Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Bookshelf Project #15

This week's pictures of bookshelves are from my good friend, Czari. These are actully the bookshelves where she stores all the books for her two kids -- Bea and Neo.

I think the topmost picture shows the complete collection, while the last three are close-up shots. By the way, Czari also runs a reading center for kids in her neighborhood.

What do you think of Czari's bookshelves, dear reader? I just think that Czari's kids are so lucky to be growing up in a home with lots of books.

Monday, October 26, 2009


My favorite season is just around the corner. I'm not talking about Halloween, since I've never been big on dressing up. I'm referring to Christmas. I just love the gift giving, the eating like there's no tomorrow, the happiness all around, the crisp cold air. What's not to love?

Here in the Philippines, we have a habit of giving gifts early. So, there's plenty of time for, umm, re-gifting. I know that the concept may sound crass and unbecoming. But who needs all those scented candles and potpourri, fruit cakes (see story below), cute figurines (I call them "dust gatherers".), keychains, etc. I just think that, since I'm not going to need them and I certainly need to save money during these tough times, the next best thing is to recycle them.

Dear reader, you've probably re-gifted at one point in your life. And, I think that some of the gifts you've sent have been re-gifted as well. It's not a bad thing though. (We just don't have enough keys to use all those keychains.)

When you're a bibliophile and you've lots of friends who are book lovers as well, re-gifting books and book-related items can be quite tricky. Unless you're filthy rich, you probably can afford to give books or, even better, Amazon gift checks to all your friends. (I usually hate filthy rich people, but they become my best friends during Christmas.)

I can't bear the thought of regifting books unless they're of the self-help variety. No Coehlos, Chopras, Carnegies, et al will ever get near my shelf. And, in the few instances that I give books as gifts, I can't imagine them being re-gifted. So, here's what I do:
  • Inscribe the books with a very personal note such as "Let's talk about this book soon, Alex! Bring it with you next month at Starbucks." Or, "I can't wait to see this book on your shelf when I come over to surprise you one of these days, Martha!"
  • Write innocuous notes on random pages of the book. Granted that this wouldn't prevent the person you gave it too from re-gifting. But, if the receiver does re-gift, the look on his or her face would be priceless once you ask if he or she has read the personal notes you wrote on page 37, 203, and 412 of the same book.
  • Tell them that you'll be calling them frequently to ask how they're liking the book. This would be better if you have the same book. This way, you can easily ask them about their thoughts regarding specific pages.

The Fruit Cake Myth

There's actually only one fruit cake in the world. Come Christmas time, this fruit cake gets passed around to different people. Since the fruit cake is made of tons of sugar and alcohol, it's virtually indestructible, allowing it to survive one Christmas season to the next. I don't this is true though. I love fruit cake. Or, as an alternative to the myth, all the fruit cakes in the world get passed around and eventually end up in my tummy.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Current favorite author

After having a grand time reading The Woman in White, I've gotten my hands on all the Wilkie Collins I've seen at bookstores. I wasn't really planning on reading Armadale next, since it's even longer than The Woman in White -- it's over 800 pages long!

Today I was holding Pride and Prejudice with the aim of going past page 42 when I kept glancing at my copy of Armadale. I put P&P down and read the first chapter of Armadale just to check how it would compare to TWIW. Before I knew it, I was already on Chapter 4!

So, I guess I can assume that Collins is my favorite author of the moment. I love all the melodrama and the over-the-top narratives. His writing is very atmospheric and he came up with the most effective cliffhangers.

Of course, with Halloween being just around the corner, I have to read something scary. And my chosen book is this anthology of horror stories edited by one of my favorites, Peter Straub. If you're looking for a truly scary ghost story, dear reader, then you should check out Straub's Ghost Story. His Shadowland and If You Could See Me Now are also creepy reads.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I love sensational fiction

I finally finished Wilkie Collins's sensational novel, The Woman in White, after two long weeks. And it was one of the best two weeks of this year ever. I wasn't prepared for the scope that Collins has laid out for his reader with this novel, which has replaced The Moonstone as my favorite Collins's work.

Halfway through the novel, I felt that The Woman in White had far too many elements, and I feared that these may not come together in the end, resulting in a loose narrative. But Collins pulled it off, and he did so elegantly! Even the minor subplots have their own significance in the story. The effect is that you feel you've read a novel that's carefully and meticulously planned.

Told in an epistolary fashion, The Woman in White has several characters that Collins use to tell the story. He begins with Walter Hartwright, an arts teacher who has accidentally met a woman in white while on his way to the Fairlie estate. Hartwright helps this woman (Anne Catherick) escape from two men intent on capturing her. Hartright has been commissioned to tutor the Laura Fairlie and her half-sister Marian Halcombe, who's one of the most strong-willed characters in fiction ever. Laura has been engaged to Mr. Glyde, a man who's only after the Fairlie inheritance. When Laura apparently dies due to a mysterious circumstance, Hartright becomes determined to find out the truth and hopefully reveal to everyone the sinister intention of Glyde. What follows is a whirlwind of tragic romance, mistaken identity, detective work, family secret revelations, and redemption.

So how does the woman in white figure in the story? Aside from having a strong resemblance to Laura Glyde, she carries with her a secret that can spell the downfall for one of the novel's main characters.

The Woman in White is truly one sensational work of fiction. If you have the willpower to go through the more than 600 pages, the effort is well worth it. It's hard to imagine why the novel was a bestseller when it came out in the 1850s. All the hallmarks of a very engaging read are here -- a mystery, cliffhangers, and narrative twists. It still is a hugely entertaining novel, if you pay close attention to the convoluted plot that Collins lays out for you.

I'm now on the look out for other novels by Wilkie Collins. I've already bought Armadale (another doorstop at more than 700 pages) and am planning to get a copy of No Name. I'll probably read The Moonstone again, since I read it when I was 13 and I probably wasn't able to catch all the details. You should read Collins, dear reader. You'd probably love sensational novels, too.

Read this book if:
  1. You love sensational fiction.
  2. You're craving for a good mystery.
  3. You like your novels big in every sense of the word.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Coffee, dinner, and coffee again

Roti bun: my favorite (source)

Yesterday, I met a few members of my book club, Flips Flipping Pages, for dinner and coffee. We were supposed to meet up at 7 pm, but since it was a week day, I figured that many of us would be arriving late (myself one of them). So, I arrived at 7.30 and there was Honey, reading Rebecca, which was a good sign.

One by one, the Flippers started to arrive and, pretty soon, we were all having the wonderful coffee and those deliciously sinful coffee buns. Of course, since I thought that my Bikram Yoga sessions would burn all the calories I was consuming, I even helped myself to two soft-boiled eggs and those toasts with lots of butter and coconut jam.

It just occurred to me though that all of us keep blogs -- me, Honey, Blooey, Gege, Mitch, and Marie. But, even though we write about the books we've read, we have differing tastes. Honey is the biggest Jane Austen fan I've met, always encouraging me to finish Pride and Prejudice. Blooey loves YA and picture books. Gege also writes about restaurants she's gone to and is the "go to" person for new food haunts. Mitch loves urban fantasy. And Marie is still raving about Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time.

There's something about books that brings people together, despite our clashing reading preferences. I'm forever stuck on page 42 of P&P. I seldom touch picture books. I don't understand urban fantasy. And, while I majored in science in college, I think Hawking's book is so inaccessible. Nevertheless, we had a fascinating discussion about books and other subjects that I wouldn't even dare mention in this blog.

Since we were in a coffee shop and we haven't had dinner yet, we decided to get more grub from the Indian restaurant next door. And after that, another round of coffee and more juicy talk at a Starbucks. Before we knew it, a barista informed us that they'd be closing soon since it was past 12 midnight.

I got home at 1 and woke up at 3.30 am. (I always wake up at 3.30 even on weekends; 4 when I'm feeling sick or a little indulgent.) Nevertheless, despite the lack of sleeping hours, I felt blissful spending most of last night talking about books and being among fellow bibliophiles.

Monday, October 19, 2009

15 books

I'm not really huge on memes, but since I saw this as a post in The Literary Stew and The B Files, I just knew I had to come up with my own list. (This meme has also been circulating in Facebook.)

Okay, so here's my list of 15 books I've read that will stay with me always (not in any particular order). You're supposed to list 15 books in no more than 15 minutes.
  1. I, Claudius by Robert Graves
  2. The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass
  3. Enduring Love by Ian McEwan
  4. The Innocent by Ian McEwan
  5. The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
  6. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  7. Independent People by Halldor Laxness
  8. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
  9. The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman by Louis de Bernieres
  10. The Reprieve by Jean-Paul Sartre
  11. The History of the Siege of Lisbon by Jose Saramago
  12. The Moor's Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie
  13. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
  14. The World According to Garp by John Irving
  15. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Hmmm... Coming up with this list was more difficult than I'd expected. How about you, dear reader? I'd love to see your list.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Give me another hedgehog

Muriel Barbery's novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, was one fascinating read. Her earlier novel, Gourmet Rhapsody, was a bit of a disappointment. I don't really have a taste for French novels, since I find them too slow and feel that nothing much happens in them (much like French movies). But Hedgehog made me see that French novels can be exciting. Reading Gourmet Rhapsody, however, made me constantly ask "What's the point in this novel?"

Gourmet Rhapsody is about Pierre Arthens, the renowned food critic we've met in Hedgehog, who's recalling significant episodes in his life as he lays dying. In the novel, the critic's own thoughts and memories alternate with the stories of people whose lives he touched. The critic is in search of that one singular flavor, an elusive taste that he wants to experience again before he dies. The people around him -- his wife, his children, the concierge, fellow food critics, lovers, etc. -- tell the circumstances why they either love or hate Arthens.

As you can tell from the synopsis, nothing much happens in Gourmet Rhapsody. If Barbery wants to show the different facets of Arthens through his past experiences and by the feelings of the people around him, the attempt fails. In the end, Arthens is still a conundrum. We don't get to discover how he developed his high-brow tastes, his aversion for his children, his preferential treatment for the household help, and his choice in women. Gourmet Rhapsody left me wanting for more.

Read this book if:
  1. You love melodramatic French novels and cinema.
  2. You like translated fiction.
  3. You've always wanted to be a food critic.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Bookshelf Project #14

This week's bookshelf pictures from Alexia, a fellow blogger. Check out her wonderful book reviews here.

I think Alexia is a very eclectic reader, judging from the variety of her book collection. I just love looking at all those paperbacks! And these pictures somehow prove a point that wooden bookcases look fabulous.

What do you think of Alexia's bookshelves, dear reader?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

If I owned a bookstore...

My friends have always asked me, "So when are you going to have your own bookstore?" I've always replied, "Soon." But honestly, who am I kidding? With this economy, opening a bookstore is the quickest way to bankruptcy. As if people are buying books left and right.

It's still a nice thought though -- being the one to open the shop, check the stocks, talk to customers, recommend books to them, and close the shop with a satisfied feeling at the end of the day. And I love the idea that I'm the one in control of what books to sell.

I feel, however, that I wouldn't be making any money from running my own bookstore. For one, I wouldn't dream of having these books in my shelves:
  • All the Twilight novels and those YA vampire lit
  • Anything by John Grisham and Danielle Steele
  • Manga
  • Those cheesy, over-the-top Jane Austen spin-offs
On second thought, I may as well stock up on these books I've mentioned. When the customer isn't looking, I'll take out that Twilight in the paperbag and replace it with The Historian or Dracula. I'll switch the Jane Austen spin-off with the real thing. Hmmmm...

How about you, dear reader? If you were to run your own bookstore, what books would you sell? Which books would you avoid getting?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

You'll love this

I'm Margherita and, as you may have guessed,
I weigh less in panties than I do fully dressed.
First, I was glad to temporarily put on hold reading Audrey Niffenegger's latest novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, which is getting too sappy for my taste. Second, I'm even more glad that I chose to read Stefano Benni's Margherita Dolce Vita, which is one of the funniest novels I've read recently.

Margherita Dolce Vita, an Italian novel translated by Anthony Shugaar, features an adorable 14-year-old precocious, chubby girl affectionately called Margherita Dolce Vita by her grandfather. Margherita lives with her family, whose members are as weird as they come. Her father, Fausto, is a "public defender of objects," taking it upon himself to restore delapidated objects such as bicycles. Her mother, Emma, is a typical Italian housewife but who is addicted to soap operas. Her older brother, Giacinto, reads only sports magazines and Victoria's Secret catalogues and, according to Margherita, is a "stupid version of herself." The youngest, Erminio, is a 12-year-old genius.

Things become very interesting when a new family, the Del Benes, move in, erecting a huge block of a house with no windows that Margherita calls The Cube. The Del Benes are everything that Margherita's family is not, and soon, their neighbors have exerted their influence on each member of Margherita's family except for our heroine. Fausto has become obssessed with high-tech gadgets, Emma with the latest cosmetological treatments, Giacinto with the Del Benes' blonde daughter, and Erminio with video games that the Del Benes have given him. It falls on Margherita to show them how their little family has transformed for the worst.

Margherita Dolce Vita has plenty of comedic moments that can lead one to thinking that this is simply a lighthearted novel. In a way, that's true -- as plenty of these funny moments have a cinematic quality about them. But Benni's novel is more than that; it's also a satire on consumerism, environmental degradation, and misplaced paranoia. On one side, we have Margherita's family who, despite their idiosyncrasies, was happy with what they have. On the opposite end, we see the Del Benes with their bio-ionized air conditioning and their abhorence for the local cooperative grocery, who they believe fund terrorist and communist groups.

Margherita's voice is fresh and uncontrived. When she makes brilliantly funny quips, you don't question that they come from just a normal 14-year-old girl. She really is a memorable character, one that's very endearing and you can root for.

I am wearing the black outfit that everybody says makes me look two pounds lighter (so I really need to wear eight of them, one over the other).

I've decided to hunt down other novels of Stefano Benni. He has written several novels and Margherita Dolce Vita is his first successful novel to be released globally. If his other novels is only half as good as this one, I would still be a fan.

Read this book if:
  1. You feel that all your family members are weird (except for yourself, of course).
  2. You love precocious main characters with a wonderful sense of humor.
  3. You couldn't care less about having bio-ionized air conditioning in your home.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

If you were in the Nobel Committee

So finally the Nobel Committee awarded this year's Nobel Prize for Literature to another European -- Herta Muller. You can't blame people for saying that the Nobel is very Euro-centric, as most of the recent winners came from Europe. Of course, you can't blame them since they are, after all, Europeans.

I'm sure that, in the coming weeks, our local bookstores would now be flooded with the novels of Muller, who incidentally looks like my preschool teacher. Last year's winner Le Clezio was virtually unheard of here in Manila. Now, you'll never fail to find at least two of his novels in bookstores.

Still, I was secretly hoping for an Asian or African novelist, poet, or dramatist to win. I'm sure there are a lot out there. They can sure use the exposure that winning the Nobel Prize brings. I would also be happy to see Philip Roth or Amos Oz get the Nobel.

How about you, dear reader? Which writer would you like to receive the Nobel Prize?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Bookshelf Project #13

This week's pictures of bookshelves are from Kaye, a fellow book blogger. Check out her wonderful book blog here. She has wonderful bookcases!

Her bookshelves look very homey, don't you think? The topmost photo shows her collection of YA books, and her collection's quite extensive!

Those artistic pieces found near the books (bottom photo) are just so wonderful. They add a personal touch to the bookshelves.

What do you think of Kaye's bookshelves and book collection, dear reader?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

You've been Betamaxed

Remember the Betamax? It was the supposed to be the "it" gadget in the 80s when it came to video, but people somehow preferred the VHS. This was very surprising since Betamax reportedly had far superior technology than VHS. Still, Betamax became obsolete after a few years. Now, I'm wondering if books are headed in the same direction as Betamax? Would you trade your books for an e-reader?

A lot of people are quite surprised that I'm really, really looking forward to the time the Kindle 2.0 comes to Manila. If it's launched here, I'll be first in line.

I wonder how having the Kindle would change my book-buying habits. I love books -- how they feel, smell, look, and taste. (Yes, I taste my books once in a while. US editions are more bitter than UK ones.) So I guess I'd still be buying books. I can't imagine running my tongue over an electronic gadget.

How about you, dear reader? How do you feel about the Kindle or other e-readers?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

My personal demon

After having read Memoirs of a Master Forger and getting acquainted with all the demons that Heaney/Joyce has written about, I now know that my personal demon has something to do with impulsive and constant book buying. Lately, I've been buying all the NYRB editions that I can get my hands on.

These NYRB editions are a delight to read. NYRB has reprinted some forgotten non-contemporary novels, which have been overlooked by more renowned classics publishers such as Penguin and Oxford University Press. Plus, their simple but elegant designs and color schemes make a fantastic addition to one's bookshelves.

Thanks to NYRB, I've read the novels of L. P. Hartley, Alberto Moravia, Janet Hobhouse, and John Horne Burns, just to name a few.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sad, sad day

I left the office today hoping to buy A. S. Byatt's latest novel from my favorite quaint bookshop, A Different Bookstore, when I noticed that it has closed. I didn't even see a sign that they're renovating, so I'm assuming that another small bookshop bit the dust.

I'll miss A Different Bookstore. They had titles that I didn't find in Manila's big chain bookstores. So now I'm asking myself if I bought enough books from this branch to keep it from closing. Well, apparently I did not.

I love small bookshops. Their books may cost more than those from large retain chains, but nothing beats their homey feel. They even take the time to text and email their loyal customers about promos and new titles. Also, I recall the sales staff at A Different Bookstore engaging me in lively conversation. They really know their books.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

I am loving this

I'm not one to recommend or write a review about a book I haven't even finished, much less gone halfway through. But for the past two days, I haven't been able to tear myself away from Wilkie Collins's sensational novel The Woman in White.

It's a doorstop of a novel, having more than 600 pages (not including the more than 100 pages that constitute the introduction and the afterword, which I had no plans of reading). I was expecting the novel to start out slow, but, much to my surprise, the plot had my interest right from the start.

If you're longing for a very atmospheric read, then The Woman in White is for you. It's also one of Collins's more famous sensational mystery novels. The novel has everything that I'm craving for right now -- a bit of a Gothic touch, a creepiness factor, family secrets, and a slightly convoluted plot. I just can't wait to finish it.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A boy, his father, and horses

Per Petterson's fifth novel, Out Stealing Horses, has been one of the most acclaimed novels recently. It won the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and Time Magazine Best Book of the Year, and was chosen as one of the best books by The New York Times Book Review. (Naturally, it never became a bestseller.) I feel that giving my two cents' worth about it would be a challenge.

In Out Stealing Horses, we meet Trond Sander, a 67-year-old Norwegian widower who has decided to live in an isolated cabin after the death of his wife. It is during this period of isolation that he remembers the pivotal events in his childhood involving his father. He recalls all the circumstances during one particular summer that would eventually lead to his father's abandoning them. He remembers in vivid detail how he and his friend Jon would "steal" horses and how his father formed a relationship with Jon's mother, which would prove disastrous to the Sander family.

Petterson's novel moves at a very slow but dramatic pace. While reading, I kept wondering where all the events were headed. The narrative shifts between the two significant periods in Trond's life. Also, even within each period, Petterson jumbles his chronology quite often, a technique which may be ineffective if done by a second-rate author. Petterson, however, propels his story so masterfully. And his ability to provide insights on his main character by showing us scenes from both Trond's childhood and his twilight years is a class of its own; Trond is one of the most introspective fictional character I've encountered recently.

People like it when you tell them things, in suitable portions, in a modest, intimate tone, and they think they know you, but they do not, they know about you, for what they are let in on are facts, not feelings, not what your opinion is about anything at all, not how what has happened to you and how all the decisions you have made have turned you into who you are.

There's not much of a plot to speak of, however. But Petterson's use of language is a joy to read. Out Stealing Horses evokes a range of emotions from the reader -- from a "homey" sentiment to the more profound feelings of sadness and loss. The novel's end is particularly heartbreaking. Nevertheless, Out Stealing Horses is a very satisfying novel.

Read this book if:
  1. You're curious why people are slowly looking at Scandinavia as the next big thing in fiction.
  2. Lately you've been recalling childhood events and asking yourself "What if...? "
  3. You have a troublesome relationship with your father.

Friday, October 2, 2009

No point in banning

The Banned Books Week is coming to a close tomorrow, October 03, and I just can't help wishing for the time when we wouldn't have to celebrate this anymore. How long before we realize that there's no point in banning books? You can check out the highlights of BBW here.

Banning books, or censoring any form of material for that matter, is like forced lobotomy. I think no one has the right to impose his or her opinions on anyone. Banning or censoring books is just, excuse me, stupid.

I've only read 2 of the top 10 most frequently challenged books in the US -- Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy and the Gossip Girl books. Technically, that's 17 books (3 Pullman novels and 14 GG novels). The Dark Materials trilogy is brilliant, especially The Subtle Knife, the second book which is a personal favorite. The Gossip Girl books, on the other hand, are so shallow, inane, and populated with two-dimensional characters. Still, I don't think there could be any valid reason for banning them.

Banning books can also be ironic because it has the effect of calling more attention to the books being challenged. The most frequently challenged title is Tango Makes Three, a young adult novel about gay penguins. Misinformed people cite that the book is "anti-ethnic, anti-family, homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group." How can this book be so threatening? If I see Tango Makes Three in our local bookstores, I think I'll get 10 copies and just spread them around.

Have you read any of these banned books? How do you feel about banning or challenging books, dear reader?