Coming up with a list of my favorite books, within a few minutes and without thinking too hard, isn’t really as easy as, say, whipping up my top ten punk/rock records while making peanut butter sandwich or coughing out my top ten superhero movies while reading a white paper on vibration analysis. Which is to say, I haven’t read that much to warrant a top ten list. If you read the list below, keep in mind that there are only a few titles that I left out.
Even though I like the idea of reading books, I’m not really much of a reader. It’s like, you know, like being in love with the idea of being in love with someone, without really loving that someone. Books, like girls, you can smell them up close, only a book would smell paper, instead of cologne or shampoo. You can read, write annotations, fold the pages, decrypt the text to see if you can find some hidden meanings or you could read between the lions (Clever band name!) You could even sleep with them if you want to—the books, not the lions. Just make sure you don’t spoil the pages.
I’ve always find reading books to be more consuming, that it requires a little more (time, money, effort, imagination, thought) than watching movies, listening to the radio, or reading magazines, song hits, komiks or just about anything found on the internet. Also, there weren’t really many books around the house back then, aside from the ones we get from school.
Lucky I was able to read komiks back when there were real komiks (e.g., Funny Komiks, Romance, Aliwan, Wakasan, Horror, heck, even ST Komiks). Heck, I was even able to read a comic version of the bible—yes, most of the books from the Old Testament in comic book form. No, not the monthly publications from the Sisters of Canossa with kid-friendly comic strips that features Jesus, but a real bible. It’s a bible from the kind sisters from Jehovah’s Witness. Believe me brother, there’s nothing more awesome (and religious at the same time), than reading about Moses, the ten biblical plagues of Egypt, and the parting of the Red Sea, or how Samson would dispose off his enemies with ease—doesn’t matter if it’s a lion, a beast, or an army—in a way not so different from those in the modern day superhero movies. All those colorful stories had me thinking up to this day: Did Delilah really love Samson? Were there really three tablets instead of two and fifteen commandments instead of ten? Yet, despite all the wars, the killings, the burning of cities, despite all the violence and possibly, hatred, there’s Ruth and her mother-in-law, in a story full of kindness and compassion.
We also had a few issues of Liwayway magazine back then. I remember a serialized short novel called “Paru-parong Burgis” (about a playboy and his activist girlfriend, if I remember correctly) and a comic serial called “Dugo sa Disyerto”, an action-thriller about three Filipino women caught in the Gulf War. I also used to collect clippings from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the sports stories and sometimes, the editorial cartoons. Inquirer used to feature really good NBA Finals stories back when we live far from the city and we didn’t have Cable TV.
My first foreign comic book was this French-Belgian comic Asterix, which my first-grade teacher brought into our classroom when the year was about to end. During free time, me and my friends would browse the books from cover to cover. We loved the artworks, every panel, every page, and we finished the books without really reading them. We loved how the Romans always outnumbered the Gauls, but the Gauls would always send them home flying, bruised, bleeding, with lots of broken bones.
Sooner or later, I was finally able to buy or borrow books. A friend who printed out in the office a copy of Harry Potter from an e-file, twenty to thirty pages each day until he finished reading the book, introduced me to The Silmarilion, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Bob Ong. I’ve read a few Bob Ong’s. But dude, is he prolific. Between reading Stainless Longanisa and Ang Paboritong Aklat ni Hudas, which I didn’t even finish, Bob Ong was able to release more books than I could remember. What’s the use of catching up, I thought, it isn’t like it’s the Hunger Games series. And I don’t even read Hunger Games, or watch the Hunger Games movies even though I like Jennifer Lawrence. But I like Shailene Woodley more than Jennifer Lawrence, so I watched the Divergent one time it was on Star Movies.
Long before I was able to get my hands on one of his books or stories, I knew and read about Nick Joaquin, partly from school, but mainly from a movie where Rica Peralejo’s portrayal of a woman possessed by the fertility goddess was so unintentionally funny, therefore memorable, even if mostly un-erotic. She made it looked like she was possessed by a hybrid of an evil spirit (like something from the Evil Dead movies) and a succubus. The movie was directed by no less than Tikoy Aguiluz, based on a play adapted from Nick Joaquin’s “Summer Solstice”. If I remember correctly, the film was part of that year’s film festival. But my favorite Nick Joaquin short story (among those that I’ve read and I’ve only read a few) is easily “May Day Eve”, where Joaquin mixes romance, superstitions, time travel, and historical fiction in a sad magical story about a failed marriage, a failed revolution and a magic mirror.
Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects, Marshall McLuhan & Quentin Fiore
A Question of Heroes, Nick Joaquin
Heroes & Villains, Carmen Guerrero Nakpil
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
Asterix the Gaul / Asterix and the Banquet, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo
Dylan Dog: Dawn of the Living Dead, Tiziano Sclavi
12, Manix Abrera
Elmer, Gerry Alanguilan*
Stainless Longanisa, Bob Ong
*You can read Gerry Alanguilan’s first ever comic book Wasted here. Just a bit of trivia, Barbie Almalbis’ “The Dance” was inspired by and written after reading Wasted.