Friday, November 30, 2007

CHALLENGE | Graphic Novels Challenge 2008

I was all excited when I found out Dewey was hosting a Graphic Novels Challenge.

A glance at my sidebar (where it says "Comics & Manga Read 2007") will tell you I read manga and graphic novels from time to time. So, what can be easier?

Even the rules of participation are flexible:

To participate in the Graphic Novels Challenge, simply choose at least 6 graphic novels to read from January 2008 to December 2008. You may overlap with other challenges. You may also change your list of titles at any point if something comes up that you want to switch around.

I thought I could do a nice well-structured reading list with themes and stuff. But I'm afraid my reading habits has always been chaotic. So, without further ado, here is my list:

  1. Cairo Written by G. Willow Wilson with art by M.K. Perker
    My director just read it and he recommended it to me. Cairo is a modern magical-realism retelling of the Aladdin story, rendered in stark black-and-white illustrations by Turkish artist M.K. Perker

  2. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier Written by Alan Moore
    I loved the first two volumes of LOEG written by Alan Moore. It has been long delayed, but thankfully, it's finally arrived. From what I know of the story, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen have been disbanded and disavowed, and the country is under the control of a tyrannical regime. Now, after many years, the still youthful Mina Murray and a rejuvenated Allan Quatermain return.

  3. The Complete Persepolis Written and illustrated by Marjane Satrapi
    Satrapi's memoir of growing up in revolutionary Iran. I read an interview Satrapi gave a while back and she seemed like an interesting, fiery personality indeed.

  4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home by Joss Whedon and Georges Jeanty
    It broke my heart when Buffy finally went off the air. Season 8 of Buffy continues in comic form.

  5. The Death of Captain America by Ed Brubaker et al
    This is actually pretty out of place on my usual reading list for comics, because I have tried very hard to avoid the Marvel Civil War series since it came out. These crossover series always involve too many titles and if I try to follow the entire story-line, I will have to buy over 30 trade paperbacks. But I'm going to try this one, because the story reads like the death of an icon.

  6. Seven Soldiers of Victory Vol. 1 Written by Grant Morrison
    Once again, I've been hearing all these praises for the series, which brings in Grant Morrison to tie in several unrelated characters in their pursuit against a common foe. I think. Honestly, I have no idea what this series is about. The challenge is to go into this series blind.

  7. Batman: Death and the City Written by Paul Dini
    I am a Batman fan, and I have too many Batman T-shirts for any respectable adult. I'm throwing this into the mix as I have heard good things about Paul Dini's run on the Dark Knight mythos. This one features Zatanna.

  8. Birds of Prey: Dead of Winter Written by Gail Simone
    Gail Simone is one of my favourite comic book writer. She revitalised the Birds of Prey franchise, made convincing heroes out of B-list characters like Huntress and Black Canary. This will be her swan-song on the BoP series.

  9. Crime Bible: Five Lessons of Blood Written by Greg Rucka
    The spin-off from 52, and it features one of my favourite DC character, Renee Montoya – who has taken the mantle of The Question towards the conclusion of the 52 series.

Other Titles (too many to list all)

  • Shortcomings By Adrian Tomine

  • Welcome to Tranquility: Volume 1 & Volume 2 by Gail Simone

  • Fallen Angel Vol. 4 by Peter David

  • Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 By David Petersen

  • The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

  • B.P.R.D. Garden of Souls by Mike Mignola et al

Paste's Best 50 Films of 2007

Paste Magazine has listed their top 50 Films of 2007:

1. Juno [Jason Reitman]
2. Once [John Carney]
3. Eastern Promises [David Cronenberg]
4. Away From Her [Sarah Polley]
5. Margot at the Wedding [Noah Baumbach]
6. Michael Clayton [Tony Gilroy]
7. The Wind That Shakes the Barley [Ken Loach]
8. No Country for Old Men [Joel and Ethan Coen]
9. The Kite Runner [Marc Forster]
10. Syndromes and a Century [Apichatpong "Joe" Weerasethakul]
11. Ratatouille [Brad Bird]
12. Ten Canoes [Rolf de Heer/Peter Djigirr]
13. Great World of Sound [Craig Zobel]
14. Ghosts of Cité Soleil [Asger Leth/Milos Loncarevic]
15. Offside [Jafar Panahi]
16. My Kid Could Paint That [Amir Bar-Lev]
17. 2 Days in Paris [Julie Delpy]
18. Waitress [Adrienne Shelly]
19. Manufactured Landscapes [Jennifer Baichwal]
20. The King of Kong [Seth Gordon]
21. Sunshine [Danny Boyle]
22. This is England [Shane Meadows]
23. Knocked Up [Judd Apatow]
24. Hanna Takes the Stairs [Joe Swanberg]
25. Bella [Alejandro Gomez Monteverde]
26. The Darjeeling Limited [Wes Anderson]
27. Grindhouse [Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez]
28. Paris, Je T'aime [Various Directors]
29. God Grew Tired of Us [Christopher Dillon Quinn]
30. No End in Sight [Charles Ferguson]
31. The Bourne Ultimatum [Paul Greengrass]
32. Hot Fuzz [Edgar Wright]
33. 3:10 to Yuma [James Mangold]
34. Year of the Dog [Mike White]
35. The Simpsons Movie [David Silverman]
36. Hairspray [Adam Shankman]
37. Sicko [Michael Moore]
38. Rescue Dawn [Werner Herzog]
39. The Short Life of José Antonio Guitierrez [Heidi Specogna]
40. Forever [Heddy Honigmann]
41. Persepolis [Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud]
42. Talk to Me [Kasi Lemmons]
43. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead [Sidney Lumet]
44. Superbad [Greg Mottola]
45. Zodiac [David Fincher]
46. The Savages [Tamara Jenkins]
47. Rocket Science [Jeffrey Blitz]
48. The Signal [David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry]
49. The Lookout [Scott Frank]
50. American Gangster [Ridley Scott]

I have not caught Juno yet, but I really want to. It stars Ellen Page, whom some of you may remember as Kitty Pryde on the lacklustre X-Men 3, and also the scary girl in Hard Candy. "Ratatouille" -- I loved it. But the truth is, I haven't watched most of the films on this list!

Line-up For 2008 Sundance

The line-up for the 2008 Sundance Film Festival is up.

Among the line-up are some book-to-film adaptations: "Choke", adapted from the Chuck Palahniuk novel, and "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" -- from Michael Chabon's first novel. "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" stars Jon Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Sienna Miller, Mena Suvari and Nick Nolte. I think I'm going to read the novel first.

My eye will be on "Patti Smith: Dream of Life," directed and written by Steven Sebring. It's a documentary that offers a portrait of my favourite poet-musician-prophetess.

I want to be there.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Not Feeling Very Inspired to Write

So I bring you "SPARTAAAA!"

[Via This Sign Has Sharp Edges]

Can you just tell that this really cracks me up everytime?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Looking at Sweeney Todd

I'm looking at the publicity shots for Tim Burton's latest feature, Sweeney Todd, and they look so good. Tim Burton has this eye for capturing a mood, a murderous thought.

Some of you may already know the story, which was based on the musical about the murderous barber (and featuring meat pies), Sweeney Todd, who was wronged by a judge and who returns for revenge. He shaves his victims, who are never seen again, although one wonders what Mrs Lovett put into his meat pies that give them such a taste.

The movie stars Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd, and Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs Lovett -- his amoral paramour who owns the meat pie shop. It also includes Alan Rickman and Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat!) as supporting actors.

I like this picture in particular, because the two leads both look suitably sinister, and kind of dead:

Burton knows how to use the gray palette to great effect.

Just Uploaded my Hanoi Photos

On flickr

Back from Hanoi

Hi Everyone. I'm back home, safe. First order of business is most mundane: laundry. Oh joy.

I'm glad I had time to catch up on my reading this week. Finally finished Sodom and Gomorrah, The Moon and Sixpence and Fathers and Sons.

On the downside -- I have neglected my NaNoWriMo this whole week. Argh! I'm going back to work tomorrow.

It's 3:21 am and as I'm waiting for the laundry to be done, I've just picked up The Prisoner and The Fugitive -- the next volume of the Proustian epic. Things seems to really be picking up again with the Albertine episode. I'm wondering if I can finish the epic before the end of this year. I only have about a month to go -- but you think it's do-able?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

It's Saturday!

I'm doing a count-down to my return. My flight is tomorrow night, so I will reach home the next morning. I have taken Monday off, so I have some time to get laundry done and catch up on sleep.

I will probably be down with the post-holiday blues.

Oh a reading note: I have finally finished Sodom and Gomorrah! Yay! It has only taken me 11 months! What a book! What a whiny prick of a narrator!

The narrator makes me want to smack him for his whiny jealousies for Albertine. It's not that he loves her, but rather, he wants to possess her for himself alone. When he is assured of his possession over her, he is bored, and he sends her away, claiming it is a mistake and he will not marry her. But the moment he is informed of Albertine's association with Mlle Vinteuil and her "professional Sapphist" friend (pray, do tell: what is a "professional Sapphist"? It's a career choice, like say, a professional plumber, a professional footballer? They get paid?) -- he is wrecked with jealousy and he breaks into tears. He lies to her about a woman he was supposed to marry, and he packs Albertine off to Paris.

The book ends with him telling his Mama he wants to marry Albertine.

This man is sick. He is obsessed with the bittersweetness of the unfulfilled desire. It's a kind of emotional masochism. It's almost like a soap-opera. I give it 3 out of 5 stars for sheer melodrama. I can't wait to pick up the next volume though -- I heard the action really picks up from there on.

Meanwhile, I am about 118 pages into Turgenev's Fathers and Sons.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Just Came Back from Halong Bay Tour

Hello. Can't believe it's Friday already. Where did the time go?

I have just returned from my 1 night, 2 days tour down Halong Bay -- and I regret not signing up for a longer trip. The scenery there is beautiful. You spend the night on a junkboat, and if you wish, you can choose to sleep on the upper deck under the stars (of course there is the risk of catching a cold). My shoulders are aching from my kayaking trip yesterday morning -- which could have been worse, but thankfully I was with a kayak-partner who was a big, strong six-feet tall guy (who is incidentally a BIG Lakers and Dodgers fan) who looked out for me. He did most of the work paddling, I believe. (Thanks, Jack!)

We went out in the kayaks around the bay, past many very small islands. At one point we were surrounded by high cliffs and the shrill, crackling cries of monkeys from the islands. We couldn't see the monkeys; they were probably well-hidden within the islands. But I loved looking up and watching the eagles soaring, circling above us. It's the kind of scene that makes you just stop and watch, drink it all in. And you are glad you have come to this place, because you would not have been able to see this back home.

I do recommend a trip down to Halong Bay if you ever make it to Hanoi.

While I was on the junkboat, I met some of the other people on the tour. There were a group of five French nationals travelling together. Their English were weak, so conversation was difficult. Then there was Joe, and his sons Jack and Ezra. Joe is 90 years old, and he is in Vietnam for Ezra's wedding (Ezra married a Vietnamese girl). Everyone is in awe of Joe's feisty spirit. He is 90 years old, for goodness sake, but he doesn't seem to let anything stop him.

There was also this Swiss girl, Seriana, perhaps the most interesting one on the tour. She's 25 years old, and she has been travelling around for 7 months. She still has about 3-4 months to travel until her money runs out. (For the year before she started on her journey, she worked as a hair-dresser, she worked other odd-jobs in a bar and in a boutique on the weekends to save money). Everyone is in awe of her, the girl who actually took the Gap-Year and travelled. I guess deep down inside, there is always this desire for adventure. I think I admire her enthusiam, and I wish I can be like her.

I happened to share a cabin with her, and during one of our chit-chats, she showed me the marks on her body from the bedbugs and leeches earned from her travel. This is where the romance of wanderlust sort of comes to halt.

Adventure is nice and good, but the reality is that they have to be endured. The question is: Am I really brave enough to throw aside the comforts of home for this kind of experience? Maybe I have become too settled for my own good.

On the bus journey back to Hanoi, some of the people on the tour group started comparing everyone's passports. What was interesting was how many pages I had on my passport -- 64 pages -- as compared to those of the other countries: Canada, USA, Switzerland, England and France. I was also the only one who did not need a VISA for Vietnam, coming from Asia as I did, and Vietnam being part of ASEAN. (I was also exempted from VISA application for Turkey and China.)

What this tells me is how well-placed it is for me to travel, and I still don't seem to do it enough. One could really take a page from Seriana and her free-spirit ease -- she was the sort who opens up to people easily, something I don't do well.

Alas. Alas. Alas.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Proustian Rambling in Hanoi

Hello all. I am safe in Hanoi, having made it to the plane on time. It's wonderful not having to work, although I am feeling a little guilty about waking up late (at 9:30 am!). I'm sure I will get over this sense of guilt the moment I have to wake up on time for work next week. Sheesh.

The most strenous part of the day is having to decide where to go for breakfast, lunch, coffee and dinner. Oh, the decisions! The decadence! I suspect there will be weight-gain when I return - but what the hell.

I have been faithfully reading Sodom and Gomorrah. I suspect Robertson Davies will disapprove of the way I am reading though. I am approaching it with a sort of "end-gaining" attitude, where everyday I do page-count of my progress. There are 522 pages of Sodom and Gomorrah to conquer, and I am currently only on page 267.

I know I ought to just lie back and allow the waves of Proustian rumination to wash over me - but the fact is, the narrator often just goes on and on and on.

I'm on some juicy bits though. Narrator is now jealously guarding Albertine from insidious lesbians. His obsession with her sapphic adventures is amusing, though a little perverse.

I remember reading the biography on Natalie Clifford Barney, that Proust wanted to meet Barney to research the Female Inverts for his epic. It took forever to arrange a meeting, and when they did meet, Proust just spend the whole time talking, not listening. His portraits of the Parisian sapphos suffered from inaccuracies, as it was mainly from his own imagination.

Oh, M. de Charlus has reappeared. He has just hit on Morel. Oh, there he goes again.

M. de Charlus seemed to me to be one of those potentially tragic characters in the story. The narrator has begun describing his decline - his bloat of a paunch, the vulgar rouge on his lips and powder on his cheeks, all to disguise the toil of age. Yet his desire for virile, younger men is acute, unfulfilled. It cannot end well, I tell myself as I was reading it.

Maybe I should be reading happier books.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

At the Airport - Departing

I'm at the airport now. Just checked in, and waiting to board the plane. Free internet access is available here, even if it's only for 15 minutes.

Just an update on the books I actually brought with me:

  1. Sodom and Gomorrah, Marcel Proust
    Obvious choice, since it is the first book I packed.
  2. The Man Who Was Thursday, G.K. Chesterton
    It's packed nicely together with Proust in a zip-lock bag. Just in case.
  3. Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev
    It's a library book that will be due around the time I return. I decided to pack it along and read it on the way. I'm actually a little paranoid that I might lose it on the trip.
  4. The Moon and Sixpence W. Somerset Maugham
    I just packed it in. Forgot about it until I unzipped my backpack - and lo and behold - it is here.
  5. A Voice from the Attic, Robertson Davies
    I was reading it before I set out for the airport. The truth is, I couldn't bear to put it down as I just packed it along for the trip

Cheers, all. I have about 5 minutes left on the free internet terminal here.

Blogger Christmas Exchange

I want to post this before I leave.

Nymeth has very generously organised a Secret Santa Exchange for book bloggers. I think it's fun and a great opportunity for some gift-giving/sharing among the community (We have a community!)

How is goes is like this:

Each participant is randomly assigned as another participant’s Secret Santa, and they are also assigned as somebody else’s “Santee”. What you have to do is send your person a little something – it can be a book, a pretty journal or bookmark, a box of homemade Christmas cookies, a Christmas mixed CD, or whatever else you can think of. Nothing pricey, of course. Second hand books are perfectly acceptable, as are homemade gifts. And of course, it should be something light, so it doesn’t cost a fortune to mail. Each person won’t know who their Secret Santa is until they get their package in the mail.

Christmas postage being the way it is, Nymeth proposes that we try to send out the gifts by Friday the 7th of December. So if you're interested in being somebody's Secret Santa, and receiving something from a mysterious Santa, please sign up by Friday, the 23rd of November.

To sign up, just drop an email to untuneric at gmail dot com, indicating your interest. You should also include:

1. Your mailing address, so Nymeth can pass it onto your Secret Santa.
2. Say something about the kind of things you like. The info will be forwarded to your Secret Santa to help them pick out something for you.

If you're interested, email Nymeth now. I wonder who will I be sending my gift to? Hmmm... Oh, and if you can, please help spread the news!

Friday, November 16, 2007

As I Trawl the Net for Movie News

Net access has resumed for the time being. So as I surf the net today, I found a few entertainment news that I thought I would share.

"Get Smart" Film Poster:

Anyone remembers the 60s spy-comedy TV series, Get Smart? I used to watch the re-runs on TV every week when I was young. I love the lame-brained humour in it, how Maxwell Smart, the totally clueless spy, and his assistant, 99 -- how they always manage to foil the plans of evil network KAOS. It was a spoof on the outlandish James Bond, but so endearing, because it never took itself seriously.

Next year, they will be releasing a film remake of the TV series. The film will star Steve Carrell and Anne Hathaway. Cinematical has just released an exclusive poster:

I like this poster. It sort of captured the buffoonery of the original series.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - Film Casting Finalized:

Oh, it seems Naomi Watts is not going to play Narcissa Malfoy. Instead, the role will be filled by Helen McCrory.


"Entertainment Weekly" Photos for "The Sarah Connor Chronicles":

From big-screen to small-screen. EW magazine has released the official posters for The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

I've always been a fan of the first and the second Terminator movies. But what I'm really looking forward to for the TV series is Lena Headey and Summer Glau. Check them out here:

Robertson Davies on the Art of Reading

I'm having some trouble with my internet connection at home, so I have not been able to blog as freely this week. My discomfort with this lack of net connection may be a sign of a cyber-addiction. Right now I'm using my dad's laptop to surf -- and I feel like I'm ten years old, surfing the net under parental supervision.

I am trying to finish packing for my Hanoi trip. The flight will be this Sunday (18th November). Not sure about the availability of internet connection over there, so I may be offline for a while.

I had a replacement day-off this Wednesday. I had planned to spend the whole day working on NaNo, but it was such a nice day, so I went out to a cafe instead -- one that overlooked the sea. The view was not as nice as it should be because of the construction that mars the horizon. Still, I had a full day of restful leisure. I wrote a little, but I don't think I can use what I wrote; I drank a lot of coffee, watched Factory Girl -- but most of all, I read a book. Not just any book -- but an out-of-print Robertson Davies that I have been looking for the past year.

I recently logged on to Abebooks and ordered a secondhand copy of Robertson Davies's A Voice from the Attic: Essays on the Art of Reading. The postage costed more than the book (a pencil scrawl indicates the book was priced at 50 cents) The question of course, was it worth it?

Oh yes. Oh yes. Oh yes.

The book was first published in 1960 and reprinted with a preface in 1971. This revised edition in my possession right now was reprinted in 1990. In a nutshell -- this is a very old book.

There are some details in the book that feels out-dated, like Davies describing the process of listening on a gramophone. Yet, in his preface he made this bold claim: "This is, after all, a book about reading, and the kind of reader I am addressing does not care primarily about being in fashion." And yes, his message is still highly relevant.

Davies calls these readers the "Clerisy". So, who be these clerisy?

The clerisy are those who read for pleasure, but not for idleness; who read for pastime but not to kill time; who love books, but do not live by books. As lately as a century ago the clerisy had the power to decide the success or failure of a book, and it could do so now. But the clerisy has been persuaded to abdicate its power by several groups, not themselves malign or consciously unfriendly to literature, which are part of the social and business organization of our time. These groups, though entrenched, are not impregnable; if the clerisy would arouse itself, it could regain its sovereignty in the world of letters. For it is to the clerisy, even yet, that the authors, the publishers, and the booksellers make their principal appeal.

The Clerisy is Us. And our name is Legion.

This is Robertson Davies's call to the clerisy to reclaim the art of reading for readers, and not to allow the "experts" to determine taste and opinions. He pointed out that too many of us do not think of ourselves as artists, and often we have little faith in our interpretative skills. So we defer to the critics, who are paid for knowing something and giving public expression to his/her opinions, while we are stand as mere laymen in the world of books and reading.

Davies was particularly annoyed by the term "layman" -- which he found somewhat derogatory, as it "meant simply one who worshipped, as opposed to a priest, who had knowledge of the sacred mysteries." It is arrogance for the experts to assume that the amateur is by default not as well-informed or as sensitive as they are, and Davies reminds these experts of the need for humility which art imposes, so as to "avoid the harlotry of a cheap professionalism."

As I was reading the book, I can't help but think how pertinent this book is to the argument between the professional book critics and the litbloggers. How often the critics have accused litbloggers of diluting the standard of book criticism -- blah blah blah blah. (Oh god, I am mature) Imagine this: Davies wrote this book more than 40 years ago, and we are still fighting the same battles on new grounds.

But wait, Davies doesn't let us off that easily. We the readers have a duty to reading -- at least, we owe it to ourselves to work at being better readers -- "if they do not mean to make the most of their faculty of appreciation, why are they reading? To kill time? But it is not time they are killing; it is themselves.

Reading is a personal interpretative art -- like all art form, it takes effort and it takes time. For we may read qualitatively, but we do not always read qualitatively. One of the reasons we read with this poverty of mind is the "end-gaining" attitude to our books. Many of us dash through a book -- because we want to "have done" with the book so that we can move on to the next one. I admit this is something I am guilty of -- I also enjoy making reading lists, just so that I can tick off against the list what I have "done".

How many times have I felt that I need to re-read a book, because I seem to have missed something the first time? I don't think of myself as a good reader. Often, I think I do not allow the book a fair chance to make its effect on me. It's like I consume books, perhaps just so that I can claim to have read Moby Dick or some other great literature.

I am only about 20 pages into the book, so what I can share right now is limited by the brevity of my own reading. Davies continues to talk about how a reader could work towards better appreciation and better reading. One of his more interesting point is to develop "the inward ear" -- for reading is as much about a Voice. I think about what he said, and I agree -- my favourite authors are writers whose prose are so powerfully lyrical that I find my breath slowing down to match the rhythm of their sentences. It is when I slow down to take note of the language, the poetry, that they start to make their emotional effect on me.

But that is a post for a later date, I think.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

NaNoWriMo | Not Even 5000 Words

I'm still working on NaNoWriMo, and last word-count is at 4701. I'm almost 2 weeks into the project and I am not even halfway to the 10,000 mark. ARGH.

I was on the bus recently and it hit me that while I am so concerned about plausible plots and convincing characterisations with my own story, I don't seem to practice the same critical analysis when I read. Maybe I am a lazy reader.

That said, I sort of have an idea plot-wise of the "Great Evil" that will challenge our young hero and his allies. I think I am also getting a better sense of young Julian, reluctant hero. I've been throwing more supporting characters into the mix, and writing outlines of his interactions with the different characters help me "figure him out". It's amazing how we are defined by our relationships. I have also decided the fate of young Julian's much admired older brother, Hugh. Poor Hugh -- heroic, but you need to serve the plot.

To get the word-count, I have been cheating by writing short scenes that are supposed to fit into the story later. Instead of a linear progression, I skip between scenes, elaborating each scene as I feel like it. It's sort of like trying to string together different coloured beads. It's working, it's getting me to write -- but eventualy I will have to make them more coherent overall. Maybe I should worry about that in December.

I still have no idea how the young hero will eventually meet the femme fatale -- the beautiful, enigmatic vampire sorceress, Cristiane, who has her own agenda, but who will of course be absolutely irresistable to young Julian.

Of course, the One Million Dollar Question: Should Cristiane the vampire and Julian the Shadow Hunter have sex? Can I write it? How does one do research for this sort of thing? Should I attempt to write it, or just do a chapter-break between sex?

My mind is just in the gutter, isn't it?

Rambling on my Grandmotherly Music Taste and Carrie Brownstein's Blog

My director is a gentleman in his early fifties, and he could not quite bring himself to believe that I actually listen to Suzanne Vega. He thought I was too young to remember Suzanne Vega -- to which I can only reply, "Thank you for telling me I am still young!"

Of course, I neglect to tell him I think of Patti Smith's "Dancing Barefoot" as the anthem to my life.

Or that I think of Patsy Cline's "Never No More" as my personal heartbreak song. (A fellow colleague -- who is only one year younger than I am -- thought my taste in Patsy Cline was a little "grandmotherly". I couldn't manage any polite way of responding to a statement like that, so I just gave her a flat stare)

I admit my choice in music can be a little eclectic -- I sample a lot, listen to a lot of trash --but along the way I picked up a few things I enjoy.

By my director's estimate, I am definitely too young to remember Sleater-Kinney -- but I do enjoy playing them really loud. There is a raw energy in their voices, in their guitar cries that tears me up inside. Sometimes, the music just hits you on a visceral level -- and you just surrender to its power. Damn it if no one else around you have heard of Sleater-Kinney. Even if your friends make fun of you for listening to "old-ladies-rock-bands" -- just let it go. You know what you like, and you know how the music makes you feel -- just let it be.

Regretfully, I have never seen Sleater-Kinney live -- which I've heard is spectacular. The band lasted 11 years -- a miracle in itself -- but even miracle has to end. But what happens to rockers who call it quits? Not everyone move on to solo careers.

I found out recently that Carrie Brownstein (guitarist/vocalist for Sleater-Kinney) is blogging at the NPR Music site. The tone of the blog so far feels suitably irrelevant, with a touch of self-awareness but maybe a little too verbose. But then again, don't we all ramble a little on our blogs? (Well, I do)

I have bookmarked the blog, oddly entitled 'Monitor Mix'. I suspect I will be a frequent visitor. I smiled when I read how Carrie Brownstein described her blog:

It aims to be an entertaining, insightful, and not too serious take on music and culture. I think fellow cynics and curmudgeons will relate and optimists will learn how to tone it down. Feelings of hopefulness will be encouraged but not nurtured.

With "fellow cynics and curmudgeons" I suppose that's how she identifies herself -- although I have always believed there is a difference between the real cynics (those poor souls who truly have zero faith in the world, and they are instead called "realists") and the disillusioned idealists -- the ones who are disappointed time and again, because in spite of their hard, bitter shells, they still hold a lingering hope and expectation that we can, and should behave better.

That said, I read what she wrote after she watched the film, "Too Tough To Die" and how it set her down a nostalgic spin on The Ramones and what they meant to her musically:

I sat on my couch watching this movie, listening to this music, and the songs filled me with a restless inspiration. How had I forgotten about The Ramones? I own nearly all of their albums, I might even consider them one of my favorite bands, but I rarely listen to them. Suddenly this oversight, this forgetfulness, felt disastrous. I think of The Ramones as a starter band, one you have to know, one you have to love, one you have to discover in order for them to lead you elsewhere. But then you go further away and sometimes you forget to ever go back. You find post-punk, you listen to Wire, Gang of Four, The Slits, you find reggae and dub. Then you embrace classic rock, first ironically, maybe at a karaoke bar, and then for real....Really? Really these are our favorite bands? The ones that got us out of bed in the morning on a sunless day? Sure, sometimes they really are favorites, for a day, a week, maybe longer. But watching the Johnny Ramone film I was reminded that for all of the wonderful and complex paths The Ramones' music had led me down, not too many led me to a place better or more satisfying than the point from which I started.

Who can say why we like a certain band, or even a certain book? Imagine if one day we really examine the music or books in our lives -- will we then be able to map the DNA of ourselves?

Brownstein wrote: "for all of the wonderful and complex paths The Ramones' music had led me down, not too many led me to a place better or more satisfying than the point from which I started."

Because the point where we started will always be home.

Ask me what music I am listening to right now and I will tell you about the new Radiohead, St. Vincent, Nightwish, and Bat for Lashes. But nothing will make me disavow Patti Smith, Patsy Cline, REM and all the other "old-people" music that I listen to. And I still want to marry Slash.

Ironically, a part-timer once called me a "teeny-bopper" when I confess to being a fan of Evanescence.

More Deserving Authors

From The Guardian, Chris Power on one of literature's unsung heroes: Alasdair Gray.

I guess my concern boils down to not wanting it to be Gray's death (he's 72, and not in the best health) that prompts a more widespread appreciation of - excuse the overused phrase, but it isn't hyperbolic in this instance - one of Britain's best living authors. At the same time I'm aware that, as well as most likely preaching to the converted, every person reading this will probably have an alternative writer in mind; one whose work I don't know, or undervalue, just as I believe Gray's is undervalued.

Imani's Outmoded Authors Challenge was a great opportunity to shine the light on many of these similarly out of fashion writers who deserve to be more widely read. I do recall when it came to making the list of authors to be read though, there was the problem of capping – because far too many authors have fallen into the fate of obscurity and neglect - and then their books go out-of-print.

It's a vicious cycle, because when an author's works goes out-of-print, access to their works are restricted to libraries and second-hand bookstores -- it thereby forces them into further obscurity. This is why I adore the endeavours by publishers such as NYRB and Virago that kept many of these deserving authors in-print and available.

Often, the reason authors fall into obscurity is because of the sheer lack of coverage. Look through the book reviews of any newspapers these day and you see mainly frontlist titles (and not necessarily fiction). Sometimes, it seems like everyone is reviewing the same book. (That said, I admit I was thrilled that many of the major newspapers, like The Washington Post and The New York Times gave rave reviews for Amy Bloom's Away. I adore Amy Bloom, so I have no problem if all the newspapers in the world only talks about her book)

I have no problem with newspaper writing about new authors/new titles. I believe it is important to support living writers who will be able to benefit in this lifetime from the sales of their books -- although the irony is that Alasdair Gray is still alive and already he is considered "undervalued". Perhaps Chris Powers is right, perhaps the only way to give Alasdair Gray that boost to his readership is death. But surely we can do more for him right now?

If the newspapers and "legitimate" media is not doing enough to highlight these deserving, obscure, out-of-fashion authors -- what can we do? I believe all readers have some personal under-valued authors that we have come to love, and think they deserve better. For all the criticisms against book-bloggers, I think they are doing a lot more for the literary underdogs than the newspapers would ever admit.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Dostoevsky, With Feelings

Eduard Artemyev, soundtrack composer for 150 films including Andrei Tarkovsky's sci-fi thriller "Solaris," -- has adapted a new rock opera version of "Crime and Punishment." It's a labour of love, and it took 28 years for him to compose the 2 1/2 hours of music. [Complete report here; via the Literary Saloon]

Apparently Tim Rice (wasn't he on the "Rocky Horror Show"?) was in the audience, and it has been rumoured he is interested in staging "Crime and Punishment" on Broadway.

Also worthy of note:

Meanwhile a new Bollywood musical, "Saawariya," or "Beloved," based on the short story "White Nights," is set to make a splash in India this month.

Dostoevsky in Bollywood?

I have no words.

On Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

In case you have not been following the recent series of essays on Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit for The Guardian's Book Club -- here's the essay Winterson wrote on the conception of the book that many believe is autographical.

I wonder: does it matter if the story is autobiographical? Aren't all books eventually about the writer and his/her world? What is more interesting in the essay, I felt, is when Winterson points out the miracle of story-telling and how it helps us recreate ourselves, our identity:

I believe in stories, in story-telling, because a story can answer a question without reducing that question to banality. "Who am I?" is a huge question, and the answer develops, unfolds, reveals itself throughout the whole of our life. At birth, we are only the visible corner of a folded map. The geography of the self is best explored with a guide, and for me art is such a guide. I write fiction because I want to get nearer to the truth.

Finally, she ends with this note:

The trick is, the gift is, the miracle is, that what begins as private notation becomes language other people can use. The books we love speak for us and speak to us. I am always in dialogue with the books that have affected me. Stories start other stories. That's how it is.

How true, that all writing eventually becomes a dialogue. The books we read somehow becomes a part of us. Have you ever experienced that moment, when you read something -- and it hits you, like a knife to the heart, that it is about you?


  • John Mullan's essay on the Bible as source of structure and meaning in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.
  • Round-up of the Book Club.

Friday, November 09, 2007

GEEKDOM | Star Trek Casting Call and Which Star Trek Aliens I Would Like To Be

This is for all Star Trek fans. J.J. Abrams has started casting for his new Star Trek project - which will apparently star Eric Bana and Karl Urban. Be still my beating heart!

They are seeking (emphasis in BOLD totally mine):

[MALES & FEMALES] - Ages 18-70, any ethnicity: to play Cadets: young, fresh-faced, Military types: marching experience preferred, thin, regal talent with BROWN or BLACK hair AND are OK with their eyebrows being shaved from the arch outward to portray a Vulcan-type eyebrow shape.

Talent with interesting and unique facial features such as: long necks, small heads, extremely large heads, wide-set eyes, bug eyes, close-set eyes, large forehead, short upper lip, pronounced cheekbones, over- or undersized ears and/or nose, facial deformities, ultra plain-looking people, ultra perfect-looking people, pure wholesome looks, twins, triplets, emaciated talent, regally poised and postured talent, or other visually unique characteristics.

I am just glad in this day and age they do not prejudice against any ethnicity or age -- as long as you have "interesting and unique" facial characteristics, you are fair game.

So, dear readers - do you think you have what it takes to guest-star on Star Trek?

Personally a Vulcan is my race of choice. But if they do shave my eyebrows, it will be difficult to tell when I'm being ironic (one eyebrow raised) or surprised (both eyebrows raised).

I would need a really good make-up artist that could render me as beautiful as T'Pol ------->

Why T'Pol? Because she is played by Jolene Blaylock with those sensual lips, and this Vulcan oozes repressed sensuality. Oh wait, look: she has eyebrows.

I have a geek confession: I really liked Star Trek: Enterprise. I love the theme song -- it has this optimistic, homely feel, which really fits the theme of the series. ST: Enterprise afterall, is about the very first Starship Enterprise. True adventure begins with the first step -- and ST: Enterprise is about the first baby steps of the human race. The series had this sense of truly seeking new frontiers, meeting strange new life, exploration and adventures. Plus, it has Scott Bakula as Captain Archer -- whom I've loved since Quantum Leap. I almost expect him to go "Oh boy" at times. Captain Archer also has a really cute Beagle who always warms my heart when he appears.

It also helps that Star Trek: Enterprise is younger and sexier than all the other Star Trek series. Even the nerdy engineer has six-pack abs. (Although I have a problem with the Communications Officer. My problem with her -- well, she talks too much. Chatter is not the only form of communication, you know?) Sometimes they get to strip down (mostly to their tight underwears) to decontaminate. I really liked that about the series.

If they can't make me up like T'Pol, then I want to be Bajoran like Ro Laren, who is played by Michelle Forbes. Michelle Forbes by the way, will also plays Admiral Helena Cain on the forthcoming Battlestar Galactica: Razor. Hoo-raah!

Ro Laren was one of the more interesting characters they wrote for Star Trek: The Next Generation, because she started off as a character who had fallen from grace, but who managed to redeem herself.

She was angry, a disgraced soldier, a member of a conquered race. She was the perfect foil to all the other picture-perfect main cast; a viewer never expects Riker, Picard, Deanne Troi or Dr Crusher to EVER make any morally dubious choices. If they do make any mistakes, it will be resolved by the end of the episode one way or another. While these characters stand as yardsticks of the idealised evolved humans, it can be hard to identify with these characters at times. I prefer my characters more complicated with visible flaws -- more human.

With Ro Laren, it was different. While people like Riker believes it is an honour to serve on the USS: Enterprise, the reason she gave was more pragmatic: "It was better than prison."

I like the rise and fall of Ro Laren. The character started as someone whom everyone distrust, but through much effort, she earns Picard's trust and gradually begins to find herself, and her place in Starfleet. She rises from her situation as an orphan of a conquered race -- until the end when she abandons Starfleet to join the Bajoran resistance against the Cardassians. She made her choice knowing in doing so, it meant betraying Picard's faith -- but to do otherwise would be to betray herself.

Damn. I can't believe I can write so much about Star Trek -- and Star Trek isn't even my favourite sci-fi show! Don't even get me started on Babylon 5, Space: Above and Beyond, Farscape, and most of all, (the "re-visioned") Battlestar Galactica!

More on DailyLit

I am currently on subscription with DailyLit for The Moon and Sixpence, The Idylls of the King and The Bacchae. It has been less than a week since I started the subscription, but it feels like something I can stay with – at least for a while longer.

I had some problems initially with reading off the screen for long periods, but when I enlarged the text on my screen, it seems to help. Thankfully I possess enough self-esteem not to feel bad about reading like an old lady.

This little experiment at least has supported what I have always known – that I am a traditional "book-in-hand" kind of reader. Halfway through The Moon and Sixpence, I received a physical copy of the novel in the mail; I had mooched it last month and because there was some delay in sending it out, I forgot about it until its surprising appearance.

So, what did I do? I proceeded to underline (with a pencil) the significant passages in the novel – flagged with coloured Post-It strips for future reference. Now, you can't do that on an email.

But DailyLit is helpful in breaking down the epic poem that is The Idylls of the King into more digestible installments. I often do not complete these long epics because of the lack of stamina. Maybe small, regular reading is the way to not lose steam. Will report later if I should be able to finish reading Idylls and Bacchae.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Reading Plans For Next Year?

Update: I'm enjoying the responses that have been coming in about your reading lists - even trying to keep it free and easy is a plan. So, I'm taking Matt's advice and keeping this post "sticky" for a while. Let's see how it goes.

I know it's only October - or coming to November, but I'm looking a lot harder into cutting down my stacks of half-finished books. I guess I'm looking into some housekeeping, and it seems better to be able to finish what I started. It's something I hope to practice in life - not just in books.

So after I was done with Dracula last night, I picked up my half-finished copy of Alain de Botton's Art of Travel.

I like to start a new year on a clean slate - which is why I also hope to end the previous one in a good note - few books left unfinished, no bills unpaid. In short, trying to minimise the "debts" to carry over to the next year.

I know a lot of people are looking at next year's Russian Reading Challenge. I know I am. I caught myself reading the introduction to the new translation of War and Peace recently - and I had to stop myself before I go any further. That's for next year.

Meanwhile, I'm already drafting my 100 Books To Read 2008. I started my 100 Books reading list last year. I Never. Ever. complete the 100 Books I have planned out - but I always have fun just trying. That's why I keep doing it.

I hope to incorporate more genre fiction into next year's 100 Books. Lloyd Alexander is on the reading list, with Octavia E. Butler, The Iliad (again), Jean Rhys, a biography on Billie Holiday. Of course - my on-going quest to finish the Aubrey/Maturin series.

Does anyone else have any tentative reading plans for next year?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

NaNoWriMo | I Don't Care About My Characters

Barely one week into NaNoWriMo I'm already thinking of chucking what I wrote and writing something else.

Maybe it's because I spent so little time planning the story and the characters; I can accept that I'm clueless on how the plot will turn out, but right now I have no idea how to write the characters. They are new to me, I don't know them, have not decided who they are or what motivates them. This makes it hard for me to write, because when I put two antagonistic characters together, I don't know how they are supposed to react to each other.

The questions that keep popping into my head: Who is smarter? Who is more confident? Why are they fighting? Why do they hate each other? (Is it really just clan-rivalry or sexual jealousy over a woman?) In this argument, what is one character hiding from the other? As I keep making things up, I find myself going back to re-write dialogues that will illustrate these emerging conflicts and background.

It's driving me nuts, not knowing what to do.

When I was studying I used to write a little fanfiction, and some stories of the gothic/fantasy/cyber-punk/noir genre. Before I actually start writing, I spend a lot of time day-dreaming -- something I have always enjoyed on long bus-rides. (Actually, I enjoy the day-dreaming more than the writing) I usually have a chance to create a whole back-story, personality and family history for them -- so when I actually set pen to paper -- I have something to work on.

Right now I'm looking at my main protagonist, Julian: He's a spoiled younger son from a family of Shadow Hunters. He was content to allow his older brother to be the Shadow Hunter while he goes off to be a playboy, professional wakeboarder and stereotypical rich brat. He is a selfish character -- and I have no idea how I'm going to redeem him. Yet.And I'm not even sure how to develop the supporting characters.

If I'm going to change the story I have to do it as soon as possible.

I have just written more than 350 words in a ramble -- and yet I have trouble doing this kind of word-count for NaNoWriMo. This is harder than I thought.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

QUOTE | That Lust Which Rages In the Breast Like a Demon

She herself was a victim of that lust for books which rages in the breast like a demon, and which cannot be stilled save by the frequent and plentiful acquisition of books. This passion is more common, and more powerful, than most people suppose. Book lovers are thought by unbookish people to be gentle and unworldly, and perhaps a few of them are so. But there are others who will lie and scheme and steal to get books as wildly and unconscionably as the dope-taker in pursuit of his drug. They may not want the books to read immediately, or at all; they want them to possess, to range on their shelves, to have at command.

~ Robertson Davies (1913-1995)

Psst - I think he's onto us.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

POETRY | HIRSHFIELD | In Praise of Coldness

I was looking through some of my old Moleskine notebooks, and I came across one that I kept as a poetry journal. I had copied by hand, the poems that I found moving and inspiring. I have also included several entries for Patti Smith.

There were also a few poems by Jane Hirshfield - among them, "In Praise of Coldness", which quoted Chekhov. I re-read that poem, and now I couldn't let it go.


“If you wish to move your reader,”
Chehkov wrote, “you must write more coldly.”

Herakleitos recommended, “A dry soul is best.”

And so at the center of many great works
is found a preserving dispassion,
like the vanishing point of quattrocento perspective,
or the tiny packets of dessicant enclosed
in a box of new shoes or seeds.

But still the vanishing point
is not the painting,
the silica is not the blossoming plant.

Chekhov, dying, read the timetables of trains.
To what more earthly thing could he have been faithful?–
Scent of rocking distances,
smoke of blue trees out the window,
hampers of bread, pickled cabbage, boiled meat.

Scent of the knowable journey.

Neither a person entirely broken
nor one entirely whole can speak.

In sorrow, pretend to be fearless. In happiness, tremble.

~ Jane Hirshfield

Working on NaNoWriMo really slowly and Dailylit

I'm hoping to do a more substantial post, but alas, I'm way behind on my third day of NaNoWriMo. I have only written approximately 1,140 words in 3 days. Last I checked, Chris has clocked in about 4,000 words. I bet he has progressed further as I type this. The man is putting me to shame. ;p You go, Man!

One would think with the way I ramble, word production would be easy, yes? No. I self-edit. A lot. I keep rewriting sentences, words, scenes - which is why I am still only on two pages, with two scenes, introducing some of the major characters. They haven't actually done anything interesting yet.

So far, I have my young Shadowhunter, Julian Knight, (I am stealing from my favourite Gabriel Knight PC game for the whole Schattenjager backstory) coming into a futuristic city. The year is 2047 AD. He is a reluctant hero, having to pick up the mantle after his older brother (the previous anointed Schattenjager) went missing. His quest is somewhat self-serving, as in spite of his genuine concern for his brother, he also really want to be able to return the job of the Schattenjager to his brother.

Meanwhile, a High Vampire, the elected overlord of the same city, is murdered. This creates a power vaccuum at the highest echelon of the vampiric society. Two exiled vampire-sorcerors return to the city. A civil war between the vampire family ensures.

I just have to write it. And I have to stop re-reading what I write and then going "Oh, it sucks."

Meanwhile, I have gone and signed myself up for dailylit - where they send you books via email or RSS in installments. You get to choose if you prefer to receive them daily, on weekdays only, or alternate weekdays. You even get to pick the time to receive the installments.

I tend to do this a lot - sign up for things without really thinking about - simply out of curiosity, to find out what's the big deal. Sometimes I get myself into trouble, but sometimes I discover really fun things by acting on a whim. Anyway, it's just more emails. Book installments will certainly be more relevant than all the viagra and penis enhancement spam-ads I keep receiving.


Back to the subject of dailylit: I've signed up to receive Somerset Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence (in 82 installments) and Heinrich von Kleist's Penthesilea (in 35 installments). When I read the first installments in my email, to my surprise - Penthesilea is in German. Oops. Time to unsubscribe.

Anyone else is receiving books via email? Are you loving it?

Friday, November 02, 2007

HANOI 2007 | Books and Cafe

This is sort of an update - but not quite - on what books I will be bringing to Hanoi. The truth is, I can't tell what will eventually end up in my backpack until the minute before I step out for the airport.


  1. Lonely Planet: Vietnam
    But of course. I use the map inside to get around.

  2. Sodom and Gomorrah Marcel Proust
    I am determined to finish this volume (at least) before the start of 2008.

  3. The Man Who Was Thursday G.K. Chesterton
    Chesterton’s espionage thriller – featuring many characters with red-hair. The frequent out-crop of red-hair contributes greatly a lot to my interest. ;)

Shortlisted but still undecided:

  1. The Dud Avocado Elaine Dundy
    One of my books for the Armchair Traveler Challenge
    The French colonial influence in Vietnam is like a striking dash of colour on a rich canvas – it's so entrenched into its culture and it only makes it more interesting. It's because of this French colour that I alway associate it as "Paris in Vietnam". The Dud Avocado - where a girl goes to Paris, alone.

  2. Journal of a Solitude May Sarton
    An excuse to catch up with my Outmoded Authors reading. I also like the idea of it as a companion to my solitude. Yes, I will be in a city surrounded by a lot of people – but solitude is a state of mind. Much like loneliness. But solitude and loneliness are not the same.

  3. The City in Crimson Cloak Asli Erdogan
    [Translated by Amy Spangler]
    I found out about this title (via Softskull Press) earlier this year when I was pulling together a Turkish reading list for my March trip to Turkey.

  4. The Comedians Graham Greene
    Another for the Armchair Traveler Challenge. Like the start of a bad punchline, the characters – Mr Brown, Major Jones and Mr and Mrs Smith are on a boat headed for Haiti.

  5. Of Human Bondage W. Somerset Maugham
    Will 2007 be the year of Maugham for me?

  6. First Love Ivan Turgenev & 7. The Kreutzer Sonata Leo Tolstoy
    The slim, pocket-sized novellas from the Penguin Great Loves series are so handy to carry around. I thought I do a little warm-up to the 2008 Russian Reading Challenge.

I was also hoping to unwrap a new Moleskine journal for this trip – but it seems the bookstore is out of stock for the Large Plain Notebooks. Ruled and Squared are still available but I always prefer a blank page. This is what happens when I don't stock up.

As I plan to do a bit of reading, I have also been checking out the addresses of some Hanoi cafes where I can just "hang out" with a book, coffee and my all black ensemble.

Hanoi Cafes I Would Like to Check Out

  1. Au Lac, 57 Ly Thai To.
    This upmarket cafe claims to brew Hanoi's best coffee and is a relaxing spot to sip your cappuccino while watching the fitness freaks work out in the Metropole's gym opposite.
  2. Cafe Lac Viet, 46 Le Thai To.
    A quiet and comfy spot for coffees. Head for the sofas on the second floor, browse the bookshelves or catch one of the regular film screenings.
  3. Cafe Lam, 60 Nguyen Huu Huan.
    This musty but atmospheric one-room cafe made its name as a place for artists and young intellectuals to hang out. A few paid their bills with paintings, some of which still adorn the walls.
  4. Caf Quynh, 46b Bat Dan.
    Another traditional haunt of artists and movie buffs hoping to spot the actress owner, Nhu Quynh, star of Cyclo.
  5. Kinh Do Cafe, 252 Hang Bong.
    This so-called cafe 252 became famous after Catherine Deneuve complimented the patron on his yoghurts. The cafe still trades on this anecdote today.
  6. Moca, 14­16 Nha Tho.
    Moca has become something of a favourite for travellers and ex-pats because of its colonial-style decor and western-friendly menu.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

New Whedon Action Drama Next Year

For the fans of Joss Whedon, and Eliza Dushku, look out for their new action-drama called "Dollhouse." Yes -- they are coming back to TV. Yay!

Fox has given a seven-episode commitment to the 20th Century Fox Television project for a planned debut next year. A quick synopsis on the film:

"Dollhouse" stars Dushku as Echo, one of a group of secret agents living in a futuristic dorm. Each has the ability to be imprinted with custom personalities and abilities for special assignments. When they return, their newly acquired memories are wiped. The show follows Echo as she takes on a variety of assignments—some romantic, some adventurous, some uplifting, some illegal—and gains awareness of her role and confinement.