Redirections #1

Favorite long reads that do not (cannot) make it to my yearly reading goal but sustain my need for good stories that punch you in the gut.

Sometimes, I start writing only to find out one paragraph in that I have nothing to say. It is weirdly frustrating. I’ve been consuming a lot of very good writing recently yet the greatness barely rubs off. An old adage insists that good writing comes from good reading, so I read and read and read. It would be nice to share a story too, but until I find my voice and a good tale to match it, I might just as well go on reading.

And so I read. Every break I get from work turns into short sprees – from Stephen King’s On Writing, to Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle Part 1, to the first few pages of Anna Karenina. I’m also supposedly to be in the middle of two short story collections but I can never seem to want to read them, but I want to read something long and engaging but nothing too long and too demanding so I turn to great writing on the web instead.

Roxana Halls
Roxana Halls

One of my recent favorites is Zadie Smith’s Dead Man Laughing – an essay about growing up a comedy nerd, her father’s love for comedy, and the jokes that run through her family.

Zadie Smith is a long-time writer girl crush. She writes so beautifully and her words will cover you with a nice rose-tinted veil of happiness and introspection. There are people who see the world differently, and Zadie’s gift is to write about this distinct worldview so wonderfully.

The humor of its people helped make it [Britain] bearable. You don’t have to be funny to live here, but it helps. Hancock, Fawlty, Partridge, Brent: in my mind, they’re all clinging to the middle rungs of England’s class ladder. That, in large part, is the comedy of their situations.

Another good one is Emily Nussbaum’s The Last Girl in Larchmont – a profile on the fascinating Joan Rivers. I’ve always known Joan Rivers and her brand of comedy but I have never gravitated to her Fashion Police stint. Roast comedy has never appealed to me (it feels cheap and exploitative), but I loved how Nussbaum framed Joan Rivers’s comedy as a product of a sexist era. I’ve come to admire Rivers for standing out in a man’s game during a time when it was harder to be a woman.

.. her flamboyant self-hatred made possible this generation’s flamboyant self-love, set the groundwork for the crazy profusion of female comics on TV these days, on cable and network, cheerleading one another, collaborating and producing and working in teams, as if women weren’t enemies at all.

Roxana Halls_
Roxana Halls

Another favorite is Larry Ypil’s  A Song of Two Cities – a nostalgic narrative about being a Cebuano expat in Singapore. My casual disregard for the quirks of my island city always gets shaken every time I read about Cebu from the perspective of someone who is away from it.

To be a Filipino expat writer in Southeast Asia is to be a witness to ways in which versions of oneself are mirrored in landscapes that are different from and similar to one’s own. To suffer the weather of the same but also of the not quite.

* Featured Image: Augustus John’s The Blue Pool. 1911

Storytellers’ Night #6: On the Road

I’ve been wanting so badly to write about Storytellers’ Night, but work has been persistently nagging and when I get home, all my brain wants to do is shut off and rest.

It’s a pleasure to have had shared a piece of my life in each of the last four Storytellers’ Nights I’ve been to.  It’s been a year since I was first invited to share – I started on Summertime Big-Girl Independence, a very personal piece about growing up with my mother and then growing old without her. It was also the first piece I sat down to write in what felt like years. I’m typically very discreet. I don’t talk about my dreams and I’m even more private about my deep-rooted grief, so getting down and dirty with my personal demons and sharing something so intimate was a revelation to me as it probably was to the people present that night.

Last Saturday was the event’s sixth night and we talked about adventures or misadventures On the Road.

As much as I enjoy the actual story-telling, the stories we share before and after are something I always look forward to. While talking about who/what we’re reading right now, Patskie transitioned to telling me about this video then suggested that I read Stephen King’s On Writing. I am in the middle of that book right now and it’s so much fun. From here onward, anyone who disrespects Stephen King is dead to me, but more on that later.

Dylan also showed me his latest volume of sketches – his work just seems to get better and better every time I see him.

And I only ever get to see him and all these other cool cats on STN. I am so thankful to Mark and Jo of Happy Garaje for getting these people (including me) out of our caves.

Mark said that there is magic in these nights – nights when we are able to share things that we normally couldn’t and for some of us, Storytellers’ Nights are the only places we can ever partake in this magic.  Thanks, Happy Garaje/Folk Fiction, for being the purveyor of that magic. You have truly made something beautiful.

‘Til the next night.

 

 

 

Book Swap Cebu

I dropped by the second Book Swap Cebu event last Friday to have some of my old favorites traded with some of other people’s faves. I missed the first one earlier this year so I’m really glad they organized another one so soon after.

These are my loot:


I haven’t been book shopping much lately, partly because I have no time, but mostly because I really haven’t got the space for more books after I’ve moved in to a smaller apartment. I have tons of books and I’ve given away so many (including my Harry Potter set, nbd) but when I moved out last year, I was very much surprised to find that my books still took up a good four boxes + 1 shelf.

I really didn’t expect to go home with so many books as I’ve restricted myself to only pick up titles that are very compelling so imagine my surprise when I found someone who traded in China Mieville’s Kraken and C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed. Grief has been on my death reading list for so long, and I am the biggest China Mieville fan I know lol, so I was ecstatic. I felt like a child again.

I also traded in my copy of Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents (A Discworld book), so it was amusing to get another Discworld book back (Witches Abroad) as a sort of funny Discworld barter.

The place (Handuraw Mango) was packed and too bad I couldn’t stay for Short Reads live after the swapping as I had to rush to the other Handuraw for Karla’s book launch. That place was also stuffed to the brim, but I managed to get a copy of her book.

It’s exciting to have two prime hangout places in Cebu crowded with book-loving people on a Friday night. I never thought I’d see the day.

January Wrap-up

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January has been to me a good month for reading, likely owing to the two weeks I was out of work recuperating from my fancy hospitalization late last year. I’ve closed 8 books this year, making me far ahead of the schedule in my goal of reading 30 books for 2016.

Here are my January reads:

1. Light by Rob Cham

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

3. Yes, Please by Amy Poehler

4. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Recommended to me by Emily Blunt’s immaculate face who will be playing the eponymous character in an upcoming movie adaptation. This book is a fun, fast-paced thriller that is reminiscent of Gone Girl though not as masterfully made.

Continue reading “January Wrap-up”

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler

Second favorite from the pile of books read in January (total population: 8, woo!). Amy Poehler is one of my favorite comedians. She’s funny and insightful and I am so happy for all the success she’s been getting. I am obviously a big fan of her and her brand of humor and this is probably why I enjoyed this book immensely.

As a fan of her, I loved this but as a fan of books, I felt like Yes, Please could’ve used a lot more editing. There are so many portions of the book that were all over the place.

Continue reading “Yes, Please by Amy Poehler”

Jane Eyre: A Book Review, Some Regrets, Fassbender’s Face, and a Short Feminist Rant

This book was a pleasure to read from start to finish. It’s a shame it took me so long to pick this up now knowing it has many things I would’ve liked to read while I was growing up. I’ve always enjoyed Gothic novels, delighted in opinionated female characters, and enjoyed beautiful, descriptive writing.

After finishing the book, I was browsing its Goodreads page to see what others thought of it, as I’ve been wont to do because I am nosy and enjoy mentally agreeing/disagreeing with other people’s judgments about things I like. A lot of people hated it, but many others loved it too, sometimes as much as I did though not in the same way. One very poignant review passionately pointed out that she “… could bang Mr. Rochester like a screen door ’till next Tuesday.” Interesting. In another review, Jane’s plainness and sob stories were found boring, and Rochester was found to be insufferable, immoral and uninteresting.

I never really viewed Jane Eyre as a romantic novel. I vehemently refuse to experience it as a love story between Jane and Mr. Rochester because Jane is so much more than her romantic relationships. I also think Rochester is gross, and her admiration for the man ludicrous.* I understand when people are put off by this romance because I hated it too. (Full disclosure: I’ve read Jean Rhys’ prequel Wide Sargasso Sea years back and thus have already formed negative opinions about Rochester before reading Jane Eyre).

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Just saw the 2011 adaptation and Fassbender made Rochester less gross (darnit, Fassbender!!), still old and intense though.

If you allow yourself to look past that ridiculous May-December love affair, you will appreciate Jane’s education – from her difficult time at the hands of the Reeds to her training at the Lowood Charity school, which fed her hunger for a life outside of those walls leading her to the most important part of her coming-of-age at Thornfield Hall. You will love her spunk, and you will enjoy her comebacks to people who did her wrong. You kind of expect Victorian ladies to be all coy and modest but not this Jane. I’ve done far too many mental hellsyeah! every time she tells people off. When her cruel aunt told her cousins to stay away and not associate with her as she is not worthy of notice, she remarks, “They are not fit to associate with me.

Continue reading “Jane Eyre: A Book Review, Some Regrets, Fassbender’s Face, and a Short Feminist Rant”

Light by Rob Cham; and Limbo by Playdead

Light is a worldless comic book created by Rob Cham and released by Anino in 2015. The pages are framed in black and features a backpack-toting, nameless fella that travels across different lands, and encounters and battles different monsters in his mysterious quest.

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His journey unfolds delightfully in pitch black backgrounds, with the occasional peppering of colors to signify a milestone. The illustrations are beautifully rendered in the limited color palette that Rob Cham chooses and reminds me a lot of Limbo, a wordless puzzle-platform game made by independent Danish game developer Playdead.

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Both titles play around with black and white, they have beautiful visuals, and both tease their audiences with a mystery (What are these kids up to?) that makes us want to keep going til the very end.

Continue reading “Light by Rob Cham; and Limbo by Playdead”

The Big Bad Wolf

Bigby-sama, show me the ways of the Wolf.

The Wolf Among Us is an episodic game by Telltale Games based on the Fables comic book series by Bill Willingham. Since I am almost always late to most video game parties and all five episodes have been released at the time of playing, it didn’t feel at all very episodic to me but was instead a point-and-click adventure/mystery drama that didn’t play so much as a game as it did an interactive movie.

A huge selling point of Telltale Games’ episodic series was that every choice you make can lead to enormous and vastly different consequences. Apart from the gorgeous graphics and the promise of excellent story-telling, I liked the choice-based mechanic of the game because it felt like an opportunity for me to learn how to be more unyielding and maybe, a bit more zen too.

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You see, I’m a chronic worry-wart and making choices is almost always excruciating for me. I irrationally suffer through the process of making decisions for myself, and suffer twice more when making decisions for others. Huge or tiny choices, it really doesn’t matter. All is fair in mental health problems and war.  If I had my way, it can take me as much time to choose what Jollibee value meal to order, or what internet service provider to choose as much as it takes to decide if I should move out of my folks’ home or not, all of which can be a looong time. And when I finally make the decision, it will always feel like something’s amiss, that maybe I still missed a pro or a con on my list of pro vs cons. Or I didn’t do enough research. Something. Anything. Sometimes, I get so bogged down by the gravity of the act of choosing (not so much the choices, as sometimes the outcome is irrelevant), that I give up and end up not making a choice at all.

That is why choice and consequence games can be a good way for me to make decisions fast (before a timeout!), stay firm about them and not look back (e.g. whine too much). I need to learn how to live with the decisions I make. Unless I die in which case, I go back to an earlier save point.

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But I digress. This post is about the game and not about me, and The Wolf Among Us didn’t feel at all like the decisions I made throughout the game really had much effect on the plot line. They didn’t feel like they added up to something big nor did I see any changes that may have been defined by tiny dialogue options that I had to click before a timeout bar disappears. Apart from a couple of obviously huge decisions (which you would know are huge choices because they are totally IN YOUR FACE), I didn’t think that every other time-based choices made an impact to the story as have been over-hyped. They would probably make you miss a two second retort from the eponymous Bigby Wolf, but nothing major will probably happen. I just didn’t feel any sort of gravity from the choices I had to make. Choose this or that, or not choose at all, and it would probably not matter*.

Continue reading “The Big Bad Wolf”

Transience

Hi.

So, I’m on medical leave. It’s been 9 days so far, and I’ve been home alone cooped up in my tiny fortress of solitude for about seven of those days and it has been great. I feel like myself again, or at least a version of myself. One that gets so very easily tired. The doctor said that surgical anesthesia and getting some parts partially lopped off of you can do weird things to your body for at least a couple of weeks. So far, the weirdest things that have happened were a three-hour afternoon nap today, an irrational craving for Jollibee, and rereading Rilke.

And if I cried, who’d listen to me in those angelic orders? 

Seriously, Rilke. I first knew of him from following this older girl from the early days of blogspot and livejournal. She wrote about her first few years out of college, and I was in high school, which makes it more than ten years ago now.

She wrote so beautifully and passionately and quoted Rilke like it’s nobody’s business. She was lyrically intense, and after reading The First Elegy from the Duino Elegies and some letters from that book, I figured her obsession with Rilke has a lot to do with how superlative and passionate she always seemed to be. I wonder where she is now.

Maybe what’s left
for us is some tree on a hillside we can look at
day after day, one of yesterday’s streets,
and the perverse affection of a habit
that liked us so much it never let go.

The Selfish Gene

In the beginning was simplicity.

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The Selfish Gene made me feel funny feelings about being alive. It’s nice to think of yourself as a vehicle for a million-year old replicator gene to drive around in and I find the theory that we’ve arisen from such humble beginnings to such unthinkable complexity to be weirdly self-affirming.

We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators..

George Saunders once wrote that stories are black boxes where the reader enters in one state of mind and exits in another, and that rings true to me for The Selfish Gene. I didn’t think I would finish reading it, let alone learn so much out of it and enjoy that feeling that you’ve become a slightly different version of yourself after the fact. It’s very cool.

Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are all born selfish.

This is all because of Richard Dawkins, of course. What a marvellous story-teller – he is wonderfully attuned to the voice and shape of his theories, and those of others which he built his gene-centric theory from. He writes with such cadence and uses accessible metaphors to teach laymen what we need to know, what we want to know and he makes each chapter truly a world in itself. I loved this book and can’t wait to read more non-fiction books that are as good as this.

p.s.

I’ve had this in my Drafts for about two years. I read this book in 2013.