Saturday, January 29, 2011

I'm a bibliophile. Of course. What I also love are notebooks, journals, diaries, and all those beautiful things that are meant to be written on.

What I dislike about the North American ones is their price. And quality. To be clear, I can get one of those beautifully antique, masterfully bound journals with their creamy pages - for prices much steeper than a three-hole, lined spiral notebooks. Yes, I'm being cheap, but I'm also a student, and I'm also painfully aware of the 1/10 prices over in Asia.

Of course, being the bibliophile (is it still bibliophile, to love notebooks?) that I am, I do end up buying those journals anyways. I have them stacked up for my diary that started more than ten years ago. But for class notes? The hallow places that hold my chicken scratch jottings of information on Milton, Dryden, Rochester, Rulfo, Carver? Three-hole, lined spiral notebook it is, and the ink will just have to seep through the paper.

So imagine my geeky surprise when I ran into these beautiful notebook that were barely three dollars, with pristine white paper thick enough to hold the bravest of ink in place:

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: the notebook made of banana leaf, and the notebook made of stone.

They were designed with green living in mind, of course, but just looking at their beauty (and their affordable price - luxury, for notebooks that get used up every other week by mad scribbles!)

I haven't written on them yet, but their surface is so smooth. I could sit for hours rubbing my face against the paper. I have principles regarding these things; when I buy sketchbooks, I stand there in the art supply store and rub my face against each one to determine the texture that I want. And these? These are just wonderful. The banana leaf one is stylized, looking more like recycled pages with the tan color and texturized surface, but it's a very cute design that fits this quirk.

The thing about the notebook made of stone, though - and this would come as common sense that still surprises you - is its heaviness. I grabbed two off the shelf immediately, and really felt its weight. It nearly did make me put it back, since I have enough things to carry around in my backpack, but just one isn't too bad. Still heavier than other notebooks, but not so much that you'd wonder just what these notebooks were made of.

Watch me become a holic of these things, then tear apart every off and online store to find them again when they are discontinued.

(Eco-friendly as well, of course, although I do have to think about a bit. Is using banana leaves and stones that much better than using trees? I imagine some, yes, but isn't it still using up nature and cause trouble if too many of those are used as well?)

Exclamation: The People Who Watched Her Pass By

The People Who Watched Her Pass By 
Scott Bradfield

According to reviews floating in the internet, some find this book disturbing. I picked it up because I had three minutes to spend in the library and the title was intriguing. After I finished it and looked at the reviews, I have to say that the references to pedophilia - which the author was almost comically explicit in not including in his plot - weren't the disturbing kind. Here's why.

I decided, very early on, that The People Who Watched Her Pass By was not meant to be realistic. It paints a picture of the inner crust of the so-called contemporary American society, and the picture is indeed real; but the characters, and the actions they take, are far from realistic.

First you have Salome Jensen, a very young girl who acts and thinks in a way that would make Zarathustra proud. Her words and actions are so mature, in fact, that I was actually convinced time had passed in the beginning of the novel and she was at least a young adult, until she corrected me and stayed at 3-5 years old throughout (she doesn't know for sure herself). She does things like going into the desert alone to attain higher awakening (or so it would seem) and taking care of herself backpacking on the road better than some adults, but she mostly passes people by in a most non-child-like manner, giving no real attention to these people.

And oh, what people she passes by. Daddy, who takes her from her home because she is "a perfect, beautiful little child with a fresh perspective on this sorry world of ours" and is even afraid of touching her foot. Many couples who take her in for few days and whom she leaves before they tire of her so that their meetings may be kept beautiful. Old men at laundromats who figure "universe takes things apart and puts them together again, which is perfectly fine if you're a piece of wood, but not so nice if you're a little girl trying to grow into a big one." Tim at Store 24 who wants to elope with her but similarly is too scared to even hold her hand. And where, just where to start with Mrs Mayhew.

All these characters are delightful, powerfully characteristic, and well-fleshed out - thus believable. Yet where would we see people, who actually act as these characters do? It's certainly within the realm of possibility - but not probable at all. So what does it all mean, as a story?

Salome, apparently, is meant to save society as well. Daddy starts off the first page of the novel with "it's precisely this sort of perspective [that is, hers] which may yet save us all from total eco-catastrophe and self-annihilation." Mrs Mayhew dives into belief that Sal is "a little girl who will condemn the sinners to eternal damnation and suffering." Salome comes out of the desert and back into the human world, the first person she sees tells her that means "this stupid world has one more chance." People arrive to revere her - that is, adults revere and want to keep her in a shrine. Keep her as a shrine. And why?

If I were writing a critical essay for a class, I'd be spewing words like "absurdity of modern life" in each paragraph. This time, though, I mostly enjoyed it because of the author's voice. Screw the literary/social significance. Forget about the plot for a moment. Any voice that can carry a reader through no distinctly related sequence of observations of 146 pages, has my admiration.

If you enjoyed books like Das Parfume by Suskind, this story may provide the same kind of surreal realism (yes, surreal realism) and the subtle discomforting wrongness about it all.