Unlike my brother Ralph who finishes at least one book a week—at most three, he tells me—I didn’t even reach the 20 book count mark this year. Residency happened, you see; and since the start I’ve resolved to read more academic and medical books, less of fiction. But fiction keeps me sane and grounded. I undertook long reading projects, many of them remain unfinished, and chose short story collections to pass the time.
2015 has been a great year for reading, nevertheless.
1. My Struggle* by Karl Ove Knausgaard. I discovered the Norwegian journalist and writer through The New Yorker, where he was interviewed by Deborah Treisman, the magazine’s fiction editor. His work reads like a long, extremely well-written blog. Critics say that it’s funny to read the thoughts of a Scandinavian, an otherwise laconic, introverted people-group. I don’t know if that’s true. He takes us through his childhood, his drunk father, his friends, his discovery of writing. Why we keep on reading when the book is really all about the mundane—the author’s daily life—is a mystery, but they key is the great writing. I’m more than halfway through Book Two: A Man In Love. It deals with his relationships—his first and second (the current) marriages. I love the scenes when he meets with his writer-friend Geir, and they talk about philosophy and about other people. Knausgaard still cries a lot—in the vernacular, “mababaw ang luha.” The fourth volume has already been translated into English, released for distribution. I still have a long way to go, and many volumes to look forward to.
2. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. This year I was introduced to the Naples-based Ferrante, whose real identity we don’t know. What we know is that she’s female, has been divorced, and is intent on keeping her anonymity. Let the books speak for themselves,the author is unnecessary, she seems to say. This book is the first in the Neapolitan novels, which star Elena and Lina—two characters who both hate and love each other. They consider each other best friends. They grow up in a small, provincial town. Elena is the studious student; Lina the deviant, but, to Elena’s mind, even more brilliant. They seem to idolize and despise each other all the same. I love how Italian this book is—when Lina’s father gets mad at her, he throws her out of the window.
3. The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante. I took this with me during my trip to Singapore. Elena has now graduated from college. Lina is married to Stefano, the rich grocery store owner. The plot is too gripping, the writing too enthralling to put down. The third book has been translated from Italian into English; I already have my copy of Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. I’m saving it for when I’m out of town, free to do anything.
4. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton*. I was with my friend Racquel Bruno at National Bookstore, replenishing our supply of pens for charting, when I found a copy of this book—a thick volume, which looked almost biblical. It tells the story of twelve men who make sense of the death, the disappearance of a rich man, the grieving of a whore—all these set in Hokitika, New Zealand during the peak of gold exploration there. These couldn’t have happened by chance. Catton, who eventually won a Booker Prize, was around my age when she had written it.
5. Alone with God by John MacArthur. Dr. MacArthur provides the clearest, simplest, most practical exposition and application on The Lord’s Prayer, which, at the time time I was reading this, happened to be the topic of our Bible study in Pilgrim. I benefited greatly from this book which tells us to make the Prayer a pattern. So many rich, enduring truths can be mined from it.
6. The Snapper by Roddy Doyle. Roddy Doyle's second novel in the Barrytown trilogy, is about a middle-class family in Dublin trying to cope with an unexpected pregnancy of the 23-year old daughter, Sharon. Living up to his title as the virtuoso of casual, conversational dialogue; Doyle spins a masterful tale about the noisy Rabbitte family. They almost sound like the typical Filipino family—so bonded together that someone's business becomes everyone else’s.
7. Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology, edited by Mark Dever. This is a compilation of preachings during the Together for the Gospel Conference in 2011, gifted to me by Kuya Vance Espino last Christmas.
8. Paris Stories* by Mavis Gallant. Writers say they don’t read Gallant before doing any writing, lest they run the risk of insecurity. Paris Stories is a short story collection by the famous and often notorious Canadian writer, when she lived in Paris. Just as we think we have figured what the story is all about, we are shown otherwise in the next paragraph.
9. Cathedral* by Raymond Carver. I picked the book because it featured my family name on it. Carver is the master of the American short stories about domestic issues. The story, “A Small Good Thing,” stands out for me—how the death of a child affects the parents.
10. The Glass of Vision* by Austin Farrer. This is a collection of sermons of Austin Farrer, a theologian.
11. The Children Act by Ian McEwan. A judge is tasked to decide on whether blood transfusion should be carried out in the case of a child with leukemia. The child’s parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses. McEwan spins a complicated novella on ethics, religion, and mortality.
12. Things Not Seen by Jon Bloom. Similar to what he did in Not By Sight, Bloom retells classic accounts of faithful men and women in the Bible. Read the stories when you feel like your faith is wavering, or when you doubt God’s promises.