Lagging Behind on my Reading Plan

As a matter of fact, I think I have it written somewhere on my blog, but to read much was one of my new year’s resolutions. During the first four months of this year, I was quite devoted to that and went to the library whenever time allowed. And when you keep record of the books you read, you’d know what I mean – as the list gets longer, you feel something that could possibly be described as a feeling of achievement.

But that plan kind of fell apart when I started work.

I’m not even going to try and come up with an excuse – I know I had time, but I spent it otherwise. I cooked and ate and chatted and slept. Maybe a little bit more than was necessary. So I’m lagging behind on my reading plan, literally, and didn’t even finish the books I brought when I first came here, which was almost 5 months ago! I should read, think and write more. Maybe a public statement like this post would get me going.

So, during the last few months. I finished Andy Weir’s <The Martian>, of which a movie was made and will be running in the cinemas soon here in Italy. It was a relief that I bought the book before the film poster edition was all over the place, by the way. And then came Dan Brown’s <Da Vinci Code>. Dan Brown books were no exception in that they largely were based on a similar frame, and I guess I lost interest more quickly in this book about what’s going to happen compared to when I was reading a more recent book of Brown, <Inferno>. Most recently, I finally read Fannie Flagg’s <Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café>! It was on my wish list for such a long time, and it was worth the anticipation. I’m planning on writing more about this book soon.

And I’m slowly making progress with David Sedaris’s <Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls>. Up next, Ian McEwan’s <Solar> is waiting for its turn. Although I had to admit that I already want to get properly started with the latter, which is a fiction. But wait, if eBook samples also count, I may be reading <The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie> by Alan Bradley. I’ll keep updating – off to work again!

Advertisements

Currently Reading : Andy Weir’s ‘The Martian’

Andy Weir’s The Martian is next on my reading list!

I started using my mobile phone as a reading device not long ago, and it became a weekly-or-so ritual for me to browse iBooks to see which books are coming out or trending at the moment. Plus, for beginners, the end-of-the-year choices are actually an excellent guide to exploring new territories! Andy Weir’s The Martian was listed among the best science fiction novels of 2014.

Andy Weir - The Martian

Science fiction novels were not exactly easy to go for. My hitherto attempts to read through sci-fi novels had mostly been botched for it was simply too difficult to make sense of unfamiliar mechanisms in which unfamiliar items operate. I guess I was kind of allergic to them. Hyperreactive. Sort of.
Anyhow, I figured trying something new would do no harm – and, to be honest, the cover design is gorgeous. I won’t deny that I went ‘oh, this will look pretty on my shelf.’

What did I think? Well, I can’t be too sure for I am only a few chapters into the book, but so far so good! The narrative so far is evaluative and relatively calm given that Mark Watney is basically stranded on Mars with no means to return to Earth. I am under the impression that, if it further focuses on what happens inside his head and not on his hands, it would be an awesome read.

Has anyone read Andy Weir’s The Martian already? I would love to hear what you thought. I’ll make sure to share mine afterwards as well. 🙂

Book Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan 

I’ve once seen a list of recommended books that are hilarious, guaranteed to have us laughing. “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore definitely falls under the hilarious category. Of course, it wasn’t as if I rolled on the floor laughing, but the book promises quite a bit of chuckles! Robin Sloan is talented in making metaphoric connections between random things – the one that left an especially big impression on me being the following line: …the emotive equivalent of 404 PAGE NOT FOUND. You read it, you get it, you laugh.

  

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is written in a nonchalant style, not trying to overwhelm the readers by the impressive traits such as novelty or graveness. This was the part that made me, as a reader, feel comfortable follow the story easily. (I know, of course, that this kind of fictions are perceived by some avid readers as  too easy and too un-challenging, but I find that they play a big role in the bigger society of readers.) 
Besides, the descriptions of places in particular were almost graphic so that I have quite a clear image of the bookstore, the Reading Room and the Con U. Though, honestly, I personally believe that I have seen quite a number of writers with such good writing styles, so I wouldn’t dare say that his is the best I’ve ever read.

The Story – It’s quite mind-blowing. Really original. Characters with well-established personal traits, too. Plus I thought, okay Mr. Writer, I clearly see you love books and what they hold. Books about books and bookstores are mysterious in themselves for some reasons unknown – maybe books just are? Plus a secret society? There’s no argument about the attraction. Particularly the setting about the fictional character Moffat was so intriguing. 
Of course I knew that it was a fictional work from the beginning, yet I couldn’t help going ‘wait a sec, is this..? Does this really..?‘ It sounds like one of those hard-to-believe but believable stories that make it to the national teli. Even though it only provides weak realistic proof! 

The only thing that I would have liked to have better was that the unraveling was short and hurried. Had it been a tad bit more slow-tempoed, the reader would have had enough time to ride out each of the surprises.

The Symbols Towards the end of the story, I felt more and more convinced that this whole story symbolises the controversy around the so-called digital revolution.
Corvina being at the conservative end and Kat being at the young and pro-change end, the tension seems to grow ever deeper as Clay engages himself more with the Unbroken Spine. And then, at one point, it looks as if it’s tipped against Corvina, but of course Mautinus was unbreakable. The key hiding in plain sight – while we are blinded by the complexity and often imagine the most complex of the scenarios.

Doesn’t this seem familiar? Books, newspapers, journals and pretty much all of the conventional media being challenged, struggling to find a way to survive and to adapt themselves to the new landscape. Both have their own edges, yet one cannot completely beat the other in every possible way. As a reader, I believe I have the freedom of interpretation – so I would dare say it’s not only about coding and decoding. It’s just going to be this way for all new, high-tech stuff that will come along in the future.

It was a good read, and I’ve already bought the other book by Robin Sloan. I would give 4 stars out of 5, largely for the creativity and originality of the story. ★★★★

Dan Brown’s “Inferno” – Transhumanism and Growth

Several months ago, there was this great post about our laziness when it comes to reading on my WordPress front page. For some reason I couldn’t find a ‘like’ button or something so I just let it be – I didn’t know I’d regret doing so because I want to provide a link to that post. Simply put, it was questioning us whether we are really that lazy to read books that are challenging. One of my resolutions for 2015 being to read more non-fiction books, I deeply agreed to the argument.

But turns out that I was indeed lazy enough to skip difficult and challenging books! My read list this year so far is solely comprised of fictions. But it’s easy, and it’s more difficult to stop reading and go back to whatever I was doing in real life for a job. Especially when you are reading in a foreign language.

My latest entry on my read list is Dan Brown’s “Inferno.”

Mystery and thriller books are probably the most easy to approach. They keep you desiring for more, being engaged in the plot and doing some guesswork here and there. Besides, those based on historical facts like Dan Brown’s even make you feel as if you are being enlightened about a certain period of time in the history! Just like you are watching an interesting educational documentary film at school instead of listening to a lecture. In fact, I came to know a whole lot better about Dante Alighieri reading Inferno. What an interesting life you led, Signor Alighieri.

Throughout the book, I couldn’t help but compare Inferno to The Name of the Rose. (Even though I believe that they do not belong to the same rank to be honest.) One clue leads to another and yet another, placing all the puzzles in place and catching the readers by surprise. Inferno had those turns and twists, and quite a number of them, too. But whereas The Name of the Rose overwhelmed me with so much information with which I was in no way acquainted that I couldn’t possibly read from cover to cover without the help of footnotes, Inferno ‘taught’ me. I think this is one of the points where I thought, I don’t think I like this book that much. Maybe Robert Langdon is a professor for a reason.

The plot mostly taking place in Firenze(I prefer how the Italians call the city to Florence), it might pass as a tourist information book. I am sure that I’m not the only one who felt distracted.. But honestly, the city is beautiful and attractive.

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 4.27.34 PMIf I type the word ‘transhumanism,’ the editor automatically draws a red line. The concept is not too old; and by no means mainstream. It’s a very scary thought, for it aims to transform the human race into a more intellectual and physically desirable one with the help of available technologies. I’ve personally been thinking that the technology of today must be way more advanced that is known to the public. It’s just they are too scared to announce it for the fear of it being used against the common good. Of course I agree that the transhumanist changes can be interpreted as ethically wrong. But this novel made me look at it from a different perspective; does what we believe to be the common good really benefit us?

I’ve been considering studying international development cooperation. Since junior high, I was under the impression that we are all responsible for what’s happening on the Earth, and the Earth includes the less developed parts. Enhancing the quality of life, inspiring them to keep developing so the inequality would become smaller and smaller. But the last few years made me think albeit discretely, that maybe we’ve come too far. The air quality is so bad that I can’t run outside for the fear of catching some kind of disease. So maybe assisting less developed countries’ development may not be the better choice.

So I was a tad bit inclined to conform to this transhumanist thought. But not entirely. The work of WHO as described in the book and transhumanism stand exactly opposite each other. The answer does not definitely have to be somewhere in between those two.

Has it never occurred to you that it’s paradoxical to worry about the ever increasing population on the Earth and the decreasing population in a country at the same time? Sometimes we worry about too many people and other times we worry about too few. I haven’t reached the conclusion yet, but I believe that an amendment has to be made about our conventional idea about the development.

The main reason why individual countries are worried about decreasing number of population is because less people means less work force, thus leading to less ‘growth.’ Growth in this context is not physical, of course. It’s economic growth that worries people. Why does economic growth have to be the utmost raison d’être? Is it only achievable via traditional means?

I do not believe that what Dan Brown intended to do was to lead people to consider transhumanism as a viable alternative. Maybe there is no intended hidden message in the book at all! But I came to ponder upon the concept of growth and development assistance. And it was a good read all in all, albeit the traits of a textbook and a travel guidebook. I would give 3.5 out of 5 stars. ★★★☆

Favourite Lines from “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” by J. S. Foer

Covers of Jonathan Safran Foer’s book “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer is one of a kind for me. I personally haven’t read any book that attempts to tell the story like this. It is a book, after all, limiting the range of forms of communication it can adopt in the first place. The illustrations, pictures and unconventional usage of ‘letters’ was quite new and affected me very strongly.
The part that made my shed tears, close my eyes and try to grab at my chest upon where the heart is supposed to be was the letter the father wrote to the son. Overlapping letters, pages full of tangled, unrecognisable words were perfectly fit to make me finally understand what the grandfather would have felt.

Heartbreaking
would be the word of my choice, if I were to describe what it was like to read it. There is no single person in this book who is not hurt, has not undergone a great feeling of loss. Yet the author did not convey this feeling of loss and sadness through big words that usually has an emphasising impact. Heavy boots. Love. – these were more than quite enough.

I would like to share the parts of the book that I copied to my notebook in this post.

I like the hugging, the bringing together, the end of missing someone…
Shyness is when you turn your head away from something that you want.
Shame is when you turn your head away from something that you do not want.
For eight months I followed him and talked to the people he talked to, I tried to learn about him as he tried to learn about you, he was trying to find you, just as you’d tried to find me, it broke my heart into more pieces than my heart was made of, why can’t people say what they mean at the time?
I started to cry, and squeezed her as tightly as I could. Her shoulder was getting wet and I thought, Maybe it’s true that you can use up all of your tears. Maybe Grandma’s right about that. It was nice to think about, because what I wanted was to be empty.

eBook vs. Print

Hunger Games was such a hype, but I was not eager enough to buy or borrow the actual book to give it a try – mostly out of doubt about the whole fuss.

While browsing iBook one day to get an idea which books to read, it turns out that some of the bestsellers are offered for under $4! I downloaded the sample of Hunger Games, was really absorbed in the story by the end of the sample and ended up purchasing my first eBook. One lead to another, and I am currently reading Jonas Jonasson’s The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden on my iPhone.

eBook devices promise comfortable reading experience. You can read in the dark, for example, without bothering any other person in the same room who is probably sleeping. You can even read in the sun more comfortably for the screen does not reflect the sunlight as much as paper normally would. You may be reading multiple books at the moment, and it reduces the weight of your bag for they can carry countless books. If you reside in the US, you can even borrow eBooks from local libraries (which is sadly not the case for me.) So I honestly wished for a Amazon Kindle for my birthday this year.

Despite the given advantages of eBook devices, I found my heart going back to the printed books. You can’t possibly deny that half the fun of books is buying and stacking them! Turning pages of printed books is also a delightful feeling. Marking eBooks was never done in a satisfying way as marking printed books would be.

It really is a game with no winner. eBooks fit better for certain occasions where carrying printed books verge on being bothersome. But we are not accustomed to the eBooks yet, not as much as we are to the conventional books. And printed books satisfy our desire to possess things. Materialistic but true.

So I still want a Kindle Paperwhite, but I would still go book shopping to real-life bookstores.

Reading Habit

IMG_6592.JPGThis is my humble collection of Harry Potter books. They’re in 3 different languages, but none of them are complete.

I am being serious when I say that about 70% of my childhood – early teenage years is related to Harry Potter, and very much so. The number of kids like me seems to be decreasing every year, but I’m coping. This is the first series with which I was obsessed, and the second series I’ve ever read. (The first was Sailor Moon, 8-year-old me had enormous fun with the books.)

Reading habits are, I believe, not easy to form after a certain age.

That’s why I am so thankful for my folks, each of whom brought a copy of the first book of Harry Potter series at one point. It was for some reason such a funny incident that I still talk about it from time to time. I regard it terribly unfortunate that there are kids who simply cannot find much fun in reading, who have yet to get to know the building tension and excitement that makes you turn the page.
I tried countless times to make my own little brother read without much success – I assume there is more to it than just a good book, but I haven’t figured out what it is.

Now that I think about it, there was not much censoring or screening to my reading list. I used to choose books by the reviews written by grown-ups or merely by its cover, which resulted in a wide variety of books and many of them unread. Some of those make me go, ‘what was I even thinking when I bought that book?’ when I spot them on the bookshelf. But that seemingly did not bother my pap, maybe he thought that I’d learn myself afterwards. For that I’m also grateful.

My reading habits at this point, though, seem to have scarcely developed compared to when it started. So I’ll set the following as my reading goals for my 20’s. Let’s see how it goes.

1. Don’t sit and be idle. Read.
    (I might need something durable and portable for that. Maybe.)

2. Reading doesn’t stop when the last chapter finishes. 
     Talk about the book and write about it, too.

3. Read more non-fiction. One-food diet is not healthy.

4. Recommend books, lend them if need be.