If history, literature and my post-collegiate friends circle have taught me any single lesson, it’s this: a well-read woman is a force to be reckoned with. There’s much to be admired about a person who can soak up information from novels or poetry or Reddit discussions, even (because come on now, who are we to judge your reading material?) and use that as a springboard to form sensitive, well-informed opinions.
Case in point: a friend of mine, freelance creative Mags Ocampo.
On top of her ability to style, creative direct, write, design logos for brands, churn out typography everyone and their mom would want on their bedroom walls and tweet opinions and little life updates in a way that simply merits a retweet, she does all those things exceptionally. Unsurprisingly, she is also easily the best read person I know. Mags doesn’t just perpetually have her nose in a novel or a book in her bag. Even her Instagram account is punctuated with mini book reviews. Each one is personal (“I like reading about seemingly mundane things that might mean a little more when looked at through the lens of a specific character”), refreshingly honest (“A good read but not worth buying as a book. I played myself”), anecdotal even (“How lucky was I that I got to read this gem right by the sea??? HaynaQ ganda din ng life minsan“).
Bottom line: there's no one I'd rather ask to recommend my next read. Ahead, Mags does just that.
We've been friends a while, and if there's one thing I know about you it's that you always seem to have a book close by. Have you always been a voracious reader?
Mags: Pretty much! My mom used to read us bedtime stories and when we outgrew that little ritual, I started reading a lot on my own. The books of my childhood were an odd mix—the most memorable ones being Ang Pambihirang Buhok ni Raquel and an anthology of shark attacks. I got into YA and chick lit when I was in grade school, devouring series like The Clique, Private and Pretty Little Liars and worshipping at the altar of Meg Cabot. John Green and Mitch Albom were authors I collected for a time, too. I finally graduated from that phase when I went to college and found myself spending more than half of my allowance at the Dela Costa Book Sale (a monthly affair, if I recall correctly, held right outside my university’s humanities building).
Poetry, novels, Twitter threads, the backs of cereal boxes––what are your favorite things to read? Do you have any favorite genres when it comes to novels?
Mags: Taxicab names and PUV bumper tags are some of my favourite things to scan through. The wittier, the more impressive; the odder, the more intriguing. Shoutout to @jobit_420 for collating some of the best ones. On a more “serious” note, I love reading poetry. I don’t really know how to critique it or tell “good” poetry vs “bad” poetry but I really enjoy seeing how different people reframe universal feelings and truths.
When it comes to books, I’m a fan of literary non-fiction and realistic fiction. I’m drawn to simple narratives with complex, introspective characters. I don’t need a lot to happen in a plot but I need to feel the weight of each development, if that makes sense. Stories about human relations, displacement, and (for some odd reason) the academe or art world tend to draw me in best. A feminist undercurrent or strong female lead is always a bonus.
What's the last book that you couldn't put down until you'd completely read through it?
Mags: Definitely Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. Her use of language was just so arresting that I found myself reading, re-reading and highlighting the most (seemingly) mundane lines just because they got the mood/emotion of the character just right. I mean, sans context something like “I’ll keep the keys in the ignition” isn’t really much. But, when it’s used to seal a promise to be ready at the first call of your husband who you’ll be apart from for the first time in years, it feels a lot weightier. It’s stuff like that that gets to me. Emotional precision. Read Mags' review here.
What are your three favorite books of all time?
Mags: On Beauty by Zadie Smith. They say you never forget your first. Well, On Beauty was my gateway drug into the world of Zadie Smith—a world that mixes insanely rhythmic prose, zoomed in narratives, and relevant social commentary to churn out great stories. I learned quickly that Smith is never an easy read but that she’s always worth it. This story in particular revolves around two academically rooted families. It finds its conflict in internal identity struggles, the nuances of sex (and all its complications), and disparate views on meritocracy.
Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa. This was a gut-wrenching read. I’ve only cried over a handful of books in my life and this is one of them. I loved how seamlessly Sunil Yapa shifted voices from one character to the next and how well he captured the different POVs that brought this story to life. I mean, I’m generally a sucker for novels with plural perspectives but this one takes the cake. Read Mags' review here.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. I read this while mourning over my late grandfather. While it didn’t really explain grief or make me feel better per se but it made me feel understood. Sometimes that’s all we can ask for, I guess. The book felt oddly comforting, like seeing yourself through a distorted mirror. In the hopes of extending the same comfort to others, I tend to look for copies for friends who’ve lost loved ones before checking up on them or attending wakes.
Photos Mags Ocampo
Art Alex Lara