Sunday, December 27, 2009

Here's what's been going on

So I'm in Singapore for the next week and a half. It's mostly a family trip - they already roped me in to some family parties, and for New Year's Ever as well - but I'm going to get to see my old friends as well, which would be nice.

Before I got to Singapore, I was regularly pulling doubles at both my jobs, so it's been a really crazed period for me. Even though I'm away now, I'm still clocking in hours at one of my jobs and constantly on email for them.

I am also starting to lose steam on the Cannonball Read in terms of writing reviews. If you look at my book gadget on the sidebar, I'm still doing the reading. It's just really difficult for me to write a review. Perhaps while I'm here, I'll be able to get to them.

Other than that, I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday, and ate lots of delicious holiday food. The end of 2009 is near, and I am so excited for it. I am so over 2009.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cannonball Read #8: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

Cannonballer's note: Writing reviews are hard, especially since now that it's started getting really cold here, all I want to do is curl up in bed and watch movies on my computer. I read this a week ago, and am writing it only now, when my memory of it is fuzzy. Not good.

I couldn't say anything about the movie because I have never seen it (yet. Really gotta remedy that situation because I love John Cusack) but holy cow, this book is completely neurotic. The best thing about it is that the main character, Rob Gordon, is completely honest about his neurotic-ness, so it doesn't seem like a big whine fest. Instead, it seems like he is genuinely confused with his behavior around women, with women's behavior around him, and just confused about the type of person that he wants to be.

There doesn't seem to be too much of a plot because most of it takes place in Rob Gordon's head (which makes me wonder how they managed to adapt this into a movie - again, I'm gonna have to see it soon.) Rob Gordon is 35 years old and the owner of a failing record shop. His girlfriend recently left him, and this break-up left him going through all his past relationships and wondering why these girls rejected him. It's interesting to see a guy ruminate so obtusely over his personal life, because a) we usually expect girls to do that (please don't scream "sexism." You know it's true) and b) Rob's actions and thoughts were so incredibly contradictory and myopic.

For example, he would go on and on wondering why girls reject him, then he would insert this innocuous statement about their past relationship, which reveals so much about the way he treated her. I would think, "Well... no wonder." But then he would continue rambling on and on about his rejected feelings, and I'm thinking, "DUDE! You just skated past the reason why she left you, you dumbass." So I veered from being very frustrated at him to completely understanding his point of view. And I think what's authentic about his ramblings is that I've gone through that same irrational thought process. I suppose it takes one neurotic to understand another.

Anyway, I really liked the book, even though Rob frustrated me several times (A good British way to describe him is "thick.") After I was done reading the book, I told my boyfriend about the book and how neurotic he is. I guess I was trying to indirectly ask my boyfriend if his mind operated that way, but to be honest, I'm not sure if I want to know.

Friday, December 18, 2009

I should name my Kindle...

I'm having a little bit of trouble falling asleep tonight* so I figure I should entertain a request of Blakspring, who asked me about my experience using a Kindle. As I mentioned in my previous post, my uncle and his girlfriend gave it to me as birthday gift, and I was pretty excited about it. The first thing I read on it was Stardust, and one immediate observation was how... the lack of pages really affects my reading experience. It seems an obvious lack ("What? A Kindle doesn't have pages?") but I honestly did not factor that in when I started the first chapter of Stardust.

If you are like me, you anticipate the turning of the page by holding it between your two fingers. I found myself unconsciously doing that and feeling nothing. Instead, when I first started using it, I had to keep looking down at the "Next Page" button before pressing it. It was not an automatic action.

Once I got the hang of it however, I was just clicking through the pages. It's not hard for your brain to get used to and I can see why there might be many converts out there. You can also highlight a passage, or make a note in your reading by using the typing area. Then later, if you want to go back to that passage, you can go to My Notes, and just click through it until you finally get to the passage you crave to remember.

The other fantastically convenient thing is the Kindle shop, which you can access from your "hand-held device." (When I was reading the instruction manual for the Kindle, those words kept reappearing, which I found kinda funny because 10 years ago, a "hand-held device" was a euphemism for the new-fangled cellular phone.) You can subscribe to newspapers and magazines on it. I didn't, but I wondered if there can be colored pictures if I do subscribe to it. As far as I have been able to tell, everything that appears on my Kindle is black-and-white.

This reminds me of something I read, possibly from Jess and Josh (but I'm just going off memory here), about how if The New York Times bought every one of their subscribers a Kindle, and their readers started getting their news electronically transferred to them, the company could save a fortune on not printing millions of copies everyday, and probably avoid all the layoffs and buyouts we see announced in the paper.

If we are fast approaching a time when we would have to seriously consider giving up on certain items for the sake of the environment, I sincerely hope (very selfishly, I must point out) that it will be a long time til newspapers meet their demise. I love the feel of paper in my hands. All that stuff the old-fashions say about feeling more connected to the news/story is true: As stupid as it sounds, the inability to flip through pages to get to a certain part of the book, and instead having to click click click click to that part, makes it harder for me to feel like those words I'm reading – the story that I am absorbing – is something that should be remembered. Imagine clicking through a PDF document to find a certain piece of information. Does that feel like you are reliving your experience of having read that document?

This could all very well be nostalgia speaking. I don't want you to think that I dislike using it – I get really excited when I find a book worthy of purchase on the Kindle. But I have definitely narrowed my Kindle-reading to books that I hope that I would really like (Stardust, Heat Wave) but that I don't really care if I love yet. When I decide that I love those books, I will buy them in book form.

One more super cool thing about the Kindle: Whenever it goes to power save, a portrait of a famous author will appear. So far, I've had Virginia Wolf, Ralph Ellison (he comes on a lot), Jules Verne, Jane Austen, and John Steinbeck. Probably more, but those are the ones that I remember. Steinbeck has only appeared once so far (we can't choose, unfortunately. If we could, I would choose to have Ellison taken off the sleep screen) and I got so excited about him that I didn't want to "wake" it. Maybe I should name my Kindle Cal, just to psychically encourage it to go to the Steinbeck screen saver.

*I am currently reading a novel about a serial killer in New York in the 1800s and it is so, so interesting and keeping me up with its gruesome facts.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Cannonball Read #7: In A Perfect World by Laura Kasischke

The beginning of Jiselle's life, before her marriage, reads a little like George Clooney's voice-over in Up In The Air. As a flight attendant who is required to live within driving distance of the airport, her work is a big part of her life. As a result, she does not have any close friends whom she can confide in, nor much of a chance to meet a lover. She does not have a lot at home, and most of her belongings are souvenirs from other countries. Once, when her friend was anxiously fretting over her runaway teenage soon, she said to Jiselle, "Never have children. You are so lucky you have no one."

That changes quickly when she meets Mark Dorn, an airline pilot, at an airport bar. He is probably what George Clooney was like in his younger days - handsome, suave, and he just swept Jiselle right off her feet. In three months, they were married and she had quit her job to play stepmom to his three children while he continues to pilot around the world. Suddenly, Jiselle has a husband who is constantly in the air or delayed in countries due to a health epidemic, known as the Phoenix flu; or she has to worry about taking care of his children, Sara, Camilla, and Sam. Sara and Camilla pretty much hate her and try to make her life as difficult as possible by stealing her clothes, dressing slutty, and just generally acting like teenagers. Sam, the youngest, is nicer to her. He plays board games with her, or they go on walks together... but Jiselle suspects that it's probably because he knows she has no friends and is lonely.

The interesting thing about Kasischke's novel is its direction. At various parts, I thought I knew where it was going, and then I'd be completely wrong. I thought the beginning made it sound like a fluffy, better-written romance novel; then in the middle, I thought it was going to be a Stepmom kinda thing, where Giselle eventually becomes Julia Roberts; many, many times, I really believed that Kasischke was going to go the apocalyptic route, where everyone dies because of the Phoenix flu (no one knows how it's spread or caught) and Giselle has to make the Ultimate Sacrifice.

In the end, the Phoenix Flu may have propelled certain events to happen, but Kasischke always focuses on Giselle's quiet resolve and her reaction to the world around her. Reading the book, I realized that Giselle did not really have much of a discernible personality. Her self really isn't evident in the beginning of the book. It isn't until she has people to love and to care for that she starts developing a self and a purpose. I started rooting for her when I realized that she was capable of more than just reminiscing about her and her husband's escapades.

"In A Perfect World" is incredibly melancholy, with a pervasive sense of dread through it, like you feel the author is foreshadowing something and you are just waiting for the worst to happen. Even when there is a happy event, it is difficult to feel like the troubles are over. But I think that Kasischke's point is that although her world is much more uncertain in the end, and something bad may happen, what's important is that Giselle now had a family, even if all she does is worry about them.

Cannonball Read #6: Heat Wave by Richard Castle

I decided to pick up Heat Wave after Tereasa reviewed it on Pajiba, saying that "if you like the show you will like the book." Well, I really like the show, and I was really bored during my Thanksgiving vacation back to California so I figured, why not?

The book is exactly like an episode of Castle. There is a murder and Nikki Heat (a female detective modeled after Kate Beckett from the TV show) tries to solve it with the help of journalist Jameson Rook who is currently following the NYPD for an article. They run into some false ends, red herrings, and actually end up having sex with each other (I chuckled when I read that because I thought, "Of course Castle wrote a sex scene for himself. Of course.")

The crazy thing was that while reading it, I could very clearly picture all the characters as their alter egos on the TV show. It got to the point where I actually believed that I saw the book's plot as an episode. The murder du jour comes when a real estate tycoon breaks the concrete ground with his forehead by falling to his death from his luxury apartment. He has a trophy wife who lies through her teeth, a financial consultant who seems a little too benevolent; and enemies in the real estate industry who are not sad that he has broken ground (Yes, that is a construction pun. Shut up.) Needless to say, Heat and her gang of minions have a bunch of leads to follow up on.

One thing that people often complain about the show is that they know who the murderer is from the very start. Well, that was the case for me in the book, but I absolutely could not figure out the motive, and even after it was revealed, I had to read backwards for some clues. And I guess that's why I like Castle (besides the fact that Nathan Fillion is on it): I know where the story is going, I just don't know how we get there.

A big difference between reading the book and the watching an episode is how much more thorough the book is about the grunt work involved in investigating a murder. There are some parts which I thought were simply borinnnngggg and unnecessary because I knew that once the case went a different route, all that evidence that was dug up will be tossed out. My other quibble is Castle's character, Jameson Rook. Throughout the book, he is shown as a celebrity journalist (really an oxymoron in my opinion), but he has also interviewed war lords and been a war reporter of sorts. However, he behaves more like a novelist than a journalist. As a novelist, Castle can get away with not getting specific answers to specific questions because he can fill in the blanks himself. As a journalist, Rook needs to paint a clearer picture than what he is able to observe from shadowing Heat. Maybe he got all his questions answered just by watching her do her job... but no, there are still a million questions he should have been asking her and her detectives. So typical for a celebrity journalist.

That was a very dorky journalism quibble huh?

The having sexual relations with the source is pretty spot-on though.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cannonball Read #5: Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Stardust is the first book I bought for my Kindle because I just couldn't wait for my local library to have it freed up. I've been in such a Stardust-y mood ever since I re-watched the movie with Jana, and I just needed it in my hands right away because I am such a fan of everything in that movie. So it was a little disappointing, in the beginning, when I realized that the movie did not adhere very closely to the book. ("The book doesn't follow the movie!" I thought irrationally.)

But a couple chapters into the book, it totally clicked for me. I started seeing the book (reading the book?) for itself and stopped comparing it to the merits of the movie. When I describe the plot, it will sound a lot like the movie, but it's the details in the book (and they absolutely matter) that are really different. Unlike the movie, Gaiman spends a lot more time setting up the context and describing the people living in the town of Wall. Wall borders the magic world and it is separated by a wall and some very insistent guards. We learn about Dunstan Thorn, who wishes to seek his Heart's Desire, which apparently is... either getting laid by a hot girl who is across the Wall; or a son. Because in 9 months, a son is delivered to him across the Wall named Tristran (which is really difficult to say out loud.)

Though Tristran seems like a young boy who is painfully aware of his ordinariness, he still exhibit signs of boldness. When his true love, Victoria, told him that she would do anything for him if he were to fetch a shooting star for her, he immediately agrees and sets off across the Wall in search of the star. The star, as it turns out, is a person – a girl named Yvaine. Tristran goes through a series of crazy adventures to get to her, and then goes through another series of adventures to get her back to his town. Meanwhile, they have an old witch who is hot on the heels of the star because eating the heart of a star promises immortality.

The ending is really different than the movie, and it really highlights how subtle all the characters are, even the evil ones like the Princes fighting for the crown or the crazy witch. We don't need loud proclamations of love to know that a person's in love; sometimes evil witches can still be evil after they choose a different route (no crazy voodoo is needed); and sometimes a hero does not need to be a swashbuckling sword-wielder to prove that he has grown up. Gaiman managed to show the growth of his characters through their very subtle actions - not by some grand, dramatic gesture – and I really appreciated that because that's kinda like how real life works.

I wrote in my Coraline review that Neil Gaiman used a minimal amount of language to convey something with maximum impact, and I wondered if that was something that is prevalent in his books. In Stardust, there is a very different writing style. He is more descriptive, yet there is so much poetry in his writing. I loved how he used certain words and phrases, and highlighted them in my Kindle:

"The evening sky hangs above us, the color of a bruise, and clouds carpet the world beneath us, all grey and writhing."

"So," said a voice from behind him, soft as a silken strangling-rope, sweet as a poisoned lozenge, "you thought that you would warm yourself at the burning of my cottage?..."

If I wrote like that, it would just come off as pretentious. I really need to buy this in book form so that I can hold it in my hands. This is a book I want to flip back to certain pages to reread passages, or to remind myself of a favorite moment. It was so good that I stopped seeing Yvaine as Claire Danes or the witch as Michelle Pheiffer. That's not to say that I like the movie any less now. I just like both the book and movie for very different reasons.