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!)