Good Reads II

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So, I somehow managed to read 4 books in 4 days. I am impressed with myself. This puts me in a good place for my ’25 books in a year’ challenge, so YAY!

Now on to the books:

Lorali by Laura Dockrill was a purchase I made last year because BooksAndQuills on YouTube talked about it as being one of her favourites. I tried reading it last year but I never got to a good place with it. It ended up being a book left on the shelf for a very long time, until last Wednesday. I finally decided to make it past the first chapter and see how far I could go with it. And I finished it, basically in one sitting. I really like this book. I raved about it a bit on Instagram, and actually bought it as a belated(?) birthday present for a good friend of mine. Lorali is about a mermaid who goes up to the ‘human world’ and the resultant chaos because her merparents wanted her back. I didn’t expect it to go the way it did and I was pleasantly surprised. If you know me, you know that I have a deep fear of the ocean, which is partly why I had a tiny issue with trying to read this book. But once that bubbling anxiety could be calmed, I got swept up in the story. It ends in a fitting way.. and that’s all I can say about it. I don’t want to ruin this book for anyone. It has the ocean, mermaids, pirates, and a story of young love. You should pick it up.

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby was a book I picked up in Melbourne but I never finished. That was not because the book was boring but because I ended going out more and having more work to do towards the second and third rotation there. Funny Girl is about a wannabe comedienne from Blackpool who ends up working at the BBC. I have always enjoyed Nick Hornby’s writing- “A Long Way Down” is still one of my favourite books ever, as is the movie ‘An Education’ – and this was no exception. I think you would like it more if you have a taste for old comedies (this is set in the 60’s-70’s I think). It’s not only a story of a girl, though it starts out that way; it ends up being a tale of a few people, her colleagues at the BBC and I guess, it provides a more rounded perspective of what goes on in making a show, and in relationship dynamics.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith is a popular book among readers everywhere. Unfortunately, it didn’t capture me as much. It’s a fine story but I couldn’t quite fall in love with it, though everyone raves about it. It’s a story of two families in Wellington, both with fathers who work in a university. It’s a complex tale with a number of players, the wives becoming friends despite their husbands’ animosity, children somehow getting entangled with each other. Here are the parts I did enjoy- Zadie Smith has a wonderful way of describing things, it’s very enjoyable. She writes complex characters and you get where they’re coming from but you don’t necessarily agree with what they do. I like the friendship between the two wives the most in this book because they speak like women I know- the way it’s written, you know that the author is a woman herself. I don’t know how to phrase that properly. I don’t dislike the book, I don’t love it either. It’s one that I’m ‘okay’ with. I think I should pick up another Zadie Smith novel just to feel it out more, and then revisit this again.

And finally, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I have been reading this book for some time. I first cracked it open during one of my ‘solo lunches’ a month ago. I finished it on Saturday and it left me going ‘what?’. Because of the way it’s been hyped up so much due to the Hulu adaptation that’s coming up, I expected something more similar to The Hunger Games. This book is not that. It’s somber and … bleak. That’s the most appropriate adjective I can think of : bleak. It doesn’t end happy, it’s vague. And the whole book is miserable. I hope the adaptation doesn’t try to make it something it is not, because I think the bleakness of it helps. While a lot of people say that this book is ‘a future possibility’ because of the current political climate, I kinda-sorta disagree. The darkness of The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian world that I truly hope is far, far, far, far, FAR away from any near or far future. Yes, it is about the control of reproductive rights, but it is also a control of any rights at all. It’s a dictatorship and a mind-control state that I hope the people of this planet are enlightened about, so as to never choose it for ourselves. I don’t know, maybe that does not make much sense. I get why this book is a classic read. It’s not one you pick up to cheer you up, that’s for sure.

As always, I keep track of everything I read on GoodReads, and I would love to be your ‘friend’ on that site so I can get some recommendations of what to pick up next. I’m always happy to put a book down because that means I can buy a new one. I wish we had good libraries here in Malaysia. If anyone can tell me where I can find one, I’ll be happy to pay a visit.

I know I have a video to make for April and I hope to post it before the week is up. Can you believe we are a week away from May? It’s crazy how fast time flies.

Until next time- have a wonderful week ahead! x

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Good Reads?

I resolved to read 25 books this year and so far, I’ve read five. That’s not that much but I’ve been struggling through books. Unfortunately, I have some books on my to-read list that don’t quite jump out at me. But I’m determined to muddle through.

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Here is what I’ve gotten through in the last two months:

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Three out of those books fall under the category of ‘feminist literature’- they were interesting reads, to say the least. While all three women are heavy-weights in the Feminist Movement arena, reading these books remind me of the importance of intersectional feminism, and how each of us has our own definitions of what it means to carry that label.

Did I agree with everything they wrote? No. Did these books kick my ‘spirit into high gear’? No. For me, these books are compilations of raw and honest essays that provide more ‘food for thought’ in areas I can relate to. These books keep the conversation going and I think that’s the biggest takeaway.

The other two were easier reads, thankfully. The David Nicholls book was turned into a movie many years ago, starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. I read it on the plane ride to Miri and I found it quite enjoyable. Weirdly enough, I like David Nicholls’s other book, ‘Us’, better than this one. Still a good read in the end. I may watch the movie 🤷‍♀️

I bought My Not So Perfect Life because I wanted something light and fun, and Sophie Kinsella typically delivers on that front. It’s a chick-lit book that Kinsella fans would enjoy. I liked it. Sure, the plot got a bit too convenient towards the end, but that’s kinda what you expect from her work, so it doesn’t ‘disappoint’.

I am always happy to click READ on GoodReads and see the bar on the side move forward. I’m ‘2 books ahead of schedule’ for my 25, so that’s nice.

I hope you’re getting along with your resolutions this year, and if you’re reading anything particularly scrumptious, I’m up for recommendations. That is, once I’ve finished the other four books I have on my list.

Spoiler Alert

Here’s something new to recognise:

Much to my detriment, I have always been the type of person who feels a bit too much. It is a gift and a curse to empathise too quickly, to feel emotions too deeply, to wear your heart on your sleeve.

It borders on ridiculous when I feel too much about fictional characters that are.. fictional. They are not real but to my mind’s eye, they’re flesh and blood.

All my favourite characters die.

Yes, that is an overstatement. But a good many die and I feel way too much over them. I cannot separate fact from fiction when I immerse myself in an art-form, be it books or stage or TV or movies. I feel for the characters a bit too much. It’s unhealthy, that’s for sure.

The Fox and the Hound was particularly scarring. Matthew Cuthbert dying on paper made me cry for a good hour. I actually use his death as a ‘tool for crying’ when I needed to be devastated on stage- which works because I do get teary. Dobby died. Fred Weasley died. Tibby Rollins died. Alternate Timeline Lincoln Lee died. Allison Argent died. Michael Cordero died.

And it’s not like I cry only when I watch the show. There’s a mourning period I go through, much like if I lost someone I loved in real life. I take it to the extreme.

While being part of a fandom on Tumblr does exacerbate this ‘condition’, it’s something I’ve ‘gone through’ even before I joined the damn site.

I hate that I cry so much over people who are not real. If I should psychoanalyse myself, maybe it does stem from something a vocal teacher told my mom once- that I could not sing with emotion because I was too young and I did not know how to feel the same sadness, or longing, or joy that the song required. So, maybe, to make up for my own lack of experience, I live vicariously through characters that are not real. I make their pain, the joy, their anger.. I make them all mine.

And that is very screwed up.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. Why can’t I just have ‘regular’ emotional ranges and not feel as much?

The Martian

I finished The Martian today, and it brought up a few things:

Number One: I miss reading science fiction.

And this book was really good, ‘sounds legit’ science fiction. Again, I thank my brother for my pretty broad taste in literature: growing up reading Star Wars novelizations and Animorphs basically made me convinced that there is extra terrestrial life out there. Being terrified of X-Files as a child only proved to be the foundation for my respect and fear of outer space. I think at one point in time I wanted to be a rocket scientist or an astronaut. Out of my Childcraft books, my favorites were the ones about animals, history, and space. I think I am fonder of space than I am of the ocean. It’s not as scary, but it’s scary enough.

Number Two: I am way too comfortable with dying. 

The last time I was on a plane and there was turbulence, I actually didn’t mind as much if we crashed, but it would be sad since there were kids on the plane, and they were probably loved very much. Now, is that morbid? It probably is. And it’s likely to indicate that I’m severely depressed or suicidal or something. But it’s kinda a thing I do. My brother once asked me what I would in the event of zombie apocalypse:

“I’ll walk up to the nearest zombie and let it bite me. Why put off the inevitable?”

According to my brother and my mom, that is not a normal response.

Now, if I was Mark Watney in the book, all they’d find is my dehydrated corpse when Ares 4 landed, and that would be the end of it. I think I would just surrender to the fact that I was going to die way too quickly.

I mean, sure, I have a feeling I would die youngish, but the prospect of what comes after death does haunt me a little. I have been educated to believe that there is an afterlife, and that there is a sort of judgement situation. An eternity of something. How exactly that looks like is beyond my imagination, and since it seems likely that I’m going to the less favorable of afterlifes, death isn’t something I’m quite keen on.

That’s a weird headspace to be in. Not minding dying, but kinda not ‘prepared’ for what comes after.

Anyway, this is a good book and I recommend that you read it. The end.

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When breath becomes air

Look around, look around,

how lucky we are to be alive right now

-Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda

I often think about life and death.

It’s easy to be reminded that every moment on this planet is fleeting when you work in a hospital. Children take their first gasps in the same place where others breathe their last. Perhaps the only other profession, or vocation really, where you see both life and death in the same day would be a religious role, be it a priest, or an imam, or a Rabbi, or whatever else in between.

I just finished When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. If you have heard about him in the last year, you would recall that he is the neurosurgeon who passed away from lung cancer, despite never smoking. The first time I ever heard about him was through his sister-in-law’s blog, Cup of Jo. I remember reading her news about her dear brother-in-law, a man so loved, a man so kind and strong, and feeling this sadness.

I read his essays, I read the one his wife wrote. And now, I’ve read his book while on the plane, flying back home for the weekend. It was an easy read, the medical terms that he used all familiar to me. I enjoyed imagining what his voice would have sounded like. I read his story about how choosing medicine was not a childhood dream, his love of literature and English resonated with me. His favourite poem, The Wasteland by T.S.Elliot, is one of my favourites. He was a man who fell in love with the human mind first and sought to learn more about it, in a more tangible form in neuroscience.

And I felt a kinship with him.

When he wrote about his fears, when he spoke about how he went through the stages of grief backwards, my heart ached for him. I cannot imagine how paralysing it must be to be placed in such a difficult situation, where everything you know, everything that you strived for had to be placed on the backburner because you needed to relearn how to sit, how to walk, how to move as you previously did.

Dr Kalanithi passed away before he could complete his book. The epilogue was written by his wife, and if you don’t shed a tear while reading that, I fear for your soul. The book is unfinished, and it does feel that way, but in a way, that is how it is intended to be. I like to think that there was no true way for that book to end, because for as long as he was alive, Dr Kalanithi would have had more to share, he would have had more advice to give, more experiences to draw from to help educate his readers. I don’t think there could have been a way for it to have ended with a certain finality because that’s not always how life works, especially when it comes to the death of someone so young.

I think of life and death every time someone gets pushed through the Emergency Room doors. I think of life and death every time I watch a child being born. I think of life and death when a patient goes in for surgery.

I think about how final every day can be, and how some days are the end for someone on this planet. One of our classes last week was on human errors, and part of it was watching this reenactment of Eastern Airlines Flight 401. This was to do with the downing of a plane due to the fixation of the pilots on an issue related to landing and caused them to be unaware that their autopilot had stopped working. The video was based on the recordings of the black box. It ends with them realising that they were closer to the ground than anticipated, and with the crash. As much as this was a lesson in human error, I cannot help but imagine how it must have felt like to listen to their last words, to listen to their errors in judgement, and to hear them be suddenly cut off when the plane crashed to the ground.

Life is so quick, it is often too fast for us to grasp. And I wish we appreciated it more.

I wish I did.

I grew up with this weird feeling that I would die young, and silly as it is, I always imagine the worst possible situation (crashing in a terrible accident, being electrocuted to death, somehow dying of a fatal disease). That flight of fantasy always ends with me thinking about how many regrets I would leave behind.

but then, those moments pass and I go back to being too complacent with my existence, and the existence of others.

I don’t know what I’m getting at. I just know that it’s good to stop and think of how quickly things can take a bad turn and how much we can lose, whom we can lose.

There is a moment, a cusp, when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment.

-Paul Kalanithi

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Book Haul!

My books have arrived and it’s the best feeling. I have this pile on my table, okay, that’s a lie, on my bed, and I cannot wait to rip off the plastic wrap and feel the covers beneath my fingers, the embossing, the raised script!

I confess, I have opened two already: the Kate Beaton one, because I wanted to flip through the comics, and Jhumpa Lahiri’s IN OTHER WORDS. I have read a few chapters of the latter and it has filled me with this joy, the bliss that only comes with reading.

I have missed reading. Somehow, even in my time between semesters, I have often forgotten to pick up a book. It’s always my laptop now, devouring every bit of social media or art in it’s visual form. I forgot to read, and that’s a terrible feeling. Forgetting something you love!

Reading has been such a great way to make friends, to build connections, to understand a someone else at a subliminal level. It is always easier to talk to someone whom I know READS the same books. You may like the same TV shows, but you can have different levels of appreciation. But I have found that when you find people who ‘devour’ books like you do, it’s this spark of connection that has proven to extend across oceans and continents.

Here are the books I purchased, and yes, it’s quite a few. I intend to spend a good amount of time burying my face in them. Much like last year where most of my purchases were done when I was away from home, I think I’ll be buying  a lot more in months to come.

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2015 in Review- Books

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As part of the last few days in the year, I thought I’d do a 2015 review.  I’m starting with this:

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ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven

This is the story of depression, the toll it takes on someone, coming to close to the edge (in the most literal sense), and having someone step in to save you. It’s the story of two teenagers, Theodore Finch and Violet Markey, battling the same problem and how they support each other through it. I’m not doing the book justice. It’s a good story, a good portrayal of the inner conflicts, and blended with young love. I recommend it.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

One of the most popular books of 2015, no doubt. And it was genuinely a good read. I read it twice in a day because it was the only book I brought with me to Kota Kinabalu when I picked up my grandmother. It’s the story of a protagonist that just won’t quit, in both her bad habits and her obsession with a couple that she sees every day on her trips to work on the train. When ‘something’ happens, Rachel takes it on herself to be the hero of the day. And things don’t always work out so simply.

WHY NOT ME? by Mindy Kaling

I can rave about how much Mindy means to me, but I’m going to try to keep that to a minimum. This book was written for her fans and people who love comedy-writing. It was a good follow-up to her previous book, and one I would recommend to anyone with a funny bone.

MORE THAN THIS by Patrick Ness

I think this book has to be one that I recommend to anyone interested in the YA genre because it’s unlike any other I have ever read. It starts out one way and ends up bringing you on this trip to a whole other place. I cannot say more because it would ruin the book, but boy, it takes you on a ride!

and the big miss 😕

WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart

Alright, alright, before you all go berserk, it wasn’t a huge miss. I just figured out the ending after a few chapters into the book, so the big reveal at the end wasn’t a big deal to me. I don’t endorse that you read this book, but I will not rave as much as everyone else about it because I wasn’t surprised.