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.

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.