Wednesday, December 31, 2008

One more before the New Years?

I wanted to finish off at least with 40 books finished (didn't manage to hit 50 like I wanted but ah well), so at the behest of my little sister, I picked up The Boy in the Striped Pajamas which I finished in a day while my family walked around La Jolla.


I knew this book was about the Holocaust, but I wasn't really entirely sure what I was in for. It's a YA book and a pretty easy read, so I thought that it might be something touching and haunting, maybe similar to The Book Thief. Oi. Not so.

What I think strikes you first in this book is the fact that it conveys the tragedy of the Holocaust without ever needing to be explicit in its depiction of the horror. The story is told through the very naive eyes of a young, non-Jewish German boy who doesn't even understand what is going on. His fumbles and foibles as he makes friends with the Jewish boy on the other side of the camp are upsetting, ignorant, yet heartbreaking because you understand that this boy cannot possibly comprehend how the horrors the other boy are presenting to him can possibly be. Just as in a way, it is really difficult for us to imagine this actually occurred.

We get a lot of Holocaust stories in the Western world, and yet this one was so understated that it set it apart. It's such a quiet book that encapsulates a breaking of innocence. And then it ends quietly. Never hits the nail on the head. Never pushes morality down our throats. Never has us look at gas chambers or other horrors. It is what it is, starts quietly, ends quietly.

And so absolutely tragically in a way I did not at all expect it to.

Great, fast read. I want to see the movie, except I'm terrified because I know how this story ends and it breaks my heart.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Rant rant rant

Not book related. And we all know that when it's not book-related, it's usually football related. And if any of you have been following this blog, you know I'm a Dallas Cowboys fan. And if any of you follow football, you know that the Dallas Cowboys not only choked on the most important game of the season, it's as if they didn't even show up to the game at all.

I got so drunk off my ass in response to their ridiculous game, that I was ready to throw something into the TV screen (alas, I was at a bar, so all I could do was shout). As my brother said in his drunken (celebratory, as he's a Giants fan) stupor, I dropped more f-bombs than Dallas made plays. Insulting, funny, but unfortunately true.

I passed out at my parents' hotel in La Jolla piss drunk and still in my jersey.

This morning I crept around town with a hoodie on despite the fact that it was too hot to be wearing a sweatshirt, too ashamed to even let my #9 jersey see the light of day.

Yes. I'm ashamed of my team. That was horrible. Horrible. It wasn't heartbreak. It was a freaking bloodbath. It wasn't like last year (losing to the Giants during the playoffs after a few bad plays and a crappy o-line performance). It wasn't like the year before (bobble snap, 'nuff said). It was like the Eagles were playing some freaking pee-wee Pop Warner team. It was like the Eagles were playing ME. ME! Tiny little Asian girl who apparently now gets drunk off of four beers! ME!!!


Ugh, I am disgusted.
And I'm hanging up my jersey until next year.
As a true fan, I won't desert them. But come on guys! Throw me a freaking bone here! I'd almost rather be a freaking LIONS fan than this crap!! At least Lions fans held no illusions. Here you are, letting us all think you're a good team - no, a GREAT team - and you pull shit like this year after year! COME. ON.


Now I begin my three week of football-free hiatus. I don't want to freaking hear about football until like... the Super Bowl. I may be over this loss by then.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ishiguro's a hard act to follow

I picked up Happy Family on a whim at a recent trip to Barnes with a coupon in hand. Despite the fact that I try my best to shy away from writing about Asian/Asian-American themes, I still like reading about them.

Happy Family is a story about a young immigrant woman from China who becomes a nanny for a little Chinese girl who is adopted by American parents. The woman is painted as detached from her environment, never quite fitting in, and always somehow looking for something tangible that connects her with others. This is illustrated by a penchant for stealing petty things from people's homes, touching their possessions, sleeping with inappropriate men, etc. A lonesomeness pervades. And yet she finds a connection with this little girl who she learns to love.

I thought this book was okay. The premise intrigued me, but for some reason, the execution failed to strike a chord in me as strongly as I would have liked. I think the problem may be that I found the protagonist a little bit too detached and therefore her flaws left me feeling unsympathetic for the most part. When at the end (spoiler) she chooses to kidnap the child, I only felt exasperation, even though I know I was supposed to feel at least some empathy for her situation. Any sympathy I felt for her was on an intellectual level, because I knew the author intended for me to feel sympathetic, but it never quite made it there. Instead, Hua came off to me as a bit bumbling, having made poor decisions, and lacking sense. I wanted very much to feel badly for her, but everytime she went around poking around in people's drawers and doing things she shouldn't be, I wanted to shake her and tell her THAT was the reason she didn't really have friends, not because of some otherness of being an immigrant. I never found her likable enough. In fact, I wondered what Jane (the mother) even saw in her enough to want to make her a nanny. I was unconvinced by that development, as I was by many of the relationships portrayed in here. Such as even the sleazy one night stand with that Evan character. Even that felt unbelievable to me.

On the other hand, it's not like this book is poorly written or even that the premise and plot is off. I found myself flipping through the pages easily and fast, but I just never found that I connected with the characters. They didn't resonate with me. Hua gave me some minor irritation, but that was about it.

Perhaps part of it is that after reading Ishiguro's book and recognizing the deliberateness of his use of first-person narrator, it's impossible not to notice how less effectively it is done here. Another bone I have to pick is that Hua "imagines" scenarios (especially towards the end, the lengthy description that shows what Jane and Richard must be going through, detail by detail as an imagined scene) too often and to a point where I felt it was simply a trick to delineate what happened outside of Hua's knowledge (ie: Jane and Richard freaking out) while still maintaining the first-person narrator. I was not much of a fan of that.

All in all, it was a fast read, and not a bad read, but not as resonating or affecting as I would have liked.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Denial, denial, denial... with a menacing twist.

I just finished A Pale View of Hills in pretty much two sittings. I must say, I never expected Ishiguro to be so.... sinister.

I have a lot to say about this book (with lots of spoilers), so bear with me.

The whole book has an incredibly eerie, haunted quality to it that put me on edge from the outset. You never feel comfortable or settled into this work. Knowing Ishiguro, I knew immediately that his narrator could not be trusted, especially given her reserved and often sparse description of events and memories. What interests me about Ishiguro as a writer is how masterful he is at maintaining a pitch perfect control over his narrators. Everything he does is deliberate. Throughout, Etsuko recalls events with a calm, restrained yet matter-of-fact demeanor. She does not reveal her emotions or dwell on them in any way. And yet, on the other hand, we get hints of her psychological distress when Ishiguro has her repeat, several times in her narrative, "There is nothing to be gained in going over such matters again." Like a mantra. A defense mechanism of denial. His deliberateness is masterful, and yet if you've read him before, you know nothing is at it appears.

I began to suspect that Sachiko was not who we are led to believe she is somewhere in the middle of the book. Etsuko is far too restrained in her depiction of them, and then given to random bursts of annoyance at Mariko for me to take everything at face value. Add on the many parallels in Sachiko and Etsuko's stories, and it clearly gave way to suspicion early on. By the time we reach the end, and Ishiguro is referring to Mariko as "the child" and Etsuko is saying "We can come back", I was not entirely surprised.

Because I know Moonie inquired once (and I just read her post on The Book Book) , my theories are similar to hers. I believe that Sachiko and Etsuko, at least in this narrative, are the same person. Perhaps Sachiko as a person with her daughter existed at one time during Etsuko's early life, but I would believe that they existed in a very different fashion. It seems to me that Etsuko has projected her actions and life onto Sachiko so that she can view the actions from a third party POV, and cope with them in this way, while all the while denying to herself that there is no reason to go over her own mistakes over and over again. We get hints that Sachiko is prone to the same mantra repetition in the fact that she'll keep saying outloud, "I'm not ashamed or embarassed by anything I've done." Another self-denial. Add in the one where she keeps repeating that she would do what's best for her daughter, and we have truly hit the nail on the head with Etsuko/Sachiko's penchant for denial in all aspects.

A few things I am still pondering - for instance the relationship with the father-in-law and her first husband are dealt with in detail, and serve to show the unending politeness and ritual that existed in her old life. I was interested the degree to which conflicts are dealt with in a sort of passive-aggressive way, with tensions simmering below a gracious veneer. Etsuko seems more comfortable with her father-in-law as she jokes with him, and yet I sense there is something more going on, hints of a life that came previously. As if she owed him to marry his son because he took her in. The relationship between the father-in-law and husband and the third-party Shigeo character is interesting too. I'm trying to grasp the significance of it, beyond just the demonstration of old vs. new and the ramifications of a war or the familial tension. I'm guessing there's something even deeper and more significant at hand here, but I'm not 100% sure of it.

The menace and sinister quality of this book actually took me aback. The scenes that are dropped without fanfare are alarming. Beyond the obvious suicide, you have the scene where Mariko is found hurt and bleeding (I thought she'd been raped at first, and I'm still not entirely convinced she wasn't - perhaps by the dirty "Frank" that she so vehemently despises), the child murders, the woman drowning her baby and then killing herself, the drowning of the kittens. All highly disturbing images that are not given additional inspection but merely described and left as is. Then there are the more subtle moments, like Mariko playing with spiders that she tries to eat, her asking Etsuko twice about things she is holding (a rope the first time, what was it the second time??), the tubby boy being kicked off the tree, Mariko whispering to her kittens in an unnerving voice. The entire thing is frightening and holds an undercurrent of something incredibly dark. I'm not even sure what to make of this - is it a manifestation of Etsuko's guilt at her hand at her daughter's eventual suicide that thus makes her memories of her past so dark? Unlike other posters, I never believed Etsuko actually killed anyone with her own hand, but it seems that she feels subconsciously that she is as good as having done so.

The other thing I wonder is if perhaps these memories of her chasing after Mariko are in fact the recurring dreams she is having, and not memories at all. Thus the strangeness of the scenes, and the dark menacing object, rope, whatever it is, that Mariko asks after. I don't even think these events are necessarily a fabrication of memory anymore, but perhaps are a remembrance of the dreams she is having. I didn't catch the reference to the fact that the girl in her dream wasn't on a swing but on something else until I read Moonie's comment on Book Book, but that seems to further convince me of this theory.

Also, I've thought about it, and I wonder if "the other woman" from across the river that Mariko refers to is in fact an Etsuko-like neighbor in Etsuko's story. As in, if Etsuko was Sachiko, then if she had a concerned neighbor who kept dropping by to take care of Mariko and had offered to take kittens or watch after her. Ie, role reversal, and Etsuko, due to her guilty mind, has decided to take on the role of that neighbor in her memory instead.

Random other things - who was that American woman? What were they talking about? Who was that other lady? Does she serve any purpose aside from showing Sachiko/Etsuko's fascination with foreign life?

And... what did Sachiko fight with her cousin about?? Was it more about the old?

Interestingly enough, while Etsuko maintains that Mrs. Fujiwara is happy and doing something with her life, Sachiko sees her as living below her means and being tied down after a leisurely life, with nothing to live for. And yet, while her life would be more comfortable if she lived with her uncle, I think she sees that living there would also doom her to a life that isn't what she desired, and she doesn't want to end up like Mrs. Fujiwara, trapped in a way.

Okay, chatting with Moonie now, and she believes Etsuko meant to kill Mariko/Keiko in the end with the rope to make it easier for her. I didn't get that when I read it, but now I'm wondering if thta might make sense... The menace is there, but I'm just not sure how literal it is. Moonie also believes that Etsuko might be the serial killer of the child murders. I'm not sure there's enough psychological craziness there for me to believe that, but it's an interesting concept, especially since we never find out more about the child murders.

I'm sure I'm leaving out many more crucial things I want to discuss, but this book is so rich and mysterious that I don't think I can get it all. All I can say is that Ishiguro is a freaking master at these psychological first-person narrator novels, and he does it in the perfect understated way. In this case, it serves to make me feel truly unsettled and unnerved. This book is deceivingly quiet, and yet so much lurks beneath the surface that I'm getting veritable shivers (and there is blinding San Diego sunlight streaming into my apartment as I type too) just thinking about it.

I think I need to read this book again to truly try to take this apart.

But really freaking awesome, and I highly recommend any Ishiguro fan to pick it up.


Friday, December 26, 2008

It's long but worth it

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button made me cry.

Touching, affecting and extremely well-done.

I'm curious to read the story just to see. Though I hear it shares very little in common. In fact, The Confessions of Max Tivoli may be closer (which I read a few years ago and first thought this movie was based upon). But just for my own knowledge I suppose.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

My favorite Kushiel...

First things first:

[and to those non-Xmas celebrators, a Happy Holidays!)

Anyway, I just finished up the second to last book in the Kushiel's series (there's one more out but it's in hardback, so waiting for it to be done). This one was my favorite BY FAR. Call me a hopeless romantic, but this one just had so many elements that totally drew me in. Star-crossed lovers, a doomed betrothal, a loyal dedicated wife, a tragedy, a quest for justice... Of all the Kushiel's books, Kushiel's Justice has been most enjoyable for me. Unlike the others, which I had felt were slow to get started and lagged in areas, this one moved fast. As always, Carey's good with her epic plots, this idea of a hero's journey and whatnot.

The other interesting about this one was how it played with their version of Christianity. Not sure if Carey was making a commentary on the way a faith can take many turns and can change to a point of unrecognizability, but definitely gave me pause.

Another point (spoiler) - when Imriel finally finds Berlik and kills him, I really enjoyed the exchange and thoughtfulness about redemption and finding peace for one's actions. I thought this was quite philosophical in some areas, bringing to mind questions of redemption, right, justice, forgiveness, humility. I half expected that Imriel would not go through with it and kill him. But that would have been a copout in a way. Not possible.

I think I enjoyed this one the most not just for the romance, but also because you truly see the journey that Imriel takes on as a person. How he goes from a self-absorbed person passionately in love, to someone who can also learn a quiet love, a love with humility, and then as he grows as he nearly fails in his quest for vengeance. How in the end, it's barely vengeance, but just justice, almost a gift. It was touching to me in many ways.

This means nothing to anyone who hasn't read this series, but ah well. Just wanted to share my thoughts.

Star-crossed lovers always get me though. Just glad that in the end it seems like they might be able to be together. Somehow. Love as thou wilt.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Okay so I know one of my resolutions for next year...

Man, I just read through the fiction section of NYTimes' list of notables for 2008, and I have not read a single one. Not one. At all!!! Last year I was decently on top of things but this year? NOT A SINGLE ONE!

Seriously, I really need to step it up next year. I was so woefully behind on everything. In the first part of the year because I was working on apps and then wrapping things up at work, and then I was off to Vietnam and then settling into a new city and then Beijing, and then it became all about adjusting to school. Yes, these are my justifications. Next year I will be better. I let this blog fall to the wayside, stopped following pub industry news and let a bunch of books slide past me! No! Boo! Unacceptable!

End rant directed at self.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Brick walls...

I read Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture pretty fast today. It's short, so you know, not an amazing feat. Of course, everyone has seen his lecture, so I was curious about the book. It's more of the same wisdom, a lot of the same stories he's already told. But man, I got to the end of the book and got really choked up. It's sad to know that he's already passed away. But it's amazing how somebody with such an optimistic view of life was able to touch a bunch of people so quickly.

I like what he keeps saying about brick walls, by the way. That they exist to show us how badly we want something. That's true. In the end, when I want something badly enough, I fight for it.

Don't have much to say about this, since it really is just sort of this inspirational little gift book. But if you have a couple of hours to kill, pick it up and read it. At the very least, you'll be amazed at the dreams this guy was able to fulfil in his short 42 years of life. At the very most, something he says resonates with you enough for you to keep in mind moving forward.

That's all.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Random football post of the month

No, not book-related.

But if anyone cares, the Cowboys just pretty much blew their chances for making the playoffs this season. Another season, another stupid loss. Another year where we didn't quite make it despite the fact that on paper we should be a freaking championship team. Freaking A. Come on Boyfriends. Just because you know I'll never break up with you doesn't mean you should take my love for granted!


[edit] In an amazing twist of luck, we still have a shot into the playoffs... as long as we win next week's game. COME ON BOYS PLEASE DON'T FUCK THIS UP.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I love regression!

I just had the smallest little book accident while trying to buy some Christmas gifts for others online. I ended up buying four books for myself. OOPS.

In my defense, I haven't bought a book for myself in AGES. I haven't had a book accident in a really really long time. SO. THERE.

I had a book accident... and IT FEELS GLORIOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Is this cheating?

Also, by the way, I didn't get through all of Beckett's Three Novels. Does getting through just Molloy count towards my book count for the year??? Opinions?

[edit] Moonie says it counts. Then up it goes.

A book about characters.

Woohoo! First semester over and done with. One more to go and then we'll see where I end up. I'm leaning heavily towards heading back to good old NYC for a studio program, though to be honest, SD itself is growing on me, if not the damn program.

I pretty much have dropped the ball here on this blog.

Nonetheless, I wanted to make this random note about this book we were forced to read in one of my classes called Textermination. This is truly a bizarre book. I can barely describe it, but the short of it is a bunch of well-known (supposedly, since for an underread person like me, I didn't know 90% of these characters) characters from texts show up at some Hilton in San Fran to hear scholarly papers on them, so that they don't "die". I think I knew like, Emma Bovary and that was about it. But anyway, it's so meta and strange, I guess because the author is trying to say something about how books and characters survive in the consciousness of people as time goes by, etc etc. It's not a riveting read, though comical at points, and probably would be better if I knew more of the references it was making. But nonetheless, it's an interesting read for anyone who's read a lot. I use "interesting" loosely. As in it's a fascinating little commentary, and kinda fun if you know the references.

Just wanted to throw it out there. Not my pick of the year or anything.

Okay I swear I'm going to be better about updating this blog.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

More hating on Twilight the movie.

I'm sorry. I know there are some people who actually liked the Twilight movie. But since I've made it pretty clear that I thought it was the WORST MOVIE EVER, this link was possibly the FUNNIEST THING EVARRR for me.

To be honest, I actually enjoyed the books and found them entertaining (though I haven't finished the last one), but the movie was so atrocious that it has me second-guessing my like for the books back then. That's a bad thing for a movie to do!