Monday, August 8, 2016

[Event] 4 Memorable Things About The What Things Mean Manila Book Launch

Celebrating award-winning Filipino stories. Image from here.

"Things mean different things to different people."

This is the focal point of Sophia N. Lee's book "What Things Mean". (My review here!) This was also the one of main messages of its book launch last August 6, 2016 at National Bookstore in Glorietta 1, Makati.

The event was indeed a celebration of the 2014 Scholastic Asian Book Award winner, but there was more to the program that just the announcement that What Things Mean is now readily available to the Filipino public. As so, here are some of the meaningful and memorable things about Sophie's What Things Mean book launch.

Award-Winning Writing By Pinoys

I was pleased to know that this was not only an occasion to celebrate What Things Mean, since the book launch also highlighted Sula's Voyage by Catherine Torres. After all, both books were the top winners in the 2014 Scholastic Asian Book Award.

(Notably, the Scholastic Asian Book Award is a biennial competition hosted by Scholastic and the National Book Development Council of Singapore. It aims to promote Asian experiences of "life, spirit, and thinking with the rest of the world". Entries must also be geared towards children six to eighteen years old. For more criteria, check out this page.)

With prestige and one of the biggest prizes for unpublished works of children's fiction (SGD 10,000) at stake, why not submit an entry today? Image from NBDCS.

Yes, among the many entries from different indie authors in different countries, these two books came out on top for that year's competition. As a fellow Filipina myself, I have to say that I am very proud of these two indeed.

Add to this the fact that they have managed to provide a fresh perspective and more pages for Filipino young adults to read. After all, while both books featured a female protagonist trying to figure out who they are, they were also both set in the Philippine shores, and therefore paint a very real picture of what it's like growing up in the archipelago. I saw myself in these words, and I'm glad to know that Filipino-written stories CAN be deemed award-winning and world-class.

They're also out now in most National Bookstore branches!

The Origin Story

I always find it interesting when creators themselves present their own work, because it's always a treat for me to hear the story behind their stories. As so, I was very happy to hear Sophie herself talk about What Things Mean, and to learn of her own journey into developing Olive and her own little world.

She said the book wasn't exactly autobiographical (her father was almost always present in her life!), but that she did add many of her own traits to her protagonist. Image from

One particular story she told that struck me was the one about what first brought Olive to life, that story about the jar of pasta sauce. Sophie related how, one day, she was craving for pasta as comfort food, and luckily found an unopened jar of pasta sauce in the kitchen. However, after using up all the tips and tricks to open them, she admitted to breaking down over how she couldn't open that one jar.

"Someone later came into the kitchen and opened it for me", she related. "It made me realize that I cannot live alone... I would always need someone to open jars for me. That made me think of how jars could be a profound symbol for independence. If you could open jars, you could also conquer bigger things."

And thus, the story of a young girl who can open jars on her own was born.

Music, Stories, Celebration

While the book launch was a celebration of the books by Sophie and Catherine, I also enjoyed the fact that it was a celebration of talents of people besides the authors mentioned. After all, it was more than just a talk by Sophie; it was a program that involved live reading, lovely music, and, of course, Filipino food.

Although Catherine wasn't around that day to talk about her book (she is based in Berlin, after all), she did prepare a short video, and invited the audience to listen to a live reading of the first chapter of Sula's Voyage. Also, there was a short but sweet intermission by ReneĆ© Dominique, a Filipina ukelele player (just like Sula) who serenaded the crowd with beautiful old-school songs. (The audience was so moved that when there was a sudden power interruption, we all sang along to help ReneĆ© finish singing Can't Help Falling In Love.)

Apparently, as one can guess from her tweet, Renee was moved by the audience as well.
(By the way, she has an awesome YouTube channel!)

Sophie also had some people read a few chapters from her book, and I was surprised to know that they were more than just good friends of hers. "I chose these people to read these chapters because they have redefined life for me and many others", she explained after the live readings by the following lovely folks: her Creative Writing professor and Gintong Aklat Award winner, Heidi Abad; her good friend and Flying Ipis vocalist, Deng Garcia (who also sang some songs during the book-signing); and her bestie and Human Nature co-founder, Anna Meloto-Wilk.

It also wouldn't have been a celebration of the Filipino tradition without food, so there was a spread of delicious goodies like turon, bibingka, and chocolate chip cookies (which reminded me of Stella, a character in the book).

There were also these lovely book cakes by Kink Cakes, which were gorgeous and delectable.

Messages of Inspiration

Perhaps what I loved best about the event was that, after celebrating award-winning books, it ended on an inspirational note.

In particular, during the question and answer portion, it was nice to hear Sophie's message for other Filipino writers. "Start by writing, just tell your story," she said."Write it, and don't be afraid to tell your story."

She also talked about her struggles while writing, and how she moved to write a Filipino-centric young adult novel. "I wondered why no one was telling stories about us... I realized that there aren't many Filipino YA books because no one was writing them."

So why not write about the things that define your life? Image from Sophie's website.

She then pointed out that Filipino writers shouldn't be afraid that no one will read their work, since there's a big pool of readers in the Philippines. "Just look at the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child launch," she noted with a smile. "Book lovers do exist in the Philippines."

Final Thoughts

The book launch, while simple, was a nice celebration of the two 2014 SABA winners. It was lovely to see everyone gather around to support Sophie and Catherine for their books, and to officially declare to the world that their books are now available all over the country.

Both books cost around P200 or so each, too, so get your copy today!

I, for one, can highly recommend Sophie's book, which is a very personal look into a young teen's journey to find herself (and perhaps even her long-lost father). You can read my review for the book right here.

So why not support our fellow Filipino authors and get their books today? Not only will they touch on the nostalgia of youth, but also remind you of the stories and culture that make our country truly unique. Cheers for Sophia Lee's What Things Mean and Catherine Torres's Sula's Voyage!

(Check out Sophie's website & Facebook page, as well as Catherine's official Sula's Voyage website.)


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