28 June 2009

books to buy, as of June 2009 (part 1)

I always add new books to my "Books to Buy" list in my Moleskine every time I browse a bookstore.

If I had my way, I'd buy all the new, interesting books in sight. Alas, I am only a commoner and must resign myself to a realistic, trimmed-down list until book sale season in August-September starts and I can then maximize my book-buying budget.

Here are the books I plan to get very soon (as in, this week):

1. The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun by J.R.R. Tolkien. I saw this in Fully Booked at that time I was experiencing vicious stomach cramps. (I don't even know why I was bullheaded enough to go out in that state.) When I first clapped eyes on it inside the bookstore, my heart contracted painfully--and my stomach followed suit. I guess my stomach couldn't handle all that better-than-sex excitement of encountering Tolkien's previously unpublished re-telling of Nordic lore.

Gasped out in pain first and grabbed the shelf to avoid keeling over and making a fool of myself inside the store. When my condition had stabilized, I managed to open the book and check out the contents. I've always been a huge, HUGE fan of Tolkien's written works, and I've said this a couple of times already: if you can read his numerous, headache-inducing drafts of The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings compiled in that 12-volume The History of Middle-Earth--and manage to enjoy these--then you can basically love anything else that he has written.

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun is Tolkien's English re-telling of these old Norse poems. He wrote this during his days as a professor in Oxford, before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were even published.

I mainly owe my love for mythology to J.R.R. Tolkien (and Joseph Campbell); any Tolkien fan would know that much of Tolkien's Middle-earth was based on the Northern Mythologies of old. Tolkien lamented the fact that England was not able to preserve much of its early mythology, and he sought to create his own English mythology, drawing heavily on Nordic, Welsh and Finnish sources.

What excites me about Tolkien's new book is that it is published in its complete and unaltered form, as Tolkien had written it. And, it includes an introduction by Tolkien on the Elder Edda. So reading it would be kind of like sitting in class, listening to the great man himself lecturing on Norse mythology.

I am honestly into all this Tolkien/mythology stuff, and I'd probably babble away with an equally enthusiastic Tolkien fan if the opportunity presented itself.

Basically, here's the blurb on the said legends in Tolkien's new book:

The New Lay of the Völsungs
In the Lay of the Völsungs is told the ancestry of the great hero Sigurd, the slayer of Fafnir most celebrated of dragons, whose treasure he took for his own; of his awakening of the Valkyrie Brynhild who slept surrounded by a wall of fire; and of his coming to the court of the great princes who were named the Niflungs (or Nibelungs), with whom he entered into blood-brotherhood. In that court there sprang great love but also great hate, brought about by the power of the enchantress, mother of the Niflungs, skilled in the arts of magic, of shape-changing and potions of forgetfulness. In scenes of dramatic intensity, of confusion of identity, thwarted passion, jealousy and bitter strife, the tragedy of Sigurd and Brynhild, and Gudrun his sister, mounts to its end in the murder of Sigurd at the hands of his blood-brothers, the suicide of Brynhild, and the despair of Gudrun.

The New Lay of Gudrun
In the Lay of Gudrun her fate after the death of Sigurd is told, her marriage against her will to the mighty Atli, ruler of the Huns (the Attila of history), his murder of her brothers, and her hideous revenge.

Amazing stuff. Younger generations should read more of this. I've always felt disgruntled by the fact that back in high school and college, we were only exposed to the standard Beowulf and Shakespeare readings. There should be an entire class devoted solely to world mythology.

Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

Woohoo! Saw only now the first batch of concept art for Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. I canNOT wait! March 2010 is so far away.

Am eager to see Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter and Christopher Lee as The Jabberwock. (Incidentally, Jabberwocky is one of my all-time favorite poems. I actually memorized it at some point in my life. Haha.)

Off-hand, I think this is an ideal Burton film. When I was younger, I enjoyed reading Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass over and over, and I've always been creeped out by the characters that Lewis Carroll came up with. Through the Looking-Glass is especially dark, and it's no surprise at all to find out that Burton is making his macabre version of this already-macabre classic.

The film also stars Helena Bonham Carter (The Red Queen), Alan Rickman (The Caterpillar), Anne Hathaway (The White Queen), Michael Sheen (The White Rabbit) and Crispin Glover (The Knave of Hearts). I'm not too keen on Anne Hathaway being in this movie, but The White Queen's character in the book is known for being clumsy and absent-minded, so maybe this is something Hathaway can handle (*slight snicker*).

I am getting curiouser and curiouser!

27 June 2009

the book list

This is basically a re-post of a note I made on Facebook on my all-time top 10 favorite books.

Wrote this note way back in March, and I just feel that I ought to re-post this on my blog because I love making lists, and nothing is better than a list of books! Besides, I started this blog in the first place to talk about the books I read.

So here's the list then.

P.S. These are actually the editions I have.


Tagged by Miguel. Ten books you've read that will always stick with you. First 10 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes, in no particular order.

I have to say, Miguel, that being forced to list down only 10 books is just plain cruel. Had to leave out a lot of my favorites. And I can't make this list in 15 minutes!!!

Basically, the books I've put here are the ones that I re-read the most. They're not exactly the most highbrow, cerebral books in my collection (I gave up on Marcel Proust after, like, 100 pages, and I haven't mustered enough patience to finish the darned thing) but these 10 books are so great in their own way. Some of them I read every year, the others every two or three years.

So even if I have an obscenely long list of new books to read every year, I always make time to re-read these old favorites. =)

1. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (the edition I own is in beautiful hardcover, illustrated by Ted Nasmith). Spent considerable time struggling with the idea of putting both The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings in this list, but I wanted to leave slots for the non-Tolkien books, haha. So if I had to pick my favorite Tolkien book, this would be it. I've read it every year without fail for the last 11 years, and it still gets me really teary-eyed in some parts. This 2009 is my 12th year to read it. Yes, it's a weird tradition of mine, and yes, I love this book. You can stop snickering now.

2. Dune by Frank Herbert. This is absolutely one of my favorites. I have a very old paperback copy which has a lot of creases on its spine (I didn't do it!!) and was handed down to me by my brother when I was in high school. I also have a hardcover edition of Dune which I bought around 2 years ago, but I'm really attached to the paperback one. Simply a lot of happy, happy reading memories with this book. =) It's such a shame no one's made a good film version of it yet. Oh, and nobody should ever read Books 2 & 3: Dune Messiah and Children of Dune. Big mistake of mine. To say that they suck is an understatement.

3. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Oh my God, I hope they never make a movie version of this one. It's just too HARD.

4. 1984 by George Orwell. Was deciding which dystopian novel I loved more--Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, or this one. 1984 won. This book freaks me out more than Brave New World or Fahrenheit 451 ever could. =P But if I had to come up with a top 20 list, Brave New World would be there.

5. Possession by A.S. Byatt. I love stories within a story within a story! All those layers of narrative! Prose candy, really.

6. The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. I am such a fan of mythology--and it's largely due to Joseph Campbell (and, er, Prof. John Giordano, who introduced us to Campbell in Philo 103? Hehe). Campbell talks about the Story of the Hero, and how myths all over the world--ancient or modern--amazingly share the same hero-story formula and structure. THIS BOOK IS F$&@IN' FANTASTIC AND I HOPE EVERYBODY GETS TO READ IT SOMEDAY.

7. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. I have to agree with Miguel on this one. With his spare prose, Ishiguro actually says and means so much.

8. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. If you love words (or the English language for that matter!), you'll love this book. I can't get enough of it; I have to read it every year. Puts a whole new meaning into the sentence 'The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.'

9. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Okay, this is such a nerdy choice. Started reading Dickens when I was in grade 5. I love, love, love him. Haha. Until now, I still can't decide which of his books is my #1 favorite--Nicholas Nickleby, Great Expectations, Bleak House or Our Mutual Friend?? But I remember reading and re-reading Great Expectations in my childhood years, and the book--in spite of its long, meandering passages--managed to make me cry on several occasions. There's just so much heartache and frustration in this book. The original ending is pretty sad, and I'm glad Dickens decided to change it in order to end the story on a more hopeful note.

10. The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton. This book is subtitled "A Nightmare." And it IS a nightmarish tale. Great read. First time I read it, I couldn't even bear to put it down even for a second--and I had to control my pee the whole time. It's that good.

If this had been a Top 20 list, I would have included the following:

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Atonement by Ian McEwan
The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov
The Frederica quartet by A.S. Byatt
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
Til We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell
Grimm's Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm (because the fairy tale is always a fascinating subgenre for me)

Whew. Making this list was so stressful.


UNICEF Philippines goes Web 2.0--soon!

Spent some few after-office hours creating a Facebook page for UNICEF Philippines upon the request of Marge, who asked for my help.

The page is still in the raw stages, as I'm just playing around with some features. Nothing spectacular about the whole thing, but I did want to create some customized boxes--so I had to review what little I remember of HTML (argh) and read up on Facebook Markup Language, or FBML (double argh). I can never be a programmer.

It's about time that our office started advocating using non-traditional media. Marge wanted to get our messages out there to a broader and younger audience, and Tintin and I have always been on the lookout for ways to expand our donor base. So hopefully, when we're satisfied with the page, we'll publish it soon. Crossing my fingers here!

Of course, I can't seem to find a lot of time to fix the page as I am going crazy with my direct mail campaigns for this year. The plan is to roll out 4 newsletters, 4 house appeals, 1 telemarketing campaign, and some really nice DM stuff for pledge donors. Good news is, the entire team is on track in reaching our target this year. And I'm so happy to note that as of June 25, I've raised 20 million pesos out of my targeted 51 million.

Twenty million for children! This may be small for some countries and donor governments, but nevertheless, I'm ecstatic about raising that amount. God willing, I'll reach the target this year.

21 June 2009

Where do I want to go today?

Okay, that's such a Microsoft thing to say, but I just love how Apple's new Safari 4 browser epitomizes that slogan.

Last weekend saw me fussing over my Safari Top Sites page (see above screenshot) for a good 30 minutes, deciding which pages I most frequent and therefore deserve to be on that Big Brother-like display. Ah, the simple technological joys in life.

So aside from the ubiquitous Facebook, I always check out iTunes Movie Trailers, The Guardian's Books section, The New York Times' book reviews page as well, Runner's World, Starbucks Coffee's global site (!), GMA News for current local events, and, er, UNICEF webmail (because I have this ugly compulsion to check office email even during the weekends).

Oh, the places I go!

20 June 2009

Happiness is...

... having wifi in my home at last! I let my mac stay on the whole day, downloading torrents and doing software updates.

But that didn't stop me from going to Starbucks this afternoon and using my other Globe Visibility unlimited wifi account. Stayed in Starbucks for six hours.

If my house could smell exactly like Starbucks, I'd never have to leave home.

14 June 2009

29 going on 30

I turned 29 this month.

Usually, I hibernate on my birthday. I've never been much of a birthday party person, believe it or not, and I'd rather spend my special day (and hard-earned cash) by going to the bookstore alone and going on an utterly self-justified book shopping spree. It's my own version of an exciting birthday bash.

This year's celebration was different from the previous ones. I was--still am--depressed about turning 29, which is basically a year away from that dreadful number, 30. ( I've always been sure that when I reach 30, life will be downhill from there.) So to avoid manic depression on my 29th year and momentarily forget the horrific fact that I was getting old, I decided to celebrate with friends and drink myself into a stupor.

The nice thing about having a birthday in June is that I have other office mates who have the same birthday month. Here's a picture of us blowing a chocolate cake--which was free (!!!) and courtesy of the staff of Filling Station, who were, strangely enough, really delighted with our group.

With the exception of Jenny (who had other reasons to celebrate), us girls in the pic are June babies. Next birthday, I would have to throw a major party. Just to stave off the incredible depression of turning 30.

13 June 2009

hope for my knuckles

Where oh where have you been all my life?

I've been cardioboxing for almost two years already and this is the first time I'm seeing these knuckle guards. I am so ignorant.

I literally can't wait to get my hands on these things. Got two new minor knuckle wounds on my right hand in last Wednesday's session, and they weren't obviously pretty to look at. (Three of my officemates actually grimaced at the sight of my knuckes.)

I was punching as hard as I could (as usual) that Wednesday evening, and then when Ryan took off my wraps, I was honestly surprised to see the new wounds. Before I wore my gloves that session, I put band-aid, plaster tape, sponge padding, and then the wraps on both hands to protect myself from more injuries. And I still ended up with brand new ones.

I told Ryan that I was either
a) abnormally thin-skinned, in spite of all the layers of protection
b) in need of new gloves (my theory was that my old gloves are so used, they're not protecting me enough anymore)
c) punching harder and harder, hence the consistent appearance of knuckle wounds

Ryan solemnly answered 'c'--and then doused my wounded hand with alcohol.

Will have to check R.O.X. and Toby's to see how much these knuckle guards cost. As I am such a Scrooge these days, I've been monitoring my expenses, and I don't spend as often as I did before. Am supposed to go for a pedicure this weekend but if the knuckle guards are reasonably-priced and available, then my feet can wait.

It's a toss-up between ugly knuckles and ugly toenails.
Had a severe stomach ache yesterday. It must have been something I ate on Thursday evening. The only stuff I had then were beef mami noodles, oatmeal cookies and a latte frappe. I can't determine which one was the nasty cause.

Friday, at 4am, I started having stomach pains and, er, gastro-intestinal disturbances. In other words, a so-not-sexy case of diarrhea.

I couldn't have any coffee or ice cream or a milkshake. It was a miserable and low point in my life.

In spite of my condition, I managed to go around Greenbelt 5 a bit and did some browsing at the new Fully Booked branch. I also found myself staring wistfully at the display of Nama chocolates at the Royce' Chocolates booth at the ground floor of Greenbelt 5. It was only when my stomach cramps started kicking again into high gear that I had to peel myself away from the display and hurry into the nearest restroom, so that I could yowl in pain in the privacy of a toilet cubicle.

Friday late afternoon and evening saw me resting at home, really exhausted from all that stomach pain crap. The diarrhea wasn't so bad; it was the stomach ache that was causing me much inconvenience. I was tired from doubling over in pain and screaming; it was like having menstrual cramps times 10.

I had this vision of this hairy, yellow-colored bacteria (why yellow?) wreaking havoc inside my stomach and refusing to go out in spite of all the liters of water and fruit juice I was drinking and the many visits to the bathroom. I'm not even sure if my vision was scientifically correct.

Anyway. Still at home resting, even though the stomach pain is very minimal. I feel sad I can't box today because I have to be completely well. Monday would be a better option. Running isn't a current option altogether, because all that bouncing about might trigger another bout of turbulent gastro-intestinal attacks. Hay.

11 June 2009

UNICEF mourns the death of a great colleague

“At the time of the bombing, the hotel was housing many humanitarian workers there to provide life-saving assistance to Pakistan’s most vulnerable people. This is an attack on the very humanitarian principles to which Persy was dedicated, and it is reprehensible and unacceptable."

Yesterday, the entire UNICEF Manila staff found out that one of our former UNICEF Philippines colleagues, Perseveranda "Persy" So, was killed in a hotel bombing in Peshawar, Pakistan on late Tuesday, June 9, 2009. Persy, as the Chief of Education for UNICEF's Islamabad office, was in turbulent Peshawar at the time of the incident, working on programs to help conflict-affected children gain access to education.

On that fateful Tuesday evening, suicide attackers shot their way past the Pearl Continental Hotel guards and set off a bomb within the hotel perimeter which left 11 people killed and 70 wounded. Persy was one of the casualties. She would have turned 52 this June.

The news came as a shock to us, especially to the senior staff who had worked with her when she was UNICEF Philippines' Chief of Education from 1994 to 2000. The silence in the conference room, where all the Manila staff were gathered, was so palpable after our Country Representative relayed the sad news. And then I heard it: the sound of sobbing that could no longer be suppressed. It came from one of our senior officers, who had worked closely with Persy for the last two decades or so on UNICEF's education programs in the Philippines and in the region.

It was such a heartbreaking sound. Even though I never knew Persy, I could feel the tears gathering at the corners of my eyes. And the people in the room looked so somber and near to tears.

Nobody likes hearing about tragic deaths, and the news of a UNICEF colleague killed in the line of duty is one of the saddest things I've ever heard. She was a dear friend and co-worker to many of us, and the senseless way she was killed stirs up very powerful emotions within us and begs the question: Why? Why her? Why do good people have to die that way? Her untimely demise is also a reminder of how possible it is for us in UNICEF--any one of us--to encounter death while we are out there in the field, in the remotest areas, in conflict-ridden places, providing the critical assistance that children need.

For her to be working in such a dangerous conflict area at that time simply meant that she loved and embraced her job with such passion and commitment, that she was wholly dedicated to the cause for children. As a close colleague of hers had said, Persy indeed lived up to her name.

We in the office have been reading news reports on her death and touching messages about her character for the past 24 hours. I've been looking at her photos, and I find her beautiful and gentle-looking. So many people have much to say about her personality and all the wonderful things she has done, and this left me thinking that in spite of the suddenness of her passing away, she died nobly, in the middle of fighting for the rights of children suffering from war. Her own life was not spared from that same war, but we are very sure that the selfless work she has done for the underprivileged children in Pakistan and in the Philippines will be remembered and carried on by other UNICEF staff.

My heart goes out to the family, friends and fellow UNICEF staff who have been fortunate enough to know Persy. She was loved by so many.

In memoriam: Perseveranda So, 1959-2009.

03 June 2009

back to boxing!

After more than a week of not boxing, I went to the boxing gym tonight after work. My hands were well-rested, and I was psyched to work out again with my trainer.

When I got there, the place was full of people. All this nasty rain and cold weather is forcing people to work up a sweat indoors. Ryan was in the middle of training this big guy, and so I did warm-ups and punching bags first to pass the time. As I worked on the bags, I watched as Mr. Big Guy punched away on Ryan's mitts, and I idly thought to myself that I might have to wait for 30 to 40 more minutes before I get to train with Ryan.

When the bell sounded after three rounds, Ryan nodded, dropped his mitts, and clapped the guy on the shoulder. "Okay, good. That's it for today."


I stared at them in disbelief. Three rounds? Nine minutes only?

Ryan turned to me, rubbing his hands in an almost wicked way. "Ano, nakapagpahinga ka na? Box na tayo!"

How many rounds did that guy do on the mitts in total, I demanded. My trainer shrugged. "The usual. Six rounds. Three rounds earlier, then nag-punching bags sya, and then another three rounds."

"Six?! How come I get more than that? You make me work on the mitts for a minimum of 10 rounds!" I whispered to him furiously in Tagalog.

My wrath was totally lost on my trainer, who shrugged again and answered in amusement, "Ano ka ba, kaya mo naman mag-exceed ng 6 rounds eh. Why should I let you train below your capacity?"

Before I could retort that I wasn't training to compete anyway, the bell sounded again. Ryan touched my gloves with his mitts, raised the left mitt, and shouted, "Jab!"

He left no room for argument at the moment. And so we worked out, on the mitts, for 45 straight minutes and 15 more minutes on bags and ab crunches. No water breaks, as usual.

For that short span of time, I forgot to stay indignant, and just punched away. I was happy to be boxing again (it's something I really love to do in spite of the minor injuries), and I noticed that my punches had somehow improved in terms of power and speed. It really, really, really pays to rest.

Ryan was yelling out a series of combinations without pause, and I did my best to keep up. I was dimly aware that the music in the gym had stopped, and I was the only client left boxing on the training floor while the other trainees (mostly men, argh) stood around, resting. It's truly mortifying to be the center of attention.

Pride kicked in, and I grimly told myself not to f*ck up while everyone was watching. I was so absorbed in making my punches faster, that I went off timing, and threw an extra jab that wasn't supposed to be executed in the first place. It was a good thing Ryan still had his mitt up because I landed that jab on the mitt, which hit my trainer squarely on the jaw.

For a fleeting second, Ryan looked completely stunned. And then I could hear some people, mostly the other trainers, cheer in approval (of my stupid extra punch??). I gasped in horror, and I grabbed him by the arms in an awkward, apologetic semi-hug. "Omigod, omigod, sorry po!! So sorry!!"

Fortunately for me, Ryan wasn't angry. He even said teasingly, "Grabe, ma'am, bumibilis ka na, ha. Biro mo, di ako kaagad naka-iwas sa suntok mo."

Before I could react with a small smile, he added, quick as always, "So this means, bibilisan ko na yung pace ng next sessions mo."