Sunday, April 6, 2014

Review: A Long Way Down

Review: A Long Way Down
Author: Nick Hornby
Genre: Humor, Contemporary
My Rating: ★★★ (3 of 5 stars)

ALWD Photo by Andy Diluvian

At every tail-end of a published book about suicide—or an attempt to commit it—is a potential for controversy. Authors know that; the bravest ones refuse to pull punches and went on telling their stories the way they know how, steeling themselves for the future salvo of questions and accusations. They are willing to risk being pulled out of shelves later if it meant they would get their tales told first.

Nick Hornby emerged as one of these writers, but of an unconventional kind. In his book A Long Way Down, he relays the accounts of not only one, not even two, but four people about to commit suicide. And he finds that the best way to decline treading on eggshells for anyone is to shower his book with a dry, black humor.

A Long Way Down follows the story of four strangers who met atop a London building and ended up foiling each other’s plans to plunge to their own deaths. They are Martin, an ex-TV presenter who has “pissed away his life away” by sleeping with a minor; Maureen, a fraught single mother taking care of her disabled child; Jess, a stroppy teenager who was left by her boyfriend (and sister); and JJ, an ex-rock god who feels like a failure-on-two-shoes. They “postponed” their plans after a few heated arguments and some cold pizza slices. But would their unlikely alliance be reason enough to stop them from retrying to take their own lives?
Unless you are someone who gets fascinated by hearing other people’s tales of personal anguish, this book’s gist didn’t sound appealing at all. But Hornby’s deft hands made it so that his story would work, and it did nicely, with a number of brilliant, unforgettable moments in it.

The thing I liked the best in this book is how Hornby executed his fourfold delineation of the characters’ voices. The narrators are so different in a way that not even some misery-loves-company magic would be able to bind them together. Hornby spoke effectively through their mouths like they’re honest, live people—so real-like, in fact, that they did not click easily together as friends even after meeting the way they did. Hornby didn’t detour to the formulaic “we’re going to be friends and everything is going to be all right” road, because he did not intend the novel to become a self-possessed echo of a self-help book.  Even though he can pull these people together to sew up some semblance of miraculous hope, he did not, and just let them be their own individuals. 

JJ is an instant favorite of mine. It’s not only because his issues are very relatable (they hit so close to home at the time I read the book) but also because he’s four-dimensionally human enough to feel shame about how “shallow” his problems are compared to others’.  He’s so embarrassed that he fabricated an incurable disease from the initials of his favorite band as his reason to commit suicide. Does being a failure in something you consider your “everything” equate to your life suddenly becoming disposable? Does it really mean it’s the end? Does it mean you can’t start again? The fact that Hornby didn’t need cheese to touch this issue is laudable.

It is quite noticeable how the story didn’t dig too deep about the common issues surrounding suicide, like how the usual novel about it would. What Hornby tackled is more about lifestyles and the human condition.
The storyline is as non-linear as it could get with four different people telling it. The common things your book report format will ask you for will not be easy to find, so if you are looking for a fast-paced story with clear climaxes and resolutions, this book will be a difficult read. 

I myself would admit that I had a hard time with some parts I call the “troughs streak” because they didn’t seem to get anywhere for a long while. The story then just seemed to drag, and when it happens you sometimes get tired to care about the characters, even if you like them well in the beginning. Your interest just starts waning. Fortunately, the streak did break at some point and I began enjoying the rest of the story again, until the (open) end.

For the record, the book has been translated into the big screen and the movie’s currently showing in cinemas. I don’t know how to feel about the “major recalibrations” they’ve obviously done to the source material (thanks, trailer), but I won’t react yet since I haven’t seen the whole picture yet. :)

Britophile’d: The Great British Festival

Crowds of smitten-by-Britain hearts—including mine and my friend Jo’s—managed to get a little taste of London-esque cloud nine during The Great British Festival at the Bonifacio High Street, Taguig City last March 8.

The festival consisted of trade fairs, a pop-up theatre troupe, musical performances of British-inspired local bands, fashion shows, cultural dances, sports lessons, and a Cinema at the Park. It ran for three days (March 7-9) and I attended for only one, but the stuff (both free and purse-emptying), the memories, and the nuggets of wisdom I pocketed home are more than enough! Here are bits and pieces of  my Very British Saturday:

Mini Ben

Mahomet can’t come to the mountain so the British embassy brought the mountain to Mahomet: UK in Miniature! (I’ll word my own proverbs, thank you very much.) The default response for miniature exhibits, of course, is a long queue of festival-goers waiting for their turn to take selfies. Here’s my first photo-op with the Big Mini Ben. Technically it’s part of a sponsor’s stall and not of the exhibit, but we like to pretend. :p


x

If there’s a legit UK Tourist Photo-Op Commandments booklet in existence (I mean come on, books more ridiculous than this get published everyday), I won’t be surprised if one of its top items would be: “Thou shalt not miss a chance to take your picture with/in the iconic red phone box.” Let’s just say I’m “obedient”. Special thanks to Lee Cooper for this cute kiosk, since it’s the only one in the festival than can be opened. People never left the area until the storeowners put a chain around it at the end of the day.

I sort of wished there’d been a TARDIS though.


I didn't break the balcony!
Anyway, we hopped to another area and saw this…part of the Balmoral Castle. I think it’s better if they brought the whole thing and not just the clock tower, but hey, the event’s free. I should stop throwing my beefs around. But I’d just like to say I didn’t break the styrofoam balcony railings there…


Jozilla Firefox
…Jo probably did. I kid, I kid! But I’m still calling this picture “Jo-zilla” because it’s cute and perfect.


TALL HOBBITS


with Apple

Then off we went to pseudo-Wiltshire, England, Taguig, to the Hobbits’ version of the Stonehenge. I was surprised to bump into Apple, one of the former interns of the magazine I worked for last year. We chitchatted for a while and I introduced her to Jo before doing what we should be doing there, which was to take pictures. Written on that paper she was holding was “Happy Now?”, a reference to Danny Wallace’s book called Yes Man. I’m happy to see her well, and I’m secretly thankful she made an unintentional book recommendation to me with that sign. :)

Tea-licious

And then we came to my favorite stall. Everyone knows any British event is not British enough if it doesn’t have tea…also known as the reason why 3/4 the contents of my wallet vanished into thin air that day. The Twinings booth was replete with everything that could bring a smile to my face. At first I was eyeing the phone box canister you can acquire by buying two flavors, but I spotted a very classy caddie that I instantly fell in love with. Without any second thoughts, I bought it along with a box of Earl Grey and of  Apple + Cinnamon + Raisins tea. Jo on Sunday got herself the canister, along with boxes of White Tea and Strawberry + Mango tea.

Drinking iced tea from our paper cups, we strolled on the cobbled streets and stopped on booths that interested us. One of these is the Chevening Scholarship stall at the Education Pavilion.


BritSchool

It is no secret that I, Jo, and Kit (who unfortunately couldn’t join us because she had to be in Cebu for a cousin’s wedding), plan on going to UK to study. Miss Anna, the scholarships and digital diplomacy officer manning the booth, invited us to sit with a scholar to talk about what it is really like to experience UK education under their scholarship. And so we chatted with Sir Alex, a lawyer and a Chevening alumni.
Remember the “nuggets of wisdom” part I mentioned at the beginning of this entry? I wasn’t just talking about useless trivia and whatnot. I’m talking about eye-opening truths, about things that can make us realize it’s okay to slow down if ever we’re zipping by lightning-fast with our lives.

This deserves an entry of its own but in a nutshell, Sir Alex told us there’s no need to hurry. He said we’re young ; we have lots of years to do what we need to get where want to. The thing with this scholarship or with any masteral degree class is that you have to have something that can make you stand out. We have to build up, to fatten up our portfolios. The Chevening grant is usually given to those who have proven something, like people who have already published books or created a good documentary or film. Needless to say, it is common for students to have bunches of rewards and titles under their belts before they grow the cojones to apply. He reiterated that timing is everything. He didn’t put it into words, but I know he was not in favor of our decision to apply as soon as possible.

I’ll save more of my thoughts on this for another post, but I’ll say we’ve dropped the speed meter a few notches now, focusing on what he advised us.

“Chevening’s going to be here forever,” he even quipped. “No need to hurry.”


cinema at the park

After the sobering talk, we went to the Cinema at the Park and watched what was left of the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone movie when we slumped on the grass.  We munched on the meatpies Mrs.Lovett Miss Anna has given us, trading a few inevitable remarks about our chat with Sir Alex.

Pop-up Theatre with Mini Kit

The sun was setting when we caught up with the pop-up theatre troupe…after they have performed their skit. Lucky us, eh? I only managed to snap a picture of this scene, where the cast fawned over a cute kid that looked a lot like Kit (peace! But it’s the truth!). Jo told me she got to watch their skit the next day. It’s a a part of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and that’s Claudio, Hero, Benedick, and Beatrice.


Nessy and the Humans

Nessy, of course, was there too. We know we wouldn’t win against the kids, but Jo still tried to take photo with the lovable monster. She did get one, but…

camshy
…yeah. Nessy’s camera-shy. :)

Rolls Royce-horz

Mini Pacman

And then we have these cars. If they’re not what you call ultra-sexy I don’t know what is. Can you see that? The Jaguar? That freaking Rolls Royce? They’re so hot they inspire our inner wacky criminals, as I and Joanna joked we’d hotwire them if we could. :p

F1 Simulation

Speaking of cars, they’ve got an F1 simulator too. There’s a long queue on Saturday night; Jo had signed up then, but since the stall’s going to close at 8:00PM, we decided that she take her turn on Sunday instead. It looked fun!

soccer02

Near the miniature Tower Bridge at the entrance, there’s a small “arena” built for the sports enthusiasts at the event. Philippine Azkals players Phil and James Younghusband held Football drills Saturday morning while the Philippine Volcanoes held Rugby drills Sunday morning.

02
look up at the moon
We ate at Slappycakes, SM Aura and went back to the event to take a few more photos. Aside from getting chummy-ish with a Big(ger) Ben, we also found our gateway to Gaiman’s London Below! MIND THE GAP, bubs! As for that Buckingham one, I know I just have to include it. They’re so adorable, looking up and wondering about the moon like that!. :)

For a few more minutes we stayed to listen to the band She’s Only Sixteen before taking off to catch the bus going to Buendia. It was an exhausting but fun day, and both of us are already stoked for the next festival—which we’re praying they will still hold in 2015.

__
Jo will be posting her three-day British experience at her blog: discordantadventures.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

On My (Oz-sessed) Radar: Dorothy Must Die

There can never be too many back stories, dark-themed retellings, or complex revisionist reboots of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

At least to me. Admittedly I’m still reeling from a post-Wicked: The Musical hangover, and I can’t help but scour the ‘Net for spin-offs or books that the L. F. Baum classic spawned. Minus the rest of  Gregory Maguire’s Wicked Years books that I haven’t picked up yet, I’ve found a new series that I found interesting:


Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige
Dorothy Must Die
by Danielle Paige

“…Sure, I've read the books. I've seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little blue birds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can't be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There's still the yellow brick road, though—but even that's crumbling.

What happened? Dorothy. They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe.

My name is Amy Gumm—and I'm the other girl from Kansas…”
 
_______


No Place Like OzNoPlaceLikeOz
by Danielle Page, Dorothy Must Die 0.5

Dorothy clicked her heels three times and returned to Kansas. The end . . . or was it? Although she's happy to be home with Aunt Em, Dorothy has regretted her decision to leave Oz ever since. So when a mysterious gift arrives at her doorstep on her sixteenth birthday, Dorothy jumps at the chance to return to the glittering city that made her a star.

Setting off for the Emerald City, Dorothy is eager to be reunited with her friends: the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion. But she soon discovers that in the time she's been gone, Oz has changed—and Dorothy has, too. This time, the yellow brick road leads her down a very different path. And before her journey is through, Dorothy will find that the line between wicked and good has become so blurred she's not sure which side of it she's on.
_______

Dorothy Must Die is released this April while No Place Like Oz, its digital prequel, is available online.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The ‘Wickedest’ Night There Ever Was

A chance to tick off an item in your bucket list is guaranteed to transform one ordinary day into a string of spectacular moments. That’s pretty much what I and my other Oz-sessed friends felt about February 16, as it ended our almost seven-year wait to see the megamusical Wicked.

We didn’t book a flight to New York (or get a tornado ride that requires witch casualties as unofficial entrance and exit fees), but having the Cultural Center of the Philippines as the musical’s home here didn’t diminish the magic of that night. Those couple of hours still proved that over-the-rainbow dreams of Kansas farm girls aren’t the only ones that come true. :)

Wicked Airiz Almost didn’t want to click my heels thrice after the musical.
Photo by Kit Andaya

One short night in the Emerald City


As [semi-broke] students in 2007, we could only hitch “free rides” to Oz via torrents and YouTube. We were okay with bootlegs; it was through them that we got our first glimpse of the musical adaptation of Gregory Maguire's Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. We busied ourselves knowing the songs, checking out the source materials, and admiring the beauty of Broadway productions in general.

emeraldcity185  
The original Broadway cast performing “One Short Day”

I think the main reason I love Wicked is that I’m nuts about retellings and revisionist takes on classics. There are major flops in the genre now, but my pop culture meter is saying bedtime story revisionism is still the new black: we’ve got a Cinderella sci-fi’ed into a foot-less cyborg, an Alice who slaughtered a Wonderland behemoth, and even a Sleeping Beauty in a BDSM camp (I’m serious! Look up Anne Rice’s SB trilogy).

And then there’s Wicked. It reveals the “untold” story of the Witch of the West from L. F. Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, through Gregory Maguire’s revisionist Wicked Years series. The tale comes to life onstage with the  music and lyrics of Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman. We have always dreamed to see Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth play Elphaba and Glinda respectively, but I have to say Jemma Rix’s and Suzie Mathers’ performances were also nothing short of sterling.

 Wicked Popular 
Jemma Rix (Elphaba)  and Suzie Mathers (Glinda) in “Popular”
Photo courtesy of Lunchbox Theatrical Productions

Fiyero-WICKED Steve Danielsen (Fiyero) in “Dancing Through Life”.  Photo by Chriselle Fajardo.

We were reduced to gushes, goose bumps, and guffaws the moment the show started. The main twosome was great, but they weren’t the only ones that shone. Jay Laga’aia was spot-on as the Wizard as he was able to show both the character’s insatiable desire for power and paternal soul. The talented (and really cute!) Steve Danielsen also gave a first-rate portrayal of the charming rogue Fiyero, proving that he’s indeed a stage force to be reckoned with.

Even if we know  every lyric in the musical by heart, we didn’t sing along with all the songs. In particular, I kept quiet when Rix belted out the powerful “Defying Gravity” and “No Good Deed”, when the  lead twosome cast their spells on their own renditions of “I’m Not that Girl”, and when they eased into the bittersweet “For Good”. I’ve listened to these songs and pretended I’m part of the production countless times in the past. When I had the real thing in front of me, I decided to relish every unadulterated moment of it.

It was during “For Good” that we, along with a few others in the audience, shed tears.  We couldn’t help it—the song was suspended between being so sweet and so sad that all our hearts could do is cave in.

Staying calm and steady seemed to be impossible in our seats. We’re a stew of emotions then, and we could still feel the indescribable level of happiness we were wrapped in even after the curtains have closed (Danielsen was bloody adorable during that part by the way, waving nonstop at the audience while chasing the shrinking space beneath the lowering curtains). In the end, we gave the musical the roaring applause and standing ovation it deserved.


Like a handprint on our hearts


We lingered around CCP to bask in that post-theatre bliss. We took photos, raved, sang our favorite parts, and basically just talked about how incredible that night was. We could’ve stayed out and fangirl’d about it the whole night, if it weren’t for the fact that it’s Monday the day after and we have to go back to our respective jobs.

Wicked Trio
AUS 


But before we went home, we got magnetized by the pocket-draining albeit amazing merchandise area just outside the theatre. Props to the team, even the wooden stalls there were carved with cogwheel drawings that hint of the Clock of the Time Dragon in the musical!

With our original plans to buy the playbills all but discarded (I mean come on, somewhere out there they don’t sell these at 500 bucks), we went to the merch stalls to buy some posters. Well, what can I say? We were so weak against temptations and ended up a few bucks lighter than we planned, going home with posters and mugs!

The best thing about it is it’s worth it. It would’ve meant a lot, though, if we were able to get the posters signed. Someday, someday…

Wicked Merch Wicked Merch. Photo by Chriselle Fajardo.

Wicked MUGMy new favorite mug. :)

Going home that night was almost a pain; the three of us wanted to prolong the happiness we were experiencing as long as we could. But alas, sometimes our Cinderella time bomb runs out of seconds and we have to resurface to our realities. Be that as it may, as we go back there bringing a new chunk of a dream come true. That’s enough for the moment.

Next time, we’ll going to watch this thing in Broadway. :)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Review: Love & Misadventure

Author: Lang Leav
Genre: Poetry, prose; romance
My Rating: ★★ (2/5 stars)

Love & Mis

Hordes of fans loved this anthology. I, on the other hand, had a few misadventures with it.

Before you label me as “heartless” or throw rage-fueled insults my way, hear me out first. You might misconstrue my statement as something ultra-negative when it’s actually not.

See, Leav's poems are replete with heartbreak, tears, happiness, romantic bliss, and... well, the inevitable cheese. You write about this four-letter word, you more or less get this package. It’s a favorite topic among poets, or any kind of writer for that matter. They all have the ideas,  the emotions, and they seek ways to string out the words that may best translate their heartbeats. Leav chose to express herself in a way that resonates with hundreds of young people across the info superhighway. That’s not a bad thing. In fact,  it’s good when a writer establishes direct connection with his or her audience—more so if the poetry can compel the said readers to take snapshots of the pages and put them up on their blogs! That speaks volumes.

I guess it still all boils down to preferences. There are two pieces in the anthology that I like/love (guess what—they’re prose); the rest I found too juvenile and shallow. Leav’s writings are like stenos of her raw memories and thoughts, almost akin to free-writing, if we’re going to take into account some of the phrasings that come off awkward and/or a tad senseless. Case in point: “He makes me turn, he makes me toss; his words mean mine are at a loss. He makes me blush! He makes me want to brush and floss.”  I mean, it’s either my assessment is correct, or there really is something romantic about a guy that inspires me to maintain dental hygiene.

I am fond of good love stories and I don’t care if they’re told in thousand-page epics or four-line poems. It’s the matter of style and execution that makes all the difference. What I’m saying is, Leav has her own brand of poetry, and it doesn’t exactly strike a chord with me.

If there’s anything I adored 100% about the book, it’s the whimsical artwork. Dang, Leav can draw. Her dreamlike illustrations are reminiscent of Mark Ryden’s breathtaking creations. If she has a compilation of her art, I’d be quick to buy it.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Honest books…

honest book

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

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

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

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


Good news for the Gaimaniacs

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

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

Review: It’s Kind of a Funny Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Fangirlism v.2.0: Slinky-bouncing back to FFN

I haven’t blogged properly since December last year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quatre and Dorothy

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

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

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

A&D

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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