Tag Archives: Review

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Not that it makes much of a difference, but I have to read a lot of books this semester for school. Some of them pulls me right in like a vacuum, while others, unfortunately, I have not much of an interest in reading.

Anyway, my favourite out of all the books that I am studying right now would have to be George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. This books is kind of like a continuation of his Animal Farm. It describes a totalitarian dystopia ruled by a figure by the name of Big Brother.

There are many things that can be said about this book, but the most important thing is this: Nineteen Eighty-Four is not supposed to be an instruction manual!

What struck me the most is the manipulation of language. In the book the government makes each edition of the dictionary shorter and shorter in order to prevent its citizens from expressing themselves. I don’t see how this is any different from the world we live in today. According to Dictionary.com, “…scientists discovered that in the past 40 years more words have died than during any other period in their data (from 1800 – 2008). At the same time, fewer words are being successfully introduced into the language.”

And what kind of words are we introducing into the language? Words like LOL. Like what does words like LOL even mean? Type something on chat, press enter and the other end will respond with a LOL like an automatic machine. Or the word WOW. This is a word for when you don’t know what to say. Yet these are the words that are being used more and more.

So dear readers, let us never stop reading, because the day when we stop reading will be the day when we start to lose the ability to express ourselves. It will be the day when we will be manipulated and exploited without even being aware of it. The ability to use and understand language is so important. And no, merely knowing words like LOL and WOW does not count.

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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Hello Hello. Long time no post! Just want to say that I am not abandoning this blog! I am just busy doing exam preparations. I will go back to posting more frequently once exams are done. 😀

Just finished The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I admit, the reason why I wanted to read this book is because the book itself is very aesthetically pleasing, but as I got more into the book, it became so magical that I just can’t put it down.

This book is about two lovers, Celia and Marco. Since childhood, The two illusionists have been trained to compete against each other. Neither Celia nor Marco knows the rules of the game or who they are competing against at first, though they are both involved in a circus that opens at midnight and closes at dawn. This book follows multiple characters in the carousel. As I read more and more, I became intrigued with the secrets of the circus.

Sadly, I have never been to a circus myself. The way Morgenstern describes a circus, though, makes me want to go to one. It seems like the perfect place to escape from the everyday mundane.

There was a lot of jumping back and forth, which took me a few chapters to get used to.The book is made up of a lot of tiny chapters that piece together beautifully to reveal the fate of the circus.

I guess it might not be for those who’s not into magic, or carousels, or jumping back and forth, but I definitely enjoyed this book. It is well-written and just simply mesmerizing. I feel like this is one of the best books published last year.

Dear John by Nicholas Sparks

When Savannah Lynn Curtis comes into his life, John Tyree knows he is ready to turn over a new leaf. An angry rebel, he had enlisted in the army after high school, not knowing what else to do. Then, during a furlough, he meets the girl of his dreams. Savannah Lynn Curtis is attending college in North Carolina, working for Habitat for Humanity, and totally unprepared for the passionate attraction she feels for John Tyree.The attraction is mutual and quickly grows into the kind of love that leaves Savannah vowing to wait for John while he finishes his tour of duty, and John realizing that he’s ready to settle down with the young woman who has captured his heart.Neither can foresee that 9/11 is about to change the world and will force John to risk every hope and dream that he’s ever had. Like so many proud men and women, John must choose between love and country. And like all those left behind, Savannah must decide to wait or move on. How do we choose wisely? How can we face loss-without giving up on love? Now, when he finally returns to North Carolina, John will discover that loving Savannah will force him to make the hardest decision of his life. An extraordinary, moving story, DEAR JOHN explores the complexities of love-how it survives time and heartbreak, and how it transforms us forever.(taken from Google Books)

I think Nicholas Sparks is an extraordinary storyteller in that he has never failed to make my heart ache every time I watch a movie based on his book. Dear John is no exception, though this time I am reading the book instead.

What I love about him is that he writes to a pretty predictable recipe. To think predictable stories would be boring, it is actually the opposite. When I look at the things I do everyday, I realize that it is pretty predictable as well: wake up, eat, school, work, leisure activities, sleep, and repeat for the next day. What I learned from his stories, though, is that sometimes I overlook the little details in life which makes it more meaningful.

For example, Dear John really made me stop and think about the struggles that other people are facing. When I see my friends’ pictures and statuses on the Internet, it’s really different than when I actually talk to them in person and find out that they, too, are not as happy as what their latest update would seem to suggest.

“When you’re struggling with something, look at all the people around you and realize that every single person you see is struggling with something, and to them, it’s just as hard as what you’re going through.”

Everyone is struggling with something. They just hide it from the public, which creates the illusion that everyone else’s life is perfect.

So dear reader, whatever the challenge you are facing, remember that you are not alone. At the same time you are trying to overcome the challenge, we are all trying to do the same thing as well. ^_^

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

A heavy subject matter, and a very familiar story. It has no cultural or time restraints. We see re-enactments of The Grapes of Wrath everyday. “‘I’m learning one thing good,’ she said. ‘Learnin’ it all the time, ever’ day. If you’re in trouble or hurt or need – go to poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help – the only ones.'” Steinbeck successfully captures the horror of the Great Depression and the conflict between the powerful and the powerless. I can definitely see why it’s considered to be a landmark of American Literature.

The Grapes of Wrath tells the story of the Joads family. The dust bowl has made farming unprofitable, so the bank forces the Joads to leave their farm. They decide to travel west, because money and work are being promised there. As we follow along on their journey, we see the hardships and oppression suffered by migrant laborers which are very common during the Great Depression.

The character that I remember the most is not Tom or Ma or any of the major characters in the book. It is a minor character named Noah Joad (which is probably a biblical reference to Noah and the Ark, since both Noahs have not been very well understood by other people). He is the older brother in the family and is seen as being strange and aloof in the book, because he does not share the major values and goals of the society. As the family reaches California, he finds something in the cool and clear river, something he can’t find in the society. He then decides to live by the river and catch fish for survival.

My interpretation of this is that he does not want to become the people who make money out of other people’s misfortune, like the cheating car dealers or Willy Feely. At the same time, after hearing about the starving people, he does not intend to be ranked as one of them either. His thinking is that even if all the poor people supported each other, the rich will still get richer, and the poor will still get poorer.

He can’t do anything about it and he can’t change the people, so he decides to go with what he believes in and live by the river, where a “Fella can’t starve”. Perhaps this takes just as much courage as characters like Jim Casy, who tries to organize a strike to prove his point. I mean, it takes a lot to even think about living by yourself without anyone supporting you.

Ever felt like walking your own path and letting the people talk, hoping that one day they might understand you? I think this is how Noah felt.

I really liked how the book ends. As I was reading the book I kept wondering how it will end. I figured it will probably “just end.” But Steinbeck is such a brilliant writer. He made my mouth go wide open in amazement and awe. The ending was beautiful.

I will definitely read this book again. If I read it after several years, I will probably see it differently than how I see it now.

What are some books that you will definitely read again in the future?

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

 Set some years after Bonnie Prince Charlie’s failed rebellion in Scotland, Kidnapped is a timeless classic about David Balfour, whose uncle cheated him out of his inheritance and schemed to have him kidnapped and sold into slavery. A great majority of the story is about his journey in different parts of Scotland with his acquaintance Alan Breck Stewart. They have very interesting affiliations; the main one being that Alan is a Jacobite (someone who is unhappy with King George and hopes that a Stuart rules Scotland again), while David is a Whig (a supporter of the English Government). Several historical characters are included in the novel (such as Cluny Macpherson), though Stevenson is not aiming for historical accuracy and tells us that  “This is no furniture for the scholar’s library, but a book for the winter evening schoolroom when tasks are over and the hour for bed draws near.”

I picked this novel up because after reading the back of it I thought it would be about David coming up with some smart strategy to reclaim his inheritance. And to that, I was slightly disappointed because the inheritance part of the story is only the subplot. But Stevenson’s way of “building things up”  kept me reading. For example, there are so many things that lead up to David and Alan’s quarrel which makes it so real, not just all-of-a-sudden.

This novel is rich in dynamics and characterization. It is originally intended for young children. Sadly, young children today might find it a bit difficult to read, since it is written in Scots English. As for me, I didn’t read it with ease, but I didn’t find it really challenging either. Ay, I actually learned some Scottish words by reading this. ^_^

Though showing “buddy love” is very common in the past, it is not so common now. Nowadays, guys just “act cool” and show little care for their friends (though they probably care for each other on the inside). I actually don’t like that…What do you think?

Using Templates to Write Essays?

In the introduction to They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Persuasive Writing, Gerald Graff and Cathy Birenstein talks about the importance of using templates in academic and persuasive writing. They believe that you can improve your writing if you use templates such as “What I am saying is not ___, but ___,” or “I agree with you that ___, and would even add that ___.”

I was a little bit skeptical about it. At school you might have learned about things like the basic model of an essay (i.e. the five paragraph essay structure), but never templates. I thought this would discourage creativity in writing so it made sense. How can you write like yourself if you are using a formulaic device developed by someone else?

However, this little book has made me change my opinion about this. By following the exercises in the book, it actually encouraged me to write what I would not otherwise write down. The templates in the book are a great help to me because I am often unsure of what to say. I tend to think all my ideas are self-evident and end up not putting enough of them on the paper. The templates prompted me to write down all these seemingly self-evident ideas that are actually needed in the essay.

This is quite useful for beginning writers like me because I have yet picked out enough  moves from people’s writing to apply it to my own writing. Even though it’s a short book, it is loaded with examples of what works and what doesn’t. I like how it has exercises at the end of every chapter which allows the reader to practice and apply the guide.

The book claims that it is still possible to carry out your personal voice with templates. After all, even great writers like Shakespeare learned to write through imitation.

If you are looking for a guide to academic writing, I recommend this book to you. 😀

Room by Emma Donoghue

I am not quite a fan of novels narrated in a kid’s perspective. They are interesting but they tend to be a bit too simplistic, so the novel must be very good for me to like it. Room is one of the few books that are narrated in kid’s perspective which I liked. Here’s the book trailer:

In the first half of the novel, the author tries to create a strong mother who’s love for Jack has allowed her to raise him under almost impossible conditions. The second half of the novel is about Jack getting used to the world.

I really liked Ma in the novel because she shows us what a mother is like. She tries to protect Jack from all the ugliness in the world, and she sets rules like making sure that he watches T.V. for only a certain period of time. But she is not a saint. Like all mothers she gets tired, there are days when she doesn’t want to get up and cook for Jack, but nevertheless Jack is her top priority in life even though she doesn’t show it sometimes. And that’s what makes mothers great!

This novel is really thought-provoking. Does stories like this only happen in books and not in real life because no one proved that there are indeed real life examples of this? Does miracles only happen in movies and T.V.? Lack of evidence to something does not necessarily make the contrary true. This book is not perfect, but it did make me think and see the world in a different way:

“But the things is, slavery is not a new invention. And solitary confinement — did you know, in America we’ve got more than twenty-five thousand prisoners in isolation cells? Some of them for more than twenty years.’ Her hand is pointing at the puffy-hair woman. ‘As for kids — there’s places where babies lie in orphanages five to a cot with pacifers taped into their mouths, kids getting raped by Daddy every night kids in prisons, whatever, making carpets till they go blind — ”

P.S. I Love You by Cecelia Ahern

P.S. I Love You tells a life-affirming story about Holly, whose husband Gerry just passed away. Her life revolved around Gerry. Before she married Gerry, her life wasn’t about school or work or all that usual stuff, it was solely about going on dates with him. After she married him, her life was about being the perfect wife for him. But now that he died, she felt like there was no more purpose in life. Then came these envelopes which contained a series of letters Gerry wrote. With the help of these letters, Holly learned about moving on and living a life that had once seemed impossible to her by overcoming the challenges presented to her in each envelope.

I don’t know if anyone else does this, but I have a carry-around book besides the main book that I’m reading. I find that I spend most of my time waiting when I go outside; seems like the world loves to make people wait, so I try to take advantage of this by using the time to read. However, some books are too heavy to carry around, and some will make you lose the plot if you get interrupted every few pages or so, but this book is probably one of the best carry-around books that I’ve read. I can imagine it being a great beach read as well. You can quickly pick up the flow when you come back to it. Because of the great character developments, this book was really enjoyable as well.

It could also be one of those books for curling up on the comfy couch in a nice cozy blanket with a soft batch of cookies and a cup of steaming hot tea, while making you appreciate every little moment in your life at the same time:

“Nobody’s life is filled with perfect little moments. And if they were, they wouldn’t be perfect little moments. They would just be normal. How would you ever know happiness if you’d never experienced downs?”

This book reminded me that life is about turning curses into blessings and taking the days one at a time. Trying to achieve perfection is actually a defection in itself. Instead of setting your standard to perfection, complaining about what you don’t have, or grumbling about the people around you, have a grateful heart. You can never be sure about tomorrow, but you can be sure about this very second right now. Be thankful of what you have. Be thankful of the people around you. The saddest thing is not that your soul mate never arrived. The saddest thing is that this person has already left you. Life is a cycle of losing and gaining. So let’s have a grateful heart and appreciate every little moment in life. ^_^

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.”

This is how Lolita starts. Because of my vocab deficit, I can’t even describe how brilliant the writing is; so brilliant that it keeps the readers engaged even though this novel is about a pedophile named Humbert. However, if you are looking for pornography, you might be disappointed, because everything in this novel is about Humbert’s unconditional love for Lolita.

I find this novel really sad. Although I don’t agree with Humbert’s ways, I feel for him. He is just a poor victim of his memory and the reality. His memorable first love story made him try to seek for the same thing in reality. Finally he meets Lolita, who perhaps could be the bridge between his memory and the reality. He knows there will be consequences, he knows his Lolita will grow up some day, but his memory made him develop this mentality. Even the very reason why Humbert “wrote Lolita” is because he wants to preserve his memory of Lolita, in the past, present, and the future:

“It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.”

But how can we tell if what we are really reading is true and not a product of his imagination? Nothing is true if you don’t get enough people to believe it’s true.

No one can go back in time. The only way to remember is to write it down, or to keep it in your memory.

Thus, if you want to remember something, write it down. If you want to forget something, keep in mind that when memory fades away, no one can look into the past to validate it. Whatever happened supposedly will be gone just like that.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

I’ve just finished reading all 509 pages of Cloud Atlas and my opinion of the book has changed. After I finished the first story, I realized that the writing style changes from story to story and the other ones are not as hard (though still difficult, but the first one is written in a sort of antique prose style). If you find this book not making sense at any point, just keep on reading please. You’ll be surprised at how everything just comes together like a jigsaw puzzle in the end.

This book consists of six interlocking novellas that are told in two halves, meaning that they will end abruptly and then continue later on in the book. You might not understand why it’s like this at first, but you’ll get it once you finish the book. He has a very good reason to do it.

The story starts out with Adam Ewing’s journal. He’s a notary who’s returning to San Francisco on a boat that is managed by a bunch of cruel men. His only friend is a doctor who is trying to treat the parasite in Adam’s brain. In the second story, the journal is being read by Robert Frobisher, who exchanges his musical talents for a roof over his head with a famous composer. His experiences are written in the form of letters. The addressee is his friend Rufus Sixsmith. In the third story, Luisa Rey meets the older Sixsmith. Luisa is a journalist who later almost turns into a detective because she suspects that something is wrong in the nuclear power station. You get the idea. I won’t spoil it by telling you about the other 3 stories. Once you finish the last story though, Mitchell takes you back to the second half of the other stories in reversed order, meaning that the journal will be the last one. I think this whole arrangement is really clever and atypical. It shows that there is a story behind every story waiting to be heard.

I pretty much agree with Bookpage: “Cloud Atlas is such an astounding feat that it’s tempting to think there must be several David Mitchells, each of whom wrote one part of this book.” You get a taste of everything. It’s amazing how Mitchell managed to get so many genres and literary styles packed in one book.

What’s the point of reading 6 totally different stories that somehow overlap one another? The answer is belief. Belief is what holds Cloud Atlas together. Mitchell has hinted many times throughout the book that although the main characters have totally different reputations, intelligence, attitudes, and personalities, they are actually one person. Traversing through time and space, he or she is repeating the same life in a sense. He is a seeker, she is a rebel. He is mixed-up, she tries to seek truth. But the reality they end up facing are all the same. Advances in technology and changes in time are merely deceits. The strong will always abuse the weak, turning these characters’ life upside down. As the novel comes to an end, all the suspense, all the uncertainties will have an answer. But seeing how the stories will end is not the point. The point is the belief they have left us with:

“He who would do battle with the many-headed hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain & his family must pay it along with him! & only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean!
Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”