It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. . . .

The first lines of A Tale of Two Cities set up high expectations. It’s a beautiful and powerfully-worded opening – one that introduces us to the “two cities” of London and Paris, and presented to us dualities that will prove to be prevailing all throughout the novel.  Dualities that are exhaustive such as life and death, love and loss, freedom and oppression – to exist, one must belong to one part of the other. You cannot have death without life, you cannot love without bearing great loss when your love finally goes, and freedom would not be as sweet without oppression (or the risk of it).

In Chapter 3, Dickens tells us a wonderful fact – that we are all mysteries to each other, “that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.” And with mad ingenuity, Dickens unravels those mysteries bit by bit, and neatly ties up all, and I mean ALL, ends into tiny little knots that are mind-blowing in their sophisticated complexity. (It is very hard to describe this book without sounding like an English major.)

A (sadly) abridged Puffin Classics edition, and a Charles Dickens portrait nicked off the web and printed as bookmark.

A Tale of Two Cities ended up being arresting and very, very memorable, but it didn’t quite start out that way. After the aforementioned first lines, the next 30 pages or so made me worry about wasting a perfectly good weekend over trivial Victorian descriptions of a coach and a mail and the perils of traveling from London to England in the year “one thousand seven hundred seventy five.” If I wanted to read about European travelling history, I would’ve picked up a non-fiction book written in contemporary language, not one that was published in 1869 and written fancily.

But alas, like all good things, this book needed me to bear patience, and afterwards, it rewarded me with a roller coaster of a story that deserves a thousand years of repeated telling. A Tale of Two Cities was well woven with the many intricacies of family drama, romance, social prejudice and a highly suspenseful plot set in the backdrop of the French Revolution. It was so good and so heart-felt that I stared at the ceiling a good hour after reading the last lines of the book, chewing over and over about all the plot twists, all the nuances, the neatly-tied ends, and the madness of Charles Dickens. What a wonderful writer, what a genius. He deserves the crown of being the most widely-read Victorian novelist of all time.

Charles Dickens ended the book as beautifully as he opened it. The last lines compete with popularity with the first. I’ve chanced upon it so many times (e.g. Dark Knight Rises). It is beautiful but it was made even more memorable with the context with which it was delivered.

It is a far far better thing that I do than I have ever done; it is a far far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

I cried.

Yes, A Tale of Two Cities demanded concentration especially by a reader spoilt by contemporary fiction for so long – but it was concentration that was easy to give. The language was intricate yet full of imagery. Some words did need looking up and some paragraphs demanded multiple reads to get immersed into, but this is not a surprise. This book is a classic after all, and reading classics does not merely entertain, it also challenges.

Everyone (and their mothers) should read this.

A Tale of Two Cities

The rare, long weekend is upon us, and instead of going out and ironically partying during the Holy Week, I’m travelling to my hometown to spend precious time with my family and get caught up in a book (or two!) on the side. This week’s book is Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

Reading Battle Plan for A Tale of Two Cities

I started with this today and it has been fun so far. The language is not that easy to breeze through, but that is without much surprise considering the book was first published in 1859. 1859! Knowing that I’m reading a work made by a man born 201 years ago is almost inconceivable. Classics are often overlooked for what they are – a rare and precious gift that a lot of people worked very hard for to keep alive today. We really should pick up an old gem every now and then.

I’d like to think that this isn’t my first Dickens book but my foray into Oliver Twist was unsuccessful in high school and I dropped it over a fantasy or romance novel, most likely. So yes, this is my first proper Charles Dickens book and one that has the most memorable (and famous) opening and ending lines in the history of ever.

My copy is a very pretty Puffin classic edition (ISBN: 978-0-141-32554-5) with an introduction by Roddy Doyle, and some notes at the back.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

What an experience this book has been. The few pages packed a punch.

I was on a Holocaust literature phase (after The Book Thief) and was looking for book recommendations that was “non-fiction but not pedantic.” I was thinking of reading something that would explain Anti-Semitism because it’s inconceivable to me how Jews seem to be hated so much that their existence has been reduced to mere prisoner numbers. I did not learn any of those in this book but I do not regret picking up this gem.

mans-search-for-meaning

Man’s Search for Meaning is a memoir by Victor Frankl in the point of view of being both a victim of concentration camps and as a psychologist. He describes, in profound yet accessible terms, his psychological interpretation of man’s spiritual survival in seemingly unsurvivable circumstances. It’s a first-hand account of the hardships and apparent hopelessness of life as a prisoner where bodies that cannot be utilized head straight to gas chambers, and those who can still be used are exploited with the least care and concern until death, for many, and liberation, for the lucky few.

He also talks about logotherapy – a new school of thought that treats man’s existential vaccuum by spinning the view of the world from one with no hope into one that has meaning. He asserts that even if we come to unexpected conditions we have no control over, we still have a choice. What we become, within the limits of the environment which we are thrust upon, we have made out of ourselves. We can still say “yes” to life in spite of tragedies – pain, guilt, and death. Life can still be meaningful under any conditions and that the “Man who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

So yes, that was it. Man’s Search for Meaning is not the book I wanted to read, but I’m glad I took a chance with it. Life is funny like that. It’s like the T.A.R.D.I.S. – it doesn’t always take me where I w
ant to go, but it always took me where I needed to be.

Just a Couple of Days

Yes, I perched the book up in a shrub.
Yes, I perched the book up in a shrub.

Darden gave me this book to read last month and I am forever grateful for this gift. That girl is a well of cult favorites, which Just a Couple of Days by Tony Vigorito is. It is a wonderful book, but not without its own flaws as you will soon be reading in review snippets that I wrote down as I was reading it. I am glad to have a copy of this book not just because I wouldn’t have found out about this on my own, but also because the prose is lyrical and quirky and I know I will enjoy going back to some of the most inventive phrases I’ve read in a long while.

Blip Korterly kicks off a game of graffiti tag on a local overpass by painting a simple phrase: “Uh-oh.” An anonymous interlocutor writes back: “When?” Blip slyly answers: “Just a couple of days.” But what happens in just a couple of days? Blip is arrested; his friend, Dr. Flake Fountain—a molecular biologist—is drafted into a shadow-government research project conducting experiments on humans. The virus being tested—cleverly called “the Pied Piper”—renders its victims incapable of symbolic capacity; that is, incapable of communication. Is this biological weaponry? What would happen if it were let loose on the world? Does a babbling populace pose a threat or provide an opportunity for social evolution?

March 10, 2013

Vigorito loves words. He loves the sound of them, their tumble and play, and he is definitely not afraid to use them. Ten pages in and I marveled at how cute and cheery the book was – very reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s works, but not as fascinating nor as good. KJV’s writing has always been memorable in its bouyancy as much as in its conciseness, while Vigorito invests on lengthiness and a wide vocabulary to make a point. Vonnegut’s works are crisp, while Vigorito’s are full and fluffy.

March 13, 2013

I wish Vigorito showed some restraint in his writing. He has the  knack for clever turns of phrase, but when your sentences last forever, and your playful language spirals down into tediousness and redundancy, it distracts the reader from what you are trying to say. Vigorito’s disproportionate creativity is getting in the way of telling an entertaining story. I get it, you have so many ways to prove a point, but please, please just get to it.

Goodreads reading graph
Goodreads reading graph

March 16, 2013

I’m finally done with Just a Couple of Days after trying to squeeze it in between work, family and trivia nights (lol). My final thoughts?

I enjoyed the book – it is legitimately hilarious and the plot is familiar yet offbeat. It is also very engaging in parts where the story actually moves along, and not just glide by. I did not feel anything for any of the characters, even if Agent Orange reminded me of Agent 355 (Y: The Last Man), which is sad since there could have been many ways to glorify all the other characters in the novel. The characters Flake hated, I hated all the more because they were all one-dimensional. Even Blip and Sophie were a bit one-dimensional and I couldn’t quite stitch how the unanswered questions, and the billboard graffiti all fit together. They were so thoroughly discussed in earlier parts of the book so reaching the end of the novel left me wondering if there was something I was missing. Was it gaping plotholes or is the story too layered for my busy brain? I guess I’ve become spoiled in the story-telling cohesion that other quirky writers (e.g. Douglas Adams) are masters of.

I laughed out loud in many parts of the book. As I mentioned in an earlier review snippet, Tony V. is clever, but I have been rolling my eyes to the back side of my head over paragraph upon paragraph of funny, artfully fashioned but very, very, very repetitive prose. It would have been a far greater book if it did not suffer from an amateur habit of making the same point over and over again.  I wish Tony matures enough to tell a great story with wisdom and discipline that comes with…I dunno. Writing workshops? Reading classic works of art? Age? Whatever it takes, I know that he has the talent for weaving a great story and I’m excited to pick up another Vigorito maybe 10, 15 or 20 years down the road.

Related recommendations:

If you like Tony V.’s Just a Couple of Days, you have to check out Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (then move on to his other works because he is my favorite author in the whole world), and then maybe some Christopher Moore (whom I belatedly noticed has a recommendation on the book’s cover). Their stories are as witty and humorous but with an admirable frugality of words that Tony Vigorito lacks.

P.S.

This book is so meta. I wonder if Tony reads David Foster Wallace, because long run-on sentences are so DFW, too.

Poetry Sunday: Wanting to Die by Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton (1928-1974) was an American poet, known for her highly personal, confessional verse. She won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967. Themes of her poetry include her suicidal tendencies, long battle against depression and various intimate details from her private life, including her relationships with her husband and children.

On October 4, 1974, Sexton had lunch with Kumin to revise galleys for Sexton’s manuscript of The Awful Rowing Toward God, scheduled for publication in March 1975. On returning home she put on her mother’s old fur coat, removed all her rings, poured herself a glass of vodka, locked herself in her garage, and started the engine of her car, committing suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Wanting to Die is from her Pulitzer-winning poetry collection Live or Die published in 1966. (Source)

Wanting to Die
by Anne Sexton

Since you ask, most days I cannot remember.
I walk in my clothing, unmarked by that voyage.
Then the almost unnameable lust returns.

Even then I have nothing against life.
I know well the grass blades you mention,
the furniture you have placed under the sun.

But suicides have a special language.
Like carpenters they want to know which tools.
They never ask why build.

Twice I have so simply declared myself,
have possessed the enemy, eaten the enemy,
have taken on his craft, his magic.

In this way, heavy and thoughtful,
warmer than oil or water,
I have rested, drooling at the mouth-hole.

I did not think of my body at needle point.
Even the cornea and the leftover urine were gone.
Suicides have already betrayed the body.

Still-born, they don’t always die,
but dazzled, they can’t forget a drug so sweet
that even children would look on and smile.

To thrust all that life under your tongue!—
that, all by itself, becomes a passion.
Death’s a sad bone; bruised, you’d say,

and yet she waits for me, year after year,
to so delicately undo an old wound,
to empty my breath from its bad prison.

Balanced there, suicides sometimes meet,
raging at the fruit a pumped-up moon,
leaving the bread they mistook for a kiss,

leaving the page of the book carelessly open,
something unsaid, the phone off the hook
and the love whatever it was, an infection.

2013 Book Hauls: So far, Not very bad

I’ve been trying not to buy too many books because my life can’t possibly just be all about reading. I think I did fairly okay with staying away from books this year, so far. Seven books in a couple of months is not THAT bad, yes? I mean, I did read eight books so far this year too, even if none of them were any of these books below. Oh well. Such is life.

A Pulitzer winner and a non-fiction.

Booksale Parkmall. January 2013.

Black Hawk Down. Non-fiction piece on warfare.

Black Hawk Down. Non-fiction piece on warfare.
Booksale SM City Cebu.

The Book Thief really got me into Nazi Germany and Antisemitism. I even started reading Mein Kampf!

The Book Thief really got me into Nazi Germany and Antisemitism. I even started reading Mein Kampf!
Booksale SM City Cebu.

My first Charles de Lint. I always enjoy his book reviews.

My first Charles de Lint. I always enjoy his book reviews.
A La Belle Aurore purchase.

Classic Mieville. Can’t wait to read this!

Classic Mieville. Can't wait to get my hands on this.
Another La Belle Aurore purchase.

For my Nebula reading list. I’ve been waiting for this to go on sale (I’m a poor cat), and I got it for 30% off. Woot.

For my Nebula reading list. I've been waiting for this to go on sale (I'm a poor cat), and I got it for 30% off. Woot.
NBS Ayala Center Cebu.

I’m giving away books this month too. Partly to make space for new books, and also because it’s my birthday month and I’m feeling generous.

The Wise Man’s Fear: The OA Re-read

Welp! That took quite a while but I’m finally done with my re-read of The Wise Man’s Fear. I did not scribble a review on my first reading because my mind, then, was the muddled brain of a fangirl who was anxious and excited for the next installment of The Kingkiller’s Chronicle. This time though, my mind is calmer and my fangirling has settled. That’s not to say that I’m no longer crazy over the series (because God help me, I still am), it’s just that I am more objective this time. Continue reading “The Wise Man’s Fear: The OA Re-read”

Firsts: March Poetry Reading at La Belle Aurore

Firsts_LaBelleAurore

The Nomads March poetry reading is all about firsts. Share your first love, first heartbreak, first man, or first woman, or first bromance, first kiss, first tooth, first iPod, first Dior, first ukay-ukay, or whatever first you may have through poems, spoken words, stories, rants, and everything else. And yes, it will also be the launching of The Nomads Quarterly’s maiden issue.

Wrong gramming. Regardless, see you, guys!

There is only one moon

Hey it’s March! I have not finished all the books I started last month because February has been very overwhelming. I did find myself in the middle of new things and new experiences which is the only acceptable reason one can miss out on reading.

I have always lamented on how much I seem to be missing out on life, but this really boils down on how little I’ve given the world of myself. I miss out not because the world scorns at my efforts but because I shrink down at the slightest hint of discomfort that being out there brings. But I don’t want to be that person anymore. I’d rather have my mind and body broken beneath the strain of giving the world too much of myself than too little.

If there’s anything to blame for this rekindled sense of purpose, it was last month’s Lovebug/Labhag. The poetry inspired me to read, write and feel again. Life took on a new meaning and I began to look at everything behind rose-tinted glasses. There really is something beautiful about the world if you know where to look. Life can be merciless, but trying to make everything perfect is an exercise in futility. I realized that accepting how hard life is is harder than carrying the burdens it brings. It’s so instinctive to want to fix every problem, to want to make everything as you would like it to be. It’s natural, but it’s also pretty delusive.

There are days when we carry heavy rocks in our hearts and some days those rocks become so heavy there is nothing to be done. Just go with it. Just trudge along. The heaviness will come to pass.