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Season’s readings

ARMY OF ME (The Philippine Star) - December 6, 2014 - 12:00am

In an ideal world, the yuletide stretch is a halcyon period of self-improvement. As a frustrated bookworm, I dream of using the lovely lull between Christmas and the first few days of the new year to catch up on my reading. Certainly, I tell myself, this will be the December that I focus on the uncracked spines in my overcrowded bookshelf. This will be the time, fingers crossed, that I pore over at least two or three titles in those year-end best-of roundups.

But holiday season after holiday season, a hopeful first flirtation turns into the same failed romance. Just when I think that I’m on my way to devouring every word Simon Schama has written on Britain, I find myself basking in the glow of my laptop, inadvertently finding out what Kendall Jenner has been up to. Sorry, Haruki Murakami. I don’t know why I watched all three seasons of Miranda instead of diving into your latest. Please accept my apologies, Hilary Mantel. I spent the afternoon on SoundCloud when I could’ve been absorbing your award winners. As we used to say in 2009, Kanye shrug.

FROM DICKENS TO BAUDELAIRE

Fortunately, it’s not all broken promises and neglect. Last year, I was able to briefly alternate new fiction and not-so-new non-fiction: the deliciously shallow Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan, and Patti Smith’s Just Kids, a holdover from 2010. I retreated to old friends, however, when the novelty proved too much.

The pattern began with William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, a throwback to high school. This vision of the apocalypse — starring a group of British schoolboys who become stranded on a remote island after their plane is shot down in the midst of a war — turned 60 this year but remains as provocative as ever. Sated, I then moved on to Pico Iyer’s The Global Soul, the first book of his I ever bought, followed by a revisiting of Alison Weir’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII, which I first finished when I was 23.

It wouldn’t be Christmas without Charles Dickens so a few chapters of Great Expectations were in order, succeeded by the BBC miniseries featuring Douglas Booth. I balanced Dickens’s dark attitudes toward Victorian society with Bret Easton Ellis’s louche Glamorama. I capped quite a few December nights with lines from Charles Baudelaire. His odes to the addicted and the damned are unequalled in their technical mastery and provide excellent fuel for my writing, especially on days when I fear that “the autumn of ideas has come.”

GOOD INTENTIONS

In an interview with Charlie Rose in 1997, the late David Foster Wallace said, “The way I am as a writer comes very much out of what I want as a reader.” I agree. Reading shows us the possibilities of language and the constant investment of words helps writers enhance their own styles.

This Christmas, I’m determined to follow through on my set of good intentions. I’ve already lined up Muses by Julia Forster, on loan from my editor; The Virtues of the Table: How to Eat and Think by Julian Baggini; and a vintage cookbook on the classic cuisine of Soviet Georgia.

Human nature can’t seem to resist the allure of making lists and ticking things off them so, of course, I have more favorites to reread, such as Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day and Franz Kafka’s Amerika. While none of those titles are doorstops, all have been consigned to the “one day when I have time” category. Again, this December might be it. After all, ‘tis the season to be reading, right? 

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ALISON WEIR BRET EASTON ELLIS CHARLES BAUDELAIRE CHARLES DICKENS CHARLIE ROSE CRAZY RICH ASIANS DAVID FOSTER WALLACE DOUGLAS BOOTH EAT AND THINK FRANZ KAFKA
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