30 December 2011

Reading journal: December 2011

What a year. The pages flew by, opening new vistas, perspectives, ideas. Great stories told with passion and force. Some books made their marks, a few duds scarred the mind. But even so, some epic reads accompanied the reading life. The year is almost over and we're still reading until the end. The pages accumulate and many proved, in my book, equal to their bound existence. The great books are bound to be awesome, as they are. The challenge and the chore of reading are its own rewards. The habit of reading is its happiness.

Etc., etc.

Anyway, I'm grateful to all friends and readers of in lieu of a field guide for keeping up with my posts. I hope everyone will have a prolific reading this coming year.

The following are what I read this final month of 2011. I have spoken too early with my year's list of favorites. Most of the books here deserve to be considered in the yearend best list. I guess I'll consider them for next year.

57. The Future of Life by Edward O. Wilson

One of my favorite books of the year, it is a manifesto for immediate action to stem the tide of global environmental degradation. The environmental disaster is already upon us. It is of our own making and, Wilson reminds us, it will be the instrument of our undoing. That is, unless we undo this horrible mess. The book itself provides strategies and examples of how to do so. It is a call to arms: a call to constructive environmentalism.

58. Patriotism by Mishima Yukio, tr. Geoffrey W. Sargent (reread)

A lurid, blood-curdling dissection of suicide. It celebrates supreme vanity and it negates everything. The display of patriotism through suicide must be Mishima's master statement about the pursuit of art to its own end. Don't buy this book. Buy Death in Midsummer where this short story is only one of several masterful stories.

59. The Dead by James Joyce (reread)

In Ireland, a New Year's party was in full swing. The three lady hosts were busy catering to their guests. All were reminiscing about the past, thinking of operatic singers and musical icons who entertained them through the years. Dances and songs were constantly playing. Gabriel Conroy, the hosts' nephew, braced himself for carving the goose and delivering the dinner speech. Everyone had some kind of issue in this annual party. The caretaker's daughter was feeling bitter about some kind of heartbreak. A man, possibly drunk, was being closely watched lest he upset the party. Gabriel was worrying too much about the contents of his speech. His wife, distracted by a lonely song sung in a hoarse voice, remembered something from the past. As the party drew to a close, the snow was softly falling. What else can I say. Joyce was in too deep.

60. The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy, tr. Louise and Aylmer Maude

About a magistrate who was dying of a mysterious disease. This wondrous novella was about the denial of mortality, a moment-by-moment self-auditing of a life, and the acceptance of an existence rendered meaningless by suffering and death. It must be Tolstoy's synthesis of a lifetime of writing.

Stories by three noteworthy Japanese writers of early modernism – Tōson Shimazaki (review), Mori Ōgai, and Nagai Kafū. The stories are undeniably beautiful. The translation, however, is so bad in many places that there's nothing to recommend it.

62. The Castle by Franz Kafka, tr. Mark Harman

Like Tolstoy's Ivan Ilyich, this should be a strong contender in the favorites list. Kafka fashioned a brilliantly constructed joke about K., a land surveyor trying to gain entry into a castle on a hill. The ridiculous tangle K. found himself in was worthy of many laughs and cries.

63. Insomnia by Kristine Ong Muslim

In this collection of poems, Muslim's whimsical voice is profoundly wedded to her arresting images. She is a poet who sees miracles in the mundane and whose way with language is unobstructed. Her lines stun and mystify. They often deliver the punch that is felt hard in the gut. “You wonder whether you are the landscape or the one taking in the scenery. You wonder why the shadows of curved things remain straight.”, she wrote at one point. The reader was implicated in the poem. I will post a review of this book later in January, hoping to give justice to its terse beauty.

Updated reading statistics: 
63 books read: 43 fiction, 12 nonfiction, 7 poetry, 1 play
50 books by male writers, 11 by female writers
19 in original language: 17 English, 2 Filipino
44 translations: 15 Japanese, 9 Spanish, 8 German, 3 Russian, 3 French, 6 others


  1. Happy New Reading Year Rise ! Hope you continue your informative blog.

  2. What a solid end of the year, Rise, with some nice recommendations for me to consider for next year. Thanks for a great year of blogging! P.S. Half of Orhan Pamuk's Snow, a dud that so scarred my mind to use your lovely expression (!), effectively ended my Wolves' reading for the year so I'll forever hold that curse against him even though the Marías and Proust and Cortázar titles and things like that made it a very satisfying reading year overall. Anyway, on to Round Two with Bolaño' wild and savage detectives!

  3. Great round up, I have the Mishima, although mine was a freebie ebook, which I loved, I also remember your post on the book by Kristine Ong Muslim, which I thoroughly enjoyed. So Hope you & your blog continue successfully into the new year.

  4. And to you, Kevin! Cheers!

    Richard, on to the detectives salvajes! Eager to know what the Wolves are up to this (new) year. With the triumvirate of writers you mentioned, it was certainly a blast.

    Gary, thanks! It's been a pleasure too to read The Parrish Lantern this past two years.

  5. I would have liked to see the Marx Brothers make an adaptation of The Castle.

  6. The works by Mishima, Joyce, Tolstoy, and Kafka mentioned here are some of my favorite reads from the past half-decade too. I never cease to be amazed by this blog. Keep up the good work and have may you have more good books before the world ends! :)

  7. Tom, I'd like to see the Coen Brothers do one.

    Karlo, thanks. No time for bad books. Now that the end is near.