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

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.

* * *

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

Required Reading 2013: February

As always, I owe this blog a couple of reviews, but it’s not that big of a backlog just yet so I will get to that before I traipse to another country next week. But look, it’s a brand new month, and suddenly it’s February! How can January go by so fast again?

I don’t mind. I find that I am actually starting to like February. When I was younger, I kind of didn’t like it because I swallow a bitter pill every February with all the love in the air. But then I realized I should stop being like that and you know, just bask in the love.

But that’s for a post on the personal blog. A new month means another time for Required Reading! Before I go with my February list, though, here’s a recap of January:

  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel (5/5) – I really, really liked this, and I really liked the movie, too. It was a great book to start the year, and I have collected a sizable amount of quotes from this book. Plus, Richard Parker is just …rawr. :3
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (3.5/5) – I normally don’t give half stars, but I’m sort of conflicted between a 3 to 4 for this book, so I will settle for a 3.5 for now. I liked the book a lot, but I realize I may not be totally amazed with it. We had a very great discussion about this, though, and it was a great start to our book club’s year. :)

I’m still reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (p. 1110 out of 1463 — almost done!!!), and Ghostwritten by David Mitchell, so I’m bumping them to February as spillovers. I would’ve just read them in another month but I already started, so let’s just continue reading.

Required reading - February

Now for February, I’ll be moderating our book club’s discussion for the month. It was our first moderator’s pick, and I realize that February will be quite a busy month, so I didn’t want to pick something thick or too challenging. So I went for the easiest pick (for me anyway): romance. Okay fine, it’s not like I’m expert with that genre, but I didn’t want anything too heavy so let’s go for those quick contemporary romance novellas, right? Interestingly, a short story won in the polls, so this month, we’re discussing Dead Stars by Paz Marquez Benitez.

Since it’s just a short story, I wanted to add a bit more challenge in the group, so I came up with a mini challenge — and of course, the theme is still romance. I was kind of surprised with how enthusiastic everyone was and now everyone’s recommending books and movies and TV shows to one another. Oh so much love in the air in our book club!

And so, if it’s not obvious yet, my theme for this month’s Required Reading is love. <3

Required Reading February books

  1. Fourteen Love Stories edited by Jose Dalisay Jr. and Angelo R. Lacuesta – I’ve been eying this book since I saw it on my friend’s shelves, and because it had Dead Stars in it. I wanted this to be our book for discussion, but I had a hard time looking for print copies, so I decided to just go for an ebook copy. It’s been a while since I read an anthology and this seems fitting this month. :)
  2. Every Day by David Levithan – I’ve heard so many good things about this one, so I’m excited about this. I haven’t read all of Levithan’s work, but I really liked The Lover’s Dictionary. We’re buddy-reading this in the club, and I’m really liking a lot of lines in this book.
  3. Boundless by Cynthia Hand – my good friend Kai lent me the ARC because she knows how much I’ve been waiting for this. Liked Unearthly, loved Hallowed, and I am really, really hoping that this book won’t break my heart too much.
  4. For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund – I kind of doubt that I’d have time to read this, but I figure I’d throw it in in case I find some time. This is a retelling of my favorite Jane Austen, Persuasion. :)

And again, there are the spillovers – LesMis and Ghostwritten. I have no idea how much I’ll finish this month, but I will try! :) Love, love, and more love, yes? :)

I hope you find lots of love in the books you read this month, too! If you’re participating in this challenge, leave a comment below so I can link you. :)

My friends put up reading lists, too!

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:

THE PI PATEL, INDO-CANADIAN, TRANS-PACIFIC, FLOATING CIRCUUUSSSSS!!!

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.

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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.

rylietiger

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

Rating:

Required Reading: January

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

Required Reading 2013: January

Aaaaand we’re back! It’s that time of the month were we pick books that we want to read for the rest of the days until the next month comes in. :) With that, I bring back my personal reading challenge, Required Reading. Yay!

Required Reading is a reading challenge that is really about getting some books off the Mt. TBR. Just as the name of the challenge meant, Required Reading is about choosing some books that must be read within the month. It doesn’t have to be the only books you read in a month, but they should be read (or at least, started) before the said month ends.

I had some rules on this last year that really applied to me, but in case other people want to join me, here are the rules:

  • Books chosen for the challenge should be in the current TBR pile as of the month of the Required Reading post. So if you decided to join at March, the books you choose for the month should be in your TBR pile as of February.
  • Galleys and ARCs can be included.
  • Posting reviews aren’t necessary (but don’t you want that out of the way, too?).
  • I’ll be posting a theme every month but you don’t have to follow that. You can choose a theme for yourself if you want to — what’s important is the books that you put there are books that you want to get to reading.
  • Lastly: have fun. If you don’t finish a book, it’s okay! If you finish it, then…feel free to reward yourself with something. Like a new book. :D

Feel free to join anytime, or skip months if you may. This is just a fun challenge, and nothing to be pressured about. Okay? Okay. :)

Required Reading: January

I feel like January is the best time to set reading goals and pick books to read, and I honestly had to resist the urge to pick the 52 books that I plan to read for the rest of the year and go do other things, like check the best selection of custom lapel pins. I felt like choosing them in advance since 52 feels like an easy number compared to say, 100, and I kind of like being OC about it. But since I also like winging it, I had to stop, and had to be content with choosing books for the first month.

I wasn’t so much in touch with the blogging world at the last part of the 2012, but I was in tune with what my friends in the book club are reading. So for January, I’ve decided to go for a Recommended Books from several friends for my list. I trust their tastes, so I’m hoping I would like these books too.

rrjanuary

  1. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – Recommended by my book club. This is our group’s book of the month. It’s going to be fiery discussion, yes?
  2. Life of Pi by Yann Martel – recommended by several friends in the club who liked it. Also reading this now to prepare for the movie. I’ve been wanting to read this one since college but I never got myself a copy. I’m honestly looking forward to getting to know the tiger.
  3. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo – You know, I wouldn’t have decided to read this if our book club did not put up a Support Group for this chunkster. I was checking the threads one day and I saw bits of their discussion, and I felt inclined to join. Angus gave me a copy, so there is no turning back. I’m pretty sure this will spillover to February. Also, yes, I am reading this for the movie, but like I said, I don’t think I’ll finish it on time. :D
  4. Ghostwritten by David Mitchell – Recommended by the Mitchell Mafia in the book club. :D I really enjoyed Cloud Atlas last year, and I’m really looking forward to reading more Mitchell this year.

I wanted to add a fifth one, but I realize that Les Miserables will probably take up most of my time, so I will take it easy. :) I’m reading three at the same time, and I hope I don’t get lost! :D

Share your reading list for January (or posts to your January reading list) in the comments! :)

Say hi to the Required Reading Gang! :D