The Plant Messiah at the Conservatory of Flowers

A Return to the Natural World, with Carlos Magdalena (A Book Review of “The Plant Messiah”)

Book Reviews, Call to Action

You see, plants are our greatest yet most humble servants; they care for us every day, in every way. Without them we would not survive. It is as simple as that.

In return for their generosity, we treat them appallingly.

I’m probably the last person to talk about plants or nature in my circle but in the past couple of years, I’ve been slowly seeking the natural world, listening to an intimate pull towards it.

When I finally read The Plant Messiah: Adventures in Search of the World’s Rarest Species (Shop your local indie bookstore) by Carlos Magdalena, it felt like a culmination of sorts because I’ve been thinking so much about my own relationship to flora and fauna, to a world beyond what human beings have created for ourselves. It doesn’t help that we are bombarded with so much news about catastrophe and destruction and violence (usually man-made) that a return to the natural world feels inevitable, incredibly urgent.

In some ways, reading Magdalena’s account is a lot like reading about my own childhood. Although he was born and raised in Spain, and I, in the country Spain colonized for over three hundred years (the Philippines), there were many moments of nostalgia. While he was growing up in Asturias tending to plants, trees and animals that his whole family nurtured, I spent many afternoons in Apalit helping my grandfather tend to his ducks and chickens, waiting patiently for tomatoes to ripen.

While I’m thousands of miles away from my hometown, I went to the closest place I can go to that reflected a growing intimacy with the natural world, aided by The Plant Messiah: San Francisco’s own Conservatory of Flowers.

The Plant Messiah at the Conservatory of Flowers

Debriefing, with Susan Sontag

Book Reviews

Reading Susan Sontag has always felt like gentle rain coming down on you midday, on a quiet street with no shade in sight, no umbrella on hand.

So you soak all of it in. You let her words seep through your pores, a place where water meets itself.

After reading her diaries and journals, I was eager for more.

And just as I was getting into short stories, Sontag’s own collection materialized — Debriefing: Collected Stories (Amazon | Shop your local indie bookstore) happened.

I was curious: would these stories be different from her journal entries, musings and observations, each a pseudo-short story in itself?

Surprisingly, I settled within each story naturally.

Sontag’s rhythm even in prose is unmistakable, and I sought to find her in each one as I did with her journals.

And there she always was, gleaming in between action or whatever emotion came hurtling out of the page.

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In Pilgrimmage, Sontag writes how two curious high-schoolers, also voracious readers, managed to get themselves invited to their favorite writer’s home. The story is an ode to reading and writing, both ends of the literary spectrum where the writer meets the reader in the pages. But in this particular story, the writer meets the readers in real life in an encounter so surreal it had me sitting on the edge of my seat.

After all, isn’t it every reader’s dream to meet/have coffee or tea with their favorite author?

Then there’s a story that reads like Sontag’s journals, called Project Trip to China wherein she notes a myriad of topics and things coming up for a trip to the country. I love how meticulous she is about this particular topic, as she weaves facts about China and her presuppositions. She writes about her own observations about the political conditions of the country, at a time of Mao Tse-tung’s reign.

Finding An Uncommon Type, with Tom Hanks (A Book Review)

Book Reviews, Fiction

I have a confession to make: I don’t really care much for Tom Hanks the actor, but I am quite impressed by Tom Hanks the writer

34368390When Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks was released, I was immediately intrigued. I usually ignore books by celebrities and dismiss them, with the exception of The Autobiography of Gucci Mane which I reviewed last month. Ok, so maybe my barometer for legit reads is if they get interviewed on KQED which Hanks did, a signal that this was a “real book” as opposed to just a self-promotional ploy.

So when Book of the Month had the book as one of its monthly selections, I knew I had my choice picked.

It wouldn’t be for another two months after that that I would dive into the book, and as always, the timing couldn’t have been perfect. I purposely did not read any reviews or listen to any interviews because I wanted my review to unvarnished, free of influence.

And boy did I love this book.

Each story is anchored with a quiet but resolute vibrance, the kind that emphasizes humanity more than grandiosity (I expected the latter, because hey, he’s a movie star after all). There aren’t any big hooplas, no grand entrances or fire-truck alarms going off that holds your breath captive by the page. Instead, he writes about the many rhythms of daily life, the ones we will have  missed if we weren’t paying close attention.

A Fiery February Reading List

Sunday Spotlight

Ok–we are headed shortly towards the end of the month so I know this post is hella late but I swear I have really good reasons why I’m posting this just now.

I’m still adjusting to the rhythm of the new year (as in slowing down) and to be completely transparent, I’m just about finishing the last book on the list for January. That’s one, and the other reason is I just the hard copies for almost all of what I intended for this month’s reading list, most notably Tayari Jones’s book An American Marriage from Book of the Month.

Always the ambitious reader, I know I’m not going to be able to read all of these books by the end of the month but I want to show where I want to get started. Just this morning, I was captivated by the light streaming into my bedroom which really reflected the theme of this month’s books. Light, something that we need more of specially during these times, days after the shooting at a Florida high school. Light, in spite of the heaviness we feel when we see how people of color are labeled as opposed to white people committing acts of violence. Light, because the embers of our fiery selves are growing and coming together in the year of the dog (happy Lunar new year!). Light, because the only way we can experience it is by seeing the light in others.

Sunday afternoon light.

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
A poetic and powerful memoir about what it means to be a Black woman in America—and the co-founding of a movement that demands justice for all in the land of the free. Raised by a single mother in an impoverished neighborhood in Los Angeles, Patrisse Khan-Cullors experienced firsthand the prejudice and persecution Black Americans endure at the hands of law enforcement. For Patrisse, the most vulnerable people in the country are Black people. Deliberately and ruthlessly targeted by a criminal justice system serving a white privilege agenda, Black people are subjected to unjustifiable racial profiling and police brutality. In 2013, when Trayvon Martin’s killer went free, Patrisse’s outrage led her to co-found Black Lives Matter with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi.

The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee Boggs
A world dominated by America and driven by cheap oil, easy credit, and conspicuous consumption is unraveling before our eyes. In this powerful, deeply humanistic book, Grace Lee Boggs, a legendary figure in the struggle for justice in America, shrewdly assesses the current crisis—political, economical, and environmental—and shows how to create the radical social change we need to confront new realities. A vibrant, inspirational force, Boggs has participated in all of the twentieth century’s major social movements—for civil rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, and more. She draws from seven decades of activist experience, and a rigorous commitment to critical thinking, to redefine “revolution” for our times. From her home in Detroit, she reveals how hope and creativity are overcoming despair and decay within the most devastated urban communities. Her book is a manifesto for creating alternative modes of work, politics, and human interaction that will collectively constitute the next American Revolution.

Where the Line Bleeds by Jesmyn Ward
Where the Line Bleeds is unforgettable for the intense clarity of how the main relationships are rendered: the love but growing tension between the twins; their devotion to the slowly failing grandmother to raised them, and the sense of obligation they feel toward her; and most of all, the alternating pain, bewilderment, anger, and yearning they feel for the parents who abandoned them—their mother for a new life in the big city of Atlanta, and their father for drugs, prison, and even harsher debasements.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

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Are you reading any of these books or have you read any of them? What are you reading this month? Let me know in the comments below!

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:

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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

What I’m Reading / Thinking / Feeling this February

#GetLit, Soul + Spirit

Fresh off of a trip from New York City and I’m feeling all sorts of inspired + excited for this year’s opportunities and gifts!

I just wrote a piece on Hella Pinay about making 2018 the year of emergence, along with a couple of book recommendations that I hope can guide and enlighten. You can check out the full piece here, and share with a friend or two.

February is probably one of my favorite months, in anticipation of March (my birth month) where for the past couple of years, a lot of life-changing things have been happening. It’s also usually Chinese New Year (I’m not Chinese but have reverence for the occasion), Black History Month and duh, Valentines Day (which is always a good time to challenge/recreate/celebrate the different ways we love).

I know we’re almost halfway into the month already, but I’ve got a few more literary-ish things I’m hoping to publish in addition to weekly book reviews. I’m reading a bit slower than usual though, and usually I would berate myself for not keeping on track with my reading/publishing schedule but I learned a lot of good but hard lessons last year.

A few things coming up your way is a V-day special, books to celebrate Black History month and this month’s reading of course! I just finished Tom Hanks’s book of short stories An Unncommon Type and unexpectedly loved it. I’m about to dive into another set of short stories by Susan Sontag, so watch out for reviews of both of these. This week also, my review for Ana Simo’s Heartland will be out!

As I continue to open myself up to new experiences and things that make me want to cower in bed and hide, I find myself feeling lighter and expansive at the same time, each day a wave of goodness (even on the bad days). I can say that for the first time in my existence, I feel at peace with what I have, what I’m doing, what I’m feeling. Is this what being in your 30s feel like?!

Navigating a tumultuous political and economic reality can wear even the strongest spirit down, so for the past few months, I’ve been focused on nourishing my mental, emotional and physical health. And it’s worked wonders! Apart from living within the books I devour, I’ve also learned how to truly live in this world–to be ever present. At the end of the day, knowing that everything I chose to say yes and no to feels good in my heart (and gut!) gives me a sense of power and agency I’ve never really felt before.

This, in spite of continued attacks on women from heads of state (Trump & Duterte) — u got a domestic violence apologist/misogynist for your adoptive country with a macho-fascist for your homeland. Talk about being a Filipino-American queer woman at this time!

Still, we resist. We create. We thrive and continue to exist. I am grateful to feel rooted, grounded and centered like never before and it is my wish that every single one feels the same way. We need all of our strength and resilience as we fight to make our way in this planet, as we make room for many more. I love how I’ve been able to connect with so many folks through this Libromance and as always, thank you for supporting me and my blog! 🖤

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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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.

readgood