Thursday, November 13, 2008

Harry Trumps Edward *wink*

If we’re going to talk about fantasy boyfriends based on book characters, I have my own thing.

I love Harry Dresden.

Working as the only wizard in the Chicago phonebook gets him the oddest and dirtiest jobs like hunting down vampires and cleaning up after faeries and chasing ghouls. But he does what he thinks is right even if it means he’ll get hurt. Sure, to some that’s idiocy, but on him, it’s almost noble.

He gets scared. Terrified, most of the times. But he keeps his priorities intact. And if everything else fails, he still saves the girl (or vampire or werewolf) even if it meant dying in the effort.

He feels lonely. He seeks comfort, but knows it will always avoid him. He knows he will die alone, but carries on nevertheless.

He cracks me up. It doesn’t matter if he’s being hounded by killer zombies, he can still find the funny things to keep himself sane. Beats shouting “Ludicrus!”

He’s wise. Not all of the time, yes. But he’s got a deeper sense of humanity, our desires and our motivations. He knows how these things affect magic, and how to utilize it.

He’s human. Yeah, he’s got a longer life span than normal humans, but he will die and can die if killed in combat. He knows, fears, understands and faces Death. He respects death, and thus, lives Life.

Vampires go to him for help. He’s never sappy. He’s embarrassingly honest. He always stands up for what he believes is right.

He isn’t porcelain pretty; he looks like his beat-up VW most of the time. Rugged around the edges, a total fashion idiot-savant, and talks to skulls. But you can feel vitality when you’re around him. His passions overflow.

This is my kind of guy. I don’t need a boyfriend who sparkles in the sunlight. I want someone who will stand beside me in the sunlight, normal-like. Except that, I can hear his heart beating, and it tells me I can be certain he will fight for me and the things he believes I stand for to the very edge of his precious Life.


Saturday, August 05, 2006

Shadow of the Wind

Seeking the Truth Behind the Shadow of the Wind

When I was younger, I have often wished my father was a bookseller instead of an executive for a pharmaceuticals company. I thought maybe then, I would have known more of Borges and Castañeda instead of the generic names of medicines. It is easy to romanticize a bookseller’s life, especially for the bookworm that I was. It seemed like heaven to be in a place where I could inhale the slightly musty smell of old books and the newness of the scent of recently published ones. I could take one book, any book, and find myself in a distant country with a strange culture.

It is no wonder then that I was immediately drawn to the book Shadow of the Wind written by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Set in the fascinating city of Barcelona in Franco’s Spain which was all new to me, the story begins with a father bringing his ten-year-old son Daniel Sempere to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. It is a place known to only a handful of booksellers in the city, a sanctuary of written words which had been misplaced or lost in time. In this repository, the books await their next owners and sometimes they wait for centuries until the day they will be read again. Daniel chooses a book which is also called Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. Captivated by it, he spends most of his young life trying to solve the puzzle of its unknown author. In the end, he learns that the puzzle he has solved is more about him than that of Carax.

As the reader, it felt like I also grew up with him as the presence of the mysterious book and author becomes more imminent and dangerous. There are stories within stories in this novel, and it felt like I was carefully disassembling one of those Russian dolls which contains replica after replica inside. The deeper I got, the more enthralled I was by the discovery that I am reading about characters who could have been real people I know. I recognize their emotions, both hurt and pain. I recognize their little joys. A book written by an author many miles away has touched a chord inside of me. I suppose the hold of the story on me is this: Books are made of soul-stuff as well as mirrors that reflect what’s inside its reader.

I had been as lost as Daniel Sempere, amidst libraries and mazes I have constructed inside of me. I had fallen in love as he had, and had my heart broken into a thousand little pieces as he did. I have immersed myself in books until their surreal world has become more real to me than the world I do live in. Growing up, I believed I was the most boring person on earth. Holding conversations strains me; I sweat at the idea of having company for dinner. My idea of happiness is a book and solitude, and yet I rarely had the time to engage in it because I was always being thrust in positions of leadership by the people around me. I felt fake because of the dual personality I had to adopt so as to accommodate everybody’s expectations. On the surface, I glisten and shine, but inside I was afraid that I was dull and ordinary. I searched for my true self which so far only my books have seen.

But this story here started with an ordinary book chosen by an ordinary boy with an extraordinary curiosity. This ordinary boy pursued the truth until the very end, even if it means risking his very life. Surely, I can also be like Daniel and relentlessly seek the truth. I am convinced that I have the same curiosity inside me and the same thirst for self-knowledge. I would rather seek the truth than succumb to the madness that self-loathing and bitterness would bring.

If I look at my life this way, I start to see that maybe the lackluster life I perceive I have needs to be re-examined. If I think about it, my story is also a mixture of fantasy, mystery and melodrama. Suddenly, it seems I may actually have lived a life less ordinary. Maybe, all I need is the passion to give me the courage to pursue the quiet and simple life I have always wanted. Maybe life will surprise me as much as this book has. To borrow words from Zafon, maybe there is something to be said about a life spent pursuing “the dreams that live in the shadow of the wind”.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Last Unicorn

They only told me that it was the greatest fantasy novel ever written. As a Tolkien fan, I doubted this. But it surely wouldn’t hurt to read it, would it?

With this premise, I started seeking out a copy of Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn. It proved hard to find in Metro Manila, and once found, also proved to be quite expensive. So I kept scouring second-hand bookshops in my Finder-of-Lost-Treasures mode until by some turn of fate, I managed to get my hand on a copy at 1/18th of its original price. I admit that while looking at the slim, worn-out volume, I had my doubts about its potential greatness. If it was truly as amazing as it is touted to be, how come someone out there decided to give it away and leave it to the fate of questing fantasy enthusiasts? Even if I knew enough not to judge a book by its cover, a part of me wasn't enticed to read the book immediately. What's more is that when I tried to read the first five pages, my interest was only mildly hooked. At some point, I started to feel as if I was only trudging through it; I was going through the notions just so I could say I have read this so-called amazing novel. That is, of course, until I realized how stupid I sounded. I'm glad I had enough wisdom left to put The Last Unicorn down and save it for later reading. Perhaps a part of me recognized the faint shimmering jewel hidden inside the book and warned me, albeit subconsciously, that this is a story I must digest - - not speed-read through while inside a crowded bus after a tiring day at work.

Finally, I was able to get back to it during a long weekend. To my amazement, I picked up the book and this time I couldn't put it down. From the solitude of my room, I was catapulted into a world where unicorns exist – or at least, one still does. This creature has lived through the centuries and has brought beauty to her immediate surroundings. She didn't know she was the last unicorn, but she knew something was amiss because it had been a long time since she saw any of the others. She can also sense it because without unicorns, magic bleeds out of the world like watercolor and everything that is beautiful fades away with it. Not knowing cowardice or regret, she set out with the desire to find her kin and to find other beings able to recognize her. For if they can still name her as a unicorn, then a little magic must have remained and it would be enough to guide her way. She learns that the other unicorns were captured by the Red Bull owned by King Haggard, and with grim and a bit haughty determination, she chose to seek them both. But before she could even begin her quest she is captured by the Midnight Carnival and was put on display for a fee. Here she meets Schmendrick the Magician and the story picks up speed.

From the darkest Carnival ever assembled in the middle of the forest, we follow the unicorn and Schmendrick to the edges of the trees, beyond the borders of the fertile land and into the charred, barren soil of Haggard's kingdom. We meet petty mayors and merry thieves, friendly townsfolk and greedy cursed men. I say we, because I was truly transported into this cunning, fascinating country with the unicorn and I could only follow her path.

This tale is a story of a lot of astonishing things. Very few books, fantasy yarns especially, could be said to influence people’s lives. Yet reading through the book has re-taught me the value of purity of heart, honesty of intentions, wisdom and heroism.

It also taught me that magic is in seeing the ordinary things with patient eyes. I have increasingly felt jaded ever since I started living in the “real world”. I started working right after college in what I believed as a noble job. One could say that I thought I could bring a little magic back into the world. But as the levels of difficulty of making a living rose, ennui settled in. Now I find myself discarding the dreams I had when I was younger because the world proved to be a drearier and more difficult place than I imagined it to be. So why fight for your dreams when the world seems to just be intent in foiling your plans? How long will it take me to get to my silver lining? I want to live the grand exciting life now, you see.

I found the answer in Prince Lir’s words (the son of King Haggard and who helped in freeing the other unicorns), “The true secret of being a hero is knowing the order of things… Quests may not simply be abandoned, prophecies may not be left to rot like unpicked fruit, unicorns may go unrescued for a long time, but not forever. The happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story.” And here, Olivia has learned fortitude.

As the world grows more jaded, the tendency to sneer at fairytales and happy endings also increases. But the novel boldly claimed that only the fantastic quests and the mythical beings are ever real. People are just part of one long, winding fairy tale. We are all playing our parts as authored by the Unknown Hand who created us. We are only on earth for such a little time and will be easily forgotten. Why not make the best out of it?

I wish I have read The Last Unicorn when I was younger. There are too many things I want to unlearn at my age now and maybe a great many things I wished I could have retained from what I originally knew as a kid. I would have truly enjoyed it back then because I knew that unicorns existed. I knew that magic is hidden deep inside each of us and is just waiting for the appropriate time to reveal itself. And where magic fails, brave hearts must sally forth and face whatever challenges lies ahead. I knew there were good and bad things, highlighted in black and white. I knew to avoid the grey areas if only because it is drab and listless.

Yes, a younger Olivia would’ve been happily lost deep in this book. But perhaps, reading it now has allowed me to distill some better truth, some purer knowledge from the book. Perhaps this cut-off feeling from anything magical is part of the enchantment. The book spurs me into action -- hold it! Hold it! before the last stardust fades away. Seek your dream to the end of the story. Do not let go until you have grasped it in your hand.

Luckily, I think I've just managed to catch a tail of it and that's why the world shimmers a bit brighter than it did yesterday. Just as the captured unicorns were set free and let loose into the land to bring back the magic, thus I summon magic back into my life as well.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Book Title: THE GIVER
Author: Lois Lowry
Published by Bantam Double Day Dell Books for Young Readers, New York, USA
Printed 1994
Number of Words: 485
Suggestion for Title: Choices We Make

All certified bookworms know that the mark of a great book is not in its length but in how it has changed your point of view. Some stories seem to go on and on while adding every possible twist in the plot, and yet you remain unaffected by it. Meanwhile, there are some books out there which are short but totally changes the way you see the world. They cut across all genres - across all generations even – in its telling of one pure story. This is exactly what Lois Lowry had done in her award-winning book The Giver. In 180 pages, she relates to us the story of a boy who lived in a perfect world and his discovery of what humanity has given up to gain the ideal society.

This book has been around for ages. In fact, I first read it when I was eleven years old and I loved it so much that I must have reread it a hundred times since then. The story is about Jonas, who lives in a world where there is no pain and suffering. There are rules for everything, and everyone follows them to the letter. Everything is pre-selected – their parents, their jobs, their spouses. No one is capable of making wrong choices since there are no choices to speak of at all. There is no color, no snow, rain or sun – there is just Sameness. There are no a strong emotions either – the words enraged or jealous has become obsolete, as much as the word love has become meaningless.

What’s striking about this book is the solidity of Lowry’s crafted world. All the solutions presented to solve most of Man’s modern malaise are believable and even reasonable. And as the carefully constructed system of their society unravels, it becomes more chilling to see that what Jonas’s people had to give up to achieve the perfect society was, in fact, their humanity.

As the story progresses, it becomes clear that the ideal community is not such a distant reality for us after all. But what would we be willing to give up? It’ll be great to have everything easy, but who would we be if we never knew pain or suffering? Can existing that way be ever called living at all? These are surprisingly hard questions raised from such a short book.

It’s too bad that The Giver is technically categorized as fiction for young adults. Yes, the story is set in another world which isn’t like our own yet. But children aren’t the only ones who would love this story. I actually believe that it’s the adults who should be reading the book. Anyone who ever thought they could make do without problems should read this book. Everyone who ever wondered what makes us human should read this book. Hmm… actually, every carbon-based life form who could read should read this book. And I think, that’s enough said.

The Gift by Patrick O' Leary

* I submitted this review to a friend of mine who was editor of a magazine. Unfortunately, publishing of the mag did not pull through. Am just placing this here for memento's sake.

Book Title: THE GIFT
Author: Patrick O’Leary
Published by Tom Doherty Associates (A Tor Book) , Fifth Avenue, New York
Printed 1997
Number of Words: 433 words
Suggestion for Title: Storytellers

“Death is the price. Magic is the gift.”

With this deceptively simple concept, Patrick O’Leary leads us right into an intricately woven tale inside tales inside tales. This book has all the elements of great fantasy interspersed throughout its pages – sorcery and shadows, greed and tragedy, and young men on a quest to save the world and their souls. But his book pushes the boundaries a little further, where the oddest characters and creatures mean the most sense. The beauty of this story is found in its rich prose and vivid description of everything that transpires in that world. It strings us along through a complex, and sometimes, tricky ride through the varying state of emotions of the main characters – loss, imitable sadness, confusion, anger and the joy of salvation.

It takes a little patience to read this book, but efforts are richly rewarded by the gems of wisdom found in so many of the little stories within the story itself. The need to savor the book gets stronger every time a page is turned, since it becomes apparent that this is not a piece of work to speed-read through. It must be relished; each word must be sampled piece by piece. The story is not in a hurry to end, for the end may just be another beginning after all.

My favorite realization in the whole book is that humans would just be animals without stories. Stories made us wonder and gave us wisdom. Stories gave us the beginnings of new yearnings and desires. Through stories, we can live many lives. It is our kind’s biggest piece of magic and it surrounds us all the time. But stories also gave us endings and our first encounter with little deaths. We began to truly understand what it means for things to come to an end. And with this book, we live and die a number of times.

As the final page is turned be prepared for the impulse to read parts of the book again. I attest that some of the stories inside are best read three times at the very least. In each rereading, something new surfaces from the lush imagery and provides us with a better understanding of what O’Leary was trying to describe to us. All in all, the world as related by the stories is ours to dream up. We are given a playground for the imagination. The deeper you delve, the more you learn how humans survived all these centuries. We are stronger because of our gift. Stories are all we have. And storytellers are who we are.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Book Critic (Inside her Head)

Oh well, here comes the one who spoke too soon.

I did say i was about to embark on my new life as a fantastic book critic. But. Well. Maybe it's not yet the right time for that. So anyway, it doesn't mean I can't write critiques anymore. I can. And maybe this time, I can even pepper my sentence swith the most uproarious unconnected words.

Writers write. Simple as pie.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Atlantis Rising by Brad Steiger

Why am I writing about a run-of-the mill book I bought for 10 pesos?

Well, it's because it's the geekiest book I have ever read.

Ancient Sea Kings Did Exist!

Atlantis is Real!

The powers of the sea ruled over the earth once in history!

And the thing is, the author actually believes the crap he's espousing. Me, I believe that Atlantis once existed. but it doesn't matter anymore where it was, the thing is that we know that we can follow the same path to total extinction. I don't think Atlanteans were aliens from another planet. I think they were men. Highly evolved. Our precursors. Or maybe they were gods. I'd sooner believe that than aliens. Even if my book fare nowadays consists mainly of stories on alien invasions.

It is so geeky, and so damn interesting. I don't know how he pulled it off. But he did. And kudos to you, Geeky Brad.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Meet the Book Reviewer

Would soon be posting my book reviews on this blog as soon as I get the go signal from my boss, aherm, Peloy. =D

Yep, I get to review books as a third job. Ha! Dream come true or what?

Later days.