It is waaaay past August, but I hope that you’ve remembered to celebrate the Buwan ng Wika (Month of [the National] Language) or Buwan ng mga Akdang Pinoy (Month of Filipino Literature) with us! It had been an exciting month here in our local bookish community, and encouraging each other to read more works by our kababayan was such a fun experience!
Though I have not been able to finish my TBR for Wikathon, I love how these prompts have had me scrambling for titles I’ve loved in the past but haven’t seen featured in other people’s lists posted in #Wikathon. Some are picture books, some novels, and some nonfiction. Some of them are actually required readings for college literature classes, but I still love them immensely. I hope that be scrolling through this post, you can check out titles that appeal to you or just join me in appreciating these works.
Here are some recommendations based on Wikathon prompts that you can explore all year round! Please note that I won’t be including anything for Bagong Salta (Read a book by a Filipino author you’ve never read before) because any new name on this list can apply.
Desentralisasyon: Read a book by a Filipino author who is not Tagalog
Meläg (Pangasinan for “small”) is a collection of nine short stories of magical realism, speculative fiction, and slice of (provincial) life told in beautiful black and white comics. It’s also really close to my heart because it’s the first book I’ve read that uses my parents’ regional language, Pangasinan. If there’s one book that you NEED to read from this list, it’s this one! I have never met anyone else who has read this, and the world is missing out on the steampunk Ghibli vibes and pure happiness this book brings.
A Tropical Winter’s Tale and Other Stories is one of my college readings and also the first time I’ve encountered representation for the Filipino-Chinese community. Its short stories explore themes of otherness and belonging, often through the haunting and the horrific. I really love Charlson Ong’s writing style, and my required reflection papers on this collection don’t feel like a chore at all.
Baylan: Read a book by a Filipino author featuring the supernatural
Wing of the Locust centers a Philippines where colonialism does not exist, and yet it does not romanticize the setting like an Amorsolo painting. I love how the book weaves magic, politics, identity, and friendship in one beautiful worldbuilding exercise. I will fight anyone who hates Tuan!
14 is the 14th volume of Kikomachine comics by Manix Abrera, and in this installment, he experiments with the silent or wordless graphic storytelling. Short stories featuring the supernatural’s tangles with the urban world slowly give way into an interconnected fantasy, where songs are chains and dreams are real.
Light and Lost are twin wordless graphic novels that follow the quest of a backpacking adventurer to find a mysterious treasure and to explore worlds of feeling and friendship. I love how these stories express so much emotion even without words, and they–for some personal reasons–hold a special place in my heart.
Tadhana: Read a romance novel by a Filipino author where both the main character and the love interest/s are Filipino!
Una & Miguel is a story of crushes and first loves, meant for MG readers. It’s a bit cliché and candy sweet, but I appreciate it as a light read that keeps me nostalgic for elementary or early high school days.
Si Lola Apura at Lolo Un Momento (Grandma Hurry Up and Grandpa Wait a Minute) is a children’s picture book featuring grandparents with totally opposite personalities and the love they have for each other.
Ilustrado: Read a book by a Filipino author featuring intellectuals, academics, or an academia setting.
Skyscrapers, Celadon, and Kimchi: A Korean Notebook is a collection of essays the author wrote when she was posted in Korea in the 1980s with her diplomat husband. Reading this side of Korea from a perspective of a diaspora Filipino is both new and familiar for reasons I cannot fit into a brief paragraph, and I highly recommend this book because Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo is one of the finest creative nonfiction writers in the country.
Isabelo’s Archive is part biography, part academic exploration of the life and works of Isabelo delos Reyes–first Filipino sociologist, and son of famed poet Leona Florentino. He isn’t usually the first name that comes to mind when ilustrado is mentioned, but his body of work has a huge impact on much of the Filipino academe today.
The Idea Jungle follows the quest of two brothers to reclaim a lost idea for the perfect buko pie. It’s a children’s book that also happens to be an instant favorite of many friends in the academe, especially for its portrayal of the abstract. It’s so wild and absurd, and it has been the centerpiece of many a crazy discussion on the nature of knowledge and creativity. I am convinced that I hang out with the best people.
Ang Silid na Mahiwaga (English: “A Wondrous Room”) is a collection of essays, stories, and poems by Filipino women writers across history, many of them academics and advocates for education. Even just seeing this anthology on my shelf makes me feel powerful to trace my literary heritage to such amazing women, whose voices are every bit as important as the men who dominate the Philippine canon.
Katipunan: Read a book by a Filipino author featuring a secret society.
Cave and Shadows is… very esoteric and confusing 😅 but it’s also one of the staples of Philippine literature written in English. If you want to read a story that features mystical societies and the rumbles of the Martial Law Era, then you might want to consider this book.
Empire of Memory follows the (fictional?) story of two people secretly hired by Ferdinand Marcos to rewrite history. Shenanigans ensue. I actually have never read this book! For the longest time, I would longingly hug it and put it back on the shelves because my broke college self couldn’t afford it. I promise myself that I will finally get a copy soon once I manage to actually find one.
Balangiga: Read a book by a Filipino author featuring imperialism
Bone Talk is a coming-of-age story of a Bontoc lad named Samkad, who is both excited and nervous to finally be recognized as a man by their society. However, his culture is threatened and his bravery needed as tall, pale men invade their land. This historical novel is a much-needed glimpse into American imperialism in the 1900s, especially since stories like Samkad’s are rarely discussed in history classes.
Mga Uring Panlipunan (Social Classes) and Ito ang Diktadura (This is Dictatorship) are not directly about imperialism, but these discuss important concepts that enable its machinery to take root and spread across the world. Told in powerful illustrations and clear language, it engages both children and adults to be more aware of the power struggles that shape society and to be on guard against the stirrings of another dictatorship.
Kayod: Read a book by a Filipino author with an emphasis on the main character’s livelihood, job, trade, etc.
The Essential Manuel Arguilla Reader is a collection of short stories by Manuel Arguilla, who is best known for his depictions of life in the province. His stories always highlight the pains and loves of the working class, especially of the farmers. I really like his soft, clear writing voice that makes me want to run along the paddies lining the fishponds near my relatives’ house.
Soledad’s Sister follows the return of the corpse of “Aurora V. Cabahug”, a domestic helper previously based in Saudi Arabia. Everything that could go wrong had gone wrong, including the fact that the corpse isn’t Aurora at all. I love the mystery aspect and dark humor of this book, and despite it being a required college reading, I still enjoyed it so much.
Papel de Liha (English: “Sandpaper”) is a classic children’s book on a mother’s daily labor of love, whose hands are rough like sandpaper. This book never fails to make me cry and hug my mom whenever she’s within reach.
Tikim (English: “Taste”) is a collection of essays about different culinary traditions, ingredients, and cultures flourishing within the Philippines. If you love food documentaries like High on the Hog, Salt Fat Acid Heat, Street Food, and Ugly Delicious, then you will love how Doreen Fernandez presents a colorful and interesting picture of the Filipinos through the dishes and locations of their family dining tables.
Tula: Read a book by a Filipino author in verse
The Sea Gypsies Stay is filled with poems about longing, distance, memory, and boundaries. It’s probably the first poetry book that spoke to my soul and gave me the language to express all the yearning my soul has buried for years.
Harana ng Kuliglig (Serenade of Crickets) is a set of poems for children about insects, fields, and everything else in nature. The texts and the illustrations are so whimsical and enjoyable, and they are perfect for a fun outdoor trip with kids or a night under the stars.
Local publishers like Adarna House, Anvil, UP Press, and more have So. Much. Variety. And. Quality!!! My go-to shelf in chain bookstores like NBS and Fully Booked would be the picture book section, and I can spend hours and hours just crying over the level of craft needed to condense a richly layered story into 32-48 illustrated pages. My other go-to would be the university presses like UP Press and Ateneo Press for nonfiction, and honestly, ever since I realized how many books can still be affordable on a student budget–Disclaimer: I shop the discount bins, and some big textbooks there cost less than an SFF paperback–if I time my purchases during sales, then I will still be able to read.
Sadly, many of these local titles can be hard to buy internationally, and I’m not sure if the publication houses ship outside the country. I hope that you still keep these titles in mind and to always be on the lookout for possible modes of access.
I don’t consider myself an expert in Filipino literature because there’s a LOT I still haven’t read, but that fact just excites me further to keep exploring the field. I hope you can join me in doing so!
- Have you read any of these titles before? Scream with me in the comments!
- Did you join Wikathon this year? What’s your favorite Wikathon read? Drop your recs below!