Title: Missed Connections: Love, Lost and Found
Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
My Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5 stars)
A chance encounter with someone you think could be your soulmate holds an almost magical charm. If your mind lingers on it long enough, your imagination will start churning out what-could-have-beens, coupled with a wish that the other person is thinking of you too. All you could do is punctuate it with longing sighs…or perhaps you could cram an ellipsis on it instead by posting a “Missed Connection” online.
Missed connections often crackle with the electric current of romantic possibility, but they may also be a way to reconnect with an old friend, to look for a relative you’ve lost touch with, or just to express gratitude to a stranger. Whatever its purpose is, one thing is clear: there’s really no stopping the mushrooming of these cyber messages in the bottle.
Confession: one of my guilty pleasures is spending a sizable amount of time reading missed connections online. I never fail to have my daily dose of fiction, so I think it wouldn’t hurt reading tidbits that happened in real life. They’re tale fragments that my writer side would consider ultimately fic-fodder, but my cheeseball side would think as sparks of hope of connecting in a bleak world wrapped in a general atmosphere of pessimism and selfish disengagement. They’re like fairytales-in-making, and there’s really no telling if they’re going to end up with a happy-ever-after or just stay unfinished forever.
Missed Connections: Love, Lost and Found is one “picture book” I really treasure. It contains a bunch of missed connections from various online sites, this time partnered with paintings of the award-winning illustrator Sophie Blackall.
To say that Blackall’s artwork fully captures the weight of every missed connection is an understatement. Through strokes of Chinese ink and water color, she added quirky, wistful, poignant, comical, and tender flavors to the posts.
But what I love the most about this book is that most of the time, Blackall managed to insert her own version of “what if” into each message. This was done not through illustrating scenes of the possible future, but by merely depicting the exact moment boxed within the four corners of that missed connection. My favorite in this verse would be the “I Wish I Could See Your Head” one, where Blackall drew a girl with the parts of her head portrayed as if it were in a clinic poster. Cradled in the cranium section is an unmade bed with two pillows, suggestive that it had two occupants not so long ago. I think it’s cleverly peculiar, how Blackall supplied an answer of some sort to post writer who wished he could see inside the beautiful stranger’s mind.
Oh, and I like the fact that Blackall didn’t bother to go Grammar Nazi on all posts. The misspellings and misplaced punctuations are kept where they originally are, and I think it added to the credibility and reality of the missed connections.
Anyway, describing all my favorite illustrations would just “spoil” it for you; I want you guys to check out the illustrations yourselves. In all honesty, words can’t equate to the paintings’ exquisiteness. In fact, seeing them kind of rekindled the frustrated painter in me. I’ve gone back to painting recently, and I make it a point to always make time for this artistic endeavor. I’ve also scribbled a new item on my bucket list after finishing the book: to write and illustrate a book for my future kids. :)
It’s overall a book worthy of appreciation and the time you’ll spent flicking through it. “If a picture is worth a thousand words,” Ilene Beckerman says, “Sophie Blackall has created a bookstore you’ll fall in love with.” I couldn’t agree more.
Title: Juliet, Naked
Author: Nick Hornby
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
My Rating: ★★★★ (3.5/5 stars)
Musical fandom is no strange land to many of us. No matter what genre we strike a chord with, we are meshed together by the fact that we take a string of linked notes as some form of medicine for the soul, taken through the ears and channeled straight to our very cores. No matter how occupied our hearts seem to be, there’s always a slice that we save for music. It’s just sometimes, some people’s slices are far bigger than the others’… so much bigger to a point that the chunks reserved for something else were devoured by this slice, too.
Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked touches on this subject. It starts in an old toilet, which happens to be an important stop in a fan’s pilgrimage in honor of the purportedly legendary American musician Tucker Crowe. The said fan is the self-proclaimed “Crowologist” Duncan, and he has dragged his partner Annie to the trip. The old toilet is said to have been the last place Crowe went to before he left the music industry and disappeared into god knows where for more than two decades. For diehards like Duncan, the toilet has some kind of historic importance and a mystery waiting to be unveiled.
While Annie likes Juliet—Tucker Crowe’s last album before the commencement of his era of ‘reclusion’— she doesn’t share the same fanaticism Duncan has for the musician. In their 15 years of being tied down by a marriage of convenience, Annie has long accepted this quirk in Duncan’s personality. They’re living in some sort of bleak peace in some sort of bleak town called Gooleness, until this little bubble of strange serenity was burst by a break in Crowe’s 20 years of silence. An acoustic, barebones compilation of the songs in Juliet is released as a record called Juliet, Naked. Needless to say, it causes a fan racket in the Crowe community. What Annie and Duncan didn’t see coming is the stir it will also cause in their relationship. Duncan pens a rather hyperbolic appraisal for the release; Annie then offers the Info Superhighway her honestly lukewarm review, which in turn catches the attention of Tucker Crowe himself.
Paths begin to converge, diverge, and crisscross messily until they end up in a tangle of roads that lead into a better or worse life, depending on which one you choose. This literary piece may end up looking half like a huge nod to the lives of musical snobs, but a closer inspection at the bigger picture may unveil to you something so familiar. What you’ll see is a portrait of life as we often make it: a multiplex of twists and turns that exist not only so we can prove ourselves that we can’t stay trapped in a place where we’re not happy, but also to add to life’s no-nonsense beauty.
I was told that Nick Hornby’s roots are a combo of ‘music and messy relationships’, and it’s ever apparent in Juliet, Naked. It doesn’t take me too long to ease to the sound of Hornby’s storytelling voice, even if he shifts every so often between the three main characters. Maybe it’s because my bookshelf has been saturated with too many YA lit lately, but his writing style seems to be a breath of fresh air. I’m totally scribbling down Hornby’s complete oeuvre in my Christmas wish list.
The characters are astonishingly human and well-rounded. Their thought processes give them the mold of their personalities, with their doubts and fears acting as fingers that knead on their very being until they are as palpable as a person sitting next to the reader. Hornby knows how to extract the precise words we need to let out from the otherwise wordless complexity of aloneness and loneliness. Why do some people stay in an ‘okay’ situation rather than venturing forth to find a ‘great’ one? How can too much caution cause so many regrets that it can rival ones created because of carelessness? These questions are answered in the book.
We see details of Crowe’s daily life as he unwittingly pushes his third marriage into the brink of failure; we see how Annie clings not-so-tightly to a live-in setup she’s enduring for fifteen years. It’s safe to say that banality takes the forefront in most chapters. This could have triggered a negative reaction from anyone who wants to read something extraordinary, but only if not handled deftly. Hornby purposely uses this facileness to encapsulate the feeling of being trapped and hopeless in the cage you built yourself.
I couldn’t say it’s excellent plot-wise, though. It makes me a tad sad when a narrative has such good characters that don’t fit well with the rather middle-of-the-road storyline. And it has nothing to do with the abovementioned banalities; it’s all about the plot that’s too easy to recognize (if not actually predict). I’ve seen it from miles away, even before halfway through the novel—a fact that didn’t stop me from finishing it.
If anything, this book is the literary equivalent of a peculiar symphony that gives us a déjà vu whenever we listen to it—or jamais vu in my case, because I think I’m too young to feel like it’s too late for my life to have some kind of redemption after taking the wrong path. Not only is this a story that severs the line dividing musical evangelism and beastlike fanaticism. It’s also a story of managing to find the right moment to restart, which is often construed in three letters: NOW. It’s an overwrought power balladry of passion and hope, one that you know could have stuck to its G-Clef cleanliness but instead plunged an octave lower to poke with the deeper undercurrents of its chosen theme.
3.5 stars for an unforgettable read.