Deviant Lives, with Carmen Maria Machado (A Book Review of ‘Her Body and Other Parties’)

Book Reviews, Fiction, Love, Writing

I picked up Carmen Maria Machado’s book of short stories Her Body and Other Parties (Amazon | Indiebound) after seeing it on the National Book Awards shortlist for fiction. The title first drew me. I looked up to see who Machado was and found she’s a queer Latinx (yes!), which made me want to read her work even more. And whoa. As soon as I finished one story, I knew I was in for a wild, beautiful ride.

The first story on the book called The Ribbon was my first introduction to Machado. Hers is a concise but weighty voice, one that told the story but kept important details hidden. It was both what she is and what she isn’t saying that drew me even closer to the text, a kind of magnetic pull impossible to resist.

I think it’s also in the way she writes about women in the book, filled with audacious desire and a wonderfully overwhelming presence that had me enthralled. They were eerie in their brilliance, as if something hummed underneath the story line.

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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.

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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!

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

Five Books You Have to Read This Year

Sunday Spotlight

It’s about to be sweater weather. Cuffing season. Time to layer up as the year comes to an end and breeze through the chills with a warm cup of cocoa and the next best thing: a real good book.

The second year of Libromance has been busier, with more titles and more features, a reading challenge and more on the way. It’s been an exhilarating ride with new releases too, as I widen my own repertoire of books to be read from outside the U.S.

I am particularly in awe of books by women that have made it to my reading list, and what better way is there to end the year than by reading them? From lists I’ve made last year which included best-of’s, most of those listed were by men. Quite overwhelmingly. Whitehead, Nguyen, De Botton. There are days when I do question my own taste, but I can’t really help but be drawn to work that moves me, regardless of who the writer is.

This time around though, I’ve been engaged with the work of several women who have made me cry, questioned my beliefs, had me heaving with fury at midnight. From tales about love, family and friendship, these books are guaranteed to stay with you for awhile after you’ve read them, even throughout your whole lifetime, as they do with me.

Here are five books I recommend reading by the year ends:

9781501126062Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Why this book: If you’re looking for a book about family and all of its tender and brutal complications, this is for you. Set in Mississippi, Ward’s book also deals with being haunted by the past and the present, from poverty to drugs to love.

35711376Elmet by Fiona Mozley (book review out next week!)

Why this book: I’m not really into gothic literature but this won me over. A tale of a small family — Daniel, Cathy and Dad — somewhere in the outskirts of a small town in Ireland, this book looks at the intricacies of living outside the norm, and the depths of what people will do for family.

9781101870730Autumn by Ali Smith

Why this book: Ali Smith was an unknown figure to me before I embarked on my #FinestFiction reading challenge, but I feel like a whole new world has just opened up. This book is about an unlikely friendship and how to view the world upside down.

y648Hunger: A Memoir of my Body by Roxane Gay (book review out this week!)

Why this book: Because Gay writes truthfully, painfully, beautifully. This book is Gay’s memoir about her trauma and how she’s learned how to cope with it. It is about one person’s experience with food, family, desire and intimacy.

61s1ostd2bgl-_sx346_bo1204203200_The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

Why this book: This is a searing but also complicated story of India — complete with culture, societal and political upheavals. This is the story of outlaws and misfits. Of women conquering the world’s demands on them, the most awaited from Roy since The God of Small Things.

Have you read or read any of these books? Are you planning to read any or all of them? Let me know in the comments below!

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.

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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. 

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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.

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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!

Books for Days: My August Reading List

Sunday Spotlight

A quick update: I met my reading goals last month! Every book in my July reading list was crossed off, with a day to spare (which gave me a good head start for August).

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You can find my book reviews here, with another one coming out next week for Magda Szabó's The Door:

I Paint My Reality by Frida Kahlo
The Botany of Desire 
by Michael Pollan
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
 by Arundhati Roy
Gagamba: A Novel by F. Sionil José

I usually read 4-5 books a month, giving myself a week to finish each one. But my #FinestFiction reading challenge has actually challenged me to change it up a bit, so that I can meet my goal of reading all of the books longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize by October.

And I'm off to a great start! I've already finished two on my list, and I'm slowly making my way through two new ones. Two of the books on the list are actually advanced reader copies, and I'm so delighted that I got the chance to read and review them. I also started using Book of the Month, which lets me buy copies at a much cheaper price.

I'm doubling my reading efforts this month, and already I feel a slight tinge of anxiety because I know I'm on a schedule. So how do I manage to read up? The biggest thing is cutting up screen time. If there is any indication of how I should find more time to read, the previous week was a successful trial.

In a day, I managed to find about 2-3 hours of reading time — on my breaks at work, when I'm moving my car (which is every two hours), after dinner, before bed. On days when I'm not in meetings, you can usually find me curled up on the couch, with a book in hand and a cup of tea in the other.

On Tuesday last week, I finished Mohsin Hamid's Exit West on my lunch break. It felt so disorienting to be immersed in the life of the main characters of the book, this couple who fled their homeland, and know so many intimate details about them while I slowly walked back to my desk.

I also noticed how a thread of connection in each title coarses through what I read: the edition of The Door I have is written with a preface by Ali Smith, whose book I'm getting ready to read in a couple of weeks. Doors were also a common theme in Exit West, as I stared at many, many entryways in my physical realm.

With each book I finish, my world gets bigger. And I am humbled by the fact that the more I learn, the less I know. I let it all sink in. I like to think that there are many, many rooms within my body, where each of the most memorable characters I've read live. Emerence from The Door lives somewhere in my chest, Anjum from The Ministry of Utmost Happiness behind a door in my left shoulder.

Here are this month's titles:

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Amazon | Indiebound)
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay (Amazon | Indiebound)
The Fix by Jonathan Tepperman (Amazon | Indiebound)
How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry (Amazon |Indiebound)
Tuwing Ikatlong Sabado (Every Third Saturday) by Words Anonymous, edited by Juan Miguel Severo (Goodreads)
Autumn by Ali Smith (Amazon | Indiebound)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Amazon | Indiebound)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Amazon | Indiebound)

If you've read or are currently reading any of these titles, let me know in the comments below. Happy reading!