The 10 Books Self Keeps Near

Self loves surveys of reading habits.

This one’s from Kepler’s Books Facebook page:

Name at least five books you’d keep near.

Self can’t possibly keep it to five.

Here are the 10 books self keeps near (on a shelf right above her MacMini):

  1. 50 Stories From Israel:  An Anthology, edited by Zisi Stavi
  2. The 48 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene
  3. Myths and Symbols:  Philippines, by F. R. Demetrio, S.J.
  4. Drive-By Vigils, by R. Zamora Linmark
  5. National Geographic’s Field Guide to the Trees of North America
  6. Going Home to a Landscape:  Writings by Filipinas, edited by Marianne Villanueva and Virginia Cerenio
  7. Pinoy Capital:  The Filipino Nation in Daly City, by Benito M. Vergara
  8. Another Kind of Paradise:  Short Stories From the New Asia-Pacific, edited by Trevor Carolan
  9. Flannelgraphs, by Joan McGavin (Met Joan at Hawthornden, which was part of the reason self enjoyed Scotland so much)
  10. If I Write You This Poem, Will You Make It Fly, by Simeon Dumdum, Jr.

Lists are fluid; the books rotate per self’s mood.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Quote of the Second Wednesday of February 2014: Rabindranath Tagore

Thinking about poetry this morning, and about the lecture last night at USF.  Saw Melissa Dale again.

Melissa is the Executive Director of the USF Center for the Pacific Rim and also an Assistant Professor at USF.  Decades ago — in 1991, to be exact — she was self’s student assistant in the Center for East Asian Studies at Stanford.  Melissa took the picture of self that graces the back of self’s first book, Ginseng and Other Tales from Manila.  She lived on the East Coast for many years.

Eventually, Melissa and her two teen-aged daughters moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area.  Life is so mysterious.  But self rejoiced at this chance to see her again.

The poem self is reading this morning is by Rabindranath Tagore.  It’s from Rabindranath Tagore:  Selected Poems, translated by William Radice (Penguin Modern Classics edition).  She doesn’t recall buying this book, so it was probably given to her by one of her friends.

The poem contrasts a young singer with an old, and resonates so much with self.

“Broken Song”

Kasinath the new young singer fills the hall with sound:
The seven notes dance in his throat like seven tame birds.
His voice is a sharp sword thrusting and slicing everywhere,
It darts like lightning — no knowing where it will go when.

He sets deadly traps for himself, then cuts them away:
The courtiers listen in amazement, give frequent gasps of praise.
Only the old king Pratap Ray sits like wood, unmoved.
Baraj Lal is the only singer he likes, all others leave him cold.
From childhood he has spent so long listening to him sing –
Rag Kafi during holi, cloud songs during the rains,
Songs for Durga at dawn in autumn, songs to bid her farewell –
His heart swelled when he heard them and his eyes swam with tears.
And on days when friends gathered and filled the hall
There were cowherds’ songs of Krishna, in rags Bhupali and Multan.

So many nights of wedding-festivity have passed in that royal house:
Servants dressed in red, hundreds of lamps alight:
The bridegroom sitting shyly in his finery and jewels,
Young friends teasing him and whispering in his ear:
Before him, singing rag Sahana, sits Baraj Lal.
The king’s heart is full of all those days and songs.
When he hears some other singer, he feels no chord inside,
No sudden magical awakening of memories of the past.
When Pratap Ray watches Kasinath he just sees his wagging head:
Tune after tune after tune, but none with any echo in the heart.

To fully appreciate the poem, self had to turn to the Glossary in the back of the book.

Holi, self learns, is “a Hindu spring and fertility festival, characterized by the joyous throwing of coloured powders and sprinkling of coloured liquid at people.”

There were some other interesting words in the glossary, words like:

Jambu:  “Large tree that sheds its leaves in January/February, has fragrant white flowers in March-May, and purplish black astringent fruit in June/July.”

Kacu:  “The taro, a coarse herbacious plant cultivated for its tubers”

Koel:  “A bird that is frequently called ‘cuckoo’ by translators but which is actually different from either the European cuckoo or the Indian cuckoo, though it belongs in the same family.”

Makara:  “Mythical sea monster, representing the Capricorn of the Hindu zodiac, with head and forelegs of a deer, and body and tail of a fish.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Juxtaposition 3: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

January, 2012.  Self was in Bir, a village in Himachal Pradesh. She looked up Dharamsala. Hired a car and driver to take her up there.

The driver was a Tibetan who only spoke a smattering of English.

Self had no idea where she would stay when she got to Dharamsala. But she had looked up a few possibilities on Tripadvisor the night before. That was how she found the Snow Crest Inn.

The air was thin. Self was short of breath. It was freezing cold.

The mountains were massive. Self had no idea. Absolutely no idea.

What does this have to do with this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge?

Everything. Because when you live surrounded by such majesty, how can one avoid thinking of the spirit?

The Snow Crest Inn was managed by two brothers, who traded off accompanying her to town every day (Self stayed in Dharamsala five nights).  One day, upon returning from town, one of the brothers asked the one who had accompanied self:  “You went to the market?  What did she buy?” And the other brother replied:  “Just some old stuff.”


View from self's room at the Snow Crest Inn, Dharamsala, January 2012

View from self’s room at the Snow Crest Inn, Dharamsala, January 2012

View from a Monastery, Dharamsala, January 2012

View from a Monastery, Dharamsala, January 2012

And here’s a picture that self took some years ago. She’s thinking of her Dear Departed Sister, Paz. Who died of pneumonia in 1991, in New York City.

She was a vice president in Citibank. Why has it taken self so long to think about subscribing to Granta again? Why?

By chance, the book just above the issues of Granta is one of her favorites: Maryse Condé’s The Children of Segu (Segu is the fictitious name Condé gave to her native Mali).  The book next to Granta is The May Fourth Movement:  Intellectual Revolution in Modern China, by Chow Tse-Tung, a required text in one of her Chinese history classes at Stanford.

Personal Bookshelf:  In the 1980s, self's Dear Departed Sis gave her a subscription to GRANTA. (Just above the magazine is a book by one of self's favorite writers:  Maryse Condé.

Personal Bookshelf: In the 1980s, self’s Dear Departed Sis gave her a subscription to GRANTA. (Just above the magazine is a book by one of self’s favorite writers: Maryse Condé.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Of Brienne of Tarth, Katniss Everdeen, and Other Favorite Heroines

Today, self watched “Frozen.”  What. A. Great. Movie. Self loved it so much, she almost wanted to sit through a second screening.  It was about sisters, one of whom has to shoulder the burdens of becoming Queen, while the other one gets to be brave and feisty and stubborn and wrong and lead a more interesting life. Well, both sisters are wrong, at various points.  But self identified with the older sister, the one who feels her lot in life is to live in sorrowful isolation.  Self cried, harder even than she did in Catching Fire.  As she walked out of the theater, self heard a couple of older teen-aged girls raving about the music:  “Wasn’t that song by Demi Lovato?”

Last night, she decided to get caught up on another of her favorite heroines, Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne of Tarth in HBO’s Game of Thrones.  In an interview in October, Gwendoline said that her part in GOT was done.  Self got such a shock on hearing that, because it can only mean one thing:  Brienne gets killed in Season 4.  Noooooo!!!

And, this little morsel:  self read somewhere that Jennifer Lawrence got hurt while filming a scene in Mockingjay — apparently the mishap involved choking.  OK, now, what scene could that have been?  Could that be the one with hijacked Peeta after his rescue from the Capitol?  Because doesn’t he put his two hands on Katniss’s neck and — self, STOP RIGHT THERE!

And now, to the ostensible reason for this post:

Lev Grossman of Time Magazine conducted a five-part interview with Suzanne Collins and Francis Lawrence on The Hunger Games.  The final part was published 22 November 2013.  Here’s an excerpt:

Lev Grossman:  When I read people writing about The Hunger Games, there seems to be a split between people who read it as an allegory of the emotional experience of being an adolescent, and there are people who read it more literally as an exploration of the moral issues surrounding war and political oppression.  Is it both?  Are you comfortable with both?

Suzanne Collins:  I have read so many interpretations.  There’s a whole Christian allegory.  There’s you know, I’ve seen people talk about it like Plato’s cave, which is really fun.  I’ve seen an indictment of big government.  I’ve seen, you know, the 99 percent kind of thing.  I think people bring a lot of themselves to the book.  When Hunger Games first came out, I could tell people were having very different experiences.  It’s a war story.  It’s a romance.  Other people are like, it’s an action-adventure story.

You know, for me it was always first and foremost a war story, but whatever brings you into the story is fine with me.  And then, of course, if a person interprets it as an adolescent experience or a Christian allegory, you can’t tell them they didn’t.  That was their genuine response to it, and they’re going to have it, and that’s fine.  You can’t both write and then sit on the other side and interpret it for people.

I can tell you that for me it was a war story.  But it also has so many ethical issues because you’re dealing with war, and there’s all these other ethical issues surrounding with, you know, there’s violence, there’s war, there’s hunger, there’s the propaganda, there’s the environment’s been destroyed, there’s a ruthless government, misuse of power and all these other elements that come into play with it, and people may respond to ones that are most important to them, and you know other people come for the love story.  That’s fine.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Poem for the Day After New Year’s (2013)

Poem 53 of the One Hundred Poets (translation from the Japanese by Clay MacCauley)

written by Udaisho Michitsuna no Haha (937 – 995)

Sighing all alone,
Through the long watch of the night,
Till the break of day: –
Can you realize at all
What a tedious thing it is?

The poet was the daughter of Fujiwara no Motoyasu, and became the mother of the imperial commander Fujiwara no Michitsuna.  Self’s personal copy of the One Hundred Poets is the one published by George Braziller in 1989, and edited by Peter Morse.  Each poem is accompanied by an illustration by Hokusai.  Here’s how Morse describes Hokusai’s illustration for Poem 53:

The woman has been awake, for her clothing is rumpled due to her restlessness.  She has come out on the porch with a lantern, presumably at dawn, to look for her missing husband.  We see a pipe and tobacco pouch resting on the pillow within the house, the sign of an absent man.  Around the corner of the house we can see a cistern and water dipper.

This figure of the lone woman appears several other times among Hokusai’s drawings . . .  She is always waiting for a man, a situation generally suggested by the poem.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Greatness of RIDDLEY WALKER

In the future post-apocalyptic world, England becomes Inland, and the USA becomes Eusa.  A person reaches the apex of his/her life at twelve years of age.  People apparently die in droves in their 30s.  Probably as a result of radiation.

Riddley Walker, the main character of Riddley Walker (duh) is a storyteller.  A 12-year-old storyteller.  He walks from place to place, his sole purpose is to keep the stories alive (Who pays him?  Don’t they have any way to compensate Riddley Walker for his time?).

The name “Riddley” is perfect:  the past is a riddle.  But it is not the task of the walker, the storyteller, to explain the riddles.  Only to make sure that the questions get passed on, in the hope that someone in a future generation will finally be able to put all the pieces together.  He is the closest to a forensic anthropologist that the post-apocalyptic society, deprived of analytical instruments, can come up with.  The fragility of human history is so very, very palpable in this book.

And everything is mis-spelled.  How horrible!  Here’s an example of what happens when grammar teachers all get killed off:

He said, “Dint he tell you how the Eusa folk stoaned Eusa out at Cambry for what he done? How they crowdit him roun the circel of Inland 1 town to a nother?  Every town they come to they tol them on the gate, “This is Eusa what done the clevver work for Bad Time.”  Then what wer lef in the towns them what wer the soar vivers of the barming they torchert Eusa then.  Torchert him and past him on to the next.  Thats when the playgs come follering hot on Eusas road and wiping out each town he lef behynt him.  9 towns in the rime and 9 towns dead but Cambry shud be in it 2ce it ben the 1st it ben the las.  Cambry where they stoaned him out of starting him on to his circel and Cambry where they brung him back to blyn and bloody not a man no more he ben cut off.

Self thought Riddley Walker was such a brave book.  Of course, it can be challenging — to say the least! — to read an entire book full of mis-spellings (Ha ha haaa!)  But the language plunged self directly into that brutal, brutish, Dark Age.  She believed in that world totally, in no small part because of the language.

Riddley Walker was originally published in 1980.  Self must have read it while she was a grad student.  She found it in the Stanford Bookstore, plowed right in.  Found it a good break from all her classes in Chinese history and literature.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

CATCHING FIRE (The Novel): When the Old Katniss Returns!

It is p. 329, very near the end of the book, and Katniss is doing what she does best:  weigh her chances.

It took almost the entire book to get here, first there was all this sob story about Gale being whipped and Prim and her mother and a lot of self-pitying inner monologue about having to go on a Victory Tour with Peeta, the boy who makes Katniss feel guilty every time she looks at him.

(Dear blog readers, self began re-reading The Hunger Games books after watching Catching Fire the movie, and only recently was she reminded that there is an awful lot of Gale in the second book.  Which would be OK, except that after seeing the movie, she just wants everything to hurry up so that Katniss and Peeta can get to the beach scene.  Which, unfortunately, occurs near the very end.)

But here we have a passage where Katniss sounds a little like the Old Katniss, the one in the first book.  Killer Katniss.  Or Brash Katniss.  Or Defiant Katniss.  Or however you want to call it:

Beetee and Wiress will probably find some way to die on their own.  If we have to run from something, how far would they get?  Johanna, frankly, I could easily kill if it came down to protecting Peeta.  Or maybe even just to shut her up.  What I really need is for someone to take out Finnick, since I don’t think I can do it personally.  Not after all he’s done for Peeta.  I think about maneuvering him into some kind of encounter with the Careers.  It’s cold, I know.  But what are my options?  Now that we know about the clock, he probably won’t die in the jungle, so someone’s going to have to kill him in battle.

Because this is so repellent to think about, my mind frantically tries to change topics.  But the only thing that distracts me from my current situation is fantasizing about killing President Snow.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Grand: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

Self chose these three photos to interpret this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge:  Grand.  They are all Grand (i.e. Awe-inspiring), but for very different reasons.  The first was taken with her cellphone, which perhaps accounts for it’s odd shape.

Apple Store, University Avenue, Downtown Palo Alto, the Sunday After Steve Jobs Passed Away

Apple Store, University Avenue, Downtown Palo Alto, the Sunday After Steve Jobs Passed Away

Kanlaon, Negros Occidental

Kanlaon Volcano, in Dear Departed Dad’s home province of Negros Occidental

Lydia Davis signed 2 copies of her COLLECTED STORIES: one for self, the other for Niece G

Lydia Davis signed 2 copies of her COLLECTED STORIES: one for self, the other for Niece G

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Jose “Butch” Dalisay in MANILA NOIR

It is hawwwttt!  Hawwwttt as all get out!

Today was self’s day to meet Joanne H downtown.  Joanne H is the mother of Tom H, who has been friends with son since elementary school in St. Raymond’s.  There is a very funny story connected with today’s meet-up, which self will share with dear blog readers when she is a little less pressed for time.  Anyhoo, it is so hot today, unbelievable.  But The Ancient One has somehow survived the entire bristling afternoon on the deck, not moving.  Self thinks to herself:  She’s bought it!  But the minute The Ancient One hears the creak of the wood floors inside the house, self hears the rhythmic thump of her tail against the deck: Thump thump thump thump thump.  Tears spring to self’s eyes.  The Ancient One is the most enduring, most loyal pet — no, GIFT — ever.  To reward her for her unparalleled loyalty and spunk, self unwraps one of the rib-eye bones from last night’s dinner and heaves it onto Bella’s doggie dish.

The Ancient One

The Ancient One

Then, she resumes her reading.  Which, this afternoon, is Manila Noir.

The further self gets, the more riveted she is by the material.  She just finished F. H. Batacan’s marvelous “Comforter of the Afflicted” and has begun Jose “Butch” Dalisay’s “The Professor’s Wife.”  The setting of Dalisay’s story is Diliman, where the University of the Philippines is situated.  Self wanted to attend this university, she would have chosen Anthropology as her major.  It’s hard to get in, but she did make it.  She eventually opted to attend Dear Departed Dad’s alma mater, Ateneo de Manila, instead.

Back to the Butch Dalisay story.  It is excellent.  In addition, it is one of the drollest stories she has ever read.  Considering it’s in a book called Manila Noir, one would hardly expect that level of wit and drollery, but let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth, dear readers!


Here’s the Backstory:  A professor in Diliman is fondly remembered by a witty narrator.  The narrator is very interested in analyzing how the professor ended up with his young and luscious wife, Lalaine.  The couple are fodder for salacious gossip all over the campus.

I can imagine Professor Sanvictores coming to UP as a young instructor, eager to make his mark in history.  Or was it economics that he first signed up for?  This was years before his stint as a teaching assistant and doctoral candidate in Minnesota, where he picked up and cultivated the American accent that many coeds found charming, if not irresistible.  Now, every two-bit club and radio deejay and call center agent has one, but none of them can come up with and use a word like “contumacious” the way the professor did to describe certain tribal chieftains in old New Zealand.

I was dying to ask either the professor or Lalaine herself how the two of them met, and more than that, how they ended up being man and wife.  I mean, what ever did they see in each other?  But of course, silly, I knew what he saw in her, I could see that even with my eyes shut.  But what about Lalaine?  I could understand her developing a schoolgirl crush on him, especially if he put on that Minnesota affect and gave his sophomore-class version of his lecture on Rizal’s women and free love in the nineteenth century.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

3rd Wednesday of July (2013): Moral Tales

Today, self thought she would focus on the other book she is concurrently reading (along with The Great Gatsby.  And Manila Noir.  AND the daily Wall Street Journal):  Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales.  She found the book in transreal, a bookstore in Edinburgh.

The excerpt below is from Part Seven:  MORAL TALES

The title of the fable is Escaping Slowly.  

A goat was walking along with her two kids looking for some nice sweet grass when it began to rain.  It was really coming down, so she ran under a big rock ledge to get some shelter, not knowing that it was the Lion’s house.  When Lion saw the three goats coming, he purred to himself in a voice like thunder.

This frightened the mother and her kids and she said, “Good evening, Minister.”  And the lion said, “Good evening.”  She said that she was looking for a minister to baptize these two kids, because she wanted to give them names.  Lion said he’d be happy to do that.  “This one’s name is Dinner and this one’s name is Breakfast Tomorrow and your name is Dinner Tomorrow.”

So now after hearing this roared out by the Lion, the goats were really frightened, and the kids’ hearts began to leap, bup bup bup.  Lion asked the mother goat what was the matter with her two kids and she said, “Well, they always get feeling this way when the room they are in gets so hot.”  So she asked Lion that, since they were feeling that way, could they go out and get a little cool air. (To be continued)

Stay tuned.

« Older entries


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 495 other followers