Richard Yates

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).

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. :)

Goodreads 2013 Reading Challenge

The Best, the Honorable Mentions, and the Worst Reads of 2013

I am so glad to have finished my reading challenge of 52 books this year. And indeed, this has been a challenging year in reading and blogging. Blame it on the occasional reading ruts that I have gone through. This does not mean though that I didn’t get to read great books. In fact, there are a number of surprises for this year thanks to the “cheat reads” that I took off my shelf, just so I could reach 52.

On the other hand, quantity should not supersede quality. Yes, I pulled out thin books from my shelf, but these are in the forms of novellas, plays, and poems, forms that I don’t usually read, so it’s not really cheating. As I’ve mentioned, there are surprises.

I’ve prepared nothing fancy this time. No Top 12 (like in 2011), no elimination (like in 2012), just plain rants and raves on the books that I’ve read this year.

The Best

  • Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?; What We Talk About When We Talk About Love; Cathedral; Short Cuts by Raymond Carver – It’s hard to choose among these four, so I’m rolling them into one. Mundane lives of ordinary Americans magnified with such subtlety.
  • Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda – Love in its many forms. I Have Gone Marking is my favorite in this collection.
  • Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates – On being trapped and on being unable to escape. On feeling superior yet living with the inferiors.
  • Mysteries by Knut Hamsun – A man comes to town, causes some controversies, and vanishes like he never was there. He unsettles the people’s peace and steps closer to his own destruction.
  • A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe – A man’s life spirals down when he finds out that there’s something hideously wrong with his baby. He turns into alcohol, sex, violence, and would it be too late to turn him away from death?
  • This Is Water by David Foster Wallace – A primer on how to deal with the daily frustrations in life. After reading, watch the video.
  • On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan – What can the absence of intimacy do to a marriage? How will a frigid woman and an excitable man compromise?
  • The History of Love by Nicole Krauss – A girl’s coming-of-age story intertwined with an old man’s reminiscence. It can also be entitled The History of Loneliness.
  • Small Memories by José Saramago – Small memories, big love. Saramago’s stories from his childhood are endearing.
  • Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot – Time. Art. Humanity. My best read for this year.
  • Harry Potter 1, 2, and 3 by J. K. Rowling – I’ve predicted this. I just didn’t find the opportunity.
  • How Fiction Works by James Wood – Now I keep thinking about the authorial voice and I think I’m getting a pretty good grasp on it. And yes, all those books referenced makes me want to read them soon.

The Honorable Mentions

  • The Fish Can Sing by Halldór Laxness – Would you choose Your Mum’s Lullabye or The Billboard Top 1?
  • This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz – A guide for the cheating heart.
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – A literary feast for the young at heart.
  • Ulverton by Adam Thorpe – A challenging and haunting read about an uncommon character: the town of Ulverton.
  • Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis – A classic tale of jealousy that seems like it was recently written.
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – My great expectations were met.
  • Steps by Jerzy Kosinski – Disturbing scenes of violent and dark sex.
  • The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro – A masterful collection from this year’s Nobel laureate in Literature.
  • The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster – Of books, writers, writing, spying, and questions on reality.
  • The Grass Is Singing by Doris Lessing – A keen observation on the racial divide and tension in apartheid South Africa.

The Worst

  • The Tin Drum by Günter Grass – I recognize Grass’s stylistic prose, but anything overdone is not fun.
  • Smaller and Smaller Circles by F. H. Batacan – The pretentious characters didn’t help me in trying to appreciate the suspense/thriller/detective genre.
  • The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler – A homophobic misogynist is unlikeable enough. Entangle him in ugly prose and you’ll hurl this outside the window. Coincidentally, it belongs to the same genre as the book above. And yes, this is my worst read for this year.

Recommended Rereads

  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

There you have it. Cheers to all the books that I’ll be encountering in 2014. Happy New Year!

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

The Model Couple – Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Revolutionary Road is a novel that I presumptuously described as an existential suburban drama. Frank and April Wheeler, a self-assured couple, move their family at the end of Revolutionary Road in Connecticut despite the thought that they are intellectually superior to their neighbors. The couple feels a sense of entrapment: Frank sticking with a job that he thinks is too lame for his capacities and April blaming herself for her husband’s career. They start to bicker until their marriage nearly disintegrates, and then April suggests that they move out of that town and emigrate to France. This will allow Frank to find himself while April initially supports the family. Their loving relationship is restored, but will they ever get out of the gaping emptiness not only of that town, but also of life?

Have you ever had that feeling that you just have to read a book that you literally have to turn over your shelves to find your copy of it? This is the case with Revolutionary Road, and although I had notions of what it would be like, I never thought that it would perfectly resonate the situation I am in and the feelings that I have. Not that I am going through relationship struggles; in fact, there is more to this than a problematic marriage.

The novel opens with the first performance of the newly founded theater group of the town. This is a perfect way to begin a novel where the characters, especially Frank, have the tendency to act theatrically. Frank, in his college days, acts like a Sartre-type intellectual. He acts like he’s too cool to care for his job in the sales department of Knox Business Machines. And worst of all, he acts like he wants to escape. And yet.

April, the lead actress of the play, fails to deliver despite her little background in acting. Frank casually tells her that the play isn’t that great, and what ensues while they are on their way home is a vicious exchange of words at the side of the road, which is less about the failure of the play but more about the whole of their lives together.

“Now you’ve said it. The hopeless emptiness. Hell, plenty of people are on to the emptiness part; out where I used to work, on the Coast, that’s all we ever talked about. We’d sit around talking about emptiness all night. Nobody ever said ‘hopeless,’ though; that’s where we’d chicken out. Because maybe it does take a certain amount of guts to see the emptiness, but it takes a whole hell of a lot more to see the hopelessness. And I guess when you do see the hopelessness, that’s when there’s nothing to do but take off. If you can.”

[He felt as if he were sinking helplessly into the cushions and the papers and the bodies of his children like a man in quicksand. When the funnies were finished at last he struggled to his feet, quietly gasping, and stood for several minutes in the middle of the carpet, making tight fists in his pockets to restrain himself from doing what suddenly seemed the only thing in the world he really and truly wanted to do: picking up a chair and throwing it through the picture window.

What the hell kind of a life was this? What in God’s name was the point or the meaning or the purpose of a life like this?]

The novel is written in vibrant language that it is hard to feel drowsy even if you are reading while lying on your bed, even if you are reading about the monotonous lives of people in the suburbs: breakfasts promptly prepared by housewives who never earn anything for themselves, husbands rushing to catch the train, employees doing the same things over and over at their cubicles, dinners with a couple of drinks, drinks with the neighbors over the weekends, and conversations of how dreadful their lives are and how far beyond they are from it. But are they?

They only think, or rather imagine, that they are better than most people, but most of the time they don’t even know who they are. Franks often finds himself confused at what to feel, and April admits to not knowing herself anymore. The funny thing is that this couple dreams of a better life and yet they settle comfortably, although not admittedly, in the easy cushions that suburban life offers them.

Just as bad as not knowing themselves is not even knowing what they want. They want a life filled with intellect and creativity, but the sad fact of it is, they, or rather Frank, starts to consider that they can be happy in a place that they utterly hate, as long as they do not contaminate themselves with the infectious germs of the brain-deads, and as long as their financial standing allows them to pursue their highbrow activities once in a while.

[But she needed no more advice and no more instruction. She was calm and quiet now with knowing what she had always known, what neither her parents nor Aunt Claire nor Frank nor anyone else had ever had to teach her: that if you wanted to do something absolutely honest, something true, it always turned out to be a thing that had to be done alone.]

Initially, April annoyed me with her constant whining about being trapped. I thought it was her who was constantly disturbing the peace. Although the too romantic idea of moving to France without much of a game plan is impractical and quite immature, I admire April for sticking to it. At least she gives the impression that she wants this, that she wants to make it happen, and that she really wants to get out.

But Frank? Oh dear, what’s with his moral shuffling? In a novel where he’s supposed to be the backbone, it becomes apparent page by page that he doesn’t have that backbone, plus the balls, which is splat right in his face by one insane character who makes a short-lived acquaintance with the Wheelers. More so, Frank is not the victim however he puts it in his head. But he becomes a victim anyway by suffering a worse fate than that of April’s at the end of the novel.

[The whole point of crying was to quit before you cornied it up. The whole point of grief itself was to cut it out while it was still honest, while it still meant something. Because the thing was so easily corrupted: let yourself go and you started embellishing your own sobs, or you started telling about the Wheelers with a sad, sentimental smile and saying Frank was courageous, and then what the hell did you have?]

And also, at this end, one realizes that this isn’t at all about the horrors that the suburbs can bring to its residents. Yes, people can be crushed in such a lifeless environment, but upon closer inspection, is the environment to be blamed or is it the people? Don’t the people who constantly complain about hopelessness and emptiness, and yet stay stuck, deserve it?

In one interview, Yates was asked about the central theme of the novel. He was quoted to have said that he suspects it’s a simple one: that most human beings are inescapably alone, and therein lies their tragedy. Not a comforting thought, just as it’s not comforting to finish this sad yet illuminating work of a writer that has been largely ignored during his lifetime.

Dates Read: March 7 to 12, 2013

No. of Pages: 355

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Books to Read: March 2013

Books to Read: March 2013

February was a pretty good reading month for me mostly because I read two that are worthy of 5 stars and there wasn’t a lot of pressure to finish all the books that I put in the monthly reading list. Yes, I like pressuring myself especially when it comes to books and another yes, the books that I picked last month were easy to handle. The latter owes to the fact that one of them is a short story. Oh well, let’s review them

  • Dead Stars by Paz Marquez Benitez – 2 out of 5 stars.
  • The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen – 4 out of 5 stars.
  • Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda – 5 out of 5 stars.
  • What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver – 5 out of 5 stars.

Additional Books Read: None

The 2013 Reading Backlog: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo – currently on page 180. Not a lot of progress, I know, but I’m trying my best by resuming bit by bit.

Last month had a theme but for this month, I’ll be returning to themelessness.

  • The Noble Nobel Project: Mysteries by Knut Hamsun – my Hamsun exploration has been delayed for more than a year. I have very high hopes for this; I expect it to earn my 5 stars. This also doubles as another Classics Club read, so yay! Two birds in stone, or book.
  • The Classics Club: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen CraneThe Classics Spin picked this for me. The nearly unlucky number 14 was randomly selected, and based on this list (no cheating done), it’s the book that I have to read for the event.
  • GR-TFG’s Book of the Month: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – this beat The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (my vote). I’ve actually started this a couple of days back because of the reading plan prescribed by the discussion leader. It’s looking good; I’m done with the reading for this week. Wooh!
  • The Fourth: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates – I’ve been meaning to read this but I always forget to pick it up. That’s because it’s buried behind a stack of books. When I rearranged some of my books, I found it and separated it from the shelves of unread books.

After I finish all four, I intend to, yes, face Les Miserables, but I’m also itching to read another short story collection. I’m looking at either Cathedral by Raymond Carver or Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro. I have to read an extra book every quarter if I want to reach my goal of 52 books a year.