F2F30: The City and the City by China Miéville

TFG’s Book of the Month for June: The City and the City by China Miéville

The City and the City Face to Face Book Discussion Details:

  • Date: June 28, 2014
  • Place: Balboa, Shangri-la Plaza, Mandaluyong City
  • Time: 3 PM to 6 PM
  • Discussion Leaders: Gwaxa and Meliza
  • Attendees: Me, Aaron, Aldrin, Allan (my guest), Cary (after), Ella, Honey, Marie, Monique, Rhena, Tina, Tricia (after), Veronica, Ycel
  • Food I Ate: Banana and berry shake (I already ate before arriving at the venue).
  • Activities: True or false trivia, word games, unseeing and unhearing, and book raffle (I won one of the three books).
  • After the Book Discussion: I left right after the discussion so I don’t what the others did.
  • Other Nominated Books: Embassytown and Un Lun Dun, also by China Miéville.
Discussion Time

Discussion Time

The F2F30 Attendees

The F2F30 Attendees

  • Next Month: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. If you wish to join us, please visit the discussion thread and the event thread for more details.

Photos courtesy of Rhena and Ycel.

Book Report: June 2014

Book Report: June 2014

Today is the exact middle of the year (check Wikipedia), and today I will present not only my June Report, but also my Mid-Year Report.

Here’s the June Report:

Books Finished:

  • Attachments by Rainbow Rowell – 1 out of 5 stars. I’ve returned the copy to its rightful owner. 1/3 of my 2014 Dare Reads.
  • The City and the City by China Miéville – 3 out of 5 stars. Our June book of the month.
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – 4 out of 5 stars. Read this as fast as I can to catch the movie in the theaters. 2/3 of my 2014 Dare Reads. My copy is currently in the hands of my office mate.
  • The Stories So Far by Jessica Zafra – 4 out of 5 stars. Finished this as soon as I bought it from the author herself. (Php 399, June 21)

Currently Reading:

  • House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski – Currently on page 74 of 709. After so many failed plans, I’m finally reading this. What’s more, I’m finally reading this along with Kristel, Maria, and Monique.
  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf – Currently on page 70 of 172. I paused because I ordered a new edition.  I can’t resist the Vintage Classics Virginia Woolf series. (USD 6.26, The Book Depository, June 26)
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens – Currently on page 61 of 470. This is our July book of the month. A difficult first chapter should be surmounted before the pages spin what seems to me a beautiful tale.
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – Currently on page 211 of 604. I’m thinking of restarting this book.

New Books:

  • Embassytown by China Miéville – I won this from our book discussion raffle. Thank you! (from Gwaxa and Meliza, June 28)
  • The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford – I would like to think of this as a belated birthday gift. Thank you! (from Huhi, June 16)
  • The Summer Book by Tove Jansson – An NYRB Classic that has great reviews from some of my favorite reviewers. (USD 12. 04 less USD 4.5 partial refund, The Book Depository, June 26)
  • The Waves by Virginia Woolf – The search for the meaning of life continues. (USD 8.64 less USD 4.5 partial refund, The Book Depository, June 26)

Here’s the Mid-Year Report:

2014 Fave List (4 and 5 star books)

  • Atonement by Ian McEwan
  • A Death in the Family by James Agee
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
  • A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr
  • The Stories So Far by Jessica Zafra
  • Tenth of December by George Saunders
  • To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

2014 Mid List (3 star books)

  • The Alienist by Caleb Carr
  • The City and the City by China Miéville
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

2014 Hate List (1 and 2 star books)

  • Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
  • If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
  • The Trial by Franz Kafka
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

A Search for the Meaning of Life – To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

To the Lighthouse (1927) tells the vacation of the Ramsays and their guests at the family’s summer house. There is really not much of plot summary to offer. It is two days divided by a decade concluding in a trip to the lighthouse. The absence of a surface plot is accounted by the rich interior lives of its characters: Lily Briscoe, Mr. Ramsay, and Mrs. Ramsay, the central character who held everyone together.

[Read in August 2011.]
[Reread in April and May 2014.]
[5 out of 5 stars.]

The characters are based on Virginia Woolf’s own parents. Woolf explained that she could not get over her mother who died when Woolf was thirteen. She set out to write this novel to lay down deep emotions, and this helped her to stop hearing and seeing her mother more often than not. In a particular perspective, it is an ode to her mother, but true to her original intentions, she wrote the novel with her ruminations on life and death.

A popular question discussed among the readers of this book is about its title. Why “To the Lighthouse”? Why not “The Lighthouse”? “To” implies a destination and a journey. Hence, “The Lighthouse” does not suffice because the novel is not merely about the place the characters will reach, which is a “tower, stark and straight” and “barred with black and white”. They embark on their own journeys in search for some meaning, some yearning, something that seems unattainable, like the lighthouse, always present in its nearly insurmountable distance.

The characters go through their respective journeys in the way that they know how, which depend on how they view life. Mr. Ramsay fears that all life is doomed to oblivion. Man may be able to work his way from A to Z. He may be able to produce the most illuminating scholarly works but even a stone would outlast his reputation. This frustrates him and explains most of his outbursts and the tensions among the family members, but there is Mrs. Ramsay, always there to offer the sympathy that he wants.

Mrs. Ramsay, however, does not care much for the future or for reputation. She values the present. She doesn’t want her children to grow old, she wants to make things as perfect as they are for the moment. She uses her gift in maintaining social harmony to meet this, to make moments last for as long as they could. She reads to her son James, she knits a stocking for the lighthouse keeper’s son, and she does so, she is observed by their house guest, the painter Lily Briscoe.

Lily Briscoe struggles with her artistry and the social conventions clashing against each other. The voice of a man repeatedly saying “Women can’t paint, women can’t write” drones like a bad headache. As if that were not enough, she can’t translate the fleeting visions that occur to her to paint and canvas. This would recur through the novel as she ponders on the purpose of art, wonders if art can truly keep a moment, marvels at the beauty of Mrs. Ramsay, and asks The Big Question:

What is the meaning of life? That was all–a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.

An important section of the novel is Time Passes, the middle part that has all the ten years between the postponement of the lighthouse trip and the real trip. As opposed to first and last parts, both written with much detail on the consciousness of every character, Time Passes relates the years with a detachment that seems to say that the war, the lives, the deaths, everything in this world, are inconsequential. Time may stretch to great lengths during painting sessions, a lively dinner, or the moment before sleeping, but it may also compact everything the world has ever cared for in a matter of pages. This dual nature of time, clocking so fast or so slow, is portrayed in such lush language that it is impossible to not at least stop and think about your own ticking clock.

The journey for the little daily miracles in this novel is never a smooth sailing. Woolf’s expansive use of the stream of consciousness narrative, of which this novel is considered to be a landmark, threatens to deflect the reader from the flow of the characters’ thoughts. It is easy to go astray, to get lost, or to drown, but when the matches are struck, they are, you will see, such illuminations, such visions.

[198 pages. Trade paperback. New.]

A Death in the Family by James Agee

A Child’s Perception of Death – A Death in the Family by James Agee

A Death in the Family (1957) explores the bliss of marital life and the tragedy of death through the points of view of the surviving wife and the little children. The author, James Agee, is a self-doubting alcoholic with three wives and four children. He died of a heart attack inside a cab before he finished this autobiographical novel. He had worked on it for seven years. After his death, editor David McDowell wanted to help his surviving family. Hence, the novel was edited, published, and received a posthumous Pulitzer Prize.

[Read in May 2014.]
[4 out of 5 stars.]

It seems that the novel did not need a lot of editing. The simplicity of its beauty need not be marred by McDowell’s pen. There are parts that do not seem to fit within the plot and these were placed after each part of the novel in italics. It’s as if the editor didn’t want to lose these parts for their sheer lyrical power, so it would be better to let the readers experience them.

Rufus Follet, a sensitive boy not older than six, is the novel’s main protagonist. It is through his perceptions of his father’s death that we get the most compelling parts of the novel. What is it like to be dead? Why do people have to die? Where do people go after they die? These are some of the questions that he asks and processes with his innocence and little knowledge of the world. His mother, Mary Follet, explains the event to him with the help of religion. God has taken their father, Jay Follet, to heaven, and soon, they will all be together up there.

Such explanations are received with a child’s curiosity, one that leads to more questions that are more difficult to answer. Mary tries her best to help Rufus understand what is going on until she reaches the point of near vexation and uses her adult authority instead to put a finality to the child’s questionings. Rufus is left wondering what a concussion is and how to properly pronounce it, and he is a slightly disappointed that he cannot show his new cap to his father. Catherine, the three-year-old sister, asks Mary again why their father cannot come home. For Catherine, dead is something that doesn’t exist in the children’s universe.

With death comes religion. For Mary, religion is her balm to the overwhelming sadness that suddenly takes over her life. For some, religion is the answer to death-related questions. For others still, it is the bane of human reasoning. In discussing death, Agee allows the reader to reëxamine beliefs and faiths without the pomposity of a fanatic. It makes one read more slowly, to wonder and to muse.

There are raw emotions in this book. The first part of the novel is lovely in showing us the beginnings of a new family. Jay takes Rufus to a bar and prides himself in his boy’s ability to read at a young age. Jay asks Mary what she wants for her birthday. Jay drinks a little but sings his children to sleep when the nightmares descend upon their room:

And God knows he was lucky, so many ways, and God knows he was thankful. Everything was good and better than he could have hoped for, better than he ever deserved; only, whatever it was and however good it was, it wasn’t what you once had been, and had lost, and could never have again, and once in a while, once in a long time, you remembered, and knew how far you were away, and it hit you hard enough, that little while it lasted, to break your heart.

Jay Follet is a great man, and aren’t great men always taken away just a little too soon?

If, as a child, you have experienced such a death in your family, you will be amazed at how accurate Agee depicted the scenes. A child knows that there is something going on, that there is grief, that there is mourning, but what exactly are these? Why are the adults acting strangely? A child knows that a certain code of conduct must be followed during such an event, but why is it so important to accordingly? Why are they told off if they outside to play? A child knows when not to ask questions, but what are these adults talking about? What is the afterlife and what is a miracle?

This one is. Having read a novel that might not have made it to my shelf is nothing short of a miracle.

[318 pages. Mass market paperback. Secondhand.]

F2F29: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

TFG’s Book of the Month for May: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

To the Lighthouse Face to Face Book Discussion Details:

  • Date: May 31, 2014
  • Place: Borough, The Podium, Mandaluyong City (there’s a last minute change of venue and I’m too lazy to edit out the name of that horrible restaurant)
  • Time: 3 PM to 6 PM
  • Discussion Leader: Me
  • Attendees: Aaron, Aldrin, Alexa, Beejay (before), Bennard, Ella, Emir, Erlyn (my guest’s guest), Gwaxa, Ingrid, JL (after), Jonathan, Kristel, LouizeMariaMeliza, Momel (my guest), Monique, Ranee, Rhena, Roni (my guest), Tricia, Veronica, 
  • Food I Ate: Pumpkin ravioli and mojito.
  • Post-discussion Activity: None, hahaha! I chose to focus on the online and the offline discussions.
  • After the Book Discussion: Dinner at Teriyaki Boy. Then I went elsewhere.
  • Other Nominated Books: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner and The Trial by Franz Kafka.
Discussion Time

Discussion Time

The F2F29 Attendees

The F2F29 Attendees

Guests from Write Here, Write Now

Guests from Write Here, Write Now

  • Next Month: The City and the City by China Miéville. If you wish to join us, please visit the discussion thread for more details.

Wait! This post is part of the Writing 101 tasks, and here’s the prompt:

If you could zoom through space in the speed of light, what place would you go to right now?

Today, choose a place to which you’d like to be transported if you could — and tell us the backstory. How does this specific location affect you? Is it somewhere you’ve been, luring you with the power of nostalgia, or a place you’re aching to explore for the first time?

Today’s twist: organize your post around the description of a setting.

So let’s talk about Borough. Because yes, I want to go back there to try more of their food. I was too busy leading the discussion that I forgot to order a second round of drinks even if I asked the waitress for the menu. And I was not able to taste the cookies and milk! Sheesh.

Anyway, I saw Borough through a restaurant aggregator (is that what you call those sites?) when I found out that Bistro Vignette, the original venue, didn’t honor my reservation and told me with an insincere apology that they are not open on Saturdays (and they have the temerity to ask me to move the event on a Friday). What’s worse is that they lost my contact number (that’s why they couldn’t contact me). So why take customers’ numbers and lose them, huh? They could’ve just checked the day of my reservation when I asked if they could accommodate us, right? That way, no one would have been bothered. That was just a really horrible and distressing experience. I would never eat there. Ever.

A few hours later, I was able to make another reservation at Borough, which I now consider a blessing. Borough is a 24/7 restaurant, but here’s the thing: it’s located inside a mall which is not 24/7. Isn’t that cool? They talk of comfort food, but upon looking at their menu, I didn’t see a lot of those (my comfort eats are pastries and cereals; I guess it really depends on who’s looking at the menu). But there are cookies! And besides, Borough is a real comfort, coming from my experience with that blasted bistro. It would be my first time to eat there, and I’m sure that I will not forget it because it’s going to be the place of the book discussion that I’ve been moderating for over a month. It will, in a few days, become the past.

The interior design makes one feel warm. I like the wood panels. They give the feeling that you are inside a cabin. Overall, it’s very modern. There are round tables for small groups, long tables for big groups (like us), high tables and high chairs, the bar, couches on the upper area (open only from 10 PM onwards). The lighting is warm, the service is okay. The waitresses that attended to us were attentive but they looked bored. It would be a shame if they were annoyed at us for discussing the book.

The Bar

The Bar

The food looks like it wouldn’t fill your stomach but it actually would. It took me nearly an hour to finish my food, the pumpkin ravioli. It is sprinkled with crushed pecans (or walnuts?) and dried cranberries. The only complaint that I have is the whole clove of garlic hiding underneath a raviolo (because I like my garlic minced; I just can’t seem to eat a clove). I always forget to bless my food with a photo. My foodie friends had the time to do that. According to them, it makes the food taste better.

Grilled cheese and tomato soup

Grilled cheese and tomato soup

Cookies and cold milk

Cookies and cold milk

I think the discussion was fairly successful. Great place, great food. Great thoughts, great opinions. Great book, great people. It was a  beautiful day. I couldn’t ask for more. So thank you to everyone who participated both in the online and offline discussion. As a token of my appreciation, I had asked an artist friend to design bookmarks and produce hand-made notebooks that might help in answering big questions.

The Meaning of Life

The Meaning of Life

Really, a million thanks! :)

Okay, the twist says that I should organize this post around the description of a setting, not finish the post with an advertorial of a restaurant. Well, there are pictures of the venue taken here and there, so I guess that’s a workaround twist.

Photos courtesy of Ella, Monique, and Rhena.