Tag Archives: Books

Review: A Geek in Japan by Hector Garcia

Review: A Geek in Japan by Hector Garcia

I dug out my Kyon to pose beside the book. He does not approve of this foolishness.

A slightly different version of this review first appeared in the San Francisco Book Review last November 17, 2011. 

 

Some subtitles can be misleading. For instance, “Discovering the Land of Manga, Anime, Zen and the Tea Ceremony” hardly scratches the surface of the real contents of A Geek in Japan. This colorful book discusses several salient points of Japanese culture. It’s a great resource for someone who has minimal knowledge of this Asian nation.

Presented with numerous photos of Japanese life—both common and rarely seen scenes—the book is engrossing and easy to read. It attempts to explain everything to the novice, from the symbolism in Buddhist temples to the proper way of handing over a business card. It is especially insightful on Japanese verbal and nonverbal language, and how it is to be a foreigner living and working in Japan.

For some geeks obsessed with robots and manga, this book may not be encyclopedic enough. For a volume that’s slim enough to slip into a carry-on bag, however, it has valuable information that can save an executive or a tourist from a major faux pas. While not a traditional guidebook, A Geek in Japan certainly makes a reader want to hop on a plane to experience everything firsthand.

A Fire Demon’s Humble Opinion

A Fire Demon’s Humble Opinion

I’ve been playing Lego Harry Potter: Years 5–7 during mental breaks from research. Apparently, Dumbledore agrees: Privet Drive is greater than Number 12 Grimmauld Place.

 

“Nobody’s safe in a wizard’s house.”

 

—Calcifer in Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle (1986) 

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.

The Unspeakable Horror of the Literary Life

The Unspeakable Horror of the Literary Life

The night before returning home to Mortshire, Mr. Earbrass allows himself to be taken to a literary dinner in a private dining room of Le Trottoir Imbécile. Among his fellow-authors, few of whom he recognizes and none of whom he knows, are Lawk, Sangwidge, Ha’p’orth, Avuncular, and Lord Legbail. The unwell-looking gentleman wrapped in a greatcoat is an obscure essayist named Frowst. The talk deals with disappointing sales, inadequate publicity, worse than inadequate royalties, idiotic or criminal reviews, others’ declining talent, and the unspeakable horror of the literary life.

— from Edward Gorey’s The Unstrung Harp; or, Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel  (1953)

Merlyn’s Cure for Sadness

Merlyn’s Cure for Sadness

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”

— Merlyn in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King (1958)

My Fandom is Older than Yours: Sherlock Holmes

My Fandom is Older than Yours: Sherlock Holmes

I.

I'm a non-smoker who owns a pipe. It's a long story.

I am absolutely delighted with the explosion of all things Sherlock Holmes. I’ve previously mentioned my love for Holmes before, but it’s only the rumblings of the intense BBC Sherlock fandom that has made it all chic again.

Inspired by some obscure side comments on Ghost Bees & Consulting Detectives—my favorite Sherlock Holmes tumblr—I picked up the incredibly influential William S. Baring-Gould biography from the Berkeley Public Library.

A little bit on the Baring-Gould and Holmes connection first, though. There existed a real person by the name of Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould. He was an amateur antiquarian, novelist, and folklorist. In Laurie R. King’s The Moor (1998), he is portrayed as a crusty old invalid who sends his godson, Sherlock Holmes, to investigate the death of a Dartmoor man.

Aside from this fictional appearance, Sabine Baring-Gould’s real and interesting childhood—as detailed in the first volume of his autobiography—is freely used by his grandson, the aforementioned William S. Baring-Gould, as the basis for Sherlock Holmes’s childhood.

So: fiction intruded upon a life, then life intruded upon fiction. Then the dance continued.

For a reader like myself, it’s almost impossible not to think of the Baring-Gould name without Holmes, and vise versa. While the old reverend was accomplished in his lifetime and still marginally remembered for his own contributions, I wonder if his ghost is bothered that younger generations think of him as “Sherlock’s godfather.”

But I digress.

What I think about his grandson’s biography is a different matter altogether!

 

II.

Fun with copyright-free clip art.

I can only describe William S. Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street: A Life of The World’s First Consulting Detective (1960) as a seminal piece of fanfiction. It’s an unintentionally hilarious piece of work, with most of the giggles and teeth-gnashing coming from the serious tone coupled with the author’s unbelievable flights of fancy.

This is not the work of a fool uploading half-finished first drafts on fanfiction.net, folks. In 1967, William Baring-Gould published the two-volume Annotated Sherlock Holmes, which is still a definitive piece of Holmes scholarship. He is one of the first to fix the internal chronology of the stories (which is something Sir Arthur Conan Doyle seriously screwed up.) Baring-Gould’s many scholarly contributions are mentioned in The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes (2005), and he’s supposed to be someone to take seriously.

Knowing these things only made Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street an even more infuriating experience for me!

First off, Baring-Gould names Holmes’ parents and endows him without another older brother, Sherrinfold. With Sherrinfold as the heir of the family estate and with Mycroft as the spare, this makes third son Sherlock rather superfluous (in terms of succession or the entail.)

Holmes’s position as a third son enables him to rebel against his father’s choice of profession for him (engineering!) which in turn gets him disinherited. It makes sense in terms of characterization, given that Holmes only reluctantly mentions his family to Watson.

What doesn’t make sense, however, is all the other stuff Baring-Gould insisted on.

It amuses me that Baring-Gould went through extreme lengths to explain how Holmes attended both Oxford and Cambridge. (I understand that both universities claim him.) Among his other youthful exploits, Holmes meets Karl Marx and some anarchists, he hangs out with Lewis Carroll, and he embarks on an acting career (?!) in the United States. Seriously.

As a hilarious clincher to these goings-on, Baring-Gould has Holmes dressing up as a blonde streetwalker trying to entrap Jack the Ripper. Of course a struggle ensues when he is found out to be a man, and of course Watson comes along to save the day. Seriously.

It was at this point in the book where I felt the chapter could so easily devolve into a BBC Sherlock yaoi fanfic.

Dr. Watson would like to have a word with you now. Promotional still of Jude Law from Warner Bros.

Instead of that scenario (perhaps he found himself unable to write that scene?) Baring-Gould falls back on that old heterosexual standby, “The Woman.” Unable to collapse gently into Watson’s arms, during his great hiatus Holmes instead has a passionate affair with a recently divorced Irene Adler. Ms. Adler abandons Holmes once she realizes she’s pregnant. She flees Europe and later gives birth to Nero Wolfe.

Seriously.  

I won’t bother with commenting on the rest of it, aside from mentioning that the ending is pure schmaltz. I just refuse to believe that Holmes spends his last day alive surveying his life’s work while sitting by the sea, whispering “Irene, Irene” to himself like a lovesick fool.

If this was supposed to be the secret life of the great detective, I’d rather he had died at Reichenbach. At least Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wanted him to go out with a heroic bang. Too bad the reading public wouldn’t let him.

Holmes surely deserves more than this piteous whimper.

 

III.

I’m not sure why I’m getting all riled up over a fifty-two year old piece of fanfiction (back in the day, it would have been called a pastiche), but seriously! It gets my goat. I don’t mind bad fanfiction on the internet. That’s easy enough to dismiss out of hand. What I do mind, however, is bad fanfiction somehow made legitimate with its hardbound cover and staid dust jacket, sitting decorously on the shelves of the Berkeley Public Library, merely waiting to pounce on unsuspecting readers like myself. The nerve!

Tonight, I think I will retreat back into the welcoming arms of the canon, sniffling for this great blow to Holmes’s dignity.

 

Review: Looking for Calvin and Hobbes

Review: Looking for Calvin and Hobbes

The San Francisco Book Review published this review last March 2010. It’s no longer available on their website so I’m adding it here for my archival purposes. 

 

Nevin Martell’s Looking for Calvin and Hobbes is made of equal parts of solid research and obsessive fanboyism, akin to an unauthorized biography of the “J.D. Salinger of cartoonists.”

Publicity-shy Bill Watterson is a difficult yet sympathetic subject. The first chapters make for slow reading, but the rest of the book provides insight into the artistic challenges of cartoonists. The behind-the-scenes look at syndication and licensing sheds light on Watterson’s decision to end his award-winning series.

What’s missing most from the book, however, are Calvin and Hobbes. The lack of illustrations seems absurd. It would have been nice to see the development of Watterson’s work for oneself, and not just have it merely described.

This is essential reading for die-hard Calvin and Hobbes fans who want to stalk Watterson. Martell will give you all the reasons why you will never find the man. So instead of attempting something both discourteous and criminal, read this book instead.

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.”