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 ( and Verne Ahyong ( 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 To register, call Marj Villaflores at 759-8288 local 25, or email

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.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Filipino Friday 2013 #1: An introduction

Filipino Fridays, the only blog meme that I participate in, is back! This wonderful online event is actually part of the activities leading to this year's Filipino ReaderCon, which is happening next month. If you're in Manila on Saturday, 9 November, then I highly suggest that you drop by. There'll be panel discussions with authors and you'd get to meet book bloggers and your fellow bookworms.

There'll be 5 Filipino Friday posts, and this post kicks it off. It's all about introductions! This time, they wanted to shake things up a little bit. So instead of us bloggers just rambling about our love for books and what-not, they asked us to answer this question: What species of book reader are you? Which leads me to the infographic by Laura E. Kelly. See below. (You can click on the image to enlarge it.)

Image source
Oy, the details in this infographic! I die. It then occurred to me how difficult it is to describe my reading habits. I'm all of these: book preserver, book worshipper, hoarder, compulsive book buyer, promiscuous reader, omnireader, sharer screamer, and book clubber.

Also, I think of myself as being "free range." I have an issue with that term actually. It reminds me of organic poultry. Think free-range chickens. Anyway, I do believe that I read almost anything, and I don't really see myself as a genre reader.

Some of my friends see me as a book snob. When I hear this, I tell them one thing: I've read Fifty Shades of Grey, yes, the entire trilogy. I've had my fill of  stories involving spanking, ripped dresses, sex toys, and kinky role play, and I have no qualms sharing them with people who are willing to listen. Bring it on! Now that usually leaves them speechless.

I guess it doesn't really matter what "species" of book reader one is, no? Besides, I hate labels. But if there's one label that I want my big fat ass to be associated with, it's being a reader. Reading rocks. And readers rule.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The last quarter for the book club

2013 has been a great year for the book club that I belong to. We've been quite busy with a whole lot of activities, because, you know, some of us have way too much time on our hands.

Anyway, before this year ends, we still have 3 books to go through (1 for the last 3 months of the year). This month, it's Stephen King's Night Shift, which I'm co-moderating with R. I won't be moderating any discussions next year, so R. and I want to make this one a bit different and memorable.

For November, it's Neil Gaiman's Season of Mists, which is volume 4 of his wonderful Sandman graphic novels. I believe we're going to discuss this during this year's ReaderCon in November. I would be missing the discussion though, as I'll be taking my Italian certification on the same date. Wish me luck!

And last, it's Mario Puzo's The Godfather for December. This actually means that the book club will be having a Godfather-themed Christmas party! Woot! It's still way too early to think of my costume. (I'm thinking of the gay mafia though. Hehehe.)

I've read all 3 books years ago. I love Night Shift, and I found The Godfather quite thrilling. Season of Mists is enjoyable, but it isn't Fables and Reflections, which is still my favorite Sandman volume.

Speaking of wishing me luck for my Italian certification, it's quite amusing how Italians would wish luck on one person. Instead of the morbid "break a leg," they'd say, "In bocca al lupo," which literally translates to "into the mouth of the wolf." And how do you respond to this? You say, "Crepi." It means "die," well, death to the wolf that is. Quite fascinating, yes?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Rhymes with a female body part

Whenever I encounter the name David Sedaris, I immediately think of the Seinfeld episode wherein Seinfeld couldn't remember the name of the woman he's dating. All he has is that the woman's name rhymes with a female body part. Mulva? Mreast? At the end of the episode, he does remember the woman's name, and it's Dolores. Well, Dolores rhymes with Sedaris, yes? Anyway, aside from that, both Seinfeld (the TV show) and Sedaris are dear to me, as they've never failed to make me laugh by making fun out of seemingly everyday situations.

David Sedaris's When You Are Engulfed in Flames has some seriously funny shit. I had an audiobook copy of this title, and it was great hearing David Sedaris himself reading his very personal essays. A few were even recorded live in front of an audience, as I heard lots of guffaws and heartfelt applause from people. What I would give to see and hear Sedaris! Probably an arm and a leg. Or 3 of my fat fingers and toes.

The essays in When You Are Engulfed in Flames are so personal that, if I were in Sedaris's shoes, I would've holed up in a remote town in Albania, or maybe just packed everything to live with Eskimos. The collection, released in 2008, features 22 essays. So that's 22 funny little pieces I listened to on my way to work, while queueing in the bank, and doing the number 2. Looking at the list of these essays, I am amazed at how Sedaris is able to see the humorous and the ridiculous in everything (e.g., while taking a taxi from La Guardia to NYC, strolling along the streets in Paris, taking train rides in Tokyo).

The essays are pretty candid as well. I cringed when his partner, Hugh, pricked his boil and out came tablespoons of pus streaked with blood. I felt a closeness to him when he described his preference for unstylish clothes. Sedaris is my cool gay uncle, the one everyone goes to for advice, the writer who doesn't mind being politically incorrect, the person who chooses to be the wallflower, the absentminded bloke in the corner.

A handful of essays have become my favorites. In "The Understudy," he talks about the babysitter who didn't really do anything till the last few days when his parents were to come back from vacation. "Buddy, Can You Spare a Tie?" debunks the myth that gay guys are born with a fabulous sense of fashion. He talks about his undergraduate days in Princeton in "What I Learned" and his goal of majoring in killing one's parents. Bestiality is the highlight of the uber funny "Town and Country," where a cabdriver also attempts to discuss the importance of "getting pussy" with him.

My favorite would have to be the last piece though, which is entitled "The Smoking Section." This is also the longest essay in When You Are Engulfed in Flames and also the funniest. Sedaris chronicles his attempts to quit smoking by, goodness, moving temporarily to Japan. The title of this book actually came from a warning printed on a card in the hotel where Sedaris and his partner were staying: what should one do when one is engulfed in flames. You gotta hand it to the Japanese.

Sedaris never fails to bring in the laughs. I constantly had to keep myself in check, making sure that I don't laugh out loud while I was on the bus. Although, I think that really happened, twice in fact. I couldn't care less. I had my Sedaris and he was good company.

Read this book if:
  1. You know that the best audiobooks are the ones read by the authors themselves.
  2. You've quit smoking, and you know how hard it is.
  3. Sedaris rhymes with Dolores rhymes with clitoris.