Sunday, December 2, 2012

Rise of the Guardians by DreamWorks


(In which it pays to find your center.)

***

I have always been very fond of animated movies, a penchant that wouldn't go unnoticed to some serious grownups. I don't know. It could be due to the uncontrollable kid in me or just the sheer fun of seeing cinematic things that are best left to Pixar and DreamWorks characters because they'll look awkward when done by humans. Take, for example, some incredulous anime-turned-live-action series.


The latest of my animated film experience is Rise of the Guardians, a concoction of some of the biggest names in children's myths, namely Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), Sandman and Jack Frost (Chris Pine). Add to that the omniscient Man in Moon, and you've got The Guardians,  DC’s Justice League and Marvel's The Avengers fantasy equivalent. But unlike their classic superhero counterparts, the Guardians only cater to kids. Besides, people outgrow Santa faster than they outgrow the Dark Knight.

So it is for the believers that the Guardians exist. There were originally four of them. But when Pitch Black the Boogeyman (Jude Law) threatens to fill children with fear and disbelief in the Guardians, Man in Moon has to choose another protector, Jack Frost. There were some problems, however. Jack doesn't want to be a Guardian, the children do not know him, and therefore do not believe and he doesn't know who he is and how he came to be. And for him to answer all his questions, Jack has to work with the Guardians to defeat the Boogeyman and retrieve the children's precious memories which he stole - along with Jack's.

It may sound like a predictable plot, and it is, unfortunately. Even after the epiphany kicks in, the effects are somewhat delayed. And the Christmas theme is somewhat lacking, the only obvious signs of which are snowflakes and Santa Claus. And just when I thought the main issue it will solve is “Do you believe in Santa Claus? You better do!”, there goes the likes of “Who on earth is Jack Frost?” and “Do you believe in Santa Claus? If you do, then you have to believe in all of them!” Apparently, it’s hard to focus.

But if there was one remarkable thing that stood out in the movie apart from Santa’s thick accent, or Jack Frost being very handsome, or Tooth Fairy’s obvious attraction to Jack, or Sandman’s incomprehensible reappearance, it’s the film’s bold negation to the widely accepted grownup saying “to see is to believe”. In the film, only the believers see the Guardians, hence the negation. Its reliance on children’s innocence is so refreshing you’ll be tempted to believe in the unbelievable again. 

Rise of the Guardians is DreamWorks Animation’s attempt to take down the hot conclusion of the Twilight saga. Quite ambitious, yes. But whether Jack Frost can overpower Edward Cullen or not, I know you’ll watch this animated movie. How do I know? If I may borrow Jack Frost’s opening and closing lines, because the moon told me so.

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Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Batman Trilogy by Christopher Nolan


(In which it is still better late than never.)

***

For those few who were wondering why on earth there is a movie review in here, I believe I owe this blog anything my amateurish writing skill can offer. And yes there are other movie reviews here. Help yourself.

One belief I have when it comes to watching movies (and reading books, except for one) that come in series is that I have to see the prequels first. I know I have been missing a lot of good stuff out there, but with a teaching career, studies and a social life I need to redeem, can you really blame me? Fortunately, no one has to. Because I myself have suffered too much disappointment upon failing to catch The Batman Trilogy in cinemas. Instead I had to make do with not-so-clear copies (I'm not complaining; just stating facts) to stop making myself unforgivably ignorant about the hunk that is Christian Bale. Seriously, I stopped minding that unlikely voice he has whenever he's wearing the suit by the second installment. He's that disarmingly charming.

Anyway, in celebration of the trilogies I've featured in one full blast (which I believe is more difficult than installments. Time management training needed), here's what I got from my precious digital copies.

In Batman Begins (2005), Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is a ridiculuously rich kid in Gotham City who got orphaned after his parents were killed by a random holduper. He left his wealthy status and lived with the thugs until he landed in a prisoner where he met Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson). Ducard sees Bruce's fighting skills as a huge asset that Bruce was taking for granted. He invited Bruce to be part of Ra's Al Ghul's League of Shadows whose main purpose is to alleviate societies of crimes and injustice. Bruce was trained to master his fears and become a better fighter. But when the training ends and his true initiation begins, Bruce finds out it's better to rebel than to yield.

He goes back to Gotham City and assumes the status his inheritance endows him. And with the resources and connection, he starts building the technology and materials to alleviate Gotham of crimes and injustice - as The Batman. But his journey as a black-clad vigilante doesn't happen without risking the lives of people he values - such as his beloved childhood friend Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes).

In The Dark Knight (2008), Bruce Wayne comes face-to-face with Rachel's (Maggie Gylenhaal) new boyfriend, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). He continues to try to win Rachel by clinging to what she said about them being together when Gotham no longer needs Batman. By this time, a new villain is plaguing the city - the psychopathic evil that is The Joker (Heath Ledger). In their seemingly never-ending chase, Bruce was torn between keeping his identity as The Batman and giving himself in to stop The Joker from killing innocent people. And because of one important decision, Bruce lost two friends.

In The Dark Knight Rises (2012), eight years after being shattered by two deaths, Bruce lives a life in seclusion until he stumbles upon The Cat Burglar (Anne Hathaway). It turns out that she stole his finger prints for someone who wants to take over Wayne Enterprise. Meanwhile. Bane (Tom Hardy) goes to Gotham as the heir of The League of Shadows devoted to punish Bruce for his betrayal. With Batman captured and Gotham city ruled by Bane who threatens to blow it up via an atomic bomb, Bruce and other righteous citizens strive to put order in a chaotic, rules-less society. Just when they thought they've got the bomb detonated, someone blurted one final surprise. 

As you can see, it's hard to put the spoilers out for the sake of those who haven't seen it. 

Anyway, if there's one thing that amazes me about the movie apart from the awesome black vehicles and Christian Bale, it's the movie's knack for hair-raising surprises. I don't know. But for someone who (shamefully, again) missed the comic books and some episodes in the animated series, those shockers were priceless. 

I also have to admit that as a superhero, Batman is incredibly human. I mean, his faults, his shortcomings and short-sightedness were justified either by his upbringing, downfall, fears and privilege, or perhaps a mixture of all those. He was predictable and unpredictable at the same time. His compassion and martyrdom were commendable. yes. But what's more noteworthy is his belief in humanity. Heroes are all meant to salvage and redeem. But not all intend to let the people they save be heroes for themselves.

So yes. The trilogy's a good movie that has shamefully been missed.

Now, I'm on my way to googling that cheer the prisoners shout in the pit.

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Friday, November 2, 2012

His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman


(In which destiny’s capacity for betrayal never ceases.)

***

When I decided to slip The Golden Compass (Book 1 of the trilogy) for Brit lit along with the Hunger Games for Am lit into the roster of literary text for my World lit subject, I just had one thought in mind: I wanted my students to see their common ground – the influence of an overly dominating social entity (the Capitol in Collins’ and the Magisterium in Pullman’s) and the consequences of absolute power. Incredulously simple, isn’t it? 

Although I was worried because of the anti-religious theme of The Golden Compass, the fact that Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale and Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy made it to the original list boost my confidence in this rather audacious decision. There would be no harm in teaching The Golden Compass, I thought. But I’m certain The Subtle Knife (Book 2) and The Amber Spyglass (Book 3) mean a different story. 

After a semester, I believe the lessons are successful. Okay, just so-so. Whether or not my own personally-chosen inclusions would make the students want to read more than The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Fifty Shades Trilogy (which, shamefully, I still haven’t read) was beyond my basic clairvoyance or tests. But anyway, am I not supposed to be glad about those titles?

I was able to finish the remaining half of the last book of His Dark Materials Trilogy after almost two months of grappling with academic paperwork, And then I realized, my students should read the whole series. Never mind the anti-religious theme Pullman confirmed. The book is more than just multiple parallel universes. It’s even more than just simply doing what’s right and fulfilling your dreams.

Set in Oxford in another world, The Golden Compass opens into a dimension in which humans walk beside their souls in the form of animals, called daemons. One remarkable child, Lyra Belacqua, is among those simple kids who spend time frolicking in meadows and playing war outside Jordan College. But things go awry when one by one, children start to disappear. Lyra’s simple childish life turns to a halt when she hears about Dust. She was also chosen as an expedition assistant by Mrs. Coulter and was given the alethiometer, a truth measurer, by the Master of Jordan College. After doubting Mrs. Coulter’s intentions, Lyra runs away and was rescued by the Gyptians. With the help of the alethiometer and the Gyptians, Lyra sets out to find her best friend Roger, who is also among the missing children kidnapped by the evil that was the Gobblers, headed by Mrs. Coulter. To accomplish this, Lyra needed the help of various people and creatures – the witch queen Serafina Pekkala, Lee Scoresby the aeronaut and the armored bear Iorek Byrnison. Just when she thought her duty ended with the rescuing of the kids, her uncle Lord Asriel opened a portal to a new world.

In The Subtle Knife, Lyra enters the gate to another world and finds herself in Cittagazze, where she meets William Parry, a boy from the world we know. Cittagazze is inhabited mostly by children. The adults either flee or die because of the Specters. William acquires the subtle knife, an instrument that scares the Specters. One of its edges cuts through any solid and the other cuts a window through any other world. By this time, Lord Asriel has started to make an army to rebel against the Authority in the heavens. He is after Will and Lyra because of the prophecy about the children and because of the subtle knife, a potent weapon in achieving a world without the Magisterium and the Authority. Different creatures from different worlds cross the windows cut by the knife to join the biggest war in the universes.

The Amber Spyglass concludes with answers regarding the prophecy about the children and the true nature and origin of Dust. The great battle was fought and in the midst of smoke and war, Lyra and Will find themselves in love, only to be ambushed by the horrific truths about the subtle knife and the alethiometer, as well as the decision they have to make to save Dust and stop the universes from falling apart.  

So the supposedly cliché coming-of-age themes of finding one’s identity and realizing one’s worth and destiny open up to a heavier premise for the novel, what with all the clash between science and religion made more complex by morality and ethics. Never mind the colossal war that sort of fell short with the greatness it was supposed to be. The novel is a great surprise in itself. I gave up expecting love to unfold anywhere after the first book. But when it did happen, it hit me hard with the intensity of high school romance.

When I started teaching The Golden Compass, I was only after making the students check on what social (whether religious or political) entity moves a society, a nation or a world, and to what extent the greed for power and supremacy leads people. I asked my students what a parallel universe is. In my head I picture this:


Now I realized it should have been (with the major differences and all) this:


I know I have said too much.


Currently reading:                                            








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Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story by Rachel Kadish


(In which happy endings are relative.)

***

How many times have we met intelligent, idealistic people searching for the one in their relentless pursuit of happiness? And either we lost track of their story or stopped caring altogether to find out how their conquest concluded. Or sometimes we just let our pessimism take over and knew exactly what will happen to them in the end. Sounds classic.

How about the classic happiness-related opening of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina? “Happy families are all alike. Unhappy families are unhappy in their own way.”

Well, this is what Tracy Faber, a literature professor, wants to disprove in Rachel Kadish’s intellectually satisfying novel. Believing that Tolstoy has made a rather harsh generalization about happiness (making all those who blindly quote the Russian literary giant blind and unthinking), Tracy starts out a research project showing how literature unfairly treats happiness. She believes that it is ironic that writers want their characters to be happy, vindicated and satisfied, yet happiness never happens at the start of stories or even in the middle (true happiness, at least) but when happiness truly shows itself it means that the story has come to an end. Nobody celebrates happiness the way it deserves to be celebrated and it is simply not right.

But don’t think that Tracy is the epitome of happiness. With a failure of a relationship and numerous Valentine’s spent watching couples wait for each other and fight at coffee shops, who can say she’s completely happy? She said she’s happy about her profession and her books, though (which I totally agree to, but have I already said that that doesn’t make anybody completely happy?)

So when she stumbles upon dashing and smart Canadian George in a restaurant, she knew she was undone. Giggling like a high school girl over a telephone conversation when he said, “I have to ask the Canadian embassy if there are federal laws restricting me to give my heart to an American” (Honestly, that made me giggle too.), she let herself fall to a relationship she knows she deserves to be in. Everything was quite fine. Students and faculty members in the university she was working in notice the change in her that could only be caused by love. She was happy and she knows it. Until George proposes months after. 

Being a person who likes to plan things out, she was horrifies with all the sudden preparation she has to endure before marriage. And on top of that, politics in the university circulating her and her thesis advisee, as well as her tenureship packet seem all too much to bear. In this difficult balancing act, what’s at stake is her professional future as well as her future with George.

Poignant and literarily heavy, Rachel Kadish brings to a life a character all literature practitioner and enthusiast should meet. The objective is not only to relive our Melville and Hawthorne and Tolstoy experiences but to find whether happiness is as unique as the lack of it, as well as the sacrifices we have to take in order to find it.


Currently reading:





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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Mentor’s Musing: Listening to the Call


(In which a possible illusion-versus-reality inspired moment further reflects my worsening eccentricity.)

***

Before having our Wednesday Graduate classes, my classmates and I usually talk about our work and expectations and apprehensions about teaching. When I encouraged them to apply in a university, they thought I was kidding. But I know there is hope in their denial and disbelief.
“I want to try teaching. You know, I think teaching has been calling me and I have been ignoring it,” one bubbly female classmate blurted happily.
But knowing how much she has doubted teaching as her destined career, I absentmindedly said, “Yes, go ahead. Then you will see if it was really your calling and not somebody else’s you just overheard.”
She smiled. And as her smile widened by every couple of seconds, so as her brows knit deeper.

Goodness. I need a shrink.

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Calling

Friday, August 31, 2012

A Mentor’s Musing: On Teachers and Teaching

(In which the rumination seem endless.)

***

In one of Communication Skills classes, we discussed a story entitled A Classroom Full of Flowers by Janice Anderson Connely. It is one of the many inspiring stories about teaching which highlight the priceless fulfillment it gives despite the herculean tasks a teacher must triumph over. The hanging question for the class was whether or not they would want to be teachers after reading the story.

The story was inspiring all right. But just like any student assigned to read a text longer than five sentences, my students never ran out of excuses for failing to read the story. And so we had to use the classic approach for this situation, we read and discussed the text on the same day. But we managed to get through it.

When the time comes for the hanging question to be answered, I got surprisingly interesting responses. One of my female students said:

“I wouldn’t want to be a teacher. It is indeed fulfilling but teachers do not only teach. They do lesson plans and check papers and bring work home and are always tired. There are other jobs that are as fulfilling but less exhausting than teaching.”

You can just imagine how much it hit me. I often marvel at the bacteria-like multiplication ability of student papers and quizzes plus other documents in my shelf I start to wonder how big a teacher’s shelf should really be.

The discussion went on and another very classic reason why teaching is considered more of a calling than a career was discussed: salary. And then I asked them if they believe that a bigger paycheck would make education better in the Philippines. One young man wearing baggy pants and baggy university shirt and who walks as if he’s the reincarnation of Fernando Poe, Jr. raised his hand to answer. He said:

“It depends, ma’am.”

You see, students nowadays like to answer in installments. And whenever this situation arises I tell them that much as I would hate to cause their disappointment, I am not, and will never be, a pawnshop.

“I don’t think so, ma’am,” he continued, “Because it also depends on the students.”

Very true. Especially when the only thing they have to do to assure a fruitful discussion the next session was to read, a task they would chose to ignore. I saw another female hand in the air.

“I think it does, ma’am,” she said, “Most teachers choose to work out of the country because of the salary. And they are more often than not the best teachers. Filipino students will be taught by them if they will receive high salaries here.”

That actually reminded me of Mrs. Josette Biyo in a leadership seminar I attended to when I was in the university. She mentioned that teachers working abroad would rather stay in the Philippines to teach if not for compensation reasons. Filipino students, they believe, are easier to handle. And whenever a foreign student creates trouble (punch a classmate on the face or set another girl’s hair on fire during lessons) they will mutter _______ (insert currency on the blank) to themselves like a mantra.

Let me get this straight. I love being in the classroom. I have always thought that I belong in the classroom way back my university days. But my fleeting blissful moments in that sacred place would always be confronted by the fact that my job doesn’t end there. And never will. During these ruminations I am always reminded by the advice my college literature professor told us English majors: Corporate institutions are best for the youth for when you are young, you are energetic, idealistic and ambitious. Educational institutions, on the other hand, welcome the older ones with wider arms. When you grow old you become relaxed, practical and wise.

I would really like to succumb to the seductive thought of thinking about all these the whole night, then read Book 2 of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, or even write another blog post about the first book. But I realized I have consumed a good twenty minutes for this one and I still have papers to check.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Lost Diary of Don Juan by Douglas Carlton Abrams

(In which old diaries are still the best.)

***

One thing, among others, that is considerably underrated nowadays is privacy. Almost all of us posts not only what we're thinking but also what we're eating, doing, seeing, as well as who we're hating or loving and all the other stuff that used to be private at least half a decade ago when internet access was a luxury and blogs and networking sites were uncommon. At the rise of these groundbreaking technological innovations, almost everybody can see what's in other people's minds, hearts or stomach even if (sometimes) they don't want to. It has indeed become an age of public diaries.

But honestly, if there's something more joyfully intrusive and sneakier in the past than stalking someone on Facebook now, it's peeking into someone else's diary. Now reading someone else's diary in its entirety is another story. It somehow becomes something like reading or watching prohibited media - still taboo, yet without the adrenaline rush and the mystery. Fortunately, though, that's not always the case. Take Abram's first novel for example, in which he offers a traverse in the mind of one of the most notorious (if not the most already) womanizer of all time, Don Juan..

Abandoned in a monastery and raised by Sevillian nuns, Don Juan Tenorio grew up to be the romantic figure that he was known today after a tragic love affair. He rose up to nobility through the help of Marquis de la Mota. He worked as a thief, a spy, and a galeantador, seducer of women. He seduced women after women of various colors, social and marital status. Loved by virgins and wives and widows, he was terribly abhorred by husbands and most specially the Holy Inquisition. Just when he thought that he was only capable of giving women pleasure, he found Doña Ana, the girl he willed to give his heart and fight for, even at the expense of his friendship with the Marquis.

Starting with the editor’s disclaimer regarding the diary’s authenticity and ending with the last entry by Don Juan’s coachman, readers are bound to be intoxicated with the life of this love guru. Told in his eloquent voice and masterful lectures on love and passion, one would perhaps cease seeing Don Juan as an insouciant bed hopper but as a person in need and worthy of love and companionship.



Friday, July 6, 2012

The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier


(In which I was once again baffled by an artist.)

***

Usually, when people use a one-word description of artists, they would come up with something like weird, strange or eccentric. Interestingly, when one justifies his eccentricity and weirdness he would retaliate by saying he’s an artist, like what Ogie Alcasid did in his Manila Girl movie.
Nicolas des Innocents, however, has his own brand of ‘artistic’ qualities.

In Tracy Chevalier’s The Lady and the Unicorn, Nicolas is introduced as a cocky, conceited, handsome and lascivious miniaturist who was commissioned to do a tapestry design for Jean Le Viste. In the course of the story he is able to impregnate two women (whose children he never took responsibility of) through his winning story about the purifying power of the unicorn’s horn. You can, of course, go ahead and use your imagination.

But as an artist, he is gifted. Though people do not want to tell him that. Why, he does that himself! Before one can give out a sigh of admiration for his work, he would blurt out his ideas about how perfect he thinks his work is; and then the admirers would think better than letting their tongue boost his already colossal ego. So what they will tell him are the faults, which of course he won’t take, what with the perfection of his work and skill. Until he met the tapestry weavers.

If there’s one thing quite gripping about the novel, it’s actually not how talented Nicolas is as an artist, or how significant women in the novel are portrayed symbolically in the five tapestries narrating the seduction of the unicorn. It’s the marvelous transformation of one art to another emphasized by how readers can peep through every character’s mind to see how paint connects to thread. What remains after closing the book is definitely not whether Nicolas succeeds in seducing Jean Le Viste’s beautiful daughter Claude or if the unicorn tapestries made Nicolas and/or the de la Chapelle weavers famous, but the beautiful end product of the timeless virtue of hard work in achieving one’s seul desir. One desire.


Currently reading

The Lost Diary of Don Juan by Douglas Carlton Abrams




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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble


(In which I’m starting to really like British writing.)

***

If there’s one thing similar among Alan Benett, Michel Faber and Elizabeth Noble apart from being British, it’s the uplifting humor in their writing. it comes when you least expect it, thus catching you off guard. But then the good storytelling grasps you again until you bump into another humorous remark. Before you know it, you’ve finished the novel, smiling and ruminating and shaking your head in disbelief.

The latest addition to my ever-growing pile is that of Elizabeth Noble’s – The Reading Group. I picked it up believing it would be a great help in my ambitious idea of starting a book club in the university I am currently teaching in, only to be baffled by how much I underestimated the novel’s capability. What seems to be a mere reading group turned out to be a complicated mix of women living complicated lives made colorful by the books they read. The team is made up of Harriet, a woman who believes that there must be more in life that her consistently loving husband; her best friend Nicole, who thinks there’s nothing more valuable than her consistently philandering husband; Polly, a woman torn between her love for her new boyfriend and her twenty-year-old pregnant daughter; Susan, a ridiculously happily married woman tormented by her mother’s disease; and Clare, a quiet yet clever woman who lives the unfortunately ironic life as an infertile midwife. The women, different as they are in age, belief and size, turn out to be the greatest allies each of them needs. Hesitation fills them at first. But just like The Avengers, they realize they are together in a reading group to serve a common purpose – to find solace in their tumultuous lives in the arms of people who understand.

Told in a lively, omniscient voice, The Reading Group takes readers into the labyrinth of women’s heart and mind. And in the end of the maze, if one doesn’t find a pot of gold, then at least there’s the enlightening trio of feminine strength, friendship and literature.



Currently reading

The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chavalier





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The Reading Group
The Lady and the Unicorn

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


(In which I reevaluate my reading standards.)

***

If there’s one word I could use to describe reading, it’s antidotal – something you take to go back to normal, to forget how terrible the situation is and to relieve you of anything poisonous like boredom. So I don’t usually read something that might threaten to disturb the comfortable surface of my reading life. The genres/subgenres that usually make it to my shelf or pile are art and historical fiction. Classics, modern, futuristic, action, mystery, sci-fi, thriller, chic lit and fantasy are generally off limits. YA I’m ok with, but only when it’s in art or historical fiction. So you’ll probably imagine how limited my reading experience is, and therefore how boring, I think so too.
I was able to like mystery because of Arturo Perez-Reverte. Then I moved on to Javier Sierra’s religious fiction. So yes I read religious writings now. And reading is still antidotal.
I consider my last read as one big, awesome leap for my development as a reader because it is a mix of the things I used to leer away from – futuristic, si-fi and YA. And I enjoyed it. My reading hiatus even added to the experience. I was so hungry I finished the series in less than a week. And by the way, I wasn’t a fan of series.









What made me pick up
The Hunger Games wasn’t because of its record-breaking movie or the cheap price for the whole series (which was almost my reason because there was a 20% off!) but the fact that it’s high time I go out of my shell. I just have to read it.


And so I did. And what welcomed me is Panem, a dystopian setting where Katniss Everdeen takes over the role of being the breadwinner of her family and where an annual Hunger Games, a gladiatorial combat, is held. Only the fighters, a tandem of male and female citizens of each district of Panem, who were called tributes, were no prisoners of war or slaves vying for freedom, but twelve to eighteen-year-old kids fighting to the death for fortune and fame and for the sheer entertainment of the people in the Capitol, Panem’s main city. Katniss finds herself, along with neighbor Peeta Mellarck in The Games when she volunteers to take her twelve-year-old sister’s place. From here a remarkable story of victory and love unfolds. Then a rebellion, war, death and more deaths.
At some point reading The Hunger Games isn’t much of a novelty. I’ve been reading stories set in the Second World War and other civil wars in which death is an underlying theme. It’s the intensity of the characters’ personality, the timelessness of its theme, the transformation of the people in the story that moved me. It reminds me that leaders and heroes come in all forms, ages and sizes. And that living and dying for a cause are equally heroic.
At times I found myself staring at the page, sometimes laughing and ruminating at the lines. That’s how good it is. And because of that, I cannot agree more with Stephenie Meyer when she said:
“. . . The book keeps me up for several nights in a row, because even after I was finished, I just lay in the bed wide awake thinking about it. . . The Hunger Games is amazing!”

Currently reading

The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble







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The Hunger Games
Catching Fire
Mockingjay
The Reading Group

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Vanishing Point by Louise Hawes

(In which it was almost perfect.)

***

I don’t really love bread. But when it comes to pan de coco, it’s another story – especially if the bread is still warm and the coco filling is sweet and thick and juicy I could die. Not all my pan de coco experiences are the same, though. There were times when I regretted buying that piece of hard, chewy bread with barely a filling in the core.

Eating pan de coco (or anything you like, actually) is just like reading. We can attribute the reading experience to the best, the so-so and the worst meal we’ve had. With The Vanishing Point, by the way, I had to take the middle road.

This novel by Louise Hawes unfurls with a tarot reading foretelling death and darkness in the Fontana family, then blossoms into the coming-of-age adventures of the young Lavinia Fontana, daughter of the mannerist painter Prospero Fontana. She grows up in a family where everything is scrutinized by the meticulous and stern Prospero. She spends most of her time learning Latin and sewing. And she does them all well. What she really wants, however, is to paint. But in a society where artisans are males and females are for domestic and oftentimes ornamental duties, a female painter in her father’s bottega could be a scandal. So she seeks help from the innocent Gian Paolo Zappi, a wealthy student of her father, to steal pens, papers and ink for her to practice drawing. It is when the treachery surfaces that blessings and trials emerge, one after another.



Now what makes reading The Vanishing Point like a pan de coco- eating moment is this: Imagine a soft plump, shiny bread still warm from the oven. The aroma fills your nostrils and makes your mouth water. You took a bite, and were convinced that this is one of the best coconut-filled bread you’ve tasted. You bit some more, savoring the filling that was the essence of it and then realized that the bread has more bread than filling. Yes, it’s getting to the best part and then finding out that the best part has actually gone in one fleeting moment. You read and read and, filled with the hopes and the thrill that there are more stories to be told and revelations to be made, you’ve reached the last page.

But perhaps what this book really wants to offer is that self-same chasing-for-the-best-part-feeling. That the best part is really where it ends – bravery and understanding amidst frustration and lunacy.

***

It’s a little bit embarrassing to have purchased this book just now. But after a long reading hiatus, any spine-and-page construction other than the academic ones could be highly cathartic. Especially this.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Blogger in the Jungle Called the “Teaching Profession”


(In which I try to fit in and . . .)

***

10 lesson plans, one journal critique, PowerPoint presentations, grades to compute, papers to check, and more importantly, more than fifty books waiting on the pile and on the shelves. I kept on saying I was busy. And I thought I really was. Until I became a teacher.

Yes, finally. So if ever someone from the 58 people who have followed me for the last 5 months or so notices the lack of post since . . . ehem . . .October 21st, the unsolicited excuse is hereby offered. I was busy. So terribly busy I’m going to die. Well, almost.


***

If there’s one thing I feel good about teaching, it’s teaching. Speaking in front of people and seeing the bewildered expression on their faces whenever they learned something new, or the enjoyment they couldn’t hide when the lesson turned out to be fun is utterly priceless.

And if there’s something about teaching that drives me crazy, it’s the paperwork. And the deadline, of course. Oh I forgot dealing with difficult people consisting of, but not limited to failing students and their guardians. Whenever I encounter things like these, I remember what my IELTS student once told me:

“I think you don’t like people. You like reading and writing and being alone. But yes, you like talking. So I think you will fit better in publication, or media. But not much in teaching.”

So now I’m looking at this rushed piece of work driven by the urgent need to reclaim a fragment of my previous blogging self and I wondered whether what the student said was true – that I’m a better writer than a teacher. But if I am a better teacher than a writer, as what I want to believe, then why do I feel so . . .?Perhaps that’s for another post.

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