As I mentioned during the start of the year, I’ve less time to do lengthier posts. In lieu of more extensive book reviews which I used to do more often before and in order to sustain the regularity of postings here, I’ll begin each month with a list of the books I intend to read for the said month.* Since it’s already summer, allow me to start with a recap of the books that I read last January up to the present month. I found it a bit hard to settle which book to read. After much thought, I figured it will be much easier to choose the titles using color-coding as guide on what to read.
So I ended up beginning the year with blue-themed books for January:
- Louis Althusser’s Machiavelli and Us gives a counter-intuitive reading of Machiavelli beyond the commonplace vilification of the instigator of modern political thinking as put in a nutshell in the dictum the ends justifies the means. Here, following Gramsci, Althusser explores the radical dimension of Machiavelli’s oeuvre.
- Bertolt Brecht’s Collected Plays Volume 2 includes A Man’s a Man, The Baby Elephant, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, and The Threepenny Opera, which I reread. Brecht wrote these plays, which are perhaps some of his most familiar works, in Berlin between 1925 and 1929.
- Langston Hughes’s Selected Poems about the experience of black slaves, the poverty of the black ghettoes, laments over love, jazz and blues, and pretty much the underside of the so-called American Dream in the acclaimed African-American poet’s lyrical verses.
- Samir Amin’s Imperialism and Unequal Development has some dated forecasts that have been taken over by the march of history (on the international situation, the prospects of socialism, the Cambodian model). And yet Amin offers creative elucidations of Marxism, the capitalist social formation, transitory modes of productions, and imperialism that remains relevant to this day.
- Carlos Fuentes’ Burnt Water, a collection of twelve short stories makes Mexico City come alive with aging gentry in decaying mansions, statues becoming flesh, delusional aesthetes, unionists, drug lords, and fascist terrorists. Classic Fuentes.
- Jose Saramago’s The Stone Raft, a typical Saramago fable complete with the usual lengthy and meandering unpunctuated prose telling what may happen if the Iberian peninsula suddenly separated from the European mainland, making for an expansive political allegory and social critique of the capitalist democratic state in the vein of Blindness and Seeing.
I wasn’t able to finish reading all that in January. The list spilled into February, scrapping my plan to have the color red as the theme for the month. I was able to do this in March:
- Parmy Olson’s We Are Anonymous which is less theory and more history. The book is just as the subtitle says: “Inside the Hacker World LulzSec, Anonymous, and the Global Cyber Insurgency.” It is an impressive work of investigative journalism that pieces together and contextualizes the rise of Anonymous through the story of one of its many core groups.
- Nanni Balestrini’s The Unseen is a vivid, fast-paced account of the revolutionary mass and armed struggles of the youth, workers, and unemployed in the 1970s led by the Italian Autonomist Marxists. This comes in the form of an easily readable stream of consciousness jumping back and forth in time. A stunning masterpiece which merits a longer piece in the future.
- Antonio Lobo Antunes’ Knowledge of Hell takes its title from a 1860 review of George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss which says “We do not believe any good end is to be effected by fictions which fill the mind with details of imaginary vice and distress and crime… by intruding on minds which ought to be guarded from impurity the unnecessary knowledge of hell.” And this indeed is one hell of a novel that takes you to the mind of someone who went through the hell of the Portuguese colonial war in Angola, the hell of incarceration in the mental institution, and the hell of modern plastic society.
- Bernard Noel’s The Rest of the Voyage is a collection by a French poet who renders travels along places, landscapes, history, and consciousness itself in beautiful verses, metaphors and what not.
- Elsie Myers Stanton’s The Fine Art of Copyediting is a good book full of helpful reminders. I read this to help me in my work for Tinig ng Kabataang Makabayan, the official publication of Anakbayan.
- Mga Ideya at Estilo is a collection of essays written in Filipino. Edited by Lilia Quindoza Santiago; Arnold Molina Azurin, it’s mixed bag with some useful and insightful essays and some meh. Also read as a practical aid for my work by building up my Filipino.
Of course, as people close to me know, I read many books at the same time. The monthly reading list therefore did not prevent me from reading a few other books outside of the prescribed to-read list in between. Some of these books from the past 3 months include:
- Slavoj Zizek’s Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism meanders a lot, which is typical of Zizek. But it also contains some gems of insights against the still dominant liberal democratic and (now waning) postmodern left doxa equating radical collective movements with totalitarianism. I will probably write more about this in the future.
- Carlos Fuentes’ Aura a hauntingly beautiful novella about obsession. Short and sweet. I read it in one sitting one night.
- Wislawa Symborszka’s View with a Grain of Sand is a selection of poems from the Nobel Laureate from 1957 to 1993. The poems are conversational, witty, and ironic but also slow-paced and subdued, almost soft spoken. I like the uncanny personifications and clever reversals. Things I normally watch out for in bourgeois poetry. I didn’t like the poems with the overtly liberal moral and political undertones near the end though. But overall a good and solid collection.
- Nicolas Guillen’s The Great Zoo is a very thin book, too brief which left me wanting more. Other than that, the book is a total knockout. The zoo here satirically brings together absurd and all too real creatures fashioned after political and social conditions and issues: from the atomic bomb, to hunger, the police, the eagles (of imperialism), and other more mundane objects that represent larger realities. The puns don’t hold punches.
- Ekkehard Schall’s The Craft of Theatre: Seminars and Discussions in Brechtian Theatre offers remarkable insights on Bertolt Brecht’s dialectical mode of doing theatre performances from someone who really worked with Brecht alongside bits and pieces about Brecht. I particularly liked Schall’s account of Brecht’s love for Mao Zedong.
- David Harvey’s The Limits to Capital, which I began reading late last year. This book begins by tackling the limits of Marx’s Capital and the debates by various Marxist theorists on its various aspects. Harvey makes this a springboard for the fashioning of a Marxist theory of finance capital and spatial arrangements. The book is heavy reading, especially for those new with Marxist political economy. But it does much to provide a sound basis for explaining current developments in the world capitalist system. The book ends with more questions than answers. Yet it gives one a picture of the limits of capital itself and the need to go beyond its contradictions.
I continued with the color-coding scheme in April with orange:
- Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s Freakanomics.
- Bernard Malamud’s The Tenants.
- Amado V. Hernandez’s Isang Dipang Langit.
- Pablo Neruda’s Canto General.
- Antonio Gramsci’s Selections From the Prison Notebooks.
- Ernesto Cardenal’s In Cuba.
If I finish my present list, I’ll be reading black books next month to accommodate some of the titles I recently acquired: Ericson Acosta’s Mula Tarima Hanggang, Ramon Guillermo’s Ang Makina ni Mang Turing, and Eduardo Galeano’s Century of the Wind, among others. *Thank you to The Book Hooligan for giving me this idea.