From My Dream Diary: Neil Gaiman, Mr. Sandman

Neil Gaiman
Photo from Wikipedia

So I just woke up, groggily typing away everything I remembered.

11/20/2014

I dreamt about Neil Gaiman. Strange.

I can’t totally remember all the setting but the later part of my dream was set in my house, particularly, my room. There was some incident involving torture in which both Neil and I were the victims. There’s this interrogation type of a room with at least 5 strangers monitoring my reactions (we didn’t get tortured together apparently).

At least 3 people were touching my hands and arms, they seem to possess some sort of negative psychic powers that affected me physically. I felt my heartbeats fluctuate and felt actual pain in my chest. One had to go away as I couldn’t take the intensity.

I don’t know why we were tortured but I suppose we were rescued. The next scene was in my house. I was thinking I’ve got a connection with Neil Gainman now! We were practically buddies so I can ask him to sign all the Gaiman books I had! I was not a true fan girl of his but I do read almost everything so I do have a few. So I run to my bookshelves to try and find some of his books.

I found Neil looking at my book collection and I’m embarrassed because some of my sister’s romance pocketbooks were also there (we shared the room but she seldom goes home). I defensively mentioned that those particular books weren’t mine (and please don’t judge meeee!).

I managed to find only 2 books but I can’t remember which ones. I only remembered the second one was a non-existent book that’s really a compilation of different authors and artist. It was a large hardbound book with gold-leaf edges and a gold-colored first page (which I tore from nervousness in passing it to him). I figured, he drew something in there (as contributing artist) so it qualifies.

I think I managed to pull out more stuff but he had to leave and I woke up.

In reality, I only owned a few Gainman books. I’m interested in reading the Sandman graphic novels (although I’m not into graphic novels really) but nobody seem to want to lend me some.

So far, I’m not what you can call a true fan although I do admire his incredible imagination. The problem I think is that I have trouble relating with his characters.

I’ve read: Neverwhere, American Gods, some of Fragile Things, and the Graveyard Book (in audiobook). I’ve also read a few other short stories from other collections.

 

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My Facebook 10 Books List

It took me less than a few minutes to list down 10 books that stayed with me but my friends took a long time and most can’t even complete the list. This troubles me a lot as it’s really an indication of how few readers there are in my country.

Indeed, unlike in the US where libraries are a necessary part of the community, in the Philippines, libraries can only be found in university and school campuses. A few private libraries exist but it’s only accessible to those who can afford the membership fee.

Reading novels is becoming a dying art. I can only shake my head as I’ve always thought of books as entertainment, like the web or the TV. The rarity of seeing someone reading in public transportation or public spaces in my country has elevated the hobby into the realm of hipterdom(Shudders!).

I do have to admit that the prevalence of high speed internet, cable TV, and addictive app games did not just affect the people around me and society in general. I, myself, am not immune to the seduction of convenient entertainment. When in the past, I slept and woke up with books strewn around me, I now sleep and wake up with my humming laptop beside me.

I can only be grateful that growing up, we had no cable TV (we only have 1 TV for the whole family), and we didn’t even have telephone lines.  I had no choice but to turn to books for my entertainment. In school, we passed around books and share spoilers. A lot of my books got lost because of negligent borrowers who are also book lovers (amnesiac when it comes to books they borrowed).

It’s sad to find that in today’s world, people stare at you when you bring out a novel to read while traveling. It’s like they’ve never seen someone read a book that’s not a textbook(or a bible, or the Twilight series) before. I actually rejoice inside when in rare occasions, I see someone reading in public. It delights me to covertly look at the cover (I’m disappointed if it’s just those trashy Tagalog Romance Novels though).

FrankensteinWell, anyway, back to the list I posted on Facebook last week:

1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – I’ve heaped praises for Mary Shelley’s classic monster before. See the comprehensive blog about it here. As I said, I surprisingly identified with the monster Frankenstein created. Allthese years, I thought I was a Dracula girl but reading the original source and setting aside the green, square-headed idiotic Hollywood monster, I found out I was more of the abandoned monster seeking life’s meaning.

2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë – While I’ve read Pride and Prejudice and crushed on Mr. Darcy, I’m really more attracted to the raw, gothic stories of the Brontë sisters.

3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – See my blog about Darcy vs Rochester here.

4. Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve – I’ve been a fan of Anita Shreve ever since I read her book, Fortune’s Rocks. But this book just blew my mind. The twist would’ve angered some readers but not me. You just have to read it for yourself. I can’t possibly bear spoiling it for you.

Vita Brevis5. Vita Brevis by Jostein Gaarder – While I find the story in Sophie’s World intriguing, honestly, the parts about the history of Philosophy kind of boring. Maybe it’s because I was just 16 when I read that humongous book but I just got through the book to find out about the mystery plot. Vita Brevis is the one book of Gaarder that really intrigued me. It’s like a mockumentary about the life of St. Augustine’s mistress, set in her point of view. If you are a feminist, you will love this book. It’s her answer to his “Confessions.” To this day, I don’t know if what I’ve read was fact or fiction.

6. Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling – My happy place. I got obsessed early on, before the book became a must have in my country. I remember my classmates laughing while a lugged around the ginormous 4th book. It was my turn to laugh when next year, each of them carried the same big book.

7. Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick – I need an actual copy of this. I just read this on an tiny ipod. The stories of the North Korean defectors were just so compelling, I didn’t mind the tiny screen and the teeny-weeny texts.

8. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier – I remember exactly when and where I found this book. It was 50 pesos ($1+) on a bin in National Bookstore Monumento (ok maybe not the when). I loved the fictionalized story of Van Meer and his maid. It kind of reminds me of that movie I liked – Mary Reilly.

9. Bulfinch’s Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch – Most are familiar with the Edith Hamilton book of mythology but thisPeter Pan is the one we had. We actually had 2 copies – a brother and a sister apparently each bought one and I ended up with 2 books.

10. Peter Pan by JM Barrie – I read the abridged children’s version when I was a wee lass of I-forgot-it-was-so-long-ago and it became one of my favorite books. I was in my twenties when I read the unabridged version and I found that I still loved the story. I can’t help but wish I was in Neverland. Adulthood is such a pain in the ass.

Care to share what were your 10 books that’ve stayed with you?

The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama

Samurai's GardenI love books that can transport you to places that in itself are central characters of a novel. I have to say though, it’s been awhile since I read that kind of a book that made me yearn to actually visit that special place featured in a story. That was when I took a gamble and picked out Gail Tsukiyama’s The Samurai’s Garden.

Gail Tsukiyama is not the first Japanese writer (she’s actually half-Chinese) I’ve encountered so I had a bit of a reservation when picking out the book. I’ve read Banana Yashimoto’s Asleep and gave in to curiosity by getting Haruki Murakami’s After the Quake. These stories are more character-centric and very introspective. I’m thinking these are typical of modern Japanese literature? They’re great for reading on a stormy day for sure.

But when I was searching for a book to read, I was trying to find something that would transport me to a place where I want to be instead of my boring room. I think The Samurai’s Garden delivered it quite nicely even though the setting is just a metaphor for the very heart of the story which are the people that the main protagonist meets.

The book is a very easy read. The story is quite simple – a young adult meets 3 interesting individuals and he uncovers mysteries about them which made him take a closer look at relationships, loyalty, and devotion in the context of the Japanese culture. Aside from a mildly shocking event and the backdrop of World War 2, nothing happens outwardly. The change in the characters are within and it’s fascinating how Tsukiyama managed to keep the story a real page turner despite such subtle plots.

The story opens in Hong Kong where a sick Chinese boy, Stephen, is battling Tuberculosis amidst another crisis which is Japan’s invasion of China. The well-off family decides to send the boy to Tarumi, a small seaside community in Japan, where their family keeps a beach house. His father’s import-export business’ headquarters are also in Japan so he becomes responsible for the boy in the meantime.

In the beach house, he meets the gardener-cum-overall-caretaker, Matsua, a very grumpy looking but secretly compassionate and loyal middle aged man. Matsu takes care of Stephen’s needs and overtime, he trusted the boy enough to let him in on a sort of secret. Through Matsu, Stephen meets Sachi, a once very beautiful girl who got afflicted with leprosy and is now living in a leper colony. Matsu shows his devotion to his secret love by providing her with everything she needs including a Japanese rock garden that is an anti-thesis of his own garden, down at the beach house.

Japanese Garden
Flickr Photo by Cher12861

While Matsu’s garden was filled with lush vegetation, flowers, and conventional beauty of nature, Sachi’s garden is stark, colourless, and filled with things like stone, pebbles, and rocks.  This is because she can’t stand to look at beauty, a painful reminder of what once was and can never be again.

Flickr Photo by Tim McDonald
Flickr Photo by Tim McDonald

The heart of the story lies with Matsu and Sachi’s relationship. How deep it really is and how much each is willing to sacrifice for friendship and loyalty.  Stephen is a witness to this wonder of humanity which also caused him to examine his family and realise how different and seemingly shallow his mother and father’s relationship is in comparison.

While the characters are all richly fleshed out, I just love how Tarumi is brought to life in the story. The description of the beach, the town, the house, and the gardens all created vivid images  in my head and now I want to go there.

On the top of my head, here are 3 other books I’ve read the made me want to go to the place where the story was set:

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier – I’ve reviewed this book set in Lyme Regis, coastal town of West Dorset, England. The story centers on Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, two famous fossil hunters and spinsters.

A Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger – From the writer of that famous book, Time Traveller’s Wife. Her next novel was set in London’s High Gate Cemetery. Although the story was a disappointment, I was highly intrigued by the setting. I would love to go to High Gate someday.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – Nothing says character better than the Moors and it’s howling winds. Everyone needs a break from sunny beaches sometimes.

What books would you recommend for someone who wants to be transported to far off lands?

My Tsondoku List: The Handmaid’s Tale

Handmaid's TaleI read the majority of the book in the ICU waiting room where my big brother was confined because of a stroke. The atmosphere, the dread, the worry, and stress just made reading this book, all the more depressing. I would not recommend this book to someone in that situation.

Not to say that the book didn’t deserve the accolades and awards it garnered. The story is fascinating, especially for me, a self-declared practical feminist.

You know what I think? I think Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale and George Orwell’s 1984 should stay the hell away from each other and definitely not make a baby. Can you imagine the result of such a union? The utter perversity.

The feeling I experienced reading the book reminds me of the way I felt reading/trudging through 1984. The feeling was heavy, claustrophobic, and utterly uncomfortable. This is definitely not a light read.

What’s a Handmaid?

The book is a dystopian novel dealing with the role of females in a military theocracy where – surprise, surprise – the society is dominated by men. Majority of the women are sterile and the birth rate is dropping at critical levels. Women are forced into classes – from the legitimate wives, handmaids, econowives (which I thought was hilarious!), Marthas,  Jezebels, and unwomen.

When I first heard of Handmaids, I immediately thought of harems and concubines. Turns out I was right. But the sick part is that there are no emotions involved when a handmaid is used by her master. In fact, (SPOILER!) the wife is right there in the bed, holding the handmaid’s hands while her husband boinks the handmaid. Sick,  right?

Econowives are really just wives who perform the duties of a handmaid and a Martha. As the name suggest, if you’re an unfortunate man who is not at the top of the food chain, you get an econowife like an economy class plane seat. Get it?

Marthas are basically just maids. No copulation involved as they are barren as the Sahara desert.

Jezebels are basically just the ladies of the evening.

Unwomen are the feminist rebels. They defy the status quo and have idealistic dreams of starting a revolution.

Offred, literally.

We get to know this society in the eyes of Offred, a handmaid, of – Fred literally. We assume the commander’s name is Fred.

Offred became a handmaid because she’s proven to be capable of reproduction. In fact, the most heartbreaking parts of the book are the flashbacks to a more normal life, recognizable to readers. She had a normal loving relationship and she bore a daughter before the madness and shift in the society. There were flashbacks of their escape attempt and separation. And one of the motivations for the character is the hopeful search for her family.

The novel explores the relationships that develop in the commander’s household — the barren wife’s resentment over the need to have a handmaid, the marthas’ jealousy over the slightly elevated status of the handmaid, the temptation of having an emotional connection to the commander (and his driver).

The story has no conclusive ending. And I loved that about it. The reader is left to imagine what happened to the character and this world where women are suppressed. In today’s world where sexual discrimination is still happening, this book is a reminder of what happens when society goes off the rails and demand obedience without question.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Tsundoku List: The Book Seller of Kabul

The Bookseller of KabulWhen I read Asne Seierstad’s The Book Seller of Kabul, I wasn’t aware of the controversy that surrounded the book. Although while reading, in the back of my mind I was thinking, the actual bookseller approved of this?

The portrayal of the patriarch wasn’t exactly flattering. In fact, it just solidifies all biases we (outsiders to Afghan and Islamic faith) already have about Afghanistan and its culture of misogyny.

Although all the names were changed, I would imagine, its not hard to find the biggest bookseller in Kabul. In fact, the real bookseller apparently sued the author, demanding a cut of the royalties. After reading about him, it doesn’t surprise me.

It’s a compelling read, a real page turner, if I may say so. I read it relatively quickly, mostly while in a public transport (jeepney) with all its reading challenges.

The book is a very intimate look at a relatively rich and relatively educated Afghan family but we also get a glimpse of what life is like for the ordinary Afghan family. The timeline includes the periods before the Taliban, during the Taliban, and after the American forces attacked the country because of 9-11.

The most heart-breaking character in the book would probably be Leila. She was portrayed as a kind of Cinderella, the only difference is there’s no prince charming and happy ending waiting for her. I identified with Leila, being the youngest in a brood of 6. I had my share of chores in the house but in no way was I slaving away my days waiting on my siblings and parents. 

Sultan Khan is admirable only for his love of books and literature. What he did, protecting the books from the Taliban, was nothing short of heroic. But even with his level of education and vast knowledge, he failed to become what he thought he was. He could’ve been a champion of Afghan women. A tool for change and revolution but in the book, he was just another product of a twisted society.

His son Mansur, kind of reminds me of that jerk, Joffrey Baratheon, from Game of Thrones. Looks like he’ll turn out to be a worse version of his father with his lack of education but excess in cruelty.

I’m glad that at least Shakilah is better off with her new family. I think, by her description, she’s one dynamite of a lady that could bring positive influence on her students.

Are all the contents in the book accurate? I’m not sure. How much of the dialogue and description are true? If there are only 3 translators in the family (Sultan, Leila and Mansur), I’m sure the conversations have been censored before the author could write it down.

Nevertheless, The Bookseller of Kabul is one great read. It makes you think about your daily life as a woman in a country that is relatively free. Even if I live in a third world country, there are a lot worse places to be in as a woman. I don’t think I have the strength to survive there as these Afghan women have. Besides…

I don’t look good in a big blue invisibility cloak anyway.

Sherlock Series 3: The Empty Hearse and The Sign of Three

SPOILER ALERT!

I’m a little apprehensive after watching the second episode.

This is one of my problems – placing so much expectation to the next album from an artist, the next book in a series, the next season of a TV show, the next movie in a franchise etc. etc. after putting the previous ones in a pedestal and obsessing about it for months even years. I need a life. Seriously.

So this season or series (as the Brits call it) of Sherlock may not be my favorite so far. After waiting 2 years (only 1 for me – as a late comer) the fandom has grown so big (and apparently so influential) that Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat had to take notice. Talk about Great Expectations! Well, extremely high is an understatement. In my opinion, Sherlock rivals one of my most favorite TV shows of all times – The  X-Files. Unfortunately, I fear if Sherlock follows my perceived trajectory (from the 2 episodes I’ve seen), it might follow the same fate of the X-Files towards the end when it died slowly without anybody caring except for die-hard fans.

The Empty Hearse

I liked the first episode and forgave it’s flaws (unnecessary and super jazzed-up mind palace sequence, Moriarty-Sherlock shipping, and the disappointing explanation of how he survived). I thought the whole episode was hilarious! I did missed some of the more complex plot that leads to the mystery. In the previous episodes, I had to watch and re-watch the episodes to fully comprehend every detail that leads to the case. I didn’t mind doing this, I actually liked that every time I watched, I gained another insight or detail I missed the first time.

Being a Molly fan, I was thrilled with the imagined kiss, of course! But I was thoroughly disappointed at Molly for her choice of fiance. Oh come on, Molly! Really? A cheap version of Sherlock??? (I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that Tom proves he’s actually the better man for Molly. Even after the second episode when he opens his big mouth.)

The best part of this episode is the reunion. I thought it was sheer perfection. Drama and comedy blended right in just like it always did in seasons past. I also liked Sherlock and Mycroft’s repartee and would have liked to see  more of how the brothers interact with their parents.

I didn’t like the bomb scene, though. I thought that was just mean of Sherlock to put John through that! John should have head-butted him again, in my humble opinion.

The Sign of Three

In the next episode, the focus is on John and Mary’s wedding. To nobody’s surprise (except Sherlock’s), the detective was chosen to be the best man. The concept of Sherlock being a best friend seems so foreign to him that the detective slightly short-circuited trying to comprehend what John just said. That.was.funny.

There was so much hilarity all over this episode, it might’ve been mistaken for a sitcom. That’s where, I think, the problem lies and also the long meandering Best Man speech which I deduced could’ve been tightened and edited making more room for the actual mystery. Again, this episode is such a departure from the past Sherlock episodes from the last 2 seasons.

Don’t get me wrong, I laughed at the Drunk Sherlock, for sure. But what I loved about this series (aside from Benedict Cumberbatch) is the fact that the writers usually blend comedy, drama, and suspense with such perfect balance and precision it leaves everyone’s jaw on the floor.

The balance was thrown off and the mystery of the locked room killer really is head scratching – in a bad way.

But there’s still hope! I’ve seen the 3rd episode’s (His Last Vow) preview and it looks as if we are finally getting a proper look at the new villain, Charles Augustus Magnussen (formerly Charles Augustus Milverton – from the books). We can all pray that Steven Moffat is finished catering to the fandom and stopped stealing ideas from fanfics and finally give us the Sherlock we were all craving for!

Sherlock Mini Episode: Many Happy Returns

BBC just gave us a taste of Sherlock Season 3 with a mini episode entitled, “Many Happy Returns.” This is in reference to the uncut DVD Detective Inspector Lestrade made of Sherlock for Watson’s birthday.

The mini episode features a hobo-looking Anderson who somehow tuned into a Sherlock-is-alive fanatic, not unlike Elvis’ fans. How this came about is interesting to me. I loved Anderson as a comic-relief character, I’d hate to lose one of Sherlock’s best humor whipping boy.

I thought Benedict Cumberbatch wouldn’t appear in this episode. But he did! Thank you, thank you!

Dr. John Watson’s blog is also alive and kicking with a response to this DVD: Read it here.