Book Awards Challenge III Completed!


I joined Book Awards Challenge III in July and it’s going to end on the 1st of December, so this is a good time to wrap-up!

I surprised myself I was able to complete it as I almost gave up a few weeks ago. Thanks to the graphic novel American Born Chinese, which is short and won tons of awards! :)

I read 5 books:

  1. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (finished 08/09, 5 stars)
    2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 2003 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction (nominee)
  2. Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie (finished 08/09, 3 stars)
    2009 Orange Prize for Fiction (shortlist)
  3. Snakes and Earrings by Hitomi Kanehara (finished 08/09, 3 stars)
    2003 Akutagawa Prize
  4. Strangers by Taichi Yamada (finished 09/09, 2.5 stars)
    1987 Yamamoto Shūgorō Prize
  5. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (finished 10/09, 4 stars)
    2007 Printz, 2007 Eisner – Best New Graphic Album, finalist for 2006 National Book Award

My favorite of the lot is by miles Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides! Loved loved loved it so much! It became my top 3 books of all time! Great plot, great characters, great journey, and most of all, AMAZING writing! I just enjoyed it through and through.

My biggest disappointment were Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie and Strangers by Taichi Yamada. The writing for Burnt Shadows was pretty good but the book just dragged for the longest time and I hated the characters and didn’t believe a lot of parts of the storyline. The idea of Strangers is great, but the execution made it a B-grade ghost story. I don’t think I will read their other books.

As always, reading prize winners is one of my top priority so I look forward to the next instalment of Book Awards Challenge (the forth will start on 1 February 2010). Thanks to 3m @ 1morechapter for hosting such a great challenge!

Clueless in Tokyo by Betty Reynolds

Clueless in Tokyo

Clueless in Tokyo: An Explorer’s Sketchbook of Weird and Wonderful Things in Japan is the second book in the series that I read after Squeamish about Sushi by the same author.

Once again, the illustration was always a joy to look at and the little things were fascinating to learn.

For example, the instruction on how to drink Japanese tea:

  1. admire bowl
  2. turn bowl clockwise 180 degree so the sacred spot faces away from you
  3. slurp your tea to show appreciation
  4. clean the rim with a cloth
  5. turn bowl back counterclockwise 180 deg
  6. admire bowl again

A few random facts that I took note of:

  • Sumo grand champion’s ceremonial rope weighs 15 kilos
  • You can rent a protest truck, get  behind a microphone and blast your views around Tokyo
  • Taxi’s doors open and close automatically
  • Whole squads of gas station attendants hoot and hollar to welcome you like in restaurants
  • When you order food for delivery, you leave the dirty dishes out of your front door after eating. It will be picked up by the restaurant in the morning.

And a few items of interest (or shock!) in Japan:

  • Batteries vending machine
  • Porn vending machine that’s hidden behind metallic curtain at daytime and exposed at night
  • Condom vending machine that categorizes the condoms by blood type
  • Schoolgirls’ used panties vending machine (eewww.. WHERE did they get those?!)

When I reviewed Squeamish About Sushi I didn’t get a chance to take pictures (or was just assuming that I could steal some pictures from the net, but apparently I couldn’t find any), but this time I did! So here I present you a few pages from the book: (taken in a train on the way to work with my iPhone, so pardon me for somewhat mediocre quality photos..)

Clueless in Tokyo
The famous complicated Japanese toilet buttons

Clueless in Tokyo
Japanese chick attire

Clueless in Tokyo
Japanese masks

Are pictures really worth a thousand words?

4.5 stars
1997, 48 pp

In Which I Wish I Had More Time for Challenges

The year almost passes and we can see shiny new challenges for next year start popping up like weeds wild flowers blooming in the spring. I do manage to restrain myself and have some self-control. For now.

I wish I could join these challenges next year, but since the minimum requirement is at least 3 books, I decided to pass. I’m trying not to join any challenges next year that require more than 2 books, except for very selected few (if any). But I’d love to give them a shout and make my “if I were to join” list!

South Asian Challenge

South Asian Author Challenge is hosted by S. Krishna’s Books requiring you to read 3, 5, 7, or 10 books by South Asian authors (including descendants) — India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. So far I have only read two books by South Asian authors: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (India) and Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie (Pakistan) and had only lukewarm feelings toward them (okay, even disliked the latter). I do want to read more and have a couple on my shelf. If I were to join the challenge, my list would look like:

  • Brick Lane by Monica Ali (Bangladesh) – on shelf
  • The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (India) – on shelf
  • A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (India) – want to read
  • A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif (Pakistan) – want to read
  • A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth (India) – want to read

bronte challenge

All About the Brontes Challenge is hosted by Laura’s Reviews. I read Wuthering Heights a couple of years ago and liked it, but I haven’t read any other Bronte’s. I have decided that next year would be the year for me to read Jane Eyre (and.. uhum.. Pride and Prejudice). But then again the challenge requires us to commit to three items (could be books or movies). I’m most probably going to read and watch Jane Eyre next year, but I’m not sure if I want to commit for another item! Anyway, if I were to join the challenge, my list would look like:

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • Jane Eyre the movie
  • The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (a gothic tale in the vein of Jane Eyre according to Laura)
  • The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fford (a book that I have lately heard about and am intrigued)

GLBT Challenge

GLBT Challenge is hosted by Amanda @ The Zen Leaf. Again, minimum required books is 4, so can’t join. I can hover on the side and follow the activities though. I don’t think I’ve read many GLBT books at all (definitely not on purpose). The last one that I read was Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides and it was absolutely wonderful! Since then, I have definitely gained much more interest in reading more books in the same vein. If I were to join the challenge, my list would be like:

  • Normal by Amy Bloom (nonfiction)
  • Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters (or anything by her)
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wild (on shelf)
  • The Screwed Up Life of Charlie the Second by Drew Ferguson (Nerds Heart YA Project runner-up, given to me by Chris)

ETA: I just knew that Gregory Maguire’s books would qualify and I also just remembered Daphne du Maurier. I read Wicked very recently and Rebecca last year. Both are great books! And of course, The Color Purple.

Let me just say that this is almost as fun as joining the challenge itself! :)

Are you joining any of them?

Weekly Geeks: Book Podcasts

Weekly GeeksThis week’s Weekly Geeks is about book podcasts and it’s something I’d really like to share!

I’m a very late follower of podcasts since I was never a fan of listening to anything. Sure I like some music, but I never really have to listen to them. But once I found these book podcasts I was absolutely hooked! I listen to them walking outside, before sleep, waking up, getting ready for work — it’s crazy!

One that I absolutely love and have been listening like nuts is Books on the Nightstand by Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness. I’d been to their websites a couple of times before but somehow never tried the podcasts. I tried them about 2 weeks ago, and now can NOT stop. I’m now happily going through the 50+ podcasts that are available from the very first episode. There’s a new one every fortnight and they started it some time last year. The last podcast talks about women writers which ties nicely with the Women Unbound challenge. It’s like listening to your friends talking about their favorite books. Except that they know so much since they breathe books for work.

Second is Alexander McCall Smith’s online novel: Corduroy Mansions which I am absolutely crazy about as well. The link I gave you features the second instalment of the series which is still going (The Dog Who Came in from the Cold), but I’m still halfway through the first book. One chapter is only about 6-8 minutes and it’s just perfect length for me to listen walking from bus stop to and fro my office. The first book is officially no longer published, but I have the rss link which contains links to all 100 chapters (download them quick because they can take it down anytime :). The book has very little to no plot, but it’s just so cozy with quirky characters having adorable thoughts of random things. Because of that, I suggest you listen to no more than a couple of chapters a day rather than rush through it.

Third is ABC’s First Tuesday Book Club which is very Australian, featuring Australian guests and often Australian authors. The podcasts are video podcasts and they have a new one only every month so I don’t have many to go all over. But I thoroughly enjoy the new one every month. They often discuss books that I never heard before, and yet sound very interesting! Do you also feel that sometimes book bloggers read the same pool of books? Well with these podcasts, I get to know about even wider range of books! (which what the Books on the Nightstand does as well)

Last one is the New Yorker Fiction podcasts. Now I haven’t tried them yet, but they definitely look interesting. It was recommended to me by Mark David. It features contemporary authors reading shorts by older authors. I see lots of big names there!

Would you share your favorite book podcasts too? I’m dying to find more! :D

Sunday Salon: Mixed Bookish Things Feat. Two Children Books and Fight Club

TSSbadge3Not a good week. Caught cold. Home sick one day but had to work for the rest of the week. Didn’t manage to compile a proper review. But don’t despair, I can still talk about books!

I’m halfway through The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. The Classics Circuit is going to enter the third week of Wilkie Collins tour. I’ve been enjoying the first and second week of the tour. Go check them out if you haven’t! My stop of the tour would be on the 9th of December. I have spared pretty much all November for this tome of a book, so I’m strolling along just nicely without any unnecessary added pressure.

The next tour in January/February would be Edith Wharton. I love the compilation of author information and their works by Rebecca and friends. They’re so thorough and informative! I voted for John Steinbeck at the poll (there were 4 authors, including Mark Twain and Willa Cather) and Wharton won. I’m interested to read The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck and The Age of Innocence by Wharton, but I think I’ll pass this time around just so I have more room to read for my other challenges and projects.

I haven’t read Children books since… forever, but I read TWO this week! I prepared them for Dewey’s read-a-thon but didn’t get around to read them then. Well I should’ve because they only took about 5-10 minutes each (mostly looking at pictures too).

Where the Wild Things AreThe Great Escape from City Zoo

They are Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and The Great Escape from City Zoo by Tohby Riddle.

Where the Wild Things Are was made into a movie and though it’s not out here in Australia yet, I’d like to be prepared since it looks great! Some people in my company worked on some of its special effects too, so the more reason for me to watch it. The book is super simple. Boy goes to some strange land with strange creatures (love the fuzzy creatures, they’re so cute!) then goes back home. That would give the movie so much freedom to write their own script!

The Great Escape from City Zoo is about 4 animals who escaped from the zoo. Sounds familiar? (I haven’t watched Madagascar but some birds said that Tohby talked to people from Hollywood about his book, the deal didn’t go, but Madagascar the movie soon came after that.) Looks like the four animals there are giraffe, zebra, lion, and hippo. In The Great Escape the animals are elephant, flamingo, turtle, and anteater. I met Tohby Riddle at Sydney Writers’ Festival earlier this year and have wanted to read one of his books since then. I love his illustration. In this book the illustration is all in sepia shade watercolour, which looks quite subtle for normally vibrant colored children books.

Fight Club

A sudden turn from children books, I watched Fight Club this week. I never read Chuck Palahniuk‘s books before and I don’t know if I want to after watching Fight Club. Do you have any to recommend?

For some weird reason, I mixed Palahniuk and Orhan Pamuk on Fight Club so I quietly wondered during the movie: why does a Turkish novelist write about a depressed white collar American who started underground fighting club? To my enlightenment, Palahniuk is indeed an American, and he’s no way related to Pamuk who is indeed a Turkish.

While we’re on the topic of Orhan Pamuk, would you highly recommend any of his books? He intimidates me a bit, but that’s probably because I thought he wrote Fight Club, or of the fact that he’s a Turkish professor and from what I read his books are quite difficult to read.

Fight Club (1999)

Going back to the movie. To summarize, it’s dark psychological thriller. I love the beginning: Edward Norton as a desperate everyday American who suffers insomnia and finds solace in visiting various support groups. (I have loved Edward Norton since the Illusionist and the Painted Veil. Hubby knew him from the Incredible Hulk. *roll eyes*) But then he meets Brad Pitt. While I love some Brad Pitt’s movies, I always see him acting his character, not becoming his character. So I always see Brad Pitt, not whichever character he’s supposed to be. If that makes any sense.

There’s definitely some graphic violence in the movie, sort of expected with a title like that. I was dissatisfied and confused with the ending so that didn’t make it a very good movie for me. But it’s not bad overall.

Rating: 7/10

Bookish Movie Mini-Reviews: Dracula and Mao’s Last Dancer + Holiday Swap

Dracula (1992)

I told you earlier when I reviewed Dracula that I was going to watch its movie soon. So I did.

It’s directed by Francis Ford Coppola and has a line of stars: Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, Winona Ryder, and Keanu Reeves. The movie is definitely more sexual (sometimes unnecessarily I thought). The main, huge, difference with the original novel is that Mina is Dracula’s wife in previous life and she remembers it! What an odd decision to make.

The movie is all a bit cheesy for me. Perhaps I’m just not a fan of vampire movies. I’m not a fan of the book too after all. I kinda liked Gary Oldman as the old Dracula, with the red robe and funny hair (see the trailer). He really looks creepy there to the point of being unrecognizable.

Talking about vampire movies, I definitely liked Interview With the Vampire more. (Please don’t tell me to watch Buffy or Twilight)

Rating: 7/10

Mao’s Last Dancer (2009)

I’m so much more excited about the second movie. It’s just recently out in Australia and I haven’t heard anyone at the other part of the sea mention it, though it’s pretty big over here (movie and book).

Mao’s Last Dancer follows the extraordinary journey of Li Cunxin, plucked from poor Chinese village by Mao’s cultural delegates and taken to Beijing to study ballet. During a cultural exchange to America, he fell in love with the country and an American woman, and decided to not go back. The decision caused an outrage that forbid him to go back to his home country and meet his family for a long time. Li is now an Australian.

I’d say I haven’t seen book-to-movie adaptation that is so mind blowing for the longest time! The dance was simply mesmerizing and the journey fascinating! I’m not sure if I want to read the book, because I can’t imagine how it could portray the dancing as well as the film.

The only flaw I found was some stilted acting, but it’s so minor I’m willing to let it go. Highly recommended. Please watch the trailer so you can have some sense of what I’m talking about!

Rating: 10/10

Mao's Last Dancer
The Book

The last bookish thing I’d like to give a shout is the Book Blogger Holiday Swap! It’s my first time joining. I can’t remember how I missed it last year. I must’ve been very busy. Two years ago I joined something similar with the folks over at Bookcrossing and I had so much fun! So I’m happy we have something similar for book bloggers. The dateline to sign up is 12 November 2009. I hope you can join us!

book blogger holiday swap

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

American Born ChineseAmerican Born Chinese is a graphic novel comprised of three interrelated stories: an American-born Chinese boy who tries to fit in at his school, the legendary Monkey King, and an American boy who is extremely embarrassed by his visiting cousin who fits into the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype. The stories come together at the end in slightly bizarre way.

Anybody who’s born in Asia region or has Chinese heritage would know the story of the Monkey King, since it’s one of the oldest and the most popular Chinese literature that ever was. I grew up with countless variations of the story retelling and derivation: movies, tv series, manga, anime, illustrated books, you name it. So I would be interested to know if anyone outside the culture ever heard of the story. I can’t remember a time when I lived without the Monkey King, so I just assume that everybody in the world must know about it! Well, do you? If you’d like to read more about the origin, check out the wiki page of Journey to the West, which is probably a good introduction to the story. Or you can read Yang’s reasoning behind all three stories, which also includes some history of the Monkey King.gene yang

Out of the three stories, I enjoyed the Chinese cousin Chin-Kee the least. It’s too over the top with eating cat gizzards and peeing in a coke can for someone to drink. He’s disgusting, annoying, and frankly, almost insulting to Chinese people. I’m not sure if the story’s inclusion is really necessary and I wondered a bit why Yang put it in. The conclusion at the end of the book didn’t convince me. I read Yang’s story of the origin of the character (at the very end) and I got to understand in some way. He said,

“In order for us to defeat our enemy, he must first be made visible.”

I can’t ask for more. It’s the perfect way to explain his decision and I respect it.

The Monkey King story is pretty close to the original one and I do think I could appreciate it more having been so familiar with the original story. But inevitably, I enjoyed most the good old story of Asian kids wanting to fit into dominantly white society. Along with him, there’s a Japanese girl and another boy from Taiwan in school. It’s always interesting point that the ignorant always group all the Asians together like a big pot of slanted eyes people.

While the graphic novel is fiction, it’s not hard to imagine that parts of it are biographical. Yang was born in 1973, and I imagine there were probably few Asians in school in those days. I’m not sure about American school these days, but in Australia I do see plenty Asian high school kids all over the place. So the difficulty to fit in may not be as high as, say, 20-30 years ago.

Gene Luen Yang

One of my favorite scene is the one where the two Chinese friends meet at some cafe drinking bubble tea. Bubble tea! For you who don’t know, it’s Taiwanese drink that’s really popular in East Asia and overseas. It usually comprises of milk tea and black tapioca balls in bite size. I happen to like it as well, and there were a lot of times that I hung out with my Asian friends drinking bubble tea — in Australia, Canada, USA, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia. Bubble tea is ubiquitous! It brought me fond memories, just thought I share. It’s such a perfect ending to the book, as for me, it shows acceptance of who you are.

It’s kinda weird that I probably spent more time compiling this review than reading the book (it’s really short). But I guess it’s the type of book that could invoke all sorts of reaction and feeling. And the more I dwell on it the more I appreciate the uniqueness of this book. Who has ever produced anything like it before? The rawness of it really hits you on the head.

American Born Chinese is published by First Second, whose collection looks absolutely amazing. I’m most interested in reading Kampung Boy by Lat (kampung means village in Malaysian and Indonesian) and The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa (Korean author). Gorgeous covers!

4 stars
2006, 240 pp

Gene Yang website | Gene Yang on American Born Chinese

2007 Michael L. Printz Award (First graphic novel ever to win. Won over the Book Thief by Markus Zusak in that year.)
2007 Eisner Award Best Graphic Album – New
Finalist for 2006 National Book Award – Young People’s Literature (First graphic novel ever to be nominated)

Book Awards III (book #5), Dewey’s Book (book #12), Graphic Novels (book #17), China Challenge (book #1) — Not sure if this book counts, since half of it is set overseas, not China, but the Monkey King story? Surely it counts!

Also reviewed by

Loved it! — Dreadlock Girl | Worducopia (with Hsu-nami soundtrack) | Things Mean a Lot | The Witten World | The Book Zombie | Stuff as Dreams are Made On | nothing of importance | Tripping Toward Lucidity | So Many Books, So Little Time | Book Addiction | 1morechapter | Epiphany | Everyday Reads | Regular Rumination | The Shady Glade | an adventure in reading | Book Nut | Frenetic Reader | Book Dweeb | The Hidden Side of Leaf

Didn’t. — The Zen Leaf | Bermudaonion | The Bluestocking Society | Thoughts of Joy

Did I miss yours?

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