If ever you wondered if Filipinos still loved to read, then 2017 answered that question with a bang. Readers enthusiastically showered books and authors with affection and compulsion throughout the year.
A broad range of writers visited the country in 2017, representing everything from the genre of science fiction to a writer whose novel is being adapted into a motion picture with Kris Aquino in the cast: Pierce Brown, Mark Danielewski, Jenny Han, Kevin Kwan, Lang Leav, Jennifer E. Smith, Sarah Thornton, Siobhan Vivian and Jasmine Warga. Filipino readers met them with warmth and, at times, hysteria.
Books continued to be adapted into motion pictures, with F.H. Batacan’s crime novel “Smaller and Smaller Circles” most notably turned into a white-knuckle whodunit from director Raya Martin, and National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin’s iconic play “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino” turned into, “Ang Larawan,” an award-winning movie musical featuring a Tagalog translation and libretto by National Artist for Theater and Literature Rolando Tinio.
It’s fantastic to see the books of the past transformed into other forms, but also fantastic to behold the new books which appeared on bookstore shelves this year. Most of all, 2017 was a year with a bumper crop of titles and genres, one of the best in Philippine publishing ever. Here are the Inquirer’s selections for best books published in 2017 arranged alphabetically by title:
1) “All My Lonely Islands,” by V.J. Campilan (Anvil Publishing, Inc.): There’s a dark secret kept for a very long time at the heart of Campilan’s novel. Finely written, “All My Lonely Islands” has a very poetic narrator in Crisanta as the characters unravel what’s been weighing them down for years. It’s a journey in both literal and figurative senses, but also one with revelation all the way to the very end.
2) “Bakokak” by Gerry Alanguilan and Kevin Ray Valentino (Komikero Publishing): What happens when a giant frog invades Manila? You get this graphic novel from the creator of “Elmer” and talented Valentino; Pinoys meeting Frogzilla. It’s a lushly Filipino komiks take on the kaiju film genre and the most exuberantly crazy thing you’ll read all year.
3) “Crimetime: Inspector SJ Tuason Case Files,” by Maria L.M. Fres-Felix (Anvil Publishing, Inc.): Welcome your favorite new literary detective: Fres-Felix’s weary but wary Police Inspector SJ Tuason, the female cop who tries to solve the various bizarre cases she’s assigned in a Quezon City that feels so real. The cases—from the death of a Star Wars cosplayer to one involving Tuason’s past—draw you in and Tuason wins you over.
4) “The First Impulse” by Laurel Fantauzzo (Anvil Publishing, Inc.): There are time when’s the most tragic and horrible of circumstances gives birth to the most staggeringly beautiful of things. Thus the terrible, frustrating deaths of Filipino-Canadian film critic Alexis Tioseco and his Slovenian girlfriend Nika Bohinc has been channeled into this gripping, piercing nonfiction volume from Fantauzzo, a book so powerful that you will read it, be horrified and then bear witness to its beauty.
5) “Norse Mythology,” by Neil Gaiman (W.W. Norton & Company): Take some of the oldest, most primal tales of gods—Odin, Thor and Loki—and put them in the hands of one of modern storytelling’s titans in “Sandman” writer Gaiman. This book of stories is both timeless and cutting-edge.
6) “The Poet Learns to Dance (The Dancer Learns to Write a Poem”/”Aimless Walk, Faithful River: Poems,” by Simeon Dumdum Jr. (Ateneo de Manila University Press): This flipbook features two collections from the creator who is currently the most prolific Filipino poet in English, the subject of the lyrical verses nimbly jumping from the law to romance to art to dance to religion, starting with the likes of “Landscape According to Caravaggio.”
7) “The Quiet Ones” by Glenn Diaz (Ateneo de Manila University Press): Incisive and intricate, Diaz’s award-winning debut novel defies easy description as it springs from the confines of a call center to a map in all sorts of directions with shifting circumstances, a lucrative scam and, yes, Philippine colonial history.
“The Quiet Ones” escapes obvious categorization save one: It’s easily one of the best novels of the year.
8) “Sandali,” by Mikey Jimenez and Mikey Marchan (Anino Comics.): A collection of everyday (but not so ordinary) vignettes from Mikey Jimenez and Mikey Marchan, “Sandali” has a “Black Mirror” feel to the stories but with less tech and more Pinoy irony, ultimately sad but magnificent. Everything is great, but “Cosplaya’ Hata’” is a classic.
9) “Turtles All the Way Down,” by John Green (Dutton Books): This novel features Aza Holmes, a 16-year-old girl in Indiana living with the everyday waking nightmare of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and acute anxiety. The author of “The Fault in Our Stars” stuns with an authentic, compelling portrayal of a person with a mental condition in Green’s most personal novel yet.
10) “The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic” by Nick Joaquin (Penguin Classics): The most significant 2017 release comes in the birth centenary of the greatest Filipino writer in English. Containing 11 of Joaquin’s greatest works—including “May Day Eve” and “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino,” this book is National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin’s first international release, contains an introduction by Vince Rafael, brandishes a foreword by Gina Apostol, and introduces him to an entirely new generation of readers.