Thursday, June 28, 2012

That proverbial pile

Some people hate it with a passion. Some have learned to live with it. A few don't even have it. I'm talking about that pile—the to-be-read pile, or just TBR as most of us would call it.

I've accepted the fact that I'll always have a TBR. My reading speed doesn't even come close to the rate at which I acquire books. My TBR has become my friend, always egging me to read, read, and read.

It's always interesting to see what other people have in their TBR, yes? My friend, Orly, has a wonderful TBR, shown below.

Thanks for the pic, Orly!

While our TBR may not necessarily reflect the books that we immediately read, it does allow other people a glimpse of the books that we like to have. (Yes, buying books doesn't always mean reading them.) Book porn for the book voyeur, the TBR seems to be.

Are there books that have been perpetually in your TBR, dear reader? I have lots. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Finally, Shakespeare

Oh dear. I can't even remember the last time I read the bard's work. It must've been years ago back in high school. All the plays we discussed in high school are a blur to me. I recall reading "Medea" and "The Glass Menagerie." I'm sure there were others, and I'm very much positive that we read "Hamlet."

Next week, I've been casually invited to join a book group that would hold its last Shakespeare discussion, and the members have picked "The Taming of the Shrew." Aieeeee! All I know about it is that the movie "Ten Things I Hate about You" is based on this play.

One enjoyable thing about these events is that they give you an excuse to head to the bookstore and do some retail therapy. I have none of Shakespeare's works in my shelves (the horror of it!), so I was determined to get an edition with, shall we say, more pedigree than the norm. Luckily, I found one published by Modern Library in collaboration with The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) no less.

But, dear reader, at another bookstore, I saw the edition that could probably save my big fat ass during the discussion. Ta-dah!

I would still try to read the RSC edition though, and perhaps consult the No Fear edition every now and then. If I still can't make heads nor tails of what's going on, I'd just watch again the movie, which features the fabulous Heath Ledger.

Wish me luck on my first Shakespeare discussion, dear readers!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Is this what you call naughty?

One of the things that never fails to surprise people is when they find out that I'm a huge fan of D. H. Lawrence. Yes, he of the controversial novels that have scandalized people in the early 1900s.

But I have to be honest though, as the reason I picked up my first D. H. Lawrence was to find out if there were really several of these naughty bits in his novels. Unfortunately, what I could find wouldn't be considered 'the good parts' in this day and age. The word 'tame' comes to mind.

However, when I finished my first D. H. Lawrence book and having had a great time reading it, I read another. And with my second, I was already a fan. Now, I consider Women in Love and Sons and Lovers as two of my all-time favorite novels. Who says there aren't any perfect novels? For me, these two titles of Lawrence are as close to perfect as any work of fiction can be.

Since the last 3 books that I finished recently are classics, I figured I might as well read another Lawrence, and I do recall that I have a copy of The Rainbow, whose story precedes Women in Love.

I'm not finished with it yet, but still, I couldn't find parts that would scandalize the reader of today. Consider what happens (excerpt below) during the marriage night of Tom Brangwen and Lydia Lensky.
"I want to," he said as he drew her closer and closer in. She was soothed by the stress of his embrace, and remained quite still, relaxed against him, mingling in to him. And he let himself go from past and future, was reduced to the moment with her. In which he took her and was with her and there was nothing beyond, they were together in an elemental embrace beyond their superficial foreignness. But in the morning he was uneasy again. She was still foreign and unknown to him. Only, within the fear was pride, belief in himself as mate for her. And she, everything forgotten in her new hour of coming to life, radiated vigour and joy, so that he quivered to touch her.
Did you feel any hint of naughtiness in these lines, dear reader? I didn't. I loved the way Lawrence depicted the scene though. So lyrical and introspective, yes?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Word gets around

I find it tricky when people ask me, "So which books should I read next?" Most of the time, I don't answer with just one book, but with a list of titles. And usually, this list is variedfrom YA to adult, from obscure titles to this season's bestsellers.

The thing is, I never really follow through on whether these people actually bother to check out the books that I mentioned. Or if they've read these books, whether they liked them or not. I'm all for spreading positive word-of-mouth, but to force books down other people's throats? Absolutely not my thing.

Every once in a while though, some of my friends would keep in touch saying how much they enjoyed the book that I reviewed here. And, honestly, it feels good to know about their positive feedback.

Some friends would even go out of their way to buy the book, take a picture of it, and tag me on Facebook! Yay! Snaps to supporting your local bookstores! (I'm doing my happy dance!)

Two months ago, I gushed over Madeline Miller's debut novel, The Song of Achilles, which I heard has now won the Orange Prize. Two of my friends decided to check it out and ended up really, really liking it. Check out their FB posts below. (Click on the pictures to enlarge.)

And they're even encouraging their online friends to read it! Ah, Facebook, this makes it so difficult to quit you. Anyway, thank you, dear Facebook friend and blog reader, for tagging me. It's always a pleasure to look at your book purchases!

P.S. Dear reader, if you want to see my mindless status updates, friend me at Facebook. Just search for 'Peter Sandico'.

P.P.S. A huge thanks to Orly and Bookie for allowing me to take screenshots of their pictures. Like books, one can never have too many friends.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Scandal fiction in the 1860s rocks

So here I was thinking that I've never been this much entertained by a classic novel (i.e., The Count of Monte Cristo). Then I picked up Mary Elizabeth Braddon's novel, Lady Audley's Secret, and was rewarded with a very enthralling read. For a book published in 1862, this novel can still shock many readers.

Lady Audley's Secret was a bestseller in the 1860s. It was a novel that many people categorized as the penny dreadful or the sensation novel. Braddon became a very famous writer because of this novel, and she was somehow pitted against Wilkie Collins, her contemporary, in this genre. If you've read The Woman in White, you'll discover quite a few similarities as you read Braddon's most famous work.

In the novel, we are introduced to a very beautiful character, one Lady Audley, whom Braddon writes as her anti-heroine. We're all used to the pre-Raphaelite beauties being ravished and kept hostage in a decrepit castle in many Gothic novels. But in this novel, Lady Audley's beauty is her weapon, something which allows her to do things Victorian society frowns upon.

Just who is this Lady Audley? Why is she so averse in meeting the friend of her husband's nephew, a young barrister named Robert Audley? Braddon drops hints here and there that Lady Audley and Robert Audley's friend, George Talboys, might have been husband and wife, and that Lady Audley could have murdered Talboys when her secret is threatened to be exposed.

So is her ladyship's past life the secret that the novel's title refers to? Well, yes, and it's revealed nowhere near as close of the novel's end. So this means that Braddon might have something up on her sleeve to still keep her readers hooked. And does she succeed? Hell, yes! The surprise at the ending will make any reader jump with delight, despite the novel's overall dark and brooding feel.

Read this book if:
You're curious about scandal fiction in the 1800s.
You know that not all bestsellers are badly written.
You love The Woman in White.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

10 things I learned after reading The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas! Capital!

So I finished Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo yesterday. Yes, the unabridged. Yes, all 1,100 pages of it. Yes, I die of melodrama.

While I did enjoy it and found it to be a remarkable work of fiction, I just can't help but think of some things.

  1. The French are not known for brevity. 1,100 pages! Really?
  2. It takes money, lots and lots of money (and gold coins, diamonds, and even slaves), to exact revenge.
  3. The French didn't say, "Awesome!" or "Great!" Instead, they blurt out, "Capital!"
  4. Good news if you find yourself in prison: Your cellmate just might be the raving lunatic who could make you rich.
  5. It's not enough that the novel focus on an adventure. There has to be a love story, and several women fainting for the slightest reasons.
  6. Only the rich can pull off a code name such as Sinbad the Sailor.
  7. If you find yourself forgetting a particular story line, don't fretDumas would provide a very detailed back story for your apparent short-term memory loss. 1,100 pages! Really?
  8. Only the rich can pull off a first name such as Valentine.
  9. If you want to read this, go for the unabridged. The dialogue is just capital!
  10. 1,100 pages in 117 chapters. That's about 9.40 pages per chapter. You can easily read 1 chapter while in the restroom, and possibly 2 or 3 if you're constipated.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The bookshelf project #34

Hello, dear readers! For the first time ever, somebody sent me pictures of her bookshelves that are labeled! How cool is that?

This week's awesome pictures of bookshelves are from one of the admins of the book club, Sana. You can click on the pictures to enlarge them.

Aside from reading a variety of genres, Sana travels a lot. And I'm guessing that's why she has a whole section devoted to travel books. Some of those little knick knacks that you see in her shelves come from her travels.

Sana just recently redecorated her room, and she mentioned that these bookshelves actually were his father's originally. I just love the idea of bookshelves being used from one generation to another!

So what do you think of Sana's bookshelves, dear reader?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Of fungi and algae, feminism, and old age

If you discovered a substance that delayed the ageing process, would you make it known immediately? I won't. We live longer lives now anyway than people who were around in the last century. And besides, adding years to our existence just might prove detrimental to the planet, considering that we have been f**king ever since.

In John Wyndham's excellent 1960 novel, Trouble with Lichen, that particular substance can be found in lichen, an organism that exists from the symbiotic relationship of a fungus and an alga. This relationship is ironic, as it's discovered separately by Francis Saxover and Diana Brackley, whose relatioship is anything but.

Saxover seems to be the passive character in the novel. Even though he owns the scientific company that isolated this substance, he doesn't make the breakthrough public, choosing instead to administer it just to himself and to his daughter and son. Brackley, on the other hand, an employee of Saxover, takes it upon herself to give the substance to as many women as possible.

Brackley, soon after she found that active substance in the lichen, resigns from Saxover's company and opens up her own beauty salon. For her, it's the only way to spread it to women without them knowing it. It's also her own radical way of subverting society's patriarchal dominance which she feels has inhibited women's roles in the world. She's the perfect feminist—one who has both beauty and brains.

Of course, as soon as people find out about this lichen, chaos breaks out. The inevitable issues are also brought up. Should this drug be made available to everyone? There's not enough lichen to produce it, so who should get it first? What about resources? Does the world have enough to sustain individuals who will live up to 200 or 300 years?

Trouble with Lichen is different from the other novels by Wyndham. For one, it's very political and philosophical. There are whole chapters exploring the arguments of both Brackley (who's for  the drug's immediate distribution) and Saxover (who's against it). The science fiction element in Trouble with Lichen isn't even the dominant theme. There's no space travel, no heavy techie stuff. What we have are mass riots and demonstrations, oily journalists out for a story, crafty wives and boyfriends, to name a few.

The novel is still very much enjoyable though. It doesn't have the scope of The Chrysalids and The Day of the Triffids nor the macabre factor of The Midwich Cuckoos. It doesn't play the paranoia game more effectively than Chocky. But Trouble with Lichen's plot is still ingenious, and I can't help but think that it somehow inspired a whole lot of sci-fi novelists to write books with similar stories.

Read this book if:
  1. You'll read anything by John Wyndham.
  2. You know that living up to 200 years just looks good on paper.
  3. You love classic science fiction.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Thank you, Mr. Bradbury

I remember when I was 13, the time I flipped through the first page of Dandelion Wine. I remember being struck with wonder at the stories, how transfixed I was with the seemingly magical world I was reading. I remember looking up other works by this American writer. I remember Something Wicked This Way Comes, another favorite.

Farewell Summer, Dandelion Wine's supposed sequel, wasn't as good as the first. Still, it was an enjoyable read nonetheless. I remember not being disappointed by it.You just know that Ray Bradbury is a damn good writer despite his being prolific. There's a certain charm to all his works, an evenness that can make other writers seem amateurish.

I seldom feel this affected upon hearing the death of a writer. But when I read the news about Ray Bradbury's death, it felt surreal. It seems that I was expecting this man of letters to be with us through all our days, churning out fantastic pieces of fiction from generation to generation. But something wicked did come our way and took him away from us.

I will be forever grateful for all of Ray Bradbury's fiction. He brought magic, thrill, and wonder in our prosaic world. So thank you, Mr. Ray Bradbury. We will remember.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

I am at a loss for words

I am at a loss for words, because I don't know what the hell happened in this book. I read Julian Barnes's Booker-winning novel, The Sense of an Ending, a few weeks ago, and I couldn't make heads or tails of it.

What was the sense of it all? What on earth was that ending? Arghhhh! It's so frustrating when this happens. (Thankfully, it doesn't happen that often.)

Maybe, just maybe, there are some readers out there (like poor me) who didn't get this novel at all. And perhaps, just perhaps, I'll understand this better after rereading it.

The Sense of an Ending, I'll see you again soon. And hopefully, I'd be able to make sense of you, not just the ending.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

And yet some more Penguin love

Pardon me, dear reader, for another Penguin post. When I saw that the English Penguin Library came out with new covers, I just had to get a few!

I often think how Penguin is able to come up with such simple yet elegant book covers. And they're giving me another reason not to switch to ebook readers. These books are just too beautiful on the shelf.

The set of 100 titles will be complete by the end of this year, with a few titles being available each month. I already ticked off the titles that I will be getting.

And I'm so happy that Penguin made these books quite affordable. In local bookstores, they're around $7 each. We know what this means—my shelves will be filled with Penguins!