Iris Murdoch

Literary Snobbery Series

The LSS Book List, Part 7

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


The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1895, L) – This is a short novel about war that is written by a person who has never been to the thick of a war. It ponders on the nature of fear, cowardice, courage and heroism with realistic impressions of battles. If you want to know what goes on inside the head of a soldier in action, pick this up.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989, L) – I’m collecting the striped Vintage editions of Ishiguro’s back list but I haven’t really bothered to go through them. But by all means, let’s put this title, the first book that I ever discussed with our book club, on this list. It’s a meditative book on greatness and dignity through the silverware, I mean lens, of a butler.

Remembering Babylon by David Malouf

Remembering Babylon by David Malouf

Remembering Babylon by David Malouf (1993, H) – The first ever winner of the IMPAC Literary Prize, one of the richest awards in the bookish community. The themes of isolation and identity are depicted in a fragmented narrative about a European boy, raised by aborigines, who struggles for his place in the world when he is reacquainted with Western settlers.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (1961, L) – A searing story about a middle-class couple who are ensnared by the trappings of their middle-class comforts. The Wheelers attempt to escape the dread that is gnawing at them, but the lure of further socio-economic advancement derails their plans, their marriage, and ultimately, their lives.

The Sea by John Banville

The Sea by John Banville

The Sea by John Banville (2005, M) – This is an enigmatic tale about Max who looks back on his childhood that is colored by his playmates, the siblings Chloe and Myles. He reconciles with a past that is culminated by the siblings’ swim to the sea, a swim that would change the rest of their lives. This is best read slowly because of its hypnotic, poetic prose.

The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch

The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch

The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch (1978, M) – To put it bluntly, this is a love story populated not by dashing boys and dazzling girls, but by old people. And by old people, we mean people who should be legitimately retired. Charles Arrowby, former theater director, retires to a seaside house in seclusion only to be reunited with his first love. The characters in this novel are fully fleshed out and they let us see clearly the reasons behind the things that they do.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011, L) – A short yet contemplative mind-bender that takes on the essence of history and the faulty nature of memory, this demands to be reread after finishing the unsettling last page. Tony Webster, in his old age, is given money and the diary of his friend from 40 years ago by the mother of his ex-girlfriend, also from 40 years ago. This unexpected reacquaintance with the past forces Tony to remember and rethink the events that happened among the four of them.

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles (1949, L) – Port and Kit travel to the North African desert in an attempt to save their failing marriage. Their uninteresting friend, Tunner, tags along. Something happens to Port. Kit runs away. At this point, brace yourself as Kit does some crazy stuff while sinking in the quicksand of her existential anguish.

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx (1993, L) – Quoyle is left to raise his two daughters alone when his vile wife leaves him. He tries to start a new life by moving to their ancestral home somewhere in Canada. This is a moving novel of hope and redemption that is tightly tied to knots (granny knots, square knots, etc.), which are introduced at the start of each chapter and which are entangled in Quoyle’s life.

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (1964, M) – George goes through what he assumes to be the last day of his life. We learn that he is a literature professor still grieving the death of Jim, his domestic partner. The loneliness that engulfs George is thickly pronounced without being overdone, and his resolve to end his life may or may not be swayed by his encounters with strangers, students, and friends.

Stay tuned for Part 8.

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


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

Book Report: March 2014

Book Report: March 2014

WordPress tells me that today is my sixth anniversary as a WordPress blogger. This blog is only three years old. The excess three years were spent on a personal blog that I hid from everyone. It’s inactive, don’t worry, and I haven’t touched it ever since I chose to blog about books.

I don’t really have a point, but I’m thinking that the blogging years don’t matter. What matters in blogging is always now. In the world of blogs, one is only as good as his or her last post. A blog with no fresh content in spite of its age is practically dead. And what do we make of this blog?

You might have noticed that I haven’t posted a book review in nearly a year. I think I may have been jinxed when my bookish friends voted for me as their favorite book reviewer last year (aww, you guys!), which is very humbling. But after that, my book reviews have been scarce.

Don’t worry, I’m forever trying to figure out how to make myself go back to the art of book reviewing. For now, I have a huge book report, mostly on new books. Yes, new books, because I’m a stress shopper. Need I say more?

Books Finished:

  • The Alienist by Caleb Carr – 3 out of 5 stars. The only book that I finished this month. Copy was lent by Maria. Thanks! This is only the fourth book that I finished this year, and yes, it’s also the fourth borrowed book. I have a feeling though that I’m going to finish a book that I own in April.

Currently Reading:

  • The Trial by Franz Kafka – Currently on page 163 of 216. I was going to finish it this month, but alas, I got held up with too many appointments.
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – Currently on page 211 of 604. I didn’t touch it. I tried to but, oh well. I hope it doesn’t get stuck here for a long time

New Books:

  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – Some of my friends recommend Atwood, particularly this novel. And it’s added to the recent edition of the Novel 100/125. (Php 175.00, March 19, Undertow Books)
  • If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino – TFG’s book of the month for April. I’m glad to have found a copy because I gave my pre-loved copy to one of my favorite friends. (Php 485.00, March 17, NBS Bestsellers – Podium)
  • Mr. Sammler’s Planet by Saul Bellow – A National Book Award winner. I haven’t read any Bellow book yet, and I have a number of them. (Php 90.00, March 19, Undertow Books)
  • The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer – I lost my mass market copy to termites. I don’t mind that now because this trade paperback copy is nice. (Php 150.00, March 19, Undertow Books)
  • Riders in the Chariot by Patrick White – A new writer friend recommended this when I asked him his favorite NYRB Classics book. He has another favorite but I have yet to look for that. (USD 21.03, March 25, The Book Depository)
  • The Stone Raft by José Saramago – Saramago. Hello?! (Php 200.00, March 19, Undertow Books)
  • Tenth of December by George Saunders – The inaugural winner of The Folio Prize. Now, let me proceed to shameless plugging. I started a book group on Goodreads dedicated to reading this and the future winners of The Folio Prize. In fact, we are reading this book starting today, which means I’ll have to eat my dinner after posting this and start reading the first story. If you want to check out the group and join, click this. (Php 629.00, March 19, Power Books – Shangri-la Plaza)
  • Under the Net by Iris Murdoch – One of Time Magazine’s 100 Best Novels. I’ve read Murdoch before and she’s not bad. On the contrary, she’s very good. (Php 200.00, March 19, Undertow Books)
  • Women in Their Beds by Gina Berriault – A Book Critics Circle winner. I have no idea on who the writer is. (Php 250.00, March 19, Undertow Books)
  • World Light by Halldór Laxness – When I read the blurb, I made the decision to buy it upon reading that the protagonist believes that he will one day become a great poet. And that’s the first sentence. (USD 15.37, March 25, The Book Depository)
A sea of words and a wave of space

The Font, the Font – The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch

Staring at the font size of my edition intimidates me. Sure, I’ve read the gigantic 2666 months ago, but somehow, I was more frightened at the prospect of reading this Booker winner. And reading the mini-bio of the author at one of the front pages further scares me: Murdoch is a philosopher. Most probably, philosophical meanderings are bound to dominate the book, no?

Not really. To start, the writing is quite understandable. Yes, it is physically and metaphorically dense, but it manages to be fluid. Maybe because of the first person point of view. More so, we are actually reading the diary of a retired theater director, Charles Arrowby, who decides to spend his retirement years by the sea. He buys a funny house with an accessible view of the sometimes screaming, sometimes serene sea. He moves, finally, to escape the women of his theatrical life.

But with the conspiratorial forces of fate, he meets not only one but three women with whom he had a relationship with. To top it all, he even finds, after four decades, the one woman he really, truly loved. His first love, and the reason he never married and stayed out of the mysterious fringes of marriage.

I woke up next morning to an instant sense of a changed world. The awful feeling was less, and there was a new extremely anxious excitement and a sheer plucking physical longing to be in her presence, the fierce indubitable magnetism of love. There was also a weird hovering joy, as if I had been changed in the night into a beneficent being powerful for good. I could produce, I could bestow, good. I was the king seeking the beggar maid. I had power to transform, to raise up, to heal, to bring undreamt-of happiness and joy. My God, I had come here, to this very place, and against all the chances I had found her at last! I had come here because of Clement, and I had found Hartley. But: is she a widow?

Halfway through this, the pace will pick up at an amazing speed. We all have troubles starting new novels. We try a best to get a good grip on it so that we can drive our reading with delight. In this case, it was a slow start. We read about Charles describing the sea and giving some details of his childhood. He also takes about his family, which is just a small crew composed of his parents, his uncle and aunt, and his lone cousin James.

He also talks about the food that he eats, the problems that he has with his house and surroundings, the quiet village, the hostile and sarcastic people, the theater and the people with whom he had connections with. All these may drag the reader, but as soon as people from Charles’s past enter the scene, one will realize that it’s worth the effort.

Besides, it’s not dragging in the sense that the writing is unwieldy. The descriptions are rich and colorful. The sea is such a beautiful backdrop for a novel and a magnificent metaphor for life. I remember John Banville’s The Sea. That one is very good, and this one is proving to be just as good, and it may even end up better.

Date Started: March 21, 2012. 09:00 PM. Book #16 of 2012.

Books to Read for March 2012

Books To Read: March 2012

March! The last month of the first quarter. And a new set of reading plan. Okay, now I really, really have to follow this reading plan. I know, I shouldn’t be too austere with reading; it takes away the joy of reading, yes? But I beg to disagree. I actually enjoy the imposition of rigorous reading discipline.

Currently, I am still running through the last hundred pages of Number9Dream and barely touched The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. A huge backlog! I am not even sure if I should adjust my self-required five books per month, which is actually six because I still need to add our book group’s book of the month.

I did some computing, like how many pages should I read each day, and I think this could be managed. Here are the books:

  • Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion – this is not on the original plan, but after seeing a copy of it at Book Sale and buying it for Kwesi, a bookish friend who bought me a Hamsun book, we decided to buddy read it. Why did I even push this book to him? I think this is about the angsty 1950’s, something that I hope my future book buddy would appreciate.
  • The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek – a controversial book. I’ve seen the film adaptation, and I love it. I can’t help wondering how it goes in the book. Two of my bookish friends hate this to the bone, and I am hoping to love this book for the sake of eternal argument. I’m not merely playing the devil’s advocate, but there’s something interesting about a classy and reserved piano teacher dreaming of sadomasochistic pleasures.
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel – a pretty popular book. I got a not so bookish friend to read this. I don’t think he immensely enjoyed it, him being an annual reader, but he admits the finer points that the book has to offer. I think what initially drew him to the book is the major premise: a boy and a tiger together on a boat at the middle of the sea.
  • The Echo Maker by Richard Powers – not sure what to make of this, but the title appeals to me. Please don’t judge me. If people make choices based on book covers alone, perhaps I could be forgiven? If memory serves me right, this is something about a man who met an accident and gropes around for his memories?
  • The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch – this is a part of a reading challenge that I am participating this year. This is not a classic if we just use the publication year as the sole basis, but with Murdoch slowly hardening into a marble statue of a respected writer, this should count. Whoever said that classics only come from the 19th century and backwards must be slapped with a stinging backhand.

This is going to be a long month. Happy reading!

Back To The Classics Challenge 2012

Back To The Classics Challenge 2012

I’m taking a break from the weekly book write-up to formally announce my intention to join the Back to the Classics Challenge 2012. I never joined book challenges before, but after reviewing my 2012 reading plan, I think I wouldn’t be making huge adjustments.

Wait, I have a 2012 reading plan? Yes, but let’s not talk about that now. And going back to the challenge, why not?

Anyway, the challenge has nine categories. Here are they along with the books that I picked.

Any 19th Century Classic – The Red Badge Of Courage by Stephen Crane

There are a lot of 19th century novels out there, so the choice for this category is the easiest.

Any 20th Century Classic – Ulysses by James Joyce

I’m both excited and terrified to read this. Excited because this book is Modern Library’s Number 1 book, and terrified because reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was a bad experience. There might be an encore, but I hope not. I might be reading this with a fellow blogger if she’s still up to it. And oh, she’s the one who made me join this challenge. Not by coercion, but by posting a similar post a few weeks back. She blogs at The Misanthropologist.

Reread a classic of your choice – Hunger by Knut Hamsun

I cannot really promise to reread, but if there is anything that I’d like to reread, it would be this. But speaking of rereading, aren’t we losing time since there are a lot of good books to read? But yes, this is a challenge, so I have to do it.

A Classic Play – Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett

This is supposed to be his masterpiece. Not those three novels, something about Molloy, Malone, and the Unnamable. I’m not too sure. And this is also a part of a lifelong challenge that I will undertake next year. More details about that in a few more days.

Classic Mystery/Horror/Crime Fiction – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I had a little problem with this because I am not a fan of this genre. Then I remember I have a copy of Dracula. No, that would not do. It is a huge read. Then I saw a copy of Frankenstein at one of the Book Sale branches here. This counts as a horror fiction, right?

Classic Romance – The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

I found this also tough because I am not a fan of strictly romantic novels. This category almost made me not join the challenge because I couldn’t find a romantic classic in my reading plan. And by some sort of accident, I found out that this novel will make the reader fall in love. That is according to a book that lists books according to moods.

Read a Classic that has been translated from its original language to your language – The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass

This is problematic because my first language is Filipino, and Filipinos are not huge fans of translating books, so I guess a book translated into English counts. And that makes sense because I speak and write in English better. Yes, it’s a shame, but I can’t help it. I studied in a school where kids are penalized for speaking in the local language.

Classic Award Winner – The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

This is an early winner of the Pulitzer Prize. I think it’s the third book to win it since the body started awarding novels.

Read a Classic set in a country that you (realistically speaking) will not visit during your lifetime – Nostromo by Joseph Conrad

I first picked a German-set novel, but what the hey. What if I win the lottery one day? It would be nice to go backpacking around Europe, right? So I changed my book for this. I picked this work from Conrad because it is set in a fictitious South American country. So there, realistically speaking, I will never, ever be able to visit it.

Now, here’s an interesting question: what constitutes a classic? If you ask me, a classic novel is one that has a theme that will endure regardless of the generation that reads it. That’s why there are books called contemporary classics because despite their recent publication, their themes seem to outlive us. And I think they are labeled as contemporary classics because of the strong notion that classics are only published at least a century ago, which should not be the case. That is because time, the supreme judge of classics, can tell us if this book is a real classic or not. Hence, the confusion.

For more information regarding this challenge, visit Sarah Reads Too Much.

Back To The Classics Challenge 2012

Back To The Classics Challenge 2012