Less

A light read for this month’s book club pick, Less by Andrew Sean Greer was delightful. I felt that it didn’t take itself too seriously despite the main character going through a mid-life crisis. (As I think of Arthur Less now, Hari ng Sablay plays in my head — and now on YouTube.)

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The story is essentially of a middle-aged man who goes on a trip around the world to distract himself from his boyfriend’s wedding and his 50th birthday. The premise is meh, okay, I admit, but it’s the execution that captured my heart. So background: Less is a wash-up whose writing career is failing; he takes up some “odd jobs” or freelance work (or whatever equivalent in the writing industry) to stay (or, to become) relevant. In the midst of all the travel and flashbacks, there were two ideas that hit close to home:

  1. Enjoy your youth: There was a scene in the book where we are told that it’s sad to hear of 25-year-olds talking about the stock market. Ouch. As a young professional in financial services, I’m too far gone for this. I live a “sad” life, but I get it: live life without worries.
  2. Love yourself: Another moment in the book talks about how the protagonist in Less’ new novel is just not likable, and Less justifies it by saying that the character is a middle-aged man and that’s just how it is. Well, it’s not. Less rewrites the book and gives his protagonist more oompf and lurve, and if you tell me his story book character is not an extension of himself, we’re going to have a debate here.

Refreshing read. Much needed given that quarter-life crisis is a thing nowadays.

Beartown

Thinking this would be a great beach read, I borrowed Beartown from the public library to read on my kindle. (Yes! You can borrow e-books!) Around halfway through, I realized that this was not a light read. The good thing was that I only reached that point by the time I was already home, (yes, I know, I am a slow reader) so no shocking realizations for me while I was enjoying my time at the beach.

OK, so what about this book? It’s about a small town where hockey makes or breaks the town. In one way or another, the sport has affected each person in town, and not everyone necessarily likes hockey or the things that come about because everyone is so invested in hockey.

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What I liked about the book: the social commentary. It’s amazing. You see how a small town acts when it is desperately trying to survive. All they have is hockey, and if their team does well, people will actually want to come to Beartown. But also: you see the nasty parts. You see people who fail to acknowledge mistakes, who pretend there’s nothing wrong when there is clearly something going on. And  when you remember that the book is set in today’s time, you realize how backwards parts of the world can still be in a rapidly progressive world.

It was very late in the night (or shall I say very early in the morning) when I finished this book.  I couldn’t fall asleep because I had to know what happened next. Despite my lack of sleep, I went to work a little too giddy that day because it had been a while since I stayed up almost all night reading a book and I wanted to tell everyone about it.

Bookish plug: The last time I couldn’t sleep because I needed to finish the book was last year when I was reading the Shades of Magic trilogy by Victoria Schwab.

The Underground Railroad

An office book club read, The Underground Railroad was compelling and unfiltered—a refreshing change from somewhat controlled environments. To me, the main character was intelligent though uneducated. I found myself triggered as I came upon the main character’s harsh realization about life: equality is but an illusion.

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The Underground Railroad took me through an emotional roller coaster.  Here are some questions that I asked myself as I read the book and some snarky questions-as-answers from yours truly because fake closure:

How do you know whom you can trust?

You don’t. You don’t know if they’ll help you, and they do. You think they’re going to help you, but they won’t. It’s hit or miss, so how incredibly lucky can you get?

Why would you risk your life for another person?

Why does anyone do anything anyway? What makes another person’s life more valuable than yours? Can you even make a difference? Will anyone even care?

Will you take a leap of faith?

How do make that life worth living?

Read it. I hope it sparks a fire in you as well.

Bookish Plug: Another book that got me triggered as well was Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

All My Lonely Islands

Fun fact: Whenever I travel, I: (1) send myself a postcard from my current location; and (2) purchase a touristy magnet to commemorate my trip. I’ve recently added a new component to my travel experience: (3) scour bookstores for local books.

The recent addition has been quite the challenge.

Particularly, I had a difficult time finding an interesting locally published book in the Philippines because the local publication and/or Filipiniana sections of the major bookstores were very underwhelming. The local section housed textbooks, review books, comicbooks, horror story compilations, etc etc, etc, so one would really have to stare into the shelves to find a gem. After numerous stares and much deliberation, I left the bookstore with VJ Campilan’s All My Lonely Islands (and then some) in hand.

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Let me tell you about All My Lonely Islands. 

It’s a story about two people atoning for their pasts. That’s basically it, but the way it’s told is beautiful. The story is an emotional roller-coaster ride, and, as I read the book, I felt for (better words may be: empathized with) all of the characters. It is high school drama at its finest, I will say that. Pretty dramatic, but I loved every moment of it.

Minor downside? If not for the synopsis at the back of the book, I wouldn’t have known what was going on in the “present” for the characters — you know, when there aren’t any flashbacks. Maybe more detail at the beginning would have done the trick, unless I’m just not a very good reader though I like to think (or hope) I am.

Nevertheless, I do recommend people pick up this book if they get a chance! Support local writers, friends, [Romans, countrymen]!