MY AUNTIE Netnet, the librarian who used to give us a lot of books during Christmas when we were little, visited my apartment this week and helped me arrange my books. I don't own shelves; installing them means I have to un-install them again when I transfer residences. That's not wise, given that in the city I'm a nomad. My books—both for business and pleasure—are stacked inside my drawers, cabinets, and in corners of my study. I asked that she classify my books using the Dewey Decimal System. Perhaps she would've indulged me if she had more time.
NOTHING MUCH happens in All the Names, the novel by Portuguese Nobel laureate José Saramago, but after reading it I felt as though I'd been through a lot.
It is, in summary, a chronicle of the events in the life of Senhor José, a clerk who works at the Central Registry of Births, Marriages and Death. Bored with his clerical job, he stumbles upon the record of an unknown woman and decides to snoop around and discover everything about her.
Whether it is boredom or curiosity that launches his obsession with this woman we cannot explain, in the same way that we can't always come up with reasons for the things we do. Saramago has this to say about the absurdity of human action:
Strictly speaking, we do not make decisions, decisions make us. The proof can be found in the fact that, though life leads us to carry out the most diverse actions one after the other, we do not prelude each one with a period of reflection, evaluation and calculation, and only then declare ourselves able to decide if we will go out to lunch or buy a newspaper or look for the unknown woman.
I EXAMINED a 70-year old woman at the Eye Clinic today, and she taught me an important lesson: not everyone can read.
You see, the standard five-point eye exam begins with the test for visual acuity: the patient is asked to read a Snellen chart. The smaller the letter the patient can read, the higher the score.
BEAUTIFUL rendition of the classic hymn, I Need Thee Every Hour (Annie S. Hawkes, 1872), by Sam Robson. We're missing out a lot by not listening to timeless, theologically-rich, well-written, and Scripture-saturated hymns; I'm glad people are coming up with new arrangements.
I'm posting the lyrics in full. May this be the prayer of our hearts today, for without Him, we are nothing.
WE'RE HALFWAY through Internship. Over dinner last night, my blockmate Agnes Custodio and I talked about the first days of Internship year. She had just finished manning the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit, while I was dying of boredom at the ward. I had nothing else to do until 7 PM when my shift would end. I already did chart rounds and carried out orders for the two newly admitted patients, so I had dinner at the nearby mall, and Agnes said she'd come along. That simple dinner was our inferior version of a Friday night-out. "Kawawa naman tayo," we comforted ourselves.
YOU MUST'VE heard the news: Alice Munro has won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year! I must've read some of her stories in The New Yorker, but I don't remember any of them anymore. Got myself a copy of Dear Life, her short story collection, the last book she said she will ever write. Will try to read through it tonight. I've been enjoying short story collections recently. Just this afternoon, I began reading Julian Barnes' The Lemon Table. Recently I finished James Salter's Dusk and Other Stories. It's a long weekend for me. Good night, world!
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The second story, Amundsen, is breathtaking. Here Munro takes us to a sanatorium where a young teacher sets out to work. Her pupils: children with tuberculosis. So you realize it was at the time when streptomycin was still in the works, and surgery was the main treatment. She meets a doctor, ten years older than her. He sets the rules of the place—a dreary, gloomy, death-saturated institution—and, in a much significant way, he also dictates her life because she has allowed him to. She has wanted him to. Read the story in full at The New Yorker, where it first appeared, and wait for that final sentence that knocks you right in the head. Suddenly everything makes sense.
3 AM. The nurse lays down the cannula and plain NSS bottle on the counter. I go to Bed 37 to establish an IV line. The patient is scheduled for surgery in a few hours. "Magandang umaga, Doc," she says, smiling at me. Beside her is a Nokia cellphone that plays what is unmistakably an Aiza Seguerra song.
"Ang ganda ng music mo, ah. Sabi ng ibang mga pasyente, kamukha ko raw ang singer niyan." Her eyes brighten up. The resemblance must be striking.
I don't know about you, but I've never been heartbroken—not in that sense. But I've had the privilege of hearing personal stories from friends who, at some point, had taken the leap of faith, had begun what looked like a promising relationship that eventually fell into pieces. From what I've gathered, I have come to this conclusion: that a breakup is a painful, agonizing process, like an impacted tooth that demands all the attention and prevents other pleasures to be had.
JAMES SALTER knows the power of a well-constructed sentence—short, crisp, yet evocative. His armament lies in his understatements, which turn out to be explosions of feelings, or sudden twists in the tale. Reading him is an overwhelming, exhilarating experience. You fall into a trance. You're sucked right into his imagination, as in a black hole. Your mind bursts with cinematic pictures, and you emphathize with the characters because you know what they're going through. You see bits and pieces of yourself in them. If you dream of writing stories of your own, you probably wish you could write like Salter.
I started reading his collection, Dusk and Other Stories (1989), in between surgeries. Ordinarily a medical intern chooses to sleep in a corner, oblivious to the intermittent alarms of the cardiac monitor and the buzzing of the cautery devices. But I was captivated by the beauty of his prose and the elegance of his tales, and I finished the book in less than 24 hours.
THE Housekeeper and the Professor is a novel by Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa whom I'd never heard of before. (Have you ever done that: take on a book written by someone you have no idea of? That was how I discovered David Bezmogis when I picked his short story collection, Natasha. When I read about him in The New Yorker I felt a certain sense of accomplishment, as if it was I who had discovered him first.) I only picked the book from the list because the title sounded neat. I like reading novels by Japanese authors—Murakami, Kawabata, and Ishiguro among them. There's a zen-like, uncluttered rhythm to their prose, perfect to ward off the stresses of urbanity.
Think Fifty First Dates, sans the romance.
WAITING FOR SUNRISE is William Boyd's newest novel. The protagonist is 27-year old Lysander Reif, an actor, who goes to Vienna to consult with a certain Dr. Bensimon, a psychiatrist, protegé of Sigmund Freud. Dr. Bensimon prescribes a new mode of psychotherapy called Parallelism in which the patient imagines an alternative reality during hypnosis. Meanwhile Reif stumbles upon an intriguing lady named Hettie Bull, an Englishwoman living with a famous and rich artist, and he begins a passionate affair with her. He is cured of his ills, or so he tells Dr. Bensimon, but his encounter with Hettie brings about events that will change his life dramatically: he gets Hettie pregnant, he is arrested for rape, and he flees Austria under a disguise, never to come back again.
PRIDYIDER (2012) is about a cursed refrigerator that kills people. Whether it's death by suffocation or hypothermia, we don't really know. The film stars Andi Eigenmann playing the balikbayan Andi Benitez. She was brought to the US when she was younger to protect her from her crazy mother played by Janice de Belen. She had to go back to take care of the ancestral home. And that was when strange things started to happen—people disappearing, cats getting killed. The fridge is the average one-door type that most middle class Filipino families own. How did adult-sized people fit right in? As we were about to wallow in skepticism, we saw a scene depicting Janice de Belen inside one of the fridge's compartments. Think about this: Pinoy horror stories make the best comedies.