The Reading Spree

Flipping pages and finding common denominators

Category: Musings (Page 1 of 2)

2017: A Reading (and Writing) Odyssey

I don’t know about you, but I’m so looking forward to the end of 2017. It’s been such an exhausting and depressing year for humanity. Everything‘s been exhausting: from daily life to most of what I’ve been reading on headlines and social media, to everything in local and global politics. Some days, I feel like not getting out of bed at all.

Thank goodness for books, then.

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The Horror!

Like most readers, I have my favorite books, authors and genres. It’s super easy for me to get into science, speculative, fantasy, historical, satirical, political, and popular fiction; and basically any type of creative nonfiction. How about other genres? Sure, I’ll give it a go. Well-written literotica? Yes. Romance, “mommy porn” and chick lit? Fuck no.

Horror? Until last month, I couldn’t answer that question. 

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Some Things About Short Stories

Short stories. I’m a big fan of them. I love reading them, and in the past year and a half, I realized that I love writing them, too. They don’t require a significant time commitment reading-wise, so you don’t forget or miss out on much after long breaks (as I’ve learned back in 2015). Short stories also enable writers to cut the crap and just get on with it — we have fewer pages and words to work with, unlike novels, where there’s plenty of room to set people and things up as needed. But these things don’t mean short stories are easier to write, or that their impact is less compared to other forms of prose.

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CNF in One Sitting

I’ve never shied away from long novels and essays. But sometimes I get impatient, and want to read something short and blunt, preferably going from cover to cover in just one sitting. And in between the books I had scheduled for the next review, I impulsively went through two creative nonfiction (CNF) books talking about two very different things.

In the spirit of their conciseness, I’ll make this as short as I can. (Yeah, right.)

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On Mentorship and Patronage in the Philippine Literary Scene

I don’t know if the other Philippine MFA creative writing programs do this, but the one I’m enrolled in has a few daunting requirements for its students. High GPA requirement aside, before I can take the comprehensive exams and do my thesis, I have to be published in an inter/national refereed literary journal, and become a fellow in a national writing workshop (and maybe win a writing award, while I’m at it).

Oh, and it would be really nice if I accomplish all these within my first two years in the program.

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No wonder I’ve started to have (mild) cold sweats every time writing workshops, publishers/editors, and contest admins issue calls for submissions. Even then, I let all those recent deadlines pass by because I thought my work was still raw.

But I finally caved last month. Partly because of the aforementioned school requirements and partly out of genuine curiosity and desire, I sent in my creative nonfiction material for the UST National Writers’ Workshop, and a short story for Likhaan‘s 11th edition, which is doing popular science writing and speculative fiction this year. My fingers are crossed; but I’m also realistic about my chances. I know full well that I might not get into both. If that’s the case, I can always try again next year, or with other workshops and publications.

For the UST workshop (and I guess this also goes for other national workshops as well), all applicants were asked to supply the screening panel with a recommendation letter from their literary mentors. I asked (rather, bugged) my own mentor for the same thing for my grad school application, so it was natural for me to do the same thing here. She’s also gone through the whole stressful workshop-application process, so she knew it was only a matter of time before I asked again.

But then a classmate and friend asked me who did my recommendation letter, and said he didn’t know who to ask for his. It reminded me that not all good writers have mentors that already belong to the PH literati or are recognized by them, or will choose to take the same path as they did. Anyone can be a great writer and not play the sino-kilala-mo game, or have a long list of workshops attended or awards won, or a creative writing degree, to boot. We submit our work for validation, but we all need to remember that that’s not the only way to get it.

It also reminded me of the patronage that’s long been in place in our literary scene (and, everywhere else, to be honest) — the kind that Adam David railed against on his blog back in the late ’00s, and Katrina Stuart Santiago on Rogue in the early ’10s.

(Here’s another great essay on PH lit patronage and politics: Monica Macansantos’ 2015 work “Becoming a Writer: The Silences we Write Against”, published in TAYO Literary Magazine.)

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On the Validation and Value of Filipino Writers

I had meant to publish this back in September. But then life got in the way, and I forgot to do so. As usual.

Ummmm. Better late than never?

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My MFA classmates and I often give each other a heads up on calls for submissions, national writing fellowships, and the books we have read and obsess over (among other things) via our Facebook group chats. The posts pile up real quickly when everyone’s online, and when there are several calls and contests going on at the same time.

A few months ago, we were talking about two calls for submissions: one for next year’s Fantasy: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults anthology, and one for this year’s F. Sionil José Young Writers Awards. Several classmates were considering submitting to one or both calls. Since I don’t write YA or fantasy fiction, and I don’t fall under the “young writer” category anymore, I wasn’t paying attention to that part of the conversation.

However, I got riled up when the talk shifted to writers’ compensation. The YA anthology project is paying its writers a pittance of P500 for their work. In stark contrast, the Young Writers Awards is handing out P50,000 for its first-place winner, P30,000 for the second-placer, and P20,000 for the third-placer.

I couldn’t help but start cursing; to borrow a line from that popular local Cornetto campaign, hanggang saan aabot ang P500 mo?

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The Pursuit Of Happiness.

I still can’t believe that we have exactly two weeks until 2013 ends. The year went by real fast for me, but it also managed to dole out extreme highs and lows in both work and personal life. Most of 2013 fucking sucked, to put it bluntly.

This “early” on, I’m setting goals and making resolutions (they’re actually two different things, explained by the author of the reviewed book below) for the coming year, as well implementing several changes in how I live. (No, decreasing alcohol consumption isn’t one of those changes. Hah.)

I also did something a few months ago that I never thought I’d do ever again. I always thought that happiness would manifest only with the right circumstances, opportunities and people; that it occurs over time; that everything would just fall into place. Throughout the past few years I’ve realized it’s a really long process that starts with good ol’ me — and I haven’t really taken the time to do that.

Happy campers! Photo: “If you’re happy and you know it, Clap your hands” by Kate Ter Haar. Source: Flickr

So I did what a book nerd would do: get a self-help book.

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While compiling this week’s edition of Snippets, I came across an article on The Huffington Post about marginalia. Jocelyn Kelley’s opening line contained a question:

Do you openly embrace writing in books, or do you frown upon it?

I do agree with her on her main points: a reader’s notes on the sides of book pages make that book’s value go higher and add to the overall story, and that a person’s notes give others a good look at what they were thinking and feeling at that particular point in their lives.

This made me wonder why I’ve never done it.

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Mea Culpa.

I said this on January 7:

After a two-week break, I’m back, and totally ready for a much more active role here.

A little more than a month later, I’ve posted just four entries and let my many plans get sidelined, yet again.

My bad.

Causes: A very potent combination of work, stress and hypertension; and a month-long bout with De Quervain’s tenosynovitis (which hasn’t quite ended yet).

Seems I’m experiencing what most people experience around this time of the year: failure to push through with many (or all) of their New Year’s goals. 😛

OK, so… let’s try this again.

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