Monday, March 26, 2012

The foundation gets to you

You are in a bookstore, waiting for your dear friend who's stuck in traffic and has no way of knowing what time he'll get there. You wander around aimlessly until you reach that section of the bookstore you least explore -- the science fiction section. You scan the first few novels, the ones with authors whose surnames start with A.

You reach for that Asimov, temporarily attracted to that bright orange color. You read that it's Foundation, one of the author's seminal novels (probably one of the seminal novels in the whole SF genre). You turn to page 1. You see your friend has finally arrived. You look at the book in your hand. You are surprised that you're on page 30. You are hooked. You see your friend heading to the register, buying that book for you. You smile. You get the validation that patience, indeed, is a virtue.

You get home at the end of the day anxious to finish the book. You are unfazed by esoteric concepts such as psychohistory, polymath, and the Encyclopedia Galactica. You don't mind that sections of the novel appear dated, for they are, in a way, charming and lend a feeling that what you are holding is an SF classic. You finish Foundation in the middle of the night. You are blown away.

You quickly recall what the novel is about. You know that it has to do with a group of scientists being exiled to a faraway part of the universe to prevent the collapse of humankind. You think that this isn't too farfetched at all, given the technology. You Google. You find out that you do have to read the rest of the Foundation novels to appreciate the storyline fully.

You talk about the first Foundation novel with some of your friends from the book club. You hear the same thing. You just need to get your hands on the rest of Asimov's brilliant creation, or at least read the trilogy (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation). You come up with a plan on your book retail activities, somehow channeling the foreshadowing idea in the gripping first novel.

You blog about your experience, of course. You write an entry with each sentence beginning with 'you'. You pray that your readers won't be turned off by the over-usage of the second person pronoun.

You read this book if:
  1. You love classic SF.
  2. You want to know what the fuss is all about and why this book has been continuously in print since 1951.
  3. You're a sucker for anything Asimov.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

More birthday loot and a farewell to a beloved bookstore

And people keep giving me books for my birthday! Here are more books that I've received for my 38th! And look, there's a De Botton, one of my current favorite authors! Woot!

On a sadder note, a bookstore that I have come to love and which has become a 'home' to the book club, Libreria, closed its doors for the last time last Saturday, 24 March. It was a bittersweet occasion indeed, for we remembered all the fun times we had at Libreria and then finally bid it adieu.

We entered Libreria via its famous blue-framed door.
Happiness can be found inside amid books and fellow book lovers.
(Photo courtesy by R.)

Libreria's shelves were a wonder to go through.
(Photo courtesy of R.)

Libreria's beautiful proprietor, Triccie,
during Mardi Gras that she hosted at her bookstore
(Photo courtesy of R.)

My final book loot at Libreria

I will definitely miss Libreria. I will miss not only the endless coffee refills, the books I can't find anywhere in local bookstores, and the artsy atmosphere, but more so the warm conversations with other bibliophiles, most especially with its owner. Good luck on your other endeavor, Triccie!

Monday, March 19, 2012

A birthday isn't complete without books

Oh dear, it looks like I haven't posted for a few days now. I'm definitely back though, albeit a year older, as I celebrated my birthday last March 17. Yes, KyusiReader is a St. Paddy's day baby!

Of course, a birthday truly becomes a day of celebration when someone gives you books, especially books that you've been wanting to add to your shelf. This year, I was fortunate to get the books shown below.

And, just to let you know, dear reader, there's one TV series to blame for my lack of posts recently. 'Downton Abbey', you are a happy problem to my reading life. I can't get enough of you!

Bookmark given by R.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

For the Anglophile in you

Everyone's been talking about the TV series 'Downton Abbey'. I know that it's inevitable that I'll watch it as I absolutely loved Gosford Park, also written by Julian Fellowes, which earned him an Oscar. Fellowes also wrote 2 novels -- Snobs and Past Imperfect -- both of which were bestsellers in the UK. To read Past Imperfect, with its title's grammatical allusions, was a no-brainer.

Instead of England at the turn of the century, Past Imperfect transports us to England in the 1960s, a time when the excesses of the English aristocracy was still evident. Fellowes transports us to a time and place with its lush debutante balls, decadent parties that last till the wee hours of the morning, and elegant luncheons and dinners to name a few.

The nameless narrator of the novel receives a letter from his sworn enemy, one Damian Baxter, asking for his help. Baxter is terminally ill and informs our narrator that he might have fathered a child during a Season in the 1960s. The narrator agrees to look for Baxter's supposed heir. Thus, the novel switches between present-day England to a Season in the late 1960s, when young women were 'presented to society' and young men 'come of age'.

In Baxter's character, Fellowes shows us what it would be like for an outsider to find himself in a sometimes pleasant and often hostile society. Baxter is the ultimate fish-out-of-water in the novel, for he really is an outsider, but one who's determined to belong. It doesn't end well for Baxter; we get to know that he turns his back to this unforgiving lot with their refined tastes and their snooty ways.

Here is where Past Imperfect becomes a very unconventional page-turner. What did happen to Baxter during that Season? How come he was able to sleep with so many women despite his being common? And from a list that includes a handful of women who had a child during the 1960s, who could have fathered his child? Our nameless character does indeed come through with his task, although the answers to these questions might prove a surprise for the reader.

It's all so very fascinating, I tell you. Fellowes's storytelling abilities, as evidenced by his role as writer of Gosford Park and 'Downton Abbey', are as beguiling to experience as ever. And you got to hand it to the English; they sure know how to express themselves.
'You look here, you pompous, ridiculous, boring, idiotic, unfunny, pretentious, ludicrous joke.' [page 474]
That's a sentence with 7 adjectives, mind you. And only the English can naturally pull it off. Or how about this one:
'He doesn't love you. He loves what you are, he loves what he can boast about, your name, your money'. . . 'You should hear what he says about you, all of you, when we're alone. He's just a regular little toady, a Johnny-on-the-make, creeping and crawling like a bumboy round you, to worm and lick and slide his way into your lives.' [page 478]
Past Imperfect is such an entertaining read and works on so many levels that the reader might not feel its apparent heft (it's close to 500 pages). It's a showcase of a time when the English aristocracy still clung to their ways. It's a meditation on what we can make of ourselves despite our birth origins, whether royal, aristocratic, or common. It's also a very funny and oftentimes touching novel about a man, his enemy, the past when these two young men moved in the same circles, and the present when these same characters somehow redeem themselves.

Read this book if:
  1. You're an Anglophile.
  2. You're just not satisfied anymore with OK! magazine.
  3. You love the 1960s.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Things I'd like to try during a book discussion

Taken during the last book club discussion
of George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones
Thank you, R, for the pic.

So I'm going to moderate the book club discussion this month, and I've chosen Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. It's such a serious book that it got me thinking of some 'non-serious' things I can do during a book discussion.

At the top of my mind:
  1. Make a loud sheep sound after someone's very long speech about the merits and profundity of the book. "Me-e-e-e-ehhh!"
  2. Bring my own 6-pack and drink all of it in 10 minutes. (Or I can just show up drunk.)
  3. Borrow someone else's book and doodle on the pages.
  4. Volunteer to take down the minutes but just write down "Yada yada yada..." or "Blah blah blah..." Then email the minutes to everybody, for their approval.
  5. Every 15 minutes, say, "Good grief! Just look at the time!"
  6. Take pictures of everyone with their mouths open. Better, turn off the airconditioning and take pictures of everyone's sweaty armpits.
  7. Speak like Yoda. "Very deeply mistaken, you are." Or, "Total crap, this discussion is."
  8. Bring my pet turtles and introduce them to everybody.
  9. Come in zombie makeup.
  10. Fart. (Wait, I think I've actually done this. Twice.)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

This really rocks

All right, I admit that the main reason I bought and read Edgar Rice Burroughs's John Carter of Mars series was the upcoming Disney movie. I've never read any work by Burroughs before, although I know that he wrote Tarzan. However, much to my surprise, I ended up really liking the first book of this series, A Princess of Mars.

In the first novel, we begin with John Carter being inexplicably teleported to Mars, known as Barsoom among the Martians, following an unfortunate incident involving native Americans during the American Civil War. One can forgive Burroughs for the wonky beginning, as this isn't your hard-edged sci-fi novel. A Princess of Mars, like all the other 10 novels that make up the series, is pure escapist fun.

So John Carter finds himself in Mars, encounters those gigantic, many-limbed, green Martians, and marks his place among the locals because of his strength, owing to Mars's decreased gravity. But Mars isn't all about green aliens. In the planet, there are apparently two groups of people -- the green-skinned alien-looking Martians and the humans, whose red skin will make you think of native Americans. And one of these humans is a princess named Dejah Thoris, whom John Carter falls in love with.

All the elements of an adventure story are in play here: from the brutal, up-to-death battles among the green Martians, who apparently have no sense of friendship, compassion and love, to narrow escapes from prisons, where John Carter and Dejah Thoris find themselves in after being captured by rival Martian communities. And yes, the romantic angle is highlighted throughout the novel as well.

What makes A Princess of Mars fascinating though is Burroughs's gift of detail. The topology of Mars as described in this first novel is very vivid, allowing you to feel the barrenness and hostility of this strange world. Burroughs also flexes his world-building prowess as he tells of the culture and the physiology of his Martians. Fascinating stuff, I tell you.

So I guess it's a good thing that Hollywood, out of its hunger for material, will usually turn to time-tested stories and adapt them as screenplays. A Princess of Mars is wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that you'll simply turn a blind eye to its scientific inconsistencies and just revel in its plot and narrative. It's definitely one of my most enjoyable reads this year.

Read this book if:
  1. You've always been fascinated by the red planet.
  2. You love escapist fiction.
  3. You read the novel first before the movie comes out.