Thursday, January 27, 2011

Reading challenges for 2011

Yes, zero, none, zilch. I haven't taken part in any of the challenges posted on other blogs and by my book club, and I have no plans in participating in any of them this year. Why? I'm afraid of commitment. Hehehe.

Seriously, I'll just take it easy this year. I'll read whatever I feel like reading, I'll drop a book midway if it disappoints, I'll buy more books and read some of them.

Of course, I know that I'm not off the hook. The book club I belong to has a list of books that will be discussed this year. So I guess I have no choice but to read them, unless I plan to attend solely for the food, which isn't a bad idea. Not a bad idea at all.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Everyone just read

Reading makes me happy. Reading relaxes me. Reading feeds my mind and soul. Reading relieves me of my stress. Reading makes me feel sexy. Reading makes me feel smarter than I actually am. Reading does NOT make me fat.

People should read more, no? What do you think, dear reader?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Been busy reading

Photo courtesy of Rhett De Jesus

Wow, we're in the middle of January and so far, I realized that I've only made two posts (this post being the 2nd).

So what have I been up to, you may ask. Well, I've been reading, and I've been reading a lot. This weekend alone, I managed to squeeze in 5 books. What's amazing is that I haven't read that many contemporary novels since the year started.

I've read Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's with a smile on my face the whole time. (I haven't even seen the movie, so I had no expectations whatsoever.) I've read my first Kobo Abe novel, The Woman in the Dunes, and it was wonderfully bizaare. And I also decided to read a book of poetry -- W.H. Auden's Book of Light Verse. My knowledge in poetry is virtually nil, but this collection was enjoyable. It's literally poems lite. So far, these are just 3 of the most enjoyable books I've read this year.

Now all I have to worry about is blogging about these books that I've read. But be patient, dear reader. These reviews will come.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

From an absurd idea to the sublime

The book club is set to discuss José Saramago's novel, Blindness, in March. The book club is in for at treat. Blindness is brilliant. Saramago is brilliant. Blindness is a novel unlike anything you've read. Saramago isn't your usual novelist. Yes, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998. No, he doesn't use quotation marks to set off speech, he doesn't employ short readable paragraphs, and he loves the comma splice. (Just read the excerpt below.) And those, dear reader, are some of the things that make reading Saramago both a challenging and a rewarding experience.

I'll reserve my opinion on Blindness in the coming months. But to start off the year 2011, I've decided to read Seeing, a novel that somewhat serves as a sequel to Blindness. It touches tangentially some of the characters and themes of Blindness.

It's been 4 years since the epidemic of blindness has struck the unnamed nation in the Iberian peninsula. It's local election day, a day characterized by torrential rain that prevents the citizens from voting. At exactly 4 pm, the rains stop and the citizens queue up to vote. The following day, the government calls for another election. The first is declared a failure. Why? 70% of the ballots are blank. In the next election, the results are even dismal. Close to 80% of the ballots are blank.

The nation's government, fearful of this mysterious situation, decides to relocate the capital and leave the city's citizens to fend for themselves. It's a "punishment" of sorts imposed by the government on its citizens who have chosen to exercise their right of putting in a blank ballot.

Here is where a brilliant moment of irony lies in Saramago's narrative. For having not put any name or party on the ballot, the citizens clearly see that none of their options in the elections is favorable to them. Saramago has let the reader now that its citizens know that their officials are corrupt, prone to lay the blame on innocent civilians, and basically incompetent.
...Let's say that you provided the nothing and I contributed the whatsoever and that the nothing and the whatsoever together authorize me to state that the blank vote is as destructive a form of blindness as the first one, Either that or a form of clear-sightedness, said the minister of justice, What, asked the interior minister, who thought he must have misheard, I said that the blank vote could be sign as a sign of clear-sightedness on the part of those who used it, How dare you, in the middle of a cabinet meeting, utter such antidemocratic garbage, you ought to be ashamed of yourself, no one would think you were the minister justice, cried the minister of defense... [page 159]
In Blindness, Saramago focused more on the people, on a society where anarchy reigns in the absence of a government. In Seeing, Saramago does the reverse -- he highlights what the government does to its citizens, specifically, what the government does wrong. And in Seeing, there are a lot of things that the government screws up. First, they incited rebellion by placing bombs, setting them off, and blaming the citizens of the city who they have now called rebels. Second, they declared a state of emergency, imposed stricter laws, and shut off the city from the rest of the nation.

None of these government actions worked. On the other hand, the city's people become a peaceful and cooperative lot, helping one another even after a small group of them get turned away by the government. In this novel, Saramago writes about the goodness inherent in people, a goodness that will allow us to survive with or without the help of an othewise useless group such as the government.

Seeing is a satire. Among other things, it shows that our officials may not have the best intentions at all times. The president in the novel is a weakling, who bows to the prime minister, who's always in a power struggle with the interior minister. These 3 characters are so terribly pathetic, but you know that they do exist in real life. Scary, no?

I'm glad I started this year with a Saramago novel. Seeing isn't as brilliant as Blindness, but it will show the reader that people, deep inside, will do good things.

Read this book if:
  1. You'll read anything written by Saramago.
  2. You like political satires.
  3. You love a challenging read.