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Baka-raptor is awesome!

It took me five years, but I actually got the book he sent through Fed Ex as his gift.

Opal Mehta is an okay book, but it fell apart by its end.

Please visit baka-raptor.com for awesome posts. 🙂

Top 10 Books Read for 2013

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!

Book Review: A Grammar of the English Tongue

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.

1Q84 and season’s greetings!

As one of my close friends told me, I make too many excuses. So I won’t make one right now (although in the future, I just might). I didn’t watch any anime, or much television, for that matter, because I spent the first few days of my vacation here in Davao to read 1Q84 intently and conscientiously. I finished it four days ago. I wish Murakami wins the Nobel Prize next year, because I really think he deserves it. 1Q84 may not be as good as Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, but he sure proved his worth as a raconteur, telling stories of two different people that gradually converge through the course of the novel. I find that while there were some overwritten parts, the ending was probably one of the best ones I’ve read from him. I also like the novel because it seemed like a continuation, if not a fulfillment, of his short story ‘On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning.’ The book is filled with colorful and quirky characters only Murakami can paint, but one of the differences between this most recent novel of his and his other works is the hopefulness of the ending in contrast to the rather bittersweet (with emphasis on the bitter) endings his past major novels had.

I highly recommend the novel, not only for Murakami fans, but for all fans of good literature. For the Murakami speculator, however, I suggest that one starts with either Norwegian Wood or Hard Boiled Wonderland, seeing that those are shorter works that also pack a lot of punch. I frankly have no regrets: I will most likely be unable to read any novel after March next year for a whole year, so I made sure by finishing the most recent novel by one of my favorite authors.

I admixed sauntering with purchasing gifts after those four days, leaving me with little time to simply sit down and enjoy anime. Currently, I’m trying to finish Naked Lunch before the necessity of studying for our upcoming exams this January 2. I didn’t lose my love for anime, but I think it would be infinitely easier to enjoy than reading pithy literature, especially during class days. I’ve been there before, after all. With that said, I’m sorry for my belated greetings, although I do wish everyone who reads this blog despite its intermittent updates a very happy Christmas and a joyful New Year. At least I made sure to fulfill one of my New Year’s Resolutions: I made a promise to myself to read 1Q84 prior to my clerkship, and I’m glad I’ve done so even before the New Year arrived! Like 1Q84, I may only offer questions sometimes, but I pray that these questions and positions are interesting to the reader. I also hope that I can keep positing those questions to the readers who have been continually loyal to my site despite everything.

(And yes, I will watch Madoka.)

Ano Hana’s end: flirting with bathos?

I’ve been more productive as regards my blogging lately because we had a short, two-week break from class. In that span of time, I read four books, watched some Korean drama series, and watched Steins;Gate, in addition to some episodes of American serials. I think I have been quite productive. I am behind my anime, however, that I still hadn’t finished Ano Hana until today. I realized that I truly preferred [C] to the drama in Ano Hana despite the fact that Ano Hana is the better anime in terms of its technical aspects and tightly-wound story. That’s probably because I’ve been accustomed and conditioned to the plots found in Korean dramas, and the best among them (like My Girlfriend is a Nine-Tailed Fox) more seamlessly integrate the supernatural to mundane problems such as love and romance. I’m not saying that Ano Hana is terrible or bad: I’m just saying that I find [C] to be a more original series despite Ano Hana’s excellence.

Forgive me for thinking this scene funny.

I think what made me jaded with regard to Ano Hana’s last episodes were the fact that the most well-rated Korean dramas were just a lot more evocative, and these were what I was watching for the past few weeks that when I saw the last episode, I was laughing instead of being in tears when they confided in one another that they had their own selfish reasons for wishing that Menma would go to heaven. In addition to the emotional dramas I’ve seen, I was also finishing up on Saturnalia, which is a collection of excerpts from classic perverse masterpieces. Perhaps that was the reason why I wasn’t affected as I should have been: after reading excerpts featuring the coprolalia of Sade and the perversions of Li Yu, Swinburne and von Sacher-Masoch, romance probably tends to be funny instead of affective.

But in all honesty, the ending just didn’t affect me as much as I wanted. Despite being disappointed with the ending of [C], it attempted to make sense out of its limited time and budget, and did it valiantly despite a multitude of flaws. Ano Hana’s ending wasn’t really flawed: it was just beyond the melodrama that I expected, although I still wouldn’t classify it as bathetic. I’m glad Menma was finally able to go to heaven, don’t get me wrong, but the ending was indeed a wake-up call: I recall that Honey and Clover‘s ending had Takemoto confess to Hagu after he had found himself through touring Japan in a bicycle. I didn’t think that was melodramatic: in fact, the way he confessed to her seemed so natural to me. It was what he simply wanted to say after realizing that he liked her, after all. This was in stark contrast with the saturnalia of tears and crying in the final episode of Ano Hana: I thought that it was a bit overdone.

The series was still a decent show, however, but I stand corrected in even comparing it to Honey and Clover. What did you guys think of Ano Hana?

Sartor Resartus: a slice-of-life generating no emotional investment is a bad anime series

I just finished reading Sartor Resartus (The Tailor Retailored). I can’t say it was pleasurable, but I usually finish what I start, whether with books or life choices: I’m still in medical school, after all. It was one of the earliest examples of postmodern literature, essentially being metafictional in the sense that it’s fiction about the creation of fiction: critics have classified it as a poioumenon.

Thomas Carlyle

For me, it was extremely boring. The combination of dry and archaic wit with an absence of any plot progression was just difficult to withstand, in my opinion. It is nevertheless one of the recognized English classics, and its historical presence cannot be undermined. As quoted from Wikipedia (because I’m lazy and the short entry is quite believable, at the very least):

Poioumenon (plural: poioumena; from Ancient Greek: ποιούμενον, “product”) is a term coined by Alastair Fowler to refer to a specific type of metafiction in which the story is about the process of creation. According to Fowler, “the poioumenon is calculated to offer opportunities to explore the boundaries of fiction and reality—the limits of narrative truth.”[19] In many cases, the book will be about the process of creating the book or includes a central metaphor for this process. Common examples of this Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus and Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy which is about the narrator’s frustrated attempt to tell his own story. A significant postmodern example is Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, in which the narrator, Kinbote, claims he is writing an analysis of John Shade’s long poem “Pale Fire”, but the narrative of the relationship between Shade and Kinbote is presented in what is ostensibly the footnotes to the poem. Similarly, the self-conscious narrator in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children parallels the creation of his book to the creation of chutney and the creation of independent India. Other postmodern examples of poioumena include Samuel Beckett’s trilogy (Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable); Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook; John Fowles’s Mantissa; and William Golding’s Paper Men; and Gilbert Sorrentino’s Mulligan Stew.

I have also read Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (because of Daniel‘s suggestions), and I have found both to be unappealing to my tastes. Both are too particularly English for me to love.

The novel is essentially an unnamed Editor writing about the complex Philosophy of Clothes written by Diogenes Teufelsdrockh. The Philosophy of Clothes is essentially a smorgasbord of philosophy, theology, culture, and a massive amount of tangents. I do recognize some of the wit in the tome and the attempts at humor, only that I believe it hasn’t aged well with regard to its comic side. Frankly speaking, it is about everything and nothing at the same time. If I were to compare this novel to anime, it would probably be a slice-of-life series dealing with the mundane coupled with a bit of wit. Hataraki Man comes to mind, although that series was a lot more entertaining with the issues it tackled. It’s also less forgettable compared to Sartor Resartus, because it at least has a proper plot that drives it forward. Sartor Resartus is a compilation of musings that were probably intriguing 180 years ago, but seem too trite nowadays. It would make a pretty bad anime series.

The tsundere gambit: Ookami-san

Over the past week, I prioritized what little extracurricular reading I could do over solely watching recently-aired episodes of series I’m currently following, as I have always believed that it’s easier to watch anime than to read extraneous material during school time. Reading simply takes more time to do, as it requires more focus and forces the brain to think, at least, as compared to the more passive act of watching anime. With this reasoning, I spent a good amount of time reading.

Ami!

Ami!

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Petersburg: a city of shadows, a novel of spectres

One of the most haunting lines written by James Joyce was a quip from Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses. Dedalus says that ‘history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.’ It seems ironic, as it is due to the seamless intertwining of history and fiction that made Ulysses an enduring novel to many a critic. I think that the best stories serve as historical tracts at the same time, and this is especially true in novels.

Petersburg in revolution

Petersburg in revolution

Petersburg, written by Andrei Bely, is both brother and father to Ulysses. It was written earlier than Ulysses, and implements that magical mixing of mythology, history, and philosophy that was found in spades in Joyce’s novel. It inculcates news reports (history), mythology, psychology, and anthroposophy in a certain city, Petersburg, just like Joyce did with Dublin in his Ulysses.

Vladimir Nabokov and Anthony Burgess, among the most prominent writers of the 20th century, had nothing but praise for this novel. The premise of the story is quite simple: a senator, Apollon Apollonovich, was marked by an unnamed Party (note that this novel was situated during 1905 in Russia) for death by means of a bomb, which was a popular method of assassination during those times. The catch was that the assassin was going to be his son, Nikolai Apollonovich.

Bely made sure this wasn’t going to be just a rendition of Fathers and Sons. There are even instances in the novel where he parodied Turgenev’s works himself, such as mentioning a certain revolutionary who died of consumption (applicable to Fathers and Sons, as well). Petersburg was something more tasteful than that, and by avoiding being moralistic, Bely was able to elevate his novel into something much more.

The fundamental opposition of the story is between father and son. It is illustrated by the difference of their ages, but more subtly by the incongruity of their philosophies: whereas Nikolai Apollonovich was progressive and a liberal, his father was a Tsarist to the core. It was the reason why he was a high-ranking official in the monarchist government, but it was also one of the reasons why his son and him did not agree with one another (and barely even talked).

Like Ulysses, however, the relationships and references did not end there: mentions of Saturn were made. In Greek he is known as Chronos, or as the father who devoured his offsprings so as they would not be able to displace his reign or dispose of him. This is in disagreement with his namesake, however, who is Apollo, the god of the sun. There remains something that still connects them as family to one another, even in all their differences: while fond of symmetry and logic, Apollon Apollonovich was soft toward his hussy of a wife; in contrast, despite his Kantian philosophies (which was one of the reasons that led him to the madness of carrying the bomb), Nikolai was a fool in love. The idiosyncrasies of their character blur their clash of ideologies and sometimes father and son are painted as similar individuals.

The sun is also a symbol of the Ego’s progression in anthroposophy, which compounds the story further. While they are seemingly just caricatures, their personalities and characteristics disallow easy generalizations, and in this regard they are just as dynamic as real people. The best thing about this novel, however, that for me made it better than Ulysses was the fact that it actually told a highly engrossing story despite its wordplay and complex narrative. Whereas Ulysses was one large sex joke hidden in magical prose and complex storytelling, there was actually an engrossing story in Petersburg. This alone made it a much better read and a much better novel, in my opinion, than Ulysses: it told me that reality and fiction can be intertwined in creative ways while still being able to tell a wonderful story.

On nihilism

I’ve never tried to dissemble my real personality in my writings, and I don’t think I will start soon: I’ve been engaged in a war against my urge to collect vintage video games via eBay for nearly a year now. While I can’t say that I lost the war, I also can’t say I have won: there are some times when I’m able to rein in these desires and not purchase anything for months, but there are also times when my resolve was just too easily broken (these were certainly at low points in my life).

rei_noizi_2

I can easily say that I won this week’s battle, however. Instead of purchasing another impractical collectible, I instead channeled my spare time into reading novels and used some of my excess funds to purchase a pristine copy of Andrei Bely’s Petersburg. I have already somewhat triumphed on the wastrel in me, as in the previous weeks I’ve settled for one dollar items and nothing else. While I don’t know when this current self-control of mine will terminate, I do know that I’m trying to restrain this said impracticality by channeling my time into books. It has been decently successful: I think Devils is the first novel I have completed in four months.

Devils is one of the major novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky. As he is universally recognized to be among the best writers of all time, even his minor works are better than most of other authors’ major novels. Devils, like his other major novels, was a great novel. Unlike his other novels, however, this was primarily a novel of ideas. Nihilism was a budding idea among the youth at the time of the novel’s writing, and Dostoevsky wanted to offer his own opinion with regard to it: it is all the more impressive in retrospect because Dostoevsky was able to predict what would happen to his beloved Russia years from the novel’s publication. In addition, Dostoevsky differentiates the true nihilist (Stavrogin) from the politically-leaning ‘nihilist’ (Verkhovensky), alongside many other things. It’s a brilliant political tract, although it most definitely can’t be read without focus or lightly, like all of Dostoevsky’s major works. I have written about it to some extent in the past, but it was only this week where I re-read the novel and finally finished it, too.

As an idea, nihilism is extremely unsustainable (without going to its denotation), because it’s essentially a belief in nothing. It’s not anarchy, for example, which is the upheaval of the current social structures and burning that to the ground. That’s not a belief in nothing. When one truly believes in nothing, one shouldn’t care if no one else has faith in that belief: after all, he believes in nothing, not even himself.

Even at a cataclysmic event will not be enough to trigger a widespread belief in the beauty of nihilism. Nihilism is essentially a one-man show, something that even post-apocalyptic series and anime do not show within its characters. Man must believe in something for him to continue existing. Whether it is in God or in himself, he attempts to find meaning in the chaos that surrounds his world. This has been the case in a lot of anime series dealing with disaster, from Bokurano to even Neon Genesis Evangelion: even Shinji ultimately just wants to be accepted; Rei wants to be loved and so does Asuka.

Can you really believe in nothing?

Watching anime with Sartrean existentialism: a short reflection

I honestly never put much stock in Murphy’s law because I always sought to be the ‘true optimist’ in Sartre‘s words. In his seminal essay ‘Existentialism is a Humanism’ Sartre describes the true optimist to be the ultimate pessimist. Man can rely on and must rely on nothing else except himself. He must not find fate, God, or others to blame, because ultimately it is only he, and not these others, who can do anything about it. This is not to say that I’m perennially happy, but Sartre’s existentialist viewpoint has helped me put things into perspective. His existentialism is not the Gurren Lagann type of existentialism: he recognizes that we are situated in this world and we are all, as humans, characterized into a human condition. As humans, we are limited; we must, however, rely on no one but ourselves as we explore and develop within the world.

I had some time to, so ...

I had some time to, so ...

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