I buy books. And sometimes I read them. This blog is for the times when I do more than just store shelf candy.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My 26 Authors for The 2010 A to Z Book Reading Challenge

Alvarez, Julia
Byatt, A.S.
Chabon, Michael
Dunning, John
Enright, Anne
Fowles, John
Hoffman, Alice
Irving, John
Kerouac, John
Le Guin, Ursula
Mayle, Peter
Naipaul, V.S.
Okri, Ben
Pynchon, Thomas
Q - need suggestions. I've already read Quindlen
Rushdie, Salman
Sebold, Alice
Tartt, Donna
Updike, John
Vonnegut, Kurt
Wolfe, Tom
X - This is the challenge -- to find an author whose surname starts with X
Y - need suggestions; I've already read Yoshimoto
Zola, Emile

Monday, December 28, 2009

The A to Z Challenge

Every morning, twin brothers Guilt and Failure wake me up. I stretch a little and my blurry eyes are drawn to the vision and object of my guilt and failure -- a floor-to-ceiling shelf crammed with dead trees and millions of words. And that's just the shelf of fiction. It is a tower to procrastination and rabid acquisition. A tower of nearly a thousand books, more than half of which, unread. Unread by me, at least, because some were bought used. I want to remedy that.

The books are arranged alphabetically according to the authors' surnames. Some authors have multiple books, so it would seem that those are my favorite authors. I guess they are. They're my favorite authors when it comes to buying books. I haven't necessarily had any empirical basis for saying I love their work. I haven't read anything they have written. I want to remedy that.

Yes, I buy more books than I can read. I enjoy reading, but I guess shopping is a much easier and less time-consuming task. So I have a TBR pile of crazy proportions. I want to remedy that.

My remedy is to read at least 26 new authors in 2010. By new, I mean authors I haven't read yet. I will focus on fiction, and I will do my best to take only books that are already in my shelf. Except for a couple of letters near the end of the alphabet, I think I have enough to go from A to Z.

To read 26 new authors from A to Z, in that order --that is 2010's reading challenge. I will do this alone, but I hope there will be people out there facing the same overwhelming TBR situation who would want to join me and make this experience more more fun and motivational.

It is daunting but doable. It is intimidating, but it will invigorate your reading life. Do this with me!

Here's my author list: http://gegeflipspages.blogspot.com/2009/12/my-26-authors-for-2010-to-z-book.html

So, here are the details of the A to Z Reading Challenge:

Goal: To read 26 authors with surnames from A to Z between January 1 to December 31, 2010.

I will focus on fiction authors I have not read before. But you might have different goals and limitations, so you can choose how you're going to interpret the above challenge.

FAQ (thanks to Deborah for allowing me to steal her format)

Do I have to read alphabetically from A to Z?
Hmm. Ideally, yes. It gives you a system and an order to follow. That was my original plan. But I anticipate you might have to read other books at certain times like for other challenges or for your book club discussions, so this rule is very bendable. I, myself, will try to read from A to Z but will most likely deviate from the plan quite a bit.

Can I base it on the author's first name instead of the surname?
Sure. Your call. You might decide to use the first names for all the books, or all surnames, or a combination of both. Just don't count the same book and same author twice. For example, if you use Zadie Smith for Z, you cannot list her for S.

Are audiobooks and ebooks allowed? How about graphic novels?
Yes! Any format will be allowed for this challenge.

Are nonfiction books allowed?
Why, yes, of course.

Do I need to buy the books for the challenge?
You don't HAVE to buy them unless you want to. You can get them from the library, borrow from friends, use your own copies.

May I reread a book I've read before 2010?

Because this goal is about making a serious dent on your TBR piles, rereads are not ideal. But then again, whatever rocks your boat.

Do I have to write any reviews?

Reviews are not required, but sharing your reviews makes the experience more fun and interesting.

Can these books be used for other challenges?
Sure, why not?

How do I participate?
Just leave comments below with links to your blog posts about The A to Z Challenge. Include a list of authors you're aiming to read in 2010. Throughout the year, periodically, update through your blog, and leave comments here. Feel free to right click on the image above to post on your blog. I'm also using a Mr. Linky feature so you can send me your URLs.

What if I don't have a blog? Can I still participate?
Sign up at http://www.shelfari.com/groups/48066/about and participate in the thread - there you can list the books you have read and plan to read.

Are there prizes for people who complete the challenge?
Yes! The satisfaction of making a serious dent on your TBR pile, the enjoyment of reading, and the fun of discovering authors. I also didn't set up a complicated point system because, well, it's complicated. I also truly believe that reading itself is the reward.

But I am considering giving prizes to the best reviews. Let me think more about how to make this more exciting for all of us.

I hope the above FAQ covers everything you need to know to join and enjoy this challenge. Let's read more, learn more this 2010!!!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Required Reading

One of the things that would surprise my teachers, if they would remember me at all, is that I'm into books, that I'm into reading big time. You see, I was a bad student. I was one of those who could pass, sometimes excel in, subjects without ever having to study. I spent my times in class doodling and designing my classmates' prom dresses and my time after classes doing everything that did not resemble studying. I could pass certain subjects without ever having to tear through the text book's shrinkwrap. By March, when the schoolyear was about to end, my books would be pristine and my notebooks practically empty.

I liked reading then. As a kid, I went through all 56 Nancy Drew titles. When adolescence struck, I was the precocious one who would pilfer my mom's Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldons and bring them to school so that my classmates and I could learn about the facts of life. Can you blame us? We had to wait for two more years before bio class, when we could learn about making babies; we had to satisfy our curiosity or forever think one could get pregnant by sitting on a chair with a boy when you had your period. We had to rely on Professor Harold Robbins to tell us which goes where and how. The humongous dictionary in the library supplied us with the vocabulary to supplement what Prof. Robbins could not explain in detail. Boy, do I digress. Where were we? Ah, books. Then, of course, I went through the Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High phases. So, I wouldn't say I disliked reading back then.

But I hated required reading. This aversion must have been caused by the trauma of having to plod through Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. For somebody with issues with delayed gratification, this was a painful read. A real drag that made me promise to myself that I would never let my teachers tell me what to read.

Maybe it's also because I never really bothered to write down our assignments. So, I just never knew which books we had to read. The whole class went through 3 levels of hell in Dante's Inferno; I didn't even bother to read the cliffsnotes. I did read Merchant of Venice, but that's because I had to play the role of Shylock in one run and that of Portia in another. Frustrated thespian that I was (still am.), I was motivated to read this required reading.

The worst was required reading for Filipino class. I found reading Tagalog difficult, so that aggravated my aversion to required reading. Besides, why did I have to read Ibong Adarna when I already saw the film with Dolphy, Panchito, and Babalu? And then, there was Noli Me Tangere for 3rd year and El Filibusterismo for 4th year. I remembered reading and wondering what the big ado was about tinola. There was nothing in those readings that excited me. The romance between Ibarra's and Maria Clara, depicted as virginal and oh-so-feminine, did not titillate the way our well worn Mills & Boon literature did. Furthermore, the book was rather sad-looking with newsprint pages that transferred ink onto my hands. Rizal's novels were delivered to us in condensed versions with each chapter as dry and bland as the previous. And so I halfheartedly flipped through the pages and read just enough to pass high school.

It was only in college, when my Rizal class got me reading El Filibusterismo in English, as a novel and not in abridged form, that I got an inkling of how great this literary work is. And I was surprised to find myself enjoying required reading. By that time, I was just about done with the hell called school, and happily saying goodbye to the necessity to read required books.

Insert time lapse sound effect here. Tingininginin.

More than 20 years later, I find mysef required to read 24 books of various genres, not because some teacher needs to fulfill a lesson plan and not because I have to get a passing grade. But just because I want to, and just maybe because I can.

Flips Flipping Pages, probably the biggest congregation of book nerds, in the country today, set up a challenge at the start of 2009. (Yes, we do have other things to do than just read. And no, it's not because we don't have social lives.) The challenge is to complete by midnight of December 31, 2009 twenty four books that should include the following:
  • 12 fiction - (6 Euro/American/Commonwealth, 4 Asian/Latin American/African, 2 local[at least one of the 12 should be classic lit])
  • 6 nonfiction - (1 science/math, 1 lifestyle, 1 poli/eco/soc, 1 bio/autobio/memoir, 2 local)
  • 3 reading group requirement - any 3 of the 10 or so FFP reading group titles to be discussed in 2009
  • 1 award winner - (booker, pulitzer, palanca, national book) In this case, it has to be the piece that won, not a book by palanca award winner XXX.
  • 1 common book - as dictated by our resident canon
  • 1 partner's choice - recommended by an FFP member

I will keep you in suspense regarding my progress towards meeting or not meeting that challenge. My teachers would not be surprised to know that I am still a big crammer, so it's not a done deal at this stage. I'm in the middle of Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere as the common book, and once in a while I would stop reading and just smile at Rizal's wit or sigh when I get to the parts that remind me of the Filipino's sad plight then and now. I hit myself on the head for not having had the maturity to appreciate, to love, this piece of literature back then. I honestly think now that every Filipino must read this book, now that your teachers do not require you to read it but your being Filipino does.

I also think we should all require, push, motivate ourselves to read beyond the usual -- beyond the usual bestsellers discussed over dinner, beyond our usual favorites and preferences, even beyond what we can easily comprehend. There's nothing wrong with an occasional nosebleed.

What this book challege does, aside from assuaging us from our rabid book accumulation habits, is to get us to experiment with other genres, discover authors we've never read nor heard of, push us to get through our gargantuan TBR (To Be Read) piles, and just expand our hearts and minds to the world wide wonder of books.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I Flipped Through the Pages of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit

Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward, An Improbable Farce in Three Acts

Book borrowed from the DLSU Library, the privilege of using which is one of my strongest motivations (or is it my only motivation?) to keep on teaching.

Read September 23, 2009.

I didn’t like reading plays. I found it weird reading something that should be performed and watched. But I had an interpretive reading project that required the reading of a play excerpt.

My immediate choice was a Noel Coward work. I have vague recollections of watching and enjoying his plays a long time ago when I had Repertory Philippines season tickets. But the real reason I chose him was his frequent focus on marriage themes. And marriage themes translated to excerpts with two characters – a man and a woman. Which is just about all I can manage in terms of vocal variety.

Reading Blithe Spirit, I realized I had an unfair bias against plays as reading material. I enjoyed Coward’s dry Bristish humor, with a bit of slapstick thrown in. A lot of witty repartee to keep me entertained in the one-sitting reading of its three acts.

The Blithe Spirit in the title is the departed spirit of Elvira, the ex-Mrs. Condomine, who laughed too hard watching a BBC musical and died of a heart attack seven years ago. With issues to resolve with the living, she decides to drop in on Charles and his new wife, Ruth. Trouble, obviously, ensues. Mr. Condomine has to first contend with disbelief and accusations of drunkenness and lunacy. Then when Ruth finally realizes that Elvira is indeed back with the living, bickering and mayhem follow, as Elvira tries to bring Charles with her back to whatever limbo she came from. Curtain falls on a chaotic scene where the original problem of a spirit infestation is aggravated.

This is a fun, quick read. Coupled with a successful interpretive reading delivery that got me channeling Angela Lansbury to a very appreciative audience who laughed at the right time, this makes it as one of my most entertaining reads of the year.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Wishlist Wednesday 1: Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

It's Wishlist Wednesday, when I blog about the books I lust for.

Top on my list is Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

I have no intention of reading this cover to cover, unless I absolutely have to; maybe in a fit of academic pretentiousness. But I want to have it because I just love, love, love the cover. Scrumptious cover that perfectly matches the title and theme of the book.

I saw it on a list of 2008's Best Book Covers, and I fell madly in love. Props go to cover designer Jason Booher.

I can't even find the ISBN in Amazon. Could it be out of print so soon after its printing?

Any one who gives me this in that cover will receive my lifetime, loyal-puppy adoration.

ISBN: 0141036192

I Flipped through the Pages of Ann Patchett's Bel Canto

Acquired: August 16, 2008, given to me by my brother-in-law Ken on his last Manila trip; I have since bought at least 3 copies I gave up for mooching.
Read: October 2009
ISBN: 0060838728
My copy is a well-loved, dog-eared trade paperback.

This book came with high recommendations from everyone who has read it. That, of course, raised the expectation and put it in danger of falling below it. It didn't.

Only the most critical would find nothing to like about this book.

Ann Patchett's writing reminds me of the depressing truth that I can't write. Not fiction. Nothing this moving. Nothing this bittersweet and poignant.

Ann Patchett writes the language of romance. No, not the cheesy, Fabio-on-the-cover variety of romance writing. Certainly more sublime. Take, for example, the way she rhapsodizes about music. She writes about one of the book's main characters, Katsumi Hosokawa, how on his elevent birthday his father brings him to the opera. In the opera hall, they walked together, not speaking, and listened to the music. Katsumi, moved, feeling himself falling forward, reached for his father's hands. I narrate it poorly, so let me quote an excerpt:
"It was during that performance of Rigoletto that opera imprinted itself on Katsumi Hosokawa, a message written on the pink undersides of his eyelids that he read to himself while he slept. Many years later, when everything was business, when he worked harder than anyone in the country whose values are structured on hard work, he believed that life, true life, was something that was stored in music. True life was kept safe in the lines of Tchaikovsky's Eugne Onegin while you went out into the world and met the obligations required of you."

It is amazing how one can write romantically about a hostage situation.

In an unnamed South American country, armed terrorists take hostage of a dinner party, of which Hosokawa is the guest of honor. He was bribed to attend the party, and the payoff is the opportunity to listen to the music of revered soprano Roxanne Coss. The cost of this exchange is many days trapped in a house, and more. In this unlikely scenario, people of different races bond. Some of them fall in love, if not with each other, at least with Roxanne's music. Hardened terrorists, pragmatic businessmen grow enamored with music in languages they don't even understand.

And then it ended.

Abruptly. Tragically. If you're like me, a sucker for sad endings, do not read the epilogue right away. Give it some time before you turn the page, grieve, ponder, and then slowly turn the page for a surprising ending. I have no more words, so this post will end just as abruptly.


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