Books

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.]

Book Report: April 2015

Book Report: April 2015

This is a great month for all things bookish. I’ve finished five books, reviewed five books, still reading four books, bought more than a dozen books, and hosted a bookish giveaway. Also, I’ve started using Goodreads again. I mean, I’m not just using it partially, like searching for reviews or joining our book club’s online activities. I’ve added all my books and shelves again. Not the reviews though; I’ve just resolved to put the links. Leafmarks is just too slow, which is unacceptable in this day and age.

Anyway, I’ll stop babbling now so that we can all enjoy the local holiday.

Books Finished:

Currently Reading:

  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz – On page 233 of 359. TFG’s book of the month this May. (Php 615.60, Fully Booked – The Fort, April 19)
  • Lila by Marilynne Robinson – On page 16 of 261. On hold. I haven’t touched it since March.
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson – On page 27 of 271. I’m putting this on my list of science fiction books for my book club discussion in August because two of my official selections have not arrived yet (and I only have three weeks left to scramble).
  • October Light by John Gardner – On page 154 of 498. Funny book!

Maybe:

  • Family Life by Akhil Sharma – This year’s winner of The Folio Prize, so I must have it and read it soon. (USD 12.72, The Book Depository, April 22)

New Books:

  • Plains Song by Wright Morris (Php 115.00, Book Sale – SM Megamall, April 6)
  • The Dream of the Red Chamber/The Story of the Stone by Cao Xueqin – I got Volumes I, III, IV, and V. Please help me find Volume II. (Php 200 each, Undertow Books, April 7)
  • Girl with Curious Hair by David Foster Wallace (Php 350.00, Undertow Books, April 7)
  • Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro (Php 300.00, Undertow Books, April 7)
  • History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell – Seriously, why did they sell this for an amount cheaper than the shipping fee? (Php 25.00, Undertow Books, April 7)
  • The Hunters by James Salter – I’ll be damned if I don’t like Salter. This is my fourth and I don’t even have an idea how the man writes. (Php 175.00, Undertow Books, April 7)
  • The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (Php 175.00, Undertow Books, April 7)
  • The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (Php 225.00, Undertow Books, April 7)
  • Proud Beggars by Albert Cossery (Php 250.00, Undertow Books, April 7)
  • The Blue Fox by Sjón – Sjón is Icelandic and he is Björk’s friend. It might do me a lot of good to check out his works. (Php 180.00, Bookulaw, April 19)
  • From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjón (Php 160.00, Bookulaw, April 19)
31 is a centered pentagonal number. It is also the 4th lucky prime.

Your Questions, My Answers, and the Winner

First, thanks to everyone for their birthday greetings and wishes through social and telecommunication networks. I am really touched by your gifts and surprises. Why do you do this to me? Yay!

Second, thanks to the participants of this year’s birthday contest and giveaway. Please note that the early part of the recording mentions that there are five participants. However, a new participant went through while I was answering the fifth set of questions. So do the math: 5 + 1 = 6. Yay!

Here is the recording:

I know it’s a long one, so here are the jumps if you are in a hurry:

00:00 – Intro and Participant 1

  1. Who would you rather have dinner with: Knut Hamsun or Jose Saramago?
  2. What do you honestly think of fanfic?
  3. What is your favorite movement in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony?
  4. Ang uod ba, pag namatay inuuod?

05:35 – Participant 2

  1. When are you going to finish your novel? Definite date, please.
  2. If you weren’t gay, describe the kind of girl you would love to be with.
  3. Describe the best day you’ve had in 2014.
  4. You’re writing your will. Would you bequeath something to me in it? If yes, what? If not, why?

11:29 – Participant 3

  1. Are you a virgin?
  2. Do you know what happens to a toad when it’s hit by lightning?
  3. Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?
  4. Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

13:10 – Participant 4

  1. What’s the worst book you’ve ever read? Explain why (if you feel like it).
  2. Do you think it’s necessary for a self-confessed bookworm to have read a decent number of classic novels or is reading classics nothing more than a cruel imposition?
  3. Your book shelf is on fire. Which book do you save?
  4. Who is your favorite pop diva and why?

17:52 – Participant 5

  1. What’s the best thing that could happen in the next 364 days?
  2. Which book would you unwrite off the face of the literary world?
  3. What’s going to make you cease smoking? :P
  4. Kill, Fuck, Marry TFG Edition: Maria, Mae, Monique? (If you don’t want the ladies, maybe you could do the men or do both, ehehe: Aaron, Beejay, JL)

23:38 – Participant 6

  1. Which bookish place (fictional or not) did you really want to visit after reading a book?
  2. What is the best compliment you have ever received?
  3. What do you think Victoria’s secret is?
  4. What’s the most memorable lesson you’ve ever learned, and who taught it to you?

30:50 – Deliberation and declaration of winner

I apologize for the following: my voice, my incoherence, my grammar and pronunciation slips, and the recording quality. I hope the quality will be acceptable to your ears. Congratulations to the winner!

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. ;)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Book Review – The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book is a chillingly charming novel about the childhood of a boy raised by ghosts in a graveyard. How is this possible, the reader might ask. It may not be possible but the possibility of it is welcome, I say. Nobody Owens, not his original name, totters into the graveyard near their house while a mysterious man murders the rest of his family. He is no more than two years old. Fortunately, kind and matronly Mistress Owens, one of the resident ghosts, finds the boy and takes him as her own, but this is not without the approval of the graveyard community.

A graveyard is not normally a democracy, and yet death is the great democracy, and each of the dead had a voice, and an opinion as to whether the living child should be allowed to stay, and they were each determined to be heard, that night.

But how can a live boy survive in a world where there are only dead people? What about his food? His clothes? His education? The Owenses are now Bod’s parents, but the graveyard community still assigned him a guardian who could take care of his living human needs. This guardian is Silas, an entity who is not quite living and not quite dead. Gaiman mentioned in interviews that Silas is a Very Important Person to Bod, and allow me also to leave it at that.

After Bod Owens is granted the Freedom of the Graveyard, which allows him to essentially live among the dead, stories from his growing up years follow. The chapters can stand alone as individual short stories as each one happens in a particular year of Bod’s life. Two of the chapters that I like the most are the second (The New Friend), where Bod is introduced to his first living friend, Scarlett, and the fourth (The Witch’s Headstone), where Bod is introduced to his first ghost friend who is not from their graveyard. Both chapters are more than stories of friendship. They also tell of courage, giving, and learning with a little fantastic adventure to entertain the reader.

Bod’s childhood is a strange one but there is still the pattern of defying what the adults say and learning from mistakes. It is inevitable that Bod would leave the graveyard, so as much as it is a childhood novel, it is also a novel where Bod comes of age.

Sleep my little babby-oh
Sleep until you waken
When you wake you’ll see the world
If I’m not mistaken.
Kiss a lover,
Dance a measure,
Find your name
And buried treasure…
Face your life
Its pain, its pleasure,
Leave no path untaken.

The ending is tender and bittersweet, which is to be expected but I’m nevertheless struck by it. Bod understands that there are those who must leave and those who must stay. It’s a banal platitude but it’s one of the important lessons that must be learned at young adulthood to help one’s self go out into the world and follow dreams. Bod still has many things to learn but he’s one step ahead. It looks like he will be on a promising journey.

[Read in April 2015.]
[4 out of 5 stars.]
[312 pages. Trade paperback. A gift from one of TFG’s White Elephant Book Swap.]