Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Filipino Friday #1: Suprise, reader!

Well, what do you know, it's time for Filipino Fridays again! Filipino Fridays is a weekly meme that leads to the Filipino ReaderCon. This year, the ReaderCon will be held on 14 November at the Bayanihan Center, Mandaluyong.

Anyway, the first Filipino Friday has a theme of "Surprise, reader!" Along with this theme is a list of questions that hopes to introduce the person in terms of books that he or she has read. So let's get on with it, shall we?

Tell us about your favorite book discoveries for this year.
Ever since I started my A to Z dead guys challenge, I've been on a high after reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I fell in love with that book.

I'm not done with that particular challenge this year though, so I think I'll have more book discoveries for the last quarter of 2014. Just this year, I read my first Hardy, Kipling (Kim), Austen (Emma), Carroll (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland), and Eliot (Silas Marner).

Any author you started reading this year that you can’t get enough of? 
Well, aside from Brontë, whose Shirley and Villette I want to read soon, I would have to say Thomas Hardy. I read The Return of the Native this year and I breezed through it. It started out slow, like most classics do, but I learned to go with the pace of Hardy's very moody writing.

I've been slowly building my Thomas Hardy collection. Just this year, I bought Far From the Madding Crowd, Jude the Obscure, and The Mayor of Casterbridge.

A book you think you wouldn't like, but you ended up liking/loving? 
Again, it's Jane Eyre. After I turned the final page, I felt bittersweet that it had to end. Such a headstrong character, that Jane Eyre.

I never thought that I'd like Jane Eyre that much, as I thought that it would be like an Austen novel, wherein everyone just gossiped the whole day. I read my first Austen, Emma, and I detested it. Thank goodness that Charlotte Brontë is such a totally different writer.

Any book series that you just have to get your hands on? 
Hmmm . . . None of the moment, to be honest. I'm not too keen on the next George R. R. Martin novel, nor the next Brandon Sanderson. I have my whole life for A Game of Thrones!

I guess I am particularly interested in reading the other Brontë sisters. I've always been curious about Wuthering Heights, supposedly the most passionate novel ever written. Also, Anne Brontë, is reputed to be the most realist (most non-romantic) among the sisters. So I'm curious about The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Have you discovered anything new from Filipino authors this year?
As part of the read-along for the book club, I read The Rosales Saga of F. Sionil Jose. I thoroughly enjoyed the 2nd book, Tree. It's rich with allegory and symbolism.

Unfortunately, my current worst read for the year is by a Filipino author, Bianca Bernardino, who wrote She's Dating the Gangster. That chick lit novel is hugely popular here in the Philippines, but I found the plot laughable and ridiculous.

So that's it for the first Filipino Friday, dear reader. Till next time!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Traffic, tote, and bookstore

Traffic in the metro has become unbearable lately. Unbearable as in 2-hour commute unbearable. 2 effing hours, at least. And that's just the ride home. It's gotten so bad that a few minutes of continuous rain make the highway an instant parking lot.

You know that bit of advice about not reading in moving cars because the ride can get bumpy? Screw that. There are just long moments of complete standstill you forget you're actually in a vehicle. Fortunately, these are when it's most conducive to reading.

So traffic has become my reading enabler. I've long accepted the fact that the terrible traffic in the city is a way of life, a crappy way of life, but we just have to suck it. Like last night for instance. Just one look at all the red taillights and I thought it'll me at least 3 hours to get home.

So what does one do? You wait it out. I figured that since I'd be reading when I get home anyway, I might as well just read now in a cafe after a light dinner before going home. So I ordered a latte and read my Gaskell. Take that, traffic.

A couple of years ago, I had a good friend make me tote bags with a customized book-ish quote. I gave all of them away as Christmas gifts to friends, bibliophiles and otherwise. I loved those totes; they're very hardy as they were made of denim.

Then during the long weekend, while I was cleaning my closet, I found a spare tote! I did my happy dance! Totes are ideal for carrying books, yes? In Manila, where security guards are always inspecting your bag, totes are perfect, being zipperless and all.

And then 2 weeks ago, my book club had a joint book discussion with another book club. It was a first, I believe. Unfortunately, we talked about The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, which I abhorred. Ghastly, that novel is. The discussion though was interesting.

Anyway, we had our discussion at Uno Morato, a new hangout place that is both a restaurant and a bookstore. Their stock, all locally published, is quite impressive. Food's good too. So I'm definitely coming back. Here's to more bookstores in the city!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Not my kind of story

I was prepared to like this book. Even thought that it would end up as a favorite. It has all the things that a bibliophile can relate to—collecting rare books, running a bookstore, having a partner who's also into books, being a part of a book club. But at the final page, Gabrielle Zevin's novel, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, just didn't deliver.

Maybe because it touched on a whole lot of things, that the result is just several story lines spread too thinly. It's like biting into a supposedly dense cheesecake but what you really feel is a light chiffon cake. Or just plain air. Perhaps the flaws lie on the themes? They're just all over the place.

Anyway, there's really nothing new about this novel. A. J. Fikry, a recent widower, runs a bookstore in a small island. He's grumpy as hell, and one fat ass book snob. Then one day his rare copy of Edgar Allan Poe's Tamerlane gets stolen. Then he adopts a precocious baby that's left on his doorstep, who becomes instrumental in changing his dark demeanor.

It would've been more palatable if the novel focused on the story between Fikry and his adopted daughter. But no, there has to be romance and mystery. Fikry eventually marries a book agent, who helps him run his bookstore. And the mystery of the stolen Tamerlane has to be solved, albeit in a most unimaginative manner. Along the way, you meet a host of other characters: the detective who runs a book club, Fikry's sister-in-law, Fikry's sister-in-law's philandering husband, to name a few.

If the other characters in the novel remain unnamed in this blog entry, it's because they're so cookie cutter figures; I've forgotten their names. Even Fikry was someone I couldn't relate to, much as I tried.

The whole novel reeks of Hallmark. You know those movies when everything just works out cleanly in the end? The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is that. It's so clean and wholesome that it feels antiseptic. Where's the conflict? Where's the dilemma that the characters have to face? Where are the destestable villains? Unfortunately, there are none. And that's why Zevin's novel is one such work that feels hollow.

I'm not going to say that this is a terrible book. But it's a cliche. The grinch becomes lovable. The philandering character dies in a car crash. The dying bookstore gets a second life in the hands of its patrons. Money magically appears. I. Die. Of. Sugar.

Read this book if:
  1. You have nothing else to do.
  2. You love books about books.
  3. Oh, don't bother.