Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My book-ish weekend (part 1)

Last weekend was quite filled with book-ish activities. There were a couple of book launches in the metro, and 3 book clubs scheduled their meetups during this weekend. (I'm not a member of the 3rd club though.)

So after work last Friday, I went to the other side of the city for a meetup with the book club headed by Orly. Thank goodness they meet Friday evenings! For that month, they've chosen a biography: The Rise and Fall of Imelda Marcos written by Carmen Navarro-Pedrosa.

Unfortunately, that book, which was published in 1987, has been out of print for 10 years. I've even called the publisher just in case they have a few left in stock, but they've run out and they told me that they have no plans of doing another print run. What's a bibliophile to do?

Good thing that the moderator did send me a copy via courier, although it's in a format that I'd rather not divulge. (Hint: It's still not electronic.) It did take some getting used to; you know, reading something ring-bound and white and in letter-sized pages. But hey, it's wonderful reading material so I couldn't complain.

Saying that The Rise and Fall of Imelda Marcos is controversial would be an understatement. It's a book rife with unflattering details. I've always thought that Imelda came from the rich side of the Romualdezes; apparently, she didn't. But what's more unsettling than knowing this info is how there seems to be a huge effort on Imelda's part to cover it up.

Also, the biography is one scathing criticism of Imelda as a government official and as a person as a whole. Here is one woman who's always determined to get what she wants no matter what it takes. She's manipulative, deceitful, and excessive. What's even unbelievable is that a lot of people really take to her. Oy!

I do have one negative comment about the book though and it has something to do with the sources. Most of what have been included in the book are anecdotes from Imelda's relatives, her acquaintances in her early years, and even her household helper. There's always something dangerous about gathering information in this way. Some people just can't help but add "color" to their accounts.

I do hope that the publisher decides on having another print run, even though a limited one. I'd like to have this book on my shelf. Orly was also able to interview the author before the discussion! Check out part 1 here. And I'm posting some pics of the discussion for you, dear reader.

Orly, having the members pick out the discussion questions

Another book that I'd like to have, also out of print
This is the first part of the biography.

The food that I had that night
From the top: seafood chowder (not good), 
warm foie gras salad (not good), 
grilled cheesesteak sandwich (good)

The requisite group shot

Friday, July 27, 2012

Filipino Friday (2): School of Reading

Hello, fellow bibliophiles! Well, what do you know? It's Friday again! So it's time for another post on Filipino Fridays, a weekly meme that I'm participating in line with this year, ReaderCon. This week, it's all about how we got started on reading.

Who got you into reading?
Naturally, the ones who got me into reading were my parents. There were loads of paperbacks in the house. My mom was into Sidney Sheldon, Stephen King, and romance novels; my dad's books were mostly about chess and some thrillers.

Hmmmm.... Now I'm thinking. It's weird that I've never read any novels by Sheldon. I'm not too keen on playing chess either. But hey, I did have a Stephen King phase when I was in my early teens.

How helpful was your school in helping your reading habit and fueling your book addiction?
Oh, if it weren't for the school library, I wouldn't have finished my first read. It was The Bobbsey Twins and the Doodlebug Mystery. I think I was 8 or 9 then. I was so into The Bobbsey Twins series, more so than I was into The Hardy Boys.

Pretty soon, my parents were buying me my own copies of The Hardy Boys books. For some reason, we couldn't find any of The Bobbsey Twins. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Book lovers are a judgmental lot

One lazy late afternoon, I was just wandering aimlessly in the bookstore when I stopped dead because of a book. Well, more specifically, because of a book cover. Oh, be still my heart! I couldn't resist a book with a gorgeous cover.

So who's Ben Marcus and what the heck is The Flame Alphabet about? Oy! I couldn't care less; I needed to own it! I need this eye candy on my shelf! (Although I did Google this book as soon as I got home and was relieved that it had such wonderful reviews.)

Everyone knows that "Don't judge a book by its cover" saying, no? But we bibliophiles know that that ain't true. Not true at all. Not by a long shot. We're suckers for books with beautiful covers.


Monday, July 23, 2012


It's clear by now that I'm probably the biggest Penguin fan. I love all of their imprints. But my favorite of all is the Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions.

I love these editions because of four reasons: (1) the very beautiful covers, (2) the French flaps, (3) the thick book paper, and (4) the deckle edges. Of course, they also look beautiful on the shelf.

Penguin Threads, one of their recent cover initiatives
Cover art done by hand stitching and embroidery!

Their Graham Greene covers feature illustrations by Brian Cronin.
Cronin also did the cover illustrations for the Penguin reissues of Wyndham novels.

Cartoon-inspired covers!
I feel that this aesthetic adds an element of fun while doing some serious reading. 

Words can't describe the artistry that went into these 2 cover designs.
The Lovecraft cover has a very apt weird feel to it, and the Siddhartha is very sublime.

I love the woodcut effect of the Shirley Jackson cover.
And the Borges features an illustration by Peter Sís. 

My absolute favorite: the couture editions!
Ruben Toledo, renowned fashion illustrator, did the covers. 

Very, very artistic, no?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Random thoughts on a rainy weekend

So it was a very rainy weekend, the kind that makes you not want to leave your bed and just go read one book after another. But it's the weekend when the last Dark Knight movie of Nolan's trilogy, so it's a given that I had to haul my lazy ass out of bed, get into non-hobo-ish clothes, and see it. Awesome movie, by the way. I'm not a Batman fan, but this movie won me over. People actually clapped during the credits.

Last Friday, I got the 2 newest reissues of Lois Duncan's wonderfully enjoyable YA novels: A Gift of Magic and The Third Eye. I read A Gift of Magic Friday night, and the other on Saturday night. As always, I read each in one sitting. Duncan's novels are now my choice of drug. They're creepy, told in a straightforward fashion, and features characters that you actually root for.

And, I'm making good progress on E L James's Fifty Shades of Grey. Almost at the midpoint now. "Juicy" parts have just started. I'm reading it in line with the book club's read-along, after the James's trilogy of BDSM novels was chosen in a poll. Was hoping for Anna Karenina to win (or any of those Russian heavyweights for that matter). But Fifty Shades it is, and boy oh boy is the discussion turning out to be a very active one. What can I say, people love talking about sex, no? It's a private group, so people can yak all they want about BDSM, safewords, vanilla sex, etc.

We've somehow agreed that it doesn't take good writing to make it to the bestseller lists. So the discussion is taking on a different direction, one that focuses on the story elements rather than the language. People may laugh endlessly on how bad E L James's writing is. But who's having the last laugh really? James probably is, and she's laughing all the way to the bank.

But indulge me, dear reader, as I make one final comment on the writing style in Fifty Shades of Grey. For the life of me, I can't count how many times the phrase "my inner goddess" appears. What's up with that? And, and, I cringe every time I read this remark: "Laters, baby." There, it's out of my system. Bring on the whip!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Filipino Friday (1): Introductions

Hello, dear reader! In line with the 2012 ReaderCon happening this 18 August, I'm taking part in this meme called Filipino Friday. To kick things off, this first post is naturally all about introductions. 

My favorite books of all time 
Robert Graves's I, Claudius is my all-time favorite book. Philip Gourevitch's account of the conflict between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda entitled We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families is a close second. Halldor Laxness's Independent People is also a favorite.

Genres I read and would never read
I read anything and everything. If it's on paper, I'll read it. But I reiterate: it must be on paper.

Books that surprised me this year
A lot of books surprised me this year, especially debut fiction. I enjoyed Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles, Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles, and Daniel O'Malley's The Rook.

Why I became a reader
I'd like to think that I was born to be a reader! Hehehehe. I can't recall an age when I haven't been reading.

My experience in last year's ReaderCon
Last year's ReaderCon, the first ever actually, was fun! I facilitated the session on some of the book clubs in Manila and it was wonderful that the attendees were eager to learn more about these clubs.

What I expect in this year's ReaderCon
Last year was only a half day event. This year would definitely be bigger, with sessions starting early in the morning and culminating in the first ever Readers' Choice Awards in the late afternoon. I'm also heading the Registration Committee this year, by the way, which would make things more interesting. And the book club would also hold this month's discussion in the ReaderCon.

Here are some pics from last year's ReaderCon, which are courtesy of my good friend R.

Me, during the panel for book clubs
Why on earth do I have that expression?

Gege, during her awesome presentation on the book club

Gege's slides had pictures!
And that's me, with my Saramago collection.

With the founders of the active book clubs in Manila:
Jzhun of Goodreads, Tata of Ex Libris, and Gege of Flips Flipping Pages

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

11 years since 2001

2001 has come and gone, and yet I still found Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey a very enjoyable read. I picked this up after a good friend casually mentioned that one of his favorite novels is by Arthur C. Clarke.

One of the things that struck after reading this sci-fi novel is the scope of Clarke's imagination. Hey, 2001: A Space Odyssey began thousands of years ago, when humanity's ape-like ancestors still roamed the planet. 

The novel posits a very interesting premise: that extraterrestrial forms were responsible for teaching our ancestors how to use tools, thus speeding up humanity's evolution. Then it cuts to the present (the year 2001) when astronomers discover an extraterrestrial structure buried in the moon. A lunar expedition then ensues. Of course, we readers know that this is probably the same structure that our ape-like ancestors encountered.

The last part of the novel focuses on a voyage to Saturn. And it becomes clear toward the latter end the ultimate purpose of this travel. Astronomers have found out that the lunar structure they discovered sent out signals to Saturn, and the voyage was done to find out where exactly in Saturn was this signal transmitted and possibly make first contact with these alien life-forms.

Now normally, this bigger-than-life premise would be really hard to swallow. I'm assuming that a lot of people found Clarke's story groundbreaking when it was first published in the late 1960s. And I agree. 2001: A Space Odyssey was ahead of its time. It featured artificial intelligence in HAL, the controller of the spacecraft on its way to Saturn. The novel had interplanetary travel. We're 11 years past 2001 and we still haven't figured out the mechanism for bringing humans alive to Venus, our closest planetary neighbor.

A lot of people feel that this is the greatest science fiction novel. I'm not sure about it. I'm partial to Frank Herbert's Dune. And I think that Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels are topnotch. But 2001: A Space Odyssey is one fine sci-fi. Clarke's science is grounded and the pace is very controlled.

What stands out though is Clarke's amazing talent in describing place. The prehistoric scenes were very cinematic. And outer space, as depicted by Clarke, can make anyone feel claustrophobic despite its vastness. 

Read this book if:
  1. You love classic sci-fi.
  2. You've enjoyed the movie adaptation.
  3. You'll read anything by the ABCs of science fiction literature: Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Friday night with the Bard

Early this month, I got invited to a book club hosted by my friend, Orly. I'm no stranger to book clubs, having been a member of Flips Flipping Pages for 3 years now, but somehow I'm intrigued with this one as the members would be discussing one of Shakespeare's works: "The Taming of the Shrew."

I have never read any of Shakespeare's works outside the classroom. I'm just not comfortable with the genre and the language, which I thought would be daunting. But surprisingly, I had fun reading "The Taming of the Shrew." To be honest, I didn't think I got all of it during the first reading, so I did another. (One can't have too many rereadings for a book club in my experience. Hehehe.)

So Friday came and, for some reason, I felt ambiguous about attending. For one, I don't know any of the other members except for Orly. Another, the 2-hour commute to the venue on a Friday night with the terrible Manila traffic is enough to make anyone discouraged.

Good thing I did find the energy and the enthusiasm to go though. Discussing "The Taming of the Shrew" proved to be really fun and insightful, with a lot of the members relating particular themes to their personal lives. And because it was an intimate group, there was plenty of time for all members to share their thoughts.

I really must find a copy of the movie of "The Taming of the Shrew" or at least a video recording of the play. As it was pointed out during the discussion, Shakespeare is truly meant to be seen on stage. I agree. Don't you, dear reader?

All in all, it was a very enjoyable and insightful night. The members were very friendly and so fashionable, especially the ladies. And I'm just so glad that I attended, despite the hellish traffic.

Here are some pics of the discussion, dear reader.

Orly, during one of the discussion's light-hearted moments
I believe we were talking about fashion here, 
as one of the devices used by Shakespeare in the play was costumes.

Lei, the moderator, who prepared the discussion questions
and who gave a very detailed synopsis of the play 

Jary, reading one of the questions
She's a lit major! It pays to sit next to her.

Emcie, listening critically to a member response
Her biting smile is so charming, no?

Amabelle, who was a first-timer to the group like me, joined us
after her MBA night class. Talk about busy!

Cupcakes! My gift to Orly who celebrated his birthday recently

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Ruminating on the count

Is the story of The Count of Monte Cristo one about revenge? Or is it about justice? Well, it does start out as a novel wherein one character plans his revenge on a few people who were responsible for his being in prison for several years. And then it ends with the characters getting what I think they should deserve, so there's that justice component. But I think that The Count of Monte Cristo works best as an adventure story.

I loved every minute I spent reading this 1,000+ page door stop of a novel. And it was quite enjoyable keeping track of the several characters Dumas introduces in this work. It's epic, I'm telling you, dear reader. And reading it is akin to getting shots of adrenaline every now and then. Yes, it's a book with caffeine that seems never to let up.

Most readers would feel daunted by the heft. But the effort is truly worth it. I like that it also somehow gives you a history lesson on France during the time of Napoleon, and its depiction of French society in the mid 1850s is fascinating. I never knew that so much financial aspects go into one's marriage, to the point that the families involve would compute for the exact amount the families would be getting from the marriage.

It's a good thing that I've never seen a movie adaptation of this book, so I have no expectations whatsoever. Reading it is more or less similar to watching a daytime soap, complete with all the betrayals and the backstabbing and the fainting ladies and the hissy fits. Ah, The Count of Monte Cristo is melodrama in its finest form!

One of the criticisms against this book is that it apparently has very weak female characters. I think that this book doesn't have these characters because it really was a product of its time. Women were just seen as individuals raised to be pretty and to get married to somebody preferably with position and money. But there's one interesting female character in this novel though, and that's Eugenie, who does get what she wants in the end, which is to get the hell out of the circus that is French society.

And other criticism is that some chapters seem contrived and some situations tend to be too convenient for the reader's taste. I agree. The scene where Abbe Faria discovers who specifically betrayed Edmond Dantes comes off as a bit iffy. And the count does seem to be in the right pages at the right time. But what the hey, I just went with it. It was a great ride, and one that I'd like to take again soon.

Now I'm curious. Is The Three Musketeers as thrilling as this one? Would Dumas's other works be loosely based on real-life events like the one in The Count of Monte Cristo? There's only one way to find out, no?

Read this book if:

  1. You never feel daunted by French door stoppers.
  2. You just can't say no a classic adventure story.
  3. You love melodrama in your novels.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Not boring at all

There's this negative thinking about Newbery winners: that they're boring reads. Some would even say that these books have been picked by the judges because no one would really bother to read them if they didn't win. (But is that such a bad thing? I certainly don't think so.)

But let's get to the point, shall we, and find out if there's any truth to the apparent ennui that one experiences when reading Newbery winners. Was anyone bored with Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book? I don't think so. It's one of the most exciting titles in children's literature lately. Boring books do not usually stay on top of the bestseller lists for a long time.

How about the last 3 winners? Well, I've read them and I found these novels truly enjoyable. I loved the time travel element of Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me. The historical aspects of Clare Vanderpool's Moon over Manifest were fascinating. And Gantos's theme of boyhood in Dead End in Norvelt is funny. These novels are anything but boring.

What do you think, dear reader? Have you read any Newbery winner recently? Here's a link for all Newbery winners since 1922.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns

Can you imagine life without books, dear reader? That would be my own personal hell. So it was a particularly jarring experience reading Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

In the world of Fahrenheit 451, firemen don't put out fires. It's the other way around actually. When they receive a report that a person has been hiding books in his house, they're the ones who set the house on fire. And Bradbury's story focuses on one particular fireman, one Guy Montag, who begins questioning the status quo after his series of encounters with a very precocious and unconventional teenage girl.

Montag eventually takes out the books that he has secretly kept while doing his job. Needless to say, it was a pivotal moment for him, and it's an act that would cost him his job and force him to go into hiding. And this is the point where he meets a band of 'outlaws' who dwell in the outskirts of the city with a single, seemingly profound purpose—to read books and thereby commit them to their memory.

The concept of a person being the living Bible or Anna Karenina or The Origin of the Species is both an ingenious and a romantic one. That person becomes a living repository of the text, one who becomes invaluable in humanity's struggle against oppression and ignorance. In that world, I would like to be the living I, Claudius, Robert Graves's wonderful historical novel, which is still my favorite book of all time.

After reading Fahrenheit 451, you can't help but feel that censorship is not always a good thing. It supposes that people cannot think for themselves and somebody else has to do it for them. Thus, I believe that censorship is insulting. Who are you to tell me what books I should read, what movies should I watch, and what songs I listen to? Just because I read Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting doesn't mean that I'd do drugs and lead a life of waste and deprivation. Also, believing that watching 'Glee' would turn children gay is just plain moronic.

Fahrenheit 451 is one novel that would certainly appeal to the lover of the printed word. In that novel, the government has banned books because they make people think differently. But is that such an evil thing? In that world that Bradbury conjures, people seem to have lost that zest for living. So I guess it would make sense if I find myself trapped in that nightmarish fictional world, I'd rather kill myself.

Read this book if:
  1. You believe that one cannot have enough books.
  2. You know that this world would be much nicer if more people read.
  3. Despite the book's first line, you don't think that 'it's a pleasure to burn'.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

No nonsense self-help books

This year, I learned of an institution in London called The School of Lifewhich was founded by one of my favorite writers, Alain De Botton, I've always wished that they have satellite campuses all over the world. Or that they'd offer online courses at least. 

In a world where even ordering a cup of coffee is getting more and more complicated (venti white chocolate mocha with soy), we definitely need to go back to the basics sometimes. And that's why I love the philosophy behind The School of Life.

Based on their website, the institution's programmes "address such questions as why work is often unfulfilling, why relationships can be so challenging, why it’s ever harder to stay calm and what one could do to try to change the world for the better." And I am just blown away!

So when they decided to come up with a series of self-help books, I just got to have them! Good thing that a local bookstore has them in stock. I immediately got two!

These aren't your usual self-help books. For one, they're very well-written. And another, philosophy is a key element in these books. Also, the covers are love! Now what should I get next?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Wonderful debut fiction

There's always a thrill in discovering new talent. You pick up a book, have no expectations whatsoever, and end up loving the work. Well, that's not exactly the case between me and Karen Thompson Walker. I've heard so much about this author and how good her debut novel is. So I thought it's time to check out the hype.

Fortunately, the hype is more than merited! Walker's novel, The Age of Miracles, is a wonderful read. It's one of the best coming-of-age stories I've read recently, and it's both heartbreaking and hopeful.

The narrator is 11-year-old Julia, an only child who is one very introspective individual. One day, for reasons not really specified in the novel, the earth's spin has slowed down, resulting in cataclysmic changes in nature and in the way people go about their daily lives. It is this slowing that provides the device for Julia to tell her story.

Oh no, The Age of Miracles isn't sci-fi. The focus here is not on the changes to the earth's weather systems, or the eventual disruption of the food chain because of the extinction of plants, or the circadian rhythms of the animal kingdom. It's still about Julia and her family. Julia's dad is shown here as a sympathetic character, even though Julia finds out that he's been having a relationship with their next door neighbor, the piano teacher. Julia's mother embodies what happens to a person in this weird times, one who experiences the "syndrome," an illness brought about by the slowing. She is oftentimes hysterical and unstable.

Julia, despite her age, tries her best to cope with her parents' seemingly dwindling relationship, but it is through her that her parents work things out. She also has her first romantic relationship with a boy from school. Be prepared though for how this relationship would end. It just broke my heart when I read that part.

There's a lot of people that we encounter through Julia's eyes. There's her eccentric grandfather who collects things and is obsessed with cataloging them for the end times. There are the kids at her school, who provide the reader with the effects of the slowing among people Julia's age. There's her piano teacher who is one of those people who continues to stick to "real time," sleeping by night and going about through the day, even though the hours of the days and nights continue to increase. Through Julia's family, we see how people cope with this strange phenomena by following the government's orders of "clock time."

The Age of Miracles has a very beautifully controlled narrative. And it seems that Walker certainly possesses the writing talent. I'm guessing it has something to do with her being an editor of Simon & Schuster, having been exposed to different writing styles, and learning to identify what works with readers. Her debut novel is an auspicious one, and it's a work that definitely earned all the positive word-of-mouth.

So, dear reader, I now have another author who's going to be under my radar. Here's to reading more debut fiction and discovering new talent.

Read this book if:

  1. You love debut fiction.
  2. You're in the mood for a good coming-of-age novel.
  3. You've always been curious about what would happen should our planet slow down on its spin.