There are things I can’t resist when I’m in a bookstore: cheap gel pens, Moleskine reporters, and books on sale. Gel pens and Moleskines I can easily resist. A quick glance at the price tag of the latter, and I can scoot off quickly without looking back.
But books on sale are a different matter altogether. I weaken over the sight of them. Even if I’m wearing some of the most painful heels ever, I can patiently stand around a pile of books on sale and look at the titles one by one. And especially if they cost under 100 pesos, you can bet I’ll bring one of them home. These books seem to me like orphans, and if it costs only 100 bucks to bring them home, very well, I’d be happy to adopt one or two.
Which is why all these bargain books are piling up on my bedside table, waiting to be read–adopted babies all. It makes me feel guilty sometimes, looking at them, like abandoned babies crying for milk. I make a promise to pick one up one of these days and read it so I can tell myself my hundred bucks didn’t go to waste. I don’t keep it all the time, but I like the idea that I have a house filled with books, and one day, when making money isn’t a priority anymore, I can sit down in my rocking chair and be whisked off to places I’ve never been. It’s something I look forward to. So for now, maybe adopting all these bargain books isn’t so bad because I’m accumulating material for my reading list when I’m sixty.
I’ve been meaning to do a book list of my own for many months but haven’t gotten around to it. Now that it’s 2 a.m. and the entire household is asleep, it’s the best time to make a list of my own. So here it is:
One book I have read more than once. Joy Luck Club, when I was 17, right after I saw it at the UP Film Center. I was amazed at the success of this first book by Amy Tan. The jaded writer that I am, I’ve come to believe that a writer can have only one great book in her lifetime, and after reading The Hundred Secret Senses and The Kitchen God’s Wife, I thought Joy Luck was Tan’s best. I have bought more than three copies of the book because people who borrowed them (you know who you are) never returned them to me.
One book that changed my life. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Because it keep my romantic self hoping.
One book that made me cry. Anita Shreve’s The Weight of Water. I thought the story was very brutal, and I was winging through a very depressing phase in my life when I read it.
One book that made me laugh. Ateneo professor and poet Danton Remoto’s Gaydar. Danton, whom I’ve been a fan of since college, is funny, wicked, and irreverent. I just love Danton! I found him a very wonderful and quotable interviewee. You should hear his stories.
One book I am currently reading. I have a pile! I’m still plodding through Milan Kundera’s Ignorance (last year’s birthday gift), Shiela Ellison’s The Courage to be a Single Mother (bought for P25 at Powerbooks), Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, and Perry Biddiscombe’s The Last Nazis (don’t ask why).
One book I have been meaning to read. Blink by Malcom Gladwell.
One book I would want if I were stranded in an island. Because I’m expecting to be rescued, it would have to be something light, short, and funny, and that would be Nora Ephron’s Heartburn. The name would probably ring a bell if you’re like me who’s a sucker for movies like You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, and When Harry Met Sally. Much of Ephron’s personal life has inspired her writing. Read about the back stories in this article from Salon.
(If I had fears of never getting rescued, I’d say it’s a toss-up between the Chicago Manual of Style and, uhm, the Bible. Now shut up.)
One book that made me depressed. Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. It’s so tragic that someone could be so brilliant but could never be completely happy. I still haven’t finished the reading the book because it chokes me each time.
One book I wish had been written. The true story of Henry VIII.
One book I wish had never been written. Something hateful, especially something that aims to deny something evil that happened in history, like the Holocaust.
Photo: Thanks, Nkzs
There’s this guy I met a couple of weeks back, and he seems really funny and cool and so interested in me. I honestly thought we were on the same page. In fact, we’ve “gone out” a couple of times (mainly to a fast-food place, because it’s the only thing open at 4 a.m.), and the conversations through SMS and chat (despite the fact that he’s just an arm’s throw away) have been warm, romantic, and intimate, I must say.
But the last two weeks, I’ve been getting a 404, which I initially dismissed as just a grumpy middle-age guy having those moments because of a recent operation.I mean, really, Greg, when you’re in so much pain, how can you think about romance? He tells me he’s just in so much pain, so he can’t text me back or go out for a walk, which I believed for some time.
And then a good friend at work thought she had to intervene because I was starting to fall, and she gave me your book, He’s Just Not That into You. I heard about this book years ago but never bought a copy because I didn’t want a complete stranger giving me advice about a guy I know very well. Hello? I get all that from my friends. Why would I want to know what you think?
I read the book in just one day. It was funny and wicked and enlightening, and you really had me there, Greg. You’re right. He just wants something else. He’s not a bit interested in the book I’m writing. He doesn’t seem to want to get to know me more. I really thought we connected, but then, it was just as well. I was starting to get distracted, and I can’t afford that. Not when I’m writing a book.
So thanks, Greg. You were a lot of help. But I’m still looking for a way to prove you wrong. He can’t be not that into me!
This Is Not Chick Lit: Original Stories by America’s Best Women Writers, edited by Elizabeth Merrick, has been sitting sadly in my bookshelf for more than a year before I finally picked it up.
I’m thankful I brought it along on a media coverage and that I finally read it (an ex sent it to me on my birthday last year) because reading it inspired me to write, not another chick lit, but something more meaty, serious, and thought-provoking.
One of the stories I distinctly remember from this selection is “Selling the General” by Jennifer Egan, because it’s a storyline I can relate with. The female character, Dolly, runs a PR agency and is offered a hefty amount to do crisis PR for a South American dictator whose government had slaughtered masses. I loved the snappy dialogue, and while its New York setting and allusion to brand names and private schools for girls might mislead you into thinking this is part of the Gossip Girl series, it’s not.
(Did I mention that I was once a publicist for a former defense secretary? I lasted a little more than a month–not because I didn’t like him. I’ve sworn not to get involved with politics ever.)
The names of the authors don’t ring a bell, but what they’re doing–going out there to give readers something better– is admirable. As editor Elizabeth Merrick writes in her introduction, these are “female writers pushing the envelope of serious writing with depth and humor.” I’ve never written a short story before, but after reading this book, I think I’d like to try my hand at it.
Over the weekend while recuperating from a bad case of gastroenteritis (something I must have eaten at the office buffet), I found time to catch up on books I started but haven’t had the time to finish.
One of them is Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun, which has a back story that I will save for next post, when I have found the archived blog entry somewhere.
I love this book! I love how poetic Mayes sounds even when she’s writing prose. This is the nth time that I’m re-reading the book and I get carried away by her words each time.
Under the Tuscan Sun is the kind of book you’d like to read aloud at 1 a.m., when the entire household is fast asleep.
I don’t usually mark my favorite phrases–I write them down in my Moleskine–but I felt I had to, this time, because I want to go back and read and re-read my favorite lines and feel each word roll out of my tongue when I say them.
Chapter 1 starts out very simply, matter-of-factly, but the sentence reaches out to you, an announcement that, you know, will be life-changing: “I am about to buy a house in a foreign country.”
Each time I read this, I put down the book and I am lost in reverie. I am in Tuscany too.
I had an interview today with Jaime, a senior sociology student at UP Diliman who is writing a thesis on chick lit in the Philippines.
Jaime tells she is a big fan of chick lit and has, in fact, the complete (well, almost, except for the recent one) series of books from Psicom Publishing, which produced this book.
The interview was very enlightening for me because for the most part when I was doing the writing, I never thought about the hows or whys of it, or whether I was actually being a responsible author and teaching readers to be more than what they were. I was simply writing, because I was asked to, and because it was a productive way to get over my depression at the time.
Among the many things we talked about was that chick lit, as a genre, deserves all the respect it can get and is not in any way inferior to “serious” literature.
When you get down to it, it’s simply writing. Writing as a craft should be respected. Whether one writes spec fic or creative nonfiction, news articles or e-mail campaign copy, blog posts or a thesis, it’s still writing, and writing does not come easily. If one agonizes over how to start a “serious” novel effectively, chick lit authors agonize as well.
We both agreed that, in most novels, families don’t figure much in chick lit. Characters in this type of genre are usually independent women who are earning their own money, sometimes living alone or sharing a condo with a friend, but are nevertheless confused over what they want to do with their lives. They are usually stuck in relationships that aren’t going anywhere, or want to get the attention of the boy they like. Call it trivial. Call it trash, but isn’t that what most of us were like when we were 21?
I also observed that most heroines in chick lit novels are focused on themselves (okay: let’s come clean: the word is selfish; it’s a me-me-me phase, after all), so you don’t hear of protagonists going to Tondo to help build homes for the poor or volunteering as teachers in Cordillera (my best friend Mona did, when she was 19, but she’s different). It’s not something we’re proud of, but that’s reality. Of course, I told her that I hope one day other writers (doesn’t have to be me) would come up with characters who are concerned about other matters, like poverty and politics. I don’t discount the fact that there are 21-year-olds who are more aware of what’s happening around them.
What amazed me was that here’s one reader who actually reads between the lines (and not just because she has a thesis about it) and tries to see the lesson that comes with the story. I didn’t mean to be all too preachy when I wrote Runaway, but I thought that writers have a responsibility to mold readers’ minds.
It’s not just about coming up with a happy ending because the editor or the publisher wants you to (and I really fought it because I thought a happy ending wasn’t realistic). It’s about giving them more than what they’re used to. Because that’s how we all grow as readers–by going beyond our comfort zones, exploring, learning new things.
That interview was a good mental exercise for me. Thanks, Jaime.
P.S. Am I going to write another chick lit soon? Never say never!
When I read an excerpt from writer Trey Ellis’s book, Bedtime Stories: Adventures in the Land of Single-Fatherhood, the first thought that crossed my mind was “OMG, this is like the book I’m trying to write!”
About two years ago, on the prodding of a friend, an editor who was responsible for getting my first book published, I started compiling excerpts on single parenting from my now-defunct blog (rest in peace, baby).
I had some 15,000 words written already. They were mostly posts, lifted from another personal blog, that I improved on. In between coping with depression and moving from one job to another, I lost focus. Now the manuscript sleeps in my hard drive, waiting for me to find the time to resume writing.
Over Christmas I actually thought of going back and editing, but with another edited manuscript due a Singapore pub house in January, I didn’t have much time to write.
Anyhow, go over to Salon and read the excerpt. It will make you laugh. And if you get to read the book before I do, by all means come back here and tell me about it.
Read Trey Ellis’s blog here.
P.S. In case you’re wondering, my version doesn’t refer to anything silicone or rubbery. I made sure it was GP. Didn’t want to have my parents disown me. Nah.
P.P.S. I discovered another kindred single-parent writer’s blog. Now I’m starting to wonder if it was indeed a good idea to close down my personal blog.