Gilead

Gilead by Marilynne RobinsonGilead by Marilynne Robinson
Publisher: Broché
Number of pages: 291
My copy: paperback, bought from Bestsellers

Twenty-four years after her first novel, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America’s heart. Writing in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, Marilynne Robinson’s beautiful, spare, and spiritual prose allows “even the faithless reader to feel the possibility of transcendent order” (Slate). In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life.

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A good friend has been pushing this book to me for a while now, saying that this is probably one book I will like. Note that this friend and I had different tastes in books, and it’s only just recently that we started reading similar ones and it was mostly because of the book club picks. If this book was recommended to me say, early in 2011, I wouldn’t have picked it up, but since I feel like I’ve been growing as a reader, I was actually quite excited to read this when I finally found a copy. This wasn’t my first choice for our book club’s book of the month for April, because there was an initial plan of reading this book with a some friends. But I guess everyone else wanted to read it for April, and who am I to disagree with that, right?

Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead is actually a long letter of Reverend John Ames, a dying pastor, to his young son. There are stories of his father, and his grandfather, of his first wife, of his friendship with old Boughton and his complicated relationship with Boughton’s youngest son who was named after him. He mused about life, and death, and wrote what he can to give his son a memory of him, his old father, who can only do so much now that he’s about to leave his family to go to his Heavenly Father.

Gilead felt like a pretty short book, and I was kind of expecting that I would finish it real quick. But instead, I found myself reading it a lot slower than I expected. The book was slow, and it meandered, and its lack of chapter breaks made it a little bit harder to devour (what, I’m used to the normal structure of books), but I guess there was a reason for that. Gilead is actually meant for slow reading because of its content. Gilead is really more about…memories. Wishes. Regrets. Hope. It’s a journal and a letter, and you just can’t rush through something like it because it contains wisdom from the eyes of someone who has lived long. The number of pages I have dog-eared in my copy is the sure indication of this, but I do not regret a thing because there were just too many beautiful passages in the book. Some examples:

The twinkling of an eye. That is the most wonderful expression. I’ve thought from time to time it was the best thing in life, that little incandescence you see in people when the charm of the thing strikes them, or the humor of it. “The light of the eyes rejoiceth the heart.” That’s a fact. (p.61)

Now that I look back, it seems to me that in all that deep darkness, a miracle was preparing. So I am right to remember it as a blessed time, and myself as waiting in confidence, even if I had no idea what I was waiting for. (p.64)

I must be gracious. My only role is to be gracious. Clearly I must somehow contrive to think graciously about him since he makes it such a point of seeing right through me. I believe I have made some progress on that front through prayer, though there is clearly much more progress to be made, much more praying to be done. (p.145)

And grace is the great gift. So to be forgiven is only half the gift. The other half is that we also can forgive, restore, and liberate, and therefore we can feel the will of God enacted through us, which is the great restoration of ourselves to ourselves. (p.190)

I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave – that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm. And therefore, this courage allows us, as the old men said, to make ourselves useful. (p.290)

Many times, I had to stop a bit in reading this because some of the passages hit home, a bit too hard. I have to stop and reflect on them, and sometimes I feel the tinge of guilt in some because I know that I have failed in what Reverend Ames has written. That particular bit about graciousness is a hard to swallow, because I find myself being in his position ever so often, and it’s always a hard battle to think graciously of someone who you somehow dislike. I can’t say that I am a truly gracious person just yet, but I definitely agree that there is a lot of praying yet to be done. Will you pray with me about this?

There was a little question of whether this book was a sad one before we started discussing it online, but our moderator just said that it’s a book that will make us heave deep sighs. And she was right. Deep sighs, indeed. I found myself close to tears in the end, and it made me wonder what kind of legacy would I be leaving, and if I would be ever able to say or write that same last line in the book with peace and surrender, just as Reverend Ames did for his son. I’ll pray, and then I’ll sleep.

My friends (who I have linked below) have said it a lot, but I will say it here, too: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson is beautiful. There is no other word that can be used to really describe it.

There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient. (p. 287)

Rating:

Required Reading: April

Other reviews:
Book Rhapsody
marginalia
It’s a Wonderful Book World

The Comeback Kiss

The Comeback KissThe Comeback Kiss by Lani Diane Rich
Publisher: StoryWonk Publishing
Number of pages: 336
My copy: ebook

Sometimes love just won’t go away. — ALL IT TAKES IS ONE LITTLE KISS… — In order to keep custody of her teenage sister, Tessa Scuderi told a small (okay, big) lie to the people of Lucy’s Lake, Vermont, about what really happened ten years ago when Dermot Finnegan took off with her virginity, her car, and the town bell. It had been working, too, until she found her old car parked in front of her house, keys in the ignition, and a telltale red hair stuck to the headrest.

TO TOTALLY SCREW EVERYTHING UP.

All Finn wanted to do was return the stupid car and get going. But he stopped to save a burning pet shop (big mistake), ended up kissing Tessa behind the drugstore (big mistake, but worth it), and discovered that Tessa’s been building him up as some kind of town hero all these years (gonna have to puzzle that out). Now Finn has to find out who’s behind a string of mysterious fires and deal with the heat between him and Tessa. Hey, one more kiss can’t hurt — or can it?

* * *

I discovered Lani Diane Rich back around 2008, when I was searching for writers who published their NaNoWriMo novels. I managed to get copies of her books and loved it, but they were always so hard to find that I sort of gave up on completing her entire backlist. I have very fond memories of reading The Fortune Quilt, and wishing that I could write something so funny and still so real like that. So now that I am actually in a romance writing class (long story, will talk about it next time), I decided to stock up on books in the genre. I stumbled into Lani Diane Rich again, and was very happy to finally get another one of her books.

Tessa Scuderi knew it’s wrong to lie, but if it’s a lie that would make her keep custody of her younger sister, then she would stick by it. Especially when it also means that she would forget about her best friend and first love, Dermot Finnegan, who had left with her car, her virginity and the town bell after their last escapade. But when she finds her old car parked in front of her house, Tessa realizes that Finn is back, and her life is turned upside down again.

Reading The Comeback Kiss reminds me of my reading experiences with Sarah Addison Allen and Kristan Higgins. There’s the small town charm with lots of really fun secondary characters, just like Sarah Addison Allen’s novels, and then there’s the laugh-out-loud scenes and swoony romance of a Kristan Higgins novel. The Comeback Kiss is a fun read, and it’s comforting because it’s fluffy, but not too fluffy that it’s almost just brain candy. This isn’t just another romance novel, but it had real emotions, and real complications of past choices and repercussions of the characters’ actions.

I think the best part of this book is how Finn and Tessa were portrayed, especially with their friendship. Their love story is one that is borne out of years of friendship, and it made sense how they both knew each other so well that they were not just lovers (complicated lovers, but still) but also best friends. One of my favorite passages in the book describes just that:

…Finn yelled, “I gots Tootsie Rolls!” from the sidewalk where he stood watching. Tessa froze in her spot, staring at him, transfixed…The next day, Finn stole a bag of Tootsie Rolls from the corner market and went to Tessa’s house, where he found out that she was four years old and that her favorite color was yellow. They’d been friends ever since.

The friendship angle gives their relationship more credibility, and it was fun reading their interactions and how Finn saw himself and how Tessa saw Finn and how he saw her. Ah, it had just the right amount of mush, and it was realistic enough to know that love isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, even if you know each other very well.

While there’s nothing really completely new with the story as far as the romance goes, I think The Comeback Kiss is still a completely enjoyable book. It put me in the proper writing/outlining state of mind when I finished reading it, enough to submit one assignment for my romance writing class. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Trashionista

The Peach Keeper

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison AllenThe Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Number of pages: 320
My copy: UK paperback, birthday gift from Chachic

It’s the dubious distinction of thirty-year-old Willa Jackson to hail from a fine old Southern family of means that met with financial ruin generations ago. The Blue Ridge Madam—built by Willa’s great-great-grandfather and once the finest home in Walls of Water, North Carolina—has stood for years as a monument to misfortune and scandal. Willa has lately learned that an old classmate—socialite Paxton Osgood—has restored the house to its former glory, with plans to turn it into a top-flight inn. But when a skeleton is found buried beneath the property’s lone peach tree, long-kept secrets come to light, accompanied by a spate of strange occurrences throughout the town. Thrust together in an unlikely friendship, united by a full-blooded mystery, Willa and Paxton must confront the passions and betrayals that once bound their families—and uncover the truths that have transcended time to touch the hearts of the living.

* * *

Just recently, some girl friends from the book club and I started having our own girls’ night out. They’re usually just dinner and some drinks, and a night of girl talk, which isn’t really different when we’re with the other boys except that we get to talk about the boys sometimes because none of them are there when we’re on a night out. :P Anyway, it’s becoming one of those sort of impromptu things that I’m really starting to like, because a girl must always have time for her girl friends, right?

I remember that I actually finished reading Sarah Addison Allen’s The Peach Keeper on the afternoon before our first girls’ night out last month. I find it quite fitting because The Peach Keeper is a story of two women who were friends from years ago and were fiercely loyal to each other, and their granddaughters who are not friends, but are drawn together because of a certain house history. There’s romance, mystery and magic realism that makes SAA’s fourth book just like her old ones, but also a little different, in a good way.

I’ve read mixed reviews about this book, so I wasn’t really sure if I was going to like it as much as I liked Garden Spells or The Sugar Queen. There’s still that comfort-read feel in this Sarah Addison Allen book, and the magic realism, as I mentioned, but the mystery is an entirely new thing. I felt that there was more going on in this book, so it took me a while to read it but then I fell in love with the characters and their stories soon after.

My favorite part of this book would have to be Paxton and Willa’s “unlikely” friendship. I liked how each of them was described, with their own problems and faults, and how they ended up being on each other’s side. I liked how this developed, how they weren’t friends before even if they knew each other from way back and then they all became important in each other’s lives later on. There’s something about a well-written friendship that really gets to me, and I am reminded of the friendships that I have made now.

I find that I actually liked The Peach Keeper as much as I liked The Sugar Queen, which was my second favorite SAA book. I think I read it at the right time, just as I met (and had quite an adventure) with some of my favorite girls. It left me wanting to share this book to all my girl friends, and more than excited to build and keep my friendship with them. :) The author said it quite well:

Because we’re connected, as women. It’s like a spiderweb. If one part of that web vibrates, if there’s trouble, we all know it. But most of the time, we’re just too scared or selfish or insecure to help. But if we don’t help each other, who will?

I feel a little sad that I have no more SAA books to read after this, but count me as one of her fans now. I will definitely read anything else she comes up with. :)

Rating:

Required Reading: March

Other reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook
Angieville
Jinky is Reading

 

Ghostwritten

GhostwrittenGhostwritten by David Mitchell
Publisher: Vintage
Number of pages: 426
My copy: paperback, bought from Manila International Book Fair

David Mitchell’s electrifying debut novel takes readers on a mesmerizing trek across a world of human experience through a series of ingeniously linked narratives.

Oblivious to the bizarre ways in which their lives intersect, nine characters-a terrorist in Okinawa, a record-shop clerk in Tokyo, a money-laundering British financier in Hong Kong, an old woman running a tea shack in China, a transmigrating “noncorpum” entity seeking a human host in Mongolia, a gallery-attendant-cum-art-thief in Petersburg, a drummer in London, a female physicist in Ireland, and a radio deejay in New York-hurtle toward a shared destiny of astonishing impact. Like the book’s one non-human narrator, Mitchell latches onto his host characters and invades their lives with parasitic precision, making Ghostwritten a sprawling and brilliant literary relief map of the modern world.

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This is a very, very, very late review, and I am sorry. What was I doing the past months? I don’t know, except that I was busy,and I was reading and not reviewing.

But let’s not get to to that.

When I finished reading my first David Mitchell book, Cloud Atlas, one of the many things I felt after reading that was: I’m so happy that he has other books I haven’t read yet. It’s a bit rare for me to find an author whose back list I would gladly read, all of which were praised by my friends. I was really excited to get back into David Mitchell’s writing when I picked up Ghostwritten earlier this year.

Ghostwritten, much like Cloud Atlas (but also not quite) is a collection of short stories of different, seemingly unconnected people from different parts of the world. There’s a terrorist in Okinawa, a young, half-Filipino record shop clerk in Tokyo, an British financier in Hong Kong, a woman running a tea shack in the mountains of China, a gallery attendant moonlighting as an art thief, a drummer, a physicist in Europe, a radio DJ in New York and even a strange little entity that jumps from one person to another in Mongolia. They all have their own stories, vastly different from one another…and yet, they’re all somehow connected — only in the way Mitchell can weave tales.

It took me a while to finish this, not because it wasn’t good, but I was reading this alongside Les MiserablesThis wasn’t the kind of book that I wanted to rush through because I wanted to see all the connections that I can possibly can in the stories. There’s no fancy story format in this, unlike Cloud Atlas, but there’s the smooth transition from each character’s story. Okay, maybe it’s not that smooth, but the voices were so distinct, that sometimes it feels like it wasn’t just one writer writing all of them.

Thinking about this book now reminds me of this line I heard from watching researcher storyteller Brené Brown’s TED talks in the past days — how stories are data with souls. In Ghostwrittenwe have several stories that span across the globe, with different characters and different settings, and Mitchell connects them with a slight phone call, an accidental crash in the road, or even just in passing. It’s interesting how these connections somehow changed the life of each character, in good ways and in bad ways. I liked how the author put it with this line: “The human world is made of stories, not people. The people the stories use to tell themselves are not to be blamed.” Just like in Cloud Atlas, this book reminded me of how our actions can affect one another, and how each encounter with someone can alter our lives in ways we cannot even imagine.

Another note on the book — I read Cloud Atlas with a bunch of people from the book club, and somehow it left me with a notion that reading Mitchell’s books should be a shared experience with other readers. I didn’t have buddies to read Ghostwritten with, but I stalked my friends’ buddy reads thread in our Goodreads Group for the book every time I finished a story, because I wanted to see if I missed anything. It’s not as fun as actually having buddies, but it was quite helpful to note their observations as I read the book.

I think I like Cloud Atlas just a tad more than I did Ghostwritten, but it may just be because of the style of the former. But Ghostwritten is a very good book — to think it’s Mitchell’s debut. Color me amazed. :) Like with Cloud Atlas, I can’t wait to read Mitchell’s other books. But I’m going to pace myself because I kind of don’t want to run out of his books in my TBR too fast.

Rating:

Required Reading: January

Other reviews:
Book Rhapsody
marginalia

Happy Book Club Anniversary!

♥

I should be writing reviews, but I’m not, but since this is a bookish thing, anyway, I will write about it. :D

It’s our book club’s third anniversary today! Technically, our book club was born online in Goodreads around 2007, but it wasn’t really alive, until around 2009 or so, when people started posting. And then in 2010, they had their first meet-up.

I wasn’t there, but I was at the second meet-up. As I always say, that has been the best decision I have ever made in my life. I am thankful to the one who invited me, and everyone else who made staying in the group (and being a moderator) awesome. :) My reading life has been more colorful because of this group, and my life has been funnier because of these people. ♥

We have a lot of events lined up for this month, so if you’re a Filipino on Goodreads and you’ve been looking for a book club to join — we are right here! If you’re a lurker, then this is the best time to unlurk! :) Come and join the fun (and the clinginess)!

Happy 3rd anniversary, Goodreads – The Filipino Group!