New Book Blog

Hey guys, it’s been awhile!

Just wanted to let you known that I’ve created a separate blog for all book-related stuff. If you’re interested, here’s the link. If you’re not, that’s alright too. 🙂

I know I haven’t been on here in ages, but that’s really because loads of things have been happening in real life – which is good (and bad)!

Among other things, I’ve found an internship, begun learning how to drive, am taking French classes, and am dealing with horrible clients. I’ll definitely be putting up a post shortly, but otherwise, till we meet again.

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Book Review: Gooseberries – Anton Chekhov

GooseberriesGooseberries by Anton Chekhov

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I feel that the three stories warrant separate reviews. Also, because the point of these stories is not the twist at the end, I will not be censoring details. However, if you’re allergic to spoilers, I would advise you to stop here.

The Kiss
I think I loved this story most of all. It tells of an awkward officer’s first experience of a woman’s kiss and how it consumes his life for a couple of months. There is definitely an element of the “epiphany” here, in which there is a moment of striking revelation when the character, Ryabovich is suddenly awakened to the true nature of the kiss and his daydreaming. I couldn’t help feeling terribly sorry for the poor man, unlucky in life and in love, but I felt even worse knowing that he’d had dreams of an imaginary lover and a life with her, and that they were shattered in the end as he realised how stupid he was for cherishing those ideas, because he’d known deep down that it was not possible for him to ever live that sort of life.

The Two Volodyas
Sophia Lvovna lives in denial, telling herself that she loves her husband, Big Volodya, while she secretly desires the love of her childhood friend, Little Volodya. When she meets old-friend-turned-nun, Olga, she is frightened by the idea that salvation from a horrendously meaningless life is only possible through troika rides and through religion. However, towards, the end, Chekhov reveals the true nature of Olga’s practice, and we realise how there really is no escape from the suffering we all call life.

Gooseberries
This story is mainly an old man’s angst-filled rant about his brother’s pursuit of a peaceful pastoral life. I think it would especially resonate with modern society because we’re stuck trying to better our lives and leave the noise and bustle of city life. In contrast with the old days in which the rich could afford to live in town, nowadays, it’s the poor who are unable to escape. Ivan Ivanych condemns his brother’s way of life, especially with regards to the gooseberries Nikolay so desired to be planted in his estate. He thought the gooseberries hard and sour even as Nikolay lauded their taste. Ivan realises that society is a big illusion of tranquility and happiness. We only feel peace and quiet because those who are suffering to make things work for us do not or are unable to speak up. Even as Ivan criticises this practice, the narrator lets slip a subtle remark that the men’s “wide, cool beds” had been made by Alyokhin’s beautiful servant, Pelageya. Their comfort inevitably came at the expense of another’s labour.

To read or not to read?
Yes, if you enjoy James Joyce’s The Dubliners (which I did). However, Chekhov’s characters are a lot more distanced from us compared to Joyce’s. It’s hard to find someone you can completely sympathise with, but the characters are as human as could possibly be, and Chekhov, who, according to my professor, loves all his characters, depicts them in all their glory (and craziness).

View all my reviews

Now Reading: Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre The Book

Don’t even get me started on how long it took me to pick this up from the shelf. Four years. Four years of idiocy. I’ll tell you why later.

How I met my book

I would say that this was a truly impulsive buy. Not the “OMG it’s so pretty I need it” buy, but the Borders-is-closing-I-need-to-use-up-all-the-value-in-the-gift-card buy. There were literally pyramids of Jane Eyre all around the store. I gotta give it to them. That was a great sales ploy. While browsing, all I felt was that not owning one of those would be a great mistake. And I don’t even like movie covers.

Never gonna give you up

Confession: I’ve given up on books. I have a little bag sitting somewhere, waiting for a book exchange (which almost never happens this side of the world).

This one was different. It looked imposing, but I just couldn’t let it go. I’d read Wuthering Heights when I was fifteen and honestly, I wasn’t exactly blown away by it. I think a part of me was afraid that Jane Eyre would be the same (because, you know, sisters). But deep down somewhere (please don’t ask where), I knew I would enjoy it. What I didn’t know was just how much I would.

The Film

I think I finally got around to watching the film a few months back. I really, really loved the way the story was told. I was drawn into the film and into Jane’s life and I wanted to know from the start what had made her so upset. Ah of course, Rochester did help out a bit…okay, it was more than a bit. ^^’ Now before I start going on about the actors, let’s get back to the book. I’ll definitely be writing a standalone post for the film, which I thought was just beautiful.

The Book

I was surprised at how easily the story flows. I was so afraid that it would kill my love of reading, but I really needn’t have worried. The narrator, Jane herself, is honest and unassuming. It was really easy to slip into her skin. It was refreshing to be able to trust the narrator after having been led through a host of unreliable narrators throughout the semester. Of course, the narcissistic reason would be that I could identify strongly with her.

Jane’s recollection of her childhood was exceptionally poignant. I remembered my own “red room” and the excruciating pain of being unfairly punished. I understand Jane’s restlessness, her inability to be satified with her current situation in life; there’s always more out there.

Also, my mediocre French came into use for the very first time! Qui savait? (My French is so bad I had to Google Translate this *claps*)

And the icing on the cake? That was Rochester. I just…just… Okay, remember how I fell in love with Mr Darcy a few years back? This is not going to do any favours for gender equality, but Mr Darcy was a good man, through and through. Rochester, though. He’s bitter, sarcastic, moody…and holy potatoes, I’m really drawn to him. I’ve just finished Volume I, so I know the drama hasn’t truly begun, but really, I guess I’m pretty much leaving Darcy for the bad boy.

I guess that’s all I have on the book at this moment. I’ll be back with the film write-up and more talk on the rest of the book.

Au revoir!

On Being A First Generation Reader + English Major

I grew up without a bookshelf. When I got my first shelf back in primary school, they were for storing school books. Likewise, the shelves at home were filled with arch-files and knick-knacks rather than book-books (you got me, Ikea).

When my tutorial class ended earlier today, a friend was going over how much he hated a certain classical text we’re going to read next week. Apparently, he’d been force-fed said novel when he was a child and being coerced into doing something, especially at a tender age, almost definitely results in a traumatic relationship with said object. Another friend replied with how another classical text involving islands (one of our introductory modules deals with islands and travel) was more enjoyable… and I watched them delve into a short discussion about books. I felt somewhat isolated then, as I’ve felt quite a few times before, with my peasant’s knowledge of books. I’ve seen them bringing in old, yellowed copies of Shakespeare and other classical texts to lectures and while I do enjoy my books new, I’ll admit that I sometimes feel as if they hold ancient secrets in their palms; secrets that I’m not privy to.

My parents are both engineers by training and by trade and newspapers pretty much make up the bulk of their readings (when I say bulk, I mean they take it very seriously). It’s pretty adorable when they get slightly pissed if we forget to get the papers while they’re on weekend vacations. That said, they’ve pretty much come to terms with my choice of major in university and my father has surprised me with his support of my unconventional decision – he was concerned when I lamented that my lack of knowledge in religion was hampering my understanding of certain medieval texts and gently suggested that I look for a bible online. He even checked on me later to make sure I had found it. All these coming from the most skeptical man I know.

My parents and I have had numerous communication problems since I was in kindergarten (really not lying). I guess we’re really wildly different that way. I confess that I’ve wished that my parents were readers and that I was born into a house with walls lined with rows upon rows of books. However, if it were that way, I really wouldn’t be who I am today. Sure, I don’t share their interests and neither do they indulge in mine, but this has helped me navigate an ocean fraught with currents swirling in different directions. I go to each class open minded, free of prejudices that could’ve been someone else’s. I am building my own mental library and real library everyday. Sure, it takes a lot more effort when it comes to gathering opinions and references, but I have the complete freedom to discover the great big world of books. Plus, nobody tried to shove intellectual novels down my throat when I was five.

Unfortunately, I can’t guarantee I won’t do the same.

Read-a-thon Wrap-Up

Read your butt off.

Read your butt off.

The amazing Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon ended 3 hours ago and boy, am I tired. Actually, I slept. I set my alarm for 5.30 a.m. and woke up at 12.17 p.m. instead. It’s no matter, however. I really enjoyed my day, pushing reading up my priority list. It’s been a long time since I could do that and did I mention the cheerleaders? They were wonderful. Alright, I shall shut up and answer the closing survey below.

End of Event Meme:

Which hour was most daunting for you?

Hour 9, I guess. I was held at gunpoint by my dear siblings to watch 3 episodes of Once Upon A Time at 2 a.m. (Hour 6) I fell asleep at 5 a.m.

Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

Non, je ne lisais pas assez.

Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

Hmm… Not really! The show runners were great!

What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

The cheering team was wonderful!

How many books did you read?

Heh. One. And part of a school text.

What were the names of the books you read?

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. And a little of The Merchant of Venice, just because I have to finish it by tomorrow.

Which book did you enjoy most?

Do I have to say?

Which did you enjoy least?

Well, it wouldn’t be fair now, would it?

If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?

Just a simple encouragement will do, so you guys have time to read! But then again, I loved that they all read through our posts and quelled our worries. 🙂

How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

Very likely! I’m super happy that I got to read a recreational book and finish it within the 24 hours. I’ll most likely be a Reader again, because April is when my next exams will be, but if I’m not too burnt out by work, I’d really like to take on the role of Cheerleader too.

Now, back to Shakespeare and the like.

Read-a-thon Hour 6: No School Texts, Please!

It’s 1 a.m. on this side of the world. I’m usually still wide-eyed at this hour, but I hear my bed calling to me. If I’m going to be honest, there has been a lot going on at home. I’ve not gotten the amount of sleep and work done that I planned, but you know what? I’m going through with this read-a-thon, because I deserve a break (even if the break means wearing myself out reading). 🙂

Done deeds:

1. School text: The Merchant of Venice – William Shakespeare (25 pages)

2. Screw it book: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan (55 pages)

I'm having a good time indeed.

I’m having a good time indeed.

I don’t know about you, but school texts have the tendency to put me to sleep. I do enjoy them, but they take a whole lot more effort to get through. I’ll see what I can do to finish Merchant within the next two days, but I’m sticking to stuff that I want to read for now.

Have a great read-a-thon, everyone!

YOLO 101: Sign Up For A Read-a-thon

I was sleep-browsing the web last week and guess what? I put my name down for the Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon. Before I could wrap my head around what I’d done, the week was up and the read-a-thon has officially commenced. I’ve been slightly delayed this side of the world due to dinner and family commitments (and a few dastardly essays), but I’m now pumped-up for the challenge.

Here’s the Opening Meme:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

Delightfully cloudy Singapore (Finally! Tea weather!).

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Don’t have no stack yet, but I’ll be really glad if I could finish All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I just love contemporary historical novels.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Ooh, we sure do live on snacks. My favourite is one called Tam Tam – sweet, crab-flavoured crackers (darn! I left those in the hostel). I also love anything with melon. Oh oh, and chocolate Oreos. Who doesn’t love Oreos?

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I’m an awfully slow reader.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

This is my very first read-a-thon! I’m looking forward to getting truly engrossed in a book today. It hasn’t happened in awhile.

That’s all for now! If you’re participating as well, do say hello!

Indie Bookshops, Snobby Girls

Staying in university (or college) equals to a huge amount of freedom. Depending on your preferences, you can smoke five packs of cigarettes a day (didn’t try), have a late night rendezvous with that cute guy downstairs (totally didn’t try) or get drunk out of your wits (definitely didn’t try). My roomie and I, we’re guilty. We’re guilty of not getting the full college experience.

On a free evening, when most  residents were preparing to party, we decided to take a one-hour train ride to visit a bookstore. To justify our choice of after-school activity, it wasn’t just any bookstore. It was an independent one, or indie, if that sounds well, cooler.

We arrived at our stop (by metro) barely half and hour before their closing time and took a rushed tour (filled with panicked flailing) around the hipster enclave which was filled with more bars than I’d ever seen in my life. Anyway, we managed to locate the shop near the end of a very long road full of you guessed it, pubs and bars. Being as crazy as we are, we ran helter-skelter (yes, we did) and met a young lady at the door who was throwing out her takeaway container. Seeing no objection from said lady, we pushed open the glass door and proceeded further. As soon as we’d stepped into the store, I could feel two unwelcome gazes upon my skin. Undeterred, we infiltrated further into the shop. Man, was it beautiful! It was superbly designed, warm, welcoming (apart from the shop assistants) and the layout was set expertly so that customers with lots of time to spare would stop every few metres to browse through their collection.

While we were sweeping through their stocks to locate titles I needed for class, the beautiful girls were hanging out by the counter, chatting away about hairdos and their stints as bartenders. Meanwhile, we were fretting over not being able to find any of the books and keeping an eye on the time. As I shuffled past one of the shelves, my bag brushed against a display stand on the table behind me and both stand and book fell from grace. “Oops,” I muttered somewhat awkwardly, bending to pick them off the polished parquet floor. Being helpful, my friend took the stand from me and sought to set it back on the table while I tried to place the book back on it. However, before a fibre of paper even came close to touching the stand, a slender, tanned hand interrupted, pulling the stand away. “You’re doing it wrong,” a somewhat condescending and annoyed voice announced.Hiring

It was a good call by the owners of the shop to sell books and to do the place up beautifully, because if it weren’t for that, I think I might have exited the store without a second glance. Even with all the beautiful books around us, there was always a sense that I wasn’t wanted around, as if my dress sense or personality dictated whether I could be in an indie shop. I can’t help feeling that these girls think that by working in a hipster district, they, by default, are hipsters, which makes all other people uncool. If that goes on, I have a strange feeling that the next time I make the journey there, another bar will be in its place.

Unfortunately, my friend and I are addicted to buying books and even more so from quaint little bookstores. There is another one on our little island that is quite well-received by normal people and hipsters alike. I’ve heard that their girls are very pretty… and snobby.

Maybe it’s a thing with indie bookshops.

Book Recommendation: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

2014 has been a great reading year for me so far and you know what’s even better? Most of the books I’d read this year were awesome. I didn’t feel like I’d wasted my time with any of them (but then again, I’m not that fussy). I’m very happy with the fulfillment and enjoyment I’ve been getting off the written world recently and look forward to a lot more in the coming months.

Meet the book:

Even among all the wonders I’d savoured throughout these four-and-a-half months, Middlesex was a stand-out. It was one of the best books I’d read in my twenty years of life. Consider the fact that I found it in a whole pile of the exact same copies during one of those suffocating clearance book fairs, going at $6.90 and wait for it… selling at 3 for the price of 2. So it rounded out to just above $5. Best investment ever? I really think so.

If you haven’t heard of this wonderful slab of a book, here’s a short summary of it:

Cal was born on a winter’s day in Detroit, Michigan in January 1960 as a beautiful baby girl of Greek ancestry. Fourteen years later, in the summer of 1974, he was born again as a boy. There are really no spoilers at all in this book. Every single plot line that is of great significance is revealed in the very first paragraph. However, in order to make sense of them all, one has to get through the 500+ pages of text and they appear in fairly large chunks. Did I intimidate you there? Don’t be, because Jeffrey Eugenides had crafted beautifully detailed characterisations to help us out. Cal’s own story only takes up about half of the book, because he was obliged to explain every circumstance leading to his awakening in vivid, exaggerated detail so that we understand his family and the things they’d been through before he found out who exactly he was.

My thoughts:

The characters were brilliantly illustrated and very endearing and did I say funny? This book is hilarious. I brought it out to the bank to read while in the queue two weeks ago and couldn’t help but let a few chuckles escape in the packed room. Nevertheless, Cal has had a tumultuous life and there are moments when you’ll have to blink back tears if you’re out reading Middlesex in public. However, you’ll probably not outright sob as Jeffrey Eugenides had so kindly saved us from public embarrassment by sliding some funny even in those moments.

Backstories make up the most of this book as Cal tells us about his family’s history, beginning with his grandparents when they were barely out of their teens, across the pond in Greece. Their story was one I’d enjoyed tremendously. It was told scathingly humourous manner. Cal doesn’t allow their mistakes to be covered up by his words. As they migrated across a continent into America, we also get to see how hard they tried to integrate into the liberalised American society and how sometimes they didn’t want to. Cal’s parents were brought up to be as American as can be and I can’t help drawing parallels between America and Singapore, where I live. Both these countries were made up with a majority immigrant population whose descendants have established their own separate culture. As Cal’s father, Milton found his ability to converse in Greek faltering day-by-day, many of us here slowly lose our ability to speak in our ancestral tongue as Western culture sweeps over our small island. Sadly, apart from the first 3 Harry Potter books translated to Chinese, I don’t own anymore Chinese books. Oops.

Meet the baby.

Baby photo with all the junk behind for the world to see.

Middlesex is a multi-faceted novel that makes you think hard about your own lives, no matter where you’re situated. It’s about family, society, personality, adolescence, relationships and science. I love that last part. Eugenides had made science really interesting to read and his intelligence really shone through those scientific passages he’d so lovingly translated for the lay person. Dig out your Punnett Squares, people! You’re going to be re-educated in Mendelian genetics and then some. Draw Cal’s family tree if you have to. It was really fun, trust me. 😉

In case you were wondering, and as much as you would like to think otherwise, the real author of this book is phenotypically and psychologically XY. Yes, the story felt so real that I had to Google to find out for myself. So yeah, go borrow, buy or steal (don’t tell your mum) this bold, no holds barred novel. I guarantee you’ll want more. I would pay to read Cal’s entire life, but we all know that good things always come to an end.

My Reading Habits Tag

Heya, Earthlings! How’s it going?

I saw this tag over at Miscrawl, which is where Charl blogs about books and movies and such (go check her out, she’s really funny 😉 ) and it was a really fun post, so I thought I’d do one myself. I’ve been seeing tags on booktube and on book blogs, but have no idea how they work, so do let me know if I commit a faux pas or mistakenly kill someone by writing this, alright?

1. Do you have a certain place at home for reading?

I live on the couch. Does that answer the question?

2. Bookmark or random piece of paper?

Bookmark. One of the things my parents got right was to instill in us a sense of bookmarkery.

However, if I happen not to have a bookmark within reach, I usually insert a random pen between the pages while I rummage my rubbish pile of a table for one.

3. Can you just stop reading or do you have to stop after a chapter or certain amount of pages?

Okay. This is a very sensitive question. I used to have to stop after a chapter. If I’m so much as one paragraph gone from the start of the chapter, too bad, you’ll have to wait for me to finish… which usually takes a long while. I’d been threatened with book confiscations many times because of this.

However, something happened to me during the kid-adult transition (shortened attention span much?) that now allows me to put down the book at the end of sentences and go for snack breaks (oh wait, it’s the food…). I do have to reread as far back as the previous page to get back into the groove though.

4. Do you eat or drink whilst reading?

Well, I’m pretty much a disgrace to the women of the world because I can’t multitask. At all. I’ve tried drinking tea whilst reading (or working on the computer), but I’m afraid I always forget about my tea until it goes cold and eww-ish. Eating is just a no-no because it might dirty my precioussss books.

5. Do you watch TV or listen to music whilst reading?

Now this is when things get strange. I listen to music whilst reading. A lot. But only when I’m making the 50-minute commute to work. I can’t read on the bus/train without music on because the negative energy (anger, irritation, annoyance, fatigue, sadness) typical of a morning/night train ride apparently flows in through my ears and puts me in stoning mode. My brain can somehow focus on getting stories moving with the music on. It puts me in a world separate from the sluggish crowd.

However, watching TV or listening to music whilst reading at home just doesn’t work for me. I don’t know how people focus one eye to the TV and the other on the book. Wow. Just wow. Plus everything going on everywhere (maybe only because I watch Game of Thrones?). How do you handle that? I like the coolness and silence of the night (preferably after 12) at home.

6. One book at a time or several at once?

Did I tell you I can’t multitask to save my life somewhere above? Yeah, I think I did.

7. Reading at home or everywhere?

Quiet, at home. With music, everywhere. Not in public toilets. That’s disgusting.

8. Reading out loud or silently in your head?

Both. I know it’s bad practice to read aloud because it apparently slows you down, but sometimes, forming the words in the back of my throat makes the story come alive. I mouth the words on public transport only because I don’t like people staring at me. Reading out loud does take up a lot of energy, however, so I usually stop after a few paragraphs, when I’ve firmly established myself in the fictional world.

9. Do you ever read ahead or skip pages?

Ugh. I used to when I was little and ruined Harry Potter for myself. You see, I always had to read every single word on the page and make sense of them all, so it did get tiring after a few hours. The easiest thing to do then would be to just pretentiously fan through the pages to see how much was left, but there are usually words or sentences that hook you in to a later, more exciting part of the story and make the trek there ever more difficult. I’ve managed to overcome that ‘weakness’ and can now experience the shocks as they come.

10. Breaking the spine or keeping it like new?

I’d much rather put up with palm cramps than create a permanent crease in the spine that reminds me of the pain I caused the book for as long as I live. Alright, I really want to break it, but just can’t bring myself to. I’m almost always grateful if a friend accidentally cracks it for me. Saves me the guilt and the trouble. Hence, my preference for flappy books. You know flappy books? If you do, we’re friends.

11. Do you write in your books?

Huh! No way! My handwriting would ruin everything. Unless it’s required for class/a textbook, then yes, I don’t have a choice. But it always pains me to leave that first mark on the pristine pages. I go slow and gentle to minimise the damage done.

So yeah, here are my reading habits for the world to see. I’m definitely getting into reading more seriously now and I don’t know whether I’ve been inspired to read more by book blogs and booktube (I might do a post on the channels I frequent). Nevertheless, I’m really enjoying myself a lot more whilst reading and knowing that others out there love books as much as or even more than I do does give me the comfort I can’t find in this fast-moving, hair-pulling ‘real’ world.

P.S. Tag! If you’re reading this post, you’re it! 😀