Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Monthly Wrap Up: February 2012

February has been crazy.

In terms of my personal life: I got a promotion, experienced an earthquake, and went on vacation. It’s been a pretty crazy month with a lot of ups and downs, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

I didn’t really talk about my promotion, because this blog is kind of my escape from all the stressful a.k.a work-related things in my life. I guess I just have to talk about it today. The promotion is cool because I got it after six months at the company, and not cool because it is so unbelievably stressful. After work today, I went to a local fastfood restaurant just to unwind, and decimated a burger, French fries, and a large Coke.

There was a burger, but I kind of, you know, ate it already.

On my way home, I decided to look around me, and realized how great my city is. Most of the time, I think the city is too small, and the place is pretty much dead after eight in the evening. Despite the small-towness of my so-called city, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Sure, I want to go to New York, Paris, Tokyo, London, and all those other big cities, but only one place will ever be home to me.

In terms of reading and blogging, I only read four books this month. Also, I’ve been a little lazy when it comes to blogging, but I have excuses for that—the earthquake and my vacation. This blog will definitely be more active in March. I feel fresh now, and I’m definitely brimming with ideas for posts.

What about you? How was your February?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Thoughts: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

This book sat on my shelf for almost a year, before I even had the courage to pick it up. Its sheer length intimidate me, and, to be honest, I kind of turned up my nose at it. Since the James Frey fiasco, I've been wary of books with Oprah's seal of approval on the cover.
Needless to say, I was just being stupid.

I finished this book weeks ago, and I didn't write anything about it until today. There are so many things I want to say about its scope, its characters, its emotional depth, and, lastly, its complete magnificence. I wanted to set my thoughts straigh before unleashing them into the Internet, afraid that I might miss something.

Nathan Price is basically a mashochistic and chauvinist preacer hellbent on spreading God's word to the people on the Congo. He, his wife, and their four daughters head to Africa, and find themselves in the village of Kilanga. To quote Rachel Price, one if Nathan's daughters, they thought they would run the village, but it's clear they're not in charge of a thing. Not even themselves. The book follows the lives of the Prices over the course of 30 years.

In Kikongo, the language of the people of Kilanga, the world bangala can mean two things depending on how you pronounce it--the beloved Jesus or the poisonwood tree. I think we all know who Jesus is, but the poisonwood, on the other hand, is a tree you should stay far, far away from. If you get close to it, rashes will show up on your entire body.

While preaching, Nathan repeatedly says poisonwood instead of Jesus, and the entire congregation just listens on, openmouthed. Nathan might be an assole, but his intentions are good. He wants to save the Africans, but he ends up poisoning their minds against the one he wants them to love. God.

If there's one thing that metaphor taught me, it's tolerance. You don't have to agree with or like another person's political or religious beliefs, but you have to let them believe in it anyway. We all have the right to choose, and no one should ever take that away from us. Just because the Africans believe in the powers of witch doctors and their ancestors doesn't mean that Nathan has to stuff his beliefs down their throats.

The book also touched on something I've been wondering about for a while. One of the Price daughters (I forgot which) stated that religion is just a matter of chance. For example, a boy is born in a Catholic country, and was baptized a Catholic before he even knew what it meant. This other kid, however, was born in Kilanga and witnessed the rituals of his village while growing up. Which one of them is right? Personally, as long as you respect yourself and other people, I think you're going to turn out fine.

Also, I know The Poisonwood Bible is mostly about imperialism and the aftereffects of colionialism, but the plight of the people of the Congo made me think of my country. I live in the Philippines, and it's a third world country. There's no nice way to say it, so I'm just going to throw it out there.

When I was still in school, I never thought twice about taxes and where they went. Now that I'm an employed so-called adult who pays taxes, I've started watching the news, and, for the first time in my life, I've started to care. I know what I'm contributing isn't much, but it can be comforting at night to think that a portion of my salary is helping kids get new textbooks. Then, I turn on the TV, and hear all about these assholes/government officials who have dollar accounts/multi-billion condominiums/plantations/all of the above, and it just makes me so angry.

I can see myself in the people in The Poisonwood Bible with Mobutu and his crazy mansions, because I see the same thing in the news practically every night. It’s just so frustrating because you have no idea what you can do about it. You can sign petitions and go on rallies, but what’s that really going to do? The shanties made from bits of corrugated iron and wood will still be there.

But moving on.

I highly recommend The Poisonwood Bible, and, if you can get your hands on a copy, please read it. I’ve already said this much about it, but I don’t think I’m done yet.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Thoughts: The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

This is one of those books you should read in a bar with cigarette smoke rising in the background, and an icy glass of scotch on the rocks in front of you. Just for the sake of it.

The Postman Always Rings Twice is so fast-paced. The novel is over before you can even say the entire title, but it leaves you with one hell of a punch in the gut. Frank walks into the Greek’s restaurant, and never looks back once he lays eyes on the Greek’s wife, Cora—the ultimate femme fatale. The events of the book flew past my eyes, and I could barely catch my breath.

There’s something so raw, so fresh, just so alive about the characters, especially Frank and Cora. They rampage through life, trying to get the most out of it before it’s over. They give their all to everything—to love, to murder, to hate. The pure vitality of their feelings can make any hot-blooded person envious. Reading about these people almost made me wish that I had half their passion.

Also, I can’t believe that this book was published in the 1930s. There’s a certain freshness to it, and I really enjoyed the concept of the ‘perfect murder’ before Hollywood beat it to death. Pun not intended.

Read this for the Smooth Criminals Challenge hosted by Dead End Follies.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Thoughts: The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

Valancy Stirling is basically an old maid whose entire clan—including her overbearing mother—either ignore or walk all over her. When Valancy learns that she has only a year to live because of a heart ailment, she decides to finally grab life by its throat, and becomes the person she was always meant to be.

There are so many things a modern reader wouldn’t like about this book. You can see how the story will end from miles away, and that supposed twist in the end? It’s not a twist at all, because modern readers have probably seen it thousands of times.

With that said, it was virtually impossible for me NOT to love this book.

Valancy is beyond annoying in the beginning of the book. She wallows in self-pity and basically lays herself on the floor so the beautiful Olive and the other Stirlings can walk all over her. After learning that she has a severe heart ailment, she feels comfortable in her own skin, and unleashes all the venom she’s been storing inside her for the past twenty years or so. And all that venom was pretty freaking hilarious.

Don’t even get me started on L.M. Montgomery’s descriptions of Muskoka and Deerwood. The descriptions are so lush and vivid that I wanted to get on the first plane to Canada. *Sighs.*

And the mysterious Barney Snaith? The romance between him and Valancy was delicious to watch, and problematic at the same time. When Valancy has nowhere else to go, she turns to Barney Snaith, and he becomes her salvation. It’s cool that she’s striving to make a path for herself, but must the way to freedom always involve a man? Don’t get me wrong. I think Barney Snaith is worthy of Valancy in every sense of the word, but I just wanted to see her get together with him after she figured things out on her own.

On a somewhat different note, have you heard of The Ladies of Missalonghi by Colleen McCullough? The plot is really similar to The Blue Castle. Some might even call The Ladies of Missalonghi an Australianized version of The Blue Castle. I don’t want to jump on a pulpit and scream ‘plagiarism’ outright, but I think this should be a topic for discussion.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

So... I Kind of Went on Vacation

I went away for a few days to unwind.

In fact, I went to Boracay Island for a couple of days. I'm not sure if you've heard of the place, but it's one of the biggest tourist destinations here in my country. With its white beaches and almost crystal-clear water, it's easy to see why tourists from all over the world flock to the island every year.

The whole experience was completely amazing. Everywhere I turned, someone was speaking a different language--Korean, English, Filipino, etc--and it was almost dizzying. Also, the beach is beyond amazing. Swimming in the beaches in Boracay puts a whole new meaning to the term 'swimming with the fishes,' because you literally swim with schools of fish. The water is that clean and clear.

So, basically, I disappeared because I spent a couple of days swimming, sightseeing, getting drunk, eating seafood, and having the time of my life. I've gotten back to work and everything, but I don't think I've recovered from Boracay yet. Every time I go to sleep, I still dream about the place.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Thoughts: Billy Budd by Herman Melville

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick has been languishing in my shelves for the past couple of months. The sheer length of the book intimidates me, and I’ve been eyeing it warily, waiting for the right opportunity to tackle it. I thought reading one of Melville’s shorter works might prepare me, give me a taste of what his writing is like, so to speak.

Billy Budd is, well, about an archetypal Handsome Sailor named Billy Budd. Right after two momentous mutinies, Billy Budd is impressed to serve on a Royal Navy ship. When a person is impressed, that basically means he’s taken right out of the commercial ship he’s on, and forced to serve in the navy. He doesn’t have any choice in the matter. Once on Bellipotent, Billy Budd makes friends with the other sailors, and, for some unexplained reason, makes an enemy out of the Master-at-Arms, John Claggart.

I was struck by John Claggart’s intense dislike for Billy Budd. The narrator points out that his dislike is more monstrous than anything Anne Radcliffe could have dreamed up in The Mysteries of Udolpho, because it is sudden and unexplainable. In fiction, a character always has to have a motive for everything he does, and Melville blurs the lines between reality and fiction by saying that he just can’t explain Claggart’s hatred, making it even more realistic.

I hate to say this, but, in real life, there are just people we don’t like on sight. Maybe they remind us of someone we hate, or maybe they have an annoying quirk. You can’t just pin down your dislike on a single thing, and, when you’re asked to explain yourself, you have no words. You just can’t elaborate on the fact that you do not like that person.

Billy Budd still makes me wonder until now. He is like a blank state, a character who lets you shape him depending on your own life experiences. His thoughts are never revealed, and you are just left guessing. Did he mean to do this or was it just an accident? Melville lets me decide a lot of things for myself.

Also, I just want to say that I don’t think I’ve ever read anyone even remotely like Melville, which is surprising considering that nothing seems new these days. He writes likes he’s telling you, just you, the story with a lot of digressions, and with tons of missing details. Due to these missing details, he’s really good at making the reader question previous assumptions about John Claggart, Billy Budd, and even the honorable Captain Vere.

The novella made me think about the true meaning of innocence, and how subjective deciding a person’s innocence can be. There really are certain situations where there is no black or white, and you’re left standing in an expanse of gray area. The characters in the book stick to the black and white rules. Melville leaves you to ponder their decisions in the end.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Latest Acquisitions: The Mini-Haul

I’ve been pretty good about book-buying lately. Can you believe I’ve only bought two books since my last Latest Acquisitions post (Jan. 6, 2012)? Shocker, I know.

I haven’t stayed away from the bookstores. Not at all. It’s just that I’ve been disheartened by the utter lack of classics in our local bookstores. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck? North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell? Lady Chatterley’s *Ahem* Lover by D.H. Lawrence? Not a single one out of the three titles can be found in our biggest bookstore chain. If I’m lucky, I can find a battered copy at the second bookstore.

With that said, let us move on to my finds.

  1. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh - I found this lovely edition at my favorite secondhand bookstore (as usual). I don’t really like series or movie tie-in covers, but this one has Jeremy Irons on the cover and a great 1940s feel. To be honest, I have no idea what the book is about, but, while I was looking up some information about Graham Greene, I learned that Evelyn Waugh was commonly branded a ‘Catholic’ novelist. I don’t know how he felt about that, but I’m eager to see why he was given that label.
  2. East of Eden by John Steinbeck - Even if I know that the film is completely different from the book, I’ve wanted to read this book since I saw the James Dean movie a couple of years ago. I got the Cain-and-Abel-sibling-rivalry bit, but I missed a ton of things. So, I really hope I like this book more if not as much as the movie.
What about you? Have you gone on any book-buying sprees lately?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why I Forgot to Post About Dickens' 200th Birthday

I actually wanted to write something commemorating Dickens’ 200th birthday (my blog is named after the guy, after all), but something happened that pushed all thoughts of him out of my mind.

Last February 6, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 shook my little corner of the world. A couple of hours before the earthquake, I fell asleep while reading Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. The book is about a missionary who goes with his family to the Belgian Congo, and the culture of the Congolese—particularly the way they send messages from village to village using drums—is detailed in the book.

When I woke up, my bed and bookshelf were shaking, and, for five unbelievably long seconds, I thought I was dreaming about drums in the Congo. After my brain processed that, yes, our entire house was really shaking, I ran out of the house as quickly as I could. I hugged myself by our gate, wishing the earthquake would stop soon.

It was terrifying, and we are still feeling the aftershocks of the earthquake. In fact, while typing this post, another aftershock shook the sofa I’m sitting on.

I haven’t slept very well since the earthquake, because I keep waking up every thirty minutes or so. I can never be sure if I wake up because the earth is really shaking again, or if it’s just my imagination.

I know a lot of people went through worse things than I did. Some people even died because of the landslides caused by the earthquake, and a lot of people’s properties were damaged. I didn’t lose anyone or anything, and that really put how lucky I was into perspective. If fate had decided otherwise, I could have easily been in those other peoples’ shoes.

So, I’m posting this here, just in case I forget in the future and wonder why I didn’t say anything about Dickens’ 200th birthday (which I think is a completely important event). I didn’t post anything, because I got distracted by the shaking of the earth.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Thoughts: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Part Two)


After I finished rereading Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time, I put the book down and stared into space for a couple of seconds.

Saying the book is brilliant would be quite brilliant, but I’m just going to pop that sentiment in here for the sake of posterity. There are so many things I loved about it now that I didn’t even notice before. The way it can endure multiple rereadings, for example. Every time I reread Pride and Prejudice, I never fail to discover something new to love about it or to think about it. I believe that’s the one thing only a true classic can achieve.

Delusional as this may sound, Mr. Darcy didn’t just feel like a fictional character on this reread. He seemed like an actual fully fleshed out human being with various dimensions. Also, he’s still pretty hot. But I digress. By the end of the novel, I felt like I knew him well enough to predict his actions. For example, when Elizabeth receives the letter informing her of Lydia’s elopement with Wickham and Darcy shows up, you just know he’s going to do something about it. I knew and hoped (with both fingers crossed, of course) that he would show up at Longbourn sooner or later.

And that scene where he asks Elizabeth to meet his sister? It’s a pretty suspenseful situation, because, after she rejected him in Rosings, the reader has no idea how Mr. Darcy feels about Elizabeth now. Mr. Darcy’s request for Elizabeth to meet Georgiana Darcy clears up all of the reader’s doubt, and tells you that, yes, Mr. Darcy is still very much in love with Elizabeth Bennet. I think my heart just fluttered a little there.
``There is also one other person in the party,'' he continued after a pause, ``who more particularly wishes to be known to you, -- Will you allow me, or do I ask too much, to introduce my sister to your acquaintance during your stay at Lambton?''
The surprise of such an application was great indeed; it was too great for her to know in what manner she acceded to it. She immediately felt that whatever desire Miss Darcy might have of being acquainted with her must be the work of her brother, and without looking farther, it was satisfactory; it was gratifying to know that his resentment had not made him think really ill of her.
This whole exchange made me wonder about what Mr. Darcy could have possibly told his sister about Elizabeth Bennet. Did he praise her in such glowing terms? Did he share his feelings? Did he give her hope that she might soon have a sister?

In my first post about Pride and Prejudice, I said that I kind of saw things through Mrs. Bennet’s eyes. I take that back now. The only character who could possibly be more annoying than her is Lydia who remains unchanged until the end of the novel. I was amazed by her behavior when she went to visit her family after she married Wickham. The fact that she was even able to show off her ring just makes me wants to smack her.

I don’t think I’ll be able to end this without taking about Miss Bingley. She is spiteful, and jealous, doing everything in her power to diminish Elizabeth Bennet’s charms in Mr. Darcy’s eyes. Needless to say, her backstabbing never worked, and she only ended up hurting herself and looking petty. Like in this scene:
He was resolutely silent however; and, from a determination of making him speak she continued,
``I remember, when we first knew her in Hertfordshire, how amazed we all were to find that she was a reputed beauty; and I particularly recollect your saying one night, after they had been dining at Netherfield, "She a beauty! -- I should as soon call her mother a wit." But afterwards she seemed to improve on you, and I believe you thought her rather pretty at one time.''
``Yes,'' replied Darcy, who could contain himself no longer, ``but that was only when I first knew her, for it is many months since I have considered her as one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance.''
He then went away, and Miss Bingley was left to all the satisfaction of having forced him to say what gave no one any pain but herself.
Bitch, I think you just got owned. 'Nough said.

One of the greatest appeals of Jane Austen’s books is that they are populated by characters who remind us of people we could encounter today. Miss Bingley, for example, reminded me of some girls from high school, and, unfortunately, from college as well. I also know certain girls who are as vain and silly as Lydia Benneth. My only regret is I don’t know a single guy who could even be remotely compared to Mr. Darcy. Like before, I still believe that he stands in a class of his own.

In a nutshell, I love this book as much as ever. It’s not my only favorite now, because it’s tied with Austen’s Persuasion, but I don’t regret that I claimed it as my favorite book for years and years. This book will always be a part of me. The characters, Netherfield, Longbourn, and, of course, Pemberley. I will keep coming back to these people and to these places as often as I can spare the time.

P.S: I just realized that Elizabeth and I are the same age (20). I don’t know whether to be depressed or amused by this realization.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Thoughts: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Part One)

This is going to sound like a cliché, and I’m probably the millionth person who’s going to say this. Pride and Prejudice and I have such history. I know it sounds presumptuous to make such a possessive claim over a book that was already around long before I was born, and will continue to be loved long after I’m gone. I can’t hide it, though. Every time I look at my much-abused copy of Pride and Prejudice, a flood of memories overcomes me, and I just realize that, yes, the book really is a part of me.

I first read it when I was in the seventh grade. I’m almost twenty-one now, so do the math. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, ignored my Algebra homework, and concentrated instead on the courtship of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.

Compared to the pimply boys in my grade who could only talk about Counter Strike or World of Warcraft, Mr. Darcy was perfection. He was brooding but deeply intelligent, arrogant but with a sensitive side, and, of course, there was the added charm of Pemberley. If we put all those other amiable qualities aside, I couldn’t help but wonder at the fact that he didn’t fall for Jane, the beautiful sister, and fell for Elizabeth, the sassy smart-ass, instead. Perfection, indeed.

Over the years, every time I was asked about my favorite book, my steady answer (aside from Harry Potter, of course) was always Pride and Prejudice. I read it over and over again, especially the parts with Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. The barbs. The passion simmering under the surface. I ate it all up.

I’m ashamed to say the genius of Jane Austen’s language flew past my head, and I completely swooned over Mr. Darcy.

Since I started this blog, though, I realized that I did what I often called ‘my favorite book’ a great disservice. I treated it as a mere love story, when it could offer so much more. Also, the last time I read it must’ve been two or three years ago, and I felt like a phony, claiming it as a favorite book when I didn’t really remember it anymore.

So, in order to fully appreciate and reacquaint myself with my so-called favorite book, I decided to reread it. Boy, I was in for an eye-opening experience.

The little witticisms I didn’t notice before were now laid bare before my eyes. I stopped focusing so much on Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, and realized how rich the secondary characters were.

I discovered nothing new about Mr. Bennet, but Mrs. Bennet, who had always been a source of great irritation, didn’t seem so desperate to hook any man for her daughters anymore. I saw things through her eyes for a brief moment, and realized that, twisted as it may sound, she was just being a good mother. Choices were a bit limited for women during Jane Austen’s time, and their only salvation from poverty was marrying. No wonder Mrs. Bennet made man-hunting her lifelong goal. The woman had five daughters she needed to marry off.

And Jane Bennet. Oh, how I misunderstood you. I always liked to think of myself as more like Elizabeth, but, lately, I’ve come to realize that I have more in common with Jane Bennet (if you push aside her great beauty, of course). Elizabeth is the one with easy, frank manners, but Jane is the mystery. Due to her beauty, Jane has always been the center of attention, but, beyond that, people have no idea what’s going on inside that head of hers. They don’t know what or how she really feels inside. I always thought she was dull, but she was never dull. She was just brilliant at hiding or not showing her emotions.

I don’t think I can possibly end this, without talking about Charlotte Lucas. I used to think of her as the sensible but not really attractive friend, but I’ve come to realize that she’s so much more than that. Charlotte Lucas is a bit sad. In one scene, she tells Elizabeth, “I am not romantic you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home…” I think she represents a lot of women in Jane Austen’s time who didn’t have a choice, who were forced to settle for a man who was ‘good enough.’

I once read somewhere that Jane Austen accepted a proposal from a man of extensive property, but took it back the next day. More than once, I’ve wondered about Austen’s decision. I like to think that she chose to be alone, rather than settle for a life with the wrong man.

At the ripe old age of 20, I can never be sure, but I think I’d rather end up like Jane Austen instead of Charlotte Lucas. Unlike Charlotte, I am a self-proclaimed romantic. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not hoping for a Mr. Darcy, just someone who can watch Vampire Diaries with me, someone who’s going to help me look for that Thomas Hardy novel at the secondhand bookstore even if it’s going to take hours. As great as a comfortable home sounds, I think I’d rather be with someone who feels right.

To be continued once I actually finish rereading Pride and Prejudice.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Quick Thoughts: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon // Me and Mr. Darcy by Alexandra Potter

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
I read this book while I was absent from work, because I was sick. Apart from the fact that it had been featured on some reading list I found while trolling through the Internet, I knew absolutely nothing about it.

Being sick and all, I didn’t want to think too hard, and I just wanted something that would cheer me up. The back blurbs all said that the book was hilarious, and I, stupid I, believed them.

I should’ve known better than to believe blurbs. Back or front, it doesn’t matter.

You want to know why?

This book made me bawl like Bella Swan after Edward disappears in New Moon. And I was sick. Imagine how pretty that looks. It just knows the most vulnerable spot in your heart, and tugs at it. Hard.

There is one back blurb that I do agree with, though. a back blurb by a certain Ian McEwan says that the book is a study in empathy, and I completely agree with that. The protagonist of the book is an autistic boy named Christopher who is a genius at numbers, but is clueless when it comes to human emotions. You have to spell out for him that you’re angry and why. He has no concept of empathy at all, and, sometimes, even has difficulty sorting out his own feelings (but, hey, we all do).

Mark Haddon, the author, just fully steps into Christopher’s shoes, and walks around in it. He completely empathizes with not being able to empathize, if that makes any sense.

Me and Mr. Darcy by Alexandra Potter
Why I hated this book:
  1. It has such a brilliant premise that ultimately ends up in flames.
  2. The main character is supposed to be American, but she sounds British. When she says that she doesn’t understand what ‘snogging’ or ‘loo’ means, I kind of just want to smack her. Woman, have you never seen a single Harry Potter movie?!?!?!
  3. The protagonist is supposed to be an intelligent well-read character, but, again, she has no idea what ‘loo’ means. I CANNOT GET OVER THIS. I am from the freaking tropics, and I know what a loo is.
Why I liked this book:
  1. Reminded me how great the original Pride and Prejudice is, and made me pick up the aforementioned novel as soon as possible.


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