[Book Review] 'Shriver' by Chris Belden

[Book Review] 'Shriver' by Chris Belden

shriver novel by chris belden

Shriver gets invited to speak at a writers' conference. The problem, however, is he's not a writer at all. At first, he thinks that a friend's just pulling a prank on him, so he accepts the invitation. 

But oh, things suddenly get so real that the organizer event sends him a plane ticket and give him more details about the event.

Crazy, right?

Well, things get even crazier when Shriver just goes with the flow. Instead of talking to the organizer about the error, he decides to attend the event, anyway.

And so he goes to the venue pretending to be the man he isn't. He talks to people about writing, something that he knows close to nothing about. Worse, he signs people's copies of a book he never wrote. He even falls in love with the event's organizer, which is fucked up, because that person thinks he's a famous writer.

At the event, he meets other writers and writing professors, and more drama ensues. At some point, one of the guest writers at the conference goes missing and an investigation begins. Of course, this makes Shriver nervous, thinking his real identity might be revealed because of the probe.

This book is filled with writerly drama, and hell yes, it's so entertaining. Or maybe I just really miss my writer friends, the drama that comes with them, and all the tea we normally get when we attend writing-related events.

But yes, I'm really happy I read it—especially at a time like this.

And, of course, it made me think a lot about writing. At some point in the novel, Shriver tries to come clean by telling people that he's not really a writer. But instead of believing him, people just dismiss his claims as manifestations of some kind of an identity crisis. It's funny, actually, because I sometimes react that way when a writer friend tries to tells me that they're a fraud or feel like one, or when they rant about how convinced they are that they really should not be labeled as a writer.

Also, the fact that Shriver ends up composing a work of his own in the end makes me wonder: As writers, do we really begin as pretenders? Do we really fake it until we make it?

Oh. my. god. I never imagined this light and easy read would make me ask these heavy questions.

(Image from Amazon)

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Mina Deocareza
[Book Review] 'Verity' by Colleen Hoover

[Book Review] 'Verity' by Colleen Hoover

It's already been over a month since I read this book, but I am still quite unsure how to feel about it. Don't get me wrong. I really enjoyed reading it. In fact, I almost couldn't put it down that it didn't take me long to finish it. The premise itself is so thrilling, to begin with. 

Loren, a writer who hasn't been having a time of her life, suddenly gets an opportunity to die for. She has been chosen to continue writing the remaining books in the series of Verity, a famous writer who's suffering from a permanent injury. It seems a lot of work, but she knows the money she'll get from the gig will help her start anew. So, she accepts the job.

In order to start writing, she needs to do some research first. And so, she is invited by Verity's husband to go to their family home, so she can go through her stuff and take a look at whatever notes or research Verity has already done regarding the series. She says yes despite having doubts at first. She simply accepts the fact that it's part of the job. Anyway, she won't stay there for so long.

Because of some unfortunate event, however, Lowen ends up staying in Verity's home longer than planned. It's weird, but also exciting at the same time. Apparently, the hot husband is into her. She's interested in him, too. They start having a thing.

But something does not feel right. It seems like Verity's not really what everyone thinks she is. Although people keep telling Lowen that Verity's really harmless given her condition, she is not convinced. In fact, Verity seems sinister to her. Her presence always creeps Lowen out. Of course, it's only a matter of time before Lowen finds out what's really happening with Verity.

Okay, I'll stop right here. I won't say what happens next, because I don't want to spoil it to anyone. But fine, I'll talk about the last chapter without revealing what it's all about. It's the reason why I still can't make up my mind what to think of this book, anyway.

I am feeling this way because I am still unsure whether it's really necessary, or if it really works to begin with. To be honest, I kind of felt cheated on when I finished reading it. But after giving it some thought, I realized that it's probably left me bothered because the ending actually works. And perhaps, how I felt upon reaching the end of the novel is the exact effect the author has always wanted to have on readers.

But anyway, regardless of whether that final chapter has succeeded or not, I can still say that this book gave me a great reading experience, and most of the time, that alone is more than enough. So if you're looking for a book to keep you up at night, you might want to give it a shot.

(Image from Goodreads)

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Mina Deocareza
[Book Review] 'Trafficking in Nostalgia: Essays From Memory' by Exie Abola

[Book Review] 'Trafficking in Nostalgia: Essays From Memory' by Exie Abola

I am into anything nostalgic. In fact, I have been thinking a lot about my own writing these past few months and I've realized that nostalgia has been my thing. I guess I just like talking about the past, especially those days when life seems simpler. I like to discuss painful memories as well, process and reframe them in such a way that they can give me new insights on life and beyond.

No wonder, when I came across Exie Abola's Trafficking in Nostalgia: Essays from Memory when I was looking for books to buy during the Aklatan Sale on Shopee last August, I added it to my cart without even thinking twice. I also learned that his essay "Many Mansions", which we discussed in a creative nonfiction class was also included in the very same collection. A big plus, I thought.

The book didn't disappoint at all! If it weren't for chores and other responsibilities here at home, I would have definitely read it in one sitting. Apart from being nostalgic, its language was also beautiful. I really cherished every sentence in it.

"Many Mansions" remained as my top favorite after reading the entire book. I think it's a piece I just won't outgrow. In fact, I appreciated it more now. I guess maturity has just allowed me to have a better grasp of some ideas presented in the text that I kind of missed when I first read it many years ago. 

I particularly loved this part of the essay:
Houses provided us the necessary certainties—somewhere to come home to where you’d find your family, your things, a hot dinner, a bed or a good couch. Write to me here. Call me at this number. But I’ve changed addresses and phone numbers enough times to know better. Perhaps that’s what houses are really about: the fundamental uncertainty of life, the slowly learned fact that the reference points by which we draw our maps and chart our course are ever shifting, and a life’s cartography is never quite done.

But of course, I also fell in love with other pieces in the collection, particularly "At War and at Peace", which just brought back a lot of memories. It talked about music and some of the most iconic bands from the past. Since I myself grew up listening to music, I found the piece relatable. 

Of course, I also appreciated both "A Political Life" and "A Political Life 2", which both provided a glimpse of the political climate from the time they were written. I believe pieces as such are important in ensuring that people don't forget about our dark past as a nation.

Finally, I want to say that anyone who's into creative nonfiction can learn a lot from this little book, especially from the essays I mentioned, especially those who are curious about how memories can be effectively used and explored when writing powerful pieces.

(Image from kalatasliteraryezine.wordpress.com)

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Mina Deocareza
[Book Review] 'Ang Autobiografia ng Ibang Lady Gaga' ni Jack Alvarez

[Book Review] 'Ang Autobiografia ng Ibang Lady Gaga' ni Jack Alvarez

Gaya ng sinabi ko sa nakaraang post ko tungkol sa aking Aklatan 2020 haul, excited akong mabasa ang librong ito. Hindi naman ako nabigo, dahil ang ganda-ganda nito!

Damang-dama ko ang sinseridad ng librong ito. Hindi nagtatangkang magpasikat ang awtor at sa halip, nais niya lang ibahagi ang kaniyang mga karanasan bilang isang bakla at OFW sa Saudi Arabia, pati na rin sa iba't ibang papel na ginagampanan niya sa buhay. Maging ang gamit ng wika'y napakanatural pero tagos sa puso. Sa tingin ko, dahil sa kombinasyon ng mga ito, mas lumakas ang mga kuwento.

Gusto ko rin ang pagiging self-aware at reflective ng mismong persona na nagsasalaysay sa akda. Hindi siya pretentious at pa-deep, pero makikita't makikita mong sinusubukan niyang himayin ang kaniyang mga karanasan. Pero siyempre, may mga pagkakataon ding mararamdamang siya mismo'y hindi gaanong sigurado sa mga nangyayari. Sa palagay ko, mas lumutang ang pagiging totoong tao niya rito, pati na rin ang pagkamakatotohanan ng kaniyang mga ikinukuwento.

Natuwa rin ako dahil sa kabila ng pagiging direkta niya sa maraming bahagi, mayroon ding mga puntong napaka-subtle ng awtor. Hindi niya tahasang sinasabi ang mga bagay at hindi rin siya parang paring nagsesermon para ilatag ang kaniyang mga nararamdaman at naiisip. Sa mga ganitong pagkakataon, mahusay na tinutupad ng awtor ang isa sa mga pinakamahahalagang utos sa pagsusulat: Show. Don't tell.

Sa mga bagay na implied lang, mas yumayaman ang kuwento dahil hindi lang basta ito isinusubo sa mambabasa. Sa halip, ginagamit ang iba't ibang elemento para akayin ang nagbabasa rito. Saktong-sakto ang diskarteng ito ilang mga bahagi na tumatalakay sa maseselang pangyayari't paksa.

Basta, ang galing ng librong ito! Ang daling basahin pero tagos sa puso. Puwedeng-puwede itong irekomenda sa mga nagsisimula pa lang magbasa ng panitikan dahil tiyak na mas gaganahan pa ang mambabasa nito na tumuklas ng iba pang gawa ng mga Pilipinong awtor na may iba't ibang pinagmulan. Maganda rin itong modelo para sa mga nagsusulat tungkol sa personal na karanasan. Higit sa lahat, isa itong patunay na marami pa tayong hindi naririnig na boses at kuwento sa panitikan.

(Larawan mula sa Goodreads)
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Mina Deocareza
[Book Review] 'I'm Thinking of Ending Things' by Iain Reid

[Book Review] 'I'm Thinking of Ending Things' by Iain Reid

I have to admit, I only picked up this book after seeing the trailer of its upcoming film adaptation. Apart from being wowed by the said trailer, I also read some comments about how mind-blowing the book was.

They weren't wrong, after all. Upon finishing the book, all I could say was, "What the fuck?!" But of course, let me tell you first what it's about.

A young couple goes on a long drive one night. They are going to have dinner with the guy's parents at their home (she's meeting them for the first time). During the drive, the girl goes on and on with her internal monologue which is sometimes interrupted by a pressing thought:
I'm thinking of ending things.
She tries to fight it, but the thought keeps coming back. It does, no matter how hard she tries to convince herself that her man's actually a kind person who is also so smart and interesting.

When they get to his parents' house, weird things happen. Instead of going directly to the house, the guy insists that they have a tour of their farm first. There's something weird about the farm, though. There are lifeless animals piled outside the barn.

Eventually, they enter the house. There, they are greeted by old and mismatched furniture. The girl sees a photo and asks the guy about it. He says that's him when he was young. Weird, the girl thinks. The child looks like her!

It takes longer for the parents to finally show up, and when they do, they also display weird behaviors. Over dinner, they play a weird game and talk about things that the girl finds uncomfortable. And when she excuses herself to go to the bathroom, things get weirder. On that side of the house, she finds the door to the basement. Curious, she checks it out and is freaked out by what she finds there.

So what the hell is happening here?

Actually, by the time I reached this point in the book, I was already so scared and confused. Besides, during the drive, the girls also recall some weird stuff from the past like the weird caller who has been bothering her for a long time. What's even weirder is the fact that it's actually from her own number. She also tells the story about this weird guy she once saw staring at her right outside her window one night.

What the fuck, right?

Yet, no matter how weird things seemed to me (yes, I've been using the word "weird" a lot here because I think it's the best word to describe things here), I kept on turning the pages. I just couldn't bring the book down!

No regrets, though. In fact, I can say that it's a very rewarding read. By the time the plot twist was revealed, all I could do was buy it. I thought it was earned. It didn't just come right out of the blue. Moreover, more things from the previous chapters started to make more sense.

It really gave me a great reading experience. It even scared the shit out of me at some point that I had to take a break from it. So yes, If you are into weird and eerie books with crazy plot twists, go ahead and pick it up! It's also short, so I'm you'll be able to finish it immediately.

Now I can't wait to see the Netflix film. I hope it lives up to the hype!

And, oh, in case you haven't seen it yet, here's the trailer of its movie adaptation:

(Photo from Amazon)
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Mina Deocareza
[Book Review] 'Ang Nawawala' ni Chuckberry J. Pascual

[Book Review] 'Ang Nawawala' ni Chuckberry J. Pascual

Matagal ko na itong gustong basahin. Bukod kasi sa interesante ang premise ng mga kuwento sa koleksiyong ito, pakiramdam ko rin ay marami akong matututunan dito pagdating sa pagkukuwento sa Wikang Filipino. Kaya naman, noong magkaroon ng pagkakataon na bumili ng kopya sa Lazada bago pa man ang Aklatan 2020 online book fair, sinunggaban ko agad ito.

Hindi naman ako nagkamali. Marami nga naman akong natutunan dito. Isa sa mga gustung-gusto ko rito ay ang gamit ng wika. Napakasimple nito't kayang-kayang abutin ng mga hindi sanay sa malalalim na salita. Hindi rin ito tunog luma. Sa katunayan, ang kaswal ng tono ng buong koleksyon at pakiramdam ko'y kinukuwentuhan lang ako ng isang kaibigan o isang certified chismosa sa aming barangay. Sa tingin ko, nakatulong ito para mas mapausad ang kuwento. Dahil swabeng-swabe ang wika, mas swabe rin ang takbo ng mga pangyayari.

Siyempre, naaliw din ako sa mismong mga kuwento at sa mga tauhang hanggang sa dulo'y nasubaybayan ko. Lalo na si Bree! Kung totoo lang ang Talong Punay, aba'y didiretso ako sa barangay hall at aayain siyang magmeryenda para maging close din kami.

Ang gusto ko kay Bree, kitang-kita ang pagiging "totoong tao" niya. Makikita sa iba't ibang kuwento na sa kabila ng angking kabutihan ay mayroon din siyang mga kahinaan. Mapagpasensiya siya, pero kung minsan ay napipikon din. Mabait, pero grabe magalit. Hindi rin "black and white" ang pagtingin niya sa mga bagay. Sa tingin ko, mas makikita ang aspektong ito ng kaniyang pagkatao sa "Ang Nawawalang Singsing," kung saan kinailangan niyang gumawa ng isang desisyong hindi madali.

Sa madaling salita, kumplikadong tao si Bree. At sa patuloy niyang paggalaw sa Talong Punay habang pumapapel sa mga imbestigasyon sa barangay, sadya man o hindi, matutunghayan din ang patuloy na paglago niya bilang isang indibidwal.

Tuwang-tuwa rin ako sa takbo ng mga kuwento sa librong ito. Kaabang-abang ang mga sandali, lalo na sa tuwing nagsisiyasat si Bree tungkol sa mga nawawala sa kanilang lugar. Naroon iyong excitement na kadalasang nararamdaman habang nanonood o nagbabasa ng kung anong may kinalaman sa mystery. Bilang mambabasa, hindi maiwasang mapahula ka rin talaga sa kung ano'ng totoong nangyari. Mas masaya ring sundan ang mga pangyayari dahil magkakaugnay ang mga kuwento at umiikot lang din sa iisang komunidad.

Pero bukod sa mismong mga tagpo, nagustuhan ko rin ang tila komentaryo na mayroon sa buong koleksiyon. Sa tingin ko kasi, maraming bagay sa Talong Punay ay repleksiyon ng iba't ibang aspekto ng lipunang ating ginagalawan. Nariyan ang mga korap na opisyal ng barangay, diskirminasyon laban sa mga miyembro ng LGBT community, problema ng kahirapan, animal cruelty, at iba pang mga problemang kinakaharap natin sa araw-araw. Makikita ring kung paano ito harapin ng mga tauhan ay di nalalayo sa kung paano dumidiskarte tayong mga Pinoy para lang makaraos. Hindi ko tuloy maiwasang mapaisip ng kung anu-ano pa tungkol sa lipunang kinabibilangan.

(Larawan mula sa goodreads)
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Mina Deocareza
My Aklatan 2020 Haul

My Aklatan 2020 Haul

Matagal-tagal na rin akong nagpipigil sa pagbili ng libro. Bukod kasi sa ayaw ko nang mag-hoard ulit, gusto ko muna sanang unahing basahin iyong mga natira sa akin matapos kong ibenta at ipamigay ang malaking bahagi ng aking koleksyon.

Napagtatagumpayan ko naman ang misyon kong ito. Maliban sa iilang aklat na inuwi ko mula sa Baguio noong sumali sa UST National Writers' Workshop noong Abril 2019 at paunti-unting mahahalagang librong binili ko pagkalipat sa bagong bahay noong Enero, wala na ako masyadong librong nabili. 

Kaya naman, noong nabalitaan kong magkakaroon ng isang online book fair na magtatampok ng mga libro mula sa mga lokal na palimbagan, naisip kong puwede akong mamili. Hindi naman ito magiging kalabisan, lalo na kung panay mahahalagang libro lang din naman ang bibilhin ko, o iyong mga makatutulong din sa akin sa pagsusulat.

Pagpatak na pagpatak ng alas dose ng umaga sa mismong umpisa ng online fair, nagsimula na agad akong mamili. Hindi rin naman ako masyadong nagtagal, dahil hindi rin naman din karamihan ang pinamili.

Ilang araw lang matapos ako mag-add to cart at check out, dumating na ang aking mga pinamili. Ito sila:

Night Fall by Eliza Victoria

Paborito si Eliza Victoria ng mga kabarkada kong fictionist. Madalas ko ring marinig ang pangalan niya sa mga prof ko noong undergrad. Ang alam ko, may mga maiikling akda na niya akong nabasa noon para sa fiction class. Pero, wala pa akong ni isang libro niya kaya sinamantala ko talaga ang sale na ito. Sakto rin, dahil nahihilig na naman ako sa speculative fiction nitong mga nakaraan. Gustung-gusto ko ring nagtataka, naiintriga, at kinakabahan sa mga nababasa. At base sa blurb sa likod ng librong ito, mukhang mag-e-enjoy talaga ako. May natagpuang bangkay, may mga residenteng sumailalim sa biomodification para mas kayanin ang matagalang trabaho. Di na ako makapaghintay!

Ang Autobiografia ng Ibang Lady Gaga ni Jack Alvarez

Excited talaga akong mabasa ito. Ang awtor nito ay isang baklang OFW sa Saudi Arabia, at inilahad niya ang kaniyang mga karanasan sa isang confessional na pamamaraan sa librong ito. Isa pa, curious din ako kung ano ang kuwento sa likod ng Lady Gaga reference. Mahal na mahal ko kasi si Lady Gaga, kaya extra points ang kahit ano o kahit sinong magbanggit ng pangalan niya. At siyempre, sabik na sabik din akong makabasa ng gawa ng mga manunulat na may iba't ibang background sa buhay. Nakakapagod din naman kasi kung puro kaburgisan na lang ang kuwentong isasaksak sa utak, hindi ba? Isa pa, kailangan talaga nating mas pagtuunan ng pansin ang danas ng mga tao mula sa iba't ibang sektor ng lipunan. Marami silang kuwento at aral na hindi natin basta malalaman habang nagpapalamig sa sosyaling coffee shops o nananahan sa toreng garing.

Trafficking in Nostalgia by Exie Abola

Isang gawa pa lang ni Exie Abola ang nababasa ko, at iyong ang "Many Mansions" na tinalakay namin sa isang creative nonfiction class noong undergrad. Kilig na kilig ako sa ganda wika nito. Gustung-gusto ko rin ang isang bahagi ng sanaysay na iyon. Sabi rito: "Houses provided us the necessary certainties—somewhere to come home to where you’d find your family, your things, a hot dinner, a bed or a good couch. Write to me here. Call me at this number. But I’ve changed addresses and phone numbers enough times to know better. Perhaps that’s what houses are really about: the fundamental uncertainty of life, the slowly learned fact that the reference points by which we draw our maps and chart our course are ever shifting, and a life’s cartography is never quite done." Dito pa lang, kumbinsido na akong bilhin libro niya para mabasa ko pa ang iba niyang mga gawa.

Nuno sa Puso: Relasyon at Nuno sa Puso: Pag-Ibig ni Bebang Siy

 Noong 2019, inimbitahan namin si Bb. Bebang Siy para magbigay ng maikling talk sa event namin sa Sinaya Cup para sa Women's Month. Tinalakay niya hindi lamang ang librong Pukiusap, kundi pati na rin ang iba niyang mga akda tulad ng It's a Mens World at It's Raining Mens. Siyempre, nabanggit niya rin itong Nuno sa Puso at naintriga rin naman ako rito. Ayon sa talk ni Bb. Bebang, ito raw yung tinipon niyang mga payo sa mga tao. Iyong isa, tungkol sa relasyon.Ang isa naman, nakasentro sa pag-ibig. Sigurado ako, mae-enjoy ko ito! Bukod sa kuwela ang may-akda, gusto ko rin kasi ang gamit niya ng wika sa pagsusulat. Hindi tunog luma at kaswal na kaswal, parang kabarkada mo lang na nakikipagchismisan sa iyo.

Voyager and Other Fictions: The Collected Stories of Jose Dalisay

Gustung-gusto ko talaga ang mga kuwento ni Butch Dalisay. Karamihan sa mga nabasa kong gawa niya noong undergrad, hinangaan ko hindi lang dahil sa magandang gamit ng wika kundi pati na rin sa mismong disenyo ng kuwento. Gusto ko rin ang pagkatahimik sa mga ito. Damang-dama ang pagtitimpi, pero kung manakit ay grabe. Pero siyempre, marami-rami pa rin akong hindi nababasa sa mga akda niya, lalo na't sobrang prolific niyang manunulat. Kaya naman, siniguro kong bumili ng kopya ng koleksiyong ito. Sa tingin ko, ito na ang pagkakataon ko para mas ma-expose pa sa kaniyang mga obra. Nawa'y mas marami pa akong matutunan tungkol sa sining ng pagkukuwento sa pamamagitan ng pagbasa ng mga gawa niya!

The Collected Stories of Jessica Zafra

Gaya nga ng sabi ko sa isang post, babasahin ko kahit anong ilathala ni Jessica Zafra.  Isa talaga siya sa mga naging inspirasyon ko para iwan ang journalism at lumipat sa creative writing. Seryoso naman ako rito. Kahit nga iyong blog niya, hanggang ngayon at binabalik-balikan ko pa rin. Noong nakaraan lang din, binasa ko iyong libro niya tungkol sa Central Europe. Kaya naman, talagang bumili ako nitong koleksiyon ng mga kuwento niya mula sa Ateneo Press. Wala ako masyadong ideya kung tungkol saan ang mga akdang nakapaloob dito, pero ayos lang. Basta, ang alam ko, bibilib at matutuwa pa rin ako pagkatapos kong magbasa nito. Hindi na rin ako makapaghintay na mabasa ulit ang mga witty niyang linyahan at marinig muli ang boses niyang lutang na lutang sa tuwing siya'y magsusulat.

City Stories by Angelo R. Lacuesta

Sige na nga, aamin na ako. Gusto ko talaga ang mga akdang nakapokus sa mga siyudad. Sa tingin ko kasi, napakainteresante ng relasyon ng sarili at ng lungsod. Ang daming tunggalian! Siyempre, mayaman din ang mga siyudad sa materyal kaya bilang isang manunulat, madalas ko itong inspirasyon. At iyon na nga, nang nakita ko ang librong ito na naka-sale noong Aklatan 2020, nag-add to cart agad ako. Malakas ang kutob ko na malaki ang maiaambag nito sa patuloy kong pagtuklas ng mas malalalim at mas kumplikado pang mga ugnayan na maaaring mamagitan sa lungsod at tao. Tiyak na magkakaroon na naman ako ng inspirasyong magsulat. Isa pa, nagustuhan ko rin ang mga nabasa kong gawa ni Lacuesta noon kaya alam ko ring walang kalugi-lugi rito.

To Remember to Remember: Reflections on the Literary Memoirs of Filipino Women by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo

Isa talaga sa mga tinitingala kong manunulat sa bansa si Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo. Bukod sa magaganda niyang mga naisulat, malaki rin ang epekto sa akin ng mga libro niyang Creative Nonfiction: A Reader at Creative Nonfiction: A Manual for Filipino Writers na itinuring naming bibliya noon sa creative nonfiction classes sa UP Diliman. Kaya naman, excited din akong mabasa ang librong ito. Alam kong marami akong matututunan dito bilang isang babaeng nagsusulat ng memoirs, lalo pa't tinatalakay sa librong ito ang mga gawa ng ilan sa mga pinakamahahalagang babaeng manunulat sa bansa, gaya ni Gilda Cordero-Fernando, Rica Bolipata-Santos, Criselda Yabes, at Merlie Alunan.

Project 17 by Eliza Victoria

Ito, isa pang libro ni Eliza Victoria. Ito naman, tungkol daw sa isang babae na tumanggap ng raket mula sa isang lalaki. Simple lang ang deal: kailangan niyang bantayan ang kapatid nito na 28 taong gulang. Mayroon daw itong schizoaffective disorder, kaya kailangan niyang siguruhing naiinom nito lagi ang kaniyang gamot. Sa kalaunan, nagsimula siyang magtaka dahil bukod sa walang kahit anong impormasyon online tungkol sa gamot na iniinom ng kaniyang binabantayan, nakasaad din sa national central database na patay na ang magkapatid na ito. Weird, hindi ba? Ako man, nagulat nang mabasa ang synopsis ng akda. Ngayon tuloy, hindi na ako lalong makapaghintay na basahin ito.

Navel n. the central point of a place by Rica Bolipata-Santos

Isa sa mga nirekomenda sa aking awtor sa USTNWW 2019 si Rica Bolipata Santos. Marami raw akong matututunan sa mga gawa niya. Kaya naman, laking tuwa ko nang makatsamba ng kopya ng libro niyang Lost and Found sa Upper Shelf sa UP Town Center ilang buwan pagkatapos ng workshop. Discounted pa iyon, kaya mas masaya! At ito na nga, noong nag-sale dahil sa Aklatan 2020, nakakita ko naman ang librong ito sa page ng UST Publishing House kaya talagang binili ko rin. Sakto rin dahil kasama pala ang mga gawa ni Rica Bolipata-Santos sa mga tinatalakay sa isa pang librong binili ko rin, iyong To Remember to Remember. At, ayun pala, plus point pa na nagandahan ako sa cover nito. Borlongan painting ba naman ang tampok dito!

Kung tutuusin, kaunti lang ang mga ito. Walang-wala sa mga hinakot ng mga kaibigan kong halos nag-ubos ng sahod para lang makabili ng libro. Gayunpaman, big deal ito sa akin lalo na't namanata nga akong maghihinay-hinay muna sa pagbili ng mga babasahin.

Isa pa, maganda rin talagang suportahan ang mga lokal na palimbagan at may-akda. Bukod sa pagpapayaman ng kamalayan sa pamamagitan ng pagkonsumo ng mga kuwentong gawa ng mga kapwa Pinoy, maganda rin itong hakbang para mas maengganyo pa ang marami na magbahagi ng kanilang mga gawa, at para rin patuloy na lumago ang mga publishing house dito sa Pinas.

Magandang oportunidad ang ibinigay ng Aklatan 2020 di lang para sa mga mahihilig nang magbasa tulad ko kundi para na rin sa mga nagsisimula pa lang mahumaling sa panitikan. Sana'y masundan pa ito at sana'y patuloy ang pagsuporta ng madla sa mga ganitong proyekto.
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Mina Deocareza
[Book Review] 'Twisted Travels: Rambles in Central Europe' by Jessica Zafra

[Book Review] 'Twisted Travels: Rambles in Central Europe' by Jessica Zafra

I'm not a huge fan of traveling, not because I don't like discovering new places but because it usually makes me anxious. Airports freak me out. Boat rides make me reevaluate my life choices as if preparing me for inevitable doom. And although I enjoy bus rides, they also scare me sometimes.

However, I've been stuck at home for months now because of the pandemic, and I'm suddenly beginning to crave adventures. Lately, I've been thinking a lot about beaches. I terribly miss Baguio, too. At the same time, I can't help but feel bad about our few travel plans that have already been canceled (we were supposed to go to Romblon and Bacolod), as well some travel goals my partner and I set last year (we wanted to go to Taiwan).

There's no way these plans are pushing through anytime soon. But, at least there are travel shows we can watch online. Or, we can simply read books about travel. Like Jessica Zafra's Twisted Travels: Rambles in Central Europe. 

Before I talk about this book, I'd like to say first that I love Jessica Zafra. Whenever someone asks me who my influences are when it comes to writing, I always include her in the list. I first heard of her in my first year in college. She was one of the authors who inspired me to pursue creative writing instead of journalism. I studied some of her pieces as a creative writing student, too. So, I guess it's safe to say that I'll read whatever she publishes.

But what makes me fall in love with her more is the fact that her work always proves that it's worth my time. At the end of every book, I'm always able to confirm that I'm not just reading it because it's by Jessica Zafra but because it is a good book.

With Twisted Travels: Rambles in Central Europe, things are the same. After all, it's not just a book about travel. It does not simply enumerate the names of people, places, dishes, and experiences the way others do. Instead, it is a mindful account of a person's journey and as such, it does not only focus on the great things.

Although it talks about beauty, it has tales of mishaps as well, like when the author's luggage got lost and she had to endure a night with limited clothes. She also shares how her bag was stolen while aboard a train and how it was found later on, with her laptop and other things already gone.

I think its honesty just proves how complex travel can be. It's not all about rainbows and butterflies, anyway. And, even in beautiful places in Central Europe, a lot of things can still go wrong. Sure, it's rich when it comes to culture and it offers a lot of experiences. In fact, I get a feeling that simply being there is already a great chance to experience beauty.

But it's more than that, especially if we're also considering the places' history, which Zafra also talks a lot about in this book. She even meditates on the past and how insights from such events can be used when making sense of what's currently happening in this crazy world.

I especially am fascinated with the pieces focusing on Poland. Before reading this book, I wasn't really familiar with that part of Europe. But it has helped me get to know more about this country--how it suffered, how it rose from the ruins, how beautiful it's turned out to be, how it remains so despite its conflicted past, and how it does not forget about what happened in history.

When I get rich, I want to go to Poland. I want to explore Central Europe. I hope to win against my anxiety, so I can give it a shot because I think it's going to be worth it. Besides, if I can get Stendhal Syndrome just by reading this book, what more if I visit the very same places Zafra has written about?

(Image from Goodreads)
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Mina Deocareza
[Book Review] 'A Little Life' by Hanya Yanagihara

[Book Review] 'A Little Life' by Hanya Yanagihara

I never thought a book could hurt me this much. I just can't move on that I still think of its main characters as though they were real people and feel sad about their fate. And when I heard Mitski's "Last Words of a Shooting Star" a few hours after finishing this book, I just lost it.

A Little Life tells the story of four men who have been friends since their college days. They struggle with adult life at first but eventually find success in their respective fields. Malcolm becomes a famous architect, JB gains popularity as an artist, Willem becomes a very successful actor, and Jude turns into a badass litigator for a major firm.

Yet, there's something more. Behind the story of their successes, there are countless tales about struggle, heartbreaks, and trauma. As readers, we can see how characters interact with one another, and how the main characters form allegiances and create conflicts as time goes by. We are also introduced to other characters who are also important in the story, such as Harold, Julia, Andy, and Richard.

And as the novel progresses, there's an apparent shift in focus in the narrative, giving more exposure to Jude and his past. Sure, from the beginning of the story, there are already details hinting that something horrible happened to Jude when he was a child. But its gravity isn't revealed until the later part of the novel. As the real story is unveiled, readers also come to realize the severity of the trauma it has caused the character, eventually shedding light on some mysteries about Jude's personality, habits, and recurring issues.

To be honest, I had to take a break from reading this book from time to time. It's not like other novels which I could read in one sitting. For one, it's longer than the average novel. But what makes it really difficult to devour in one go is the fact that it's heavy. Apart from sexual assault and physical abuse, it also tackles suicide.

But of course, this novel isn't all about misery. It also depicts a lot of moments of happiness and beauty and each time it does, it feels like it's really earned. I think it's because the characters are really fleshed out and there's proper buildup. It does not seem hurried, which is usually the problem with some books that simply try to make people cry without doing the dirty work first.

A Little Life is long and heavy, but I can say that it's a rewarding read. Its language is beautiful as well, which makes the reading experience even better.

(Image from Kobo)
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Mina Deocareza
[Book Review] 'Charged Volume 1' ni Siege Malvar

[Book Review] 'Charged Volume 1' ni Siege Malvar

Sobra-sobra ang pananabik kong mabasa ang librong ito. Isa kasi ako sa mga nabaliw sa pag-aabang dito noong socialserye pa lang ito.

Bukod sa kakaiba nitong format, mainit din ang kada tagpo sa kuwento. Isipin mo, may isang babae na bigla na lang nakatanggap ng text message habang nasa isang coffee shop. Noong una, akala niya'y wrong number lang. Pero iyon pala, may balak talaga ang lalaking ito sa kaniya.

Mabilis ang mga pangyayari. Iba-blackmail siya nito. Ikakalat daw ang video niya kung hindi susundin ang mga utos. Ang una sa listahan? Manglason ng isang customer sa coffee shop.
Grabe, hindi ba? Kaya hindi talaga nakapagtatakang maraming nahumaling sa kuwentong ito. Kaya naman, marami ring sumuporta noong ituloy ng awtor ang kuwento sa libro.

Sulit naman ang pagbabasa ng buong libro. Natuwa ako dahil talagang itinodo ng may akda ang kabaliwan. Naging malinaw din kung ano ang motibo ng misteryosong lalaki sa kaniyang mga hakbang, at kung bakit si Candy ang napili niyang pagdiskitahan. At ang totoo, hindi lang ito trip-trip. May mas malalim na dahilan kung bakit niya ginagawa ang lahat ng ito.

Natuwa rin ako dahil may pahapyaw ang librong ito sa mga isyung kinakaharap sa bansa. Subtle ito at hindi nagsusumigaw. Sa halip, mapapansin mo lang ito kung susuriin ang katauhan ng mga karakter.

Halimbawa, si Candy. Mayroon siyang mga pananaw na mukhang pamilyar dahil madalas nating nakikita sa mga naniniwalang okey lang ang EJK. Interesante kung paano ito ginamit ng misteryosong lalaki para manipulahin siya at papayagin sa kaniyang mga plano.

Ang hindi ko lang masyado nagustuhan ay ang bahagi ng libro na may ibang format. Oo nga't kailangan ito, pero medyo distracting lang sa takbo ng kuwento. Halata ring mas magaling sa Ingles ang may-akda dahil may mga pangungusap na medyo hindi swak.

Pero sa pangkalahatan, maganda ito at masarap basahin! Isa itong perpektong babasahin para sa mga mahihilig sa crime stories at aksiyon, pati na rin sa mga hindi pa kayang mag-commit sa mas mahahabang libro.

Hindi na ako makapaghintay sa Vol. 2!

(Image from Goodreads)
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Mina Deocareza
[Book Review] 'One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays' by Scaachi Koul

[Book Review] 'One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays' by Scaachi Koul

I hadn't heard of Scaachi Koul until I stumbled upon her book, and I'm glad I gave it a shot. Now I don't simply tell people I like her--I follow her on Twitter as well. Because, duh, I need more badass women flooding my newsfeed. I google her articles, too, so I can read more about her fearless takes on things.

But okay, back to her book.

I really enjoyed One Day We'll All Be Dead and None Of This Will Matter. In fact, "Inheritance Tax," the first essay in the collection hooked me immediately. I like how the author talks about fear and anxiety, especially in some contexts other people may not easily understand. Like how traveling to an unfamiliar place can be so unnerving in comparison to the comfort being at home gives.
Travelling tells the world that you’re educated, that you’re willing to take risks, that you have earned your condescension. But do you know what my apartment has that no other place does? All my stuff. All the things that let me dull out the reminders of my human existence, that let me forget that the world is full of dark, impenetrable crags.
This particular essay also has an insightful discussion about anxiety, and how worrying is originally the parents' job. Then, eventually, it becomes your job, too, as you grow older and build a life of your own. And you need to take care of yourself as well.
When you leave the protective wing of your family for the first time, it takes a while before you learn that the only person now tasked with taking care of you is you.
Damn, that really resonated in me. Finally, somebody understands how exhausting it has been for me to worry for and about myself now, especially now that I've been on my own for years.

Of course, I also loved her second essay called "Size Me Up," which talks about the author's complex relationship with shopping and clothes. I can relate to this because although I also believe in clothes' ability to make one feel better, shopping for clothes can also be difficult for people with bodies that deviate from the ideals set by society.

What's really great about this piece is it tries to trace the origin of the author's insecurities, inevitably touching on her experiences as a child and how some seemingly harmless comments about her body and choice of outfits have actually played an important role in her views on clothing.

I think it's an essay many people can learn a lot from, especially here in the Philippines, where many grownups think that it's just okay to comment on one's body regardless of the situation. In social functions like family reunions, for example, Filipino women are often criticized for having gained weight. Often, their choice of clothes is also questioned, which goes to show how toxic some individuals can be that they no longer have a grasp of the idea of boundaries and how preoccupied they are with unrealistic standards of beauty.

Scaachi's other essays in the book are also insightful. In them, she talks about things like racism, her experiences as a person of color, being vocal on the internet and its consequences, and rape culture. These are not easy subjects, but she discusses them anyway, which just proves how brave she is. Not just that, she also uses humor cleverly in dealing with things.

Sure, she also covers Indian culture, which is pretty eye-opening for me. But what I really appreciate about her pieces is that she remains objective in the discussion. She does not simply romanticize the culture. Plus, she also shares how some practices alienate her, which I think captures the complexity of her experience as a Canadian born to Indian parents.

(Image from Amazon)
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Mina Deocareza
How to Read More Books

How to Read More Books

I always try to read no matter how busy I am. That's because I put so much value in reading that I always think of it as part of my routine. How can I improve my writing skills if I am not going to read, right? Plus, given how fucked up the world has been these days, it's always nice to distract oneself with books. (Well, apart from other things like Netflix, of course.)

But how do I do it, really? I'm sharing some of them with you.

I bring a book or my Kindle wherever I go.

Yes, I am that kind of person who reads whenever and wherever there's a chance to. I read while waiting for my food at the restaurant. I read while waiting for my turn at the checkout counter. I read at the laundromat. I read to avoid awkward situations and people I don't want to talk to. And yes, I can do all this because I always bring a book or my Kindle wherever I go.

This way, I don't have any excuse not to read. Plus, I don't waste any time. Reading is definitely more productive than obsessively checking my phone for social media notifications while waiting for people and things.

I set reading goals and I make them public.

I like challenging myself when it comes to reading, so I always sign up for Goodread's Reading Challenge each year. What's great about it is that everyone can see the number you've set for yourself since it appears on your profile. People would know if you're going to fail. 

For people like me, that's a big deal. Many friends know how vocal I am when it comes to my passion for reading books, and of course, I wouldn't want them to see me fail. Now that's an additional motivation to read.

I follow websites and podcasts about books.

Hearing and reading about books excite me. In fact, many of the great books I read in the past years were titles I only heard or read about in the podcasts and book blogs I follow. Whenever a title piques my curiosity, I take note of it and get a copy of it shortly after. This keeps me motivated. I get excited to finish whatever I am currently reading, so I can move on to the next one.

My favorite podcast is All the Books! while my go-to book-blog is bookriot.com. I also read reviews from reputable publications like The New York Times and New Yorker to get updates on what the new releases are.

I visit bookshops and follow online bookstores.

Nothing beats the feeling of seeing books carefully shelved in a bookshop. They just seem more enticing that way. Plus, you get to see their covers, which are powerful enough to intrigue you. Before you know it, you're already at the checkout counter. And you feel so satisfied.

Following online bookstores is also exciting. You see the books that are up for grabs, and if you want to buy certain titles, you have to be fast enough to be the first person to comment "mine." It's like a game. Of course, I check booksellers' and publishing houses' official online stores as well. In fact, many of them are now on e-commerce sites like Lazada and Shoppee.

I talk to friends about books.

Thankfully, I have a lot of friends who also love to read. And yes, they've been such a great help in my reading life. 

No matter how curious I am about books, there are still titles and authors that are outside my radar. That's where my friends come in. Since their interests differ from mine, they also help me discover authors and titles that I am not yet familiar with. Plus, sometimes we lend each other books as well. Or, we trade, like when there are special occasions. That's actually more fun and practical, instead of buying new gifts.

I'm not afraid to put a book down when I don't find it engaging enough.

There are moments when I'm simply not in the mood to read like there's no spark between the text and me that no matter how hard I try to focus, my mind just drifts away.

Whenever this happens, I simply put the book down and read something else. Although it's nice to challenge oneself by still trying to read a book even though you don't find it engaging enough (or when you find out it's not as exciting as you imagined it would be), it can also affect one's motivation. It can make you feel stuck or simply pissed. So instead of annoying yourself, why not read something else, right? Anyway, you can pick it up again when the right time comes.

I always have a quiet time.

It's hard to read when there are a lot of things happening around you or if you are surrounded by people who can interrupt you every now and then. So if you really want to read more, you have to ensure that you're getting enough quiet time--just like I do.

Sometimes, I sit in a cafe for hours just to read. I read when I travel alone, too. Apart from being able to concentrate on books, solitude also allows me to process whatever I am reading.

Although fun, reading can be challenging, especially in a world we are currently in. There are just too many distractions, and it's so easy to lose motivation. This is why having specific strategies makes a lot of sense to me. With their help, I can push myself to read more and not let my reading life suffer.

(Photo from Canva)
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Mina Deocareza