X-List: A Year of Magical Reading

I think it was Stephen King who once wrote: “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” This year, I made a commitment with myself to read, and to read furiously. Reading – plus a reinvigorated passion at work, a rekindled interest in origami, and a newfound hobby in kickboxing (more on that when I feel like it) – somewhat rejuvenated me.

All that aside, I think my taste in reading has also somewhat evolved. “Dune” and “Lord of the Rings” are still up there when it comes to things that make me happy, and there was some catching up to do with Terry Pratchett’s universe after years of not reading it. I still enjoy the classics – Dumas, Goethe, Beowulf – but this year was particularly special. Enjoyable, even; lends peace to the chaos.

So much so that overshooting Goodreads Reading Challenge goals is probably one of the best things I did for myself this year.

Without further ado, here are ten of my favorite reads this year. Most of them are a little old: methinks that some of the more recent books I read still need the test of time (except for a few).

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Jumping the Tombs

For me, memorial parks are more like golf courses: manicured lawns, sprinklers, the reception area with marble floors and columns. The memorial park is like a slice of white-picket-fences America, lined with stunted and balding alder trees to give the burial grounds a more suburban, refined feel.

Before all of this, though, there was the venerable sementeryo.

I’m never sure about what to call “cemeteries” in the Philippines: as with a lot of things here, the Western ideal takes a whole new meaning. The Filipino graveyard is as much about life as it is about death: people do live in shacks in the graveyard, mausoleums become homes for caretakers and undertakers and gravediggers and their families. On All Saints’ Day, the land of the dead becomes everything in the land of the living: a marketplace, a picnic area, a park, a playground. A casket can become a photo booth (or at least one enterprising funeral home thought of that brilliant idea), just as the tombs in the front of the cemetery become sari-sari stores.

Far from the “Six Feet Under” feel of memorial parks, or notions of “the family plot.”

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The (Vice) President’s Speech

A few days ago, Vice President Jejomar Binay took to the lectern of the PICC, and delivered what was – at least to his spokespersons and his most ardent supporters – a speech that was “presidential” in tone. It had all the trimmings of what many of us would call “presidential:” the tableau, the motif, the somber cadence of Binay addressing the nation. Except for the cheers of his supporters, chanting his name. So much for the presidential tone: anyone who still doubts Binay’s clear intentions to run for President at that point is either deprived of reason, or deprived of the senses.

While most of us would complain that the substance of Binay’s speech was lacking (if anything, Binay dodged and redirected accusations, rather than answer them outright), that would be somehow missing the point. Binay’s political success – and his rise to power – was never predicated on the desire of an educated middle class for transparency and accountability, but on the message that resonates with the downtrodden majority.

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Out of Touch

Sec. Jun Abaya’s right: he shouldn’t be offering excuses on the state of the MRT. But there’s a difference between offering and making them.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the MRT may not be the rotten deathtrap that many people paint it to be. Maybe people just don’t have the right metaphors for a very uncomfortable form of public transit. There’s always the overcrowded bus on a congested major highway, for example. Or prohibitively expensive taxi cabs. Or one may just consider buying a car.

But here’s thing: Sec. Abaya asks, why would anyone put up with it? Sec. Abaya claims that if ordinary people put up with it, there should be no reason why it’s “bulok.” Sec. Abaya also propounds that if you spruce up the MRT, you can even turn it into a tourist attraction.

There – with all the benefit of the doubt given up to this point – is the problem. A sense of being out of touch.

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