Monday, November 28, 2011

Bookwormism Update!

December is almost here! Time for an update. :)
Due to my busy schedule lately, I can only pick up books when I’m riding jeepneys/trains and before I hit the sack…which explains my sudden slow pace in my reading challenge at Goodreads (the bar label says I’m still on-track though). Be that as it may, having a lot of unopened books at home didn’t deter me from acquiring new ones. :p

Book Hoarder’s Dilemma

Confession: I’m a book hoarder. Even if I have a to-read tower wobbling in the corner of the room and a stack of un-reads on my study table, I can’t control myself—I'll still buy more. The tug of bookstores is just irresistible, and it’s almost a rarity to find my bag sans a new novel and my purse still full at the end of the day.

My first solution is to leave excess money at home whenever I’m going out, so as not to further ruin my already messy budget plan. Sometimes I cut my allowance so I won't be tempted to purchase brand new books. Then all of a sudden I’ll feel the insistent magnetism of the nearest secondhand bookshops, full of titles cheap enough not take a huge chunk of the meager money I allowed myself to have for a day. I’ll hear a wicked little voice saying something like, “Look, look, book sale! What’s another twenty pesos off your pocket? Who knows, you might find that rare book you’ve been hunting for quite a while now!” Poof! I’m back to square one. Even if I don’t find that rare book, I’ll still be marching out the shop with a new novel in my hand. I just can’t help it. It’s like a sickness or an addiction or something. LOL.

Anyway, I’m really running out of closet space. My mini-shelves in the living room are all but full; I’ve crammed old books in my drawers and the others in boxes shoved under the bed. Now, I have to share bed space with a few piles.

Book Hoarder Dilemma

This photo shows the foot of my bed (I live sleep in the upper bunk). I took it when I was carrying out Operation: Prevent Books from Invading Half the Bed. Haha. I accomplished it all right, but I only felt an iota of relief. Up there’s the whole Murakami stack, a few un-reads, and books I want to renew my acquaintance with.

Some of my secondhand babies were stuffed in that pink paper bag and old knapsack. I’m pushing the two-rowed heaps  back against the wall, trying to fit them together like a bunch of multicolored tetrominoes. I have to let them rise past the footboard because if I don’t, they’ll take three layers. If that happens, I’ll have to curl up in fetal position when I sleep (that’s saying something because I’m barely five feet tall).

Buying a new shelf is out of the question. Our house is not that big; whenever we buy new furniture, we have to get rid of something else to provide space. I was quite vocal about this little dilemma, and my father promised to build an overhead shelf in the room—with an accompanying ladder—this holiday season. I think that’s the best (if not the only) option I have. :)

What I’m Currently Reading…

Game of Thrones

Yes, the first book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series. It’s kind of weird reading it; instead of 'chapters', what I’m always saying in my mind is “Oh-kay I just finished reading episode five.” Seriously. I liked that the HBO series is very faithful to the book, but it’s a bit disconcerting that sometimes my mind behaves as if the TV series is the source material, not the other way around. I really should have read the books first. Haha!

Anyway, I’m liking it so far, though I’m a tad disappointed that Cersei Lannister doesn’t get a lot of exposure. I was so intrigued by her character in the show, and I desperately wanted to worm inside her head. As of page 341, she’s just portrayed as a cold, cunning woman. I wish she’ll be given more focus in the next 500 pages. :D

Review: South of the Border, West of the Sun

Title: South of the Border, West of the Sun
Author: Haruki Murakami
Genre: Romance, Drama, Contemporary
Rating: ★★★

South of the Border, West of the Sun

I am a discriminating reader. Even if I love an author unreservedly, I don’t go around loving everything that he writes. After all, in a writer’s compendium of works, not everything will be explosively brilliant; some of them will turn out as duds.

To many Murakami-experienced readers, South of the Border, West of the Sun definitely reads like the spiritual successor to his acclaimed novel Norwegian Wood. Both don’t have a trace of magical realism (or surrealism?) in them that is commonplace in the majority of Murakami’s oeuvre; they deal with the quotidian lives of average people, with subtle twists that can instantly establish a connection with the readers.

Norwegian Wood is an amazing read, and for some time it made me believe that Murakami is indeed a versatile writer—he’s dangerously good when it comes to surreal stuff, but he can surely soar with a story that is not necessarily situated between dreams and reality. However, his sophomore work that falls into the latter category just proves to me that his forte is still with the ‘weird’ (not that I’m saying Norwegian Wood is a fluke, though).

The gist of South of the Border, West of the Sun is this: two childhood friends are separated by quite run- of-the-mill circumstances, until later in their lives—when the guy is already a successful jazz club proprietor and a family man—their paths converge again, sending everything haywire.

Now, the reason why ordinary love stories are not my cup of tea is that I’ve always been smitten with fantasy/science fiction. Fascinated by magic and out of this world material at an early age, I developed a penchant for fantastical juke-in-the-boxes embedded in the stories, things that can surprise you in a way ordinary stuff can’t, and events that can make your imagination go wild and bring you to different places like Narnia or Oz or Wonderland. It doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t go for the normal stuff. It’s just I don’t dig those with tales reminiscent of neighbor gossip stories. :p Norwegian Wood doesn’t sound like one, and add to that Murakami’s flair for the quirky, poetic words, and you can get a thumb up from me.

Anyway, I have to admit that SOTBWOTS is not one of Murakami’s better works. I’ve read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running so I’ve caught glimpses of his personal life: he opens a jazz bar, loves music, loves literature. When I read that Hajime, the main protagonist, also opens a jazz bar, loves music, and loves literature, I found myself a little disappointed. It’s true that an author sometimes puts bits of himself into his characters, but Hajime is a literary Xerox copy of Murakami. Gary Stu? Perhaps.

There is nothing much to say about the plot, too, as you may have guessed from the gist I provided above. But what I liked about it is of course Murakami’s ever-tasteful choice of words, and the bittersweetness that lies underneath every thought that he puts on page. Almost every idea he shares will make you question what you believed in the past, and it will also make you look back at the things you’ve taken for granted. His humor, which I’ve always loved ever since reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, is also peppered in some of the passages.

All in all it’s still a decent read. There are a few haunting moments that I liked, but nothing that can leave indelible marks in my memories.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Maguindanao Massacre 2nd Anniversary: Our black clothes for mourning have all but faded

“Kupas na ang itim na suot namin.”
Two years ago today, 58 people were mercilessly murdered and unceremoniously buried in shallow mass graves in a town called Ampatuan. 32 of them were journalists. Up to now, there is no remarkable movement by the ever-elusive Lady Justice—she’s not raising her sword, and there is no assurance that the balance beam is not teetering on one side. We can’t even be positive that her blindfold is still intact.

DSC_2183

DSC_2324

DSC_2273

DSC_2378

DSC_2196

DSC_2142

DSC_2150

DSC_2349

DSC_2358

DSC_2314

DSC_2369

I took the photographs above on the 6th month commemoration of the Maguindanao Massacre, when I was still an intern at the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR). Candles were lit, the same pleas were said, the same banners were waved, and on a yellow freedom board called the Dear Noynoy Wall, people wrote their messages to the President regarding the harrowing crime. An American mediaman wrote there, “Sir, don’t let the Philippines become a failed state.” That was one year and four months ago.

We never knew if our messages were read by the President, but one thing is clear: if our justice system remains the same, then it is a confirmation that our country is a failed state.

We never forget. This is the epitome of all the unresolved killings in the country and yet, two years later, no one has paid the price. Our black clothes for mourning have all but faded, and we’re still here, dreadfully watching the pace of the trial that seems to last for an eternity. When will this be resolved? When is the barrel of the gun going to stop silencing the public servants who just want to exercise their freedom of expression?

We will never forget.

Review: Delirium

Title: Delirium
Author: Lauren Oliver
Genre: Dystopia, Romance, Young Adult
Rating:  ★★★

Delirium final
Amor deliria nervosa, n. also known as “love” in the old times, this is a disease that can kill you both when you have it and when you don’t. Symptoms include preoccupation, impaired reasoning skills, periods of euphoria, obsessive thoughts, etc. Unless there are emergencies, everyone is scheduled to be “cured” at the age of eighteen; everyone also undergoes “evaluation,” where your future husband/wife is assigned to you based on your answers to some questions. All uncureds are required to stay away from the opposite sex.

Can anyone really be safe and happy in a world where love is considered a fatal ailment? What will you do if you finally realize that the fences that are supposed to protect you are also caging you from the truth? This is the tilt where Lauren Oliver’s dystopian world in Delirium rotates, and in the middle of it all is a plain teenager who can’t wait to be cured, Lena Haloway.

It’s no secret that I’m infected by the dystopian/post-apocalyptic virus that’s continuously spreading in the world of literature nowadays, particularly in the young adult department. I haven’t read a lot of novels under this genre, but it’s easy to pick up common themes. Rebellion/resistance is at the hub of most books, its automatic spoke consisting of defiant protagonists that go against the established laws and take down the abusive government…mostly in the course of three books. The Hunger Games trilogy is by far my favorite, and truth be told I think it set the bar in this genre. I plan to bury my nose in more post-apocalyptic books, but I tend to delay reading those that use the same formula as THG. Then came a story about “love” as a sickness, and I thought, “That sure is a catchy idea!” I readily grabbed it from the shelf.

It’s true that the best way to enjoy new books is not to get your hopes too high. I liked Oliver’s debut novel Before I Fall, but I really can’t say the same for Delirium.

Delirium’s main idea is appealing and I wanted to find out how its author will deal with the domino-like line of questions that pops out after the concept is laid down. In my opinion, Oliver isn’t so successful in answering them. The origin of love as a mental illness (the whole package—the when’s, the who’s, and even the how’s) is not thoroughly discussed. Obviously there is government resistance, and my first hunch is that the “cure” is more than what it seems. In my mind, the government is transforming the world of love into a world of apathy through these vague brain surgeries because they don’t want the people to be angered and to revolt against them, in fear that they may end up like the rest of the world, destroyed perhaps by wars. Okay, maybe that’s just my overactive imagination—let’s say they just want to control the people like inanimate objects while feeding them the idea that they’re safe and sound. I can feel that Oliver has something up her sleeve, but I never got to learn what that is. Maybe I’ll find it out in the sequels, but if that’s the case, then Delirium as the first installment did not quite achieve its goal of cementing a strong foundation. Leaving questions normally makes the reader go hungry for more, but leaving too much makes the story look like a Swiss Cheese, full of plot holes.

Speaking of plot holes, I’d like to point out the very big flaw in the “Law of Segregation” in this book’s universe, where boys and girls are separated because they may fall in love. How about LGBTQ? Boys can love boys. Girls can love girls. It’s impossible that there’s no record of this. In a world where love is already considered dangerous, how do they deal with same-sex amor deliria nervosa? I think that will be interesting to explore because even in our society today, homosexuality is already considered by many as a disease. I hope Oliver will prove me wrong, that it's not a flaw at all and it's just waiting to be solved; I hope she touches this kind of love in the next installments, and touches it effectively.

If the epigraphs that came from fictional pamphlets and textbooks in that world were not included, the plot and the world-building will appear so thin. The characters are okay albeit bordering on stereotypical young adults. Most of the time, Lena is toddling precariously on the edge of being a Mary Sue, occasionally showing Bella Swan-esque qualities. Her thought processes are pretty interesting and thought-provoking though, and sometimes her memories can subtly break your heart (I’ll give her that). Alex is the regular love interest—you know, the once mysterious guy now sitting with you under the stars and reading romantic poetry. There are two more books, so there’s more room for them to develop.

When it comes to originality, Delirium doesn’t stand out that much. It’s strikingly similar to Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series (dead ringers—just replace the word “love” with “ugliness”), and I’ve also heard of this book called Matched by Allie Condie, which shares a few similar concepts with Delirium, particularly the prearranged matches.

There are a few things that redeemed this book for me. One is how Oliver showed that hate is not really the worst thing but indifference. She painted horrifying images that can make you think. I realized how without love, everything seems to be an insipid dollhouse; the people inside are marionettes trying to function normally according to the pattern that everyone else is following. It’s a choreographed world. Imagine a family that is only a family because it’s dictated by the authority; imagine how all the movies, music, and books that come your way never deal with anything that can tug at your heartstrings. What’s the point? Eradicating love is like taking away everything that matters, and it’s a very harrowing thought.

Second is Oliver’s writing style. It’s quite different from Before I Fall, but I caught glimpses of the poetic curls at the edges of her prose. They’re usually overlapped by the book’s initial slow pacing, but they’re still there.

Third is the climax at the end. I think that’s what really made me decide not to completely rule out reading Pandemonium, the sequel. :)

Sabriel and Touchstone. :)

I just felt the need to put these here. My first literary OTP are from fantasy young adult books by Garth Nix, The Old Kingdom trilogy/Abhorsen series: the fifty-third unorthodox necromancer Sabriel and the bastard prince Touchstone. These are manips by firemadeflesh at Tumblr, fancasting Gemma Arterton as Sabriel and  Richard Madden as Touchstone. :)

sabriel

richardmadden

I think they’re excellent choices! I love both actors—Gemma is amazing as Princess Tamina in Prince of Persia and Richard is just fit to play a prince, being the “King of the North” in HBO’s Game of Thrones. :p

Garth Nix is planning to release Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen in 2013, which explores the story of Chlorr of the Mask (an antagonist in the second and third books) when she’s still an Abhorsen. I’m really, really excited for it, but 2013 is still so far away. I wish they'd just release the graphic novel version of Sabriel—Nix completed the script for that a year ago. >:(

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dredging up a few hidden snapshots (and its indirect connection to my ‘Odin Lowe’ principle)

At this time of the year, The Lyceum Independent Sentinel (our university’s official student organ) is holding its annual literary and art contest, or the Imaginaccion competition. In the middle of drafting my short story contribution for this year’s folio, I felt like I can no longer resist the tiny teeth of nostalgia gnawing at my gut, so I opened the “Photos-Imaginaccion” folder in my desktop.

There was a lot of behind-the-scene snapshots of Imaginaccion last year that I kept there. Being the folio’s editor-in-chief has its perks, but one of the best prizes I ever gained from the event is not material—it’s the enjoyable albeit toilsome experience of producing a book. I can feel the blathering coming on right now, but I think I won’t say anything new here that I haven’t said in my previous lit folio-related posts.

Now, this entry is originally for the Imagi shots, but then I saw these random photos included in the folder:

_DSC0002

_DSC0003

_DSC0001

Gads, I miss them! These are Sentinel staffers Armon, JM, and Jeff, poking fun at my (and Jerick’s) graduation picture, which we claimed on the day of the Imaginaccion editorial board photo shoot. They replaced the original 20th year anniversary Sentinel ads with our framed grad-pics, then pretended to (1) worship them or (2) wail in grief, as if the photos were about to be propped up next to coffins or something. All the laugh-trips, the corny japes, and the good times in college…somehow they manage to subtly condense themselves in these photos.

I miss being a student so much. One reason why I buried all my ‘college folders’ in the deepest fortresses of my desktop is that I wouldn’t be always tempted to click through them every time the internet’s down, or whenever I just feel like looking at the most easily accessed whatnots on the monitor. Most of the time, this old strategy fails; I still metaphorically shovel my way through the ‘Inception’ of folders (if you know what I mean) until I finally get to the innermost place where they are hidden. From there, I just let them magnify my nostalgia in a hundredfold…and sometimes open old secrets that I’ve labeled in my head ‘don’t check out if you don’t want to be confused.’

Here’s one of those confessions: technically I’m a working pseudo-adult right now (lol), but I still want to study. As in really study. I want to help my parents and reach that bright little dream that has always dominated the starscape of my wishes…but there’s this nagging feeling inside me that tells me there’s still something missing.

I want to take up a master’s degree in creative writing.

I know that since I’ve already been accepted in a company that most journalism graduates would like to work in, I should just stay there and climb my way on top. But before I graduated I’ve already laid out my future plans, and master’s degree is imprinted there, clear and bold. It perplexes me a lot right now. Back then I pledged to support myself if ever I should push through this plan—I would—but with the meager salary of my current job, I can’t even pay for my own transportation and food allowance. I bet three whole month’s not enough for me to fill up an average piggy bank.

There’s another job I’ve applied for, and all I have to do before starting there is to wait for the scheduled trainings. It's tutoring. Although it’s not related to my course, it’s quite okay in the wage department. Right now I’m still thinking if I should take it only as a part-time and stay in my current job, but that’s only the second option. The first is that I would only let 2011 pass and then I’ll take my premature resignation. xD

Let me digress a bit (because all of this is stressing me to no end, haha!). A manga character named Odin Lowe once said, “The best way to live your life is according to your emotions. That way, you won’t regret anything.” I’ve heard of it when I was in elementary, and up to now, whenever confusion clouds my mind, this is my last resort. In order to avoid all kinds of lamentations and what-ifs, what else is there to do but follow what your heart is telling you? You won't regret something you once wanted. I still haven’t made a concrete decision about my jobs as of now, but when all else fails, I’ll know what to do. The Odin Lowe principle will always be there.

And of course, God. :)

Review: Norwegian Wood

Title: Norwegian Wood
Author: Haruki Murakami
Genre: Romance, Coming-of-Age, Contemporary
Rating: ★★★★★

NOW


(Note: this is not a new review)


Being a music junkie and a bookworm made me jump excitedly when I saw this book, Norwegian Wood, for the first time about four years ago. The Beatles and Haruki Murakami occupy two different “I-love-this” ladders in my system, but both of them are settled on the highest rung. For some reason I find the combination rather interesting, so I picked it up, getting myself ready for the usual Murakami treat thrown with a spice of good ol’ music.

But no, this book doesn’t have the typical elements you’ll see in a Murakami book. No surrealism of any kind, no Oedipal prophecies or soul-searching in wells or talking cats or prostitutes of the mind. This is perhaps the only “normal” book that Murakami has ever written, a coming-of-age love story that is readily accessible to most young adults of our day.

The novel kicks off with the old Toru Watanabe reminiscing the most important days of his youth while listening to Norwegian Wood (The Bird Has Flown), the favorite song of his high school friend Naoko. The readers are then taken to 1960s Japan, where student activism is at its full swing. Toru and his friends are rather apolitical, and the narrator often comments on the hypocrisy of the students. The novel didn’t focus much on it anyway—that only provided the milieu of the complicatedly romantic bildungsroman. Toru is friends with lovers Kizuki and Naoko—that is, until the former committed suicide at the age of 17. The two are left grieving, but they find themselves being romantically attracted to each other. However fate seems to have another plan for them, and Naoko needs to go away for some time. Then enters another girl character, the outspoken, energetic, cheerful, and confident Midori. Toru still likes Naoko, but he thinks he likes Midori too. And as if it’s not complex enough, Reiko, Naoko’s friend, adds another side to make it all a confusing love polygon.

With that premise at its core, the story is still populated with intriguing themes: suicide, sex, identity crisis, and a little bit of politics. And of course, how could I forget? It’s all about growing up.

I know why a lot of young readers love this book. For one, what kind of teenager doesn’t become interested in love stories at least once in their life? Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I’m not an avid fan of ordinary love stories; I just can’t find the thrill in the infamously clichéd boy-meets-girl-loses-girl blah-blahs. But what makes Norwegian Wood exceptional for me is its depth. That’s why I love Murakami; nothing he ever writes is what it seems, be it surreal or otherwise. Every word has a profundity in them, the dialogues are powerfully executed, and how he hands the reader the strings to tie it at the end is spot-on. 

Objectively speaking, this book is not perfect (is there any perfect book?). There are dry and slow points at the wrong places in the novel, making me roll me eyes sometimes for the lost momentum. But Murakami will always be able to come up with something that can redeem the whole book, be it a twist or a deeper kind of surrealism or just a melancholic ending that leaves the story’s door ajar for the benefit of the reader.

This may not be my favorite book, and it's not Murakami's best, but it has a special place in my heart.

A Writer's Prayer

I’ve heard of Gaiman’s “A Writer’s Prayer” about two years ago, but I never got to download the actual file (back then I don’t know a thing about scrobbling” and I don’t really explore a lot of music sites).  Recently, I was browsing in a random music blog that linked me to the torrent file of the said “prayer” along with other Gaiman audio-stories (freaking jackpot!). It’s from the CD called “Telling Tales,” an audio counterpart of an anthology where the contents are narrated versions of some of his writings, including Harlequin Valentine (a favorite of mine—I would’ve uploaded it if Tumblr allows more than 10MB of mp3 upload), Boys and Girls Together, The Wedding Present (another favorite, it’s a short Dorain-esque fic), and In the End.
Since this is my writing/personal blog, I thought it would just be right if I cross-post the transcript of the “prayer” from Tumblr. You can listen to it here.


A Writer’s Prayer*

Oh Lord, let me not be one of those who writes too much;
who spreads himself too thinly with his words,
diluting all the things he has to say,
like butter spread too thinly over toast,
or watered milk in some worn-out hotel;
but let me write the things I have to say,
and then be silent, ’til I need to speak.

Oh Lord, let me not be one of those who writes too little;
a decade-man between each tale, or more,
where every word accrues significance
and dread replaces joy upon the page.
Perfectionists like chasing the horizon;
You kept perfection, gave the rest to us,
so let me earn the wisdom to move on.

But over and above those two mad spectres of parsimony and profligacy,
Lord, let me be brave, and let me, while I craft my tales, be wise:
let me say true things in a voice that is true,
and, with the truth in mind, let me write lies.

Amen.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Hunger Games (official trailer)

There are a few times in my life when I wanted to use a time machine so I could jump into a particular period in the past or in the future to see or do something. But I can't remember—in all the years of my bookworm-infested and fangirlism-dominated life—how badly I felt the want need to use one for real, except after watching the official full trailer of The Hunger Games. I wanted to twist the machine's dial to March 23, 2012 and be transported into a moviehouse, all comfy with warm buttered popcorn and Kleenex on my lap (I'll need it) while my favorite dystopian book comes to life onscreen. Ooh, if only such a thing really exists! I’m all tears and goosebumps after my first play of the video...and also on the second, on the third, on the fourth...

Haha! Without further ado, here’s the trailer.

The Hunger Games full trailer (November 14, 2011)

I commend the creators for doing such a good job in interpreting some of my favorite scenes perfectly. In fairness, they didn’t show much of the actual Games—they only included scenes from the first half of the book, making the fans hungry (no pun intended!) for more. The scenes may not fit exactly with the images I had in my head when I was reading the book, but they succeeded in rendering my limbs prickly with gooseflesh and my mouth dry. It’s amazing! I’ll probably create another ‘spazz’ post with all the details I loved about this video, but right now my system is pleading for me to catch some zzz’s. My day’s been pretty tiring, it's my first day of work.

Oops, digressing. Haha! May the odds be ever in your favor! 

ZONE Magazine (The Black Issue)

The second issue of ZONE magazine is out now!

Also known as the “black” issue, this month’s ZONE features supermodels Brent Chua and Charlene Almarvez, internationally renowned designer Michael Cinco, models Eric Alessi and Hannes Oberbichler, works of Enzo Mondejar, Rxandy Capinpin, Koji Arboleda, Cebu's Paolo Crodua, Sylwia Makris, You Bin, Brent Chua and so much more!

covers

We have two covers for this issue. You can read the one with Ms.Almarvez on the cover here, and one with Mr.Chua here.

I got assigned to do the cover story about Ms. Chat. Honestly, I know too little about the glitz-and-glam world of  catwalks and runways. Since one of the most important rules of writing is to never write something you don’t know (or in this case, don’t know much about), I did a little research before formulating the questions. In my whole interview with Ms.Chat, here’s my favorite bit:
Q: Most young girls nowadays are trying to achieve the “perfect figure,” taking Barbie-like actresses and models as their “thins-piration.” There is nothing wrong with wanting to be beautiful and sexy, but more often than not, they resort to habits like unhealthy dieting, voluntary anorexia, and bulimia. What advice can you give these girls?
A: It is okay to want and dream to become beautiful and sexy but there is such a thing as "too much," and anything excessive is dangerous. Being pressured may result to unhealthy eating habits. I advice them to have proper diet—eat healthy like vegetables, fruits, proteins; proper exercise is a must. You will be healthy inside and out. Today, society dictates that you must be skinny to be considered beautiful but that is superdupermegaultra wrong! Be confident no matter what shape you are. Confidence is sexy.
I’ve always wanted to ask a model about this issue! I haven’t really listed that on my official bucket list, but still I’d say…cross it out on my bucket list’s draft! :p

Moving on, my book review for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs was published in this issue. I couldn’t find anything in my archives that fits perfectly with the theme, and choosing a book written by Holly Black or just something with the word “black” in the title sounds like something a lazy contributor would do. Since the color in question is often associated with deaths and other paranormal stuff, I thought of Riggs’ 2011 novel. The misleading cover just screams horror, and I think all the photos interspersed throughout the tome are eerie enough to render any reader awestruck or just a tad creeped out.

mypage

Hurrah for the deceptive title! Haha!

This month’s issue is remarkable because they appointed me as a managing editor. All I wanted to be is a contributor, but they boosted me up the editorial board when I did a helluva lot more editing than usual. :) I also helped in writing the article for Michael Cinco (which of course meant more research!). I think fashion can really be more interesting when you delve more deeply into it.

I’m looking forward to working with the team in the coming months! I’m loving it. :)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Title: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Genre: Contemporary, Historical Fiction
Rating: ★★★★

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Morse code bracelets. Edible microphones that magnify everybody’s heartbeats. Special drains embedded in pillows that channel the sadness of New Yorkers into the Reservoir of Tears. Ambulances with flashing signs on their roofs that indicate the condition of their occupant. Body paints that change in color in accordance with the moods of their wearer.

These are the fanciful inventions you’ll find in the corners of Oskar Schell’s nine-year-old mind. Precocious as he is, the fuel that truly pushed his imagination to weave these whimsicalities is the untimely demise of his father in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11. Even if he doesn’t admit it, he’s utterly devastated. One day, he stumbles upon a key that he believes belonged to his father. Thinking that it’s just like one of the clues in their “Reconnaissance Expeditions,” he embarks on a secret journey across the five (or six?) boroughs of New York to find the mysterious lock, hoping that if he finally gets his hands on it, his grief will also come to an end.

This is Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: a healing tale about loss, sorrow, forgiveness, heartaches, and new beginnings.

DSC_0870
Pre-reading, I have this thought that Foer just hitched a ride with the 9/11 gravy train—and succeeded in gaining overwhelming support. We all know that the tragedy did not only leave a lot of people grieving, it also scattered a flurry of opportunities in the pop-culture landscape. Foer was still reeling from the success of his debut novel Everything is Illuminated at that time, and in hindsight everyone who enjoyed his first baby will readily pick up the next thing he cooks up. Needless to say, I didn’t harbor high expectations for this novel despite everyone’s rave reviews. I guess that’s always a good thing; I was caught off guard by how Extremely Beautiful and Incredibly Poignant this gem really is.

Oskar is unlike the clichéd versions of “genius” kid-narrators populating most of today’s coming-of-age literature. While he is indeed intelligent (I believe he has Asperger’s), he doesn’t sound like an adult trapped in a child’s body. His thought processes are flawed and clumsy like an ordinary boy’s, and even if he doesn’t talk about his despair in an ultra-deep level, it tinges his every thought. The way he manages to sandwich humorous nuggets of ideas between the distressing ones—the same way Foer inserts funny scenes between the heartbreaking ones—makes for an unforgettable rollercoaster of a reading experience.

Foer’s prose is quirkily poetic, especiaDSC_0861lly when he leaves Oskar’s voice for a while to speak through the mouths of the boy’s grandparents. Epistles addressed to Oskar and his dad are interspersed throughout the book, chronicling separate experiences of the old couple from the Dresden bombings in WWII up to the present. Anyone who enjoys poetry will revel in the beauty of these letters, what with their underlying meaning more magnificently arresting than their superficial definitions. These emotional flashbacks don’t propel the plot forward, but they help in fleshing out the rather two-dimensional characters that are their owners and in adding extra “emotional baggage,” if you know what I mean. The noticeable differences of the three voices just show how good Foer is in juggling POVs.

I love how the striking photographs (from Oskar’s scrapbook Stuff that Happened to Me) and the unconventional typography (words typed over each other until they’re just a wall of scribbled blackness) helped in adding extra emotional impact. I know some people who literally tore up while reading this.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the kind of book that best fits the adage “it’s about the journey, not the destination.” Both content and form are [WARNING: SPOILER] wild sheep chases of sorts. There are no big epiphanies or shocking twists plot-wise, and Foer has a habit of turning several parts of the story into loose threads. Yet, by the end of the novel, you know you’ve gotten something precious from it—maybe realizations, maybe the threefold footprints the story left in your heart, or maybe just those feelings that swaddle you when you stop journeying with a hero because you know from that moment on, he’ll be okay on his own.

For me, this is an enjoyable, one of a kind read. I’ll be watching out for more of Foer’s works. :)

Belated happy birthday, Neil Gaiman!

1dean0506Dear Neil Gaiman,

You don’t know how much you inspire me. :)
I can’t remember when exactly I entered your realm, but I think that doesn’t matter now.

Whenever I read something you wrote, I feel like a wizard’s apprentice: every word is a magical spell I need to learn how to cast properly, every character an anthropomorphic representation of my emotions I often fail translating into words.

Your ink’s the potion, your pen’s the wand—with all of these, I did not just enjoy every masterpiece, I also learned to “trust my dreams…and trust my story.”

I was rummaging in my Tumblr archive yesterday and happened upon the letter you just read. I penned it more than a year ago. Right now, I don’t know how I should react to it (there’s a tug-of-war between yes-truest-thing-in-the-world! and hahaha-so-full-of-sappy-it-hurts!) but seriously, nothing’s changed. He’s still the most amazing tale-spinner I’ve ever encountered, and he’s my inspiration. Wish I can be a writer like him someday…

527023379_6e9279931f
If I’d been younger when I first discover him—let’s say about Oskar Schell’s age—perhaps I’d also sent him lots and lots of letters asking for apprenticeship. My life is heavily reliant on literature (and that, my friends, are the truest words to be ever typed on this blog) that I even mapped the stars of my dreams around it.

In some way, I can say that Gaiman provided almost half the reasons why I’m loving literature today. I think my life would feel like an incomplete jigsaw puzzle if I hadn’t met Tristran Thorn and Yvaine; if I hadn’t gone to the realms of Destiny, Death, Dream, Desire, Despair, Destruction, and Delirium; if I hadn’t seen the yang to Alice in Wonderland’s Yin in the form of Coraline’s Other World; if I hadn’t sat with Bod and his ghostly family; if I hadn’t witnessed the clash between the forgotten mythological gods and the ‘modern technology’ gods; and if I hadn’t seen how an angel and a demon postponed the apocalypse. Up to now, I’m still in awe of his ability to  bring anyone from starscapes to old ruins, from reality to fantasy, with just the fewest of words. :)

I heard that he’s writing another book in January. 527023371_a9636e9171I still don’t know what it’s going to be about, not even when it’s going to be published. This is the only thing I’m positive about: the world is lucky to have him producing quality literature again. Actually, not just in literature—he’s done screenplays and scripts and songs lately. How amazing can you get, Master Gaiman? :p

I pray for him to have a good, longer life so that he can continue inspiring more people like me. You’re a gift to the world.

Belated happy birthday, my favorite literary rock star! :)

Side by Side

art

Not so long ago I wrote a short story inspired by Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman chronicles. I didn’t publish it right away after writing it because I thought it's still incomplete. Soon it grew into a longer novella-like piece, and I’m currently (and unofficially) working on it this NaNoWriMo. Here's an excerpt featuring a conversation between two of my characters, Sorrow and Bliss:
When I first came into this world, I hated my job. The tang of the darkest human emotions invades my taste buds whenever I run an errand, and during my first hours, I attempted to wash them away. I despised how my own feelings always buoy to the clouds whenever I see tears soiling pillows at night, whenever I hear sobs muffled by inch-thick bedroom walls. Dichotomy, I learned the word later. But to tell you the truth, I despised how I have feelings at all. I despised the unknown reason I even exist. 
Over time, though, I learned to love my job. Acceptance at first; I was needed, after all. 
“It’s called the Law of Conservation of Happiness,” my partner told me one day. He was leaning against the venetian blinds that sliced the rising sun into several blinding slivers. “Happiness is limited stock, so we have to preserve it. They say when one person is happy, somebody else becomes sad. That’s where you’re needed. It’s balance.” 
“You don’t know how it feels,” I complained churlishly. “People want to…experience you. No one wants me.” 
He shrugged. “I said need, not want.” 
“Easy for you to say.” I slumped on the patched sofa, which sighed an old, foamy smell beneath my weight. “You don’t get this overwhelming feeling when I see someone cry. It’s like you’ve gone inside my system. I become happy…and I hate it.” 
He heaved a sigh, then went over to me to ruffle my hair. I slapped his hand away. 
“That’s the problem with you, I think. You’re too young to shield yourself at the first sign of humans rubbing off on you.” 
“They don’t rub off on me, Bliss. It’s my natural emotions. Damn, I don’t even know why we have emotions, we are the emotions! Anyway, I don’t go anywhere near your people; they repel me.” 
“You don’t go questioning the Creator’s Plan now, okay? Also, my people will always become your people too and you know it. They can’t be happy all the time.”
When I was reading Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, I came upon a quote that immediately reminded me of the story I’m writing: "you cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness." I don’t know what’s with me lately, but I’m becoming more and more fascinated by tales that emphasize the need for joy to stand cheek by jowl with misery.

I guess it’s related to what I’m experiencing irl right now. I’m by no means Pollyannaish, but I seem to be always positive that my frowns will twist up into smiles anytime soon. God has plans for all of these, and all I can do is trust Him while I do what I need to do. It never really occurred to me to shield or protect myself from sadness. We’re not living in any fictional utopia so that’s never going to happen. Crying, feeling blue—it’s part of being human. How can you tell if you’re happy if you never experience being lonely?

No one wants to be sad, but we need it so we can feel more human. :)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Moving a grain of Sahara sand

yes

An extremely beautiful and incredibly poignant book—those phrases came to mind after I turned the last page of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Truth be told, it’s ineffable. There’s a lot of things to love about this book (from Oskar’s precocious thought processes to his grandparent’s heartbreaking epistles) but right now I’m just going to share one of the father-and-son conversations that struck a chord with me throughout the story. Let’s call it “Moving a Grain of Sahara Sand.”

Without further ado, here it is:
I read the first chapter of A Brief History of Time when Dad was still alive, and I got incredibly heavy boots about how relatively insignificant life is, and how, compared to the universe and compared to time, it didn’t even matter if I existed at all. When Dad was tucking me in that night and we were talking about the book, I asked if he could think of a solution to that problem. 
Dad: Which problem?
Oskar: The problem of how insignificant we are.
Dad: Well, what would happen if a plane dropped you in the middle of the Sahara Desert and you picked up a grain of sand with tweezers and moved it one millimeter?
Oskar: I’d probably die of dehydration.
Dad: I just mean right then, when you moved that single grain of sand. What would that mean?
Oskar: I dunno, what?
Dad: Think about it.
Oskar: I guess I would have moved a grain of sand.
Dad: Which would mean?
Oskar: Which would mean I moved a grain of sand?
Dad: Which would mean you changed the Sahara.
Oskar: So?
Dad: So? So the Sahara is a vast desert. And it has existed for millions of years. And you changed it!
Oskar: I changed the Sahara!
Dad: Which means?
Oskar: What? Tell me.
Dad: Well, I’m not talking about painting the Mona Lisa or curing cancer. I’m just talking about moving that one grain of sand one millimeter.
Oskar: Yeah?
Dad: If you hadn’t done it, human history would have been one-way…
Oskar: Uh-huh?
Dad: But you did it, so…?
Oskar: I changed the universe!
This is something everybody needs to realize. What should we do to actually change the world? What does it take for us to realize that we matter?

Most of us think that we’re just unimportant puny beings, that we need to be something as large as an icon like Mother Theresa or Nelson Mandela to leave our mark in the world. I should know that—I myself used to subscribe to such mentality. But I realized that looking at our goals from this kind of perspective is like peering through the wrong end of a telescope. Do we have to wait for so long—do we have to travel that far to start making a difference? The above excerpt pushed the answer right under my nose.

Like what Oskar’s dad had said, we can “change the universe” by doing something as simple as “moving a grain of sand by one millimeter.” In the smallest things we do, in the stories we weave about our journey to reach our stars, we leave our footprints and create inspiration. We may have changed someone’s life without even knowing it while we’re making our way towards our goals. The prizes are bigger and we’re more powerful when we finally made a name for ourselves, but the little things we leave in our wake should never be underestimated. They can alter destinies. :)

Every legend starts from the ground; every big success starts with the smallest of victories. And of course, the triumphs wouldn’t be so sweet if we didn’t get to know the tang of failures along the way. The collage of achievements we make is not measurable by any material things, but by the lives we touch. :) It’s hard to hold on to this concept when we’re clobbered by the harsh standards of our backwards society, but we shouldn’t lose hope. God is our ultimate compass, and the pin is in our hearts.

Cheers to everyone who know they can change the world in their own ways! Believe and inspire. :)

Shoelaces [The Submarines]

Unbeknownst to many, music has always been an effective fuel in my writings. I get distracted easily but with the right kind of song in the background, I find my creative juices thawing themselves and flowing past the blocks that are deterring me from producing anything worthy of being called a decent piece of literature.

Leafing through the pages of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (again) and re-watching its flick version, I got myself reacquainted with the bands I’ve loved back in high school. I’ve heard of The Submarines before, but I initially didn’t like their style. When I checked them out now, though, I find their music…more appealing. I guess it has something to do with my ‘musical tastes’ taking varied courses as I listen to more bands. :) The Submarines’ music, hands down, became included in my list of “writing tracks.” They can totally help me with my NaNoWriMo right now. :p

The Submarines


The Submarines are composed of John Dragonetti (aka Jack Drag) and Blake Hazard, who is the great-granddaughter of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald (it shows in her writing style!). The romantically involved couple collaborated on Hazard’s 2002 album “Little Airplane”, but ended their relationship soon after. After they resumed their relationship, the duo recorded “Declare A New State!” in 2006 as The Submarines. Since then, Hazard and Dragonetti have married and recorded two further albums as The Submarines: “Honeysuckle Weeks” (2008) and “Love Notes/Letter Bombs” (2011).

I’ve listened to a bunch of their songs, but I’m going to feature here the first song I heard from their latest album, Shoelaces. It’s an earworm I wouldn’t mind slithering in my head as long as it wants. :p The lyrics are subtly poetic and simple. The music’s catchier in the original version, but when I’m writing I prefer this Shazam Session one:

Shoelaces (The Submarines)

I've had better days than this
Words trip like untied shoelaces
Still you're worth falling down for once in a while

And I’m disinclined to admit
With you and I this could be it
And something's telling me we'll know before too long

Are you really going out there on your own?
These tangled lines all come undone
How did it feel when you let go?
You try your luck in your best suit
Tied to a broken parachute
It's the hole in my heart you fell through

Tried reading tea leaves and the stars in all the days we were apart
Maybe my mind wasn't made up, but I chose love
Still I’m inclined to admit, with you and I this might be it
These failed predictions kept us wondering all the time

I never wanna let you down
So why not cut these strings before we hit the ground

Are you really going out there on your own?
These tangled lines all come undone
How did it feel when you let go?
You try your luck in your best suit
Tied to a broken parachute
It's the hole in my heart you fell through

If you say I’m wrong I’ll say you're wrong
But no one has to be right
And if you say you're wrong I’ll say I’m wrong
Nothing could be worth this fight

We try our luck not our strong suit
We can't give up this parachute
Oh the hole in my heart you fell through

And there you have it! Honestly, this song can be a great “book track” too, if you can find the perfect book that fits with the story of the song. :)

Perhaps I should write more posts about the bands I’m (re)discovering lately; my “scrobbling” at last.fm just won’t do. I’m no musician but I realize I like jotting my thoughts about them, too.

Downpour, Edge, and Clipped (OneWord)

I’ve cross-posted some of my entries at Oneword here last September. While I’m not exactly a frequenter in the site, I always drop by  whenever I have extra time (Tumblr’s almost eating it all up, haha). Here's another set of entries. Note that all of them were penned within 60 seconds, and there may be some grammatical errors in them. I didn’t make any correction/alteration in the final products. :p

DOWNPOUR:
When the tears seeped through the blindfold of my fingers, I know that it’s useless to plaster the upturned frown I was donning the whole day. Then I heard the sobs of the thunderclouds outside, followed by the loud splatter of rain. The roofs and the pavements were slippery with tears. I smiled through my sadness, because at the moment I know I’m not alone. The sky is an empath.

EDGE:
Lots of things happen whenever I’m teetering on the edge of wakefulness, where a millimeter from my toe I can see the steep staircase that goes down to my version of dreamland. Sometimes I imagine what tomorrow would be like by taking a risky glance behind me, checking the shape of my footprints. Sometimes I just look ahead, pretending that I’m some sort of a tightrope walker that needed to get to the other side. Either way I’m at an impasse, and until winds from my memory would push me into the abyss, I would stay transfixed at that position for as long as I can.

CLIPPED
Life is forever unfair. For most of the time you spent living, you will be slithering along the metaphorical leaves of knowing what’s good, what’s bad, what’s between them, like a caterpillar attempting to know his place in the world. There will come a time when you have to curl up in a cocoon, to brood about what you have learned so far, and when you emerge out of this temporary home, you will soar, sliding along the playful winds of fate that take you places. And just when you think you are the freest creature on earth, someone comes along to clip your wings. Someone will be there, waiting with the rust-caked scissors…

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Murakami’s Oeuvre

The prize for the Nowness Illustration/Design-making Contest I joined a while back arrived three days ago! The mailman got lost in our labyrinthine place—the branching alleyways are, like, half a hundred—but he still managed to get ahead of the scheduled time of delivery (Nowness gave me the FedEx tracking number).

I got all of Murakami’s books, but what I’m really excited about is the complete volumes of IQ84! They’re signed! :)

IQ84-Haruki Murakami
Signed
I’m so stoked to read them, but I can’t move on to them just yet because I haven’t even finished my September-October book haul. I know, I know, I’m so behind my reading goals, haha! Anyway, here's the complete stack:

Murakami books
They’re beautiful. Before joining the contest, I already have my own copies of the eight books on the top. I think I’ll give them to my friends who haven’t tried reading any of Murakami’s work. So yeah, my Tumblr weather (and maybe this blog’s too) in the coming days will be soused with Jap lit, mostly reviews cross-posted from my GoodReads—I’ve read most of my Murakami when I still didn’t have a Tumblr. :)

Guilty Pleasure TV: 2 Broke Girls

2-Broke-Girls-full
After watching Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Thor, I know I’ve fallen in love with Kat Dennings. She has a way of playing characters that can strike a chord with me without any effort; she’s a natural. That’s why when I found out she’s starring in a sitcom, I know I should check it out.

I discovered 2 Broke Girls about the same time I discovered New Girl. While I love both of them, I only recommended New Girl to my friends because I'm confident they'll like it. 2 Broke Girls is more like a guilty pleasure to me, and I never talked about it until another friend posted a Facebook status about it.

It’s not hard to explain. 2 Broke Girls is full of double-meaning, horse crud jokes I've heard a dozen times from somewhere else before; there’s not a single episode that doesn't make a jape about sex at least thrice. It’s kitschy for the most part, and it doesn’t even go near New Girl’s caliber. But I liked it, and it’s all because of the characters.

Max Black (Kat Dennings) and Caroline Channing (Beth Behrs) have a fascinating chemistry that makes for the redeeming quality of the show. Their clashing personalities are a fun to watch, and it’s nice to observe how their relationship develops throughout the series. As I’ve told my friend, if there’s a female version for the word “bromance,” that would pretty much sum up Max and Caroline’s relationship (and obviously the creators won't pass up the opportunity to crack lesbian jokes because of that). They're so funny together.

Max is a carbon copy of Norah Silverberg from Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist…if you take away her purse fattened by her popular record label executive father's successful carreer. Her wit, her potty mouth, her spunk—it’s all Norah-esque, if you ask me. And then enters Caroline—not the blonde girl from NANIP, but another blonde girl that is prim-and-proper, classy...and broke. She ends up penniless because of her one scammer of a dad. Together they work as waitresses in a small Brooklyn diner to achieve their goal of $250,000 dollars, which they will use as fund for their dream business: a cupcake shop. At the end of every episode, there’s a tally of all the money they earned for the day. Even the plotline isn't so remarkable.

So yeah, this is another addition to my TV series list. I’m hearing rumors that this show's going early to the chopping board, but I hope it won’t happen soon. I’m enjoying this immensely at the moment.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bookwormism Update!

books
Currently reading: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I just started last night and got to the part where a man is relaying a story about how he ‘lost his words.’ Or something like that.

Additions to my skyscraper of a to-read stack:
Somebody invent a word for a person who’s always lucky in secondhand bookshops! I stumbled upon a hardback copy of Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry the other day when I was randomly browsing for back issues of a music magazine. The jacket’s a bit torn and creased, but other than that the baby’s in good condition. I got it for only 100 pesos! If brand new this will cost at most 500php. I’ve been wanting to get my hands on this after I read The Time Traveler’s Wife.

Another addition is The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. A friend of mine also got it from a secondhand bookstore, and after reading it he gave it to me. He said it reminded him of a funeral story I wrote a while ago. xD

What’s Hidden in the Snow Comes Forth in the Thaw: David Fincher’s ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’

Hurrah! Now that I’m done reading the first book in the Millennium trilogy, I can freely surf the web without the fear of accidentally reading spoilers. :)

I watched Youtube clips from the original big screen adaptation (Män Som Hatar Kvinnor) and I have to admit, I saw more of Lisbeth Salander in Rooney Mara than in the Swedish actress Noomi Rapace. Looks-wise, at least. It’s been years since the movie was shown, but the internet is still giving its virtual standing ovation for Rapace, reporting that she played Salander’s role to perfection. Only a few believed that Mara can surpass or even equal her performance. Let’s see about that.

As for the actor for Mikael Blomkvist, my vote goes to Daniel Craig (looks-wise again). I have nothing against the Swedish actor, but I thought the financial journalist described in the book is a tad more…dashing and suave. You know what I mean. Anyway, I can’t judge the flicks yet because I haven’t watched either, but I’m already having high hopes for the Hollywood adaptation. You know why? Because director David Fincher is on the helm to remake the film!

I totally loved Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and The Social Network. Fincher’s take on darkish movies are jaw-dropping in their bizarre tastefulness. It seems like Fincher has a thing for hackers too (ehem, Mark Zuckerberg). And speaking of The Social Network, I just learned that the girl who played Zuckerberg’s scorned ex-girlfriend Erica Albright is none other than Rooney Mara!

Anyway, here are the photos gathered from Tumblr. Be warned, some of them are NSFW-ish.

girldragonfoot-568x760

cess_rooney_mara_03_v

LISBETH

yay

tattoo-time

f

LIS

DVFINCHER


And of course, how can we forget the trailer?

David Fincher’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

I can't wait! I hope this movie will make Christmas this year extra-amazing.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium#01)
Author: Stieg Larrson
Genre: Thriller/Mystery
Rating: ★★★★


DSC_0770 (2)

AN UNHEALTHY OBSESSION- this is how the majority of the wealthy Vanger family describes Henrik’s unyielding search for the truth about his niece Harriet, who vanished almost four decades ago. Financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist, although freshly convicted of libel, is hired to investigate. Aided by a punk hacker-slash-hardboiled P.I. Lisbeth Salander, he digs into the family’s skeleton-full of cupboards and discovers more than what he is searching.

This is Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: a noir crime fiction that does not only revolve around a murky murder/disappearance case but also paints a portrait of Sweden with all shades of black and grey.

One of the things I liked the best in this novel is the top-notch world-building. Through Larsson’s unembellished prose I was instantly transported to Sweden, and although it was no tourist’s holiday, I enjoyed the trip immensely.  If you are squeamish and want to read this book, you better get prepared for the things that can possibly give you a bad case of vertigo: lots of rape, sadism, torture, and other incredibly harrowing stuff that happens to women (which makes me think the original title Men Who Hate Women is more appropriate). Needless to say, the descriptions are grotesquely effective. These—plus a couple of dirty snapshots of the Swedish business scene—added to the solidity of the dark setting.

While the world-building is ace, I cannot say the same for characterization of the male protagonist. Mikael Blomkvist reads half-baked to me—a character prematurely taken out from the writing oven, that is. I cannot picture him as a fully-realized person for the most part. His Practical Pig complex, stubborn naivety, and strong moral code (okay, and propensity to magnetize almost every woman to his bed) are a few of his attributes that Larsson did not successfully take to the final stage of character-molding. I think he would have been a great character if Larsson did not write him as his glossed-over fictional alter ego of some sort. That only made him a small step shy from being a Gary Stu. Fortunately another protagonist exists, and that’s our titular ‘girl with the dragon tattoo’: Lisbeth Salander.

It’s no secret that I have a weakness for well-written antiheroines, and Lisbeth is the newest addition to the roster. A taciturn 25-year-old punk prodigy, Lisbeth is both a heroine and a victim. With her tattoos, piercings, and the ‘mentally ill’ label she received in court, it is so easy to pigeonhole her. As much as she wants to show that she doesn’t care about others’ low opinion on her, deep inside all she ever wanted to be is someone who is not judged and laughed at. Unlike Blomkvist, she understands that ‘the raptors of the world speak only one language,’ and throughout the novel it is shown she is driven by the fuel of revenge. Somehow, I loved her slightly off-kilter version of justice and her way of achieving it. It talks so much about her past, which is not entirely revealed in this book. I am hoping to see more of it in the sequels.

The book is wonderfully plotted, but my interest fluctuates throughout the story. It took me a while to get through the first two parts (Incentive and Consequence Analyses) mainly because of two things: the plot doesn’t charge along at the speed I expected from a suspense/thriller book, and the Vanger clan is a confusing web—it’s hard to remember who’s who, despite the detailed table and family tree that Larsson provided. Honestly I was tempted more than once to stop reading and move on to other books. I am glad I didn’t. The plot picked up speed when Blomkvist and Salander met, and from that moment on I was glued to my seat, refusing to put the book down.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but I actually liked how it ended:  “Millennium’s Revenge.” I did not ace my Business and Economic Writing class when I was still studying journalism, but I enjoyed how the Millennium staff turned the tables on financial gangster Wennerstrom just with the possession of the right information, causing a domino reaction in Sweden’s field of banking and business. I also liked the ethical dilemmas Blomkvist and the rest ofMillennium faced: how can you report objectively about the Vanger Corporation if they are a part-owner of your magazine? Isn’t there a conflict of interests? Would you still publish this old rape story with the consequences of immortalizing the ghost of the victim’s past in print, when all that she really wants to do is forget it? Which would you choose, your role of being a public servant or your role as a human being?

I reiterate, almost half of this behemoth of a book I did not entirely enjoy, but the parts that did, they blew me away like no other suspense books I have encountered before. Giving it 3 or 3.5 stars seemed a tad too criminal because when I turned the last page, I was extremely satisfied that I was actually contemplating to buy the second book that moment.  So yes, I’m giving this four stars. Can’t wait to read The Girl Who Played with Fire!