Good Filipino Reads

One of the many joys of a balikbayan visit to our homeland is the chance to see all the new books that come out regularly. The Philippine publishing industry is one of the most vibrant in the region; new books are showcased in the Manila book festival in September each year that draws hundreds of thousands of Filipino book lovers. While such impressive attendance is still not really that large in the context of the country's overall population of 100 million, one can at least say that yes, there is a growing number of Filipinos who read and, more importantly, actually buy books.

By my work desk, I have a pile of books authored by Filipinos or are about Filipinos that are in line for my reading goal of 100 books this year. These are books that were given me as gifts, and I'm looking forward to reading them. I've intentionally saved them for the winter months when I can wallow in the warm embrace of the familiar. And this is why reading books by authors of Filipino heritage (wherever they may be in the world) is so important: Their stories are our stories writ immortal, and by reading them, we get to understand ourselves more.

Here, in no particular order other than the way they're piled beside me as I write this, are the books that I recommend you check out:

Querida: An Anthology, edited by Caroline S. Hau, Katrina Tuvera and Isabelita O. Reyes (Anvil Publishing Inc., 2013)

A compilation of prose, poetry and drama that spans 125 years of literary portrayals of that [unfortunate] mainstay of Filipino culture, the “Number 2.” Authors include Jose Rizal, Nick Joaquin, Ricardo Lee, Angela Manalang Gloria, Ninotchka Rosca, Marivi Soliven Blanco, Marianne Villanueva and 37 others.

A Very Far Place: Tales of Tawi-Tawi by H. Arlo Nimmo (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2012)
The only non-Filipino in this pile, H. Arlo Nimmo writes about his years living in the Philippines' southernmost province so affectionately (in this book and his previous one, The Songs of Salanda) that one can't help but be shamed by how little we know of that bucolic place and its lovely people.

Between Loss and Forever: Filipino Mothers on the Grief Journey by Cathy Babao Guballa (Anvil Publishing, 2011)

Positively Filipino contributing writer and professional grief counselor Cathy Babao compiled these heartbreaking but ultimately inspiring stories partly to assuage her own pain but mainly to showcase courage and resilience in the midst of what is probably the most traumatic loss any parent can endure.

Linamnam: Eating One's Way Around the Philippines by Claude Tayag and Mary Ann Quioc (Anvil Publishing Inc. 2012)

This couple, culinary stars back home, saves us the trouble of finding the best food when traveling the country. They've already identified what to look for and where, be they upscale restaurants or street stalls, in this appetite-whetting handbook on some of the best Filipino dishes ever cooked.

60 Minutes: Interviews with People Who Inspire by Ivy Lisa F. Mendoza, Rachel Castro Barawid, Angelo G. Garcia, Ronald S. Lim, Ina H. Malipot, and Jaser A. Marasigan (Anvil, 2013)

The interviewees include John Gokongwei, Judy Ann Santos, Dolphy, Dr. Josette Biyo, National Artists Virgilio S. Almario and Bien Lumbera, Boy Abunda and President Pnoy.

Savor the Word: Ten Years of the Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Food Writing Award, edited by Michaela Fenix, Maya Besa Roxas and Felice Prudente-Sta. Maria (Anvil, 2012)

Philippine food literature is a relatively new field, but as the testimonials of famous Filipino writers and culinary experts attest in the back of this book, it has definitely come of age. A gourmet collection, according to them. Doreen would have been so proud.


The Many Ways of Being Muslim: Fiction by Muslim Filipinos, edited by Coeli Barry (Anvil, 2008)

Our Muslim kababayans already have a rich literary tradition that most of us in the Christianized areas didn't even know about. The 22 stories here span the decades between 1940-2002, and is the first major anthology of writings by Muslim Filipinos.

Revolutionary Routes: Five Stories of Incarceration, Exile, Murder and Betrayal in Tayabas Province, 1891 to 1980 by Angela Stuart-Santiago (StuartSantiago Publishing, 2011)

I have the hard copy of this book, but you can get an e-copy through Amazon. Described as a family history, a history of a place (Tiaong) and ultimately, a modern history of our nation, this book is one-of-a-kind, not only for its subject matter and its comprehensive collection of historical material, but also the way the author presents her narrative.

The Last Full Moon: Lessons On My Life by Gilda Cordero Fernando (GCF Books, 2005)

What can I say? Gilda is just one of the most interesting, inspiring literary giants in Philippine culture, and reading about her life will definitely be a feast of the senses. Not to be missed; but unfortunately, the book is hard to find. Beg, borrow or steal then, it will be worth the effort.


Philippine Style, Design and Architecture by Luca Tettoni and Elizabeth V. Reyes (Anvil, 2013)

Speaking of feasts, this one's for your eyes and your dream machine. Sumptuous pictures of outstanding Philippine homes. For those who intend to return to the homeland and build, don't miss out on this book.

And for those in the US who want to buy books by authors of Filipino heritage, check out these bookstores: