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A Reread: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

downloadBook #25.

By large, endings are sad, aren’t they? Or bittersweet perhaps? It could give us tremendous relief, too, as is the case in The Sense of an Ending.

This little treasure of a book is the story of the unremarkable life of Anthony Webster as he recollects and confronts the past after receiving a solicitor’s letter, the reappearance of an ex-girlfriend and reading a few pages of his old friend’s diary. This is best read in one sitting preferably with a few shots of whisky. 🙂

It has two finely controlled parts: 1) sheer nostalgia and 2) the coming together of memories from years ago as it unfolds different interpretations to clarify the truth. It’s mainly about the unreliability of memory and dealing with the past, remembering events and our understanding of time, with a touch of history, death and loss.

Little by little, the book reveals the secrets hidden in buried memories as Tony tries to remember and face up to the actions of his younger self and live through the mystery of the last forty years. Tony is a very engaging narrator. He definitely kept me reading regardless of him being reliable or not. Though this is already my second reading, I am still perplexed by the ending and just like Tony, “I just don’t get it,” really. I still had to go back to a few pages and reread over and over looking for clues I must have missed to give me a better understanding of the ending and answers to the many hows and whys it left me.

This is a very simple story on the surface but with delicate undertones written in a very interesting way. It is short, deep, thought-provoking, luminous, readable and very re-readable book. No wonder it was awarded the Man Booker Prize. I believe it’s never too late to learn. It’s never too late to learn and understand ourselves and other people. You might not be someone you thought you were yesterday. What we believe about other people then may possibly be different, too. How these things can change overtime as we try to understand people/things based on our memory of them and the history that goes with it is truly something to reflect upon and could very well give us a sense of an ending.

Quotable Quotes:

“Songs do occasionally tell the truth.”

“Sometimes I think the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss by wearing us down, by proving, however long it takes, that life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

“The less time there remains in your life, the less you want to waste it.”

“Life isn’t just addition and subtraction. There’s also the accumulation, the multiplication, of loss, of failure.”

“…what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

Quote of the Week

When you read a great book, you don’t escape from life, you plunge deeper into it. There may be a superficial escape – into different countries, mores, speech patterns – but what you are essentially doing is furthering your understanding of life’s subtleties, paradoxes, joys, pains and truths. Reading and life are not separate but symbiotic.

-Julian Barnes

A Reread: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

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Book #24.

This is one of Haruki Murakami’s novels which I include in the short & “normal” category among his books. I say short & normal because the other categories are long & weird and short stories. But even if I categorize this to “normal” there is still something that goes out of the ordinary.

The story is about the “colorless” bachelor, Tsukuru Tazaki, who was never able to get over the cruelty of his four best friends in high school who abruptly excluded him from the group one day when he went home from Tokyo during their first year in the university. He was told never to contact them ever again and though he tried to challenge them for a reason, he was only told that he already knows why. Tsukuru then started drifting through life. He suffered from depression and since then wasn’t able to make long-term relationships. Until he met Sara…

As most of his books do, this explores themes about loneliness, friendships, melancholy, life, loss and identity. The story flips back and forth between what happened during his young adult days and the present. I’d describe this book as quiet, poignant and thoughtful about a man’s journey on dealing and understanding the past in order for him to move on with the present and a better understanding of himself.

As always, I was again left with the ambiguity of its ending. Many unanswered questions as usual and so it’s totally up to me again to fill in the gaps. In the book, tomorrow is Wednesday, the day Tsukuru will have the answers from Sara. Is she really dating another guy or will she be Tsukuru’s life partner? What’s hidden inside Midorikawa’s bag whenever he plays the piano? What happened to Haida? Who murdered and raped Shiro? Anyhow, Murakami still left me satisfied.

Quotable Quotes :

“But there are countless things in the world for which affection is not enough. Life is long, and sometimes cruel. Sometimes victims are needed. Someone has to take on that role. And human bodies are fragile, easily damaged. Cut them, and they bleed.”

“People whose freedom is taken away always end up hating somebody.”

“You need to live it to the fullest. No matter how shallow and dull things might get, this life is worth living.”

“Words don’t come out when you’re hurt that deeply.”

“Some things in life are too complicated to explain in any language.”

Rating : 5/5 stars

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

MenWithoutWomen_Hardcover_1-789x1024Book #23.

Men Without Women is comprised of seven short stories about, as the title suggests, men without women. These tales all feature male lead characters contemplating on themes like love, loss, solitude, grief, loneliness and infidelity. Every story features a kind of relationship that has a great impact on our male protagonists, how lack of women in their lives affect them and the way they perceive women. No, it won’t take you to the surreal and complexity of worlds in the likes of Kafka on the Shore. These stories are far easier but darker and somewhat reminds me of Norwegian Wood.

As always, Murakami was able to create characters very delicately and similar with his other works, he always gives us the most important details but lets our imagination finish the rest of the concept/idea. Other elements present in the stories familiar to Murakami readers include jazz music, baseball, whiskey and cats.

I don’t think I will ever be disappointed by Murakami though whenever I read his works, I always need to put myself in a particular frame of my mind. I’m not really sure what that particular frame of mind I’m talking about exactly is but it makes me unified with the book. And though you won’t like every story in this collection, I’m pretty sure you’ll like at least one of them. This would be a good choice for anyone who wants to try reading his books but don’t know where to start. Or a well worth stopgap for his fans while waiting for the next big one.

Now this leaves me thinking what about women without men in Murakami’s pen?

Quotable Quotes :

“Everything is blowing up around us, but there are still those who care about a broken lock, and others who are dutiful enough to try and fix it…But maybe that’s the way it should be. Maybe working on the little things as dutifully and honestly as we can is how we stay sane when the world is falling apart.”

“I guess I was happy then. But that much happiness can lead to an equal amount of pain.”

“As time passes, memory, inevitably, reconstitutes itself.”

“Music has that power to revive memories, sometimes so intensely that they hurt.”

“…in every situation, knowledge was better than ignorance. However agonizing, it was necessary to confront the facts. Only through knowing could a person become strong.”

Rating : 5/5 stars

Quote of the Week

Music has that power to revive memories, sometimes so intensely that they hurt.

-Haruki Murakami, Men Without Women (Yesterday)

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

71BufG21PDLBook #22.

873 pages later… I’m finally finished with A Clash of Kings. Wow! I made it through two books of this epic series! This is a serious accomplishment on my reading life these days! Good job, self! 🙂

So the realm is in turmoil. All hell broke loose in the seven kingdoms. The aftermath of Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon’s death. Eligible and king-wannabes all vying for the iron throne.  Political conflict at its finest. And we can all feel the cold because winter is coming…

This has multiple POVs like the first book, A Game of Thrones, so it constantly changes. The characters are more developed which makes me like it more as I get to  go inside each of the character’s heads and those of Tyrion and Bran are my favorites. Hats off to Tyrion Lannister! Hand of the king, baby!!! 😀 Whatever he was doing in this book — planning, drinking, wenching, putting Joffrey in his proper place (haha!) — he’s really doing it effectively! (He can sit on the iron throne, he’d make an excellent king!) His feud with his sister has to be the best parts of the book for me.

I have never liked you, Cersei, but you were my own sister, so I never did you harm. You’ve ended that. I will hurt you for this. I don’t know how yet, but give me time. A day will come when you think you are safe and happy, and suddenly your joy will turn into ashes in your mouth, and you’ll know the debt is paid.

There’s never a dull moment! Tyrion isn’t the nicest of characters but I’m really digging more of his witty ways as he remains true to his duty. His sarcasm cracks me up, always! And there’s Bran and Bran is a warg. His weird dreams are finally explained though there’s still more to find out. Bran has always been one of the most interesting characters for me from the first book so I’m hoping he’ll survive until the end. Other characters like Varys, Sandor Clegane and Jaqen H’ghar (Valar Morghulis) are worth mentioning, too. And of course, Cersei Lannister is still Queen Bitch and yes, I like her, too! On the other hand, there’s also someone I wanted to strangle here! Theon. Yes, the turncoat! A betraying bastard he was! He’s definitely up there on the villain list alongside the cruel and arrogant Joffrey! Anyways, I’m really looking forward about the dragons, the Others, the children of the forest and the white walkers.

One other thing that keeps me want to read and finish this is that not one character in the story is safe. George R.R. Martin is an evil man. He likes introducing characters whom readers grow to love then kill them off! (Great! Just great!) It excites and scares me at the same time who is going to die next. This makes it very realistic for me.

Apart from the characters, I certainly like the storyline, settings and themes of this book. A very intricate story that has almost everything in it — loyalty, conspiracy, treachery, corruption, turncoats, bravery, unexpected twists, revelations, etc. There’s plenty of action. Conspiracy within a conspiracy. Everyone in the seven kingdoms are scheming against each other. Little did they know that the white walkers are plotting to destroy them all along with the long winter. It’s written well but a little slow-paced for my taste but that’s okay. War and politics definitely make a great story and it makes me want to be in Westeros, too. So I guess, like me, you don’t have to be a fantasy reader to enjoy this. The author’s ruthlessness is admirable with regards to this world he has created.

Although it took me a long time to finish this book, A Clash of Kings is read worthy. It goes without saying that I will be continuing with the series.

Quotable Quotes :

“People often claim to hunger for truth, but seldom like the taste when it’s served up.”

“When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”

“Crowns do queer things to the heads beneath them.”

“Perhaps that is the secret. It is not what we do, so much as why we do it.”

“Love is poison. A sweet poison, yes, but it’ll kill you all the same.”

Rating : 5/5 stars

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Book #23. (2016)

This is the most difficult Murakami read for me and it took me a long time to finish. That doesn’t mean it’s not a good book, it is actually a very good one, it just took me longer than usual to comprehend what Murakami is trying to tell me. 🙂 I’ve read somewhere that the English translation by Jay Rubin cut three chapters from the Japanese version. Maybe the deleted chapters would have helped me understand the book more. Anyhow…

I don’t know how to say this right but for me, the book isn’t a total page-turner compared to his other books. Not because the story isn’t interesting enough. It is actually very interesting, however, it took me time and effort to digest its content. Even halfway through the book, I still didn’t understand where the story is heading.

Toru Okada resigned from a job he finds meaningless, but also refused to get a job because it is what the society expects. And so begins Toru’s dropping out of the society. One day, he was cooking spaghetti. The phone rings. A mysterious caller. The cat disappeared. A few days later, his wife, Kumiko, disappeared as well. Toru drops further and further out while in search them. An ordinary start that lead to a very complex story. So, even if this was given to me without the author’s name on it, I would certainly identify that this is a Murakami work.

The Manchurian thread are the best parts of the book for me though I don’t really quite understand how it would resonate with the rest of the book. Or does it have to? And what exactly is he trying to say about the war? Is it to show the violence in Japan’s past? It’s one of the reasons I’m left unsure after I finished reading. Should the different plots fit together? Are they meant to fit together? Really, I’m not sure. The confusion, lack of closure and the loose ends are all probably a part of the plan.

I would definitely recommend this book to everyone but would also advise you to read it when you have the time to commit. After reading this, you will never look normally at your cat again or the ordinariness of spaghetti. Man, I think I need another vacation… A vacation at the bottom of a well.

Quotable Quotes :

“People don’t always send messages in order to communicate the truth… just as people don’t always meet others in order to reveal their true selves.”

“Is it possible, in the final analysis, for one human being to achieve perfect understanding of another? We can invest enormous time and energy in serious efforts to know another person, but in the end, how close can we come to that person’s essence? We convince ourselves that we know the other person well, but do we really know anything important about anyone?”

“I realize full well how hard it must be to go on living alone in a place from which someone has left you, but there is nothing so cruel in this world as the desolation of having nothing to hope for.”

“A life without pain: it was the very thing I had dreamed of for years, but now that I had it, I couldn’t find a place for myself within it. A clear gap separated me from it, and this caused me great confusion. I felt as if I were not anchored to this world – this world that I had hated so passionately until then; this world that I had continued to revile for its unfairness and injustice; this world where at least I knew who I was. Now the world ceased to be the world, and I had ceased to be me.”

“Curiosity can bring guts out of hiding at times, maybe even get them going. But curiosity evaporates. Guts have to go for the long haul. Curiosity’s like an amusing friend you can’t really trust. It turns you on and then it leaves you to make it on your own – with whatever guts you can muster.”

Rating : 5/5

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

MSfMBook #20.

I didn't expect to like this book because self-help stuffs don't usually appeal to me but this one's good.

Man's Search for Meaning is divided into two parts.

The first part speaks of the extreme suffering the author himself, Viktor E. Frankl and his inmates, endured in Nazi concentration camps. He survived no less than four camps and described various stages and situations he and his fellow prisoners have been through and turned his experiences and observations of how they respond in times of adversity into a psychological study. He didn't at all consider the importance of chance or even luck to his survival.

The second part is basically an introduction to logotherapy. Using his observations and experiences while in the camps, he lays out his ideas/theories. The very core of it is a will to meaning, contrary to that of Freud which is will to pleasure or that of Adler which is will to power. He tells us that there are a lot of possible meaning of life and that it can change from day to day, from time to time, from one individual to another — a task we must frequently undertake.

According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

Moreover,

Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual. These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. 

It's a short and engaging book, it may even make you see things or life differently. Life ought to have meaning and I admire Frankl's view of it as well as his view on what joy we can derive through acceptance of our sufferings. I think it's pretty extraordinary that he was able to explore and study what must have been the darkest period of his life, he seemed like a heck of a man to do so without bitterness.

Recommended to everyone. Solid choice for anyone facing adversity or anyone who simply wants to reflect on the content and direction of the life they're leading.

Rating : 4/5 stars

Quotable Quotes :

"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way."

"Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true."

"Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible."

"No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same."

"A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the why for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any how."

The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by Jose Saramago

img_4671Book #13.

This controversial book tells the tale of Jesus Christ since his birth up to his death. It basically follows what’s written in the Bible but with some very notable changes. Here we see Jesus as human just like all of us, that Mary Magdalene is his lover, God’s working relationship with the devil and more.

The Gospel According to Jesus Christ is my first Saramago read and I must say I found it very interesting. While reading this, part of me kind of believed this was actually the real story but thanks to the humorous and sarcastic interruptions every now and then that it reminded me it’s not. The writing style was new to me, the narration are in very long sentences and paragraphs with almost no breaks but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this. What struck me the most I guess is the part towards the end where God, Jesus and the devil had a conversation on the boat. This is where Saramago tells us that if God exists, He is an egomaniac and not the God we assume He is nowadays. Soon enough, Jesus was disappointed as he realized that he was a victim of God’s pride, a sacrificial lamb as Saramago puts it.

I do understand the controversy of this book as Jesus is not as righteous as Christians think he is in Senhor Saramago’s pen. This will insult and shock many but this is how he writes. Take it or leave it.

Quotable Quotes :

“The time for miracles has either passed or not come yet, besides, miracles, genuine miracles, whatever people say, are not such a good idea, if it means destroying the very order of things in order to improve them.”

“For human words are like shadows, and shadows are incapable of explaining light and between shadow and light there is the opaque body from which words are born.”

“This is how everyone has to begin, men who have never known a woman, women who have never known a man, until the day comes for the one who knows to teach the one who does not.”

“Somewhere in the infinite that He occupies, God advances and withdraws the pawns of the other games He plays, but it is too soon to worry about this one, all He need do for the present is allow things to take their natural course, apart from the occasional adjustment with the tip of His little finger to make sure some stray thought or action does not interfere with the harmony of destinies.”

Rating : 4/5 stars