Thursday, August 30, 2018

King of convenience

A couple of days ago, the books I ordered from Book Depository finally arrived. I lurrrrrrve that online bookshop. Two words—free delivery. The timings of order fulfillment could be better though, as my orders usually arrive in 6 weeks at the earliest. Fortunately, that really isn't a big issue for me. I'm in no hurry to read particular books. My TBR is limitless, and literally half of my bed is covered in books, which can be a pain when I make it every morning. Come to think of it, I'm probably just using a third of it as sleeping space; the rest is books and pillows. I need at least 4 large pillows at least to get a good night's sleep. When I'm at the bf's, I have two, which isn't a problem as I have the bf's sexy body and a dog (usually Coco the poodle or, rarely, Boolet the chihuahua) to compensate for the missing pillows.

Anyway, what I love about Book Depository and other online stores is the wide selection of titles. Here, I feel that local bookstores focus more on young adult and bestsellers (thrillers and romance), which is understandable as these are the ones that really sell. And I feel that customer service isn't as efficient as before. It's tedious to call repeatedly or make more follow-ups, no? One time, I reserved a book and never even received a text or email that the book's available. I only knew that they had it in stock when I saw the book in their shelves. So frustrating. So online I go, and online is where I've been getting my book fix. It's kinda weird that I still haven't corresponded directly with an actual human in any of my transactions, but hey, no complaints so far. I'm easy to please, I think. Put a cupcake on my desk and we're, like, bffs already. Give me a teeny tiny bar of chocolate and I'll be your bitch.

And don't get me started on LGBT titles in our local bookstores. They're practically nonexistent. Do people have the notion that gays don't read? Or that we just spend all our money on clothes and killer shoes? Well, okay, maybe 50% true, and probably like 75% for a few of us. Still, why the dearth of gay titles, huh? I guess it has something to do with us not being vocal that bookstores should have a few LGBT fiction in their shelves. With these online bookstores, this has become a non-issue. So, yay. Now the only thing that's holding me back is disposable income, and that mountain of a TBR that will kill me should it topple down.

So do I still check out the bookstores in the metro? Of course. But there's another thing that ruined the buying experience for me, and that has something to do with price. Why the sudden jump in price? Sometimes, a trade paperback almost costs as much as a hardback. Is it the recently enacted TRAIN law, which resulted in inflation? Hmmmm... Unfortunately, I can't find the answers to these from the books I ordered.

Books from the "mail," all gay titles
Although, full disclosure, these didn't arrive at my doorstop.
I just received a notice from the post office that I have a parcel for pick up.
Which is kinda weird, as there's another person here at the office
whose order arrived directly to the office, which is also my delivery address. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

J-horror, it's a thing

My love for Japanese horror, or J-horror, knows no boundaries. We've always known that the Japanese can come up with weird shiz, but the horror stories they're able to conjure is simply inexplicable. But in a good way. In a horrific kind of good way. It's not for everyone though, especially if you're turned off by body horror or perverse sexual elements. But hey, if you're reading horror, then shouldn't you be expecting to be disturbed and made uncomfortable with the story?

I'm not really big on manga, the comics made by Japanese writers and artists, but I will make an exception to Junji Ito, who is now one of my favorite writers and storytellers. I just discovered him this year, when I randomly pulled Shiver, his 2017 collection, from the shelf of a local bookstore. I say randomly because whenever I'm in a reading slump, I usually turn to the graphic novels section of the bookstore and check out titles without any rhyme or reason. I discovered lots of wonderful graphic novels this way—Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp, Beauchard's Epileptic, and Brosgol's Anya's Ghost, to name a few. Interestingly, it was the bf who got me into reading graphic novels. Before the bf (B.B.F.), my middle class upbringing taught me to look down at these works, which is totally the fault of my parents.

Perhaps the only reason why I don't have much love for manga is that its stories are terribly slow. I'd probably have more fun watching paint dry or looking for wrinkles slowly develop on my face. But with Junji Ito though, I just never know what to expect. Well, I've read only his short fiction collection so far, but what I've read lets me get my horror fix, which I've been rarely getting from the horror novels I've finished lately. There's just something off right from the first page of the story that you could subtly detect, whether it's the oddly proportioned face of a character, the too-perfect veneer of a house, or the cheery friend who seems to be hiding her broken self. I revel in these stories. It's not at all like "The Twilight Zone," but more like the copulation of Hitchcock (for the suspense), Stirling (for the speculative aspect), King (for the jump scares), and Barker (for the out-of-this-world body horror).

I can't get enough of the body horror that Ito tells in some of his stories. In one story titled "Glyceride," a man pops his many pimples and lets the oil drip onto his sister. In "Dissection Girl," a girl dreams of being dissected alive and goes through great lengths just to make it happen. And those are just the "tame" ones, dear reader. There are far darker and grosser instances of this kind of terror in Ito's work.

Another thing I find unsettling in many of Ito's horror stories is his depiction of women. The way he draws his female monsters amd ghosts gives you that slight icky feeling. The blank eyes and facial expressions, the uncomfortably svelte figure, their hair which seems to have a life of their own—stuff of nightmares, I tell you. And it's because of this that I'm really glad that I'm gay. Anyway, check out these "ladies" in the pictures below. Note how the style of the illustrations also give them both a sexual and a predatory feel. But again, these do nothing for me, sexually I mean.

"Blackbird" from Fragments of Horror (2013-2014)
"Whispering Woman," also from Fragments of Horror
I love J-horror in all its forms. Ju-On and Ringu still remain as two of my favorite horror movies. Coincidentally, both also have elements of body horror and female antagonists. One other thing to note about J-horror is that the horror just happens without having the need for an explanation. So there's usually no tedious back story that we all have to painfully go through. It's the same thing with Junji Ito's stories. Weird stuff just happens, like people being chased by floating heads, a woman being turned on by a house and eventually having sex with it, and a man having all the heads of his ancestors living on top of his head. It's just is, man.

The books in my bag last weekend

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

If I turned into a cockroach

I finished another story by Kafka recently—the one where the main character wakes up one day transformed as a cockroach, "The Metamorphosis." And can I just say that I loved the absurdity of it all. Like when you read The Idiot, you just swallow your disbelief and just run with it. Of all things that one can turn into, Kafka had to choose a cockroach, that vile insect that everyone seems afraid of. And my goodness let's not talk about the flying variety.

Now I'm not a person who's uncomfortable around insects. I love them arthropods—beetles, ants, termites, mantises, etc. Yes, some of these are pests, but as a Bio major, I know how important they are to the ecosystem. But cockroaches are another matter. I have always speculated what their roles are. Ah, one of the great mysteries of life. These critters should be annihilated. When we were in line at a temple in Bangkok, we saw a cockroach idly crawling near us. Of course, none of us dared to step on it because, you know, Buddhist respect for all life. I could imagine all the feelings of disgust and desire to scream and flee from the insect that they bottled inside. Of course, the bf and I were just amused. We come from a third world country; we literally sleep with these critters.

I have a weird affinity for spiders though. I can't bear to hurt these cute animals. When you meet a spider, keep in mind that it's probably more afraid of you than you are of it. And it'll probably sting only when provoked. Interestingly, this morning I saw a huge spider in the shower. Probably with a leg span as long as my hand. (BTW, I have huge hands.) So you can probably understand my dilemma. Should I risk it and take a shower? Or should I just splash water on my face and just put baby powder all over my sexy body? In the end though, I took a very quick shower (i.e., 2 minutes) at the farthest corner of the bathroom.

And crap, I have digressed in the two previous paragraphs. So let's go back to "Metamorphosis" and how I reveled in Gregor Samsa's transformation. Imagine waking up one morning being unable to immediately get out of bed because you've discovered that your body is now flat and you find it difficult to move your legs, all 6 of them. Then your family's, like, no biggie, we'll just lock you in your room and feed you every day. I find it ironic that Gregor would turn into a cockroach, that creature which seem to serve no purpose at all (except to make white people squirm). Prior to this metamorphosis, Gregor was the breadwinner in his family, earning enough not just for his family's day-to-day but also to pay his parents' debts. But you couldn't do that anymore if you're a cockroach, no?

Eventually, his family's tolerance to his new form reaches a tipping point—they can no longer stand having him in their house. At one point, in a hysterical set piece, his father was trying to step on him while Gregor was scurrying around the walls and the floor of the room. "Metamorphosis" is a sad story of a man caught in a surreal circumstance. Kafka doesn't even bother to explain this transformation. And why would he? It's the utter in-your-face absurdity that makes the story. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Dear Diary, #1

Hey, D.! This is P.

So the bf's been seriously bitten by the travel bug. Now he has itchy feet. I've a few realizations regarding traveling, now that we're planning to go to a few countries in the near future. One, of course it's going to be costly. I'm now down to two meals a day just to save up. Hopefully, not just more money but more prominent cheekbones and jawline in the coming weeks. Remind me to take a before and after pic, D.

The donut socks are mine.
We took this picture right before entering the temple, as cameras weren't allowed inside.
D., I just realized that I no longer have plain white or black socks.
We're going to Taiwan next month, which, if I weren't going with the bf, would be unfortuitous for two reasons. One, I've been to Taiwan just last year, albeit for only 3 days. Two, we just traveled last month, and my fat ass needs some bit of a recuperating time. But who am I kidding, D.! It's only my slim wallet that needs time to fatten up. Seriously, you think that you're getting a good deal with a travel promo, and then you realize you need a pocket wifi, museum tickets, a tour guide for a place you're really hoping is worth it, etc. It's a good thing that the spa and massage aren't my thing. I feel iffy when strangers touch me. What's wrong with me, D.?

I love Taiwan. Clean, friendly people, delicious food. I can't recall a bad experience during the 3 days I was there last year. Well, except for one night when I got lost and ended up walking for almost 3 hours because I was too stubborn to ask for directions. Woe is me when I took a bite of that humble pie and hopped into a taxi just to get to my hotel. Can I permanently live in hotels, D.? I kinda feel that it's my natural habitat. Three words: crisp white sheets. I know that there's this awful urban legend on how hotels don't really change their sheets as often as they should. But as long as I don't see those buggers, then they're 100% antiseptic bed covers for me. Also, there's a reason that our senses have a limited range, yes? Also, I think of it as exposing myself to those germs and beefing up my immunity in the process. So, win-win.

I'm molting.
Or, simply gross pic is gross.
And speaking of immunity, dear D., I have a strange case of skin shedding on my hands. I doubt if it's caused by soap, as I've been using the same brand of unscented soap for a few years now. I have a weird dislike for scents, haven't you noticed, D.? I believe that we should only be smelling one's scent if and only if we're hugging him or her. Otherwise, ummmm, I wouldn't be able to have an intelligent conversation with you. My brain can only process so much stimuli. It's either your voice or your scent.

Anyway, don't ever think that this gross skin condition is a result of friction brought about by skin rubbing against skin and aggravated by repetitive hand movements. If that were the case, D., I would've had this since I was 13. I can't even shake other people's hands, as they'll be grossed out by that rough feeling. Or they'll think I'm spreading some sort of skin virus. Whatever.

Taking the commuter boat in Bangkok, with Wat Arun behind us
We weren't really planning to visit this temple, as it's across the river.
But we were told that to get to the boat that will take us back to downtown Bangkok,
we had to cross the river and take the boat from that side. So, "blessing in the sky."
So I'm really excited for next month's trip, D. I've been checking my itinerary for the last time I was there and crossing out sites that were just meh. If it were totally up to me, I'd skip Yehliu Geopark, because they're just rocks in weird shapes, and there's plenty of rocks with weird shapes where I come from. But the bf wants to visit it, so I'll play the role of dutiful husband and just go with it. Maybe, just maybe, the configurations of those rocks just changed a bit. I'd gladly skip that paper balloon flying at Shifen as well. I don't think it's environmentally sound, and such a waste of money. It's literally seeing your money go up in the sky and then exploding in flames. Just think of all the dimsum that you could've bought with that money. Mmmm.... dimsum—the best reason to go back to Taiwan.

Boolet the chihuahua does not approve of our frequent trips.
Just look at that smug face.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Kafka virgin

My two favorite quotes from Kafka's The Trial
Our book club's selection for this month is Kafka's works, beginning with the novel The Trial. I've never read Kafka, and I have this notion that his works will read like those of Russian novelists such as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. I have a special affinity for Tolstoy's and Dostoevsky's novels. I don't mind that their main characters are drunkards (or throw themselves in front of a moving train), they live in squalor, and the weather is always freezing. Somehow, pondering about life's biggest questions seems easier if you have these unfortunate conditions. Maybe I'm just a closet romantic, no? But Kafka's The Trial is completely different in tone and subject matter. And I am jarred. Well, at least for a few minutes.

The first thing that struck me about The Trial is its pace. The writing is so frenetic that it leaves you catching your breath—long paragraphs with hardly any punctuation, dialogue that you have to decipher as to who exactly is the one speaking the lines, and events happening one after another in a span of a few sentences. I love it. The pace is perfect in evoking an atmosphere of claustrophobia and unpredictability, as these characterize the situation tha Joseph K., the main character, is going through. What exactly can K. do when he wakes up one morning to find people in his apartment who are there to arrest him for a crime unspecified throughout the story?

But pacing aside, the novel's story is told straight through. But the range of situations that K. finds himself is so vast that it forces you to question the genre of the novel. Is it absurdist? Is it metafiction? Is it a satire? But cares about genre these days anyway? I don't. I just want a good story. So, these situations—they can go from being absurd one moment to sensual the next. And it is this absurdity that makes me forgive K.'s wrongful actions or, more often, inaction to be able to get himself out of that ridiculously surreal situation. How can one act rationally if the circumstances that go your way are irrational?

Bureaucracy is one of the prevailing themes of The Trial. No matter how many people that K. meets who can help him with his coming trial, no one seems to have a clear idea on how to help. K. is forced to consult a lawyer, listen to a preacher, and talk to a painter and court reporter. They all present a grim outlook for the trial. It's a bleak picture that Kafka paints in this story. It's not exactly entertaining, but it certainly makes you pause and think. I have so many questions after finishing the novel. Thank goodness for Google.

The cover of my copy of The Trial kicks ass.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Artsy fartsy AF (part 2)

A continuing series. If you give an eff, you can check out part 1 here. Also, my Instagram here. A warning though, my IG is a bit all over the place—food the bf and I cooked (a good number are pics of frittatas), travel, chihuahuas, and the occasional random shot.

Probably my favorite book of 2018 (so far)
Couldn't recommend this enough
Woot, woot! An LGBTQ young adult novel!
Such a profound question this novel poses—Is humanity worth saving?
Another wonderful read, with fully realized characters. Worth the hype.
Loved all the characters' voices that each take you to a different time
I've been waiting for so many years for Miller's next novel
This one feels different though, but still has lots of drama
Had no expectations for this one, so was surprised that I really liked it
Shoved this book into the faces of a few peeps at the office
And of course there will be horror, and one that uses the story of the Donner party as context
Second half wasn't as good as the first, but still satisfying overall

Monday, August 6, 2018

Hey, bae, Timothée!

Today, my mind, for some inexplicable reason, is centering on the actor Timothée Chalamet. I guess it probably has been triggered after reading that he's going to play Paul Atreides in another Dune big screen adaptation. Now I've yet to make a Dune movie that I like, maybe because I have high expectations of it every time. When your favorite science fiction read is translated to another format, you just brace yourself that they don't eff it up. I'm pretty much sure the 1984 David Lynch film effed it up, big time. With the one being made by Denis Villeneuve though, I am so in. Like I'll pay all the seats in one screening just to have the theater to myself. And it all has to do with Timothée Chalamet, who I think is perfect for the role.

TC slayed it in Call Me by Your Name. I've never seen an actor play a role both with vulnerability and intensity at the same time. And that dreamboat Armie Hammer? Just wrap him up in a brown paper package and send him to me please. I've been practicing speaking in that deeply seductive AH voice, but all it gives me is a lot of wheezing and more asthma attacks. The same with imitating TC's stare-that-says-more-than-a-thousand-words in front of a mirror. I just scare myself. Aieeee, those two, they'll be the death of me.

Interestingly, unlike Dune, I found Call Me by Your Name, well, one of the most boring things that I've ever read. Oy, the phone book would be a much more engaging read than this novel. Ennui rules its pages, and its ennui the reader gets. The novel does have many quotable lines which fortunately find their way into the brilliant adaptation by Luca Guadagnino. I found the movie charming, heartbreaking, and suspenseful, a combination that is as common as wearing plaid pants with a striped shirt. I felt for Elio, the character played by TC. I felt his doubt in approaching Oliver, AH's character, and telling him his feelings. I felt his euphoria at having the opportunity to indulge his fantasy even for a few days. I felt his spirit trampled on when he heard of Oliver's engagement through a phone call, the most prosaic of all things.

My favorite quote from Call Me by Your Name
“If there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don't snuff it out, don't be brutal with it. Withdrawal can be a terrible thing when it keeps us awake at night, and watching others forget us sooner than we'd want to be forgotten is no better. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything - what a waste!”
I guess Call Me by Your Name speaks to the romantic in me. Gone are the days when you can talk to your family members about Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Transcribing music as a pastime has become unheard of. I'd long for a summer where you'll meet a handsome intellectual and just sweep you off your feet, without having to Instagram it.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Embrace the DB

When I saw the newest novel of Dan Brown, I rolled my eyes. I rolled my eyes so hard that I almost got a migraine. Two reasons for this. One is that "here we go again" dilemma. I just knew that I would eventually get a copy and read it. This time though, I held off on getting the hardback. There's no way I'm spending $15 for something that I would eventually hide in my shelves. All my DBs are placed behind my first edition of Infinite Jest. But unlike all the DBs, Infinite Jest remains gloriously unread. (I say "glorious" because just the idea that I own a first edition gives me serious reader cred. #PretentiousBastard) The second reason is the inevitable, "Wait, did I just enjoy that?"

We can all agree that DB's novels are formula, and it's a formula that works. "Works" in this sense means that readers get suckered into it. And by "suckered" I mean spending a few hours being engrossed in the novel and then immediately forgetting 90% of it just a few minutes after finishing. It's like the Fifty Shades books. You can bash them all you want, but there's no denying the millions of readers that got their rocks off because of them. I read the FS books out of curiosity, because hetero copulation fascinates me, but in a scientific non-climax-inducing way. It's like the Elvis Presley sandwich, the one with the peanut butter, bananas, and bacon. It's probably good, but I won't ever have it. Blecchhh.

The books that I've brought to the office
Because one cannot live on Dan Brown alone.
Unless you like your reading testosterone-y, one-dimensional, and pseudo-intellectual.
So when the paperback recently came out, the bf fortunately gave me a copy. "Give" in this sense means forced to buy a copy. And when I got home, I immediately wrapped the paperback in plastic and started to read in bed. As expected, I read 50 pages of it in one go. Yes, the formula's still there—the religious conspiracy, the art and symbology shiz, the token woman companion who is gorgeous and brainy, and the cliffhangers. I wallowed in these elements. I'm like a happy pig in a mud puddle, soaking in all the wet grime. I'm reminded of an episode in Somebody Feed Phil, where Phil Rosenthal says that the reason places such as the Fountain of Trevi are tourist traps is that these places are beautiful. I guess it's the same thing with DB novels, no? People keep reading them because they are satisfied in one way or another.

I'm sure that you can think of many authors who are much better thriller writers than DB. And I've heard of Umberto Eco (The Name of the Rose, Foucault's Pendulum) and Katherine Neville (The Eight) being referred to as the "thinking man's Dan Brown." Whut?! Does this mean that DB's readers are people who don't think, or at least those who don't like to think when they're reading? It's a very backhanded thing to say. I say let people enjoy themselves. And let he who sticks to formulas make his millions.