Howie Severino's lockdown reading: 14 books to restore your scattered brain
Over a year ago, I realized that too much internet reading was making me a scatterbrain with the attention span of a TikTok viewer.
While I was reading a lot online — sometimes the New York Times but mostly my friends’ Facebook posts — I found myself hurtling towards a nihilist future.
I needed to reconnect my brain cells again and see worlds larger than my phone screen.
So I threw down the gauntlet, made a vow, committed myself to a new mission and a groundbreaking experiment. I would start reading books again.
That was a year ago. Now as we all sit around with suddenly so much reading time, it’s time to take stock of the state of my brain.
I still cannot read a page from a book without checking to see if anyone liked my last Instagram post in the last two minutes. But through sheer willpower, I’ve been able to to pry myself from my screens long enough to occasionally tiptoe into the world of molecules and Gutenberg.
It hasn’t been a totally satisfying experience, but wow, I’ve realized books are really cool.
For those who have tired of giving imaginary tours around their quarantined homes, or are bored out of their minds by their friends’ umpteeth e-numan session, here for anyone’s curiosity is a selection of books I read from 2019 to early 2020.
They have nothing to do with COVID-19 and everything to do with putting back together the pieces of a scattered brain.
In alphabetical order:
1. “Age of Surveillance Capitalism” by Shoshona Zuboff. Technology as villain in a book about the insidious ways tech companies are mining our data and secrets and selling them without us knowing it.
2. “Because Internet” by Gretchen McCullough. A book about how the internet is changing language, influencing culture and yes scattering our brains
3. “Body papers” by Grace Talusan. A painful and brutally honest memoir of a Filipino American writer haunted by an abusive Pinoy grandfather while searching for the fault lines of her dual identity.
4. “Cinco de Noviembre” by Rene Javellana. A gorgeously Illustrated children’s book about a true story about the Negros Revolution of 1898 when native Negrenses fooled Spanish troops into believing painted tree trunks were cannons
5. “Dapitanon” by Noel Villaroman. This is a nearly day to day chronological narrative of Rizal’s four years as an exile in Dapitan when he became in my opinion the complete Filipino — not only nationalist and doctor, but farmer, insect and seashell collector, engineer, teacher and loving live-in partner.
6. “Haikus” by Jack Kerouac. The beat writer’s virtually unknown trove of pithy poems, my prize find at the UP Fair.
7. “How to Hide an Empire” by Daniel Immerwar. A dissection of America’s supposedly reluctant desire to colonize the world while actually doing it.
8. “Jimmy Ongpin the Enigma” by Nick Joaquin. A biography by the incomparable Joaquin that tackles the life of the tragic Filipino who took command of multinationals and eventually the anti-Marcos movement.
9. “Killing Time in a Warm Place” by Butch Dalisay. A martial law tale about the youths who made decisions to devote their lives to revolution. Many never made it past their youth while comrades compromised and became government factotum and corporate executives.
10. “Nature Fix” by Florence Williams. A meditative prescription on how experiencing nature can address serious physical and medical maladies.
11. “Noli Me Tangere” by Jose Rizal. A new and exuberant translation of the classic by Harold Augenbaum, a real native English writer.
12. “Patron Saints of Nothing” by Randy Ribay. A coming of age book about the Philippine drug war from the perspective of a Fil-Am teen who comes home to investigate the killing of his favorite cousin.
13. “Secrets of the Eighteen Mansions” by Mario Miclat. A sprawling history disguised as a novel about the journey of Filipino communist exiles in China, their constant bickering and repeated missteps in trying to defeat Marcos.
14. “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi. A poignant true account by a writerly neurosurgeon who found out he was dying of cancer but still wanted to father a child.
— LA, GMA News