Required Reading: May 2013

Wow, where did April go?

April was, in a word, busy. I was out every weekend, and I was on midshift at work, too, so I was always home late and up late, too. Everything was a whirlwind last month, and my personal life was also like that, too. So I think I made the right decision to choose just two books to read for my April reading list, because I only finished…one.

  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (4/5) – our book club’s book of the month, which I really liked. I found it slow, but it was the right kind of slowness that made it beautiful. :)

I’m have about less than 200 pages to go for Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but I think I’ll be able to finish that soon since things are finally picking up. :)

Required Reading: May

May is still a bit busy but not in the book club sense. I have two weddings to attend to this month, and my dad’s going to be home, plus a bunch of birthdays, so…yeah. But it won’t be as busy as April, so I picked a few more books than the usual. There’s no theme this time, except maybe that the books are roughly around the same length. And that I didn’t spend for any of the books on my list. :D

Required Reading for May 2013

  1. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff – our book club’s traveling book, which has been passed around since last year. It’s finally my turn, and I’m really excited to read it since everyone seemed to have good reviews for it. It’s pretty thin, so I’m pretty sure I’d be able to finish this in a day. :)
  2. Smaller and Smaller Circles by FH Batacan – our book club’s book of the month. I read this one back in college so I’m really just rereading it now to refresh my memory. I won this during our book discussion last Saturday, where our moderator gave away two copies. Also speed reading it now so I can pass my copy to other people in the club. :)
  3. The Orange Girl by Jostein Gaarder – I got this one from DC, who recommended the book to me last month, and provided a copy so I can read it. This is supposed to be passed around in our book club, too. So whoever wants to line up for this, let me know! This is technically my first Gaarder, since I didn’t really finish Sophie’s World when I tried to read it in college. ^^
  4. Essays In Love by Alain de Botton – Borrowed this from JL. I’ve been wanting to read a book by the author ever since I followed him on Twitter, but I’m not a huge fan of non-fiction or philosophy. But the topic of this book is too irresistible, so I’m glad that I have a friend who reads these kinds of books. I know this is more apt for February, but I figure since I’m attending two weddings this month, I could read it now. :)
  5. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver – Borrowed from Angus just last Saturday when I was able to check out his shelves after our discussion. He had a rave review for this, and again the subject is something I like reading about. Plus, again, weddings this month.
  6. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke – spillover from April. Again, I have less than 200 pages left. I should be done with this soon. :)

And so, there. A lot more books than my usual list, but they’re all less than 250 pages (save for the last, but I’m counting the pages I have left to read) so it should not be so hard to finish, yes? I realize how different these books are now, and I don’t even have a YA book here. Looks like I really am expanding my reading horizons, yes? I should blog about that.

So, what are you reading this May? :)

In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Publisher: Vintage Books
Number of pages:  343
My copy: ebook

On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.

Five years, four months and twenty-nine days later, on April 14, 1965, Richard Eugene Hickock, aged thirty-three, and Perry Edward Smith, aged thirty-six, were hanged from the crime on a gallows in a warehouse in the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing, Kansa.

In Cold Blood is the story of the lives and deaths of these six people. It has already been hailed as a masterpiece.

* * *

I love watching crime shows, but I only really like watching fictional ones. Any crime show or documentary that is “based on a true story” automatically creeps me out. I can do a marathon of CSI all day, but when someone tells me that someone near us was robbed or a friend of a friend of a friend is killed, I automatically shut my ears because I don’t want to imagine it happening to the people I care for. Case in point: there was a time when I learned that our neighbor was robbed, and for the next week, I slept with a scissor beside my bed (not a wise thing, actually) because I was afraid that someone would get in our house and do the same thing to us. I figure the scissor is a good enough weapon, right?

So I’m not really sure why I voted for In Cold Blood by Truman Capote when we had our poll for our September 2012 book. I guess I was swayed by the good reviews on the book, plus it seemed the most interesting among the choices. I guess I also totally forgot about that certain part of my paranoid childhood until I started reading the book.

In Cold Blood is Truman Capote’s account of the murder of the Clutter family in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas by Richard Hickock and Perry Smith. It’s not really a simple account of the murder told in a boring old non-fiction narrative. This is classified ascreative nonfiction so it read like a novel, and instead of just focusing on the murders, we are given a peek into the lives of the accused, their trial, up until their execution five years later.

Here’s the thing with In Cold Blood: it reads like any other crime novel until you do a little research and realize/remember that the characters in this book were actually real people. I was really just enjoying Capote’s writing while I was reading the first part, until someone from the book club posted photos of the Clutter family on our thread and I got major creeps because I remembered that the story was real. I’m not as paranoid worried now as I was when I was a kid, but realizing the truth in this story made my skin crawl. I can’t imagine the horror of that night.

But again, the story didn’t really focus much on the victims but on the killers. It’s an interesting angle that actually made me feel sorry for them despite the grievous sin they committed. I’m not saying that what they did was excusable — it’s just that seeing their side of the story, or at least, their background, made me just a little bit sympathetic to them. They could have been better people, I thought. There could have been something that could have changed their past so they won’t have to do what they did. And end up that way.

In Cold Blood could spark discussions on numerous topics, especially on the death penalty and justice, and that was exactly what happened during our face to face discussion. Interestingly, I got one of the hard ones again, something about justice and it started a pretty long debate/discussion on what justice really meant for everyone of us. I admit that it’s one of the things that I need time to really understand, and that right now I just really, really pray hard that nothing like this ever happens to anyone I care for.

In Cold Blood reminded me of the time when I did a Criminal Minds marathon a few years back. I really enjoyed it, but I didn’t really go out of my way to watch it again. Once is enough, I guess (unless it’s for research or something). Likewise, I liked In Cold Blood, but I don’t think I have the heart to read something like this again.

Rating:

Other reviews:
marginalia
Book Rhapsody
The Page Walker
reading is the ultimate aphrodisiac

Mere Christianity

Mere ChristianityMere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
Publisher: HarperOne
Number of pages: 227
My copy: paperback, bought from Powerbooks (or was it a birthday gift? I can’t remember)

One of the most popular and beloved introductions to Christian faith ever written, Mere Christianity has sold millions of copies worldwide. The book brings together Lewis’s legendary broadcast talks of the war years, talks in which he set out simply to “explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” Rejecting the boundaries that divide Christianity’s many denominations, C.S. Lewis provides an unequaled opportunity for believers and nonbelievers alike to hear a powerful, rational case for Christian faith. It is a collection of scintillating brilliance that remains strikingly fresh for the modern reader and at the same time confirms C.S. Lewis’s reputation as one of the leading writers and thinkers of our age.

* * *

This is months overdue and at one point I wonder if I should still write one for this book because I am not sure if I still remember the important points I have noted and underlined (Yes, I underlined parts of this book — the only time I have underlined a book again since school). But then a few friends are discussing The Screwtape Letters online and for a moment there, I thought I already wrote a review for this. Turns out I haven’t yet. Suddenly, I felt like writing one again.

But I don’t think this will be really a review, but more of a reflection of sorts on the book. I’ve wanted to have a copy of Mere Christianity since college, back when I was still very active in my Catholic community, CFC Youth for Christ, and back when I was just discovering The Chronicles of Narnia (I’m a late bloomer). I finally received a copy of this for my birthday from my brother, I think but it languished on my TBR for several reasons: I wanted to read it but I admit that I fell asleep several times when I started it, and then later, I didn’t feel that I was ready for it just yet. I did read some parts of the book back when I was in a low moment when I started working, and this quote remains a favorite until now:

We may, indeed, be sure that perfect chastity — like perfect charity — will not be attained by any merely human efforts. You can ask for God’s help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again. For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still. It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, we need not despair even in our worst for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.

The book buddy thread for Mere Christianity was the perfect opportunity to read it again, but alas, I lagged behind terribly for many, many reasons. Sorry, book buddies! ^^; I still finished the book, of course, albeit very, very late, and then I took my own sweet time thinking about how to write about it because I really had no idea where to start — not because I didn’t like it or I liked it too much. It’s just…different.

Here’s what I think about Mere Christianity (and C.S. Lewis’ other non-fiction books, for that matter): they’re not for quick reading. The C.S. Lewis books I’ve read in the past year were always the kind of books that pack a punch and would make you pause several times to reflect on what he said. Another thing is it’s not easy reading, because more often than not, Lewis’ words tend to poke at those parts of us that we hide. That’s one of the reasons why the quote above hit me a lot, because it’s the truth, and based on experience, the truth is never really comfortable at first. On the other hand, books like Mere Christianity offer a lot of wisdom, although I think I wouldn’t have understood if I read it earlier in my faith walk. Perhaps this is why I read this at this time instead of when I got it?

To cut the long story short — I liked Mere Christianity a lot. I expected it from when I first asked for this book. It wasn’t difficult to read as far as writing is concerned, because Lewis approached the topics in a very human manner and I didn’t really sense self-righteousness in any of the chapters. What he said isn’t easy to follow, but they’re actually quite practical and some of them turned out to be things that I already knew, but somehow forgot, or just denied until it was brought out into the light. Like what the introduction in my copy said: 

The Christianity Lewis espouses is humane, but not easy; it asks us to recognize that the great religious struggle is not fought on a spectacular battleground, but within the ordinary human heart, when every morning we awake and feel the pressures of the day crowding in on us, and we must decide what sort of immortals we wish to be.

In the end, this mere Christianity that Lewis wrote about is still a choice, the free will given to us by God in His infinite love and mercy. It’s a lot to think about. Mere Christianity is book that is meant to be read not just once, just like The Screwtape Letters, because this is the kind of book that hits you differently with every reading, depending on your current situation.

As much as I liked this, though, and as much as I think this offers a lot of practical advice in how to live as a Christian, I must remember that this is still nothing compared to the Bible. This is the kind of book that could easily take over the Bible because it’s really easier to read, and I think it may even end up being some sort of how-to in being a Christian. It’s not. Funny that I would have to quote another book to enforce that point, butThe Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning sums this final thought up accurately:

The Word we study has to be the Word we pray. My personal experience of the relentless tenderness of God came not from exegetes, theologians, and spiritual writers, but from sitting still in the presence of the living Word and beseeching Him to help me understand with my head and heart His written Word. Sheer scholarship alone cannot reveal to us the gospel of grace. We must never allow the authority of books, institutions, or leaders to replace the authority of knowing Jesus Christ personally and directly. When the religious views of others interpose between us and the primary experience of Jesus as the Christ, we become unconvicted and unpersuasive travel agents handing out brochures to places we have never visited.

Last: I have to admit, one of the perks I got from reading this was finally reading the source of Brooke Fraser’s C.S. Lewis Song, one of my favorite songs ever. :)

I told you this wasn’t a review.

Rating:

Other reviews:
Goodreads

Sinner

Sinner by Lino RulliSinner: The Catholic Guy’s Funny, Feeble Attempts to be a Faithful Catholic by Lino Rulli
Publisher: St. Anthony Messenger Press
Number of pages: 232
My copy: ebook, gift from Monique

In this fast and funny collection of stories from his own life, Lino Rulli (aka The Catholic Guy) shares the joys and the struggles of trying to follow God in everyday circumstances. Honest, outrageous, funny and, above all, real. Lino demonstrates that, even though we are all sinners, God’s mercy and grace keeps us going. In the pages of SINNER you’ll read about: Lino’s adventures in the confessional; A host of characters who make Lino’s Catholic faith more challenging; Why Lino is still single; Lino’s take on suffering.

* * *

I had no idea who Lino Rulli was until I heard him on Lifeteen‘s Holy Week podcast, which was actually his show with Mark Hart the Bible Geek as guest. I listen to a few Catholic podcasts, but I have never heard of him until then, so I admit that I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I started listening to the episode that Good Friday. But a few minutes in, I was already charmed by this funny Catholic guy, which led me to downloading other episodes of The Catholic Guy Show from iTunes. He plugged his book, Sinner, several times in the other episodes, but I wasn’t really sure if I want to buy it because I’m picky with books like that. A few more laugh out loud episodes, however (he and his co-host Fr. Rob kept me awake during my night shift work days!), I knew I wanted his book. Then came my friend Monique, bearing good news and new books, and she sent me the ebook version of Sinner as a gift.

That is divine providence, IMHO.

But I digress. I wasn’t planning to read this too soon, but when I loaded the book on my Kindle, I found myself starting the book. And reading. Two days later, I am done.

What just happened there, oy?

Sinner by Lino Rulli is exactly what the subtitle says it is: The Catholic Guy’s Funny, Feeble Attempts to be a Faithful Catholic. This book had me from the introduction, particularly this line:

I want to be more faithful, but I’m scared. Scared that I’ll try and fail. And in some ways, even more scared that I’ll succeed.

Lino Rulli is not a reformed Catholic. He’s not one who had a bad past and found the light and then turned and had a holy life afterwards. Sinner is not that kind of book where the author talks about the dark days and then the conversion and the days in the light. Sinner is about a guy who was born and raised Catholic, and still had doubts and mishaps while knowing God. It’s basically the story of every human who’s a part of the Catholic church and is trying (but often failing) to live the way God called them to be.

I can’t remember laughing so much while I was reading a book, and a non-fiction Catholic book at that. Lino is as witty and funny on paper as he is on radio/podcast, and I can imagine him really saying these stories on his show. These are confessions that I think some traditional and strictly religious Catholics would shake their heads at, but would touch the hearts of the everyday struggling Catholic and make them smile and be comforted that they aren’t alone in their struggles and their journey. Lino’s stories range from his dad being an organ grinder to meeting the Pope, to confession (several times), to his mother and his single life woes. I’d like to believe that there’s something for every Catholic in this book, but I will let you be the judge of that (which is my not-so-subtle way of saying, Guys, you should really read this book!).

The only thing I wanted after I finished reading this was that there was more, because I really and truly enjoyed this one. Oh, and possibly a story about Fr. Rob. :P This book reminds me of Flashbang by Mark Steele, but possibly a bit better, because hey, it’s Catholic! And it’s not often I read books about the faith I grew up in. There’s nothing like feeling a sense of community while reading about confession (and how hard it is to do) or confirmation or (Blessed) Pope John Paul II in one book. If you’re ever the one who tried reading Catholic books but got bored or felt that you can’t relate, then I suggest you try this book. It’s funny, refreshing, borderline irreverent but definitely easy to relate to, because when it all comes down to it, we are all sinners, period.

Sinner by Lino Rulli may just be one of the most honest books I’ve read this year, and I think based on this honesty alone, it deserves all the stars I can give. And a spot on my favorites shelf. :)

I wanted to be as honest as possible about my faith, my doubts, and my sins. To let people see my pride, my jealousy, my wrath, my lust. But also see someone who’s still trying to fight the good fight of faith. (p.141)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Notlukewarm
Scrutinies

Astigirl: A Grown Girl Living on Her Own Terms

Astigirl: A Grown Girl Living on Her Own TermsAstigirl: A Grown Girl Living On Her Own Terms by Tweet Sering
Publisher: Flipside Publishing
Number of pages: 156
My copy: ebook, review copy from publisher. Thank you! :)

Far from the grownup she thought she would be, Tweet Sering, 30-plus and tormented by a raging discontent with stale notions of how one must live, strips herself of the trappings of adulthood—no job, no savings, no insurance, and not even a credit card—and resolves to begin growing up again.

In this memoir that is by turns sharply funny, intelligent, outspoken, but also pained and bewildered, Tweet shows her readers how being astray can turn into being astig (tough). Her essays remind us of long, late-night chats with our favorite friend, so that the substance of the go-for-broke account of her journey is not muddled by easy sentiment, but shines with a desire to cheer us on into our own journeys of being a tough girl. An Astigirl.

* * *

When the new year rolled around, I was more than ready to start a new book, eager to start filling my 2012 shelf. However, it felt like the books I was starting weren’t really making the cut. I couldn’t really get into it. It may have been just some kind of New Year blues or something — I don’t know. I received Astigirl as a review copy from Flipside on the first day of work and was all set to read it later in the month. Until decided to take a peek at it after work…and I could not put it down.

Astigirl: A Grown Girl Living On Her Own Terms is Tweet Sering’s account of how she turned into her own kind of tough girl. Tweet talks about a range of things: from a fan letter to Angelina Jolie, to a family discussion on whether Manny Pacquiao’s politics, to how she let go of her finances, to how she decided to drop everything to follow her dream. She talks about serious things about a man she loves and her art, and how she was asked to write her grandmother’s biography to seemingly not-so-serious things such as how she wants to strangle Bella and kick Edward as she read New Moon. With a warm, personal tone akin to a friend sharing her experiences to another, Tweet Sering makes her readers feel that if she can do it, then we can, too.

Ah. That almost slump I had was instantly gone after I read the first entry in this book. Astigirl is the perfect book to read for the new year. It’s got all this freshness and honesty that no other fiction book can offer. I thought it would be all about the kind of toughness that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate or relate to, but I was wrong. Think of this as sort of a Filipino version of Eat Pray Love, but less of the annoying over-privileged “I have money to travel all over the world” feel. In fact, Tweet talked about how she didn’t really feel a strong attachment to money, something I know I had to learn.

I was kind of glad I read this on my Kindle because it makes it easy to highlight quotes. Believe me, when I got to the middle, I realized I was highlighting almost every other page. Maybe it was because of the new year, or maybe it was because Tweet Sering talks about things that every young Filipino woman is thinking but is too confused or too afraid to set out for: to do something meaningful. I would share with you my favorite quotes but they’re too many of them, so you’ll just have to read it for yourself. :)

Being nonfiction meant not everyone will agree with this, but it also means that it can be read again and deliver a different message altogether. Astigirl is a great book to start the year with, and I think it would also make the perfect gift for girlfriends and girl friends. I don’t necessarily agree with everything and I thought some of the entries were a bit long, but I really enjoyed the book and I would definitely browse through it again.

So, if you’re a Filipino woman in your 20’s or 30’s and if you’re feeling a little beat from life or you need a little inspiration, get Astigirl by Tweet Sering. It will do you a lot of good, and hopefully, it will also give you that push you need to go after what you need to do to be your own Astigirl.

Rating:

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