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.

* * *

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

On Dead Stars and Romantic Afternoons

I had a draft of this post from last night early this morning, before my shift ended, but I decided to chuck it all because that was my end-of-night-shift self talking and that self is usually more talkative than my usual self (imagine that). Let’s start over.

I wasn’t supposed to moderate a discussion for this year, but being one of the head moderators/administrators, I was ready to pick a vacant month to moderate in case no one steps up. It came a little early, after a friend made a deal with me and told me she’ll handle our other activity if someone else moderates for this month. It just so happened that the previous days, I was chatting with another friend about several activities that we can do for the group, and I realized that maybe if I moderate again, I will be able to make those activities happen.

So when 2013 rolled around, I was actually already planning my discussion. It didn’t even matter what book won, because I was going for an easy read — an easy and romantic read, because my discussion was during February. I was all about embracing the inner romantic of course! :D

The “book” that won was actually a short story, Dead Stars by Paz Marquez-Benitez. My original book of choice was Fourteen Love Stories but I could’t find a copy of it anywhere. So I decided to just stick with that story, and it won, mostly because of familiarity as this was one of the stories discussed in Literature class for most of us.
f2f14b

We had the face to face discussion last Sunday. I honestly felt more prepared for this discussion than my first one, probably because I have been preparing for this for so long. Heh. Plus the fact that I had several sick days in February, and I ended up having a lot of time on my hands despite my busy schedule. I had several activities planned, and while I was very excited, I was also kind of wary. Will it fly? Will people like it? Or will they think it’s too corny/cheesy? Am I just doing everything for my own fulfillment?

Discussion time :D

Discussion time :D (Photo c/o Reev)

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Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Blackbury
Publisher: Blackstone Audiobooks
My copy: Unabridged Audiobook

Fahrenheit 451 is set in a grim alternate-future setting ruled by a tyrannical government in which firemen as we understand them no longer exist: Here, firemen don’t douse fires, they ignite them. And they do this specifically in homes that house the most evil of evils: books.

Books are illegal in Bradbury’s world, but books are not what his fictional — yet extremely plausible — government fears: They fear the knowledge one pulls from books. Through the government’s incessant preaching, the inhabitants of this place have come to loathe books and fear those who keep and attempt to read them. They see such people as eccentric, dangerous, and threatening to the tranquility of their state.

But one day a fireman named Montag meets a young girl who demonstrates to him the beauty of books, of knowledge, of conceiving and sharing ideas; she wakes him up, changing his life forever. When Montag’s previously held ideology comes crashing down around him, he is forced to reconsider the meaning of his existence and the part he plays. After Montag discovers that “all isn’t well with the world,” he sets out to make things right.

* * *

There were several times when my bookish friends and I would joke around about burning some books that we don’t like, especially that vampire series that just doesn’t seem to want to die (or well, I think other books are replacing it now?). It’s really all just a joke, because for the life of me, I can’t imagine myself burning a book, no matter how much I disliked/hated it. I remember this one time where I heard of a book being torn in front of some people in school — some hater getting at it at the face of the authors — and even if I didn’t witness it first hand, my heart hurt just a little bit at the thought of a book being damaged like that.

in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, doing such things to books are a commonplace. Books are illegal, and firemen go around hunting for books (and houses of books) to burn. Everyone’s focused on television and other seemingly mindless things, and anyone who thinks otherwise are considered dangerous. Guy Montag is a fireman, and he has lived with burning books, until he meets his neighbor, Clarisse. Clarisse makes him ask questions about his life — his wife, his job and all the question about books. He slowly realizes that maybe his life wasn’t really what he wanted it to be and sets out to do something about it.

It’s been a while since I read a dystopian book, so it took me a while to adjust to Fahrenheit 451‘s world. Since I was listening to this on audio, it took me an even longer time to really get into it. I liked the premise of the book, and as a book lover, Montag’s world felt depressing. I didn’t want that, and when I got to the chapter where Montag and his firemen buddies burned a house of books, I was wincing all the time. Ack. Perhaps there’s also something about the way Bradbury writes (and how the book was narrated) — the rhythm of his words felt almost hypnotic. I suppose it helped that I listened to the audiobook, because I thought the narrator had a very fitting voice for the story.

I liked Fahrenheit 451, and I think that it’s still quite relevant now. Bradbury wrote this book as a statement about how “…television destroys interest in reading literature,” and while that is still true, I think that there’s another competition that’s really taking everyone’s interest: internet. I mentioned during our book discussion how everyone’s so attached to being online now — myself included. I remember reading this story about the mom who gave his teenage son an iPhone for Christmas but with a contract, and this particular line in the contract got to me: Turn it off, silence it, put it away in public.  Especially in a restaurant, at the movies, or while speaking with another human being.  You are not a rude person; do not allow the iPhone to change that. (Source) I’m very guilty of this, and I’m trying to get rid of this habit, and I realized that our attachment to our smart phones and internet is another way for us to lose interest in reading. I mean, I haven’t lost interest yet, but how many times have I ended up playing with my phone, going online in all my social media accounts on the times I said I would be reading? How many times have I chosen tweeting over making an effort to make actual conversation? Those kinds of things. It’s a bit disconcerting to think about it, but I guess that’s the point of this book, anyway. It’s definitely something to think about.

I just wished there was more to Fahrenheit 451‘s ending. I wished there was more to know about the people who memorized books so no one would ever forget them, and that it didn’t simply feel like an afterthought to the story. The ending kind of reminded me of The Giver — a bit open-ended, but good enough to leave the reader asking some questions. Especially questions like, If I can only memorize one book and one book alone, which would I pick? I do not have an answer to that question. Do you?

Rating:

Required Reading: January

Other reviews:
Book Rhapsody
marginalia

A Very Bookish TFG Year

Last Saturday, our book club had our last face to face book discussion for 2012, as well as our Christmas party. It was another awesome event, and really, I never expected anything less because weekends with my book club friends were always the highlight of my month. I’ve always meant to post about every meet-up like this, but I never got to, obviously (save for one post on my personal blog). I figure the year-end is always a good way to make a recap, so here we go. :)

tfg logo

 

Oh but wait – look we have a new logo! Thanks to Angus for bugging his friend to make one for us. :) Isn’t it purty? :D

A little background: our book club started out as an online book club that discusses books online but meets offline. When I joined, we didn’t have any book discussions offline, because our meet-ups weren’t always too many. We had about 3 big meet-ups every year from 2010, and then during those meet-ups we just talk books and gave away books and stayed together till everyone needs to go home. Late in 2011, someone came up with the idea to have a 100 Favorite Books List, which birthed the idea of finally having face to face book discussions.

I honestly wasn’t sure if it would fly. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to go to the first one because I was a bit busy then, and I was going through some personal stuff. But because I was made a moderator by late 2011, I felt that I was obligated to join them for that, even if it was my real first time to join a discussion. But again, we weren’t really sure if we could sustain the momentum, because a monthly meeting almost felt too much, especially coming from the meeting every quarter (not counting the smaller random meet-ups we have). I didn’t want it to die down, but I wasn’t really expecting it to really, really grow into a big event every month, you know?

But boy, was I surprised. :-)

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Noli Me Tangere

Noli Me TangereNoli Me Tangere by Jose Rizal
Publisher: Bookmark
Number of pages: 601
My copy: paperback, Soledad Locsin-Lacson Translation, from FFP Book Swap

The Noli Me Tangere by Jose P. Rizal, national hero of the Philppines, is the novel with the greatest impact on Filipino political thinking in the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as the widest influence on contemporary fiction, drama, opera, dance and film. Its popularity was rooted in its relection of the times in which it was written, and has continued because of the characters Rizal created, set in situations that still ring true today.

Rizal finished the Noli in 1887, and published 2,000 copies in Berlin. Many thousands more have since circulated, in the original Spanish, and in translations into German, French, Chinese, English, Filipino, and other Philippine languages. The best known translations in English are those by Charles Derbyshire (1912) and Leon Ma. Guerrero (1961).

In this new translation, Soledad Lacson-Locsin, a bilingual writer, has restored the unpublished chapter about Elias and Salome, as well as the whole of the “Canto de Maria Clara,” wishing her translation to be a faithful rendition of the original.

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Noli Me Tangere is a revolutionary book by our national hero, Jose Rizal, and is said to spark the revolution against the Spanish rule in our country. This was areal required reading book for Filipino high school students so I was able to read this book for our Filipino class. Or at least, I was able to read a condensed version of this book, since our textbook back then contained summarized chapters with discussion questions (which we have to summarize yet again and answer). We were also required to watch movies related to the book (and the author), as well as watch a stage play and produce our own in high school. So I was really, pretty much saturated by this then that I felt that I had no reason to read it again.

I remember liking it very much in high school. A few years later, when I was getting serious with reading more local fiction, I realized that I haven’t read the full text of Noli MeTangere. Because I was ambitious like that, I said that I would read it in its entirety someday. I planned to read it last year but gave up after the first 100 or so pages. ^^; Then the opportunity came again when it became our book club’s book of the month for August, so I thought: this is it. I thought I would be able to read it easier now, given that I’ve been venturing out of my reading comfort zone lately.

Of course, I was wrong. I don’t know if I was just simply busy, but Noli Me Tangere proved to be a difficult read. It was easy for the first third or so, but I lagged so much after that I wasn’t sure if I could finish it. Then I got past 400 pages, and I realized that there were about 50+ pages of appendices that didn’t count in the total story, so it was just 150+ pages before the end. I powered through and finished 3am on the day of our discussion. Buzzer beater!

To cut the long story short: as a piece of fiction, I didn’t see Noli Me Tangere as a really good book. It had a lot of good moments, but half the time, it was kind of dragging. There were a lot of chapters where nothing really happened except the people were talking about what just happened in the previous chapter — gossiping characters, which is actually a very Filipino trait, but it felt like fodder in the story. The main characters were a little one-dimensional, and I wonder why I actually liked reading about Crisostomo Ibarra back then when he can be so…boring. Maria Clara was far from the strong female character that I liked reading in my books, and in fact, I liked her best friend, Sinang, more. There was some kind of hope in Padre Damaso, who showed a bit more depth in his character, but it wasn’t until the very end.

Saying these makes me feel like I’m a bad Filipino, eep. :| But it’s not that it’s a bad book — Rizal is a talented writer and I liked several parts of the book for its descriptive but not purple writing. I really ended up still liking the book in the end, despite the struggle. Maybe I was just really busy for August that’s why it was hard to read? But I figure there may be two other reasons for this: first is that even if I first heard of the story 11 years ago, it was still too close to my schooling years that reading it again still felt too academic and I can’t get out of that mindset. Another is that…perhaps it’s just not really my kind of book just yet.

I really, really appreciate the effort behind producing this book, as well as how it was instrumental to major events in my country’s history. I wanted to give this book 3 stars, but I felt like I owe this book something because of what it sparked for my country’s freedom. I am gratefu for that, and it makes the difficulty of reading this book easier to forgive compared to the other difficult books I’ve read. Overall, it’s okay, and I honor Jose Rizal for it. I’m glad that I have finally read Noli Me Tangere and I will read the full text of its sequel someday (not sure how soon, but someday!). But I totally understand now why we were given a condensed version back in high school. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Book Rhapsody
Bookmarked!