It’s that time again! We’ll spend the first few days or weeks of January 2017 making all sorts of resolutions, short-term goals and long-term targets; and feeling real optimistic and so into that “New Year, New Me” shit.
And that’s coming right after the long party season known as Christmas, which actually starts in September in the Philippines. I’m not kidding. So all in all, it’s been three or so months of gluttony and greed. Not complaining, though. 😉
The next steps in this year-long routine: a look back at the year that was, and goal-setting for the current year.
2016 was fucking horrible for many reasons, among them the deaths of multiple cultural icons, ongoing and escalating wars and conflicts, the rise of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Duterte, Putin, Xi, and Trump), endless racism/sexism/misogyny/chauvinism online and offline… yeah, I think I’ll stop there. Good times were had as well, although the pessimist in me leans more toward the other side if asked to look at the bigger picture.
2016 wasn’t any better for my reading backlog. Many of the books on my shelf remain untouched and unopened until now. And for multiple reasons that are perfectly logical only to legitimate book hoarders like myself, I keep buying books I don’t have time to read.
Unlike in previous years, there’s some form of acceptance on my part. I’ve already lent out a bunch of books to my friends and MFA classmates because I know I won’t read them anytime soon. I can now enter book stores and leave with nothing, making my wallet breathe easy but my self-control reach its limits. And the 70+ books I donated back in 2015 haven’t been summarily replaced — which means I don’t miss those books as much as I thought I would.
This blog hasn’t seen much activity, either. The last decent review I’ve done dates back to a year ago! And if I did finish something from cover to cover, most likely it’s because it’s required for grad school.
What I did manage to read in 2016 are comic books and graphic novels… a whole lot of them. That’s better than nothing, right? Since I’m too lazy to go in-depth with it, here’s a quick take on the few books I did go through last year. Here’s to hoping I do better in 2017! 😃
Marvel 1602, Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, and Richard Isanove
This compilation of the eight-issue series gets many of the famous Marvel Comics characters and dumps ’em in the year 1602. Everything seems normal at first, but then the heroes soon realize they’re in the wrong era. They must find out why they’re in the 17th century, and how they can return to the correct timeline.
I read this volume earlier this year, and I admit I’ll have to reread it again because I’ve forgotten most of it already. Shameful, I know. It was really fun though to see the great Marvel heroes out of their element. Spiderman, the Hulk, Magneto, Daredevil, Thor, the Fantastic Four, Nick Fury, Doctor Strange, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, and other major characters are here, with different names and Elizabethan-era roles. I’m also a moron because it took me until the last few pages to realize that the giant Native American guardian “Rohjaz” is actually Steve Rogers/Captain America.
Fables, The Deluxe Edition: Books Two and Three, Bill Willingham et al.
It’s been a while since I went through the very first book, so reading the second and third felt much like being reacquainted with Fabletown’s finest. Our favorite fictional characters from childhood are back, taking on baddies from their ranks, fighting wars started by wooden clones, and going through their own story arcs.
Out of all the characters, I love Rose Red’s development the most. From the childish and jealous fable in the first book, she’s now the Farm’s responsible and capable leader, with a status equal to her long-heralded sister Snow White. It was also satisfying to see Bluebeard die at the hands of Prince Charming, and Fabletown + the Farm kick ass on the streets of New York City.
As for the stories, the Snow White and Bigby Wolf union is problematic at best. I knew it was coming, but… really? That way? Where’s the agency, people? And Boy Blue’s recounting of his escape from The Adversary’s forces — and the fables who sacrificed their own lives to defend the last boat out — was a sad read.
I got these two volumes from Fully Booked‘s massive sale at the Manila International Book Fair a couple of years ago. Get your hardbounds from that book store chain, or from National Book Store, Amazon, or Book Depository.
Trese: Stories from the Diabolical, Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo
The Trese series’ eponymous Alexandra Trese and the Kambal take a back seat in this paperback detour from Tan and Baldisimo. Instead, Hank — the loyal and knowledgeable bartender of Trese’s cafe-turned-bar The Diabolical — is in charge, and serving up drinks to go with the ghost stories.
Out of all the side stories in this thin collection, The Choir and The Last Full Show appealed to me the most. I’d do more than drink at the neighborhood bar if a group of kids sing Silent Night at my doorstep past midnight. And dying peacefully at the movies, with your life highlight reel playing on the big screen, sounds like a good alternative to the usual method.
The art also eschews the usual panels in favor of a one-illustration-per-page approach, with the styles varying per story. Coffee Black‘s artwork reminded me of cubism, The Last Full Show comes closest to the visuals we recognize from the main Trese universe, and The Usual Spot and One Last Drink at the Diabolical contained illustrations that looked unfinished and raw.
Saga: Volumes Five and Six, Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
I’ve talked about Saga before. You know I love this graphic novel series. Which makes me feel a bit sad for what I’m about to say next.
The last two volumes get readers moving through the story quickly, and they have the expected beats and heavy emotional moments we’ve long associated with the series. Staples’ art is still jaw-dropping; if I could drool all over it, I would. It’s a space opera, all right, and frankly I wouldn’t expect anything less.
But especially with the sixth volume, I felt that the bow was tied too neatly, if there’s such a thing. You know they’ll all find each other again at the end, and you know they’ll fight back. That kind of takes away part of the joy I have in reading the volumes — there are no (or minimal) twists, and the heroes will always win. Hindi pwedeng patayin o saktan ang bida, so goes the saying in Filipino. I may have been spoiled by things like The Walking Dead (TV series, y’all), which offs characters indiscriminately for shock value. Then again, if it gets too predictable…
And that ending in Volume Six.
Also: Klara’s decision to stay at the prison made sense, but I will miss that bad-ass mother. I hope Petrichor can get out of momma’s huge shadow and make her presence in the series worth it. And I like Prince Robot IV. Does that make me a horrible person?
Sex Criminals, Volume 2: Two Worlds, One Cop, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
They’re back, and they’re still fucking each other and playing with time! And for this volume, Jon and Suzie go from powerless to empowered. The couple also struggles with their relationship problems and fights back against the Sex Police, particularly the woman hilariously nicknamed Kegelface.
I find that the second volume is pretty consistent with my observations on the first one, and it’s like I didn’t spend more than a year between volumes. It’s still “witty, funny, beautifully illustrated” and rings true in terms of both romantic relationships and “authority” figures — and I got a huge kick out of seeing the two protagonists take the initiative and hit Kegelface where it hurts.
Hmmm. I don’t have the third volume yet. I must fix that ASAP.
The Eternaut, Héctor Germán Oesterheld and Francisco Solano López
I’ve always loved Humble Bundle for introducing me to “new” works for super-low prices. The Eternaut, or El Eternauta, is one of those gems. This Argentinian science-fiction classic is about an alien invasion that wipes out most of the human race, with the very few survivors uniting to fight against the cunning extraterrestrials.
The concept of a man traveling through time to reunite with his wife and daughter — and framing that in 1960s/1970s Argentina — makes the 300+ page compilation of The Eternaut issues a compelling read. There’s also an excellent balance between the humans coping with the situation and gaining ground, and the aliens outsmarting them at every turn. You can feel the desperation of the characters, along with strong contempt for the invaders.
I suggest you give yourself substantial breaks while The Eternaut; I tried reading it in only a couple of days (three, maybe), and by the end I felt as weary and hopeless as the characters. And speaking of some characters, I found some of them to be too good to be true. Favalli was too perfect as an inventor and strategist, and the power the aliens had over their humanoid “allies” was explained too neatly. But overall, I loved the graphic novel, and its strong political and sci-fi tones.
Get the digital version of The Eternaut (English version) from comiXology.
Adventures in a Forgotten Country, Kerima Polotan Tuvera
This was the first MFA-required book I had to read in full, for my creative nonfiction class last term. It’s a collection of travel essays and life notes from one of the Philippines’ best writers, and while I had to read the entire 248-page book in two days (crammer forever!), it’s a book I’d go through again if I had the time to do so, and recommend to others.
For starters, I like her writing style: she is highly observant, lyrical, sarcastic, and controlled in her recollections. She makes you feel as if you’re on the journey with her throughout the Philippines and beyond, and many of her comments on our country and people (particularly the bad stuff) are still true today. It takes a while to get used to her style of using entire paragraphs for a sentence, interchanging “I” with “one”, and her repetition of certain descriptions, but you’ll be breezing through the book when you’ve got all that down.
However, we as a nation and people have also changed within the 39 years since the book’s first printing. Her stance on politics, interracial dating, working girls, etc. would be out of place in today’s political correctness and social justice; and her lack of comments over her time in the service of Imelda Marcos was downright disappointing. The Philippines she knew may mostly be gone and/or forgotten, but in the end, some things will always last.
Get Adventures in a Forgotten Country at UP Press.
The Sky over Dimas, Vicente Garcia Groyon
This is the second MFA-required book I read, this time for my just-concluded fiction techniques class. Set in Bacolod from the ’60s to the present day, Groyon’s first novel (his thesis requirement for the same creative writing program I’m enrolled in, and which he now teaches in) is as familiar and Negrense as it gets.
Dimas is a family saga that has a wide coverage: the lazy and spoiled lifestyle and mentality of Bacolod’s sugar clans; severely underpaid sugarcane workers; mental illness and emotional isolation; murder; romantic affairs; teacher-student relationships; underage elopement; ruined public reputations; and disastrous personal choices. To use the voice of an exaggeration-loving TV host, it’s so “action-packed!!!”
Readers will relate to the themes and associated emotional impact, and Groyon’s distinct writing style will keep you turning pages. The only qualms I have are that the secondary characters sometimes seemed more interesting than the main ones, and that the buildup toward the climax in the titular location has a better payoff than the actual climax. It was fitting, alright, but part of me felt it was a huge letdown. That’s it? That’s how it ends?
Get The Sky over Dimas at UP Press.