YOU DIDN’T THINK I’D MISS TAKING A SELFIE + SHELFIE WHEN I FINALLY HAVE A DECENT MINI-LIBRARY IN MY BEDROOM NOW, RIGHT?
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 700 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 thoughts 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?
“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.”
The hanging bookshelf my father built for me a while back.
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
My Rating: ★★★ (3 of 5 stars)
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 I liked it for the most part so I’m giving it three out of five stars.
Photo from Imgarcade
Review: Running with Scissors
Author: Augusten Burroughs
Genre: Humor, Memoir
My Rating: ★★★ (3 of 5 stars)
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.
Dear friends and fellow bookworms (if by some miracle you’re still coming here),
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, hoping 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. :)
And so…the bookwormism continues!
Reblogging because I wish I have my favorite authors on speed dial whenever I’m feeling sad. I’m pretty sure they will understand even if I just blather on about anything and everything.
“A bookshelf is like a framed collage. Every book is a photograph; every spine tells a story. Friends you left behind, enemies you’d long forgotten, places you’d once visited. This is why I keep my books.”
— Emily Daniels (Naturalistic Benevolence)
Last April 26, I met bestselling author Ransom Riggs in person and he put “pen scratches”—his words, not mine—on my copy of Hollow City. 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?
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.
Bookay-Ukay. Bearing a name that is a pun on the Filipino word for thrift store (“ukay-ukay”, pronounced “ookai-ookai”), this homey little bookshop in the UP Village, Quezon City is a piece of heaven for bookworms. They have massive collections of cheap reads (both pre-loved and brand new), custom bookmarks that range from cute to creepy, and CDs/CD jackets.
Warning: The old book smell that may assault you upon stepping in is notoriously sweet and addicting. One might experience a little hesitancy to leave. :p
Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.
GAIMAN: "We’re working on seeing how many smart-alec answers we can come up with when people ask us how we collaborated."
PRATCHETT: “I wrote all the words, and Neil assembled them into certain meaningful patterns… What it wasn’t was a case of one guy getting 2/3 of the money and the other guy doing 3/4 of the work.”
GAIMAN: “It wasn’t, somebody writes a three-page synopsis, and then somebody else writes a whole novel and gets their name small on the bottom.”
PRATCHETT: “That isn’t how we did it, mainly because our egos were fighting one another the whole time, and we were trying to grab the best bits from one another.”
GAIMAN: “We both have egos the size of planetary cores.”
Review: A Long Way Down
Author: Nick Hornby
Genre: Humor, Contemporary
My Rating: ★★★ (3 of 5 stars)
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. :)
For the curious, you may watch the movie’s trailer here. It stars Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Aaron Paul, and Imogen Poots.
(Reposting because I added a few ‘assessments’ there. Photo by Anty Diluvian on Flickr.)