Had Only One Thing Happened Differently - David Fincher's THe Curious Case of Benjamin Button

In my previous journal entry, I discussed how the smallest thing I do somehow affect the things that happen to many different people whether I’m aware of that influence or not. As I was writing that part, I was reminded of a beautiful scene from the movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” directed by David Fincher and featuring brilliant performances from Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. In my opinion, this film had a few scenes which can be considered as gems, but they were not enough to hold the whole thing up and make the film work. Yes, some instances were memorable and astonishing, but for the most part, the plot became kind of dragging and boring.

In this scene, Benjamin (Pitt) takes the role of an omniscient narrator and tells how certain events led up to Daisy’s (Blanchett) broken leg. He also presents a “What if” situation which shows how the accident could’ve been prevented if even one of those small incidents have happened differently.

Aside from the impeccable cinematography and creativity of the scene, it also provides much room for thought. It shows how everything is a product of a chain reaction of things that have happened before it, and that it triggers another chain of its own. This can also be seen as how the actions of society affects what happens to the self and vice versa.


If I Had Not Come - A Sociological Analysis of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children

One of my favorite books is Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.

It has a very interesting story, a fast-paced narrative, and it gives one a glimpse of the society of India and even Pakistan. Another thing that I liked is that it has these wonderful moments when you just have to stop in the middle of reading a page just to relish on a certain passage and contemplate on what Rushdie wants to convey.

After several classes of Sociology 10 and a short glimpse back at the book, I have just came to realize how much content there is in Midnight’s Children that can be discussed in class. There are three points which I would like to highlight.

Basically, the book tells of the story of Saleem Sinai, born in the exact time that the nation of India became independent. Through he use of magical realism, his entire life became bound to his nation. He became his nation, he became India.

In sociology, we learned that the society affects the self and the self affects society in return, but what exactly happens when the self is equated with society?

This, at first glance, makes a major problem. It would be almost impossible to have a single person represent the whole of India especially since that country is one of the most diverse in the world. It has a lot of national languages, a lot of different races, a lot of religions being practiced, and its got A LOT of people. Throughout the narrative, Saleem tries to become his country, and contain it within himself. He struggles to have his personal history be filled with the themes of India. Though he was able to break the language barrier by having the gift of telepathy, yes, telepathy, it still wasn’t enough to possibly be all of these different people. Not unexpectedly, he crashes at the end of his attempt.

What Saleem is trying to tell people is that the diversity of a country should be accepted. It is not possible to cram its identity into one single person. He shows this by holding the Midnight’s Children Conference, where he gathers all of the children born during the first hour of India’s independence, each of them unique in their own way.

The next point of discussion in Midnight’s Children is centered on one of its most beautiful passages. “Most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence.” Of all the books and passages that I’ve read, this is the one which really struck me and made me think. This is obviously of great importance as it is even mentioned three times in the book.

What exactly are the things that matter most which happen in our absence?

If this passage were analyzed with the life of the author in mind, it would be quite clear. Salman Rushdie is an Indian author who migrated to the United States of America. The things which matters most but happened in his absence, are the things that happened to India but somehow still affected him as someone who grew up in that country. But when seen in the perspective of the readers, the way literature is supposed to be treated, it takes on a different and deeper meaning.

I have spent quite some time thinking of what exactly are these things Rushdie’s talking about. Here are some things, quite shallow in my opinion, which I have thought of.

I have a name, I have carried this name for the 17 years that I’m in this world, I’ll be carrying it for the rest of my life, and it is with this name that I’m hopefully going to be remembered by when I’m gone. It is the name I’m called, the name I answer to, it is my identity. It is something that matters, and I was not present, not even born actually, when it was chosen.

Some instances are when people of authority decide the options and the path that my life will be taking. This can more clearly be seen in the context of a student. When teachers deliberate on whether or not I am to be promoted to the next academic year, or when admission officers decide if they’re going to accept me into their university, are done during my absence. This matters since their actions and decisions dictate how I’ll be living my life for the next year, or for the rest of my life. My life would be greatly different from the way it is now if I had gone to a different academic institution.

Now in the perspective of other people, and to the point of extremes, we can put into consideration the victims of war. When a decision is made that an enemy camp including a small town near it would be bombed, it happens during the absence of people who would greatly affected by it. This decision matters a lot to the citizens of that small town since it involves their lives.

There are many more things which can fit into this description if one thinks hard enough. These things can also be seen as how society affects the self.

The last point of discussion is centered on another passage which is an almost perfect description of how this time, the self affects the society.

During my first sociology class, we were asked “Who are you?” and “Why are you here?” I’ll focus on the former question. The conventional way of answering it is by stating your name. If I had it my way, however, I would’ve tried to answer it differently aka diverting attention to myself, earning the recognition of the teacher and the sneers of my classmates. In that moment, I though of another beautiful passage from Midnight’s Children which came from Saleem Sinai in one of the earlier parts of the book as a way of contemplating who he really is, it goes: “Who what am I? My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I've gone which would not have happened if I had not come.”

It will be easier to discuss this sentence by sentence and put into my point of view. “I am the sum total of everything that went before me,” meaning that I am a product of history. I am the Philippine Independence of 1898, I am the meeting of my parents, I am the EDSA revolution, I am the childhood of my older brothers. I am all of these things, for all of it led up to my presence, to my life, to my self. Consequently, I am also part of everything that went after me. “[O]f all I have been seen done.” I am my 5-year old piano recital, I am my 7th birthday singing stint, I am my brief conversation with my friend, I am my laughter with my barkada. I am all of these, for they are what make up the image that people see me as. From big important incidents to small negligible instances, all of these are what I am to others. Thus, I am different to each and every person, for no two persons have seen me do the same things. “[O]f everything done to me.” I am the scolding of my mother, I am the smiles of my friends, I am the pushups ordered by my CAT officers, I am the lecture of my professor. I am all of these for these are the things which affect how I feel, how I behave, and ultimately, how I am. The first sentence states that I am history, how society perceives me, and how I perceive society.

“I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine.” I am my parents having and taking care of another child, I am the several minutes, days, or years, people spend with me, I am the names I give my friends, I am the influence on people’s decisions, I am you reading this entry. I am these because these are what signify my presence in the world, these are the things which say that I have been here. If I were to be asked what my purpose is in the world, I would have to answer all of these things. Any little effect that I have on everything and everyone is my purpose for those wouldn’t have happened if I weren’t alive. If I had not been alive, not been here, or even if I did something differently, then a lot of other things would have been different. Therefore, I am everything and everyone I have affected and whose presence have affected everything and everyone else. Yes, it’s quite difficult to understand, and I’m not even sure if I got it right.

Lastly, “I am anything that happens after I've gone which would not have happened if I had not come.” Obviously, I cannot give any examples since I’m still alive, but instead I’ll be giving hypothetical ones. Basically, it states that I am not defined by my life alone, I am not defined my presence in the world. I am what happens after I am gone. I am my funeral, I am the lives of my children, I am the company I’ll be leaving, I am my gravestone. All of these things are also part of who I am even if they haven’t happened yet because again, these are what signify that once I’ve been here, I’ve been alive, and that all of those things are there because of me.

I can go on and on talking about that one passage for it gives so much to think about. What Saleem is basically trying to say is that he is his influence and effect in society and in the world.

Midnight’s Children gives a lot more points which can be discussed in terms of sociology such as how tradition greatly affects society, and much deeper looks on the institutions of family and the military. All of these under the backdrop of one enormous beautiful story of magic, tragedy, tradition, and love.


And I'm back! Seriously... Since It's Needed for School :P

After a much much much delayed return to maintaining this blog. I'm back.

The reason?

It's needed for school.

Though most of the stuff I'll be posting here would still be about books. I'll have to add some stuff which are required for the course I'm taking, which is Sociology. But don't worry, I'll try to integrate books and reading to the entries.

Will post my first entry in a while. Really. Wish me luck!

Is hoping to post some new stuff soon...

After 3 months of really heavy schoolwork, I think I'll be able to sneak some overdue blogging in the coming weeks since our 1st grading period's about to end, giving way to a brief break from a killer workload :P

Posts may include a Booker, an NBA, and maybe some books with really cool covers I got!

The Man Booker Prize

Since my blog features books which are award-winning and recognized, I decided that it would be good to feature awards from time to time. So I decided to start with one of the largest book awards, The Man Booker Prize.

The Man Booker prize, or more commonly known as "The Booker" is an award given to original full-length fiction novels written in the English language (which means, no translations). They are awarded to authors living in a country which is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations (all countries which were former British colonies, or Britain itself). This also means that the United States isn't included, so does the Philippines. It is chosen by a panel consisting of big names in the literary world (publishers, writers, book critics, literature professors). Publishers submit their candidates and suggest other books to be part of the reading list, a panel member may also suggest a book not on the list. It is a very tiring process as they have lots of books to read, with this year reaching a record number of 132 books!

The Booker is one of the most prestigious book awards, comparable to that of Cannes or the Oscars for film. Just being part of the longlist is a big deal, so getting shortlisted, and ultimately, winning, would rocket the author to literary stardom. A few of the literary stars which have either won or were shortlisted for the booker are Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, Zadie Smith, J. M. Coetze, Ian McEwan, Arundhati Roy, and many more. The shortlists create quite a huge buzz, which signals the start of "Booker Shortlist Marathons," and certain predicitons on who would win. They are also huge since most books which are shortlisted have also been nominated, or have already won other awards. Below is a short video featuring the nominees of the 2001 Booker Prize. This Shortlist created quite a stir especially since all of them have other nominations and wins connected with them. A lot of people were surprised how The True History of the Kelly Gang, won over The Dark Room which won the LA Times award of that year. What made the win even more of a controversy and surprise is its triumph over Atonement, considered one of the great works of the new millennium, which have already been shortlisted for several awards (Whitbread, JT-Black) and continued on to win the following year's NBCC and LA Times.

The awards started in 1968 and has had a huge following since then. The first winner was P.H. Newby's Something to Answer For. The latest winner, 2008, was Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger. For me, The Booker is quite a dependable award when you're looking for a great read, though from time to time, it misses the mark. With Booker winners, you only get extremes, its either its really good or really bad, depending on your taste. Below is another video (now longer) on the history of the Booker Prize, surprisingly it is quite under-viewed based on the hits it got on Youtube but it's really fun, lively, and informative.

Here are some highlights of the video:
  • Yann Martel (The Life of Pi) gets overly ecstatic upon winning his much-deserved prize. Wow, we can really see here how big of a deal it is to get one. He seems so happy... :D
  • Penelope Fitzgerald (Offshore) talks about squandering her 10,000 pounds. That's a lot of money, I didn't know that a writer can earn that much.
  • Arundhati Roy talks about how her novel is inspired by the things she sees on the street. It's very touching, we feel how much heart she put into writing The God of Small Things.
  • DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little), real name Peter Finlay, a former drug-addict with a made-up pen name accepts the award. I didn't know Booker winners can be this wild.
  • Allan Hollinghurst (The Line of Beauty) creates a stir after his novel, which features a homosexual protagonist and focusing on the issue of AIDS, wins the Booker.
  • Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children wins the award as being the best Booker winner for both its 25th and 40th anniversary.
  • Now my favorite, John Walsh, a writer (not a Booker winner) gives his concept of a classic Booker shortlist, together with winners I think fits the description the closest:
"There's always...
  1. a book on India (White Tiger?)
  2. a tremulous introspection by a lady in her 50s (Blind Assassin?)
  3. a long historical novel (Midnight's Children?)
  4. an eccentric one, which isn't really quite a novel (I have no idea what this means... - maybe the "non-fiction novels" like Schindler's Ark)

There have been several versions of the Man Booker Prize which gives the chance to other countries. One is the Russian Booker prize started in 1992. Another is the Man Asia Prize started just recently, 2007, and where our very own Miguel Syjuco won last year for his novel, Ilustrado (does anyone know where to get this, if ever it has been published? I've been looking for it for so long).

All in all, the Man Booker prize is a celebration of the world's great literature, even giving chances to the young authors, which aims to give recognition and bring attention to the seemingly fading world of books.

Since I have only recently started on reading full-length novels, I decided to read the more recent ones and other great winners (White Tiger, Inheritance of Loss, The Gathering, Life of Pi, The Blind Assassin, The God of Small Things, The English Patient, Midnight's Children). Any other Booker Prize winners you guys would like to suggest?

Here is this year's (2009) Booker Calendar:
  • July 26: Booker "Dozen" (Longlist)
  • September 9: Booker Shortlist
  • October 14: Booker Winner
Here is their official website: Man Booker Prize

The Life of Pi - Yann Martel

Title: The Life of Pi

Author: Yann Martel

Year Published: 2001

Awards/Recognitions: 2002 Man Booker Prize, 2001 Governor General's Finalist, 2003 Boeke Prize (South Africa)

After reviewing a Man Booker Prize winner which I personally think is not worthy of the award, I will be reviewing one which more than deserves it, even lacking the recognition its worth. The Life of Pi is one phenomenal book by Canadian author Yann Martel.

The book talks about a young Indian boy named Piscine "Pi" Patel who gets lost at the Pacific Ocean while his family was emigrating from India. He was able to save himself from the shipwreck and climb into a boat, there was only one problem: he was joined by a menagerie of animals including a humongous Bengal Tiger. The entire book basically tells how Pi manages to survive the ocean with only a limited supply of food and a huge tiger as a "roommate." The story is narrated by Pi himself while he was being interviewed by the authorities regarding the shipwreck; this was difficult for Pi especially since he has to convince his interrogators that he spent a few hundred days in a boat together with a vicious animal, and survive.

Martel is able to narrate Pi's amazing story with great detail and an engrossing narrative. He keeps the pace quite fast without losing the content. He talks a lot about religion, including an enlightening overview of the world's major religions in the novel's first few chapters. Yann Martel also gives out some basic and practical survival tips that can become useful once lost in sea. He was able to write a book which mixes adventure, philosophy, and spirituality.

What makes this book exceptional are its mind-blowing final chapters. This ending is actually one of the main reasons I became interested in reading fiction novels when I encountered it a few years ago. It is one which will make you think and persuade you to read the book again even though you've just finished it. I have yet to encounter any other ending which matches up to this one. So what exactly does this ending contain? Well let's just say that it turns the whole story around.

"The Life of Pi" easily makes its place into one of my all-time favorite books, considering its one of the first full-length novels I've read. It's a bit disappointing however that the book is only capable of winning a few major awards like the Booker since the author is Canadian and most major prizes (Pulitzer, NBA, NBCC, Whitbread) is limited only to American and British authors. I was also surprised how this book failed to make it to a major book list called the Time 100 Best English-language novels, even though its more deserving than most of the ones that made it.

"The Life of Pi" is a fresh, amazing, and though-provoking book. I highly highly recommend this book.

Rating: 10/10

Favorite Passages:

"If you take two steps toward God, God runs toward you"

"Life on a lifeboat isn't much of a life. It is like an end game in chess, a game with few pieces. The elements couldn't be more simple, nor the stakes higher."

Edition: Mariner Books Paperback

Length: A bit over 400 pages.

Time Read: 3 Days

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

Title: The White Tiger

Author: Aravind Adiga

Year Published: 2008

Awards/Recognitions : 2008 Booker Prize Winner

I bought this book right after it was announced the winner of last year's Man Booker Prize expecting a good read, but I was a bit disappointed.

"The White Tiger" is a novel composed of letters from Balram Halwai, nicknamed the white tiger, to the Premier of China, narrating his rise from rags to riches. This story isn't your regular rags to riches story with overwhelming amounts of luck wonderful people who help in achieving each other's dreams, and the perfect soulmate but one which includes heinous crimes. Balram narrates how he had to make his way to the top while contrasting the extreme poverty of the town he grew up in to the extreme wealth of the people whom he later worked for in New Delhi. This book is all about extremes, looking at opposite sides of the picture with vivid imagery. Though in doing this, we fail to see India as a whole, we fail to see its good side and its good people.

Adiga then makes up for his biased views with writing with metaphors and personifications in a grand scale. He was able to utilize these figures of speech to bring the reader to a world of filth, anger, lust, and greed. One example is when he made the whole city of New Delhi speak to Balram and persuade him to commit his crime, giving the reader a chill of foreboding that one gets when walking at dark streets.

If there was one thing I remember from reading this book is how much I hated the main character, Balram. At first, you will be on his side, knowing about the difficulties he suffered as an impoverished child but as the story progresses your sympathy then plummets to a zero up to the point where you get to loathe him. His pride and self-centeredness overflows from the book. Even if there are times where he tries to justify his actions, it doesn't really work unlike that of Nabokov's Humbert.

"The White Tiger" is one of the less known Booker prize winners, winning no other prizes and garnering no other, if not a few, recognitions. This is probably due to its overly simple plot using an overly used setting without really bringing something new to the table, it probably just won because of some great literary techniques thrown in. The novel is easily overshadowed by other Booker Prize winners which used India as its focus or setting such as Desai's The Inheritance of Loss, Roy's The God of Small Things, and Rushdie's Midnight's Children.

The novel is basically "Slumdog Millionaire" minus the game show, Latika, and all of the kind-heartedness, then add in theft, prostitution, and murder. I do not really recommend this book, but if you want to read something new and is comfortable with a simple plot and all the grime of India's extremes, then go ahead.

Rating: 5/10

Favorite Passage: "The story of a poor man's life is written on his body, in a sharp pen (The White Tiger)"

Edition: Atlantic Books Paperback

Length: A little over 300 pages.

Time Read: 1 Day