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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.