I’ve always been a voracious reader. As a sickly child growing up in the barrio, I found comfort and escape in the books that I found around the house. I read everything I could put my hands on, including the sheets of tabloid that our dried fish came wrapped in. My nose was always in a book. I was generally well during summer, and so summer afternoons while I was in grade school were spent upon a sturdy branch of a sterile mango tree we had near the house, with cushions for my back and behind, and an Agatha Christie novel. And when it was time for merienda, our maid would just bring me food in a saucer. I would not leave that tree branch till sunset, when the darkness and the mosquitoes would drive me back into the house.
I long for that lost time when I can read purely for enjoyment. Now when I read anything, it is always with a notebook in front of me, pen in hand, making copious notes, tabbing books with multi-colored transparent post-its. There is always, always that cloud of judment hanging over my head, forcing me to pronounce my verdict on certain works, writing about them after I’m done reading them, constantly pondering over how they affect my own writing. And as if these aren't enough, I also learned to take Rica Bolipata-Santos' habit of asking myself whether I can also write like the person I just last read.
Of course it's exhausting.
But perhaps that is how it is when one writes. One simply has to read, and there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. There is reading, and there is judgment of what has been read, and then there is the writing, a result of all the reading.
Thus, this list. This is a relatively eclectic mix, all foreign. (I’m way behind in my Philippine literature readings. It’s shameful.)
For the stories, I had to open the anthologies that I have and look at the table of contents. For the novels, these are the ones I remember for the way they struck me, for the story, the technique, the emotion, the fine and polished crafting even if their purpose is to appear crude, among others, and the fact that I still remember them now merits their being on the list. However, I purposely did not include the classic novels in this list, because they will number more than ten, and they are already a moot point, anyway, being classics, and therefore, always loveable in their own right.
The non-fiction list is also an eclectic mix, more eclectic than the novels. I read all kinds. But for the non-fictions, I based my choices on the depth of the material that was put in the book, and the artful and easily understandable way the ideas were presented, even those highly technical ones. My Favorite Stories:
1. Donald Barthelme – "The Balloon"
2. Woody Allen – "The Kugelmass Episode"
3. George S. Kaufman – "If Men Played Cards as Women Do"
4. Charlotte Perkins Gilman – "The Yellow Wallpaper"
5. Ray Bradbury – "A Sound of Thunder"
6. Mary Gordon – "A Writing Lesson"
7. Ellen Gilchrist – "Music"
8. Art Buchwald – "Saving Paper"
9. Dan Greenburg – "How to be a Jewish Mother"
10. Judith Claire Mitchell – "A Man of Few Words"My Super-Duper Favorite Short Story Of All Time:
"Giving Birth" by Margaret Atwood (It rendered me speechless.)My Favorite Novels:
1. Laura Esquivel - Like Water For Chocolate
2. Evan S. Connell – Mrs. Bridge
3. Maureen Moore – The Illumination of Alice Mallory
4. Sue Kaufman – Diary of a Mad Housewife
5. Tom Robbins – Skinny Legs and All
6. Jane Hamilton – The Book of Ruth
7. Ellen Gilchrist – Sarah Conley
8. Eduardo Mendoza – The Year of the Flood
9. Alice Kaplan – French Lessons
10. Carol Shields - UnlessMy Super-Duper Favorite Novel Of All Time: One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Ah, intensity!)My Favorite Non-Fiction Books:
1. Desmond Morris – The Naked Ape
2. Bryan Appleyard – Understanding the Present
3. Margaret Atwood – Negotiating with the Dead
4. David Starkey – Six Wives
5. Robert Bly – Iron John
6. Arthur Golden – Memoirs of a Geisha
7. Richard Dawkins – The Blind Watchmaker
8. Neil Howe and Bill Strauss – 13th Gen
9. Joanne Fletcher – The Search for Nefertiti
10. Christopher Booker – The Seven Basic PlotsMy Super-Duper Favorite Nonfiction Book Of All Time: The Fabric of the Cosmos
by Brian Greene (It made me feel giddy, and I shall never look at life the same way again.)The Foreign Writer That I Have Always Loved All My Life And Had Never Failed Me:
Here are foreign books I should read and already have copies of but have not yet begun reading, or have begun but have had no time to continue. Again I have limited the list to ten items, and have not listed the classics, many of which I have yet to read.Novels:
1. Joseph Heller - Catch 22
2. Ursula Hegi – Stones from the River
3. Umberto Eco – The Name of the Rose
4. Carlos Fuentes – The Old Gringo
5. Judith Kossner – Looking for Mr. Goodbar
6. Norman Mailer – The Armies of the Night
7. Joyce Carey - The Horse’s Mouth
, a trilogy (I have the second book)
8. Armistead Maupin - Tales of the City
, a trilogy. (I’ve read the second one. How very wrong of me.)
9. Lau Shaw – Rickshaw Boy
10. Annie Proulx - That Old Ace In The HoleA Novel That I'm Truly Looking Forward To Reading: The Company of Women
by Mary GordonNon-Fiction:
1. Karen Armstrong – A History of God
2. Francis Fukuyama – The Great Disruption
3. Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln - Holy Blood, Holy Grail
4. Allan Bullock – Hitler: A Study in Tyranny
5. Edward Gibbon – The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
6. Sebastian Wolfe (ed) - The Book of Murder
7. Irving Stone – The Agony and the Ecstacy
8. Clark E. Moustakas – Loneliness
9. Carl Sagan - The Dragons of Eden
10. Jacques Derrida – Writing and DifferenceA Book That I'm Truly Looking Forward To Reading: E=mc2: A Biography of the World’s Most Famous Equation
by David BodanisForeign Writers I Have Never Read But Should, Out Of Respect For Myself:
1. Isabel Allende
2. Milan Kundera
3. Gunter Grass
4. Laurie Moore
5. Jose Saramago
6. Stephen Hawking
7. Jorge Luis Borges
8. Stephen Greenblatt
9. Leo Tolstoy
10. Eduardo Galeano
And of course, the list of the not-so-great.Books I Have Read And Feel Are Okay But Not Worth All The Hubbub:
1. Amy Tan – The Joy Luck Club
2. Ken Wilber – The Spectrum of Consciousness
(nonfiction)Books I Have Read And Hated:
1. Walker Percy – Message in the Bottle
2. John Irving - The World According to Garp
3. Stephen King - Insomnia
4. Harold Bloom - Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human
(nonfiction)The Foreign Writer I Used To Be So Crazy About When I Was Little, But Don’t Like Anymore Now:
Danielle Steele. (Please don’t laugh. Ok, do laugh. At least it’s over now.)
This is hardly a history of my entire reading life. These are just some of the things I have read – and remembered and liked – over the past three years or so. Of course I have read far more than I can remember, and I believe the memory of these have emerged from time to time in my own writings, but are barely discernible behind the veil of the years that had passed and the shifting sensibilities that had processed them.
One great thing about coming up with lists is that it helps keep things in proper perspective. However, lists are very time-sensitive. They change after every book read, and, for that matter, re-read. (As a matter of fact, I keep editing the lists in this post.) The very first version of this list was emailed to the Yahoo egroup for the CW 310 class under Dr. Butch Dalisay, during the second semester of the academic year 2004-2005. Since then, even my tastes have shifted a bit, and so have my judgement of these works. But most of the items stayed put.
I am way behind in my readings. For the past several months, more immediate concerns have relegated my readings to a dusty three-foot pile on the floor in a corner of my apartment, and in a box in the trunk of my car. But now that I have gotten back to my old routine, and to my old, cerebral, cognitive, self-contained self, I wallow among these works and find myself once more, reading, tabbing, judging. I will never be the same reader I used to be, the one who read while sitting on a tree branch on summer afternoons, but the reader I am now, the one always with a notebook and a pen, in the deep of night, battling the demands of sleep and eyestrain, slaving for a graduate degree, is not so bad either.