Thursday, September 23, 2004

For some reason our second phone line has lost its dialtone. This is why I haven't been able to post recently. I had to hook up the main line to check stuff.

I finished some books recently. Fugitives & Refugees by Chuck Palahniuk was an interesting and humorous guide to his beloved Portland, Oregon. There are many interesting anecdotes and pieces of secret history, and like Voice of the Fire, surprises you about places you know nothing about, and never really ascribe any importance to either. It's never boring, but just in case there are in-between short diary entries detailing memorable experiences. Good stuff.

I also finished Alex Garland's The Beach. And it's fucking great. I understand now why 3 out of 10 people under the age of 30 have read it, and why, during one year, it went through 25 printings. I just breezed through it, to be honest. It's very easy to read, very hard to put down. One time, I finally caved in to sleep at 9 AM. One of the interesting things to me is that the main character of Richard is very easy to project yourself onto, and so you really feel like you're the one embarking on the adventure. It's also comforting to be familiar with all the references, from Apocalypse Now to Platoon to Tekken 2.

It's also got many passages that seem to detail things we've all thought about before, except, of course, better-phrased.

An example: "I don't keep a travel diary. I did keep a travel diary once, and it was a big mistake. All I remember of that trip is what I bothered to write down. Everything else slipped away, as if my mind felt jilted by my reliance on pen and paper. For exactly the same reason, I don't travel with a camera. My holiday becomes the snapshots, and anything I forget to record is lost. Apart from that, photographs never seem to be very evocative. When I look through the albums of old traveling companions I'm always surprised by how little I'm reminded of the trip.

If only there was a camera that captured smell. Smells are far more vivid than images. I've often been walking in London on a hot day, caught the smell of hot refuse or melting tarmac, and suddenly been transported to a Delhi side street. Likewise, if I'm walking past a fishmonger I think instantly of Unhygienix, and if I smell sweat and cut grass (the lawn kind) I think of Keaty. I doubt either of them would appreciate being remembered in such a way, especially Unhygienix, but that's how it is.

All that said, I wish there'd been someone with a camera when I sauntered out of the mist with a dead shark over my shoulder. I must have looked so cool."

Here's another passage that had me laughing: "You find plastic pitchers all around provincial Asia and their purpose has confounded me for years. I refuse to believe that Asians wipe themselves with their hands-- it's a ridiculous idea-- but aside from washing their digits, I can't see what other use the pitcher has. I'm sure they don't splash themselves down. Apart from being ineffective it would make an incredible mess, and they emerge from their ablutions as dry as a bone."

It had me laughing particularly because I was thinking the exact OPPOSITE thing in Edinburgh, the first time I had to take a crap: where's the tabo? What the fuck do they do over here? It was explained to me that Europeans think the idea of wiping your ass extremely disgusting. Understandably, to us it's nothing-- that's how we were raised. But even objectively speaking, it is more hygienic, isn't it? Rather than just relying on toilet paper? So our whole stay in Scotland, we had to use a glass.

I also now understand why all the hardcore fans hate the movie.

After that I jumped straight into The Tesseract. Which was also magnificent. One of the best things I can say about Garland is that, for a relatively young author, none of his novels are alike. Even structurally, which is just so refreshing. I have to admit that at the beginning, it was worrying me because there were a lot of characters, but it's all handled skillfully and deliberately, with a massively satisfying conclusion/climax. The whole book is set in Manila, and maybe the only drawback is I don't know any Pinoys who talk like these characters. Don't get me wrong-- the characterization is excellent. The plotting is very well-thought out. But no one talks like this. Even if you translated every line into Tagalog. Some things could also have used a little bit more research. Like one scene where an old man and a younger woman have a conversation on Roxas. Every line they speak to each other ends with "po," as if it were a period. Also some misspellings, like berkada for barkada.


So in Chuck Palahniuk's Non-Fiction (called Stranger Than Fiction in the US), one of the pieces praises Amy Hempel to high heaven. Amy Hempel, a minimalist writer I've never heard of. So I look her up on the net, and to my delight I find the short story that Palahniuk uses as an example: "The Harvest." And it's good. I like it. The bait-and-switch is unexpected. While surfing, I come across this recent interview from The Independent, and discover that, to my surprise, Palahniuk came out last September. Or rather, outed himself though he didn't really want to. It's a complicated thing, read the article if you're interested. He's had a live-in partner of 12 years, but has been very secretive about it. There's conjecture as to why: was it personal shame or a decree of the publisher? I wonder if it really will hurt his stature in the eyes of his largely male demographic. He did strike me as a very masculine writer. Some fans do feel slightly betrayed. Palahniuk sometimes wrote as if he was attracted to women. But in the end, it looks like there was more fiction than we bought into. Honestly, though: who really cares?


Book alert: art spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers, his first major work in 12 years, is now at Fully Booked.

And apparently, Kabuki creator David Mack is coming to the Philippines for an event with said bookstore.

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