Top 10 Books Read for 2013

January 2nd, 2014

To me, this has been a pivotal year for me as regards literature. It’s probably the first year that I’ve read more than 100 significant works of prose, and it’s a great feeling that I finished reading 140 at the end of the year.

I’m writing this note as a reminder to myself of what I deemed the best books I have read over the course of this year, as well as a sort of instructive write-up of sorts to those who may be interested in reading books that I (among others) highly esteem. Here goes.

10. Persuasion – Jane Austen

I don’t like to read romances for the most part. It’s not that I’m a cynic regarding love; it’s just that I don’t like escaping from my failures in love into fantasies. That’s probably the reason why I read classics for the most part. Rather than being entertained, I like reading for the sake of edification. I like to combine observation with reflection, and I like learning, and that’s why I read.

Persuasion is Jane Austen at her most mature, though. Anne Elliot is no longer youthful: she toes the line of spinsterhood, and yet she still waited for the only person she loved. It was, of course, her fault that she was persuaded against her heart, but I totally understand: in the final analysis, love is not the only thing that keeps us alive. There are so many factors and intricacies involved in living that romance is merely an aspect. Anne, being a pragmatic person, simply silences herself while paying the dues for her repudiation of Wentworth.

She is intelligent, forbearing, and patient. She watches her tongue. I like her, because I’m reminded of myself by her.

Aside from that, though, it’s really Wentworth’s letter that sealed the deal. It’s probably among the sweetest, most loving words I’ve read from the entirety of literature: ‘I am half-agony, half-hope. I have loved none but you.’

9. The Art of Clear Thinking – Rudolf Flesch

This was a zeitgeist, a history book, and a tome that taught one how to be more organized with thought. It had some fun tests in it, and was a joy to read.

8. How You Can Be a Better Student – Rudolf Flesch

This was a book that gauged one’s intelligence in most mental aspects. Not only that, it also helped one boost his vocabulary, and write better. I made friends with this book, but it was also very helpful to me in the aspect of more efficient studying.

7. Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell

I read this novel over the course of two days.

I’d say this wasn’t even a romance novel, because Scarlett wasn’t really effusive with love. Despite her demeanor, though, to see her struggle through the Civil War from destruction to rebuilding and then to failure once more was really breathtaking. I lost sleep over this novel because it was just that exciting to read.

The ending was also very apt. Scarlett deserved every bit of what Rhett did to her. I can’t remember most of the details, but the panoramic breadth and the color of the novel is more than enough for its price of admission.

6. Some Do Not and No More Parades – Ford Madox Ford

I’m glad I first watched the mini-series. It made understanding the first two novels of Parade’s End a lot easier.

I really like this novel because its protagonist, Christopher Tietjens, is essentially ‘the last gentleman.’ Even though he was cuckolded by his wife, cheated by her lover, and left hanging by his friend, he persisted to being upright and proper even as his world fell around him. Although he finally capitulated with his love for Miss Wannop after his wife took everything that could be taken from him, he still remained a true gentleman, and the Last Tory.

The two novels are both complex and beautiful, and beautifully represent the decline and fall of conservative values as modernism loomed. Great work.

5. The Bridge over the River Kwai – Pierre Boulle

In a certain battle, the Japanese defeated the British and brutally treated them as prisoners-of-war. However, as the Japanese require a bridge across Burma to transport supplies, they needed the help of the POWs to build the bridge. Despite abuses, Col. Nicholson staunchly opposes being made to work as if they were privates, and refers to the Hague Convention for their rights in war. Eventually, the Japanese leader capitulates, and a bridge of wood was made with speed and efficiency.

The bridge, however, has to be destroyed, and eventually allegiances are questioned. Should pride be placed above duty? Should honor be placed above work? These are questions that the book posits and offers no answers to. All there remains is a pithy, well-written tragedy.

4. The Mansion – William Faulkner

‘But you can me’

When Faulkner writes a love story, it becomes a classic.

Liberal Arts and The Mansion have a similar age-difference in their love stories. But unlike Liberal Arts, however, The Mansion features vicarious love. Because Gavin Stevens, the protagonist, could not love the mother as she wouldn’t allow it, he takes care of the beautiful, energetic child instead and tries to lead her toward the right way. Her name is Linda Snopes: her father is one of the most devious representatives of the Snopes family, the American representation of Faulkner for uncompromising avarice. Stevens tries to give her books, direct her to become a more educated, more knowledgeable lady, and she slowly gets to appreciate all that he had done and was doing for her. But he could not love her the way she needed to be loved, and he could not give what she wished for.

This is a love story and a thriller at the same time, and is the final novel of the Snopes trilogy. It’s proof that a ‘lesser’ Faulkner work is probably most other writers’ masterpieces.

3. The Idiot – Fyodor Dostoevsky

‘If Jesus Christ were placed in the 19th century, would he have the same fate?’, Dostoevsky asks.

He answers with a resounding yes. The Idiot features a sweet, angelic prince in Myshkin who comes into fortune after some coincidences. Two women fall in love with him: the first is someone totally virtuous, and the second is ‘a fallen woman.’ The fallen woman cannot accept love from him, so she ruins herself; the virtuous lady could not understand that his love for the fallen woman is different from his interest in her, so she runs away.

Ultimately, he retreats into his own shell, still full of goodness, but never returning to the world.

The novel is a great reflection of the evil that man possesses, and the goodness that man can no longer have. Revelatory and prophetic, The Idiot is one of Dostoevsky’s greatest novels, and arguably one of the greatest novels ever.

2. The Violent Bear it Away – Flannery O’Connor

Before I graduated from my clerkship, I strongly reacted when one of the consultants told me that she did not know who Flannery O’Connor was. In our graduation party, the novel was used to identify me. I unhesitatingly grouped this novel into one of my all-time favorites – and it remains to be so.

Nearly a year removed from reading the novel the very first time, I’m still thoroughly impressed. O’Connor tackled the question of faith through her grotesques, and although I may have misunderstood some of its parts (it’s a highly complex novel), just reading about the reality that one never really can run away from God was a great catharsis of sorts for me. No matter how much Francis Tarwater tries to run from God, he is nevertheless still drawn toward him. Indeed, only those violent with the love of God can carry the Church away from its demons. It’s a dark, difficult work, but it’s made me reassess my faith and actions towards God.

1. The Glass Bead Game – Hermann Hesse

I thought nothing could beat The Violent Bear It Away. I was so sure.

Then I read The Glass Bead Game. I don’t think both works could be compared to one another, but I saw myself in the struggles of Joseph Knecht. To become the Master of the Game, he had to sacrifice everything else except knowledge: he was intelligent, diligent, and responsible, and that was the reason why he had reached the highest possible post in Castalia. Even then, however, it wasn’t enough. Or rather, it wasn’t right.

Eventually Joseph realized that hiding in the high tower of one’s intelligence was no better than those people who hid in caves just to escape the light. Both were equally wrong, and equally contemptible. Knowledge and wisdom in a human being remains to be nevertheless steeped in the real world. One cannot live without being in society, and one cannot escape society. In the end, he still wanted out of their cabal of intelligence because he argued that life isn’t lived inside a glass bead.

I realized that he was right. I pursued intelligence and knowledge so much that I had ignored and was insensitive to the needs of other people. Before, people were mere stepping stones to the build-up of my intelligence. Feelings were insignificant. While I had changed for the better even before the book, The Glass Bead Game elucidated what should be done: wisdom is useless in solitude.

I agree, and that’s why The Glass Bead Game is my best book of 2013.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Is this the strongest season in two years?

October 27th, 2013

I may have been selling myself short with Infinite Stratos 2. With Kyoukai no Kanata, Coppelion, and Samurai Flamenco, this might be one of the stronger seasons of recent years. I’m totally sucked in by attractive, bespectacled women as well.

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And the newest anime I’m watching goes to…

October 22nd, 2013

The first anime I watched after Psycho-Pass wasn’t some classic or critically-acclaimed series.

It was Infinite Stratos 2.

After all this time, I’m still in love with Charlotte Dunois. I love a beautiful, smart, and demure lady. Whereas all the others are passive-aggressive toward Ichika, Charlotte has been consistent with her emotions for Ichika.

I’d love to meet a girl like her.

Book Review: A Grammar of the English Tongue

October 18th, 2013

For the past few weeks I have been borderline anal with regard to English grammar. Mere peccadilloes seem to incur my wrath. As I reflected on my thoughts, I’ve grown to realize that my anger was uncalled for. To remind myself of my fallibility, I have decided to brush up on my English grammar. This serves a two-fold purpose: first, I can sublimate my irrational anger towards the procurement of knowledge; second, by reading about wise people and their works that reflect their wisdom, I become humbled as I am reminded that I still have much to learn about the synthesis of perfect sentences.

My plan has been mostly successful: instead of being angry at others, I have directed my energies to honing my ability to speak and write in English. I’ve also realized that I had no right to judge other people’s inability to speak or write proper English seeing that I still have much to improve on.

Anyway, the book was great: despite the age of Samuel Johnson’s hortations, the work still brims with wry wit and humor. I find that his descriptions of the letter ‘Y,’ then considered a vowel, to be quite funny: ‘Y is a vowel, which, as Quintilian observes of one of the Roman letters, we might want without inconvenience, but that we have it.’

Johnson has this to say about adjectives: ‘[t]he comparison of adjectives is very uncertain, and being much regulated by commodiousness of utterance, or agreeableness of sound is not easily reduced to rules.’

While a lot of the rules and observations regarding English grammar still apply today, the asides to me were more entertaining and offered a colorful picture of what the English language was at that time. It may not be as successful nowadays as a guide for grammar, but the book is enlightening as a zeitgeist of the English language during that time.

Some rants on grammar nazism

October 12th, 2013

I figured that I’m just going to write whatever comes into my mind. Although I do still want to get back to anime, it’s quite difficult with 24-hour duties every three days, and the board examinations at the back of my mind. I have been studying reviewers over the past month so that once the boards do arrive, I’d at least feel competent enough and know enough to pass.

I’ve recently been a stickler for English grammar, especially because I find it quite grating to see people use English as if they were smart yet butcher the language violently. As a result, I’ve tried to be more careful with what I write online. (If I do make mistakes, feel free to call them to my attention, as I will address them as promptly as I can.)

That’s essentially it. I’m currently reading some Nick Hornby: after months of reading classics and medical books, it’s a bit refreshing to read crisp, humorous writing. I hope I can finish the book today, barring any deluge of obstetric patients. :)

Psycho-Pass: just when I thought I didn’t like anime anymore

August 25th, 2013

In great examples of media that feature an opposition of ideals, the villain (or antagonist) is just as important as the hero. The Dark Knight is one of the more recent examples of this: although Christian Bale’s portrayal of Batman was cerebral and well-acted, it was undoubtedly Heath Ledger’s Joker who stole the show. He was irrational, brutal, and yet extremely effective. I even sincerely believe that as far as villains go, his was the best (and consequently, the worst): most people would agree, as he had won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. An actor portraying a supervillain winning an Oscar was unprecedented, yet most people were in approbation of the choice. The Dark Knight was nominated as one of the best pictures of 2008, and is recognized by many to be one of the best, if not the best superhero film of all time.

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Psycho-Pass possesses the same dynamic: in a futuristic world that is half-Neuromancer and half-1984 (as Makishima connotes), crime is prevented before it has even occurred. The series undeniably borrowed elements from The Minority Report (written by Philip K. Dick, and also alluded to by Makishima) as well. The story begins relatively innocently, with an intelligent rookie joining the Public Security Bureau. As the crimes progress in severity and brutality, however, the idea that a mastermind acts as a puppet-master to all the heinous crimes recently committed surfaces. As the story unfolds, he was a familiar figure in Kougami Shinya’s past (the Batman of this series).

Makishima (or the Joker) is a bit of an anarchist, although like Joker he enjoys destruction in and of itself. The whole series is essentially a cat-and-mouse game between these two characters. Like The Minority Report, however, the Sibyl System that holds together the society that everyone currently enjoys actually comes from dubious sources. The question of ‘free will’ looms over the characters, and like Louis Salinger of 2009′s International, Kougami has to go beyond what is defined to be ‘law’ in their place to actually enforce justice.

I love the literary allusions, from Rousseau, Kierkegaard, Foucault, and even Jeremy Bentham. Is it truly all right to sacrifice one man for the good of mankind? Is he not a human being all the same? The series offers no easy answers, and the ending, while by no means surprising, is actually a revisit of the themes that pervaded Nolan’s Dark Knight: sometimes, the only ones who could dispense justice are the ones that go beyond the law.

It’s a brilliant series that has restored my faith in anime once more. It’s been a while since I truly wrote about anime, and while not as special to me as Tatami Galaxy, Psycho-Pass is a great anime to watch, to think about, and to enjoy.

Shark (K-drama): thoughts

August 1st, 2013

I think the only point I was a bit turned off by Shark was when Yi Soo finally found out the truth behind his father. His breakdown, or ‘heroic blue screen of death,’ was a bit over-the-top and funny. Other than that the series was, at least for me, quite a well-planned series. I can only compare the show to movies like The International and The Parallax View: similar to both those films, Shark doesn’t really have a happy ending. Realistically speaking, however, I think that’s what happens when one tries to take down a person in the highest echelons of society: one must wade in the muck, and at times get dirty, to drag that person down to justice. Without really breaking any laws (other than his initial spark with Jung Man Chul), he dived deep into the mud and yet never really strayed again toward murder until Chairman Jo was caught. He still couldn’t escape Jo’s power, however.

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Do I think it’s a fitting conclusion for him? No, because Kim Nam-gil is a great actor and I could really empathize with Yi Soo’s search for balance and justice. Realistically speaking, however, he was going to be incarcerated for murder; he would have had to still die for the sake of Yi Hyeon if he was going to save her. I have much respect for the show because they used ‘autoimmune hepatitis’ as a disease entity. We had one small-group discussion regarding that disease, and no one in our class got it right. It’s a bitch of a disease because of its protean manifestations: when I speak of protean, I pertain to non-specific signs and symptoms that may be confused with diseases which are more obvious. These are examples such as fatigue and malaise. When it comes to the point of Yi Hyeon (and we’ve been introduced ever since the earlier episodes that it wasn’t really just starting), it may have been a progressive disease that led to cirrhosis. Complications of cirrhosis include coagulopathy, which means that clotting is impaired. I think Yi Hyeon’s encephalopathy was reflected by her persistent loss of consciousness in the car. I’m no gastroenterologist, but the show was pretty accurate with the disease they chose and its manifestations: in intractable cases of hepatitis, liver transplantation is the only answer.

It was undeniable that he was going to give his life up for the sake of his sibling; he was already willing to pay for what his father had done, but most of the affected people (even Yi Soo) had moved on from the past and essentially just sought justice.

I don’t find the non-love story between Yi Soo and Hae Woo to be tacky, essentially because as a rational man, Yi Soo never really took advantage of Hae Woo as regards to her emotions toward him. He loved her, and that was reciprocated, but he never even dared to have sex with her even though it was obvious that she wanted it despite the fact that she was married. He wanted her near him, but it never really got beyond his kisses and hugs. The status quo in the love triangle was essentially maintained: Joon Young loved Hae Woo even though he knew she still loved Yi Soo all those years. I doubt whether they’d still have a child after all that but only time will tell. She probably wouldn’t betray her love for Yi Soo again, though.

It’s not as complicated and as intelligent as Joseon X-Files, but it’s one of the better dramas I’ve seen. The foreshadowing was well-done, the intricate exchanges and the chess game between Chairman Jo and Yi Soo were properly thought of for the most part. There’s just a little bit missing, but I certainly wasn’t disappointed in it. I loved how Yi Soo tried to pay for the sins of his parents after he realizes he was deeper in the muck than he initially imagined, and made peace with the people his father victimized. I like it better than the brutality of Devil, and it certainly had more closure than that series, although of course I wished for the more hopeful light of Resurrection. I wasn’t disappointed with what I watched, though: in the end Yi Soo became someone I could really cheer on because he did it his way, and did the right thing.

Books and the man

May 14th, 2013

First, about two days ago, I read (or more accurately) skimmed through Thesaurus of Book Digests, looking for new novels to read: I’m not very much fond of plays, and while I can appreciate well-written poetry, I’m partial toward the art of prose. Out of the 800 pages I was able to single out seven works:

1. Hyperion – Friedrich Holderlin
2. Man’s Fate – Andre Malraux
3. Meek Heritage – F. E. Sillanpaa
4. Pepita Jimenez – Juan Valera
5. The Vortex – Jose Eustacio Rivera
6. Nonsense Novels – Stephen Leacock
7. The Wandering Jew – Eugene Sue

After realizing that The Wandering Jew was more than a thousand pages long, I scratched it out from my to-read list, and realized that aside from Man’s Fate (after careful searching on eBay and other online book marketplaces), the other novels were out-of-print. Most unforgivably expensive is Rivera’s La Voragine (The Vortex), which would cost me $80 if I ever planned to obtain it. The rest are within my spending capabilities, although they would still cost me more than run-of-the-mill popular novels. I hope to buy one novel for the each of the succeeding months: perhaps The Vortex may be the last among them.

The list made me realize only one thing: I guess I am a bit more than merely peculiar with my book choices. I did skim through a Thesaurus of Book Digests so that alone is already telling. I plan to read Marcel Proust next, because I don’t think I can properly assess either my dislike or like for him if I never even read through a single work of his.

Second, I am surprised that I like Jane Eyre as much as I do. But then, its Wikipedia entry says that ‘Charlotte Brontë has been called the “first historian of the private consciousness” and the literary ancestor of writers like Joyce and Proust.’ Before Joyce went mad with Finnegans Wake, his writing was excellent, intelligent, and introspective – I found certain similarities between his Portrait of an Artist and Jane Eyre’s explication of herself.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised now. :)

No longer an anime fan

May 14th, 2013

I’m no longer an anime fan.

I have no excuses.

I’m an anime fan has-been. I don’t have Internet right now, so all I do is read books and go to work. Being a medical doctor is harsh. There’s really little time for anything else than duty, and that sucks.

I still love anime, though. I saw the first episode of Psycho-Pass and was quite impressed with it. I honestly miss my analyses on Tatami Galaxy, however – or my excursions on Code Geass years ago. I want to have an Internet connection, but I have to make do with reading instead. All I can do now is go online at certain times, and that really doesn’t bode well for anime watching. Currently, I am taking back my life, trying to decimate the backlogs of novels to read.

Anime should be next. I’m quite hopeful, but I need an Internet connection to do that. It’s frustrating.

The Dead Poets Society redux

April 22nd, 2013

I know I shouldn’t be feeling so down. For better or for worse, I am graduating tomorrow from Medicine. Three years of challenging study, a year of hell, and I am at the precipice of graduation. All I am feeling, however, is relief. It’s not really even happiness: I’ve never had something akin to love for Medicine, or even passion, and yet I’m literally only a day away from being officially a doctor of it.

I guess I’ve never expected to be awarded anything. Obviously, I know that I haven’t been the best clinical clerk in any department. Two weeks ago, however, I was told by the intern-in-charge for Internal Medicine that I belonged to the top ten after she tallied our cumulative scores. I mean, she wouldn’t have called to congratulate me or enumerate the names of those that belonged. Since we went through a lot together, I trusted her congratulations and expected to be recognized during the Graduation Ball.

It all fell apart yesterday, however. I think nothing was going to come out of it when the sixth-best intern was called and I still wasn’t called up. That’s what I hate, you know – false confidence. I mean, when you say something wrong, I think you should own up unless it’s understandable that doing so would destroy one’s life. I’ve always tried to say sorry when I recognize that I’m in the wrong, but always kept silent whenever I know I’m right, or actually stuck to my guns. I guess it was bad for me to be confident on something still in the future, but I thought the egg was as good as hatched.

I guess I just wished to be told beforehand that I wouldn’t probably receive any award and that she had made a mistake because I made my parents and relatives rely on me. I know it’s a small, insignificant token but at least I wanted to show something for all their support. I most definitely know that I did what I could to survive internship even though I don’t even have any love for medicine. I’ve had to eat my words, and I probably will do so again and again, and it irritates me.

Should I not have trusted, then?

She was our intern-in-charge. She wouldn’t have twirled me around her finger given the hell that we overcame together. I guess there are just some things I would never know about. I’m still going to graduate tomorrow, anyway. I just hope I won’t disappoint my aunt who came simply because I was going to graduate.

I wish we were rich, because I want to be a writer. I want to study more about the people I admire in literature, and create that one novel that would solidify my reputation for the rest of my life. But since we’re poor and I try to be a proper child to my parents, I guess being sidetracked by medicine would be all right. I’ve studied for four years to be knowledgeable enough – I don’t think I should stop now. I want to be a decent doctor that I could help my family, but this will never be my passion.

I just want to write. As long as I don’t live like a beggar, I think I can manage. It would be a good thing if I could find a beautiful lady with feline eyes and a sharp mind to love me, but if that’s not feasible I think I would be all right anyway.