I will always spend some hard-earned cash on books proclaimed as “bestsellers” – not by the non-existent bestseller list of local books (because we compete with uh, Fifty Shades of Grey), but based on the ever reliable, absolutely credible opinion of the National Bookstore ate manning the cash register.
These two books are placed among the magazines at the cashier’s counter, and with one hot pink cover, and another that’s filled with eye-catching illustrations, these books easily catch one’s eye.
Dear Alex, Break Na Kami. Paano?! Love, Catherine by Alex Gonzaga (ABS-CBN Publishing 2014), and Paano Ba ‘To?! How to Survive Growing Up by Bianca Gonzalez (One Mega Group Inc. 2014), are less than 200 bucks each, and as per the Ate kahera at the National Bookstore in Robinson’s Magnolia: “Sobrang benta po nito Ma’am. Laging nauubusan.” She was of course referring to Gonzaga’s book in bright pink, with a poodle and a photograph of her on the cover, a face now made familiar by TV.
About Gonzalez’s book meanwhile, the Ate kahera in National Bookstore Shangri-La Mall said: “Maraming bumibiling teenager Ma’am.”
Advice as genre
That both books might be selling well is no surprise. Contemporary celebrity culture has built an audience more and more interested in what celebrities might say. Credibility is the word used of course, thrown around in relation to the enterprise of product endorsements. The flipside of that coin is that credibility as a term has lost all meaning: when you have a celebrity unthinkingly selling everything from lechon sauce to laundry detergent, skin whitening to anti-aging products, you know that this is nothing but incredible. You know which presidential sister we’re talking about.
Yet credibility is what these two books by Gonzaga and Gonzalez bank on, premised as giving advice is on a position of authority. Without the scientific trappings of hoity-toity foreign self-help books, Gonzaga and Gonzalez reveal a lot about themselves in the task of dishing out advice, because at the heart of both books is their personal experiences of love and life and survival. Both in really familiar and easy-to-read Taglish, the experiences resonate even more.
One might admit that creative non-fiction as it is practiced within the local literary establishment actually banks on this same sharing of the personal. Except that of course Dear Alex and Paano Ba ‘To?! actually have readership, if not are growing the number of book readers as we speak. That has to count for something.
Love according to Alex
Dear Alex, Break Na Kami. Paano?! Love, Catherine is an interesting read because it is funny and witty, and one can imagine a teenage mass market that would carry it around like a survival guide to heartbreak. Gonzaga establishes credibility by first talking about the three heartbreaks that she’s gone through, and ends with the realization that she herself had broken her own heart, refusing to see the red flags, staying in bad relationships longer than she should have.
Between the pages on heartbreak and the realization is Gonzaga’s break-up manual, which is where she is funniest. The break-up manual begins: Tandaan! Walang namamatay sa heartbreak. Sa ulcer meron, kaya please lang, kumain ka! #AlexAdvice.
That it is funny does not remove from how well-grounded Gonzaga is, and how she operates on kindness. Instead of creating hard and fast rules about how to recover from a break-up, she addresses the urge to send a text message or two to one’s ex, the need to have another “last” conversation. She kindly explains the repercussions, the evil cycle that we put ourselves through when we believe in the phrase: I-push mo ‘yan! Because there are many loves not worth fighting for, Gonzaga reveals. And because there is loving and knowing oneself, beyond the trappings of love and romance.
For someone who is part of the industry that sells and earns from unbelievable romances and fairytales, Gonzaga’s book can only work with an amount of daring. The contradiction is a welcome one.
Life according to Bianca
Gonzalez has always had readers as a blogger on iamsuperbianca.com, and her career as host has allowed her to keep a distant from the trappings of show business. Her credibility has to do with her stand on national issues, and against product endorsements that have to do with skin whitening. She is part of that rare breed.
See, Gonzalez is real person. She posts selfies sans make-up, she speaks her mind, and she has the freedom to be herself. This is also why she is more credible than most, and why her book sought to do more than just discuss heartbreak. The market for Paano Ba ‘To?! How to Survive Growing Up is the Pinay adolescent, teenager and young adult who is in the throes of becoming.
Gonzalez’s book works with an admission: she does not know everything, and to prove it she has other people write about specific struggles that might help out the every-Pinay. Problems with self-image and weight? Iza Calzado. Problems with haters and bullies? Marian Rivera-Dantes. What are men thinking?! Ramon Bautista.
The choices are inspired ones, and interwoven with expert advice, real-life stories, and Gonzalez’s experiences, is what allows for this book to cover all bases, practically giving advice on every struggle a Pinay might go through growing up in this country: family, school, work issues; friendship and peer pressure, stereotypes and social media.
Probably the best thing about Gonzalez’s book is how she classifies herself as precisely the non-star: she’s the one who listens, the one who gives advice, the one who might mess up a joke’s punchline, and that’s all fine. Because that is her identity, and it is about accepting one’s difference and uniqueness that’s important.
It’s a book I wish I had growing up, because it would’ve made the insecurities about being morena less of a pain, it would’ve made the search for identity a tad bit easier. One can’t help but be glad for this generation of Pinays who have Gonzalez’s book to accompany them in the difficult task of becoming, in a nation where some things do not change – including the expectations of women.
In fact, that goes for Gonzaga too, whose voice is far louder than is deemed acceptable, and who is funnier and more magaslaw than we are told is proper. No, they are not rebel women telling us to break all rules; they are women telling the Pinay to find their own voices, discover the selves they want to nurture, within nation. Speaking as someone who grew up Pinay and has struggled like everybody else within nation, these voices – and books – can only be welcome.
*This was published in The Sunday Times, 4 April 2015.