New York Book Haul, Bookish Stuff and Reading List

In March I went to New York (9 days) and New Orleans (4 days)! It was such a great trip in many ways, but how is it in bookie ways? I’ve been posting pictures on my Instagram and my travel FB page if you’re into pictures, but this post will be on all bookish related stuff :)

My highlights in New York is the legendary Strand! It is as good as everyone says, with floors of books, rows after rows. And it happened to be close to where we stayed in East Village, so we even got a chance to go twice. Just in the first visit both Mee and Mr. Mee immediately think: We have to come again. So we did.

Mee and The Strand, NY
Mee and Strand Bookstore, NY :)

Unfortunately my luggage had limited space and weight, so I couldn’t buy as many book as I’d like, but I’m still happy with a few that I got. I had already thought in advance that my target would be a couple of those NYRB books, that are so widely available and cheap in the US. In fact, my target was to get only books published in the US, so this time sorry Penguin, I didn’t even bat an eye on you.

New York book haul
New York book haul

From The Strand I got 2 NYRB books:
Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi (my favorite cover of these bunch)
Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih — which I’ve been meaning to read for a while
– Plus a tiny book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: We Should All Be Feminists (because we all should, shouldn’t we? :) I’ve read Purple Hibiscus in the past, and been meaning to read more of her books.

My surprise bookshop of New York was Drama Book Shop. I spotted it only by accident, and so so lucky I did, because it was incredible. Everything in the bookshop was scripts, stage plays, screen plays, and books related to those. Very fitting to its name: Drama Book Shop. I don’t know what I’d do if I missed this bookshop — maybe wailing in despair.

Drama Book Shop, New York

I got 2 books from Drama Book Shop:
A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen — been meaning to read this one in print form (I don’t want to read thin books on Kindle if possible). I know it’s not American, but it was so cheap for just $2!
– and a play by Woody Allen (love his films and scripts) called Don’t Drink the Water, which apparently was played on Broadway at one point. There were a few plays on the shelf by him, so I just had to pick one that sounded most interesting to me from the blurbs.

What’s that blue Poe thing on the right side, you might think? It’s a temp tattoo box hah! (also from the Strand) We did a day trip to Philadelphia from New York (about 2 hours by bus), and I *almost* went to a house that he used to live in. But it was a bit far from the city center, so we didn’t get a chance to. So this is my commiseration souvenir :). Here is more information about Poe’s house in Philadelphia if you get luckier than me.

I went to New York with just a Joan Didion on my hand (which I later found out that Didion only lives in New York while Slouching Towards Betlehem is essays on California, so I was off the mark there uum..) but I came back with tons of reading list! I used to think that I’d really like to read books set in certain place before I go visit it, but perhaps in reality it works better the other way around. For me anyway. That way the reading seems more meaningful and the setting more familiar.

I am now interested to find more books set in New York. I have added to my reading list these following books (though some of them have actually been on my to read list for a while, just that I wasn’t aware they’re set in New York):
– The House of Mirth / Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton (the first I’m currently reading)
– The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon
– The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
– The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt (a maybe)
– Woody Allen and more Joan Didion?
– I initially put Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, but I just read his first book Everything Is Illuminated, and I had mixed feelings about it, so now I’m not so sure.

Some of the classics I’ve read: The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (not a huge fan of the first two, liked the last).

Any more books to add to my TBR? I will talk about New Orleans in the next post!

Everything Is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer

everything is illuminated - jonathan safran foer
One of my reading session at a coffee place in the morning before work

I’m going to say it upfront. I have mixed feelings about Everything is Illuminated. The book has been on my to-read list for ages, especially ever since Claire told me that I would like his book if I liked her wife’s book (which I did, I absolutely loved The History of Love). And yes I could possibly recognise some similarities in this book, but it didn’t hit me effortlessly like Krauss’s did, and I’m not sure whether it’s just me, that I’m already at a different place now reading-wise (I read The History of Love 5 years ago).

First of all, the book is started by the voice of a Ukranian boy with a broken English, which means it’s kinda started on the wrong foot for me. As someone whose first language isn’t English, I often find any broken English written by English speaking writers sounding…, well, false. It just doesn’t ring true to me. It’s fabricated. It’s broken English according to people whose first language is English, and it’s often on borderline to being annoying or insulting.

The plot summary of the book: an American writer names Jonathan Safran Foer is coming to Ukraine to search for Augustine, who is a daughter in the family that saved Jonathan’s grandfather in Nazi’s time. The grandfather comes from this village called Trachimbrod. Jonathan hires a guide (translator Alex, and driver – Alex’s grandfather).

Hence there are three types of chapters that go alternately:
– Alex, the Ukranian boy, in letters that he sends to Jonathan  –> broken English
– Alex (the same one), in stories he writes about his experience in Ukraine with Jonathan in their quest to search for Augustine –> broken English
– Jonathan, in stories he writes about what he thinks happens in the past to his ancestors and the village Trachimbrod

Already it sounds more complex than you expected, right? That’s what I think. The voice of Alex means that at least half of the book is written in this sort of broken English. Most mistakes that I see when writers do this is that the characters often use words that are way beyond their levels, YET retain their mistakes for ridiculously simple words. Example of why it doesn’t ring true to me: Alex uses “manufacture Z” for “sleep”, and retains this use until the end of the book even though his English in other areas improve. That is crazy. “Sleep” and many other basic words are the very first thing we learn when we learn English, or any new language. There’s NO way you would use word like “manufacture Z” for “sleep” as it is a way more complicated word. I can understand why the author maintains the usage, because “the voice” needed to be consistent – it’s writing rule. But it’s unrealistic. Anyway, I have to digress here, because I can go on and on about this.

You’ve probably noticed that one of the main characters is also named Jonathan Safran Foer, an American writer. As I recall, in one of Ian McEwan’s interviews that I watched recently, he mentioned that readers should be suspicious when the author appears in their supposedly fictional book. YES. Because, WHY? What is the purpose of using character with the same name and the same background? I can sort of understand the play of fiction vs reality thing, but I find it a bit annoying, like the author is having a laugh at you.

So on and on, in reading this book, I was always on the edge of being annoyed and being entertained. The structure of the book also felt like it’s borderline on being either gimmicky or smart, like the author was trying really hard to tell a story in A NEW WAY to get published (this is his debut novel). These days that seems to be one of the requirements to get your book published for the first time. Can you tell a story in a NEW WAY? After all this is a story of Holocaust at its heart, which has been told many times over. Jonathan needed to bring a new thing on the table.

Real life Jonathan insisted that the book is all fiction, but someone seems to think otherwise. Check the link for a great article / story by a woman who survived the Jew genocide at Trochenbrod, a real village in Polish-Ukranian border (the village is called Trachimbrod in the book). Lastly, Alex the character in the book is nicknamed Sasha, while real life Jonathan’s son is also named Sasha. Confused much?

It’s hard to make up my mind, but the book is compelling enough for me to read until the end. And if anything, the way the story is told IS different than anything I’ve read before. So I guess that’s a good thing. I quite enjoyed Jonathan’s chapters (those written in proper English). Foer seems to have a good command of language. Just can’t help feeling that I was being slightly tricked the whole way. I could see the author’s hands. I could see the strings with which he moved his puppets.

Mee’s rating: 3.5/5


Magna Carta at the British Library

Just a quick post to point you to my travel blog direction in which I recently wrote about my experience in visiting the Magna Carta exhibition at the British Library (open from 13 March to 1 September 2015), and a bit on my trip to the Independence Hall in Philadelphia, US. (Related, I promise! :)

A bit off-topic, I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it here before, but I’m on Instagram as @meexia. I keep in touch with some fellow book bloggers there, so would love to see you there too if you’re using IG!


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