The toddler got me

Extra Copies and Recommendations

May is not a good month for me as far as book shopping is concerned. Really, I haven’t been going around book stores recently for this a financially difficult month for me. Let’s stop right there, but if you are concerned, I am slowly recovering, yes.

Even so, I could barely find anything that interests me when the urge to snoop around book stores becomes unbearable. The case, as usual, is that I already own the books that I find interesting. Anyway, here are the recent books that I unearthed from one book store, one of my favorite Book Sale branches, the one at Makati Square.

May 17, 2012

  • The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara – I already have a mass market copy of this, but this trade paperback is too cheap to let go. It is in very good condition, no creases, vanilla-ish odor, might have never been read, so I bought it since I had nothing else to buy. Php 25.00.

May 29, 2012

  • Mother’s Milk by Edward St. Aubyn – I was intrigued by this because local author and blogger Jessica Zafra wrote a compelling review of it. My office mate told me about the review during our lunch break, thinking that I haven’t seen it yet. I am not usually swayed by reviews, but when Zafra devotes one blog post for one book, it must mean something. Call me a fan, yes, and I would not deny it. I still trust her judgment when it comes to books. She raved about David Mitchell before anyone I knew mentioned him to me. I just ignored those, and what a shame! If I had just listened, I might have discovered Cloud Atlas and Jacob de Zoet earlier. And then there are the War and Peace, Blood Meridian, and The Sense of an Ending reading groups: powerful reads that I might not have read sooner had it not been for her. Php 115.00.
  • The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction – The fourth edition. I intend to buy the most recent edition (seventh) at Book Depository, but I could not resist this older edition. Actually, I already have the third edition, one increment older, and when I checked and compared these two, there isn’t a lot of difference. Only about a dozen short stories were dropped and added, and it is a minute change compared to the almost 150 short stories in the seventh edition. You might ask why obsess over this. Well, I intend to pursue yet another project next year, which is to read at least one short story per week from this anthology and then answer the accompanying questions. If you are interested in such a project, please let me know so that we could work something out. But let me just make it clear that I am really solid in pursuing it. Php 235.00.
I think I have this.

eatmebookiebloggie! – Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

Who is Lionel (line-all) Essrog? Here’s his life story, up to some point:

My life story to this point:

The teacher looked at me like I was crazy.

The social services worker looked at me like I was crazy.

The boy looked at me like I was crazy and then hit me.

The girl looked at me like I was crazy.

The woman looked at me like I was crazy.

The black homicide detective looked at me like I was crazy.

Why did six people look at him like he was crazy? Well, he is sort of crazy, if one considers a neuropsychiatric disorder as a characteristic of a crazy person. Tourette’s syndrome, yes, that’s it. To prevent you from steering towards Wikipedia, let me just briefly describe what Tourette’s is: it is a disorder wherein a person suffers from involuntary verbal or motor, or both, tics.

So let’s say a person, in this case Lionel Essrog, our protagonist, talks to you, he will not be able to control himself from tapping your shoulder. In fact, he might tap your shoulder up to six times. And while he’s talking, he might just intermittently blurt -eatmebailey!- sounds or phrases that do not make -roundsofaces!- sense to the listener. Heck, he might even be mentally counting the hairs sticking out of your nose.

It’s fun reading through his tics because they are very witty play of words. So one may see Lionel as a wordsmith instead of a chronic sufferer. Speaking of suffering, his father figure, Frank Minna, also the founder of the detective agency where he works, was fatally stabbed. As a result of blood loss, he dies at a Brooklyn hospital.

So yes, Lionel plays the detective with invasive tics here. Finding out who the killer is seems to be the ultimate question, but really, I think there is more to it than that despite this novel being a detective story.

Date Started: May 23, 2012. 9:15 PM. Book #31 of 2012.

* * * * *

Anyway, since I could somehow relate to the protagonist’s compulsions (yes, I do have a set of them), I’d like to make a sort of announcement, which is a sort of compulsion, if you really think about it. This has been eating me up for days. I think I should put this on a separate post, but anyway, starting next month, I will start writing my book write-ups immediately or as soon as possible. I will no longer uphold the six-month waiting period, because really, I now have a huge backlog of book write-ups and I have some trouble remembering them.

A question: why did I even choose not to do my book write-ups immediately? Answer: because almost everyone is doing that. Procrastinating reviews is the blog niche that I initially chose, but now, that is taking its toll on me. But this is the whole point of the act: to test which books will last longer inside my head and which books will leave a bigger imprint on me. Well, I can always re-rant on those books, can’t I?

Besides, there are some people who are anticipating the write-ups for the books that I recently finished. So I think this is good news for them, no? Another thing: I will just compile my initial reading reactions into one weekly wrap-up post. This way, I can prevent people from confusing my initial reactions from my official write-ups. I know I sound crazy. Perhaps I have Tourette’s?

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

A Transition – Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

Let me first say that I did not love this just because David Mitchell wrote it. If you really want to know, I think this novel is a departure from the Mitchell that most readers are acquainted with, the one who is daring and experimental and form-defying. This one is a little tame and somehow timid. Some readers might even find disappointment in this novel if they are expecting a structure similar to Cloud Atlas or Ghostwritten. I haven’t read the latter yet, but I heard so much of it.

So the novel is written like a monthly diary. Thirteen chapters, from January to the next January, tell the story of Jason, a boy who is at the edges of his childhood and adolescence. We read about his stammering issues, his secret love for poetry, his rise and fall at the popularity ladder of their school, some issues with his family, his misadventures with his friends and enemies, and then his first stumbling at teenage love. This is screaming young adult, no?

But it wasn’t marketed as such, probably because Mitchell is not an exclusive young adult fiction writer. I think though that this is something that young adult readers should read. I also think this has to be his most personal work, drawing scenes from his childhood and cutting out his protagonist from the cardboard that is himself. And since it is such, there’s a sense of intimacy in it. It’s like being let in for some fond childhood secrets.

‘Revolting’ was the last word I ever spoke as someone who’d never kissed a girl. I’d always worried but kissing’s not so tricky. Your lips know what to do, just like sea anemones know what to do. Kissing spins you, like Flying Teacups. Oxygen the girl breathes out, you breathe in.

But your teeth can clunk, something chronic.

Thirteen chapters at the age of thirteen. What does one go through when he is thirteen? One is too old to run around and play, one is too young to get involved with adult issues, one is caught in that little crack of existence ignored by the world as one copes with the physical and emotional changes that are unwillingly taking place, and, to make matters worse, one is at that moment where choosing between your real self and the outside self can be so critical.

The last item: Jason loves writing poems. Jason has a dorky friend. Can Jason let these two out in the open? The boys of Black Swan Green would definitely not react positively to do this. In fact, he will most probably be placed at the top of the to-bully list if he does, so he makes some compromises. How long he’ll stick to it, we have to find out.

More on his love for writing poems, Jason has developed a knack for looking up synonyms of words that his mouth wouldn’t let him speak. You see, Jason stammers at certain words. He’s as much a stammerer as the real Mitchell is. Let’s say his tongue gets tied at the word “beautiful”, he’d search his brain for a synonym that would be acceptable but at the same time would not give him a reputation of being an innate wordsmith, for having a rich vocabulary is something that is not acceptable among the boys of that town. You know, big words is easily tantamount to being a big dork, or more of being a big gay boy.

So you see, there is a constant battle between Jason being his true self and Jason being his socially acceptable self in order not to be an outcast in their school’s circle. I think such an issue is fit for a young adult novel, but why doesn’t it have a massive appeal among the young adult readers?

Probably because the narrative isn’t linear. Linear storytelling is more focused on plot, isn’t it? But I think this novel focuses more on characterization, in this case our poet trapped inside a stammering boy. Although the monthly chapters are in order, they are episodic in structure and stylistic for a thirteen-year old protagonist, which is to be expected from one who has finer tastes. At least the author did not totally abandon his reputation for being the writer that he is, and that is exactly why I like this novel. Quite a risky move, yes, but it still paid off.

5 star - it was amazingAlthough there are themes on family, friendship, self-identity, and young love, there are also some regarding the war and the social class divisions. So yes, it is packed with a lot, although these are not blasted in front of our faces.

Fans of Mitchell will also be delighted to know that characters from his previous novel, Cloud Atlas, appear here. One, from the Robert Frobisher part of Cloud Atlas, will become Jason’s mentor of sorts. This character will also let the boy poet listen to the famous Cloud Atlas sextet. This continuity of the previous novel gives me that feeling that Cloud Atlas is not yet finished after reading the last page. Its life extends to Mitchell’s other novels, giving the author’s followers something to look forward to.

But more delightful than that is reading the experiences of a thirteen-year old and being indulged to look back at your own experiences at that age. Nostalgic, yes, but it brings some giddy feelings if it is done once in a while. You find yourself comparing notes and agreeing to that young adolescent voice. After all, this is the whole point of a writer writing behind someone like Jason: to say things that can be better said by the younger voice.

Illustrations do help the reader's imagination

A Preparation – The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

I didn’t expect to read this as soon as now. I have always been curious what is it with The Lord of the Rings but I never really got around to it because I am not a fantasy reader. Besides, I was traumatized when I was forced to watch the film adaptation of the third book some good years ago. It bored me to death that I spent 75% of the movie sleeping.

And surprise, surprise, last Christmas, I asked my office mate to gift me the whole series. Excuse me for the verb gift, but I think you know what I’m saying. The gift was pretty neat and timely because the first book of the trilogy will be our book club’s upcoming book of the month.

I asked some of my bookish friends if it would be better to read the prequel of the trilogy first. It doesn’t matter, they said. But I insist. I should read The Hobbit first.

I heard random strangers before complaining of the difficult language that Tolkien employs. I want to laugh at them now because I think the language is understandable enough. Sure, he has a penchant for the word confusticate, but that’s about it. Remember that he’s telling a story set way earlier than our popular Victorian novels.

The narrative is simple, engaging, fast, and unpretentious, which, I think, is a quality shared by most fantasy books. Take a look at this:

There was the usual dim grey light of the forest-day about him when he came to his senses. The spider lay dead beside him, and his sword-blade was stained black. Somehow the killing of the giant spider, all alone by himself in the dark without the help of the wizard or the dwarves or of anyone else, made a great difference to Mr Baggins. He felt a different person, and much fiercer and bolder in spite of an empty stomach, as he wiped his sword on the grass and put it back into its sheath.

“I will give you a name,” he said to it, “and I shall call you Sting.”

Not the vocalist of The Police, mind you. Anyway, I’ve been a little fond of Bilbo Baggins. In fact, one night, after reading a huge chunk of the novel, I had a dream that had a feel of the movie Inception. Let me tell you about it.

I was on a sort of pirate ship with a number of unknown people on it. The ship was sailing through the air, through an “imaginary sea”, and then suddenly, it came to a “waterfall”, which leads to a real sea. While the ship was crashing down the sea, I realized that this will send me back to my “normal” consciousness, because the “imaginary sea” is like a “higher” place of consciousness, where time is slower and where one is supposed to be at peace.

And then I woke up, still seeing in my head that sea where we crashed and the island smacked in the middle of it. That’s more or less the dream, with a lot more details that I won’t be boring you, because my point here is that the next time I attended to my reading of The Hobbit, I got to that part where Bilbo and company escaped from the wood elves by way of the river, which led them to a lake town, not without a lot of barrel-crashing, bruising, and losing of consciousness.

That’s the best that I could do to link my dream to that chapter and to make my dream a little more significant than it actually is.

Date Started: May 20, 2012. 11:15 PM. Book #30 of 2012.

The loudest advice

Spoiler Alert! – How to Read Novels Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster

I’ve borrowed this book from a bookish friend more than a month ago and I’ve been reading a few chapters of it whenever I’ve already met the minimum reading quota for the day. So yes, I have a reading quota, and yes, I’ve been slugging through this book.

Which is fine because I get to sink into the pieces of advice that the author has regarding reading novels properly. By properly, I mean reading it with a more academic behavior, like getting the meanings of certain passages that seem to say something, speculating the themes, and interpreting the style, the diction, the tone, the mood, the narration, the point of view, and all that stuff that literature classes are made of. And the question is, is this really necessary?

Well, it is a nice book to read, but I don’t think it’s necessary to do so, especially if one is already a keen and discerning reader. The only complaint that I have with this book is that it tends to spoil novels big time. Here are some of the novels that are mentioned in it that I’m planning to read plus the corresponding spoiler level:

  • The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles – 5/5. Every major plot twist and turn! He even indicated which chapter they would come. I don’t think I will be blown away with the supposed surprise factor when I get to read this.
  • Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov – 5/5. Everything! The structure, the mystery behind it, heck, I feel that I can already claim to have read this.
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver – 5/5. A detailed character study of each of the four daughters. Reading this would feel like a breeze to me since somebody already analyzed it for me.
  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf – 4/5. Major, and minor, plot details. As if reading The Hours before this is not yet enough.
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner – 4/5. Some character descriptions. Detailed character descriptions.
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – 3/5. Some character descriptions, some major details.
  • The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell – 3/5. The whole structure of the whole series. Also the themes.
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – 2/5. The ending.
  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway – 2/5. The major motifs and metaphors.
  • The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford – 2/5. The dilemma of the characters, although I am not too sure if we are meant to know that before reading the novel.

I generally do not mind spoilers, but I don’t understand myself why I was enraged when I read through all those. You can argue that it should be expected with a book like this because it is a book that is inclined to discuss novels. It’s a book about novels, for crying out loud!

And actually, there are other novels that are discussed lengthily in the book, but I didn’t mind those because I’ve already read them. So, let me ask, how far can one go as far as spoilers are concerned?

But yes, I am still going to read those ten novels with curiosity. It could be that I sometimes do mind spoilers, but I am not daunted when blasted with one. And oops, I almost forgot one more novel that’s heavily discussed in the book.

Ulysses by James Joyce – 1/5. Is it really possible to spoil this novel?

Date Started: May 13, 2012. 07:00 PM. Book #29 of 2012.