Bookish byebye for 2012

As 2012 is about to kill itself, I look back at it in terms of the notable books I have read and movies I have consumed. The year has been a really prolific one in terms of the books I have devoured or yawned on at different points of this past razzle-dazzle twelve months. With the welcome assistance of Booksale and advantageously affordable online bookshops, I was able to amass more books and consequently, purvey a better domicile for gathering dusts in our house both in Baguio and in Caloocan. As for the movies, the residues of the ardor in film viewing instilled in me by my senior year’s Film Criticism class and my girlfriend’s influence to our eventual patronage of Baguio Cinematheque helped sustain the good flow of films watched this year.

I will start with the novels I have read this year. Novels have somewhat curiously become one of my more preferred genres this year. Regardless of authors (as in a Carter or a Joyce in the short story), the novel more principally sold for a good story embroidered in a thick narrative whose consumption parodizes our diurnal viewing of evening soap operas. There will be no externally imposed breaks, only personal choices on when or when not to stop from going on reading and watching the lives of characters unfold with their every decision and every cowardice or valor every day.

I should be starting with Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, a 700-page loader which took me perhaps three months (with breaks of course, and quite a long one) to finish. Vietnam War is real to me only historically. I have not been there. I was not alive when it filled the evening news. Only current media can tell me the story. Denis Johnson makes me want to be happy that I was not there; and yet, happier that despite of that, I can still read novels like this one which gives me an idea, and delivers a poignant insight about the oft-recalled war – all engagingly and beautifully.

700 pages of blood (in paperback)
700 pages of blood (in paperback)

Next, Beckett’s Molloy, a part of a trilogy whose other two I am yet to have a copy of.  Beckett already stole an artery in the heart in Godot, and more so, his Modernist fatalism-then-resurgence was something that already lured me even before. Here in Molloy, he tilled further the opulence of words only to render a dreariness to murder and bury. With scarce conversations and minimal semblance of a typical raucous-to-be-cleaned-up plot, Beckett ditched all the fanciful to come up with an eviscerating tale one should leave in her library.

Molloy Samuel Beckett

From Beckett to Philip Roth. My review of Indignation is also in this blog, and why he reappears in this list of the better books I have read this year? It is because it is a spunky novel, like a campus publication’s editorial entitled No Apologies, featuring a gritty main character in Marcuse who peeks at and prick his surroundings instead of being just pawned in the backdrop. It’s Catcher in the Rye with less heart and more teeth.

Roth's Indignation

Next, Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita where the Devil lived in Moscow and spelled his tricks to a hardly discriminating populace. Ironically backdropping this impish excursion is a stalled love affair between the title characters, the Master and Margarita and how this was restored through the kindness of the Devil himself. This novel is less comical than entertaining. Working like an inversion of Dante’s Inferno, there is not too copious blood and violence here. Else, we have an interesting play on symbolisms to say something about the thickening lack of judgment and discrimination in a humanity fazed by more and more mysteries and disappearances.

Master and Margarita

Disappearances which in Norman Wilwaycos’ Ang Gerilya were suffered in terms of a certain degree of revolutionary fervor enough to prompt one to hold a gun and kill people for one’s beliefs. This one is perhaps in all fairness a relatively square depiction of an existing armed struggle in the Philippines what with all its organizational complexities and groundwork vicissitudes. The tinges of crudeness – the fast-paced, the crass dialogue, the short yet thick episodes –perhaps work to align with the genuine picture of what it tries to convey. This one was a reading delight in a few hours, a capturing and welcome for me while I am on incessant thinking mode about my present occupations and commitments.


Then we have Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale, another book which I have reviewed in this blog. Atwood is fascinating with her incisive terseness, one that outstrips adages and proverbs with a more magnified context that gives her words more gravity than boastful, catchall statements. In this novel, the dystopia she limned not only tempted me to try to grasp her apparently feminist invocations, but also put me in thrall of her pungently haunting tacit yet provoking quips. It is hard to put the heightened kind of spell which Atwood drove me into with this one. That should be enough said.

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

Lastly for the novels, I have Jonathan Franzen intentionally at last. This buddy of David Foster Wallace, who’s encyclopedic Infinite Jest still frustrates me for not yet mustering sufficient guts to read, is I think not far from Wallace in terms of sensibilities and artistic wielding. I loved him so much this year I read two of his novels, Strong Motion and The Corrections, a review of the former also appears in this blog. From these two novels, from the confrontations between Louis and his mother and Chip and Gary and Enid, what is common is that family theme which largely propels the novels. In Strong Motion, there is the delectable subplot of Renee and Louis’ romance. In The Corrections, this function was fulfilled by the respective little dramas of each child – Gary, Denise and Chip. In Franzen’s novels, length is adorable because it is like a sprawl of skin that one would die to put his mouth on. Aside from the totality which one would want to consume not for what it reveals but for Franzen’s sheer manner of telling things, there is this potency of a single sentence which explodes with its sonority and semantic fullness. When these sentences clamp on one another, Franzen more likely has already earned a fan and a trusted reader in you.

He did in me.

Jonathan Franzen compressed earthquakes and abortions and a hypocritical media and more in this one.
Jonathan Franzen compressed earthquakes and abortions and a hypocritical media and more in this one.

The Corrections


Intersections of complex human relationships in Jorge Coira’s 18 Comidas

William Whit (1995) made the point about the meanings we can trace in our activities involving food. He argues that specific food habits can have specific significations. For instance, eating food together can manifest solidarity while a more rigorous manner of preparing the food can suggest greater intimacy.

In Jorge Coira’s 18 Comidas, we can see these implications in the various meals that were presented to us. Sol prepared a meal for Edu, the street musician, and they had lunch together in order for her to tell him that she has been dreaming “dirty” dreams about him lately. Victor prepared a meal for his brother Juan, and he invited him to his flat which he shared with his lover, Sergio. The actor, Vladimir, prepared a breakfast, and eventually another meal for Laura only for him to be disappointed. In these instances, we can see how meal preparations can and actually become a springboard for meaningful interactions; or in Vladimir’s case, how the absence of such interaction can lead to vital realizations. Sol and Edu “flirted” with each other while the former’s husband was at work and we can assume at the third part of the film, when Sol talked to her husband after the dinner, how meeting Edu had made her arrive to the decision to leave her husband. In the meal shared by Victor and Sergio with Juan and Ana, the waitress he just met and flirted with, we saw a “coming out,” albeit not an explicit one, and how this expectedly led to a confrontation marked by fits of emotion only to be resolved with an embrace shared by the brothers (hermanos) and an admittedly heart-warming vocal expression of Sergio of his commitment to Victor, as if he was his brother.

One of the more heart-warming homosexual film couple i have seen
One of the more heart-warming homosexual film couples i have seen

In both the meals shared by Edu and Sol and Victor, Juan and their partners, we can see how the rigor of preparing a meal implies the gravity of purpose in having a meal together or the intimacy between the people sharing the meal. I believe Sol did not invite Edu merely to tell him of her dreams. This is rooted more deeply in her growing sadness which is mainly caused by her marital relation, and which I believe she thought seeing Edu can alleviate.

Tension-filled borrow time
Tension-filled borrow time

Another recurring element in the meals in the film which I think speaks more of the Spanish culture is the wine that is present at almost every dining table. Vladimir prepared one bottle supposedly to he shared by Laura and him. Sol and Edu had one too. Even the old couple who shared a meal silently by themselves in their house and passed on pancakes to each other also had a bottle of wine. The close shots, which I observe to be very prominent all throughout the film, strike the most for me in the sequences of the old couple. I believe that more than dialogues could have, these shots have communicated more intensely the intimacy between the old couple. This kind of shot also seems the most apt in rendering supposedly revealing, if not emotional scenes occurring in the typical and ordinary domain of the dining table where people share meals with one another. The indecision is very visible when we are closely directed by the camera to the face of Sol and then of Edu while they were appraising the look thrown by the other. Vladimir’s dejection was also obvious when Laura confirmed in the phone that she could not make it to his place and have a meal with him.

In all, Coira’s 18 Comidas is an invigorating take of cinema in exposing the possibly multiple layers that can be found in the act of dining that we engage ourselves to every day. Taking in “everyday” kind of people as its characters, the film does well in depicting the tensions of everyday and the different attitudes people take in relation to them and at the end, the decisions they make and how these can lead either to relief, a sense of triumph or an insight on one’s relation to others and the world.

Someone might decide to take time away from her husband, or decide to stand firm beside someone who just saw a father having a heart attack, or confirm the rightness of their choice on whom to spend their life with no matter what others think, or give up hopes on a girlfriend arriving for a shared meal and join friends instead on a birthday party – any of these decisions and actions can ensue from a simple meal.

The poetry in normally casual meals
The poetry in normally casual meals


Whit, William. 1995. Food and social order. In Food and society: a sociological approach.

            Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

The Country of M

The afternoon is inhaling us. And its chest we fill with our loudmouth of whines and skinny perspirations. In its heart, we are gobbled by patties of bloody meat and a shrine of peso dollar euro meccas. Until we are spent, until we are diving in frigid quick sundaes and we are fat enough to be eaten just like Hansel in the fairy tale. The city breathed us in and from its mouth, we go out restless and dusty.

In a hotel, in the busiest streets, in the suburban area pretending to be a city -- McDonalds can be found
In a hotel, in the busiest streets, in the suburban area pretending to be a city — McDonalds can be found