Book Report: June 2015

Book Report: June 2015

It’s the middle of the year (tomorrow to be exact). It’s a good time to look back on what happened so far in 2015 and to reassess any reading goals, projects, and challenges that we have embarked upon. Below are some of mine:

  • My Goodreads Reading Challenge of 52 books tells me that I’m on track, which pleases me because I haven’t read a lot back in the first quarter and my efforts to catch up in the second quarter paid off.
  • The Year of Reading the NBCC is slow but I hope that it will pick up some pace this quarter.
  • My 2015 review backlog is piling up, but I will try to resolve that. That includes both reviews for my blog and The Short Story Station. I’m always writing reviews in my head during commutes but when I get home, I change clothes, lie down, and play some mobile games. Then read.

Books Finished:

  • Drown by Junot Díaz – Because I went to the beach and I thought the title was so apt. 5 out of 5 stars.
  • Lila by Marilynne Robinson –  I can’t wait for the next book of this quartet. 5 out of 5 stars.
  • Macbeth by William Shakespeare – I was inspired by Marion Cotillard and of course, by Michael Fassbender. 4 out of 5 stars.
  • The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett – Our book of the month for June. 3 out of 5 stars.
  • The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields – The Year of Reading the NBCC (19/40). 4 out of 5 stars.
  • The Swimming-Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst – My LGBT read for the Pride Month. 3 out of 5 stars.

Currently Reading:

  • Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald – On page 55 of 415. I’m reading this with some of my favorite book bloggers.
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson – On page 187 of 271. When will I finish this?

Maybe:

  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
  • The Quiet American by Graham Greene
  • Rabbit Redux by John Updike
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

New Books:

  • The Bonds of Interest by Jacinto Benavente – Something for my Noble Nobel Project. (Php 225.00, Undertow Books, June 18)
  • Finnegans Wake by James Joyce – This would be one of those books that will be displayed on my shelf for a long time. I intend to read The Iliad, The Odyssey, and Ulysses, in that order, before attempting this. (Php 300.00, Undertow Books, June 18)
  • The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek – Another book for one of my reading projects, this time for The Novel 100/125. (Php 225.00, Undertow Books, June 18)
  • The Hair of Harold Roux by Thomas Williams – One of those NBA winners that I am pretty sure I won’t find copies of but prove me wrong, obviously. (Php 115.00, Book Sale – SM Mega Mall, June 17)
  • The Novel Cure by Elaine Berthoud and Susan Elderkin – I’ve been sporadically reading the authors’ column at The Independent until I was goaded by recent reviews to finally get its book form. (Php 625.50, The Book Depository, June 17)
  • The Quiet American by Graham Greene – I can now stand ebook copies if I really need to read a book, such as an elusive book of the month, such as this. But I cannot stand ebook copies with too many typographical errors. I fear that such carelessness would destroy my reading experience, and I’ve been looking forward to reading Greene for so long. And so I turned to eBay, which I haven’t thought about for so long. (Php 500.00, eBay, June 17)

I’ve thought of doing a vlog for my best books of 2015 so far but I’m too self-conscious when recording myself. When I’m able to let go of that self-consciousness, my facial expressions get way out of control that they become distracting, both for me and possibly the viewers. So I’ll just list them down here, in the order when they were read. I’ll try the vlog thing next time (also, I want to get haircut before doing any kind of video recording).

  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
  • Inverted World by Christopher Priest
  • Ubik by Philip K. Dick
  • Monstress by Lysley Tenorio
  • Drown by Junot Díaz
  • Lila by Marilynne Robinson

And if you’ve noticed, I reverted my theme to the previous one. I’m so restless! I have to keep in line with my goals instead of constantly playing around with themes. If I do two reviews per week (every weekend), perhaps I could keep my 2015 review backlog from reaching an insurmountable level (see 2013 and 2014). That’s certain, but what’s uncertain is if I could stick with it.

And to force me to keep up, I came up with a condition, that I will not allow myself to start a book unless I review at least one book. Gasp! That would threaten my other goal of reading 52 books, but if I’m able to stick with this condition, it will help keep two goals going on. What do you think? Please don’t tell me that I’m obsessing over this (because that’s given) or that I’m putting too much pressure on myself or that I should just sit back and relax.

You see, blogs don’t and cannot flourish if one just sits around and relaxes. And I want to keep this blog alive. It’s the most worthwhile thing that I keep, even better than my journals. Cheesy, I know, but I like how blogging makes me forget about the world. I like the monthly routine of these reports, the ranting and raving to the vast stream of the Internet about the books that I read, the projects that I take on and abandon only to pick up again at a later point, the comments (I really appreciate them), and the state of getting lost, or rooted, depending on one’s perspective, in a small patch of virtual land that you have dominion over.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Book Club Book Review – The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

The God of Small Things is a novel that defies the power of blurbs and summaries. In fact, my copy only has praises from high brow publications and the critic/writer John Updike, no less. It’s “a novel of real ambition” that “invent[s] its own language.” True enough, its ambition left me feeling dizzy after finishing the last page and made me write the following lines after the last paragraph: how can I be conflicted about an amazing novel? I love it, and yet I have so many complaints. It’s all the small things.

Whatever I exactly meant by that escapes me now, but I distinctly remember my smugness accompanied by a bitter aftertaste that I refused to swallow. I wanted to spit it out because yes, I get that this is an important novel, but my mouth forces the bitterness in because I somehow feel that its importance is derived from its self-importance.

The fraternal twins Estha and Rahel return to their childhood home a couple of decades after being separated from each other when they were still kids. The narrative shifts back and forth to the past and the present and forms an intricate web of memories, and it is indeed the amorphous shape of memories that the novel’s structure resembles. Reconstructing the series of events that leads from one tragedy to another is most likely a means for the twins to purge themselves of a past strewn with guilt.

I will not detail the events as they happened since I want you to feel and understand the workings of the shifting storylines. While figuring out the 5Ws and 1H, one will figure why this is an important novel. It is set during a politically tumultuous time in an Indian province and depicts the struggle between the middle and the working classes, the horror of the caste system, the cultural clash between the Indians and the British, and forbidden love in its many forms, which I will no longer divulge for the spoiler sensitive.

The characters are all fleshed out. I have no complaints about them despite the motivations that lead them to do evil things. That, I really like because it bares the dark blotches that stain our souls. My biggest complaint is the novel’s tone and diction. The repetitive and cyclical use of Capitalized Phrases seem to allude to Important Things so one gets distracted too easily, wondering if there’s something that’s missed when in fact, they are just Small Things. The repetition is another way to imitate the way memory works, but it just gets tedious and exhausting. It’s almost like an exercise in lyricism that achieves the sort of lines serving to show off a writer’s talent.

There are many moments when the language shifts to wry humor, but like an overly repeated joke, it becomes stale. I feel that the literary gymnastics becomes too contorted that it starts to look like not an evocative performance but a carnival freak show. But don’t get me wrong. The writer’s talent cannot be denied, especially when she sums up the novel in this single line:

It is curious how sometimes the memory of death lives on for so much longer than the memory of the life that it purloined.

In the end, I say that this is a must-read. Never mind my feelings. It is, after all, the book that so far earned my most number of marginalia.

[Read in March 2015.]
[3 out of 5 stars.]
[321 pages. Trade paperback.]

F2F39: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

F2F39: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos

Book Club Book Review – Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos

Love Walked In is my first stinker of this reading year. People who know me can easily assume that I didn’t like this novel because of its genre. I disagree. There must be romance novel out there for me and I just haven’t read it yet, obviously. I’ve found young adult and science fiction novels that I’d gladly recommend to anyone who wants my opinion. I’m thinking that Possession by A. S. Byatt could possibly be my romance book, but really, the romance that it defines for itself is not the romance that we’re talking about.

So the search for my romance goes on. Maybe I’d like my romance to be a little gritty. This one is very neat. I don’t remember a single loose thread left hanging. Cornelia, the protagonist, goes on a date with a Martin and later finds out that he already has a daughter. Cornelia and Clare, the daughter, form a bond, and you’d imagine that maybe the three of them can all live happily ever after, right?

Of course not. That would be too predictable, yes? Instead, something happens that lets Cornelia meet another man. No, this is not Just Another Man. He is The Perfect Man. He has been there all along. And because he has been in the peripherals of Cornelia’s existence, she is able to experience something:

A sea change. Transubstantiation. One minute, I was woman not in love with Teo, and the next minute, I was a woman in love with him. Bones, blood, skin, every cell changed over into something new.

So there, I just spoiled the whole thing. And please don’t let me even get started with this transubstantiation thing, which is a fancy yet ultimately pedantic way of saying that she has been in love with The Perfect Man all along and just suddenly, suddenly realized it. Oops, I just got started but I’ll stop now. Anyway, I would like to believe that the romance is not the most important thing in the novel because the friendship between Cornelia and Clare, is given a lot of focus. But one cannot ignore the Cornelia-Teo romance because it runs strongly along the side of the Cornelia-Clare friendship. Besides, this is still a romance novel.

Another issue that I have is that the characters are thin. Not physically, you. They are all flat. The ways they interact with each other are incredulous. Their actions and decisions are unreal. They get pitted against various conflicts but somehow, they manage to fix everything as if they were gods. You see, Teo is married to Cornelia’s sister. But that nasty little problem gets resolved just like poof, magic.

Wow. How could everything work out so perfectly in novel with insane storylines? Wait, I haven’t talked about Clare’s crazy mother yet, but that’s enough. I felt cheated. I like happy endings as long as my capacity to think is not insulted. Accuse me of taking myself too seriously or for taking my cynicism notches ahead, but I am now convinced that toxic fluff exists. It can kill in so many ways, I tell you.

[Read in February 2015.]
[1 out of 5 stars.]
[Epub.]

F2F38: Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos

F2F38: Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos

Book Report: May 2015

Book Report: May 2015

It has been a little quiet here so I played with my theme. I feel the need to do that whenever nothing is happening on this blog. Aside from that, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. In fact, it has been a long while since I managed to finish more than five books within a month. I checked my reading history and found out that in the first half of 2012, one of my two prolific reading years, I clocked in between five to seven books per month. I even set a record for May 2012: nine books.

Why am I obsessing over this? Surely, it’s not the quantity but the quality, eh? No, I don’t subscribe to that idea. There’s so little time that I must not waste for kissing and fondling my quality books for inordinate periods when there are so many more possibly quality books waiting to be discovered. Also, I like setting goals. If there’s a number that I have to beat, I feel compelled to keep reading. However, this does not mean that reading goals are my main motivation for reading. It’s a sort of challenge to make a solitary activity more exciting.

Okay, so there’s one ugh book in my report this month but it was assigned reading. I even got to write a review for it, which is quite ironic because I didn’t bother with the others. But I will make time for them. I’ll do my best to stop watching random videos on YouTube and to come up with write-ups.

Books Finished:

  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz – Our book of the month for May. 4 out of 5 stars.
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin – One of my picks for my book club discussion in August. 4 out of 5 stars.  (USD 15.30, The Book Depository, May 7)
  • The Middleman and Other Stories by Bharati Mukherjee – The Year of Reading the NBCC (18/40). 3 out of 5 stars.
  • Monstress by Lysley Tenorio – One of my reading dares/challenges for this year. 5 out of 5 stars.
  • October Light by John Gardner – The Year of Reading the NBCC (17/40). 4 out of 5 stars.
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by James Asher – 1 out of 5 stars.
  • Ubik by Philip K. Dick – 5 out of 5 stars. It looks like this will be the book that I’ll be discussing with the book club. We’ll find out in a few more days after the voting period is over. (USD 12.69, The Book Depository, May 7)

Currently Reading:

  • Lila by Marilynne Robinson – On page 51 of 261. I restarted because I want to.
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson – On page 101 of 271. I am so close to abandoning this.

Maybe:

  • The Maltese Falcon by Dashielle Hammett
  • Rabbit Redux by John Updike
  • The Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  • The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard
  • The Year of the French by Thomas Flanagan

New Books:

  • The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro – A signed gift! Thank you! (from Bennard, May 19)

Here’s a little background about The Year of Reading the NBCC. When Lila won the 40th NBCC Award for Fiction last March, I decided to read all the NBCC fiction winners. Why? Because I have them all, because I think this award has a very good taste, and because so far, I don’t hate any of the winners unlike the other awards (Mambo Kings for the Pulitzer, Charming Billy for the NBA, and Last Orders for the Booker).

I have instantaneously made this official but think I mentioned this aspiration somewhere. If I have only imagined it, let me tell you that my to-read list is pretty much filled up by the 25 titles that I haven’t read yet. The 25 titles are now down to 22 (Billy Lynn last April, October Light and Middleman last month). So yeah, I’ll note my progress in these reports just like what I did above. As a matter of fact, I’ll also edit the previous report for Billy Lynn.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Book Review – Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why comprises seven cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, a troubled high school student, and received by Clay Jensen, a classmate who has a crush on her. The cassette tapes tell the story of her suicide. These are sent and passed along a number of people whom Hannah thinks has a part in her decision to end her life. Each side of the tape is labeled with a number, except for the B-side of the seventh cassette, and focuses on a particular person who caused an incident contributing to the snowball of events that led to Hannah’s end.

The novel is structured as if the reader were holding a Walkman instead of a book. The chapter titles are labeled according to the cassette number and side (Cassette 1: Side A, Cassette 1: Side B, and so on) that Clay is listening to. There are two running narratives as each cassette is wound: Hannah’s story and Clay’s reactions to her story. I would usually give a nod to such a form. It’s creative and one has to laud the author for such ingenuity. However, the narratives clash against each other and therefore, it didn’t work for me. There are many times when Clay’s thoughts serve as mere barricades that I am tempted to gloss over.

Hello, boys and girls. Hannah Baker here. Live and in stereo.

I don’t believe it.

No return engagements. No encore. And this time, absolutely no requests.

No, I can’t believe it. Hannah Baker killed herself.

I hope you’re ready, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to theses tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.

What? No!

Shut up, Clay, will you? And it’s not even that I’m absorbed in Hannah’s story. It’s far from that. Hannah’s suicide story is a sappy melodrama. Clay’s story is a grand affectation. The narratives feel forced and insincere. Also, Clay seems to zone out a lot, as if he weren’t truly listening to Hannah’s cassettes.

I like reading about suicides. In fact, I have in mind some memorable characters who committed suicide, the one true philosophical act (that’s paraphrasing Albert Camus, who is not necessarily a proponent of suicide). But in this novel, even with thirteen reasons, I can’t see any philosophical insight on Hannah’s suicide.

Suicide is acceptable for me if the alternative, which is to continue living, is worse. But Hannah has to prove in her seven cassettes that she’s better off dead. She has alternatives, she has people whom she can talk to. But she claims that these people do not see the signs. Well, is it people’s jobs to always look out for signs? Is there any help for people who have already made up their minds? Can one reach out to people who cave in and shut the world out? Hannah is just as blind as she claims the people around her are. In fact, she’s the blindest person among them all.

And so I don’t buy the theme that this book is telling the reader. Sure, people must be socially responsible, people must be aware of the effects that their actions have on others. But people must not blame others for their misery especially when they have set themselves on wallowing in misery.

I am also offended that the suicide question is reduced to a game of pass along with … a map! If there’s anything good that Clay does in this novel, it is to crumple and throw that map away, but that doesn’t happen soon. And he doesn’t even do so for realizing that the map is ridiculous. Great, now we can simplify many Big Questions with manila paper and markers. Let’s plot out something with X and Y coordinates. Mark this with an X, if you will. And by that, I don’t mean the map, but the book.

[Read in May 2015.]
[1 out of 5 stars.]
[Epub.]