Posts Tagged ‘stephen king’

the haunting of hill house

From my bookshelves: The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson (ebook)

In his book on horror fiction, Danse Macabre, Stephen King describes Hill House, written in 1959, as one of the best horror novels of the 20th century. His praise was glowing and I vowed to read it someday; and now, thanks to the miracle of e-books, I have and it is all that King said it was.

He particularly pointed out the first paragraph as a stellar example of an opening:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Ebook file available from Ebookna here. Book cover image here.

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pop goes the world: towards a ‘bookful’ society

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 21 October 2010, Thursday

Towards a ‘Bookful’ Society

A newspaper article from a couple days ago heralded the use of “tablets” in selected Laguna public high school next year in lieu of textbooks. The headline used the term “e-book readers”. The two devices are different from each other in fundamental ways and I wonder if the proponents of this project are aware of this. Certainly they should know which term to use when speaking of them.

Next school year, around 1,000 “tablets” are to be distributed to freshman students of the Laguna National Science High School, UP Rural High School, and one public high school from each of the province’s four congressional districts.

The devices, said to cost $100 each and will be sourced from China, have already been dubbed “Rizal Tablets”, after the national hero. They are expected to provide students with easy access to instructional materials since each device can come pre-loaded with the prescribed textbooks and references.

Laguna provincial board member and educational committee chairman Neil Nocon was said to have “likened” the Rizal Tablet to “Apple’s iPad or Amazon Kindle”.

First, the iPad and Kindle are dissimilar and should not be confused with each other. The terms are not interchangeable.

“iPad” is a brand name and refers to an Apple product that looks like a handheld computer monitor. It glows like one, can connect to the Internet via Wifi and 3G, and is used primarily for consumption of media – surfing the Internet, playing games, and reading e-books. The generic name of similar devices is “tablet”.

An Apple iPad is great for viewing content in color. Image from here.

“Kindle”, on the other hand, is a brand name for an “electronic book reader” developed by online retail giant Amazon.com. It can only be used for reading texts in electronic formats. It also comes in WiFi and 3G flavors, but for now can be used only to access the Kindle Store to purchase and wirelessly download e-books.

It is not backlit; it uses a different technology called “e-ink” that will make you think of the Etch-A-Sketch of your childhood days, and was designed to mimic as closely as possible the look of printed text, with charcoal-black letters on a gray background. The font size can be changed, a boon for the visually challenged. It can even function as an audio-book device, although the built-in computer voice is tinny and none too pleasant. Have your loved ones read to you instead.

The Amazon Kindle is fantastic for reading. Image from here.

Now, the pros and cons. I own a second-generation Kindle and am waiting impatiently for my US-based cousin to come over to Manila next month with the third-generation version I ordered. The Kindle is very light, weighing only several ounces, and can be held for long periods in one hand, making it great for reading in bed. Since there is no backlight, there is no glare. The e-ink screen lets you see the text even in bright sunlight. A full battery charge can last a week or longer, as long as the wireless feature is not switched on. However, all it can do is let you to read books.

You can do more things on an iPad, such as surf the Web and use a wide variety of “apps” (applications) that allow you to do most things you can already do on an iPhone and more. The display is fabulous – crisp and clear and in brilliant color, perfect for playing “Plants vs. Zombies”. But it’s heavier than an e-book reader; the backlight might cause eyestrain if used to read for extended periods (about as long as it takes to read several textbook chapters, perhaps?); and the battery charge lasts only hours.

In a campaign speech last May, senator Richard Gordon proposed buying a Kindle for each of 17 million public school students to “raise the quality of education” by making access to textbooks easy and cost-effective. I remember liking the proposal when I first heard it – anything that gives people access to information is a good idea.

Laguna’s move to pilot-test the use of such devices as early as next year is exciting. Will the use of tablets or e-book readers spread the love of reading among young people? Will it raise functional literacy? Will it provide our students with knowledge and critical thinking skills? Let’s hope so.

But before they do roll out the plan, the Department of Education, the Laguna provincial board, and educators should look closely into the merits and disadvantages of each kind of device and be certain they are making the right choice for students. Which of these two types of devices do they actually plan to get?

It has also been mentioned that this project comes close to DepEd secretary Bro. Armin Luistro’s “vision of a bookless society”. I assume he means a society that uses handheld electronic devices for reading, not a society that does not read. I hope that the students given such devices will be allowed to use them to read for pleasure and not just for school, because the cult of the book brings some of the deepest joy that thinking man can experience.

A well-written story can take you to another place, another time, and put you in the mind of a character very different from you and make you feel what she or he feels. Fictionist Stephen King called it “falling through a hole in the paper”. In this case, it would be “falling through a hole in the screen”, but as long as the result is the same, I have no objection.

And may we soon bring about a “bookful” society, where the written word is enjoyed as much as the mindless drivel on television. If he were still alive, that would make Jose Rizal very happy, especially if it means that his Noli Me Tangere, El Filibusterismo, and other works will be made available to a wider audience. ***

Jose Rizal portrait here. From here, image of Stephen King holding a one-of pink Kindle as described in his for-Kindle novella “Ur”.

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why i prefer antique waterman pens

Author Stephen King called the Waterman fountain pen “the world’s finest word processor”. He used one to write the first draft of  his novel Dreamcatcher, after an accident on 19 June 1999 that left him unable to sit in front of his computer for the four to six hours (or 2,000 words, presumably whichever came first) that was his daily self-imposed writing discipline.

Intrigued by this assertion coming from one of my most admired fictionists, I acquired a Preface and a Hemisphere. Both are handsome and well-made pens, reliable and robust; but the modern Watermans don’t compare to the antique models of this brand.

Take this Waterman #52 1/2V. Made circa 1910-1920s, this one’s made of black hard rubber and has a  lever-fill system, state-of-the-art during that time. The cap is adorned with a decorative gold band that has space for the engraving of the owner’s initials. The deep-cut flourishes are art nouveau-inspired, a genre of art that sends me into paroxysms of delight because it is rare and otherworldly.

Yet this pen’s crowning glory is the gold flex nib that gives a wide range of line variation, from very thin to very thick.

The nib is a marvel of metallurgy; they don’t make them this way anymore.

The clip is also heavily engraved.

It’s fortunate that many pens like these have survived to the present time, for us to enjoy as functional art. Stephen King would have liked this one, I think, to marvel over and write into one of his stories, if not draft a best-selling novel with.

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stephen king: just after sunset

From the haunted imagination of bestselling novelist Stephen King comes Just After Sunset, a collection of thirteen tales that explore the dark side of the mind. These spine-chilling stories tackle themes of obsessive-compulsive behavior, explorations of the nature of the afterlife, and the tangibility of guilt.

As a lifelong fan of “The Other King”, I believe the height of his mastery was during his earlier days, when he churned out supernatural chillers like Salem’s Lot, Pet Sematary, Christine, and It. His last short story collection, Everything’s Eventual, was written in 2002. That was a batch of underbaked literary cookies that left one dismayed over the decline of his inventive powers, a slide most noticeable in the potboilers Gerald’s Game, Rose Madder, Dolores Claiborne, and Dreamcatcher. His latest novel, Duma Key, was such a disappointment that I wondered if King had lost his mojo for good.

Just After Sunset is a more satisfying box of “poisoned bon-bons”, as he calls them, and marks a return to the old Stephen King who wrote terror-filled tales that kept you up at night and would not let you visit the bathroom alone.

The master’s magic is back – good news for all his admirers.

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bedside reading

Whenever I’m asked, “What are you reading now?”, I’m sometimes hard pressed to answer. I do read one book at time, but there’s always a stack or two of volumes beside my bed,  some of which I’ve read, the others newly acquired and next in line for reading.

My tastes are eclectic. There are marketing and business books, holdovers from my MBA days – Marketing Gurus, all the Franklin Covey books. Lately I’m into memoirs – Matthew Polly’s hilarious American Shaolin, A. J. Jacob’s tongue-in-cheek The Year of Living Biblically, Laura Shaine Cunningham’s poignant and brave A Place in the Country.

Near the top, where I can easily reach them, are the latest thoroughbred catalogues from Australia’s Magic Millions and Keeneland in Kentucky. Keeneland’s November 2008 sale catalogues are the more interesting. It is a set of eight thick books, the information on weanlings and other bloodstock printed on thin paper. I open to the Index to Sires and roll their names in my mouth like candy – Cryptoclearance, Langfuhr, Star de Naskra.

Somewhere in those stacks are the latest edition of Strunk and White, my style manual ever since it was introduced to me in my freshman English class at the University of the Philippines; a Dummies guide to Adobe InDesign for print publication layouting; and three volumes of the Plaridel journal, the academic publication of the UP College of Mass Communication.

And at the bottom of the shorter pile is Julie Morgenstern’s Organizing from the Inside-Out – probably not the best place for it to be, if I want it to be of any help.

Any house I live in will be filled with books. It’s almost a psychological given; a house is not a home for me unless there are many books in it, spilling from shelves, stacked against the wall, piled on the coffee table.

My love for books stems from childhood. My mother raised me on science fiction and fantasy. This is a woman who kept her Lord of the Rings trilogy on the shelf below the TV set in her room, while all the other books were kept in the living room. This was back in the early ’80s, before fantasy became fashionable and when all of Tolkien’s books were out of print. Her copies, which she bought as a teenager at Lopue’s and China Rose in Bacolod City, were printed in the ’60s, before “acid-free” was heard of, and the pages were yellowed and crumbled at a touch. The spines were battered and mended many times with tape, which had also discolored to a color like weak tea.

In the tall wicker bookshelves in the sala she kept cookbooks. One of them was a ’50s hardbound Betty Crocker cookbook from her nanny who migrated to the United States. I have it now, and treat it as an heirloom. Others were cookbooks from the ’70s; those were filled with recipes for fondue, which seemed to me to be highly impractical since you needed a fondue burner.

That didn’t faze my mother. She improvised with a miniature saucepan on the stove. We gathered in the kitchen, dipping cubes of Kraft cheddar cheese in beaten egg, then breadcrumbs, then plunging them in hot oil till toasty brown.

Also on the shelves were my stepfather’s encyclopedias and his mother’s collection of children’s “two-in-one” hardbound classics. For instance, one side was Grimm’s Fairy Tales; flip the book and you got Hans Christian Andersen’s stories. My mother also had a good collection of adult classics – Aldous Huxley, Jonathan Swift, Charles Dickens, the Brontes. I wore out Bullfinch’s Mythology, though I later lost that particular copy.

My mother also possessed nearly all the Edgar Rice Burroughs books – my favorites being the Tarzan series (no, there wasn’t a “Cheeta” in the books) and the Mars series. The latter starred skimpily-clad Martian princess Dejah Thoris, who was constantly being saved by her husband, the manly Earthling John Carter, from predatory villains and robots controlled by evil scientists.

Barsoom

Fanart depiction of Barsoom (Mars); in the center, Dejah Thoris and John Carter face a myriad perils

Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories were also well-represented. H. Rider Haggard and his endless yarns of hunter Allan Quatermain’s adventures in lost cities in Africa? Check. Jules Verne and H. G. Wells classics? Yes, there too, as well as L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” books, many of them with the original John R. Neill art nouveau illustrations.

Neill’s drawings of Ozma’s hair – confined at the forehead by a thin diadem, tresses curling in whiplash tendrils – and her gauzy draperies, floating cloudlike around her slim body – captured my young imagination, representing an aesthetic that was otherworldly and unreachable. To this day, it is one of my favorite genres of art.

GlindaOzmaDot458x612

A Neill watercolor of Dorothy, Glinda, and Ozma of Oz.

Knowing of my insatiable – and indiscriminate – appetite for books, my mother kept those she felt inappropriate for my age in her closet, which we children never opened. When I was in college, she brought the books down, the ban lifted. One of them was Stephen King’s Dark Forces, a collection of horror and SF works by various writers. My mother probably didn’t object to the storylines but rather to King’s salty language.

In any case, it was just more grist for my mill, along with her more spinechilling H. P. Lovecraft books. The cover of one was horrifying - a worm snaked through the empty eye-socket of a half-decayed skull which bore clumps of matted hair and rodent-like teeth. I averted my eyes from that awful artwork whenever I opened that book to read about the Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep.

At the mere thought of that macabre painting, an involuntary shudder shakes my frame as chills riff up and down my spine. Uncannily, this is my exact same reaction when my eyes or fingers travel over the few old college mathematics and physics textbooks unexpurgated from my shelves. Cthulhu ftaghn!

My father was yet another heavy reader, but his tastes ran more to W. Somerset Maugham, John O’ Hara, Norman Mailer, Sholom Aleichem, Truman Capote, biographies. Pops lived in California for five years in the ’80s, and while there wrote me excitedly when he began Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,  Dee Brown’s novel on native American history. He wasn’t into science fiction; the most that he got into that genre was Ray Bradbury – I Sing the Body Electric, Something Wicked This Way Comes.

I usually finish what I start. The exception is one book that I bought at a secondhand bookstall in Morayta in the late ’80s, set aside because its dense language put me to sleep although its ideas were interesting; a paradox in its rules of engagement. It was Marshall McLuhan’s 1964 work Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. This groundbreaking book had a profound impact on mass communication and media studies. As a mass comm major, I felt duty bound to read it. It’s one of the books by my bed. Sometimes I feel I keep it around not so much because I plan to finish reading it, but as a talisman to keep me focused on the particular discipline that is my life’s work.

Let me see – it’s in the taller stack, under the used copy of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast that I found a couple of years ago at Booksale for P45. It’s the second in the “Titus Groan” trilogy. I got the first book in the late ’80s, also at Morayta, deep in the University Belt in the heart of Manila. I’m still looking to complete the set. Perhaps twenty years from now, in another serendipitous moment, I’ll stumble upon a copy of Titus Alone and I will add it, yet another block in the tower of books by my bed.

People come into my house, find piles of books stacked chest-high against the walls and two- or three-deep in bookcases, and ask, “Have you read all those?” The answer is, yes, except for that darn McLuhan.

And often, “Why do you like reading so much?” and at that I am rendered inarticulate. It is difficult to explain to people who do not read, who do not relish the sensation of eyes tracking words across a page to be immersed in a story, momentarily losing touch of reality.

My own habit of reading is a result of childhood influence and a desire to escape. I lose myself in forests of words and in thickets of concepts, drown in rivers of language, wander through time and space. The volumes by my bed embody different worlds where I may go freely, through the simple expedient of cracking open a book and reading.

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