Whatnot

31 is a centered pentagonal number. It is also the 4th lucky prime.

31 Is the 4th Lucky Prime

Fourth lucky prime? Okay. Coincidentally, this post is my fourth time to do a birthday giveaway. I’m doing another one because I’m kind of used to doing it. But I don’t know what to do.

To help me decide, let’s review the bloggy and birthday giveaways that I did for the past four years:

  • January 2012 – I asked you to post a memory when you were 12 years old.
  • April 2012 – I asked you to name your favorite post in this blog. And also to guess for my age.
  • January 2013 – I asked you to suggest some reading and blogging resolutions.
  • April 2013 – I asked you to suggest a name for a hypothetical personal blog. Nobody won!
  • January 2014 – I asked you to recommend me a book. And I read one of the recommendations!
  • April 2014 – I asked you to guess what am I saving money for.
  • January 2015 – I asked you to guess my short list of science fiction books for our book club’s August discussion.
  • April 2015 – ?

Aha! Here’s what we’ll do. Ask me four questions. No more, no less. They could be bookish, personal, stupid, whatever. Then I’ll answer them. Sounds good?

You have 31 hours to post your four questions. 31 because that’s the new number I have to write at the space for age when filling out forms for the next 12 months.

The winner will win a book of his or her choice (not more than Php 1,000). I will decide the winner based on how interesting his or her questions are to me. I will not read the entries until the deadline (April 26, 12:00 AM). After that, I will do an on-the-spot audio recording. That way, everyone can judge how interested I am in answering the questions.

Thanks in advance.Please join! Don’t let this be like April 2013. ;)

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.

#FridayReads 2014

Four!

It’s my blog’s fourth birthday! To celebrate, I created a grid of my year in #FridayReads. Out of the 37 books that I read last year, I only missed three books for this … hobby. If you are curious, the books that I missed are The Bibliophile’s Devotional (a year-long read), Dwellers (borrowed), and Twisted 8 (borrowed).

Let’s further celebrate this day with … a contest. As usual, there is a prize. The winner for this year’s bloggy birthday giveaway will receive a book of his or her choice that is worth at most Php 1,000.00 (for local books) or USD 20.00 (for Book Depository). So what’s the contest?

In August, I will be moderating our science fiction book club discussion. I already have three titles in mind. I just finished typing them on my phone’s note app and took a screenshot of it as a proof. So, if you can guess any of the three books that I have selected, you stand a chance of winning. The participant who has the most number of correct guesses wins. In case of ties, the person who posted the earliest wins.

So hurry up! You can post up to ten guesses in the comments section below. Deadline is four days from now, which is on January 11, Sunday, 11:59 PM. If nobody guesses any of the titles, I guess I’ll just use the prize money for myself, tee-hee!

Your interactions with me through my bookish posts keep this blog alive. So thank you, thank you so much!

My Year in Reading: 2014

Looking Back and Looking Ahead: The 2014 Reading Year + 2015 Reading Goals and Resolutions

2014 is not my year in reading. 2014 was supposed to be my year in writing but alas, it didn’t prove to be that. I expected not to finish the more or less 50 books that I finish each year because of that novel I’ve turned inside my head since I’ve toyed with the idea of writing. I only got to finish drafts for six chapters, roughly a quarter of the projected output that I outlined in January last year.

During the writing process, I suffered from mild self-diagnosed anxiety attacks. I guess I’m that mad sort of writer. To maintain my sanity, I decided to put all this writing on hold until I’m more emotionally stable and until I am more capable at sculpting my novel into the shape that I want it to become. I’m not attempting to romanticize my writing but that’s just the way it is. I can’t help to be a moody writer. I know my novel will remain swimming inside my head, but what of my dear beta readers? I feel that I failed them more than I failed myself.

I was even able to hatch two more novel ideas while I was attempting to finish what I was writing. I am afraid that I’ll just be one of those people who have lots of ideas but don’t have any output. If that’s the case, I will console myself with the great books that keep coming my way. I may only have read 37 books this year, but I still managed to find unforgettable reads among them.

And with that, here are my top five books of 2014:

  • The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford – I picked this up because of a snobby friend’s recommendation, claiming it to be one of his two best NYRB Classics. It delivered with a nerve-wracking wallop at the end. Oh Molly, I miss you and I feel what the author must have felt when she did what she had to do with you.
  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf – A followup read to the book that I discussed with my book club for this year, which is To the Lighthouse. I still believe that To the Lighthouse is better than Mrs. Dalloway, but since the former is a reread, I’ll make room for one day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway.
  • Tenth of December by George Saunders – I organized a reading group for The Folio Prize winners, and this is such a wonderful inaugural book both for the prize and the reading group. There is no single story in it that is not worth thinking about.
  • Tinkers by Paul Harding – Some people dissuaded me from reading this unpopular winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I’m happy not to have listened to them because I discovered a book that is full of lilting lines and evocative images. I’m more than willing to reread this.
  • Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson – The best book of the year and the best book of my life. The plotlessness of this short story cycle appealed to me, but it is the characters’ emotional lives and their unconscious connections with each other that pulled me in. I’ve never had so much pleasure in reading slowly as I had with this.

Now, here are my 2015 reading and blogging goals:

  • Finish 50 books – That’s roughly one book a week. With writing out of the way, at least for now, this should be doable.
  • Read NBCC winners – This year, my favorite literary award will honor their 40th winner for fiction. Coincidentally, I was able to complete all the past 39 winners, from Ragtime to Americanah. And because not a single one of the 15 NBCC winners that I read failed me, I decided to read the remaining 25, including the future winner, this year for the fun of it.
  • Use Goodreads – I realized that I lost a lot of bookish conversations when I decided to stop cataloguing my books on this site when I had a rather nasty affair with some Goodreads administrators. I miss those conversations so I’ll use the site again, at least sparingly. This means I’ll add and rate the books that I’ve read, but the shelves wouldn’t be as comprehensive as the ones on Leafmarks.
  • Review ASAP – My backlog will never stop growing if I keep putting off my reviews. So why do I keep doing that? It’s because I, after finishing a book, immediately jump to another one instead of allowing myself to mull over what I’ve just read and write a review for a couple of hours. On that note, I decided to give up on long form reviews. I still admire the long form critics at the New Yorker and the New York Times, but let’s face it: I’m no James Wood or Michiko Kakutani. Kirkus Reviews publishes reviews that are around 300-400 words. In this decade where people TL;DR blog posts, I think it’s a smart move to write sharp and snappy reviews.
  • Read and review more short stories – This is to generate more content for our group blog, The Short Story Station. I’m thinking of getting a copy of the 8th edition of The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction when it comes out early this year so that I could have more material. I might just do this once I get over my annoyance at our local post office.

That’s it! Thanks so much for sticking around. To all the new people I met through this blog, I hope to see you again at the end of 2015 so that we can all look back and ahead, and do it all over again.