As a reader and contributor to Gathering Books, my taste and reviews have always been towards the classics, non-fiction, and literary fiction. While on occasion, I enjoy some Young Adult literature, my foray to that genre is rare and far in between. Even more so, in the land of chiclit. This is not to say I haven’t read any. I remember my sister’s friend lending me chiclit and me reading most of them in one sitting. But I never really bought chiclit, nor have I deliberately read it. But in the past 2 months, with deadlines and life catching up and taking up most of my reading time, I felt a need to read something that didn’t require me to commit so much time to. I wanted to get the satisfaction of finishing a book in a day with the very little time I had to spare. Enter Local Chiclit.
It’s not new to most of GB readers that I have a love for local lit. I buy it. I support it. I’m excited that compared to years ago, the local literature section of bookstores are longer and brimming with books from Filipino authors. I’ve read novels, graphic novels, essays and poetry from Filipinos, but I’ve never quite made my way to reading the chiclit. Having joined the blogging community and keeping tabs on local book bloggers, I’ve been intrigue by some of the titles that came out and decided on spending a little bit of money on the Local chiclit. I was, of course, hesitant, but the idea of trying something new in terms of books and creating my own opinion of this genre with the local flavor was exciting.
I read three books in total : Fairy Tale Fail by Mina V. Esguerra, No Strings Attached by Mina V. Esguerra and The Breakup Diaries by Maya O. Calica. I think, I picked up these books out of the many novella’s Summit Books had published because of the reviews I’ve read from other Filipino book lovers, specifically Chachic from Chachic’s Book Nook.
Reading these short romantic-comedy-esque books were reminiscent of my younger days where my classmates and I would read Sweet Dreams and its many variants. But unlike those books that catered to a younger audience, Esguerra’s and Calica’s Novellas speak to the 20-something women of today’s generation. It would be great to say that I relate to these women, being a 20-something corporate working woman, but I don’t. Yet, it would be wrong for me to say that these books are based on overly fictionalize characters. They aren’t. I’ve met these women, I have friends and office mates who struggle in both their careers and relationships. If anything, these books do, in fact, capture the life of the young career woman.
In Fairy Tale Fail, I enjoyed reading about office dynamics and the atmosphere the author painted of the Business District. As someone working in Makati and in a building flooded with all sort of workers, I felt the authenticity in the depiction. In this way, it allowed me to imagine. It allowed me to picture one of the women in the building as Ellie, Esguerra’s protagonist and one of the men as Lucas, the possible Prince Charming. While Ellie’s insistence on getting back together with his perfect prince, Don was infuriating and at times made me want to just scream “WHY?” The author’s story telling allowed me to wait and see, to suspend judgement and allow the character to unfold. This novella doesn’t pretend to be anything else than what it is, but Esguerra doesn’t make that an excuse to compromise the story telling and writing. If anything, the writer succeed in making me like Lucas’ character, hate Don and be excruciatingly impatient for Ellie to wake up to reality. I suppose that’s why I gave Esguerra another go, when I bought No Strings Attached.
No Strings Attached tackle casual relationships and age gap (the whole cougar concept), two seemingly taboo topics in conservative Philippines. While essentially this is just a love story, wherein two characters navigate the boundaries that differentiate casual relationships from serious ones, it also tackled the various perspectives people had on casual relationships and age-gaps. I had fun reading the whole Barkada (Group of Friends) dynamics, for both Carla and Dante. Of course Dante seemed too perfect to be true, but nonetheless his attitude towards life and towards getting what you want was a nice contrast to Carla’s uncertainty. I wouldn’t say I completely enjoyed this book, there were moments that I had to consciously suspend my judgement and remind myself its fiction. However, I like that the authors knows when to hold back. One of the things, I believe that make a good story is in the telling. A good story teller knows when to hold back, to allow the reader to figure out what’s happening. For both books, the author ends just at the right moment. The endings aren’t completely beautifully tied up bows, something quite true about life itself.
The Break Up Diaries by Maya O. Calica is reminiscent of Bridget Jones or Sex in the City, where the story allows us into the diary of our protagonist, Monica. Since, I’m mostly unfamiliar with the Magazine industry I enjoyed Calica’s portrayal of that world. While Calica worked as an editor in the Magazine, I’m not 100% sure if her portrayal of the characters are real or caricatures. Calica’s writing reference a few pop-culture elements which were familiar to my generation and in these moments I found myself smiling. Having never gone through a break up, this wasn’t an easy to relate to read. While I enjoyed the reference to coffee and the characters struggle to make her life happen, the world in which the characters moved in felt un-real. But then, maybe that isn’t the point of this book. Calica focuses most of her writing on Monica coming to terms with the break up while picking up her life to becoming something more than just a broken-hearted girl and finding a new man, I think, is but the icing on the cake for the protagonist.
What did I gain in this adventure?
It’s always easy to judge books when you’ve never read them. It’s easy to insist on only reading certain kinds of books and veering away from the ‘fluff’ world of literature, than to be caught reading them. What this detour in my normal reading offered was an appreciation for the many different ways we can tell stories. It allowed me to see how different local literature is now compared to before and at the same time made me understand that we do have capable writers in the chiclit genre. In the end, when it comes to books story telling matters and I think this experience made me appreciate how both Esguerra and Calica didn’t let the genre compromise the story telling.
These books of course isn’t for everybody and it isn’t something you pick up to ponder on. It’s easy reading, entertaining and fun. My foray into the world of local chiclit was a fun experience. It allowed me to suspend judgement, enjoy finishing a book, and wonder about the struggles of 20-something women on the year that I’m turning 30. I won’t go as far to say that I’ll be continuously spending 175 pesos for such books, but it isn’t saying that I would never pick up another local chiclit when I need an easy-reading fix.
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