February TBR Wrap Up: On Love and Erotica

Words by Anna Nicola Blanco 

nmb_reads love and erotica with ScenePH for the month of love

Whenever I set out to make a to-be-read list for the month, I always remind myself that 1. I don’t have as much time as I think I do to read, and 2. I’m a generally lazy reader – I go into phases where all I want to do is read and phases where I would rather do anything but. Thankfully, I kind of pulled through for February, even if it is the shortest month of the year (insert cries for help). Spoiler: I left one book unfinished, but I’ll talk more about that later.

When I set up my bookstagram, I didn’t really have a goal other than to chronicle whatever it is I’m reading at the moment and to find out what everyone else is reading at the moment (budol nation). Eventually, it started to give itself structure in the form of monthly themes, where I would choose one theme and spend the whole month exploring it. In December, I spent the entirety of the holidays immersed in retellings of Greek and Roman mythology, something I had enjoyed since my grade school days. You can read more of that in my blog. (READ MORE: http://nikkionthego.weebly.com/books/december-2020-roundup)

For February, the ScenePH team decided to tie in the bookstagram with what may become a monthly TBR for all our viewers. It fit perfectly, since I was about to do a love and erotica theme anyway. So, I put five titles on the list, and set out to read all of them. 

If there’s anything I miss about my college literature and creative writing classes, it’s the exploration – of a theme, of a genre, of a style.. Even if it gave me nothing but grief back then to have to write in a way that felt completely unnatural to me, it was “fun” to push myself out of my comfort zone that way. That’s kind of what reading the books this month felt like – an exploration into something I thought was unknown to me but turned out to be something not wholly unfamiliar. Erotica or the erotic, as many of these books illustrate, is something we live with every single day. It will vary in definition, form, expression, but it is very much present. If I were to distill what I got from this month’s TBR in a sentence, it would be that. 

On to the individual books. I discovered three of the five books in the list when we were preparing for our Theater Couples Read Love and Erotica video series, namely “Talong/Tahong: Mga Kuwentong Homoerotiko” and “Laglag-Panty, Laglag-Brief: Mga Kuwentong Heterosexual,” both edited by Rolando B. Tolentino, Romulo P. Baquiran, Jr., Joi Barrios, and Mykel Andrada; and “Magdalene” by Marie Howe.

The two books in Filipino are collections of short stories about, as the titles suggest, heterosexual and same sex relationships. There’s no one way to describe either anthology, because the stories are incredibly varied, but expect to find a little bit of everything – first love, sexual awakening, teen angst, adult angst, marriage, and hook-ups. The introduction to “Laglag-Panty, Laglag Brief” sums it up quite nicely: “Iba’t iba pala talaga ang putahe ng Diyos; at ang tao naman ay laging nakaiimbento ng bago pang mga putahe.” It goes on to say that “Tinitiyak ng koleksyiong ito na hinding-hindi mawawala sa panitikan sa Pilipinas ang mga kuwentong erotiko.” 

Going into these books, I was more fixated on the fact that they were written in Filipino than that they contained some very NSFW content. If you know me, then you’ll know that reading (and writing) in Filipino is not my strongest suit, but I was surprised by how easy all the stories were to read, which could tell you that these books were compiled to be read by everyone, because the erotic is an everyday and everyone reality. 

I had the most fun with these two collections, not only because of the variety of stories they offer, but also because it turned the erotic into something that felt more real, more tangible, simply because they were set in the local – malls along EDSA, condominium units in Manila and Quezon City, school classrooms and bathrooms, dark cinemas with their ‘sing-tanda-ng-lolo-mo seats. Expect a little bit of everything in this one. And of the five, I would say these two are the best place to start your (possible) foray into the world of erotic literature.

Laglag-Panty, Laglag Brief: Mga Kuwentong Heterosexual and Talong/Tahong: Mga Kuwentong Homoerotiko can be purchased from the Anvil Publishing website. 

“20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair” wasn’t a new read for me. It’s actually one of my favorite collections for multiple reasons – I love the poems; it was the first collection that I really took the time to read over and over again; it was the first book that I finished cover to cover in Spanish. The list could go on, but I included it in the TBR primarily because of this line from Cristina Garcia’s introduction: “For all their formal beauty, there is an improvised, impulsive feel to these poems, as if they were written in the dark aftermath of passion.” 

I think everyone, at some point, has encountered this collection, specifically through the line from “Every Day You Play” that goes: “I want to do with you / what spring does with the cherry trees,” which just goes to show how widely known these works are, even if you didn’t know from which poem or book that line was originally from. Aside from that, I feel like the works all evoke a feeling of nostalgia and longing throughout the entirety of the book, which I find are particularly erotic emotions.

“20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair” is definitely something that belongs on anyone’s bookshelf, and it’s renown has garnered it countless editions with varying introductions, covers, and layouts. You can even access all the poems online for free. But, if I were to recommend one specific copy, it would be the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, a bilingual edition that includes an introduction by Cuban novelist, Cristina Garcia, and illustrations by Pablo Picasso, which altogether create an atmosphere of sexual tension, longing, desire, and love.  

The Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of 20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair is available in Fully Booked.

The poem from “Magdalene” that was first suggested to me was “On Men, Their Bodies,” which describes the narrator’s experiences with various penises. “One penis was very large and thick so when he put it inside me I really did say, Wow.” is the opening line of the poem. I immediately wanted to read what other works formed part of the collection, especially since the book was called “Magdalene,” which obviously conjures up an image of Mary Magdalene. 

I’ve always found it difficult to explain and write about poetry, which makes this part of the wrap up extra challenging, as if it weren’t hard enough to write about books in general. The narrator of “Magdalene” explores the titular character – who we could assume is Mary Magdalene, or at least alludes to her – in various modern contexts. It also explores themes of sexuality, trauma, yearning, and grief, all from the perspective of a woman. It opens with a poem titled “Before the Beginning,” which begins with the lines “Was I ever virgin? / Did someone touch me before I could speak?” It’s interesting, I think, to immediately open with a question about virginity, putting into question our views, beliefs, notions, conceptions, and misconceptions of what that may or may not be at the fore. It definitely colored the way I approached the rest of the book, always keeping in mind that first poem as I journeyed through the rest of them. 

I definitely enjoyed this book, although I feel like it deserves a few more reads before I can tuck it away in my (virtual) bookshelf. 

Magdalene is available for purchase on the Amazon Kindle store. 

 I put “120 Days of Sodom” last in this wrap up for two specific reasons – the first is because I left this book unfinished, and the second because this is the most R-rated of all five. Multiple trigger warnings accompany this book – sexual abuse, violence, and death. The list is possibly unending. My suggestion is to look for excerpts of some chapters before fully committing to it. 

I left this book unfinished, however, primarily because I lost the steam I initially had to read it. Even if each chapter depicts some of the most graphic sexual scenes that I’ve ever encountered, at around page 200 I started to feel like I was reading the same chapter over and over again. The thing about highly graphic material, in my opinion, is that when you get over the initial shock of it, you’re more quickly desensitized by everything else that comes after. At least that’s what happened to me. I would not, however, blame someone for giving up on this book out of disgust or intense shock. The stories are shocking, perhaps even horrifying to some. They’re highly explicit, almost to the point of being scientific, which is an opinion enforced by the introduction. There were some that defended this work as a work of research and study, which brought to mind the series “Masters of Sex” that came out a few years ago. Sex is, after all, just another bodily function and can be viewed and studied as such.

All in all, what I did get to finish of the book was fascinating, and I’ll definitely pick it up again some time in the future. It put into question a lot of conceptions that I had – of morality, religion, and even philosophy. More than just another book of pornography, I think it would be safe to say that this is a book that makes us think about the act of sex and all that it implies. 

120 Days of Sodom is available in Fully Booked