LAST YEAR’S BEST READS

chapters and pages

Writing about books in this pandemic might be a futile idea, a recap of my favorite ones last year feels like it happened a long time ago. It’s crazy how much things have changed in a span of a few months. Posting this contradicts the times we’re living in. I’m writing this intro to serve as a disclaimer that I know we’re in a bundled up mess right now, that we’re facing so much uncertainty as we go through our “new normal” (accepting this term is quire challenging too). I guess that’s what reading has been for me these days – a coping mechanism, something that has helped me maintain my sanity.

Aside from missing a few places on the outside world, talking face to face with my constant hoomans, I also missed writing about books. I browsed though my old journals, and saw that I constantly did this back in 2017. It helped me remember better what thoughts and feelings went through me as I go through novels. I’m hoping that I would be able to go back this year, so maybe this post is my restart button. I aimed to include five books on the list, but if we’re going to talk about books that I can rave about endlessly, these four made the cut.


THE LONELY CITY by Olivia Laing

This landed on my list after I read an article on Brain Pickings. A line struck me so much that it inspired me to create an artwork out of it, even before I was able to fully read the book. I sought a copy during the first months of my dorm life. The dedication page states, “If you’re lonely this one’s for you.” I guess I was (sometimes I still am). It was my first time to live with friends in the city. I was new to the system, despite my introvert hesitations, it was a better option compared to commuting back and forth for almost 7 hours a day. Being surrounded with people almost all the time made me seek refuge in any quiet corner I could find.

Drawn to the title because of this newness, I initially thought that it would be filled with Laing’s personal essays (it’s quite obvious that I didn’t read the blurb and just went ahead to buy it). Instead we went through the life stories of different artists, how the circumstances in the city has mixed with their lives, further shaping their works, and with each turn we see their loneliness mirroring our own. Some parts were so heartbreaking that I can’t help but pencil in sad faces in the margins.

If you’re into art, this might be an interesting read for you. Out of all the artists, I was most drawn to Edward Hopper’s artworks. I was already familiar with Nighthawks since this is usually used in various magazine and internet articles, but as I searched online I also found his other works, such as Morning Sun and Automat, that I suddenly felt connected to (although I can’t say the same for his character though). Laing also brought to light a lot of researches; people who are interested in the sciences might be interested to dive into this.

As I went through my underlined lines made me think that I should put this on my re-read list to fully digest it. Maybe we could say the same about loneliness too; to understand it you must fully accept it.


WALONG DIWATA NG PAGKAHULOG by Edgar Calabia Samar

After so many times of saying “I’ll come back for you”, I finally gave in and bought a copy of this new edition (I patiently waited because the Filipino version went out of stock for some time). This was recommended to me by first manager at work, a great advocate of local literature and has influenced me to explore the Filipiniana section. I’m guilty that I don’t have much local books, which made me decide to start building up and this novel was my starting point. Just like how I fell in love with Korea through KDramas, how I become fond of Japan because of anime, I thought that deepening my love for our own culture can also be done through reading Filipino Literature.

It’s weird to write a review in English while I read through my favorite lines in my native language. It’s like I’m shifting between two personalities. But I guess that’s the difference when you explore novels written in the language of the country you’re born it – it gives more depth to the words. This novel came to me when I also felt a bit lost in the path that I am in. Just like the protagonist (who happens to carry the same name with me) Daniel, I was crossing the line between reality and dreams (minus the mythical creatures). Most of the books I love give way to my frustrations with words, and how writing is like bleeding for me. Yet it’s another answer to why we still try to write, why we love the spine and pages that makes up a story we fall into over and over and over again.

If you’re looking for a good place to start reading Filipino novels, this is a great one. There’s an English translation available too, entitled Eight Muses of the Fall, but if you’re a Filipino I hope you would choose to read the one published in our mother tongue.


THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I was on my usual Booksale visit when I spotted this on the lower shelves. The author was familiar because a friend has mentioned it to me (we exchange list of books we’re searching for). I texted him to ask if he already has a copy of it, as it turns out he already found one the previous week, but he still encouraged me to buy it for myself with the promise that the story and author is actually great. Because I’m weak for books, I obliged. After all, a Zafon book priced at 50 pesos is such a steal (a brand new copy costs around 800 pesos, imagine that!) Thanks to this incident, another author has been added on my beloved list. As soon as I went out of the store, I started reading the first pages while I pass dinner time in the nearby fast food chain. After 7 pages I was already submerged in the world that Zafon has created.

If Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog encouraged me to push through my attempts in writing, The Shadow of the Wind embraced me with reassurance that despite the digital shift, it would always be worth it to stick on loving physical books. This is actually the second book in the trilogy, but as my friend puts it the characters are in the same universe but each book can stand on its own. I’ll let Zafon speak more for this one, “I could try to tell you the story, but it would be like describing a cathedral by saying it’s a pile of stones ending in a spine…In my schoolboy reveries, we were always two fugitives riding in the spine of a book, eager to escape into worlds of fiction and secondhand dreams.”

If you ever come across this novel on second hand bookstores, please don’t hesitate to buy it and give it a home. Let its magic unfold before you; don’t let it go down the cemetery of forgotten books.


THE MOMENT by Douglas Kennedy

Someone I deeply admire (who happens to be a KPop idol) has unexpectedly put this on my list. It’s another rabbit hole that I gladly fell into, once he posted on his instagram story that this book gave him tears, which made me even more curious. I’ve been seeing Kennedy’s books every now and then on Booksale. One or two titles would sprout out from the stack, I usually take that as a sign that sooner or later a copy of my desired title would come, so I waited patiently. Those who frequent second hand bookstores know the thrill of finding books you’ve been searching for a long time, or the surprise of finding copies of the ones on your long to-be-read-list, it’s a definite cheap thrill for book lovers. I know they would get me when I almost squealed out loud when I saw this one (the last time this happened was when a copy of Atonement finally showed up). I don’t know what to expect out of this one, since there’s no hint of familiarity with the author’s work and it’s mainly a result of my fangurling feels. But it landed on this list because it’s surprisingly great (sorry, I need to find new adjectives soon).

The love story might be the usual trap for hopeless romantics, but Kennedy’s words paint it in an unusual way. He was also able to capture the existential crisis that still haunts me sometimes, and the sad part of my soul I’ve been carrying with me, while perfectly putting in a dialogue how this sadness is necessary for artists to face the blank canvas. I’ve come to accept life’s heaviness in a new light. This novel might have a different impact to those who have witnessed the history of Berlin wall, those who have visited the place and have walked its street. While those who have gone through divorce (their own or their parents), and those who have dealt with their own childhood trauma will have a sense of familiarity to the pain that Kennedy talks about through his characters.

Once again, I am introduced to a new author I’ve come to love, and maybe this will be my own moment would be with me long after I’ve outgrown KPop (if that would ever happen). Long after I’ve moved on from my admiration from him.

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I hope I was able to give justice to these books even just a bit. If you’ve ever read this books (or will do in the future), I’ll be a glad listener of your thoughts! Stay safe and let’s continue to live through this.

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