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. 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Museums and bookstores lovin'

Whenever the bf and I find ourselves traveling overseas, something that should always be in our itinerary is a visit to bookstores and museums. Museums are a given, of course. But what we're really after are those special exhibits that coincide with our visit, like the one I'm going to talk about later when we dropped by Museum Siam in Bangkok. Bookstores are another thing. I get a bit judgy when I check out a country's bookstores. They allow me get a peek of what the locals are reading. And what I find out are oftentimes fascinating, inexplicable, or just weird, but in a good way.

Day 1: Kinokuniya
Our most recent trip was my 4th time to be in Bangkok, but it was the bf's first. But even though this trip was my first time going around the city, I've always visited Kinokuniya, which is probably my favorite bookstore. Yes, the books there are pricier than those in Manila, but I always manage to buy a book or two  (or more) each visit. I can probably live there. Or even just visit all of Bangkok's Kinokuniya (they have 2, I think) as my sole itinerary and I'd be happy. This time, however, I didn't go on a book splurge because I brought a small luggage, which already weighed almost 10 kilos. (Our check-in allowance was 15.) Bummer, I know. Still managed to buy 2 books though.

I guess the book-buying experience changed for me when I started getting books online, mostly from Book Depository. Free shipping is love. Sometimes, I check out Amazon, but only if I'm buying more than 3 titles, as shipping fees are a pain. When we visited Kinokuniya and found titles that I'm interested in, I find myself checking online if I can get them cheaper at Book Depository or Amazon.

Day 1: Dasa Book Cafe
Also on our first day was a trip to this charming secondhand bookshop called Dasa Book Cafe. Three whole floors of books, baby! Spent around an hour in this bookshop, and bought just one book. (Again, 15 kilos of check-in allowance sucks vacuum cleaners.) Also, The Joy of Cooking almost fell on the bf's head. He has lightning reflexes, or maybe he's just lucky. If a book did fall on top of my head, the least the bookshop could do was to give that book to me for free. Makes sense, right? What almost kills you should be yours.

Day 2: National Museum of Thailand
On our second day we went to the National Museum of Thailand. It isn't very touristy, as many guidebooks say to skip it entirely because it's poorly maintained. So wasn't really too keen on visiting this one at first, as I read that some of its rooms are dusty. And there's nothing like dust bunnies to make an asthmatic person run away for his life. Fortunately, there have been major conservation efforts to spruce it up. It was a pleasant museum visit, but there were several rooms and halls that were closed because they were being renovated. You can actually spend half a day at the National Museum, as it's a sprawling area. Too bad there weren't any guided tours though.

Day 2:  Chulalongkorn Exhibit
On our way to the Grand Palace, our attention was caught a lady saying, "Go inside! Free! Free!" Now free is one of the most beautiful words ever, IMHO. So we went inside, and if only the words had English translations. All we knew was that the place housed an exhibit on Chulalongkorn (Rama V). The place was gorgeous though, quite spacious with shiny wooden floors. And, more importantly for us non-Thai visitors of the museum, there was air-conditioning.

Day 2: Museum of Siam
Decoding Thainess Exhibit
Perhaps the highlight of that same day was our visit to the Museum of Siam, which had an ongoing exhibit titled "Decoding Thainess." Basically, it poses the question: "What is considered Thai in this modern day?"I loved everything about the exhibit, from the interactive light and sound show to the juxtaposition of what Thais want to project to the world and what the world really thinks of the Thai people. It was so fascinating to learn about Thai history, culture, food, clothing, and their three pillars (Nation, Religion, and King).

We also got in for free at the Museum of Siam. When we came in at 3:50 pm, one of the museum staff told us to wait for 10 more minutes, because at 4:00, entrance is free! Woot! 200 baht is still 200 baht. It's money that could be spent for pad thai, or tom yum, which I had every day the while time we were in Bangkok.

Day 2: Museum of Siam
Gender Illumination Exhibit
Another thing that made me fall in love with the Museum of Siam was that they also had an ongoing exhibit on gender illumination. To say that this exhibit shatters stereotypes is an understatement. The Thais are the most accepting, hospitable, and happy people that I've come across with. They promote an atmosphere of tolerance, which includes being open to different genders. I just wish that we had the same spirit of open-mindedness back home, which is still predominantly Catholic.

Day 2: The Open House
Central Embassy
On the evening of our second day, we decided to check out Open House at a posh mall in Bangkok along Sukhumvit. Goodness, it was huge! Like the bookstore occupied the whole top floor, and it mostly had art and design books, which are terribly expensive. I have mixed feelings about bookstores that have expensive stuff. I think it puts off people from reading. Perhaps I'm not just the right customer for these kinds of shops. So didn't get anything.

Open House was breathtaking the first time you see it. But it isn't for me. I felt that I had to consume less oxygen while I was there, as someone might come up to me and charge me for breathing their air. Also, there were several eating establishments interspersed with the shelves. Hmmmmm.... Maybe not a good idea. There's a reason why they don't usually allow people to eat at libraries, no? Food shouldn't be allowed near book paper.

 Day 3: Bangkok Art and Culture Centre
Even though we had a packed third day  as we had a scheduled tour to Ayutthaya, we still managed to visit one more artsy place, the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. We didn't stay too long though, as the place felt too hipster-ish and avante garde for us. Or maybe we were just tired and had no more energy to explore BACC's vast interiors.

Day 4: Jim Thompson House and Museum
On our 4th day (the day before our departure actually), we decided to check out the Jim Thompson House and Museum. We joined a small group with an English-speaking guide. That group included "ladies who lunch." I cringed when one of them took a photo of a tree and said, "I'm sooooo into trees right now." Anyway, the house and the tour were a delight, but it did have a sad story though, as the owner, Mr. Jim Thompson, disappeared in the forests of Malaysia and was never found.

Now we didn't just visit museums and bookstores, dear reader. I dragged the bf to lots of places. At the end of the day, each of us was clocking 20,000+ steps. I lost count at the number of temples we went to. I had a nasty case of sunburn on my neck because of the scorching heat in Ayutthaya. The bf had a scorpion on a stick at Chinatown. We went to so many supermarkets just to check out their produce. We went to malls and their food courts. Such an event-filled vacation, that Bangkok trip was. Surprisingly, the bf fell in love with the city. So yes, we're definitely coming back.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Artsy fartsy AF

Hey, dear reader, just sharing with you some of the posts I made on Instagram. Sometimes, when I find myself with a pocket of time, I take out my pointed pen and inks and do calligraphy shiz. It's quite a relaxing hobby actually. Tests my patience, which I sorely lack. And it grounds me, as I'm forced to accept imperfections, especially when my hand gets all shaky after days of no practice.

Currently reading this, and enjoying it much more than Cloud Atlas.
I think I have all of David Mitchell's novels, but I have yet to really enjoy one.
Slow but very satisfying
One of the few novels that I wish more people read.
Still currently reading this one
Somehow, I can't get fully behind on the writing style, but quite intiguing though.
A short and charming read
Can't imagine a booklover not liking this.
Underwhelming and too drawn out
Read for a book club discussion.
My surprise discovery of the year
Love this series to bits.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The many stages of eating pad thai

I went on a trip with the bf recently. We hauled off our fat asses to Bangkok for five days. It was actually my 4th time in the city, but it's my first time visiting solely for vacation. The last three times, it was just meetings and presentations the whole day. So the only places that I went to were hotels, malls, schools, and hospitals. (I previously worked for a publishing company that's focused on medical and scientific books.) I'd wake up, get into business attire, go to the meeting, visit the mall if the meeting ends early, have dinner at the hotel. Soooooo exciting, I know. This time, I intend to get the full Bangkok experience. It's also the bf's first time in this city, so in a way, we're Bangkok "virgins." The only thing that I absolutely decided not to do is go on an elephant ride. Those poor creatures. With my weight, that ride would be torture on the elephant. Seriously though, I don't want to promote any form of animal exploitation. That's why I still have mixed feelings when I visit the zoo.

Of course, high on our list is Thai food. I love this cuisine. Each bite is salty, sour, sweet, umami, and spicy at the same time. It's like a parteehhh in your mouth. Consider, tom yum. It's my favorite Thai dish ever. I had it every day for the entire time we were in Bangkok. One time, I even had tom yum fried rice. So satisfying. Anyway, tom yum's a soup that's sour, spicy, and savory. Surprisingly, I prefer it to be really spicy. The kind that makes your ass burn when you poop. I discovered a stall that sells my kind of tom yum at a very reasonable price, like dirt cheap, like less than $2. And as a bonus, it comes with a crispy omelette. (You know me and my love affair with all things eggs.) The bf asked if he could get a taste of it, so I willingly obliged. One sip and then he shouted, "Son of a b***h!" So when I ordered it again the other day, we just call it the "son of a b***h" soup. The bf wouldn't have any of it. Oh well, more for me.

And then there's pad thai. I've never had pad thai prior to this trip. I'm not too big on Asian noodles, especially the local one we call pancit in Filipino. I wouldn't say no to it if it were offered to me, but let's just say that the only time I'd happily consume it is if it were the only food left on the planet. Same goes with spaghetti bolognese, at least the Filipino version. I don't get why it's sweet and has hotdogs. I share the same feelings on this dish with my siblings, which usually was a problem when we were growing up. Many children's parties serve this kind of spaghetti, as children love to eat sweet stuff after all. So when it was served to us, we'd begrudgingly eat that cloyingly sweet pasta. Woe are we. But hotdogs on sticks with marshmallows—love those.

So after we've had a temple run in Bangkok, the bf and I decided to have lunch at a sidewalk stall run by a lady who makes pad thai. I figured it couldn't be that bad. And it has eggs in it, so that's a plus. But I didn't have high expectations. When the lady served us both our orders of pad thai, here's what happened.

Hmmmm... Noodles seem springy.
And they have that pink-ish color.
That's the bf's soda.
I haven't had soda for the past five years.
Did I say springy? Now I feel that the noodles are actually rubbery.
Takes an effort to get a decent forkful, or spoonful in my case.
Hot dish is hot. It's just been cooked by the charming lady after all.
And I'm thinking, not a good idea to have something hot on a humid day.
Here we go with my first bite.
If it ain't good, it's just less than $2 anyway.

Oh my goodness! Here's my plate in less than 5 minutes!
It was sooooo good!

Now I have one more reason to love Thailand even more. I found I noodles my taste buds like. I love that it's a complete meal in itself. Carbs, carbs, carbs! And it can have different stuff mixed into it—pork, chicken, shrimp, veggies. I still can't get behind 100% on the texture though as I'm looking for some crunch, but that's a minor quibble compared to its taste. So now, Thailand is the land of tom yum and pad thai, which I learned during a museum tour is Thailand's national dish. It's also one of those things that tells you if a restaurant is any good. Like sweet and sour pork in Chinese. If you want to know if a Chinese restaurant is a good one, order their sweet and sou pork first. If they can't even get that right, then get your ass out of there.

And, of course, something bookish. A friend from the book club and game night group mentioned a secondhand bookstore named Dasa Book Cafe in Sukhumvit. We visited it during our first day and immediately fell in love with it. It's such a charming bookshop, where you can spend hours browsing their collection. It has three floors too. So try to visit it when you're in Bangkok, dear reader. It'll give you much needed respite from the city's craziness.

He who gave the name "son of a b***h" soup
Amid the stacks in Dasa