Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sexing the Cherry

Ah Jeanette Winterson, you slay me every time.

I admit, our first meeting didn't leave a lasting impression – I was too young to read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. I didn't even get that the main character was a lesbian until much, much later.

And then came college and The 24-Hour Dog. That story is still with me. Sometimes I go back to my tattered photocopy and read it again to be dazzled by the sheer luminosity of your prose.

Even when I found Art and Lies too obfuscating, I didn't give up on you. And I glad that I didn't. You bowled me over with Gut Symmetries. And now, Sexing the Cherry, which is my new favorite book.

It's been used so often that it's become a cliché, but this time, my mind was truly blown. I've been fascinated with theoretical physics for a long time, even before I read Gut Symmetries. But the idea that the journey within our own depths is greater than any trip we could ever take is astounding.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

On Failure

It wasn't until after college that I began to fail. Before that, I coasted. Best in English, editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper, Journalist of the Year, it all came easily and without much effort.

I graduated in the top ten of my class and hurdled the Intarmed qualifying exam, all without really trying. Sure, I studied and did my best on exams, but I didn't really work. College was a dizzying whirl, but I managed to balance all of it. I didn't excel in academics or at the campus newspaper where I wrote, but I wasn't too bad either. You could say that I was complacent, content just to get by.

All this would later have a detrimental effect.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Marriage Plot

"There were some books that reached through the noise of life to grab you by the collar and speak only of the truest things."

Unfortunately, Jeffrey Eugenides's The Marriage Plot isn't one of them. But it does make you remember all of the books that you've ever loved. I have a special bookshelf in my room for such books -- they're protected by glass sliding doors.

I've read each book multiple times and I know many of my favorite lines by heart. The list includes Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, Cynthia Voigt's A Solitary Blue, Zadie Smith's On Beauty, and many many other old, cherished friends.

The Marriage Plot takes you back to college, when you were in love with books and ideas, and with life in general. It follows three people: Madeleine Hanna, self-avowed Victorianist and sheltered privileged girl, and her two suitors, the depressed Leonard Bankhead, and Mitchell Grammaticus, who's on a spiritual search.

Watching Madeleine fall in love with Barthes's A Lover's Discourse, reminds me why I fell in love with it too.

Madeleine has her books, while Mitchell has his quest for religious enlightenment. I like that of the three, he was the one whom "education had finally led...out into life".

Meanwhile, Leonard has his manic depression. It's interesting to see how Eugenides deals with this illness - sure, Leonard has a crappy family, but he also revels in feeling melancholy, until suddenly, he can no longer control it. Having friends and loved ones who are dealing with depression, it's helpful to understand what they might be going through. There's something to be said for the limits of empathy -- sometimes you can never really know how something feels like until you experience it for yourself.

Like Margaret Atwood's Moral Disorders, this books feels intensely personal. I can see Eugenides in all three characters.

The Marriage Plot is based on the premise that while the old Victorian novels ended happily with marriage, modern life (and plots) aren't quite as neat. This book deals with a marriage (I won't say to whom) and examines what happens after. The Marriage Plot even follows the division of novels into lengthy parts instead of chapters. It's yet another sign that the Internet has drastically shortened my attention span that I found myself impatient with this device. But Eugenides's wry insights and deft prose makes this book a rewarding read.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Karen Russell has a way with words. Swamplandia! is simile-heavy, but I don't mind, not when they're like this:
The ice-blond foreign couples yoked into thick black camera straps like teams of oxen
I fell in love with Russell's work after reading her first book of short stories, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.

Swamplandia! initially seems to be tinged with the same magical realism as the title story in St. Lucy's...but in this book Russell carefully creates a myth, only to suddenly raise the curtain and show that illusion doesn't really exist.

Needless to say, I'm eagerly awaiting her next work.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Open Letters to the Filipino Artists

Emmanuel Lacaba

Invisible the mountain routes to strangers:
For rushing toes an inch-wide strip on boulders
And for the hand that's free a twig to grasp,
Or else we headlong fall below to rocks
And waterfalls of death so instant that
Too soon they're red with skulls of carabaos.

But patient guides and teachers are the masses:
Of forty mountains and a hundred rivers;
Of plowing, planting, weeding, and the harvest;
And of a dozen dialects that dwarf
This foreign tongue we write each other in
Who must transcend our bourgeois origins.

South Cotabato
May 1, 1975


You want to know, companions of my youth
How much has changed the wild but shy young poet
Forever writing last poem after last poem;
You hear he's dark as earth, barefoot,
A turban round his head, a bolo at his side,
His ballpen blown up to a long-barreled gun:
Deeper still the struggling change inside.

Like husks of coconut he tears away
The billion layers of his selfishness.
Or learns to cage his longing like the bird
Of legend, fire, and song within his chest.
Now of consequence is his anemia
From lack of sleep: no longer for Bohemia,
The lumpen culturati, but for the people, yes.

He mixes metaphors but values more
A holographic and geometric memory
For mountains: not because they are there
But because the masses are there where
Routes are jigsaw puzzles he must piece together.
Though he has been called a brown Rimbaud,
He is no bandit but a people's warrior.

South Cotabato and Davao del Norte
November 1975


We are tribeless and all tribes are ours.
We are homeless and all homes are ours.
We are nameless and all names are ours.
To the fascists we are the faceless enemy
Who come like thieves in the night, angels of death:
The ever moving, shining, secret eye of the storm.

The road less traveled by we've taken-
And that has made all the difference:
The barefoot army of the wilderness
We all should be in time. Awakened, the masses are Messiah.
Here among workers and peasants our lost
Generation has found its true, its only home.

Davao del Norte
January 1976

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Winter Rose

I would only have give this book two stars if not for Patricia A. McKillip's lyrical prose.

I've been fascinated by the ballad of Tam Lin ever since I read the Perilous Gard. I'm slowly working my way through all of the retellings I know.

I would rate this book above Diana Wynne Jones's Fire and Hemlock but below Perilous Gard.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


This is such a cute book.

The heroine(s) bitch to each other over email, and the hero is a lonely IT guy who gets caught up in their conversation.

It was so good that I couldn't put it down. I read it straight through.

We interrupt regular programming

To give you an update on my gradschool applications.

So far, it's going well. I've been accepted to one school (without any funding) and waitlisted at two others. The second waitlist letter arrived today.

I hope that by this time next year, I'll be in another place, writing.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Graceling and Fire

Young adult books are my solace. Whenever the book I'm reading is dragging, or I just need a pick-me-up, I turn to YA.

YA also keeps me up at night. Kristin Cashore's Graceling was so good that I stayed up until 1 a.m. to finish it, even though I had work the next day. Following in the tradition of kick-ass heroines, Katsa has a gift in killing. But that's not all she's got. I won't spoil the surprise, but Graceling was a lovely read.

Of course, I had to read the next book in the series, Fire. Now this one was even better. I had to get up at 3:30 a.m. the next day but I stayed up again until 1:30 reading it. Then I couldn't go to sleep, so of course I had to read it until I finished it. Sleep be damned. Fire is wondrous read because it deals with women and desire. Fire is a monster who is desired by all who see her. Kingdoms rise and fall because of this girl.

Fire was also an important reminder that you can't escape from the real world. I think that for the past six years, I've done a lot of reading to escape from something -- namely -- boredom at work. But the unsavory details -- rape, boredom, mediocrity -- they're all a part of life that you can't escape. You can only deal with them. Also, the characters in Fire are real. No one is infallible. I'm veering close to spoiler territory here, but let me just say that I was jolted to my senses by the revelation about one character.

So read YA to be comforted, but also to be awakened.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Jungle Planet and Other Stories

It can be jarring to read cutesy children's stories right after a sordid tale of an almost-sexual encounter. Lakambini Sitoy's Jungle Planet and Other Stories is a mishmash of stories in the Philippines. There are many common themes running through the stories in this collection -- loneliness, alienation and jealousy. It's an uneven read, but my favorite stories are the future fiction Secret Notes on the Dead Star and The Vampire.

Friday, January 20, 2012


How does one deal with the suicide of a loved one and other forms of sadness? Do you simply begin to unravel, until you are no longer normal? Or do you cling to normalcy, content to skate on a thin veneer of ice without looking beneath its depths?

These are some of the central questions to Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, which deals with the appearance of a mentally unstable aunt into the lives of two sisters.

Robinson's prose is like the lake at the edge of the town of Fingerbone, eternally changeable. Sometimes it is luminous, at other times it is so full of gravity that you can feel yourself sink into the depths of murky, fetid water.

"...sometimes I think sorrow is a predatory thing because birds scream at dawn with a marvelous terror, and ther is, as I have said before, a deathly bitterness in the smell of ponds and ditches."

Sunday, January 01, 2012

How I did with My 2011 Resolutions

How did I do for 2011?

This blog was revived partly to keep track of my goal to read one book a month. I'm proud to say that I did way more than that. Here's what I was able to achieve for 2011:

  • Continue taking a regular yoga class
  • Finish The Largest Pearl and write two other short stories for my portfolio
  • -I was able to write three more short stories: Malabon, Going Up, and Those That Live By the Gun.
  • Write regularly
  • Join the Palanca Awards
  • Read at least one book a month
  • -33 books read in 2011, hurrah!
  • Travel to somewhere I've never been
  • -Kalinga, Samar, and Moalboal, Cebu
  • Get the best scores possible in both the TOEFL and GRE
  • -I got a 700 in Verbal, 640 in Quantitative and 4.5 in Analytical Writing. And I aced the TOEFL.
  • Apply for an MFA in Creative Writing
  • -in process.
What I haven't done will have to remain a secret, but I'm happy with what I've achieved. Now onto 2012!