Monthly Archives: May 2009

Sunday Salon: Bookish Thingies

I started Purple Hibiscus yesterday, because next week is the Sydney Writers’ Festival weekend which I’m going to, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria) will be there. So I’m hoping to finish this book beforehand. There are a few other authors that I’m interested in, like Tash Aw (Malaysia) whose book The Harmony Silk Factory I have on my shelf (but have not read) and Mohammed Hanif (Pakistan – the Exploding Mangoes guy). The event has definitely introduced me to more local authors who I have not paid attention to prior to this. I would definitely like to read more books by local authors in the near future.

Talking about local author, the overall winners of Commonwealth Writers’ Prize have been announced! The winner of Best Book is an Aussie!

CHRISTOS TSIOLKAS of AUSTRALIA wins Best Book for THE SLAP
MOHAMMED HANIF
of PAKISTAN wins Best First Book for A CASE OF EXPLODING MANGOES

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I’ve been coveting The Slap for a few weeks now. I should pick it up pretty soon. I am now even more excited after it won the prize!

Taken straight from the publisher’s site Allen&Unwin:

At a suburban barbecue, a man slaps a child who is not his own.
This event has a shocking ricochet effect on a group of people, mostly friends, who are directly or indirectly influenced by the event.
In this remarkable novel, Christos Tsiolkas turns his unflinching and all-seeing eye onto that which connects us all: the modern family and domestic life in the twenty-first century. The Slap is told from the points of view of eight people who were present at the barbecue. The slap and its consequences force them all to question their own families and the way they live, their expectations, beliefs and desires.
What unfolds is a powerful, haunting novel about love, sex and marriage, parenting and children, and the fury and intensity – all the passions and conflicting beliefs – that family can arouse. In its clear-eyed and forensic dissection of the ever-growing middle class and its aspirations and fears, The Slap is also a poignant, provocative novel about the nature of loyalty and happiness, compromise and truth.

Read more about The Slap here.

Lastly, my giveaway for My Year Without Sex movie tickets is still on! So far, well, one person has entered. This could be really easy for me..

One lovely video on Sydney Writers’ Festival to end the post. It’s Zen like. Mmh..

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers

This is the first book by Malcolm Gladwell that I read. I have Tipping Point and Blink on my shelf, but I got attracted by Outliers that I reserved it from the library and had to wait for a few months (I was 4th on the queue) to get my hands on it. To tell you the truth, the catch line that seized me was how the Asians are better at Math. Really, I wanted to know, if it can be explained. Also, being born in a society where IQ and accomplishments highly matter (aren’t we all?), this book is bloody important. Yes, I want to know The Secret of Success!

Just a note before you read on, I’m probably going to discuss in details many aspects of the book and I’m not sure if you can call them spoilers. After all it’s not fiction and there isn’t exact storyline (though sometimes the way it is written makes it feel like you’re reading fiction). But if you worry about knowing too much before reading the book then you probably want to skip the rest. I’m writing this as personal notes too, so I’ll go over points that I managed to extract from the book.

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The book started with a bang, telling you things that you probably don’t notice, like how important it is for Hockey players (and probably other elite sports too) to be born on the right month, simply because of the selection cut-off date. Then it goes to 10,000 hour rule, where we trace back the history of a few highly successful people, like Bill Gates and the Beatles. 10,000 hour rule is saying that you generally need this golden number hours of training to be really good. Nobody gets to be great in what they’re doing overnight. No exception. But of course, you also need an incredible amount of luck and talent to support your training to be a world expert. This fact gives me some kind of hope. Nobody is born genius, you need to work hard on your talent to make things happen. The best people spend the most time on crafting their skills, which happens over long period of time (10,000 hour is roughly equivalent to 10 years).

Then we move to the man with the highest IQ in America (or at least the one known), Chris Langan. He’s not overly successful. You’d think that a person with the highest IQ would do wonders in this world, but no. Gladwell analyzed why. He compared him with Oppenheimer, the Father of the Atomic Bomb. They weren’t raised in the same way. Oppenheimer came from a wealthier family (like Bill Gates), Langan came from a poor broken home. How you are raised matter (obviously). Kids from middle class family and above are generally more successful. This is not only because of all the privileges that they receive, but also the mentality of the parents who pass down to you the ability to assert and the sense of entitlement.

At this point I talked to my dad about what I had read. We agreed that they’re not exactly new discoveries. My dad always said that there’s this old Chinese concept that says there are three things that make a person’s success. The heaven, the ground, and the people. Means it’s very important when you are born, where you live, and who you meet in your life. I think that’s pretty accurate, and this goes in synch with Outliers, mostly on the when and where you are born for the first part of the book: Opportunity. At the later chapters, Gladwell gives more examples on the perfect years for certain profession to be born in, like perfect years for software developers are 1954-1955, business entrepeneurs 1830s, and New York lawyers 1930s.

Part Two is Legacy, which I think has a lot of to do with the third of the Chinese concept: people you meet. But Gladwell points more toward the culture you are from. In other words, your family, your roots (while the Chinese concept says more about your mentors, bosses, or partners that support you in pursuing your goals). He goes to the South Americans that tend to be more violent, because if you trace their family tree, it goes all the way to herdsmen, the people who need that “culture of honor” to survive. Then there is Korea, who used to have a very bad reputation for having high number of plane crashes. Apparently countries with high PDI (Power Distance Index) tend to have bad pilots because it’s just too hard for them to communicate. Koreans have six levels of politeness in their language, and that doesn’t help. The more hierarchical the society is the more ambiguous their choice of words is. In case of flying a plane, this can cause fatal mistakes that lead to many deaths.

Then finally we get to the part that explains why Asians are good at Math. To summarize, it’s because they work harder. Why? Because they come from society who farm rice paddies, and rice is one of the hardest thing to take care of. You basically need to work around the clock all year round to get maximum result. This makes the other clan who hunt and gather like couch potatoes. According to the research, the Asians tend to be more persistent. So for example, given difficult Math problems, they take more time to try before giving up, in comparison to their Western counterparts. That makes them better at Math.

Am I happy with the explanation? I’m not sure. Sure, hardworking is one trait of Asians, but it’s too broad of generalization. How about the South East Asians? The research was done on descendants from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and China, which happens to countries that are more “successful” than the rest of Asian countries. How about Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and so on? They work on rice fields too. We know that they’re considered as the third world countries which don’t do as good. And in terms of being hardworking, there is just no way that they’re as hardworking as, say, the Japanese. (Again, this is broad generalization, but surely true.)

How far would you believe that the culture you are from affects you that much, even after many generations? My grandfather from Dad’s side came from South China (which according to Gladwell is generally better at Math than North China, because they work more on rice paddies) and my dad happens to be someone who never loses the Chinese heritage that he takes pride in. So even though he was born and grew up in Indonesia, he can talk Chinese and reads lots of Chinese books. He is where I know anything about China and Chinese people from. From mom’s side, I’m probably the 4th or 5th generation of Chinese immigrant in Indonesia. I’m pretty far down the line. Even my grandparents couldn’t speak Chinese. My grandma spoke Dutch and English apart from Indonesian, because she grew up close to the Dutch colony in Indonesia. I myself left Indonesia, the country I was born in, at the age of 17 and have never gone back since. What that makes me? I’m a child of a migrant who’s a child of a migrant. I’m not sure if ethnicity and culture of origin affect me much (I’m not even sure where I’m originated from). But then again, Obama has very complex family background (as a child he stayed in my birth city Jakarta :). So that’s probably what you need, combination of cultures and heritages and take the best of many worlds.

To go back to the topic of the book, Outliers was an entertaining reading, if not anything. I know a lot of people probably think that it’s neither original nor informative, but myself personally wouldn’t read psychology or sociology books with dense information in it unless required by class. So this is good, because the book summarizes facts and findings, and it is written in a fun and enjoyable way. I like how Gladwell uses one person’s point of view for each topic and builds from there. It makes the stories personal and interesting. The last thing you want is to be given a bunch of cold blooded statistics with heartless analysis (because that would be, um, boring).

I thought some chapters were a bit too long-winded, like the parts with the Jewish lawyers and Korean pilots. It’s like, okay, I got it already, can we move on? But all in all he doesn’t go too crazy about things. You can see where he’s coming from and a lot of his points make sense to an extent, which I think is good enough. I just wished that somebody like him could make analysis on other countries. His is heavily based on America and Canada. I would definitely get to his other books soon or later. And oh I just knew that Gladwell is part Jamaican. Just look at his hair!

Below is a great interview with him on CNN, and check out Outliers Q&A on his website.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Pages: 299
Publication year: 2008

First line
Roseto Valfortore lies one hundred miles southeast of Rome in the Apennine foothills of the Italian province of Foggia.

Last line
These were history’s gifts to my family – and if the resources of the grocer, the fruits of those ruots, the possibilities of that culture, and the privileges of that skin tone had been extended to others, how many more would now live a life of fulfillment, in a beautiful house high on a hill?

Quotes

“People don’t rise from nothing. We do owe something to parentage and patronage… It makes a difference where and when we grew up. The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forbears shape the patterns of our achievement in ways we cannot begin to imagine.

It’s not enough to ask what successful people are like, in other words. It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.” ~ p17-19

“Success is the result of what sociologists like to call ‘accumulative advantage’.” ~ p30

“Achievement is talent plus preparation. The problem with this view is that the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.” ~ p38

“I owe thanks most of all, though, to my parents, Graham and Joyce. This is a book about the meaning of work, and I learned that work can be meaningful from my father. Everything he does – from his most complex academic mathematics to digging in the garden – he tackles with joy and resolve and enthusiasm. My earliest memories of my father are of seeing him work at his desk and realizing that he was happy. I did not know it then, but that was one of the most precious gifts a father can give his child.” ~ Malcolm Gladwell on Acknowledgments, p298

Also reviewed by

Rhapsodyinbooks’s Weblog | S. Krishna’s Books | Gimme More Books! | The Book Lady’s Blog | Book Addiction | She Is Too Fond of Books | Redlady’s Reading Room | Islandhopper Lives It Up | Books for Breakfast

My Year Without Sex Tickets Giveaway!

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Update 19 May 2009

The giveaway is now closed! Winner is Kerrie @ Mysteries in Paradise. Well, that’s easy! Thank you for participating Kerrie! :)


I received double passes to Advance Screening of My Year Without Sex, an Australian comedy film, courtesy of nuffnang. What is it about? Synopsis from the website:

MY YEAR WITHOUT SEX is kind of a love story about a family dealing with all the big questions and even more of the small ones. Set over one messy year, Ross and Natalie and their two kids, Louis and Ruby, navigate nits, faith, Christmas, job insecurity, footy practice, more nits, and whether they will ever have sex again.

It’s great because the advance screening coincides with Sydney Writers’ Festival which I’m going for on 22-24 May 2009. So I’ll spend my weekend in the city of Sydney. Yay! I saw the trailer when I watched Summer Hours, and thought it looked quite funny. Check out the trailer below.

But wait! The giveaway! Apparently I got another double pass to give away to my blog reader! Isn’t that the most awesome thing you’ve ever heard? (You can pretend it is)

The double pass is valid from Thursday, 28 May 2009 until the end of the film’s theatrical season. Check out the participating cinemas on their website to make sure you can reach them. The giveaway is open for all residents of NSW, ACT, QLD, VIC, SA, and WA (because that’s where they screen the film, not because I feel these states are cooler..)

I will draw the winner on Monday, 18th of May (that’s 5 days from now). That should give me enough time to contact the winner and send the tickets before the start of the screening (so make sure you enter your true email address, not the fake one). Just drop a comment on this post to tell me that you’re interested or you’d like to be in the draw.

Now I know there isn’t lots of Aussies reading my blog, so YOU could have a very good chance to win this! I mean, if YOU are the only person entering the draw, then I’ll give the tickets to YOU! Simple eh?

Mailbox Monday This Week

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I received Mr. Fooster Traveling on a Whim from debnance at readerbuzz as a prize to join her Bookcrossing mini-challenge at Dewey’s read-a-thon. Written by Tom Corwin, illustrated by Craig Frazier. It’s a Visual Novel as written on the cover. I was torn between Metamorphosis by Kafka or this. I thought this looked more quirky and rare, so I picked this one. I can probably get Kafka’s anywhere :).

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I bought Gone with the Wind from Basement Books for $2.95 (new). How could I resist?! I’ve never read or watched it, so I’m excited to start! They had a big pile of the books with a big paper with quote above them: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”. LOL.

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I bought Madwoman on the Bridge by Su Tong for $1. One dollar! New! It could be rubbish, I thought, but the cover was pretty attractive, the title was interesting, and the author was quite famous in China (I also have another book by him: Binu and the Great Wall), so I gave in and grabbed it. It’s collection of short stories.

So those are books that came into my house this week. How about you? Have you read any of those above? I expect a lot of you have read Gone with the Wind.

Go here to see everyone’s Mailbox Monday posts this week.

Sunday Salon: State of the Week

The Sunday Salon.com

I spent two days of my weekend watching Lost season 2 and Heroes season 2 on DVDs. Gosh somebody stop me! These two shows are pure geniuses. Honestly.

Book-wise, I’m reading three books right this week. I kinda paused to read Burnt Shadows to read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. For someone from a society who’s quite obsessed about IQ and accomplishment (aren’t they all?), it is totally an awesome book. Had good talk with my dad too about bits from it. I’m three quarter of the way now.

On my nightstand I have Tales from Outer Suburbia, which I read every night a few minutes before I go to sleep. It’s a collection of short stories, so I’m thinking that reading one story or two on one sitting is the way to go at it, and I really enjoy it! I read a book of short stories before, I just kept going to finish it, and it wasn’t great. So I reckon I should try another way. Reading them slowly happens to be great. I love it!

I was thinking to combine my Mailbox Monday post into this Sunday Salon post, but heck, I’ll just do it tomorrow. As it happens, I don’t have book reviews in line right now. So I’ll distract people with other posts.

Or a baby walrus! Oh look!

Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs

Ethel & Ernest

Ethel & Ernest is a true story of Briggs’ parents, from their first encounter to their deaths. It’s a story of two ordinary people, who experience the changing of the world around them: Second World War, the arrival of television, people landing on the moon, as they brought up their only son. It’s really nice for a change to read a book about ordinary lives. No abuse, violence, extreme poverty, and all the things that make the world dark and gloomy. This time, it’s intimate insight into life of a simple working class couple, who have simple wants and dreams, who are happy and sad for things that are important to them (not necessary to the world of course).

The main storyline is okay, but I found some scenes to be very choppy. Sometimes there’s no transition to one scene to another, and scene can change in one page from one to another abruptly. So that makes it a bit hard to understand. Furthermore, the setting is in Britain, and there are some references that I couldn’t really get or relate on. But that’s probably just me.

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At some points of the book, I felt kinda annoyed with them. Interestingly though, it’s probably what I feel with my parents. I feel annoyed with my parents sometimes (okay, often!), but I cannot not love them. Their complaints to some aspects of life and to their son sound familiar. It probably just hits close to home. So at the end of the book, it’s really painful to see them dying. I mean, everybody has to die and you know from the beginning that the book tells the story of Ethel and Ernest until their deaths, but it’s still hard to swallow. I remembered my parents.

The art! How pretty! The art was exactly the thing that pulled me. I think it’s combination of crayon, color pencils, and marker. They somehow just make into something really beautiful. Love it! Look at the cover art below. The whole book looks pretty much like that.

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It’s really hard to rate a graphic novel without considering the art. So that’s what I’m gonna do.

Rating: 4/5 (3.5 for the storyline, 4.5 for the art)
Pages: 104
Publication year: 1999

Award
1999 The Illustrated Book of the Year from Galaxy British Book Awards

Also reviewed by

Things Mean A Lot (whose review just appeared on the same day before mine. We probably read it at the same time by coincidence :)

Sunday Salon: Lazy Week

The Sunday Salon.com

It’s been a pretty slow week for me. I’m just somehow not in the best mood to read or to blog. *sigh*

I’m currently reading Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie. I find the beginning pretty slow going. Also, I’m awfully aware that Shamsie is a Pakistani and she chose to write about a Japanese girl when she’s never been to Japan, and this fact somehow bothers me a bit. I know a lot of people write about places that they’ve never been to, like the famous Herge (of Tintin), but only now I am wondering how much of knowing this fact would distract me from fully enjoying the book. I’m probably just a bit defensive because I read a lot of books by Japanese authors, and a tiny voice at the back of my mind questions why I want to read a book about Japanese or Japan by an author who’s never set foot on the land, if I could read works by people who are more connected, by origin or birth.

How about you? Do you mind to read a book with setting or protagonist that are of a different country with the origin of the author? I don’t mind it if the author has spent a considerable amount of time living there, but what if she/he hasn’t even been in that country and has no connection whatsoever in the family tree? Would you question how much the author actually knows about the place and the culture? Does it bother you at all that he/she writes about something completely foreign to him/her?

I didn’t know it could bother me until now, though I’m still not sure to what extend. I’m definitely continuing to read and see what I’d feel about it at the end.

On another note, I received a couple of awards from these lovely people below.

Jess from find the time to read has given me the Let’s Be Friends award. Aaw thank you for the attention. That’s sweet ;)

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Cheryl from The Unadorned Book Review has passed me the Proximidade Award. “This blog invests and believes in the PROXIMITY-nearness in space, time and relationships. These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement!” Mmm.. aggrandizement.. now where did I hear that before? :)

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Thanks you two! <3

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