Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Number of pages: 846
My copy: paperback, Christmas gift from Aaron

At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England’s history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England—until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight.

Soon, another practicing magician comes forth: the young, handsome, and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell’s student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear.

* * *

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke is one of those books that passed by my radar, and I briefly considered reading it because I knew some people liked it…until I saw its length. Then I walked away, thinking that this is probably one of those books that I will not read anytime soon, and I would be quite content not to read it within my lifetime since it’s too thick, and I’m not exactly a huge fantasy reader anyway.

But you know what’s the most effective way for me to read a book that I never thought I’d be reading ever? Peer pressure. Or, give it to me as a gift. That is exactly what my friend Aaron did last Christmas, and I always make it a point to read the books gifted to me. The good thing is, he also gave a copy of this book to other friends in the book club, so we formed a little reading group for this last April to get us through this chunkster together.

It’s not that I was really intimidated by it. After all, I finished the tome that is Les Misérables. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is like, 700 pages less than Victor Hugo’s book. This should be easy.

It’s the 19th century, and magic has been long dead in England. Or so people thought, until an English gentleman named Gilbert Norrell showed everyone that magic is not dead. He becomes the only magician in England for a moment, helping the English government win in the Napoleonic wars, and maybe raising a certain dead woman on the side, too. Then another magician comes – young Jonathan Strange, who becomes Mr. Norrell’s apprentice. But the two of them are as different as night and day: while Norrell relies on books and follows magic to the letter, Strange likes to play with it, try new things and maybe even find a way to summon the Raven King just to learn more about magic. Clashing personalities, fairies, prophecies, war and a ton of footnotes follow these two magicians,

I finished reading this book in 34 days, 4 days late than the supposed reading schedule. I figure I would have finished this earlier if my April wasn’t so busy, because Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is quite engaging. The old English language wasn’t so hard to understand, and we get treated to interesting characters and situations from the start. I honestly had no idea what the book was about when I started reading it except that it was about these two people on the title, and for a moment I thought Strange was Mr. Norrell’s biographer. Heh. The book isn’t just about magic, though, or just the two gentlemen. If it was, then it would’ve been far shorter, yes? This is part historical (or alternate history, rather), so I found myself in a lot of war scenes in the book that were far more interesting than the ones I read in Les Misérables. Case in point: I slogged through the Waterloo part of Les Mis but breezed through the one here, because of Jonathan Strange. It is true: magic makes things more interesting. ;)

Another thing that I can’t not mention about this book is the footnotes, and the sheer amount of them. I don’t mind footnotes — in fact, I find them quite fun when I encounter them in books. Granted, they were distracting, especially when they span pages and pages in the book, just like how it was in this book. Theyr’e not really important, but as some of my buddies said, it provided a richer reading experience of Strange and Norrell’s story.

I enjoyed reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, I really did. Perhaps my only gripe in this book is how it really dragged at some point. It wasn’t exactly boring — not as boring as say, that chapter on Parisian slang in Les Mis, or the part about the sewer — but man did they drag. The second volume was interesting, but it took a really long time before some things really started happening. I suppose, like Les Mis, it adds more texture to the story, but it can get pretty tiresome after some time. Let’s get moving, please.

I have to hand it to the author, though, because when things started happening, they really started happening. Then I find that I can hardly put it down. While I wouldn’t exactly describe the last part unputdownable, the action made me want to just keep reading because I need to know how it ends. I liked how the ending wrapped up a lot of the loose ends in the first parts, but not without leaving a few more to leave the readers longing a little. Getting to the end was slightly bittersweet because I spent a lot of time in their world, and also just because of that ending.

So while there were some dragging parts, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was quite enjoyable, even for someone who was peer pressured to read it. ;) It’s a happy kind of peer pressure, though! And yeah, add me to the list of people who’s excited to see its BBC adaptation. I’m quite excited to see how they’d show the magic on the screen…and that man with thistle-down hair. :)

Rating:

Required Reading: April

Other reviews:
marginalia

 

84, Charing Cross Road

84, Charing Cross Road84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Publisher: Penguin Books
Number of pages: 97
My copy: borrowed paperback, TFG’s traveling book

It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. As Helene’s sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm and charming long-distance friendship lasting many years.

* * *

Here’s a little fact: I love snail mail. I love letters, specifically. I think it started when our third grade teacher taught us about letter writing, and we had to pick pen pals within the class. I loved getting letters in the mail, but since my classmates and I live close to each other, it’s not really that practical to be pen pals with them. When I was in sixth grade, though, my best friend from elementary school moved to the United States. We didn’t have much contact when she left, until I happened to get her mailing address from a common friend and I sent her my first snail mail letter. This had us sending letters back and forth for the next two years, until email came and we switched to that.

Reading 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff is almost like a trip back to memory lane on those days when I would spend so much time writing letters to my best friend who lived in the other side of the world. This thin volume is a collection of letters from Helene Hanff, a screenwriter in New York search of second hand books to a bookstore in 84, Charing Cross Road in London. This sparked the friendship between Helene and the staff of the bookstore, one that consisted of letters, books and gifts and spanned for decades.

84, Charing Cross Road is a little gem of a book for book lovers, and it’s most appropriate that the copy I read is a shared copy from our book club. We call it our own traveling book, and it’s gone through several readers before it landed in my hands. It’s a quick and funny read, and I finished it in a few hours — smiling, laughing, and then sighing at the end. Helene’s letters were witty and sarcastic most of the time, and Frank Doel of the book shop were always formal and proper, yet still filled with warmth. Pretty soon, the rest of the staff were writing letters to Helene, too. I find myself checking the dates in the letters every now and then, and I can’t imagine the time that pass before the letters get to the recipients. My own mail takes two to three weeks before it arrives, but some of them span months in the book. I guess it meant that they were more patient back then, whereas I get so miffed sometimes when I don’t get a reply to my email or my text message within the day. But true friendship transcends time and distance, right?

This book is very reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, with the letters shared between book lovers. I love that 84, Charing Cross Road has that same warmth I got from the other book, even if the ending was slightly different. But I liked the latter more because it’s a true story. I think that’s the reason why I added one more star in my rating — there’s something about knowing how all of this is real that makes it even more charming. It’s too bad that the actual bookstore doesn’t exist anymore, but I would love to see where the building stood and imagine what the people inside were doing, and how excited they were every time they received Helene’s letters and packages. And maybe, even do what Helene asked her friend to do:

If you happen to pass by 84 Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me? I owe it so much.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll stock up on my stationery so I can go write some letters again. Anyone want one? :)

Rating:

Required Reading: May

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

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? :)

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

Happy Book Club Anniversary!

♥

I should be writing reviews, but I’m not, but since this is a bookish thing, anyway, I will write about it. :D

It’s our book club’s third anniversary today! Technically, our book club was born online in Goodreads around 2007, but it wasn’t really alive, until around 2009 or so, when people started posting. And then in 2010, they had their first meet-up.

I wasn’t there, but I was at the second meet-up. As I always say, that has been the best decision I have ever made in my life. I am thankful to the one who invited me, and everyone else who made staying in the group (and being a moderator) awesome. :) My reading life has been more colorful because of this group, and my life has been funnier because of these people. ♥

We have a lot of events lined up for this month, so if you’re a Filipino on Goodreads and you’ve been looking for a book club to join — we are right here! If you’re a lurker, then this is the best time to unlurk! :) Come and join the fun (and the clinginess)!

Happy 3rd anniversary, Goodreads – The Filipino Group!