The Pillars of the Earth

imgThe pillars of the earth3I think I knew from the moment I started this blog that I need to dedicate this one post to the one book that has left an impression on me as far back as the time when I was still in high school.

I developed a love of reading ever since I was a kid. I started with comic books that ranged from Archie comics, to Beetle Bailey comics, to the Chinese comic sensation Lao Foo Tse. I eventually graduated to every teenage girl’s romantic fantasy of Sweet Valley High and Sweet Dreams.

It was this book: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, that got me started on bestsellers and adult fiction.

My brother, who is himself an avid reader of fiction as well, got me started to read this book.

By page 1, I was already hooked.

Set in England in the 12th Century, the book’s centerpiece is the building of a cathedral in a little town called Kingsbridge. The story does not teach you how a cathedral is built. It tells the story instead of the journey of a builder in bringing to life the cathedral of his dreams, and the journey of the other people in his life who somehow affect how things in his life unfold, that somehow has an effect on whether his cathedral gets built or not.

His story is not unusual and nothing out-of-the-ordinary — unless you factor in the 12th Century setting. But his life story and life journey is not something unfamiliar to most of us. We all know the dichotomy of a life filled with both joy and pain, and how each one contributes to making each other more potent. And then there’s the story of how sometimes the concept of right and wrong are compromised for the sake of the greater good. And then there’s the tragic stories of how injustice can destroy the lives of the undeserving.

Aside from its authenticity and depth, what I’ve always loved about this book is that it poignantly shows human frailty at its best and worst. It portrays the weaknesses, vulnerabilities and insecurities of people — whether they’re rich and powerful aristocrats; Bishops and Cardinals whose ambitions betray even their own conscience; common everyday people who struggle on a daily basis just to survive; or even humble and forthright builders who only want to create the grandest masterpiece in their lifetime.

It is very well-written, and in the grand tradition of what makes stories fascinating and gripping, it makes for the perfect curled-up-in-your-couch reading afternoon.

The Twilight Phenomenon

I’ve always wondered about what made the “Twilight” series of books so popular.

A couple of years ago, before “Twilight” became the “Twilight” of unforeseen (and undeserved, in my opinion) epic proportions, a fellow fiction-lover lent me her copy of the book.

I finished reading it in a weekend, and couldn’t wait to finish it. Not because it was such an enthralling, engaging read… but because by page 3, I was bored out of my wits. I just didn’t have the heart to not finish the book, I have this thing about not reading books that are lent to me.

Naturally, after returning “Twilight”, I declined the offer to borrow and read the other books in the series. I forgot about it and lost myself instead in other books that were more deserving of my time.

Much to surprise a few months later, I started seeing copies of the book on desks of officemates… officemates who don’t even take up reading as a hobby.

twilight-book-coverThis was the first time I heard avid praises about the book. People would say that the premise and plot were ingenious — a human falling in love with a vampire — so unique, so they said. And the story so well-told — again, so they said.

Far too many times I’ve passionately explained why I don’t agree with both rave reviews.

The story is not unique. Hundreds of books have been written about humans falling in love with vampires; vampires falling in love with humans; and even vampires who fall in with werewolves.

You don’t even have to look far. I take personal offense for the genius that is Joss Whedon, the Director who created pop culture sensations like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, the vampire with a soul.

The story and the premise are nothing new.

This is itself, if quite forgivable though. I’m a believer that no ideas are completely new. Somewhere, somehow — after generations of ideas that flourish into literature, art and film — there’s no such thing anymore as a completely novel and unique idea. Every story already has hints of elements and flavors from here and there.

Now on the second point, the story was not well-written at all. In the tradition of a great story with a great build-up, a breathtaking climax, and an ending worthy of applause — this book had none of any of this. It was flat and monotonous from beginning to end. How lethargic the tone of the book was at the start was still how lethargic the book ended.

Even her writing style left much to be desired. Short, clipped sentences that evoked no emotion, no excitement, no build-up. All she did was narrate the day in the life of a girl named Bella. And if my days went by the way the narrative of Bella’s story went, I would have lived a very flat, uninteresting life.

But I can shrug off a bad book. I never regret reading any story, good or bad.

I only started reacting violently when I began hearing of interviews with the author, who, when confronted about how critics echoed my own sentiments about her ho-hum writing style, said that “I’m not a writer. I’m a storyteller.

And again, the only thing I can say about that statement is – well, she also kinda sucks as a storyteller.

But I do salute her for getting many people to start reading again. Whether it’s a good book or not, I guess doesn’t matter as much when you consider that the literacy rate in the Philippines probably went up for a while because of Stephenie Meyer and “Twilight”.