Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Not afraid to fly

It isn't often that I get to read a feminist book. But when I do, I make sure it counts. So I'm glad that another book club chose to read Erica Jong's seminal novel, Fear of Flying. If this isn't a feminist novel, then I don't really know what is. It tackles a lot of issues: female sexuality, sexual freedom, women's liberation, female psychology, family dynamics, and even religious (Jewish) themes.

The person who's afraid of flying is one named Isadora Wing. At the start of the novel, she's 29 years old, once divorced, and is currently married to a psychologist of Asian-American descent named Bennett. The marriage is by all means not an unhappy one, but Isadora is flighty. She has too many issues, too many questions, that she needs to figure out. And it doesn't help that she has to go with her husband in his conference in Austria, especially with her fear of flying.

One immediately wonders why she would choose to have an affair with another psychologist named Adrian. For one, he couldn't get it up. And another, he seems hell-bent on psychoanalyzing Isadora's every move. When they escape to the countryside, all these two have are profound conversations. Perhaps Isadora is looking for a change: from Bennett's clear-cut, rule-abiding persona to Adrian's brash, in-the-moment way of thinking. We would never know, wouldn't we? And I think that's the point of the novel.

You see, no matter what confusing choices Isadora makes, no matter the foolish repercussions of these choices, what's more important is that she was able to make these choices. She alone is to be blamed for these choices. After all, isn't women's lib all about the freedom to choose? In the '60s and '70s, women were slowly being given these choices. Some, like Erica Jong, embraced this freedom. The result is this wonderfully semi-autobiographical novel that is Fear of Flying.

In the novel, we see Isadora go against the tide. She refuses to bear any children, she decides to leave her first husband when the relationship has turned abusive, she acts on a whim even though she knows she'll regret her actions later. All of these boil down to choices. She is her own person. And you know why she does these things? Because she can.

It would be nice to meet Isadora in real life. I can just imagine the conversations I would have with her. She may not sound rational at times, but that's one of the pleasures of being with her. In the novel, Isadora is very learned, having a degree in literature and even being a lecturer on 18th century literature. Ah, just at the turn of the 20th century, it was impossible for women to have academic degrees. Isadora's choice of profession even goes against the wishes of her family, who seem to think that one needs to make money to become truly successful. Isadora would have none of that. She just loves books. Ergo, literature.

Unlike Isadora, I've no fear of flying. I love it, in fact.
It was fascinating to hear the thoughts about Fear of Flying from the members of another book club. It was my first time to attend their discussion. I must say that there isn't that much difference to discussing books. Just a few questions thrown to the group, with everyone being free to pipe in. Jong's novel is very polarizing. A few hated it for its crass language and Isadora's irrational behavior. A few commented on how the novel was groundbreaking for its time. I agree with the latter. Jong's honesty in her narrative is very refreshing. With the words "fuck" and "penis" occurring on every page, it can certainly be shocking. But let's face it, if it were a man writing those words back in the '70s, there wouldn't be any controversy.

I'm one of the people who love Fear of Flying. I think it's primarily because of Isadora. The novel may not have a very distinct plot, but I enjoyed reading about Isadora's journey of transformation. She was unsure of herself at the start of the novel. By the novel's end, she has realized that she indeed has choices that she alone can make and that she has to learn to be comfortable with these choices. The transformation is far from over in the last chapter, but at least the beginnings are there. Transformation and realization, I like.

The discussion was held in a wine cellar.
I had this fruity, Argentinian wine with Marie, the moderator.
I think I must have finished 3 glasses. Hehehe.
Read this book if:

  1. You've always been curious about feminist litereature.
  2. You love reading about sex.
  3. You're into semi-autobiographical novels.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Scalzi and TV

If I would have to choose a favorite contemporary science fiction writer, I'd definitely mention John Scalzi. Redshirts, one of his newest novels, was one of my favorite reads last year.

I also enjoyed his Old Man's War novels. These are books that are heavy on military themes and science fiction elements. I'm not really big on everything military, but I did enjoy these novels, especially the first one, Old Man's War. The second book, The Ghost Brigades, which is a sequel of sorts, is quite action-packed and yet quite philosophical. I still have to finish the third book, The Last Colony. And I believe that there are still more books in this series as well.

What joy it is to find out that these novels are now being turned into a TV series! This TV series is definitely something to binge-watch. I. Can't. Wait.

Anyway, the TV shows might not appear anytime soon. So there'll still be at least a year to read all the Old Man's War novels, and probably a few other works of Scalzi. He writes very entertaining novels. And he's funny as hell.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Faulkner virgin

Yes, I hate to admit it—the Faulkner virgin is in the house! Ah, William Faulkner. In this part of the world, he's not as talked about as, say, Ernest Hemingway or Virginia Woolf or even D. H. Lawrence. I can't even recall a single humanities class in college that required students to read Faulkner.

But lately, we're having a bit of a Faulkner renaissance, yes? Does it have to do with the movie adaptation of As I Lay Dying starring James Franco? Could be. Heck, I'll read anything that has James Franco on the cover.  Oh, Franco. If only all slackers had brains such as yours.

Anyway, I chose to read Light in August because, well, it is August. But here in Manila we're not getting enough light lately, as cloudy skies and the monsoon rains are the norm. I'm still a few pages in the novel, and I can't even decide if I like Faulkner's writing style. It certainly is different.

Hopefully, by the end of this month, I'll be Faulker devirginized. And maybe, somewhere in the near future, I may find him in my bed again.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Geeking out horizontally

It's amazing how one need not go out of the house to be entertained these days. That's exactly what I did last Sunday. I stayed in bed the whole day and just downloaded new TV shows that have been generating buzz. I swear, I even forgot take a shower, as the weather was quite nippy. (I've always wondered about the origin of the word "nippy." Does it have something to do with what happens to your nipples when it's cold?)

Yes, I spent my Sunday horizontally, watching TV shows so heavy on science fiction themes. Fortunately, these new TV shows weren't so bad. Nope, not bad at all. I didn't even bother to read a page from the hundreds of books in the to-be-read pile.

First, there's the Steven Spielberg-produced "Extant." It has Halle Berry! (I swear she has no pores. Long live HD!) Halle Berry plays an astronaut who's become mysteriously pregnant. The timing points to the fact that she conceived in space. I can't help but picture it: boinking in zero gravity. "Extant" is pretty intriguing, but I can't help but think that there's a conspiracy story line somewhere.

Next is "The Lottery" in Lifetime. We're now in the 2020s and, for some reason, people no longer have the ability to reproduce. But a lady scientist was able to successfully fertilize 100 embryos. The US government, hoping to win back its popularity, decides to hold a lottery as to who among its female citizens can serve as surrogates to these embryos. Again, it reeks of conspiracy. But I love it.

"The Lottery" raised a few personal questions for me. If I were female, would I want to enter my name in the lottery? I probably wouldn't. I've seen enough videos about human birth to last me a lifetime. Very, very traumatic. Very, very messy. All that goo. And that wrinkly thing coming out of the vajayjay.

And then there's my current favorite of the lot, "The Strain." I didn't have that much love for the book the FX series was based on, but the TV show is another matter. Vampires that don't sparkle under the sun! Yay! Vampires that are monstrous! Woot! Vampires that kill! FTW!

The first two episodes of "The Strain" have the feel of a biological outbreak movie, one that delves into how the viral strain gets passed among people. But the latter episodes had me horrified. There's a certain Dracula-like character who find his way in the US from Germany. The show does remind me of Salem's Lot in certain aspects, especially in that scene where a supposedly dead girl goes back to her house and calls her father. So creepy! I think I may have had a little pee on my pants watching that scene.

I just hope that these shows improve over time. I wish that they sustain the element of paranoia which so heavily felt in each episode. I've no problems with staying horizontal during the weekends. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

No, it's not about vampires

As I was surfing yesterday, I came across this interesting piece of news about Kevin Wilson's novel, The Family Fang. It's going to be turned into a movie! Woot!

I knew that I had a hardcover somewhere. I also recall R. giving me a copy for a special occasion a few years ago. My birthday, perhaps? But I found it, and I couldn't be happier.

Anyway, I'm enjoying this novel so much that I keep thinking, "They better not eff it up!" At least Jason Bateman is both directing and starring in it. Ah, Bateman, the stuff teenage dreams in the 80s are made of. And check out Nicole Kidman's costume in the movie below. She can play anything, yes?

Oh, and there's Christopher Walken! When I saw him dancing in the music video of Fatboy Slim's brilliant "Weapon of Choice," I was sold. The world needs more of Walken. Such an underrated actor.

Gone are the glamorous looks for Ms. Kidman in the movie.
In fact, she's hardly recognizable!
Source: Just Jared
There's something about knowing that a book is being adapted into the big screen that makes you want to just read the damn thing, no? Here's hoping that the movie won't be a big disappointment. We don't need another "The Great Gatsby."

Monday, July 28, 2014

Particularly endearing

Sometimes, I wish that I had super taste buds. You know, being able to detect the different ingredients that make up a dish, or being able to tell whether a specific fruit or vegetable has been farmed or grown organically. In Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, we meet one character who has an extraordinary ability—being able to taste the emotions of the people who cooked the food.

So Rose Edelstein discovers that she can find out her mother's emotions when she takes a bite of the lemon cake her mother baked for her ninth birthday. In that instant, Rose detected a hollowness, a loneliness, in the lemon cake. Eventually, as she learns to come to grips with her particular gift, she soon finds out that these "tastes" are actually the feelings that the persons have at the time they make the dish.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a novel that touches heavily on the family. And the Edelsteins make up a family that's unbearably sad. Rose's mother carries on an affair that lasts for years, even though she puts up this cheery veneer every time she's home. Rose's father can't seem to bear to go to hospitals, and seems oblivious to his wife's affair. Through the different emotions that Rose encounters during family meals, she gets to discover all the painful words left unsaid, the missed connections, and the frustrations of her family.

Apparently, it's not just Rose who is blessed/cursed with a gift. Her brother, Joseph, can make himself disappear for several months, eventually coming back looking tired, dehydrated, and basically clinging to life. Joseph's sadness is one that's not very easy to read. He was the one who supposedly had the brains in the family. But his potential is not realized, beginning with the fact that he failed to secure a spot at Cal Tech.

Rose doesn't fully learn to appreciate her extraordinary ability. For her, every meal taken at home is torture. She becomes obsessed with the vending machine in her school, who dispenses factory-made junk food. I can empathize. I'd rather eat a Twinkie than have a home-made omelet wherein I can taste all the sadness that goes with it. So yes, for me, Rose's ability is in fact a curse.

Bender writes beautifully. Her prose is lyrical without being too cloying. In a way, the reader can "taste" the sadness in her prose, the emptiness that clings to the Edelsteins. And I find it very apt that food is used as the conduit for the emotions. One can't just say that her or she is feeling unhappy; that person has to find a way to make the other person feel his unhappiness. What better way than to let that person consumer your emotions. Call it transference, if you will.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake looks like a very light read. Well, it is, at around 200 pages. But it's dense with drama and its characters fully realized. You feel sad for Rose, Joseph, their parents. You want to reach the end to find out if everything goes well with each of them. It's a heartbreaking novel, this one. But you'll still be happy that you finish it.

Read this book if:
  1. You value the importance of shared meal times.
  2. You're super picky with your food.
  3. You love lemon cakes.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Of citrus fruits and new author discoveries

I know, I'm holding a grapefruit and not a lemon.
Still feeling particularly sad though,
as I really am craving a lemon cake.
One weekday, I felt like going to my favorite bargain bin bookstore near our office. I wasn't really particularly feeling hungry despite it being lunch time. But I am always in the mood for a book hunt, no matter the weather. I recall that it was raining intermittently that day.

Anyway, I spotted Aimee Bender's novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake at the bookstore. I decided to buy it, as Bender seems to be one of those talked about contemporary fiction writers these days. Besides, I couldn't resist a book with this title.

As it was a rainy day, it could only mean one thing—traffic will be horrible. And it was! I have no qualms about reading on the road, especially if the vehicle is moving at a snail's pace, which is what happens to Manila's highways every time it rains. Well-lighted buses are perfect for reading!

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake did help me pass the time. One minute I just pulled it out of my bag and turned to the first page, the next I'm on page 150 and almost near my house! It's really good! The following day I read another 100 pages on the bus as well.

I think Bender's novel would be the first book I read entirely on the bus within a few days. The writing has a melancholic tinge. I have a full review coming up on this novel, dear reader. But for the meantime, here's hoping that I find another Bender work soon. Or at least a delicious slice of lemon cake.