As a kid I found a reflection of myself in the Little Women character Jo March: tomboyish and bookish. Needless to say she became my favorite characte...moreAs a kid I found a reflection of myself in the Little Women character Jo March: tomboyish and bookish. Needless to say she became my favorite character, so when I discovered that there's a book about her boys/kids, I immediately purchased it after religiously reading Little Women.
The novel follows the story of Jo Bhaer's boys, the kids at Plumfield State School where Jo and her husband are teaching. It's a fun, cute read, full of life lessons for kids. I remember that Nat became my favorite boy then, and other than him I thought the other characters are pretty paperboard-like. I didn't enjoy it as much as I did the first book, but it's still a wonderful treat.(less)
For me, Edgar Allan Poe is the king of classic macabre literature, and I reckon that lots of antiquarians and gothic horror buffs will concur with me....moreFor me, Edgar Allan Poe is the king of classic macabre literature, and I reckon that lots of antiquarians and gothic horror buffs will concur with me. Poe had me at the first stanza of "Annabel Lee", but my favorite gems were the short stories "Tell-tale Heart", "The Cask of Amontillado", "The Pit and the Pendulum", and "The Fall of the House of the Usher". This one door-stopper of a tome is definitely worth the time and money I spent on it. Poe possessed a rather demented mind (worsened by alcohol and poverty), but his brainchildren are as amazingly twisted as ever.(less)
My first encounter with The Catcher in the Rye took place not so long ago, when I stumbled upon a dog-eared copy of it in a secondhand bookstore. It h...moreMy first encounter with The Catcher in the Rye took place not so long ago, when I stumbled upon a dog-eared copy of it in a secondhand bookstore. It has a plainer cover than the version I have now; it was just white, and there were half-circles of coffee stains flanking the author’s name. I picked it up out of curiosity and studied the content. For a few minutes I was confused. My first thought was, “Why hasn’t anyone told me it’s made up of blackout poems?” On every page there were thick black marker lines that erased some words, and the ink bled through the succeeding pages. Only when I started to read the first chapter did I realize it was actually vandalized. Some words were “blacked out” not for the sake of art, but for some kind of censorship.
So I bought a brand new copy of the book, the red one with the carousel horse doodle. I read it and found out that the erased portions contain mostly swearwords and sexual references, top reasons why this book became one of the most challenged of all time.
The story is simple. It is December 1949, and the embittered sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield gets expelled from Pencey Prep for getting the ax in almost all his subjects. He worries about his nervous mom, but in truth he is more than happy to get out of yet another school full of “phony” people. He prematurely gets himself out of their dormitory after getting in a fistfight with his narcissistic roommate. When he gets out into the streets to journey back home, he tells us his own version of a series of unfortunate events.
In 20-20 hindsight, it is safe to say Catcher is eternally present on the lists of frequently challenged books in the United States. Sure, there are readers who love it, but the balance beam is teetering heavily on the edge of the negative side. People have their own reasons for disliking it—vulgarity, blasphemy, sexual issues, you name it. But there is one reason I found a tad amusing but understandable: they don’t like Holden for being Holden.
A chain-smoking young man whose favorite hobbies are endless rounds of bellyaching, weaving angsty thoughts from some unspooled flashbacks, and forming all sorts of oath-peppered observation about every little thing that catches his attention. One will think, “Who can like a such a person?” Holden is the ultimate icon of teenage rebellion in his time, and looking at the world from his perspective is no light experience. At the surface he is a defiant figure, but once you learn to see through him you know he is a truly tragic character. I have a soft spot for rebels and tragic (anti)heroes, but what made me like Holden—and his story—is that no matter how much we want to deny it, there is always a bit of him in ourselves.
Holden loathes the world for being superficial and “phony,” but he is guilty of falling into that category most of the time. I think there is a part of us that is just like that, whether you are an adolescent or not. Readers who said they don’t like Holden is in some way saying they don’t like a part of themselves—and that is Holden-esque, too, because he admits he dislikes himself sometimes. It’s all akin to a mobius loop. Similar to what he experiences, there is a point in our lives when we will question how the world works, what on earth we are here for, why life is unfair, why he can be like that and she like this. That thing depresses me, this one kills me. Immaturity, impulsiveness, insecurity, peer pressure. Every once in a while, we will think of our future, but the past catches up with us and makes us screech to a halt in the messy present. And then we will feel lost, in a Holden sort of way. It is always up to us how to get back on track.
It is hard to pinpoint why Holden is the way he is, although I am guessing it has something to do with a few harrowing events in his past. We cannot really tell. For me, he embodies the deterioration of innocence as a human grows in the kind of society he is in. Maybe his life’s compass is forever haywire or there is a chance he has this twisted kind of Peter Pan syndrome for resisting and abhorring maturity, but one thing is clear: he has a vision of what he wants to be. A catcher in the rye, his arms ready to save kids who will fall off a cliff. It is a twee idea, but coming from someone who is clobbered by the ugly truths of life at an early age, it sort of becomes his metaphorical redemption. He wants to protect innocence the way he wants to protect his younger siblings. Notice how even in memory, Holden keeps little Allie amazingly alive.
Not everyone may consider it a “true classic” but I do. It is an unconventional hero’s bildungsroman revolving around an inner conflict, a tale about a boy torn between isolation for self-protection and his constant urge to have company.
I am glad the literary rebel in me stirred when I found the vandalized copy of Catcher; if it did not, I would have never met Holden. He is not exactly an idol, but he held a cracked mirror in front of me for a while, making me reflect on a few things. And for that, I am thankful. The Catcher in the Rye is one of the few books I will never get tired of reacquainting myself with.(less)
Among the muck and moral filth of 18th century France, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was born with an abnormally strong sense of smell. He doesn’t have a s...moreAmong the muck and moral filth of 18th century France, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was born with an abnormally strong sense of smell. He doesn’t have a scent of his own, but he is destined to be an olfactory genius. Grenouille bathes himself in the knowledge of the world’s aromas, but he grows dissatisfied and embarks on a new endeavor: to find the perfect scent. This undertaking, however, takes him down the wrong path, and he becomes one of the most prolific serial killers of all time.
After turning the last page of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, I’ve come to the conclusion that Patrick Suskind himself is a magnificent perfumer, except that he has words instead of scents. Like Grenouille, he didn’t draw phrases from a florid lexicon in order to produce his best product; he just strung all the hideous truths he could find in his chosen setting and set them forth sans verbal sugarcoating. The piece, as a result, is all naked exquisiteness.
If gritty fairytales are your cup of tea and if you are not a happy-ever-after junkie, I think this novel is a perfect treat. Perfume is a dark fable with historical foundation. The fact that it’s hard not to be awed by how Grenouille crafts his masterpieces even if he is practically a monster is enough to send chills down your spine. It’s one of those books that purposely place you in the limbo of indecisiveness about wanting to root for the “protagonist” or not.
Grenouille as a character is a hard nut to crack. Suskind grants readers all access to this psychopath’s mind, heart, and every aspect of his personality, but for some reason I still couldn’t consider him three-dimensional. I guess this is because Grenouille lacks the “realness” of being a human for he goes around like all the senses he needs are condensed in his nose. He sniffs and it’s as if he sees with it. He sniffs and he’s like he’s eaten with it. He sniffs and he feels with it…heck, he sniffs and orgasms with it. I know this is deliberate, but it kind of snitched a large chunk of his dimensionality. Be that as it may, he still emerges as a formidable entity that begs to be stamped indelibly in the readers’ minds. He wouldn’t have a problem with that.
I love how even if this is a seductively horrifying serial killer tale, it wraps up in a gloomy realization of one’s true identity not found, even tackling why it is important to be loved for who you really are in other to receive genuine happiness. The end is of course gruesome, but there’s a hint of sadness that lingers with it.
I can’t blame readers—especially from the generation I’m a part of—who claim Lewis Carroll is smoking pot or whatever while writing Alice’s Adventures...moreI can’t blame readers—especially from the generation I’m a part of—who claim Lewis Carroll is smoking pot or whatever while writing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Time and again it’s been dismissed as a childish literary nonsense, a bunch of imagery that has the same appeal as a cheap, colorful ice lolly when it comes to kid’s tastes. While I’m more on the team of readers who think the story’s mostly symbolism, I don’t go so far as to analyze every single bit of picture as an immensely significant political symbol or anything. Admittedly, though, I did try to spot shades of Carroll’s being a mathematician and how a church became an inspiration for the book.
Anyway, I enjoyed this book along with its successor, Through the Looking Glass. The chess and playing cards analogies are well-executed, and the anthropomorphic characters, while seemingly two-dimensional and cardboard-like, are actually interesting in some way. And if we’re going to talk about morals, you don’t have to squint to see them—they’re right under your nose, plain and simple.
The art is extremely commendable. I have a penchant for gothic-styled illustrations and whatnots, and this is probably the epitome of said style, at least in a book this short. Now, I only read this book in a few hours slumped in a comfy couch in Powerbooks, but I really wish I could buy it (it costs a bomb, I tell you, but if I’ve had enough bucks back then I probably would’ve bought it). I only discovered the artist when a friend linked a video of “the making” of the book’s illustrations, from drafts and initial sketches to the finished product. Really amazing. However, Alice as portrayed in the text is innocent and curious—a regular child. The art may be misleading, but if you’re a fan or a collector of the Alice books, this is definitely for you.
I love how the spirit of this book is still largely alive nowadays, spawning several spin-offs, modern flicks (the latest of which is Tim Burton’s take on it, where Alice comes back to wonderland/underland as a nineteen-year-old girl) and several other books (i.e. the amazing Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor). (less)
Exploring more of literature’s moral badlands is one of the things I included in my list of bookscapades this year. I’ve considered plunging back into...moreExploring more of literature’s moral badlands is one of the things I included in my list of bookscapades this year. I’ve considered plunging back into the worlds of Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis, but my sudden need to return to classics led me to Kurt Vonnegut. Cat’s Cradle, my first taste of his oeuvre, can be well considered a good postmodernist romp into the badlands I’m referring to. What made it stand out from its classic kin is its deadpan humor, packing a punch like no other and propping up his rich commentary on human folly.
Cat’s Cradle, like its string game namesake, has an intricacy that seems to back up the statement ‘the best lies create the best stories.’ It follows the narrator who calls himself Jonah (“Jonah—John—if I had been a Sam, I would have been a Jonah still”). He goes around collecting material for a book he’s planning to write, which is supposed to focus on the day the atomic bomb obliterated Hiroshima, Japan. He researches about Dr. Felix Hoenikker, one of the so-called fathers of the atomic bomb, and eventually finds his life entangled with those of the three strange Hoenikker children—a charmless wench, a train model designer, and a midget. On the process of acquiring potential materials, he gets to know the “outlawed” religion Bokononism, the impoverished San Lorenzo island with its stunning mulatto muse, and the powerful chip called ice-nine.
Vonnegut’s brand of social satire is a joy to read. Living in the 21st century didn’t prevent me from relating to his points; Vonnegut captured the 60s zeitgeist in the book, but it contains timeless threads that hook themselves in our generation.
With black humor in his lit voice box, the author speaks subversively of the little dystopias we build in our societies—science, religion, and politics, particularly their unlikely enmeshments and expected clashes—until we finally reach the end of times. He speaks of the truth that a man will always be half-bad and half-good, because full proportions of either would only drive anyone insane. That sometimes, the “good guys” themselves have to create something “evil” to fight against just so they wouldn’t lose the essence of their existence. The story, fragmented and flawed in its own way, detail more facts about the society that we often refuse to acknowledge.
Of all the countless things I could love about this book, perhaps the very characteristic I gave a big nod to is how Vonnegut didn’t try to bury his points underneath flowery prose. I love a good word play, but Vonnegut’s simple and somewhat flippant approach to his chosen themes seems to intensify the power of his writing. I bet anyone who would read his terse sentences would know that every phrase means a whole world of messages and meanings.
Humorous, off-the-wall, and thought-provoking, Cat’s Cradle is an unforgettable trip to another classic author’s world. Four stars for a good read.(less)
Probably one of the best science fiction novels I've ever read, though that does not mean it doesn't have flaws. Full review soon! (Or not so soon, be...moreProbably one of the best science fiction novels I've ever read, though that does not mean it doesn't have flaws. Full review soon! (Or not so soon, because I think I'm going to take my own sweet time in reviewing this one.)(less)
A bouquet of apologies to anyone expecting an immediate and proper review from me for Breakfast at Tiffany's--I'm still happily incoherent and speechl...moreA bouquet of apologies to anyone expecting an immediate and proper review from me for Breakfast at Tiffany's--I'm still happily incoherent and speechless after finishing this novella. So yeah, I think I have to wait till I finally get back that ability to properly put one word after another, you all deserve a proper review. Haha. Rest assured that I loved this work to bits, and I recommend it wholeheartedly. I promise to update this as soon as possible!(less)
Succint, bittersweet, and affecting, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince is easily one of the best heart-tugging books from childhood that I...moreSuccint, bittersweet, and affecting, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince is easily one of the best heart-tugging books from childhood that I have in my shelf today. It's the kind of book that I will never get tired of rereading.
The story revolves around an aviator whose plane crash-lands in the Sahara desert, and there he crosses paths with an innocent but sad little prince who claims he comes from another planet. The tales of the prince’s travels in search of a friend who will truly understand him are perhaps the most poetic and poignant passages that I’ve read from a book for kids. Like many other novelettes in the same vein, this book can be construed either as a straightforward bedtime story or a brief glimpse at how innocence is a fragile gem that the world can corrupt readily or throw away lavishly.
Five stars for the prince from the stars. :) (less)
Marilyn Hacker’s compilation of poems lives up to its title. Poetry to Heal Your Blues is indeed a first-class ticket to a concert of poets from all c...moreMarilyn Hacker’s compilation of poems lives up to its title. Poetry to Heal Your Blues is indeed a first-class ticket to a concert of poets from all corners of the globe, their voices blending to produce a resonating harmony that can lift up anyone’s moods. The renowned literary gems produced by Emily Dickinson, John Keats, E.E. Cummings, Robert Graves, Robert Frost, and Percy Bysshe Shelley can be found in this collection, but there are also those that I’ve read for the first time, like Li-Young Lee’s “The hammock,” Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Ecstatic,” and Adam Zagajewski’s “Try to Praise the Mutilated World.” The cast is amazingly exquisite.
While this book can be read in one sitting, I think it’s also enjoyable to read this poem-of-the-day style. I mean, you can’t beat your daily breakfast with fine poetry as a side dish; and nothing’s more calming than a few bits of literary goodness before your trip to dreamland. :) Every piece is beautiful in their own way.
Charlotte Bronte practically became my heroine back in high school when I got to read Jane Eyre for the first time. It was a Gothic and thought-provok...moreCharlotte Bronte practically became my heroine back in high school when I got to read Jane Eyre for the first time. It was a Gothic and thought-provoking bildungsroman at one angle, a beautifully crafted love story at another, and an account of a woman's struggle to stand out independently in a society that has no place for the likes of her at the one end. It's a wonderful journey, growing up with the spunky and defiant young Jane until she reached the most important turns in her life when she arrived at Thornfield. A wonderful read.(less)
A shot of insulin, please! Sam McBratney's Guess How Much I Love You has lots of saccharine in it—but not to a point it’s cloying, just something that...moreA shot of insulin, please! Sam McBratney's Guess How Much I Love You has lots of saccharine in it—but not to a point it’s cloying, just something that a dreamland-bound kid would surely enjoy. See, there’s no plot of any kind, just a pair of adorable, furry hares (I think they’re father and son) engaging in an equally cute contest on who loves the other more. Anita Jeram’s illustrations are perfectly endearing. I heard there’s a collection of this, and kid or not—geez I just turned twenty!—I’ll be glad to have them all. Who knows? I might read them to my own kids in the future. :) (less)