Talking About Manga

I don’t read manga that often anymore, only a few books a year if I’m up for it. But once upon a time, my whole life revolved around manga. Growing up in a country where translated or foreign books weren’t readily available, there was a point when I finished reading the whole kids library and was too young to jump ship to the adult section of the library (which wasn’t good to begin with. The translated English books that I remembered of were mostly mystery books: Agatha Christie, Stephen King, or the “trashy” pop fictions: Sydney Sheldon, Jackie Collins). So there was a huge gap of years for little bookworm me, completely lacking of reading materials. That’s where manga came into play.

Manga came to Indonesia sometime when I was in fifth grade, around early 90s. Since the first one was out, I was immediately hooked. I read all types of manga, from all the girly ones to the boys ones, about dancers, ballerinas, stage actress, pirates, robots, martial arts, billiards, monsters, Japanese dolls, monkey girl, historical fictions, myths, detectives, paid-killers, you name it, I’ve read them all. Not only read, I learned to draw and to illustrate, I daydreamed and doodled all the time in class. A couple of my best friends and I would spend all our spare hours in school and outside school, creating our own world and characters. I saved my pocket money everyday to buy manga every chance I get. Like I said, my whole world revolved around manga. It shaped me to become the person I am today. During those years I must have read thousands of manga. I bought them, borrowed them, I read them standing up in the bookstores for hours, and re-read all of them again and again.

When I left my birth country for good, my manga collection had to be left behind with my parents. In the next decade I moved around numerous times and only last year I was reunited with teenage-hood precious. Now the books mostly just stay on the shelves unread, but I don’t have the heart to move them into boxes and keep in the storage, so they still occupy my main shelves in the bedroom. It gives me comfort  to know that anytime I feel like going back to those magical worlds for a while, they are just a hand reach away.

manga 01

What you see here is one layer. I double-shelf them and there’s another row underneath. These are my own collection.

manga 02

Above are some collective collection of mine with my two brothers, located at another room.

Some people have asked me about manga to recommend, but I find it very difficult to, because I have no idea which ones get translated to English, which ones are not. In Indonesia we have myriads of manga translated, and they used to be quite cheap back in my time (about 30 cents each, around two portions of lunch money in school canteen). But let’s just say it’s a perfect world and if there is one manga I’d like everybody to read, it is candy candyCandy Candy by Mizuki Kyoko and Igarashi Yumiko. Candy Candy was the first manga that came into Indonesia (along with Doraemon), and I recognized it straight away because I watched the anime version back when I was even younger (maybe around first grade). My mom opened a video rental shop back then so the kids got to watch many Asian series and cartoons. (I was told by mom that I was able to walk, turn on the video I wanted, and sit tight to watch since I was two years old..) But I only got to watch the anime for about a dozen episodes, which apparently only covered less than one book in the series! (There are 9 books altogether, and I checked on the web that there are 100+ episodes of anime) So I was ecstatic when I saw the manga!

Candy is an orphan happy-go-lucky girl who was left in front of an orphanage called Pony’s House. After losing her best friend to adoption, she herself was adopted by a rich man who she never meets until much later. There’s so much in the book that I can’t even begin to summarize. It’s about friendship, love, trials, losses, and a great attitude for life. There are surprisingly a number of heartbreaking moments in the books, that I couldn’t re-read them too many times. Well, now you know, this is THE manga you need to read.

Glass MaskI need to slip in one more must-read series because it was so important for me too. It’s Glass Mask (Garasu no Kamen) by Miuchi Suzue, which is about a girl who dreams to become a stage actress. And lucky her, she has unbelievable raw talent, who was found by a fallen old ex-actress. One a poor ugly girl with no connection or reputation and one a scarred ex-actress who has been shunned away by the world, they push through against all odds. But of course life is never easy so there are always roadblocks on the way. This is the series where I learned about Hellen Keller, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and many Western stories from. Informative and super addictive, in high school I saved my pocket money for months and bought 33 books of the series at once! (it’s now up to volume 42 and sadly not yet finished)

I stumbled upon this list which compiled the all time best-selling shoujo manga, and both Candy Candy and Glass Mask are in it (little wonder). The others that caught my eyes were the first in the list Hana Yori Dango (the Taiwanese remake of which is titled Meteor Garden–I’ve watched the live-action series but not read the manga) and Genji Monogatari (would love to read that one!). One that I own and love is Berusaiyu no Bara (The Rose of Versailles) which is historical fiction based on Mary Antoinette.

Apart from mentioned above, my favorite author was Asagiri Yuu. I collected all her books that got published in Indonesia. They are always about growing up and reaching your dreams (just what I needed). Then Matsumoto Yoko, CLAMP (Magic Knight Rayearth), Hikawa Kyoko (apparently you can read Miriam online at One Manga), Toriyama Akira (Dragon Ball Z), Fujiko F. Fujio (Doraemon), Maekawa Takeshi (Tekken Chinmi), and more (I’m sure I missed a couple).

As you can see my knowledge of manga stays in the era of 80s to 90s and I’m no longer following the new ones. Tell me your favorite manga? (No matter which era they are from :)

I wrote this post to participate in tanabata’s Hello Japan! June mini-challenge on manga.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

to kill a mockingbirdTo Kill A Mockingbird seems to be one of the most loved book in the history of literature, so I was excited to finally get to read it. Did I fall in love with it?

Prior to reading, I knew there was a lawyer as main character and I was expecting court scenes. But there was no court scene until the second half of the book, which was a peak too short finished too soon for me. However, looking back, I don’t think the court scene or the lawyer were ever the main focus of the book. To Kill A Mockingbird is essentially a coming-of-age story.

The narrator of the book is 6 year-old Scout. We have the privileged to view everything from her eyes. She has an older brother Jem, and father she calls Atticus (mom died). The maternal role in the house is often held by Calpurnia, a black maid who’s been with the family for the longest time. There are a lot of characters coming into view soon after: neighbors, friends, teachers, extended family. It’s a small town so everybody knows everybody and everybody has their own role to fit into: doctor, sheriff, lawyer, newspaper editor, judge, reverend, field owner, and so on.

Later on we find out that Atticus is given the task to defend a black man in court for alleged rape of a white girl, so racism is obviously one of the main themes. But not only that, with inquisitive curious Scout, the book gets to question many things in the world. About poverty, school system, role of women and womanhood, justice, fairness (or the lack of them), and evils in the world.

harper leeI admit, during the reading of the book, I thought it was pretty flat. The first half of the book was mostly about two-three kids running amok in the neighborhood. It is well written book full of gentle humor and I enjoyed reading it but there were very few things that made me want to pick up the book once I put it down. I wondered if the greatness of the book is mostly for the Americans. It seems to be The American book if you want to know about Southern US in 1930s. Is it great for nostalgic reason for the Americans? Is it as great looking from foreigner’s point of view who has completely different background and history? I wasn’t convinced.

I watched the movie (more on that below) soon after reading the book and read other people’s reviews. I’m thinking there are a lot of elements contained in this one small book that it’s possible to not pay attention to them the first time around and get more out of succeeding reads. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the books seems to have high re-readability value. Also, the main characters are drawn very strong that I’m sure they will stay with me for a long time. I adored feisty Scout, moody Jem, and admired The Great Atticus. Which other book features a fist-fighting 6 year-old girl? She almost sounds too good to be true! Then there’s the role of Dill (Scout and Jem’s friend) who is based of Truman Capote, my favorite author (Lee and Capote were childhood friends. Lee went together with Capote for the research of Capote’s In Cold Blood). Therefore after much consideration, I’m giving To Kill A Mockingbird:


1960, 281 pp

It’s a worthy read. Definitely.

tkam banner

After finishing the book I just found out that there’s no better time for me to read it as this year is the 50th anniversary of To Kill A Mockingbird and there are celebrations all over. Both she is too fond of books and Capricious Reader are holding a month-long celebration in July. Have you read To Kill A Mockingbird? If you haven’t, there’s no better time than NOW :).

ps: Below is the Australian version of 50th anniversary of To Kill A Mockingbird by Random House. I like it!

To Kill A Mockingbird

First line
When he was nearly thirteen, my bother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.

Awards
1961 Pulitzer Prize

Quotes

“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” ~ p18

“… one must lie under certain circumstances and at all times when one can’t do anything about them.” ~ p128

Challenges/Projects
Book Awards IV (book #11), Read the Book, See the Movie (pair #5), 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, The Pulitzer

Also reviewed by
Rebecca Reads
| Serendipity | Graasland | Booklust | The Reading Life

The Film

to-kill-a-mockingbird-dvdcoverThe black and white 1962 movie starring Gregory Peck won him Oscar for Best Actor. It also won Best Art Direction and Best Writing. Mary Badham who played Scout was nominated for Best Supporting Actress and the movie was nominated for more categories.

In short, I thought the movie was great. Of course there are a lot of things that got cut, but you’d expect that for book to movie adaptation. In the movie Atticus and the court scene seems to get the most attention, not Scout and her growing up. But the mood and the general atmosphere stay true to the book, and Atticus in the movie is exactly like what I imagined him to be.

I love the scene where all the black people in the court balconies wait until everybody has gone except Atticus downstairs, and stand up as a sign of respect. A great cinematic touch. What I was really disappointed to be cut off was the part where Scout and Jem went to Calpurnia’s church. It’s probably one of my favorite scenes in the book, that shows the tension between the black and the white. In the movie with the omission of the church scene the kids suddenly meet Reverend in the court, who comes out of nowhere with no background story ever told, so it felt really odd.

After watching the movie I just realized that I watched Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday before, in which he played with Audrey Hepburn, my movie heroine. Two great movies in a row. Nods for Gregory Peck.

Rating: 8/10

Also reviewed by
Ripple Effects (with pictures of the DVD set) | Rebecca Reads (who hated the movie)

On Hong Kong

I haven’t done any Short Saturday for a while, because I’m reading short stories from Love in A Fallen City by Eileen Chang for our Asian book group this month which I will talk about after I finish the collection. I love that the book is set mainly in Hong Kong. Having been there three times, I have a rather romantic view of Hong Kong, whose literal meaning of the Chinese name means “fragrant harbour”. The country is vibrant, resilient, and very much alive.

In the war time many people from mainland China ran to Hong Kong. As this could be done only by people who had money and Hong Kong went to become a great autonomy of its own, the small island is until now viewed as the place for the rich higher class people by the mainlanders.

Hong Kong was officially “returned” to China in 1997 by the British. When raising the flags, China flag must be raised above Hong Kong flag. Funny but, as an Australian passport holder I am allowed to enter the region for 90 days, while Chinese passport holder is only allowed 7 days. I guess Hong Kong remains the unreachable dream land for the mainland Chinese.

A couple of places in the book:

repulse bay

Repulse Bay

Tsim Sha Tsui

Tsim Sha Tsui

I haven’t read many books set in Hong Kong. One that I’ve read was Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah, a memoir, which I read many years ago, so apology if the review is a bit rusty. I remember it as a pretty good book. If you’re interested in movies, one that I completely fell in love with is City of Glass, a romantic movie. City of Glass is such a fitting name, since Hong Kong is full of skycrapers and at night the whole city is alive with lights from the myriads of tall glassy buildings. It’s so pretty.

City of Glass

Have you books or movies set in Hong Kong to recommend?

The Sandman Vol 3: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman: Dream CountryI wonder how many Sandman I should read before I “get” it. I liked Dream Country a tiny bit more than the first two, but still not as much as I would’ve liked. People say the series gets better from the third series and above, that’s why I continued reading. In this third volume, the stories have all the consistent elements: dream-like, freaky, a bit sick, and um… bad coloring.

But there are really something about these stories that make you want to read more. (Otherwise how do I get to the third book?) They are weird and hypnotic, they pique my curiosity. What’s going to happen next? How many weird stories can Neil Gaiman pull off? How many tricks does he have up his sleeve?

Dream Country has 4 stand-alone short stories. In Calliope a writer who’s desperate for ideas makes a dirty deal to get Calliope, one of the Muses in Greek mythology. He keeps her like a pet, raping her body and mind for inspiration for his later successful novels. (Told you it was sick)

In A Dream of a Thousand Cats, one cat goes on a journey to find answers to life. There are lots of miserable cats here. Too bad I’m not a cat-person, so I don’t relate much to their misery.

Third story is A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which Shakespeare and his group of actors perform in front of The Dream King and his fantastical friends. The short won The World Fantasy award for short fiction in 1991, apparently the first time for a comic book to win this category. I know A Midsummer Night’s Dream from various sources (never read the original), but I still found the flow kinda confusing. It was hard to know which one was real and which one was not. I imagine it would be mighty difficult for someone who has not known the play to follow the story.

The last story Façade is my favorite, though it’s not less disturbing. It follows the life of a forgotten DC super hero: Element Girl, a girl whose superpower is transforming her body to any natural elements, but as a trade she looks absolutely freaky, almost like her whole body is burnt. Unwillingly retired, she is incredibly lonely and unable to end her life because of her body condition. Like a lot of other Sandman stories in the previous volumes, I needed to wiki my way to find out the background story to get the full picture.

The real highlight of Dream Country for me though is this quote I found in the book:

“Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and adventures are the shadow truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes and forgotten.”

A treasure.

3.5 stars
1991, 112 pp

Challenges
Graphic Novels 2010 (book #8), Once Upon a Time IV (book #6)

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

alices-adventures-in-wonderland-and-through-the-looking-glass-and-what-alice-found-thereI absolutely did not expect to love Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as much as I did! I grew up with the Disney version of Alice, and while it is always fun and evokes all sense of wonderment, it is never funny, I don’t think. How surprised I was to find the book incredibly amazingly hilariously laugh-out-loud FUNNY. Oh how I enjoyed every page, reading it a little bit every night before sleeping, just so I could savor it slowly and keep it unread a bit longer!

Before reading the book, I never had much impression of Alice. She was a rather dull observant in a wacky world. How pleasantly surprised I was to find that the character Alice in book has so much more! She is opinionated, she likes to daydream and talk to herself, she likes to assert everybody (which makes the creatures around her unhappy more often than not), she is adventurous, but also has impeccable manners. In short, she has personality! Which is really what is lacking in the movies.

And the language! How delightful, playful, and surprisingly, modern! It does not at all read like a classic (not that there’s anything wrong with classic). It just felt so familiar, as if it is written in our times. I could not believe the book is written in 1800s.

Then the world! We are all familiar with Alice’s world from various sources, but I was so happy to finally know how it was originally presented. There are a few creatures that never made the cut into the Disney movie, namely the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle. Though probably for a good reason as I thought it was the least exciting part of the book. Then the Duchess, her pig baby, and the excessive-pepper cook. And do you know that Tweedledee and Tweedledum are not in the original Alice? I was waiting for their appearance as they’re ones of my favorite characters, yet they never came up. Apparently they appear in the sequel (Through the Looking Glass), which is included in the same Vintage copy I have, but I’ve decided to save it for later and write a separate post as I loved the first one so much I can’t wait to talk about it here.

My favorite parts are the scene after Alice cries and falls into her own pool of tears and meet all the birds and mouse. The part where the Mouse starts to give what according to him is the driest speech and where they have running competition in circle almost made me fall off my chair laughing (figuratively speaking, as I read in bed). Then the trial in the last two chapters! My gosh the trial is just out-of-this-world hilarious! I don’t think it can get any funnier! My words can’t explain how funny the whole scene is!

I don’t know why it took me so long to pick up this book and why I missed it as a child (I’m guessing it never got translated in my birth country). But really, I have a feeling that it’s one of those books that you may appreciate more as an adult. For me it is anyway. Now I understand how the story could stand the test of time for so long (145 years this year). I honestly think Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is work of a genius.

5 stars
1865, 150 ppAlice's Adventures in Wonderland

My Vintage copy of Alice contains the original illustrations by John Tenniel (above). I read it in conjunction with another copy of Alice I borrowed off the library which was published in 2009 by Walker Books (Australia), illustrated by Robert Ingpen (right). The new illustrations use colored pencils and look absolutely amazing. However Alice and everybody in it looks so grave to the point of looking sad, which seems like an odd decision. Why would you draw such solemn characters for such a funny tale? The contemporary illustrator gave such high praises for Tenniel, the original illustrator, and it warmed my heart. He stated that the creative partnership between Carroll and Tenniel is “unmatched in the history of our literature”.

“It is for these reasons that my pictorial collection of Alice through her dream underground for these modern times, is dedicated in awe to John Tenniel, whose skill and imagination made his work shine out at a time when black and white engraving from drawings was the only practical means of print reproduction for the illustrator.” ~ Robert Ingpen

I rarely quote a dedication, but this one just touched me. Such a humble man.

alice-caterpillar

Alice and the Caterpillar, by John Tenniel

Some interesting facts about Alice. Lewis Carroll is the pen name used by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. He wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for three daughters of a Dean of Christ Church College, Oxford, one of them named Alice Pleasance Liddell, the middle of three sisters. Carroll was a mathematician and worked as mathematics lecturer until his death. When Caroll first wrote the story by hand, he purposely left space for 37 illustrations which were added later by John Tenniel. After coming out of copyright in 1907, 42 years after its publication, over 200 illustrators other than Tenniel have interpreted the story, many paid homage to the original visions of Carroll and Tenniel through their depictions of Alice and the other characters. Carroll realized that the book’s illustrations were as important as his words, for, as Alice herself muses in the opening paragraph of the book, “… what is the use of a book… without pictures or conversation?”

lewis carrollJohn_Tenniel

Lewis Carroll and John Tenniel

Also check out First Tuesday Book Club episode on Alice in Wonderland. They were all over it!

First line
Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”

Challenges/Projects
Once Upon a Time IV (book #5), Read the Book See the Movie (pair #4), 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, Disney Literature Challenge

Also reviewed by
Loved! Ready When You Are, C.B. | Sasha & The Silverfish (with illustrations by Camille Rose Garcia)
Didn’t :(. su[shu]

The Films

I watched Tim Burton’s Alice months ago, but I think I’m going to talk about that one after I read Through the Looking Glass. This time around hubby and I were curious about the other adaptations of Alice apart from the Disney cartoon. So we tried two versions: the 1972 and 1999 (there are an incredible amount of movie adaptations of Alice!)

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland 1972Alice in Wonderland DVD 1999

We tried the 1999 version first (right), the one with Whoopi Goldberg and Ben Kingsley, but quickly got bored. So after 20 minutes or so we tried the 1972 one (left), which we liked more and watched until the end. It stays quite true to the story, with the appearance of the Gryphon, Mock Turtle, the Duchess and Pepper-woman (who are missing in the Disney cartoon).

But you see, the problem is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one hell of a book to turn into a movie. I do think it is quite impossible to adapt the book, no matter how many times people try. The humour and the deft language is completely lost. Sure the world is full of strange creatures, but that’s about it.

I haven’t watched all the adaptations ever made (and I don’t think I will), but I will bet a good money that the Disney version is probably the best of the lot and as best as you can get for Alice. Though it surely has not beaten the book, nuh-uh. I haven’t re-watched the Disney version for this round of my Disney Literature Challenge (mostly because I just realized I don’t own the DVD. How can that be? I thought I owned all Classic Disney DVDs.) but I don’t need to. We have a clear winner.

alice in wonderland DisneyAlice in Wonderland

Disney Literature Challenge Round 2

Disney vs. Carroll
on Alice Adventure’s in Wonderland

Well, what do you know? Carroll won the battle. (What, you mean I wasn’t clear enough?)

Current Score
Disney – 1 vs. Authors – 1

DLC

Pedro and Me by Judd Winick

pedro and meI have to thank Michelle for this one. If not for her glowing review I wouldn’t have picked up the book judging from the cover. It looks like some cheesy TV series from the 90s (not the first one, the second one below. I put the blue cover first because I just don’t like that second cover). And I wasn’t that far off. Pedro and Me is a true story about Pedro Zamora, a Cuban-American gay AIDS educator and activist, who developed relationship with straight-guy cartoonist Judd Winick in the most extraordinary circumstances. They met and became roommate in a reality TV show in the 90s called The Real World: San Fransisco–which worked like Big Brother, only the people in the house were allowed to go out and interacted with the outside world.

We know from the second page that Pedro was going to die. The book is a tribute to him and what a special tribute it is. Judd Winick is a fine cartoonist and storyteller. His illustrations are full of emotions and the story is told in a very gentle heartfelt way. You can really feel that their friendship was genuine and they made an impact on each other’s life. One of the most interesting things about the book is that we are told about the life of a gay guy from a straight guy point of view, not just any straight guy, but his roommate and best mate. What a unique perspective.

pedro and mePedro died in 1994 at the age of 22. The book was published in 2000 after 2.5 years in the making by Winick. I read it in 2010 and it made an impact on me. It’s amazing how Pedro’s legacy lives on even after he is long gone. I believe it’s an important book, the book to read for anyone wants to know more about gay people and people who lived with AIDS. Thanks to Pedro, he put a human face to those with the disease. Pedro and Me is about intimate life journey of a brave man and the wonderful friendship he had with another man who is just as great. It’s about fighting for life, about living, surviving, loss, friendship, and love.

“I think the experience of watching two people fall in love is like seeing a snowfall. It’s slow. It’s lush. And when everything is covered, it all looks perfect. It was magical. I’m biased. But you would’ve been, too.” ~ Judd Winick, on seeing Pedro fell in love

A lovely book that will stay with me for a long time..

5 stars
2000, 187 pp

PedroAndMePedroAndMe

Pedro and Me

Judd Winick and Pedro Zamora

Judd Winick site

Challenges
Graphic Novels 2010 (book #7)

Also reviewed by
su[shu]
| The Zen Leaf

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