LIMITING your choices to ten books is pretty tough, especially if, like me, you’re getting on in years. That isn’t to say that I’m like some of my friends who could read and easily finish several books—both fiction and non-fiction—in a month.
I love to take my time when I’m reading for pleasure, often reading and rereading dialogues and scenes that resonate with me.
That and the time spent in traffic (I drive, which makes reading a book or magazine in between stops foolish, if not dangerous), running errands and pursuing stories for a living have drastically cut my reading output in recent years.
To top it all, I, like probably most of you, spend a substantial amount of time on social media because of my work. Since I’m a journalist, keeping abreast of current events and rumors whether or not they relate to my beat is a must.
But even if I have all the time in the world, I’d probably still be very selective when it comes to committing to reading a book.
Like any endeavor, it has to be worth your while because time spent on books means time spent away from real living.
For me, it’s more of the quality and not the quantity that counts. I don’t subscribe to any bestsellers’ list and instead rely on my instincts and the writer’s track record when choosing a book.
Of course, you won’t know how good a book is until you’ve read it (not necessarily from cover to cover). Even some of the best and most critically acclaimed writers aren’t immune to producing one or two disappointments every now and then.
I also put a great deal of weight on friends’ recommendations. Of course, not just any old friend would do. I put credence on suggestions of people I trust or those whose taste is more or less similar to mine.
The new 25
Several years after I was tagged on Facebook to share 25 bits and pieces of random information about myself, my friend Ruby, who also happens to be my favorite go-to source for anything and everything that requires wisdom and common sense, recently tagged me to list down my Top 10 books of all time.
“List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way,” Ruby’s note began. “Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard–they don’t have to be ‘great’ works, just ones that have touched you. Tag 10 friends, including me so I can see your list, too.”
Since I write for a living, of course I won’t let an occasion slip me by without writing a line or two about my choices. And rather than tag 10 friends, including Ruby, I’d like to share my list with all of you. Please feel free to share me yours.
Don’t be shocked. My list of books is perhaps anything but profound reading. Human memory being an awful and unreliable thing, I’m pretty sure that many titles that used to occupy a spot on my bedside table and bookcase have now escaped me.
The ones that I do remember, apart from giving me immense joy when I was savoring them, are invariably connected to a memorable, joyful and/or tumultuous state in my life. Here goes:
1. “The Moneychangers” by Arthur Hailey – Prior to Jose Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Felibusterismo,” two novels that were required reading back in high school, my reading fare was pretty much confined to textbooks, newspapers and magazines. Unlike many of my contemporaries, I never went through a Hardy Boys-Nancy Drew phase.
When I was a freshman in college, my Literature teacher required us to read an English novel of our choice prior to writing a reaction paper about it.
I went to Booksale and grabbed the first title that called my attention. Having been turned into a TV miniseries years ago, “The Moneychangers” should be okay, I told myself. Well, not only was it okay, I learned later on. It was good!
That initial foray to Booksale led me to other Hailey titles such as “Overload” and “Hotel.” It wasn’t long before I learned more about life in the pages of novels by Harold Robbins, Judith Krantz, Danielle Steele and Stephen King.
2. “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White – I was fresh out of college and working as an intern in a small PR firm in Makati when an officemate—an architecture graduate, believe it or not—introduced me to what many budding writers consider the bible of clear, concise and effective writing.
I fumbled and continue to fumble with the written word up to this day. But when I find myself in doubt as a writer, I always look back and channel the fundamentals of writing I learned from this puny but packed and instructive tome.
3. “Tai-Pan” by James Clavell – This book was my first stab at reading an epic—if memory serves me right, it’s more than 600 pages long about the beginning and evolution of Hong Kong in the hands of its pre-20th century British colonizers.
Talk about serendipity. As soon as I was through reading the book, I was able to fly to Hong Kong on holiday with my mother. That was in 1993.
It was no ordinary holiday. What made it more memorable was the fact that it was our very first trip together outside the country. Like they say, you may travel the world and experience all sorts of things again and again. But you never forget your many firsts.
And thanks to “Tai-Pan,” I was armed with a healthy understanding and appreciation of modern-day Hong Kong as my mother and I wandered through its narrow streets, authentic Cantonese restaurants and huge shopping malls.
4. “The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende – I was already a writer working for the paper’s supplements or special projects section when I was introduced to Isabel Allende’s books and the wonderful world of Latin American magic realism.
I was so hooked on the genre for a time that I read a string of magic-realist novels–from Allende’s “Eva Luna” “Of Love and Shadows” and “Stories of Eva Luna” to Laura Esquivel’s deliciously sensuous “Like Water for Chocolate” during a good part of the mid ’90s.
We may be an ocean away from Latin America, but you could immediately sense through Allende and company’s works numerous shared traits, beliefs and commonalities we have with our Latin American cousins.
Indeed, those 50 years of Hollywood weren’t enough to wipe out the 350 years we Filipinos spent in a Spanish-run convent.
(To be continued)