Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Literary Hooker

I often wonder what I should call myself for falling in and out of love again and again...with a lot of authors, ever since I was a kid. I've known a lot of "book sluts" and "book whores", but a friend whom I was texting over the last couple of days told me that I must belong to the "royalty of literary hookers". I chuckled when I read that, and told myself...hey that wasn't a bad title at all, if you look at it at the right way. As much as possible I don't use expletives (in vocal or written conversations), but my friend doesn't believe in her expression's filters. So whether I like it or not, she has put an invisible crown upon my head already and there's nothing I can do about that now. :p

In this post, I want to share a 'compressed' history of my literary *coughs* harlotry.

Bambino Bookishness

After learning the "abakada" on my mother’s lap at the age of four, I moved on to Adarna Publishing House books. My first love affair was with APH writers, and my favorite was Ang Pambihirang Buhok ni Raquel (Raquel’s Fantastic Hair) by Luis P. Gatmaitan. That was the first story that I undeservedly loved, because it was the first fictional work in my life that touched me deeply.

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Just looking at the cover makes me feel like a hundred years older. :(

A story of two girls: the narrator, a poor, dark-skinned province girl and her wealthy, fair-skinned Manila-based cousin Raquel. The narrator adores and envies Raquel’s hair because it fantastically changes color and shape every time they meet (you should see the book, the drawings of the hair are amazing—one illustration I remember has race tracks looped around the multihued strands, with little toy cars and people running on them). The narrator finds it mysterious that Raquel always tells her that she is luckier. Later, she finds out that Raquel has leukemia, and the awesome hair is in fact only a wig. The ending was bittersweet, as I recall: "At ngayon mas hinahangaan na kita, mas gusto ko nang maging katulad mo. Ngunit hindi dahil sa pambihirang buhok mo, kundi dahil sa pambihirang tapang mo..." (Thank you, Google).

Anyway, sorry for the mini faux-review—can’t help it, it’s so nostalgic. I loved other Adarna books like Nasaan si Kuya Emil?, Chenelyn! Chenelyn!, Papel de Liha (this is a freaking good tribute to moms), and Ang Unang Baboy sa Langit. I was so engrossed back then, and I remembered being chosen by my teacher—along with two other classmates—as a contestant for an interschool competition regarding the said books and their relation to R.A. 7610 and the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1924. Unfortunately we only won fourth place. :/

After my affair with the Adarna book authors, I realized that there are more to discover than the works we see from APH agents that disturb the class just to sell their books. That’s when I set my foot in the heaven called the local library for the first time in my life.

And it was like love at first sight--or love at first touch of pages, if we’re going for technical correctness. I was instantly smitten with the Brothers Grimm.

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I bet my bottom peso that no child has ever grown up without encounters with fairy tales. My love for the Brothers Grimm was unrivaled for years. I got my first books in 3-in-1 packages—the most colorful eye-candies in the bookstore back then—and I remember reading them all night long.

For every page I turn, I’m falling deeper in love with the authors. It was an ecstatic feeling, and I held on from every once-upon-a-time with hopes and smiles; I fought the dragons and evildoers unflinchingly along with the princes and knights-in-shining-armors; I celebrated along the characters when they seal the adventures with kisses and happy-ever-afters. 

But years later I found out that what I loved were “sanitized” or Disney versions; everything was jam-packed with happy endings and euphemisms. The original tales were dark and harsh, the moral lessons not covered in veils of sugarcoating. Sure, it was a good excuse that children should not be exposed to violent or morbid folktales, but when I came upon the discovery I knew there was no turning back. It felt like being betrayed for all those years.

Heartbroken but still Loving

It’s not like it’s the Brothers Grimm’s fault, but the heartache was wearing me out. I need to move on. After all, there’s no requirement for princesses to become damsels in distress for the rest of their lives. So I opted for the better alternative—I jumped out of the castle’s tower, all geared up to seek for adventures in other books.

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Gothic style! Camille Rose Garcia must be a goddess of an artist!

I had a fling with Lewis Carroll; I held Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with a mild passion. I flirted with L. Frank Baum and his The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, loving Dorothy Gale like she was my little sister. I grew and had one-night stands with other writers like Louisa May Alcott, Johanna Spyri, Charles Dickens, Hans Christian Andersen, J.M. Barrie, and Mark Twain. I was careful about loving them, because as it is in real life, it would be too painful when I get hurt again. You could say that I was playing safe.


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I have a copy of this edition! I so love it!

But the Cupid of literature wouldn’t let me toy with the real idea of love. His arrow pierced my protective barrier when I met Charlotte Bronte and her Jane Eyre. I was in love again, and this kind of work was new to my taste: gothic and romantic and tugging at my heartstrings. Soon I had illicit affairs with Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, Frances Hodgson Burnet’s The Secret Garden, and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. I became the paramour of Diana Wynne Jones, Washington Irving, and Walter Scott. I had a relationship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. I became addicted with R.L. Stine—the first writer who let me taste a dollop of exciting horror—which led me to Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe. I was gleeful beyond explanation.

Poetry was not left out of the picture of course. Robert Frost, John Keats, Pablo Neruda, Sylvia Plath, and Walt Whitman were there for the affaire de coeur.

Soon I went to our community’s Vacation Bible School as a student, and there I found out that that thick tome we call the Bible was chock-full of wonderful stories too—marvelous enough that they can compete effortlessly with other stories that caught my breath away. I have lots of questions and reactions back then like: Why did God create that evil serpent that seduced Eve to eat the Forbidden Fruit? Why did Samson love Delilah even if she betrayed him and have his source of strength sheared? Come on, Joseph’s just human, for sure he’ll initially be suspicious when Mary was carrying a child that was clearly not his. Oh no, the old trickster substituted Leah for Rachel in the latter’s wedding with Jacob—and it went undetected! Oh no, Lot’s wife, don’t look back or you’ll be turned into a pillar of salt!

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I've never watched an opera/musical version of Samson and Delilah (let alone read a separate book version--just really the Bible), but I guess this poster is tastefully enigmatic and expressive so I need to have it here. And it tells the gist of the story already--talk about pictures that paint a thousand words.

Every summer I learned more of the Bible—its stories and its lessons. I was repeatedly moved and the building blocks of my faith got stronger. It even led me to John Milton's Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained (I have these in one volume), and also Dante Algheiri's Paradiso, Purgatorio, and Inferno.

My fascination with religion soon paved way to mythology: Greek, Roman, and Norse. I remember wondering why Zeus can never be satisfied with just one woman. I met Athena/Minerva and admired her intelligence. I was with Daedalus when Icarus braved the wax-thawing heat of the sun (and failed). I was there when Cupid accidentally scratches himself with his arrow and falls in love with Psyche (well everyone's gonna agree with me that you deserve a taste of your own medicine, dude). I know how the Norns spin the threads of fate under the branches of the Yggdrasil. There is so much more to discover: I went on to other cultures, with the help of my history subjects: to Egyptian mythology and met Isis, Osiris, Horus; to Japanese mythology and met Amaterasu, Izanagi, Izanami; and so on so forth.

Meeting my True Loves

I never stopped loving writers and their brainchildren; that’s just how my heart works. I encountered Garth Nix in a BookSale one fateful summer day and from then on I was exposed to mythologies that are not known universally, kingdoms that are not so celebrated by many. And zombies, too (LOL). My love brings me to cloud nine every time, and I always feel that no money or time is wasted when I invest them with books.

Not so long after my dalliance with Nix, I bumped into the love of my life: Neil Gaiman.

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Come hell or high water, I'm never going to say no to that question. :D

And you know why I’m practically married to his works up to now? Because he can do magic to everything that I’ve already loved. Fairytales? He can weave them into a new-fangled chronicles. Children’s stories? He can create a twisted version of Wonderland and replace wildlife with ghosts in his own Jungle Book. Bible stories? He can make his own tales by taking foundations from the Holy Book, from Genesis to Apocalypse. Mythologies? Watch how he move worlds and make them collide, throwing classical gods with the deities of our modern world: computers and other new technologies. Don’t even mention the poetry—he can deftly paint images in the blank canvas of your mind by using his simple words. Most of all, he created the seven Endless that are ever present in human life: Destiny, Death, Dream, Despair, Destruction, Desire, and Delirium (formerly Delight). Undoubtedly, he is the literary rock star of my world.

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Gaiman collection--not complete, my other babies are loaned out 
(and honestly I'm not sure if I'm going to see them again)

However, expanding my reading horizons equates to extending my periphery for other possible romantic relationships. Haruki Murakami is wonderful in crafting works that are tempting in an intellectual and sexual way; I love him too. Audrey Niffenegger froze my time with her The Time Traveler’s Wife; I’m also enamored with her. J.D. Salinger let Holden Caufield catch me in the rye; he’s one of my literary saviors. Scott Westerfeld took me to World War I with steampunk goggles and legged ecosystems; he rocks my socks. John Green tickled the sleeping triggers in my mind and heart, letting them explode in enlightenment; I’m clearly in love. Cassandra Clare lent me a Shadowhunter costume and let me brawl with demons; she made me feel like a heroine. Suzanne Collins let me survive and fight through barbaric bloodsports and a big war in Panem; she made appreciate life more. David Levithan guided me through an LGBTQ utopia and let me read a romantic lexicon; he opened doors to the chambers of my heart. Paulo Giordano explained to me how some people are like Prime Numbers; he made me believe in soulmates.

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Some of the books I truly love. 

There are more authors that I’ve had a fling or broke up with—even writers that knocked on my door but I ended up rejecting anyway. But that’s how it goes: you can take a romp through all the genres but you can’t love everyone.

But for a literary hooker like me, what’s the harm? All the world’s a library and I have my inner lib card with me—my desire for something that can make me live another life, even if it’s just fictional—wherever I go. :D The adventure continues.

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