Start something that matters

I started the year with the hope of picking up where I left off and it was promising for a while. I got to finish one book in January, Blake Mycoskie’s Start Something That Matters, which was an inspiration at the start of the year. New year, new hopes, after all. It details the author’s journey to creating the popular shoe brand, Toms. It’s always interesting to discover origin stories especially of one that’s close to my heart (my love is obsessed with Toms), so I was absolutely surprised when I found out that the name Toms was not a homage to a person named Tom, but it was actually taken from the word tomorrow, a touching tribute to giving a better tomorrow to the children of Argentina. And I felt silly for not knowing this, but did you know that for every pair of Toms that you purchase, the company would give another pair to a child in Argentina? That’s what basically started the whole venture! I was mind-blown.

Anyway, if you feel a need to “start something that matters”, try Blake Mycoskie’s book.

Lately, I have been on an Anne Tyler marathon because a good friend had shown me how her second-hand bookstore trip led her to Tyler’s Back When We Were Grownups. Because Tyler’s books confide like a best friend, I found myself missing them desperately, so I went from Back When We Were Grownups to Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant to Saint Maybe to The Amateur Marriage to Breathing Lessons. That’s five books in just two weeks – a personal achievement! I am now on Digging to America, nothing new, but hey, at least I’m reading (again, a personal achievement).

A thousand pages brought me back

Reader’s block is a disease. I hope no reader suffers from it for more than a month at most because for those whose joy lies on the written word, this deprivation can be fatal (and I’m not being dramatic here). Ever since I finished Saint Augustine’s Confessions around December last year (it took me four months to finish that!), I had not had the heart to pick up another one. I flitted from one book to another, hiding each under my bed when the first couple of paragraphs could not capture my attention, until I completely gave up.

However, in light of current events, one simply could not ignore books any longer. Forgive me, but I once savagely thought that maybe I was locked down just so I could get re-started on my unread pile.

They call me.

The saving tome was no less than Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. I was initially apprehensive because a thousand-page book just seemed too intimidating for someone who was testing the waters of reading once again. But after one chapter, I was hooked! I found myself annoyed at Scarlett plenty of times throughout the novel but I also could not help rooting for her. In between chapters, I would look up Gone with the Wind movie clips, Scarlett O’Hara’s barbecue dress, Vivien Leigh, imaginings of Tara, cotton plantations, the Confederate flag, KKK, etc. (Did you know that the last surviving cast member, Olivia de Havilland, who played Melanie Wilkes, is now over a hundred years old?)

This habit of discovering interesting bits of trivia through the wonderful world of reading brought to mind a quote from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows:

That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.

When I finished the novel, however, I found myself apprehensive again. What if that was just beginner’s luck? What if it does not happen a second time? What if I could not find another book to pique my interest again? Boy, was I wrong. It seems like April is personally a month for classics because from Atlanta, I then went all the way to Colombia to witness Florentino Ariza’s lifelong pining for Fermina Daza. I don’t know about you but it didn’t work well enough for me. I finished it, all right, but I found it a little odd. Florentino Ariza was odd.

Anyway, I have nothing much to say at present – only to report that I have returned to reading and am now enjoying Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.

Let me just end this post with a couple of lines from Gone with the Wind:

I was right when I said I’d never look back. It hurts too much, it drags at your heart till you can’t ever do anything else except look back.

And apologies, once postponed, become harder and harder to make, and finally impossible.

What is broken is broken – and I’d rather remember it as it was at its best than mend it and see the broken places as long as I lived.

And just this one from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera:

… the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.

Keep sane, everybody. I mean, safe. Keep safe.

Anne Tyler – moving me since 2014

Discovering the simply wonderful writer that is Anne Tyler is something I consider an achievement. Plenty of times I tell myself how lucky I am that her works have found their way to my bookshelf. Whenever I finish one, I would scour the internet for reviews, write-ups, anything that can also share in my fascination of her. Unfortunately there aren’t so many – at least not enough to suit my taste – so I thought, if I truly admire this writer, why don’t I celebrate her myself?

Why has she struck me so, I often wonder.

For one, it might be her easy language. Although I’m a lover of classics, sometimes old English can get a little overwhelming, so it’s a relief to relax in a book that is not only profound but also simple. Oftentimes, we overlook the great depth that simplicity holds.

Anne Tyler is also known for her ordinarily unique characters and her calm plots with no epic quests to fulfill. One simply fundamental scenario that I can never forget is from The Amateur Marriage (my first Tyler book, as it happens) wherein the main character, Pauline, after having dinner with her children, grabbed a sponge from the sink, ran it under the faucet for a while, and wiped down the table taking care to catch the crumbs in her other hand. It was not an extraordinary scene – no hero fell from his steed and defeated the evil dragon on foot. It was just a snippet of everyday life and it touched me so.

Of course it is my wish to complete my Anne Tyler book collection. While it is easy to find copies of her popular works like The Accidental Tourist, Breathing Lessons, and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, it is a challenge to find the earlier published ones so I have been on the lookout for Earthly Possessions and Celestial Navigation. Just a few weeks ago, my heart skipped a beat when I found a new edition of If Morning Ever Comes so it is a comfort to know I have that waiting for me on my bookshelf.

What’s more, her newer works, Half-Truths and Semi-Miracles, Clock Dance, and Redhead by the Side of the Road, are not within my reach yet so the hunt is still on. I sure pray Anne Tyler will have more years so she could gift us with more novels.

Have you read any of her books? If you haven’t, here are some passages which I hope could lead you on.

“Funny how you have to picture losing a thing before you think you might value it after all.” -Anne Tyler, Vinegar Girl

“Coziness, that must be what the world was all about.” -Anne Tyler, A Slipping Down Life

“For years, she had been in mourning for the way she had let her life slip through her fingers. Given another chance, she’d told herself, she would take more care to experience it. But lately, she was finding that she had been experiencing it after all and just forgotten, now it was returning to her.” –Anne Tyler, A Spool of Blue Thread

“Bravest thing about people, Miss Joan, is how they go on loving mortal beings after finding out there’s such a thing as dying.” -Anne Tyler, The Tin Can Tree

“If he ever came back it would be dimly, for only a second, in the company of others whose parts in her life were finished.” -Anne Tyler, The Clock Winder

Quoting and musing on Watching the Tree

I truly appreciate discovering worthwhile authors and coming across more of their works along the way. With Adeline Yen Mah, it started with Chinese Cinderella, then Falling Leaves, and finally, Watching the Tree. The quotes I’m going to share here are from the last one.

“The hardest part is having something to write about what succeeds in drawing words from your inner mind – that is very important, as one can always think of subjects, but they have to matter in that peculiar way that produces words and some kind of development of thought or theme, or else there’s no poem either in thought or words.”

“Writing has obliged me to spend long hours searching for those voices which we never hear except when our inner self is at peace and everything else is suspended.”

“I read somewhere that great art lies paradoxically in what the painter chooses to leave out as much as in what he elects to put in.”

I’ve always been frustrated by my utter lack of drive to write because ideas just seem to elude me. So I turn to books in the hopes that an idea might lodge itself in my brain and send me on a writing spree that would result to a best-seller and me quitting my job and going on book-signing tours. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet. What I find is something even better – I get affirmations of my frustrations.

“The older I get, the more I appreciate the importance of attitude on our understanding and enjoyment of life.”

“In the long run, what we think does matter. In fact, every idea we profess, and every action we undertake influences the formation of our own character… At the end of the day, a person’s character is made or unmade by the intentions behind her behavior.”

“For so many years I have put spiritual issues aside, in the hope of a miraculous and sudden enlightenment from I know not whom. Goals and horizons undergo significant transformation as we progress along the journey of life.”

” ‘The lessons of silence are peerless and are unmatched by anything else under Heaven’ … At that moment, I felt the overwhelming presence of God and knew that He was there: in the silence.”

Have you read any of Adeline Yen Mah’s books? If you haven’t, please you really have to. You’d be amazed by her incredible life story of resilience and fortitude.

What could have been

A few weeks ago, I was musing on whether there was such a condition as reader’s block and whether it afflicts as many readers as I assumed. A few passed-up books and empty sentences later, I looked it up and found that indeed such a condition exists! Who knew? I can be a little outdated at times.

So I found this site that somehow enlightened me on my predicament and there was one point that stood out among the rest – one that I am bound to do should I find myself in this dreadful state again – and it was this – read an old favorite.

Of course, favorite doesn’t just mean favorite book alone although resorting to Pride and Prejudice is greatly enticing. No, I’m afraid it was too soon to be exploring Pemberley again (I had only visited it shortly before Christmas). So I thought, why not explore another Austen abode that is slightly less visited? Brilliant idea. I had recently bought an Oxford edition of Northanger Abbey with the surprising additions of Austen’s lesser known works, Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon, so what better way to dodge this block than by being entertained by dear Jane herself?

It’s never a bad time for Austen.

It had been a few years since I first and last read Northanger Abbey, so reading it again seemed a bit like reading it for the first time. There were moments in the story that I don’t remember from my first reading (Henry Tilney having himself introduced to Catherine through the Master of Ceremonies) and there were moments that I dreaded coming upon because of what they would entail (Catherine’s insistence on exploring the late Mrs. Tilney’s bedroom). On this second perusal, I found that I hadn’t really thought of Catherine as a heroine as I ought. I must have unconsciously set up Elizabeth Bennet as the ultimate standard which other Austen heroines failed to live up to. I remember dismissing Fanny Price like this when after some deliberation, I realized that she wasn’t so bad after all. And so it is with Catherine Morland. Indeed, my seventeen-year-old self would have related more to her than my twenty-year-old self (or even my present twenty-seven-year-old self!) would have to Elizabeth.

Anyway, I intended to write more about her other works so on to them.

Lady Susan is a short novel written as a series of correspondence among the main characters. Used to Austen’s lively protagonists, I expected Lady Susan to be the same. Er … Well, she is lively in her own right but completely different than what we expect of her usual heroines. I was personally scandalized by her behavior all throughout the novel and I was in disbelief at Reginald de Courcy’s complete gullibility despite his initial prejudices. Oh the things that beauty could do. I was reminded by a passage from Agnes Grey:

We are naturally disposed to love what gives us pleasure, and what more pleasing than a beautiful face – when we know no harm of the possessor at least?

The Watsons, on the other hand, was treading on familiar ground. It’s about an impoverished family figuring out how to rise above their poverty. Our main heroine is Emma Watson, pretty, compassionate, who apparently has caught the eye of some of her neighborhood’s eligible men. I was starting to really like her but – alas – Austen didn’t think it good enough to finish. So I, along with her countless fans throughout the ages, am left wondering what could have happened.

The same goes for Sanditon. I was a little confused at first as to who the main character really was and just when I was introduced to a really interesting character, it just had to end abruptly.

Sad, really. Plenty of times I wish Jane Austen didn’t have to die so young. Think of all the stories that might have continued to entertain us today. Of the fanbase she has unknowingly created with her six most popular novels, just think of how delighted that fanbase would even be if Emma Watson and Charlotte Heywood joined the ranks of Elizabeth Bennett, Catherine Morland, Anne Elliot, and the rest.