Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bookwormism Update…at last!

Dear friends and fellow bookworms (if by some miracle you’re still coming here),

I’m back! I know it’s been ages since I last updated this or any of my other blogging sites. Aside from the important offline commitments that have temporarily divorced me from my laptop, I have submitted myself to a Social Media Sabbatical. I hoped it would help me de-stress and give me more time with my loved ones—and it did. After over three months of that, I thought it’s about time I come back.

Without further ado here’s one of the recent happenings in this booknut’s life:

New home for the babies!
After saying he had read one of my Facebook posts about wanting a new little home for my books (an actual joke I shot at a friend who asked me what I wanted for my birthday), my father built me a largish hanging bookshelf in my bedroom.

bookshelf01 - Copy

And of course, you didn’t think I’d miss taking a selfie with a “shelfie” when I finally have a decent mini-library in my bedroom now, right?

shelfie

Of course not. But to give this photo an excuse for a good purpose, here’s my current read: the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I’m 800 pages in and enjoying it! Theo Decker is a wonderfully flawed (albeit unlikable) character and I’m captivated by the way he handles the slew of ideas and memories in his head. It gives the narration a very real feel to it, almost as if the text is part of a transcript of some obsessed kid’s free-flowing thoughts.

The book’s a big doorstopper, though, and I could only plough through it slowly because I’ve got just my shuttle bus rides to work and an hour before bedtime as my reading time these days. :(

How about you guys? What are you reading?

____

(On the next Bookwormism Update, I'll talk about my recent acquisitions and my purchases at this year's Manila International Book Fair! Stay tuned!)

Book Review: The Kite Runner

Author: Khaled Hosseini
Genre: Contemporary, Historical
My Rating: ★★★★★ (5 of 5 stars)

bookjacket Book jacket design by Alex Gebhardt

Certain books can prove that back-cover blurb staples like “haunting”, “riveting”, and “powerful” are churned out especially for them. On the first read, you know they are a gem; on the second read, you’ll realize there are smaller precious treasures in them that you haven’t seen the first time you encountered before. It doesn’t matter how many times you have heard or read their tales; when you reach their last pages and you decide to dip into their worlds again, the experience would just amplify the reasons why bits of starred reviews are strewn on their covers.

Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel, The Kite Runner, is one of these books.

It is my second time reading this book, and I must say rediscovering its beauty is a satisfying reading experience. Walled by themes of love, friendship, family, and loyalty, The Kite Runner at its core is a long journey for hard-won self-redemption that our young Afghan narrator, Amir, embarked on. For the most part it is a raw bildungsroman starting in 1975; it zeroed in on Amir, his betrayal of his best friend Hassan, and how a single event followed and haunted him to adulthood.

With the tumultuous politics during the last days of monarchy and the subsequent invasion of Russian forces in their country as its backdrop, The Kite Runner stands out as a clear picture of Afghanistan at that time. Hosseini unfurls the story with an obvious fondness for his craft. There is warmth as he describes the then-peaceful Kabul, and there is poignancy in how the annual kite-fighting event somehow symbolizes the fragility of the unconventional friendship between the two main characters (it’s important to note that Amir is a well-to-do Pashtun while Hassan is the son of Amir’s father’s servant).

Every page shows vivid brushstrokes of Afghan culture—colors that continue even when war broke out and marred the picture. With simple prose as his only tool, Hosseini doesn’t hold back in stringing [flinch-inducing] descriptions of violence the same way he doesn’t hold back when talking about agonies, of emotions that make a punching bag out of a young heart until its owner changes into a different person. That is one of the things I like the best about this book: Amir is as human as a human boy can get. He loves Hassan but he is weak and insecure; he falls prey to jealousy and fear for more times than he could count, and he would rather choose the safest way out…even if it means having to break a relationship he can never repair again.

Good plot twists abound, and there are no real dry moments in the book that would make a reader put this down. Moments that broke my heart the first time I read the book didn’t lose their hold on on me. It is that powerful.

As a whole, The Kite Runner is an account about seeking personal salvation and a historical piece that is relevant to our society even today. I’d read this book—in some of the words of one of the characters—“a thousand times over”.

Giving this novel a very well-deserved five out of five stars.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Finally 23

“Wish I could give you some kind of foolproof Guide to Your 20's now,” I told my sister Aila when she turned 20 last August 1. “Unfortunately I think I still don't know squat from Shinola about life at this stage either. So...let's figure it out together?”

Turning 23-Blow the Candle Another year older.

I waved being a twenty-two-year-old goodbye last August 24 and here I am, still feeling like a lost little kid. There’s no point in denying it—I’m pretty much stuck in the same boat with my (not-so-) little sister, whom I sometimes felt is more confident trudging through this life than I am.

But hey, instead of diving headfirst into the melodrama preceding and tailing my 23rd birthday (I’m afraid I ran out of the best roundabout ways of saying I got one year older without sounding like a loser with Peter Pan syndrome), how about we take a peek at the little celebrations surrounding the date first?


Peace and quiet

Aside from the regular cake candle-blowing, the presents, greetings from neighbors and old friends, and the traditional distribution of pansit-filled takeaway tubs and ice cream cups, I celebrated a relatively quiet birthday at home.

AtMyKaffeWith my cousin at our newest “little pink haven”, MyKaffe

In the afternoon after going to church, my cousin and I dropped by this darling little cafe downtown and talked over bittersweet frappes until the sun set. We chatted about the most random of stuff, from planning things to execute in the near future and constructing little stories of the strangers passing by the coffee shop.

The day was as run-of-the-mill as it could get but it was both peaceful and fun, just the way I liked it. It has always been like this—I’ve never been much into booze (my alcoholic history so far consisted a triangulation of vodka-soaked chocolates, punch, and red wine) and loud stay-out-all-night parties since time immemorial. I prefer small celebrations with people close to my heart.


Signed with a “Smile”


It was quite the opposite at work. Two days before my birthday, I received a bouquet of roses and a typewritten letter from an unnamed sender.

Flowers?

And what a ruckus it caused! The bosses were not around that afternoon. I was the one signing and receiving packages—samples from stamp pad suppliers, memos from other offices, that kind of stuff. When the flowers arrived, I didn’t know they were for me.

Uy, roses!” I exclaimed with a smile when I saw them, signing the receiving stub a nice old lady handed me. I asked who I should give the flowers to, and was totally confused when she read my name from an envelope. My first reaction? “WHAT? But I didn’t order any flowers!”

I didn’t know what got into me but I began laughing my head off. My officemates flocked around me then, exchanging theories while examining the long-ish letter that was signed with nothing but a smiley face. I have zero idea who sent the gifts, but based on the note it was someone I interacted with in another office. It was a tad creepy, I admit, but it was sweet all the same. I thought the sender wrote the letter with utmost honesty; it carried a somewhat apologetic tone, with a timidly hinted promise of someday revealing his identity. I’m not sure if  “Mystery Guy” is reading this right now, but if he is, I give him my heartfelt thanks!

(I pity those people my officemates pinpointed as “Prime Suspects”. There’s a guy in a neighboring office who got cornered a lot and forced to admit. The poor thing! But no, I didn’t think it’s him.)


‘Artist’ for a day


Two weeks later, we planned to prepare a gift for the DTI Secretary’s birthday. My immediate supervisor asked if I could make caricatures. Because I somewhat dabble in doodles and drawings, I said I could try.

After a nine-to-five seminar on the exact day I was told to finish the drawings, I opted for an overtime stay at the office. I was intent on burning the midnight oil but dear ol’ Morpheus loves me a lot, and it wasn’t long before I nodded off (two-and-a-half hours in dreamland, tops). Fortunately I managed to finish the whole thing the next day and was extra-relieved that the folks who requested it liked it.

'Artist' for a day “Signing” the finished caricatures

In truth, having the chance to draw again was a present in itself. When I started working as a government employee, I barely had the time to pick up color pencils or paintbrushes. Sure, I sometimes doodle in the margins of my old journal, but it wasn’t the same as finishing big drawings that people actually requested to be done. It was a refreshing feeling.

KMIS My ever-supportive officemates and the finished caricatures

Later in the afternoon, our director-in-charge called for a meeting. We’re all aware that since the arrival of our new DIC, it will be a tradition to bring cake for the celebrants of the month. Everyone was in what we call the “rush-ian” mode that day so I didn’t expect them to bring out the new ‘office surprise’. But they did; in fact, it was the second agenda of the meeting!

CAKEFIGHT-vert-vert With Tita Au, whose birthday is also on August 24

Groggy with sleeplessness and giddy with mirth, I sang along with the group when they belted out a raucous “Happy Birthday”, as if I’m not one of the two people they were singing it for. By the end of the song I was beginning to become sugar-buzzed again, as I was not-so-secretly snatching bits of icing from the corners of the treat.

BlowtheCandleAttempting to blow out the candle again after failing to do it the first time
(“Hey! I’m asthmatic, remember?”)


KMIS birthdayThe Knowledge Management Information Service (KMIS) family again

We ate, talked, and took a lot of pictures. I was still physically tired—we’d still have to move the desks afterwards because we’re starting the Big 5S Day that day—but somehow I didn’t feel like going away from the crowd and resting for microsleeps, like I usually do whenever I’m on “low-batt” mode. Somehow, the happy energy of these people are rubbing off on me. :)


And we get to the melodrama

When the celebratory aura temporarily peters out, I know I’d be thinking again. Over-thinking, actually. Who doesn’t?

It’s quarter-life crisis, they say. Going back to what I said to my sister, I know going through these years while having someone by your side—be it a sibling, a friend, or just someone who has the same lofty dreams—would cushion some of life’s succeeding blows. It doesn’t necessarily mean being dependent on the other person; just knowing you’re not alone ploughing through all of this, growing through all of this…well, it does make a difference, doesn’t it? Even a little bit?

I know what I want, and I’m figuring out what to do to get what I want. Like the average young adult, I’m just being assaulted by doubts, and I just have to win my small battles against them.

Anyhow, my birthday this year is full of thank-you’s and hopes. I’m aware I’m blessed and I’m grateful for that. There are people who love me, people I love back, people I love more than they love me, and people who—to quote a character from Orange is the New Black—“aren’t smart enough to be loved back.” (I kind of have loads to say about love too, but that’s topic for a separate post).

My stars are still up there, and giving up is not on this little dreamer’s vocabulary…and I don’t think it will ever be. :)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Book Review: Fangirl

Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
My Rating: ★★★ (3 of 5 stars)

FangirlByRowellPhoto from Imgarcade 

No book screams “I’m your soulmate!” louder than one that requires zero effort to connect with you, the kind of story that makes you believe the author has planted a bug in your room so she can document your daily life. Expectations like this bubbled up when I picked up Eleanor & Park author Rainbow Rowell’s bestselling “nerd power ballad”, the aptly titled Fangirl.

As what one can gather about the title, the proverbial fanatic lifestyle takes center stage in the book: gushing obsessively over fictional characters, staying up all night writing or reading fanfiction, creating fanart, buying collectibles, beefing up fandom vocabulary (I kid you not), and getting heavily involved in “shipping” (which, by the way, has got nothing to do with deliveries and packages). Cath, the main protagonist, has been living this life ever since she became a Simon Snow fan.

The Simon Snow series is a Harry-Potteresque magnum opus, complete with witches and wizards with a little bit of vampires thrown on the side. Cath and her twin sister Wren were addicted with the series—are in Cath’s case, since it seems like she’s the only one who still couldn’t let go of the fandom. Cath finds that college is a completely different world, and she’s going to have to go through it on her own. Wren doesn’t want to be roommates this time; she’s stuck with a cool albeit churlish roommate, an always-smiling farmboy who may or may not be her roommate’s boyfriend, an ambitious fiction-addicted classmate, and her dad whom she really can’t leave alone.

The book’s lynchpin zeroes in on Cath’s struggles as her current situation pries her out of her fandom-induced, antisocial-ish shell. It asks: Can Cath do this on her own?

A truly warmhearted tale, Fangirl can succeed in anchoring itself in the hearts of its target market. For one thing, Cath is easily a Tumblr girl! (What fandom-loving soul doesn’t frequent the Internet’s wild blue yonder that is the Tumblr nowadays?) Rowell knows all too well that the first big step in capturing your audience is to make your audience care for your character, and Cath is the perfect heroine she needs to achieve that goal.

However, you need more than a heart-magnet character to make a good story. I have no problems connecting with Cath; she’s practically 80% of what I was back when my time pie graph consists mostly of expanding my knowledge about my favorite shows and books. Reading about her is some kind of a throwback experience.

But as the story went on, my initial vise-like connection to her loosened up. The story went a tad dry in what I expected to be its “oases”—parts I hoped to shape Cath up not just as someone who is an exact, superficial mirror of most of its readers, but as a real person that could coax out genuine emotions in me. I hoped she would develop into someone I could connect with not because we are the same, but because I feel she’s a real person that I could perhaps talk to or console. But that did not happen; the story dragged almost uneventfully for a while, with random speed-hitches in moment-of-truth scenes.

Be that as it may, I think it still holds a charm that a true-blue fangirl/boy would not be able to resist. There’s love, there’s obsession, there are fears, and there are hopes. There’s a decent cast of characters too (Reagan is my personal favorite); there’s the constant presence of geeky ambiance, and the satisfying feeling of an outsider that is wholly accepted by someone as she is.

I liked how there are “excerpts” from the Simon Snow books, Cath’s fanfiction, and even some ‘Encyclowikia’ entries strewn across the novel. They were an entertaining bit of  Fangirl’s “reality”, pulling the readers closer to its universe and making them part of it. Thumb up for the major props! :)

I could not say I enjoyed Fangirl in its entirety, but since I liked it for the most part, I’m giving it three out of five stars.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Truer than if they had really happened.

All Good Books are Alike

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.”

-Ernest Hemingway