Reading

Book Report: February 2015

Book Report: February 2015

It’s already the last third of the first quarter of the year. Yeahyeahyeah, I always act amazed when I say that it’s already the beginning of this or that month, that time flies by so fast, but that’s mostly because I feel that I’m always lagging. There’s so much to read! New books bought, books agreed to be read along bookish friends, book club selections, bookish lists and breakthroughs, dares and recommendations, etc. Considering all these, time not only flies by. It zooms, just like that.

For February, I finished my ugh, fifth book. At this pace, I will only finish 30 books by December. That’s 20 books short of my target. I shouldn’t concern myself too much with the numbers. Quality over quantity, huh? However, I really can’t say that the books I’ve read are of that high quality. Quality is relative, I know, so let’s just say I haven’t had a 5-star read yet.

Books Finished:

  • Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos – 1 out of 5 stars. Our book club’s book of the month.
  • Rabbit, Run by John Updike – 3 out of 5 stars. I am still going to push through with the Rabbit series because I know that the last two of this quarter are what the critics are raving about.

Currently Reading:

  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain – On page 172 of 307. The first book that made me write marginalia. I’ve been averse to this habit until Tim Parks convinced me to use a weapon while reading. I’ve always worshipped the book as a physical object. I still do. I still can’t bear to dog-ear the pages or crack the spine. I don’t think I will go into that. Yes, I always say that I will not do this or that but I really do know that for sure (because folding and cracking are destructive as opposed to writing, which I think helps in understanding the ideas in the book). Anyway, I’m hoping that this would be my first 5-star of the year. Actually, it looks like it’s going there.
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy – On page 118 of 321. It’s our book of the month. I have no idea what this is about. My edition has no blurb, and you might already know that I’m the kind of person who reads everything in the book before reading the actual start of the book. The experience is like finding your way out of a labyrinth of segmented writing filled with juxtaposed metaphors and weird, sometimes icky, imagery.
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot – On page 78 of 826. What better time of the year than March should one read this? I’m reading this along with my friends H and Y. We are on a weekend break, according to the reading plan that we devised, but I am aching to read more of it tonight.

Maybe – With Middlemarch consuming my reading life in March, I don’t think there’s time to squeeze in some maybe books. But let’s make room for miracles.

  • Inverted World by Christopher Priest
  • October Light by John Gardner

New Books – This is the Singapore edition of this post’s segment. I wish I could say that I bought something from every book store that I visited there (I went to three last February 5), but I did all my shopping at Books Kinokuniya – Orchard Road. This is because 1.) the books at Books Actually are rather expensive (I let go of the Heinrich Böll and François Mauriac books with a heavy heart) and 2.) the staff at Littered with Books were so busy chatting with each other that I could have walked out of the store with a cart of books in tow without raising an alarm. Besides these, Books Kinokuniya has the lowest price range among the three. The selections fit my taste: the right amount of literariness but not too obscure.

  • A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard – Joining the bandwagon! (SGD 19.94)
  • Iceland’s Bell by Halldór Laxness – Of course I have to have this. (SGD 25.13)
  • Missing Person by Patrick Modiano – Supposedly the new Nobel laureate’s best work. (SGD 26.95)
  • The Notebook by José Saramago – Of course I have to have this, too. (SGD22.63)

Some of the books that I let go are Under the Glacier by Halldór Laxness, The Lives of Others by José Saramago, The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, Redeployment by Phil Klay, and How to be Both by Ali Smith (I was following the budget plan that I made). I would have bought When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson and Where I’m Reading From by Tim Parks, but they are not available.

Book Report: January 2015

Book Report: January 2015

It’s February. Already? Since we’ve just finished the first month of the year, let’s take a quick look at my progress of the reading and blogging goals that I set for this year:

  • Finish 50 books – I’m on to a slow start. I should be on my fifth book now if I want to meet this goal without rushing at the last quarter of the year, but I’ve been distracted by films. This distraction would not go away unless I finish all those Oscar nominees. But I’m not that behind. I’m halfway through my fourth book.
  • Read NBCC winners – I’m going to start this next month. One of my Goodreads groups will be discussing so I might as well join. I’ve originally intended to read my unread NBCC winners chronologically, but since I like discussing books with others, I’m ditching that rule.
  • Use Goodreads – I’ve started rating books on Goodreads again. One goal achieved.
  • Review ASAP – Blame it on the awards circuit. But hey, I wrote a review a few weeks back. I’ll consider this as another slow start.
  • Read and review more short stories –  I read the selections for The Short Story Station but I failed to review them on time. However, I managed to sneak in a review of a short story that I listened to via The New Yorker Fiction podcast. Uh, slow start?

I’ll check on this again in April. That’s a few more months away. Let’s get back to the present, shall we?

Books Finished:

  • Dream Angus: The Celtic God of Dreams by Alexander McCall Smith – 3 out of 5 stars. I’ve wanted to read this for so long because hey, I have a Celtic god namesake!
  • Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman – 4 out of 5 stars. Click link for my review.
  • Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool – 3 out of 5 stars. Our book club’s book of the month.

Currently Reading:

  • Rabbit, Run by John Updike – On page 160 of 284. Quite slow for a quartet that begins with running away but I don’t really mind. The descriptions can test your patience but they are quite wonderful.

Maybe:

  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
  • Inverted World by Christopher Priest
  • Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
  • October Light by John Gardner

New Books:

Argh. I knew it. I’m glad that I didn’t decide to lessen my book buying because I would have pulled my hair now for not following my resolutions. Anyway, I need subcategories for this month’s haul.

  • The Nobel laureates
    • Auto-da-fé by Elias Canetti – (Php 449.00, Chapter IX Books, January 13)
    • The Family of Pascual Duarte by Camilo José Cela – (Php 250.00, Undertow Books, January 12)
    • A House for Mr. Biswas by V. S. Naipaul – (Php 189.00, Chapter IX Books, January 30)
    • The Plague Column by Jaroslav Seifert – (Php 300.00, Undertow Books, January 12)
    • Small Memories by José Saramago – A second copy (a different edition, actually) wouldn’t hurt. Thank you! (from H, January 20)
  • The NYRB Classics
    • Inverted World by Christopher Priest – (Php 797.50, Solidaridad Book Shop, January 24)
    • Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang – (Php 200.00, Undertow Books, January 12)
    • The Pilgrim Hawk by Glenway Wescott – (Php 250.00, Undertow Books, January 12)
    • The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier – (Php 225.00, Undertow Books, January 12)
  • James Salter Mania – I haven’t read this guy yet but my intuition tells me that I might like him. In fact, I’m so liking the title and cover of theTPB edition of All That Is. Heh.
    • All That Is – (Php 319.00, Fully Booked – BGC, January 15)
    • Solo Faces – (Php 225.00, Undertow Books, January 12)
    • A Sport and a Pastime – (Php 250.00, Undertow Books, January 12)
  • The Mass Market Paperbacks
    • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – (Php 379.00, Fully Booked – BGC, January 15)
    • A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov – (Php 149.00, Chapter IX Books, January 13)
    • Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac – (Php 99.00, Chapter IX Books, January 13)
    • Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm – (Php 79.00, Chapter IX Books, January 13)
  • A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers – A pretty book. I’m not really into HBs but I can’t resist this one. I forced a friend to buy it for me. Thank you! (from Kim, January 16)
Book Report: December 2014

Book Report: December 2014

I am perfectly aware that I just did a 2014 annual report regarding my reading affairs but I’m still going to do the only regular thing on this blog so far: the monthly book report.

Books Finished:

  • The Bibliophile’s Devotional by Hallie Ephron – 3 out of 5 stars. I got this last year and decided to read one entry per day because it’s designed to be read that way (the truth is I binge-read them at the end of each month). A lot of the 365 quick reviews may inspire you to pick up the books. If not, they may at least whet one’s literary cravings.
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – 4 out of 5 stars. I started this last September 2013. On page 500-something, I paused for a bit but it extended for some unknown reason. I went back to it in  the last quarter of 2014. Now I’m done. I did it! I actually don’t know how to summarize this book. Hence, that little story. But I’ll give it a try. It’s about the relationship of the dysfunctional Incandenzas among themselves, the life and routines of students at the Enfield Tennis Academy, the antics and the drama of the people recovering from alcohol and narcotics at the Ennet House, and the search for the master copy of the film Infinite Jest by the Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents aka the Wheelchair Assassins.

Currently Reading:

  • Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman – On page 45 of 162. I wanted this to be my first read of the year and so far, I’m enjoying the mutilations, I mean the marginalia, that I’m inserting here and there. It’s our book club’s traveling book, and I’m excited for the next person to see what stuff the previous readers and I have highlighted, written, dog-eared, etc.

Maybe – This is a new section on the monthly reports. I will merely mention the titles because, well, there is the probability that I might not read them.

  • Dream Angus: The Celtic God of Dreams by Alexander McCall Smith
  • October Light by John Gardner
  • Rabbit, Run by John Updike
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

New Books:

  • Macbeth by William Shakespeare – Haven’t I told you that I’m going to read more Shakespeare? (Php 188.10, National Book Store – Araneta Center, December 3)
  • Lila by Marilynne Robinson – A Christmas gift. Thank you! (from Veronica, December 6)
  • Open City by Teju Cole – A Christmas gift. Thank you! (from Louize, December 6)
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – I set my eyes on this prize, yahoo! (from the book club’s Christmas Auction, December 6)
  • A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf – I found this pristine copy while waiting for a very late office mate. (Php 125.00, Book Sale – SM Mega Mall, December 13)
  • The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster – A Christmas gift. Thank you! (from Maria, December 15)
My Year in Reading: 2014

Looking Back and Looking Ahead: The 2014 Reading Year + 2015 Reading Goals and Resolutions

2014 is not my year in reading. 2014 was supposed to be my year in writing but alas, it didn’t prove to be that. I expected not to finish the more or less 50 books that I finish each year because of that novel I’ve turned inside my head since I’ve toyed with the idea of writing. I only got to finish drafts for six chapters, roughly a quarter of the projected output that I outlined in January last year.

During the writing process, I suffered from mild self-diagnosed anxiety attacks. I guess I’m that mad sort of writer. To maintain my sanity, I decided to put all this writing on hold until I’m more emotionally stable and until I am more capable at sculpting my novel into the shape that I want it to become. I’m not attempting to romanticize my writing but that’s just the way it is. I can’t help to be a moody writer. I know my novel will remain swimming inside my head, but what of my dear beta readers? I feel that I failed them more than I failed myself.

I was even able to hatch two more novel ideas while I was attempting to finish what I was writing. I am afraid that I’ll just be one of those people who have lots of ideas but don’t have any output. If that’s the case, I will console myself with the great books that keep coming my way. I may only have read 37 books this year, but I still managed to find unforgettable reads among them.

And with that, here are my top five books of 2014:

  • The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford – I picked this up because of a snobby friend’s recommendation, claiming it to be one of his two best NYRB Classics. It delivered with a nerve-wracking wallop at the end. Oh Molly, I miss you and I feel what the author must have felt when she did what she had to do with you.
  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf – A followup read to the book that I discussed with my book club for this year, which is To the Lighthouse. I still believe that To the Lighthouse is better than Mrs. Dalloway, but since the former is a reread, I’ll make room for one day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway.
  • Tenth of December by George Saunders – I organized a reading group for The Folio Prize winners, and this is such a wonderful inaugural book both for the prize and the reading group. There is no single story in it that is not worth thinking about.
  • Tinkers by Paul Harding – Some people dissuaded me from reading this unpopular winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I’m happy not to have listened to them because I discovered a book that is full of lilting lines and evocative images. I’m more than willing to reread this.
  • Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson – The best book of the year and the best book of my life. The plotlessness of this short story cycle appealed to me, but it is the characters’ emotional lives and their unconscious connections with each other that pulled me in. I’ve never had so much pleasure in reading slowly as I had with this.

Now, here are my 2015 reading and blogging goals:

  • Finish 50 books – That’s roughly one book a week. With writing out of the way, at least for now, this should be doable.
  • Read NBCC winners – This year, my favorite literary award will honor their 40th winner for fiction. Coincidentally, I was able to complete all the past 39 winners, from Ragtime to Americanah. And because not a single one of the 15 NBCC winners that I read failed me, I decided to read the remaining 25, including the future winner, this year for the fun of it.
  • Use Goodreads – I realized that I lost a lot of bookish conversations when I decided to stop cataloguing my books on this site when I had a rather nasty affair with some Goodreads administrators. I miss those conversations so I’ll use the site again, at least sparingly. This means I’ll add and rate the books that I’ve read, but the shelves wouldn’t be as comprehensive as the ones on Leafmarks.
  • Review ASAP – My backlog will never stop growing if I keep putting off my reviews. So why do I keep doing that? It’s because I, after finishing a book, immediately jump to another one instead of allowing myself to mull over what I’ve just read and write a review for a couple of hours. On that note, I decided to give up on long form reviews. I still admire the long form critics at the New Yorker and the New York Times, but let’s face it: I’m no James Wood or Michiko Kakutani. Kirkus Reviews publishes reviews that are around 300-400 words. In this decade where people TL;DR blog posts, I think it’s a smart move to write sharp and snappy reviews.
  • Read and review more short stories – This is to generate more content for our group blog, The Short Story Station. I’m thinking of getting a copy of the 8th edition of The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction when it comes out early this year so that I could have more material. I might just do this once I get over my annoyance at our local post office.

That’s it! Thanks so much for sticking around. To all the new people I met through this blog, I hope to see you again at the end of 2015 so that we can all look back and ahead, and do it all over again.