Posted by Marie on Friday, March 27, 2009 in ,
On Seeing the Body of a Man Lying among the Stones on the Island of Samine in Sanuki Province
Kakinomoto Hitomaro

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai

O the precious land of Sanuki,
Resting where the seaweed glows
like gems!
Perhaps for its precious nature
I never tire in my gazing on it,
Perhaps for its holy name
It is the most divine of sights.
It will flourish and endure
Together with the heavens and earth,
With the shining sun and moon,
For through successive ages it has
come down
That the landface is the face of a god.

Having rushed our ship upon the breakers
From the port of Naka,
We came rowing steadily until the wind
That rises with the tides
Stormed down from the dwelling of
the clouds -
Looking back upon the open sea
I saw waves gather in their mounting
And looking off beyond the prow
I saw the white waves dashing on
the surf.

In awe of the terrible sea,
Where whales are hunted down as prey,
We clutched the steering oar,
Straining the plunging ship upon its
And though here and there
We saw the scattered island coasts
To dash upon for safety,
We sought haven on rugged Samine,
The isle so beautiful in name.
Erecting a little shelter, we looked about,
And then we saw you:
Pillowed upon your shaking beach,
Using those wave-beaten rocks
As if the coast were spread out for
your bedding;
On such a rugged place
You have laid yourself to rest.

If but I knew your home,
I would go tell them where you sleep;
If your wife but knew this place,
She would come here searching for you,
But knowing nothing of the way -
The way straight as a jeweled spear -
How must she be waiting,
How anxiously now longing for you,
She do dear who was your wife.

If your wife were here,
She would be out gathering your food,
She would pick the greens
From the hill slopes of Samine -
But is their season not now past?

So you now rest your head,
Pillowed on the rocky spread-out bedding
Of this rugged shore,
While the furious, wind-driven surf
Pounds ever in form off the sea.

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Gnod is good

Posted by Marie on Thursday, March 26, 2009 in , ,
Literature-map: when you don't know what to look for

Have you ever had a favorite author and want to read more but don't know which one are of the same milieu? Did you ever want to read something familiar but different at the same time? Did you ever have a book that you want to know if you'll like but without reading a single page?

The answer to your problem is http://www.literature-map.com. The premise is that the closer a writer is to the one you specified, the more likely you'll enjoy reading his work. The engine that runs this is called Gnod and was made by a German, Marek Gibney. He describes it as:
"Gnod is my experiment in the field of artificial intelligence. Its a self-adapting system, living on this server and 'talking' to everyone who comes along. Gnods intention is to learn about the outer world and to learn 'understanding' its visitors. This enables gnod to share all its wisdom with you in an intuitive and efficient way. You might call it a search-engine to find things you don't know about."

To see similar nifty searches on movies, music and other people, just go to http://gnod.net.

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Layered creepiness

Posted by Marie on Thursday, March 26, 2009 in , ,
Dark Water – Koji Suzuki
Fiction, Horror; ISBN 10932234-10-1; Vertical, New York: 2004 (originally published in Japan as Honogurai mizu no soko kara, Kadokawa Shoten, Tokyo: 1996).

Water as the harbinger of both life and death – that is the most obvious theme of this anthology of horror stories. In “Floating Water” (of which the movie Dark Water is based) a mother and daughter were beset by a specter of a lonely drowned little girl; “Solitary Isle” tells of a creature lurking in a seemingly pristine island; “The Hold” is a chilling tale of revenge served by a dead wife to her fisherman husband; “Dream Cruise” is a tale of a yacht crew being held hostage by a ghost; “Adrift” is a mind-bending story of a ghost ship; “Watercolors” is about the strange happenings in the toilet of an abandoned discotheque; “Forest under the Sea” is about an explorer that had discovered a mysterious cave that flows beside and under a river; and finally, the “Prologue” and “Epilogue” is cumulatively a story that ties in with the aftermath of what happened in “Forest under the Sea”.

Beneath the apparent premise, there are more subtle ones. All of the stories tackle the familial: of the complicated (regenerative and destructive) relationship of parents to children and vise versa, of the different and similarities despite generation gaps, of what it takes to be a family or be included in one in modern Japan (revolving around the Tokyo Prefecture; this specific placing is important to the third theme of the anthology which is the moral and physical decay of the city vis a vis with the cleansing power of nature). This inter-meshing of different layers within seemingly simple stories is what made the book profoundly mesmerizing and ultimately enjoyable.

This was the book I chose for the March reading discussion, where my book club talked about Japanese literature. I’m glad that I picked this as my book, since it made me think about what makes a Japanese story or novel, well, Japanese. Horror is certainly an intriguing genre, as almost everyone I know is exposed to the Western side of the idea: from Stephen King, Anne Rice, or the more classical Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe, to name a few. But it seems that the Japanese had been dealing with the unknown and the paranormal for centuries, and it shows. To accept supernatural beings as casually as meeting another person, without reaching to far-fetched logical explanations, and even to accept premonitions and gut feelings (familiar to us as paramdam and kutob) is not just Japanese but is also inherently Asian.

But to tell you the truth, Dark Water doesn't belong to the horror genre at all. The horror is in the people of the story, rather than on any supernatural being. The anthology gives the reader glimpses of the darkness inherent in the human being, and that is what ultimately gives this book its eeriness. Many horror fans would be turned off by this; it might be boring to those who are expecting the usual fare from this author (considering that many of the now-famous Japanese horror flicks – The Ring is the best example – are based on his stories, I wouldn’t be surprised at that too). Personally, it is refreshing to read something creepy without the blood, gore and all the mess. And I do hope I won't be the only one.

5 out of 5

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A good cliché

Posted by Marie on Thursday, March 26, 2009 in , ,
The Named – Marianne Curley
Fiction, Fantasy, YA; ISBN 1-58234-913-4; Bloomsbury, 2002.

For once, the review blurb at the back had been accurate. It is from Kirkus Review (I don’t know this publication though) and it says:

“Swashbuckling time-travel plus soap-opera relationships make for a page-turning start to a promised trilogy… An ongoing guilty pleasure.”

Yup, that sums up what I think of this book so neatly that I just stop right here… but then, I don’t want to be accused of plagiarizing another person’s review.

In my own words, I just will describe The Named as a decent read. Not a must-read but it is a good book that can be absorbed as an in-between. It has all the right ingredients for a fantasy adventure YA book – exciting action, good nicely-plotted fantasy story, characters that aren’t annoying (only slightly so), even a hint of budding romance (but not so much). By the end of the book, I’m searching Bookmooch to see if there are copies of the second and third book out there. Yet I’m still giving this one an imperfect score.

The problem is that the story is predictable and the book is rife with fantasy clichés (for more information, I suggest The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diana Wynne Jones' very excellent 'travel guide'). Time travel, hidden worlds, nine chosen ones as destined saviors – yes, all the familiar and comfortable fare. Even the six of the nine chosen saviors (gods, nine is so Lord of the Rings) is formulaic – the rugged handsome young leader, the Elvin-like almost-immortal guide/mage, the angst-ridden haunted warrior, the jokester, the doubter, and right down to the pure-of-soul female cleric-err, healer. As in any typical fantasy yarn, most of the characters are underdeveloped, to make way for the adventure-driven plot. Despite this, the book isn’t that bad – it’s just that a true-blue fantasy reader might find herself a little restless, that’s all.

4 out of 5

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A deliberate hit

Posted by Marie on Friday, March 20, 2009 in , , , ,
Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare (Book 1) – Darren Shan
Fiction, Horror, Children; ISBN 0-316-90571-2; Little Brown, 2000.

Most boys of any age like the icky the bloody, and the gross – and Darren Shan would know that all too well, or he wouldn’t had wrote this long novel of 13 parts.

Now you might think that I didn’t like the book; I did. The book was fun and simple (too simple in the first few chapters that it almost had that talking-down tone that many children’s book fall on all too often). Despite the easy wording, the action was fast-paced, the characterizations are satisfying, and the macabre (but not too much) details are mesmerizing. The protagonist, Darren Shan is a boy that any kid of the same age can very well relate to and sympathize with.

This is just the prep of the long “Saga of Darren Shan”, and it shows. I have nothing against multi-book serials; just as long as each part is satisfying by itself – needless to say, this one failed me. The bare story should had been fleshed out, or better yet, the first three books should had been combined (of course, the publishers won’t do that; any savvy book marketer would be horrified to waste profit).

I did hear that the saga gets better along the way. I don’t doubt that – I’m sure I’m going to enjoy books 2 to 13 too. But everything had the aura of being too calculated, like anything less than fun is going to be harmful to the revenues. This is, after all, a budding franchise which, by the looks of the things – including the upcoming movie and the increasing number of fans, both young and old – wouldn’t be waning any time soon.

3 out of 5 stars

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Where will you be on March 28 at 8:30pm?

Posted by Marie on Wednesday, March 18, 2009 in ,


At 8:30 PM on 28 March 2009, cities and towns all over the world will switch off their lights for one hour—EARTH HOUR—sending a powerful global message that it is possible to take action on global warming.

You can help and participate in this global call to action on global warming by switching off your lights during Earth Hour, and do more by getting more and more people to make a difference on climate change.

For Local Government Units:

• Switch off lights in major thoroughfares and landmarks in your areas of jurisdiction during Earth Hour, if and when possible.

• Mobilize your communities to switch off their lights in their households.

• Mobilize stakeholders in organizing Earth Hour events in your city or community.

For Businesses:

• Switch off your corporate signages and/or majority or all of the lights at your headquarters and facilities during Earth Hour.

• Encourage your employees to switch off lights in their households during Earth Hour.

• Place standard Earth Hour banners/streamers in your building facade and facilities that are seen or accessed by the public as part of awareness building.

• Use your communication channels to promote Earth Hour.

For the Church/NGOs/Civil Society/Academe:

• Encourage your networks and communities to switch off the lights in their households during Earth Hour.

• Mobilize your networks and communities to participate at the Earth Hour Countdown Event to be held at the SM Mall of Asia on March 28, 2009, from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM.

• Organize your own Earth Hour event in your community or locality to widen the reach of the campaign, and relate this event with your own environmental programs and other advocacies.

• Use various communication channels to promote Earth Hour.

Earth Hour is a major call to action for every individual, community, business, and government to act and ensure a sustainable future. Join us as we unite with the world in taking a stand on global warming.

For more information, please visit http://www.earthhour.org.

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A children's story from a sadly bygone era

Posted by Marie on Wednesday, March 18, 2009 in , , ,
The Otterbury Incident – C. Day Lewis, Illustrations by Edward Ardizzone
Fiction, Children's ; No ISBN; Puffin Books edition, 1961 (first published in 1948).

I’ve done it again. I’ve placed a book in my Bookmooch inventory that I now want to keep for myself. *Sigh*

When I saw this book in Booksale, I was intrigued by the cover – that is unusual because I usually decide chiefly from the back blurb (which this book doesn’t have). It does have some sort of front description though:

“This is a really super story – I should know, I wrote it.”

So says George, the smug narrator. Of which the editor added:

“P.S. George is right, although he sound a bit too pleased with himself – it’s a very good story and we think everyone between 9 and 12 will enjoy it – girls as well as boys”.

I’m not sure if that is accurate though, unless the editor meant girls that are slightly tomboyish (although one have to admit that most real girls are tomboyish). It is an action-filled novella after all, full of heroic battles, mortal combats by water-pistols or wooden swords, some Sherlock Holmesian sleuthing, funny stuff, crime-fighting commandos, and other jolly good deeds.

Oh, I had just to mention the writing. For example: “The Abbey tower rode the morning mists like a galleon’s poop.” Yup, that sounds like a cheeky 12-year old English boy to me.

Despite the details that set the book in England of World War II, the story doesn’t talk directly about that war, which makes one even more sensitized to the situation. The War is something that the children accept all too tacitly for comfort, such as it is natural to have older brothers in RAF and to have food rationed out, or to even have bombs occasionally fall from the sky. And this is one of the reasons why I liked it – of course, it is tragic but look at this quiet insignificant village – despite the hardship, lives bloom, and boys will still be (adorable, pesky little) boys.

5 out of 5 stars

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