Tag Archives: Books

Literary Snobbery Series

The LSS Book List, Part 1

Visit the The LSS Book List page for more information about this post.

2666 by Roberto Bolaño
2666 by Roberto Bolaño

2666 by Roberto Bolaño (2004, M) – One might encounter more dead bodies than the title in this sprawling novel about the unsolved serial crimes on women set in a fictional Mexican city based on Ciudad Juárez. One might also think that one would have enough of the author with this tome. On the contrary, one might be compelled to explore his other shorter works or even take on the equally heavy The Savage Detectives, particularly if one has not yet broken down from 2666.

Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (1936, L) – The Sound and the Fury is considered by some as Faulkner’s masterpiece, but some object and view Absalom, Absalom! as the essential Faulkner book instead. Either way, one might need to know what Quentin Compson was doing before spending his last days in Harvard University. More importantly, the rise and fall of the sinisterly enigmatic Thomas Sutpen is a story that will haunt you after reading that last sentence about hating the South.

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (1946, L) – A quintessential novel on American politics, this novel has nothing to do with Humpty Dumpty. Willie Stark’s political life is narrated by his assistant, Jack Burden. From being an idealistic lawyer to a charismatic governor, Stark embraces the world of politics with tools that, guess what, are necessary for him to beat them all, not without making enemies, of course. His life is depicted in parallel with that of Jack’s. Their stories, therefore, are each other’s.

Atomised by Michel Houellebecq
Atomised by Michel Houellebecq

Atomised (Les Particules élémentaires) by Michel Houellebecq (1998, M) – The controversial Houellebecq can actually be popular without having to be controversial. Atomised, The Elementary Particles in some editions, is a delight to read, what with its beautifully constructed sentences, which could as well be a veil for the ugly and gritty stuff that the half-brothers Bruno, a teacher, and Michel, a scientist, meet in their daily lives. Their respective sadness and struggles are intertwined with graphic, very graphic, descriptions of sex here and there.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (1985, L) – A harrowing read about The Kid who joins a group of scalp hunters traveling around the West and massacring any Native Americans for money and for entertainment. One day, you read about a gang member playing with a child. The next day, that child is dead, scalpless. Or how about a dead tree filled with baby skeletons? Amidst all these images is the intelligent and hairless Judge, who seems to be an immortal representative of violence.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (1945, L) –  Subtitled as the Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder, it should be interesting to see how sacred and profane go together. There is something theological in this novel but I will not get into that. What I want to get into is this: are Charles and Sebastian merely friends or are they lovers? The former, hailing from the working class, is befriended by the latter, born into a noble family. They take trips together, spend summers at Brideshead Castle, drink all the wine like connoisseurs…

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder (1927, M) – Five people, one bridge. A friar witnesses the collapsing of this bridge somewhere in Peru and the plunging of the five people to their deaths. He goes on to wonder about this event. Who are these people? What were they doing before they crossed the bridge? Did they have to die? Is this an event controlled by the cosmos or is it just some random and inconsequential accident? Big questions from a small book, indeed.

The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan
The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan

The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan (1981, M) – I could have easily put Atonement on this list, but seriously, everyone should have already read Atonement before even checking this out. And so I selected this slim novel about a couple, Mary and Colin, who takes a trip to what can be assumed as Venice and meets an accommodating stranger, Robert, who asks them to dine over his house. But what does he want? Why is this stranger’s wife so submissive? And are you ready for a disturbing ending caused by a crazy fetish?

The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer
The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer

The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer (1974, H) – I thought this was a dubious choice for Flavorwire’s list of 50 tough books. Upon Gordimer’s death, I immediately read this and realized why it’s on the list. It is not easy to attune yourself to its tone. You read about Mehring’s life: wife and son left him, so-called friends find him so-so, farmhands practically do not need him to manage his farm. These things about the uninteresting life of Mehring makes up only the crest of a powerful and flooding statement of the novel on apartheid.

Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

Darkness at Noon (Sonnenfinsternis) by Arthur Koestler (1940, L) – Rubashov is held as a political prisoner and is tried for treason. The novel is divided into three hearings. With each hearing, the reader is egged to read on to find out if Rubashov will admit the false accusations against him or not. It is a rather suspenseful allegorical novel that brings us to mind the malpractices of Communism.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Format: [Title] ([Original Title]) by [Author] ([Publication Year, LSS Meter Level])

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

Filipino Friday

Filipino ReaderCon 2014 – Filipino Friday 1: Surprise, Reader!

Hello, Filipino Friday! I welcome you with open arms. Your arrival could only mean one thing: Filipino ReaderCon 2014 is just around the corner.

Let us now get to Filipino Friday 1‘s topic, shall we?

Surprise, Reader! Hello, it’s the first week of Filipino Fridays 2014! Whether it’s your first time to participate or not, tell us a bit about yourself. More specifically, tell us about your favorite book discoveries for this year. Any author you started reading this year that you can’t get enough of? A book you didn’t think you’d like, but you ended up liking/loving? Any book series that you just have to get your hands on? Have you discovered anything new from Filipino authors this year?

Hi! I’m Angus, a technical writer and a member of Goodreads – The Filipino Group (TFG), an online/offline book club. Below are my responses to this week’s meme:

  • Favorite book discoveries for this year
    • The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford – Darn those precocious kids!
    • Tenth of December by George Saunders – the deserving inaugural winner of The Folio Prize.
    • Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson – my new all-time favorite.
  • Authors I started reading this year that I can’t get enough of – The same authors of the books above.
  • Books I didn’t think I’d like but ended up liking – I don’t have anything of that sort because I’ve long adapted a mindset of not pre-hating a book, but I do have books that I think I’d like but ended up disliking. They are:
    • If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino – overdone.
    • The Trial by Franz Kafka – convinced me that unfinished manuscripts should be left alone.
  • Book series that I just have to get my hands on
    • Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling – I’ve munched on the first four installments during the 2013 Christmas season up to January 2014. I don’t understand why I couldn’t make myself read the fifth book.
    • Twisted series by Jessica Zafra – I’ve reread the latter installments, particularly 8 and 8 1/2.
  • Discoveries from Filipino authors this year – None, but I’m excited to get a print copy of Ana Tejano‘s Fall Like Rain.

That’s it for me. See you next week for the next installment!

For more information on the Filipino ReaderCon 2014, visit any of the following:

Literary Snobbery Series

LSS Book List Final Guidelines

I have finally made up my mind about my LSS Book List. I’m already done with it but I’m still making allowances for the remaining weeks of 2014. I still might encounter books that are worthy of being part of my inaugural LSS Book List. It’s possible for me to still finish around ten books, so let’s see how the remaining reading weeks will pan out.

Since this is the first time that I’ll be doing a book list with such a great ambition, I would like to release it in batches of ten. That way, I can do short write-ups per entry. Besides, the remaining reading weeks are keeping me from releasing it in full because of the possible changes to the list.

Anyway, here are the guidelines that I will be working with:

  • Books should have been read, finished, and at least liked by me.
  • Books can be works of fiction, anything from novels, novellas, short story collections, plays, and poetry collections.
  • Books must be written or translated into English.
  • Books must be published internationally in print.
  • One book per author.
  • Books will be grouped by the LSS meter (low, mid, high).
  • List will be revised annually. Cut off date is every November 30. Final revision will be published every December 15.

If you don’t see a book that you feel should be on the list, here are the possible reasons:

  • Unread.
  • Unfinished.
  • Disliked.
  • It’s not fiction.
  • It’s not in English.
  • It’s published in a single country only.
  • It’s published in eBook format only.
  • Another book by the same author is already on the list.
  • LSS meter is not high enough.

The LSS meter is composed of two factors: my rating for the book and the book’s popularity. I came up with a not so fancy formula to give the books a semblance of numerical weight. I was trying to add another factor but I couldn’t think of any that can be quantified. In addition, another factor would be too complicated for my mathematically challenged faculties. I’m happy with the results that I got anyway so I’ll stick with the two.

As I mentioned, I’ll be posting them in batches of ten, maybe in every five days or so. Also, I was wondering what books you are expecting. Are there any specific titles and authors that you think will surely make the list? I was going to make a contest out of this (guess as many titles as you can) but I already showed an early draft to a few friends.

But yeah, let’s talk about them books. It’s one of the main points of the list anyway.

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

F2F33: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

TFG and FFP’s Book of the Month for September: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry Joint Discussion Details:

  • Date: September 27, 2014
  • Place: Uno Morato, Tomas Morato Ave., Quezon City
  • Time: 2 PM to 6 PM
  • Discussion Leaders: Gege and Tina
  • Attendees from TFG: Me, Aaron, Elaine (newbie), Ella, Gwaxa, JL, KristelMaria (with Ramsey), Meliza, Tricia, Veronica.
  • Attendees from FFP: Arthur, Blooey, Cecille, Fredda, Honey, Maan, Marie (after), Peter, Rhett, Shani, a guy whose name I didn’t get (sorry).
  • Food I Ate: Sisig with clover chips (?).
  • Activities: Two truths, one lie with a bookish twist. Instead of truths, we wrote down two of our favorite books on colorful pieces of paper. And instead of a lie, we wrote down a book we didn’t like. We put the pieces of paper inside a small box from where we each drew one paper after the other and guessed the person to whom that list belong to. Also, we wrote ten books that were mentioned in the book. The first two (or three?) who finished won a cute pair of bookmarks. Yes, I was one of the winners.
  • After the Book Discussion: Dinner at Kanin Club and coffee at Seattle’s Best
  • Other Nominated Books: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi and The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick
Discussion Time
Discussion Time
The F2F33 Attendees
The F2F33 Attendees
  • Next Month: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks. If you wish to join us, please visit the discussion thread for more details.

Photos courtesy of Ella.

Literary Snobbery Series

A Final Bit on Literary Snobbery

Last week, I had an offline chat with one of our friends. We discussed what we have discussed at the two previous installments. Please don’t think of it as a loony idea because online and offline conversations are different and therefore, have different results.

I told her (okay, it’s Kristel) that I’m doing this series on literary snobbery because of something ambitious. I will reveal the reason later because it is less exciting than what we have discussed. I wish I had a tape recorder so that I wouldn’t have the sad trouble of recalling the details of our conversation. But then, we would have been conscious of the things that we were saying and I would have uploaded the recording instead as an amateur podcast episode.

We tried to identify the kinds of literary snobs. I have addressed this in my questionnaire, in one question. I admit that I should have expanded on it, but during that moment, it didn’t interest me to name them because I think that snobs operate on the same ground. They limit their reading lists to period, nationality, acclaim, et cetera, in the belief that this is what would constitute great literature. They only read ancient texts, nonfiction, translations, et cetera. Their “great literature” is limited to these, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing because we have different definitions. On the contrary, it’s interesting to find out what their criteria are, what ticks them off, what biases and prejudices they have, et cetera. It’s a topic for a great conversation, so long as there is no condescension involved.

But why do snobs aspire to read only great literature? Now this is a complicated question because there are so many things to consider and they can be very personal. So let me answer that for myself. When I was in college, I was a Pulitzer snob. I was, and still am, a slow reader so I wanted to make sure that the time I spend on reading is worth it. I no longer wanted to read the books that I read in high school. I felt that a literary prize would qualify a book as something that wouldn’t be a waste. The award didn’t matter; I could have picked the Booker Prize or the Hugo Award or the Newbery Medal. It was really a matter of chance. The day I decided that, I saw around five Pulitzer Prize winners at the book store I was at.

I only read and bought Pulitzers. When I gained a considerable number of Pulitzers, I decided to expand and include other literary prizes. Then I added works by Nobel laureates. Then I checked out those Top 100 lists. Then I joined a book club and made friends. Then I considered their recommendations. And here I am. I didn’t end up in a bad state. It’s not so bad. And oh, would you believe that I am considering getting a Kindle because I so want to read a lot of new books? Our local book stores can’t be really counted on regarding that, but yeah, I guess I kind of surprised myself when I wondered if I should get the Kindle Paperwhite or the Kindle Voyage. Any thoughts from the eReading friends out there?

After all that time basing my reading on a combination of prize-winners and lists, I learned to set my definition of great literature. I’ll put it simply: when I tell myself upon finishing a book that someday, when I have time, I’m going to reread this, that’s my great literature. It no longer has to be something of great reputation, for I have learned that I should not feel bad if I didn’t like “canon” works. This thought has nagged me before. It has taken me some time to reconcile my conflicting feelings on this matter. Although I never pretended to like what I didn’t like, I still felt silly and stupid for not liking them. But what the hell, I’m kind of over it. Goodbye, Henry Miller.

So what else have Kristel and I discussed? A lot of things. We even talked of using certain books as barometers to measure the literariness of other works, but this is merely specifying what I have already iterated above regarding great literature.

Because I could no longer recall other specifics of our conversation, here’s why I’ve introduced the Literary Snobbery Series (LSS). I’m going to have to give you a background. Too much suspense, I know, but anyway, I had coffee with a friend, one of my kind, and a local writer. We were talking of the books that we were excited to read. We chorused The Bone Clocks. Sadly, I still don’t have a copy of David Mitchell’s latest. Our bookish talk went elsewhere until the local writer suggested that we list our 100 books for the snob. Why? According to her, and I have to agree, it’s because lists attract responses. We chose snobbish books merely because we like them. The writer even offered to put our lists in a section of her blog.

That was all in passing but it stuck with me. I am not hoping for added publicity. In fact, I’m scared of creating this list because it seems like a daunting responsibility. But hey, why not put up the list for the fun of it? Literary critics have put up lists and made a lot of readers follow them. I’m following four of these lists myself, and it would be fun to show my list to people who bother about lists.

One thing is for sure. This is not an attempt to outsnob other snobs, so to speak.  I would even like to call it an introduction of sorts to literary snobbery (i.e. my recommendations). With so many books to choose from, I worked on some guidelines. Here they are:

  • I should have read the book and at least liked it. Look, we can name a lot of books that are so snobby but we probably would not read. What’s the point in that? So yeah, this list is a list that I could truly call my own, although it wouldn’t necessarily include all my super favorite books.
  • I would limit the list to novels, novellas, and short story collections written or translated to English. Prose fiction, yeah. I’m still wondering if I should include published drama or plays, and poetry collections. I haven’t read a lot of those though. The problem I see here is that because of the differences of prose, play, and poetry in form, they are not in an equal playing field and therefore must be in separate lists. What do you think?
  • I would only include one book per author. This is tough. But yeah, there must be constraints and I enjoy working around them anyway. For the affected authors, I would choose the book that I think is the snobbiest, according to the snob-meter.
  • I am still in the process of finalizing my formula for the snob-meter, so the inaugural list will probably have eyebrow-raising numbers. That said, the list is going to be ranked.
  • I still can’t decide if I should only include works that are published in at least two countries. If yes, most local works will be excluded. But then, I haven’t read a lot of local works. What do you think?
  • The list is going to be revised by the end of each year. December looks like a good month for revision and it would be something that I’ll look forward to at the end of each reading year.

The inclusion and exclusion of the books on this list are largely based on my understanding and definition of great literature. Also, if you don’t see the books that you think should be on the list, please reread the first three guidelines. You may even point them out to me and who knows, I might include them in my to-read list.

But hey, don’t look at it too hard in that snobby way. Look at it as a recommendation list from yours truly. I’ll post the entries in batches of ten until I complete the list by December.

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