Penmanship and Other Stories by Butch Dalisay

“He opened his book and stared at the margins and his forefinger traced the squiggle of her laughter there.”
-from the short story At the Booklaunch by Jose  Y. Dalisay.

There are no introductions needed for a writer of Butch Dalisay’s stature.



I held a copy of this book at the bedside table the dawn after our 1st wedding anniversary while playing an acoustic Spotify playlist. I think I played the “Your Favorite Coffee Shop” playlist with 1.2 million followers.

Like the refreshing and happy day that came before it, this book did not disappoint. I devoured each page hungrily and wondered why it was priced at 80 pesos in an SM Taytay book sale.

Have I gone ancient or did I somehow find the elixir of bookstores that showcase award winning Filipino authors at such proletarian rates? I mean, it was on that same pile that I found an anthology of one-act plays that are Palanca-awarded priced at less than 80 pesos!

This book is worth so much more than the price tag on it. I marveled at the innuendoes that never happened yet happened in Matilda’s Dessert, the impending doom and danger that beheld Protacio in Delivery, the sort of perverted betrayal in Ybarra, and the very delectable stupor that the Author faced in At the Booklaunch which had a humor that will not be lost to grammar nazis. Of course, there’s the landmark story Penmanship which really indicated the writer’s deep interest for fountain pens. He practically romanticized the pen and surrounded it with people.

“He caught a blob of ink on the tip of the nib with his thumb. Old pens did that, when they were nearly empty, or when you took them up in airplanes, not having been designed to fly… The Parker Vacumatic glinted in the room light, poised to strike. It was ringed with bands of gold, and promised a wealth of words. The merest pressure on its nib could deepen an emotion.”

My breath caught in each line. I was in deep awe of how solidly it was written. There was so much respect after I finished reading it. One and a half sitting (and I can’t tell you what brought about the half sitting here!)… It was simple, but one would know the painstaking expertise it took to craft the words in such a manner, to paint landscapes without going technical over the details, and to just evoke emotions out of something as unobtrusive as an ancient fountain pen.

You don’t usually find beautiful words like that lying around. They’re usually sought in hidden independent bookstores or at the obscure shelves that are reserved for the curious.

And this book slowly eased me back to my reading habit. It’s not the one I picked up in college for completing requirements. It’s the one I had as a little girl when I had the flashlight in my hand in the middle of the night while my mom thought I was sleeping. Those were the days when you don’t label things you enjoy.

They always knew how I’d sneak past my bedtime with my books. And at this point, my husband of one year has gotten used to me sleeping with him on one side and around five books on the other. These days, I added the DSLR camera for my daily practice– a piece of advice from a nice person named Arasacha who takes such good photos.

I wrote about the book first but of course, it does not eclipse the beauty of having hit the first year with my husband last Friday. Our first wedding anniversary was an amazing experience. It’s a good and beautifully marked punctuation to the love story that’s still ongoing. Wish I had the skill of the fountain pen to articulate how beautiful he is to me. He does not seem to be aware of how many wonderful things he has done for me and what discoveries we’ve had in exploring each other up close even if we basically did not travel beyond the country. There will be a time for that.

There’s this book review, and then there are other things I need to do so let this be it for now. I plan to update this blog a bit more frequently but like being in a playground, there’s a set timer to how much you can indulge without feeling the bulge of unproductive guilt. 🙂


Identity by Milan Kundera

Since I was on bed rest since last week and prevented from doing any form of work, I reverted to my old indoor past time of reading novels. This was the first love story written by Kundera that I have read. And as always, it did not disappoint. It took me to another place and made me relate to the text at the same time. The story is about this really interesting and quirky couple who grappled with the immensity of their love for each other and the fears that ensue out of this love.

Kundera painted this couple as an interesting pair. Frequently, married life is associated with negative terms like boredom or settling for a less superior quality of life. I have been laughed at, ridiculed even, for my choice to get married by certain people. Even among married people, there is an abundant source of hate for marriage as an institution. It’s really sad and I find it very understandable why there are strong sentiments against marriage. It really is challenging. Some days, I even wonder if I can get through it. There are things that you will discover as a married woman and they are not always easy.

Kundera’s writing in here is more light compared to the other novels I have read like Unbearable Lightness of Being. This is one of his later novels, written at the sunset of his writing life. And it owns this mellowed down quality that I do not find in his earlier works. He is still brilliant as always. But this novel is not as aggressive as the previous ones. It does not diminish the beauty of it despite that. There is still the magic. I kind of half-expected that Kundera will go on a semantic discussion about certain words but he did not. Instead, he actualized a deeply internal human experience in the height of passionate love along with its ebbs and flows.

Apart from the tiny gratitude for regaining back my reading time, I really feel like there are new challenges for me this year and it’s up to me which one to tackle first and how I should face them. Whatever choice I make, the option to win is always palpable for as long as I do not give up.

Prior to specific setbacks of life, I planned like crazy, even up to the minutest details of life. And not all of those plans fell into place. I had to cross out numerous things on my planner after most of my plans were wiped out. Still, I continue to refine my old plans into new plans and hope for the best. Because in the middle of all that orderly planning is the grace of God to breathe more opportunities, opportunities that are quite exclusively provided to a life that multiplies its time with efficiency.

I still believe in efficiency and processes even when life is a huge chaotic mess. I still believe that even if you can only control a minuscule subset of this planet, you can still make some sense of what you have in your hands for as long as you do your best, that rest will only really happen ultimately in death.

So… having said all that, I continue to peruse through interesting reads and turn the pages of my life into a new chapter, a chapter that I explicitly did not want to embark into out of fear. But it is a chapter into which I was forcefully thrown into because of my current health circumstances. And hopefully, when I reach the sunset of my life, I will have a life stitched by diverse but interesting chapters that actualize the fire that burns and resonates from inside of me. I am really optimistic and hopeful about the future. Today’s decisions will affect them profoundly, and hopefully for the better.




Island Beneath the Sea
by Isabel Allende

This month, I embarked in some downtime from the computer and android phone screens to revisit my childhood hobby of reading. I have not written an extensive review in months and this has led to a very horrible fit of lethargy. The funny thing was that I ended up doing a double whammy reading spree on slavery this month. The first of the two books is Isabel Allende’s Island beneath the Sea. The one I am currently reading with much difficulty is Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I know, it’s Christmas, so why am I reading these things? I don’t know the answer to that but my fascination to the morbid transcends holidays and modes that are assigned to everyone.

 Complex Relations and Incestuous Bonds

They were made for the complicity of marriage because they were essentially different; he was fearful, indecisive and easy to manipulate, and she had the implacable determination he lacked. Together they would move mountains.

Allende’s language is powerful. And so is her daring to write about taboo topics like INCEST. I actually flinched at the chapter where Rosette and Maurice Valmorain made love. I am not particularly comfortable, despite my usually high tolerance for BDSM and strange topics in books. But it was brilliantly written. Disturbing but well-worded.

Her writing involves third person narrative and some stream of consciousness accounts that are italicized for emphasis. She jumped in and out of these perspectives seamlessly, although not as masterfully as the master of stream of consciousness himself (Leo Tolstoy). Her words are beautiful although there are things that won’t make me grade it a whole 5 or perfect score for a book. It’s probably a 4 to 4.2 if I were to rate it. The reading experience was easy and smooth, typical of a contemporary novel. (I say this because Crime and Punishment has me hiccuping and gasping for breaths this week.)

Religious Intersections

There was an extensive discussion of voodoo or African religious practices and its intersection with Catholicism, which I found quite intriguing. I had no prior background on voodoo before the book but now I have some basic ideas of the dances and the loas. It is super educational. It had bits and pieces of Haiti’s painful history and then there are these insights that can only come from superb research. She was able to paint the era so nicely. But then somewhere later in the book, there was this word “SWAGGER” which kind of jolted me back to the 21st century. I got really distracted. This was such a waste because I was already ensconced in a reader’s experience of being transported out of the pages and into the imagination before I bumped into this rather Justin Bieber-esque word. I hope this book’s editor takes out the word because it jolts you back to the actual era that the book was written.

The Power of an Idea

“He who holds a lot, holds nothing closely.”
– Maurice Valmorain,  Island Beneath the Sea

There were so many layers discussed in the novel. I think that is also why a lot of readers of this book found it too cluttered and less seamless. One will need to limit the number of ideas presented to make it more coherent. Allende did not hold herself back in this book; she practically dabbled in serious issues superimposed on a historical novel. For a historical novel, it’s kind of weak on presenting the chronology of events but it’s strong on affecting and inspiring and educating the reader about certain things.

One of the most striking scenes for me in this novel is when the mulatto son Maurice Valmorain ended up becoming an abolitionist (staunch anti-slavery) when the design of slavery favors him and his family. He had ideas that were world-changing but at the time people were crucified for expressing these beliefs. It actually came to a point where he was disowned. But there was just this one person who planted seeds in his head. And I realize this keenly when you are writing for an audience, you become accountable for the seeds that you are planting in people’s heads. That writing is something that has a considerable influence and as a tool, it can be a healing balm or a weapon of destruction. It is a fascinating and frightening fact to consider. 


“A slave lacks incentives; for him it is better to work slowly and badly , since his efforts benefits
only the master, but free people work hard and save to get ahead, that is their incentive.”
– Don Sancho,  Island Beneath the Sea

In previous blog posts, I aired out my misgivings about how overworked and underpaid most proletarians are and how it often still feels like slavery even when you are a working professional here in my country. So reading about the theme of slavery that runs through the entire book (and there were 457 pages of it) is something that still resonates with me on a personal level.

I do realize however that unlike the real slaves depicted in the novel, I have my own choice to be enslaved by toxic thoughts. All it takes is a change of mind; unfortunately, this is not the case for those slaves who were treated gruesomely in the novel. If you want a feel-good novel to help you relax, this is not the bedtime reading that you should check out. It’s quite morbid and it is best to read it with sufficient mental preparation.

Despite the stressful effects, reading this novel makes me thankful for the FREEDOM I have which is within reach and did not involve sugarcane processing in a plantation under the worst physical conditions that are common in 17th century Africa. Life may not always be fair but it’s not so bad, after all.

War and Rebellion

“In the strategy of war very few things are clear, we move among shadows.”
– Toulouse Valmorain, Island Beneath the Sea

There were countless war scenes and Allende is a genius in being graphic but not didactic in her description of them. I find myself rushing to read some lines just so I will see what happens next to my favorite characters. I sympathized with both protagonists and antagonists and this is one of the best experiences this book gave me as a life lesson: you don’t categorize people as good or evil because they usually fall in a vague middle of the spectrum.

Courage in the Face of Extreme Distress

“We all have an unsuspected reserve of strength inside that emerges
when life puts us to the test.”

– Harrison Cobb,  Island Beneath the Sea

Ultimately, it was hope that kept me from stopping midway in the book. Tete, the main charaacter, is the paragon of surviving and thriving in the midst of trying circumstances. She possessed a clear head unimpeded by the horrible treatment she was subjected to for years. It was about a mother’s love, a woman’s strength, and the pockets of light in the midst of dark things.

I often see people who like saying that only optimism is worth writing about and that lethargy is infectiously negative or must be avoided at all costs. I also read a considerable amount of positive psychology. Optimism is generally good but it’s not good when you are eliminating the role of setbacks and shadows. Because it is really established that supreme hardship is what makes a person deeper, stronger, and more substantial. You cannot fake your way out of depth; it’s either you have it in you or you are just spewing nonsense to your detriment. Even in beautiful paintings, you will not be able to appreciate the beautiful light or vibrant colors if you did not have the dark spots that highlight them on the big picture. I think a famous ancient philosopher also worked on the power of opposites such as light and shade. And it always works to our advantage if we know how to handle negative events with a non-allergic but objective manner. I like good vibes, don’t get me wrong. But sometimes, there are bad vibes and you need to feel those things from time to time to help you appreciate what you have when the wheel of life goes to a more favorable spot on the top.

Blessings in Disguise

“At times what we most fear turns out to be a blessing.”  
-Pere Antoine, Island Beneath the Sea

 This last bit is probably my favorite quote, because at the time of reading the book, I was suffering tremendously from an unexpected event which turned out to be a HUGE BLESSING. Pere Antoine is the saintly character in the book who spews wisdom and embodies the truest tenets of Christianity.

All in all, this book is a blessing to read at this month because it strangely strengthened my resolve as a person. I was a different person after reaching the last page of the book, and for all its stylistic flaws, Isabel Allende is one of the most memorable authors whose works I have the pleasure of reading.

I also watched her TED talk about living a life of passion while I was reading her book and I realized that this author has a lot of fire, the same fire that I am trying to cultivate on my technical and creative pursuits. I really look forward to reading more of her books, although she did not outrank my devotion for collecting Milan Kundera’s creations.


Reading List

Kung reading list mo pa nga bang matatawag ito!

My mom got scared when she saw my bed with all these stuff accompanying me to dreamland. Piece of trivia for the interested: I can’t sleep without a book beside me. I just like to put my favorite titles beside me, and then the reading list just started piling up. I think I have around 150 titles to read. That’s just the priority list on the bed. I stopped shopping for books since I’m swamped with reading materials that can last me for a year or two.

Plus I am planning to brush up on my French. Oui. I super love that language.

So, I guess it won’t be much of a surprise to some if I take awhile to respond to messages and whatnots. I’m also giving time to my leisure reading. Sure, I’m paid to read and edit at work, but leisure reading is still a distinct thing that deserves its distinct time.

And so, the voracious reader a.k.a. shameless bookworm continues her reading adventures. No eye strain can seriously stop me from reading and reading and reading to my heart’s content…