Day 15 – Your “comfort” book
Maria Isabel Garcia’s Science Solitaire: Essays on Science, Nature, and Becoming Human
This is a collection of columns Maria Isabel Garcia has written for The Philippine Star over the years. Here’s a more recent example. Despite my declaration that I never reread books, this one is perfect for a reader looking to dip into short bursts of reflection about the wonders and possibilities of science. I’ve come to appreciate science writing more after reading this book a couple of years ago. In fact, part of my reading list right now is Mary Roach’s Stiff and Oliver Sacks’sThe Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat.
Maria Isabel Garcia is also a wonderful and fascinating woman, something I found out for myself after meeting her for a Read or Die event. For a writer who is a scientist by profession, her prose has a lightness to it that renders the discussion of intellectual pursuits (she routinely talks about quantum physics and–dun dun dun–MATH) more engaging. I can trace a straight line from my current fascination with Radiolab to the little sparks of curiosity lit up in my head by this book.
An aside: Holy crap, why is this book priced at 30 dollars on Amazon? D:
Happy belated New Year, and let’s pretend I didn’t fall off the book blogging wagon in a major way, shall we? To make up for my neglect, I have decided to make another try at fulfilling the 50 Book Challenge in 2011. The good news is, I’m already on the right track, after having just finished Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Flanders Panel. Yay!
Another thing keeping me happy lately: my friend and former officemate Karen is now starting here own book blog! Seek her out at And She Really Read. Her first post is about the pain of a room with simply too many books. I know this drama pretty well.
I’m also going to continue with the 30 Days of Books Meme and consider the gap, uh, the result of an inter-dimensional war of attrition. Or something.
Day 08 – A book everyone should read at least once
F.H. Batacan’s Smaller and Smaller Circles
I’m going to amend this question into “A book every Filipino reader should read at least once.” Mystery is a genre that has always been close to my heart, and I have been very much invested in discussions regarding the dearth of crime and mystery fiction from Filipino authors. Batacan’s novel about two Jesuit priests and their quest to find the murderer and mutilator of young boys in the Payatas Dumpsite is a relative bestseller, consistently read and reviewed in different blogs through the years. But it’s also a bit a of an outlier, unique in its position as the only Filipino novel so far that I believe follows the convention of a proper mystery novel.
I made this in early 2007 I think, since we were studying post-colonialism. I wanted to frame this kind of critical thought around the two stories by Dean Alfar that really struck me for their themes. This is only the first part and it’s horribly incomplete; I seem to remember that this paper came to a total of 9 pages. There was even a specific reading of L’Aquilone du Estrellas and The Middle Prince that has seemed to be lost within the bowels of my hard drive.
Looking back on it three years later, I can see a lot of difference in the literary climate today. For one, there’s a mention of the lack of printing venues for fantasy and science fiction aside from indie publishing. I mentioned that in the essay but that was before Anvil released it’s own line of Fantasy titles. I’m pretty sure many of my former assumptions have changed (or have been modified, at least) since then.
In his introduction for Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 2, editor and writer Dean Francis Alfar discusses the category “Philippine Speculative Fiction.” Presented with the demand to define it, he gives a simple answer: “[It is] speculative fiction written by Filipinos (“Introduction” ix).” He then asserts that as more Filipinos write science fiction, fantasy, and other genres in between, the “Filipino perspective” will sharpen, moving towards the ultimate goal of developing stories that can be seen as distinct products of the Filipino imagination. He then articulates the Filipino spec writer’s “anxiety about [their] national identity (x),” especially when confronted with the question of “Filipino-ness” in terms characters, settings, and even themes.
This clamor for definition is a legitimate one. Recently, there have been several forays at publishing “genre fiction” by Filipino writers, demonstrated by publications such as The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, Story Philippines and the various titles produced by Psicom Publishing. It’s not that Filipinos haven’t been writing such stories until now. Filipino pop culture is riddled with such characters as Darna, Captain Barbel, and Pedro Penduko, and few can dispute how their storylines fit neatly under this umbrella term. However, as interest in genre grows and its practitioners attain higher levels of sophistication, the question of authenticity in these works as Filipino creations comes into question.
A peculiar thing has happened to my reading habits which I have only realized recently. Having grown up as a reader who shifted from Nancy Drew mysteries in her elementary years to the meatier (and longer) Stephen King horrors in high school, I have never been a stranger to the novel form. It is, by far, the easiest way to get lost in a different world, with nothing required for travel expenses except time and imagination. Having been part of a readers club, I have encountered other people who expressed a great love for long, engaging narratives as well. However, there has been a glaring lack in this aspect of my formative years–an exposure to Filipino novels.
Ask a Pinoy on the street about a Filipino novel he has read and the most frequent answer would be Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, a product of the educational system that declares them required reading for every high schooler in the country. If you are lucky, you will hear a few other titles such as Lualhati Bautista’s Dekada ‘70 and Amado Hernandez’s Mga Ibong Mandaragit, which has gained light fame (or is it infamy?) recently due a recent online discussion about the Philippine canon. But the titles that have emerged from Filipino writers through the years aren’t reaching the consciousness of the lay man.