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 You Know, What You Don’t: A Story of Marriage by Lauren Groff

Book Reviews, Fiction, Love

“Paradox of marriage: you can never know someone entirely;
you do know someone entirely.”

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Trust Green Apple, a local bookstore which has been my go-to for a decade now, to hand you the next best read just when you needed it. Right there on the corner of a long table of bargain books was Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies (Amazon | Indiebound) at $7.95. Of course I had to get it.

And what a wonderful decision it was to walk away from the bookstore, holding between my calloused brown fingers a world I was about to submerge in, the world of Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite and Mathilde Yoder.

I usually balk, roll my eyes, make a face at the mention (even hint) of “chick lit.” Aka beach reads. Aka “light lit” that to this day, I’m still challenging exactly what it comprises of. To be fair though, someone gifted me with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love (Amazon | Indiebound) after I’ve repeatedly ignored it or walked past it on shelves and ended up loving it. Absolutely loving it, no matter how problematic it was.

But this was no chick lit as I had originally assumed. I was also slightly comforted by the “National Book Award Finalist” sticker on the cover because I have so much trust in Lisa Lucas. Fortune Smiles (Amazon | Indiebound) by Adam Johnson won that year.

A unity, marriage, made of discrete parts. Lotto was loud and full of light; Mathilde, quiet, watchful.

Fates and Furies is the story of Lotto and Mathilde’s marriage, told from both their viewpoints. Fates is Lotto’s side while Furies is Mathilde’s. The novel begins with quite possibly the most tender scenes I’ve ever read, just a few moments right after the couple gets married and each is lost in his or her own thoughts. On the beach, the ocean all to themselves. And then it pans out to Lotto’s childhood — from how his parents met, his youth and the eventual death of his gentle giant of a father, Gawain.

After his father’s untimely death, Lotto plunges within himself straight into a dark, deep well. This is where I first started to root for him and his happiness.

He began to live for the sand, the beer, the drugs; he stole his mother’s painkillers to share. His sorrow for losing father went vague during the day, though at night he still woke weeping.

It was through his friends, particularly Chollie (who reminded him of his father) and through Mathilde that he was able to feel at home, with himself again.

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Throughout the first part of the book, it’s easy to be enamored of Lotto just like how every girl in their world seemed to be. From his days in college to his newfound fame as a playwright later on, his was a character that enchanted and captivated you. I don’t know if it’s his profound loneliness that made you want to empathize with him, but even at his lowest he was lovable.

His father’s death had been so sudden, forty-six, too young; and all Lotto wanted was to close his eyes and find his father there, to put his head on his father’s chest and smell him and hear the warm thumpings of his heart. Was that so much to ask?

A Guide for Living Our Best Lives, with Kahlil Gibran

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit

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Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is one of those rare books that proves to be timeless and brimming with wisdom, one that instantly gives you clarity upon reading it. Call me late to The Prophet-party, but I’m glad that I read it at the most opportune time possible. As I sift through the mess of 2016, reading Gibran’s classic work gave me so much perspective beyond our current times, propelling a leap inwards towards the self’s center.

The book is the story of Almustafa who was set to sail out back to his birthplace, after living in Orphalese for more than a decade. But before he leaves, he engages in a discussion of life and the human condition with a group of people. This becomes the essence of The Prophet, a compilation of 26 prose fables on love, marriage, pain, work and other matters of life we hold dear.

We’re living in a time where our lives are complicated by economic, political, psychological and social factors, not in the way that strengthens our resolve as human beings but geared towards a profit-seeking, environmentally-destructible and individualist paradigm. It is no wonder that even with the rise of social media, we feel disconnected more than ever — misunderstood, disillusioned, isolated.

How do we then make sense of our need to flourish in the short time that we have in this world, given the unforgiving frailty of our human faculties? Gibran seemed to have the answers.

On love & marriage — the message is this: a delicate dance of just enough is enough for love. More than bell hooks’s book All About Love which I touted at one point as my bible, I think Gibran’s message resonates because it acknowledges our humanity while respecting our beloved’s.

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This inquiry is central to so many of our lives — the desire to love and be loved. And when we do find our beloved, the path to healthy relationships at times can be thorny. Although we spend the majority of our early years in school, we are never taught how to relate in intimate relationships healthily. Our education comes in the form of prominent figures in our personal lives and what we see in the media. In this matter, Gibran also has some words.

My parents got back from the Philippines last week, after spending two blissful weeks in the homeland. Every time they go for a visit, they always come back electric and full of life. Along with that renewed zest is also a tinge of melancholy, written in their faces as they slowly readjust to life back in the States. I hug both of them and smell the sweet scents of home.

But because homesickness also has a physical element, it wouldn’t be a homecoming for Filipinos without balikbayan boxes. My parents had four of those boxes which contained gifts and goods from the country: dried mangoes, polvoron (plain and chocolate ones), specialty dried herring in mason jars, “French” corned beef, candies from sari-sari stores we used to buy as kids (Mik Mik, Haw Haw, Hi-Ho), lengua de gato (butter oats), 3-in-1 coffee mixes, garlic peanuts, special tamarind candy, delicacies from Baguio (chocolate marshmallows, chocolate flakes) and more.

I think my sisters, our relatives, family friends and I have enough goodies to tide us over until the next wave of homesickness hits. We can always eat our feelings.

While munching on one of the Pan de San Nicolas my dad absolutely adores, my mom handed me another package wrapped in plastic. I think they secretly waited until I ate some of the “heritage cookie” specially made in our province (Pampanga), which bears an embossed image of the St. Nicholas on the biscuit itself. My parents are unhappily aware of my Buddhist beliefs, gravely disappointed by my spiritual choices after having gone to a Catholic school for 14 years. Word has it that it has a “curative effect,” to be eaten while saying a prayer. I felt bad after literally biting the head off one.

I opened the package and in it were three glorious things:

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Habang Wala Pa Sila (Mga Tula ng Pag-ibig) by Juan Miguel Severo

Stupid is Forever by Miriam Defensor Santiago

The Duterte Manifesto

The first two books were from my dear cousin back home, Ate Tet, and the last book was something that caught my dad’s eye. I mentioned that I wanted these two books unavailable in the U.S. and sure enough, my family came through with my request.

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tag-ulan

minahal kita
walang payong na dinala.

– Juan Miguel Severo

I first heard about the poet after watching a spoken word piece that went viral. I’ve always loved spoken word artists — Kai Davis, Aja Monet, Saul Williams; and I’ve always admired Filipino poets — Bienvenido Lumbera, Joi Barrios, Jose Garcia Villa. It was a breathtaking experience to see both Tagalog and spoken word combined, to witness Severo’s work. The depth of his poems and the conviction of his delivery tugs at the heart. It was like being granted permission to access those parts of us we didn’t even know existed. And to top it all off — I’m an undoubtedly big fan of a Filipino teleserye called “On The Wings of Love” which featured the poet and his work consistently.

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Law school is quite easy. It’s like a stroll in the park. Pero Jurassic Park.

– Miriam Defensor Santiago

The next book Stupid is Forever by this renowned politician in the country is “a collection of jokes, one-liners, pick-up lines, comebacks and speeches delivered and/or curated by the beloved Senator.” I’ve always looked up to MDS even as a kid, as I watched her on TV deliver impassioned speeches in Congress, in awe of her intellect and outspokenness. She ran for president during the most recent election season in the Philippines and lost, the frailty of her health a huge concern.

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I don’t care if I burn in hell as long as the people I serve will live in paradise.

– Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte

Last but not the least (and also unexpected) was a copy of The Duterte Manifesto from my dad. My dad likes (or loves) to challenge my political beliefs, specially when it comes to politics in the Philippines. He knew I would find this book interesting, notwithstanding its title very similar to another very popular manifesto out there. Duterte is an interesting figure, rife with contradictions but I’m watching and learning. If anything, this book promises to be an intimate rendering of the president. In the introduction, it was signed (translated from Tagalog):

“From my humble hacienda larger than the terrain/estate of (bleep),”

– Senyora Santibañez (the main antagonist of an old Mexican
telenovela aired in the Philippines)

I can only surmise that Senyora is alluding to Hacienda Luisita, owned by the former President Aquino’s family, a site of decade-long struggle and resistance of the farmers against their landlords.

These three books in no means capture the state of Philippine society as a whole, but they draw a picture of popular culture that is reflective of different parts of Filipino society. I’ve always trusted books more than television, finding poets and writers more credible (even while they’re making jokes!).

I’ll be spending the next few weeks immersed in these three literary pieces of which I will duly be reporting back and writing about in this blog. Now that’s what you call healing.

Pasalu-book: Gifts from the Motherland

Fil/Lit, Sunday Spotlight

The French novelist Marcel Proust would’ve turned 146 years old on July 10th, and Lithub gathered six writers in this article to talk about his genius. I first heard about the writer from Alain de Botton’s book How Proust Can Change Your Life, which was a compendium of ways of looking and living life, in true Proustian style.

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Most of the writers on the Lithub piece talked about Proust’s book In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way, of which I have an illustrated copy of. de Botton reveled in this book, in spite of its format (with sentences that don’t seem to let you breathe) because just like what other writers have found it: “reading Proust is like reading oneself.” I need to get started with my own copy soon.

When I want to restore my faith in literature, I read Proust.

– Aleksander Hemon

July 12th on the other hand marks the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s 112th birthday. Neruda’s legacy is carried forth by poets, writers and romantics alike, as his poems imbue our lives with wonder and an appreciation for things we overlook. I once marveled at a collection of odes: to socks, onions, apples, salt.

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Two things I love most about him: he was a Communist and an infinite lover of saltwater.

I need the sea because it teaches me.

– Pablo Neruda

In lieu of birthday cakes, I think ice cream on books would suffice:

Last but not the least, another cause for literary celebration: Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing is a 2016 First Novel Prize finalist at the Center for Fiction! I recently finished the book and wrote about its significance, using the lens of historical fiction  to understand the movement for black lives. Good luck, Ms. Gyasi!

#GetLit: Greetings

#GetLit

What We Really Talk About When We Talk About Love, with Alain de Botton (Part 2)

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit

This is a two-part book review of Alain de Botton’s The Course of Love.
The first part can be found here

* * *

After listening to Michael Krasny’s interview of Alain de Botton on KQED’s Forum, I headed out to see him speak in Corte Madera that evening. The bookstore north of San Francisco was already filled thirty minutes before the event; I was pleased to see that there were other people of color there who were eager to hear about what he had to say about love.

But it all begins and ends with romance. As soon as de Botton took the stage, he started talking about romanticism right away.

All sorts of other notions run through romanticism: for all of us, there is a soul mate out there. Maybe we’ve met them, maybe we haven’t met them so we keep swiping left, right, left, right. When we find them, it will be delightful — we will never be lonely again. All of our questions, all of our doubts about our purpose, meaning and significance in life will be answered by someone who understands us totally and reconciles us in every way we exist.

Peals of laughter grew as he pointed out other notions of Romanticism that we’ve come to normalized, things we’ve never questioned before. Just like in the book, he launched into a clear-eyed examination of our feelings about love and the way we’ve related to potential partners or lovers on all aspects.

In the first part of my book review for The Course of Love, I wrote about five things that I learned:

  1. Love is a skill, not an enthusiasm.
  2. What we look for in love unconsciously are patterns of childhood familiarity.
  3. One of love’s oddities: sulking.
  4. The opposite of nagging is negotiating and understanding patiently.
  5. Teaching our partners may be one of love’s greatest gifts.

Just as I was talking about the book’s main characters Rabih and Kirsten in that post and ways of looking at love, I want to probe even deeper. I’m interested in  extending the conversation beyond what we already know and have come to accept. My goal is to understand the process that de Botton writes about:

It will take Rabih many years and frequent essays in love to reach a few different conclusions, to recognize that the very things he once considered romantic — wordless intuitions, instantaneous longings, a trust in soul mates — are what stand in the way of learning how to be with someone. He will surmise that love can endure only when one is unfaithful to its beguiling opening ambitions, and that, for his relationships to work, he will need to give up on the feelings that got him into them in the first place.

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What We Really Talk About When We Talk About Love, with Alain de Botton

Book Reviews, Fiction, Soul + Spirit

…is a lot of romanticism.

It’s in the movies we watch, the books we read, the music we listen to. From Disney “Princess” films to books and movies inspired by Nicholas Sparks, the irresistible charm of romance permeates our culture. It’s the nostalgia of the fairy tale, it is its allure that keeps us affirming star-crossed lovers (Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet to Meyer’s Edward & Bella).

We talk of love in its highest regard in romantic relationships — the chocolates and the flowers, the grand gestures, the undying affection that has taken over and shaped how our society at large sees relationships. We are enchanted by that initial “spark” and eventually find ourselves looking how to recapture it (as in, Rekindling the Romance: 9 Secrets to Keeping the Spark…).

The love stories we see and hear about are really only the beginning of those relationships, Alain de Botton argues, in his new book The Course of Love. What happens after the proposal, followed by the wedding, are the lives of two people bound not by romance alone but by the humbling reality of living with another person.

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The Wonders of Philosophy on our Lives, with Alain de Botton

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit

Philosophy as a tool for practicality, as a means for living our lives more fruitfully. This is what Alain de Botton’s book The Consolations of Philosophy aims to achieve, by exploring the lives of Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

In spite of the vast differences between the many thinkers described as philosophers across time, it seemed possible to discern a small group of men, separated by centuries, sharing a loose allegiance to a vision of philosophy suggested by the Greek etymology of the word — philo, love; sophia, wisdom — a group bound by a common interest in saying a few consoling and practical things about the causes of our greatest griefs.

It is easy to dismiss philosophy as useless, only fit for intellectuals, a bourgeosie occupation. But de Botton proves it isn’t so.

After all, weren’t Karl Marx, Hegel, Hippocrates, Socrates, Vladimir Lenin all philosophers who have created uncharted pathways in revolutions, industries and institutions?

While political philosophers like Marx tackled the evils of capitalism, philosophers featured in de Botton’s book all point to things in our lives that do need some balming, quiet, internal revolutions of their own: unpopularity, not having enough money, broken-heartedness, inadequacy, anxiety and the fear of failure.

Relevant and accessible, The Consolations of Philosophy points out similarities between the philosophers’ live and our own, problems that wo/man has encountered since the earliest time. It is funny, poignant and honest, things we all need to face what afflicts us.

On unpopularity

At one point in our lives we’ve all encountered who Socrates was; you might’ve learned about him in school or you’ve probably seen his infamous quote:

De Botton details Socrates’s life and challenges popular beliefs. Instead, he asks us to investigate ideas with little to no following. He believed that this is vital specially when the pressure to conform abounds. Socrates also provided a way of challenging beliefs that we may not agree with, and to do so with intentions of arriving at the truth.

For a man who was sentenced to die precisely for wanting to seek and arrive with others at the fundamental truth of any matter, we’re at an opportune time when independent thinking garners a lot less danger.

Socrates’s method of thinking promised us a way to develop opinions in which we could, even if confronted with a storm, feel veritable confidence.

It would be a shame to deprive ourselves, loved ones and our communities of this chance at truth; his death did not occur for us to receive what we don’t understand with blind acceptance.

True respectability stems not from the will of the majority but from proper reasoning.

An Unlikely Currency: Books

Book Reviews, Love, Soul + Spirit

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.