Jennifer Egan

Literary Snobbery Series

The LSS Book List, Part 10

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


Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson (1919, M) – A short story cycle with the town’s newspaper reporter as its main character, this book this have much in terms of plot. But in terms of emotions, it packs a wallop. It is raw, honest, and just tenderly beautiful. This is Anderson’s most famous work and considered by many critics as his masterpiece. After finishing it, I consider it as the best book that I have ever read. If you love modernist works and if you value characters over plot, this is a good book to pick.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009, L) – It is a bit of a struggle to get into the narrative voice of the first book of Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell series. I even had to reread it when I lost it. But when you get into and attune yourself into its rhythm, it does deliver. The pronoun usage may be confusing, but the thrill and court intrigue can put you in binge-reading moments. At the end, you would definitely want to pick up the next book in the series.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (2000, L) – This is one of those works that I consider “cool” books. Every nerd should read this. Kavalier and Clay create one of the most unforgettable comic book characters and prove that comic books are also serious works of art. The dynamic duo resort to the overlooked art of the comic book as they struggle to overcome the personal demons that threaten to destroy them.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013, L) – At the core of this book is the love story of two Nigerians who are separated as each of them migrate to the U.S. and the U.K. This novel is a legitimate page-turner, which is a wonderful feat because the heavy themes of class and racism are tackled without bogging down the plot. Being black in America is described in illuminating thoughts without being academic, and these make the reader reconsider his or her own politics on this matter.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (2001, L) – Probably the most famous work of Franzen whose irascible temper never fails to shake one’s head, this is a funny, laugh-out-loud novel about a family who come home to spend one last Christmas together. At the final run of all the mad and comic plot twists and turns, including do-it-yourself psychiatric therapy, Internet entrepreneurship, and disastrous love affairs, one cannot help but give nods and respect to the author, and forgive him for his immense talent at storytelling.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (1996, L) – So far, this is the biggest book on this list. It took me a while to get to the end of this tome. It’s also probably the most challenging one to read thanks to the nearly 400 formidable footnotes and detailed descriptions of the characters. They, as a whole, are one of the most unforgettable cast of any novel out there. It’s mostly about drugs, depression, alcoholism, anhedonia, tennis, television, and ultimately, it is about endless entertainment.

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981, L) – Children born on the eve of India’s independence are gifted with special powers. This gives all of them a special bond. Leading the midnight’s children are Saleem and Shiva, born at the same moment but from the extreme ends of the socio-economic spectrum. These two rivals bring about a novel, narrated in a fantastic voice, about individuality and collectivity.

Richard II by William Shakespeare

Richard II by William Shakespeare

Richard II by William Shakespeare (1595, M) – This is not the typical Shakespeare that one will pick up but it is definitely a good one to start with since it is the first, in terms of historical chronology, of The Bard’s back-to-back tetralogies. Based on England’s King Richard II who ruled at the near end of the 14th century, this play epitomizes the dichotomy of a king, his body being both mortal, prone to human weaknesses, and spiritual, expected to be the supreme political ruler.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí) by Milan Kundera (1984, L) – I suspect that this is one of those books that one either utterly loves or utterly hates. Told in chapters that usually begin with philosophical meanderings, it is about two couples who move about in the artistic Czech society. Their lives intertwine with each other while the Soviet invasion serves as a stage for the drama that turns their lives around.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010, L) – This is an ingenious novel about characters surviving the goon squad, also known as time. Each chapter is narrated in a different voice and style, and just when you think the author has exhausted all her stylistic efforts, a delightful surprise at the near end is given to the reader in the form of an unconventional medium of storytelling: the Powerpoint presentation. Overall, the novel surpasses this one little gimmick as the loose ends are tied up in the last chapter.

Thanks a lot to everyone who supported this series. As a bonus, here are some of the titles that didn’t make it.

Bubbling Under:

  • The Once and Future King by T. H. White
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
  • Empire Falls by Richard Russo
  • Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

Top Five Alternates:

  • Independent People by Halldór Laxness
  • Death at Intervals by José Saramago
  • Ghostwritten by David Mitchell
  • Cathedral by Raymond Carver
  • Hunger by Knut Hamsun

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


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

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I claimed these prizes

Yesterday, I went to this posh mall smacked in the heart of the ghetto to claim the prizes that I won at a raffle at this blog. I’ve never been lucky with raffles, so you can just imagine me silently squealing and jumping like I’ve lost it when I read that I won a stack of books and gift certificates at National Book Store. I was given the option to pick eight out of the 24 books, but I am good with five. I don’t want to take books that I know I won’t be reading or books that I am not inclined to read. And there’s shelf space management, too.

So here are the books that I took home with me:

  • Emerald City and Other Stories by Jennifer Egan – I would love to give Egan another shot since I enjoyed reading A Visit from the Goon Squad.
  • Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis – I’ve always been interested in reading his American Psycho. This might do while I don’t have a copy yet.
  • Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil – shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize.
  • The Sisters Brothers by Patrick Dewitt – shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize.
  • Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata – I recently bought a MMP of this, but the new and shiny TPB is just irresistible. So yes, I now have two copies of this.

The bottom two books, well, I bought them at Book Sale branches. I’m adding them here anyway; you know that I have the propensity to turn this blog into a book inventory of sorts.

  • How Fiction Works by James Wood (November 29, Book Sale – SM Clark, Php 115.00) – I was lent a copy of this. I should remind myself to return it as soon as possible.
  • How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman (December 1, Book Sale – SM North Edsa, Php 50.00) – I believe this is one of the least popular Booker winners, and that only makes me more intrigued.

I also won GCs worth Php 1,000.00. I was browsing the books at National Book Store (Rockwell and Glorietta 1 branches), but I couldn’t make up my mind. The things that were going through my mind were 1.) I don’t think I’d be reading this soon and 2.) this is too expensive. It baffles me that I worry about the price because I won’t be shelling out any money for it. Besides, I willingly pay for a book that I want (and I even get overpriced sometimes), so I don’t know where this hesitation is coming from.

I am itching to use my GCs, so I’d like to ask for your recommendations or help me choose among these books that I was eyeing yesterday:

  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – I am not a hipster, but I would like to try this.
  • The Stories of John Cheever – I have read this back in college but I’d like to have a TPB edition.
  • The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov – for Christ’s sake, it’s Nabokov!
  • Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust – the Penguin Deluxe edition translated by Lydia Davis.
  • The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu – the unabridged edition translated by Royall Tyler.
  • The Tale of the Unknown Island by Jose Saramago – an illustrated short story.

I will wait until 7 PM Philippine time for your help and recommendations.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Time Warping and Shape Shifting – A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

The sensation surrounding this novel forced me to buy it and the purchase was made sooner with the insistence of one of my bookish friends to read it along with him. I remember I was on budget mode that time, but a novel getting the nod of the jurors of both the Pulitzer and the Book Critics Circle? It must be worth it.

I have mixed feelings for this book. Upon closing it after reading the last sentence, I felt that it was okay. The next week, I realized that I like it. And then a few more months, I love it. Is that possible? Of course it is.

I think that the selling point of this novel is that PowerPoint presentation chapter, spanning 76 pages on my edition. That alone is enough for a cautious reader to try this book, but there are more reasons to read it. First, it’s more a disjointed collection of short stories than a regular novel. Second, each story is presented in a unique way, the PowerPoint presentation I mentioned being one of them and one rare chapter told in the second person point of view, which is coincidentally my favorite one. Perhaps this paragraph from that chapter, “Out of Body,” is all that it takes for me to love the novel more after the passing of time:

As you flail, knowing you’re not supposed to panic–panicking will drain your strength–your mind pulls away as it does so easily, so often, without your even noticing sometimes, leaving Robert Freeman Jr. to manage the current alone while you withdraw to the broader landscape, the water and buildings and streets, the avenues like endless hallways, your dorm full of sleeping students, the air thick with their communal breath. You slip through Sasha’s open window, floating over the sill lined with artifacts from her travels: a white seashell, a small gold pagoda, a pair of red dice. Her harp in one corner with its small wood stool. She’s asleep in her narrow bed, her burned red hair dark against the sheets. You kneel beside her, breathing the familiar smell of Sasha’s sleep, whispering into her ear some mix of I’m sorry and I believe in you and I’ll always be near you, protecting you, and I will never leave you, I’ll be curled around your heart for the rest of your life, until the water pressing my shoulders and chest crushes me awake and I hear Sasha screaming into my face: Fight! Fight! Fight!

The twin axes of the stories are Bennie, a music producer, and Sasha, Bennie’s assistant. The first two chapters deal with the two, and then we get disoriented as the focus leaps from one character to another. The so-called plot is stretched to years, probably thirty to fifty or seventy. I can’t give a good guess because there are lapses, but it’s strange having gained this knowledge, after finishing each chapter, that you know everything that happened to the characters.

But really, it’s hard to give a summary of this book. It’s almost like a small town novel: the characters, some who don’t even seem to have an impact on the general structure of the novel, keep intersecting each other’s lives like a connect-the-dots puzzle. But it’s also hardly that because despite the interconnection, there’s also a sense of discontinuity, and this is prevalent with how the novel is presented: stories that can stand alone.

As if those weren’t enough, the moods of the stories shift from one to the other: melancholy, funny, bittersweet, tragic, and just plain zany. Themes range from adolescent hopes and fears, to adult self-destruction, to middle-life reorganization, and to old age displacement. In addition, there’s no cause and effect thing going on. The narrative just unravels and it does so quickly, and then suddenly it runs out, but it isn’t over. It’s merely a pause, as the PowerPoint presentation chapter points out, and it will resume, and in what manner, we can only brace ourselves.

And it will end, right? It will, as a cassette tape is bound to, from side A to B, just like our lives are designed to, but I have a strange feeling that the novel never really finished, like it somehow rewound itself without repeating anything that has been said. This is ultimately the reason my feelings for it keep changing each time I think about it. It seems to me like an almost forgotten and seemingly irrelevant character still has something to say and wants to connect to the disconnectedness. Unfortunately, the pages have run out.

4 star - really liked itThe snobbish reader can easily dismiss this novel as nothing short of a gimmick. But it pulls off. The author does not write it just because she wants to and just because she can. She does so to make a point, that life is constantly harassed by memories of what we lost and what we have left during various points of time.

If the reader prefers his novel ordered chronologically, then this is a challenge. Time leaps capriciously on its own, as if it was some robber, some goon squad ringing off your burglar alarm at the least expected date. Your sleep is disturbed, your wrists are bonded with rope or duct tape, your life is threatened. And hopefully, the robber will leave you at least dumbfounded, thinking how such an occurrence could take place, and then wait for the next day.

And the next.

A Visit From The Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

A Visit From The Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan

A Visit From The Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan

Date Started: May 30, 2011. 3:30 AM.

Almost everyone is raving about this. I’m not referring to people that I know in real life because sadly, I don’t have a lot of friends who read as heavily as I do. In fact, I only have one (the other one confessed that his teaching career hindered his reading). My other friends who do read are into books that I would classify as blah. And still, there are others who read books that I dig, but the last time that they have opened a book must have been months, or worse years, ago. Still, it’s a good thing that these friends get to read.

Anyway, the expectations that I have for this book are quite met. It’s not an instant ka-boom, but it’s coming. Do I smell an IMPAC? That’s two more years from now.

A Visit From The Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

A Visit From The Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan

A Visit From The Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan

Who bought it: Me.

What is it: I do not know, but some of my online friends say it’s a musical read.

When: May 23, 2011

Where: Power Books – Glorietta

Why: It’s the latest craze in the book world. After winning the NBCC last March, it won the Pulitzer just this month. Must be really promising. Besides, I was quite pressured when an online friend invited me to read this with him.

How much: Php 615.00. I haven’t spent this much on a single book for months.