Because I already came up with a preliminary list of the books I enjoyed reading in 2013, I will be sharing a list of ten books that have stayed with me instead.* I came up with the idea after remembering an old request by Tracy and reading some of such top ten lists via Twitter (that of Sandra Cisneros and Andrew Self) and encountering an old meme making its round in Facebook again lately. Here is my answer to that meme, to which I added some explanations:
1. Manifesto of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, one of the most enduring and enthralling political tracts which I make a point to read at least once a year. Though the names, figures, and particular manifestations have evolved, the general terms in which Marx and Engels defined the struggle for liberation from all forms of exploitation and oppression in this pamphlet still defines the present horizon (from the free competition stage of Marx’s time we are now in the late phase of capitalism’s monopoly stage; pseudo-socialists have taken on new titles but without veering away from the general features outlined in the manifesto).
2. The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia by Ursula Le Guin, one of the few novels that I’ve reread again and again. I love this novel so much that I’ve bought all the copies that I happen to find and gave it to friends. It is not only a criticism of present-day capitalism by way of science fiction but also a description of what an alternative system could look like. Despite particular limitations, the novel kindles hope among its readers for an alternative to the exploitative world capitalist system as exemplified by the imaginary planet of Urras. The Dispossessed certainly points to the fictional world of Anarres as an image of the communist future.
3. Clandestine Poems by Roque Dalton, a most relevant collection of poems written under five pseudonyms while underground by El Salvadoran revolutionary and martyr Roque Dalton. Declaring that a poet can only be either a servant, clown, or enemy to the exploiting classes, Dalton sharply defines himself as an enemy poet “who claims his wages not in flattery or dollars but in persecutions, prisons, bullets.” At times irreverent, at times agitating, and at times sentimental, his poems serve to show how poetry is “not made of words alone” (Poetic Art 1974).
4. Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking Glass World by Eduardo Galeano, a crushing satirical expose of the glaring inequalities and injustices of a world turned upside down that many has come to be desensitized as “normal.” Here is one my favorite lines from Galeano’s mock lesson plans: “The worst violators of nature and human rights never go to jail. They hold the keys… the countries that guard the peace also make and sell the most weapons. The most prestigious banks launder the most drug money and harbor the most stolen cash. The most successful industries are the most poisonous for the planet.”
5. Mga Tula by Gelacio Guillermo, the collected poetry of one of the country’s best progressive poets and literary critics. The poems in this book are conscious interventions in a class society divided by contradicting social and political interests. They are exemplary as works that stand in unison with the great struggle of the Filipino people for social justice, national liberation, and genuine democracy. Unlike some other works (Miguel Syjuco’s sophomoric Ilustrado, for instance), Guillermo’s poems are not ones that try to create elaborate concoctions about the armed revolution without even seeing a real guerrilla or entering a guerrilla zone.
6. Agaw-Dilim, Agaw-Liwanag by Lualhati Milan-Abreu, a heart-rending life-story of the author’s traversing of the less-traveled path in the revolutionary movement in the Philippines through three decades. This autobiography tells her experience of torture and detention along with many others by her own comrades, an event subsequently criticized by the movement as a grave violation of human rights and rectified. Abreu’s account also provides insights on the resurgence of the movement in the 1960s, the underground armed struggle against the Marcos dictatorship in the 1970s, as well as the grave consequences of the military adventurist line in the 1980s.
7. Tugmaang Matatabil: Mga Tula Mula sa Libingan ng Buhay by Axel Pinpin, a stunning collection of prison poems, one of which, Unang Gabi ng Interogasyon (First Night of Interrogation), was extemporaneously recited by the poet at the end of his interrogation on the night of April 28, 2006 while blindfolded and hand-cuffed. The poems talk of the plight political prisoners, the social problems confronting the Filipino people, feudal exploitation of the peasants, workers struggles, human rights violations by the Philippine government, etc.
8. Feast and Famine: Stories of Negros by Rosario Cruz-Lucero, which according to Resil Mojares is one of the few works of Filipino fiction in English that has overcome the enchantment of “Western modes of visioning reality” and the restrictions of the Philippine social formation by speaking “from a rich, manifold location constituted by facts of biography, gender, history, and culture.” It is exemplary by combining “considerable narrative gifts, command of language, a sensuous and comic wit” and a rootedness in Philippine socio-cultural realities.
9. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, a multi-layered tale of Satan’s personal visit to Moscow, the havoc his grotesque gang wreaked, a woman’s quest to save her lover, and a revisionist account of Pontius Pilate and Jesus Christ’s last days, which is often held up as a satirical attack against socialist Russia as led by Josef Stalin. Yet the highly unconventional novel rebels from such a simplistic stereotyping. Certain angles even point to a playful endorsement of Stalin’s attack against the bourgeoisified and corrupt cadres in the cultural field.
10. Philippine Society and Revolution by Amado Guerrero, which is perhaps the only book that I truly memorized from repetitive use for its practical import. The book is a blend of the lucid and the poetic. Perfect if not for the rather lengthy enumeration of pre-1970s reactionary laws and treaties that makes the book less emphatic. It is at once epic (in its grand narrative of Philippine history), encyclopedic (in its description of the Filipino people’s basic problems), and prophetic (in its call for a national democratic revolution with a socialist perspective).
* This list is, of course, not final. I am presently reading very good books such as Bertolt Brecht: Poems 1913-1956, The Complete Fiction of Lu Xun, and Mga Binalaybay kag iban nga Sinulatan by Mayamor. I also plan to read The Aesthetics of Resistance, Volume I by Peter Weiss and Petals of Blood by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o next year… So I’m sure this list is bound to change soon enough.
** Iloilo – Some of my favorite books, my frequently-used books, the books I’m reading, and the books I’ll be reading soon (from left to right and top to bottom order): The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin, Dekada 70 by Lualhati Bautista, Desparecidos by Lualhati Bautista, The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon, The Political Economy of Growth by Paul Baran, Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges, Bartleby & Co. by Enrique Vila-Matas, The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State by Frederick Engels, Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolaño, Acupuncture and Moxibustion,State and Revolution by V.I. Lenin, Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder by V.I. Lenin, What is to be Done? by V.I. Lenin, Imperialism by V.I. Lenin, The Poverty of Philosophy by Karl Marx, Upside Down by Eduardo Galeano, Fundamentals of Political Economy (The Shanghai Textbook), Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson, Philippine Society & Revolution by Amado Guerrero, Mao Tse Tung on Art and Literature,The Orange Tree, Carlos Fuentes, Agaw-dilim Agaw-liwanag by Lualhati Milan-Abreu, Armando, Jun Cruz Reyes, Tugmaang Matatabil by Axel Pinpin, Mga Tula by Gelacio Guillermo, Feast and Famine by Rosario Cruz-Lucero, An Aquarium by Jeffrey Yang, Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, Red is the Color of the River Pulangi and Other Stories from the Margins, Birthday of the World and Other Stories, Ursula Le Guin, Etsa-Puwera by Jun Cruz Reyes, Dangadang (songbook), Sipat Kultura by Rolando Tolentino, La India or the Island of the Disappeared by Rosario Cruz-Lucero, Anatomy of a War by Gabriel Kolko, Tibak Rising: Activism in the Time of Martial Law, Roll Over Che Guevara by Marc Cooper, and The Women’s Liberation Movement in Russia by Richard Stites.