Category Archives: Side Comments

Side Comments of the Month: the Literati Edition

Side Comments of the Month: the Literati Edition

I'm a sucker for free books (that are pertinent to my interests). These titles are courtesy of Ten Speed Press.

1) I attended the second “Write Now!” at the Mechanics’ Institute last Tuesday. I like this new monthly event because it forces me to write under pressure. There’s nothing like being stuck in a room with twelve other people with equally puzzled faces: “How do I tackle this prompt?”

Not everything produced under time pressure can be epic but that’s not the point. The point is to get the juices flowing. Rewriting and editing can come later.

Tarlyn Edwards, event facilitator and librarian, distributes old postcards at each meeting to serve as visual prompts. Attendees are allowed to keep the photos because the library has more images than they know what to do with. Since I’m a sucker for vintage postcards, I get a thrill out of picking my photo. I will post the photos and my flash fiction in another entry.

 

2) Literary agent Michael Larsen delivered a talk on “10 Keys to Becoming a Successful Writer” at the Mechanics’ Institute. (My Chicago Manual of Style-trained brain is just itching to correct “10” to “Ten,” but I suppose I shouldn’t because that was the proper title of the talk.)

His talk was informative and honest. I’m sure that the handout he gave, which included a flowchart of the publishing process, was a complete surprise to many of the other writers in attendance. In Manila there are no literary agents. Since I’ve never met one before, I found his insights fascinating.

 

3) Yesterday, my lovely classmates and I attended “Movin’ on Up: Getting Hired and Promoted in Publishing.” This was organized by the Young to Publishing Group, a volunteer-based initiative that aims to mentor and educate people new to the industry.

It was a well-attended event, with a predominantly young, female crowd. The panelists were up front on how difficult it is so get an in-house editorial job. I like how they differentiated between East Coast and West Coast publishing. This clarified certain nagging questions in my head.

I tend to lump “American publishing practices” into one messy ball, so now I will be more mindful in thinking it’s all homogenous. A small press will operate differently from Chronicle Books, which has around 200 employees, and both San Francisco-based companies won’t match the hectic pace of the Big Five in New York. It may seem obvious but until I heard someone share their industry experience, the reality of it didn’t sink in.

 

. . .

All these events touched upon various stages of the publishing process—writing, selling a manuscript, editing—and it made me think there’s a huge disconnect between novice writers and the rest of the publishing industry. Some of the questions and comments at the “10 Keys” talk had a wonderful, heartbreaking naiveté behind it.

Perhaps it’s awful for me to say so because I remember being equally shocked by some opinions expressed at the first Litquake event I attended. That was almost two years ago; now it no longer comes as a complete surprise.

There was a woman who almost had an attack of the vapors when Mr. Larsen said a successful book is “ten percent writing, ninety percent marketing.” I didn’t get to chat with her afterwards, which is a shame. I really wanted to tell her that, no, excellent writing is not the sole keystone to a successful, bestselling book. It’s only the first step in a long, arduous process. Yes, badly written books become runaway hits all the time.

If it’s possible to accept the current challenges of the industry and still desire to deal with words—whether to write, edit, or publish them—then congratulations. Welcome to the working week. There’s more to book production than putting words on a page.

 

 

Side Comments for the Month V

Side Comments for the Month V

There are spoilers for Iron Man 3 and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes in this post. To read the spoilers, highlight the invisible text with your mouse.

 

Any excuse to use this photo is good enough for me. From Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes (2009).

1. So I watched Iron Man 3 like the rest of the world. I liked it a lot and I found it superior to Iron Man 2. Then again, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of my favorite movies, so anything that teamed up Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr. again was bound to hit my sweet spot.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3 actually have many things in common: the seemingly pointless voiceover narration at the beginning, the red herrings, the lead character being a fish out of water, the holiday decorations, the bait-and-switch bad guys.

I read a few reviews online, and I can see how the film probably upsets some of the hardcore comic book fans. (I grew up reading more Uncanny X-men myself, and you cannot imagine my nerd rage with X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand. So I can sympathize.)

I digress, though. As someone who likes Robert Downey Jr. and the film that revived his career, I am willing to cut Iron Man 3 some slack. It’s not The Godfather of superhero movies but it’s an above average popcorn film.

Incidentally, this may be the second time RDJ’s been handcuffed to a bed frame. He’s beginning to make a habit out of it.

 

"Did you ever try to do embroidery with a gun in your hand?" Mrs. Hudson is a woman to emulate.

2. For the past few weeks, I’ve been listening to the soundtrack of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970). I picked up the soundtrack, purely out of curiosity, from the classical music section of the Berkeley Public Library. I was actually looking for more Hans Zimmer when I found it. (Zimmer’s work on Guy Ritchie’s Holmes films—especially the main theme in “Discombobulate”—has been great music for writing.)

Since I liked the idea of song titles like “221B Baker Street”, “The Diogenes Club”, and “Watson’s Rage,” I gave The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes a good listen and it exceeded my expectations. I cannot claim to be any sort of expert in musical matters, but this particular musical score pleases me. I’m terrible at identifying musical motifs and themes, but I have no problem picking out the Sherlock moments as it recurred throughout the entire CD.

 

3. Due to my enjoyment of the soundtrack, I did not hesitate to borrow the film when I found a copy at the Mechanics Institute.

I’m not sure if I liked Robert Stephens’s conventional interpretation of Sherlock Holmes. (I confess that the idea that he was Maggie Smith’s ex-husband fascinated me more.) Colin Blakely as Dr. Watson was uninspired but I attribute this to the writing. When he started ranting at Holmes—for having started a rumor that they were gay lovers just to be rid of a client—was hilarious. Too bad Watson wasn’t given more scenes like that.

The Holmes brothers having a "friendly" conversation.

The idea of a young-ish Christopher Lee as Mycroft Holmes just floored me. My mental image of Mycroft Holmes remains that of a rotund man with rosy cheeks, like Richard Griffiths or even G.K. Chesterton. Christopher Lee seems better suited to play Sherlock himself, which he has done so several times.

A lovely French actress named Geneviève Page played the main female client. She’s definitely a throwback to all the dainty damsels in distress who seek Holmes’s advice throughout the canon. It especially pleases me, for obvious reasons, that Billy Wilder did not name her character Irene Adler.

It’s just too bad that the central mystery was child’s play—some of the clues were just too obvious—and better editing would have fixed the pacing. Despite these complaints, I still finished watching The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes because the dialogue was incredibly witty. Bon mots were distributed equally among characters—even Mrs. Hudson got a couple of quips.

As it’s usually the case with non-canonical adaptations, I enjoyed this for its fannish interpretation. Billy Wilder’s take on Holmes’s sexuality and his gentlemanly reticence is totally in line with more contemporary revisions of Holmes. Laurie R. King’s version of Holmes, for instance, is that of a consummate Victorian gentleman—a man who would never take advantage of a woman, even a naked amnesiac spy.

Maybe in the future, I will tackle the Basil Rathbone DVDs and content myself with Holmes vs. Nazis. When I think about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s penchant for secret societies and the footprints of gigantic hounds, I can’t really fault Billy Wilder for writing Holmes vs. the Loch Ness Monster. It actually makes sense… at least, more sense than Nazis.

My overall verdict: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is flawed but interesting. The music makes all the difference. Check it out if you can find it.

My, my. This has been a very Sherlockian entry, hasn’t it?

Side Comments of the Month III

Side Comments of the Month III

There is a mild spoiler for Life of Pi in this post. To read it, highlight the invisible text with your mouse.

 

1. My annual winter visit to Saskatoon resulted in the consumption of a lot of mass media, including thirteen manga volumes of Yoshiyuki Sadamoto’s Neon Genesis Evangelion, some re-reading of Calvin and Hobbes, and a bunch of other books.

Detective McNulty knows exactly what the f*ck he did. An HBO poster.

Since Adam is taking a course on HBO’s The Wire (2002), I “helped” him with homework and watched seasons one to three. I haven’t followed a police procedural since I weaned myself off CSI: New York, so it was engrossing. Why did I spend the 2000s watching Tony Soprano in therapy when I could have been ogling following the clues with Detective McNulty? It boggles the mind.

2. I also caught two vastly different films this month. Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained has lots of blood and exploding guts. Christoph Waltz should be declared a national treasure and Leonardo DiCaprio needs to play more villainous roles. Their performances are riveting, so once they were off-screen I was less interested. I feel this weird urge to apologize to Jamie Foxx, who did a great job. The last act of the film just felt too long.

Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is a lovely bit of cinema. I overheard one woman in the theatre calling it “Hollywood artistic,” a phrase I found amusing if yet degrading. Life of Pi certainly seems more accessible to a larger audience than Ang Lee’s other films like Lust, Caution or The Wedding Banquet (which I both loved, by the way), but it doesn’t make it any less ambitious. I usually hate 3D but there was nothing quite like seeing an entire zoo drowning in a turbulent ocean.

Maybe I’m just biased, I have a soft spot for any director who has the balls to tell Emma Thompson to “stop looking so old.” Ang Lee must have balls of steel!

I digress, though. It was entirely fitting for me to watch Life of Pi in Saskatoon, since Yann Martel is probably the most popular contemporary novelist who lives there.

3. The restaurants in Saskatoon continue to be great. For such a small city, there are so many good places to eat. While I didn’t get to each brunch at Poached again, Adam did take me to The Rook and Raven twice. I like it there. We also revisited Truffles Bistro, because nothing says Canada like French cuisine.

4. Now that I don’t have to get on another plane for a couple of months, I think I can start listening to the new season of BBC Radio 4′s Cabin Pressure. Every time I mentally dubbed the pilots Douglas and Martin, the plane I was riding would be subject to some freak delay—like frost on the wings in SFO, one of the largest airports in the world without anti-frost equipment. “Douglas” cheerfully informed us passengers that wings frosting over in San Francisco happens once a decade. I’m dead sure “Martin” refused to fly until the sun came out. This resulted in a three-hour delay that made me miss my connecting flight.

Moral of the story: do not dub any real pilots Douglas or Martin! None of them look like Benedict Cumberbatch, anyway.

Side Comments for the Month II

Side Comments for the Month II

1. I am ashamed to say that my book backlog is piling up with no end in sight. While wading through research on nineteenth century history, I am also concurrently reading Jacqueline Raoul-Duval’s Kafka in Love and Jorge Amado’s The Discovery of America by the Turks. I’m studying for my finals, too.

In the midst of this mental over-exertion, I was lucky to receive a complete set of Dream of the Red Mansions for free. My copy editing class had a field trip to Sinomedia, a San Francisco-based publisher that specializes in Chinese and Asian titles. While touring their facilities, I had a nerdgasm because they had stuff like a hardbound boxed set of the complete Lu Xun.

So many books, so little time.

Chinese literature happens to be a frustration of mine since my university days, when I was unable to take the survey course on the topic due to scheduling conflicts. The literature department never offered the class again, either—for someone who took six units of Chinese language, it was unbelievably infuriating. (I decided on Chinese because all the hip cats were taking Japanese for their language requirements.)

Since those days I’ve managed to read some of the classics in translation on my own—Journey to the West, the Tao Te Ching, the short stories by Lu Xun, and a lovely poetry anthology edited by Wai-lim Yip. (I also have an anthology edited by Cyril Birch but I prefer Yip’s translations for some of the overlapping material.)

Despite these forays, my sense of self-education always felt incomplete because I hadn’t tackled Dream of the Red Mansions. Also known as Dream of the Red Chamber, it is one of the four masterpieces of classical Chinese literature. I felt that if I was worth my salt as a student of Asian literature, I just had to read it. (A similar moment occurred after taking the survey class on Japanese literature, when my professor announced we would not tackle the entire Tale of Genji. I’m proud to say I read that on my own too, even if some of the hip cats sneered at me for the effort. I was told by these well-meaning types that “real” Japanese kids don’t bother with it. I thought this was a ridiculous argument for being too lazy to even try.)

Good intentions aside, a complete, unabridged version of Dream of the Red Chamber proved difficult to find in Manila back then. So you can imagine my disbelief and excitement when I was presented with these volumes last week! Just receiving these copies ends an on-and-off search that started in the late 90s.

As soon as I can concentrate on it, I will definitely sink my teeth into these books. I hope I am up to this challenge.

 

A low-res shot from up front.

2. In more news of Things I Should Have Experienced Fifteen Years Ago, my sister and I watched the Toad the Wet Sprocket gig in San Francisco and it was a satisfying musical experience. I was happy that the audience wasn’t terribly geriatric, like the time I watched Brian Wilson (the Beach Boy, not the SF Giant.)

A local band called Luce opened for them and I think they were the best front act for me to encounter all year. Toad played through the entire Dulcinea album and I was ecstatic to hear Stupid, Nanci, and Windmills live after all this time. Even at the height of their popularity, I don’t think Toad even toured Asia. Back then I resigned myself to never seeing one of my favorite bands… and this was even before they broke up. It’s nice that they got back together again, and more importantly, they are in the middle of writing and recording new material.

If you wish to live vicariously, Toad recorded some tracks from their San Francisco gigs and it’s available for digital download over here. All proceeds from the EP will be going to Amnesty International, if you care about those things. So please don’t be an ass and try to pirate the EP, okay?

At the gig I picked up Glen Phillip’s Coyote Sessions. I’ve been following Glen’s solo career since Abulum and a new release is always a welcome addition to my iTunes. I’ve given the entire CD a couple of listens and my favorite tracks are “Still Carrying You” and “The Song is Still Here.”

 

3. On the anime manga front (can there be such a secret organization in existence… The United Anime-Manga Front? Instead of Internationale their theme song will be Fly Me to the Moon and its card-carrying members will wave red flags featuring the profiles of Hayao Miyazaki and Totoro? My imagination is running away with me on this cold afternoon…)

As I was trying to say before I interrupted myself, Adam and I finished Ergo Proxy and revisited Baccano!, courtesy of the official Funimation channel on YouTube.

A DVD cover for Ergo Proxy featuring Vincent Law.

Ergo Proxy was all sorts of confusing. Each subsequent episode left me slacked-jawed and mumbling strange things to myself. As far dystopian science fiction goes, it’s a competent, elegant series, as soon as I had all the jigsaw puzzle pieces of the plot firmly in my head. It’s not a series to watch in the midst of a debilitating depression or if you have the attention span of a goldfish.

Baccano!, of course, is famous for its skewered nonlinear storytelling — it hopscotches all over the place. Some people may argue that it’s a waste of time to re-watch a series, but Baccano! is one of those odd gifts that keeps on giving.

On a meta level, this time around nothing quite gave me the giggles as much as imagining Ichigo Kurosaki delivering Claire Stanfield’s lines. Graham Specter’s ridiculous declarations became more tolerable when I imagined Kyon delivering them to Haruhi Suzumiya, too. (Perhaps I should stop looking up voice actors and all the various roles they’ve had.)

Lastly, we are in the middle of watching the time-traveling series Stein;s Gate. I admit I got curious about this series due to this fan video. So far, the worst thing about it is its blatant misuse of punctuation in the title. Otherwise, the lab-coated main characters are adorably paranoid and madcap. I hope it continues to be satisfying.  Nothing is more infuriating than a good concept marred with a muddled, prolonged end (Eden of the East, I’m looking at you.)

 

4. I don’t know if I will find the time or energy to send postcards this year. In case I don’t write at length again in the coming days, happy holidays, everyone! I hope everybody I like (and a few I don’t) gets stuffed with food, drunk on spirits, and manage to do lots of silly things they will regret the next morning. That’s really the best I can hope for everyone.

Side Comments for the Month

Side Comments for the Month

A month-long hiatus from my blog may speak of carelessness. Yet when caught up with the actual business of living, I sometimes find it impossible to sit down and write anything. When things move too fast, I feel the need to stay away from words to process what is happening to me.

I suppose you can call me an old-fashioned creature since I think it’s unnecessary to document every single moment. This is obviously contrary to the current behavior that incessant social media encourages. I’m mildly suspicious of people who can only have fun if they are posing for photos they will share right away with a thousand of their dearest friends on Facebook (or Twitter or Tumblr).

Then again, I’m also the person who once enjoyed a five-day silent retreat in a Jesuit seminary. Zero electronics permitted, no talking was allowed, and the accommodations were as spartan as a medieval monk’s cell. So yes, I suppose my distaste of over-sharing makes sense.

Maybe I’m just a crank and you should get off my lawn now.

The last three books I read for review.

Enough digressions, though. Here are some moments of my August and September:

1. I just finished reading Umberto Eco’s Inventing the Enemy and as silly as it seems, I totally forgot to mention what I thought about the title essay in my review. Do’h. Two hundred words is not enough space for anyone to wax poetic about one of their favorite theorists. In any case, the review should come out next month.

2. I had the pleasure of watching Batman Live with my nephews last weekend. Jesus H. Christ on a stick! I was expecting campy and the production exceeded all expectations on that score. It was like Adam West and Joel Schumacher had a secret love child and the poor thing was raised to be a Las Vegas showgirl.

If the show was aiming to be America’s next guilty pleasure, I think it succeeded well. The production has great visuals and props, a slick Batmobile, and a cheeky Poison Ivy. If you are easily infected by the enthusiasm of little children, it’s worth checking out. If not, I recommend boozing up before the show.

3. I’ve avoided Naruto for years, but Adam persuaded me to give its ridiculously cute spinoff a chance. Even if I know nothing about its parent material, Rock Lee’s Springtime of Youth is so silly it’s impossible not to laugh.

As a spin-off featuring chibis, it falls somewhere between The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya and Petit Eva: Evangelion@School. I suppose this genre only appeals to people with an immoderate sense of humor.

For people who like their manga with a slice of serious, three new chapters of Chico Umino’s Sangatsu No Lion were translated by fans when I wasn’t looking. As much as I adore Honey and Clover, I worry (rightly so?) that Sangatsu No Lion does not have the same mass appeal. The chances are slim, but I do hope they come out with an authorized English translation in the future.

. . .

I was going to write about my recent culinary adventures but that would take too much time. Another time, perhaps. Good food always deserves its own post.

Side Comments for the Week

Side Comments for the Week

1. I was beginning to feel like the last person in the Northern Hemisphere not to have seen The Dark Knight Rises, so I finally went out and caught it. I won’t bother commenting about it at length, seeing how everybody else has. I will admit, though, that Alfred almost made me cry.

2. Adam and I finished watching Fate/Zero last week. It’s vastly superior to the earlier series, Fate/Stay Night, in terms of visuals and plotting. Kiritsugu Emiya doesn’t get on my nerves as much as his son does, even if they have the same intentions. Saber is ten times more powerful in this prequel, and I can’t help but adore a woman fighting in full armor.

Even if I found it occasionally wanting, I still appreciate Fate/Stay Night  for giving me one of most memorable quotations in anime: “Extravagance is our enemy.”

Why I find this hilarious is a long, boring story.

3. So Peter Jackson just announced there will be a third Hobbit movie. I have mixed feelings about this. I was lucky enough to visit Matamata two years ago when they were rebuilding the Shire. What I saw there really rocked my little hobbit world. But a third movie?

I remember a time when they couldn’t even get the rights to The Hobbit sorted out and no one wanted to direct it. This current situation feels odd.

Farewell, My Books

Farewell, My Books

A slightly different version of this post first appeared on my old blog last September 22, 2010. 

 

Last week I finally donated a trunk full of books to the University of the Philippines College of Arts and Letters Library (UP CAL Library). I felt really depressed about it; it was like cutting off a limb. I love books so much they all feel like an extension of me… even the ones I never finished reading!

At least the librarian and the library assistants were very happy to receive the books, so it made the trip down to Diliman worth it. One of them even crooned, “oh, mga bago pa!” I guess the staff is used to people dumping old and hardly usable things on them.

The donation was almost 300 titles in all, culled from my collection, Mom’s and Ricky’s (I got permission from Robbie first). I also gave the library the family’s book stand, which always held a big-ass dictionary since I was a child. While it’s an interesting piece of furniture, it’s hardly suitable for a regular home. It deserves to be in an institution, in a place of dusty honor.

Aside from the books and the book stand were Professor Luisa Mallari’s papers (as seen in big box in the corner of the photo.) I found the draft of her PhD. thesis that she lent me as a guide for my undergraduate thesis. Along with her copy of Raymond Williams, plus the readings I got from Dante, it’s a sizable collection. I hope they go through all of it carefully, because there is some original research there. I wish I had the time to read and scan them—especially her correspondence with authors like Ruth Mabanglo—but I simply can’t spend my time on it. Besides, I’m not aiming for a MA or PhD in Philippine Studies!

I don’t know the final destination of all the books, since the librarian did tell me that titles aren’t suitable for the UP CAL Library will be sent elsewhere, and I’m okay with that. I even said if they needed to be sent to other UP units, it’s okay, because my time as a OSR (Office of the Student Regent) volunteer taught me that other UP units can be really woebegone.

If the CAL Library plans on keep everything for themselves, though, expect an eclectic addition of Asian and Latin American novels (mine), books on world theater (Mom’s), and spy thrillers and World War II memoirs (Ricky’s).

I don’t know if my request will be followed, but I put a little note saying that I just want my student number to appear in their “donated by” book plates. The kids who will borrow out these books won’t care who I am, anyway. There’s much comfort in anonymity. Maybe I should have told them to put in my favorite quotation from the Ecclesiastes instead: “Of making books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.”