Short Stories

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.

Book Report: May 2015

Book Report: May 2015

It has been a little quiet here so I played with my theme. I feel the need to do that whenever nothing is happening on this blog. Aside from that, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. In fact, it has been a long while since I managed to finish more than five books within a month. I checked my reading history and found out that in the first half of 2012, one of my two prolific reading years, I clocked in between five to seven books per month. I even set a record for May 2012: nine books.

Why am I obsessing over this? Surely, it’s not the quantity but the quality, eh? No, I don’t subscribe to that idea. There’s so little time that I must not waste for kissing and fondling my quality books for inordinate periods when there are so many more possibly quality books waiting to be discovered. Also, I like setting goals. If there’s a number that I have to beat, I feel compelled to keep reading. However, this does not mean that reading goals are my main motivation for reading. It’s a sort of challenge to make a solitary activity more exciting.

Okay, so there’s one ugh book in my report this month but it was assigned reading. I even got to write a review for it, which is quite ironic because I didn’t bother with the others. But I will make time for them. I’ll do my best to stop watching random videos on YouTube and to come up with write-ups.

Books Finished:

  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz – Our book of the month for May. 4 out of 5 stars.
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin – One of my picks for my book club discussion in August. 4 out of 5 stars.  (USD 15.30, The Book Depository, May 7)
  • The Middleman and Other Stories by Bharati Mukherjee – The Year of Reading the NBCC (18/40). 3 out of 5 stars.
  • Monstress by Lysley Tenorio – One of my reading dares/challenges for this year. 5 out of 5 stars.
  • October Light by John Gardner – The Year of Reading the NBCC (17/40). 4 out of 5 stars.
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by James Asher – 1 out of 5 stars.
  • Ubik by Philip K. Dick – 5 out of 5 stars. It looks like this will be the book that I’ll be discussing with the book club. We’ll find out in a few more days after the voting period is over. (USD 12.69, The Book Depository, May 7)

Currently Reading:

  • Lila by Marilynne Robinson – On page 51 of 261. I restarted because I want to.
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson – On page 101 of 271. I am so close to abandoning this.

Maybe:

  • The Maltese Falcon by Dashielle Hammett
  • Rabbit Redux by John Updike
  • The Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  • The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard
  • The Year of the French by Thomas Flanagan

New Books:

  • The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro – A signed gift! Thank you! (from Bennard, May 19)

Here’s a little background about The Year of Reading the NBCC. When Lila won the 40th NBCC Award for Fiction last March, I decided to read all the NBCC fiction winners. Why? Because I have them all, because I think this award has a very good taste, and because so far, I don’t hate any of the winners unlike the other awards (Mambo Kings for the Pulitzer, Charming Billy for the NBA, and Last Orders for the Booker).

I have instantaneously made this official but think I mentioned this aspiration somewhere. If I have only imagined it, let me tell you that my to-read list is pretty much filled up by the 25 titles that I haven’t read yet. The 25 titles are now down to 22 (Billy Lynn last April, October Light and Middleman last month). So yeah, I’ll note my progress in these reports just like what I did above. As a matter of fact, I’ll also edit the previous report for Billy Lynn.

Book Report: April 2015

Book Report: April 2015

This is a great month for all things bookish. I’ve finished five books, reviewed five books, still reading four books, bought more than a dozen books, and hosted a bookish giveaway. Also, I’ve started using Goodreads again. I mean, I’m not just using it partially, like searching for reviews or joining our book club’s online activities. I’ve added all my books and shelves again. Not the reviews though; I’ve just resolved to put the links. Leafmarks is just too slow, which is unacceptable in this day and age.

Anyway, I’ll stop babbling now so that we can all enjoy the local holiday.

Books Finished:

Currently Reading:

  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz – On page 233 of 359. TFG’s book of the month this May. (Php 615.60, Fully Booked – The Fort, April 19)
  • Lila by Marilynne Robinson – On page 16 of 261. On hold. I haven’t touched it since March.
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson – On page 27 of 271. I’m putting this on my list of science fiction books for my book club discussion in August because two of my official selections have not arrived yet (and I only have three weeks left to scramble).
  • October Light by John Gardner – On page 154 of 498. Funny book!

Maybe:

  • Family Life by Akhil Sharma – This year’s winner of The Folio Prize, so I must have it and read it soon. (USD 12.72, The Book Depository, April 22)

New Books:

  • Plains Song by Wright Morris (Php 115.00, Book Sale – SM Megamall, April 6)
  • The Dream of the Red Chamber/The Story of the Stone by Cao Xueqin – I got Volumes I, III, IV, and V. Please help me find Volume II. (Php 200 each, Undertow Books, April 7)
  • Girl with Curious Hair by David Foster Wallace (Php 350.00, Undertow Books, April 7)
  • Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro (Php 300.00, Undertow Books, April 7)
  • History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell – Seriously, why did they sell this for an amount cheaper than the shipping fee? (Php 25.00, Undertow Books, April 7)
  • The Hunters by James Salter – I’ll be damned if I don’t like Salter. This is my fourth and I don’t even have an idea how the man writes. (Php 175.00, Undertow Books, April 7)
  • The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (Php 175.00, Undertow Books, April 7)
  • The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (Php 225.00, Undertow Books, April 7)
  • Proud Beggars by Albert Cossery (Php 250.00, Undertow Books, April 7)
  • The Blue Fox by Sjón – Sjón is Icelandic and he is Björk’s friend. It might do me a lot of good to check out his works. (Php 180.00, Bookulaw, April 19)
  • From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjón (Php 160.00, Bookulaw, April 19)
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.