Dream Angus: The Celtic God of Dreams by Alexander McCall Smith

Weekend Book Review – Dream Angus: The Celtic God of Dreams by Alexander McCall Smith

Dream Angus: The Celtic God of Dreams is a retelling of the myth of the eponymous god. This is part of the Canongate Myth series, an ambitious project where many writers, such as Margaret Atwood, Ali Smith, Michel Faber, A. S. Byatt, and more, contribute their modern takes on various myths. Most of the entries are short novels. If you do not have any mythological background, in this case Angus’s, you will not get lost and you’d appreciate the melding of the myths into the modern setting.

The book is composed of ten chapters that alternate between the story of Angus and his interventions in the lives of modern characters. The anecdotal modern inserts have two intrinsic themes: the role of dreams in our lives and love in its many forms. If one has the notion of high and mighty language owing to the fact that this is work based on Celtic myths, squash that one.

The chapters about Angus are general information about his story. Instead of the academic tone that one can get from reference books, the reader is treated to Angus’s stories rendered in a folklorist voice. However, it doesn’t go that deep, so one cannot use this as further reference if you want to find extensive information on the god’s history.

The chapters about the modern humans can be a little jarring. It feels like you are dropped in the middle of nowhere and now have to find your way around the terrain. It’s easy to navigate though since the prose is simple and easy to get into. There’s nothing impressive about it but it’s neat.

In That Was Then; This Is Now, a newly married woman is visited by Angus as she tries to settle, or not, in the married life. My Brother, a coming-of-age story of two tightly bonded brothers, is a parallel to Angus’s childhood. Another Boy Finds Out That His Father Is Not His Father, also a parallel, begins as a domestic tragedy but deftly ends in a humorous note. The last two, Is There a Place for Pigs There? and I Dream of You, are stories of romantic love.

There’s a poem that acts as an epilogue after the last story. Reading it makes me think that the Irish and the Scots, in at least a part of their lives, waited for Angus to give them the dreams that they desire.

Will he bring me some sort of quietus,
Some form of understanding; will he break my heart;
Will he show me my love; will he give
Me heart’s contentment, the end of sorrow,
Will he do that for me; will he do that?

Dream Angus will do that, my dear,
He will do that; you may sleep,
For Dream Angus leaps light across the heather,
And the name upon his lips is our name,
And the gifts that he bears are gifts for you;
That is true, my dear, it is all true.

[Read in January 2015.]
[3 out of 5 stars.]
[173 pages. Hardcover. A gift from Doc Ranee.]

Book Report: January 2015

Book Report: January 2015

It’s February. Already? Since we’ve just finished the first month of the year, let’s take a quick look at my progress of the reading and blogging goals that I set for this year:

  • Finish 50 books – I’m on to a slow start. I should be on my fifth book now if I want to meet this goal without rushing at the last quarter of the year, but I’ve been distracted by films. This distraction would not go away unless I finish all those Oscar nominees. But I’m not that behind. I’m halfway through my fourth book.
  • Read NBCC winners – I’m going to start this next month. One of my Goodreads groups will be discussing so I might as well join. I’ve originally intended to read my unread NBCC winners chronologically, but since I like discussing books with others, I’m ditching that rule.
  • Use Goodreads – I’ve started rating books on Goodreads again. One goal achieved.
  • Review ASAP – Blame it on the awards circuit. But hey, I wrote a review a few weeks back. I’ll consider this as another slow start.
  • Read and review more short stories –  I read the selections for The Short Story Station but I failed to review them on time. However, I managed to sneak in a review of a short story that I listened to via The New Yorker Fiction podcast. Uh, slow start?

I’ll check on this again in April. That’s a few more months away. Let’s get back to the present, shall we?

Books Finished:

  • Dream Angus: The Celtic God of Dreams by Alexander McCall Smith – 3 out of 5 stars. I’ve wanted to read this for so long because hey, I have a Celtic god namesake!
  • Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman – 4 out of 5 stars. Click link for my review.
  • Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool – 3 out of 5 stars. Our book club’s book of the month.

Currently Reading:

  • Rabbit, Run by John Updike – On page 160 of 284. Quite slow for a quartet that begins with running away but I don’t really mind. The descriptions can test your patience but they are quite wonderful.

Maybe:

  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
  • Inverted World by Christopher Priest
  • Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
  • October Light by John Gardner

New Books:

Argh. I knew it. I’m glad that I didn’t decide to lessen my book buying because I would have pulled my hair now for not following my resolutions. Anyway, I need subcategories for this month’s haul.

  • The Nobel laureates
    • Auto-da-fé by Elias Canetti – (Php 449.00, Chapter IX Books, January 13)
    • The Family of Pascual Duarte by Camilo José Cela – (Php 250.00, Undertow Books, January 12)
    • A House for Mr. Biswas by V. S. Naipaul – (Php 189.00, Chapter IX Books, January 30)
    • The Plague Column by Jaroslav Seifert – (Php 300.00, Undertow Books, January 12)
    • Small Memories by José Saramago – A second copy (a different edition, actually) wouldn’t hurt. Thank you! (from H, January 20)
  • TheNYRB Classics
    • Inverted World by Christopher Priest – (Php 797.50, Solidaridad Book Shop, January 24)
    • Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang – (Php 200.00, Undertow Books, January 12)
    • The Pilgrim Hawk by Glenway Wescott – (Php 250.00, Undertow Books, January 12)
    • The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier – (Php 225.00, Undertow Books, January 12)
  • James Salter Mania – I haven’t read this guy yet but my intuition tells me that I might like him. In fact, I’m so liking the title and cover of theTPB edition of All That Is. Heh.
    • All That Is – (Php 319.00, Fully Booked – BGC, January 15)
    • Solo Faces – (Php 225.00, Undertow Books, January 12)
    • A Sport and a Pastime – (Php 250.00, Undertow Books, January 12)
  • The Mass Market Paperbacks
    • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – (Php 379.00, Fully Booked – BGC, January 15)
    • A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov – (Php 149.00, Chapter IX Books, January 13)
    • Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac – (Php 99.00, Chapter IX Books, January 13)
    • Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm – (Php 79.00, Chapter IX Books, January 13)
  • A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers – A pretty book. I’m not really into HBs but I can’t resist this one. I forced a friend to buy it for me. Thank you! (from Kim, January 16)
14 out of 20.

The 21st century’s 12 greatest novels (so far)

The BBC Culture section asked several book critics to list the best novels that were published since the first day of this century. It has been 15 years since, and look at the books at the top of a list of over 150 novels.

The Top 12:

  1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (2007)
  2. The Known World by Edward P. Jones (2003)
  3. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009)
  4. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2004)
  5. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (2001)
  6. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (2000)
  7. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010)
  8. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (2012)
  9. Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001)
  10. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006)
  11. White Teeth by Zadie Smith (2000)
  12. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)

The Runners-up:

  1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)
  2. Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald (2001)
  3. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (2011)
  4. The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
  5. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
  6. NW by Zadie Smith (2012)
  7. 2666 by Roberto Bolaño (2004)
  8. The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard (2003)

Among the novels that I’ve read, ten from the Top 12 and four from The Runners-up, I cannot find one that I would rather not see. Sure, I’d like to reorder them but I love them all. In fact, I’ve rated all these ten + four novels with either four or five stars. Three of the novels are on my reading lists (Ben Fountain, W.G. Sebald, Shirley Hazzard), and there’s only one that I’m only slightly familiar with. That would be Elena Ferrante. I say slightly familiar because before this list came out, I listened to the recent episode of a podcast that I’m subscribed to, and yes, My Brilliant Friend was the topic.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith truly deserve to be on the Top 12. It amazes me that each of them has an extra novel in the runners-up list. Just wow! However, I feel that other writers could have taken their spots, mostly for the sake of diversity. Besides, there are so many books published every year, what more in the last 15 years?

This list is a great one, but it also seems a little too populist. That’s only because I’ve read 70% of these novels. It makes me feel that the list didn’t make room for discoveries. This may not be the main point of the list, but it matters to readers to have something to look forward to, to have something to discover. Aren’t literary lists, at their core, recommendations by themselves?

So what if I take out the books I haven’t read yet and replace them with the ones I have read? First, let’s separate the unread ones from the list. These are the following:

  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (2012)
  • Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006)
  • Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald (2001)
  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (2011)
  • NW by Zadie Smith (2012)
  • The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard (2003)

What novels will I replace them with? I am tempted to add short story collections but BBC Culture is specific about the form (The 21st century’s greatest novels). Also, it would be tougher to compile a list of the greats if we had everything to choose from. Anyway, here are my replacement novels:

  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (2005)
  • Death at Intervals by José Saramago (2005)
  • The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (2005)
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)
  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011)
  • Tinkers by Paul Harding (2008)

Coincidentally, I’ve chosen novels from years that are not represented, namely 2005 and 2008. And why isn’t there a single novel here published in 2014? I wish I could say something about it, but I’m a sucker at reading recently published books. Anyway, how will I reorder them? What’s my version going to look like? Here it is:

My Top 12:

  1. The Known World by Edward P. Jones (2003) – up by 1. My snobbery is kicking in, but this is definitely the best novel of the last 15 years. It has great prose, unforgettable characters, overarching themes, social relevance, literary techniques, drama, everything. So why aren’t people reading it? Sigh.
  2. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2004) – up by 2. This may not be The Great American Novel but it’s the kind of novel that one would want to come home to. It’s worth waiting two decades for Robinson to finish this.
  3. Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001) – up by 6. It’s just amazing how a four-letter word could change the lives of people and how a single lie could stretch a lifetime. McEwan also gives us an insight on the process of writing, which is, at its center, a human activity.
  4. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (2005) – new entry. The biggest snub. Did they forget that Cloud Atlas totally rocked 2005?
  5. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (2007) – down by 4. A rather big slip for the greatest book. It’s still great, but I feel iffy about it being on the top spot with all the competition going on.
  6. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009) – down by 3. I’m just glad that I gave this book another chance. The pronouns just go haywire, and so will your wits after finishing it.
  7. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (2001) – down by 2. This feels like The Great Modern American Novel and one has to give credit to Franzen, despite his irascible temper, for creating this funny and sprawling drama on a modern family’s relationships.
  8. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011) – new entry. The readability of this book is a trick because at the end, one is not sure if he or she has read it right.
  9. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005) – new entry. Another snub. Ishiguro’s heydays may be the early 90s, but this book, considering its emotional appeal, poses big moral and existential questions.
  10. 2666 by Roberto Bolaño (2004) – up by 10. The best millenial translation, so far. It didn’t deserve to be a runner-up. It’s a shoo-in for a Top 12 spot with its daring storytelling. This book is an evidence that postmodernism is not yet dead.
  11. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010) – down by 4. This gets better with every visit. Perhaps that’s the point of it. A book about time taking its toll on the characters? It’s a classic theme done with sheer bravado and inventiveness.
  12. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (2005) – new entry. This might come as a surprise. It might also feel like it is only targeting a very narrow slice of the reading populace. Sure, the characters might look too poor for the Western reader, but aren’t loneliness and alienation things that affect everyone?

My Runners-up:

  1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013) – no movement.
  2. Tinkers by Paul Harding (2008) – new entry.
  3. The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst (2004) – up by 1.
  4. Death at Intervals by José Saramago (2005) – new entry.
  5. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (2002) – down by 5.
  6. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (2000) – down by 12.
  7. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006) – down by 2.
  8. White Teeth by Zadie Smith (2000) – down by 9.

How about you? What do you think of BBC Culture’s list? What novels do you think should or should not be on the list? What are your greatest novels of this century so far?

Four

And the winner of our bloggy birthday guessing game contest…

…will be announced after we read the entries. This year, we have eight. We see familiar names and new names (hello there). I usually disqualify first-time commenters because I don’t feel like giving a book to a stranger, but hey, let’s try something new this year to rev up the competition. Anyway, here are the entries, in the order that they were submitted (will also add my comments on the guesses.

themisanthropologist (January 7, 2015 at 7:35 AM, January 7, 2015 at 8:41 AM)

  1. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – Almost everyone has read this.
  2. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin – In the longlist.
  3. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein – Considered the author’s works.
  4. Dune by Frank Herbert – Considered the author’s works.
  5. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – This is March 2012’s book of the month.
  6. Do Androids Dream Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick – In the longlist.
  7. Foundation by Isaac Asimov – Considered the author’s works.
  8. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess – I feel that this is less of a sci-fi novel and more of a transgressive/psychological novel.
  9. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – Isn’t this a children’s/middle-grade book?
  10. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – A bit like 1984, which was already discussed.

fictionalforevers (January 7, 2015 at 8:37 AM)

  1. 1984 by George Orwell – This is January 2012’s book of the month.
  2. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – see above.
  3. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut – I feel that this is less of a sci-novel and more of a philosophical novel.

Monique (January 7, 2015 at 10:18 AM)

  1. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut – see above.
  2. Foundation by Isaac Asimov – see above.
  3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – The author doesn’t want to be labeled as a sci-fi writer.
  4. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin – In the longlist.
  5. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – see above.
  6. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson – In the longlist.
  7. Dune by Frank Herbert – see above.
  8. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess – see above.
  9. The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard – Considered the author’s works.
  10. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – see above.

Meliza (January 7, 2015 at 12:54 PM)

  1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – I tend to shy away from recently published books for a book of the month selection.
  2. Neuromancer by William Gibson – In the longlist.
  3. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess – see above.
  4. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut – see above.
  5. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson – In the longlist.
  6. White Noise by Don DeLillo – I feel that this is too literary for a sci-fi read.
  7. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – see above.
  8. The Food of the Gods by H. G. Wells – Other work in the longlist.
  9. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – see above.
  10. Ubik by Philip K. Dick – In the longlist.

Lynai (January 7, 2015 at 3:55 PM)

  1. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – see above.
  2. Dune by Frank Herbert – see above.
  3. The Time Machine by H. G. Wells – Other work in the longlist.
  4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – see above.
  5. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes – Considered the author’s works.
  6. Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany – Other work in the longlist.
  7. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin – In the longlist.
  8. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – Isn’t this a children’s/middle-grade book?
  9. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon – I did not consider this.

the boomerang kid (January 8, 2015 at 12:34 PM)

  1. Dune by Frank Herbert – see above.
  2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – This is January 2013’s book of the month.
  3. Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein – Considered the author’s works.
  4. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov – Considered the author’s works.
  5. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick – In the longlist.

Louize (January 10, 2015 at 8:17 AM)

  1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – see above.
  2. Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer – Same comment with Station Eleven.

Tin (January 10, 2015 at 8:17 PM)

  1. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut – see above.
  2. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – I don’t know this title and I appreciate its relative obscurity.
  3. The Food of the Gods by H.G. Wells – Other work in the longlist.
  4. The Martian by Andy Weir – Same comment with Station Eleven.
  5. Station Eleven by Emily St. John – see above.
  6. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin – In the longlist.
  7. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess – see above.
  8. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – see above.
  9. Brave New World Aldous Huxley – see above.
  10. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke – Other work in the longlist.

Here’s the longlist:

  1. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
  2. Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
  3. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
  4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
  5. Inverted World by Christopher Priest
  6. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
  7. Neuromancer by William Gibson
  8. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
  9. Ubik by Philip K. Dick
  10. The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

And finally, here’s a screenshot of the shortlist:

My Science Fiction Shortlist

My Science Fiction Shortlist

As you can since, the last edit of this note is dated January 7, 12:03 AM, which is just about the time that I posted the contest announcement. If you’ve done the math, the winner should be known by now. But let’s break it down for those who simply scanned this post. Four participants have one hit each: themisanthropolgist, Monique, and Tin for The Left Hand of Darkness, and Meliza for Ubik. And now, let’s cue in a drum roll: the winner is themisanthropologist! Congratulations, you win for guessing one title correctly and for posting the earliest (yep, that’s the tie-breaker)! Please post the book of your choice (at most Php 1,000 or USD 20.00) in the comments section.

Thank you so much for participating and may we all have a fun reading year ahead.

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

Weekend Book Review – Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader is a collection of essays that provides bookish conversations to bibliophiles. It’s also a literary memoir because Fadiman injects bookish anecdotes about her reading life, which includes her family. Some favorite topics include arranging books in one’s own library, classifying the kinds of readers, buying second-hand books, and growing up and still living in a world of books.

In Marrying Libraries, Fadiman discusses the various ways readers may arrange their books on their shelves. Shelf description is expanded in My Odd Shelf, My Ancestral Castles, and The P.M.’s Empire of Books, which is about the strict shelving habits of four times British Prime Minister Gladstone. Although such a political figure is mentioned in this book, it remains true to its subtitle: it’s still wholly confessions of a common reader.

What are the merits of writing and critiquing books right on their pages? What books have surprisingly made an impact on you? On what page should you write an inscription when you’re giving a book to a friend? How can your perception and experience change when you read a description of a setting while being right at that place? Why are some people obsessed with long words, pens, catalogues, and proofreading? Is there any benefit to reading aloud?

There are also topics on poetic attempts (Scorn Not the Sonnet), gender equality on print (The His’er Problem), originality and plagiarism (Nothing New Under the Sun), and cooking (The Literary Glutton). There’s nothing about ebooks and how the Internet revolutionized reading because this was published in the late 90s. The general tone of the essays is candid, which is just right for a fun book. Other sources are not abundant, but when there are any, references are drawn from her editor and writer friends, who also are big readers. In Fadiman’s tight literary circle, one can’t not notice erudite background, and this may lead one to suspect that she’s a snob and not a common reader after all.

But the common love that we all have for books makes her as common as any book lover, and this love can be felt right from the first page. It is hard not to at least like a book that is about books, the reading life, and bookish conversations, such as the one below:

“When I was leaving work that day, I noticed that the proprietor had put one of Clive’s books in the fifty-cent cart we kept on the sidewalk. It was an Edwardian compact Shakespeare with an ugly typeface and garishly colored plates. Inside, in a round adolescent hand that must have been dated from his teens or early twenties, Clive had written his name and the lines from The Tempest ‘We are such stuff / As dreams are made on, and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep.'”

I asked Adam what he had done with the book.

“I bought it,” he said, “and took it home.”

[Read in January 2014.]
[4 out of 5 stars.]
[162 pages. Trade paperback. Borrowed.]
[A book club traveling book.]