Saturday, December 29, 2012

Our national hero shows us his humorous and whimsical side

Christmas morning. You've unwrapped all your gifts, skipped breakfast as you're still full from all the feasting last night, and talked over your plans for the new year's celebration with your family.

But amidst all the mugs, scented candles, fruit cake, wine, and other stuff that you've received, there's one thing you've received that particularly stands out. One that you feel really giddy about, as if you can chuck away (or at least re-gift) all your presents and just keep this one. For me, that Christmas treasure would be this: Haec est Sibylla Cumana.

Who would've thought that our national hero, José Rizal, created a parlor game involving a wooden top and a booklet containing questions and answers. With the Haec est Sibylla Cumana, Rizal has crafted a unique fortune-telling game, using the sorceress named Sibylla Cumana as the seer.

Thank goodness Rizal handed over the materials for this game to his sister, Narcisa Rizal Lopez. It's quite fun reading Rizal's take on mundane and important matters. In the booklet, he wrote fortunes on one's business dealings and personal relationships.

I doubt if I would ever actually play this game with anyone or even by myself. It's too precious an item. I was told that the Haec est Sibylla Cumana is a limited edition, so I won't risk it. But it does make a lively conversation piece, I think.

The limited edition boxed set

What's inside:
The wooden top and the the 2 booklets

One of the booklets is an exact replica of the original,
showing Rizal's handwriting on an envelope
bearing an address in New York.

The multi-sided wooden top
Thanks so much, R! 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

12 things for 2012

Before I bid 2012 adieu, let me highlight the 12 things I learned this year after reading 85 books.
  1. People are inexplicably drawn to trains. Yes, even beautiful and wealthy Russian noblewomen.
  2. The best time to fart during a book discussion is when people are having a heated argument.
  3. Just because a book has been likened to Twilight doesn't mean that it's just as bad. Sometimes, that book is even worse.
  4. Bookworms, even ageing ones, can still have 20/20 vision.
  5. Shakespeare is meant to be read aloud.
  6. Unlike movies, book sequels aren't necessarily crap.
  7. Debut fiction always rocks.
  8. We still judge books by their covers. Well, hello there, my beautiful Penguin editions!
  9. The bookmark is now a conundrum. A lot of people read exclusively via their e-readers, and yet they still love getting those bookmarks. It makes you wonder what they use them for.
  10. It takes chutzpah to give books as gifts to bibliophiles. There's always the risk of the recipient getting duplicate copies.
  11. Laters, baby! 
  12. It's still more fun to read than to watch TV.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

F****d up girls

A very merry Christmas to you, dear readers! We're down to the last few days of 2012, and I do believe I mentioned that I'll be ending the year with young adult novels. Okay, here's another one: Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard.

I don't have much love to give to this book though, even though its themes are something I ordinarily would go for. It feels like ordering your favorite dish in a restaurant and then finding out that the chef scrimped on the ingredients.

Shepard's characters are all stereotypes. The overachiever who's jealous of her overachieving sister falls for her sister's boyfriend. The high school swimming star turns out to be a lesbian. The girl who just arrived from Europe has an affair with her English teacher. The formerly obese girl becomes the school slut who has kleptomania and an eating disorder.

The mystery angle feels watered down too. All 4 of these girls were once friends back in the seventh grade who pay homage to their queen bee. But QB disappears one day during a sleepover and hasn't been found for the last 3 years. But Shepard hints that QB might still be alive, for she sends threatening emails and text messages to the 4 girls. And these correspondences are filled with secrets that QB and the girls only know.

The premise does indeed look promising but the story doesn't deliver. There's no closure with any of the 4 girls. In fact, QB might have even played a role in letting them realize their mistakes. For example, the teacher discovers the text messages and calls off the affair.

Maybe it's the fact that Pretty Little Liars is just the 1st novel in a series, that it's not satisfying at all. It's "I Know What You Did Last Summer" without the blood and gore unfortunately. What we have are just high school girls who have too much money, too many issues, too many boys, and not enough brain cells. It's frustrating.

Read this book if:
  1. You love the TV series.
  2. You want to relive your high school days and then thank yourself that you had an uninteresting, albeit normal, high school life.
  3. You like books with dolls on their covers.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A geek and a slacker in love

I am writing this entry with a smile on my  facea smile brought about by a surprisingly entertaining read. And that read is the novel by Susan Colasanti entitled When It Happens.

Sappy, contrived, cloying, forced. All these were my expectations when I turned to the first page of this YA novel. And I am smiling from ear to ear because I never found the romance sappy, the dialogue contrived, the burgeoning romance between the characters cloying, nor the ending forced.

I won't call the dialogue as natural, as I'm not familiar at all with how teens talk nowadays. But the banter and the wit flows smoothly, and Colasanti does make you feel for her characters when you read about their thoughts.

Nothing's particularly new here. Overachieving girl (Sara) falls in love with another senior (Tobey) who's main goal is to win the school's Battle of the Bands. Throw in the token best friends and the jocks and homecoming queens who make everyone's life hell.

But I wouldn't call When It Happens sterile. There's grit here, too. Sara's mother is a single parent who seems to have no trouble at all switching from one boyfriend to the next. And while Sara is a virgin, Tobey has a few experiences of his own. In fact, when Sara and Tobey talk about this issue, Colasanti doesn't go to a moral high ground.

This is still sugary sweet country, however. So one shouldn't cringe when Tobey realizes his potential, clean up his act, and gets accepted to a college in NY. One shouldn't hurl the book just because Sara gets accepted to a school in NY, too. When It Happens is still YA chick lit but without vampires. We can't have depressing endings here.

I'd gladly recommend When It Happens to my friends who have teenagers. It's an interesting read once you get comfortable with the language (e.g., "Protest much," "Drool much," and all those other much-es). Some of the scenes are funny. And you just might see yourself in one of the characters.

Read this book if:

  1. YA chick lit is your thing.
  2. You find yourself with nothing to do in one lazy afternoon.
  3. You prefer real people to vampires.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

2012: The year that was for the book club

January was awesome because we went bowling.

And we shared our blessings with the ATD kids.

Then we're off to talk about our best and worst reads for 2011.

February saw us in our own version of George R.R. Martin's Westeros.

And gained a few pounds after food tripping.

March was a season for high tea, Edith Wharton style.

Photo courtesy of R
And we surprised this lady on her birthday.

In April we were at the beach.

And we made our own graphic novels.

We had a date with a count in May.

We went around the world in search of happiness in June.

July was very 80s and geeky.

We celebrated our love for reading in August.

'twas also a grey and sexy month.

We ate everything in September.

And sampled authentic home-cooked Persian food.

It's YA high fantasy in October.

November had us partying ala steampunk.

But we still found time to write to the colonel.

And we learned to wrap gifts professionally.

And finally, in December, we all went native.

We had a busy year, no? If you wanna check out what we did in 2011, click here.

Also, thanks to R. for some of these pics! Best photographer ever!

Monday, December 17, 2012

My least favorite reads of 2012

After coming out with my favorite reads of this year, I think it's about time that I post the books on the other end of my reading spectrum. These are the books that took me a long time to finish, the ones that didn't make an impact, those that were a pain.

I'll just list 5 titles, dear readers, as compared to my 10 favorites of 2012. And here they are, in random order.

Good-Bye, Chunky Rice
Craig Thompson
Got comparisons with The Little Prince, this one. I don't really know why. The ending just got me confused. I also found it to be a book that takes itself way too seriously.
Ally Condie
Dystopian young adult trilogy. Didn't really present anything new, although the premise was interesting.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
N. K. Jemisin
This novel did get a lot of awards, and suddenly, Jemisin was under everyone's radar when it comes to high fantasy. But this first book of a trilogy, with its gods and mortals, just fell flat.
Fifty Shades Freed
E L James
Argh, this just feels that the author rushed to complete it. I love the 2nd book though. But this one, ayayay, is just all over the place.
Zsazsa Zaturnnah sa Kalakhang Maynila
Carlo Vergara
I'm only including this here because I loved the first volume to bits. This one though feels completely different from the first. Also, it didn't have the huge camp factor of the first.

So there it is, dear readers, my least favorite reads for the year. I'm not saying that they're badly written or whatnot. Let me just put it this way: they're no fun.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

You make me feel like I'm living a teenage dream

A couple of weeks ago, I was abused, harassed, debased, spat on. Well, not really. But what happened was something more terrible. Some of my friends actually labeled me, gasp, a book snob!

I've been called as such before, and that label bothers me a lot. I do think that I read almost anything. Fiction, nonfiction, translated work, local titles. You name a genre, I've probably sampled it. Yes, even self-help and inspirational books, which is the one genre I usually stay away from. (Still, you do have to pay me to read Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus or How to Win Friends and Influence People or South Beach Diet for Busy People.)

Okay, just to prove it to you (and to those people who said that hateful label), here's a picture of the books that I'm currently reading. These are the books that I will end the year with—books for teenagers! Give me sappy teenage romance, paranormal romance involving fairies, and mean high school cliques. I happily devour them.

Smells like teen spirit

I know, I'm in my late 30s. But these books are my Botox, my collagen injections, my instant cellulite removal regimen. They transport me back in time when my biggest problems were homework and pimples.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Favorite reads of 2012

Well it's the time of the year, dear readers! The time when we all go through the books we read this year and come up with our list of favorites.

It's been a good reading year for me, although I don't think I'd be going beyond 100 books. So far, I've read  83 books and I don't think I'll be adding more to that this month.

I've rounded up my 10 favorite reads: 9 fiction (all novels) and 1 nonfiction (philosophy). Out of the 9 fiction reads, 4 are from debut novelists! Woot woot for outstanding debut fiction!

Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Laini Taylor
As I mentioned, this was a surprise favorite. I was never into this YA paranormal genre. It's a reflection on the horrors of war as well. The 2nd book is good too.
How Proust Can Change Your Life
Alain de Botton
I love all of de Botton's books, but this one is a favorite. You don't even need to have read Proust when you read it. This book, however, makes you want to.
Melmoth the Wanderer
Charles Robert Maturin
This is possibly the longest Gothic novel that I've read, and the most satisfying, and the hardest to describe.
The Sisters Brothers
Patrick DeWitt
This comedic but heartfelt Western, a finalist for last year's Booker Prize, is one entertaining read. If you've never read a Western, this will make you a fan.
The Age of Miracles
Karen Thompson Walker
Part sci-fi, coming-of-age, and family drama. How fitting that I should read this in 2012, as it tackles apocalyptic themes.
The Patrick Melrose Novels
Edward St. Aubyn
This is actually a compilation of the first 4 Patrick Melrose novels, which I devoured one after another in less than a week.
The Rook
Daniel O'Malley
This is probably the funniest novel I've read recently. It's like X-Men meets Harry Potter meets Ghostbusters.
War Horse
Michael Morpugo
The only children's book to make it to my list this year. And it also tackles the horrors of war.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
Maria Semple
This reminds me of Special Topics in Calamity Physics, which is another favorite read. Semple's narrative, however, is just so unconventional.
The Song of Achilles
Madeline Miller
The one book that I keep pushing to my friends. I think it's the best love story that I've read ever.

So there you go, dear readers, my 10 favorite books of 2012. I won't tell you yet which is my favorite among these 10 books, nor the books that I absolutely hated this year. That's for another post.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The omelette is made now

When Italians want to say that the damage has been done, they say, "La frittata è fatta." Now this seemingly innocuous phrase directly translates to, "The omelette is made now." Ah, the Italian languageyou gotta love it.

For the past 3 months, I've been attending basic Italian classes in Makati, and the course ended this weekend. It was a fun-filled 10 Saturdays, having formed friendships with my classmates and learning to love this Romantic language even more.

My notes on the last day of the class
I know, I have a very schoolboy-ish penmanship.

Many of my classmates have agreed to take the course for the next level. My pronunciation is still an embarrassment, my grammar horrible. If ever I find myself in Italy, I believe I'd just get deported. I'm still a "gnoccho di patata," which is figurative for "stupid."

I'll be packing away my pocket Italian dictionary and my little red notebook for now. The next course is scheduled to start in January, so I won't be needed them anytime soon. Perhaps I'll just check out those Italian instructional videos on YouTube for the meantime. I don't wanna get rusty.

The photocopied handouts and the green book which has been
in my bag for the past 10 weekends

So this means that I can stay in bed longer on Saturdays for the next few weeks. More reading time! Yay!

The result of 10 Saturdays of grueling Italian conversations,
recitations, and grammar exercises.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I love a book hunt challenge

So the book club has now finalized the list of books for discussion for 2013. Yes, we don't believe that the world will end this month, for we still have a lot of books to talk about.

Here's the 2013 list:
  • January - Best and worst reads of 2012 discussion
  • February - Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
  • March - It's a Mens World by Bebang Sy
  • April - "A Midsummer Night's Dream" by William Shakespeare
  • May - Neither Here Nor There: Travels around Europe (audiobook) by Bill Bryson
  • June - Talking to Girls About Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield and Salingkit by Cyan Abad-Jugo
  • July - Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • August - The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
  • September - The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
  • October - Night Shift by Stephen King
  • November - The Sandman Book 4: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman
  • December - Godfather-themed Christmas party
I've been a happy camper doing the book hunting. Some books are proving to be quite a challenge to find. I'd go for trade paperbacks, but I'll take what I can get. So far, what I have are these.

A work in progress

I did, however, find a copy of Sheffield's memoir. And that copy will come all the way from Cebu, which is a province quite far from Manila. See the effort one makes just to get a book! (Which reminds me, I have to deposit payment. Thanks a lot, Chloe, for getting the book for me.)

We're also discussing an audiobook next year. So I guess I wouldn't be getting a printed copy of Bryson's travel book. The moderator said that she'd like to get the members' opinions on their audiobook experience. Frankly, I'm intrigued.

So this month and probably the next will have me visiting bookstores. Hopefully, I'll be able to tick off everything n the list.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Heartbreaking and beautiful

John Corey Whaley's debut work, Where Things Come Back, is one of those young adult novels with big messages about second chances, family, and interconnected lives. But unlike your usual YA novel, Where Things Come Back works because it isn't sappy and cloying at all.

I'm reminded of Melinda Marchetta's Jellicoe Road, which has a dual narrative. In Whaley's novel, well at least at the start, we read alternating chapters featuring a 17-year-old named Cullen Whitter who lives in a town in Arkansas and a young missionary in Africa who's looking for meaning in his life. Two lives set continents apart. And this is one of the reasons that makes this novel suspenseful: how on earth could the author establish the connection between these two completely disconnected story lines.

I think most readers would be able to identify with Cullen. He's your typical introverted American teenager living in a very small and dull town. Cullen's life soon becomes non-typical, with the disappearance of her gifted younger brother and the appearance of the Lazarus Woodpecker (long believed to be extinct) in their town. In Where Things Come Back, it is the woodpecker which somehow symbolizes the hope that things and people can come back. It's a pipe dream though, as the woodpecker is never actually seen and Cullen's brother won't be coming back ever. (Of course, I don't want to spoil the reason for his brother's disappearance.)

But everything ties up so neatly that I was surprised at how logical all the connections were. You know the gripe some people have with George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, wherein he kills off his major characters just when you've started rooting for them? Well, Whaley pulls something like that in his debut novel. Characters take several steps back for other characters to play out their roles. The young missionary dies midway into the novel, paving the way for his college roommate to bring the novel into a climax.

A lot has been said about this debut novel. Where Things Come Back did win the 2012 Michael L. Printz and the William C. Morris Debut awards. Totally deserving, if I may say so. And if you're looking for a heartbreaking and beautiful read, this novel might just be it.

Read this book if:

  1. You like debut YA fiction.
  2. You've lived in a small and idyllic town yourself.
  3. You know that everyone deserves second chances.