Because two heads- or websites – are better than one.

Late last year I switched over from using Goodreads to track my reading to using Librarything, the reason being that I liked LT’s layout better and I found it easier to organize things there. While I’m still happily organizing my heart out over at LT and don’t intend to stop, I find that I miss the more social aspects of Goodreads. More people have Goodreads and it’s easier to track the progress of my reading there. As ridiculous as it may sound, I’ve decided to use both websites:

If you use either of those sites, please let me know your URL or add me and I’ll add you back!

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Musing Mondays: January 6, 2014

musingmondays51Monday Musings is a weekly meme hosted by Should Be Reading. Every Monday bloggers should muse about one of the following:

  • Describe one of your reading habits.
  • Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).
  • What book are you currently desperate to get your hands on? Tell us about it!
  • Tell us what you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.
  • Do you have a bookish rant? Something about books or reading (or the industry) that gets your ire up? Share it with us!
  • Instead of the above questions, maybe you just want to ramble on about something else pertaining to books — let’s hear it, then!

Over the weekend I started reading Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & The Olympians series, and after I finished the first book and started thinking about my review, I immediately started comparing it to other books I’ve read recently. Most of what I read is literary fiction, and it’s very different from books/series like Percy Jackson. The target audience is different and the motivations behind the stories are also different. Percy Jackson is written for older children/young teens, so it’s goal is to entertain that age group. The story is also a series, which means the author wants to create a story that will make his readers want to read the other four books. None of this is meant to be criticism, though. I’ve loved young adult/children’s series ever since I was a child myself and see nothing wrong with enjoying them now. What I started wondering was, if these two genres are this different, how is what I look for in them different when I sit down and write my review?

The answer I came up with was style. To be honest, most young adult/children’s books I read have a very simple writing style which is better suited to its intended age group. That isn’t to say there is no style, but when compared to something like If on a winter’s night  traveler, a novel driven by its writing style, the different is stark. Young adult/children’s authors are more concerned with building an interesting story than crafting original and stylistically beautiful sentences.

Which is absolutely okay, since I know a lot of people who’d look at If on a winter’s night a traveler and get a major headache.

The things I look for in young adult/children’s lit are the same things which I believe the authors focus on themselves: a fun, interesting story, tangible and developed characters, and preferably a little humor. After reading so many long, involved and stylistically heavy novels, I admit it’s a bit of a relief to pick up a series like Percy Jackson and tear through it. I’m so glad I gave this series a chance, and plan to have reviews up of the first two books sometime this week.

The S.E.A Write Anthology of Thai Short Stories & Poems

sTitleThe S.E.A. Write Anthology of Thai Short Stories & Poems
Author: Various; Edited by Nitaya Masavisut and Matthew Grose
Genre: Short stories/poetry
Rating3/5

The The S.E.A. Write Anthology of Thai Short Stories & Poems is a compilation of works by authors who have won the S.E.A. Write award from the early 1980s to the mid 1990s. The anthology covers five short story authors and six poets, which is a lot for such a small anthology of less than 150 pages. This anthology is more informational than enjoyable, in my opinion, mostly because of its wide range of authors. The anthology does a good job of showing the diversity of Thai writers and their writing styles, but it leaves something to be desired.  I found myself wanting to read more by most of these writers beyond the two or three works included in the anthology, but translation of these works still do not exist today. The anthology itself is outdated as the most recent work is from 1995. I found the short stories infinitely more enjoyable than the poetry, but I think that is more of a translation issue than anything else. Poetry is rhythmical and the meaning is incredibly difficult to translate, even more difficult than a short story or novel.

My feelings of frustration did not keep me from enjoying the writing itself, though. A number of short stories stood out to me as brilliant works which hit various themes of Thai life which were familiar and others that were new to me. The first is “The Song of the Leaves” by Vanich Charungkij-anant, which tells the story of a grandmother deeply involved in a folk music tradition that is dying out around her. She tries to get her granddaughter involved, but with no success. The old woman can feel her life coming to an end, and she worries for her granddaughter whom she’s been supporting through her music, but more than anything else music is always on the grandmother’s mind. She goes to another performance and finds her eyesight going. Her granddaughter comes to her aid, and then next thing everyone sees is the granddaughter climbing the stage and performing in a voice that could only be her granddmother’s. The story crosses the lines of the realistic and the spiritual while describing an aspect of Thai culture I hadn’t read about before.

Two stories which touched on familiar themes were “The Beggars” by Anchan and “Mid-Road Family” by Sila Khomchai. “The Beggars” describes the life of a beggar couple both through their eyes and the eyes of those around them. They stop a monk on his daily alms trip and the monk wonders briefly if they’re going to attack him, but they give him a small offering of cooked rice. A rich couple pass by the beggar woman on the street and the girl, a young celebrity, hands her a 500 baht note (a little less than $20), just to see her react to the amount. The young woman says, “But it’s really a very good thing… that some awfully poor people do exist.” Her boyfriend counters with, “And makes themselves useful for being poor,” poking fun and playfully criticizing the shallow inspiration the actress finds in the beggar’s reaction to money. The reactions to the couple and how society uses them- in one rage-inducing section the author describes the artists and writers who are similarly inspired by the couple without ever offering them aid- contrasted against the couple’s simple but pure way of viewing their world is eye-opening to anyone familiar or unfamiliar with the beggar culture in modern Thailand.

“Mid-Road Family” was a much more lighthearted read, thank goodness. This story touches on a very familiar aspect of life for anyone living in or around Bangkok- the insane levels of traffic. The narrator of the story is a man who loves his car and sees it as another home simply because of how much time he spends in it. He describes how his wife will prepare them for daily outings with all of the necessities for sitting in traffic: food, drink, a change or clothes, even a portable toilet. The narrator never seems frustrated or surprised at the levels of traffic, but conveys the extreme amount through the things he does to pass the time. He gets out of the car to stretch and meets people, which sometimes leads to good business opportunities. A man invites him to start planting a banana garden in a median in the road so the two spend some time gardening and chatting while not a car moves around them. In the midst of traffic hell the man sees his car as an air-conditioned oasis. In the end, the narrator learns that his wife is pregnant, when their last sexual encounter also took place in the car during heavy traffic. And his reactions is priceless:

I gasp, go cold like a log for a second or two before shouting hurray to myself- Chaiyo! Chaiyo! She vomits into the plastic bag. The noise and smell do not bother me at all. I merely want to leap out of my car and cry out:

“My wife is pregnant! Do you hear? She’s pregnant! We did it on the road.”

If you’re looking for just a taste of Thai literary style, I recommend this anthology. For someone like me, who wants to read more when she finds an author whose style she likes, you might also find this anthology one big tease. The short stories and poems do a very good job of introducing modern aspects and themes of Thai life to the newly acquainted reader.

Hooray, my first book review of 2014! I’m proud to say that I’ve already finished my second book as well. Expect another review in the next couple days.

Five Best Books of 2013

This was a very hard year for me personally, but I’m happy to say it was a great reading year. Ever since graduating from university I’ve found more and more time to devote to reading and I feel so much better when books are a significant part of my laugh. I was hard to choose a favorites list from this year’s reads, but I tried. (Note: these are in no kind of order.)


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If I had to pick a favorite book of 2013, After Dark would definitely be near the top, if not at the very top of the list. This was the last novel I read in my Murakami binge and it was such a unique and special experience. After Dark is not only different from any other novel I’ve read, but it’s very different from all of Murakami’s other novels.

ugChoosing two books by the same author seems biased but 2013 was very much a Year of Murakami for me as I read eight of his works in one year. I’ve chosen Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche because I almost never read nonfiction, but somehow this became one of my top three favorite Murakami works. Not only is the content interesting but the way Murakami organizes and tells the stories involved in the gas attack is interesting.

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I “discovered” Mo Yan towards the end of 2013 and tackled Sandalwood Death as my first taste of his work. As the story was centered around a method of torture I was a little hesitant and I little excited to see how it’d turn out. I fell in love with Mo Yan’s style through this novel and have a stack of others waiting for me to read.

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Another author I read a lot of this year was Ursula K. Le Guin. I was already a fan of her Earthsea cycle and decided to read all of the books in her Hainish cycle, which were more science fiction where Earthsea was fantasy. I enjoyed all of the books and short stories immensely, but The Left Hand of Darkness was definitely my favorite.

ewWhy did I do this to myself? A friend told me about Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series and he was so enthusiastic that I just had to try it out. Now I’m hooked and have fourteen massive fantasy novels to read (I should be excited, I know). I’ve already purchased the second and third book and hopefully next year I can finish both.

New Books! December 30, 2013

This year I received a few books as Christmas presents and I thought I’d share them here. I love it when people buy me books and granted these were ones I requested specifically, I was really touched.

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I’ve been wanting to read Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series for a long time now because I love Greek mythology. If I enjoy these I fully intend to read his Egyptian and Roman themed series as well!

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A professor introduced me to House of Leaves years ago during my days in undergrad. I’m absolutely fascinated with the style and format of the writing and look forward to tackling this monster.

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Okay, technically I bought myself these by they arrived around Christmas so we’ll call them presents to myself. I posted about these new additions to my Thai literature collection a few weeks ago and have already read and reviewed Many Lives.

I hope all of you out there enjoyed your holidays!

Many Lives by Kukrit Pramoj

many-lives-m-r-kukrit-pramoj-paperback-cover-artTitleMany Lives
Author: Kukrit Pramoj
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 3/5

Many Lives is a short novel by Thai author Kukrit Pramoj, who was not only a renowned author but a politician, the thirteenth Prime Minister of Thailand, an actor and a scholar. Pramoj was inspired to write this novel when he passed by a terrible accident on the road. Bodies lay along the side of the street and he wondered who each of those people were and how they all had come to die in such a terrible way in the same place and time. Originally this novel was supposed to be written by Pramoj and his author friends, but when his friends became indecisive he decided to take on the project on his own. The result is this touching and eye-opening novel which tells the life stories of eleven victims of a passenger boat accident.

At the beginning of the novel the undefined narrator asks, “Could each have carried the same weight of heinous karma?” Karma is the Buddhist belief that the actions of your previous lives will affect your current one. If you were a bad person in your old life, you are doomed to suffer in this life. Each of the characters- a thief, monk, prostitute, prince, actor, daughter, writer, mother, soldier, rich girl and doctor- meet their end at entirely different points in their lives after experiencing entirely different things up to that point. Pramoj writes in the epilogue:

All that most of us ordinary mortals, who are not the Lord Brahma, can see if just one thing: which is that death, so much feared by us all, can in some cases be a dreadful punishment for wrongdoing, in some cases a reward for virtue; in others, the solution to a problem, or in still others, a healing balm for a wound unable to be healed by any other means.

So, in a way, Pramoj answers his original question. You cannot assume that a person’s death came as a result of bad karma, and even if it did, death might for that person be not such a bad thing. There is no one way to view death; there are as many kinds of death as there are people in the world.

On a scholarly level, I loved this novel. The wide variety of characters provided a fascinating look into Thai life in the 1950s in all its forms. I especially enjoyed that Pramoj told a story from the point of view of a monk. All Thai boys at some point in their lives become monks in order to make merit. The merit is not only for himself but for his entire family, and will help them all obtain better status in their next lives. Buddhist monastic life and philosophy is extremely interesting and and integral part of understanding Thai society.

Some of Pramoj’s characters, however, rubbed me the wrong way, in particular the way he portrayed the “bad” characters and some of the women. In the story of the bandit, Pramoj writes him off as being evil from the moment he was born. He had no chance to become a functioning member of society and was destined to bring pain to everyone around him. He hurt and killed without a bit of remorse without any tangible, understandable reason for why his personality developed this way. I’m extremely uncomfortable with anyone saying that a person could simply be born this way without there being any external influences. The second character I took real issue with was the prostitute, who was of course a woman, and who Pramoj expects us to believe gets sold into prostitution and then for the rest of her life only sees her body as a way to make money. She is totally consumed by her obsession with making money, which is supposedly a result of her growing up in poverty. At least Pramoj creates a reason behind this behavior, but again I am uncomfortable with how Pramoj gave this character very little depth.

All in all, I recommend this novel. Though set in the 1950s, much of the social classes in Many Lives still exist in some form today. I especially recommend it for getting a taste of the lives lead by Buddhist monks and Thai royalty, whose lives are unique in Thai society.

If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino

374233Title: If on a winter’s night a traveler
Author: Italo Calvino
Genre: Fiction/Metafiction
Rating: 5/5

A reader sits down to start reading Italo Calvino’s latest novel. He gets through a single chapter only to find blank pages where the second should be. The pattern repeats throughout the novel in an obvious production error, so the Reader gives up and plans to take the book back to the bookstore the next morning. There we meet a second Reader, a woman named Ludmilla who is passionate about reading and is exchanging the same novel.  The shopkeeper explains to them that not only were there novels faulty, the actual story was not even Calvino’s but an insertion of a different novel by a different author. Already engrossed in the story, both Readers decide to buy a proper copy of this new novel instead. When they resume reading that night, they find that this new novel has absolutely no relation to the one they’ve started.

Thus starts the two Readers’ adventure to try and secure an ending to one of the countless novels they encounter. The story is divided between the actions and thoughts of the original reader and the chapters of what he reads throughout his journey. He travels to distant lands, encounters numerous readers with vastly different opinions on reading and becomes embroiled in literary conspiracies,  all in pursuit of being able to finally finish just one novel.

I gave this novel the subgenre metafiction because it’s an important factor to note when deciding whether or not to read it. As with all of Calvino’s works, the plot of this story is far from linear or anything you’d expect from your average story. This novel is fiction about fiction (the meaning of the term metafiction), and urges the actual reader (though the character readers do this as well) to think about reading and all of the varieties of reading that exist in the world. Why do you read? What do you look for in a novel? What is the most important thing you aim to get out of reading? This novel brushes on the topic of the writer as well, but primarily this story displays the vast diversity of readers and kinds of reading. The writing is witty and at times mind-teasing, but you’ll find that you learn a lot about yourself as you follow the path of the Reader.

As I read I found numerous points of inspiration which I plan to share as a series of quotes to get us all thinking about our reading using Calvino’s amazing language.