2017 Wrap Up

2017 was not a bad year for reading, but I started my English Lit degree in October, and since then I completely lost control of my reading time, and only caught up in the last 10 days of December, because I stayed home and didn’t go traveling like in the past years.

Apart from my degree, I restarted my Japanese study again. I passed JLPT N4 some years ago, but completely stopped soon after. Only in recent months I had a renewed energy to kickstart the study again and plan to build myself up to my prior level, and beyond. My focus has changed slightly (no writing), and there are new websites popping up that didn’t exist last time, so it’s been a joy. The only thing is that now I have two studies going on, and at times I wonder why I do this to myself..

So saying that, I’m starting 2018 with a very modest goal. I set up my Goodreads challenge to 10 books. No specific goal. Just kind of working in the direction of my perpetual goals (on the top bar).

For a bit of 2017 overview, I read 24 books.

14 authors were new to me, and of those, 9 were male and 5 female. Gender balance for my reading is again not quite there. It’s hard.

15 books are translated, 9 books are originally written in English. And 8 of the translation works are translated from Japanese. I’m hoping to actually read Japanese books in their original language in 2018. Granted they’d be either very simple books or manga, but hopefully substantial enough for me to count them. (I don’t generally count book that I read in less than an hour.)

My reading has been generally leaning heavily towards exploring new authors. But I think I will let myself going to favourite authors in 2018.

So not much fuss from me! How about you? :)

Game of Thrones 3D Mask Book – Direwolf

I was offered by Carlton Books one of the Game of Thrones 3D Mask and and Wall Mount Books. I chose Direwolf from the House of Stark (of course). I hadn’t done any handcraft thing for a while and had to buy a couple of glue tubes. (I do recommend getting a good strong glue that dries up fairly quickly!) Took me a while to get going but once I sat down I finished the construction in one day. To be honest it did take me longer than expected. I was thinking an hour, but it did take me a good few hours.

The result was better and bigger than I expected. I let the pictures speak for themselves :)

Testing halfway to use it as a mask. Mr Mee volunteered as model.
Direwolf contemplating life and the back garden
Frontal side isn’t as impressive though

You can use it as 3D mask, or continue constructing the neck and wall mount to hang it on the wall.

It’s now hanging on one of our bedrooms

There are 4 books in the series. Part of me wish I had chosen the Targaryen dragon, because it looks really cool. But how could I not choose the Stark’s Direwolf?

In fact all three animals look cool. Though I’m not too sure about the White Walker…

All books are now available at book stores and retailers. Each for £14.99. (The Stark Direwolf and Lannister Lion books are available from 10th August, with the Targaryen Dragon and White Walker books available from 7th September 2017.) 

Thank you Carlton Books for my complimentary copy!


2016 Wrap Up

It’s that time of the year again!

Unfortunately I fell into a deep reading slump sometime around November, and I have not gotten out of it. I was quite on track for a lot of my goals for 2016 at the beginning of the year, but it just petered out badly at the end of the year.

So in 2016, I read 35 books. One of my main goals was to read at least 50% female authors. Sad to say that I badly failed on this. I thought I could count graphic novels separate to novels (as the majority of graphic novels authors are male) and have a more balanced number. But even after having graphic novels in separate group, the female author number stayed stagnant almost the whole year. I could blame other factors, like how my book groups tend to choose male authors over female. But hey, it is what it is. It may just be by setting goal I set myself to failure. Maybe a more natural approach works better for me. So I’m not setting this goal again for 2017, and I’ll see if I do better that way.

Of the 35 books:

20% by women, 54% by men, 26% by both genders

51% translated works (even though high percentage was not a goal)

I started Middlemarch as planned, and read halfway. I intend to continue, but accepted a couple of months ago that I wouldn’t be able to finish it this year.

Also cant’ read because my cat uses Middlemarch as paw-rest.

The following are 2016 reading goals that I kept on my personal notebook. Might as well share them:

Completed goals

3 books from 500 great books by women:

  1. The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi
  2. The Lover – Marguerite Duras
  3. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

6 African books (The World’s Literature GR group – African Festival Challenge):

  1. Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka (Nigeria)
  2. The Meursault Investigation – Kamel Daoud (Algeria)
  3. Season of Migration to the North – Tayeb Salih (Sudan)
  4. Palace Walk – Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt)
  5. The Book of Chameleons (Angola)
  6. Aya of Yop City (Aya #2) by Marguerite Abouet, Clément Oubrerie (Ivory Coast)

3 new-to-me African Countries:

  1. Season of Migration to the North – Tayeb Salih (Sudan)
  2. Palace Walk – Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt)
  3. The Book of Chameleons (Angola)

2 countries I’ve visited and not yet read:

  1. The Summer Book – Tove Jansson (Finland)
  2. The Vegetarian – Han Kang (South Korea)

2 new-to-me Nobel winners: 

  1. Death and the King’s Horseman – Wole Soyinka
  2. Palace Walk – Naguib Mahfouz
  3. No Man’s Land – Harold Pinter

5 books from 1001 books You must read before you die:

  1. A Room with a View – E. M. Forster
  2. Season of Migration to the North – Tayeb Salih
  3. The Lover – Marguerite Duras
  4. The Summer Book – Tove Jansson
  5. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
  6. 1984 – George Orwell
  7. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

Incomplete goals

1 New Zealand: 0

2 new-to-me Caribbean / South American countries: 0

3 books by Women of Colour 

  1. The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi
  2. The Vegetarian – Han Kang

5 books from 100 best novels written in English

  1. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
  2. 1984 – George Orwell
  3. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

10 classics (pre-1966)

  1. The Waiting Years – Fumiko Enchi – 1957
  2. A Room with a View – E. M. Forster -1908
  3. Season of Migration to the North – Tayeb Salih – 1966
  4. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde – 1890
  5. Palace Walk – Naguib Mahfouz – 1958
  6. Orwell, George – 1984 (1949)
  7. The Book of Tea – Kakuzo Okakura (1906)
  8. Hell Screen – Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1918)
  9. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath (1963)

1 Persephone: 0

1 Peirene: 0

1 Pushkin: 0

Looking forward to 2017

I’m going to bring over the incomplete goals to the new year and see if I can finish them by the middle of this year. I already finished 1 Pushkin book, and review is coming soon.

I have the usual few perpetual goals (on my top and side bars) to keep me busy. Apart from that, I just want to keep reading, and reading diversely. I also want to pick up writing again, and realise that once I do, it will eat my reading time, and I’m okay with that. I’ve been picking up games again, games with good, immersive stories, and I love it. I’ve also been catching up on TV series I’ve been meaning to watch.

I think my goal for 2017 is to keep the pressure off and let myself be immersed in whatever form of storytelling I feel like being in that time, and it’s okay if it may not always be books.

Fairy Tale Themed Writing Class

Last week I was invited to a writing class sponsored by Universal Pictures with Naomi Wood as tutor at Faber Academy. Couldn’t believe my luck, as fairy tale is right up my alley, as with writing. And I’ve got Naomi Wood’s book Mrs. Hemingway on my Kindle for a while (just haven’t got around to reading it).

The class was small and felt private, unlike the usual publication tie-in events with several dozens of people in a room. There were only five of us from various blogs, with one PR person and another girl from Universal – that made seven of us sitting at the big table.

The Huntsman class

This workshop was in conjunction with the home entertainment release of The Huntsman: Winter’s War, which is based on Snow White tale. It’s sort of a prequel/sequel of Snow White and the Huntsman (released in 2012). I haven’t watched the first movie (nor had I the second at the time), but we all know Snow White story. I received the press DVD after the class, and watched The Huntsman since then. I’d say you really don’t need to watch the first film to watch the second one, as Snow White was not even in The Huntsman, only referred to once or twice.

Naomi Wood is a writing teacher apart from an author, and it shows. She’s done this a lot! We went through the materials (with slides!), alternating with clips from The Huntsman, text reading of fairy tales (excerpts from Snow White, Rapunzel, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber) and some actual writing.

We discussed what constitutes fairy tales, the typical fairy tale characters, and the traditional fairy tale story structure; and expanding on those, what we could or would do to give those elements a fresh perspective, a new twist or angle for modern audience. Naomi Wood herself has done something along the line with her book Mrs Hemingway, in which she tells the perspectives of Hemingway’s four wives.

During the class we had a few sessions to write down our ideas then discussed them with the class (i.e. how would you make the villain different, the antagonist, the setting). After the class and watching The Huntsman, I think I have a whole new appreciation of fairy tale retellings. It is not easy to come up with wholly fresh ideas of an old work but still cater to mainstream audience.

In The Huntsman, some elements are modern (no more damsel in distress with kick-ass Jessica Chastain), while some elements are still stuck in the past (single lonely women are evil, woman is miserable without baby). The fairy-tale setting however does forgive many “rules of the old world”, as we play with the imagined once upon a time. It’s exciting to think how much more we can do to break the boundaries and expand the fairy tale box. I love retellings and hope to see more movies and TV series on that (yep, I absolutely love Once Upon a Time). If you’re interested in fairy tale and its retelling, the movie is great, for consumption and for study. It also features fabulous costume galore, funny scenes with the dwarves, and plenty of beautiful stars :)

Thanks Juliana and Universal for inviting me to this interesting workshop!

The Huntsman class
We also got The Huntsman mug :P


Year 2015 Wrap Up and 2016 Plans

Happy new year good readers!

Oxford St, London
A picture I took on Christmas Eve at Oxford St, London

I haven’t done stats for a long time on this blog, but with all the diversity talks that seem to happen recently *cough* #diversedecember #ReadDiverse2016, I feel inclined to do so.

So in 2015 I read 26 books + 1 Happy Reader (the latter I don’t count for the purpose of below stats, because even though it has an ISBN and a Goodreads page it’s contributed by various people).

And of those 26 books:

10 by women (38%)

and 16 by men (62%)

of those, 11 were white men (42%)

7 PoC / BAME authors (27%)

9 translated (35%)

22 new-to-me authors (85%)

So far in my reading quests I never aimed to have gender balance (meaning I just read what I need to read) because I was catching up with the so-called “English canon” and well aware a lot of them are dead white male authors. Considering that, my gender stats in 2015 isn’t bad I think, but in 2016 for the first time I’m going to make a conscious decision to read at least 50% of female authors and I’m going to keep track of it to make sure this happens.

I was always a bit unsure about the whole PoC/BAME concept. I support diversity of course, but I didn’t see much point when one of my most important reading project is Reading the World. My aim is always to learn culture that is different than mine, that is unfamiliar, so in that regards reading from different countries fills that need. A conversation with a fellow Goodreader enlightened me that the PoC (Person of Color) term is really US-centric (while BAME / Black Asian Minority Ethnic is UK-based term), and it may not fit very well outside of that context. I don’t know about you, but apparently someone needed to spell it out for me to make sense of it, finally! In any way, I’m pretty happy with my percentage 27% when combined with the overlapping 35% translated works, considering I didn’t even make an effort.

The 85% new-to-me authors was expected, and seems I will continue the trend for many years.

What I’m most surprised of is that 50% of these (13 books) are by Americans! WHAT. I always felt I read more British authors. I was definitely delusional. The other 50% are divided between English, Irish, Dutch, Japanese, German, French, Argentine, Chinese, Malaysian, Austrian.

Of the 26 books, the majority are novels, apart from:

4 non-fiction

2 plays

4 short stories collection

1 essays collection

2 graphic novels + 1 manga + 1 illustrated book

Happy with these. It’s the first year I started reading plays, and I will read more in 2016. Reading short stories collection is kinda new to me too, as in the past years I often just picked a story here and there from a collection. Having finished 4 collections, I’m now a complete convert. I think reading short stories as a collection is the way to go. Reading one random short story is rarely satisfying in my opinion, but by reading a collection you really get the style of the author and what they’re trying to say, which you wouldn’t get by reading just one story (and that’s if it’s the *right* story).

Reading projects stats

7 1001 books

1 new-to-me Nobel prize winner

4 new countries

A bit disappointed at the Nobel project. I had Orhan Pamuk book on my night stand in the last couple of months of 2015 but didn’t really start to read. I already line up a few Nobel authors for 2016 though so hope I can make amends. Will continue doing these projects, with my new 50 Classics in 5 Years project with the Classics Club – who’s by the way doing a Women’s Classics Literature event in 2016.

I’m not even going to make an attempt to collate favorite reads this year, as they were all good, and there was no dud. But I can say my new-to-me favorite authors are Edith Wharton, Yukio Mishima, and Stefan Zweig – all of whom I already plan to read again in 2016.

For 2016, I have bits and bobs of reading goals, nothing huge, just lots of varieties. One thing of note is I try to read one big classic per year (I might have skipped 2015, but the previous year I read Great Expectations), and this year I’m going to read Middlemarch. It seems to pop up a lot in the past few months, so I got myself the beautiful Penguin cloth-bound copy, and I’m all ready to start… in February. It’s over 800 pages, so I plan to spread it out in 8 months, and maybe write a post every 200 pages. Do let me know if you want to be my reading buddy for Middlemarch.

Wish you another great year of reading!

The Classics Club and the Importance of Reading Chair

It’s almost new year and thanks to my new reading chair my reading has been going incredibly well, so I feel confident to embark on a new project with The Classics Club:
50 Classics in 5 Years!

Mee's reading chair - where you can find me most of the time at home these days :)
Mee’s reading chair – where you can find me most of the time at home these days :)

Mr Mee and I moved house about 2 months ago, and we’ve been unpacking things very very slowly. A few weeks in, most of our stuffs were still in boxes all around the house, but I came home one day to find this lovely corner. Hubby assembled my new chair, put up the shelves, unpacked my boxes of books, arranged the books, the reading lamp, and my favorite small table. Even the books I wanted to read most were positioned on my eye level. How did he know? It was a coincidence — he’s not a reader so he doesn’t know the majority of books I read (the books on top of my TBR were in 1 box, but I had about 10 boxes of books in total).

And I didn’t ask him to do any of these — it was all on him.

Makes me so very happy ^_^

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!

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