James Joyce

Book Report: June 2015

Book Report: June 2015

It’s the middle of the year (tomorrow to be exact). It’s a good time to look back on what happened so far in 2015 and to reassess any reading goals, projects, and challenges that we have embarked upon. Below are some of mine:

  • My Goodreads Reading Challenge of 52 books tells me that I’m on track, which pleases me because I haven’t read a lot back in the first quarter and my efforts to catch up in the second quarter paid off.
  • The Year of Reading the NBCC is slow but I hope that it will pick up some pace this quarter.
  • My 2015 review backlog is piling up, but I will try to resolve that. That includes both reviews for my blog and The Short Story Station. I’m always writing reviews in my head during commutes but when I get home, I change clothes, lie down, and play some mobile games. Then read.

Books Finished:

  • Drown by Junot Díaz – Because I went to the beach and I thought the title was so apt. 5 out of 5 stars.
  • Lila by Marilynne Robinson –  I can’t wait for the next book of this quartet. 5 out of 5 stars.
  • Macbeth by William Shakespeare – I was inspired by Marion Cotillard and of course, by Michael Fassbender. 4 out of 5 stars.
  • The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett – Our book of the month for June. 3 out of 5 stars.
  • The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields – The Year of Reading the NBCC (19/40). 4 out of 5 stars.
  • The Swimming-Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst – My LGBT read for the Pride Month. 3 out of 5 stars.

Currently Reading:

  • Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald – On page 55 of 415. I’m reading this with some of my favorite book bloggers.
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson – On page 187 of 271. When will I finish this?

Maybe:

  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
  • The Quiet American by Graham Greene
  • Rabbit Redux by John Updike
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

New Books:

  • The Bonds of Interest by Jacinto Benavente – Something for my Noble Nobel Project. (Php 225.00, Undertow Books, June 18)
  • Finnegans Wake by James Joyce – This would be one of those books that will be displayed on my shelf for a long time. I intend to read The Iliad, The Odyssey, and Ulysses, in that order, before attempting this. (Php 300.00, Undertow Books, June 18)
  • The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek – Another book for one of my reading projects, this time for The Novel 100/125. (Php 225.00, Undertow Books, June 18)
  • The Hair of Harold Roux by Thomas Williams – One of those NBA winners that I am pretty sure I won’t find copies of but prove me wrong, obviously. (Php 115.00, Book Sale – SM Mega Mall, June 17)
  • The Novel Cure by Elaine Berthoud and Susan Elderkin – I’ve been sporadically reading the authors’ column at The Independent until I was goaded by recent reviews to finally get its book form. (Php 625.50, The Book Depository, June 17)
  • The Quiet American by Graham Greene – I can now stand ebook copies if I really need to read a book, such as an elusive book of the month, such as this. But I cannot stand ebook copies with too many typographical errors. I fear that such carelessness would destroy my reading experience, and I’ve been looking forward to reading Greene for so long. And so I turned to eBay, which I haven’t thought about for so long. (Php 500.00, eBay, June 17)

I’ve thought of doing a vlog for my best books of 2015 so far but I’m too self-conscious when recording myself. When I’m able to let go of that self-consciousness, my facial expressions get way out of control that they become distracting, both for me and possibly the viewers. So I’ll just list them down here, in the order when they were read. I’ll try the vlog thing next time (also, I want to get haircut before doing any kind of video recording).

  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
  • Inverted World by Christopher Priest
  • Ubik by Philip K. Dick
  • Monstress by Lysley Tenorio
  • Drown by Junot Díaz
  • Lila by Marilynne Robinson

And if you’ve noticed, I reverted my theme to the previous one. I’m so restless! I have to keep in line with my goals instead of constantly playing around with themes. If I do two reviews per week (every weekend), perhaps I could keep my 2015 review backlog from reaching an insurmountable level (see 2013 and 2014). That’s certain, but what’s uncertain is if I could stick with it.

And to force me to keep up, I came up with a condition, that I will not allow myself to start a book unless I review at least one book. Gasp! That would threaten my other goal of reading 52 books, but if I’m able to stick with this condition, it will help keep two goals going on. What do you think? Please don’t tell me that I’m obsessing over this (because that’s given) or that I’m putting too much pressure on myself or that I should just sit back and relax.

You see, blogs don’t and cannot flourish if one just sits around and relaxes. And I want to keep this blog alive. It’s the most worthwhile thing that I keep, even better than my journals. Cheesy, I know, but I like how blogging makes me forget about the world. I like the monthly routine of these reports, the ranting and raving to the vast stream of the Internet about the books that I read, the projects that I take on and abandon only to pick up again at a later point, the comments (I really appreciate them), and the state of getting lost, or rooted, depending on one’s perspective, in a small patch of virtual land that you have dominion over.

Modernist novels that I love and hate

A Conversation Between Two Modernists

I’ve been reading a handful of modernist novels lately. In fact, I picked this as the theme for the book discussion that I hosted for our book club last month. Currently, I’m reading some palate cleansers to resume my modernist streak. But I want to go back soon. It’s evident with my choice of topic for today’s Writing 101 challenge.

Write a post based on the contrast between two things — whether people, objects, emotions, places, or something else.

Bringing together two different things — from the abstract and the inanimate to the living and breathing — creates a natural source of tension, and conflict drives writing forward. It makes your reader want to continue to the next sentence, to the next page. So, focus on your two starkly different siblings, or your competing love for tacos and macarons, or whether thoughts are more powerful than words, or…you get the idea.

Today’s twist: write your post in the form of a dialogue. You can create a strong opposition between the two speakers — a lovers’ quarrel or a fierce political debate, for example. Or you could aim to highlight the difference in tone and style between the two different speakers — your call!

Disclaimer: This challenge is no attempt to capture the personalities of the great writers I picked who are going to have an imaginary conversation. They are merely representatives of my feelings for their works, at least the ones that I’ve read. There are bound to be misrepresentations here, so I suggest not to cite this post as a reference for anything.

Knut Hamsun: I’m Knut Hamsun, one of the early literary modernists. I’m the author of Hunger and our host blogger loves this novel. I say he’s a great intellectual.

James Joyce: I’m James Joyce, one of the high literary modernists. I’m the author of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and our host blogger hates this novel. I say he’s a dumb bore.

KH: Had you sustained the tone of your novel as it were in the early chapters, perhaps he would have at least been okay with it.

JJ: I really couldn’t care less for the common readers. My novels are meant for academicians. An I.T. major who has forgotten how to write a single line of code has nothing to do with this.

KH: That’s a little condescending for someone who’s supposed to have written a coming-of-age novel.

JJ: You don’t really expect me to write a YA novel, do you?

KH: I see where you are coming from. As it is, I feel that I have a more harrowing subject matter.

JJ: Now that is condescending.

KH: Themes of self-preservation and transcendence have been recurring in all of literature. And yet readers are intimidated by them.

JJ: I like that you chose hunger as a means for transcending, but seriously? An unreliable mad man? That’s very predictable.

KH: He is not merely mad. He is a man who can live comfortably if he wants to. But he didn’t. Now that is contrast.

JJ: That’s not contrast, that is stereotyping.

KH: And what about your Dedalus? It seems to me that his issues are non-issues.

JJ: Here you go talking about transcendence, and dismissing religious and artistic crises as non-issues at the same time.

KH: You have to admit that it has to do with how you wrote it.

JJ: We both wrote it using stream of consciousness, although yours sounded more like an interior monologue.

KH: Yours sounded like it was patches of scenes collated from various sources.

JJ: Which is exactly the point of psychological novels dealing with metamorphosis.

KH: Which also is exactly my point. I just managed to be cohesive and not too alienating to push away the reader.

JJ: As I mentioned, I am a meant for academic readings.

KH: So are we going around in circles?

JJ: No, unless you want to discuss Finnegans Wake. So why are we here again?

KH: Our host blogger is listening to us. Do you think he will still read you?

JJ: He attempted to buddy read Ulysses. But he failed. Ha! And you?

KH: He has also read Mysteries and he seems keen to read Growth of the Soil.

JJ: I’m pretty sure he’s going to pick up Ulysses again so that he can piss himself off.

KH: I don’t know why you have to be so difficult with everyone. No wonder you didn’t win the Nobel.

JJ: And here’s a Nobel laureate who sympathized with the Nazis.

KH: Didn’t you?

JJ: Don’t ask me. I just drank and drank.

My Pre-Christmas Pile

I hoarded just a bit before the Christmas shoppers go crazy

I will try my best to make this pile (plus the secret pile that I bought for exchange gifts) to be my last book shopping for this year. For us bibliophiles, there’s nothing wrong in shopping for books that you know you won’t be reading anytime soon, but you see, I’m planning two trips in the next few months, so I have to save whatever money that I have remaining. Besides, it has been some time since I last shopped for books. It must have been four weeks ago, so you can just imagine those agonizing times when I go out of a book store empty-handed.

This pile is one of my favorites for this year. First, there is a collection of poetry. Second, there are two short story collections. Third, there is an assortment of trade paperbacks, mass markets, and hardbounds. Fourth, there are gifts. Fifth, there is a number of novels by a single author. Sixth, there is a study guide. Hmm, need I say more?

  • Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda (November 17) – given to me by Kwesi. Thanks! This is supposed to be a Christmas gift. But I wonder why he gave it to me a month earlier? Probably because he felt the need to give back something when I bought him a copy of…
  • No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (November 18, Fully Booked – Gateway) – Yes, I also bought myself a copy. I promised Marie that I will attend her book discussion of this. So yes, my attendance makes me a participant of two book clubs, and I don’t think that’s bad. It’s actually fun. You have two sets of people that love talking about books.
  • Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan (November 8) – sent to me by a representative of Doubleday Publishing as a review copy. You probably know that I am not attracted by HBs, but if it’s free, why not? And oh, I first thought that it was an ARC, but no, this is the real thing. Thanks!
  • On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (November 9, Book Sale – Makati Square) – I felt that I had to start buying every Ian McEwan book that’s on my wishlist the moment I got the book above, so when Aenna alerted me that she saw a copy of this at a nearby Book Sale branch, I ran to get it. And I did that during office hours.
  • Saturday by Ian McEwan (November 24) – I got this at a book bazaar inside the University of the Philippines campus. I can no longer recall its price. It’s either Php 250.00 or Php 300.00.
  • The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan – I just wanted to include this here because I didn’t realize that I already have a copy. If you are wondering what McEwan novel I still have to buy, that would be Black Dogs. Looks like I’m going to be a fan despite the fact that I’ve only read one McEwan novel.
  • Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley (November 24, Php 110.00) – I also got this at another book bazaar inside the UP campus. I’ve been hunting a copy of this for a long time, so I don’t mind that it’s a mass market edition. I’m shocked by its length though. It’s close to 500 pages, and the font size is so small.
  • Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata (November 24, Bookay Ukay, Php 120.00) – I was targeting the trade paperback edition sold at regular book stores, but I decided to buy this mass market edition because it’s the ones at regular book stores are so expensive, and I feel bad paying a huge amount of money for slim books.
  • Cathedral by Raymond Carver (November 25, Fully Booked – The Fort, Php 630.00) – I have a feeling that I will become a Raymond Carver fan. I’ve already listed the Carver  books that I have to buy. Unfortunately, this is the only one that I could find, but it will do. I can wait for other titles to make their appearance at our book stores.
  • Sparknotes: Ulysses by James Joyce (November 24, Bookay Ukay, Php 60.00) – Okay, I admit that I felt like a loser when I paid for this. I’ve already mentioned in some of my posts that I am having a hard time with Ulysses, so I figured that I should seek help in understanding it. Some of the great writers that I’ve read revere this work, and as of now, I can’t see why. I want to know why, hence, this study guide.

How about you? What do you feel about study guides? Do you think they are necessary in understanding certain books? Do you think that they are merely the perspectives of other readers? Do they make you feel incompetent? Do they make you feel like a cheater?

The Classics Club Monthly Meme: September 2012

The Classics Club

Hello! Wow, it seems like a long time since I said hello to my blog readers. There must be a handful, right?Anyway, it’s been quite a long Sunday, one of those Sundays where you wake up really late and get up to eat your lunch, do some housekeeping, and then do nothing.

And suddenly, you remember your reading and blogging tasks. I am not in the mood to do neither, which is outrageous because I just posted my reading plan yesterday. Good thing that The Classics Club‘s September meme is already up. I thought of putting this back until the next week, but I guess I should deal with this already, no?

So here’s the topic for this month:

Pick a classic someone else in the club has read from our big review list. Link to their review and offer a quote from their post describing their reaction to the book. What about their post makes you excited to read that classic in particular?

Looking at my Goodreads currently-reading shelf, there’s this one book that’s been stuck there since April. It’s James Joyce’s Ulysses. I’m on the verge of completely abandoning it, but I keep reminding myself that it’s not like me to do that. So I looked for good but non-professional reviews (read: not from a published writer or from a book review column in the papers). The ones that I found were either plain lazy and short (I doubt that they even tried to read it) or pretentious. I want an honest and sincere review.

I haven’t checked for it in the big review list, and I’m glad that this meme came up. It gave me an opportunity to look it up, and whoah! There’s one review of it.

It’s impossible to think of waysUlysses would have been improved, because every little detail that I didn’t like makes the book the book it is. For example, I didn’t like some of the styles Joyce used because I found them confusing, but if you take the experimental parts away then it just wouldn’t be the same.

This is taken from Charlotte’s review at her blog, Charlotte Reads Classics (hello there!). This quote, I think, addresses my problem with the book. There are lots of details in the novel that test my patience (and I’d like to think that I am a very patient reader). I do not approve of Joyce’s style (but I do like Woolf’s). I even go as far as saying that Joyce could have come up with a better version had he written this with a sober head.

But yes, Charlotte is right. We would have a different Ulysses then, or maybe even none. And to convince me further:

And I’ll just mention again how great Molly’s soliloquy is… just so you know I really mean it. IT’S WORTH IT.

So I’ve heard a lot about this soliloquy, which is unfortunately the last chapter. It’s that notorious chapter about Molly saying what’s inside her head in four (?) sentences. What’s amazing is that this chapter runs for 50+ pages! Just imagine how long the sentences are.

I resolve to pick Ulysses up again maybe on December. I won’t promise to reread it though, except for my notes. And thanks to Charlotte. You did me a wonderful favor in sharing a balanced review. :)

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Before Ulysses, there was a portrait – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

There was an occasion when one of my commenters pointed out that I haven’t finished Ulysses yet when I claimed to have finished all the books that I list on my monthly reading plans. A keen observer, I should say, for yes, the book completely slipped off my mind when I made that claim.

I went ahead to explain that I still do read Ulysses, but only during the weekends. But when these weekends come, I find myself procrastinating, especially if I am in the midst of a book that I am enjoying so much. Why stop reading and replace the entertainment with tedious labor?

Before I read Ulysses, I already have my prejudices dead set against it although there’s still a flicker of hope that I could somehow appreciate it. These prejudices have been formed when I read his other slimmer work, A Portrait. It is somehow a prequel to Ulysses for one of its main characters is the former’s hero, Stephen Dedalus.

–You made me confess the fears that I have. But I will tell you also what I do not fear. I do not fear to be alone or to be spurned for another or to leave whatever I have to leave. And I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake and perhaps as long as eternity too.–

This is Stephen Dedalus. He is someone that has the qualities of the character that I would like: an outsider, introspective, strong liking for literature, a nonconformist, and has a passionate longing to pursue his interests regardless if he is alone or not. I actually like the first third of the novel, but somewhere, I got lost. Or more likely, I got very impatient and annoyed.

It has to do with the narrative. I used to say to my friends, particularly to one friend whom, I think, is spiting me by giving this book a completely opposite rating, that this has one of the clumsiest narratives that I’ve ever read. Is it even about the stream of consciousness technique? It could be, but why was I able to follow the more incoherent and inattentive thoughts of the child Stephen than the maturing one?

Although I still managed to at least get through the last few pages mentally unscathed, I decided that I don’t like this novel at all. Finishing it felt like watching the opening of a film, falling asleep, and then waking up to catch the ending. I could never like a movie that makes me fall asleep, unless I lacked sleep prior to watching it, because I would only fall asleep if the movie failed to engage in me in some sort of mental conversation, or provide me some vicarious thrill and suspense, or at least make me hum okaaay.

I hold the same principle for books. It is quite pretentious to like something that I fear I did not really understand. So let’s get to it: what is this novel about? To answer that, I will just say the themes that I got from it, for I think that is the most effective way to answer such a question. First, there’s religion. We see Stephen grow in a Catholic family, and then he starts going out to brothels, and then he reforms, and then he stops believing and caring for the teachings of the Catholic Church. Stephen’s religion is a cycle, a metamorphosis of four stages.

Second, alienation. Of sorts. We see Stephen’s internal struggle caused by his way of thinking. He thinks differently from everyone else. He doesn’t like most of his nationalist classmates and feels that their sentiments are not as deep as his. He also feels some resentment for his family; the squalor that ate through them makes him helpless, which only strengthens his desire to leave them. It does not necessarily follow, but what can we do? Stephen is different like that.

And third, the artist thing. Well, kind of. After all, I was expecting more of this because of the novel’s title. So yes, he is willing to pay the price to pursue his dreams. He will forsake his family and friends, he will leave his country, he will sacrifice his religion just so he could become a writer, an artist. Which brings us to a debatable point: is it necessary for an artist to commit self-exile? Is this a means to escape the contrariness of the things surrounding him, or is it a struggle for artistic independence?

1 star - didn't like itSo there. I think I got enough out of the novel. It’s just that I value style, and I don’t like the Joycean School of Narrative. I experienced the Faulknerian and Woolfian Schools, so I was surprised myself when I realized that with every page, I was getting exasperated with the narration.

Joyce is not my kind of writer, which is somehow sad because he is a literary giant. One bookish friend even pointed out who am I to diss Joyce. I did not respond to that because I got a little sore, because this friend ultimately pointed out that I had no right to air an opinion. It will ultimately go to that point, even if takes a lot of meanderings to drive to it.

On the other hand, I think I am taking a bold move here by saying that Joyce is not The Writer. The Modern Library panelists may have hailed one of his novels as the greatest novel of this century. I do not agree. I am also a reader and I have as much right as anyone to diss a work or an author that made my reading an irritable occasion.