I buy books. And sometimes I read them. This blog is for the times when I do more than just store shelf candy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

I Flipped the Pages of Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves

The Remastered Full-Color Edition

ISBN 973-0375-70376-8

710 pages

Publisher: Pantheon

Bought: October 17, 2014 from Fulllybooked by my husband as a surprise gift after he "overheard" my book club mates talking about it online

Brand new, trade paperback, PhP 819.00

This book was not in my TBR. It wasn't a part of our book club's official line-up. It wasn't even in my radar. It crept into my life so suddenly. First somebody from our book club asked in our Facebook page if anyone has read it. A question like that is usually an indication of somebody itching to discuss it. And discuss it soon. Because there's something about the book begging to be talked about, to be processed. 

I guess I got swept into reading it when my husband surprised me with a copy. It's a hefty copy, with an equally hefty price tag. so I wouldn't have bought it myself given my towering TBR pile screaming "read us! read us!" 

But I read this. 

No regrets. 

And why do I bother to tell you this preamble of the story of why I found myself reading the book? I don't know.  Maybe because this book became more than a book--it became an entity, a "something" that was oddly special, an object I developed a relationship with. 

Or maybe I'm just afraid to start talking about the book. Because. 

It is like no other I've read before. It starts off with an eerie tone, like those horror films masquerading as documentary works, a mad blur of fact and fiction, reminding me of The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity. But that's only at the start.

It is about a House, a strange House, mysterious, breathing, growing by itself, sprouting rooms and tunnels that exceed the dimensions of the house, sucking human beings to their death. 

It's about people--broken, afraid, drawn into the story of the House, willingly or not. 

I can't say much about it really without giving away the surprises. 

One of the most unusual things about it is its form. And I do not have the literary jargon to explain it. It's a nesting novel--3 stories, a story within a story within a story, bound by parallelisms in some parts and in some parts, you wonder why they're even told adjacently. Some parts make sense. And some parts make me utter WTF. 

It's weird. It's scary. It's perplexing. It's 



You really have to read it to know what it's about. 

All I can write about now is what it said to me. Its message.

I heard it telling me that:

As people struggling with or against or despite our brokenness, we tend to look outward for the fix. We seek solutions from the world--in the realm of politics religion, science. We try to find answers from others. And we seek consolation from the externals--achievement, work, social acceptance, romantic involvements, thinking that whatever wounds we nurse inside could be cured by medicines from the outside. After all, whatever has caused those wounds inside came from the outside as well--we can only blame these external upheavals for breaking us. 

Pretty much like how people blame the House for the horrors and chaos it has caused on those cursed enough to enter it. 

But all of these upheavals--the shifting, the falling, the evil, the horrors are just frames that move to shake us, stir us, agitate us. They happen just to push us to look within ourselves, to find the persons we were or the persons we want to be, to hear the voice we want to hear but cannot or have not. 

It's not about the outside world after all. It's not about the House after all. The answers come from within. The healing starts inside. 

That was the message for me. Which is really useless information for you because I'm prett sure that in the same way that House meant something different for each of its occupants, this book would mean something else for you, and every other reader.

Did I like it?


Because it's clever. Because some parts made me gasp. Some parts made me ache. Some parts made cry. Some parts made me put the book down to catch my breath. 

It made some of my book club mates dizzy.

It made us flip pages to find out what happens next. 

And it made all of us wonder. Ask questions. 

It agitated us. 

I like it because of the love story, or rather love stories it contains. 

I like it because it transformed me from being just a passive reader to somebody part of the drama as I read it, made lines on it, wrote notes on it, turned it around,  smothered its pages, almost hurled it out of fear and exasperation, crumpled its cover, molested it, and found parts of me reflected by its characters. 

I love it because the form is part of the message. Very Mc Luhanesque with the medium being the massage. 

Some pages are filled to the margins. And some are almost empty. And that there is a logic to that. It might seem gimmicky to others, but it works for me. This form brought me deep into the the dark tunnels of the House. And I love that. 

I like how it is rich in plot and description. But I love it even more because it manages to delve deeply into the characters--their personalities, their backgrounds and motivations, and for most of them, their neuroses. No character is too minor not to be given its voice, its story. 

I love this part when one of the characters had to read the book in the dark and he only had one page  and one match to go. I felt what the character felt. The movie in my head looked so real, I saw the cinema audience gasp and clap along with me. 

I love how it honors the printed book. No electronic medium could really do justice to this story. Maybe an interactive ebook or a website could top the reading experience with technological wizardry, but it just cannot give that wondrous thrill of turning the crispy pages in various paces.

And I love the sex scene on page 89. I mean who writes sex scenes like that? Who talks like that? Who uses and weaves words like that?

I love and hate that many of our questions about the book will never get answered.

So read it. You might love it. Or you might hate it. But you probably would want to talk about it. 

Then buzz me if you want to talk about it. Because I don't want to stop thinking about this book just yet.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I Flipped the Pages of Gabrielle Zevin's The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (Spoiler Alert!!!)

Bought: 2 August 2014 from Fully Booked after desperately trying to capture the (second to the) last copy available
ISBN: 978-1-61620-321-4, Alconquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014

Brand new, hardbound 

Reason for Buying: For book club discussion

Reason for Reading: I had to.

I have a problem.

I will be co-moderating a book discussion in a few days. And I’m not prepared.

And those who know me in our book club will snicker and think I’m just pretending. That I’m just lowering expectations while I prepare to whip up a surprise production number.
You see, in our book club, Flips Flipping Pages, we tend to over-prepare. In the colloquial, kina-career. When I’m moderating, I tend to get obsessive about expanding the reading experience. First I read the book, most likely a book I’ve already read before. A book I’m championing because I love it. Or a book that intrigues me, haunts me, a book that fucked my brain so hard that it bled, and I will die if I don't talk about it.

I would take my moderation job seriously. I take copious notes and highlight like crazy. I research to find interesting facts about the author, the work, the genre. I Google, er, think of thought-provoking questions. And then I fantasize about the venue, how it should be thematic—to bring the reader back to the book. Even the food has to go with the theme. And then the loot bags! Oh, the loot bags! We stop short of wearing costumes. Oh wait. We don’t.

But for this particular book, I’m not doing any of that. I just cannot muster enough enthusiasm.

It’s the first time I’m moderating a book that I haven’t read previously. This is because we agreed early last year that we would discuss a Wild Card.

In our book club, we decide on the line-up for a full year the previous year. (We have already decided on the 2015 line-up months ago.) That means that we do not get to accommodate new publications.

Last year, we decided to live on the edge. (We book-lovers are such a thrill-seeking bunch!) We assigned September for the Wild Card—a book published in 2014. We took an online poll right after the first semester and this book emerged as the popular vote.

Interestingly, we’re having the discussion with The Filipino Group, one of the most active book clubs in the country. And they chose the same book. It must be really good.  

To make a long story short, I’m not wild about our Wild Card book. There! I said it. I cannot get excited about it. That’s what I mean about being unprepared. After chasing one of the few copies, I read it early August. I'm supposed to read it again this week for a deeper understanding. But I do not have the heart, nor the energy to do so. I choose to clean layers of dust and rearrange my monster of a closet to avoid reading this book. And now, its details have wafted to the nebula of forgetfulness. 

I only realized now how important it is to feel strongly about a book. You need those emotions—whether it’s love, hate, passion, revulsion—to fuel you to champion a book and to prepare for the content and the logistics of a book discussion.

There’s a lot to love about the book, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. It’s one of those books that a friend of mine might read then would send me a note to highly recommend it to me. She/he might say, "I thought of you while reading the book. It’s so you." It’s a book about books—that always gets me lusting over a book. Even better, it’s a book about a bookstore. Heavens! Drool.

The story was nice. Really nice. Super nice. At the end, it was just that. Nice. It makes you say Awww. How sweet. And that bookstore on an island--how quaint. It’s a feel-good kind of book. But when I finished reading the book, there were two words that summarized my experience—Hallmark Channel. It is a Hallmark Channel kind of book. Hallmark Channel shows are not all that bad for me. But they are shows that I can watch while doing something else like sorting my files, repairing jewelry, semi-napping, reading a book like this one.

Look, I’m a reader who lists Robert Fulghum as one of her favorite authors. So I’m not one to automatically deride books with a Chicken Soup for the Soul feel. Not every book has to be edgy. But this book just failed to get under my skin, despite all the good things going for it. All the time while I was reading it, there was a charming classical music soundtrack playing in my head. No, not Puccini or Beethoven, the kind of classical music played fortissimo. But the kind of classical music played while you’re rubbing a dab of butter onto your dinner roll as you giggle politely in a fine dining restaurant. Boring, borderline annoying muzak.

Do I hate the book? Not at all. And therein lies the problem. We don’t always have to love the book. Hate is good too. Hate drives me to insult the author, accuse her/him of sleeping with the publisher, and passionately list down all the vile, idiotic things that make the book suck. Hating a book makes for an interesting discussion. I love it when I hate a book.

But I don’t hate it. Like I said, there’s a lot to love about the book. It cites literary pieces that I also love or would be interested to read. It has some great lines that resonated with me.

There are amusing bits that poke fun at book clubs. It touches on some emotional elements that interest me--death, marriage, adoption. And the love story is really kind of sweet. I don’t hate it. I just mildly dislike it. Or mildly like it. Whatever.

The problem is I feel guilty for disliking it because so many people seem to love it. And it feels sacrilegious for a book club founder to dislike this book that seems to pander to book lovers.  

There is a part in the book that could have saved it for me. One of the characters is stricken with a disease that affects the brain. The character’s mental faculties degenerate slowly. Note that this is a sensitive area for me, having lost a sister to brain cancer. So I braced myself to get emotional. But the narrator ends it abruptly, conveniently kills the character, skipping over the parts that could have gotten under my skin. Maybe she didn’t want to go there. But I felt I had to go there to feel something for this book. Maybe I’m masochistic.

Okay, my book club mates know that I’m easy to please, really. If a book makes me cry, then it redeems itself. It becomes worth it.

Oh—that’s the real issue, I guess. I paid 1,148 friggin pesos for a book that did not hit me in the gut or the heart. It barely skimmed the surface of my ultra-sensitive skin. And it does not even have pretty pictures. So fine. That’s the problem. I felt robbed. And now, I don’t just dislike it anymore. I hate it. Now, I’m ready for the discussion.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

From Cover to Cover (Rehashing Posts Again)

Way before this book blog was born, way before our book club came into existence, I was already harping about books.

For my Icebreaker speech at our Toastmasters Club--that's the first ever speech a member delivers as a way of introducing the self to the other members--I narrated my life using books as milestone marks.

Originally published here.

From Cover to Cover 
by TM Gege C. Sugue
(Icebreaker Speech-Unedited Version)

Ladies and Gentlemen, fellow Toastmasters, aside from God and my husband, there are two other great loves of my life.

One love is reading.

The other is traveling.

To me, reading is the same thing as traveling; except I can do it white staying glued to a chair, or more often to my bed. Plus, it costs me much less. Reading transports me to places, exposes me to different cultures, and never leaves me unchanged.

Friends, this is one favorite read. Blindness by Nobel Peace prize winner, Jose Saramao. I like it because of the literary style. Saramago has been compared to Kafka, but to me he has a style uniquely his own. In this novel, he never uses proper names to identify the characters. He uses descriptors like “the man with the eyepatch”, “the girl with insomnia”, “the woman with dark glasses”, or “the son of the woman with the dark glasses”. Yet the quality and richness of the narrative never suffers.

What I like best about this book is the premise itself.

It starts with the experience of a man suddenly losing his sense of sight. Suddenly all he could see was a sea of white. Imagine his shock. Imagine his confusion. Imagine his fear. How could he find his way back home? How could he be seeing one minute, and be blind the next?

And all around the city, different people were experiencing the same phenomenon.

That is how the story starts. This is a story of an epidemic of blindness.

Close your eyes for a moment and open your mind –- imagine an epidemic of blindness. I could be standing here and suddenly, I’m blind. Tomorrow, all of you in this room will go blind. The day after, all the people in your household will be blind as well.

Imagine an epidemic of blindness in your home, in your town, in this country, in the world.

Imagine the chaos. Imagine the accidents. Imagine the hysteria. Imagine what the government would do. Imagine how good people would go mad. Imagine how already evil people would get even more vile.

Imagining is the best thing about reading. It’s never just about the words and the lines we read. It’s what goes on between the lines. It’s what goes on in between your ears. Reading makes you imagine, makes you think. It expands mind, heart, soul, and spirit. Reading adds drama to my life.

My life is not all that dramatic. I would not call it boring since there is always something new and exciting happening. But the basic plot is hardly worthy of submission to Charo Santo or Mel Tiango for dramatization on TV. My childhood was as typical as typical could be. Middle class family. My parents were both Certified Public Accountants, loving, responsible, conservative folks who did not have substance or physical abuse issues. My life revolved around school and home. It was pretty mundane.

The greatest adventures of my childhood were spent with a redheaded 18-year-old girl called Nancy. Nancy Drew solved mysteries. I solved math problems. Nancy Drew was an only child. I was number 2 of 7. Nancy Drew lived an exciting life. She traveled to Cairo and London, Bangkok, Hollow Oak, and Larkspur lane. With Nancy Drew, I’ve gone skiing, I’ve ridden in a stagecoach, driven a convertible. With Nancy Drew, I’ve joined the circus, gone camping, gone on a quest for a missing map, and solved the mystery of the fire dragon.

From Nancy Drew, I made a huge leap to Harold Robbins. Harold Robbins was my first sex education teacher. My mother tried to hide her Robbins books, but remember that I was Nancy Drew. I was a sleuth. I could find things that are hidden. And I could hide things so that they could not be found.

Eventually, I realized I was too young for Harold Robbins. So I calibrated by reading the more age-appropriate Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High series. I was reading P.S. I Love You when I had my first boyfriend at the age of 15, a couple of years before college. For the first time, my reading material and my real life were running parallel.

You would think that loving books as I did, I would have taken up journalism in college. I almost did, but my mom gave me what seemed then like wise advice – “Anak, walang pera sa journalism.” And to a teenager who wanted to have the latest fashions, Sperry Topsiders and penny loafers, not having money was a very bad thing. So I chose architecture, and then shifted to Clothing Technology, which brought me to a career in fashion. For 10 years of my life, I was so involved in work that I hardly had time to read. I read fashion books.

Then I traded fashion books for books like this. This Herb Bible and all my other books on cooking and home decorating signified my maturing into a spouse and home manager, my evolution into a domestic diva. Yes I was, and still am, a Martha Stewart wannabe. As a Mrs., I relished the joys of being a housewife, cooking puttanesca and making pannacotta. The homemaker in me, however, hardly stayed home. Most of the time, my husband and I were off to some place we have not yet been.

And that brings me to another favorite book. Lonely Planet – where my two great loves, reading and traveling, collide. It gives me boundless joy to explore this amazing country of 7,100 islands. I brought this book along with me to Pagudpod, Palawan, Boracay, Bohol, Rizal and even to forgotten corners of Manila. This book will continue to travel with me to other places I still long to visit – Batanes, Camiguin, Surigao.

In the meantime, however, Philippine island hopping has to wait as I take a momentary exile in a totally different land, a land whose language, culture, and flavors are so unique, so exotic, so rich that not even Lonely Planet Vietnam can capture its spirit.

Vietnam is an amazingly beautiful country, but for somebody far from home, away from family, friends, everyone and everything comfortable, it was also a land of darkness. Hanoi is almost always overcast. The gray of the skies manage to seep into my soul. And it was so spiritually dark for me.

Again, it is a book that turned my life around. And this is the greatest book of all. This is not my regular bible. My regular bible is bigger, heavier, and much dirtier with scribbles and highlights, frayed on the edges, and some pages torn off the spine. But whether it is the old bible, or this new, hip, metal-encased version, the words inside are the same words of non-negotiable truth straight from God’s lips to my hungry heart.

This book contains God’s love letters to me. This book revives my soul, gives joy to my heart, and gives light to my eyes. This book heals. This book saves. This book guides. This book comforts me. This book is alive.

Yes, books are my life. And this particular book is my life.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Dog Ate My Books and Other Excuses Why I Stopped Flipping

Ever since I got into a book club back in 2007, my reading life has flourished. In quality and quantity. If memory serves me right, I pushed myself to read 50 books in 2008, 60 in 2009, and 70 in 2010. I also joined a few reading challenges, including the A to Z Challenge, where we had to read 26 books, each one representing a letter in the alphabet, based on author's surnames.

Then in 2011, I failed in all my quantity and genre challenges. Last year, 2012, my reading life screeched to almost a full stop. My reading life deteriorated so much that my best and worst books were the same book. I did not read enough books last year to justify a selection process.

I did try. I never completely stopped reading. I remained the kind of person who gets antsy when stuck without anything to read in a grocery line. I tried to read most of the books we had for our club's monthly book discussions. Tried. I read enough chapters to participate in the discussions, at least those I got to attend. But I failed to complete any of them.

Count of Monte Cristo, Geography of Bliss, Game of Thrones, It Must've Been Something I Ate--all half read. Not because the books were bad, but because I was just a bad reader.

But why? What happened? Well, the dog ate my books.

Following are the rest of my excuses:

Because I have to. Those who knew me in high school knew that books, at least those I had to read for school, remained crisp, clean, unread all throughout the school year. I did read back then, but my books were those I was not allowed to read. Books my mom tried to keep from me--books by Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, a fair amount of Mills & Boons.

But I rebelled against reading text books and other required reading.

And whoever forced me to read The Old Man and the Sea is the one to blame. Whose bright idea was it to impose this story on  high school kids? I mean, really. We were the first generation to grow up on fast food. If we wanted tuna, all we needed was a can opener. And so this story was sheer torture for those with undiagnosed attention deficit. The battle between man and fish--who friggin' cared? I didn't. And it was painful that it took too long for nothing to happen.

So I learned my lesson and left Iliad, Dante's Inferno, Florante and Laura, and other books unopened. I had to read Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, mainly because I had to act out the parts of Shylock and Portia. But I only read the parts I had to memorize.

I hated required reading. And it was Ernest Hemingway's fault. It would take decades before I forgave him enough to watch the Chris O' Donnell-Sandra Bullock movie adaptation of Farewell to Arms.

So the point is: I have a built-in aversion to required reading. And inasmuch as reading with my book club is fun, the have-to part of it makes reading a bit of a task.

Because it's too sad to read. In 2011, my sister's brain tumor decided to make a comeback, and one of its sad effects on my sister was a degree of blindness that made it really hard for her to read. Helping her son through his homework made her dizzy. And I felt, even though I knew I shouldn't be, guilty to be able to read. Somehow, that robbed me of the joy of reading. And when she passed away that same year, I got too busy drowning my sadness in potato chips and drenching my heart in soda to really make reading a priority. I don't want to wallow, and I certainly don't want to use my sister's death as an excuse, but I mention this here because on hindsight, I did realize this was one of the main reasons reading temporarily lost its appeal.

And today, to think positively, I just appreciate the blessing, the privilege of being able to read.

Because my brain is tired. Work. Traveling for work. Work and more work. That's the usual excuse for not being able to read. And I'm going to use that convenient excuse. Because it's true. The past couple of years were crazy. And out-of-town training trips made me miss a number of book discussions, which lessened the urgency and the desire to read the book for the month.

Plus, when your job requires a lot of reading and writing, and reading and rewriting other people's works, when the time comes to rest, the last thing you want to see is words.

Because IPad. I don't really have to explain the highly-distracting power of the tablet, do I?

And the next is the strongest reason, my top excuse.

Because I am old and now need glasses.  For all my life, I have abused my eyes. Because I'm rebellious. And my mom's shrilly nagging--"Don't stay too close to the TV, masisira mata mo! Stop reading in the car! Stop reading in the dark. Stop reading when it's too bright!"--just made me do the opposite. Despite the abuse, the doctor still told me that I was going to have 20/20 vision until I hit 40.

At that time, 40 seemed too far away, and I was, in fact, hoping to need to wear glasses because they're cute and sexy.

Then I hit 40, and my eyes were just fine. And I would smirk, feeling superior to my peers who held their phones a kilometer away from their faces, with their eyes squinting as if they were reading the E D F C Z P line of the eye chart. Back then, I felt maybe my doctor's prediction was wrong, and I was really one of those with super vision who would never ever need glasses.

I was 43 when the superpower delusions came crashing down. But even then, I only needed reading glasses. Which meant that I would normally feel that my eyesight's normal, could walk out of the house, drive away, and not feel any vision impairment. And then I would find myself with time to read while in a waiting room, and I would realize I forgot my sexy glasses at home. Dang. And that happened often enough (because vision impairment comes with memory loss) that I just got out of the habit of reading in waiting rooms and payment queues. Goodbye, ambitious reading targets.

I also realized that there's nothing  sexy about asking the sales associate to read the price ticket for me, "Ineng, pakibasa."

My eyesight is not really that bad. My prescription is only for 100. I can still read a regular book or a document with font 11 text, but the lighting has to be good. The book and I have to be still to minimize blur. But I can read only for a few minutes before my eyes feel the strain. Eyeglasses now required. Three years after I started needing them, they remain pesky little things I forget to bring with me. I have tried solving the problem by buying several pieces that I have placed in all the strategic places where I might need to read. So far, it's working. So far, I've been flipping more than before.

You guessed it, our dog really did not eat my books. Isa, our black labrador died of old age few years back. I offer no excuses. But understanding the reasons why I stopped reading has helped me find ways to work on ways to revitalize my reading life.

I'm back flipping.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Loving books in the time of Shelfari

This was originally published here. Transferring it to this book blog for posterity. I just added the pictures today.

MANILA, Philippines - Gege Cruz Sugue’s fictional worlds involve Jose Saramago and Margaret Atwood characters and a farmer named Eda Mame in Farmville. She teaches college students, conducts communication workshops for corporate learners, provides marketing consultant services, and writes for corporate clients. She is part of a shelfari (www.shelfari.com) based book club called Flips Flipping Pages. Gege blogs about her book lust at http://gegeflipspages.blogspot.com)

“And how long do you think we can keep up this coming and going?” he asked.
Florentino Ariza had kept his answer ready for fifty-three years, seven months, and eleven days and nights.
“Forever,” he said.  Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I have this shameful fantasy. I find my husband in the arms of another woman. Shocked beyond consolation, I drive, dive to the nearest bookstore. In a frenzy, I ravage shelves and grab everything to ease the pain and fill the aching hole in my heart. My book lust would be impossible to sate, but I go on in my bitter, half-crazed state, putting books in shopping carts. When, finally, my tears are depleted and only Deepak Chopras and Dan Browns are left on the shelves, I head to the counter and swipe my husband’s platinum Amex. 
That is my adulterous revenge. 
Because books those glorious, beguiling books are my lovers, hopeless addictions, the seduction I battle with constantly. My husband is jealous of only one thing--my books. The love of my life that causes him agony--my book collection and the avarice to have more.
This never-to-happen fantasy only flashes in the video factory of my mind whenever I lustfully, longingly leer at beautiful, sexy books in a bookstore. When the budget is finite and the desire is infinite. When I fondle a book I desire, I experience the push and pull of coveting and tempering that brings me into a state of guilty confusion, like that of a virgin trying to stay so. 
Loving books is a sickness that turns its victims into depraved lunatics. When did this sickness start? Like most other adult dysfunctions, the mother is to blame. My mother taught me to read when I was three. Most kids perform for adults by singing or dancing. My mother showed off my talents by making me read the front page of a newspaper.
I started with the Ladybird series those charming, little books that unwittingly became gateway drugs to this addiction. I read Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin, mesmerized by worlds so different from mine. The first book that made me cry was The Little Match Girl, the story of a poor girl dying on New Year’s Eve. Books then became emotion-enhancing pills. 
Early signs of a malady, a malaise that can only be stilled by reading a book.
Loving books is not just about reading. It’s something physical, sensual. Author Anne Fadiman calls it carnal when the book’s physical being gives a booklover joy. Its weight, the tactile delight of paper, the sound of flipping pages, the heady scent of a worn-out edition. 
One book is never enough. To love books is to want many. 
Again, my mother was to blame for this avarice. She and Nancy Drew. It started with one book, which I devoured in a few hours. Nancy Drew lived an exciting life, certainly more exciting than mine. With Nancy Drew, I traveled to Cairo, London, Bangkok; rode a stagecoach; drove a convertible; joined the circus; and had a boyfriend named Ned. Mom gave me more. In multiples. Every birthday, Christmas, any occasion was an excuse to bring me more, until finally I completed all 56 of the classic series.
The beginning of an addiction to accumulation.
Now, here I am with 2,000 books competing for shelf space, knowing that this lifetime would not be enough for me to read them all. The craving remains uncurbed. 
There’s another hunger for a soulmate. Not the romantic kind. But a literary soulmate, somebody whose shelf mirrors mine, somebody who was as spellbound as I was by Saramago’s Blindness, as wickedly amused as I was by Palahniuk’s Fight Club, but would understand when sometimes, I just want cheesy motivational fluff from Fulghum. This soulmate abhors New Age, finds Dan Brown overrated, and will never ever finish Lord of the Rings. My soulmate is strangely magnetized by books with penguins on orange spines. He or she is addicted to craft books, collects biographies but never read them, and loves the Christian musings of Don Miller. This soulmate is only slightly embarrassed to admit to never having read Harry Potter. And he or she has fallen in love with the Bible’s book of Exodus. 
I must have started aching for a literary soulmate a decade ago when I read Patrick Suskind’s Perfume. No one in my circle of friends had heard of it. Perfume is the story of a diabolical character who feeds on the scent of virgins close to death. Not common reader fare. But I felt this strange need to find somebody with whom I can talk about the book. But I was afraid nobody would understand. 
Several years later, I chanced upon Jose Saramago’s Blindness, a story of an epidemic of blindness. In a fictional land, people started seeing nothing but a sea of white. Anyone who tries to cure or care for the blind goes blind as well. Chaos and hysteria ensue. Followed by the loss of human dignity and the surfacing of man’s basest instincts. It was a fantastic story, and again, I had no one to share the experience with.
In Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, those infected with cholera were quarantined in a riverboat. Shelfari is today’s quarantine for those infected with bibliophilia. In this online community, we are free to discuss without shame, judgment, and only with a tinge of guilt, how we have taken part in the killing of trees for the sake of literature. Here we expose our darkest, most embarrassing secret acts of excess book love. We confess to kissing bookstore floors, reaching for hidden stash. We admit how bookstore warehouse sales turn us into raving, frothing-in-the-mouth maniacs. Some talk of locking their doors while they meticulously, obsessively cover their books in plastic. Someone confessed, she’s waded through waist-deep flood waters, keeping her books above her head, worrying more about keeping her book dry than catching cholera. We will maim ourselves and others for a chance to wrestle a long-dreamt-of book away from somebody else. In this time of online communities, Shelfari is the world where we can insulate ourselves against those who don’t understand our affliction.
Have I found my soulmate yet? No. We are too diverse in personalities and book preferences. When we discussed Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Teheran, everyone lambasted the book; I was the only one who looked beyond the sedate, academic style of narration to find something to love, to appreciate about it. Florentino Ariza waited 53 years and was willing to wait forever for the love of his life. Maybe my search will take 53 years, maybe forever. In the meantime, in Shelfari, I am embraced by those who are not afraid to catch this sickness, this perverse disease of loving books.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Have book, will travel

This was originally published here: http://www.philstar.com/sunday-life/229824/have-book-will-travel  . I won a 5,000 gift card from National Book Store for this. Yay!

Accidentally found the article through Google. I'm posting this now in my blog for the sake of posterity, and maybe also to convince you get a copy, a copy you can wear out as you travel up, down, far, wide, through these beautiful Philippine islands.

Have book. Will travel.

For what seemed like five full seconds I was frozen, suspended in the murky Donsol waters. I was awestruck, immobile, and were it not for the need to keep my snorkel in place, my mouth would have been open in amazement at this magnificent creature gliding in front of me. And then, the moment was gone. The speckled whale shark known for its bashfulness spotted the neon fins, realized it had company, and disappeared into the plankton haze underneath. It was time to heave our bodies back into the boat, which would once more cruise the sea looking for more butandings for us to interact with and marvel at.

Back at the resort I was lamenting the fact that I had no underwater camera to capture what our eyes feasted upon some hours back. Giving me consolation was the book I had in my hands. Lonely Planet Philippines supplied me with a black and white sketch of the whale shark along with some information about its size, habitat, and characteristics. It wasn't quite as good as a real photograph, but it still helped recreate the image in my mind. This much-treasured book of mine also helped me appreciate the creatures more with its mention that despite their magnitude, whale sharks are gentle, harmless giants.

Later in the trip, that dog-eared, sand-marked, kare-kare-stained paperback would guide us around the sights of Bicol and would help us find a decent place to stay in when we decided to move to another hotel. 

My Lonely Planet Philippines book is my second favorite travel companion. It would be my favorite if only it could drive, carry my luggage, give me shopping money, and cap my vacation days with a back rub the way my husband, a.k.a. number one favorite traveling companion, could. Like him, this book is reliable, entertaining, informative, and can get me out of navigation predicaments. Unlike my husband, it encourages frequent stopovers for scenic breaks and does not complain about my avarice for photo opportunities.

It's multi-purpose too. In its green waterproof casing, it can function as a pillow when I'm roughing it up and napping on a beach blanket somewhere.

Lonely Planet Philippines
 has taken me through the cobbled streets of Vigan, guided me through a tricycle tour of Tacloban, led my famished stomach to Las Vegas Canteen and Restaurant in Banaue, showed me the way to Pagudpod, gave me a preview of Tagbilaran and Panglao, advised me where to stay the night before the Pahiyas festival, pointed me towards the charming hideaway of CafĂ© Kamarikutan in Puerto Princesa, clued me in on Baguio's Tam-Awan Village, advised me where to find Internet connections in Sorsogon, and directed me towards places where I could buy wicker baskets, burnay pots, and binagol.

Lonely Planet
 represents my two biggest passions--traveling and reading. Yes, these two activities are in opposite extremes in the activity scale. One requires you to stay stationary and lets your eyes do the roving, while the other drives you out of comforts of your couch and gets your body moving from point A to point B, on to point C, and so on. This book bridges that gap between seemingly disparate activities, both of which make my life full and interesting.

Another thing that these two activities have in common is how they facilitate learning. Both expand the mind, open the eyes, and enlarge the soul. Reading transports me to different dimensions, brings me to awareness of my environment, of art, science, cultures, life, love, and lore. In like manner, travel exposes me to diverse cultures, introduces my palette to a gamut of flavors, opens me up to a multitude of experiences, and orients me to infinite possibilities.

The infinite possibilities keep me reaching for my Lonely Planet. I leaf through its pages and let it whet my wanderlust and feed my imagination. It weaves text and images to fill my heart with longing, my feet with the itching desire to leave the city and go as far as I can, and my mind with plans of traveling to places I have yet to visit like Batanes, Siargao, Camiguin, Dumaguete, and the rest of our 7,100 islands.

In the city, the concrete walls, halls, and malls confine me in an oppressive tangle of must-dos, must-haves, must-buys, must-calls, must-meets, and must-submit-budget-report-by-Friday-or-else-I-die. All these I am obliged to do for urban survival and career enhancement.

Lonely Planet's 504
 pages tell me of places I must see, cuisine I must try, cultures I must encounter, and festivals I must experience not because they are do-or-die obligations. But more like do-and-live-life-to-the-fullest.

Friday, January 11, 2013

I Flipped through E L James's Fifty Shades Trilogy and (I'm Ashamed to Admit it but) I Liked It

My copy:
Box Set of 3 Trade Paperback 
ISBN: 978-0-345-80404-4
Read: August 25, 2012
Fifty Shades of Grey - 514
Fifty Shades Darker - 532
Fifty Shades Freed - 579
Total Pages: 1,625 pages! Wow! Yeay me!

There is a category of books called "Books You Have to Read Just to Understand What the Hype Is All About." This is one of them.

For me, this category of books I was suckered to read out of social pressure include the Da Vinci Code (sucked) and Twilight (I have no strong feelings for this book-neither hated, nor loved it). In other words, I usually end up regretting the waste of precious reading time for books from this category.

Now this--Fifty Shades of Grey. I felt pretty sure I wouldn't like it. First, it's romance. And I'm not overly fond of them. Seeing shelves of Nora Roberts, Nicholas Sparks, and Jude Deveraux usually makes me turn a different direction. I'm not a book snob--I've just been out of the dating slash seeking Mr. Right scene for more than a decade that I can no longer relate to boy meets girl stories. Second, people said the writing is abominable. Third, it is a fan fiction byproduct (which is usually worse than the inspiration) of Twilight. 

And then the book starts with the paragraph about the wayward hair of the character in a voice that sounds whiny and immature. That uneasy feeling of regret (I bought the boxed set!) set in. 

But I gave it a chance and read on. I don't know at which point the tide changed, but soon I was enjoying it. I mean really enjoying it. No, not (just) because of the dirty parts, but because of the fantasy that is Mr. Christian Grey. Yes, fantasy. Nobody on earth could be that rich, good-looking, and perfect! Well, perfect except for having a really messed up sexual history. The other thing that would classify this as fantasy is the notion that a woman can so quickly and easily change a man--he started changing almost immediately after meeting her. Acting differently and doing things he's never done before, like staying the night with a woman. 

N.B. I started this post some months back and have forgotten all about it. And tonight, as I was about to write a new post, I discovered this draft. I am trying to bring myself back to the moment when I still had feelings for Mr. Grey, but my poor memory and short attention span have made me move on. And so, I'm struggling to complete this post. 

Anyway, let's get this over and done with. 

So what I can remember is this--I enjoyed reading it. I have not been reading much this past couple of years. And 2012 was absolutely dismal, embarrassing for somebody who has founded a book club. I have finished none of the books that we discussed last year. Either I could not attend the meeting or I just could not finish the book. But this trilogy--I consumed it voraciously and quickly. It was the first time for a long time that I felt that grip, that hold a book has to make you itchy and antsy to drop whatever it is you're doing so you can get back to the book. And I completed the trilogy! It is embarrassing to admit that it took a trashy book to wake me up from my reading doldrums. 

So, I'm not going to review the book anymore. There are millions of reviews online. Besides, the feeling's gone. I'm over Christian.

I'll just post my comment in one of our book club's threads. But first, a background for you to understand the following excerpt. I have never heard of 50 Shades until it was suggested in our book club's Facebook group page. Yes, I was living under some kind of rock called home office, where there are no water coolers to gather round as employees talk about the latest phenomenon. Anyway, it was a read-along, meaning we would read the book on our own, but we should follow a certain schedule. We give our reactions online. And after all that was over, we met for a dinner discussion. Now, here is my post:

"I really enjoyed the FSoG reading experience. The poll to select a book and the ridiculous, exasperating result that against Russian classics, we chose the modern day cheese. The community reading aspect of it. The read-along. The online discussions that went beyond the merits and demerits of the book, and got us even to share intimate tidbits. The dinner discussion when everybody came in grey outfits. The fantastic giveaways. The post-discussion lamentations. And now, the planned movie watching activity. Fabulous experience that got me out of my reading rut, albeit temporarily. It's what book clubs are about. And how the book reading future is not just about technology, not just about high tech, but also about high touch. Loved it.

And really, even if the writing is crappy and the dialogue ridiculous, I have great respect for writers who stand out enough to sell in blockbuster numbers. They keep the industry alive and get non-readers to read.

On the personal level, I am not a romance reader and it surprised (and annoyed) me how much I enjoyed reading it that I could hardly wait for the next chapter, the next book. And as a teacher who has waded through gazillions of student papers that made my eyes droop at the first paragraph, I can recognize that this ability to make the reader keep on reading is a learned skill as well as some kind of voodoo magic gift. Plus the writer being in touch with, or having the same secret desires as her readers.
I've been wondering what made this book so appealing to women, specifically British housewives--and it reminded me of a certain research about why women loved watching soap; they watched soap because it's an escape from the all-so-real reality of their lives--of career work and housework. It's their pocket of me-time. And it's their middle finger to a world that wears them out and robs them of their identities and burdens them with responsibilities. It's actually a feminist act of asserting themselves. I will not go as far as say that FSoG is feminist, but I think the reason why it appealed to women is specifically because a lot of women have bought into this feminist notion. A lot of women are in charge almost all the time--at work and at home, and maybe in bed. And it can get pretty tiring to be always in control. And it has become a fantasy to let somebody else take over and have his wicked way with us. To just sit back and relax and let somebody do all the work.
And Christian Grey is hot!" 

What's missing in above is how I, like my book club friends, enjoyed the witty email exchange between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele. 

In summary. Yes, believe all those reviews that say it's crap. It is crap. But it is very enjoyable crap. 


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