Yoko Ogawa: The Housekeeper and the Professor (2003)

If I had known that Yoko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and the Professor is filled with numbers and formulas, I would not have picked it up. As I mentioned in my previous review, I do not understand mathematics at all. I would have been pretty certain that I will doze off the second I see the first number.

But I did not fall asleep. On the contrary, I enjoyed every bit of it. Whereas I was pushing myself in the last two books, this time, I was enchanted. I was only allowed to read it on my spare time – which is not that much, working my government job from eight to five and caring for my active and demanding eight-month-old, yet I still managed to finish it in three days.

The Housekeeper and the Professor is a sweet and beautiful story about an old mathematics professor whose memory lasts for only eighty minutes, a housekeeper, and her son. They bonded over baseball, food, and math. It is full of love without the romance.

The book is like a math textbook, if math textbooks are written with such passion. Although I still do not get math, the book revived in me the enchantment I felt when, back in college, a guest professor allowed us to marvel at the omniscience of numbers and formulas. The whole time I was reading the book, I was thinking how this should be how math should be taught, how every math teacher should be reading this. Maybe the passion the professor had for math will inspire the same in teachers.

The Housekeeper and the Professor is easy-to-read. It does not contain “quotable quotes” (or at least I did not think of noting down the beautiful lines I found because I wanted to keep reading). The storytelling was simple, unpretentious, and relatively short. There were no unnecessary dialogues or scenes. The scenery was picturesque. The characters, all unnamed, were human.

Right now, I am about to start reading Yoko Ogawa’s The Memory Police, but I find myself hesitating. I do not want to move on from the The Housekeeper and the Professor just yet, but I am also excited to know what awaits me. Of course, I will be reading more books in the future and maybe find better stories, but so far, this is the most charming story I have read.

Susanna Clarke: Piranesi (2020)

Numbers make me sleep. For some yet undiscovered reason, despite this being a real phenomenon, seeing, hearing, writing numbers tire.me. Even in the Bible, Numbers is my least favorite.

What does this have to do with Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi? Simply, there is so much mention of numbers – days, months, halls, statues, height – that I had trouble focused on the words on the first (not few pages). I was thinking to myself all the time, Why am I even reading this? and, I must do this, this book is expensive. I am not into numbers and I am also not into arts. At this point I was only pushing myself.

That is, until I reached page 59. I am not sure where the transition happened; I just found myself devouring the words, engaged, hooked at the lines, and more importantly, the ideas.

(Rereading this without any intent on deleting anything, I realized that it happened when the science talk started. Back in school, I was never good at science, but I love it. But I love composition the most and it was this line that changed my mind.)

Piranesi is weird. When it started, I thought the narrator was a fetus and the World was the womb, but by the second entry – as we are reading journal entries – I was ashamed of myself for thinking that. Everything was confusing. Of course there were all the numbers which started shutting my mind and my eyes. Then there were the statues and although I recognized minotaurs and centaurs I do not know anything about the visual arts. Still, the writer of the journal I was reading, Piranesi, was endearing in his innocence and child-like curiosity. He is a scientist. (As I mentioned before, I love science.)

The story is revealed in a series of journal entries written by our protagonist. The dates are chronological but what Piranesi writes in it are not. Sometimes, these are observations. Sometimes, memories. Sometimes, thoughts. Sometimes, entries from another time. This also is not merely a stylistic choice but a major part of the story. This, among other things, is genius.

The setting is literally ‘full of wonders’ (Sunday Times) and literally ‘utterly otherworldly’ (Guardian). As I mentioned before, I do not have any inclination to visual arts so I was lost among all the sculptures and halls where the story happens. I was also overwhelmed by the large numbers. Maybe this is the purpose, to overwhelm the reader by the vastness of the labyrinth with only two people in it – I cannot be sure.

It is not one of my favorite books, but Piranesi is one of those books that deserves to be read more than once. First, for the story. Then, all other times, for whatever reason lost people are found by the sea.

Maggie O’Farrell: Hamnet (2020)

I was never into the works of Shakespeare. Even, first, as a high school senior, when I was tasked to report on Taming of the Shrew, and later on, as a young librarian, when I was cataloging volumes after volumes of donations, Shakespeare was not something that interested me. I am simply not into classics.

That I chose to read fiction based on Shakespeare is a surprise, even to me. I have not read a book for a long time; two years, to be exact. YouTube’s algorithm must have sensed this, thought I needed help in rekindling my love for books, and decided that Jack Edwards should pop up on my recommended. Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet, if I remember correctly, is on top of his should-read list.

I already had high hopes for this book before I started reading because of the rave reviews on the internet and I was not disappointed. First, it is so beautifully written. Here are my favorites:

A New York Times review used the perfect descriptive: melodic. For one, I stay away from romance precisely because I cringe at the way they show sex but not here. I am not including further spoilers but it is… breathtaking.

Second, the characters are alive. I do not just mean that they were based off of real people, but each of them breathed, felt, and thought as if they are here, right now, with the reader. I usually do not enjoy stories with multiple points of view, but every character is its own person that it is impossible not to, at least, tolerate, and many times, empathize.

Perhaps the reason the book resonated with me is that, like our protagonist Agnes, I am a wife and a mother now. Hamnet is a story of a woman, a wife, and a mother dealing with, among others, the death of her child. It reminded me of my grief, helplessness, and desperation when, two weeks after giving birth to my daughter, our city recorded its first pediatric case of this current pandemic. Also, it was not hard to picture myself in the different points of her life because I imagine myself similar to her in many, many ways.

The book demonstrated a mastery of restraint. Yes, no detail was left hanging. Yes, everything received its closure. Yes, the story spanned decades. Yes, there are multiple points of view but nothing is unnecessary. Everything has its place and is in its place.

Finally – and I think this is one of the most beautiful things about the novel – it ended the way it began: with us watching Hamnet.

Sunday’s Drama

The last eleven days seem like forever. At this point, my body has started to heal. My C-section wound doesn’t hurt as much. My bleeding is significantly less, just like the last days of my period. My breasts, too, are becoming more accustomed to normal engorgement, which, to me, signifies that it is time to pump.

Mentally, though, the last two weeks has been taxing. Francis and I, but more so Francis, are sleep-deprived. I do the pumping and occasional breastfeeding – breastfeeding is a torture both for me and baby – but Francis has been doing pretty much everything: burping, changing nappies, bathing baby, rocking baby to sleep, cooking for me, feeding me, washing our bottles and pumps, putting baby out for morning sunshine, doing our groceries, holding me while feeding or pumping (because both hurt and to check that I don’t fall asleep), and working. On top of that, he has to deal with my anxiety. I sometimes take a painkiller when the pain is unbearable, but that also means I’m knocked out for hours, and Francis has to handle all of baby’s needs.

Our days are fully occupied with baby now that we barely have time for ourselves or each other. Not that we ever had, to be honest. We have been married for barely a month when we learned that we were pregnant, which changed everything. Though largely uneventful, our first trimester was a torture for me. I can’t function because we had to make sure na kumapit si baby, so Francis had to do everything. He had to do all my chores. He had to think of what to feed me because I can’t eat. He had to bear the burden of being my one and only sounding board for all my insecurities and self-loathing. He had to suffer my hormones.

On the last few days of our pregnancy, I stressed him a lot, and all my anxieties led him to lose sleep. In fact, when I was worried that our baby wasn’t moving in my womb, he did not sleep at all, monitoring baby’s movements with his hand on my belly. Then, he had to bring me to the OB, to the hospital, do all errands, make sure our hospital bags are ready.

When we got out of the hospital, aside from all the errands and chores, he has to help me manage my anxiety and budding depression. He has to make me feel beautiful with my scar and my size, and he has to cheer me on at each drop of my pathetic breastmilk.

All these and he still thinks that I’m the one who deserves to rest, that he’s not doing enough for me and our daughter.

I don’t even know the extent of his personal anxieties. The only time he lets me see how he feels is when he gets frustrated when baby won’t burp, when baby is fussy, when baby spits out her milk. Then he would pretend like he’s okay… because, he says, I suffered so much already.

I don’t know why I’m writing this. He’s probably going to ask me to delete this. But I want him to know how much I appreciate him. I want him to know just how much I feel undeserving of him. I want him to know that I will make sure our little girl knows about all of his sacrifices.

And I want everyone to know that he is already a good husband and a good father.

I do not love my job and that’s okay.

Find a job you love and you never have to work a day in your life.

Or so I thought. I grew up thinking that I am only getting a job I am passionate about. I thought I do not want to waste my precious years being in a place that does not spark joy.

But, you see, here I am.

For my librarian friends, let me clarify: I do not hate being a librarian. In hindsight, my love for books, learning, history, and stalking research since childhood makes librarianship – specifically school librarianship – the perfect job for me. I cannot express the peace and contentment I feel when I am surrounded with books (which also makes me a perfect bookstore owner). And I was in the perfect job until I transferred.

Found this tucked in a book returned by a student way back when I was still at a public school.

I dislike, though, my current job, because everything is far from my ideal version of librarianship.

Robert Kiyosaki (Rich Dad, Poor Dad) said it is a mistake to only do a job we are passionate about. Many times, we have to do something we dislike, even loathe, because it is what enables us to follow our passions. That job we hate is what allows us to do the things we love.

So, I am still here because this job pays the bills. It pays for my books. It pays for this domain. It pays for my professionally unrelated lessons and trainings. It pays for my travels. It paid for Taylor’s cardigan. I hate it, but I am still thankful for it, because it finances my various passions. That is why I’m okay with being in a job I don’t love, because this job is my means to do what I love. This is so much better than not having anything. To be honest, this is so much better than the job I had before, the job I loved, but which limited my capacity to follow my other passions.

I really hate it when people ignore rules.

Of course, I find bits and pieces in this job that make things better, more tolerable. I love the process of creating resources. I love reading manuscripts. I love helping our writers improve their stories. I love learning how to use different applications. I love it when clients find what they need. I love the friendships I made in it. It is not totally deplorable.

That I found my husband here also gives it bonus points.

I still have my heart on working for a specific agency whose mission and ideals resonate with me. (Human Rights Victims Memorial Commission Library Librarian IV Cutie!) But right now, I am just thankful that I have a job.

After all, where I am at is where I am supposed to be.