Tuesday, November 27, 2012

While the others were talking...

Yes, that's me in the picture below. Me, reading, trying in vain to catch up with the book discussion. Never mind that it was dusk, and reading was getting harder and harder by the minute.

So during the last book discussion, I was my anti-social self. I also arrived very late for the discussion, as I just came from a work-related event.

So there I was that late Saturday afternoon, too tired and hungry from work. The discussion was potluck, but I didn't bring anything. My catch-all excuse? I came from work. After dispensing with the obligatory niceties (i.e., saying hi to everyone and making air kisses with the ladies) and grabbing some food, I just plopped my tired old self on the grass and started reading.

Thank goodness for my 20/20 vision.
(Photo courtesy of R.)
Such a shame really that I was reading the book for discussion on the day of discussion itself. Blame it on procrastination and my being a polybookist for the last few days. I couldn't even finish a novella in time! Never again, I say!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Poverty, politics, poultry

If you've read at least one novel by Gabriel García Márquez, then you might be in for a surprise if you read No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories. If you're expecting magical realism (e.g., people suddenly ascending into heaven as if it's the most natural thing), then the stories in this collection might disappoint. For in this collection, García Márquez chooses the path of a realist. Compared with his other works, you can probably refer to this short story collection as GGM lite.

I, however, wasn't a bit disappointed when I finished No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories on this fine Sunday morning. I'm one day late though, as the book club discussed this collection yesterday afternoon. And because I didn't even finish the novella No One Writes to the Colonel, I just decided to keep my mouth shut yesterday.

The thing about the novella is that García Márquez drives you smack in the middle of things. You feel the inescapable poverty of the town, the sickening reek of bureaucracy, the uncomfortable humidity of the town, the futile hopefulness of the characters. You know that nothing's going to come out a situation wherein a retired colonel pins his hopes on a rooster. It's the rooster that's supposed to bring in the money, much needed after so many years of not receiving a pension from the government. The colonel and his wife is so poor that she has been reduced to boiling stones in the kitchen, in the hopes of deceiving their neighbors that they have something to eat.

The novella isn't a pleasant read. The story just gets bleaker at every page. But you plod on, because García Márquez's writing is beautiful. Unlike his novels, here the sentences are terse, the dialogue natural, and the sense of place given in detail. And like most shorter works of fiction, the ending makes you ponder. Is there still hope for the colonel and his wife? I believe not.

During the discussion, Marie, the moderator, mentioned something about the iceberg model of short stories. In an iceberg, the part that is visible on the ocean surface is just a very small fraction of the actual size of the iceberg. I fully agree. Short story writers are masters of the tease. They offer you just mere spoonfuls instead of the whole dish. They leave it up to you on how you interpret the story and, ultimately, on how you appreciate it. They make you question. And such is the pleasure of reading short stories.

The other stories in this collection are just as good as the novella. In fact, my favorite in this book isn't the novella itself but an 8-page short story entitled "Tuesday Siesta." My mind can't stop thinking of all the various scenarios that can transpire after the last scene. What happens when folk learn that the mother of the thief whom they've killed has come to their town to visit his son's grave? Such delicious possibilities.

It's quite fascinating how Gabriel García Márquez has assembled a treasure of stories in this collection. I don't read a lot of short stories, but each small gem in No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories is enough to urge me to read some more.

Read this book if:

  1. You'll read anything by Nobel laureates.
  2. You love Latin American fiction.
  3. You like your fiction bite sized.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A surprise favorite read this year

Teen paranormal romance. Them 3 words that usually scare me. Okay, just for the sake of transparency, yes, I've read all 4 Twilight books. It was an experience all right. Uneven at best. I liked the first book and found the last book quite enjoyable. Now, for books 2 and 3, excuse me while I barf.

To compare Meyer's novels with Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke & Bone would be futile, even though they belong to the same genre. It might even seem unfair on Taylor to have her books next to Twilight in bookstores. If you read Daughter of Smoke & Bone, then you'd have this compulsion to gather all these books and place them prominently on the bookstore. I was this close to just hanging out in the teen section in bookstores and keeping an eye out on everyone buying Twilight. Then I'd shout, "Drop that silly little book, you commercially brainwashed teen!" Then I'd place DoSaB on her hands instead. I know she'll thank me for it.

Here I am gushing about a book when I haven't even told you what it's all about. Well, it's about angels and demons, or more specifically, angel- and demon-like characters. Taylor, however, goes beyond the mythology. In DoSaB, the angels aren't really the good guys, nor are the demons the evil ones. In fact, you can hardly tell who has the moral high ground in their war. It's a good thing that Taylor came up with less conventional names for these 2 groups: seraphim for the fiery-winged and celestial beings, and the chimaera for the characters whose body parts are an odd mix of animal and human body parts.

Enter Karou, a human (supposedly), who is in the service of the chimaera by providing them with human and animal teeth. Such an odd task for someone so frail looking. Then she meets Karou, a seraph of unimaginable beauty with a reputation for being a ruthless soldier. Of course, they fall in love. Of course, it's not possible, in theory. Karou is revealed to be a chimaera herself. Of course, everything gets complicated. Karou is the resurrected form of Madrigal, a chimaera who was executed after being discovered to be having a relationship with Karou.

Oy, dear reader, it's wonderful to get lost in Taylor's beautiful and brutal universe. The slow reveal of the true nature and history of the two lead characters is a delight. Their inexplicable attraction toward each other has none of the cloying taste of novels in this genre. What we have are 2 immensely relatable characters who are aware of the consequences of their actions.

Taylor's sense of place is also admirable. Prague's gloomy and Gothic atmosphere sets the right tone at the beginning of the novel, where the reader is immediately plunged into the mystifying world of the chimaera. Eretz, the home of the chimaera, is portrayed as a place of strange and harsh beauty, a vast landscape where you see chimaera in every configuration.

Why did it take too long for me to write my thoughts about this book? Well, blame it on my age. I thought that I've already made a post about it and only bothered to check because I'm reading the 2nd book. It's turning out to be just as good as the 1st. In fact, it might even be better!

Read this book if:

  1. You're willing to give teen paranormal romance a try.
  2. You've always been fascinated by angels and their fallen counterparts.
  3. You love "Romeo and Juliet."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The world is going to end next month and all I can think about are the books that I haven't read

My TBR pile early this year
To date, this has probably doubled. Aieeeee!

Well, this post's title holds true only if you believe the Mayan calendar. Still, the thought of the world ending does make for good conversations, no? What would you be doing on the last day, who would you like to spend those last days with, would you run around naked on the streets, etc. (If it were indeed the last day, drunk, horny, and naked people on the street would be the last thing that I want to see. Unless I'm one of them.)

But what if the world is really ending, and we just have a month to go before everything goes kaput? I'd go on panic mode and think of all the books that I haven't read and all the authors whose works I haven't even sampled! The brilliant nonsense of Finnegan's Wake! Charles Dickens and his doorstoppers! All those Greek classical works about fathers boinking their daughters, and mothers falling for their sons! Argh! (FYI: I'm actually using Dickens's Our Mutual Friend as a doorstop. Pic coming up soon.)

Maybe it's a sign, no? A sign that I should stop (or at least temporarily put on hold) those book-buying binges and just conquer that mountain of a TBR pile instead. There's an idea, albeit it's something I've vowed to do before and wherein I've repeatedly failed.

I keep imagining how the world will eventually end. And I think T. S. Eliot got it right. In his poem, "The Hollow Men," the poet laureate wrote these beautiful words:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Monday, November 19, 2012

No books finished last week

Last week came and went like a blur. As far as I can recall, it's the first week this year that I wasn't able to finish a book or two. Oh, the humanity! Nevertheless, I did find two things that I can put blame on.

The first is food or, more specifically, the dimsum buffet. Yes, I didn't get any reading done because we spent several hours in the afternoon just munching and munching on these bite-sized pieces. Dimsum—the 2nd best Chinese invention! Of course, paper still comes 1st. Also, fireworks! One needs fireworks to stay happy.

So how many was I able to consume during that dimsum buffet afternoon? I purposely didn't count. (I don't have enough fingers and toes.) But I think it may have been enough to feed a family of 4, or 6.

On our table last Saturday
This photo can deceive.
This was actually our 3rd set of dimsum platters.

The second is that blasted TV show, "Downton Abbey." Oh goodness, what's not to love! It doesn't help that Shirley Maclaine joined the cast. And that 2nd footman! Such eye candy! I think I watched the first 5 episodes of season 3 in succession.

"Downton Abbey": For the anglophile in you

I'm not big on television, but I do make an exception for "Downton Abbey," and maybe "The Tudors."  Ack, I forget "The Good Wife." Yes, one cannot forego watching "The Good Wife."

Friday, November 16, 2012

The bookshelf project #40

I eat out a lot. And having been to quite a number of restaurants in the metro, I noticed that there are very few eating places that have actual books. Why oh why? Books are perfect in restaurants, especially if you're dining alone and couldn't care less about people spotting.

Waiting for your companion to arrive? Read a book. What to do while the food that you ordered is being prepared? Get a book from the resto's bookshelf. Other diners seem uninteresting? Just go and read 10 pages or so. Finished with your entrees? Enjoy a cup of coffee with a book.

So let's call this The Bookshelf Project: The Restaurant Edition. Now I must admit that I haven't taken pictures of books in some restaurants that I've been to. (Must be more vigilant in using my phone's camera!) But 2 weekends ago, when I went to a gift-wrapping workshop held at a pizza place, I was amused to find beautiful books about food.

Books about pizza, pasta, desserts, and Italian food!
I die. 

Here's another resto that we went to 
a couple of years ago.
Don't you just love how the books make for 
interesting interior design pieces?
(Photo courtesy of R.)

I wonder why restaurant owners aren't too keen on putting up bookshelves in their places? Perhaps they're thinking that the pages might be soiled by the food? Ummmm... That's what napkins are for.

Kaz of Books Anonymous, one of the blogs that I follow, has made a great follow-up post on her blog about books in eating places. You can read her post here. The cafe that she features, with its cozy atmosphere and loads and loads of books, is so awesome that I want to book a flight to Sydney now! 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

10 things I learned from blogging after 499 posts

So this is my 500th post. After almost 4 years, that comes to just 125 posts per year, 10 posts per month, 2 posts per week. Oy, numbers. Boring stuff. Moving on...

What have I learned, dear readers, after blogging on and off for the past 4 years? Well, I've made a list.

  1. Readers like them lists. Posts with lists get a lot of traffic. Should I number my paragraphs then?
  2. More comments don't mean there aren't any readers. In fact, the most popular post, which got 2,355 page views, just has 2 comments. 
  3. Include photos of handsome men in a post and, presto, you get huge traffic.
  4. Blog gets the fewest number of readers on Saturdays and Sundays; it gets the most on Mondays. I guess people still have a weekend hangover and would just like to surf the net mindlessly on Mondays.
  5. It feels weird to make "serious" posts. Talk about awkward.
  6. Adverbs are good. But I realized I use them carelessly and frequently in my posts. Must closely read and carefully proofread. Ack! I did it again!
  7. Popular posts get a lot of spam. Unfortunately, the only spam that I like is the one that comes in a can. And fried to a crisp. Mmmmm...
  8. I've never changed my blog banner. Facelifts, even virtual ones, scare me.
  9. The older the blog gets, the bigger the text font becomes. Blame my eyesight.
  10. This blog has become me. One time, I was in a bookstore and one person approached me and asked, "You're KyusiReader, aren't you?" I don't know if that's a good thing or not.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Good for the soul

Effing hell, poetry! Poems are not really my cup of tea. More often than not, I can barely get what the poet is saying. But I would have to agree that some poems are beautiful, and that they evoke in the reader feelings that are a hard to describe.

But I'm determined that my taste should not just be dominated by fiction, specifically novels. So when I saw Selected and Last Poems 1931-2004 by Czeslaw Milosz in Fully Booked 2 weeks ago, I thought that it would add variety to my reading habit. Besides, Milosz was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1980. Just reading 1 collection by this poet is a bragging right in itself.

Here's a book by a Nobel laureate, who was part of the Polish resistance during World War II, defected to France in the 1950s, and then became a professor of poetry in the US in the 1960s onwards. Surely his vast experience would add a rich texture and a profound depth to his poems, yes? Hmmmm.... Quite daunting. This would need a plate of cookies; one cookie for every poem that I finish.

Oy! The subject matter tackled in the different poems are so broad: religion, politics, personal stuff, weird and random stuff, and some other stuff that I can barely comprehend. The poems' lengths have a huge range as well, with some as short as 2 or 3 lines and some as long as 20 pages.

There are some poems that resonate after reading them. Some of my favorites are "A Song on the End of the World," "Sentences," and "After Paradise." I've provided excerpts below.

A Song on the End of the World
On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned, as it always should be.
[excerpt, page 33]

What constitutes the training of the hand?
I shall tell what constitutes the training of the hand.
One suspects something is wrong with transcribing signs
But the hand transcribes only the signs it has learned.
Then it is sent to the school of blots and scrawls
Till it forgets what is graceful. For even the sign of a butterfly
Is a well with coiled poisonous smoke inside.
[excerpt, page 80]

After Paradise
Don't run anymore. Quiet. How softly it rains
On the roofs of the city. How perfect
All things are. Now, for the two of you
Waking up in a royal bed  by a garret window.
For a man and a woman. For one plant divided
Into masculine and feminine which longed for each other.
[excerpt, page 179]

The poems collected here were written from as early in the 1930s and up to the early 2000s, when Milosz was already bedridden. Was Milosz a romantic? I think so, for there are some poems of his that deal with love. Was he pragmatic? Maybe.

Milosz's work, for its sheer brilliance, scope, and number, can be quite overwhelming, especially for one whose exposure to poetry is quite limited. But the 200 or so poems collected in Selected and Last Poems 1931-2004 are certainly enough to make you love this poet.

Read this book if:

  1. You love poetry.
  2. You'll read anything by a Nobel laureate.
  3. You want variety in your reading habit.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Sorry, dear readers, for this post is neither about books nor reading. Rather, it concerns something that I've been letting grow for the past 3 months or so. Yes, I'm talking about my moustache or, as what most people call it nowadays, my mo.

Well, November is when we celebrate a month-long event called Movember. It's the month when men grow their mos for a good causeraising people's awareness of prostate cancer and other initiatives pertaining to male cancer.

So I guess I'll be a "mo bro" for the meantime. Besides, I've been clean shaven the rest of my life, and it's nice to change one's looks every now and then, no? Also, my mo does make a good topic of conversation.

Me and my mo during a Persian-inspired dinner

Me and my mo during a book discussion

Most recent pic of me and my mo

Thanks, R, for taking these pictures. My mo and I are extremely grateful.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The bookshelf project #39

So how was your Halloween, dear readers? Have you been to any costumed parties during the last few days? I did, and it certainly was fun. A blog post about it will be posted soon!

Anyway, I've received a lovely set of bookshelf pictures from another reader. They're perfect for my bookshelf project! These pictures are from Neal, whom I met recently during the discussion for Howl's Moving Castle.

Let's take a look at Neal's books, shall we?

Neal's bookshelf!
Don't you just love it when you see a shelf
that's brimming with books?

Lots of Fforde, Riordan, and Stroud here. 
I haven't read The Bartimaeus trilogy yet.
These books must be good considering how 
well-thumbed Neal's copies are.

Agatha Christie galore!
I remember my Christie phase when I was younger.
All I read were her mysteries.
Of course, the Harry Potter must be at the very top!

 Magazines, Christopher Pike, and R. L. Stine 
dominate this corner.
I've never Pike nor Stine, even though our school library 
had lots of these books. Hmmmm...
Now I'm wondering why. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Poe's the real deal

So today is the delayed Halloween party of the book club. Its theme is "Steampoe," literally a combination of steampunk and Edgar Allan Poe. I've read a few steampunk novels but have never sampled any of Poe's works. And I think that could be easily remedied.

Good thing that Penguin English Library has a book on Poe, which contains 19 very entertaining stories. The Murders in the Rue Morgue and Other Tales has all the classic Poe short stories: "The Masque of the Red Death," "The Pit and the Pendulum," and "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Cask of Amontillado," to name a few. It's a beautiful collection of Poe's works, with the reader having no choice but to read each story in one sitting.

Ah, Poe, why did it take me so long to read your nightmarish, weird, Gothic, horrifying stories? I've always considered myself quite wide read when it comes to the horror genre, but now that I've read Poe's tales, most of the novels that I've read seem to be the work of amateurs. Poe's ideas are so wonderfully bizaare that you think it's either he's brilliant or he's one crazy SOB. I feel that only a person with a sick mind can come up with these dark tales.

Among the 19 tales collected in this anthology, my favorites would have to be "Ligeia," "The Fall of the House of Usher," and, of course, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." I think "Ligeia" is one creepy ghost story, with the ghost finding her way back into her lover's arms and her lover eagerly welcoming her back. And the Gothic atmosphere of "The Fall of the House of Usher" is unparalleled. You can cut the menace and the creepiness with a knife.

Curiously, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" is more scientific than anything. What the characters do to untangle the mystery is very unorthodox. Now who (or what) committed the brutal murders is a surprise in itself. While this tale may seem to be a detective story when you finish it, its opening is one that needs an empty stomach for its sheer gore. A woman and her daughter are found in their house dead. The daughter has been pushed feet first up the chimney; the mother is found with her throat slit so deep that when people remove the body, her head falls off. Say good-bye to your appetite, dear reader.

Poe died at the age of 40. Quite a shame to leave the world at that young age, when you think about it. Who knows what tales of violence, macabre, madness, and horror he would've written if he had lived longer? Do take the time to read (or reread) Poe, dear readers. Your world will be darker for it.

Read this book if:

  1. Horror is your genre.
  2. You love the unexpected twists in endings.
  3. You know that, sometimes, the world is a dark place.