Reading Themes

GatheringBooks Asks: Myra

Click on the Picture to be taken to the image source

Happy New Year One and All!

Thank you Mary for coming up with this idea. This is really cute. And as you warned when you emailed me and Fats, the post might possibly be a long one, and yes it’s like a soliloquy of sorts, but in good taste, not to worry. It is about time that we do share a bit of ourselves to our readers. For expediency’s sake, I have decided to make mine short and sweet (I suppose I meant the opposite by this statement – I shall try though).

How were you involved in Gathering Books?

I would like to think and believe that GatheringBooks is my brainchild. However, a confluence of events, the unlikely presence (and beautiful friendship of) equally passionate individuals, and the perfect alignment of the stars (hahaha, how very unscientific) may explain the birth of GatheringBooks much more solidly.

From Left to Right (taken sometime 2005): Fats, Mary, Hannah, Myra (me), and Tomeia

As a clinical psychologist, I was exposed to quite a number of gifted and talented individuals. I had the great fortune to meet two lovely young children back in 2004-2005 who happened to be as in love with books and words as I am. They used to belong in the same school (my sweet and sensitive Hannah and sharptongued and witty Meia), although they are coming from different primary levels. Right now though, they happen to be in the two top science high schools in the Philippines where only a few select teenagers are admitted.

Fats and Mary are my two top female undergraduate students in Psychology at roughly around the same time (both graduated with top honors/ extremely high distinction). They were classmates and very good friends (I am on the dot, there, ain’t I?). They were also deeply into literature, reading book series, and they were swapping books related to YA lit.

For some reason, I had this inspired idea of bringing two of my

Hannah and Fats

worlds together. I arranged a meeting between these two lovely young adults (Mary and Fats) and tweeners Meia and Hannah. It was love at first sight among us bibliogeeks. We would occasionally meet once every two months or so to talk about a book (or books) that we wish to discuss. We took turns in identifying books that “spoke to us.” As far as I can remember, we talked about Madeleine L’engle’s Wrinkle in Time, Lois Lowry’s three-part series (The Giver, Gathering Blue, The Messenger), Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie Tolan, A View from Saturday by EL Konigsburg (am I right? Did we discuss this?) and the entire set of Chronicles of Narnia.

Another photo taken in a coffeeshop, with my daughter this time around

The name Gathering Books came from Hannah’s mother after we have discussed Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue, and we thought it was a perfect name for us bibliophiles.


Hannah and Meia with my fairy Ela

As Mary pointed out in her GB Asks post, I am now based in Singapore and Fats has moved to San Diego, hence, it was imperative for us to create a webspace where we can still continue discussing books. Initially it was an exclusive members-by-invite-only site (the ning website, where several more members were added, including Tala Alexander who participated in two virtual book discussions and honorary member Mikey), until I attended the Asian Festival of Children’s Content last May 2010 and the entire notion of GB the Website was created.

Being a teacher educator in Singapore (I teach educators who are taking their Masters in Gifted Education – click here to be taken to our website), I thought that GatheringBooks would be a wonderful resource not only to parents, but to dedicated and passionate educators who are constantly craving for good materials to share with their set of students.

And now, GatheringBooks has a life of its own. It’s great to see its growth and journeys through the months.

Briefly, tell us how you began your reading journey? Fondest reading memory?

I started reading full-length books at age two. And I have not stopped since. I have talked about my experiences as a reader when I was invited to be the Guest Speaker during the 25th

My talk entitled “Choosing Books that Challenge” for MOE HQ Library Exhibition 2010

Year Anniversary of the Society for Reading and Literacy here in Singapore (which I blogged here) and my passion for children’s book and YA lit during the MOE HQ (Ministry of Education, Headquarters, Annual Library Exhibition for 2010) – reflective post can be found here. Thus, I’d try to be quite brief here.

My love affair with children’s books and YA lit started when I had my own child and I have not looked back ever since. I recall that I have always tasted and felt and smelled and heard books – I do not just read them. There is a different kind of experience when I open a book. It’s just home for me.

What are your reading habits? (Do you earmark? Highlight? Write on the margin?)

It depends on which book I am reading. Truth be told, I tend to treat my fiction books with greater respect than my academic texts. I refuse to write anything on the margins for my YA lit (which makes it even unthinkable when we talk about award-winning picture books, that’s blasphemy!). But yes, I earmark. I love bookmarks, but I have this habit of continually losing them, but yes, I can use more bookmarks. I tend to place little post-its (if I have them on hand) if there are sections I want to recall.


That is me poring over bargain books in Singapore’s Bras Basah Complex, click on the image to be taken to my blog post about this lovely place.

With my academic texts, however, I write write write on the page, on the margins, and pepper it with a great many post-its besides. This becomes even more imperative when I am using the book for a possible manuscript that I am about to write, or when I am using it for my teaching.

I like reading books over coffee or hot cocoa on a cold rainy evening. I love reading aloud and feeling the nuance and the cadence of the words as I own them by letting them roll off my tongue. I love reading with my nine year old daughter late into the evening. I’d probably do this even when she’s ninety-nine.

Which author can you not resist to buy when in a bookstore?

Oh there are so many. Between books and shoes, I’d choose the

The Winning Photo for the NYRB Contest – click on the image to be taken to the blogpost about this NYRB Reading Week Photo Contest

former hands down. I can live on bread, water, and cheese so long as I have my books (ok, I’d throw in a macbookpro as well). So I usually buy something… ANYTHING, doesn’t really matter who the author is (since my reading tastes are quite eclectic), as soon as I enter a bookstore.

For the sake of responding to the question though, I can not resist Isabel Allende, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean, Umberto Eco among others. In truth though, I need no reason to splurge on books. They are among my best friends.

Of the books you read this year (2010), what was your favorite?

I can’t even keep track of the books I read for the year. So let’s do it by genre. For children’s classics, I enjoyed participating in the NYRB Reading week where I discovered the works of James Thurber (I could not stop laughing when I read The Wonderful O, click here to be taken to my 2-in-1 review) and Norman Lindsay’s The Magic Pudding (click here). For contemporary YA lit, I must say that I also loved Colin Thompson’s The Floods. While for the Graphic Novels category, I would choose the Pulitzer Prize Winning Maus I and II which I read to my daughter for several weeks, Shaun Tan’s The Arrival for Wordless Picture Books, and Raymond Briggs’ Fungus the Bogeyman for vintage picture book. See I can’t even choose one, I am afraid.

For academic text books, I was riveted by Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.

Right now, though, my soul has been moved considerably by Depth Psychologist James Hillman’s The Soul’s Code – In Search of Character and Calling. I have not finished the book yet, but it is thick now with so many post-its and the margins are riddled with my notes, thoughts, and responses to some of his ideations. Sometimes, I wonder if it is bad to just enjoy one’s work sooo much.

What books do you hope to read next year (2011)?

I hope to finish The Soul’s Code (I can’t wait to get back to this), I also plan on finishing Isabel Allende’s Paula. I am fervently hoping I would find the time to go over Gaiman’s The Sandman graphic novels which I managed to buy from Green Apple. I have Clive Barker’s Imajica I and II – hopefully I can read them both this year. I suppose we have to create a theme in GB that has something to do with this fantastical/gothic theme. I also look forward to reading the Gormenghast Trilogy, a classic which I have learned about from our Storyteller last December 2010, Richard Platt, and yes the Millennium Trilogy which Professor Libby has blogged about for GatheringBooks as could be seen here. I hope to finish Colin Thompson’s The Floods series and discover new authors/ obscure books for our featured themes each month. And yes, more NYRB Classics.

What makes a good and bad book for you?

Oh this would be a long one, but again, I’d try to be brief. It’s good if it has managed to move my sensibilities and made me think. It is cohesive with an air-tight plot that just flows. I was just riveted by Norman Lindsay’s and James Thurber’s classic writing and Colin Thompson’s The Floods because you can see the authors simply enjoying what they are writing – the words bounce off the pages in sheer joy and beauty – they have flown away from the author’s ink/computer print out to the reader’s soul. I also love the surreal quality of adult writing, hence, my passion for Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

It is bad if it is trite, cliche, with no fluid motion that links everything together. It has failed to engage the reader. It could also be the case that the authors love their voice so much that the characters in the story are flat and unidimensional primarily because they have been overshadowed by the narcissistic musings of the writer.

Do you read one book at a time or do you read multiple books at a time?

As an academic, I read multiple books at a time. Right now, I am in the middle of Allende’s Paula, Hillman’s The Soul’s Code, Newbery Christmas, while finishing Tim Burton’s The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories, Horrible Christmas and a few more on the side. I read quickly so I relish the prospect of owning the book through my review. Otherwise, I’d forget about the book after a few months or so – my review reminds me of the highlights of the tales I’ve read.

Can you share a picture of your book shelf?

Oh gee, I have several of these. Let me begin with my daughter’s book shelf then.


The top shelf is nearly filled as well by now.
This is where she keeps her activity books, dictionaries, atlases, coloring books and such

These are mine:

I failed to capture the last two bottom shelves (yes they are filled to the brim as well)
Close up of my academic text books
Most of my series and YA lit
My makeshift book shelf here in Brentwood California right now. This here shows some of the books I brought from home and several which I ordered from Amazon (Bourdieu’s Distinction, Gormenghast Novels, Maus the complete Novels, Hillman’s Healing Fiction, Colin Thompson’s Floods 2 and 3)

We all know we’re busy in one way or another, so I wonder when do you read? When do you find time to write in your blog?

Saying that I am busy is an understatement. My work as an academic is a 24/7 kind of job (especially if you love what you are doing, you don’t stop reading). When do I find the time to blog? While on parties (I am currently attending a New Year’s Day/ Birthday party yet I manage to sing, laugh, and blog at the same time), on conference leaves, during the weekends, late at night during weekdays, and virtually each time that a nice thought strikes me.

The answer here is fairly simple: You make time for the things that you love.

Best thing about being in GB?

I love the fact that I have gotten in touch and connected with so many lovely authors and illustrators, both local and international. That was truly a major highlight for the year. I also value the connections made with fellow book bloggers and NGO’s and institutions that value reading and literacy.

The fact that we have themes for each month introduces me to new sets of books I would not have otherwise discovered on my own, that was wonderful too.

Hopes for GB and your reading next year?

We have such wonderful plans for the first year anniversary of GatheringBooks. We wish to be of greater service to the community through our website – plans will be unveiled pretty soon. I am also looking forward to the following:

  1. Connecting with more Book Authors and Illustrators and Featuring them on our Website
  2. Blogging about my international conferences and sessions that are connected to YA lit and children’s fiction
  3. Greater networking with more schools and educators and featuring more children’s (and teenagers’) voices in the website.
  4. Stronger ties with publishers so that we can support more local authors through the website by featuring their works here.
  5. And yes, Books and More Books.

To end my first post for the year (it is January 1, 2011 here in North California), here is a lovely lovely song from Sara Bareilles which explains why we do what we do. Simple. We do it for lovelovelove! Have a fantabulous and blessed New Year to one and all!

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

10 comments on “GatheringBooks Asks: Myra

  1. Mary of GatheringBooks

    Enjoyed reading the post. I agree that GB is your brainchild and like all children they grow and develop to something one can never imagine. haha. I actually have Gormenghast. I requested Fats to get me a copy and she did. Its on my shelf collecting dust for years now. I haven’t read it. The very size of the book screams “long” and “you don’t have time for long novels.” I think we have very similar measures for a good and bad book. 🙂 I am in constant battle with time…but you are right one makes time for things we love and while juggling things may seem impossible…our love for what were doing fuels our determination.
    Thanks for taking part. Is fats taking part too? LOL.


    • myragarcesbacsal

      I am glad that you enjoyed reading it. To respond to your question, Fats mentioned that she needs to think through her responses first, hahaha.

      I know what you mean about Gormenghast. I have so much on my reading list now, but it excites me – the entire prospect of getting to know each and every one of those books. We shall see how it goes.


  2. Hi, I just came across this post while in search of a copy of the Gormenghast trilogy. Could you please advise me on where I can get a copy? 🙂 Didn’t know a gathering like this even existed. It’s a great, great undertaking and I hope it lives long and prospers (in the words of Spock, haha). Thanks for all your help!


  3. Oops, I forgot to specify where I can get a GT copy here in the Phils. Don’t want to order online unless completely necessary. Thanks again!


    • Hi Bianca,
      Since Myra is based in Singapore I suppose its best for me to answer this question as I’m based in the Philippines. I recently found Gormenghast in Fullybooked greenhills its stacked with their NYRB/Poetry/Classics section. The problem is I’m not 100% sure if its the whole trilogy. But I usually find a copy in Fullybooked, not in plenty but at least one copy. You might want to ask them.
      I personally got my copy of the whole trilogy in the US. Anyway, hope that helps.


  4. Pingback: Readercon Filipino Friday – Weeks 1 to 4 |

  5. Pingback: Readercon Filipino Friday – Weeks 1 to 5 |

  6. Pingback: End of Year Book Survey for 2011: A 3-in-1 Collaborative Blogpost from the GatheringBooks Ladies «

  7. Pingback: Inspiration « theletterfriend

  8. Pingback: Conversations on the High Chair #2 – Gathering thoughts from Dr Myra Garces-Bacsal | Mum-Mum's the Word

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: