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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

It’s a struggle to be a Filipino-American these days, y’all.

And although I still balk at calling myself “Fil-Am,” I feel the struggle both ways, in all its multiplicity.

The Philippines seems to be at the mercy of a perplexing president whose politics are at best confounding. Following his declaration of martial law in Mindanao (southern part of the Philippines), he also withdraw from ongoing peace talks with the revolutionary (and underground) government of the country (strongest in the countryside).

And then there’s Trump. Following his announcement to pull the U.S. out the Paris Climate Agreements, the easier option is to throw your hands up and lose yourself in moments like “covfefe.”

Maybe my trip to Mexico City in the next few days is good timing, as all of these things can wear a Pisces down. I’m bringing Rosario Castellanos and Octavio Paz with me, two noted Mexican writers whose work has inspired me. Last night, I was leafing through Paz’s A Tree Within (Amazon | Indiebound) and came across this:

Mis sentidos en guerra con el mundo: fue frágil armisticio la lectura.

(My feelings at war with the world: reading was a fragile truce.)

paz

Reading as a truce, reading as a tool — that’s what this blog has always stood for. I’ve compiled books to help us through these times, like this list of reading for resistanceI also just reviewed a book on tyranny and offered up my response, based on my experience as an activist. As a Filipino in the face of martial law, here’s my blog’s literary antidote.

Even more timely is an exploration of Alexander Von Humboldt’s life, possibly the very first man to confirm man-made climate change.

In spite of this, I come back to a Alain de Botton on his book about Proust. In one of the chapters, they talk about books and reading. And as much as I love both, for as long as I am tethered to words, I recognize both their beauty and fallibility:

We feel very strongly that our own wisdom begins where that of the author leaves off and we would like him to provide us with answers when all that he is able to do is provide desires… That is the value of reading and is also its inadequacy. To make it into a discipline is to give too large a role to what is only an incitement.

–Marcel Proust

Reading as an incitement, a tool to spur us to action. I think I like that better.

#GetLit: Reading in the Midst of Crisis

#GetLit

It’s been exactly one month since I got to the U.S. from the Philippines.

The first few days back almost negated the entire three weeks I was there with my family, in really confusing and frustrating ways. Jetlag and homesickness were daily themes, as my sisters and I tried to console and comfort each other. We looked at photos, relived memories. Each new detail we discovered about our trip brought us immense pain and also joy. We would laugh, and then cry. We made pacts, we changed our plans.

For us, there was only one thing that became prevalent: we needed to be back home as soon as we can, in Pampanga.

I started to think about all the photos I took — most on my phone, some on my Instax. I’m missing a lot of the photos too, and I pray to all the gods that they’re just hiding in bags or notebooks somewhere, not lost.

img_4681

Since this trip was our first back as a family after migrating to the U.S. in 2004, it was life-changing. We went to different places, famous landmarks, touristy areas and old spots we used to go to when my sisters and I were younger.

And as I always tend to do every time I feel vulnerable, I started thinking of folks who have stirred me with their words.

In Balucuc, close to my hometown Apalit, we had lunch in the middle of rice fields on a Sunday. I thought of Tomas Tranströmer’s book of poems Preludes.

 Two truths approach each other. One comes from the inside, the other from outside, and where they meet we have a chance to catch sight of ourselves.

— Tomas Tranströmer

I come from a family of farmers, on my father’s side. I remember some days when I’d come home from school with the front of our house turning into a makeshift rice-drying areas, with men raking in newly harvested rice, gently back and forth. I thought of my grandfather.

Our house too looked different. I thought of Teju Cole quoting Marcel Proust, in Known and Strange Things.

img_4682-1

Proust in a letter, “We think we no longer love the dead because we don’t remember them, but if by chance we come across an old glove we burst into tears.” Objects, sometimes more powerfully than faces, remind us of what was and no longer is.

-Teju Cole

Teju resonated with me so much, in so many different times. How funny that you can convey a feeling in several ways, whether that’s in Tagalog or German.

The German word for homesickness is “heimweh.” Legend has it that Swiss mercenaries from the fifteenth century onward, dispersed throughout Europe to fight foreign wars, were hardy soldiers susceptible to few weaknesses. But they missed home with a deranging intensity, longing for the high elecution of their cantons, their clear lakes, their protective peaks. This feeling they called, in their Swiss German, heimweh.

img_4689

J’ai besoin de beaucoup de tendress. (I need a great deal of tenderness)

I wrote in a journal, just as I remember Susan Sontag doing in As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh. I was with her when she said that “the ultimate fantasy is the recovery of the irrecoverable past.” Seeing my friends brought all the feelings, as well as a deep well of gratitude for these connections.

img_4686

In Baguio, my sisters and I thought of summer vacations when we would indulge in strawberries (the only time we could), go on a boat at the lake, look at our parents at a different light amidst the fog.

Secretly we are all looking for ways to continue our childhoods — the hurt, the pain, the love, the fear, the shame.

— Susan Sontag

img_4684In Boracay, I took photos for posterity more than anything else. Once again, lines from a favorite:

Photography is inescapably a memorial art. It selects, out of the flow of time, a moment to be preserved, with the moments before and after falling away like sheer cliffs.

–Teju Cole

And of course, if there’s one person I should quote when it comes to the art of traveling, it’s Alain de Botton.

A dominant impulse on encountering beauty is the desire to hold on to it: to possess it and give it weight in our lives. There is an urge to say, ‘I was here, I saw this and it mattered to me.’

img_4688

I’m still floating, at times dreamily, thinking of home. I guess I’ll never really be able to anchor myself where my feet are planted, because once you know where you’re supposed to be, you don’t stop until you get there.

Postcards from the Philippines

Sunday Spotlight

The Metaphysics of Reading the News, with Alain de Botton

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit

“Whatever happens in our classrooms, the more potent and ongoing kind of education takes place on the airwaves and on our screens. Cocooned in classrooms for only our first eighteen years or so, we effectively spend the rest of our lives under the tutelage of news entities which wield infinitely greater influence over us than any academic institution can. Once our formal education has finished, the news is the teacher.
–Alain de Botton, The News: A User’s Manual (Shop your local indie bookstore)

The proliferation of fake news lately, especially heightened during the U.S. presidential election, had me scratching my head in confusion: so people actually fell for it?

In a podcast by Planet Money, they tracked down the “Fake-News King” Jestin Coler who makes profit off of the ads he ran on fake news articles and website. Once you see it from that perspective, it isn’t impossible then that this would exist. What’s the golden piece of nugget in this story? Coler said it himself:

Like, there is a demand for this product. People want conspiracy. Like, people want fake news that confirms what they already believe.

If you think that fake news is problematic, it may be the real news that actually falls short. This I learned after reading Alain de Botton’s The News: A User Manual (Shop your local indie bookstore), an exploration and analysis of the news we consume (and are given) on the daily: political, world, economic, celebrity, disaster, consumer.

When I was still a high-schooler back in the Philippines, I remember participating in news writing workshops and contests where the bare bones of news writing were taught. I even won a contest at some point and considered pursuing journalism in college for a minute.

But I knew journalism wasn’t for me, because what I saw published in the news lacked the kind of creativity I wanted to infuse in my work. Turns out, I’m not alone in this thought.

art

We consume news in various methods and from different platforms — news alerts straight to your inbox, articles on your Facebook timeline, 140-character tweets on your feed — that it’s impossible not to drown in all that information (or misinformation). The question that de Botton asks is: is the news we are given presented in a way that warrants our attention? Does it elicit something more than passive indignation, a quick (nasty at times) comment or a mere glance enough to compel us to action?

Central to the book is the way news is presented to us and the way we contextualize the information we receive. Take political news for example: we are given the facts, the political actors, the ramifications. If today’s headline underscores a politician’s incompetence, it is not hard for an ordinary citizen to be enraged. It is easy for us to point fingers, to dismiss the politician and/or the system as stupid or not working when in reality, there’s actually much that we don’t see.

What is the role of mainstream media then, when it presents us political news?

political

He also delves into foreign or world news, of which we all have become accustomed to in the form of war, disaster or tragedies which need more than #Prayfor_____ posted on our social media accounts.

An understanding of human nature is what’s needed, de Botton explains: “Foreign news should find ways to make us all more human in another’s eyes, so that the apparently insuperable barriers of geography, culture, race and class could be transcended and fellow-feeling might develop across chasms.”

foreign

The Best Books of 2016

Sunday Spotlight

I was talking to a friend the other day, someone who shared my love for literature and I mentioned that I’ve been reading a lot of contemporary fiction and nonfiction as of late — that I feel like I should delve into classics a little bit more. She said that there are a lot of contemporary fiction that are good which made my literary heart swell.

And it’s true, most of the releases I had the chance to read this year blew my mind. The New York Times came out with their best books of 2016, two of which I reviewed on the blog. Buzzfeed also came out with their own list, similar to what has been featured in the NYT and on this blog.

Coming up with only five books was hard, but there were a number of considerations. I like to think of Libromance as a living and breathing part of the world, wherein books featured reflect the struggles of our time. Whether these are external factors — political nightmares, increasing state violence, etc. — or internal factors — the need for security, means for survival, our capacity to love — the decision to narrow it down to just five was a meaningful and intentional process.

Libromance’s Best Books of 2016

30555488The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead

…the story of Cora, a slave who ran away from a plantation in Georgia through a real-life railroad built underground. She used the railroad three times: one heading towards the Carolinas, the second towards Tennessee and then Indiana. Historically, the “underground railroad” was a network of secret routes and safe houses, established by abolitionists and free slaves to aid black folks to get to free states.

colson

Known And Strange Things, Teju Cole9780812989786-us__61976-1469673476-600-600

…I usually try to finish a book in a week or two but I stayed with Teju’s new book for about a month, as I processed each essay and its significance differently, in the context of a queer Filipino immigrant experience in the United States.

teju-1

9781501134258_custom-201bae6fcf21665b6797b267a2ff34dc2357b50a-s400-c85The Course of Love, Alain de Botton

…the love stories we see and hear about are really only the beginning of those relationships, Alain de Botton argues, in his new book The Course of Love. What happens after the proposal, followed by the wedding, are the lives of two people bound not by romance alone but by the humbling reality of living with another person.

alain

Homegoing, Yaa Gyasihomegoing_custom-09de3d52d3ab0cf5400e68fb358d53da9c78afe6-s400-c85

…reading Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing at the time of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile’s deaths was surreal, as if I was looking at the lives of these two black men from a generational perspective, with Gyasi’s historical fiction lens.

yaa

512bu33tf8nlThe Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen

…writing about war is never an easy task, it involves remembering what must not be forgotten, slowly treading a path in one’s memory that is never neutral. It is filled with opposing forces — of heroes and villains, of the noble and the wretched, of the conqueror and the conquered. But it must be done. This, I believe, was Viet Thanh Nguyen’s task with his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Sympathizer.

viet.jpg

These books shook, carried, woke me in infinite ways, beyond my own experiences as a queer Pinay immigrant. There were many that didn’t make the list and you can always check those out here. Have you read any of these books? Let me know in the comments below!

November Reads: Karan Mahajan, Paul Beatty, Rabih Alameddine, Tomas Tranströmer & More

Sunday Spotlight

New month, new reads.

My book list is looking good and I’m giddy with excitement. For the next few weeks, I’ll be plowing through a few titles, hurling myself in various worlds and literary texts and I cannot wait. So much so that I had to put Fernando Pessoa’s book The Book of Disquiet down because a third into Soares’s observations of downtown Lisbon, I realized reading it was meant for another time.

I started Karan Mahajan’s The Association of Small Bombs and I can see why the book was shortlisted for the 2016 National Book Award for fiction (ceremony & awarding is on November 16!). Along with Mahajan’s book, I’m ecstatic about the following books I’ve chosen to immerse myself in this month.

Paul Beatty’s The Sellout recently snagged the Man Booker Prize for fiction making him the first American to win in the category. Here’s an interview with Beatty from the Guernica on the book that “follows a black narrator who reinstates segregation on public transit, becomes the proud owner of a slave, and verbally thunderclaps Justice Clarence Thomas.”

Rabih Alameddine’s The Angel of History: A Novel is also on the list, and I started following him after reading and writing about his previous book An Unnecessary Woman. I got a chance to see him in person at a reading in San Francisco, where he talked about the necessity of remembering, of how easy it is to forget. His newest book “follows Yemeni-born poet Jacob as he revisits the events of his life, from his maternal upbringing in an Egyptian whorehouse to his adolescence under the aegis of his wealthy father and his life as a gay Arab man in San Francisco at the height of AIDS.”

After reading the first compilation of her journals and notebooks in Reborn, I knew I had to get As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh by Susan Sontag who is easily becoming a favorite. I was moved by her writing on love and queerness and by the critical ways she sought to understand the world — I couldn’t help but ask for more.

The next few titles are ones that I’ll be reading sporadically, in no particular order as I would the previous ones. Tomas Tranströmer’s Selected Poems, Alain de Botton’s Art as Therapy and the latest issue of Kinfolk magazine on Home are all supplements to this month as shorter days and longer nights abound.

What’s on your list this month? Do share in the comments below!

The French novelist Marcel Proust would’ve turned 146 years old on July 10th, and Lithub gathered six writers in this article to talk about his genius. I first heard about the writer from Alain de Botton’s book How Proust Can Change Your Life, which was a compendium of ways of looking and living life, in true Proustian style.

proust3

Most of the writers on the Lithub piece talked about Proust’s book In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way, of which I have an illustrated copy of. de Botton reveled in this book, in spite of its format (with sentences that don’t seem to let you breathe) because just like what other writers have found it: “reading Proust is like reading oneself.” I need to get started with my own copy soon.

When I want to restore my faith in literature, I read Proust.

– Aleksander Hemon

July 12th on the other hand marks the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s 112th birthday. Neruda’s legacy is carried forth by poets, writers and romantics alike, as his poems imbue our lives with wonder and an appreciation for things we overlook. I once marveled at a collection of odes: to socks, onions, apples, salt.

p-txt

Two things I love most about him: he was a Communist and an infinite lover of saltwater.

I need the sea because it teaches me.

– Pablo Neruda

In lieu of birthday cakes, I think ice cream on books would suffice:

Last but not the least, another cause for literary celebration: Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing is a 2016 First Novel Prize finalist at the Center for Fiction! I recently finished the book and wrote about its significance, using the lens of historical fiction  to understand the movement for black lives. Good luck, Ms. Gyasi!

#GetLit: Greetings

#GetLit

What We Really Talk About When We Talk About Love, with Alain de Botton (Part 2)

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit

This is a two-part book review of Alain de Botton’s The Course of Love.
The first part can be found here

* * *

After listening to Michael Krasny’s interview of Alain de Botton on KQED’s Forum, I headed out to see him speak in Corte Madera that evening. The bookstore north of San Francisco was already filled thirty minutes before the event; I was pleased to see that there were other people of color there who were eager to hear about what he had to say about love.

But it all begins and ends with romance. As soon as de Botton took the stage, he started talking about romanticism right away.

All sorts of other notions run through romanticism: for all of us, there is a soul mate out there. Maybe we’ve met them, maybe we haven’t met them so we keep swiping left, right, left, right. When we find them, it will be delightful — we will never be lonely again. All of our questions, all of our doubts about our purpose, meaning and significance in life will be answered by someone who understands us totally and reconciles us in every way we exist.

Peals of laughter grew as he pointed out other notions of Romanticism that we’ve come to normalized, things we’ve never questioned before. Just like in the book, he launched into a clear-eyed examination of our feelings about love and the way we’ve related to potential partners or lovers on all aspects.

In the first part of my book review for The Course of Love, I wrote about five things that I learned:

  1. Love is a skill, not an enthusiasm.
  2. What we look for in love unconsciously are patterns of childhood familiarity.
  3. One of love’s oddities: sulking.
  4. The opposite of nagging is negotiating and understanding patiently.
  5. Teaching our partners may be one of love’s greatest gifts.

Just as I was talking about the book’s main characters Rabih and Kirsten in that post and ways of looking at love, I want to probe even deeper. I’m interested in  extending the conversation beyond what we already know and have come to accept. My goal is to understand the process that de Botton writes about:

It will take Rabih many years and frequent essays in love to reach a few different conclusions, to recognize that the very things he once considered romantic — wordless intuitions, instantaneous longings, a trust in soul mates — are what stand in the way of learning how to be with someone. He will surmise that love can endure only when one is unfaithful to its beguiling opening ambitions, and that, for his relationships to work, he will need to give up on the feelings that got him into them in the first place.

funny-couples-ecards-romantic-someecards-24__605

Ideally, art would give us answers that other people don’t. This might even be one of the main points of literature: to tell us what society at large is too prudish to explore. The important books should be those that leave us wondering, with relief and gratitude, how the author could possibly have known so much about our lives.

– Alain de Botton, The Course of Love
(Read my book review here!)

123rabassa

Gregory Rabassa, 1922-2016

It is with utmost relief and gratitude that the writer Gabriel García Márquez must have felt, upon having his work translated by the revered Gregory Rabassa (pictured above) who has died at the age of 94.

Translating is a very difficult job, not at all rewarding, and very badly paid. A good translation is always a re-creation in another language. That’s why I have such great admiration for Gregory Rabassa. My books have been translated into twenty-one languages and Rabassa is the only translator who has never asked for something to be clarified so he can put a footnote in. I think that my work has been completely re-created in English.

– Gabriel García Márquez,
The Art of Fiction No. 69 (The Paris Review)

Knowing who we are is central to understanding our deepest problems, but how far can one go in proclaiming that we actually don’t? Dive deep into a dear sister-in-the-struggle’s response to a piece that omits an entire movement’s efforts of genuine nation-building, central to the question of who we really are.

If all else fails, you could also dress the part. Here’s a delightful blog on dressing like books.

What’s your book look?

#GetLit: What Writers Know About Us

Sunday Spotlight

What We Really Talk About When We Talk About Love, with Alain de Botton

Book Reviews, Fiction, Soul + Spirit

…is a lot of romanticism.

It’s in the movies we watch, the books we read, the music we listen to. From Disney “Princess” films to books and movies inspired by Nicholas Sparks, the irresistible charm of romance permeates our culture. It’s the nostalgia of the fairy tale, it is its allure that keeps us affirming star-crossed lovers (Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet to Meyer’s Edward & Bella).

We talk of love in its highest regard in romantic relationships — the chocolates and the flowers, the grand gestures, the undying affection that has taken over and shaped how our society at large sees relationships. We are enchanted by that initial “spark” and eventually find ourselves looking how to recapture it (as in, Rekindling the Romance: 9 Secrets to Keeping the Spark…).

The love stories we see and hear about are really only the beginning of those relationships, Alain de Botton argues, in his new book The Course of Love. What happens after the proposal, followed by the wedding, are the lives of two people bound not by romance alone but by the humbling reality of living with another person.

i-want-to-make-bad-decisions-with-you-forever-funny-ecard-46s