Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Eye candy

I must admit it—I'm a book cover junkie. I mean, there's just no way that I'm gonna spend hard-earned money on a book with that has a bad cover. Books are expensive, no? And here in my corner of the world, I noticed that book prices have become quite steep lately. (It couldn't be because of that stupid effing TRAIN law, could it? But everything's seems pricier lately because of it.) Also, the book cover is like the cherry on a banana split or a sundae. It somehow completes that damn thing, making it prettier. Good ice cream and luscious cherry = one helluva dessert. If that cherry ain't shiny red and didn't have that stalk that people with dextrous tongues can tie into a knot (oooh, the possibilities!), then what's the point. I might as well just eat sugar to end my meal, which I may have done a few times before, in the past, like yesterday.

If you think you've written a fine novel or the next Harry Potter or some sexy piece of fiction that people would get their rocks off to, then wouldn't you want to have one eye candy of a cover? Yes, I know that beauty is subjective (what isn't?), but there are certain things in life that make you gasp because it's beautiful, yes? I'm not even talking about the principles of design, as I know nothing about them. I guess I'm just talking about a beautiful, well-designed cover in the same way that the US Supreme Court couldn't even give a good definition of what's pornographic. In their words, "I'll know it when I see it."

I love simple book cover designs. So no screaming typefaces and sloppy Photoshop. And also, no cliches like headless women for romance books. I know that my aesthetic taste differ significantly from many people, but when it comes to book covers, we bibliophiles can spot an ugly cover a mile off, right? It's this difference in our aesthetic tastes that make for interesting scenarios. Like clothes shopping with the bf, for example. I can recall countless times when I particularly liked a shirt or a shoe and then asked him if it looked good, and then felt thrown off when he said, "Eeeehhhh" or "Just choose another one" or my most dreaded "It's just okay." The thing is, I kinda trust him on these things. He's a graphic designer, and a damn good one. Still, farewell cute shirt, bye-bye awesome shoes. You could've been mine.

Anyway, I've digressed. So let's return to book covers. The photo below is a favorite.


I don't think these Signet Classic editions are in print anymore. Sad. So I get hold of them at secondhand bookshops. I've read a few of these babies when I was a teenager, and I have yet to met a book cover from this line that I didn't like. Let's break it down.

Lots of white space on this one. So it doesn't appear to be busy. Notice how the author's name stands out, with the clean serif typeface. Normally I don't like things written in all caps, but I'll take this one. The typeface used is so elegant that it doesn't come across as being loud. And the title! It's done in calligraphy! I'm a bit wary when I see calligraphic typefaces nowadays, as most of them are done by computer, which I think is sort of cheating. Beautiful calligraphy takes time to do. I know that the calligraphy on this cover is done by hand because of the slight letter differences. Look at all three letter Es. They have different  lead-in and exit strokes and different eyes (which is the enclosed part in the small letter e). Oy, typography orgasm!

The most awesome element of the Signet Classic book covers would have to the figures which are all hand painted. The two ladies in this cover have such intricate details in their composition. In a way, it's a painting within a painting, as the ladies' dresses serve as a canvas to smaller painted scenes. They don't make these kind of covers anymore, I think. Such a shame.

Of course, it wouldn't be the same if I weren't going to nitpick. One thing that I don't like about these editions is that the ink smudges. So after reading more than 10 pages, your fingers have this grayish smudge. This means only one thing though—you can't pick your nose after reading. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Putting on snail goo and getting by without a deodorant

Today, let's talk about skincare, more specifically, facial skincare. One thing about me is that I thrive on routine. If something will have me do a series of actions repetitively at a constant time of day, I am in. I get antsy when my everyday normal is broken. Like something bad's going to happen. Like big bad. Like end-of-the-world bad. I wake up every day at 4, but for some strange reason, I wake up just a few minutes before my alarm goes off. On the very few days that I get woken up by that alarm, I feel so stressed already that I can't even do my usual morning toilet thingy. If I'm not at my desk by 6 and not having coffee by 6.30, there'll be lines on my forehead all morning. Like wrinkles.

And speaking of wrinkles, they're at the top of my concerns lately. More important than world peace and deep sea exploration. (World peace is a nice idea and everything, but honestly, farting rainbows or sweating glitter is far more achievable. We're too emotional as a species, too diverse in our thinking. I guess what we can do is to work toward WP. But let's face it, we'll never get there.) When I hit 40, I've googled "how to avoid getting wrinkles," "how to prevent having that old people smell," "should I sunblock?" and "paul rudd doesnt age, is he even human?"

Which, of course, leads me to skincare, specifically Asian skincare.

If you haven't an idea what makes Asian skincare different from, say, Western skincare methods, just google it. You'll be surprised by the number of steps it takes, usually 10 to 12 steps. I know someone who does 15. Of course, the more steps you do, the more people become more judgmental on your physical appearance. They be thinking, "Oy, those 15 steps aren't worth it. Look at her pores." I started with doing around 8. Now, I just stick to 5. And 3 if I'm too lazy, which is like 66.6% of the time.

I have terribly oily skin. Crack an egg on my face in the summer and I'm sure it'll get fried. My skin's terribly oily it gives Arab countries a run for their money. One thing going for it though, as many people say, is that it'll take some time before I get any wrinkles. But I still don't wanna get there, no? Also, I don't think it's necessarily true, as I noticed a few lines here and there, mostly around the eye area. (That's why when I know a pic is going to be a little bit of a close up, I'd prefer not to fully smile. Better a resting bitch face than one with wrinkles.) Then there's the bf, who has such beautiful skin that I kinda hate him for it. I kid, of course. When we have pics together, I thank the gods for those photo filters. I have thicker hair though. So there's that. Small victories.

Anyway, I fell for the discipline that this skincare entails. In the evenings, first I wash my face with an oil cleanser. Then I wipe it dry or rinse it with lukewarm water. I usually do this in the shower though. Saves me the effort of cleaning up the sink because I'm, like, splashy all over the place when I do everything at the sink. Second, I use a facial cleanser to cleanse for the second time. Double cleansing, guys. Literally life changing. Then I pat dry, and, third, I apply a toner. This is where my geeky self rejoices, as toning has something to do with bringing your skin's pH to the correct level. The last time I used pH in writing was back in college, during titration lessons, when I pretended that I really was interested. (Back in college, for classes that are really difficult, I always sat in front and put on a very enthusiastic face. Then I stayed a few minutes after class to ask the professor, "Sir, can you recommend other books to read on the topic?" I actually think they creamed their pants answering this. But of course, I was just putting on a show. Was just trying to earn bonus points.)

So now I'm a third of the way done with the routine. Fourth, I put on exfoliants, which is something I try not to skip because, again, oily skin. It's BHA (for blackheads) first, then a 20-minute wait, then AHA (for whiteheads), then another 20-minute wait before I go on with the fifth step, putting on essence. Ah, essence, a few years ago, if you told me that I'll be putting on snail slime on my face, I'd stab you with a blunt knife. But it's become my go-to ingredient for an essence. That thing actually works. Snail goo does wonders for those fine lines. I'm not too sure what kind of snails they get the slime from, but I think it ain't the garden variety, the ones you pick, lay on the ground, put salt on, and watch in glee while the poor mollusks writhe and bubble. So sorry for this, snails. I know karma's a bitch, so I hope I won't be a snail in my next life.

So I'm almost all the way through. Sixth, I put on a face mask on most days, or when I've a special event the following day. The face mask thing goes on my face for at least 30 minutes. Most instructions for these would say to put them on for only 15 to 20 minutes. But these things can be costly, so I'll milk the hell out of them. Also, I get a lot of reading while having a face mask on. Although it looks weird to have a lie in bed with a face mask with my reading glasses. So, privacy. Then finally, I take the mask off and put on a moisturizer. (The term moisturizer is so 90s and 00s. I believe it's called hydrating lotion now. I am shookt.) In the morning, I'd repeat the same steps but leave out the exfoliants and masks but put on a sunblock as the last step. The sunblock is supposedly the most important step. Never mind that the sun powers the process of photosynthesis or that it's the ultimate source of energy on our planet. The sun isn't your skin's best friend.

Have I exhausted you with these steps, dear readers? Just imagine doing them every night for more than a year, then we'll talk. All these usually take about more an hour at least. But I've managed to sneak a few tasks during the wait times. Like check Instagram or read. Or prepare my overnight oats, because I can't get enough of fiber. Funny thing is, there's a ton of product on my face, but I've managed to skip another product altogether, the deodorant. I noticed my father doesn't use one, and his siblings too. So, being the amateur scientist that I am, I experimented. I skipped deodorant for a week, and there hasn't been any effect (i.e., no body odor). Of course, I had to go the restroom every now and then to check, and I carried a deodorant in my bag just in case. But there hasn't been any smell. But I need more robust data. So I didn't use deodorant when I exercised and rode the bike. Happy dance all around, as there still wasn't any smell. I read somewhere that there's a small percentage of people who can get by without using deodorant. Something to do with possessing a gene or something that inhibits bacterial growth.

I asked an officemate to buy me chia seeds at an outlet store,
as they're terribly expensive at Healthy Options.
She bought this.
So now I have a year's supply.
I'm still not sold on eye creams though. I tried using three different brands before and I wasn't able to note any changes. And they're quite costly. When a product costs for a significant fraction of my salary, then it better work. I've no patience anymore to keep on testing, so I decided to make do without. Also, another product that I've been using less is shampoo. I used to shampoo every day. Now I'd jsut go with once every week. Sometimes I'd go for 2 weeks without using it, and it's perfectly fine. (Fine meaning no dandruff, no falling hair, no oiliness, no lice and other creatures making an ecosystem on my scalp.) So all the spare bottles of shampoo that I bought before are for my dad, who uses shampoo a lot. And he doesn't even have long hair.


This weekend's books in my bag. Still reading these. The Good Son is proving to be one thrilling read. I love unreliable narrators in novels—Briony Tallis in Atonement, Amy and Nick in Gone Girl, Frank Cauldhame in The Wasp Factory, and Merricat Blackwood in We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I love it when I read something that I don't see coming. And when the reveal is so shocking I'm floored.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

It started in 1994

There was a time when I read close to 300 books a year. It's not that I had way too much time on my hands back then. I just graduated from college and immediately applied for a teaching job. So I had my first job and had no financial obligations whatsoever. That only meant one thing—most of my income went to books. So I bought books with abandon. I read all of them. I never had a TBR pile in the 1990s. Then I started this little tradition on the last day of the year: I'd take a look at all the books I read that year and come up with my best reads. And I just realized that I've been doing this thing for 24 years now.

So I've listed all my best reads since 1995 up to last year, dear readers. Here it is. Too bad that I didn't record the shortlist for all 23 years, as I just started doing that mid 2000s, I think.
2017 - What Belongs to You (Garth Greenwell)
2016 - A Little Life (Hanya Yanagihara)
2015 - All the Birds, Singing (Evie Wyld)
2014 - Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Benjamin Alire Sáenz)
2013 - HHhH (Laurent Binet)
2012 - The Song of Achilles (Madeline Miller)
2011 - The Wednesday Wars (Gary D. Schmidt) 
2010 - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot)
2009 - Memoirs of a Master Forger (William Heaney) and Gomorrah (Roberto Saviano)
2008 - The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery)
2007 - The Historian (Elizabeth Kostova)
2006 - The Stolen Child (Keith Donohue)
2005 - The Schwa Was Here (Neal Shusterman)
2004 - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon)
2003 - Nobody’s Perfect (Anthony Lane)
2002 - The Crimson Petal and the White (Michel Faber)
2001 - American Gods (Neil Gaiman) and Hitler’s Pope (John Cornwall) 
2000 - The Farewell Symphony (Edmund White)
1999 - We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families (Philip Gourevitch)
1998 - The Professor and the Madman (Simon Winchester)
1997 - A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry) and The Innocent (Ian McEwan)
1996 - The History of the Siege of Lisbon (José Saramago)
1995 - The Moral Animal (Robert Wright)
1994 - The Story of Mankind (Hendrik Willem van Loon)

Just a tiny bit embarrassed that the list leans heavily toward American and European authors, and the gender inequality is very testosterone-y. But hey, 3 women authors in this decade so far, no? So yes, I'm deluding myself that that's a step toward diversity.

I like that there's a few nonfiction books in this list. Gourevitch's account of the genocide that happened in Rwanda will always be my standard when it comes to reporting significant events. I'll always remember The Moral Animal because it posited a crazy but plausible theory—how monogamy may be disadvantageous to women who wish to move up the social ladder. And how could I not love Winchester's book about the origins of the Oxford English Dictionary? For snark and just plain brilliance, nothing compares to the collected reviews of Lane in Nobody's Perfect. Cornwall's fascination with the Vatican is evident in his account of the less-than-stellar life of Pope Pius XII.

Of course, there are novels aplenty. A few of them now so obscure that I can feel you itch to Google, dear reader. I've read almost all of Saramago's works, but none has made a greater impact than The History of the Siege of Lisbon. It involves a proofreader who consciously puts an error by inserting "not" into the narrative, and then coming up with a totally different historical account just to justify that word. For sheer storytelling, the speculative and otherwise, nothing beats Gaiman and his doorstop of a novel. Also a doorstop is Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White, an engaging read about a prostitute in Victorian England.

My weakness for gay novels shows in this list, yes? I count five, with four just in this decade. Point me to someone who hasn't been affected by Yanagihara's A Little Life. And how many of us cried when we finished The Song of Achilles? White's The Farewell Symphony manages to be erotic and touching at the same time.

If there's one book that I'd like to bring to your attention, dear reader, it's Donohue's The Stolen Child. Probably because I feel that not many people know about it. It's about a boy abducted by goblins and is forced to live with them, and the changeling that takes his place. I was heartbroken when I finished it, and I remember that I kept thinking about this book for weeks. Yes, it's fantasy, but the mythology is very much rooted in our culture, and the emptiness that each character feels gets to you. Look for this, dear reader. You're in for a treat.

By the way, 2016 was the worst year ever in my reading life. I managed to read just roughly 20 books. I blame Netflix.

#poser
I've never read Sherlock Holmes.

Monday, July 2, 2018

How do you like your eggs?

Lately, the bf and I haven't been eating out at fancy restaurants anymore. It's not that we've become cheapskates. We've become, to use a more euphemistic term, practical. Just looking at the prices of the food in a resto's menu raises my bushy eyebrows. No way am I going to pay for an omelette that's 400 pesos (7.5 dollars). Or a scoop of ice cream that has the same price as a half gallon at the supermarket. Obscene, I tell you. Unless of course, the omelette has caviar or the ice cream has gold flakes, then I'm so in. I'm never going to buy caviar ever. For being minute fertilized eggs that don't even look appetizing, they're ridiculously expensive. But they taste amazing, no? I once went to a buffet and spotted these things at the table. All I did was just gorge myself on crackers and caviar the whole time. Couldn't even care that the servers were giving me dagger looks. (So there's another plus point for being a mermaid in the next life. Fresh caviar every day.)

So yes, maybe I've become a cheapskate when it comes to eating out. I can't speak for the bf though. If my meal costs more than 5 dollars, it better taste expensive, like melt-in-your-mouth or explode-in-your-palette or orgasm-in-your-pants expensive. If we sneered on fast food before, it's now become our go to. To counter all those preservatives and empty calories, I just eat it with black rice, which I always have in my bag. Because I still want to feel good about myself. I can't be eating all this greasy food all the time. I need fiber, baby. Fiber is my best friend, as I no longer need to pop a vein every time I take a dump. Also, my cardiologist would just throw the Hippocratic oath out the window and kill me if my cholesterol goes unchecked. We have a healthy patient-doctor relationship, no? Love.

Speaking of omelettes, how do you like your eggs, dear readers? I love them in different ways. And I won't be limited to just having them for breakfast. I'm not sure if breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I know a lot of people who skip it entirely and they manage just fine. They're not overweight or unhappy or or tired or anything. But I do love a big breakfast myself. And it should have three things: (1) eggs, (2) something fried like Spam or bacon, and (3) butter. Butter is a food group in itself. I use it on toast like cheese—slices of butter, not spread out thinly. I don't care that much for pancakes, but I'll eat it if it's there, especially since the bf likes to make pancakes. But pancakes, bread, toast, etc., they're all the same to me: they're just a vehicle to deliver butter to my mouth. If it were acceptable to eat butter from the container with a spoon, I'd do it. But alas, that idea hurts my Downton Abbey sensibilities.

I made a shakshuka once, and I loved it. It's like a tomato-based stew with poached eggs. I love that its flavor isn't a one note; it's salty, tart, and spicy. The extra effort to prepare it is so worth it. Prep time would even be less if you already have a tomato sauce in the fridge. It's perfect for brunch. I also love its Italian version, which has the most charming name: eggs in purgatory. You wanna know an egg dish that I think is so overrated? Eggs benedict. All that poaching, whipping (to make the hollandaise sauce), toasting, and layering is such a hassle. Eggs benny do look pretty on the plate, but that's just it, pretty. They're like eggs with no soul. All they're good for is for using that hashtag #foodporn.


I also made a green shakshuka once, and I enjoyed it because it was lighter than the traditional tomato-based one. However, I don't see why this dish is a shakshuka at all. It tastes completely different, and there's none of the creamy texture like in the first one. Other than the name issue though, it's still a wonderfully egg dish. If you're gonna make this, use lots of spinach. Spinach can be deceiving, yes? You think you're using more than enough, like 4 or 5 cups. But once you put them in the pan and they wilt, they seem to violate one of the fundamental principles of physics. You're left with just a pitiful amount. Still, this green shakshuka, it's a savory dish. Nomnomnom.


Of course, this post couldn't be just about eating; it has to have a bookish aspect as well. So, cookbooks. Page by page, they're the most beautiful books on the planet. And that's why I've started collecting a few of them lately. One of my best reads last year was a cookbook titled Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat. It's a different kind of cookbook in that it doesn't have recipes on every page. Rather, it teaches you can manipulate the four essential aspects of cooking—salt, fat, acid, and heat—so that you can cook almost anything. Very informative, I must say. And the rough illustrations and typography of Wendy MacNaughton lend an air of whimsy and charm to the cookbook.

My current favorites are Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty and Joshua McFadden's Six Seasons. Both beautiful volumes and both, interestingly, feature vegetables as the star. As I live in a tropical country where the season is just either too hot or too wet, the recipes in Six Seasons may be a challenge to pull off. I did make one dish from it though, the rigatoni with broccoli and sausage. Plenty is a book I've been browsing every night. I'd happily make the dish on the cover, the one with roasted eggplants, buttermilk, and pomegranate seeds. For some reason, pomegranates are expensive here in Manila. Still, one day, I will make it and it'll be fabulous.