Shelf Lives | Editor's Picks on Kanto

Shelf Lives

Kanto's editors and long-time contributors lay bare their bookshelves and favorite reads

Interview Patrick Kasingsing, Danielle Austria
Images Miguel Llona, Jay Asiddao, Patrick Kasingsing, Danielle Austria

Miguel Llona
Communication Officer, Kanto Contributor

How would you describe your personal library? What sort of titles or genres do you gravitate to?

It’s diverse, which is a nicer way of saying it’s all over the place. I mostly read novels, and I’ve felt an affinity with Japanese writers ever since I read my sister’s copy of Yoko Ogawa’s The Diving Pool so I have a lot of Japanese titles. But I go through phases of interests, so I have books on mythologies, basketball, movies, architecture, and WWII, then there are the graphic novels and single-issue comics that I burned money on when I didn’t know any better. What’s great is that my dad has his own library in our house that puts mine to shame; whenever I’d ask if he had any books on a particular subject, he’d often pull two or three from his shelves for me to read. Sometimes he’d spontaneously give me books from his collection that he thinks I’d like, which as an avid reader is something I appreciate.

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with dystopian or post-apocalyptic novels. I’ve always enjoyed reading these kinds of stories—the closer to reality the better—but my interest in the genre ratcheted up during the pandemic. There’s just something intoxicating about stories of civilizations collapsing and the lengths that people could go to under dreadful circumstances, especially when the world around us seems to be mirroring these events. People keep telling me that I’m only making myself paranoid, but I actually find reading these books comforting in a weird way, as though the pages are keeping these apocalyptic scenarios from spilling over in real life. The ones I enjoyed most (and filled me with the most dread) are Station Eleven and A Canticle for Leibowitz.

Shelf Lives | Editor's Picks on Kanto

What pulls you to read a certain book? Are you the type to spontaneously pick up a tome or one that scours the net for reviews before taking the plunge?

I’m not that adventurous, so I mostly research books and authors first before I read them. I don’t pay attention to reviews though; I’ll read a book if its premise interests me, or if it seems like something that’ll resonate with me. There were times when I picked blindly off shelves, but this often led to books that I couldn’t finish reading because they don’t “speak” to me (the worst being Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, which I gave up on after only a few pages). I still discovered some of my favorite authors this way though, like the time in college when I pulled Haruki Murakami’s Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman from a National Bookstore shelf simply because the title intrigued me.

To be honest, a book’s cover or print edition also influences my decision to read it or not. It sounds superficial, but I really value books that have great covers, paper, and typography. I like feeling the weight of the book in my hands and catching the scent of the paper while I read, something that e-books can never capture.

Why do you read?

If I’m to believe my parents, it’s because they read to me a lot while I was still in the womb, which ingrained a love of reading in me before I was even born. In all seriousness though, it’s mostly to entertain myself. There’s a whole other world in words and pages that I want to immerse myself in after a tiring day, or when I’m on my own.    

Another reason is that reading fuels my writing. I remember one of my writing teachers in college saying that the best way to develop good writing instincts is to read, particularly books that you want to write yourself. Reading keeps my writing energy up, or at the very least keeps the flame flickering.

Best cover from any book in your library?

These Peter Mendelsund covers of these Franz Kafka books are my favorites. Nothing could be more Kafkaesque than these.  

Penguin’s Book of Japanese Short Stories is also one of my favorite covers because it reflects the serenity of Japanese fiction, which I love.

Read his feature on 8X8 Design Studio, ‘A Natural Fit’.

Danielle Austria
Marketing Creative, Kanto Editor-At-Large

How would you describe your personal library? What sort of titles or genres do you gravitate to?

With fiction, I tend to be attracted by novels that dive deep into the human condition; I’m definitely partial to character-driven stories versus structured plots. I like a slow-burn narrative that lets me spend a lot of time with the characters and have “mental conversations” with them. These novels also tend to be about failure, loss, and forgetting. Not a conscious decision on my part. (Recommendation: Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa.)

As for non-fiction, I tend to read books on entertainment, marketing, philosophy, and social culture. I like a good personal memoir as well and books that zero in on specific historical events. 

To describe my library is challenging in a way that I’ve never had to psycho-analyze my choices before. I buy books the same way I go through the rest of life—driven mostly by curiosity (often fleeting and at times obsessive). I’m not interested in building a personality or image through my shelves, so I’m sure my library will keep changing over time.

Best spot for reading:

Near the trees. At a quiet park. Under nice weather.

A book that you’ve read more than once, and would read again:

William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. I’ve read it thrice and in every reading, the character I focus on and sympathize with changed. It’s been years since the last time, so I’m planning to read it again soon just to see if I’d still like it.  

Why do you read?

1) To expand what I know, 2) to satisfy my curiosities, and 3) to quiet my mind.

Read her interview with Yuki Tejima, ‘Mirroring Words’.

Jay Asiddao
Personal Trainer, Kanto Contributor

How would you describe your personal library? What sort of titles or genres do you gravitate to?

I like dark humor and satire, especially in very political and philosophical readings. I think it takes a different kind of intelligence and openness to be able to find humor even in the darkest situations. I noticed its a common theme among the titles I pick up; from the more serious philosophical/political essays to the comics and graphic novels I read.

A book that you’ve read more than once, and would read again:

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.

Digital readers – do you use them? Or are you still partial to physical books?

I do use digital readers, and I still buy physical books. The convenience of the digital almost weighs as much as the practicality of having an actual book in your hand. I like both.

Shelf Lives | Editor's Picks on Kanto

Read his Vox piece, ‘To Fail With Success‘.

Mel Patrick Kasingsing
Kanto Editor-In-Chief, Creative Director

Let’s talk adaptations: Book before the movie, or movie before the book? 

Definitely the former! Have gotten into arguments with people because of how faithful I am to the book versions of movie adaptations. I wish more movies would follow the books closer to avoid alienating fans. That’s what sunk adaptations like Artemis Fowl to oblivion. There are also some books that are not meant to be movies, so yes, please stop making films out of Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead, people!

A book that you’ve read more than once, and would read again

I have a couple of these! I’ve read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude three times; first, to understand what the fuss was all about, and the second reading was to give the book another try after the literary ignoramus in me still failed to grasp its brilliance. It was on the third reading that I was able to fully appreciate the spellbinding beauty of the book and develop a connection with its characters. Other books I’ve reread multiple times include The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, my Artemis Fowl series books, a couple of old Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries I used to own, and embarrassingly, Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

Origin country you’ve read the most books from

I’m proud to say that I’ve read quite a bit from our local authors, but for foreign books in my collection, both physical and digital, it would have to be Japan. My fascination for Japanese fiction was triggered by my mom gifting me an exquisitely-illustrated book on Japanese folktales when I was eight.

Best place to read

Anywhere; I’ve read in shuttle vans and shuttle van queues, a moving train, noisy cafes, and airports…as long as you have a good book on hand the visual and aural noise just fade into the background.

Your personal reading goal for the year?

None; I gave up trying to set one! HAHA! I’ve finished four books so far this year without a resolution and I fear I might jinx the progress if I set up a goal. •

Read his interview with David Guerrero, ‘Word Count’.

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