2015: My year in books

Here’s the list of books that I’ve read for 2015 (in the order that I read them):

  1. Hamlet (William Shakespeare)
  2. Mistborn (Brandon Sanderson)
  3. The Well of Ascension (Brandon Sanderson)
  4. The Hero of Ages (Brandon Sanderson)
  5. The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson)
  6. Words of Radiance (Brandon Sanderson)
  7. Clariel (Garth Nix)
  8. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (Haruki Murakami)
  9. The Eye of the World (Robert Jordan)
  10. The Great Hunt (Robert Jordan)
  11. The Dragon Reborn (Robert Jordan)
  12. Tales From Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin)
  13. Einstein’s Dreams (Alan Lightman)
  14. Titus Groan (Mervyn Peake)
  15. Gulp (Mary Roach)

I resolved to read fifty books for 2015 but I never got close to reading even half of it. I put the blame on Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. I knew (from reviews) they were bad but I gave it a try just so I could read those that Brandon Sanderson wrote. In the end, I read up to the third book only because the books were really bad (it was a LOTR-wannabe, with neurotic characters and unnecessary plot twists). All the reading exhausted me so I decided to take a break. That, and then one of my other hobbies, drawing, began to occupy me instead.

Some months after that, I picked up Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan. It was beautiful, no doubt, but it was also weighty. Reading it was akin to plodding through the tortuous passages within Gormeghast itself. It was only a few weeks ago that I actually managed to finish it.

Anyhow, my favorites from among those I read would be:

  • Mistborn (Brandon Sanderson)
  • The Hero of Ages (Brandon Sanderson)
  • The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson)
  • Words of Radiance (Brandon Sanderson)

This year, I am once again taking the challenge of reading fifty books. Huzzah! I do hope I will be able to accomplish it or at least come close.

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2014: My year in books

Last year, I became friends with a guy who also enjoys reading. He introduced me to Goodreads which is a social cataloging website for booklovers. So I created an account and I participated in the yearly reading challenge. I resolved to read 25 books for 2014. Here’s the list of books that I’ve read (in the order that I read them):

  1. Prince of Thorns (Mark Lawrence)
  2. King of Thorns (Mark Lawrence)
  3. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
  4. The Orphan Master’s Son (Adam Johnson)
  5. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
  6. Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen)
  7. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (Alexander McCall Smith)
  8. Tears of the Giraffe (Alexander McCall Smith)
  9. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke)
  10. Kafka on the Shore (Haruki Murakami)
  11. Emperor of Thorns (Mark Lawrence)
  12. Strange Tales (Rudyard Kipling)
  13. Till We Have Faces (C.S. Lewis)
  14. Abstract City (Christoph Niemann)
  15. 100 Years From Now (Steve Murrell)
  16. The Next Generation Leader (Andy Stanley)
  17. The Wandering Fire (Guy Gavriel Kay)
  18. The Darkest Road (Guy Gavriel Kay)
  19. The Great Gatsby (F.Scott Fitzgerald)

As you can see, I only listed 19 books. I have actually read 25 (perhaps a little more) but I didn’t include the others because I didn’t own a copy of those books.

My favorites from among those I read last year would be:

  • The Orphan Master’s Son (Adam Johnson)
  • Till We Have Faces (C.S. Lewis)
  • The Great Gatsby (F.Scott Fitzgerald)

For this year, I am challenging myself to read fifty books. That would be like four books a month or a book every week. And to start the year, I am reading William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. So, here’s to another year of reading!

What story down there awaits its end?

I have around six weeks to finish reading all the books that I bought this year. When the year ends, I want to be able to look back and say that as far as reading goes, I have been productive.

Early this year, I bought a copy of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation). I have read a significant portion of the book but due to other hobbies demanding attention, or to life interrupting, I haven’t finished reading it even until now.

Last month, I bought Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, one of the books I’ve been planning to read for ages, and started reading it despite the unfinished Anna Karenina but then a few weeks ago, I bought another book, Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler. I found it an easy and enticing read. I was able to finish it in a matter of days.

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If on a winter’s night a traveler is a metafiction, a story about stories. It begins with a Reader getting a defective copy of a novel (it only contains the first chapter, thus, he is unable to finish it). This sets off a perplexing series of events where the Reader ends up with only the incipits, the beginnings, of nine other stories.

Just like the protagonist, some readers of If on winter’s night… might find themselves vexed, or worse, disappointed that Calvino furnishes them with story upon story but never resolving them. But I guess that’s the point. One of the readers the protagonist encounters at the library asks, “Do you believe that every story must have a beginning and an end?” He explains that stories of old either have two types of endings: a happily-ever-after ending or an ending in which the Hero and Heroine dies. The first ending speaks of the continuity of life, the second speaks of the finality of death. After pondering upon this, the protagonist realizes that the story wasn’t about the traveler he encountered in the first incipit nor of the other characters from the other incipits. He realizes that all along the story was about him, that he is the protagonist of his own story.

But wait, there’s more! According to Calvino, we read stories in order to escape the real world, being “at the mercy of the fortuitous, the aleatory, the random, in things and in human actions”. In stories, the variables have already been defined — an event sets the plot in motion eventually leading to a climax and finally to a denoument where all the threads are tied and matters are resolved. With real life, however, most of the variables are undefined. In fact, we worry about the future precisely because it is uncertain. Since the stories in If on winter’s night… are unresolved, it creates a sense of uneasiness because rather than allowing us to forget, it instead reminds us of the unknowable that is so prevalent in the real world.

Also, the frame narrative of If on a winter’s night… is written in the second-person perspective. At the beginning of the book, Calvino addresses the actual reader although as we continue with the story, we blend further and further into the role of the protagonist/reader-in-the-story. However, the constant use of the pronoun “you” somehow continues to remind us that we are that character. If the protagonist had an epiphany that he is a character of his own story, then we too are chracters of our own stories. Thus, If on a winter’s night… is not just ten stories, it is a collection of twelve stories: the ten incipits, that of the protagonist, and our own. The incipits remain unresolved, the protagonist’s has a sense of an ending, and our own stories continue long after we finish reading the book. Brilliant!

Invisible cities

One of the things I resolved to do this year is to read more books because sadly, I cannot remember finishing any book last year. There were some books I bought but I never got to finish them. For instance, I got Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories but I found it ridiculous halfway through. I also got China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun but I had to put it off on several occasions due to a busy schedule.

Currently, I am reading Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. I first heard about Calvino when I came across this Flavorwire article. But it was this webcomic that got me into exploring the book:

Daydream-blog

(via Incidental Comics)

Invisible Cities is like a story within a story. In it, the explorer Marco Polo describes several urban landscapes to the aging Kublai Khan, from Armilla, “a forest of pipes that end in taps, showers, spouts, overflows”, to Octavia, a city suspended over an abyss like a fragile spiderweb, to Thekla, a city under constant construction “so that it’s destruction cannot begin”. The book somehow reminds me of Lord Dunsany’s The Gods of Pegāna in that the lands described, although distant, feel faintly familiar as if in some lifetimes past, we once walked in its streets.

Here’s an excerpt from Invisible Cities:

In Ersilia, to establish the relationships that sustain the city’s life, the inhabitants stretch strings from the corners of the houses, white or black or gray or black-and-white according to whether they mark a relationdhip of blood, of trade, authority, agency. When the strings become so numerous that you can no longer pass among them, the inhabitants leave: the houses are dismantled; only the strings and their supports remain.

 

From a mountainside, camping with their household goods, Ersilia’s refugees look at the labyrinth of taut strings and poles that rise in the plain. That is the city of Ersilia still, and they are nothing.

 

They rebuild Ersilia elsewhere. They weave a similar pattern of strings which they would like to be more complex and at the same time more regular than the other. Then they abandon it and take themselves and their houses still farther away.

 

Thus, when traveling in the territory of Ersilia, you come upon the ruins of abandoned cities, without the walls which do not last, without the bones of the dead which the wind rolls away: spiderwebs of intricate relationships seeking a form.