Quarterly Rhapsody: Blogging About Books

Quarterly RhapsodyWhy do I blog about books?

The foremost reason is I love books more than anything else. I was not a big reader until I reached my college years. My high school years were spent trying to fit in with groups that I am no longer interested in. I tried doing that over and over until I realized that it is not really worth it. Why should I change the way I am for the sake of acceptance? I am happy enough being myself, and although I am always alone, I am nevertheless bothered by it.

So I turned into writing. I used to, and still, pour out all my anxieties on notebook after notebook. Then I was introduced to the world of blogging. I found it very convenient so I abandoned my notebooks once I got hooked to blogs. I really got into writing; blogs allowed me to have a voice to an unknown audience. Writing has always been a frustration for me, and the rejection that I experienced with my high school writings didn’t stop me. That, on the contrary, made me strive more. I wanted to hone whatever potential that I had for writing, so I resorted to books to know for myself what good writing is made up.

I remember distinctly that I started really getting into books when a friend lent me a book of essays by a local writer, Jessica Zafra. I loved reading them. She is somehow a literary sensation in the mid 90’s, what with her sarcasm and irony. I decided to buy all her books, particularly the Twisted Series. This writer also talked about the books that she loves, and with her recommendations, I went back to novels.

I say went back  because I read a few novels in high school, but not seriously. To write seriously, maybe I should read seriously as well. Coincidentally, there was a newly opened second-hand book store at one of the malls in my hometown. I barged in and checked out their selections. I was so lost in thought and bliss that I decided right then to build my own library. I was looking at the best sellers. I saw John Grisham, Sydney Sheldon, Tom Clancy, Nora Roberts, and Danielle Steel. I encountered the last back in high school. In fact, I read around a dozen of her books. That could have been the start of all this reading, but I abandoned my following of her because I realized her works are so similar with each other.

Then I remembered the first novel that I ever read, To Kill a Mockingbird. I wanted to read books like that, huge in theme and all-encompassing in reach. I remembered it won the Pulitzer. At that time, I really didn’t know what the Pulitzer was. I was still at the book store then when I saw The Shipping News. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. I bought it, and I thought of collecting all the winners of the Pulitzer.

Then I read Booker winners as well. And then National Book Critics Circle winners. And classics. And works by Nobel laureates. And I became a book hoarder.

It was not enough for me to just read books. I wanted to rant about them so that I could somehow egg people to read such books. I’d rather see them read worthy books instead of those commercialized ones. So I ended up creating a blog dedicated to the books that are really worthy of one’s time.

But how does one blog about books? Is there a proper way to do it? I checked out other blogs, and I didn’t like them. They would recommend such and such books, books that would eventually be forgotten in a few years. Other blogs are more impressive with their classic choice of books. However, the way the books were blogged about was too high brow for the regular reader.

I wanted to steer away from that type of blogging, from that type of reviewing books. I came up with something. I would review a book in such a way that it doesn’t appear like a review. I would review it without all those adjectives that you often find in book blurbs. I would review it based on the reading experience itself. And I would review it only after a certain period of time has elapsed to see how unforgettable the book was.

And that’s Book Rhapsody. I blog about books because I love books. I blog about books because I enjoy reading. I blog about books because I want to become a better writer. And I blog about books because I’d like to share the beauty of literature to the rest of the world.

War And Peace Diaries, VI

War And Peace - Leo Tolstoy

War And Peace - Leo Tolstoy

Day 21: 1075 – 1129

After the death of Prince Andrei, Princess Marya and Natasha develop a meaningful friendship. The animosity that they harbored against each other no longer exists. They support each other in times of loneliness, although they hardly ever talk about Prince Andrei. Their friendship is one that is not only about keeping each other company, but it is the intertwining of two souls in platonic love.

Going back to the business of war, the Russians believe that they have trounced the Frenchmen, what with their retreat to Smolensk, the town where they started out to march against Moscow. And since the French are dissolving and fleeing, the Russian heads decide to wage another war. Kutuzov, the general commander, the one held responsible for the loss of Moscow, is appointed again. However, he dies, maybe out of old age, or maybe out of exhaustion from all this war business. And it is only at this point that I realized he is a real historical figure.

We have seen Pierre always on the go, but this time, he goes down with a sickness. He is under the care of her aunt in the town of Orel. Although they are not really in good terms, they develop good relations at this time.

We could expect to see Pierre die since everybody else is dying. But lo, Pierre recovers. He even renews his relations with the Rostovs. And after a long time, Pierre finally admits his love for Natasha. It is finally Pierre’s time. Looks like there will be a happy ending after all.

Day 22: 1129 – 1179

Finally, we are here on the first part of the epilogue, and it is supposed to wrap things up. An addition to the death count would be Count Ilya Andreich’s death. For some reason, he dies. And what a wrong timing, at such a time when peace is at hand. To tell the truth, I am not really fond of the Rostov father, although he is always almost everywhere.

Despite the death of the count, Pierre and Natasha marry each other. They have kids, a big house, good business, and all that. Nikolai and Princess Marya also marry. The two bring up their family at Bald Hills, where they tend to farming and managing their estates pretty well.

There is a sharp contrast between these two marriages. The former is fun and youthful; the latter is deep and spiritual. I cannot say which one is the better marriage because both have their pros and cons.

And the book is about to end. Who are the last characters to be mentioned? The countess is turning into a moody old wretch. Sonya is the silently contemptuous tea server. Denisov is now a high-ranking official. Nikolai Bolkonsky is leaning more towards Pierre’s ideals than his father. These people, along with Pierre, Natasha, Nikolai, Princess Marya, and their respective kids, hold a gathering for a particular festival. There’s a little talk about social idealism, have a little argument, go to sleep, have some intimate chitchat, and the novel is over. 

Day 23: 1179 – 1217

At least the fiction part is over. You might expect the story to end in the second part of the epilogue. No. The novel officially ended on that night, the night of that gathering at Bald Hills. The second part of the epilogue is dedicated to a lot of ranting about history, power, freedom, and necessity.

It’s like an extended essay. It is enlightening to read this part. However, I was little exasperated because I felt that the chronicling of lives of the characters are left hanging in the air. I actually think that the second part of the epilogue should have been the first so that reader would not be disappointed to find out that there is nothing else written about the characters that they have read so much about.

In addition, most of the reflections on this part have already been discussed in bits in previous parts, so it was a little repetitive. I was even on the verge of screaming, even ditching the book. But how can anyone give up on the last part?

The second part of the epilogue can be read separately without even knowing any single character or event in the novel. In all fairness, the writer has good points. He is very instructive, thoughtful, and convincing. But I still want to know what would happen to Pierre, Natasha, Nikolai, Marya, and especially the young Nikolai Bolkonsky. He was talking cryptically in the end. Oh well, I just hope he becomes a man whom everybody would look up to.

And that’s the end of War and Peace. The diaries may be delayed, particularly the last two installments, but the events are still fresh in my head. For how long, that I cannot answer.

War And Peace Diaries, V

War And Peace - Leo Tolstoy

War And Peace - Leo Tolstoy

Day 17: 878 – 935

It’s high time that I finally finish these diaries. It’s been too long. I have finished the book almost a month ago, so let me catch up.

Moscow is a huge mess. In fact, Moscow is now abandoned. After Borodino, the Russian army retreated further. The only people left in the city are those from the lower classes who have nowhere to go to. They are even led to believe that they would all be protecting their city. But that isn’t going to happen, and they feel this sense of betrayal. They rush to the city administrator, Count Rastopchin, the very person who urged them on. Flustered, he looks for someone to blame. He remembers the prisoners who were tried for treason. He picks a certain Vereshchagin. At the count’s command, he is publicly beaten to a bloody pulp. The people sentenced him to death although he is only supposed to do hard labor. The voice of the people called for violence. Is this the voice of God?

This is a really dark scene. The author dives deep into the darkness of the human soul. I thought this stuff is only for Cormac McCarthy or Joseph Conrad. But he portrayed it. I’m going mad.

Pierre is making plans to kill Napoleon himself. However, he ends up saving a French captain, Ramballe. Our protagonist resolves not to speak in French, but he couldn’t fight it. He ends up having an all-night chat over wine with the captain. Hence, they are now friends.

The Rostovs are now also on the go, finally, after a lot of trifles. On the way, Natasha discovers that Prince Andrei is with them. Sonya tells his condition to the countess, and of course, Natasha wants to see him badly. She sneaks out one night, and when she lays her eyes on the ailing Prince Andrei, all the bad feelings and memories fades away.

Go back to Pierre. After his encounter with Captain Ramballe, he resolves again to kill Napoleon. He goes to the burning city of Moscow. He meets a bunch of Russian families. He saves a child from a burning house. He saves a woman from being looted of her jewelry. A hero. But he did not end up killing Napoleon. He ends up getting arrested for arson.

Day 18: 935 – 987

Helene dies of angina pectoris. Just what is that? I didn’t bother researching. It’s good enough that she’s dead already. With the war going on, Pierre is unaware of this.

Nikolai and Princess Marya meet at Voronezh. The latter is staying with a relative, what with the war going on and the recent loss of her father. The socialites of that town decide to pair the two together. Nikolai gets confused. He is in the town to buy some horses, and now he is meddled in such affairs. He likes Princess Marya’s soul, but how about his promise to Sonya? And what do you know, he receives a letter from Sonya, telling him to forget all about the promise that he made her.

Pierre is interrogated along with other prisoners. He is sentenced to death. But when his turn came, he is spared. Maybe he is not sentenced in the first place? But he comes face to face with death. He witnessed how the other prisoners were shot. It is a very existential experience for him, looking at the prisoners’ bodies slipping away from consciousness, forever, once the guns explode and the bullets steal their breaths.

It’s pretty obvious that my favorite character will die any time soon. But the writer kills him slowly. It is almost unbearable. I was a little wild-eyed, right after finishing this part, Volume 4, Part 1. If someone had seen me, he would have thought that I lost it.

This part is fierce yet delicately written. It left an indelible mark inside me. The feeling that I had was so intense that I kept seeing flickering white flashes as I closed my eyes and forced myself to sleep, and it was already 5 AM. Then the lonely light of morning shone through the window, which somehow amplified what I was feeling. That emotion is similar to what you feel in that fleeting interval between the last wave of the conductor’s baton to his orchestra, signaling the finish of the last movement of a symphony, and the long applause from the audience.

Day 19: 987 – 1031

Denisov is back in action. I thought he was done for when he stood up for his company. I missed this character, especially the way he talks. So he contributes a little to the war. He gives the Frenchmen a surprise attack. Of course, he is successful.

And Pierre undergoes a transformation while in captivity. Despite the absence of the luxuries of his previous life, he never felt freer than he is right now. He is a destitute, wearing rags and infected with lice, but still, he was never happier in his life as he is right now.

And the French decides to leave Moscow. After all that effort and after looting the whole city, they turn back instead of marching towards Petersburg. A lot of talk goes on here, and I do not wish to divulge in it. It’s a lot of military tactics talk, something that I am not into.

Day 20: 1031 -1075

Petya and Dolokhov investigates a French camp. Petya adores the indifferent Dolokhov. It’s like Nikolai’s adoration for the emperor. Petya tags along, thirsty for adventure. They assume to be French officers from another camp, using their stolen uniforms, perfect French, and intimidation as guises.

After this spying, the Russians under the command of Denisov attack this French camp. Petya goes a little too excited, so he ends up not falling off his horse, but getting a bullet in his head. He dies. The French surrenders. The prisoners are set free, of which Pierre was one of them.

Speaking of Pierre, he met a certain Karataev while he is held a prisoner. He becomes friends with him. Karataev turns out to be Pierre’s benefactor, and the latter gets into seriously thinking about life and spirituality thanks to this free-spirited soldier. He is always positive and obscure at the same time. However, during the long marches, Karataev dies. This soldier calls out to him for the last time, but Pierre pretended not to see hear him.

Karataev is the last character introduced in this book, and it’s almost over. Everyone else is dying. This is war. Who’s next?

Candide – Voltaire

Candide by Voltaire

Intro

I was never really interested in this book. I know it’s a popular satire, but the only reason that I got my hands on this is the constant egging of a past flame. He loves this book so much; it was all that he could rant about every time our conversations steered towards literature.

So when I made my weekly second-hand book store tour, I made a mental note to buy me a copy as long as it was cheaper than most books. And voilà! I had myself a copy. Seeing that it had only a few pages, I went ahead to read it.

Did I like it as much as my previous flame did? Did I share his sentiments about the book?

The Rhapsody

I didn’t. I liked it while I was reading it, but that’s it. I couldn’t even remember what it was really about. All I know is that Candide was always in some sort of adventure, meeting various people who were always more, and extremely, unfortunate than him.

I mentioned it is a satire. I only found that out while I was looking for an accompanying photo. But yes, it was funny. Aren’t satires supposed to give you some laughs?

Anyway, one thing I remember here is the old woman whom Candide met. I think they were exchanging their life stories. With every misfortune that Candide mentioned, there was always a rebuttal from the old woman in the form of a worse misfortune. This should remind us that someone else in the world is suffering more than we do. So enough with the drama, although it is hard to do so. Appreciate what you have. Hope for the best. Trust yourself. The only question then is who is the worst sufferer of us all.

The characters here are at either end of the luck spectrum. I found this a little annoying because it’s hard to imagine the events in the book happening in real life. However, since this is a satire, it is forgivable.

Because this book is so economical and since it was read way back in my college freshman years, that’s all I could remember.

2 star - it was okFinal Notes

One thing I learned from reading Candide is to never read a book that is recommended by your lover. If you are the carefree type, do not listen to me. But if you are the unforgiving, eternally bitter, and constantly brooding over the past, then hear me out.

Every time I see a copy of this book, the image of my ex is summoned immediately. He is nice, smart, artistic, but he is too insecure and self-destructive. He would always get paranoid that I’d dump him because his looks are rather inferior. He would always threaten me to kill himself. And me, the irresolute me, the martyr me, I’d always hush him.

Looking back, I felt that I was psychologically battered. It was a tumultuous relationship. It ended when I changed my mobile phone number. We never heard from each other then, but I am always curious about his whereabouts. I hope he’s doing better now.

I have a feeling that he didn’t really read Candide, I mean read it in the truest sense of reading. What is the true sense of reading then? I think it’s reading the text, enjoying yourself with the beauty of prose, and then thinking about the meaning of it. I guess he really didn’t think about the content because otherwise, he would have realized that he was not the lowest of all the beings here on earth. He was really well-off, to tell you the truth, but he’s perpetually self-deprecating.

I hope you get the drift when I’m saying not to buy other’s recommendations. Besides, you know yourself best. You know what you like, so there’s really no sense asking what to read next. You can receive a hundred recommendations, but in the end, it is still you who will spend some time with a book of your choice.

Well, that’s just me. Ask me for recommendations, I’ll ask for the books that you read. I will give my recommendations then based on your answer. I will try to remember the books that I read and enjoyed and learned something from. And even though I no longer remember Candide as it should be, I remember it in my own special and tender ways.

Bee Season – Myla Goldberg

Bee Season - Myla Goldberg

Bee Season - Myla Goldberg

Who bought it: A cousin, but it was given by a different cousin because the owner cousin forgot that the book is in the care of the giver cousin. And I extorted the latter to give it to me.

What is it: It’s about a Jewish family ties and traditions. It focuses on Eliza, a young girl who is very adept at spelling.

When: March 20, 2011

Where: I don’t know. Maybe in Saudi Arabia?

Why: I already read this book, but I want to have a copy of all the books that I have read.

How much: Free!