Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bookwormism Update…at last!

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

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

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

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

bookshelf01 - Copy

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

shelfie

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

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

How about you guys? What are you reading?

____

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

Book Review: The Kite Runner

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

bookjacket Book jacket design by Alex Gebhardt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 19, 2014

Finally 23

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

Turning 23-Blow the Candle Another year older.

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

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


Peace and quiet

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

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

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

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


Signed with a “Smile”


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

Flowers?

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

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

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

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


‘Artist’ for a day


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

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

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

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

KMIS My ever-supportive officemates and the finished caricatures

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

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

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

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


KMIS birthdayThe Knowledge Management Information Service (KMIS) family again

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


And we get to the melodrama

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Book Review: Fangirl

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

FangirlByRowellPhoto from Imgarcade 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Truer than if they had really happened.

All Good Books are Alike

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

-Ernest Hemingway

Monday, May 12, 2014

Home is where the books are.

For booknuts like me, the closest thing to home is a place that is also home to books…especially if they’re pre-loved. This is why I didn’t hesitate to go when my friend MJ invited me to two such places in Quezon City one Saturday afternoon. :)

Bookay-ukay

Bearing a name that is a pun on the Filipino word for thrift store (“ukay-ukay”) this miniscule bookshop in the Maginhawa Street, UP Village is a piece of heaven for bookworms.

Bookay-ukay

Shelves

Bookay-Ukay houses an impressive arsenal of cheap reads and hard-to-find titles, both pre-loved and brand new. Being a perfect Happy Hunting Lit Ground, it’s understandable that the whole place will look like a horror house for folks with an OCD-ish tendency to treat books like precious babies—for people who delight in seeing paperbacks in their proper shelf spaces, neat and all spines out (for people like me, basically).

But I guess it’s part of the shop’s charm. I imagine regulars rummaging through the shelves to find a book with a title, back-cover excerpt, or even cover art that will strike a chord with them. When they do find it here—I call it literary serendipity—they’d be too happy that they’d somehow forget to set the books around their newfound treasure upright again.  :) Ah, the footprints of a book-hunt!

cyclist stops by

The bookmarks

Staying for a few more minutes made me wish I live nearer the place so I can visit as often as I want, without having to go through a migraine-inducing commute because of the heat and hassle. Aside from books, the shop also sells CDs of underground music artists and various photographed and hand-painted/drawn bookmarks, which range from cute to creepy. :)

stt

I didn’t get to buy books from there, as part of my pledge to NOT spend money for new titles as long as I still have a towering TBR novel stack at home (needless to say I’m proud of my self-control). Anyway, it won’t be the last time I’ll visit Bookay-Ukay. I’ll go here again sometime soon, hopefully after I’ve devoured at least half my “unreads”.


Cool Beans Cafe

A few minutes’ walk from Bookay-Ukay is the small but cozy Cool Beans Cafe.

There’s a  friendly sign on the door saying “Please wipe your shoes before entering :)”, which reminded me of one of my grandma’s little commandments involving her immaculate white floor and all the kids in the house with mud-caked feet.  If that doesn’t scream home (and nostalgia!), I don’t know what does.

interior

Cool Beans

Cool Beans’ mini-library shelters almost all lit genres you can think of: there are  history books, biographies, magazines, comics, art books, photography books, poetry, essay anthologies, novels (Haruki Murakami! Arundhati Roy! Neil Gaiman!), and even a bunch of self-help titles.

Its library-esque silence is only broken by relaxing music, the soft chitchats of its patrons, or someone’s drink being called out to them. And to my initial bafflement, the picture frames on the walls contain either nothing or just the filler paper indicating the frames’ sizes in inches and centimeters. Later on I thought it’s because they are maintaining that “soft launch” feel they were still bannering outside the cafe.

Cool Beans

pastries

Aside from their Highland coffees and frappes, they also sell pastries. MJ and I only get to try their red velvet cupcake, which admittedly wasn’t the best we’ve tasted. But hey, with a price like that, who’s complaining?

carbonara

Always on the prowl for the best pasta recipe around, I also tried out their Cheesy Mushroom Carbonara. For Php150’s the gigantic serving is enough for two. It’s quite tasty, too. :)

find

We sat there ‘til the sun set, just browsing through books and talking. The ambiance will make you stay for hours!

When it’s time to leave, I swore that I have to find more of cafes like this. :)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Book Review: Running with Scissors

Review: Running with Scissors
Author: Augusten Burroughs
Genre: Humor, Memoir
My Rating: ★★★ (3 of 5 stars)

Running with Scissors

Everyone has probably tried attaching punch line-hugging ends to the ‘when life gives you lemons’ proverb; I’ve heard phrases that are as hip as those involving tequilas and the beginning of a citrus monopoly. But I haven’t heard or seen anyone did it like Augusten Burroughs. Life has practically cannonaded him with thousands of lemons in his childhood and instead of feeling miserable about it, he used all the fruits to write his bestselling memoir, Running with Scissors.

The book follows a big slice of Burroughs’ childhood life. He was only a little boy when his parents—a manic-depressive poet mom with Anne Sexton delusions and a professor dad with "the loving, affectionate and outgoing personality of petrified wood"—divorced. His mom gives him away to be raised by her unorthodox psychiatrist who is a dead ringer for Santa Claus: Haven’t Bathed in Weeks edition. Burroughs then  befriends the doc’s abrasive children, starts a relationship with a thirtysomething pedophile residing in the backyard shed, and slowly accepts that playing with electroshock therapy machine when things get dull, or substituting dog food for popcorns, or even consuming Valium like candies, are normal…as long as he lives in the midst of this Victorian squalor. But this is one thing he is 101% sure of: when you inherit a family as dysfunctional as the Finches, you’d know you’d just jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

I was full of head-shakes, of smirks and snorts, of this-couldn’t-be-real’s, and of oh-my-god’s (in varying intonations) while reading the book. From the reactions Running with Scissors elicited from me, you’d know that Burroughs is a man of talent. I turn the pages and see his ‘70s to ‘80s life unfold in full color. I like how his style of storytelling balances between complete wack and sheer cynicalness. Aside from being mostly hilarious, his darkish tales are effective in a way that it makes his readers yearn for a life that is—in his own words—“fabric-softener, tuna-salad-on-white, PTA-meeting normal”.

But one does not need rocket science to know that behind all the gags and sarcasm, it’s not as funny as it sounds—a sad Burroughs must be somewhere beneath all the kookiness. Sure, there are stuff  that can be a real barrel of laughs at one point (scatological fortune-telling, anyone?), but on the other side of the scale there’s staging a suicide attempt to avoid school (supported eagerly by Dr.Finch), being sexually abused, the fact that you’re having guardians that cannot guide or guard you in life at all, among other things. It’s awesome that Burroughs can joke about the whole thing David Sedaris-style, but something tells me it would have been more honest if there’s a little poignancy thrown in there somewhere. He’s a bloody kid! I’m all for positivity, but no one is that positive; too much cynicalness for a situation comedy-like effect sometimes takes away all the humanity from a character.

Speaking of lack of humanity, that is my main beef too with the supporting characters. The author failed to sculpt them into something the readers can feel as real people, and I’m not even talking about their colorful craziness. They’ve become hackneyed paperboard-cutouts in a sitcom-ish set of tales.

Towards the end the book becomes more disjointed, the anecdote-chapters reading like standalone vignettes. It’s only on the page before the epilogue that Burroughs made an attempt at sentimentality, about how taking risks to reach his dreams is like running with scissors (or something to that effect). It was quietly hopeful, but the buildup to the moment was shabbily constructed that there wasn’t a big impact at all.

It was still a good read, although I’m having second thoughts about reading its sequel, Dry.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Ransom Hug!

Last April 26, the National Book Store (NBS) held a book-signing event for bestselling authors Ransom Riggs, Tahereh Mafi, and Veronica Rossi. Admittedly I haven’t read anything by Mafi or Rossi; I only went to the event for Riggs, having read his Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

waiting Kit’s and my books and our signing passes.

Ransom Riggs stageKindly excuse the goofy smiles, I’m starstruck!

I got a minutes-long interaction with Riggs after he put "pen scratches"—his words, not mine—on my copy of Hollow City (Miss Peregine Book 2). He also saw how big of a nervous booknut I am when I get starstruck. My meet-and-greet moment went like this:
STAFF: (Joking after hearing how an oldish fangirl before us screamed an I LOVE YOU to Ransom) These people need to remember the guy's married.
ME: (laughs) And his wife's here, too.
RANSOM: (overhears our exchange and looks up from signing the books, smiling) What is it about my wife?
ME: (gets instant cold feet)
RANSOM: Hello, how are you?
ME: ......
RANSOM: (smiles)
ME: .......
RANSOM: (smiles some more)
ME: (covers face) Oh my god, sorry! Oh my god, oh my god.
RANSOM: (laughs good-naturedly and motions me to come closer, then points at the camera) Let's keep it together for the picture, then after that we can fall apart.
ME: (realizes that I wasn't looking at him when he's giving me the Keep Calm coaching, but flashes what I wish was a decent smile anyway)
And then we hugged. THAT SECONDS-LONG HUG MADE THE ALMOST TEN HOURS OF WAIT WORTH IT.

signed

All right, that hug and these pen scratches. :)

Here’s to hoping other authors I like would come to the Philippines! They’re like the country’s nerd population’s rock stars, I know they wouldn’t regret coming here.



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.

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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.

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