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:

2

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 

December Book List

Sunday Spotlight

🎄 Happy holidays! 🎄

Before the year ends, I want to thank each and every one of you for subscribing, reading my posts and for the many ways we’ve built with each other here at Libromance. It’s been an amazing year of reading and writing, and I couldn’t have done it without your support.

And while I’m wrapping up a few things and getting ready for 2018, I wanted to share with you all my book list for December — quite a varied selection of books that have caught my attention, and a title I’ve been meaning to get into for awhile now.

img_1353

When I first saw How to Reform Capitalism by The School of Life Press, I knew I had to read it for myself. I’ve been following TSoL for awhile now, and I’m a huge fan of its founder, Alain de Botton (whose books I’ve reviewed here in the blog). Living in a time when imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, reigns, I wanted to see what the good folks over at TSoL had to say. Here’s a synopsis of the book:

As this bold essay argues, the path to a better sort of capitalism starts with a clear-eyed understanding of our emotional functioning and the workings of our psyches. What follows is nothing less than a blueprint, revolutionary yet utterly practical, for a wiser and better kind of capitalism.

Others on the list are:

The Diary of Anaïs Nin which I picked up at the Henry Miller Memorial up in Big Sur, as I figured it was about time I acquainted myself with thinker/writer, after hearing so much about her;

The Autobiography of Gucci Mane, a book about the Atlanta-based rapper whose song Wasted is one of my faves; a synopsis:

For the first time Gucci Mane tells his story in his own words. It is the captivating life of an artist who forged an unlikely path to stardom and personal rebirth. Gucci Mane began writing his memoir in a maximum-security federal prison. Released in 2016, he emerged radically transformed. He was sober, smiling, focused, and positive—a far cry from the Gucci Mane of years past;

and Louise Erdrich’s Future of the Living God, a just released title from the Native American writer. This will be my first read of the author’s work, and I’m looking forward to that; a synopsis:

A chilling dystopian novel both provocative and prescient, Future Home of the Living God is a startlingly original work from one of our most acclaimed writers: a moving meditation on female agency, self-determination, biology, and natural rights that speaks to the troubling changes of our time.

What’s on your bedside table this time?
Do share what book you’re ending the year with in the comments below! 

Sunshine Like a Stick of Butter, with Rachel Khong (A Book Review of ‘Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel’)

Book Reviews, Fiction, Love

It was just few years ago when my grandmother, who I was named after, started leaving plates of food on the table. For my grandfather, she says. At that time my gramps, a notorious womanizer, has been dead for at least 10 years. She then started accusing household help of stealing items she’s kept away, or for sneaking out when she’s sent them to run errands for her.

I was about 7,000 miles away from her when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She passed soon shortly after that.

Grandma was on my mind when I first started reading Rachel Khong’s Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel (Amazon | Indiebound), a story about a year-long care-giving of a daughter for her ailing father suffering from the same sickness.

2[1]

After her mom suggested she move back for a year to help care for her father, Ruth slowly establishes a life back at their home in southern California. In the midst of reacquainting herself with her father’s new ways (a sour temperament, always holed up in his home office), she also recounts moments from her last failed relationship.

Ruth cooks for his father, studies and avoids what could exacerbate his symptoms, is diligent in ensuring he takes what he needs. But it isn’t so simple, she finds out. It started with him forgetting his wallet, then forgetting to turn the faucet off until it got to a point where he would show up to teach a class at the university on the wrong day.

In one of many attempts of trying to regain “normalcy” in his life, Ruth and some of his father’s mentees and colleagues employ an elaborate set-up. As agreed upon by everyone, they would pretend that he is back in the university teaching, as the “students” pretend to move the class from one place on campus to restaurants across town to avoid being caught. His father seems to be his old self back.

#GetLit, A Hella Pinay Edition

#GetLit, Fil/Lit

This post was originally written for Hella Pinay, a “space for positive representation of the diversity and complexity of Pilipina womxn, and facilitate dialogue between Pinays in the Philippines and throughout the diaspora.” I’m happy to announce that I’ll be writing a monthly column on all things literary for the site!

* * *

pia2

To be a Filipino living in the U.S. these days means enduring affronts from both the Philippine and the U.S. governments, (seemingly) forever caught in a geopolitical crossfire that requires a skillful navigation. How can we best express our wholeness and honor our ancestors while at the same time acknowledge the painful contradictions we live in in this country?

First, we read.

Just as Jose Rizal’s books Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo were banned after successfully fomenting a Filipino national consciousness in the midst of Spanish colonization, we can turn to literature. We read to guide us to a deeper introspection of who we are / where we come from and to propel us to find critical connections within ourselves and our communities, all from the pages in our hands.

And what better time is it to dive into necessary lit than right now? October happens to be Filipino-American History/Heritage Month, first celebrated back in 1988. From the first Filipinos who set foot in Morro Bay, California in October 1587 to a current population of over 3 million in the country, our people are a force to be reckoned with.

It is also Indigenous Peoples Month in the Philippines, and I’m remembering the ongoing struggle and resistance of the Lumad people in the southern part of the country (Mindanao), as well as their incredible resilience in the face of displacement, violence and political repression.

Here are five essential reads that reflect our times, written by Pinays whose work encompasses many ways we’ve struggled and survived as a people, whose stories amplify our collective strength and resilience:

alvar
In the Country: Stories (2016) is a collection of nine short stories by Filipina author Mia Alvar. They are stories of family, loss, love and migration. Alvar writes of overseas Filipino workers in Bahrain, of grief-stricken separated siblings, of an estranged child witnessing his father’s death. More than the characters and the stories themselves, Alvar writes about political and economic shifts in the country.

13445812_10208266584835043_4484467537053310611_n

BAYI: Stories of Lumad Women (2016) tells the stories of ten fierce Lumad women in Mindanao and their struggle to fight for their lives, land and liberation. Meet 92-year old Bai Bibiyaon Likayan Bigkay, a female Lumad tribal chieftain in a culture that has been traditionally patriarchal. Bai has been leading the fight against mining mega-corporations and their paramilitary counterparts.

30279419-_uy693_ss693_

Marcos Martial Law: Never Again (2017) is the work of journalist Raissa Robles, who has been covering the Marcoses for decades. Borne out of the need to retell the story of martial law largely in part because of martial law’s omission in Filipino textbooks, Robles’s tome is a testament to the atrocities of a regime ruled by repression, disappearances and intense violence. With a a generation growing up oblivious to the terrors of ML, this is an essential book.

invocation

Invocation to Daughters (2017) is due to be out in November this year, and already it’s been getting a lot of buzz. This is the fifth collection of poetry by Filipina poet Barbara Jane Reyes, written “in the tradition of Audre Lorde and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Invocation to Daughters is a book of prayers, psalms, and odes for Filipina girls and women trying to survive and make sense of their own situations.”

lolas-house

Lola’s House: Filipino Women Living with War (2017) took 17 years to make, as M. Evelina Galang interviewed sixteen Filipino “comfort women” who were abducted, raped and tortured by the Imperial Japanese Army. Galang spent a lot of time with the Lila Pilipina women, an organization of surviving comfort women as they protested, recounted their stories and lived as survivors.

#FinestFiction Wrap-Up: Who Will Win This Year’s Man Booker Prize?

Sunday Spotlight

For the past two months, I’ve incorporated titles long-listed for the Man Booker Prize on my reading list. I tried to read every single book religiously and although the outcome is far from perfect, I’m happy to say that I met about 80% of my goal.

My #FinestFiction reading challenge was a challenge in pushing through with genres I’m not used to, and a commitment to expand my reading with work that I wouldn’t have read otherwise.

There were books that I absolutely loved. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is one, and so is Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. And then there were books that I started but never finished like Solar Bones by Mike McCormack and The History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund. There were also books that I didn’t care for that I ended up loving, like Ali Smith’s Autumn and Paul Auster’s 4 3 2 1: A Novel.

I had a lot of fun as I made my way through each book, and I think I’m going to do it again next year. There’s nothing like reading out of your usual picks, out of your comfort zone to push you into learning more about the world, a process that ends up with you learning more about yourself.

The short list was announced back in September and I was a little shocked that the titles I was anticipating to be on the list weren’t (!) — I thought Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad was going to be a shoo-in! Nevertheless, I’m quite happy *with* some of the titles that made it.

img_5189

Elmet by Fiona Mozley (read my book review)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (read my book review)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
4 3 2 1: A Novel by Paul Auster (book review out soon!)
History of Wolves: A Novel by Emily Fridlund
Autumn: A Novel by Ali Smith (read my book review)

At first I was rooting for Hamid, and then Smith, and then Auster, and then Mozley. Right now, I can’t really make up my mind because any of these four are plausible winners. At this point, I’d be happy for any of these titles to win the prize.

Who are you rooting for?
Sign up below to win a copy of the winning title! 

#GetLit: Kazuo Ishiguro & #FilBookFest

#GetLit

Me and my boots at the Color Factory in San Francisco, CA 

My current mood is perfectly depicted in the photo above. The world is wearing me out, tbvfh. In the past week, almost 60 people were killed as a gunman peppered attendees of a country music festival with bullets. Hundred were injured. In the past weeks, hurricanes ravaged Texas and Puerto Rico, while earthquakes killed many in Mexico.

To make matters worse, the presidency has proven itself to be even worse than anticipated, with Trump mouthing off the most ridiculous things to have ever been uttered by anyone, ever. There’s blatant corruption, no sign of compassion or empathy but rather strong displays of bigotry, misogyny and racism. It seems like we’re regressing further into the abyss, with the rollback of DACA, numerous attempts of overturning Obamacare, the reinstatement of the Muslim Ban, a tax proposal which prioritizes the wealthiest and so many more.

And so I hide. I hide in my books, in the small (yet grand in many ways) comforts of arts and music, in the day-to-day moments of wonder I’ve been able to grasp. I find hope in literature, as a means to ground myself in the lessons of the past, what we’re dealing in the future, and what the future could look like as we shape it. I feel a certain type of restlessness, so I wander, reveling in new places and new faces. At the same time, I also turn inwards, finding solitude more and more nourishing.

It may just be a change of season, the wind blowing in a different direction. A few days ago, I woke up to news of British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

06nobel-master768

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2017 was awarded to Kazuo Ishiguro “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”.

I thought of Haruki Murakami right away, the other famed Japanese novelist, whose books I never really liked. I’ve never read any of Ishiguro’s work before so I can’t say I’m familiar with his work, but pieces like this — first reviews of every Ishiguro novel — certainly help. And as if I needed another nod to make my way to Green Apple Books this weekend for copies of Ishiguro’s books, I came across this:

pico

Oh, Pico.

* * *

In other news, I’ve been slowly cranking out book reviews so if you’re looking for your next best read, here are some links to help you out:

Loving in Ireland, with John Boyne (A Book Review of The Heart’s Invisible Furies)

On Separation, Family and Revolution, with Derek Palacio (A Book Review of The Mortifications)

This Body Is, with Roxane Gay (A Book Review of Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body)

* * *

Five Books You Should Read This Year

img_3650

* * *

Lastly, the Filipino Book Festival is happening this weekend in San Francisco — let me know if you will be too, let’s link up! In the meantime, happy reading!

On Separation, Family & Revolution, with Derek Palacio (A Book Review of ‘The Mortifications’)

Book Reviews, fiction

I first heard of Cuba when I read Assata Shakur’s memoir Assata: An Autobiography (Amazon| Indiebound)  as a young Filipino immigrant. I had no knowledge of the country, only that there was a strict embargo in place, but I knew it had to be a good place, good enough to give refuge to a black revolutionary woman.

Over time, I started learning about Fidel Castro and the country’s history, from Spanish colonization to socialist revolution to its communist government. I learned about Raul, the Bay of Pigs Invasion. I learned about Che Guevarra. And then it hit me — back in high school in the Philippines, I used to rock a red shirt with the infamous Guerrillero Heroico, the revolutionary’s famed portrait. I remember being drawn to the man on the shirt, wondering who he was and what the reason was behind his piercing look. Turns out, that shirt was my first introduction to Cuba. With these things in mind, I dove right into The Mortifications: A Novel (Amazon | Indiebound) by Derek Palacio.

2[1]

The story begins with the  Mariel Boatlift, the emigration of Cuban immigrants to the United States back in the ’80s at the height of economic downturn. At the center of the story is a family: Uxbal, a father hellbent on continuing the revolution, his wife Soledad who wanted to leave for good and the twins, Ulises and Isabel who knew nothing about what was going on at that time except perhaps that they were about to be broken.

They settled in Connecticut, as opposed to other Cuban immigrants and exiles who stayed in Florida and created their own haven, Little Havana. Far away from everyone, the family of three tried to make sense of their new home. While Ulises escaped in his world of books and literature, Isabel suddenly turned towards the Church.

4[1]

This Body Is, with Roxane Gay

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit

My dad’s signature greeting to family relatives, friends and people he meets has always been, roughly translated from Tagalog: “Looks to me like you’re getting skinny!” It doesn’t matter if it was the first time my dad has ever seen the person, or if they’ve just seen each other the day before.

Cue a hearty laugh, a grateful smile, a relieved sigh; the greeting always yields the intended effect. At an early age, I knew that being skinny was a compliment. It was a good sign. If one was gaining weight or on the heavier side though, one could expect a frown, a hushed tone, a look that implies shame.

So I knew my dad was on to something: losing weight = looking good = feeling good. It’s a brilliant formula, but only if you were actually losing weight. But that doesn’t matter.

When I picked up Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (Amazon | Indiebound) by Roxane Gay, I only had the faintest notions on what it was about. All I know is that I have to read Gay’s work — from An Untamed State to Bad Feminist (I’ve yet to read Difficult Women) as she’s become one of my favorite writers (in spite of that tweet suggesting Lebron join the Golden State Warriors).

3

Gay’s book is about hunger in many forms: that adolescent need to fit in and be wanted, a yearning to speak the truth without pain, the comforting solace of food, the promise of safety, to being desired and desiring other bodies.

At the core of Hunger is how Gay has turned to food and literature among other things to keep herself safe, after being raped by a group of boys when she was younger. She didn’t know how to tell her parents for fear of hurting them, so she buried the painful truth and built herself an armor of defense, a fortress for one.

1

In a culture run by capitalism, the need to cater to the male gaze and the unending dissatisfaction brought about by the media and so many industries to turn a profit come first. 

Reading the World with Ali Smith (A Book Review of ‘Autumn: A Novel’)

Book Reviews, Fiction

“What you reading?”

This was the question Daniel Gluck, an older man (almost a century old) with the wisest soul would ask Elisabeth, his new, young neighbor every time they took walks. Before you go down that route, it’s not what you think.

Autumn: A Novel (Amazon | Indiebound) by Ali Smith 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.

The story starts with Daniel Gluck in reverie, washed off in an island where he is strong, he can run, and he is able to fashion suits of leaves for himself. He is beyond elated. In real life, he has been sleeping for what seems like forever while Elisabeth reads to him, watches him.

This how the odd friends met: Elisabeth was supposed to write about their neighbor but her mother advised her to make it all up. The write-up was good (“A Portrait in Words Of Our Next Door Neighbour”), so much so that her mother ended up showing it to their neighbor after all. Good ol’ Daniel Gluck was amused.

Their first meeting, a denial on the young one’s part, on account of embarrassment. Said Elisabeth was her sister.

1[1]

Theirs 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? 

Falling Hard for September’s Book List

Sunday Spotlight

With each new season comes the promise of new releases and must-reads — consider me stoked as I explore this month’s book list!

I’ve been hard at work with my #FinestFiction reading challenge and a few things I’ve learned from immersing myself in the Man Book Prize 2017 longlist:

  • Reading Irish literature was a new experience, although I originally started with John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies which isn’t part of the list.
  • I don’t think I’m smart enough for some titles, because I just don’t get them. Case in point: George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo.
  • I had to put a book down without finishing it, because it bored me to death. Do I just need to be more patient? I was about 1/3 into the book before I realized that it wasn’t really working out for me. Sorry, History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund.

I’m down to the last few titles on the list, and I’m eagerly anticipating the announcement of the shortlist on September 13.

But back to this month’s goodies. The titles from the longest are included and I’ve been really purposeful as well about other titles that I wanted to include. I want my reading list to always reflect the social and political realities of the day, an ode to one of my core beliefs: the power of literature to shape and influence change.

A lot of the titles are around immigration and the struggles that come along with it. As an immigrant myself, I gravitate towards literature that explores and illuminates this topic, a universal theme of life and survival.

img_3013

33621427Home Fire: A Novel by Kamila Shamsie
Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed. 

28503839

The Mortifications by Derek Palacio
In 1980, a rural Cuban family is torn apart during the Mariel Boatlift. Uxbal Encarnación—father, husband, political insurgent—refuses to leave behind the revolutionary ideals and lush tomato farms of his sun-soaked homeland. His wife Soledad takes young Isabel and Ulises hostage and flees with them to America, leaving behind Uxbal for the promise of a better life. But instead of settling with fellow Cuban immigrants in Miami’s familiar heat, Soledad pushes further north into the stark, wintry landscape of Hartford, Connecticut. There, in the long shadow of their estranged patriarch, now just a distant memory, the exiled mother and her children begin a process of growth and transformation.

29773751

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack
Once a year, on All Souls’ Day, it is said in Ireland that the dead may return. Solar Bones is the story of one such visit. Marcus Conway, a middle-aged engineer, turns up one afternoon at his kitchen table and considers the events that took him away and then brought him home again. Funny and strange, McCormack’s ambitious and other-worldly novel plays with form and defies convention. This is profound new work is by one of Ireland’s most important contemporary novelists. A beautiful and haunting elegy, this story of order and chaos, love and loss captures how minor decisions ripple into waves and test our integrity every day.

35711376Elmer by Fiona Mozley
Daniel is heading north. He is looking for someone. The simplicity of his early life with Daddy and Cathy has turned sour and fearful. They lived apart in the house that Daddy built for them with his bare hands. They foraged and hunted. When they were younger, Daniel and Cathy had gone to school. But they were not like the other children then, and they were even less like them now. Sometimes Daddy disappeared, and would return with a rage in his eyes. But when he was at home he was at peace. He told them that the little copse in Elmet was theirs alone. But that wasn’t true. Local men, greedy and watchful, began to circle like vultures. All the while, the terrible violence in Daddy grew.

32569560The Windfall by Diksha Basu
For the past thirty years, Mr. and Mrs. Jha’s lives have been defined by cramped spaces, cut corners, gossipy neighbors, and the small dramas of stolen yoga pants and stale marriages. They thought they’d settled comfortably into their golden years, pleased with their son’s acceptance into an American business school. But then Mr. Jha comes into an enormous and unexpected sum of money, and moves his wife from their housing complex in East Delhi to the super-rich side of town, where he becomes eager to fit in as a man of status: skinny ties, hired guards, shoe-polishing machines, and all.

302446264 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
Nearly two weeks early, on March 3, 1947, in the maternity ward of Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, Archibald Isaac Ferguson, the one and only child of Rose and Stanley Ferguson, is born. From that single beginning, Ferguson’s life will take four simultaneous and independent fictional paths. Four identical Fergusons made of the same DNA, four boys who are the same boy, go on to lead four parallel and entirely different lives. Family fortunes diverge. Athletic skills and sex lives and friendships and intellectual passions contrast. Each Ferguson falls under the spell of the magnificent Amy Schneiderman, yet each Amy and each Ferguson have a relationship like no other. Meanwhile, readers will take in each Ferguson’s pleasures and ache from each Ferguson’s pains, as the mortal plot of each Ferguson’s life rushes on.

1734867Luha ng Buwaya by Amado V. Hernandez
A novel. Barrio peasants led by a local schoolteacher fight greed and oppression and discover a new faith in themselves.

 

 

33283659Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
Midwinter in the early years of this century. A teenage girl on holiday has gone missing in the hills at the heart of England. The villagers are called up to join the search, fanning out across the moors as the police set up roadblocks and a crowd of news reporters descends on their usually quiet home. Meanwhile, there is work that must still be done: cows milked, fences repaired, stone cut, pints poured, beds made, sermons written, a pantomime rehearsed. The search for the missing girl goes on, but so does everyday life. As it must.

30212107Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
Thomas McNulty, aged barely seventeen and having fled the Great Famine in Ireland, signs up for the U.S. Army in the 1850s. With his brother in arms, John Cole, Thomas goes on to fight in the Indian Wars—against the Sioux and the Yurok—and, ultimately, the Civil War. Orphans of terrible hardships themselves, the men find these days to be vivid and alive, despite the horrors they see and are complicit in.

I’ve got some major reading to do this month! Are you diving into any of these books? Share them in the comments below and happy reading!