Living Out Our Truths, with Gucci Mane (A Book Review of “The Autobiography of Gucci Mane”)

Book Reviews

I remember hearing Wasted for the first time in 2009, at the height of my Lil Wayne obsession (specifically Tha Carter III) and I couldn’t help but mouth off the catchiest line ever:

Rock-star lifestyle, might don’t make it, living life high every day clique wasted

Granted that I wasn’t really living a rock-star lifestyle (I was going to school full-time, working part-time), was only really getting wasted on the weekends–I took this song on as a sort of paean. On the worst days, I could always count on this song to lift me up, its beat thrumming wildly in my chest. Those days are seared in my memory as I navigated a tumultuous relationship, balancing my responsibilities as a student and a health professional, an immigrant still trying to find solid footing.

I remember that time when I picked up The Autobiography of Gucci Mane (Amazon | Shop your local indie bookstore) by Gucci Mane, Neil Martinez-Belkin and read this same line from Wasted, at a time when Gucci himself was at the crossroads of his life in the streets and in the studio. Born Radric Delantic Davis, Gucci was one of the first artists to pioneer trap music way before artists like 2Chainz and Fetty Wap started popularizing it.

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Beyond the Rice Fields with Naivo

Book Reviews, fiction, Fiction

Ravinkazo nanintsana
Ka ny lasa tsy azo ahoana
Fa ny sisa ampanirina

Leaves falling
There’s no protecting those that drop
But those that stay are made to grow

(Malagasy Hainteny)

First, an embarrassing confession: I am woefully ignorant about Madagascar, the Malagasy people and the Malagasy culture.

It wasn’t until I signed up for Restless Books monthly book subscription that that changed, when I received a copy of Beyond the Rice Fields (Amazon | Shop your local indie bookstore) by Naivo, the first book in Malagasy to be translated in English. Last year’s book reviews comprised of titles gleaned from bestseller and notable lists (particularly from The New York Times and other mainstream publications such as the Indie Book of the Month), as well as shortlisted books for various distinctions so Naivo’s book is a welcome change.

Located in the southeastern coast of Africa, Madagascar is an island nation in the Indian Ocean. And here I was, thinking that growing up in an island nation myself I had a pretty good grasp of other island nation kin. This book is admittedly the first time I’ve come across any form of Malagasy literature, a surprising and embarrassing detail I honestly can’t shake off.

So I take the book in, prepared to be humbled. And boy did I.

Beyond the Rice Fields is primarily the story of Tsito, a slave who worked his way towards his emancipation. But unlike many slave narratives I’ve read previously, the conext of Tsito’s slavery is set during a time when a nation’s own people dealt with each other in a feudalistic manner–even before the vazaha, or white people came.

Naivo traces the young boy’s life from the time he caught the eye of a traveling merchant, Rado, up until he was gifted to one of Rado’s daughters, Fara. As the story wove in between the eventual lovers, he also portrayed the historical and colonial roots of Madagascar.

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#GetLit this January 2k18

fiction, Sunday Spotlight

Halfway into the month and I’m just sharing this month’s reading list! Truth be told, I’ve been slow to start this year with my reading, and I’m finally wrapping up some books I started back in 2017.

This month, I’d like to keep it real, keep it slow. In the past, I’ve sped through books that I wasn’t able to dwell in them for as much as I would’ve loved to. But since I’m off to a slow start, I’ll continue with keeping this kind of pace — live within the pages for a few moments, as they say.

I just finished The Diary of Anaïs Nin a few days ago and I’m still thinking about it. It wasn’t until I finished that I started researching more about the writer, and I think knowing how her personal life intertwined with her writing process was a startling point for me. More of these though on my upcoming review, but for now, she’s brewin’ in my mind.

Here are this month’s glorious picks:

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Heartland (Amazon | Shop your local indie bookstore) by Ana Simo

Synopsis: In a word-drunk romp through an alternate, pre-apocalyptic United States, Ana Simo’s fiction debut, Heartland, is the uproarious story of a thwarted writer’s elaborate revenge on the woman who stole her lover, blending elements of telenovela, pulp noir, and dystopian satire.

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Small Hours of the Night: Selected Poems of Roque Dalton (Amazon | Shop your local indie bookstore) edited by Hardie St. Martin

“English-only edition of poems written from exile, prison, and on the run by the Salvadoran revolutionary whose life and word urged love as well as change. Selected from 10 of his collections including two posthumous manuscripts, but none are from Poemasclandestinos (1980). The vital force of the intimate, conversational Spanish challenges the translators. Introductory essays by Ernesto Cardenal, Claribel Alegrâia, and Hardie St. Martin recommend work for the classroom and the general reader” –Handbook of Latin American Studies, v. 58.

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Uncommon Type: Some Stories (Amazon | Shop your local indie bookstore) by Tom Hanks

A collection of seventeen wonderful short stories showing that two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks is as talented a writer as he is an actor.

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Debriefing: Collected Stories (Amazon | Shop your local indie bookstore) by Susan Sontag, edited by Benjamin Taylor

Debriefing collects all of Susan Sontag’s shorter fiction, a form she turned to intermittently throughout her writing life. The book ranges from allegory to parable to autobiography and shows her wrestling with problems not assimilable to the essay, her more customary mode. Here she catches fragments of life on the fly, dramatizes her private griefs and fears, lets characters take her where they will. The result is a collection of remarkable brilliance, versatility, and charm. Sontag’s work has typically required time for people to catch up to it. These challenging works of literary art–made more urgent by the passage of years–await a new generation of readers. This is an invaluable record of the creative output of one of the most inquisitive and analytical thinkers of the twentieth century at the height of her power.

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What are you reading this month? Share them with me and leave a comment below!

From Critical Mass to Critical Relationships, with adrienne maree brown

Book Reviews

“Humans? Some of us are surviving, following, flocking — but some of us are trying to imagine where we are going as we fly. That is radical imagination.”

One of the lessons of 2017 was making space for spontaneity, which looked like leaving portions of my planner blank. It felt counter-intuitive at first, but like all things that feel natural, it grew on me. Suddenly I was more conscious of what I said yes and no to, paying close attention to how these answers felt in my body. It was Trump’s first year in office after all and instead of feeling fired up, I felt disjointed. My work in the local and diasporic Filipino communities felt insincere, and I tried different approaches to no avail. I knew I had to disengage for my own sanity.

I made space. I slowed down. So when I finally got around to reading adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (Amazon | Indiebound), it felt like a homecoming. I’ve been reading speculative + science women-centered fiction and brown’s work seemed to encompass all these stories into tangible practices for one’s self and our respective communities. brown’s work as a social justice facilitator, healer and doula resonated with me throughout the book, and I’m looking forward to reading more of their work in an anthology they co-edited called Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements.

I love how Emergent Strategy is a “radical self-help, society-help, and planet-help designed to shape the futures we want to live,” how it weaves how we take care of ourselves with taking care of our communities and the place/s we live in. That how we approach practices towards preserving ourselves are directly linked to our survival as a species, and also with the way we move about in this planet.

These links are glimpses of emergence, the core of emergent strategy.

emergence, libromance, adrienne maree brown, emergent strategy

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In 2018, read good, read often. Happy New Year from Libromance!

#GetLit in the New Year: Read Good, Read Often

Sunday Spotlight

Read good, read often. This is the Libromance mantra for 2018, another great year for even more great reading.

But what does “reading good” actually mean? It means embarking on a path of knowing what moves your mind and spirit when it comes to literature. Never mind that the title you loved last wasn’t on any bestseller list. What matters is that you connected with the book and found resonance/peace/inspiration within its pages.

How I’ve been able to come about the best books I’ve come across is by knowing myself first, having an inclination of what I actually like and what I’m actually looking for. I’ve always been interested in books that spur emotional growth and intelligence, which is why I’ve been leaning towards more fiction books as of late. This is also one reason why I’ve been drawn to the work of Alain de Botton and The School of Life, a hub for nurturing emotional intelligence. But while you know what you want, how will you wade through millions of published books and find the ones that will most likely resonate with your spirit?

Read often. The second part of this year’s mantra will not only help you find the best books for your growth as a reader, as a person. Reading not only nurtures your well-being, but it also lets you know yourself better.

But again, in a world where our phones and other devices dominate, finding the time to read can be hard. Here’s how you can turn your reading into a daily practice: instead of finding time to read, make time to sit with your favorite book and get yourself lost in the pages. Make it a conscious decision. Slow down, let your attention be arrested by a world of words.

Here are a few other things to make 2018 a great year of reading good ish, as often as you can:

  • Take the Goodreads Reading ChallengeThis is the third year I’ll be doing a Goodreads Reading Challenge which is a great way to track what you read, build community with fellow readers and find support in finishing the challenge.
  • Browse the blog Author Index. I take great pride in choosing and curating the kinds of books that enrich my emotional and spiritual health. Any of the books listed on the page are all guaranteed to challenge and inspire.
  • Join the Libromance Reading Group on Facebook. Reading is more fun when you read with other people! Join the group and engage in literary discussions, find book recommendations or simply be in community with people who love books as much as you do.

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A Year of Reckoning: Lessons of 2017

Call to Action, Sunday Spotlight

Aaaaand we’re back!

Happy New Year dear friends, readers and fellow literary lovers, from my bookish heart to yours. I know this post is long overdue but the holiday season, along with other end-of-the year matters got the best of me and I haven’t been able to update the blog (and you all!) with what’s been cookin’ and brewin’ at Libromance.

Before diving into a fresh pile of books this new year, I wanted to share a few highlights from the past year. 2017 was my second year of running the blog, and I’ve been able to accomplish so many things — some planned, some unexpected — in a myriad of surprising ways.

In the past year, I was able to publish 44 book reviews which is less than what I initially intended. I had a few consistent streaks, where I was constantly pumping out post after post, keeping with my weekly and monthly editorial. And there were also days when life in the real world got the best of me, that I wasn’t able to sit down and write as much as I wanted to. Earlier last year, I published a list of things I wanted to accomplish called 2017 #ReadingResolutions. I had lofty goals, of which I was only able to accomplish half. In spite of “falling behind,” I was amazed to be given opportunities to publish my book reviews Libromance-style in different places, ones in which I’ve been really lucky to be a part of (Hella Pinay and New Life Quarterly).

With each book review, with each feature, with each reading that leaves my eyes moist with tears come a lot of lessons. These lessons penetrated my own consciousness, and I am grateful for all of these books coupled by experiences to impart the kind of wisdom I need. Here are five things I learned in 2017:

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The past year was a year of reckoning of all sorts for me—as a book blogger, as an activist, as someone trying to make their way in the world, as a student of life. In addition to blogging and pursuing other literary pursuits, I have a 9-5 job that pays the bills, I’m active in the local Filipino community, along with endlessly trying to take care of myself and those I love. With deadlines and commitments always ’round the corner, I’m always on the go go go mode, never stopping for a moment. To catch my breath, to savor what’s in front of me. And when things don’t go as planned, I’m usually the hardest on myself. This year has taught me to be gentle with myself in different ways, specially during stressful moments and in times of crisis. What I’ve discovered is that this gentleness, this kindness in the midst of the worst situations is one of the things I need to help me get back up. It works wonders. Read: the Libromance reviews of The Revolution Starts at HomeOscar López Rivera: Between Torture and Resistance 

The Great Five from Libromance: Best Fiction Books of 2017

Book Reviews, Fiction, Sunday Spotlight

Running a book blog is lots of hard (but pleasurable!) work and one of the things I’m always excited for are end of the year lists, best picks and titles deemed noteworthy usually announced around this time.

I’ve seen a lot of best of the year book lists and here are some of my favorites:

Out of all these lists though, I’m particularly partial to The New York Times best of the year book list, which usually consists of fiction and nonfiction books. Selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review, it is something I look forward to every year.

So when it was finally released on November 30th, I was thrilled to see all five of their listed fiction books as titles I read and reviewed this year on the blog! Five-starred and highly rated, these books are the kind I hope to read for the rest of my life, stories that move and shake and empathize and challenge. I cried throughout most of them, and I’ve probably listed them on numerous lists prior to this post. They are the kind of stories I love reading and I hope to write in the same vein someday.

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The Great Five

Here are *the great five* of 2017, along with excerpts from my book reviews this year:

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Reading Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing was like having a deep, deep breath lodged in the cavity of my chest, something I held on to for its entirety. Ward’s newest novel isn’t for the faint of heart either, but for someone who’s strong of will, someone who can understand the gravity of what it means to be healed, and what it means to need healing, specially at a time when the world just feels too heavy. Read the full review here.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

The book follows the lives of reluctant lovers (at first), Nadia and Saeed in the process of living, of leaving. Saeed is very much the son of his parents, timid and reserved, while Nadia is out on her own, having left the roof of her parents’ house as soon as she was able to. She dons black robes for protection, as she rides her motorcycle through the city of an unspecified country. It is a love story as much as it is a story of migration and transitions. Instead of focusing on the journey out, what Hamid focused on was how wars move and change people. Read the full review here.

Autumn by Ali Smith

This is a novel set in the UK, not a love story but a story about love in many forms. There’s Elisabeth and her mom, living alongside their neighbor, Mr. Daniel Gluck, and the world around them revolving in varying degrees of discovery and reconciliation. Theirs (the main characters’)  was no ordinary friendship, no feudal relationship. They talked about arts, books, ways of looking at the world. The ever-present question, always Gluck’s greeting to the young one was: What you reading? Read the full review here.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This endless work and suffering is what bookends the story, manifested in different characters. Lee portrays all kinds of women in Pachinko, as she lays out layers of complexities. With each generation, she highlights the struggles of Korean women within their respective socio-economic contexts: women who aren’t allowed to work because of their husband’s beliefs, women who are imprisoned in their marriages because of economic and social reasons, women who are fiercely independent, women who long to come home to Korea, women who long to move to America, broken women, heavy-hearted women, happy women, but always, suffering women. Read the full review here.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

This book is something I dove right into where men are actually fearful of women. Where young boys are told to be careful while walking by themselves. Where men cry oppression for themselves because in Alderman’s book, women, specially young girls have the upper hand. Many of Alderman’s main characters are young women, specially those who have risen out of difficulties in their life. Out of anger, out of grief, they were able to summon the power within themselves, which came in the form of jolts of electricity emanating from fingertips. Read the full review here.

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Have you read any of these books? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

A Lifetime of Looking, with Lisa Ko (A Book Review of “The Leavers”)

Book Reviews, Fiction

Days after reading Lisa Ko’s The Leavers (Amazon | Indiebound), one question lingered in my mind: can we really spare our loved ones the most gory, painful thing in our lives in order to save them–whatever “saving” looks like?

The story is written in the same format Arundhati Roy’s latest book The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, where you find out more and more about the characters, the bulk of the story and really, the depth of the plot as you go on. But I guess that’s a major driving point in the book, the search for elusive truth. As with our lives, tbqh.

The Leavers is a book about a Chinese immigrant family in New York, a mother and her son, as they struggle to make a new life for themselves away from home. And almost like every immigrant family I know, both Pei-lan/Polly and Deming/Daniel go through the process of navigating cultural shifts and managing personal transformations.

From learning how to survive as an immigrant (all the bureaucracy, whether above ground or not), the tenderness between mother and son grows with each new discovery. Each day that they are together, specially when Polly has the rare day off, the duo ventures out into the new world they’ve made for themselves.

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Amidst reveling in the simultaneous grandeur and details of the Big Apple, poverty, the struggle to assimilate and immigration woes descend upon the family. And it only gets worse.

Writing Ourselves Whole

Sunday Spotlight

This piece was originally published on Hella Pinay.

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When her daughter did not know a Filipino-American hero to write a report on because no such books have ever existed, Filipina writer and artist Gayle Romasanta knew what needed to be done–not just for her daughter or for her family, but for millions of Filipino-Americans in the country.  

Thus the birth of Journey for Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong, the first of a series of Filipino-American history books for children. With long-time colleague and researcher Dawn Mabalon PhD and illustrator Andre Sibuyan, this book series will be the first to shed much needed light and focus on the historical contributions of Filipino-Americans in the country. It will also be the first endeavor of Bridge + Delta Publishing founded by Romasanta herself, an homage to a lineage of farm workers in the family.

“We knew that we couldn’t ask for it. We needed to do it on our own.”

Romasanta is no stranger to being a pioneer in the Filipino-American community. When she was 19 years old, she founded Kappa Psi Epsilon, a Filipino-based sorority focusing on Fil-Am history and culture currently in five universities in California. She was also an Artistic Director of Bindlestiff Studio, the only Filipino theater space in the nation. Her first foray in publishing was through Beautiful Eyes (2012), a children’s book based on motor skills and a memory game which aimed to nurture a sense of self for the Filipino baby. The book is now part of the San Francisco Unified School District’s Filipino Language Program curriculum.

Born and raised in Stockton, California, Mabalon is currently an Associate Professor at San Francisco State University. She is the author of Little Manila is in the Heart: The Making of the Filipina/o American Community in Stockton, California, a book which delves into the history of Filipino communities in the area from the early twentieth century. As she was writing her book, she came across Larry Itliong and other Filipino farm labor organizers critical in the formation of the farm labor movement, all missing from textbooks where only Cesar Chavez is mentioned.

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More than just a children’s book, Journey for Justiceis the culmination of years of oral history, community organizing and research. It is a book steeped in the forgotten truths of the farm labor movement, which employed a militant and radical approach overshadowed by many complicated factors as UFW and Chavez rose to prominence.

And while many books on Filipino-American history are accessible at the collegiate level, there aren’t many books or resource within the K-12 grade levels. In fact it was only in 2013 when the bill AB123 was passed, which required the California state curriculum to include the contributions of Filipino-Americans to the farmworker labor movement. Last year, the California Department of Education finally adopted the new curriculum standards for history and social sciences which included the roles of Filipinos during World War II and in the UFW.

Filipino-Americans have long straddled this dichotomy–for those who have immigrated (like Romasanta when she was a toddler) or for those who were born here. A hyphenated identity is always a cause for probing, an exploration and a search for understanding who we are as a people in the diaspora. This reflection is mirrored even in the relationship between the Philippines and the U.S., a relationship that has always been contentious. And while our history has been riddled with suffering, oppression and continuous displacement in the hands of the U.S., millions have called America home. And many more will.

The contradictions are endless.

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I admit that I haven’t really given what being “Filipino-American” is nary a thought, because I have always been tethered to the kind of nationalism rooted only in the place I was born in, only in the Philippines. So much so that I haven’t hyphenated my identity to include the “-American” portion, even after becoming a U.S. citizen in 2015. Apart from finding the contradiction of reaping the benefits of living as a citizen fully aware and wholly opposed to the tactics employed by the state on its people and on people around the world, I’ve found it hard to.

But in the midst of this personal struggle, perhaps, is an unexpected nugget of light. That the history of America is not just defined by its imperial, oppressive system but that it has also been shaped by many intersecting struggles of black people, Latinxs, Asians, Filipinos. That perhaps I haven’t been able to conceptualize “Filipino-American” because I didn’t see the need to ingrain myself within the system, the same system that swallows me up and spits me right back out. And it wasn’t until I spoke with Romasanta about Journey for Justicethat I started seeing the possibility of being able to claim this other part of ourselves–as active participants of history beyond our own nation’s borders–in a different kind of light. The kind of light that remembers and honors the work of those who have come before us, like Larry Itliong, Philip Vera Cruz, even all the Filipino soldiers during World War II, that those who are just growing up trying to understand what being Filipino-American means will know that their ancestors mattered. That people like them have contributed to the world they will be moving in, glorious in their own brown skin.

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Support Journey for Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong by donating to their IndieGoGo campaign which runs until November 20 and invest in creating the first ever Filipino American history books for children.

Nesting on Fire, with Celeste Ng (A Book Review of ‘Little Fires Everywhere’)

Book Reviews, Fiction

Sometimes all the hype turns out to be the real thing.

You know a book’s about to be B-I-G when all the book sites are talking about it, when emails pop up in your inbox with that one book over and over again.

Before I even knew what it was about, Celeste Ng‘s Little Fires Everywhere (Amazon | Indiebound) was that book. I had to get it.

Turns out, the hype wasn’t just noise. It was actually substance. A lot of it.

Little Fires is Ng’s second novel, following her first book Everything I Never Told You which became an instant bookseller, bagging numerous awards.

In this book, Ng portrayed what the nuclear American family should look like, in a pretty progressive place too nonetheless, that she was able to effectively support America’s delusion into thinking that it is, for the most part, doing the right thing.

She begins by detailing the life in Shaker Heights in Ohio, close to Cleveland, a haven of manicured lawns and matching houses where most folks are upper middle class. A small town where most people come back to live from college and nest quite comfortably.

At the center is Elena Richardson, a white woman, a mother of four who lives in relative stability in Shaker Heights. She is married to a lawyer and is a successful journalist. Except for when she went away for college, she’s spent her entire life in the community. When she takes in the recluse artist Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl as tenants at one of her smaller homes (she sees it as charity, a gesture of goodwill), she didn’t realize the ripple of change that move would set.

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