Sunday, July 27, 2008

This post is not erotica.

Because I want an excuse to blog, first I'll say something book related:

I'm reading Kushiel's Dart, lent to me by one of my best friends. He reads exclusively fantasy and sci-fi, and is the reason I ever picked up Ender's Game. On a recent July 4th trip, he was reading the 5th or 6th book in this series. All I can say is that I was reading over his shoulder, and caught the line, "She probed his anus gently with her finger" and for the rest of the trip, we were making fun of him for reading porn.

[I have just redirected all shady internet traffic to me. I apologize to the horny surfers who were hoping for more provocative reading material.]

In any case, this book seems to have a strong basis in sex and S&M from what I can gather from the back copy and the 40 pages I've read so far. No racy anal probing yet, but given the nature of the plot - a girl who finds pleasure in pain - I'm convinced I'm in for a racy ride.

Yeah, not my regular reading material. But, what the hell. If he liked it enough to read all six, I'm hoping there is some sort of interesting plot that makes it worth reading.... We'll see.




In the meanwhile, just wanted to update. I have found a place to live! I also now have a bed (or will soon, as it is being shipped on Monday)! Now I seriously just need to learn to get over my fear of driving so that I can test drive a car and take it for a spin...

Also! I am so effing excited for football season! I am seriously considering making my blog a book and football blog because I am so excited for it! Yeah, I'm a dork... But the Cowboys started training camp and I am SO SUPER EXCITED!

That's all for now. Tomorrow will be another day spent furniture shopping and trying to settle myself for school....

Friday, July 25, 2008

Subtlety.

Finished reading on the plane to SD today. Actually, I finished it while we were waiting on the runway for like an hour. I finished it, then went to sleep, just as we took off.

Really beautiful. There are some lines in the book that make my heart go quiet. It's not breathtaking or heartbreaking the way I find some books, but it's quiet in it's beauty. A whisper, if you will. I'm impressed with Ondaatje's ability to make an entire book about waiting in Italy (and the desert), interesting enough to follow to the end. Form over plot.

Something I did want to note, for myself, is how removed we are from the characters, and yet not. We get so much of them, in this dreamy abstraction, and yet, in moments of the greatest drama - when Kip runs from them, when Hana watches him leave, when the English Patient comes back to the Cave of Swimmers - the air around them goes quiet. The power of what is happening is accentuated by the subtleness of their reaction, the muted words, the lack of melodrama. Less is more, etc etc.

Something else: it occured to me, reading his book, that I'm not a writer the way he is. The A-type in me gets too caught up in organization and craft, etc. Meanwhile, here he is with this book that goes this way and that and confuses tenses and points of views and goes off on dreamy tangents. It works BEAUTIFULLY, and yet, I would never be able to put together something that way because my mind can't seem to work that way. It doesn't move liquidly the way his seems to. That sort of makes me sad, because those are my favorite books.

Next time I pick up something of his, I will be sure to only read it in quiet times, to fully be able to appreciate the beauty of his words.

Loved it.



p.s. I am in San Diego and apartment hunting really sucks.
p.p.s. Next book I have with me is a fantasy book given to me by a friend. Totally unlike anything I normally read but I have nothing else with me while in SD! Hee hee. We'll see how it is!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Planes and more planes

I've been so bad about blogging -- it's just been hectic and crazy here. Tomorrow I move out of New York to San Diego. Crazy, right?

Been getting through English Patient whenever I have some time. I started the book in Martha's Vineyard on the beach. I must say, I have no idea what happened in the first 1/4 of the book because it's totally not a beach read and I kept getting distracted. But now that I'm into it, I love it. It's beautiful and dreamy and sandy and wonderful. Sometimes, if I'm not careful, I read over entire paragraphs without really absorbing them, but when I go back and do, I'm usually rewarded. Usually, I'm an impatient reader, but with this book, I'm learning to reread and really take my time, because it's so worth it. There are some passages that just make me sigh with absolute contentment. Too many for me to even highlight.

Hoping to finish it tomorrow on the plane.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What was the point?

After finishing all my non-fic books that I'd brought, I started What I Loved.  The beginning sentences were captivating, and I was excited.  I hoped for a love story laced with intrigue.

Instead, this book was NOTHING about what I thought it would be about.  It started out sort of like a love story, and then a portrait of family and friendship, and then it turned into this story of parental nightmare of the worst possible kind.  Having a psycho liar for a child.  The book ended with no satisfying ending, and I was left wondering WHAT THE POINT WAS!  I literally closed the book and went "what the fuck".

Also, while all the art was interesting, I started to feel like the book was a little too pretentious for my tastes.  Too intellectual, artsy-fartsy for me.  No thanks.

So uh, yeah, that's that.

War sucks.

I have a fascination with Vietnam.  Not in the typical American "'Nam" kinda way.  But a fascination with the other side of things, the underlying side of things.  To most Americans, Vietnam is a war that is deconstructed over and over again, in movies and books and 60's music.  To me, Vietnam is a country, full of people and places who've suffered but have never given up and continue to move forward.  I love the country and the people, find them both beautiful and heartbreaking.  I went to Vietnam for 6 weeks and wish I had gone for longer.  I miss the children there, and wish there was more I could do to help.

So I picked up The Girl in the Picture.  It's the story about the girl in that famous picture from the war, the one where the little girl is running naked, straight towards the camera, screaming and crying.  Everyone who has seen the picture knows what I'm talking about.  It's a heartbreaking shot.

The book is heartbreaking too.  It follows that girl and her family, from before the napalm explosion, to her defection from Vietnam years later.  It paints a picture of what life was like in South Vietnam before the Communists took over, and the difference afterwards, how she was both used and loved by people in the party, her conversion from the Cao Dai faith to Christianity.  It's an amazing tale, written well, well-researched, moving and incredible.  I cried reading it at times.  And I simply cannot fathom what it must have been like to be her.

I read this book after going to the extremely biased War Remnants Museum (once upon a time called the American War Crimes Museum) and the Cuchi Tunnels (where you are forced to watch an anti-american propoganda video).  Now, I am a patriot, but that doesn't mean I don't see things from both sides.  After reading this book, all I can think is how war just SUCKS.  For everyone.  Life under Communism sucked for the South Vietnamese.  But Americans were the ones who mistakenly bombed their own target (and therefore caught the girl in napalm).  War just SUCKS.

I LOVED this book, and urge anyone who ever wanted to know anything about the Vietnam War to read it.   It's an amazing, moving account.  Really really wonderful.

Better than mama huhu (= so-so = horsehorse tigertiger).

Continuing on my non-fic route, I picked up Foreign Babes in Beijing next, given to me by Moonie.

For me, this read was really interesting right off the bat for three reasons: 1. My family currently lives in Beijing, in the "new China"  2. I am (well, used to be) in Public Relations.  3. I love my Chinese dramas.

DeWoskin's examination of a changing China's attitude towards Westerners and Westernization is interesting, especially in retrospect, seeing where China is now.  I think she gets insight into the whole thing that I'd miss as a Chinese person.  I found her writing to be intelligent, taking a sociological or anthropological view at times, while at the same time remaining funny and interesting.  Additionally, her deconstruction of Chinese phrases always really interested me, because as a Chinese speaker, I don't think about the phrases I'm saying, on how the separate characters mean one thing and put together mean something else.  To me, they mean what they mean.

My one criticism is that I got confused at the chronology at times.  There were these "intermission" sections that threw me off, and I couldn't tell how much time had elapsed, which made her story harder for me to follow, linearly.  But that's just a minor qualm.

All in all, smart and entertaining, if not mindblowing.

One man's fight to help change the world.

A good friend of mine gave me a copy of Three Cups of Tea, saying that it was now among her favorite books.  After The Killing Fields, I was in a non-fiction, world issues kind of mood, so it seemed like a good time to read the book.  Couple that with the fact that the book is about building schools in less fortunate places, and here I was, in Vietnam, teaching English and working in orphanages for less fortunate children, and it seemed perfect.

The story is really incredible, following one guy's dream and determination to build a school for a village he comes across in his failure to climb a mountain, to everything he has to go through to continue to build schools for similar villages across Pakistan and Afghanistan.  I admire his endurance, determination, bravery, and I also admire his family (wife's)'s ability to cope with his long absences and fears for his life.  The kind of difference he has made upon these people is incredible, and I find it so noble that he has devoted his life to this and continued to try so hard in the face of difficulty.  I don't think I would have had the resilience to do so.

Also, I think his belief, that we can fight terrorism through education, is so insightful.  Ignorance breeds hate, so his insistence upon providing balanced education is such a smart one.  

Definitely worth a read.  So inspirational.

Atrocity of war, part I.

I bought The Killing Fields while in Cambodia, along with The Girl in the Picture.  Figured I should read a little bit about the places I was in.  I'd seen the movie a long time ago (don't remember it at all) and I even had a friend who actually MET Dith Pran (without realizing it was him), but I didn't really know exactly what had gone on til I read this book.

The book is a novelization of sorts, written by pulling info from documents and interviews as well as based on the movie.  The writing itself isn't so great, but the story is so incredible that you forgive the bad writing.

It's just incredible to me that these events are REAL, that someone like Pran survived, and that what the Khmer Rouge did really happened.  It's really horrifying.  The book is incredibly worth reading, if only to learn more about the horror off the time of the Khmer Rouge and learn about the incredible man who still, to this day, works at the NYTimes.

Don't hate me, Matt!

Matt gave me an advanced copy of his upcoming book (hitting stores in August), Mexican Whiteboy, so I read it while I was in Vietnam (finished it after coming back from a smokey, loud, Vietnamese club blasting bad techno).

In my honest opinion, I didn't like it as much as I liked his first book, Ball Don't Lie.  There's a raw grittiness in his first book that I really liked, and a true love of his character, Sticky, that shines through in his first book.  Mexican Whiteboy I felt, while much better crafted, didn't have as much heart as his first book did.  Also, to me, it felt more like a true YA novel, while I felt BDL could be either.

That's not to say the book isn't good in itself.  It tackles the issue of straddling two races, and addresses one of the most important things in adolescence - acceptance - in a multitude of ways.  Acceptance from peers, in sport, among family, among racial groups, by parents.  For me, the most interesting parts where when Danny is at home with his Mexican family, and he never QUITE gets everything.  Is always sort of one foot out, and he struggles to keep up.  I liked that a lot.

I think, when I was finished, I felt like I'd only skimmed the surface of the story.  I wanted more, I wanted a more nitty gritty, a deeper dive.  And that's probably why I didn't like it as much as BDL.  But it's still good in its originality in tackling a bunch of different issues.  And the dual perspective was an added bonus.  I love multiple POVs.

Matt's going to hate me forever!

Another memoir.

I'd seen Glass Castle on the shelves of bookstores for awhile, and while I always had it on my list, there just always seemed to be other books that needed to come first.  Then the friend I was traveling with had it and had just finished it, so I read it.

It's an interesting, fast read.  Entertaining, honest and at times, heartwrenching.  It's nothing crazy or new, but it is interesting to read about this girl's life and how she managed to make something of herself against all odds.  As far as memoirs go, worth reading.  Anyone can get through it in a couple of days.

Good but not as good.

I was really excited by Yiddish Policemen's Union.  I really enjoyed Kavalier and Clay and I know Moonrat LOVED YPU, so I definitely dove into the book with enthusiasm.

I have to say, I didn't like it as much as I liked K&C.  Partly, I think that reading in fits & starts while traveling probably didn't help (I read half of it in a coffee shop in Siem Reap, 1/4 in a shitty guesthouse, and the rest on airplanes), but also, I liked the epic scope of K&C more, not to mention the heartbreak factor.  Nonetheless, YPU was still really great.

As always, Chabon's use of language is MESMERIZING.  At one point at the airport, I stopped and had to read a passage outloud to my friend, in the way he described one of the characters (the father of the dead kid, can't remember the name now).  I am constantly blown away by the inventiveness and freshness of his descriptions.

I also love Chabon's fascination with truly flawed characters (well, male characters), and their own fascination with each other within the context of his world.

The premise of this book is original and creative, an interesting mystery at the heart of it, while tackling some other bigger "issues".  I have to say though, I was dissatisfied with the ending.

I don't know.  Maybe my one reason for not loving this book as much is that while I was constantly entertained and captivated by Chabon's skills from an objective standpoint, I was never reeled in as much as I was for K&C.  I never cared about the characters as much as I did in K&C.  Still though, a really good book, and definitely worth reading.

Allende disappoints.

Okay let's start with Zorro.  [I'm probably going to zip through these fast, because I'm impatient and I also no longer have most of the books since I left them in Vietnam.]

I'd read Allende's short stories in class before, and liked her, so I was excited to read this book.  To tell you the truth, I was pretty disappointed by the book.  It wasn't ever BAD, it just was never that good.  Maybe part of it is that I never saw the Zorro movies, and only know the Zorro legend through hearsay.  So I wasn't that captivated by the tale she wove.  I mean, the writing is good, I just found myself going through the whole thing and not really caring all that much.  The villain never raised the stakes high enough for me, and the end point never seemed to matter that much.  I don't know.  When I finished it, I left the book at a guesthouse in Siem Reap, Cambodia, the first book I'd ever left behind.  It just wasn't worth it to carry it all the way back to NY again.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Back, but lazy.

I'm back!

I read so much while abroad that I owe this blog a bunch of book posts. Unfortunately, I'm so overwhelmed by my to-do list, that I don't feel up to it right now. So for now, I'm going to update my finished books list on the sidebar, which will have to suffice until I get to my reviews.

Btw, due to the place and situation I was in, I found myself reading a lot of non-fic, unable to immerse myself in fiction for some reason.

Anyway, if anyone is wondering, my trip was absolutely amazing.