Monday, June 30, 2014

On a reading high

So last Sunday, we decided to stay at home and just catch up on whatever stuff that needs catching up on. For me of course, that would have to be reading. As I slept at 8 pm last Saturday night, I woke up at 3 am, logged on to Facebook (goodness, 390+ likes for that photo!), checked my emails and downloadables, and started reading this latest novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah.

I bought Americanah on a whim, as I think I remember reading about it that the novel was optioned by Lupita Nyong'o. With my A to Z classics challenge, I figured I wasn't recently reading contemporary novels more often than before.

And then I checked the clock on my wall. It was already 8 am! I almost missed breakfast! Americanah is that good, dear reader. No wonder it received a lot of awards this year and last. The hype is oh so true! Read it! Read it! Read it!

I can't remember the last time I was so enamored with a book. So passionate I felt about this novel that I just wanna rush to the nearest bookstore and get all the novels written by Ms Chimamanda. I actually called my favorite bookstore and found out that they have only Americanah in stock, and there's no news as to whether they'll stock the earlier works of this author. Sucks vacuum cleaners.

The last time I felt like this after discovering a very talented author was after finishing José Saramago's The History of the Siege of Lisbon. That novel instantly converted me into a Saramago fan, making me read most of his novels. But The History of the Siege of Lisbon will always be my favorite Saramago. The novel combined history with proofreading! Orgasmic.

The hunt is on for the works of Ms Chimamanda. I never figured that I'd be interested in fiction which is very much centered on Nigeria. Americanah is just too beautiful, and I hope that the author's other works would be just as satisfying as this one.

Friday, June 27, 2014

What I've been up to recently, aside from reading

Well, living. Not just living in the most basic sense of the word, but trying to live healthily, both physically and mentally.

A month ago, the 26th of May to be exact, I got confined to the hospital due to a constantly elevated blood pressure of 220/120. Of course, they also took my vitals. The results were shocking. My heart rate was over 100 beats per minute, and my weight was 225 lbs., which was way, way, way over than the ideal 160 lbs. for my height of 5' 9".

My cardiologist (now one of my favorite persons in the whole world) told me that I need to make drastic lifestyle changes. Otherwise, I will literally die young. If my BP weren't diagnosed, I could've have toppled over and suffer a stroke any time, or probably have a heart attack. Up to now, this thought gives me nightmares.

A dietitian was also recommended to me. At first, she explained that I need to have a low-fat and low-salt diet. Seeing the list of food items to avoid was enough to make me cry: bacon, cream cheese, processed meat, butter, coffee, nuts, chocolate, full cream milk, instant noodles to name a few. Basically all the good and yummy stuff.

Then during the second time my dietitian visited me, she explained that my cardiologist wanted me to also have a strict 1,500-calorie-per-day diet. Good thing that she had resources for me, handouts telling me how many servings (or exchanges) of a certain food I can have per meal. I never knew that some fruits can have high caloric content. Mangoes and grapes, for example.

When I got discharged from the hospital after 3 days, I had the resolve to beat this. I thought I was way too young (even though I turned 40 this year) to have these medical conditions. Prior to my medical confinement, I had absolutely no intention of losing weight. That would be too much trouble. And losing weight means work and a lot of sacrifices. I'm not prepared to not have dessert! I love cupcakes too much.

But off to living healthier I did. I started to walk more, to use the stairs more often. Just small things that somehow seem to add up. Good thing I love walking. Now it's just a matter of adding more minutes to it. Now I walk continuously for 30 minutes every day, sometimes even to an hour if I can afford it.

And don't get me started on fancy diets. I decided early on that I will not follow a diet that's expensive, involves medication, requires exotic food, and is too fussy to implement. I also vowed not to totally deprive myself.

I discovered the wonders of portion control. It really is a marvelous thing. When we eat out, rather than having food wrapped to go at the end of the meal, I immediately get a small portion and have the waitstaff wrap everything else. This way, I don't see all the temptation in front of me. I was given a really evil hamburger (with a 1/3-pound beef patty) in the office last week. I made it last for 4 days, eating just a quarter of it every day as a snack.

I did give up junk food altogether, and also all kinds of soda, whether it's 'light' or sugar-free. I haven't touched a potato chip nor gotten near ice cream and cake for the past 4 weeks. Some days I do miss having something really salty though. So it hasn't always been easy. But as I've said, I'm determined to put on a fight.

I eat every time I go hungry though. But now, instead of just blindly eating (or eating just about anything I can get my hands on), I've become conscious of my snacking habits. Thank goodness for apples and slices of whole wheat bread. I now have these as a staple in my bag. Apples are a godsend: low in calories and yet very filling.

Oh, and sleep! I have never slept so deeply in years! Apparently, losing on sleep makes you prone to obesity and can cause problems if you have hypertension. I now try to get as much as 7 hours of sleep every night. It did cut my reading time though. But oh well, I've no complaints.

My weight's down to 201 lbs. this week. My BP's relatively stable at 120/80. My heart rate's a bit lower too, at 80. And I do feel lighter and less fatigued. I just couldn't be happier.

The battle is far from over though. I still see my cardiologist on a regular basis. And I have to undergo a few tests every now and then. I just did my first ever treadmill and stress test this week, and I found out that I'm at 96% capacity. So I've been cleared to do most forms of exercise.

Somehow, I can't believe that I'm experiencing all these things on the year I turned 40. If my life truly 'began' at this age, then I can't wait what it has to offer in the coming years.
The requisite 'before' and 'after' picture
4 weeks, baby!
One day, I'll be able to eat that cupcake again without the guilt.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The bookshelf project #45

And we have another submission from one of the blog's readers! This week's photos of bookshelves are from Jouel. Let's see what books he has at home, shall we?

Click the picture to enlarge.
From what I can see, Jouel is a huge thriller fan. The top shelf has Stephen King, Jeffrey Archer, Ed McBain, and those Trese graphic novels by Budgette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo. I also spot one of my favorite novels—Bernhard Schlink's The Reader! Woot!

Looking at the rest of his shelves, we see more thrillers: novels by Ted Dekker, Greg Iles, Scott Turow, Robin Cook, Patricia Cornwell, Dean Koontz, Len Deighton, and Thomas Harris, to name a few. There are also the occasional YA (Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green) and a few classics (East of Eden by John Steinbeck).

I love hardcovers, so I love how most of Jouel's hardcovers are arranged at the bottom shelf. Hardcovers do pose a challenge in terms of portability, but they look awesome on one's shelf, yes?

And there's spillover! See below.

Click the picture to enlarge.
I guess this is the trade paperback and the mass market paperback section, no? Again, more thrillers, but we do get a glimpse of a couple of Oscar Wildes. And Iain Banks! And Cormac McCarthy!

Looking at Jouel's collection makes me want to head to the nearest book and get the latest suspense novel. Come to think of it, it's been a while since I read a really good thriller. Give me murders, police procedurals, legal battles, and medical mysteries now!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The book about the bees

A lot of people are surprised to find out that my college degree is in biology. Yes, I know a lot more about the birds and the bees than literary criticism. So most of the time I muster the guts to read my past book reviews, I cringe. I know diddly squat about how to properly write a book review.

When a novel comes out that has a lot to with science, especially biology, I tend to gobble it up. That's what happened when I heard about Laline Paull's novel The Bees. I just knew that I'd enjoy it. It's a fantastic mash-up of sorts of a National Geographic show and an adventure story. Also, it provides the reader a broad view of what goes inside a beehive.

Unlike other people, I've no qualms on having talking animals as characters. Yes, the bees in The Bees talk to one another. Paull makes it not just seem that the bees communicate using words, but that they also employ their body chemistry to convey different emotions such as fear, mirth, and ecstasy. It's a fascinating biological concept—how many animals use their bodily secretions to reach out to others.

The hive is a collective, but one bee stands out in this novel, and it's a humble sanitation worker named Flora 717. In The Bees, we are introduced to the various groups of bees; there are the sages who have the queen's ear, the drones who collect nectar, to name a few. It's like a strict caste system. If you're born a sanitation worker, you aren't supposed to be talking; you just clean the hive of its mess for the rest of your lives.

Here's where Flora 717 is different. She isn't supposed to have any ability to talk, but she can. And she's big for a sanitation worker. She also makes decisions which she thinks would be good for the hive. She encounters wasps and manages to have a decent conversation with one. She even goes against the rule that only the queen can breed when she lays her own eggs.

While the naturalistic elements of The Bees have the feel that Paull has a good scientific background (or at least did extensive research on the topic), the plot can seem to drag at some points. What is it exactly that Flora 717 is meant to do? There are chapters wherein we just read about Flora 717 assume different roles. These chapters just do not carry the story forward. They just keep on emphasizing that our beloved sanitation worker is different.

Loving it
Halfway through the novel, I had this wish that Flora 717 would assume the role of queen. But I realized that she's way too interesting to become a boring monarch, whose only purpose is to breed. In a way, my wish was somehow granted because Flora 717 does play a huge role as to the queen's successor.

As a whole, The Bees is a enjoyable novel. The biology major in me was totally geeking out. The book's thrilling chapters were indeed very satisfying, edge-of-your-seat levels even. There's also drama, especially every time Flora 717 gets confronted by a sage. There really is something for everyone.

Read this book if:
  1. You love honey.
  2. You're not a big fan of labels because they perpetuate the idea of stereotypes.
  3. You know that bees are an important part of ecology.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Of books and action figures

Goodness, when your cardiologist and dietitian both tell you that you're allowed only 1,500 calories per day, it sounds like the end of the world, yes? In my case, I've been taking it out on watching TV shows. And buying books. And collecting action figures. Everything except having that cupcake.

So lately I've been downloading TV episodes like crazy. Started "The Americans" and got hooked. Felt disappointed that the NBC series "Kings" only had 1 season. (It's somewhat of a retelling of the David and Goliath story.) Watched the 1st season of "Arrow" and felt ambiguous about it. Anticipating the latest episodes of "Penny Dreadful" and "Fargo." Still going gaga over "Game of Thrones."

Speaking of "Game of Thrones," I am amused by the latest collection of action figures from Funko. The likenesses of the characters may be wanting, but the details are intricate. My favorite is Tyrion below. The "imp" stands atop Arthurian-themed books. T. H. White's The Once and Future King was the book club's May selection. Somehow, I prefer Malory's Le Morte Darthur to it.

Of course, "Game of Thrones" wouldn't be complete without the mother of dragons, Daenerys Targaryen. The dragon behind her isn't Drogon, Rhaegal, nor Viserion. It's an Asian dragon I bought at the Singapore airport. Ann Leckie's multi-awarded science fiction novel, Ancillary Justice, is wonderful. Yes, the hype is true.

And if there's one movie that I'm eagerly anticipating this year, it's the 4th Transformers movie. Yes, I know, the movies have become crappier and crappier. But hey, I grew up watching the animated series. My brain's hardwired to love both Autobots and Decepticons. Here's Optimus Prime with my read on this father's day weekend—Aaron Hartzler's touching and hilarious young adult memoir.

Ah, collecting action figures. Such an expensive hobby. My only consolation is that I'm actually saving some money as I've cut down on my eating out. I can't even recall the last time I ate cake.