Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The year that was in reading

Today being the last day of 2013, it's but fitting to write about what the year was in terms of being a bibliophile. I was able to read 62 books in 2013. Not bad, yes? Not bad at all. I wish that number could've been higher though.

So here are the books that I read this year, which I've listed based on the order I read them.

(1) The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
(2) Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi
(3) Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer
(4) Steps by Jerzy Kosinski
(5) The Magic Circle by Gilda Cordero-Fernando
(6) Bad Kings by Gilda Cordero-Fernando
(7) Old Man's War by John Scalzi
(8) Redshirts by John Scalzi
(9) Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
(10) 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

(11) BØDY by Asa Nonami
(12) The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder by J. W. Ironmonger
(13) The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff
(14) Manga Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream
by William Shakespeare and Kate Brown
(15) Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
(16) Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
(17) Wonder by R. J. Palacio
(18) Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea by Jules Verne
(19) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
(20) Inferno by Dan Brown

(21) The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
(22) The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
(23) Salingkit by Cyan Abad-Jugo
(24) Talking to Girls about Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield
(25) The Stranger by Albert Camus
(26) Are We There Yet? by David Levithan
(27) Wide Awake by David Levithan
(28) Hysteria by Megan Miranda
(29) The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin
(30) I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

(31) The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
(32) Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
(33) Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
(34) The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg
(35) Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
(36) Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan
(37) Game by Barry Lyga
(38) Among Others by Jo Walton
(39) Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

(40) The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
(41) Locke & Key 1: Welcome to Lovecraft
by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
(42) Locke & Key 2: Head Games by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
(43) Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King
(44) The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
(45) Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
(46) Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
(47) When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
(48) Night Shift by Stephen King
(49) The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll's House by Neil Gaiman
(50) The Sandman Vol. 4: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman

(51) Chew Vol. 1: Taster's Choice by John Layman and Rob Guillory
(52) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
(53) Saga Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
(54) Saga Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
(55) Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth
by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean
(56) Chew Vol. 2: International Flavor
by John Layman and Rob Guillory
(57) The Dinner by Herman Koch
(58) The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing
(59) Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
(60) HHhH by Laurent Binet

(61) Chew: The Omnivore Edition Vol. 2
by John Layman and Rob Guillory
(62) Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady
by Carlo Vergara and Elmer Cantada

More than anything, I'm surprised with the number of graphic novels I've read 
this year—11 out of 62! That's 18% of the books I finished. I have now truly 
appreciated the genre. (Now if only there were not so damn expensive!) And 
everyone should read Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples's Saga.

I also wished that I've read more nonfiction books and classics. Most of the 

books I finished this year were novels. Anyway, I'm glad that the novels were a 
good mix—literary fiction, science fiction, young adult, middle grade, classics, 
LGBT, etc.

And I discovered a lot of great authors and debut fiction this year. J. W. 

Ironmonger's The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder is great cerebral (pun 
intended) fun! Laurent Binet's debut, HHhH, is probably the best historical 
novel published recently.

In 2013, I began my love affair with David Levithan and John Scalzi. 

Levithan writes the most inspiring LGBT books for young adults, which 
everyone can read. Scalzi, a SF writer, won the Hugo this year for Redshirts
which I think is truly deserved.

There's always next year to read more books, yes? And the year after that. 

Bring on 2014!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Of collaborators and resistance fighters

I guess I spoke too soon when I posted my 10 favorite reads for 2013 in the previous post. I never knew that I'd be making a late addition to it, and it's this debut novel by Laurent Binet—HHhH. Somehow, I'm glad that this would probably be the last book that I'll be reading for the year, for HHhH is one truly glorious read.

HHhH is Laurent Binet's debut novel, but it doesn't feel like it. This historical novel really makes other books in the genre feel like they've been written by history undergraduates who are just too lazy with their research. If there's anything that Binet pulls off in this novel, these are the meticulous details that make HHhH very richly textured.

HHhH stands for "Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich" or Himmler's brain is called Heydrich." Now, Heydrich: If there's one man more feared that Hitler during WW2, it was this blond who was responsible for carrying out the Jewish solution, the systematic killing of Jews. I can't imagine how one person can think of all those gruesome ways just to exterminate a group of people. But Heydrich was able to do it, until he died of an infection after an assassination attempt.

So HHhH is about how two exiled operatives living in London were able to change the course of this dark period in our history. And these two are Josef Gabcík and Jan Kubiš, a Slovak and a Czech, resistance fighters extraordinare. I have much admiration for these men after reading the novel. I wouldn't have the courage to go into enemy territory and plot to kill a person so close to Hitler. You know that if you've been tasked to do this mission, there really is no coming back.

Most of the chapters of the novel focus on Reinhard Heydrich though. It provides details from his youth up to his quick rise leading to Hitler's cabinet. The Blond Beast, everyone called Heydrich, for he really had those "prized" Aryan features—he was tall, had blue eyes, and striking blond hair. But what makes Heydrich truly Hitler's soldier is that he shared the Führer's plan—to rid all of Europe of Jews.

The novel's very postmodern in its narrative. Oftentimes, the narrator strikes a conversation with the readers, telling us how such and such detail were arrived at. And the narrator can be funny too, especially when he mentions how certain dialogues by famous men in history can never be truly confirmed. When the narrative makes way for conversation, the narrator is quick to point out this caveat. In a way, this technique seems to be quite endearing, as if the author makes fun of himself or at least criticizes the way he presents his story.

Because HHhH is about an assassination, it reads like a thriller and adventure story. How can it not be, no? At the part where the actual assassination is described, the reader is left breathless. And during the hair-rising climax when the resistance fighters were trapped in a church surrounded by Nazi stormtroopers, you can't help but root for them, even though you know that that's one situation where it's impossible to get out of.

I just wish that there were many historical novels written this way. History is exciting. We shouldn't be forced to read boring texts about events that influenced how we are now. I think this is why I loved HHhH so much. It shows us that history was made by people, and that these people thought of us when they risked their lives or did remarkable things.

Read this book if:
  1. You love historical fiction.
  2. You want to give postmodern novels a try.
  3. You are, like I am, fascinated by all things related to WW2

Sunday, December 22, 2013

My 10 favorite reads of 2013

The year's favorite reads
(Click to enlarge)
Yes, I know that there are still a few more days till 2014. But with the way things are going, I'm never gonna get any reading done. I'll just be eating. And eating some more.

So 2013 isn't so bad in terms of reading. I finished 60 books, and like every year, I made it a point to have a diverse reading list. This year, there are fiction and nonfiction books, classics and contemporary books, young adult novels and books for children, a few LGBT works, and lots of graphic novels. I had lots of love for the graphic novel format this year.

I have to mention that I don't usually include the classics in my list. Instead, I focus on current (or current-ish) publications. Crime and Punishment is a favorite, and I doubt if there are people who would actually disagree with me on how beautiful that novel by Dostoevsky is. In a way, my annual list of favorite books somehow is a recommendation list of sorts. Besides, I always feel iffy recommending classics. They don't need anyone's good word.

Here are my favorite books for 2013: 2 graphic novel volumes, 1 middle grade novel, 2 young adult books, 2 thrillers, 1 science fiction work, 1 short story collection, and 1 novel in the literary fiction category. Oh, I present them in random order.
  1. Saga Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples – Weird! Interplanetary wars! Romeo and Juliet in space!
  2. Chew Volume 1: Taster's Choice by John Layman and Rob Guillory – Gross! Violent! Fun! Appetizing!
  3. Wonder by R. J. Palacio – Kindness! Beautiful on the inside! No to bullying!
  4. Redshirts by John Scalzi – Dispensable characters, not! The Hugo Award! TV episodes!
  5. The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino – That twist! Like Hitchcock! Japanese crime!
  6. Bødy by Asa Nonami - Human body part fetish! Kinky! Short stories!
  7. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan – Romantic! Break-ups! No hate!
  8. The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder by J. W. Ironmonger – Erudite! The Catalogue! Memories!
  9. Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer – Pies! Diners! Bittersweet! Hopeful!
  10. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – A sick mind! A-cuckoo! That narrator!
And I realized just now that I made an entry for each book above! Woot woot! You can check these out by clicking on the titles, in case you're curious about my remarks with exclamation points. 

So which of these 10 books is my single favorite read of 2013? That, my dear readers, is for another blog post. Happy holidays!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Such pretty, pretty, pretty colors

There's a particular scene in the movie "You've Got Mail" when Meg Ryan helps out a book store clerk and a customer look for Noel Streatfeild's books. When I saw that movie years ago, I immediately got curious about these classic children's books and decided that I would read them.

And like Meg Ryan's character, my favorite is Ballet Shoes. It was published in 1936, and yet it's still as entertaining as ever. Very, very wholesome fun. It provides a much needed diversion after I've been re-reading the violent The Godfather these past few days.

The other books are quite good too. I'm still looking for Tennis Shoes though. I hope they have it in bookstores soon. The Shoes series are wonderful. If I had kids, these are the books that I would read to them every night.

Oh, by the way, Noel Streatfeild is a woman.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

What I'm reading in the last month of the year

Is it really the last month of the year? Ack! Where the hell did the time go?

Anyway, for December, I got inspired from the book club's theme for our annual Christmas party, which is Mario Puzo's The Godfather. The novel is actually one of my favorite books, as I fell in love with all the members of the Corleone family: brash Sonny, wimpy Fredo, smart Mike, and, of course, the godfather himself, Don Vito Corleone. I think there was a time when I wanted to join the mafia. They're so filthy rich, and so fashionable, and so kick ass (literally and figuratively).

But I know I'm romanticizing the mafiosi when I said that I want to be one of them. I can never be part of that. They may be rich but they get there by dirty deals, sometimes at the expense of human life. They may have all the money in the world, but all the world's governments are after them. They may be very influential, but the influence they exert is brought about by fear. They command loyalty, but only if it comes with a price.

That's why I recommend 2 books about the mafia in the modern world. These books are eye-openers, showing the reader just how brutal the underworld is. In Misha Glenny's McMafia, we get to read about the criminal underworld of today and how it plays a dirty role in global economics. It's not just about Italians this time; we now have Eastern Europeans and other nationalities who control prostitution, drug trade, and illegal arms. It's quite a scary read though, but the book's something that I would call "essential reading" for people who want to be in the know.

Another great read about the criminal underworld, which takes us back to Italy, is Roberto Saviano's criticall acclaimed work of nonfiction, Gomorrah. It focuses on a specific organization, the Camorra, a ruthless and powerful group. The book's an exposé of sorts about the shady business dealings of the Camorra, which resulted in several death threats to Saviano. Read it, read it, read it!

So December is totally mafia reading. And I leave you with my favorite line from "The Godfather" movie: Leave the gun, take the cannoli. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

I wish every day were Saturday

While I wasn't able to spend the full day last Saturday at the 3rd annual Philippine ReaderCon, I did manage to catch the late afternoon sessions, which were all about book clubs. It's the 1st time that I didn't play an active role at the ReaderCon. During the 1st year, I moderated one of the sessions on book clubs here in the country. Then last year, I headed the Registration Committee. This year though, there were just too many things on my plate.

Anyway, this year, I did make it in time for the book club's discussion of Neil Gaiman's Season of Mists, which is the 4th volume of the acclaimed Sandman series. There weren't that many participants this year as compared with the almost fully packed room last year, when we talked about Rafe Bartholomew's nonfiction book about basketball in the Philippines, Pacific Rims. It was still a lovely way to spend the Saturday afternoon though.

Also, there were still several booths set up by the book clubs featuring the wide array of books that they're recommending to readers. I did the usual rounds, picking up several of the lists and bookmarks along the way. Unfortunately, the bookmarks being given away by my book club ran out! Nevertheless, I ended up with lots and lots of bookmarks in my tote.

I also purchased a few books. I bought my very first Filipino chick lit novel, Mina V. Esguerra's My Imaginary Ex. Mina was actually there in her romance class booth, and I asked her which among her novels is a good place to start. But the ones that I was truly excited about is the series of comic books about crime-fighting call center agents, which were appropriately titled Crime-Fighting Call Center Agents. The first 4 issues are just so hilarious!

My ReaderCon loot
Bookmarks and reco lists! Woot woot!
Of course, the book club still didn't want to call it a day, even though the ReaderCon ended at around 5 pm. We ended up having dinner at a newly opened strip mall nearby. R.'s birthday was just next day, so I thought it would be the perfect time to surprise him with a simple birthday cake. It was a 5-layer chocolate cake! It was a very fun Saturday indeed.

So: ReaderCon, Sandman, bookmarks, new books, dinner with the book club, and a birthday cake. It was a great Saturday indeed.

R. was completely surprised with his birthday cake.
I'm giddily clapping as well. :-)
(Photo credit: Jan Ruiz)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


And I've finally read my first Lessing! Yes, it's taken me this long to read one of her novels. I was originally gunning for The Golden Notebook, but when I looked at how thick it is, I died. Twice. The Fifth Child, running no longer than 150 pages, was perfect.

What a beautifully creepy novel The Fifth Child is. The story is pretty much straightforward. A young couple, Harriet and David, decide to move to a house of hotel proportions and have one child after another. Harriet and David have never been financially stable and have relied on David's well-to-do father for support. Things seem to go well with the family until the fifth child, Ben, was born.

All right, maybe the problem didn't start at Ben's birth but during the time Harriet was still carrying him in her womb. Ben was a difficult baby. Harriet often had to take sedatives just to keep Ben quiet inside her. Ben does appear to be an unusually strong baby. When Ben was born, nothing could have prepared the family of the sight of Ben. Besides being unusually strong for his age, Ben seems to resemble a Neanderthal, a monster in his parents and siblings' eyes.

If the other 4 siblings grew up with the attention (if not the love) of their parents, Ben didn't. Everyone seems to be afraid of him. Who wouldn't? When a cat and a dog die from strangulation, everyone thinks that it was Ben. And this thinking seems to be rightly so. Ben appears to act based on very primal instincts: eating ravenously, hurting people who view him with revulsion, and basically not communicating with any of his family. Eventually, the family decide to put Ben to an institution, even though Harriet has always been dead set against it.

Harriet does get Ben back after making an unscheduled visit and discovering that he has been drugged, fitted in a straightjacket, and covered in his own excrement the whole time he was at the institution. Harriet really tries to love Ben as much as she does her other children. But Ben's monstrous appearance and his wild disposition prevent her from doing so. She had to resort to having the teenaged gardener, whom Ben seems to like, watch over her son. It becomes inevitable that Ben becomes part of the gang of teenagers who terrorize parts of England.

Lessing shows us how one child can tear a family apart. The rest of Ben's siblings all leave for boarding school, as if wanting to put as much distance between themselves and their youngest. Harriet and David's marriage is never the same when they had Ben. Their house, which seemed to be their one prized possession, is eventually sold. And Ben only considers his friends as his true family.

I loved The Fifth Child. It's a horror novel that works on so many levels. On one level we see the family dynamic when one aberrant person joins the group. On another level we read about the horrors that Ben was capable of when he was growing up. And yet on another level we imagine the terror that could still happen, terrors brought about by Ben and his loutish friends. It's also a heartbreaking novel of loss, frustration, and what could have been. Somehow, I felt bad for the couple. I can't  help but imagine how everything would've turned out for them if Ben hadn't been born.

Read this book if:
  1. You'll read anything that's won the Nobel.
  2. You like your horror "literary."
  3. You're the black sheep of the family.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Still here

Sorry, I've been really swamped the past few days. For the meantime, let's have something from George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. I give you a picture of Jon Snow with his new "direwolf."

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The stranger with the newspaper

Last Friday, while I was killing time in a doughnut shop having coffee and finally reading my first Doris Lessing, there was a stranger.

The stranger looked innocuous enough. All I noticed was that he was Caucasian, probably in his 50s, and reading The New York Times. I was seated next to him. After my initial glance, I hardly ever looked at him and delved straight into my newly purchased novel, Doris Lessing's The Fifth Child.

Now that novel. Pretty good. Short, very dark, great atmosphere of dread and menace. If half of her novels were as good as The Fifth Child, then I am sold. When a much lauded author dies whom I've never read, I feel that it becomes an "obligation" to rush immediately to the bookstore and get a copy of his or her book. Death really is a strong motivation.

Anyway, after an hour, the stranger got up to leave. Then I noticed him coming to my table. He said, "I noticed that you're reading Doris Lessing. I just want to give you this article. It's from today's paper."

What can one say in situations like this but "Thank you." Somehow adding "You shouldn't have" seems to go overboard. But yes, the stranger shouldn't have. He shouldn't have torn his paper for an article he wants to hand over to a total stranger. He shouldn't, but he did. I'm glad that he did. And that's why he made my day. Well, he and Doris Lessing. Her novel kicks ass.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Not enough to turn me into a fan

Still on a graphic novel reading spree. Haven't felt reading anything heavy on text because of all the things happening around lately. Proust's Swann's Way would still have to wait. Although I've given myself this month to finish that. But for now, Batman.

Now I must admit that I'm not really big on the Caped Crusader. I found the movies (the Burton, the Schumacher, the Nolan) just fairly enjoyable. The vintage TV series was campy at best. When you say Batman, I just think of the costumes. Tight costumes. As in really tight. So tight that they'll show nipples and abs. Nipples so perky that you think, gee, it's really cold outside.

I found Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth at a bookstore. I thought, what better way for my Batman-ignorant self to be acquainted with this superhero than this stand-alone graphic novel. It's the 15th anniversary edition no less. Besides, the story's written by Grant Morrison and the artworks by Dave McKean. The latter is of The Sandman series fame. Sold.

Okay, the story. Now I know why I've never been fond of Batman. The guy's got so many issues. Prick him and he bleeds paternity, identity, and security issues. Slap him and your hand would feel numb by his intense coldness. I never got into Batman's brooding nature. If I were a millionaire, brooding would be the last personality I would have. Anyway, the story concerns with the inmates taking hostage the staff of Arkham Asylum. Their demand is simple: Have Batman go to the asylum and make him be one of them. The asylum residents are of a different breed altogether. They're all the enemies of Batman including Joker, Two-Face, Mad Hatter, Scarecrow, Croc, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Then I was quite disappointed that there isn't much action in Arkham Asylum. There is plenty of talking though. And lots of panels showing the dark history of Arkham house and how Batman was lured into going there. Blah blah blah blah. And how is Batman released from the asylum? Well, by a simple coin toss. Yes, a coin toss that was probably rigged by Two-Face. Oh, Two-Face, you spoil all the fun. To think you were my favorite villain! You should've been more villain-y.

What I really liked about the graphic novel is the beautiful panels, which were paintings done by McKean. The panels were very gritty. And they did effectively show the themes of horror and psychological suspense. Even the typeface used for Joker's dialogue was very artistic. Just look at some of the panels below.

I'm not really sure if I'll be reading another Batman graphic novel soon. Perhaps I'll just wait for that Batman vs. Superman movie. Ben Affleck vs. Henry Cavill! If only they'd do away with the costumes, no?

Read this book if:
  1. You fall for these brooding characters.
  2. You love a guy in tight outfits.
  3. You have this crazy idea of putting all your ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends in one house and then just seeing what happens.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Feels like Star Wars, but it's nothing like it

I'm still reeling over Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples's Saga Volume 1. Really, it's the best graphic novel that I've read. Ever. And I thought that Vaughan topped himself with Y: The Last Man. I was wrong, but in a damn good way.

One of my favorite websites, io9, came up with a list of reasons why everyone should read Saga. They nailed it perfectly. The space operatic story, the nuanced characters, the exotic settings—everything worked beautifully. If you're not into graphic novels, Saga will win you over. It's that perfect example on how some stories can only be told in the graphic novel medium.

Saga is about star-crossed lovers. Alana, a soldier from the family Landfall, falls in love with Marko, a fighter from Landfall's only moon called Wreath. There's just one problem, a big one in fact: Landfall and Wreath have been at war with each other. The war has been going on for so long that they've now "outsourced" their fighting in other planets.

Of course, it doesn't help that the romance between Alana and Marko results in an offspring—a baby girl named Hazel who has Alana's wings and Marko's horns. Somehow, I felt that Vaughan alludes to angels and devils in characterizing the people of Landfall, who all have wings (reptilian and avian), and those of Wreath, who all have horns of different structures (some antler-, bull-, and deer-like). The Landfallen are experts at military weapons, so it seems, and the Wreath have the ability to do magic. So, yes, Saga effectively combines the tropes of science fiction and fantasy.

Then there are the other characters, which are just beautifully weird. Bounty hunters named The Will and The Stalk, both of which were hired by Wreath to kill Alana and Marko. The Stalk is actually half woman and half spider. Needless to say, she's scary as hell. And then there are the automatons, people with TV monitors for heads, who are allied with Landfall. If you think that's weird, wait until you get to the panels showing them having doggy-style sex or taking a dump. Then you've seen it all.

My favorite character would have to be The Will's companion, Lying Cat. It can tell whether a person is saying the truth or not. I wouldn't want it to be within 10 feet of me because, you know, lying . . . it's in my nature.

Don't you just love that face? Adorable.
I wonder what the toilet smells like.
Hazel is born.
The Stalk is so sexy.
Argh! How long will I have to wait for the series to finish? Volume 2 just came out this year, and I've already finished it. I can't get enough of Vaughan's gift of storytelling and Staples's talent for drawing. Saga is an edge-of-your-seat read, and it's my favorite read of the year so far.

Read this book if:
  1. You have the patience to wait for the next installment.
  2. You have a love-hate affair with Star Wars.
  3. You have a thing for star-crossed lovers.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A little bit of book thievery on a weeknight

One of my favorite young adult novels is Markus Zusak's I Am the Messenger. I guess this is why it took me this long to read his later (and more popular) work, The Book Thief. I thought that for all the hype The Book Thief got, it couldn't live up to the brilliance of I Am the Messenger. So when the book club decided to read TBT and have an unofficial discussion about it, I thought to myself that it's about time I get this book over with. Besides, the movie's coming out soon, right? And The Book Thief is that kind of book that everyone seems to like.

(I say "unofficial" because The Book Thief isn't really part of the book club's official roster of books to be discussed this year. So basically it just served as an excuse for us to read a book, gather around to talk about it, and talk about it over good food. Oh, and usually, unofficial discussions happen during a weeknight. But looking back, with the kind of preparation that went with it, i.e., the bookmarks, the loot bags, the carefully thought-of discussion questions, and the number of members who attended, the discussion might as well have been an official one. This "unofficial" thing would probably need another post.)

Anyway, the novel is really difficult not to like. Zusak has a character, 11-year-old Liesel Meminger, who comes of age during the turbulent period in Germany during World War II. She has communist parents, and she was set up for adoption by this German couple, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. You just know that things won't turn up all daisies and sunshine for the characters. How can it? You're in Nazi Germany. And add the fact that the couple and Liesel hide a Jew in their basement. There are air raids often, too. We just know how indiscriminate bombs are as killing tools.

As I said, The Book Thief is a novel that's so easy to like. I can list a few points why this is so. First, Liesel is a bibliophile. Well, she isn't technically one at the start of the novel. She didn't even know how to read. But when she does, she develops a passion for the printed word. So much this passion is that she sometimes resorts to stealing books.

The novel also has a very strong anti-war message. Yes, we've all read how war has devastating effects on the parties involved in one. But Zusak manages to show us how war can affect families. And that, sometimes, people are forced to do things just to survive during wartime. We read about how difficult it is to find food, to get paid work, and to feel safe. We learn how one act of compassion can be interpreted as being a traitor to the nation's cause. We see how families are oftentimes separated and displaced. We see how it's all terrible, and we are made to feel uncomfortable. There's no hint of romanticizing any of these unfortunate scenarios in Zusak's novel.

The Book Thief is also about keeping promises. Hans owes his life to a Jew who somehow saved him during the first world war. And that Jew's son, Max, goes to the Hubermann household to escape the Nazi persecution. Hans never thinks twice about helping the boy, even though he's putting himself and his family at risk.

There's a bit of a romance going on between Liesel and a golden-haired boy named Rudy Steiner. The scene where Liesel, now 14 years old, finally realizes that she loves Rudy so much is just heartbreaking. I've always thought about an alternate scenario wherein Liesel agrees to be kissed by Rudy at the start of the novel. But that would not show the funny and heartwarming dynamic between Liesel and Rudy when they were just friends. In the end, the shy, bookish, and obedient girl falls for the rebel.

Oh, and the novel is narrated by Death, and what a glorious narrator he is. The novel presents Death as someone just doing his job. The war has kept him busy, and he's just your everyday omniscient being going about his business. He can be funny, amoral, and very objective with the things going on around him. But sometimes, Death appears to be someone capable of feeling and states that, sometimes, humans confuse him. He oftentimes spills the beans early in the chapters (who will die, what will happen in the end, etc.) but I didn't really mind these spoilery bits. For me, it was all about the story—how it will unravel in the book's 500+ pages.

I like The Book Thief. I probably didn't like it as much other people did. I'd still recommend it to young adults and adults alike. There's something in it for everyone. I guess what turned me off a bit was the idea that the novel was trying to be a very dramatic work, one that sets out from the start to elicit tears in the reader. The novel succeeds on this aspect though, but I feel that some of the scenes border on the overly melodramatic.

Read this book if:
  1. You love YA historical fiction.
  2. You're both fascinated and horrified by this terrible period in our history.
  3. You know that there is indeed a being named Death.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Easy to swallow

I'm on a graphic novel binge. Probably as a result of my reading one Sandman collection after another. Ah, Sandman. It really never gets old. And I can't imagine the Sandman stories being told in another genre besides the graphic novel form.

I've just finished Chew Volume 1: Taster's Choice by John Layman and Rob Guillory, and I am hooked on this series. It's the kind of graphic novel with a premise so outrageous that it just works. Chew is my current guilty pleasure.

In the first volume, we meet Tony Chu, a detective who has just recently been recruited by the Special Crimes Division of the FDA. Tony Chu has a very unusual talent. He's a cibopathic, a person who sees in his mind impressions from the food he's just taken. If he eats an apple, he sees how and when it was harvested and who picked it. If he eats a burger, he gets glimpses on how the cow was slaughtered.

Chu's talent is so prized by the division because he can actually solve murders with it. But of course, it would mean having to take a bite of the dead person's body. Gross stuff, but so damn good. In Taster's Choice, we discover that the US is now at a time when eating farm-grown chicken has become illegal. Everyone has been reduced to eating the fake stuff. There's probably a conspiracy involved with this, but the first volume just hints at it. Something to discover in the next volumes.

I am loving Chew because of its humor. It's a graphic novel that doesn't take itself seriously. (How can you, with such an out-of-this-world story line?) Lots of jokes are scattered in the panels. And superb one-liners too! But make no mistake, Chew is still, at its core, a detective story. A very good hard-boiled one at that. And the twist at the end involving one of the main characters is one you don't really see coming. I'm so in.

Read this book if:
  1. You have strong feelings about your food.
  2. You wanna go vegan.
  3. Your instagram account is filled with pictures of food.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A to Z book survey

R.'s very artistic impression of KyusiReader
I like, like, like, like, like, like.
There's an ongoing very bookish survey that's been making the rounds of book blogs lately. Kaz's post at Books Anonymous inspired me to come up with my own answers to the survey. Really a great way to kill time just thinking of the answers.

Author you've read the most books from
Easy. Ian McEwan! I think I've read all of his books, except for his latest (Sweet Tooth). I particularly like his short story collections entitled In Between the Sheets and First Love, Last Rites. Among his novels, I am quite fond of The Innocent.

Best sequel ever
Not really a fan of sequels. Based on experience, sequels rarely live up to the promise of the first. I just recently read the 2nd book of Leigh Bardugo's Grisha Trilogy entitled Siege and Storm. I liked it better than the first book.

Currently reading
Reading 3 books as of the moment. Markus Zusak's The Book Thief for the book club's unofficial discussion. Neil Gaiman's Brief Lives, the 5th volume of The Sandman series. Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, because I really loved The Secret History and The Little Friend.

Drink of choice while reading
None. I suck at multitasking.

E-reader of physical book
Ah, the inevitable question, which I'm now getting tired of answering. Paper still rules.

Fictional character you probably would have dated in high school
Hmmm... Robb Stark of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. Or Khal Drogo. Or Jon Snow. Or Renly Baratheon. Heck, even Tyrion Lannister. Yes, would totally date him. Or his brother, Jaime Lannister.

Glad you gave this book a chance
Neil Gaiman's Fable and Reflections. A gift from R. actually. It totally changed my perspective on graphic novels.

Hidden gem book
Probably any of the titles published by the New York Review of Books. NYRB is my book porn. I loved Alberto Moravia's Contempt and Glenway Wescott's Apartment in Athens, and John Williams's Stoner.

Important moment in your reading life
Reading Halldór Laxness's Independent People in 1994. It made me realize that there are many wonderful books outside of the US and the UK. Never knew that I would dig a novel from Iceland.

Just finished
Neil Gaiman's Season of Mists, the 4th volume of The Sandman series. Just in time for the discussion this Saturday.

Kinds of books you won't read
Oy! I'll read anything.

Longest book you've read
Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. Or David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. Or Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. Or the complete Gossip Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar.

Major book hangover because of
Gary Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars, which was a Newbery honor book. It was funny, heartbreaking, and filled with joy and hope. I remember telling my friends to read it. And I kept thinking about the book for several days after finishing it.

Number of bookcases I own
Just 2 actually. Well, those 2 run the entire length of my room.

One book read multiple times
Not really a big fan of rereading. But when I was a kid, I read over and over Nick Joaquin's collection of children's stories entitled Pop Stories for Groovy Kids (Green Edition). He's still my favorite Filipino author. And each book in the collection was just beautiful. I remember the books being larger than A4 size, having thick paper, and filled with gorgeous paintings as illustrations. I spent several afternoons reading and rereading the books in this collection.

Preferred place to read
I'm not choosy. Just as long as there's complete silence.

Quote that inspires you or give you all the feel from the book you read
David Levithan's Boy Meets Boy has several wonderful quotes. But my favorite would have to be this:
I find my greatest strength in wanting to be strong. I find my greatest bravery in deciding to be brave. I don't know if I've ever realized it before. . . I think we both realize it now. If there's no feeling of fear, then there's no need for courage.
Reading regret
None. Life's too short enough as it is. I'd rather read.

Series you started and need to finish
I can think of a lot. Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time (which is probably just one long novel divided into several books). Also Tove Jansson's Moomin books and the Moomin comic strips. Yukio Mishima's Sea of Fertility.

Three of your all-time favorite books
Robert Graves's I, Claudius. Halldór Laxness's Independent People. Hendrik Willem Van Loon's The Story of Mankind, which incidentally is the first novel to be awarded the Newbery.

Unapologetic fanboy for
George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. I love everything about it—the books, the TV series, the toys, the merchandise, the fandom. I can't get enough.

Very excited about this release more than all others
Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. Could a novelist be so un-prolific? Just 3 novels in a span of 21 years! Seriously, that's like 10 years between novels. Can't complain though, all her novels are really very good.

Worst bookish habit
Impulsive book buying

What?! No question starting with X? Boo.

Your latest book purchase
Volumes 1 and 2 of Brian K. Vaughan's Saga. Because after reading his brilliant Y: The Last Man graphic novels, I've made it a vow to read everything he wrote and will be writing.

ZZZ-snatcher book (the last book that kept you awake)
I have to confess—I go to be really early. It takes a huge effort just to keep my eyes open beyond 10 pm. Anyway, Stephen King's Night Shift (one of the very few instances I reread) kept me past my bedtime. Creepy short stories.

That's it. Quite fun to answer actually. Made me pause for a few minutes to think of answers for some. Now back to reading. Till the next post, dear readers!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Fantastic storytelling

Ten years ago, I wouldn't find myself near a graphic novel. Those things are trashy and people who read and buy them should be looked down on. Pictures, panels, speech bubbles—these are not the elements of good literature. Yes, middle class Filipinos believed this horse shit. So for 3 decades, most of my reading consisted of books that just have text.

Enter Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, and everything I knew about the graphic novel genre would be strewn to the floor. In other words, I bit the dust. When I read the first page of my first Sandman compilation, I was like, "How come I'm reading this wonderful 'horse shit' only now? What glorious horse shit this is!"

It was my good friend R. who gave me my first Sandman compilation—Fables & Reflections, the 6th volume of the series. It's still my favorite volume, coincidentally. S far, I have 6 of the 12 volumes. Still a long way to go. And still many times in the future wherein I'd empty my wallet. Those graphic novels, they're just too damn expensive.

I've grown to the love the mystical world of the Endless: Morpheus (Dream) and his 6 six siblings (Destiny, Death, Delirium, Destruction, Despair, and Desire). The stories in The Sandman are a combination of horror, mystery, and fantasy. Fantastic storytelling, I tell you, dear reader. And one that you'd like to return to every now and then.

Our book for this month at the book club is actually the 4th volume, Season of Mists. It's a very dark read, and it's heavy on mythology. You'd get to meet Bast, Thor, Odin, the Japanese god of storms, faeries, fallen angels, and even Lucifer himself. You can't go wrong with these characters, right? More so if you find out that Lucifer has called it quits and has turned over the keys of hell to you.

Jon Snow: Who is the Sandman? What sorcery is this?
Me: You know nothing, Jon Snow.
How very timely to be reading The Sandman now! Gaiman has come up with a 6-issue bimonthly miniseries of a Sandman prequel. Woot woot! The first issue's just been released last 30 October, and I've been itching to get my hands on one. Finally, last Saturday I was able to get a copy. I could die now. Well, at least after I've read the 6th issue.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Filipino Friday 2013 #4: Going digital

It's Filipino Friday again, dear readers, the weekly meme in line for this year, Filipino ReaderCon. This year's ReaderCon is just a few days away, so better clear up your calendars!

This week, it's all about reading books in other formats. Hmmmm. . . Tough. I love paper too much. I love touching it, smelling it, and even tasting it. I haven't read any books outside work that are in electronic format. The though of reading an ebook gives me goosebumps. Anyway, let's proceed with this week's Filipino Friday questions.

Do you read (or have at least tried to read) books in other formats aside from print?
I'll say it upfront—my preferred format has always been print. And my favorite print format is the hardback. I don't care that hardbacks take too much shelf space. When someone mentions a book, my mental image of it has always been a hardback.

But other than print, the only format that I've tried is audiobooks. Ebooks? I'd rather die.

How was your experience with this different book formats?
I've grown to love audiobooks. Listening to an audiobook takes longer than reading the print version though, but the experience is totally different. Listening to an audiobook is like hearing a musical performance, especially if the narrator has a dramatic voice.

I've read lots of audiobooks through the years. My favorite ones, interestingly enough, are those read by the authors themselves. I finished David Sedaris's When You Are Engulfed in Flames and Naked in audiobook format. Hearing Sedaris's squeaky voice just made the essays funnier.

Neil Gaiman is a wonderful narrator too. I finished the audiobooks of his Anansi Boys and Neverwhere.   And Chelsea Handler too! Handler's dead pan narration of her hilarious sexual escapades were a riot to listen to in My Horizontal Life and Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea.

So that's it! Not much variation in reading formats for old KyusiReader. It's like 99.99% print and 0.01% audiobooks. Still, I enjoy "reading" both. I guess I should find more audiobooks to go through, yes? And they do make the terrible commute just a little bit bearable.


Join us next Saturday, 09 November, at the Rizal Library of the Ateneo De Manila University for the 3rd annual Filipino ReaderCon.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

POPtastik Pinoy!

There's a wonderful event happening in the metro on November 15. It's POPtastik Pinoy! During that event, we'll celebrate Philippine pop culture in literature, film, and comics.

POPtastik Pinoy! is a collaboration of the National Book Development Board, the Filipinas Heritage Library, and the Ayala Museum. It actually is part of a much larger event--the 4th Philippine International Literary Festival. And this year's exciting theme is Text and the City.

So what's in store for everyone who shows up? Just take a look at the events lined up for POPtastik Pinoy! participants. It looks like a full day of folklore, pop lit, comic books, and writing!

I'm particularly interested in City Fiction 100: A Fiction Writing Masterclass. That event is open to both professional and budding writers. All you need to do is submit your works of flash fiction saved in .doc format to Camille Dela Rosa (cvdelarosa@nbdb.gov.ph) and Verne Ahyong (litfest@filipinaslibrary.org.ph). They allow multiple entries! Your email must have the subject heading “City Fiction 100 Entry,” and include your full name, cellular phone number, and short bio (3-4 sentences only). They'll be having just 25 slots for this class, and the deadline for submission is on 2013 November 8.

See you on the 15th of November, dear readers! I just know it's going to be a blast.


POPtastik Pinoy! is supported by Ayala Malls, GMA Network, Brother Philippines Inc., Intercontinental Hotel, the Book Development Association of the Philippines, the Korea Copyright Commission, Fully Booked, and McDonald’s. For inquiries, contact Verne Ahyong at the Ayala Museum at 759-8288 local 46 or ahyong.vy@ayalafoundation.org. To register, call Marj Villaflores at 759-8288 local 25, or email litfest@filipinaslibrary.org.ph.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The book club works the night shift

So I just finished moderating the discussion for this month over at the book club. I co-moderated Stephen King's Night Shift discussion with R., who had all these great ideas to make the discussion a little different. And let me just say this—it was just so much fun to organize!

Of course, we went a little crazy. Filled up all the loot bags with candy and other knick knacks such as notebooks, toy rats, mini skeletons. Had 20 designs for the bookmarks. Had matching shirts made for the discussion. Sometimes, my OC self could not handle it!

The venue was a little bit unconventional. We rented this old house, the Thelmo ancestral house in Manila, to add a creepy vibe to the discussion. And we chose to hold the discussion late in the afternoon, around 5.30 pm, so that we'd spend the early evening hours at the house.

I think the members of the book club, the Flippers, enjoyed it! Thank goodness! They better! After all the months of preparation, the copious notes that we wrote, the game that we had at the opening, etc., I would die if it didn't turn out the way we planned.

Anyway, here are some of the pictures taken during the discussion, which I'd like to share with you, dear reader. These were taken by R., who was shuffling between the roles of being photographer and moderator.

The T-shirt design
R. tried to incorporate as many elements of Night Shift into the design
We had 4 T-shirts printed: 2 for us, 1 for Mitch (who helped us with the venue)
and 1 for the winner of the best in costume, even though costumes were optional
Food was potluck.
Here's Marie doing the finishing touches for her lemon squares.
Her lemon squares were actually round. Hehehe. But they were delicious!
Marie also helped out tidy the place. Thanks, Marie!
A corner of the old house
The old paintings of the Thelmo family added a very vintage touch.
And they were really creepy, in a wonderful way.
We started with an early dinner at 5.30 pm.
And knowing the Flippers, the food was just overflowing!
There were pies, chips, baked mussels, noodles, spring rolls, donuts, and more!
I guess a Flipper's biggest fear is to go hungry.
R. hamming it up with this prop.
For the life of me, I can't figure out the pop culture reference!
And look at the shirt!
After dinner, we proceeded to talk about the horror genre in general.
And then we had a quick game about the stories in Night Shift.
There were 4 teams which I designated as follows:
the rats, the worms, the children of the corn, and the quitters.
Then we went to the basement for another part of the discussion.
Here we talked about one aspect of horror in Night Shift that focused on the everyday:
suicide, deadly bets, serial killers, disease.
Oh, the house's caretaker shared something frightening with us.
She can sometimes here children in the empty basement!
Then we went to the house's courtyard. I think it was already past 7 pm.
Here we talked about King's supernatural horror,
the kind involving monsters, vampires, and what-have-you.
We also talked about 2 stories in Night Shift that were not specifically horror.
We held the last part of the discussion in another living room of the house.
I guess you can call it the parlor. (Who has a parlor these days?)
We asked the members to rate the book from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest.
Judging from the scores they gave, most of them liked the book! Woot!
I counted 23 happy participants! Yay!
The last time R. and I moderated separately, we had 30+ attendees each.
This time, to control the number, we chose to make it an invite-only event.
I saw these cookies at a cake shop near my office.
And right there, I just knew that we should have them in our loot bags.
They taste great too!
Besides, who doesn't like cookies?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

10 things to expect when reading Stephen King

  1. There's gonna be weird sex. Consensual and otherwise. Of all shapes and sizes. And it'll all be in your face.
  2. It's all about the character. A lot of people say that it's the plot. Yes, the plot is good, but King's characters are the ones that have you keep on turning the page.
  3. Suspend your disbelief, starting at page 1. Possessed automobiles and laundry machines running down the street? Check. 
  4. A good number of King's greatest protagonists are teachers and writers, two groups of people I can totally relate to. And also drunks.
  5. His vampires give off the foulest stench. No sparkly vampires with impeccable fashion sense. King's vampires are, appropriately, bad asses.
  6. It's impossible to read just one page. 
  7. You'll be disappointed with most of the TV and movie adaptations. Kubrick's "The Shining" is quite good though, but it somehow deviates from most of the story lines in the novel. 
  8. You'll get bigger biceps after finishing the novel. The Stand, Under the Dome, It, Tommyknockers, and 11/22/63 are at least 800 pages each. Try fitting all these novels in your bag.
  9. Crazy, totally fucked-up endings. And monsters who are complete assholes. And indiscriminate violence.
  10. Basically, a good old time. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

The book that started my love of the horror novel

During my first year of high school, I found myself in the library with a few minutes of spare time. I was browsing my high school library's bookshelves when a book's cover caught my attention. When a cover shows a partially bandaged hand with human eyes growing on it, you'd also be curious, yes?

Anyway, I ended up loaning the book from the library. When I got home, I remember plunking down on my bed, turning on the first page, and then closing the book at around 3 am in the morning. Yes, I read all the stories in one night, and that night would start my reading love affair with Stephen King.

I never looked back after reading Night Shift. I read one Stephen King work after another. And I think, at that time, I loved them all. No matter how cheesy the story lines can get, I devoured the book with a passion. The haunted car in Christine might be a bit comedic when you read it now, but in my teenage years, I was scared by the idea. The aliens in Tommyknockers? They creeped me out. Same thing with the clown in It. Cujo made me feaful of dogs for a short period. And when we checked into a hotel, I'm reminded of the twins in The Shining. Salem's Lot was my first ever vampire novel. In a way, that book was to blame for my pretty high standards for anything with vampires.

King also showed me that he can dabble in high fantasy too. The Eyes of the Dragon is one of my favorite King works. And I've read the first 3 books of his The Gunslinger series, which felt uneven. I guess it was with this series that made me realize that I've outgrown King, and that it was time to read other novels, horror and otherwise.

Because of my love for King, I eventually ended up reading Clive Barker and Peter Straub. Though both are not as prolific as King, I have a few Barker and Straub books that I particularly enjoyed. Peter Straub's Ghost Story introduced me to the Gothic tradition. And I still recall how I was floored after reading Shadowland, which is still my favorite Straub novel. As for Barker, reading him exposed to all things weird. My favorite Barker works are Imajica and Weaveworld. His Books of Blood? Possibly the best horror collection of short stories ever.

I'm glad that I started with Night Shift. It's a good place to begin one's journey to the many wonderful aspects of the horror novel. Horror isn't just about monsters, and vampires, and things rising from the dead. It's also about the everyday things that can take a horrific turn. It's about your sick relative, dying of cancer and forcing you to make a tough decision. It's your friend who goes through hell and back just to be rid of an addiction. It's about that quiet man in the corner who could possibly be the serial killer the police is looking for.

It's been a while since I read King. Last weekend, I finished rereading Night Shift in time for the book discussion this coming Saturday. 26 years ago, I read it in white heat. This time, I savored it, enjoying King's gift of characterization and envying him for his talent for description. It made me miss spending a cold night reading a King novel.

I think I stopped reading King after the mess that is Rose Madder and the inferiority of Nightmares and Dreamscapes as compared with other superb collections. Perhaps it's about time I do a bit of catching up. With his unbelievably prodigious ouput, I have my work cut out for me.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Filipino Friday 2013 #2: Kids and books

It's Filipino Friday once again, dear readers. This week, we're talking about children's books. I love children's books, despite being almost 40. They make me feel oh so young. And children's books, with their straightforward storytelling style and uncluttered dialogue, are the perfect books to read when you're in-between adult novels. Sort of a palate cleanser. Like lemon sorbet. And I love all things lemony.

So let's get on with the questions, shall we?

What were your favorite books as a kid?
I was a voracious reader when I was a kid. My parents told me that I started reading when I was 4. And since then, I have never looked back. I was one of those geeky kids who didn't throw a tantrum if I were given a book as a present.

Some of the children's books that became my favorite were the Bobbsey Twins mysteries by Laura Lee Hope and the Choose Your Own Adventure books. I couldn't get enough of them! I remember borrowing most of the Bobbsey Twins books from my grade school library.

The Bobbsey Twins and the Doodlebug Mystery was the first book in the series that I read.
As far as I recall, it was my favorite among the lot.
At one point, I think I must have had 20 of these.
Unfortunately, they were all lost when we moved house.
Do you still read children's books?
Well, I read almost anything, so yes, I still read children's books. In fact, I don't think there's a month that goes by without me not reading a children's book. They're quick reads, yes? And the children's books that I've finished recently have been very rewarding reads.

The more recent children's books that I've finished that I really, really liked include Wonder by R. J. Palacio and the Newbery-winning novels Moon Over Manifest by Claire Vanderpool and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I have yet to read a Newbery book that I don't like.

Recently, I discovered the joys of reading the Moomin books by Tove Jansson. The adventures of the Moomin family and their friends are terribly fun. Very wholesome but entertaining reads. If you read closely, they can get very philosophical too. It's no wonder that that Jansson (1914-2001), who was from Finland, became one of our greatest children's books author and illustrator.

Some of my Moomin novels
I believe there are 9 in all. 
The collected Moomin cartoon strips are also quite fun to read.
If you would give a book to your younger self, what would it be?
Hmmm. . . Tough question. I can't really decide which. There are just too many! Well, probably any book by Meindert DeJong. Last year, I read his The Wheel on the School and I found it quite heartwarming. It was still very relevant, even though it was first published in 1955.

But really, I don't think my younger self would be that choosy when it comes to books. I think he would have read any book thrown his way. It would be years before that kid would grow up and become more discriminating with his reading tastes. And he'd go through a Stephen King phase, a Jackie Collins phase, an Agatha Christie phase along the way.

So that's my 2nd Filipino Friday entry, dear readers. I'd love to hear about your favorite children's books too.

Oh, and if you're free on Saturday, 9 November, do drop by at the ReaderCon at the Rizal Library of Ateneo de Manila. It'll be a unique experience, especially if you love books and reading.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Paper before celluloid

If there's another thing that I love besides books, it would have to be movies. I can sit my big fat ass in front of the TV and just watch one movie after the other. TV shows are great too, especially "American Horror Story" and "Downton Abbey." But TV shows are barely seldom based on books. Which gets me to the topic of this post—movies based on books.

I know, I know—one should not compare movies based on books. They use, after all, completely different media to convey their message. Books fuel the imagination. Movies do that too. But after having seen "Transformers" (all 3 movies), I think that some film directors just want to mess up with our minds.

Getting out of a "Transformers" movie, or any of those big-budgeted summer films for that matter, feels like getting assaulted. One just wants to retreat to a quiet corner and purge out the harrowing experience by reading Henry James. Or Edith Wharton. Or E. M. Forster. Or any classical novelist where all the characters do is just think and don't talk about what needs to be said. Silence, tea, and things left unsaid—bliss.

Right now, I'm thinking of books that have been adapted to movies and how I really feel about them. There's "The Woman in Black" starring Daniel Radcliffe. Movie was scary, but really not at all as creepy as the book. The novel by Susan Hill was so thick with atmosphere that you can cut it with a knife. The movie just showed that Radcliffe can do a non-Harry Potter role.

Movies based on Stephen King's novels are a hit and miss. Kubrick's "The Shining" was phenomenal, but it did veer away significantly from the novel. In the novel, The Overlook Hotel was almost character, a living evil entity. The movie just made it a setting. I've seen 2 adaptations of Carrie, and none still has the intensity of the novel. But, Sissy Spacek—she looks really terrifying covered in pig's blood. And that's the only thing great about the movie.

However, I do recall two big screen adaptations that I liked. "The Heart of the Matter" with Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore, and Stephen Rea was beautiful. The film did capture the essence of Graham Greene's novel, which had something to do with God and His intervening ways. Another is "Atonement," which is based on Ian McEwan's Booker-shortlisted novel of the same title. Hmmm. . . I seem to like dramas set in WWII. Whatever.

Other than those two, I think that movies based on books seldom do justice to the original material at all. The Golden Compass movie was absolute crap. Not one of the Narnia movies is as entertaining as the books. The movie "Where the Wild Things Are" just felt too weird. De Bernieres's humor in his novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin was lost in the movie.

When I found out that they're turning Markus Zusak's novel, The Book Thief, into a movie and that it's soon to be shown this year, I decide to go on the offensive and just finally read this doorstop. I've been putting it off for far too long, it seems. I love Zusak. His I Am the Messenger is one of my favorite YA novels. Thus, reading The Book Thief comes with expectations. My only wish? That the movie ain't gonna be crappy.