Saturday, October 22, 2011

Three Times

So part of my New Year's resolutions was to watch two movies a month. Well good luck with that. When it gets down to the wire, and it's a choice between writing, reading, or catching a movie, writing wins hands down. Reading is a close second. And movies? Well let's just say that I haven't seen a lot of movies this year.

But it's good to watch one once in a while, if only to give your brain a couple of hours to stop whirring and just zone off.

Notable movies that I've watched this year include:
  • Babae sa Septic Tank
  • Zombadings
  • Buenas Noches, España
  • (which was so unbearable that I walked out after thirty minutes, a first for me. I never thought that I could actually walk out on a film.)
  • Paprika
  • (Just last night. It's amazing.)

And now, Three Times, by acclaimed Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien. To be honest, I never understood why there was such a fuss about him. I watched Flight of the Red Balloon in college and found it boring. But Three Times is an interesting triptych.

Three Times tells the story of two lovers in three eras: 1911, 1966, and 2005. The lovers, which are different characters in each era, are played by the ravishing Shu Qi* (loved her in So Close) and Chan Cheng (best known to Westerners as Zhang Zhiyi's lover in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but also to Wong Kar Wai fans for his roles in Happy Together and 2046). It is also an incisive mirror into each era: the couple in 1911 is (spoiler) an intrepid journalist and a courtesan. In 1966, they are a pool hall girl and a soldier. In 2005, they are disaffected youth.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Lover's Discourse

A Lover's Discourse: FragmentsA Lover's Discourse: Fragments by Roland Barthes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a powerful book.

Of all the philosophical graffiti written on the backs of bathroom doors when I was in college, my favorite was a simple survey: Are you in love or in love with the idea of love? Most people chose the latter.

Barthes tackles the depth and breadth of the idea of love, in all its agony and ecstasy. There are meditations on waiting, on jealousy, on how love at first sight is like rape. Barthes tackles the ideas of Werther, Nietzsche, Freud, and sprinkles the etymology of various Greek, French and Italian words for good measure.

Just read this:

This is how it happens sometimes, misery or joy engulfs me, without any particular tumult ensuing: nor any pathos: I am dissolved, not dismembered, I fall, I flow, I melt. Such thoughts grazed, touched, tested (the way you test the water with your foot) can recur.
Nothing solemn about them.
This is exactly what gentleness is.

I was bowled over by this book. It is something to read again and again, and to ponder.

View all my reviews

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Selected Poems

Selected PoemsSelected Poems by Merlie M. Alunan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I first encountered Merlie Alunan's work in college. Her poem, Bringing the Dolls, was simple enough for college students to analyze, yet something about it struck me.

Selected Poems combines materials from two of Alunan's previously published collections, Hearthstone, Sacred Tree and Dream Cycles.

For me, the standouts in this collection are Emy and For Edith: Hearthstone, sacred tree from Poems from Green Valley, Nati-san, Hunger, and Addressing the Muse. There's also an interesting Filipino translation of Mandirigmang bundok ng Santa Catalina... by Bien Lumbera.

Alunan is at her best when writing about people, and how they interact with the unlikely, say a massive rock kept in the middle of one's kitchen. I wasn't drawn to most of the material that comprised Selected Poems, but the poems I've mentioned are definitely worth a glance.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Narito ang Masa

Narito ang masa.
Ang mga taong nakapila,
Ang aleng Muslim na nagpapaypay
Hanggang may umabot na maaliwalas
Na hangin sa aking likod.

Narito ang masa.
Ang mga taong nagtatanong, ang mga
taong nawawala.
Ang lalaking bumili ng Skyflakes
Pantawid gutom at nakaluhod
Ngayon sa daan habang ngumangasab.

Narito ang masa,
Sabay-sabay na naghihintay.

Books In Brief

I've been reading too many books to bother writing about them, so briefly, here's a summary of what I've been reading:

The Pen / O.Henry Prize Stories 2010

Another Strand find. I've been reading more short stories while trying to write my own, so this was a good book for me to read. My favorites in this collection were Ted Sanders's Obit and Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie's The Headstrong Historian. But I probably learned the most from Preeta Samarasan's Birch Memorial.

Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov

I bought this book because it appeared on the list of books that Zadie Smith once assigned to her class. It started off slow, but it got good towards the middle. I whiled away an afternoon in a barangay captain's house in Masbate finishing this book. And yes, I lost track of my surroundings. It was that good.

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

I wouldn't have tried to re-read this book if I hadn't seen the compelling trailer for the first episode of the TV series. I'm glad that I did. My sister was trying to get me to read this a long time ago. I flipped to a random page and found it boring. What was I thinking? Game of Thrones is a fantasy novel that pays attention to the nuances -- the contrast in the attire of a lord and his men, the humor in a dwarf almost being spurred into a battle charge but deciding against it. Its vision of Westeros is grim, gritty and utterly real. I'm going to keep on reading the series, although I'm in a bit of book fatigue three-fourths through the second book in the series, A Clash of Kings. Sometimes it gets annoying how Martin keeps on shifting POVs. I skimmed all five books just to find out what happened to Arya.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Middleman and Other Stories

After being profoundly affected by Bharati Mukherjee's short story 'The Management of Grief', I didn't hesitate to snap up this book when I saw it at The Strand for 49 cents.

I shouldn't have bothered. The Management of Grief, which comes at the very end, was the only story that I truly liked. The rest of the book was filled with stories about crass characters, which I guess is a success of sorts as Mukherjee deliberately set out to portray her characters in an unflattering light. But reading about a dissolute Vietnam vet, a user-friendly Filipina, and an exploited Trinidadian, among others, didn't satisfy me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Neil Gaiman's particular specialty is putting a new twist onto familiar characters. In the case of 1602, the Marvel canon of characters is transported into Elizabethan England.

It was a fast read and it was a good read. I've loved Neverwhere, and liked American Gods and a couple of his short stories (namely A Study in Emerald and The Truth is a Cave in the Mountains). I also once stood for hours in line to hear him read. I didn't quite make it to having my book signed. Oh, and I constantly check his blog.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Rose Daughter

Rose Daughter is an entirely different book from Beauty. It's a testament to Robin McKinley's range that she could write two vastly different books based on the same tale.

In the Woods

I liked Faithful Place better, but that's just me. In the Woods is more grim, but the whodunit is also harder to solve.

Sisterhood Everlasting

I admit it: I read this book for one reason - to find out what happened to Lena and Kostos. Sisterhood Everlasting doesn't disappoint, but it didn't fulfill all of my expectations either. If you've read the four previous books, you'll have a good time going back to the world of the Septembers. If you haven't, you might want to give this one a pass.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Faithful Place

I got to read this book because of a book swap. Hurrah for discovering new authors! I'm always intrigued by women who write in a genre dominated by men, like Octavia Butler and Ursula K. Le Guin.

Tana French does not disappoint, She successfully captures the voice and point of view of hard-boiled Undercover detective Frank Mackey and shows us gritty (fictional) Faithful Place in all its glory.

As it was a mystery, I managed to keep myself from reading the ending immediately -- and I'm glad that I did.

I am definitely going to track down her other books and read them.

Fire and Hemlock

I found this book one night and couldn't go to sleep until I had finished it. Diana Wynne Jones takes the story of Tam Lin, adds another folktale (the story of Thomas the Rhymer, or so I'm told), and makes it her own.

The writing is assured and the pace is fast. Things get a bit muddled towards the end, but I would still recommend reading this book.


There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will,--


Gilead is one of the most spiritual books I've read in a long time. It's filled with the musings of Congregationalist minister John Ames, who is near the end of his life. There is not a lot of dialogue. There is a lot of musing, on the personal, the philosophical, and of course, the spiritual.

Robinson writes lovely descriptive scenes. Her simple style makes for an engaging read as Ames ponders the redemption of his friend's wayward son.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Kalahati at Umpisa

Masasabing maestra si Anoñuevo sa paglalaro ng salita. Sakop ng kanyang mga tula ang samu'tsaring emosyon - kaligayahan, kalungkutan, nostalgia, at higit sa lahat, pag-ibig.

Nahahati ang Kalahati at Umpisa sa dalawang bahagi -- ang una, tungkol sa mga karaniwang bagay, pagbabalik tanaw sa nakaraan, at mga obserbasyon sa kanyang buhay,

Sa pangalawang bahagi, umiibig na si Anoñuevo. Kaya naman punung-puno ang bahagi ito ng mga tula tungkol sa paghanga at sa muling pagtagpo ng pag-ibig sa gitna ng middle age.

Anupaman ang paksa ng kanyang isinusulat, naipapakita ni Anoñuevo ang kanyang husay at galing sa lenggwahe sa bawat tula.


Carver's prose is simple, but his stories are anything but. Some plumb the depths of cynicism while others explore the possibility of hope. He is a master at meshing the two themes together.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Secrets of the Eighteen Mansions

What Miclat is writing about is more interesting than how he writes it. Miclat offers an in-depth look at the life of a Communist cadre in China during Martial Law.

The Age of Wonder

Holmes highlights the intersections of science and art during the eighteenth century and imparts to his reader the sense of wonder with which he wrote the book.

For me, this quote sums it up:

"Science, like poetry, was not merely 'progressive'. It directed a particular kind of moral energy and imaginative longing into the future. It enshrined the implicit belief that mankind could achieve a better, happier, world. This is what Davy believed too, and 'Hope' became one of his watchwords."

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pegasus & Chalice

Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword is my all-time favorite book. It's got everything -- fantasy, a strong heroine, romance, and even a wry diplomacy.

I haven't been able to read her entire book list, but I was able to read her recent books Pegasus and Chalice. Reading them is like catching up with old friends.

I found Pegasus to be utterly absorbing - so much that I simply couldn't put it down until I had finished it. Pegasus is a story of humans and pegasi who coexist yet cannot communicate directly with each other. The bonding of twelve-year-old Princess Sylviianel and the fourteen-year-old pegasus Ebon changes all this. Aside from The Blue Sword, Pegasus is the McKinley book that I've found the most compelling since The Hero and The Crown and Deerskin.

Chalice is a shorter and to my mind, less interesting read. It's still worth reading however, to see how Chalice, the new Master and the Grand Seneschal hold Willowlands together.

Pegasus II comes out in 2012. I can hardly wait to read it.

No Longer an Anachronism

Back in highschool, I wrote off Nick Joaquin as an anachronism -- someone whose stores belonged to another place and time. I read him because I had to, because he was part of my highschool reading list. But I didn't like him.

I first started to re-appraise Nick Joaquin in college, when some his reportage was handed out during a literary journalism class. Joaquin had a way of writing that made the characters come alive, that made you care what happened to them. Although his journalism articles have been scored for inaccuracies, his style of writing remains fluid and compelling.

The short stories in Nick Joaquin's prose and poems were a revelation. Here was someone who came of age during a great World War, someone who could write as feelingly about the genteel glitter of the past as he could about the ruptures and uncertainties of the present.

The author's note at the back of the book says that Joaquin started out as a poet but shifted to fiction after the war. I think that the change was for the better. His poetry is often weighed down by classic (read Greek and Roman) tones and styles, but his fiction flies free.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Baltasar and Blimunda

I'm noticing a common theme here. I can only say in my defense that I'm still reading literature as opposed to trashy romance novels.

Baltasar and Blimunda tells the story of two lovers in 18th century Portugal, when the auto-da-fe was held every year and the people were were still subjects of a king.

For all its commentary on power and religion, Baltasar and Blimunda lacks the devastation of Blindness. There were times when I was horrified by that book, but I still had to go on reading it.

Baltasar and Blimunda is a gentler tale, where the travails of the title characters are set against a painstakingly-researched background. There is a stronger element of magical realism here, and Saramago often inserts self-conscious commentary that the thoughts that his peasant characters are thinking were simply conjured up by an educated narrator.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

All Summer in a Day

This isn't one of the books that I've read but I was thinking about Ray Bradbury's short story when I read his interview in the Paris Review.

In my mind the time frame was magnified to fifty years. I reread part of the story again and found that it was only seven. But still, poor child.

This is what Bradbury says about writing:

"Style is truth. Once you nail down what you want to say about yourself and your fears and your life, then that becomes your style and you go to those writers who can teach you how to use words to fit your truth."

He didn't go to college, but instead, went to the library, where he graduated after ten years of three-night-a-week visits.

What I read almost makes me rethink about getting an MFA, but then I remind myself that Ray Bradbury had a wonderful wife who supported him while he stayed at home and wrote stories. He went to New York and shopped what would become his first book around because his first child was about to be born.

I still feel like I need a space of time where I can immerse myself completely in reading and writing. So for now, I'm still going for that MFA.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Gut Symmetries

What can I say about Jeanette Winterson? That reading her is like watching a stone fall in a calm, clear pool. You can stay for hours just watching the resulting ripples.

The piece of Jeanette Winterson writing that I love the most is her short story The 24-Hour Dog. I read it while I was still in college and I've never forgotten it. I photocopy my photocopy and pass it on to friends.

Who wouldn't fall in love with writing like this?

If time is a river, we shall all meet death by water.


And after symmetries of autumn, symmetries of austerity. Bare winter's thin beauty, rib and spine. The back of him sharp-boned, my hands leaf-broad covering him, patterning us. Us making love on the leaf-shed in the cold of the year.


We think of ourselves as linear but it is the spin of the earth that allows us to observe time.

& finally:

Whatever it is that pulls the pin, that hurls you past the boundaries of your own life into a brief and total beauty, even for a moment, it is enough.

Her writing speaks for itself.

Showbiz Lengua

Alam nyo ba kung ano ang ibig sabihin ng IRAN? Ikaw Rin ang Nawalan.

Isa pa: PARANAQUE: Please Always Remain Adorable, Nice, And Quiet...Under Ectasy.

Ilan lang yan sa mga napulot kong acronym mula sa Showbiz Lengua, ang kalipulan ng mga kolum ni Sir Pete Lacaba tungkol sa lengguwahe para sa Yes! Magazine.

(imahe mula sa blog ni Sir Pete)

Minsan, nakaupo ako sa harap sa LitJourn seminar class niya at kumakain ako ng puttanesca. Sabi niya, "Alam mo ba ang puttanesca pagkain ng mga puta sa Italy? Kaya siya tinawag na puttanesca."

Mula nang nagsulat si Nick Joaquin bilang Quijano de Manila, kakaunti pa lang ang nagtangkang magsulat ng literary journalism sa Pilipinas. Isa na rito (na tinitingala ko) ay si Sir Pete.

Ang ilang sa mga natutunan ko sa klase niya: kailangan kapag nagsusulat ng literary journalism, ilublob mo ang iyong sarili sa paggawa ng kwento. Tanungin mo yung kausap mo kung anong iniisip niya. Tumambay ka kasama niya at makipaghuntahan ka. Pansinin mo ang lahat -- ang kanyang suot, ang lapis na umiikot-ikot sa pagitan ng kanyang mga daliri, ang stasyon ng radyo na pinakikinggan niya, pati ang mga taong dumadaan.

Dapat din, paghusayan mo ang iyong pagsusulat para kapag may sinulat kang magandang pangungusap, hindi ito magmumukhang out of place sa sinusulat mong reportage.

Kaya naman mahirap talaga magsulat ng literary journalism. At dahil kakarampot ang kita ng mga mamahayag at manunulat, kailangan nilang rumaket.

Sinabi sa amin minsan ni Sir Pete na akala niya part-time lang ang posisyon sa Yes! Magazine noong tinanggap niya ito. Pero mabuti na rin na nandoon siya dahil sa dulo ng mga glossy photos at writeups tungkol sa mga artista, may natatanging El Lenguador na naglalaro ng lengguwahe.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I've loved Elizabeth Gilbert ever since I read her article Coyote Ugly in GQ. A wide-eyed Gilbert went to the interview in a cardigan and was told that she was wearing too many clothes. She eventually learned how to outdrink her regulars (keep a mug of Coke handy, whenever you take a swig, spit it out into the mug).

But I couldn't read Eat, Pray, Love. I couldn't even finish the first first page.

I fared better with Gilbert's first novel, Stern Men. But what I really wanted to read was her first collection of stories, Pilgrims. So as soon as I saw a copy, I bought it. Nevermind that I'm trying to save money. I can control my cravings for clothes and food. But I admit it, I'm addicted to books.

From Pilgrims, I learned that sunflowers always face east in the morning and west at dusk. Gilberts said in an interview that instead of getting an MFA, she crisscrossed the country and wrote.

What I plan to do is get and MFA and then wander.

"Like Eat, Pray, Love," my sister said. No, I'm not running away from a devastating divorce. But I am looking for something.

Mesa Para sa Isa

Naalala ko si Caloy nang binasa ko ang tulang Dalitpuri ni Elynia Mabanglo. Nariyan ang paglalaro sa salita:

tayo na kung gayon
at pabinyagan sa dilim ang kamatayang
bumabaha sa ating silid
may panahon para sa mga dugong
dumadaloy sa lansangan
may panahon para sa kamay na umiilag
sa pagtatakipsilim ng mga bituin
may panahon para masambot
ang tula ng mga tala

Bago mag-ed exam noon, humiram si Caloy ng kalipulan ng mga tula ni Mabanglo para raw makatulong sa paggawa niya ng katsibong.

Kasama sa New Year's resolutions ko ngayong taon na muling magsulat sa Filipino. Muli akong nagsisimula sa payak na paraan. Nagsusulat ako kung paano ako magsalita.

Sinabi ni Elynia Mabanglo sa paunang salita na dumalang na ang pagsulat niya ng tula mula nang tumira siya sa Hawaii. Wala na raw kasi siyang kahuntahan tungkol sa panitikan kaya mas mahirap magsulat.

Samantalang ako, nasa Pilipinas pero nahihirapan ring magsulat sa Filipino. Kaya naman kailangan ko pang magbasa nang magbasa hanggang magsimula akong kumatha.

Friday, January 07, 2011

One book a month

Is one of my New Year's Resolutions. I was appalled by how much crap (read: romance novels) I read last year so I've resolved to do better this year.

And I've actually finished reading a book!

I picked it up because it was a New York Times notable book for 2010, and also because it was a romance. So there.

I happily read one chapter a night until the last few chapters grabbed me by the throat. I couldn't go to sleep until I had finished it.

So far, so good.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

The Shakespeare Reading Challenge

After one friend's successful undertaking to read one book a month last year, I was inspired to do the same.

To add another twist, I decided to take up the Shakespeare Reading Challenge -- the easiest level, Puck, is to read four plays this year. Something that I can very easily do. I've always wanted to read Shakespeare's plays, but I never got to take a Shakespeare survey course in college.

Here's Puck. He's ugly, as befits a trickster. But I'm sure that he can change his form at will.

So I got a list of Shakespeare plays to read from an online penpal, who's teaching Shakespeare to Korean students.

I hereby commit to reading the following plays, in no particular order:

1. Twelfth Night
2. King Lear
3. The Tempest
4. Measure for Measure

My online pal advises watching each play before I read it, which I think is a good idea. As he points out, plays are meant to be watched, not read. He also recommends buying good annotated versions of each play so that I can actually understand what they're talking about.

Any recommendations?

On another note, I didn't update this blog at all last year but I did manage to make some headway on a novel before ultimately deciding to abandon it. I also finished a short story a couple of days ago.

I realized that I write better offline, so I probably won't be updating this blog as much except to keep track of how I'm doing with the Shakespeare Reading challenge and other various New Year's resolutions.

Here we go!