Just wow. After opening the year with a month (January) that stretched beyond its 31 days – at least that was how it felt – February zoomed past us. I mean, we didn’t even have time to catch our breaths. Just like that, we are already in the third month of the year! I sure hope that the first two months of the year have been kind to everyone. Personally, after a busy month in January because of year-end closing activities and annual reporting, I spent most of February on vacation. I went to Taiwan with my friends; this was my first international trip in nearly five years. I then spent five days in El Nido, Palawan, a local tourist spot that has been repeatedly named by Condé Nast as one of the best, if not the best islands in the world. I traveled there with my family, marking the first time I traveled with them. It was also memorable as it was my brother’s, father’s, and (paternal) grandfather’s first airplane ride. It also means I was able to tick off one of my lifelong dreams. But now I am having second thoughts about bringing them on my travels. HAHA.
Reading-wise, my February 2023 reading journey has slowly shaped into an immersion in the works of British and Irish literature; this was after I spent January catching up on books published in the previous year. I am no stranger to this part of the literary world as British writers, by nationality, are my second most-read writers; the top spot is occupied by American writers and the gap is WIDE. Moreover, I think it was in 2020 when I had my last British literature and with my goal of reducing the gap between American writers and the rest of the world, this is a great starting point. However, the pivotal moment for this shift to British/Irish literature was the realization that I was approaching my 1000th novel. This is a special one so I dedicated it to one of literature’s most popular titles, and also one of its most challenging and complex. It will be named down below. HAHA. Before I lose it in a swirl of words, here is a peek into how my December journey shaped up. Happy reading!
Dubliners by James Joyce
When I closed January with my 999th novel, Jennifer Egan’s The Candy House, I found myself at an impasse. Should I go ahead with my 1000th novel? I soon realized that immediately dipping my toes into one of the most revered and most daunting works of literature will not cut it. As such, rather than delving into the complex narrative, I decided to pause and read a book that would prepare me for the daunting book. With this, I opened February with James Joyce’s Dubliners, a short story collection. Dubliners was, in a way, a deviation from what I typically read. I am not really that fond of reading short stories. First published in 1914, Dubliners is comprised of fifteen short stories, each capturing the lives of different people from different walks of life. Each character has his or her own concern; the stories depicted the plights of the common Irish during the early years of the 20th century. These contrasts gave the short story collection different textures. While each story had its own differences, there was something palpably similar in them. I guess this is the function of Joyce’s storytelling as his language and writing were able to weave each piece into one lush tapestry.
Ulysses by James Joyce
Finally, my 1000th novel! I couldn’t believe I would reach this number. As I mentioned in the introduction, 1000 is a special number so I dedicated it to no ordinary novel. For the longest time, I have been eyeing James Joyce’s Ulysses to occupy this special number. There was a reason behind it. Back in 2017, the book formed part of my 2017 Top 20 Reading List. I was unprepared, to be honest, and midway through the book, I gave up, a rarity for me. I then planned to read Ulysses once I am more “mature” as a reader. the gap between my first time with Ulysses and my rereading it helped a lot in my appreciation of the book. I struggled mightily during the first time but this time around, I was more at ease although I was still daunted. The book was inspired by the adventures of Odysseus (from Homer’s Odysses”; the Latinized version of his name was Ulysses). From this vantage point, the story started to make sense. The novel tracked a one-day “adventure” of Leopold Bloom while he ventured across the busy streets of Dublin; the book was set in the early years of the 20th century. What makes the book stand out, however, was its complex structure. Joyce employed different literary styles and the plot was never straightforward. It was this nonconformance to literary conventions that flummoxed me the first time around. However, reading the book this time around made me appreciate it, enveloping me with the wonders of literature, from its ability to leave one in awe to its ability to frustrate.
Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
From Dublin, my literary journey took me across the strait to Scotland. It was through must-read lists that I first encountered Irvine Welsh and his debut novel, Trainspotting. However, the book barely made an impression on me during my initial encounter with it. Years later, I would keep on encountering the book through online booksellers which finally convinced me to read the book. I, later on, learned was listed as one of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die; this is the second consecutive book from the said list that I have read this year. The book chronicled the story of the denizens of Leith, a port area in Edinburgh. What initially stood out for me was the variety of language; the book employed, in an alternating manner, Scots, Scottish English, and British English. I struggled with the heavy Scottish accent at the start but as the story advanced, I found myself more at ease. Among the characters, Mark “Rent Boy” Renton played the most prominent part. The book also had an unusual structure, like Ulysses. With the different voices building up the story, it does come across as a collection of short stories. Nevertheless, it worked as they deal with common themes, from existentialism to drug and sexual addiction to random acts of violence. There was quite a lot of cussing and cursing in the story, not that I minded.
Under the Net by Iris Murdoch
From two unfamiliar (technically) writers, my next read reintroduced me to a name whose work I have read previously. Like in the case of Irvine Welsh, it was must-read lists that introduced me to Irish Murdoch. Her works, particularly The Sea, were ubiquitous. The Sea was my first novel by Murdoch. Unsurprisingly, I guess, the book made it to my all-time favorite reads. It also made me want to read more of Murdoch’s works. However, it would take me some time before I was finally able to read my second novel by Murdoch. Published in 1954, Under the Net was Murdoch’s first published novel; I didn’t know this until I started reading the book. Set in London, it chronicled the story of Jake Donaghue, a struggling young writer who scrapes a living by translating mediocre French novels to English. The novel then introduced a couple of interesting characters such as Jake’s cousin Finn and their friend, Magdalen, or Madge for short, with whom the cousins were living rent-free for eighteen months. Under the Net established the tempo for Murdoch’s career. She also riddled her novel with philosophical intersections which reminded me of The Sea, The Sea although Under the Net’s wit and humor made it more of a lighthearted read. Under the Net underlined my desire to read more of Murdoch’s oeuvre.
Room by Emma Donoghue
From London, my literary journey took me across the strait to Ireland with Emma Donoghue’s Room, a book I first encountered through the poster of the book’s movie adaptation. It did initially pique my interest but I soon forgot about it but it was ubiquitous so I gave in and obtained a copy of the book during the first year of the pandemic. Two years later, I added the book to my 2023 Beat the Backlist challenge as I felt it was about time for me to read the book. I also listed it as part of my 2023 Top 23 Reading List, making it the third book from the list I read so far this year. I normally scramble to read the books on the list toward the end of the year so this is something kind of new. Back to the back. I was surprised when I learned that the primary narrator, Jack, was five years old. As can be expected, Jack was very imaginative and had misspellings. Jack and his mother were living in the titular Room and as the story advanced, it was revealed that Jack had no idea of the outside world. His image of it was provided to him by his mother. This was enough to connect the dots and sure enough, the story reflected true stories. I must admit, I was surprised when I learned the book was tagged as a work of crime fiction. I had a different vision of the book in mind. Nevertheless, it was an engaging read.
Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
From the contemporary, my next read transported me to Victorian England. Prior to the publication of Far From the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy published three novels. However, these books were met with a lukewarm reception. the publication of Far From the Madding Crowd was a welcome development as his fourth novel catapulted Hardy to global prominence. The book’s critical success made it part of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die and was also adapted into a film. However, I was apprehensive about reading the book as I was not much of a fan of Hardy’s Tess of the d’urbervilles, the first novel written by Hardy I read. However, I am always willing to make concessions and I was hoping Far from the Madding Crowd would provide some redeeming qualities of Hardy’s prose. Sure enough, I did. At the heart of the story was Bathsheba Everdene, a beautiful young lady who was living with her aunt. Gabriel Oak, an affluent farmer eight years her senior, proposed to her but she promptly rejected his offer of marriage before she moved to Weatherbury. A couple of years later, Bathsheba earned a fortune while Oak became poor. They remained good friends, however. Gabriel remained loyal to her despite her romantic overtures with William Boldwood and Sergeant Francis “Frank” Troy. I liked the story although Bathsheba can be a little shallow.
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
Douglas Adams was another writer I discovered through must-read lists. His popular science fiction series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy came in highly recommended. True enough, I like the first book in the series which I read back in 2018. I have since been promising to read the rest of the series, even making it a part of my annual new year’s resolution since 2019. I am finally making good on that promise! The Restaurant at the End of the Universe reintroduces the main characters who we met in the first book: Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Trillian, and Zaphod Beeblebrox. To the uninitiated, Arthur Dent is a middle-class British man and is the only human character in the story; the rest of the characters are different aliens from different planets and galaxies. The main characters were attempting to leave the planet Magrathea on the Heart of Gold but they were intercepted by a Vogon ship bribed by Gag Halfrunt and a group of psychiatrists. What ensued was a mixture of adventures and misadventures, reminiscent of the first book in the series. Adams’ humor and wit yet again engaged the readers. But it was not all fun and games as the humor belied the vast territory of subjects it covered such as time manipulation, the end of time, and the relativity of life, death, and the afterlife. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.
Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
From outer space, my next read took me to a more familiar place: New York City, in particular, Brooklyn, one of the five boroughs that comprise the Big Apple. The spirit of Brooklyn was captured in Irish writer Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn. I kept encountering the popular and highly-heralded writer and his works in must-read challenges; yes, these challenges and lists have given me names I have never heard of or whose work I have never read before. A couple of years since my first encounter with the Irish writer, I have finally read one of his novels. Set in the 1950s, Brooklyn chronicled the story of Eilis Lacey, a young Irish woman. After not being able to find work in Ireland, she immigrated to the United States with the assistance of Father Flood, a Catholic priest living in New York City. Eilis was able to find employment in a department store while taking night classes in bookkeeping, again, with the assistance of Father Flood and his donors; Eilis has a knack for bookkeeping which was not left unnoticed. As a licensed accountant myself, I did find this portion fascinating. Aside from this, the novel had elements of romance. However, the book’s strength lies in how Tóibín captured the spirit of Brooklyn in the 1950s. It was a melting pot of different cultures as it was where several immigrants such as Irish and Italians settled. Brooklyn made me want to read more of Tóibín’s works.
The Rose and the Yew Tree. by Agatha Christie
Capping my February reading journey was Mary Westmacott’s The Rose and the Yew Tree. To the uninitiated, Mary Westmacott was the pseudonym used by Agatha Christie, the Queen of Suspense. The origin of this pseudonym has been the subject of many speculations; Christie was able to keep her identity as Westmacott a secret from the general public for almost 20 years. Some say that the idea was born out of a dark phase in her life when she famously disappeared without any trace after her husband asked for a divorce. She would, later on, reappear but what transpired during the days she disappeared never came to light. Anyway, she published six books as Mary Westmacott, one of which was The Rose and the Yew Tree. The novel was narrated by Hugh Norreys, an invalid who we first meet in the story’s present. A woman burst into his life demanding his time. She wanted him to visit John Gabriel, a man from Norreys’ past and who he wanted to forget about. Gabriel was dying. Norreys was not keen on meeting the man he loathed but he eventually conceded. What ensued was the journey to the past as we learn the reason behind Norreys’ resentment. In a way, the book was a deviation from Christie’s penchant for mystery. There was a little suspense but the story was mainly a tragic romance story. It was disorienting at first but I was soon invested as this book showed a different side of Christie’s prose and storytelling.
Reading Challenge Recaps
- My 2023 Top 23 Reading List: 4/23
- 2023 Beat The Backlist: 3/20; 8/60
- 2023 Books I Look Forward To List: 0/10
- Goodreads 2023 Reading Challenge: 17/70
- 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 4/20
- New Books Challenge: 1/15
Book Reviews Published in February
- Book Review # 410: Swann’s Way
- Book Review # 411: Death Comes to Pemberley
- Book Review # 412: The Little Town Where Time Stood Still
- Book Review # 413: Olga
Thankfully, despite February being a short and busy month, I was able to double my output compared to January when I published a measly two book reviews, my lowest output in a month since I started writing book reviews. I am just glad I was able to publish four book reviews and I have already published two this March. This means that I am down to my last two pending book reviews from June 2022. Hopefully, I regain my groove and start publishing at least ten book reviews a month, something I last achieved last July. I hope I get to regain my mojos so that I can regain my momentum. As always, I will just take it one step at a time, especially with how busy life has been getting lately.
For March, I have decided to extend my foray into British and Irish literature. February was a lucrative reading month but, unfortunately, I have a lot of works of British and Irish literature that are waiting for me to read. I have just read Salman Rushdie’s latest novel, Victory City, my 10th by the Indian British writer. I am currently reading my first novel by Scottish writer Muriel Sparks, The Mandelbaum Gate. Apart from these books, I am planning to read the rest of the books in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; thankfully, they are slim and accessible reads. I am also planning to read Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, J.G. Farrell’s The Siege of Krishnapur, and Nobel Laureate in Literature William Golding’s Rite of Passage. These will be my first foray into the oeuvre of these writers. Hopefully, I get to read all of them, and also Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.
2022 was a big year and I hope that 2023 will be an even bigger year. How about you fellow reader? How is your own reading journey going? I hope you enjoyed the books you have read. For now, have a great day and weekend. As always, do keep safe, and happy reading everyone!