Redirections #1

Favorite long reads that do not (cannot) make it to my yearly reading goal but sustain my need for good stories that punch you in the gut.

Sometimes, I start writing only to find out one paragraph in that I have nothing to say. It is weirdly frustrating. I’ve been consuming a lot of very good writing recently yet the greatness barely rubs off. An old adage insists that good writing comes from good reading, so I read and read and read. It would be nice to share a story too, but until I find my voice and a good tale to match it, I might just as well go on reading.

And so I read. Every break I get from work turns into short sprees – from Stephen King’s On Writing, to Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle Part 1, to the first few pages of Anna Karenina. I’m also supposedly to be in the middle of two short story collections but I can never seem to want to read them, but I want to read something long and engaging but nothing too long and too demanding so I turn to great writing on the web instead.

Roxana Halls
Roxana Halls

One of my recent favorites is Zadie Smith’s Dead Man Laughing – an essay about growing up a comedy nerd, her father’s love for comedy, and the jokes that run through her family.

Zadie Smith is a long-time writer girl crush. She writes so beautifully and her words will cover you with a nice rose-tinted veil of happiness and introspection. There are people who see the world differently, and Zadie’s gift is to write about this distinct worldview so wonderfully.

The humor of its people helped make it [Britain] bearable. You don’t have to be funny to live here, but it helps. Hancock, Fawlty, Partridge, Brent: in my mind, they’re all clinging to the middle rungs of England’s class ladder. That, in large part, is the comedy of their situations.

Another good one is Emily Nussbaum’s The Last Girl in Larchmont – a profile on the fascinating Joan Rivers. I’ve always known Joan Rivers and her brand of comedy but I have never gravitated to her Fashion Police stint. Roast comedy has never appealed to me (it feels cheap and exploitative), but I loved how Nussbaum framed Joan Rivers’s comedy as a product of a sexist era. I’ve come to admire Rivers for standing out in a man’s game during a time when it was harder to be a woman.

.. her flamboyant self-hatred made possible this generation’s flamboyant self-love, set the groundwork for the crazy profusion of female comics on TV these days, on cable and network, cheerleading one another, collaborating and producing and working in teams, as if women weren’t enemies at all.

Roxana Halls_
Roxana Halls

Another favorite is Larry Ypil’s  A Song of Two Cities – a nostalgic narrative about being a Cebuano expat in Singapore. My casual disregard for the quirks of my island city always gets shaken every time I read about Cebu from the perspective of someone who is away from it.

To be a Filipino expat writer in Southeast Asia is to be a witness to ways in which versions of oneself are mirrored in landscapes that are different from and similar to one’s own. To suffer the weather of the same but also of the not quite.

* Featured Image: Augustus John’s The Blue Pool. 1911

The Romance of Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West

“Great thinker”: Virginia Woolf, painted by Duncan Grant, a Bloomsbury Group member (Picture: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence Photo/Estate of Duncan Grant/DACS 2014)
“Great thinker”: Virginia Woolf, painted by Duncan Grant, a Bloomsbury Group member (Picture: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence Photo/Estate of Duncan Grant/DACS 2014)

…I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way. You, with all your undumb letters, would never write so elementary a phrase as that; perhaps you wouldn’t even feel it. And yet I believe you’ll be sensible of a little gap. But you’d clothe it in so exquisite a phrase that it should lose a little of its reality. Whereas with me it is quite stark: I miss you even more than I could have believed; and I was prepared to miss you a good deal. So this letter is really just a squeal of pain. It is incredible how essential to me you have become. I suppose you are accustomed to people saying these things. Damn you, spoilt creature; I shan’t make you love me any more by giving myself away like this — But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you: I love you too much for that. Too truly. You have no idea how stand-offish I can be with people I don’t love. I have brought it to a fine art. But you have broken down my defenses. And I don’t really resent it.

So… yeah. Virginia Woolf is one of my favorite female writers and she (apparently) had an affair with Vita Sackville-West, an English poet who will become her lifelong friend. The quote above is taken from a letter by Vita to Virginia and dayummm.

The Scar’s Armada

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So, I am currently  in the middle of China Miéville’s The Scar. It’s Book 2 of the Bas-lag series, which I really wouldn’t call a series because the only thing it shares with Perdido Street Station (Book 1) is the universe it is in – aptly called, well, Bas-lag. This is only my second Miéville. Second! It’s very odd to be so involved with a writer after reading only one of his novels, and probably all of his articles and interviews that I could find online. So we need to remedy that. By reading everything in his bibliography, starting of course, with The Scar.

ANYWAY.

In Part II of The Scar, we are introduced to a pirate city hauled across the ocean – the city of Armada, a forest of ships. It looks like this:

Armada_by_Majoh
Armada by Majoh

For someone who’s literary background on anything nautical was mostly, errr naughty historical romances, it was daunting for me to picture a city of ships that sails as a conglomerate. I searched for fanart that would give me an idea of what it would look like and Majoh’s interpretation closely resembles how Miéville describes Armada – it’s less than a mile wide, with conjoined ships of all kinds, and bridges that interconnects this whole piratical web of craziness.

Another fanart of the city during the day:

Armada City by Medhi
Armada City by Medhi

This one looks a lot like Riften – probably my least favorite town in Skyrim because I get lost all time when I need to go to the Thieves headquarters, and because I kept falling from bridges. It is a probable conclusion that I will die if I get press-ganged into Armada. And yes, press-ganged will be the only way I could be there because no city-born would ever spawn someone who keeps falling from bridges.

Here’s another pretty one:

myarmada
by Franco Brambilla

In spite of all these wonderful Armada interpretations, my favorite is still this beautiful cover of the hardbound copy.

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I want this copy but I’m poor

The cover shows the true grittiness of Miéville’s pirate city – it is dark, alienating, and mysterious. I wish I discovered China’s works earlier so I would’ve had dibs on the hardcovers but oh well. My cover (reprinted UK edition, first picture) is very, VERY pretty too.

(An Incomplete List of) Books For Sale!

This took too long to post. Here’s a list of books up for grabs. I’m just helping a friend out so they aren’t mine. Regardless, leave a comment if you’re interested and I’m sure someone will get back to you!

1. Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter by Ruth Rendell (hardbound)
2. Shopgirl by Steve Martin (softbound)
3. The Hours by Michael Cunningham (softbound)

4. Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins (softbound)
5. Unfinished Portrait by Mary Westmacott (paperback)
6. The Lake of Darness and The Veiled One by Ruth Rendell (paperback)
7. The Tree of Hands by Ruth Rendell (paperback)
8. The Grand Tour by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer (paperback)
9. The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (softbound)
10. The Shadow in the North by Philip Pullman (paperback)

11. Farewell My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living by Doug Fine (hardbound)
12. Triple Cross: How Bin Laden’s Master Spy Penetrated the CIA, the Green Berets, and the FBI by Peter Lance (hardbound)
13. Shanda: The Making and Breaking of a Self-Loathing Jew by Neal Karlen (hardbound)
14. Inside the Red Mansion: On the Trail of China’s Most Wanted Man by Oliver August (hardbound)
15. Over There: From the Bronx to Baghdad by Alan Feuer (hardbound)
16. No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of teh Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden by Mark Owen (hardbound)
17. Scorpion Down: Sunk by the Soviets, Buried by the Pentagon by Ed Offley (hardbound)
18. Lanterns and Lances by James Thurber (softbound)
19. Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen (softbound)

20. For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism by James Yee (hardbound)
21. Secrets of the Savanna: 23 Years in the African Wilderness Unraveling the Mysteries of Elephants and People by Mark and Delia Owens (hardbound)
22. Cross Country: Fifteen Years and 90,000 Miles on the Roads and Interstates of America with Lewis and Clark, a lot of bad motels, a moving van, Emily Post, … kids, and enough coffee to kill an elephant by Robert Sullivan (softbound)
23. The Kindness of Strangers by Kate Adie (hardbound)
24. Don’t You Know It’s 40 Below by Jack Kates (softbound)
25. Breaking With Moscow by Arkady Shevchenko (hardbound)

So it goes.

November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007
November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007

One of my favorite writers (and humans) ever, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., died six years ago yesterday.

If you know me personally, you would know how much I love Kurt Vonnegut. He has been a monumental literary hero in my life. I read my first book by him (Cat’s Cradle) on a boring summer day, in front of my computer, not knowing what to expect. I fell in love with his words and his dark, dark, dark humor and humanity always resonated with me.

I went on to read more of his works (pirated, on my slow PC), then started building up a humble legit Vonnegut collection on my shelves. I still remember the first time I saw a Kurt Vonnegut paperback. It was in Fullybooked and when I saw five of his books lined up in a shelf, I stifled a scream. I have to buy those books! And I did, eventually, after painstakingly saving up for it. There are so many things you will do for love.

It’s rare to find a hero that speaks so well to you, and very wonderfully tells the things you wanted to say, but couldn’t. Or don’t know how. I related so well with him through his works. He was my spirit animal – Kurt Vonnegut was cynical (as I was), but he was also hopeful (as I came to be). He taught me that you can be both. To paraphrase a fellow fan, Steve Almond,

Vonnegut has seen the worst of human conduct, and refused to lie about it. But he has not allowed his doubt against humanity curdle into cynicism… With his books, Kurt Vonnegut converted grief into laughter by means of courageous imagination. Like any decent parent, he had made the astonishing sorrow of the examined life bearable.

Kurt Vonnegut once said, “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.”  Alackday, and fuck my luck – that became the method to my madness in dealing with horrifics and my occasionally joyless life. We are all fucked and are going to die, but things are still funny.

We’re all part of a granfalloon, Mr. Vonnegut! I never knew you, but I miss you. Thanks for all the stories.

Iain Menzies Banks

IainBanks

You must’ve heard the news. Scottish author Iain Banks has been diagnosed with late stage gall bladder cancer, and he has informed everyone that he may be taken from us in a matter of months. This announcement came to me a few hours after I knew of a dear friend’s passing – Mommy Sylvia has gone into the good night last week, also from cancer. The pain that cancer brings hits very close to home. The grief of knowing the impending loss of someone you love is very real to me, and this early grief can sometimes be more terrifying and disabling than the pain of finally losing your beloved.

I am gutted to hear about Mr. Banks’s diagnosis to an almost embarrassing degree. It’s odd to be so distressed over a stranger’s health but Iain’s works have been a great consolation to me on my darkest days. I picked up my first Banks novel (The Crow Road) while I was beside my mother’s hospital bed. There are still many things I do not understand about death, but Prentice McHoan taught me the universality of loss – that there is nothing unfair about death, and people dying is merely part of how the universe works. The great side effect of growing old is outliving people, and I was glad to have Iain’s Prentice teach me about things I couldn’t, or refuse to understand while my brain was muddled with angst and anxiety.  

The Crow Road‘s darkly comedic take on heart-rending grief was the first book last year that really, truly healed me. Under wonderfully woven words is a writer who looks through you and understands you. He sees the world and brings it to you with his works.

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Right after The Crow Road, I picked up The Wasp Factory which is a novel of a different and darker caliber. This man has a way with words that will have lasting effect on you. I was making my way to some of this other mainstream novels (I have Complicity and The Steep Approach to Garbadale on my shelves), and finally on his works as Iain M. Banks (novels I have not read but have placed on pedestals), when this happens.

But Iain Banks also taught me that there really is no finality in death. There is no final page. The characters he has brought to life will stay with me for a long, long time and his legacy of outstanding literature will outlive every one of us.

Thank you so much for the stories, Iain. I will try to do you some of the honor you deserve by retelling them.

We continue in our children, and in our works and in the memories of others; we continue in our dust and ash. Death was change; it led to new chances, new vacancies, new niches and opportunities; it was not all loss.

Banksophilia: Friends of Iain Banks for updates and best wishes.

April Reads

Last month, I joined /r/books Goodreads group, which is an extension of the books subreddit, and the books I know I’ll be reading this month will be group reads with the rest of the club.

First off is Frank Herbert’s Dune. I started a Book Support Group thing for Dune. I know that this novel’s going to be a whopper . It’s a big book with lots of pesky words to go with it (i.e. terminologies unique to the saga).  I’ve always wanted to read it but I know I’m going to need people to egg me on it. I wanted other people to suffer/enjoy the book with me too. (Misery loves company.)

Here’s my little support group (those who submitted bookfaces anyway).

The second book is Christopher Moore’s Fool. It’s a light read that is heavily based on Shakespeare’s King Lear.

April’s looking to be another great month for books!

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.

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.

February Book Swap!

Just a quick post to let everyone know that my February books from Darden are home!

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One’s a steam punk anthology while the other’s an apocalyptic novel. It’s pretty exciting to have two new speculative books to add to my collection. Yep, she’s giving the books to me. !!! She’s pretty wonderful and I’m still not sure what I did to deserve such warm kindness.

I can’t wait to start on the steam punk anthology, which is one of the genres I am most unfamiliar with. I never found armored bears and rusty airships fascinating so I’m eager to have my walls of snobbery broken this time. I feel pretty lucky to have someone hand me free books to hammer my narrow-mindedness thin and to keep my reading options considerably wider every month.

Thank you, Darden. I hope you enjoy the book I sent and may you find the rest of the month fun and kind.