If you haven’t read any of these titles, check out my book reviews to get an idea. I loved Whitehead’s book the most, one of the finest novels I’ve read in a really long time. I finished reading Roy’s book a couple of weeks ago and even though I only gave it four stars, it is truly a must-read. I didn’t enjoy Smith’s novel unfortunately, although it was very promising. I still love me some Zadie smith anyways, so best of luck to her, Whitehead, Roy and all of the others on the list.
While I’m mostly rooting for these three, my excitement was short-lived. It was dampened by the fact that there are still so many books out there that I haven’t read and will never be able to read in my lifetime. Ok, I know I’m being dramatic.
I was thinking of reading every single book on the list but then I remembered I have a tall pile of books to be read, and also some books coming in the mail. What’s a bookworm to do? According to this article, the books I will read in my lifetime — provided I live up to 86 — will be about 2,800. That’s not even a fraction of the millions of books out there!
Anyways, I’m finishing up F. Sionil Jose’s book Gagamba and I’ll be moving on to Magda Szabo’s The Door after that. I also posted my book review of Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desirethis week, check it out when you can.
And as if I’m not sad enough about how many books there are that I’ll never get to read, I came across this literary fiction summer sampler. It features excerpts from new books this season, and I’m anticipating receiving one of the books below in the mail. In the meantime, this will suffice.
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Got any reading blues / tips / habits you’d like to share? Leave me a comment below!
I published my book review for Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happinessearlier this week and if you haven’t checked it out, head on over here. It’s one of those books that you fully appreciate days after reading it, with the big picture getting clearer as days go by. It is a love letter too, an ode to hijras, mothers, freedom fighters, to Kashmir. The world will thank you for reading Roy’s newest book, so you best get on it.
I have been working on it for roughly 10 years. That was when I started putting down things which are in this book right now.
She knows everything from the frighteningly euphemistic military terminology of the region (informers are “cats” and so on) to the natural landscape of “herons, cormorants, plovers, lapwings,” and the “walnut groves, the saffron fields, the apple, almond and cherry orchards.” She looks into homes, into bomb sites, into graveyards, into torture centers, into the “glassy, inscrutable” lakes. And she reveals for us the shattered psychology of Kashmiris who have been fighting the Indian Army and also occasionally collaborating with it.
Much of what Roy wrote in the book about the Kashmiris’ struggle for independence and self-determination reminded me of the lumad people. The lumad are the indigenous communities in the southern part of the Philippines, which has been under martial law for about two months now.
The woman in the flyer above is none other than lumad leader, the fierce Bai Bibiyaon Bigkayan Likay. For more on women lumad leaders, check out this post I wrote about them.
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When the external world is teeming with bullsh*t and horrendous stuff (read: MAGAnomics, Trumpism), I usually find solace by going within.
This week marked the return of one of Deepak Chopra and Oprah’s 21-day meditation experience, and I’ve been all over it. The theme for the next 21 days is Desire & Destiny and after only a week of doing it I’m noticing the way I respond to things, and how I’m more receptive to the world around me.
Today’s mantra was Om Bhavam Namah (I am absolute existence. I am a field of all positbility) — it’s not too late to sign up!
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And since we’re talking about internal worlds, here’s one from the archives: The Art of Stillnessby Pico Iyer.
I think that everything important in my life has not come through my mind, but through my spirit or my being or my heart. Everything I trust, whether it’s the people I love or the values I cherish or the places that have moved me, have come at some much deeper level than the mind. And I sometimes think the mind makes lots of complications over what is a much more beautiful and transparent encounter with the world.
“…she had learned from experience that Need was a warehouse that could accommodate a considerable amount of cruelty.”
I was late to The God of Small Things (Amazon | Indiebound) reading party but I distinctly remember reading it at the time that I did — more than a decade later. It was December 2011 and I finally picked up a copy I’ve had for several years. It was also a little over a month after a 4-year relationship ended, so I did the next best thing I can do for a healing heart: read.
I woke up that Christmas morning with one intention: to finish GoST. I’ve been immersed in Arundhati Roy’s world for a few days and that morning, sprawled out on the living room couch, I felt illuminated. A good book warrants a good cry. My face was drenched with tears as I finished the last page — everything that happened in the book finally made sense.
Roy’s newest literary fiction masterpiece The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Amazon | Indiebound) is written with the same effect, at least for me. It isn’t until the very last page that I finally understood the lot of it — a sweeping tale of personal and political liberation, a 400-plus tome about hijras and the Kashmiri conflict.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is essentially two different stories which converge into one. The two main characters — Anjum and Tilo — are brought together by many similiarities, women living in the outskirts of India’s society, upended by many political upheavals, a recurring theme in the book. But first, two main things before I go into more detail: Hijra, and Kashmir.
Also called “the third gender,” hijrais the term used to describe the transgender community as well as intersex people and cross-dressers in India. In ancient, sacred texts, they are believed to be bearers of luck and fertility. But while they are revered in Indian society as spiritual figures, they still suffer from discrimination and harassment.
Kashmir (or Jammu & Kashmir, also J&K)is the northernmost geographical region of the Indian subcontinent. I first learned about Kashmir in my anthropology class in college, a region bordering India, Pakistan and China struggling for its independence. As seen in the photo above, the region is administered and disputed by three nations. As with any nation vying for self-determination and local autonomy, the Kashmir conflict has claimed thousands of lives with human rights abuses from Indian forces.
The book starts with Anjum living in a desolate graveyard and goes back to her childhood. Roy presents the conundrum of being a hijra as soon as Aftab was born through the character’s mother: Is it possible for a mother to be terrified of her own baby?
Jahanara Begum was.
Her first reaction was to feel her heart constrict and her bones turn to ash.
Her second reaction was to take another look to make sure she was not mistaken.
Her third reaction was to recoil from what she had created a while her bowels convulsed and a thin stream of shit ran down her legs.
Her fourth reaction was to contemplate killing herself and her child.
Her fifth reaction was to pick her baby up and hold him close while she fell through a crack between the world she knew and worlds she did not know existed. There, in the abyss, spinning through the darkness, everything she had been sure of until then, every single thing, from the smallest to the biggest, ceased to make sense to her. In Urdu, the only language she knew, all things, not just living things but all things — carpets, clothes, books, pens, musical instruments — had a gender. Everything was either masculine or feminine, man or woman. Everything except her baby. Yes of course she knew there was a word for those like him — Hijra. Two words actually, Hijra and Kinnar. But two words do not make a language.
Jahanara Begum kept this a secret, even from her husband. Aftab grew up innocently enough, until that undeniable day of natural reckoning. From this came a departure of all sorts — Aftab slowly growing in to himself, as the days, months and years progressed to his initiation at the Kwabgah, a community of hijras in Delhi. He became Anjum, and for a long time, she was the most popular and sought after hijra in the country.
At a point in Anjum’s life, she became a mother. This set off a series of events that led her to the other main character of the book, S. Tilottama. Known simply as Tilo, the conflict in Kashmir unfolded right before my eyes through her. Although never the activist nor the soldier nor the militant freedom-fighter, Tilo was a canvas that brought to light the multifarious weight of the Kashmiri struggle for freedom. There were corrupt politicians, well-meaning journalists, nefarious soldiers, torturers, activists, militant Kashmiris ready to defend and fight for their land and Tilo. Never in it, but always in the thick of it. Continue reading “At War with the World & Within, with Arundhati Roy”→
I’m almost done reading Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and I’m a little overwhelmed with everything that’s been happening in the book. The only part that I really like is about the only character that I really love: Anjum. More on this next week, when the book review comes out.
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Four rules from John Maeda by way of Swiss Miss:
1. Don’t speak ill of others.
2. Avoid passive aggressive behavior.
3. Listen broadly, but don’t waffle on decisions.
4. When in error — admit, apologize, move forward.
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!
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.