Thursday, April 30, 2009

Wired, connected, and misspelled

Last week, I had my first encounter with the word "prolly." I wasn't sure what it meant when I read it in the chat message. I thought it stood for something so I asked the person I was chatting with to clarify. Upon learning that it's an abbreviation for "probably," my first reaction was a grunt.

Will this shortcut catch on? I don't know. I don't have any strong feelings about it. I'm not annoyed or anything -- I'm all for language leniency. But I'm hoping that people know the difference when to use "prolly" and "probably." And it wouldn't hurt if they used the longer word every once in a while.

I must admit that I'm the last person to know Internet-savvy terms such as "meme," "ping," "PM," and "IM." I'm not even partial to using smileys. I think typing smileys takes too much effort -- all those punctuation marks and shift keys that have to be hit. "Hahahaha" works for me perfectly. If I'm feeling devilish, I type "hehehe." Or, "hihihihi" when I'm feeling naughty. (I've searched all my blog entries for any smileys and I found none. I did, however, found a total of 15 smileys in all the comments.)

I'm no purist. If I were, I would've started a journal instead of a blog. But there are some things I just couldn't let go. I can't imagine sending text messages to my friends like "C u l8r" or "Go fk urslf." I've always been afraid of being misunderstood, so I make it clear to someone whether I want to be on toothbrush-sharing terms with him or if I want to rip out his balls and feed them to my pet dachshund Babs. (Like me, she's adorable that way.)

This post inspired by...

I found this hysterical article from the McSweeney's website about a supposed "Internet-age writing syllabus and course overview." Before you can take the "class," here are the prerequisites:

ENG: 232WR—Advanced Tweeting: The Elements of Droll
LIT: 223—Early-21st-Century Literature: 140 Characters or Less
ENG: 102—Staring Blankly at Handheld Devices While Others Are Talking
ENG: 301—Advanced Blog and Book Skimming
ENG: 231WR—Facebook Wall Alliteration and Assonance
LIT: 202—The Literary Merits of Lolcats
LIT: 209—Internet-Age Surrealistic Narcissism and Self-Absorption

I love McSweeney's and the books they publish. I can't get enough of their edgy designs and distinct themes. And McSweeney's has reading and writing programs for undeprivileged kids as well.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Going hungry

This side of paradise

People in Manila are going hungry. There are those who starve themselves by choice -- the fashionably hungry. These people may have the money, yet their gustatory cravings are not focused on sound nutrition. Being skinny is trendy. How else can they show off that they have first-class gym memberships and wear outrageously expensive size 2 clothes if they have those extra pounds? Ironic that these people are the first to sample the fare of newly opened restaurants. But they go there not to eat, but be seen and written about. It's a different kind of indulgence that these people look for -- one based on vanity, excess, and insensitivity.

Then there are those who are skinny because they've nothing to eat, period. They're everywhere but people choose not to see them, as if turning a blind eye will make this harsh reality vanish. In a way, seeing these have-nots reminds the rich how obscene their lifestyles are. Or maybe people have become desensitized to the point of indifference.

It may be surprising to find out that these two groups of people form a relationship, especially during the elections. The rich bring in the money, the poor bring in the votes. Apparently, the rich need the poor too, but it's frustrating to see how resources just flow in one direction.

I think it is this indifference, this attitude, that's the culprit here. Being indifferent reflects on our values, how we view things and people around us. When we were young, our parents always told us to finish everything on our plate and think of all those hungry people out there. And we've always wondered what the connection was. "Couldn't we just send our leftovers to the hungry?" you would probably have remarked. As thinking adults, the connection shows itself: our sensitivity to the needs of others can trigger us to do something humane.

Is it all right to participate in seemingly innocuous food fights at home and in school? I think it's the equivalent of saying, "Look at all our food! We have so much that we can throw food at each other!" It's sickening. Should people in a small town in Spain stop having their tomato-fighting festivals every year? Perhaps. Is it feasible to raise sin taxes a bit and allocate a fraction of the revenues to local soup kitchens? Maybe. Do we need to be more open to otherwise controversial technologies if it means more food on the table? Yes, definitely. Must we exercise objectivity and not let our emotions stand in our way regarding food research? Of course.

Most people say that food scarcity is a problem of politics and economics, not of supply. That may be true, but I feel it's a problem rooted in our indifference. People can still choose not to be indifferent. We can choose to make ourselves more aware of our immediate environment, our own "little world." It's futile to come up with solutions to end world hunger when we don't even pay attention to our community.

This post was written in line with the event "Unite for Hunger and Hope", which will be held tomorrow, April 29.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Letters from your mistress

People find it daunting to name their favorite book, which can be especially tough if you're a bibliophile. I've always been vocal about I, Claudius by Robert Graves for being my all-time favorite. For a book that was first published in 1934, the writing is unbelievably modern and can sometimes be racy.

Graves is also one of England's most famous war-time poets. Recently, I bought a thick Penguin paperback of his poetry collection. He is, after all, better known for his poetry than his novels, so I figured it was a "safe" buy. (Check out his poetry here.) Yesterday I decided to find out more about this man when I stumbled upon this piece of news from The Independent. academic has accused the poet of stealing ideas, literary criticism and poetry from his one-time American mistress and passing them off as his own.

Dr Mark Jacobs, a research fellow at Nottingham Trent University who has spent two decades studying 700 letters he received from Laura Riding Jackson as well as her literary works, said when she discovered the uncanny similarity in his texts she condemned her former lover as a "robber baron".

In her letters to Dr Jacobs, Jackson accuses Graves of having "sucked, bled, squeezed, plucked, picked, grabbed, dipped, sliced, carved, lifted the body of my work" after their relationship broke down in 1939."

I heard several years ago that Leonardo DiCaprio was set to play the title role in the adaptation of I, Claudius. If ever that abomination pushes through, DiCaprio would have been miscast. He's too pretty to play the stuttering, frail, and sickly Roman emperor.

Bromance: Perhaps Zac Efron can play Germanicus, Claudius' brother.

By the way, the contest below is still open. The winner just might get one more book.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Reading the diary of a call girl

I know I haven't posted a book review lately, which is ironic since my primary reason for starting this blog was to write book reviews. So today, I'm sort of reviewing one of the funniest books I've read recently: Secret Diary of a Call Girl by Anonymous. Regardless whether 100% of this memoir is true, the situations Anonymous finds herself in certainly makes for fascinating and hysterical reading. The sex scenes may be graphic, but the author's unpretentious treatment of them lends a certain freshness to the whole theme of the book.

In a way, I might consider this memoir part of the chick lit genre. Anonymous does get romantically involved with a couple of blokes. By the way, I'm giving this book away! Just read the details below on how to enter the contest.

Here are 10 things I've learned about call girls and the sex industry in general from reading the outrageously hilarious Secret Diary of a Call Girl by Anonymous:

  1. If you have your own place, being a call girl can be a home-based job. Home invites are usually the privilege of repeat customers though.
  2. Call girls hate small purses. The author mentions that she usually needs a large holdall to carry the essentials: phone, condoms, lube, and makeup. Other items include spare underwear and stockings, a spoon(?), and nipple clamps(!), ball gag(!!), and whip(!!!!!).
  3. The modern-day madam (or pimp) is a highly competent webmaster. She's online most of the time.
  4. It helps if you have a college degree. You may get customers who just want to talk. And some want to talk about intellectual stuff. Things that have nothing to do with real life such as literature and algebra.
  5. Call girls are prepared to swing both ways and, sometimes, in many directions. They get customers who are men and women; sometimes they get hired by couples and groups too.
  6. Call girls can buff your nails for free, especially if your chipped nails hurt their sensitive body parts.
  7. A call girl who poses a picture of herself with her legs crossed hasn't waxed. One whose picture shows her wearing an evening wrap or fur has fat arms. And if she's wearing pigtails and has teenage clothing sense, she's most probably in her thirties.
  8. Work schedules significantly differ from office jobs. They're busiest Friday nights and weekends. Mondays and Tuesdays are slow days.
  9. They've captured the essential difference between good sex and bad sex. Good sex is when you get everything you want. Bad sex is when someone else gets everything he wants.
  10. Men give a larger tip when you give them a massage. So it helps to carry a bottle of oil for this. But remember, oil is never acceptable as lube.

My first contest!

As I told you guys earlier, you can have this book for free! It doesn't matter whether you're in the Philippines or not -- I promise to send the book to you by courier. All you have to do is answer these questions about call girls, prostitutes, and courtesans:
  1. Who is this Oscar-winning actress who played a teen prostitute in the 1976 movie by Martin Scorsese?
  2. Before she was known as Sayuri in the novel Memoirs of a Geisha, what was the full name of the young girl who would grow up to become the most famous geisha of Gion?
  3. Did Julia Roberts receive an Academy Award nomination for her role as a prostitute in Pretty Woman?
  4. Which Seinfeld character is in Pretty Woman?
  5. The character of Linda Ash appears in what movie?
  6. Who is the author of The Crimson Petal and the White, a novel about a prostitute named Sugar?
  7. Complete the title of this novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Memories of My Melancholy __________
  8. The novel The Honest Courtesan is set in which Italian city?
  9. Toni Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye feature how many prostitutes?
  10. Who played the prostitute in the movie Leaving Las Vegas?

All you have to do is email your answers at I'll raffle off the book to those who answered the questions correctly. The contest ends on Wednesday, 29 April. (Sorry, I had to revise the original question to the contest, as I found out that my mom has been reading my blog. Oh the humanity!)

Special mentions:
  • Maan, if you win, I'll send the Borat book together with this one. Tell your friends!
  • Gege, Blooey, and Honey, I'm so sorry I wasn't able to attend the FFP gathering. I promise to attend the next one. Hope you guys join the contest!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A screwball comedy and a screwed up T-shirt

Yesterday I saw a delightful little movie titled Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, which stars the quirky Amy Adams and the brooding Frances McDormand. I love it! It's a romantic comedy set in pre-war London, a time when cabarets were in full swing and everybody smoked the hell out of their lungs. The art direction is simply wonderful. Every shot can be turned into a postcard. Just look at the set below.

I believe that this movie is an adaptation of an eponymous novel by Winifred Watson. Regardless whether the movie was faithful to Ms. Watson's work, the adaptation works primarily because of the fine performances of Adams, McDormand, and the rest of the cast. We all know that McDormand can act when we saw Fargo, a movie she made when she was really pregnant. Based on my experience being around with pregnant people, these women are always hungry, sleepy, tired, and irritable. (They seem to be constipated quite frequently too.) My goodness! I'm imagining what the Coen brothers went through when they were filming Fargo with the about-to-pop-any-minute McDormand.

Amy Adams remains one of my favorite actors. She isn't pretty like, say, Jessica Alba, Jessica Simpson, Jessica Biel, and all the models named Jessicas. (If I dig chicks, I'd stalk Amy Adams, get caught, and have my 15 minutes in the network shows.) Nevertheless, Adams is perfect in this screwball romantic comedy. Oh, and that dreamboat from "Pushing Daisies" is there too -- Lee Pace. I didn't immediately recognize him though; he seemed "chunkier" in the movie. When Pace first appears on the screen, I just knew that he'd get the girl in the end. You see, he plays a piano player, and no girl can resist a guy who's good with his hands.

It's seldom that a movie inspires me to seek out the novel it is based on and read it. The last time was when I saw Battlefield Earth, a movie so bad that the novel couldn't get any worse. I just hope that I see Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day in bookstores soon, and I am praying that the cover wouldn't be the movie poster. For the mean time, I have to satisfy my craving for English comedies with my copy of The Collected P.G. Wodehouse. I have yet to see a movie inspired by P.G. Wodehouse. I know that I shouldn't raise my expectations when I do see one. The T-shirt below sums up all the feelings of book lovers everywhere every time they see a terrible movie adaptation of their favorite book.

Speaking of T-shirts...

My mother gave me this last week. I doubt if she knows what the print means. She's "all sugar and spice and everything nice." (The shirt is part of a spoofs line, so don't mind the typo. It's intentional.)

When she gave the shirt to me, I couldn't help but grin. Thanks, Mom! I could never have enough friends with benefits.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

More crazy book titles

Sometimes the funniest things are unintentional. People really come up with crazy stuff without even trying. Click here for more insanely titled book covers.

Here's my favorite. Chapters include "How To Eat With Your Pussy," "Nursing a Sick Pussy," and "Exercising Your Pussy." This is a total gas. It'll make the perfect gift for pussy cat lovers.

I know that these books, despite having unbelievable titles, are real. I own one of them -- Foreskin's Lament by Shalom Auslander. It's a memoir by someone who grew up in a very conservative religious community. Auslander comes off as angry and funny at the same time.

A note on the foreskin for my non-Filipino readers:

Summer in the Philippines, from March to May, is the time when pubescent boys have their foreskin removed. Those living in the city go to medical doctors, where the operation can go on without a hitch. Boys in the provinces aren't so lucky. They go to the village doctor or folk healer (the herbolario) who cuts the foreskin with a knife, chews guava leaves, and then spits them on the wound to "disinfect" it. This is all done without anesthesia. Wonderful.

Circumcision is a right of passage here in the country. Parents don't usually have their newly born baby boys circumcised. They have their sons undergo the operation when they're 11 or 12 years old, somehow believing that the ordeal would make their sons "more of a man" whatever that means. I was circumcised when I was a baby, so what does that make me? Don't answer that.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Books I can't seem to finish

Every once in a while, we come upon books that take us forever to finish, if we finish reading these at all. It seems like that these books have been forever at our bedside tables. We may occasionally pick them up, but after reading a page or two, we move on to the next book.

Sometimes I can't even figure it out why I find finishing certain books difficult. They may be by our favorite authors or written in a familiar language and yet we don't have the stamina to read them. Here's my list of some of the books that I can't seem to finish. Perhaps, you, dear reader, will give me the motivation I need to finally take them out of my to-be-read pile.

I think what killed my eagerness to read the first of the Sookie Stackhouse series was the TV series. I brought Dead until Dark when we went on vacation during the Holy Week, which was the same time the TV series premiered on cable here in the Philippines. I saw the first few episodes and they didn't make any impact. I know I shouldn't be comparing the TV show with the book, but still...

The Descent is supposed to be a horror-slash-technothriller. Well, the horror bits aren't that scary at all, and the technothriller parts are, at best, amateurish. The novel, based on the 50% I've finished so far, seems disjointed. There's just too many improbable ideas being thrown around -- Satan is among us, devils really live below the surface, and the shroud of Turin is actually Satan's image. For a novel that mostly takes place several miles below the Earth's surface, The Descent is quite shallow.

I've read the first three Shopaholic books, and I can say that the fun factor of the books decreases significantly as you progress through the series. Becky may have a new challenge ahead of her (after all she's finally a mother), but it seems unbelievable that she continues on with her shopping urges. Shopaholic and Baby feels so contrived.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Writers rise from the dead, too

Crichton during one of his talks at the Harvard Medical School

I'm not talking about writers reappearing as zombies, elegantly dressed vampires, or divine apparitions. I'm talking about their works. It appears that Michael Crichton, the author known for incorporating cutting-edge technology in his fictional works, has kept manuscripts of two novels (one of them unfinished) when he died at age 66. Unless there's a vault of unfinished manuscripts hidden in Crichton's estate, this will be the last time Crichton fans will get their fix.

I'm not big on Crichton, but I've read Jurassic Park, The Lost World, Timeline, and, more recently, State of Fear. Jurassic Park and The Lost World really set the standard for techno-thrillers. They're perfect reads while on the train or soaking in the bath tub. Ironically, Crichton's novels, despite being based on science (supposedly), don't require as many brain cells to fully appreciate them as compared with, say, the novels of Murakami or Palahniuk. Much as I'd enjoyed his dinosaurs-coming-back-to-life-as-top-of-the-foodchain tall tales, I think Crichton doesn't merit re-reading. If you do, you'd be surprised that you didn't immediately catch the pretentious writing and his superfluous treatment of characters. Still, one can't say that Crichton's novels aren't entertaining; each chapter practically ends in a cliffhanger, urging the reader to go on.

I remember one time when I was hungry for a quick read so I bought State of Fear. No self-respecting rational individual would believe Crichton's claims in the novel that, contrary to public perception, the global warming phenomenon is totally made up. Yes, that's correct. Crichton, who gained his following with his technology-based novels, is saying that surface temperatures are actually stable and, perhaps, even getting cooler. He even included several footnotes throughout the novel just to support his thesis. Unless you think there really is a huge ball of alien matter found in the ocean or that crazy monkeys can murder scientists in the Congo, this novel is a gas. It merely adds to the confusion regarding this sensitive issue. If Crichton really believed that there's no such thing as global warming, he should've simply contributed article to scientific journals such as Nature. That would probably have a bigger impact.

I have no doubt that Crichton's last two works would be bestsellers. His publisher's probably counting the potential earnings from these novels. Critics, on the other hand, would be sharpening their knives. Hmmmm... I did write something about reader's block here, and if you do get reader's block, then you're probably better off reading a Crichton novel which can be engaging in some parts. Just read the novel as fast as you can, lest you realize how totally improbable the plot is.

Crichton's uneven oeuvre
A good rule to follow is if the book involves dinosaurs,
then you'd probably enjoy it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Totally not cool

Spotted: A window display from a Barnes and Noble branch in Florida

Apparently, this shot is authentic. The book on monkeys, however, was placed by a malicious customer.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Dump your ashes elsewhere

Jane Austen's house

The folks maintaining Jane Austen's house have requested that fans stop having their ashes dumped all over the place. Apparently, it's not unusual to find mounds of ash littered in the grounds of the place, especially in the herb gardens, every morning. And I'm not talking about cigarette ash or ashes from burned leaves; these are ashes from freshly cremated deluded devoted fans of the British author.

I don't own a single novel by Jane Austen, much less read one. Every time I pick an Austen book at the local bookstore, I cringe at all the gossipy dialogue. The slow pacing doesn't help either. Like most people, my exposure to Austen's works come from the movies. My favorite is still Clueless, which is based on Emma (although the one with Gwyneth Paltrow is good too).

Nevertheless, I am early anticipating that our bookstores would finally have Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I've always thought that Mr. Darcy's character is overly romanticized. Will he get to kick some zombie ass in this book? I can't wait to find out.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Got style?

Today, April 16, marks the 50th anniversary of William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White's much beloved book, The Elements of Style. This little book became indispensable when I started working for a book publishing house almost 10 years ago. I constantly referred to it every time I'm faced with a manuscript that required major editing. Sure we had The Chicago Manual of Style, a doorstop at more than 1,000 pages, but CMOS is more focused on the convention to be employed in books (placing footnotes, coming up with the index, acknowledging sources in bibliography, using punctuation marks and rules of capitalization, etc.).

The Elements of Style is divided into five sections, and the section on the rules of usage is particularly helpful to the grammatically challenged. This section is somewhat prescriptive though, which may put off people who are all for language leniency (I'm not one of them though). Still, the book is a wonderful resource for people who want to check if they accidentally used a comma splice, broke a perfectly good sentence into two dependent clauses, and used a plural verb after "everybody," "someone," and "none," just to name a few.

The section on commonly misused words and expressions is still very much relevant. Can you use "that" and "which" alternately? Strunk and White say no, as there are nuances to the words' usage -- "that" is for restrictive clauses. Also, the authors' explanation on the difference between "nevertheless" and "however" is enlightening. You may, however, need to reread this section just to fully remember its several entries. Nevertheless, I assure you that the effort is worth it. And yes, "inflammable" and "flammable" mean the same thing; although "flammable" is more commonly seen printed on trucks that carry inflammable substances.

The sections on writing somehow fell short of my expectations after reading the black-and-white rules presented in earlier parts. The writing tips tend to be general and, well, bordering on common sense. Consider this rule: avoid foreign language. Unless you're a pretentious twat, you wouldn't dare include expressions such as "C'est formidable!" and "Entschuldigung" just to say "That's great!" and "Excuse me."

I've often recommended this book to people I work with, especially those who recently graduated from college and want to have a career in writing. We all want to write clearly. We all want to follow proper English standards, write tighter sentences, and avoid clutter in our writing that will simply confuse the reader. Reading The Elements of Style is the first step to achieving these.

Apparently, some people have a bone to pick with Struck and White. Check out one writer's angry critique of the book here.

Get this book if:
  1. Writing is your means of livelihood.
  2. You appreciate the beauty of grammatically correct construction.
  3. You love your reader.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thank you, dear reader

-from Toothpastefordinner

Tomorrow, April 16, is Blog Reader Appreciation Day. Before I forget, let me just say thank you, loyal reader, for visiting my blog every now and then. I really appreciate your taking the time to read my posts, even though a few of them are just rants.

I started this blog 3 months ago primarily for my friends who kept asking me about which books to read. So I decided to open a Blogger account so that I can write reviews of these books and perhaps encourage them to read these as well. Looking at the collection of my posts, I can see that I've written articles other than book reviews.

Once again, thank you, KyusiReader followers. I do hope you visit often. Thanks for all your comments, too. I always look forward to reading them. For those who've stumbled upon this site, I wish that you weren't put off by the assortment of posts and hope that you've found something that interested you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hot chaps who write

One of my habits every time I pick up a book in a bookstore is to check out the author's picture. Frankly, I'm surprised at how good looking some of these authors are. No, I don't buy a book just because I find the author hot; I buy a book because (1) I've been searching for the book for the longest time, (2) the book's plot seems interesting, and (3) the cover is too beautiful. The photo of the cute or handsome writer is just a bonus.

I'm guessing that most of my readers are female, so here I am presenting you with some eye candy. (And I know that a few of you guys are gay.) Funny that when I was asking my friends for names of good looking writers, some of them mentioned Neil Gaiman. Well, I saw Gaiman 3 years ago, and his low-maintenance look did nothing for me. He just seemed a tall and lanky guy with disheveled hair.

I'd probably come up with another list featuring beautiful female authors next time. But for now, here are some of the authors who I do find incredibly hot.

Alex Sanchez
His novel, The Rainbow Boys, was certainly conventional and is still frequently challenged with its gay theme. But it certainly paved the way for other writers to come up with more gay-oriented young adult novels.

China Mieville
I've always thought Mieville was a girl. Mieville is best known for writing "weird punk" novels, one of which is the acclaimed Perdido Street Station.

Brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden
These brothers co-wrote The Dangerous Book for Boys. Conn also writes historical fiction. Good genes are always nice to have.

Ethan Hawke
I think everybody has seen a movie with Ethan Hawke in it. But not everyone knows that Hawke is also a novelist. Everyone loved him in that movie with Julie Delpy, the one where they just walk and talk for two hours.

Jack Kerouac
The author of the seminal On the Road was one hot beatnik.

Jasper Fforde
I haven't read any of his novels. But if his novels are as good as the way he looks, I'm headed to the bookstore now. Some bloggers swear by Fforde, so I think it's inevitable that I'll read his novels some time.

Kenneth Oppel
This terribly good looking Canadian YA novelist is best known for his Silverwing trilogy.

Markus Zusak
Zusak's Book Thief and I Am the Messenger are great reads, not just for teens, but for grown ups as well. Don't you just love that adorable face?

Tom Perrotta
If you love 'em bears, then you'll fall for the author of Election, Little Children, and The Abstinence Teacher. Ummm, and he's a Facebook friend, too.

This is probably my gayest post ever. I feel like watching UFC just to compensate. But then again, watching half-naked guys groping each other does not necessarily translate to heterosexuality.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Accidental literary masterpieces (if there's such a thing)

If only for A Clockwork Orange, we'll forgive the comb-over, Mr. Burgess.

This website came out with a list of 6 writers who "accidentally" managed to write their masterpieces. I'm not sure whether accident is the best word to use here, but if the writer wants to emphasize that the 6 authors didn't intend to come up with "life-changing" and "genre-defining" works, then perhaps the use of "accident" is warranted. (I apologize for the numerous quotes in this paragraph. One writer puts it that quotes are like condoms for stupid words. I love it!)

Here's a rundown of the list:

  • Hunter S. Thompson - Wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas while covering a dirt bike race for Rolling Stone. I haven't read the book nor seen the movie. But since it's easier to download the movie than to search for that novel in our local bookstores, I'd probably end up watching Terry Gilliam's film adaptation.
  • Lewis Carroll - Probably got ideas for Alice in Wonderland from looking at pictures of naked girls. (It adds new meaning to John Mayer's "Your Body Is a Wonderland," doesn't it? Hihihihi.)
  • Anthony Burgess - Was inspired by his wife's being assaulted by a group of AWOL American G.I.s to write A Clockwork Orange.
  • Franz Kafka - Never intended his works to get published. Fortunately for us, the person who was supposed to burn his works as Kafka instructed him published all his unfinished novels anyway. I think that if you really want to destroy your works, you should do it yourself. How hard can it be to press that delete button?
  • Mary Shelley - Wrote Frankenstein when she was just 19 years old as a result of being bored challenged by Lord Byron. Because of the weather when they Shelleys were visiting Byron's manor, Byron invited the couple (Mary and her husband, the poet Percy Shelley) to a scary story contest. Rumor has it that Byron, Mary, and Percy engaged in a threesome that night.
  • William Shakespeare - Was in it only for the money.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Back in the metro

I just arrived about 5 hours ago from somewhere up the country's north for a much needed time off. The experience still lingers; the whole place was really magical. And the local food was so totally good (and unhealthy) you get a high every time you take a bite of their longganisa (sausage), the deep-fried empanada (savory pastry with two whole eggs and more of the sausage), and the positively sinful bagnet (deep-fried pork belly that you buy already cooked and then you re-fry it at home.) Somehow, I feel that the MSG-free vegetable chips we were munching in the car was pointless.

This stone church built around the 1500s was so huge you can get lost in it. What bothered us was that, at the side of the church, there's a stone stairway leading to the church's roof. What could be the reason for building that?

Lake Paoay, which according to one of our companions, is a famous body of water in the region. Hmmm... if it were really famous, how come only one of us knew about it?

We also went to Fort Ilocandia, which I think is more famous than Lake Paoay as there were several tourists who were around. I just have to take a shot of this stone sculpture. The sculpture's details were fascinating.

Everyone agreed that one of the highlights of the trip was seeing these alien-looking windmills. I think there were about 20 of them dotting the coastline. Too bad these pictures don't give you an idea of how big these structures are -- they're even taller than buildings I think.

No trip to Vigan would be complete without walking through the cobblestoned Crisologo Street in the town proper. The houses and buildings have been around since the 1500s, too. There's even a bookstore, but it didn't sell antique books though.

And finally...

Easter has finally come! I made it through 40 days without buying a single book. Thanks to R. and my family who were kind enough to get me books in that very, very difficult time.

Happy Easter everyone!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

On vacation

Back on Saturday, 11 April

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

To the great outdoors

I'll be on vacation (and taking a break from blogging) starting tomorrow, and the question that comes to mind does not concern about what kind of clothes to pack but what books (and how many of them) should I bring. It's been some time since I last went on vacation and God knows that I need one. I'm really looking forward to going to the beach and just killing time reading a book and perhaps doing the obligatory sightseeing.

Considering that I'll be away for about 4 days, I've thought of bringing a doorstop of a book. Do I finally get to finish Philip Hensher's The Northern Clemency? (That book's taking me two months to finish. There's just so much to take in in those 600 hardback pages.) Do I bring The Collected Stories of Patricia Highsmith? (Again, another doorstop at 800 pages.) Will I find the time to squeeze in Denis Johnson's critically loved Tree of Smoke?

Because I'll just be wearing a belt bag for the trip, I think I'll just bring more portable books. I've decided to bring two medium-length novels, both from the NYRB classic editions. If you ever have reader's block, the NYRB editions will give you that much needed impetus to start turning those pages again. Just look at the covers: they're so wonderfully elegant!

Hmmm... I feel taking another book with me. I know that I have the first Sookie Stackhouse novel by Charlaine Harris somewhere in my room. I think I'll bring it too -- if I can find it.

Interestingly.... (Sorry, I don't have a proper seque to this.)

The words "robotics," "computer virus," and "zero-gravity" first appeared in science fiction work, not scientific journals. Here's a list of 9 words that originated from science fiction. You may want to read the comments to the post as well. Very very heated discussions.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Have contempt, will pack

What if you find out that your wife detests you? How long does it take before you discover that you only have aversion for your "better half"? Do you get out of the relationship? Or do you do whatever it takes to make it work? These are some of the questions explored in Alberto Moravia's darkly atmospheric novel Contempt.

Set in postwar Italy, Contempt centers on Riccardo Molteni, an Italian screenwriter married to Emilia. At first, everything was perfect in the couple's married life, even though Riccardo's work can only pay for a room where the couple spends their free time and evenings. Emilia, who was once a typist and who comes from Italy's lower-income families, is determined to make the room as comfortable for her husband. Riccardo, however, knows that Emilia secretly wishes a house of their own, and it is this knowledge that causes feelings of insecurity in him.

Things appear to change for the better when Molteni is offered to write a screenplay by his friend, Battista. The money coming in allows Riccardo to make the first payment for an apartment, where the couple immediately move to. It is at this stage when Emilia develops contempt for Riccardo. Suddenly, for reasons undisclosed yet, Emilia refuses to sleep with Riccardo in the same room, barely talking to him when he's around. And when Riccardo accepts another screenwriting job, which would enable him to make future payments for their apartment, Emilia's derision for her husband only increases.

Reading the first half of the novel makes you think that it is Emilia who is shortchanging their relationship. However, as the novel progresses, you see that Riccardo is the one to blame for the fallout. One time, Emilia sees Riccardo kissing a female clerk and then treating the episode as just trivial. You get to observe how Riccardo is ultimately the one destroying the relationship with his indecisiveness, his inherent passivity, and his apparent lack of respect for his wife. Without thinking about it, he even forces his wife to the whims of Battista, which turns out to have disastrous consequences on the couple. In the end, when Riccardo discovers that Battista and Emilia are having an affair, you feel that Emilia is probably better off with any one except Riccardo.

Moravia even injects parallelism into his story. Riccardo's next job is to write a screenplay based on Homer's The Odyssey. Interestingly, Riccardo, Battista, and the German director have different takes on how the screenplay should be developed. Battista, the film's producer, wants the movie to be spectacular with all the latest special effects, fancy costumes, and over-the-top performances; The Odyssey is an adventure story after all. The director, on the other hand, tells Riccardo that Homer's work is about the failed relationship between Ulysses and Penelope, which somehow eerily mirrors the situation between Riccardo and Emilia. In the director's version, Homer chooses to take on different adventures so that he delays his coming home to Penelope.

Moravia's prose is full of the stream of consciousness of Riccardo. We get to know how convoluted Riccardo's way of thinking is. Contempt is not for those who want to read novels where a lot of things are going on. Most of the time, you simply read about Riccardo's thoughts. Still, the narrative is quite compelling and it makes you discover for yourself why the character of Riccardo is one of the most detested in postmodern Italian fiction.

Read this book if:
  1. You don't want to read another love story.
  2. You love reading about other people's thoughts.
  3. You feel that your partner's not that into you.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Beautiful editions from the NYRB

NYRB book cover designs: a study on minimalism

Lately I've been reading a lot of the classics editions published by the New York Review of Books. If not for the NYRB, these wonderful novels, poems, essays, and selected nonfiction would never be rediscovered by bibliophiles such as me. I've read Alberto Moravia's Contempt and Glenway Wescott's Apartment in Athens, both beautifully written novels. The NYRB editions are the books that you take your time reading; each page is a celebration on brilliant writing.

These books may not have the commercial appeal as modern novels, but they're definitely worth collecting. The covers alone are already conversation pieces -- none of those garish visuals and screaming typefaces we see in books nowadays. And, the paper thumbs smoothly. I have 8 NYRB editions on my shelf, and I'll probably get some more since I don't see any other publisher who comes out with the works of Georges Simenon, Leonardo Sciascia, and Adolfo Bioy Casares.

NYRB editions on display

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A love-hate affair with cliffhangers

JJ hanging off the cliff @ the gordges

The last really good children's books I've read, Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games and Michael Grant's Gone were cliffhangers. Although Collins and Grant had dropped several hints near the end of their novels that their protagonists aren't in the clear yet, I feel that the books would've been better as stand-alone titles. Waiting for Collins and Grant's second installment is torture.

I'm guessing that cliffhangers are popular among children's books because children and young adults need a good reason to read the series, and what better reason than providing an unresolved storyline. The cliffhanger works well in young adult books that are sci-fi/fantasy in themes. Because these novels feature a vast array of characters, the reader ends up relating or rooting to one. The beauty of the cliffhanger is that it compels the reader to follow his or her favorite character as the series progresses.

I love a good cliffhanger. That's why I sat through the entire series of "Prison Break" one weekend. With books, cliffhangers take on a different meaning. The book really has to be written well and with well-developed characterizations to force the reader to go through the experience again. With young adult book series, you just never know if the second book will be as good as the first. In the hands of a talented novelist, the quality of writing and the suspense never waver as you move from one book to the next. Sometimes though, you can be disappointed.

Scott Westerfeld's The Midnighters Trilogy is one good example of a terribly inconsistent series. The trilogy is about a group of adolescents who discover that, when the world becomes frozen at the stroke of midnight, certain dark spirits haunt this midnight hour. The first book, The Secret Hour, was compelling because of that Twilight Zone feel. The second book, Touching Darkness, was a bore. I didn't even bother buying the third book, even though I saw it in the bargain bin. His other series, the Uglies Trilogy, was better and I believe the books had a wide readership, with Westerfeld even coming out with a stand alone fourth book.

I wish that serial YA books were written in such a way that each book can stand on its own merit. Each Harry Potter book can be enjoyed as it is, although the experience becomes more meaningful if you read all seven of them. Clive Barker's Abarat, a supposed quartet, is also another example of this sort, although it seems it's taking Barker forever to finish the third book. Another great YA series is Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otori; the first novel, Across the Nightingale Floor, is simply too good.

Friday, April 3, 2009

These are real self-help books

If there's one particularly genre I don't read much, it would be self-help books. I've always been vocal about not being a big fan of these books, as I get plenty of help from people around me -- both solicited and not. I believe there are even subcategories for self-help. There are inspirational, religious, business management, interpersonal, relationship advice, financial advice, beauty, fashion, nutrition, and exercise self-help books, just to name some of them. Judging by the continuous renewal of stocks in bookstores, I think there's good money to be had selling them.

Here in Manila, the effects of the economic crisis aren't felt by many yet (although some people are probably still in denial), so financial advice books don't seem to be kicking off as of the moment. What's popular here are those YOU series by Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen. I even have one -- YOU: On a Diet. I still haven't read it though, as I'm really enjoying Eat This, Not That! which I think offers more practical advice on healthy eating. Also, I really haven't tried going on a diet, and the idea of me on a diet causes me to cringe.

Then there are the bookstore staples such as Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, and How to be Happy. I always see this Who Moved My Cheese? on display. I never bothered to pick it up since I'm turned off by the title. Why would I move your cheese? Why, of all the things that I can possibly choose from, choose cheese to move? And if I do decide to move some cheese, why would I choose YOUR cheese? And if I did own cheese, why would I be concerned as to who moved it? I still found it right?

Why are self-help books so popular? Are we really ruining our romantic relationships? Do women need tips on what shade of lipstick to wear? Have publishers tapped all the kinds of people that "need" help? Apparently, yes. I was just surfing the web when I stumbled upon these ridiculous but very, very real self-help books. Get the complete weird list here.