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."
"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.

 This review is also posted on Goodreads.
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