Monthly Archives: January 2010

Calling Pride and Prejudice First Timers

Pride and Prejudice

Are you one of the few people left who have NOT read Pride and Prejudice?

I’m going to read it in the month of February (what with Valentine and all), with David and uncertainprinciples, and I thought I extend the invitation, just in case there are some of you who feel like you always want to read it but are not sure when, and feel pretty lonely because everybody else seems to have read it 16 times since they were 12. I have never read a Jane Austen myself, so this would be my first.

Just for fun, I worked out a schedule. But if you’re reading in rabbit speed, you can hop away and leave the turtles behind :)

week 1: chapter 1-17 (finish by 7 Feb)
week 2: chapter 18-34 (finish by 14 Feb)
week 3: chapter 35-47 (finish by 21 Feb)
week 4: chapter 48-61 (finish by 28 Feb)

My copy is 352 pp, so each week is about 88 pages. I don’t plan to post updates in between, unless I have something to say (also because in week 3 and 4, I’ll be going back to the land where Internet is ancient and mindbogglingly irritating). I will post my thoughts some time in the first week of March. If you read the book and post any thoughts on it between now and then, I would love it if you come back and leave a link to yours. Who knows, we may trigger some interesting discussions.

Oishinbo: Ramen & Gyōza by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki

Oishinbo (美味しんぼ, lit. “The Gourmet”) is a long-running cooking manga published between 1983 and 2008, but only in 2009 it is published in English in thematic compilation volumes, which includes: Japanese Cuisine, Sake, Ramen & Gyôza, Fish, Sushi & Sashimi, Vegetables, The Joy of Rice, and Izakaya: Pub Food (7 volumes so far). Thematic compilation means it contains “best of the best” and does not follow the original manga chronological order. There are a few minor storylines that jump forward and back. But I guess in the big picture of things, it does not matter that much, because the food is really the central of excitement here!

I saw some of the volumes at Sydney Japan Foundation Library and picked the Ramen volume out of whim, since I LOVE Ramen.

If you think you don’t like ramen, well, let me tell you, you just have not eaten the good one. Believe me, I know! I used to think I only liked dry or fried noodle, not soup noodle. But then one day, I tasted the BEST RAMEN EVER (I absolutely do not exaggerate). With one sip of the soup, I could hear the birds chirping and see the sun rise in dramatic scene.

It was divine.

The broth, the noodle, the soya egg, the roast pork. Cooked to perfection.

I never look back ever since. It is my mission in life to constantly look for a perfect ramen.

In this volume of Oishinbo, you’d find many people go very serious over a bowl of ramen. Who could blame them?

ramen

Look at the soupy goodness.

(Photo from actual ramen that I ate)

Apart from ramen, there are also gyōza (dumpling) episodes. Being a huge foodie that I am, it was fascinating to learn so much from a manga. There are many comparisons to Chinese food (chūka ryori), since many Japanese food are originated from Chinese food. There are history of Japan and China relationship, making of noodles, miso, bonito, kurobuta (black pig), the sauces, and more.

The food names are all in Japanese and there are notes at the back of the book that explain everything, which is exactly the way I like it (notes at the bottom of the pages would be more convenient, but some of them are obviously too long). I hate it when they translate food items to English. Not only on food, the notes also explain cultural elements that may not be obvious to foreigners, for example sempai-kōhai (senior-junior) relationship.

One interesting note is about how the word used for the title is not “ramen” in Japanese, but rather chūka soba, or Chinese noodles. Although the term chūka soba can be used interchangeably as a name for ramen, it also refers specifically to the noodles themselves, which are Chinese in origin. Because “ramen” is the name by which almost all Westerners know the dish, that’s what they’ve decided to use in Oishinbo.

I have fallen in love with the series, so I’ll continue reading the others. Highly recommended if you’re interested to learn more about Japanese food and culture, in a fun way at that.

4.5 stars
2009, 272 pp

Challenges
Japanese Literature 3 (book #4), Graphic Novels 2010 (book #1)

I love Japanese cooking shows. They make everything so dramatic. Have you watched Iron Chef? You should watch Iron Chef. It’s the most exciting cooking show ever. The Japanese one, not the US remake one (though the latter is not so bad). For anime, Yakitake!! Japan is very fun series about a boy whose dream is to become a bread master. I kept wanting to eat bread the whole time I watched it. When I was small, I used to watch Cooking Master Boy (or I think that’s what it was). I love to watch the reactions of the people eating the food. I think that’s how I learned to be excited about food.

This is my last book for Japanese Literature Challenge 3, which ends today. I’m going to post my wrap-up tomorrow. So see you then!

Short Saturday: Murakami, Borges, and Babel

In Short Saturday I will journal my journey to find 5-star quality short stories, whose virtual trophy right now is only held by Truman Capote for A Christmas Memory. Unlike my book reviews, I will talk more about my thoughts and what I learn, why I choose the story and how I come upon it. Unlike books, I’m willing to take more risk for shorts, because they are.. well.. short, so I won’t waste too much time if I don’t like them. Expect to see a lot of trash and hopefully, some gems. As it is now, I am not a fan of short stories. Dare I say, yet? But hey, like people say, it’s all about the journey, not destination.

on seeing the 100% perfect girl

As you know, if you read the header above, I’ve been talking about Capote‘s A Christmas Memory like a broken radio. But from last week conversations in the comments, I just remembered that there was another short story that blew me away with the same magic! It was recommended by a friend IRL years ago and I read it online. I have probably read it a couple of times by now, which is unheard of for me.

It is none other than:

On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning by Haruki Murakami

which you can read in full online (thank you, steph tai). It is available at more sites, but I love that particular one, because of the illustration and the way the text is put together. Tips: if it appears too small on your browser, press Ctrl + (plus sign) until it gets to the right size.

Please read it too. You’ll fall in love with it. I promise.

This short story is included in his short story collection Elephant Vanishes, which I sadly do not own, and it is not available at my libraries. Another of his short in the collection called Sleep was recommended by Rob (link to Rob’s review), which he rated 5 stars, and is “about an insomniac wife who gets into a habit of reading literature all night”. That sounds amazing! I have to get hold of the book.


Last week, I roamed around my library and found this lovely anthology called In the Stacks: Short Stories about Libraries and Librarians, Edited by Michael Cart.

In the StacksThe cover looks very plain, but really, shorts about libraries and librarians?! How enticing is that? And look at the big names inside! Italo Calvino, Ursula K. LeGuin, Isaac Babel, Lorrie Moore, Francine Prose, Alice Munro, Ray Bradbury, Jorge Luis Borges, and more!

This morning I went straight to:

The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges

“The universe (which others call the library) is composed of an indefinite, perhaps an infinite, number of hexagonal galleries, with enormous ventilation shafts in the middle, encircled by very low railings.”

The Library of Babel is a universe of books, the world where people are born and live, where every book ever written in every possible language resides.

Knowing how famous it was, I was quite surprised to find how short it was! However, while the premise can’t be more amazing, I found the writing was rather hard to get into. The translation maybe? Borges was Argentinian, it was translated from Spanish. It did feel like reminiscence of Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler. It also bothered me that he mentioned alphabet has 22 letters. Does Spanish have only 22 letters?

It deserves a re-read. But for now, I’ll rate it

4 stars

Some of you may wonder what happened to My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead. I had to return it to the library. (Library!) I’ll borrow it and continue again later, because there are more that I want to read. Isaac Babel‘s story is one of them. So when I saw In the Stacks also has his short (a different one) in it, I jumped into it.

The Public Library by Isaac Babel

With mere 3 pages long, this must be the shortest of shorts I’ve read so far. But it’s a nice complement after The Library of Babel. The Public Library shows a glimpse of a public library, its attendants and regular visitors.

“You can feel straightaway that the book reigns supreme here. All the people who work in the library have entered in communion with The Book, with life at second-hand, and have themselves become, as it were, a mere reflection of the living.”

I liked the writing, and I’ll watch out for more Babel in the future. (Just realized the author shares last name with Borges’s short… Coincidence?)

4 stars

I mentioned Lorrie Moore last week and am excited to find she also has a short in the anthology titled Community Life. I’ll save that for next week ;)

Okay, I’m gonna have breakfast now. I woke up, read the 2 shorts and wrote this post first thing in the morning. Argh, what am I doing?! I haven’t even had tea or something!

Hope you have a fabulous weekend!

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

People often started their reviews by saying this book so-and-so made them cry. That doesn’t mean anything to me. I don’t cry for a book.

Little did I know that I would begin my review now by saying this book made me cry! And not just a tear or two, but more like weeping for 5 minutes. At least TWO times! The last time I cried because of a book was probably The Time Traveler’s Wife, which I read in 2004.

Charlie was born retarded. He lives his entire life with not much more than broken memories and haziness. But Charlie wants to be smart. He knows he’s lacking something and that he wants that something so he can be like everybody else. One day an opportunity arrives. A research facility needs a human guinea pig. If the experiment is successful, Charlie would become.. normal, though of course, there’s a chance that it might fail. Charlie doesn’t care. He’s going to do anything to be smarter.

I have a little confession to make. For me, it’s very important to be smart. As a kid I was obsessed with IQ tests. I started doing them since I was three. I knew I wasn’t a genius, but my IQ was high enough to be, say, the highest in class, and in general, to get away with a lot of things. Some people might be the funny one, the pretty one, the talkative one, the kind one. But me, I need to be the smart one. Most of the time this thought lays deep at my subconscious mind, but at certain times when I feel my brain fails me big time, I could get pretty depressed, and the worms are out in the open. What if I’m just not that smart? What would I be? WHAT IF? –I would heap on my despair, sink in my misery.

I could relate with Charlie in many ways. I always feel the need to be smart. I understand how the little child in us always needs to get our parents’ approval. Look at me Ma! I am smart! I am somebody!

Boy, did I cry!

The book is told in a series of Charlie’s personal journal, so we could see how he progresses and gets smarter, then later finds out how things were never what he thought they were when he lived in his blurry state.

You know how sometimes even a good book slows its pace at some parts? It never happened with this book. The pace was good from beginning til end. Every page was a joy to read. Not only that, it’s packed with emotional punch. One thing for sure, I would never see a “slow” person the same way ever again.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. To anybody! I love you Daniel Keyes! Thank you for your contribution to this world! (sorry, that just gushed out of me) I can’t believe my first two books of the year were so 5 stars! I have a good feeling for this year.Daniel Keyes


1966, 216 pp

First line
Dr Strauss says I shoud rite down what I think and remembir and evrey thing that happins to me from now on.

Awards
1966 Nebula Award for Best Novel

Quotes

“.. Miss Kinnian says dont worry spelling is not suppose to make sence.” ~ p24

“Now I understand one of the important reasons for going to college and getting an education is to learn that the things you’ve believed in all your life aren’t true, and that nothing is what it appears to be.” ~ p50

Challenges
Book Awards IV (book #2), Read the Book See the Movie (book #1)

Also reviewed by
Loved it! — Farm Lane Books Blog | Savidge Reads | Novel Insight | Reading Matters
Not quite. — Books for Breakfast

charlyCharly (1968)

I had reservation about watching the movie, because the book was just SO good. There’s no way the movie can even compare. But I saw Cliff Robertson won Oscar for Best Actor in 1969 for the film, so I gave it a chance.

Well, I was right. It’s not horrible, but it’s nothing compared to the book. In the movie we lose a lot of Charlie’s inner thoughts, which are the main point of the book. A lot of his external and internal conflicts were cut as well, leaving mainly his love interest.

I would give the movie a pass.

Rating: 6/10

Apart from my reading challenges, I read the book (and watch the movie) to participate on Carl’s Sci Fi Experience 2010 (run in the month of January and February). Are you participating? You still have time if you want to! :)

After Flowers for Algernon I definitely have a lot more confidence in trying the Sci-Fi genre. A few years ago I told the person who gave me the book that “I don’t read science fiction.” But when we discussed some books that we’ve read, I mentioned The Time Traveller’s Wife and Kindred. He quickly pointed out that I do read sci-fi. Sci-fi does not mean all outer-space and machines. I agree that we really shouldn’t pigeon-hole books into a certain genre, and avoid them as a result. Imagine what great books that we could be missing out! I do plan to read more of what is called sci-fi books in the future. Nebula and Hugo award winners would be a great start. At the moment I’m thinking Stranger in a Strange Land.

Can you think of any books that you are passionate about that fall into the sci-fi genre?

Read the Book, See the Movie Challenge

1 January 2010 – 31 December 2010

You do know that I need to join this challenge, right? Comparing book and its movie adaptation is really my thing. In 2009, I did that with:

  1. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  2. The Color Purple
  3. Silk
  4. A Christmas Carol
  5. Wicked (not a movie, but with its musical)
  6. Dracula + movie (separate post)
  7. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince + movie (separate post)
  8. Intimacy (uum didn’t finish the movie because it was so bad..)

In 2008, I read the books and see the movies for The Woman in the Dunes, Atonement, Harry Potter 1-5, The Kite Runner, Wuthering Heights, Lolita, and Persepolis. Then in separate years, Memoirs of a Geisha, Battle Royale, The Joy Luck Club, A Walk to Remember. (I don’t link to the book reviews because I think I just started incorporating movie comparison regularly in 2008.) Really, the options are endless!

Therefore I’m quite confident that I can complete the Saturday Movie Marathon level, which requires four books/movies. Easy peasy :)

I know that I’ll be watching The Road and Burton’s Alice in Wonderland this year. Possibly The Reader, The Lovely Bones, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button–all of which I have read. Disgrace and The Secret Life of Bees piqued my interest too (books read). Hopefully I can squeeze in The Revolutionary Road and The Remains of the Day (books not yet read).

What pair would you recommend? I’m all ears!

The pair I did for the challenge:

  1. Flowers for Algernon (reviewed 01/10)
  2. The Road (reviewed 03/10)
  3. The Good Earth (reviewed 03/10)
  4. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (reviewed 06/10)
  5. To Kill A Mockingbird (reviewed 06/10)
  6. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (reviewed 10/10)
  7. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (reviewed 11/10)
  8. The Remains of the Day (reviewed 12/10)

Reviews Jan/Feb | May/Jun/Jul | Aug/Sep

Did Something Change?

A Better Place, by Mee

Something did! I changed the theme AND my blog title! If you forget, my blog title used to be Books of Mee, but after some consideration, I’ve decided to change it to something more mee (sorry, couldn’t resist :).

I would change my header image every once in a while. Figured my thousands of pictures sitting on my laptop needs a better treatment. A bit of limelight won’t hurt. You know, a couple of weeks of fame is all they’re gonna get.

There might be a few more things I want to change, some cleaning here and there. But overall, I’m quite happy with what I have right now. Thanks to some elves who gave me encouragements. You know who you are! :D

Short Saturday: Carver, Moore, and Chekhov

In Short Saturday I will journal my journey to find 5-star quality short stories, whose virtual trophy right now is only held by Truman Capote for A Christmas Memory. Unlike my book reviews, I will talk more about my thoughts and what I learn, why I choose the story and how I come upon it. Unlike books, I’m willing to take more risk for shorts, because they are.. well.. short, so I won’t waste too much time if I don’t like them. Expect to see a lot of trash and hopefully, some gems. As it is now, I am not a fan of short stories. Dare I say, yet? But hey, like people say, it’s all about the journey, not destination.

My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead

Continuing from the first three short stories I read from My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead, I read 3 more in the span of a few weeks (taking my time, I know).

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver

As you can guess, the title is where Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is from. I read Carver’s Cathedral last year and while the stories didn’t blow my mind, they do have certain charm. By this time I felt like I was sooo familiar with Carver’s style: sparse prose, tackling issues of married couples.

In this story two married couples drinking together one afternoon, talking about love they find around them. Like all Carver’s stories, it struck me as being very male. And somehow the characters always drink. They drink a lot and talk s*it. I’ll call it Carverian, as in this story is very Carverian.

How to Be an Other Woman by Lorrie Moore

I picked this story out of whim. The Other Woman story never gets old. I love it that in this short Lorrie Moore gave a very smart twist. It is told in sort of a set of instructions (How to Be… Get it?)

“When you were six you thought mistress meant to put your shoes on the wrong feet. Now you are older and know it cam mean many things, but essentially it means to put your shoes on the wrong feet.

You walk differently. In store windows you don’t recognize your self; you are another woman, some crazy interior display lady in glasses stumbling frantic and preoccupied through the mannequins. In public restrooms you sit dangerously flat against the toilet seat, a strange flesh sundae of despair and exhilaration, murmuring into your bluing thighs: “Hello, I’m Charlene. I’m a mistress.”

It is like having a book out from the library.

It is like constantly having a book out from the library.”

I was really quite impressed with the story and checked out the author, Loorie Moore, as I never heard of her before. She’s American fiction writer known mainly for her humorous short stories. No wonder. I would love to read more of her works.

RobAroundBooks hosts a challenge called William Trevor vs. Lorrie Moore: A Quest to Discover which of the Two is More of a Modern-day Chekhov. So I wasn’t wrong. Lorrie Moore is a big-shot in shorties world. She also just released a new novel titled A Gate at the Stairs which Ann Kingman raved about a while back.

It’s great timing, because my next story is of Chekhov’s. I just need to read William Trevor after this (which luckily is also included in the anthology).

The Lady with the Little Dog by Anton Chekhov

The Lady with the Little Dog is a bitter-sweet love story between a man and a woman, both are married to other people. In their ripe age they just realize that they have possibly just fallen in love for real and thus have not married the right person.

The story is available to read online. Over there it’s called The Lady with the Dog (link to full story). I don’t know which title is correct. If you’re interested to read Chekov, 201 of his stories are also available online. Go nuts!

Coincidentally, RobAroundBooks also hosts a challenge called Chekin’ Off the Chekhov Shorts and he’s been going through all those 201 stories, with links to his rating and thoughts. Really, I’m not gonna read all 201 shorts, so Rob’s page is a great way to let someone else do the weeding and plucking for you :D

For another opinion, in her review, Eva talked about all three stories above. She seems to like them about the same amount as I did.

What I learned this week: One of my problems with short stories is that most of the time I feel like I have read something similar in the past. I think it’s because with books you have enough time and space to make your book unique, but with short stories there’s so little time.

Did you post any thoughts on short stories this week? I would love it if you leave a link in the comment!

Aussie Author Challenge, Oi!

In conjunction with my own personal challenge to read more Aussie authors, I should naturally join the Aussie Author Challenge! (1 Jan-31 Dec 2010)

There are many to choose from. The ones more known internationally like Markus Zusak and Geraldine Brooks, Steve Toltz for his A Fraction of the Whole, to the ONLY two double Booker winners Peter Carey, and now, I’m glad to say, also J. M. Coetzee! (I knew that Coetzee has lived in Adelaide for a while, but I just recently learned that he has fully pledged to be an Aussie citizen!) Then the ones recently got famous: Christos Tsiolkas for the 2009 Commonweath Prize and Nam Le for his debut collection of short stories (also won lots of local prizes). And don’t forget the awesome Shaun Tan (whom I have raved about to no end) and Margo Lanagan whose Tender Morsels won World Fantasy Award in 2009.

Did I forget anyone? Well I feel like I have to mention Tim Winton, because he’s huge here. But somehow his books don’t seem to appeal to me.

I’m going for Tourist level, which requires you to read 3 books. I plan to read one of Peter Carey‘s books (I’m thinking Oscar and Lucinda because it sounds the most appealing to me. I have that and True History of the Kelly Gang on my shelf..) but I would probably end up reading more Shaun Tan‘s graphic novels, Tender Morsels, and The Book Thief. Oh, and I’m reading The Slap by Tsiolkas as we speak.

Do share if you joined or thinking to :)

Books Read

  1. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (finished 03/10, rating 4/5)
  2. The Rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan (finished 03/10, rating 4/5)
  3. Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan (finished 05/10, rating 4/5)

All the participants’ reviews

Plan for 2010

More than half a month has passed into 2010, and I haven’t shared my reading plan for 2010 to you! Well, really it’s mostly for me, so I can look back on my plan at the end of the year and see how much has changed between now and then, and how far I have drifted from my initial course.

But for now, I do have plans:

  • Read more non-fiction. I plan to spend half of my commute time reading non-fiction. I’ve been doing it since last week and it seems to work.
  • Read more short stories. I plan on doing regular Short Saturday (not every week, but hopefully often enough) in which I share my journey to find the greatest short stories ever.
  • New-to-me authors that I plan to tackle this year: David Mitchell, Sarah Waters, Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte (Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre specifically)
  • Start on my personal project to read big readers’ all-time favorite books! I even made a button below to make it official! :)

So the story is one day it struck me that I really have not read near as many English books as I would’ve liked, while some book bloggers may have read hundreds and hundreds, or even thousands in their lifetime. I’m really curious about what their top books of all time would be. Really, among hundreds or thousands, the books must be good! (or if I don’t really like them at the end, at least have some merits) Since I just started reading English novels in late 2003, I have a lot to catch up. This way, who knows, I may catch the best books in more efficient way ;)

The plan is, I’m going to approach some bloggers (my target would be the BIG readers), asking for their list of most favorite books of all time. It can be top 3, top 5, top 16, whatever they like. Then out of the list, I’ll pick one that piques my interest the most, and read it. I will then post my thoughts and if possible, feature a few Q and As with the blogger whom I get the list from.

I’m not sure yet how often I’d be able to do this, but I hope to be able to do it quarterly. What do you think? Sounds like a good plan? :)

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