Tag Archives: David Mitchell

Hi Angus. Hello David.

If David Mitchell stopped writing books

Think about an event you’ve attended and loved. Your hometown’s annual fair. That life-changing music festival. A conference that shifted your worldview. Imagine you’re told it will be cancelled forever or taken over by an evil corporate force.

How does that make you feel?

Today’s twist: While writing this post, focus again on your own voice. Pay attention to your word choice, tone, and rhythm. Read each sentence aloud multiple times, making edits as you read through. Before you hit “Publish,” read your entire piece out loud to ensure it sounds like you.

Writing 101’s challenge today is just perfectly timed. I’ll be talking about a bookish event, of course. I’m still reeling from all the good feels that I had since David Mitchell’s webchat yesterday.

What if it were cancelled?

I wouldn’t have minded it because I was at work and I couldn’t really mope at my desk had there been such an announcement. Besides, I wasn’t really expecting anything. It was a Q&A thing, and even if he didn’t answer my question, I would still get something from the answers that he gave the other questions.

But what if there will never be a webchat again ever because he decided to stop writing books and become a recluse?

I would be sad, only because I will not be able to read new books by him. I’m happy enough to have read all his novels. Look, he even said hi to me. Yes, it was only a webchat, but still, the literary fanboy in me was wild with positive feelings. That “hi” crossed from UK to the Philippines, much like his themes of souls crossing and recrossing lives.

My older self would have whined for months, but here, in my thirty-year-old skin, I would tell myself to shut up, treasure my Mitchell moment, print the webpage, and hang it in a frame (as suggested by my buddy Monique, who by the way alerted me about this). Some people are blind. Some people can’t read. Some people don’t read him. Some people will never get a hi from him.

So yes, I would be sad. A happy kind of sad.

My Thirty Greatest Books

Thirty Years, Thirty Books

At the moment of typing this, I realize that I’m spending my last couple of hours as a twenty-something hacking at my book shelves and sorting through my memory for my greatest books. I haven’t read a lot yet, but I already have my small personal canon.

There are the random books of my childhood, the limited choices in high school, the varied selections in college, and the hordes of them all in the last decade. And before I realize it, I’m already thirty. Actually, the realization has not yet hit me hard (should it?). I look at my shelves and wonder at the space that I could have emptied had I not been a reader. But no, I’m happy to be a reader.

I selected my list of greatest books based on my Goodreads ratings and on how important they are to me at multiple points in my life. If you are a keen reader of my blog, I think you will have a pretty good idea on what most of these books are. But there are surprise picks, which I put in my this list because they are an integral part of my reading development.

I wish I could rank them, but this is so hard. This is because my literary taste is continuously evolving and expanding, and everyday is different. I may like Novel A now more than Novel B, but next week could be a different story. So I decided to list the books alphabetically.

Without further ado, here are my thirty greatest books:

  • Atonement by Ian McEwan – Recently reread, I must say that it’s still as stupendous as the first time.
  • Children Around the World by Various Authors – I found this at the book shelf of my aunt. When I grew up, I never found it again.
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell – When you thought that there’s nothing new that emerging writers could do, my favorite living author comes out with this extraordinary feat.
  • Death at Intervals by José Saramago – My paternal love for my favorite Nobel laureate started with this novel: Death’s love affair with an ordinary cellist.
  • Fatelessness by Imre Kertész – Read this and you’ll thank your provider for the cheap instant food on your plate.
  • Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot – Possibly the best poetry collection on life, time, and everything in between.
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson – The follow-up novel after twenty years of waiting is graceful with its lilting spirituality.
  • The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers – I find the title too endearing to ignore. After reading the book, I realize the truth in the title’s spaces.
  • The Hours by Michael Cunningham – Reading this as a bumbling college student amazed me at the writer’s mastery of the novel’s form.
  • Hunger by Knut Hamsun – Still my greatest book, so far.
  • Independent People by Halldór Laxness – Still my second greatest book, so far.
  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri – At some point, it made me want to buy every copy that I see in book stores.
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – Because Jane Eyre is badass. I wish I have read this sooner.
  • The Known World by Edward P. Jones – an immensely under-read and important contemporary novel.
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
  • Malice by Danielle Steel – I can still remember when me and my friends gushed at the sex scenes while restraining ourselves in a corner of the school library.
  • Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem – Possibly the funniest book in this list.
  • The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek – It’s not the literariness of it but the intensity of reading it.
  • Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion – Short, terse, and devastating. Read only when emotionally stable.
  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – The first book that you discuss with a group of bookish friends is certainly unforgettable. And that’s the least of the reasons.
  • Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates – This came at a low point in my life. Thus, it felt like a book that was written for me.
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy – The man and the boy’s journey to the sea in a post-apocalyptic world will grip you, not without shedding a tear.
  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes – A book that I feel I will always reread. I haven’t scheduled a reread yet for this year.
  • The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever – New York stories from the masterful writer. The pieces are varied. There’s something for every reader out there.
  • This Is Water by David Foster Wallace – Something that I read when the jagged teeth of realities are snapping at me.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee –  The first novel that you read is always in the heart.
  • Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda – Possibly the most romantic poetry collection.
  • Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Years ago, I was only following her Twisted series. Now, I’m writing a novel that she would possibly publish.
  • The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides – Beautifully haunting, those Lisbon girls.
  • Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver – What more could you ask for when pieces from the writer’s three major collections are collected here?

Some of these are not in the photo above either because they are borrowed or they are elsewhere. Now, I am reminded that for the past years, I celebrated my birthday with a bookish giveaway. However, I have to break that tradition now because first, I somehow forgot it (blame it on the lack of activities on this blog) and second, I’m saving money for something more important and more selfless. What could be more important and more selfless than giving away a book?

If you answer this question correctly before April 25, 11:59 PM, you win a prize. Yes, the tradition goes on, although you will have to wait for your prize (a book not more than Php1000) some time in June to be delivered to you. For now, #HappyBirthdayAngus. Thank you. :)

The old, the new, and the autographed.

New things, old things

Two weeks ago, I moved to a new place. Last Monday, I started my new job. Just this afternoon, I committed myself into buying at least one NYRB Classics book per month. It feels like there have been a lot of new things going on, but really, they are just the same old things. Maybe, but hopefully not too soon, I might move again to a new place or change jobs or start collecting new sets of books. It’s all fun and challenging, but I still fervently hope that I can finally settle down to a place that is really my own and find the job that would last me until my retiring years. And about books? Well, I’m just glad of them regardless of the reading and blogging ruts.

Here are the new and used books that I got for myself:

  • Attack upon Christendom by Soren Kierkegaard – There’s this guy who sells books near our place. He carries a select set of books and lays them about the sidewalk. He is rarely seen around because he comes around at random days at usually past midnight. Cool, huh? There’s a Bohemian feel there. My friend has been telling me about this guy, and it took me maybe two months since I heard about this seller to finally meet him. (Php 280.00, July 26)
  • Cities of Salt by Abdul Rahman Munif – Included in the Novel 100, one of the four core lists that I am following. (Php 120.00, July 27, Bookay Ukay)
  • The Novel 100 by Daniel S. Burt – And what do you know? I finally found myself a copy of this! (Php 150.00, July 27, Bookay Ukay)
  • So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell – An early winner of the National Book Awards. (Php 120.00, July 27, Bookay Ukay)
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell – A belated birthday gift from Ingrid. Thanks! Note: this is a signed copy. Woohoo! (July 27)
  • Soul by Andrey Platonov – The first NYRB Classics book that I bought. It’s not the first that I owned though because my buddy Monique jump-started my collection with Happy Moscow, another work from Platonov. (Php 755.00, August 17, Power Books – Shangrila Mall)

If you really want to know, I have listed 66 NYRB Classics books that I must own. I came up with this list based on a set of criteria that I wouldn’t bother to explain. Hopefully I could come close to that figure, and hopefully my reading would also keep abreast with the hoarding.

Will you hazard a guess?

The Best Reads of 2012

I’ll be doing this now since we only have ten days left before 2013 enters. My 2012 reading is pretty much done; I’m still in the middle of the book that I abandoned a few months back and it looks like it’s not going to make it to my list. I present this case: I wouldn’t have abandoned it if I really got hooked into it. So regardless of my rating for that book once I finish it, it would still not make it to the top due to that point.

I still have a Miss Universe hangover from yesterday so I’ll be doing this list little differently this time. And oh, I have redressed my blog. I’m sure you have noticed it, but this is only temporary. Or maybe not. I will do a full redress next year, which is oh, just a few weeks ahead. I digress, yes.

Out of the 53 books that I read in 2012, I will pick the top 16. You think this is an easy job? It’s not. I’ve read many great books this year, and while looking at my Goodreads shelves, I counted 35 books that I rated with 4 or 5 stars. Please note that I won’t automatically include all 5-star books in the top 16. All decisions will be based on what I think and feel now, as if this were the coronation night of a literary pageant.

Enough of the babble. Click Page 2 for the top 16.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

The Dutchman in Dejima – The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

The book trailer shows us a ship sailing slowly over the specious seas of The Land of a Thousand Autumns. Seagulls fly over the sea foam eternally reaching for a kiss on the clouds’ cheeks. The clouds languidly move aside to unveil the quaint island of Dejima, the sole gateway between Europe and Japan.

The little community of European traders and interpreters, spies and servants, is the anchor of this novel. This, and the interaction with the Japanese and their culture during the Edo period, becomes Jacob de Zoet’s thousand autumns.

Saturday, October 18th of the year 1800 is calm and blue.

Starlings fly in nebulae: like a child in a fairy-tale, Jacob longs to join them.

Or else, he daydreams, let my round eyes become nomadic ovals…

West to east, the sky unrolls and rolls its atlas of clouds.

…my pink skin turn dull gold; my freakish hair, a sensible black…

From an alleyway, the clatter of a night-cart threatens his reverie.

…and my boorish body become one of theirs … poised and sleek.

Eight liveried horses proceed along a thoroughfare. Theirs hoofs echo.

How far would I get, Jacob wonders, if I ran, hooded, through the streets?

…up through rice terraces, up to the folded mountains, the folds within folds.

The novel is divided into three parts. If I attempt to summarize all three, I might end up spoiling everything so I’ll settle with the first. The eponymous hero sails to Dejima, an artificial island near Nagasaki. He does so to make more money so that he could marry the woman he loves back at Netherlands. As a clerk, he is given the nasty job of examining the accounts of the shipping company that he works for. While going about this tedious task that forebodes corruption and betrayal, Jacob de Zoet, incorruptible and pious, falls in love, in spite of the other woman back at home, with the Japanese midwife Orito Aibagawa.

Orito Aibagawa will eat up most of the second part of the novel, but I’ll keep my promise; I’ll stop now.

If one reads David Mitchell’s books in the order that they were published, one might be surprised at the genre shifts. From the structure-bender Cloud Atlas, to the intimate and semi-autobiographical Black Swan Green, and now to the grand and historical Thousand Autumns, one can either be unseated because of the transitions from one novel to the next or fascinated with the thought of the things that the author can still do.

A clear change in this novel’s narrative from the earlier ones is the controlled writing. Rarely does one read a lengthy paragraph about anything, and this mostly happens when a character is speaking. And when they do speak or think, the words are interrupted so often that there is a staccato of lyrical precision that makes one tempted to read the text aloud to appreciate the beat.

Yes, the novel’s structure is yet the most straightforward among Mitchell’s five novels. It can also be easily identified as historical fiction, what with relaying of trading details between Japan and Netherlands of the late 18th century. But this is not as simple as its straightforwardness because the complexity lies on, as mentioned above, the restraint writing and the grand cast of characters, ranging from Dutch employees, Japanese officials and interpreters, Malay slaves, British sailors, and even a simian loverboy.

The novel’s fundamental premise, colonizing Europeans encountering the reclusive Japanese, unfurls a number of subplots with their corresponding themes, namely greed, power, lust, corruption, betrayal, faith, religion, science, war, slavery, culture, globalization, isolation, enlightenment, love, solitude, et cetera. One cannot help but wonder how all these things are going to be framed within a single novel about a Dutch clerk exiled in Japan for nearly two decades.

5 star - it was amazingDid Mitchell deliver this time? Admittedly, this is not an easy book to read. One needs patience to plod through the chapters filled with character portraits, plot builders, back stories, and cliffhangers. Ultimately, it is a story about the good versus the evil. Characters are straightly cast into either side. Is this character with Jacob de Zoet or is this character against him?

I’ve read this with a number of book club friends, and we have agreed that there’s the theme of fortune reversal pervading the story. The bad guys initially win, the good are downtrodden. At the end, you know what happens? Oh, there are different things, but I’d rather not say. Just take my advice: lose yourself in the novel. If you have any expectations, set them aside. Read it slowly, especially the last two chapters.

And since I’ve finished reading all the Mitchell novels, I can’t help expecting more wonderful novels from him. Take a look at this video. Writing is a job that he would gladly do in his lifetime, and reading him is a delight in mine.

Reviews from book buddies: