Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘Books’

It’s our biennial Taking a Whack at Proust day. Update: Screw you, terrorists, now we’re going to finish Proust.

November 17, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Current Events 1 Comment →

Update: We’re up to Combray, chapter 2, past the madeleine stuff.

Warning: Profanity

You just brought a philosophy of rigorous self-abnegation to a pastry fight. You are fucked.

John is the new Jon.

* * * * *

We’ve got the new translations in good-looking editions (lucky the three other volumes haven’t appeared or we’d be even more behind than we are already), the tea and the madeleines, now all we need is the stamina to climb all those words.

How Could You Like That Book?

November 16, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books No Comments →


We often think it, but don’t say it.

How Could You Like That Book?
by Tim Parks in NYRB

I rarely spend much time wondering why others do not enjoy the books I like. Henry Green, an old favorite, almost a fetish, is never an easy read and never offers a plot that is immediate or direct. “There’s not much straight shootin,’” he admitted, in the one interview he gave. Elsa Morante is so lush and fantastical, so extravagantly rhetorical, she must seem way over the top to some. Thomas Bernhard offers one nightmare after another in cascades of challenging rhetoric; it’s natural to suspect he’s overdoing it. Christina Stead is so wayward, so gloriously tangled and disorganized, it’s inevitable that some readers will grow weary. And so on.

Perhaps it’s easy for me to understand why so many are not on board with these writers because I occasionally feel the same way myself. In fact it may be that the most seductive novelists are also the ones most willing to risk irritating you. Faulkner comes to mind, so often on the edge between brilliant and garrulous. Italy’s Carlo Emilio Gadda was another. Muriel Spark. Sometimes even Kafka. Resistance to these writers is never a surprise to me.
On the other hand, I do spend endless hours mulling over the mystery of what others like. Again and again the question arises: How can they?

I am not talking about genre fiction, where the pleasures are obvious enough. Reviewing duties over the last few years have had me reading Stieg Larsson, E.L. James, and a score of Georges Simenon’s Maigrets. Once you accept the premise that you are reading for entertainment, their plots and brightly-drawn dramatis personae quickly pull you in. However “adult” the material, one is reminded of the way one read as a child: to know what happens. You turn the pages quickly, even voraciously, and when something galls—the ugly exploitation of sexual violence in Larsson, the cartoon silliness of James, the monotonous presentation of Maigret as the dour, long-suffering winner—you simply skip and hurry on, because the story has you on its hook. You can see why people love these books, and above all love reading lots of them. They encourage addiction, the repetition of a comforting process: identification, anxiety/suspense, reassurance. Supposedly realistic, they actually take us far away from our own world and generally leave us feeling pleased that our lives are spared the sort of melodrama we love to read about.

But what are we to say of the likes of Haruki Murakami? Or Salman Rushdie? Or Jonathan Franzen?

Continue reading

LitWit Profiles: Krip Yuson on his Great Philippine Jungle Energy Cafe

November 11, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books 1 Comment →

Beginning our monthly series of Q&As with Filipino writers

Great Philippine Jungle Energy Cafe, first published in 1988, has been reissued by Anvil. Available at National Bookstores, Php375.

Alfred A. Yuson a.k.a. Krip has authored 26 books thus far, including novels, poetry collections, short fiction, essays, children’s stories, biographies and coffee table books, apart from having edited literary anthologies. He has gained numerous distinctions, including the 2009 Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas from UMPIL the Writer’s Union of the Philppines, the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan award from the City of Manila, a Rockefeller Foundation grant for residency at Bellagio in Italy, and the South East Asian Writers Award from Thai royalty for lifetime achievement. He has also been elevated to the Hall of Fame of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. He co-founded the Philippine Literary Arts Council, Creative Writing Foundation, Inc., and Manila Critics Circle.

Krip Yuson can also be counted on to find paying jobs for underemployed writers, and is the social director of the Philippine literary scene.

Random excerpt

The natives called the mountain Talinis for its sharp peaks. The Spanish came and saw the twin peaks as home. They named the mountain Cuernos de Negros, Horns of the Devil, thinking it funnily appropriate that the island the mountain belonged to had itself earlier been named Negros for its dark-skinned aborigines.

If you look at the island on a map, fair chances are you’d recall sometime in your boyish past you bent from the waist and peered between your legs at your Aunt Rita, she of the jutjaw and the well-coiffed chignon and string of pearls almost as large as your marbles, an a scent that drew attention even while you nursed your year’s prized cold.

The outline of Negros Island much resembled an inverted silhouette of a lady with a powerful neck and a high bun on her head. Where the lady’s eye would be, the taller peak of Cuernos de Negros rose to a craggy cloud-capped height.

When Pedro Saavedra, Spanish surveyor and heir to a brewery fortune in Galicia, stood on this peak in 1765 and thus came to the crowning culmination of seven months of geodetic cum geologic work on the island, he took one long sweeping look at the curving coastline to the south, where the island’s head widened to the sea’s hairdressing hands, and breathed deeply the way Galicians of high birth do before their swig of malt at sundown.

Q&A with Krip Yuson

Jessica Zafra (JZ): A publisher has described The Great Philippine Jungle Energy Café as the first magical realist novel of the Philippines. Did you consciously set out to write a magical realist novel?

Alfred A. Yuson (AAY): Uhh, I don’t think so. I’ve never really been into labels identifying literary genres, often eschewing academic terms and trends. It just happened to be the kind of genre that appealed to me, that I was enjoying reading, then and maybe even now. It wasn’t until much later I think when the term magical realist, or metafiction or post-modern for that matter, became familiar. I was reading and enjoying Borges, Cortazar, eventually Marquez (whose work popularized the label for some Latin American fiction), but I was not aware that Nick Joaquin had already tried his hand in it with a few of his stories, written in the early 1950s. So much so that when I began attending literary fests/conferences abroad by the 1990s, and some smart-ass Aussie would question why Philippine fiction in English seemed to be enamored with magic realism, my reply would be to issue a challenge for him to come to Manila, live for a week in Quiapo, and look out the window, so he could witness the Black Nazarene procession as well as some street vendor hawking a tabloid with the headline: “Woman gives birth to fish!”

For the serious fan of A Song of Ice and Fire: The leather-bound box set is coming.

October 27, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Sponsored 2 Comments →



But I already have all the books in A Song of Ice and Fire, you say. Not to mention the maps, sigil tapestries, mugs, replica swords and hoodies.

These leather-bound volumes are not only beautiful, but unlike the hardcover editions which are heavy and difficult to read in transit, they are light and easy to hold. And at Php2,999 the set at National Bookstores, that’s just Php600 for each book. That’s less than we had to shell out under duress for Ever After High Book 3 (Good description for what it is: drugs for little girls) for our niece’s birthday.

Yes, it’s the words that matter and not the package they come in, but these would look great on your shelves. Give your current set to a friend or young relative, and buy these for yourself or for someone who’s been waiting for The Winds of Winter for the last few years (but not to us, obviously, so we’ll take the hoodie).

The Classics of Social Climbing

October 26, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books No Comments →


We are all social climbers, though not all of us adopt it as a career. The most blatant social climbers engage in ascent by association, i.e. being seen (preferably photographed) with prominent personalities in order to be mistaken for members of their tribe. There’s no point in distinguishing between old money and new money—this is the Philippines, everything is new. If we must make distinctions, they should be between the people who inherited their money and the people who made their own money. Even then, the inheritors can be divided into three categories:

– the heirs who live off the work of their ancestors,
– the heirs who parlayed their inheritance into even greater riches,
– and the dolts who just sat around waiting for their parents to drop dead, and never bothered to learn a negotiable skill or get a job.

Read our column at InterAksyon.

Forgot to mention that Nancy Mitford codified that “U” and “non-U” stuff.

Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Marple: The comfort of the British murder-mystery

October 26, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Television No Comments →

Agatha Christie book covers

Miss Jane Marple is a menace to society. Whenever she turns up with that handbag of hers, sniffing around in other people’s business, murder follows. Corpses turn up, poisoned, stabbed, bludgeoned, strangled, shot. Suspicions mount, terrible secrets are uncovered, threats are uttered. People are revealed at their very worst. What fun!

Read our review at The Binge at BusinessWorld.


The other day we were watching the episode “After the Funeral” when we heard a familiar voice followed by that face: Michael Fassbender! As the dead man’s mysteriously disinherited nephew.