January 22, 2010

Halfway through Mon (Natsume Sōseki)


I'm halfway through Natsume Sōseki's novel Mon (The Gate), translated from Japanese by Francis Mathy. I left it hanging last year, having been distracted by other books. It's not that this book did not interest me; on the contrary, if it proceeds as beautifully as it started, it is bound to become one of my favorite reads this year. The book is slow and meditative, and I do not regret leaving it midway. The prospect of dipping into it again is enough assurance for me that beauty is not lost and I can always go back and continue my journey to Sōseki's inner landscapes. And now, I'm planning to pick it up again. So I have to consult my notes and review what transpired in my previous reading. Reading my notes allows me to channel back to the Sōsekian universe wherein characters walk and talk as if stricken by their mere existences, their hearts and minds contemplating the deafening silences.

Spoilers? Certainly. Contemplation of past events will spoil our present and future, but they are only spoilers up to the middle of the book.

Characters of the novel (up to Chapter X): Like Sōseki's other book Kokoro, Mon contains only a handful characters.

Sosuke – husband

Oyone – wife

Koroku – Sosuke’s brother

Mr Saeki – uncle

Mrs Saeki – aunt

Yasunosuke (Yasu) – son of the Saekis

Kiyo – servant/helper

Sakai – landlord

antique dealer

Plot synopsis of each chapter:

Chapter I: Sosuke hesitating to post a letter to her Aunt Saeki.

Chapter II: Letter posted. Sosuke’s half-day off on a Sunday was spent leisurely walking about Tokyo. He did not buy anything, for him or for his wife. A man who lost his interest in material things, a man who lost his drive for living? He went home in time for dinner.

Chapter III: The two brothers Sosuke and Koroku going on a public bath; evening meal; talk of politics (Ito Hirobumi being assassinated)

Chapter IV: Reply was given by aunt; flashback to the younger days of the two brothers and family situation; death of their father; Sosuke’s entrusting their late father’s estate to their uncle, Saeki; the struggles of the couple (Sosuke and Oyone) while living in two cities, Hiroshima and Fukuoka, before finally transferring to Tokyo with the help of Sosuke’s friend. The issue of the estate’s proceeds had still not been brought up with Sosuke’s uncle, even until the uncle’s death; the issue brought only to the surface when the aunt decided to stop paying for the education of Koroku. With the death of the uncle, the Saekis were now in dire straits as their son, Yasunosuke, also needed financial help for his work and for his marriage. Sosuke and Oyone’s plan to shoulder partly Koroku’s future (his board and lodging) and to propose to the Saekis that they shoulder another part (Koroku’s expenses) was written down in a letter by Sosuke and finally sent to the aunt after much dithering. Aunt’s reply: to wait for Yasunosuke who was in Kobe at the time the letter arrived.

This chapter is the most revealing so far in presenting the character of Sosuke in times of conflict. It also highlights the major conflict in the novel. Sosuke's stoicism is evident in that he takes everything inside him, even after his trust has been betrayed by his relatives. Outwardly, he did not feel wronged; inwardly he must be imploding from injustice done to him by his relatives.

Chapter V: Aunt finally visited while Sosuke went for a dental checkup of a clamped tooth, which was a fitting metaphor for his lack of resolve. Like what the dentist said to him: “I’m afraid that if it [the tooth] gives like this, it’ll be impossible to make it as firm again as it was before. The core seems to be dead…. Necrosis has set in…. It’s as if the core of the tooth were rotten.”

Aunt’s reply was that she and Yasu cannot shoulder part of Koroku’s college education. Before bedtime, Sosuke read Confucius’ Analects.

Chapter VI: Koroku was invited to the house but he dithered. The future inconvenience of having Koroku live with them was also felt by the couple. Oyone feeling somewhat ill. Long hard days of rain. Oyone and Sosuke debated on whether to sell the folding screen painted by Hoitsu, an heirloom from Sosuke’s father which was the only remaining unsold (unsquandered) property given back by Aunt Saeki.

Bargaining with the second-hand dealer for the folding screen. After four visits from the dealer, the price offered went up from seven yen to thirty-five yen. The couple then decided to sell the heirloom.

Chapter VII: Cold winter set in. Description of neighbors and landlord. Thief in the night woke up Oyone. The thief apparently carried the mailbox and the gold watch of their neighbor and landlord Sakai. The mailbox was dumped in Sosuke’s yard while the thief escaped. In the morning, Sosuke brought the mailbox to Sakai’s house. They had a conversation. Sosuke returned home and while talking with his wife, reflected on the life of his wealthy landlord. He assumed that Sakai took things easy because of his wealth.

Chapter VIII: Koroku finally moved to his brother’s house. Impelled by his cousin Yasunosuke’s promise of help, he filed a temporary leave of absence in school. In this chapter we find him helping Oyone set up the shoji (a sort of sliding window made of paper). The awkwardness between the two is heightened by the cold weather which affected Sosuke’s labor and by Oyone’s headache which prohibited her from communicating well. Koroku's curtness was due to the coldness he felt from the weather, but Oyone mistakenly thought it was due to her brother-in-law's contempt for her. During lunch they sat facing each other, which all the more made Oyone uncomfortable. In the afternoon, they continued their wallpapering.

Chapter IX: Sosuke became close friends with Sakai. Accidentally meeting Sakai in the antique dealer shop. Suspecting that the wallpaper sold to Sakai was the same one bought by the dealer from him. Later he called on Sakai’s house. Envying Sakai’s many children. Learning that the folding wallpaper Sakai bought from the dealer (for 80 yen!) was the one he sold earlier.

Chapter X: Koroku started drinking. His friends start to loathe him. He started to get along with Oyone. He began to suspect that Yasunosuke (whose planned wedding was postponed) couldn’t really assist him in his studies.


*****


The first half of the novel already brings into focus the complex character of Sosuke. One is surprised at the passivity with which he accepted his aunt’s explanation of the way her husband squandered Sosuke’s family properties.

Sosuke goes through the motions of life as if he is only alive in body, but dead in spirit, not unlike Sensei’s enigmatic attitude in Kokoro. Is his indifference absolute or feigned? At the surface of the pond it is calm and uneventful, and below it is raging tsunamis?

What is lacking? What drives Sosuke to complacency? To a deadened existence? Almost like a zombie.

Disappointments eat at his soul, gnawing his innards, and leaving him without reason to expect anything from his life. What is the cause of his disappointment? Living a hard married life? His lack of children? His inability to support his brother's studies? Modernity? Living in the city? Life in suburbia? The curse to live in the routine of day to day? The lack of riches? Maybe all of these.

As with Kokoro, the conflict is introduced by immediate relatives who are entrusted with the family fortunes. They are supposed to take care of the orphan brothers, but instead they squandered the inheritance. Money, as always, is the corrupting factor that strains family relationships.

January 20, 2010

Trekking the apocalyptic path


The better part of January has elapsed yet it's never too late to draft a reading plan. The trek is never too steep when it comes to the written word. Writing lists is always a favorite activity, and when I review the end result, I will say, that looks fine. Months and years will pass, and I will say, I can't believe I even bothered. I've made a list of authors and titles for this, my Reading Plan. I'd rather call it that than "Reading Challenge." I feel it will intrude too much on my freedom to choose books from my pile if I rigidly constrain myself to specifics. In short, I shall deviate from the plan from time to time and pick out books from the pile based on a very definite criterion called "whim."

My wishful reading for the year includes the following books. They're mostly fiction in translation (from Japanese and Spanish) and some nonfiction science books.

1. Unfinished books from last year (includes Nineteen Eighty-Four; On the Road; War and Peace)

2. Rereads of a couple of books by Roberto Bolaño (includes 2666, Nazi Literature in the Americas, Distant Star).

3. The Murakami Q Reading Plan: The first 9 books by Murakami Haruki, in chronological order of their Japanese publication. The final book in this reading plan is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, a book I encountered before in hostile terms. I’m now into the 4th book, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Six books more to go. (Actually seven; I might just read the two translations of Norwegian Wood side by side.)

4. The Murakami's Choice Q Reading Plan: More Japanese writers, mainly those Murakami identified as the modern period's "top ten Japanese writers of national stature." He made the list in his introduction to the Akutagawa collection Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories. For my reading plan, that means at least a book each by Soseki (Murakami's top writer), Ogai, Shiga, Tanizaki, Kawabata, Dazai, and Mishima. Seven writers. I don't have anything to read by Shimazaki Toson and Akutagawa. That's nine. Murakami came up only with 9 writers for his Top Ten, and the latter two (Dazai and Mishima) I think he included somewhat grudgingly. There are some obvious omissions. If I can, I will also try to squeeze in works by Kobo Abe, Shusaku Endo, Fumiko Enchi, and Kenzaburo Oe. And of course this excursion is not complete without the Other Murakami. I'll be thumbing through Ryu's 69. Reading Plan #3 and #4 will be my Japanese Express theme for this year. I'm perfectly sure it will carry over to 2011.

5. Some thick books that excite me just by looking at them! I'll be a servant for some time to Cervantes's Don Quixote, in the translation by John Rutherford. I specifically bought this as it's the one preferred by Margaret Jull Costa (the brilliant renderer of José Saramago and Javier Marías) over Edith Grossman's translation. I just read that Burton Raffel's version is okay too. Says The Millions: "[Raffel] has made a business of bringing overlooked 'great books' [including Don Quixote] back to life by recasting them in a contemporary American idiom." But I'm totally buying (and have already bought the book) the recommendation by Margaret Jull Costa: "If you don't know Spanish and have never read Don Quixote or are thinking of reading it again, then this is the English translation I would recommend, recreating as it does the novel's vibrant (and, to the modern sensibility, sometimes cruel) humour, and doing equal honour to its pathos.")

For thick books, I might also finally start Rebellion in the Backlands by Euclides da Cunha (trans. Samuel Putnam. There's an upcoming translation, Backlands: The Canudos Campaign, but I think the edition I have will do) and Life: A User's Manual by Georges Perec. My copy of Life is a beautiful edition but it's not the definitive version. Does it matter? Who knows. It does if I own the definitive version.

6. NYRB Reading Plan: At least 5 books published by New York Review of Books. I'd like to include here The Siege of Krishnapur by J. G. Farrell and Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang. Perhaps a Simenon and that book that was hard to read (it's pronounced as Mardu Gorgeous or something).

7. Books by Amélie Nothomb that I can lay my hands on. She's exquisite in Loving Sabotage.

8. Science books (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn; Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond; The Double Helix by James D. Watson; Gaia by James Lovelock). I've been pining for these books. It's now or ... later.

9. Essays (The Art of Fiction by David Lodge; Seven Nights by Borges, Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes; A Sense of Life by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)

10. Anthologies of Latin American short stories (The Oxford Book of Latin American Short Stories) and novellas (Masterworks of Latin American Short Fiction)

11. Maybe I still have time for Boom writers (Blow-Up and Other Stories by Cortázar; The War of the End of the World by Vargas Llosa; Love in the Time of the Cholera). I realize I have two books now with "the end of the world" in their titles (see # 3). And cholera epidemic... I think I just found my theme for this year's reading plan.

The Year of Apocalyptic Reading.

Scratch that. It's not yet 2012.


If this is an ideal world, I'll finish some 60 books this year.

January 13, 2010

Pinball, 1973 bounces back


This morning when I checked my LibraryThing account, I was surprised to learn in a group discussion on Murakami Haruki's books that Pinball, 1973, Murakami’s most sought-after second novel published in 1980 (and the first to be published in English translation by Alfred Birnbaum in 1985), is finally available again. My surprise is partly due to the fact that I am already two-thirds into finishing this book, which is the second volume of The Trilogy of the Rat. I’m reading the widely available pdf in the web which I downloaded last year. Because Murakami considers his first two works of fiction as minor novels, he restricted the publication of these two books. He only authorized their publication in Japan. Back in 2007, the weblog The Millions linked to a pdf copy of Pinball for the benefit of Murakami fans.

The pdf languished on my TBR and I only got to start reading it a few days ago as part of my “Murakami Q Reading Challenge” which requires me to read the first nine (9) books of Murakami in English in the chronological order of their Japanese publication. (More on this challenge later). I’ve read Murakami’s first book Hear the Wind Sing before Christmas holidays, and so I’m onto Pinball now. Part of my reading plan this year includes a couple of Jap-fic which I started collecting less than a year ago.

The binding of the new edition of Pinball is once again the same format used by Kodansha English Library series – a pocket-sized paperback with the same cover art as the original that came out in ’85. The official release date is Christmas Day 2009. The reprints are currently available in Amazon Japan and ebay.com. (It's the 12th printing edition and hopefully the print run was large enough to accommodate the surge in demand.)

The book retails for about ¥819 at amazon.co.jp (shipping not yet included). It's just under $9.00 (around Php400). Outside Japan the shipping cost is expected to be high, but it beats the amazon.com price hands down. A copy of the early edition (1985 or so) at Amazon US is sold at a very prohibitive price of more than $500.

A cursory search of the web led me to two early blog announcements of the new printing. A comment in the second blog (Jan. 11) is particularly interesting as it noted that the price of the book in ebay has drastically decreased. The book can be had at around $20 in ebay. The latest reprinting brings the price of Pinball from a whopping 3 to 4-figure price (dollars) to a two-figure price.

True enough, “supply and demand” is in effect. Though the current Amazon US prices are still pegged at higher figures, we expect the influx of new editions to somehow lower them (even if they are collectible early copies). Through international sellers, the book can now reach a wider readership outside Japan.

How I wish publishers would do the same to more deserving out-of-print works which are long overdue in the presses. Case in point: The Devil to Pay in the Backlands.

January 5, 2010

Most favorite reads of 2009


Out of my favorite books last year, which ones will I most likely re-read? That is the question I put to myself in order to come up with the Top 10 favorite books of 2009. In alphabetical order:


1. 2666 by Roberto Bolaño (trans. Natasha Wimmer)
2. Fermat's Last Theorem by Simon Singh
3. How Fiction Works by James Wood
4. The Mystery Guest by Grégoire Bouillier (trans. Lorin Stein)
5. Noli Me Tangere by José Rizal (trans. Ma. Soledad Lacson-Locsin)
6. Rashōmon and Other Stories by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke (trans. Takashi Kojima)
7. The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald (trans. Michael Hulse)
8. A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
9. Trese: Mass Murders by Budjette Tan & Kajo Baldisimo
10. Written Lives by Javier Marías (trans. Margaret Jull Costa)

January 4, 2010

The Year of Tiger Bolaño


Six years after Bolaño's death, he remains as alive as ever. B is not so dead this year, not by a long shot. Tiger Bolaño continues to growl from the grave with his red hot words. And he’s like metal in publishing nowadays. The lot of books coming out this year is proof of his increasing, spreading, and enduring appeal to worldwide readers.


A reason to expand our wish list


2010 brings into print a harvest of Bolaño books. At least 4 books in English translations and one more posthumous book in Spanish are coming out. The new English translations will be released by the publisher New Directions. New editions of his previous books will also be available and excerpts of his unpublished works are appearing in literary magazines and journals.

Here’s a timeline:


January

New Directions Publishing will bring out Monsieur Pain, translated from Spanish by Chris Andrews.

El tercer Reich (“The Third Reich”), a book discovered among Bolaño’s papers after his death, will be published in original Spanish by Anagrama in Spain and by Vintage Español in the US on March. English readers will have to wait for a translation until January of next year. According to Natasha Wimmer, who is set to translate the book, it’s about “an elaborate board game called “The Third Reich” (Bolaño was a great fan of war games) [and] it takes place on the Costa Brava ...”

Also, Nazi Literature in the Americas will be reissued by Picador.


March

In March, the Spanish novel El tercer Reich is published in the US via Vintage Español.

The first of the three poems in Tres appears in the March issue of the web journal Words Without Borders. Bolaño considers Tres to be one of his two best books. The poem in question is “Tales from the Autumn in Gerona.” According to its two translators, it’s a fantastic sequence of prose poems. Erica Mena’s translation is the one that will appear in the magazine, though Laura Healy (the translator of The Romantic Dogs) has also prepared a translation of the book.

Extracts of Tres in Spanish can be found here and here.


April

Antwerp, a poetic novella, is coming out in April. Translated by Natasha Wimmer, this book was first published in Spanish (Amberes) in 2002 but was actually written in 1980. It is probably the earliest novel written by B.

From Cantos, the blog of New Directions: “Bolaño’s friend and literary executor, Ignacio Echevarria, once suggested [that] Antwerp can be viewed as the Big Bang of Roberto Bolaño’s fictional universe. From this springboard – which Bolaño chose to publish in 2002, twenty years after he’d written in – as if testing out a high dive, he would plunge into the unexplored depths of the modern novel.” Antwerp is excerpted in the Fall 2009 issue of Conjunctions.


July

The 13-short story collection The Return is slated for publication in July. This book presumably contains stories from Llamadas telefonicas and Putas asesinas that were not included in Last Evenings on Earth. The translation is by Chris Andrews. It’s being called "The Return" now. The publisher will most likely not adopt the Spanish title Assassin Whores.


August

The English of El gaucho insufrible (“The Insufferable Gaucho”) is originally set to appear in August. But most likely the publication will be moved to a later date as The Return was moved from June to July. The posthumous book (as published in its original Spanish edition) is an anthology of 5 short stories, mostly set in Argentina, plus two essays. Chris Andrews translates this too.


September

Picador reissues The Skating Rink.

Favorite reads of 2009


And in our own reading lives, every day, we come across that blue river of truth, curling somewhere; we encounter scenes and moments and perfectly placed words in fiction and poetry, ... which strike us with their truth, which move and sustain us, which shake habit’s house to its foundations ...
– James Wood, How Fiction Works



It’s time I assess the books I flipped the whole year of MMIX.

Take a quick look at my (virtual) shelf and see which books I put a heart on, which pages I enjoyed, and which I abhorred. Which ones bored me and made me suffer and yet, upon reflection, I still called a good read in the end. Which are unforgettable and which are mediocre. Which are comfort reads, fillers, and time-killers.

I know most people classify a book as “not for everyone” or call it “an acquired taste.” I know a lot of people have said “2666 is a great book but it’s not for everyone, because it is difficult and unfinished, so I wouldn’t actually recommend it.” But be done with it. These not-for-everyone books are the ones I look out for.

Here’s a shortlist of my favorite books in 2009, in the order I read them and categorized into fiction and nonfiction. (Perhaps I can make a top ten later.) I highly recommend them as well worth spending your time on. They are for me the books that shook mannerisms to its foundations. My notes on some books are contained elsewhere on this blog.


Fiction

1. 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
2. The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco
3. Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolaño
4. Rashōmon and Other Stories by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke
5. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
6. Perfume by Patrick Süskind
7. You Lovely People by Bienvenido N. Santos
8. Everyman by Philip Roth
9. Trese: Mass Murders by Budjette Tan & Kajo Baldisimo (graphic)
10. The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald
11. Noli Me Tangere by José Rizal (translated by Ma. Soledad Lacson-Locsin)


It’s one of the best years of reading fiction for me as I liked a lot of the books I read. The reason for this is that I intentionally went for my kind of books and avoided the ones I know I will have bad things to say about.

I recognize that my “best books” are not necessarily my “favorite books.” My favorite books are the great books whose flaws I can tolerate at any time. Books I cherish even if the flaws are evident. The closest thing I can describe my best books is that they are elusive books whose very perfection lies in the apparent flaws in them. That is to say, they are great precisely because their flaws make them so. I recognize this to be a paradox. Perhaps I can better point out my selectivity through my future reviews.

This is the year when I get to read all of the remaining books in English of Roberto Bolaño that I haven’t read – all seven of them. The hype around Bolaño I find really too tame to give justice to his accomplishments. My most favorite book this year, 2666, exhibits all of Bolaño’s idiosyncratic styles. It’s a highly and consciously artistic book, the one where Bolaño pulls all the energy of his brute force method of writing to leave an enduring legacy in literature, that is to say, in life.

Another favorite of mine by Bolaño is the highly inventive Nazi Literature in the Americas. It’s one of the best literary science fiction I have read. More than that, Nazi Literature in the Americas is a novel for monsters, yet another compendium of literary lives, of the fictional sort. At the heart of each of its “mini-wiki” entries is a deceptive question: What makes for a Nazi writer, the written work or the life led? The alternative answer is probably worthy of a new theory.

The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco makes me yawn, but this does not prevent me from acknowledging its ambitions. It has moments and passages that come alive like jewels. In some ways a tropic novel of sunlight, not the dreary old-fashioned novel bathed in darkness, although it is old-fashioned.

Akutagawa Ryūnosuke is a Japanese master of the form. In his hands, a short story is a short story. That is to say, it is quick. His words are efficient, without sacrificing the complexity of a plot. His tales are suffused with nuance and concrete details. His themes are large themes. His main concerns are basic. He is interested in the ambiguities of human choice, the uncontrollable passions suddenly flaring, the travails of the outcast, and the futility of moral justifications. There can be no doubt that the six pieces – six master pieces – in the book are among Akutagawa's finest. Any collection that contains the first two in this book, “In a Grove” and “Rashōmon,” is a book to be treasured. The book is a small sampler of Akutagawa’s literary output.

Perfume by Patrick Süskind is one of those twisted fairy tales that only a devious writer smiling inside himself can tell. For Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, its protagonist, the fragrant end rationalizes the evil means. Süskind is presenting a parable of the cult of artistry and genius through a tale of one of the most anomalous characters in fiction. The narrator of the novel does not make excuses for Grenouille’s acts, and he doesn’t criticize it either. He doesn’t make any value judgment or attempt to psychoanalyze its main character. The objective presentation is just superb. Its readers squirm in the fragrant spell of its grotesquerie.

More on the other books later.


Nonfiction

1. Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner
2. Written Lives by Javier Marías
3. A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
4. Fermat's Last Theorem by Simon Singh
5. How Fiction Works by James Wood
6. Why We Are Poor & Why We Are Hungry by F. Sionil José
7. The Mystery Guest by Grégoire Bouillier


A book of the most perfect despair, The Mystery Guest by Grégoire Bouillier is something rare in the confessional memoir. There's a laugh in every page. The jester's voice is polite and honest and heightened by a pathological sense of "turtleneck paranoia."

For a book about maths, Fermat's Last Theorem by Simon Singh is a very moving accomplishment. Granted, my proof of this (somewhere on this blog) is too lame. I kind of love the subject of mathematics. This book is a self-questioning journey of one man toward the completion of his proof. It is also a journey of several mathematicians through the centuries of doubts and human failings.

James Wood’s How Fiction Works is the best nonfiction explaining fiction. The book’s register is that of a self-knowing critical reader: probably the reason why other critics get irritated by Wood's polarizing opinions. The sweeping assertions and poetic explorations are sometimes dizzying in their clarity. This manual of fiction is a product of deep reflection on the art of novel writing. It is a way of fictive thinking in itself, a synthesis of creative imaginations that informed the choice(s) of writers in the book.

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner. Abortion lowers crime rate, and other controversial ‘freaky’ ideas from a pair of journalist and economist. They concocted amusing premises, did some un-fuzzy maths and quantitative analyses, and reached some unlikely conclusions that convince nevertheless.

Written Lives by Javier Marías. Smartass Marías literally becomes a “writer’s writer.” Here he sketches some famous and obscure literary lives, in small doses or vignettes, not really in objective fashion, highlighting certain aspects of the writers’ personalities, shattering some myths about them, perpetuating others. The book closes with a chapter on something like “portraits of the artists as portraits.” Marías considers this the most enjoyable book he ever wrote. The sense of joy is with the reader too.

A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. A classic foundational text on environmental and conservation ethics. It is a well constructed prose poem/philosophical tract that enters and alters the frame of mind and speaks to the soul, to clear the debris of nonsense. It is a powerful and silent plea to conserve all wilderness areas. More trees should be felled to reprint copies of this book.

January 1, 2010

What Rise read in 2009


A happy new year to all!

The first decade of the present century has zoomed by and today marks again the new beginning of our lives - reading, writing, traveling, playing, working, and (I'm now officially adding) blogging.

My year in blogging was marked by a lot of highlights, focusing mostly on book reviews and book-related matters. I have started actively writing on April 2009 with my first post In lieu of a field guide. The old entries in 2006 and 2007 were just imported from a now-defunct blog. This blog then is technically eight-and-a-half months old, and I'm glad that I was able to sustain it. I will perhaps make April 14 my "blogaversary" - I hope I spelled that (blogalese / Internetese) correctly.

I've been late in coming up with a summary of my reading. My Christmas holiday reading was just spent on two books - the last two books in the list below. I was much too distracted by Christmas eat and play.

Report on reading challenges. I planned to read 36 books (preferably 18 fiction and 18 non-fiction) - my Quantity Challenge. I've read a total of 48 books, an average of four books a month, and I'm counting 16 non-fiction here, so overall it's not bad at all. I basically passed the challenge with reading colors. However, I was not able to progress with my Challenge Read, the thicky-thicky War and Peace.

As for the Diversity Challenge, I was able to read all of the 24 books from diverse categories, except for the common title. I kind of half-finished the common book as I was able to finish Rizal's Noli Me Tangere as translated by Ma. Soledad Lacson-Locsin. I guess I will continue with the sequel El Filibusterismo this year, even if I've previously read these books in the translations done by Leon Ma. Guerrero. The Noli and Fili are always worth re-reading.

My other challenge, "Lost in Translation," is easily surpassed as most of what I read are books in translation anyway. I count 19 translated books from the list, way more than the required 6 books.


My 2009 reading log:

JANUARY
1. Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner
2. The Romantic Dogs by Roberto Bolaño (re-read in June)

FEBRUARY
3. Love Story by Erich Segal
4. 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
5. The Lives of Animals by J. M. Coetzee
6. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

MARCH
7. Written Lives by Javier Marías
8. Kokoro by Sōseki Natsume
9. A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
10. Tugmaang Matatabil by Axel Pinpin

APRIL
11. Einstein's Monsters by Martin Amis
12. Beyond Words by John Humphrys
13. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

MAY
14. The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco
15. Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolaño
16. Distant Star by Roberto Bolaño
17. Amulet by Roberto Bolaño
18. By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolaño
19. Fermat's Last Theorem by Simon Singh

JUNE
20. How Fiction Works by James Wood
21. Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
22. A Superior Death by Nevada Barr

JULY
23. Ecology and the End of Postmodernity by George Myerson
24. Rashōmon and Other Stories by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke
25. Five Moral Pieces by Umberto Eco
26. Six Easy Pieces by Richard P. Feynman
27. Gerilya by Norman Wilwayco
28. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

AUGUST
29. Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez (re-read)
30. Three Challenges to Ethics: Environmentalism, Feminism, and Multiculturalism by James P. Sterba
31. Perfume by Patrick Süskind
32. Why We Are Poor by F. Sionil José
33. The Blue Day Book by Bradley Trevor Greive

SEPTEMBER
34. Learning to Think Environmentally: While There is Still Time by Lester W. Milbrath
35. Quantum Theory: A Very Short Introduction by John Polkinghorne

OCTOBER
36. You Lovely People by Bienvenido N. Santos
37. Trese: Murder on Balete Drive by Budjette Tan & Kajo Baldisimo
38. Trese: Unreported Murders by Budjette Tan & Kajo Baldisimo
39. Everyman by Philip Roth
40. Why We Are Hungry by F. Sionil José

NOVEMBER
41. The Sandman: The Dream Hunters by Neil Gaiman & Yoshitaka Amano
42. The Mystery Guest by Grégoire Bouillier
43. Letters to a Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens
44. Trese: Mass Murders by Budjette Tan & Kajo Baldisimo
45. Hear the Wind Sing by Murakami Haruki

DECEMBER
46. The Skating Rink by Roberto Bolaño
47. The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald
48. Noli Me Tangere by José Rizal, translated by Ma. Soledad Lacson-Locsin


I have made some "field notes" on most of these books but I wasn't able to write my full review. I will perhaps carry over to this year some of my takes on the books I read in 2009. Blogging is fun, and reading bliss.