Friday, July 31, 2009

The Bookshelf Project #5

This week's bookshelves are from Ayl.

I am green with envy for her family room (top photo). Just look at that elegant bookshelf. And everything looks so, ummm, clean. (I can imagine Martha Stewart walking in any minute.) I wonder what the titles are in the middle photo though.

Ayl's son (bottom photo) is lucky to be growing up in a home that's reader friendly. One can never be too young to appreciate books.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pictures, pictures, pictures

From The New Yorker
Oh my goodness! A high tide of books!

From the Creative Review
A typographical map of Paris done by Mark Webber. Every street name has been carved in reverse. The map, which took 8 months to complete, measures 1.8 meters across.

From Oddee
Apparently, Mr. Mayor should also learn English.

From Make It and Take It
For the ladies, an HP tote bag you can use to carry your HP books!

From Art Meets Matter
This is just perfect for those lazy afternoons spent reading.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Horrible tunnels

And once again, I have another reason for not falling for the hype. Tunnels, the first in a trilogy written by Brian Williams and Roderick Gordon, is just plain awful. What were some people thinking when they've described this young adult novel as the "next Harry Potter"? Were they high?

First, the premise is something we've come across several times already: a boy searches for his father in a secret underground civilization. The elements that keep the narrative going are so predictable that you can skip several pages at a time and still find your place. You're much better off reading Du Prau's wonderful young adult novel, The City of Ember. Or better yet, re-read your copy of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Aside from the unoriginal plot, the writing is terrible. Williams and Gordon just love those adverbs. Well, I love adverbs too. (Heck, they are essential parts of speech.) But I don't make it a point to insert one after every 5 words or so.
Will said quietly...
Rebecca said triumphantly...
Sweating and breathing heavily in the confined space, he began feverishly clawing at the dirt...
It was badly warped in the frame, but on the third attempt it suddenly gave...

I didn't even bother to finish Tunnels, although I did make it three-fourths of the way. It got me to thinking that, perhaps, having two authors doesn't help make the novel an excellent one. If anything, you get a highly uneven narrative. The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan is so derivative of other vampire novels. The Pendergast novels of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are a hit-and-miss thing.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Go to this blog

I've written a guest post for Michael's wonderful book blog, A Few Minutes with Michael. Read all about it here.

Thanks, Michael, for helping me promote the Bookshelf Project.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A year late with the Booker

Tomorrow, July 28, the judges of this year's Man Booker Prize is set to announce their longlist for the award. The release of this list, the Booker's Dozen, is one of the most anticipated in the publishing industry. (The Booker's Dozen is made up of 13 books though.) Most of the time, a book included in the list immediately shoots to the top of bestseller lists.

Last year, after having read Aravind Adiga's novel, The White Tiger, I was inspired to read all the novels comprising the shortlist. Hey, if Michael Portillo, the chairman of the 2008 judging panel, says that all the shortlisted novels are "page turners," then they must be good reads, right?

Cut to several months later. Yes, I've managed to get all six books in the shortlist and, no, I haven't read all of them yet. I'm not sure if my idea of a page turner is the same as the judges'. Except for The White Tiger, the other 5 novels are anything but page turners. Three novels are so lengthy they have doorstop proportions -- Hensher's The Northern Clemency, Toltz's A Fraction of the Whole, and Ghosh's Sea of Poppies. Barry's The Secret Scripture is too serious and morose. I am, however, currently reading Grant's The Clothes on Their Backs and I'm finding it quite good. It's still not a page turner though.

Booker Prize winners are usually safe bets when you're looking for an enjoyable read. Most of my friends can't get over Martel's Life of Pi and Roy's The God of Small Things. My favorites are still Kelman's How Late It Was, How Late, a novel about an alcoholic on a downward spiral, and McEwan's Amsterdam, a short novel with a twisted ending.

How about you, dear reader? What's your favorite Booker novel?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Three satisfying novellas

I've enjoyed Michel Faber's two previous novels, The Crimson Petal and the White and Under the Skin, immensely. The Crimson Petal and the White is one of the most unforgettable novels set in Victorian England with a prostitute named Sugar as the main character. It's a lengthy read at more than 700 pages, but the effort is well worth it. It's funny and touching at the same time. Under the Skin is just plain creepy. You have the read it for that Twilight Zone-esque ending. After reading these novels, I've become a huge fan of Michel Faber, the author who was born in the Netherlands, grew up in Australia, and now lives in the Scottish Highlands. He's not a prolific writer though, with his novels being spaced several years from one another.

When I saw Faber's collection of novellas, The Courage Consort, in a bookstore, I just knew I had to buy it. The book, which consists of three novellas, is a very short read. I even finished half of it on my way home, since it takes me around 1 to 1.5 hours to get from my office to my house (2 hours if the traffic is really bad).

The title novella, "The Courage Consort," is probably the best of the three. It focuses on the sexual tension among the five members of a British a cappella vocal ensemble. It's probably the finest novella I've read ever. The second one, "The Hundred and Ninety-nine Steps" involves an archeological dig and a murder that happened several years ago. In the third and final novella, "The Fahrenheit Twins," Faber retells the classic fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel.

There's a characteristic common to all the three novellas though, one that you'll come to expect if you've read Faber's previous works, and that is the element of unpredictability. In "The Courage Consort," several things go wrong as the members rehearse a very complicated vocal piece -- the Partitum Mutante. The murder mystery in "The Hundred and Ninety-nine Steps" is never fully resolved. The children in "The Fahrenheit Twins" have mixed feelings as they find their way back home.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Bookshelf Project #4

This week's bookshelves are from Doc J.

Hmmm... I can see several classic titles. Except for Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth, I don't see a lot of popular fiction in these shelves. (Gasp! Is that the collected short stories of Bradbury?)

I can't help but admire how the books in the second picture are arranged in a straight line. (Can you spell O-C?)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Of book clubs and contests

Man Reading a Book by Leland Holiday

I must admit that I'm looking forward to my first book club meeting this Saturday. The club will be discussing the children's books of Seuss. I'm not sure what will happen on that day, since it's unmaginable to discuss just one topic for more than 4 hours. Actually, I've been anticipating gorging on the party food more than anything else. (Oh, Peter! That is so mature of you.)

Before, I was averse to joining book clubs. I believe that reading is a solitary act and the thought of reading together as a group struck me as horrid. I also didn't feel open to having a group of people force a book on me, especially if the book is a love story (and it's written by Meyer). Well, reading is something you do by yourself, but I've accepted the fact that there can be a social dimension to reading. And this social aspect can make the reading experience more meaningful. Take this blog and others like it for example. We read the books by ourselves and yet we share our feelings about the book to other people.

You know what would be interesting to see? People fighting during a book club session. I imagine two highly opinionated groups of people flinging cuss words at one another over the supposed merits of the book. I see myself gladly pulling up a chair, just silently observing them and possibly eating popcorn. I live for that stuff. (As my good friend R. once told me, "You're not a pacifist, Peter.")

I doubt that this scenario would ever happen though. Although, I could always suggest that we discuss the entire Twilight series as the books for next month, or the oeuvre of Nicholas Sparks and Paulo Coehlo, or any self-help book for that matter. I predict, however, that my membership would be revoked and I'll forever be blacklisted from any club whatsoever.


The contest I've posted last Friday is still open. I'm still giving away books. Again, this contest is open to my Metro Manila readers only. (Julius, if you're reading this, I'll make an exception in your case. Hehe.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How do you arrange your books?

Just saw this post at The Guardian about James Purnell, the British work and pensions minister who has just resigned. Apparently, Purnell is now whiling away his time by arranging his books (gasp!) alphabetically (yawn...).

Alphabetization does have its merits. You can easily find a particular book if your collection is arranged from A to Z. But this system is so boring. It's just unimaginative. It makes me think about those spinster-ish librarians. Even children have been known to arrange books according to color, which can be aesthetic.

I employ a much simpler approach. I just separate the books I've read from the ones I'm going to read. It just gets complicated when I encounter books of differing sizes. (I hate seeing books with different sizes clumped together in a shelf.)

A few months ago, I was cleaning some of the cabinets at my house when I discovered some of the paperbacks I devoured when I was in high school. Apparently, there's tons of them. And since I ran out of bookshelves, they're still stacked up on on side of the hallway.

How about you, dear reader? How do you organize your bookshelves? With the pictures of other people's bookshelves that I have with me, I can't seem to note a system.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Everyone's a critic

I met a good friend today and told him about this blog. I was caught a bit off guard by his reaction upon knowing that I write about the books I've read: "Why?" I must admit that, in my head, I knocked the freaking b*st*rd off his feet, sat on his stomach while I gouged his eyes out.

Of course, we were in a posh mall so I had to keep the conversation civil. And while I'm not one to turn away from the sight of blood and pieces of flesh on the floor, the people around us wouldn't appreciate the violence. Anyway, our "friendly" conversation went this way:

Good friend: So you have a blog. Why? What do you write about exactly?

Me: Books I read, books I want to read. Book stuff mostly. I sometimes have contests too.
Me (in my head): You do know what books are, don't you? You s**t for brains, you.

Good friend: And people read what you write?

Me: Well, I do get a few visits every day. And some of them are kind enough to write comments.
Me (in my head): F***ing idiot! It must be really hard going through life with a hollow skull.

Good friend: And contests? You actually give prizes?

Me: Yes, of course.
Me (in my head): That's why it's called a contest. Take your head out of your big fat a**. Also, what's with all your sentences beginning with "and"?

It occurred to me that the conversation was leading nowhere and I shouldn't be justifying myself to him or to anyone who doesn't understand why people maintain blogs. People who don't write, much less care to find out other people's thoughts by reading their blogs, should just shut up.

I think everyone's a critic. At least bloggers take the time and effort to put what's in their minds into words.

Monday, July 20, 2009

This goes to the top of my wish list

It rubs the lotion on its skin,
or else it gets the hose again.

I've just learned from this site that there are actual books bound using human skin. Now that is something I'd like to get my hands on. The book, titled Aurora Alegre del dichoso dia de la Gracia Maria Santissima Digna Madre de Dios, is being sold for $16,000.

Certain questions pop into my head if I do get this book. Do I put it at my beside table? How does it smell? Can I actually moisturize it? What part of the human skin did the bookmaker use?

How about you, dear reader? Would you like this on your shelf?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Not your everyday love story

I treat novels based on love stories with skepticism. I don't think that the printed word can do justice to what love encompasses. With the few romantic novels that I've read, I mostly end up laughing at the cheesy scenarios. But a love story between a horribly disfigured porn actor and a possibly schizophrenic woman who sculpts gargoyles for a living? Sold! Give me two copies!

Reading Andrew Davidson's debut novel, The Gargoyle, over the weekend was a pleasant experience. The novel starts with an accident. The narrator, a "successful" player in the porn industry, crashes his car while drunk, causing his body to become burned and disfigured in the process. Davidson's description of the narrator's recuperation in the hospital leaves nothing to the imagination.
So much of my skin was damaged that removing the putrefying tissue meant more or less scrubbing away everything. My blood squirted up onto Dr. Edwards, leaving streams of red across of her gowned chest, as she used a razorlike apparatus to take the dermis off my body, not unlike the way a vegetable peeler removes the skin from food.
It is in this hospital where Marianne Engel pays him a visit. Marianne, a sculptress of grotesques, tells him that they've been lovers in the past, all the way to early 14th century Germany. Marianne visits him often, telling him stories of lovers in feudal Japan, Iceland during the time of the Vikings, Italy, and England. These little stories within the main storyline are gems in themselves. Often, you may ask yourself where Davidson is going with all these. You'll be rewarded in the final pages of the novel though, where everything falls into place.

Eventually, Marianne details the circumstances when she met the narrator in 14th century Germany. During that time, Marianne tells him she was a nun, one who was assigned to the monastery's scriptorium translating books into Italian. What she recounts thereafter would provide the romantic element of the novel. There are so many things going on in the novel and yet you admire how the author manages to keep his plot tight. Davidson switches between two time frames throughout the novel's more than 450 pages and keeps adding layer upon layer in his narrative.

One could view the novel as an homage to Dante's Inferno. In the novel's latter chapter, the narrator travels to the three hells and meets characters Dante himself wrote about. Another concept that Davidson inserts into his story is the importance of books throughout history. He never fails to point out that books, during the earlier times, takes much time and effort to produce, often requiring the work of talented artisans and scribes. Davidson, however, still resorts to certain cliches. As expected, he writes how the once-handsome narrator who was insensitive has a sort of epiphany now that his appearance can be compared to a grotesque.
What an unexpected reversal of fate: only after my skin was burned away did I finally become able to feel. Only after I was born into physical repulsiveness did I come to glimpse the possibilities of the heart: I accepted this atrocious fate and abominable body because they were forcing me to overcome the limitations of who I am, while my previous body allowed me to hide them.
This is a bit condescending to the reader, as you simply know from the start how the narrator's character will develop. Also, Davidson's writing becomes too flowery sometimes.
With a single sweep of his wings, Michael took flight again, twisting like an immediate tornado that sprang up from the ground. Behind him trailed the colors that he had brought, sucking upwards to disappear in his wake. The too-green of the grass was replaced once again with the dull gray of mud. The health of the trees was leached out. [...] Where Michael disappeared, the last of the colors followed him through a tiny hole in Hell's awning.
And because The Gargoyle is basically a love story, be prepared for lines such as these:
"Any man who believes he can describe love," I answerd, "understands nothing about it."
"Love is an action you must repeat ceaselessly."
Nevertheless, if you look past these, I recommend The Gargoyle to readers who are looking for an unconventional love story. None of the main characters are likable. At the novel's start, you feel that the narrator had his misfortune coming for him. Marianne Engel appears like an angel at the beginning, but toward the end, she becomes enigmatic. You keep asking questions to yourself whether to believe her stories or not. What works in the novel is their love story. It's something I've never encountered before: it's tragic but ultimately redemptive.

Read this book if:
  1. You like stories within stories.
  2. You've had enough of good-looking characters in romantic novels.
  3. You think gargoyles are beautiful.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Cooking and blogging about it

I must admit that, when I'm channel surfing, I end up watching cooking shows at the Food Network and the Asian Food Channel. These cooking shows are my brand of reality TV. Because of them, I now know more about escargots, pigs' brains, and fennel than I need to. Although, I believe that I'll never be able to test this theoretical knowledge in the kitchen, since the only time I go there is when I'm hungry and have to raid the fridge for some leftovers. At home, the kitchen is mom territory.

Perhaps it's the respect that I have for chefs and cooks that glues my eyes on the TV. I admire how they make elaborate recipes seem effortless. This respect and admiration also translates to books about cooking, eating, and anything that has to do with food. When I saw Julie Powell's memoir entitled Julie & Julia in Fully Booked the other week, I was intrigued by the premise. Julie Powell, who works as a secretary by day, decides to cook every single dish in Julia Child's bestselling cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1, for one whole year. Powell also decides to blog about it, after much prodding by her husband Paul. She eventually gives the whole endeavor a brand -- the Julie/Julia Project.

Powell is a first-time author, and it shows in this memoir. Most of the time, I end up re-reading certain passages just to get the idea right. Powell does have a gift for capturing vivid imagery, especially when she writes about her difficulties following Child's recipes to a T. When she recounts how difficult it is to obtain bone marrow in NYC, you empathize with her predicament. Other times though, she just rambles on.
I chilled it and served it the next night, in the coffee cups with the Raphael cherubs on them that we bought in a cheap souvenir shop outside the Sistine Chapel during our honeymoon, after a long, long walk, which we then used to drink wine with the cheese we had for lunch, on a green square, as we did every day during our honeymoon. And eating it that night reminded us that there was such a thing as fun, which was a good thing to remember right then.
And here's another reason why blurbs aren't to be trusted. Entertainment Weekly describes Julie & Julia as hilarious. I don't think it is. The attempts at humor feel somehow affected and generally fall flat. Powell does write about several self-deprecating instances which could've been funnier if these appeared in manageable doses throughout the book's 300 or so pages. As it is, Powell pokes fun at herself and at the disastrous results of her dishes so many times it just feels tiring.
(Also -- and I didn't mention this before because it's rather embarrassing -- but under my too-tight dress I was also wearing an extremely binding corset/girdle sort of thing. I had bought it in college for -- God, this part is really embarrassing -- a musical theater troupe I was in, because we were performing -- this is mortifying -- "Like a Virgin." ...Since the Project, though, I've been wearing it because it's the only way I can squeeze into a lot of my clothes.)
There are so many recipes in MtAoFC (I think there are more than 500 of them), so Powell focused on a few in her book. In these few occasions, you get a glimpse of how Child's recipes can be deceptively simple. Powell writes about how she's challenged by them and recounts the circumstances she's in as she's doing them. You get to know her close friends, her family who supports her throughout the project, and her job, which finds itself standing in the way of the Project.

If you're looking to be inspired to sample Child's recipes in MtAoFC, you may be better off buying Child's cookbook. Powell's descriptions of the dish she managed whip up tastes bland on the palate. Perhaps this may be the result of focusing too much on the complexity of the recipe rather than the final output itself. Nevertheless, what is enjoyable to read is when Powell relates all her cooking adventures into her personal life and the people around her.
My husband cooed as he dug into his plate of delicious flambeed crepes. If there's a sexier sound on this planet than the person you're in love with cooing over the crepes you made for him, I don't know what it is. And that blows Botox and ropy necks to hell.
The thread that connects Powell's narrative in Julie & Julia to Child's biography is thin. Powell just injects snippets of Child's personal history between chapters, and these biographical bits focus on a time when Child hasn't begun cooking yet. The technique works though, and it propels Powell's thesis to full effect -- one woman finishing a project based on another woman's work, who, in another time element, is just starting out her own.

Julie & Julia isn't really a food about the joys of eating or food. Powell's memoir touches on these superficially. Often, these simply serve as a backdrop to what's happening around her -- her ongoing attempt at having a baby, her relationship with her husband, her frustration with her dead-end job. Still, Julie & Julia is a good memoir, providing you with an honest glimpse of the unglamorous life of the memoirist. But if you're looking to read about food and the joys of eating, I suggest that you check out Jeffrey Steingarten's wonderful books The Man Who Ate Everything and It Must Have Been Something I Ate.

Read this book if:
  1. You've always been fascinated by French cooking.
  2. You love watching all those cooking shows.
  3. You're a blogger and you're participating in challenges.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Bookshelf Project #3

This week's pictures of bookshelves are from Em. Just look at how orderly those books in the shelves are. And are those tags?

I love the variety! Also, the picture of Orlando Bloom on the cover is definitely eye-catching. Hehe.

Thank yous

Helen of A Reading Collection gave me two awards this week -- the Kreativ Blogger and the Lemonade awards. Thank you, Helen! You should check out Helen's blog for her wonderful insights about the books she reads. A true bibliophile, Helen is.

Apparently, many of you readers find some of my posts funny, although I wonder why. I'm the most un-funny person in real life. I frown in confusion when I hear comments such as "You crack me up" or "You come up with the craziest posts ever." Ummm, it's just the way I think.

Also, thanks to my anonymous reader who nominated me for the Philippine Blog Awards. Whoever you are, email me. I owe you dinner.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A favorite from the past

As I write this entry on this rainy evening, I'm suddenly in the mood for a really scary novel. I scoured through my shelves looking for that perfect read this chilly night. And I happily came across my all-time favorite horror novel -- Stephen King's Salem's Lot.

I read Salem's Lot when I was in high school, during a phase when I wouldn't read anything unless it was by Stephen King. I think King came out with his best works during the early point of his career -- Thinner, The Shining, The Stand, Pet Sematary, Cujo, and Christine. Some of his short story collections, such as Night Shift and Skeleton Crew, are also good reads. These are perfect for people who want to be given a quick jolt of fear.

I stopped reading King after I've finished Gerald's Game and Rose Madder. These novels didn't have an ounce of creepiness and shock value of the vampires of Salem's Lot, the risen dead of Pet Sematary, and even the aliens of The Tommyknockers.

Up to this day, I think Salem's Lot is the Scariest. Novel. Ever.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Yet another way to combat reader's block

Image from

Last week I was in a reading rut. I can't seem to finish any book I lay my hands on. I guess it was one of those moments that I had reader's block. It's a good thing though that I've discovered a great way to combat it. And it's by reading, ehem, spam.

Yes, you've read it correctly. Read spam to get out of reader's block. Here's why. Spam can be quite amusing and hilarious when you take the time to digest what they're saying. Just by reading a few of them, I learned that I won like $100 million dollars in the lottery, that my email has reached a person dying of cancer, and that this blog has received the "Nobel Prize" of blogs.

Okay, for the record, I've never bought a lottery ticket (although I've been dying to). I also don't correspond to people with cancer via email. Heck, if they have cancer, I'll give them a call or talk to them in person. And WTF is this Nobel Prize of Blogs?

And, because I do have masochistic tendencies, not only did I read spam but I actually replied to all of them. Here are some of the spam emails I replied to. (I won't bother putting "sic" anymore.)
Spam #1: This is to inform you that you have been selected for a cash prize of £1,000,000 (British Pounds) held on the 13th of July 2009 in London Uk.

My reply: Whatever...

Spam #2: I want you and your organization to always pray for me because the lord is my shephard, My happiness is that I lived a life of a worthy Christian. Whoever that Wants to serve the Lord must serve him in spirit and Truth.

My reply: Whatever...
Sometimes, I get bored and vary my replies. You know, shake things up a bit.
Spam #3: You have a fabulous website. Want to make it even grater? Contact us how we can improv your site.

My reply: Whatevs...
However, after replying to all of them, be prepared to receive a few of these spammers to respond. I think these people are clueless as hell as to the context of my using the word "whatever." Some of the replies I got were:
  • Thank you for your quick response!
  • The Lord bless you and your family for the help that you'll be extending.
  • Thank you for your interest in my offer.
  • Shalom!
Now why would reading and replying to spam cure reader's block, you ask? Because after reading 20 of them in quick succession, you'd be clamoring to read something that makes sense. Besides, even if you don't have reader's block, reading and replying to spam is one very way to kill time.

Sorry, I can't seem to think of a seque for what follows.

I've also received an award this week from a fellow blogger, Tina, at Tutu's Two Cents. Tina has these gorgeous bookshelves at her place, which I'll be posting here soon. And she's also been to Manila! Love her! Thanks again for the award, Tina!

Also, my book giveaway is still open, so email me at for your answer to my question and the book that you want.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Giving books away

Getting dismayed seeing stuff in my room. Deciding on clearing some clutter. Segregating the books I can give away. Listing them below.
  1. Heart Sick - Chelsea Cain
  2. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz
  3. The Seven Deadly Wonders - Matthew Reilly
  4. The Other Boleyn Girl - Philippa Gregory
  5. Oh the Glory of It All - Sean Wilsey
  6. Infected - Scott Sigler
  7. Sandstorm - James Rollins
  8. Dead until Dark - Charlaine Harris
  9. The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov
  10. Birds Without Wings - Louis De Bernieres
To get a book of your choice, just email me what book you'd like to have and your answer to this question:

"Why is the blue sky?"

Yes, I know that the question is grammatically off (a la "Why is the green tea?"). This contest is open to Metro Manila residents only though. I'll email you how you can get your book. Feel free to answer the question in the comments section too!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Reading to lose weight

This better work.

Of course, I could just get my lazy ass off my reading armchair and do stuff like... what do they call it again? Oh yes, exercise.

How do overweight bibliophiles lose some weight?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Oh, Pablo!

I have to be honest that I'm not big on poetry. Most of the time, I don't even understand the message the poet is trying to convey, especially if the poem is riddled with metaphors, allusions, and other devices I can't even pronounce. In my elementary days, we were taught that poems had to rhyme, and in high school, I slaved for nights just to write 2 haikus.

I do have a few poetry books though. I have the collected poems of Seamus Heaney, which I feel that you need an advanced degree in literature just to fully appreciate his poems. Once in a while, I go back to my anthology of French poetry by Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimaud, and Stephane Mallarme. If I want a challenge, I read the poems in the original French. I took up courses in French in college, and when I read these poems in their original language, I realize how pathetic my French is.

But my favorite poet will always be Pablo Neruda. In Manila, Neruda can be a polarizing figure. There are those who scoff at the increasing popularity of Neruda among the younger generations. And there are people who read poetry only if it's by Neruda. When Il Postino was shown in theaters years ago, practically every one had those small collections of Neruda's love poems in their tote bags.

I always go back to Neruda's Five Decades: Poems (brilliantly translated by Ben Belitt) when I'm feeling melancholy or just having reader's block. Neruda's poetry is so accessible that everyone can read and enjoy his works, which I think is why his talent is still unparalleled. I feel a certain cadence to his lines, too, a pleasant rhythm if you will. I also admire that his language tends to have a playful mood to it. And Neruda can write about ordinary things and give life to it. One of my favorites is "Poor Fellows" ("Pobres Muchachos"). Read it and tell me that it doesn't evoke vivid imagery and feelings of amusement and wonder.

Poor Fellows

What it takes, on this planet,
to make love to each other in peace:
everyone pries under your sheets,
everyone interferes with your loving.

They say terrible things
about a man and a woman
who, after much milling about,
all sorts of compunctions,
do something unique --
they both lie with each other in one bed.

I ask myself whether frogs
are so furtive, or sneeze as they please,
whether they whisper to each other in
swamps about illegitimate frogs
or the joys of amphibious living.
I ask myself if birds
single out enemy birds
or bulls gossip with bullocks before
they go out in public with cows.

Even the roads have eyes,
and the parks their police,
hotels spy on their guests,
windows name names,
cannons and squadrons debark
on missions to liquidate love --
all those ears and those jaws
working incessantly,
till a man and his girl
have to race to their climax
full-title on a bicycle.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

I die laughing

I've been ego surfing a lot lately. Ego surfing is when you key in your name or website in Google or any other search engine and find out the results. Try it; the results can be quite interesting. Anyway, I discovered a site which was posting rewrites of my book reviews. The rewritten text is funny as hell.

Here's a sample taken from my review of Netherland.
It's a beautiful book about Hans van der Broek, a financial analyst from London who gets transported to New York with his lawyer wife and his son. The van der Broeks were in NYC when 9/11 happened. It is this event that causes a strain in Hans's relationship with his wife Rachel. When Rachel decides to return to London, Hans is left alone in the hotel where they were temporarily relocated after 9/11. It is during this time that he meets Chuck Ramkissoon, a Trinidad-born immigrant/gangster/philosopher who exposes Hans to a less-explored side of the immigrant experience. Hans and Chuck meet at a cricket match, one where Chuck served as the umpire and mediated between two arguing players. They become inseparable after that. Eventually, Chuck uses Hans as an unofficial escort in his betting operation among other immigrants.
And here's the brilliant rewrite:
It’s a smashing hard-cover thither Hans van der Broek, a pecuniary analyst from London who gets transported to New York with his shyster trouble and his son. The van der Broeks were in NYC when 9/11 happened. It is this circumstance that causes a winnow in Hans’s relationship with his trouble Rachel. It is during this immediately that he meets Chuck Ramkissoon, a Trinidad-born immigrant/gangster/philosopher who exposes Hans to a less-explored side of the beginner dress. When Rachel decides to give back to London, Hans is bountiful unescorted in the New Zealand tavern where they were for the moment relocated after 9/11. Hans and Chuck deal with at a cricket event, entire where Chuck served as the ump and mediated between two arguing players.
I laughed my ass off reading that one. But wait, there's more. Here's the first part of my entry about Michael Crichton:
Writers rise from the dead, too
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.
Here's the very, very amusing rewrite (check out the title, it's priceless):
Writers board flight from the expired, too
I’m not talking hither writers reappearing as zombies, elegantly dressed vampires, or celestial apparitions. I’m talking hither their works. It appears that Michael Crichton, the originator known after incorporating cutting-edge technology in his storied works, has kept manuscripts of two novels (one of them unfinished) when he died at in good time 66. Unless there’s a vault of unfinished manuscripts masked in Crichton’s above-board, this require be the newest in good time Crichton fans require butter up a enquire manifest their mesmerize.
Should I be bothered by all these? I don't even have any strong feelings about them. This doesn't even compare to the incident last week when we discovered a site who's been stealing feeds. Now that is really low.

If there's one thing that I don't like about these rehashed articles is that they make me gassy from all the laughing.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Bookshelf Project #2

This week's bookshelf (or pile of books if you look at the photos) is from Eedee.

I believe that the drawing was done by one of the owner's children. And I know that the owner's house is indeed littered with hundreds of books. There are books practically in every corner!

I'm getting the impression that, even though the books look arranged randomly, there's a certain order to the way they are stacked.

What do you think, dear reader? Also, send me more pictures of your bookshelves!

What’s On Your Desk Wednesday – July 8, 2009

Michael tagged me this week.

What’s On Your Desk Wednesday? is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Sassy Brit of .

Here are the rules:

You can do one of two things or both.

  1. Grab a camera and take a photo of your desk, or anywhere you stack your books/TBR pile. And no tidying! Add this photo to your blog. Tag at least 5 people, and then return to Sassy Brit’s blog and leave a link back to your photo in the Mr. Linky.
  2. List at least 5 BOOKISH things on your desk. List at least 5 NON BOOK things. Tag at least 5 people to do the same. Return to Sassy Brit’s blog and leave your link, so everybody can come and visit your blog.

Here’s my desktop. This was taken early in the morning today. As for the 5 bookish things, you can see that I have more than 5 books on my desktop. For the non-book things, I have 2 turtles inside the tank, the art calendar given by R., my cellphone case, and a balloon which is tied to my copy of Rick Riordan's The Last Olympian.

I’m tagging the following bloggers to reveal what is on their desktop:

  1. Blooey at Bookmarked!
  2. Honey at Coffeespoons
  3. Jo at Jo's Bookshelf
  4. Helen at A Reading Collection
  5. Tina at Tutu's Two Cents
Sorry for the late tagging. Curse those different time zones!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Start packing!

Bella's house looked way much better in the movie.

If you're a big fan of Twilight, then perhaps it's time to pack your stuff and head to Forks, Washington. Check out the tour here. Why anyone would want to go where it's always bleak and you can't even get a tan by the beach is beyond me. Don't forget to get those Twilight body glitter while in Forks, because, you know, you just want to "sparkle."

I prefer the Gossip Girl tour myself, even though it's based more on the TV series than on the books. If you've read all the Gossip Girl books, you know that the TV series is a relatively tame version. In the novels, everyone smokes, boinks one another, drinks, and occasionally smoke pot. Nate, the character played by "man bangs" Chace Crawford, is perpetually stoned in the GG novels.

There's also the Angels and Demons tour if you're into art and history (and priests). Check it here. But what I would really love is the tour inspired by John Berendt's novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Who doesn't want to see the majestic ancestral houses in Savannah, Georgia?

Are there any tours based on books that we should know about?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A highly musical novel

I read last week that one of my favorite musicals, Ragtime, is going to be revived in Broadway this September. The musical is based on the novel by E. L. Doctorow of the same title. I read it years ago when I was in college only because I was amused by the blurbs, which describe the novel's language as "musical."

Ragtime focuses on three groups of people during the turn of the 20th century -- a white upperclass family, an African-American piano player and his fiance, and a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe and his daughter. How the lives of these completely different people intertwine is the story of Ragtime.

Doctorow touches on several themes in Ragtime -- racial discrimination, the plight of immigrants, and the WASPs' denial that the face of America is changing. If you do decide to read this great novel, don't bother fact checking. I'm sure Doctorow took liberties with historical facts, especially since his minor characters include real historical figures such as Henry Ford, the vaudeville actress Evelyn Nesbitt, the radical Emma Goldman, and Harry Houdini, just to name a few.

The music and lyrics of Ragtime: The Musical, by the duo of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, is beautiful. The tunes are immensely catchy and the musical numbers actually propel the storyline. There's none of those scenes where actors just burst into song during awkward moments.

I've uploaded two songs for you to sample, dear reader. If you like them, go buy the CD. The first song is about Henry Ford and his assembly line; the second is about how baseball has become "immigrant territory." Both songs are highly amusing.

Get the songs here:

Monday, July 6, 2009

All's well, for the meantime

Last Saturday, I discovered that a site has been making cross-posts of my feeds and listing me as a contributor to their site. I agree that this may seem as a form of flattery, but, if done without the blogger's permission, it just feels annoying.

This morning I received an email from one of the people from the site, apologizing for the unfortunate situation. I'm a sucker for heartfelt apologies, so I accepted his. Nevertheless, this whole experience brought my attention to how easy it is for people to use your online content. Of course, the reverse is also true -- you can just as easily use other people's content in your site.

I'd like to thank Michael, a fellow blogger, for the heads up. He even provided me and the other bloggers affected (I believe there were about 10 of us) with a helpful link on what we can do about it. Read the very informative article here.

And because we all love lists...

Newsweek has come out with their list of top 100 books. Check it here. As expected, Ulysses, The Sound and the Fury, and 1984 are in the top 10, with Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace claiming the top spot. My all-time favorite book, Robert Graves' I, Claudius, came it at #69.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

What if someone killed your double?

Thrillers, mysteries, and whodunits are the perfect reads during cold and rainy days. And I was fortunate enough that I finished Tana French's excellent novel, The Likeness, during a rainy weekend. If you've a taste for non-formulaic mysteries, then go get yourself a copy of French's second novel. I promise you that it's very satisfying.

French once again focuses on Detective Cassie Maddox, a character in her brilliant debut, In the Woods. In The Likeness, Cassie has now been transferred to the Domestic Violence department of Ireland's police force. One day she gets summoned to a murder scene and discovers that the victim has an eerie resemblance to her and that she's going by the name of Lexie Madison, a graduate student in Trinity. Several years before, it was Cassie who invented Lexie Madison when she went undercover in an Irish university, and now she discovers that someone has assumed this made-up identity, someone who looks like Cassie in every single way. Her superior, not wanting to waste this unique opportunity to solve the murder, decides to have Cassie once again resume the identity of Lexie and assimilate herself in Lexie's world. They cover up the murder scene, informing people that Lexie survived the incident and just came out of a coma. So for more than a month, Cassie finds herself amid Lexie's closest friends -- the enigmatic Daniel, the handsome Rafe, the sensitive Abby, and the cheery Justin -- who all live in Daniel's ancestral house. All this just to seek answers to the case: Who really was this girl? Who killed her? Was it one of her friends?

One might wonder whether French has a background on the police force and psychology. She writes detailed sentences about each police procedural and provides clear insights on all her characters' personalities. No minor detail is spared in the book's lengthy 460 pages. The Likeness doesn't read like your typical thriller, where each chapter ends with a cliffhanger and most characters end up with cardboard-like personalities. Consider this beautifully written and instrospective paragraph about Cassie's thoughts on why people eventually confess:
Every detective, in all the world, knows that this is our best weapon: your heart's desire. Now that thumbscrews and red-hot pincers are off the menu, there's no way we can force anyone to confess to murder, lead us to the body, give up a loved one or rat out a crime lord, but still people do it all the time. They do it because there's something they want more than safety: a clear conscience, a chance to brag, an end to the tension, a fresh start, you name it and we'll find it. If we can just figure out what you want -- secretly, hidden so deep you may never have glimpsed it yourself -- and dangle it in front of you, you'll give us anything we ask for in exchange.
Clearly, French takes her time to develop her characters with believable personalities, and it pays off. The overall feeling one gets from reading her narrative is that The Likeness feels tight. Not a chapter, even though it doesn't seem to add to the "action" of the story, is out of place. Nevertheless, the usual devices of mysteries are here -- the red herrings, the twists, the closed murder room atmosphere, but French doesn't give them to the reader in one catch-all chapter. She takes you by the hand and lets you complete the puzzle for yourself. Like in her first novel, there's no complete picture here. Depending on your insight, you have untangled a mystery or you're left with more questions. Either way, you end up with a masterful exploration of how seemingly ordinary individuals can be driven to commit something unspeakable as murder.

Somehow, The Likeness reminded me of another novel: Donna Tartt's The Secret History. Both focus on a close circle of friends in an academic scenario and center on the death of one of them. While The Secret History can be a bit pedantic for some, French's novel is very accessible and engaging. Having just written two well-received novels, French is clearly on her way to becoming a master in this genre.

Read this book if:
  1. You're partial to murders involving a knife.
  2. You've always thought that you have a double somewhere.
  3. You think your friends would be the death of you.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Feed being stolen

I just learned a moment ago that my entries are being reposted on this site:

If you are reading this post from a site other than, then you are reading a stolen feed.

I have not given permission to any site to use any of my posts. Some people have just no respect.

For fans of Dr. Seuss

A scene from Seussical: The Musical

I'll be attending a book club meeting this month, which will talk about the works of Dr. Seuss. Being a Broadway junkie myself, I immediately retrieved my CD of Seussical: The Musical and listened to one of my favorite songs. Lyrics of the actual song are below.
Green Eggs and Ham

I do not like green eggs and ham
I do not like them, Sam-I-am
I do not like them here or there
I do not like them anywhere.

Not in a house, not with a mouse
Not here or there, not anywhere
I do not like green eggs and ham
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.

Could you? Would you? With a goat?
Could you? Would you? On a boat?
Could you? Would you? In the rain?
Could you? Would you? On a train?

Not with a goat. Not on a boat.
Not in the rain. Not on a train.
Not in a house. Not with a mouse.
Oh, no!

Not in a box. Not with a fox.
Not in a tree. You let me be!
I do not like green eggs and ham!
I do not like them, Sam-I-am!
I do not like green eggs and ham!

I'm not sure where green eggs come from (green chickens?), but I sure love ham!

I was trying to upload an mp3 file of the song in this post, but I can't seem to figure out a way. Does anyone know how? Anyway, I've uploaded the song here for you to download. (The file is less than 3 MB.)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Bookshelf Project #1

Finally, The Bookshelf Project is up and running. I actually started this blog with this purpose -- to let people see what other people's bookshelves look like.

This week's bookshelves are from Nutrasweetie.

Hmmm... Very, very eclectic selections, don't you think? What does Nutrasweetie's bookshelves say about him or her? (I can't help but giggle about the the fact that Conversations with God is quite near David Sedaris's Naked.)

I'd really love to hear from you guys!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Still looking for bookshelves

I'm all set to start posting pictures of people's bookshelves starting tomorrow. However, I could still use a few more. So if you have a bookshelf at home (or just any place where you store your books or your TBR file), why not take a picture of it and send it to me at Never mind if all the books are all in a state of disarray -- that's part of the fun!

As a bibliophile, I've always wondered what the shelves of my fellow book lovers look like. I'm a firm believer that the books we buy reflect a lot about our personality. So starting tomorrow, I'll feature the bookshelf of one reader and then we comment on what his or her bookshelf says about the owner. I'll do this twice a week.

If you do get featured, I'll inform you by email so that you can check out the comments. I won't post your real name though, so there's no need to worry. I won't even tell whether you're a girl or a boy; I'll let my readers guess.