Friday, August 6, 2010

what i'm reading

One of the best things about living in the Philippines is the bookstores. There are the big chains like Fully Booked, Powerbooks and National Bookstore. And there are the secondhand stores like Book Sale. And finally, there are the third-, fourth- and fifth-hand book stalls along Recto Avenue.

There are books everywhere, and even brand-new books are really cheap. What's printed on a book as US$9.99 translates to PHP399. And if you can wait a while, there's sure to be a sale somewhere, and you can get the same book for only PHP320. If your need isn't urgent, and if the book you want is an extremely popular bestseller or an enduring classic, then give it a year or two, and it shows up at Book Sale for less than PHP100.

And more and more commonly these days, we have these e-books that you can download. Let's not go there now.

Which brings me to my point: A brand-spanking-new book wrapped in plastic with an uncreased spine is a true luxury. It excites the senses. Your eyes light up at the sight of the shiny cover with the artwork that demands to be framed, or at the very least, cherished. Yes, many years later, when someone mentions the title, you immediately recall the cover.

You crack it open, and inhale the fresh paper and ink smell. And you know that as time passes, although the new-book scent dissipates, the fragrance eau de oldbook is just as provocative.

You start reading: the reviews, the list of previous works, the title page, the introduction... before you stop and tell yourself to save that book for the perfect circumstances-- a comfortable armchair, an adjustable reading lamp, a rainy night. After all, you paid full price (or close to it) for the pleasure that must be savored.

You get into the story (for all books are essentially stories) and somewhere near the middle, you notice with regret that you are almost done. You want to slow down, but your eyes take in the words at a faster pace, practically tearing the text off the pages.

And then you're finished. You close the book and pat it lightly on its cover. Good job! See you again in a couple of years. Yes, I will reread you.

You grab the next new book from your pile.

My new books. Bought on sale... mostly.

Update: pinthoughts asked for a book review, so here it is. At first, I thought of doing one-word reviews, like this, but I'm feeling chatty.

1. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman-- This book feels more Pratchett than Gaiman, actually. The story, style and tone remind me of Pratchett's Discworld series, occasionally colored by Gaiman's gloom and doom. Although Good Omens has a world-wide cult following, Pratchett's light-heartedness and Gaiman's sinister depression don't go together for me.

2. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova-- In one word, TEDIOUS. OK, I get it. It's a redux of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Unfortunately, it's a pale, pale version. Kostova does have a talent for description, though. I especially enjoyed the parts where she wrote about Istanbul's architecture. As a travel writer, she's quite good.

3. Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova-- In one word, TEDIOUSER. It's been on my bedside table for months now, and I'm still barely halfway. I'm seriously thinking about not finishing it.

4. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffeneger-- This woman can't write. The premise is very interesting: Star-crossed lovers, time travel-- what's not to like? But the way she writes is pure fluff. (Doesn't anyone write LITERATURE anymore?) Maybe the movie is better.

5. Tender At The Bone by Ruth Reichl-- Really, really good. I first encountered Ruth Reichl on one of those Food Network or Travel Network shows. She speaks in a boring monotone and she's not very good-looking, sorry. But the way she writes! She's sexy, funny, and very, very interesting. I would read this book over and over again. It's not so much a "food" book as a "growing pains" type of book.

6. The Nasty Bits and Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain-- I've been a Bourdain fan since Kitchen Confidential, and these two books do not disappoint. All of his books have been reviewed to death, and Tony has firmly established himself as a rock star in the culinary world-- and he doesn't even cook anymore. Medium Raw contains his classic essay "So You Wanna Be A Chef". Do yourselves a favor and go to the link right now. Email it to your friends and family, and especially to those who are thinking of going to culinary school. Go on, read it NOW.

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