Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘Books’

When the problem is that you have no problem.

November 22, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Psychology 4 Comments →


Thanks to Tina for the alert.

Hoarding for the Holidays: New books

November 20, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Sponsored No Comments →

parisWe didn’t do much shopping in Paris, not so much as a T-shirt, but we did stock up on reading matter.

The novels of James Salter are widely available in French translation, and are bestsellers in Paris. Of course: beautiful elegiac prose, lots of sex, several chapters and stories set in Paris.

The Search Warrant, a.k.a. Dora Bruder, was the only Modiano we found in English translation, but with his Nobel win we can expect more English translations in a few months.

We’d been looking for the fiction of Leonard Michaels since we heard one of the Nachman stories in the New Yorker podcast. Nachman, the protagonist, is a mathematician, bit of a loser, fascinating.

The Guest Cat had us at the title.

The Calasso is a social/literary history of Paris in Baudelaire’s day.

We want to read everything by the late Laurie Colwin. This one we read in a day: it’s about overthinkers who face the possibility of happiness and don’t know how to deal with it.

Ali Smith we’ve never read and are curious about.

We inspected the shelves at National Bookstore and were pleased at the new selections:


J.G. Ballard is best known for his memoir of his childhood in a Japanese internment camp Empire of the Sun. It is the least typical of his eerie dystopian tales. The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard, Php1305.


This is column fodder: the story of the Igorots who were exhibited in New York in 1905. The American impresario got the idea from the St Louis Exposition of 1904, which showed 1300 tribespeople from the Philippines. The Lost Tribe of Coney Island, Php1095.


The Bone Clocks, one of our favorite books of the year, Php1199 in hardcover.


A short and elegant novel by Ian McEwan, about a female judge who must rule in the case of a teenage Jehovah’s Witness who refuses a blood transfusion that could save his life. In Saturday, McEwan got into his neurosurgeon protagonist’s head so thoroughly we were convinced he could operate; in The Children Act he explains British family law so cogently he could hear cases. Hardcover, Php999.


Gilt-edged like a Bible, The Book of Strange New Things is the latest from the author of The Crimson Petal and the White, and of the short story that became the film Under the Skin. Hardcover, Php1099.


A new collection of short stories from the author of Self-Help and Like Life. Trade, Php629.


Winner of the Booker Prize in 2010. Friends swear it is funny. Trade, Php375.

Paris, beyond macarons and Birkins

November 18, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Places, Traveling No Comments →

view of paris from montmartre

Paris is beautiful and filthy, like a supermodel with a PhD who doesn’t change her underwear. Or a very hot guy genius with skid marks, except that Paris is obviously feminine. Male or female, it goes without saying that they will cheat on you with everything that moves. And you still would, because it’s Paris.

There is the real risk of getting Stendhal Syndrome—overdosing from the sight of so much beauty that you lose consciousness. Try not to succumb outdoors, as you will either land on dog poop or a homeless person. The homeless are mostly Eastern Europeans begging on the streets. There are shelters where they can spend the night as it’s getting very cold, but apparently it’s safer to sleep outdoors. In Montmartre, which is clearly divided into immigrant and bobo (bohemian bourgeois) sections, the residents have expressed solidarity with the newcomers, providing them with hot food and doing their laundry. Periodically the homeless immigrants are rounded up, given 300 euros, and deported. They come back.

Read our column at

Here’s a very abridged translation of Valerie Trierweiler’s tell-all book about her relationship with French President Francois Hollande.

And a report on how Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin couldn’t name any books by Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano. Oh the scandal.

Every movie we see # 117: The Drop is dark and exhilarating.

November 17, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies No Comments →


This is a great week for the movies, and we haven’t even seen Nightcrawler or Esprit de Corps at the Cinema One festival (or Esoterika Manila, which we wrote but is totally an Elwood Perez movie).

The Drop is terrific. Tough, unsentimental, uncomplicated, brilliantly-acted, excellent use of the pooch. It’s directed by Belgian filmmaker Michael Roskam and based on the Dennis Lehane short story, Animal Rescue. We’ve never seen a Dennis Lehane adaptation we didn’t like—Mystic River, Gone, Baby Gone, Shutter Island. This time Lehane adapts his own story.

If you choosing between The Drop and Interstellar, here’s a comparison you may find useful.


The Hero
Interstellar: Matthew McConaughey with a space ship
The Drop: Tom Hardy with a puppy. They had us at “woof, woof.”

The Female Lead
Interstellar: Anne Hathaway, who can’t help but make us like her.
The Drop: Noomi Rapace, who doesn’t care what we think.

The Blonde
Interstellar: Jessica Chastain
The Drop: Matthias Schoenaerts. Did you see him in Rust and Bone?

The Ghost who sends messages across space and time
Interstellar: The ghost who moves the books
The Drop: James Gandolfini. We still choke up.

The Setting
Interstellar: The universe.
The Drop: Brooklyn.

The Threat
Interstellar: Desertification, famine, food riots
The Drop: Chechen mobsters with slicked back hair. Aiiieeeeee!

The Hole
Interstellar: The black hole near the planets they plan to colonize.
The Drop: The drop, the slot where bookies place bets.

Interstellar: Wow.
The Drop: Tom Hardy doing something we haven’t seen him do before.

The Emotion
Interstellar: Excitement, wonder, filial love.
The Drop: Dread.

The Future
Interstellar: Bleak.
The Drop: What future? And yet it is strangely uplifting.

Man Vs The Universe
Interstellar: We may not be alone in the universe.
The Drop: We are definitely alone in the universe.

Into the woods in Altwartenburg

November 07, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Places, Traveling No Comments →


The plan was to take the train to Salzburg (You say “ZAHLZborg” in your best Terminator impression) early so we could visit Mozart’s house (and ignore the places where they shot The Sound of Music), but we got lazy.


We took a walk instead, in the very Grimm Brothers forest by the house.


Our host was James Hamilton-Paterson, the author of three of the best books about the Philippines: Playing With Water, America’s Boy, and Ghosts of Manila. James should be the most famous English writer on earth, but that would be his definition of horror. He is usually referred to as reclusive.


We have the great privilege of being able to pester him in the sticks. It is like visiting your wizard uncle. Last time it was in Tuscany, where the nearest neighbor had a crazy dog who barked at jet trails.


In the woods are the ruins of a castle owned by the local count, who built another castle nearby in the hopes that the Kaiser would use it as a hunting lodge. The Kaiser did visit, and he stayed the night.


Some years ago rock concerts were held in the ruins, but the residents complained of the noise. It must’ve drowned out the sound of their neighbors’ refrigerators from a mile away.


While tramping around in the mud, we asked James about other writers he has known. J.R.R. Tolkien was his tutor in remedial Anglo-Saxon at Oxford. He didn’t learn anything. He hadn’t read The Lord of the Rings, either, so he wasn’t particularly awed. Professor Tolkien never gave him tea (much less Barliman’s Best ale from The Prancing Pony) unlike another tutor who introduced him to Glenmorangie.


James had attended the ancient King’s School in Canterbury, the same school that expelled Patrick Leigh Fermor for holding hands with a grocer’s daughter. Another alumnus, W. Somerset Maugham, had visited the school and James, being their literary hope, had been assigned as Maugham’s guide. “Don’t let him get too close to you,” James was warned, in case the old writer had a taste for spotty 17-year-old boys.

Maugham gave James this bit of advice: “Don’t trust typewriters, my boy. They can’t spell.”

Our new happy place: Galignani, the oldest English bookstore on the continent

November 02, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Places, Traveling 4 Comments →

Galignani, 224 rue Rivoli. From their website.

We were mourning the death of the Village Voice, the English bookstore on the Left Bank, when we stepped into Galignani for the first time and our tear ducts dried up instantly. (Shakespeare and Co is fine but we hope they have vacuumed.)

Galignani near the Tuileries is the oldest bookstore on the continent, and one of the most elegant we’ve ever been in. We hyperventilated, collected ourself, sank into an armchair, and began to time-travel.


After days of looking, found one novel by Modiano in an English translation—The Search Warrant, a.k.a. Dora Bruder.