06 December 2012

The year's best


The Aesthetics of Resistance, Vol. 1
The Box Man
The Gold in Makiling: A Translation of Ang Ginto sa Makiling
Laughing Wolf
Luha ng Buwaya
Maganda Pa Ang Daigdig: Nobela
Mandarins: Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
Sa Aking Panahon
Style: The Art of Writing Well

Rise's favorite books »

This should be a fun exercise, selecting the standouts from the pile, the outstanding from the standouts. In cases where I couldn't decide whether to include or exclude a certain title, I ask myself some questions: Did I feel I totally get what the writer was trying to say? If yes, it's off the list. Any sense of humor, however miniscule? No? Then it's stricken off. Am I dying to reread it? Yes. Maybe. Include it.

1. The Aesthetics of Resistance, volume 1, by Peter Weiss, translated by Joachim Neugroschel

A group of students debating about art in the dialectical style of Plato. Squabbles and machinations between Social Democratic and Communist parties. The art and poetry of resistance, rebelling against the existing order, supplanting the prevailing thoughts with progressive notions, ideas. The first translated volume of a German trilogy, Die Ästhetik des Widerstands, must already count among the high points of resistance art. It is difficult, stylish, philosophical, and Marxist. Novel is too limited a genre to describe its complex structures. One could identify it as a hybrid of philosophical categories: a manual on Marxist literary criticism, a guide to the appreciation of proletarian art, a manifesto of aesthetic revolution, a treatise on the history and philosophy of political art. These categories provide the key words but lack the corrosive power of the text. Whatever literary species and genera it belongs to, this work of Weiss is a construct of profound inventiveness. It contains probably one of the best readings there is of The Castle by Franz Kafka. Its aesthetics is ultimately a resistance against death, against mortality.

2. The Box Man by Abé Kobo, translated by E. Dale Saunders

A simple setup: a man in a box. From this the Japanese novelist explored relativism and subjectivity with a mind-bending mastery of shifting perspectives and moving frames of reference. Maddening and shattering, it shall exercise the mind, for good or bad.

3. The Gold in Makiling by Macario Pineda, translated by Soledad S. Reyes

A post-war (1947) Filipino classic novel, finally translated this year. It's a love story, with elements of folklores, myths, legends, and history. At its center: the "cream of the race", the pride of the nation. That they all lived together at the heart of mythical Mount Makiling was plausible. Where else but in magical novels can these people be assembled? But Pineda went beyond this fantastical idea by raising a more fantastical possibility. What if these people come back to us? What if they climb down the mountain at some future time and assist their people in their struggles? What if they are already with us right now? The novelist struck literary gold with his excavation of native materials and customs. He presented a unique magic realist narrative rooted in local lores and nationalist history. The novel hinted at the need to break free from the shackles of colonial mentality and to renew traditional moral imperatives. It must be squarely in the crème de la crème among postwar Filipino novels. (review)

4. Laughing Wolf by Tsushima Yūko, translated by Dennis Washburn

About a young man and a girl who took a train trip across the physical and mental ruins of Japan right after the second world war. They came face to face with a people plagued with poverty, disease, and crimes. A novel must somehow clear a path, demonstrate its mastery on the page, and Laughing Wolf did that by writing about aspects of Japanese postwar history in a manner that was not entirely beholden to the methods of conventional historical fiction. Tsushima was doing something interesting and innovative to the fictional form of the novel. Her postmodernist technique had unassuming intelligence behind it. Laughing Wolf was a jarring text, in a provocative and brilliant sense, because it unsettled the pace and expectations of reading. And yet it was heartwarming for its generous sympathy and understanding. (review)

5. Luha ng Buwaya (Tears of the Crocodile) by Amado V. Hernandez

From a Filipino master of Tagalog prose, the story of a teacher who led the people in his village in resisting the machinations of the rich and corrupt landowners. It prescribes social organization and unity as keys to toppling the hideous reptiles in our midst. The novel is full of revelations about character while sharing ways of overcoming the travails of Philippine postwar agrarian society.

6. Maganda pa ang Daigdig (The World Is Wondrous Still) by Lazaro Francisco

Like Hernandez's Luha ng Buwaya, Lazaro's novel is a postwar novel of agrarian concerns and a worthy successor to José Rizal's political novels. It lays bare the injustices of the tenancy system by dramatizing the conflict between the landlord and the landless. Power comes to those who stand up to fight for what is just and right: "Ang mga matang naidilat na ay hindi na maipipikit!" (The eyes that had been made to see shall no longer close!) As with Hernandez's novel, it is ostensibly a love triangle amidst conflicts and confrontations. It engages with its fast-paced scenes right up to its melodramatic conclusion.

7. Mandarins, stories by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, translated by Charles De Wolf

Fifteen stories by the Japanese grandmaster defined what 'rashomonesque' was all about. The translation was elegantly done and the selection revealed Akutagawa's preoccupations with themes centering on adultery, Christian legends, the passing of a generation, and suicide. The concentration of trenchant images in this collection allowed for the characters to inhabit shifting states of feelings: from anxiety to serenity, from lust to resignation, from paranoia to ferocity. The latter feeling, that of fierceness or ferocity, of vulgarity and passion, may fully describe the elevated state of 'having deeply lived and loved' – in contrast to a life of pure intellect and culture – that lingers in the horizon of Akutagawa's artistic vision. (review)

8. Sa Aking Panahon (In My Time) by Edgardo M. Reyes

Pinatutunayan ng aklat na si Reyes ay isang maestro sa larangan ng maikling kuwento. Hindi lamang sa aspetong teknikal masasalat ang kanyang galing. Masusi, madamdamin ang pagninilay ng kwento sa masalimuot na sitwasyong kinasangkutan ng mga tauhan. Ang kwento nila ay kwento ng pagtutuos sa kapalaran ng mga walang-wala o ng mga nawawala. Sila ang kadalasang mga agrabyado sa buhay, mga dukha, mga "maliliit na tao." Ang mga tema ng kuwento sa koleksyong ito, ang kanilang kabuuan at konektadong epekto, ay nagtatanghal sa estado ng pamilya at lipunang Pilipino sa panahon ni Reyes. Hanggang ngayon ay masasabing nananatili ang nobena at nobela ng nagbabagong panahon at tradisyon. Sa ganang kanya, naipahayag ni Reyes ang isang uri ng "kapangahasang manggiba ng balag ng tradisyon" nang hindi sinasantabi ang dignidad ng indibidwal, at pinagdidiwang pa ang kanilang katapatan. (review)

9. Style by F. L. Lucas

This cult manual, holy grail of creative writing, was finally reissued in a third edition. One discovers an altogether fine book of "literary criticism" posing as a manual on writing. The medium is the message. In evaluating prose, Lucas is a convincing authority on what constitutes the stylish and what is rubbish. His own irreproachable writing demonstrates the championing of the concise, the clear, and the impeccable. Highly recommended for the conscientious reader and writer.

10. Trilce by César Vallejo, translated by Michael Smith and Valentino Gianuzzi

Unique strokes of lines, phrases, words. Archaic formulations, neologisms, and visually suggestive puns are the order of the day. The poems possess the lambent quality of a poker face and an audible silence. The varied interpretations of each poem at the end are a fulsome treat. Through his translators, the Peruvian poet Vallejo destroys old words by creating new meanings.

04 December 2012

Reading the second half of 2012

"I’m not one of those nationalist monsters who only reads what his native country produces", said one novelist who was fond of detectives for characters. By the second half of the year, I woke up to find the upper half of my body turned into a monster. I gobbled up a good share of writings by Filipino writers, in both Tagalog and English languages. I expect this nationalist fever to continue into the post-apocalyptic, post-doom new year and beyond. Yet the call of international and translated literature still persists. One's metamorphosis as a reader isn't ever complete.

The titles below were what I read from July to November. I decided to cut the year-end reading report to November. The last month was just too euphoric for me to post titles added to the reading list.

In this period I read a total of 36 books, bringing the year's total to 75 (or 6.8 books per month). As with my reading in the first half, graphic novels bloated the total. The stats are summarized below.

75 books read in 2012 -- 61 fiction (40 novels, 14 graphic, 7 short story collections), 7 poetry, 6 nonfiction, 1 mixed
62 books by male writers, 13 by female writers
40 translations -- 20 from Japanese, 11 from Spanish, 5 from German, 2 from Tagalog, 1 from French, 1 from Swedish
35 original language -- 18 Tagalog, 15 English, 1 mixed, 1 no language

Books read (July-November 2012)

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea by Mishima Yukio, trans. John Nathan
12 by Manix Abrera
Trese: Midnight Tribunal by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo
Confessions of a Mask by Mishima Yukio, trans. Meredith Weatherby
Dust Devils by Rio Alma, ed. and trans. Marne Kilates
Desert by J. M. G. Le Clézio, trans. C. Dickson
Luha ng Buwaya by Amado V. Hernandez
3 Strange Tales by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, trans. Glenn Anderson
Kikomachine Komix Blg. 4 by Manix Abrera
Maganda pa ang Daigdig by Lazaro Francisco
Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties by John J. L. Mood
It's a Mens World by Bebang Siy
El Filibusterismo by José Rizal, trans. Ma. Soledad Lacson-Locsin
Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles by Erik Matti and Ronald Stephen Y. Monteverde
Kapitan Sino by Bob Ong
Kikomachine Komix Blg. 3 by Manix Abrera
The Devil's Causeway by Matthew Westfall
Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag by Edgardo M. Reyes
The Aesthetics of Resistance, volume 1, by Peter Weiss, trans. Joachim Neugroschel
Zsazsa Zaturnnah sa Kalakhang Maynila #1 by Carlo Vergara
Sa Aking Panahon by Edgardo M. Reyes
My Prizes by Thomas Bernhard, trans. Carol Brown Janeway
Sugar and Salt by Ninotchka Rosca, illus. Christina Quisumbing Ramilo
The Gold in Makiling by Macario Pineda, trans. Soledad S. Reyes
A Contract With God by Will Eisner
Maoh: Juvenile Remix, Vol. 10, by Megumi Osuga and Kotaro Isaka, trans. Stephen Paul
Soledad's Sister by Jose Dalisay
Dekada '70 by Lualhati Bautista
This Craft of Verse by Jorge Luis Borges
Mondo Marcos: Writings on Martial Law and the Marcos Babies, eds. Frank Cimatu and Rolando B. Tolentino
Fair Play by Tove Jansson, trans. Thomas Teal
Ang Huling Dalagang Bukid at ang Authobiography na Mali by Jun Cruz Reyes
Style: The Art of Writing Well by F. L. Lucas
Lumayo Ka Nga sa Akin by Bob Ong
Ang mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan by Bob Ong
Masterworks of Latin American Short Fiction, ed. Cass Canfield Jr.

Also reviewed: "The Golden Hare" by Silvina Ocampo, trans. Andrea Rosenberg

Readalong co-hosted:

- The Savage Detectives Group Read

Reading events followed:

- German Literature Month II (November) by Caroline and Lizzy
- Literature and War Readalong by Caroline (July: Black Rain by Ibuse Masuji; November: The Stalin Front by Gert Ledig)
- José Saramago Month by Miguel
- Argentinean Literature of Doom
- Spanish Lit Month (July) by Stu and Richard
Japanese Literature Challenge 6 by Bellezza

Anticipated event: January in Japan by Tony