ZsaZsa Zaturnnah Ze Muzikal (2nd time around)

Yesterday, I watched Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah Ze Muzikal with my best friend, my sister, and fellow Flippers Czar, Marie, MayD, and Ihop (with Mr. Ihop and friend) at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

ZZZ 2009 poster (from http://carverhouse.blogspot.com)

Because I have readers outside of the Philippines, I need to explain: Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah is a campy, original Filipino graphic novel by Carlo Vergara. It’s about a gay parlorista (hairdresser/ beauty specialist) whose alter ego is the busty, bodacious FEMALE superhero Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah.

The graphic novel

Last July, the Flippers had a Zsa Zsa book discussion and we were lucky enough to have Carlo Vergara on hand to listen to our discussion and answer our questions about the book (and sign autographs too!). With him was Tuxqs Rutaquio, who plays the lead, Ada, in the musical.

CarVer and Tuxqs at the FFP discussion

Flippers take on ZsaZsa!

Yesterday was actually the second time I watched the musical, as I watched it on its second run at the PETA theater nearly three years ago, before I even read the book, and I have to say it was one of the best things I’ve ever watched onstage. The theater was small and the stage was in the center, and I really enjoyed watching it up close.

So I didn’t mind watching it a second time, although turned out to be a different experience for me.

A few boos: we had reserved P600 seats, only to find out when we claimed the tickets that our reserved seats had been sold to some other people (they refunded P100) and we had seats at the far end of the theater, along the side, and the most annoying of them all: right next to the exit door so all the latecomers had to pass in front of us. Granted, it was a night of horrendous traffic (Eheads concert at MOA), but theater policy should limit late entrance to the intermission, or else they need to devise a way to let the people in without disturbing any of the seated audience who came on time to watch the show.

And my beef: the theater’s audio was really bad. There were times when it was too loud (the earsplitting scene when Ada and Didi were screaming, thinking the house was getting attacked by stone-throwers) and times when the mics were crackly or picked up feedback. But most of the time, especially for the songs layered with background music and solos performed upstage — we couldn’t make out the solos. The play is a musical, they should have made sure everyone could hear it properly — isn’t that a theater rule, to make sure “the deaf old lady in the back row” could hear everything clearly?

The show was still enjoyable despite the aforementioned logistical and technical flaws, if only because of the show’s entertainment value. The camaraderie between Ada and Didi (played by Tuxqs Rutaquio and Joey Paras) was as fascinating as I remembered it, and Eula Valdez as Zsa Zsa was quite possibly even more stellar this time around. I also love that they updated the script and it was still laugh-out-loud funny (at least for what dialogue made it to our far end of the theater), but I really missed the overall WOW experience I had first time I watched it.

Oh, and I should have brought my copy of the book for a third autograph!

My copy: paperback (books I & II combined), bought at PETA run, autographed twice by CarVer (first at the PETA run, second at the FFP reading)

My rating: book 5/5 stars; musical – PETA run 5/5 stars; 2009 run 3.5/5 stars

V-day reading (Book 30! Woot!)

Love Story by Erich Segal
Book #30 for 2009
Book #4 for Diversity Challenge (Reading group requirement)

Reading Erich Segal’s Love Story was like running into an old friend I hadn’t seen in a long time.

It must be ten years since the first time I read this book, back in second year high school, a time when all we ever wanted to read were books about undying love, books that make us gush and sigh and cry and wish that someday we’d be able to experience the things we read about (oh, but that is another story…).

I was actually dreading reading this again, because I felt I’d outgrown it already, and if it were not for the Flips Flipping Pages discussion, I wouldn’t have read it again, because the mere sight of the book actually had me snorting in derision.

I didn’t have a copy of the book, and I’d seen dozens of copies of it at Book Sale in the past, but of course, as luck would have it, no copies were to be found now that I needed it. I’d once again proven the law of Book Sale: 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. I ended up mooching a hardcover copy (yes, of course, if I have to mooch internationally, I’d rather have a hardcover) from California, and got it just in the nick of time, the day before the discussion.

To my surprise, I got through the whole book without a single derisive snort! Rereading it was much better than I expected. Though I wasn’t reading it with the eyes of a thirteen-year old girl anymore, I actually still liked it.

It’s the simplicity of the story that has given this book its staying power: rich boy meets poor girl, they fight for their love, but the triumph is short-lived as the girl gets sick and dies tragically young (oops, is there anyone who doesn’t know how Love Story goes?). I agree with our discussion moderator, Czar, when he said that Erich Segal knew when to rein himself in, just short of the point of being mushy.

Like Jenny, I love Oliver Barrett III’s name and numeral (hahaha!) — who wouldn’t? He’s smart, rich, handsome, athletic, and even his rambunctiousness adds to his charm. Jenny Cavilleri, on the other hand, is exactly the girl who can whip his cute little tosh into submission, with her snooty demeanor, smart-ass mouth and artistic temperament. The highlight of the book for me was the playful banter between the two, and the fact that Jenny always got the final word.

Yesterday, we also watched the movie and I was surprised to find out that the screenplay actually came before the book, and Segal actually just wrote the book to promote the movie. The book was mostly faithful to the movie, except for the point of view, but I felt that the final scene was better in the book.

One of the points raised in the discussion was that the movie was actually more realistic, because relationships (in this case, Oliver and his dad’s relationship) don’t get fixed just because someone dies, and closure doesn’t come that easily. While I see their point and agree with it in essence, I don’t think that was what the book meant to say. In the book, as Oliver cries in his father’s arms, I didn’t see Jenny’s death as a cure-all for their relationship, but rather an opening to reach out to each other, and merely the start of Oliver’s coming to terms with Jenny’s death.

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry” (note: in the book it’s actually, not ever, not never) is probably one of the most trite expressions about love today, and while I am not in the position to debate its meaning, I guess it’s not the line’s fault that several generations of readers (and film viewers) all over the world have used it for almost 4 decades now.

I didn’t expect to say this, but I’m definitely keeping this book.

Flippers celebrate V-day with Love Story at Red Palace!

My copy: hardcover first edition with dustjacket
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

My best book for 2008

2008 was a landmark year for me and my books – my books tripled in quantity (thanks to BookMooch), my to-be-read stack (TBR) reached crazy heights (now I have a separate shelf for TBR) and was able to read a total number of 230 books.

This month, my book club, Flips Flipping Pages discussed our best and worst books for 2008.

It was challenging to pick out my best book, as I had a lot to choose from, including:

Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Perfume by Patrick Suskind
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Ptolemy’s Gate by Jonathan Stroud
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (reread)
The BFG by Roald Dahl
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Daughter of Venice by Donna Jo Napoli
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

After much deliberation I decided to choose a book that blew me away:
The Arrival by Shaun Tan.

From the moment I held the book in my hands, I was awed by how beautiful it was, and how it seemed to elicit from me a sense of reverence as I turned the pages. Turning the book on its back cover, the critical acclaim is staggering – it is all praises from an all-star roster of authors and illustrators: Art Spiegelman, Marjane Satrapi, Jeff Smith, Jon J. Muth, Brian Selznick, Craig Thompson, and David Small.

You might be surprised to learn that my best book for 2008 is wordless – The Arrival is told entirely in pictures, in a series of breathtaking pencil sketches that silently convey so much emotion.

The Arrival depicts the story of a man who starts a new life for himself and his family in a foreign land. Tan perfectly captures the emotional roller coaster ride the character goes through: sadness at leaving his family behind; the stress of a long journey; the relief of reaching the destination; the bewilderment towards a new way of life; the slow acclimatization to a different culture; and the joy of being reunited with family.

Surrealism isn’t ordinarily my thing (see my review for The Republic of Dreams), but I loved how it is used in this book, especially in the new country. Everything is strange and outlandish– from the landscape to alphabet, alien creatures (the origami birds remind me of the paper birds chasing Haku in Spirited Away and the pet-like animals remind me of daemons in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy), food, customs, and transportation – and creates a perfect metaphor for the immigration experience. It also makes a grown-up theme simple enough for a young reader to understand without making it childish.

The book exemplifies the power of imagery – it’s pretty hard to “read” this book and not feel the emotions wash over you, and its cinematic quality makes you feel you’re watching the events unfold right before your very eyes. It made me smile and laugh and sigh, and as I turned the last page, I wanted to burst into applause.

This is definitely a book to treasure, and a must-read for illustrators.

(The Arrival images from www.shauntan.net)

My copy: hardcover

My rating: 5/5 stars

Reliving the Harry Potter High

(First printed on Manila Bulletin Students and Campuses, December 2008)

I felt a thrill running through me when I found out that there was going to be a local midnight release of J.K. Rowling’s latest wizardry book, The Tales of Beedle the Bard.

Over a year after the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I numbered among the Harry Potter fans still hungry for more of the wizarding world and unable to find this kind of magic in other popular book series.

Before the release, I’d already requested my sister in Singapore to buy me a UK edition of the book. I’ve also spent months staring at the collector’s edition of Beedle the Bard day after day, hemming and hawing (until now) about shelling out $100 dollars for the coveted handcrafted tome. Wired for local news on The Tales of Beedle the Bard, I chanced upon Powerbooks’ site announcing the two-hour midnight release, I made a frantic phone call to my cousin Dianne, my partner-in-crime for Harry Potter hijinks.

The midnight release was pretty tame in the comparison to the other crazy things we’ve done for the love of Harry Potter, including, but not limited to: making a complex paper-mache diorama of Harry battling the Hungarian Horntail for the release of Half Blood Prince; “forging” (and inventing) signatures of Harry Potter characters one afternoon when we were bored and had nothing to do; getting customized t-shirts proclaiming “In Snape We Trust” before the release of Deathly Hallows; attending the Deathly Hallows press launch as Luna Lovegood and Nymphadora Tonks in full costumes made from scratch and lining up at 6am the next day for the release of the book; throwing an all-out birthday party for Harry’s 27th birthday, and building up a collection of Harry Potter books in different languages.

As the clock struck midnight, only a handful of people were lined up at the store, and we realized that this was the test of true fandom – we were among the very few who absolutely could not wait to get their hands on Rowling’s latest volume.

Wizard bedtime stories
The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a canon within the Harry Potter canon, much like the previously released Hogwarts schoolbooks Quidditch  Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

The book is a collection of oral tradition that exists in the wizarding world, with illustrations by J.K. Rowling herself. The translation of the book from ancient runes is credited to Hermione Granger, who received a copy of the obscure volume as a bequest from the late Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore in Deathly Hallows.

Now distributed in the Muggle world, the slim volume contains five wizarding tales written for young wizards and witches: The Wizard and the Hopping Pot, The Fountain of Fair Fortune, The Warlock’s Hairy Heart, Babbity Rabbity and her Cackling Stump, and the legend of the Peverell brothers and the Deathly Hallows, The Tale of the Three Brothers.

“They have been popular bedtime reading for centuries… [and] are as familiar to many of the students at Hogwarts as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty are to Muggle (non-magical children,” Rowling explains in her introduction.

Like Muggle fairy tales, each story extols virtues and defames malevolence, serving as cautionary stories that wizarding parents used to instruct their children about the boundaries of magic. The stories also address relevant wizarding topics such as Muggle relations and intermarriage, love potions, and wandlore.

Each story is annotated by Albus Dumbledore, whose notes on the book were among the many papers he bequeathed to the Hogwarts Archives. J.K. Rowling additional comments are added by J.K. Rowling to bridge the gap for Muggle readers.

While the average reader can appreciate The Tales of Beedle the Bard, the book’s more significant nuances are reserved for the faithful Harry Potter readers, who will devour this hearty blend of wizarding lore.

For those who haven’t quite gotten over the tragic events at the Hogwarts Astronomy Tower, Beedle the Bard embodies the ultimate Albus Dumbledore fix. Dumbledore proves to have been right when he posed the question “You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us?” as his quirky annotations bring him back to life, revealing both his scholarly findings and candid personal recollections.

Rowling states that the notes were completed around eighteen months before Dumbledore’s demise, and it is unclear whether they were written for his own satisfaction or for public consumption, but they reveal another important key to Dumbledore’s identity – the side of his personality that he carefully concealed: his flamboyance, his self-importance, even traces of a more sinister bite.

The slim volume also packs heady nostalgia and new revelations for the Harry Potter reader, who will appreciate Dumbledore’s anecdotes on familiar characters from the series, with revelations on how Nearly Headless Nick came to the chopping block; the Malfoy’s long running campaign against Muggles; why pantomimes are banned from Hogwarts; Professor McGonagall’s reasons for becoming an Animagus; Professor Kettleburn’s reckless career as the Care of Magical Creatures professor; and even Aberforth’s favorite bedtime story.

Marking another chapter in Harry Potter fandom, The Tales of Beedle the Bard stands as the first measure of the longevity of the concluded series, separating the true Harry Potter fans from those who only watched the movies, or read the books just because everyone else was reading them.

J.K. Rowling has given her fandom their Christmas gift, and I join the legions of fans around the world who will read the book again and again, fueled by new points for discussion, to relive the magic that Harry Potter that has brought into our lives.

My copy: hardcover US + hardcover UK + traditional Chinese + Spanish

My rating: 5/5 stars