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. :)

Book Report: February 2014

Book Report: February 2014

Hello there. Yes, this blog is still alive but barely breathing. How can a book blog survive if the blogger isn’t even reading? Last year during this same period, I was also in a terrible reading rut. Is it the weather? Not really. Last year, I was on an extended vacation hangover. This year, it’s the presence of so many distractions, like my anticipation of the Oscar winners, my procrastination with my writing project (yes, it counts), and my upcoming book discussion. In May. Yes, I can be exaggeratedly anxious over any matter.

But I’m back, and I’ll be around, and like I mentioned elsewhere, I’m still planning on how I could get back to reviewing the books that I read. If you have any suggestions about that matter, please let me know. You know I love hearing from you.

Now, let’s go ahead to what little I have in this report.

Books Finished:

  • A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr - 5 out of 5 stars. The only book that I finished this month. Copy was lent by Bennard. Thanks! By the way, the three books that I have read since the start of this year are all borrowed from friends. Hmm.

Currently Reading:

  • The Trial by Franz Kafka – Currently on page 107 of 216. Yes, I managed to read a few bits at the beginning of February. And then.
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – Currently on page 211 of 604. I may have given up all hopes of catching up with the buddy read with my book club friends Maria, Monique, and Miss Ronnie. But I’m still hoping I’ll finish this soon. I hope to cover even just a few chapters this month.

New Books:

  • The Broken Estate by James Wood - This is supposed to be in the earlier book report but I apparently forgot to put it there. And this is the first book that I bought this year. (Php 50.00, January 14, Book Sale – Starmall)
  • Tom Jones by Henry Fielding - Included in The Novel 100 list. I’ve always been delaying my purchase of this book. Good thing that I did because I found this nice and clean copy. (Php 49.50, February 18, NBS Bestsellers – Podium)
Gifts Galore

Holiday Books


Here are the books that I got over the 2013 holidays.

  • The Fifty Year Sword by Mark Z. Danielewski – 50% off. And because I like touching and scanning Danielewski’s books. (Php 520.00, November 29, Fully Booked – Rockwell)
  • The Bibliophile’s Devotional by Hallie Ephron – I got this because I was a badass student at TFG Hogwarts. Thanks! (From Alexa, December 21)
  • The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick – “Theory for happy ending. Life’s perspective. Book turned to movie as Phil Wenneck meets Katniss Everdeen.” That’s the description sent by the giver but for the life of me, I didn’t get it (because I didn’t know who that Wenneck guy is). I just heard others saying the title. No regrets though. I love the movie. Thanks! (From Aenna through The White Elephant Exchange, December 21)
  • Indignation by Philip Roth – Because it’s hard to abandon a book. Thanks! (From Bennard through The Book Pile, December 21)
  • Cain by José Saramago – Oi, I must go back to reading Saramago. Thanks! (From Maria through The Owlery, December 21)
  • Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol – Something to add to my scant collection of NYRB Classics. Thanks! (From Bennard through The Owlery, December 21)
  • Maggie Cassidy by Jack Kerouac – I got this because I am supposed to hate it? Thanks! (Gift from Ella through The Owlery, December 21)
  • The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa – I got this because? Thanks! (Gift from Jonathan, January 1)

This year’s book hoarding “resolution”: I’m going to focus on NYRB Classics. I know I’ve been saying this since August. But what can I do? The titles that I want are hard to find. My interest was refueled when a new bookish friend recommended The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford and Riders in the Chariot by Patrick White. Also, A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr was recommended to me for my writing project. I hope I could find them three, and some of the 60+ others in my NYRB wish list.

And oh, thanks for all the book covers, bookmarks, cards, CDs, DVDs, eco bags, erasers, food, notepads, planners, and shower creams (?) that I got. You know who you are. :)

Goodreads 2013 Reading Challenge

The Best, the Honorable Mentions, and the Worst Reads of 2013

I am so glad to have finished my reading challenge of 52 books this year. And indeed, this has been a challenging year in reading and blogging. Blame it on the occasional reading ruts that I have gone through. This does not mean though that I didn’t get to read great books. In fact, there are a number of surprises for this year thanks to the “cheat reads” that I took off my shelf, just so I could reach 52.

On the other hand, quantity should not supersede quality. Yes, I pulled out thin books from my shelf, but these are in the forms of novellas, plays, and poems, forms that I don’t usually read, so it’s not really cheating. As I’ve mentioned, there are surprises.

I’ve prepared nothing fancy this time. No Top 12 (like in 2011), no elimination (like in 2012), just plain rants and raves on the books that I’ve read this year.

The Best

  • Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?; What We Talk About When We Talk About Love; Cathedral; Short Cuts by Raymond Carver – It’s hard to choose among these four, so I’m rolling them into one. Mundane lives of ordinary Americans magnified with such subtlety.
  • Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda – Love in its many forms. I Have Gone Marking is my favorite in this collection.
  • Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates – On being trapped and on being unable to escape. On feeling superior yet living with the inferiors.
  • Mysteries by Knut Hamsun – A man comes to town, causes some controversies, and vanishes like he never was there. He unsettles the people’s peace and steps closer to his own destruction.
  • A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe - A man’s life spirals down when he finds out that there’s something hideously wrong with his baby. He turns into alcohol, sex, violence, and would it be too late to turn him away from death?
  • This Is Water by David Foster Wallace – A primer on how to deal with the daily frustrations in life. After reading, watch the video.
  • On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan – What can the absence of intimacy do to a marriage? How will a frigid woman and an excitable man compromise?
  • The History of Love by Nicole Krauss – A girl’s coming-of-age story intertwined with an old man’s reminiscence. It can also be entitled The History of Loneliness.
  • Small Memories by José Saramago – Small memories, big love. Saramago’s stories from his childhood are endearing.
  • Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot – Time. Art. Humanity. My best read for this year.
  • Harry Potter 1, 2, and 3 by J. K. Rowling – I’ve predicted this. I just didn’t find the opportunity.
  • How Fiction Works by James Wood – Now I keep thinking about the authorial voice and I think I’m getting a pretty good grasp on it. And yes, all those books referenced makes me want to read them soon.

The Honorable Mentions

  • The Fish Can Sing by Halldór Laxness – Would you choose Your Mum’s Lullabye or The Billboard Top 1?
  • This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz – A guide for the cheating heart.
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – A literary feast for the young at heart.
  • Ulverton by Adam Thorpe – A challenging and haunting read about an uncommon character: the town of Ulverton.
  • Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis – A classic tale of jealousy that seems like it was recently written.
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – My great expectations were met.
  • Steps by Jerzy Kosinski – Disturbing scenes of violent and dark sex.
  • The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro – A masterful collection from this year’s Nobel laureate in Literature.
  • The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster – Of books, writers, writing, spying, and questions on reality.
  • The Grass Is Singing by Doris Lessing – A keen observation on the racial divide and tension in apartheid South Africa.

The Worst

  • The Tin Drum by Günter Grass – I recognize Grass’s stylistic prose, but anything overdone is not fun.
  • Smaller and Smaller Circles by F. H. Batacan - The pretentious characters didn’t help me in trying to appreciate the suspense/thriller/detective genre.
  • The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler – A homophobic misogynist is unlikeable enough. Entangle him in ugly prose and you’ll hurl this outside the window. Coincidentally, it belongs to the same genre as the book above. And yes, this is my worst read for this year.

Recommended Rereads

  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

There you have it. Cheers to all the books that I’ll be encountering in 2014. Happy New Year!

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.