This is Dali


May 11 is the birthday of Salvador Dali (b. 1904), so I decided to crack open an art book I got from last year’s MIBF: This is Dali, a biography of the famous Surrealist by art historian Catherine Ingram, illustrated by Andrew Rae.

I like Dali’s bizarre art, and I was drawn the graphic approach to this series (the Artists Monographs by Laurence King Publishing), plus it came with a lovely totebag (that still draws compliments wherever I go) so getting the book was a no-brainer.
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Banned Books Week (and the naked Mickey!)

September 25 to October 2 is Banned Books Week, an annual event that celebrates the freedom to read.

Spearheaded by the American Library Association, the celebration of Banned Books Week emphasizes intellectual freedom, “the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular.”

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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

My copy: hardcover

My rating: 5/5 stars

The Republic of Dreams: A Reverie by G. Garfield Crimmins

Book #7 for 2009

I’ve always been fascinated with illustrated novels, and when I came across a copy of G. Garfield Crimmin’s “The Republic of Dreams” on bookmooch, I was eager to add it to my growing collection.

I had high hopes as I first skimmed the book, delighted to find that the contents were intact, even the detachable ephemera — maps, a passport, telegrams, a license card, and a whole set of postcards.

But as I read the story, my initial excitement deflated, replaced with that horrible, hollow feeling I get when a book that promises so much turns out to be a big disappointment.

The novelty of the illustrated novel is in seeing two different media — the written word and visual art– meld together in a visual narrative. My beef with The Republic of Dreams is that while the book is lovely to look at (and it must’ve cost a fortune to publish the book too), the story leaves so much more to be desired.

I found the story hard to follow, with a contrived hedonism that made it cheesy.

The author G. Garfield Crimmins finds himself in La Republique de Reves (The Republic of Dreams), where he is known as Victor La Nuage – the alter-ego of his waking self. Victor realizes he is a citizen of the Republic of Dreams, and he was sent on a mission to the “real world” to combat the Republic’s greatest enemy: The League of Common Sense, a movement bent on stifling imagination and pleasure.

(It reminds me of something out of a Jasper Fforde novel except it’s not funny because Crimmins is serious about it, which makes me think he was either a) horny (haha I had no idea this would turn out to be erotica!) b) high c) very very drunk or d) all of the above while he was creating this).

I get the feeling Crimmins wanted the Republic of Dreams to be a place everyone would want to live in, but I think he was trying too hard. He was overzealous in the exposition — “The Republic of Dreams is the true home of every dreamer, noncomformist, artist, eccentric, lover, and poet — all those who have an instinctive dislike of the narrow limitations of common sense. Its citizens love love, youth, old age, beauty, splendor, wisdom, generosity, music, song, the feast, and the dance. The weather is ideal and festivals occur daily” — and that is just in the flap of the book.

He goes on to devote 16 pages (out of 95) to a “visitor’s guide” to the Republic, and it pushes the envelope already.

Adding to the cheese factor are the bad puns throughout the novel — the national ID is called “Licence Poetique,” Madame Ricochet’s salon is a date hotspot located at the intersection of Avenue of Quivers and Shudders and Sweet Tongue Lane (there is also a Street of Sweet Escape); the capital city is Polis Poeton (city of poets) surrounded by Lake Eros — everything was just really hokey to me, too over the top, and it doesn’t help that you can’t make heads or tails out of the story.

I guess I’ll be keeping the book, just for the heck of it, at the very least it would look good (literally) on my shelf, hahaha, but I don’t think I’ll be reading it again.

You don’t believe me? Read the excerpt here, and you’ll see what I mean.

My copy: hardbound, mooched from the US

My rating: 1/5 stars

Photo courtesy of (,

MirrorMask by Neil Gaiman/ Dave McKean

(The review pertains to the film, but I’m posting it because I have the film book :) )

I have to say that I loved MirrorMask! And since I’m not a Gaiman fan, and I’m very selective on fantasy (I’m really not big into the hardcore stuff), this is saying a lot.

The movie has Dave McKean written all over it; it’s like a picture book brought to life. It’s dark, with a bit of The Nightmare Before Christmas feel to it, only with a Dave McKean look, and it’s funny and creepy and weird all at the same time.

The story is simple enough; any more complicated than that and it’ll overpower the animation and effects. It’s about Helena, a 15 year old girl in a family of circus entertainers, who often wishes she could run off and join real life. After a fight with her parents about her future plans, her mother falls quite ill and Helena is convinced that it is all her fault. On the eve of her mother’s major surgery, she dreams that she is in a strange world with two opposing queens, bizarre creatures, and masked inhabitants. All is not well in this new world – the white queen has fallen ill and can only be restored by the MirrorMask, and it’s up to Helena to find it. But as her adventures continue, she begins to wonder whether she’s in a dream, or something far more sinister.

It’s a very visual movie; there is a lot to take in, as it’s a world unfamiliar to the viewer; but it’s enhanced by the emotion of the story, and the mirror motif is further enhanced by the mirroring of events in the real world (Helena’s real life as she’s replaced by the mirror-self) and the fantasy world.

It’s similar to Coraline, which is similar to one Are You Afraid of the Dark books I read ages ago (only it was better than Coraline).

I don’t know if it was shown here in the Philippines though; it’s dated 2005. I just discovered I had the DVD when Trina told me it was really good. It’s the sort of thing I’d shell out several hundred bucks for to watch over and over again, once for the overall impact, and several times more to catch the nuances… Dave McKean is sooo amazing; I even caught a scene where two hands touching each other looked like Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, I don’t know if that was intentional, but it’s still pure genius.

You just have to watch this.

My copy: A squarish hardbound book with dustjacket, the Children’s edition of the film book. Mooched from Canada last year.

My rating: 5/5 stars

photo courtesy of Amazon (