My 2017 Great Reads List

“To know how to read is to light a lamp in the mind, to release the soul from prison, to open a gate to the universe.” (Pearl S. Buck)

How fast time flies! I just wrote my 2016 Great Reads list few months ago and here I am writing a 2017 edition. Truth be told, this year has been so busy and I honestly slacked off in my readings. Nevertheless, allow me to share these few books I read this year that have found a special place in my heart.

  1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre, a story of a young governess who fell in love with her employer (Mr. Rochester), is a classic tale set in 19th century England.

Jane views herself as a small, plain and obscure. Mr. Rochester is a single man with an orphan at his charge — Adele, whom Jane teaches at Thornfield Hall. Rochester’s attraction to Jane is attributed by their intellectual exchanges and by her ability to withstand his severe, domineering presence.

Despite their declaration of love for each other, Jane is forced to leave. Her despair is not simply the result of her feelings for Mr. Rochester- it is her discovery of a secret he has kept from her.

This novel strengthens the idea that in matters of love, honesty and acceptance are essential. And most importantly, wherever life may lead you, you will find yourself longing for that one person whom your heart desires.

I would say that this novel is one the best books I have ever read. Present in this masterpiece is the conflict between truth and acceptance, passion and morality, and a struggle for independence. They both truly loved each other but conscience tells her it is wrong to engage in such affair. What is amazing in this novel though is that the mind wins over the heart, or should I say Jane’s morality won over her passion. Because to do such a thing (to run away from love because you know it is the right thing to do) is not easy. She goes on saying:

“Gentle reader, may you never feel what I then felt! May your eyes never shed such stormy, scalding, heart-wrung tears as poured from mine. May you never appeal to Heaven in prayers so hopeless and so agonized as in that hour left my lips: for never may you, like me, dread to be the instrument of evil to what you wholly love.”

In the end, it was a happy novel where love wins because Jane and Rochester, after being separated by their tribulations, are reunited and they know this time around, their love’s right.

2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert’s highly-acclaimed novel was set in mid-1800s Normandy, France, where a farmer’s daughter Emma marries a young doctor, Charles Bovary. With colossal ambition for a fairy-tale future like the ones she reads about in novels, she moves in with Charles with hopes of Utopian happiness.

But marriage doesn’t live up to Emma’s romantic expectations. Charles loves Emma but is preoccupied by his work. Throughout their marriage, Emma is bored and finds her husband’s dullness repulsive. She also encounters people and events which leads her to become more and more discontent with her life. She slowly turns into a materialistic and pleasure-seeking wife, to the extent of engaging in affairs with other men to seek fulfillment. With shame and terror of her infidelity and mounting debt, she dies in a painful suicide by arsenic.

This is indeed a tragic story but very thought-provoking. At one glance, you can say it is an adulteress’ tale of misfortune and that what happened to her was her own selfish doing. Others would also contradict that Emma is just a victim of circumstance and that she doesn’t deserve a terrible bashing that lasts until now. Well for sure, everyone deserves forgiveness but the truth ought to be highlighted that adultery should never be tolerated and the lessons Madame Bovary has taught us must never be forgotten.

I am no literary expert, but having an in-depth analysis of Emma’s character opens our eyes to a not-so-surprising reality that we are all like her. Like Emma, we have our motives that if left unchecked are very detrimental to us. We daydream of things we want to achieve, that we forget to savor the present. While dreaming for the future is not totally bad, what is wrong is failing to actually live in the moment where it could potentially shape the realization of those aspirations.

It is also note-worthy to point out that Emma’s envious desires are influenced by circumstances around her — the extravagant ball, the exquisite and expensive items sold to her by that merchant, the tempting men she met. Relating it into our lives, how many times have you found yourself being envious of what others have? This is something that we must all be vigilant about.

As Lydia Davis (Madame Bovary English translator), writes in her introduction, Flaubert was “holding up a mirror to the middle- and lower-middle-class world of his day, with all its little habits, fashions, fads.” I say, reading this novel is like holding up a mirror to yourself, you reflect and learn from it.

3. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

This novel is often cited to as Jane Austen’s Gothic parody. The story’s protagonist is Catherine Morland, an unwordly seventeen-year-old woman who spends a few weeks in Bath with a family friend. Catherine meets families and people through dances and dinners and falls in love with Henry Tilney, who invites her to visit Northanger Abbey, his family estate.

While there, Catherine, an avid reader of Gothic thrillers, allows the gloomy air of the old mansion to fill her thoughts with appalling suspicions such as the death of Henry’s mother or the hidden family secrets. Catherine creates terrible warnings in the most ordinary incident, until Henry made her realize to see the menace in mixing reality with fiction.

I must admit I had difficulty reading the first part of the novel. I wasn’t really able to follow the pacing of events. I think Austen’s style of writing at this time (this is her first completed novel) is too much for me compared to her other novels. But I was able to adjust after a few attempts of re-reading the first parts. (Hehehe I am not ashamed to confess that it indeed took me awhile to continue to the next chapter because I want to make sure that I understand what I just read.)

So my take away for this novel is that how crucial it is for us to be great judges of character. Like we need to know how to read and understand people. Many mistakes and failures in our lives can be attributed to the lack of this ability. For instance, Catherine befriended Isabella and never noticed how worldly and quite ambitious she is to the point that she really adored her and pushed his brother’s engagement to Isabella. Even Catherine’s family approved of this because they indeed thought she was fit for James because of her joyous countenance. Later on they knew she was a materialistic woman and broke off with James when she got a chance to flirt with a rich man.

Same is true with our lives, the people we meet everyday have their stories that at first are unknown to us. We begin to spend more days and weeks, months and years with them but we can really never tell if we have fully known them. It takes a keen observation and good judgment to choose who are these few but significant people whom you can really trust and are worth your loyalty too.

Also, this novel shows the importance of levelheadedness, logic and reasoning. I can really relate to Catherine because sometimes (just sometimes), I confuse reality and art, wrongfully connect the past and the present, and I am such a sensitive over thinker. It is no fun. It is perilous. One time I had my bouts of overthinking, a very wise handsome man reminded me of Matthew 6:27, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”. Let’s say amen to that!

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel set in the 1930s in the Southern United States. Scout Finch and her brother Jem, live with their father Atticus in Maycomb, Alabama.

Scout and Jem learn that their father is going to speak on behalf of a black man named Tom Robinson, who is accused of violating a white woman. They have to face an avalanche of racial allegations because of Atticus’ representation in the case.

Tom is convicted though Atticus showed strong arguments that Tom could not have possibly done the crime. There was a report later on that Tom Robinson had been killed in an attempt to escape. In the end, Scout learns to see people with how they are, and not be daunted by prejudices.

In its simplicity, this novel is moving and compelling. It has a forceful political message regarding the oppressed lives of African-Americans in 1930s America, and the hostility they have to deal with every day. With Atticus’ boldness, he defends Tom Robinson despite the negativity of others.

As James Topham said, “Beautifully written, evocative, tender, but with a passionate message that drives the novel’s action, To Kill a Mockingbird is rightfully a much loved and much-studied classic. A tale of childhood, but also a tale of how the world should be (and how we can change it), the book lives on in the hearts of those who have read it well after the final page has been turned.”

So there’s my 4 Great Reads this year (I know I haven’t been reading diligently). If you have read these books please do feel free to share your thoughts about what you’ve learned from them. And I also accept book suggestion for year 2018.

And again, let me leave you with these words from Ray Bradbury: “There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them”. Together, let us read! Happy reading!


My 2016 Great-Reads List

BORACAY 2017 (1)        Reading is one of the most rewarding thing ever invented. It is amazing how one can stay in a corner and be in a world of wonder as soon as the first few pages unfold. Last year, I challenged myself to read books despite my busy schedule. So here are my great reads of 2016…

  1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein is a classic story of a young scientist who inadvertently created a monster. He thought his discovery, to bring an inanimate body back to life, will bring about scientific advances but little did he know that it just turned out to be a terrifying idea.

I have watched a Frankenstein movie before, and back in the day I just thought it is your ordinary horror story. It never really didn’t sink into me. Having read it now, I realize that the creation turned to be a monster because of his lack of ‘belongingness’ – it was lost and confused, didn’t know exactly who or what it was. I think he was just craving for attention and inclusion which he didn’t find in his exploration.

This is true to real life — oftentimes we misjudge people for being the monsters that they are but have we ever tried to analyze what made them that way? There are factors in their existence that shaped them into who they are. This is a crucial thought. This goes to show that to everyone we meet and brush elbows everyday, let us treat them with kindness.

As to Victor Frankenstein’s quest for accomplishment, this is also one thing we can relate into. I believe everyone has his dreams and goals in life. Everyone wants to achieve them as it brings about a sense of pride and fulfillment. But as you can see in this book, his creation was a disaster. In life, sometimes the very desire we have, are the ones to break us. Maybe not the end product itself because who would think of a bad objective. But it is the process of making these goals into reality that oftentimes lead people astray. Many stories have been told about people climbing into the ladder of success by evil ways. Therefore, it is right to check our motives as we work into the completion of our dreams.

And oh, isn’t it amazing that this novel was written by a 19-year old girl in 1818? When I was 19, not so long ago, I only remember having a hard time doing my reflection paper. Hahaha!

2. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

This a story set in the 19th century about an underprivileged but loving family. Four sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March were motivated by their mother to act like “little women” as they share their days together when their father was sent off to war.

I find the plot slow, but it keeps you reading because of Jo’s character. I personally like her because she loves literature! She likes both reading and writing and she has this wit and adventurous spirit.

There is a point in Jo’s life that she is afraid of the idea of romance and marriage as she thinks it would just separate her from her parents and sisters. How cute! But of course later on she realizes that “romantic love has its place, even though it changes the relationships you already have”.

I find the theme of family and togetherness being highlighted in this book. It reflects how families are closely knitted, undergo through some hardships, not to mention disagreements and “skirmishes” but still chose to stay…forever.

And do you know that some writers claim that Jo’s character somewhat resembles to that of Alcott? So much for self-insertion. But very well done!

3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

A Gothic novel which tells a story of love, revenge, loss and realizations. It centers on Heathcliff, who loved Catherine, lost her and sought to find revenge to those who have done him wrong. I cannot even write a good synopsis of this novel since it has a lot of curves and edges hehe and I don’t want to be a spoiler.

So I have been meaning to read this book since time immemorial, because I have heard a lot of good and not-so-good reviews. And now I understand why everyone’s raving about it.

For one, if you hate reading a topsy-turvy, “circulus in probando” plot, and you are not a patient reader, don’t read this one. Because you will find it a tedious read. hehe (But I still encourage you to read it! I am just kind of warning you…) That’s why some find it not so good. And the characters’ especially (Heathcliff!!!) craziness is also extreme it reminds you of the typical telenovelas — so much drama going on here!

But what’s great about this book is the human nature it strongly shows. It makes you think deeply that revenge is never a good thing. Truly, anger will just consume you and make you the most evil version of yourself. Just like Heathcliff. But in fairness, he realizes his wrongdoing but late…way too late.

And another sad thing, this is Emily Bronte’s only novel and she died a year later after its publication, at the age of 30. The world lost a brilliant a novelist early on…

4. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

This Austen classic tells a story about two sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood they represent the “sense and sensibility” title. Just like most of Austen’s work, it has the theme on love, marriage, family and relationships.

This book is good for character analysis especially comparing characters of Elinor and Marianne. The two sisters are very different in their thinking, behavior and principles when it comes to love. Elinor is calm and cautious. Even when she clearly loves Edward, she has this art of self-control which let her act wisely. On the other hand, Marianne is oversensitive and impulsive, even described, “ She was sensible and clever, but eager in everything; her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation.”

But as the story progresses, they would soon become more or slightly of the other. When Elinor learned about Edward’s “marriage” to another woman (which didn’t really happen), her calmness was gone. She indeed fought for the love of her life. And when Marianne learned that her love Willoughby left her, she became so ill and desperate but later realized that she was the one who inflicted pain in herself for Willoughby never really proposed to her. And soon realized the worth of Colonel Brandon who was always there for her.

This classic makes me laugh about how us, women, can be so troubled about love. I am not sure about this but men fall in love, get hurt and move on. They know who or what they want and are decisive about it and make clear decisions to arrive at the goal. While women make it more complicated. I think most women over-analyze things and act upon emotions which most of the time is a perfect recipe for bruised hearts.

But it is also awesome that with this weakness comes our strength, that when we love someone, we give our all, we give our best. And I am sure a man who is in love to his woman will do just the same — give his all, give his best.

And I believe that is the ideal way, as what Marianne says during his marriage to Colonel Brandon “could never love by halves”. What a beautiful way to put it!

5. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

A classic gothic fiction that tells a story of an impossibly handsome young man named Dorian Gray who had a portrait of himself painted by Basil Hallward. Upon the completion of the painting and prompted by Lord Henry Wotton’s remarks about “ transient nature of beauty and youth”, Dorian whimsically cursed that if only the painting “could bear the burden of age and infamy, allowing him to stay forever young.”

His wish was granted as his hedonistic tendencies led him to do evil acts and in every sin he commits, it is reflected on the painting which shows him aging and disfigured, while he stayed youthful and handsome. At the end, with too much regret and repentance, he plunged a knife unto the portrait with an attempt to destroy it, but “There is a crash, and his servants enter to find the portrait, unharmed, showing Dorian Gray as a beautiful young man. On the floor lies the body of their master — an old man, horribly wrinkled and disfigured, with a knife plunged into his heart.”

As I see it, this novel reflects hedonism and self-pride and the damage it can cause to anyone who is over-possessed by it. I mean, to be proud of who we are and what we can do is different with thinking too much of ourselves, thus, being prideful. And this is what Dorian shows. He wanted to stay forever young because he took pride of his beauty and charm.

Sad but true, I think this is what is happening nowadays. I don’t want to sound critical but videos or articles about “How To Be Beautiful/Handsome” (in any possible way: make up tutorials, how to lose weight, perfect outfit) would have million viewers compared to “How to be a Better Person”. (Try to check it on YouTube). This shows that human as we are, we (most of us), tend to think of physical appearance rather than inner beauty and style (porma) over substance, which is natural because we are normally attracted to what is aesthetic and pleasurable to our eyes. But it shouldn’t be the priority.

But there’s more to life than just a pretty face, as what they say. There is more to life than our beauty or of the people or things around us. When we think too much of ourselves (like Dorian), we are like chasing the impossible because there is no way we can satisfy our own lusts — for money, for gratification, for pleasure, for beauty. When we admire people just because of their looks, intelligence, talents that is superficial and it won’t last.

We have to look at ourselves and other people for who they are – for the kindness, selflessness, compassion, and love that comes from within. And this is something that our eyes can’t see, it is by the heart.

So yeah, what can I say but I am beginning to sound so deep…hahaha. Over-all I love this book so much! Hats off to Oscar Wilde for such great writing. This one’s something everyone must read to reflect upon.

6. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

This novel written in 1851 narrates about the nature of whale-hunting and Captain Ahab’s obsession to finding Moby Dick, an infamous great white whale who is known for destroying whalers and is responsible for Ahab’s lost leg.

It took me 5 months to finish this book! Five months! Seriously, that’s how it is a difficult read. But I kept on because I have read from a lot of reviews that it is one of the most profound books of all time. And indeed, I wasn’t proven wrong.

So a lot of people think what is the relevance of a whale-hunting story? Yes, I thought of that too. But when you read it, you will encounter a lot of themes and character conflicts — more on the characters self-conflicts. Each character has his own issues which all of us can reflect into. For instance, Ahab’s obsession. He is so determined to find the great whale so as to seek revenge. This obsession led to his doom (because he was drowned together with his ship).

I still find myself perplexed by this great book so let me share this wonderful explanation I have read:

“ Moby Dick endures because, like a multifaceted jewel, the story has interesting characters, compelling plot, exciting action, and meaningful inner conflicts. The conflicts do not exist between the crew members themselves, rather the characters grapple with their own natures, their thoughts, and the consequences of action and inaction. Ahab’s obsession with what he cannot have, namely his revenge, in a sense challenges us all. Als wir auf Deutsch sagen, “Wir müssen unsere Grenzen kennenlernen,” but how can a man know his limitations without testing them and even challenging them. By the way, the coffin turned life-buoy, the image of “grim death” as Ahab calls it, is the image of the cross. That which was an image of hate and death became an image of love and life. And it was what saved Ishmael at the end. So it opens up a whole discussion about fate, obsession, grace or luck (whichever you prefer), and human decision. The beauty and power of the story is that it does not answer these outright, only points the reader in the general direction.” -From SparkNotes, by user dlplife dated December 6, 2016

So there you have it! My 2016 great read list! For the first and second quarter of 2017, I have read Jane Eyre, Madame Bovary and Northanger Abbey. I am so excited to read more and share another list to all of you next year. Let’s see how time flies!

This is all for now. But let me leave you with this enigmatic words from Ray Bradbury: “There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them”. Together, let us read! Happy reading!