Thursday, January 30, 2014

The book club's best and worst reads for 2013

Usually, the first meet-up of the year for the book club is a sort of a show-and-tell session. Our January discussion is the time when we talk about our best and worst reads for the last year. It's also somewhat of a book push activity, wherein members talk about their favorite reads and pique other members' interests about these books.

This month, we had our discussion at a university library. I believe it's a first for the book club! Woot! I have to thank my friend, Eric, who allowed us to have our discussion at one of the libraries of the University of the Philippines.

Here are some pics of the January meet-up, dear readers. I hope that this year, you do get to join a book club if you haven't yet. Loads of fun, I'm telling you.

I donated a few books to the library.
They were looking for graphic novels, LGBT reads,
and books about gender sensitivity.
We had to keep the food simple, as we were in a library after all.
So we had bagels! Of different kinds!
I love the 3 kinds of spread: blueberry, sun-dried tomatoes, and bacon and cheese!
Gege prepared the loot for the discussion.
The mug with the book club logo is actually a post-Christmas gift.
Oh, our theme for the discussion was black and white.
The details that went into the prep for the discussion were just awesome.
Yes, we don't do things halfway. Hehehehehe.
We were also given these dainty notebooks.
We were supposed to write down our notes on the members' best and worst reads.
In a way, we're adding to our to-be-read list! Happy book-ish problems!
We also had these cookie sandwiches.
We were just supposed to eat 1, but I believe I had 3.
So what were the best and worst reads of the Flippers? Fortunately, I volunteered to be the scribe for the event, so I was able to take down all of their choices. And now I'm sharing them with you, dear reader! Because I'm a book pusher myself.

Sana went Japanese in 2013.
Her best read was Rashōmon and Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa.
Her worst read was The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco.
Blooey's best read was 1 of the books discussed in our science fiction read-along.
She totally loved Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.
But she dissed She's Dating the Gangster by Bianca Bernardino.
Jewel was excited for the movie adaptation of
John Green's Looking for Alaska, her best read.
Her worst read was a young adult novel too: Veronica Roth's Allegiant.
Jan was the intern at the library who joined our discussion.
His best read was Elie Wiesel's Night.
His worst? E. L. James's Fifty Shades of Gray.
Socs loves Robert Fulghum! His best read was Uh-Oh.
The biography of Steve Jobs was his worst read.
Honey considered two eclectic books as her best reads:
David Rees's How to Sharpen Pencils and Cheryl Strayed's Tiny Beautiful Things.
Her worst read was an erotic novel, Kyra Davis's The Stranger.
It's no surprise that Shani's best read was a fantasy novel.
Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind! I've read it 1 few years ago and loved it!
Her worst read was Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See.
Marie was totally captivated by Paul Auster's post-modern work, The New York Trilogy.
She didn't mention a worst read though.
Ajie gushed over Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper.
Her worst read was a book club pick though: Kurt Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan.
Rhett went gaga over Saga, the wonderful graphic novel by Vaughan and Staples.
It's also one of my best reads for 2013.
His worst read was Rob Sheffield's Talking to Girls about Duran Duran.
One of Lora's best reads was Bebang Siy's It's a Mens World.
Like Ajie, she didn't dig Kurt Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan.
Orly Agawin's best and worst reads were a curiosity.
His best read was Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog by Edgar Calabia Samar.
His worst read was Eight Muses of the Fall, the English translation of his best read.
Unlike Sana, Arthur had much love for Umberto Eco in 2013.
His best read was The Name of the Rose.His worst was Mga Kwento ni Lola Basyang  by Severino Reyes.
Ever the sci-fi and fantasy geek, Darwin's best read was Reamde by Neal Stephenson.
But he couldn't bear The Unbearable Lightness of Being  by Milan Kundera.
Mitch came just in time to mention her best and worst reads.
She was floored by Carmen Navarro-Pedrosa's unauthorized biography
of Imelda Marcos. Quite a juicy read really.
Gege went local with her best read: Smaller and Smaller Circles by F. H. Batacan.
Her worst read was Dark Origins, an interactive novel by Anthony Zuiker.
When Iya mentioned that her best read was R. J. Palacio's Wonder,
I wanted to hug her! It was also one of my best reads last year.
Her worst read was Surreality by Carissa Villacorta.
And here's the complete tally!
Ooops! Looking at the attendance last Saturday, I missed out on taking a picture of 2 members: Haze and Jeeves. I must've been busy eating! But I did manage to note down their best and worst reads. Haze's best read was Doctor Sleep by Stephen King), and her worst was Talking to Girls about Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield. Jeeves loved Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan and hated Pepe: The Lost Years of Rizal by Ron Mendoza.

So there it is, dear readers, our best and worst reads for 2013. There isn't any single book that most of us particularly loved. But 5 of us did say that we didn't like Rob Sheffield's memoir involving 80s music.

Oh, I almost missed Anne!
Her best read was The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.
Her worst is no surprise. It's Talking to Girls about Duran Duran.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

C is for Carroll

Ah, such gibberish this book is. Half of the time, I couldn't figure out what the hell was happening. My edition actually contains two works by Lewis Carroll—Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Though the Looking Glass. I wonder why Penguin chose to just go with the first novel as the book's title. Ah, such is the mystery of life!

To say that both works are novels is like saying that a fruit cup is a dessert (oh, the humanity!) or that raisins are candy (no, just no). A friend on Facebook mentioned that one should read Carroll expecting to find a puzzle and not a story. Yes, there isn't a clear plot to the novels. What I felt as I was reading Carroll was that he was making things up along the way. Hmmmm. . . I wonder if there's any truth to my theory. I've read somewhere that Carroll made up these stories for the daughter of the dean of his college. That daughter's name? Alice.

But what glorious imagination Carroll has! I must give him that. I guess when you rid yourself of the stress of thinking up a plot, it frees up brain space so you can think of very inventive characters, yes? I love the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the grinning Cheshire cat, the Duchess, the Mock Turtle, the Caterpillar and the March Hare! I'd love them more if I knew what they were all about though. But, as always, I take what I can get.

I play the Mad Hatter.
Actually, the hats prevented me from scratching my head.
Another thing I was surprised about this book was how Carroll is a genius when it comes to word play. His prose is richer for it, and it makes the dialogue between the characters funny. The word play distorts your sense of logic but in a good way. It's as if Carroll is poking fun at the reader if he'll get the humor.
'I quite agree with you,' said the Duchess; 'and the moral of that is – "Be what you would seem to be" – or, if you'd like it put more simply – "Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise." '
–page 79, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland  
'You couldn't have it if you did want it,' the Queen said. 'The rule is jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day.'
'It must come sometimes to "jam to-day",' Alice objected.
'No, it ca'n't,' said the Queen. 'It's jam every other day: to-day isn't any other day, you know.'
–page 172, Through the Looking Glass
I play the Mad Hatter, again.
Because green is my color of the moment.
Also, wouldn't you know it, some of the poems Carroll included in this book is gibberish as well. But, what the hell, I just went along with it. And I found out that it could be terribly fun if you read some of these poems aloud. Just make sure you're alone though. Otherwise, people would just think you're on meth. Just a touch of meth, just a touch.
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe. 
'Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!'
–page 131, Through the Looking Glass
And yet again, I play the Mad Hatter.
I'd do anything to ham it up with a fez.
What on earth is a "brillig"? How can one do an "outgrabe"? And what makes a Bandersnatch "frumious"? Or, more to the point, what the devil is a "Bandersnatch"? Madness, I'm telling you. (Although, in the latter part of the story, there is some attempt to explain this bit of a poem.)

All right, I didn't find Carroll as enjoyable as I hoped he would be. As children's stories, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are puzzling to say the least. The characters though, they're another matter. They're the stuff of wonderful childhood dreams.

Read this book if:
  1. You like a little bit of gibberish every now and then.
  2. You love all the Alice movies.
  3. You fell through a hole at one point in your life.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A very book-ish wedding

Last month, I was able attend a very unconventional wedding. It was unconventional because it well, well, very book-ish. But when I think about it, this theme really comes as no surprise, as the bride is a well-loved author who is a very active supporter of the local book industry. The bride, Bebang Siy, is my favorite local author. She's a total gas!

The actual wedding ceremony was very beautiful. Bebang opted to have it in one of the centuries-old churches here in Manila. What really made the event very book-ish were the tiny details that you can see during the wedding reception. Here are a few photos I'd like to share with you, dear reader.

The wedding invite had lots of goofy pictures such as this.
The couple's in a library's card catalogue room!
I wonder if young people today still know what card catalogues are. 
The missalette of the wedding had nice book-ish touches too.
And the mass was conducted in the local language.
I was wondering why the roving library of a museum was parked in front of the church.
It turned out that it was the bridal car!
Before the start of the wedding ceremony, we were given little envelopes.
These envelopes contained the confetti.
And they were made of hearts cut out of the pages of books.
I wonder what kind of books were used. Just look at text of one piece above.
(Photo credit: R.)
We were given hand-made bookmarks as table place holders.
Bebang was the one who actually cut the letters.
The table was covered with these beautiful printouts of how the couple met.
Also on the table were books covered in white paper, serving as the center piece.
(Sorry for the blurred photo.)
I managed to get inside the bridal car before the wedding.
Instant photo opportunity with the bride!
As usual, Bebang had her goofy face on.
The wedding date was December 30,  Rizal Day.
On the way to the reception, we passed by Rizal Park.
The flag was flying at half mast in honor of our national hero.
R. and I also got the chance to goof off at the photo booth!
I love the book-ish collage as well.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

B is for Brontë

My first dead guy was Austen, and I didn't like her so much. Now my 2nd dead guy—Charlotte Brontë—is something so completely unexpected. Jane Eyre is a marvelous read. And with its Gothic theme, I wonder why it took me this long to read it.

Yes, Jane Eyre is heavy on the melodrama, but I loved it. I loved the eponymous character, she of the head strong female, the kind of person every young girl should look up to. She knows what she wants, and even though she doesn't usually get it, she's prepared to say no to things just because it would be convenient for her. Marriage to a handsome pastor but is not made of love? No, thank you. Jane Eyre will have her Mr Rochester.

The premise is simple enough. Orphaned girl is taken in by an uncle who eventually dies too. Uncle's wife is a huge b***c, who makes life terrible for the 10-year-old Jane. Jane is transplated to a boarding school for orphans, where she stays for 10 years. For the last 2 years, she serves as teacher to the same school. But Jane has itchy feet, and she decides to apply as a governess to the ward of a certain Mr Rochester.

Lowering my expectations on the 1st page
Jane falls madly in love with Mr Rochester. What struck me about this attraction is that it's not at all based on beauty and gallantry. Rochester isn't handsome, he's a bit of a stuck up and very anal, and he seems to have this sense of entitlement which he never fails to remind his household staff. Yes, Jane's attraction isn't explained at all, and that's how I know that this is one good romance. Love doesn't need any justification. You just love someone. Period.

But Rochester has a secret: he's still married to a crazy woman whom he keeps in the 3rd floor of his house. This secret isn't revealed till the day of Jane's wedding to Mr Rochester. The two don't become husband and wife at this point though, for upon discovering this not-so-teeny-tiny a secret, Jane flees. In the last quarter of the novel, we read how Jane discovers her cousins, almost marries a parson named Mr St John Rivers, and comes into her inheritance upon the death of her uncle.

I totally get Jane.
Mr Rochester and Jane do end up as a couple though. And here is where the novel really shines. When Jane goes back to Thornfield, he finds Mr Rochester blind and in a nasty state. But it doesn't matter—she still loves him and she's prepared to make all the sacrifices for the sake of this love. Do you find this sappy, dear reader? I do. But it's the good kind of sappy, the kind of sappy that doesn't make you fling the book at the couple making out in the train.

I'd like to think of Jane Eyre as not just merely a love story. Oh, the love story is a huge part of it all right, but I think it's more of the journey of a character, from someone who seems to have nothing at all to a woman who knows that life is about the choices we make and the consequences of those choices.

Jane always found a way to redeem herself at various stages of her life. In Lowood, the boarding school, she refuses to acknowledge the lies being told about her. In her refusal to marry Mr St John Rivers, she knew that marrying someone just because it would be easy for them to go to India on a missionary tour is a mistake. When she found out Mr Rochester's secret, Jane believes that staying in Thornfield would always present a moral dilemma, as she'd always be in the presence of a man she loves and can never marry.

Yes, this book is a treasure.
To say that I had a blast reading Jane Eyre would be an understatement. I devoured the book. I kissed it when I finished it. I recommended it to friends. It's not a short read, being more than 400 pages, but it's a rewarding one. It's very moral without being preachy, romantic without being too sugary, dark and luminous in different parts. It really is, without a doubt, a classic.

Read this book if:
  1. You love strong female characters.
  2. You know that one should always marry someone you love and nobody else.
  3. You've always been curious about the works of the Brontë sisters.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

My year of reading dead guys

I've been constantly asked about it by my friends, family, and people from the book club. Okay, here it is. For this year, I plan to read only dead guys, alphabetically from A to Z. And, based on the photo on the left, I've even made a shortlist of the first 8 authors whose books I'll be reading.

So I've put it out in the open, and I think that's the first step. If you put something into writing (even though it's in digital ink), it's there, it's a commitment and a promise to myself. If I fail, I've no one to blame but my lazy ass self.

But why am I doing this? Well, I guess it's finally time for me to read some of the literary classics that I've been avoiding. I just read my first Austen, and, even though I didn't like it that much, I can now say that I've read her. In fact, I think my reading Emma might have increased my detestation for this beloved author.

Also, in a way, reading the classics would minimize my compulsive book-buying habits. I've checked my shelves, and I think I have most of the letters covered. So, bring it on, 2014! I'm so ready for you.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A is for Austen

Finally, I have read my first Jane Austen, and let me just say that I'm glad this is finally over. Austen, over and done with. If I could sum up in just one word all my thoughts on this novel, it would be, well, meh. What's the deal with Austen? And why does her characters have to be so, well, meh.

My feelings as I read through this novel during the first few days of 2014 can be described in 3 stages. First is anger and frustration. Yes, I was angry at and frustrated with Emma, she of the flawed character who simply has to mess with everybody else's lives. Apparently, Emma has taken it upon herself to do all the matchmaking among people who matter in Highbury. It doesn't matter that her success rate is just 1 so far. In this day and age, she's be labeled as a manipulative and meddling b****.

So yes, I was angry, and, yes, I was frustrated. And my frustration is directed toward all the people who play along with her, specifically Harriet who foregoes the love of a certain Robert Martin in favor of someone that Emma likes. Why? Because, as per Emma, Martin is just too poor a match for her dear Harriet, who is clearly smitten with Martin and is thrilled at his marriage proposal. Kill me now.

Angry enough to bite the book
Second, I was confused. Why won't people just say what they really think? Why all the gossip and speculation, which clearly are exercises in futility? Why would Frank Churchill keep his engagement to Jane Fairfax a secret? I think of all the chapters that could have been removed should people just follow their romantic inclinations and not lead clueless people to false hopes. Cruel, cruel, cruel.

I was confused with Emma as well. Why does she have to appoint herself as the matchmaker of Highbury? It just doesn't add up! If she were being paid to do so, now that would one hell of a motivation. But clearly she just wants to poke her nose in people's asses.

I'm confused with the "weighty" issues they discuss in Emma. It really is important to talk about, and at length at that, how beautiful one's handwriting is and how one person's handwriting appears so much stronger than the other. Oh, and of course it would be a dilemma to find out that there would be 9 guests instead of just 8, which they originally planned. That truly is a problem that needs to be resolved in at least 2 pages. I scratch my head in wonder.

A bit pacified but confused
But I soldier on and persevere. And by the end of this novel of about 400 pages, I just felt relief. All ends well. As I have seen it from page 1, all will end in a wedding, well, 3 weddings in fact. Emma realizes that she does love Mr. Knightley, Harriet ends up with Robert Martin, and the engagement of Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax is brought to everyone's attention. If I were living in Highbury, I would've kidnapped all the characters, locked them up together in a room, and offer no food until they just be honest with one another.

Still, I am happy that I finished Emma, even though it didn't offer any motivation to read more Austen novels. Pride and Prejudice? Thanks, but I'll just watch the movie again. And that Darcy—that's someone I also couldn't understand.

A smile of relief
Read this book if:
  1. You love flawed heroines.
  2. You'll read anything that has female characters wearing corsets.
  3. You love a comedy of errors, of sorts.