I am ashamed to say that I was not a reader of Filipino authors. The only Filipino authors I have read are the ones who wrote school text books like Rizal, Zaide and Constantino. Reading Rizal's El Filibusterismo and Noli Me Tangere in school was like torture---I survived the class by sketching the teacher's face. I could still remember my Rizal teacher...she had pointy ears, squinty eyes that look at you disapprovingly. She almost fainted when a naughty classmate asked if Rizal was gay. I daydreamed my way through Florante at Laura, exchanging notes with a boy sitting behind me. A friend gave me Jessica Zafra's Twisted one Christmas, and a cousin surprised me with Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus. These are the only two Filipino contemporary books in my book shelves for many years, excluding Pol Medina's Pugad Baboy (literally, "Swine's Nest"), my favorite comic strip.
Reading started as a hobby when I was a kid...it was also an escape from household chores. In my house, there were incentives when you're reading---you're not obliged to buy cigarettes from the sari-sari store; you're not asked to wash the dishes, or water the plants, or clean the dog house. My father brought home illustrated classics to encourage us kids to read. We read illustrated Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, etc. At 13, I was hooked on Mills and Boon which I discovered through a spinster aunt. There were no Filipino authors in my father's book shelves, either...oh, except for Marcos of the Philippines by Francisco Tatad and another book written by Marcos himself. But politics was Greek to me at that time.
So I grew up reading novels written by American, English and European authors. A few years ago, I started reading Indian and Asian writers...but not Filipino authors. I was not conscious that there were Filipino authors of note, not even when Jessica Hagedorn's Dogeaters hit the international bestseller list. I once watched a play at the CCP, Portrait of the Artist as Filipino by Nick Joaquin. Impressed, I made a mental note to check out books by Joaquin, but I never get around to it.
About a year ago, a British client told me over dinner that she has a book club back home, and we started discussing books we've read. I've just finished The God of Small Things [by Arundhati Roy] then and I told her how emotionally moved I was. She gave me a list of books by other Indian authors and asked I could recommend Filipino authors for her to read as well. I draw a blank! Aside from Rizal, I was embarrassed that I couldn't name even one Filipino author worth reading! Because I never read one!
The very next day, I went to PowerBooks. For starters, I bought Recuerdo by Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo but it's been gathering dust on my nightstand. One summer night last year, I just finished The Inheritance of Loss [by Kiran Desai] when I absentmindedly picked up Recuerdo. It was a marathon...I didn't stop reading until 8 the next morning. It was captivating, vivid, colorful---I also cried a bucket. With swollen eyes, I went to work that morning and finished the novel during my lunch break. Recuerdo is a Palanca prize-winning novel (UP 1996) and Hidalgo has written and published 15 books! Since last year, I explored the brilliance of Filipino authors like Nick Joaquin, F. Sionil Jose and other Palanca award winners. They're awe-inspiring...the stories are familiar yet fresh and exciting, with words that seem to speak of your own thoughts and memories, and gently stir the soul.