Incoming Non Fictions

In the midst of my non fiction binge, I succumbed to the world wide web and acquired these babies.

non fiction stack

I have since started on a new novel, so I may have passed that unusual phase. But really, I have all the intention to get to them in near future. My libraries don’t stock any of this books, which is one requirement I imposed on myself for book buying. The books above:

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks
Eva’s Assembling My Atheneum series on Oliver Sacks intrigued me enough to convince me to get a copy. It’s a collection of essays about fascinating neurological case studies, which I promise would seem a lot more interesting if you can see the table of content.

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach
First heard of Bonk from Jackie, but later on read more about Mary Roach and her other books from other bloggers. Funny non-fiction? I’m on it! I got it second in good condition from Better World Books.

Little Princes by Conor Grennan
Subtitled One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal, I was offered this book by Harper Collins (US) and could not resist. Nepal is a country and culture I’d love to know more about and a couple of reviews confirmed that I’m in for a good read ahead. Also, what an stunning cover, don’t you think? It’s in hardcover too! (see below)

Starting Point, Little Princes

Starting Point 1979-1996 by Hayao Miyazaki
Another hardcover but I have no one to blame for this one. Starting Point came to my notice when I read Sydney Japanese Foundation new catalogue. It is a collection of essays, interviews, memoirs that go back to Miyazaki’s childhood roots, animation theories, and the founding of Studio Ghibli, covering the first half of Miyazaki’s legendary career. Squee! It seems to be the quintessential book for Ghibli and animated film fans. I cannot wait to dig into this. Currently waiting for a good time in which I can dedicate my whole self to the book. There said to be the sequel Turning Point 1997-2008 yet to be translated to English and I’m already looking forward to that.

Tokyo ViceThis last book is not on my physical pile as it just came to my attention last week, thanks to my good friend (who happened to fly to Tokyo for holiday only hours after the tsunami happened. What a bad timing to visit Japan. It’s very sad to see the massive disaster that happened. Hope things will get better and they will be able to rebuild soon.)

Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein is written by the first gaijin to work for a Japanese newspaper as Japanese crime reporter. He spent 12 years covering vice and organized crimes. Tokyo Vice is about his years in Japan and Japan underworld. Sounds fantastic!

Have you read any of these books? Read any great non-fiction lately?

Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus

Banker to the PoorAs a person who wishes to contribute something to the world in her small ways, I’m always on the lookout for a good cause to support. I heard of Muhammad Yunus many years ago from a friend who shared about a website called Kiva, in which upon a quick browse I first heard about micro-lending. I knew roughly what it was about but never got around to read about it.

Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank (the micro-finance bank he built) won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, and since then he came to my attention over and over again, though only until a few weeks ago I managed to set a time to read his autobiography, in which he tells you everything about micro-lending and the battle against world poverty.

Poverty is a subject that is close to me, having been born and lived most of my life in third world country, where poverty is not a problem in the other part of the world, but very real, very close, that I saw every single day. But as life would have it, I’m not someone who works in vital sectors, like doctors, economists, lawyers, teachers, or politicians. I work in entertainment industry. So I guess learning about problems of the world and contributing a small portion of my earning would be as far as I can go. Anyway, that’s food for thought for another day.

Muhammad Yunus though, was exactly in the perfect position to make a difference. He’s a Bangladeshi from a well-off family, had a chance to study in US, and became a professor of a respectable University in Bangladesh. He’s highly intelligent, has very strong concern for humanity, and is well connected because of his position and upbringing. And boy did he make a difference.

The idea was born one day in 1976 when he loaned $27 from his own pocket to 42 people living in a tiny village. By lending the small amount of money, they were able to buy raw materials for their trades. What he found later on was that the poor only needs to be given a chance to lift themselves out of the death circle of poverty. By lending a small amount of money and encouraging them to be micro-entrepreneurs, they are able to help themselves. These people have managed to live with such minimum resources. Imagine what they can do given even the smallest window of opportunity. The possibility is limitless.

When you hear a success story of somebody, you often forget that there’s an enormous amount of time and energy to get them to where they are. When I heard Muhammad Yunus winning the Nobel Prize, I imagined a smart professor solving world problems with his almighty brains. But I did not imagine the little things he had to go through physically: going to house after house in a small village, day after day trying to gain the villagers’ trust, to convince them to borrow money and give it a go, rain or shine, literally. There was an occasion when it was downpour raining and he had to wait outside because it was against the custom for a non-relative male to be in the house without the men of the family. So the women lent him an umbrella while he was sitting at the gate of the house, while one of his female students played messenger, going back and forth between the house and the gate. His first “office” did not even have a lavatory since he started with very little money in a tiny village. When nature called he had to go to his neighbour. These are just ones of many little things that brought tears to my eyes. There is someone in this world, willing to go through so much, so his fellow human beings could have better lives. Not just by making up high theories in the comfort of his room, but by diving head first into the center of the problem, to the lowest of the lowest of society. It restores your faith in humanity. It makes you believe the power of one person to change the world. It makes you believe in all sorts of things.

“How did we define “poverty-free”? After interviewing many borrowers about what a poverty-free life meant to them, we developed a set of ten indicators that our staff and outside evaluators could use to measure whether a family in rural Bangladesh lived a poverty-free life. These indicators are:Muhammad Yunus
1) having a house with tin roof
2) having beds or cots for all members of the family
3) having access to safe drinking water
4) having access to a sanitary latrine
5) having all school-age children attending school
6) having sufficient warm clothing for the winter
7) having mosquito nets
8) having a home vegetable garden
9) having no food shortages, even during the most difficult time of a very difficult year
10) having sufficient income-earning opportunities for all adult members of the family”

How down to earth is he? The goals they set are clear and very realistic. The poverty rate has fallen from 74 percent in mid 1970s to 40 percent in 2005. A ridiculously high achievement for a nation that is often struck by natural disasters and has no great natural resources apart from the hard work of its people.

Professor Yunus is truly one in a million. What a better place he has made the world. My admiration for him has no bound.

5 stars
2003, 277 pp

Kiva – loan as small as $25!
Grameen Bank
Yunus Centre

The Book Nest (review)
Dawn @ she is too fond of books talking about Kiva

Pedro and Me by Judd Winick

pedro and meI have to thank Michelle for this one. If not for her glowing review I wouldn’t have picked up the book judging from the cover. It looks like some cheesy TV series from the 90s (not the first one, the second one below. I put the blue cover first because I just don’t like that second cover). And I wasn’t that far off. Pedro and Me is a true story about Pedro Zamora, a Cuban-American gay AIDS educator and activist, who developed relationship with straight-guy cartoonist Judd Winick in the most extraordinary circumstances. They met and became roommate in a reality TV show in the 90s called The Real World: San Fransisco–which worked like Big Brother, only the people in the house were allowed to go out and interacted with the outside world.

We know from the second page that Pedro was going to die. The book is a tribute to him and what a special tribute it is. Judd Winick is a fine cartoonist and storyteller. His illustrations are full of emotions and the story is told in a very gentle heartfelt way. You can really feel that their friendship was genuine and they made an impact on each other’s life. One of the most interesting things about the book is that we are told about the life of a gay guy from a straight guy point of view, not just any straight guy, but his roommate and best mate. What a unique perspective.

pedro and mePedro died in 1994 at the age of 22. The book was published in 2000 after 2.5 years in the making by Winick. I read it in 2010 and it made an impact on me. It’s amazing how Pedro’s legacy lives on even after he is long gone. I believe it’s an important book, the book to read for anyone wants to know more about gay people and people who lived with AIDS. Thanks to Pedro, he put a human face to those with the disease. Pedro and Me is about intimate life journey of a brave man and the wonderful friendship he had with another man who is just as great. It’s about fighting for life, about living, surviving, loss, friendship, and love.

“I think the experience of watching two people fall in love is like seeing a snowfall. It’s slow. It’s lush. And when everything is covered, it all looks perfect. It was magical. I’m biased. But you would’ve been, too.” ~ Judd Winick, on seeing Pedro fell in love

A lovely book that will stay with me for a long time..

5 stars
2000, 187 pp

PedroAndMePedroAndMe

Pedro and Me

Judd Winick and Pedro Zamora

Judd Winick site

Challenges
Graphic Novels 2010 (book #7)

Also reviewed by
su[shu]
| The Zen Leaf

Short Saturday: Borges and Nabokov

In Short Saturday I will journal my journey to find 5-star quality short stories, whose virtual trophy right now is held by Truman Capote and Haruki Murakami. 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.

podcastcoverFICTIONMark David has recommended The New Yorker Fiction Podcasts to me for a while. In fact he has written a post on it last month. But only last week after he shouted at strongly encouraged me to try one when I talked about Borges’s The Library of Babel,  did I manage to listen to two of them.

In each episode, a contemporary writer reads a short work by a classic writer. There’s a bit of talk and discussion before and after the reading of the story. I loved the discussion parts of the podcasts, but I’m not sure if I got much out of the two stories being read. I’ve mentioned before how I’m a poor listener, and it doesn’t help when the story is not very listen-able. (We have word for readable! How about listenable?)

Without further ado, the two I picked were:

The Gospel According to Mark by Jorge Luis Borges, read by Paul Theroux

I’m not sure if I got it. I repeated the ending about 5 times and each time it made me go “huh?”. But I continued on and luckily Paul explained more about what’s going on in the story. Originally published in 1970, it is about a young man who visits a friend’s holiday house in Argentina. He meets a family of illiterate workers to whom he reads some books, but the only one they’re interested in the most is an old Bible. He reads the gospel of Mark which contains the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness He granted to the world. When he was found to lay with the daughter of the family, well…

Paul Theroux actually read to Borges when he was alive (and blind). And that’s awesome because Paul is a fantastic reader. I’d never heard of him before this. Apparently he has written many novels and travelogues. After quick wiki-ing, I found that he won James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1981 for The Mosquito Coast (join win with Salman Rushdie’s Midnight Children) and Whitbread Prize for Best Novel  in 1978 for Picture Palace. Have you read any of his books before?

My Russian Education by Vladimir Nabokov, read by Orhan Pamuk

I feel kinda bad to say this, but most of the words read by Pamuk went over my head, because I had problem with his accent. Therefore I’m unable to rate this in any way. But I’m sure I will (re)read the story in text format in the future, because it’s Nabokov’s autobiography, though published as fiction. The story is based on how his father was shot dead. It was originally published in 1948 by the New Yorker and it is one chapter out of 12 that was later published in 1951 as a book titled Speak, Memory (My Russian Education is Chapter 9 in the book).

I loved to listen to how Pamuk loved Nabokov. I always love the whole writers speaking very highly of other writers. It’s very adorable. I read Lolita by Nabokov in 2008 and I really admired how Nabokov used English language. Sure, I didn’t understand a lot of the passages, but that’s beside the point… because I admired the ones that I did understand! :)

Did you read any short story this week?

Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs

Ethel & Ernest

Ethel & Ernest is a true story of Briggs’ parents, from their first encounter to their deaths. It’s a story of two ordinary people, who experience the changing of the world around them: Second World War, the arrival of television, people landing on the moon, as they brought up their only son. It’s really nice for a change to read a book about ordinary lives. No abuse, violence, extreme poverty, and all the things that make the world dark and gloomy. This time, it’s intimate insight into life of a simple working class couple, who have simple wants and dreams, who are happy and sad for things that are important to them (not necessary to the world of course).

The main storyline is okay, but I found some scenes to be very choppy. Sometimes there’s no transition to one scene to another, and scene can change in one page from one to another abruptly. So that makes it a bit hard to understand. Furthermore, the setting is in Britain, and there are some references that I couldn’t really get or relate on. But that’s probably just me.

raymond_briggs

At some points of the book, I felt kinda annoyed with them. Interestingly though, it’s probably what I feel with my parents. I feel annoyed with my parents sometimes (okay, often!), but I cannot not love them. Their complaints to some aspects of life and to their son sound familiar. It probably just hits close to home. So at the end of the book, it’s really painful to see them dying. I mean, everybody has to die and you know from the beginning that the book tells the story of Ethel and Ernest until their deaths, but it’s still hard to swallow. I remembered my parents.

The art! How pretty! The art was exactly the thing that pulled me. I think it’s combination of crayon, color pencils, and marker. They somehow just make into something really beautiful. Love it! Look at the cover art below. The whole book looks pretty much like that.

300px-ethel_and_ernest_book_cover

briggs_raymond_ethel2

It’s really hard to rate a graphic novel without considering the art. So that’s what I’m gonna do.

Rating: 4/5 (3.5 for the storyline, 4.5 for the art)
Pages: 104
Publication year: 1999

Award
1999 The Illustrated Book of the Year from Galaxy British Book Awards

Also reviewed by

Things Mean A Lot (whose review just appeared on the same day before mine. We probably read it at the same time by coincidence :)

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

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The Complete Maus is a memoir presented as a graphic novel. The complete story was published in 2 volumes: Part I: My Father Bleeds History in 1986 and Part II: And Here My Troubles Began in 1991. It recounts the struggle of Spiegelman’s father to survive the holocaust and also the troubled relationships between the author and his father. It draws largely based on the father’s recollections of his experiences.

The characters were drawn as half-animals (with animal head and some characteristics, but with human body). The jews are depicted as mice (hence the title, which is “mouse” in German), the Germans as cats, the Poles as pigs, Americans as dogs, and other minor animals. This choice feels so surprisingly natural that I can’t imagine it be done in any other way. The very few simple lines show the expressions very well. Even though all the (same) animals look pretty much similar apart from their clothes, I never lost track of who is whom. Love love love the arts. Spiegelman must be a genious.

I’m also very fond of the parts that show Spiegelman’s relationship with his father. How the war had affected so much, even to generations after the direct victim. How I wish to hear his mother’s side of the story. I found it completely ironic that the mother committed suicide after surviving a holocaust with no note. It was soo very very sad when at the end of the book, upon finding each other again, the father said “We were both very happy, and lived happy, happy ever after.” What an irony :(

220px-art_spiegelman_2007

At first I found the way they talked was kinda funny, and thought it was a translation mistake. I think it was done on purpose to show the way the father talk English (which is of course not his first language). After a while I started to find it adorable and I could really imagine a real person talking like that. The father was really smart. He survived by being smart. Of course there was a whole lot of luck involved. But he was first resourceful and strong, pysically and mentally. I found all of his little ‘survival techniques’ very interesting.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. This is not just ‘another’ Holocaust story (which I kinda thought at the beginning). It’s not. It shows things from different views. It’s detailed but not graphically violent. It’s simple but it really strikes you all on the right spots. It’s personal, it’s heartbreaking, and but not overly melancholy. The book is a masterpiece. Nuff said.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Pages: 296
Publication year: 1986 (part I: My Father Bleeds History), 1991 (part II: And Here My Troubles Began)

Awards
1992 Pulitzer Prize, Special Awards and Citations – Letters
1992 Eisner Award Best Graphic Album: Reprint (Maus II)
1992 Harvey Award – Best Graphic Album of Previously Published Work (Maus II)

Also reviewed by

Maw Books Blog | Caribousmom | Rebecca Reads | Educating Petunia | Things Mean A Lot | The Hidden Side of Leaf | Nothing of Importance | Bold. Blue. Adventure. | Rhinoa’s Ramblings | In Spring it is the Dawn | 1morechapter Maus I Maus II | A Life in Books | An Adventure in Reading | Thoughts of Joy Maus I Maus II | Book Nut | Books I Done Read (the only negative review :) | Out of the Blue | The Indextrious Reader | Cynical Optimism | Booknotes by Lisa | A Fondness for Reading (Maus I) | Historical Tapestry | where troubles melt like lemon drops | Regular Rumination (Maus I)

Sugarbabe by Holly Hill

Sugarbabe

Holly Hill got depressed after she was left by her wealthy married boyfriend and found herself totally broke. After a few days of soul searching and a help from a friend, she picked herself up and decided to find a sugar daddy, who’d pay for her with no strings attached. That way, she wouldn’t find a chance to get her heart broken again and have her bills paid. And so Holly went to the Internet and went through a journey of finding and selecting a man who’s looking for a smart sophisticated woman with psychology background who cooks and of course, serves in bed. She also promised exclusivity to the man.

** Possible spoilers below **

At some points, I thought she was an open-minded independent woman who’s not scared to get what she wants. At latter points, I thought she might have just been on the borderline of prostitution. The exclusivity was a very good excuse not to fall on that side. It’s very hard not to be a tiny bit judgmental. I thought she was getting pathetic. Instead of getting the freedom and independence that she wanted, she was totally dependent on the whim of the men to stay with her (and give her the generous “allowance”, or fee as she called it) or leave. Predictably, they just kept leaving like men always do. (pardon my sarcastic note, I was only half joking :) But seriously, how do you expect a man to stay when money is the only string that tie you together?

I do applaud her way to come clean upfront and stated what she wanted out of the relationship. After all, that’s what mistresses (and some wives) do. Getting money and security in return of other services. It’s just that she was being really honest about it.

** end of spoilers **

holly

Having said that, I did enjoy it. It was funny, sexy, and kinda charming. It’s hard not to like Holly. She was just trying to do her best given her circumstances, and she was searching. She was searching for answers and she got them at the end, though I may not agree with it. She learned her lessons and we get entertainment. It’s a win win situation. (Did I mention that this is a memoir/biography? Though I’d say it’s leaning more towards journalism.)

I like the cover. It’s a lot better when you see it on paper. The sugar on the lips looks mighty tasty.

Holly wrote her second book titled Toyboy. She turned the table and looked for a younger man who will be paid generous allowance for being a company of her (a 40 year-old woman). This is also hinted at the end of Sugarbabe. I might be interested to read it in the future, though not very soon. I have higher priority for the more serious books right now. Except if Random House gave me a free copy *hint*

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pages: 301
Publication year: 2007

First line
It was a ‘John’ who introduced me to my life of Dicks.

Last line
Stand by for the results.

Has anyone read and reviewed this book? Please let me know ‘cos I couldn’t find any.

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