Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Filipino Friday #1: Suprise, reader!

Well, what do you know, it's time for Filipino Fridays again! Filipino Fridays is a weekly meme that leads to the Filipino ReaderCon. This year, the ReaderCon will be held on 14 November at the Bayanihan Center, Mandaluyong.

Anyway, the first Filipino Friday has a theme of "Surprise, reader!" Along with this theme is a list of questions that hopes to introduce the person in terms of books that he or she has read. So let's get on with it, shall we?

Tell us about your favorite book discoveries for this year.
Ever since I started my A to Z dead guys challenge, I've been on a high after reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I fell in love with that book.

I'm not done with that particular challenge this year though, so I think I'll have more book discoveries for the last quarter of 2014. Just this year, I read my first Hardy, Kipling (Kim), Austen (Emma), Carroll (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland), and Eliot (Silas Marner).

Any author you started reading this year that you can’t get enough of? 
Well, aside from Brontë, whose Shirley and Villette I want to read soon, I would have to say Thomas Hardy. I read The Return of the Native this year and I breezed through it. It started out slow, like most classics do, but I learned to go with the pace of Hardy's very moody writing.

I've been slowly building my Thomas Hardy collection. Just this year, I bought Far From the Madding Crowd, Jude the Obscure, and The Mayor of Casterbridge.

A book you think you wouldn't like, but you ended up liking/loving? 
Again, it's Jane Eyre. After I turned the final page, I felt bittersweet that it had to end. Such a headstrong character, that Jane Eyre.

I never thought that I'd like Jane Eyre that much, as I thought that it would be like an Austen novel, wherein everyone just gossiped the whole day. I read my first Austen, Emma, and I detested it. Thank goodness that Charlotte Brontë is such a totally different writer.

Any book series that you just have to get your hands on? 
Hmmm . . . None of the moment, to be honest. I'm not too keen on the next George R. R. Martin novel, nor the next Brandon Sanderson. I have my whole life for A Game of Thrones!

I guess I am particularly interested in reading the other Brontë sisters. I've always been curious about Wuthering Heights, supposedly the most passionate novel ever written. Also, Anne Brontë, is reputed to be the most realist (most non-romantic) among the sisters. So I'm curious about The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Have you discovered anything new from Filipino authors this year?
As part of the read-along for the book club, I read The Rosales Saga of F. Sionil Jose. I thoroughly enjoyed the 2nd book, Tree. It's rich with allegory and symbolism.

Unfortunately, my current worst read for the year is by a Filipino author, Bianca Bernardino, who wrote She's Dating the Gangster. That chick lit novel is hugely popular here in the Philippines, but I found the plot laughable and ridiculous.

So that's it for the first Filipino Friday, dear reader. Till next time!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Traffic, tote, and bookstore

Traffic in the metro has become unbearable lately. Unbearable as in 2-hour commute unbearable. 2 effing hours, at least. And that's just the ride home. It's gotten so bad that a few minutes of continuous rain make the highway an instant parking lot.

You know that bit of advice about not reading in moving cars because the ride can get bumpy? Screw that. There are just long moments of complete standstill you forget you're actually in a vehicle. Fortunately, these are when it's most conducive to reading.

So traffic has become my reading enabler. I've long accepted the fact that the terrible traffic in the city is a way of life, a crappy way of life, but we just have to suck it. Like last night for instance. Just one look at all the red taillights and I thought it'll me at least 3 hours to get home.

So what does one do? You wait it out. I figured that since I'd be reading when I get home anyway, I might as well just read now in a cafe after a light dinner before going home. So I ordered a latte and read my Gaskell. Take that, traffic.

A couple of years ago, I had a good friend make me tote bags with a customized book-ish quote. I gave all of them away as Christmas gifts to friends, bibliophiles and otherwise. I loved those totes; they're very hardy as they were made of denim.

Then during the long weekend, while I was cleaning my closet, I found a spare tote! I did my happy dance! Totes are ideal for carrying books, yes? In Manila, where security guards are always inspecting your bag, totes are perfect, being zipperless and all.

And then 2 weeks ago, my book club had a joint book discussion with another book club. It was a first, I believe. Unfortunately, we talked about The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, which I abhorred. Ghastly, that novel is. The discussion though was interesting.

Anyway, we had our discussion at Uno Morato, a new hangout place that is both a restaurant and a bookstore. Their stock, all locally published, is quite impressive. Food's good too. So I'm definitely coming back. Here's to more bookstores in the city!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Not my kind of story

I was prepared to like this book. Even thought that it would end up as a favorite. It has all the things that a bibliophile can relate to—collecting rare books, running a bookstore, having a partner who's also into books, being a part of a book club. But at the final page, Gabrielle Zevin's novel, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, just didn't deliver.

Maybe because it touched on a whole lot of things, that the result is just several story lines spread too thinly. It's like biting into a supposedly dense cheesecake but what you really feel is a light chiffon cake. Or just plain air. Perhaps the flaws lie on the themes? They're just all over the place.

Anyway, there's really nothing new about this novel. A. J. Fikry, a recent widower, runs a bookstore in a small island. He's grumpy as hell, and one fat ass book snob. Then one day his rare copy of Edgar Allan Poe's Tamerlane gets stolen. Then he adopts a precocious baby that's left on his doorstep, who becomes instrumental in changing his dark demeanor.

It would've been more palatable if the novel focused on the story between Fikry and his adopted daughter. But no, there has to be romance and mystery. Fikry eventually marries a book agent, who helps him run his bookstore. And the mystery of the stolen Tamerlane has to be solved, albeit in a most unimaginative manner. Along the way, you meet a host of other characters: the detective who runs a book club, Fikry's sister-in-law, Fikry's sister-in-law's philandering husband, to name a few.

If the other characters in the novel remain unnamed in this blog entry, it's because they're so cookie cutter figures; I've forgotten their names. Even Fikry was someone I couldn't relate to, much as I tried.

The whole novel reeks of Hallmark. You know those movies when everything just works out cleanly in the end? The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is that. It's so clean and wholesome that it feels antiseptic. Where's the conflict? Where's the dilemma that the characters have to face? Where are the destestable villains? Unfortunately, there are none. And that's why Zevin's novel is one such work that feels hollow.

I'm not going to say that this is a terrible book. But it's a cliche. The grinch becomes lovable. The philandering character dies in a car crash. The dying bookstore gets a second life in the hands of its patrons. Money magically appears. I. Die. Of. Sugar.

Read this book if:
  1. You have nothing else to do.
  2. You love books about books.
  3. Oh, don't bother.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Book hunting for 2015

A work in progress
Before the year ends, the book club finalizes its lineup of the books to be discussed for next year. But for this year, I believe we just set a record. For the first time, we've picked the books for 2015 in July! And to think we still have 5 months to go before the year ends!

Technically, we select only 10 books instead of 12. Our book discussion for January is sort of a show-and-tell of our best and worst reads for the past year. And then we reserve one month to talk about a recent publication (i.e., something published within that year).

Out of the 10 books for 2015, I found 4 novels in my shelves: Galbraith's The Cuckoo's Calling, Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians, and Pratchett's Hogfather. It looks like 2015 will be heavy on novels and fiction for us! Woot, woot!

There are still 2 more books that I know I have somewhere—Levithan's Boy Meets Boy and Smith's I Capture the Castle. I can't even remember if I loaned out these books. Argh! I just have to keep looking then. They're probably in a corner, gathering dust bunnies.

I do know that I have to hunt for a couple of titles: the Super Freakonomics business book and a locally published title, which I haven't seen in bookstores lately. Here's hoping that it's still in print. I don't want to break tradition. I've been doing this book hunting thing for 5 years now.

Even though I've already read 6 out of the 10 books for next year, I'm still feeling excited about the book discussions. Most especially for Boy Meets Boy, which is the first time that the book club will discuss an LGBT-themed work.

So now the book hunting begins again. Ah, these are the moments that make life worth living.

Monday, September 8, 2014

What I've been reading recently (in pictures)

Almost 4 months ago, most of my pics on Facebook were food pics. Then this happened. So good-bye, cupcakes! Good-bye, deep-fried pork belly! Good-bye, bacon and butter!

Then I realized that I still have been posting pictures on my Facebook account. But this time, they're all about the books that I've been reading. Not a bad trade-off, I think.

So I'm sharing them with you, dear reader. They're not technically selfies, as I forced asked a colleague at work to take them. Sometimes, it's good to ham it up for the camera, no?

D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love is a favorite read.
And The Rainbow is actually it's prequel.
Brangwens, we meet again!
I love them Russians. I feel that Dostoevsky is the most Russian of them all.
I've read Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov.
I loved both. And I'm loving The Idiot.
I've never read H. P. Lovecraft, much as I love horror.
Unfortunately, I had to drop The Call of Chthulu and Other Weird Stories.
I just found it too, well, weird.
Rachel Joyce's Perfect is alnost a perfect novel, if ever there was one.
It's a heartbreaking read about familial bonds.
I'm a fan!
Robert Rodi writes hilarious gay-themed novels.
Closet Case is no exception.
I found it a bit dated though, but it's still enjoyable.
How about you, dear reader? What have you been reading?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

When we spent one day in prison

Last weekend, the book club met to talk about our book for August, which was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. I love Russian literature (Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are two of favorite writers), so I was prepared to really like this. But Solzhenitsyn's novel caught me off guard. It was something very un-Russian in terms of character and plot.

I'll write a full post about the novel soon. For now, I'll tell you about what happened last weekend. As usual, I had a grand ol' time with the Flippers as you can see in the pictures below. All pictures have been taken by R., who is the best photogapher ever!

This is my copy of the book. Of course, it's a Penguin. Hehehehe.
To its left is the bookmark given away during the discussion.
To its right are sugar packets, which were part of the "parcel" giveaway.
Arthur did a wonderful job moderating the discussion.
I don't think he had any questions prepared beforehand.
Arthur makes moderating look so effortless!
Angus, a member of another book club, joined us during this discussion.
Here he is comparing differences of translation of two editions.
I hope we get to see more of him in the next discussions
There were plenty of lighthearted moments during the discussion.
And to think that the novel's about a day in the life of an inmate!
Here, Sheila and Gege share their thoughts about this "depressing" book.
The parcel was a key element in the novel.
Arthur made his own version of the parcel that he gave to all attendees.
Inside the parcel were witty items such as fake tobacco (tea leaves actually).
And here I am again hamming it up for the camera.
Hey, I won something for being the first person to arrive at the venue!
Actually, I was just really hungry, and I wanted to eat right away.
R. and I came in matching T-shirts.
I didn't think anybody noticed as the print was very subtle.
We had to ask someone to take this souvenir shot.
The Flippers!
It was one of the most insightful discussions that I've ever participated.
And I believe most of us liked the novel as well.

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.