Books were deeply embedded in the Filipino consciousness in 2018. Books continued to cast its powerful shadow over Philippine cinema, whether through direct adaptation or influence (director Jerrold Tarog championed Nick Joaquin’s “A Question of Heroes” as a big influence on “Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral”). Joaquin was among writers whose books were getting re-releases for a new generation of readers. The University of the Philippines became the first university press to have their own retail outlet in a mall—the UP Town Center. We welcomed Naga’s Savage Mind into the ranks of cool independent bookstores. The Philippines warmly welcomed writers and publishers from abroad, including Elaine Castillo, Erin Entrada Kelly, Nancy Silberkleit, Nico Tortorella, Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera.
Philippine letters lost titans when Carmen Guerrero Nakpil and Cirilo F. Bautista passed away even as we honored new National Artist for Literature Resil B. Mojares. Publishers continued to release a dynamic and diverse range of offerings for a hungry market. But vigilance was still required. Lovers of literature—be they readers, teachers or publishing professionals, joined the call to keep books tax-exempt when it seemed the government might indeed tax books. In a time when books are most threatened, books in the Philippines have never been more important.
Here are the Inquirer’s selections for best books published in 2018 arranged alphabetically by title:
1) “America is Not the Heart,” by Elaine Castillo (Viking): The dissonance between words, identity and history clash in the lives of three characters of the same name (Geronima)—but different contexts—in this carefully constructed, compellingly complex debut novel about the Filipino-American experience. With its title a twist on the title of Carlos Bulosan’s novel, this book presents the Filipino dream twisted around the American dream, infused with nightmares and wishful thinking.
2) “Art Matters: Because Your Imagination Can Change the World,” by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddel (William Morrow): Four pieces by Gaiman with visuals by Riddel deliver a strong and inspiring message about the importance of creativity in a world that’s grown increasingly hostile to it. His 2012 commencement address “Make Good Art” alone is worth the cover price.
3) “Ella Arcangel Tomo Pangalawa: Awit ng Kuko at Pangil,” by Julius Villanueva and Mervin Malonzo (Haliya Publishing): This exquisitely-illustrated volume takes on a single-story format that reaches its climax when the series’ titular reluctant mambabarang Ella encounters the monster known as Pangil. This is an exquisitely dark story about reality and perception, the line drawn between monstrosity and heroism. There’s nothing quite like it out there right now.
4) “GOYO: The History Behind the Movie,” by TBA Studios (Anvil Publishing Inc.): As they did in 2015 with the “Heneral Luna” movie, the guys at TBA Studios provided both a behind-the-scenes and a behind-the-headlines opportunity with this compact title. Together with the aforementioned “A Question of Heroes,” it provides a substantive backdrop for the film and is a good example of effective popular history.
5) “History with Lourd: Tsismis Noon, Kasaysayan Ngayon,” by Lourd Ernest H. de Veyra (Summit Books): De Veyra is the first one to warn the reader that he is not a classically-trained historian—or really a historian of any sort. But with his TV5 show “History with Lourd,” he became the kind of writer/host who could use gossip and urban legends as a gateway to discussing the most fascinating aspects of Philippine history, all done in his inimitably witty style. This book gathers the best of the show’s scripts and, as de Veyra reminds readers, “this ain’t your lola’s history book.”
6) “I am Jake,” by Jake Zyrus (Anvil Publishing Inc.): The man now named Jake Zyrus recalled his eventful journey from the time he was Charice Pempengco in a staggeringly honest and surprisingly revelatory tell-all that takes the “all” part seriously. It starts with his top surgery but getting there proved to be far from easy or uneventful.
7) “Insurrecto,” by Gina Apostol (Penguin Random House): A translator named Magsalin and a filmmaker named Chiara Crasi embark on a trip to Samar while researching a possible movie about the 1901 Balangiga Massacre. But instead of joining forces, the two begin a parallel exploration of the Philippines’ troubled history with the United States told through various smaller stories blooming with fantastic observations and feeding into the main plot. Impeccably written and confidently ambitious, “Insurrecto” is the gifted Apostol’s most accessible and best novel to date.
8) “Lethal White,” by J.K. Rowling as Robert Galbraith (Little, Brown and Company): The complicated adventures of private investigator Cormoran Strike continue. A weird crime has occurred and the witness is the very definition of unreliable. Meanwhile, Strike tries to overcome fame to work right and his personal and professional relationship with Robin Ellacott becomes fluid. Now on his fourth book, Strike is this generation’s Hercule Poirot thanks to Rowling’s magical touch.
9) “Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won its Maritime Case Against China,” by Marites Dañguilan-Vitug (Bughaw): SO much has been said about the dispute surrounding the islands in the West Philippine Sea, but anyone who is sincerely interested in that subject should start with this book about the landmark 2016 decision. Vitug writes with suspense about the process leading to the decision as a legal and political case. “The Philippines should learn from its rock-solid victory and not let it go to waste,” she warns.
10) “Stay: 21 Comic Stories,” by Angelo R. Lacuesta (Good Intentions Books): Prize-winning fictionist Angelo “Sarge” R. Lacuesta recalled his love for comic books with this audacious, over-size (it’s 210 pages long) collection of stories illustrated by 17 different artists from Kajo Baldisimo to Shaira Luna, with the stories about everything from everyday events to outright speculative fiction.