Monday, December 28, 2015

My best reads for 2015

Well, well, well . . . it's that time of the year again. This year though hasn't been a great year for reading, numbers-wise. Lots of personal things happened, and work has been terribly demanding this year. Plus, I've been busy with two hobbies: coloring and calligraphy. (More on those two on the next post.)

I say it hasn't been great because normally, I would be finishing 50 books at the least by the end of the year. This year, it's a measly number. Not even 30! But there's still next year, yes? And those books will always be here—by my bedside, on my office desk, in my bag, in the bathroom, and on my ipod (hello, audiobooks!).

So here are my favorite reads this year, dear readers. I must say that this list has surprised even me. It's probably my most eclectic list ever.

I read a lot of graphic novels this year. I devoured the love story of Arnold Arre's Halina Filipina in one sitting. Scott McCloud's Sculptor is one heartbreaking read. Ryan Inzana's Ichiro is like a throwback to the good old days of comics, and it's heavy on Japanese mythological elements.

Of course, there will be novels. Edan Lepucki's California is what dystopian novels should be. I was transfixed at the two intersecting story lines of All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld. I have a few unfinished novels beside me, but I don't think that I'll get any more reading done before the year ends.

The stories in Emily Carroll's Through the Woods appealed to my horror and Gothic sensibilities. It's also a very beautiful book, with the hand-drawn elements that appear on every page. I never felt so conflicted about turning a page.

And then there are the odd balls. Kate Beaton's Step Aside, Pops, which is part of the Hark, A Vagrant! collection is such a gas. The strips feel like one comedy sketch after another. Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist is an interesting addition to this list. I included it here because of the author's interesting take on creativity, and what it takes to make your own art.

So there you go, dear readers. I wish you a happy 2016. Here's to more books!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Why it hasn't been a good year for reading (so far)

Because I've been mostly coloring, that's why.
The black background certainly provided a good contrast.
What was challenging here was how to make the building distinct from one another.
When you're given a set of 60 markers, you go and use every single one.
This is from the Vintage Patterns coloring book.
I'm into metallic and glitter pens lately.
And this Asian dragon plate is perfect for them.
Also used glitter and metallic pens for this chameleon.
The green background came with the page, FYI.
The colors made me smile on this one.
From the Secret Garden coloring book.
This is actually a spread, and it took me a week to finish.
Also from Secret Garden.
The thing about glitter and metallic pens is that they're trick to capture in a photo.
You have to find good lighting or you angle the camera sharply.
This is a closeup shot of the plate before it, taken at an angle.
Only then will the glitter and the metal pop up.
Because it was our anniversary month. Also from Secret Garden.
Just used pink, red, and violet markers on this one.
My mom has joined the coloring craze as well!
Here's her first finished plate.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Why the book club may or may not break the bank

For the past 7 years, I've been part of this wonderful little group known as a book club. Now when I mention this bit to people, I'm sure they imagine a group of lonely, pseudo intellectuals who engage in cerebral masturbation. Or a motley assortment of persons who are just bored out of their lives and just want to talk about the stuff they've read. Or probably a gathering of snobs who meet to sneer at what the rest of the world is reading.

I guess these thoughts have a grain of truth in them, however small. And I guess I've committed a few instances of book snobbery every now and then. (I've read all the Twilight books and I hated them all after finishing them. I bashed it like there's no tomorrow. But if it got lots of people to read, then Twilight is our "savior," yes? Now I love, love, love Twilight. Ditto Fifty Shades of Grey. Ditto all those young adult vampire/werewolf/angel/fairy novels.)

No self-respecting wide reader would say that he or she wouldn't come close to a book just because it's at the top of the bestseller list. Come on, that's just plain stupid. Thinking that "literary" novels are better than genre novels (romance, sci-fi and fantasy, horror, thriller) just reeks of elitism. Just gag me with a spoon.

But I digress, and I believe that I'm writing about the book club. If there's one thing that the book club has something going for it, it's that it'll force reading materials down your throat. And some of these books belong to the kind that you've been staying away from all your life. So let me share some of the books we've read and talked about through the years, dear reader. And let's begin with 2012, the year I started taking pictures of all our books of the month.
2012 was heavy on the classics. We read The Count of Monte Cristo, The House of Mirth, and Noli Me Tangere. I particularly enjoyed TCoMC, which was basically a revenge story. Also, Ready Player One was a blast; R. moderated it, and it was one of the best attended discussions of the club. Interesting story: it was I who forced RPO down R.'s throat; I just knew that he'd like it.

From this set, I was disappointed with Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle. I died of boredom. Perhaps I was expecting too much from it, which is due to the terrific movie adaptation by Hayao Miyazaki. Also, Habibi got the group divided. I enjoyed it though. Also The Geography of Bliss, which is like a wonderful travel book of the world's happiest and least happy countries. Looking back, 2012 was a good year, reading wise.
2013 had me co-moderating Stephen King's Night Shift with R. We had the book discussion at a very old house in Manila, and made sure that the discussion went into the early evening hours. You know, just for that creepy feel. From this set, I enjoyed Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Gaiman's Season of Mists, which is part of the Sandman graphic novels.

I had mixed feelings about Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan. It's well written, of course, but it didn't pull me in like what Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five did. The discussion for Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game was an interesting one. The novel was unquestionably thrilling; however, the author's homophobic remarks have put a dark cloud over it. Can you really separate an author's work from his personal beliefs? 
2014 was the year I faced so many challenges, so I was able to attend only a few book club events. It was also the year we tackled our first audio book, Bill Bryson's Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe. The book club even went away out of town for the weekend just for the discussion. I just came out of the hospital at that time, so I wasn't able to go.

Another first for the book club was our discussion on the screenplay of a classic Filipino movie, Sa Puso ng Himala by Ricky Lee. Orly, the moderator, even had a short screenplay writing workshop at the end of the discussion. I couldn't get into Neville's The Eight though. I found it too slow and ridden with a lot of details. But I will always have a soft spot for Morgenstern's The Night Circus. It will always be one of the most magical and romantic novels that I've ever read.

I didn't read that much last year. All I remember was I hungry most of the time. 
So now we get to 2015. And still I haven't been reading that much. What's surprising is that I'm not bothered by this at all. Still, I'm glad that early this year, we discussed the works of one of my favorite writers, Ernest Hemingway. Who doesn't love a handsome guy who could write? And then there's Levithan's Boy Meets Boy, which I think everyone should read. It's just so damn beautiful.

I'm not really looking forward to reading Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman. I didn't even plan to buy a copy. (The hardcover in the picture was given to me as a gift.) How the book came to be published just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

More and more people from the book club don't buy the print versions anymore. They prefer the (gasp!) the ebooks. I love paper so much, that I can't bear the thought of reading a story on a screen. I'm not going to get into the ebook vs. print thing though. (It's moot and academic.) Both versions get people to read, so everything's fine by me. What bugs me is that books are getting more and more expensive. And that, dear readers, is a topic for another day.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Why I have been feeling less stressed lately

No, not another post about coloring! Just indulge me one more time, dear reader.

This took up way more time than I anticipated.
Black markers for the flowers, and colored pencils (Faber Castell) for the background.
I felt that the plate had way too much colors already, so left the leaves uncolored.
Decided to go twee with this one
So lots of pastels such as pinks, purples, and baby blues
And green, lots of green. Green is my color of the moment.
This is, like, 99% complete.
A friend pointed out that I missed a flower outline (upper left).
And then I noticed that I left out a few purple feather lines as well (bottom).
R. challenged me not to use any green in my next Secret Garden plate.
So fall colors on this one. Although we don't have that season here in Manila. Hehehe.
This plate made me fall in love with Derwent colored pencils.
Used both Derwent and Prismacolor pencils for this one.
The bolder colors are Prismas, which have cores that are too soft for my taste.
The Derwents have just the right balance.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Why pens will be my ruin

I think I have a pen fetish. Or I probably am a pen hoarder. Gel pens, sign pens, fountain pens, felt-tipped pens. I couldn't get enough of them. I

I draw the line at ballpoints though. I've never been really a fan of them. Perhaps it has something to do with my pressing on the paper too hard with the pen, so I usually crack the tip of the ballpoint. And if a ballpoint falls and hits the floor with its tip, it's practically useless.

My love for a good, hefty pen got me thinking—what if I try out calligraphy? That craft makes use of pens, right? Besides, most of my friends keep telling me that I'd be a natural at it because of my handwriting. Hmmm . . . .

So I got me some calligraphy pens and just winged it. And that was the biggest mistake of my life. Argh! I never knew that it was so hard! All those lines, serifs, holding the pen at certain angles, descenders, ascenders, versals, gothics, and what have you.
Quite an interesting read, this book is.
It even has bits on the history of calligraphy.
Here are a few of my early attempts. I used no lines as guides, no fancy paper, just cheap calligraphy pens. So saying that these leave a lot to be desired is an understatement.
I guess I was too excited for the weekend.
Just for clarification: this  is "woot!" and not "woop!"
Getting comfortable angling the pen
And aren't weekend craft fairs just lovely? You end up buying cute and kitschy stuff. And only when you're headed home do you realize that you bought stuff that you have actually no need whatsoever. Oh well . . . .
Pens fit so satisfyingly in this pouch.
Also, last weekend was when the book club discussed Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner's SuperFreakonomics. So yes, I'm still squeezing in some reading. But here's a confession: I didn't really get to read this one; I listened to the audiobook, which was wonderfully read by Dubner.

Aren't audiobooks great? They let you multitask. Now you can finish a book while driving, having sex, feasting on a buffet, picking your nose, and in my case, coloring pages. It took a while for me to get comfortable dividing my attention between holding a crayon and understanding what Dubner is saying. When I started, I had to "rewind" the audio just to be able to completely understand the topic. (Hey, is "rewind" the correct term here? Somehow, it reminds me of a cassette tape or VHS.)

Anyway, SuperFreakonomics isn't as a good as the first one, which I found really fun and brought a lot of a-ha moments. This book, which was published in 2009, just felt watery. There isn't enough substance in this book for it to become credible. It's as if Levitt and Duber were rushing to publish another book even though they didn't have enough material. For shame!

Books like these should be able to surprise you, to offer something that you can use during dinner party conversations. Reading SuperFreakonomics made me blurt out, "But I already knew that!" or "Of course! That's just common sense!"

The book is still an enjoyable read, and I would recommend it to economics enthusiasts. The authors do make it a point to integrate economics principles into the essays as  much as possible. But, but, but: I couldn't forgive them for making a false statement about global warming. (Water vapor is not the most significant greenhouse gas; it still is carbon dioxide. Come on!)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Why I'm still at it

I'm talking about coloring, that is. It's been a while since I had a hobby that I truly enjoyed. And let me just tell you that I am really into this coloring shiz. Bring on those coloring materials!

And I never realized that there are so many kinds of coloring materials out there. Colored pencils, colored pencils with watercolors, markers, fine liners, blending sticks, shading pencils, gel pens, glitter pens, metallic pens. Oy! It's a craft maker's wet dream!
I started with buying colored pencils.
Lately though, I've experimented with markers and fine liners.
I have never been surrounded by this much color in my life!
My favorite coloring books are still Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest.
They feature a lot of greenery (grasses, plants, trees, leaves).
And so I've been buying a lot of green markers in different shades recently.
A good friend, Ajie, introduced me to this brand.
They're great for coloring because they don't produce those ugly black
marks when the colors overlap. Unfortunately, they're very expensive.
And so armed with these markers and colored pencils, I immerse myself for a few hours into these black and white plates. I've never really logged the time it takes me to complete a plate. (It depends on the intricacy of the details, I guess.) But I think it's safe to say that it takes me at least 4 hours to finish one. And during those 4 hours, I think of nothing else.
I used colored pencils for these. See the different greens?
Normally, I prefer to color in solids, but I tried shading in this one.
I love that there's an owl that's making a peek-a-boo.
I also used colored pencils for this one, just two colors actually.
Since there aren't that much detail into the plate, I thought of coloring the background.
Huge mistake, that was. This took me longer than I expected!
Here I used markers.
One has to be careful to use that kind that doesn't bleed to the next page.
R. challenged me not to use greens for the next plate. Tough!
This plate is unfinished.
I tried using glitter and metallic pens to work on this one.
And I think the effect is beautiful!
In other non-coloring-related stuff, R. and I attended the free Airbnb orientation last weekend. We were interested at what it takes to be a host, plus other details such as fees, security, cancellations, and listings. 

I've never tried the Airbnb service. Whenever I find myself in other countries, I still go the traditional route—going online and booking a hotel room from there. During the orientation, I was impressed by the range of accommodations that Airbnb has in its listings. You can even choose to stay in a castle! Rates are good; sometimes even lower than hotel rooms.
R. during the orientation
Even though it was free, they served food!
Lucky me, as it was already almost 3 pm and I still haven't had lunch.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Why take it slow

Most of my life, I've been a speed reader. I'm not exactly sure how fast I read in terms of the number of words per minute; all I know is that I can go through a 400-page book in one afternoon. Of course, comprehension is another matter. If you read text in chunks, as I do when I speed read, you don't really get into the details. It's like a buffet—filling but not wholly satisfying taste-wise.

How I became a speed reader is a story in itself. When my younger brother was 9, my parents enrolled him in a speed reading course. He's not a big reader, my brother is. My parents probably thought that if he speed read, he'd still be able to finish books and still have lots of time playing or doing the usual, you know, boy stuff.

Anyway, my brother got sick on the first day of the course. I would never really know to this day if it was a real illness, or if it was just purely psychosomatic. And I will never understand why my parents didn't just take note of my brother's "illness" that day and force him to attend the following day.

The speed reading course was non-refundable and non-transferable. Bummer, my parents must have thought. Then they had this brilliant idea, which I now think to be a touch Hitchcock-ian. Clap, clap. (Sometimes, I feel unworthy to be their child.) For one summer, my 10-year-old self pretended to be Thomas, my younger brother. I believe I was the youngest in that class of 15. And it took me a while to respond when somebody called me Tom. So I just kept to myself and just immersed myself in all those speed reading exercises.

That summer changed my reading life. I've never looked back since.

Speed reading is extremely helpful. You go through all your class required reading in a matter of days. You can finish the newspaper in the morning, which is the only way to read it, methinks. Everything goes by in a flash. And you really have more time to do other stuff, which in my case is to read more stuff.

Lately, however, I've come to realize that perhaps it's time to it slow. Not just in reading but in most of my routine activities. What's the point of all this hurrying? Why do I need to rush things that I find enjoyable? It's bad enough that I have to constantly meet deadlines at work, so I don't want to make speed a de facto in other aspects of my life. So consciously I've been trying (with moderate success) to read more slowly, to take my time enjoying the food in front of me, to jot down things in a notebook, to walk more leisurely.

No matter how fast I read, I'm never going to read all these great works of literature. I've gotten comfortable having my to-be-read pile around. Besides, there are books that are worth every hour your spend with them—the flowery prose of Proust, the sublime poetry of Czesław Miłosz and Seamus Heaney (still my favorite poets), the Gothic romance of Jane Eyre, and the fluid narrative of José Saramago, just to name a few.

Let me tell you, dear reader, you do feel more relaxed when you deliberately take things slow. (I even noticed that my pores have become smaller.) More importantly, you get to enjoy your reading material more. Like this debut novel by Edan Lepucki, the post-apocalyptic California. This novel had quite a buzz going for it last year, especially after Stephen Colbert featured it in the light of that Amazon-Hachette debacle. Ergo, it jumped into the bestseller lists. The New York Times even said that it won the "literally lotto."

California is fantastic post-apocalyptic fiction. What sets it apart from other works in this genre is its deliberate pace. Lepucki focuses the story on how a couple, Frida Ellis and Calvin Friedman, survives in Los Angeles, which has now been totally devastated. It's a sad novel really; you know that things wouldn't really end well for our main characters. The world has become cruel, one where being pregnant is a liability and your acceptance to a community comes down to a vote.

There's a sense of dread in the pages of California. Lepucki never really discloses why the world has come to an apocalypse, which is a very good decision in my opinion. I felt a good mix of paranoia and horror reading it. Somehow, you get a sense that what's happening in California can really happen. I do hope that I'm dead when that time comes. I wouldn't last a second in there anyway.
My obsession over coloring books continues.
So happy that I finally have Johanna Basford's works.
These are quite difficult to find in bookstores lately.
Even my 8-year-old niece has taken to them coloring pages.
She has no fear of intricate and very detailed illustrations.
Speaking of slow, this took me more than 5 hours to color.
Not 5 straight hours though. Otherwise, calluses.
(From the Secret Garden coloring book)
I've also taken the habit of taking things slow to other small things. Last weekend, we went to a local crafts fair, and it gave me a few ideas to try out. I have no delusions of becoming the next Martha Stewart though.
Those pre-arranged bouquets can be quite expensive, so R opts to buy flowers in bulk.
Besides, I think he enjoys being a florist. Hehehehehe.
I bought this lime liqueur last weekend, and it's divine.
I am loving all things citrus lately—the refreshing scent, the clean taste, the vibrant colors.
I tried adding a splash of this liqueur to sparkling water.
My own "slow" fizzy lime drink without the sugar. Win.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Why some people are just awesome

Because they can make really beautiful things. Like R, who took the time and effort to make this artwork by hand.

It's something that I can print out and color! Yes, that's me—mustache, beard, reading glasses, curly hair, and all.

This artwork is actually a preview of what's going to happen soon with the layout of this blog. After all, this site seriously needs a facelift.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Why my fingers hurt like hell recently

Some of the coloring stuff that I use
The watercolors are actually R's.
I still don't trust myself with a paintbrush.
If you've seen any of my notebooks, or just any sheet of paper that I've written on, you'll notice that I write very forcefully. I always wear out ballpoints because I press on them heavily on the page. In fact, my writing is still  legible on the 3rd or 4th sheet of paper underneath the sheet I wrote on. So calluses, man. Calluses.

Come Saturday morning, I wake up in anticipation to something I last did 30 years ago. Never did I expect that I would get addicted to coloring. It has become a hobby, nay, an obsession recently. It's an obsession that extends to retail therapy. I now have more than enough colored pencils, markers, pens, and coloring books to last me a year.

I know that I have to get this compulsive buying of art supplies in check. After all, it takes me 2 hours to completely color a plate. So on a good day, I can do at least two. Saturdays are good days. Weekdays, not so much. Sundays are a pain. Literally. My fingers kill me every Sunday morning. Shame on me for subjecting them to 4 hours of intense activity. And then add the fact that, like the way I write, I also color with forceful abandon. The sharpener has become my best friend.

So that's the way it is during weekends. Saturdays are for all the coloring shiz. Sundays are for reading. Just enough time to have my fingers recover and let them help me do money-making stuff on the weekdays (i.e., work).
Last Saturday's get-together turned into an impromptu coloring party.
I printed out some sheets to color and brought loads of colored pencils.
See, there is an activity that does not require WI-FI.
It can get really intense.
I believe this was already early evening, just before dinner.
Even the kids joined in the "adult" coloring activities.
Here's R not coloring.
We agreed that he should draw something that I can color.
And I can probably use it as my blog's masthead!
If you haven't tried out coloring, you're missing out on a lot. In more ways than one actually. You miss out on the hours that you exercise another part of your brain (as R said, which I imagine that part to be rainbow-colored). You also miss out on not thinking about work, not making mindless talk to the person nearest you, not eating (so messy to be doing both!), not even farting (can't recall farting and coloring at the same time).

It's very FREEING.

And it needn't be an expensive hobby, provided you keep your impulse buying proclivities in check. There are lots of free coloring plates available online. I like the ones found here and here. I'm still looking for the Secret Garden coloring book though. It's the one that started all this wonderful craze, and the plates are just beautiful. Anyway, here are some of the sheets I colored recently.
I challenged myself to use just 3 colors for this one.
Not too happy with the blue though. It's way too dark to be seen.
I'll stick to more pastel-y colors next time I use markers.
This is from the Vintage Patterns book.
Probably one of the easiest plates in this book.
Easy = 1.5 hours
Should've made a pattern on this one, no?
Like a heart or a shape or whatever. But still pretty to look out.
I left one person uncolored. Can you spot it?
And here's proof on how hard I press on the colored pencils.
See how the pages have warped on the blue areas?
R helped me choose the colors on this one.
And what have I been reading? Two novels: a contemporary novel and a less-known classic. I saw Edan Lepucki's California last Friday and just need to have it. I read 200 pages in white heat yesterday. It's that good! The classic is by Elizabeth Von Armin, and it's one of her more famous works, Elizabeth and Her German Garden. My first Von Armin read was Enchanted April, and I've been, ummm, enchanted with her works ever since.
This is how you do post-apocalyptic fiction.
And no zombies! How refreshing!
Look at how Von Armin showed two owls "talking."
So charming!