Book Diary: Paper Towns

I have read most of John Green's books, including The Abundance of Katherines, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, Looking for Alaska, and of course, the overly popular The Fault in Our Stars. I deliberately have missed out on Paper Towns, thinking last year that since they would be making a movie of it, I would make time to read it before I get to watch it.

Alas, the movie was about to be shown in a week when I finally mustered the diligence to read it. And I was quite delighted by the book, delighted enough to say it has actually become my favorite among Green's novels. The story didn't rely much on the melodrama (or lack) of star-crossed teenagers with a disease or someone with a of dating only girls named Katherine (which rather got tiring fast). This one's about a guy infatuated with his childhood friend, who after not being friends in high school, spent a night with her executing a series of pranks against her cheating boyfriend and other people she felt have wronged her, goes looking for her as she went missing the next day. 

Without the threat of going cheesy as what The Fault in Our Stars may have led Green to, Paper Towns comes out as more genuine and less affected. Gus and Hazel Grace, by virtue of their love story and disease, felt forced in a way that I felt that they needed to act as quickly as possible before their ill-fated love story ends. The trip to Amsterdam, the kissing in Anne Frank's house, the search for the difficult author all felt too grand. Good for YA audience, a tad melodramatic and staged for regular folk. 

On the other hand, Paper Towns felt more organic, with Q and Margo, although waxing philosophical through Walt Whitman and in the latter conversations, felt more authentic. That's who they are - an obsessed teenager in love with someone he idealized and an attention whore who thinks she's too cool for school, yet actually wanted to be found. That I wanted to slap Q in the middle of his obsessive search for Margo and Margo's lame excuse of not wanting to be found convinced me that these characters have more depth than the highly romanticized Hazel Grace and Gus. 

A lot of people may take the opposite view and see Paper Towns to be not as successful as The Fault in Our Stars because of a lack of grandness and heartstring-pulling found in the latter, but for me, it is one of the book's plus points. Q and his friends, in trying to find the missing Margo, became more fleshed out characters I didn't get the same feeling with The Fault in Our Stars, whose story had in fact fewer characters, which I thought should have provided Green more room to make them more real. But then, cancer and love story got in the way. 

Also, the hanging ending may cause people to be tepid in their appreciation of the book, but it also worked, at least for me.    

What I didn't like about the book were the chapters on Q's stakeouts in abandoned subdivisions. They dragged the narration and went on and on and on. It snapped me out of the Oralndo world Green created with these characters because they were just so boring to read. And when you bore a reader, you kind of lose him/her. I only got back because I wanted to finish the book, any book, and didn't want to bail out on it when I have already invested some time with the first chapters . Otherwise, I would have stopped. Well played, Green.

It has been three years since John Green's last book, and I hope he releases a new one soon, which I hope will be better than Paper Towns. The bar set by Paper Towns isn't that high, so I could only hope for better from him.  

The Return

I'm returning to blogging because social media happened.

Yes, four years after my last entry, I am resolving to come back to writing on this blog because social media. Since 2010, Facebook, Twitter, and the rest of the gang exploded in popularity, and along with this development, the shrinkage of everyone's attention span. No one seems to appreciate long-form content anymore. Everything is limited to a few characters as dictated by some program algorithm. On the other hand, people who tend to ramble in their writings (me included) are being threatened of not having an audience because no one reads long articles. It's all about attention-grabbing content these days. Get your readers hook, line, and sinker on the first paragraph, because their attention would be somewhere else by the second. So many websites have adapted a writing style of lists and short paragraphs to make sure their readers don't wander and click on the x icon or swipe down to close the page.

This presents a chicken-or-egg conundrum - which came first, short attention spans or short content? Did one cause the other? Did short content formats cause people to be over anything that requires them to sit down and read for five minutes? Or did people just get used to snippets of information since that's all they have access to every day?

Anyway, as someone who handles both content and social media in the office, I feel the need to write longer for fear that whatever talent I have will continue to deteriorate. With the prevalence of text message spelling and nonsensical trending topics, there is a need to continue writing without restricting the use of vowels and thinking of things other than what North West's sibling will be called or whether those two girls in a viral video are really pabebe, posers, or just downright scary.

So, what has happened since my last entry? I moved to two other jobs, David Bisbal (the subject of my last entry) has had another dud studio album, and I'm now back to what I love doing most - writing. Teaching English to Koreans was fine, but not something I would want to do for the rest of my life. I have met great people, reunited with old ones, and still trying to get the most out of life by doing a lot of sedentary activities like watching foreign film, television series marathons, and reading more.

Speaking of reading, I am resolved to read more, or at least spend as much time reading as watching movies or television shows. I have become more convinced that reading more does improve my writing. I remember this local author claiming that he's not much of a reader, which I thought explains the quality of his work.

Anyway, on with the show.      

Sin mirar atras in Eight Points

Artist: David Bisbal
Released: 20 October, 2009
Genre: Latin pop, pop rock
Three tracks: Mi princesa, El ruido, Al Andaluz
In one sentence: A letdown after the promising Premonicion

There are some albums that require you to listen to them dozens of times before you acquire a taste for them. There are also albums that get old because you've listened to them too may times. Then there's David Bisbal's Sin mirar atras, an unfortunate waste of talent of the reality show success story.
1) The sound of Bisbal has not seemed to mature despite four studio albums (three Spanish ones and one repackaged album which contained previously released tracks from the first two with three English songs thrown in) and two live concert albums. The maturity of Bisbal's material that was beginning to be heard in the third album, Premonicion, has been erased. The sound of this album is no different from his sophomore effort, Buleria, which had more radio-friendly tracks.

2) I felt Bisbal's third album Premonicion was a step in the right direction, with a good mix of fast songs and ballads. The ballads were executed beautifully, and the fast songs, though still bears a healthy dose of cheesiness, displayed the strength of his voice.

3) I really wanted to like the album, as I want Bisbal to continue selling records and keep the Spanish music industry afloat. I am aware that it might be the type of album that would require multiple listens before it grows on you, but alas, it has been months since I downloaded the album and I still find a lot of tracks boring.

4) The first half of the album is really weak. In my repeat listens, I usually found myself looking forward to Al Andalus, the 7th track, which meant I had to go through six songs lest I hit on fast forward, which I almost always did. After the 1st track, the upbeat, first single Esclavo de sus besos, the album suffers a lull, as the songs coming one after another sound alike. Even the album's title track is ho-hum.

5) Things start picking up, as mentioned, in track number 7, the flamenco-tinged Al Andalus, followed by Cuando hacemos el amor, which more or less holds the momentum. In the next track, Bisbal's vocals finally soar in El ruido, a song penned by another Operacion Triunfo alumna, Vega.

6) The next track is the latest single of the album, 24 horas. The '60s feel of the song is a bit weird for me. Not as ghastly as the songs in the first half of the album, though .

7) After another cannon fodder track comes the second single to be released in the album, Mi princesa, a very beautiful song with the sweetest lyrics. I don't know why, but I kind of noticed some weird phrasing/breathing bits by Bisbal in some portions of the song. Anyway, it should have been the last track of the song, just to ensure that the album leaves a good taste in the mouth (or some good notes in the ear).

8) But no! There is a bonus track, Sufriras, a duet with British singer Pixie Lott. I do not really know what to feel about the song. It sounds like a song being played in a really cheesy Eastern European discotheque. What the heck were the record's producers thinking of when they included this bonus track? Couldn't they have let Bisbal work with David Guetta? Or one of 'em Dutch DJs? Totally unnecessary waste of 3 and a half minutes of the listener's time.

This so-so effort led me to the conclusion David Bisbal's best album is still his third, Premonicion. Two or, at my most generous, four songs may qualify as tracks to be included in a David Bisbal Greatest Hits compilation in the future. The more interesting tracks are few and clumped together in the middle. Sin mirar atras is NOT one of those albums you would really like to listen to over and over again. It doesn't even reach a point of some songs sounding old fast. Some of them are just plain boring no matter how many times you've listened to them.

Final verdict: The guy is infintely talented, no doubt. What he needs is a good album producer.
My rating: Obsessed / Love / Hooked / Like / Ambivalent / Irritated / Hate / Avoid at All Cost

Background on the singer:
David Bisbal, known for his curly locks and powerful belting voice, started as a contestant in the first edition of Spain's Operacion Triunfo, Endemol's version of the Pop Idol franchise. He eventually became the runner-up of the competition, and went on to sell a million copies of his debut album, Corazon Latino, making everyone ask who the hell Rosa Lopez is (the winner of the aforementioned competition). He became the latest member of a select group of Spanish male singers (Serrat, Sabina, Miguel Bose, the father and son Iglesias and Alejandro Sanz to name almost all of them) who have established a career across the Atlantic. His latest album, Sin mirar atras, is, as of press time, holds the 10th spot in the Spanish album sales charts, having been there for 47 weeks now. He has, so far, sold over 4.5 million copies of his seven albums worldwide.