It’s the start of 2014.
It’s time for some people—myself included—to look back and take stock of the books they read the past year.
Except that that’s so last year.
For 2014, I’m doing something different.
Right before you is a list of eight books that I should have finished but wasn’t able to for one lame reason or other.
After all, I have another year ahead of me; a year of reading, blogging, and—seriously now—writing fiction, in ascending order of importance.
In the meantime, if the writing muse encounters difficulty seeking me out, I can always refer to this list to finish up the remains of the year 2013.
1) The Power and the Glory: The Story of the Manila Chronicle 1945-1998 by Raul S. Rodrigo*.
Anyone who has the faintest interest in Philippine history should read this book—anyone.
Because more than being a story about one of the greatest newspapers in the Philippines—perhaps the very best of its time—the book brings to life a country as it enters the age of the motorcar and the jet.
If the book is correct and there is very little doubt regarding the veracity of its claims, Asia’s first airline isn’t the national flag carrier but the Iloilo Negros Air Express Company (INAEC).
Founded in 1933 by Eugenio Hofileña Lopez, the airline predated Japan Airlines and Singapore Airlines, according to the book.
Lopez was later forced to sell INAEC—which changed its name to Feati [Far Eastern Air Transport Inc.] which is now a university that still carries the name—to Andres Soriano.
How the deal was sealed involves several anecdotes best narrated in the book which I highly recommend you read. (Another anecdote involves Oscar Lopez, a classmate of Juan Ponce Enrile in Harvard, who once drove a “two-cylinder Citroen” when he was working for the Manila Chronicle. Since it’s engine was so feeble, it had difficulty negotiating the Quezon Bridge, according to Chronicle reporter and future Speaker Feliciano Belmonte. When asked what the top speed of the car was, Oscar said: “It depends on which way the wind is blowing.”) [See: How the Manila Chronicle covered President Magsaysay’s fatal plane crash]
2) War Reporting for Cowards by Chris Ayres.
American media critic Howard Kurtz calls War Reporting as one of the most truthful accounts of embedded journalism during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
I might agree with his assessment as soon as I finish the book.
But that may take time since the novelty has worn off and the humor has grown thin. [See: More book reviews]
3) Screen Burn: Television with its Face Torn Off by Charlie Brooker.
Charlie Brooker can make fun of himself, a habit he occasionally indulges in when the occasion so demands.
Whether he’s writing about himself or British television—a medium he has never failed to excoriate—it’s always a barrel of laughs.
But if it’s so funny and entertaining, how come it’s on my list of unfinished books of the year?
I prefer to take it slow, my friend.
By attempting to read this in one sitting, I would be unable to savor every acerbic one-liner as I race through the pages, searching for the Next Big Laugh. [See: My top five books for 2010]
4) A History of the World Since 9-11 by Dominic Streatfeild.
Brainwash: The Secret History of Mind Control by Streatfeild is mind-blowing.
One chapter about magic mushrooms or psilocybes—and how it was discovered—can be read on its own and used as an example of how a non-fiction piece should work.
A History of the World is no different.
Each chapter is a nugget dealing with, among others, a person who refuses to explain how he got a wound for fear of being tagged a terrorist, the sad life of passengers of a boat that was refused entry into Australian waters, and the pillage of an Iraqi military base.
A History of the World is a gripping read.
Why I left it unread for the year remains one of the mysteries of 2013. [See: My top five books for 2011]
5) Granta 1: New American Writing.
The introduction, written in 1979, reveals its age—which is depressing considering works much older have remained fresh despite the passing of time.
Time and again, I’ve tried hard to go back to it—except that it’s not working for me, just like Granta Issue 106.
Nevertheless, this issue will continue to occupy a spot on my shelf.
After all, it’s still issue number 1, no matter what. That and a short story by Donald Barthelme. [See: My Granta addiction]
6) Collected Stories by T. C. Boyle.
This one’s special for two reasons: My copy has an autograph and a two-word dedication—one of the few signed books I own.
It has taken me more than ten years to read this, no thanks to a non-fiction streak that lasted for at least five years.
But that’s over now.
And by the end of 2014, this will be on my best books of the year, containing as it does his most magnificent creations which are too many to mention. [See: Martha Gellhorn on writing]
7) Lionel Asbo: State of England by Martin Amis.
Reading Martin Amis reminds me that I should have read him when I was younger, impressionable, and more open to influences, however eclectic.
But then again, it wasn’t entirely my fault.
About 20 years ago—when I was a younger curmudgeon—I plunged headlong into Visiting Mrs. Nabokov and Other Essays that included an account of a poker game Amis played with other writers.
The book fell flat. Or at least to me it did.
It took me another ten or so years to consider visiting Mr. Amis again.
Fortunately, when that time came around, I chose to read Money, by far one of the greatest novels I have ever read.
I got to reading Money because my Granta addiction has introduced me again to London Fields, portions of which were published in several Granta issues.
In 2011, I read the Pregnant Widow and it had very little of the power than Money or London Fields ever had.
I’m more optimistic about Lionel Asbo—I just need a block of time to finish it. [See: Money]
8) Mr. Personality: Profiles and Talk Pieces from The New Yorker by Marc Singer.
Marc Singer produced short but well-written pieces for the New Yorker (just in case you missed the subhead), mainly for it’s Talk of the Town section.
How come I haven’t finished it?
Your guess is as good as mine.
But this is one of the books I plan to finish—and soon. [See: Three reasons to read Kerima Polotan-Tuvera’s The True and The Plain]
From the Fine Print Dept. Inclusion of the book on this list and its ensuing favorable review has no connection whatsoever with the fact that I now work for a Lopez-led company.