Our best Filipino books of 2022: ‘How to Grieve’ and ‘Dear Meg’

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These two collections find power, truth, humor, and heart in the short-form.

“How to Grieve” by Jade Mark Capiñanes (Everything’s Fine, 2022)

Good breakup books make you ask, Pale Pilsen in hand, “Bakit mo ba kasi ako iniwan?” The best breakup books, however, make you ask, “Bakit mo ba kasi iniwan si Jade???”

Perhaps I’m exposing my naivety here, but I’m bound to believe that romantic heartbreak-induced work — whether breakup anthems or in-another-universe indie films or whatever else form they begin to take — is beyond objective judgment. Even the worst of its kind can carry a fiber of relatability, which, in the glassy eyes of the sawi, is easily misconstrued as artistic merit.

“How to Grieve” is good, full-stop. It remains good even when it fails to light up our hippocampi with flickers of memory. And it hurts so much, in a way that defies comprehension: Why was I left so devastated by this, which was not so much a book but a book-shaped thing? Each entry in this short story collection is written with no definite beginning-middle-end, teetering between fiction, autobiography, and how-to; nonsensical in a way that leaves you satisfied, still. Reading this book means trusting it completely, a vulnerability that is — forgive me, I can’t help it — not too different from falling in love.

Many stories are in a similar vein as the Facebook posts Capiñanes has become known for: sardonic, witty, and hyperspecific. “How to Eat Spaghetti” appropriates the format of an instructional list to make you laugh then form a lump in your throat. Some appear directly lifted from the author’s life, like “How to Take Care of Cacti,” which opens with, “I just want to tell you that I still take care of Chichi, the cactus we bought together on our first anniversary.”

Others are more folktale than biography, using familiar allusions and old stories to tell new variations of a failed love. “How to Cross a River,” about two monks crossing a river with a woman, is a little over a page long, yet is arguably among the most affecting of the bunch. This story in particular also points to Capiñanes’ skill at brevity, evincing mastery of craft in a genre known for overindulgence. I spent an afternoon finishing this 77-page book; I needed weeks to fully get over it. It’s haunting, to say the least, which is apt — every love story is a ghost story, after all.

Buy a copy here

“Dear Meg: Advice on Life, Love, and the Struggle” by Meg Yarcia (Gantala Press, 2022)

“Dear Meg” began as an advice column during the first community quarantine, and over time the need for Yarcia’s comforting counsel never waned. The most potent example, and the one that led me to the column in the first place, was posted during graduation season, where the letter sender was overwhelmed with uncertainty: what would have happened if they never left school to become a full-time activist?

Yarcia, who is a Marxist psychologist, proceeds to recount her college years, where she met other full-time activists. She beautifully articulated the importance of the work they do and pinpointed why they often forget this importance themselves. “On your days of doubts and insecurities — feelings I will not begrudge you for amid unceasing capitalist propaganda — may you remember this deep gratitude, this deep pride,” she writes to the letter sender. “May you see yourself the way I see the full-time activists of my time.”

It is care that defines “Dear Meg.” While the column services people of all ages, letter senders are often young, with questions on sexuality, abusive households, and pursuing activism over neoliberal education. Yarcia doesn’t shy away from even the most difficult questions, and she always begins with where the sender is coming from. Her responses are thoughtful, empathetic, and always written with warmth.

It’s natural to have a bit of skepticism when first hearing of the format — advice columns are very often vehicles for individualism, after all — but “Dear Meg” understands that personal well-being is inseparable from community, and Yarcia is well-aware that her audience knows this too. She acknowledges their emotions and then encourages them to seek support from comrades. It’s counsel that seeks to provide comfort and healing for all; if you can’t purchase the book, the entries are available to read for free on Dear Meg’s Facebook and Instagram. As she wrote in the book’s introduction, “A commitment to equality is a commitment to bear what every fellow human bears. Their joys and delights, as well as their sorrows and pain — all ours, too.”

Buy a copy here.