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

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Run to MIBF! Because there is no such thing as too many books!

You, book nut, you, yes, you, you don't really need any convincing to go to MIBF 2011, right?

But just in case, you're still vacillating, here's my pitch:

This week, skip the caramel machiato and use that money to buy a book. Or two. Or more! What the hey, go splurge on books. You'll find huge discounts and an ocean of book choices at MIBF.

So that week after next, when you have money again to hang out at Starbucks, you can be reading (or pretending to read) a nice-looking trade paperback that will not just make you smarter but also make you look smarter while you're sipping that caramel machiato.

And I'm not just making you go so you can watch me speak about how you can start a book club at the first ever Filipino Reader Conference, okay? I mean I need the moral support and all, but really, just come.
And buy a lot of books! Because there is no such thing as too many books.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

ReaderCon Filipino Friday Week 3

Shucks! I guess I missed Week 2. Anyway, it's time for another:This week's discussion starter:

How hard or easy is it to be a book lover in the Philippines? What are some of your frustrations as a Filipino reader? And what are the positive aspects of being a reader in the Philippines?

My reply:
So yesterday, I was at Fullybooked in Greenbelt, looking for a copy of Woman in Black by Susan Hill, this month's book for our book club, Flips Flipping Pages. The customer service guy said in an accent I can't quite place in a look that tells you it's bad news, "We only have 2 copies--one is at Eastwood and one is at Marquee.

I tried to be a diva and asked if they could send the Eastwood copy to Greenbelt. (They once did that for me at Powerbooks; they sent a copy of a book from Greenbelt to Glorietta, and I felt like a really special customer.) The nice guy made a call to Eastwood, after which, the same bad-news expression appeared on his face. Somebody has bought the copy; probably a book club mate of mine. He said he could not contact Marquee, and I figured Pampanga was way too far for me to drive for a book.

Fully Booked can order it for me and it will get to me in 8 weeks. Powerbooks can give it to me sooner--5 to 6 weeks.

Both are not workable options. Our book club will meet in 4 weeks.

So, that's what's frustrating about being a book lover in the Philippines. The books are published so far away. They take too long to get here. And the bookstores only carry very few (6 or so) pieces of every SKU for books. Unless the book is Twilight, Harry Potter, or some other huge hit.

About Philippine published books, my issues are:
- uninteresting book covers (I do judge the book by its cover, among other factors.)
- poor quality paper
- rarely go on discount; the whole bookstore could be giving away books at 50% off, while the local books, if they are on sale at all, would only go for as low as 5% discount.

The positive aspects of being a Filipino reader is that English books are readily available. I lived in Vietnam for a few months, and that's when I appreciated Philippine bookstores.

The other positive aspect to living in the Philippines: slow, heavy traffic, which gives you time to read while waiting for the red light. :)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I Flip Pages. Bow.

I can't believe how extended this blogging drought has been. I do expect to come back to blogging eventually, but for now, being engaged in a career of words--of reading, writing, editing--makes flipping pages and blogging about it seem like work, rather than fun.

But anyway, I will come back here one blog at a time. And I'm glad there is this thing, this event that pushed me to blog today.

The first Filipino Reader Conference!

Readers of the Philippines unite and speak up on September 14, 2001, Wednesday, 1 to 6 PM.

ReaderCon Filipino brings together Pinoy book enthusiasts in a grand meet-up at The Manila International Book Fair at the SMX Mall of Asia Meeting Room 2. If you want to tell publishers and book purveyors what books you want to see more of, if you just want to be surrounded by books and book lovers, if you want to take your book reading experience to a

higher level, come join us!

To warm all of us up as we build up excitement for the event, there will be memes for readers, attending the conference or not, to participate in. The first one asks us to introduce ourselves as readers. So here's mine.

I am Gege C. Sugue, also known as islandhopper in www.shelfari.com, a site for people who love books so much they have to have a website to post their most recent reads, book purchases, and even the books we lust for. Shelfari is also the site where I met others like me who have an inordinate, illogical, uncontrollable love for books. Pinoy book lovers meet at the forum of the group called Flips Flipping Pages (FFP).

When I started FFP back in 2007, I was just trying to find people to chat with about books during my insomnia hours. I never expected that that group would grow in numbers. We now have 1,427 online members. About a hundred of them actively participate in the online discussions. Who knows how many lurkers there are. A few dozens actually meet face to face during monthly book discussions.

Our monthly book discussions show how diverse we are as readers. So every month, I find myself reading different genres. Without the group forcing me to expand my literary comfort zones, I'd probably stick to novels by my favorite authors Jose Saramago and Margaret Atwood. I'd probably never try sci-fi. I would steer clear of fantasy. And I would never ever read a science book just for fun. But being part of a book club introduces you to genres and authors you would not normally read.

But enough about my book club, which you can check out here.

Lately, I have been buying pages more than I flip them. This has caused major storage (and walking without peril) issues at home. But I do try. I have challenged myself to read 80 books this year. I am way behind, but I will not give up trying. I have 4 1/2 months left.

Aside from the authors above, I also love Gabriel Garcia Marquez and have come to love Haruki Murakami, but really there are still so many authors I have not tried, nor read enough of, so it would be difficult to come up with a definitive list of favorites. I like books that shock me, make me laugh out loud, bawl out in tears, gasp audibly, and stay awake at night just thinking about it. I also read a lot of non-fiction books to help me in my career as trainer slash trainer slash writer. My various interests--art, architecture, home decorating, food, travel, crafts, fashion, photography--are reflected on my bookshelves.

I am a rabid collector of books--I collect biographies, coffee table books, chronicle books, cookbooks! I have a growing collection of The Little Prince in various languages and formats.

I also collect bookmarks. I guess you can imagine now what I meant about storage problems.

Anyway, take a look at the reviews on this blog to have a better idea of my reading habits, preferences, and aversions.

See you at the ReaderCon!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Friday, April 8, 2011

9th Hour

So, let's face it. I'm not a power reader.

8 hours down. I've only finished one book. One that is filled with pictures.

And my second book has terribly small font.

And I'm going 3 pages per hour.

But I have:
gone to the washroom 3 times
fixed a cold cut platter that looked at first like it was enough to feed a small army, but actually didn't last very long
taken 158 photos,
handled the hourly book draw using random.org and distributed 7 prizes,
doodled a wedding cake,
and blogged 1.92 posts.

In the meantime, there are 10 of us left here at Libreria:
4 are sleeping
1 is playing Citiville
1 is actually reading, gasping at shocking developments at Sweet Valley High,
4 are doing a drink-a-thon and talking loudly like drunk people do
and 1 is revealing all this in this blog, and wondering at 5:46 AM about where to go for breakfast and how long I could last not taking a shower.

And I haven't slept a wink.

Watch out for the next update. XOXO

Sweeping Spider Webs

Spider web on my blog. Sweeping them aside. Surprise, it's still here!

And I'm back here because I'm in the FFP 24-Hour Readathon at Libreria, the greatest bookstore in the universe. And I'm doing everything other than actually read. So, I'm blogging.

This readathon is semi-connected to the Dewey 24-hour readathon. We're just doing ours 23 hours ahead to accommodate the Philippine time zone.

Will update more later. I have to start pretending to read. ;)

Monday, February 28, 2011

Mailbox Monday : Ogling a Fashion Icon

Marcia started Mailbox Monday a long time ago. She has since turned over its hosting to other hosts. This month's host is Library of Clean Reads. It's a good thing the book I'll feature in this post is wholesome and is "free of explicit sex, profanity, graphic violence and paranormal themes." ;)

"Mailbox Monday is a gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week and explore great book blogs. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles, and humongous wish lists."

Last week's mailbox delight did inspire my envy and longing when I saw it posted for sale or mooching by my current favorite book pusher, Andy B.

I mooched this for more than the usual one point for local mailing, but it was well worth it. It's a gorgeous book that I will be scanning every so often when I'm down and in need of visual pleasure. Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years showcases the gowns, dresses, and suits Jacqueline Kennedy wore while JFK was President.
Photos of individual pieces are juxtaposed with photos of the events when the pieces were worn. The former show the detail of the dresses, and the latter give context and story to the fashion.
It's a bit text heavy for me, because I'd like to just look at a lot more photos. But then again, when I have the time, I might be interested to read through the different essays that combine thoughts on fashion, style, politics, and personal history.
Jacqueline Kennedy is such a style icon that to admire her fashion seems so cliche. But when you go through this book, cliches will be the last thing on your mind. She was an original, a gem that no one can come close to replacing as the ultimate paragon of style. Her exterior style bespoke of the woman beneath the clothes -- elegant and intelligent. Every piece is gasp-inspiring, making me wish I lived in that era well before grunge was ever invented. My heart ached looking at all those gorgeous dresses.

Thank you, Andy B. for mailing this book to me. It was so well packed, I almost kept the books in the plastic wrap, as I sometimes do with my books. But the eagerness to see the photos inside the book won out.
Thank you, too, for the freebie!
By Manila standards, I'm writing this post a day late, but it's still Monday in some part of the world, so I still make the cut.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Seeing Double

The memory is the first to go.

That is based on my experience. That's why things like this happen.

During my bookshelf spring cleaning, I discovered I had two copies of Paul Auster's book, The New York Trilogy. And I remember on one (or more) one recent occasion staring at a copy of this book in some bookstore and thinking to myself, I'll buy that next time. Not knowing that two of its ilk lie dormant, unread, and largely ignored, gathering dust, occupying prime prime realty space in my very limited bookshelves.

And look at the dates of purchase. Just one month apart. Short term memory malfunction.

And this is not the first time it has happened.

This kind of mistake only happens to books. I don't think that will happen to clothes, shoes, bags. Because I buy them less frequently and will not likely forget a purchase.

We can chalk that up to old age. Some may call that a desperate, rabid greed for books. I'd like to think I'm compensating dead trees, that they have not died for naught. And rescuing Paul Auster's reputation by not allowing his books to linger in the discount bins.

Things like this are what keep my Bookmooch inventory alive.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I Flipped through John Fowles's Mantissa

F is for Fowles.
Backlog from 2010's A to Z Challenge
My copy:
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 0316290270
Read: April 1, 2010
195 pages

I pulled out this book from my TBB (To be Blogged) pile and stared at it perplexed, trying to retrieve from the faulty data base called my mind a memory of what this book is all about. So far removed is its story from my reality, that I did not connect enough with it to make it memorable.

But as I flipped through the pages trying to remember, I wondered to myself how I could have forgotten. This is the one of the strangest, most fantastic stories I've ever read. Not so much a story, but glimpses of the life of a writer -- the secret life of a frustrated, sick, maybe starving, maybe even sex-starved writer. And his muse.

A muse who is not your typical luminous feminine figure floating just above your head, dressed in a diaphanous Grecian gown demurely whispering prose suggestions, coaxing you out of writer's block.

No, this is a muse who barges into a room wearing a skimpy nurse's uniform ready for sexual cosplay, flirts, cockteases, insults, and fights. A muse who gets jealous. A muse who complains about being used, abused, and taken for granted. In her words:

"Her voice rises. Never a thought for her as a person, only for what can be got out of her. Never a moment's consideration for her emotions. Never enough imagination to realize that she may be secretly dying for a little tenderness and sympathy, that she's also a woman and can't help it if certain combinations of circumstance and mood do make her need the services of a male body in an entirely natural female way..."

The story is narrated by Miles Green, an author whose relationship with her muse can be described in present day phraseology as, "it's complicated." His muse, aside from being his muse, is also his lover, his sex slave, his doctor, his tormentor, his conscience, and many other things. My own memory is foggy as I blog about the book 2 months away from the anniversary of reading it, so I'll let Amazon summarize it for me:

"Most of the book is dialogue between Miles and Erato as he alternately romances and berates his muse, the essence of his creativity, and is repaid in kind. It's an animated metaphor for the process of writing, and many times the characters seem to know they are merely characters in a book. It begins in a hospital where Miles has just recovered, having lost his memory through some accident, but that scenario quickly ends as Erato takes on numerous personalities and attitudes in her interaction with Miles."

John Fowles writes with copious wit, intelligence, and sardonic humor. He seems like the kind of person you'd like to invite to dinner, and every minute will be filled with fascinating, clever banter. You don't get all his jokes, but you know they're funny.

It's not the kind of book you read while waiting for your turn in the bank. Not unless it's okay for you to endure the stares of people as you snicker, or even laugh out loud. The repartee between author and muse is extremely entertaining.

The downside is that there is a minimum IQ requirement for reading this book described by the front cover blurb as, "clever and wickedly funny." And mine falls slightly below the quota. There were spots where the literary allusions were all lost to me. But still, I did enjoy the read even though half of the time, I wasn't sure what he and his muse were talking about.

The book starts with this killer of a first sentence:

"It was conscious of a luminous and infinite haze, as if it were floating, godlike, alpha and omega, over a sea of vapor and looking down then less happily after an interval of obscure duration, or murmured sounds and peripheral shadows, which reduced the impression of boundless space and empire to something much more contracted and unaccommodating."And I knew right away, this book would require my complete attention and the use of more brain cells I'm used to using.

And though this is fiction so fantabulous, and the story supposedly happens only inside the narrator's schizophrenic head, I wonder how much of this is autobiographical. For how else could Fowles have come up with such wicked imaginings if he didn't enjoy the same kind of ever so slightly demented relationship with his own muse?

I highly recommend this book to writers. Though I said this story is so far removed from mine, I can relate to the frustration of writer's block so bad you go a bit crazy. At the very least, you'll be immensely entertained, albeit slightly disturbed or disgusted depending on your ability to handle prurience.

Monday, February 14, 2011

So, it's 2011. And My Reading Challenges are:

  • to read 80 books in total, averaging 250 pages per book - That's to prevent me from cheating all the time with picture books;
  • to read 26 authors I have not read before, with surnames from Z to A in that order;
  • to read at least 4 classics;
  • to read all assigned books for our book club discussions.
I'll be updating my progress in shelfari here.

I have no book buying restrictions. But I'm bracing for a no book buying year in 2012, when they say the world would end.

And I'll still try to have some kind of life outside books.

My A to Z Adventure - 2010, and a Backward Run for 2011

I don't know what came over me. I never figured myself to be a masochist. In fact, I fancy myself to be a lazy, underachieving, pleasure-loving creature of comfort, a lollygagging, navel-gazing lady of leisure, a spa-inhabiting sloth.

But last year, I decided to read 26 new authors; by new I mean I have not read them before. I did this to make a substantial dent on my TBR. To assuage my book-acquisition guilt. To finally read Theroux.

And if that was not hard enough, the authors' surnames had to start with the letters A to Z.

And for somebody who is so impulsive, so non-linear (I can't even click on my Farmville plots in order), the hardest part was reading them sequentially from A to Z.

I didn't do it alone. Some silly, sick, and probably sexlifeless people did it with me through a shelfari group page. These wonderful, over-achieveing people were probably the only reason I succeeded in completing the challenge. How embarrassing it would have been to have started a challenge that I would fail. What a good motivator shame is.

So, through this stupendously difficult challenge, I met:
Alvarez, Julia
Byatt, A.S.
Chabon, Michael
Roald Dahl
Enright, Anne
Fowles, John
Gaiman, Neil
Hoffman, Alice
Iyer, Pico
Jose, Sionil
Kerouac, Johnv
Le Guin, Ursula
Miller, Sue
Naipaul, V.S.
Oe, Kenzaburo
Picoult, Jodi
Quigley, Sarah
Rushdie, Salman
Sebold, Alice
Theroux, Paul
Updike, John
Vonnegut, Kurt
Weldon, Fay
Xiaolong, Qui
Yamanaka, Lois-Ann
Zola, Emile

And my reading life was made so much richer.

Insert fireworks here! I did it! I did it! This sloth did it!

As for blogging reviews, I only got as far as letter E, but that was not a requirement of the challenge, anyway. So, there! Stop looking at me as if I'm a failure!
Here's the Leaning Tower of Reviewable Books giving me something else to be guilty about, guilt being one of the inspiration behind this challenge. But I'm a recovering Catholic; I know how it was to deal with guilt. And I'm ignoring this one by starting on another challenge for 2011.

This time, I'm going backward. If you care to follow my Z to A adventure, track me here: http://www.shelfari.com/groups/48066/discussions/311471/Islandhoppers-2011-Z-to-A-

Hey you might even be silly/ masochistic/ demented/ jobless enough to join me. I promise you it won't always be fun, and there'll be times when you'll hate yourself for starting this, and you'll hate me for getting you into this. But you'll never hate reading and the discovery of new authors. And you're going to love the feeling of having succeeded in the A to Z challenge.

What Ever Happened to My 2010 Reading Plan?

Where did January go?

It's midway through February. So why am I still giving a report of my 2010 reading achievements. Because this blog is not the boss of me, and I write when I want to write, okay? *said assertively with arms crossed, eyebrows knitted together, mouth puckered in a pout."

I considered skipping this, but I don't think I can live with myself not tying up loose ends.

If you were already reading this blog at the start of last year, you may have read about my 10 point-reading plan for 2010.

I challenged myself to:
  1. read a total of 70 books this year
  2. complete the A to Z challenge
  3. read at least 6 classics, guided by Italo Calvino's Why Read the Classics
  4. read all FFP book discussion assignments
  5. read at least 2 books on writing (Margaret Atwood's, Stephen King's, etc.)
  6. read at least 5 travel/ travel writing books
  7. finally read 100 Years of Solitude
  8. read at least 3 biographies
  9. blog at least 50 posts here, and
  10. read the bible slowly, more deeply studying it book by book
So, how did I do? I:
  1. read a total of 70 books this year - check
  2. completed the A to Z challenge - check
  3. did not read at least 6 classics, guided by Italo Calvino's Why Read the Classics - fail
  4. read all FFP book discussion assignments - check, except for Carrie, which was our inspiration for our Bloody Prom Christmas party, but we didn't have to read that.
  5. did not read at least 2 books on writing (Margaret Atwood's, Stephen King's, etc.) - fail; got to read Stephen King's On Writing January 2011.
  6. read at least 5 travel/ travel writing books - check, but this was unintentional, it turns out I got to read travel related books as listed below, and Peter Mayle's Chasing Cezanne, though it was fiction, had me chasing Chezanne all over France and England, so that qualifies. So check!
  7. did not finally read 100 Years of Solitude - epic fail; i did not even come near the book.
  8. read at least 3 biographies - check
  9. did not blog at least 50 posts here - fail; I eked out 36.
  10. read the bible slowly (too slowly), BUT NOT deeply studying it book by book and not frequently. - fail
What would classify as travel reads for item 6:
My Life in France by Julia Child
Chasing Cezanne by Peter Mayle
Falling Off the Map by Pico Iyer
On the Road by Jack Kerouac

My Life in France by Julia Child
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Books from the Museum

One weekday in January, my friend Raymund and I met for a post-holiday lunch at Felix in Greenbelt 5. Dessert followed at Kaffe Ti Amo.

We had time to burn that lazy afternoon, so we decided to pop in at the Ayala Museum, where they were having an exhibit of portraits by Onib Olmedo, one of my favorite artists.

This post goes to show that a bookaholic need not go inside a bookstore to get some books. Here's my stash.

While I'm still saving up for an Onib, I have this book to give me eye candy. Though this book is mainly a catalog of the works displayed in the exhibit, it also paints a portrait of the artist as depicted by his wife and two daughters. I was elated looking at his works; his paintings are not pretty, but they are full of personality. It's sad that the artist is no longer alive to create more pieces.

Fernando Zobel's painting The Kite serves as cover art and inspiration to this children's book written by Carla M. Pacis and illustrated by Robert Alejandro. I enjoyed the read and the art.

I always get one or two bookmarks whenever I drop by the Ayala Museum gift shop. This time I got three. The design with a lady and her shawl is from a painting by Juan Luna. And the hat in the picture is from a 19th century collection of Philippine fashion. I actually bought the bookmark at the upper left thinking it was a gift tag. Turns out it was a cute magnetic bookmark that will go to my growing bookmark collection.
Museum. Books. Bookmarks. Love.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Searching for Rhyme

February is poetry month for the Flippers.

On February 12, we will discuss Pablo Neruda's Cien Sonetos de Amor (One Hundred Sonnets of Love). I'm disappointed that I'm going to miss this because of an important family affair. Not because I like poetry, but because I need to know more about it. I need something like a poetry appreciation course. Because I'm clueless.

Poems baffle me. I don't know how to tell a good one from a bad one.

The picture shows my paltry poetry collection, a teeny weeny fraction of my ginourmous collection of books.

I was staring at it this afternoon, trying to figure out where to start -- Rilke? Rosetti? Garcia Villa? I have no idea. Eenie, meenie, miny, moe.

Anyway, join us in our online discussion. It's not just about Neruda. It's about poetry in general. It's for those who love, hate, get, don't get, read, don't read poetry.

Monday, January 31, 2011

I Flipped the Pages of Nick Joaquin’s Candido’s Apocalypse

Borrowed copy:
Mass Market Paperback with Newsprint Pages
ISBN: 978-971-27-24169
Read: January 2011
83 pages


I was born in the late 60s, which means that I was too young to have truly lived the psychedelia that was the 70s. Sideburns, combos (live bands), and all those mind altering drugs. This book gives me a sneak peek at those groovy years I missed out on.

What I found most amusing was what was then considered “society.” Now, we say posh or “sosyal.” Back then, it was society for parents to name their male kids Willie, Boy, or Rene and their girls Susie, Margie, or Tess as opposed to picking saintly names from calendars.

Bobby, the name of the book's main character, was also considered a society name. Bobby Heredia is a teenager. The adults in this book seem to think that the whole teenage concept is a fairly newfangled thing. And Bobby's generation of teenagers is a generation more troubled, more complicated, more jaded.

The teenagers of the 70s were as concerned about being cool as today’s teens. To be graded uncool back then would be called “overacting” or “OA.” Like “scooters were fun, but motorcycles were overacting, especially if you dressed up for it in goggles and helmet and black leather jacket.” “Pants should be tight, but skintight pants were overacting.” Back then, it was cool to use street corner language like “diahe” and “tepok,” and it was overacting to use American idioms like “get lost” or “dig.” Also considered overacting were wearing red, drinking scotch on the rocks, dancing the twist, going to Baguio in summer, and drag-racing on Dewey. And Pompoy Morel, Bobby's enemy, exemplified all that was overacting.

Bobby hates everything that is overacting. He scorns hypocrisy, and as he starts looking for what is true and honest among all the fake people around him, he develops the ability to see beyond people’s layers, beneath their pretenses. First, he starts seeing people stripped off of their clothes, revealing all the ugly, filthy things they hide. Maybe I'm being obtuse because I don't want to spoil it for you. But what I'm saying is that he starts seeing naked people. And not in a fun way. Then, he starts seeing even deeper inside to their bare bones.

This magical ability, all that he sees, trouble him and cause him to run away from home and to act strangely and violently, especially towards Pompoy Morel. Eventually, he realizes how judgmental and self righteous he has been. He learns the lessons that help him to be more forgiving, more accepting. But I'm revealing too much now.

I found the ending and its explanation of the message a bit too spoon-fed. Though it, at least, confirms that I got the story and its message, I wish it had left more space for the readers to interpret the story differently.

Nick Joaquin is obviously a great, a gifted writer. But I'm not yet in love with him, even though I feel the pressure to be reverent of a National Artist. From what I've read so far (Woman with Two Navels, read ages ago, and this) I am intrigued to discover more.

Candido’s Apocalypse was first published in 1972 as part of Tropical Gothic, a copy of which is yellowing in my shelf. This book has convinced me to include Tropical Gothic in my 2011 TBR.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Best Read for 2010

And my favorite read for 2010 is (drummmmrrrrrrooooooollll) Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games Trilogy.

Though I said in my previous post that my choice is somewhat predictable, it actually came as a surprise to me that this emerged as my best read for the year.

First off, I am not particularly fond of the YA genre. I don't dislike it, but sometimes, YA makes me feel old, mocking me, reminding me how the young adult experience is so far removed from my current midlife status. It makes me a little sad that it seems ages since I came of age. So, I usually end up reading stories that resonate more with the soccer mom within me. Secondly, I don't like war themes. I am of the school of thought of the 1980s era philosopher Boy George who averred that war is stupid. It is.

So it is surprising that this is my choice.

I also didn't want to choose this because it was such a commercial hit, and I would have preferred to impress others with something more esoteric so I would seem deep and offbeat. But, when I looked at my list of reads, the trilogy really was the one that made the biggest impact on me.


This was my review of the trilogy, which would explain what the book made me feel. But several months after reading the books, I saw something different in my reading experience that propelled the set to my number one spot. It really goes beyond the book itself, beyond whether the book is likable or not, well written or not.

Sometime last year, I spoke at a digital publishing conference, Future of the Book. There, I shared my online book club experience, and I talked about how the usual solitary activity of reading has been transformed by digitalization into a shared reading experience, one that involved multiple media and an all-star cast of readers, one that transported the reader out of the armchair into a more social, kinetic, sensory milieu. And my experience with the trilogy perfectly illustrates that phenomenon.

The experience started with Hunger Games, the first of the series. Discussion boards were abuzz with readers' reactions to the book. It was violent. It was exciting. It was incredible. A breath-stopping page-turner. And people could not wait for the sequel. I succumbed to the social pressure, so I borrowed my niece's copy and read it. And I was suckered like everybody else. Suzanne Collins is a skilled writer who can make you flip pages furiously.

Then, our book club discussed the book. A lot of movies and comedy shows parody book club meetings as events where boring, bored, lonely housewives sit in a sea of chintz as they sip hot tea and eat soggy cucumber sandwiches. Our book club is so not like that.

The Hunger Games discussion was preceded by a paintball fight. I didn't join because I hate wearing those uniforms awash with other people's sweat, but I know that the other Flippers had tons of sweaty fun and were energized for the discussion. Flipper and book blogger Peter (rhyming) lead the discussion at R.O.X. at Bonifacio High Street. Not your usual reading group venue. The discussion was lively, and the quiz game and the prizes by Scholastic made it even more exciting.

Can you see what I mean about turning reading into a shared event?

It didn't end there. In August, Scholastic launched the last book of the series, Mockingjay, in an event that included Live Action Role Playing (LARP) games and all the usual product launch gimmicks -- themed cocktails, tattoo booths, a photo wall. Plus the not so usual -- some bloodshed. Scholastic invited Flips Flipping Pages to participate in the discussion, and I was so thrilled to see our logo co-branded in the promotional tarpaulin. And even though at that time I had not yet read Catching Fire and Mockingjay, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Not content with all that, our book club also conducted an unofficial discussion on the trilogy. I forced myself to read books two and three in 2 days, so that I could participate.
A lot of people were disappointed with Mockingjay. And I definitely agree with most of their arguments about why it sucked. Like some of the haters, I also was not happy about how much time Katniss spent sleeping, hiding in closets, and being a lame prop. But, because I read the two books as if they're one, book two's exciting parts made up for book three's more lethargic segments. Plus, I particularly enjoyed the last parts of Mockingjay when the ragtag team of warriors stormed the Capitol. I thought that was packed with excitement that created stunning cinematography in the movie in my mind. Those parts compensated for the book's bad parts.

The part I remember best was when little parachutes fell from the skies; this segment left a vivid imprint in my highly charged imagination. It was also the part I hated the most because it involved the death of a character I didn't want to die.

I finished the book, breathless and emotionally drained. Because of the many negative reactions to Mockingjay, I first could not decide if I liked the book or not. But as I drove to the discussion and processed my shock, anger, and imagined loss, I decided that I really liked the read.

Flipper Jan Ruiz led the discussion by asking thought provoking questions and dazzling us with fabulous slide transitions. And even after the live discussion, she carried the discussion online, so that those who were absent could participate.

Fast forward to last weekend. I finally bought my own boxed set of the trilogy a few hours before our discussion of our Best and Worst reads of 2010. National Book Store even gave me a leather bookmark as a freebie. And I shared with the 35 or so readers present why the Hunger Games trilogy was 2010's best read. That rounds up my Hunger Games experience.

Anyway, my point for all of the above is that reading Hunger Games went beyond just reading the book. It was an experience that lasted for months and involved social interaction, a reading experience I would remember for a long time.

My last point. I only had a minute to share my best book choice, so I only focused on the book's commercial success. I said that it pleases me when authors earn rock star pay for their efforts to keep the reading industry alive and assure us that there will always be new generations of avid readers. It's true. It's utterly unfair when writers are starving and only those with movie star looks and athletic talent can rake in the millions. So, when authors break through and get richly rewarded for their dedication to their craft, I want to cheer them on.

Kudos to Scholastic for hyping this book, for competing with all the media noise dominated by soda brands and skin whitening products, and promoting books so that more people would read. Kudos to Suzanne Collins for writing with the readers in mind while still staying true to her vision for the book. And kudos to readers, whether or not they liked the Hunger Games trilogy, for preserving the wonderful art, sport, and passion that is reading.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

2010's Best

One of the traditions that our book club, Flips Flipping Pages, has developed is to start the year sharing with each other our best and worst reads of the previous year.

For this bunch of book addicts, this provides yet another excuse to go out there and buy more books. "This was Blooey's/Honey's/Mich's favorite read last year; I've got to have it too."

On the other hand, knowing other people's worst reads is a good way to steer clear of the duds, no matter how cheap they're selling them in Booksale. And if we already have the duds in our possession, we can at least take those items from our towering TBRs and transfer them to our bookmooch inventory.

But then again, the group is so diverse that one person's dud could be some other person's all time favorite. Brave New World, anyone?

We will meet and discuss our best and worst this Saturday, January 22, at the best bookstore in the planet, Libreria at Cubao X. So, the past few days I've been pressuring myself to go through the list of books that I read in 2010 and make my choices.

My choice for worst book was easy. I knew that right after I read the book's last few pages.

Choosing the best was a lot tougher. Sometimes, it's a tough choice because I have to choose among top faves, books I really fell in love with. But this year, it was tough because nothing stood out and screamed 2010's finest. Don't ask me to explain why that is. It just is.

I first made a shortlist. Though I have already chosen my best read for 2010, I will only share with you my shortlist for now.

I tried not to over think my choices; I went through my list of 71 and quickly chose 10 to 12 books that I liked. I did not include re-reads, e.g. Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind, which I already included in 2008's top ten. So, here they are, in order of reading chronology, my best reads for 2010.
  1. The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
  2. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
  3. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
  4. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
  5. Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman
  6. My Life in France by Julia Child
  7. Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland
  8. Falling Off the Map by Pico Iyer
  9. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  10. Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
  11. Blu's Hanging by Lois-Ann Yamanaka
  12. The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
I am not 100% confident that this is my final short list, but hey, this is not a life and death choice, and once I (if I ever do) work on the backlog of my reviews, maybe I'll discover I've missed out on one and I'll change my mind.

Can you guess my bestest read for 2010? It's actually quite predictable. As usual, I ended up choosing not the best written, not the most well loved by others, but the one that I connected to best on a personal level. I'm not keeping you in suspense because it's actually a predictable choice. But I'm giving myself a couple of days to keep it under wraps in case I change my mind.

What are your best and worst reads of 2010?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I Flipped through Alice Sebold's Lovely Bones

My copy:

Trade Paperback
ISBN: 0316168815
Read: November 23, 2010
328 pages
Book S for the A to Z challenge

I read this book for last year's A to Z Challenge. There were a number of S authors on my TBR, but I chose this because I've read some pretty good things about it. Plus there's a movie that I could watch right after reading the book. Now, I think I'll wait a while before I watch that film, to give me time to forget the book and the unpleasant memory it left behind.

Forgetting the book might be hard to do, though, because I've just selected it as my worst read for 2010.

The book begins with incredible promise.

"My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered..."

Whoa! Wait a minute, murdered? What a hook. Wapow! An entry that hits you on the face. It makes you do a double turn. The dead narrating from the other side. How intriguing is that? Alice Sebold is genius.

And the next few chapters pull out your guts, and in my case, pry open the tear ducts. Sebold poignantly narrates the anguish of a family that first goes through the disappearance of a child -- the uncertainty, the false hope, the torture, and the blame.

And Susie Salmon, her whole life ahead of her when her murderer raped and killed her, wanders around in some spiritual limbo as she watches her family deal with everything that follows her death. Her killer remains at large, and she can't communicate with her family to help them find some kind of justice and closure.

I was completely drawn into the family drama and felt their pain as if it were real, as if it were mine. I was liking this book for how intensely sad, shocked, and angered it made me feel. I was crying in bed, lamenting evil, and mourning for life and innocence lost. Those who know me know that sometimes, getting me to cry can automatically get a book into my fave list. At any rate, Lovely Bones started remarkably well for me, and I was eager to continue.

Eventually, I stopped crying. And got hopelessly lost in the limbo that this book was.

Susie watches her family sometimes from up close, so close that her youngest brother can see her.

Sometimes she watches from Sebold's fictional heaven, one where there are levels to get through before one can finally be at peace. And I guess that's where this book starts losing steam for me. My theology of how heaven is like usually gets in the way whenever somebody tries to paint a non-biblical picture of it. I recognize literary license, but I cannot help losing that suspension of judgment and disbelief. But then, I recognize that that's my problem, not the book's. And if the writing is spellbinding enough, then I get over myself and allow myself to get back into the story. In this case, the spell was broken, and the writing failed to get me back.

The remarkable beginning is followed by a middle that gets heavily involved in the minutiae of their lives, with Susie observing in the sidelines, feeling cheated of the life she should have had. I know that there could be something beautiful in the ordinary, but this one just proved tiresome. And I found myself bearing with the middle part, hoping the ending would be better.

The ending is what really made this my worst book of the year. Forgive me for all the spoilers that are about to follow.

In the end, the murderer never ever faced justice; he did not suffer, nor paid restitution in any way. He just died because an icicle hit his head. Susie's father, Jack, did not get any closure, and on top of that, had to deal with the loss of a wife. His wife Abigail, discombobulated by the loss of Susie, for whom she sacrificed her career, ran away to find herself, only to end up as a waitress in a winery. They never even had a proper divorce, and Sebold just left the fate of their relationship hanging. The youngest brother, Buck, just ate a lot and became a mother-hating fat boy. Lindsey, the middle sister who lived in the shadow of her sister's life and death, lived a lackluster, under-achieving life; her happy ending was marrying her boyfriend right after they got out of college. If there's any consolation, it's Susie's alcoholic grandmother Lynn, who, at least, found peace and a positive life change.

Many years after her death, Susie had the chance to occupy the body of a girl named Ruth for a few hours. You would think that this would be her chance to reveal her killer's name; they were so close to a pit that contained evidence the police can use to find and accuse her killer. You would think she would use that opportunity to bring her family, especially her father, some peace and closure, say something to make her broken family feel better and move on. But no, she uses that precious time to have sex with her crush. Because of all the things that she missed out on due to her unfairly abbreviated life, it's really sex that she felt the most regret for? Really! And she uses another woman's body to make that happen. Really! To hell with her father, whose life will forever be empty. Never mind the other past and future victims of her killer. Never mind that she violated Ruth's body without her permission. She just wants to have sex because at 14, she didn't get the chance to do it. Can you see now why I think this is my worst read for 2010?

Now, you see, I was not hoping for a happy ending. But the back blurb did promise a tale filled with "hope, humor, suspense, even joy." Let's assume for a moment that I was not naive enough to believe that blurb, but I think it's fair to expect some kind of resolution at the end, for at least the major characters to find some meaning through their pain, for the pain of reading through this book to be worth it. Is that too much to ask? I don't mind sad endings, but I expect the author to do some tying up of loose ends. To me, it seems that Alice Sebold built up a fantastic framework for a fantastic story but in the end, she left a messy pile of not-so-lovely bones.

And that's why this is my worst read or 2010.


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