Book Report: March 2015

Book Report: March 2015

I unlocked a reading achievement last March. I finished Middlemarch. Yes, that 800-pager Victorian classic. And I love it! I hope to write a proper review of it soon. Since I followed a reading plan for Middlemarch and since I found myself in what I call a life situation, I only finished a couple of books. I’m worried that I won’t hit my reading goal of 52 books this year, but if I keep encountering books like Middlemarch, I wouldn’t mind the scant numbers.

Books Finished:

  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy – 3 out of 5 stars. I’ve never felt so conflicted about a book, ever, so I settled with a mediocre 3. It’s also our book club’s book of the month.
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot – 5 out of 5 stars. Buddy read with H and Ycel. My first 5-star for this year, and we all agree that it’s a tough act to follow.

Currently Reading:

  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain – On page 172 of 307. No progress, but I’ll spend my Holy Week vacation finishing this.
  • High Fidelity by Nick Hornby – On page 105 of 245. Our book club’s pick for April.
  • Lila by Marilynne Robinson – On page 16 of 261. I was prompted to start it when it won the NBCC award for fiction, but I had to pause because of my reading commitments (the book club book and the buddy read).

Maybe:

  • Inverted World by Christopher Priest
  • October Light by John Gardner

New Books – None. What? This is not happening! But expect a deluge next month. I am waiting for three books from The Book Depository and I just paid for a dozen books at Undertow Books. Hah!

Here’s a couple of addenda to this report:

  • I’m retiring the TFG: The Book Club posts. If you’ve noticed, I haven’t posted anything about our book club since the start of this year. That’s not because I quit our book club. I’m just lazy. Besides, our book club events deserve their own home. Wink, wink.
  • I’ve been thinking of two topics that I wish to discuss in the near future: rating books and speed reading. I hope to dish out my “think piece” on each topic this month.

Rabbit, Run by John Updike

Weekend Book Review – Rabbit, Run by John Updike

Rabbit, Run is the first novel in John Updike’s critically acclaimed Rabbit Angstrom series. In the 2006 survey conducted by the New York Times, which asked for the best American novel of the last 25 years, the Rabbit Angstrom novels emerged as one of the runners-up. I’m more interested in the last two installments of the series, but I figure that if I want to read them, I might as well read the first two first.

Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom was a basketball superstar in high school. Now at mid-twenties, he works as a sales and demo man of kitchen gadgets, and he’s married to Janice, currently pregnant and currently suffering from alcohol issues. They have a two-year-old toddler named Nelson and they all live in the suburban town Mt. Judge.

Rabbit is given this nickname not only because of his leporine face but because he is always running away and trying to escape the imminent judgment of the people. The town’s name is no understatement. There seems to be a pair of giant eyes over the city, an invisible lens that lets the townspeople see and judge him. He runs away from his wife Janice, twice, and he runs away from his mistress Ruth, twice.

He could have been named Rabbit Angst instead because there are parts that subtly deal with his quarter-life crisis. One such part details the first time he runs away. He is supposed to pick up his son from his in-laws. but decides to drive away. He does not have a destination. He just drives on and on, dropping by diners in the towns he visits and switching the radio from one station to the other. This listless driving perfectly captures the state of Rabbit’s mind and therefore sets the general mood of the novel.

The novel offers big themes, such as faith, love, sex, fear, guilt, and death. The minister Eccles befriends Rabbit to help him sort out his issues. During their conversations, one gets the feeling that Eccles is blaspheming the same God that he is leading the townspeople to worship. It’s like his undergoing a crisis like that of Rabbit’s. Are they doing the right things? What is the purpose of the things that they do?

There are extended passages on sex, but there is a gaping absence of love among the characters. The few moments where there could be love are usually tinged with either fear or anxiety. In a novel that is filled with guilt-tripping and blame-slinging, it’s not surprising to find the reader, at the end of the novel, asking whether or not Rabbit is capable of love. Should we care about what he feels? Does he know what he’s doing? Where is he going?

Rabbit comes to the curb but instead of going to his right and around the block he steps down, with as big a feeling as if this is little side street is a wide river, and crosses. He wants to travel to the next patch of snow. Although this block of brick three-stories is just like the one he left, something in it makes him happy; the steps and window sills seem to twitch and shift in the corner of his eye, alive. this illusion trips him. His hands lift of their own and he feels the wind on his ears even before, his heels hitting heavily on the pavement at first but with an effortless gathering out of a kind of sweet panic growing lighter and quicker and quieter, he runs. Ah: runs. Runs.

I didn’t have an easy time finishing this as it tends to meander out of control, but the last quarter delivered. Besides, the writing is very good. I would continue reading the rest of the series.

[Read in February 2015.]
[3 out of 5 stars.]
[284 pages. Mass market paperback.]

Book Report: February 2015

Book Report: February 2015

It’s already the last third of the first quarter of the year. Yeahyeahyeah, I always act amazed when I say that it’s already the beginning of this or that month, that time flies by so fast, but that’s mostly because I feel that I’m always lagging. There’s so much to read! New books bought, books agreed to be read along bookish friends, book club selections, bookish lists and breakthroughs, dares and recommendations, etc. Considering all these, time not only flies by. It zooms, just like that.

For February, I finished my ugh, fifth book. At this pace, I will only finish 30 books by December. That’s 20 books short of my target. I shouldn’t concern myself too much with the numbers. Quality over quantity, huh? However, I really can’t say that the books I’ve read are of that high quality. Quality is relative, I know, so let’s just say I haven’t had a 5-star read yet.

Books Finished:

  • Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos – 1 out of 5 stars. Our book club’s book of the month.
  • Rabbit, Run by John Updike – 3 out of 5 stars. I am still going to push through with the Rabbit series because I know that the last two of this quarter are what the critics are raving about.

Currently Reading:

  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain – On page 172 of 307. The first book that made me write marginalia. I’ve been averse to this habit until Tim Parks convinced me to use a weapon while reading. I’ve always worshipped the book as a physical object. I still do. I still can’t bear to dog-ear the pages or crack the spine. I don’t think I will go into that. Yes, I always say that I will not do this or that but I really do know that for sure (because folding and cracking are destructive as opposed to writing, which I think helps in understanding the ideas in the book). Anyway, I’m hoping that this would be my first 5-star of the year. Actually, it looks like it’s going there.
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy – On page 118 of 321. It’s our book of the month. I have no idea what this is about. My edition has no blurb, and you might already know that I’m the kind of person who reads everything in the book before reading the actual start of the book. The experience is like finding your way out of a labyrinth of segmented writing filled with juxtaposed metaphors and weird, sometimes icky, imagery.
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot – On page 78 of 826. What better time of the year than March should one read this? I’m reading this along with my friends H and Y. We are on a weekend break, according to the reading plan that we devised, but I am aching to read more of it tonight.

Maybe – With Middlemarch consuming my reading life in March, I don’t think there’s time to squeeze in some maybe books. But let’s make room for miracles.

  • Inverted World by Christopher Priest
  • October Light by John Gardner

New Books – This is the Singapore edition of this post’s segment. I wish I could say that I bought something from every book store that I visited there (I went to three last February 5), but I did all my shopping at Books Kinokuniya – Orchard Road. This is because 1.) the books at Books Actually are rather expensive (I let go of the Heinrich Böll and François Mauriac books with a heavy heart) and 2.) the staff at Littered with Books were so busy chatting with each other that I could have walked out of the store with a cart of books in tow without raising an alarm. Besides these, Books Kinokuniya has the lowest price range among the three. The selections fit my taste: the right amount of literariness but not too obscure.

  • A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard – Joining the bandwagon! (SGD 19.94)
  • Iceland’s Bell by Halldór Laxness – Of course I have to have this. (SGD 25.13)
  • Missing Person by Patrick Modiano – Supposedly the new Nobel laureate’s best work. (SGD 26.95)
  • The Notebook by José Saramago – Of course I have to have this, too. (SGD22.63)

Some of the books that I let go are Under the Glacier by Halldór Laxness, The Lives of Others by José Saramago, The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, Redeployment by Phil Klay, and How to be Both by Ali Smith (I was following the budget plan that I made). I would have bought When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson and Where I’m Reading From by Tim Parks, but they are not available.

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)
  • The NYRB 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)