Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Imperfectionists


I didn’t read about or come across this novel at any point in my internet wanderings. It was given to me while I was in bed at the hospital after an accident with my foot, along with a few economic texts and a creative non-fiction book about life in New York City right after 9/11.
I don’t know what it is, but I find myself much more interested in contemporary, literary texts (with strong plots) than classic works, which should be on the top of my list. I want to get back to “Moby Dick”, “War and Peace” or some Kafka. I even find it a bit hard to get into “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, which I do really want to read, as well as “The War of The End of the World” by Mario Vargas Llosa (Latin American authors are the best), but I just can’t get myself to keep the attention. I will return to them, soon enough though.
“The Imperfectionists”, published in 2010 by Tom Rachman, a British born writer who was a journalist for the Associated Press, covers the story of a newspaper publishing company which is founded in 1950’s Italy by Millionaire Cyrus Ott. The story explores the legacy of this newspaper publishing and the Ott family, as well as being a small history and commentary of the printed word in general. Each chapter focuses on a different person who works the paper’s publishing company, the section of it that they’re in charge of, their perspective on other people who work there, their own troubles, etc, effectively assembling and grander and deeper view of the people who bring you the happenings around the world in black-and-white print.
The writing itself kept me interested; the pacing is excellent and fast enough to keep the attention of today’s average attention-deficit person. He doesn’t sit in some passages, dwelling on a character staring at a photo and writing about what they’re feeling for pages and pages at a time (nothing wrong this in itself, but some authors do it to absolute inane and boring ends. What they’re talking about isn’t interesting). Although in some passages, Rachman goes too fast and actually jumps over small scenes and bits that should’ve been more developed, especially after building up tension to it. The theme of interweaving of perspectives is definitely a great idea, especially in pertinence to the over-arching subject of writing and the newspaper itself.
Not more much to say than this. I wish I could write about on going subjects or literary symbols, but that would require a second reading, which I may do depending on what I read about it from other people’s reviews. The novel wasn’t spellbinding or that memorable, but had I bought it, I definitely would’ve deemed worth the investment, and I do look forward to more output by Mr. Rachman.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January 25th Update

Ok, so the last thing I left on here was a quote from David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas”, which I still haven’t finished even though I started it January 2011. Early December 2011, I was in an accident and was hospitalized for the whole month. I’m out now.
In retrospect, I should have finished about 5 novels1 in that time, but instead, I could not take myself away from “Law and Order” reruns or marathons of “Burn Notice” and “Leverage”. So, “Cloud Atlas” was dragged out. However, I am not without progress. I did finish “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” (which has since been release in big-screen form, directed by David Fincher, starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, snubbed by Academy Awards), and I've finished "The Nearest Exit" by Olen Steinhauer. I also started, but did not finish, “The New York Trilogy” by Paul Auster.

I started a job in May that is just….abysmal, and free time in lieu of that has been spent drinking and smoking cigarettes to help cope with this. Working there, full of people who treat their customers like crap, make stereotypical, ignorant judgments of people and are quick to put you down or try to show how worthless you are to your boss when all you want to do is serve the customers, knocked the literary drive out of me. It’s nothing short of unbelievable that places this unethical are still allowed to function and have a place in society. It giving people jobs does not outweigh the immoral practices of this business. That’s not to say that I prefer the jobs and business being taken away, but that it would definitely be better run by other, rational, progressive people who understand that customers are the foundation of a business and things should be in order to keep them coming back. If I say anymore, this post will become quite political. There’s more about this shitty place in my earlier blog post. But I digress.

Anyway, I will fight to keep a literary fire roasting within me. It’s one of the only reasons to live. I will write what I remember thinking about those 2 books, if only to record them on this blog. Will come back later. 

Notes: 1) Pending that none of them were any long, mega pensive works like “Crime and Punishment” or something.

Friday, March 25, 2011

"It's a wise soul, thinks Luisa, that can distinguish traps from opportunities."
pg. 137 of the softcover "Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

An update....

Ooop, still reading the three novels listed in my Goodreads widget, as well as a non-fiction book and a religious text. Also, I still want to get into "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" in order to comment on the take-the-words-negro-and-injun-out controversy, although I strongly believe that regardless of my impressions of how the words are used in the novel, my opinion on the said controversy will be the same. Will get back here soon.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Ilustrado

Miguel Syjuco, a master of the English language and novel writing from the Far East, published “Ilustrado” in 2008, and I read about it on the list of notable novels of 2010 on the New York Times list, alongside “The Nearest Exit” by Olen Steinhauer. I read the article on “Ilustrado”, and was intrigued, as I love mysteries and works by foreign writers. I picked them both up at The Strand, a marvelous store worth noting, and began tackling them both despite the presence of other books that I’ve had for much longer and were ahead of the list for reading. Despite some hindrances, “Ilustrado” can easily be designated one of the best novels on my shelf. The mystery that the main character is attempting to solve is a subdued plotline at best, meant to propel the story into a bunch of other contemplative areas of life in the Philippines. Syjuco contemplates way too much in certain areas, but this was tolerable. His uber-colorful writing and ideas kept me reading and venturing with him into whatever avenue he chose to follow.

Miguel Syjuco (the protagonist’s name, not the author), a student, writer and child of a rich political family in the Philippines, comes into the picture upon news that his mentor and a disgraced Filipino author in his own right, Crispin Salvador, is found dead, floating in the Hudson River in New York City. The cops cannot decide whether it is a suicide or murder, although people who know of Salvador’s life lean to the latter amidst rumors that important political people wanted him dead to stop him from exposing certain candid matters in his new book “The Bridges Ablaze”. Syjuco sets out to uncover the mystery surrounding Salvador’s death, as well as compile a new biography on his life.

Despite the tiny premise described above (or perhaps because of it), the story then sprawls into segments from Salvador’s crime noir and fantasy novels, articles of interviews he’s done in the 80’s, and pieces of his own 2,572-page autobiography “Autoplagiarist”. Mixed with those are segments describing Miguel Syjuco’s progress in tracking down Salvador’s relatives and friends, his love life in America and its renewed version in the Philippines, the country itself dealing with terrorism, politics and its dealings with religion and corporate interests. This, at first, is a very captivating and creative way to deal with the various themes, history narratives and literature within the story. But shortly after Miguel Syjuco touches down in the Philippines, this gets to be overbearing, as new segments continue to pour in, old ones become as complex as the main story itself and it becomes a struggle to figure out which politician is being paid-off by whom or which character is generally being talked about or described. In addition to this, the novel is full of these long diatribes of philosophical bantering that take up full pages and render themselves completely and obviously unnecessary for anything going on.

In a particular scene where Syjuco is on a plane, reluctantly traveling back to his home land, the departure from the central mystery of the story and entry into disengaging rambling first rears its head, as a few sections of prose in that segment took way too long to get to the point and Syjuco uncharacteristically notes that someone “kicks the back of [his] seat to remind [him] to stop being so profound”, which rang a note of autonomous self-importance that was very unappealing. I was tempted to put the book down upon sludging through pages of that stuff for fear the majority of the novel resembling this, but I carried on due to the gravity and prose skill of the story all the way up to that airplane scene, and I will say that I was rewarded.

Hopefully, Syjuco has taken heed of this, as I’ve read a handful of blog posts and tweets of people saying that they can only carry on but for so long before putting the book down. Then again, I would never ask any artist to stop writing the way they desire to just to appease anyone besides themselves. Perhaps, in some way, it’s on us as readers to get up to par with Syjuco’s level, rather than wrestle with prose that could challenge and strengthen us. Supposedly, Syjuco is working on a second novel that surrounds a minor character from this one. I look forward to it, and anticipate an intelligent exposé.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

January 19th Report on the War against my bookshelf

So, weeks ago I was originally reading “The Power and The Glory” by Graham Greene and “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” by John Le Carre. Or, I should say I was attempting Le Carre for the 2nd time. I started reading it years ago and had no idea what the heck was going on plot wise. I re-tried it recently, due to the announcement that Swedish film director Tomas Alfredson is adapting it as a film for the big screen with Gary Oldman and Ralph Fiennes, and I was able to follow the plot a lot better this time around, but it and Greene were ultimately re-shelved for future returns.

Unrealistically, I retain the goal of tackling everything on my shelf at some point in life. I try sticking to one novel at a time, but the grass is always greener on the other side and the decorated spines of other seemingly faster-paced or deeper novels stare back at me from the bookshelf. So, I try reading multiple books at once, as John Ritter used to do, but inevitably the one that’s more interesting consumes most of my attention, and even though I know I have to catch the other novels up, I can never give myself the desire to.

So obviously, all the books have to be equally intriguing (or perhaps equally boring).

The aforementioned two were shelved because, as written in the last blog post, I headed out to that magnificent New York City pillar of literary economy, The Strand, and picked up “Ilustrado” by Filipino writer Miguel Syjuco, the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize winner that has been getting all the raves amongst literary outlets. The narrative is written much livelier and in faster pace than the other two, so I just swore I’d come back to them later.

I then picked up “The Nearest Exit” by Olen Steinhauer and “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson. All three of these books equally share my interest and will be written about on here soon enough.

I take it to be a literary moral obligation to cover the classics, and I have a range of Barnes and Noble editions of them, especially in light of the recent controversy over 1885 classic “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” being reprinted by “Twain Scholar” Alan Gribben without the words “nigger” or “Injun”. But contemporary stuff is where I’m at now.

I’m hoping that being exposed to so much of it will make them all appear the same. Then, for me, the old novels will become the new ones.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A list of 2010 Notable books by the NY Times

I arrived on the internets this morning and my RSS feed reader suggested this article to me: the "100 Notable Books of 2010" at the New York Times site (I wish these things showed a preview of the links like Facebook does).

Quite a few of these look awesome and just reading the list in itself stirs a literary excitement for venturing into many of these intellectually stimulating, cultural and historically commentating novels.

I kind of miss the old age of high ideas, though. The novels of a time and place far, far away with extreme governments, assassins from secret societies, alternate histories, post-apocalypses and the rise of the outcasts, all faithfully and rigorously partnered with a sense of realism. Granted, most of my favorite authors (Palahniuk, Bolano) fit the catagory of the ones in the list, but they do it with a poetic, cynical and darkly humorous voice completely devoid of prudence, which I don't always see too much of while perusing the bookshelves. It could also be that plenty of these things are out there and my view lacks a proper grasp. If so, then please point me in the right direction.

I've also recently come across a few novels about families and people who've thrown away the desire to (Liberally) better the world or make a difference and are now struggling with their left over "disillusions". Voice of the times, maybe? Hmph, there's something to be said about that.........

It quite sucks that I have a severe lack of funds, but soon enough, the old expression of Desiderius Erasmus will apply:
Some of these that interest me:
"Something Red" by Jennifer Gilmore
"The Surrendered" by Chang-rae Lee
"Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous With American History" by Yunte Huang

But the novels "Ilustrado" by Miguel Syjuco and "The Nearest Exit" by Olen Steinhauer are looking likely to appear on this blog sooner than most of the others.