Goal Completed: Literary Hippies (A Beginner’s Guide)

Another category that I completed from the TFG Filipino ReaderCon 2013 Recommendations List.

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photo from Goodreads – The Filipino Group

1. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell – (5/5) . Read in August 2014. Each of the 6 stories has an exciting plot and can exist on their own. But despite the differences in settings and genre, each is connected to the other. The unconventional structure and the theme of recurrence and connectedness amazed me.

2. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – (3/5) . Read in September 2013. Awful subject but not explicit. Intriguing and interesting narrative. One of my first literary books and I think deserves a reread.

3. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – (3.5/5) . Read in June 2015. A short book about “The Old Man and The Sea”. And the fish. Minimalist prose and plot structure matching the simplicity of the story. The resilience and determination of the main character is exceptional.

4. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – (5/5) . Read in January 2014. An intersex narrator telling his story that started from his parents and grandparents. Heart-felt narration of pain and confusion. An impressive family saga.

5. The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster – (4/5) . Read in November 2013. Never failed to keep me thinking while reading and more so after each part. Unusual but admirable creation of characters. An intellectual mystery.

With the Infinite Feels category, I suppose these could be two of my favorite genres, as I was more interested and completed them first. But as the title said, with literary books, I still consider myself a beginner.

Ghostwritten, Tokyo, and Jazz

Last month, I read Ghostwritten by David Mitchell with my Cloud Atlas reading buddies. (Right now I think it’s proper to call them my David Mitchell reading buddies. Hehe!) This book is David Mitchell’s first novel, consisting of nine different stories but they are somehow linked through chance and fate. One of my favorite chapters is Tokyo, the second chapter of this amazing novel.

“No, in Tokyo you have to make your place inside your head.”

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Tokyo’s ending, being hopeful and sweet, is one of the reasons why I like it. Also, Satoru, the central character in this chapter, is a musician. He plays the tenor saxophone. If a story involves music, there’s a greater chance that I’ll like it. But I love it more because of Satoru’s outlook about people making their own places inside their heads. And this quote below is how he told us about his love for jazz.

“My place comes into existence through jazz. Jazz makes a fine place. The colours and feelings there come not from the eye but from sounds. It’s like being blind but seeing more.”

So here is my Ghostwritten: Tokyo playlist. I compiled these so that I could somehow see, feel and hear that fine place inside Satoru’s head. You know, all that jazz. 🙂

1. It Never Entered My Mind by Miles Davis

I put on a very rare Miles Davis recording that Takeshi had discovered in a box of mixed-quality discs which he’d picked up at an auction last month out in Shinigawa.

It was a gem. You never entered my mind was blissful and forlorn. Some faultless mute-work, the trumpet filtered down to a single ray of sound. The brassy sun lost behind the clouds.

(Hey! This one’s from Petersburg, a conversation between Tatyana and Margarita at The Shamrock Pub.)

‘More like Miles Davis than Miles Davis,’ she murmured.

‘Wasn’t he the first man to fly across the Atlantic?’

She hadn’t heard me. ‘The brassy sun lost behind the clouds.’

2. I’m a Fool to Want You by Billie Holiday (from the Lady in Satin album)

I felt in a Billie Holiday mood. ‘Lady in Satin‘, recorded at night with heroin and a bottle of gin the year before she died. A doomed, Octoberish oboe of a voice.

3. Some Other Spring by Billie Holiday

This is my place. Another Billie Holiday disc. She sang ‘Some Other Spring‘, and the audience clapped until they too faded into the heat of a long-lost Chicago summer night.

 4. Left Alone by Mal Waldron

It was a Mal Waldron time of day. Every note of ‘Left Alone‘ fell, a drop of lead into a deep well. Jackie McLean‘s saxophone circled in the air, so sad it could barely leave the ground.

‘The music was “Left Alone” by Mal Waldron. Would you like to hear it again?’

‘Would you mind?’

”Course I wouldn’t mind… Mal Waldron‘s one of my gods. I kneel down to him every time I go to the temple.’

 5. After the Rain by Duke Pearson

I can’t describe women, not like Takeshi or Koji. But if you know Duke Pearson‘s ‘After the Rain‘, she was as beautiful and pure as that.

6. All the Things You Are and 7. A Night in Tunisia by Charlie Parker

I put on a Charlie Parker anthology, with the volume up loud to drown out the ringing of metal. Charlie Parker, molten and twisting, no stranger to cruelty. ‘Relaxin’ at Camarillo’, ‘How Deep is the Ocean?’, ‘All the Things You Are‘, ‘Out of Nowhere’, ‘A Night in Tunisia‘.

8. A Caddy for Daddy by Hank Mobley

This lunchtime Mr Fujimoto was looking for something Lee Morgan-ish. I recommended Hank Mobley‘s ‘A Caddy for Daddy‘, which he promptly bought. I know his tastes. Anything on the loony side of funky.

9. Darn That Dream and 10. My Funny Valentine by Jim Hall and Bill Evans (from the Undercurrent album)

Hey, hey, this is my place, remember. Time for jazz.

Undercurrent‘ by Jim Hall and Bill Evans. An album of water, choppy and brushed by the wind, at other times silent and slow under trees. On other songs, chords glinting on inland seas.

The girl was there, too, swimming naked on her back, buoyed by the currents.

11. Take the “A” Train by Duke Ellington

I dug out some old big band Duke Ellington. It reminds me of wind-up gramophones, silly moustaches and Hollywood musicals from before war. It usually cheers me up. ‘Take the “A” Train‘, rattling along in goofy optimism.

12. In a Sentimental Mood by John Coltrane and Duke Ellington

‘I’m not good. John Coltrane is good! Wait a sec-‘ I grabbed a copy of John Coltrane and Duke Ellington, playing ‘In a Sentimental Mood‘. Smoky and genuflective. We listened to it together for a while. So many things I wanted to say to her.

13. My Funny Valentine, 14. You Don’t Know What Love Is and 15. I Get Along Without You Very Well by Chet Baker

I thought about what she had said as I put on a Chet Baker disc. A trumpet with nowhere urgent to be and all day to get there. And his voice, zennish murmurings in the soft void. My funny valentine, You don’t know what love is, I get along without you very well.

Yesterday, I listened to these songs all day. I hope you find time to listen to each composition too. (Especially you, my reading buddies. 😛 )

Book Thoughts: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

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“In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor: in the second, each interruption is recontinued, in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky?”

The quote above was mentioned by Robert Frobisher, the composer in the second story of this book. He was describing here his work, the Cloud Atlas Sextet. This is also an analogy to the structure of this David Mitchell novel. Cloud Atlas is composed of six stories. Each story was cut in the middle, and then followed by the next story, until the sixth. Then each was continued until we go back again to the first story (like this: 1 2 3 4 5 6 5 4 3 2 1).

I finished reading Cloud Atlas two months ago but I haven’t been able to write my thoughts until now. I read this simultaneously with four friends and we talked about this since we started last August. Since our group chat has already stopped, (Who would have thought we would stop? LOL) I had this urge to write down some thoughts (as if this will put a closure to this amazing Cloud Atlas ride).

Each of the six stories of Cloud Atlas is written in different formats: through a journal, letters, a novel, a movie, an interrogation, and an oral storytelling. It is like 6 different books by 6 different authors. And we get to travel from one time period and genre to another. One distinct variation that I admire is the language used in each part. I love how language evolved through each story, from Adam Ewing’s 1800s English to Sloosha’s post-apocalyptic words with a lot of apostrophes. (These chapters were the most difficult for me to read because of the language.) And as I immersed myself in the worlds created by Mitchell, I fell in love with the main characters. An Orison of Sonmi-451 and Letters from Zedelghem are my favorite chapters. In these, my favorite characters can be found.

Each individual story has an exciting plot and can exist on their own. But despite the differences in settings and genre, each is connected to the other. The story that precedes a story can be read or watched or listened to in the next. This aspect, this structure, is what others may call gimmicky. But I think it’s an effective strategy to show how things and people are connected. The recurring theme of power, survival, and morality are also depicted across time. Reading the stories is fulfilling on their own, but once you think and start to put the ideas and the themes together, I can say that they became more meaningful. It’s definitely proper to say that here, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

At first, I didn’t bother to examine the connection of the stories, delving too much into the details and their meaning. But talking and sharing thoughts with friends about a book made me think more about how the stories and the characters are connected. I may not understand everything that Mitchell wanted to say in this novel, but it did have a sort of effect on me.  This may sound weird but this book made me feel more connected, like I became more aware that I am connected to people around me, to people from the past and also to those in the future. It’s amazing to contemplate about how an act or an object can transcend through time.

I first heard about this book because of the movie. Then it was recommended by a friend from a book club, and it was also included in TFG’s Recommendation List. Those times, I wasn’t interested. I didn’t know David Mitchell. I started reading without any idea about the story and how it was written. But I think knowing so little about the novel made my whole reading experience more enjoyable. I have no idea about the structure until I reached the 2nd or the 3rd chapter. I was surprised. I agree with those David Mitchell fans that this is a very intelligent work. He made a lot of references. We can see how he made the connections in each story, how he managed to connect the characters and the themes. Just the idea of the structure, being unconventional, and the theme of recurrence and connectedness already amazed me. And these he incorporated and carried out brilliantly. I can’t wait for January to read his Ghostwritten next. Also because I’ll be reading it with the same awesome friends.

(5/5 stars)