What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond CarverWhat We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
Publisher: Vintage
Number of pages: 159
My copy: paperback borrowed from Angus

This powerful collection of stories, set in the mid-West among the lonely men and women who drink, fish and play cards to ease the passing of time, was the first by Raymond Carver to be published in the UK. With its spare, colloquial narration and razor-sharp sense of how people really communicate, the collection was to become one of the most influential literary works of the 1980s.

* * *

I attended the wedding of my brother’s best friend last week. I like weddings. It may be something that runs in the family since my brother is a wedding videographer. But I really, really like attending weddings, because it’s such a happy, happy day. Plus, I really like hearing wedding vows.

Anyway, my wedding weekend read is Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, which I borrowed from Angus when I got the chance to check out his bookshelf. This is my first Carver, and the first time I have heard about him also because of Angus’ rave review. This is a collection of short stories about people who talk about, well, love. I figure it may be a fitting book to bring since it’s a wedding and all. What do people talk about when they talk about love in weddings?

Before I go to the proper review, let me tell you what people talk about when they talk about love in a wedding. Weddings are happy, happy days, not only for the couple but also for everyone who came to celebrate with them. It’s funny, though, how people often look forward to the wedding and see it as a “happily ever after”, when it is really just the start of something new. The priest gave this lovely homily during my brother’s best friend’s wedding that had all of us laughing and me thinking really hard. He talked about good memories and bad memories, and how ten, twenty years down the road, the couple will lose a lot of things: their youth, their health, their money. And when people lose these things, when life gets difficult, sometimes it’s harder to hold on and remember your commitment. And then he reminds them that they’re not the boss of each other, and getting married in the church – in front of God and in front of the people – is their promise of giving up the right to give up on each other, no matter how hard life gets. Then they said their vows, and…it was so real and so beautiful.

Then, I spent time with my parents over the weekend, and I took the time to observe how they treat and interact with each other. My parents have been married for 30+ years, and sometimes I think I take that for granted. That weekend, I saw how they act around each other, and I realized how their love is that quiet, enduring love that I also want for myself. There are some things that my mom would say or do that, if I were my dad, would rub me the wrong way and I would say something back in defiance…but my dad does nothing. Instead, he smiles, and just takes it and does something. My dad would do something, or say something that, if I were my mom, would feel like it lacks emotion or affection, but I see that my mom doesn’t see that. I see how they’re around each other and how they support each other and how they love us so much, and my heart just swells because I see a glimpse of what the priest said, and I see what kind of love I want, and the one that I wish I would be able to give, too. Imperfect, yet strong and enduring.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love isn’t too romantic — in fact, sometimes I think it’s not romantic at all. It’s not like the romance books I usually read, with fluff and cheese and swoon and kilig that makes them so fun to read. No, Carver’s collection of short stories about love is about love in many forms, but it dealt with love after all the kilig and swoon and cheese and fluff are gone. Most of the stories are melancholic in its nature, and for a moment, it didn’t seem like the right thing to read on a wedding weekend. But it seems perfect, too, because this book somehow set my thoughts straight — or at least, gave me a different perspective, after the reception is over and the wedding fuzzies have started to fade.

Most of the stories in this collection are stories of lonely people, or people seeing lonely people, or people talking about old experiences of loneliness that is related to love. The realness in these stories is what got to me: this is what could happen, days, months or years after the wedding day. These stories can happen, but it doesn’t mean that it is the only ending. Love doesn’t mean mistakes won’t happen, or your loved ones will always be healthy or you will never fight. It’s a little bit more complicated than that. The stories were short and the writing was simple, and sometimes I get surprised when a story is over and I wasn’t exactly sure what it was supposed to tell me. But as I read on, I realize that these stories are fragments of love in its everyday form, during the hard parts, and also, in some of the happy parts, too.

I liked most of the stories, but three stories stood out: After the Denim (“He’d tell them what to expect! He’d set those floozies straight! He’d tell them what was waiting for you after the denim and the earrings, after touching each other and cheating at games.“), Everything Stuck to Him (“Things change. I don’t know how they do. But they do without realizing it or wanting them to […] he stays by the window, remembering. They had laughed. They had leaned on each other and laughed until the tears had come, while everything else – the cold, and where he’d go in it – was outside, for a while anyway.“) and the title story, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (“I’m telling you, the man’s heart was breaking because he couldn’t turn his goddamn head and see his goddamn wife.“). When I was done, I found myself rereading parts of some of my favorite stories (especially the last one), and then sitting down at home and thinking about love.

Because really, what do people talk about when they talk about love? My friends and I do this a lot, and while we all have these ideas and dreams and everything, I don’t think we will ever grasp what love really is about. The best we can do, I think, is try.

Let’s have a toast. I want to propose a toast. A toast to love. To true love. (p.141)

This is my first Carver, and I don’t think this will be my last. :)

Rating:

Required Reading: May

Other reviews:
Book Rhapsody

 

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Number of pages: 846
My copy: paperback, Christmas gift from Aaron

At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England’s history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England—until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight.

Soon, another practicing magician comes forth: the young, handsome, and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell’s student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear.

* * *

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke is one of those books that passed by my radar, and I briefly considered reading it because I knew some people liked it…until I saw its length. Then I walked away, thinking that this is probably one of those books that I will not read anytime soon, and I would be quite content not to read it within my lifetime since it’s too thick, and I’m not exactly a huge fantasy reader anyway.

But you know what’s the most effective way for me to read a book that I never thought I’d be reading ever? Peer pressure. Or, give it to me as a gift. That is exactly what my friend Aaron did last Christmas, and I always make it a point to read the books gifted to me. The good thing is, he also gave a copy of this book to other friends in the book club, so we formed a little reading group for this last April to get us through this chunkster together.

It’s not that I was really intimidated by it. After all, I finished the tome that is Les Misérables. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is like, 700 pages less than Victor Hugo’s book. This should be easy.

It’s the 19th century, and magic has been long dead in England. Or so people thought, until an English gentleman named Gilbert Norrell showed everyone that magic is not dead. He becomes the only magician in England for a moment, helping the English government win in the Napoleonic wars, and maybe raising a certain dead woman on the side, too. Then another magician comes – young Jonathan Strange, who becomes Mr. Norrell’s apprentice. But the two of them are as different as night and day: while Norrell relies on books and follows magic to the letter, Strange likes to play with it, try new things and maybe even find a way to summon the Raven King just to learn more about magic. Clashing personalities, fairies, prophecies, war and a ton of footnotes follow these two magicians,

I finished reading this book in 34 days, 4 days late than the supposed reading schedule. I figure I would have finished this earlier if my April wasn’t so busy, because Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is quite engaging. The old English language wasn’t so hard to understand, and we get treated to interesting characters and situations from the start. I honestly had no idea what the book was about when I started reading it except that it was about these two people on the title, and for a moment I thought Strange was Mr. Norrell’s biographer. Heh. The book isn’t just about magic, though, or just the two gentlemen. If it was, then it would’ve been far shorter, yes? This is part historical (or alternate history, rather), so I found myself in a lot of war scenes in the book that were far more interesting than the ones I read in Les Misérables. Case in point: I slogged through the Waterloo part of Les Mis but breezed through the one here, because of Jonathan Strange. It is true: magic makes things more interesting. ;)

Another thing that I can’t not mention about this book is the footnotes, and the sheer amount of them. I don’t mind footnotes — in fact, I find them quite fun when I encounter them in books. Granted, they were distracting, especially when they span pages and pages in the book, just like how it was in this book. Theyr’e not really important, but as some of my buddies said, it provided a richer reading experience of Strange and Norrell’s story.

I enjoyed reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, I really did. Perhaps my only gripe in this book is how it really dragged at some point. It wasn’t exactly boring — not as boring as say, that chapter on Parisian slang in Les Mis, or the part about the sewer — but man did they drag. The second volume was interesting, but it took a really long time before some things really started happening. I suppose, like Les Mis, it adds more texture to the story, but it can get pretty tiresome after some time. Let’s get moving, please.

I have to hand it to the author, though, because when things started happening, they really started happening. Then I find that I can hardly put it down. While I wouldn’t exactly describe the last part unputdownable, the action made me want to just keep reading because I need to know how it ends. I liked how the ending wrapped up a lot of the loose ends in the first parts, but not without leaving a few more to leave the readers longing a little. Getting to the end was slightly bittersweet because I spent a lot of time in their world, and also just because of that ending.

So while there were some dragging parts, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was quite enjoyable, even for someone who was peer pressured to read it. ;) It’s a happy kind of peer pressure, though! And yeah, add me to the list of people who’s excited to see its BBC adaptation. I’m quite excited to see how they’d show the magic on the screen…and that man with thistle-down hair. :)

Rating:

Required Reading: April

Other reviews:
marginalia

 

84, Charing Cross Road

84, Charing Cross Road84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Publisher: Penguin Books
Number of pages: 97
My copy: borrowed paperback, TFG’s traveling book

It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. As Helene’s sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm and charming long-distance friendship lasting many years.

* * *

Here’s a little fact: I love snail mail. I love letters, specifically. I think it started when our third grade teacher taught us about letter writing, and we had to pick pen pals within the class. I loved getting letters in the mail, but since my classmates and I live close to each other, it’s not really that practical to be pen pals with them. When I was in sixth grade, though, my best friend from elementary school moved to the United States. We didn’t have much contact when she left, until I happened to get her mailing address from a common friend and I sent her my first snail mail letter. This had us sending letters back and forth for the next two years, until email came and we switched to that.

Reading 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff is almost like a trip back to memory lane on those days when I would spend so much time writing letters to my best friend who lived in the other side of the world. This thin volume is a collection of letters from Helene Hanff, a screenwriter in New York search of second hand books to a bookstore in 84, Charing Cross Road in London. This sparked the friendship between Helene and the staff of the bookstore, one that consisted of letters, books and gifts and spanned for decades.

84, Charing Cross Road is a little gem of a book for book lovers, and it’s most appropriate that the copy I read is a shared copy from our book club. We call it our own traveling book, and it’s gone through several readers before it landed in my hands. It’s a quick and funny read, and I finished it in a few hours — smiling, laughing, and then sighing at the end. Helene’s letters were witty and sarcastic most of the time, and Frank Doel of the book shop were always formal and proper, yet still filled with warmth. Pretty soon, the rest of the staff were writing letters to Helene, too. I find myself checking the dates in the letters every now and then, and I can’t imagine the time that pass before the letters get to the recipients. My own mail takes two to three weeks before it arrives, but some of them span months in the book. I guess it meant that they were more patient back then, whereas I get so miffed sometimes when I don’t get a reply to my email or my text message within the day. But true friendship transcends time and distance, right?

This book is very reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, with the letters shared between book lovers. I love that 84, Charing Cross Road has that same warmth I got from the other book, even if the ending was slightly different. But I liked the latter more because it’s a true story. I think that’s the reason why I added one more star in my rating — there’s something about knowing how all of this is real that makes it even more charming. It’s too bad that the actual bookstore doesn’t exist anymore, but I would love to see where the building stood and imagine what the people inside were doing, and how excited they were every time they received Helene’s letters and packages. And maybe, even do what Helene asked her friend to do:

If you happen to pass by 84 Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me? I owe it so much.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll stock up on my stationery so I can go write some letters again. Anyone want one? :)

Rating:

Required Reading: May

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

Minis: YA Contemporaries

Time to catch up on some reviews! I’ve read some of these books months ago, but I never got around to reviewing them around that time. Here we go! :D

Amelia O'Donohue is So Not a Virgin
Amelia O’Donohue is So Not a Virgin by Helen Fitzgerald
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Number of pages: 217

 

At this boarding school, even the wildest rumors don’t measure up to what’s really going on…

Rachel Ross is asthmatic and “more bottled up than ketchup,” but that’s fine. Nothing will prevent her from graduating at the top of her exclusive new boarding school and getting into Oxford.

Rachel refuses to be distracted by the present until she uncovers a shocking secret on campus. She realizes that someone is in desperate need of help and that she actually has something to share-and more friends than she knew.

With an utterly original, hilarious, and honest voice, Amelia O’Donohue delivers a sexy new boarding school tale with true heart-and a surprise ending you won’t forget.

* * *

This book had me at “asthma”. Being an asthmatic myself, I like reading about characters who deal with the same thing. Amelia O’Donohue Is So Not a Virgin sounds like a fun book from the title alone. Rachel Ross (sidenote: Friends reference, anyone? :D) is uptight…but that’s okay, because her parents finally allowed her to go to the boarding school she wanted, so she can go to Oxford. She works hard to be the best in class, until she discovers a secret that could totally change the life of someone in school…if only she can figure out who it is.

Did I say fun? Oh yes, it was, and I found myself smiling at several parts of the book. I realized, though, that Rachel is really uptight, and sometimes it gets tiring to be in her place. Loosen up a little, girl! I found myself getting annoyed at her for not even trying to reach out…until the mystery is uncovered. When the secret was revealed, I had a teeny tiny suspicion about who owned that secret, but I wasn’t sure. I mean, there were no clues! Until I got to the end, and I had to flip through some of the previous parts to look for proof. Talk about mind games, Helen Fitzgerald. Well played.

Amelia O’Donohue is So Not a Virgin is a fun and smart book that talks about friends and family and a lot of mystery that can only happen in a boarding school. It’s a quick escape, and I enjoyed reading it. Oh, and this is not about Amelia O’Donohue. ;)

Rating:

The Treasure Map of Boys by E. LockhartThe Treasure Map of Boys by E. Lockhart
Ruby Oliver # 3
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Number of pages: 244
My copy: paperback, bought from Fully Booked

Ruby is back at Tate Prep, and it’s her thirty-seventh week in the state of Noboyfriend. Her panic attacks are bad, her love life is even worse, and what’s more:

·        Noel is writing her notes,
·        Jackson is giving her frogs,
·        Gideon is helping her cook,
·        and Finn is making her brownies.
·        Rumors are flying, and Ruby’s already sucky reputation is heading downhill.

Not only that, she’s also:

·        running a bake sale,
·        learning the secrets of heavy metal therapy,
·        encountering some seriously smelly feet,
·        defending the rights of pygmy goats,
·        and bodyguarding Noel from unwanted advances.

Ruby struggles to secure some sort of mental health, to understand what constitutes a real friendship, and—if such a thing exists—to find true love.

* * *

I liked the first two Ruby Oliver books I read, and I wasn’t planning to buy The Treasure Map of Boys, until one day I was left waiting somewhere without a book. So I finally got this so I would know what happened to Ruby and her state of Noboyfriend. In this book, Ruby seems like she’s back to square one, but this time there’s Noel. And Hutch. And Jackson again. And there’s lots of baking, and Nora and friendship that may or may not be ruined because of boys.

Oh poor Ruby. It was nice going back into the Tate Prep world, but I really, really want Ruby to have her happy ending. But I’m not even sure if her happy ending should involve a boy, because I think she should find a way to be happy by herself first before going out of the state of Noboyfriend. Not that I personally know, of course, but I wanted to give Ruby a hug every time she gets a nervous breakdown in this book! She becomes a bit more mature here, but even so there were wise and stupid decisions made. In a way, I think there’s a little Ruby Oliver in all of us.

As always, I liked how real Ruby’s voice was here, and funnily enough, her thoughts are not just thoughts of teenage girls but also sometimes, thoughts of someone who’s way past that age. Ehem. :p I loved the other characters, too, especially Ruby’s friends. I didn’t like how she treated some of them…but high school, oh high school. The pettiness makes me cringe, but I can’t say I didn’t go through the same incidents  Oh, Ruby, you are not alone! I’m looking forward to reading the last book in the series, and I really, really hope that she gets the ending she really and truly deserves.

Rating:

Amplified by Tara KellyAmplified by Tara Kelly
Amplified # 1
Publisher: Henry, Holt and Co
Number of pages: 293
My copy: hardbound, gift from Celina

When privileged 17-year-old Jasmine gets kicked out of her house, she takes what is left of her savings and flees to Santa Cruz to pursue her dream of becoming a musician. Jasmine finds the ideal room in an oceanfront house, but she needs to convince the three guys living there that she’s the perfect roommate and lead guitarist for their band, C-Side. Too bad she has major stage fright and the cute bassist doesn’t think a spoiled girl from over the hill can hack it. . .

* * *

I like music, but I can hardly play any instrument or even really sing (except in karaoke sessions), but for some reason, I love books about music. Or books with characters who are in a band. I don’t know why — perhaps it’s because I secretly dreamed of being in a band? Or is it because one of my dream jobs is to become a band’s manager? But I love reading books with them, so I’ve been wanting Amplified by Tara Kelly for a while now. Thanks to Celina for giving me a copy!

Amplified is about 17-year old Jasmine Kiss, who was kicked out of her home after saying she wanted to defer college so she can become a musician. She goes to Santa Cruz to find a place to stay and stumbles upon C-Side, an industrial rock band looking for a new guitarist ASAP and offering a room to rent, as well. Jasmine tries out, even if the band wants a male guitarist, and she has no idea what she will do with her stage fright when they told her they need the new guitarist for an upcoming show.

Just like the other books with a band that I have read, Amplified is full of rocking fun. I liked Jasmine, even if she was a little too uptight. She stuck to what she believed in, and she was so out of her comfort zone in her new place that I almost wished she’d give up and go back home because some of the things they tell her were painful. I also liked the other band members, especially Veta and Felix, who were both darlings. The romance was also well-developed, and there was good enough tension and slow enough development that made it believable — and Sean very crushable. ;) I liked their band dynamic, although I wished I could’ve seen a bit more of what makes the other characters tick — like more conversations between them, instead of just Bryn being almost as uptight as Jasmine or you know, having too many band practices.

But overall, Amplified is a novel full of rocking band fun and music. I still wish I could hear some of the songs they sing, though, just for the fuller experience of reading something like this. The author is writing a companion novel for Amplified entitled Encore. Sign me up, please — I want more of C-Side!

Rating:

Unseen Moon

Unseen Moon by Eliza VictoriaUnseen Moon by Eliza Victoria
Publisher: Independent/Print-on-demand
Number of pages: 220
My copy: ebook review copy from the author

Ghosts in a mansion. A home invasion. A group of friends haunted by a murder. An unlikely friendship, a dead body in an abandoned house. A girl falling to her death, and another falling into the viewless darkness.

Unseen Moon collects five suspenseful stories by award-winning author Eliza Victoria.

* * *

When Eliza Victoria sent me an email about sending a review copy of her newest book, I couldn’t say no. Note that I’m not really a fan of dark fiction, or horror or suspense, but this is Eliza, guys. I read her stuff and liked it, even if they’re not the usual things I go for. I’m not really one for scaring myself, but I make certain exceptions especially when the author just writes really, really well.

Unseen Moon is Eliza’s newest collection that contains several of her short stories, most of them never been published in print. They’re part horror, lots of crime and suspense…and well, lots of dead bodies. Like her other works, the stories are well-written and I think they are exactly what she intended them to be — dark. Sometimes, a bit too bloody. But definitely dark. Here’s a mini-review of each of the stories, and my rating for them.

Needle Rain (3/5) – This is the story of Cleofe, Cedric, Brian and Emily, their friendship and the murder that happened in their town. For some reason, this story felt distinctly Filipino. The combination of the small town, hanging out with friends in the afternoon while eating, and the storms that raged in the story reminded me of my own younger years, where I would work on projects at home while a storm happened outside and it was only a matter of minutes before the house is plunged in darkness because the storm caused a power interruption. Of course, that’s the only thing that I related to in this story. :P Needle Rain comes off as a murder mystery story at first, and then it spirals into something else. I was quite prepared to be scared at first, but in the end I felt more sad. If only the characters were wiser, then it wouldn’t have turned out that way.

The Ghosts of Sinagtala (4/5) – This is a story of Ben and Emma, who inherited a mansion from their grandparents that had a dark history. Oh what a creepy, creepy story. Tricia was tweeting about this when she read it first, so I knew well enough to read this in broad daylight. And even then, I still got terribly creeped out. This is my favorite in the book, and I really liked the connection between the mansion’s past to Ben and Emma. This is the story that successfully made me not want to go out of my room at night to get a glass of water because I was afraid to find a little girl crying in the darkness. O_o

Summer Evening (2/5) – Twins Amarilis and Carlos were left behind by their older brother, Nathan, to his ex-girlfriend, Alicia, because he had a job to do. The twins hate Alicia, so when two guys entered their house to do something to her, they turned their backs. I wasn’t really a big fan of this because it felt too violent for me, and it kind of took me by surprise. That, and there was just something a little too disturbing with the characters — perhaps I just refused to believe that they are capable of what they are doing in the story? It’s still well-written, though, and the ending kind of made me want to wring one of the characters’ necks, but this was one story that I kind of wanted to end quickly because the events made me just a bit queasy.

December (3/5) – Gabriel makes an unlikely friend in an orphan named December, who has her own issues with the people around her. A dead body in an abandoned mansion, a dead body in the lake and lots of music form the core of this story. This one sort of reminds me of Summer Evening, but it was less violent and a little more melancholic than the previous story. In some ways it was a little bit disturbing, but I was able to sympathize with the two main characters in the story more than I did for the previous story.

The Viewless Dark (4/5) – I read this back in October 2012 and I really liked it. I didn’t exactly reread all of it when I read this book again. I still read parts of it, though, and felt the same chill I had when I first read it, and felt the same attachment to the characters, both dead and alive. I think this is a good story to end this collection.

Overall, Unseen Moon is another good collection of Eliza’s stories. It’s not as scary as I expected (except for The Ghosts of Sinagtala – remembering several scenes still gives me the creeps), but it was really quite dark. This collection is a little bit more similar to Lower Myths than A Bottle of Storm Clouds, sans the paranormal aspect. If you want to get to know Eliza’s works but you’re not a huge fan of anything that is out of the normal world, then Unseen Moon might be the right Eliza book for you. If you’ve read Eliza’s other works and you want more, then you won’t want to miss this one. :)

The ebook edition of Unseen Moon is available via Smashwords right now (four stories only, since the ebook edition of The Viewless Dark is available via Flipreads), but if you’re a print person, you can pre-order a print copy of Unseen Moon until May 10 through Eliza’s blog. An excerpt of the stories is also posted in the same blog entry.

Rating: