The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo IshiguroThe Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Publisher: Vintage Books
Number of pages:
245

My copy: secondhand from our book club’s book swap — apparently, the original owner was Aldrin. Thank you, and thanks to Monique for passing the book to me. :)

The Remains of the Day is a profoundly compelling portrait of the perfect English butler and of his fading, insular world postwar England. At the end of his three decades of service at Darlington Hall, Stevens embarks on a country drive, during which he looks back over his career to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving “a great gentleman.” But lurking in his memory are doubts about the true nature of Lord Darlington’s “greatness” and graver doubts about his own faith in the man he served.

* * *

It’s a rare occurrence nowadays when I actually review a book I just finished reading. Usually it takes me a few days weeks to write one, but since this is up for discussion for our book club this weekend, I thought I’d try something new and actually write a review soon after I finished the book.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is the story about a butler. Stevens has been a butler for Darlington Hall for almost all his life, working for the “great” Lord Darlington and later for an American gentleman, Mr. Farraday, who bought the big house soon after Lord Darlington passed away. When his American employer told him to go take a vacation while he is away, Stevens sets off on a motoring trip to meet an old colleague, Miss Kenton, with the pretense of asking her to work for them again to correct some certain staffing errors in Darlington Hall. As with every road motoring trip done in solitude, Stevens thinks of his experiences and subtly questions the things he knew about his old employer and his own affections for a certain co-worker.

Hindsight is 20/20. That’s a popular quote that I never really understood until I started thinking about things more often than usual, and I wish it wasn’t always the case — the thinking and how hindsight can be 20/20, I mean. Sometimes I wish we could make better decisions when we need to, and not regret things in the end when we realize how we could have done better and we should have done this. That’s one of the things I remembered while reading The Remains of the Day. Stevens is an interesting character, not quite like Kathy H from Never Let Me Go, but also the same in how they reminisce the past. Of course, Stevens is older, so he has more experience so to speak, but can I be honest? Sometimes I have to admit that the experience he shares can be quite…boring. Maybe it’s because I can’t exactly relate to him. Or maybe because we have a kind of generation gap. It was interesting to see what he thinks of dignity and what he thinks of his employer, and how he tells of tales from when he served him. He didn’t question it back then, and even as he related his stories he never questioned it either — but there was that subtle doubt that made me wonder if he thought if he could do anything about it, or if he should do anything, given that he was just a butler. Does he have the power to do it? Can he even say anything about it, especially since he believes that his employer is a good man? To put it in a better and more personal context: I’m an employee of a multinational company, one of thousands in this country. Do my decisions count? Can my voice be heard amongst all the executives? Do I have a right to say something if I notice something is amiss? Or will I even notice that? And finally, if I do that, will I even matter?

I don’t want to be a fool wondering what might have been. Trivia: in college, I used to like that song. :P As with Never Let Me Go, there’s a certain romantic aspect in The Remains of the Day, too. Miss Kenton was one of the characters that Stevens kept on talking about, and I found his interactions with her both annoying and hilarious. To say more would be spoilery, but I had to laugh at their interactions because they seem to be beating around the bush and making excuses about their conversations. It goes to show that even someone as “dignified” and knowledgeable (in his own right) as Mr. Stevens can know nothing about how women are — but maybe it’s because it was his choice. I can’t blame him too much, though. He made his choice, even if he didn’t know it, which forced Miss Kenton to make her own, leading them to where they both ended up in the end.

There’s no time for my regrets. One of our pre-work for the book discussion this weekend is to write a piece that talks about love, loss, hope, and/or regret. When I was writing my piece, I realized one thing: it was easy to remember tales of love and hope, but not of loss and regret. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have any tales of loss and regret (thank God for that). I figure that is true for loss, but for regret, I’d like to think it’s because I’ve long told myself that I choose not to regret over anything. Maybe that’s me being positive, but I have always believed that mistakes are made for learning and there’s always a higher purpose to why things happened, and regrets will just bog you down. I guess what matters is how we should be aware of our choices so we won’t have to think of regrets in the future.Yes, hindsight is 20/20, and we won’t really know if we chose the right thing later on. But like I said, maybe all we need to do is to trust that things will be okay, eventually, and that despite making wrong choices, we always have a choice on how we shall see our life after that.

The Remains of the Day is my second Ishiguro, and I’m glad that it still has that quiet, calm writing, one that I really needed after reading several high-action zombie books. I really loved my first Ishiguro, so I had high expectations for this one which I am glad was met. It’s not quite as amazing as Never Let Me Go, IMO, but it’s a good book that makes you think about life, just as how I did in this review, I think! :) This will definitely not be my last Ishiguro book.

Also, you know what, maybe I will reread this a few years later, to see if I still think of the book the same way as I do now.

Rating:

Required Reading: July

Other reviews:
Book Rhapsody
Bookish Little Me (reread)
reading is the ultimate aphrodisiac

Minis: Alternate Endings, Award Winners and Love Stories

I feel this counts as cheating, but sometimes, I read some short stories and books just to up the number of books I read. Is that bad? They can’t really be books since they’re super short sometimes, but they count as one because they’re stories. Right? Or I’m just making excuses?

But anyway, I am still reading every-so-slowly and I really don’t know what’s up, but I will stop worrying about that. And I will “cheat” anytime I want to, so there. :P Besides, cheating means more Mini-Reviews posts, right? :D

Fed by Mira Grant Fed by Mira Grant
Publisher: Orbit
Number of pages: 53
My copy: ebook

An alternate ending to the first novel in the Newsflesh trilogy, Feed.

* * *

So I actually wrote a review on this on Goodreads as soon as I finished reading it because I was so overwhelmed. Here’s the short review in verbatim, and right now I still stand by this. Mira Grant, you are an evil genius.

If you haven’t read Feed yet, don’t even try opening this. Read it first, digest it, and then come back for this when you’re ready enough to do so.

Well if you think having your heart broken from Feed wasn’t enough, try this alternate ending. I never thought it could happen this way, but when you think about it, this seemed like the way it could and would happen.

Of course, if you’ve read Deadline, questions will pop up about how this ending happened. But that doesn’t make this less heart breaking.

Mira Grant, I am in awe.

Rating:

The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu
Publisher: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
Number of pages: 15
My copy: ebook

A gentle fantasy. Love, paper tigers, mail order bride, culture clash.

* * *

I wouldn’t have heard of this short story if it wasn’t for my Goodreads friends who started reviewing it on their profiles.The Paper Menagerie is a short story about a boy whose mom was a mail-order bride from China who can barely speak English and can make magical paper origami. The boy had a collection of moving paper animals from his mother as a kid, and it was their odd but sweet means of communication. However, as the boy grew up, he had to deal with his friends who don’t understand their family set-up and eventually, he started drifting apart from his mother.

This short story reminded me of all those stories that I used to read as a kid, the ones that make me feel guilty and inspired at the same time — guilty because I know that I can be like the kid who push away her parents because I am starting to have my own life, but also inspired because it makes me not want to have the same fate as the kids in the story. The fantasy elements in The Paper Menagerie were indeed gentle, and at first I wasn’t sure if I read it right. It made me wonder for a moment if origami paper animals were really supposed to move and I’ve been doing the things I used to do wrong.

This is short and sweet, and it would take little time to read it. It left me with a feeling that…well, I don’t want to end up being like the boy in the end. It’s not the kind of regret that anyone wants to have, for sure. You can read The Paper Menagerie here, or listen to the story here.

Rating:

Comic Stories About Love & Heartbreak Comic Stories About Love and Heartache by Various Authors, edited by Elbert Or
PSICOM

Comic Stories About Love and Heartache by Various Authors, edited by Elbert Or
Publisher: Psicom
My copy: gift from KD

The long-awaited anthology contains eleven stories exploring characters who have loved and been loved, have broken hearts and had their hearts broken and still love (or long to be loved).

* * *

Here’s my theory about love stories, or at least, anything romantic: my appreciation level in the story is directly related to the state of my heart while I was reading it. Wow, look at that, me using that phrase state of my heart. But it’s true, isn’t it? It’s easier to appreciate happy love stories when you’re happy, and heartache stories resonate more when you more or less share the same state, or have been in that state before and you can relate.

So how exactly did I find this comic book? Well, if the state of my heart was any indication (and I am probably digging a grave for myself by writing this), I liked it. Maybe I’m just really a romantic at heart, or I’m just a generally happy person, or there’s something else, but I thought this book is pretty sweet, despite it being “stories of love and heartache”. I’m no expert at art, but I appreciated the comics, especially the cute stories in between each major story.

I guess this is one of those books that show different facets of love, and how things can work out or how things may not work out. It’s a very quick read, and I finished it in one sitting, but I didn’t feel as if I wanted more. Perhaps the reading was enough to satisfy the state of my heart then.

My favorite part in the entire anthology is the last story, Red String, about a man who has been looking for his soul mate by looking for whoever was tied to the other end of the red string on his finger. I don’t know about you, but I found the last part quite…hopeful.

The Red String

Okay, maybe I am just a happy person. :)

Rating:

The Color Purple

The Color Purple by Alice WalkerThe Color Purple by Alice Walker
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Number of pages: 288
My copy: paperback, bought from Fully Booked

Celie is a poor black woman whose letters tell the story of 20 years of her life, beginning at age 14 when she is being abused and raped by her father and attempting to protect her sister from the same fate, and continuing over the course of her marriage to “Mister,” a brutal man who terrorizes her. Celie eventually learns that her abusive husband has been keeping her sister’s letters from her and the rage she feels, combined with an example of love and independence provided by her close friend Shug, pushes her finally toward an awakening of her creative and loving self.

* * *

Normally, I wouldn’t read a book like The Color Purple, because it’s not my usual genre. Not that I don’t read literary fiction books, but the themes of abuse and rape and all those things kind of make me squirm and feel general discomfort. I treat books as an escape from real life, so reading a book with several injustices isn’t really my priority.

But don’t get me wrong — every now and then, I read these kinds of books, too. When I do read them, I have to admit that I try to find an excuse to do so. Alice Walker’s The Color Purple was included in the list of books that we were voting for our July book discussion, and it was the one I voted for only because of the title and the other cover with the huge sunflower on it (which I really wanted for my copy, but I couldn’t find one). The book didn’t win, but we had a book buddy discussion on this (which I totally sucked at because I hardly left a comment on the thread). I ended up reading this book while I was at the beach — it felt totally inappropriate, but in a way, it’s also not. I’ll explain that in a bit.

The Color Purple is a collection of letters from a black woman named Celie to God and eventually to her sister, Nettie, covering 20 years of her life from 14 when she was being sexually and physically abused by her father, and eventually marrying an equally abusive husband she calls “Mister”. We learn of her new family, of her missing her sister and her friendship with a singer named Shug, who reveals to Celie that Mister is keeping her sister’s letters to her in an attempt to keep here where she is. The Color Purple is the story of Celie’s journey from being a victim to a survivor, from hate to love, and of family and friends and faith.

So, reading The Color Purple while I was in Boracay was interesting. Being surrounded by so much beauty and pleasure and luxury makes it hard to concentrate on what Celie was experiencing, but it was also eye-opening because somehow, reading this while on vacation kept me a bit grounded in the fact that life for other people isn’t a vacation. There’s so much pain and suffering in the first few pages of this book that it almost feels like it’s going to be a hard book to read, but Celie’s resilient personality shone through. Her letters were heartfelt and honest, and I felt myself rooting for her as the letters came.

I read in one of my friend’s reviews that it was implied in this novel that God was Celie’s most attentive listener — and I realized that I can relate to that! Every morning (or whatever time I wake up when I am on night shift), one of the first things I do is go to my room, open my Bible and pray. I used to pray only in my mind but I always end up falling asleep when I do just that, so I learned to write my prayers down in my journals. Ever since then I have filled so many journals with my prayers, and thinking back, I never felt that God had been inattentive to me in any of my entries. Though Celie somehow lost hold of her faith somewhere in the middle of the novel, there was still that lingering faith there, about how God listens and how the God she knows answered her prayer in the end. Looking back at all my entries, I realized the same was true for me — and if I read some of them there, I find that the God I know has answered my prayers. It’s not always the same way I expected, but they were answered in the best way and they were for my good.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker is a pretty powerful novel, if you don’t let the coarseness of the language and the format get to you. It had the same feel as A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly and The Nickel Plated Beauty by Patricia Beatty, only it’s more adult and possibly more touching. While it’s not the perfect beach read, it was a pretty good reminder that there is a life outside beaches and iPhones that take an unexpected bath in saltwater.

Rating:

Other reviews:
Book Rhapsody

Kwentillion Young Adult Readers Carnival

Ah, so many bookish events in such a short span of time, are you excited?

If you’ve been following Kwentillion on Facebook, you would’ve read about this already, but in case you’re not, then read on! Presenting the 1st Kwentillion Young Adult Readers’ Carnival!

Kwentillion Young Adult Readers' Carnival

The event will be on July 21, 1-5pm at Bestsellers Robinsons Galleria. This is your chance to meet fellow YA literature fans in Manila, plus also meet Kwentillion contributors and other authors. :) If you have your copy of the magazine, you can have them signed there, or if you don’t have them yet, you can get yours (you should!) at the event.

There are other fun events, too, like the Author Cage Match, where teams will convince the audience that their chosen author is the best, and panel discussions with Kwentillion contributors and Philippine YA authors. Here are the panelists who will be at the event:

For the Kwentillion Panel:

For the Philippine Young Adult Creators Panel:

There will also be previews of current YA books on the shelves of National and why we think you should get them, as well as previews of the upcoming releases. If that’s not enough, there will be a YA Books Only Sale inside the store, and participants will receive a discount coupon as soon as they register which is valid for a one-time purchase inside the store.

For more information and updates, you can visit Rocket Kapre and Kwentillion’s Facebook page. YA fans in the Philippines, this is a must-go-to event! It’s really unfortunate that I’m out of town on the same weekend (without Atrix 4Gs), but I’m sure this will be a fun event. Is it too early to wish for a part 2? :)

Cracked Up To Be

Cracked Up To Be by Courtney SummersCracked Up To Be by Courtney Summers
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Number of pages: 214
My copy: ebook, bought from Amazon Kindle Store

When “Perfect” Parker Fadley starts drinking at school and failing her classes, all of St. Peter’s High goes on alert. How has the cheerleading captain, girlfriend of the most popular guy in school, consummate teacher’s pet, and future valedictorian fallen so far from grace?

Parker doesn’t want to talk about it. She’d just like to be left alone, to disappear, to be ignored. But her parents have placed her on suicide watch and her conselors are demanding the truth. Worse, there’s a nice guy falling in love with her and he’s making her feel things again when she’d really rather not be feeling anything at all.

Nobody would have guessed she’d turn out like this. But nobody knows the truth.

Something horrible has happened, and it just might be her fault.

* * *

Perfect Parker Fadley is cracking. She comes to school with tangled hair and muddy shoes, her teachers and friends all worry about her, but the truth is, she just doesn’t care. Or, she seems not to care. All she wants to do is disappear or be ignored and forgotten (and not even the thought of Miami gift baskets can make her snap out of it), but everyone else around her is carefully watching over her. And then there’s this new guy, who seems to want to know Parker despite her insistence in him away. What’s worse is she seems to be falling for him, too. Parker Fadley is starting to crack, and she’s not sure if she can keep it together longer before anyone else finds out exactly why she’s pushing them all away.

My first Courtney Summers warned me enough to expect that her books aren’t the happy, shiny contemporary YA novels that bring warm fuzzies to the heart. Oh sure, there are some nice, romantic enough scenes to give the warm fuzzies, but the rest of the novel? They’re usually intense scenes that makes you wonder just how exactly these kids got into these situations. Cracked Up To Be had the same kind of popular mean girls that Courtney Summers seem to know so much about, and it’s an interesting journey to see just how their lives can be just as messed up as anyone else’s.

Parker feels like such an unreliable narrator that sometimes I have no idea if what she’s saying is true, or even relevant to the story. But perhaps that’s how it was really built up — her unreliability reeled me in and made me wonder just what exactly happened, just what made her change from perfect Miss Popular to someone who wouldn’t want to exist. I didn’t like her at first, until she started growing on me. Her attempts at normalcy were nice even if it seemed futile, and for a moment there, I felt I was one of her friends, who wanted to help her even if she kept on resisting. My favorite part is when she got a dog…but also, that is my least favorite part because…well, if you’ve read enough books with pets that play a big part in it, you probably know what might happen to them. :(

I remember being a bit exhausted after I finished reading my first Summers, Some Girls Are, because of the intensity of the power struggle between the popular girls in the book. However, for Cracked Up To Be, I was just a bit sad at how Parker beat herself up so much for that secret that she kept that made her crack. I liked how everything wrapped up in the end, leaving me with a bit more hope for Parker than I had at the start.

Cracked Up To Be is not a feel-good contemporary YA book, but it’s a good book that contemporary YA fans will definitely enjoy. It doesn’t have much of the warm fuzzies, but it has just the right punch that tells its readers, “Hey, this thing? In this book? It happens. It’s real. And being popular is not all it’s cracked up to be.”

Rating:

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger
Love YA Lit
The Readventurer