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.
I have more books than half of the days of November. It’s like two acquisitions every other day. To be fair, some of these are advance Christmas shopping for myself to avoid the holiday rush. I never really complained about my pathological book hoarding, but after a bad experience with our local customs office, I decided to declare a moratorium on book buying.
I’d rather not discuss what happened at the customs office (which involved intimidation from the customs officer, a shouting match between him and me, and probably graft), but what I want to discuss is the scope of this moratorium. I initially thought of allowing myself one book every after four books that I finish. This is crazy though because I just recently reserved seven books from my favorite online used books store. So that means I have to finish 28 books before I can buy my next book.
Or maybe I should make this effective in 2015. If that’s the case, I should make sure that those seven books should arrive within this month.
You know what? The fact that I’m trying to cheat makes me think that this is just empty talk. So let’s just go ahead to the books that I read last November.
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen – 5 out of 5 stars. I’ve meant to read this for a long time. I even attempted a buddy read but nobody was interested. So yeah, I did it on my own.
Dwellers by Eliza Victoria – 4 out of 5 stars. The raves by my friends on the author’s works make sense. Victoria is a good writer.
Richard II by Richard Shakespeare – 4 out of 5 stars. How’s that for my first Shakespeare?
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – Currently on page 648 of 1079. It has been over a year since I paused. I even had to reread summaries of the parts that I’ve already read before to refresh my memory. I’m glad to know that I still have a firm grasp of what’s going on. So yeah, I’ll finish this before the year ends, even if it means that it will be my last read for the year.
The Nobel Laureates Group:
Adrift on the Nile by Naguib Mahfouz – This is supposed to be his best book that is not part of the Cairo Trilogy. (Php 175.00, Undertow Books, November 4)
Manual of Painting and Calligraphy by José Saramago – I still have a few more titles to cross out to complete my Saramago collection. I don’t even know if all those area available in English. (Php 325, Undertow Books, November 4)
The Thibaults by Roger Martin du Gard – I almost lost this rare copy to someone who saved it when it was supposed to be mine. Good thing that the bookseller managed to talk that person out of buying this. (Php 90.00, Undertow Books, November 4)
Letters to a Young Novelist by Mario Vargas Llosa – Because I felt like a young novelist at that time I saw this. (Php 145.00, Book Sale – SM Mega Mall, November 20)
Electric Light by Seamus Heaney – I want to get a copy of North, his supposedly best collection of poems, but the cover of this one is irresistible. (Php 85.00, Book Sale – Star Mall, November 22)
The NBCC Award Winners Group – These are Christmas gifts to myself. I ordered these when I noticed that I was missing only a few titles to complete my NBCC collection.
Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald (USD 13.40, The Book Depository, November 20)
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (USD 8.25, The Book Depository, November 19)
Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman (USD 13.87, The Book Depository, November 20)
Mrs. Ted Bliss by Stanley Elkin (USD 18.80, The Book Depository, November 12)
The NYRB Classics Group – All are price estimates for the first four because the source tells me that she can’t remember them already.
The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G. B. Edwards – (Php 350.00, from Monique, November 15)
Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household (Php 250.00 from Monique, November 15)
A Schoolboy’s Diary by Robert Walser (Php 350.00, from Monique, November 15)
The Selected Works of Cesare Pavese by Cesare Pavese (Php 450.00, from Monique, November 15)
Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig – This is his only novel, which brought a bit of a shock to me because he has a number of novellas published by the same imprint. (USD 17.31, The Book Depository, November)
The Filipino Books Group
The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker by Gilda Cordero-Fernando – A rare collection of short stories from a legendary local writer given to me as a gift. Thank you! (from Monique, November 15)
Fall Like Rain by Ana Tejano – My book club friend’s first book! (Php 300.00, from Ana Tejano, November 15)
The Special Edition Group
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell – First printing of the first edition. Signed and dedicated to me. Hence, the plastic cover. Thank you! (from Monique, November 22)
October was a great bloggy month, thanks to the LSS feature that I’ve launched and the return of the annual Filipino Fridays. It was also great in terms of discovery. I had the opportunity to visit nice book stores outside our country (one has many great selections and one has many in-store events) and buy books from them. I decided that I will buy at least one book from any country that I might travel to in the future.
Finally, October was a great reading month. I may not have read a lot but look, I was able to finish amazing books. I am not sure what’s going on. Have I become a little too lenient and less critical in rating my books? Have I stumbled across a series of wonderful books (including the books that I read last month)? Am I in a very good mood to read? What?
Never mind the reason so long as I am happily reading and enjoying each book. That’s what matters most. Maybe it’s all that matters.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – 5 out of 5 stars. It feels like I read this a little too fast despite tackling extensively on race and class in the US and UK.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks – 4 out of 5 stars. Our book of the month last month.
The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford – 5 out of 5 stars. That ending still took my breath away even though I knew right from the start that it’s going to happen.
Tinkers by Paul Harding – 5 out of 5 stars. A must reread. It feels like Paul Harding is the male Marilynne Robinson.
Twisted 8 by Jessica Zafra – 2 out of 5 stars. This month could have been a clean sweep but the essays feel dated and they’re not as funny as the ones in the previous installments.
Object Lessons by The Paris Review – Currently on page 84 of 358. I slowed down because I learned from a reliable source that the owner will not be coming home soon. No pressure to return this soon then.
Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon – The Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions are hard to resist. I am not a fan of Pynchon but I am a fan of these editions. (Thb 270.00, Dasa Book Cafe, October 8)
Life and Times of Michael K by J. M. Coetzee – A Booker winner. I didn’t like his Disgrace but who knows? (Thb 150.00, Dasa Book Cafe, October 8)
Staying On by Paul Scott – Another Booker winner. (Thb 70.00, Dasa Book Cafe, October 8)
The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker – An IMPAC winner. (Thb 190.00, Dasa Book Cafe, October 8)
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby – Our book of the month for April 2015. (USD 7.00 , D’s Books, October 12)
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton – When I read the blurb, I realized that I am already at the point where I’ll be reading novels by writers younger than me. I am so used to old or dead writers. I was unnerved when I learned that Catton was born a year after my birth year. I think Catton is going to be a first. (USD 8.00 , D’s Books, October 12)
Ingenious Pain by Andrew Miller – Another IMPAC winner. I’m so close to completing them. I need two more. (Php 75.00, Book Sale – City Land, October 25)
Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog (Eight Muses of the Fall) by Edgar Calabia Samar – It’s a prize during our book discussion last week, but the winner already has a copy so she gave it to me. Thank you! (From Ranee, October 25)
September was a great month for so many reasons. First, I managed to read a substantial number books. By substantial, I mean the number of books finished is greater than or equal to the number of Saturdays in a month. September had four. I finished five.
Second, the Manila International Book Fair was held. I usually go to the MIBF for the books and discounts. No, you can’t make me turn over the tables and shelves to hunt for marked down books. I guess I’m already beyond that (the truth is, my back is starting to hurt more). I just walk around and spot whatever it is that can be seen (the front list, usually). And how can you make me go to the other events in the MIBF if there are books everywhere? And long queues? And little time?
Third, I discovered new Facebook booksellers. I bought a few books from one. I swore that September must be a frugal month, but I can’t help it.
Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman – 3 out of 5 stars. A quick read. The illustrations are pretty. If I have kid, I’ll buy him Gaiman books.
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson – 4 out of 5 stars. Beautiful. It was supposed to be my beach read but the ugly weather came in the way.
Twisted 8 1/2 by Jessica Zafra – 3 out of 5 stars. Dated because of all those product reviews. There are still entertaining moments though.
Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson – 5 out of 5 stars. Oh. My. Fucking. God. This is my new favorite book. Of all time.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – 4 out of 5 stars. See? I told you that I’m going to conquer this. I restarted instead of resuming from where I paused. Besides, it has been around eight months. A restart is called for.
The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford – Currently on page 140 of 240. This was recommended by a snobbish friend who claimed this to be one of his two favorite NYRB Classics. And it’s easy to understand why. The first chapter alone blew me away. It’s going to be a runaway winner, I can tell.
Object Lessons by The Paris Review – Currently on page 58 of 358. This is one of the book challenges that I accepted. It’s time to face it, although I have to say that it’s not much of a challenge because I love reading short stories anyway.
Twisted 8 by Jessica Zafra – Currently on page 54 of 159. This should complete my Twisted back list.
The Angel Esmeralda by Don DeLillo – A freebie from my roomie. (from Jonathan, September 2)
Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo – Another freebie. (from Jonathan, September 2)
Home by Toni Morrison – Probably my roomie feels like being a September Santa Claus. Thank you! (from Jonathan, September 2)
From Here to Eternity by James Jones – Another NBA winner. (Php 79.00, Chapter IX Bookstore, September 25)
The Year of the French by Thomas Flanagan – Replacing my dilapidated mass market with this NYRB Classics edition. (Php 249.00, Chapter IX Bookstore, September 18)
Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson – I first bought a paperback copy. When I finished it, I bought a hardback copy. (Php 249.00, Chapter IX Bookstore, September 18) (Php 250.00, Undertow Books, September 25)
The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty by Eudora Welty – A National Book Award winner. It’s one of the six best of the NBAs. (Php 250.00, Undertow Books, September 25)
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – One of the books which I told myself I should buy at the MIBF. (Php 510.40, Fully Booked – MIBF, September 20)
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner – I’m going to collect the available Vintage Classics editions of Faulkner’s novels. (Php 279.25, National Book Store – MIBF, September 20)
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace – I have all his novels. I should start buying his short story and essay collections. (Php 487.25, National Book Store – MIBF, September 20)
The Late Mattia Pascal by Luigi Pirandello – A Nobel laureate known for his plays, but this novel also brought him fame. (Php 155.00, Book Sale – SM MoA, September 20)
Tinkers by Paul Harding – Finally! I was about to buy get a brand-new copy. (Php 115.00, Book Sale – SM MoA, September 20)
By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham – One book off my wish list. My Cunningham collection is almost complete. Thank you! (from Monique, September 23)
The Elephant’s Journey by José Saramago – And another one. You see how important it is to maintain a wish list shelf on bookish social media? Thank you! (from Meliza, September 27)
And just like that, it’s already September. From where I live, time speeds up when this month makes its entrance. I’m a little concerned because this has not been a good year for me in terms of the number of books I’ve read. But yeah, I know, that is just a number. It’s just that I wish I could read more.
Anyway, at least I managed to finish three books this month. I’ve actually finished five (the other two, I’ve included in the previous month’s report). Not bad, I guess.
The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer – 3 out of 5 stars. Quite a difficult book. I’m not sure that I got this at all. I’m still trying to figure out a lot of things in it.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – 5 out of 5 stars. This is not your conventional Russian literature. This is a great work on injustice, faith, and dignity.
Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver – 5 out of 5 stars. This is more like a skim and scan because I’ve read most of the stories in this collection. My rating, therefore, is based on the handful of new stories that are included here, which are the selections from his UK-only Elephant.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – Currently on page 211 of 604. I know I promised to touch this, right? But no. I got distracted with other projects. Whoops.
Postcards by Annie Proulx – I’ve always meant to read another Proulx but I don’t which book of hers to pick next. Maybe this? (Php 75.00, Undertow Books, August 27)
Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz – Because it is on sale and because it is by a Nobel laureate. (Php 87.50, Undertow Books, August 27)
Palace of Desire by Naguib Mahfouz – And so is this one. Now I only need Sugar Street to complete The Cairo Trilogy. (Php 87.50, Undertow Books, August 27)