David Mitchell

Literary Snobbery Series

The LSS Book List, Part 6

Visit the The LSS Book List page for more information about this post.


No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

No One Writes to the Colonel (El coronel no tiene quien le escriba) and Other Stories by Gabriel García Márquez (1961, M) – GGM is famous for magical realism, but that doesn’t mean that he’s only as good as One Hundred Years of Solitude. Try this collection of realist short stories (no insomniac towns, traveling blood, or women rising up to the heavens above) and you’ll realize that the man is indeed a master of the written word. The last story can’t help

Noli Me Tángere by José Rizal

Noli Me Tángere by José Rizal

Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) by José Rizal (1887, H) – I had a little trouble with this entry because this is required reading in Philippine high schools. But this isn’t internationally popular like those European or Latin American or Japanese novels. And how about reading this for pleasure and in a translation other than Filipino (in my case, English)? Or better yet, how about in Spanish?

Number9Dream by David Mitchell

Number9Dream by David Mitchell

Number9Dream by David Mitchell (2001, M) – Eiji Miyake has never met his father. He goes on a journey to come to good terms with his past. This coming of age novel intersperses reality with fantasy. Plot narration is interwoven with journal entries and children’s stories. Any David Mitchell novel would perfectly fit on this list, but there’s an added bonus for this book: you’d find yourself humming “Was it all a dream, it seems so real to me….”

Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald

Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald

Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald (1979, H) – A small, tightly knit community of people living on boats. People who don’t belong to the land or to the sea. People who are displaced. It’s a short novel that packs a wallop, like a tidal wave arriving so suddenly and leaving you rather senseless on a shore of awe.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Odin den’ Ivana Denisovicha) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1962, L) – A prison novel that shows us the daily humdrum in the life of the eponymous character. From day to night, the reader gets a tour of what’s it like to work in frigid temperatures with stomachs fed only by stale bread and tepid soup. This is a tale of the human spirit’s resilience despite the seemingly insurmountable adversities minus the melodrama.

A Personal Matter by Kenzaburō Ōe

A Personal Matter by Kenzaburō Ōe

A Personal Matter (Kojinteki na taiken) by Kenzaburō Ōe (1964, H) – Bird is about to be a father. When his son is finally born, he finds out that the infant is severely deformed. He runs away from the responsibility of raising the child. He loses his job, wastes himself on alcohol, revives an affair with a former lover, and spirals down to the abyss of his unknown dark self. This is made of pretty strong stuff and is a definite representative of great Japanese literature.

The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek

The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek

The Piano Teacher (Die Klavierspielerin) by Elfriede Jelinek (1983, H) – Erika Kohut teaches the piano at the Vienna Conservatory. She is strict, austere, and rather conservative. But that’s just the surface. When she is left to herself, outside the circle of music teachers and students, she goes to peep shows and seeks to rebel. She writes a long letter to one of her students, telling him of her masochistic desires. Pornographic or not, the tension it gives the reader is worth the time.

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion (1970, M) – Maria Wyeth is a so-so actress who is now recovering in a mental institution. The novel is made up of short chapters as if they were snippets of conversations or flashes of memory. Decadence surrounds Maria, and this doesn’t help as she spirals down to her breakdown. What is her purpose? Don’t ask.

Possession by A. S. Byatt

Possession by A. S. Byatt

Possession by A. S. Byatt (1990, L) – What would this list be if there were no entry about literary scholars researching the private lives of literary heroes? Present day academicians Roland and Maud discover a seemingly innocuous letter that leads them to unearth the secret love affair between Victorian poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. This is a real thrill of a literary mystery, replete with all the requisite Victorian poetry.

Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow

Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow

Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow (1975, L) – A big novel with at least three plot lines, this is a fun book where you get to see historical figures from the 1900s interact with fictional characters. There’s Houdini meditating on his fame, JP Morgan being told off by Henry Ford, Freud and Jung in Coney Island, and more. It almost resists interpretation and this is why it’s irresistible.

Stay tuned for Part 7.

Format: [Title] ([Original Title]) by [Author] ([Publication Year, LSS Meter Level])


This is part of the Literary Snobbery Series (LSS).

Hi Angus. Hello David.

If David Mitchell stopped writing books

Think about an event you’ve attended and loved. Your hometown’s annual fair. That life-changing music festival. A conference that shifted your worldview. Imagine you’re told it will be cancelled forever or taken over by an evil corporate force.

How does that make you feel?

Today’s twist: While writing this post, focus again on your own voice. Pay attention to your word choice, tone, and rhythm. Read each sentence aloud multiple times, making edits as you read through. Before you hit “Publish,” read your entire piece out loud to ensure it sounds like you.

Writing 101’s challenge today is just perfectly timed. I’ll be talking about a bookish event, of course. I’m still reeling from all the good feels that I had since David Mitchell’s webchat yesterday.

What if it were cancelled?

I wouldn’t have minded it because I was at work and I couldn’t really mope at my desk had there been such an announcement. Besides, I wasn’t really expecting anything. It was a Q&A thing, and even if he didn’t answer my question, I would still get something from the answers that he gave the other questions.

But what if there will never be a webchat again ever because he decided to stop writing books and become a recluse?

I would be sad, only because I will not be able to read new books by him. I’m happy enough to have read all his novels. Look, he even said hi to me. Yes, it was only a webchat, but still, the literary fanboy in me was wild with positive feelings. That “hi” crossed from UK to the Philippines, much like his themes of souls crossing and recrossing lives.

My older self would have whined for months, but here, in my thirty-year-old skin, I would tell myself to shut up, treasure my Mitchell moment, print the webpage, and hang it in a frame (as suggested by my buddy Monique, who by the way alerted me about this). Some people are blind. Some people can’t read. Some people don’t read him. Some people will never get a hi from him.

So yes, I would be sad. A happy kind of sad.

My Thirty Greatest Books

Thirty Years, Thirty Books

At the moment of typing this, I realize that I’m spending my last couple of hours as a twenty-something hacking at my book shelves and sorting through my memory for my greatest books. I haven’t read a lot yet, but I already have my small personal canon.

There are the random books of my childhood, the limited choices in high school, the varied selections in college, and the hordes of them all in the last decade. And before I realize it, I’m already thirty. Actually, the realization has not yet hit me hard (should it?). I look at my shelves and wonder at the space that I could have emptied had I not been a reader. But no, I’m happy to be a reader.

I selected my list of greatest books based on my Goodreads ratings and on how important they are to me at multiple points in my life. If you are a keen reader of my blog, I think you will have a pretty good idea on what most of these books are. But there are surprise picks, which I put in my this list because they are an integral part of my reading development.

I wish I could rank them, but this is so hard. This is because my literary taste is continuously evolving and expanding, and everyday is different. I may like Novel A now more than Novel B, but next week could be a different story. So I decided to list the books alphabetically.

Without further ado, here are my thirty greatest books:

  • Atonement by Ian McEwan – Recently reread, I must say that it’s still as stupendous as the first time.
  • Children Around the World by Various Authors – I found this at the book shelf of my aunt. When I grew up, I never found it again.
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell – When you thought that there’s nothing new that emerging writers could do, my favorite living author comes out with this extraordinary feat.
  • Death at Intervals by José Saramago – My paternal love for my favorite Nobel laureate started with this novel: Death’s love affair with an ordinary cellist.
  • Fatelessness by Imre Kertész – Read this and you’ll thank your provider for the cheap instant food on your plate.
  • Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot – Possibly the best poetry collection on life, time, and everything in between.
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson – The follow-up novel after twenty years of waiting is graceful with its lilting spirituality.
  • The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers – I find the title too endearing to ignore. After reading the book, I realize the truth in the title’s spaces.
  • The Hours by Michael Cunningham – Reading this as a bumbling college student amazed me at the writer’s mastery of the novel’s form.
  • Hunger by Knut Hamsun – Still my greatest book, so far.
  • Independent People by Halldór Laxness – Still my second greatest book, so far.
  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri – At some point, it made me want to buy every copy that I see in book stores.
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – Because Jane Eyre is badass. I wish I have read this sooner.
  • The Known World by Edward P. Jones – an immensely under-read and important contemporary novel.
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
  • Malice by Danielle Steel – I can still remember when me and my friends gushed at the sex scenes while restraining ourselves in a corner of the school library.
  • Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem – Possibly the funniest book in this list.
  • The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek – It’s not the literariness of it but the intensity of reading it.
  • Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion – Short, terse, and devastating. Read only when emotionally stable.
  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – The first book that you discuss with a group of bookish friends is certainly unforgettable. And that’s the least of the reasons.
  • Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates – This came at a low point in my life. Thus, it felt like a book that was written for me.
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy – The man and the boy’s journey to the sea in a post-apocalyptic world will grip you, not without shedding a tear.
  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes – A book that I feel I will always reread. I haven’t scheduled a reread yet for this year.
  • The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever – New York stories from the masterful writer. The pieces are varied. There’s something for every reader out there.
  • This Is Water by David Foster Wallace – Something that I read when the jagged teeth of realities are snapping at me.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee –  The first novel that you read is always in the heart.
  • Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda – Possibly the most romantic poetry collection.
  • Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Years ago, I was only following her Twisted series. Now, I’m writing a novel that she would possibly publish.
  • The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides – Beautifully haunting, those Lisbon girls.
  • Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver – What more could you ask for when pieces from the writer’s three major collections are collected here?

Some of these are not in the photo above either because they are borrowed or they are elsewhere. Now, I am reminded that for the past years, I celebrated my birthday with a bookish giveaway. However, I have to break that tradition now because first, I somehow forgot it (blame it on the lack of activities on this blog) and second, I’m saving money for something more important and more selfless. What could be more important and more selfless than giving away a book?

If you answer this question correctly before April 25, 11:59 PM, you win a prize. Yes, the tradition goes on, although you will have to wait for your prize (a book not more than Php1000) some time in June to be delivered to you. For now, #HappyBirthdayAngus. Thank you. :)

The old, the new, and the autographed.

New things, old things

Two weeks ago, I moved to a new place. Last Monday, I started my new job. Just this afternoon, I committed myself into buying at least one NYRB Classics book per month. It feels like there have been a lot of new things going on, but really, they are just the same old things. Maybe, but hopefully not too soon, I might move again to a new place or change jobs or start collecting new sets of books. It’s all fun and challenging, but I still fervently hope that I can finally settle down to a place that is really my own and find the job that would last me until my retiring years. And about books? Well, I’m just glad of them regardless of the reading and blogging ruts.

Here are the new and used books that I got for myself:

  • Attack upon Christendom by Soren Kierkegaard – There’s this guy who sells books near our place. He carries a select set of books and lays them about the sidewalk. He is rarely seen around because he comes around at random days at usually past midnight. Cool, huh? There’s a Bohemian feel there. My friend has been telling me about this guy, and it took me maybe two months since I heard about this seller to finally meet him. (Php 280.00, July 26)
  • Cities of Salt by Abdul Rahman Munif – Included in the Novel 100, one of the four core lists that I am following. (Php 120.00, July 27, Bookay Ukay)
  • The Novel 100 by Daniel S. Burt – And what do you know? I finally found myself a copy of this! (Php 150.00, July 27, Bookay Ukay)
  • So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell – An early winner of the National Book Awards. (Php 120.00, July 27, Bookay Ukay)
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell – A belated birthday gift from Ingrid. Thanks! Note: this is a signed copy. Woohoo! (July 27)
  • Soul by Andrey Platonov – The first NYRB Classics book that I bought. It’s not the first that I owned though because my buddy Monique jump-started my collection with Happy Moscow, another work from Platonov. (Php 755.00, August 17, Power Books – Shangrila Mall)

If you really want to know, I have listed 66 NYRB Classics books that I must own. I came up with this list based on a set of criteria that I wouldn’t bother to explain. Hopefully I could come close to that figure, and hopefully my reading would also keep abreast with the hoarding.