Books

Humble thoughts

MAF

“And then there are books like An Imperial Affliction, which you can’t tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal.”

– John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

It can get pretty frustrating because on one hand, you cannot stand anyone not knowing about something so great that had impacted you so heavily. Yet on the other, just like how you’ll lose interest in something you’ve once loved just because it got mainstream (or is that only me?), you are convinced that everything will change once others learn of it.

Since you cannot let yours turn to ours then to theirs, you must not tell anyone about it. EVER.

Years ago, I came across one such book. Or series, rather. And although I feel sad for the author because her work is seriously underrated, I still can’t bring myself to tell anyone about it. Sorry.

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Dracula

I downloaded the iBook in 4S two years ago but didn’t manage to read it because the screen is just too small for breaking me into classics. That was what happened with Pride and Prejudice too. My mum recently got herself a neat little iPad mini which I then hijacked so I could read this book at last. Reading on a device is not bad… I could read in the dark on my bed (though it’s pretty straining for the eyes) and the built-in dictionary came in very handy indeed. But I’d still prefer a paperback any day.

Dracula is written as a series of diary entries, letters, phonographs and telegrams arranged chronologically. It is ridden with suspense, I tell you. But at the end, the plot pretty much goes down to a typical Good VS Bad kind of thing. Yet, I didn’t see it before I’ve reached the last few chapters because I got a tad confused by Renfield’s character.

And at first I was a hundred percent sure that there would be a happy ending (i.e Dracula’s death). However, my confidence faltered shortly after Mina and Van Helsing met and they started consolidating all their letters and stuff which was totally the book itself! *GASPS*

That was when I started imagining the possibility of the story ending with a note from one of the ‘vampire slayers’ stating that alas, Dracula managed to escape their clutches but it’s safe to assume that he wouldn’t be in a rush to move to London anytime soon. But as a precaution, they’ll still keep this whole stack of records to warn the next generation of such horrors and to provide them with the necessary knowledge to find and kill Dracula if they ever have the chance.

Seems like I thought too much because -spoiler alert- Dracula died eventually >_>

Honestly, I think my version of the ending is so much more horrifying. Dracula might be right outside your window waiting for you to invite him in for a cup of tea your blood just as you are reading the book of records. *shudders*

Anyway, I wanted to read Dracula for the longest time because I wanted to know more about the original Count. It was thus quite disappointing to find out that we don’t get to know much about the Count at all. Who would have thought that the book got named only after its second lead?

“Yes, I too can love. You yourselves can tell it from the past. Is it not so?”

Seriously, what’s up with this quote??? Hanging me out there. I need the back story of Dracula.

And now, who’s the main character if Dracula’s only the antagonist? Mina, of course! She’s the IT-savvy, smart and virtuous wife of Jonathan Harker who pointed the team in the correct direction. I would like to point out that she also went all Harry Potter-like in her ability to peek into Dracula’s actions during the chase. Hmm.

One more thing I really, really need to point out is that it was a miracle Lucy Westenra even survived any of the four blood transfusions. Van Helsing really shouldn’t have just gotten anyone to give blood to her. I mean, yeah, he’s really smart and open-minded and all. But at least get a blood test first alright? She might have died of type mismatch before you even cure her for the loss of blood.

I’d say this was a fairly exciting read (not the last few chapters though, those were boring) for me.

The Book Thief

The Book Thief is a historical fiction narrated by Death. Yes, Death!!! (More on this later) The bulk of this story takes place in Germany during the Third Reich (period under Hitler’s rule) and it revolves around the life of a ten year-old girl, Liesel Meminger – said thief in the book’s title.

I’ll not be sharing my thoughts about the plot this time round because I’ve only read the book once (blame running man and Neopets). So I’ll just run through the overall feel the story gave me.

For someone obsessed about the mysteries of the afterlife, what could be better than reading a book narrated by Death? In fact, reading this book didn’t felt like reading at all. Rather, it felt as if Death was telling me a story. I thought it was really creative of Markus Zusak to use Death as the narrator. Besides, Death was the only one who could have witnessed (almost) all the happenings (and killings) during World War II, in which the story was set in. Thus, this naturally made him a better candidate to give real-time war information that’s out of Liesel’s reach.

I especially like it when Death occasionally shares some tidbits about his job and thoughts about humans. But the way he gives previews of certain chapters made understanding a tad tedious for me. You’ll have to constantly keep in mind the end results before knowing how they came to be. With information jumping all over the place, keeping details in check is a lot harder. Although Death says he spoils the story as he feels that building suspense is a chore, I personally find that his foreshadowing built even more suspense than if he had tried building some.

Because the book is based on events happening during the Third Reich, I’m really glad I took up combined history in secondary school. Ms Zaiton already imparted me with the background information about The Holocaust, so I could understand the setting fairly well.

After reading The Book Thief, I have two burning questions for Death:

1. Who is Death’s boss?

Death mentioned that he never had a vacation because there was no one else who could do his job, and that he always had to work overtime during wars. So imagine if Death took a self-declared holiday, what would happen?

2. How does he collect so many souls at a time?

For example, during WW2 (in context of The Book Thief), surely more than 100 people may die simultaneously in different countries. So how is Death able to be in so many places and carry so many souls at a time?

(Pssst! Hey Death, if you ever come across this, please do get back to me when I die okay!)

Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention that The Book Thief is a book about a book about many other books (Bookception!). It is an interesting read, I promise. This book is the tenth book on the reading list. I’m making real slow progress. Sigh.

P/S: Hans Hubermann is my hero.

Fahrenheit 451

This is the eighth book on my reading list! I’m certainly clearing the list at a snail’s pace. Anyway, Fahrenheit 451 is about a futuristic world where books are banned and firemen, instead of putting out fires, start them in order to burn books. In the story, Ray Bradbury touched on a few reasons as to why books are being banned:

#1 Equality

Beatty, the Fireman Captain, pointed out that books could make people feel inferior to other smarty-pants. For example, in a class, there would usually be one student who would be more academically inclined than the rest. This causes the other students to constantly compare themselves to one another, judging themselves on their own stupidity and feeling unhappy all the time. Beatty believed that books were the culprits which made the presence of such nerds/geeks possible. “So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door.” Since people are not born equal, he believed that they can be made equal by destroying books.

Just like what Clarisse had noticed, “People don’t talk about anything […] they all say the same things and nobody says anything different from anyone else.” There’s no more individuality. Doesn’t this sound like Communism? Mental equality seems much scarier to me than equality of materialistic needs.

#2 Happiness

Beatty also mentioned that the content of books were contradictory and of no use whatsoever. To him, reading only causes one to generate infinite questions which one could not answer. Therefore if one keeps at it, they would become very unhappy. What’s the point if you’d never know the answers? Isn’t it better not to question in the first place? Burn. Burn the books. Burn the problems away.

This reminds me of a quote by Aristotle – “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”

Just because the more you know, the more you don’t know, does it mean that you don’t try to learn as much as possible anymore?

#3 Loss of Interest

Now, this is a sad reason indeed. In Ray Bradbury’s futuristic world, people are dominated by interactive TV ‘parlors’ and Seashell Radios. To Mildred (a typical person in that world), the TV characters are her family. People stopped reading because why read when there’s interactive, fast-paced, action-packed entertainment? Even I chose to play Neopets over coming up with this post last night, just because thinking uses too much effort. In fact, Faber and Granger also understood that there wasn’t much need for censorship to prevent the people from picking up books.

“There is more than one way to burn a book.”

Primarily, books are destroyed by burning. It wasn’t really necessary, more of for show. But I felt that it still played a rather large part in the censorship. After all, didn’t firemen struck fear in some of the remaining low-lying intellectuals? And as the above quote suggests, burning is not the sole form of censorship. Other than having the firemen physically burn books, the government also makes sure that people were not given ‘leisure’ time to think. They send young children to school, force-feed them with television and sports. Stuff their brains with dry facts, drain them of their energy and mental capabilities. As for adults, they have their TV walls at home, shouting at them, taking up all their attention.

Despite the government (and Beatty) claiming that what they are doing is only to bring happiness to the people, it doesn’t seem to be working out correctly. Suicide is such a norm that plumbers are called down to cleanse people’s stomachs and blood of drugs instead of medical doctors. Besides, violence is also prominent. They have car wrecking and window smashing places as their Fun Parks! People are also very impatient and they enjoy speed and racing. Billboards are 20 feet long so that people won’t drive pass it too fast and Clarisse’s uncle actually got jailed for driving 40 miles an hour! What’s up man?!?!?!

What I found interesting about this novel is when I start questioning if Ray Bradbury’s predictions of the future did come true. Are we reading lesser and lesser? Have we become slaves of our gadgets? Are we also getting more impatient and more violent? I felt that these are questions worth pondering about. If no, good for us! If yes, then what went wrong? How do we salvage the situation before the Dark Age comes?

Personally, I like Clarisse a lot. What did her family do for a living? Why did she not have to worry about her grades in school and had so much time doing what everyone else thought was a waste of time? Beatty’s dialogues gave me a headache. I could totally feel Montag’s frustrations and understand why Mildred was so TV-obsessed. Faber reminded me of Dumbledore!!! I guess it’s because he was wise and cautious. He kept referring to himself as a coward but I felt that his actions were more level-headed than cowardly. Finally, I especially liked the whole chunk where Granger explained about his Grandfather’s death and what one should do before they die:

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said […] Something your hand touched some way so your soul has some where to go when you die […] It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”

I certainly enjoyed reading Fahrenheit 451.

Looking for Alaska

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“If people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane”

The above quote deserves an honorable mention because a) It’s one of the most famous quotes that can be found in the book, b) It has a Tumblr fan base, c) It is a beautiful metaphor, and d) It was one of the reasons I read the book.

[The main (and lamer) reason is because it was in the reading list that I’ve mentioned before]

The way I see it, this book revolves around two main questions, both of which were covered in the Old Man’s religion papers. The Old Man was like my ‘tour guide’ in this book. He was the one who linked everything together and yes, I agree with Pudge that he is a genius.

#1 “What is the most important question human beings must answer?”

For the first paper, “What happens to us when we die?” was Pudge’s question, while that of Alaska was “How will we ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering?”

Well, my question is the same as Pudge’s. I’ve always been curious to find out what it’s like to be dead. (So I’m actually rather disappointed that the world didn’t end last year. Have I lost my mind?) Is there really heaven, hell and/or reincarnation? Or do those who are dead just cease to exist (even as ghosts) anymore? After reading Looking for Alaska, I’ve gained an insight.

Firstly, a person is divided into two – their body (matter) and their soul.

Scientifically speaking, energy cannot be created or destroyed. Therefore, the body of a person will fall apart after they die and the carbon will be recycled into the environment by decomposers to power the growth of new organisms.

What about the soul? “People wanted security. They couldn’t bear the idea of death being a big black nothing […] People believed in an after-life because they couldn’t bear not to.” That, I totally agree. You see, where you’ll ‘go’ to after you are dead depends on your religion. That’s why some people believe in reincarnation while others believe in a heaven. Therefore, I’m starting to think that these places don’t exist.

#2 “How will you – you personally – ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering?”

The second paper, you must have realized, was actually Alaska’s answer to the first question. Unfortunately by then, Alaska was not around to answer this question anymore but because of that, Pudge was able to do so.

After Alaska died, the guys set off to ‘look’ for the reason behind her death (hence the title of the book). Was it an impulsive suicide or was it merely an accident. This mystery was and should never be solved because that’s just Alaska – “You never get me. That’s the whole point.” The guys would have to live with the fact that they’ll never know Alaska well enough to be able to know if it was suicide or accident.

“We had to forgive to survive the labyrinth.”

To escape the labyrinth, we will need to be able to forgive ourselves for all the mistakes that we’ve made due to the fact that we never will know the consequences behind every decision in our lives. There’s only one (imaginary) guy who can calculate all the possible consequences of every action, and he’s the funny looking guy in Men In Black 3. But even with his ability, he is also unsure of the future sometimes. So there, just learn to live with your decisions, no matter how lousy they were, because “would’ve”s could kill.

Although my opinions are not exactly trustworthy since every book I’ve read were always either deemed good or because I’ve learnt something from them (which translates to being good enough for me), I’d say Looking for Alaska is a fairly good book due to the latter.

One more thing I’ve learnt is:

“Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia […] You just use the future to escape the present.”

My new year resolutions:

1. No more nostalgia
2. Get a Life’s Library like Alaska
3. Eat a brufriedo

The last one is, sad to say, impossible. But ahhhhh, I’ve always wanted to try imaginary food like those in books, or Neopets (they look super delicious!!!). I’m also curious enough to want to have a go at the teletubbies’ tubby custard and tubby toast. Everything just seem to be better when they are not real 😦

Lastly, I apologize if this post is too heavily quoted. John Green is such an expert in expressing his ideas through words that I have no idea how to rephrase anything he wrote.

The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye

Sorry for the extremely lousy quality of the above picture. I like to use pictures of the exact cover of the book that I have read. Yes, I am weird like that.

I’ve gotten myself a reading list – 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels. I found it on Flipboard (Bored Panda) quite some time ago, and have been trying to cross out as many books on the list as possible even with mountains of homework piling up. Anyway, ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is the 6th book on that list.

‘Catcher’ is a first person narrative written by the protagonist, Holden Caulfield. It is about Holden’s life the first few days after he was expelled from (yet another) school. It’s quite difficult to describe J.D Salinger’s writing style. I would say reading ‘Catcher’ was like hiking along a road lined with huge boulders that you would have to climb over in order to proceed. It’s a direct narrative laid with many flashbacks along the way, which makes it rather hard to follow the main ‘plot’.

To be perfectly honest, I found the book rather boring. However, I have sort of a love-hate relationship with it.

One of the reasons I didn’t like ‘Catcher’ was because it was extremely depressing. It’s the first book that I wasn’t able to keep at for an entire hour. I hunted it down in the library 2 months ago but only just finished reading recently. I guess it’s because Holden was suffering from depression over the course of the novel and no one could understand or help him.

Note: This book was first published 59 years ago! Depression and shrinks weren’t so common back then.

I totally understand the depression ‘theme’ but I still didn’t like it though.

Sometimes I read because I want to run away from reality. You know that magical feeling that you get when you are reading a book and then you feel like you are detached from the real world and that you are safe? Nothing can hurt you (other than getting all upset over the plot) because when in the book, no one knows who you are, but you know every character and everything that happens. You are in control. Well, at least that’s how I feel when I read. Reading provides me with a safe haven, an escape. But then ‘Catcher’ took this harbor away from me. It was so raw and real, it was upsetting 😦

BUT! I also kind of liked the fact that it was kept realistic. (Yeah, yeah, I’m one big lump of contradiction) Maybe because I know that I can’t run and hide from reality forever. Someday, we would all have to face the world out there, no matter how depressing it may get. Life isn’t always a bed of roses right?

The other reason I didn’t really like this book is a little personal. Holden’s the judgmental kid that thinks everyone are phonies, but still tries to connect with them just because he feels lonely. However after his feeble attempt, he would find that they didn’t understand him at all and then proceed on to feel even more lonesome. My guess is that he just wants to find a soul mate whom he could share his ideas with, and who could understand his fear of change (becoming an adult) and his desire to protect the innocence of children by being ‘the catcher in the rye’.

The way Holden narrated was slightly very exaggerated, but we can’t know for sure. Maybe it was because everyone he had met were indeed phonies or maybe it was because he had an inferiority complex that he wouldn’t admit to himself. In any case, I feel that the main reason he felt that everyone were phonies was due to the latter. He views everyone who rejects him as morons and jerks so that it would make him feel better about himself even if he gets rejected by them.

I don’t like that Holden reminds me too much of myself. It’s like looking in a mirror and seeing a whiny kid with bad grades, feeling sorry for himself but then does nothing to change it. Major sigh. But, seeing yourself clearly sometimes may not entirely be a bad thing after all. For example, now that I know what kind of a judgmental hypocrite I am (hahaha), I can start to change for the better.

I like Allie (Holden’s brother) and Phoebe (Holden’s sister). The way Holden describes them, it’s impossible not to admire them. I still can’t decide my feelings for this book though, it’s complicated. I like it but I would never read it again (just because it’s boring). Even if I were to re-read it, I think it would be at least 10 years from now.

I shall end this post with a rather famous (I think) quote from the book:

“Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”

I find this very true indeed.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Perks

Daiqian introduced this book to me some time ago and after reading the synopsis, I just knew that I had to get it. So I did and have since read it thrice. The thing is, I seldom buy books and would usually get them free from the library. This alone probably already shows that Perks meant something more to me than just any other book.

Since the synopsis was what drew me to this book in the first place, I felt obligated to copy it here:

‘I walk around the school hallways and look at the people. I look at the teachers and wonder why they’re here. Not in a mean way. In a curious way. It’s like looking at all the students and wondering who’s had their heart broken that day… or wondering who did the heart breaking and wondering why.’

I would love to include the whole synopsis, but it would only make this post even longer. Besides, this was really the only part which captured my attention. So if you would like to, you could read the remaining abstract here.

Perks was written as a series of letters from Charlie to an anonymous recipient, who Charlie refers to as ‘the friend who listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with people’. I would like to think of this ‘friend’ as the reader of the novel, which in this case, is me.

“I will call people by different names or generic names because I don’t want you to find me.”

‘Charlie’ is an alias in this book. Same goes for all the rest of the characters. This bothered me quite a lot as I can’t stop trying to think of the reasons he chose those generic names, or if those names had signified anything special to him. As much as Charlie didn’t want me to find out who he is, I can’t help but feel that he is an author surrogate. But I guess I’m only partially correct because I found this:

“In terms of it relating to my adolescence, I’ve always said that the book is very personal to me, but it isn’t necessarily autobiographical – not in the literal sense of the word anyway. I do relate to Charlie. But my life in high school was in many ways different.” – Stephen Chbosky (LA Youth, 2001)

Moving on, this book covers a wide range of themes – books, music, family, friends, sex, drugs, etc. It does not really have a distinctive story line. It’s just like a diary or something, which makes it easy to read. I guess it’s safe to assume that Charlie is twice my age because the first letter was dated 1991 and he was 15 years old then. Due to this huge age gap and the fact that I’m an Asian, it’s sometimes a teeny bit difficult for me to relate to him. E.g. I have no idea what The Rocky Horror Picture Show is about and in my country, kids don’t just decide that they want to ‘experiment with drugs’. LOL. However, I’m really happy that mixed tapes play a big role in this story. I like cassette tapes, they stir up memories and waves of nostalgia. Compare them to ripping CDs and Internet downloads today – ugh. Cassettes are definitely so much better (at least to me).

Incidentally, Charlie is an introvert (me too!) so it makes connecting a little easier. I like the way he would think big things out of very small observations and I’m quite sure many other readers enjoyed his insightful thoughts too. I have decided not to share my lonnngggggggg list of views about his thoughts (although I would love to) lest I bore everyone to death. I’m just really happy that Charlie had understanding parents, good friends like Sam & Patrick and a good teacher like Bill. Somehow, I also felt that Charlie ‘participated’ in even more stuff than I did. Time to work harder on my social skills, hmm.

There was this plot twist at the end about Aunt Helen, which upset me a lot. Charlie loved her throughout the book, and so did I. What happened was really shocking. I guess some people really have it a lot worse. In fact they do, because what happened to Sam, Aunt Helen, Aunt Rebecca and Charlie… it’s just sad.

It’s quite scary to think that you’ve went through things that you can’t remember simply because they were bad things. Things so bad that your brain, in order to protect yourself, deleted whatever it is from your memory. It’s a self-protection mechanism, yes. However, I think I would still want to remember things even if they were really bad because after all, it was once part of my life and I don’t think I would want to forget any part of my life. Of course, this is me before experiencing any trauma and terrifying event. I wonder if I would still feel this way if something terrible ever happens to me. I hope I never have to find out the answer.

This is the trailer for the movie:

“And in that moment, I swear we were infinite”

Since most parts of the book were Charlie’s ‘raw’ thoughts, I’m really curious as to how the movie will be like.