The 6 best Filipino books of 2022

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Presented in full as a list, here are our five best Filipino books of the year.

Here, in list form, are the six standout selections for our books of the year, from a hilarious medical memoir to a landmark publication from a Blaan writer.

“Even Ducks Get Liver Cancer” by Wilfredo Liangco (Milfores Books, 2022)

Most of these medical narratives follow a similar format. There’s a section, usually in the beginning of the book, about why the author decided to become doctors. There are sections detailing their experiences in medical school (a lot of them studied at the University of the Philippines School of Medicine and worked at the Philippine General Hospital). There are essays telling stories about specific patients, usually highlighting how the Philippine healthcare system has failed them. These are important stories, to be sure. These narratives provide a humane approach to the exploration of illnesses and how they affect us. They also give us a rare glimpse of the humanity of our healthcare professionals. These stories tell us what a good doctor is like — compassionate, considerate, possibly flawed but never malicious — so we can recognize a bad doctor out in the wild. Most importantly, these stories show us how flawed the Philippine healthcare system is, how the system does not serve the disadvantaged and those who need help the most. But there’s also a uniformity to these medical narratives that make them a bit predictable.

“Even Ducks Get Liver Cancer” is all of that. But it’s the humor that sets this book apart — and why it should be read by as many people as possible. As one Goodreads review succinctly describes it, the book is “funny as shit.”

Read the full reviews by Chuck Smith and Andrea Panaligan here.

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

“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.

Read the full review by Andrea Panaligan here.

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

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

Read the full review by Andrea Panaligan here.

“Dili Pwede Mogawas Ug Ubang Mga Sugilanon” by Joy Serrano-Quijano, translated by John Bengan (University Publication Office of the Ateneo de Davao University, 2022)

Serrano-Quijano’s Matanao is as expertly sketched as John Bengan’s Davao City or H. Arlo Nimmo’s Sulu. She explores the lives of the Blaan of Matanao, Davao del Sur, with commendable empathy and depth. She untangles the complexities of the different peoples and histories of Matanao and of larger Mindanao, and how these political and social processes affect ordinary people at a personal and sometimes heartbreaking level. Though her stories usually contain two thousand words or less, she fills them with fascinating and unforgettable details. Teachers, farmers, rebels, coconut wine gatherers, a lonely storeowner, a barrio known for its shit, another barrio known for its people’s abilities to curse someone with a simple tap on the shoulder, Serrano-Quijano’s imagination is wide, perceptive, and generous. The opening story “The Maya Birds” (“Abogmaya”) seemingly unfolds at an unhurried pace. The Blaan grandmother Adela gathers water from a well, feeds her pigs, shoos away maya birds from her crops, welcomes her grandchildren. But as the story progresses, Serrano-Quijano creates a quiet but substantial portrait of how a woman relates to herself, to her family, to nature, and to the spiritual world: “Where she came from, their God was different, their belief was different. There was no cross, no church, no priest or pastor. Only you and the land, the rocks, the greenery. To worship was to till the land and to work very hard.” In a few sentences, Serrano-Quijano manages to crystallize years of colonial and religious tension, and how it shapes and unsettles a woman’s own spirituality. In “The Loyalist,” she presents us with a complicated woman: a loving, hard-working grandmother who is also a Marcos apologist. Both the woman’s granddaughter and the reader have to confront the grandmother’s difficult past, questionable political views, and descent into senility. Serrano-Quijano refuses to deal in caricatures. Her characters’ interior lives are as rich, variegated and compelling as the landscapes around them.

Read the full review by Lakan Umali here.

“Nothing Deep” by Richard Bolisay (Everything’s Fine, 2022)

Divided into an introduction and 14 chapters of varying length, “Nothing Deep” carries with it the clear-eyed honesty and incisive criticism Bolisay is known for, but shows glimmers of the Bolisay I am familiar with now — introspective, thoughtful, funny, and observant in enviable ways. Save for two entries, the collection is made up of pieces previously written for magazines — hilarious considering Bolisay’s previous aversion to them. “I didn’t like writing for magazines at the time,” said Bolisay in an interview with me after his book launch in September. “Maybe it’s the deadline [or the] specific tone when you’re writing for [print] magazines. It can’t be long! Your language [is restricted]! Adjustment ‘yun for me.”

The collection spans a decade of writing and challenges the critical culture steeped in binaries. “I wanted to have that composite view of cinema during that time when I was writing,” said Bolisay. But instead of reviews, which comprise a bulk of popular film criticism, Bolisay shows us the personalities behind the lens and in front of it, humanizing the process of artmaking, leveling the playing field between commercial cinema and arthouse cinema. “I can talk about Kidlat Tahimik and a newcomer, at [least at] the time, like Mihk Vergara.”

Bolisay brings us closer to people we wouldn’t have had access to without his writing, showing us aspects of their lives that are often hidden from screen. In “A Man For All Seasons,” Bolisay talks to Joel Torre about his collaborations with Peque Gallaga but also about JT's Manukan, Torre’s Ilonggo grilled chicken business, which brings in extra income when projects are few and far between. In “Impressions,” Bolisay charts the career of Marilou Diaz-Abaya and how discourse around her often confines her to her gender, but also how her cancer diagnosis altered her trajectory. In “The Evolution of Meng Patalo,” he shows how a whole team of people brought the film to the film to life — from the preparation to get into the pitching room with director Mihk Vergara and producer Dan Villegas to the dozens of others whose time and talents brought to life its comic book form at the SMX Convention Center.

Read the full review by Jason Tan Liwag here.

“How to Read Now” by Elaine Castillo (Viking, 2022)

These essays are not necessarily didactic nor instructive. Castillo, in a conversation with me back in August, said that she wrote the book somehow in a polemic manner — but that just might be the Virgo in her speaking (a detailed account/explanation can be found at the book’s opening essay called “Author’s Note or a Virgo Clarifies Things”). She said, “I think that the book has a bullshy tone, but all while being interspersed with humor and also self deprecating humor. That's what I hope is conveyed because I think that is how I talk and am in the world. I think this reflects most how I actually talk and communicate with my friends or with people in the world.”

This is not surprising if you’ve watched — or had — conversation with Castillo, how casually she talks about your zodiac signs which will lead to writing practices, book recommendations, to how even in the rom-coms that she’s enjoyed watching, she remains a combative Earth Sign that watches a film the way she proposes it to be read. “How to Read Now” is written in a deft style that, despite the heft, is sure in the ways where everything leads; be it personal or political or both.

Read the full review by Don Jaucian here.