Monday, May 28, 2012

Awesome magazine is awesome

Last Saturday, I went to the Summer Komikon 2012 hoping to catch cosplayers and to get my copy of a magazine that was to be launched that same day. Too bad about the absence of cosplayers, they're always an interesting lot. I did get a copy of the magazine though, and I'm sure glad I did.

There has never been a local magazine devoted to YA fiction in the SF and fantasy genres. (Which is a bit weird really, as most of the books that sell in our bookstores belong to this genre.) Kwentillion aims to change that, as it features YA graphic fiction, short stories, interviews of graphic novelists, a few artworks of up and coming graphic artists, and a lineup of YA fiction in 2012.

I'm a bit surprised that it's selling for only Php 150 (around $3.50), considering the extent, the quality of the paper, and the full-color pages in the middle. But this is good, right? This means that teenagers need not shell out a significant fraction of their allowance to get a copy. It's basically almost the same price as a venti mocha frappuccino.

I feel that the strength of Kwentillion lies in the graphic fiction that appears on its pages. For the maiden issue, it featured a story steeped in Philippine mythology by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo (the team behind the popular Trese series), the weirdly funny 'Poso Maximo' by Robert Magnuson, the wonderfully steampunk-ish 'High Society' by Paolo Chikiamco, and the space opera (space operatic?) themed 'Sky Gypsies' by Timothy Dimacali and John Bumanglag. For these stories alone, the magazine's price is totally worth it.

Of course, being in the book publishing industry for some years now, I'm particular about the layout of printed work. Some of the sections in the magazine have very few 'resting spaces' for one's eyes, such as the short story by Andrew Drilon entitled 'The Secret Origin of Spin-Man', the only non-graphic work of fiction in the magazine. I'm apprehensive if young adults would take the time to read it, since it does appear to be lengthy and text heavy, something which is all the more ubiquitous in a magazine that has lots and lots of visually stimulating panels of graphic fiction. The layout of the interviews featuring Manix Abrera and Chester Ocampo could use more write areas too.

Also, there seems to be a dearth of local YA non-graphic fiction available in bookstores. The magazine did feature a lineup of highly anticipated YA fiction to be released this year. The writers chose 11 titles, but only 1 is local. Maybe Kwentillion would change all this. It's the perfect time for publishers to tap local talent to come up with genre novels for this market.

It's an exciting time for YA fiction. We have the talent and ingenuity to succeed in this genre. Kwentillion makes us aware of this potential. Thumbing through its pages and seeing the artworks, I am amazed by the artistry of individuals, some just barely out of college. I have a huge admiration for this kind of talent, as I can't even draw stick figures.

Oh, one other thing. Perhaps Kwentillion can be less testosterone-y in the next issue? The short story and the graphic fiction all had male writers and artists. Must female writers be delegated to produce the feature articles only?

But hey, this is just the first issue. I'm sure that Kwentillion will just get more awesome with each issue. Kudos to Paolo Chikiamco, Budjette Tan, and their team for coming up with this magazine. Now I'm off to get my subscription!

Addendum (made after Paolo Chikiamco's comment):
There's a single female involved in the graphic fiction featured in Kwentillion -- the uber talented Hannah Buena. My apologies if I missed this in my original post.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

In-flight entertainment

I'm going on a trip again this week. And I don't want to be bored again by an airline's lousy in-flight entertainment. One time, they showed a movie without providing ear phones. Sucks, big time.

So I'm bringing these.

We all can use a little kink every now and then.

Friday, May 25, 2012

This isn't alien possession

How can science fiction be subtle? When it doesn't throw wonky techno junk in your face? Or maybe when it doesn't dwell too much on science fiction themes such as intergalactic warfare or alien invasion? If we answer yes to these questions, then John Wyndham's novel, Chocky, is indeed one subtle SF novel. Its controlled pace and narrative style are something that we seldom encounter in this genre.

Eleven-year-old Matthew Gore appears to have an imaginary friend, often observed having conversations with something unseen. His parents don't pay much attention to it, even though both feel that this is highly unusual for a boy of his age. However, Matthew's conversations become more and more unconventional and intricate as the days progress: why humans have two sexes, why the Earth follows a 7-day week when an 8-week period would make more sense, why humans count to 10 when the binary number system appears to be more practical.

What's more unsettling than these conversations is the entity that Matthew talks to. His parents notice that Matthew constantly switches between the masculine and the feminine person when he's talking to them about this 'friend', which they name Chocky. Matthew's father, David, is the more sympathetic parent, as compared to his mother who's always on the verge of a breakdown every time the subject of Chocky comes up.

Actually, Matthew's father makes up the whole narrative of the novel. And because of this, we see it first from a skeptic's point of view and then finally to one who's accepting of the fact that Chocky is indeed an extraterrestrial being. We soon learn that Chocky is able to talk to Matthew using channels involving the mind, channels which are unhindered by the physical limits of time and space.

It's easy to suspend one's disbelief when reading Chocky. Its subtle feel to it makes it more believable than most novels in this genre. When Chocky explains to Matthew's father that mind communication is efficient because it doesn't factor in the speed of light, you just keep on reading, somehow taking this bit as fact. Who knows, maybe this form of communication is the way to go after all.

Wyndham avoids technical SF jargon in Chocky. This is given a reason though. Apparently, Matthew's 11-year-old brain isn't mature enough to understand all the techno mumbo jumbo that Chocky is willing to impart. Even the binary number system is reduced to the letters Y and N when Matthew explains it to his parents.

Chocky is perfect for readers who are not too keen on reading the SF genre. And even though it was written more than 50 years ago, people will still feel uneasy with its premise. Let's face it, the idea of aliens suddenly talking to you is highly disturbing, no?

Read this book if:

  1. You love all the novels of John Wyndham.
  2. You're not really a fan of SF but willing to try out the genre.
  3. You had an imaginary friend when you were a kid.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Loving John Wyndham

My favorite science fiction novels—The Day of the Triffids and The Chrysalids—were written by John Wyndham (1903–1969). I'm not big on this genre, but Wyndham made reading these classic SF novels so enjoyable.

So it's a good thing when these classic works are again made available commercially in beautiful editions. You gotta hand it to Penguin for coming up with very artsy covers for Wyndham's under-appreciated novels.

The illustrations on the cover look very edgy, don't they? There's a certain flawed-in-the-right-places aspect to them. The illustrator, Brian Cronin, also did the illustrations for the Penguin Deluxe Editions of the novels of Graham Greene, also another favorite novelist of mine.

I just finished reading Chocky (my thoughts on the next post), and again I wasn't disappointed. It's hard to imagine that Wyndham wrote most of his novels in the 1950s; these novels still manage to disturb and come off as ingenious up to the last page.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A hundred postcards and a couple of mugs

During a recent trip out of the country, all I had in mind was to get the Penguin mugs I spotted on the Facebook page of BooksActually. But since I arrived a day early for the business appointments, I decided to check out Kinokuniya again.

When I saw a boxed set of 100 postcards showing vintage Penguin covers, I just knew I had to get it. I love all things Penguin, so it's a no-brainer that I ended up emptying my wallet. But it was so worth it! This set is so beautiful. Even the packaging was awesome!

The set even has some of the classic works that I love. I just love the solid colors and the sans serif typefaces. For these designs, less is indeed more.

I selected a few of these cover designs that I love. Here are my favorites.

And finally, I did manage to find the time to get my big ass to Tiong Bahru where BooksActually is. Now, every time I'll be drinking coffee, there'll be something book-ish in the experience.

Next time, I'll try to get more Penguin stuff. Who doesn't love that adorable avian creature who has graced the spines of many of our beloved books?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The bookshelf project #33

This week's pictures of bookshelves are from a fellow blogger Kaz at Books Anonymous. Aside from blogging about books, Kaz is also a writer, singer, and artist! Let's check out her fascinating bookshelves, shall we?

I just love the matching bookcases that Kaz has in her living area. Apparently, these are just a fraction of her books! (Some of her books are still in storage. Gasp!) Kaz has a very big collection of art books in her shelves.

I think that this room is too cool for words, no? If I had this living room, I wouldn't even bother turning on the TV. :-)

Kaz has two interesting characters amid her shelves which she calls the Book Bears. Below are Guz and Wilbur nestled at the tail end of the kids lit section.

Of course, I am green with envy at these shelves. I certainly could use that much space in my room. How about you, dear reader? What do you think of Kaz's bookshelves?

Monday, May 14, 2012

I'll be taking the 5th now

Why on earth has it taken me this long to read the wonderful Patrick Melrose novels of Edward St. Aubyn? These novels, about the upperclass Melrose family, are just a delight to read. Knowing that the PM novels are semi-autobiographical, you almost feel sorry for St. Aubyn. It takes guts to write about these experiences. And boy does St. Aubyn have them guts by the dozen.

The first novel, Never Mind, isn't even about Patrick Melrose at all. Yes, we see Patrick as a 5 year old, and we read how he's sexually abused by his father, David, whom I think is the novel all about. David Melrose is an all-imposing figure, having very strong opinions about everything and prone to showing off just how influential he is to his son and to his wife, Eleanor.

After what Patrick goes through during his childhood, it's no wonder that we meet him next in the second novel, Bad News, as a drug addict. The novel happens within just a day, and it's fascinating to read about the drug-induced hallucinations of 22-year-old Patrick. Bad News now focuses on Patrick Melrose himself, who finds himself in New York to collect the body of his father. Patrick is so f****d up that he doesn't even care how his father died. He just wants to get his coke fix most of the time.

The third novel, which is my favorite, is Some Hope. Patrick is now in his early 30s and it seems that he's on his way to coming to terms with everything that's happened to him, even though the shadow of his father is still very much present in the novel. Some Hope has the most acidic humor and biting dialogue that I've read in novels recently. It's quite surprising to find out that the sister of the queen of England can be a big b***h. The English really have sarcasm and acerbic wit to an art.
     'And who are you?' she (Princess Margaret) asked Johnny in the most gracious possible manner.
     'Johnny Hall,' said Johnny, extending a hand.
     The republican omission of ma'am, and the thrusting and unacceptable invitation to a handshake, were enough to convince the Princess that Johnny was a man of no importance.
     'It must be funny having the same name as so many other people,' she speculated. 'I suppose there are hundreds of John Halls up and down the country.'
     'It teaches one to look for distinction elsewhere and not to rely on an accident of birth,' said Johnny casually.
     'That's where people go wrong,' said the Princess, compressing her lips, 'there is no accident in birth.'
     She swept on before Johnny had a chance to reply.

The Booker-shortlisted 4th novel, Mother's Milk, is where we meet Patrick as a husband and a father to 2 sons. Apparently, he's made good on his aim to become a barrister. Still, Patrick now grapples with the tedium of marriage and family as he finds himself involved in adultery and in not-so-good terms with his mother. Eleanor, who is now battling Alzheimer's in a nursing home, has decided to give their family house in the south of France to a New Age foundation. Mother's Milk is heavy on themes: euthanasia, parenthood, fidelity, and letting go.

It's too bad that my edition doesn't have the 5th and last novel of this cycle, which is At Last. I'm sure it would have the same beautiful writing, sharp wit, harrowing narative, and bitter humor that these 4 novels have. So dear reader, you now know what my next book purchase will be.

Read these novels if:
  1. You're fascinated with upperclass English families.
  2. You love semi-autobiographical fiction.
  3. You're into dysfunctional families.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Don't you just hate this when it happens

Last month, I saw this new edition of the 4th novel of the wonderful Patrick Melrose cycle by Edward St Aubyn and just had to get it. Much praise has been said about these semi-autobiographical novels, and I figured it's high time I read them.

I never did mind that Mother's Milk is the penultimate novel of the 5-novel cycle and that I haven't read any of the PM novels yet. I thought I could always work myself backwards into the series. All I need to do now is go book hunting for the first 3 novels.

Then last week, I saw this. Could it be? Yes, the first 4 PM novels in one edition! Woot!

The first 4? So Mother's Milk is also included in this edition. Unfortunately, it is. Ugh.

Oh well, I know I can't be choosy; I had to buy this '25% redundant' edition. So now, the search is on for the 5th book. Hopefully, I won't come across an edition that has all 5 (gasp!). Now that would be a happy problem.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

No over-reading for this graphic novel please

Last year, I picked Craig Thompson's most recent graphic novel, Habibi, with apprehension. Why? Well, I didn't really like Blankets, his most famous work. I found it too heavy on the Christian theme. His earlier work, Good-bye, Chunky Rice, I just found so-so. It was compared to The Little Prince for reasons I don't know why, even after a reread. (For the record, I also have no strong feelings toward The Little Prince. I just found the illustrations cute.)

But thank goodness I still decided to buy Habibi. It's one beautifully illustrated graphic novel with a sprawling storyline. If you flip its pages, you'd understand why there's a 7-year gab between Blankets and Habibi. I think these are the most immaculately detailed drawings that I've seen in graphic novels. One can see that these pages do not need color to make the panels come alive. Just look at these sample pages.

And the story? It has breadth and texture. Basically, Habibi is a love story between Dodola and Zam set in a fictional Islamic country called Wanatolia. It's a love story that's somewhat painful to read in some parts. At the start, we see the child Dodola forced to marry a much older man. Then Thompson sets up the circumstances wherein the young Dodola assumes the responsibility of taking care of the baby Zam. Years pass and the two spend many of those in an abandoned ship in the dessert, with Dodola offering her body to passing men in exchange for food.

Dodola and Zam get separated when Dodola is abducted by the Sultan's men for his harem. In the harem, Dodola gets a reputation for her skills in satisfying the Sultan. She ultimately gets pregnant but loses her child when it gets murdered by one of the other women from the harem, done out of jealousy apparently. In another parallel narrative, we see how Zam finds himself in the company of eunuchs and eventually become a eunuch himself. It is this condition that lets him work in the Sultan's palace, thus setting the scene for his reunion with Dodola.

But the story is far from over yet. We see how a man named Noah takes care of our main characters, letting them live in his shanty amidst the landscape filled with all kinds of refuse. We read how Zam takes a job in a construction firm, allowing him to have enough money for him and Dodola to start afresh. The ending is a very sweet and redemptive one, especially after reading through all the hardships that Dodola and Zam go through.

A lot has been said that Habibi doesn't do much in terms of presenting the Islamic culture to the world. The male characters especially are rendered into stereotypes. I couldn't care less. I didn't read it for that reason. Thompson does do a good job in showing some of the aspects of Islam, methinks. And that I think is a bonus. I read Habibi for the engaging story. I flipped its pages because of the beautiful artwork. I bought it because it's a beautiful book.

Photo courtesy of R.

So will Thompson be more known because of Habibi? Perhaps. He's still more popularly known for Blankets than any of his works. It did win the Eisner after all. But Habibi, in my opinion, is even more satisfying than Blankets. Habibi had scope, whereas Blankets was very inward looking. Sure, Blankets was autobiographical, which may account for its introspection, but Habibi draws you into its fictional world with its detailed sense of place. It's wonderful to get lost in it.

Read this book if:
  1. You'll read anything by Craig Thompson.
  2. You like your graphic novels complete in themselves. No volumes and series please.
  3. You love exploring other cultures and immersing yourself in far-off places.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The one who wrote my favorite book of all time

This weekend, while waiting for a friend to pick me up at the mall, I was whiling away the time in a bookstore when I saw this, a Penguin Deluxe Edition of Robert Graves's The Greek Myths.

I love these editions, with their beautiful covers, French flaps, thick paper, and deckle edges. The flaps of The Greek Myths have interesting artistic depictions of Greek mythological characters.

Robert Graves wrote my favorite book of all time, I, Claudius. Interestingly, he isn't my favorite author. I only have a few of his books including his complete poems, as poetry is what he is most known for. I'm still looking for a good copy of his nonfiction work, Goodbye to All That.

Hmmm . . . Perhaps it's time for a reread of these two books? It's been years since I last read the exploits of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. And if you're looking for good historical fiction, dear reader, I highly recommend I, Claudius.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Graphic novel roundup

This Saturday, the book club is focusing the discussion on graphic novels, something which I very rarely buy because (1) they're quite expensive and (2) I don't get them sometimes.

It's only recently (i.e., this year) that I decided to collect some 'seminal works' of graphic fiction. Some of them I pictured below. The rest are somewhere in my bookshelves. I don't have a lot of graphic novels in my shelves, although I make sure to buy the really good ones.

I loved David Small's autobiographical Stitches, which was nominated for a National Book Award. Charles Burns's Black Hole was a scary and mysterious read. Craig Thompson's Blankets somewhat put me off with its overly religious themes. I didn't quite understand Nate Powell's Eisner-winning work, Swallow Me Whole. Daniel Clowes's Ghost World is a gas. And I have yet to read Maus and From Hell.

So we're going to discuss Thompson's Habibi this Saturday. I loved it, and I'm very much interested to hear other people's thoughts about it. I couldn't care about his other two works though. Blankets and Good-Bye, Chunky Rice left no lasting impressions after the last page.

But my current favorite would be Tove Jansson's comic strip about the Moomin family. These tales are timeless. I have no doubts that these collected comic strips would still be enjoyed by future generations. It's such a treat to read the adventures of Moomin, Moominmamma, Moominpappa, the Snork Maiden, Sniff, Little My, and the rest of Jansson's wonderful creations.