Category Archives: Books

Book Review: The Art of Travel

Before my Hawaii trip, I decided to read Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel to prep myself and to get myself psyched about traveling. I previously read his book of essays, Essays in Love and found it incredibly insightful as it approached love through various disciplines (philosophy mostly). I knew that he could achieve the same feat again with this novel and I wasn’t disappointed.

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I love how the book is split into various sections that deal with a different issue each. The first chapter was aptly named ‘Departure’ and it discussed the notion of interstitial spaces like airports and it also discussed the experience of taking a plane ride or one’s first encounter with the hotel room. It’s all incredibly surreal, sometimes it almost feels like you are having an out of body experience and encountering these descriptive events from the perspective of a third party. But I guess this narrative mode has a purpose. It’s meant to get you to think deeply about certain issues that we take for granted.

I loved especially how he would attempt to break down certain complex ideas through his little analogies. I remember clearly the instance where he is fighting with his lover and how that causes the entire vacation to be unpleasant, thereby proving that it is of paramount importance who accompanies you on the trip for it colours your particular experience. He also talks about the discomfort of traveling, having to live without everyday conveniences and to put up in a hotel or to endure a long haul flight with limited leg room all for the sake of escaping reality and life’s unreasonable demands.

“Sublime places repeat in grand terms a lesson that ordinary life typically teaches viciously: that the universe is mightier than we are, that we are frail and temporary and have no alternative but to accept limitations on our will; that we must bow to necessities greater than ourselves.” – Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel

It is a highly intellectually engaging read, thoughtful to say the least. I wouldn’t exactly say it is bedtime reading though. I find myself too stimulated to actually fall asleep after because my mind is constantly trying to grapple with the ideas that he quotes off Proust or Baudrillard. None of which present easy ideas. None of which make suitable bedtime reads. But in terms of being the right trigger for an upcoming trip, it definitely worked like a charm. I am ready to see the world with new eyes and to find myself in the process.

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Caroline will be away from 23rd Nov to 2nd Dec.

Be sure to keep yourself entertained browsing through our past posts. Last I checked, it just crossed the 1000 mark!

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The Solitude of Prime Numbers

Forgive me if you are bored by my countless book reviews but that’s all I’ve been doing lately. Work’s been abit of a drag and reading is my form of escape. My colleague passed me The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano and if I’m not wrong, this is his first ever novel. She told me that the ending was so heartbreaking but it was a good read nonetheless and so I shelved Wicked (yet again) to start on my Italian adventure…

It’s alittle reminiscent of Murakami for me what with the rather dysfunctional characters. On one hand we have Alice. Anorexic, crippled, had a highly traumatised past which includes bullying and a secret violet tattoo. And we have Mattia, the brilliant half of a pair of twins who became all dark and twisted after his sister’s disappearance. We are talking about a social recluse who slits his wrists and inflicts pain on himself in uncomfortable situations. So you can imagine that once the two of them collide, it’s like the imperfectness cancels out yet there is always that little distance that separates them. Alone together, together alone.

“All Mattia saw was a shadow moving toward him. He instinctively closed his eyes and then felt Alice’s hot mouth on his, her tears on his cheek, or maybe they weren’t hers, and finally her hands, so light, holding his head still and catching all his thoughts and imprisoning them there, in the space that no longer existed between them.”

I think that’s where the title becomes so apt to describe their relationship. The solitude of prime numbers is a poetic way of showing how they will always be separated by an even number so even if their first impulse is to reach out and connect, they can’t. There’s always some invisible, unspeakable barrier that stands between them.

I’m definitely not one to love math or numbers for that matter but I thought that Giordano weaved such a compelling story around math that it really made me see the beauty in the subject and how this might lend insight in the way we perceive relationships.

“They lived the slow and invisible interpenetration of their universes, like two stars gravitating around a common axis, in ever tighter orbits, whose clear destiny is to coalesce at some point in space and time.”

Giordano was also brilliant at making the grotesque and the mundane beautiful. I mean, anorexia and wrist slashing aren’t exactly palatable topics of conversation but somehow he broaches the subject well and he handles it very tastefully. There’s an almost a Jonathan Safran Foer quality to his writing that I like. You know, the beautiful prose, the enigmatic epiphanies…

It’s a very thoughtful novel that is quite a good choice to read on a rainy day methinks especially if you are in a contemplative mood.

David Nicholls: Starter for Ten and The Understudy

I’ve been on a bit of a reading rampage recently and polished off both of David Nicholls’ novels and halfway through Gregory Maguire’s Wicked. I’ve been gushing incessantly about how much I love One Day the novel and the movie and as a result, I was very motivated to read his other novels and I have to say they were just as easy to breeze through and they were both really enjoyable. I think it is the easy wit and the unpretentious prose. It’s like Sophie Kinsella meets Tony Parsons. You get that right amount of thoughtfulness and feeling coupled with some crazy misadventures and gets me smiling from ear to ear. While I enjoyed all three novels, I would have to say that One Day is still my all-time favourite (I love the melancholic ending even though it felt so typical Nicholas Sparks and Time Traveller’s Wife. I’m a hopeless romantic) followed by The Understudy then Starter for Ten.

Interestingly enough, I assumed that all the endings to his novels would be sort of melancholic and sadly happy (if that makes any sense) but they have all turned out alittle different each time and I think that’s actually pretty cool. Embrace the unpredictability.

Okay, brief synopsis of Starter for Ten. It is about a 19 year old teenage boy, Brian Jackson who just finished his A levels and is heading to a university leaving his working class family and friends behind and we see him try to fit in a new environment while facing challenges- acne, falling in love with someone entirely out of his league (sexy bombshell, Alice), deciding whether he is learning Eng Lit for all the right reasons, finding his political footing… very typical issues that a teen would face. And of course he meets other interesting people along the way. There’s Rebecca, the hard nut law student who is highly opinionated, Patrick the snobby twat the University Challenge team leader and amiable Lucy a bright Chinese medical student who is fighting against the stereotype of being well, Chinese. So does Brian get his girl? Will he remain an awkward geek forever? Will they win the University Challenge and show the world that nerds rule? Well, I won’t spoil it for you but here’s alittle snippet to whet your appetite.

“All young people worry about things, it’s a natural and inevitable part of growing up, and at the age of sixteen my greatest anxiety in life was that I’d never again achieve anything as good, or pure, or noble, or true, as my O-level results.”

“The sad fact is that I love Dickens and Donne and Keats and Eliot and Forster and Conrad and Fitzgerald and Kafka and Wilde and Orwell and Waugh and Marvell and Greene and Sterne and Shakespeare and Webster and Swift and Yeats and Joyce and Hardy, really, really love them. It’s just that they don’t love me back.”

“Alice doesn’t seem to mind because she’s laughing too, and biting her lip, all doe-eyed, and tossing her freshly washed hair, and Norton tosses his lovely, glossy hair back, and she tosses her hair in return, and he tosses his, and she tosses hers, and it;s like some mating ritual on a wildlife program.”

It’s amazing how Nicholls can infuse such great humour in such a mundane situation and most times I laugh because there’s so much truth in what he writes! Oh and if reading isn’t your thing then you can watch the movie (it was out in 2006) starring dreamy James McAvoy. Seriously. How can it get any better than this??

Okay, shifting gears now. Let’s talk about The Understudy. This is probably a darker story because by very nature of being an understudy, you need the main actor to falter and fail in order for you to get your big break. This is the exact same situation that Stephen McQueen is in. He wants so much to prove to his ex-wife and daughter that he can make it in the showbiz world and the lone person standing in his way is Josh Harper. The world’s 12 sexiest man alive. And of course what makes things worse is that Stephen falls for Nora, Josh’s wife. How is this mess going to be sorted out? Will Stephen get his big break?

Like the frequent references to booze and drugs in all his novels,  the witty remarks are fast and furious though it is clear that the humour takes a much darker turn.

“Josh likes to say he put the funk in ‘functional’. Personally I think he just put the ass in ’embarrassing’, but, hey, what do I know?”

Though by no means a spiteful man, Stephen had been fantasising about just such a glorious catastrophe, six days a week, twice on Saturdays and Wednesdays, for the last three months now. When Stephen told Josh to break a leg, he meant it: break it in two places, compound fractures please.

Both are excellent reads but somehow I feel like the dark humour of The Understudy was more refreshing than Starter for Ten that read alittle more like Teen fiction (though strangely enough, I have The Perks of Being a Wallflower in my wishlist). The Understudy really reminds me of Tony Parsons’ Man and Boy (don’t bother reading Man and Wife and Men from the Boys) so if you are a Tony Parsons’ fan, then I think you’ll really enjoy this novel.

Sexing the Cherry

Why is the measure of love loss?

Winterson often has a provocative title for her novels: Oranges are not the Only Fruit, The Power Book, Written on the Body, The Passion… But what really stood out for me was Sexing the Cherry. It was a short novel, maybe 140+ pages or so but every bit of it was enthralling. Winterson pulls you into this magical world of storytelling and I find it so difficult to differentiate reality from fantasy. I love how she weaves in bits of myths and fairytales but she appropriates and rewrites them. My favorite was the stories of the 12 dancing princesses and how they all found fulfilment and happiness without having to depend on men. There is definitely a strong feminist slant but it doesn’t feel as didactic and off-putting as I thought it would be.

And of course, Winterson has a knack for capturing elusive feelings like love, attachment and loss and conveying it so poignantly through language.

 

It’s really amazing how she makes language and images come alive. It’s almost hard to describe how I felt at the end of the novel really. A sense of wonder I suppose. It’s interesting also how she keeps to this whole motif of fruits- pineapples, bananas and even towards the end the Dog Woman feeds Jordan oranges. Perhaps a signature literary technique? And through it all, despite the barbarity, the religious fanaticism and the grotesque outer appearance of the Dog Woman, I empathise with her and I really did enjoy her story. I think the beauty of this novel is how you can read it over and over again and you can never truly be bored because there’s just so much meaning to be unpacked and so much interpretation that is left open to the reader.

It’s been awhile since I read something that is remotely “academic” and it’s been a breath of fresh air! I need to do this more often.

Norwegian Wood

The rain is falling and the sky is gloomy and it just felt like the right time to do a review of Murakami’s Norwegian Wood. I took almost a month to read this novel. Not because it was by any means difficult to read but because alot of things got in the way so every night I would read little by little hoping to finish it but I guess it’s because I didn’t read it in one shot, but really savored each chapter that I grew to love the language and how poetic his expressions were.

I had learned one thing from Kizuki’s death, and I believed that I had made it a part of myself in the form of a philosophy: “Death is not the opposite of life but an innate part of life.”
By living our lives, we nurture death. True as this might be, it was only one of the truths we had to learn. What I learned from Naoko’s death was this: no truth can cure the sorrow we feel from losing a loved one. No truth, no sincerity, no strength, no kindness can cure that sorrow. All we can do is see it through to the end and learn something from it, but what we learn will be no help in facing the next sorrow that comes to us without warning.

He leaves such nice thoughtful almost philosophical anecdotes about love and life that really ring true today though probably (and hopefully) not on such a melancholic, fatalistic level as what Naoko and Toru experienced. But I think what really did draw me into the novel was how even nonchalant characters like Nagasawa have such powerful lines.

“It’s not that I don’t believe in contemporary literature, but I don’t want to waste valuable time reading any book that has not had the baptism of time. Life is too short.”

“Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Only assholes do that.”

Yes he is a bastard but what an eloquent bastard.

Though admittedly, I can’t stand Naoko. I know she is supposed to be a sick troubled child but she frustrates me. It is amazing how Toru and Reiko are so patient with her! She is almost as mysterious as Melanie in Coetzee’s Disgrace. I mean, you can’t tell if she wants sex with Toru or not and I don’t like the fact that she is stringing him along. Not to mention that she cries an awful lot. Midori is so much more likable even though her random requests to get Toru to think of her while masturbating and her delight in watching S&M movies are really quite weird. But hey, at least she is a sweet and funny oddball.

I also can’t wrap my head about Toru especially towards the end when he hasn’t slept with a girl in months cos he’s “saving himself” for Naoko and eventually he realises that he loves Midori upon Naoko’s death, shouldn’t he pursue Midori wholeheartedly instead of having sex with Reiko four times? That to me was a David Lurie moment and I don’t know what Murakami’s intentions are but at that point, I felt that Toru was way more messed up than I thought he was and it seems that his life isn’t going to get any simpler even with Naoko gone.

Or perhaps I’m just reading too much into things and that guys fundamentally just need to fulfill their sexual desires and can conveniently separate love from sex (I swear, I’ve been marking too many scripts on Disgrace that it is really filtering into my interpretation of Norwegian Wood!)

But in short, a messed up story about broken people. Lots of sex. Lots of suicides. Mildly depressing but very poetic and ultimately it showcases Murakami’s brilliance as a storyteller.

Books Galore!

I finally got down to Expo to check out the Borders Sale and it was AWESOME! I actually went on the last day so I think all the really good books would have been snapped up so I didn’t have too high hopes. Initially as I browsed through the Fiction section, I was SO dismayed. It was just boxes and boxes of random fantasy/sci-fi novels which is totally not my kind of thing at all but thankfully, I found some rare gems in the Non-Fiction section!

I think it’s really all about give and take at one of these mega sales. You either go on the first day where there’s lots of good stuff but you squeeze with the crowd, or you go on the last day where the good stuff is pretty much all gone but you have the luxury to browse and scan through your purchases before paying. I prefer the latter. I find that I’m more rational when I shop without the crowd so I tend to only pick up things that I will really use so that’s definitely good news for my wallet (Note to self: avoid H&M)

Anyway, here’s what I bought!

Ok, it looks rather blah and nondescript but it’s for work. Really. Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary is a book by Vivian Cook that provides cool trivia about the English Language and how it came about. It’s pretty fascinating (forgive me if I totally sound like a nerd) but it teaches you about the little quirks of the English language like silent ‘th’, the spelling errors that Keats and Wordsworth makes and even a full list of the Cockney alphabet! It’s pretty cool in a geeky kind of way.

The cream colored book is actually a handbook with facts and fables about… wait for it… CRICKET! Yes, how completely relevant this is to work! I can now read this book and learn all the rules and cool trivia about the sport and boast about it to my kids afterwards! The best part? This was like $5! I love a good deal!

My last find is a Shakespeare teaching guide and given the fact that the Lit syllabus is changing next year, I thought this would be a good weapon to have in my arsenal. What was completely creepy and ironic however, was that I was commenting to my friend that I was looking for a teaching guide for Othello and Twelfth Night while flipping the pages of this book and immediately I saw it…

Alas, it was fate.

But what really sweetened the deal for me was that all three books cost $14 ALTOGETHER because for the last day, everything was going at 70% off. It was just incredible considering the original price of my Shakespeare guide was like $36.90!

And once I got back home from my book shopping high, I continued browsing Book Depository for fiction books that I couldn’t find at the Borders Sale and proceeded to check out US$50 worth of books which is seriously insanely cheap. It’s like each book is US$10? And the most awesome thing about Book Depository? Free international shipping!

Book shopping beats clothes/bags/accessories shopping hands down! I cannot wait for my new reads to get here! I’m especially excited to read Starter for Ten because I enjoyed One Day so so much and since I’m going to watch Wicked at the end of the year, it would make sense to actually read the novel first and of course, dear Jeanette Winterson. It’s been a long time coming but I am finally going to read Sexing the Cherry and of course, I’ll save that sappy Nicholas Sparks novel for a rainy day. I think I have bought enough books to satiate my book cravings for awhile now. I will save Neil Gaiman’s Stardust for the next round! Have you been reading anything lately? What books have you got to recommend?

Closing lines

Today, I told my class that the conclusion to any essay is like the parting smile that you leave behind. It has to be lasting, memorable yet mysterious. It’s that fine balance between laying everything on the table and concealing just alittle bit of yourself so it beguiles and entices your reader to read more. Sadly, I’m not quite sure I practice what I preach. It just feels like so long since I picked up a pen and actually wrote. I kind of miss academic writing and how it really gave me so much freedom to write about something that I was passionate about. But sadly, I don’t seem to have it in me to write creatively or to do something as simple as to document my musings. It’s not that I’m not reflective. I think and talk to myself all the time. It’s just that that feeling of inspiration leaves me even before I can begin to grasp it. And so, because I am so lacking in self-expression, I turn to other texts. To other authors. Authors that can articulate how they feel in such a profoundly beautiful and magical way that they can speak on my behalf. But yes, I digress.

I meant to talk about conclusions and endings of novels and how sometimes that closing line just gets us. Sometimes it leaves you feeling fulfilled and euphoric, other times you feel hollow and most times, you are just so swept up in the emotion, you well up inside and you just can’t speak. Here’s some of my most favourite closing lines…

“He loved Big Brother.”

I would never ever forget how chilling those words made me feel. This is definitely one of my all time top reads.

“Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper.”

“I ran with the wind blowing in my face, and a smile as wide as the valley of Panjsher on my lips. I ran.”

“But now I must sleep”

This pretty much describes me at work all the time. Zz.

“A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR. I am haunted by humans.”

This is probably one of the most powerful novels that I’ve read in awhile. That last line kept me awake at night. No kidding.

I think you can see that I really like haunting last lines. It just makes the moment that much more poignant. I guess this speaks about my personality? How I love melancholy, nostalgia and what not? I’m about to get started on Norwegian Wood so hopefully I won’t feel too emo after reading it. What are some of your favourite closing lines of books? Did they make the list?

One Day

This holiday, I’ve only gotten around to read three books: The Help, Something Borrowed and One Day. And I don’t mean to exaggerate but One Day has got to rank up there in my top ten most favourite reads (others include White Tiger, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close  and Never Let Me Go).

I’ve always been a sucker for romance. I don’t mean the formulaic sappy kind aka Nicholas Sparks. There’s only so much Dear John and The Last Song that a girl can take. Nor do I enjoy teenage angsty romance aka the Twilight saga. I think as I’ve grown older, I’ve lost that kind of innocence and naivety. I still very much believe that love exists but things like “love at first sight,” finding a “one and only love”… I think those are notions that have faded with time. It’s like waking up one day and discovering that Santa and the Easter Bunny don’t exist.

So what really appealed to me about this book is how real and authentic it felt. Emma and Dexter meet on their last day in college and their relationship unfolds as we see them grow older. Each milestone in their life, whether they are in their late 20s, early 30s or 40s, we see a new facet to their characters. We see the growing fatal attraction, we see the hot and cold nature of their relationship. We see the missed opportunities. We see the dependence that they have on one another. We see their failings and insecurities. The frankness and honesty, the wit and charm. Everything that one experiences when one is in love is so beautifully presented in this novel.

I also loved how Nicholls could so vividly describe the various places that the Emma and Dexter visited. Skinny dipping in Greece, teaching English in India, writing in Paris and slugging it out in a restaurant in Mexico. Their lives are every bit as colourful, tortured and rich as any real person. I love how Nicholls infused that spontaneous spirit of Eat Pray Love with the melancholic sadness of that Chinese movie, Turn Left Turn Right. And the ending is so so poignant. The image I have in my mind to best describe the ending is a girl weeping beautifully. It’s a happy sadness (yes, it’s an oxymoron). I really really did not want the novel to end. SIGH.

So if you are looking for a new book to pick up, this would be it. I cannot wait for a film release of One Day. I hope with all my heart that James McAvoy plays Dexter! He would be absolutely perfect! *cross fingers*

 

Wedding Invitations

Right now, Carol & I are wedding crazy and surfing the net for all sorts of inspiration for every little detail of of the wedding. Granted, as the bridesmaid the most I can do is flood Caroline with suggestions, so here are some really cute wedding invitations I found off tumblr! :)

A really cute embossed/vintage print in the happy colours of red and blue, though for Carol & Mark (or markaline as we all term them) it would be an embossed print of cats? hahaha

love these vintage book-themed wedding invitations. they look so intimately personal.

 

I could totally imagine them making funny faces like these polaroid inspired wedding cards. It’ll make all their guests smile!

 

or maybe because they’re both such movie buffs, a movie ticket for each guest would be pretty awesome! Also a great way to settle seating so guests know where to put themselves when they arrive lol.

something really sweet and simple would suit Caroline too!

Ahh I’m simply bouncing up and down with excitement now. Can’t wait to flood Carol with even more suggestions when I meet her this Sunday! hahaha. :D

all pictures from tumblr.com

 

Something Borrowed

After much cumbersome planning, I managed to finally meet some of my very busy girlfriends to watch Something Borrowed. Honestly, I was pretty excited to watch the movie because it starred Kate Hudson in yet another wedding themed movie (I still remember her in Bride Wars and she was hilarious) and there’s Ginnifer Goodwin whom we absolutely adored in He’s Just Not That Into You. Somehow she is so believable in her role as goody two shoes, play by the rules, Rachel. And Kate who plays Darcy is every bit the over the top, attention seeking b**** of a best friend that we all love to hate.

Despite the lacklustre reviews which actually saw the male leads as rather flat characters (ok, I did think Dexter should have grown a backbone), I thought everyone else pulled their weight. I absolutely LOVE Ethan. He had the BEST lines. Truthful, cutting, to the point. His words are like bitter medicine. Horrible to taste but it’s ultimately good for you. So imagine my dismay when Rachel fails to see him as potential boyfriend material but is instead, obsessed with Dexter. Really, love is so blind sometimes.

But what I really love about this movie is how we see things from the perspective of the so-called, mistress. Sure, the film simplifies everything by portraying Darcy as the promiscuous baddy who doesn’t deserve a happy ending and Dexter as the wishy washy parent pleaser who can’t decide what he wants. But it does give us a glimpse of a possible real life situation (God forbid it happens to anyone but it very well could happen!) and how someone could be caught in the middle of an uncomfortable situation. To choose loyalty to one’s best friend or to pursue the love of one’s life. I think in our own lives, we come to a crossroad similar to this and we have to choose.

It is by no means a movie that encourages one to flout moral laws and start cheating on your spouses. I think the take home message is to bravely pursue your dreams. To remember that you are too precious and that you are not willing to settle for less. I think at the heart of it, it’s a good attempt to try and get audience members to think about their lives:

Are you in a job that you hate?

Is there an aspect in your life that you want to change?

How can you start making improvements to your life today?

How can you be a happier person? 

I’m actually half way through the novel and I think it gives a much more nuanced perspective than the film. Something Borrowed probably isn’t as enlightening as Eat Pray Love nor as poignant as He’s Not That Into You but it tries and I think we should give credit for that.

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