Let’s play Kokology!

Quick, answer this little quiz for me before you read on, the first thing that comes to mind will do:

1. A book is lying in front of you. What type of story does it contain?

2. You begin to read and soon find that you yourself are a character in the story. What kind of role do you play?

3. You read further and come to a section where the pages have been damaged, making them nearly impossible to read. What part of the story is it?

4. You have just closed the cover after finishing the book. How was the ending?

The little quiz above is from the book Kokology: The Game of Self Discovery by Tadahiko Nagao and Isamu Saito, who define kokology (Japanese kokoro, mind, spirit, feelings + Greek logia, the study of) as “a series of psychological games designed to uncover emotional and behavioral traits of the players.”

I discovered Kokology in high school, when the first volume came out. I remember how we took turns checking the book out from the library and answered the quizzes in between classes, or when the teacher wasn’t looking.

Last year, I mooched a hardbound edition that compiles both volumes 1 and 2, and I’ve been answering random pages whenever the mood strikes.

It kills me that I forgot about this book for the Flips Flipping Pages Japanese book discussion a couple of weeks ago! *palm face*

I found out that before the book, Kokology was actually *drumroll please* a game show that ran in the early 90’s, where contestants answer the quiz questions and the interpretation turns out to be shocking or hilarious (e.g. what you shout when your roller coaster car plunges into pool = what you scream at orgasm).

In the hardbound compilation, there are over a hundred quizzes that delve into the subconscious, revealing how you truly feel about work, love, family, sex, and many more! Psych testing has never been this fun — I remember once when I was applying for a job, we had to undergo psychological profiling and it was a half-day’s worth of seemingly endless tests; I was getting paranoid about what I was revealing to a potential employer and I felt like my brain was getting picked. Kokology takes a more subtle, non-threatening approach.

Of course, like all pop psychology, Kokology interpretations range from spot-on to totally off the mark (depending on the person), and it’s up to you to take it or leave it. But it does provide great entertainment for small groups who are game for some good-natured ribbing.

So let’s see what your answers say about you.

According to Kokology, books and school are inextricably linked, and the answers you gave in response to this scenario likewise echo your own experiences during school.

1. The type of story you imagined reflects your general impression of your school years.

Does your answer suggest you lived through a comedy, a mystery, or a romance? Then again, who among us didn’t?

Or perhaps it was an erotic novel? Either you were a very precocious child or you had an overactive imagination.

A Shakespearean tragedy? The fact that you survived all five acts has added nobility to your character.

2. The role you saw yourself in is the image you have of yourself in your time as a student.

Were you the star of the tale? A sidekick? Comic relief? Or no more than a bit player with only a single dialogue on page 283? It may just be that your character was being developed for the sequel.

3. The scene described in the damaged pages mirrors a situation in which you were hurt during your youth. Broken hearts can hurt as much as an act of violence, and even seemingly minor traumas can take a lifetime to heal. Although at first there might not seem to be any immediate connection to your life, if you think back to your past, it’s more likely you’ll find some buried painful memory associated with the scene.

4. The ending of the story is an expression of your feelings of closure (or lack thereof) regarding your days spent at school.

Did you answer something like, “And they rode off into the sunset to live happily ever after”? A little cliched, perhaps, but you can’t argue with success.

Perhaps you envisioned a story in which your character dies in the end? It’s likely you greeted your graduation as a chance to be reborn into a new life.

Or was the ending a cliff-hanging “To be continued…”? In a way, that’s the most accurate response you could give. You’ll just have to wait and see how the next episode turns out.

My copy: hardbound, no dust jacket

My rating: 4/5 stars

Scary stories: not so scary anymore

I remember how I loved scaring myself when I was a kid. I read all the Goosebumps and ghost story books I could get my hands on; I watched all the Halloween / All Souls’ Day horror specials on tv in between my fingers; and my classmates and I told ghost stories dared ourselves to go ghost-hunting whenever we had our annual camp-out on our school grounds (which, as all schools in this country are reported to be, was once a wartime burial ground, therefore it is haunted!)
In high school, I’d moved on to Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine’s Fear Street, and even the Spirit Quest Chronicles, but after that I don’t think I’ve ever went for any horror books. Yeah, I enjoy Gothic novels, or suspense thrillers, but I seem to have either a) lost the fascination for reading books for the intention of scaring myself silly (except for when I had to read The Historian again for a book discussion *shiver*); or b) less things have the power to scare me silly (okay, I am officially giving myself a headache thinking this through).

Anywaaaaay, the reason I brought this dilemma up is because I dug out this book from the bargain bin: Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones, collected from folklore and retold by Alvin Schwartz, drawings by Stephen Gammell (Book #49 for 2009).

The book looked familiar; I think I must’ve read this (or one of the previous volumes) back in grade school. There are over 25 stories in the book: some ghost stories, some urban legends, some just strange tales.

If I were much younger, I’d probably have enjoyed this book and I’d have “chilled my bones” as the book earnestly promises.

On a positive note, what’s nice about this anthology is that there’s a whole section in the back devoted to references for the adaptations — whether it’s oral tradition, a news article, or a reported recollection. One of them, An Appointment in Samarra, even appears in the last book I read (The Eight by Katherine Neville).

I also like the pen and ink wash illustrations of Stephen Gammell (Caldecott Medal awardee for The Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman, and Caldecott Honor awardee for Where the Buffaloes Begin by Olaf Baker), I think they’re even more scary than the stories, and if I was the young reader perusing this volume, they’d have been set the right mood for bone-chilling. :)

My copy: a worn paperback, still good for many readings, now in my bookmooch inventory.

My rating: 3/5 stars

At long last… The Eight!

I don’t normally pick up a book that people are raving about, but I have to admit that I was really curious about The Eight (book #48 for 2009), especially when fellow Flipper MayD named it her best book of 2008.
I finally got around to reading it last week, which went by in a flurry of activity, leaving medetermined to make some headway on a bunch of books this week to keep my reading rate up.

I don’t want to give away any major plot details, so I’ll try to keep the summary short: The Eight by Katherine Neville is a complex mystery involving Charlemagne’s legendary chess service, a gift from the Moors, that is said to unlock the secret of civilization. Told in alternating timelines by two spirited women, The Eight traces an age-old quest to recover the pieces of the legendary service and yield the secret it conceals, encapsulated in a seemingly endless, real-life chess game involving those who want to protect the service, and those who want it for their own gain.

The Eight started out quite interesting for me, then I got bogged down by the middle chapters, and it picked up again during the latter half of the book.

This novel is longer than your average mystery, but then again, The Eight is far from average. The writing style is not particularly refined or lyrical, but given the intricacies of a two-tiered plot involving multiple sets of characters, anything that’s beyond succinct would probably have been overkill.

There are so many layers to this novel — the chess component, the historical aspect involving many colorful personalities, the mystery-thriller plot, and the cryptic word puzzles, that it tends to get unwieldy if you’re not fully invested in the book; it does take some patience and concentration before the pieces to all fall into place. The faithful reader is then rewarded as the layers come together and reveal their links, and history, romance and mystery are entwined in an intelligent and highly memorable novel that mystery buffs would love to sink their teeth into.

(That said, I wish I’d read it on a long weekend or a vacation when I could have read it from cover to cover without any interruptions. It took me all week to make my way through the first half of the novel, and when I finally got my respite on Sunday, I settled down to read the latter half, and it was then when I started to fully appreciate the book.)

For me, though, the backbone of the book lies in the strong women characters in the novel. As in a chess game, it is the queen that wields true power, and using the chess metaphor, the novel’s central characters — the spirited Mireille from the 1790s, and the feisty Cat from the 1970s, and even the key characters in the story — Catherine Grand, Lily Rad, and the fortune teller — are all female. The males, for the most part, are supplemental and hover in the periphery, and often only function to supply information or provide assistance to the central characters (although I must say the hunky Alexander Solarin is a guy after my own heart! hee hee), and at some point even the dog Carioca had a bigger part than any of the males (and the dog was more than once used as a convenient diversion tactic, may I point out).

While I like the characters in the book — Cat and Lily more than Mireille and Valentine — I think that for a book that’s almost 600 pages long, Neville could have strengthened the characterization, especially for Cat, who is the ultimate key to the mystery. While we know she is smart and sassy, we really do not know who she is aside from her recent work history; I just found it strange that we know nothing about her family or her childhood, or even her life before she got to New York.

It was also kind of annoying for me that in the chapters pertaining to Cat, the author kept preempting future events repetitively, I remember reading so many passages that ended with phrases like (not verbatim) “little did she know how the books would create an impact on her life” and “not knowing that this would turn her into a major player in the game.” For me, it was like neon lights flashing “this is a significant event, take note!” and took away some of the thrill of the mystery.

While it’s not the best mystery I’ve ever read, I still enjoyed reading the book, and I look forward to reading its sequel, The Fire.

The Eight reminds me uncannily of three other books I’ve read that might be of interest to those who’ve read this book: The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier, Labyrinth by Kate Mosse, and The Flanders Panel by Arturo Perez Reverte.

The Virgin Blue and Labyrinth both use a similar style – two different women in two different times, although in these two books the two women are reincarnations of each other. In The Virgin Blue, the character from the future solves a mystery of the past through dream apparitions of her ancestor. Labyrinth is more eerily similar to The Eight, as the events from the past recreate themselves in the future and it is up to the contemporary character to stop the cycle from happening again. There are also a major plot elements that both books share, but I can’t reveal them without spoiling the book.

The Flanders Panel is also similar to The Eight in the use of chess as a metaphor for the story, and movements across the chessboard as a mirroring of the plot, although the novel is based on a Flemish painting (Van Huys’ The Game of Chess), and not Charlegmagne’s service.

My copy: trade paperback, mooched from the US

My rating: 4/5 stars

Doggie 101

(Making up for lost blogging time… This week has been trying, and the book I’m currently reading is taking me such a long time… harr.)
Shortly after we got our new (old) dog Macky (his old family migrated to Canada), who is somewhere between a shih tzu and what looks like an old english sheepdog (they told us he’s a shih tzu), I found a book that made the transition easier for us: The Dog Owner’s Manual: Operating Instructions, Troubleshooting Tips, and advice on Lifetime Maintenance by Dr. David Brunner and Sam Stall (illustrated by Paul Kepple and Jude Buffum).
Although a bit pricey for my regular Book Sale standards (P160), this immediately caught my attention primarily because of its cute vector graphics (it’s from one of my favorite publishers — Chronicle Books, which publishes a lot of quirky books), but mostly because of its smart concept.
It’s a pet care book that reads like an instruction manual for a gadget. The back reads:

At last! A Beginner’s Guide to Canine Technology

Pee stains on the carpet. Barking at all hours of the night. That embarrassing thing he does with your leg. It’s enough to make you cry out, “Why doesn’t my dog have an owner’s manual?” And now, thankfully, he does.

Through step by step instructions and helpful schematic diagrams, The Dog Owner’s Manual explores hundreds of frequently asked questions: Which breeds interface best with children? How can I program my model to fetch? And why is its nose always wet? Whatever your concerns, you’ll find the answers right here — courtesy of celebrated veterinarian Dr. David Brunner and acclaimed author Sam Stall. Together they provide plenty of useful advice for both new and experienced dog owners.

The chapter headings read: Welcome to your new dog! (includes diagram and parts list, memory capacity, product life span); Overview of Makes and Models (product history, top selling models, pre-acquisition checklists); Home installation; Daily Interaction; Basic Programming; Fuel Requirements; Exterior Maintenance; Growth and Development; Interior Maintenance; Emergency Maintenance, and Advanced Functions.
And the schematic diagrams are really schematic diagrams, and are quite entertaining. The book can show you how to give your dog a Heimlich maneuver, get your dog in a car, identify rabies, calculate age in dog years, give your dog a bath, and many more!

Tonight (several months later), I found The Dog Owner’s Maintenance Log (unused, for P15!), which is a spiral bound record book. It’s a great companion to the book, because you can personalize the details and use it to keep track of your dog’s progress. I plan to fill in this one (hehe, read: get my sister to) with Macky’s medical info and other important notes.

Squee for Book Sale! And squee for compulsive book buying!


My copy: Dog Owner’s Manual and Dog Owner’s Maintenance Log, both paperback
My rating: both 5/5 stars


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