Post-Election Bibliotherapy: Five Books of Struggle & Resilience

With Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the White House, it can be easy to believe that while elections are temporary, dystopia is forever.

Trump’s campaign was rife with the kind of rhetoric that so many people have been fighting against for decades: the struggle against racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, white supremacy — the struggle to defend and uplift our humanity.

Like so many progressives in the country side-eyeing Hillary Clinton, I filled the box next to her name because I just can’t stomach Trump’s rhetoric and the kind of response he incites from his supporters. That even though I am ashamed of America’s imperialism and will struggle to fight it on all fronts, I am also beginning to confront what it means to be on this stolen land.

While there have been so many reports and accounts of outright racism in different parts of the country (even in California!) since Trump’s election, I have been inspired by the ways that our communities have shown up for each other. Whether it’s resources like this, or the many forms of protest people have been engaging in, what gives me hope at the end of the day is that we are a resilient people.

An offering from my blog: a post-election bibliotherapy which features books I’ve read and written about on Libromance. These books confront different kinds of tension, conflict and contradictions but what they share as a common thread is the ability to understand that the most tender parts of ourselves are also deep wells of strength and resilience.


BAYI: Stories of Lumád Women from Lumad Women You Need to Know

An excerpt from the post:

At 92 years old, Bai Bibiyaon Likayan Bigkay‘s strength and courage has been a constant source of inspiration for many. She is a bibiyaon, a female Lumád tribal chieftain in a culture that is traditionally patriarchal. In the 90’s, she joined a tribal war to fight the logging company Alcantara & Sons (ALSONS).

Night Sky with Exit Wounds from The Inevitability of Ocean Vuong’s Poetry

An excerpt from the post:

In Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Ocean carries the stories of his parents seeking refuge away from Hanoi. His father is a constant subject, navigating political and emotional terrains. I remember reading “Telemachus” with a profound longing to reach through time and understand the visceral loss of a son, entwined with his father.

Known and Strange Things from Looking with the Eyes of Teju Cole

An excerpt from the post:

He takes us beyond what most would not publicly acknowledge, in spite of the increasing and damning evidence. Complicated as he is, Obama is still, for many folks, a symbol of racial progress in the country. Perhaps it is the experience and the perspective of an internationalist such as Teju, can one then really see the implications and reverberations of a messed-up foreign policy.

The Underground Railroad from A Lifetime of Remembering with Colson Whitehead

An excerpt from the post:

This is America. I think about how a queer, brown Filipino immigrant reads a book about slavery and the black folk’s struggle for liberation. I think about how easy it is to forget sometimes, that sometimes the kind of narrative that arrests our attention is beguiled by the media. Whatever makes a quick buck, as long as it turns the viewership up. How easy it is for Filipinos back home to vote for the son of the country’s former dictator, how easy it is to bury the memory of struggle, how easy it is to pull a trigger.

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist from The Courage it Takes with Sunil Yapa

An excerpt from the post:

I am a Third World woman living in the First World. And I am both proud and ashamed of the glaring fact that I live on U.S. soil enjoying the benefits of the imperialist machinery but also fully aware that here, in the belly of the beast, are prime opportunities for change.

At that moment in the book, I felt like I was the protester and Charles at the same time. I’m in a Third World body with a mind that is increasingly adapting to the First World and at my core I am scared of losing grasp of my Third World-ness, the identity that I am proud of, all the wounds and the scars on my back, the struggles that have defined my existence, of what makes me stand up in the streets.

I remember writing The Courage it Takes, with Sunil Yapa earlier this year, when I was in an entirely different place. I was tired and burnt out but I knew that I had to keep on going. When I was reading Ocean’s poetry, I was reminded of the intimacy of personal and political work and the endless fusion of the two. I learned how to look and make connections from Teju, as I pored over his essays on politics and literature. In Colson’s book, I learned the face of imperialism, how liberty is reserved for other people. Last but not the least, I was inspired by the stories of the Lumád women as they continue to fight for their ancestral lands.

From this point, it is going to be a long and rough journey. But we’ll get there. It will take a lot of willpower, focus and love to overcome what we are facing, but again, we are a resilient people. Let the words of Bai Bibiyaon Likayan Bigkay, one of the Lumad women, continue to inspire us:

If we continue to struggle just as we are doing now, tomorrow is ours. The struggle must be continued by the future generations. What we are doing now, even if we die, we will die contented if our children, our grandchildren and the future generations will continue what we are doing. We know we can do and achieve many things. The unity that we have achieved now, can also be accomplished by future generations, even more.


#GetLit: Bibliotherapy

I’ve long been a fan of writer and philosopher Alain de Botton  who founded The School of Life (TSOL), which is devoted to creating emotional intelligence with the help of culture. One of the many services of TSOL is called Bibliotherapy, a therapy session that “helps you explore your relationship with books and guide you to anew literary direction.” I gushed at this idea because, well, this whole blog is dedicated to literature.

Ceridven Dovey wrote about her experience with TSOL’s Bibliotherapy, calling the session a “gift” after corresponding with Bibliotherapist Ella Barthoud.

We had some satisfying back-and-forths over e-mail, with Berthoud digging deeper, asking about my family’s history and my fear of grief, and when she sent the final reading prescription it was filled with gems, none of which I’d previously read.

It’s not the first time that I’ve read about this idea — I had, once, a delightful and enchanting experience reading Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop. I wrote about it here too, and it was such a joy to meet Monsiuer Perdu, the bookshop’s owner.

It turns out that this is not a new practice, as Dovey references A Literary Clinic that first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly back in 1914. She points out that today, bibliotherapy comes in different forms such as literature courses and reading circles. The demand for literature, it seems, is growing even as we move towards an age of instantaneous information. There’s Oprah’s Book Club, and there’s also classes like The Craft of Reading at the UC Berkeley Extension.

In the Spring of 2015, I enrolled in the online class where I was introduced to the work of Alice Munro, Marguerite Duras and Iris Chang. Engaging in discussions with other readers in class was exhilarating — demystifying Duras’s The Lover was a thrill, and so was crossing Munro’s verbal landscapes.

I’ve also engaged in mini-bibliotherapy sessions myself: recommending Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements to a friend and my sisters; how I’ve given bell hooks’s All About Love to previous lovers at the beginning our soon-to-fail relationships (since 2012, a period of turmoil); gifting Michael Pollan’s Food Rules one Christmas to my mother’s siblings (all nine of them); giving a copy of John Perkins’s Confessions of an Economic Hit Man to my father, so he could see the scope of American imperialism from a different lens; and countless other times.

Below are a few of my musts, books that I’ve gone back to several times, titles that I’ve shared with loved ones and strangers. They are timeless, generous and full of illumination. From my bookshelf to yours, here’s my version of literary prescription.

Bibliotherapy: Straight from Libromance

 Autobiography of a Yogi  The Lover  All About Love: New Visions  The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?  The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

 How Proust Can Change Your Life  Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches  Letters to a Young Poet  Zami: A New Spelling of My Name  The Sympathizer