Flipping

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

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gift Ideas: Artesana Travel Journals

Follow this link for ordering details.

What these are are travel journals. You know how it is when you travel, and you collect the ephemera like tickets, cafe napkins and the like, and then you take a gazillion of photos. All these with the lofty ambition of creating a scrapbook when you get back. Then you get back and reality bites and you have to make up for your absence by working on a backlog of personal and job tasks. Scrapbooking dreams forgotten relegated to the chest of broken dreams. Well, this is the solution. Bring your journal with you. Paste your mementos and postcards while you're in the airport waiting lounge. Draw sketches. Write down your observations and ooh-ahh musings. All you have to do when you get back is to paste on your photos. Or if you're too lazy to even do that, just save your electronic pics into a cd and store that in the attached envelop. Your memories are saved. You minimize the self harassment. Your ephemera's organized. And you feel like a real scrapbooking and journaling diva.

Click here for ordering details.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

BLUE LIKE JAZZ by Donald Miller

“I don’t think you can explain how Christian faith works either. It is a mystery. And I love this about Christian spirituality. It cannot be explained, and yet it is beautiful and true. It is something you feel, and it comes from the soul.”

I wish I had read this book sooner in my Christian walk. It would have spared me so much guilt and anxiety for thinking the way I thought, feeling the way I felt, as somebody who was still working out how this faith thing works out.

“The goofy thing about Christian Faith is that you believe it and don’t believe it at the same time. It isn’t unlike having an imaginary friend. I believe in Jesus; I believe He is the Son of God, but every time I sit down and explain this to somebody I feel like a palm reader, like somebody who works at a circus or a kid who is always making things up or somebody at a Star Trek convention who hasn’t figured out the show isn’t real.”

Blue Like Jazz is the coolest Christian book I’ve read; and it didn’t have to use edgy fonts; skate and surf jargon; and Bono to make it cool. It’s not religious. It’s not fire and brimstone. It is not hard sell. Not like how I could be when trying to “sell” the idea of my faith, as if I were selling Amway. I want to be like Miller’s friend, Nadine.

“The thing I loved about Nadine was that I never felt like she was selling anything. She would talk about God as if she knew Him, as if she had talked to Him on the phone that day. She was never ashamed, which is the thing with some Christians I had encountered. They felt like they had to sell God, as if He were soap or a vacuum cleaner, and it’s like they really weren’t listening to me; they didn’t care, they just wanted me to buy their product… To Nadine, God was a being with which she interacted, and even more, Nadine believed that God likes her. I thought that was beautiful. And more than that, her faith was a spiritual thing that produced a humanitarianism that was convincing.”

Miller is not a theologian so this book offers no dissection of the faith or deep biblical analysis. What it has to say about the Word is just a description of Miller’s own experience:

“I would lie on my bedroom floor, reading my Bible, going at the words for hours, all of them strong like arms wrapped tightly around my chest. It seems as though the words were alive with minds and motions of their own, as though God were crawling thoughts inside my head for guidance, comfort, and strength… The truths of the Bible were magic, like messages from heaven, like enchanting codes that offered power over life, a sort of power that turned sorrow to joy, hardship to challenge, and trial to opportunity… I seemed to have been provided answers to questions I had yet to ask, questions that God sensed or had even instilled in the lower reaches of my soul.”

This book has the feel of Catcher in the Rye when it talks about weird Christians with their bigotry, their parroted slogans, God infomercials, and Democrat-bashing ways that incite anger among and outside the church. He offers alternatives to these attitudes: First to pray that God shows you a church filled with people who share your interests and values, then to go to the church God shows you, and then not to hold grudges against any other churches because God loves those churches almost as much as He loves yours. In other words, Miller endorses God’s message of loving others, taking God as our model of love.

“To be in a relationship with God is to be loved purely and furiously.”

Miller talks about life, purpose, persecution, salvation, Savior:

“I know a little of why there is blood in my body, pumping life into my limbs and thoughts into my brain. I am wanted by God. He is wanting to preserve me, to guide me through the darkness of the shadow of death, up into the highlands of His presence and afterlife. I understand that I am temporary, in this shell of a thing on this dirt of an earth. I am being tempted by Satan, we are all being tempted by Satan, but I am preserved to tell those who do not know about our Savior and Redeemer. This is why Paul had no question. This is why he could be beaten one day, imprisoned the next, and released only to be beaten again and never ask God why. He understood the earth was fallen. He understood the rules of Rome could not save mankind, that mankind could not save itself; rather it must be rescued.”

Of evangelism:

“I could feel God’s love for him. I loved the fact that it wasn’t my responsibility to change somebody, that it was God’s, that my part was just to communicate love and approval.”

Of God’s love:

“Jesus didn’t love me out of principle; He didn’t just love me because it was the right thing to do. Rather, there was something inside me that caused Him to love me.”

But with this caveat:

“God’s love will never change us if we don’t accept it.”

Don says of our love for God:

“I think the most important thing that happens within Christian spirituality is when a person falls in love with Jesus.”

Of faith:
“My belief in Jesus does not seem rational or scientific, and yet there was nothing I could do to separate myself from this belief.”

Why Jazz?

“Christian spirituality is like jazz music. I think loving Jesus is something you feel. I think it is something very difficult to get on paper. But it is no less real, no less meaningful, no less beautiful. The first generation out of slavery invented jazz music. And that is the closest thing to Christian spirituality. A music birthed out of freedom.”

Miller talks about a decision that the human heart needs to make. It’s a decision that would determine how the rest of one’s story turns out. I think this book, in the hands of somebody with an open mind and ready heart, can help people make that decision.

“Your life is not your own, but you have been bought with a price.”

STYLE by Kate Spade

For the holy week, I had planned to read something that was not required reading. Nothing that was remotely related to my line of work. Nothing that everybody else was reading that I had to read so as not to feel out of place in dinner conversations. Nothing life-changing, mind-boggling, or gut-wrenching. In other words, I was in serious need of fluff.

And fluff was had.

Simon & Schuster’s Style, by designer cum author kate spade, is the perfect no-brainer book to decompress after one of the most stressful months of my 40-year life. No IQ cells were disturbed in the delightful process of reading. No brows knit. No thoughts provoked. No worldviews challenged. No words looked up at dictionary.com. And there were pretty pictures too!

Reading all 109 pages of this book felt like those ditzy gab-fests with girlfriends talking about feminine products, childhood crushes, and favorite Oprah episodes.

Kate writes about her style influences – Diana Vreeland, Bjork; Jane Austen, Dr. Seuss; Picasso, Andy Warhol; movies like Annie Hall, The Royal Tenenbaums. She doesn’t really try to teach anyone about style, since she (and husband Andy; and language masters Strunk and White) thinks that style is achieved by affecting none. So, instead, she just shares her own style – what she packs for a trip to Mexico or Kansas; her favorite colors, and with what she pairs them with; what she wears to work, to play, to a party, in winter, spring; her favorite accessories. The last chapter shares practical tips for organizing closets and caring for clothes and jewelry.

People don’t normally believe it when I say I’m not into brands. Yet it’s true. I’m no fashion victim, wanting to have the latest must-have brands. I’m not going to spend one month’s salary (or my husband’s salary) for a monogrammed Louis Vuitton. Jimmy Choos won’t exactly make me squeal with delight if the fit is bad on my farmer-proportioned feet and the styling does not make me feel, “me.” I’ll be equally happy with a tiangge-find no-brand plastic tote as with a Coach original. Okay, that’s not true. But what I’m trying to say is the brand is not the main thing. Brands, to me, are merely clues to good buys. They just make shopping a bit easier as they lead me to stores where I can find certain types of items at the required level of quality.

I’m no brand junkie, yet, I have this healthy obsession with Kate Spade. She is, to a degree, my style icon. I like what she represents – a lifestyle of enjoying what is beautiful, expressive, distinct, stylish.

Kate’s style is far from mine. She does not wear t-shirts; I live in them. She can wear yellow; the only time I wore yellow was to our high school reunion and only because that was the theme. Kate’s favorite fonts are baskerville and futura; mine is trebuchet. She likes full skirts; I have child-bearing hips that forever preclude such items from my wardrobe. But this book inspires me to define my own style. Not by plagiarizing other people’s style, but by opening myself to the world around me – to books, movies, art, travel, people that move me.

After reading this book, I conclude that sometimes, fluff is good for the soul.

P.S. Thanks, Sana, for giving me this book.

SLEEPLESS IN MANILA, Funny Essays, etc., on Insomnia by Insomniacs

Edited by Cristina Pantajo Hidalgo

I stupidly thought I could check out the new bookstore in Galleria – Bestsellers by National Book Store – without giving in to the shopping monster in me. Then I saw this book. On insomnia by insomniacs. Of course, I had to have it.

The back cover says that 10-15% of the world’s population have severe chronic insomnia, and an additional 25-30% have transient or occasional insomnia. I don’t know which category I belong to. Doesn’t matter. The book is about me. I can’t sleep when I’m supposed to sleep, meaning at night on the bed. Though if you put me in any moving vehicle – car, bus, train, boat, calesa, I can sleep in a matter of seconds. In planes, I can even sleep before take-off. Maybe I was deprived of motherly baby-rocking; but I digress too much.


I am halfway through the book. Not the best time to write a review on it. But I’ve had it happen often enough. I would be reading a book and I would nurture the ambition of posting a review on it. Then when I’m done reading I put the book close to the computer so I’ll remember to write the review. Then tinginingnginingngining… that’s the sound effect to represent a long time lapse, the cinematic ellipse… 6 months later I have to clear the book(s) away from the computer table to give me elbow space. By then, I would have forgotten what about the book I wanted to share with the world wide who-cares. Countless book reviews have jumped from my to-do list to my forget-it-it-will-never-get-done-you-pathetic-procrastinator-you list. Again, I digress.

Most of the essays, poems, factoids, short stories in the collection were probably written during the dreaded insomniac hours. Except for the piece written by Vince Groyon, whose name is on my top ten list of reasons why I am too insecure to write for a living. He says insomniac writing produces for him “jumbled, incoherent mass of words that just gets folded away deep in the pages of a notebook.” I can relate. My insomniac hours enable me to copiously produce PowerPoint slides so I can conduct corporate training for a living. But rarely do they help me write anything of show-off value.

The piece I can relate to the most is the one I finished minutes ago. Alex Almario contemplates doing away with the useless bed. The floor would serve a better purpose for pacing back and forth. I cannot do that, of course, because getting rid of the bed would mean divorce from my husband. Besides, when I do get to sleep I enjoy deep, long ones. But I get exactly what he means.

In Alex’s hours of restlessness, all his insecurities turn up and decide to hold a convention in his head. I know that feeling of random, uncontrollable ideas deciding to hold powwows in my head. It’s not always about insecurities though. Sometimes I obsess visualizing my dream house and the pantone color swatches, various pieces of furniture, facades of Frank Lloyd Wright houses just march in and out of my brain. Or I play out in my head all the things I have to do that overwhelm me. All the big pending projects. I try to break them down into manageable chunks like they teach you how to do in time management classes, but then I do such a good job of breaking them down into little pieces and then the many details overwhelm me and I can’t sleep. Sometimes the thoughts are similar to rudderless, 25-year-old Alex’s musings: what will I do with the rest of my life; is it pointless to dream; how can I impress my classmates in the next high school reunion; when will I ever wear size 6 jeans again?

Aha, now I get why my book reviews never get written. I don’t know squat about book reviews. This piece is turning out to be an indulgent, all-about-me blog entry. It’s noontime. I had 9 hours of sleep. I don’t have an excuse for this drivel.

Let me just end with Alex’s last 2 paragraphs, which struck a chord in me:

“I’ve been trying too hard to fight this problem, to no avail. The logical next step is to quit fighting it. Embracing this sleeping disorder is a very new-age, self-help-guru thing to do. When life gives you a lemon… (all together now, in a dorky, math-club-president voice) make lemonade! Those who can sleep have no time for greatness. While they’re wasting away hours of their lives buried under their pillows, I will be wide-eyed and restless making history. I will write the Great Filipino Novel. I will find the cure for cancer. I will find an alternative energy source. I will figure out the meaning of life.

‘I really need to get some sleep.”

Monday, November 24, 2008

LIFE OF PI by Yann Martel

I'm not being trite when I say this book is fabulous. Life of Pi is a fable - the story of a Bengal tiger, a mean hyena ugly without redemption, a feisty orangutan, a short-lived zebra, and the most dangerous animal of all - a 16 year old human. All of them hungry.

The author was hungry when he wrote the tale and he attempted to nourish himself and his readers with lessons in faith, survival, animal instinct and human emotions. 227 days in a 26 foot boat with the barest of supplies, the fiercest of animals, overcoming the most challenging circumstances, Piscine Patel, Pi, learned not just to survive but to find good in bad, hope where there seems to be none.

Where the story falls short is in its bodacious promise to change the way we believe in God. It's just too fantastic to be taken as a challenge or affirmation of beliefs. But maybe that's just me - I didn't buy the spiritual undertones of Lord of the Rings either.

At best, it is an entertaining gem crafted by a skilled, albeit sometimes gimmicky, storyteller with a fearless imagination. If you do not take this too seriously, if you can enjoy the occasional humor, if you just appreciate this for what it is - a fantastic piece of fiction, then it is worth the read. Don't look for anything faith shaking, life-changing, or mind-altering.

THE READING GROUP by Elizabeth Noble

Still high after attending a reading group meeting for the first time, I felt drawn to buy the book. (It doesn’t take much to convince me to buy, believe me.)

Everything about the book screams chick lit – the tagline above the title (where the books end, the stories begin), the blurb (This is a real female-bonding novel in the very best sense; it’s witty and immediately engaging. – Glamour UK.), and the teal cover with the charming graphic. Well, it is chick lit; not always a bad thing. It is Desperate Housewives meets Hallmark Channel, the British version. 5 women, the usual suspects with the usual womanly problems – the philandering husband, the perfect but too-perfect husband, children, not being able to have children, divorce, marital boredom, you know the usual. Okay, the perfect husband is not the usual, but you know what I mean.

The Wisteria Lane women meet for gin rummy, but Harriet, Nicole, Polly, Susan, and Clare meet every month to discuss a book they take turns choosing. 12 chapters. 12 books to be discussed in 12 months. In January relative strangers meet to discuss Nora Ephron’s Heartburn. By December, when they discuss Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, their friendships have grown deeper. The book review meetings are not necessarily the highlight of this novel; rather they serve as a backdrop for the narration of these women’s lives, which interestingly enough, move parallel to the plots of the books they review.

As a housewife, sometimes desperate, and as a woman, I can certainly relate to their emotional issues. I especially like Harriet, who is far from the Nigella Lawson vision of perfection, whose all-purpose cure for every problem is chocolate, who has a husband whose heart of service can sometimes be a trigger for emotions of guilt and inadequacy. I feel Clare’s aching for a child. I root for Polly as she overcomes life’s mistakes and takes second chances.

Except for a few slight surprises, the book is utterly predictable. At the end, each character finds resolution. That is usually the case for most novels, but in this book, the endings are a bit too neatly, too conveniently wrapped up, and not all that convincing.

Good, light reading for my girl-alone-on-a-holiday jaunt. But not quite meaty enough as a reading group choice.

LIVING TO TELL THE TALE by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Mention the name Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and the term magical realism is soon to follow. One would imagine then that his autobiography would employ that style. Even the title, Living to Tell the Tale conjures spellbinding narration heavy on mystical language, with the line between fact and fiction blurred. But such is the not the case.

For his autobiography, Marquez relied on his journalistic skills - acquired through his early years as a paid writer - to recount the events, people, and places, the 5 Ws of his life. More real, than magical. More reportage than editorial. Facts more than fiction. Probably why some reviewers found this book boring with its seemingly endless inventory of places –- Aracataca, Baranquilla, Bogota, Cartagena, Sucre; and people –- family members, teachers, classmates, co-writers, political figures, lovers, mentors, tormentors, and dozens and dozens of people named Guillermo, figuring in events that may or may not contribute to the whole narrative.

You will be awed at the painstakingly detailed accounts. He did not mention if he kept a journal or if he just pulled all these memories from his head. If it’s the latter, then he has an astonishing, functioning memory bank. These are not an old man's ramblings, tinted with sentimentality. These are vivid, well-preserved memories of a man who lived an amazing life and lived to tell the tale in amazing detail.

This is not to say that this work is devoid of magic. The magic comes from the clarity of writing, this from a man who acknowledges that his style is convoluted and ethereal. Good writing so clear and fresh you can imagine traveling the Cienaga swamps, and looking at his old house in Aracataca with a mix of pain and nostalgia. You’re there living Marquez’s life as a student at the colegio and the liceo, experiencing Colombia’s tumultuous politics. You feel his desperation, living on the edge of poverty, finding shelter in parks, brothels, cafes, wherever his measly pesos can buy him a bed, hammock, or chair to lie on. You feel his hunger pangs as he starves his body while his mind is being enriched by his interactions with intellectuals and the most fascinating personalities.

The magic is not contrived, not produced by hypnotic literary manipulation. Yet it’s literature that enchants, sparks the imagination of the reader. With matter-of-fact writing, Marquez recounts a life, the telling of which requires the telling of two previous generations’ tales. A life markedly influenced by an eccentric family, the daily challenge of survival, a culture of poetry. A life accented with drama, romance, crime, passion. Reading it, you can almost see the movie adaptation, almost feel the dusty heat, and hear the soundtrack, which will be marvelous because Marquez’ life is filled with music, because he loves music almost as much as he loves writing.

His writing. His writing about his writing. That’s what I loved best about this book. To discover that he has an inferiority complex about his spelling. To know who influenced him in his writing – Borges, Neruda, Woolfe, Faulkner, among many others. He talks about his aversion to adverbs ending in –mente, and having two proximate words that rhyme. He talks about the life stories that inspired his written stories. Love in the Time of Cholera, for example, was based on his parents’ forbidden relationship. It is surprising, and it makes this writing legend seem very human, to know that his natural bashfulness extends to his writing, that he is afraid to write and afraid to share what he has written. On page 393 (Vintage edition), he says “that the terror of writing can be as intolerable as the terror of not writing.”

Except for a flashback or two, the story follows a mostly linear, chronological account from his birth in 1927 to some point in the late 50s when he proposed to his wife through a letter. The book closes without saying whether his proposal is accepted or not. A cliffhanger of sorts, leaving the readers hanging on, anticipating the next installation. Dear Lord, I hope Gabriel Garcia Marquez lives on and on so he can continue to tell his tale.

INVISIBLE CITIES by Italo Calvino

"You take delight not in a city's seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours."

I have heard of the term literary masturbation a few times before but I never really understood it until I read Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Maybe this is what people refer to when they say “writing for writing’s sake.”

Beautiful, melodic prose. Wonderful weaving of words. A melee of metaphysical metaphors. Dizzying, dazzling details. Vivid imagery. Descriptions beyond the ordinary man’s ability to describe. Magical. Moving. But sadly, all these leaving me scratching my head thinking, what the fafaya is this guy talking about? Reading it, I had the feeling that someone somewhere is enjoying all these. But I’m not part of the fun. Hence, now I get what literary masturbation looks and uhm, feels like.

"The city that they speak of has much of what it needed to exist, whereas the city that exists on it site, exists less."

In this novel, if you could call it that, the very thin and loose plot revolves around the conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Some exchanges are amusing. Silly, even. But mostly, it is about the cities. About the most fantastic ways anyone can ever describe cities.

The invisible cities Calvino talks about is really just one city: Venice. But he describes Venice in the most interesting, peculiar, perplexing of ways. He never calls Venice Venice. Instead he assigns dozens of exotic names. Each name presents a different aspect of the city. He describes the city through its architecture and structures; through its culture; its inhabitants – dead, alive, imaginary, human or otherwise; through objects, mundane or extraordinary; through its daily activities of commerce and human drama; through nature and its elements; through demarcation lines distinct or blurred; through dreams; through entrances and exits; through myths; through events; through seasons; through its pathways. If there is a way of describing a city, Calvino has used it.

"Not the labile mists of memory nor the dry transperence, but the charring of burned lives that forms a scab on the city, the sponge swollen with vital matter that no longer flows. the jam of past, present, future that blocks existence calcified in the illusion of movement: this is what you would feel at the end of your journey."

Eventually, I warmed up to the story by the sheer beauty of language. By the time I got to the end, I felt like I had traveled a thousand miles, but still scratching my head with an ending as vague and confounding as the whole story itself. I still didn’t get it, but it sure was an amazing ride. To paraphrase a line from the book, "I regret having to leave the city when I barely graze it with my glance."

BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley

In the brave new world that Huxley describes, human beings are decanted out of test tubes and demijohns that go through an assembly line in a place called a hatchery. From embryo to adulthood, people are divided by castes.

In our reading group that discussed Brave New World, there were divisions as well. The Alpha intellectuals, the Epsilon shallows, the in-betweens, the undecideds, and the posers (posing as shallows, not intellectuals). We were divided into sci-fi fans, and those who would never pick up this book in normal circumstances. Those who loved the book, those who hated it, and one who “luved it so much.” The optimists versus the pessimists. Those who read the book, and those who scanned spark notes the night before.

The reactions to the book and the ideas it sparked ran a very wide gamut. We certainly didn’t agree on much, but we agreed it was a great choice in inciting impassioned debate. The book is a minefield of topics for discussions on science, free will, religion, gods in lower case g, happiness, Malthusian economy, media propaganda, determinism, feminism, capitalism, consumerism, individualism and many other isms. Noses bled.

As for me, I bought the book early this year only because someone recommended it. And well, uhm, it was on sale, which is usually a good enough reason to buy anything. It was destined to stay in my TBR pile ever after. Until it was chosen as June’s reading group book. (That’s what you get when you force a molecular biologist to moderate.) So I had no choice but to actually read it. I almost thought I would not be able to get through the convoluted foreword written many years after the original novel was published. I suspect that the foreword was just a way for the author to say, “hey, my writing has improved.”

If you look at the novel as a literary piece, then you’ll be disappointed at the sophomoric writing and the one-dimensional characters. But if you lower your expectations and see it as an amusing satire on man’s burning desire to play God and control the world, then it is not all that bad. As one of the reading group members said, “I’ve read worse.”

To be fair, the book made me think, especially close to the end when Mustapha Mond explained a lot about the brave new world and the rationale for the way its creators made it to be. And the discussions that followed illuminated to me not so much what others think of the world, but what I want the world to be. But that’s for another discussion. Maybe over soma, er coffee.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov

I can't remember when I read Lolita for the first time. I reread it this week in preparation for reading Reading Lolita in Tehran, our reading group's book for December. And it was like reading it for the first time. I realized I was not ready to read it then; I guess I just couldn't get over the disgusting theme of pedophilia to even appreciate the writing.

With a mind now more open to art's jarring function and less insecure about my moral foundations, I discovered an exceedingly well-written book. Something that made my heart ache. It was while reading Milan Kundera's The Unberable Lightness of Being that I first felt this dull ache in my heart. This ache I baptized writer's envy. It comes from sadly realizing that I could never in this lifetime write that exquisitely, that skillfully. I felt the ache again while reading Lolita. Violent envy. Envy of writing so good that it enables the reader to overcome distaste for or indifference about a topic.

Lolita is the fictional autobiography of Humbert Humbert. It is written with such wit and intelligence and tenderness and romance that immediately you get on his side. You hate to admit but you like this sick, old man. You understand why he likes pubescent girls, what childhood deprivation has caused his adult depravity. You see the world from the view of a man who feels cheated by culture and law for their narrow rules against child love, something he considers natural and borne out of a pure desire to have what he was not able to have many years ago.

And then at some point, in between HH's lines, you hear Nabokov's sardonic voice, and you understand that intelligent and gentle as HH may be, he has serious delusions. Delusions about his sincere intentions, about his being attractive, about how Lolita was also in love with him.

The novel has many delicious parts of scaringly beautiful writing. In the text after the novel, Nabokov lists down some of these scenes that he calls "the nerves of the novel... the secret points...the subliminal co-ordinates."

One of my favorite parts is Lolita's and Humber Humbert's road trip around Nabokov's invented America. I can almost hear the soundtrack in this video montage of travels that start with "a series of wiggles and whorls in New England" through highways and motels, countryside, tilled plains, sagebrush patches, mountain ranges, deserts, picnic grounds, and roadside facilities. The travel writer wannabe in me hurts in envy.

One of the first publishers approached by Nabokov rejected the book because it has no good characters in it. It truly doesn't. HH, despite his self characterization, his self justification, is really a sick, filthy, despicable, old man; I was totally revolted by his desire to impregnate Lolita so she could produce a litter of nymphets who shall provide him with a lifetime supply of carnal pleasure. Lolita has her own dysfunctions as well. I can see a younger Juliette Lewis playing her. And I detest Juliette Lewis. Although I would really be interested to read Lolita's side of the story.

I have to say that of the books I've read, this has one of the best endings ever. As HH dwells on the life he lived with Lolita, he shushes his self-defending stream of thought, quiets the humorous narration, and seems to see the pain he has caused his step-daughter. No, he does not turn into a maudlin, death-row-repentant crying-out-for-the-forgiveness-of-his-sins sap, but he sees some of his illusions if not shattered, at least slightly provoked. Very subtly, he acknowledges his shame and despair, his brutality. Ah, when Lolita was crying, she was not just being petulant, she had strong reason to be depressed.

This poignant scene of rumination is juxtaposed with the bizarre, almost-slapstick, comedic account of HH's jousts with Cue. Nabokov does bittersweet funny very well.

I am in complete awe of his writing. I'm glad he learned to write in English so he does not have to share the glory with a translator.

Nabokov says in his notes that he has no objective of moralizing. It's just a story. Borne out of inspiration and combination. So, we should not take it as a defense of a pedophilia as well. It's just a story. A well-written story. If one were to take lessons from this book, it would be to be alert to what goes on in the mind of elderly men, of uncles who touch with too much familiarity, who turn on the charm for little kids a tad too much.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Created to Create

I know, I know, this is my 2 hundred millionth post for the day. What's gotten into me? Well, I need to empty my pc of photos and so I am pressured to blog about those photos now. Plus, I'm going on a 2-day internet withdrawal rehab in Batangas so I need to get these posted. I promise this is the last one for the day.

I just really want to talk about the Creative Spiritual Journaling Workshop that I attended last Saturday. I almost passed up on this one, since I didn't really think that half a day would be enough to get me creative, much less spiritual. I am glad I changed my mind.

The workshop was conducted by trainer Mae Legaspi and Patsy Paterno, the Pa in Papemelroti. Mae shared some background information on journaling, focusing on its benefits. I admit I was taking mental notes because I dream of someday offering workshops to help others discover the joy of journaling. Writing about the events of my life has enriched the experiences, and reading about them years after has shown me how much I have grown up and discovered about myself. But the journaling I'm used to is more about writing. This workshop showed how I can take my journaling to a higher, more creative, more powerful level.

I love Patsy's joy and passion as she enthusiastically described how this activity can be a joint creative process between God and journaler. How this is more than just doing art or mere journaling, but it is really a way to hear His message loudly and clearly, and to capture and remember these messages.

Even if you're not there for the spiritual stuff, there was still much to learn about journaling and about creative and practical journaling techniques. And Patsy is not into buying expensive materials. She showed us how to use ordinary stuff like clear tape from divisoria, magazine clippings, and other scrap materials to collage and create artful pages. Some of the samples she showed were astoundingly beautiful. And it does not take a da Vinci to create similar pages.

But I think what I inspired and elated me most was the way that this workshop has recharged my hunger for the Word. Lately, I have been struggling to keep up the passion I used to have to read His Word. I've been distracted by shiny objects and worldly pursuits. And this afternoon
revealed to me that reading His Word need not be a drudgery. It is a blessing. And adding art into it makes it fun and creative.

After the workshop I found myself again eager to get into the Word and excited to hear in my heart God's leading. I have yet to start doing the creative journaling, but I feel the juices coming. I've taken my Prang watercolor off its dusty storage, and I know I'm going to discover more about myself, my thoughts, my dreams, my creativity, my life, and my God.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS by Dave Eggers

If I were to write a novel or an autobiography, I would want to write like Eggers does. 98% sap free. With both his parents dying of cancer weeks apart and having to give up the freedom of youth to take care of his younger brother Toph, it would have been easy and justified to write a sentimental piece filled with maudlin musings. Instead, Eggers writes with such profound and honest humor.

Maybe the title puts you off. It is audacious. It is cocky. But know that it is said with tongue in cheek. At some point, in fact, Eggers even calls the book stupid.

Is it sollipsistic? Hell, yeah. How can it not be? It is an autobiography after all. With the tragic events of his life, a healthy amount of self absorption is necessary to excavate suppressed feelings and purge himself of his demons. This book is Eggers' cathartic way of sorting through the dirty, rotten emotions of grieving so he can move on and get on with the dirty but fulfilling tasks of taking care of his brother, a responsibility so prematurely and suddenly thrust upon him.

Is it sad? Yes. Poignant. Heartbreaking. But Eggers does not have time to mope. He deals with his losses with braggadocio, hilarity, and sometimes the most absurd form of pain-denial. His love for Toph manifests through his unspoken fears of how he might turn out to be because his dysfunctional upbringing "...would cause him to feel unwanted and alone, leading to the warping of his fragile psyche, then to experimentation with inhalants, to the joining of some River's Edge gang, too much flannel and too little remorse, the cutting of his own tats, the drinking of lamb's blood, the inevitable initiation-fulfilling murder of me and Beth in our sleep" or he might "grow up to sell crack or sing in a harmonizing pop group from Florida."

Is it funny? Very. And intelligent. And moving. And sardonic. Angry. Too many cuss words to be for general patronage. Sometimes silly. Sometimes inspiring. Sincere. Powerful. Staggering. Genius.

Monday, November 10, 2008

June Casagrande's GRAMMAR SNOBS ARE GREAT BIG MEANIES


Okay, so I'm a nerd for reading a grammar book from cover to cover. But this is not your usual grammar book. It's not organized in an indexable [not an acceptable word] order which starts with the parts of speech, proceeds with tenses and by the time you get to idiomatic phrases, you're bored to a deep comma, oops, coma.

This book is a collection of articles on various grammar topics. June Casagrande, who writes for the Los Angeles Times, treats grammar with irreverence. She pokes fun at grammar demigods William Strunk, EB White, and punctuation pundit Lynne Truss and other so-called grammar experts, whom she calls grammar snobs and accuses of bluffing with rules that none of them are 100% sure about anyway. She exposes the inconsistencies within and among grammar bibles like the Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Stylebook.

Casagrande sometimes sounds like one of the grammar snobs she vilifies, but her ire is mostly targeted towards those who get off feeling superior by making regular English speakers feel stupid, keeping them ignorant by confusing them with the pedantic, though sometime seemingly random, rules.

The 42 articles, written with a healthy dose of humor, are informative. They present not just one unbendable rule per situation, like most style books do, but they share alternative rules. This means that sometimes we just really have to use our judgment and rely on our ears, because there are different ways to attack a grammar issue.

I devoured the book. I learned quite a bit that I can use in practical situations. And I promise (to try) not to be a grammar snob.

THE MEMORY KEEPERS' DAUGHTER by Kim Edwards

1964. A blizzard forces Dr. David Henry to minister to his own wife, Norah, in childbirth. This was a time when technology allowed for surprises. Soon after delivering his son David, Dr. Henry discovered that there was a second baby. A girl who had Down syndrome. Remembering the pain of losing a sister to a lingering disease and wanting to spare his wife the pain his family endured, he hastily decided to get rid of the baby. He instructed his nurse, Caroline, to send the child to an institution. Caroline, compelled by circumstances and driven by the desire to be significant, ran away with baby Phoebe instead.

Interesting premise. Until you realize that every other Filipino soap opera begins with this -- the spiriting away of an infant. And then, the rest of the story revolves around the dark consequences of such an act.

Like many soap operas, this story is long-drawn-out, tedious, and melodramatic. A 25 year saga.

Like most soap opera viewers, I couldn’t help but be emotionally involved in the story, wanting to know what happens next, suspending reality. No, more like confusing reality with fiction by actually feeling for the characters, feeling real emotions – hating the doctor for the lies he wove, suffering Norah’s pain, relating to Caroline’s confusion, wanting to have the power to speak to the characters to tell them what to do. In fact, I found myself screaming at times to tell the characters to do or not to do something. I was that involved in the story. Yeah, sappy sucker me.

Unlike soap operas, this one goes deeper into the characterization, explaining the layers of history and motivation beneath a character’s behavior and decisions. Showing the different dimensions of each personality. I understood where they were coming from even though I did not agree with their actions.

I didn’t hate this book too much. I didn’t like it much either. Too slow. Too long. Too sentimental. Too much drama. The author could have chopped a hundred or so pages to make it more taut. The ending was not quite what I expected, but it wasn’t that bad a way to end. I’m just glad it did end because my emotions were spent. I did not expect to have invested too much energy in it. If you don’t have the patience for melodrama, stay away from this book.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

THE SHACK by William P. Young


I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure it is not just me. There have been many times in my life when, confused, clueless, lost, and discouraged, I so desperately wanted to be with God face to face. So He can help me sort out the morass in my mind and figure things out; give me crystal-clear, no-room-for-ambiguity answers to life’s perplexing question; hear something wise and definite; know something for sure; and just be comforted by Him; be assured of His love, His power, and His sovereignty. Sometimes, I just want to tell Him how angry and disappointed I am, how life is unfair, and that sometimes I just don’t feel His favor.

In this novel slash parable slash Christian fiction, the story’s main man, Mackenzie Allan Phillip, gets that once-in-a-lifetime chance to be with God for a weekend in a mountain shack associated with the most horrific incident of his life. That weekend, he gets the chance to throw the questions at; to hear the answers from; to discuss matters of love and sin; hurt and forgiveness; pain and healing; responsibility and relationship with the One who knows all the answers, the Source of truth and light.

Mack has his shares of pain and hurt, probably more than others’. He grew up abused by his father, spent most of his life away from family, he suffered the guilt of his own sins, and dealt with the loss of his daughter. He certainly had a lot of issues to thrash out with God.

God’s answers to Mack answered some of my questions too. Some answers were confirmation of things I already knew in my head, but probably did not understand in my heart. Some answers turned me around to see a different perspective of God’s love and wisdom. Things like marriage not being an institution; it is a relationship. In the same way, that we do not have to treat everything we do for God as an obligation, but as simply a natural part of sharing love and life with Him. “If I take away the consequences of people’s choices, I destroy the possibility of love. Love that is forced is no love at all.”

Like other readers, I was uncomfortable with Young’s portrayal of the Trinity. But I’m sure he had his reasons for taking that approach. Besides, we have to remember that this is fiction.

Yes, it’s fiction. And just like some readers who ranted about the ex-biblical nature of the book, I squirmed at some passages that sounded so dangerously New Age. But, this book being fiction, is just the output of the author’s imagination. This is William Shack’s interpretation of the truth that he knows. And he uses illustrations to drive home the message. His illustration of the father-child relationship to show why Jesus had to die on the cross blew my mind, and had me in tears, gasping for breath, feeling pain, love, and gratitude all at the same time.

I want to end my review now. It’s very hard to give justice to this book without cheapening the message with my own words. I highly recommend it. But I also hope that this inspires the reader to go beyond this work of fiction and to probe deeper into His truths communicated to us through His Word.


A CELIBATE SEASON by Carol Shields and Blanche Howard

I’ve discovered a new genre – the epistolary novel. Okay, don’t be a wiseass, I didn’t discover it; and it isn't new. That genre has been in existence since the apostle Paul wrote epistles to the Romans and the Hebrews. So what I mean to say is this is the first of this genre that I have read, unless we count Griffin and Sabine. Oh yes, this is G&S but less fantastic, without the pretty postcards and the fabulous art, but with more depth in writing.

This story of husband and wife spending ten months apart is narrated with letters. Only letters. Carol Shields wrote the letters from the man and Blanche Howards took the wife’s point of view. With no plans for how the story will progress, the two authors took turns writing each other and actually sending the letters by post, and this was how the story evolved.

Reading this one letter at a time was just like eating watermelon seeds or M&Ms. I read one chunk at a time, one scrumptious morsel, one delicious bit after another delicious bit. “I’ll read this one last letter and then I’ll go to sleep, okay just one more, no really this is the last.” But I just couldn’t put it down, until I got to its bittersweet, more bitter than sweet, ending, and I realized I read through the night and the sun had just risen.

An intimate peek at a fictional marriage that mirrors the travails of real-life marriages. Wit and humor exquisitely blended with pain and distress. Skillful writing. I loved this book; I can’t understand why, and I’m secretly glad, this was not a bestseller.

I JUST WANT MY PANTS BACK by David J. Rosen

I've discovered a new genre, and I'm calling it dicklit. This refers to books with plots about men trying to score.

Of course, this novel is not just about sex. It's also about booze and illegal substances enjoyed by our hero, slacker ad-guy by day, horny lush by night. It's about the trouble he gets into trying to achieve his objective (see paragraph 1 above). In the process of finding himself and accomplishing his objective, he loses his Dickies pants in a one-night-stand. The rest of the story is about getting his pants back, hence the title. No, it's not symbolic, and the pants are not metaphysical concepts.

This book offers a lot of laugh out loud moments, which gets you excited to read more, thinking there is more. Rosen is a witty, entertaining writer, and he probably should be given another chance to write a novel. Because this one needs some major redemption. I was hoping underneath all the smut, there would be nuggets of wisdom, that his coming of age story would be about coming to terms with the need to grow up. Sadly, the book ends just a teeny, tiny bit better than when it started. The hero lands a marginally better, though not necessarily better paying, job. But he's still the slacker lush character the author started with. Worse, he doesn't even get his pants back. (sorry, spoiler)

Not worth the full price I paid for it.

DOGEATERS by Jessica Hagedorn


It took me a long time to get to this review. I guess I have mixed feelings about the book. I can't help but feel I have to give it glowing praises because the author is Filipina. The writing is great; that's for sure. It's good writing by virtue of the author having the capability to turn on a movie (think Crash) in my head and letting me live the experiences of the characters. The characters, so many of them and so diverse, make the book engaging, fascinating, rich. More than a novel, it is a vignette of stories that may or may not be interrelated. A collage, according to the author, that mirrors the eclectic mix that is Manila. It is so non-linear that it took me a while to figure out that the narrative jumps to and from the 50s and 80s. (Headscratch moment) That was pretty dense of me because the 80s character, Joey Sands, was a DJ, which is just so disco era (insert stupid smiley here). The writing is gritty and the narrative incredibly well-paced.

The pacing, to me, is the double edged sword to this novel, the reason why I have mixed feelings about it. To make the reading thick and fast, the author had to rely on representations of Filipinos, representations easily recognized or related to by those who know the culture, representations that easily cross over to stereotypes; or are they more like caricatures? The pacing, because it makes you read fast, does not allow much time for savoring the characters and excavating the layers of suggested meanings that satirize Philippine society.

I suspect, and I can't say for sure since this is not my perspective, that the novel works well for the American reader who does not know much about the Philippines. This serves as a sampler, though hardly complete, of Philippine culture. And a quick history lesson, though dates and names have been fictionalized. It shows the hard edged side of Philippine society along with the quirky. To the non-Filipino, this can be a good appetizer to start learning more and going deeper into understanding our culture. A bit like how Joy Luck Club serves as a Chinese History for Dummies.

For me, it is realistic to a certain degree. The part where Joey Sands witnesses an assassination successfully brings me back to the political drama of the early 80s. Though I liked the non-linear approach to the story, I think depth has been sacrificed, and the book failed to reach me beyond the entertainment level. Or maybe it deserves a second, slower, deeper read.



A MAN OF THE PEOPLE by Chinua Achebe


I didn’t expect to like this one. Any plot that revolves around politics intimidates me. But I loved it.

This is probably the first African-authored book I’ve read, and I was afraid I would not be able to relate. But the stories of corruption, political violence, and citizens’ apathy hit so close to home.

In a scene where the narrator Odili goes incognito to attend the campaign rally of his political and personal opponent, he stands in the crowd, watches the people on the stage, and thinks to himself:

“What would happen if I were to push my way to the front and up the palm-leaf-festooned dais, wrench the microphone from the greasy hands of that blabbing buffoon and tell the whole people – this vast ontemptible crowd – that the great man they had come to hear with their drums and dancing was an Honourable Thief. But of course they knew that already. No single man and woman there that afternoon was stranger to that news… And because they all knew, if I were to march up to that dais now and announce it they would simply laugh at me and say: What a fool!”

Sounds familiar, huh?

Achebe’s prose is powerful in its simplicity. His fluid narration gives you just enough to capture the events and a smattering of the narrators’ thoughts. Points are not belabored. There is no attempt to pontificate, even when righteous anger at politicians’ injustices may call for it.

As my first Achebe, this inspires me to read more of his works.




Friday, November 7, 2008

JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte

I liked Jane Eyre, the book. And I loved Jane Eyre, the character. She is feisty, strong-willed, but not proud. She is forthright, loathing of hypocrisy but not mean. She endures the abuse of her nasty relatives and the despicable Mr. Brocklehurst without playing the helpless victim. She is intelligent, independent, and astute in judging others’ characters. She is not the conventionally pretty heroine. To say that she is more beautiful inside than she is outside is not being trite.

I can only wish I have her strength of character; I believe the colloquial term now is EQ. It would be hard to be so enamored with Mr. Rochester and still have the moral fortitude to choose to do what is right. But I won’t spoil the story for you because if you haven’t read it yet and would want to read a classic, I recommend this one. It was a bestseller during its time and was even considered a trashy romance by some critics. This may be a precursor to chick lit, with light-hearted British humor, but with weighty moral principles.

It’s funny how much I can admire and aspire to be a fictional character. But Charlotte Brontë has written this character so well that in the moments I was reading the book she seemed so real. The first person narration effectively gets the reader into Jane’s brain; this reader at least. I was so into Jane that when the schoolmaster embarrassed her in public, I felt the shame, the indignation. And I felt the frustration that I cannot do anything about it as being merely a reader in Brontë’s able writer hands. So into the story I got that at one point, when Jane received a marriage proposal from an unlikely suitor, I was shouting “No, Jane, No!”

Jane, as narrator, is convincing as a child and even more endearing as an adult. I fell in love with her character. Okay, okay, I was totally suckered into the drama of this book. To think I thought I didn’t like romance. Bah! Nothing wrong with (I’m sure it’s rather healthy) indulging the sappy romantic inside of us.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Blogarella

Whew! I've been busy moving posts from my multiply sites to blogspot. Am working on 2 other blogs aside from this one. Plus a googlesite, which I've just discovered today. I'm learning about things like gadgets and gizmos a-plenty and widgets and whatzits galore (try to get the song out of your mind now). In the past couple of days, I've met the blog doctor and learned about expandable posts, discovered the sitemeter, and have had to resurrect my rusty html skills. I'm overwhelmed. I need to shower. I need to sleep. But yes, like my friend and blogging guru ed predicted, I've been enjoying myself. But whew, the self promotion is a lot of work.

BLINK by Malcolm Gladwell


Blink is an easy, breezy, entertaining yet meaty read. To borrow a phrase from our book group, it's something to "cleanse the palate" after reading a lot of work-related books and novels with serious, heavy life themes. Gladwell sure knows how to present what could be boring research findings in a light, easy to digest manner devoid of pedantic verbiage.

Gladwell's writing strength lies in his ability to tell stories. He weaves about a dozen seemingly unrelated stories in seemingly random order to say the message: decision making need not always be over thought, over analyzed, over wrought. Sometimes all it takes is 2 seconds, a blink of an eye to arrive at an answer to a question, a solution to a dilemma.

Of course, it's not as simple as that. It does take a lifetime of skill and knowledge building for someone to get to that expert level where instinct is on the dot. We also have to watch out when initial impressions based on society's conditioning and stereotyping can cause us to judge people or circumstances erroneously.

I am not yet sure how I will use all the knowledge Gladwell poured into my head, but it was a fun way to learn about the world and "the power of thinking without thinking".

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

BALZAC AND THE LITTLE CHINESE SEAMSTRESS by Daj Sijie

I was trying not to like this book because it seemed formulaic designed to mesmerize gullible bibliophiles, bestseller hounds, and book-to-movie producers. This formula combines an irresistibly charming cover; an exotic location worthy of magical cinematography; a time setting beset with political events hushed down in history books; tinges of controversy, oppression, and conspiracy; coming of age subplots; youthful romance; the intrigue that comes out of the blurring of truth with the term semi-autobiographical; and the romanticizing of literature and books, banned books at that. I wanted to resist all that and say, “whatthefafaya, that book is all hype.”

I’m almost ashamed to admit the formula worked. I was suckered in and I just found myself loving the book. Charmed by the characters - two adventurous teenage boys exiled to the countryside to be "reeducated" during China’s Cultural Revolution; a beautiful seamstress who I imagined to look like a younger, even more virginal Zhang Ziyi; and a delightful mix of odd and amusing personalities; even the supposed bad guys were lovable. I loved the seamstress and was happy with the choice she made at the end. I was mesmerized by the setting. Spellbound by the short, simple, but engaging plot. Completely captivated by the romance of a book about books. Totally beguiled despite my attempt to resist the formula.

I haven’t seen the movie adaptation of the book, and it almost seems unnecessary. The movie in my mind is probably better. Of course, it’s a book that called out to be filmed. Its author, Dai Sijie, is himself a filmmaker. Reading it, one can imagine hazy, dreamy, soft-focus cinematography of towering mountains and breathtaking cliffs, with a magnificent soundtrack, especially during two of my favorite parts – one is of the two boys crossing the narrow and dangerous mountain passage and the other is of Luo and the seamstress cavorting in the river.

Of course, my favorite part is the account of how they got their hands on the banned books, and I’ll leave that to you to read and discover how.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Peter Moore's VROOM WITH A VIEW

Genre: Travel, Nonfiction
Author:Peter Moore

Traveling and reading are two of my favorite activities. So reading about traveling is up there in my fave things to do. It also inspires me to write about my travels, reminds me not to lose the opportunity to capture the experiences, emotions, and memories of the moment.

Back to this book. Peter Moore fulfills a childhood dream of going around Italy on a 40 year old Vespa on his 40th birthday. Fueled by images of Sophia Loren and Roman Holiday, and images of how cool he would look and feel, he got busy making his dream happen by purchasing a Vespa through ebay and then flying off to Milan to start his Italian holiday.

Peter straddles Sophia - yeah, that sounds pornish, but not if Sophia is his scooter's name. And he's off to an adventure without an agenda except to see Italy outside the confines of an enclosed vehicle. To feel the wind on his face and the sun on his skin and the little insects smashing against his chest. He meets interesting people, sees sights, and stays in off-the-beaten-track places he most likely would not find if he were traveling in a tour bus or any 4-wheeled vehicle.

His Sophia is an intrinsic part of his travels as her moods dictate how long they will stay in a particular place as different mechanics work out the issues of a 40-year-old Vespa. Everywhere, the Italians are drawn to Sophia and Peter's romantic story; many times he gets special treatment, freebies, and price cuts because people are charmed by his Vespa story.

Peter takes the reader through Milan, Lucca, Tuscany, Rome, and a host of little-known places, visiting wineries, festivals, staying at villas, hostel and farms, and a few times on the floor or the Vespa machine shop. How I wish there were pictures to go with the words, but Peter's narration sufficiently conjures visuals of the places, food, and characters in this lovely journey.

I love his description of buying provisions (bread, cheeses, wine, olives, ham, fruits) hanging his shopping bag on that built-in bag-holder hook that Vespa models have, and then eating anywhere he wants - in a piazza or a meadow or a ruined abbey. How I'd love to do that too.

Peter talks about how Benito Mussolini's lingering an extra day at Lake Como spelled his downfall and the author says that the beauty of the lake must have made it worth the pain. Driving a temperamental Vespa can sometimes be a painful process too, but obviously, it is well worth the pain.

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