Book review on March 2020: Women, women, women

Apologies for the two-month delay of this blog post. March had been a terrible month as it was the onset of the community quarantine; April was more terrible with weeks of self-imposed internet disconnection; May is a month when I’m struggling to stabilize everything that had happened to me and to the world, and I’m trying to deal with the quarantine hangover and stacks of undone tasks.

Despite this sorry state, I’m glad March was an enriching reading experience for me. To celebrate Women’s Month, the books I read are specifically written by women writers. Focusing myself with this list makes me realize how literature would be bland and incomplete without including their narratives. Historically female writers had to suffer inequalities in literary production; Mary Ann Evans had to use the name George Eliot to escape from the stereotype of a female writer as a romance author; Virginia Woolf wrote, “Indeed if woman had no existence save in the fiction written by men, one would imagine her a person of the utmost importance;” men monopolizing the spaces would potentially incite mansplaining, sexism, and misogyny; and for a long time (or arguably, until now), women have had a difficulty negotiating the notion about their rights, their bodies.

The new millennium and the Me Too movement are potent on putting the women into the forefront, and as a feminist, I am exerting my time and understanding to promote gender inequality.

I read six books on March 2020.

Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn 

This is the first book I read in March 2020, and I somehow found it hard to finish due to a lot of tasks and the anxiety brought about by the pandemic.

Undoubtedly, Hagedorn rendered the lyricism and the kaleidoscopic events very well. A staple reading on postcolonial literature, it has depicted the Americanization of the Filipinos by showing the colonizers’ influence that may appear innocuous at first: US films, materialism, small talks, inferiority complex, colonial mentality, Western beauty standards, and so on. It also takes a jab on the Marcos regime and the tomfoolery of the dictatorship, making those who are already powerful to be more power-hungry. We pay attention to four storylines: the ruling family’s utter disregard for the people they exploited, filthy rich businessmen, the struggle of the guerrillas, and the poverty sweeping the while country.

Dogeaters is driven not by plot but by characters and the cultural strains of a country plagued by oppressive influences by the American occupation. Thus it was hard to follow, with the shifting perspectives and a mixture of letters, news items, and quotations. 

“We Pinoys suffer collectively from a cultural inferiority complex. We are doomed by our need for assimilation into the West and our own curious fatalism” —Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn

It makes up an interesting material for literature majors. I suggest the following topics for discussion: (1) In this book, much of the emphasis is the upper and lower class dichotomy. What does it say about the middle class society in the Philippines? (2) The text written by a Filipino writer who chose to publish it overseas; could the reception be any different if it was published in Hagedorn home country? What is its implication to the publishing industry in/literature of the Philippines? (3) It may be compared with Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco. (4) Comparing the material conditions in Manila in the milieu of the book to the present-day Manila, how are they similar and different?

Rating: 🐈 🐈.5/5 cats

The cure for sorrow by Jan Richardson

I am glad I found this book of poems through the Everything Happens Book Club where I am an active participant. Bought this in Kindle as I live in a bookshop-less city.

Anyway, Jan Richardson paid attention to her grieve following the death of her husband. She calls the poems ‘blessings,’ the words she still managed to give away in spite of it all. 

I did not have anyone die on me, but the searing grief of mine is on trying to live a life that I did not anticipate. I am clinically depressed and on medication, and until now, I am still managing to live though the loss of a former me. Needless to say, this book came in the right timing. And no,  this book does not offer a roadmap.

This book came at the right time when I was nursing my dread and collectively grieving for the world that will never be the same again because of the pandemic.

It exposes that the cure for sorrow is never linear, not a progression from nothing to something. Through well-wishes and generosity to offer her anger, I was somehow comforted. I wish more people will read this.

And to entice you, here is one poem I love:

Rating: 🐈 🐈 🐈 🐈 🐈/5 cats

Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker

If there’s any consolation to this alarming pandemic, it’s being able to explore a lot of readings in my room, and I could say this memoir is one of the best books I have read while on quarantine.

I have to borrow Owen Wilson’s word to express how I felt reading Mary-Louise Parker: ‘WOW.’ Not only can she act exceptionally (I love her in Weeds, Angels in America, and Fried Green Tomatoes), but she has this cadence and sensitivity I was lucky to witness on paper.

Dear Mr. You is a memoir written in a series of letters to the men whom she have encountered, changed, and spent days with. I would even admit I got confused whether to call it a memoir or a collection of prose poetry or odes, as each chapter is wrapped with a language that would make you want to accompany it with a hot tea or a piano music.

Wow, Mary-Louise Parker. Your words enthrall me. It also helped that I read it synched with the audiobook performed by the author.

Again, she has played with words, as she referred to her terrible exes as Cerberus (“I’m telling this grim tale to you three. You were the worst of those I called darling. There you are now, cowering. Well, Konnichiwa! Remember me?”); she recounted her fits at a cabdriver during the demise of her marriage while carrying a child inside her (“I have thought of you and know you wouldn’t remember me but I am sorry. Really, I don’t fault you for anything except having that map of the United States of America in your taxi, which is about as useful as a walkie-talkie on the ground floor of the Empire State Building.”); she wrote a letter to a firefighter who dealt with the 9/11 tragedy (“You never had any next-day thank-you, or cookies waiting. I never knew your name, and your face I wouldn’t recognize if I had only three to pick from, it was so thick with ash when I saw you.”); she made an endearing letter to the future man of her daughter and listed down her reminders he should follow (“ Remind her that she is beautiful in every new language you can invent. Careful with metaphor, as by then her mother’s overuse of it may have exhausted her and made her immune to poetry. Remind her about poetry.”); and closed it in with a letter from an oyster-picker (“Dearest Oyster Picker, you are like a change-of-life baby, showing up late and thereby cementing your position as favorite. You represent all of it, the men we never consider who slave for the safety and happiness of others, like my dad. It’s man at his highest, don’t you think?”)

I have noticed that I only have few friends poring over the art of the memoir for it endures the reputation as a text pure of self-absorption, prone to embellishment and falsity, and sometimes bordering on preaching on how to live life. But if I would strangle my friends to get to them to read Dear Mr. You—like how I force them to read the nonfiction of Ernest  Hemingway and Jesmyn Ward and Cheryl Strayed and Mindy Kaling and Annie Dillard and Joan Didion and Pico Iyer and Barack Obama and James Baldwin—I’d have to.

Rating: 🐈 🐈 🐈 🐈 🐈/5 cats

Fun home: A family tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

This graphic memoir is a gem. Alison Bechdel is a monumental voice of feminism and the LGBTQIA+ movement, and reading this will allow you to peer through the struggles of being a lesbian woman grappling through death, dysfunctional family, frustration in truth-seeking, and more struggles in adulthood.

The most endearing part of this book is on how Alison had recognized the inadequate intimacy she had with her father as she started to unfold the semblance between them, even if it was a solitary affair. Along the progression of the narrative, we understand her zany childhood and on how she came of age, mighty and beautiful. Our journey with the character is supplemented by her inclinations to literature as she identified life from the works of Marcel Proust, Henry James, Albert Camus, and etc. This is fitting to say that Fun Home is a masterclass in allusion.

I was captivated by the elaborate illustration in each panel. The scenes are vivified as to how Alison rendered the house, the faces, the found objects.

I will recommend this for everyone who wants to read comics. I will recommend it more if one is interested to learn about sexuality and gender dynamics, family, and mental health issues.

Fun Home was adapted into a Tony-winning musical. After reading the book, I listened to the songs and had fun with it. Favorite song: Changing my major. (Photo courtesy: Democracy Now)

Rating: 🐈 🐈 🐈 🐈 🐈/5 cats

Bluets by Maggie Nelson

Well, how do I even start with this exquisite numbered prose poems meditating upon blue? I read it in one sitting, enthralled by how feelings of love, loss, and life have evoked on me. Through this book, the magical persona Maggie Nelson created brought me to a car with Joni Mitchell playing on; when blue was more than a color but more of nature’s intervention; the pivotal moments that either shattered me or took my breath away; the times that remind me of blue or the absence thereof; the joy of belongingness and the recognition of solitude.

I would always remember how I reveled on this book. I felt the warmth of my heart against the blue that the night had painted.

Mostly I have felt myself becoming a servant of sadness. I am still looking for the beauty in that.”

Suzanne Dean designed the cover of Bluets. Read the process of the cover design here.

Rating: 🐈 🐈 🐈 🐈 🐈/5 cats

Heart in a box by Kelly Thompson

This was… meh. I am giving two stars for the exquisite illustrations and color scheme in the comics. I felt that the narrative can still be pushed through. The premise is pretty: a woman who wished to have her heart shattered got what she wished for, and then regretted it so she had to piece each part back again. But I don’t know, some encounters weren’t riveting in my opinion, and some didn’t mesh well with the journey.

I felt like I wasted my money reading this, but you might want to try this graphic novel. Buy its Kindle version here.

Rating: 🐈 🐈/5 cats

***

Which among the following piqued your interest? Have you read any of the books I reviewed, and have we got similar comments on them?

I am excited to post my April 2020 book review. It could have been the month in my existence when I read most. One kept me the whole night, to finish it at 3:00 am crying. Another one was a learning opportunity to look into the politics of America under the civil rights movement. One book, in its unfiltered truth, made me feel nauseous.

Raving about books soon. Have to run 10 km. 🤓

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