Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tip of a Pizza Slice

My parents and I were eating pizza last Sunday at the mall. After his seemingly endless comments on my bland gustatory life because I never liked spicy food, my father began to notice the way I was eating my pizza: crust first.

I shrugged. "Just something I read in a book. David Sedaris, you know him? He wrote a short essay about...wishing." Another shrug. Coins in wells and fountains, shooting stars, falling eyelashes, wishbones, and the like--my parents knew my penchant for doing this "wishing" stuff, and had refrained wondering why I believe in them even if I'm aware they don't have an iota of scientific basis. I couldn't explain it myself, and all I knew was that my inner child comes out when it comes to these things. There's always no harm in them anyway.

"There's a character who told him to eat the crust of pizza first, then make his way to the tip," I continued. "When he reached the tip, he can make a wish."

They gave me a few deadpanned responses, and then they left me to my wishing pizza tip. Well, at least they continued munching on their slices from the bottom, enjoying the hot sauce that they said a treasure I was depriving my tongue of. I ate my pizza and stared at the triangular piece of bread that was smaller than my thumb, thinking of a wish. I wasn't surprised at all when the first thing I thought of was connected to the job I wanted to have after graduation. Poof!

Of course I didn't hope for magic--I didn't wish for a megastar job, I wished that I could find a job soon. My father was encouraging me to take a master's degree and while I wish to do it, I want to pay for my own tuition. The first baby step I should take is--of course--finding a job. It would be an ecstatic thing, I reckon, to be able to support yourself by your own money. I need to learn more, and when I think I'm all ready, that's when I'm going to catapult myself into the skies and catch my star. :D

Sedaris said something along the lines of: "That's the problem with wishes: they ensnare you." I make it a point to never let that happen. Of course there's nothing wrong with wishing and dreaming big, but in my book, wishing is only a waste of time if all you're going to do is wallow in the illusory shine of the stars you're trying to reach or wait for a genie to make your dreams come true. I have dreams but I consider them my fuel--not the latch I'm holding on desperately to.

Thousands of pizza tips will never be enough for someone who hopes for everything to fall in place without doing anything.  So yeah, time to oil my cogwheels and gears--take directions from Everyone's Guide, God--and don't waste the fuel! Rev up: we'll be graduating in four days!

"Now you're starting with the tip," my father observed while I was nibbling on my last slice. I just gave him a knowing smile. My first slice, I ate with the crust first; my last slice with the tip. If it's not the best food analogy about this wish-and-reality thingy, I don't know what is.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Date a Girl Who Reads

Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.  
Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag. She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she finds the book she wants. You see the weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a second hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow.  
She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.  
Buy her another cup of coffee.  
Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.
It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas and for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry, in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.  
She has to give it a shot somehow.  
Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.  
Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who understand that all things will come to end. That you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.
Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.  
If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.  
You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.  
You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.  
Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.  
Or better yet, date a girl who writes.

Review: The Girl Who Was on Fire

Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy is a literary firestorm that swept many young adult readers into its addictive heat. It may have ended in Mockingjay, but Katniss’ unforgettable story is blazing in the readers’ hearts up to this day. The flames are further fanned by the buzz about the first book’s big screen adaptation in 2012, keeping the fandom more alive than ever.

I’ve read so many books after finishing the trilogy, but no other dystopian-themed book is able to dislodge it from its special position in my bookworm heart. So when—by sweet serendipity—I stumbled upon a copy of The Girl Who Was on Fire, I had to clamp down the excited giggle that bubbled up my throat. Three words after I finished it: a phenomenal read.

The Girl Who Was on Fire is a compilation of essays by thirteen YA lit authors that express their commentaries, explanations, and analysis of the said trilogy. I can’t pick a favorite because all of them are very well-written and thought-provoking. A lot of them made me laugh, some almost moved me to tears, but the common denominator is that every piece taught me something new about the series—and I have to admit that it actually prompted me to reread the books.

I learned why Katniss Everdeen is such a hard person to know, how the Games made Haymitch a clownish boozehound or how it affected speech problems of Wiress and Annie, and why the majority of the fandom is more focused on the Team Peeta vs Team Gale when in fact romance is a subplot of the series. A popular topic among the essays is Reality vs Illusions as a thematic device of the books, as well as how Collins brought our obsessions with Reality TV into her books and made not-so-subtle commentaries about it. The power of mass media, fashion as a weapon and a medium of expression, the science fiction elements that reflects our modern scientific explorations, even the parallels of the politics in Mockingjay and that of the G.W. Bush administration—almost everything was touched by the authors. The series was dissected and studied carefully, and in the process, the readers are egged on to debate and raise questions about the series.

For me, this book is a kaleidoscope that offers new perspectives about things I knew about the Hunger Games. It is very refreshing, and it made me love the trilogy more. The closest person I ever have that I can talk to about the series is reachable only through the info superhighway, so this book in my hand created an instant companion that I can gush with about HG. Highly recommended!

Review: White Cat

Holly Black is a marvelous magician. She may have no wands or bubbling cauldrons or magic spells, but her raw talent in creating a society that has a four-dimensional reality tantamount to our own and fleshing out characters that are easy to love (and love to hate) is enough to enchant her readers with her literary prowess. This is what she presented in the first installment of the Curse Workers trilogy, White Cat.

White Cat wowed me from the first pages and its effect on me stayed until I finished it. Basically the gist is this: Cassel Sharpe hails from a family of curse workers, or people who have the power to manipulate your emotions, luck, memories, and more by just the mere touch of their fingers. But it seemed like the genes have skipped him—he doesn’t have any powers. In order to make up for this, he masters the art of the con and attempts to live a normal life by blending with the crowd and at the same time keep his family’s secret, since curse working is outlawed. But he knows the halo perched atop his head is not exactly bright and clean. He killed his best friend Lila three years ago; he can’t remember the exact details, but he remembers the crime. Haunted by the ghosts of this fuzzy past, Cassel is a brooding and guilt-stricken mess beneath his neat facade. Things change drastically when he dreams about a white cat that is trying to tell him a message. When his brothers begin to act mysteriously, Cassel digs into his painful past and tries to outwit everyone else in the big con game that he thinks he’s in.

I’d like to commend Black for the world-building. She wove a world like the one we have today, except that there is real magic. One cool thing I find about this curse working stuff is the application of Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. When a person “worked” someone, he will reciprocate by getting a blowback. So bare hands are considered as deadly as knives and curse workers—good or bad—are declared criminals. Everyone is wearing gloves all the time, and it’s interesting to note how in this society, showing your bare hands is synonymous to being naked. Conmen, mobsters, and politicians populate the story, giving it another plus point in inflating this world.

The novel is character-driven. Black did a fairly good job in creating a great albeit very unreliable narrator, Cassel Sharpe. There are a lot of things to like about Cassel, but there are a good number of things to dislike about him too. What makes the former more possible for the readers is that Cassel knows his anxieties and insecurities—and he is honest about it. Well, at least to the readers—a con artist lies for a living, right? *shrugs* When you look at it at the wrong angle, though, this may make him sound like a horrible mope. Sympathy is what he almost always elicits from the readers. I just hope that Cassel will grow out of the self-pity and the self-loathing in the sequels (Red Glove and Black Heart) because if he would, I think he’d be more deserving of being the main hero of the story.

I think his fuzzy memory helped a lot in the revealing of the twists and turns in the story, making it a gut-wrenching hardboiled crime fantasy. There are some twists that you’d be able to see even it’s a mile away (and I have to admit that some are clich├ęs), but the emotional blow of every turn—especially the last—is surprisingly hard. I feel very sorry for Cassel when I finished the book.

I have to say that this is one of the best noir fictions that I’ve ever read. There’s grit and beauty in equal terms; there are a few flaws, but it’s still a gem. It’s a shame to say, but I’ve never read any novel by Holly Black before I got my hands on White Cat. This mistake will be rectified now. Holly Black, welcome to my literary rock stars roster! :D

Review: Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

Leafing through the pages of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim is like turning the pages of a photo album of a humorously eccentric family in your neighborhood, with one of its members telling you an anecdote behind each photograph. It might sound a little “ordinary”, but it’s not—you can never associate that word with David Sedaris when you hold this book. In a clever yet off-kilter way, he wraps all mundane stories with oddball humor and poignancy that you will not know whether to laugh out loud or sniff because you’re moved after you read each essay. Hands down, after reading this book, Sedaris is officially listed on my roster of literary rock stars.

In twenty two essays, Sedaris shares some episodes of his life that he spent with his family. Mostly he tells embarrassing experiences of his parents and siblings, but he doesn’t let himself off the hook either as he also presents himself as a butt of ridicule. That, I think, is one of the main charms of this book—its self-deprecating hilarity is mixed with just the right amount of raw honesty, drawing in the readers. His sharp wit magnifies this characteristic; couple that with his storytelling technique where he perfectly combines what’s droll and what’s insightful, and you’ve got a book with humor that matters. Which is rare nowadays.

From the innocent picture of kids playing in the snow to a weird scene of a supposed erotic vacuum service, Sedaris successfully conveys to the readers the inanities of his family as well as his own anxieties. His thought processes are witty most of the time, but there’s always the undertone of pain that the reader will always catch. It’s magic how he can elicit empathy and guffaws from the readers without trying so hard.
Also, I would like to commend how Sedaris talks about his sexuality and the consequences that usually comes in its wake—a factor that is definitely not a common denominator of every family. To quote from one of the essays:

I wouldn’t know it until months later, but my father had kicked me out of the house not because I was a bum but because I was gay. Our little talk was supposed to be one of those defining moments that shape a person’s adult life, but he’d been so uncomfortable with the most important word that he left it out completely, saying only, “I think we both know why I’m doing this.” I guess I could have pinned him down, I just hadn’t seen the point. “Is it because I’m a failure? A drug addict? A sponge? Come on, Dad, just give me one good reason.”
Who wants to say that?

Over all, it’s a very good read and I recommend it. I’ll definitely check out David Sedaris’ other books.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Taking Off The Training Wheels

Last week, a rehearsal for the commencement exercises was held by our school. It wasn't formal: scattered laughters were consistent throughout the rehearsal, and everybody was having fun mimicking the professors or just being their goofy selves. Even the professors were inserting their own japes onstage. Be that as it may, no one could deny their excitement for the graduation day.

"For sure, maiiyak ako sa PICC."

"Nakaka-excite. Ilang days nalang magmamartsa na tayo!"

"Ilang araw nalang ang nalalabi...naaamoy ko na ang diploma..."


I myself couldn't wait. Six years in elementary school, four years in high school, four years in college...we spent more than half of our lives as students, and now we could see the bend in the road--a new beginning. What do you think we want to do? Rev up and swerve, of course! And from that point, we ask ourselves: now where do we go? Are we sure that the world has a place for each of us?

These are big question marks. I remember that there was a portion in the CE where we would toss our graduation caps in the air. I wasn't positive what it's about--from one source I heard it signifies the students' hard-earned accomplishments. Then someone told me it symbolizes how high our dreams would be after we step out of the school.

I mulled over about it for a while, asking myself why we should hurl it up and rejoice...and then the thought struck me. It was a celebration of what we're going to leave behind! What we would be throwing away was the students' life. I understood how everybody was so eager to leave this phase of our lives and to step out into the world. We wouldn't be little girls or little boys anymore; we would make big choices that could make or break everything that we build. When we step on that stage to receive our diplomas, we would also be taking off our training wheels. "Rehearsals are over," I could almost hear a voice in my head say. "It's show time, finally."

After the training wheels are gone, we couldn't trust anyone to provide us crutches or maps that could guide us where to go next. Life compasses could go haywire. There were no guarantees about our positions in the world; even if we set our destinations, no one would assure us that we would have slots reserved for us. We would take the twists and turns in the road, encounter detours, pass some humps--and oh! Was that a manhole? Kidding aside, my point is that we're never sure what tomorrow brings. Plan A, Plan B, even if you have everything up to Plan Z, those could all go awry when one unforeseen storm  in our chosen career will sweep it all up.

Sometimes, you don't need to squint and look hard for the answers. I'm not sure about what I would do, but I'm positive that looking up to Him and shrugging up our taut backpacks of experiences up our shoulders--ready when needed--will help us walk safely towards the direction of our dreams.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review: Water for Elephants

Flaunting the gritty glamour of a Depression-era traveling circus on its forefront, Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants is a bildungsroman of a young Polish boy who finds the glitz of love and happiness in a circus—and fights for it despite the danger that it’s juxtaposed with. With colors and grimness, dark humor and melodrama, this book sure tugs at the heart and imagination even if it has its own share of flaws and shortcomings.

The novel kicks off in a nursing home, with the ninety-year-old (or was it ninety-three?) Jacob Jankowski anticipating the arrival of a circus in town. He then recalls the highlights of his youth, which were focused on the time he spent with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. The readers are thrown into the 1930s America to witness how a tragedy leaves the foundation of all the dreams of a young Jacob, then a graduating veterinary student, tatty. Jacob is left orphaned, penniless, and heartbroken in the cusp of the Great Depression. As if the whistle of a coming freight train is a signal of a new direction, Jacob impulsively hitches a ride—and thus begins his life with the circus.

In a series of flashbacks interspersed with the present, Jacob’s unforgettable experiences in the circus unfold before the eyes of the readers—how he was devirginized by circus prostitutes; his bunking experience with Kinko/Walter, the midget clown; his relationship with the charming yet twisted animal trainer, August Rosenbluth; his illicit love for Marlena, equestrian star and August’s wife; his love for the animals in the menagerie, especially Rosie, the elephant; and many more.

I am surprised that a lot of readers refer to this tale only as a ‘love story’, when in fact other issues were touched by the book. For instance, the frame story explores topics about old age, primarily the disintegration of human memory and the attitude of the changing generation towards the elderly. Approaching death without your family by your side was lonely, and I felt old Jacob’s sadness despite his surface crabbiness.
History buffs will appreciate the book;the story’s backdrop was propped up by the Depression and it affected the whole novel. The Prohibition period in the United States especially churned the plot in different directions (although strictly not losing the romance as the focal point);the Jamaican Ginger paralysis played a vital role for one of the characters.

I warn prude folks though, there’s lots of odd, graphic sex in the book. There’s animal cruelty as well, and I admit it’s hard to read past through those parts. I just wish there were more touching animal stories since the protagonist is a vet student just shy of a degree, but the author didn’t dwell too much on that topic. This was just a tiny rant all right, since I think Gruen didn’t want to stray too far from the romantic center of the book.

Characterization was far from ace, which is a bit of a let-down for me. I liked the older Jacob a lot—perhaps it’s the voice the Gruen used when writing him—but it’s not hard to sympathize and like the young Jacob too. Kinko/Walter and Camel were fleshed out good, but I didn’t care for them enough to be sad after they’ve been redlighted. To my dismay, Marlena, the love interest, was such a one-dimensional Mary Sue. She stands up to one of the villains in the end, but that’s not enough to make up for her damsel-in-distress moments throughout the book. Maybe this is why I didn’t enjoy their love story that much. There’s a part where Walter tells Jacob that “she better be worth [all the mess they’ve been put through because of her]”, and if I were there, I’ll readily scream in Jacob’s ears that she’s not. But hey, I’m not the one who’s in love. *shrugs*

As for August, he’s the clear-cut villain from the very start, and I’m not sure if I appreciate it. Gruen seemed to use August’s mental illness and violent nature to emphasize that he’s the “bad one”, and she thinks that’s reason enough for the readers to consider Jacob and Marlena’s illicit love affair as a less sinful one.

Despite its apparent flaws, this is still a good read—I learned to love some parts of it. For the record, it’s rare for me to even like a rather hackneyed book especially if it has a happy ending (both for the frame story and the main story), but I like to consider Water for Elephants as an exception. Perhaps it’s the atmosphere of the book that I most liked, or the tone of the old man, but whatever it may be, this book will always have a special space in my shelf—and in my heart. :P After all, you don’t always get a ringside seat or a backstage pass in the 1930’s circus, right?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Bidding my Sentinel Family Goodbye

I would never forget those silly moments after our year-end meeting, just outside the office, when all members of the Lyceum Independent Sentinel swaddled each other in tight group hugs and wacky poses--for one last time as staffers for the year 2010-2011.


I don't know if anyone else thought of it this way, but I felt as if everything there--the arms wrapped around each other, the shameless laughter, the unending teases and the comical taunts about the unreleased honorarium--just signaled that we've rebuilt another figurative home for ourselves, with promises of keeping in touch and excellence for the next issues as the foundation. We've always considered ourselves member of the same family. Saying goodbye didn't seem so hard for anyone there, and you know why? Because everybody knows it's not really the end.

That has always been the rule, hasn't it? Once a Sentinel family member, always a Sentinel family member. :)

Maybe not everyone's aware of it, but we're all each other's teachers. I learned a lot—and taught a lot, I’m proud to say—in being a part of the school paper. And it’s not just about being a journalist and a writer. It's about relationships too: friendship, love (and the ever-present friendship-ish love or love-ish friendship), sisterhood and brotherhood. Never would I be the person I am today without the people from Sentinel who came into my life and printed indelible marks in my heart.

We are different kinds of people thrown in an office that became the extension of our home. Now that I'm graduating, I hope that everyone who'll be in charge of our home will take care of it the best way they can. I trust the ones who we’re going to leave, so I wouldn’t worry that much. But like a parent who’s going out of town and leaving the kids behind, we’ll always check on in them. :)

I’ll especially miss my section, the Literary. I enjoyed being the LE very much, partially because I've always been in love with literature so it never felt like working, and partially because it encouraged me more to pursue my dreams. I made sure I give it my best, content-wise and design-wise (with the help of the ever-perfectionist Debbie). What made it better is that I came into partnership with Raisa, the Assistant Literary Editor. She’s a gem, a brilliant one...and blunt, too. Once in the teambuilding, she chided me in a letter that I should at least act like a boss, especially that the Imaginaccion at that time is looming close in the horizon. Here’s the message I left on her FB page:


Anyway, I’ll certainly miss everyone. I won’t mention their names anymore and I don’t want to sound melodramatic—I’ll just say that my experience as a Sentinel staffer is a very memorable one, and I will treasure it forever.

Ending this blog post with so much love for the Sentipeeps,
Airiz :)