14 July 2011

30 Days of Books: Days 8-14

I've decided to break this meme into chunks lest the later days get buried under my usual walls of text. Here we go with Days 8-14:

Day 08 – Most overrated book

(14 July 2011) "Ilustrado," by Miguel Syjuco. I waited for the initial fuss to die down before digging into this one, lest I be too influenced by what everybody was saying at the time. That said, I kind of think people got carried away by the award and all that attention from both local and international press. I will agree with people who say it was well-written. I particularly admire how he pulled off the different styles for each section of the book. In the end, though, I didn't care very much for this book because I found the protagonist kinda wangsty.

Just to make it clear, my issue with this book doesn't stem from Filipino writer vs. foreign writer, diaspora writer vs. still-living-here writer, famous writer vs. unknown writer, "literature" vs. "pulp", and so on. Just, is this character likeable enough for me to care whether he succeeds? In this case, not really.

Day 09 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving

(15 July 2011) "The Joys of Love," by Madeleine L'Engle. The title threw me off. I mean, sure, it's Madeleine L'Engle, but the title sounded really "Chicken Soup"-y. I read it anyway, though, and was glad for it. It's a semi-autobiographical, posthumously published novel, so it's a well-written glimpse not only into what Ms. L'Engle's life was like as a fresh grad in the 1940s--and what the theater world was like in those days--but also at how the things that infused her writing later on were already very much a part of her. Kudos to her grandchildren for deciding to let the rest of the world see this work.

Day 10 – Favorite classic book

(16 July 2011) I'll go with the book I just finished, the Signet edition of Anton Chekhov's major plays. Chekhov has this reputation for capturing human foibles and painting a truthful picture of provincial life, and it's well-deserved. I also applaud his crusade against insensitivity and personal stagnation.

Day 11 – A book you hated

(18 July for 17 July 2011) "Twilight," by Stephanie Meyer. Garbage.

Day 12 – A book you used to love but don’t anymore

(18 July 2011) I can't really think of anything. I haven't stopped loving my favorite books as I've gotten older. Maybe I'd say I no longer enjoy Francine Pascal's "Sweet Valley Twins," but then I haven't reopened those books since I was 12. You never know.

Day 13 – Your favorite writer

(19 July 2011) This is a tough one; there's only a handful of authors whose books I really seek out: Neil Gaiman, Tanith Lee, Shaun Tan, Steve Martin, and Arnold Arre. But I guess if I have to pick one, it would be Madeleine L'Engle. I'd say that hers were the first fantasy/sci-fi books outside of fairy tales that really opened up my mind, while her less fantastic fiction put me on to real, human characters. Her non-fiction book, "Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art" also helped me get over a blue funk in college and deal with my insecurity over my own [lack of] talent. It was in that book where I found this quote from Jean Rhys:
"Listen of me. All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don't matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake."

But Ms. L'Engle's own writing has also given me this gem, while touching on the part one's faith, regardless of denomination or religion, plays in art:
"Christian art? Art is art; painting is painting; music is music; a story is a story. If it's bad art, it's bad religion, no matter how pious the subject. If it's good art--and there the questions start coming, questions that would be simpler to evade."


"So perhaps the reason I shuddered at the idea of writing something about 'Christian art' is that to paint a picture or to write a story or to compose a song is an incarnational activity. The artist is a servant who is willing to be a birthgiver. In a very real sense, the artist (male or female) should be like Mary who, when the angel told her that she was to bear the Messiah, was obedient to the command.

"Obedience is an unpopular word nowadays, but the artist must be obedient to the work, whether it be a symphony, a painting, or a story for a small child. I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius, or something very small, comes to the artist and says, 'Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.' And the artist either says, 'My soul doth magnify the Lord,' and willingly bears the work, or refuses...."

Day 14 – Favorite book of your favorite writer

(20 July 2011) It's still "A Wind in the Door," but since I've already written about that, I'll say more about "Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art."

In college, I saw that our library had a lot more of Ms. L'Engle's books to offer than her fiction, so I decided to check this one out. I no longer recall why I picked this book of the several that were on the shelf, but I suppose you could call it God's leading, or just plain luck.

At the time, I wasn't feeling too good about myself. I was kind of a star in high school (if also kind of unpopular, annoying, and weird), so I was reeling from being surrounded by so many people who were so much more talented and cultured than I. I wanted to know if there was a point in continuing my own creative attempts when they were probably going to look like garbage next to someone else's.

Ms. L'Engle's book saved me, and taught me a few things about faith and writing besides.

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