21 Books for 2021 Part 3: “Old” Fiction

opening doors to old and forgotten worlds

This is the last installment of my 21 Books for 2021! You can read the previous posts here: 

This post is dedicated to the books that comprise the biggest chunk of my library: fiction! I’ve always loved traveling to different worlds, and they are every bit as real to me as the places I can perceive with my five senses. I love collecting books that open doors to worlds I cannot imagine on my own, and sadly, they have been left forgotten to collect dust on my bookshelves. This year, I hope that I can finally dust them off and give them the love that they deserve.

The books here are all acquired before the pandemic, and like the entries in my previous posts, how I acquired each has a story of its own. Most of these were also adopted into my library during the time when I was trying to redefine and explore my own reading taste: moving away from the hyped books in high school; simultaneously conforming to and rejecting the literary elitism in many of my college classes; and discovering gems from the many bookshops in our university town.

So here are the last seven books for my 21 books of 2021!

1. Bata, Bata, Pa’no Ka Ginawa? by Lualhati Bautista

Cover art by Jonjon Portugal

…Hanggang sa ang bata ay hindi na bata kundi ama, o ina. Ano ang ituuro niya ngayon sa kanyang mga anak? Lahat ng dapat niyang matutuhan ngayon pa lang, hindi pagkamasunurin at pagkakimi, kundi pagkibo pag may sasabihin at paglaban pag kailangan. Lahat ng panahon ay hindi panahon ng mga takot at pagtitmpi; lahat ng panahon ay panahon ng pagpapasiya.

I know that this book and its film adaptation are classics in the Philippine literary and film canon. Sadly, I have never read either, and you are free to revoke my bookworm card. The work follows the struggles of Lea as she balances the expectations set by society in terms of being a woman and mother. It is also written in Filipino, so I am challenged to go beyond my comfort zone and read in this language!

I got my copy for P50 from the first Profernalia: a yearly book sale where our professors from the Department of English and Comparative Literature sell their pre-loved books in order to raise funds for different causes such as donations for typhoon victims and support for department scholars. I remember just getting random books from the sale because, in my very wide-eyed college mind, they were already curated and loved by authorities on literature. I should trust their taste, right?

2. Flight From USSR by Dato Turashvili

Synopsis: Seven young people hijacked an airplane to escape from the Soviet Georgia of the 1980s, which was an exceptional action, because at that time even a thought of escaping the Soviet Union was criminal. The Soviet government condemned most of these young people to death for their naive and dangerous attempt. Flight from the USSR gives an opportunity to closely follow the leading characters and learn more about their motives and intentions than it would be possible by just reading dry court documents.

Cover design by Tamar Tateladze

Every time I ride a plane or visit a new country, I try to buy a book that I would not be able to find back home as a souvenir. When we went on a short tour in Georgia, this promise was a bit tricky to fulfill as there are only a few English books available in bookstores. I lucked out on this one: a historical thriller based on a sensational hijacking case in the 1980s. It has since been made into a movie and a play–one of the most successful ones staged in the Georgian Free Theater.

It has very similar vibes with books I call “airport reads”: John Grisham legal thrillers, Danielle Steel dramas, and Jodi Picoult family stories. These are not by any means low-quality fiction; rather, these are books that still leave enough space in my brain for me to pay attention to flight updates, calls over the PA system, and all-around shenanigans that always crop up in every flight. It also makes me wonder: is it morbid to call a book about a hijacking and plane crash an “airport read”? I don’t know, and I’d like to find out.

3. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Illustration by The Advertising Archive, The Curtis Publishing Company

The Blind Assassin
opens with these simple, resonant words: “Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.” They are spoken by Iris, whose terse account of her sister’s death in 1945 is followed by an inquest report proclaiming the death accidental. But just as the reader expects to settle into Laura’s story, Atwood introduces a novel-within-a-novel. Entitled The Blind Assassin, it is a science fiction story told by two unnamed lovers who meet in dingy backstreet rooms.

When we return to Iris, it is through a 1947 newspaper article announcing the discovery of a sailboat carrying the dead body of her husband, a distinguished industrialist.

Brilliantly weaving together such seemingly disparate elements, Atwood creates a world of astonishing vision and unforgettable impact.

I’ve had this book since HIGH SCHOOL. It is one of the books I managed to bring with me from my high school library, which is now all boxed up and hidden in some dark corner of the villa where my parents and sister live today. Originally, this book is part of one HUGE paper bag of books that my mom’s close friend dropped off at our place. According to Tita Nina, they belong to another friend who just moved away, and since I like books, I might appreciate them. It is literally a mixed bag of genres, and if I remember correctly, this is the last one I haven’t read.

Margaret Atwood is one of the greats in literary fiction today, and besides her Penelopiad which I read for a European lit class, I would like to finish one book she has written. What better way to start than with a copy I already own?

4. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

The year is 1327. Benedictines in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate. When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective. His tools are the logic of Aristotle, the theology of Aquinas, the empirical insights of Roger Bacon—all sharpened to a glistening edge by wry humor and a ferocious curiosity. He collects evidence, deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts, and digs into the eerie labyrinth of the abbey, where “the most interesting things happen at night.”

Cover by Button Design Co.

Our program adviser emailed all her students one day, saying that she wanted to unhaul her library and was giving away her books. If we wanted some, then we could visit her classroom after her last scheduled class (which happened to be our class, so we didn’t even have to leave HAHA) and help ourselves to the sudden book buffet. We thought that with the number of people she CC’d in the email, we could get one book each. Lo and behold, she had us push around four extremely heavy balikbayan boxes from her office to our classroom, and it was a mad dash to grab whatever we could. Every time someone holds up a book, my professor would shout an excited synopsis and highly recommend each one. Nothing in those boxes felt unloved or trashy, and I was utterly convinced that all of them were worth her time.

Funny thing is, I don’t really know much about this book except that it sounds “important” and “serious”. I hope I do get around to loving it the way she did.

5. Voyager and Other Fictions by Jose Dalisay

Book design by R. Jordan P. Santos

Hapless men yearn after unreachable women. Boys teeter on the edge of adolescence and taste the bitterness of disillusionment. A multitude of characters gamble with their fates in casinos.

Voyager and Other Fictions: The Collected Stories of Jose Dalisay explores the depths of the human psyche, exposing the follies and foibles of Filipinos going about their daily lives. This definitive compilation of forty-three stories from a master storyteller includes the classic stories “Penmanship,” and “Oldtimer,” and the title story “Voyager,” which show the art and craft of one of the country’s most revered writers of short fiction.

This book is a gift from a Christmas party with Ezra’s high school friends. I added the item “any book from Anvil Fiction” to my wish list, and despite requiring everyone to have a code name, it was quite obvious to everyone that I was Pinya (I was sitting beside my pineapple print wallet when I typed out my list).

I love reading collections of short stories and poetry, because I can squeeze in a piece or two in between checking papers and crying over adulting matters. This book is also exciting because I love Sir Butch Dalisay’s work, and I seriously cried that I didn’t get in his American Lit class during my junior year in college.

6. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Synopsis: ‘I think I could be a good woman if I had five thousand a year.’

Becky Sharp is sharp, calculating, and determined to succeed. Craving wealth and a position in society, she charms, hoodwinks, manipulates everyone she meets, rising in the world as she attaches herself to a succession of rich men. Becky’s fortunes are contrasted with those of her best friend Amelia, who has none of Becky’s wit and vitality but whose gentle-heartedness attracts the devotion of the loyal Dobbin.

Set during the Napoleonic wars, Vanity Fair follows Becky as she cuts a swathe through Regency society. Thackeray paints a panoramic portrait of the age, with war, money and national identity his great subjects. The battle for social success is as fierce as the battle of Waterloo, and its casualties as stricken. The satire is at once biting and profound, sparing none in a clear-eyed exposure of a world on the make. Thackeray’s scepticism of human motives borders on cynicism yet Vanity Fair is among the funniest novels of the Victorian age.

A photo of my personal copy. I cannot locate the name of the cover artist 😦

This is one of the first books I bought from a secondhand bookshop in UP–I’ve forgotten which one. At that time, I started taking Literature classes and felt so ashamed every single day because I didn’t read as many classics or high-brow literary fiction as my classmates. I used to brag about the number of books I’ve read in high school, but it turned out that YA and MG novels were not good enough for the it crowd. I thought that by filling my bookshelf with “smart” books, I could finally fit in with the literati.

I’ve long gotten over these feelings, and as reflected by my choices in Part 1, I have since been able to determine what I like to read regardless of public hype and validation. Quality is not the only thing that keeps certain books in the canon, and much of it has to do with the ideology and social standing that is perpetuated throughout history. I do want to read Vanity Fair still, but now with a more critical lens and with less of a fawning posture over “great books”.

My copy is so old that I can’t find the edition on Goodreads. It is also literally falling apart, and I am honestly afraid of accidentally destroying it while reading. I want to read it as soon as possible so that I can finally lay this book to rest.

7. Rashomon and 17 Other Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

Cover illustration by Yoshihiro Tatsumi; cover design by Helen Yentus.

This collection features a brilliant new translation of the Japanese master’s stories, from the source for the movie Rashōmon to his later, more autobiographical writings.

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927) is one of Japan’s foremost stylists – a modernist master whose short stories are marked by highly original imagery, cynicism, beauty and wild humour. ‘Rashōmon’ and ‘In a Bamboo Grove’ inspired Kurosawa’s magnificent film and depict a past in which morality is turned upside down, while tales such as ‘The Nose’, ‘O-Gin’ and ‘Loyalty’ paint a rich and imaginative picture of a medieval Japan peopled by Shoguns and priests, vagrants and peasants. And in later works such as ‘Death Register’, ‘The Life of a Stupid Man’ and ‘Spinning Gears’, Akutagawa drew from his own life to devastating effect, revealing his intense melancholy and terror of madness in exquisitely moving impressionistic stories.

For the past three years or so, I got tired of the usual Greek and Roman myth retellings and other familiar storytelling shticks. Coupled with Ezra’s interest growing in other forms of mythologies and world building methods (especially since he became a Dungeon Master), I wanted to expand our library to include a wider variety of stories as well. I love Akutagawa’s short stories, and I don’t know any more except the famous ones: Rashomon and In a Grove. I’m excited to read more, and this book came at the right time.

Fully Booked set up a weeklong book fair in the school where I taught, and as a member of the faculty, I was entitled to a 20% discount AND the opportunity to pay in installments through salary deductions. Surrounded by fellow book-loving co-teachers, I grabbed the chance. Yes. We all went broke. We don’t regret it.

The library as a marker of identity

A library really is a personal thing: it reflects our socioeconomic state throughout the years, and the book selection is curated both deliberately and subconsciously by our values. While writing this post, I’ve noticed that I acquire books based on whose voices I deem important: my professors, my peers, and my idealized self. What kind of person do I want to be, and how does my library reflect that? As the definition of my identity evolves with time and experience, the kind of books that eventually make their way into my library change from one life season to another.

It’s one thing to be open-minded to new ideas and to titles we wouldn’t normally read; but it’s another to be so impressionable that I get lost in a sea of other people’s opinions. I’m happy that I’m slowly learning to be more comfortable in my own skin, and I hope that by finally finishing these books, I also gain closure from all the looming existential crises I’ve had since high school.

Let’s discuss!

  • Who or what pushes you to buy or acquire the books in your library?
  • Which “old” fiction book in your library (physical or digital) are you planning to read this year?

7 thoughts on “21 Books for 2021 Part 3: “Old” Fiction”

  1. “Old books in one’s library” sounds like a less threatening way of saying TBR, haha! Let’s see… I have one Milan Kundera (Immortality) that was given by a friend I made at work in my first year of teaching. Then there are 18 of those Penguin Little Black Classics, the ones you’d see in abundance in Fully Booked, ranging from Arthur Conan Doyle to Henry James to Jane Austen.

    I used to have no thought about the books I acquired, until my bookshelves in my family house had to be arranged two layers deep just to fit in all my volumes. Now that I’m living alone with a single bookshelf and veeeery limited space, I make it a point to get physical books that I’ve already read and liked, to make sure that they deserve (huhu, sorry, books) the space they get. Also, I’m much more conscious now about supporting BIPOC authors!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I also have an unread Kundera (Slowness)! It’s part of my haul from my program adviser, along with Umberto Eco.

      And yes, space plays a huuuuuge part in curating our library. I’m thinking of writing about personal libraries soon!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, that feeling of embarrassment over not reading enough of the literary canon is SO relatable and something I have to grapple with today. It’s how I ended up with a collection of unread classics on my shelves. I’m planning to slowly go through them (Specifically, I might go down a Shakespeare rabbit hole again, since I do unironically enjoy his work)

    I think price is the biggest factor when buying books, as a college student still supported by my parents 😂. And I’d love to support BIPOC authors more!


    1. I have a few Folger editions of Shakespeare too! I hope I can get through them too, but not soon because my mom lives with me at the moment. I usually read Shakespeare out loud in front of the mirror because performing is the only way (accdg to my prof) to fully understand his work.

      Yep, price. I used to justify my expenses by saying they’re part of the syllabus and I couldn’t find photocopies HAHAHA, but I’m still sad I can’t buy new releases or physical copies of books I like.


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