Sunday, March 31, 2013

What on earth happened?

As I'm writing this, it is 7.00 pm on a humid Easter Sunday night in Manila. And I am in deep thought, wracking my brain as to how I spent the last 4 days and why oh why I was not able to finish even just 1 damn book.

In the Philippines, a country with a predominantly Catholic population, we have a lot of religious holidays. This week is just one of them. We get a long weekend this week, beginning with Thursday up to Easter Sunday.

So what the hell happened the past 4 days? I didn't even leave the house, except last Saturday to do a bit of clothes shopping and then dinner. Based on my calculations, I should have had at least 60 hours for reading. And yet, I'm back to work tomorrow and I have not added any books yet in my reading list.

Before, I used to read 5 books at least during the Holy Week. Now, argh, 0! I'm just disgusted with myself. Hello, ground I'm stepping on. Why don't you open up now and swallow me whole. And spit me to the fiery abyss of my own version of hell. (In my hell, I wear prescription glasses and I'm in this huge library. Then I drop my glasses and the lenses break.)

I received a late birthday gift (John Green's The Fault in Our Stars) from an officemate last Wednesday. Funny thing, I was in the bookstore the day before and I was holding the same book, deciding for close to an hour if I should get it. I didn't! Yay, restraint! Yay, fortuitous circumstance! Of course, I wasn't able to read it. Yay?

Friday, March 29, 2013

So many questions

Reading Haruki Murakami's latest novel, 1Q84, feels like having your favorite dish at an expensive restaurant and then realizing that the chef has changed the recipe. The chef might not have scrimped on the ingredients, but he certainly has changed the flavor. You expect to be satisfied but end up really wanting.

I love Murakami. One of my favorite books is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and I enjoyed Sputnik Sweetheart and Dance Dance Dance. But 1Q84 is a totally different animal. It's as if Murakami is taunting us: "Yes, I can write something completely different. Why? Because I can."

To think that 1Q84 is more than a thousand pages, Murakami at least could have answered some of the questions the reader would have in his mind. Instead, we are left wondering. Who are the Little People? Why do they make air chrysales? What's that alternate universe all about? What the hell is the problem with Fuka-Eri?

At heart 1Q84 is a love story involving the two protagonists: Tengo, the writer and mathematics teacher, and Aomame, the assassin who first realizes that they're living in another parallel universe. We do realize that Tengo and Aomame are destined to be together, as Murakami drops not-so-subtle hints that these two will become a couple. But must it really take a thousand pages?

If you're a Murakami fan, there are still lots of familiar elements in 1Q84 to make you feel at home. There's the weird sex, the weird goings-on, the weird fascination with earlobes, the weird inclusion of cats in the story. However, 1Q84 feels distinctly different from his other works. It feels a lot like it was done by a Hollywood writer drunk on sake.

Read this book if:
  1. You love Murakami.
  2. You like all things weird.
  3. You've been a ghostwriter at one point in your life.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A summer workshop for kids

The National Library of the Philippines - Children's Section will hold its 2nd Summer Workshop for Kids on 25 to 26 April from 9.00 am to 4.00 pm. The workshop, which will be held at the Nido Science Discovery Center (NSDC) at the SM Mall of Asia, aims to promote reading and the love for books through storytelling and puppetry.

There's a fee of Php 2,000.00 though, but it covers all meals and materials during the event. Also, the fee includes a gallery tour at NSDC and a planetarium show. Proceeds of this activity will be used in the renovation and acquisition of materials that will be used by the patrons of the National Library.

Below are the poster and the program of activities for the event. You can click on the images to enlarge them.

If you have further inquiries about this event, you can visit the website of the National Library, email them at, or give them a call at the following numbers: 3105033 / 5281972 or 3105035 loc 207-210; 09178718225.

See you there!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

That ain't a typo in the title

My T-shirt during the discussion
Somehow, the word 'award' has now become a slang term for 'awesome'.

Last weekend, the book club got together for an official book discussion. This time, it was a local book: Bebang Siy's It's a Mens World, which won the Best Essay Collection award during last year Readers' Choice Awards. (Obligatory disclaimer: I was one of the 3 judges in this category.)

Orly, the moderator for the month, managed to pull off one of the most enjoyable book discussions I've attended. The author herself was present during the discussion, who I think was amused listening to us talk about our thoughts on her book. I must admit that I was a bit wary of having authors being present during book discussions. Some of the members might be too uncomfortable sharing when the author would be present, especially if the opinions aren't positive. But Bebang Siy was cool with it.

Also, Orly picked 10 book club members to do readings of Bebang Siy's work. I was one of those unfortunates who were chosen. For my reading, I decided to read from Bebang's blog instead of the book. I figured that the novelty of it would force the members to listen. Hihihihihi.

There were pretty cool swag too. The bookmark is quite, ummmm, different, as you would see below. Orly also got help from a couple of the members for the other swag items. Plus, we all were wearing shirts with unique words printed on them. Prior to the discussion, Orly asked us to identify a word that reminds of something from the book.

If you'd get to know Bebang Siy, you'd find out that she's one of the most interesting persons around. She's terribly funny. She's like your long-lost sister or your fag hag. Her essays found in It's a Mens World show the range of her writing abilities. While several of the essays in the collection were humorous, a few of them can really tug at your heart. I admire her for coming up with a very personal essay collection. I know I couldn't do it. All that honesty would kill me.

Anyway, here are some pics that I'd like to share with you, dear reader.

Me, during the reading
I asked R to be my 'human prop'.
(From R's camera)

R, me, and Bebang
That lady is hysterical!
(From R's camera)
The brown bag with the mysterious goodies
Opening the brown bag made me smile
Locally made candy!
The bookmark
Shaped like a sanitary napkin
Me with free magazines from the National Book Development Board
Thank you!
(Photo courtesy of R)

The Flippers!
(Photo from R's camera)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Of first and last names

Another birthday has come and gone. And of course, no birthday of a bibliophile is complete without books as gifts. This year, I received 3 titles, all of them fiction and, thankfully, none are duplicates! Woot woot!

Tonight, all 3 books are with me in my bed. I realized something though: all of them have first and last names in the titles! (Yes, I lead a very uneventful life that a mundane observation such as this is enough to excite me.)

I can't wait to read all 3: J. W. Ironmonger's debut novel, The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder; Nathan Englander's short story collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank; and the YA collaboration of John Green and David Levithan, Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

This year, I noticed that I received more gifts which aren't books. I completely understand. I've given books as gifts to people only to find out that they already have it! Argh, such a hassle when that happens. And believe me, in my case, that happens a lot! 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Another read-along comes to a close

We've been reading Haruki Murakami's most recent novel, 1Q84, for more than 2 months. And on a Friday night, a few members of the book club decided to meet to discuss the book, officially bringing to a close the online read-along. Needless to say, it was a night well spent talking about the novel and enjoying one another's company.

We didn't think about the traffic that day, considering that it was a weekend and a pay day. We couldn't care less that we'll be meeting again the next day for an official book club event. We didn't mind that there'll be only a few of us for the meet-up (we were only 11). We just wanted to talk about the book, get it out of our system, and hear other people's thoughts about it.

1Q84 is such a polarizing book, that's what I got during the discussion. A few really found it very enjoyable, and some didn't take to it at all. What we did agree on, however, was that there were lots of questions that were left unanswered even after more than a thousand pages. In fact, the discussion centered on those questions, with the members sharing their theories about them.

I'll post my review of 1Q84 soon. A caveat: I didn't like it that much. But what's more important, I believe, was the experience of reading this doorstop with awesome people from the book club. I never thought that read-alongs could be so much fun.

I managed to take a few pictures during the meet-up, and I'm sharing them with you, dear reader.

Joko, showing the bespoke shoes that Ajie made just for her

Pretty glasses that Ajie painted on

Ajie and Ling, all smiles before the discussion

Iya and Gege, engaging in small talk

Michelle, one of the members who really enjoyed the novel
Michelle, Lia, Joko, and Iya
These ladies had a lot to say!

Anne, Ling, and Mike
e-reader love!
Iya, Arthur, and Ajie
Of course, it wouldn't be a book club meet-up without food.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

On the last day of my being 38

On the last day of my being 38, I panicked a little. Like, for 5 minutes. I took a close look at the mirror for any wrinkles or age spots. Thank goodness I have oily skin, for these facial lines are still nowhere to be found! (My skin can be so oily that on extremely humid days, you can actually fry something on my face.)

On the last day of my being 38, I was with my book club friends. We had a book discussion on a locally authored book. It was a blast! I'll post about it soon. There was non-stop eating that happened as well, with a buffet lunch, a Chinese snack (the discussion was held in a Chinese restaurant, and a Chinese lauriat for dinner.

On the last day of my being 38, I received these gifts from my book club friends. I've still left them unopened, but I'm guessing that a few of them are notepads or notebooks. Yes, I'm a magnet for these things. The mug is a special gift, as it came from the author whose book we discussed on that day. It actually had poetry on it! The TWG gift is from R, who has indulged me with my ongoing tea phase.

On the last day of my being 38, I realize again for the nth time that book-ish friends are the best. They know exactly what you want. I love them. And I hope they love me back, even though I can be grumpy and moody during book discussions. Hopefully, now that I've sworn off drinking coffee, I'll be in a more cheery mood during these meet-ups.

On the last day of my being 38, I got home late and dog tired. But I couldn't complain though. I had fun, and it was a great day to end my being 38. Today, the 17th of March, St. Patrick's Day, I turn 39. Yes, it's my last year before I the 40s. I'm already getting positive vibes from 39 though. Now you have to excuse me. I need to check something in the mirror again.

Friday, March 15, 2013

More book spine lovin'

And my love affair with book spines continues. Some of these I posted on Facebook a few weeks earlier. I figured I might as well post everything on this blog. See the first batch of pictures here.

Seeing everything ravaged everything burned,
things fall apart, then we came to the end.

All the single ladies should stay away from these men.
We do know that good and honest men are a challenge to find.
I want to buy a vowel! E!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Of fetishes and human body parts

Reading Asa Nonami's short story collection, Bødy, is both an enjoyable and uncomfortable experience. The 5 featured stories here all have one thing in common: how we can become totally focused on one body part and ultimately compromising our wholeness as persons.

Let's face itwe all have our bodily fetishes. Be it the nape, the fingers, the belly button, or whatever, there's that body part that turns us on. (I have a kinky fetish, but of course I won't tell.) But the characters in Bødy take it to the extreme.

And what are these 5 stories? The first is about a housewife who gets so addicted with plastic surgery that her husband goes home one night and fails to recognize her. The second concerns a guy who's so paranoid about his hair loss that he eventually loses his girlfriend because of it. We also meet a guy who fondles women's knees on the train. Then there's the girl who goes on an extreme diet to avoid defecating. The last is about a teenage boy who becomes a target of men's fists in boxing matches.

All of these stories are very much disturbing. But I've come to expect it from Nonami, whose previous novel, Now You're One of Us, has elements of Rosemary's Baby, hallucinogens, and dysfunctional families. As a collection, Bødy lets us peek into modern-day Japan, with its unhealthy materialism, fast-paced lifestyle, and warped fixations.

If I were to pick 1 story that I liked best, it would have to be "Buttocks." In that story, a girl goes to an elite boarding school in Tokyo, gets ridiculed for having a fat ass, discovers blood in her stool, and swears off food to avoid making use of her rectum. If that isn't sick enough, I don't know what is.

Read this book if:
  1. You know you could be more good looking if not for this one body part.
  2. You like reading about fetishes.
  3. You love short story collections.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


Finishing a really thick book is like saying good-bye to an old friend. That's exactly how I felt when I turned the final page of Haruki Murakami's 1Q84.

This novel isn't Murakami's best work, I feel. But I took my time with it, spending a few chapters every night, slowly reading each word. I got lost in the make-believe world of 1Q84, with its 2 moons, little people coming out of dead people's mouths, and the frequent references to Janáček's Sinfonietta.

I think that's the allure of doorstops, those thick books that require commitment and stamina. Since you spent a great deal of time with them, you're very much sad to let them go. 1Q84 had 1,150 pages, and there were indeed times when I felt that I might as well throw the book in the air unfinished.

I'll stop posting my further thoughts on this book for a later entry. We're still meeting this week to cap off the discussion of this book, which was our selection for a read-along lasting for more than 2 months. I sure would love to hear the thoughts of the other members of the book club on this much-sensationalized work by one of Japan's contemporary novelists.

Now I'm scanning my shelves on which doorstop to read next. Should I read Proust's Remembrance of Things Past? Or Cervantes's Don Quixote? Decisions, decisions...

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The one who can summon the sun

Usually, when we talk of fantasy, we think of a world similar to medieval Europe. Leigh Bardugo's fantasy novel, Shadow and Bone, does transport us to Europe all right. But this time, the place feels a lot like Russia.

Just reading the characters' names is a giveaway that we're no longer in familiar territory. The main character's name is Alina Starkov. Her best friend is Mal Oretsev. Alina and Mal live in Ravka, which unfortunately has a large area covered in absolute darkness and infested with flesh-eating monsters, the Volcra. This area, called the Shadow Fold, divides the country in half.

Apparently in Ravka, there are people who possess supernatural abilities and are then recruited to serve in the Second Army. Collectively called as the Grisha, they are of three types. The first, Heartrenders and Healers, can kill and heal. The second, Squallers, Inferni, and Tidemakers, can control the wind, fire, and water. The last, Durasts and Alkemi, can control objects. The most powerful of these Grisha, the Darkling, is in search of the fabled sun summoner, a Grisha that can command light, who can hopefully destroy the Shadow Fold.

Map of Ravka, showing the Shadow Fold (The Unsea)

Alina may just be the sun summoner herself, as she's proven that she can unintentionally light up when provoked. Naturally, the Darkling recruits her to the Grisha, separating her from the handsome Mal. However, it turns out that not everything the Darkling says is true. Alina discovers that the Darkling was responsible for creating the Shadow Fold and he just wants to use Alina to destroy the Volcra before enveloping the whole of Ravka in darkness.

This is fantasy, and, of course, we can't just have one stand-alone novel. As the first book of the Grisha trilogy, Shadow and Bone kicks off the trilogy wonderfully. The blurb at the front cover somehow says it for me; it is a novel unlike anything I've read before. The setting is a good departure from our usual, and it's refreshing to not find any dragons nor dwarves nor fairies in the narrative. Ditto with angels, werewolves, and vampires.

There's a forgivable I've-read-this-all-before feel to Shadow and Bone. And one hopes that the succeeding books will live up to first book's promise. Nevertheless, Shadow and Bone is a book that even non-fantasy readers would probably love. It has something for everyone: romance, magic, adventure, bloodshed, and drama. And despite all these varied elements, Bardugo still holds everything together, keeping the story tight and the characterization distinct and well-developed. I can't wait for the second book!

Read this book if:
  1. You've always been fascinated with Russia.
  2. You're patient enough to wait for the series to be complete.
  3. You're into YA fantasy.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

I survived battle school

During last Saturday's book club's discussion of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, the pre-discussion activity was quite interesting as it involved a modified form of a board game. Now I love board games, but  was a bit wary of this one, as it involved a huge board, not-so-simple rules, a 9-sided die, and all those bumping and changing directions and strategizing. Ack, it looked like so much work. In fact, I didn't really plan on joining; I was a last-minute addition to a team.

One of the moderators distributed a printout of the rules of the game and my immediate reaction was, "This doesn't look fun at all." At first, I found the game, which was inspired by the battle school at Ender's Game, quite complicated. I couldn't even tell what the objective was. It was really slow going for me. Eventually though, I got the hang of it. And, who would've thought, we actually won! Yay!

The book discussion that followed was very engaging as well. I think everyone was eagerly waiting for the part wherein we talk about the author's homophobia and if one could actually separate an author's stand on some issues from his works. My stand? No, you can't.

Anyway, I managed to get a few pictures during the event, and I'm sharing them with you, dear reader.

The rules of the battle room game
Trajectories! Freeze and grapple! DC Modifiers!
Ayayay, my eyes glazed over.
A closeup of the battle room board game, showing 2 players' tokens
Our group had the red tokens.
The humongous bespoke board game
It probably measured 1.5 m x 1 m.
I think it can also serve as a table top.
Trying out these anti-glare clear glasses
And looking like a total nerd
My game token
Actually, it was the winning token as well!
This little guy sealed our victory.
Bookmarks, stickers, pins
The obligatory book discussion loot