Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The dire complaisance

In case you're wondering about the title of this post, well it's an anagram of my full name (Peter Michael Sandico). I guess I just found myself bored out of my wits so I decided to find anagrams of some of the books I've read. Here are some of the books at my bedside table.

Confessions of a Shopaholic - Fool on son's cheapish fiasco
A Thief in the Night - Heathen if hitting
The Stolen Child - Shh! Do intellect
The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Eh! Egghead of the gentle echo
The Satanic Verses - Scares the natives
Silent to the Bone - Is not noble teeth
Sea of Poppies - If ape opposes
Apartment in Athens - Harm, penitent Satan

Let's take this a bit further with some of the supposed 100 best novels of all time. (I've always had a problem with lists, especially with this one. If the list were more focused, such as the 100 best novels about exercising, then I'd be more empathic.)

Crime and Punishment - Manic sinner thumped
Madame Bovary - O my! A mad brave
Love in the Time of Cholera - Cheerio! Malevolent if hot
The Old Man and the Sea - Hat lamented -- no shade
The Red and the Black - The black death nerd
Anna Karenina - A rank, an inane
The Divine Comedy - Hey! I'm decent void.

Create your own anagrams here. Perhaps you can post the anagrams of your name or your favorite book in the comments. Here's an example I really really love:

Rhett De Jesus - The stud jeers

Monday, March 30, 2009

The books that changed my life (2)

After going through several Bobbsey Twins novels, I decided to check out, quite naturally, The Hardy Boys. My Hardy Boys phase lasted only for about a year, as I found the novels too formulaic for my taste and lacking the fun and zest of The Bobbsey Twins. I wasn't even a fan of that short-lived eponymous TV series. Come to think of it, I can't even recall the names of the two Hardy boys. As for Nancy Drew, I guess it was just out of the question. My classmates and I thought that a boy reading Nancy Drew would turn out to be a sissy or, more appropriately, a nancy.

The next books I would go crazy about were the Choose Your Own Adventure series, which I discovered when I was 11 in a bookstore. I recall that my mother was checking out the romance section, so I was left to wander in the bookstore by myself. I found myself in the children's section and picked up a novel entitled Choose Your Own Adventure: The Cave of Time. Several minutes later, my mother would come looking for me (worried no doubt). She found me sitting on the floor and enthralled with the book. We left the bookstore with my mother's romance novel and my very first Choose Your Own Adventure book.

I think I read and reread that book for the next few days. It was too compelling for my 11-year-old brain. I decided to check if my school library had the titles and found out that it did not. The fiction section of my school library comprised mostly of fairy tales, young adult detective novels, and stories from the bible (I went to a Catholic school). Nevertheless, I still scoured every inch of the library just to check if there were really no Choose Your Own Adventure in it. I didn't even bother to check the card catalog, since the shelves with all those index cards somehow intimidated me.

Much as I pleaded with my parents to buy me another CYOA book, they just wouldn't. They told me I had to save my allowance to buy those. Since I wanted to get my CYOA fix, I starved myself, forgoing my daily snack of Coke and chips just to save money. I remember that one CYOA book was about the same as my allowance for a week. Yet, I did end up saving enough money to buy two more CYOAs; I forget how long it took me though. I also had another set of resources -- my aunts and uncles who would willingly hand me money if I ask for it.

In a way, my book buying frenzy started with the Choose Your Own Adventure series. I loved the idea that I somehow controlled how the book will end. They're my first exposure to non-linear storytelling. These books are the only books that I've reread several times. (I don't reread my books; I think there's just too much out there that I haven't read yet.) When I turned 13, I would have about 20 CYOA books. Sadly, I misplaced these books when we moved in 1987. I would also lose my Star Wars action figures (all 14 of them, including my favorite Bib Fortuna) and my Lego.

Last time I checked, the Choose Your Own Adventure series is now out of print. I really wanted to get my hands on a couple, even though they may be repackaged and updated.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

You're just my type

Haven't you ever had the dilemma regarding the typefaces (or fonts) to use for your documents? I think that the typeface says a lot about the final look of letters, papers, emails, websites, and, yes, even books. I used to work for a book publishing house here in Manila, and one of the things that can be really stressful was when we decide on the fonts to use for our books. Should we use type with serif or one without the serif? What's the best combination of fonts to be used that will make for easy reading? What sizes should these fonts be? Coming up with the final template for the layout is much harder than you think. The Art Department would say one thing about their chosen typefaces, whereas we at the Editorial Department would have other ideas.
For those who aren't that well versed with fonts, serifs are those fonts that make use of structural details at the ends of the strokes. Times New Roman, Bookman, Garamond, and Palatino are some of the type faces that make use of serifs. Sans serif fonts (literally meaning "without serif") include Arial, Helvetica, and Comic Sans. Most websites use sans serif type faces, whereas printed text are usually in serif types. The reason for this is that printed matter, especially books and newspapers, have smaller texts, and it's easier to read them if they employ serifs. Sans serif type faces are best for text that appear larger or set in a lighted background such as computer screens. Road signs use Helvetica (a sans serif type) and our emails are set in Arial or Verdana (both sans serif types) as default.

Road sign using Helvetica

In books, what we do is try to use sans serifs typefaces in titles (chapter headings, subheadings, section titles) and then use serifed ones for the body text. I observe the reverse in webpages, where body text usually are in sans serifed typefaces (Verdana or Arial) and the page title texts are serifed.

Book body text in serifed typeface

Personally, I get turned off by printed matter that have several kinds of type faces. They appear so amateurish and, contrary to what their art designers may think, unimaginative, as if they're trying to compensate for the lack of content with the visual assault brought about by the varied fonts. I've learned that experienced layout artists use, at the most, three kinds of typefaces per page. I have to agree; I don't want to be distracted by fancy typefaces that don't really add value to the content.

Very, very bad use of typeface in cover
(bordering on tacky actually)

The typeface is probably one of the reasons why I prefer reading hardbacks to mass market paperbacks. Aside from the larger typefaces used in hardbacks, the kind that they use lends a certain "personality" to the book. Mass market paperbacks simply use Times New Roman; hardbacks employ different kinds. Also, I particularly look forward to reading about the history of the typeface used at the back of the book. One of the books I'm reading, The Northern Clemency, uses the typeface Janson, which dates back to the 1600s. Just imagine, this typeface has been around for several years!

And more interesting stuff...

One artist has used books (well, specifically book covers of pulp novels) as models for his exhibit. This is amazing. The images literally jump out from the covers! Check it here. Nevertheless, I somehow feel torn about all this book mutilation. The artworks do seem very eye-catching, but I'd think twice before cutting the covers from my book collection.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

I just love the hedgehog

After a few weeks of searching for this elusive book, I finally found a copy of Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog at a bookstore in Megamall. Once again, a novel has dazzled me with its intelligence and brilliance, although these instances are getting fewer and fewer lately. Elegant is really the best word to describe this book. Muriel Barbery's novel brims with controlled and elegant language.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, despite being Muriel Barbery's second book, is her first book to have a wide release in the international market and has been on France's bestselling list for quite some time now. Even though its themes are somewhat lofty (philosophy, profound appreciation for the arts), the novel focuses more on how these themes influence the lives of the book's two main characters -- Renee and Paloma.

The hedgehog referred to is Renee Michel, a woman working as a concierge in one of Paris's upper class apartments. The metaphor is never implied: as Paloma would have it, Renee is like a hedgehog -- outside she may have spikes to guard her but her inner self is indolent much like a hedgehog. An unfortunate incident in Renee's childhood has caused this impenetrable bubble to form, only to be broken by a few words from an unlikely 12-year-old.

Barberry's novel, written using the alternating perspectives of Renee and Paloma, ultimately tells the reader how hard it is to keep up with appearances. The novel's tragic ending reminds us what happens if we hide underneath our spikes, failing to let people from knowing us and truly loving us. You see, Renee is an intellectual. She dabbles in philosophy by Husserl and complex ideas such as phenomenology. She's an avid reader of Russian literature. She loves watching Japanese cinema and ponders on the intricacies of language. Yet, despite her intellectual capabilities, she tries very hard to come off as the type people would expect from a concierge -- unaffected, bordering on illiterate, and simple.

Similar to Renee, Paloma hides the fact that she's way more intelligent than her years. And like Renee, she's a romantic. Paloma loves choir music and Japanese culture. She abhors the hypocrisy of the French upper class and prefers people who are undiplomatic, those who prefer to speak their minds. She thinks that grammar makes the language beautiful. She also hides a dark secret: she would commit suicide when she turns 13.

The arrival of a Japanese tenant, Kakuro Ozu, becomes the catalyst of the events in the second half of the novel. As Renee and Paloma both are fascinated by anything Japanese, they are naturally drawn to this refined gentleman who sees Renee and Paloma as they truly are. It is Ozu who introduces Renee and Paloma to each other, helping them see behind their veneer.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. The novel's tragic ending does not take away the feeling of elation after reading Barbery's narrative. It truly is a French novel; one wherein you feel that nothing's really happening but you just keep reading nevertheless, propelled by the rich atmosphere and the anticipation of the characters' musings. The writing is far from being whimsical, as most novels of this theme tend to be. Barbery's language is precise and lets you in on all the wonderful details.

Read this book if:
  1. You think that nobody understands you.
  2. You feel that there's more to French literature than Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas.
  3. You want to get inspired.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The reading nook

My good friend Czari decided to open a reading clinic for kids this summer. So if you have a child who has nothing much to do while school's out, why not enroll him or her to The Reading Nook. Summer is perfect for kids to enjoy reading -- there's no pressure from teachers, they can take all the time they want, and they can choose too read what they like. If I had kids, I'd definitely enroll them here.

All about Czari's The Reading Nook in the press release below.

“The more that you read,
The more things you will know.
The more that you learn,
The more places you'll go.”

nook. (n k) n.

1. A small corner, alcove, or recess, especially one in a large room.

2. A hidden or secluded spot.

Reading is a fundamental part of any child’s education; reading aloud to your toddler is more than just a fun diversion. It builds the skills that lead directly to her ability to read on her own. It’s not hard to make reading a favorite part of your child’s life. Children at a young age are very interested in sounds and words. Thus, it is important that children are exposed as often as possible to the written and the spoken word to help nurture in them an early love for reading.

This is the main philosophy behind The Reading Nook, a mini-library for children ages 1 to 8 years old. The Reading Nook provides a quiet and comfortable reading area where beginners in reading can learn how to turn pages, understand the correct orientation of a book and gain a knowledge of letter sounds; in-between readers differentiate pictures from words, know rhymes and songs and show independent interest in books; advanced readers make up stories, role play and build higher level language skills.


In order to gain access to The Reading Nook one must pay a one-time Membership Fee. It comes with 10 Reading Hour Sessions and access to hundreds of books in a comfortable reading environment. The unique feature of The Reading Nook is the presence of a qualified Reading Teacher who will guide you and your child in the pre-reading, reading and post-reading phases. Your child’s reading session becomes more productive and enjoyable!

Classes Offered

Starting Summer 2009, The Reading Nook offers its members fun and exciting classes for toddlers, pre-schoolers and primary school age kids!

Children will hardly notice that they are learning pre-literacy and literacy skills because the lessons are integrated with music and play and even arts and crafts for the older kids.

Each Class consists of 10 Sessions where Pre-Reading, Reading and Language Skills are taught to children across developmental stages.

The Reading Nook is located at 362-A Lirio Street, Palm Village, Makati (Rockwell Area near Colegio de Sta. Rosa). For further inquiries, please call Teacher Czari at 994-7580 or 896-5210 or mobile 0917-8137661.

Some weird stuff I stumbled upon

Today, I kept stumbling upon weird but interesting stuff about books on the web. I might as well share them, since they can be really hilarious.

The circular bookshelf. More cool bookshelves here.

Crazy book title. More insane book titles here.

Coordinated book jackets

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Book sniffing

People will really think of anything. I stumbled upon a perfume maker who was inspired by the scent of books. Check it here. The perfume, which has notes of vanilla and musk to simulate the scent of books, is a bit pricey at $60.00, and I doubt if it's available in Manila. Still, it wouldn't hurt to check out department stores, right? The perfume wants to evoke the atmosphere of libraries, with their huge collections in different bindings. I'm loving it already!

I just love the smell of books. I get a high every time I read a newly bought hardback. I can't quite put a finger on the actual smell bookstores have. It's probably the combination of all those types of glue used on the books (which explains the "high" feeling). Or maybe it's the paper and the ink. Old books have their particular scent too. Mildew has never smelled so good. When you think about it, you somehow get a whiff of the last person who read the used book. We all leave traces of our DNA, and books have loads of our genetic material in their pages.

If I were to ask you which part of the book that you smell, you'd probably just tell me the pages. I smell everything -- the front and back covers, the gutter, and the pages too. I'd bet that my blood has increased levels of adhesive polymers from book sniffing. One of my former office mate writes that she gets giddy when she enters FullyBooked. Could the adhesive be the reason for this?

Hmmmm... If we get a high over the smells of our books, don't you think it's one of the reasons we frequent bookstores so much -- just to get that feeling of ecstasy from book sniffing? Must investigate.

Speaking of book smells, I wonder how the library of the Vatican would smell. Would it smell like old priest? Or would the scent have a hint of years of repressed sexual ideas? Would the books have body fluids in them? The Vatican library supposedly has one of the most extensive collections in the world, even those books that it has prohibited throughout history. And its librarians and administrators have played a major role in dictating on what people should and shouldn't read. Currently, its target is, of course, Dan Brown's Angels and Demons.

Banning books is akin to admitting that the people around you are stupid and couldn't decide for themselves. Besides, book censorship usually backfires, causing more people to get hold of the controversial book just to see what the fuss is all about.

The Vatican Library

The Hills Book Club (Or, "Yes, we can totally, like, read")

Four fashionable women in their early 20s meet at a trendy LA restaurant to discuss Bernhard Schlink's novel, The Reader. They're eating al fresco even though none of them smoke. This is LA after all, the city where ladies consider three bites of fruit and four sips of diet soda a full meal. Let's call the women LC, Lo, Audrina, and Heidi.

Just a brief background: LC is the "queen bee." Lo is LC's best friend. LC and Heidi are friends with Audrina. LC and Heidi used to be best friends, but right now they're just civil with one another. Heidi is engaged to Spencer (not appearing in this article), who LC hates. There's supposed to be five of them; unfortunately, Whitney is in New York. Let's listen in, shall we?

LC: I totally love this book! Schink, Schlik, Shilk, err, Schlink really wrote a good one.

Lo: I agree, LC. It is a page turner. Definitely! I read it in, like, just 5 months! I am so totally going BFF on Hanna.

Audrina (looks at the ceiling and takes a teeny bite of her tofu sausage): Uhuh...

Heidi: I just don't get it, LC. What's will all this making out with that guy? He's, like, so young! All that acne and those skid marks and that oily hair. Gross.

LC: She's using him, Heidi. She can't read so she's, like, using her body to get him to read to her.

Lo: Wait, the reader in the book isn't Hanna? It's actually the boy? I am so getting it right now.

Audrina (more ceiling staring): Mmmm...

Heidi: Didn't you go to UCLA or something, Lo? Shouldn't this reading stuff be, like, natural to you?

Lo: I didn't take up Literature, Heidi. So there. Audrina, you've been quiet. Whachu think about the book?

Audrina: You know what's weird? I saw a movie with that Brit girl from Titanic and it's, like, almost the same as this book. That Titanic chick was, like, so naked half the time!

LC: Hello?! The movie was based on this book, you stupid biatch.

Audrina: You think you're so smart, don't you? You with your blonde hair and your clothing line and your... ummm... never mind. I'll be, like, hanging out with Justin Bobby after this. At least I have a man, LC.

Lo: Ouch. That was just so uncalled for. Let's go back to talking about the book.

Heidi: What's the point of all this when there's no cameras around? Where the hell is TMZ? Those guys should be, like, all over us right now.

LC: They're probably trailing that trainwreck Lindsay. Does she even read -- like we do?

Audrina: Do lesbians even, like, read?

Lo: Don't be dumb. She's bisexual. She's into Jack Nicholson too, you know.

Heidi: So she likes her sushi and her aged ham. Big deal, Lo.

Audrina: Huh? What does sushi have to do with anything? And what about ham?

And so it came to pass that the girls quietly went their own ways, vowing never to discuss anything about books ever again.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Which type of reader are you?

Girl Reading by Oliver Ray

A new study came out that says women read more than men. Well, this isn't really news to me; I just have to look at the rows and rows of romantic fiction at bookstores. Perhaps there's a biological reason for this: a gene that makes women less averse to picking up books. What did catch my attention about the study is that they classified readers into four categories: Page Turners, Slow Worms, Serial Shelvers, and Double Bookers.

Page Turners are the avid readers. These are the people who go through an average of two or three books a week. I was once a Page Turner myself, averaging 150 books a year. Good times. I was an indiscriminate reader in my early 20s; I read doorstops -- Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (which I loved), Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow (which I loathed), and Joyce's Ulysses (no strong feelings). I read pulp, too.

Slow Worms are people who take their time reading a particular book. They're the supposedly "serious" readers, going through a book for several months but eventually finishing it. I don't understand Slow Worms. If a book fails to get my attention in the first few pages, I drop it altogether and start a new one. I can't imagine reading Ian McEwan for more than a month. The suspense would kill me. I know people who would stop reading the last 10 or so pages of their novels because they had to do some other thing. Truly perplexing, that is.

I don't think that Serial Shelvers are readers in the true sense of the word. These are people who simply buy books, keep them in their shelves, and never open them. What's the point in this? Books aren't bought to serve as decor or to complement the color scheme of one's room. I've never met a Serial Shelver, which is a good thing since we probably wouldn't get along.

I'm a Double Booker. I usually have two books on my bedside table, and I can easily start a new book while still in the middle of another one. I know lots of Double Bookers. And I believe that people who frequent bookstores (like me), who usually receive books as gifts (like me), who make impulsive book purchases (like me) are Double Bookers.

Perhaps, what would turn everyone into Page Turners is that if the text were printed in a sloping manner, as Paolo Bizziocchi would have it. Bizziocchi was even kind enough to show us a diagram of how sloped text sections would make reading easier on the eyes. Bizziocchi (I just love saying that name aloud) even patented his idea: when you read a sloped text, each new line would be of the same height as the previous.

Sloped text: WTF!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wishing the caterpillar many more years

Eric Carle's most popular children's book The Very Hungry Caterpillar turned 40 this month! Eric Carle's artistic vision that started with this book will forever be unique. When you open Carle's books, his unique color palette and the chunky shapes will immediately demand your attention. His use of circular cutouts in almost ever page is just too elegant and beautiful. Carle himself seems like a character from a children's book; he reminds me of Gepetto. Read more about Carle here.

Carle's books are enduringly popular. When I was working for a book publishing house, our preschool authors kept referring to Carle's style when we had brainstorming sessions concerning artistic directions for the preschool books. Coming up with unique drawing styles for books was much harder than we thought.

In celebration of the book's 40th anniversary, people at Google came out with a Carle-inspired theme for their home page. Which reminds me -- I have to get Eric Carle books for my 2-year-old niece. I've been buying her mostly Dora the Explorer books lately.

Cashing in on Obamamania

I wonder if Obama knows that books with his images on their covers litter our bookstores. Some of them are actually written by himself, such as The Audacity of Hope, which has been on bestsellers' lists for quite some time now. A few of them are merely riding on the Obama popularity bandwagon. (I won't be surprised if Oprah picks The Audacity of Hope or Dreams from My Father for her book club.)

Last weekend, I saw a coffeetable book with Barack and Michelle on the cover. I didn't get to open this one, although I'm assuming that it's just a collection of pictures taken during the inauguration. The president and the first lady are one gorgeous couple, but I think they're suffering from too much publicity. We've all seen the inauguration; it's unavoidable since it was practically everywhere. Frankly, I don't want to be reminded of the pompous celebrations anymore, especially when a good number of Americans are barely making ends meet.

There's also this little blue hardback that contains Obama's inauguration speech. Isn't the speech available online -- for free? (Google is god.) Also, I read somewhere that Obama entered into a really lucrative book deal to write a children's book and a memoir. I'll read the children's book but I'll have to pass the memoir. That man lives in a fish bowl already; it's going to be hard to come up with something people don't know about.

During the inauguration, you probably have noticed that Malia was taking pictures using her camera all the time. It seems that publishers are proposing to bid on these pictures. This would be fresh take on the inauguration. I'll definitely buy that book.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Much ado about the next Harry Potter

There has never been a more overused phrase in the book industry than "the next Harry Potter." If I were an author of a series of young adult novels, I would feel really stressed having that phrase attached to my work. The pressure to live up to J.K. Rowling's tremendous book sales and popularity would be the death of me. Nevertheless, publishers are indeed seeking that next literary sensation in the field of young adult literature. Interestingly enough, I have some of these titles that earned this unfortunate label.

Tunnels, a novel by two first-time British novelists, came out in 2007 and its publishers was promoting it as THE book to watch out for. I saw the book at FullyBooked two months ago and I bought it at a whim. I liked the premise that involves a boy discovering a hidden world underneath the civilization that we know of. I haven't gotten past the first chapter though. I find the book too ridden with adverbs that it's distracting.

The Twilight books by Stephenie Meyer could have been the next Harry Potter if only their demographic extended to other sexes and other age ranges. The Harry Potter books were widely read. Children as young as 6 have been devouring the books. The Twilight books on the other hand are more popular with girls and, yes, women. The books have no universal appeal. Also, I found them too cheesy.

I loved Gone by Michael Grant and I'm eagerly anticipating the next one. I doubt that this would be the next HP though, since there are a few characters that readers would be able to relate to. In the world of Rowling, if you're not too big on Harry's character, there's always nerdy Hermione, goofy Ron, and a whole lot of other eccentric but lovable characters. Perhaps it's because Gone is the first novel, and the author would eventually find the unique voices of each of his characters.

Cornelia Funke's Inkheart trilogy suffers from being too serious. The first book, Inkheart, was a fun read because of its somewhat original plot involving a father and a daughter who have the unique talent of reading characters to existence. The second one, Inkspell, was a tad too overwelming. It had way too much characters and Funke seems too preoccupied in bringing the reader up to speed with what happened in the first book.

I do miss Harry and his posse. Rowling's prose is so fresh and unintimidating. She never failed to surprise us every time we opened an HP book. The books are worthy to be re-read, and Rowling had the right judgment not to write any more HP books after the 7th installment. I think that the last HP was one of the most effective conclusions ever, but my favorite will always be Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Rowling is not known for her restraint, but she made us fell in love with her imagination.

The books that changed my life (1)

I got this idea of coming up with a list of the books that had a strong influence on me from Facebook. I decided, however, to post the books here on my blog as part of a series. Coming up with the list was more difficult than I initially thought, so I decided to approach it chronologically, beginning with a book that started my life as a bibliophile.

When I was in grade 2, I checked out the children's chapter books section in my school library out of boredom. I was first drawn to the blue spines of the Hardy Boys series, but I was turned off by the age of the Hardy Boys themselves -- they looked so old. Nancy Drew was out of the question, since the main character was a girl. I then scanned the rest of the books on the shelf and pulled out a novel called The Bobbsey Twins and the Doodlebug Mystery. I must admit that what made me borrow this book was the cover, which showed four kids riding a freakishly large beetle.

The Bobbsey Twins series was less popular than its contemporaries (Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew). The series began in 1904 and was rewritten in the 1960s to give it a fresh new look. The Bobbsey Twins are actually two sets of fraternal twins -- 12-year-olds Bert and Nan, and 6-year-olds Freddie and Flossie -- who find themselves in quaint scenarios involving simple plots, a few of which are mysteries. The books themselves have been criticized for having too many protagonists, saying that the twins are only a "simple duplication of protagonists."

I loved The Bobbsey Twins and the Doodlebug Mystery still, although I can't seem to remember the plot; all that comes to mind is that I finished the book in three days and I ended up borrowing most of the Bobbsey Twins novels from the library. I guess I was partial to uncomplicated plot lines back then. My Bobbsey Twins phase lasted for 2 years, when I eventually found the stories too parochial. In grade 5, I started reading Hardy Boys and I would read a few of them for a year.

I noticed that the Bobbsey Twins books were not really that popular in school. They were placed at the bottom of the shelf; you had to scoot down just to scan the titles and most of them were dusty. Today, only FullyBooked carries the series at some of its branches. And again, you only find them at the bottom of the shelf. I was hoping that the publishers would release the books in their 1960s covers, the same thing that the publishers of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew did.

The Bobbsey Twins began my relationship with books, one that would make me a true-blue bibliophile. Before Bobbsey Twins, the only books that I read were fairy tales compilations and Dennis the Menace cartoon strips in paperbacks. Since grade 2, I have never been caught without a book in my bag.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Book snooping

Man Reading in Park (1990) by TB Ward

This week I decided to check out what other people are reading. I'll be going book snooping. Book lovers are really interested in finding out what the everyday person is reading. We usually linger around a bit longer just to see the title you're holding. So starting tomorrow, I'll be spying on people in the train, in buses, in cafes, and wherever. Who says that people, especially Filipinos, don't like to read?

Jagshemash! It's Borat!

I saw this book at a bargain bin and I knew I just had to get it. Borat: Touristic Guidings to Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is the funniest book I've read recently. The book is actually made of two parts, with the second one titled Borat: Touristic Guidings to Minor Nation of U.S. and A, which isn't as funny as the section on Kazakhstan. At 50 pesos (about a dollar), the book is practically a steal.

If you've seen the movie, you know that Sasha Baron Cohen's Kazakhstan is totally made up, similar to the real country only in name and geography. Although I doubt that I have readers in Kazakhstan, I just want to make it clear that I know about this; when I refer to Kazakhstan in this piece, I'm talking about the "third biggest country in the world" and the country where "the wheel was almost invented in 1824."

The book is so politically incorrect that it borders on being insulting. If you have no sense of irony, you would totally miss the point. It pokes fun and targets select groups -- homosexuals, women, pedophiles, children, etc. I got scared myself when I found myself laughing at the insensitive bits. How can you not laugh when you learn that the two most popular sports in Kazakhstan is Kokpar, which is similar to golf but the players are riding horses and use a dead goat instead of a ball, and Harusak, a race by men who are carrying women against their will. Swimming is also popular in Kazakhstan; people go to the lone swimming pool in the country that took 17 years to build (although finished 1 year ahead of schedule), has an 80% human solid waste filtration system, and has an average fatality of 17.4 per month (12.2 accident and 5.2 execution).

Also, in Kazakhstan, it's actually better to be a prostitute than to a wife. When they are at home, wives are chained by their husbands and are kept in a large electric pen with other wives in the Hueylewis Stadium when their husbands watch a ping pong game, another popular sport. Children are taught to play ping pong for 6 hours every day in school. Prostitutes, on the other hand, have it good. The wife of Kazakhstan premier is the country's #1 prostitute.

If you've seen the movie, then you would know about the festival of the running of the jew. In the book, there's more hysterically unbelievable instances of prejudice. One of Borat's hobbies is catching gypsies. And people have no qualms about selling children that "have much retardation." My friend told me that he saw copies of the book in Fully Booked. If you think that Cohen was a genius for creating Borat, then this book is a must-have.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Finally finding the hedgehog

Today, I finally found that one book I've been looking for several weeks now -- Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I've heard lots of good things about this book, and I can't wait to see if it's worth the hype.

I found Barbery's novel in the National Bookstore Megamall branch. I asked a saleslady if they still have the book in stock. Lo and behold, 10 minutes later, she was miraculously holding the book and giving it to me.

I do hope you can still get a copy. I've checked most of the bookstores in Manila and I couldn't find a copy. I was even wondering where the saleslady in Megamall found one, since I didn't see the book in the shelves.

I don't think we get to read enough world literature. Most of the time, we're happy with American or British novels. Sometimes, there's an Indian novel that everyone carries around. The Indian "it" novels today are Aravind Adiga's Booker prize winning The White Tiger and Vikas Swarup's Q&A (now titled Slumdog Millionaire for obvious reasons).

Friday, March 20, 2009

A mystery in the woods

Tana French's debut novel In the Woods is not your average genre fiction. It's a detective story yes, but it pushes the limits of the mystery/thriller very effectively, prompting several critics to call it a "literary thriller." I'm not quite sure what a literary thriller is, as I think that all novels have literary merit in them, no matter how shallow the plot and how one-dimensional the characters are. I guess it has something to do with In the Woods' combination of the police procedural, romance, personal ghosts, and the contrast between the idyllic and the modern Ireland.

Set in Ireland, In the Woods begins in an idyllic town more than two decades ago when three children -- Peter, Jamie and Adam -- go missing. After a thorough search by the local police, only Adam is found, half-naked, traumatized and unable to remember the fate of his friends Peter and Jamie who mysteriously disappear. Several years later, Adam, who now goes by the name Robert Ryan, becomes a police officer. Robert, much to his discomfort, is tasked to investigate a murder that eerily coincides with that fateful incident years ago: a young girl, Katy, has been murdered in the woods -- the same woods where he was found as a child. To complicate things further, he is assigned to work with Cassie Maddox, a lone female officer in a testosterone-filled police department.

Many of the standard elements of murder mysteries are present in In the Woods, but French still manages to put a fresh spin on them. It's almost as if French, a debut novelist at that, intentionally lures you into thinking of a usual angle and then suddenly making a complete 180-degree turn on the events. While Robert and Cassie do end up sleeping together during their investigation, it's not your usual relationship that benefits both of them. If anything, the partnership is doomed to fail, especially once Cassie learns of Robert's past and his personal affinity to their case.

French wrote her debut novel with an elegance that can put prolific pulp mystery novelists to shame. Her narrative is controlled at all points, allowing events to unfold in the right time. There are no nail-biting and action-packed sequences here, but the pacing of In the Woods is excellent, almost appearing to be effortless. You feel that French did her research and probably read hundreds of mysteries and thrillers to come up with her own unique take, one that's based on precise plotting but using a restrained voice not typical in this genre. Still, it's probably the most suspenseful novel I've read in years.

Robert's unresolved past is always looming during the investigations. Readers who expect that Robert's personal demons would be chased away once the case is solved may be disappointed. Robert's personal life does provide a vehicle for the author to give more substance to the narrative, but French uses this device somewhat peripherally. Perhaps she reserves this subplot for another novel, where we finally get to discover what really happened on that night two decades ago.

If you can find a copy of In the Woods, you have to buy it. Read it because:
  1. You'll be discovering a fresh talent in genre fiction.
  2. You're fed up with formulaic police procedurals.
  3. You feel that you have to read another thriller that's just as good as Child 44.

Overheard in the bargain bin

A little piece of heaven

Yesterday, I checked out the hardcover bargain bins at National Bookstore. While it was a bit overwhelming to see so many books on sale for 50 pesos (about a dollar), it was definitely more interesting to observe people who were perusing. I decided to hang out for a while to listen in to their conversations:

Boy (rocker type) with his girlfriend
Boy finds a biography of Kurt Cobain.
Girl: Balak mo ba talagang basahin yan? (Are you really planning to read that?)
Boy: (grunts)
Girl: Ang kapal! Kaya mo ba yan? (It's so thick! Do you have the stamina for it?)
Boy: (grunts some more)
Girl: Tara na nga. Iwan mo na yan. (We have to go. Just leave the book.)
My thoughts: Boy eventually marries girl. Girl castrates boy.

A group of girls
Girl 1: Eto pa, oh, romance. (Here's another romance novel.)
Girl 2: Ay, ang chaka ng cover! Ayoko. (Nah, the cover sucks.)
Girl 3: Etong Nora Roberts -- maganda ba to? (Is this Nora Roberts novel any good?)
Girl 2: Malay. (I wouldn't know.)
Girl 3: (picks up The Plot Against America) Sino ba 'tong Philip Roth? Ay, ang tanda na nya! (Who is this Philip Roth? Oh my! He's, like, old!)
Girl 1: 'to na lang. Manipis. Madaling basahin. (Why not this one? It's a thin book so it's an easy read.)
Girl 3: (loudly reads the synopsis in the book jacket) Sige na nga, eto na lang. (All right, I'll buy this one.)
My thoughts: I was quite happy with this one. Girl 3 was actually willing to experiment.

A mother and daughter (I think)
Mother: Ay! Sale! (OMG! Sale!)
Daughter: 50 pesos lang?!
Mother and daughter scan the bins for about 5 minutes.
Daughter: (reads a text message from her mobile) Andyan na daw sina daddy. (Daddy's on his way.)
Mother: Ah, ok. Tara. (Oh, all right. We'd better be going.)
My thoughts: This was very, very disappointing. I can't help but feel that I was mislead into thinking that these two women are readers.

Anyway, you might be wondering why I'm not browsing through the books on sale. Well, I'm still in my no-book-buying phase, which will end on Easter Sunday. So far, I haven't bought a book in three weeks. Also, looking at the people provides the much-needed distraction from the sight of the hardbacks that seem to be calling my name.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A book about books for book lovers

I received a little gem of a book last Wednesday. It's a memoir of sorts about the author's passion for books and his career as a bookseller. It also touches on the history of the library and the inevitable relationship of bookstores and cafes.

I've only read the first chapter so far, and I think that this is the perfect gift to give to anyone who loves spending his or her free time in bookstores.

Lewis Buzbee, the author, is a romantic. (How can you not love someone with Buzbee for a surname?) He talks about how he used to work from one bookstore to the next, eventually running his own.

I'll post a more substantive review of the book as soon as I've finished it. Thank you, R, for The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop. It's simply beautiful.

Another comic book, errr, graphic novel hero

The mighty Thor and a freakishly huge black guy: gay old times

That crazily inconsistent British actor, Kenneth Branagh, is directing the movie adaptation of the graphic novel series Thor. Apparently, Josh Hartnett is the front runner to get the role, much to the chagrin of fans of the series. They say Hartnett is too reconizable, too handsome, and too likable. Now hang on for a minute. Are superheroes supposed to be unfamiliar, ugly, and aloof? Is Shrek the new caped The last time I checked, there were no complaints about casting Robert Downey, Christian Bale, and Tobey Maguire in roles that require them to wear spandex and other weird costumes.

I would probably see the movie when it comes out in May 2011. I'm really not familiar with the story lines involved in Thor, but I'm very much intrigued with a Nordic god as a superhero. Will the mighty Thor still carry that hammer? I just love it already -- tight costumes, huge pounding devices, and lush blond hair! If only they'd lay off those pigtails. I predict that when the movie's about to be shown, our bookstores would start putting several overpriced Thor graphic novels in their shelves. (You can't help but notice all those Watchmen posters when you enter a book shop these days.)

Speaking of movies and books, this year's Oscars inspired our local bookstores to display The Reader, Revolutionary Road, and Slumdog Millionaire (or Q&A, as it was originally titled). I've read The Reader years ago, and I have to say that it was a very satisfying experience. It's the kind of book you finish in one sitting and it feels painful to turn the last page. I can barely recall the details of the novel though, but I think the movie pretty much stayed true to it. Something that we can't say for those hundreds of disastrous movies from otherwise brilliant novels -- The Golden Compass, The Count of Monte Cristo, Brideshead Revisited, and even Confessions of a Shopaholic. My favorite adaptations recently are the sublime Bridge to Terabithia and Atonement.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Too much of a good thing

Real-life shopaholics

I must admit that, for one time, I was into those Shopaholic novels by Sophie Kinsella. I read Confessions of a Shopaholic and Shopaholic Takes Manhattan in just three days. The first book was really quite good; it was a pleasant surprise. I gave it to my female friends as gifts and most of them liked the book too. The second book was all right too, although it bordered on being overdrawn. Somehow, Becky Bloomwood's quirks in the 2nd book wasn't that catchy and hysterically funny anymore.

Nevertheless, I decided to read the third and fourth books of the series since I had quite a bit of fun with the first two. I would eventually finish the fourth book feeling dismayed at how shallow the story lines and characters have become. Kinsella was able to map out her characters and their signature traits in the first book quite effectively. After finishing the fourth, it seems that the characters have not only reached a plateau in terms of their being instrumental to the story, but that they have actually devolved into stereotypes. Becky's shopping tendecies, while whimsical in the first two books, have now become pathological. They're not even one bit funny. Kinsella, by having Becky's character marry a handsome millionnaire, has provided a ridiculous excuse for Becky to go on unbelievable shopping sprees.

There's a fifth book by the way -- Shopaholic and Baby. I've a copy somewhere, but I just haven't gotten to reading it yet. I probably never will though. Somehow, the thought of going on carefree shopping sprees seems obscene in these tough economic times when everyone wants to hang on to their cash and snip their credit cards. And you must admit, if you can't even handle your finances well, you probably shouldn't be having a baby.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's day!

Today, March 17, St. Patrick's day, is my birthday. About two hours ago, I officially turned 35. Thank you to all my family, friends, office mates, bosses, and former classmates for all your well wishes. I will keep these warm wishes close to me.

I woke up anticipating the onslaught of carbs I would be taking throughout the day, so I ended up having a very light breakfast and skipping my regular lunch altogether. True enough, by the end of the day, I had eaten 4 slices of 3 different cakes, ice cream, palabok, pancit canton, grilled dory, creamed spinach, and bourbon peaches. Today has also been a very, very sweet day -- literally and figuratively. I've received a box of Ferrero Rocher, a carton of Royce, a big bar of Toblerone, and had a bite of chocolate chicken.

Overall, it was a good day. Now, I just have to reply to all you guys who sent me messages in Facebook.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Enough with the adaptations already

The twins from The Shining: Before

Another Stephen King novel is being adapted to the big screen -- It. I read the novel when I was in high school and found it brilliant, scary, and unsettling, all in equal measure. Despite the clown on the novel's cover, It is actually a monster novel. In the 1950s, a group of adolescents that dub themselves as the Losers Club. These kids confront a terrible creature which has been striking fear in the residents of Derry. Several years later, when they're all grown up, the monster is still very much alive, so the group decides to head back to their hometown to kill the monster once and for all.

Because of its doorstop proportions (my paperback was around 800 pages thick), the first adapation of It was a miniseries, which came out in 1990. The miniseries was lambasted by critics and the viewing public. I just saw one episode and I gave up immediately. The plot was too stretched out and the dialogue was laughable. Yes, the King novel was long, but the miniseries was terribly so. Perhaps the people behind the TV show was attempting to be faithful to the novel. This is a bad idea. A novel cannot be 100% duplicated into the small or big screen. What works in the novel (such as the permeating dread and sinister presence of supernatural forces) may not necessarily translate well into a different visual format.

Take, for instance, The Shining. Both the novel and the movie starring Jack Nicholson were really good and scary. The movie really worked despite not having to include every horror element in King's terrifying novel. King was at his best in his early career, the time when he churned out Thinner, Carrie, Salem's Lot, The Shining, Cujo, and Christine. Carrie -- there's another good movie based on the novel. Sissy Spacek's casting as Carrie was pure genius; she's beautifully weird, flawed in just the right places. You'd take her to the prom, but you wouldn't want to make out with her afterwards. Christine was campy, but it was scary campy.

I've already talked about Salem's Lot, my favorite King novel and the TV series that was inspired by it. If you read the novel and then you read Twilight, you'd realize that Meyer's vampires are sissies. For goodness' sake, Meyer's vampires don't even have fangs! If you're going to read just one vampire novel in your life, read Salem's Lot. You may want to read the short story the novel is based on -- Jerusalem's Lot, which appears in King's wonderful short story collection, Night Shift.

Most of the recent adaptations of King's works have been disastrous. The TV series The Stand was so weak in all aspects that you just want to check out Leprechaun 1, 2, and 3. 1406 could have been not as bad if they toned down on the apocalyptic special effects and focused more on the hotel hauntings. The Dead Zone was forgettable. The Running Man (yes, the movie with Ahnold Schwarzenegger) was based on a King novella of the same title. The movie lacked the claustrophobia and paranoia that the novella had.

No one has been cast yet for the It movie. Hopefully, we won't see Tim Curry reprise his role as Pennywise the Clown/Monster in the movie. And I'm wondering whether that particular bit in the end will be included in the movie. (That particular chapter in the novel is just so uncomfortable in so many levels.) The Invasion's Dave Kajganich is reportedly on board as the scriptwriter. I saw The Invasion starring Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman last year, and I now know why Kidman is the most overpaid actress in Hollywood. That movie, including Kidman's acting, was a mess.

The twins from The Shining: After

Sunday, March 15, 2009

How to spot a bibliophile

Bibliophiles, or book lovers, are intriguing persons. Most of my friends say that, being a book lover, I live in my own self-contained world. In a way, that's true. Every time I open a book, I immerse myself into the book's content, figuratively being transported into the author's imagined universe.

I think that bibliophiles are the most uncomplicated people in the world. It doesn't take that much to make us happy, and we think pretty much in black and white. Finding a bibliophile requires technique though. Here's how you can spot one.
  1. When we enter a bookstore, we immediately become silent. Everything else become irrelevant. Bookstores are sacred territories. Without them, we would be very very unhappy. The bookstore is where we also kill time before we meet people for dinner, a movie, etc.
  2. We carry larger tote bags than everybody else. Inside these bags are at least one book, which is usually read midway. If ever there are two books inside them, expect that the two books are somewhat unrelated with each other. I usually have a novel and a non-fiction book in my messenger bag.
  3. When in bookstores, we spend a longer time checking out the books in the new arrivals section than the ones in the usual shelves. Also, we prefer to browse by our lonesome. That doesn't mean we don't have company though. Usually, we join the people we're with when we're done and just about to leave the bookstore.
  4. We rarely check out the magazine section. We may check out the graphic novels section occasionally and perhaps buy one or two, but never the magazines. We can buy two decent books with the price of the latest Details, Vanity Fair, or GQ.
  5. We don't have too many credit cards in our wallets. What we really value getting are the bookstore discount cards. And we know when there's a sale.
  6. When we're in cafes, we read. We don't kill time by staring at empty space like other people, nor do we simply listen to our mp3 players and stare at the other customers. That's just rude and not to mention stupid.
  7. We love going to malls with at least two good bookstores. We bibliophiles love the small, neighborhood bookstores too, even though their books may cost higher than those found in big chains. We love the quaintness of small bookstores.
  8. We don't buy books with movie covers no matter how good the book is. We cringe at that. If ever you do find some of these in our bookshelves, they were given as gifts.
  9. We have a reading backlog. And this usually grows as we buy more books that we don't get to read immediately.
  10. We don't usually ask for help when we're looking for a particular book. We just don't trust those sales people in bookstores. We love the hunt. We hate it when we do need the assistance of bookstore personnel, especially when we're asked to spell out the book's title or the author's name.
  11. We know that Ethan Hawke is both an actor and an author.
Please feel free to add to this list in the comments section. Perhaps, I may have missed out one or two items that you feel passionately about.

The great hardback sale

Once again, National Bookstore is having a sale of hardbacks that go for 50 and 100 pesos (about $2). I usually find the time to do the rounds and visit as many National Bookstore branches in the metro as possible. Not this time though, since I'm still in my no-book-buying phase.

Most of these books are library copies that haven't even been read or opened; some of them are even practically brand new. I saw Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan yesterday at Robinson's Metro East on sale for 50 pesos! That's a steal, since the trade paperback of the same book goes for around 600 pesos.

I've found many hardback gems in these sales. Last year, I bought Tom Perrotta's The Abstinence Teacher and Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke in the bargain bins. If I'd bought the brand new ones, they would've cost me more than 2,000 pesos. I bought those two books for 10% of that price. Just don't be disheartened if you see books, which you've bought at full price, being sold at dirt cheap prices.

Books on sale: a book lover's ultimate wet dream

Saturday, March 14, 2009

35 is just around the corner

I'm turning 35 next week, and I'm really excited about it. Actually, I get excited every time my birthday's coming up. I'm thankful for the blessings I received in my 34 years on this planet -- my health, my family, my friends, my R, my books. And speaking of books, I've started to get some of them as gifts. One of the books I've been really grateful to receive is Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies. The cover is simply divine.

That sticky price tag

A friend recently asked my opinion about removing price tags from book covers. I have to confess that I'm a bit OC about this particular topic since I do love my books and I want them to remain pristine. First, let's ask ourselves a few questions on how important the price tags are to you as a book lover. Do you really want to be reminded of how much you've spent on to get that copy? Do you want to show your future children of the time when books were cheap? Are you just too lazy to take the price tag off? If you've answered "Yes" to any one of these questions, then don't take the price tag off.

I particularly want to keep the price tags on some of my books. I leave them on especially if (a) the books were so cheap or (b) they were too expensive. I once bought a new Jose Saramago book from National for 80 pesos and I asked the sales lady if there was a mistake. She scanned the item and it was indeed 80 pesos, so I bought it immediately. Next week, the same book was being sold for 480 pesos. This is one of the times it's good to not remove the price tag. It reminds me how someone in National screwed up.

If you do plan to take off that price tag, well then you just have to keep these things in mind. Books sold from the top three bookstores in the country -- PowerBooks, FullyBooked, and National Bookstore -- have the price tags on the back cover. This is an advantage if you botch things up. Books that have recently arrived in these bookstores have price tags that can be easily removed. Just take your time removing them, otherwise you can damage the cover. If the book has been on the shelf for quite some time, then you just have to be patient in removing it. Slowly peel off one edge a millimeter at a time. Now some price tags are actually perforated, which can make removing them even trickier. Again, in this case, patience is a virtue.

If ever you still do find some small sections of the price tag attached, you can gently scrape these pieces off with your fingernail. Don't put too much pressure though, since you're bound to make unsightly dents on the back cover if you do. Never scrape these bits and pieces off; you're bound to scratch the cover.

I also noticed that the finish of the book cover affects the way the price tag sticks to it. Price tags stuck to book covers with a matte finish are easier to remove than those on glossy book covers. Mass market paperbacks are the worst. It takes me about 10 to 15 minutes just to complete remove the price tag.

Books sold in bargain bins usually have price tags on the front cover. I just recommend not removing them at all. Since you've bought the book at a bargain bin, I'm assuming that you're not really into buying books in good condition (i.e., brand new ones). Also, I found out that the price tags used by Booksale are really sticky. When you remove them, there's a good chance of removing a small section of the front cover as well. Very, very unsightly.

A ruined front cover

Friday, March 13, 2009

Reader's block: there is such a thing

Really, Nate? Barbara Walters? Really?

We've all heard of writer's block and mental block. There's another kind that refers to the feeling when you just can't find the will to pick up a book much less finish it -- the reader's block. Based on experience, reader's block is actually quite common among those who read books frequently. If you find that you can't decide on what to read next, then you have reader's block. If you can only manage to read a few pages of your books, you have reader's block too. If you buy books not to read them but to display them in your shelf, you don't have reader's block; you're just a capitalist.

Unlike writer's block, reader's block doesn't go away if you do drugs, have sex indiscriminately, and wallow in self-pity. And unless you review books for a living, reader's block is really no big deal. It has no drastic effect on your income, which could not be said if you're a writer suffering from writer's block. Nevertheless, there are quite a few things that you can do to combat reader's block.

Try to vary your reading preferences, or at least read works of other authors. We all have our favorite authors and we usually fall into the trap of sticking to them. I know people who read only the Twilight books over and over again. A friend prefers to read no one else except Grisham. A girl in the office will read anything by Nicholas Sparks and nothing else. If you find yourself feeling unsatisfied with the latest work of your favorite authors, why not check out other authors writing in the same genre. Stephen King may be the most-famous horror novelist, but that doesn't mean he's the best in the field. When you don't have the stamina to pick up another King novel, sample the works of Clive Barker, Peter Straub, and Poppy Z. Brite.

Read the books you find enjoyable. Don't pick up Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger simply because it won the Booker. Adiga's brutal treatment of the subject of societal class in modern-day India may come off as a bit shocking and insensitive. Everyone these days reads Palahniuk, Murakami, Coehlo, and Kinsella, but that doesn't mean that you have to read them if you're not fond of gore, improbable scenarios, self-help and inspirational themes, and shopping. Of course, sometimes you do need to experiment. Pick up a book whose genre, author, and topic you're not too familiar about. Perhaps you would find that one enjoyable.

Skip the books for now and read magazines. Books can really be text heavy and sometimes it takes willpower to finish them. Magazines, on the other hand, have lighter material. The articles are short and you can choose the sections that you'd like to read. Magazines provide that much needed distraction. Also, you may come across book reviews in these magazines, which would entice you to read that particular book. Magazines, however, are way too pricey for my taste. I just hang out in cafes and read their several months-old magazines.

Read poems, non-fiction, graphic novels, business books, and cookbooks. Most of us read novels and reading novels can exact a toll on our senses. We just can't suspend our disbelief every time we pick up a work of fiction. Freakonomics is a highly enjoyable read. I usually give it away as gifts, and I haven't received a negative feedback yet. Poetry collections are perfect reads during lunch time.

If all else fails, just stop reading altogether for the mean time. The reader's block usually last for a few days and after which time, you're ready to hit your books again.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Day 16 and counting

I have not bought any book for more than two weeks now. It's been really really difficult. I saw a copy of Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog at Bestsellers in Galleria and it was practically calling out my name. Nevertheless, I'm still up to the challenge. After all, it'll only be 24 days till Easter.

Last night, I was looking for a fantasy/sci-fi book to read and I found these three books which I haven't read yet.

Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart had me intrigued. It's supposed to combine fantasy with sado-masochism. The other book, A Storm of Swords, is actualy the third novel in the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. I was floored when I read the first two books, A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings, which I think were flawlessly written. I just have to find the stamina to read the third book's 1,200 pages of small print. Oh, and Mr. Martin looks like a hobbit. My third choice, a breakout novel, is something I've read a lot of good reviews about. The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss's debut novel, did win a Quill award. The first few pages seem interesting enough, so I decided to read this one for the mean time. (I know, I know. I should've scanned the first few pages before I bought it.)

Why do fantasy novels have to be at least 700 pages thick? What's with the map(s) right after the title page? Do these books really need a map to remind the reader that they're set in alternate universes? Just looking at the names of the characters is enough to remind you that you're not in Kansas anymore -- Felurian, Kushiel, Daenerys. I can just imagine how hard it is to come up with these names. My favorite sci-fi/fantasy names are Silvertongue (from Cornelia Funke's Inkheart), Lyra (from Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy), and Takeshi Kovacs (from Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon). They're so wonderfully elegant and suit the characters' personas perfectly.

I know a lot of people who read only fantasy novels. I completely understand the fascination with these novels. They're escapist literature -- perfect for people who dream of living in another world. And much as I'd like to come up with a unifying characteristic among fantasy novel lovers, I just couldn't. Not all of them are geeky types. Not all of them are single or unattached. Most of them lead uneventful lives just like the rest of us.

I couldn't say that the same for those Magic The Gathering fanatics I see during weekends in Galleria. There can never be a more homogeneous group than these men. They all wear T-shirts (ironing optional) and rubber shoes, carry backpacks, have no product in their hair, and are most probably single. The few who bring their girlfriends to their "gathering" are left to look after themselves and seem bored as hell. Frankly, I got curious about this phenomena and its firm hold among its players. I had a good friend explain to me once about the objective and the rules of the game. I think my eyes glazed over after a few minutes of listening to the unbelievably complex rules (sorry R!).

The playing cards are amazingly detailed though. I love 'em. They make great bookmarks. I like pretty things.

Would you hit it with any of these guys?
I know a lot of you would. Geek is the new sexy. xoxo