Working with a Legend

Working with a Legend

Not everyone gets to work with an icon. And not everyone gets to work with a business icon who doesn’t act like one. I was a twenty-year-old fresh grad when I first met National Book Store’s matriarch Mrs. Socorro Ramos or “Nanay Coring” as we fondly call her. She was around 80 years old back then. I didn’t know what to expect from the founder of the country’s leading bookstore. I was pleasantly surprised to see a tall charming old lady who sauntered her way into our department, carrying with her a warm yet commanding presence.

Nanay Coring

Nanay Coring

During my first meeting with her, I knew that I wanted another grandmother. She was beyond nice and extraordinarily humble. She laughed heartily, even playfully nudging me once in a while during meetings. :) She had no pretentions, serving others first before serving herself. I remember that every time we had a meeting, merienda would be served. She would give the mamon or burger first to the rest of us, distributing it quickly before getting her share. Little did she know that small gestures like that leave a huge impact in the people she worked with.

I was introduced to her as the new girl in-charge of the books for Powerbooks branches. Like any granny, there were times when she remembered my name and there were times when she simply called me “the little girl.” She taught me the secrets of the trade—how to negotiate and how to always end up in a win-win deal. I learned by example, watching her talk to foreign publishers with respect coupled with her natural charm and spontaneity. Publishers gave into whatever she asked without much effort from her. She was every bit sincere and irresistible. :)

First pic with Nanay Coring after nine years in the book industry!

First pic with Nanay Coring after nine years in the book industry!

With every presentation, she showed genuine interest and asked questions. She was an engaging listener and communicator. She is naturally generous and thoughtful. She gave gifts to every visiting publisher and even noted their favorite food or fruit! I remember this one US publisher who loves our mangoes. Every time he visited, huge ripe mangoes would be served (much to my delight because I love mangoes, too! Haha!).

When I celebrated my 22nd birthday, I brought food for our department and gave her some. I didn’t know she was coming to the office that day but I was secretly happy that she did. It made my day extra special. :) Much to my surprise, she called me in the conference room, asked me to sit down, and gave me a gift! I will never forget that day. :) I wanted to hug her but I was too shy to do so. I guess my body language betrayed me and it prompted Nanay Coring to give me a beso and a hug. I never felt kilig in receiving a lola hug ever except from her!

One of my favorite moments with her involved listening to her stories from World War II (my own lovable granny will narrate war stories to me, too!). She would share how business was difficult, how she strived and thrived, and eventually became successful. Even though she would tell this story repeatedly, I never grew tired of it. Her animated eyes and gestures made each retelling new to me. I also enjoyed listening to her conversations with publishers as they recalled how they used to do business back in Rizal Avenue with their feet soaked in knee-deep flood.

First National Book Store

First National Book Store

I also witnessed some of the cute quirkiness of Nanay Coring. She had this penchant for repeatedly eating something that she recently liked. There was a time when she grew fond of coffee crumble ice cream. So for months, we had coffee crumble during our afternoon meetings. Then came bibingka and so it was bibingka bonanza for weeks! Then came Jollibee hamburger (not even cheeseburger just the plain one) which she found really delicious and we had it for weeks as well. I’m not sure if she still has these cravings up to now because I haven’t been in a meeting with her in a long while. Nonetheless, that was really cute of her to saturate herself with her newly discovered food until she grew tired of it. :)

Nanay Coring lived by example and because she walked her talk, I saw the influence she made directly to her family. When I worked with two of her grandchildren I saw the ripple effect of her kindness and humility in them. I had a privilege of working with Gabby full-time in Powerbooks for four years and with Trina as a book consultant for five years now. Trina, my boss, doesn’t act like a boss. She works as a team player. She knows how to handle her people in a way that unites them together. I admire her the way I admire her grandmother. She is also a servant leader much like Nanay Coring. :)

With Ms. Trina and my friend Bea

With Ms. Trina and my friend Bea

I have to mention that Nanay Coring’s dedication to her work is unbelievable. She still goes to work full of energy at 90 years old. She reads the newspaper from cover to cover to keep her updated. One time she shared to me that she wakes up around 2:00am just to watch the news. It’s amazing how she can even keep up with the fast pace of the retail industry!

I also learned that for her, owning National Book Store is not just a mere business. It is also her way of making books accessible to every Filipino. I will never forget her answer to one foreign publisher when she was asked why she had to ask for huge discounts. With much conviction she said, “I want our books to have the most affordable price so that Filipinos can buy them.” She would go on to say that books are not really part of a Filipino family’s basic needs since we are a third world country. If books are expensive, people won’t buy it all the more. She believed that with the best price, people will still buy books and be encouraged to read.

The matriarch of the country's national book store.

The matriarch of the country’s national book store.

Behind the more than 140 stores you see all over the country is a matriarch with a big heart. I’ve been with her in several branch visits before and I saw how she talked to the sales personnel. She didn’t limit herself talking only to managers, she talks to everyone. She’s the type who would randomly ask how you’re doing when she passed by your table. In a survey done some time ago, customers said that they perceive National Book Store as a reliable store. It was even compared to a mother and a grandmother who is able to provide what they need at any given time. I would like to think that the way Nanay Coring nurtured the growth of her business had something to do with that perception. Like any mom or lola she wants to provide everything her children need. I guess that translates to her customers as well. She wants to have every book, paper, pen—anything we need to be available in her store.

Nanay Coring's 90th birthday

Nanay Coring’s 90th birthday

This year is a remarkable year for Nanay Coring as she celebrated her 90th birthday and the 70th anniversary of National Book Store. She deserves every blessing she’s receiving right now. It is my prayer that God will grant her more years because she inspires so many people, including myself. Through her, I saw that rags-to-riches stories are true. Through her, I learned that you don’t need a college degree to be successful. Through her, I learned that little acts of kindness to your co-workers go a long way. Through her, I fell in love with books even more.

I saw her recently in a store opening, had a short chat with her, and saw once again how she can light up a room with her presence. I am beyond grateful that God allowed me to work with someone like her. It’s a great blessing to learn from the best. Nanay Coring is a living legend in the truest sense of the word and I have to say the most adorable one at that. :)

Nanay Coring book

Nanay Coring book

Book Giveaway Winners! :)

Congratulations to the winners of our anniversary book giveaway!

Dianne of itravelwithmylittleeyes
Misai of Paperblanc
Wanda of The Yellow Library
Rico of Writerico
Pattmarvin of Some Books and Coffee
Jason of Xexepattiserie (I know I said for Philippine residents only but his wife lives here so he still qualifies :))
Purplecharm09
Marvsz of bibliokleptomaniac
Purplejady
Auie MD

I will contact you via email or SMS (for those I know personally :)) Thank you for taking time to visit The Book Vineyard!

I know I’ve been quite behind with my blogs but here are some of the book reviews you can expect in the coming weeks:

Incarceron and Sapphique by Catherine Fisher

When the Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza-Holthe

The Grace of God by Andy Stanley

Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

By the way, a lot of new books came out just recently! I’m excited to finish Mark of Athena and Casual Vacancy! :)

**I would like to thank National Book Store and Powerbooks for generously sponsoring free books for The Book Vineyard! :)

Book giveaway! :)

I’m so happy to announce that The Book Vineyard is giving away free books in celebration of its first year anniversary! :)

 

All you need to do is follow The Book Vineyard! If you’re already a blog follower then you’re already qualified to our book giveaway! Feel free to spread the word, too! Winners will be picked via electronic raffle and will be announced on September 30, 2012. :)

Thank you for supporting The Book Vineyard!

 

P.S. This is for Philippine residents only. :)

 

 

Revisiting the Cemetery of Forgotten Books

After more than a decade of waiting, my reader radar sounded its deafening alarm, alerting me that Carlos Ruiz Zafón finally released “Prisoner of Heaven,” the sequel to his epic book “Shadow of the Wind!” So I did what every eager beaver bookworm does, I went to the nearest bookshop and grabbed a copy of “Prisoner of Heaven.” I feel like I’m the 10-year-old Daniel Sempere, the protagonist in “Shadow of the Wind,” holding one precious book from the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. This time, I’m holding its sequel! I read the book in roughly five hours but divided into two days (had to squeeze it in between my mommy duties). I was actually surprised that the book was only 278 pages long!

Before I move on with my review, let me just say that if you haven’t read “Shadow of the Wind” then you’re missing out on one of the best modern literary books of all time. Zafón has probably mastered the art of Gothic fiction. His three books in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series—The Angel’s Game, Shadow of the Wind, and Prisoner of Heaven—are all filled with mystery, intrigue, noir, and unbridled romance.

The Story

“Prisoner of Heaven” follows the life of Daniel Sempere who is now married to Beatriz. He continues to manage the Sempere & Sons bookstore with his father and his close friend Fermin Romero de Torres. It was Christmas time and sales were not picking up in the Sempere bookshop. The seemingly uneventful season became alive when a grim-looking stranger appeared at the store. He bought the most expensive book and left it for Fermin with a strange dedication:

For Fermin Romero de Torres,

who came back from among the dead

and holds the key to the future.

This ominous visit led to a series of discoveries about Fermin’s life at the Montjuïc prison. Zafón’s description of this Spanish version of Alcatraz somewhat reminded me of Christopher Nolan’s “The Pit” in Dark Knight Rises. In this isolated no-escape prison, Fermin’s story intersected with the lives of two mysterious prisoners—the prolific writer David Martin and the guile Sebastian Salgado. He also came face to face with the vile prison governor Mauricio Valls and was even used against his will to extract information from the two inmates. The sinister events at Montjuïc prison later on unveiled the story behind the death of Daniel’s mother Isabella.

The novel ends with a cliff hanger that begs for the fourth and final installment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series.

Review

You might probably be wondering what it is about Zafón’s novel that’s worth reading. For me, his pervasive storyline that highlights the significance books and the relevance of writers to society is what made me swoon over his books. I believe every bibliophile should read one of his novels!

Now back to my two cents worth. Filled with secrets from the dark alleys of Barcelona, “The Prisoner of Heaven” is a novel of truth and deception, love and lies, corruption and integrity, survival and demise. It’s like peeling off an old wallpaper to find out the original painting behind it and discovering that there’s so much more to the image you exposed.

There are certain authors that have a distinct voice and Zafón is one of them. As I was reading this novel, I knew that I was reading raw Zafón. I can only imagine how beautiful it must be to read his novels in Spanish! His narration and descriptions reminded me so much of “Shadow of the Wind” and “The Angel’s Game.” The way he romanticized the landscape of Barcelona while juxtaposing its lurking darkness was enthralling. The riveting suspense was addicting to the point where you’d feel the urge to eat all the remaining pages of the novel.

The ending was a total prequel to the final installment in the series. My head was screaming for a closure but then that’s what penultimate novels are supposed to do. I don’t know how long I’ll wait again for the sequel but I’m sure it’s worth the last trip to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

Angelology: The Rise of Fallen Angels

“Angelology” is a novel of cosmic conflicts and earthly battles. Filled with historical, biblical, and mythological references, author Danielle Trussoni weaved an intriguing story of a young nun named Evangeline and her journey to unveiling the world of Nephilims—the hybrid offspring of humans and fallen angels.

A tranquil life threatened

Entrusted by her father to the Franciscan Order of Perpetual Adoration at a very young age, all that Evangeline knew about the world were confined in the walls of St. Rose Convent. Her mundane life was shaken when she received a request from art historian Verlaine to do research in the convent’s archives. It was through that inquiry that she discovered a correspondence between the famous philanthropist Abigail Aldrich Rockefeller and their former mother superior, Mother Innocenta.

As Evangeline discovered more letters, Verlaine found himself running for his life. Apparently, the person who commissioned him for the research was a Nephilim who came from the oldest and strongest family of their kind. Meanwhile, Evangeline’s unyielding curiosity led her to a series of conversations with an old nun, Sister Celestine, who took her deeply to the world of Angelology.

The past revisited

The novel took a different turn with the flashback story of Sister Celestine and her friend Gabriella Levi-Franche. The story of these two characters provided the indispensable background needed for the plot to move forward.

Albeit long, I found this part very engaging. As a reader, I felt the dedication and passion of the characters come to life in the perilous events that transpired in these chapters. The training of these two previous students under the Angelological Society and the dangers they faced along the way were filled with riveting and disturbing events that build up one after the other. This was also the part where the myth of Orpheus, the dangerous terrain of Bulgaria, the biblical nuances of Angelology, and the interplay of deception with Nephilims all merged to form the solid connection that completed the missing piece in the life Evangeline.

Facing divine enemies

The battle continued as Evangeline finally discovered her role in this centuries-old feud between humans and Nephilims. Alongside Verlaine, Evangeline came into contact with the members of the still-standing Angelological Society and a very significant relative.

Fast-paced action, relentless search for artifacts, and spontaneous confrontations with the Nephilim army packed the latter chapters of the novel. This masterpiece ended with a sequel-worthy scene that leaves the reader craving for more.

A new approach to the supernatural realm

“Angelology” is not your typical thriller. It’s theology, mythology, and mysticism all woven into a fictional story that produced an exceptional plot.

However, Evangeline as a protagonist only found her significant place in the novel when it was about to end. The character of Gabriella was even stronger and more influential in the entire course of the narrative.

Danielle Trussoni is a great storyteller. She knows how to keep her readers seeking for answers as the novel progressed. She developed the story intricately but not to the point of confusion. She made the facts work so well with fiction that it almost felt real to a certain extent. This book truly satisfied my literary appetite for a good mystery-thriller novel.

I picked up this book last year and my long wait is finally over now that the publisher announced that the sequel “Angelopolis” will be released on January 2013! Plus, Will Smith’s production company Overbrook and Sony Pictures will be working on the film version of “Angelology”! Can’t wait for both! :)

Peering into “The Marriage Plot”

My head is bursting with words. I have to stop what I’m doing right now and let my cramped brain get some air by freeing these overlapping book mumblings! After a month-long hiatus, I finally found some time to steal for a quick blog. I’ve been indulging with my favorite genre the past few months and I promise to write more about them this month. Here’s a taste of something literary for you :)

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Pulitzer-prize winner Jeffrey Eugenides created a novel that borders on being a literary snob in “The Marriage Plot.” Dubbed as one of the best novels of 2011, this book followed the intertwined lives of three college friends who tackled the intricacies of love and braved the harsh realities of the world outside the four walls of their classroom.

Madeleine Hanna is an English Major who lives in the world of Jane Austen and George Eliot. She is writing her thesis on the marriage plot found in English novels. Leonard Bankhead is a mysterious yet charming loner who becomes Madeleine’s object of affection. Mitchell Grammaticus, on the other hand, is Madeleine’s long-time friend and long-time secret admirer who pursued Religion as his major. The novel started on the day of their graduation and was narrated with flashbacks and present realities that slowly moved forward to their future.

Madeleine ended up having a relationship with Leonard and marries him eventually (less than a year after their graduation). Mitchell went to Europe and India to find more spiritual enlightenment but this didn’t help him forget the missed opportunities he had with Madeleine and the numerous “what ifs” that hovered in his head. Leonard battled with depression throughout the novel. This condition took a toll on his marriage with Madeleine. Mitchell and Madeleine meet again toward the end of the story after a surprising turn of events.

The Reader Experience

The novel started pretty slow for me but I immediately loved the character of Madeleine being a literature major myself. I said earlier that this book bordered on being a literary snob mainly because of the literary giants (and their works) it mentioned throughout the story. Some of whom are unknown in the circle of average fiction readers. Perhaps this was what gave Eugenides the credibility to create a character, who took that course for the same reason I took mine,

She’d become an English major for the purest and dullest of reasons: because she loved to read.

Finding a kindred spirit like her made me more engaged in reading this novel! Her reading list is pretty awesome (and nerdy for some, I guess). I will enumerate some later on. I love the character development of Mitchell. His search for meaning led him to different places where he saw the myriad faces of spirituality exhibited by various people. The pseudo-love triangle between them was the thin thread I was hanging on to. I was secretly hoping that Madeleine would finally notice and admit that Mitchell was the “one who got away.”

I almost gave up on this novel when it reached the part when Leonard was struggling being a manic depressive. Eugenides made it so depressing that it felt like I was on the verge of having one, too! The uncanny beauty in that part was that I learned what it was like to be depressed and how hard it was to fight it. Leonard was a very intellectual character. He explained his condition in the most sensible way. His terrible mood swings affected me the way it almost ruined Madeleine’s sanity. In the end, Leonard made a drastic decision that I never expected. This decision led to Madeleine and Mitchell meeting again where another decision was made that surprisingly was the ending I wanted for all three of them.

The novel closes with a lot of possibilities. When Mitchell threw this question to Madeleine, I found myself nodding—completely satisfied with Jeffrey Eugenides’ marriage plot.

From the books you read for your thesis…was there any novel where the heroine gets married to the wrong guy and then realizes it, and then the other suitor shows up, some guy who’s always been in love with her, and then they get together, but finally the second suitor realizes that the last thing the woman needs is to get married again, that she’s got more important things to do with her life…do you think that would be good, as an ending?

It exhibits reality in its purest form where anything can happen. It takes exceptional talent to weave that kind of plot. It takes a great deal of risk to veer away from happily ever after and settling with allowing the characters work it out for themselves. And as Eugenides aptly puts it,

It took courage to let things fall apart so beautifully.

Are you ready to take on Madeleine’s reading list? :)

Of Grammatology by Jacques Derrida

Writing and Difference by Jacques Derrida

A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes

Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Emma by Jane Austen

Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Love Story by Erich Segal

The Madwoman in the Attic by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar

H.M. Pulham, Esquire by John Marquand

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

The Role of the Reader by Umberto Eco

On Deconstruction by Jonathan Culler

Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal

Daniel Deronda by George Eliot

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Paradise Lost by John Milton

This book is FRAGILE: Handle with Care

What will you do if your child is so fragile she can break her bones while she’s sleeping? How will you take care of your little one who can suffer fractures due to a mere sneeze? These are the everyday dilemmas that Charlotte and Sean O’ Keefe face about their daughter Willow. In “Handle with Care,” Jodi Picoult, one of my favorite authors, took me once again into a journey involving sensitive and moral issues that can make or break a family.

After reading this book, I had to pause and psych myself to detach my emotions from the characters I’ve grown to love. It had that rare grip on me as a reader. I have to agree with Stephen King on this. This is Picoult’s best novel by far since “My Sister’s Keeper.” Here’s what he has to say:

“You men out there who think Ms. Picoult is a chick thing need to get with the program. Her books are an everyone thing, and the current offering — about a little girl whose bones are so brittle that they break almost at a puff of wind — is her best since My Sister’s Keeper. It’s a legal/medical thriller, but at bottom it’s a story about the American heart of darkness: a small-town marriage under stress. Picoult writes with unassuming brilliance and never descends into soap opera.”

—Stephen King

The Story

Willow was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI) or the brittle bone disease. Despite being extremely fragile, Willow was a genius. She loves blurting out trivia every now and then. She reads during her recovery period after a bone break. Her personality more than compensates for her sickness.

To give you an idea on how fragile Willow is, here’s an excerpt from Charlotte’s narration:

Your first seven breaks happened before you entered this world. The next four happened minutes after you were born, as a nurse lifted you out of me. Another nine, when you were being resuscitated in the hospital, after you coded. The tenth: when you were lying across my lap and suddenly I heard a pop. Eleven was when you rolled over and your arm hit the edge of the crib. Twelve and thirteen where femur fractures; fourteen a tibia; fifteen a compression fracture of the spine…twenty-three happened in your sleep; twenty-four and twenty-five were a fall forward in the snow that snapped both forearms at once…twenty-eight happened during a sneeze; twenty-nine and thirty were ribs you broke on the edge of the kitchen table.

(quote shortened)

Charlotte and Sean O’ Keefe were the most dutiful parents Willow could ever have. Charlotte had to give up being a pastry chef just to take care of her while Sean had to work double shifts as a police officer to pay for their insurmountable medical bills. Aside from her parents, Willow had a stepsister Amanda, who despite being helpful, had secret struggles of her own.

Their trip to Disney World was the turning point of the story. Willow slipped inside an ice-cream parlor and broke both her femurs severely which could lead to internal bleeding. The family didn’t even make it inside Disney World, they all went to the hospital to rush Willow. Upon arriving at the emergency room, Charlotte asked Amelia if she brought the letter. Whenever the O’ Keefes go out they bring the letter from Willow’s doctor saying that she had OI. Unfortunately, Amelia forgot. She got overwhelmed with excitement that she forgot to get the letter Charlotte asked for. This mistake led to the arrest of their parents for being suspects of child abuse.

A lot of people are not aware of OI which is the very reason why they had to bring the letter all the time. Willow’s doctor could not be reached by the hospital and so the social welfare had no choice but to put Amelia in protective custody and Willow in hospital arrest while their parents were in jail. They were eventually released and the family went home but Willow was placed in a spica cast for four months which made it impossible for her to move on her own.

Coming back from Florida, Charlotte consulted a law firm so they could sue the people who harassed them and took their kids in custody. Basically, all she wanted was to be paid financially for the damages they incurred during their stay there not to mention the embarrassment they experienced. After much interrogation, the lawyer said they have no case against the people in Disney World or the hospital. However, they can have another case that can give them huge financial gain. They can file for a wrongful birth lawsuit.

A wrongful birth lawsuit implies that if the mother had known during her pregnancy that her child was going to be significantly impaired, she would have chosen to abort the fetus. It’s a medical malpractice suit that can be filed against the ob-gyn for failing to disclose the condition of the child. Winning this whopping $8-million lawsuit would mean a lifetime of comfortable living for Willow. This would’ve been easy for Charlotte if this did not entail two things: declaring publicly that she would’ve aborted Willow had she known her condition AND suing her ob-gyn who was her best friend.

Review

This novel is a web of questionable medical ethics, conflict of interests, moral obligations, unspoken truths, and dubious motives held together by a mother’s unwavering love for her child. Every part of this novel is believable. I understand how enticing it is to have the future of your child secure and I also know how gut wrenching it is to lie in front of your own child. You’ll discover in this novel how this situation affected all the members of the O’ Keefe family as it was told by each member of the family including Piper, Charlotte’s best friend. Big decisions such as this can make or break a marriage, a friendship, and an entire family.

I love the way Jodi Picoult made the tension so gripping and the emotions of the characters so riveting without coming across as sappy. I wanted to jump inside the pages of the book and scream at Charlotte. I wanted to shield Willow from all the pain. I wanted to tell Sean to control his wife. I wanted to tell Piper to just loan Charlotte money. A good novel makes you want to meddle with the story and be involved in the conflicts set before you.

This book has its shortcomings, too. The recipes in some of Charlotte’s chapters were distracting for me. Although I understand that she’s a pastry chef, I was more eager to move on with the story instead of reading recipes. However, I know that readers who love to cook will love those parts. I had mixed emotions about the ending. It got me thinking for a while and so many questions lingered in my head.

Overall, this is a book that has the right amount of everything. Picoult knows when to pull back when the plot thickens too much. She can put your emotions in a situation that you find yourself becoming so fragile like Willow who can break at any given time. It’s too good to put down once you started it. So if you’re looking for a book that will shake you to the core, then open your doors to the O’ Keefe family…but you have to handle them with care.