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1. A Wild Sheep Chase, Haruki Murakami

This has actually been my “currently reading” book since October and I don’t see myself finishing it soon. Ergo, first on the list. I’ve read about five Murakami titles before starting this one, and this one is turning out to be my least favorite. I have two more from the prized author on this list, and I have high hopes.

2. Quiet, Susan Cain

Susan Cain is probably the modern introvert’s heroine. Whether you enjoy her work or not, you have to thank her for making introverts a hot topic in recent years. This book and her TED talk, “The power of introverts,” are arguably the most popular resources on introversion today. I got my copy at this year’s MIBF.

3. Yes Please, Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler is one of my heroines, after Hannah Brencher. I stumbled upon the book announcement when I was looking for more sources of Amy P. wisdom for me, particularly in written word. For some reason, I took it as some misdirected sign that I must buy the book immediately. I ordered it online and I believe it should have arrived at my permanent address by now.

4. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami

As soon as the news broke that Murakami was writing a new novel, it was all over my Facebook feed. Once translated and then distributed to Manila, I heard only the best feedback. I’m told it’s a solid, distinct book, even next to Murakami’s own titles. I don’t have a copy yet because I passed up the chance last MIBF. Maybe next year’s, or on my birthday, since I’m not in a rush to get it.

5. P.S. I Still Love You, Jenny Han

Most YA series that come out these days only get an eye-roll from me. Something in me felt like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han would be different, so I went out of my way to get it. Best. Decision. Ever. Adjusting back to YA writing was hard, but To All The Boys was one of my favorite things in the world this year. The sequel comes out in June. BUY ME THIS.

6. Paano Ba ‘To?!, Bianca Gonzales

This is the most recent release on the list and the only Filipino title. I only recently paid attention to her posts, and I think Bianca Gonzales is a great local heroine and role model. BUY ME THIS.

7. If You Find This Letter, Hannah Brencher

Hannah Brencher is my personal heroine; her work and her way of writing are my soul’s goals. Hannah Brencher announcing a book was the among the best things to happen to me without directly affecting me this year. This is the only book on this list that I found off my own sources and not from referrals or reviews. Comes out in March. BUY ME THIS.

8. 18 Minutes, Peter Bregman

I found this at MIBF and decided to buy a book I knew nothing about. I’m not motivated to read it but I am still curious enough to pick it up in the end. If it delivers, I think it will be helpful for me at work.

9. We Were Liars, E. Lockhart

I was trying hard to ignore this book because it looks and sounds exactly like the kind of YA books that drove me away from the genre. It piqued my attention when it appeared on Goodreads’ (a) Choice Awards 2014 (b) “Mental Health” subcategory. This goes onto the list of books that I’m just going to give a chance. Extra points if someone highly recommends it to me.

10. Sputnik Sweetheart, Haruki Murakami

This is a wild card Murakami pick. BUY ME THIS.

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Post-script: My writing game has been pretty slack lately, and I hate it. Writing this list was difficult. Publishing this post is harder because I’m letting it go in all its horrible glory. But I simply refuse to quit writing.

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I don’t have a long or substantial history with Cinemalaya at all. The one film I remember watching is Ang Nawawala in 2012 (which has a special place in my heart). Sure, I’m always interested. But I never really have anybody to go with. I’m glad that’s changing this year.

Just to make sure it’s more of a plan than a hope, here’s the top three movies Airell and I want to see.

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A large part of my childhood reading life involved the Sweet Valley twins. In retrospect, I know now that the Wakefields are an odd bunch. Elizabeth is controlling and self-righteous while Jessica is insensitive and self-destructive. But back in our day, their weird adventures opened me to a lot of things in life, like friendship, love and ambition.

Unfortunately, not every child gets the same experiences I did. Libraries and governments over history have challenged, censored, and banned books with content they believed poisonous to the minds of people, especially youth. Banned Books Week is a response to that. The campaign encourages readers all around the world to pick up a banned book and celebrate it, to exercise the freedom to read.

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My favorite “banned books”

1. Harry Potter series, Joanne Rowling
Banned for: witchcraft, violence

I find it sad whenever Harry Potter gets rejected for its wizardry and magic, because those things are supposedly un-Christian? Uhh. Fantasy and fiction are incredible and important because they test the limits of the imagination and can be used as metaphors for all things love, hope and courage. If you think that isn’t what you want for the youth, I have to wonder what your vision for the world is.

2. Looking for AlaskaJohn Green
Banned for: language, sexual content, and being too “mature” for its age group

I see how LFA can be controversial if misinterpreted. But it’s a great book, even if only at surface level, because it captures those wandering, seeking feelings that today’s youth tend to have. There are few things more fulfilling than finding your experiences expressed and affirmed by somebody else. Taking away Looking for Alaska means taking away that necessary experience from millions of people.

3. To Kill a MockingbirdHarper Lee
Banned for: language, racism

Okay, if you want to ban a book that acknowledges racism you are probably a racist. To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite “classic,” not just because the writing is so good, but because it teaches all about respecting and caring about other people, no matter who they are or what form they come in. I seriously can’t wrap my head around the idea that this book gets banned for being dangerous material.

4. The Hunger GamesSuzanne Collins
Banned for: violence, themes of rebellion, and being too “mature” for its age group

THG is currently my favorite YA series, but it wasn’t until it gained popularity that I realized just how controversial it was. People think that THG promotes the very things that it actually speaks against: sensationalized violence, child exploitation, and the false detachment of reality TV. It has a lot of difficult but important and increasingly relevant themes, and it is because of this that THG should not be banned, but rather discussed and taught so its message can shine through.

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These are some of my favorite books that have been banned at some point, but there are many many more. Too many, in fact. But I think every [well-written] book has a very important message or effect to share with its readers and for this reason should be allowed to find its way to them. Every book with an unorthodox or controversial theme should all the more be encouraged because it encourages minds to grow open, to look at things more critically, and to form its own opinions of the world.

Any person or entity that thinks knowledge and learning is dangerous probably ought to reevaluate what they think they’re fighting for. Because it’s clearly not progress.

I don’t really get to have traditions or routines because I get bored so easily. But there are a few things I look forward to every year: Christmas with the family, my BFF’s visit to Manila, Manila Book Fair.

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I don’t even commit my “tradition” to a single person, because sometimes people can’t make it at the last minute. But I have been to MIBF every year since I came to Manila. It never stops feeling amazing to walk into that giant hall filled with stalls and stalls of books.

And then of course, there’s my ever-changing wishlist of books that needs attention.

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It was not a graphic design book like I had assumed, but I still think that’d make an awesome motto for anything. “_______ Like You Give a Damn.” Watch me turn that into a blog post.

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One of my favorite things about MIBF: finding awesome covers from other editions.
The newest Harry Potter covers were particularly wicked.

Too lazy to get a picture of my purchases because my sister and I have been passing my camera back and forth, but here’s what I got:

1. Tall Story, Candy Gourlay
2. No One Belongs Here More Than You, Miranda July
3. This is How You Lose Her, Miranda July

All for a grand total less than 1000. Honestly, it didn’t feel like enough. I usually buy more, spend more, and go home closer to the night, but I was tired and this was the day before I got sick. Still, I will never not love my MIBF visits. I already can’t wait for next year.

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NEVER LET ME GO
Kazuo Ishiguro
4/5 stars

“Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value most, I don’t ever see them fading.”

This was my fourth or fifth attempt at reading this book, and I never before got past the first thirty pages. But I got to pick it up and finish it last Monday, because it’s summer *happy dance*

I’m glad I got to finally read it. Not only so that it’s off my list, or so that I’ve started off summer break by reading, but because it’s a beautiful book on its own. I understand now why it’s so acclaimed. I praise it too, and I now nurse a soft spot for it in my heart.

“As a child, Kathy lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter.

Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood–and about their lives now.”

(Summary from Goodreads.)

I won’t comment so much on the plot because I don’t want to give anything away. I can only say that I absolutely loved the writing (once I got past the slow beginning). The story-telling was calm and rather haunting; while it had its twists, they were delivered very subtly.

Imagine listening to a conversation you knew nothing about, while pretending you knew exactly what they were saying. And then at some moment, someone gives away a clue that gives you an “Aha!” moment deep inside, but you can’t tell anyone you only just figured it out now. It kind of has that feeling. While that tactic could get confusing now and then, I got to really appreciate it at the moment of reveal.

I also love how we follow Kathy as the heroine, but we don’t know exactly what she is thinking or feeling. We only know what we hear from her conversations with other people. It has just the right amount of mystery and narration; it’s kind of perfect.

The book deals with several themes–love, friendship, purpose, loss–but it does it so delicately, you don’t have to stop and think about it. You simply move along after a while.

“I keep thinking about this river somewhere, with the water moving really fast. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end it’s just too much. The current’s too strong. They’ve got to let go, drift apart. That’s how it is with us. It’s a shame, because we’ve loved each other all our lives. But in the end, we can’t stay together forever.”

If you, like me, are having trouble getting past the slow beginning, I urge you to go on. Find a day when you have nothing to do, and promise yourself you won’t put the book down until you’ve reached at least page fifty. It’s such a beautiful story, I wish I had read it sooner.

They say the movie is beautifully done too, so I will watch it soon.

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I first heard of Les Misérables way back in my high school Religion text book. The chapter was discussing morality and sin, and it cited Jean Valjean’s theft as an example. The hero stole bread in order to feed his sister’s child. In cases like this, the textbook said, the end justifies the means. That reasoning was enough back then — but things are a little different today.

The introduction of Philosophy classes into my life has grown my hobby of asking questions. I now know that everything is a little bigger and a little more complex than it seemed at first glance. “The end justifies the means” isn’t a life principle that applies to everything.

Our Philosophy teacher offered a bonus grade for watching the movie in the cinema, and so I did. And that’s what brings me to this post. I have not read the book, watched the 1998 film or watched any of the musicals. I’m not here to release my inner Comm major and make remarks on the production and casting. I’m here because it was my first time experiencing the story of Les Misérables, and it made me feel things.

The original dilemma is the same: Jean Valjean stole bread for his sister’s son and was sentenced to five years in prison. He kept trying to escape and so ended up serving nineteen years instead. The prison guard Javert is always on his chase, determined that the law be followed to the letter.

If my high school religion textbook is right and what Valjean did is okay (since his intentions were of utmost good), does that mean Javert is wrong? Is he a “bad guy” for punishing Jean Valjean’s good deed, for doing his duty and following his beliefs? Is it possible that neither of them did wrong? What should have been the right thing for everyone to do? Most importantly, what does all this say about our concepts of right and wrong, of good and evil?

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The setup reminds me of my favorite thesis statement from our midterm exam: dapat (ought, must, should) versus kailangan (needed, necessary).

Dapat commands something that must, under any circumstances, be followed. Jean Valjean stole bread and must be imprisoned. He broke parole and went into hiding, and he should be arrested. Kailangan, on the other hand, takes a good look at what is happening before deciding what needs to be done. He needed to steal the bread because, if he didn’t, his sister’s child might die.

If you asked me, I would always argue that understanding context is more important. I don’t believe in black and white, only shades of grey that are so dark or so light they look like new colors. What should be done is a statement; what needs to be done is a question. I vote the question.

The Bishop was one of the most touching characters to me. There was a freedom in his wisdom when he did what he did, setting Valjean free (physically and spiritually) without knowing if the latter will use it for good, but having faith that he will. It was this blessing, after all, that moved Valjean to transform his life.

“One word from him and I’d be back beneath the lash, upon the rack. Instead he offers me my freedom. I feel my shame inside me like a knife. He told me that I have a soul; how does he know? What spirit comes to move my life? Is there another way to go?”

He acted with a certain holiness and grace that I can only dream of imitating.

I don’t think Javert is wrong or evil; I think maybe he didn’t believe he had better choices, if he believed he had other choices at all. The life of right and wrong was all he had ever known, and the possibility of  there being something else simply terrified him.

What we were taught to know or believe is not our fault. What we refuse to know or believe might be.

There will always be people who obey what demands to be obeyed, and that does not make them bad people and it does not make their choices wrong. Everyone has a story that cries to be heard. If we stopped to listen to all those stories, there would be chaos and our world would fall apart. The law was created to keep our world together. The law was created to protect something. But what happens when the law begins to hurt what it was supposed to protect?

What do you do then?

Who’s a happy bookworm?

The Manila International Book Fair (MIBF) is an annual event organized by Primetrade Asia, Inc. at the SMX Convention Center. This year’s fair was the thirty-third MIBF ever held, although it was only the third I ever attended. Two years ago, my siblings and I merely passed the time here while waiting for someone’s arrival into the country. Last year, I heard about it from an Eng-Lit classmate and then attended it with Ara.

By this year, I was already anticipating it as an annual event, and scampered around for people to go with. It would have been incredible to attend with my orgmates–most if not all of whom are book-lovers–but hell week crept up on all of us. I ended up making it a date with AJ, which was a great decision because I missed her terribly, and anyway we had so much fun book-geeking together.

AJ and her old friend, Nico

Despite having overspent for the month already, I had a pretty generous budget for this fair, which tells you a lot about my priorities. So I thought I’d cut down on expenses wherever I could. I was also craving for an adventure to counter my recent bleakness, so I decided to take a big but important risk. I commuted to Mall of Asia alone. People who are overprotective of me usually discourage me from going anywhere alone, so this is not something I make a habit of.

Still, it felt like a right thing to do, not just for the monetary savings, but for the rich experience I wanted (and eventually found). For my loved ones who worry about me: please don’t. I am safe, sound, happy, and careful. This trial adventure will last me a while.

Now, on to the bookworming!

I get stuck at the Literary Winners section all the time.
(My fangirl heart when I saw these two authors’ books together.)

Then, these were the books AJ and I were lusting after: beautiful, ornate-design hardbound covers of several books in one collection. (We will have you one day.)

The book that called out to us. Haha. Arabic writing! <3

Our three main areas to visit were: National Bookstore, Fully Booked, and OMF Lit. There was a beautiful little store that sold musical booklets, but I was too shy to take a picture because the area was smaller. I wanted this booklet of ukulele chords to The Beatles songs for my sister, but it was well over Php 1000, and I didn’t have any more money to spend by then. I regret not having taken a picture at the very least. It really was a very homey, almost vintage stall.

I didn’t get to take a picture of AJ’s loot, because we separated at around 9PM. I do remember her buying The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Happiness Project Journal by Gretchen Rubin (which I tried very hard to make her not buy, haha), and The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory.

Here are my purchases, though:

  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel; purchased on Ara’s request
  • New International Version Holy Bible; because I have become picky with translations
  • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami; I have wanted to buy it for a while, so why not while it’s discounted?
  • Ariel by Sylvia Plath, and The People Look Like Flowers At Last by Charles Bukowski; have I ever told you that sometimes I need poetry to breathe?

And there you have it. A wonderful date with a wonderful girlfriend. I could not have been happier with how this day went (except if we had endless supply of cash, and the rest of our MidEast friends with us). We were exhausted and broke but happy.

I loveloveloved this day very much. I can’t wait for next year already!