01 January 2011

Reading diary: December 2010

Ryan's dec-2010 book recommendations, reviews, favorite quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists

It's the last post of this 2010 series of capsule reviews, the first post of the new year. Eighty books read, it's been a great year, like going around the world in the same number of days. Here's my seven titles in December, two of which made my favorites list.

Clandestine in Chile by Gabriel García Márquez, tr. Asa Zatz

A true story of Miguel Littín, an exiled Chilean film director, who re-entered Chile in disguise during the late years of Pinochet regime. He undertook this clandestine mission to shoot a documentary that exposes life under the military dictatorship. It's a candid and nostalgic look at losing one's own identity and being a stranger in one's own homeland.

My full review here.

The Trial by Franz Kafka, tr. Breon Mitchell

Whoever said The Trial is a comic novel must be joking. The things that happened to Josef K. are not funny at all. Having come face to face with a corrupt justice system, with his individual rights violated at every turn, and being at the mercy of inept lawyers and judges ... Nobody is laughing at all. *looks warily at his back* Right?

Patikim by Mark Angeles

Patikim is Mark Angeles's first book of poetry, a harvest of love poems that contain some of the most cheesy lines that express heartfelt sentiments. They are the kind of lines that make a stone cringe: "you asked me, the me within me – / why the leaves flutter in the wind / why the stones are weeping / why a kiss tastes sweet." Faced with these crude expressions, the reader expecting complicated lofty thoughts will be disappointed. Instead what he will get are unapologetic jolts of feelings interspersed with entertainment, sometimes deadpan, sometimes wicked, often irreverent. The poems show that love can be a cure against cynicism, and laughter is the bitter medicine. The technique is hidden by apparent accessibility.

I have translated and posted a couple of these poems here. Here is another one, a short question the poet asks the violin and it encapsulates Mark's attempt to, in his own words, "objectify love." It can be a two-take objective: one that objectifies and one that object-ifies.

          O, Mahinhing Biyolin

          O, mahinhing biyolin,
          dalit ko'y iyong dinggin—
          Paano susuyuin
          and iyong pagkabirhen?

O, Virtuous Violin

O, virtuous violin,
hear my grieving hymn—
how does one win
your virgin being?

Blow-Up and Other Stories by Julio Cortázar, tr. Paul Blackburn

Reading Cortázar, it's like having a tiger in the room. A cute tiger, stripes and all. You wouldn't know, though, when it's going to pounce. But you know it's going to make a mean move, snack on you maybe, drink your blood, like a poet drinking metaphors, satiated beyond satiety. Like a reader drinking the prose of Cortázar. They are perfect prose pieces, unexpected like tigers. He is one of those prose stylists whose sentences you read for their music and poetry, without caring for the cohesiveness of the stories. The surprising thing is that the stories are impeccably plotted, with always something mind-walloping in the end. My favorite short stories here are the first two, "Axolotl" and "House Taken Over."

I decided to start with these stories after reading only a few pages of Hopscotch. I know the latter promises to be great but I felt the need to get some bearings with the short fiction. I predict a new (literary) hero worship is in the offing.

Tres by Roberto Bolaño, tr. Erica Mena, unpublished translation

I accidentally came across Erica's translation while surfing on the web. Unfortunately, it's not authorized for publication. I find in this translation of Tres the concentration of Bolaño's strengths as a poet. The conversational voice, the perfect muscle control of the lines, the powerful and various abysses, strangely structured, surreal, improviso.

Here is the start of the third poem called "A Stroll Through Literature."


I dreamed that Georges Perec was three years old and visited my house. I hugged him, I kissed him, I told him he was a precious boy.


We were left half-done, father, neither cooked nor raw, lost in the vastness of this interminable garbage dump, missing and mistaking ourselves, killing and begging forgiveness, manic depressives in your dream, father, your infinite dream that we unraveled a thousand times and a thousand times again, like Latin American detectives lost in a labyrinth of crystal and mud, traveling through rain, watching films where old men appear and cry tornado! tornado!, looking at things for the last time, but without seeing them, like phantoms, like frogs in the bottom of a well, father, lost in the poverty of your utopian dream, lost in the variety of your voices and your abysses, manic depressives in the immeasurable room in Hell where you cook up your Jokes.

One must read Tres for its rhythm, for its content, for visceral realism. Above all, for its rhythm. One, two, or three times.

Cave and Shadows by Nick Joaquín

A satisfying blend of history and detective story, Cave and Shadows investigates the death of a young woman found in a cave. There was no sign of foul play. She was found naked, and as if sleeping. There's an inner cave within cave, secret passages, neo-paganism, ritual sacrifices, cults and activists, converts and sinners. I think it has a lot to offer the readers of mysteries and mysticism.

I'll put up a longer review of this book sometime this month.

Mondo Marcos: Mga Panulat sa Batas Militar at ng Marcos Babies,
ed. Frank Cimatu and Rolando B. Tolentino

"Marcos babies" refer to the generation of Filipinos who were born or came of age during the regime of dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Mondo Marcos is an anthology of writings (short stories, essays, poems) about life under that dictatorship. A full review of this book is also upcoming.



  1. Glad you 'enjoyed' Kafka's Trial. It really does anticipate much of the past and present centuries political crimes against individuals with its opening arrest without charge, just along come with us. The Trial is not a funny book at all. Moments in his lighter, unfinished 'America' try to be.

    Pity it didn't make your very top list, its just as sinister as anything by Mishima or Bolano, real roots angst and implied violence. Kafka's themes of alienation and isolation have influenced so much 20th c. writing.

    Looking forward to returning here in 2011; all the best Rise for the New Year and well-done for being a thoroughly dedicated reader who generously shares his insights!

  2. Best wishes for 2011, & am waiting for my copy of Julio Cortázar's book from the library.
    Don't know if you've come across Deyen Enev, a Bulgarian writer, but his short story collection you may appreciate it's called Circus Bulgaria & in one of the tales a boxer turned hitman is ordered to kill his brother. These are hard, heartbreaking concrete, yet mystical Balkan Blues.

  3. Kevin, The Trial was a "wonderful" read (though a bit of a trial to finish really). It can only be dark-black comedy. It's actually a 5-star (out of 5 stars) book for me. One consideration in my selection of favorite books is to highlight not-very-popular titles and I think The Trial doesn't really need another book-pusher from me. I also want to absolve myself of the guilt of recommending a book bound to bring trauma and nightmares to readers. :p It's really great to recognize his spirit in the writers I've read before. They also have to include Coetzee and Ishiguro (for "The Unconsoled" most especially).

    Happy new year to you! Thanks for your candid comments.

  4. Happy New Year, parrish!

    I think I heard of that book before from one of Stu's reviews in Winstonsdad's. I'm sold with the premise. I'm just not confident that the bookstores here carry the title.

  5. A very happy new year to you rise ,all the best for coming year

  6. A happy new year to you too, Stu!