Wednesday, February 27, 2013

With In My Mother's House Author Joni Cham

Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of meeting up with author Joni Cham, who brought me a copy of her prize-winning debut, In My Mother's House. It was awarded the Special Jury Prize in the Novel Category (Premio Jose) at the Premio Thomas: UST Quadricentennial Literary Prize. The book was launched, among others, as part of DLSU's centennial celebration.

Proudly posing with her work

Book signing! Not her first and definitely not her last

At Little Tokyo

The novel tackles the strained relationship between a Chinese mother and a daughter raised in middle-class Philippines. I'm only a few chapters into the book but Joni, who has an MFA in Creative Writing from De La Salle University, is already showing how talented and capable she is in handling the nuances of her story.

In My Mother's House is published by Central Books for DLSU. It's available at all Central Books branches:

SM Megamall
5/F Building A

G/F Phoenix Bldg.
927 Quezon Ave., QC

Ever Gotesco, Manila Plaza Mall
Recto Ave, Manila

To know more about Joni and her debut novel, visit her blog at or email her at You can also follow her on Twitter: @pakainin.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


When I was much younger, my mother taught me that history was divided in two. BC meant 'Before Christ.' But because 'Anno Domini' was too complicated for me to remember, we settled for the mnemonic After Death.

In 2003, I learned to separate my own history by that defining year. What came before, what followed after. There are certain hollow places that cannot be filled in a year, in ten. I will still chase after Vienna. I will still cry when I hear a familiar Beatles tune play. But with the old dreams and the old hurts are new ones, crowding and insistent. It is ten years A.D. Just because it's gotten easier doesn't mean that I don't find it hard that you're gone.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How They Met and Other Stories (David Levithan)

I'm in love with David Levithan's How They Met and Other Stories. Consider this:
C'mon, you've seen the movie: As soon as the headstrong girl announces she's not going to fall in love, you know she'll be falling in love before the final credits. That's the way the story goes. Only it's not going to be my story. I am taking my story in my own hands. I don't care for the way it's supposed to go. Some people find happily ever after in being part of a couple, and for them, I say, good for you. But that's no reason we should all have to do it. That's no reason that every goddamn song and story has to say we should. - "Miss Lucy Has a Steamboat," p48
What do I know about love? Not much--that's the safe answer. Even when I think I have a grasp on it, something comes along to make me realize I don't know anything at all. - "the escalator, a love story," p78
In this collection of stories about love, David Levithan defines abstractions with the familiar, even the mundane, and then turns the mundane into springboards for some three o'clock epiphany. There are so many facets explored here: friendship, sex, obsession, heartbreak, gay love, straight love. Even with the overboard of romance in a collection like this, Mr Levithan keeps his characters from becoming cliches. They can be heartbreakingly honest. They can lie with conviction. They are confused. They are certain. He also takes us through different perspectives and narrative styles, ensuring that the writing is always fresh and never static.

The two stories that I mentioned above are some of my favorites, but they're not all. Others are "Starbucks Boy," "Flirting with Waiters," and "Without Saying," but even those I didn't mention shone with their own charm. It's testament to an author's skill when he can get a straight thirtysomething female reader empathizing with a gay teenager without feeling out of place or disjointed.

I've had How They Met and Other Stories for months now, but I'm glad I got to finish it before Valentine's. David Levithan must be cringing at being turned into a cliche, but this was just exactly what I needed to read. Love that's bitter, love that's sweet, and its other intersections in between.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Pleasure and the romance novel

In his The Pleasure of the Text, Roland Barthes cites two kinds of experiences when it comes to reading. The first is plaisir or pleasure; the other, jouissance, translated as 'bliss' (though in Jacques Lacan's work, the word is untranslated because it goes beyond enjoyment; Wiki references orgasmic). According to Barthes, the text itself begins simply: letters, words, sentences. But as we read it, we start to connect it to different thoughts and emotions. We bring something else to the text.

The book of love is long and boring, Peter Gabriel sings

Reading Marla Miniano's From This Day Forward, for example, made me recall similar weddings, similar failed loves, and the smooth feel of a shapeless gold dress I had to wear the last time I was a bridesmaid. Reading Lauren Willig's The Mischief of the Mistletoe for the nth time never fails to bring that kilig feeling when I imagine how the characters look like and act towards each other. Or at least that's what I think it means when Barthes says that this is where the pleasure part comes in. The language is innocent and as readers, we bring something else to cover it. We attach something else to the text that we're reading. In a way it's also something that can be controlled. (Also, I'm probably simplifying this in ways that will make my Lit professors cringe.)

The jouissance part, or the bliss, that's the tricky one. It's an action, not just a state of mind. This is the text that unsettles you, the reading experience that becomes unbearable. Pleasure is for the masses; jouissance is undiluted, uncontrolled. When I read about jouissance in critical text, I always go hot damn, what was the last novel that made me feel that?

Anyway, this post really isn't about jouissance more than it is about the simple pleasures I feel when I read a good romance. I don't really mention this a lot, but I can hear a soundtrack in my head. Doesn't matter if it's anachronistic, like Snow Patrol's Signal Fire when I'm reading about Mau and Daphne in Terry Pratchett's Nation. Or seamlessly complement the narrative, like Red House Painter's Revelation Big Sur for Sweethearts. I know a lot of writers who write with music in the background or pick out playlists for their own books (check out Libba Bray's here). In a way, this connection with music is what triggers my pleasure centers and make me feel like this most of the time:

Happiness is contagious

This year, I believe, will be my year of pleasure and the romance novel: to make connections and attachments between words and images, whether I am a reader or a writer. May awareness and emotion visit us with every turn of the page.