Sunday, February 23, 2014

Honest books…

honest book

The best kind of books are those that are honest. Their love is borne verbatim from their author's parental affections: word by word, they expose their very being for their beholder's mind and heart.

Their honesty can become so contagious that you, the reader, gradually opens your heart to their pages. You shed a tear or two when the characters' pain blooms; you laugh when they can't contain the bliss in their chests. Their words send your pulse rushing, dragging you with the charging plot.

The reading experience becomes more personal this way. You and the books clandestinely share a piece of your souls to each other, and more often than not, the intimacy lingers even after the you have turned the last page.

The best kind of books are those that are honest; the best kind of books are those that are alive.

Good news for the Gaimaniacs

Most Neil Gaiman fans must have already heard of the volley of good news about our literary rock star’s works these past few days, but here are  a handful of links for those who’ve gone MIA on the net:

Neil GaimanPhoto by Kimberly Butler at Parnassus.
  • The Sandman graphic novel series is going to get the big screen treatment! Joseph Gordon-Levitt is involved, but whether he's going to star, or direct, or both is not yet disclosed. (My two cents? I love JGL, and although he's no doubt a dreamboat, I kind of don't see him wearing the self-obsessed, broody role of the dream lord Morpheus.) Read more here.
  • American Gods will be adapted into a TV series, but no longer as an HBO exclusive. Read more here.
  • Anansi Boys will also be translated into the small screen by BBC. Read more here.
  • The Graveyard Book’s two-volume graphic novel adaptations will be released by HarperCollins this July and September. Read more here.

Review: It’s Kind of a Funny Story

Author: Ned Vizzini
Genre: young adult, contemporary
My Rating: ★★★★ (4/5 stars)

Funny Story-Covers
Novels that can snag a bookworm’s heart are often those that contain surprises worthy of a Forrest Gump chocolate-box quote.  They are often the new ones, the strangers in paper with a lot to offer. Our eyes haven’t explored their universes yet, so they can catch us off guard and shake up a gamut of emotions in us. Their plot twists, if done right, serve as special candies for the eager reader.

If there’s such a thing as a bibliophile’s code of honor, I think one of its first commandments will be “Thou shalt always treasure the experience of reading a new book.”

Holding Ned Vizzini's It's Kind of a Funny Story, however, made me realize there's also something so mystical about reading a book that you know the ending of.

I'm not talking about its literal ending. It's not like I've read it before; it's not like I've watched its movie adaptation before touching the paperback, too. See, when I acquired the novel it is new, but it's neither a ‘stranger’ book nor an I-know-every-dent-and-dip-in-its-plotlines book to me. There are only a few things I know about it before I got past the flyleaf: (1) it's about a teenage boy who spends days in a psych ward, and (2) it’s semi-autobiographical.

I also happened to know that Vizzini used to conduct inspirational talks in schools and other institutions about suicide. Even if you haven’t even read the back cover blurb yet, these tidbits are more than enough to know the novel’s gist.

Burdened with the pressure about doing well in a prestigious high school, young Craig comes down with clinical depression. He works hard—and overthinks—until one night he stops eating and sleeping and almost kills himself. Afterwards he checks himself in a psychiatric hospital and deals with his personal demons with the help of his newfound friends.

For a book that tackles depression and suicide, It's Kind of a Funny Story is surprisingly light. It's easy to fall in step with Craig as he relays his tale with an easy (if a little off-kilter and morbid) breeziness despite his situation. When he prattles about his Tentacles (a problem that lead to another problem to another problem) and his Anchors (things that he can hold on to), he does so in a way that was edged in something like confessional whispers. It’s not the “guarded” kind of biography, because in those you can tell if the author is trying to sugarcoat or gloss over some facts of the subject’s life. It’s as if Vizzini is talking to the ‘shrinks’ he likes, or friends that he has no doubts in trusting. I believe this is how open every book should be. I wouldn’t be surprised if writing this novel happened to be one of Vizzini’s therapeutic activities.

The other characters are colored streaks in Craig’s otherwise drab world of anxiety and peer pressure. They’re an entertaining ensemble. My only beef with them is that I wish I were given a little more insight to their characters just so they wouldn’t seem exist in the novel for Craig alone.

It was a fast-paced read, and the narrator didn’t attempt to cram the pages with life-changing lessons. Because the truth, which Craig also tells himself, is that you can’t get better in a matter of days. Nor can your long-time beliefs change in a heartbeat just because you meet a bunch of persons you click with. The most probable thing to happen is that you decide to change. Turn over a new leaf, take a step forward in the right direction and all that.

After his stay at the hospital, Craig lists all the things he should try, all the verbs he wants to translate into actual muscle pulls and smiles and memories. At the end he repeats the word “live” in a string, like a mantra, and repeats it once again as the last one-worded line.

But that wasn’t the real ending, wasn’t it? The ending I was talking about at the start of this review was the one in the news and in many social networking sites’ condolences: in December 2013, Ned Vizzini took his own life. Hearing that news bit made the book a little more heartbreaking because the last pages were showered with hope and new beginning. There is even a mild hint of a happy-ever-after down the long, long road for our narrator.

I can almost hear you guys: “But you should view the book as a separate entity from the author’s life!” Oh, but that’s what I’m doing. It’s not like I’m giving Vizzini’s life a review, it’s still the book that I’m giving stars. You just have to admit, though, that severing the deep connection between a man and his confessions (no matter how fictionalized) is nearly an impossible task. Vizzini’s sequel was everywhere, from the articles documenting his inspirational talks to the headlines about his untimely demise.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story may take sadistically ironic meanings now to many because of its Unwritten Chapter. What it will do to me is still pinch my heart and sting my eyes for the same reason.

As for the promised rating: here’s your four shining stars.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Fangirlism v.2.0: Slinky-bouncing back to FFN

I haven’t blogged properly since December last year.

All right, I know that in my long absence you expect me to say something deeper or more interesting than The Obvious, but allow me my moment here. I’ve became so swamped with work that I barely had time to blog on a regular basis—let alone finish reading a thin book in less than a week! But that doesn’t  mean I’m not writing anymore outside all the business news digests and newsletter contents at work. This year, I came back to fanfiction-writing again.

You read that right. Being a fan of something isn’t just a phase. Regardless of age—no matter how far you think you’ve gone away from it—if you toss one look back, you will find yourself slinky-bouncing your way back. At least that’s what happened in my case. ;)

In breaking my years-long hiatus at FFN, I shed my previous pseud Schizoid Sprite and started writing under the penname kokopelle after my favorite Native American deity, Kokopelli. The name change has no real significant reason aside from the fact that I want to mark this as a new “chapter” in my reentry to creating fan works.

It was on January 06 that I officially started writing fics again. Since then I’ve finished three oneshots that are about 1600+ words each. They are a part of a series entitled Love and Other Explosive Items (the title of which I filched from a certain YA novel I haven’t read yet). I’m aiming the series to clock out at most 30 oneshots by the end of June. I have to admit I’m not doing a very good job, since I only have the following ficlets to date. Here they are with short summaries:

Love and Other Explosive Items
6 / 30 (20.00%)

  • Blind Spot. Who is more likely to develop a blind spot in the love department—Her Royal Haughtiness of Romafeller, or the Winner kid who abandoned teatime for making mincemeat out of enemy mobile suits and feeling sorry about it? Dorothy and Quatre find the answer in their unconventional chess match.
  • The Shippables. Just because you ship them doesn’t mean they can’t ship, too. Dorothy, Trowa, and a rather annoyed Quatre discuss shipping. No, seriously.
  • Birds, Bees, and Bad Girls. Our pilots might maneuver mech titans around to smash enemies, but they were still teenagers then. Quatre realizes this in one of his most embarrassing experiences during the war, which, in a more embarrassing way, he had to relay to Dorothy.
  • What We Talk About When We Talk About Weddings. How does a groom obliviously make his bride take back her "I Do" in the middle of the wedding? Let Quatre count...imagine…er, figure out the ways.
  • Paramour. Sleep-talking gives secrets away. Through one such episode, Dorothy finds out who Quatre’s “mistress” is, and she plays a game to make Quatre admit it.
  • Etymologies. Looks like it’s Dorothy who’s doing the romantic “extra-curriculars” in this relationship, after all. Quatre tries to confront Dorothy about it.
You can also read the series here at A03.

I planned to post a ficlet every other week, but now I’m  going on two straight weeks without even a draft or an outline. To snag my muse back, I look at the pretty official art the creators are churning out recently, like this:

Quatre and Dorothy

Obviously I chose this image because it features Quatre and Dorothy, my OTP. :p Anyway, I am trying harder to write again for this fandom. There’s so, so much potential in it! Back when I couldn’t quite coax out a coherent plotline, what I do is analyze the heck out of the characters in meta-essays, like these:
  • View from a Thinking Playpen: Dorothy Catalonia. In which I blather about one of the most underappreciated characters in the show and how her Machiavellian chess game on the Eve Wars backfired badly.
  • View from a Thinking Playpen: Trowa Barton. In which I talk about how Trowa isn’t as empty as he thought he is, and how some words had left a dent in him deeper than he thought they would have.
  • Puncturing my Thought Balloons: On Catherine and Dorothy.
  • Sparring Aboard Libra. As you can see, I don’t have the ability to shut up when it comes to Dorothy’s character, so here’s  an extra look into her… and how Quatre Winner has become both her “nemesis and savior” in a single episode. It kind of turns into a mini-4xD manifesto at the end and I regret nothing. Well, what do you expect? Shippers gonna ship.
  • Bro-Fist: 01 and 03 style. What’s a set of GW meta without a piece about pilot bromance? Here’s my take on Heero Yuy and Trowa Barton’s relationship. I ship them hard…as partners. :)
  • Shades of Gray. Not that Shades of Grey, no whips or fuzzy handcuffs here. Here I talk about how there are no major black or white, cookie-cutter hero or villain in the show.
So yes, my lurker times have come to an end! I'm back in the fandom as an active participant...hopefully for a long time. :)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Author: Benjamin Alire Saenz
Genre: Young adult, LGBTQ
My Rating: ★★★★


When the bookshop’s YA section becomes too congested with downcycled coming-of-age novels that jumped onto the latest bestsellers’ gravy train, you can’t really blame a reader for picking up something from a different shelf. You can’t blame him for shaking his head, for thinking that contemporary literature is turning into a cut-throat arena where money-making is king.

What you can blame him for is when he starts thinking we have reached a full-on holocaust, that there’s no single book out there worthy of being called a real treasure. Because in truth, if you dig deep enough, you will find them. I always dig, and I always find real gems…like when I found a copy of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.

The book follows the story of two Mexican-American teenage boys in the 1980s: Aristotle, a misfit who has a seemingly unlimited supply of anger at almost everything; and Dante, a bright and friendly bloke whose view of the world sits at the other side of Dante’s rationality spectrum. They strike an unlikely friendship and learn lessons they would never encounter were it not for the fact that they have each other.

The forte of this novel is its simplicity. It didn’t need complex plots or unnecessary frills to make it appear grander than it actually is. Aristotle is an honest narrator, albeit an unreliable one. You can feel his youth; you can feel the weight of his individuality in how he expresses everything from his Holden-esque thoughts and emotional auto-wrestlings to the angry truths about himself that he keeps hurling at the readers (“The problem with my life was that it was someone else’s idea.”). His introspections and the way he handled conversations with others is realistic. He is a confused teenager trying to find his own place in this world, trying to find love and acceptance that he couldn’t even give himself most of the time.

Obviously I think Aristotle’s characterization is well-handled, but I can’t say the same for Dante. Dante has basically the same “lit anatomy”, so to speak, as Aristotle, but he lacks a level of connection that readers can establish with the other boy. It’s a glaring flaw for me since he is one of the book’s title characters.

Be that as it may, the novel is still easy to read…perhaps unless you have a penchant for eye-rolling at the youngsters’ occasional angsty word vomit. There are times when the reader will have a been-there-done-that moment with Aristotle; there are times when the boy will string up words that can make any person—regardless of age—stop and wonder. I like that because that happens in real life, too.

At its core, the book teaches that you don’t have to bag a multi-hyphenated title (like, say, the narrator’s namesake) to discover the secrets of the universe. Sometimes you have to accept who you are. Sometimes you just have to look at your heart, and see all the worlds’ treasures cooped up there. Sometimes you just need to reach out and take the hand of the other person willing to stand next to you as you look into the same direction, brave and ready to take on the world. It may sound a lot like a bunch of cheese, but there’s less ooze when the story’s coming from someone like Aristotle.

A story of friendship, growing up, acceptance, and love, this powerful book is deserving of the awards and kudos it received. Four stars for a great read.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Cover Up!

I have an OCD-ish streak when it comes my books. Some people believe you should pour a part of yourself into the book you’re reading—it should end up dog-eared, there should be coffee stains on the pages, or telltale remnants of penciled notes on the margins…but I’m not like that. If I could make them look as if I’ve just taken them off the bookstore shelf, I would.

That’s why I always have them wrapped with plastic. I’ve always loved the ones with matte finish because they seem to be the best ‘clothes’ to paperbacks, given their texture. But when I’ve used Cover Up!, a self-adhesive  plastic cover, I guess my matte favorites would have to step down a notch. ;)

Cover Up! sticks to your books like a true second skin. The covers come in plain and prints, the latter of which you can use not only for books but also for journals, planners, notebooks, and the like. The prints are beyond adorable—I got myself the burger-and-fries one, but they also have crafty fish-and-cat, dark roses, and cupcakes.

Oh, and they are on sale this February! Feel free to visit Cover Up!’s official Facebook page for more details.


You can purchase Cover Up! in Fully Booked Rockwell, The Fort, Greenbelt 5, SM North EDSA: The Block, and Trinoma.