Book Clubs

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

Book Club Book Review – High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

High Fidelity is about Rob Fleming’s transition into adulthood. From what? Instead of answering that in one phrase, let me describe who Rob Fleming is. He’s the novel’s narrator, a thirty-ish funny and whiny guy who owns a record store that specializes in hard to find vinyl records. His favorite hobby is making mixtapes for people. He is obsessed not only with music and mixtapes but also with lists, Top Five lists of something he comes up with, to be exact. Obviously, he’s big on music, having shelves and shelves of records that he sorts and re-sorts in an order dictated by his mood, as if his life depended on it.

Is it so wrong, wanting to be at home with your record collection? It’s not like collecting records is like collecting stamps, or beermats, or antique thimbles. There’s a whole world in here, a nicer, dirtier, more violent, more peaceful, more colourful, sleazier, more dangerous, more loving world than the world I live in; there is history, and geography, and poetry, and countless other things I should have studied at school, including music.

And he has been recently dumped by his girlfriend.

The novel opens with a list of Rob’s Top Five breakups, which excludes Laura, the recent ex-girlfriend, from it. The prose, full of energy and practical wit, will surely make one read on to find out why Laura left the self-deluding, self-conceited Rob. Why indeed?

Surely, there are many details omitted, and delayed, by Rob. On the surface, Rob seems like an overgrown teenager who wouldn’t man up. Or a racehorse whose blinders have never been taken off. Is his life a mess? Probably some would say that and more; he’s an immature man who doesn’t think of a good future, who is wasting his talent by refusing to snap out of misery, and who is too blind to see that he is dragging Laura down with him. But, all things considered, I’d rather say that he doesn’t have a clear goal, which makes him meander back and forth, from his list of past ex-girlfriends, whom he all blames for what has happened to him, to Laura.

The novel has a confessional feel to it, like the narrator is letting you in on the big secrets of his life and that he’s letting you help him sort things out by merely listening. You get invested in the goings on of his life but sometimes, you just get tired. Had his miseries about his past reflected the novel’s language instead of the vibrant, jaunty one that pulls it along, this would have been a depressingly shitty book that draws too much from self-indulgence. But it’s not, thank goodness, and I think the author did very well to adapt a voice that people of this generation, a sizable audience for the book, can see themselves in.

Considering the maleness of the narrator, sentimentality is consciously shunned from his storytelling. But look, there are little slips of cheesiness here and there, which says something about machismo and the changing attitude of people on it. Men, at least some men like Rob, may have big and bloated egos, but they will act like little boys when they are trying to win back somebody whom they realize they love.

If it seems like you can’t stand a narrator such as Rob but think of yourself as a person with very good taste in music, read the book still. I didn’t recognize most of the music references but that’s just me. My musical preference is kind of limited but it didn’t stop me from listening to samples of songs that Rob mentions here and there.

[Read in April 2015.]
[3 out of 5 stars.]
[245 pages. Trade paperback.]

F2F40: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

F2F40: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

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.]

F2F38: Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos

F2F38: Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

Book Club Book Review – Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

Navigating Early is one of those books that I might not have bothered to read had it not been our book club’s first selection for this year. It’s a middle-grade novel about Jackie, a 13-year-old Kansas boy who moves to a boarding school in Maine, and Early, an eccentric classmate who lives at the school basement. One might have thought that the title is a descriptive action, such as Waking Up Early or Sleeping Early, but no, “Navigating” is a transitive verb and the direct object is the person Early.

I tend to treat a novel differently when I know that the intended audience for it is younger than me. I am either more forgiving or more flexible. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I found this rather fun. If I had a nephew or a niece, I would like him or her to read this novel about a friendship that is strengthened by the boys’ adventure.

At first, the friendship didn’t seem to have a chance because Jackie is that kind of boy who can be in the “in” group if he wants to and Early is that kind of boy who can never be in that group in spite of any effort. But he’s happy enough not being in that group. Besides, he’s too busy plotting a story out of the (in)finite number of pi.

The first parts of the novel are concerned with school activities. There’s nothing adventurous, only episodes of boys dumping their friends so that they could prove to the rest that they are cool. One is inclined to think that, aside from the parallel story based on pi, more episodes of friendship tests will go on. But fantastical elements are introduced when Jackie tags along Early in his quest to find his brother, long believed to have died during WWII.

There are pirates, hunters, centenarians, bears, rattlesnakes, and more stuff that creates action and that also threatens to suspend the reader in disbelief. Who would have thought that the river voyage, which at the core is a navigation through Early, would involve all of these? I know that this is for younger readers who might still enjoy playing outdoor games, but really? That’s a lot of adventure. It sure looks that they had more fun than Huckleberry Finn, who is name-dropped by a semiliterate visionary of sorts whom the boys meet in the woods. This guy, the Norwegian Gunnar, mentions some of the lines that I like best in the book.

“No one say anything about knowing the names of the stars. No, the sky, it is not a contest or an exam. The only question is, can you look up? Can you take it all in? As for names of constellations, they are not the be-all and the end-all. The stars, they are not bound one to another. They are meant to be gazed upon. Admired, enjoyed. It is like the fly-fishing. Fly-fishing is not about catching the fish. It is about enjoying the water, the breeze, the fish swimming all around. If you catch one, good. If you don’t … that is even better. That mean you come out and get to try all over again!”

This is the first book that I read in the electronic format. I’m pretty sure that it has affected my reading. It felt like I was plodding through a TL;DR-ish post. My eyes hurt a lot. Good thing it isn’t that bad, but I wish I were 12 or younger.

[Read in January 2015.]
[3 out of 5 stars.]

F2F37: Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

F2F37: Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

TFG's Author of the Month for December: William Shakespeare

TFG’s Author of the Month for December: William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare Face to Face Book Discussion Details:

  • Date: December 6, 2014
  • Place: The Usual Christmas Party Place, New Manila, Quezon City
  • Time: 2 PM to  12 AM
  • Discussion Leader: Aaron
  • Attendees: Me, Alexa, Alona, Cary, Ella, Gay, Gwaxa, Honey, Ingrid, JL, Joy, Julian (newbie), Kristel, Kwesi, Louize, Mae, Maria, Marie, Meliza, Monique, Ranee, Rhena, Rollie, Ruby, Tina, Tricia, Veronica
  • Food I Ate: This is also our book club’s Christmas Party so there was a lot of food. Unfortunately, my appetite was meh so I was only able to nibble small servings of Monique’s baked spaghetti and slivers of yema cake.
  • Activities: Hashtag Shirts (participants explain the hashtags they printed on their shirts), Truth or Lie (participants guess truth and the lie between two anecdotes shared by selected participants), Massacre Theatre (participants read small parts from various Shakespearean plays), and Dramatic Monologue (participants read their preferred monologue of their assigned Shakespearean character).
  • After the Book Discussion: Christmas dinner, The 3rd TFG Quiz Night (so far the damnedest among them all), and TFG Book Auction.
  • Other Nominated Books: None.
Discussion Time

Discussion Time

The F2F36 Attendees

The F2F36 Attendees

  • Next Month: Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool. If you wish to join us, please visit the discussion thread and the event thread for more details.

Photo courtesy of Louize.

By the way, I’m semi-retiring this feature. “Semi” because I plan to just integrate my review of our book of the month and the book club event into one.