Friday, May 29, 2009

At least it's hygienic

Koji Suzuki, the man behind The Ring, Spiral, and Dark Water, has a new horror novel. But this time, it's printed on toilet paper. My only question is: Will the books come out in 1- or 2-ply as well?

I am loving the concept already. Who would've thunk this one but the Japanese! If you plan to resell this book, then better come up with a new sales pitch other than "Used Toilet Paper For Sale."

On another sheet...

Ever wonder why the sheets of toilet paper don't stick? They roll out effortlessly from the tube, right? It's all due to a mathematical concept called Penrose tiling.

Look closely at a roll of Kleenex and you'll notice patterns on the surface of the sheets -- the Penrose tiles. These are actually unrepeating patterns, which prevent bunching when paper is rolled.

And because the Penrose tiles are unique, there's no possibility of the patterns of one sheet locking into place with the patterns of the sheet under it. Brilliant, right?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Filipinos and the media

A friend brought this worldwide study to my attention last week. Having been released in 2005, it may be a bit dated though, but I can't find a more recent one on global media habits.

Basically, the NOP World Culture Score(TM) Index details the number of hours people from different countries devote to watching TV, listening to the radio, reading, and logging in to the Internet. Here's what I found out:
  • We spend 21.0 hours every week watching TV. Filipinos ranked second in this category; Thailand ranked first.
  • We listen to the radio for 9.5 hours per week. We're #16; Argentina is at #1.
  • We read for about 7.6 hours every week. We came in at #4! Indians are the most bookish, with 10.7 hours spent every week reading.
  • Almost 10 hours of the week are spent online. The Taiwanese, ranking first, are online for 12.6 hours.
I just wish that the study could've been more specific. I'd really want to find out what Filipinos are reading. Do we read more magazines than books? Which books are the most popular? I do remember reading a study about the most popular non-school books among Filipinos. If I can find it, I'll share it with you guys.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A slice of horror

I'm in the mood for a horror novel. I want to read something really scary -- the kind that forces you to sleep with the lights on.

I've grown up reading the works of Stephen King, Peter Straub, and Clive Barker. I've outgrown King and Straub, and I've been disappointed with Mister B. Gone, Barker's latest horror novel for adults.

In case you do find yourself wanting to read scary stuff, here's a short list of horror novels that really scared the hell out of me.

  1. Salem's Lot and Night Shift by Stephen King
  2. Ghost Story and Shadowland by Peter Straub
  3. The Books of Blood and Weaveworld by Clive Barker
  4. The Other by Thomas Tryon
  5. I Am Legend and Hell House by Richard Matheson
  6. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
  7. Swan Song by Robert McCammon
  8. Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite
  9. Heart-shaped Box by Joe Hill
  10. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  11. The Secret of Crickley Hall by James Herbert

What about you, dear reader? Any scary books that you'd like to recommend? List them in the comments section.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Literary deal breakers

Does the saying "opposites attract" hold true to every situation? If you're a book lover, wouldn't you rather go out with someone who's also into books? Wouldn't it also help to be seeing someone who's tastes in books are somewhat similar to yours?

I can't imagine spending time with someone whom all I can talk about is the weather, algae, jpeg vs. gif, or Britney Spears. I'd probably kill myself if I can't talk about books with my S.O. Having said that, I do consider it important that we somehow like the same books. Or, more importantly, that we get one another interested in our preferred reading matter.

I've been romantically involved three times, with the first two ending in very unfortunate scenarios. (The one I'm in now, I believe, is for keeps. We met at a bookstore. And the first time we met, future S.O, was holding a Murakami! I was totally into Murakami 5 years ago.) Looking back, I now know why there was never a chance of those two relationships succeeding, and I feel that it has something to do with reading tastes (or lack thereof).

We've all heard about deal breakers. They're omens of some sort, whether the date is headed into something potentially serious or if you're better off with a dog. For book lovers like us, deal breakers can come in two ways -- either the potential S.O. isn't into books at all or he/she is so into a specific type of genre that we wouldn't even bother reading.

In my first relationship, I was with someone who was not into reading at all, and I mean reading in all forms. That was doomed from the start, although why we lasted for 2 years I'll never know. The second one was into books, the religious kind. I've nothing against those; I've actually read quite a few. The deal breaker for me happened during my birthday when I received 5 books about the Virgin Mary and when this person said, "You should try these, and not the trashy ones you're always reading." What. A Load. Of S--t. We lasted for 2 years, too.

If I were single, I would definitely be on the lookout for these literary deal breakers every time I go out on a date. Here are some of the books that would send me fleeing to the next parallel universe:
  1. Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus
  2. The Alchemist (or all the books by Coehlo for that matter)
  3. Any book with a cover depicting Fabio ravaging a woman
  4. Finnegan's Wake
  5. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
  6. High School Musical novelizations
How about you, dear reader? What would be your literary deal breakers? I really want to know. Write them in the comments section.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A noisy book

Patrick Ness's novel for young adults, The Knife of Never Letting Go, deserves all the praise that was heaped on it. Having known that it won the Guardian Children's Book Prize and the James Tiptree Prize and being shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal and the Booktrust Award, I wonder why the book isn't creating as much a buzz here in Manila and in the US. Perhaps it's the brutal themes that make a lot of people uncomfortable. Or maybe it has something to do with the author's exploration of sensitive subjects such as war and gender clash.

The novel is indeed brutal, but I can't imagine it going a more conventional path. It's set in a world much unlike our own but with one significant difference -- in that world, all the men can hear each other's thoughts, which they call Noise. Todd Hewitt, the protagonist, thinks that it has always been this way, having been born into this effed up world. (Todd does use "eff" and "effing" a lot in the narrative but never the exact four-letter word.)

Todd lives in Prentisstown, a settlement where all the women have died and the men left go about their lives hearing one another's desires and dreams. But Todd feels that there's something wrong in Prentisstown. For one, the mayor and his posse seem to be preparing for something, as their Noise has taken on an urgent and more focused quality. The preacher has also been giving more and more cryptic messages to his faithful, as if foretelling a somewhat apocalyptic event in the near future. And the men seem to be keeping a close eye on Todd, for in a month he'll turn 13, the age when a boy officially becomes a man in Prentisstown.

One day, while in the outskirts of his village, Todd discovers a hole in the wall, a spot where there seems to be no Noise, and this space of quiet comes from a girl. When the men find out about this, Todd's foster parents, Ben and Cillian, sends Todd away immediately. He runs, taking his dog and the girl, Viola Eade.

The novel delivers and in a big way. Patrick Ness has written a novel for young adults that's bound to spark debate and discussion among its readers. Todd's questions become the reader's own: how come women hear men's thoughts without giving out Noise of their own, why did he have to flee his home, and why are there no women in Prentisstown when it's clear that other settlements are populated by both men and women? Of course, I wouldn't include any spoilers here, as reading the parts that answer these questions are very, very satisfying.

Receiving the James Tiptree Award is especially significant, as it's only given to a YA novel that explores gender issues effectively. In The Knife of Never Letting Go, Ness has added another dimension to gender differences and presents a case on how this difference is treated in two varying settings. With women being able to hear men's Noise, this premise presents a very unique dynamic on how Todd and Viola communicate throughout the story.

The writing style employed in The Knife of Never Letting Go can take getting used to. Being written in the first person, the language reflects Todd's lack of formal education (e.g., the novel's first sentence: The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don't got nothing much to say.). But this language adds a richness to the narrative, adding another layer of context making it more believable and meaningful. In a way, this is what makes the book succeed: our suspension of disbelief is maintained because Ness keeps all bases covered.

Read this book if
  1. You want a YA novel for thinking adults too.
  2. You feel people can hear your thoughts.
  3. You love the unexpected.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The dame still matters

Lady, you'll need a larger tote bag for that.

Agatha Christie sets another record! She's now the author of the book with the largest spine ever -- over a foot long.

And in Iran, they arrest a woman whom they believe to be their first female serial killer. The woman confessed that she somehow patterned her killings from Christie's whodunits.

And also...

I went to three bookstores today and noticed that they have new stocks but with much higher prices. Could this be the result of the tax imposed on imported books?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Leave Bella alone

Count: Why don't I sparkle?
Me: Ummm... Because you're made of cloth?

Twilight bashing has become a favorite pastime. After all, who wouldn't cringe when reading cheesy lines such as this:

He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare. His glistening, pale lavender lids were shut, though of course he didn’t sleep. A perfect statue, carved in some unknown stone, smooth like marble, glittering like crystal.

From Stephen King, bloggers, to Harry Potter fans, it seems that everyone feels strongly against the popular book quartet. I've read all 4 books and, when I read the book almost 5 years ago, I found Twilight refreshing. The other three books though are a different story. I won't go into the details on why my appreciation for the books waned -- this article does that for me.

Whatever reason you may have for not liking the series, I still admire Stephenie Meyer because of the following:
  • Being original - Who would've ever thought to write something about vampires vs. werewolves? Truly a novel concept.
  • Fearlessly spitting on folklore - I've always thought vampires were outright scary. But, they're not -- because they sparkle! They don't need to have fangs, too.
  • Writing winning characters who take control of their destinies - Rather than write about a heroine who actually has skills (and a personality), she comes up with a character who simply pops up everytime the heroine needs help. Simply brilliant!
  • Eliminating flaws in the hero - Why settle for flawed characters when you can develop a protagonist who's beautiful and perfect! And who sparkles!
  • Having a witty writing style - See italicized paragraph above. (Sadly, that doesn't sparkle.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Something pleasant this way comes

When it's a Friday and you just got off from work and you've nothing planned for the night, I usually kill several hours in different bookstores. I decided to check out PowerBooks in Greenbelt. It's been a while since I went there and bought something. The last time I went there, I got depressed; there's barely any new stock, and their shelves keep decreasing in number. Even the coffeeshop wasn't there anymore. (Fact: I met my soulmate in that same PowerBooks in that now-disappeared coffeeshop.)

Anyway, I stayed for more than 2 hours in PowerBooks when I realized I had to buy a book. (I felt guilty for having used up space, and, besides, I was in a buying mood anyway.) I picked up Derek Landy's Scepter of the Ancients, the first book in the Skulduggery Pleasant series. I had no expectations whatsoever about this YA novel; I was just glad that it didn't mention Harry Potter in any of its blurbs. I hate it when I read "Harry Potter fans will not be disappointed" and other blurbs something like it. Publishers should stop doing this -- it's misleading. I have yet to read a book that comes close to the experience of reading Rowling's HP books.

Much to my surprise, I enjoyed Derek Landy's novel so much I read it in a day. Landy engages the reader from page 1. Stephanie, the book's main character, inherits his uncle's estate, including all the magical elements that go with it. Unknown to Stephanie, it turns out that his uncle had his hands on the scepter of the ancients, a magical object so powerful that any sorcerer who wields it can be unstoppable. When Stephanie spends her first night alone in his uncle's huge mansion, it becomes clear that someone wants it badly. Enter Skulduggery Pleasant, a detective who was her uncle's close friend, who puts everything in perspective for Stephanie. The friendship between Skulduggery and Stephanie becomes inevitable; it's this friendship that allows Stephanie to become involved in the world of magic. As it becomes evident that the sorcerer Serpine is out to get the scepter of ancients, Skulduggery and Stephanie tries to find it first. (Oh, and did I mention that Skulduggery is a talking skeleton?)

Reading Landy's writing feels like browsing through a screenplay. All the characters find themselves in different action-filled scenarios from one chapter to the next: battling ghouls, outwitting vampires, encountering vengeful sorcerers and mages. Somehow, the novel feels like a pitch to those Hollywood execs, hungry for ideas for the next summer youth-centered blockbuster. Still, it is this feature that makes the book a fun and enjoyable read. Children would definitely love it and probably see a part of themselves in either Stephanie (the fish out of water) or Skulduggery (the rebel).

The novel's plot can be formulaic sometimes. There are episodes when one is reminded of pivotal scenes in Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, and Jim Butcher's series The Dresden Files. The characters are oddly reminiscent of other personas too. Serpine, the book's bad guy, is Voldemort without the malice; Skulduggery reminds you of Harry Dresden. Nevertheless, these formulas mend together seemlessly in the book's 400 pages.

An interesting concept put forth by this book had something to do with names, although Jim Butcher has a similar idea in his series. Each person basically has 3 names: the name he's born with, the name he's given, and the name he takes. In the wizarding world, you shouldn't be telling your given name to anyone because sorcerers can use it to take control over your actions. The only way to counter this is to find a name that encapsulates your personality. Once the name comes to you, it protects your given name from those who can abuse it. In the novel, Stephanie experiences being forced to go against her will by China Sorrows, a beautiful sorceress who manages to learn Stephanie's name. It is only when Stephanie takes on the name Valkyrie Cain when Sorrows hold over Stephanie disappears.

Read this book if:
  1. You feel like reading another book with sorcerers and mages.
  2. You want a quick read to kill the time.
  3. You want to read something that's "movie-ready."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Books people assume I've read

Funny that, when people learn that I read a lot, they would assume that I've read the books they love. Some of these books are "classics." And while I've no idea what this word actually means, I do know that these are great books and their probably "life changing" and all; it's just that I haven't read them.

One time, I was with a friend who talked about how The Alchemist changed his life perspective. (Just hearing the words "Coelho" and "life perspective" is enough to make me cringe.) I just sipped my latte and watched eye candy stroll by. I do remember having to stop myself from constantly adding, "I'm sorry, what?" every time he asked for my opinion. Thank goodness I can appear to be listening intently just by nodding my head. The technique is not to nod at a regular pace -- slow, knowing head movements interspersed with rapid jerks work best.

Of course, you might think that I could've avoided that situation if I just told my friend that I haven't read The Alchemist at all. Still, I do love a challenge, and I wouldn't give up the opportunity to admire beautiful people while I get my caffeine fix for free.

Here's a list of books that people think I've read but haven't.
  1. Catcher in the Rye
  2. The Lord of the Rings
  3. Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo (Thank heavens for cheat notes!)
  4. Any book by William Faulkner
  5. Any book by Mark Twain
  6. The Origin of Species
  7. Books 2 onwards of Tales from the City
  8. The Bible
  9. Nancy Drew
  10. The R.L. Stine novels
How about you, dear reader? Are there books that people automatically assume that you've read but haven't?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Living in an inverted world

When you mention the genre of science fiction to people, they immediately conjure up images of spacecraft zooming into space, aliens hovering in the background, and apocalyptic events looming over the protagonists. These are probably the same themes that make critics somehow look down on the genre. What people don't realize is that science fiction has different categories, and one of these is Hard SF. In a Hard SF novel, there is almost always a male character who sets out to leave his endangered home for an adventure. And also, this protagonist eventually begins to understand this different cosmos and realizes the danger that threatens his world.

I must admit that I haven't read that much Hard SF. I sometimes feel that the alternate universe the author conjures up can be a bit hard to swallow despite the author having to justify all the technologies with sound, empirical research. So it was a pleasant surprise to find out that I enjoyed Christopher Priest's Inverted World immensely. Priest may not be as big a name as the giants of sci-fi such as Asimov, Bear, Baxter, and Herbert, but he did write some memorable novels (not all of them sci-fi though) such as The Prestige and The Separation. Priest's versatility to write different genres shows in his novels, resulting in works that you can dissect in different layers. The Prestige's main appeal was probably the magical elements woven into the story, but it also works as an exploration of the clash of two personalities in a time and place that has only room for one of them.

In Inverted World, the focal point is the city, a man-made structure that is shut off from the outside world. People go about their business in the city, with men who come of age joining professional guilds (Bridge Builders, Track Layers, Future Surveyors, Navigators, Militia, Barter, etc.). When the book's central character, Helward Mann comes of age, he decides to become a future surveyor and is shown the outside world for the first time. Much to his amazement, he discovers that the sun is shaped differently from what he's been taught (it's actually a hyperbola) and that the city has to be moved north one mile every 10 days to reach the "optimum." All the members of the guild are in on this secret, employing men from the city and surrounding villagers to lay tracks so that the city can travel the requisite mile up north.

It was only a matter of time when Helward discovers the reason for this constant moving of the city. When he's assigned to bring back three women to their villages south of the city, he experiences a strong gravitational field as he moves south. This magnetic field is so strong that mountains and even the women get deformed -- they become flat. Also, he learns that the ground is moving, causing the magnetic field to also creep up north slowly. The city thus has to move the same speed north just to evade this destructive field. Time also behaves differently when you travel south- or northwards. When Helman returns to the city after travelling south, he finds out that he's been gone for a much longer time than he expected. As future surveyor, Helman is tasked to go up north to map out the terrain that the city will be passing through. When he comes home to the city afterwards, it seems that he's only been gone for three days when he thinks that he was gone for 30 days at least.

Halfway through the novel, you would expect that Helman would be instrumental in coming to a solution for this dilemma, or at least inform the citizens about it. But Priest does not go this usual route. Instead, the voice of reason is heard through two women -- Helman's ex-wife and Elizabeth Khan, a nurse from one of the villages outside the city. Helman, however, becomes so immersed into the system of secrecy espoused by the guild. In the book's main sections, the first-person narrative of Helman has a resigned tone; Elizabeth's account, on the other hand, attains a sense of urgency, often enlightening the reader on the true nature of the city and the world outside it. Helward embraces this cruel inverted world because he has no other choice; Elizabeth does so because she loves it and seeks to free the city from its warped perspectives.

There's not much technology that Priest expounds into this novel. The way the city powers itself has to do with nuclear reactions, which Priest seems to tackle in his narrative at arm's length. Priest's attempt at infusing mathematics (e.g., the graph of the hyperbola, the inverse function) feels contrived. Nevertheless, these minor distractions does not take away the enjoyment one would have reading Inverted World. It's Hard SF with a soft twist. Readers wouldn't feel threatened by all the technical jargon they would've expected from a work of sci-fi -- there are only a few instances of these in the novel. Inverted World was written in 1974, yet the issues being explored are as timely as ever.

Read this book if:
  1. You're not a sci-fi fan but want to sample the genre.
  2. You're fascinated by the concept of space and time.
  3. You've always dreamed of living in another world.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Internet whipping boy

George R.R. Martin

Imagine, if you will, that J.K. Rowling wasn't able to finish the last Harry Potter book on time. And it's been almost 4 years since Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince so you're literally dying to get your Harry Potter fix. And what if Rowling was keeping mum over the progress of the last book, offering no clues whatsoever as to when the last book will be finished. I wonder how you would react. Perhaps you'd book the next flight to England and storm Rowling's house shouting "Finish the bloody book, you lazy, raisin-faced English tart!" Knowing how fiercely loyal HP fans are, I believe this scenario wouldn't have been that far-fetched.

Currently, this is what's happening to George R. R. Martin, the American sci-fi/fantasy novelist. In 1996, the first book of the A Song of Ice and Fire series came out and it became a hit, earning critical and commercial success for Martin. It was inevitable that the first novel, A Game of Thrones, established a loyal following for the 7-part series. A Feast for Crows, the fourth book, came out in 2005 and it's still the last book to be published. Considering that it has been almost 4 years since the last installment, fans have become increasingly insistent that Martin finish the fifth novel, A Dance with Dragons. Their comments have lately turned into rude, hateful, and unapologetic arguments.

The issue has caused a divide among concerned people, both readers and those in the publishing world. One group thinks that Martin should take his time writing, and the other group states that Martin, as an author with a devoted reader base, has an obligation not to disappoint his fans. Even Neil Gaiman has his own take on the matter, somewhere along the lines of "George R. R. Martin is not your bitch." If you're keen enough to notice, most authors are taking Martin's side. Martin's publisher, however, has remained silent about the issue, but I'm assuming that they wish that the old man just type away and finish the damn thing.

As someone who's read the first three books of A Song of Ice and Fire, I somehow understand strong reader sentiments on Martin's apparent silence on the subject. However, I do have a problem with the apparent lack of respect for the author. Books -- both fiction and non-fiction -- take time to write. If you've read any of Martin's, you know how well-written they are. Readers should know that there's a premium for novels with well-developed characters, wonderfully complex plot lines, and engaging storytelling. Novelists who manage to come out with more than one novel have a year have a very uneven oeuvre. Take, for example, publishing wet dreams who are Patterson, Grisham, and Steele. While they do manage to come up with a brilliant story every now and then, their novels are formulaic, crappy, and just plain awful.

A Song of Ice and Fire is worth all the attention it's getting. If you're not a big fan of high fantasy, you should give it a try. The novels have something for everyone. And unlike others in the genre, the books have become better and more satisfying as the series progresses. I'm not even a big fan of high fantasy and yet I was glued to all the intrigue and political drama that Martin effectively weaved into the narrative. Just when you're starting to relate to a certain character or predict where a sub-plot is going, Martin throws a curve ball at you. He'll have the character killed or take the storyline in another unexpected direction, and you're left with no choice but to read on.

HBO has bought the rights of the first two novels and will be adapting them into a TV series. Happy, happy, joy, joy! HBO better not screw them up. So far, the series looks promising as they're bringing in the director of The Visitor and the writer of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The first to be cast is Peter Dinklage, who'll play Tyrion, a midget but belonging to the powerful Lannister family. I doubt whether this piece of good news will appease fans, who'll probably be blogging how Martin let them down by selling out.

Peter Dinklage

So what do you think, dear reader. How much do authors owe their readers?

Friday, May 15, 2009

I scream for Chelsea Handler

Chelsea Handler is probably the funniest person on TV right now. She's a rare breed -- a comedian who is also drop dead gorgeous. If you haven't seen an episode of "Chelsea Lately", you're missing out on a lot. That show is hilarious! You may want to turn a deaf ear on all the politically incorrect jokes though. They make fun of midgets, blacks, gays, Miley Cirus, and the Jonas Brothers. And courtesy of the Chelsea Lately lexicon, I learned new words that definitely increased my somewhat limited vocabulary -- words such as "shadoobie" and "koslapuss."

In her first collection of essays, My Horizontal Life, Chelsea chronicles all her funny one-night stands in her 20s, which are bound to make the most prudish of readers have a heart attack. Whether or not all these stories are true, the essays make for a very entertaining read. Also, I can vouch that she did write these entries. If you've heard her talk on her show, that's the way the book was written -- in your face, self-deprecating, judgmental, and unpretentious. When her father asks her if she were a lesbian, she replies: "No, Dad. I'm not a lesbian. I sleep with guys all the time."

My Horizontal Life can either make you cringe or induce a BOSMKL ("bending over smacking my knee laughing") fit. She recounts how she had a phase wherein she dated only black guys because of their large penises. She imagines being in The Bachelorette and she eliminates all the bachelors based on penis size and then eventually giving the final rose to a Tyrone, Leroy, or Jamal. One time while applying for a loan in a bank, she sees a poster with a man and wonders how she knows him. Then it hits her that it's that guy with the small penis (a thing so small that you might just mistake it for a piece of skin).

I can't help but think if Chelsea ever contracted STD. If you're a young and beautiful blonde who's into Ecstasy and several shots of vodka in a party, there's definitely going to be consequences "down there." While high on E at a party in Mexico, she invites a midget to her hotel room and then passes out. When she wakes up in the morning and sees those little midget feet in the toilet, she wonders if she had a baby during the night.

If you've seen "Chelsea Lately", you're familiar with all those racist jokes they casually at each other during round table discussion. Now I know where Chelsea gets her inspiration for all those jokes about Asians, blacks, Jews, and Latin Americans -- from her father. In My Horizontal Life, her father is a constant presence. Mr. Handler thinks that he's not racist and says that he has no issues talking to and dealing with blacks. When he spots the only black couple in a crowded bar, he walks up to them and asks whether they would be interested in cleaning his house. When he sees Chelsea's black date drive away from their house, he immediately thinks of calling the police to report a stolen car.

My Horizontal Life is one of the funniest books I've read this year. Although I'm not recommending it to people who have no sense of irony. Her second book, Hello Vodka, It's Me Chelsea, is reportedly even funnier.

Read this book if:
  1. You love Chelsea and her nugget Chuy.
  2. You ever had a nasty one-night stand.
  3. You're not getting any.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A rivalry to watch out for

A blogger's take on this effingly brilliant concept

Forget vampires vs. werewolves, Godzilla vs. Mothra, Montagues vs. Capulets, and men from Mars vs. women from Venus. Team Edward vs. Team Jacob? Please, that's no contest. I'll happily spoil it for you -- Bella marries Edward, boinks him, and begets a vampire-human mongrel.

All these classic and treasured rivalries don't stand up to the one featured in my most anticipated movie of all time: Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. I just can't wait to experience all the layers of human and animal drama, existential angst, and profound character development when I finally see MS v. GO on DVD. And it stars Debbie Gibson, the 80s singer of "Electric Youth" fame. Check out the trailer here.

A mega shark, a giant octopus, and Debbie Gibson walk into a bar.
What is this -- a joke?

Would you like chili sauce with that?

I love sharks and octopi (octopuses?). I've eaten both. In the Philippines, squid balls and fish balls are popular street foods. No, we don't eat squid and fish testicles, although that's a wonderful thought. These balls are actually made of fish and squid meat rolled into bite-sized pieces.

Fish balls are actually made of shark meat, which gives a stronger fishy flavor. I'm not sure whether they use octopus instead of squid to make squid balls though. Nevertheless, octopus does taste like squid, and I bet people wouldn't throw away the occasional stray octopus if it could be used to make squid balls.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

10 inalienable rights of the reader

French writer Daniel Pennac has formulated the following "Reader's Bill of Rights" in one of his children's books.
  1. The right to not read
  2. The right to skip pages
  3. The right to not finish
  4. The right to reread
  5. The right to read anything
  6. The right to escapism
  7. The right to read anywhere
  8. The right to browse
  9. The right to read out loud
  10. The right to not defend your tastes
  11. I think these are brilliant. I couldn't agree with them more. However, I do want to add just a few items.

  12. The right to write about what you read - As someone blogging about books, this is a given.
  13. The right to read tax-free books - Currently, there's a big issue here in Manila about imported books being taxed. Check it out here.
  14. The right to listen to audio books - Many people now consider listening to audio books as a form of reading. Whatever works, right?
I'm sure you can think of other rights that we have as readers. I would love to hear from you. Just post what you can think of in the comments section.

Monday, May 11, 2009

I've been to Gomorrah and back

I finally got to read Roberto Saviano's critically praised Gomorrah, his personal account of living among the organized crime families in Naples. The Camorra, the network of thug families living in Naples, makes the Sicilian mafia look like wimps. In Naples, no one escapes the clutches of Camorra because they control everything: jobs, businesses, and even the government. Basically, if you want to survive, says Saviano, you learn to deal with these families.

Saviano's expose leaves nothing to the imagination on how destructive the Camorra can be in this part of Italy. They kill ruthlessly, often not discriminating between innocent civilians and their target. Some of the natives have become so accustomed to the killings that they don't even bother to have their bullet-riddled windows replaced. When there's a war between two Camorra families, killings happen every single day.

Gomorrah is probably one of the best nonfiction books to come out recently. Saviano's thorough research lets you in all the gritty details of how the Camorra actually works and how these families corrupt everything they touch. Saviano spares no details: which families have close ties with elected officials, which people are responsible for killing rival Camorra clan members, etc. What's also alarming is how the Camorra clans employ boys as young as 12 years old to do some of their dirty work. For these boys, being part of the Camorra is their ticket to money, power, and women. Sad, but oh so true.

I found this book in the movie tie-in section of the bookstore. I'll definitely look around for a copy of the movie in DVD. The movie was also well-received. I just hope that Saviano is doing well; he was placed under police protection after the publication of Gomorrah. In a world that's screwed up, death threats by the dozen are what you get when you're honest.

Read this book if:
  1. You want to see the darker side of Italy.
  2. Godfather is your all-time favorite movie.
  3. You think that being part of the mafia is actually a good thing.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Loving trade paperbacks

When the last novel of the Twilight series hit bookstores, I was surprised to note that it came out in both hardback and trade paperback formats. I always thought that paperbacks -- both the trade and the mass market editions -- come out months after the hardback's publication. Nowadays, though, there has been an increasing trend in releasing the hardback and the trade paperback editions of a book at the same time.

I guess this makes perfect sense, especially during these financially difficult times. Hardbacks are very expensive, and trade paperbacks only cost about half. I've always loved trade paperback editions with their large typeface and their semi-permanent ink. When I read mass market editions, my hands get smudged from all the ink. They get deformed and fox easily too.

Old, crusty, and smelly

Thursday, May 7, 2009

My top Mother's Day gifts

It's the time of year again when my siblings and I bicker discuss amongst ourselves what gift should we give our mother for this special occasion. Mother's Day is quite stressful for me because of this. We make it a point to actually give something useful every year. No flowers, chocolates, figurines for us.

Funny how our mom tells us, "Oh, don't bother yourselves with buying me a gift." One time, we really didn't get her anything for Mother's Day. She gave us the silent treatment for 3 days. So today I googled like mad for the best gifts I could possibly give her. I came up with this list.

Things my mother would appreciate (I think)

An armadillo handbag - My mother always carries a huge handbag. Sometimes, it feels that it's actually the handbag that carries her. I think this handbag makes the perfect fashion statement. My mom can definitely pull off using roadkill for an accessory.
A horse wine bottle holder - We don't really drink wine that much, except during New Year's when we drink all the reds and whites we received during the holidays. I'm sure my mom would use this to hold the bottle of toyo (soy sauce), patis (fish sauce), or suka (vinegar).

Slippers with Star Wars characters - A huge fan of Star Wars, my mother is. I can just picture her wearing the pair with Darth Vader heads and speaking to me in a throaty, wheezy voice: Peter, I am your motherrrr.... I wonder, would she cut off my hand too?

A nose soap dispenser - I am loving this! My mom always complains that I don't drain the water from the soap dish, causing the soap to turn all mushy. Hopefully, this anatomically exaggerated soap dispenser with its realistically colored liquid hand soap would put a stop on all that.

An empty jewelry box - I can't wait to see her reaction BEFORE and AFTER she opens this one. I must have the camera ready. These are the moments I practically live for. Empty jewelry box: $1. The look on my mother's face: priceless.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The tattooed girl returns

Don't you just love it when you go to a bookstore and discover that the second installment of a much-loved is on its shelves? You figuratively lose your shit when that happens. The second novel of Stieg Larsson's Millennium series, The Girl Who Played with Fire, once again brings back all the characters I've grown to love and hate since I read the first novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I think the Millennium series is shaping up to become a truly landmark work of Swedish detective-slash-thriller fiction. (Scandinavian novelists have been making waves in this genre recently.)

Lisbeth Salander, the polarizing heroine in the first book, is back, but this time she takes center stage in the novel. At the novel's beginning, she cuts off all ties with the journalist Mikael Blomkvist when she discovers him romantically involved with his editor-in-chief. Blomkvist's magazine, Millennium, is at the cusp of revealing an expose on sex trafficking in Sweden, an issue that the government doesn't pay much attention to. When the two people involved in the research (a couple actually) get shot in their apartment, all eyes lead to Salander as the murderer. On the same day, Salander's legal guardian, Nils Erik Bjurman, is also found dead in his apartment, also shot at close range. Naturally, Salander becomes the prime suspect to that too.

Having known Salander intimately, Blomkvist insists to the police that Salander doesn't have anything to do with the murders. But all evidence points to Salander and no one else. The gun has Salander's prints. Salander also visited the couple just before the murder. The police also found sex tapes showing Bjurman brutally raping Salander, which the investigators think is enough to serve as Salander's motive. Blomkvist eventually finds out that Salander knew about Millennium's investigation on prostitution and tries his best to find a link between the murders and Salander. He eventually discovers a connection, particularly between a shadowy figure in Sweden's criminal underworld named Zala and Salander.

As you progress through the novel, you realize how the criminal web gets larger as more people in high places are involved. Despite the growing number of characters, Larsson never fails to focus the reader's attention to Salander. It is this focus that makes the novel more plot driven than the first. The novel starts a bit slowly though, with the first few chapters being used to bring the reader up to speed on Salander's many quirks and talents (hacker, spy, amateur mathematician, detached, and weirdly bisexual). It's all worth it though, as the stage is set for all the cat-and-mouse chase sequences that follow.

In The Girl Who Played with Fire, there's none of the closed murder mystery theme that was pivotal in the first novel. The second installment is more edgy and would definitely appeal more to avid readers of Robert Ludlum's Bourne novels than fans of Agatha Christie's elegant murder mysteries. You may be expecting an ending appropriate to the complex web that Larsson wove throughout the novel's 650 pages. Instead, Larsson dismantles this web, revealing how everything is tied to Salander. He even manages to effectively add a few twists regarding the mysterious character of Zala, who only appeared in the last chapters of the book.

I am eagerly anticipating the third novel, which will also be the last novel by Larsson. It seems unfortunate that a writer, who is capable of writing superb plot lines and developing characters you could relate to, die after submitting his manuscripts to his publisher.

Read this book if:
  1. You like unpredictable protagonists.
  2. You have no qualms reading violent scenes.
  3. You always root for the underdog.

Monday, May 4, 2009

And our word for the day is...

bakku-shan: noun; a Japanese word meaning a beautiful woman... as long as she's viewed from behind

Usage examples:

This man is dating a bakku-shan.

Amy Winehouse will never be a bakku-shan.

We gotta hand it to the Japanese. They have a word for everything. As they say, 75% of the world's crazy s--t come from the Japanese.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The books that changed my life (3)

No other books have made as much impact on my 13-year-old self than the mysteries of Agatha Christie. I've always loved a good mystery, and, being an Anglophile of the highest order, the works of Dame Agatha Christie are a wet dream. There's something about good, old-fashioned British mysteries that I can't put my finger on. Is it the thick London fog described in the novels, or the proper English gentleman, or the classic murder tools such as arsenic and knives?

The first Christie mystery that I've read was titled Sleeping Murder. Yes, the title is quite unimaginative. Looking at the author's list of more than 80 novels, I just realized that some of the titles are really cheesy: Evil under the Sun, Appointment with Death, Murder Is Easy, A Murder Is Announced, and By the Pricking of My Thumbs, just to name a few. When I was 13, I only bought these prosaic titles: I thought that the more in-your-face the titles are, the more satisfying the novels would turn out to be.

I think I've read about 20 Christie mysteries and probably owned a dozen. They're in my bookshelves somewhere, probably collecting dust bunnies in a corner. When I was a teenager, I was happy curled up in bed with an Agatha Christie novel. I couldn't get enough of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, although I was more partial to reading those featuring the lovable British spinster.

My favorite will always be And Then There Were None, which was originally titled Ten Little Indians, which was originally titled Ten Little Niggers. (Oh my goodness! The N word!) The novel featured neither Poirot nor Marple. All the characters die, leaving you to wonder who the hell did it. It's one of those novels that lets you realize that you're in the hands of a master.

Vintage Christie paperbacks

In related news...

Recently, scientists believe that Christie may have suffered from Alzheimer's disease when she wrote her final novels. This is something that strikes a personal chord. My maternal grandmother had Alzheimer's disease, and I think my great-grandmother had it too. I'm sure I'll be getting it too.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

And the winners are...

Congratulations to Billy Jane Ramos for winning the book Secret Diary of a Call Girl! Billy (or is it Jane?), email me your postal address so that I can send the book to you soon.

Also, thanks Blooey for being the first person to answer all the questions correctly! I feel that I have to give you something. Have you read any of Madonna's children's books?

To Ms. Guada Pahada (wink wink), I have bookplates for you! I'll just give it to you during the next FFP meet up.

Thanks to all you guys who've joined! (That includes you, Maan. I still owe you the Borat book.) I'll be having another contest soon.