The Screwtape Letters

The Screwtape LettersThe Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Publisher: HarperCollins
Number of pages: 176
My copy: ebook, bought from Amazon Kindle Store

The story takes the form of a series of letters from a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew, a junior “tempter” named Wormwood, so as to advise him on methods of securing the damnation of a British man, known only as “the Patient”.

Screwtape holds an administrative post in the bureaucracy (“Lowerarchy”) of Hell, and acts as a mentor to Wormwood, the inexperienced tempter. In the body of the thirty-one letters which make up the book, Screwtape gives Wormwood detailed advice on various methods of undermining faith and promoting sin in the Patient, interspersed with observations on human nature and Christian doctrine. Wormwood and Screwtape live in a peculiarly morally reversed world, where individual benefit and greed are seen as the greatest good, and neither demon is capable of comprehending or acknowledging true human virtue when he sees it.

* * *

Ah Screwtape. I’ve heard so much about this book but I never got to buy it because the print copy was just too expensive for something so thin. I remember splurging on the ebook instead a couple of months ago, but true to form, it took me a while to read this. I know a Lewis book is never easy reading. What better time to read this one than during the Lenten season, right?

The Screwtape Letters is an epistolary novella that contains the letters of a demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood with detailed advice on how to lead his assignment, a man only named as “the patient” to sin and eventual eternal damnation. In these letters, Screwtape tells Wormwood of particular human weaknesses and how they can exploit it, of religious weaknesses and how to make it their patient’s downfall, of how they’re just not in it for general mischief but snatching human souls from their Enemy.

I was discussing this book with a friend a few days before I finished reading it, and he told me that while he liked the book, he didn’t have the heart to review it because it struck too many familiar chords. I could say the same for me, too. The Screwtape Letters is almost humorous in some ways, especially whenever Screwtape would scold Wormwood for messing up, but it’s more chilling in more ways than it is humorous. Screwtape outlined ways on how Wormwood could lead his patient to eternal damnation, and the ways he listed were a little too familiar that it borders on being uncomfortable. I admit that it really made me think of the times when I fell for the same things — the feeling of “owning” my time that I get mad at any interruption, or worrying too much about tomorrow instead of focusing on today, self-righteous thinking. This book poked a little too much at the parts of my heart that I try to not look at, and helped me see myself for all the ugliness with all the sin that I’ve fallen into. I remember cringing as I highlighted the parts of the book that struck me the most, like these:

It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds; in reality our best work is done by keeping things out. (p. 16)

There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them. (p. 25)

It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. (p. 60)

Now you will notice that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him…They anger him because he regards his time as his and feels that it is being stolen. (p. 112)

It’s not that this book is not without hope — in fact, it ends quite hopefully. But seeing it in the eyes of the “protagonists” it doesn’t feel like it. This book is not really for fast reading — each letter is meant to be read slowly and reflected on, maybe even discussed with other people of faith. Like other Lewis books, I think The Screwtape Letters is one for re-reading, because I’m sure different passages would hit people depending on what is the state of their life when they read this.

Of course, this is still considered as fiction, but like all other Lewis books I’ve read, it’s one that made me think. I can’t help but remember Ephesians 6:12 as I read this book: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.The Screwtape Letters is a book that definitely needs to be read more than once.

Rating:

2011 Challenge Status:
Required Reading – April

Other reviews:
Goodreads reviews
Brothers Judd
Jonathan Enns

Blue Angel, White Shadow

Blue Angel, White Shadow by Charlson OngBlue Angel, White Shadow by Charlson Ong
UST Publishing House, 229 pages

Twenty-five year old lounge singer Laurice Saldiaga is found dead in her room at the Blue Angel Cafe and Bar in Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown. Inspector Cyrus Ledesma, a Chinese mestizo cop with a dark past is assigned to investigate the matter. The bar owner, Antonio Cobianco, is a known associate of Mayor Lagdameo Go-Lopez. Ledesma walks into a cauldron of intrigues, labyrinths, crumbling edifices, dogfights and suspects that include a jaded whiskey drinking female bar manager, a psychic journalist, a dyslexic piano player, a quick trigger pit bull owner, an aging saxophone player and Cyrus’ own uncle, Police Chief Ruben Jacinto.

One of my favorite classes in college that wasn’t my major was my Lit class, not only because I had an awesome professor, but because I just simply loved to read. I loved that I was required to pick up a novel for class, and write a report about it. The only lit class I had was Philippine literature so I was only required to read local fiction, some written by some professors in the university. While that wasn’t what what I usually read then, I didn’t mind — I was allowed to read non-textbooks for class. In a word, it was awesome.

Reading Charlson Ong’s Blue Angel, White Shadow reminded me of those college days. I can’t quite put a finger on it, but there’s something about this book’s tone that reminded me of that. It’s been a while since I last read a serious Filipino novel so it took me some time to adjust to the tone of this book. In Blue Angel, White Shadow, we was introduced to Filipino-Chinese cop Cyrus Ledesma who was sent to investigate the death of Laurice Saldiaga, found dead in her room in The Blue Angel Cafe. The investigation leads us down Cyrus’ dark past and introduces us to several other characters — bar owner and singer Rosa Misa and her fiesty daughter Rosemarie, the old and kind-hearted Antonio Cobianco who has his own secrets, Manila Mayor Lagdameo Go-Lopez who formerly wanted to be a vet, pitbull owner Robert Cobianco, and Cyrus’ priest friend Fr. Jay among others — all somewhat related to the death of the singer.

I was expecting a typical murder mystery novel as I read Blue Angel, White Shadow, but was surprised to find something more. Instead of just following the main character collect clues to find out whodunnit, I was led through different character studies as for most chapters, I was introduced to the different people and how they were all (or will be) connected. It felt a little confusing at first, and I was impatient to know how all these characters related to the opening incident. I liked reading about the characters but I guess I was expecting something else that was why it took me a while to really get into the story.

But once I did, I realized just how good the author was in weaving the story. Even as he exposed the characters, their past and their possible motivations one by one, I couldn’t figure out who was responsible. Sure, other issues and conspiracies were discussed, but there was never a solid clue that pointed to the culprit. Once it was finally exposed, however, it seemed…well, obvious. It wasn’t even ingenious, just…well, obvious. I guess my years of watching CSI has never really rubbed off on me. The ending was pretty satisfactory, and interestingly, there was even a little romance. I liked how everything tied up in the end, answering most of the questions but not in a too clean way that it didn’t seem realistic anymore. I remember giving a satisfied nod as soon as I closed the book, my mind content with how it ended.

This isn’t really my genre, but I liked Blue Angel, White Shadow, and I am truly impressed by Charlson Ong’s writing. I feel like I could learn a lot with how he wrote his characters. I hope that the seriousness of the cover or the blurb wouldn’t make readers ignore this book because it is an enjoyable piece of fiction, even if I did feel the need to write a book report for school after reading it. :D

Rating:

2011 Challenge Status:
3 of 20 Filipino Books for 2011

My copy: review copy from UST Publishing House, c/o Tarie. Thank you! :)

Cover and Blurb: Goodreads

Other reviews:
Dark Chest of Wonders

Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Publisher:
Knopf

Number of pages: 288
My copy: ebook, bought from Amazon Kindle Store

As a child, Kathy—now thirty-one years old—lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.

And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed–even comforted–by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood—and about their lives now.

* * *

There are books that grab you by the collar from the very start and force you to pay attention to what you are reading. These books are typically the explosive, action-packed ones, ones that plunge you right into the action, leaving you breathless from the start all the way up to the last page. However, there are books that start off quiet, with barely a bang. You’re not quite sure what would happen with these books, but you allow yourself to be carried gently with the languid flow of the story. You think it wouldn’t really grip you so much as those action-packed books that you can put it down every now and then, reading at your own pace.

And then it proves you wrong. Somewhere in the story, the book grabs you by the hand and pulls you in, refusing to let go unless you get to the very last page, and you’re left even more breathless, wondering what just happened in the past pages and chapters.

That, my friends, is the kind of book Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is.

I’ve been seeing this book for a long time now, but I never thought of picking it up because I often confuse it with other books written by Japanese authors that I am not sure if I want to read. Even my friends reading it in my book club didn’t make me read it because by then, I was more into reading YA books, and I never thought it would be something I’d like to read, anyway. When I ran across its ebook on sale on Kindle, I finally surrendered and purchased it. If my other friends liked it, I probably would, too, right?

Never Let Me Go tells the story of friends Kathy H, Tommy D and Ruth, who all met and grew up in Hailsham, a private boarding school somewhere in England. Kathy, now 31 years old, narrates her memories of her life as a child and early teen there, the next years as she, Tommy and Ruth moved to the Cottages after their time in Hailsham and finally her years as a carer where she crosses paths with Tommy and Ruth again. The book is really a collection of Kathy’s memories, told almost out of chronological order but in a way of significance, all leading to the readers wondering who Kathy is, why there were in Hailsham and what they are up to in present time.

To say anything more would be a spoiler, so I will leave you at that. I was partially spoiled already as I read the book because of some reviews that I read even if it was clearly marked with a spoiler. However, that didn’t lessen the enjoyment of reading this wonderful piece of work. As I mentioned above, Never Let Me Go is a book that starts off very quiet, with hardly any bang. In fact, there isn’t really much excitement in the book, yet I never found it boring. Kathy’s voice rang clear all throughout the book. It almost felt like I was sitting with her in a shop and she was just telling me her life story, or perhaps I was sitting at the passenger seat of her car as she regaled to me their little misadventures in Hailsham.

Even if it was told in Kathy’s point of view, the other characters’ voices were distinct, too. Kathy tells her stories about her friends with little bias to herself, which allows us to see and forgive them for their own faults towards the heroine. For example, every time I would feel annoyed at Ruth for being so dominating, Kathy would say something to make me understand her in a way, or would convince me that somehow Kathy was also at fault. Perhaps it was written that way because these are Kathy’s recollections and at her age, she definitely knew better than she knew then. Tommy and Ruth felt as real as Kathy was, and I truly felt their importance in Kathy’s life.

The strength of the characters didn’t really water down the plot, so there is still much satisfaction as the secrets behind their existence and Hailsham were revealed. As these are Kathy’s memories, they tend to jump from one scene to another before going back to the original intent. It may take a bit to get used to that kind of narration and it may turn some people off. However, that is almost the same way as some Sarah Dessen novels are, so I’m fairly used to that. Everything is revealed gradually and there seemed to be a quiet acceptance to everything that’s happening that even I am convinced that it’s really just the way it is and there is no way out.

Perhaps that is the most striking thing about Never Let Me Go. Kathy tells her story as if there was no other alternative, that it is really the only way for her and her friends. There is a quiet resignation in Kathy that she was destined to do what she was made to do, that there was no other choice but that. It makes me wonder what I would have done if I grew up in Hailsham and I knew what I know as I read this book — would I accept my fate as Kathy did or will I rebel? Or what if I was a guardian — how can I face those kids everyday for the first thirteen years or so of their life knowing what awaits them sometime in their life? Can my conscience take it, even if it is all in the name of science and the progress of humanity?

A movie version of this book starring Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Kiera Knightley came out last year (in all other parts of the world, that is. It hasn’t been shown here yet). If you’re planning to read this, DO NOT watch the movie trailer if you don’t want to be spoiled. I haven’t watched the movie yet, so I don’t know the difference, but it is always wiser to read the book first before watching the movie. Even if you’re not much of a reader, Never Let Me Go is too good of a book to pass up for the movie version. Make it one of the few books that you’d read in your life, if you must.

Never Let Me Go is one book that truly did not let me go (no pun intended). It reeled me in with its simplicity and refused to let me move on long after I finished with the last page. Beautiful and haunting, this is definitely one of my best reads for this year.

Rating:

2011 Challenge Status:
2 of 20 in TwentyEleven Challenge (Will-Power? What Will-Power?)

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers
The Perpetual Page-Turner

In My Mailbox (4)

I meant to write an In My Mailbox post last week, but I was too tired from my second 10-km race that I just fell into bed the moment I got home. So this week’s In My Mailbox will cover a two-week period, because I actually have a lot to post about since the last.

You know what that meant, right? I know I said I won’t buy books anymore…but I. Can’t. Resist. Somebody stop me.

In My Mailbox is a weekly book meme hosted by Kristi from The Story Siren, where bloggers post about what books received that week, be it via  mailbox, library or store. I’ve separated the photos on the stash per week, and excuse the slightly crappy quality of the images — used my camera phone and it doesn’t have that good lighting, as compared to if I use proper ones, like Kichler lighting. I’ll make it up next week. :)

So, here’s last week’s stash:

  1. The God Box by Alex Sanchez
    (Powerbooks, P339, less 20%) I’ve been seeing Alex Sanchez’s books for a while now, but I have never picked any up because I think most of his works fall under LGBT. It’s just not really my thing. I got this one because this is a book that dealt with LGBT and religion. This is a very sensitive topic, one that I don’t think I always fully understand, so I thought this book should be an informative one, at least as far as my faith would be concerned.
  2. The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan
    (Fully Booked, P399, less 10%) I remember seeing another version of this book at National Bookstore, but I passed it up. Then I saw a lot of good reviews and I couldn’t find the copy! It wasn’t until I was browsing in Fully Booked Eastwood when I saw it again, but I opted to get the other books first before this. I knew I would absolutely regret it if I don’t get it, so I finally caved in. I wanted to get it at the same time I got The Book Thief, but then I remembered I have a discount at Fully Booked, so I just got it there. Yay.
  3. Unwind by Neal Shusterman
    (Powerbooks, P339, less 20%) I think I heard about this first during the Goodreads meet up, but I didn’t know what it was until I saw the book. Should I even ask why I got it? It was highly recommended. Thank God for the sale.
  4. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
    (National Bookstore, P315, less 20%) So I wasn’t really planning on getting anything that Sunday, but when I got to National Bookstore, I remembered that it was also sale time! When I saw a paperback copy of this book, I just grabbed it. I’ve read so many good reviews about this that I was curious, and the hardbound is just a bit too expensive to splurge on. The best part is, I used my Laking National card (a loyalty points card in one of the bookstores in the Philippines) and used my accumulated points to get the book. In short, I sort of got this book for free. :)

And here’s this week’s stash!

  1. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
    (National Bookstore, P99) I already have a copy of this book, but when I saw the hardcover of this book for less than a hundred, I knew I had to get it. I don’t think I’ll be keeping it, though — I think I’ll put it up for giveaway on our next meet up. :)
  2. Press release pack for Table for Two by Marla Miniano from Summit Media
    I think it was Tuesday when I suddenly got called to the reception area at work. Turns out I have something from Summit Media, the press release pack for their newest novel, Table for Two. If I had known I’d be getting a free copy of this book, I would not have bought it! But then it’s okay. This means I can give away my extra copy, too. :)I have a feeling why I got a press package, though. Maybe it’s connected to some belated presents? I think so. Thanks, Ro! :)
  3. Catch a Falling Star by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo
    (National Bookstore, P150) I wanted to get this other anthology, Stories When We Were Little (Women), I think, by the same author, but it was a bit too expensive for my budget. I wanted to get something local, and this was the cheapest one I found. I’ve heard so much about this author thanks to Sam. :)
  4. The Dead Of Night by John Marsden
    (National Bookstore, P339, less 75%) This isn’t really my kind of book. But I read Aaron‘s review for the first book, and thought I’d give it a try. But this isn’t the first book, so why did I get it? Aside from it being sale (got it for P84! How could I pass that up?), the Mighty Evil Overlord told me he would give me a copy of the first book as a gift. Getting ready for the series, I guess? :)

And that was the past two weeks for me in terms of books. Next week will be a bigger week because of the following: (1) a new toy is coming; and (2) Grace and Jana and I are planning to do a bookstore hopping day on Saturday, since it’s book sale season and it’s payday this week. Watch out for that. :)

What’s in your mailbox this week? I’d love to see your stash — leave a comment with the link so I can drop by. :)