Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Bookshelf Project #12

This week's bookshelves are from Andrew, a programmer, firefighter, and fellow book lover from England. Here are three pictures of his bookshelves, or as the English would have it, bookcases.

Andrew mentioned that his 3 bookcases are located in a shed in his garden, and that the shed also serves as his "office, reading room, music listening room, drawing room, hangout and generally just a good place to think."

I also want to share his thoughts on his book collection:
For me the books act almost simultaneously as inspiration and an aide-memoir. Reminders of who I once was and who I once aspired to be.
What do you think of Andrew's bookcases, dear reader?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

There's no such thing as...

  1. the Jane Austen Book Club and the Spawn of Satan Bikers Society.
  2. an impossibly good-looking vampire who sparkles in the sun or a magnificently rippled werewolf who would fall for a clumsy, ordinary-looking girl.
  3. making nice with Ann Coulter.
  4. a handsome symbologist from Harvard who can dazzle you with his intelligence. (If this person did exist, trust me, I would know.)
  5. someone who got all the allusions in Ulysses, Finnegan's Wake, or Lolita correctly.
  6. a country that would let you in if the name on your passport is spelled as e.e. cummings.
  7. a Booker shortlist without a historical novel.
  8. someone who went through all the Gossip Girl novels (14 and counting) and have felt satisfaction.
  9. a novel about Provence without a recipe, a novel about Ireland without alcohol, and a novel set in Hollywood without sex and drugs.
  10. having too many books.
Is there something that I have missed, dear reader?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Storytelling at its finest

Sometimes, it takes just one contemporary novel to make me realize again why I'm not a novelist, or a short story writer for that matter). My attempts at fiction are crap. Wait, let me rephrase that since I'm being way too kind on myself. If crap actually crapped something out, then that would be my writing. I know that I won't be able to write a novel as brilliant as William Heaney's novel, Memoirs of a Master Forger, which has become my favorite book this year.

William Heaney is actually the pseudonym of Graham Joyce, the acclaimed fantasy writer. In the novel, we meet the William Heaney, probably the most lovable flawed character in recent fiction. Heaney, together with his two closest friends, produce fake first edition Austen novels, sells them for staggeringly absurd amounts, and then donates his proceeds to charity. He also works for the government, being chair of an organization for youth affairs in the UK. But Heaney has his dark side -- he's a closet alcoholic, he can't let go of his past love, and he can see demons.

Joyce's demons are not your typical supernatural elements. They're spectral characters able to influence the people they hang around with by the power of their suggestions. But even though they don't figure much among the other characters in the novel, Joyce's description of the demons Heaney sees is just glorious.

There are thousands of them, and in multiple forms, living at our shoulders. Hosts of them, malign and benign, swarming or singleton, some fascinated by us, others disinterested. All utterly unseen except by the initiated. [p. 182]

I'd learned enough about demons by now to know they don't understand everything that is said; that their ability to understand is linked with their capacity to find a ride inside one of us; that once they get inside, then they can enjoy a psychic feed; that once they have fed, they leave a deposit behind them... [p. 263]

The real demons that Joyce focuses on, however, have to do with Heaney's inability to establish a healthy relationship with women. And this is where the novel can be treated as an unconventional love story. The narrative often goes back to the 1980s, a time when Heaney was in college and was in a loving relationship. This back story, which can stand as a novel on its own, provides an effective thread on Heaney's present insecurities and paranoia.

Joyce won the British Fantasy Award for Memoirs of a Master Forger. I believe that the award was well-deserved. The novel is uplifting. It celebrates living and loving in all its aspects. The way I see it, we can either choose to wallow among the demons around us or confront them and realize that these demons -- whether literal or metaphorical -- do not stand in the way of loving.

Read this book if:
  1. It's been a long time since a novel made you cry, laugh, and love.
  2. You actually feel "beings" around you every now and then.
  3. You're craving for a beautifully written fantasy novel.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A different kind of ghost story

I've been wanting to read a well-written ghost story lately. So when I saw a hardback copy of Sarah Waters's latest novel, The Little Stranger, I knew I had to get it. The novel features all the elements that make a very scary read—a haunted house, a ghost of a child, an upperclass English family with secrets, and an outsider who provides a first-person narrative.

In Waters's fifth novel, we are transported to post-war England. The setting is a grand old house named Hundreds Hall, which has seen better days. The family living in Hundreds, the Ayres, belongs to the English upper class and is struggling to cope with the changes facing them. When Dr. Faraday decides to become the family physician, he becomes witness to the family's decline. Roderick, the only Ayres male heir, is eventually confined to a mental institution. Mrs Ayres, the family matriarch, is driven to suicide after supposedly experiencing hauntings by her eldest child who died of a wasting disease. Caroline, the strong-headed daughter, feels that it's up to her to keep the family together, financial difficulties and all.

The Little Stranger, however, is not your ordinary ghost story. It's supernatural element even lends an ambivalent concept to it—as if Waters wants readers to decide for themselves whether there were indeed hauntings in Hundreds. The writing is very detailed and atmospheric. But readers who are seeking to be scared out of their wits may feel disappointed with the narrative's pace. In fact, we don't get to read these scary bits within the first 100 pages or so.

And as she did that, she felt the starting up of a breeze—or, anyway, something like a breeze, a cold movement of air, which came suddenly against her, striking her cheek, disarranging her hair, making her shiver; and a second later she was shocked and jolted almost out of her skin by a violent slamming in the neighbouring room. [page 318]

The Little Stranger is shortlisted for this year's Booker Prize. People are saying that this might be the year she finally gets it, after having been shortlisted twice. It isn't your typical haunted house novel with a Gothic feel to it. The hauntings only provide a backdrop to what really is the center of the novel—a family's failure to hang on to its place in society.

Read this book if:
  1. You enjoy all things Booker.
  2. You've always wondered what it's like to live in a haunted house.
  3. Like me, you don't believe in ghosts, but enjoy a satisfying ghost story.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Bookshelf Project #11

Guess whose bookshelves are these? Yes, they're mine!

Siobhan, a journalist for the BBC, featured my thoughts on bookshelves in her article for the BBC magazine. Check it out here.

The bookcases are actually near the ceiling, covering about half of my room. The rest of my books are in somewhat disorderly bookcases, so I'm not showing them here. Hehehe. And my ever growing TBR pile is on the floor.

So what do you think of my bookshelves, dear reader?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My, how far we have come!

In 1873, people were amazed at how the railway system was changing the way they transported goods and brought themselves to far flung places. Today, we have planes that can cross oceans overnight. In 1873, if you send mail to another person in another country, you'd have to count days. Now, it only takes a few seconds to send emails to people from across the globe. In 1873, traveling around the world was a challenge. Now, it's recreation.

When Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days was published in 1873, it was revolutionary. One of the reasons people gravitated toward the book was to find out if the pair of Fogg and Passepartout could indeed traverse the globe in 80 days or even less. And regardless whether the British and French duo could travel from London to other countries and back, people knew that they would be reading an adventure story. Verne, around this time, has established himself a following, having written hugely successful novels A Journey to the Center of the Earth in 1871 and 20,000 Leagues under the Sea in 1872.

What hasn't changed though is man's pursuit of adventure. Rereading Around the World in 80 Days, I realized how exciting it is. Here is suspension of disbelief at its finest. You deny yourself the knowledge that everything in the novel has already been exceeded by the technology of the 21st century. You put yourself in the shoes of Fogg or Passepartout and go through each adventure.

Of course there are the usual cliches that accompany adventure stories such as this opus by Verne -- the damsel in distress, mistaken identities, a cat and mouse chase, and love reunited. I would definitely not be spoiling it to anyone if I mention that everything turn's out well at the novel's end. The ending hardly matters; it's the journey that makes this novel great.


The edition of Verne's Around the World in 80 Days that I've reread came from Michael, a fellow blogger. He's intending to have the book travel the world in 80 days, and this corner of the world where I live, the Philippines, is its first stop.

This book is now on its way to Sharon, a book blogger from Australia. The Philippines and Australia were not part of Fogg's destinations in the novel. I do wonder if this book will reach the same places as those in the novel (except for the US and the UK, of course). I can't wait to find out.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What not to do during a book discussion (2)

The book club that I'm a member of, Flips Flipping Pages, will again be having its monthly book discussion. They'll be talking about Patrick Suskind's novel, Perfume, a book that reeks of brilliance (pun intended). Unfortunately, I'm swamped with tons of work so I can't join them.

Previously, I made a list of things one shouldn't do during a book discussion. Check the post here, and don't forget to read the hilarious comments, too. I figured I might as well add on to the list. So here goes:
  1. Bring a bottle of vodka, and take a swig every time someone says, "In my opinion, the book... " (You'll get pretty much wasted in no time.)
  2. Say that you've read Perfume in its original language -- Italian!
  3. Bring a camera and take pictures of the participants in their unguarded moments (e.g., sleeping, picking their noses, yawning).
  4. Post these pictures in Facebook and tag all your friends.
  5. Play footsie with the resident hottie.
  6. Arrive only when they're eating.
  7. Tell everyone that you didn't read the book. Say, "After finishing Ulysses and War and Peace, having to read Perfume just feels insulting."
  8. Point out that you've been diagnosed with A(H1N1) just this morning.
  9. Volunteer to take the minutes, then pretend that you're actually taking them down.
  10. Fart.
Any other ideas, dear reader?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Give me more pengiuns

I just love Penguin. The covers are worth every peso. I think I've been buying Penguins ever since I learned to read. However, it can get really painful to see Penguin newer editions with even more stylized covers. I've gotten quite attached to my old, smelly, orange-spined Penguins that I can't bear the thought of buying these new ones.

Lately, I've been partial to the Penguin Special Editions -- those beautifully designed books with French flaps and deckle edges. I'll keep on collecting those for my "Year of the Classics" in 2010. It's about time I conquer my fear of Hardy and Austen.

Just look at the beautiful covers of the Penguin editions above. They're designed by renowned fashion illustrator Ruben Toledo. How can I not buy these? They'd make beautiful additions to one's shelves.

I do have a question to you, dear reader. Penguin is known to have exhaustive introductions to the classic texts. Do you even bother to read them at all? Or do you immediately read the novel itself?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Those cute and lovable silverfish

I was cleaning one of my bookshelves last weekend when I was surprised to find a nest of silverfish in one of my books. Being the bookworm that I am, I exclaimed, "My babies! Don't flee! Me likey books too!"

I love those tiny critters. They can do one thing that I've unsuccessfully attempted many times before -- eat the pages from my books. These creatures can also eat the glue that binds the pages too. If I do believe in reincarnation, I wish that, for my next life, I'd be a silverfish. I just want to live the rest of my life in the company of books.

And speaking of insects, it seems that the offices of Penguin in New York has a bug infestation. Although, it's not silverfish but bedbugs! Bedbugs are nasty little bugs. Their bites are as itchy as hell.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

It's not so bad

I finally read Dan Brown's latest novel, The Lost Symbol. Well, it's not so bad. It just sucks. The Lost Symbol is still a very engaging read -- a page turner, if you will. This is book you read with a bottle of vodka at your bedside. (If you can get some weed, that would be much better too. You need that "high" feeling during the novel's low points, which there are a lot.)

In The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown sticks to the formula that worked so well in Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code. It's still Robert Langdon chasing and deciphering symbols in a historic area in less than 24 hours. The lost symbol pertains to a long held secret by the Masons, a symbol -- or word -- so powerful that it can change the world as we see it today. Brown's villain, a freakishly tall and tattooed-all-over man named Mal'akh, is unispired. We've read it all before. Mal'akh seeks enlightenment and he feels that the only way to do it is if he possesses this esoteric Masonic symbol, which he eventually does.

Much has been said about this book and more particularly about Brown's writing skills. Critics have sharpened their knives; bloggers have given their two cents begrudgingly. But one of the things I absolutely love about this book is that it generated excitement in an industry that already has been left for dead. The publishing industry needs this book. People hardly buy new books anymore, and The Lost Symbol hopefully will change all that.

Brown can indeed tell a story, but the language still feels lackluster. If you cringed at some of the awkwardly written sentences in his four novels, then you'll find yourself perpetually cringing as you read this one. The dialogue is unnatural. Characters just throw bits of academic information at each other as if they were talking about the weather. Of course, the only way Brown can pull that off is if he populates his novels with characters from the academe. In the world of Brown, all his protagonists are effortlessly beautiful, have encyclopedic knowledge about everything, and just possess good luck every time. (There's one point in the novel wherein I thought that the Langdon franchise has reached its end, but I knew that it was just wishful thinking. Read the book; you'll know what I mean.)

The Lost Symbol has particular subplots that seem irrelevant to the race-against-time main storyline. Brown introduces us to the less-known field of Noetic Science, a discipline that studies how the mind can influence the physical world around it. Somehow, this narrative thread leads to the concept of the existence of the soul, an idea that really isn't anything new. Even the way Brown constructs his supportive statements for this concept feels flimsy at best. Although, one of the more interesting subplots has something to do with discovering the hidden meaning in ancient texts. In a way, Brown is encouraging people to read, which is a great thing IMHO.

Read this book if:
  1. You find Langdon hot.
  2. You can stand seeing several italics in every page.
  3. You have 6 straight hours to spare.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I can get hooked on these

Ever since I saw the trailer of Cirque du Freak, I knew that it was inevitable that I'll be reading these chapter books. We've all been fascinated by the esoteric and the unusual, and we just can't get our eyes off people who are, well, different in a weird, otherworldly way.

The chapter books by Darren Shan entitled Cirque du Freak can be very addicting. I've read the first book, A Living Nightmare, and I'm starting the second one. The books are a quick read. You can probably go through 3 of them in a day. Since there are 12 books in the series, I think you can read everything in a week.

While A Living Nightmare lacks a clear climax and a satisfying denouement, it does effectively lay the foundation for the the coming books. We get to see how two friends -- Darren and Steve -- attend a travelling circus of freaks. This is the pivotal scene of the novel, for without it, Darren wouldn't see, covet, and steal the vampire's pet spider, who would eventually bite Steve, causing Darren to come to an agreement with the vampire in exchange for a cure. Alas, the contract is a permanent one -- for Darren to obtain the cure, he must agree to become the vampire's assistant. The twist is that you can't become a vampire's assistant without being someone that is half-human and half-vampire.

I'd probably use the Cirque du Freak books as a respite from all the classic novels I've planned to read next year. After all, one can only have too much of Austen, Hardy, and James.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Bookshelf Project #10

This week's pictures of bookshelves are from Tina, a fellow book blogger. I'm including two pictures here -- one with the shelves without the books (a much older picture) and a more recent one with the books on display.

I love that the bookcases cover the entire wall, leaving out just the space for the doors. I can spend all day in a room like this one. Tina has such wonderful aesthetic taste, don't you think?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What the hell, I'll read it

I went to the bookstore during my lunch break today and, not to my surprise, found mountains of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol on display. I believe that some bookstores even stayed open until 12 midnight last night to sell the books to fans.

I'm not even a fan of Dan Brown, but the books just seem to keep calling my name. Before I knew it, I'm holding a copy and paying for it at the register. I just felt hypnotized.

I guess I'll read it. Although, I think I could've saved money by just reading The Da Vinci Code and then replacing the characters' names and the settings with those in The Lost Symbol.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The reading backlog is a good thing

I've come to realize that I will never be able to clear my to-be-read pile. My frequency of buying books far exceeds the rate at which I go through them. I read books much too slowly.

Perhaps I may not be able to read David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest or James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, but at least I have them on my shelf. I can always pretend that I've read them. I'm guessing that anything I say about these doorstops would be considered as true, since I think that not many people have actually read them.

I can always say that "Infinite Jest is a celebration of pop culture in all its wondrous facets" or that "Finnegan's Wake represents the zenith of modernist fiction."

I love my TBR pile. I consider it as my baby -- I can watch it grow through the years. It'll have periods of stunted growth (when I don't have money) and intermittent growth spurts (during book sales).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I caught fire and loved it

Note: This review does NOT contain any spoilers.

Suzanne Collins earned a huge following with The Hunger Games. With the release of its sequel, Catching Fire, more readers will discover and love the adventures of Katniss, Peeta, Gale, Haymitch, and other citizens of Panem, the world that Collins conjured in her Hunger Games trilogy. Collins has indeed cemented her position in the crowded genre that is YA fiction.

Having managed to win the Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta return to District 12 as heroes. They've managed to outwit the Capitol in letting it declare not just one but two winners for the first time. Now, all they have to do is take part in the Victory Tour, wherein they'll visit all 12 districts and the Capitol and be feted with speeches and lavish dinners. (There's a certain morbid aspect here. In the annual Hunger Games, each of the 12 districts sends a teenage boy and girl to compete in the games, one wherein the contestants are required to kill each other, leaving only one winner. During the Victory Tour, the people in other districts are honoring the person who has killed their contestant.)

But people in the 12 districts are becoming restless, further realizing how unhappy the Capitol is treating them. Hunger is widespread; people are tired because of the forced labor the Capitol imposes upon them. Katniss, with her unconventional way of winning the Hunger Games, becomes the unwilling symbol of the rebellion. One by one, the districts stage massive revolts against the Capitol and for everything it symbolizes -- decadence, wealth, and abundance. But the Capitol has several tricks up its sleeve, one of which is the Quarter Quell. This year is the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games, and every 25th year, it organizes the Quarter Quell, a reformulated version of the Hunger Games.

Everything that readers loved in the first book is here in Catching Fire. Once again, Collins touches on sensitive subjects such as oppression, violence, dirty politics, and status inequality. These are issues which are not usually tackled in YA fiction, but Collins handles these negative ideas and concepts in a tactful way. Readers may cringe at the cold-blooded killings happening during the story, but they stay glued to the novel, always eagerly anticipating what happens next.

Because Catching Fire is the second in a planned trilogy, readers can't help but make their own predictions as to what the third novel can possibly focus on. And these guesses usually affect the way you anticipate the events in Catching Fire. Collins does pull several surprises, but there are several threads in the narrative that can be quite predictable. There are characters in The Hunger Games and Catching Fire who have proven indispensable to the story; killing them off would drastically affect how the trilogy will come full circle.

One of the reasons many adults still go back to YA novels every now and then is the straightforward story these novels have. Collins flexes her storytelling prowess in Catching Fire, a worthy sequel to The Hunger Games. The events are linear; there's none of those flashbacks that have become a staple in adult novels just to provide a context or a background to the present events. She has also effectively laid out the elements of the third and last novel, which will hopefully come out next year. I just can't wait for it.

Read this book if:
  1. You're craving for a YA novel with a bite.
  2. You're not afraid of the occasional bloodshed.
  3. You just love a good, thrilling, and satisfying story.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A thought for next year

I spent more than an hour in the classics section of a bookstore today, and I realized how many authors and novels that I haven't even read yet. I've never read Thomas Hardy, George Gissing, Virginia Woolf, and Stendhal, just to name a few. Judging from the introduction texts of their novels which I scanned today, going through them would probably be the best reading experience a bibliophile can have.

So, for next year, I'm thinking of devoting more time to read these classics than contemporary novels. Do you have any suggestions for me, dear reader?

Friday, September 11, 2009

A night spent talking about books

Last Wednesday night, I received an invite through Blooey, a fellow blogger, to have dinner with the people from Scholastic. Since my evenings are usually free, I RSVPd for the dinner meeting with the YA book publishers and my fellow bloggers.

The two ladies from Scholastic, Ms. Joyce and Ms. Roselle, were very gracious hosts. They kept the meeting casual and friendly, telling us that they just want to meet groups of people who were into books. Fortunately, the group that night was composed of Honey, Mitch, Marie, and Blooey -- all true blue bibliophiles who blog about their reading adventures.

The group had a very spirited discussion about our books, reading, blogging, and book clubs that, before we know it, almost 3 hours have gone by! Each of us also received a copy of The Hunger Games, which I read early this year and absolutely loved. I'm guessing that my fellow bloggers wouldn't be able to put the book down. It's a very riveting read.

Of course, even though we said good-bye to the Scholastic ladies, we still ended up having coffee until late in the evening. I enjoyed listening to Mitch talk about her liking for urban fantasy novels, hearing Honey's take on why we love horror novels and movies, looking at Blooey's latest book loot, and talking to Marie about my literary pet peeve of the moment -- Jane Austen.

All in all, it was a night well-spent.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Giving classic chick lit a try

I haven't read a novel by Jane Austen. I've seen the movies though -- Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, and, yes, even Clueless, which I found brilliant. However, I can't seem to actually finish her novels.

All those women spending the day gossiping and chattering do not fascinate me at all. What's with the fuss with Mr. Darcy? I just don't get it. I would rather go through Ulysses again than read about this stoic gentleman whom everyone is going gaga about.

Since the book club that I recently joined will be discussing Pride and Prejudice in October, I am left with no choice but to read that bloody book. I've looked at the Austen novels that I have and I'm not happy with what I see -- tattered, dog-eared, smelly, secondhand books. Are these the root of my Austen aversion perhaps?

So yesterday, I checked out the bookshops and bought myself some fabulous-looking Austen novels. I just hope that they'd give me the necessary motivation.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What do you think the pope is reading?

My friend, Maan, sent me a text message about Pope Benedict's XVI's personal library collection of more than 20,000 books. Hmmm... How many bibles does this man have?

I'm guessing that not all of those books are religious. (Some of those are just boring.) After all, the pope has to be kept abreast of what his millions of followers all over the world are into. And he is fluent in at least 10 languages.

So, in the spirit of good-natured fun, let's take a shot at what books Pope Benedict might have in his collection. Here are my top guesses:
  1. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  2. the complete Twilight books
  3. The Sandman graphic novels
  4. Harlequinn romances
  5. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
  6. YOU: Staying Young
  7. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Your turn, dear reader. What non-religious books do you think the pope has in his library?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Asks versus answers

Just when you thought you would be reading a sequel of the wonderful adventure story that is The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first novel of the Chaos Walking trilogy, the author throws a curve ball at you. This second novel, The Ask and the Answer, is totally different from the first one; it is darker, more brutal, and unafraid to tackle sensitive topics head on. While Patrick Ness may have written a slower second novel, The Ask and the Answer is indeed more satisfying than its predecessor.

The Knife of Never Letting Go ended with a superb cliffhanger, which provides a natural and effective springboard for The Ask and the Answer. Mayor Prentiss, who has now proclaimed himself president of New Prentisstown, has invaded the neighboring territories of Prentisstown. He promises to bring peace and order to the New World, but his methods for achieving these are anything but peaceful. When a town or city refuses to surrender to him, he organizes a massacre. But in the town of Haven, the people hear of the impending arrival of Prentiss's army and decide among themselves to surrender peacecully. Prentiss renames Haven to New Prentisstown and proceeds to segregate the women from the men.

If you've never read the first book, the narrative of The Ask and the Answer provides a good background on the circumstances of the characters living in this planet which they call the New World. These people have fled their planet, the reason of which Ness hasn't disclosed fully yet. When they arrive in this planet, they noticed that men's thoughts are broadcast all over the place, which people have labelled as Noise. Women, however, are naturally silent. In the New World, nothing is left secret among men, and it is this unique characteristic that Ness uses to full effect in the second novel, where an inevitable battle of the sexes ensues.

The Ask and the Answer still focuses on two characters -- Todd and Viola -- who become unwilling pawns in the war in New Prentisstown. After Prentiss has shut off the women from the town, some of these women form a rebellion which they call the Answer. Viola, having been separated from Todd by Prentiss, becomes a member. Todd, on the other hand, is left at New Prentisstown and becomes an unwilling pupil of Prentiss, who teaches him to control his Noise. The men of Haven, in retaliation to the Answer, form the Ask, a loose organization in charge of branding women similar to the way they brand cattle.

With the second novel, Ness has taken the Chaos Walking trilogy into different waters. The first one has a semblance of a science fiction young adult novel, especially with its setting in a different planet and the notion of people arriving in ships from another world. In The Ask and the Answer, these concepts hardly matter. Ness liberally takes ideas from history and weaves them into the narrative. He finds inspiration in the concepts of genocide, feminism, racism, slavery, and even the intervention of international agencies in matters of war. This technique may be lost among young readers, whom this book in intended for. Nevertheless, Ness's story holds its own water. The Ask and the Answer is a very riveting read, although some parts of it may feel contrived and affected.

Similar to the first novel, The Ask and the Answer is written in the present tense. This style lends a certain freshness to the narrative, an urgency, as if everything is indeed is happening right here, right now. When characters act on the situations they find themselves in, you find yourself mending your thoughts and feelings in the story.
And the mayor's just staring at me, staring into my Noise, and words form in my brain, PLEASE DON'T HURT HER said in my voice and his voice all twisted together, pressing down on the things I think, the things I know and it's different from the Noise slap, this voice pokes around where I don't want him, trying to open locked doors and turn over stones and shine lights where they shouldn't never be shown and all the while saying PLEASE DON'T HURT HER and I can feel myself starting to want to tell... [p. 206]
Restraint is not one of the characteristics of Ness's writing style in the first two books. While you would expect the chapters on the first-person account of Todd to ramble especially with all the Noise, the chapters that focus on Viola's account of her story can sometimes get discombobulated as well. The effect is relevant to the main storyline though; as the war becomes more and more evident, Ness's writing becomes more frantic and engaging.

I wonder why The Knife of Never Letting Go and the The Ask and the Answer hasn't found a strong following in the US and even here in the Philippines. All the awards the first book has won are richly deserved. While Ness may be living in the UK, there's nothing particularly British about the books. Ness has lived in both sides of the Atlantic, having been born and educated in the US and eventually becoming a British citizen after having lived in the UK for several years. I think it'll take a few more years before the Chaos Walking trilogy is recognized for being the brilliant and wonderful books that they are.

Read this book if:
  1. You want to read a very satisfying albeit unconventional young adult novel.
  2. You know that men and women are indeed different but acknowledge that they are equal.
  3. You understand the evils of concentration camps, suicide bombings, and cultural insensitivities.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Hardbacks without dust jackets

Book sculpture by Brian Dettmer

Apparently, more and more publishers are coming out with hardbacks without dust jackets. Check out the news here. How do you feel about this, dear reader? I'm not sure if this is something new at all, since I've seen jacketless hardbacks for the longest time (e.g., the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books).

Dust jackets can be annoying. They can get in the way of holding the book with ease. I guess this is one of the reasons for covering the books in plastic. And if ever you do remove them when you read the book, you're left with ugly cloth-bound case-wraps.

Don't you just love those books published by McSweeney's? They hardly ever have dust jackets. And their paperback covers are very artistic.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Bookshelf Project #9

This week's bookshelf picture are from Steve Murray. (I'm actually breaking a rule here by mentioning his name.) Steve's the English translator for Stieg Larsson's Millennium series. Check out his blog here.

Thanks for the picture, Steve! And thanks for the wonderful English versions of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire. They're two of my favorite reads this year. I absolute love Lisbeth Salander!

Don't you just love his books? Even though I can hardly identify a book title, I know that his reading taste is varied. What do you think, dear reader?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

It just got too boring

In fact the true postmodern novel is here, hiding in plain sight. We just haven't noticed it because we're looking in the wrong aisle. We were trained—by the Modernists, who else—to expect a literary revolution to be a revolution of the avant-garde: typographically altered, grammatically shattered, rhetorically obscure. Difficult, in a word. This is different. It's a revolution from below, up from the supermarket racks.
From the Wall Street Journal

I just read this very entertaining post from the Wall Street Journal. Basically, it discusses how more and more people are looking for novels with plot. I have nothing against Ulysses, or Lolita, or The Sound and the Fury. I've read them and, frankly, I didn't understand what was happening half the time. All those literary allusions and devices get in the way of the story. I know that these literary pyrotechnics are what make these novels great, but the fact that these novels are difficult to read are precisely the things that people don't read them in the first place.

I had a stage when I read only these "difficult" novels, thinking that they'd make me a better reader and earn bragging rights to my fellow bibliophiles. I was wrong, of course. If anything, reading these novels only made me realize how little I know of literature. (They just made me feel ignorant and stupid.) If you have severe masochistic tendencies like I do, then go ahead and read them.

Lately, I've been veering toward novels that are heavy on the plot. The argument that a novel possessing of a very engaging may not be at all well-written is laughable. Just look at the mysteries of Kate Atkinson and the police procedurals of Ian Rankin. Once you've sampled these, I doubt if you'll get the same satisfaction as when you read Grisham or Patterson. I guess having a good story and a tight narrative are the primary appeal of young adult novels. (Kids can't be bothered to read 700 pages about an Irishman who wanders through the streets of Dublin in a single day. They're smart enough to know that nothing exciting is ever going to happen.)

Perhaps the way we live now has changed our reading habits. Our hectic schedules have made us favor novels that can provide instant gratification. We no longer have the patience to go through Thomas Pynchon's labyrinthine novel that is Gravity's Rainbow or Marcel Proust's terribly slow and melodramatic novels that make up In Search of Lost Time (or Memories of Things Past). But our hunger for good writing will never go away. So now we're raving about the adventure stories of Michael Chabon and the hard-edged themes of Jonathan Lethem.

So how about you, dear reader? Are there any of these difficult novels that you've read? How has finishing them changed the way you feel about books and your reading habits?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Gets in the way with reading

If you're a bibliophile like me and you're anticipating a 3-day weekend, you'd probably line up all the books that you're going to read. That was my original plan, but when Friday afternoon came, I developed a very bothersome cough and cold, which I prayed would go away Saturday morning.

But I was wrong. I wasn't feeling any better last Saturday. Perhaps it didn't help that we went to this late night screening of an independent movie somewhere in the metro. I woke up at 4 am with a splitting headache and an intense desire to see District 9. (You might be wondering why I'm up at 4 am on a weekend. I'm up every day, week days and weekends, at 4 am. If my body needs more sleep, I get up at 4.30.)

So of course I texted my close friend R. so that we can watch District 9 together. There I was strolling the mall, all the while coughing and sneezing and just generally feeling lightheaded. I was hoping to catch up on my planned reading when I got home, but I was just too tired.

Sunday and Monday came and went with me not having finished a single book. When you're sick, it's just sickening to see all those books around you and not have the stamina to read them. I did watch a lot of TV though, mostly from the Asian Food Channel and the Lifestyle Network. I now know more about tapenade and color schemes than I need to.

So, forgive me, dear reader, if I haven't posted a decent review lately. I'll be sure to catch up.


I was eagerly anticipating Catching Fire, the sequel to Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games. And since I know that today, September 01, is its official release date, I passed by two bookstores during my lunch break just to get myself a copy.

At bookstore 1
Me: Don't you have Catching Fire yet?
Staff: Sir, we'll have it on September 01.
Me: (5 seconds of silence, hoping that the fact that today is September 01 will sink in; thankfully, it does)
Staff: Oh, right. If you would give us your mobile number, we'll just text you when it arrives, sir.
Me: When will you have it?
Staff: September.
Me: Right.

At bookstore 2
Me: Don't you have Catching Fire yet?
Staff: Sir, we'll have it on September 01.
Me: (7 seconds of silence)
Staff: Oh, right. We'll just text you, sir.

So now I have two reserved books. Frankly, that's a happy problem.