Identity by Milan Kundera

Since I was on bed rest since last week and prevented from doing any form of work, I reverted to my old indoor past time of reading novels. This was the first love story written by Kundera that I have read. And as always, it did not disappoint. It took me to another place and made me relate to the text at the same time. The story is about this really interesting and quirky couple who grappled with the immensity of their love for each other and the fears that ensue out of this love.

Kundera painted this couple as an interesting pair. Frequently, married life is associated with negative terms like boredom or settling for a less superior quality of life. I have been laughed at, ridiculed even, for my choice to get married by certain people. Even among married people, there is an abundant source of hate for marriage as an institution. It’s really sad and I find it very understandable why there are strong sentiments against marriage. It really is challenging. Some days, I even wonder if I can get through it. There are things that you will discover as a married woman and they are not always easy.

Kundera’s writing in here is more light compared to the other novels I have read like Unbearable Lightness of Being. This is one of his later novels, written at the sunset of his writing life. And it owns this mellowed down quality that I do not find in his earlier works. He is still brilliant as always. But this novel is not as aggressive as the previous ones. It does not diminish the beauty of it despite that. There is still the magic. I kind of half-expected that Kundera will go on a semantic discussion about certain words but he did not. Instead, he actualized a deeply internal human experience in the height of passionate love along with its ebbs and flows.

Apart from the tiny gratitude for regaining back my reading time, I really feel like there are new challenges for me this year and it’s up to me which one to tackle first and how I should face them. Whatever choice I make, the option to win is always palpable for as long as I do not give up.

Prior to specific setbacks of life, I planned like crazy, even up to the minutest details of life. And not all of those plans fell into place. I had to cross out numerous things on my planner after most of my plans were wiped out. Still, I continue to refine my old plans into new plans and hope for the best. Because in the middle of all that orderly planning is the grace of God to breathe more opportunities, opportunities that are quite exclusively provided to a life that multiplies its time with efficiency.

I still believe in efficiency and processes even when life is a huge chaotic mess. I still believe that even if you can only control a minuscule subset of this planet, you can still make some sense of what you have in your hands for as long as you do your best, that rest will only really happen ultimately in death.

So… having said all that, I continue to peruse through interesting reads and turn the pages of my life into a new chapter, a chapter that I explicitly did not want to embark into out of fear. But it is a chapter into which I was forcefully thrown into because of my current health circumstances. And hopefully, when I reach the sunset of my life, I will have a life stitched by diverse but interesting chapters that actualize the fire that burns and resonates from inside of me. I am really optimistic and hopeful about the future. Today’s decisions will affect them profoundly, and hopefully for the better.

 

 

 

Island Beneath the Sea
by Isabel Allende

This month, I embarked in some downtime from the computer and android phone screens to revisit my childhood hobby of reading. I have not written an extensive review in months and this has led to a very horrible fit of lethargy. The funny thing was that I ended up doing a double whammy reading spree on slavery this month. The first of the two books is Isabel Allende’s Island beneath the Sea. The one I am currently reading with much difficulty is Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I know, it’s Christmas, so why am I reading these things? I don’t know the answer to that but my fascination to the morbid transcends holidays and modes that are assigned to everyone.

 Complex Relations and Incestuous Bonds

They were made for the complicity of marriage because they were essentially different; he was fearful, indecisive and easy to manipulate, and she had the implacable determination he lacked. Together they would move mountains.

Allende’s language is powerful. And so is her daring to write about taboo topics like INCEST. I actually flinched at the chapter where Rosette and Maurice Valmorain made love. I am not particularly comfortable, despite my usually high tolerance for BDSM and strange topics in books. But it was brilliantly written. Disturbing but well-worded.

Her writing involves third person narrative and some stream of consciousness accounts that are italicized for emphasis. She jumped in and out of these perspectives seamlessly, although not as masterfully as the master of stream of consciousness himself (Leo Tolstoy). Her words are beautiful although there are things that won’t make me grade it a whole 5 or perfect score for a book. It’s probably a 4 to 4.2 if I were to rate it. The reading experience was easy and smooth, typical of a contemporary novel. (I say this because Crime and Punishment has me hiccuping and gasping for breaths this week.)

Religious Intersections

There was an extensive discussion of voodoo or African religious practices and its intersection with Catholicism, which I found quite intriguing. I had no prior background on voodoo before the book but now I have some basic ideas of the dances and the loas. It is super educational. It had bits and pieces of Haiti’s painful history and then there are these insights that can only come from superb research. She was able to paint the era so nicely. But then somewhere later in the book, there was this word “SWAGGER” which kind of jolted me back to the 21st century. I got really distracted. This was such a waste because I was already ensconced in a reader’s experience of being transported out of the pages and into the imagination before I bumped into this rather Justin Bieber-esque word. I hope this book’s editor takes out the word because it jolts you back to the actual era that the book was written.

The Power of an Idea

“He who holds a lot, holds nothing closely.”
– Maurice Valmorain,  Island Beneath the Sea

There were so many layers discussed in the novel. I think that is also why a lot of readers of this book found it too cluttered and less seamless. One will need to limit the number of ideas presented to make it more coherent. Allende did not hold herself back in this book; she practically dabbled in serious issues superimposed on a historical novel. For a historical novel, it’s kind of weak on presenting the chronology of events but it’s strong on affecting and inspiring and educating the reader about certain things.

One of the most striking scenes for me in this novel is when the mulatto son Maurice Valmorain ended up becoming an abolitionist (staunch anti-slavery) when the design of slavery favors him and his family. He had ideas that were world-changing but at the time people were crucified for expressing these beliefs. It actually came to a point where he was disowned. But there was just this one person who planted seeds in his head. And I realize this keenly when you are writing for an audience, you become accountable for the seeds that you are planting in people’s heads. That writing is something that has a considerable influence and as a tool, it can be a healing balm or a weapon of destruction. It is a fascinating and frightening fact to consider. 

Slavery

“A slave lacks incentives; for him it is better to work slowly and badly , since his efforts benefits
only the master, but free people work hard and save to get ahead, that is their incentive.”
– Don Sancho,  Island Beneath the Sea

In previous blog posts, I aired out my misgivings about how overworked and underpaid most proletarians are and how it often still feels like slavery even when you are a working professional here in my country. So reading about the theme of slavery that runs through the entire book (and there were 457 pages of it) is something that still resonates with me on a personal level.

I do realize however that unlike the real slaves depicted in the novel, I have my own choice to be enslaved by toxic thoughts. All it takes is a change of mind; unfortunately, this is not the case for those slaves who were treated gruesomely in the novel. If you want a feel-good novel to help you relax, this is not the bedtime reading that you should check out. It’s quite morbid and it is best to read it with sufficient mental preparation.

Despite the stressful effects, reading this novel makes me thankful for the FREEDOM I have which is within reach and did not involve sugarcane processing in a plantation under the worst physical conditions that are common in 17th century Africa. Life may not always be fair but it’s not so bad, after all.

War and Rebellion

“In the strategy of war very few things are clear, we move among shadows.”
– Toulouse Valmorain, Island Beneath the Sea

There were countless war scenes and Allende is a genius in being graphic but not didactic in her description of them. I find myself rushing to read some lines just so I will see what happens next to my favorite characters. I sympathized with both protagonists and antagonists and this is one of the best experiences this book gave me as a life lesson: you don’t categorize people as good or evil because they usually fall in a vague middle of the spectrum.

Courage in the Face of Extreme Distress

“We all have an unsuspected reserve of strength inside that emerges
when life puts us to the test.”

– Harrison Cobb,  Island Beneath the Sea

Ultimately, it was hope that kept me from stopping midway in the book. Tete, the main charaacter, is the paragon of surviving and thriving in the midst of trying circumstances. She possessed a clear head unimpeded by the horrible treatment she was subjected to for years. It was about a mother’s love, a woman’s strength, and the pockets of light in the midst of dark things.

I often see people who like saying that only optimism is worth writing about and that lethargy is infectiously negative or must be avoided at all costs. I also read a considerable amount of positive psychology. Optimism is generally good but it’s not good when you are eliminating the role of setbacks and shadows. Because it is really established that supreme hardship is what makes a person deeper, stronger, and more substantial. You cannot fake your way out of depth; it’s either you have it in you or you are just spewing nonsense to your detriment. Even in beautiful paintings, you will not be able to appreciate the beautiful light or vibrant colors if you did not have the dark spots that highlight them on the big picture. I think a famous ancient philosopher also worked on the power of opposites such as light and shade. And it always works to our advantage if we know how to handle negative events with a non-allergic but objective manner. I like good vibes, don’t get me wrong. But sometimes, there are bad vibes and you need to feel those things from time to time to help you appreciate what you have when the wheel of life goes to a more favorable spot on the top.

Blessings in Disguise

“At times what we most fear turns out to be a blessing.”  
-Pere Antoine, Island Beneath the Sea

 This last bit is probably my favorite quote, because at the time of reading the book, I was suffering tremendously from an unexpected event which turned out to be a HUGE BLESSING. Pere Antoine is the saintly character in the book who spews wisdom and embodies the truest tenets of Christianity.

All in all, this book is a blessing to read at this month because it strangely strengthened my resolve as a person. I was a different person after reaching the last page of the book, and for all its stylistic flaws, Isabel Allende is one of the most memorable authors whose works I have the pleasure of reading.

I also watched her TED talk about living a life of passion while I was reading her book and I realized that this author has a lot of fire, the same fire that I am trying to cultivate on my technical and creative pursuits. I really look forward to reading more of her books, although she did not outrank my devotion for collecting Milan Kundera’s creations.

 

Day 83: #100HappyDays
Hashtagged Archive

Twitter_logo_blue

Having new pursuits in the backend side of things redefined the way I use online tools. Reading is no longer confined to just having hard copies. These days, there are so many online digital resources and it’s hard to keep track of them. I devised a way to have a link archive that will allow me to make multiple bookmarks. I used a popular social media tool to go about this but it’s more of a digital base of links that I need to refer to or find useful in my pursuits of learning multiple domains of knowledge. I am really happy that I decided to do this. Looking at the timeline allows me to see which “page” or section I am in for a certain track of reading material. This online link archive is also linked to a list of learning objectives that I designed for myself that I put up on an online notepad. 🙂

Day 54: #100HappyDays
Coolitan sa Cool Beans

homer helen machele I discovered Cool Beans Maginhawa with my two close friends Homer and Machele. Just take a look at our very happy faces and you will get the idea that we had a very satisfying time. In fact, we spent around 5 hours in that place after we ordered coffee and pasta. It was just so nice to relax with Machele and Homer. It’s been a while since we last saw each other and it’s nice to catch up with them minus all the talking shop that other people are horribly fond of doing. Some from our group just cannot stop talking about their jobs and other professional prospects and it’s refreshing to be with the friends who are still the same fun and awesome people they were before we got our licenses.

We did not talk about math or surveying or programming this evening. We talked about our personal lives, our romantic interests, our investments, our future ventures together, our dreams, and how things turned out after we took our board exam in 2010. This is slowly but surely becoming a rare thing for me. If you wanted an intimate winding down dinner with a friend or your circle of close pals, you should try going to this place.

The food is not the most sumptuous or unique I have tasted, but just about right for its price range (Php 200 per head would do). I must say though that I got quite intrigued with the coffee beans from Apayao up North. I had to order that, even though it was too strong to drink on a Monday night. My drink was the smallest one on the far left of this photo:

Cool Beans Coffee

Cool Beans Coffee

Apart from the good food and the good company of my close friends, I enjoyed the bookshelves. 🙂

bookshelf

And I was not the only one who cozied up to the substantial variety of reading materials:

homer

We had around 100 photos during this dinner date because of excessive camwhoring but it was well worth the time. I felt at home on the outside and on the inside. I went home late, but really happy with how my evening went. <3

Day 10: #100HappyDays
Filipino Heroes League

Book Photo from filipinoheroesleague.blogspot.com

Book Photo from filipinoheroesleague.blogspot.com

I promise to post my own photos soon, after I dutifully scan all my Summer Komikon 2014 loot. I visited this fantastic event with my dev friends JR and RK. RK’s S.O. Sue was also there, and made this wonderful recommendation for me. <3

I have yet to make a really decent review, because a few paragraphs of 100happydays logging won’t give FHL the justifiable review that it deserves. Suffice it to say that I am absolutely in love with this book and I cannot wait to buy Book Two next month.

Supposedly it was just a drop by and drop RK’s birthday gift thing for me and JR. We ended up scanning the halls. I saw surprising familiar faces, including two former officemates and two people that I interviewed for Manila Bulletin’s Sense and Style magazine in 2004.

Too bad the author Paolo Fabregas was not there at the Komikon event. I would have loved to get an autograph! But yep, this totally rocks. I’ll keep my eyes open for this guy in the next events.

 

 

The Devil Wears Prada
by Lauren Weisberger

One of the literary geniuses I used to talk to regularly advised me that if I want to write something intellectual, I must feed myself with intellectual stuff. By this, he meant, those cryptic and challenging literary pieces of prose that I do my very best to keep reading. Sometimes, though, I prefer to suspend that reading ideal by surprising myself with something I don’t normally read. I know that I have posted previously about a fashion book by Karen Homer, so I felt that a perfect follow-up to that is a fashion-savvy and contemporary novel. I curled myself up in bed each night for three nights until I finished every chapter of Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada. It did not disappoint. It made me relax, escape the harsh world of seriousness, and appreciate a classy cabinet all the more.

I watched the film some years back. And the novel was startlingly closer to home than the ultra-glamorous Anne Hathaway starrer. I was so shocked to find that I was able to identify myself with the character of Andrea Sachs, save for the perks of having signature outfits and first class access to the world of fashion. It was not just about rattling off brands and making out with random guys; the novel actually had substance as much as it had the fashion savoir faire that I sorely lack (and I am somehow presently making up for now).

Despite the fact that it’s fiction, it strongly influenced me to get myself a new pair of shoes after and prioritize overhauling my cabinet to discard the unusables. (I confess: I got three new pairs and I need to work very hard to make it up to my wallet. Sheesh.) Again, this is part of this year’s personal project to discover myself and the appropriate style or fashion that expresses that discovered self. I have learned to be more kind to myself and to revisit things I used to absolutely abhor.

I realized that to enjoy intellectual pursuits does not mean you have to dress in shirts covered in barbed wire. At work, I realize that while you need to up your game mentally, you also need to somehow dress the part to make yourself decent enough for meetings and whatnots. Reading chick lit does not make a woman a bimbo if she really has meat in her head. And this meat can actually be better off with the right pair of slingback peep-toes or painful-but-glorious stilettos. Probably this similar realization that Andrea Sachs learned by “simple osmosis” after her one year at Runway magazine is what made me love this character.

I no longer feel guilty that I ditched my supposedly next-in-line Kundera novel to read this first. I guess this is also not the last time that I will alternate a literary god’s masterpiece with a light but equally delightful contemporary reading material like Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada. And while I evaluate what I feed my brain, I also think of what ensemble should best fit my new peeptoe addition to my humble shoe collection.

 

 

 

 

Predictably Irrational

The human race’s predictable irrationality has just been unveiled, thanks to a blue paperback that I managed to finish in around 3 weeks.

I just recently revived the habit of reading voraciously. And thanks to my beb, style economist and officemate Jill (thestyleeconomist.blogspot.com), I found the perfect book to help me get acquianted to the world of economics, albeit in an unorthodox manner.

The lucid book was written by a third-degree burn survivor, Dan Areily. The guy definitely had a lot of time to ruminate on life, economic decisions, and human behavior while he was in deep distress. He also embodied the passion of a true academic, as his claims were all backed by empirical research. Behavioral economics is really something.

The text tackled numerous topics which were viewed in an out-of-the-box way. It explained why we make irrational decisions despite the numerous economic assumptions that people are supposedly rational. It reveals why “free” is really expensive, the power of relativity (the non-Einstein type), the lure of procrastination, and the human tendency to lie in an economic context, among many other things.

The writing style is so-so. It’s not a Pulitzer prize winning type, but enough to get points across. It was the book whose ideas had me thinking twice before I grabbed two budget-unwarranted dresses at Pink Soda. Those same ideas also revisit me when I think about my short-term, medium-term, and long-term financial plans. Affective in practical living. The ideas jump out of the pages. But not necessarily supreme in word usage. I’ve seen better writers, but his ability to persuade is unparalleled by most of his contemporaries. Areily did not even have to go through the sugary self-help route. He was just a sage researcher, pure and simple.

Of course, Nassim Taleb’s book The Black Swan will be quick to debunk the argumentations of Predictably Irrational because it heavily relied on statistics. It was heavy on averaging. But I still believe in its value; it’s really a good and thought-provoking read.

If I had a book that I can feverishly discuss with a friend over coffee, perhaps this would be it. That is, I assume that I will be discussing with a friend who likes human psychology as intertwined with economics, and is as predictably irrational as I am.

Sometimes, though, the author likes to insert sudden departures from the main train of thought. This distracted me a little, although I found the snippets delightful under a different circumstance. But I do acknowledge that it’s non-fiction and non-literary, and therefore excused for minor lapses in coherence. I just think that the book could have been more tightly written.

Final rating: 4.5 stars.
Value for money: Excellent. (295 pesos)