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On My Bedside Table: A birthday edition

What better way to spend one's birthday (and well-earned semester break) than by getting oneself new books, right? One of the things I missed in the last few months is having the time to just lounge around and immerse myself in a really good book. Sure, reading cases are fun (sometimes) - but they always come with the stress and pressure of having to remember facts that the professor might ask or that might come up in the tests. There is also the added frustration of realizing that you will never finish on time. Reading is hardly the fun and relaxing activity I've known it to be when it comes to the study of law. While I still had my fair share of bedside book tables last sem (how can I not? I have books everywhere), I must admit that I never really had the time to finish them. And as such, I never went out of my way to buy new ones either. Sad, I know.

So I was only more than eager to get my love of reading rekindled through books that I actually love and chose for myself. For my birthday, we went to Fully Booked at Bonifacio High Street, and like a little kid inside a candy store, I just ran wild. 

Here is what's been keeping me occupied these last few days. I'm almost halfway done with all of them - which is telling of how deprived I was of books that truly interested me in the past months :))

Drown by Junot Diaz

I don't think I have mentioned in this blog how in love I am with Junot Diaz. I was supposed to write a blog entry about his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao after I read it, because it was that rich and compelling, but precisely for those reasons, I never got around to doing so. I never knew how to begin explaining Junot Diaz, and quite frankly, up to now, I don't think I can do him justice.

Drown is Diaz's collection of short stories, and a precursor to Oscar Wao, in more ways than one. The strength of Diaz's prose lies in his cultural background and how well he incorporates his being Dominicano into every bit of his fiction, from the characters to the language. But the characters he creates are almost never alien, and somehow even in their "otherness" they are actually quite "universal." They speak so naturally, they react so casually, that you can almost hear them right there outside your window, fighting over a lover or anticipating a fiesta. It's even more fascinating when you realize how similar their culture is to ours - you can say it's because of our shared Spanish-colonized histories - that you almost forget you're reading fiction of the Dominican Republic, not the Philippines. Almost.

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

Disclaimer: I picked up this book because (1) I've been seeing this for the longest time but never got around to buying it because I keep seeing other books on top of my "priority" list, and (2) it was hardbound and had illustrations for every chapter, making it really thick because it used glossy paper, which makes the entire thing really pretty to look at, but (3) it was only Php 480! Four-hundred eighty pesos for a hardbound, illustrated book.  How can you not pick up this book for that reason alone? [Well, of course, that wasn't my only reason, but that's for another blog post altogether.]

What you see is what you get in Why We Broke Up: a long love letter about why two young people broke up. Minerva is returning a box to her ex-boyfriend Ed - a box full of things that reminded her of him, of them. It's unconventional in its conventionality, because while you somehow get an idea of what's coming (i.e. their break-up), it always manages to surprise you. For a YA novel, it certainly is one of those that strike a quiet balance between innocence and maturity. While it does explore the thrills and inconveniences of a first love, what resonates more is the fruition of falling in love with a person who is your complete opposite - which speaks to everyone, I believe, regardless of age.

(A little trivia: Daniel Handler is a writer more popularly known for his pen name, Lemony Snicket. Yep.)

Essays in Love by Alain de Botton

Fine, it is another one of those books that just jumped out at me simply for its title. (Hey, I'm guilty of judging a book by its title sometimes. Sue me.) This book could not have come to me at a more opportune time. I guess if this list were a mix tape, Essays In Love would be my anthem.

Alain de Botton weaves together philosophy and fiction in this story about two strangers falling in love and eventually falling apart. But of course, it's more than just that - it's always more than that. This is one of those books where the story itself is only secondary to the author's prose, which relies heavily on his philosophical dissection of love and all its intricacies: from the initial meeting, the reluctance, the appearances we keep, the politics in bed, etc. I particularly liked how each paragraph is "numbered," as if each of them are bullets popping out of the narrator's head in succession, stream-of-consciousness-style. If our over-analyzing (especially when it comes to our beloved) were to be written down on paper, this is how it would look like.

More than anything, it's the questions that he asks, and not the story he tells, that lets this book leave its mark on you. If there is one thing that I can bravely and undoubtedly pin the word love on right now, it's this book. It's that beautiful.

Our Rights, Our Victories: Landmark Cases in the Supreme Court by Marites Vitug

Ah, yes. The book that came a semester too late. I promised myself I'll lay off on the law books this break, but I saw this book and it just had me at "Landmark Cases in the Supreme Court" -- I had to get it.

It is only one of the many nonfiction books by known journalist Marites Vitug about the legal system in the Philippines. Her other book, Hour Before Dawn, was bonus reading for our Consti law class (which has been undeniably one of my most challenging subjects), as such, I was already aware of how well Vitug renders legal jargon to smooth, effortless exposition. Upon reading this book, however, I immediately felt a sense of regret of the Why only now? variety. Alas, here was a book that presented some of the landmark cases we discussed in class - in well-crafted prose! "Why didn't I find this book sooner!?" was all I could hear myself say.

It was a thrill to see the cases we read in class presented in a different context other than as explained in the ponentias. Whereas the cases themselves only deal with the actual controversies pertaining to legal disputes, this book presents the entire situation - what really went on before, during, and after the trials, who the people labelled as "petitioner" and "respondents" were, when it all occurred, and why it all had to happen. One of the things that can make reading a case difficult (especially for those outside the study of law) is that they are so technical, the story gets lost in the process. While, of course, the narrative is not of primary importance here, for someone like me, I find it important in my understanding of the case - which is why having all these characters and details fleshed out by Vitug in a manner that the ponentes failed to do so helped enrich my understanding of these landmark cases.

I can only hope all the other cases we read in class are written like this. #CWmajorproblems

Spider-Man Blue

So, okay, this is not exactly a book, not exactly something I bought at Fully Booked, and not even on print. But I put this here because it's a recommendation from a very good friend of mine that has gotten me so engrossed over the last couple of weeks, it deserves a spot on my bedside table, even if only through my tablet. 

Spider-Man Blue is a re-telling of Peter Parker's transition from high school loner to friends with the popular crowd, from lovestruck boy to torn-between-two-women, and from typical teenager to friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. At the center of the story is Peter's undying love for Gwen Stacy and how he never truly seemed to forget her, even long after her death. It's poignant and honest - almost like a love letter of sorts, rather than a peek into the life of a very public superhero. But it is precisely this vulnerability that lends more humanity to a character so wrongly misunderstood as merely that web-slinging wisecrack.

To be honest, I have always wanted to dip my toes into the world of comics, but have always been pretty intimidated - perhaps because of the sheer volume of issues that I don't know where to begin, or because of the passion it stirs up in each fan that I'm afraid I will never get it as much as they do. But I think now I'm beginning to understand why. Not all comics are written with just pure spectacle - they have a lot of heart too. It just takes a little getting used to to see this translated on paper as images and not words.

(Is it so wrong that after this, I'm completely on #TeamGwen now? At least my rooting for Emma Stone is now anchored by the actual comics and not just her overall adorable-ness - although, that's not exactly such a bad thing, is it?)


It's such a shame that school starts again in less than a week, meaning I'd have less (or almost zero) time to read books again. But - silver linings - that'll only make looking forward to Christmas much easier. Crossing my fingers that I get lots of gift cards to book stores come December. Yoohoo, can you hear me, Santa?