Si by Bob Ong: A Book Review

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After putting it down in awe, I imagined myself attending a forum held by the Bob Ong Fanatics somewhere in the vacuous universe of   Goodreads, standing before them ,  groping for words to break their silence .

Me: Magandang araw, Bob Ong fanatics! Forgive me for speaking in English although what we will be discussing today is Si  by Bob Ong. Supposedly, the medium of communication should be Filipino. However, we have foreign friends on Goodreads who might feel out of place.

(Clearing my throat)

 Before l share with you my thoughts of Si written by Bob Ong. Let me touch on little information of who Bob Ong is for our foreign friends to have an idea who the good old  man we will be talking about.

If you look him up in the Wikipedia , Bob Ong is the pseudonym of a contemporary Filipino author known for using conversational writing technique to create humorous and reflective depictions of Philippine life. The author’s actual name and identity is unknown.

Despite that his books   have been best-sellers, he has never been known in public. That’s why some documentaries have been made to find out who this Promethean man is.

There are some prominent Filipino writers or TV personalities who have been mistaken for Bob Ong, but all of them  have turned out be different from Bob Ong’s writing styles.

Now, let’s get down to business. My very first impression on Bob Ong’s books was that most of his books were like students’ write-ups for a journal campus.

(One reactionary reader would interrupt.)

Fanatic  1:  With all due respect, … Joey? If I may I address your first name…

Me: Yes, you may.

Fanatic 1: Joey, uh… You seem to being an armchair critic.  You’re being subjective. I believe that  you were still a student at that time. Admit it. You were addicted to his books, weren’t you?

Me: Yes, I am being subjective, so I believe that all reviews on Goodreads are not objective, aren’t they? And  I wasn’t addicted to his books. I happened to read his books because they were being  hyped  up until my friend suggested that I read one of his.  I was such an ignorant and poor reader at that time. I did not have any access to a lot of  best-sellers, especially Philippine ones. All I always read were stories in school textbooks. But when I started to read his other books in university, at that point, I realized that I was sick and tired of them. I wish there were Goodreads already at that time. I could have written my thoughts of them. Besides,  I could have been a hypocrite if I  had insisted  that Bob Ong was my favorite Filipino writer.

Fanatic 1: If so, who was your favorite author?

Me: I’m sorry  we seem to be getting around  the subject. Given that Bob Ong can write whatever  genre s as what others have noticed as what you have ( gesticulating at Fanatic 1) such as conversational, essay, horror, stories that deal with social issues  in the Philippines, but for me, I would say that his works are not on the par with other critically acclaimed  and award winning books. Apparently, his books appear to be intended for money.

Fanatic 1: That’s a cheap shot. I believe that Bob Ong writes such books because he wants to inform, to educate, and to entertain. And of course, in a capitalist country, books have something to do with money. Besides, you can’t deny the fact that because of Bob Ong , young readers are motivated to  read and support our Philippine literature. In fact, as far as I know, because of Bob Ong, many writers now follow his style. In short, he is the beginning of all the writers today such as  Bebang Sy, Genaro Gojo Cruz, Noringai, to name a few. Don’t you think so?

(Provoked by his words  cheap shot)

Me: Exactly. No doubt his other books have never been nominated by National Board of Books Award except this SI. And this has something to do   with what I want to tell you about after reading his Si. Plus, if you don’t mind, let me first finish my review of it instead of heckling me. 

(heaving a sigh)

Fanatic 1:  (irritated) Noted…but NBBA must have the requirements whether a book is eligible or not.

Me: Definitely. Its requirements must be standardized, intended only for books that are considered critically acclaimed.

Anyway, thank you for heeding my request.

After reading Si, I realized that Bob Ong can write something award-winning. In Si, he wrote beautiful Filipino prose. He wrote lyrical , poetic , quixotic sentences. I was impressed. I fell in love again with whoever I pushed downward in the darkest part of my subconscious.  In fact, I enjoyed repeating the passages as if I was chanting a yoga prayer. I was asking myself then if it was Bob Ong who was telling me a story. It seems like he is not the author of this book. Did my friend lend me another book? Yes, it was him. Because somehow, I felt his trademark, the way he collected all the realistic and vicarious information and other people’s experiences to form one conceptualized story although there are some parts  I found “corny” like the ones in his other books.  Most importantly, I fell prey to his creativity. This is his style. He wants to make a twist whenever a reader goes into the climax.  I guess you know what I am talking about if you have read it.

(Another fanatic would   ask me, but calm unlike the other one .)

Fanatic 2: So, why did you give it  4 stars instead of five?

Me: Bo Ong is an experimental and ingenious writer. He always surprises us whenever he has a new book. In this book, obviously, his intention is to surprise us, but that surprise is not natural for me. It is conspicuous that he included such tactic to have a great impact upon me. For instance, I did not know that I should have started reading it from the back. Such clever idea is like a friend of yours who will make a fun of you ,  taking  it back  as a joke , but  you don’t think it is  funny at all. You might snicker, “ Ang corny ha!” By the same token, obviously, there are some parts which appear to have been taken deep impression from TV news, newspapers articles, barbers’ stories, and so on- the style he has been known for.

Fanatic 1: Your standard is so high. Since you appear to be an armchair critic, what should Bob Ong have done?

( I could still feel the ill-feelings he had been harboring.)

Me: I dunno. It is just  my subjective analysis. But I  hope when Bob Ong writes another such novel , I mean something  more critically acclaimed than his other books. He should make it coherent as in his readers seem to be reading a real novel.

Fanatic 1: What do you mean ‘coherent’?

Me: I want to read a novel that I will just follow the stream of the story as if I were just there mingling with them- something I have not seen in his books. 

Fanatic  3: Since 4 stars means I really liked it on Goodreads, what parts of the book that made you really like it?

(It’s another fanatic who would be listening to me all ears, but tend to make faces when I explained something which he could disagree to.)

Me: The deepness of some passages about love. The concept  of the story because it reflects the typical conjugal and familial   life of our parents until they get older. It mirrors the universal fact that parents started to be parents from romantic life until they build a family, how they take care of their children well despite the challenges of life . I can see such situation in my parents and in my friends, and even in myself if I were predestined to build my own.

Fanatic 1: Therefore, you expect something more than that from Bob Ong.

( This time, he would appear to be composing  himself.)

Me: Yes, I am following him now. So, I profusely apologize to you.

Fanatic 2 : Well,  despite your acerbic thoughts, welcome to the club!!!

Fanatics: Welcome to the  Bob Ong Club!!!

( Back to the reality)

Writers  could  build a mass hysteria, gee!

Rating: 4/5 stars ( I really liked.)

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Ang mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan by Bob Ong: A Book Review

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The first book written by Bob Ong  that led me to the portal of his idiosyncrasies is Bakit Baliktad Magbasa Ng Libro Ang Mga Pilipino?  I was impressed by his ways of writing out his ideas or opinions in a conversational way. Reading it was like an editorial article full of facts but funny, intended not only for young but also old adults . Besides, I sensed his  hidden blaze of nationalism. Amused, I borrowed Macarthur from my cousin who happened to be his avid reader. After that, I was magnetized again because the theme is not that as deeply  and humorously academic and journalistic as the former one but, instead, it is a simple story that young readers may never forget because it reflects the social problem with illegal drug. The story is so worth remembering. No wonder when you ask a young avid fan about which Bob Ong books his/ her favorite is. I bet my boots that it is one of them. And please, count me in. The  very thought of the sachet of  crystal meth floating  in the pooped bowl  repulses me!

I was in university when I got the opportunity to read another Bob Ong book. Another Bob Ong fan lent me some of his other works. I got the good chance of reading Stainless Longganisa . But I admit that I found it pretty boring. It is just a story of how a writer struggles with completing his book or having it published.  If it is so, why did Bob Ong make it more complicated with his satirical dramas?  He could have just written it in the other way around. But who am I to cast aspersion on his writing style? Walang basagan ng trip.This is his trademark.

I was disappointed more after reading his other books such as Ang Paboritong Libro ni Hudas  and Kapitan Sino .  They almost have the same pattern. The situation is like all Bob Ong has to do is to strike up a witty conversation with me ,with his satirical sentiments and dramas. Thereafter, I got sick and tired of Bob Ong. Nakakasawa na. I promised myself then that I would not read another Bob Ong books.

I tried to read another Bob Ong when  friends of mine  gave me an intriguing  idea of Ang mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan . My friends said that it is a scary one. HmmmAnother friend tampered with my febrile imagination claiming that she could not sleep it off. After burying myself in it for the whole night, yes!  My friends did not prove me wrong. I was horrified. Somehow, it scared me so witless that I would it put down when I did not want to read what would happen next. I did not want to picture how the scenes look like. Then, my hair stood on end when I patched all the puzzling parts together. Gee, that’s why?  A typical reaction when you have come to understand everything. Who won’t forget the scene when the grandma who is supposed to be dead gets up from its bed to approach Galo, the protagonist? Who regretted reading the Latin phrases at the end of his each diary? How about the secret room in where the human –sized saints are kept ?

The story is clearly manipulating because Bob Ong intended to play our imagination. All the settings are mixed. He intended to lead us in some parts which turn out to  be the  linchpin of the  horror. For instance, Galo also makes us  read the Latin phrases he reads out of curiosity. Even though I didn’t understand the words, I still kept on reading them. But , in the end, I deeply regretted doing so. You should not read them if I were you. It is a warning. Plus, the twins, Jezel and Niko .Potek,I thought they were just ‘saling pusa’.

I was first confused with some information with which Bob Ong padded in the story. For instance, the date of the setting is in 1998. But MTB, a famous noon-time show ,was not aired in that year yet. Another thing is a high-tech computer. As far as I know, high-tech computers were unveiled in the 2000’s. There are some more happened in the 2000’s Bob Ong played back in the 1990’s. Thus, I inferred that Bob Ong loves to scrabble all the things that happened from different generations.

My friend speculates that Bob Ong may have written it off the cuff. He may have dabbled in writing it in a corner without any specific theme on his mind. So, his publisher may have ignored it and still seen its potential to give his readers the creeps knowing that he has established a name in the market.  Or she may have meant to say that the story begins with Galo’s “nega moments”; then, all of a sudden, it segues into a horror part. Thus, the book appears to be inscrutable because she is not sure what Bob Ong may want to imply in this book since all his books appear to have satirical meanings. But apparently, one of the insinuations could be that anyone can have a Cinderella life. Of course not! Galo does not have a Princess Charming.( laughs)

Somehow, there are good points in the story that caught my interest aside from the “katatakutan” moments. I liked the philosophical conversations between  Mama Susan and Galo although I find them obscure and irrelevant to whatever Bob Ong wants to preach to us. Besides, if it were not Mama Susan’s revelation about Galo’s past , I would really have demoted Bob Ong to all  wannabe writers (like me)  by giving it one  out of 5 stars on Goodreads.  Fiddlesticks! I wish I read books literally.

As a matter of fact, after reading it, I don’t want to give it a try again nor flip through its pages  given that I found it not that really scary . Perhaps, I just don’t want to read the Latin phrases anymore. Gee, it is the impact on me!

Warning: Please, don’t read the Latin phrases.  Just skip them.

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it.)