#WriteMyLife: 10 Books I Re-Read Regularly


Can’t do The Friday Currently today because I need to attend to some #BabyStrat things, but I do have a moment–or two, or five–to do a quick update.  I saw this post on my Facebook feed (where else does anyone find content these days?), and it, along with Arra’s challenge a week ago, inspired me to take a crack at constructing a list-icle challenge of my own.

I’m a big believer that you can tell a surprising amount about a person without actually asking “personal” questions.  Instead, you can draw conclusions from the little signs of life they leave, from the contents of their bag to the state of their bedroom. Because I have no desire to show snaps of my mad bedroom or the full-to-bursting handbag I carry every day, I’ve settled on books instead, since it’s generally agreed that what you read says a lot about who you are (otherwise why would there be so many Fakespeares?).  This list–which I’ll keep quite short because my brain is sort-of shorting out–is of the ten (or so) books that I re-read regularly.

I’ll leave it to you to draw your conclusions.  For now, in no particular order, here are the top ten books I’m most likely to be revisiting at any given moment:

Memoirs of A Geisha – Arthur Golden

Admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve re-read this one, but for quite a long time (judging from the state of my copy) this was one of my heavy-rotation favorites.  While the book has been been controversial in its portrayal of what life as a geisha was like in the time before and after the Second World War, the voice of the novel, and of its heroine, Sayuri, made me fall in love with all things Japanese.  Soon after reading Memoirs of a Geisha, I lost myself in researching the real history of the geisha profession (v. v. v. far from the novel, BTW), which soon led me down the Heian/Kamakura rabbit hole.  Until today, this is still my favorite example of how you can tell a story so well you pull someone into its world.

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

It’s easy to dismiss Jane Austen’s novels as Regency era chick lit, and in some sense they do follow the prevailing formula of what was then known as a “comedy of manners,” but the wry bite of her narration, rich character renditions, and, let’s face it, the chemistry between Lizzy and Darcy make this a novel that you can’t help but come back to.  Unlike a lot of Austenites, I don’t see myself as Lizzy (I’m another member of the Austen canon entirely.), but her character arc–the titular prejudice of the plot–is one judgemental me can relate to.

You’d think though, after all these years, I would learn not to fall for Wickhams.  Oh well.

Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen

Until now, I’m not sure if knowing and loving Northanger Abbey makes me a lit-hipster or if thinking so makes me a wannabe-hipster.  Still, it is a truth universally acknowledged that Northanger isn’t as popular as P&P or S&S or even (thanks to “Clueless”) Emma.  It was Austen’s first novel, but the last to be published (unless you count Sanditon, her unfinished work), and it shows her at her most young and unfiltered.  It also has the most chick-lit hero of the lot: Henry Tilney is basically the crush that likes you back, precisely because you liked him first–an occurence that Austen herself admitted was rare.  Still, the fact that Henry is her hero and not some supporting character (hello, Nice-Guy Bingley) means that the author some sense in his approach to women, and I would have to agree.

Basically, I read this for the kilig, but because it’s Austen, that’s at least kilig tempered with quite a bit of sense.

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

Long-time readers of my blog will find that I have a history of referencing what is arguably Nabokov’s most popular work.  Could you blame me, though?  While the plot is absolutely abhorrent (old man basically kidnaps and seduces little girl), the way it’s written is absolutely beautiful.  This book singlehandedly taught me to fall in love with poetry, and while I have no sympathy for H.H., but Nabokov’s French-inflected, poetically-inclined turns of phrase mean that Lolita will forever be on my list of favorites.   

Fragile Things – Neil Gaiman

I was never a fan of fantasy or even “magic realism,” until I stumbled upon Gaiman.  Until today, I prefer his short stories and poetry to his novels, and Fragile Things is a great example of why.  No one transforms a story into a beautiful (and sometimes deadly) jewel-box like Neil Gaiman does.  He’s able to make you fear and empathize with a character all at once, and his poems taught me that words should tap out their own music.  I’ve struggled for years to write SF as compellingly as he does, but there really is only one Gaiman.

Passion and Purity – Elisabeth Elliot

If you follow my Me and My Lists series, you’ve probably caught wind of the fact that I am a TLW (True Love Waits) proponent, which surprises a lot of people, considering that I do write what some may consider very mild erotic poetry.  There is this long, misguided tradition of Christian communities shoving passion under the rug and zeroing in on the purity, but the late Elisabeth Elliot did none of that, capturing a girl’s yearnings for love and intimacy alongside her commitment to purity.  For someone like me, who has found that admitting her struggles can lead to raised eyebrows, this book is a voice of someone who understands, and lets me know that it is possible for someone like me to pursue purity and find that pursuit rewarding.

Beauty – Robin McKinley

Ever since I played Belle in my high-school’s musical revue, Beauty and The Beast has been my favorite fairytale…to manipulate.  I suppose part of the reason is that I fell for my co-actor, and the subsequent awkwardness (that persists until today! It’s been ages and he still doesn’t like me. Ugh.) made me long for a version of the story where Beauty felt more like me: not-that-pretty, socially-inept, more books than looks.  Robin McKinley’s novelization delivers on just that: a tomboyish “Beauty” who isn’t actually a beauty at all, but whose moxie is what makes this story worth reading.

Letters to A Young Poet – Rainer Maria Rilke

I’d hand this book out to every millennial facing a mid-life/love crisis.  While it’s supposed to be about choosing the life of a poet, Rilke’s advice holds true for anyone trying to figure out what their passion is, as well as people struggling with the concept of “young love.” Basically, it’s a book full of lines you’d want to make your FB status.  In a good way.

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Maybe it’s terribly cliché of me to pick this, but I can’t help it–Harper Lee’s story of growing up and learning that the world is not as black-and-white (or, well, in Scout’s case, that it is) as you’d like to believe hits all the right notes.  For the longest time, as a kid/pre-teen, I refused to believe in a world where right or wrong weren’t as clear cut as I was taught in school.  ‘Mockingbird’ prepared me for the moment when I’d eventually see the light.

(Also, if you’re wondering, I haven’t read “Go Set a Watchman.”  Waiting for the paperback.)

The Architecture of Happiness – Alain de Botton

Confession: I don’t actually re-read this all that much.  BUT, when I do, it’s always an encouragement.  While the book is about architecture, the argument it makes can be applied to art as a whole: what we create is a reflection, and a reminder of who we wish to be.  In de Botton’s mind, something as “superficial” as design can and does have a deeper purpose, proving that art is far from “useless.”

O-kay, so that was longer than expected.  Hope you could make sense of my book list.  Since this is a challenge, I’m choosing Style Reader and The Disinterested Interpreter to take this list on!  And to the rest of you, if you dare, do link me!



“…A heroine returning, at the close of her career, to her native village, in all the triumph of recovered reputation, and all the dignity of a countess, with a long train of noble relations in their several phaetons, and three waiting-maids in a travelling chaise and four, behind her, is an event on which the pen of the contriver may well delight to dwell; it gives credit to every conclusion, and the author must share in the glory she so liberally bestows.”

 ~ Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Literature vs. Lubriciousness – Why are Hayden Kho’s sexcapades important, and the taxing of books not?

Part One: The Great Philippine Book Blockade 2009

If you recall one of my posts entitled “First Love Never Dies,” then you may recall this quote:

Usually when I go to the bookstore I come out with at least one new book under my arm, or else several new books added to my “I will buy this someday” list. I was in Fully Booked for FIVE HOURS. I did not find any new books, nor did I buy any. In fact, I was terribly disappointed that no novels, nonfiction, or even chick lit was grabbing my attention!

I chalked it up to my decreasing attention span, as evidenced by my follow-up post entitled “Blogging Bad for Bookworms?“. And for a time, my involvement in the goings-on of the book world waned.

Until, that is, The Great Philippine Book Blockade 2009 came to my attention.

I found out about the “blockade” through a paltry-sized article I happened to read while waiting for my dollars to be withdrawn for my Japan trip. Located in the hinterlands of the newspaper a.k.a. nowhere near the FRONT PAGE where it SHOULD HAVE BEEN, the article talked about a tiny tempest brewing in our country’s teapot about the imposition of tarrifs on non-educational books (a.k.a. novels).

The relatively short article failed to convey the umbrage that the thankfully bookworm-inclined Pinoy blogosphere was taking at this literary scandal, dubbed “The Great Philippine Book Blockade” by Manuel Quezon III in a Philippine Daily Inquirer article of the same name. Sparked by writer and writing teacher Robin Hemley’s article detailing the surrepitious unfair taxation of books by government officials, the bibliomanic outcry rocked the internet world, using fast-moving methods such as Facebook, a Twitter site, and David Archuleta (though his involvement in the anti-book taxing movement remains obscure, something to do with Eat Bulaga?). And though the facts were sometimes sketchy and debated – Robin Hemley found an informal blog-sparring partner in “The Bibliophile Stalker” (links to their articles provided at the end of this section of my post), who worked to debunk some inaccuracies regarding the “blockade” – the fire ignited under the book-loving public burned on, prompting the Senate to question the legalities of the tax with respect to the Florence Agreement, an agreement signed by the Philippines stating that books imported into the country should remain TAX FREE.

The saga ended on a happy note, with GMA overturning the tax on books. If she hadn’t, I am pretty sure a lot of Pinoy netizens would have turned Rhett Butler-esque blockade runners. Filipino bloggistas, Tweeters, and Facebook-addicts cheered. It was a triumph of the Google Generation. And yet, though the internet world was full of action and activity, there was barely a blip in the mainstream media outside of a brief mention of the #bookblockade Twitter.

The actual story behind the blog-hype is less dramatic than the title “The Great Book Blockade” sounds – it’s simply a story, once again, of corruption and loophole-ing in the Philippine government. Only this time, instead of fertilizer or cup noodles or broadband internet, it’s books (and somehow ‘Twilight’ is responsible – even corruption is hip with the times). I won’t even attempt to offer a more detailed account of this, leaving it to the people who have actually done the research:

Philippine Star Article
Rob Hemley’s initial article (Written in MARCH)
The Bibliophile Stalker’s Rebuttal
The Bibliophile Stalker’s Follow-up
The Bibliophile Stalker – Hemley’s response
Manuel Quezon III’s article
Manuel Quezon III – The Blockade Timeline
Tina’s (NaNoWriMo Philippines Coordinator) Take on the Matter – Lots of extra links and information on this site
Philippine Online Chronicles’ Article
Beerkada Comic Strip – I found it cute!

And I’ll probably get back on this bandwagon as soon as I read up about it.

A Google search on this issue reveals pages and pages of blogs and independents sharing information and battle-cries, but very little hard-news sites. In contrast…

Part Two: Hayden Kho’s “Film Festival”

Googling “Hayden Kho Sex Scandal” turns up a barrage of news sites and TV show footage links covering the story of this doctor/model whose raunchy escapades have gotten him more than he probably bargained for. Former beau of celebrity plastic surgeon Dr. Vicki Belo, Dr. Hayden Kho’s home-made porno library has captured media attention – more so because of the Senate inquiry being conducted because of it.

Enough has been said about Kho’s sex life (videos are being spread apparently through mobile phones and through illicit DVDs that have somehow made their way to the public) without me having to rehash it for you. Suffice it to say, one Katrina Halili is at the forefront of this issue – a woman who has starred in numerous kinky videotapes with the “good” doctor, all without her knowledge. Yep, that’s right, the tapes were done without the consent of the co-stars (excepting Belo, who released an affidavit saying her participation was consensual, but the tapes were supposed to be deleted after her private viewing with her then-sweetie).

The issue of “violation of privacy” is what sparked these Senate inquiries, in the hopes of being able to file charges on Hayden Kho or, that being unsuccessful, being able to create a new law or set of legal provisions so they can prevent this sort of thing from happening again. Noble intentions, I’m sure.

But it’s just another rehashing of the cliche “Sex, Lies, and Videotape.” And if that were not enough, there are DRUGS involved too.

As if this couldn’t get any more salacious.

With the particulars of one man’s voyeuristic sex life being blasted all over the internet, I must beg the question…

Part Three: Why is Hayden Kho’s sex life so important, and the book blockade not?

The facts in Hayden Kho’s case, down to the particulars of each video, are clear enough to me – the media has taken care of that. However, the actual story of the Pinoy Book Blockade 2009 is available only in bits and pieces, and conclusions have to be drawn only after schlepping through a mountain of jumbled information.

Why is that?

In my opinion at least, the threat of the unavailability of non-educational books (which is a strange paradox since, as a fellow blogger put it, “When is a book not educational?”) is of greater importance than the media circus surrounding the tale of an already “sexy” actress’ unintentional participation in a series of porn flicks shot by her then-lover. Yes, this sort of shameful behavior should not be going on, but comparing the relative silence on the book blockade issue to the insanity that is the Kho sex scandal…

It’s a sad reflection of our priorities.

From Philippine Online Chronicles’ article on the book blockade:

Blogger alizarinred says, “If there is one thing I feel that the government needs to pay more attention to, it is education. And with this stupid ban imposed upon books, how the heck are we going to improve our country’s literacy rates? It’s bad enough that kids today don’t read as much as the generations before them used to; they’re either playing at the arcade or staring at the TV/computer all day playing addicting video games or doing God knows what in who knows where. But now we have to deal with fewer good reads coming in to the country.

She continues, “This so-called Great Book Blockade of 2009 is totally overrated. It’s the result of some Customs official’s dumbed down interpretation of the Florence Agreement. Ah, but then again what can you expect from the lucky plundering idiots we’ve got high up in the government? Bet they’ve never even read a book in their crummy little lives.”

I’ll rephrase that to “If there’s one thing we all have to pay attention to, it’s education.” And alizarinred is right – if a ban were successfully imposed on books, what would happen to our literacy rates. It is true that more and more kids detest reading – finding it boring and pointless, meant only for school. What would a book-ban do to our already rotting minds?

In contrast, what would one more or one less celebrity sex-scandal do to minds already saturated with sexually-charged television shows and movies? (Need I mention the upcoming premiere of the ABS-CBN telenovela Katorse“, which is basically the story of a fourteen-year-old girl’s sexual awakening, and the consequences of such.)

That being said, I’ll leave the drawing of conclusions up to you, and end this post on a funny and nostalgic note.

The theme song to the only non-sex video of Hayden Kho and Katrina Halili is the song “Careless Whisper”, which they were dancing to in their underwear. The same song, I recall, was the “background music” to a scene in one of the skits I performed in for Filipino class – a scene where a manwhore/private detective ala “Cheaters” tries to lure a girl suspected of “cheating” on her fiance into giving in to his flirtations. The girl, stalwart of heart, refuses.

I played the girl, and one of my classmates played the manwhore/detective (who did a dance but was thankfully fully clothed). The same classmate played Hayden Kho to my Dr. Vicki Belo in another Filipino skit – a “commercial” about cosmetic surgery.

Irony, I barely knew thee.



To check out just how pissed the blogging community got, check out the multiply “Philippine Genre Stories” and read the comments to THIS POST.

Here’s an update by our Blockade “whistleblower”, Robin Hemley. And here’s his victory cry!

And here’s a first-hand account of the book-blocking DOUCHEBAGGERY!!!

That’s all for now folks! I’ll try to do a full-story post on the Blockade, and probably get to work on my travelogue/travel guide about Japan. Since it’s produced in the Philippines, no tarrifs. But since I’ll probably release it privately online, that’s a moot point, isn’t it?