Friday, January 23, 2015


kalachuchi/ frangipani/ plumeria - by Renesis (wikimedia commons)


by Justine C. Tajonera

Halfway down the steps, toward
the gate, the kalachuchi tree that bends
over the small pond in the cemetery
comes to mind. She is waiting
for me. I look forward to that
day. It's just that I have so much
to do. Not enough days to watch them
fall asleep. Not enough nights of reading
to them in bed. We haven't walked among
the ruins in Mycenae yet, he and I.
I watch at the threshold. Time to cross
over. It's just another door.

Monday, January 12, 2015

#1 of 36: Here's to Love, A Review of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

The Statistical Probability of Love at First SightThe Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished most of this book on a Sunday night (I bought the book on the 8th but I didn't really start reading in earnest until yesterday, the 11th). It was a reading assignment for a YA writing workshop that I'm participating in. I didn't expect all the tears especially because I did a lot of eye rolls at the beginning of the book. At first I didn't get why Oliver, the love interest, was into Hadley, the protagonist. After a while, though, I started enjoying the whole thing. Most of the love story progresses in the air, literally. It's been a fantasy of mine to fall in love on a plane, on a trip abroad, alone. Of course it never happened. This story is probably a proxy.

More than that (the love story), I loved the back story of Hadley and Hadley's broken-up parents (and come to think of it, Oliver's parents too). I, too, can't forgive Hadley's dad for what he did. But I do get that children from a broken home need to move on. I guess that was why I kept crying. It was the father-daughter relationship that really moved me.

Lastly, Oliver grew on me. Well, no really. I just imagine Benedict Cumberbatch's sexy British accent and I'm already half in love with him. Haha! This was a great, light read to start off my 2015. Here's to love!

Note: BTW, if you're wondering what the #1 of 36 means --> I just gave myself a 36-book challenge this year. Now, that might not seem like much but it's going to be pretty busy. I think 3 in a month is already a stretch. Hopefully, I surpass this.

View all my reviews

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Claiming of Alexandria (An Essay)

Note: This essay of mine was published in Pen & Ink, The Philippine Literary Quarterly, Book 3, 1998, pp. 134-138

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside, 
planted an impression along the verge. 

-       Billy Collins, “Marginalia”

In one of a collection of essays by George Steiner, No Passion Spent, he writes that “marginalia are the immediate indices of the reader’s response to the text, of the dialogue between the book and himself.” I cannot agree with him ore. But beyond that, I must say that marginalia are more complicated creates: they not only chronicle the affair between text and reader, but guide us into a web-like universe of multiple texts and readers. I know this because I have lived intimately with marginalia my whole life.

I grew up tracking and receiving a trail of things my dead mother left me: a gold pendant, several trinkets in her wooden jewelry box, a stainless steel watch that a neighbor in his sixties found “cute.” But most treasured of all were the things she made with her hands: odd and vivid paintings, that battered old photo album where she left a spontaneous essay on the inside covers (philosophic questions and reflections written in staccato, the most beautiful thing I had ever read and the closest I had come to poetry), and lastly, the precious, frantic notes and studies on the margins and fly leaves of her novels.

I grew up reading my dead mother’s scribblings—the almost desperate, spidery red writing—lining the books that would later become my favorites: the Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell. And in that cozy, textual world I would imagine the three of us in my grandmother’s living-room where my mother’s paintings hang: Durrell with crossed legs, in rumpled, travel-worn clothes, smoking; my mother in her favorite polka-dot mini-dress, also smoking; and myself, in jeans and sandals, waving away their collective smoke and enjoying the conversation immensely. Now, that’s marginalia for me.

Like a tête-á-tête, there in the borders, written precariously, were the token notes, the intricate little clues she had gathered chapter after chapter, each discovery punctuated by an exclamation point as eloquent as her breathless “Wow!” Among the cream-colored pages I found tantalizing statements like “Pursewarden’s tendency?” I could almost imagine her raised eyebrow, as if any moment she might jab me in the ribs and ask her favorite author in a low whisper, “Is it true?” These breathed life into my first encounter with literature. I have, in fact, joined the fray, by adding my cautious and conservative blank ink next to her (flaming) red scarlet question: “This is Clea’s letter now so it pertains to Clea’s would-be affair,” as if to lightly chide her for her over-excited reading.

I share a conspiratorial smile when I read I read what my mother wrote: “This is me!” This, in reference to that awful, heartless woman who laughs at love—the original Justine (Hosnani), the defiant anti-heroine of the quartet. “Your mother was maldita” explained an aunt. (This was before she supposedly softened up with motherhood). I laugh at that and hear my mother’s laughter. Beautiful, gamine, free-spirited, vain, independent, intelligent, and above all, in possession of a self-deprecating humor…None of these descriptions had been volunteered by my father. These were things she left behind in her marginalia, in the generous light-hearted strokes of her handwriting, in her free and unique penchant for the lower-case. I have formed a kinship with her books. They offer me more than a voyeuristic glimpse into a private conversation between reader and text: they have opened their arms to me because they are places my mother walked. Somewhere in the corridors, she grabs my arm and brings me back to her girlhood home where we can huddle with Durrell and “talk art.” There it does not matter that I have craved her maternal tenderness all my life.

She writes, boldly underlined: “…shocking grotesquerie of purgated love.” And in another page, quite wisely, she states” There is mystery after mystery but never for mystery’s sake. Mystification is one of the principal strategies by which Durrell communicates his sense of relativity. There are truths in abundance, but there is NO Truth.” Sometimes I imagine that she knew I would tread the same ground. But that is what we all feel when we read or write marginalia. It is a moment of tender revelation for us, or shocked discovery when we take our pen and dare to write our rage, our understanding, our sadness. They are written not only for ourselves but for the next reader. “I cannot help it, it must be said.” There is nothing shy, nothing restrained in the writing of marginalia. They are stories beside the story.

Dozens of stories wait with bated breath to be told along the invitingly blank spaces of a book leaf. Inscribed in a thousand and one varieties, these proofs of readership beckon to us, meriting more than a cursory glance. They awaken the romantic beneath our leathery skeptic selves. They teach us to grow away from the clean, freshly-cut leaves of new acquisitions toward the musty, ink and oil-stained appeal of a book with a past. Nothing compares to the serendipitous joy of discovering a musty, old tome that belonged to—what luck!—a favorite writer, a former professor. And also we find those rare ones, painful, lines crowded in a corner: “I bought this book when my mother died.” Beside it are dried teardrops, marked by three irregularly shaped, blue-edged spots.

Through the books my mother left me I have come to realize the weight of having been named. For names have so much to do with life. A book is not possessed until it is branded by the name of its owner, it gains its face from the stamp, and the bookplate that marks it purchased, given, received.

When I was small my yaya told me I was named after an Egyptian princess. That suited me just fine. And I was, in fact, quite proud. But the books in my possession always hinted at more. And then I finally understood later on: Justine was no Egyptian princess. She was a self-torturing Jewess who happened to live in Egypt. She was a wounded woman, a woman who could wish that love were another word, perhaps evol; part of “evolution,” inverted the way God can be reversed to “dog.” I could not understand why she named me after this woman. Much later, I realized that I was actually named after her stepdaughter (the offspring of Nessim, Justine’s husband, and Melissa, Darley’s mistress), the blank child, the one Darley chooses to name after Justine, as if to redeem her.

In the ritual of naming, of being hailed, I saw another facet of this woman: Ditas, my mother. A side I did not know and did not wish to know. For she was a wounded woman as well, a woman full of rage and sorrow, a woman capable of predicting her own death (I heard she only gained ire by this). A woman who quarreled with my father constantly and wallowed in self-pity. If I cringed at being named after Justine Hosnani, then I cringed even more at this dark side of my mother. She shared not a few things in common with the original Justine. My questioning was in fact a terrible accusation against her: How could you be this cruel, tortured woman?

I feel her answer. I feel it in the very desperation of her writing: the angry redness, the manic haste. It is the same desperation with which she sought to be loved. And there it shines, rising from behind the complex shadows of characters, the mystery of all that is written and left to be read: that she has loved, and this is what she has reaped. Imperfect as she was, I need no more explanations about her self-perceived failures. All is forgiven in the face of this love.

Alexandria has become my spiritual birthplace. Never have I lived more intensely than in the span of time it took me to read and countlessly re-read the favorite four books of my mother. I will never forget those first few lines read at four years old: “The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind…a sky of hot nude pearl until midday, crickets in sheltered places…” I was forever enthralled and I knew that I would read these books relentlessly through life.

The colors, sounds, and textures of Alexandria are forever described in my mother’s voice, as though she were leaving me a metropolis as inheritance. And truly, I have inherited that city. Beside Cinderella in kindergarten I had Justine (on which you will still find my childish scrawl), believing them both to be princesses in the happily-ever-after. In between Nancy Drew books there were nights I silently grieved for an English schoolteacher hidden away on an island, remembering a woman with a low, harsh laugh. As I trudged through Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy in high school I began to realize, with shock, the true nature of my namesake. And in full-fledged understanding as a college student I began to appreciate the complexity, the amazing richness of a city as beautiful and ugly as its inhabitants. Throughout this life-long affair my mother greeted, me, talked to me, wept with me. I was led through Alexandria’s gates on the arm and under the aegis of an intensely beautiful woman, a woman from whom I inherited, both literally and figuratively, my eyes.

Durrell writes: “The central topic of the book is an investigation of modern love…it would be worth trying an experiment to see if we cannot discover a morphological form one might appropriately call ‘classical’—for our time. Even if the result proved to be a ‘science fiction’ in the true sense.”

And from Alexandria my mother found herself and harvested my name. Peering through the many fictions of truth and love that both of us have gained. And I am the luckiest, because in the last instance, my mother left me with a gift more potent than blood: in her marginalia she stamped her life—complex, rich, not without a great amount of pain…but always a surrender to love. Like the madmen and the prophets who have emerged from that ancient city we bear its searing mark.

I have met the beautiful girl who had written so poignantly on the margins of my favorite books; I have met her as my mother and myself. And how vastly my loneliness deepened because of the many spaces she filled in my heart and in my life! Paradox, yes, and wonderfully so. In the realm of marginalia there is no time.

It is a room in my grandfather’s house in Cebu where my mother’s paintings hang, where Lawrence Durrell points outside the winder and says, “Ah, here comes your mother and Justine Hosnani! Look how dusty they are from walking in the market stalls!” and I sit smiling in anticipation of the watermelon ices I am sure they have bought for me.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Join The Pinoy Book Drop 2014

This month is National Reading Month! That's why the Filipino Reader Con is held in November and that's why there's an Aklatan (Indie Publisher Fair) and a Philippine International Literary Festival (all being held at Bayanihan Center, Pioneer St., Mandaluyong City this week).

So, what is this Pinoy Book Drop all about? The concept is simple. It's all part of sharing a reading experience with others. BTW, there's a hashtag for that, too, from DepEd (Department of Education) called #ShareABookPH.

My first book drop happened today at Starbucks, Robinsons Pioneer. The two books were: 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People by David Niven, Ph.D. I got this book from a friend and I'm passing it on to others...hopefully so more people will be happy. The second book was an overeager purchase during a Scholastic sale. I bought The Amazing Days of Abby Hayes by Anne Mazer (sounds like Gone Girl's Amazing Amy, right?) together with other loot, thinking that I'd save it up for my daughter. The thing is she's three and this book might gather a lot of dust before she lays her hands on it. So, I'm giving it away for other young readers.

I hope my books find good homes.

So, c'mon and join the the fun!

These are the mechanics from the Filipino Reader Con website:

1. Pick a book (or two, or three, or yes, four!) that you wish to give away, or that’s okay for you to part with, for one reason or another. Make sure to check the pages for important stuff – anything you may have inserted there and forgotten but you may want to hold on to.

2. Download and print the customized bookplate that you’ll find below these instructions. It doesn’t have to be in color – black and white will work just as fine! Paste or stick one bookplate on a clear page or area of the book/s that you wish to give away. Yes, you can sign your name there, too, if you want.

3. Leave or “drop” the book/s in a public place, or basically any place where people are sure to see them: in a café, in the office, at a restaurant, the gym, it’s up to you. (Well, maybe not inside a bookstore, yeah.) You know where someone is likely to see the book/s and pick it up, yes?

4. Before leaving the book/s where you “dropped” them, take a photo. If you’re leaving two or more books, be sure to take note of the date, time, and place where you left each one.

So how is everyone going to know that you have dropped a book somewhere? You can do any of the following:

(a) If you have a Twitter account, just tweet the title of the book, where and when you dropped it, and attach the appropriate photo. If you dropped two or more books, tweet about each title separately.

(b) You can also post about it on Facebook – on your own profile/timeline, if it’s set to public, OR on the Filipino ReaderCon page itself. Same details apply: title of the book, place and date of the drop, and photo. If you’re dropping two or more books, you have the option to include all the books in one go or post about the books individually. It’s up to you.

IMPORTANT: Please use the hashtags #pbdrop and #filreadercon and don’t forget to tag us at @PinoyReaderCon for every tweet!

5. The actual dropping of books will take place until the Filipino ReaderCon on November 14, 2014.

6. On the other hand, if you’re one of those who are lucky enough to find a dropped book, we encourage you to tell us all about it, as well! Tweet and Facebook any dropped book that you find – same instructions on using the hashtags #pbdrop and #filreadercon and tagging us at @PinoyReaderCon apply. ;)

Click on this link to get the special bookplate from FilReaderCon that you can use with your book drop.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Filipino Friday #4: Diverse Books

Hello! It's Filipino Friday once again. How time flies! Next week is already FilReaderCon!

This week's prompt: Do you think we have enough diversity in the books that we read? Are our choices enough to satisfy our different tastes? Are our writers able to present the variety of people, culture, lifestyle, interests and so on? How diverse are your reading interests, and are you able to find enough books to satisfy your reading needs? Do you think we need more diverse books?

My answer: My short answer is no. At least for Pinoy books.

But there's a whole background to it. First of all, in terms of an international viewpoint, the answer is yes. There are a lot of books out there. The catalog on Amazon is both gargantuan and labyrinthian. If you can find anything from literary fiction to gluten-free vegetarian cookbooks to dinosaur erotica...that must cover pretty much *everything.*

But I'm talking about Pinoy choices. Are there enough choices to, for example, satisfy my taste? I want more stuff like F. H. Batacan's Smaller and Smaller Circles. I want science fiction by Pinoys. Where are they? I want more literary horror stories like Yvette Tan's short story, "Seek Ye Whore: Lust In Translation" and more comics like Trese by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo. I want more young adult books like Candy Gourlay's Tall Story and Shine.  My son reads The Magic Treehouse books...but there's no equivalent for the Filipino experience. I don't think we have enough chapter books for very young readers.

So, why is this important when we Pinoys can actually go over to Amazon or Kobo and take our pick of international books? Precisely because of the third question in the prompt: do we have enough stories that depict our people, our culture, our lifestyle, our interests? That's where my answer is no.

My own preferences are very diverse. I read fiction (mostly literary, sometimes of the thriller genre like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl), non-fiction (mostly business books, research on education and self-improvement, recently a book called The Vegetarian Myth, which I thought was very well written). I read young adult fiction like Hunger Games and Candy Gourlay's books. I am a fan of Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Ursula Le Guin, and Margaret Atwood. I also had an Anita Shreve period. I avidly follow must-read lists from Goodreads or on websites like Oprah's Book Club. I am always looking for something to read. I am the kind of person who naturally gravitates towards the written word, even food labels and product labels interest me. So, yes, you could say that I have a very diverse appetite for books. Currently, I think my need to read is currently satisfied, especially with such a wide array available in the international market. But my need for more diverse Pinoy books is still unsatisfied.

Diversity is a good thing. For life to thrive, there needs to be a healthy balance of environment and biodiversity. Even for the mind, I think the same is true. We need a healthy diversity of thought and experience to really thrive and flourish as human beings.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Filipino Friday #3: FanFic Felicity

And here I am posting for Filipino Friday on a Saturday. Sigh. As I said in my first Filipino Friday Post: Better late than never.

So, here's this week's prompt: Fanfiction is pretty popular, no doubt about it, but it has been received with mixed feelings by many authors and writers. Some don’t mind it, and even welcome readers who give their own spin on their work. Some writers don’t like it at all, to the point that they contact fanfiction authors to take their work down. Others use it as a jump-off point for their own writing.

How about you? What is your take on fanfiction? Do you read fanfiction, and if you do, what kind of fanfiction do you read? Do you write fanfiction, and why? Or are you against fanfiction? Enlighten us.

My answer: Reading and writing are not meant to be isolated acts. In the end, it is a story being told and a story being heard. It is part of human experience. Let that be my underlying principle.

So, on to fanfiction. I don't think there's anything wrong with fanfiction. It's a way to engage with a written piece of work. I think writers should embrace fanfic because it's part of a conversation. Once a writer publishes work, it belongs out there. It no longer belongs to the writer. That's just how it is. No use being in denial.

I think fanfic is a great exercise in writing. My very first fantasy novel (the one that I lost a long time ago) could be considered fanfic after reading Ursula LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea. I copied the style of archaic writing and world-making as well as the idea of mapping that world (which, if you think about it, started further back with The Lord of The Rings which I hadn't read at the time). I also got encouraged to write love stories when I first read Sweet Dreams books. So, there, gave away my age. Haha! One of my favorites was P.S. I Love You. I was such a fan. I later read her other books, The Summer Jenny Fell In Love and Winter Dreams. Fanfic is a good starting point, especially for a writer who's just starting out.

But do I read fanfic? Not really. But this is not to say that I would discourage anyone from reading it. That's totally different. It's just not my preference. I would rather read the original stories.

So, in conclusion, I think fanfic is great. It's a great creative activity for fans. Some worlds are just so engrossing they have to be built upon. It's a great activity for writers, especially when they are inspired by a piece of work and are just starting out in a genre. As a reader, I have a preference for original stories. But that's just me.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Filipino Friday #2: Hello, Writer!

Yes! It's Friday and I'm finally writing a Filipino Friday post on the right day. Haha!

So, here's this week's prompt: As a reader, have you ever thought about writing a book? What kind of books/stories do you want to write? Or are you now a published author, and what compelled you to go fulfil this dream? How was your journey from reader to writer? How did you go about getting your book out there?

Here's my answer: Shameless promotion time. Haha!

Yes! Writing has always been a part of my life, just as much as reading. I started really early (grade school). I'm the type who keeps a journal. I started my first journal in Grade 2, as part of my school work. After that, I kept at it. I remember filling notebooks and notebooks with stories, poems, character banks, and even advertisements (yes, advertisements. I may have had an alternative career in copywriting)! Read about my favorite stories and my first attempt at writing a fantasy novel here (last year's Filipino Friday prompt).

Words make up my days. I say this elsewhere but I'll say it here again: your life is made up of what you remember. That's why I attempt to write whenever I can: it's life captured (and shared, when published).

I started writing poetry quite early too. I feel, up to now, that poetry is a concentrated kind of literature where I best express myself. But it's also one of the least profitable types of literature as well. Frankly, I don't care. I still write it.

My poetry has been published before. I'm really happy that I have a couple of poems published in two editions of U.P.'s Likhaan series. I also have one poem in A Habit of Shores, edited by one of my idols, Gemino "Jimmy" Abad. The poem title is rather long: "A Filipino Writer of English Poems to a Filipino Writer of Spanish Poems." It was written for a Rizal Centennial poetry contest in Ateneo de Manila (which I won...a long time ago). I have another one in One Hundred Love Poems, edited by Sir Jimmy and another of my literary idols, Alfred "Krip" Yuson. This latter poem is probably what you'd call my most mainstream and memorable poem. It's called "Seven Years Later, Driving Home." In other words: marami sigurong sawi sa Pilipinas. Haha!

I won't forget, though, the first time I got two poems published in a magazine. It was before I submitted my poem to the Rizal contest. I submitted it through my friend, Tats Locsin. Seeing my words printed on paper in a national publication was very thrilling. But my hope was: let it touch lives. The title of one of the poems was: "Lost Afternoon," about how even love is subject to time, a favorite theme of mine. I was going through a phase then.

I submitted another two poems to Panorama and they got published too. But that was it. Nothing published for a very long time.

A couple of years ago, I attended a seminar on producing results with velocity and I thought to myself: why don't I publish my books? I had a rejected manuscript for a chick lit story (too dragging, too serious...hahaha!) and I had a lot of poems that were unpublished, just languishing on this blog. So I published them on (a self-publishing platform in the U.S.) and I even got a couple of printed proofs in the mail which made me almost faint with excitement. My friend, Maisa dela Torre, illustrated my book of poetry.

My book of poetry is Gift: Poems. And my love story is Artemis Lets Go. I even did a little book launch in Fully Booked, BGC. The books were self-published so I couldn't use Fully Booked's distribution system and cashier. They needed a publisher or a company to sign the contract. I just printed a few copies and sold them to friends and family who showed up at the launch. My aunt, all the way in Virginia, also ordered several copies of my poetry book to give away as Christmas gifts. Yay!

Last year, I also collaborated with two other writers, Buding Aquino-Dee and Jenny Ong, to come up with a children's book that highlights how breastfeeding is part of family bonding. It's called Snuggle Wuggle Wee. It was such a joy to write! Sales of the book will fund more breastfeeding activities by the the non-profit organization, L.A.T.C.H. (Lactation, Attachment, Training, Counseling, and Help). A Filipino version, translated by a poet who happens to be my favorite Philosophy teacher, Bong Oris, is on the way.

I still won't make money out of writing. Not yet. But I don't mind. It's not why I write. And I'm learning! It also won't stop me from continuing to write. I found a way to DIY and I still got my books to some people. That's what counts. "Wildly popular" isn't really my end goal. As I've read in Stephen King's book On Writing: write for yourself. And here I am, still writing. I've submitted a couple of short stories to two anthologies for publication next year. I'm looking forward to the launches of those.

Also, NaNoWriMo is coming up. Maybe it's time to shake off the dust from a languishing manuscript and put it out there, in the world. There are a lot more choices available to writers nowadays, especially with the advent of digital distribution systems.

My conclusion: a reader may not always become a writer. But a writer...a writer will always start out as a reader. And a writer will always need to continue reading because of an incurable love for words and stories.

Disclosure: I work with a digital distribution system for the Pinoy market, buqo. But you'll see from my story, above, why I'm so passionate about books and getting authors to their audiences.

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