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Judging A Book Without A Cover: The Top 3 Sites To Get Free Books And Ebooks From The Biggest Publishers And Authors
The idea of being a “professional reader” titillates me. What dilettante reader or writer, novice literary blogger, or amateur book reviewer wouldn’t be titillated by the idea of it? For someone so passionate about books and reading, I was ecstatic after learning over a few months ago that there were sites that gave away free advanced reading copies of soon to be released books and e-books by the biggest publishers and authors in the world.
While there are sites that give away free ebooks and PDF documents like Free-eBooks.net, FreeBookSpot, Planet PDF (one of my favorite sites for downloading the classics; just use your Kindle device and download your Dostoyevsky, Dickens, or Proust to your blessed, little, eager heart’s delight!), and Project Gutenberg — and these are all great sites from which you can download ebooks and books in different formats — this post is not about the average free book sites where one could just download books immediately, like what the rest of the highly cerebral, humanoid, greedy, book-hoarding species do (including myself, admittedly — the greedy, book-hoarding part, I mean).
No. This post is about the Top Three sites from which the serious book/literary blogger can get his greedy, book-hoarding hands on the latest, and most of the time, unpublished, yet to be released books from the small publishers and middlingly successful, mostly underrated, authors to the big publishers and bestselling, sometimes overrated, authors. Of course, this goes without saying that there is a catch: you have to have at least a decent blog, and at least a respectable amount of followers and blog posts. Since you’re reading this WordPress blog, I’ll assume that you have “just another WordPress (or any other) blog,” too.
APPLICATION PROCESS AND PROFESSIONAL COURTESY
1. You have to fill out an online form (safe to say, the general procedure these days) wherein you will be asked to talk about yourself and write down the link to your blog with a verification through your email (in order to keep those sneaky, scheming, little book and e-book vultures at bay).
2. Know how to use the Internet and navigate your way into the website, request for the books you’d like to read and have by choosing either “blogger” or “reviewer” from the list of accepted professions, and wait for the confirmation, or in most cases (from the bigwigs), the declination.
3. Have one of the major e-readers available today: Kindle readers, Sony readers, Nook, etc. If you don’t have an e-reader, in which case one is disposed to ask: “What kind of a self-respecting book blogger doesn’t have an e-reader these days?”, you can still download the e-books through Adobe Digital Editions in your computer.
4. Try your best to read the books you requested, and then write an honest review on your blog. The publishers and authors who approve your request do not expect you to write a good review just because you got the book for free. In fact, if you wish not to review their book for some reason, just have the courtesy to explain to them why you can’t read the book or why you can’t write a review. They leave their publicity team’s email addresses so you can contact them should you wish to interview the author; to inform them that you have already posted a review; or that you have declined to review their book.
5. Don’t forget to mention that you received the books for free because I think I read somewhere before that when one receives a free product and chooses to review it, one has to mention it in one’s review.
THE TOP THREE
For all you Christian bloggers out there, here’s a site that is just what you need. The WalterBrook Publishing Group is a Christian publishing group and an evangelical division of the largest publisher in the world, Random House, Inc.. Blogging for Books is the website specifically tailored for Christian, Bible-thumping, Jesus-loving bloggers, no pun intended, who would like to request a book and review them.
Unlike the two next sites included in this post, Blogging for Books is the only site among the these Top Three that offers printed versions of the copy requested by the blogger, provided the blogger gets a minimum review ranking of 25 for their reviews by the readers (here’s for more details), and that the blogger is from the United States. Bloggers from outside the US will only get an e-book version of the book requested.
Also, unlike the next two sites, Blogging for Books is the only one among the three that gives away only one book at a time. The other two sites approve multiple requests at a time. It is also the only site that requires you to have an account with another site, Edelweiss, which also happens to be among the Top Three sites I am endorsing here. Currently, I have been auto-approved by Blogging for Books for five titles from which I can choose one for review. I still have yet to pick one.
Edelweiss is a site that offers a wide range of free titles from small to large publishers. These titles only come in advanced (e-book) reading copies, though, and some of the copies that you will receive will be the unedited, uncorrected versions, which you could compare against the finished product once it is published. Some titles, just like Blogging for Books and NetGalley, which is the last site I shall mention here, have already been pre-approved by publishers for bloggers who have passed their qualifications.
The big difference, though, between Edelweiss and NetGalley and Blogging for Books is that Edelweiss is the only site among the Top Three that actually offers Digital Advanced Audio Copies. I didn’t know about digital advanced audio copies until I found this site. It makes complete sense, though. There are audiobooks out there, so why not have advanced audio copies of those, right? So, if you’re one of those who love to listen to audiobooks, albeit unedited, you just might find the titles that suit your taste here on Edelweiss. Two of the titles I have been approved are digital audio copies, 24 of which are advanced reading copies.
Among the Top Three, NetGalley is my favorite site because of it’s easy-to-use, simple, and navigable website, not to mention the thousands of titles from the largest university and commercial presses and New York Times bestselling authors who have signed up with it, compared with the slightly less number of titles from Blogging for Books and Edelweiss. Currently, I have 360 books approved from the publishers of this site. I know that’s an obscene amount of ebooks to review, and even more obscene amount of books to have been requested by a single individual, but in my defense, I shall try to read and review them all within 3 years (excuses, excuses). On a lighter note, I’d like to proudly point out that the largest university press in the world, THE Oxford UniversityPress, has approved some of my requests. Well, it may have declined most of my requests, but at least it has approved at least a couple of them, and that makes my day everytime I think about it. These English gents from Oxford (including those from Random House) are just a bit wee hard hard to please, but when they approve you, you’d definitely feel validated and feel like a rock star blogger — makes you kind of forget all the rejection letters you got combined (including the kind of rejection you got from the girl or guy who dumped you, or THE ONE who jilted you at the altar).
READING AND REVIEW SYSTEM AND ADVANCED APOLOGIES
I have already made a list of the ebooks I shall read first among the ones that I received from NetGalley and Edelweiss by following a simple system: those ebooks whose advanced reading copies and final versions that came with the real ebook/printed book covers with them will be the ones I shall read and review first. The ones with the unedited versions without their proper book covers (and just don’t look good at all in my Kindle next to the other books with the colorful, yet to be finalized, book covers) will be read and reviewed last.
Unfortunately, therefore, some of the titles might not even make it to my to-read list if the advanced reading copies are just too dreadfully edited or formatted for reading; and I’m telling you, there are some of those I received whose formatting just seem to have been whipped up overnight, and not, at the very least, even second-rate, second draft-material at all. Still, lest I be painted a book-whoring ingrate, I’d like to say that I am happy to have received those books and that I truly appreciate them. Maybe the least I can do for these books I won’t review is to mention them in my upcoming posts as a series called “The Books I Won’t Be Able To Review, or in a series of posts called something like “How Can I Judge A Book Without A Cover?” and then include a brief synopsis about them. Win-win, yes?
You see, if I were still an amateur reader, I would consider reading dreadfully edited or formatted advanced reading copies first. Alas, I am what NetGalley refers to as a “professional reader” now, and with that comes the discriminating taste, eagle eyes, and the proud sensibilities of a professional book reviewer and critic, albeit a slightly amateurish one. I may not be as good a “professional reader and reviewer” as critics and authors John Updike and James Wood are, but I do take those hats seriously and I expect at the very least a readable and presentable advanced reading copies (ARC).
If I am to be a better professional reader and reviewer, which I intend to be, I should be able to choose which books to read, review, and recommend; and with the Top Three sites above, despite the failings of its publishers to give away well-formatted and well-edited advanced reading copies sometimes, I know I might, over the long haul, be able to improve my reading habits, sharpen my critical abilities, and develop my rather wide range of interests and extreme personal tastes in literature through their wonderful books (that I am truly thankful for).
It is thus my fervent, fervent wish that whoever is reading this will be able to do the things I hope to accomplish and have already accomplished through these three great sites, too.
I published this article about the resignation of the Pope only to find myself redrafting and re-editing almost the entire last paragraphs. I published it, unpublished it, and then published it again. After reading the entire post before the redraft, I felt there was something wrong with it. Some of that oomph was missing. There was something in the last paragraphs that seemed incoherent and that just didn’t seamlessly connect and flow with the previous paragraphs, even the entire text. And then, I saw it.
I wish I had saved a copy of it so I can show here the difference between the first edition and the latest edition which is the one I just re-published now. But I had already deleted it. In the previous paragraphs, I was talking about being a convenient Catholic, and quoted an author’s views about being one, from an article in his newspaper column. After that, I went about discussing the Pope Benedict XVI’s health and age, but failed to make a connection between the Pontiff’s health and my being a convenient Catholic.
I didn’t succeed in connecting the three intended themes of the article which were, namely: the Pope’s resignation, his health, and my being a convenient Catholic. Now, with the latest edition, I think I succeeded in doing just that. Well, at least I hope did. After 21 blog posts, one would like to think that one gets better at writing and editing.
With blogging, I get to do, albeit in a small way, what I’ve always wanted to be (among other ambitions): writer and editor. I have always had this dream of becoming an owner and editor of a publishing empire, and of writing a good novel, too. And blogging has been tremendously instrumental in making me want even more to become an Editor-in-Chief of reputable magazines like the Paris Review, and publishing houses like Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
And of course, to become a damn good novelist.
Because of blogging, I began to be more objective when it comes to my own writing. I started to see my writing from another writer’s and reader’s perspective. And it made me ask five important questions that I think became my own formula for discerning good writing from bad writing — especially of my own. Being critical of one’s own work makes it easier to be truly objective. And if I am to become a damn good novelist someday, I’d better start by being hard on myself because friends and family may say you’re good even if you wrote them the most unimaginative article in the world.
So with the unreliability of objectivity from others, I came up with my formulaic good-from-bad-writing discernment questions. They are as follows:
1. “Is this idea brilliant or relevant enough to inspire, educate, and entertain or terribly amorphous and irrelevant?”
2. “Is this verbosity really necessary or just an exercise of monstrous self-indulgence?
3. “Is this a reflection of a writer writing from the heart or or a reflection of a writer just trying to impress?”
4. “Is this good enough to make others think it is serious writing or bad enough to be marked down as amateurish?”
5. “Is this a catharsis of pent-up creative energy and artistry or just a feeble attempt at self-expression?
I came up with these questions because the blogging process is for the most part a thinking process, too — a creative one at that. Indeed, blogging forces you to become a better writer and editor. But also it makes you a better thinker and questioner — a very objective thinker and questioner.
Good writing, I believe, is something that should reflect your passions and personality. With blogging, I hope to do just that. To write something that reflects my passions and, in my case, multiple personalities.
Kurt Vonnegut, the author, says that when you write about something that you love, familiar with, and passionate about, it will come across as something that comes from the heart. And my heart I give completely to everything I write. (I hope that’s what comes across in all my blog posts). This is exactly why I think most blog posts by serious bloggers are, in essence, effective and persuasive because the people who write them are those who truly believe in what they’re saying. And they’re sharing things that are really going to be of use to others.
But of course, the downside to blogging is that sometimes one can be a little too narcissistic and whiny, if left unchecked. Nowadays, it’s easy to believe or to delude oneself into thinking that we are the center of the universe because Internet has made a small global village of the world that it’s practically easy to be an Internet sensation now. But there’s nothing more unattractive than self-indulgent and narcissistic writers.
Trust me, I’ve gone down that road before, and quite ironically, they were not my proudest moments, and it didn’t produce the best writing, too. It is almost always is a recipe for bad writing because it doesn’t do anything except to shamelessly promote and glorify oneself. Narcissistic writing is an act of tomfoolery that should not be allowed further if one wishes to gain a steady influx of readership.
Like I said in a previous post, there’s only so much about oneself that one can talk about. Blogging is a great avenue to talk about topics that interest you, and should make you search your mind and unleash that untapped imagination. The possibilities are practically endless.
There are so many things out there you can talk about that doesn’t always have to be about you and what you bought yesterday at the grocery store, or about how you have a fabulous pimple right at the tip of your nose, or that you have mood swings all the time because of your bipolar disorder. People don’t want to hear about your endless shopping lists, or your latest pimple alert, or your temper tantrums and how you almost knocked someone out just because you are deliciously bipolar like me.
No. What people would rather hear you talk about is how one of your shopping lists can help remove the stain of their soiled shirts. Or how you tried out this new topical ointment that could help that cute pimple at the tip of your nose go away. (Oh, and don’t forget to strike a pose, take a picture of your top model pimple look and show the after photo, too, of your new pimple-less face). And people would rather have you share how your new medications helped stabilize your Britney Spears mood swings, and made you stop believing that you’re Jesus H. Christ the Superstar.
The key is to connect with the readers. That’s what blogging or any form of writing is all about. Blogging, I believe, if I may say so myself, brings out the best in me. It forces me to be a better writer and editor. It makes me talk less about my numerous, prodigious talents and my unrivaled genius. And yes, it makes me a better thinker. But more important than all of these combined, what blogging does is it makes me become a better sharer, dreamer, and imaginer. And it gives me such a horrible sense of humor, too. At least now I know, thanks to blogging, that comedy is not for me. Still, blogging makes me happy — and terribly, terribly so.
The Filthy Rich Handbook By Christopher Tennant (247 pages Workman Publishing: $11.95)
I ordered this book from Amazon years ago because the title intrigued me. I have always had this dream of becoming a billionaire someday through our family’s various businesses. Obviously, this is one delusion of grandeur I refuse to shake off. Despite my family’s considerable fortune, I still have a lot of things I wish to acquire: a castle in Ireland, a 740 Park Avenue apartment, a fleet of Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and Maybachs, a dozen Aston Martins, a Boeing 747, a 250-foot megayacht, an army of English butlers and majordomos to run various summer cottages in Newport, Paris and Palm Beach, a European aristocratic title, and the friendship of Serene Highnesses and of the British Royal Family.
But instead, for now, I have to make do with what I have. Don’t get me wrong. I am really happy and content with what I have. The things I want are different from the things that I need, and I have way more than what I need. But sometimes you just can’t help but feel a little envious when you see someone have something you still can’t afford to buy at the moment. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you can afford to buy and sell someone like Kate Upton many times over and not even bat an eyelash?
Well, unless you are a billionaire or mega-multihundred millionaire, having a net worth below the neighborhood of $10, 000, 000 still won’t buy you the luxuries only the richest of the rich can afford — and Kate Upton. Or Chris Evans. These days, who knows what someone prefers.
Whether you’re looking for inspiration for that rich guy you wish to include as one of the characters in your novel, or doing some research about how the 1% of the richest 1% people live, or an arriviste who wants to be accepted by the establishment of the botoxed High Society and Ruling Classes, or in need of a crash course on how the ultra-rich talk the talk and walk the walk, or a social anthropologist or a social psychologist taking notes and chronicling how lazy leisure class lives, or just truly enjoy reading stuff about the ultra-rich, this reference book by Tennant has it all covered.
Here you’ll read about the Old Guard, the parvenus, Brahmans, the upstarts, and the things they have in common, the fabulous places they summer at, the clubs they belong to, the servants who wait on them, the multimillion dollar palatial residences they live in, the parties they give and attend, and anything and everything about the oh so filthy rich.
Tennant shows chapter by chapter things like “Old Money [Country] Clubs” and “New Money [Country] Clubs,” which tycoon paid millions to which superstar singer for his daughter’s party, and which friends to avoid and be proud of. Funnily, He says Princess Diana is one of those people everyone should want to be friends with (sadly, this isn’t possible anymore), and that Imelda Marcos, the infamous former First Lady and wife of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, is one of those people everyone should never admit to having been friends with (this is still possible). I found the latter so hilarious, yet a little offended, too, because the Marcoses are related to one of my dearest friends, Mary Anne Vargas, a Manila socialite and philanthropist who loves the charismatic and regal former First Lady.
Mary Anne regaled me many times with anecdotes of the former First Lady’s eccentricities and charms. One time she said Mrs. Marcos was singing endlessly during one of her birthday parties in a yacht until the wee hours of the morning. She said everyone were already getting sleepy and wanted to go home, but everybody didn’t have the heart to tell Mrs. Marcos that they wanted to go home. Now, I wonder what Mary Anne will say about this when she finds out her cousin Imelda was mentioned in this book as a shoe fetishist who should be blackballed from the charity and social circuits.
In this book, I think you will also find, like I did, the caricatures of the filthy rich people so charming and funny, along with pictures of random people where he illustrates what kind of clothes the filthy rich wear and what gadgets and different kinds of looks they sport. What also impressed upon me was his emphasis on the difference between the new rich and the old rich — the arrivistes and the blue bloods. I think this would generally help the uninitiated determine which ones are new and and which ones are old. One tip: the accent and how they pronounce Gstaad and the Carribean. Trust me, in every country, especially here in the Philippines, it’s easy to spot the parvenus from the pedigreed.
I hate talking about money and the describing wealth as it is crass and tacky to do that, but since this book is all about money and wealth, perhaps you’d be kind enough to make this an exception. Let me give you an example of the difference between the parvenu and the pedigreed. Well, I’d like to think of myself as a man of impeccable pedigree. Or maybe this is another of my delusions of grandeur I refuse to shake off, too.
One time a friend thought it funny to point out how one of our new rich friends was richer than me. To which I said jokingly with my quasi-British accent, “He may have the brass, but I have the class. You can never buy breeding and impeccable taste. He can hire someone to make it look like he has taste, but he can never acquire the breeding that only well-born people like me are born with. Unless he marries into our family, he can never have my name or my family’s illustrious background. He can show the world how rich he is with absurd and vulgar displays of wealth, whereas I have got nothing to prove.”
He laughed and replied, “Touche. Sometimes you can be such a snob.”
Part-satire, part-parody, and all the way true-to-life, Tennant’s well-researched book is one of those I would be happy to recommend to everybody even for just a good laugh. It’s got everything you need, and a veritable guide to anything and everything filthy rich. If you’re filthy rich enough, or with a stroke of luck you’ll strike it rich, or just want to know how and where to spend your money, or just curious as to how Bill Gates and the rest of the Forbes 400 Richest live, Tennant’s The Filthy Rich Handbook is all the book you’ll ever need. This is one mean Rolodex of watering holes, country clubs, vacation spots, tag prices for celebrity entertainers, and big bad toys that you should definitely have!
Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Racing Thoughts Of A (Catholic) Bipolar Writer No. 3: On Pope Benedict XVI’s Resignation and Convenient Catholics
I shall be in Italy next week (I hope). I’m just waiting for the issuance of my Schengen visa so I can jump-start my European trip starting with Rome. I have already planned my European trip with my friend Raquel since the last half of January. I am quite excited to see the major cities in Europe with my European friends, and to use this little book called The Civilized Shopper’s Guide To Rome by Pamela Keech & Margaret A. Brucia as my tour guide to all the enchanting flea markets, bookstores and art galleries, palazzos, piazzas and pizzerias.
But I think, undoubtedly, the highlight of my European trip would be at the Vatican, where the Pope is expected to resign as the ecclesiastical monarch of the Catholic Church at 85, and after eight years of public service. While I was shocked to hear the news, I also think it is the best decision for him, health-wise. I may not be as devout as my pious Catholic mother or my Catholic priest uncle, but I highly respect the papacy and the Pope himself.
It has been said that the last time a pope resigned from the papacy was 600 years ago. Pope Gregory XII resigned in 1415 because three rival popes were chosen by different religious factions, and had to eventually choose a successor that everybody would recognize. It took two years since the resignation of Pope Gregory XII for the Conclave to elect his successor, Martin V. In Pope Benedict XVI’s case, though, he shall be resigning due to health reasons and age, not because of ecclesiastical jurisdiction and leadership rivalry.
GIVE THE POPE A BREAK
His Holiness elected to resign by the end of February not because he doesn’t want to perform his functions as leader of one billion Catholics, but because he recognized the fact that he can no longer perform his functions as leader of one billion Catholics effectively. An exemplary display of strength of character and humility, indeed.
That said, I still can’t help but point out, too, that the tenure of the Pope has been riddled with scandals of sexual abuse by some of the clergy, and some have even criticized him for not having solved these issues properly. Some say the Church was covering up these anomalies, and somehow caused the decline in number of the faithful and devout Catholics, and of young men choosing to be ordained into the Catholic priesthood, during his eight-year rule.
But Of course, if you are a septuagenarian going octogenarian, solving all these issues in the Holy See can take its toll on your health. Let’s cut the old man some slack, shall we? Let us just pray for the health of His Holiness, and pray, too, that the next pope would be young enough to perform the functions required of the leader of the Catholic nation, but old and wise enough to address the moral and social issues of today.
PRESCRIPTION FOR THESE MODERN TIMES
These modern issues of our modern times need to be seen from a modern man’s perspective, not from an archaic set of belief systems by people who were living in archaic times 2,000 years before. Then again, how could they have known that things were going to change this drastically, back then? It is, therefore, the duty of the Catholic Church and all major faiths to initiate some changes of views towards some modern issues like divorce, homosexuality, even abortion. Continuing with this following-the-Word-of-God-Bible-to-the-letter brouhaha would just confuse and enrage different kinds of people, and with, I fear, deleterious effects.
The Catholic Church keeping mum and turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to the sexual abuses and corruption of their own clergy while going on a high and mighty Bible-thumping about (their own version) morality and Christian virtues would just be seen as hypocritical, and would do it no good. The Bible, is to some level, also just a book about the history of the ancient times. With all the conflicting information and views out there today regarding some social and moral issues by theologians, writers, philosophers, atheists, activists, and other non-faith denominations, it is easy to be confused and to just altogether drop religion and religious practices in favor of more practical, rational, scientific views.
SUGGESTION TO CARDINALS AND THE NEXT POPE
So, first stop, I suggest to Their Eminences and to His Holiness, to change some of their moral and social views. The Bible is now rendered as an obsolete form of moral authority. While it might have worked before during the times of pontificating apostles and disciples, it no longer works during these modern times of science and atheists. If people are to attend Church and remain faithful to it, then it must initiate changes on some of its views that will help stop discrimination of other people fighting for social justice, gender equality, and basic human rights.
The Bible was written by people, and can be edited by people. Times change, so should our minds and views change with the times.
HYPOCRISY AND FALLIBILITY
How can one forget what the popes of the past centuries did to remain in power? I had a Christian Civilization class back at the university and I learned all the atrocities the popes caused in the name of God. They were the overlords of the emperors and kings who must yield to their every whims and demands. Unless those emperors and kings want to be excommunicated, burn in hell, and be questioned by other monarchs of the legitimacy of their sovereignty, they must obey the pope. These power plays and ego trips by these popes only go to show that the pope is also just a human being capable of human desires, venial sins, and atrocious crimes (read: greed, lust, infidelity, envy, vanity. and even rape and murder).
It relieves me now to think that although the popes are still considered to be absolute monarchs today, they no longer seem to have the hubris and enjoy the absolute power of a tyrannical despot. The world has truly changed since the Medieval Ages, indeed. I just hope and pray that some things which are still considered to be intrinsically evil (read: homosexuals, divorcees, and pro-choice people) in the eyes of God (or is it just in the eyes of some hypocritical, primitive men?) since the Medieval Ages will soon be recognized by a fallible, human (read: not infallible at all) pope, as natural and as funny as the business of human nature.
If absolute power must be exercised at all by any pope through a papal decree after Pope Benedict XVI, let’s hope he exercises it with liberal open-mindedness and intellectual plasticity, not with authoritarian conservatism and prejudiced liberalism.
A CONVENIENT CATHOLIC
If you wish to find something inspiring from this post, or to find a verisimilitude of a religious epiphany or apparition, you may stop reading now because it isn’t like that at all.
You see, I am what you call a Catholic by virtue of convenience — someone who chooses to believe in his own Catholic version of God and his own Catholic version of moral catholicity. A convenient Catholic.
I realized that there is no point in fighting it. I was born to Catholic parents and was raised a Catholic in a country that is predominantly Catholic.
No matter how hard I tried to intellectualize the existence of God, or his non-existence, I still cannot escape my inherent Catholicism, and cannot bring myself to forget the Catholic traditions of my family. Ultimately, I think it’s good to be a convenient Catholic, to discriminably choose your own version of beliefs and truths, selecting only those that reflect your sense of morality and goodness: some from the Bible and some from the teachings of the Catholic Church.
I’m sure the Pope wouldn’t mind.
Raymund Fernandez of the Philippine Daily Inquirer explains in a column, “Having religion does have its share of conveniences. For one, it provides us the markers we need to structure our lives, the events by which we might recall what we have gone through in our travel through time, baptism, confirmation, first confession, first communion, marriage, birth, death. These are rituals of a cyclical order. They mark not only our own lives but everyone else’s. And that reassures us in a way that we often do not think about too much. Its just there, like some monumental immutable part of the planet, like infrastructure, our world, kalibutan…”
He goes on saying, “[This] is the consequence of being born into the neighborhood religion, the national religion, the religion of our parents. And many of us are Catholics by virtue of that fact. Our religious experiences are defined by it. It might be peculiar but we cannot say that with certainty. We are Catholics that way. We are Catholics not because we need to or chose to. It is simply a convenient fact.”
GOD BLESS THE POPE
But even if I am a self-confessed convenient Catholic, I was still stunned by the decision of the Pope to resign. Still, I couldn’t blame the old man. He’s also just human. I read in the papers that he had made the decision since last year. Consequently, when the news broke, some atheists and non-Catholics alike made some rather insensitive to the point of sacrilegious remarks and wrote as headline for their articles and blog posts like “Chosen By God Quits” and “God Chose The Wrong Guy.”
Oh, come on! Well, here’s a headline for you: “The Pope Is Also Just Another Human Being. Duh.”
He gets tired. He makes mistakes. He changes his mind. And just like God Himself, the Pope also needs to take some rest. It’s about time the old man took some rest. More thank anything, I think His Holiness’ decision to resign is more of a testament to his commitment to serve God and the Catholic people by letting someone more fit and healthy to take over the Vatican. It’s not fair to persecute an 85-year old man just because he wants to spend the remainder of his days as a Benedictine monk.
I, for one, think that it’s actually quite exciting to have a new pope elected by the cardinals and quiver in convenient Catholic anticipation. Besides, it will also give the atheists and non-Catholics another chance to to anticipate another abdication of a Pontiff who is apparently appointed by The God Himself. Win-win. It’s a cause for celebration for both parties of the Catholics and the convenient Catholics & the Atheists and Non-Catholics.
When, I wonder, then, shall we all hear the words “Habemum Papam” again? I guess we’ll all find out together soon.
And whoever he may be, he shall have my unwavering respect and support, along with the rest of the Catholic nation. I know the Catholic Church and the Pope cannot force anyone anymore to believe in God. That is a whole different thing altogether as it is now considered bad form to have someone excommunicated just because he doesn’t share your beliefs. Not even your pious Catholic mother can force you to do that even if she groveled, cried, and begged you to because she fears your soul might be eternally damned.
Now, everything is a matter of choice — the individual’s choice.
But it sure doesn’t hurt to believe or choose to believe in some things, even if those beliefs were just chosen for the sake of convenience. And it sure doesn’t hurt to come home to a happy family celebrating Christmas, hearing mass together and feeling the electrifying, collective energy of the faithful, converts, the on-the-fencers, and the convenients like me.
It sure, as hell, doesn’t hurt to be a convenient Catholic, and to believe in heaven and God. Walang mawawala kung maniwala ka (It wouldn’t hurt to believe).
And it sure doesn’t hurt to celebrate a momentous occasion in Rome together with the rest of the faithful, converts, the on-the-fencers, and the convenients this Ferbruary 28th (if I get my visa on time) at the Vatican. I hope to see you there, too, atheists and non-Catholics. It’s going to be one helluva a thriller event, don’t you think? Cheers!
May God bless the Pope, Benedict XVI, and his successor, and the successor of his successors. And may God bless us all and may God also save the souls of those frightfully wonderful atheists and non-Catholics, too. I hope and pray that they make it to 85 just like the poor, old man who had the great humility to quit in order to rest and to give way to a younger and abler ecclesiastical ruler by The One Chosen by None Other Than The Man Up, Up, Up There Himself.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.” Before writing this blog post, I published another one before this, and then decided to unpublish it ten minutes after. In the following paragraphs, I shall explain my reasons for doing so, but know that if it weren’t for that blog post, there wouldn’t be any lessons to be learned now. The deleted blog post concerned was a product of my active, and in this case, my rather unimpressive imagination. The main theme I had in mind was to make humans look superior to aliens, or at the very least to make aliens look inferior to humans. In my mind, I thought it was hilarious, original, and creative. Everybody knows what Martians are. They’re our alien counterpart in Mars. Yes, it’s going to work, I thought. While writing the blog post I considered including some things for effect, things from my past that I never would have thought about sharing publicly save for my very own memoir that I soon hope to write and publish. Despite my apprehensions, I still included it in the deleted blog post that I named “Racing Thoughts Of A Bipolar Writer No. 3: On Reading, Aliens, And Honest Recollections.”
At the time, it seemed like a great idea. I thought it could work, and it could quite possibly be my funniest work yet. I was wrong. I realized quickly that there was nothing hilarious, original, and creative about it. It was, in truth, rather dull, unoriginal, and uncreative. I tried too hard to make it work that the whole thing, after having read it and given it some real thought, felt even to me, contrived, constipated, and corny.
It didn’t take a genius to see what was wrong with it. Thank God not many people had read it as I had deleted it just as quickly as I had published it. Here are my reasons for doing so:
Firstly, for the most part I think I was too close to it that I lost all sense of objectivity, so much so that I was blind to my own work’s faults and flaws. And while we’re on the subject of faults and flaws, know that I take full responsibility for such a monumental lapse of judgment. I deluded myself into thinking that my writing talent knows no bounds and limits, and I deluded myself into thinking that I could write anything and everything on my mind without pausing for revision, edition, filtration, and intelligent deliberation. Now, the cliche-ish phrase “Think before you click” is beginning to sound “I told you so.” One wonders why.
Secondly, I think I was having a manic episode of some sort (I’m bipolar). I must have been in a state of euphoria that everything seemed funny. All I could hear was the sound of of my laughing voice inside my head while I was writing it. Yes, I had punch lines, backhandedly sarcastic and bitingly cold remarks and punch lines, but I didn’t ask myself whether what may have worked inside my head and said out loud might also work just as well when written. I now learned that there are punch lines that are better left unwritten and said out loud than written. I believe the expression “Say what?!” is a very good example of something better left unwritten and said out loud than just written. Admittedly, I tried to incorporate this in the deleted blog post, but I thought that it immediately lost its charm altogether after I was slapped senseless back to lucidity, reality, and objectivity by my medications–and by myself. Ultimately, I think It’s not so much about having overestimated my capacity for humor (although, I must admit, this could be one of the main reasons for the failure of the blog post, too) as it is about having underestimated the power of revision, edition, filtration, and intelligent deliberation. The manic-euphoric reason is complete bollocks. I’m just making excuses for my shallow, amorphous ideas and lackluster writing in the deleted blog post.
Thirdly, the deleted the blog post didn’t seem to have the soul I thought I’d given it. It might have been filled with private things I didn’t want to share with the public, things that might be seen as brave and honest and admirable, but they were just merely there for embellishment–to adorn, to entertain, to shock. They weren’t written from an honest place, they were written for ratings–for views, hits, and clicks. I still regret the fact that I published those private things there, however briefly they may have been published. Just the thought that I actually wrote them just as a sub-theme and as adornment for that deleted blog post seems, I realize, a little callous and deplorable. I shall never write of my memoirs that lightly ever again. At the expense of sounding sentimental, what I did feels almost sacrilegious. Memories aren’t supposed to be just sub-themes, let alone a sub-theme for an “aliens versus humans” blog post. I might look back on this overreaction tomorrow with laughter, but for now let me feel what I’m supposed to feel. What was I thinking?! Never will such an oversight be made again. You’ll just have to buy the book of my memoirs once it’s published. Rest assured that I’ll give it all the soul it deserves, as do all writings deserve.
Fourthly and lastly, I feel that I am still at a point where, being a relatively novice writer, I’m still experimenting with different styles of writing. But with my experience with the previously deleted blog post, I am now quite certain that aliens don’t mesh well with humans and human experiences, and that I’d rather stick to what I know about–aliens and Martians shall obviously be crossed out of the picture henceforth, as shall all pathetic, desperate attempts at humor.
Overall, it has been such a good learning experience. For that, I am thankful. Had it not been for my recent writing and publishing incident, I wouldn’t have learned the things I had learned today. Indeed, writing is both a craft and an art. In time and with constant practice, all we can hope for is to get better. All we have to do is write and write until we get it right. Write something worth reading, you say, Mr. Franklin? Well, by all accounts, sir, I think it’s safe to say that this blog post is more worthy of reading than the previously deleted blog post. Yes, I think this one won’t go to the computer’s trash receptacle like its predecessor. No, this one will be just fine–more human, less alien. Yes, now I can say that everything will be allwrite.
I feel an alternating tinge of admiration, respect, insecurity, and envy whenever I read something beautifully written. It elicits all these positive and negative emotions within me. How could something so simple a thought be so complex in form and substance, yet so profound and succinct? There are all these ideas and brain blurbs inside my head that I wish to say with the eloquence of T.S. Elliot or Ernest Hemingway, but get stymied by my inability to do so. But then again, as I have said before in this blog, one mustn’t compare one’s writing to that of others because it will only lead to despair. I am such a man of walking contradictions. Would it behoove one to search exasperatedly for inspiration through other people’s writings, or would it just cause one to be unnecessarily competitive and insecure–to feel mediocre and inadequate? Sometimes I really wonder: Did the greatest writers of our time ever feel this way before, or did they ever have time to entertain such thoughts?
Essentially, what exactly makes a writer good or bad? What makes a writer great? Is everything just subjective? There are countless literary critics out there, but what kind of literary criticism are the most objective ones? Moreover, is literary criticism truly objective or is it just subject to and the product of the personal views, prejudices, and partiality of just another human being? Who has the right to say when writing is good or bad? Even the great F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby has received the worst reviews by real readers of the classics, even from other professional literary critics.
What, then, makes another writer truly better than the other? Is it the punctiliousness to everything–commas, periods, spelling, grammar, diction? A fanatical attention to detail? Is it the way one phrases one’s words and sentences, or is there really an inherent divine, genetic right to being a genius-artiste writer? Can mediocrity ever become mastery? And if so, where is one, as a writer, in the grand scale of the writing grade system? Can one really be ever objective with one’s own work? And more importantly, will others be truly objective when it comes to yours?
Am I the only one in this world who has these thoughts and questions? Do these questions make me look foolish, ignorant, and stupid? Or am I right when I say I might just as well be voicing out the collective feelings of all the writers out there who are afraid to think out loud, to acknowledge their weaknesses, and to resolve their issues publicly? After all, isn’t being a writer all about the courage to speak one’s mind, and on even more honest level, one’s feelings–on a global and social media savvy platform–like a blog?
But then again, I think when all is said and done, all these thoughts and questions I have can just be boiled down to [my] nagging feelings of inadequacy, mediocrity, and insecurity. Or maybe, just maybe, this is the bipolar twin writer talking–the overcritical, hard-on-himself son of a gun who can’t stop thinking, obsessing, and shutting his mouth and keeping his hands inside his straitjacket. Well, It isn’t called racing thoughts for nothing, anyway. Ultimately, these are just the musings of a guy who is still unsure of himself–a guy who is still finding his voice in the world–a guy whose interior world is filled with voices of blurred reason, fantasy, chaos, and uncertainty. Yes, living in one’s head can be a drag sometimes. But hey, don’t get me wrong. It really is still fun to be me.
Oh, well. C’est la vie.
The author of the Tony Award winner The History Boys, Bennett is one of the most prolific writers of England. With his novella The Uncommon Reader, he writes about how the Queen, the protagonist of the story, develops an obsession with reading when one Wednesday her playful dogs (corgis) lead her to a traveling library driven by Mr. Hutchings. Inside she meets Norman, a young palace kitchen staff who loves reading, and promotes him as her amanuensis to help her with her reading list. After being engrossed by the novels of Nancy Mitford, Her Majesty subsequently finds herself feverishly reading works by a wide array authors from Jean Genet to Marcel Proust. Consequently, the Queen begins to acquire a new perspective on everything, much to the consternation of her equerries and private Secretary, Sir Kevin. The Queen, after showing signs of no stopping with her uncharacteristic and sudden growing passion for books and for writing down notes, has had her advisers terrified lest she might be suffering from Alzheimer’s.
In my life there are two things that give me, of equal measure, the greatest pleasure: reading and writing. And nothing gives me even greater pleasure than reading about books that talk about the love of books, and then being able writing about it. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (First American Edition by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007) is one such book–a book that celebrates books, writing, readers, and writers. In this book, Bennett’s protagonist, the Queen of England, becomes a passionate reader–a woman whose unique position in life does not afford her to have interests, but only to take an interest in things.
In the book, Bennett (the fictitious omniscient narrator of the book) explains that in royal circles reading is frowned upon because reading is seen as privately selfish, indulgent, and requires exclusive attention; that when one is royal, one has a duty to be selfless, patriotic, and accessible; and that there is no room for books, and most certainly, no room for a room–the library, study, or one’s own nook–where one can curl up and read.
One could detect a play on words in the novella’s title immediately. The Queen, if one is familiar with the British aristocracy, is not a commoner. After all, she is THE Queen–it couldn’t get more uncommon than that. The irony, however, lies in the fact that despite being a patroness of the Library of London and having hundreds of thousands of books in her own palaces and castles, the Queen’s obsession with reading began with a mobile library.
The book may be short, but the good thing about it is that it has a long list of references to extraordinary authors. For someone who hates being left out or being ignorant about books and authors that one ought to know, this book really makes you want to read about these other authors, too. The protagonist asks and talks about authors and writers such as Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, even Harry Potter (which she doesn’t like, of coure).
In The Uncommon Reader, Bennett amplifies and solidifies my sentiments–that reading is shared, anonymous, and common yet private, elitist, and exclusive at the same time. In essence, what the book is trying to say is that reading, no matter how high or low one’s station in life is, is one activity everybody could share and enjoy. Bennett proves in this book that the Queen of England is also just like the rest of the world.
He paints the most eminent individual in all of England as a person who makes mistakes and feels jealous of movie stars like Lauren Bacall whom she thinks have lead a more colorful life than hers; as a person who thinks back on the past and sighs for not having met some people, especially authors, when she could have; as a person who is fallible, capable of envy, plagued with insecurities and regrets. too. He shows how the Queen, despite her old age, is not impervious to criticism from her own staff, and has also yet so much to learn about others through the life and experiences of the characters and the people in the books she reads. For someone who has lived a life on the grandest scale possible, Bennett effortlessly shows the unseen maternal and human side of his protagonist, the aging monarch–mostly ignorant of a life outside her own and entertaining thoughts of a life of ordinariness, anonymity.
A life outside the clutches of duty, responsibility, and royalty.
There is nothing common about The Uncommon Reader. For a royalist, a monarchist, a bibliophile, a writer, and an obsessive reader like myself, this book truly exceeds my expectations. Bennett’s characters couldn’t get any more human than in this book. My delusion of grandeur about being a British lord is now satisfied. Commoner though I am (well, everyone who doesn’t have a noble title is common), at least now, I can say that I have many things in common with the Queen of England, the grandmama I never had, however fictitious my source of pride is.
Filled with charming, believable, and eccentric characters, and with a wonderful twist at the end, The Uncommon Reader is nothing short of beautiful. Whether you are common or uncommon, this book will surely delight you. Bennett’s a writer whose prose style is tantalizingly perfect. He is a consummate master of letters, and his deadpan, sly, and self-deprecating sense of humor translates gloriously on every page. They say reading is bliss. This book is just that–a truly blissful read.
5 of 5 stars