to be exact) got me coming home with a bag full of the following things: eggs, chicken sausages, spinach, kale or arugula, ground turkey or chicken, chile dried mangoes and a bag of nacho cheese chips. By the end of the week, only the eggs, chicken sausages and the bag of chips would be fully consumed. There are weeks where I end up wasting so much food that it deters me from even going to the grocery store to begin with.

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Saturday brunch at Berkeley Social Club, featuring the tastiest and crunchiest Yukon potatoes ever.

So what do I eat? I tend to go to the cafe at my workplace which is relatively healthy and cheap (with some extremely processed options) or order food for delivery which has become quite an expensive habit. I also love to eat out, another drain in my bank account. At home, the rice cooker is usually brimming with cooked, white rice. The cupboard is stocked with many, many cans of processed food and bags of chicharron (fried pork rinds). Living with my family has been incredibly nourishing but alas, also fattening.

It’s quite apparent: I have a hard-to-break predilection towards processed food. SPAM, hotdogs, sausages, corned beef. I want them all, any time, any day. All of these things tell me one thing: that food is largely emotional for me. It was only in the past few weeks that I realized I was just mimicking what I grew up with back in the Philippines: an abundance of salty, processed food (we lived about an hour away from a U.S. military base) and the instantaneous presentation of meals (I grew up with Ate Marie, our nanny and cook). All of it finally made sense.

Reading The Botany of Desire (Amazon | Indiebound) then was something special because instead of just analyzing man’s relationship with food, Pollan went deeper into man and society’s relationship with plants instead, correlated to our different desires.

This perspective just turned my head around, because it gave me an appreciation of how plants can also possibly view the world around them. Affirming the life inherent in each morsel I bite does something to me, turning what I thought I already knew into an expanded version of reality, rife with biodiversity.

As I challenge my salty and processed food-seeking tastebuds, I’ll be keeping Pollan in mind, along with the philosophy, history and politics of food, of plants.

Best Books of the First Half of 2017: A Libromance Round-up

The goal is to get to 54 and halfway through the year, I’m a little behind on my Goodreads 2017 Challenge by three. Nevertheless, I’ve been really happy and humbled by the books my hands have held within the past six months. Whether I was at work, in the Philippines or in my bed, each book has been a testament to the lasting and infinite power of literature to move worlds for me.

Some were good, some were really, really good, and there were a few that were just insanely great. There were some titles that surprised me, and one that I didn’t expect to love so much. All in all, it has been a great half a year for Libromance — I’ve managed to finish every single book I started. Last year, there were a few titles I had to put down (or chuck across the room) and politely say “maybe another time” (or yell “hell naw!”).

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My book reviews of the best books may or may not have done the actual book justice but they are my genuine attempts of synthesizing and opening up a bit of their worlds to everyone. If you’ve read them, let me know what you think of these books in the comments! And if you haven’t — you’re in for a wonderful ride. Trust me.

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Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
My rating: ★★★★★

I’m not sure where I should start after reading Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing but here are three things I know: 1) reading a story that challenges your own political ideology is tricky, 2) it takes a great storyteller to illustrate the complexity and intimacy — really, the humanity — of the other side, and 3) that the author was fully able to transcend point no. 1 and effectively accomplish point no. 2.

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9780295993539America is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan
My rating:  ★★★★★

Bulosan’s writing, along with the arousal of his political consciousness was a tough reconciliation with the America he longed for versus the America that nearly killed him. There are many parallels to the movement of Filipinos with those of other oppressed populations, and what I’ve firmly believed in has only been cemented after reading this book: repression breeds resistance, and it is only through collective struggle that it can be overcome.

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alvarIn the Country: Stories by Mia Alvar
My rating: ★★★★★

The other seven stories in the book are all mesmerizing on their own right, bringing forth different voices that engage and resonate with readers. Up close, Alvar provides an intimate portrayal of economic and political shifts in action, how they affect people’s lives and alter people’s stories. It’s impossible not to be an activist after finishing this.

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51joe-ijmkl-_sx322_bo1204203200_The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf
My rating: ★★★★★

To understand Alexander Von Humboldt, as told brilliantly by Andrea Wulf in The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World is to see the natural world in relation to everything — philosophy, art, music, poetry, politics and most of all, ourselves.

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9781594634482Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
My rating: ★★★★★

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 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.

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Desaparesidos by Lualhati Bautista
My rating: ★★★★★

I saw all of these when I read Lualhati Bautista’s book Desaparesidos, a novel about a family’s struggle during Marcos’s martial law. Anna is a mother, a widow, a survivor of torture and a former member of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines that the administration was trying to crush. The book revolves around her struggle and her story, from the time that she was part of the NPA, to her abduction where she was tortured and raped, to the time when she was imprisoned, and up until she went back to her civilian life as an NGO worker.

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Shout-out to Resh of The Book Satchel for the inspiration of this post.

A Message of Love and Pain, with Frida Kahlo

I used to work at Borders Books & Music in San Francisco, attached to a mall and close to a university. Having just come back from a trip to the Philippines where I tried to hold and maybe rekindle the type of young love you read about, I was more than happy to be buried and surrounded by books.

It was here where I first discovered Frida Kahlo. I don’t remember the first time I started learning about her, but I do remember buying a book of all her paintings. I didn’t know much about Frida, but her work resonated with me immediately even before I knew her story or the stories behind her paintings.

A decade later, I was standing in front of La Casa Azul in the beautiful neighborhood of Coyoacán, about half an hour away from Mexico City. I’ve wanted to visit Frida Kahlo’s home-turned-museum for a long time and standing there, in the middle of the lush foliage and blue walls of the compound I felt like I’ve truly achieved a milestone.

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La Casa Azul, June 2017

Stepping into La Casa Azul felt a lot like stepping into a dream, into the world of Frida. It took me a while to believe that I was really there and I wanted to see everything and do nothing at the same time, for the sheer joy of being in the space. It felt sacred.

There were people in the courtyard, sitting on benches and talking, people milling about, people taking photos. There was also an area off to the side where there was a film showing, as more folks trickled in and out of the space. We headed straight to the museum which led to what became Frida and Diego’s home for awhile.

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These were some of the first few paintings I saw: an unfinished self-portrait sketch made in Detroit, Frida and the Cesarean (also unfinished) and a a painting called “Marxism will bring health to the sick” which features Frida wearing a leather corset and a Tehuana skirt.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of Frida’s paintings in person, so seeing these was a gift. Most of her paintings are also all over the world — in prestigious institutions like the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, in universities, in private collections and with close friends of hers and Diego’s like Dolores Olmedo. I was planning to visit Olmedo’s museum to check out more of Frida’s work but at the time, the exhibit was under construction.

Throughout her paintings — unfinished or completed — Frida’s lust for life was evident. In spite of her illnesses, the numerous miscarriages she had and the heartaches she’s  had to endure from Diego, she radiated what she painted in the simplest, but also grandest terms: Viva la ida.  Long live life.

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After her (and Diego’s) paintings were also photographs of Frida herself, with eyes that pierced and a stance that was bold and fearless. I stared at one of her photos, one from Lucienne Bloch’s series. In the photo, Frida is looking straight into the camera, her necklace dangling from between her lips. It was evocative, but firm. There’s a photo of her plaiting her hair, naked from the waist up. In another photo, she’s on a boat leaning down against the rail, her fingers playing with the water.

Tender, bold and playful at the same time. I thought to myself: How many of us are actually living our lives? How many of us are actually brave enough to stray away from our routines and focus instead on creating our own maps, no matter how arduous?

Eventually, the photos gave way to Frida’s study where her books were (still in their glass shelves), her paint, tools and figurines preserved as if Frida herself would come any minute to paint.

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There were still many people outside in the courtyard even though it was already half past five (the museum closes at 5pm). There were even more people inside the museum still, all of us eager to get a glimpse of the rest of Frida’s house. The line moved an inch and in a few minutes, I was standing in front of her day bed, which was in direct view of the courtyard. I imagined Frida, in her later years, still filled with love, hope and longing, looking out into the sun and the sky.

While I started taking photos of every detail, I realized that she had also put up a series of photos of the most important political theorists of our time: Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong.

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Frida’s political involvement started early as I recalled reading about The Cachucas, children of the revolution that Frida was a part of along with seven boys and one other girl. Their ideological cocktail was composed of Socialism, Romanticism and nationalism although their passion for poetry and literature overshadowed their politics.

In her diary, she wrote an entry dated 4 November 1952:

Today more than ever I feel a sense of companionship. For 20 years, I have been a Communist. I know. I have read conscientiously [crossed out] the principal origins mixed up with ancient roots.

I have read the History of my country and of almost all other nations. I already know their class struggles and their economic struggles. I have a clear understanding of the materialist dialectic of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao Tse-tsung. I love them because they are the pillars of the new Communist world.

As I walked out of the museum, down the stairs which led to an outdoor hallway of her and Diego’s collection of native artifacts, I was overcome with a thousand emotions. I was sad and excited at the same time, I felt small and grand.

Frida was as big as life itself, and I had mine to live fully.

“Pies para qué los quiero,
si tengo alas pa volar?”

(“Who needs feet
when I’ve got wings to fly?”)

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La Casa Azul – Museo Frida Kahlohttp://www.museofridakahlo.org.mx
Calle Londres # 247, Colonia Del Carmen, Coyoacán Delegation, CP 04100, Mexico City

July’s Reading List

I can’t believe it’s the second half of the year already. Where did the first half go?! I hope you’ve been enjoying the long weekend with family and friends, or if you’ve been doing it the way I have — with your current reads.

My excitement for this month’s reading list cannot be contained, so much so that I’m on the second book already because I was that eager to get to actually reading. I’m a little behind too on my goal for this year (54 books) so I figured I could use the downtime to catch up.

The past two weeks have been really heavy on the political side, as I finished reading Lualhati Bautista’s Desaparesidos (book review out this week) and Oscar Lopez Rivera’s Between Torture and Resistance. I’m still thinking about those narratives, of the lives of people like those in Bautista’s novel and OLR’s sacrifice for a cause bigger than himself. It’s easy to get lost in our routines, to see each day and each week like the others past, and then find yourself one day asking where time has gone (I mean, I just started this post with that sentiment).

Between juggling a full-time job, organizing with a grassroots women’s group in the Bay Area and reading and blogging for Libromance, some days feel like a blur.

I need constant reminders to slow down, to make my days wider and freer, to be more spontaneous. I have yet to find that balance, but these past few days have been healing. Between all the things I do, keeping up with my books & looks on the daily and carving out moments for loved ones, I have to remind myself to breathe. To take it all in, with grace and even more joy. That in spite of what’s happening around me, in spite of internal turmoils I may face, there’s alwasy a spark of joy that can be ignited.


This month’s first book is Frida Kahlo: I Paint My Reality which I finished in a day (yesterday). I still have a hangover from my trip to Mexico City, specially Coyoacan, where Frida grew up and spent most of her time. I have yet to write about my trip for the blog but it’s definitely in the works!

Right after, I started Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. The only reason why I didn’t start reading Roy’s latest novel is that it still hasn’t arrived and the moment it did, I was ready. After being blown away by The God of Small Things, I tried to greet Roy’s other books with the same vigor. But it wasn’t the same. As I write this, I’ve read about 50 pages of the new novel and so far, it has been worth the wait.

Other titles that I’ll be delving into this month include Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire. I’m a fan of the Berkeley native, ever since he came out with books like Food Rules and In Defense of Food. He made me realize how complicated our food has become, and that a return to simplicity (to what our grandmothers actually recognize as food) is warranted.

A friend recommended Magda Szabo’s The Door awhile ago so I thought it’s high time I read it. I really don’t know much about the book but hey, it has a 4.06 rating on Goodreads.

And last but definitely not the least is F. Sionil Jose’s Gagamba. The title is the Filipino word for spider, and it’s a little embarrassing that I still haven’t read any of his work. This will be my first book from the author, a title I picked up when I was in the Philippines in March.

What are you reading this month? Let me know by leaving a comment below. As always, happy reading!

Which to Keep, Which to Part with: My Story of Books with Marie Kondo 

“Books are one of three things people find hardest to let go.”
–Marie Kondo

I first read Marie Kondo’s acclaimed book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Amazon | Indiebound) sometime in late 2014, after it started the news cycle rounds. I was also in the process of a lot of transitions, having just started my saturn return and I devoured anything that helped me get the smallest dose of sanity.

As a Pisces, I am an extremely sensitive person. That sensitivity is in all levels: whether it’s in awkward situations where I can’t help but read body language and try to control the urge to alleviate it, or a movie about dogs and their emotions which leaves me with a tear-stricken face after the first five minutes.

I’m attuned to my surroundings in ways I myself find weird and interesting at the same time, like how I dislike going to certain stores if clothes or items on sale are in disarray (online shopping saved me). I’m particularly sensitive to places, atmosphere and surrounding environment, which is why I’m also the happiest in nature or when I’m next to the beach.


I treat my place / room as a sacred sanctuary, which is why reading Kondo’s book helped me a great deal. For the most part, I found it extremely helpful as I began to narrow down the things I owned. Asking the simple question of “does this bring me joy?” while trying to figure out whether to keep a certain belonging or not worked for me. It made me realize how much I can really live with less, even though I was never a materialistic person to begin with.

Kondo’s “KonMari” method relies on making a few lifestyle changes when it comes to the stuff that we buy. What she teaches is mindfulness when it comes to our belongings, and treating them beyond objects. She encourages an emotional bond wiht our belongings, like treating shoes and bags with care and gratitude, as opposed to seeing them as disposable which capitalism would have us rather be doing.

From clothes to old letters to photographs, even birthday cards, the KonMari method helped me narrow things down and really get to the core of what these things conveyed for me. I was happy with what she was teaching.

Except when it came to her method for sorting and discarding books. She instructs the reader by pulling books out of the shelves to “gently wake them up” or bring them to consciousness and lay them out on the floor. If there are too many books, she suggests piling them in categories.

Once you have piled your books, take them in your hand one by one and decide whether you want to keep or discard each one. The criterion is, of course, whether or not it gives you a thrill of pleasure when you touch it. Remember, I said when you touch it. Make sure you don’t start reading it.

[…]

So when deciding which books to keep, forget about whether you think you’ll read it again or whether you’ve mastered what’s inside. Instead, take each book in your hand and decide whether it moves you or not. Keep only those books that will make you happy just to see them on your shelves, the ones that you really love.

I suddenly remembered all the books I would get at book sales which have gathered dust, books I got as gifts that I never cracked open, and other books that I’ve planned to read but haven’t found the time. I was definitely keeping books that I probably don’t even remember. I was grateful to Kondo’s advice for helping me become more intentional about what books to keep. 

I started going through my shelves, doing exactly what she told. By the end of the process, I had about three boxes of books that I was ok parting with. What I realized was that the more we know ourselves, the easier it’ll be. I had so many unread books about political theories acquired over the years that I didn’t even stop to think if those were what I was really seeking. It was ok for me to give those away because I knew exactly where my politics lie at the moment.

If you missed your chance to read a particular book, even if it was recommended to you or is one you have been intending to read for ages, this is your chance to let it go. You may have wanted to read it when you bought it, but if you haven’t read it by now, they book’s purpose was to teach you that you didn’t need it.

I left these boxes out on the street and by the end of the day, only a few titles were left on the sidewalk.


While I resonated with Kondo’s sentiment on timing and purpose of books, I also disagree. I kept some books that I haven’t read by the time I was sorting, books that I eventually read when I felt that it was the “right time.”

bell hooks’s All About Love (Amazon | Indiebound) was sitting on my shelf for a couple of years, but it wasn’t until I was going through a breakup that I reached for it. I was looking for a specific book on my shelf when I came upon it, and it proved to help my healing process tremendously.

Books are essentially paper — sheets of paper printed with letters and bound together. Their true purpose is to be read, to convey the information to their readers. It’s the information they contain that has meaning. Their is no meaning in their jsut being on your shelves.

I had to resist the urge to throw this book across the room when I got to this part. Instead, I smiled. This is Kondo’s lifework — tidying up — so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that she thinks this way. But for a bibliophile like me and many, many others, books aren’t just paper.

They are many things to the reader, beyond just paper. They’re friends, companions, reminders, whole worlds. They represent different things to different people. When I see the spine of a specific book I’ve read before, I am reminded of the book’s lessons, where I was at that specific time of my life, who I was in those moments. And I always feel a wave of gratitude was over me, a spiritual connection almost.

I know that I will not reread many of the books I keep, but they will be there when the time when I’ll need them the most. As a book blogger as well, my bookshelves provide visceral inspiration and ideas for future book blog posts.

While I’m happy and grateful for Kondo’s method, I think of books beyond clutter, beyond paper. For people like me, they could almost amount to everything. Erasmus said it best:

When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.

An Homage to LGBTQ Literature

I’ve always found a home with books, and it wasn’t until I started reading queer literature that I found a home within myself.

The beginning was with a book called Tibok, a compilation of Filipino-American (even Canadian, I believe) poems, stories, comics and others. I started hunting for gay and lesbian literature then in used bookstore jaunts, because I knew that there were no LGBT lit in the traditional bookstore in my town or even in Manila.

I remember spending hours at book sales while my parents and my sisters shopped for shoes and clothes. Most of the time I wouldn’t find any LGBTQ lit, but I would always walk away with a title that intrigued me.

Two books that brought me significant joy throughout my adolescent years were from used bookstores in Angeles City: The Swashbuckler: A Novel by Lee Lynch and a fiction title about lesbians in rural Montana whose title I’m struggling to remember.

The presence of these books in my life represented a contradiction that many still face today: these books were brought by American soldiers who stayed in the military base nearby. While I was ecstatic with my finds, it also meant that the Philippines was under heavy military subjugation by the United States.

When I moved to the Bay Area in 2004, I found solace in books. I immediately got library cards to the San Mateo County libraries and in San Francisco. I discovered Jeanette Winterson, Rita Mae Brown and other Naiad Press writers. And then I started working at Borders Books & Music, and each day I discovered more and more titles that I wanted to read. The rest is history.

As a queer Filipino immigrant navigating life in the U.S., I’ve been fortunate enough to come across the work of queer writers who’ve saved, taught, inspired and moved me: Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Cherríe Moraga, Nikky Finney and as of late, Juan Miguel Severo, Ocean Luong, r. erica doyle, Saeed Jones and Danez Smith.

This Pride month, I want to honor the work of queer writers who’ve continued to propel me in ways I’ve never imagined. I want to highlight four specific books from queer writers I’ve featured in the blog, and pay homage to their work:

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This Bridge Called my Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa. I read this anthology at a very critical time — I was going through a breakup and it helped me move on in a different direction. Instead of mulling over my breakup, I was inspired to create more, to write more, to understand myself more in different ways.

The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities edited by Ching-In Chen, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarinsaha and Jai Dulani. Most of the queer people I know are activists and this book is a meaningful resource on how we love and protect each other amidst difficult and challenging work. I also wrote a review of the book and you can read it here.

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong. This is one of those books that really make me feel lucky to be alive in this time, because I get to be a witness to the majesty and the importance of his work. I must’ve cried numerous times after reading this, and his pieces will stay etched in my consciousness for life.

As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals & Notebooks 1964-1980 by Susan Sontag. I first heard about Sontag through Brainpickings and then through Teju Cole. Reading her journals have taught me so much about myself; her thoughts on every single thing from politics, to being a mother, an artist, the way she sees herself are all revelatory.

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Do you have any LGBTQ book or literature which have influenced or inspired you? Do share in the comments below!

 

June’s Reading List 

Ah, June — the beginning of summer, of sun-kissed bare shoulders dotting sandy white shores, the season of the infamous beach reads. But before I get into the nitty gritty of that, here are this month’s reading list:

Lualhati Bautista’s Desaparesidos, timely because of the Philippines’s current situation (martial law declared in the southern region); The Nine Guardians by Rosario Castellanos, Mexico’s most important women novelist of the century as I just concluded an insightful trip to Mexico City; Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, a 2015 novel of an author I’ve been curious about for awhile now; and Oscar Lopez Rivera’s Between Torture and Resistance, a book I recently picked up at an event celebrating Oscar’s freedom after being jailed as a political prisoner.

I looked up at the sky this morning, felt my feet planted on the earth, my heart in place with gratitude for the day. It’s another week of days at the workplace, of meetings building up a brighter future, of 30-minute breaks spent in hospital corners with one of the titles above.

Some days I feel like I’m just drifting along a sea of timelines / guidelines / deadlines, floating mindlessly in a world I’m trying so hard to recreate, a place that extends beyond what I know as home.

And so I come back to reading. Page after page, title after title. On days when I don’t exactly know what to do, I know there will always be books.