Tag Archives: Books

Book Report: September 2014

Book Report: September 2014

September was a great month for so many reasons. First, I managed to read a substantial number books. By substantial, I mean the number of books finished is greater than or equal to the number of Saturdays in a month. September had four. I finished five.

Second, the Manila International Book Fair was held. I usually go to the MIBF for the books and discounts. No, you can’t make me turn over the tables and shelves to hunt for marked down books. I guess I’m already beyond that (the truth is, my back is starting to hurt more). I just walk around and spot whatever it is that can be seen (the front list, usually). And how can you make me go to the other events in the MIBF if there are books everywhere? And long queues? And little time?

Third, I discovered new Facebook booksellers. I bought a few books from one. I swore that September must be a frugal month, but I can’t help it.

Books Finished:

  • Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman – 3 out of 5 stars. A quick read. The illustrations are pretty. If I have kid, I’ll buy him Gaiman books.
  • The Summer Book by Tove Jansson – 4 out of 5 stars. Beautiful. It was supposed to be my beach read but the ugly weather came in the way.
  • Twisted 8 1/2 by Jessica Zafra – 3 out of 5 stars. Dated because of all those product reviews. There are still entertaining moments though.
  • Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson – 5 out of 5 stars. Oh. My. Fucking. God. This is my new favorite book. Of all time.
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – 4 out of 5 stars. See? I told you that I’m going to conquer this. I restarted instead of resuming from where I paused. Besides, it has been around eight months. A restart is called for.

Currently Reading:

  • The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford – Currently on page 140 of 240. This was recommended by a snobbish friend who claimed this to be one of his two favorite NYRB Classics. And it’s easy to understand why. The first chapter alone blew me away. It’s going to be a runaway winner, I can tell.
  • Object Lessons by The Paris Review – Currently on page 58 of 358. This is one of the book challenges that I accepted. It’s time to face it, although I have to say that it’s not much of a challenge because I love reading short stories anyway.
  • Twisted 8 by Jessica Zafra – Currently on page 54 of 159. This should complete my Twisted back list.

New Books:

  • The Angel Esmeralda by Don DeLillo – A freebie from my roomie. (from Jonathan, September 2)
  • Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo – Another freebie. (from Jonathan, September 2)
  • Home by Toni Morrison – Probably my roomie feels like being a September Santa Claus. Thank you! (from Jonathan, September 2)
  • From Here to Eternity by James Jones – Another NBA winner. (Php 79.00, Chapter IX Bookstore, September 25)
  • The Year of the French by Thomas Flanagan – Replacing my dilapidated mass market with this NYRB Classics edition. (Php 249.00, Chapter IX Bookstore, September 18)
  • Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson – I first bought a paperback copy. When I finished it, I bought a hardback copy. (Php 249.00, Chapter IX Bookstore, September 18) (Php 250.00, Undertow Books, September 25)
  • The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty by Eudora Welty – A National Book Award winner. It’s one of the six best of the NBAs. (Php 250.00, Undertow Books, September 25)
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – One of the books which I told myself I should buy at the MIBF. (Php 510.40, Fully Booked – MIBF, September 20)
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner – I’m going to collect the available Vintage Classics editions of Faulkner’s novels. (Php 279.25, National Book Store – MIBF, September 20)
  • Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace – I have all his novels. I should start buying his short story and essay collections. (Php 487.25, National Book Store – MIBF, September 20)
  • The Late Mattia Pascal by Luigi Pirandello – A Nobel laureate known for his plays, but this novel also brought him fame. (Php 155.00, Book Sale – SM MoA, September 20)
  • Tinkers by Paul Harding – Finally! I was about to buy get a brand-new copy. (Php 115.00, Book Sale – SM MoA, September 20)
  • By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham – One book off my wish list. My Cunningham collection is almost complete. Thank you! (from Monique, September 23)
  • The Elephant’s Journey by José Saramago – And another one. You see how important it is to maintain a wish list shelf on bookish social media? Thank you! (from Meliza, September 27)
Literary Snobbery Series

More Bits on Literary Snobbery

In the previous installment, roughghosts said this: Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

No, that’s not the exact thing that the commenter said. I just wanted a literary reference, and that happens to be a famous line from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. If I were to put on my High Hat of Literary Snobbery, I would say that no, that’s the film talking, the text does not include the adverb, and did you even bother to read the book or did you just watch the film?

Anyway, when someones says the Rhett Butler line to point out that everything is fine as long as people are reading, should one be suspicious? Or are the members of the Anti-Snobbery League interpreting too much by saying that the statement translates to this: all you readers will be judged until your reading preferences become as good as mine?

There’s no escaping this. The literary snob always seems to be at the losing end. Two commenters, Louize and pjlimcaco, declassified me as a literary snob when I’ve already embraced it. The former says I just have an unmistakable palate, which could mean many things. I would like to think of it as having a very unique set of preferences. The latter said that my reading lists always put me in danger of coming off as a snob.

See that word, danger? That’s another point to the literary snob’s predicament.

Monique, another commenter, thinks it all really just boils down to preference. Should people take it against me if I prefer certain types of books? That’s the question she poses. More importantly, she says that it should work both ways.

But it doesn’t. Let me illustrate it with a real life example. My friends from the book club were exchanging books. I was a newbie then, and I felt that everyone was checking out what kind of books everyone is into. I exchanged my Anais Nin for a John Steinbeck. One of them (I am still friends with her, okay?) asked what I got for the exchange. I showed it to her. She read the title and said, “Oh, serious books.”

Nothing followed. Or should I have raged for being dismissed as a reader of serious books? If I ask someone to show me what he or she is reading and see that it’s The Hunger Games, would there be any guarantee that there will be no furor if I say, “Oh, some light reading, huh?”

Should we care if what we read varies in ‘brow?’ Tin, another commenter, quotes David Mitchell. Highbrow, middlebrow, lowbrow, one must not care so long as your internal organs find it amazing. I don’t care, I don’t give a damn. Whew, I think I just restarted this whole thing.

The definition of snob, from Merriam-Webster:

snob noun \ˈsnäb\

: someone who tends to criticize, reject, or ignore people who come from a lower social class, have less education, etc.

So who decides which social class a book should belong to? It is us, the readers, particularly the readers who care to share their thoughts about books. Sadly, from the looks of it, the more popular a book is, the more money it rakes in for its author, the lower its social class should be. Or so it seems. But then, people champion certain books so that they can be read by everyone. Should the class of these books be lowered once more readers get access to it and actually love it?

One of the snobbiest things that I did is when I declared that Stoner by John Williams, a great book, is already losing its shimmer because almost every critic on popular bookish sites is raving about it. I felt a pang of regret when I said that because it was something that I didn’t think about. Shouldn’t I be happy that more people are reading Stoner? I feel sad that not a lot of people have read Halldor Laxness and yet, what was that sentiment about Stoner?

I have promised to myself not to do that again. I think I haven’t.

: one who blatantly imitates, fawningly admires, or vulgarly seeks association with those regarded as social superiors

Kristel, a commenter, has this to say on reading tastes. She thinks that people who are still trying to form their own cultural tastes, especially when they are young, have a tendency to choose a side and try to define themselves by dismissing the types of art that they do not like. She hopes that this tendency disappears, although she’s fairly sure that it doesn’t in some people.

Aren’t we at times quick to judge people? Don’t we all have this tendency to wage a war when tastes are concerned? Haven’t we seen people sneering at postmodern lovers and declare that postmodernism is long dead? Haven’t we witnessed two camps of young adult readers bashing each other to death?

De gustibus non est disputandum? Phooey. What is worth talking about then when taste is not involved? Kristel quoted an NPR podcast episode: good taste is what you can passionately defend. And differences in taste can go a long, long way.

: one who tends to rebuff, avoid, or ignore those regarded as inferior

Again, we have a question of who. Who elevates books to superiority? But isn’t the act of assigning a book to what is tantamount to social superiority or inferiority an act of snobbery? Where is the line drawn between judging a book’s superiority and expressing an opinion for it? Let’s take 50 Shades of Grey as an example. Let’s say we’ve read it and didn’t like it. How do we go about saying this in a nonsnobbish way? How do we reject it?

How about Ulysses? Let’s say we have slowly read it twice in a row and we fell in love with it. How do we champion it without sounding like a fake? How do we go about saying that it’s a great book without seeming like we just read it so that we would appear smarter, or superior?

I guess if we judge books right away based on popularity, reputation, other people’s opinions, and its readers, that would be snobbery. Perhaps the best way to do this is to look at the book’s elements. Yes, it boils down to that. Judge the words: the grammar, sentence construction, diction. Judge the characterization. The plot, the setting. The conflict, the themes. The use of literary devices. And if we can handle it, research a bit on the author’s life to get some context.

Do this with a sound judgment mixed with your style and taste. In doing so, one cannot be faulted for the practice of snobbery. This is actually the art of literary criticism. Or book reviewing, if you prefer not sounding like a snob. So long as it’s objective criticism, one is good to go. If you’re still viewed as a snob, then it’s their problem.

: one who has an offensive air of superiority in matters of knowledge or taste

Perhaps the issue materializes when one tries to quantify good taste or create a set of criteria that will qualify it. Not everyone can be pleased, so one can only imagine what reactions there will be when one’s tastes are regarded as inferior. This could be true if one has feelings of insecurity.

But so what if Danielle Steel can’t calm your tits? I didn’t care that my high school classmate was reading Charles Dickens and I was reading just another love story. I wanted to talk to her about the sex scenes, but she would not listen because she was too involved with Dickens. I was Steel’s slave in high school until I realized that I had too much. It’s time to try other authors, other books.

It’s not that I regard Steel as inferior. It’s just that I learned that reading works for me if there is variety. I guess I have a lot to thank her for because reading her novels taught me that. Repetition sucks if it’s not done in style. So I read a lot of short story anthologies. It’s like reading a sampling of writers with various styles. From then on, I became wary of what is popular. You know what they say about popular things. I developed my set of criteria with no regard to what the majority likes. I became rather picky. My reading palate craved for unique books.

I guess nobody saw the literary snob in me spreading its wings.

This is part of the Literary Snobbery Series (LSS).

Literary Snobbery Series

A Bit on Literary Snobbery

There is a war being waged on literary snobbery. It has been discussed since I’ve learned to follow bookish sites and forums, most likely even earlier than that, of course. It seems that this is something that will never end because there is so much to talk about it and the results are always open-ended. Hence, the restlessness of it.

I don’t mean to jump in, but the term literary snob strikes a deep chord within me. I realize that for the past few years, I’ve been trying to prove to my friends that I am not one. Sure, people get that impression, but what can I do? Maybe I am. Are you now jumping into conclusions? Why judge me? Why hate me?

But before that, just what is a literary snob? Who can we call as such? Literary snobbery is probably one of those terms whose definition cannot be pinned down, but one knows one when he or she encounters one.

I hope there is litmus test for literary snobbery to make this easier, but the fact is this isn’t as easy as that and it probably never will be. My being complicated, which I am loving, kind of makes it harder. So yes, I will try to gauge my level of literary snobbery. I say that because I think there is a literary snob in each of us. While we’re at it, I will also try to identify the kind of literary snob that I am.

1. Do I only read classics, literary fiction, or translations? Do I avoid self-published books, bestsellers, genre fiction, feel-good books, easy books, or books published after a certain decade?

No and no. If you’ve been following my blog for the past few years, you’ll see that I’ve dabbled into various genres. I admit though that my preferred genres are classics and literary fiction, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. You can’t bash my head with a baseball bat for not choosing genre fiction as much as I can’t do the same to those who prefer it.

I guess this is a case of double standards. But since I proclaim preference over the highly arbitrary “literary fiction,” well fine, that’s one notch higher on the snob meter. At least I’m not bashing.

2. Do I hate ebooks?

No. I don’t have an eReader only because I have too many paper books. A lot of my books are gathering dust and mold, so a newfangled device will most likely induce more hoarding than what I can handle. At least eBooks don’t gather dust and molds.

The fact that I’m making an excuse not to buy an eReader raises the snob meter a notch higher. Yeah, yeah, I love the smell of books, even if they are moldy and they make me sneeze.

3. Am I a diehard fan of Assumed Literary Writer (ALW)?

I guess I am a diehard fan of ALW if I have read all his or her novels. Now this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Read #1; this is a merely a matter of taste. How much of a fan I am and how I rub it on others is what matters.

I may have recommended the novels of ALW, but only because at certain times, I’m such a rabid fangirl. I shove books to people’s faces, I lend my copies to them, I get overeager, but I don’t remember recommending condescendingly, something like this: if you’re going to read ALW, you have to drop everything. I’ve heard this offline and it made me raise my eyebrow. I wasn’t entirely sure what the speaker is driving at. Is the speaker mocking my ability to focus and understand? Or is the speaker merely hinting at the power of ALW?

Either way, it’s snobby. When it is already imposing and has this tone of superiority, that’s it. No changes on the snob meter.

4. Do you read ALW in public places?

I read in public places, ALW or not. Another one of those double standards. Snob meter is steady.

5. Do I quote ALW during unlikely situations?

I quote books, ALW or not, once in a while because sometimes, it’s fun to quote. Snob meter is still not moving.

6. Do I hate another ALW for being so good?

Yes, I kind of hate James Joyce and Henry Miller but not because of their respective critical acclaim. I don’t let my hatred for them take over me. Perhaps what I mean to say is that I don’t dig their novels. I find them uncomfortable. We all have those books that we don’t like, right?

A few lines up on the snob meter. Why? Because I think I get these writers but really, I don’t. So I’m just going to sneer at everyone who says Ulysses is amazing. After all, it’s something supposedly written for academic debates. Maybe this should be more lines up on the snob meter?

7. Do I tell people what they should read?

I tell people what they might want to read. It’s one of the reasons I have this blog. But to put up a placard and join the campaign is something that I’m not keen on doing. I do wish that people would read more ALW, but that’s it. I will not go out of my way to tell them what his or her novels “really mean” and impose their importance on our lives.

A level up on the snob meter because of my secret wish.

8. Do I look down on other readers and flaunt an assumed superiority over them?

No. Why would I do that?

A dip on the snob meter.

So yeah, the snob meter declares that I am a literary snob. A lukewarm snob, if that’s possible. It is because I read genre fiction (I like sci-fi), young adult fiction (I like John Green), bestsellers (I like Harry Potter), but I wouldn’t go out of my way to wallow in these. I doubt that I’ll declare one of these as my best books (but I still like them).

And you know what? The fact that I am in a book club and that I religiously read all our selections, which are all sorts of books, lowers my literary snobbery. Again, the snob meter’s reading fluctuates, but really, I am fine with it. I’m used to being called one and so far, no one has threatened my life. Yet.

This is part of the Literary Snobbery Series (LSS).

Book Report: August 2014

Book Report: August 2014

And just like that, it’s already September. From where I live, time speeds up when this month makes its entrance. I’m a little concerned because this has not been a good year for me in terms of the number of books I’ve read. But yeah, I know, that is just a number. It’s just that I wish I could read more.

Anyway, at least I managed to finish three books this month. I’ve actually finished five (the other two, I’ve included in the previous month’s report). Not bad, I guess.

Books Finished:

  • The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer – 3 out of 5 stars. Quite a difficult book. I’m not sure that I got this at all. I’m still trying to figure out a lot of things in it.
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – 5 out of 5 stars. This is not your conventional Russian literature. This is a great work on injustice, faith, and dignity.
  • Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver – 5 out of 5 stars. This is more like a skim and scan because I’ve read most of the stories in this collection. My rating, therefore, is based on the handful of new stories that are included here, which are the selections from his UK-only Elephant.

Currently Reading:

  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – Currently on page 211 of 604. I know I promised to touch this, right? But no. I got distracted with other projects. Whoops.

New Books:

  • Postcards by Annie Proulx – I’ve always meant to read another Proulx but I don’t which book of hers to pick next. Maybe this? (Php 75.00, Undertow Books, August 27)
  • Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz – Because it is on sale and because it is by a Nobel laureate. (Php 87.50, Undertow Books, August 27)
  • Palace of Desire by Naguib Mahfouz – And so is this one. Now I only need Sugar Street to complete The Cairo Trilogy. (Php 87.50, Undertow Books, August 27)
F2F32: Fear of Flying by Erica Jong

TFG’s Book of the Month for August: Fear of Flying by Erica Jong

Fear of Flying Face to Face Book Discussion Details:

  • Date: August 16, 2014
  • Place: Titania Wine Cellar, San Antonio Village, Makati City
  • Time: 2 PM to 6 PM
  • Discussion Leader: Marie
  • Attendees: Me, Aaron, AlonaCamilleElla, Gwaxa, Farrah (newbie), Ingrid, Louize, MariaMelizaMonique, Peter (newbie), Ranee, Rhett (newbie), Tricia, Ycel, Veronica
  • Food I Ate: I had lunch at a nearby resto (buffalo wings, rice, quesadillas, beer), so I just sipped red wine. I forget what kind of red wine it was.
  • Activities: Charades. The words we guessed were, well, adult words. Such as the now infamous blowjob, thanks to one of our members’ “great expectations.”
  • After the Book Discussion: Most of us watched the musical The Last Five Years. A few of us ate dinner and had coffee. I was with the latter.
  • Other Nominated Books: The Lover by Marguerite Duras and Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller.
Discussion Time
Discussion Time
The F2F32 Attendees
The F2F32 Attendees
  • Next Month: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. If you wish to join us, please visit the discussion thread and the Facebook event for more details.

Photos courtesy of Monique and Ycel.