Book thoughts: The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom

There are not many things I wish to control. I’ve spent the past few years of my life simply winging it, which has worked both ways for me. However, there is one thing I, and I suppose many of us, want more hold on – and that is time.

The Time Keeper features how Dor, also known as Father Time, first discovers how to measure moments. This didn’t sit well with God, who banishes Dor until he learns his lesson by teaching two characters how to value time – a young, intelligent girl with self-esteem issues who is bullied in school and wants her life to end, and a successful business man who wants to live forever, never mind the cost.

The premise of the book is compelling. It made me think hard about time – how uncontrollable it is, how I can only work around it, how I should be using it instead of how I’m actually spending it. When you think about it, we’ve managed to effectively limit ourselves to working within compartmentalized moments when we figured out how measuring time works. Yes, a system is essential, a routine has to be established, rules have to be set in order for civilization to progress but sometimes we forget that life isn’t all about that. Like work hours, for instance. We’ve set it at 8am to 5pm, which is majority of your waking hours. If you like what you’re doing, then well and good, and that is time well-spent. But what if you are one of those who is still searching for what you’re meant to do, but because you’re told you can’t simply do nothing, you have to settle for what’s there – which is a job you don’t really enjoy. So you’re there everyday for 9 hours at least which you’d rather spend doing something else, and before you know it, you’ve spent (wasted) several years on something you don’t love. Something that doesn’t mean that much to you. It’s a troublesome and sad thought, and might be enough to make you want to do something about it before you run out of time.

But how do you learn to understand time? How do you learn to work with it? To accept it? I don’t know. I don’t know if anyone knows the answers.

Mitch Albom’s style is simple, so the book was easy to read. My biggest problem was how rushed it felt. Albom spent quite some time explaining the technical history of time through Dor, and giving us a glimpse of Sarah and Victor’s lives before Dor came into theirs, but the book did not really explore what happened after their realizations (except for Dor). I guess this was meant for the reader to do some introspection and come to their own conclusion, but I thought it was a shame Albom didn’t do it anyway. He didn’t show us Dor’s impact on their lives which would have been a great opportunity for him to showcase more of his simple but hard-hitting prose.

While I really think Mitch Albom could have done more with the story, I think The Time Keeper is still worth checking out because it was incredibly thought-provoking and made me contemplate my views on life and time. I’m sure you, too, will be able to take something away from it.

Advertisements

Comic-book thoughts: Trese by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo

Image

When crime takes a turn for the weird, the police call Alexandra Trese.

Let me begin by saying that I don’t read much comic-books. It’s not that I don’t like them; come to think of it, I’m not entirely sure why I never bought more. Archie was a staple during my elementary days. After that, our housekeeper somehow got me to read Pupung, a local comic-book. The humor was simple enough for my 10-year old self to enjoy. There are some popular local comic-books and strips that are very much a part of Philippine culture (like Pugad Baboy), but I never got to pursue reading them until recently. My current favorites are Kikomachine Komix by Manix Abrera and, the subject of this post, Trese by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo.

I first came across Trese in the anthology Manila Noir (Trese: Thirteen Stations) and I was immediately hooked! As of today, I have only read Trese: Murder on Balete Drive (Cases 1-4) and Trese: Last Seen After Midnight. The enigmatic Alexandra Trese is a consultant/detective (consulting detective??) specializing in supernatural cases that seem to plague Captain Guerrero, who is kinda like Gotham’s Commissioner Gordon, except Guerrero and Trese have a better working relationship (hehe). She is a BAMF, I tell you, and all this bad assery brings up so many questions about her past — who exactly was her father Anton Trese? And grandfather Trese? And how about her immense knowledge of the supernatural and her ability to communicate with their kind? Where and how did she learn to fight? She is accompanied by her ever dependable and extremely witty personal body guards, the Kambal. I honestly have no idea what they are at this point, but they appear human in some parts, and something else in other parts, donning diamond-shaped masks of a happy face and a sad face when they unleash their powers. They have the best lines in the book. Just this afternoon I was reading Last Seen After Midnight at McDonald’s and the Kambal made me chuckle out loud. I was by myself. I don’t how that might have seemed to my neighboring tables, but they provide comic relief to an otherwise gripping case.

What really got me hooked, though, was the way Tan and Baldisimo used Philippine folklore in the story lines. Stories that were told by our grandmothers or housekeepers, the aswangs, manananggals, tikbalangs, nunos, the Santelmo, demons and other creatures that lurk in the dark, were so cleverly presented and integrated in the Manila (and other Philippine cities) of today, I couldn’t help but devour two books in one afternoon. I’m not only enjoying, I am also learning more about our culture.

The illustrations are incredibly striking as well. The books are in black and white. I’m not talking about gray scale, mind. I’m talking about pitch black against white. Being a fan of anything black and white, the art was one of the first things that caught my attention. It definitely adds intensity to the stories, making things seem darker and more ominous. It would be interesting to see them in full color, though. I read that the main character was supposed to be male, but they decided to make her female, and kept the devil’s hair cut which begs the question: Who are you really, Alexandra Trese?

I highly recommend the Trese comic-books as they have topnotch material. This concept of humans and supernaturals has been touched upon by other authors and writers in different media (I am a huge fan of the television series Supernatural), but having the peculiarities of local monsters, and the intensity of the illustrations, make Trese such a unique and exciting experience.

Find out more about Trese here!

Book thoughts: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I dived into the book with high expectations. I’d been hearing good things about it, not to mention the fact that it’s an international best seller. Did it live up to the hype? Let’s see.

Warning: Spoilers ahead, so if you hate spoilers, then I suggest you stop reading now. But if, like me, you don’t mind, then I hope what follows makes sense.

I found it interesting that from the beginning, I felt no sympathy whatsoever for Nick Dunne. Quite understandably so, given the shit fest he’d managed to find himself in. But I felt the same way about Amy’s entries in the first part – like okay, I’m supposed to be feeling for her but there was something so manufactured, something trying too hard about her entries. I kept thinking if it was intentional in Flynn’s part or something was missing with her writing. True enough, when the second part rolled in, things made more sense. I was jarred, and my sympathies shifted. Sort of. I can never completely root for a cheater, no matter what the sorry reason behind it was, BUT Amy was just fucking twisted, man. Nick was an asshole, but Amy was really fucking sick.

I tried to like the book, I really did. The writing was compelling enough for me to want to finish it (though I rarely leave a book unfinished), and I was invested enough to want to know how things would turn out for the two main characters. The element of surprise was there. The book made me wonder what would push someone to that point. But there was no… heart. There was no conviction especially behind Amy’s characterization. Sure, we know she feels ripped off by her parents, that she probably deserved a better childhood, but really, I was not convinced that was reason enough for her to turn out the way she did. Then again, I do acknowledge that I don’t really know what that’s like but unlike, say, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, for instance, that had some twisted shit in it, too. But Larsson provided enough history and feelings and psychology for me to at least understand why the antagonist did what he did. It wasn’t an excuse, I never sympathized with him and I still cringe at the very thought of him, but it at least made me understand. And the effect was intense; it left me deeply disturbed, and thinking deeply about the humanity of it all. It’s not to say that this book didn’t disturb me, because it did to a certain degree, but it still lacked something.

The ending was anti-climactic as well. I’ve read enough books to know I can’t always get the ending I want, and I’ve read books which didn’t end the way I wanted them to, but this particular ending left me unsatisfied in the sense that it didn’t really drive home any message for me other than psychotic people can get their way? I don’t know. I’m still trying to digest it.

It was entertaining, and it was not without its moments of brilliance. I thought it was clever, the way the book let you form an initial impression of Nick, only to turn it around in the middle. His character was also fleshed out better than Amy. I thought Flynn was good at drawing out the moments of suspense, and her prose, especially in times of rage, were rather effective. I could feel the rage coursing through me as well and wanting to throw Amy into the ocean or Desi into the lake.

Gone Girl was indeed suspenseful, and left me on the edge for the most part, but it could have done with more conviction. Perhaps it’s a personal thing, and I’m probably in the minority here, but this is my humble opinion.

Musings of a bookaholic

“Reading is boring.”

Excuse me, but I can’t hear you properly over the sound of my incredulity.

Yes, I do understand that not everyone shares the same interests, but please also allow me to disagree with you when you say that reading is boring. (My bookaholic heart dies a little every time I hear that statement.)

Growing up as an only child meant I had to be creative in finding ways to amuse myself. While there was no shortage of playmates (my cousins were my neighbors), the introvert in me apparently manifested early on and steered me towards the bookshelves. I spent most of my childhood with my nose buried in a book – Sweet Valley, The Babysitter’s Club, Secret Garden, Black Beauty, Archie Comics, and my all-time favorite, the Nancy Drew series. I remember being in awe of the pretty and intelligent sleuth, and harboring a small crush on Ned Nickerson, the seemingly perfect all-American boy. Nancy was my first fictional hero – she could do no wrong in my eyes. Of course, I learned to be more critical of the series and characters as I grew older (yes, I now consider Nancy a Mary Sue), but I still enjoy reading them up to this day.

After Nancy Drew, I can’t remember any book that had the same impact on me. Sure, the required readings in English class like The Little Prince, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Catcher In The Rye, Lord of the Flies have touched me and still linger in my mind years later, having read what I considered then as heavy materials at such an impressionable stage, but nothing that really made me crave for more. Outside of class, I lacked the desire to consciously search for books to read… until Harry Potter came into my life. When I finished reading the last word of the last chapter of The Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone, there was no turning back. I could not return to my ordinary life when millions of pages worth of adventures were out there waiting to be read.

The series rekindled my love for reading – and I mean reading in the pure, recreational sense of the word. It is also the main reason why I’m such an anglophile and flailing fangirl right now, but that’s another story altogether. College came and I met fellow book-lovers who introduced me to so many other wonderful reads. I immersed myself in lives and worlds completely different from my own through One Hundred Years of Solitude, Memoirs of a Geisha, Bel Canto, The Alchemist, Tales of the Otori Trilogy (Across the Nightingale Floor, Grass For His Pillow, Brilliance of the Moon), The Hobbit, The Hunger Games trilogy, Looking For Alaska, The Book Thief (one of my favorite books of all time), Agatha Christie books, Good Omens, Norwegian Wood, The Millenium series (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), I Am The Messenger, The Kingkiller Chronicles (The Name of the Wind, The Wise Man’s Fear). There are about two piles of books in front of me still waiting to be read – books by George Orwell, Libba Bray, Haruki Murakami, Louisa May Alcott, Chuck Palahniuk, J.R.R. Tolkien, John Green, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. These lists are by no means exhaustive. I haven’t even included the non-fiction books which, if I have the time and muse, will be a different post. Besides, I’m too lazy to stand up right now and have a proper look through my bookshelf. Anyway, my point is, I still have so much to cover, and I have no intention of stopping what others consider a tedious and lackluster activity while dealing with real life. Why?

Because through books, I’ve been to so many kingdoms, met the tiniest to the most gargantuan of creatures, invested myself in the lives of the poor, of kings and assassins, of fairies and witches and wizards, cried my eyes out, felt outraged, had my heart taken out of my chest, beaten to a pulp, only to be patched together by the sweetest and most healing of words. I’ve lived a hundred years, experienced anguish and ecstasy and everything in between, been allowed to glimpse my own experiences in another light while in the comfort of my own bed. I have learned much about myself in reading about others.

So yes, please allow me to disagree with that statement. Reading has afforded me extraordinary journeys of self-discovery in my otherwise ordinary life. Not every worthwhile experience happens outside, in the thick of things – sometimes it happens within, and that doesn’t make it any less meaningful or authentic. To quote one of the wisest fictional characters I know, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

*Quote taken from Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows.