Mee’s Summer Reading 2013

Since I am way way way behind in blogging about books read and all bookish things that happened in the past 3 month, I’m just going to write about them in one giant post. And I just realized those 3 months were summer (coincidence?), so I can call them summer reading!

Books Read

Frankenstein — Mary Shelley (England/Europe, 1818,  4/5)

I liked Frankenstein, a lot more than Dracula, which I did not like very much. It seems that most people either like one or the other. I’m definitely on Frankenstein side. Also if you read a little about Mary Shelley’s life, it is as shocking and as interesting as her story.

metamorphosis

Metamorphosis — Franz Kafka (German, 1915, 4.5/5)

Metamorphosis is my first Kafka, finally. Well the first was actually his short story called A Country Doctor, which I read just before Metamorphosis, but it was a 5-page short story. Metamorphosis is rather short too, around 90 pages. I thought it was amazing story about a man waking up as a giant insect. I got the impression that it was going to be depressing, and it was at the end, but overall I thought it was hilarious. I will need to read more Kafka!

The Night Bookmobile — Audrey Niffenegger (US, 2010, 4/5)

An illustrated book by Audrey Niffenegger about a woman who stumbles upon a mobile library, in which there is everything she’s ever read in her life. Wow it’s so dark and depressing at the end, that I’m not sure what the whole point of the book is. The story is just a bit strange. But there’s a lot of work put into the book as she illustrates it herself using various art techniques.

don quixote comic

Don Quixote (graphic novel, vol 1) — Cervantes, illustrated by Rob Davis (Spain, 2011, 4/5)

As I imagine I won’t get into the real Don Quixote anytime soon, I jumped at the chance to read the graphic novel. The illustration is lovely and colorful – I really liked it. The story however seems a bit pointless, about a disillusioned old man and his servant-like mate. I’d probably need to read the real book to get the layers of the story. Don Quixote is still amazingly popular in Spain, as proven by my trips to Spain, so I’m curious.

Watchmen — Alan Moore (fantasy world, 1987, 3/5)

What a DENSE graphic novel! I’m not sure if I’ve read a graphic novel as dense as that. Apart from the comic style pages, there are also pages of writing, in newspaper clip style or letter. It took me forever to read Watchmen, and at the end I speed read it, because I could not stand it not-finished any longer. I know this is a very important graphic novel — it’s in one of Time’s All-Time 100 Novels, but I got impatient. I watched the movie after that and I’d probably recommend most people to just watch the movie. The movie stays very true to the book, and nicely directed (Zack Snyder). Watch the Director’s Cut (around 3.5 hours, while the cinema version is far shorter than that) to get more details from the book, including the meta-comic.

To the Lighthouse — Virginia Woolf (England, 1927, 3/5)

It is my first Woolf, so I’m happy that I finished it, and at least understood most of it. I probably wouldn’t ever be able to get through the book without Prof Weinstein’s lectures on Coursera though, so if you’re struggling, I’d recommend getting his lectures on Coursera’s Fiction of Relationship, and you can sort of read alongside the lectures (there are many of them). My advice is if there’s a paragraph that you don’t understand after reading a couple of times, KEEP GOING! Don’t obsessed and get stuck over one paragraph. In the bigger scheme of things, it really does not matter, and you’ll be glad once you get to the end and able to see the book as a whole.

The Invisible Man — H. G. Wells (England, 1897, 3/5)

Apart from Fiction of Relationship in Coursera, I am also following Fantasy and Science Fiction course, by Prof Rabkin. The reading list is interesting. There are many that I wouldn’t read by myself, so I’m glad to be able to broaden my reading horizon (the same as true for Fiction of Relationship). In one of the weeks the reading list includes all H. G. Wells: 2 novels and 2 short stories. I didn’t know how important Wells was in SF. He is often compared with Jules Verne, as they were from the same era, but as explained in the lectures, Verne is purely entertainment, while Wells questions social and political issues in his writing.

In Invisible Man, Wells created a man that because of a personal scientific experiment has turned invisible. And he can’t go back. Since I read this so close to Frankenstein, I saw some similarity, like how the two main characters are rejected by the society and turn bad as a result. I guess that’s the end of the similarity, because I didn’t enjoy Invisible Man as much. The description of actions tire me, and I kept waiting for deeper discussions of life like in Frankenstein, which does not happen in Invisible Man.

A Grief Observed — C. S. Lewis (1961, 3/5)

I feel the need to say that this book was given by a friend, who asked me to read this favorite book of his, so I felt compelled to read it. I might appreciate the book more if I were at different stage of life, but as it was, it didn’t speak to me in any profound way. I have long left any discussions of God and Christianity IRL, and therefore found the discussion here about God, his intentions and afterlife to be heavy handed.

C.S. Lewis wrote books journalling his thoughts after the death of his wife of 4 years, referred to here as H. I’m just glad that they edited much of it, and left a thin 60-page large-font book, as I wouldn’t have much patience for longer book about wallowing in grief. I feel a bit bad for not thinking higher of the book given the sad subject matter and the circumstances of my reading it, but as I said, in another time I could’ve taken it differently

moreau.jpg

The Island of Doctor Moreau — H. G. Wells (1896, 3.5/5)

In the Island of Dr Moreau, Wells plays with the idea of turning beasts into men. Our narrator is someone who got stranded in an island, where he meets two other men, one of them Moreau. Later finding shows how Dr Moreau has been experimenting with animals and turning them into imperfect human that is more half man half beast. Interesting premise, but after reading 2 books by Wells, I’m pretty clear that I don’t fall in love with his writing. His ideas are great, but his writing just doesn’t evoke much in me.

ps: Don’t even look for the movie. It seems to be really bad from what people say. I just some pictures, and the effects don’t impress me too.

Short Stories

Been reading Nathaniel Hawthorne (Before I started I didn’t know he is also well known for his short stories, some are mentioned as early conception of Science Fiction. I only knew he wrote Scarlet Letter prior to this.), Edgar Allan Poe (never quite like Poe. Maybe I’m just not into psychopathic behaviors?), Flannery O’Connor, John Updike,  more H. G. Wells (I kinda liked the two I read: The Country of the Blind and The Star), Gustave Flaubert, William Faulkner, Jorge Luis Borges, Hemingway.

I got little sparks from Borges so I’ll be reading more. Flaubert, possibly. I’m eyeing Madame Bovary.

Currently Reading

Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (remember John Carter? Also, did you know that Burroughs wrote Tarzan? Yeah, I didn’t know too!)

Great Expectations by Dickens via Dailylit, sent daily to my mail, which I try to read first thing in the morning on the way to work for. I’ve been doing this for a few months now, and I’m over a third in. I’m happy that it works. I don’t think I would be able to do it reading it like normal book to be honest. It is very very long, and in spite of the interesting bits, there are more boring bits.

On the Pipe

I probably shouldn’t mention much in fear that I would jinx it, but if all goes according to plan I’ll be reading Herland — Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Old Man and the Sea — Hemingway, and the Martian Chronicles — Ray Bradbury.

I can’t believe how much I’m reading considering how little I did for the last couple of years. I think I probably needed more structure and direction in my reading, and I’ve got them, thanks to the Profs and Coursera.

 

Author in the Flesh: Terry Pratchett and Audrey Niffenegger

I love living in London. I get to meet heaps of authors that I would never ever get to meet back home (or maybe I could, but only once in a blue moon, and only if that blue moon happens in my lifetime). Here they actually live around the corners and probably travel to the venues on foot. It’s fantastic.

Terry Pratchett

I saw Terry Pratchett in National History Museum night time event just last week, with a selection of panels (mostly British comedians) talking about what things they would like to steal from the museum if people had their own Museum of Natural Curiosity, and why. People chose things like trilobite fossil, space dust, fake stuffed Dodo bird (the original – the only one in the world – was burnt by Prince Albert because it was too big or some stupid reason like that), fake flies in rocks (which was very famous in its time before it was discovered that it was a fake). Sir Terry chose the statue of Darwin – which the panels concluded at the end that the reason must be because they look alike.

pratchett and darwin
which is who, can you guess?

The whole atmosphere of night at the museum thing was fantastic. There’s a huge T-rex skeleton stands imposingly in the middle of the hall, its tail just ends above my head. And I love the whole theme running through the Natural History museum treasures.

I’m not a big fan of Terry Pratchett to be honest. I’ve just read one of his books and didn’t think high of it, but I’m willing to give Discworld series another try. But since he’s getting very old, plus the coming Alzheimer, I just wanted to see him in person, before it’s too late. (And he did look very very old! – appearing in his high hat trademark.)

Audrey Niffenegger

The night with Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler’s Wife) and Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus) was held at Prince Albert Cinema in London Chinatown on Halloween’s night. Unfortunately Erin was stuck in the US because of Sandy, so she attended as a giant cinema screen.

The Time Traveler’s Wife was one of the first English novels I read and I completely loved it, so I was so glad to be able to see Audrey in person. She exudes this gothic-y, gloomy, dark-y feel. Her humor was dry, she didn’t smile a lot (or smiled in that half-smile Mona Lisa way), and looked mysterious in her red hair and red shoes.

audrey and erin
it’s red theme for the night

Erin talked about how she started The Night Circus during Nanowrimo (though really finished it 5 years later) and about how it’s not fair that only all the British children go to Narnia, so she wanted to make her own magical world. Audrey talked about how she used to think that England is like a magical land in story books, continued with her experience of arriving in London the first time (I can totally relate with that). She now shares her time between here and the US. She especially has particular fascination with Highgate Cemetery and that’s where her second book Her Fearful Symmetry stemmed from. To this day she still volunteers her time to be the cemetery guide once in a while! (I have planned to visit Highgate Cemetery sometime soon. How wonderful it’d be if I were to see her as my guide!)

There are more authors, so stay tune for the second part of Author in the Flesh!

The Three Incestuous Sisters by Audrey Niffenegger

A weird story about three sisters (that are not incestuous). The youngest one falls in love with a man, while the oldest is wickedly jealous. The middle one has her own problems in her little world (which I didn’t really get) and she can communicate with the baby in her sister’s womb. It continues further to man with half-baked wings. Weird.

The Three Incestuous Sisters is a coffee book table type, heavy, big, with whole page illustration for every page with a little text on the other side of the page.

Niffenegger called the book visual novel, to separate it with graphic novel, which I fail to see the difference. I found it at the fiction side of the library though, not comics or graphic novels (they are put together). She used Aquatints to create the images, which process I also fail to understand. I just know it’s hard and needs a lot of work (doh).

It’s interesting that a 14 years of work can be savored in under 14 minutes. The fans of the art style may want to keep the book for keepsake, to be enjoyed again occasionally, to decorate your coffee table. For myself, I’m happy enough to just read it in the library.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

thetimetravelerswifeThis is a story about Henry and Clare, who met when Clare was 6 and Henry was 36, and were married when Clare was 22 and Henry 30. Henry periodically finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future. They can neither prevent or control the force.

I struggled to go through the first chapter or so, because it’s a bit confusing at first. The book is written as if it’s a big clipping of many events, with exact dates, whose point of view (Henry/Clare), and how old they are at that time. The book follows Clare’s timeline (thus the title).

I put this book down for about 2 months, because I caught up in other reading. After I started again, and up about a quarter, I couldn’t stop reading. It’s captivating, enthrilling, and totally unpredictable. I couldn’t guess what’s going to happen next.

In a few sentences, you may think the spirit of the story is somewhat closer to science fiction, but it’s really not. The time traveling is “just” the vessel. The topics covered are much wider, at times I felt things were a bit rushed. The author has so much to tell and yet so few pages.

At some parts, you want to be them. To be engaged in such romantic and unique accidents of nature. At other parts, you may cry. Because when reality eats you coldly, unavoidably, it’s so excruciating that you wish things were not true. It’s story about love and loss, hopes and hopelessness, miracle and reality, longing, uncontrollable divine forces, also real life problems of marriage, abandonment, parenthood, secrets, and cruelty of the world.

One of the finest book I have ever read. Very carefully constructed page by page. And I can say you may never find any book like this again. Truly rare. One of a kind.

5-stars
~ Finished it (roughly) on 8 September 2005

Quotes

“I hate to be where she is not, when she is not. And yet, I am always going, and she cannot follow.” ~ Henry

“Why is love intensified by absence?” ~ Clare

Award
Longlisted for 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction

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