Saturday, July 12, 2014

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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Title: The Fault in Our Stars
Author: John Green
Genre: Young Adult Ficton
Release Date: January 2012
Publisher: Speak
Format: Paperback
Pages: 313
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from June 6 to 12, 2014
My rating: 3 stars: I like it
Summary: Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.


There is no shortage of fault to be found amid our stars.

The thing about this book is that I can't quite put my fingers on anything. I can't say I like it, but I don't dislike it either. I can't say it's a good book, but it's not a bad one either. I don't care much about it, but I've read it three times (trying to find something to like). I can't say John Green disappoints me, because he certainly doesn't. I just DON'T know how I feel about The Fault in Our Stars, whether the book or the movie. The story just doesn't work for me.

When I read it in March 2013, my feelings leaned toward the negative end of the spectrum. So here was the book everyone's been raving about, the book I supposed would change my life in some ways, and I expected nothing short of amazing from John Green anyway. And there I was, failing at feeling anything. Finishing the book thinking: well that's it? That in itself, not necessarily the story, was a huge, underwhelming disappointment. I felt like I'd been majorly cheated. I concluded that TFiOS is the most overrated book in the 21st century.

Though this time I had no expectations whatsoever, I still held the same conclusion. I started rereading again because I just wanted to find out exactly why it failed with me the first two times, and I still came away with no satisfactory answers. So I'll just stop trying to rack my brain and begin to tell you frankly how I feel, and maybe figure something out along the way.

First of all, I think a considerable amount of the hype surrounding TFiOS is cancer perks. I'm not saying anything bad here; I'm just pointing out that I think the book wouldn't have been so hyped about, hadn't it been for the fact that it involves cancer. And anyone arguing otherwise might be deluding themselves. I understand that cancer is an extremely relatable subject, and that naturally makes the book popular. (I like reading about subject matters that I can relate to as well, and I tend to like them, too.) What bothers me, though, is when people say this is not a book about cancer, but seriously, how can this book not be about cancer? It's all the characters ever talk about. It affects everything they do and don't do, their feelings and thoughts. Saying TFiOS is not a cancer book is like pretending you love the book for its beautiful story, not because it's about cancer. That you're not manipulated into liking it by the presence of cancer which defines the whole story as you know it. What makes a story beautiful, anyway? Doesn't cancer determine that they're not going to live long and yet they love each other that makes it a beautiful love story? I don't know how to put it nicely, but I feel like TFiOS is a pretentious book about cancer and uses the fact that it's a love story about people with cancer to manipulate readers' feelings and then bask in all the sympathy and tears it can get from them, which are people's natural reactions to cancer. I don't know what John Green's intention was, but I felt that the book tries to manipulate me the whole time. All I heard in my head was "OMG I'm gonna write a cancer book and people are gonna cry so hard and they're gonna love all the feels!!!!!!!!" That was a huge turn-off.

There were times when I liked Hazel and Augustus, but most of the times I didn't. Let's start with  Augustus--to use Isaac's words--what a self-aggrandizing bastard. So. Pretentious. Apparently, he can't say anything without making it sound like a soliloquy, like he's prepared a speech for every occasion and memorized them so that when the occasion arises, he can recite the speech flawlessly on the spot and end it with a smirk to make the girl go even crazier. What's that you say, you fear oblivion? I don't see you trying so hard for the world to remember you, sorry. And what's with all these "metaphors"? How is a cigarette a metaphor for a "killing thing"--it IS a killing thing, no metaphor involved. Dear Gus, a metaphor is when you say something is another thing, whose similarities are not easily arrived at until you really analyze and think about them. Like in Carol Ann Duffy's poem "Valentine," an onion is a metaphor for love because it makes you cry or whatever. No, that pretentious act is not metaphorical, it's symbolic. It symbolizes defiance and the need to control, I get it. It just bothers me so much. For someone who complains about people's wrong use of literality, Augustus isn't good at literary terms either.

Hazel, however, is more bearable. I liked her at times when she shows her firm stance in reality and not grand daydreams, especially when she tells Augustus off about how this is the life you get now live with it. And she annoyed me really bad with her overly girly moments. I guess that's all I have to say about Hazel. She didn't make much of an impression on me. And oh, I didn't for a minute buy that they really loved each other. I didn't. Sorry. It just felt too forced.

I understand that they're supposed to come off as smart above their years, with their philosophical pondering and existential concerns and deep understanding of life and all, but honestly, I just didn't believe it. It didn't feel like them speaking THEIR thoughts. Augustus and Hazel feel more like quote-making machines, whose inner ramblings and dramatic monologues and soliloquies are literary devices through which John Green can deliver his most contrived yet gorgeous lines aiming right for the tear ducts--with expected responses of agreement such as "OMG so true!" or something along that line or real crying, for that matter. (Though I'll admit I highlighted those quotes, too. They're beautiful as standalone quotes, not suited for dialogues of teenagers.)

And yet, I understand why they're written this way. What I appreciate about TFiOS (I'm not so hateful, people) is that it's the most literary of all John's novels. I mean, almost everything can be analyzed to imply deeper meanings. For example, Augustus wants to be remembered by the world, hence: fear of oblivion, the air of self-importance, aggrandizing bullshit--all this so he can validate his significance. Hazel's obsession with An Imperial Affliction and how it ends represents clearly her concern for her parents after she dies. Many literary references and intertextuality appear in the novel. Like T.S. Eliot's "Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock," which Hazel knows by heart and can recite from memory, can illustrate the pointlessness and mundaneness of living, or even Hazel's "disturbing the universe" by falling in love with Gus despite her not wanting to be a granade. Or Hazel's continuing William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow" can reflect how she wishes she could've prolonged Gus's life. The motif "star(s)" occurs throughout the novel and in its title, but I haven't really given it much thought yet.

Although my experience reading TFiOS this time didn't improve much from the previous times, I can now rest in peace knowing that the reason I didn't enjoy the book was not because I was prejudiced or I expected too much, but because it was written in ways impossible for me to enjoy. That's not to say the book is bad; it seems to have achieved its purposes with other readers alright. It is as guilty for my not liking it as my programmed to reject anything that feels artificial is. I'm not upset like I was last time. After trying 3 times, it's clear that it just doesn't work. I made peace with the fact that we're not meant to be. The fault is neither in TFiOS nor in myself that I felt underwhelmed.

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This review is also posted on Goodreads.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

#BookADayUK 27 and 28: Want to Be One of the Characters and Bought at My Fave Independent Bookshop

I'm still waiting for my Hogwarts letter. I've been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and felt at home. I know I'm not a Muggle. Enough said.

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My fave independent bookshop is in Bangkok, Thailand, and it's called Dasa Book Cafe. I've been to tons of indie bookshops in the US, and I've really fallen in love with them, but Dasa still remains my fave. This may be because it's the first indie shop I've ever been to, and because I've bought more books there than anywhere else (Kinokuniya is a chain, so it doesn't count). And because every time I walk in I smell coffee and old books, and I know the people who work there, and they know me, and there's always something to talk about. Over the years, Dasa and I have built such a strong sense of friendship (if I may call it that) and familiarity that no other bookstores can hope to be comparable to. 

And I was just there yesterday! I didn't intend to get anything, but like always, I ended up with something.

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Recently I've been listening to Wallace's speeches, and found he's a well-informed, smart, interesting person. My teacher's been sending me his essays to get my feet wet, which I haven't read. Wallace's Infinite Jest has always intimidated me. I don't know if I'm intellectually ready to take on this giant of over one thousand pages, but I'm definitely eager to. And now I have a copy at home to remind me to keep climbing up the literary ladder. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

#BookADayUK 25: Never Finished It

Hey, hey!

I was just thinking about bailing today and going straight to bed (without even showering) because I feel so tired, but then I heard a voice in my head saying: procrastinator. Now wait a minute. I am so procrastinating, and I need to stop it already, otherwise it's gonna be all I'll ever do. So here I am. Fighting my inner laziness. Keeping up with #BookADayUK.

It's actually funny to think about how a lazy person that I am rarely ever not finishes a book. I always try to finish whatever book I start, no matter how bad it is, just so I'll at least know it's really bad and I didn't miss out on anything because there's really nothing amazing waiting to happen in the book. So when I looked at today's topic, "never finished it," I had to consult my Goodreads what book I have started but never finished. Goodreads wasn't so useful, because those I listed as DNF (did-not-finish) are books that I never should've started and never wanted to read in the first place. So I racked my brain for a book I actually wanted to read, started reading, and just never felt invested in it enough to want to go on. I couldn't think of any. (That's why I wanted to bail and just go to bed.) But then I went to my reading room slash library, and looked through all the shelves, and found one book I haven't thought about at all in 8 years ever since I've bought it.

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I started Lauren Weisberger's The Devil Wears Prada after I saw the movie in 2006, and left it before I had a Goodreads account, and that's why it's just marked as "to-read." That means I was hoping to finish it one day. And that also means when I added it to the shelf I didn't even remember that I'd started it. And if I had to go through the book finding where I'd left off, I wouldn't even know. All I know about the story comes from the movie. Yup, that's "never finished it" for you. Though "never had it cross my mind" sounds more like it. Sorry, Devil, I was too young for chick lit at the time. And now I'm not interested in chick lit at all. Maybe someday.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

#BookADayUK 24: Hooked Me into Reading

Hiiiiiiiiiiii, it's B again.

In an attempt to keep the blog alive, I'm here again to continue the #BookADayUK posts. Today's topic is: hooked me into reading. As soon as I saw that, I had only one book in mind--or one book series, to be precise. 

I wasn't much of a reader when I was younger. I read only in small chunks, or read really thin books about nothing in particular. I remember I loved reading trivia, because things are listed out and you can leave it whenever and pick it up again whenever. And whatever reading I did when I was younger was all in Thai. I grew up in a country with its own national language, and my English proficiency was very limited. In kindergarten I learned to sing the ABC song. In 6th grade I still couldn't quite grasp how the three basic tenses worked, let alone all the 12. And with the language barrier taken into account, I didn't have enough knowledge and confidence to start reading books written in English until I was in secondary school. Grade 8 was the critical time when a lot of things began in my life and affected me in positive ways and have stuck with me until now, shaping who I would later become. Like how my devotion to German football motivated me to study German. Like how the first book that I read that was written in the English language was Meg Cabot's The Princess Diaries, and I had to wait a year for the next books to come out, and by the time I finished the 10th, I realized I was already a reader. When I knew the next book was coming out, I had to reread the whole series from the first book up to the latest one to refresh my memory. If my memory serves me right, I've read the first three books 4 times, book 4 and 5 and 6 three times, book 7 and 8 and 9 twice, and the 10th just once. Yep, it was this series that hooked me into reading.

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This is actually a funny pile to look at. First of all, I forgot that V is before VI. Second of all, notice how only two books match? That's because like every two year Macmillan and Harper Collins reprinted the series in new editions. That's why I don't have the latest edition; I completed my collection before the new one came out. Lastly, I love tiaras. I couldn't resist.

Monday, June 23, 2014

#BookADayUK 23: Made to Read at School

Hi guys! B is back!

After three months away from home, I can tell you what I miss the most is reading, and I'm finally trying to get back in the game. Throughout my time in the States, I went to many, many amazing bookstores, and I hope to find the time (and effort) to share what I've experienced. But that's for later.

Yesterday I stumbled upon something called #BookADayUK on Prettybooks. It looks like a fun thing to do, so I'm joining right now, even though I've missed the first 22 days. Ha!

So, a book I was made to read at school? My high school reading list wasn't all that interesting. Things started to get real when I became an English major at Chula's Faculty of Arts, where we have to read an average of 5 books for one literature course. One of the best classes I've had here is Mythological and Biblical Background to English Literature, which we call "Mytho" for short. For this class, we studied the whole Edith Hamilton book (yes, that one). I actually had to memorize everything for midterms and finals. EVERYTHING. Stories, date, characters, family trees, places, and you know how crazy Greek names are, right? Reading one book had never been that exhausting... until this course. It's super useful, though. Now I don't have to draw a blank every time an allusion to classical mythology shows up in serious literature, and it tends to appear here and there very often.  And I can now pretend to be smart by alluding to Greek myths. Fun. No, seriously, it's really useful.

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Some of my friends couldn't hate it more, but I actually enjoyed it. I haven't read other books on mythology, so I cannot really say if this one is the best one out there. But judging from what I've read, this book is really comprehensive already, and it's not even that thick! Hamilton sure does have a gift for retelling stories.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

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Title: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
First Release Date: October 18, 2007
Publisher: Razorbill
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from June 15 to 16, 2014
My rating: 4 stars: I really like it
Summary: You can't stop the future. You can't rewind the past. The only way to learn the secret. . . is to press play.Clay Jensen doesn't want anything to do with the tapes Hannah Baker made. Hannah is dead. Her secrets should be buried with her.
Then Hannah's voice tells Clay that his name is on her tapes-- and that he is, in some way, responsible for her death.All through the night, Clay keeps listening. He follows Hannah's recorded words throughout his small town. . .and what he discovers changes his life forever.


“I hope you're ready, because I'm about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you're listening to these tapes, you're one of the reasons why.”

I read according to my mood. You can probably tell something about a person's state of mind at the moment by observing what they're currently reading. And as you can guess, I was feeling pretty damned depressed when I picked up this book. Long story short: I was (have been) feeling like I was getting nowhere with my life and I felt trapped with no way out and I'm constantly falling short of my own expectations. The idea of suicide crept into my head and I played around with it, and then came to the conclusion that I wouldn't mind it if I were to not be alive anymore the next minute. Now, don't be alarmed, I'm okay now. I wasn't even contemplating suicide; it's just that I happened to be in the right state of mind to be thinking about it (and I was only thinking).

Growing up in a Buddhist country, I was taught that suicide is an unforgivable sin. And I don’t mean to go into details about this, but I’ve had my lapses of depression and thoughts about suicide. Sometimes my brother would ask what the heck is wrong with me, and most of the time I’ll just ignore him because socialization is just too much of an effort to make when I cannot care less. Sometimes, though, I’ll tell him I don’t feel like living anymore, just so he can stop nagging me. In my family, the suggestion of suicide triggers an incredibly automatic response: the caring look is gone from my brother’s eyes and every word that he utters is tinged with accusations. Anger replaces sympathy. Mine is a society that condemns anyone who commits suicide as a cowardly, selfish, worthless person who craves attention and acts upon superficial impulses. And let’s just say that this is just one of countless other opinions that Thailand and I don’t share.

Before this review turns into a rant fest, let’s talk about Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why. It’s been sitting on my shelf for years, so when I suddenly needed it, it was already there waiting for me: the first book on the YA shelf, because I arrange my shelves alphabetically according to authors. (This is a real benefit of hoarding books– you always have the right book at hand when the mood hits.) The book is just as I expected: dark, heartbreaking and extremely suspenseful. For someone who has to get up at 7.30 to be at work at 9.30, staying up to watch a World Cup game until 1 am says a lot about dedication and loyalty. And what do you think it says about a book when that someone, instead of collapsing in bed, sacrifices some more hours to finish that book? Yup, that book must be friggin’ awesome.

And it is. Thirteen Reasons Why, while not exactly a mystery book, works the mysterious charms so well. From the first page where the main character Clay Jensen receives a shoe box full of 13 cassette tapes from a dead girl whom he’s had a crush on, we can’t help but wonder what exactly that he’s done to make him deserve such a torturous punishment. The fact that he keeps wondering the same thing and that he’s oh-so-sweet add even more to the suspense. And what are her 13 reasons? How are they so horrible as to drive a girl to kill herself? Opening this book is like opening a box of questions that can’t demand answers immediately enough, and I love that about this book.

The narration switches between Hannah Baker’s recordings and Clay. The interaction between Clay’s narrations, interspersed into Hannah’s, gives the book a sense of real-time urgency, which in my opinion is better than keeping them in big, separate chunks. Sometimes, it doesn’t work so well, as his responses tend to be too frequent, thus interrupting the flow and keeping me from fully immersing myself into her story. When that happened, I would be like: will you just calm your shit and let her finish, Clay? This would be followed by an unhealthy amount of exasperated eye-rolling. But then again, this didn’t happen often. Most of the time I would be too engrossed to notice.

Personally, I believe that feelings and pain are always real, and the magnitude of suffering may vary from person to person. Have you ever had someone tell you the pain you feel isn’t a real pain because what causes that pain doesn’t “seem” like a legit pain causer? I’ve had that shoved in my face one too many times. They would sometimes say they fail to sympathize with me because my problems are so small that it’s rather impossible to be suffering as greatly as I am; I must be overreacting and need to quit being such a drama queen already. How about people feel differently about different things? And how about some people feel more intensely than others? Sure, it might just be a spur-of-the-moment-thing, but that doesn’t make them overly dramatic and their feelings any less real. I never doubt the “realness” of the pain suffered before a person chooses to commit suicide. It’s unfair to judge unless you’re in their shoes, but the thing is you can never pretend to be in anyone’s shoes and understand them, because no two pairs of shoes have been through the exact same shit and taken the exact same roads leading up to that spot where suicide is decided. I’m in no way glorifying it; I’m just trying to point out that since we can never know to what extent a person must be suffering, it’s not our business to judge the legitimacy of their motives and call them cowardly or selfish or stupid or whatever. (Family and friends, please take notes.)

That said, I wish Hannah would’ve reached out to her parents. It’s like they’re not even a part of her life. All her decisions are made without taking her parents into consideration. Because they’re not a part of her problems, I think it’s a bit unfair for her to actually be bothered to meticulously make maps (and secretly drop the maps into lockers weeks before she kills herself—such a planner, huh?), tapes and a second set of tapes for those who make her life miserable, and leave not a single word for her clueless parents. While these people get explanations they might not even care to know about, the parents might be asking themselves “why” for the rest of their lives and getting no answer. Ouch.

For those who don’t like books that sound preachy, be warned that there are didactic messages like:
"You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything. . . affects everything."
And
"No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push it just the same."
I’m not recommending this book for its lessons. (I think books shouldn’t focus primarily on lessons. Yawn.) Rather, read it for the story. Explore how pretty amazingly one event leads to another to another like a “snowball effect.” This book is such a page-turner. It’s safe to say that I haven’t enjoyed a book this much in a long, long time.


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 This review is also posted on Goodreads.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Hiatus Alert!


Hello, hello! 

It's Best. You haven't heard from me in months. And you're still not gonna hear from me for a while. I'm currently in my third year as an English major (whee!), and guess what, the reading materials this year tripled last year's. Fun. The little free time I have after class and during weekends have to be dedicated to preparing for class and catching up with assignments--all of which I'm terrible at. I'm constantly failing at time management. Thus: no time to review or blog. 

So, yes, this is an official hiatus! *throws confetti* Eh, not really. See how busy I've been? I didn't even have time to write a hiatus post until today. Right now, the political unrest in Thailand makes it impossible to attend class, thus classes are canceled until next week. And you'd think I can take the time off to do some reading, right? Yes and no. Teachers have been assigning papers and homework like mad. Talking about making use of the break. So what I'll be reading during the time off is 3 novels for Children Lit class (finished We All Fall Down yesterday, now reading Anne of Green Gables) and 1 novel for German Reading. Also, I need to write papers and study for tests and finals already. Crazy stuff. In comparison to others, I'm considered lazy ass. They've finished a bunch of assignments already and I've just finished one book. *groans*

I hope to return to book blogging soon, though I have no idea how "soon" it can be. Almost immediately after finals, I'm leaving for the US in March. Guess who's going to be a cast member at Walt Disney World, Orlando, FL? Yep. Gonna be back in Thailand on June 4, and who knows? Maybe I'll be active during the two months I have before next semester starts on August 11. I'm gonna be a senior.

Fun fact: tomorrow is my 21st birthday.

I'll be back!

Best
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