Bye bye #BBSReads

So, #BBSReads. 

I finished all three books, and I think I could have actually squeezed in a fourth had I not gotten completely sidetracked by Clockwork Prince and Clockwork Princess. (Both of which were purchased copies, so I couldn’t count them towards the readathon.) The first couple days of the readathon were a bit slow. I was visiting family that weekend, and so most of my time was spent doing stuff with them. I did manage to squeeze in a few hours of reading, though, and by Day 3 I finished my first book, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. I’m planning on doing a standalone review of the book soon, so I’ll go more into detail about what I thought about the book then. But for now, I’ll just say that it was exciting, and very action-packed. Narrative-wise, it wasn’t as polished as Clare’s subsequent books in The Infernal Devices. The prose in City of Bones was rather choppy, and veered on cheesy at times. And the drama, while catalyzing, was a little much for me. (Dare I say, soapy?) But the book was enjoyable. 

I followed with City of Ashes, which is the next book in Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series. The main story arc progresses, but at a much slower pace than I thought was necessary. Also, the romantic drama at this point got more irritating, and I was pretty certain that Clare only included certain scenes to artificially propel the angst. By the end of the book, I was wondering why Clare decided to stretch out the series into six installments. I feel she could have condensed the story into a trilogy, and the series would have been better for it. But we’ll see. Maybe there’s some plot twist in City of Glass that requires an additional three books to resolve. 

I finished the readathon on a much different note—a historical mystery called The Hangman’s Daughter. I didn’t get to finish it in time—dang it, The Infernal Devices!—but I had a lot of fun reading it. The central mystery was fascinating, and it kept me guessing all the way to the very end. There’s elements of spookiness to the story—like man with the skeleton hand—that made me wish I had saved this book for Halloween. I really liked the titular hangman, Jakob Kuisl, and his spirited daughter Magdalena. I like that Jakob was a compassionate man, shrewd and intelligent, and incredibly progressive for his time. (17th Century Germany, where witch hunts were still in vogue.) He insisted that Magdalena be taught to read and write, and is himself very well-read. His friendship with the physician’s son, Simon, was also one of my favorite things about the book. (Also, I’m just tickled by Simon’s fascination and love for coffee, which at the time was considered an exotic drink in Germany, and not entirely orthodox.) The author has so far penned three follow-ups to this book, and I am eager to read them all. 

Overall, the readathon was a BLAST. I had so much fun, and in part it’s thanks to YOU guys who read a long with me. You guys definitely made the experience all the more enjoyable, and I hope you guys had fun as well! I’m hoping to do the readathon again next year. The one thing I want to do differently is to also include daily challenges or activities, along the lines of Booktubeathon. I think it would make the experience all the more fun and interactive. But otherwise, same time, same theme. See you guys there?

Happy reading,


SNIPPETS: “You cannot nourish the soul with data!”

“Oh, I want readers, my boy.” Mr. Baram sighed. “A world of readers I want, and yet, all I have is you. You want information, mere data, just like everyone else. That’s not reading. Wisdom? Inspiration? Phfft! Their time has passed, eh?” He waved his hand in the air. “You cannot nourish the soul with data!”

Proxy, by Alex London

Here’s a less wordy edition of Snippets for this week, because 1) I figure this excerpt speaks for itself, 2) I don’t feel like elaborating on it, and 3) the more I try to talk about Proxy the more incoherent I become, until all I end up writing on the page are variations of OMG SO GUD U GUYS BAWLING BCUZ FEELINGS. So … next time. Until then, go nourish yourself with some reading!

Summer 2014 reading list!

I mentioned previously that I made it my unofficial summer goal to read more classics. But then That Slate Article went live, and for a moment I contemplated pushing the classics aside to read exclusively YA because I was seriously bothered by the article and really wanted to do something in the spirit of protest. But then I knew that if I did do that, I would regret the loss of an opportunity to play catch-up with the classics. So now I’m compromising by deciding to do BOTH. I haven’t decided if this is yet another one of my have my cake and eat it too moments, or a genuinely good idea. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, here are the books* that I’m planning to read:

Young Adult…

  • Proxy, by Alex London
  • Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass, by Meg Medina
  • This Song Will Save Your Life, by Leila Sales
  • The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer
  • Beastly, by Alex Flinn
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
  • The Maze Runner, by James Dashner
  • Wonder, by R. J. Palacio


  • Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  • The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
  • The Bluest Eyes, by Toni Morrison
  • Othello, by William Shakespeare
  • The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury [not pictured above]

*I would like to thank my housemate and fellow bookworm, whose generosity in granting me free rein of her personal library made the majority of this reading list possible.

Readers — What are you planning to read this summer?

On technological shinies and the thinking brain

[…] “Her mother and I didn’t want to get her a feed at all. I did not have one. Neither did her mother. I said none for our family.

“Then one day, when her mother had left, and I needed work, I was at a job interview. I was an excellent candidate. Two men were interviewing me. Talking about this and that. Then they were silent, just looking at me. I grew uncomfortable. Then they began looking at each other, and doing what I might call smirking.

“I realized that they had chatted me, and that I had not responded. They found this funny. Risible. That a man would not have a feed. So they were chatting about me in my presence. Teasing me when I could not hear. Free to assess me as they would, right in front of me.

“I did not get the job.

“It was thus that I realized that my daughter would need the feed. She had to live in the world.”

— Mr. Durn, from Feed by M. T. Anderson

This passage came to mind the other day as I was reading a particularly interesting and thought-provoking passage from Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf. In that passage, Wolf walks her readers through Socrates’ three-fold objection towards the written language:

  1. You cannot dialogue with a written text. (To put this in context: Socrates prized active, verbal discussion. He firmly believed that it was the only way for individuals to truly learn, and to understand an idea. He also believed it invaluable to society. To quote Wolf, “only the examined word and the analyzed thought could lead to real virtue, and only true virtue could lead a society to justice and could lead individuals to their god.”)
  2. Writing interferes with an individual’s memorizing skill, and consequently, as Wolf writes, “the individual’s internalization of knowledge.”
  3. Writing presents no accountability or control  for its contents. To quote Socrates, “Once a thing is put into writing, the composition, whatever it may be, drifts all over the place, getting into the hands not only of those who understand it, but equally of those who have no business with it; it doesn’t know how to address the right people, and not address the wrong. And when it is ill treated and unfairly abused it always needs its parents to come to its help, being unable to defend or help itself.”

His objections are well-argued, but what I found interesting was that it wasn’t writing, or even reading, that Socrates had an issue with, but rather what a written language would do to the way people think and used their minds. He believed very firmly that the dependence upon a written language—as opposed to dependence upon human memory and oral tradition—would cause society to, basically, get dumber. Which immediately made me think of what people—myself included—have said about humankind’s growing dependence upon things like the Internet, Google, and how our stuff is just becoming increasingly automated so that we ourselves are doing less and less. I used to think that the rapid surge of technological advancements in our society—like the infamous Google Glass—was completely unprecedented and utterly unnatural. But after talking about the matter with friends, I conceded that the aspect of technology progressing is old, old news. Throughout human history, technology has always been improving and changing. This is why we aren’t using bronze weaponry anymore, why we aren’t reading from scrolls, why we aren’t getting around town in a horse and buggy. Wolf says as much in her book:

[…] there would be no turning back from these new forms of communication and knowledge. Socrates could no more prevent the spread of reading than we can prevent the adoption of increasingly sophisticated technologies. Our shared human quest for knowledge ensures that this is as it must be.

But what still irks me about new technology is not so much that they exist, but that there is a lack of pause to consider the ramifications—cerebral, socially, culturally—of their consumption. I don’t think we should be decrying the Internet, or smartphones, or Twitter, nor should we ban people from using them. But I think we ought to be more mindful of how we use these resources and tools. If I’ve learned anything from Proust and the Squid, it’s this: that our brains wire itself according to what we feed it, sensorially and intellectually. It’s an impressive testament to the human brain, how it’s wonderfully complex, intelligent, and adaptive. It’s also a sobering reminder of what we might make ourselves into if all we’re doing is passively, apathetically consuming.

Going back to the passage from Feed—it reminds me of what Wolf said about the inevitability of technological progress. The world has and always will shape its infrastructure according to new inventions and innovations. We can’t detach ourselves from using new things if we still expect to be a functioning member of society. But we can and should take more ownership in how much we saturate ourselves, knowing that by doing so we have a direct effect on the sort of thinking people we become. The young characters in Feed live in a future plagued by political turmoil, environmental disasters, and impending war. But they are too distracted by the feed implanted in their brains—which flood them 24/7 with the equivalent of the Internet on crack—to care about the world outside of their hamster balls of comfort and entertainment. I already see that happening, in myself as well as the children and adolescents of our time. And I worry that if we don’t change the way we consume and utilize the technological tools available literally at our fingertips, we’ll end up just like Titus and his friends.

Inevitable fangirling over Cress and The Lunar Chronicles

This is one of my bloggery problems: I don’t like to write about a book if I haven’t first written about its serial predecessors. It’s a continuity thing, I guess. And also, it’s a tricky balance providing enough information about the previous books for the current book to make sense, but not giving away too much as to spoil said previous books. But I’m willing to make an exception for Cress; partly because it was such a fun, action-movie-of-a-book; partly because I want to blog more.

So. Cress. It’s the newest and penultimate installment in Marissa Meyer’s entertaining series, The Lunar Chronicles. The series is set in the future, where after two World Wars Earth has consolidated into six political conglomerates. The moon has also been settled—and rechristened Luna—and is ruled independently of the Earthen Union under an absolute monarchy, headed by the conniving Queen Levana. Although Earth has experienced a long stretch of peace since the fourth World War, political tensions are mounting. A terrible plague has ravaged Earth for decades, and scientists have still to discover a cure for it. On top of that, Levana has been pushing for an alliance with the Eastern Commonwealth, a move that its crown prince Kaito is all too wary of, knowing the lunar monarch’s hunger for power.

And from there, stuff happens. (Trying to avoid spoilers, heh.) Basically, our leading lady Cinder—cyborg and gifted mechanic, also mutual love interest of the dashing Prince Kai—realizes her true identity, and sets off on a mission to stop Queen Levana from taking over Earth. Along the way, she befriends Cadet Captain Carswell Thorne—your typical scoundrel-of-a-space-captain with a heart of gold—spirited pilot Scarlet Benoit; ex-street fighter Wolf; and compassionate Dr. Erland, who knows more than he lets on.

Cress picks up shortly after the dramatic conclusion of its predecessor Scarlet. Team Cinder has barely escaped the clutches of Queen Levana, stalling for the present in neutral orbit above Earth, aboard Thorne’s beloved—and very much stolen—Rampion ship. After the events of Scarlet, Team Cinder is now certain of Levana’s true intentions: taking over Earth, using an alliance with the Eastern Commonwealth as a strategic foothold. With Kai’s hands tied up in politics, it is up to Cinder and her friends to stop Levana and avoid all-out war with technologically-superior Luna. Assistance comes in the form of Cress, a young but genius hacker imprisoned aboard a satellite. In her possession are recordings that could expose Levana’s schemes. Eager to escape her prison and help Team Cinder, Cress offers to come onboard the Rampion to hand over the evidence. But her jailbreak goes horribly wrong, and Team Cinder scatters.

And from there, stuff happens.

A lot of bloggers have raved that Cress is the best book in the series so far. And after finishing the book last week, I have to agree. Meyer’s writing has gotten much tighter. And I’m impressed by how she was able to introduce and flesh out Cress’ story arc while balancing those of the other characters. It’s no easy feat, juggling four plotlines. In ways, Cress reminds me of a slick, edge-of-your-seat action/espionage film: lots of adrenaline-pumping scenes, lots of high-risk plans gone wrong, lots of unexpected setbacks.  There’s plenty of humor too. And man, there’s so much worth fangirling over. I LOVED Iko’s new development. And OMG, Cress being … well, you know. Did any of you guys see it coming?? Cress/Thorne is my new OTP. (Sorry Cinder/Kai. I’m still rooting for you guys, but Cress/Thorne have so much more character development. And their relationship is so sweet, I luff it.) AND PRINCESS WINTER AAAAHHH. I am SO looking forward to reading more about her in the next book. She’s such an interesting character! Meyer wrote her SO well. I love how she’s so innocent and yet unsettling and kind of creepy. (That menagerie scene you guys, AMIRIGHT? And there being blood on the palace walls??) I’m curious as to how she’s going to fit into the overall story arc. And I want to know more about her story—how she got those scars, why she is the way she is, why Jacin is so loyal to her.

I don’t think I’ve said this before, but I highly recommend The Lunar Chronicle series. I’ll be frank, I actually didn’t expect too much from it when I first heard about it a couple of years ago. All the other Nanowrimo novels that have made it big in the market hadn’t appealed to me, or else got such mediocre reviews that I didn’t bother reading it. The Lunar Chronicles, I’m happy to say, well exceeded my expectations. Meyer is a genuinely good writer. She entertains her readers without compromising quality. And unlike a lot of YA novels I’ve encountered, she takes an intriguing story idea and delivers it well. If you like fairytales with a twist, or YA sci-fi, give these books a go. I double dog dare you to not like them.

2013: A year in review


  • I am Half-Sick of Shadows, by Alan Bradley
  • Bridget Jones’s Diary, by Helen Fielding
  • Cinder, by Marissa Meyer
  • Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer
  • The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, by John Le Carré
  • Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Bookseller of Kabul, by Åsne Seierstad
  • The Defining Decade, by Meg Jay
  • After Visiting Friends, by Michael Hainey
  • Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
  • Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin
  • A Clash of Kings, by George R. R. Martin
  • Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
  • 1776, by David McCullough
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Part 1, by by Gene Luen Yang
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Part 2, by Gene Luen Yang
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, Part 3, by Gene Luen Yang
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Search, Part 1, by Gene Luen Yang
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Search, Part 2, by Gene Luen Yang
  • Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
  • American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang
  • Boxers, by Gene Luen Yang
  • Saints, by Gene Luen Yang
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
  • Batman: Year One, by Frank Miller
  • Anya’s Ghost, by Vera Brosgol
  • The Angel’s Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
  • A Storm of Swords, by George R. R. Martin
  • Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, by Bryan Lee O’Malley
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Search, Part 3, by Gene Luen Yang
  • If You Bite & Devour One Another, by Alexander Strauch
  • Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, by Prudence Shen
  • Journey of Heroes : the Story of the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team, by Stacey T. Hayashi
  • John Adams, by David McCullough


  • The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair

Still reading:

  • Walkable City, by Jeff Speck
  • Meditations on First Philosophy, by René Descartes
  • Batman: The Court of Owls, by Scott Snyder
  • Wonder Woman, Vol. 1: Blood, by Brian Azzarello

I’m feeling extra nostalgic tonight. I finished John Adams yesterday with a rather heavy sigh—because this awesome man whom I’ve gotten to know over the span of some 600 detailed pages has died; because this book which I’ve slowly read over the course of a year and a half is finally, reluctantly, done—and tonight I’m getting ready for my upcoming holiday travels. I’m also thinking ahead to New Year’s Eve, of the excitement it brings for the coming new year, as well as the sadness that always comes with saying farewell. Needless to say, many feels are being had tonight.

And then there is this post, where I’ve put together all the books that I’ve finished, abandoned, or (sadly) am still chugging through. Looking over the titles, I have to say this year has been a strange one. There have been some heavylifting with Anna Karenina and Descartes; some delightful tromps through YA territory with The Lunar Chronicles and The Fault in Our Stars; and a very surprising yet very delightful introduction to the world of … comics. Till this year, I’ve never ever touched a single comic book in my life. Manga, yes. Saturday morning cartoon strips, yes. But never comic books. I just never had an interest for them. The artwork always put me off. (Something about the harsh colors and the gritty overall quality.) And then there was my prejudice and snobbery, which believed that comics were nothing in comparison to the profound themes, beautiful narratives, and stimulating discourses on the human condition that I found time and time again in my beloved novels and high-brow classics*. It wasn’t until I was introduced by my friend to the amazing work of Gene Luen Yang that I came to my senses softened up considerably. Yang’s work showed me that comics can be visually beautiful AND intellectually stimulating—something that Yang talks about more in his very interesting Charlotte Zolotow lecture—not to mention, FUN. And if Yang himself, whom I quickly came to respect as a creative, likes comic books then surely they can’t be all that bad. Needless to say, the rest is history. I’ve since gobbled up some Batman, the majority of the Avatar: The Last Airbender series, and even started on the new Wonder Woman comics. (Not entirely happy with what they did to Diana’s origin story, but that’s stuff for another entry.  And anyway, the artwork is pretty.) I’ve also read some contemporary original stuff, like Anya’s Ghost—loved the artwork—and Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong—EEEEEE FAITH ERIN HICKS. Slowly getting into O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim too. The number of comic books in my to-read list keep on growing, and I don’t have any plans of it slacking. I’d love recommendations, so please throw them my way!

(Seriously. Throw them my way. DON’T KEEP A GIRL WAITING.)

There were some excellent pieces of non-fiction that I read, like Half the Sky. It was a major eye-opener, and I had hoped to write about it after I read it this summer. It shook me, with anger as well as great sadness, to learn of the horrid injustices that are actually taking place in the world right now: sex trafficking, forced prostitution, FGM, the like. It also made me feel incredibly helpless in the face of all this evil. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a lawyer. I’m not skilled in any way that could enable me to be in Cambodia busting pimps and brothel owners, or help survivors rehabilitate. I’m just an office-working bookworm who may or may not be addicted to Twitter. But I suppose that even the small things we contribute in assistance can amount to something. So here goes: If you haven’t already, please read the book, or watch the documentary by the same name. Learn more about these issues. Pray. Give financially should you feel compelled. Spread the word. Talk to people about these things. Do what you can to help.

I haven’t formally put together my literary goals for 2014. I just know that I want more non-fiction, more history, more comics, more challenging stuff. And okay, some YA stuff too if they’re well-written. Pretty much the same as every year. We’ll see. Feel free to throw recommendations my way. I feel like I don’t really know what’s out there in the world of novels anymore.

Must get to packing, so I’ll end this entry here. Thanks again, friends, for sticking through another year on this blog, complete with spastic posting schedules and entries that had absolutely nothing to do with books! I promise you I’ll try very hard to write solely on literature, although fair warning that I’ll throw in an entry or two on movies. I can’t limit myself to just books, I’ve realized. I love stories in all its forms: books, plays, movies, poetry… and yes, comics too.

Merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy, and productive new year to you all!

<3 Jen

* How I thought this, when I grew up watching—and LOVING—the cartoon adaptations of X-Men and Batman, amongst other wonderful shows like Gargoyles and Darkwing Duck, is beyond me.

And now we ramble about children’s books

Is anyone else pretty excited over NPR’s book list this year? Because I am. Normally, I don’t pay much attention to book lists, much less ramble-blog about them, but this particular list elicited so much feels that I didn’t see any other way to channel the brimming enthusiasm than to translate them into somewhat-cohesive thought here on the oh-so-welcoming, oh-so-unsuspecting pages of the blog. So here we are. And honestly, I think I’m this excited because the list features children’s books. Or rather, books that I’ve read as a kid. Or a tween. Or a teenager. Basically, during my growing-up years. It’s the nostalgia. It’s the memories. The sheer sense of magic and unadulterated delight that I just can’t seem to replicate now that I’ve grown up.


The House on Mango Street → I’m actually thinking about re-reading this. The feelings I have for it from high school English class was none too positive—too bleak, I think was my verdict—but I wonder if that was because I was still too young then to fully appreciate the book. (Or in other words, too obsessed with Regency England and Harry Potter to care about anything else.) Now that I’m a proper grown-up—or something close to it, heh—I should be able to better relate to and tackle with the social issues that the novel addresses.

To Kill a Mockingbird → Gah. How is it that I like it so much, and yet barely remember anything about it? Due for a re-read, this book is. Perhaps in honor of Banned Books Week?

PoppyPoppy! You were read to me—well, to my class—by a lovely and wonderfully kooky librarian named Miss D— who drank way too much soda. (I think Pepsi was her favorite.) She read from you every week when we would visit the school library. She would do a different voice for each character. And she was so animated. And I loved that small little library. I remember it dimly-lit, for some reason, although I’m sure the overhead lights were on full blast. I remember certain feelings: coziness, bliss, unadulterated delight. Gosh, I wish I could go back.

The Redwall series → You were introduced to me by my then-good friend, G—. (We’ve since fallen out of touch.) She liked horses, I liked dogs. And she introduced me to you. And I loved you as much as my little heart could love you. I remember a number of characters and places: Martin the Warrior, Matthias (whom I had a bit of a crush on; which I now realize is weird, given that he’s Mattimeo’s DAD; but egads guys, what can I say? I had a thing for mice who were brave and noble and chivalrous and stuff), Swartt Sixclaw, Sunflash the Mace, Mariel, Salamandastron, Redwall Abbey, Marlfox, the moles with their ridonkulously thick accents, and THE FLIPPING BLACKBERRY CORDIALS YOU GUYS I SERIOUSLY WANTED SOME WHENEVER THEY WERE MENTIONED.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl → A very dear book. The one of two books that my parents allowed me JUST THIS ONCE to purchase through our school’s weekly book orders. It’s also what started me journaling.

The Graveyard Book → So… not quite a blast from the past, as I read this a little under a year ago. Ha. But I wanted to mention it all the same. Neil Gaiman, sir, don’t stop being awesome.

The Harry Potter series → If you haven’t yet read this, I just have two questions for you:

1. Why are we still friends?


A Series of Unfortunate Events → I remember when the series was kinda sorta all the rage, and my sister would come home wanting to fangirl with me about Violet and Klaus and Sunny and omg Count Olaf that sinister old weasel. And I, too engrossed in Harrypotterland, would shoo her off, telling her I couldn’t care two pennies for her ill-fated orphans. Now, ten years later—and ten years wiser—I am happy to report that I have seen the light, my dear Snicket fans, and regret not getting into the series earlier. I really like Snicket’s writing. It’s smart, ticklish, a masterful blend of dry wit and dark humor that also pulls at your heartstrings. I go into a bit more detail here and here.

Little Women → A birthday present from an old friend. ♡ Loved Jo. Loved Laurie. Irrationally believe—still!—that one day, the plot in the book will magically change and Jo and Laurie will get together like they should have all those many years ago.

Walk Two Moons → Another dear book. I re-read this in the recent past, and actually enjoyed it more than when I first read it in middle school. I think it’s because as an adult, and as someone who understands life just a little more, I could appreciate how Creech could express so much with so little. As a middle schooler, I remember understanding that Sal’s mother left the family, that Sal’s dad had a girlfriend, that Sal had a pretty kooky friend. But I don’t think the emotional depth of it all—the grief, the stigma of being an outsider, the wondering if life will ever be okay again—sunk in properly until recently.

Catherine, Called Birdy → Oh gosh, this book. Made me laugh so much. I think I came across it during junior high. I liked Catherine and her attitude. Her expletives were also quite a hoot. (“Corpus bones!”)

Peter Pan → I read this while in college, actually. And to my great surprise, I thoroughly disliked it. I appreciated it for its legendary status. And hello, how could I NOT at least respect it as the original to the much-loved Disney incarnation? But I didn’t like it as a novel. The pacing was too slow, the overall tone too whimsical, too wandering—as if Barrie was writing the book in the thick of a drowsy haze—and it was so beyond different from what I had come to love over the years.

The Chronicle of Narnia series → I’m on the fence about Narnia. While I enjoyed certain aspects of the series—the humor, the Christian allegory, the adventures—I also think that, in terms of story quality, the books were weak, and too artificial, too contrived; the world of Narnia too shallow, too sterile. But I do have fond memories associated with this series. I used to read this to my sister every night.

His Dark Materials seriesHIS DARK MATERIALS, GUYS. I know Pullman meant for this series to be a sort of eff you to Lewis’ Narnia series—and by that, an eff you to Christianity as a whole; or something to that effect—but I still liked it. I was fascinated by the concept of dæmons—totally wanted one—the richness of his alternate world, the mythology, the near-tangible wonder that emanated from the very fabric of the story. Queuing this for a re-read…

Matilda → One of my grade school teachers would reach to us from this after recess every day. I loved her for it.

The Egypt Game → When I was really young, I fancied myself an aspiring Egyptologist. Ancient Egypt fascinated me, and I remember gobbling up as much as I could on Egyptian mythology. (The Eyewitness book was a favorite resource.) Naturally, when I spotted a novel about kids who were into Ancient Egypt, I had to read it. Sadly, I don’t remember a thing about the story. But I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed it.

2012: A Year in Review


  • After the Quake, by Haruki Murakami
  • After Dark, by Haruki Murakami
  • A Red Herring Without Mustard, by Alan Bradley
  • Ender’s Game, by Alan Bradley
  • The Tempest, by William Shakespeare
  • South of the Border, West of the Sun, by Haruki Murakami
  • Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
  • The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
  • Bespoke: Savile Row Ripped and Smoothed, by Richard Anderson
  • Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami
  • The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
  • A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf
  • To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
  • Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett

Still reading:

  • John Adams, by David McCullough
  • Knowing God, by J. I. Packer
  • If You Bite and Devour One Another, by Alexander Straunch
  • Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

It’s been a good year, book-wise. Finally got around to reading some non-fiction, as well as a couple of Russian novels. Score! (My 2010 self would be proud.) Also got around to reading Murakami, which I never thought I’d do. (I want to pause here and thank Dan for lending me so many of his copies. Apologies for always returning them in, uh, less than pristine condition…) Still harboring a conflicted, love-hate sort of sentiment towards his novels. The trademark surrealism is interesting, but my gosh, why are so many of his protagonists so angsty? There are a few in particular whom I, while  sympathize, nevertheless want to grab by the scruff of their necks and heartily give them a shake, yelling, “Get a grip on yourself, man! There’s no good in moping about! If you like the girl, then by Jove, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT AND TELL HER. UGH.” But I guess angst is kind of necessary for moodiness, and I do like the moodiness… Again, conflicted.

Oh, and let’s not forget Virginia Woolf! Never thought I’d read HER stuff again. (Kinda sorta hated her after reading Mrs. Dalloway in college. Never quite forgave her for her stream of consciousness thing.) I’m glad I’ve had a change of heart. Her books are hard to follow — straightforward, Woolf is not — but they’re rich and profound, not to mention intelligent and very eloquent. (Ugh. Writer envy.)

My favorites from the batch…

After Dark — A funny choice, as I initially felt quite the opposite about this book. Didn’t get it at all when I read it through the first time. (Who is this “we?” What’s going on with Eri? Who in the world is that creepy, faceless man? WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON SOMEONE SPLAIN.) It wasn’t until the second time around — plus some insight from Dan — that I “got” the book. And now, I’d hazard to say that it’s one of my favorites of Murakami. (Sputnik Sweetheart being the other.) I like Mari. I like that she’s a break from Murakami’s typical love-tortured male protagonist. I like that she’s intelligent, and independent, and stand-offish, and soft-hearted, and the spurned ugly duckling of her family. I saw a lot of myself (that is, from high school)  in her, especially in the way she constantly felt overshadowed and unloved. I also like the setting of the story — Tokyo in the deep of the night. I’m a night owl at heart, and I’ve always found nighttime to be the most interesting time of the day. The world feels like a completely different place once the sun sets, and I love that.

The Catcher in the Rye — I had no expectations, coming into the book. Didn’t even know what the story was even about, or the protagonist’s name. But I think that’s why I liked the book — in part.  Those conditions certainly created the ideal environment. (So frequently does unfulfilled expectations spoil a book. Or movie.) I like Holden and all his flaws. I like that he’s hopelessly himself, comfortable in his own skin and yet unsatisfied with himself, just a little. I like his lack of inhibition, his expressiveness, his love for his kid sister, Phoebe. (So delightfully precocious, she is.) I like that he’s honest about his sense of lostness. He has no idea what he wants to do with his life, and he’s dissatisfied with the options that are available to him. But he returns to what he knows, even if he doesn’t like it, because he knows of no other way. Reminds me of the heroes of the Greek tragedies of old. Ah, cruel fate!

The Graveyard Book — Gah. Nothing short of tear-jerking, especially at the end. I’m beginning to realize that the types of books that I fall in love with are often the books who allow me as a reader to follow and grow along with its characters. The story doesn’t have to be uber original — is there even such a thing anymore, originality? — it doesn’t even need exotic locales. (Although they certainly help!) Just give me emotionally-accessible characters who grow as people, and I’m a goner. The Graveyard Book is exactly that. Bod grows, both physically and as a character, throughout the course of the story. You follow him as he learns how to walk, how to read and write. You  watch as he grows closer with his guardian, Silas. You cringe when he  gets into trouble.  And when it comes time for him to grow up, you get all teary-eyed and sentimental because, darn it, you’ve become emotionally attached to the boy, and you don’t want things to change, and yet you do, but you don’t.

Also, this book was written by the brilliant Neil Gaiman. ‘Nough said.

My goals for 2013: Maintain, at least, my current pace of one book a month. My aspiration is to read more — say, 15 books by December? 20? — but I must remain realistic. I also want to read books that I think I won’t like, just to switch things up. (Also, who knows? Maybe I’ll find my next favorite book!) And some short stories too, because I’ve been talking about writing a collection of short stories, but I have next to no experience with the medium, and heaven help the writer who tries to write a story in a medium she knows nothing about! Well, next to nothing.

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Readers — How has 2012 fared for you? What are some of your favorites? (Or unfavorites?) Any titles take you by surprise? Or tragically disappoint?

BOOK: A Series of Unfortunate Events (Book 6)

Proceed with caution – POSSIBLE SPOILERS.

 The Ersatz Elevator picks up where The Austere Academy leaves off. The Baudelaires are put under the care of Jerome and Esmé Squalor, an affluent young couple living in 667 Dark Avenue. Jerome is a pleasant man, and takes a liking to the Baudelaires, but his wife Esmé is another story, caring very little for anything other than her money and what’s “in” and “out.” The Baudelaires’ new living situation does not deter the ever-scheming Count Olaf, whose latest plan involves him assuming yet another false identity: Gunther the art auctioneer. While the Baudelaires cook up a defense, they also launch an investigation into the whereabouts of their friends, the Quagmires, whom they believe have been kidnapped by Olaf and his henchmen.

“I’m very happy you’re here, because orphans are in and when all my friends hear that I have three real live orphans, they’ll be sick with jealousy, won’t they, Jerome?”

While reading this installment, I was particularly struck by Esmé’s obsession with “in”-ness. While I laughed at the hyperbolic nature of it, I was nevertheless intrigued because trend-following is something very human, isn’t it? We all follow trends; some to a higher or lower degree than others, but we all follow, don’t we? Trends in fashion, in the ideologies that we adopt, in the movements that spring up around us… And like Esmé, we firmly believe them to be very important, and to determine what’s socially acceptable and what’s outré. I don’t think the concept of trends is necessarily a bad thing. Certainly, I don’t believe that it’s healthy for people to do things just because other people are doing it; people need to form their own convictions and opinions. Neither do I believe that just because something is trendy it’s automatically something worth doing or subscribing to. But what I mean is that trends – and trend following – say a lot about the society that they’re adopted in, and how people think and act en masse, and I find that terribly fascinating.

“Well, I don’t want to argue.”

I was also struck – and deeply – by Jerome’s desire to avoid any and all conflict. Not only was I bothered that Jerome did nothing when the Baudelaires needed him to stand up for them, I was soberly reminded of the consequences of not being brave and standing up when action is needed. I don’t like conflict, and sometimes I avoid it by complying with people in circumstances where I should have spoken my mind. I’m definitely getting better about knowing when to let things slide and when to stick up for myself and others, but it’s still a struggle for me. But I have to say, after reading this book the struggle has gotten easier.

BOOK: A Series of Unfortunate Events (Book 5)

I read The Austere Academy and The Ersatz Elevator this summer, and sort of “rediscovered” the fact whilst flipping through past entries in my reading journal this morning. I’m fond of this series by Lemony Snicket. It’s absurdly humorous (literally), it’s clever and well-written, and goodness knows how it’s wringing my heart with each sequential installment. I’m still on the hunt for a (preferably second-hand) copy of the next book, The Vile Village. So far, none has showed up in my usual haunts, but I’m not discouraged. And yes, I’m aware that I could just walk the three extra blocks to the public library and secure a temporary copy there. But where’s the fun in collecting a series after the fact, when you’re done reading all the books? (Very anti-climactic, no?) I’ll re-visit this series time after time – I’m fairly certain of it – but there’s nothing quite like reading the book for the first time, and knowing that the copy you’re reading belongs to you.

A brief explanation of the series thus far:

A Series of Unfortunate Events is the story of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire – siblings, whose parents were mysteriously killed in a fire that also destroyed their home. As if that was not miserable enough, they are also being hunted by a nefarious man called Count Olaf, who will do anything and everything to get his hands on the children’s fortune. As the Baudelaires shuffle from one incompetent guardian to the next, they must rely on each other and their wits to outsmart the scheming Olaf, who is never too far behind.

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Proceed with caution – POSSIBLE SPOILERS.

In The Austere Academy, the Baudelaires are enrolled into Prufrock Preparatory School. As they attempt to adjust to their new environment, they cross paths with several unsavory individuals: Vice Principal Nero, a mean-spirited megalomaniac who seems to run the school despite his title; Carmelita Spats, a fellow student and a bully with an unfortunate penchant for inconsiderate nicknames; and of course, Count Olaf, who has snuck into Prufrock Prep posing as a gym teacher named Coach Ghengis. As the Baudelaires wrack their brains for a way to unmask him, they befriend two of the three Quagmire triplets, Isadora and Duncan, who are also students at Prufrock Prep as well as orphans who lost their parents in a fire. The orphans take to each other like hand to a glove, and pool together their cleverness and resources to help save the Baudelaires from Olaf’s latest scheme.

Mr. Poe said to come right to Vice Principal Nero’s office,” the man mimicked in a high, shrieky voice. “Well, come in, come in, I don’t have all afternoon.”

The adults in this installment are particularly unsavory. Mr. Poe is an idiot, and Vice Principal Nero is obnoxious, delusional, and a fool. Nothing needs to be said about Count Olaf, who is as usual conniving, cunning, and insufferable. Nero’s treatment of the Baudelaires and their friends, the Quagmires – the constant mocking, the unfair and illogical rules, the putting them up in an uninhabitable shack with drippy mold and snap-happy crabs – particularly irked me. Perhaps I’m growing weary of the adults, whose daftness and regular incompetence are a running joke and theme in this series. And by weary, I don’t mean, “Oh my gosh, here we go again. CAN WE TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT, SNICKET?” But weary in the sense that the emotional burden I have for the Baudelaires is growing heavier and heavier. Or perhaps Nero’s attitude towards the children, which I’ve seen similarly manifest in several adult-child relationships in my experience, touches a personal nerve. And because of that, I see little humor in it.

For Beatrice – You will always be in my heart, in my mind, and in your grave.

But that isn’t to say that I didn’t find this book funny. The series’ brand of humor – dark comedy spiced with the absurd – knows how to tickle my funny bone, and The Austere Academy did have some funny moments. Like this:

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the man announced in a loud voice, “Vice Principal Nero!”

There was a pause, and the three children looked all around the tiny room, wondering where Nero had been hiding all this time. Then they looked back at the man with the pigtails, who was holding both hands up in the air, his violin and bow almost touching the ceiling, and they realized that the man he had just introduced so grandly was himself. Nero paused for a moment and looked down at the Baudelaires.

“It is tradition,” he said sternly, “to applaud when a genius has been introduced.”

And this:

When you listen to a piece of classical music, it is often amusing to try and guess what inspired the composer to write those particular notes. Sometimes a composer will be inspired by nature and will write a symphony imitating the sounds of birds and trees. Other times a composer will be inspired by the city and will write a concerto imitating the sounds of traffic and sidewalks. In the case of this sonata, Nero had apparently been inspired by somebody beating up a cat, because the music was loud and screechy and made it quite easy to talk during the performance.

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All said, I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the books in this series. I get the feeling that this book was setting up a lot for future events – especially with regards to the Quagmires, and Carmelita Spats whose presence in this book seemed too purposeful not to have some sort of significance later on in the series. We shall see!

Post on The Ersatz Elevator to follow. In the meantime…

Readers – What is your opinion on dark humor? Is it something that’s up your alley, or something you consider distasteful? And why?