Friday, May 25, 2012

The Substitute.

[...]Sit down tonight
And write him about the life you can talk about
With a claim to authority, the life you've witnessed,
Which for all you know is the life you've chosen.

- from Carl Dennis' The God who Loves You

Thea, Oz, and I agreed to meet up at a cafe just across Oz and my college alma mater. For Thea, it was an adventure; she studies at a rival school and would have little reason to head west of the city if we hadn't prodded her. For Oz and I, it was a chance to see up close how much things had changed since we graduated ten years ago.

Has it really been a decade? Some of our old haunts were still there, true, but most sported new faces. The small University Mall, dimly-lit and almost seedy-looking in my memory now looked very different. The Korean-inspired cafe we went to was one of the hipper (hipster?) additions to a neighborhood that was once littered with computer rental shops and shawarma places. As we picked our poisons, green tea and caramel in tall glasses, we reminisced about almost-hads and might-have-beens, in between moments of quiet which I'm sure took us in the opposite direction of the paths we had picked for ourselves back then.

I told them the cafe reminded me of the ones in Korea, the ones I wish I could visit again. What I really wanted to say was this: I wonder who I'd be if I had been born a decade later, if I were a student now, sipping coffee and doodling on a Polaroid in between classes. How much of myself would be reinvented, improved, discarded? Oh, the possibilities.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bookworm Gallery: All Geeked Out

The first time I met Rocky was the day I fell in love with his chronologically-arranged collection of Star Wars expanded universe books. And then he played Mal to my Kaylee and I really don't know how my heart could recover after that. This month's Bookworm takes care of a bunch of blogs, including his personal one and The Geeky Guide to Nearly Everything (which I had read even before one of his partners introduced us). When he's not reading or writing, he works as a Marketing Manager for a multinational call center and has recently started an independent travel agency (A.S.A. Travel and Tours) with his partners.

Rocky is a total Kindle advocate. "Having a Kindle will change your life - reading on a tablet can't compare, I swear. The biggest benefit is that the eInk doesn't feel like you're staring at an LCD screen all the time - it feels like you're still reading a book." You can find him reading multiple books at a time like "the hardcover that I can't bring around with me, the paperback that I stow in my work bag that I read on the MRT and at least one ebook that I read via my Kindle," he says.

1. How often do you read? What kind of books/genres do you often read?
I read every day and I try to squeeze in reading time whenever I can. I admit that these days I read more ebooks versus physical books given I've noticed that I tend to read faster when it comes to ebooks. I'm primarily a science fiction and fantasy kind of guy, but I have been known to deviate into contemporary fiction and magical realism / surrealism.

2. Name three books that you feel would explain the kind of reader you are.
Three books only? Well I guess we can stick to Dune by Frank Herbert, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami and American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

'Ours is a peaceful race, and we must live in harmony...'

3. Who are your favorite authors? Is there anyone on your auto-buy list?
Favorite authors are Frank Herbert, Haruki Murakami, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Save for Herbert (who is deceased), all are pretty much on my auto-buy lists.

4. How did you get into fantasy and sci-fi?
I have my biological father to thank for that - he introduced me to the whole genre through the TV series Star Trek and there has been no going back ever since.

5. Which books do you think would make a successful transition into TV or film? Anything you would be excited to catch onscreen?
I don't think that there is any one book that will guarantee a successful translation to a movie or a TV series - that really depends on the vision of the producers / director, the involvement of the author and the budget of the studio. And in the end, the translation is an independent work which is typically better off not compared to the source material.

It's actually great trying to take a peek into Rocky's mind. He's really one of the more interesting people I've met in recent years. For him, "reading is amazing since it introduces us to amazing new worlds, allows us to experience new stories and adventures wherever you are. Of course there's the chance to learn new things whether in terms of practical knowledge or more abstract wisdom for life in general." I can't agree more.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Blog Love: Otaku Champloo

It's no secret that I love to read Asian literature, which includes a healthy dose of shoujo manga. Over on my friend Khursten's Otaku Champloo, she explores more of this industry and literary form from the international reader's perspective -- one who is both an academic and a fan.

According to Khursten:
Champloo stems from chanpurū, an Okinawan word for 'something mixed' but can also stand for 'easy-going'. Taking inspiration from Samurai Champloo, this site is a mish mash of things that makes Khursten an otaku.

A historian by profession, Khursten features news and trends in the manga industry, as well as delves into its cultural and social influences. She tackles issues that involve most manga readers through her light yet thought-provoking posts. She also highlights both new and established mangakas and series to broaden her readers' shelves. If you think that manga is just about the latest cartoon craze the kids are talking about, then prepare to be enlightened. Manga is not merely limited to action-packed series or love stories with wide-eyed heroines. There are a ton of themes and settings continually being explored in manga.

Part of my manga collection -- at least, the books I have here with me in the boondocks.

For example, from May 22 – 27, Otaku Champloo will be hosting a Moveable Manga Feast devoted to Oishinbo and Food Manga. In hindsight, maybe I should have posted a photo with Mixed Vegetables, the only food-related manga I have with me right now (though you can see one volume peeking out from beneath The Girl Who Leapt through Time). But I digress. If you're eager to learn more about manga in general and food manga (and by association, Japanese cuisine) in particular, you can head to Khursten's blog. It's guaranteed to be a gastronomic and literary feast!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Maisie Dobbs (Jacqueline Winspear)

A staple of my favorite mystery works is the presence of an engaging sleuth. I forget the intricacies of motive or the originality of the crime for a moment; I am primarily drawn -- above all else -- to the main character. In Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs, I get just that: an keenly observant young woman whose brilliance, dedication, and courage has not only helped her survive the Great War but has even helped her establish herself as a private investigator in the years after.

Setting gives the Maisie Dobbs series a unique voice. In this eponymous introduction, Ms Winspear not only establishes Maisie's first case as a discreet private eye, but also digs into her beginnings as a young girl serving a wealthy and noble family, the Comptons. It chronicles a delicate time in history. The Great War touches demands sacrifices from everyone, from the working class to the wealthy, and losses are too many to count. On the homefront, class divides are slowly being broken down while independent women like Maisie begin establishing a firmer voice in society. These upheavals are evident in Maisie Dobbs, turning this mystery into a commentary on the times as well.

While Maisie's first case bookends this novel, it is her past that forms the bulk. Readers are introduced to how Lady Rowan Compton helps Maisie with her education until she is on her way to Cambridge for further studies. But because of the War, Maisie decides to join up as a nurse, and we become privy to a tender and painful period of Maisie's life, one that she does not readily share with others. When she is hired to investigate private marital matters, she uncovers more than she expected -- a secret retreat where disfigured soldiers go, and one that awakens in her all the emotions that she has locked behind after the War. Ms Winspear weaves emotional depth into what first seems to be an open-and-shut mystery case, and she does it without being heavy-handed about it. She lets us follow Maisie's careful and logical observations in detail so we don't question the rationality of her heroine's actions, but at the same she allows us to see the humanity and weaknesses that lie behind the investigator's strong mask. In the end, it's this combination of historical portraiture and subtle emotion that makes Maisie Dobbs a truly fascinating mystery series.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Raw Blue (Kirsty Eagar)

Thanks to my friend Chachic of Chachic's Book Nook, I was introduced to the work of another fine Australian writer: Kirsty Eagar. Ms Eagar's prose turns poetic in Raw Blue, which centers on Carly, whose life now revolves only around work and surfing after a traumatic incident. She barely keeps in touch with her family. School is a distant affair. Friends are few and far between, especially as she strives to keep her walls about her. The last thing Carly seems to want is someone like Ryan, a fellow surfer: strong, intense, and mysterious. But they're slowly drawn together and Carly has to deal with her past to figure out if she can have a future with Ryan.

What I enjoyed most about Raw Blue is the gradual unfolding of the story. Carly and Ryan are both flawed but the story doesn't choose to focus on how they became broken. Instead it explores the quiet days after -- the mundane rituals of everyday, its surprises and challenges, how life stubbornly goes on. It took me a while to really get into the story despite enjoying the lyrical language. It's easy to figure out what happened to Carly, but the blurb and even Carly's thoughts remain guarded about it, the proverbial white elephant taking up space among the pages.

Still, it's Ms Eagar's very visually descriptive narration that kept me reading -- and eventually made me appreciate the slow and gentle pace that the story took. No shortcuts. No sudden epiphanies. Ms Eagar tosses around images like honey and devil moons and the raw blue of the ocean. 'My happiness is crunchy. Snapping, crackling and popping in the sun,' Carly thinks, and suddenly I could feel what she meant. This smooth and well-thought out language keeps Carly's story from descending into the full pity-me drama of a Telemundo show. Instead it feels realistic, at least to my limited experience (and I accept that I can't fully judge what is realistic in this sense).

I'm no surfer so all the surfing terms were lost on me, but everything else about Raw Blue is a revelation. If you ever find yourself with time and patience to spare this summer, I suggest picking this one up. It's intimate and philosophical, gentle and courageous. This was my first 'new adult' read -- or at least the first one I've read ever since I was introduced to the sub-genre -- and Raw Blue certainly doesn't disappoint.