The Answers to Life’s Burning Questions

Whenever I go to Book Sale, I usually don’t have a book in mind, because I’ve formulated this theory: the amount of urgency applied in seeking out a specific title at Book Sale is directly proportional to the possibility that it (and multiple copies, too) will turn up when you no longer need it or already have a copy.

Of course, this also means that all my Book Sale purchases are impulse buys. What do I buy at Book Sale? Hmm, let’s see, here’s my laundry list (given that no book should set me back more than a hundred bucks, unless absolutely necessary):

– Books on my wishlist

– Book “upgrades” (e.g. doing a Blooey)

– Picture books for my collection

– Extremely cheap, wishlisted books for mooching (P20, tops)
– Random DIY book (e.g. crafts, painting, etc.) that I figure I’d get to work on someday

– (and finally) Interesting books that catch my eye.

The book I’m reviewing in this post is one from that last category.

The purple vintage cover of The Ladies’ Oracle by Cornelius Agrippa screamed for my attention the minute I spotted it, jumbled with board books in the children’s book bin. I also recognized the author’s name from a chocolate frog card in Harry Potter. It was P40, and in excellent condition and as I thumbed through it, I instantly knew it was a keeper.

I was looking for a book on my shelf that I could review, as my reading rate is dipping at the moment, and I’ve been drawing all night (studies due in two weeks) so I wanted to do a light post for today. I settled on this one because my officemates are currently on a fortune-telling kick, starting with cards, then with the magic 8-ball I brought to work, then the Kokology book I recently reviewed.

This compact hardbound volume from Bloomsbury is based on an original English edition published in 1857 (although it dates back to the 16th century) and is described on the cover as a book that “divines answers to those questions about life and love that inquisitive women have asked through the ages.”

The list of 100 questions is quite entertaining. Some samples: Shall I soon be courted? Shall I cease to be a virgin before I marry? Ought I to forsake the pleasures of the world? Have I to look forward to more sorrow than joy?

The divining part is more complicated. The basic guidelines include avoiding the use of the oracle on unlucky dates (there is a list given in the book) and not trying the same question twice in one day.

So given an auspicious day for fortune telling, you pick out a question from the list.
Today seems to be good; I think I’ll try it out.

#46. Shall I be happy in my enterprises?

The instructions tell me to close my eyes and place my finger on the table given. My index finger points to the box with a symbol of two triangles.

Then I consult the table to find out the page in which I can find the answer to my question. According to the table, my answer is on page 67.

On page 67, I scroll down the page for the symbol I chose, and there’s my answer:


Phew, that’s good to know. It’s also comforting to know I have something to blame when things go awry… hee hee, just kidding.

At the back of the book, there’s a short section of interesting charms and ceremonies — to see a future husband, to know what trade your husband will be, to know if the declarations on a love letter are sincere, etc. , appearing to have ties to wicca.

Here’s one for the road:

Take a candle, and go alone to the looking glass; eat an apple before it; and some say you should comb your hair all the time; the face of your husband will be seen in the glass, as if peeping over your shoulder.

Now that freaks me out so I’m not going to try it, but if anyone makes an attempt, do let me know how it goes :)

I think I’m going to have a lot of fun with this book…

***

My copy: hardcover, bought for P40 at Book Sale Cash and Carry
My rating: 5/5 stars

Soliloquies

I count Shakespeare as one of my rites of passage while I was growing up.

In the grade school I attended, the highlight of our 6th grade year was our theater season — a full quarter of our school year was devoted to putting up a play production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s been a tradition for the 6th graders for so long that the school has original arrangements for songs (e.g. Philomel) in the play, as well as a full wardrobe of medieval costumes — bloomers and all — for the annual production.Too bad I don’t have any photos that survived, but I played Snout the bellows-mender / The Wall of Pyramus and Thisbe. It was an awkward stage — I’d always wanted to get cast as Puck since the first time I watched the play onstage back in first grade, but I’d hit a growth spurt in fifth grade (if you can call it that; obviously it wasn’t much of a spurt), so I was taller than everyone else who was vying for the part. I also read for Hermia but I was probably snorting my way through the dialogue so they didn’t cast me there so I ended up as one of the mechanicals who were putting on a play for Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding.

This trip down memory lane was prompted by book #47 for 2009 (also book #8 for the Diversity Challenge, European), To Be or Not to Be: Shakespeare’s Soliloquies edited by Michael Kerrigan.

I bought the book on a whim at Book Sale (where else can I afford to buy books on a whim?) for P40, because it was brand new and I liked the cover design.

The introduction provides great insight into the nature of the soliloquy:

“Although set back from the main dramatic narrative, Shakespeare’s soliloquies are generally anything but interludes. Nowhere do we come closer to the centre of things than in those moments in which characters speak when alone, or unaware of being overheard — in coversation, as it were, with themselves and with their audience…

…The great soliloquies may not make much noise but they are often show-stoppers in the more literal sense that they appear to suspend all normal narrative logic, reaching out instead for universalities that transcend any immediate dramatic setting.”

The book contains over 80 soliloquies from Shakespeare’s various plays, organized by play and indexed by first line.

I am disappointed that only one from AMND is included and it is Helena’s (How happy some o’er other some can be); I think there were many other notable ones from the play, from Oberon or even from Bottom. Oh well. I really need to get a good edition of that play.

Aside from AMND, the only other Shakespearean plays I’ve read in their entirety are Romeo and Juliet and The Merchant of Venice, so I liked how this book functions as a sampler of the more popular plays.

I liked this one by Orlando in “As You Like It”:

Hang there, my verse, in witness of my love,
And thou, thrice-crowned queen of night, survey
With thy chaste eye, from the pale sphere above,
Thy huntress’ name that my full life doth sway.
O Rosalind, these trees shall be my books,
And in their barks my thoughts I’ll character,
That every eye which in this forest looks
Shall see thy virtue witness’d every where.
Run, run, Orlando, carve on every tree
The fair, the chaste, and unexpressive she.

It’s sweet, how Orlando wants to carve Rosalind’s name in every tree in the forest :D

***
My copy: mass market paperback, P40 at Book Sale

My rating: 4/5 stars

Curiouser and curiouser…

The Curious Sofa: A Pornographic Work by Ogdred Weary
Book #29 of 2009
I took a break from reading In the Company of the Courtesan first, as I dropped by Mall of Asia after work to hit Book Sale, and get my stash of “carmel”-cheddar popcorn from the Chicago Popcorn Shops (yum!) with my sister.
So I got home around 10 and stretched out on the padded divan with The Curious Sofa. When I picked it up at Book Sale, I actually recognized Edward Gorey’s illustration style instantly, so it was a cinch to figure out that Ogdred Weary was a pseudonym, an anagram of his name.
To those who don’t recognize him, Edward Gorey is an artist/writer known for his macabre pen and ink illustrations and over a hundred books, the type that blur the line between adult books and children’s books.

The Curious Sofa
instantly caught my attention due to the subtitle (a pornographic work), so of course I had to buy it, haha, I thank my lucky book-scavenging stars that it was only P25 (Squee!).
The book is about a young woman named Alice, who meets the well-endowed Herbert in the park, and they hop from place to place and are joined by more and more “well-endowed” people, and they all do, erm, “naughty” things together.

“Naughty” is in quotation marks because Gorey leaves it to the reader’s imagination. The picture book is actually as just as pornographic as you think it is, because while it makes a lot of suggestions, it doesn’t actually contain anything overtly pornographic, and the characters could all be twiddling their thumbs or having wild wild sex, depending on how much fun you want to have with the book.

Curiously (pun intended), the book reminds me of one other book on my shelf — Audrey Niffenegger’s The Three Incestuous Sisters, which is about six times the size of this book. I got my copy at the National Book Store cut price sale, for P299.

The Three Incestuous Sisters is in full color, albeit a muted palette and sepia undertones, painstakingly created using watercolor and a technique called aquatint, where a pattern is scratched through a layer of wax on a zinc plate. The plate is then submerged in an acid bath. The acid erodes the zinc where the pattern is scratched and creates grooves for the ink to fall into to create a print. No wonder it took Niffenegger 14 years to finish the book! The paintings are haunting, and bizarrely beautiful at the same time.

Niffenegger (author of The Time Traveler’s Wife), calls it a novel in pictures. It tells a twisted story of three sisters who lived by the sea: Ophile, the smart one; Clothilde, the talented one; and the youngest, Bettine, the pretty one. When Ophile and Bettine fall in love with the same man, the storyline goes off on a surreal tangent, as tragedy after tragedy strikes, and the sisters’ relationship is never the same again.
Both books employ the noir style and surrealism, although The Curious Sofa was some three decades ahead, copyrighted in 1961. They differ in tone, though, as Gorey’s work is cheeky and humorous while Niffenegger’s is evocative, and deep-seated in emotion.
I lean more towards Gorey though, as I felt really drained after reading The Three Incestuous Sisters, as if I’d absorbed all the emotions flying around in the book. And also because I’m not a big fan of the surreal; there’s just a point where it becomes hokey to me.

***
My copies: The Curious Sofa, hardbound; The Three Incestuous Sisters, hardbound

My rating: The Curious Sofa, 5/5 stars; The Three Incestuous Sisters, 4/5 stars

Sleuthing in the dark

From Charlie’s Point of View by Richard Scrimger

Book #28 for 2009

I had high hopes for this book because it had such an original premise: the Stocking Bandit has been on an ATM robbing rampage, and Charlie’s dad has been arrested because the police are convinced he is behind the crime.

As if that isn’t enough for a kid to deal with, Charlie happens to be blind. With the help of his friends, Charlie must find the real Stocking Bandit — and fast!– before it’s too late for his dad.

As YA books go, it’s a good blend of relevant themes, such as dealing with a disability, friendship, family, and bullying, but the multiplicity of themes also works against the book, as it draws the story away from the mystery. As a whodunit, it doesn’t quite take off because it tries to tackle so many themes that only bog down the book.

It takes forever to before the action and the actual sleuthing starts, and while the main premise of the book is a blind sleuth (which, to me is so cool), the actual sleuthing isn’t all done by Charlie. I understand that he needs his friends to act as his seeing guides, but they end up stealing a lot of the thunder. The book is entitled From Charlie’s Point of View, and yet the story’s point of view (the persona) shifts to his friends Bernadette and Lewis every few chapters and it annoyed me because I think it leaves the main character, Charlie, short-changed.

The book design is thoughtful; I think the braille patterns and the blank spreads signifying Charlie’s blindness were great details, but it takes more than that to hold a reader’s attention.

This is the second book I’ve read in Dutton’s Sleuth line — the first was Lulu Dark Can See Through Walls, which was average — and I’m getting quite disappointed. I think I’ll pass the next time I come across another title from this series.

***
My copy: hardcover with dust jacket, P50 from the Fully Booked sale table, now on my BookMooch inventory.

My rating: 2/5 stars

If you liked Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief… (Holocaust review series)

You’d probably like these:

The Boy in Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Book #15 for 2009
Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
Book #16 for 2009

Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief was one of my best reads for 2008 (read in October). I waited it a bit to read it because it was really hyped about for a while, and I’m glad that the hype turned out to be well worth it. It was such a charming novel and I loved every bit of it, and I was crying buckets (rivaling the amount of tears I cried while reading Deathly Hallows) throughout the last third of the book.

The characters were so alive, and so lovable — Liesl, Rudy, Papa, Mama, Max — that you can’t help but feel for them. The most compelling thing I found about it was that it was told from the point of view of Death, which was so amazing — an abstract thing, personified! I never thought I’d feel sorry for Death, but in this book I did, especially in the parts when Death was saying he didn’t necessarily like taking lives, that it was just something he had to do… I’m getting sniffy just thinking about it.

I used to avoid Holocaust-themed books because I knew they’d i nevitably be sad, but The Book Thief got me into a Holocaust phase and I ended up getting other books with similar themes.

While not as lengthy or as deep-seated in emotion as The Book Thief, the three books in this selection are also well-written young adult novels, and offer additional insight into the Holocaust.

The Boy in Striped Pyjamas (read last December) is actually subtitled “A Fable,” and it reads like one too, with a matter-of-fact tone. It is the story of nine-year old Bruno, son of a Nazi commandant, who is bewildered at having to move to a new neighborhood because of his dad’s new assignment. They move to a strange place, where their house is the only house for miles. But when Bruno looks out his window, beyond the chain-link fence, he sees thousands of people in blue striped pyjamas. Unbeknownst to his family, Bruno befriends Shmuel, a boy from the other side of the fence, and life is never the same again for Bruno.

I liked this book because of the truly ironic and ohno-ohno-ohno-inducing twist (I swear!), and the innocent naivete of Bruno is heartrending amidst the terrible events happening around him.

Now they’re making it into a movie — David Thewlis as Father, egads! — I’ve got to stock up on the tissues!

Number the Stars is a Newbery-award winning book by one of my favorite authors, and it does not disappoint either. Annemarie and Ellen are best friends in WW2 Denmark, which was trying in vain to resist the Nazi invasion. Ellen’s family is Jewish, and when the hunt for Jews begin, Annemarie and her family must do what they can to help their friends escape.

The book was not as sad as I thought, and it was in fact quite positive and hopeful — unexpected for a Holocaust novel. It seemed different from Lois Lowry’s Anastasia series, and I appreciate that Lowry could write books outside of the series, and win a Newbery while she was at it.

Finally, the biggest surprise came from Milkweed. I’ve never read any books by Jerry Spinelli, although I knew his work is highly acclaimed. I used to think his works were too street, but this one seemed different so I decided to give it a try (not to mention it was P10, hardbound, at Book Sale).

Like The Book Thief, it’s hard to explain Milkweed in a few sentences. Insert deep breath here. I would say it’s a hard-hitting story of friendship, hope and survival about an orphan with no clear identity, who grows up in Nazi-occupied Poland. I can’t explain much more than that, because it gets complicated, but it was like a precursor to The Book Thief (Milkweed was published 2001)– a blend of whimsy, poignancy, and stark reality — and I couldn’t put it down once I started it. I ended up reading most of it in the car on my way to a meeting in QC and then back again to the office (sometimes traffic has its benefits).

The Holocaust is one of the most popular topics for both fiction and non-fiction, but I’m glad there are more books about it in the young adult genre, as its target readers do not usually see history beyond textbooks and classroom lessons. This way, they see history from another person’s point of view, and share the reality that the victims and survivors of that time experienced.

***
My copies: The Book Thief, paperback mooched from the UK, upgraded into hardcover bought for P160 at the NBS booth at the MIBF; The Boy in Striped Pyjamas, bought for P40 at Book Sale, upgraded to hardcover with dust jacket from NBS Booksak Presyo sale bought for P100, paperback on its way to the US (mooched from me); Number the Stars, paperback, received as a bonus mooch; Milkweed, hardcover, bought for P10 at Book Salei

My ratings: The Book Thief 5/5 stars; The Boy in Striped Pyjamas 4/5 stars; Number the Stars 3.5/5 stars; Milkweed 5/5 stars

***
Phew, four books in one review!