August 27, 2006

Boycott Petron

It is ironic that at this point of time where there is still a slim window of opportunity to take that leaking oil tanker off from the waters of Guimaras, Petron is delaying its obligations to clean up its act. As a consumer, I am disgusted at the company's seeming insensitivity towards the environment, and how it washes its hands of any responsibility.

I wanted to help in letting Petron feel my displeasure, but I felt helpless in making a dent at the company. But then, I remembered how Gandhi evoked change through civil disobedience wherein he urged ordinary people to boycott English cotton which resulted in hurting of the sales of foreign business and the eventual attention of the British government.To evoke change is to provoke Petron where it hurts them the most: their pockets. In this regard, I urge all petrol-consuming Filipinos to BOYCOTT ALL PETRON PRODUCTS AND GAS STATIONS until they remove that ship from the Guimaras waters. I'm doing my share of protest in the hope that they will listen to the voice of its consumers.

August 24, 2006

Ugly Philippine Book Covers

  1. Philippine book publishers always complain of dismal sales of their books. Even if the authors themselves are luminaries in the field of fiction and self-help and the contents of their works are capable of churning into another Noli or Fili, the turnover for books remains slow, which makes one wonder: why? Besides the fact that many Filipinos do not read local fiction (in book form) for the sheer pleasure of it, another factor that scares away potential readers is the very ugly and uninspired covers that adorn perhaps 95% of local books.

    That poses a question: Who makes these very ugly covers? High school drop-outs? Elementary graduates? Three blind mice?

    Lot A:
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    Lot B:
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    Lot A showed the local fiction while B showed works by Filipino authors published in the US. Which of the two would you get? If you ask me, I’d choose the American ones for its nice and decent covers. If you are already a well known author, no matter how crappy and cheesy your covers are, people will still buy them because they know you write really well. Authors like Agatha Christie, their books sell despite the ugly covers. Khaled Hosseini’s Kite Runner was being passed by customers inside bookstores because of its lackluster cover, but because of word of mouth as to how well-written his story was, customers buy the book and catapulted it to Amazon’s top 10 list.

    Lualhati BautistaNick Joaquin
    However, here in the Philippines, having a name like Lualhati Bautista or Nick Joaquin will not automatically mean ka-ching of the cash registers. They have great stories that have been made into seminal movies, but ask anyone if they have read Dekada 70 or Tropical Gothic and they’ll give you the blank stare. Compounded with such patent ignorance is the crappiness of their covers and paper quality. Toilet paper has a better consistency than some of the Philippine publications I’ve seen. I know they are trying hard to keep costs down in order to reach to the masses, but the quality of the print is really a big insult to the masses. It shows this: poor quality for the poor masses.

    Huling Libro ni HudasStainless Longganisa
    There are also Filipino authors who, because of their popularity, can demand high-volume sales despite the ugliness of their covers. Such example is Bob Ong’s Libro ni Hudas- its front and back covers are soot-black with no endearing design whatsoever. Instead of connoting evil, it makes one think of a septic tank. Its paper quality is like coupon bond (the cheap type) and the binding has staple wires denoting the economy of its printing. And yet, teens and tweens lap up all Ong’s books including the recent release of his Stainless Longganisa. I bought one and I find it mediocre and self-flagellating. There are lucid moments of wittiness but the whole plot fell by the second half of the book. If not for the byword of its contents, I can not imagine how to retail such cra… umm… book. One the bright side, if this helps in making Pinoys read, then I’m all for it.

    As for first-time writers and struggling fictionists, having a timely and snazzy cover can entice curious customers to buy your book. People look for eye-catching fiction and publishers know this. I’m just appalled at the sheer stupidity of local printers why they cannot revamp their already crappy covers. It is an injustice and an insult to the sweat and tears of the authors who toiled for months just to type all those words. And the hack graphic artist can only come up with a half-baked second-rate cover art? Shame. So, if your book does not fly off the shelves because it looked like a survivor from Somalia, then it is the publisher’s fault. Why their fault? Consider the fact that books do not have a promodizer (just like grocery items where agents swarm you to buy their products), are not being advertised in the main broadsheets or TV commercials, and do not have a megaphone to lure customers in, these lonely pieces of literature depend only on four factors to make customers buy them: 1) price, 2) book reviews, 3) word of mouth, 4) book cover. This means that nearly all of the tricks to make us buy fall on the responsibility of the publisher.
    Khaled Hosseini
    Without these, even a book-signing event can’t pull it through. Khaled Hosseini in one of his first book signing lamented that there was only one customer who wanted to have his autograph. This was before word-of-mouth made his book the darling of the publishing industry.

    Also, I can't fathom why mediocrity is the dictum of the day for our graphic artists. I know there is no dearth of Filipino talent in the realm of arts and music, but looking at the annual crop of book covers make me cringe. If you exclude the crappy printing of local publishers, the art must stand on its own. A lousy uninspired art does not make readers want to open that book. Some might argue that printers want to economize on the ink, so they use only monochrome. Yet, many local book covers are printed in FULL color which means they have little reason to curtail on the artistic expression of a graphic artist. Hence, a crappy graphic artist can only make a crappy cover.

    I still cannot fathom why American artists can churn up great book covers and not us. Read on the interview of Paul Buckley to learn about cover art and see the great book covers he has done. Read it here and here.

Dean Francis AlfarNeil Gaiman
For instance, on the left is Dean Alfar’s award-winning novel “Salamanca” while on the right is Gaiman’s “American Gods.” Both books have are mostly printed in green, yellow and black hues. Creativity wise, Alfar’s cover lacks inspiration and clarity and looks as if it was just made overnight. Gaiman’s cover looked enigmatic and eye-catching; its art sends a clear message of a coming storm.
Feast and Famine
Another great novel disgraced with an uninspired frontispiece is Rosario Lucero’s “Feast and Famine: Stories of Negros”. It looks as if the artist slept on it and rushed the work the next day. There is no come-on to open the book, and the theme does not encapsulate or even capture the rich essence of Negros life. For me, the only thing the brash of colors denote is the sweltering heat of the tropical sun. Had the author read the book, he or she may have done another concept rather than paint the whole piece as a tribute to drought and El Niño. The contents itself are masterpieces but with a cover like that, I dunno.

This is ironic because many of the books in the Anglophone nations use photos and paintings to create beautiful covers. Here, the artists are contented to post doodles of their friends and art projects done by their two-year old niece, and call it art. Many of them have “horror vacui” or the dread of leaving an empty space. It’s either that or too much minimalism that it already looks like an overnight project by a dropout. Others superimpose sour-looking ancestral photos of the authors in a bid for self-glorification of whatever bastardized family-tree the writer has. And the fonts used are either too cheesy like lightning bolt shaped vowels or too unprofessional by using passé fonts like Comic Sans and Copperplate Gothic for titles. It just shows how haphazard the job was done. And the spacing of letters is non-existent. These so-called artists use only standard spacing found in MS Word and whatever software they can get their hands on. The failure of not manipulating fonts and colors to balance your composition is indicative of the level of skill of the artist.

Can’t they think of anything else? Can’t they ask for shots from local photographers like the ones by Kieron Tan? Or at least use paintings by the current artists like Sanso or Luz. Or read up on foreign book designers like those of Chip Kidd? It’s saddening and disappointing. Why? Their mentality is parochial and insular. They live and thrive on their stupidity and ignorance which hinders their growth. Instead of looking for inspiration from the outside world or using foreign techniques, they are content to replicate their crappy covers.

I am not a graphic artist, but I can appreciate a well-made cover if I see one. And so can you. Why do you think Penguin always update new covers for old titles? Because they know people are suckers for good covers.
F.H. BatacanNoli me TangereEl FilibusterismoPhotobucket - Video and Image Hosting
A caveat though. I’m not saying all book artists are like this. Some have great designs and should be applauded. The original covers of the Locsin versions of the Noli and Fili are great examples. What happened to the artist? That person should have more projects. The UP Student edition series of Pinoy literature like that of Batacan’s Smaller and Smaller Circles is a good example how to make a simple, balanced and presentable book cover. Also, a lot of children's books have spectacular cover art, many of which are resplendent in the full spectrum of the palette. It's a wonder why they are not being hired to make good covers for adult fiction.
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Many coffee-table books have great covers but sadly most of these books have been designed and published by foreigners in Hong Kong (e.g. Periplus) or Singapore. Locally, only a handful of books can compare with their foreign counterparts.

Not all local books have been mutilated by crappy book designers but a lot of fiction still have mediocre covers. If publishers want to improve their sales, at least make their covers worth buying for. Why do you think many Filipinos patronize foreign authors if not for their covers alone?

August 22, 2006

Palparan's Song: "I've Got Them on the List"

Palparan, the Real Terrorist

I've Got Them on the List*

As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,
I've got a little list — I've got a little list
Of society offenders who might well be underground,
And who never would be missed — who never would be missed!
There's the pestilential columnist who writes my epitaphs —
All people who have written me in acid paragraphs —
All students who are up-to-date, and say that I’m a rat —
All persons who in shaking heads, shake heads at me like that —
And all third persons who on spoiling all the fun insist —
They'd none of 'em be missed — they'd none of 'em be missed!

He's got 'em on the list — he's got 'em on the list;
And they'll none of 'em be missed — they'll none of 'em be missed.

There's the village promenader who is walking out of place,
And the firebrand journalist — I've got them on the list!
And the people who sells fish and all who disappeared for days,
They never would be missed — they never would be missed!

Then the councillor who raises, with a condescending tone,
My terroristic bliss, but speaks silent of his own;
And the lady from the provinces, who dresses like a guy,
Who thinks she has her civil rights. I’d like to see her try!;
And that singular anomaly, the lady activist —
I don't think she'd be missed — I'm sure she'd not he missed!

He's got her on the list — he's got her on the list;
And I don't think she'll be missed — I'm sure she'll not be missed!

And that red rebellion nuisance, who just now is rather rife,
The judicial moralist — I've got them on the list!
All witty fellows, comic men, and sleuths of public life —
They'd none of 'em be missed — they'd none of 'em be missed.

And leftist-leaning statesmen of a most tenacious kind,
Such as — What d'ye call him — Thing'em-bob, and likewise — Never-mind,
And 'St— 'st— 'st— and What's-his-name, and also You-know-who —
The task of filling up the blanks I'd rather leave to you.
But it really doesn't matter whom you put upon the list,
For they'd none of 'em be missed — they'd none of 'em be missed!

You may put 'em on the list — you may put 'em on the list;
And they'll none of 'em be missed — they'll none of 'em be missed!

* Sing to the tune of The Mikado's "I've Got A Little List" by Gilbert & Sullivan. The Mikado is a light operetta done in the 1880s. The lyrics are exactly the same from the operetta save for some poetic liberty this author took.

August 21, 2006

August Book Hunt

The rainy month of August heralds the joint bargain sales of Powerbooks and National Bookstore to which I could not control myself but give in to temptation. As they say, the pleasure is in the hunt. How true. These are my recent acquisitions:

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Perfume (Patrick Suskind) [P245] – a scarce book that both stores do not carry. I found this sitting with other pricier editions inside Fullybooked and this Penguin Red Classics edition is the cheapest of the lot. Ever since Penguin Red Classics have been imported all the way from the UK, their cheap books are being highly sought after in Manila. Love in the Time of Cholera and Lolita were enjoying brisk sales because of its cheap prices and trendy covers, and now they’re gone. Suskind’s Perfume becomes that rare gem that juts out once in a blue moon. This promises a great engaging read especially that a German film of the same name is going to be released this year starring Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman.

Synopsis: “Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is abandoned on the filthy streets as a child, but grows up to discover he has an extraordinary gift: a sense of smell more powerful than any other human’s. Soon, he is creating the most sublime fragrances in Paris. Yet there is one odor he cannot capture. It is exquisite, magical: the scent of a young virgin. And to get it he must kill. And kill. And kill…”

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Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop (Emma Larkin) [P219] – I read last year a favorable review of Larkin’s Secret Histories in one of the weekly magazines, either Newsweek or Time. That made the title stuck into my head until I found the same book in a National bookstore bargain bin. The condition was not as pristine I wanted it to be, but the first chapter was enough for me to buy it. I am always a sucker for any oriental-themed literature especially the ones that touched upon western colonialism which is probably why I enjoyed the works of Orwell, Maugham (Collected Short Stories) and Clavell (Asian Saga.) Secret Histories is essentially a travelogue-cum-social-analysis of a westerner traveling Orwell’s routes inside Burma while observing how Orwell’s Animal Farm, 1984, and Burmese Days are mirrored in the present day Burmese. So far, I have read Burmese Days and Animal Farm and a bit of 1984, so reading this will be familiar. This one is for the beach!

Synopsis: “In search of the inspiration for George Orwell’s uncanny prophecies, Emma Larkin follows in his footsteps. She finds his terrifying visions shockingly realized, an unwitting legacy that permeates the land of Secret Histories like its scents of betel nut and freshly brewed tea, and the sticky breezes of the Irrawaddy delta.”

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Death and Restoration (Iain Pears) [P76] – While perusing the previously-owned book section of National Bookstore, I chanced upon Iain Pears’ mystery series. So far, I have only read his Instance of the Fingerpost and though it was a good historical novel, I was not really impressed. It was circumlocutory and redundant. But from the net, his other novels have netted good reviews because of their Dan Brownesque pace and mystery. Since I enjoy reading murder mysteries involving the finer things in life like art, religion and history, this may become an enjoyable read. I am keeping my fingers crossed, but for the price of a Jollibee meal, it’s worth it.

Synopsis: “General Bottando can’t believe his rotten luck. He’s just been promoted- to a position that’s heavy on bureaucratic duties but disturbingly light on investigative responsibilities. As if that wasn’t annoying enough, he’s received a distressing tip about a planned raid at a nearby monastery. He’s confident his colleague Flaviea di Stefano will be able to thwart the plot- but she and her fiancé, Jonathan Argyll, are beyond baffled. There’s nothing very valuable in the monastery’s art collection- except for a supposed Caravaggio that’s currently being restored. There are no solid suspects- unless you count the endearing art thief, the flagrantly flamboyant ‘Rotweiler of Restoration,’ and the strangely shady icon expert. And there’s really no reason to cause an unholy uproar- until someone commits an unconscionable crime…”

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American Gods (Neil Gaiman) [P99] – I found this tucked inside the bargain bin of a Powerbooks branch. Though I am not a fantasy aficionado, knowing the fanatical popularity of Gaiman here in the Philippines means his works have great appeal among the Filipino teens and tweens. With a price like that for a P750 book, this might be a good introduction for me into his genre, and it would be cool if I will end up enjoying American Gods. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Just like his Sandman series, his American Gods promises another engaging and thoughtful read.

Synopsis: “Released from prison, Shadow finds his world upside down. His wife has been killed; a mysterious stranger offers him a job. But Mr. Wednesday, who knows more about Shadow than is possible, warns that a storm is coming- a battle for the very soul of America…and they are in its direct path.”

August 05, 2006

A House Burnt Asunder

From my journal:

"These past few weeks before the board exams, I could not help myself but weep in the privacy of my bathroom. No one's there to witness my breaking down. It is only now that I have felt the total loss of the death of my last remaining parent. It's a desperate emptiness, a hollow void, that pulls you down under wherein in every corner you try to hide and close your eyes, no magical change happens. The fact is this: the reality of their demise stays with you like a gut-twisting nightmare. Yes, it is a silent and personal nightmare where on the exterior all is well with the world, but upon introspection and reflection, the emptiness sucks you in. It is also a nightmare for no matter how much people sympathize with your plight, the truth is that they can't change your reality. No amount of words or promises can make the comfort of the past fill you up again. The emptiness clings, and it clings tenaciously.

I hate this feeling of the constant knowledge that my entire world has imploded on itself like a house of cards which I know there won't be any chance of making it whole again. Many of the things I hold dear are gone- the people before me, the security of hard-earned tangible assets, the family name I carry.

Now, the house my parents lived is but a shell of its former glory- much like the fall of the Buendia family in Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude." I know that there won't be Christmas parties at the front yard where the entire first floor is flooded with lights, the Christmas tunes being blared from a karaoke stereo and the tables filled with lots of fiesta food. There won't be afternoon meriendas on the balcony, or the sight of garden hoses cluttered on the lawn just before dusk. The comfort that one feels seeing that the rituals of the past are still being practiced, or that the people of your past (e.g. parents) are still alive makes the memory of home and family all the more important. When these are gone, the loss that we feel is devastating. For me, I can feel the palpable emptiness of knowing that they won't be with me in all my future milestones. I can't help but grieve at the thought they won't be around during my oath-taking.

Reality is cruel for it uproots you from your own self-designed delusion that a family is secured until everyone's hair turns white. But no, reality kills everyone off, and laughs at you telling you that the worst possible scenario can and will happen to you. It hacks you limb by limb until you feel you can't go on.

Rationalizing the situation does not solve anything, but only masks the emotional trauma by linguistic palliatives. At first you may say, "Hey that's right, I should not feel this way," but after searching your memory bank, every one of your reason flies out of the window leaving you groping in the dark with such emotional pain you can't ignore. For me, a lot of things has been stripped of hope and reason, but it's only faith in a higher being that's keeping me sane.

It's funny because days after mom's death, I could still joke and laugh fooling myself that she was just indisposed then, and that she'll come back sooner or later. The sense of loss is not felt right after the funeral, it strikes you when you feel most vulnerable. And it starts weeks, months, or even years after. That's why I do not believe that grief lasts for only a month.

Sometimes I just want to do a Gauguin, but that would be unfair to all their sacrifices that made it possible for me reach this far. Even it feels as if I want to chuck it all up, I have to go on for the sake of their memory."

Happy B-day Mom... even though you're up there looking down on us.