Better late than never…

It’s been a turbulent and hectic last quarter of 2015, which is why I haven’t posted anything for the past few months. I’m hoping 2016 will be kinder so I can write more.

In the meantime, to remind me that I should do just that, I am posting this link to an article in The Guardian: Ten Things I Learned About Writing from Stephen King. The advice is nothing we haven’t seen in other articles like this. But numbers 5 and 6 did resonate: Number 5 was, “Aim big. Or small.” and 6 was “Write all the time. Write a lot.” So these are what I will be doing more of this year. Hopefully I get to keep this promise.

See you soon!

What’s the collective noun for books?

A collection? A shelf? A library? How about a discussion or a storytelling or a chapter or a paragraph? Whatever it is, I read a lot of books the past six months. Did I mention this is a (loooong) book post?

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Ready for their closeup. The books I’ve read the past six months; not included are the two I wasn’t able to finish. The funky wooden busts styled with them are from Bali

Over the years, right around April or May I used to take stock of what I’ve read for the past months. And the list would invariably show up somewhere — back in the day, it was in journals and then more recently in various social media, albeit in a more haphazard fashion. I don’t know why I do it really, maybe because I wanted to have a record of what I read and also because April and May evoked school vacations in the Philippines, a time when I could just curl up with a good book in the middle of a hot afternoon instead of taking a siesta (afternoon nap) as my parents wanted us kids to do (to make us grow tall, they said). Now of course, I am more likely going to choose the siesta than read a book, because I’m old(er). 🙂

But at the start of this year, I told myself I would jot down each book I read as I started it just so I have a record of my reading diet — you are what you eat or read, am I right or am I right? I wrote down the titles in my desk diary — literally, an actual diary on my office desk. I am not so particular that I wrote down the title on the actual day I started reading it. I basically scribbled on those blank spaces allotted for each week/month for the diarist to write down whatever existential thought or musing he or she has. I chose to write down what I read.

The results were interesting:

  • 23 books read, 2 unfinished; so 21 books actually read cover to cover.
  • 8 = most number of books started in a month (March). Note that I said “started” because I wrote down the titles as I started reading, but did not really write down when I finished the books. But given that I usually — not always though — pick up a book when I’m done with one, it’s safe to assume that I did finish all eight books in March. Even for me — a fast reader (D says I don’t take the time to savor the books and devour them like fast food, a claim I wholeheartedly deny) — this was, er, impressive… and a bit frightening.
  • 1, unfinished = least number of books read in a month (April). What was I doing in April?? A quick glance at my diary revealed that I was drowning in work that month, apparently.
  • Genres covered: They run the gamut, from historical romance, to thrillers, to a memoir. Was tempted to enumerate the books per genre, but after attempting to classify several of them, I ended up confusing myself and stopped. Let’s just say that many of them can be classified under different categories and I will never be a competent librarian, haha!

So what have I been reading? Here’s a list (as they appeared in my diary) and capsule reviews:

Continue reading What’s the collective noun for books?

Well, I’m back….

…. again. Captain “I am to misbehave” Mal (my mac; and yes, I name my macs) was sidelined for months. The battery died and swelled up and I couldn’t find a replacement for a long time, until D ordered one for me from London. So what’s been going on? in my side of the woods, I’ve had to deal with some major issues at work, the scope of which won’t appear on this blog, but suffice to say, the conflagration was hard to put out. Been trying to exercise more (largely D’s doing; posting more on my activities in this regard soon) and traveling more (yay!).  In the next few days — or ok, maybe weeks — will be busy posting more entries — starting with this!
house arrest--books

Accomplishment: Finished (finally — after three years!) Stephen King’s Under the Dome! Wrote about this in an earlier post and back then, I was telling myself I would finish it, but ended up shelving it for other titles. So I finally finished it. So how was it? Hmmm, not as good as some of his other works. I get the impression it was some sort of thought experiment that went on too long. I don’t really regret reading it, but I can’t help feeling that it was a bit of a letdown. Still, and all, that’s a book off the book debt — though I’ve racked up several additions to the pile in the meantime!

Continue reading Well, I’m back….

Weekend reading: Doctor Sleep and Night Film

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It’s a double bill weekend for me. I started and finished reading Doctor Sleep by Stephen King yesterday — an easy task because the story just zips along and King is in familiar territory — and started today on Night Film, Marisha Pessl’s sophomore outing after her well-publicized debut, Special Topics in Calamity Physics.

Night Film centers on the twin investigation of disgraced journalist Scott McGrath into the mysterious death of Ashley Cordova, a young musical prodigy and daughter of the mysterious Stanislas Cordova, who is described as one of cinema’s most enigmatic and mysterious horror-film directors and whose movies have inspired a cult following. From the way Cordova is described, I’d imagine him to be a cross between reclusive Stanley Kubrick and horror schlockmeister Dario Argento. I’m only in the first few chapters, but already there are hints of dark dealings and forays into dark magic. Cordova is well-known for his weird working practices, affairs and sexual (mis)adventures and the terrifying nature of his movies, on which the film community and the public are divided. One side wants his films banned and burned while the other side has developed a cultish devotion to his works, with fans holding midnight screenings of his work in undisclosed locations. Most of his films are only available on bootleg. The story opens with the death of Ashley, the reclusive director’s “intense” daughter, an apparent suicide. “Apparent” because Scott McGrath, disgraced veteran journalist (disgraced because he once proclaimed on national TV that Cordova is a sociopath and “needs to be exterminated with extreme prejudice,” based on an anonymous phone call by someone named “John” who said he was Cordova’s driver), thinks there is more to the story and decides to investigate.

I’m only in the first few chapters of the book and while it shows promise, I have a feeling that Pessl bit off more than she could handle with this novel. It’s one thing to actually tell your readers that dark, mysterious and forboding things are afoot, it’s another to actually make good on the promise. Unlike Special Topics, which was infused with the charm and obnoxious intelligence of its teenage protagonist, Blue, Night Film is a bit sluggish and dreary. It’s too soon to say if the pace picks up and Pessl actually delivers on her premise, so I am reserving judgement on this until I finish the novel.

Pretty much delivering on its promise is Doctor Sleep, King’s follow up to the cultish The Shining, which has often been lauded in listicles as one of the scariest King novels of all time. I was in college when I read The Shining and while it wasn’t scary for me (IT would be my scariest King novel), it did manage to expose some deep-seated anxieties in readers. After all, hotels, because of their function as homes away from home for travelers, therefore strangers, going from points A to B, are perfect venues for horror plot points. Who hasn’t after all been creeped out about empty hotel corridors or wondered about the previous occupants about the room one is staying? Add to this Stanley Kubrick’s film based on the novel, and a cult is born.

Doctor Sleep takes up decades after the events in The Shining. Young Danny Torrance, who was five when the Overlook burned down, is now a recovering alcoholic in his 30s. His gift — the “shining” — is still there, but it’s been tamped down, blunted by years of abuse. Then he meets young Abra Stone, who is an even more powerful telepath than he was. Abra is being hunted by the mysterious True Knot, psychic vampires who torture and kill kids with the shine to drink in their powers, which they call “steam.” What ensues is a story, that while it echoes the first book, is very much its own creature.  While The Shining was claustrophobic and dark, Doctor Sleep goes about at a fast clip with plot point upon exciting plot point added up to the inevitable showdown with the baddies.

In the novel, Danny or Dan, as he is now known, is struggling with three things: Alcoholism, a violent temper and revenants from the Overlook. Stands to reason: Anyone who’s ever experienced what he did, and given his abilities, will have psychic and emotional scars he wants to forget. And there is solace in the bottom of a liquor bottle.

The Shining was about an alcoholic writer written by an alcoholic and drug addict. Doctor Sleep is about a recovering alcoholic written by a recovering alcoholic. It doesn’t take a genius to see the parallelisms. Of course, Stephen King being what he is, there are more than one Higher (or maybe other?) Power in the book and Dan’s inner demons are but a few of them. What’s great about the baddies here, is while they may be scary and repulsive, they are also sympathetic. We see that they have a sense of family, know how to love and have moments of tenderness. As one of the baddies said, “We didn’t choose who we are.” There’s a scene where, as some of the True Knot are being killed, two embrace and say “I love you” before they die. Affecting.

It’s a conceit in King’s universe that magic and the supernatural are rarely explained, which is what makes his stories scary. The vampire may or may not be vanquished by garlic and silver could have no effect on a werewolf. You’re not even sure the bad things are dead by the end of the book (as evidenced by the appearance of deadly ghosties from The Shining appearing here). In the King canon, magic is just is, which would be infuriating in a lesser writer, but with King’s storytelling abilities, we accept it. His greatest strength as a writer is to make even the most outlandish stories believable or at the very least, relatable and recognisable. The supernatural juju is grounded, more often than not by cultural ephemera. In his earlier novels it was all about rock and roll and music. This time, he references Game of Thrones, Sons of Anarchy and even Twilight. So bottomline: Doctor Sleep is the perfect weekend book for King fans. Non-King fans will also find it an easy read. Maybe easier than The Shining, actually.

What Stephen King isn’t

What Stephen King isn’t

There are lots of writers who tell it like it is, but only a few who, with such commitment and intensity, tell it like it isn’t. King takes the weird and gives it weight. And yet, at the same time, his novels retain a lightness, a playfulness. They show us horrible things, but they also glow, I think, with King’s joy—with his pleasure and exhilaration in imagining.” — from the article, “What Stephen King isn’t”, Joshua Rothman, The New Yorker

Truth.

[image borrowed from http://www.telegraph.co.uk ]

Weekend reading: Joyland

When it comes to the past, everyone writes fiction.” — Devin Jones in Joyland

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It’s been a stressful week and as a result, I am feeling a bit under the weather with a slight fever and a swollen throat. So I decided to slow down and spend most of the weekend where I like spending my free time — in “other worlds than this” (Jake, The Dark Tower). Had picked up this book a week or so back and I’m now halfway through it.

I’ll call it now, even though I’m only approaching the halfway point on this one — this is one of the best books he’s produced in years. I think right up there with what I consider his best: Different Seasons (specifically “The Body”), It, The Stand, The Talisman, the first three novels of The Dark Tower series and some of his latter works. Like his best work, this is more a character study than pure outright horror, which he doesn’t really write much of, come to think of it. And how is it that he can tap into that rich well of childhood/young adulthood fears and insecurities so well? That’s a rhetorical question, of course.

Anyway, bare bones synopsis: Joyland is about a young man’s experience working for a carnival during his college break. Like most of King’s best work, it’s a coming-of-age novel.

Here’s an excerpt — which could actually be a manifesto for anyone working in the service/entertainment industry:

This is a badly broken world, full of wars and cruelty and senseless tragedy. Every human being who inhabits it is served his or her portion of unhappiness and wakeful nights. Those of you who don’t already know that will come to know it. Given such sad but undeniable facts of the human condition, you have been given a priceless gift this summer: you are here to sell fun. In exchange for the hard-earned dollars of your customers, you will parcel out happiness. Children will go home and dream of what they saw here and what they did here. I hope you will remember that when the work is hard, as it sometimes will be, or when people are rude as they often will be, or when you feel your best efforts have gone unappreciated. This is a different world, and that has its own customs and its own language…

I hope you’ll enjoy your work here, but when you don’t… try to remember how privileged you are. In a sad and dark world, we are a little island of happiness… We don’t sell furniture. We don’t sell cars. We don’t sell land or houses or retirement funds. We have no political agenda. We sell fun. Never forget that. Now go forth.”

When King is on a roll, he’s on a roll.