Friday, September 02, 2005

[Essay] Confessions of a Bibliophile

One might think that a bibliophile is merely concerned with books. And to a certain extent, a good number of bibliophiles are only concerned with their one true love. For my part though, I remember that it’s not the book that I’m in love with, but in the art of reading. And there actually many factors involved in reading.

Take for example furniture. Some of you might be surprised that someone such as I, out of touch with the world, would be concerned with something so practical. But I do think furniture should be every bibliophile’s concern, unless they love to read books while standing up.

What’s your reading habit? Personally, I love to slouch in a couch or in a bed. Not just any bed though, it should have a headrest of some sort. Pillows would be nice as well. They’re ideal and comfortable places for me, despite what some psychologists might claim (that is, such places will make you feel drowsy because it’s where you sleep). Failing that, a sturdy, wide chair would do. Obviously, chairs come in all sizes and shapes, which is why furniture becomes a concern for me.

Not everyone’s a couch or chair addict though. Some prefer to read on a table. And that’s fine, especially if you’re the type that highlights passages or jots down quotes from their favorite books. I’m sure a lot of bibliophiles rely on different kinds of tables, whether it’s the roughness of it, the size (the perfect height for example), or simply the design (should it be slanted or flat?).

Aside from furniture, there’s room design. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of that would be lighting. Where is the light centered? Personally, I don’t like reading by lamp stands. They cast shadows which obscure my reading. Color also plays an important role. I love fluorescent white. Anything else is a hindrance. One of my professors though said that a certain yellowish paper looks good on yellow light. So reading with a certain ambience also plays a significant factor.

How about the amount of noise? Some people love “background” music, whether it’s mellow tones to ear-splitting vocals. Or perhaps it’s the chirping of crickets, the tweeting of birds. Or the sounds of morning traffic, the trademarks of every metropolis. I love the silence, where there’s nothing to distract me and I can be alone with my thoughts.

Lastly, there’s food and drink. Some people mix eating with reading. I tend to do that, although I prefer finger food that’s not messy: reading with your right, eating with your left. Anything that requires a spoon is out of the question. But I’ve heard of people who have a glass of wine to begin their reading rituals, and I wouldn’t be surprised if others have a certain food fetish.

A bibliophile is not just a connoisseur of books. He or she must balance out all these other factors, for the ideal reading experience is seldom an isolated incident. Not only do I want a good book to read, I want the finer things in life as well that will augment my reading experience.

[Book Reviews] September Book Reviews (Memoranda, Extinction, Annihilation, The Binding Stone, The Robots of Dawn)

September Book Reviews (Memoranda, Extinction, Annihilation, The Binding Stone, The Robots of Dawn)

It’s a new, briefer format! Instead of giving a comprehensive review like I used to, I’ll probably settle for these shorter once a month mini-reviews of books that get thrown my way.

The Rating System:

1 – There are better ways to spend your time. Examples: Damphir
2 – Ho hum novels, typical of its genre. Examples: most Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms novels.
3 – A cut above the rest, these are usually standard fare stories with either an interesting twist, gorgeous visualizations, or simply make a very interesting read. Examples: Anita Blake series, Dragonlance Chronicles.
4 – Highly recommended books! An interesting read, and pioneers the genre it’s in. Examples: Kushiel’s Dart, Perdido Street Station, Good Omens.
5 – A classic. Must get at all cost. Examples: A Game of Thrones, The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant, Dune.

Memoranda by Jeffrey Ford

The second book in a trilogy, the book’s only weakness is perhaps that it whets your appetite for more. It’s brief but interesting, and Ford invokes a lot of imagery more than the usual. The book doesn’t get bogged down unlike its predecessor, The Physiognomy, and is actually one of the better “middle-child” books I’ve read in a long time. It stands well on its own, and is a delightful read irregardless if you’re a fan of fantasy or not.

Rating: 4/5.

Extinction by Lisa Smedman

Another middle-child book, this time in a six-part series. Story flow remains interesting, as usual, and Smedman succeeds in not only pushing the plot forward, but showing us what an evil party is like, and how they interact together. Perhaps notable from this author is her descriptions, as Smedman’s style stands out differently from the other author’s writing in the series, in a good way that is. If you’re a fan of the War of the Spider Queen series, Extinction won’t fail you. If not, you might want to grab the first book in the series.

Rating: 3/5.

Annihilation by Philip Athans

If you’ve read it this far, then there’s really no reason why you should put down this book. The fifth book in the War of the Spider Queen series, Athans shows us perhaps the highest point in the story short of the climax. While not as skillful as Smedman, Athans has other strengths. Notable perhaps in this novel are several mage battles. And honestly, you’re nearly at the end, so it’ll be difficult to screw up the series’s interesting premise. Again, best avoided by the uninitiated.

Rating: 3/5.

The Binding Stone by Don Bassingthwaite

Another Eberron novel, it disappoints with its slow start and generic narrative. There’s an interesting plot element in the middle, but only hardcore psionic D&D fans would appreciate it. The next highest point would probably be near the end where all the necessary action takes place, but it all stinks of deus ex machina. If you’re a fan of Eberron, you should probably just try out the other books instead of this. The good points aren’t enough to salvage a generic and bad book.

Rating: 1.5/5.

The Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov

The last novel in his Robot series, this book only proves that Asimov’s true strength lies in his short stories. Long and winding, Asimov takes us to another mystery with a surprising twist at the end. It doesn’t pack as much oomph as his earlier work though, such as the Foundation or the I, Robot short stories, and the previous, shorter novels in the series are probably better. Still, it’s perhaps one of Asimov’s better attempts at writing a really long novel. Simple narratives and interesting concepts are tools which Asimov works with, and this book is no exception.

Rating: 3.5/5.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

[Essay] Bibliophile’s Haven

When I first became a bibliophile, one of the things I discovered was the myth called libraries. Parents, teachers, and the media seem to perpetuate this fallacy that libraries housed all these books. When I first entered our school library, I tried looking for the book I wanted to read. It was a futile attempt. Later on in life, I’d continue my desperate attempts at searching for books I didn’t find on the card catalog. When the Dewey Decimal System failed me, I tried looking for books manually, shelf by shelf, cranny by cranny. Common sense would dictate that if it wasn’t listed in the library’s archaic filing system, it’s not there. But the strangest thing is that sometimes, they do turn up, and in places you didn’t expect them.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of libraries. In fact, second to bookstores, libraries are one of my fondest places to be in. And they are good sources of free, reference books, as well as the occasional fiction novel or two. But aside from that, the literature-loving, fiction-hungry part of me was starving. Sure, most of the canon books were there, provided that they weren’t on loan. But what about the rest? Where are my Agatha Christie, Stephen King, Nick Hornby, or Jasper Fforde? Whenever someone would recommend a book to read, our teachers and parents would say “visit the library”. But as anyone who’d actually visited the library would know, libraries don’t contain each and every book (and I can’t blame theme... to house every book published would probably take up as much space as a small country). Yet everyone else seems to think so!

Libraries are pretty much like personal collections. I don’t think any person has the exact same set of CDs, the exact same stack of books, or the exact same album of coins and stamps. The same goes for libraries. Each one is an individual, some having a larger collection than others, but their selections are definitely unique. Of course libraries have a certain preference: school libraries and public libraries, in my experience, are general and try to have books on various topics, be it fiction or non-fiction. Others, on the other hand, are more specific. I mean don’t expect finding J.R.R. Tolkien on the shelves of the National Library of the Philippines, but it is a great place for those doing research.

Personally, if I’m really looking for a particular book, especially one that’s been published recently, I go to one of two places. The first are bookstores. The big ones have a wide selection of books to choose from, while the smaller, independent ones focus more on certain selections. For example, if you’re looking for locally published books, La Solidaridad Bookstore has a good selection, especially if you’re looking for books that were published by Solidaridad publishing. The likes of Aeon Books and A Different Bookstore, on the other hand, have been known for their terrific selection of fiction and philosophy. Bookstores are like tools: know which is the best one to use for a particular situation.

The other isn’t a place so much as it is a community. What I’m talking about is the Internet. Online bookstores like, while not possessing each and every book published, does contain an extensive selection. Of course this can only be achieved because of virtual real estate: unlike retail stores which take up shelf space for their books, online bookstores can just store them in a warehouse or order them on demand. Today’s current technology also introduces the concept of ebooks, documents that are presented in digital format. Ebooks give out-of-print books or unpopular authors a chance to be seen because of its format (i.e. little storage costs, low overhead), and in most cases, easily affordable as well.

Of course bookstores, unlike libraries, do charge fees for the books. In that, libraries are no replacement, unless you happen to have a friend (or group of friends) who has an extensive collection. Still, you only get what you pay for, and for some people, investing money is well worth the time you would have lost scavenging through book bins and libraries.