Sunday, May 26, 2013

Flick Backtrack

Time out from bookwormism! This weekend, while cleaning up my bedroom aka The Barrow Jane (I know, I know, I also think I’ve lost my bloody marbles a long time ago), I found a 4GB flash drive in a forgotten paper bag. It contained movies that I’ve watched in the past and I decided to reacquaint with them. So here, I'm sharing some of my nuggets of thoughts:

Directed by: Richard Ayoade
Written by:  Richard Ayoade
Starring: Craig Roberts, Yasmin Page

Based on a coming-of-age novel of the same name by Joe Dunthorne, Submarine follows a teenage oddball named Oliver Tate as he tries to prevent his parents from splitting up while bravely testing the waters of love with the self-possessed pyromaniac Jordana Bevan.

Poignant, funny, and refreshingly different, Submarine is the kind of flick that will submerge you in a pool of messy youthful truths. If you want a good page-to-screen translation, read the source material and then watch this. You won’t regret it, especially if you’re exploring the indie world of movies.

I admit, I discovered this movie because I make it a point to always be updated with Arctic Monkeys’ music. It turned out that the band's frontman, Alex Turner, wrote and performed songs for its soundtrack. Combine a quality story with good music and you’ll be sure to have a fun time! ;)


HotaruDirected by: Toya Sato
Written by: Yumiko Inoue
Starring: Hoshi Ishida, Mao Sasaki

Hotaru no Haka or Grave of the Fireflies is originally a 1988 Studio Ghibli animated movie about two Japanese siblings trying to survive in the final days of World War II. I didn’t know it at first, but I learned that it was actually based on a semi-autobiographical book of WW2 survivor  Akiyuki Nosaka.

This live action version is produced in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. Instead of focusing on the siblings Seita and Setsuko, the movie deviated from the original story by setting the narration from the point of view of their cousin.

I still prefer the anime as it effortlessly elicited tears from my eyes, but this version is as moving. If it were up to me, though, I’d love to see a live action translation that is more faithful to the original anti-war film.

Yossi and Jagger
Directed by: Eytan Fox
Written by: Avner Bernheimer
Starring: Ohad Knoller, Yehuda Levi

Yossi & Jagger is a romantic drama film about two young Israeli soldiers in love. Yossi commands a group of bunker-based soldiers on the Lebanon border prior to Israel’s pullout in 2000. He keeps a secret love affair with his second-in-command, Lior, who was nicknamed “Jagger” for his rock star charm.

Banking on the economy of expression—it lasted for mere 65 minutes!—this film managed to relay an unforgettable story. It’s not an extraordinary gay-themed military anecdote; if anything, it is just an ordinary love story. There's nothing here that can surprise you. However, it will easily etched itself in your memory because the characters are so naturally human that you can grow to love them in the movie’s succinct time frame.

A self-confessed addict

This two-minute doodle pretty much sums up my bookworm existence! Yes, I’m very addicted to literature and I will never go to rehab for it. I’ll stay a “user” forever. :)


Friday, May 24, 2013

Bookwormism: On my Radar

If there’s anything that I’m sure about my book lists right now, it’s that my tower of waiting un-reads has no power to stop me from updating my to-read roster. With that said, here are a handful of books, a mix of light and heavy, that I’m adding to the list:

Slaughterhouse Five
by Kurt Vonnegut

From Goodreads:
“Also called The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death (1969), Kurt Vonnegut's absurdist classic Slaughterhouse Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore.
In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.
Don't let the ease of reading fool you—Vonnegut's isn't a conventional, or simple, novel. He writes, "There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters."


Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

From Goodreads:
“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a lyrical novel about family and friendship.  It is a coming-of-age book about two awkward Mexican teenage boys growing up in the 1980s. Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common.
But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.”

The Virgin Suicides
by Jeffrey EugenidesVirgin Suicides

From Goodreads:
“The haunting, humorous and tender story of the brief lives of the five entrancing Lisbon  sisters, The Virgin Suicides, now a major film, is Jeffrey Eugenides' classic debut novel.

The shocking thing about the girls was how nearly normal they seemed when their mother let them out for the one and only date of their lives. Twenty years on, their enigmatic personalities are embalmed in the memories of the boys who worshipped them and who now recall their shared adolescence: the brassiere draped over a crucifix belonging to the promiscuous Lux; the sisters' breathtaking appearance on the night of the dance; and the sultry, sleepy street across which they watched a family disintegrate and fragile lives disappear.”


Eleanor & Park
by Rainbow RowellEleanorandPark

From Goodreads:
“"Bono met his wife in high school," Park says.
"So did Jerry Lee Lewis," Eleanor answers.
"I’m not kidding," he says.
"You should be," she says, "we’re sixteen."
"What about Romeo and Juliet?"
"Shallow, confused, then dead."
''I love you," Park says.
"Wherefore art thou," Eleanor answers.
"I’m not kidding," he says.
"You should be."
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love—and just how hard it pulled you under.”

Thursday, May 23, 2013


British wordsmiths may possess the greatest of writing magic when it comes to fiction, but I have to say that Australian authors have the most “human” of writing materials. Based on my recent readings, it’s either the Down Under is home to some of the most amazing writers or I’m just stumbling upon the best of their lot. ;) Well, I have Garth Nix, Melina Marchetta, and of course Markus Zusak! I found out that Zusak’s adeptness at his craft isn’t just a one-time deal. The Book Thief isn’t his only great work. I am the Messenger is equally amazing.

I tweeted him weeks ago about how I feel about his work, and he replied:


Just reading it again makes my feelings shoot up in a high level of giddy! Haha. Yes, friends, this post is just about this tweet (don't rain on my parade!). After reading I Am the Messenger, I swear that I’d pick up Zusak’s earlier works. He is just that kind of author whose writing style I wish I have! Hopefully, I can meet him in person and thank him for inspiring me not just in being an aspiring writer, but in life in general.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Review: I Am the Messenger

Author: Markus Zusak
Genre: Young adult, mystery, inspirational, humor
My Rating: ★★★★★

I Am the Messenger - Copy

Ed Kennedy’s CV isn’t at all impressive. All that’s in there are underage cabdriver, hopeless friendzone-dweller, and professional nobody.  He lets most of his time trickle by in his shabby shack, playing cards with his friends and drinking coffee with his smelly dog. At nineteen he has come to accept that his life is headed nowhere…until he inadvertently foils a bank robbery. For a time he is hailed a hero by the local media, and just when he thinks the hype is dying, he receives an ace in the mail that details his next “missions.” Ed is chosen to care—he is chosen to be “the messenger.”

The messages, which Ed himself should ‘decode’ first, are eclectic. Some are larger than life and some are seemingly trivial, but all of them are guaranteed to mark a change in the lives of their recipients. Ed reluctantly embarks on a journey to “protect the diamonds, survive the clubs, dig deep through the spades, and feel the hearts.” A spark in him eventually grows and he begins to believe that after all of this, he will be able to move on from being a ‘nobody’ to being a ‘somebody.’

When I picked up I Am the Messenger, I lowered my expectations because I know that The Book Thief will always be my favorite Zusak gem. The latter set the bar at an incredible height. The former, however, proved to be a completely different beast; it doesn’t hold the beautifully quiet albeit intense tone of The Book Thief, but it gets wrapped in the raw voice of youth—the kind that easily resonates with its target audience and doesn’t need to bask in embellished words to elicit gasps from its readers. It may not land on the same tier as The Book Thief but it definitely will on a different ladder, more or less on the same level.

One of the things I really loved about I Am the Messenger is, of course, Zusak’s writing. All 357 pages of this book only vindicated that his wordplay will always be my personal kryptonite. It’s as if his prose contains magic that can leap off the page and touch you in ways no other book can: they stick onto your memory like a good mind barnacle and clutch to your heart like a much-needed emotional drug. How he does that, I will never know. All I know is that I’ve been under his writing spell and enjoyed every minute of it. Who can’t get addicted to a style like this? -
“I know that all of this will stay with me forever… things just keep going as long as memory can wield its ax, always finding a soft part in your mind to cut through and enter.”
If you think every sentence curls all poetic-like, you’re mistaken. I commend how the book manages to be largely lyrical and inspirational despite being a rather raunchy treat. It rounds up an average of three expletives per page and presents a wide array of lust-charged sections. Oh, and Ed, being the sarcasm-on-two-legs that he is, narrates his story in a tone edged with a cynical sense of humor. If you combine all those and plaster the word “motivational” across its bull’s eye, what you may imagine as an end product is one chaos of a novel that doesn’t know what it wants to be. But this book successfully presents a seamless blend of its clashing elements. It is both laugh-out-loud funny and heartwarming, both serious and hilarious. You don’t get a lot of that nowadays.

I love Ed as a character. His charm radiates from the fact that he has cataloged himself as a “nobody heading nowhere” and “just another stupid human” where in fact he is as extraordinary as one could get without donning capes or superhero spandex. His self-deprecation makes him all the more appealing. He may be a self-proclaimed Mr. Insufferable with a penchant for brooding about his stinking life, but he is not empty. His spirit isn’t drained out by the kicks life has given him prior to the beginning of the novel; he still has dreams, even if they are in a slumber inside him.

Even though the only “all access” pass we have is for inside Ed’s head, most of the other characters also appear to be well-molded. They are as multi-layered as real humans, dealing with their problems in the only way they can. But the thing here is, Zusak doesn’t try hard to make everyone pop out of the pages. Instead, he writes a realistic portrayal of other people from the limited perspective of a flawed human like Ed. We don’t get to know all their problems or thoughts or what drives them in life, but we do get to feel them the way Ed felt them.

Ironically, I find it odd that Audrey, the very person whom Ed has the strongest feelings for, is the one character that seems to be a little underdeveloped. Depicted as the girl who makes love to everybody but is afraid to love anybody, Audrey’s character almost has no concrete back-up to make the portrayal realistic enough. Maybe that’s why I’m not really satisfied with the fluffy contribution she had at the ending. For me, it’s a chink in this book’s armor.

World-building is handled well. The town Ed has known as his whole world emerges like a separate entity. Its restrictions, its inexplicable pull that seems to tuck everybody in, and the gamut of opportunities lying just outside its borders all seem to be real. If anything, the place contributes a lot to the character’s growth:
“It’s the person, not the place. If you left here, you’d have been the same anywhere else. If I ever leave this place—I’ll make sure I’m better here first.”
The build-up of the plot is a tad unconventional. Throughout the novel we are in constant search for Ed’s assignment sender but we are made to focus on Ed’s missions, reveling in how each of them is solved differently. The answer to the Big Q is revealed as a major twist in the end, and I have to say it’s one of the most unique turns I’ve seen to cap off a novel. I can’t say it’s the best twist ever, but I expected something else entirely—something that stays within the four walls of the story. I liked it, though. I think it made the impact of the message a hundredfold greater.

All technicalities aside, I want to say that the best thing in my reading experience with I am the Messenger is how the “messages” shot straight to my heart. It’s no news that apathy could rival oxygen in terms of its abundance in the air nowadays. We often fall victim to the “I have loads of problems of my own, why should I take care of his?” mentality that often shadows the “what’s in it for me?” question, but what if you’re a stranger’s only hope? You don’t need to be a superhero to save a life; a hope can be a simple smile, a genuine greeting, or a small conversation between passenger seats. I still believe in the power of small things because once upon a time in my life, I’ve been saved by them too.

This novel also reminded me that we shouldn’t be afraid to connect with other people. I know that trust is too precious a thing to invest in someone we don’t know well, but what we seldom realize is that we get a lot more when we build new relationships. Ed has realized this too. He repeatedly muses about how he gets nothing in exchange of all the good things he’s doing for other people, but he finds out in the end that he—in his own words—“the privileged one.” His dormant life compass functions well again after he touched other people’s lives.

The other message that struck a chord with me is that we can all be somebody…but for that to happen, each of us has to be nobody first. :)

This book made me laugh and cry. I think the very good things about I Am the Messenger eclipsed its flaws so I’m giving it five well-deserved stars.

Slipping into another person

Sole Means

-Joyce Carol Oates

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A new chapter begins.

May 10, 2013 marked my last day as the Associate Editor of Gala magazine. If you just dropped by my blog, you can read my stew of apprehensions, epiphanies, and a handful of different emotions about this event as the drama-rama post called “The Future Freaks Me Out.” To tell you the truth, I can’t tell if I’m unnerved or excited about the new chapter in my life. But I can feel in my bones that I’m ready for it and all I needed to do is breathe and step into it. :)

My next job will be completely different from the world I temporarily left behind. I’ll still be writing, but my articles will no longer be about concerts, gigs, plays, or interviews with prominent people in the local tinsel town. My pen will instead be focusing on the business world. It’s an industry I’m not really familiar with, but I’ll try to learn the ropes as quick as I can. (One odd thought that flitted in my mind when I accepted the job: “Background, finally! I can now write legit business-savvy characters in my stories!” Yes, my friends. This is how I roll.)

There are several factors that cemented my decision, but this quote by Markus Zusak probably encapsulates all of it: “I’d rather chase the sun than wait for it.” :)

Cheers to the future and wish me luck!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The future freaks me out.

In one of my old sketchbook-diaries, I once doodled a ghost against a storm of black scribbles. I named it “past,” and right beside it are the words “Sometimes it haunts me in my sleep.”  One tossed grad cap and several steps into the proverbial Real World later, a new kind of ghost started to haunt every nook of my head. It was scarier, bigger. It named itself “the future.”

The Future Freaks Me Out  “The future freaks me out.”

In so many ways, I’ve always been a coward. It ironically took me a certain amount of courage to admit that, but yes, I’m a coward. The worst part is that I’m responsible for cooking up most of the things I’ve become afraid of. Thoughts of the past, thoughts of the future, uncertainties of the present. I’m afraid of making the wrong decisions. I’m afraid that things, instead of falling into place, would fall down domino-like into a big mess that would never be the same again even if I try to rebuild them.

I try something new every once in a while; I break out of the comfort zone to learn more. But I eventually realized that the steps I was taking were too small to make a difference, that when I put my foot out, I still have the other one planted on a supposedly “safe” place. I’m afraid to take a big leap.

I’m afraid to fail.

And that, perhaps, was the biggest block on the road to my goals. It’s said that if you want to succeed faster, the only thing you have to do is to fail and make mistakes faster. There are no real shortcuts here. You have to go down if you want to go up. Plunging headfirst into the future is scary, but life only goes forward if you go forward. Simple as that.

So gradually, I stopped to clobber myself with my own fears. It’s time to explore more of the world, try something new—the kind of new that would actually leave a mark in my heart and at the same time make a difference to the people I love. The universe doesn’t revolve around me or my dreams alone. When I graduated, I built tall fences around my goal and swore I would target only that. But I couldn’t see the horizons because of the fences’ enormity. I decided that if I want to move forward, I have to tear them down.

Now, I acknowledge the open doors I’ve blocked in my periphery in the past. Now, I acknowledge that my true happiness doesn’t just lie in the fulfillment of my dreams, but also in the happiness of the people around me. Now, I acknowledge that even if risks are such scary things to take, you can never really grow up without them. Now, I am ready.

Wherever I’m going, I believe it’s somewhere beautiful. Different perhaps, but beautiful all the same. It's somewhere I can grow more. I will go forward without forgetting the past—hopefully not a ghost this time, but a mosaic of memories that I can use as a fuel when I find myself low on inspiration.

Nothing spells confusion like wallowing in a quarter-life crisis, but I'm ready to take on the new challenges.

Bring it on.

Review: Cat’s Cradle

Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Genre: Science fiction, classic, postmodern
My Rating: ★★★★

Cat's Cradle

Exploring more of literature’s moral badlands is one of the things I included in my list of bookscapades this year. I’ve considered plunging back into the worlds of Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis, but my sudden need to return to classics led me to Kurt Vonnegut. Cat’s Cradle, my first taste of his oeuvre, can be well considered a good postmodernist romp into the badlands I’m referring to. What made it stand out from its classic kin is its deadpan humor, packing a punch like no other and propping up his rich commentary on human folly.

Cat’s Cradle, like its string game namesake, has an intricacy that seems to back up the statement ‘the best lies create the best stories.’ It follows the narrator who calls himself Jonah (“Jonah—John—if I had been a Sam, I would have been a Jonah still”). He goes around collecting material for a book he’s planning to write, which is supposed to focus on the day the atomic bomb obliterated Hiroshima, Japan. He researches about Dr. Felix Hoenikker, one of the so-called fathers of the atomic bomb, and eventually finds his life entangled with those of the three strange Hoenikker children—a charmless wench, a train model designer, and a midget. On the process of acquiring potential materials, he gets to know the “outlawed” religion Bokononism, the impoverished San Lorenzo island with its stunning mulatto muse, and the powerful chip called ice-nine.

Vonnegut’s brand of social satire is a joy to read. Living in the 21st century didn’t prevent me from relating to his points; Vonnegut captured the 60s zeitgeist in the book, but it contains timeless threads that hook themselves in our generation.

With black humor in his lit voice box, the author speaks subversively of the little dystopias we build in our societies—science, religion, and politics, particularly their unlikely enmeshments and expected clashes—until we finally reach the end of times. He speaks of the truth that a man will always be half-bad and half-good, because full proportions of either would only drive anyone insane. That sometimes, the “good guys” themselves have to create something “evil” to fight against just so they wouldn’t lose the essence of their existence. The story, fragmented and flawed in its own way, detail more facts about the society that we often refuse to acknowledge.

Of all the countless things I could love about this book, perhaps the very characteristic I gave a big nod to is how Vonnegut didn’t try to bury his points underneath flowery prose. I love a good word play, but Vonnegut’s simple and somewhat flippant approach to his chosen themes seems to intensify the power of his writing. I bet anyone who would read his terse sentences would know that every phrase means a whole world of messages and meanings.

Humorous, off-the-wall, and thought-provoking, Cat’s Cradle is an unforgettable trip to another classic author’s world. Four stars for a good read.