Thursday, February 27, 2014

The book sale near the office

So the church just 2 buildings away from my office had their book sale again. Probably their 1st for this year. Based on my experience the last time, I went there with the hopes of finding some vintage books. And I wasn't disappointed.
My loot
After wading through piles and piles of dusty, yellowing books, I went out of the sale with 6 books (5 paperbacks and 1 hardback). The paperbacks cost Php 20 each (roughly 40 US cents), whereas the hardback was Php 50 (just a little over a dollar).

I'm so happy that I was able to find a Ted Hughes poetry compilation. Birthday Letters collect poems that Hughes wrote for his wife Sylvia Plath for her birthdays. I believe this is his last book, and it touches on his complex relationship with his wife.

A confession: I bought some of the paperbacks in the picture above because of their covers. I just couldn't resist. Just look at them!
Proof that literary books can have campy covers.
The lady's facial expression is a riot! So worth the purchase.
I have another edition of this book. It's still my favorite McEwan short story compilation.
Françoise Sagan is famous for Bonjour Tristesse,
which she wrote when she was still a teenager. This novel is a follow-up of sorts.
I do find the close-up image of the woman very arresting.
Ah, another vintage Penguin. The pull of that ubiquitous orange spine.
I can't even recall if I've read an Updike.
But Rabbit, Run is supposed to be good, yes?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Rosales Saga Book #2: Tree

When your book club has a read-along, you do your best to catch up with. No questions. Never mind that you missed out on the discussion of the first book. There are still 4 more books anyway. And that's what happened to me when the book club decided to do a read-along of F. Sionil's José's 5-novel historical epic called "The Rosales Saga." Work kept me from participating initially, but I couldn't pass this up. It was just this weekend that I got to read the 2nd book in the saga. No worries though. Fortunately, the books are stand-alone works.

So, the 2nd book—Tree. A lot of things struck me as I finished the book. First is what I would call texture. Sionil José's description of setting is so detailed that you feel you're right at the center of events. Aside from the nuances of the place, there's a certain lyrical quality to the writing even when he simply describes the places the unnamed narrator goes to. Lots of atmosphere, vivid on the details, a keen eye even for the mundane and the prosaic.
As the rains subsided and the fields turned green, the mud settled and the river  acquired a clear, green hue. It would no longer be swift and it flowed with a rhythm, broken by small ripples in the shallows. It was at this time that we bathed in it and dove to its depths to discover what secrets it held. Now, too, the women took their washing to the banks and they would squat before wide tin basins, and whack at clothes with wooden paddles.
Another is how episodic the chapters seem to be. The book is really a coming-of-age tale of a boy, whose privileged family play a huge role among the townsfolk of a small town in Ilocos. Mostly, it is about the unravelling of the boy's relationship with his father, a powerful person under the employ of one Don Vicente. As a character, Don Vicente appears briefly in the novel, but his influence can be felt looming on every page. It's as if I were reading a local version of The Godfather, with Don Vicente as the head of the mafiosi and the boy's father, Espiridion, as his consiglieri. Espiridion is a character difficult to like. He has his fingers on all the comings and goings in town. Hardened, ruthless, with very few soft spots.

The chapters can indeed be likened to individual episodes. In one chapter, we read about a travelling circus who visits the town. In another, the unplanned marriage of two relatives who find themselves spending the summer in the house of Espiridion. In one chapter, there's an anecdote about a relative who finds out that the townsfolk have been cheated of their land and is determined to set things right. And in other chapters, we discover the unfortunate lives of the family's household help. A lot of these episodes don't end well. The righteous man commits suicide, the star of the circus show has an accident and never performs again, the help die from poverty. And the boy? He doesn't really come to terms with his father.

The book's spirit is not really an upper. Tree is a sad read. It shows you that the poor want for justice, and that a small impoverished town so far removed from the nation's capital can appear chaotic despite its calm veneer. The town may be picturesque, based on our unnamed narrator's eye, but it's rotten to the core. Peel the eggshell and what you get are centuries-old problems brought about by the corrupt feudal system of our colonists. And what stinks really bad is that these problems are no longer being wrought by white people but by the very same brown-skinned Filipino who doesn't think twice about making life bitter for his fellow citizen.

One closes Tree with a feeling of unease. Our ancestors never had an easy life. It was even more difficult during wartime. But what makes it even more uncomfortable is that a small town, without even knowing it, is waging its own war. The rich prey among the poor. The poor futilely fighting back and eventually accepting their sad circumstance. It's one picture that's very painful to see—people swimming upstream against forces of history, of terrible human nature, of the cruel fates, only to be swept away by the current, helpless, quietly sobbing, and eventually drowning.

Read this book if:
  1. You have a thing for historical epics set in the 1940s.
  2. You love unconventional coming-of-age stories.
  3. You know that sad books can be beautiful reads.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The next batch of dead guys

My reading adventure with dead guys is turning out to be more fun that what I had expected. Yes, there are bumps along the way, but I am enjoying these books. I am almost through with George Eliot's Middlemarch yet, but I somehow accidentally started Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary. So, in a way, the first batch of dead guys, letters A to F, will be over and done with in a few more days.

For the next batch, letters G to L, I made a rough selection of the books that I have on my shelves. A confession though: The Washington Irving short story collection is a new purchase; I found out that I have no authors whose surnames start with I in my shelf. And I'm terribly excited for this batch, as I've never read a Golding, Hardy, and an Irving.

Choosing an author for letter G was a happy problem. Way, way, way too many options. Should I go with Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter or Brighton Rock? How about Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South or Wives and Daughters? And then there's this short ghost story by an unknown European writer which I'm terribly curious about.

Also, what Hardy should I begin with? I have Far from the Madding Crowd and Jude the Obscure. What made me choose the latter? The yellow Penguin cover. When I posted the same photo on Facebook, some of my friends mentioned that Hardy can be terribly depressing. I don't mind that at all. We can't always pick up happy books, yes? Besides, it's yellow, so it's a happy book in that aspect.

But even though I've somehow chosen the books that I'm going to read next, I'm still not closing any doors and allowing room for serendipitous book finds. Just as long as the authors are dead. Who knows whether my letter H would turn out to be Nathaniel Hawthorne? The Scarlet Letter seems to be a quick read. Or maybe I'll decide on drama for letter I and go with Henrik Ibsen.

For next year, I'm already thinking of another challenge. A Dickens reading of all his novels perhaps?

Sunday, February 16, 2014


I closed this book with a feeling of wonder, of awe, of being joyfully awashed with all those details that happened in those fateful days leading to a peaceful revolution. Sometimes, we need to be reminded that years ago, within a span of 4 days, Filipinos showed the whole world that a peaceful revolution, a long overdue change in power, can be done. And thankfully, that reminder is Angela Stuart-Santiago's brilliant nonfiction work, Edsa Uno: A Narrative and Analysis with Notes on Dos & Tres.

Prior to reading Edsa Uno, I always thought that there's nothing new to know about the People Power Revolution in 1986 that happened in 4 days—from Saturday, 22 February, to Tuesday, the 25th. I was 12 years old at that time, and we were living just in front of one of the camps, Camp Aguinaldo, where some of the historic events took place. I distinctly remember my parents buying a whole box of bread. When I asked them what it was for, they just replied, "We're giving it to the soldiers." So in a way, by virtue of proximity, I was there during People Power I.

To say that Edsa Uno has been a very enlightening read would be an understatement. I never knew that Enrile and Ramos was involved in a coup attempt to oust Marcos just a few days before Edsa. I never knew that Enrile harbored ambition to be the leader of our country in a junta government. I never knew that there was a brief power struggle during those 4 days between the camps of Corazon Aquino and the military defectors (Enrile and Ramos). I never knew that Marcos was more or less kidnapped by the US government when he left Malacañang Palace with his family. I never knew that I didn't know a lot of things. It's a great feeling, this finally knowing. It would feel even greater if other people would know too.

Stuart-Santiago's book, for all intents and purposes, is a chronology. Edsa Uno presents all the details that happened during those fateful days. The research that went into this chronology is admirable. Stuart-Santiago's narrative is filled with first-hand accounts of people who played a part during this momentous period in Philippine history. Actually, most of the book is just that—people telling what was happening at a particular time. It feels wonderful reading their stories. With their stories, I kept imagining myself right in the thick of things. When these people recounted how they feared for their lives when they formed a human barricade to stop the tanks from getting to the military camps, you really feel the tension.

By the book's end, I wonder why we never fully realized the promise of the revolution. Here we still are, in a country ruled by the elite. Edsa Uno does make an analysis of what went right and wrong for the Philippines in line with the peaceful revolution of 1986. It even compares that event with the two other revolutions that happened in 2001, events which also transpired in Edsa, that highway that all residents of Manila are all familiar with. It's a bit disheartening to read the closing sections of the book. However, the book still makes it clear—People Power I was indeed a success, but the events after it are another matter altogether.

Reading Edsa Uno, I am reminded of the opening line in Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The mid 1980s under the Marcos dictatorship was probably the worst of times for most Filipinos. But those years were a catalyst in bringing out the best among us, Filipinos. And for 4 days, the Filipino spirit was in its best form for all the world to see.

Read this book if:
  1. You've always been fascinated by the peaceful Philippine revolution of 1986.
  2. You know that history isn't boring at all.
  3. You just want to know.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

D is for Dahl

First, an apology, dear reader. I know that I was supposed to read Dickens as my 4th dead guy (letter D). But halfway through Great Expectations, I realized that I've read it already! So I immediately dropped it and picked up a Roald Dahl, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the only Dahl book in my shelves. Such a quick read, this book is.

I was surprised at how Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is so easy to like. Yes, there are stereotypical characters. And yes, these characters get what they deserve. At the onset (at least if you haven't seen the movie), one knows who will have an unfortunate hand dealt upon them, and who will be favored by the quick turn of events. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is, after all, a children's book.

The novel's plot zooms through its 160 pages, which works well for young readers. There isn't a chapter wherein the characters just talk about things. Dahl makes sure that there's plenty going on on each page, and boy, there is a lot going on. One forgives Dahl for this breakneck pace, because the dialogue is witty, the characters charming, and the places bizarrely wonderful.

Perhaps an older reader like me would find fault in the storyline's predictability. Charlie gets his Golden Ticket eventually, and the other 4 children suffer fates commensurate to their flaws. Veruca Salt, a spoiled girl, is found to be a rotten nut. The chubby Augustus Gloop is made to traverse a thin pipe that can barely accommodate his girth. The novel's end though, when Willy Wonka decides to make Charlie Bucket his heir, is something we've seen coming from miles away.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is indeed charming albeit simplistic. It's the kind of book you love as a kid. It's one that you keep coming back to in your adult years for the sheer pleasure of reading something where the characters are clear cut. There are no gray areas in this book. And that's a good thing these days, when you never know if that kindly old lady next door will sneak into your house at night and slash your throat.

Read this book if:
  1. You like sugary sweet things.
  2. You know that chocolate is a food group in itself.
  3. You've always wanted to live in a chocolate factory.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Moomin lovin'

My favorite children's books are the wonderful stories written by Tove Jansson. The Moomin books are just pure, wholesome fun reads. I fell in love with all the Moomin characters, most especially Moomintroll who's always enthusiastic, always ready for some adventure, no matter how absurd it may be.

If you open a Moomin book (I believe there are 9 in the series), there are a few pages devoted to introducing the characters—the Moomin Gallery. Aside from Moomintroll, I love his best friend named Snufkin, the strong-willed Little My, and the ever-supportive Moominmamma.

Just the other day, I received a text message from fellow Moomin fan, Iya, about a set of porcelain containers with Moomin characters. Good news! And what's even better is that there's a store near my office that sells them! I love it when the universe somehow aligns itself to give you the things that you absolutely love, yes?

I went a little bit crazy with purchasing them. I bought 4 on my first go! They're really quite cheap though, just a little more than $1 each. Practically a steal, in my opinion. Unfortunately, Moomin isn't as famous here in the Philippines as they are in Europe or in Japan, where my friend told me that they have a whole store of Moomin products.

But having gone to Moominvalley myself, I know that I have to spread the love. So I never tire of talking about the Moomin books to friends. And you, dear reader, if you haven't read a Moomin book, it's high time you should. Wonderfully escapist fun, these books are. And if you read closely, you'll find out that there's a bit of philosophy in them too.

So far, I've 6 of these Moomin books and 3 of the collected volumes of the Moomin comics that Jansson drew herself. So I will always be on the lookout for more.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Going local this month

Well, it looks like I would have to stay away from dead guys for the meantime. I have to make room for some local flavor in my reading plans in the next couple of weeks. Okay, I said to myself that I'll be reading only dead guys this year, but the books pictured above are book club picks. And I don't wanna stay mute during the book discussions because I wasn't able to read them.

Po-On is the first of the Rosales saga novels by F. Sionil Jose, one of the country's National Artist for Literature. The book club is reading all 5 Rosales saga novels in a read-along event. I'm not pretty sure if I like Po-On, as I've read just a few chapters so far. So I still haven't committed myself to the rest of the Rosales saga novels.

I was a kid during the 1986 People Power Revolution, an event wherein the Filipino people peacefully toppled the decades-long Marcos dictatorship. So I am naturally curious about EDSA Uno by Angela Stuart-Santiago. It's supposed to be a faithful account of the events leading up to the historic event and its aftermath. EDSA Uno is the book club's February book.

And our March book is a bit of an unconventional one. We're reading a screenplay of an acclaimed local film! Ricky Lee's Sa Puso ng Himala is a book that tells all about the making of the movie "Himala." It contains the full screenplay, interviews with the cast, behind-the-scenes stories, and other pieces by the screenwriter. A lot of people say that "Himala" was groundbreaking when it was first shown in 1982, and its influence can still be felt today.

I'll probably be back in the arms of dead guys by March. But for February, the month of love, I'll show my love for local books first. Happy reading! And Happy Valentine's Day in advance, dear readers! 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Effed up memory

As you see, I got most of the answers wrong. Che pazzo!
I still recall how reliable my memory was during my school years. I remember how easy it was to memorize all those scientific names, quadratic formulas, trigonometric identifies, and other information. Really "useful" information, you know. Because we all know how algebra is really, really, really important when you order from the menu, or how vital it is to say the chemical formula of benzene when you go to the mall. My brain didn't discriminate—it'll store both trivial and life-altering facts.

But yesterday, at my Italian class, after having been away for just a few weeks, my memory drew a blank. A blank so total, so complete that psychologists would call it a tabula rasa, a clean slate. I couldn't recall how to conjugate the most basic verbs—essere (to be) and avere (to have)—even if my life depended on it. I couldn't even wing it. Crap. Not good. And to think that I'm on my 6th course, so I've been studying Italian for a year and a half. Double crap.

Is it because I'm turning 40 this year? Will this be the year when my memory, my ever-dependable best friend, becomes a complete asshole and turns unreliable? I cringe just thinking about it. I never see myself as someone who's forgetful or absentminded. I've never been known to be any of those. And that's the primary reason for my studying Italian. I've read somewhere that taking up courses on foreign languages improves one's mental processes.

It's a bit ironic that the one thing that should improve (or at least maintain) my mental functions should be the one that tells me I'm not that young anymore. In a way, it's a wake up call. I need to spend a few minutes (or perhaps an hour, no?) every day to immerse myself in the language again. Just find ways to be comfortable reading, listening, and speaking it. I should be on the lookout for novels in Italian. Or even watch Italian movies without subtitles.

For the meantime, I have some catching up to do on my Italian grammar. I keep forgetting the rules for using passato prossimo (simple past) and the imperfetto (imperfect) tenses. It's a good thing that I thrive on rules. And Italian has so many rules (much like any other language, I guess) that I have my work cut out for me.