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.