Noteworthy: on books, annotations, and other hanashi

anuradha

I was at a coffee shop waiting for Benjie the other day when I started reading Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. After a few pages I found myself digging through my bag and looking for a pencil because a line struck me: “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

I often annotate when I read and it takes immense discipline on my part to not decorate borrowed books with three-word summaries, crooked lines, and oblate circles around unfamiliar words. I never thought it was weird until Nina called me out: “Don’t you feel like you’re reading a textbook?”

For Nina, reading is an immersive process that welcomes no interruptions. You soak in the narrative and you don’t disturb the experience by stopping every now and then to scribble comments.

But those frequent pauses have never bothered me. Every day in high school we had to discuss poems, short stories, and even newspaper articles. If I didn’t annotate my readings, I wouldn’t have anything to say during discussions.

And to this day I still read with a pencil in hand (or in bag, apparently). I often go back to my annotations when I want to further analyze a text. When I recommend a book to a friend, I want to be able to give an explanation that goes beyond initial impressions. These annotations are like notes that I could hopefully mold into a more sophisticated critique.

My renewed interest in literary learning has also triggered a newfound pet peeve: it gets annoying when I read a review and the analysis only revolves around the book’s relatability. While there is value in seeing your own experiences reflected in a literary piece, I think readers should also strive to roam outside their bubbles and go beyond, “these poems are so relatable.”

It’s even worse when people shun other pieces of literature because they’re supposedly “not relatable.” I think limiting ourselves to easily accessible stories is detrimental to our intellectual growth. A personal opinion that could be up for debate: people who never read outside their favorite genre are not as prolific as they claim.

The academe could sometimes be intimidatingly elitist but I also see merit in trying to read literary works that are staples in English curriculum. You don’t have to like e.e. cummings but there’s nothing to lose if you try to understand why his poems are critically-acclaimed yet Lang Leav’s are not.

I may be aiming a little too high in attempting to make sense of formalism and of Derrida’s deconstruction but I guess I just want to raise the bar. Literature, after all, is way too rich and too broad to limit oneself to what’s familiar.


The featured image shows Anuradha Roy’s Sleeping on Jupiter, a book that I mistakenly bought because I thought Anuradha was Arundhati. Oh well papel.

44 thoughts on “Noteworthy: on books, annotations, and other hanashi”

  1. Hindi ko ipapabasa mga book reviews ko sa’yo. Hahahahaha. Punong puno ng pet peeve mo mga yun!

    You like classics, noh? Sinusumpa ko yan. Hahaha. Mabibilang ata sa kamay nabasa kong classic.

    Pero agree sa pagexpand from your reading comfort zones. Wag lang classic, bes! Tutulugan ko lang yan. Hahahaha.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oy grabe ‘wag naman! Nag-iinarte lang ako; ang pangit ko kaya mag-review haha.

      Baks, interesado ako sa opinyon mo since mahilig ka talagang magbasa: ano tingin mo sa relatability bilang pamantayan ng reading experience? Tho I understand that reading into a book’s “relatability factor” is sometimes necessary (art imitates life chenez), parang I also find it a little too self-involved? Siguro masyadong inward ‘yung proseso (puro patungkol sa sarili) kaya hindi ako solb, pero open ako sa ibang perspective (from you and from other peeps reading this). Posible rin kasing I’m looking at it the wrong way hehe.

      Anyways, may mga classics na hindi ko rin masyadong gusto (usually dahil hindi ko sila ma-gets). At hindi ka nag-iisa, marami na rin akong sinukuan kasi sleeping pill talaga baks! Hahaha.

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      1. Iniisip ko kung magrereply on a separate post sa blog ko or magrereply ako dito. Hahahaha. Maya pagisipan ko muna, baks. Kung may matino ba kong masusulat or wala. Hahahahahahahaha

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Bet! Gusto ko ‘yan! Hahahahaha.:D

        I edited my comment to add this: kung magpopost ka on the topic, share ka na rin ng book review pet peeves mo. Interested ako sa input mo baks since mahilig ka talaga magbasa at active ka sa Goodreads. Hihihi nag-request talaga? Naisip ko lang naman. 🙂

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      3. Bool review pet peeves? 1. Ung irate ng author ng 5 stars yung book niya. Asan ang hustisya, teh? Pero sige magsusulat na ako. Bukas. Hahahaha. Alas onse na dito kaya, matulog muna ang katawang lupa ko.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this post — thanks for writing about what you think of literature and book critiques. I used to annotate books before, but for some reason, that kind of got in the way of my reading and it became too cumbersome. I’ve found a good alternative though: I use Evernote to jot down page numbers and relevant phrases which I come back to after reading the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, I’ve never used Evernote before. iBooks is usually enough for me, but it only works with epub and not so much with pdf. I also use Stickies for online articles that are not downloadable (mainly from academic journals protected by paywalls). I will definitely consider using Evernote! Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love that you’re reading Kundera and annotating. When I read Unbearable Lightness, I almost highlighted the entire book. His works are often a mix of narrative and contemplation. Daming wisdom teh.

    And I wholeheartedly agree with the accessibility part here. I look at reading “difficult” literature as a means to create new connections in the neural networks in my brain. The harder I make it work, the sharper it becomes. And, I can’t stand Lang Leav. I think it’s lazy lit. If that’s a real genre. It relies heavily on sheer sentimentality. It’s not exactly difficult to replicate.

    And I remember one of my friends at LB once told me: “The job of science is to make the unfamiliar, familiar. Literature, on the other hand, makes the familiar seemingly unfamiliar.” It’s quite poetic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Omigod, true! Mga 80 percent contemplation, 20 percent narrative. Ang daming hanash ni manong! Hahaha.

      I never knew that reading difficult lit actually sharpens our minds! I mean, obviously we learn something — I just never knew that it has been scientifically proven (hasn’t it?). I’m interested which books/authors you consider “difficult.” For me it has to be the Russians, lol. I usually read Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” whenever I’m in a rut — it distracts me from my own petty problems and forces me to think. Hindi ko talaga maarok bes! Hahaha.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s more of the act of paying close attention to rather than just skimming over it that makes the difference. Hence, I’m assuming that the more difficult it is, the more attention it requires from me, then more brain activity: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2012/september/austen-reading-fmri-090712.html

        The Russians are especially difficult, yes. I’ve never read any of them only because they’re too thick for my liking. I get restless when I’m too far away from the ending after weeks of reading it. I’m a very slow reader. It took me 2 months to finish Unbearable Lightness, because I’d read and re-read parts that I don’t particularly understand. So, to reconcile my need for intelligent reading with the lack of time, I went into short stories. I think Neil Gaiman’s Babycakes was the most unforgettable short story for me. There’s also Isaac Asimov’s The Last Question – that was also a good short story.

        Nowadays, I’m more into nonfiction and poetry.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Wah I love those stories!!! I always recommend “The Last Question” to people who want to start reading sci-fi! You may also want to look into Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “I Only Came to Use the Phone” (lady needed access to a phone so she boarded a bus not knowing that it was headed to a mental institution http://bit.ly/1gOrpyf) and Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings” (fragments leading to the same ending of a generic man-meets-woman premise http://bit.ly/2x0HdgT).

        You know, I’ve always struggled with reading poetry. With fiction kasi I have a general understanding of literary devices. With poetry, especially with free verse, I’m not sure how to “attack” it. Usually I just go by my feeling, assessing a poem based on how I feel after reading it. But that leaves me antsy because I don’t like making judgments that are purely based on “feeling.” Haha, oh well.

        Maybe you could enlighten me (and other peeps) on how you read poetry? Kahit saka na, kahit hindi dito sa comments. Interested lang ako sa thoughts mo. Teach me sensei hahaha! ❤

        Liked by 2 people

      3. OMG I read the Strange Pilgrims book, where “I Came To Use The Phone” came from. The entire time I was yelling at the book: “Bitch, they ain’t gonna let you out! Damn, girl.” Ugh, the story really made me angry. LOL. Emotionally invested besh.

        LOL, di ko kayang gumawa ng post entirely on poetry because it’s been a while since I was last exposed to it in a very academic way. So, dito na lang. Shy kasi si aqo. HAHA.

        In uni, I had this prof for PI100 (I forgot his name but I remember his face) and he had a very simple advice on writing poetry: ‘Avoid writing intangible concepts in your poem. Create a setting, describe it and allow the reader to draw those intangible concepts from the poem themselves – like pain, love, happiness. Don’t write “I feel joy.” Describe joy. Paint the picture of joy for us.’ This is the reason a lot of IG poets fail me, esp Lang Leav. She writes ‘love’ a lot. It irritates me. Try writing about love without putting the word there.

        Sorry besh, beastmode si aqo. LOL.

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      4. You discussed poetry in PI?? Aw I wish we did too! Our prof focused solely on Rizal’s life and not so much on his works.

        And I love what your prof said about creating a setting! That’s some concrete advice, something all poet-wannabes (charot) could start with. And I completely agree with you on Lang Leav! I’ve been trying to understand why I don’t like her but I think your explanation nailed it.

        At naku besh, pareho lang tayong beast mode kapag pinag-uusapan ang supposedly “hip” writers (I actually have the same disregard for Bob Ong’s literary skills, lalo’t Filipino talaga ang preferred medium ko sa pagsusulat). Hay. In another lifetime I would love to study comparative literature and work in the academe. Wuw hahaha.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Kailangan ni sir ng basis for grades. We can’t be assed to make skits (pang high school kasi ata ang dating) so we were challenged to make better poems, and dared to read it in class. I had the best literature profs in Elbi. Friend ko pa isa sa kanila hanggang ngayon.

        In a way, it’s courageous to write something and know that some people won’t like it, then hope to make money off of it. Parang actors lang, may mediocre work pero benta, then may excellent work pero sa Sundance mo lang makikita.

        Same lang tayo, next lifetime talaga sana maging poet – Emily Dickinson level na poet. No hashtags included.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Mahilig din po ako magguhit ng lines na tagos saken or unfamiliar words kaya ang hirap pag hiram lang yung book. Kailangang pigilan ang sarili.😂 Tsaka kelangan kalapit ko phone ko pag nagbabasa kasi kelangan ko ng dictionary. At mej judgmental ako sa mga kakilala ko na they love poetry daw pero Lang Leav lang naman binabasa. Nakaka-off. Haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Uy ako rin nangangailangan ng dictionary! ‘Di ba super helpful? Hahaha. Actually mga Lang Leav fans ang partly nag-trigger sa post kong ‘to e. Nag-active kasi ako sa Instagram recently tapos apparently may mga “Instagram poets” na tinatawag. I mean, I’m all for subverting the usual channels of publication pero ganda-gandahan naman nila ang mga tula bes! Hahaha. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  5. You probably dislike my book reviews then! I’m all about relatability. Haha. It’s not anyone’s fault though, I look at reading as a way to past time without having to overthink things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh no, haha! Although parang hindi naman relatability lang ang standard mo baks, at least based sa mga nabasa kong reviews mo (like ‘yung sa dalawang libro ni Murakami) hehe. You like Murakami kaya, at baks, kung relate much ka sa mga nagsasalitang hayop — amazing! Hahaha. 🙂

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  6. Tuwang tuwa ako na nag-aannotate ka din! Kasi akala ko ako lang 😦 (feeler na akala ko ako lang) Jolens, kapag trip mo din minsan lagyan mo nung mga parang tanda yung pages. Teka pano ba? May mga sticker film yung tawag don, binili ko para talaga sa pagaannotate ko. Tapos meron akong gel type na highlighter ganern. marami pa ako sasabihin pero ibablog ko nalang kaya kasi nagmuka nang blog post yung comment ko hahahaha pero basta natutuwa ako na ganon ka din ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ay sige sige sige! Pahingi ako ng tips! Kasi alam mo problema ko ‘yang pagflip flip sa mga pages para hanapin ‘yung sinulat ko. Kaya ampapanget ng libro ko e, hindi nagtatagal ‘yng “brand new” look hahahaha. Hintayin ko post mo girl! Ailavet! Hahahaha. ❤

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  7. Gustong gusto ko tong line na ito “Literature, after all, is way too rich and too broad to limit oneself to what’s familiar.”

    Sana maging katulad mo ako, magaling at malawak ang pag-iisip lalo na sa literature and a lot of other things. Dami kong sinasabi, ikakain kita mamaya ng sinigang at maraming kanin! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Naku baks pareho lang tayong maraming hanash! Goal ko ring maging katulad mo na prolific talaga at sobrang mabilis at madalas magsulat!

      ‘Yung sinigang na bangus girl ha! Hindi ako mahilig sa baboy e hahaha. Tenkyuu! ❤ ❤

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  8. I read that New Yorker piece you linked recently about relatability, and passive-aggressively shared it to a friend hahaha.

    I think that if a reader finds a work unrelatable, it’s more a failure of imagination on the reader’s part than a shortcoming of the writer’s craft. All reasonably well-crafted stories build upon elements of universally accessible truths, and are by design relatable. The problem is the shallow kind of relatability, when the reader looks for familiarity in the concrete specifics of a story/piece.

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    1. Uy! The Atlantic actually responded to the New Yorker piece, basically saying that relatability has been an important element in many of the best works in theater (http://theatln.tc/2eAhJiK). I wasn’t as convinced though, because it puts forward an assumption that relatability comes hand in hand with being contemporary.

      I think your argument makes more sense. Shakespeare et al were successful not so much because they pandered to contemporary tastes but because their stories were “[built] upon universal truths.”

      Also, what you said about the readers’ “failure of imagination” reminded me of Barthes’ essay “Blind and Dumb Criticism” from the book Mythologies (http://bit.ly/2xHkfIR, p. 18 of 83). He lambasted so-called critics who proclaim that they’re “too unenlightened to understand a book” (i.e. hindi nila ma-gets). I’m often guilty of this and even though I am no critic, I now try to inhibit myself from sharing with the world my own shortcomings as a reader (the operative word, of course, is “try” haha).

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Ganda ng discussions sa post na to, dami kong natututunan haha! Ang tatalino niyo grabe, ang basic ng mga alam ko sa libro. Collection ng mga sinulat ni Jessica Zafra una kong in-annotate-ang libro okay lang ba? Hahah. Hindi kasi maarok ng utak ko nung first year college mga sinasabi niya. Naging dictionary lol daming nakasulat na meaning hahaha. These days, hinihighlight ko na lang ung mga lines sa books na binabasa ko na nagre-resonate sa ‘kin. Kaya nahihiya akong magpahiram ng libro, masyadong personal sa ‘kin lol

    I rarely read classics, inaantok ako/natataasan ako minsan. Though I’d love to try, may nabili akong Mockingbird, awa ng Diyos hindi ko pa rin nababasa, along with other relatable books that I have. Hahaha!

    I didn’t know Lang Leav is called an Instagram poet, or that a term even exists.

    Anyway, yun na muna. Suko katawang lupa ko sa shoot lelz

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Binabasa ko rin si Zafra noon! Nakakatawa si bakla, although parang hindi na siya masyadong funny ngayon? Iba rin ang angas niya dati e haha.

      Nagustuhan ko talaga ang To Kill a Mockingbird noon, pero sobrang matagal na ‘yon haha. At naku baks, marami sa Instagram poets ang ka-caliber ni Lang Leav. Medyo stressful pero what do we know, sila talaga ang nagreresonate sa teenagers ngayon e. We had our moments din noong kabataan natin (or at least I did, tang ina pumatol kaya ako sa pocketbooks haha).

      Shet ang haba na ng sinabi ko! Wait, interesado na rin tuloy ako sa favorite lines mo hahahaha.

      O s’ya ititigil ko na rito. Sana nakapagpahinga na ang katawang lupa mo! 🙂

      Like

      1. Oo. Hindi na siya funny. Gusto ko siya lapitan nun sa Cinemalaya, a long time ago, and ask her, ano pong nangyari? Hahaha!

        Hoooy, marami akong pocketbooks nung high school hahaha. Naglinis ako nung nakaraan jusko nasa isang box ko pa pala. Naghahanap pa ko ng mahilig sa pocketbooks para madispose ko na.

        Mostly mga musings sa life yun ng author na binabasa ko. Ang super na-enjoy ko na binasa ko recently yung Wild ni Cheryl Strated tsaka ung Into The Wild, may fantasy talaga akong maging long time solo traveler na walang kakausapin for ‘inner inner peace.’

        Nakapahinga slight. But hell week it is. 🙂

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      2. Kung nandiyan ako hiningi ko na ‘yung pocketbooks! Hahaha. May magaganda rin kasing pocketbooks e haha. I’m sure marami rin sa Lang Leav fans ngayon ang tatanda at magiging mahusay na makata. Naks haha.

        Hindi ko pa nata-try ‘yang autobiographies ng solo travelers pero sige, idadagdag ko sa listahan ko! Tenkyuuu! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Jusko ‘tang ina ‘wag naman sanang matulad sa akin! Kakaloka hahaha.

        Nabasa mo na ang “High Fidelity” ni Nick Hornby? Gusto ko ‘yan hahaha. Cool ang vibe kaya tingin ko magugustuhan mo rin (kung ‘di mo pa nababasa o napapanood ang pelikula haha). Lalaki ang narrator pero astigin gaya mo, mahilig sa musika (kagaya ng pagkahilig mo sa pelikula), at may saktong snark lang against pop music/culture (gaya mo rin hehe).

        By any chance na-encounter mo na ba ang “Personal: Mga Sanaysay sa Lupalop ng Gunita” ni Rene Villanueva? Sure akong meron niyan sa National o Powerbooks. Memoir ‘yan ni Sir Rene, mahusay na Pilipinong playwright slash essayist slash children’s story writer.

        Balitaan mo kami kapag nakahanap ka ng kopya at nabasa mo na! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Ate, have you ever tried na magsulat ng sarili mong book? Ang ganda ganda mo magsulat, ‘di ko alam kung nasabi ko na ‘yun sa’yo before. Pero tuwang tuwa ako every time magbabasa ng post mo kasi para akong nagbabasa ng libro talaga. Ganung ganun ‘yung tono ng pagsusulat mo. Huhu

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ay nakakaloka ka! Hahaha. Salamat sa compliment girl. Hindi ko naiisip magsulat ng book kasi may mga kaibigan at kakilala akong writer by profession — nagtuturo ng lit sa universities, nagpa-publish ng libro, nananalo sa awards (familiar ka sa Palanca? http://bit.ly/2wCPiFB). Nakaka-pressure at nakakahiya hahaha.

      Amielle girl magaling ka ring magsulat! At lalo ka pang huhusay habang mas dumarami at mas lumalalim ang mga karanasan mo buhay (naks!). Tsaka sabi mo nga d’un sa isang post mo, ang susi ay dahil mahilig kang magbasa. Kaya sana, kahit shumonda ka na, hindi pa rin mawala ang pagkahilig mo sa pagbabasa! 🙂

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      1. Kay Bernard Palanca lang…. CHAROT hahahaha oo! Hala ang galing!! Kaya rin siguro super galing mo kasi ‘yung mga kaibigan mo e talagang mga batikan (awow lalim) sa pagsusulat! Sabi nga, tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who are. Chuchal!

        Pero thank you Ate! I’m trying talaga. Hahaha. Isa talaga ang writing sa mga skills na gusto ko talaga mag-excel kaya tuwang tuwa rin ako tumambay sa WordPress araw araw at magbasa ng posts kasi nakakainspire. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Oy grabe talaga kayo! Hahaha. Sabi ko nga sa post, ang peeve ko lang naman ay ‘yung mga walang ibang sinabi kundi “this piece is so (not) relatable.”

      Maayos ang review mo kay Martel! Nagbahagi ka ng insight tungkol sa plot (slow-paced ang Part 1) at sa depiction niya ng culture (ineffective ang portrayal sa Portugal). Tapos nagbigay ka ng example kung bakit gan’on ang opinyon mo (mabagal ang driving lessons) at inilatag mo rin ang personal preference mo (you love tearjerkers). May laman, may sinasabi, at may paliwanag — hindi naman siguro unreasonable ang ganyang pamantayan? Haha.

      Pero gaya nga ng lagi kong sinasabi, kung may pagkukulang sa mga argumento ko, I’m always ready to listen naman. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha. Naku kunwari lang masakit ‘yan sa brain kasi nakasulat haha. Pero kung magkakaharap tayo, lalo na kung sa inuman, kayang-kaya kong ipaliwanag ang posisyon ko nang mas malinaw! May actions pa, ganern! Hahaha. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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