Bläeckfisk is the Swedish translation for the word octopus. I am not Swedish, but I do own a lot of furniture from Sweden and I like octopuses while admiring their multi-tasking ability. I would like to travel to Sweden at some point, plus I think it is a pretty cool looking word. Anyhow, speaking of words, I guess you could say that is why we are here. Words are the foundation for way we try to wrap our thoughts around everything in the galaxy. The tendrils that lead to emotions and curiosity. I am not here to solve the mysteries of the universe, just to discuss words in general. Specifically words written by other people and have been printed off and slapped between two slices of thin card stock. Many of these sandwiches go on to bigger and better things, some bigger and better than others. So, I guess we will be talking about those as well. If you share an interest in words or enjoi seeing what they can look like in action....välkommen! (Swedish for welcome.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

B6: Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco (301 pages)

The Ilustrados- (Spanish for erudite, learned, or enlightened ones) constituted the Filipino educated class during the Spanish Colonial period in the late 19th century.

This sharply written debut novel by Miguel Syjuco has more layers than kindergartener’s outfit, fit for braving a crisp winter morning in the heart of New England. The combination of historical fiction and who duunit, makes for a truly enjoyable read. His command of the English language is nothing short of commendable, and the ambitious construction this story is impressive. Miguel blends several stories that he has written from the perspective of the character in question, with realistic blog posts and ultimately the ongoing biography written by the protagonist about this particular character in question. The voice of this book is not only refreshingly original, but also filters in a historical sense about the Spanish occupation of the Philippians that I really enjoyed.

The story begins with body. Crispin Salvador, Filipino champion for all things revolutionary, has been found floating in a river.  The polarizing Salvador has spent his life challenging the political and agrarian system in his native country, only be run out of town by those in power. He reconstructs a life for himself in New York and takes on a researcher, Miguel, to help him prepare for the release of a book that has been in the works for 10 years. This new book will “set the record straight” and promises to peel back a snap of corruption within the current Filipino government.  After his body is discovered, and the manuscript vanishes, it is Miguel who sets out on the trail to the missing novel with hopes of unwrapping the mystery of why Crispin died.

“In its efflorescence, Salvador’s life projected genius and intellectual brazenness, a penchant for iconoclasm and an aspiration to unsparing honesty during obfuscated times.”

I loved the rare mix of politics, history and philosophy and humor in this book and believe that it is a remarkable read for something in dire need of something different. Viva la revolucion!

Friday, August 12, 2011

B5: Leaving Van Gogh by Carol Wallace (265 pages)

"I did not understand at the time to what extent the way one dies can color people's memories of the way one lived."

This book was given to me by someone very dear to me, and is the subject of someone very dear to me. When I was a kid I used to stare for hours (in kid time, but minutes in real time) at Van Gogh's paintings and be captivated by the vivid splashes of color smeared across the canvas. Most paintings left little to the imagination, but the shear beauty that Vincent brought to simple, humble objects always did, and always will make me smile. You could see the genius in his brushstrokes and if you looked deep enough, you could make out the acute touches of madness harboured within those strokes. I knew back then very little of his calamitous personal story and under appreciated the raw genius that envelopes his work.

Reading this book was like sitting down with an old friend at a sleepy little brick cafe tucked smartly in between a consignment shop and old movie rental store struggling to stay afloat. The comforting essence of Carol Wallace's writing is a real breath of fresh air. She brings a graceful sense of storytelling to the last year or so of Vincent's life and a new approach to one of Van Gogh's most famous paintings: The Portrait of Dr. Gachet (which in 1980 sold for a then record of 82.5 million).

The novel is told through the eyes of Dr. Gachet and teases out the relationship between Gachet and Van Gogh and the tragic events that ultimately led to Vincent's death. Although this book is historical fiction, there is some foundation to this approach as Dr. Gachet was a very enduring advocate for the arts and a mental illness physician. Van Gogh did know Gachet and did live with him for some time, giving the story the historical threads needed to become plausible.

"He was able to create haunting images that reached the heart of the viewer. That was his astounding gift to the world."

I highly recommend not just this book, but also Van Gogh's Women: Vincent's Love Affairs and Journey into Madness by Derek Fell. The story of dear Vincent is one worth learning about and will undoubtedly unlock a new dimension of brilliance for you. Just fair warning though, it is the type of story that will make you want to sneak onto a plane and jet across the pond to Amsterdam, home of the remarkably brilliant Van Gogh Museum. Nothing wrong with a little madness from time to time. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

F4: Another Earth-Directed by Mike Cahill

If you just so happened to bump into yourself, what would you say? 

With this puppet string of a question looming over this eccentric indy film, we peer into the life and thought process of Rhoda (Brit Marling), a character who has committed a grave mistake. Her life as a promising MIT student quickly blinks out while driving home from a raucous party with her graduating high school classmates. A freshly discovered planet is being talked about on the radio and as she steals a glance towards the ink black sky, she plows into John Burroughs and his family. John's son and pregnant wife are killed instantly and John, a renowned music teacher at Yale, is left in a coma.

This movie is less about the science fictional notion that there could be mirror Earth out there somewhere and more about how wonderfully delicate life can be. The trajectory of life can change in an instant and as fallible creatures, do we ultimately deserve to be forgiven for mistakes we make? Now the town pariah, Rhoda sets out to make amends for what she has taken from John, and the two are able to briefly find comfort in each other.

I adored this film and the lens director Mike Cahill told this story through. His turning of simplistic shots of ordinary actions into works of art and his herky jerky camera style provide the grit necessary to almost make this story believable. The marriage of plausible and unbelievable is seamless, and this beautiful, intricately layered movie will give you something to think about. Even more impressive is the fact that Brit Marling co-wrote the film with Cahill.

I highly recommend seeing won't have to forgive me.