12 August 2010

Reading diary: March 2010

First off, I would like to thank Aloi over at guiltless reading for ... [drumrolls ... ] a blog award!

The recipient of the award is supposed to do the following*:

1. Thank and link back to the person who gave you this award.
2. Share 7 things about yourself.

* Modified, as per the recipient's prerogative. I opted not to pass along the award as I will also give them to some of the persons who already received them. All one need do is look at the right hand side of this page to see my blog roll. Every one of them, 30-plus links and counting, deserves to receive the Versatile Blogger Award.

Here are seven things about myself: (i) I'm a six-footer. (ii) I teach maths and physics in college, part-time. (iii) I have extreme allergy to dust and smoke. (iv) I love lato seaweed. (I mean, eating them.) (v) I don't drink coffee, except at a café-bookstore near my place. I like it mocha. (vi) I hardly watch television at all. I prefer listening to local news radio. (vii) Favorite movies: Mars Attacks!, Ghost in the Shell, Black Hawk Down, Kurosawa Kiyoshi's films, Outbreak, The Thin Red Line, Gallipoli, The English Patient, The Lord of the Rings, Good Will Hunting, Unbreakable, and Children of Men.

Back to regular program, on what I've been reading these past months.

MARCH 2010

15. The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo

First published in 1906, The Book of Tea was written by a Japanese in the English language. Which makes me wonder if something still got "lost" in translation. Actually the book has something to say on the matter:

Translation is always a treason, and as a Ming author observes, can at its best be only the reverse side of a brocade—all threads are there, but not the subtlety of colour or design. But, after all, what great doctrine is there which is easy to expound? The ancient sages never put their teachings in systematic form. They spoke in paradoxes, for they were afraid of uttering half-truths. They began by talking like fools and ended by making their hearers wise. Laotse himself, with his quaint humour, says, “If people of inferior intelligence hear of the Tao, they laugh immensely. It would not be the Tao unless they laughed at it.”

There you have it, the book is full of these philosophical insights. It's more than a go-to book on the art of tea preparation. It also deals with still-fresh perspectives on art appreciation, on art and meditation. The flavor of this book is so natural it is like partaking of a cup of tea itself. Tea with dollops of poetry.

16. If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents by Gregory Rabassa

A memoir by wunderkind translator Gregory Rabassa, the book details his childhood intimations of a facility for languages and his initiation into the art of translation. It also describes, lovingly, his various relationships to authors he translated, the background information on the books he worked on, and his candid estimation of each of the author or book. What makes the book very palatable to me, other than Rabassa's priceless interactions with diverse writers, is the inside stories in the process of translation The book is priceless in this score.

You can view Rabassa's sterling résumé here.

17. Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Murakami Haruki, translated by Alfred Birnbaum

This is Haruki's fourth book in order of original publication in Japanese. He is as silly as ever. What sustains the reader here is the mystery. I think his style best fits speculative fiction like these. The reader will need to swallow the red pill of make-believe and voluntarily suspend his irritation.

I'm reading Haruki's early books in chronological order in order to get some context for the latter books, particularly The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore, both of which I abandoned reading after being put-off by the style. But I recognize that there is something there, beneath the pedestrian prose.

I was surprised that I ended up liking A Wild Sheep Chase and this book (to a lesser extent) when all the while I'm trying to resist them. Maybe by the time I brushed up again with the longer works I will finally "get it" (if there is something to get). Or have an INKling of what Haruki is trying to say (if he's trying to say something). I have a suspicion he's just messing up with me.

18. Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Chris Andrews [reread]

Among Bolaño's prolific outputs, Nazi Literature is of unique standing. It's considered to be an explosion of his "objective" or journalistic style. He is an "influenced" writer, in the sense that his bookish erudition shows through in each of the write-ups of the "Nazi writers." I've written several blog posts about this book already. You can access them by typing "Nazi literature" in the search bar on the upper left corner of this blog.


  1. Your choice of books is interesting. But sometimes I think philosophical books are too tough for my mediocrity. ^_^

    I have also considered a book or two pointless and even quitted reading one due to its style. But sometimes, I also consider thinking that there must be a lesson lying somewhere.

    Nice post! ^_^

  2. Thanks for your comment, Fun and Fearless. There are some books of uncommon style that would pique my interest but would later make me cross. As if the whole point of the story is to justify the writing. But there are others which will just hit you with its clever narration. It's the latter kind of books that makes it worth taking the risk of reading.