Thursday, January 31, 2013

Happy 4th!

This blog celebrates its 4th anniversary tomorrow! Has it been really 1,461 days and 530 posts since I started KyusiReader? It doesn't feel like it. Honestly, it feels longer. I think of my reading life now as being divided into two main time periods: before and after the blog.

There are days though when I feel that I should just stop blogging and just read and read and read. It's nice to go offline every now and then, no? Then there are times when I just have to share my thoughts about what I'm reading, and that's when I make the posts.

I can still recall the circumstances of why I started blogging. I was bored to death. And since Blogger was a free service, I thought, why the heck not? I never thought for a second that other people would be interested to read about my boring musings about books and reading.

So happy anniversary to you, my beloved online repository of my random book-ish thoughts. And thank you, dear reader, for the wonderful 4 years. It's been one great blogging experience after another.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Wherein we discuss our best and worst reads for 2012

Last weekend, the book club members gathered once again for our annual discussion of our best and worst reads for 2012. It was a beautiful Saturday: the weather fine, the food sumptuous and plentiful, the conversation engaging, and the company perfect.

The best and worst discussion has always been interesting. It's like a show-and-tell activity, wherein we go around the group, asking each member to talk about his or her best and worst read for the past year. Yes, it's always interesting but never awkward, even though one's best read may turn out to be another's worst, which happened this year.

This year, 25 of us showed up for the discussion. And there were quite a few surprises. One, there were a few who picked Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game as their best. Another, a few gasps were heard when somebody mentioned Eat, Pray, Love as her best read. This somehow led to a lively conversation on how timing can be a big factor when choosing our favorite reads. We may be at a particular point in our lives when we find ourselves totally relating to a specific book and ultimately liking it.

Someone wrote all our best reads on a board. After everyone has had his or her turn, we were then asked to choose 3 books that interest us the most. These may be the books that we would want to read after hearing another person's thoughts about them. Results are shown below.

The winner, Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists, got 9 votes. I read this one, and I agree! It's one darn good novel told in stories. My best read, Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles, was tied for 2nd with The Night Circus, which I've also read and enjoyed. My best read got 8 votes! Woot!

So now the book club has formally bid farewell to the wonderfully book-ish year of 2012. We're now all set for 2013! And this year, I'm co-moderating a discussion with R. We're tackling Stephen King's Night Shift in October.

And what was that book that most of us chose as our worst read? Well, the Fifty Shades trilogy! Sex sells, but apparently, Flippers weren't sold on the trilogy. One member did pick the trilogy as her best read though.

For a full listing of the best and worst reads of the book club, click here. And, as always, I'd like to thank R. for the awesome photos during the event.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Po-tay-to, po-tah-to

January is almost at an end, and so far, I've read a measly 4 books. It's been slow going for me in terms of reading lately. However, unlike most people, I'm not bothered by it, well, at least not yet.

I know I'll get the reading groove back, my reading mojo, my intoxicating paper cocktail. But don't get me wrong; I'm still reading though. In fact, I'm still on track for our read-along for Haruki Murakami's 1Q84. And just to challenge myself further, I made my first book purchase for the year: George Orwell's 1984. Perhaps I can find the connection between these two novels.

Of course, it would be futile to compare these 2 works, I think. It just so happened that one inspired the other. So right now, I'll be going to bed with these 2 books. I wonder which of the 2 will be the more satisfying companion in bed. Hihihihihi.

I am enjoying the slow reading life. I wouldn't want reading to be something I'd feel stressed about. If I don't feel like reading, then I won't force myself to open a book. I'd rather sleep. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My other obsession

I can't get enough of paper. I need paper in a way that I need air and food. Come to think of it, I may have a paper fetish. Kinky!

So my other obsession, aside from books, also has something to do with paper. It's those gorgeous Moleskine notebooks.

As you can see, I'm partial to black. But this year, they came out with different colors for their planners. I did wish that they came out with an orange one. I would've loved that.

Now if only these notebooks weren't so pricey. If they were reasonably priced, I would use them for their actual purpose. As it is, I just write my name on the first page. That's about the only ink that will get on these pages.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Book > stage > movie

Yesterday, I finally saw the movie version of the musical based on Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables. All I can say was that it was, ummm, good but a bit underwelming. (Now I have to hide from my friends who really, really love the movie. I fear for my safety.)

What I can remember from the movie are the extremely tight shots of the actors while they're singing. You can really see the snot from their noises while they're crying and singing at the same time. And yes, Amanda Seyfried (Cosette) has no pores whatsoever, and Eddie Redmayne (Marius) has 1,697 freckles.

Somehow, seeing the movie recently made me want to listen again to a recording of the musical. Finally, songs from people who can actually sing! 

And the movie did inspire me to look for my copy of Les Misérables, which I've read almost 20 years ago. I did find it, and I was aghast about its condition. Yellowing pages, foxing everywhere, silverfish feasting on its paper. It was almost crumbling when I handled it.

Anyway, I do remember enjoying this novel when I read it during one summer when I was still in college. It's very melodramatic though. And it's très depressing. Apparently, French people living during that time had no joie de vivre. You can't blame them though. You can smell the stink and taste the poverty and misfortune of these unfortunate characters.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Life with pie

When your parents name you Tulip, would you have your name changed? That's exactly what our character in Joan Bauer's novel, Hope Was Here, did. So, our Tulip is now known as Hope, a name that's quite ominous in this wonderful young adult novel.

Hope Was Here may probably seem to be a novel that wants to say a lot of things. There's the story about Hope and her aunt Addie who move from New York City to work in a diner in a small town in Wisconsin. There's another story about the owner of that diner who decides to run for mayor, never mind that he's been diagnosed with cancer. Another story delves into the corrupt politics of that Wisconsin town. And yet another is a coming-of-age of sorts for Hope as she realizes her worth.

I do believe that, despite these many story lines, Bauer's novel is just about one thing, and that's having hope. That message comes across clearly in every page of the novel.

There are also lots of characters that readers may feel very emphatic about. Of course, my favorite is Hope, who appears to be quite cynical at first but learns to accept that everything may not turn out well. Her aunt Addie is a character one can easily relate with. We all have our Addie, that adult who seems to have our backs every time we falter. It also helps that Addie makes a mean pie and lots of delicious comfort food. Bauer's description of the food they serve in the diner makes one salivate. Here are a few:
  • Stuffed pork tenderloin with apricots
  • Country meatloaf with garlic mashed potatoes
  • Deep dish apple pie with cinnamon ice cream
  • Brown sugar pecan pancakes
  • Split pea soup with ham chunks and garlic butter croutons
  • Grilled Swiss cheese on seven-grain bread with sliced tomatoes
I can see why this novel received lots of critical acclaim (a Newbery honor, an ALA notable book, an ALA BBYA). It's hard to find something not to love in Bauer's story. Hope doesn't go overboard with her angst. The romance between Hope and her co-worker in the diner doesn't seem forced. Even the way the novel ended is bittersweet, which I feel makes the novel very grounded.

I've always seen Bauer's books in bookstores but have been very hesitant in picking up one. I'm so glad I did though! Hope Was Here is one fine novel. It's a novel that you'll be pushing to your friends, especially to those who, for whatever reason, have become pessimistic, cynical, and unhappy.

Read this book if:
  1. You've always wanted to have your name changed.
  2. You miss eating at a diner.
  3. You know how important it is to always be hopeful.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The bookshelf project #41

And we have our first set of bookshelf pictures for 2013! Woot woot! These awesome pictures come from a blog reader named Jon. Let's look closely at Jon's shelves, shall we?

The 2 pictures below are bookshelves made out of bricks! How cool is that? I think they're very utilitarian (and I imagine sturdy), and Jon mentioned that these were quite cheap to make.

Brick lovin'
More brick lovin'
Jon is big on chess. He has a whole bookcase devoted to this fine sport. (Wait, chess is a sport, right?) I remember my dad having lots and lots of chess books too.

Jon's chess books somehow inspire me to
take up chess again as a hobby.
Below is a picture showing most of Jon's books. Topmost books are on poker. Below that, 2 rows of classics follow. In the left bookshelf are mostly nonfiction titles (e.g., science, history, and general knowledge).

The uber-thick book at the leftmost corner is
The Complete Illustrated Shakespeare
edited by Howard Staunton and illustrated by Sir John Gilbert.
Jon's cozy corner
If you look closely, the web page shown
on the monitor is KyusiReader!
Thank you, Jon, for sending these pictures. I hope you're having a wonderful start to 2013 in terms of reading!

Friday, January 11, 2013

In 14th century England

Historical novels written for children and young adults are tricky. At times, they feel like history textbooks, wearily feeding their readers with large helpings of historical facts. Sometimes, history is used simply as a vehicle, providing the right time and place for the events to unfold. Thankfully, Avi's Crispin: The Cross of Lead is the latter. It's a beautiful children's story set in 14th century England.

However, I do feel that I'm just tasting a dish I've been served before, instead of being offered with an exciting novelty that assault my senses. Our main character, Avi, becomes an orphan and is accused of stealing. He is advised by the village priest to run away to England's more prosperous cities. Along the way, he meets Bear, who teaches him the art of performing to a crowd.

It's not Avi who manages to get my empathy in this novel. Rather, it is Bear who becomes the character you root for. Underneath the big frame is a man who believes in an England free from the corrupt feudal systems that plague it. Of course, Avi becomes an unwitting member of this rebellion as well. And it turns out that he's more than just your poor orphan; he has noble blood and an heir.

At its heart, Crispin: The Cross of Lead is an adventure story set in a historical context. But Avi does not people his Newbery-winning work with actual historical figures. In fact, there's just one: John Ball, one of the leaders of the revolt of the peasants, and his role isn't even a major one in the novel. The story is still Crispin's and Bear's.

One of the things that I love about children's books is the straightforward narrative and the crisp writing. While I do appreciate novels that "push the envelope" in terms of literary style, I keep coming back to books for children and young adults because of the elegant stories. Crispin: The Cross of Lead is one such book. From page 1, it's an adventure until you flip the last page.

Read this book if:
  1. You like historical fiction.
  2. You'll read anything that won a Newbery.
  3. You're a sucker for people known by one names only (e.g., Avi).

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Merrily as we read along

Ah, doorstops. Somehow, just looking at these uber-thick books is enough to cause indigestion. Also, there's the inconvenience of lugging them around.

Somehow, going through a doorstop with a bunch of like-minded individuals might be the solution. There's the added pressure of keeping with the schedule. Plus, the conscious effort to read the book thoroughly becomes imperative, since we'd be replying to one another's questions regarding the book.

This year, I organized a read-along of Haruki Murakami's 1Q84. I've always been curious about this novel and wondered if it would live up to its hype. I'm no stranger to Murakami; The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (also a doorstop) is one of my favorite novels. But it's been years since I last read any of his works. The read-along would provide me with the perfect opportunity to reconnect with this much beloved author.

As of now, there'll be 15 of us who will read all 1,000+ pages of 1Q84. I would like to there there'll be no fall-outs, but we know that life sometimes gets in the way with reading, no? So there'll be no worries if a couple of us wouldn't be able to see the book till its end. We know that there'll be a next time.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

I enjoyed the hunt

Every year, as soon as the book club finalizes its list of books of the month for the next year, I go on a hunt. A couple of months ago, I barely had half of the books for 2013. But this week, I managed to find the final book in the lineup. Woot!

Tra la la!

This year has been particularly challenging. First was the Vonnegut. I called up every bookstore in the country to find out that The Sirens of Titan is out of stock. So I asked my officemate to get it for me from Kinokuniya in Singapore. Then after a few weeks, the same novel shows up in bookstores here in the metro! Twilight Zone stuff, I think.

Then there's Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Lots of mass market paperbacks around, yes. But this is translated work, and the fact that the translators aren't credited in these widely available editions somehow leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

So I was determined to get the award-winning translation of Crime and Punishment by Pevear and Volokhonsky. On the last day of the year, while my mom and I came from the moviehouse, I checked out the bargain bin of the mall's bookstore, which isn't really known for good inventory. But, my goodness, there was the book, with its cover in blood red, screaming at me to get it!

I do would like to get a trade paperback of Stephen King's Night Shift though. The one that I have is almost 20 years old, and I think it'll fall to pieces when I open it. Mass market paperbacks are well and good for travel, but the trade off is that they don't really last long.

How I managed to get a copy of Talking to Girls about Duran Duran is pretty interesting. I called up my favorite bookstore and was informed that their last copy was in a province that's a 1-hour plane ride away from Manila. Good thing that I've a friend there who bought the book for me and kindly shipped it to my home. However, like the scenario with The Sirens of Titan, as soon as my friend bought the copy, I saw paperback editions in the same bookstore after a few days. Universe, why are you taunting me?! But I couldn't complain though, as I got the hardback.

If you want to find out more about which books will be featured each month in our book club, check out my initial post here. And if you have nothing to do during the 3rd or 4th Saturdays of the month and you're in the metro, then why not join us. We don't bite, at least not the newbies.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Underneath the sheltering sky

My first read for the year turned out to be a very interesting but entertaining read. It's the hypnotic novel, The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles. First published in 1949, the novel has always remained in print.

A lot has been said about this novel, with some people calling it heavy on the theme of existential alienation. Others would label it as a "quiet adventure" of sorts. I found it hard to describe the novel really, much less encapsulate the feelings it evokes in a few words.

More than anything, it is Bowles's talent in describing place that shines. One can really imagine being around the areas of the Sahara desert in the narrative.
On the terrace of the Cafe d’Eckmuhl-Noiseux a few Arabs sat drinking mineral water; only their fezzes of varying shades of red distinguished them from the rest of the population of the port. Their European clothes were worn and gray; it would have been hard to tell what the cut of any garment had been originally. The nearly naked shoeshine boys squatted on their boxes looking down at the pavement, without the energy to wave away the flies that crawled over their faces. Inside the cafe the air was cooler but without movement, and it smelled of stale wine and urine. [page 11]
The Sheltering Sky is about 3 American travelers (a couple named Port and Kit and their companion, Tunner). Mind you, these are travelers not tourists, for they make it a point to explore everything they could around the Sahara.

But the Sahara proves to be a harsh environment for our 3 characters. As much as they want to be comfortable in this exotic world, the difference in cultures becomes too much for them. They complain about the place's history. They ramble on and on about inefficiencies. The Sahara, in the end, can only come off as a cruel, uninviting territory.

It's been said that Bowles modeled the character of Port on himself, and Kit on his wife. This isn't too hard to believe as the travels of these 2 are described in detail. It's difficult to note all those nuances if one hasn't gone to that place.

Port, however, dies in the middle of the novel, and The Sheltering Sky at that point now centers on its wife. Again, the Sahara wraps its cruel arms around Kit, who ends up having a harrowing experience as the 4th wife of an Arab. Kit's moments of despair at the end of the novel are probably the most hallucinating point of the novel. She may have escaped the desert, but it has permanently scarred her.

I've always wanted to see the Sahara with its beautiful shifting dunes and its extreme climate. When I think about it, The Sheltering Sky isn't just a beautiful novel; it's also a very useful guide to this alien landscape.

Read this book if:
  1. You've always been fascinated by the Sahara.
  2. You like books that are travelogues as well.
  3. You'll read anything included in Time's 100 best novels.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Thoughts on the new year

Happy new year to you, dear reader! I hope you had a wonderful 2012 and are looking forward to more book-ish things in 2013. I, for one, had a blast last year.

As I write this first post for 2013, I find myself thinking of some things. One, reading challenges. I haven't participated in any yet, and I don't think I'll be joining a particular one this year. I just don't think that these reading challenges are for me. Far too much work and commitment these challenges require.

Another thought goes to read-alongs. While the act of reading may be a solitary endeavor, the full reading experience can be shared. Somehow, going through those "difficult" books becomes easier when you read with a friend. You take reading to a higher, more meaningful level when you talk about your thoughts on a book with a fellow bibliophile, no?

And my last thought goes to the classics. I started reading them when I was in my early teens, and I recall I seldom get disappointed with them. If these books give me great satisfaction, then why on earth haven't I been reading more of them? So perhaps 2013 would be a "backward-looking" year for me reading-wise, as I consciously make the effort to read the several classic titles in my shelf.

So there it is, my initial thoughts for the new year. I wonder where these ruminations of mine will take me. Will they just remain as they are, simply, thoughts forever inscribed in thin air? Or will they take me some place exciting? Well, there's only one way to find out! Bring it on, 2013!