Sunday, July 28, 2013

Spring cleaning is long overdue

This—barely a fraction of what needs to be sorted
I'm even afraid of taking of a picture of my entire room. I will die.
My room's currently a mess. Books everywhere. Dust mites must be having a field day. I've filled up all my shelves to the brim. So now most of the books that I've recently bought are in piles all over the floor.

It's about time I have new bookshelves made. Friends keep telling me that I should have bookshelves covered in glass, so that I don't have to keep dusting the books. But I have a thing against glass covers. They don't let the books "breathe."

Anyway, before the year ends, I hope to sort out everything. Maybe even have a rough catalog of all the books in my collection. Now my brain's ticking on how I should categorize everything. By genre? Alphabetically by author? By color? Hardcovers in one section?

Happy problems.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

10 reasons I read them Russians

  1. The weight of these novels exercise my flabby arms. 
  2. Because I just can't be happy all the time. Happiness is boring. I need suicide, poverty, desperation, frustration, and hopelessness.
  3. Because no one has awkward sex in Russian novels. Actually, no one has sex. Period.
  4. Like these Russian writers, sometimes I have way, way, way, way, way too much time on my hands. 500 pages? That's just a novella.
  5. I like them big and fat. Just like cheeseburgers.
  6. My tongue could also use some exercise by saying those polysyllabic names. Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov! 
  7. I am undaunted by the constant switching of names and nicknames. Katerina is Katya is Kitty is Kitsy Bitsy or whatever.
  8. I am still unclear why all descriptions of handsome Russian men involve beards and reddish cheeks.
  9. The cold! The snow! Siberia! Frostbite! They must be farting snowflakes.
  10. The letters Z and V don't appear enough in American novels. And vodka. And gambling.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Feels like Hitchcock

I've always wondered why there hasn't been a global Japanese crime fiction phenomenon. We all see Scandinavian crime novels everywhere. I say the Japanese ones should be just as popular. There's a certain darkness, an edginess bordering on the crazy, that make me love them.

Keigo Higashino's The Devotion of Suspect X is a different kind of mystery. For one, you know early on who committed the murder and how. Another, you read the novel to find out if the Japanese detectives will eventually find out who the killer is and weed out one red herring after another. It's very stimulating, this novel is.

The murder in question involves Yasuko, a single mother to Misato who works at a food stall. Enter Togashi, her ex-husband, a man whom she hasn't seen in 5 years. One day, Togashi walks into the lunch box shop where Yasuko works. For Misato, it's all deja vu, remembering the countless times Togashi has asked her money. Naturally, the meeting leaves a bad taste in Yasuko's mouth.

When Togashi goes to the apartment where Yasuko lives, he harasses her. Things get pretty ugly to a point when Misato, out of anger, clubs Togashi in the head. Togashi then retaliates and a skirmish ensues. Yasuko panics and ends up killing Togashi by strangling him. And this is where things get a bit complicated when they receive a call from Ishigami, their neighbor, with his offer to help dispose of the body. Ishigami is the novel's Suspect X, and his devotion refers to his affection for Yasuko. We learn that he doesn't frequent the lunch box shop where Yasuko works because of the food; he is just deeply infatuated with, nay, adores Yasuko.

The body is eventually found near a river and it's identified as Togashi. Of course, we should have a smart detective, and that comes in the person of Kusanagi, who becomes dedicated to finding out the killer. Everything points to Yasuko though, despite her weak alibi. Things get complicated when the detectives discover the connection between Yasuko and Ishigami, who we now learn is a math genius. While we do know that Ishigami was the one who crafted Yasuko and Misato's alibi, we are left to question how will the police look beyond the clues and finally get Yasuko.

But Higashino still has something up his sleeve in his novel. In The Devotion to Suspect X, we are introduced to Yukawa, a brilliant physics professor at the Imperial University, who serves as an unofficial consultant to the police regarding the cases that confound them. Yukawa, who is also affectionately known as Detective Galileo, somehow comes up with his own theory regarding who really did kill Togashi and how Ishigami, who appears to have been just an accomplice in getting rid of the body, could have actually committed murder. The ending is just too priceless to spoil.

What really made the The Devotion of Suspect X truly enjoyable is the apparent battle of minds between Ishigami and Yukawa. We learn that both went to the Imperial University and who were once good friends. Ishigami becomes a master of creating a deception, a veneer, which Yukama sees right through. As I said, how Yukama reveals the whole workings of the mystery is just too juicy to spill here.

I've heard that there a new Detective Galileo novel. And if it's half as good as The Devotion of Suspect X, I will happily gobble it up. Yukawa can be so charmingly geeky.

Read this book if:
  1. You love elegant plot twists.
  2. You have the patience to wait until the end for that satisfying reveal.
  3. You have a thing for Japanese crime fiction.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The bookshelf project #43

I think it must've been early this year since I last made a post about bookshelves. So I think it's just about time. But this bookshelf project post isn't your usual, as the books are not technically in a shelf. But we book lovers know that any place that has a stack of books becomes a bookshelf, no?

Anyway, this week's picture of books in a "bookshelf" was taken by R. in Commune, which is a very hip place to hang around in. I now have a place to go to to while away the rush hour traffic. It has a tranquil ambience that's perfect for reading. The food's good too—comforting and filling.

What caught my attention was the eclectic collection of the few books that the owner decided to display. Short books on Philippine history, a travel memoir, a book about coffee, a manifesto on socialism, and a self-help volume. I'm not so sure what cool green stuff is about though. I don't think it's about veggies, caterpillars, algae, or alien slime.

Click to enlarge.
Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon is absolute joy. It's Gopnik's account of having to relocate to Paris because of his job, with him having to bring along his wife and their baby. I've never read anything about Paris that made me really want to pack everything and just leave for the city of lights. (I don't mind the dog poop on Parisian streets.)

I have a theory as to the apparent non-thematic collection of these books. Probably they were just collected organically. I imagine the owner of Commune reading each book and, instead of taking the book home, just leaving it in his restaurant. A charming way to grow your bookshelf, yes?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Despicable mother

Sometimes, the people who can hurt us the most are the ones that we truly love. Or, at least, the ones who should supposedly love us. In Nancy Werlin's National Book Award-nominated novel, The Rules of Survival, the one who does the hurting is the mother, who is probably the most abusive, most hateful, most unstable matriarch that I've encountered in books.

The Rules of Survival is not an easy read. It made me uncomfortable while I was reading it the whole time. It's a young adult novel narrated by Matthew, a teenager living with his coke head of a mother named Nikki. Matthew has 2 younger sisters—Callie and Emmy, ages 11 and 5, respectively.

Matthew and his siblings have a difficult time coping with the presence of their mother. Nikki has no qualms whatsoever in hitting Matthew repeatedly or of driving on the wrong side of the road in a car with all her children just to get a thrill. I can never imaging a mother like that can actually exist. Who would ever want to physically and emotionally hurt their own children?

One day, Matthew encounters a man named Murdoch in a convenience store. Matthew is transfixed as he sees Murdoch stand up to that much bigger man in the store and stop him from hurting his kid. From that day onwards, Matthew vows that he'll look for Murdoch.
But Murdoch talked directly to the kid. "It's wrong for anybody ever to hurt you. No matter who does it, it's wrong. Can you remember that?" 
The kid's eyes were now huge. He looked at his father again. Then back at Murdoch. Then he nodded. 
"You'll remember that?" Murdoch insisted. "You don't have to do anything else. You just have to remember." [page 6]
The siblings do track Murdoch down, with the hope that he'll be their savior, their superhero. But, in some strange twist of fate, Murdoch becomes their mother's boyfriend. For the next 3 months, with Murdoch around, everything was relatively fine in their household. Then he breaks up with Nikki and everything spirals toward hell.

Nikki becomes more abusive to Matthew, Callie, and Emmy, especially when she finds out that Murdock has endeared himself to her children. She even went on a date with another man just so that she can ask him to kill Murdoch. It's very surreal. Is Nikki even for real? In this f****d up world, I do believe that there are people who just make everything messy for everybody else.

But The Rules of Survival is Matthew's story, and it is he who steps up to the plate. All his life, he has protected his 2 younger sisters and he doubles his efforts now that Nikki is seemingly spiralling out of control. He asks the help of Murdoch, reconnects with his father, and becomes instrumental in making Nikki's sister, their Aunt Bobbie, finally muster up her fear and ultimately help her nephew and nieces.

In several levels, The Rules of Survival is a coming-of-age tale. Matthew realizes that things will never just work things out, as most people say to him, and that something concrete has to be done. He also accepts that he did think of killing his mother had Murdoch not intercepted him. And finally, Matthew becomes determined to survive. Because after all, it is the survivors who get to tell their story.

Read this book if:
  1. You're a survivor yourself.
  2. You don't cringe from some of the harsh realities of life.
  3. You know that superheroes don't have to wear costumes.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

2 brothers, 3 Italian cities, and 1 girl

So far, I've read 5 novels by David Levithan, and, thankfully, not 1 of them has been a disappointment. Even this non-LGBT novel, Are We There Yet?, is quite delightful. It's the perfect book to bring to the beach or while on vacation in an exotic country.

It feels that we've been here before though: 2 brothers with very different personalities are set up by their parents to go on vacation in a faraway European country. With this trip, the parents do hope that 23-year-old Danny and 16-year-old Elijah rekindle their sense of brotherhood and camaraderie.

My first thought upon reading the opening chapters was I wish that my parents would have the same idea. Minus the age gap, I think the dynamic between David and Elijah is more or less similar to my relationship with my brother. Those who have brothers completely understand when I say that it's a very weird dynamic, that between brothers. One minute you're literally grabbing each other's throats; the next, you're asking money from each other. Inexplicably, your brother is your best friend and your worst enemy at the same time.

Are We There Yet? isn't fluff. While Levithan does fall short in providing a strong sense of place for the cities that the brothers visit, he does focus on a historical Jewish ghetto in Venice. And that portion of the trip creates a significant impression on David and Elijah.

Of course, there has to be hints of romance, or at least the possibility of a romance. So enter a college girl named Julia who comes between David and Elijah. Both become smitten, but none of them don't get the girl. In fact, Julia is instrumental in making Elijah realize how much he misses the girl he left at his prep school.

Are We There Yet? is charming. It's one of David Levithan's novels that do not have a major gay or lesbian character, but it's still enjoyable nonetheless. For one, it makes you want to pack your bags and leave for Venice, or Florence, or Rome! I know I want to. And the masochist in me wants to bring my brother along.

Read this book if:
  1. You love Italy.
  2. You know the pros and cons of traveling with a family member.
  3. Because David Levithan.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A night talking about sci-fi books

A few SF novels beside my bed
The book club recently concluded our online read-along for science fiction. You can check out the online discussions here. As traditions go, we usually have a sort of meet-up to officially close the read-along. And compared to the monthly official discussions, the read-along meet-ups are pretty casual. We don't prepare discussion questions, we don't have any giveaways. We just talk about the books that we just read.

This time though, we decided to give the meet-up a little spin. Of course, we would still be talking about the 4 SF books that we've tackled: Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, Isaac Asimov's Foundation, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, and Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. But aside from that, we asked people to bring 1 SF book that they want to talk about with the rest of the group. So, we had a SF book pimp night!

Here are a few pictures that R. took during last Friday night's meet-up. It was great to meet Flippers again, even though we just met up last week for an official discussion. Our venue was Tutto Domani, a quaint restaurant in the heart of the business district. With its odd collection of weird thingies on display, Tutto Domani was perfect! The place was a bit noisy though, being a Friday night, but it was all good. I believe everyone had fun. I know I did.

During the discussion, one hot topic was the difference between SF and fantasy.
I think this statement says it all:
Science fiction expands our world; fantasy transcends it.
Blooey especially loved Fahrenheit 451.
The novel's beautiful language struck her.
She even likened Bradbury's writing with that of a classic author.
Me, in Tutto Domani, while waiting for people to show up
I loved the place's weird vibe. Everything's up for sale!
And the food's very, very good too.
I pimped John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids.
Here I am showing Wyndham's illustrations of the predatory plant.
I wished I brought all my Wyndhams to show to the gang.
Arthur moderated the discussion for Foundation.
But he does have a bone to pick with other SF novels.
Such an SF geek, Arthur is.
Joko pimped the SF novels of Kurt Vonnegut.
Actually, Vonnegut's SF novel, The Sirens of Titan, is the book club's
official book for September, which Joko will be moderating.
Darwin moderated the discussion for Verne's novel.
He pimped one of my favorite SF novels ever—Dune! 
And Michelle, seated beside him, showed a very interesting book.
It has men with abs! I like! Hihihihi.
The guy in blue shirt, Anthony, is the owner of Tutto Domani.
Such a gracious host!
The bottom panel has Mitch, Gege, Marie, and me.
Marie moderated the online discussion of Snow Crash.
The SF gang
Last Friday's event was very nerdy indeed!
We did end up going home past 12 mn already. We couldn't stop talking about the SF books that we loved and hated. And we somehow managed to find ourselves from one restaurant to another restaurant during the night. Talking about SF books works up your appetite, I guess.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

I don't see the point

Seriously, what's the point of Rob Sheffield's nonfiction work, Talking to Girls about Duran Duran? It's not a memoir. It's not even exclusively about Duran Duran. The quest for true love is basically nonexistent. And the cooler haircut mentioned in the subtitle? So forgettable.

Very uncool, this book is. Each chapter focuses on a specific year in the 80s and a relevant song by an 80s band or artist. Normally, you would expect that the writer to relate the chapter's theme to the music being mentioned. But the connection is flimsy that it becomes so irrelevant to the text. You might be better off listening to the song itself.

Why did Rob Sheffield wrote Talking to Girls about Duran Duran? Because he can, that's why. The book just comes off as being overindulgent, even when he tackles specific points of his life that are less than flattering. The funny parts aren't even funny; they're just annoying.

We do get to see that Sheffield knows his music, but it's a passion that he shares unsuccessfully in the books. With his uninteresting description of 80s music in the book, you feel that you just wanna listen to Milli Vanilli or Vanilla Ice or just have a vanilla cupcake. If you love 80s music, you'd just end up disappointed.

Sheffield teases us with a few lines about his being a widow or how he was unemployed for a short time or when he became an editor/writer of Rolling Stone. I felt that it would have been better if he used more paper real estate to write about these personal stuff. When I started this novel, I didn't know a single thing about Sheffield. When I finished it, I didn't know any better.

Argh! I better stop before this entry becomes a full-on rant. Talking to Girls about Duran Duran, well, it just sucks big time. It sucks vacuum cleaners.

Read this book if:
  1. You love books with orange covers.
  2. You have spare time.
  3. Just don't.