Readings for January

Of late I admit that I’ve set reading books aside. Like most Gen Y-ers, I am also as susceptible to attention deficit disorder, or something akin to it. I could not focus on just one thing. Before I realize it, my mind already starts to wander and think of another thing. And this has taken a serious toll on my reading habit. I barely finished two books in a month, and there were months this year when I finished nothing.

To correct things, I only have one resolution for next year, and that is to read a least ten books, regardless of thickness and difficulty, every month, discounting those required for my class at the university.

This afternoon, I went to National Bookstore and a used-books outlet to complete my reading list. Most of these are for leisure, neither heavy nor dense. Here’s my list of readings for the first month of 2010:

1. Wolf Totem (Jiang Rong) Searching for spirituality in the 1960s China durng the Cultural Revolution, Beijing intellectual Chen Zhen travels to the pristine grasslands of Inner Mongolia to live among the nomadic Mongols—descendants of the Mongol hordes who once terrorized the world. At the core of their beliefs is the notion of a triangular balance between earth, man, and the fierce, otherworldly Mongolian wolf whose fates are all intricately linked. The few wolves that remain haunt the steppes locked with the nomads in a profoundly spiritual battle for survival.

2. A Man of the People (Chinua Achebe) A young man caught in the tricky politics of an Africa country, redeemed himself, and rose above the chaos and frustration. I’ve read Things Fall Apart by the same author, and based on this novel, Achebe’s use of the English language, devoid of any spectacle and ‘prose fireworks’, will make A Man of the People an easy but profound reading.

3. The Discovery of Heaven (Harry Mulisch) This book, considered the magnum opus of the Dutch author Mulisch abounds in philosophical, psychological, and theological inquiries of the rich twentieth century trauma that focuses on diverse themes like friendship, loyalty, family, art, technology, religion, fate, and good and evil.

4. The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco) I got intrigued in this book when the story was hinted by my professor in her Comparative Literature class. I thought I’ll try it and see if I am a good-enough reader to survive the dead-boring first 100 pages, which according to my professor is a method employed by Eco to sort his readers. Those who give up in the initial pages are not worthy of the riveting, fascinating, ingenious, and dazzling narrative. Page 101 until the last sentence of the final page, she said were written so well that the hurdle of the first 100 was all worth the effort.

5. The Places in Between (Rory Stewart) In January 2002 Rory Stewart walked across Afghanistan—surviving by his wits, his knowledge of Persian dialects and Muslim customs, and the kindheartedness of strangers. By day he passed through mountains covered in nine feet of snow, hamlets burned and emptied by the Taliban, and communities thriving amid the remains of medieval civilization. By night he slept on villager’s floors, shared their meals, and listened to their stories of the recent and ancient past. Along the way Stewart met heroes and rogues, tribal elders and teenage soldiers, Taliban commanders and foreign-aid workers. He was also adopted by an unexpected companion—a retired fighting mastiff he named Babur in honor of Afghanistan’s first Mughal emperor.

Through these encounters—by turns touching, confounding, surprising, and funny, Stewart makes tangible the forces of tradition, ideology, and allegiance that shape life in the map’s countless places in between.

6. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera) A young woman in love with a man torn between his love for her and his incorrigible womanizing; one of his mistresses and his humbly faithful lover. In a world in which lives are shaped by irrevocable choices and fortuitous events, a world in which every thing occurs but once, existence seems to lose its substance, its weight. Hence, we feel the ‘unbearable lightness of being’ not only as the consequence of our pristine actions but also in the public sphere, and the two inevitably intertwine.

7. Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man (Joseph Heller) This sort of the author’s autobiographical novel is a story of a modern-day cultural icon Eugene Pota who became a legend in his lifetime because of his first novel. Subsequent work never achieved the critical acclaim to match what was garnered by his first novel. Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man is a poignant exploration of the pain and frustration that this caused.

8. New Writing from the Caribbean Selections from the Caribbean Writer (Erika J. Waters, Ed.) The stories ranged widely over the relationships between men and women, parents and their children, and the condition of exile. The contributors are drawn from Caribbean countries of Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Montserrat, the Virgin Islands, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago.

9. Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad) This is my third copy of the book with the best looking cover page and paper quality. I have already read the short novel twice, and I confess that it was not an easy read. This is my third, and hopefully the last attempt to penetrate the dark jungle of Conrad’s mind.

10. Touch and Go (Eugene Stein) From Belize to New York, Brussels to Los Angeles, Stein evokes strange—yet strangely familiar—worlds, feelings you did not know were there, flavors aplenty. Into the dark corners of your heart and mind he shines a unique light on love, life, and desire—illuminating and brilliant. This is unfair, but I will see how Stein fares if I pit him against David Sedaris, a favorite in this genre.