Saturday, March 31, 2012

Thoughts: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green


Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs... for now.

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind. - via Goodreads

Oh, God, where do I even begin talking about this book? I finished it only a couple of minutes ago, and I just wiped away big, fat tears with the back of my hand. I’m writing this, because I want to remember how I feel about this book at this exact moment in time.

Before I graduated from college, I had these big, unbelievably optimistic dreams. I was going to do something amazing with my life. Maybe I was going to be a world-famous novelist with internationally best-selling books, or maybe I was going to be a screenwriter whose movies garnered praise from the likes of Roger Ebert and simply picked up awards at Cannes. The world was my oyster.

I graduated from college a year ago, and I’ve come to realize that the world is not my oyster. Well, maybe it is, but it’s turning out to be a very bleak, unpromising oyster from my almost twenty-one-year-old eyes. I’ve come to realize that I, like the majority of the world’s population, will probably not achieve the fantastically ambitious goals I set for myself when I was seventeen. A sense of resignation that I can’t fight no matter what is starting to take over.

And I’m really grateful that I read The Fault in Our Stars at this point in my life.

There’s a part in the book where Augustus Water laments not being or doing something ‘significant,’ and Hazel tells him:
"This can never be enough for you. But this is all you get. You get me, and your family, and this world. This is your life. I’m sorry if it sucks. But you’re not going to be the first man on Mars, and you’re not going to be an NBA star, and you’re not going to hunt Nazis."
At first glance, what Hazel says to Augustus seems very disheartening, but it’s not. She’s actually asking him to wake up, and grab life by the throat or by the balls (whichever floats your imaginary boat). The quote reminds me of George Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life or Carl from Pixar’s Up. These characters, like the rest of us, want something from life, something so fantastic it’s almost unreal (for George and Carl it’s traveling the world and for Augustus it’s living or dying for a great cause), but they have to realize that this is it. We’re living our lives at this very moment, and we have to make the most out of it.

This is probably going to sound like a total cliché, but The Fault in Our Stars taught me that we’re the ones who decide how meaningful our lives are supposed to be. I infuse my life with meaning everyday through the books I read, the movies I see, or the people I talk to. I just have to realize that. The universe demands to be noticed, and all I have to do is appreciate the blueness of the sky, the shape of my shadow on the concrete, or the crunchiness of leaves as I step on them.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Classics Club

So, Jillian over at A Room of One’s Own officially founded The Classics Club, and it’s safe to say the club has gone viral. Bloggers from all over the world have joined, and The Classics Club has kind of, you know, taken over Goodreads. (I’m not exaggerating, I swear.)

Basically, here are the rules:

  • You must have a blog.
  • You must post a list of classics that you intend to read. The list can be composed of 50, 200, or 1057465465 books. It’s your choice.
  • You must set a deadline for yourself to complete all the books in your list.
  • You must choose a prize to reward yourself with once you actually read everything.

I think The Classics Club is going to bring a sense of focus to my reading. I have a very short attention span, and get distracted by new (to me, at least) books easily. For example, I’d already laid out a plan to read all the books in my TBR pile, but I kept on discovering awesome classics on Project Gutenberg. It’s a vicious cycle, I know.

Anywho, here’s my list (in no particular order):

  1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  2. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  5. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  6. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  7. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  8. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
  9. The Man in the Iron Maske by Alexandre Dumas
  10. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  11. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  12. The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
  13. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
  14. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  15. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  16. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
  17. Sula by Toni Morrison
  18. Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
  19. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  20. Brideshead Revisited Evelyn Waugh
  21. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  22. One Day in the Life of Ivan Desinovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  23. Cyrando de Bergerac by Rostand
  24. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  25. Naked Lunch by William Burroughs
  26. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  27. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  28. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  29. My Antonia by Willa Cather
  30. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  31. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  32. The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
  33. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
  34. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
  35. McTeague by Frank Norris
  36. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  37. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  38. The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  39. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  40. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
  41. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
  42. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  43. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  44. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
  45. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
  46. Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
  47. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  48. Middlesex by Jefrrey Eugenides
  49. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  50. The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
  51. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

My list is mostly novels with a single nonfiction work (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou), and I hope to finish it before the May 11, 2014. I finish around 110 books (more or less) per year, so I think two years gives me enough to finish all the books in my list AND explore other books I might be interested in, just in case I get antsy.

And the reward?

I’m still thinking about that. I want to reward myself with something luxurious, but I'm not making myself any promises right now.

If you want to join The Classics Club, you can sign up here.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Blog Tag: 11 Facts and 11 Questions

Meg from The Terrible Desire actually tagged me about a month, but I've been terribly lazy and I had a bit of difficulty thinking of answers that actually sounded sane.

Here are the rules:
1. Post rules.
2. Post 11 fun facts about yourself.
3. Answer questions from the person who tagged you.
4. Make up 11 questions for people you tag.
5. Tag 11 people.
6. Let them know they've been tagged.

11 Fun Facts About Me
1. I was traumatized by the movie The Bone Collector.
In the movie, the serial killer poses as a taxi driver, locks his passengers inside his cab, and brutally murders them. I have been afraid of getting into a taxi by myself since.

2. People say I look like Violet from The Incredibles.
This does not offend me in any way, because I loved The Incredibles. And, sometimes, when I'm in a good mood, I like to think I can see the resemblance.

3. Hitler and I share the same birthday.
This makes me very uncomfortable.

4. I've written two three young adult novels that will never see the light of day.
Lot of drama, lots of cliches, all horrible.

5. Mulan and Belle are my favorite Disney princesses.
Mulan kicked butt, and, despite Belle's debatable case of Stockholm syndrome, she loved books and she fell for the Beast even if he, you know, looked like a beast.

6. It took me four years to finish the Lord of the Rings.
That's why I'm a bit hesitant to reread the trilogy.

7. I went through a Stephen King phase in high school.
I wouldn't touch it unless it was written by The King. Stephen King wrote some pretty awful stuff, but Dreamcatchers will always be DA BOMB for me.

8. I'm fascinated with French movies.
A Very Long Engagement is one of my favorite movies of all time. Also, French movies are always a feast for the eyes, and are often populated by quirky characters who ask deep questions about life and love.

9. I thought Evelyn Waugh was a woman.
That officially makes me a Philistine, I know.

10. I am hopeless when it comes to make up.
I am such a sad excuse for a girl.

11. Lastly, I am currently obsessed with the British boyband One Direction.
This is kind of embarrassing to admit, but I can't stop listening to their songs, particularly What Makes You Beautiful. Also, they're always in wonderfully color-coordinated outfits.

Meg's Questions
1. Are you a city mouse or a country mouse?
A little bit of both. I live in the country, but I work in the city. The country gives me the peace and quiet I need, while the city provides excitement when the country becomes boring.

2. Where in the world would you live if you had the choice?
I would probably want to live in London. So many authors lived in the place and set their work there. London's history is so rich, and there will be so many new things to see and experience.

3. Zombies are attacking, what one book do you take with you when you flee into the wilderness?
Persuasion by Jane Austen. I thought about taking Pride and Prejudice with me, but I've read it about fifteen times already. On the other hand, I've only read Persuasion twice, which isn't enough. When I first read it, I was sucked in by the love story between and Anne and Captain Wentworth, and, the second time, I fell in love with the secondary characters. I'm sure I'll discover something new when I reread it for the third time.

4. Do you have any unusual hobbies (e.g., collecting butterflies, building model cars, searching for Big Foot)?
I'm a twenty-year-old who only reads classics. Does that count?

5. What's your favorite book of those you own, based on cover design only?
I usually hate movie tie-in covers, but I love the movie tie-in cover of Atonement simply because James McAvoy is on the cover. I'm going to think of a logical explanation for this later, I swear, but, right now, I can only say that he's so preeeeeetty.

6. What's your favorite Disney character (come on, everyone has one)?
Check out Fun Fact About Me #5.

7. What's your favorite comic book character?
Manga characters count, right? I love Kyo from Fruits Basket. He's a redhead, turns into a cat when hugged by a member of the opposite sex, and has a temper. Enough said.

8. What is your dream car, and what would you name it?
It's not fancy or anything, but I really, really want a yellow Volkswagen Beetle. I don't know what to name it, but maybe something cheesy like Bumblebee.

9. Team Edward or Team Jacob? JUST KIDDING. More seriously, Team Angel or Team Spike?
Spike with his British accent, hands down.

10. What is your favorite piece of artwork (you don't have to own it)?
My favorite painting is Fall of Icarus by Breughel. I discovered the painting when we studied W.H. Auden's poem Musee des Beaux Arts which was inspired by the painting. It's called Fall of Icarus, but you have to look for Icarus really hard in the painting. Basically, it tells you that, no matter how big your problems seem, life always goes on. Losing your job, for instance, can seem monumental to you, but, in the grand scheme of things, it's just another event, and bigger things are happening all around you. It's a very sobering thought.

11. Have you ever performed anything in front of an audience?
No, and, hopefully, I will never have to. I have a severe case of stage fright.

Here are my questions:
1. Did you become obsessed with a boyband in your teen years? If yes, which boyband?
2. Who is your favorite Austen hero and why?
3. What is the weirdest thing about you?
4. What is your dayjob? (You don't have to answer if you think this is too personal.)
5. What is your favorite poem?
6. Why did you start blogging?
7. Who is your favorite Disney princess?
8. Who is your favorite actor/actress?
9. What is your favorite film genre?
10. Which Pixar movie do you like best?
11. The BONUS QUESTION: Answer any question that you really, really, really want people to ask you.

I'm tagging:
Allie from A Literary Odyssey
Jillian from A Room of One's Own
Cassandra from Literary Stars
Sam from Tiny Library

(I know I'm cheating since you have to tag 11 people.)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

On Not Finishing Books

I’ve always been the kind of reader who finds it difficult to NOT finish books I’ve started.

Not finishing a book always felt like a (this is going to sound like an exaggeration) a crime to me. This is how I looked at things: I bought the book, so, therefore I HAD to finish it. I thought about books the same way I think about food. Not finishing it would be a waste. I thought that way, because I didn’t have much money to spend on books when I was still in school. I had to dig around in my favourite secondhand bookstore until I found something I liked and could afford.

Lately, my views on not finishing books have changed. This change started around the time I started blogging, when I discovered so many books I’d never heard of before and discovered new ways of getting them (downloading them from Project Gutenberg, for example). There were so many books I wanted to read that I didn’t want to waste my time forcing myself to finish something I didn’t even

However, there’s always the chance that a book might grow on you. This happened to me with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. When I first started reading Fellowship, I kept on falling asleep, and I just wanted to start reading something else. For some reason, though, I didn’t, and I actually finished reading the entire trilogy. Guess what? I loved it.

I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post that I used to think not finishing books was a waste of money, but I don’t actually think that anymore. When I set a book aside, I try to think that I’m only saving it for later when I’m ready for it. For example, I tried to Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier tons of times when I was eighteen, but I kept falling asleep and eventually gave up on it. At the time, I wasn’t really into classics. I’d only read Jane Austen novels and To Kill a Mockingbird.

I read it again last year when I was twenty, and I completely fell in love with it. I didn’t have the patience to appreciate it at eighteen. When I read it last year, I had already started blogging about classics, and had read more classics than I could count on both fingers. I realized how great Rebecca was, because I’d already gain the experience and the patience to fully appreciate it.

On a different note, I just want to say that, yes, there are definitely some craptastic books out there. I recently bought a novel which shall remain nameless in this post, and it drove me insane. Bad writing and paper-thin characters. I want to say that it’s possible I might not be ready to fully appreciate it yet, but I don’t think I ever will be.

What about you? What are your thoughts on NOT FINISHING?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Thoughts: The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but, for the sake of bringing all readers up to speed, I’m going to mention it again. I have this silly goal where I want to read a huge portion of the books from the Modern’s Library’s list of the 100 Best Novels of all Time. Personally, I think the list is too focused on works by white, male authors, but, on the other hand, I think there’s a reason why the books made it into the list.

The Good Soldier is arguably one of the most accessible books in that list. You can legally download a free copy from Project Gutenberg, which I did months ago. I’ve been putting it off, because I thought the book would be boring. Alas, I was being an idiot again. I’ve been writing about the classics for more than a year, and I should have learned my lesson by now. The books I think are boring are often the ones that completely blow me away.

In a nutshell, The Good Soldier is about two married couples, Edward and Leonora Ashburnham and John and Florence Dowell. The Ashburnhams and the Dowells meet in a retreat for sick people in Nauheim, and become friends for the next decade or so. John Dowell, the narrator, thinks everyone around him is a good person, and remains blind to the deceptions and manipulations of those around him.

First of all, I have to say it’s a shame that Ford Madox Ford isn’t as well-known as Hemingway or Faulkner or any of those great writers. He’s just as innovative as the rest of them. This is basically what I want you to do right now: Buy or download a copy of The Good Soldier. You won’t regret it, I swear.

Anton Chekhov said that, when you mention a gun in one scene, you’re going to have to use it in a later scene. Ford Madox Ford was a master that. He mentioned all these seemingly insignificant people and conversations in some scenes, and, later on, you realize that they play an important part in the novel. These small details come together to form one breathtakingly beautiful picture.

The Good Soldier is like a fabulous read and a writing lesson put together. You want to know how to push the boundaries of plot in fiction? Then, read this novel. At first glance, the chronology of events seems so convoluted that it doesn’t make sense, but, once you analyse the novel, all the seemingly random events come together perfectly. For example, the narrator mentions one conversation early in the novel then he discusses something else. He expounds on that conversation later, like whetted your appetite for it early on, and you gladly eat up all the little details.

And the narrator. Ohmygod, where do I even begin talking about him? John Dowell is so naïve, so full of bullshit that you have to filter everything he says through your own eyes. You are left to fend for yourself, because the narrator is so freaking untrustworthy. He basically screws with your mind, because you have no idea what to think. Was Edward Ashburnham really ‘a good soldier’ or was he just a useless philanderer? You have to decide for yourself, because John Dowell, after everything, thinks he’s a good man.

This made me think about the way every single one of us sees the world. I think I once read somewhere (I forget where) that every person thinks of himself or herself as the leading man/lady of the movie of his/her life. It sounds like a cheesy analogy, but bear with me here. From our points-of-view, the world revolves around us, and the minute details of our lives are important to us, even if they’re not important to other people. John Dowell thought Edward Ashburnham was a good man. I can argue with him until I turn blue, but that won’t change anything. He saw things through his own unique filter, and it doesn’t matter if that filter is different from the rest of the population.

The Good Soldier is a brilliant book that reminded me why I love fiction so much. There are so many things that can be done with it, and so many avenues to explore. Ford Madox Ford simply experimented with narration, and I’m left breathless at the thought of what he could have done with the other elements of fiction.


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