Monday, September 16, 2013

MIBF 2013 babies

Oh, books are definitely drugs. No argument could ever convince me otherwise. Based on my latest “inventory,” I’m in possession of over 150 unread novels among the countless books in our house’s shelves and pseudo-nooks. I know that’s criminally inappropriate, but it didn’t stop me from buying more books from the 34th Manila International Book Fair this weekend. I…just can’t help it. I’m a hopeless case, and I’ll shamelessly tell you I’m okay with it. :p

Anyway, here’s the stack that dismantled my carefully planned budget this month:

MIBF Stack - Copy

1.   Lit Riffs edited by Matthew Miele. Being a lover of music and literature, I just know this one will definitely strike a chord with me. The blurb at the back mentioned a story based on Foo Fighters’ “Everlong” and that sealed it for me. From Goodreads:
Following in the footsteps of the late great Lester Bangs—the most revered and irreverent of rock ‘n’ roll critic—twenty-four celebrated writers have penned stories inspired by great songs. Just as Bangs cast new light on a Rod Stewart classic with his story “Maggie May,” about a wholly unexpected connection between an impressionable young man and an aging, alcoholic hooker, the diverse, electrifying stories here use songs as a springboard for a form dubbed the lit riff.
2.   The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett. It’s about time I start this 30-book series by one 0f the most respected British novelists!  Haha! I’ve only read one of his works, which is his pop collab with Neil Gaiman, Good Omens. From Goodreads:
The Colour of Magic is Terry Pratchett’s maiden voyage through the bizarre land of Discworld. His entertaining and witty series has grown to more than 20 books, and this is where it all starts—with the tourist Twoflower and his hapless wizard guide, Rincewind (“All wizards get like that … it’s the quicksilver fumes. Rots their brains. Mushrooms, too.”). Pratchett spoofs fantasy clich├ęs—and everything else he can think of—while marshalling a profusion of characters through a madcap adventure. (Blaise Selby)
3.   Dune by Frank Herbert. My recent reintroduction to the politically complex world of Gundam Wing—and my favorite desert-dwelling mecha pilot from there—made me curious about this Sci-fi classic. A fellow fanfic writer strongly recommends it. From Goodreads:
Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family—and would bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream. A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what it undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.
4.   Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I’ve always wanted to acquire a physical copy of this book, except that the edition I kept on seeing wasn’t the one I liked (because yeah, I’m superficial like that when it comes to covers. Sorry not sorry.). From Goodreads:
Richard Mayhew is a young man with a good heart and an ordinary life, which is changed forever when he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. His small act of kindness propels him into a world he never dreamed existed. There are people who fall through the cracks, and Richard has become one of them. And he must learn to survive in this city of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels, if he is ever to return to the London that he knew.
5.   Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally. I chose between this and Jerry Spinelli's Milkweed. Picked this one because I've overheard two booknut-guys passionately discussing it. :p Also I wanted to learn more about the Holocaust and since I refuse to touch history books right now, I’m going for this. From Goodreads:
Schindler’s List is a remarkable work of fiction based on the true story of German industrialist and war profiteer, Oskar Schindler, who, confronted with the horror of the extermination camps, gambled his life and fortune to rescue 1,300 Jews from the gas chambers.
6.   It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini. It seems like everybody has watched the movie version except me, and that must be rectified. And I refuse to watch the flick adaptation before reading the source material first, so here it is.  From Goodreads:
Like many ambitious New York City teenagers, Craig Gilner sees entry into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School as the ticket to his future. Determined to succeed at life—which means getting into the right high school to get into the right college to get the right job—Craig studies night and day to ace the entrance exam, and does.  That’s when things start to get crazy.
7.   The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer. I’m a big fan of novels touching the topic of “possibilities” using science fiction. I picked this up on a whim because the premise snagged me readily. From Goodreads:
After the death of her beloved twin brother and the abandonment of her long-time lover, Greta Wells undergoes electroshock therapy. Over the course of the treatment, Greta finds herself repeatedly sent to 1918, 1941, and back to the present. Whisked from the gas-lit streets and horse-drawn carriages of the West Village to a martini-fueled lunch at the Oak Room, in these other worlds, Greta finds her brother alive and well—though fearfully masking his true personality. And her former lover is now her devoted husband…but will he be unfaithful to her in this life as well?
8.   The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Five novels in one volume--and for the price of one! Seriously, this is my jackpot purchase. I’ve bought just the first book in the series and it has the same price as this dear tome. From Goodreads:
Seconds before the Earth is demolished for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is saved by Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised Guide. Together they stick out their thumbs to the stars and begin a wild journey through time and space.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Review: Memoirs of a Geisha

Author: Arthur Golden
Genre: historical fiction, drama, romance
My Rating:


Have you ever wondered what a book’s words would taste like if they were food? I think Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore would appeal to the tongue like a cup of tea, one so exotic it would convert you into a caffeine evangelist overnight. Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief would be a stolen candy, a blob of heaven in your mouth that you wish would never dissolve—but it would, and after it’s gone you know you’ll be willing to steal again and again. I imagine the flavor of Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things to be of an omelette from the eggs of a dream-eating dragon (if only, you know, such an exotic creature exists.).

I had a conversation like this with a fellow bookworm not so long ago. I remembered him telling me about the “oral” appeal mostly of literature I still haven’t read yet. One of the books he mentioned is Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. He described the whole thing as butter-like, as if the words would melt into your mind’s tongue while you’re reading it (non-verbatim, but you get the idea). I realized what he meant when I started reading the book myself.

Memoirs of a Geisha follows the story of Sayuri as she journeys from being an impoverished village kid to being one of the most popular geisha in Japan. She was born as Chiyo, a carefree girl from Yoroido. She was sold into an okiya in Gion and there she starts treading her way into Geisha-hood—which is, of course, littered with heavy obstacles.

It is no secret that Memoirs attracted huge controversies. There were issues about a certain breach of contract and a handful of inconsistencies that brought culture-related uproars, which just augmented after the release of its movie adaptation. These were not enough to make me jump into the bandwagon at that time, though. (I was always like, “I don’t need this now, my cranium’s near to bursting with all the Jap stuff from our Asian history class!”) Now I am realizing what I was missing in all those years.

The story was told by Sayuri as an old woman, recounting the past starting from a day that is “both the best and the worst in her life.” I like how Golden made it so that the adult speaker did not sound so invasive in the story of her younger self. Think of what most grandmas will sound like if they will sit back in their rocking chairs while imparting anecdotes of their folly as a youth, minus perhaps a big chunk of humor.

Golden’s descriptions are a joy to read. This is where I saw—or tasted, rather—the “butter-like” flavor of the book that my bookworm friend is talking about. The writing style is smooth. With its chosen POV you will be made aware that you are receiving the fictional story secondhand, but Golden’s style has given the readers a free pass to the past. You will be transported to another time and place, as if you are witnessing the events yourself.

That said, I am amazed by how deftly Golden weaved his words together. He took care especially when describing the various kimonos worn in the tale. They are spoken with the kind of awe only a poor girl would have after seeing the most beautiful dress in her life for the first time. However, I think it will work once or twice only; expressing everything in detail and with the same awed delight for the rest of the story is a little overwhelming. Golden’s writing seems butter-like most of the time, true, but that does not mean chunks of bread in it will be bad. ;)

My love for well-written bildungsroman is the main reason why I kept coming back to YA lit. Though not YA, Memoirs presented a rather…unusual coming-of-age tale in its first half. It is very interesting. Golden’s treatment of Chiyo’s slow blossoming reads a lot different from the western COA stories I’ve encountered before, and I liked it. I guess the history-based grit, which is spread throughout the novel, gives it an edge different from that of its peers.

Character-wise, Chiyo/Sayuri is the only I can consider decently molded, although there are a few times when I think Golden is falling short of the mark of effectively speaking with a female voice. I’ll even admit Chiyo/Sayuri is sometimes Mary Sue-ish. The others never seemed to have progressed past the second stage of their dimensional development. Potential runners-up: Hatsumomo, the only geisha in the okiya when Chiyo arrived, is an intriguing catalyst in the latter’s growth…even if that mostly meant she implicated a Cinderella-like syndrome to the girl’s tale. I am largely interested in the character of Pumpkin too, another geisha-in-training and in effect another “Cinderella” in the okiya, except that she was not as fortunate as Chiyo/Sayuri. I wished she was given more character weight instead of just being portrayed like a caricature for the majority of the story. I can see her as the most human if given substantial attention.

The male characters were not very remarkable, except maybe for the disfigured Nobu. The others gained no flesh and had nothing in them that could hook me. Chiyo/Sayuri developed a bizarre kind of love with one of these men, and personally, I wished she had just seen someone else—something else—that would fuel her to achieve greatness. As a reader, I think it was strange to feel nothing for the very person the main character holds in high regard, the very man that gave the narrator a spark of hope that she held onto through life. Knowing at the end that you didn’t particularly care for more than half of the character ensemble was a tad saddening revelation.

Memoirs of a Geisha is a gritty un-fairytale from the orient that wraps up rather bittersweetly. It has a handful of glaring flaws, but despite those I can say I genuinely enjoyed it. Perhaps I will pick up a couple of books about Geisha and pre-World War II Japan to check on the controversial inconsistencies, but I do not think they will change my mind about what I think of this book.

4 out of 5 stars.

Courage beyond words: “The Book Thief”

November 15—I could almost hear it like an approaching herd of mad bulls. After the recent release of official stills from the movie adaptation of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, dialing down my booknut-excitement is almost impossible. And just when thought I was calming down a little, look at what they released:

Liesl Meminger

GOOD GOD!  Aside from the fact that Liesl looks a tiny tad older here, I can almost visualize the book popping out in faithful big-screen goodness. My heart imploded a bit when I saw this on my Tumblr dashboard. It’s the first time I felt as if I don’t care if the adaptation will be good or bad—it’s like I just want to see everything on screen, to see it alive in another medium. And I hope that this movie will be a way for more people to discover the treasure that is this book. Everyone should read it.

“She’s many things, that girl,” says Markus Zusak of this poster, “but to me, right now—she looks ready.”

And that doesn’t end there. They have also released the full official trailer!

I have no more words for this. I can just sit back here and pray for November to come faster. Haven’t read the book yet? Rectify that now. :)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Here we go again: Detour 22

Sorry for being a negligent little blogger! This was supposed to be posted months ago. (Also sorry for automatically pulling off this apology template whenever I break my frequent hiatuses and then force you to look back. I sound like a poor parakeet.) Anyway, this one’s for my birthday, August 24. We only had a simple celebration with my family. Instead of posting photos, I thought about just putting up a simple doodle:

22ndbirthday - Copy
Birthday Wishes
Time breezes by so fast—it seems like only yesterday when I turned 21. Right now, all I can ask for is everything in the above speech balloon(s)… and maybe a little bit of guidance from the Big Guy Upstairs. Quarter life crisis isn’t so much of a fun romp. Haha.

Be that as it may, I can say I’m happy right now. Perhaps not always, and not overly, completely-without-problems, all-is-right-in-freaking-the-world happy, but happy just the same. There are days when I want to just break down, but when I look at the bright side of  things, I can feel a genuine spark of gladness in my heart. Perhaps all I need to do is nurture it with hope and faith. :)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

View from a thinking playpen: Dorothy Catalonia

Cross-posted from my Gundam Wing/fandom tumblr: In which I blather more about her character and her Machiavellian chess games in the Eve Wars

Dorothy Catalonia

Dorothy Catalonia. If some people didn’t categorize her readily as a nutcase that popped in the middle of Gundam Wing for perhaps no other reason than to add a bit of color to the plot, they viewed her either as a poor excuse for a Relena Peacecraft antithesis or an obnoxious extra.

Once upon a time I thought the creators didn’t pay Dorothy any substantial attention, which might explain her lack of growth and dimensional weight as a character. I was constantly wondering why they’d let her open up so late in the series—it’s almost like it dawned on them that the audience will consider her presence a hairsbreadth away from being a total waste of space if they will not give her “war hobbies” at least an inch of depth. So they did, even if it’s on the penultimate episode (Ep.48: Take Off into Confusion).

One rewatch later, when I’m old enough to understand things in the show, I realized that the creators didn’t really write her off as an insignificant minor character.

For one, she was responsible for moving big pawns in AC 195’s one chess game of a war. She’s the whisper in Duke Dermail’s ear about leading the space forces and leaving Romafeller open to Relena’s voice. She somehow had a hand in Relena reign as a Queen and the subsequent birth of a unified world nation. But more importantly to her—important as in a deeply personal level—it was her suggestion that killed her grandfather in space. 

Now, Dorothy might be a vastly manipulative force with Romafeller blood in her veins, but she’s still a girl. Remember her terrified expression before she replaced it with a smirk. She’s good at putting up a tough face to the world since her father died (at least that’s what we can construe from her sparring with Quatre). Losing another father figure, this time because of her own Machiavellian schemes, must have made her crumble a little more inside. But with everything throwing itself at a chaos at that time, Dorothy would have no time to allot for grieving.

Then we see her siding with White Fang—being in the thick of things, not only getting on the front seat but hopping onstage as well. She had somehow involved herself in this war anyway, why not go all the way? But everything she planned went awry. Her mobile doll assault against the gundams was thwarted, Treize Khushrenada died, and—surprise, surprise!—she didn’t die. I’ve always thought she’d chosen the broken battleship Libra as her grave (see this pseudo-meta).

She’s a survivor. Aside from Milliardo, she’s one of the few people who held the “battle that would end all battles” belief who lived through the Eve Wars. Many people didn’t know Milliardo was actually alive. Wouldn’t it be a bit harder for her than anyone else there? Pondering about all the things she’d lost and in the end being proved a loser? You’d think that would be enough for her to just to decide to give it all up. To die.
But she’s there in episode 49. “I’m tired of living in the past,” she says in front of Milliardo’s and Treize’s graves. If there’s a major lesson Gundam Wing taught me as a kid, it’s that sometimes, being a survivor is equivalent to having to fight a longer, harder battle—the one in your head, the one in your memories. The true victors are those who chose not to be defeated by the ghosts of their past. Along with the others who started anew, Dorothy emerged and continued to live.

Oh, and it doesn’t end there. Dorothy appeared in Endless Waltz too. She’s her usual self, but this time she’s using her tactics to goad the people to go against Mariemaia in the most peaceful way they can. If she wasn’t there to provoke the mob, it would have ended a bit differently, more violently. 

I kind of loathe to know that her growth—as a character and as an individual—happened off-screen…but then again, there are massive chunks of important stuff the creators couldn’t cram into the animated medium, so I guess their little hints through Dorothy’s short scenes are enough. :)

Um, let’s not talk about Frozen Teardrop, okay? She has become the President of the Earth Sphere Unified Nation there, but I refuse to talk about it. JUST NO.