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.

* * *

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)


Required Reading: April

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

Life of Pi

Life of Pi by Yann Martel Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Publisher: Walker
Number of pages: 352
My copy: Paperback, bought from National Bookstore

Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, it is my pleasure and honour to present to you:


Take one sixteen-year-old boy and cast him away at sea in a lifeboat with a large (and seasick) Royal Bengal tiger. Imagine the scene 227 days later.

Now read Life of Pi and change your imagination.

* * *

I’ve had Life of Pi by Yann Martel on my radar since my senior year in college, but I never got it because I couldn’t really afford it on my allowance back then. Later, much later, there were many, many times I could have bought it but I prioritized other books so I didn’t get it even then. One time, during a book club meet-up, some friends were talking about this book so I asked them if they think it was something I would like. I remember someone telling me that I might be bored with it, so I decided to just borrow instead of buy. But alas, I never got to borrow it even after. It still wasn’t in my priority list, up until late last year, when my friends were talking about the books that will soon become movies. I figured, since I was starting to explore outside of the genres I usually read, that maybe it’s finally time to read it.

That, and there was the tiger.


My laptop’s wallpaper after watching Life of Pi. :)

I love tigers. Tigers are some of my favorite animals. If I could own a tiger for a pet, I would do that in a heartbeat. Tiger photos are an automatic reblog in my Tumblr, and I swear, I could stare at them for hours on end. So a big part of my wanting to read and watch Life of Piwas because of the tiger in the story.

Piscine Molitor Patel — Pi, for short — is a teenage boy whose family owned a zoo in Pondicherry, India. Pi has lived an interesting life, one that made the author seek him out so he can write his book, intrigued by the idea that Pi’s story can make him believe in God. Life of Piis really, well, Pi’s life, as he grew up surrounded by animals, his quest for (three) religions, growing with his belief and of course, his 227-days in the middle of the ocean after the ship carrying them to Canada sunk, leaving him on a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book, which probably helped me appreciate it. I just knew about the shipwreck and the tiger, but I didn’t know what was supposed to happen around it. I liked Pi’s voice, his boyishness that was slightly tinged with pain of recollection, since the story was being told from the point of view of the older Pi. I liked the lush atmosphere of Pi’s life in the zoo, and all the animal behavior lessons that he shared. It reminded me a bit of all the animal lessons in Animorphs by K.A. Applegate, my favorite scifi series growing up. This made me want to go visit a zoo and observe the animals for myself.

I also really liked Pi’s journey into religion. Or religions, rather. I think this is a part that people either really get or don’t get in the book. I don’t claim to get it all completely, but I appreciated Pi’s attempts to find God, even if it meant going to the other religions. It was more of a spiritual journey rather than religious, really, and there were several things that he learned from all three religions that I felt applied to life in general. I liked how Pi learned about God willingly, and I am pretty sure his earlier spiritual journey helped him in his predicament later on.

I realized while watching the movie that being stuck in the middle of the ocean with no sign of help or no land is now my worst nightmare. When I am island hopping on vacations, I am always the one wearing a life vest, because I am not the strongest swimmer. In the book, I cannot envision how the ocean can be merciless because I kept on thinking of it as a calm ocean since they were in the Pacific, right? Then I watched the movie and oh my Lord, I never want to be in that situation ever. Especially with a bengal tiger, even if I love that animal.

I found Pi’s adventures in the middle of the ocean very interesting and I was really, really rooting for him to live. Or rather, I am really, really hoping Richard Parker the tiger would live in the end. I can just imagine the tiger in the story, and the visuals in the movie (even if the tiger is completely computer generated) helped me love Richard Parker more. Pi’s adventures in the ocean had the most meat in it, I think, and there were so many, many things that got me even if I wouldn’t even dare to be stuck in the middle of the ocean like him. Some of my favorite passages:

It begins in your mind, always. One moment, you are feeling calm, self-possessed, happy. Then fear, disguised in the garb of mild-mannered doubt, slips into your mind like a spy…
So you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.
(p. 161, 162)

Despair was a heavy blackness that let no light in or out. It was a hell beyond expression. I thank God it always passed…The blackness would stir and eventually go away, and God would remain, a shining point of light in my heart. I would go on loving. (p. 209)

It’s important in life to conclude things properly. Only then can you let go. Otherwise you are left with words you should have said but never did, and your heart is heavy with remorse. (p. 285)

The ending left me…reeling. A friend told me about the twist in the story, but I wanted to be surprised and boy was I surprised. I couldn’t wrap my head around it for a while, and I had my first case of a book hangover for the year, which was extended right after watching the movie.

I’m really glad I started the year with this one. Life of Piby Yann Martel is a beautiful book. It’s not often a book leaves me with a delicious hangover that leaves me thinking and talking about the book after I was done. While it didn’t exactly make me believe in God more than I already do, I think this is a book that speaks of hope and belief even in the most impossible situations. :)

I meant to rate this four stars, but I am giving one full star for Richard Parker the tiger. Just because. :3


Required Reading: January

Other reviews:
Code Name: Blue
It’s a Wonderful Book World
reading is the ultimate aphrodisiac

When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me by Rebecca SteadWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Publisher: Yearling
Number of pages: 208
My copy: paperback, bought from Fully Booked

Four mysterious letters change Miranda’s world forever.

By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:

I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

* * *

I’ve wanted to read When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead for the longest time but for some reason, I never got around to reading it. Or getting myself a copy. There was a time when I saw a hardcover copy of this book on sale, but I let it go thinking I could find it again and go back for it. But alas, it was gone. And so I was on the lookout for another sale copy of this it proved elusive, until I finally got a full-price, brand new copy using one of my Fully Booked gift certificates.

I’ve heard really good stuff about When You Reach Me and the thing is, it’s best not to be spoiled about the elements of the story. So I’ll try not to be spoilery! :) It’s 1979, and Miranda and her best friend Sal knew everything about their New York City neighborhood. She lived a pretty normal life, until Sal got punched on their way home for no reason. Miranda’s life starts to come undone at this point, and it doesn’t help that she received some strange letters from someone who needs her help. As the letters come, she realized that whoever wrote the letter knew many things about her, things that other people don’t and shouldn’t know. She wished she could just ignore them, but what if the notes are true, and only she can stop someone from dying?

I loved Miranda’s voice from the very start — she reminds me of those characters I loved reading as a child. She’s a kid, but she’s also very mature and I liked how she viewed the world and her family and the conversations she had with them. I liked how you know from the start that this isn’t a normal middle grade novel, and it wasn’t even before I really discovered the mystery in it. The fact that Miranda’s mom is joining a game show so they could win $20,000 is already a clue that this book is different, and I knew I would like this book even before I was halfway done.

There’s a sci-fi element in this book that built the mystery up, and I have to admit that it got me a bit confused at first. I was really constantly guessing about who sent the letters and I was kind of glad that my hunch wasn’t correct, because I was really surprised at how it all ended up. I liked the conversations of the characters of the book even if they’re not the type of things I talked about when I was their age.

This book also made me curious about A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, which I never read. I know, it seems like required reading for so many kids, but it skipped me! The only L’Engle book I read when I was younger was Meet the Austins, which is connected to the characters there, I think? Anyway, even if I never read the book, I liked how it was very anchored to that, and it gives for additional reading for kids (and adults) who end up really liking When You Reach Me.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and I think my sci-fi loving friends will appreciate this too. Oh, this is a giveaway, but if you liked the Japanese animated movie The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and the TV series Doctor Who, then I’m pretty sure you’d like this book too (and vice versa). :)


Required Reading: July

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger

Required Reading: July

Hello, July! Hello second half of the year! :)

I owe several reviews on this blog but I’m sort of pressed for time with work and other things recently, so reviewing has kind of taken a back seat. I figure a post should suffice now so you know I’m still alive, and I’m not off doing some funeral planning checklist or you know, not reading. I am, I’m just terribly slow! But right now I just happened to be caught in the rain and waiting for it to stop so I can go to work, so I had the time to squeeze in a quick blog entry. Then I remembered that I haven’t made a Required Reading post yet and it’s already the 3rd day of the new month. So here we go!

From the quite dismal reading month that is May, I had a pretty good reading month for June! And I’m particularly proud of this June accomplishment because the two books from my list aren’t exactly the easiest books to read. So yay, recap!

  • A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (4/5)
  • Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (5/5)
  • The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May and June by Robin Benway (3/5)

Plus, I managed to quit being lazy and interviewed Maria for my What I Read post. So even if I didn’t really have an active reviewing month, I think had a pretty good reading and blogging month. :)

Required Reading: July

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