House of Leaves


Our book club’s first unofficial discussion for the year was “House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski, and I had gotten the book with the intention of joining the discussion last Friday, but I wasn’t able to finish it in time so I stayed home (in fear of discussion spoilers) to make some headway on the book. I did finish it a few days later, and I was well and truly befuddled.

In “House of Leaves,” multiple narratives converge to tell us the strange story of a young man (Johnny Truant) who comes across a manuscript by his old neighbor, Zampano. Zampano has written a study of what appears to be a non-existent film (“The Navidson Record,” a Blair Witch-y documentary by award-winning photographer Will Navidson about a house that is (*gasp*) bigger on the inside, with closets and hallways popping up and disappearing every so often.

Continue reading “House of Leaves”

Haroun and the Sea of Stories

I’ve always wanted to try Salman Rushdie, so I included him in my list for the A-Z Challenge. I have a bunch of his books in my perpetually insurmountable TBR pile, and I’m falling behind in the challenge, so I resolved to pick up the pace so I can finish by the end of the year. Having not read any of Rushdie’s books before, I decided to go with Haroun and the Sea of Stories first, so I can take on his more complex works later on (maybe next year?).

Written in 1990, Haroun and the Sea of Stories was Rushdie’s first novel after his highly controversial Satanic Verses (earning him an Islamic death sentence and causing multiple deaths from violence related to the book). Told from the point of view of a young boy named Haroun, the novel is an allegorical children’s book dedicated to Rushdie’s son, Zafar.

Continue reading “Haroun and the Sea of Stories”

More Po-Mo picture books (Picture book roundup 10)


I’ve been fascinated with postmodern picture books ever since I took a course in children’s books back in college. Since then I’ve been building up my collection of po-mo picture books, and I’ve now got over 20 of them, mostly from rummaging through bargain bins.

I love how po-mo picture books challenge the reader to look at things in a different way, offering an enjoyable experience to both the young reader, the parent reading to the child, and even an older reader randomly picking up the book and flicking through the pages.

The multiplicity of meanings also encourages creativity and imagination in constructing the meaning of the text or illustrations, as well as the interest to reread a book.

I also marvel at the writers and illustrators’ creativity in taking the craft of picture books one step further,  defying convention and structure

I have several books in this picture book roundup: The Story of a Little Mouse Trapped in a Book by Monique Felix; Wolves by Emily Gravett; Zoom and Re-Zoom by Istvan Banyai; Bamboozled by David Legge; and Pinocchio the Boy, or Incognito in Collodi by Lane Smith (books 175-180 for 2009).

(In case you missed it, I previously discussed the characteristics of po-mo picture books in the post I did on The Three Little Pigs.)

Continue reading “More Po-Mo picture books (Picture book roundup 10)”

Reading in TagLish

The fourth book I read during the 24-hour read-a-thon is Para Kay B by Filipino scriptwriter Ricky Lee (book 63 of 2009, book 11 of diversity challenge- FFP book discussion selection), the assigned reading for April for my book club Flips Flipping Pages, which will hold the discussion tomorrow (which prevents me from attending Dianne’s graduation party, but I’m really looking forward to the discussion).

Even before this book was chosen for discussion, I was meaning to get a copy because all the storefronts of National Book Store (to my international readers, NBS is the biggest book store chain in the Philippines) had a poster of the book and I was really intrigued by the full title, which reads: Para Kay B (O, kung paano dinedevastate ng pag-ibig ang 4 out of 5 sa atin) which roughly translated is: For B (Or how love devastates 4 out of 5 of us).

The novel, written in TagLish, a combination of Tagalog (a dialect which is the basis for the national language Filipino) and English, is comprised of five different love stories: a) Irene and Jordan (who made a childhood promise to marry her and then disappeared from her life); b) Sandra and Lupe (who happens to be her brother); c) Erica (who is from the love-less island of Maldiaga) and Jake (the son of the woman who takes Erica under her wing); d) the widow Ester and her maid Sara; and e) the voluptuous Bessie and the young, naive Lucas. The stories appear to be unrelated until the last few chapters, which reveal the link that binds them all.

Filipino was one of my better subjects in school (even in college when Filipino class was quite difficult), but reading this was harder for me than I anticipated because I haven’t read anything with this much Tagalog in a long time. To my non-Filipino readers, Tagalog (and Filipino) and the rest of the local dialects in the Philippines are read phonetically (sounded out syllable per syllable), as opposed to English, where words can be recognized on sight.

The second part I had difficulty with is the structure of the novel — no quotation marks. Quotes are mostly narrative, although there are some dialogues that read as a script. I have always had trouble reading novels that are straight narration (or with little dialogue) because I get bored, and when my concentration slips the text tends to meld together in my mind and I get lost reading. Perhaps it’s his background as a scriptwriter, or an intention to defy the conventional structure of the novel, but it took awhile before I got used to it.

During the readathon, the infernal heat was also driving me crazy so I had to haul my patootie to the McDonalds a few blocks away so I could concentrate.

The voice was also an acquired taste for me. When I read, I usually hear the narrator’s voice in my head (which I used to think was strange, but my Flipper friends tell me they do it too), and I hear a different pacing of the words for every book, and the voice and accent vary with the narrator (yes, Harry Potter in a British accent). I found Para Kay B too talkative, like the narrator was trying to get out so many words all at once, and I sensed a shrillness to it that grated on my nerves at some points in the book.

I liked the statistics proposed by the title, hahaha, because so far I’ve always been in the 4 out of 5 (loooooong story, and never mind) and I think a lot of people will agree with the statistic. In his end note, Ricky Lee states how (paraphrased) he wants to be read by everyone — the people riding the mrt, those watching over loved ones at the hospital, parents putting their kids to sleep — and not just his fellow writers or literature students. Love (or the absence of love) is a universal theme that most anyone can relate to, and Lee’s use of TagLish makes it more accessible to the average Filipino.

*Spoiler alert: do not read beyond this point if you plan on reading the book. Am writing about the resolution because a lot of my readers probably won’t get to read the book, seeing as it’s written in TagLish. I was contemplating writing this entry in TagLish like some of my Flipper friends but checking my stats, I found that only 41% of my readership is located in the Philippines, and I didn’t want to deprive them from reading this entry*

I did perk up later in the book when one of the characters (not Ricky Lee) turns out to be the writer of the five stories mentioned above. The stories are not resolved in their respective chapters, and are left hanging because of the writer’s (the character who is the writer, and not Ricky Lee) belief that 4 out of 5 love stories do not get a happy ending.

As the writer looks over his first draft, the 5 female characters suddenly appear in front of him, and they are disgruntled about the lack of resolution in their stories. They question his integrity and skill as a writer, fight among themselves, and even present the writer with a demand letter because they don’t want to be part of the 4 out of 5 statistic.

The character-talking-to-author ruse is a popular for stories about authors or illustrators, but I still found this to be the most enjoyable part of the novel because it was so funny in TagLish.

Finally, the writer issues his own demands — that the characters not pop up from out of the blue, that he write the story that he wants to tell, that he has the right to edit or revise as he chooses, and that the final say is his.

But he does change his mind about the story, and revises his draft to a conclusion that would satisfy both himself and his characters. He also realizes the difference between writing and real life, (paraphrased) how the writer has the power to change everything even after he’s written the story down — the bad changed to good and the tragic ending made happy — while in real life, that’s it, no revisions (I like this passage a lot).

Towards the end of the novel, he brushes off his theory on love, stating that theories are for insecure people, but he backtracks, posing the question, who isn’t insecure when they’re in love?

Edit at 11:24 pm: Am clarifying why I like this last part (more than the rest of the novel) after reading Gege’s review because I realized I didn’t elaborate on this aspect to the story.

My reading of the novel is that it’s an attempt (albeit it comes off a bit contrived, very movie-ish) at postmodernism, defying the traditional structure of the novel: one of the characters turns out to be writing the story (but is not the author), the characters become self-aware (that they’re characters of the story), voice out exactly what they think of the story (and attempt to vote off the writer) and have a hand in manipulating the outcome.

As the Flippers well know, I like postmodernist techniques in books (whether it’s picture books or novels) and I was pleasantly surprised to find it in this book because I wasn’t sure I was going to like it.

Para Kay B wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but in the end I enjoyed it, and I’m glad the discussi
on moved it up my reading list. I’m looking forward to discussing it tomorrow and meeting Ricky Lee in person.

One last, a drawing I made for the journal (token) we’re giving Ricky Lee at the discussion tomorrow. Will post some photos of the event in another entry this weekend :)

My copy: paperback, from NBS Bestsellers (10% discount from Anvil). Just a little rant: the binding is terrible, it’s glued at the edges and then stapled down, and the binding was giving way even before I read the book.

Oh, and props to INKie Ivan Reverente for the great illustrations, and I’m glad he joined us at INK this year.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Three Little Pigs go Po-Mo

I know I just did a picture book roundup, but I’m really excited to share two picture books I got this weekend, both a deconstruction of the story of the Three Little Pigs: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by A. Wolf as told to Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith; and The Three Pigs (book #54 for 2009), written and illustrated by David Wiesner.

I have had a fascination for postmodern picture books since I was in college, and I have a growing collection of them. It totally revolutionizes picture books as we know them, and it’s great genius on the part of the writers and especially the illustrators.

Postmodern picture books are often characterized by:

  • Nontraditional ways of using plot, character, and setting, which challenge reader expectations and require different ways of reading and viewing;
  • Unusual uses of the narrator’s voice to position the reader to read the book in particular ways and through a particular characters’ eyes (this can be achieved by the written or visual text);
  • Indeterminacy in written or illustrative text, plot, character, or setting, which requires the reader to construct some of the text and meanings;
  • A pastiche of illustrative styles, which require the reader to employ a range of knowledge and grammars to read;
  • New and unusual design and layout, which challenge the reader’s perception of how to read a book;
  • Contesting discourses (between illustrative and written text), which require the reader to consider alternate readings and meaning; intertextuality, which requires the reader to use background knowledge in order to access the available meanings; and
  • The availability of multiple readings and meanings for a variety of audiences.
(Anstey, M. (2002). “It’s not all black and white”: Postmodern picture books and new literacies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy)

Now, I’ve long been a fan of Lane Smith, especially when he’s teamed up with John Scieszka, because they just make me laugh out loud! I have a growing collection of their picture books, starting with The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Stories, Squids will be Squids, Cowboy and Octopus, Pinocchio, and Math Curse. I think I’m just missing a few – Science Curse, the Abe Lincoln book, and Seen Art?.

I’ve had a paperback copy of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs for around 4 years now, but when I saw the hardcover, 10 year anniversary edition of the book at Book Sale for only P120, I just had to have it (never mind that I bought the paperback full price, for more than twice the amount.

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, with Totoro :)
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs is told from the wolf’s point of view, and he cries out, “I was framed!”

He pleads not guilty, stating, “Hey, it’s not my fault wolves eat cute little animals like bunnies and sheep and pigs. That’s just the way we are. If cheeseburgers were cute, folks would probably think you were Big and Bad too.”

cheeseburger: wolf version
A. Wolf, or Alexander T. Wolf, shares his side of the story, the real story, he says, which is about a sneeze and a cup of sugar.

Apparently, he was making a birthday cake for his granny when he ran out of sugar, so he went over to the pigs’ house to borrow a cup of sugar. The problem is, he had a bad cold, and when he sneezed, the first two houses – the one made of straw and the one made of sticks – collapsed on top of the their owners, and the wolf thought it would be a shame to let some perfectly good ham go to waste.

The third house was brick, though, and the wolf had a nasty exchange of words with the third pig, who wouldn’t lend him a cup of sugar for his dear granny’s birthday cake. So he huffed, and he puffed… and that’s how the cops found him.

He says that the cup of sugar story wasn’t exactly breaking news, so the police jazzed up the story and he became famous as the Big Bad Wolf.

breaking news!
Lane Smith’s rich, textured illustrations make the story doubly funny, adding little (sometimes morbid) jokes into the illustrations. The 10 year anniversary edition, which I now have, throws in a few more laughs: there is a letter from A. Wolf complaining his ten-year imprisonment and decrying the testimony made by a certain girl in a red riding hood. The back of the book has also been vandalized with different opinions on the case.
wall graffiti
Now that I’ve “done a Blooey” on this book, i.e. upgraded yet another paperback into hardcover (in Flippers/Moochers terms), I now have a spare copy of the book (in pristine condition), but I think I already have someone in mind for the book. I’ll have to find out if that person has this already, or else it’ll go into my BookMooch inventory.

By the way, I’m really loving how hardcover picture books from the US have “reinforced binding” that make them good for lots and lots of readings. Hopefully my (future + hypothetical) kids get to appreciate my growing collection of picture books, which ran out of shelves, like, several dozen books ago. I wish they’d devise the same type of binding for other types of books.

My second book for today is The Three Pigs by David Wiesner, who has fast become another one of my favorites, ever since I found a battered copy of Tuesday in a bargain bin (I think the one I mooched got lost in the mail).

According to the jacket, “Ever since the pigs took to the air at the end of Tuesday, he [Wiesner] has wanted to give them a book of their own” – hence The Three Pigs, which received the 2001 Caldecott Medal. It amazes me how this guy just racks up the Caldecotts.

Before reading this book, I’d have thought The True Story of the Three Little Pigs would be a tough act to beat, but Wiesner does a great job with this book. Aside from deconstructing the story, The Three Pigs deconstructs the actual structure of the book, with a touch of metafiction, as the characters become aware that they are characters in a book.

It starts out as the regular Three Little Pigs story, but the wolf huffs and puffs so hard that he blows the first pig right out of the story. Confused, the wolf moves on to the next house, but as he huffs and puffs, the first pig coaxes the second one out of the story and the wolf is even more confused when he finds the second house empty.

When the two pigs reach the third house, the third pig is surprised because they haven’t been eaten up. They knock away some pages of the book, fold it up, make a paper plane and have the time of their lives, until the plane crashes into a crumpled heap.

folding the pages
My favorite scene — the paper plane ride
The three pigs find another story and they enter it – it’s Hey Diddle Diddle. They get out of the story and the cat with the fiddle follows them out. They enter another story, this time with a dragon, and they save the dragon from getting slain by taking him out of his story.

The pigs finally go home to their story, and piece it back together so that the wolf gets to the brick house, and when he huffs and puffs and is unable to blow down the house, the dragon pokes his head out and the letters from the text get scattered. The pigs decide they’ve had quite enough and leave the wolf outside while they (pigs + cat + dragon) all head inside to have some soup.

Dragon’s head butts into the text, scattering the letters
I love how smart David Wiesner’s books are, and this one reminds me of one of my favorite book series, Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series. I like how the pigs defy the structure of the book, jumping from one story into another, ultimately taking charge of their fate.

I also love how Wiesner uses different styles to establish the jump from story to story, and the pigs adapt to the illustration style wherever they are situated— from the vintage style of The Three Little Pigs, the realistic style of the “space” outside the books, the simplistic style of the nursery rhyme book, and the coloring book style of the dragon story. When the pigs are halfway out the story, they’re also illustrated in half-and-half styles. Wiesner is such a genius!

The pigs jumping into the coloring book-style dragon story
The Three Little Pigs is a great children’s classic, but it’s even better when it goes po-mo! :)

My copy: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, hardcover 10 year anniversary edition (upgraded from Scholastic paperback); The Three Pigs, hardcover — both P120 at Book Sale

My rating: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, 5/5 stars; The Three Pigs 5/5 stars