Sunday, April 27

Best Cult Books

I was recently asked what my favorite book was. The question was actually addressed to another fellow sitting on the table, but all of us eventually chimed in. What does it mean, "favorite book"? There are books that one read as a 17 year old and it forever stays with you. Someone owned up to liking Ayn Rand. Another adored Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveller.

The key here, as The Guardian says, is that the sort of book you read early on defines you and takes you for a life turn. It's not just a "favorite" book--it's a "cult" book--the sort "often found in the pockets of murderers; books that you take very seriously when you are 17; books whose readers can be identified to all with the formula ' whacko.'" Further down, the article lists down the common themes running through or found in these books: drugs, sex, travel--all the things our parents probably didn't want us to get our hands on at that particular moment.

Browsing the list of books, I saw two which I really did read at seventeen: Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and Erica Jong's Fear of Flying. Albert Camus' The Stranger. Then there is J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, of course. But that didn't quite hit me as all the teenage girls going crazy or slashing wrists kind of books. Or the "this is the secret to the meaning of life" book. Not in the list is Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World, beloved of all freshmen who had to take a philosophy class. In the list is The Prophet, which to this day I still can't stand or finish, even after one of the professors in university assigned it as required reading in class.

Thursday, April 17

Abandon the Old in Tokyo

Abandon the Old in Tokyo has eight stories: most of them about working class guys in postwar Japan. There's a factory worker, garbage collector, window washer. In the title story, a young man cooks and washes for his mother, who reminds him without fail that in her youth, she worked really hard to provide for him. There's a flashback that shows the boy accidentally stumbling into his mother and her "clients." And now, in her old age, she thinks she's worked too hard. But a young man can only take the stench of pee-soaked blankets for so long. The young woman she's dating is excited to visit and spend time with him in his apartment. Japan is known for having long life spans and for families taking care of their own elderly, but two decades after World War II, a young man decides to rent an apartment in the outskirts of the city and move his invalid mother there. He must choose: mother or his own woman? Is he doing the right thing? Will it be too late?

In the introduction, Adrian Tomine claims that Yoshihiro Tatsumi predated the naturalist style of recent (say since the '80s) North American comic book artists. I'm not really a big manga fan, but in reading this book, I'm more likely to agree with Tomine. Yoshihiro Tatsumi has more in common with Harvey Pekar or R. Crumb than most of the manga I've read. It has simple enough narratives which capture a day (or days) in the life of someone, and then fades away after an emotional moment. The moments are not big either. When the lonely manga artist was caught drawing graffitti in a public restroom, the look on his face reminded me of Julio Madiaga in the final scene in Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag. It's desperation pushed against the walls. More Raymond Carver than Ranma or Fruits Basket.

I enjoyed reading the stories. Found this in the big Borders store. I finished it in one sitting, even with a headache. Also, I found out that this was the second in a series--the first being Push Man and Other Stories, which I'll be delighted to read someday. I wish we'd get these titles here in Manila.

Books and Dating

Rachel Donadio writes about love and dating among bibliophiles, or how the books you read may make or break a relationship:
Some years ago, I was awakened early one morning by a phone call from a friend. She had just broken up with a boyfriend she still loved and was desperate to justify her decision. “Can you believe it!” she shouted into the phone. “He hadn’t even heard of Pushkin!”

We’ve all been there. Or some of us have. Anyone who cares about books has at some point confronted the Pushkin problem: when a missed — or misguided — literary reference makes it chillingly clear that a romance is going nowhere fast.
Donadio later makes the case that literary tastes may be a gender thing: "Brainy women are probably more sensitive to literary deal breakers than are brainy men. (Rare is the guy who’d throw a pretty girl out of bed for revealing her imperfect taste in books.) After all, women read more, especially when it comes to fiction." I definitely could not stand if all someone read was maybe Zig Zeglar or Who Moved My Cheese?--no offense meant, but that's just not my thing. It won't be the total deal breaker. There will be other things. But I also like Ariel Levy's idea of "compartmentalization": that compatibility in reading taste is a luxury; and that the goal of a relationship, according to her, is “to find somebody where your perversions match and who you can stand.”


NOTE: This post was written like three weeks ago or so. Just posting it now.