by Christina M. Oriel, Klarize Medenilla & Malou Bledsoe / AJPress
CHRISTMAS is just around the corner and we are all rushing to complete our shopping list. Gifting during the holidays is a tricky thing, however, as most people tend to buy what is trendy or popular. In the end, our recipients are most likely to receive something that someone else has given, or a gift that they have no use for.
This is why a book is one of the best gifts you can give — it’s compact with stories and details that can fill not only one’s brain but heart as well.
So this holiday, why not give the gift of knowledge? This year alone, The Asian Journal team has read (and featured!) a plethora of books by Filipino and Filipino American authors across genres, including: “Loves You” (poetry) by Sarah Gambito; “The Body Papers” (memoir) by Grace Talusan; “I Was Their American Dream” (graphic memoir) by Malaka Gharib; “Patron Saints of Nothing” (young adult fiction) by Randy Ribay; “Why Karen Carpenter Matters” (biography/memoir) by Karen Tongson; “Somewhere in the Middle” (memoir) by Deborah Francisco Douglas; “No Forks Given” (cookbook/stories) by Yana Gilbuena; “Baking at République” (cookbook) by Margarita “Marge” Manzke; and “Rice. Noodles. Yum.: Everyone’s Favorite Southeast Asian Dishes” (cookbook) by Abigail Sotto Raines.
Here are a few more recommendations that will be perfect either as a stocking stuffer or a special Christmas gift to family and friends.
“Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion” by Jia Tolentino
From the whip-smart voice of a generation Jia Tolentino, “Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion” has been named one of the 10 best books of the year by the New York Public Library and appeared on best of the year lists from The New York Times Book Review, NPR, Time and The Washington Post to name a few. In nine moving essays, Tolentino captures, with photographic clarity, the state of collective confusion and distortion we’re currently experiencing in the age of the internet, peppering in her own experiences as the daughter of Filipino immigrants.
Among the contemporary cultural topics featured in the book, she discusses the capitalization of feminism, her tumultuous relationship with religion and how that intertwined with her experience with drugs in the vein of ecstasy and the toxic, convoluted triangle of “sex and race and power.”
“Trick Mirror” is a necessary read that showcases the incredible talent of the 31-year-old writer who, time and time again, perfectly sums up millennial sensibilities in the age of social media and attempts to untangle the most muddled parts of American culture.
In the intro to the book, Tolentino writes, “I began to realize that all my life I’ve been leaving myself breadcrumbs. It didn’t matter that I didn’t always know what I was walking toward. It was worthwhile, I told myself, just trying to see clearly, even if it took me years to understand what I was trying to see.”
“Lalani of the Distant Sea” by Erin Entrada Kelly
Embark on a courageous and mythical journey with 12-year-old Lalani Sarita in “Lalani of the Distant Sea,” the debut fantasy novel by Filipina American Newbery Medalist Erin Entrada Kelly. Drawing from Filipino folklore, Lalani is in search of Mount Isa, a mysterious landmark known for a flower with healing powers that could potentially help her ailing mother as well as good fortune that could save her fellow villagers on the island of Sanlagita, which is facing its own threats of survival. The 12-year-old protagonist is confronted by external tests along the way as many men, including her own father, have perished in the quest for the mountain. The issues of toxic masculinity and gender stereotypes are also prevalent in the dialogue and text as well.
Though a children’s novel, the lessons of empathy, perseverance, identity and fate transcend any age. In the end, sometimes you choose yourself.
“I created a heroine in Lalani, who isn’t particularly gifted in any way,” Kelly told the Washington Post. “What’s extraordinary about her is her power to be compassionate… That’s not something we typically celebrate in our society.”
“From Rufio to Zuko” by Dante Basco
You know him as the tri-mohawked Rufio of the Lost Boys in the 1990s cult classic “Hook.” You also know him as the voice of Prince Zuko from the wildly popular Nickelodeon show “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” Regardless of your point of reference, you’re Filipino American, you know actor Dante Basco as the symbol of Filipino representation in entertainment of the 1990s and the aughts. Often playing a wide range of Asian side characters, Basco is the success story of the Asian American who broke into mainstream entertainment, and that journey is detailed in a new memoir called “From Rufio to Zuko.”
The memoir released this year chronicles Basco’s beginnings as a breakdancer from the Bay Area and the impact his family upbringing has had on his career. (Basco is one of four siblings who are also in entertainment) navigating the entertainment industry as a Filipino in a pre-“Inclusion Rider” world. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Basco said that his memoir may be beneficial “for the next generation of people of color” who are trying to break into Hollywood.
“Steel Crow Saga” by Paul Krueger
Named of the best books of 2019 by NPR, “Steel Crow Saga” by Filipino American author Paul Krueger takes readers on a post-colonial, adventure-filled fantasy heavily influenced by Asian cultures, such as Filipino, Japanese, Chinese and Korean. From magical animal characters to themes of diplomacy, rebellion and unlikely alliances, the novel brings together four destinies — a soldier with a curse, a prince with a debt, a detective with a grudge and a thief with a broken heart — to defeat an evil force who defies the laws of magic. Many reviews liken the Fil-Am author’s second novel to Pokémon, Avatar: The Last Airbender and anime.
“The biggest thing I learned was to trust my instincts. ‘Steel Crow Saga’ happened because I felt like I had nothing left to lose, so I might as well roll the dice on the wildest, most specifically Paul book I could write. I’m very fortunate the dice came up in my favor, but I think it’s because readers respond well to specificity and honesty,” Krueger wrote in an AMA thread on Reddit.
“Dear Seller: Real Estate Love Letters from Los Angeles” edited by Teena Apeles
As the adage goes, home is where the heart is, but finding that ‘home’ in a competitive and pricey market like Los Angeles can be a grueling process. In “Dear Seller: Real Estate Love Letters from Los Angeles” — edited by Filipina American Teena Apeles and released by her LA-based publishing company Narrated Objects — homebuyers share letters about the moment they found the place of their dreams.
“I have a very huge Filipino family up in the Bay Area that is very excited to know that I am just a few hours’ drive away, instead of across the country. I plan to house them as often as they let me. I plan to fall in love, get married, and have a family. I plan to plant a garden and have a play set and have barbecues with friends and family—and I want to do it in your home,” another Pinay buyer writes in a hand-delivered letter — which she had her mother translate into Tagalog — to a Filipino family who owned a home she had her eyes set on in northeast LA.
The aesthetically pleasing photography is enough to get you to flip through the book or even keep it on a coffee table, but one can get engrossed and feel a glimmer of hope in the notes that reveal the humanity and emotion in a business that is often transactional, as well as the heartwarming interactions in a city that can sometimes feel disjointed and inhospitable.
In another letter and story, a Pinay shares how moving from West Hollywood to Eagle Rock had “really transformed our lives…We have neighborhood friends, we take care of each other’s kids and we hang out—the quality of our life has really shifted, it is so much better.”
The book is available on Narrated Objects’ website or local LA shops like Skylight Books. A portion of the proceeds from the book will go to Piece by Piece, which provides free mosaic art workshops to low-income and formerly homeless people, according to Apeles.
“A for Adobo” by Nelson Agustin
Are you looking for a present that can teach your children the alphabet while introducing Filipino food and language to them? Then “A for Adobo” by Nelson Agustin is the perfect gift!
From the simple tuyo to the lavish paella Valenciana, “A for Adobo” is a visual feast for the palate. Both Filipino kids and adults will delight in the eye-popping pictures of beloved and iconic native dishes, and the use of the bilingual descriptions and food notes will deepen their appreciation for their cultural heritage.
It’s not a read-aloud book, but it’s an introduction for a child to the Filipino alphabet as well as food. From A to Z, the reader will be taken into the world of Pinoy cuisine, and the mouth-watering pictures (also taken by Agustin) make it more appealing. Best of all, it’s available in soft cover for the adults, and in board book edition for kids. A for Adobo is truly an alphabetical, gastronomical journey to Filipino food. It’s available on Amazon and other online seller sites.
“Zoobooloo: With Filipino translation” by Christine L. Villa
Another children’s book that teaches kids self-love and acceptance in a non-preaching manner is “Zoobooloo” by Christine L. Villa. What’s also great about it is that the book comes with Filipino translation, which is perfect to introduce the language to children as well as a deeper appreciation of the heritage.
“Zoobooloo” is about zoo animals that are not content with their own body parts and so they decide to switch with each other. Sprinkled with humor and wit, the book points out about being happy with our God-given gifts and talents.
“All of us were created to be unique individuals with a special purpose. In a materialistic world, where outside appearance and superficial attributes matter more, it is so easy to be envious of other people, to whine about what we don’t have, and wish we were as beautiful, talented, or smart as the others. Instead, we should accept and appreciate who we are, look beyond our flaws, and utilize our gifts and talents to bring joy to others,” said Villa during a past interview with the Asian Journal.