Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Be back soon.

I've been a complete slacker on this blog, I'll admit. First it was the GREs, then it was my apps, then it was vacation, then it was the Cowboys losing, me getting sick, and workingworkingworking at my day job all at once. So I've been terrible about reading and posting, and also terrible about keeping up with publishing news and readings (for all I know, I could have missed a reading by a favorite author of mine. I don't want to know.).

But, my work event is done this weekend, football season will be over, I've turned in all my apps, and in another few days after this weekend, I'll also have my last bit of outstanding commitment finished (the research). After that, I'll finally be able to twiddle my thumbs at work, which is good news for this blog, since it means I can spend hours perusing all my usual book news outlets. It also means I can start reading again. And finish those four or five books that have been on my "Currently Reading" list since forever.

Until then, I'm still a slave.

So I'm off to Phoenix tomorrow. Promise to return with new vigor!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Books I'd like to see written...

Slowly getting better... I slept 11 hours last night, which helped. Today, though, I just didn't get enough done. By "enough", I mean "nothing".

I got up, chatted with Jeff, musing outloud, "Where should I camp out today to get work done?" I was all excited because I thought, hey I can put in a good 10 hours today. Well, he goes, "If you're coming into the city anyway, why don't you come have lunch with me and Joe and a few others at Cafe Habana?" Well, I just CAN'T pass up Cafe Habana corn, so I went, thinking I'd hit up Starbucks right after. Then Jeff goes, "Hey, I'm getting a haircut," and because I needed a haircut too, I walked with him and Lily, who also wanted a haircut. Well, I spent about four hours in the salon, finally taking the plunge and getting my hair permed, which I've been thinking about for ages. Then Jeff and me and Lily went to have dinner in Chinatown since we were there already, and uh... yeah, by the time I got home it was 10 pm. Yeah, no work done.

This is very very very bad. I don't know why I put myself in situations like this (I sorta do -- I'm useless without pressure), but basically tomorrow I have to write 10 new pages, revise 10 old pages, critique 2 submissions, and make a desperate attempt to finish (ie: seriously start) the research I'm being paid to turn in by the end of this week (which really means by Wednesday because I'm leaving for Phoenix on Wednesday). I also need to revise Chapters 1 and 2 at some point.

Anyway, I'm meeting Moonrat tomorrow morning (she's coming to my area for the first time!) and we're going to try to churn some stuff out. I love our writing dates, and I'm going to take her to this cute bakery near me.

So for purposes of research (and because I'm getting confused by my own novel), I decided to do some research into the Vietnam War (Vietnam is a huge interest of mine), and then I started looking up on Barnes and Noble books I could buy that would help me out. And there's just so much out there, but I also realize how skewed it all is. I mean, don't get me wrong, it makes sense that most of the stuff out there is from an American perspective, but I'm really interested in finding out stuff from the Vietnamese perspective. From Vietnamese refugees, Vietnamese orphans, Vietnamese comfort women, Vietnamese soldiers. I found a couple of books that might be useful to me, but it's hard to wade through. This makes me very sad. It's like there's a whole side of things we're just not hearing.

On top of that, my ADD mind remembered something else that I've always wondered about... and that's if there's any comprehensive, accessible history of ancient China. See, the really frustrating thing about being Chinese American is that my Chinese isn't nearly good enough to learn about Chinese history from the tv shows and dramas that my parents watch to brush up on their history lessons. Chinese history is actually really full of interesting anecdotes, crazy battles, political intrigue. I've learned snippets of all of this stuff, but honestly, with thousands of years of history, I'm way too impatient to sit through a boring *yawn* history class devoted to the subject. I need something that makes it interesting, which these tv shows do, except their vocabulary is way beyond my level. That, and I also get all my dynasties mixed up. Anyway, my point being, I wish there were an awesome English version of Chinese history I could read. Something that would be like a series of books told like a story -- kind of like how there's actually the Tale of the Three Kingdoms told all fantastically. Like every book in the series could be one emperor's rule, or one dynasty or something. Something intriguing. There's so many little anecdotes, and the fact that I only am truly truly fluent in English is so so limiting. Sigh. Moonrat, can you please commission this and do something about it????

Anyway just a couple random thoughts.

Friday, January 25, 2008


I sent out my last application this morning. Now I just have to sit back and wait for the results...

This weekend, I'll be working on the novel. And doing some research for a friend. And trying to get better from this illness that has swept New York City.

Sounds good, right? What are your plans?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Dying of illness...

...means that my days look like this:

Go to work (work on Super Bowl stuff)
Go home
Drink soup
Watch Felicity episodes

Yeah, I don't read. It takes too much effort when I'm sick.

Be back soon.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Worst fear ever.

Okay, I swear to limit my football discussion this time. I'm slowly getting over the whole loss thing, and especially with the Super Bowl being a game between the hated Patriots and the Giants, I've just sort of lost interest in football for the season. [That's not to say going to the Super Bowl wouldn't still be cool. But dammit, I really do wish it were the Cowboys.]

Anyway, Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I saw this two Fridays ago, and it was very very good. Incredibly shot, just an amazing piece of film. I don't know if everyone knows, but the film is based upon a book, written by this guy who had a stroke, and when he woke up, he found he was paralyzed everywhere, except his ability to blink. His mind was working and conscious, he just couldn't move, speak, etc. So they came up with a way of communication, by naming letters, and he would blink at the appropriate letter, and in that way, string together entire sentences. So what does he do? He writes a book.

Oh man, I cannot tell you. What a horrible thing, to be robbed of your ability to move or speak. I had a conversation with friends recently, about whether or not we'd be able to live with various paralyses - if we lost a hand, or if we lost our legs, or if we lost everything below our necks. Sure, no matter it was, it would be difficult, depressing even. But for me, I always said, well, as long as I could still tell a good story. If I could still write. What I want to do in life is write, so as long as that's not robbed from me, right? But the idea of being shut inside your own head... that's a nightmare come true. And blinking just seems so incredibly tedious, I don't even know how he did it. How the guy wrote an entire book with blinks. I don't think I have that patience. As terrible as it sounds, my first sentence might just be "Please kill me." I think it's incredible perseverance what the guy does, admirable, really, because I'd probably sink into depression and never get over it.

I want to read the book now. Translation from French. I'm so curious as to what he's written. Anyway, watch the film though. It's really good.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Trying to get back on track...

I'm trying to emerge from my bubble of mourning and move on. It's truly difficult since I'm knee deep in planning Super Bowl activities for my job. I'm definitely going to be in Phoenix the days leading up to the Super Bowl and there's a slight possibility I might even get to go. It's hard, because well, I keep thinking how awesome it'd be to go to a Cowboys Super Bowl. If everything had gone the way it was to be expected, that's what should have happened.... I suppose if you're not a football fan, it's hard to understand the devastation that this loss has caused, nor can you understand why this was truly heartbreaking. But trust me, when I say I feel like I just broke up with a boyfriend or my dog just died... I'm kind of meaning it. I've been walking around aimlessly for a few days and avoiding all the sports pages and blogs. Sigh.

But anyway, must keep trucking. Life moves on.

Cyn, to answer your question, I did send out my SL application via fedex overnight on Monday morning. I didn't do a close proof, nor did I do any major revisions of what I'd managed to finish up on Sunday morning, but to tell you the truth, I just couldn't get myself to care. I was in a haze all Monday, still smarting from the loss. This may come back and bite me in the ass, and if I don't get in, I may blame myself heartily for not paying closer attention. But it should be in Bronxville by now. So. Cross fingers.

I have an entry on Diving Bell and the Butterfly coming soon. I saw it last Friday (for now to be known as "that Friday before that game"), and I had comments. Unfortunately, it's going to have to wait until I'm in better spirits, since right now I'm struggling to remember the things I wanted to say.

Yeah, I'm a loser.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Warning: Long self-pitying football post that has nothing to do with books...

Dear Football Gods:

What did I do? I keep asking myself this question and all it's many possibilities. I mean, this much is sure: I'm heartbroken. It's like we were dating and I thought this could really go somewhere, but you decided last night it wasn't working out and you wanted to see other people. And now I'm left here wondering why.

It'll take me a few days to get over this breakup, and then hope to get back into your good graces, but in the meantime, I still have to wonder. Because right now I'm floating around aimlessly. You don't understand what it's like to be a New Yorker, bombarded with painful reminders everywhere I turn. The color photographs on the front of every commuter newspaper, every website (I work in a company where we subscribe to EVERY local newspaper, dammit!), the people wearing NY Giants gear on every subway car. It's terrible. So I wonder what I've done to deserve this. I'm going through everything, trying to figure out where I've disappointed you.

See, let's think about back how this began. I'll confess: I didn't grow up watching football. Every once in awhile, my dad would put on the game, but he never bothered to explain to me what was going on, and my brother was more of a hockey fan anyway. I was a nerd, reading my books, so I never really paid attention (though I do remember going to a Jets game when I was in 5th grade, and thinking how green the turf was and how fun games were even though I had no idea what was going on). When I entered college, I started following the NBA, because my boyfriend at the time was into basketball. He bought me a Nets jersey and everything, and I even jumped on that bandwagon when they were doing so well in the Eastern conference.

But I never had a sport that I loved because I loved it.

Then came senior year, and I started dating a new guy, and he was from Dallas, and somehow I got forced to watch all the games of this complicated sport that I knew nothing about and seemed to have way too many rules for me to ever follow or understand. My poor boyfriend had to endure the same questions every week, as I asked him for a refresher: "Wait, so what do they have to do again? What's that orange thing? Wait how many points do they get? Who's that guy? Who's the quarterback? What does he do?" I know, I know. Looking back, I feel like an ignorant fool. But I really didn't understand what was going on.

But I knew enough to know that when Dallas crossed into the endzone, this was a good thing for us. And slowly, what became something I did just because Dallas winning = a happy boyfriend, became something I did because Dallas winning = a surge of excitement in me. I got sucked into the Cowboys world, I'll admit. So then there was the Giants/Cowboys game I managed to get tickets for last minute thanks to an eBay samaritan who sold them to at face value. And it felt strange to be in the state I had grown up in... rooting for the away team. Strange, but good.

So let me just say that I've been struggling to catch up in football. You know, understand what's going on and all of that. Because I wanted to roll with the boys, sound like I knew what I was talking about. So I studied. You may laugh, Football Gods, but I tried hard in the past few years, because the more I learned, the more I realized how much I loved this sport. And so last year I made myself a New Year's Resolution -- next season I would play fantasy to understand the game better than I had before.

And then there was this new kid, Romo, who appeared and did magical things. I wondered what kind of parents would name their kid so close to a ribs joint, but who was I to judge? The kid made me proud to be a Cowboys fan. And since I came along so so late, I'd never known yet what it was like to love a winning team. Of course there were the legendary Staubach days. The Aikman days. But those were days I'd only heard about. So I was excited by Romo and the possibilities that came with him. And then he made the bobble on the snap. But you know, Football Gods, I forgave him for that too.

So this year was the year. I really believed this too. As the season went on I thought for certain we'd at least be NFC Champions. My one moment of doubt came when I didn't pick Romo up in my fantasy draft, something I lived to regret. For wavering because he was #9 pick QB and I thought I'd pick Brees and maybe if I was lucky, get Romo on the way back. I didn't. And maybe this is what you're punishing me for. Lack of faith in the very very beginning.

But I never missed watching a single Cowboys game if I could help it. In fact, when they weren't playing the games on TV over here, I followed via internet radio, streaming from San Antonio. When I was in China, I got up early to catch the game. And when they played the Packers and it was only available on NFL Network, I went into a bar all by myself, surrounded by Packers fans, to ensure the Boys were represented.

I tried for this relationship, Football Gods, I really did.

So are you punishing me because you think I'm jumping on a bandwagon? I swear to you I'm not.

Are you punishing us as a team, because you think we have too much hubris? Because we believed too much this would be our year? But, FB Gods, you've smiled so kindly upon the Patriots! Even despite the Spygate thing. Surely 13-3 couldn't have angered you so. Especially considering the close calls we'd already been forced to take. Remember that Bills game?? I think we know we're not infalliable.

Are you trying to teach Romo a lesson? Okay, maybe I could give you that, if you have a plan in the long run. Maybe -- just maybe -- the plan is to cut him down a few times, make him work for his SB ring. Because you just CAN'T let a first-year starter get a SB ring just like that, right? And the defeat will make him a better QB in the long run. Just like being stuck on the bench for all these years has honed him into what he is today. So maybe this loss will help him mature. Okay, I see that, but did it have to be against the Giants? I'd have been willing to take a loss against the Packers, or the Colts. But the Giants feels the tiniest bit insulting. As if you're not just teaching him a lesson, but hitting where it hurts.

Is it TO? Do you, like so many others, dislike him too? But I really think he's found a place with us here. Did you watch him in tears at the post-game conference? The way he defended Romo warmed my heart. "We lost as a team," he said. "That's my quarterback. That's my team." That doesn't sound like the finger-pointing TO we once knew. So if your plan was to teach him a lesson on being part of a team, okay, you've done it. TO loves his team. This is his home now.

I'm not sure what happened. Why we crumbled like this in one fell swoop, crushed by a Giants team that struggled this season to stay consistent, a team we'd stomped all over, twice. It was too much to ask that we do it a third time, FB Gods. That was unfair.

But somehow the pressure of being #1 seed in the NFC caused a crack in our facade. And we started missing passes we've always caught, and the O-line allowed Romo to get a couple of sacks. And the penalties, always the penalties. When the Giants scored that TD in the last 50 seconds of the 1st half, and then Crayton missed that pass, I still believed. Our team is good under pressure. We've won our way back from the worst game of our season with the Bills. I wasn't about to give up hope that we could pull it off again. Even with that last pass on the 4th down, I still believed, really, truly believed, that the Boys would get it done.

But it was not to be.

I refuse to listen to the finger pointing. The Giants gloating. Sending me Jessica Simpson masks, making fun of TO's tears. Telling me that Romo is a waste of $67 million. And I just want to remind them all of the 13-3 our first year starting QB led us to. Remarkable for a young QB. I have no doubt he'll grow. On my end, I won't blame him. He got frustrated and had to throw the ball away a few times, but he did his best, and amidst all the unfair scrutiny of his personal life too. Everyone could have done better. [Esp the O-line.] But TO's right when he says, "We lost as a team." That's what it is, a team sport.

Win, lose or tie, Cowboys til we die.

So even though, "There's always next year" never seems to make anything feel better, I do hope, Football Gods, that you'll be kinder to us next year. Because this is two years in a row we've suffered from heartbreak, and I hope you see that I'm in this relationship for good. So what do you say, next fall, you and me, we see if we take our love affair to the next level? I'm ready for commitment.


Dear Tony Romo:

Ignore the fools who want to rain on your personal life. You did good this year, just keep on growing. 13-3 is still something to be proud of. I still love you.


p.s. I'm much cuter than Jessica Simpson though. And I sing too. When you're sick of the busty blond, be sure to give me a call.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

I'm inconsolable.

... and I don't know how I'm going to focus on these apps.

from that you should know the outcome of the game.

Still trucking...

...but I must confess that i'm finding it hard to concentrate as the Cowboys/Giants playoff game gets closer and closer. I'm actually sort of freaking out. [I'm apparently a spaz these days.] They need to win or else there's NO WAY IN HELL I'm going to be able to concentrate on working on these apps after the game.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

SL App Update:

After sitting in Starbucks for 4 hours, and having written only two paragraphs, I gave up. The coffee has done its damage -- I am jittery and anxious and it's next to impossible to focus on anything. I went to watch the Pats/Jaguars game instead, and even then, had trouble quelling my anxiety. So. I've promised to finish this before tomorrow's BIG GAME. Which gives me about 16 hours to finish these three essays. If only the caffeine would flush out of my system already. I still can't do any work in this state.


I'm having a minor freakout.

Some because I had too much coffee, and suddenly the essays I have to write are freaking me out. But mostly because I just checked the Sarah Lawrence website again, and for the first time ever, I see that SL requires a FORM to go with their recommendations. Which I swear wasn't there the first time, and I didn't include for my recommenders to fill out. Too late because the applications are completed. I am FREAKING OUT. Is that going to ruin everything??? WHAT DO I DO?

I shouldn't have drank all that coffee because I think now I need a tranquilizer to calm me down and focus me. Oh. My. God. This is what I get for procrastinating.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A quick political break.

I'm going to interupt my publishing/book focus for a moment and talk politics.

Just kidding. Sort of. I don't follow politics closely enough to be able to speak intelligently on any of the issues, so everything I know is what the common disinterested 3rd party would know. I figure that either Obama or Hillary will win the Democratic Nomination, and I'll likely vote for whomever it is. [To be fair, I do fully intend to figure out their platforms at some point when I'm not busy with apps, writing, and planning for the Super Bowl at work. I don't like to be one of those ignorant Americans...]

The only reason I wanted to say anything at all is because, as a person who as yet really has no preference, and as a person who is very cognizant of how this media circus works, all this affects me in a very different way. So I thought I'd put down a couple of thoughts:

Clinton: This article on NY Mag rounds up a bunch more from either side involving the "crying" thing. I checked the clip on YouTube after hearing about it and, um, she doesn't even cry. She got choked up a little bit and the media is having a circus. I agree wholeheartedly with people who say that there's a bit of a doublestandard. I mean, a woman gets a little emotional and people go crazy. Some people want to say that it shows she's coming undone (of course, when woman are emotional, they're irrational, or whatever), others say she just won because of sympathy votes, blah blah blah. As a female, I really do believe that a woman can do just as good a job as a man can, and why not? It's interesting that this article says that this "makes her a minority candidate again". I don't know. It bothers me that so much weight should be put on her "womanness" now because of a little choked-upness, and I'm also irritated that things must be judged based on a man's world. I'll be the first to agree that for the most part women tend to be a little more emotional than men, but does that make them worse leaders? Who made that assumption anyway? Men? Woman make up 50% of the human race, which means that if we were to do a study of human response, female response should make up 50% which means that if you're going to judge candidates on something, please don't do it on a scale created for men (does that make any sense?). Besides, I am of the strongest belief that a candidate should be voted on because of their ability and platform... and all this crap about minority or not shouldn't come as a factor. I don't really consider myself a feminist, so I would never vote for someone just because she's a woman. But if I felt aligned with Hillary's platform? I'd do it for that. And I think a woman could do just as good a job as a man could. Ridiculous.

[edit: Okay, I just read this article on the Wash Post about this issue. And all right, that makes sense. I can see why to feminists this is such a big deal. I don't know if it's a big enough deal for me to vote purely based on that alone though.]

Obama: Everyone's been talking about his Iowa caucus speech. So I took a listen last night, and you know, the hype is justified. His speech is incredibly inspirational, totally stirs my sense of patriotism, my young ideals. Completely separate from whether or not practically I think he can get the job done, his speech brought me back to the very reason I love this country, and my immediate reaction was to think how long it's been that we've had a public figure that practically embodied the American ideal. I consider myself a patriot, I really do, in the sense that I believe for what this country stands for. So in the moment listening to his speech, I understood why so many people, especially young people, have rallyed behind him with such exuberance. He gives them hope, because he promises them, beyond things like taxcuts and healthcare, but an embracement and return of a dream of what America could be. He offers hope to a generation of young Americans who have only known Bush as they became cognizant of the world around them, who are still young enough to believe they ALL hold the power to make great changes, who are only entering their first or second election. I get that. The practical side of me (the writer side of me) also understands that some people are just good with words. And words don't mean that a person will have the skill and experience necessary to execute. But if I were to vote on heart alone, I'd vote for Obama, probably. His heart is in the right place, his vision is something I understand and share. But can he execute? I don't know about that. I'm not being rhetorical; I really do not know because I lack the knowledge to make that judgment.

Huckabee: I first heard of Huckabee while working on a PR campaign to reduce weight in children in the US, and we were looking into maybe approaching him to partner with him in some way, since childhood obesity was one of his big platforms. I recently caught him doing an interview on TV (while in Bangkok) and he seemed reasonable to me. Of course, I've overheard other things that I don't really agree with him on, so I'd probably never vote for him. But either way, Alex sent me this link to a Chuck Norris/Huckabee commercial that was so funny and absurd, I had to link it. You know. To end this post on a lighter post. I have no idea what I think of Huckabee now, except that, I'm glad he has a sense of humor. I wouldn't mind being buds with him.

Okay, I'm going to try to be good and read up on all this stuff at some point. I feel so left out since I know nothing.

p.s. I went on Wikipedia just to get a quick overview of the campaign, and it lists all the candidates including third parties. I didn't know we had so many third parties, but reading up on THOSE is incredibly intriguing. Like the Libertarian Party? And the Constitution Party? And there's actually still a Socialist Party and a Prohibition Party? It's really strange and intriguing....

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Thursday morning.


1. I dreamt about babies last night. Having one of my own, to be exact. It was a very good dream. I don't know if this is nature's way of reminding me that my clock has begun to tick. Baby fever is upon me once again. Alas for that damn novel that needs to be written before I start settling down. Babies are going to have to wait.

2. I am excited (nervous) for the divisionals this weekend. We haven't seen Cowboys play too solid of a game in a few weeks, so I'm a bit nervous, esp with TO out and the Giants on a strong streak. Speaking of, for work, I might get to go to Phoenix for pre-Superbowl activities (we're planning an event). In the process, I spoke to a guy who also happens to have 10 Super Bowl tickets in his hand (purchased at $275 a piece). I started doing my best friendly flirtation....

3. I started reading Tree of Smoke again, but damn, it's hard to be away from a book for so long. I've nearly forgotten what happened in the first 300 pages. I promised myself no new books until I've finished this and (ugh) Umberto Eco though. I hate lingering books. It's shameful, really.

4. My Sarah Lawrence app is due next Tuesday. I haven't touched it. I have three essays to write. I'm sort of screwed. I figure I'll spend the weekend writing it, and hopefully Monday I can do overnight mail. Hopefully it's postmarked by, but I guess I'm getting down to the wire either way. So irresponsible of me!

Okay, bye for now.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

I miss China, too.

I started Waiting on the plane ride from China. Strange, considering that Waiting is written by Ha Jin. The story spans years, following a man as he tries to divorce his countryside peasant wife that he was married to in an arranged marriage, so that he can marry the modern nurse he has met while working in the city.

I liked this book. It's quiet, paced slowly, but it bears the unmistakable mark of a native Chinese writer. I believe it was written in English, and yet the way it is written is so Chinese, I wonder if those who do not know Chinese have the same experience as I do. Idioms, phrases, even names of things, endearments, are often translated literally, that for a foreign reader who didn't know the essence of the meaning in Chinese, it might seem awkward. I'm not quite sure why Ha Jin chose to be so literal in his writing, but in a way, I really like it. It gives it an overt feeling of being foreign, set in China. Also, there's something about his style and pacing that reminds me a little of the Russians, which is interesting considering in the book, the novels they read are often Russian, due to the Communist tie.

Interesting too, is that China from the 50's-80's is a backdrop for the story, so while you could pick out the implications of history if you were careful, it is never an overtly political piece. Nevertheless, you get a sense that Lin's own story is strongly affected by the climate that surrounds him.

While reading this book, I wasn't sure where it was going. I have my own misgivings about the nature of the plot for personal reasons, and yet, the omniscience of the narration made it difficult for me to really blame anyone stuck in the situation. It was a no-win situation in many ways, and you could sympathize somewhat with everyone involved. So the ending, while I would call in a way, inevitable, once I got there, still took me a little bit by surprise, only because I couldn't tell what the moral was. What was he to learn?

And I guess that's where the genius of it lies. You get to the end and you realize Lin is in so many ways, a coward. Even though he's so respected and well-learned, and in essence, good, he's passive and lets things happen to him, instead of making things happen. He is indecisive. And in the end, nothing much changes - he's still that indecisive person letting things happen to him. The difference is: he's finally aware of it.

And inkling of thought: I wonder if the book represents China in a way. Like Lin is China, trying to divorce himself from old feudal ways (represented by his arranged marriage) and constantly trying to become new and modern (like Manna). And then the end, he is unsure of if he's made the right choice, if that's what he wanted. I even wonder if the rape is representative of something -- the way the rapist then in turn still becomes rich and prosperous. Like if maybe he represents one of the capitalist countries who benefited from China's downfall (*ahem* Opium Wars...). Just a thought... The wavering between the old and modern just seemed so symbolic of so much of China's own growing pains at the time.

Random: I really liked this description- "There were also two lines of balloons wavering almost imperceptibly; one of them was popped, hanging up there like a blue baby sock." (pg. 238). The image is so fresh and describes a popped balloon so perfectly. It really caught my eye. I think Ha Jin is really good at his details -- setting is always painted so carefully, down to the smallest things, making me feel like I completely understand my surroundings. And yet he's never overly verbose. It's done succinctly, quickly, but effectively. It's really well done.

I liked this book, and I think the more I think through it, the more I like it. The ending does it for me, because it makes me change the way I think about the rest of the novel. I would say that prior to the ending, I liked the book, but wasn't particularly impressed either way, but having read the ending, and having turned around the themes in my head a little bit, I'm definitely more appreciative.

Monday, January 7, 2008

For you, a thousand times over.

After work today, I was so tired, that I knew if I went straight home, I'd fall asleep, and be even more screwed on my schedule. Luckily, my film buff friend (who will one day be a famous director), let's call him Alex, called me up and asked me if I'd like to catch a movie. So we went to go see The Kite Runner, one of the few books he's actually read.

I'm so tired right now that I thought about writing this tomorrow. But it's going to be busy tomorrow at work, and I want to write about this while it's still fresh in my mind.

The Kite Runner, as a book, is one of my favorite books ever. It was a heartwrenching experience for me.

So of course, I had high expectations of the movie. I hoped, fervently, that it would do the book justice.

And, yes, in many ways, it does.

There's no gimmicks here. It's a straightforward movie that sticks closely to the book. It doesn't do any artsy reinterpretation of the material. It tells the story cinematically. It's gratifying for someone who's read the book and wants to see it on screen, ie: me.

Side note: I'm a lazy reader. When I write, I spend a lot of time making phrases beautiful, paying attention to detail, being descriptive. When I read, my mind is impatient, and I read for plot. Descriptions get a skim from me at best, at least the first time around. Therefore, images mostly flash through my head in the murky way of dreams, surroundings, especially. Setting and scenery tend not to cement in my mind with a firmness -- instead, they're vague like they were brushed on like a Monet watercolor, or like the flash and fade of a hallucination.

Because of this, I never clearly visualized Afghanistan or even the process of kite flying itself. Sure, I got the general gist, but the movie fleshed out the specifics for me. The movie made it clear to me what dust Afghanistan looked like, the tree where they sat. All those things, it made clear for me, which I liked. And the scene that showed the kite flying was rendered wonderfully, bringing to life this cultural pasttime that is so intriguing and exciting. This was something I really enjoyed about the film.

Okay, I liked the performances. I liked the father a lot. I felt the older Amir was a little passive at times, but then so was his character, though at times I wasn't sure if I felt that the actor was doing a strong job of his role. It wasn't bad, he did portray Amir close to what I'd expect him to be like, but sometimes I wanted him to be more sure in his insecurity, you know what I mean?

But my favorite, by far, was the young boy who played Hassan. Oh, how I ached for him. He was cast so perfectly, in my eyes. Not a goodlooking kid, and yet so endearing with his chubby cheeks. A raw, tough vulnerability. His crooked smile. The way he put his arms around Amir. Oh, he broke my heart with his performance, I wanted to sweep him up and take him home.

And considering I cried through the entire book (this book is in fact, the one book that I had to take a breather from because my heart hurt), I expected a tearjerker. And yeah, I cried, especially when old Amir is reading that letter from Hassan years later. So sad. But of course, the book is ten times better.

Also, I have to say that I really am glad they did the book partly in foreign language (call me ignorant, I'm not sure what the language is called.), because it's something we rarely get to hear in media. And I'm glad to have a mainstream movie about Afghanistans -- all things consider, we Americans know so little, and everything we know is Taliban related, negative, violent. This movie portrayed the human, normal, beautiful -- and I think it's important to have that out there. To remind us that like everywhere else in the world, the violent and cruel are exceptions to the rule.

All in all? The movie does the book justice. There's nothing new or groundbreaking about it conceptually, but it's still tells a beautiful story of friendship. Aside from a couple of plot points that no one would really miss, it's faithful and streamlined. As a reader of the book, of course, I can't tell if it feels empty at all, if it relies too much on knowledge of the book and if it was lacking any substance. But I really felt this movie banked on most of the audience being familiar with the book, so fine. I enjoyed myself thoroughly, even if it could never be as good as the book, I think it was well done.

And seriously. Little Hassan. I loved him.

I'm scared shitless sometimes.

Ah, being back after three weeks is... hard. Luckily, workload is light right now. Which gives me plenty of time to fret over all the other things I need to do.

I like making lists, so here's a list of to-do's for the next month:

1. Finish Sarah Lawrence app
2. Go over remaining SDSU and Brooklyn apps one last time before sending out
3. Rewrite Ch. 5 and do Ch. 6 for class
4. Rewrite Ch. 1 and 2
5. Do that research for my friend

I'm really second-guessing myself these days. Now that most of the apps are out, I find myself thinking what exactly I'm going to do if I don't get into school. I mean, before, I said I'd just quit anyway and just try my hand for a year anyway. But after going home for the past few weeks, I'm not sure about it. My parents are pretty accepting of me wanting to go get my MFA (though my dad keeps asking what I'm going to do with my degree. Like what job options are out there. I don't think he gets that really, it's an investment in myself, and there really isn't much in the way of job options), but I don't think they'd feel the same about me just quitting altogether and trying my luck at toiling everyday in some coffee shop. No matter how accomodating they try to be, until they see results (in the form of a published book and a paycheck), I don't think they'd accept it as a real job.

That's the other thing too, right? I'm a really risk-averse person, and when I think of myself being supported by nothing, my independence makes me weak. I'd never thought I'd say this, but there's that part of me that wishes I had a sugar daddy to support me because I'm sort of afraid to blow all of my savings in one year of reaching for a pipedream. How good of a writer am I really? I'm unsure of myself, really unsure. Is it good enough for me to give up a steady income, health benefits, 401(k), etc? I like to think of myself as independent, but does making the choice to become a writer mean I have to be dependent on a spouse's income to raise a family? Will we have enough? I'm not quite sure if I'm making the practical choices here. I typed "right" at first, but well, the "right" choice for me is clearly trying to become a writer. But is it practical? I'm not sure.

You know what the MFA really is? Delaying that choice. If I get into a program, even though I'm putting myself in financial debt, it buys me time. Two to three years of time. Because even if ultimately I decide to go back into PR after those years, I can tell them I went to school. A gap of NOTHING on a resume doesn't work nearly as well. "Working on my novel" doesn't sound acceptable to the corporate world. See? This is what happens when you graduate from an Ivy college and you've been groomed to be a corporate monkey. I can't get my head out of it.

Speaking of the novel, I'm having issues, only because I can't seem to make a good outline, no matter how many times I try to sit down and do it. The reason being? I'm one of those writers who don't know what's going to happen until it happens. Seriously. I've got the past down pat. I know exactly what happened in detail -- years and years of detail -- prior to the moment my novel begins. But I cannot tell you what happens from there on out, because for me the creative process is in that moment, where things just happen of their own accord, and inspiration occurs on the fly. Sure I know generally, so I do outlines chapter by chapter. The problem with that is that if I "find out" something about my characters later on, I have to go back and rework all the past writing I've done.

I guess that's why my motto is to just power through the entire first draft at least once right now. Just so I know everything that happens. Then I can go back and make it all right.

I'm in the bottom of my cycle right now. That part where I wonder what the hell am I doing, and if I'll ever make it. And I just keep thinking, I'm not getting any younger, and is this really the smart thing to be doing in order to create a foundation to sustain me and a future family for the rest of my life? If I can't even seem to get it together for one novel?

But you know me. I question, but despite it all, I never quit. I'll keep trying. At no point will I throw in the towel, I can promise you that much.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Number 3 of 3.

My sister says of the three, she dislikes Eclipse the most. She says, quote, "It sucks." I didn't think it was nearly that bad, and I think her dislike has something to do with all the war/battling strategy in there. Not really her area of interest, I don't think.

The reason that I didn't like this one as much as the first, possibly even the second (though I'm not sure about that), is that the melodrama is hyped up a notch in this one. Edward is OBSESSIVE and OVERPROTECTIVE to the point that I want to SMACK HIM, and Bella is a little too clingy and crazy for me. It borders on making them unsympathetic, although I think Stephenie Meyer has done a good enough job in the first two (esp the first) that I still give them the leeway, remembering who they were in the beginning. But really. Those two need to stop. Also, it sort of bothers me that Bella is willing to throw away everything -- forget her family -- for this guy. I'm sure that Meyer is being pretty true to the self-absorption of teenagers across the world, and that eventually she'll have some moral kick in (I can already see it in bits, actually), but coupled with Bella and Edward's OBSESSION with each other, it's a little disconcerting. Maybe I'm too old. Maybe I'm too parenting. But the two of them are starting to drive me a little nuts, because they remind me of the type of couples I can't stand. Needy to the nth degree. And their flowery love for each other. Sometimes I want to be like, GOD YOU'RE SEVENTEEN! But I guess that's what it was like being a teenager.

So. My sister had asked about Edward vs. Jacob right? By the end of this novel, Edward wins still but only marginally. Only because Jacob's got the worse temper. But what made Edward endearing, mysterious and enticing in the first novel is starting to wane. Now he just seems like a control freak, the kind of boyfriend I never want.

My sister tells me that book 5 (the one after the next one) will be written from Edward's point of view. I hope it sheds some light on him and makes him much more sympathetic again.

Everything else though? I really like the werewolf legends thing. It gives the books a really cool unique quality that I commend Meyer for thinking up. I loved that. The whole werewolves mindsharing thing is awesome too. I'm starting to really enjoy them.

Yeah, okay. You know now I'm going to read the rest before passing them to my sister. Speaking of, I had to steal my sister's copy of Eclipse to finish reading on the plane, even though I was only 150 pages away from finishing, and now my sister won't get it back til I go back to China next summer. Hehe.

Number 2 of 3.

New Moon is my sister's favorite of the three. She's read it twice already, and I only just brought it back to her in mid-December, when I went to China. I think the star-crossed lovers thing has something to do with it; my sister will deny it, but she's a hopeless romantic underneath all her layers of teenage cynicism.

Me? I missed Edward in this one for the most part. And -- and maybe this is where my adult sense kicks in and why this is better for the teenagers -- I found it a bit melodramatic. The guy breaks up with her in the beginning and she falls into a pit of despair for months. Okay, I remember my first breakup, and yeah, it was sort of all-consuming. But to be like that? Am I just forgetting what the emotional roller coaster was like as a teen? Because it seems crazy to extremes, in a way I almost don't condone. I don't like the whole, I can't live without you thing, not when you're seventeen. It was too over the top for me, and I think that was my biggest quabble with the book, given its premise. Everything else was good. I liked the development of Jacob Black as a character, and the new turn (and addition of cool new mythical creatures) that it took. I also liked the end, the collision of events that causes them to go to Italy. It's pretty crazy, yet believable and it made it hard to put the book down (yet again).

My sister kept asking me who I liked better, Edward or Jacob? And when she first asked me, I'd only just started New Moon, and so I said Edward, because he really was breathtaking that first book. By the end of New Moon, I said the same thing, but with reservations. I don't know if it's the author's intention to make us feel that way -- the same way Bella must -- if so, good job. So, I liked this one, but not nearly as much as I liked the first.

Number 1 of 3.

Okay, my next three posts have to do with the Stephenie Meyer Twilight trilogy. My little sister has been bugging me to read them, so that's what I did -- over a span of a few days. She is obssessed (she's 14). I thought to lump them in all in one post, but that sort of goes against how I do things here, so we'll do one for each.

First up, Twilight.

I surprised myself by really enjoying this. No seriously. What in particular got to me was how incredibly mesmerizing Edward is. Like, hel-lo, I could totally fall in love with Edward too! Hee hee. Really though, what I found myself drawn in by was how Edward was completely mysterious and incredible, enough that I could completely see how Bella would fall for him even not knowing a thing about him. Stephenie Meyer is skillful in her depiction of him, and I found myself paying close attention to her technique - how she manages to make him so attractive and compelling. Mostly because I have a character in my book that I'd like to make mysterious but also make it clear the attraction my protagonist has for her. So I kept wondering how she did it. How did she make me fall in love with this seventeen year old vampire too?

This was the most compelling book of the three so far, I think, because of the mystery, and also because it's where we're first introduced to this world of vampires, dissimilar from the Dracula-esque types we're used to. Who doesn't love getting a new fantastical world in bits and pieces and compiling it together? And she does a really good job of making this place seem very real. It doesn't seem impossible that these fantastical creatures live where we do. It's haunting and beautiful in a way. I was completely convinced by Bella's obsession with Edward and the danger that she's in.

Okay, so I'll confess. I really enjoyed it. I was up til late late reading the damn book. It felt most appropriate to read at night, and I couldn't stop turning the pages once I started. Yes. Call me a teeny bopper. Go. I won't take it back. It was an awesome guilty pleasure.

34 Books Devoured in 2007.

Because I don't have room on those side panels, I'm removing the list of recently devoured to make room for 2008. But as not to lose the record....

Books completed in 2007, in chronological order (perhaps next year I'll try to record the date I finished, not to be more anal or anything):

  1. Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (great)
  2. Ball Don't Lie - Matt de la Peña (great)
  3. Inheritance of Loss - Kiran Desai (so-so)
  4. Everything is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer (great)
  5. The Last Empress - Anchee Min (good)
  6. The Road - Cormac McCarthy (amazing)
  7. Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro (great)
  8. Wild Sheep Chase - Haruki Murakami (good)
  9. Jesus' Son - Denis Johnson (great)
  10. Women in Love - D.H. Lawrence (no)
  11. American Pastoral - Philip Roth (okay)
  12. When We Were Orphans - Kazuo Ishiguro (good)
  13. Ghostwritten - David Mitchell (okay)
  14. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov (awesome)
  15. No Country For Old Men - Cormac McCarthy (good)
  16. The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien (great)
  17. A Thousand Spendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini (great)
  18. Freakonomics - Steven D. Levitt (interesting)
  19. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling (great)
  20. No One Belongs Here More Than You - Miranda July (good)
  21. Nine Stories - J.D. Salinger (okay)
  22. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath (great)
  23. The Writing Life - Annie Dillard (good)
  24. Goodbye Tsugumi - Banana Yoshimoto (good)
  25. The Farming of Bones - Edwidge Danticat (awesome)
  26. Stardust - Neil Gaiman (good)
  27. New York Trilogy - Paul Auster (good)
  28. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - Dave Eggers (good)
  29. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz (awesome)
  30. Brother, I'm Dying - Edwidge Danticat (great)
  31. Prep - Curtis Sittenfeld (so-so)
  32. A Long Way Gone - Ishmael Beah (good)
  33. Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides (good)
  34. We Need To Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver (okay)

My ratings are pretty self-explanatory, but you know, just in case (because I'm a dork):

No: for something I just didn't like, at all.
So-so: for something I didn't like for the most part, but might have found a couple of redeeming characteristics, as in there was plot promise or good language or something.
Okay: for something I felt more ambivalent about, maybe I leaned towards not as much enjoyment but there were also more redeeming qualities than something that's just so-so. You know, middle ground.
Good: solid piece of work.
Great: pretty damn good. Something I'd likely read again, recommend to others, steal lines from, etc etc. You know. Something I'm pretty much loving.
Awesome: Those special books that blow me away, books I'd probably defend with my life. Hehe.

Thirty-four this year. Aiming for 50 for 2008!

Back! Now for some reviews...

I am back! Finally! I know you've all been holding your breath...

I have so much to post, only because I finally got to read. So this is the plan. I'm going to post here the last book I read in 2007, do a round-up post, then post the three books I've read in 2008 so far. Yeah, loser.

So the last book of 2007 I finished was We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. I really wish I had had easy internet access while I was reading it, because I had so many reactions to it.

My overall initial reaction was negative. I bumbled through the first 50-100 pages, with the hope that it would get better over time. Also because I try to finish every book I start. But these were my major hangups with it:

1. The whole letter-writing conceit. I've never been a big fan, only because I feel it's somewhat limiting, and I also can't seem to completely buy into it. I'm always like, "Would you REALLY say that in a letter to someone who already knows you?" It also just seemed so tiring for me to read. I think letter-writing can be a cool thing, but a novel written entirely as a series of letters really bothers me unless it's done really well, or seems entirely necessary. I felt this was neither.

2. The main character's voice is incredibly pretentious. Too many large words that were unnecessary. I get that it's in line with the character herself, but it made the reading insufferable since we're getting so much narrative instead of scene. That also brings me to...

3. The main character is incredibly unsympathetic. I wanted to SMACK her 90% of the time, it was so hard for me to like her, and when she was trying to portray herself as sympathetic, I really didn't buy it. She is pretentious, her narrative is self-absorbed..... I hated her. And not in the good way. In the, OH GOD IF I HAVE TO READ ANY MORE OF HER LETTERS I MIGHT SHOOT MYSELF way.

4. Also, the other characters were all equally unsympathetic. There really was no one to root for.

5. It was hard to believe any of these characters were real. I really didn't buy that a child could be THAT evil from conception. Maybe I'm biased because I love children and don't believe the devil spawn thing, but the kid was so crazy that I just had a hard time believing it was a real child, and not something created from imagination. Similarly, her second child who is the opposite foil to her first child, who is so good and absurdly fragile... it was too neat. As a person who believes children are complex, just as complex as grown-ups, it seemed absolutely ridiculous to have these black and white characters who obviously just represented some larger theme.

6. The whole book seemed intent on THEME in the way that Crash as a movie is. Too in your face. Too unbeliebable.

That said though, I kept reading, because sections of SCENE were actually compelling, and I kind of did want to know what happened. It was well-written enough, plotwise, that I was willing to turn the pages and find out what happened. But I really wish she had chosen a different way to explore the themes of nature vs nurture and motherhood, etc. I like the theme behind it, but I just felt like it took a little persistence on my part to read through it, not because it was slow, but because it was very nearly infuriating.

All in all? I give this a bleh rating.