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WEEKLY BOOKS - THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY
I have been meaning to read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society for months. When I was pregnant and my sister was visiting, she bought the book for a friend and I started reading it then but never really got into it. So I shied away from picking it up for months but last week I decided it was finally time.

As it turns out, it was absolutely delightful. I loved the format of letters written back and forth among multiple characters and the stories and the characters were very colorful, lovable and fun to watch.

Had I known it was sort of about the second world war, I would likely have not touched it at all. It was a relatively small part of the book tone-wise but still anything about that bothers me. In the end, I am glad I read it and would highly recommend this pithy yet quick read.

November 30, 2009 | link | literature | share[]


WEEKLY BOOKS - THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE
What a great book The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie was! A fantastic job writing from a young girl's point of view. Wonderful details. As someone who also loves chemistry, what a delightful character. What a great plot. I really enjoyed every single moment of this story.

I think I read about this book in Wendy Smedley's blog and I wrote down the name and decided that it looked like fun. I am not the type to read mysteries all that often (I don't really read much genre fiction at all) but this one was truly magnificent. Mostly because the characters were well thought out and kept the whole story going. Highly recommended.

November 23, 2009 | link | literature | share[]


WEEKLY BOOKS - OLIVE KITTERIDGE
After John Irving, I wanted something less dense but I was also hooked on high quality and didn't want something too light. In comes Olive Kitteridge. I've wanted to read this book for a while and have read and wrote briefly about her previous novel. I don't even like short stories but the only one I remember liking was similar to this in that it was a collection of linked stories.

I must like that because I get the chance to get to know a character deeply almost like a novel. These stories were all full quiet sorrow but I loved them. They made me think. They made me think a lot, actually. I really, really enjoyed this book and devoured it quite quickly. Highly recommended.



November 15, 2009 | link | literature | share[]


WEEKLY BOOKS - LAST NIGHT IN TWISTED RIVER
I am a huge John Irving fan. I've read almost every single novel he wrote. Like most of his other fans, I'm sure, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Cider House Rules, and The World According to Garp top my list of favorites. And if I were being completely honest, I'd also say that I didn't like The Fourth Hand at all. It just wasn't up to Irving's amazing caliber.

Until I Find You also wasn't a major favorite of mine. So when I found out about Last Night in Twister River I was mixed. Oh not true. I wasn't at all. There was no doubt I was reading it. But I really really hoped it was like the older Irving work.

And you know what? It was!

It was it was it was. This was a dense, fascinating, epic novel. I loved it. Not as much as the other three maybe but really loved it.

Thank you John Irving.

November 12, 2009 | link | literature | share[]


WEEKLY BOOKS - THE KNITTING CIRCLE
I picked up The Knitting Circle pretty randomly. I wanted something lighter and quicker to read.

Well it was quicker. But not lighter.

As it turned out, this book is about a mom whose five year old daughter just died from meningitis. The story is personal cause the author herself just recently lost her own daughter. And this book was well written.

But it was so painful. So so dreadfully sad. Having an almost-five year old myself, I couldn't stop imagining the worst and kept getting freaked out over and over again. I am not sure it was a good idea to read it.

It did, however, make me want to knit again. The soothing, repetitive motion is quite calming.

I must also say that the woman who taught me to knit was nothing like the store owner in this story. She was unwelcoming and snotty. All in all, I would say do not read this unless you're into really sad stories.

On to John Irving. I love him.

October 31, 2009 | link | literature | share[]


WEEKLY BOOKS - THE HELP
Honestly, when I first decided to read The Help I was a little traumatized by the fact that my reader said it was over 1,000 pages. After last week's reading marathon, I wasn't sure I could finish this one on time.

I was so wrong.

This is one of the best books I've read in a long long time. Absolutely fantastic writing, gripping plot and I cared for each of the characters so much that I couldn't put the book down for a second. I really wish it went on for another thousand pages. It was that good.

The changing of the points of view was smooth and wonderfully executed. It's almost impossible to believe this is her first novel. It's about a world I know almost nothing about and I think that's what made it even more compelling to me.

I would highly recommend this book. Truly.

On to next week's book. Something smaller but doesn't look like it will be lighter.

October 24, 2009 | link | literature | share[]


WEEKLY BOOKS - HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY
I seem to have a lot of trouble beginning a book. It takes me a while to dive into it and the first fifty or so pages are always a challenge. For this reason, I used to make sure that I was in the middle of a book when I knew I was taking a long flight.

One of the rare exceptions to this was on a trip Jake and I took from NYC to Istanbul. I had checked out several books from the library and hadn't begun any of them. The Time Traveler's Wife was one of them. It was huge and I am not even sure why I thought it was a good idea to bring it in my carry-on. But I am so glad I did. I opened the first page when we took off and did not close the book until I was finished. And, if you've read it you might know that it's quite a thick book. I could not put it down. It was amazing and incredibly unique.

So, when I heard the wonderful author had a new book, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I'll have to admit that this one was harder to get into. It might be because I wasn't in a confined space. Or because I now have two kids. One of which needs to nurse quite often. Either way, I made it to the weekend having only read forty pages of the book.

Determined as I tend to be, I decided I would read the book this weekend. And I just finished it. All 704 pages. And I loved it. While the book wasn't nearly as magnificent and as unique as the other one (it is really impossible to do that again I imagine) it was very interesting and worth the read. I liked the characters. I loved the descriptive narrative (which I am not usually fond of). I was interested in the characters though I would have liked a few of them to be a bit more three-dimensional. But honestly, I really loved the book and am still glowing from its dream world.

It was a splendid way to spend my weekend.

October 18, 2009 | link | literature | share[]


WEEKLY BOOKS - JULIET, NAKED
When I heard Nick Hornby was coming out with a new book, I preordered the minute I could. And Juliet, Naked did not disappoint. I'll admit, I love Hornby and while I wasn't a huge fan of A Long Way Down, I've loved all of his books. I love his style. His humor. His ability to take a serious subject and inject a lot of humor and emotion into it. Noone can do that like Hornby.

And this book is no exception. Its characters are well thought-out, interesting, relateable, and their story is worth reading.

I enjoyed this book so much I am not even sure what to pick for next week.

October 10, 2009 | link | literature | share[]


WEEKLY BOOKS - THE BOOK THIEF
Sometimes a book keeps showing up everywhere I turn. The Book Thief was one of those books. I saw it in several blogs I read and week after week, it just kept showing up. So I decided it was time to read it. Had I known what it was about, I wouldn't have even added it to my list.

I don't read books that take place during the second world war. Ever. The only exceptions to this were "The Reader" which I did love and a book I read in Turkish a while ago written by a survivor. I have watched Schindler's List and Life is Beautiful. In the case of the latter, after the movie ended, I wept in the theater for almost an hour. This topic gets under my skin. I am not ordinarily very religious but I cannot stand reading about the second world war. So I err on the side of not even picking such books up.

But I had picked this one up and when I found out what it was about (my sister told me) I decided to put it right back down. But my sister insisted. It's really amazing she said. My friend literally couldn't put it down. She read the whole thing in one day. So I read on.

It was terrible. Not the book, mind you. The book is odd but well-written and the story is touching and personal and so human. That's what makes it that much worse. Because, of course, the story is terribly sad. So many horrible things happen. So many people die. And there's so much destruction.

I just don't have the stomach for this much sorrow. To see how incredibly cruel humans can be. Life is hard enough as it is, I don't need my books to be this sad. I really don't.

Well, one more book finished. My pick for next week is an author I adore and I hope it's a happy story.

October 04, 2009 | link | literature | share[]


WEEKLY BOOKS - LOVE WALKED IN
Quite a few months ago, I read the sequel to this book without realizing it was a sequel. I didn't dislike the book but I also didn't think it was anything special. At least that's how I remember feeling when I read Belong To Me. Had I known this book was the prequel, I might have never read Love Walked In.

I am so glad I had no idea.

This is, by far, one of the most touching and wonderful books I've read. The characters are interesting and well-developed. But that's not why. The story is touching and beautiful. But that's not why either. The reason this book spoke to me so much, so deeply is because of all the emotion in it and how well it's expressed. All the attention the two main characters pay to life, to their emotions and to the others. The way it's expressed so carefully, so eloquently, and so well.

Here's a small example: What she came to what that even if someone wasn't perfect or even especially good, you couldn't dismiss the love they felt. Love was always love, it has a rightness all its own, even if the person feeling the love was full of wrongness.

So simply stated yet such a strong sentiment and so eloquently put.

I felt so much love, so many emotions at the surface of this book that I adored every single minute of it. I almost want to go back and reread Belong To Me now that I know these characters.

September 26, 2009 | link | literature | share[]


WEEKLY BOOKS - THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
I have mixed feelings about this book. Maybe cause it came with so much hype.

The first chapter was absolutely impossible to read. I tried three times before I could get myself to finish it. The story for the first half of the book was interesting but not amazing. I liked the characters but there were so many of them that I kept losing track and wondered how important it was going to be to remember them all.

For me, the book started getting good halfway through. Once the case started unlocking a bit. But then it got really scary and creepy and I am not such a fan of that. I didn't see it coming at all. I did read the last 500 pages in one sitting and I loved most of the characters.

All in all, I think it was a good book. I'm going to have to sit with it for a week or two to decide what I think.

September 20, 2009 | link | literature | share[]


WEEKLY BOOKS - TWENTIES GIRL
I'm not usually a book snob. I will read anything and everything (except fantasy and horror) but, for some reason, I was snobby about Sophie Kinsella. I am not really a chick lit kinda gal. I hated Bridget Jones' Diary. I am not into shopping, drinking, dancing, and I've been with the same guy for 15 years so I always thought those books just don't speak to me.

But when I was pregnant, I had absolutely no attention span and I really wanted to read. So I grabbed a few of her books and realized that I really liked her style. Her quirky characters who always got into messes that were a size or two too big for them but managed to get out of them eventually.

Her books seem to always have a twist. Not mind-blowing or anything. But interesting and not always fully expected. And Twenties Girl was no exception. It's fun. It's sweet. And a wonderful read.

I am fully willing to admit it. I like Sophie Kinsella's books. They're fun.

September 12, 2009 | link | literature | share[]


READING MORE IN 2009
I've done the book a week thing before. Twice. And both times I loved it. So I want to do it again. I miss reading. A lot.

I am not sure it will work with the baby, David, work, art, and everything else I am trying to do but I'm going to try. So here is my list for the rest of this year. There are more books here than weeks left but I wanted my list a bit bigger in case my mood changes and I want more choices.

  1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
  2. The Devil in the White City
  3. The Black Swan
  4. The Road
  5. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  6. The Art of Racing in the Rain
  7. The Knitting Circle
  8. Julie and Julia
  9. The Book Thief
  10. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
  11. Good in Bed
  12. Twenties Girl
  13. The Girl Who Played with Fire
  14. The Shack
  15. Home Repair?
  16. Love Walked In
  17. The Girl with No Shadow
  18. What I wish I knew when I was 20
  19. The Last Time They Met
  20. The Wonder Spot
  21. The Poisonwood Bible
  22. The Unaccustomed Earth
  23. In the Woods
  24. The wishing year
  25. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
  26. Personal Development for Smart People
  27. Handle with Care

If you have other books to recommend, please tell me. Especially if they are great reads and hard to put down!!

September 04, 2009 | link | literature | share[]


FOUR BOOKS
I'm still reading. Not as fast and not as much, but I am. And each time I do, I remember how much I miss it. How much I love getting lost in another world. Here are a few from the last few weeks:

Ever since I discovered him two years ago, I immediately knew that I could never go wrong with Murakami and A Wild Sheep Chase is no exception. An intriguing, hard to understand book that leaves you with more questions than answers. I loved it nonetheless. There's something about Murakami's style that just speaks to me, I guess.

And then I read The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes. This was a Costco find. I always try to peruse the book aisle at Costco. I take photos of the titles I like and then check them out at amazon and if they still look good, I check them out from the library. This was one of those. It took me a while to get into the story but I did enjoy it quite a bit by the end. I don't know if I would recommend it as much as say that it wasn't a bad read.

Which brings me to the sequels of Twilight. I read Twilight back in January and I have no idea why I waited this long to read the sequels, but I am so glad I finally remembered to check them out. In the last week, I read 1,200 pages and I wish there were more. Many more. These books are really wonderful. The characters are well thought out and far from perfect or typical. The story keeps moving forward constantly. The dialog is far from flat. One can sympathize with each character in a different way. The writing is smooth and doesn't get in the way of the story or the characters.

Reading New Moon and Eclipse made me wish I was writing again. It made me wish I could write such good stories, so well. It must be an amazing feeling to be able to write books that people love to read. Books that are page turners. I absolutely love these books. The fact that they are about vampires, which is something I would never read about and young adult novels, which I also don't read, is just icing on the cake that shows good books are just good books regardless of subject or targeted age group.

April 06, 2008 ~ 16:04 | link | literature | share[]


BALANCING IT ALL
And I remember saying to her, "The show is over by noon. I could be in the car by twelve-thirty and be able to pick up my kids from school every afternoon."

"It's perfect," Elizabeth said again. "It's the perfect balance of family and work." And it seemed it would be. A mid-morning show, four days a week, someone else's signature on it. A show that didn't belong to me - it would give me a certain distance, and the freedom necessary to raise my family. I think this is close to every workingwoman's dream. It's the fantasy that somehow you'll land a gig that allows you to explore your talents without shortchanging your children, a job both big and small to allow you to exist in all your dimensions - domestic, corporate, maternal, artistic.

I've always been a fan of Rosie O'Donnell. I like her rawness. Her honesty. How so much of herself she is. So I was bound to read Celebrity Detox. The most profound parts of the book, for me, were about the struggle between motherhood and self-identity.

There is no such thing as having it all. It does not happen. People who say it does are lying. People who think they have it are wrong. It's just not humanly possible. Each time you do something, you're sacrificing something else. It's just a fact of life. So the trick is to choose how you spend your moments wisely.



TWILIGHT AND BREAKDOWN LANE
As opposed to last year's Christmas vacation, I got a lot less reading (however a lot more scrapping) done this year. The two I managed to read are Twilight and Breakdown Lane. So let's talk about Twilight. I'd read about this one on multiple blogs and thought that there would be no way I'd like it since I don't generally read young adult novels and I definitely don't read anything about vampires. Ever. I really mean ever. Yet I loved this book. It was a lightweight, easy read. Well enough written that it didn't bother me the story was a perfect fit for my mood. I'd sort of hate to admit it, but I did really enjoy reading this book.

I picked up Breakdown Lane because when I absolutely hated Twelve times Blessed, Kim and Cheryl told me to read this one instead. And, man, they were right. I absolutely adored this book. It was depressing as shit. Really, really depressing. And I was so very sick so it only exacerbated my grief. But it was so much better written than the other book that it's hard to believe it was the same writer. The book left me with a lot of thoughts but that's for another day.

I've also read a few scrapping books but that's for another day. I really need some good fiction. Any ideas?



WATER FOR ELEPHANTS
The first time I heard of Water For Elephants was on a beach in Connecticut. We were there for Jake's cousin's wedding and David was running around the beach. I saw this woman reading the book and got it confused with another one and when I realized my mistake, I asked her how it was. She said she was liking it, but didn't seem enthusiastic enough for me to want to place it on my library queue.

A few weeks ago, I was at Kepler's and saw the book again. I decided I wanted to give it a try. I got it from the library three weeks ago and it's been sitting around, waiting to be read. Despite being on vacation, I haven't read much at all in the last three weeks and I was getting worried that something was wrong with me.

Turns out nothing was wrong with me, and everything was wrong with the books I was trying to read. I picked this book up since it was due back in two days and I wanted to at least check it out. And, man, am I glad I did. I read it in two days and loved loved LOVED it. I can't even tell you why. I fell into the story immediately and enjoyed every single minute of it.

Despite the unusual setting, this is a timeless story and fantastic writing. Highly recommended.



PEONY IN LOVE
I absolutely loved Snowflower and the Secret Fan so I was thrilled when I heard about Peony In Love I couldn't wait to read more of Lisa See. Yet, it turns out the book is terrible. I mean it was so bad that I put it down 5 times. I told myself that I had to get to page 100 before I made a final decision and then at page 101, I gave up. It was bad and it got exponentially worse. What a shame it is to see an author, who can obviously do ten times better, write such a mediocre (actually it isn't even mediocre) book.



ON CHESIL BEACH
I've been a fan of Ian McEwan for a few years now and I absolutely loved his previous book, _Saturday_, so when I saw he had a new one, I couldn't wait to pick it up. On Chesil Beach is a tiny book and I read the whole thing in an hour. While the last 5 pages were fantastic, I can't say that for the rest of the book. It was bleh. It went on and on and about something I didn't care too much to read about. I didn't care about the characters enough to care. It was sweet, elegant and a fast read but it was definitely not up to his potential.



BOOKENDS
I had never read a novel by Jane Green before I picked up Bookends I picked it up because one of the staff members at Kepler's recommended it and I dream of starting a book store and so reading a book about that seemed a lot of fun. While she is a really quick read, I wouldn't qualify her as pure chicklit. She's a bit better than that. Her writing is relatively good. Her characters are 2.5 dimensional. I can definitely see myself reading more of her, especially when I need a mental downtime.



AFTER DARK
I have been a huge Murakami fan since I found out about him. Last year, I went through a phase where I read a bunch of his books back to back. So it should come as no surprise that I wanted to read After Hours as soon as it came out. While the book was good and a little weird, it didn't measure up to typical Murakami at all. He is normally so incredibly fantastical and his stories are so involved, so amazing, so mind-blowing that you cannot put the book down. This was an easy read but it wasn't nearly as amazing as most of the other books by him. Yet, I cannot wait for the next one.



DOT DEAD
I must say I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Dot Dead. I brought it with me along a plane ride and finished that same night. I couldn't put it down. It wasn't the best-written book I read but it was certainly enjoyable and sort of surprising at parts. A great book to read on the plane. It's a shame I missed him when he visited Google.



TWELVE TIMES BLESSED AND A THEORY OF RELATIVITY
I have read Mitchard before but I must say, Twelve Times Blessed was one of the worst written books I've ever read. The character is not believable. She is annoying and the whole story is flawed in so many ways that I don't even know where to begin. To be fair, I did get strongly affected by the story and felt deep love for my husband who I swore to appreciate more. I spose one cannot ask for much more from a book.

Having said all of that, I also read A Theory of Relativity and I absolutely loved it. Much more realistic, more interesting. The characters were easier to relate to. The story was still a bit more melodramatic than I would have liked it to be, which is annoying cause it didn't need that extra drama. It was a beautiful enough story as is.



GRACE EVENTUALLY
I absolutely adore, adore, adore Anne Lamott. So it's no surprise that when she came out with a new book, I grabbed Grace Eventually: Thoughts on Faith immediately. I have to admit that this wasn't one of my very favorites of her, but I still loved it. I swallowed it up and felt an inner peace that only she manages to instill in me. I am definitely not a religious person but I still loved her book. Maybe cause I do have faith. Or maybe cause Anne's a fantastic writer.



WITCH OF PORTOBELLO
Paulo Coelho never ceases to amaze me. While his latest, The Witch of Portobello, is a bit weirder than usual in my opinion, it's no less thought provoking than his usual. Here are a few excerpts that spoke to me.

"What is a teacher? I'll tell you: it isn't someone who teaches something, but someone who inspires the student to give of her best in order to discover what she already knows."

...

"I've always been a very restless person. I work hard, spend too much time looking after my son, I dance like a mad thing, I learned calligraphy, I go to courses on selling, I read one book after another. But that's all a way of avoiding those moments when nothing is happening, because those blank spaces give me a feeling of absolute emptiness, in which not a single crumb of love exists. My parents have always done everything they could for me, and I do nothing but disappoint them. But here, during the time we spent together, celebrating nature and the Great Mother, I've realized that those empty spaces were starting to get filled up. They were transformed into pauses - the moment when the man lifts his hand from the drum before bringing it down again to strike hard. I think I can leave now..."

...

Everything is at once so simple and so complicated! It's simple because all it takes is a change of attitude: I'm not going to look for happiness anymore. From now on, I'm independent; I see life through my eyes and not through other people's. I'm going in search of the adventure of being alive.

And it's complicated: Why am I not looking for happiness when everyone has taught me that happiness is the only goal worth pursuing? Why am I going to risk taking a path that no one else is taking?

After all, what is happiness?

Love, they tell me. But love doesn't bring and never has brought happiness. On the contrary, it's a constant state of anxiety, a battlefield; it's sleepless nights, asking ourselves all the time if we're doing the right thing. Real love is composed of ecstasy and agony.

All right then, peace. Peace? If we look at the Mother, she's never at peace. The winter does battle with the summer, the sun and the moon never meet, the tiger chases the man, who's afraid of the dog, who chases the cat, who chases the mouse, who frightens the man.

Money brings happiness. Fine. In that case, everyone who earns enough to have a high standard of living would be able to stop working. But then they're more troubled than ever, as if they were afraid of losing everything. Money attracts money, that's true. Poverty might bring unhappiness, but money won't necessarily bring happiness.

I spent a lot of my life looking for happiness; now what I want is joy. Joy is like sex - it begins and end. I want pleasure. I want to be contended, but happiness? I no longer fall into that trap

.....

Reprogram yourself every minute of each day with thoughts that make you grow. When you're feeling irritated or confused, try to laugh at yourself. Laugh out loud at this woman tormented by doubts and anxieties, convinced that her problems are the most important thing in the world. Laugh at the sheer absurdity of the situation, at the fact that despite being a manifestation of the Mother, you still believe God is a man who lays down the rules. Most of our problems stem from just that - from following rules.

....

"...Like love for example. People either feel it or they don't, and there isn't a force in the world that can make them feel it. We can pretend that we love each other. We can get used to each other. We can live a whole lifetime of friendship and complicity, we can bring up children, have sex every night, reach orgasm, and still feel that there's a terrible emptiness about it all, that something important is missing."


July 22, 2007 ~ 01:07 | link | literature | share[]


MORE BOOKS: THE GREAT, THE NOT-SO-GREAT, AND THE SO-SO
I've been trying hard to read a book a week again. Some weeks I do well, and others, not as well. But reading is really important to me. It's my way of recharging, escaping, learning and growing. So I am working to feed this need. I wanted to make sure to track all the books I've read. So here's a post about my last few books that I haven't posted about.

Marley and Me was a book I'd been meaning to read for a long, long time. I finally checked it out a few months ago and was mostly disappointed. Maybe that's why I'd been putting it off for a long time. I sort of had a hunch that it wouldn't be great. I can't even put my finger on what I didn't like about it and it was heart-warming and all that. It just didn't do it for me.

Once I discovered Picault, you knew I was going to read so very much more of her, and of course, I did. I first read Vanishing Acts and wasn't nearly as impressed as I'd been with My Sister's Keeper. I wondered if that book was an anomaly, an exceptional book, a formula that can't be repeated. I wasn't sure but I so badly didn't want it to be true. This is not to say I didn't like Vanishing Acts. It was so-so. If I hadn't already read the other one, I probably would have loved it. But I'd seen what she was capable of and I wanted more. So much more.

So then I picked up Ninteeen Minutes which was fabulous. Made me feel good about Jodi Picoult again. The story was gripping and even though I knew there would be a twist at the end, I was still surprised and loved every moment of reading this story. Kudos to any writer who can take a really difficult issue like school shootings and making an amazing story out of it so it's about how hard it is to be yourself. How much we need to fit in. How much it can hurt to be teased and mercilessly made fun of. People who haven't had the abuse on that level can never understand how life-changing and soul-changing it can be. This book illustrates it wonderfully from many points of view. All interesting. Still not as good as My Sister's Keeper but quite a fantastic book.

I can't even remember where I read about Welcome to Oz but I am glad I did. The techniques shown by the author look easy here but they are not. I loved all the details about the light and the black and white techniques. Shows me that I have a long, long way to go before I can call myself a Photoshop connoisseur. I love his effects. I love his patience. I love his work. The drama, the story, the color. It's all quite wonderful. This is one book, I've checked out multiple times just to make sure I can master his skills.

The Palo Alto library has a special section reserved for new books and when I go in to checkout a hold, I always try to visit this section, just to see. That's how I discovered The Lavender Hour and while I wouldn't call it literature, it was a wonderful read. I loved the writing, the story, and the characters. Controversial topic, maybe, but mostly just a love story. If you need an easy, little book, this one isn't the worst choice.

Some Nerve was another pick from the library's new books section. It's nothing special. Easy, quick read about a gossip magazine writer who tries to write about an actor, can't and gets fired. Returns back to her hometown, only to find that the same author is checked into the hospital where she volunteers. Isn't that a lovely coincidence? Life's full of them. But books have even more. Not the worst book I've ever read but also not the best. A sweet, little book.

The Life You Longed For was creepy, scary and a blazing fast read. The worst possible subject ever: a mother hurting her kid, taken to an even more terrible level: not actually hurting the kid but accused of doing so. This is a perfect example of how good intentions can go bad and ruin lives and be the wrong thing to do. It sad, scary and very engrossing.

I read Still Life with Husband really quickly, which would normally imply that I loved it. Fact is, when I finished, I didn't know how I felt about it. It took me a couple of days to really hate the book. Now, I am pretty certain, I absolutely abhorred it. Terrible story. No plot worth mentioning. Unrealistic, stupid ending. No empathy or even sympathy towards the characters. Just could not enjoy this book.

Dark Oval was another really fast read. About loss and sadness. The idea of losing Jake is so tremendously scary to me that I wanted to be finished with this book quickly just so I didn't have to think about the possibility of his death. Life can be depressing, ironic and so very frustrated. I thought this book was realistic. Depressing but realistic and a wonderful read.

Considering the fact that The Kite Runner was my favorite book of 2005, it was predictable that I would buy his second book the second it came out. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a wonderful, wonderful story. While it can never be as good as Kite Runner, this one has its own special place since it's about women and not men. It's about the friendship of two otherwise very different women. It's touching, thought-provoking, depressing, heart-wrenching. It's amazing how much he can educate his readers about Afghanistan without any preaching or anything boring. I'm from the area, I normally dont' enjoy reading stories about the Middle East. But he is an exception. I love his books. I devour them. I can't wait until the next one.

July 16, 2007 ~ 00:07 | link | literature | share[]


MY SISTER'S KEEPER
Next to my family, my favorite way to spend time is to read. With the exception of horror and fantasy, I read and enjoy almost every kind of book. But every now and then there's that one book that comes along and stops my whole life. When I find one of those, nothing else much matters. I completely fall into the story. I take the book with me to the bathroom. I take it in the car. I read it while I am waiting for the microwave. I read it as I walk from room to room. I don't put it down for a second. I am so engulfed in these characters' lives that I don't want to miss a moment of it.

Today was one of those days and My Sister's Keeper was that book. I can't even remember why I put this book on hold. I think I saw it at Walmart (in one of the very rare occasions I sadly visited this establishment whose politics and employee treatment I vehemently oppose) and I had heard of the Jodi Picoult many times before and wanted to read her. I can't tell you what made me pick up the book last night over the 22 books I have checked out. But I can tell you that since I picked it up, I didn't put it down until I finished it. I spent a good time crying afterwards just to get all the pent up emotion out.

Jodi Picoult has a way with words. Not only does she create the most relatable characters, but she knows how to take emotions and wrap them around such simple, natural words that you wonder why no one else thought to express that emotion in that exact way before. It's like you know exactly what she means.

This story is tragic. It's horrifying. It's a situation no parent ever wants to be in. From the outside, you can take sides, you can judge. But when you see the story from all the points of view, you can see the conundrum so well. You know there's no easy answer here. Even from the very beginning, you know it's not going to end well. But still, like the parents, you keep hoping. But the author doesn't disappoint. She doesn't cop out. She doesn't create a Hollywood ending. To the contrary, all the way to the very twist at end, the story holds true to its point.

Life is too short and no one gets to have a say at how things turn out.

April 01, 2007 ~ 22:04 | link | literature | share[]


COYOTE BLUE
When I read A Dirty Job back in January (or was it December?), I loved it so much that I wanted to read more Christopher Moore right away. So I checked out another book by him (The Stupidest Angel) and was really frustrated by how much I didn't like it. A few months ago, I wanted to give it another try, so I checked out Coyote Blue. The book was funny and overall I enjoyed it. However, in the end, it lacked the un-put-downable-ness of A Dirty Job. I want to read more by him cause I do like his unique sense of humor, but I am not sure which of his books to pick up next...

April 01, 2007 ~ 21:04 | link | literature | share[]


FIVE BOOKS: BERG AND QUINDLEN
We Are All Welcome Here is Elizabeth Berg's newest novel. (There's a newer one coming out in May.) I am a huge fan of hers and was thrilled to find this book at the library. To be honest, it wasn't a favorite of mine. While I thought the story was beautiful and touching, it wasn't as strong as many of her others. Berg has a distinct skill of writing about women and not making it cheesy or fluffy.

Three little books from Anna Quindlen, another powerful and strong female author: Peing Perfect, How Reading Changed My Life and A short Guide to a Happy Life. I was interested in all of these books but didn't want to pay the list price for such a small book that I knew would be an hour read.

Thanks to the Palo Alto Library, I finally got my hands on them and was able to read the lovely little stories which really should have been essays and not books of their own. To be fair, the reading book did recommend many awesome books to me that I love.

And finally I just finished Anna Quindlen's latest book, Rise and Shine. Since the story was about two sisters and took place in New York, I really looked forward to reading it. Quindlen is a fantastic author so, of course, the book wasn't bad. However, it wasn't great either. I felt that she has done and could have done a lot better. The characters were just not three-dimensional enough. I didn't feel sympathetic towards either of the sisters and felt like some of the major plot points were either implausible or unnecessarily dramatic. I had a pretty hard time getting into the story and I kept waiting for it to get more interesting and for something to happen. And when it finally did, I compeltely didn't believe it. It felt like a cop-out. However, when I got to the end of the book, the last two lines spoke to the core of the story and made me remember why I love her so much.

Another fantastic female author and one of my very favorites is Jane Smiley. And I am delighted that I'll be getting to hear her talk this week (cross fingers). Now I need a new book by Anne Tyler and I will be all set.

March 04, 2007 ~ 21:03 | link | literature | share[]


THE DEVIL AND MISS PRYM
I am a huge fan of Paulo Coelho. I have read most of his novels and found every one of them to be thought provoking and un-putdownable. And The Devil and Miss Prym was no exception. I read the entire novel in a day and loved every moment of it. This one is an interesting study of human morality. Or lack thereof. Books with this topic always make me think of Lord of the Flies which I think is the ultimate story of human nature.

Playing the part of a charitable soul was only for those who were afraid of taking a stand in life. It is always far easier to have faith in your own goodness than to confront others and fight for your rights. It is always easier to hear an insult and not retaliate than have the courage to fight back against someone stronger than yourself; we can always say we're not hurt by the stones others throw at us, and it's only at night - when we're alone and our wife our husband or our school friend is asleep - that we can silently grieve over our own cowardice.

...

Not a single voice in the crowd was raised against the choice. The mayor was glad because they had accepted his authority; but the priest knew that this could be a good or a bad sign, because silence does not always mean consent - usually all it meant was that people were incapable of coming up with an immediate response. If someone did not agree, they would later torture themselves with the idea that they had accepted without really wanting to, and the consequences of that would be grave.


There's something about Paulo Coelho that I completely connect with and I cannot describe in words.

March 04, 2007 ~ 20:03 | link | literature | share[]


THE PARADOX OF CHOICE
I can't even remember where I read about Paradox of Choice. All in all, it wasn't the most interesting book I read. I flipped through a lot of the pages but did read many passages with a lot of interesting thoughts. There are a lot of passages from this one and honestly each deserve their own posts, but I figure let's document this first, I can always come back to them.

Participants in a laboratory study were asked to listen to a pair of very loud, unpleasant noises played through headphones. One noise lasted for eight seconds. The other lasted sixteen. The first eighteen seconds of second noise were identical to the first noise, whereas the second eight seconds, while still loud and unpleasant, were not as loud. Later, the participants, were told that they would have to listen to one of the noises again, but that they could choose which one. Clearly, the second to be repeated. Why? Because whereas both noises were unpleasant and had the same aversive peak, the second had a less unpleasant end, and so was remembered as less annoying than the first.

...

When asked about what they regret the most in the last six months, people tend to identify actions that didn't meet expectations. But when asked about what they regret the most when they look back on their lives as a whole, people tend to identify failures to act. In the short run, we regret a bad educational choice, whereas in the long run, we regret a missed educational opportunity. In the short run, we regret a broken romance, whereas in the long run, we regret a missed romantic opportunity. So it seems that we don't close the psychological door on decisions we've made, and as time passes, what we've failed to do looms larger and larger.

...

The fundamental significance of having control was highlighted in a study of three-month-old infants done more than thirty years ago. Infants in one group - those who had control - were placed in a faceup in an ordinary crib with their heads on a pillow. Mounted on the crib was a translucent umbrella, with figures of various animals dangling from the springs inside. These figures were not visible to the infants, but if the infants turned their heads on the pillows, a small light would go on behind the umbrella, making the "dancing" figures visible for a little while. Then the light would go off. When the infants did turn their heads, just by chance, and turned on the light and saw the dancing figures, hey showed interest, delight, and excitement. They quickly learned to keep the figures visible by turning their heads, and they kept on doing so, again and again. They also continued to show delight at the visual spectacle. Other infants in the study got a "free ride." Whenever a "control" infant turned on the light behind the umbrella in its crib, that action also turned on the light behind the umbrella in the crib of another infant. So these other infants got to see the dancing figures just as often and for just as long as their controlling partners did. Initially, these infants showed just as much delight in the dancing figures. But their interest quickly waned. They adapted.

...

People do differ in the types of predispositions they display. "Optimists" explain success with chronic, global, and personal causes and failures with transient, specific, and universal ones. "Pessimists" do the reverse. Optimists say things like "I got an A" and "She gave me a C." Pessimists say things like "I got a C" and "He gave me an A." And it is the pessimists who are candidates for depression. When these predispositions are assessed in people who are not depressed, the predispositions predict who will become depressed when failures occur. People who find chronic causes for failure expect failures to persist: those who find transient causes don't. People who find global causes for failure expect failure to follow them into every area of life; those who find specific causes don't. And people who find personal causes for failure suffer large losses in self-esteem; those who find universal causes don't.

...

I think the power of nonreversible decisions comes through most clearly when we think abut our most important choices. A friend once told me how his minister had shocked the congregation with a sermon on marriage in which he said flatly that, yes, the grass is always greener. What he meant was that, inevitably, you will encounter people who are younger, better looking, funnier, smarter, or seemingly more understanding and empathetic than your wife or husband. But finding a life partner is not a matter of comparison shopping and "trading up." The only way to find happiness and stability in the presence of seemingly attractive and tempting options is to say, "I'm simply not going there. I've made my decision about a life partner, so this person's empathy or that person's good looks really have nothing to do with me. I'm not in the market - end of story." Agonizing over whether your love is "the real thing" or your sexual relationship above or below par, and wondering whether you could have done better is a prescription for misery, Knowing that you've made a choice that you will not reverse allows you to pour your energy into improving the relationship that you have rather than consistently second-guessing it.

...

As the number of choices we face increases, freedom of choice eventually becomes a tryanny of choice. Routine decisions take so much time and attention that it becomes difficult to get through the day. In circumstances like this, we should learn to view limits on the possibilities we face as liberating not constraining. Society provides rules, standards, and norms for making choices, and individual experience creates habits. By deciding to follow a rule (for example, always wear a seat belt; never drink more than two glasses of wine in one evening), we avoid having to make a deliberate decision again and again. This kind of rule-following frees up time and attention that can be devoted to thinking about choices and decisions to which rules don't apply.

Lots of food for thought.

March 04, 2007 ~ 20:03 | link | literature | share[]


MORE AND MORE BOOKS
Ok, so I am not doing so great on the "post more" resolution. But I am working on it, I promise.

I've also read a bunch lately. I wanted to start with something easy so I grabbed Good Grief which has been sitting on my shelf for several months. It was as chick-litty as it looks but at least not superficial like some of the other stuff out there so it was a good combination of easy reading but not too unlikeable.

Then I moved on to The Lovely Bones which I have purposely been putting off for years. I hadn't been prepared for the raw horror of it. And I knew it was a great book but didn't think I wanted to read it. So I finally did and it was horrible. The book was very well written and I read it in one gulp. However the story itself was as bone-chilling as I worried it would be and I got as affected as I thought I would be. So much so that I had to watch some really silly TV before I'd sleep at night so as to not go to bed with the book in my mind. I know Alice Sebold has another great book but until she stops writing about rape, I am not reading another one of her stories.

Then I moved to my very trusted source of AskMe and as usual, they didn't let me down. I started with the recommendation of Christoper Moore and the Palo Alto library had A Dirty Job available immediately so I started with that. And I loved it. I swallowed the whole book in a day! I loved the subject matter. I loved his writing style. It was hilarious and I generally am not known for my sense of humor! I have since checked out another Moore book and let's see if he's consistent.

I have also checked out 32 other books that I am supposedly going to read in the next three weeks. I figure if I read another three that will be major progress.



NOW DISCOVER YOUR STRENGTHS
Another pre-work book I read was Now Discover Your Strengths. Recommended by many and an interesting read. Especially in this way:

This fixation with weakness is deeply rooted in out education and upbringing. We presented parents with this scenario: Say your child returns home with the following grades: and A in English, an A in social studies, a C in biology, and and F in algebra. Which of these grades would you spend the most time discussing with your son or daughter? Seventy-seven percent of parents chose to focus on the F in algebra, only 6 percent on the A in English, and an even more minuscule number, 1 percent, on the A in social studies. Obviously, the algebras grade requires some attention because to progress in school and secure a place at a college or university the child cannot to fail a subject. But the question was phrased carefully: Which of these grades would you spend the most time discussing with your son or daughter? Despite the demands of today's education system, does the most time really deserve to be invested in the child's weakness?

It's quite amazing but totally accurate that we tend to concantrate on our weaknesses and how to make them better instead of using our strengths to circumvent the weaker areas.

Here are a few more I've read since I last posted:

Recommended by a friend: Paypal Wars was a very badly written but really interesting read. Quite interesting to see how many times they came close to closing up shop and how many stupid business decisions were made and how strongly they depended on paypal.

And, of course, The Long Tail. Interesting and thought-provoking read and worthwhile for anyone who doesn't understand the difference between online and offline retail and the potential in both. There are many, many people in the world and their tastes and interests vary drastically.



NOT FADE AWAY
So there are a few drafts I had left in my inbox before I started working at Google. I am going to try to post those (all have to do with books) first. I found out about Not Fade Away in someone's blog and decided to pick it up. I read the whole book in one day and enjoyed it very much. Here are a few quotes that really spoke to me:

And this, unfortunately, brings me to one of the most excruciating incidents of my childhood - one of those awful moments, totally trivial in itself, that you literally spent your whole life getting over. I tell this story as a plea to parents, coaches, teachers: For God's sake, be careful what you say when a child messes up!

This is one of my biggest pet-peeves. Parents who speak without thinking, parents who think their children have the same sensitivity level they have. Parents who scar you forever.

It would have been easy to finish that degree - easier than bolting. With the degree in hand, it would have been easier for me to land a job with one of the status quo watchdogs that with anybody else. Once I had the job, it would have been easier to amend my own beliefs that to change the organization.

Thus, by increments so exquisitely gradual that they might have just passed unnoticed, I could have ended up being totally untrue to myself and living a life I hated. Twenty years later, I might have had a closet full of suits, a passport full of visas, and and irreparable feeling that I'd really blown it.


Another beautifully poignant point. It's sad and amazing how quickly and quietly we lose control of our lives. How we wake up suddenly, years later, and we can't remember why we are where we are and how we got there. How easy it is to take the next easy step without thinking why and whether it's still a step on your eventual destination (assuming you still remember your eventual destination.)

It's funny, in a way - our society warns us about the temptations of wealth and power, about the slender chances of a rich man getting into Heaven. But poverty has its pitfalls, too. Too little dough can erode a person's ethics and values just as easily as too much.





THE ARITHMETIC OF LIFE
I actually read The Arithmetic of Life before Hardboiled Wonderland but forgot to put it up. Found this book on the recommendation of the O'Reilly radar. Within a day, the book went from being around 300,000th on Amazon's rank to 3,000th. None of the bookstores around Palo Alto carried it, so I used this occasion to enroll into the Palo Alto library system and got the book within minutes and read it in hours. I found the articles interesting and thought-provoking - albeit a bit repetitive. The writer *really* hates the Congress and makes sure we know it often. Overall, this book is a great read for those who say math isn't useful in their daily lives. The articles are short, easy to read, easy to relate to and even entertaining.



LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA
After having read 100 Years of Solitude in one day, I was looking forward to reading Love in the Time of Cholera. A good friend of mine had said that, of the two, this was her favorite and I enjoyed 100 Years so much that I couldn't imagine how much better it could get. Maybe that's why, it took me a few years to get the book and finally start reading it.

I started it in Turkey but I was so tired and sick that I kept having to put it down. When we got home, I took a break to get over jet lag and I finally managed to sit and read a large chunk of it in one sitting, which is when the book got good. Despite its beautiful story, interesting characters and fantastic writing, I didn't enjoy this nearly as much as 100 Years of Solitude. When I finished the book, I did have a wonderful, satisfied feeling, but I wasn't as blown away with this story and I had been with the previous. It wasn't as epic and magical.

Still, it was a beautiful story and a beautiful book.



THE ULTIMATE GIFT
My sister gave me a Turkish translation of The Ultimate Gift when I was visiting her. Normally, I don't read these books anymore. Mostly because I read tons of them at some point in my life and I feel like I want to take a break from all the advice-giving text. But since she gave it to me and jet lag was preventing me from reading anything that requires a lot of attention, I gave it a try. I struggled a lot with the Turkish translation since it was so obvious that the translator didn't make any effort to make it sound more Turkish. Some of the phrases were direct translations and didn't make much sense in Turkish.

The "gifts" were relatively obvious to me but I did like a few of them, especially the idea of the Golden List. Overall, I thought it was an okay read but I don't know that I would have missed much if I hadn't read the book.



HARDBOILED WONDERLAND AND THE END OF THE WORLD
Now that I am on a Haruki Murakami kick, I thought I should read Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I started the book on the plane to Istanbul and didn't feel like I got into it as quickly as the other two I read. That might have been because it also took me the longest to read (or maybe it took me the longest to read because I didn't get into it as quickly as the other two, who knows?) I felt like this was the most resolved of the three I've read so far and I really liked it a lot by the end. For reasons I can't really put into words, Kafka is still my favorite one. I have three more Murakami books on my shelf and look forward to reading every single one.

I truly owe a big thank you to the AskMe crowd for introducing me to this great author.



THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE
Since reading Kafka on the Shore, I couldn't stop thinking about the book, so recently I went and bought another one by Murakami. I picked The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel because it's the novel that made Murakami famous in the US. This book is considerably longer and thicker than Kafka and more convoluted. It resolves a bit more but not a huge lot. There were bits that were common to both novels but that didn't bother me. I feel like maybe if I read more of his work, I might get closer to solving the puzzle of his stories. I now have to go buy all of his books. Easy to read, difficult to understand.

June 26, 2006 ~ 21:06 | link | literature | share[]


THE SEARCH AND THE GOOGLE STORY
Since Google has a reputation for having harrowing interviews, I thought it best to prepare as much as possible. Even though I wasn't sure if The Search would be helpful, I figured it couldn't hurt. It turned out to be a fascinating read and gave me a lot to think about and a lot to talk about. If you don't know a lot about the history of search and if it does interest you, I would highly recommend this read. Despite the cover design, the book is not solely about Google and explores the full history of search engines.

I also read The Google Story, again, hoping that it might give me some insight or clever conversation pieces. I'll be fully honest that I haven't finished this one. Partly because I only had ten days between the phone interview and the on-site one and I read non-fiction much more slowly. This is much more specific to Google and it's more personal and less about search. It's more about the people behind the story and about how the company got started. At least so far. More interesting if you're into the company story. Also, well-written.

I think these might fill the non-fiction quota of this and last month.



June 26, 2006 ~ 21:06 | link | literature | share[]


PREP
When I first heard about this book, I thought it was yet another in the line of chick-lit like the Devil Wears Prada or the Shopaholic series. There's nothing wrong with those books but I haven't been able to enjoy them, so I steered clear of Prep. The book kept coming back into my life. I read about it everywhere and it was recommended by AskMe. After a few months, when I ran into it at Costco, I figured maybe it was time to buy it and read it.

So I did.

Prep was a relatively quick read though it actually took longer than I thought, especially towards the end. I found the story less and less interesting as it went along. I related less to the character than I thought. To be fair, I didn't go to a prep school. Or maybe I did but it was in Turkey and it wasn't boarding and it was all-women. So I don't even know why I thought I would relate to it. Having said that, this book made me feel glad I hadn't gone to a prep school and sealed the already-determined fate of my son.

I thought the writing was good. It didn't get in the way of the story, which is one of my pet peeves. When the story stopped being interesting and I stopped caring about the character, I just kept reading for the momentum of it. Overall, I'd have to say it was okay. But not fantastic.

June 05, 2006 ~ 19:06 | link | literature | share[]


DIGGING TO AMERICA
There are a few writers whose books I anxiously await. As soon as they hit the shelf, I buy and devour them instantly. Anne Tyler is one of those. Digging to America is about two families who each adopt babies from Korea. One family is "typical" American and the other is an immigrant family from Iran. The parents of the adopted child are American (or Americanized at least) whereas the grandmother, who is one of the integral characters, is the one who came to the US from Iran. The novel explores many of the complicated issues around what it means to be American.

As always, it's a fantastic read and a wonderful snippet of the ordinary and yet incredibly complicated lives of people who live in the United States. It made me think a lot about the life my son's going to have. How he will forever be half-Turkish. How that might be interesting/exotic for him or it might be alienating/weird. How the way he feels about himself and his place in the world/country will say so much about what his place ends up being. That goes for all of us: we're so much of what we say we are. The way we see ourselves, defines the way we become. Defines the way others see us. Defines many of our shortcomings and strengths. The image you exude is the image others start getting to know you with.

Before I get too off topic, Anne Tyler has written another terrific novel and made me wish she was much more prolific.

May 14, 2006 ~ 13:05 | link | literature | share[]


KAFKA ON THE SHORE
When I asked AskMe what books to read this year, Kafka on the Shore was the most widely recommended book. I figured one way I could guarantee that I would read it was to pick it for our book club. I rallied the other women around the idea and we picked it as our June book. So, of course, as soon as I was done with Glass Castle, I picked it up. For some reason, I was worried I wasn't going to like it. I thought it would be dense and hard to read. I thought it might tire me out. It came at a time when other not-so-great things happened to me so I sort of didn't want to read it, if it was going to be hard.

But I was wrong. I was so wrong. I should have known to trust those AskMe people, they haven't strayed me wrong yet. I loved every minute of Kafka on the Shore. When I read the blurb, it sounded like it was going to be mystical and weird and not good and it was anything but. It was weird and it was mystical, but it was a breeze to read and it was interesting to the very last page. It did get predictable towards the end but I loved the predictability. I loved the ideas, the essence of the book. I couldn't wait for the stories to intertwine. I normally hate open-ended books but in this case, I didn't mind it one bit.

And I think it was a perfect pick for the book club, it will lead to a very interesting discussion. Now that I've discovered him, I'm going to have to read Murakami's other works. I hear Hard-Boiled Wonderland is fantastic, too.

May 14, 2006 ~ 13:05 | link | literature | share[]


THE GLASS CASTLE
Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle is our bookclub's pick for May. I had already finished out April selection (Lolita) so I figured I might as well get started on it. The book took me three days to read. It's the memoir of Jeannette's unbelievable childhood. Parts of it made me want to cry, parts of it made me cringe. I was amazed at how intelligent both her parents seemed and yet how little they cared about the welfare and health of their children. The obviously did love their kids but it's amazing that children can be brought up this way in the US and nothing is done about it. It's a well-written memoir and will make you thankful for your childhood and family.

It's a good read for when you need to keep your life in perspective.

April 20, 2006 ~ 20:04 | link | literature | share[]


EAT PRAY LOVE
Elizabeth Gilbert's fantastic memoir was exactly what I needed to read. Eat, Pray, Love : One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia is a very quick read, but don't let it's humorous tone fool you. It's a book that makes you look into your own soul and think about the life you're living. At least, it did for me. I loved her writing. It never got in the way of the story. I loved the way she told her very sad story with great humor so that you never felt sorry for her. I felt like the author was instantly likable. I loved all three sections and all the characters in the book. I've never had an interest in traveling to India or Indonesia (I wasn't against the idea just never felt compelled to go) but now I would love to. I am hoping to go back to practicing yoga and I truly think that sitting quietly and smiling for an hour each day may change my life for the better. Looking deep into myself is something I should do regularly. But now I am just blabbing.

There are many articles about this book all over the net. I had never heard of it until my friend Nicole read it and recommended it. I read it in a few days and loved every single moment of it. It's not for everyone (especially if you're not spiritual at all) but it's quite a marvelous book for some people. Including me.

With this little entry, we finally catch up to all the books I've read this year so far. I'm currently reading another memoir "The Glass Castle" which, so far, is great. With the exception of Lolita, this has so far been a year of great books. I hope to keep it up.

April 17, 2006 ~ 18:04 | link | literature | share[]


SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN
After finishing the dreadful Lolita, I had to cleanse myself with a different book immediately. Two of the women in my reading club had just finished Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and they both loved it. I borrowed it from my friend Nicole and started reading it Sunday morning. My day was relatively full. I had a shoot at 7:15am and had to process all the photos, feed David's meals, nurse him for his naps, play with him, work on the site and respond to the tons of emails sitting in my inbox. I started the novel and ended up doing nothing but reading. By, 10:30pm, I had finished the novel (and done all the necessary tasks of the day including processing my photos.)

This novel was wonderful. Light but not trivial read. Three- dimensional characters and a completely character-driven story. I learned a lot about Chinese culture I didn't know and confirmed some of the sad things I did know. I enjoyed every page of it and it was exactly what I needed after Lolita.

April 13, 2006 ~ 20:04 | link | literature | share[]


LOLITA
I have met many book-lovers over the years. Several of them, upon learning of my passion about books, have recommended that I read Lolita. I knew the premise of the book and refused to read it out of principle. "But it's literature, it's Nabokov." I heard so many arguments, but I still refused to read it.

A few weeks ago, my bookclub met and we were told that the Mark Twain book we'd picked for April was dreadful and decided to switch it. I recommended we read Lolita. None of us were too thrilled about the prospect but we all felt that it was a book we had to read before we died. And now that were were in our 30s, and "mature," we might as well get to it. Semi-reluctantly, we all agreed to pick it as our April book.

Knowing it would be a form of torture, I bought and started the book immediately. The text was much less dense than I had imagined and the story moved relatively quickly. There were some interesting bits here and there and the writing was quite impeccable. But that's it.

I wish I could say all those people were right and I was wrong. I wish I could say I totally changed my mind on it and it was phenomenal. The truth is, I could never get past the child- molestation. I could never get past what a disgusting (and I find that to be the very perfect fit adjective in this case) man he was. There was no second in which I could relate to him or empathize. Thank God I don't have a daughter, I might have hated it even more. There was no room for my pity in the character. No explanation why he might have become such a despicable person. Nothing that spoke to me in a way that allowed me to enjoy the book, the story and the people.

I ask you, if you're one of those "Lolita is amazing" people: please tell me what I missed? Why is this book such a must-read?

April 10, 2006 ~ 20:04 | link | literature | share[]


THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER
When I was telling my friend Michelle that most of the books I read last year sucked, she recommended The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. For some reason, I let the book sit for weeks before I picked it up. I would look at the cover and keep putting off reading it. I thought it was going to be really depressing and I wasn't in the mood. Once I did pick it up, I couldn't put it down. I loved every minute of it. I loved the characters, I loved how intricately their lives were intertwined yet so very isolated. I loved how they all felt close to Singer and yet they knew nothing about him. It was a really enjoyable read and I am glad I finally did actually pick it up. Both this one and The Solace of Leaving early were Michelle's recommendations. Now I'm going to have to beg for more.

April 10, 2006 ~ 13:04 | link | literature | share[]


TEMPLE OF THE GOLDEN PAVILLION
I can't decide how I feel about Yukio Mishima's Temple of the Golden Pavillion. Similar to the other two Japanese novels I read in the last few weeks, it's mostly about the main character's inner life. His thoughts, his ideas. The main character is a young adult and is quite resentful of life. It's a slow-paced novel full of wisdom and thought-provoking writing. Here are a few sections that spoke to me:

Perhaps a lyrical port lucked within that huge body of his, but I felt that there was cruelty in his clear, blue eyes. The Western nursery-rhyme "Mother Goose" refers to black eyes as being cruel and malicious; the fact is that when people imagine cruelty, they normally assign some foreign character to it.

and another

Cripples and lovely women are both tired of being looked at, they are weary of an existence that involves constantly being observed, they feel hemmed in; and they return the gaze by means of that very existence itself. The one who really looks is the one who wins.

one final one

I just wanted to make you understand. What transforms this world is - knowledge. Do you see what I mean? Nothing else can change anything in this world. Knowledge alone is capable of transforming the world, while at the same time leaving it exactly as it is. When you look at the world with knowledge, you realize that things are unchangeable and at the same time are constantly being transformed. You may ask what good it does us. Let's put it this way - human being possess the weapon of knowledge in order to make life bearable. For animals such things aren't necessary. Animals don't need knowledge or anything of the sort to make life bearable. But human beings do need something, and with knowledge they can make the very intolerableness of life a weapon, though at the sam time that intolerableness is not reduced in the slightest. That's all there is to it.


April 07, 2006 ~ 17:04 | link | literature | share[]


HOW TO BE AN ADULT
Recommended as one of two self-help books that gives practical, usable advice, I picked up How to be an Adult from the library. It was an extremely quick and very useful read. So much so that I will write excerpts from it for the next few weeks probably. Many of the ideas were reinforcements of prior courses I took of beliefs I already had. These are the sort of ideas that need constant reminders so that I get used to thinking that way. His writings on relationships were also very practical, very sensible and very much along the lines of what I hope to accomplish. This little book made me think a lot and I will be referring back to it in the next few weeks over and over again.

April 03, 2006 ~ 12:04 | link | literature | share[]


A PERSONAL MATTER
A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe is one of two Japanese books I checked out after I read Kokoro. This story is about a man named Bird who is the father to a newborn baby who has a major birth defect. The story is about the father's reaction and dealing (or not dealing) with the issue. To be honest, about thirty pages into the story, I hated the main character and wanted to put the book down immediately. It depressed me so much that I didn't even want to pick up another book.

For some inexplicable reason, I decided to stick with it and I am glad I did. While this book was much more modern than Kokoro, it also was character based and full of ideas, morals and issues surrounding making difficult and immoral decisions. The book finally redeemed itself to me in its final pages and at the end I felt better about reading it.

March 30, 2006 ~ 09:03 | link | literature | share[]


CLOUD ATLAS
After the mistake with The Cloud Atlas, I put the correct book on hold at the library and picked it up last week. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell came highly recommended by several members of AskMe. I made an effort to spend my week with it and so read large chunks of it at a time. The book has six stories. The first halves of five stories are told in the first part, then the sixth story, and then each story is finished going in the reverse order. The first story takes place on a ship around 1850s and it's the journal of a notary traveling in the Pacific. This was the hardest story for me to get through. I had a hard time with the language and the character. It got a bit better towards the end of the first half but I knew the book would get better so I kept going.

The second story takes place in 1930's and it's about a musician exchanging letters with a scientist friend of his while he works with a maestro. I enjoyed this story very much and found it easy to read with entertaining characters. The third story is about a newspaper journalist who discovers a plot to a corporate coverup that could cause a disaster and it involves the scientist from the second story. The fourth story is about a book publisher who gets signed into a retirement institution against his will. The fifth one is a sci-fi story about a cloned human who is part of a scientific project. And the final story takes place in post-apocalyptic Hawaii. I wasn't crazy about the last story either but loved the other four. Each story briefly mentions the previous one and there are tones of reincarnation and strong moral lessons in each story. The writing is forced in some parts but great in others. Overall, I found it to be a fascinating book and I want to read more of his work.

Here's what one reviewer says about the book, "Here is not only the academic pessimism of Marx, Hobbes and Nietzsche but also the frightening portents of Aldous Huxley and the linguistic daring of Anthony Burgess. Here, too, are Melville's maritime tableaux, the mordant satire of Kingsley Amis and, in the voice of Robert Frobisher -- Mitchell's most poignant and fully realized character -- the unmistakable ghost of Paul Bowles. Here is a veritable film festival of unembarrassed cinematic references and inspirations, from "Soylent Green" to "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" to "The Graduate" to the postwar comedies of England's Ealing Studios. Here is an obviously sincere affection for the oft-maligned genres of mystery, science fiction and fantasy."

March 23, 2006 ~ 19:03 | link | literature | share[]


YOU ARE NOT A STRANGER HERE
My second short story collection of the year was another AskMe recommendation. You Are Not A Stranger Here by Adam Haslett is a fantastic, fantastic collection of magnificently well-written stories. This author is a fantastic, published writer and a law student at Yale. A major loser :). Each story involves some aspect of sorrow, depression, sadness, disappointment, family, friendship. The stories are simple and elegant. The characters are very relatable and memorable, even in the short space of a little story. I got attached to each and every one of them.

After Kissing in Manhattan and this book, I might have to start reading more short story collections. Either these two are major exceptions, or I am finally beginning to gain the maturity to enjoy short stories. Either way, I am delighted to have discovered Haslett.

March 20, 2006 ~ 06:03 | link | literature | share[]


THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA
I first read Philip Roth last year when I read The Human Stain and enjoyed it very much. I liked the writing. I liked the story. I liked the pace. Since then, I made two separate attempts to read him, both of which failed. Both of the other books I tried were too "dirty-old-man" for me. When The Plot Against America came out, I knew I wanted to read it. Especially since it was political and there were many reviews that equated it to the current administration. I asked for the book and received it as a Christmas gift in 2004. It sat on my shelf for a year and I knew I would never pick it up unless I forced myself so I asked my reading group if they were interested in reading it. Everyone agreed so we picked it and I finally got around to reading it.

The book is a what if story about Lindbergh winning the 1940 presidency instead of FDR, written from the perspective of a Jewish family living in New York. The main character is a little boy named Philip Roth. It was very well written and a relatively quick read. For people, like me, who don't know a lot about the correct political history of the time, it's a bit confusing to keep track of what really happened and what's made up. I am usually determined to avoid any form of fiction or non-fiction that is set during the second World War but I knew this book would be worthwhile. And it was. It was also very disturbing and there was an engulfing sense of fear and panic throughout the entire novel, making me thankful for the thousandth time that I wasn't alive during that particular time in history even though this particular story was fictional.

As much as I despise the current administration, I would have to say that the horrific tale of the book is not nearly as parallel to the current times as the media made it out to be. If it really were, I do think we'd see thousands flocking to Canada weekly. May it never ever get to be an issue.

March 18, 2006 ~ 21:03 | link | literature | share[]


THE CLOUD ATLAS
The Cloud Atlas by Liam Callanan was a mistake. The AskMe recommendation was Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell but I didn't make the distinction in the title until long after I'd started reading the novel. Since I was already over 100 pages into the novel and enjoying it, I decided to keep reading despite the confusion. The Cloud Atlas is about a bomb diffuser in the army during second world war who is sent to Alaska to dismantle the bombs the Japanese sent to the United States inside air balloons. These balloons, of which there were over nine thousand, fell all over Alaska and West Coast of Northern United States. The balloons were rigged with explosives and are one of the best kept secrets of the war. A completely fictional story based on a true-world event.

The three main characters are all interesting, each a bit too extreme in their flaws. But I got attached to the main character and to the story in general. I cared about what happened and enjoyed reading it from the first page to the very last. Especially since I had no idea about the balloons and was quite amazed it was a true story.

March 17, 2006 ~ 08:03 | link | literature | share[]


THE SOLACE OF LEAVING EARLY
The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel was recommended to me by my good friend Michelle. Probably one of the most beautiful books I've read in my life. It's a story about a woman who drops out of her doctoral program and goes back to her hometown and a minister in the same hometown, both of whom are dealing with their own personal problems and who are put in a situation where they have to take care of two little orphaned girls.

It's so touching and so very emotional to read. It's really beautifully written and the characters are three dimensional and flawed and honest. There's a lot of color in the book and great descriptions of the children's reaction to the terrible tragedy and the adults' differing ways of treating the children. It's really a phenomenal read.

I haven't read Kimmel's more famous book, A Girl Named Zippy, but I think I will have to after this.

March 16, 2006 ~ 10:03 | link | literature | share[]


KOKORO
Another AskMe recommendation was Kokoro by Natsume Soseki. As far as I can remember, I've never read Japanese fiction so this was my first. And what an inspiring beginning. I loved this book pretty much from the very first page. My preference is usually character-based books and Kokoro was nothing but. I loved the simplicity of the language, could relate to the main character almost immediately. Cared about him, about his story, about his feelings towards his mentor. I enjoyed how non-contrived the story felt to me. Even though I was wondering what made the sensei who he was, it wasn't crucial to me. It wasn't like a mystery, it was like an unraveling of a personality. I swallowed the book in a day and thought about it for quite some time afterwards.

I liked it so much that I decided I wanted to read more Japanese books. My impression was that they were more about people and their thoughts, their morals, their ideas as opposed to actual events in their world. Maybe I am way off but I wanted to find out, so I went through the recommendations and put two of the other Japanese books on hold and encouraged my reading group to pick yet a third one as our book of the month for June.

March 15, 2006 ~ 19:03 | link | literature | share[]


AMY AND ISABELLE
The second book I read this year is Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout, another AskMe recommendation. A quiet, beautiful story about a single mother and her teenage daughter who has a relationship with her teacher. It proves my disturbing thoughts about how little parents actually know about their own children and where they are and what they're doing at any moment in time. Disturbing at times, frustrating at others, this novel rang relatively true to me. I enjoyed the writing style even though I thought the book was a little slow but still enjoyed reading it. I really am not looking forward to David's teenage years. And while I am sort of glad not to have a girl for that reason, I know boys can be their own bag full of troubles and worries.

March 14, 2006 ~ 07:03 | link | literature | share[]


KISSING IN MANHATTAN
As I mentioned before, 2005 wasn't the best year for books, for me. Determined to do better this year, I posted on AskMe to ask for recommendations of people's favorite books. I got a lot of answers and got started reading them one by one. This year, I hope to post about each of the books as I read them. So to catch up, I'll write about the ten I've read so far in the next few days.

First up, is Kissing in Manhattan by David Schickler. I have never been a big fan of short story collections so I am not even sure why I picked this out to be my first book of the year. Maybe it's because the MeFi reader said it was the book that got her out of her 2005 book-slump. Whatever prompted me, I am really glad I decided to read it. Kissing in Manhattan is fantastic. It's not the kind of book I would have picked up in a million years. Each of the short stories is about a different tenant who lives in a fictional building in Manhattan. The stories, while different, sort of weave through each other in that the same characters pop up in different stories and you sort of find out some more about them through another tenant's story. It's very well-written, sort of weird stories but good imagery, great character development and very visual. I thought about the characters and the stories well after I'd finished the book, which, for me, is a sign of a great read. What a wonderful way to start the year.

March 13, 2006 ~ 10:03 | link | literature | share[]


YEAR OF DISAPPOINTING BOOKS
While I didn't acheive my goal of reading fifty books this year, I have managed to read 46 and, my, what a disappointment they've been. Out of the 46, maybe three are what I would call expectionally good reading. The list contains The Kite Runner, My Friend Leonard, and How We are Hungry.

The Kite Runner was simply an exceptional read. A book I would normally wouldn't have even considered buying. My mother in law told me it was great and bought it for me for my birthday. The same week, I heard about it from six other people ranomly and decided it was a sign. When I finally sat down to read it, I finished it it in two days. I couldn't put it down. The boys' lives had me constantly thinking about the book. While some parts were unrealistically optimistic, the book overall is pretty depressing and eye-opening. However, the best part is how universal the story is and how much one can relate to the grief and regret. The beautifully flowing and engrossing writing doesn't hurt either.

My Friend Leonard was another fantastic book by Daniel Frey who wrote A Million Little Pieces, one of the best reads of 2004. What's amazing about this book is that most of the time, sequals are not interesting. I used to love Chuck Palahniuk but after three of the same , his books started to get old and the style was more annoying than interesting. Not so with Frey. The raw, short, and honest style of this author is fantastic and the story is amazing in the true sense of the word.

And finally Dave Eggers. I've been a fan of Eggers for many many years abut I'll admit that I always thought his fiction wasn't that great. I loved the Staggering Genius but not so much the Velocity. So when the New York Times said this short story collection was good, I was skeptical. But since it is Eggers, I bought the book anyhow. I'm not a short story fan in general. I am not sure exactly why but I can't ever seem to get into them and always feel shortchanged by the end. So imagine my surprise when I loved this book. And I mean, loved it! I really enjoyed each story and found them unique and I couldn't even tell you what it as about these stories that reached out to me but I did love the book.

What's sad is that those are the only three that somehow stand out. There are a bunch (like the shopaholic stuff) that I expected to be stupid. A bunch that were so so like the Didion book and the Coelho one. Ones that I wished would be better like the Hornby one and Melissa Banks and John Irving - each authors I truly cherish and love the work of. A few non-fcition ones that were interesting like the Armstrong books and Graham - of course- and Blink. I did enjoy the Curious Incident... quite a bit actually. And Saturday was much better than I expected. But none were amazing.

And then there are those that I was really saddened by. The amazing Michael Cunningham who wrote The Hours did a sub-par job with Specimen Days. The author of the wonderful The Secret Life of Bees did a terrible job with The Mermaid Chair. Both of which made me want to cry.

In this year when so many of my favorite authors came out with new books (Irving, Hornby, Banks, Cunningham, Coelho, Gladwell, Eggers, Frey) it's terribly sad that only three books really stood out. What books have you read in 2005 that spoke to you?



DIDION
I just finished The Year of Magical Thinking and enjoyed it but kept thinking that something was bothering me throughout the book. For some reason I seem to enjoy reading books about grief. Maybe because it feels so human and so raw.

That's exactly what I felt was missing from Didion's book. Despitate the fact that I am sure she must have fallen apart miserably as both her husband and her daughter died so suddenly, I didn't feel any of the raw emotion I expected. The book still had a calm and collected air about it for me. It was wonderful reading and I swallowed it up in a day but I just dind't feel moved like I expected to.

I'm sure it's incredibly difficult to put the raw emotion on paper but I guess I expected better from such a skilled writer.



I DON'T KNOW
"Blessed are those who are not afraid to admit that they don't know something." - The Zahir by Paolo Coelho

One of my biggest pet-peeves is when people don't admit if they don't know something. I had a friend like that. There were times when it was obvious he wasn't following me and yet he'd simply nod and act like he was completely following me.

I find this to be true for both men and women, but for different reasons. Men are too macho and it's not "macho" to admit that you may not know something. Women are too scared to look stupid, expecially when they talk to someone who isn't. It drives me absolutely bonkers in both cases. Fact is, won't you stay stupid if you never admit you don't know something and thus never ask and never learn?

Somehow I misses the memo that said it was embarrassing to ask questions. I ask shit all the time to everyone. First of all, I find people like talking about stuff they know. Secondly, they love when they have the opportunity to teach you something. It makes them look good. So there's an opportunity for you to learn something AND to make the other person feel good.

Why, exactly, would you pass that up?

Also, why does not knowing something make you look stupid? None of us know everything and we could all learn from each other if only we weren't afraid to ask.

So, next time you have the opportunity to learn from someone. Seize it.

And then let me know,too, so I can learn!



IRRESISTIBLE IRVING


I have been a John Irving fan from the first book I read. I can't even remember who told me about A Prayer for Owen Meany but I do remember that people stopped me to praise the book when I was reading it. I had the library hardcover and people of all ages commented on it. Old women, teenagers. It was their favorite book.

And they were right. If you haven't read A Prayer For Owen Meany make sure to do so. It's fantastic. I went on a total Irving kick after that. I read The World According to Garp, Hotel New Hampshire, The Water-Method Man, Cider House Rules, Setting Free the Bears, The 158-Pound Marriage, A Widow for One Year, and all the others I could get my hands on. I read The Fourth Hand as soon as it came out (though that one wasn't my favorite). I've read them all, except for Son of the Circus. There's something about Irving's writing that I adore. It might be that he emulates Dickens and Davies, who are two of my favorite authors. It might be that I feel for his twisted, tragic characters and his endless plots.

I started his latest novel almost two weeks ago. A novel never takes me this long to read. Not even an 800-page one. For some reason, I took my time with this one. I even read another novel in between and listened to three others. But I kept coming back to it. I wasn't giving up on Irving. I knew I was going to fall into the story at some point.

Two nights ago, I did.

It took my two weeks to read 450 pages and two days to read the next 250. I have about 80 pages left and I am not sleeping until I finish this story. It's at the point where the entire novel turned on itself and I cannot wait to see the ending and find out what happens to Jack Burns. I now think about it constantly. I feel like I know the characters in real life. To me, only the best books can accomplish that. It's an especially amazing feat for Irving whose characters are people I'd be completely unlikely to know in this life or in any other. I still do. I feel like I know them. I feel like they are living, breathing people.

While a part of me is dying to finish the story finally, another part of me will be so disappointed when it's over. When these people won't be there to greet me each night.

If you've never read Irving, make sure to pick up a book of his. Start with Owen Meany or, if you haven't seen the movie, Cider House Rules. They are simply fantastic. Storytelling at its best.



FAVORITE PASTTIME


I've decided that my favorite thing to do in my spare time is to read. This is after spending time with my family, of course. Of the things I love doing like writing, taking photos, surfing the net, knitting, etc, reading is by far my favorite thing to do.

There have been tims that I took a break from reading agressively. The most notable being during college. The first two years of college, I didn't read much during the school year. When David was born, I stopped reading for a while. I wasn't getting any sleep and I had a hard enough time juggling him and work that reading was out of the question. A few weeks ago, I randomly started reading again. I am not exactly sure how it happened but it opened some sort of flood gate. I've read 8 books in the last three weeks. I started with the fascinating Opening Skinner's Box and the always wonderful Elizabeth Berg's new Year of Pleasures. I moved on to Freakonomics and Hornby's columns from the Believer and Wisdom of Crowds and Anne Lamott's Plan B and Alice Munro's Runaway. I am now reading Ian McEwan's Saturday and enjoying it immensely, especially considering there's very little happening in the story.

It's almost as if I'd forgotten how amazingly rewarding reading is for me. It's like food for my soul. I don't even know why I feel that way but each time I put a book down, I can't wait to get back to it. My favorite time of the day is the one hour after David goes to sleep where I crawl into bed and read. Okay, my favorite time actually is the mornings when David wakes up because he's so ubelievably happy but right after that is the reading hour.

To add to my joy, some of my favorite authors are coming out with new novels this summer: John Irving, Nick Hornby and Melissa Banks. Thinking about those books makes me giddy!

I don't know what prompted my return to reading, but I am so glad for the distraction. As David's growing old enough to voice his boredom loudly and he's still waking up anywhere from three to seven times a night, it's the books that seem to keep me sane lately.

June 07, 2005 ~ 17:06 | link | literature | share[]


CONCENTRATION LEVELS OF ZERO OR BELOW


Anyone who's read my site regularly knows that I adore reading. It's one of the few activities I have consistently enjoyed since the age of four. Despite a short break during the school years in college, I've read at least one book a week for years and years. Even when I was in college, I spent my summers reading avidly just to catch up.

So one would think that throughout the struggles of my pregnancy, I would take solace in my reading. I would bury myself in books. Well, not exactly. In the last six months since I've been pregnant, I've read a total of eight books. Four of these were on vacation in Turkey. That's barely one a month. Before the pregnancy, I'd been reading two a week. I still read the New York Times every Sunday and do a lot of other article reading, but books have been going so slowly. I started Franken's "Lies and ..." two weeks ago and I am only a quarter's way into it.

I seem to be able to read fun books that don't require any concentration, but when it comes to a normal book, my attention span is all of two pages before either my eyes close or I get up to pee. Putting pregnancy reading aside (that's another entry for another day), I really miss reading. So I was hoping you might be able to make some recommendations of easy reading that's really a page-turner. I read everything but romance and fantasy. I am open to all suggestions. At this point, I figure any reading is better than no reading.

Any good suggestions?



A MILLION PIECES


What'd they have to do?
Cap the outside two, fill a cavity on this one.
I point to my outside left tooth.
Root canals on these.
I tap the middle two. They are firm.
They give you good drugs?
They didn't give me anything.
No fucking way.
Yeah.
They didn't give you anything?
No.
You got root canals on your two front teeth without any drugs?
Yeah.
Leonard looks at me as if what I have said is incomprehensible to him.
- James Frey in A Million Little Pieces

This section of James Frey's story reminded me of the anecdote I had told about my mom's client a few years ago. When my grandfather passed away, one of my mom's clients had approached her and said, "May God never give you as much pain as you can endure." A comment that at first startled her but then revealed its wisdom.

Our bodies, minds, and hearts seem to be capable of enduring huge quantities of pain. Imagine moments of huge panic or fear. Enormous happiness. In those moments we appear to have extreme strength. We can take the pain. Think of the guy who cut of his arm because it was trapped and he was otherwise going to die. He broke each of his own bones and then cut it off. I don't imagine he would have said he could endure that sort of pain, until he did. We seem capable of doing things beyond our imagination.

I guess the reason I wanted to note this was to remind myself that I am capable of putting up with a lot. That during weak moments of despair and sorrow, I'm still far away from what I can endure if I had to. And that things really are quite good, all things considered.

Reading Frey's story is helping me keep things in perspective and also realize that humans have extraordinary strength and resilience.

June 02, 2004 ~ 15:06 | link | literature | share[]


100 PAGE LIMIT


There's something special that happens a hundred pages into a good novel. I find myself seriously attached to the characters and thinking about their lives, as if they were real. Sometimes I can't tell the difference between conversations I might have overheard and ones I read about.

A little loony, you say?

That's the falling in I mentioned previously. When I was younger, I used to read every book, no matter how much I liked or hated it. I refused to put it down. A few years ago, I decided life was too short and started a limit of 100 pages. If I was still not into the book by page 100, I was putting it down, no matter who sang its praises. The 100-page limit worked well for me. It relieved me of having to read books that I truly detested and gave me room to get into the books I may not have otherwise enjoyed.

I haven't read a really thick book since the summer of my Freshman year. That summer, I read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged back to back. 1,800 pages of Ayn Rand is more than any sane person should ever have to endure. But I was on a roll. I devoured the books. Since that summer, I might have read a 400 or 500-page book but nothing in the vicinity the Rand novels.

After both my friends Tera and Jenn, who have literary choices that I respect, told me I had to (had to) read I Know This Much is True, Wally Lamb's second book, I finally stopped fighting myself and bought the book. I had read his first, She's Come Undone, on a plane ride to London and finished it in my room in London where I cried for way longer that I'd like to admit. I was reluctant to read anything else by Lamb, I wasn't prepared for the amount of crying 890 pages could bring.

My friend Jenn said to force my way through the beginning if I needed to because it was worth it. I reset my 100-page limit to 500. If by page 500, I still wasn't into it, I would put it down, no matter what Jenn or Tera said. What I wasn't prepared for was how hard it had become to read a 900-page book since the last time I tried it. Days passed and I read in all my free time but I wasn't making progress fast enough. My bookmark showed that I wasn't even a third way through. Was the book simply not captivating enough or had my ability to read dwindled?

Well, I fell into the book around page 480. At that point, I barely functioned outside reading the book. I woke up, worked and then read at lunch. I worked some more and then, as soon as my day was over, I read and read until my eyes hurt. After a long week of reading, I have finally finished the novel. I didn't shed one tear and it was fantastic.

Maybe my 100-page rule should vary with the size of the book after all.

April 23, 2004 ~ 22:04 | link | literature | share[]


50 BOOKS


The Reality Fuel Challenge has been mentioned in a million places. I generally read a lot so I didn't think reading 50 books in a year would be a difficult task for me but considering the fact that we're a quarter way through the year and I've only finished eight, it might not work out. Either way, I am going to keep track of them this year, just to see. Below is the list so far. I will put my progress here and you can read excerpts from those books and others here.

1. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Over the years, I've had many friends recommend this book to me. People, it seemed, either loved it or hated it. I thought it would take too much emotional and mental involvement to read it and so saved it for later and later. A few months ago, a friend of Jake's, whose reading taste I agree with, told me that he had just finished the book and it was the best he ever read. He couldn't stop talking about it, so I decided I had put it off long enough and checked it out from the library.

The first week of the new year, I took one of my last vacation days and read the whole book in one sitting. The first fifty or so pages were confusing and I didn't get into the story very much. But somewhere along the line, I got really attached to the characters, especially Ursula, and even started enjoying the insane story Marquez spun. By the end of the book, I could totally understand why people said they hadn't read anything like this before. The book is difficult to describe. It requires suspension of disbelief. But Marquez is a fine storyteller and I did truly enjoy the book.

I guess this means I'm going to have to read his other favorite as well: Lolita.

2. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
I'm still trying to sort out my feelings about this book. I picked it up assuming it was a true story and felt annoyed at how surreal the story got as it progressed. I didn't enjoy the large quantities of blood which I felt didn't necessarily add to the story. I did enjoy the writer's creativity and thought the story kept me quite interested considering there was one real main character (two if you count the animal) for most of the book. In the end, I did smile and felt the book was clever at making its point but I still can't confidently say I'd recommend it to everyone.

3. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown
After months of hype I finally gave up and bought the book. I am a big fan of art history and I'd been told the book had lots of it. I am not quite religious, and definitely not Christian, which was keeping me away from the book but after weeks of hearing about it, I gave in. It was a really quick read and enjoyable for the most part. It was somewhat predictable and pretty badly written. The author kept describing each new character at length instead of giving bits and pieces. The characters were quite flat but the story did keep me interested and it was definitely better writing than some of the writers who spend weeks on the bestsellers list. All in all, entertaining.

4. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Another book that took me a while to get into but then sucked me in completely. The first thirty pages of this Southern story moved slowly. The small book deals with racism and family issues and it's well written. The characters are interesting and enjoyable. I enjoyed it quite a lot.

5. Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
I heard so much about this movie that I was dying to go see it. I forced myself to wait until I read the book because I knew I would never read it if I saw the movie first. I am really glad I waited because it was definitely the best mystery novel I read in years.

Most mystery writers spend too much time on the plot and not enough time on characterization. These characters were three dimensional. Likable and not at the same time. The grief in the story was overwhelming and made me identify with each of the characters at different times. The mystery itself was a bit odd since I really had no idea who the murderer was until the author revealed it. The ending, for me, was the worst part of the novel and did disappoint me a lot but over all, I still think it was a worthwhile read.

6. The Inferno by Dante Alighieri
I am not sure this should count since it was my second time and it was mostly for research. But I did reread the entire book and enjoyed it even more the second time around. Dante's creativity and his style are still unparalleled in my opinion. Not to mention the fact that it was one of the first works ever written in the vernacular, as opposed to Latin. I won't write more because I know I am biased when it comes to The Divine Comedy.

7. The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler
As a huge fan of Anne Tyler, I eagerly awaited her new novel for the last six months. This book is quite different from the others I've read (and I've read all but two of hers). First of all, it spans across about sixty years. Secondly, each sections is written from a different character's point of view (though, some characters are repeated). While it's obviously the married couple's story, it isn't very distinctly the wife's or the husband's. All of these aspects are new to her style. The prose, however, isn't. Her characters are just as memorable, quirky, and ordinary as they are in all books. The story has the same 'the extraordinariness of the ordinary' quality I always find in her novels. As a married person, I found the book to be sad and cried several times. But then again, I cry at all movies and books, so don't take my reaction as normal. If you enjoy Anne Tyler, I would certainly recommend this new novel. However, if you've never read her before and want to try, start with Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. It's excellent.

8. Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich The beginning of this story about a group of MIT students who made a huge amount of money in Las Vegas pulled me right it. The story was interesting, the writing was not distracting and certainly not as dull as many non-fiction books I read. A hundred pages into the story, it stopped moving. My interest waned but I kept reading. In the end, I do think it was an interesting, fun and worthwhile book to read but I think it would have done much better as a long article. (a fact true for most non fiction in my opinion)

In progress:
QED by Richard Feynman
Intelligence turns me on. Varied interest coupled with intelligence turns me on even more. If Richard Feyman were alive today, I am confident I would have easily paid a lot of money to sit in one of these lectures. He is a rare example of an extremely intelligent man who has achieved incredible success in Physics and also loved his wife like crazy, played the drums, obsessed over visiting Tuva, and picked locks for fun. He worked on Quantum Electrodynamics (the topic of this book), was part of the team that created the Atom Bomb, and solved why the Challenger blew up among other amazing achievements.

A true sign of understanding a subject, in my opinion, is being able to put it into laymen's term. For someone who has had an exceptionally bad physics education, Feynman's lectures are magical to me. The ones in this book are simple, entertaining, make sense, make few assumptions on my previous knowledge, and most importantly, don't talk down to me. The reading is dense. It takes time. But if you're interested in physics and know as little as I do about QED, it's well worth it.

If physics isn't your cup of tea, I would still recommend two of my favorite Feynman books: What Do You Care What Other People Think? and Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! both of which aren't about physics but will entertain you and show you what a curious and amazing person Feynman was.

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
This book was a Christmas present from my brother in law. It's his girlfriend's favorite book. I am not usually a fan of short stories and prefer not to read stories that take place too long ago in history. This author's style is also a bit too magical for my taste. Despite all that, I am enjoying the stories so far. I'm about sixty pages into the 150-page book and will let you know what I feel in the end.

Next:
The Meaning of Everything by Simon Winchester

Recommendations are always welcome by email, comments below, or chat.

March 22, 2004 ~ 16:03 | link | literature | share[]


I KNOW YOU READ


Riding the New York Subway used to provide me with many occasions to glimpse into other people's reading choices. In the seven years I spent there, I mastered the art of bending just enough to read the title without awakening the suspicions of the reader. I used to scribble the author or novel name in my palm and put it in my list to check out from the New York Public Library. I found many interesting, thought-provoking and varied writers using that method.

Even though it's not as extensive as NYPL, the San Diego Public Library isn't that bad. The problem is that, with the exception of New York Times Book Review, all my resources of finding new books have disappeared. I don't usually have any problem hearing about the popular books, but without the bookstore people, the subway, and the prolific readers I was surrounded by, I am starving for some good recommendations.

I've recently finished and posted an except of The Secret Life of Bees and Mystic River. I have just started Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler and I am looking for more fiction (and nonfiction) writers or books. To be fair, I'll give you a list of what's still on my shelf to be read in the next few months: NonZero, Bringing the House Down, Moneyball, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, QED, The Blind Watchmaker, The Meaning of Everything, The Awakening, The Creative Habit, How to Dunk a Doughnut and for ideas: So Many Books, So Little Time and BookLust. I can't recommend them since I haven't read them yet but they were recommended by people I trust or publications I trust. If you want more books, here is a list of and excepts from 75% of the books I've read in the last three years.

It may seem like I have many books on my list, but I read a lot and quickly so this list isn't long enough for me. It also contains too few fiction titles. As much as I enjoy nonfiction, my true to love is fiction. I read anything besides horror and fantasy. So, please share with me. Tell me your favorite author. Your favorite book. Even a favorite site about books. Pretty please?

March 05, 2004 ~ 21:03 | link | literature | share[]


PAST, PERCEPTION, REWRITING
"You are led through your lifetime by the inner learning creature, the playful spiritual being that is your real self. Don't turn away from possible futures before you're certain you don't have anything to learn from them. You're always free to change your mind and choose a different future, or a different past.' -Illusions by Richard Bach

I remember reading the above line, years ago, when I was sixteen and pondering about it. I totally got how you could rewrite your future but I didn't get what he meant about the past. Over the years, I came up with many interpretations for the author's meaning. Since I haven't met and asked him, I am still not sure what he meant by that line, but I know what it means to me.

All we have tying us to our past are our memories of it. And memory is selective. My interpretation of rewriting the past is remembering events differently. Since most of it is our mental game, we could choose to play it differently and, boom, the past is not longer what it was.

Tonight I thought of another way we tend to rewrite the past. This case is slightly different in that, the past was actually different. I was looking at some old pictures. Months after the time the picture was taken, certain events followed. These events showed that at the time the picture was taken, there was some missing information, so now when I look back at the pictures, knowing what I know now, it changes everything. In this case, I am not rewriting the past, but I am realizing how it wasn't what I thought it was.

It's all about perception. At times, it's hard to differentiate between reality and perception and we conjoin them more often than we should.

Perception is why watching the same movie several times gives us different kinds of food for thought. Why the same book changes meaning with each read. Why it's important to go back and re-explore the past, the movies, the books after each life change. Each new path. Every few years.

Not only can the past be rewritten. It is rewritten often and inevitably.



PARTIAL ATTENTION
My favorite, though, was that we now live in an age of what a Microsoft researcher, Linda Stone, called continuous partial attention. I love that phrase. It means that while you are answering your e-mail and talking to your kid, your cell phone rings and you have a conversation. You are now involved in a continuous flow of interactions in which you can only partially concentrate on each. -Thomas Friedman

These words struck a chord with me on Saturday. As a person who's always multi-processing, I've often wondered if I don't listen wholeheartedly enough. I took a class on Theories of Personality class last year and I remember learning about Carl Rogers and how he listened to each patient with full attention. He emphasized empathy, genuineness, and unconditional positive regard for his clients. The has a reputation for fully concentrating on the patient.

That level of attention is so rare. Most people listen half the time and even when they are listening, they don't entirely hear what the other person is saying. They are busy thinking "what does this mean to me" or they are making a list of their daily to-dos. We do hold several conversations simultaneously. We do write email as we speak. We do interrupt conversations as the cell phone rings or as the beeper goes off. I am personally guilty of simultaneously executing several processes in my brain. I am almost always doing something else while I talk on the phone. I write email as I watch TV. Even if I don't answer my cell, I certainly glance at the screen to see who it is.

Some of that doesn't bother me too much. Some conversations don't need my full attention. Nor do some emails. But then there are those who do. The question is, am I able to tell the difference each time?

When I'm in the same room with a person, I can tell when the conversation shifts from being superficial to substantial. I can tell if the person is upset or is seeking someone with whom to converse. It's much harder over the phone, especially the cell phone, which can catch me at any moment, in any location. Is it better that I am not accessible at all or that I am there but not able to fully focus on the conversation at hand? Before technology, if my friend was feeling upset and wanted to talk, she couldn't even find me. Now she can but she runs the chance of having partial attention. What's worse?

I strongly believe in the power of full attention. Next time someone comes to you for advice or an ear, try dropping everything you do and listening them. Fully. See if you can tell the difference.



WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?


"I imagine the feelings of two people meeting again after many years. In the past they spent some time together, and therefore they think that they are linked by the same experiences, the same recollections. The same recollections? That's where the misunderstanding starts: they don't have the same recollections; each of them retains two or three small scenes from the past, but each has his own; their recollections aren't similar; they don't intersect; and even in terms of quantity they are not comparable: one person remembers the other more than he is remembered; first because memory capacity varies among individuals (an explanation that each of them would at least find acceptable), but also (and this is more painful to admit) because they don't hold the same importance for each other. When Irena saw Josef at the airport, she remembered every detail of their long-ago adventure; Josef remembered nothing. From the very first moment their encounter was based on an unjust and revolting inequality." - Milan Kundera - Ignorance

I am fascinated by memory.

A few weeks ago I was telling my husband that I am amazed at the amount of information in my brain: Tons of words, in seven languages. Phone numbers of not only current friends but of old friends whom I haven't even spoken to in ten years. Lyrics to songs I listen to daily and songs I haven't heard in ages. The syntax for over fifteen computer languages that I've coded in. Random formulas from math and statistics classes. Flags and capitals of countries that I studied as a child. The first twenty elements of the periodic table that I was required to memorize in high school. Way too much Ottoman Empire history. Details of thousands of books, magazine articles, short stories I've read over the years. How to read music. User ids and passwords to my multiple accounts. Names of thousands of people I've met in my lifetime. Details of how a fixed income syndicate is formed and sold. Accounting formulas of every financial instrument. UNIX commands. Street names - of random cities all over the world. Subway stop names all over New York City, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

The list is too long to keep going. It just blows my mind how much information I seem to retain and how much more I can add to my current state without losing what's already there.

Yet, in fascinating irony, I remember very little of my childhood and only sporadic instances from anything more than three years ago. A theory is that memory that isn't recalled often tends to fade away. I don't know if that means it's still there and if I were to practice remembering it, it would all come back to me. Sort of like riding a bike (though I wouldn't know since I can't ride one): the information is all there and never disappears even if it's not used in a long long time. I hope that to be true because it sort of saddens me to know how little I retain of my past. I guess that's another reason to keep writing here.

Even more interestingly, when I read the above quote by Kundera, I nodded in agreement. I can easily tell that, for me, not only is it true that two people's recollections of the same instance vary by the degree of importance they've put on it, but they also vary by the amount of distortion they've performed on the truth. It appears, I distort my past all the time. I remember events in ways that conveniently explain my actions at the time.

A few months ago, I was rereading a childhood diary because of a school essay I had to write. The entries were from the summer I turned thirteen. I realized that my writings completely mismatched my memories of that summer. While it's possible that I was distorting my emotions in case someone read my diary, it's more probable that I stretched the truth over the years to make the situation more melodramatic, and such, a better fit for my "poor me" conversation.

Talk about selective memory.



March 25, 2003 ~ 00:03 | link | literature | share[]


JUST THE FACTS

History is written by the winners so the saying goes.

I waited for months to get my hands on Crescent and Star: Turkey between two worlds. I read about it months ago and decided it would be interesting to read a foreigner's perspective of my homeland. I downloaded the first chapter from the New York Times and found him to be interesting enough to be worth my time.

As I read book, I often find myself struggling to remember the versions of history I was taught. For as long as I can remember, I've hated history with a passion. Part of that might be attributed to having grown up in a country with history that practically dates back to the beginning of time. Another part could have something to do with my awful teachers. History translates to hours of memorization when you go to my school and maybe that's got something to do with my despising it, too. I've never been good at memorizing anything.

Anyhow, let's get back to my topic. Reading about the history of the Ottoman Empire, I noticed a few discrepancies. Some were minor, like the story of how someone got their nickname. Others were more drastic and made me ponder how history is taught. Every nation has its own version of what happened, who was right and why things turned out how they did. One nation's hero is another nation's traitor.

In my training class at work, I met a girl from Iran who became one of my close friends. I remember chatting with her one day, in the subway on the way home. I can't recall how the conversation came up but I was telling her how glad I was that Ataturk did all that he did for Turkey and how if it weren't for him, I don't know where we would live. She looked at me in the eye and told me that they considered him a traitor. I was flabbergasted. Honestly. If you ever visit Turkey and see how adored and cherished this man is, the idea of anyone, anywhere not thinking he's amazing hadn't occurred to me. I mean, there are special history classes solely based on him and his movements for goodness' sake.

Reading this book makes me wonder what it takes to get an honest account of history. What actually happened? I am not so concerned with who's right and who's wrong. I do understand that's opinion based. But I am interested in a straightforward order of events. Just to be informed. Just to learn without bias.

Do I need to read books from all the countries involved and string the pieces together? Is it even possible to get an accurate understanding of what happened? Is history always deceiving? Is the only way to know what happened to have been there?

People say that those to don't study history are doomed to repeat it. Yet they never say anything about how difficult it is to simply get the facts.

Previously? Anticipation.


March 21, 2002 ~ 00:03 | link | literature | share[]


SAVAGES

"As worker's comp benefits have become more difficult to obtain, the threat to workplace safety has grown more serious. During the first two years of the Clinton administration, OSHA [ Occupational Safety and Health Administration ] seemed like a revitalized agency. It began to draw up the first ergonomics standards for the nation's manufacturers, aiming to reduce cumulative trauma disorders. The election of 1994, however, marked a turning point. The Republican majority in Congress that rose to power that year not only impeded the adoption of ergonomics standards but also raised questions about the future of OSHA. Working closely with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, House Republicans have worked hard to limit OSHA's authority. Congressman Cass Ballenger, a republican from North Carolina, introduced legislation that would require OSHA to spend at least half of its budget on "consultation" with businesses, instead of enforcement. This new budget requirement would further reduce the number of OSHA inspections, which by the late 1990s had already reached an all-time low. Ballenger has long opposed OSHA inspections, despite the fact that near his own district a fire at a poultry plant killed twenty-five workers in 1991. The plant had never been inspected by OSHA, its emergency exits had been chained shut, and the bodies of workers were found in piles near the locked doors. Congressman Joel Hefley, a Colorado Republican whose district includes Colorado Springs, has introduced a bill that makes Ballenger's seem moderate. Hefley's "OSHA Reform Act" would essentially repeal the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. It would forbid OSHA from conducting any workplace inspections or imposing any fines." - Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.

Amongst many others, one of the issues "Fast Food Nation" made me face was the drawbacks of capitalism. In the book, there are quite a few examples where large companies, which are major revenue sources and employers in a state, push around the congressmen of the particular states. When a corporation, regardless of its size, gets to tell a political figure what sort of law he can and cannot introduce in a state, I think it's fair to say that there's something wrong with the system.

I'm not against capitalism as a concept. I think there's much to be said for the motivation provided by the knowledge that hard work can yield to a wealthy life style. Same goes for healthy competition. Often times the lack of monopolies provides for a more fair price for the consumer and allows for materials to stay close to their market value. I think incentives and personal benefit are better motivators than pep talks or long-term promises. Competition also promotes the push for better results. More efficient ways. I think in recent history, much scientific and electronic progress has been made in capitalist societies.

However, and you knew this was coming, it appears mankind is not necessarily exemplary in its behavior. There appear to be intoxicating effects of the money that encourage people to bend the rules far enough to break them. It appears the rich have no problem taking advantage of the poor, less educated or less advantaged. It appears there are some people who will do anything for the right amount of money. Even at the cost of human lives.

Until human beings grow up and grow a full-time conscience, I don't think it's possible to live in a fully democratic and fully capitalist society. I think organizations that watch out for the benefits of the thousands of people who don't have a voice are crucial to our society's life cycle. I think the government needs to remember its purpose and protect all of its citizens equally. Most importantly people need to care more. Humans are not an endless commodity. They are not a commodity. Humans have rights. Humans need to be treated like humans.

Sometimes it feels to me like thousands of years have changed little and we're still not much better than the savages we started out as.

Previously? Eat Meat?.


March 01, 2002 ~ 00:03 | link | literature | share[]


EAT MEAT?

Fair warning: the following excerpt is graphic and it's recommended that you don't read it while you're eating or before you're about to.

"I see: a man reach inside cattle and pull out their kidneys with his bare hands, then drop the kidneys down a metal chute, over and over again, as each animal passes by him; a stainless steel rack of tongues; Whizzards peeling meat off decapitated heads, picking them almost as clean as the white skulls painted by Georgia O'Keeffe. We wade through blood that's ankle deep and that pours down drains into huge vats below us. As we approach the start of the line, for the first time I hear the steady pop, pop, pop of live animals being stunned.

Now the cattle suspended above me look just like the cattle I've seen on ranches for years, but these ones are upside down swinging on hooks. For a moment, the sight seems unreal; there are so many of them, a herd of them, lifeless. And then I see a few hind legs still kicking, a final reflex action, and the reality comes hard and clear.

For eight and a half hours, a worker called a "sticker" does nothing but stand in a river of blood, being drenched in blood, slitting the neck of a steer every ten seconds or so, severing its carotid artery. He uses a long knife and must hit exactly the right spot to kill the animal humanely. He hits that spot again and again. We walk up a slippery metal stairway and reach a small platform, where the production line begins. A man turns and smiles at me. He wears safety goggles and a hardhat. His face is splattered with gray matter and blood. He is the "knocker," the man who welcomes cattle to the building. Cattle walk down a narrow chute and pause in front of him, blocked by a gate, and then he shoots them in the head with a captive bolt stunner - a compressed-air gun attached to the ceiling by a long hose - which fires a steel bolt that knocks the cattle unconscious. The animals keep strolling up, oblivious to what comes next, and he stands over them and shoots. For eight and a half hours, he just shoots. As I stand there, he misses a few times and shoots the same animal twice. as soon as the steer falls, a worker grabs one of its hind legs, shackles it to a chain, and the chain lifts the huge animal into the air.

I watch the knocker knock cattle for a couple of minutes. The animals are powerful and imposing one moment and then gone in an instant, suspended from a rail, ready for carving. A steer slips from its chain, falls to the ground, and gets its head caught in one end of a conveyer belt. The production line stops as workers struggle to free the steer, stunned but alive, from the machinery. I've seen enough." - Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.


I'm not a vegetarian, but after having read this, I thought long and hard about my choices. If you read Fast Food Nation and find out what goes into the meat that you eat, not to mention the conditions under which the meat packers work, you might seriously reconsider your choices, too.

Previously? Eyes Closed.




SMUT OR SUBSTANCE

I like to read. I love to read.

I like to listen to music. I like to go to the movies. I like to watch TV.

Until I moved to the United States, I didn't realize that there were a whole list of movies/books/etc. I could never admit to reading/watching/etc. It appears, here, there are two sets of people: one. people who have no standards, two. people who only read literature or watch small budget/foreign movies.

It appears I don't belong in either.

I like to read what I like to read and I tend not to worry about what others think about it. I read John Grisham and I read Charles Dickens. I'm not embarrassed of one just like I'm not particularly proud of the other. I don't read Danielle Steel and I don't read James Joyce or Hemingway. I believe that you can't judge something unless you've actually done it. if you've never read Sydney Sheldon, can you really say that he sucks? If you've read even one book, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, but I know tons of people who are happy to bash a novel they've never read, a movie they've never seen.

I think when you have the whole attitude that surrounds the mindset of 'I'll only watch movies that are small budget and independent', you're automatically ruling a whole set because it doesn't fit into criteria that you've preset at a certain point for a certain reason. It's such an exclusionary mindset. But that's their problem. What people choose to deprive themselves from is completely their own problem.

I mostly mind the people who judge you for liking something they define as low quality. There is an entire list of music you should never admit to listening. And God forbid you enjoy some mainstream writer or movie. Which means you have to walk with your head down in shame and hide any part of you that might find the movie fun or the music entertaining.

Why are people so judgmental? Why do people have to categorize themselves? Why can't you read comics and literature and Harlequin all in one and still be a high quality human being? Why do you have to wear all black and adhere to strict rules just to be intelligent?

I love Disney. I love cartoons. I enjoy watching teenage movies and TV shows and music.

And I refuse to be called stupid or non-intellectual.

Previously? Point of View.




POINT OF NO RETURN

I'd guess her age at twenty-eight or so, the point where working women first taste success and realize they've been conned. A crucial moment - it's when the ache sets in. sometimes it leads to marriage and a family. Sometimes it spurs devotion to a cause. Men reach this point, too, of course, but it seldom results in major changes. That's how it happened for me in my late twenties, when it dawned on me that CTC was not just a temporary assignment. I weighed my alternatives, convinced myself I had none, and here I am - subsisting on smoked almonds, chasing miles. - Walter Kirn in Up in the Air

Family or devotion to a cause? Hmm. No wonder they both sound so appetizing,

When I read this jewel in an otherwise mildly entertaining book, I couldn't believe my eyes. One of the greatest aspects of reading something you think in a novel is realizing that you're not the only one. Misery loves company, right? Actually everything loves company. Weirdness, sorrow, happiness. Knowing that you're not the only who thinks something is a major relief.

The hardest part, for me, was admitting that it's really not a path to some goal, but it's the goal itself. Even though I believe life is often the journey and not the destination, I also think that sometimes a worthwhile destination can make a difficult path bearable. What, unfortunately, often happens is that we get walking on a path, for some reason or another and rarely stop to consider whether it's the path we meant to keep walking on. Is there a worthwhile goal at the end of this one?

Assuming one does stop to consider these issues, as the above excerpt implies, the next difficult step is to have the nerve to admit that the path might not be leading anywhere special. And at twenty-eight and halfway to success, it's excruciatingly difficult to admit that. It's even harder to cut your losses and move back to begin another path.

I remember, freshman year in college, when my economics professor taught us about 'sunk cost.' If on your way to a concert you lose the tickets, do you buy another one when you get to the concert or do you just give up and go back home?

I hope that no matter how old I am and how far down the path I've traveled, as soon as I realize that it's the wrong path or the wrong destination, I will have the strength of mind to consider it sunk cost and turn my life upside down. As many times as necessary.

I guess I'm just like many other women. Facing that crucial moment. The only difference is that I'm twenty-seven. That's only off by one year.

Feeling less weird about my recent decisions already.

Previously? The Wrong Path.




THE POWER OF THE MUNDANE

Funny how one cares about these things, how desperately one wishes to make a good impression, how frightened one is of failure. It's pure vanity of course. Or perhaps, to be kinder to oneself, professional pride. There are so many other more important things in my life to worry about, and yet what matters most to me at the moment is thinking of something clever to say at the last session tomorrow. Messenger's the same - totally wrapped up in the conference, paying attention to every speaker, making sure everything is going smoothly, schmoozing his star speakers, keeping the TV people happy. Nobody would guess that he's waiting for the result of a blood test that could mean the difference between life and death. I suppose it's a blessing really, that we both have something to distract us. - David Lodge's Thinks...

Life is defined by extreme moments, the up or down spikes that break the monotonous straight line. When I look back on my past, I always remember the spikes. Sometimes they are major events: my college acceptance, my first kiss, my sister's wedding, my grandfather's death. Sometimes they're minor occurrences: a fabulous day with a good friend, a whispered secret, a broken trust. I don't remember much about my daily life.

Yet while these major or minor events were going on, life still continues. In the last five years, I've had many personal struggles, but I put on a normal face and took the subway to work. I sat through meetings, fixed my code and talked to users. I might have even chuckled once or twice. Not only did I show up to work everyday, but I worried about my code, making sure it's tested properly. I spent hours trying to solve a user's production problem.

Tragedies happen. Even without considering the freak events like what happened over a month ago. People get old and die. People that you love let you down. People that you always thought you couldn't live without, leave you. Most of us are emotional beings, we cannot move on in a few minutes. It takes time to develop a coping mechanism. Some recover quicker and some never really do. Regardless of your personal timetable, life continues on. In most cases, one has to report right back to work and meet deadlines. Or take midterms.

Ironically, I think it's these small tasks that keep us alive, that keep us from falling into a deep depression. The fact that you have to go to work gives you a reason to get up and dress in the morning. Your midterms stop your mind from constantly replaying scenarios relating to your tragedy. The trivial, day-to-day activities ensure that you have at least split seconds where you're not fully concentrating on the tragedy. I think that's what starts the healing process. After the first week, you spend a single minute thinking of something else. But a month later, you spend a full day. A few months later, maybe you move up to a week. The misery slowly disintegrates. Sometimes it lingers for years but it's not the debilitating emotion, it's a whisper that's barely audible.

I don't mean that we should forget about our tragedies. I never do. Even if I really would like to. But life does go on and human beings have an amazing capacity for pain. And tragedies remind me how thankful I am for the mundane.

Previously? Greatness.




IMITATION

Data now emerging show the fascinating and unexpected ways that genes and culture actually interact in animal mating situations. Consider the case of a fish less than an inch long: the guppy. In this species, females have an innate preference for males with lots of orange body color. Combining the importance of female mate copying with the documented genetically based preferences that female guppies exhibit for colorful males creates an ideal system in which to examine the relative importance of genetic and cultural factors in shaping mate choice. In a 1996 experiment in my lab, I did just that. Essentially I created an evolutionary soap opera. A female's genetic disposition was "pulling" her toward a more orange male, but social cues and the potential to copy the choice of others was tugging her in the exact opposite direction - toward the drabber of the two males. When males differed by small amounts of orange, females consistently chose the less orange males. In other words, they copied the choice of a female placed near such a male. Here, culture - in this case, the tendency to copy mate choice - overrode a genetic predisposition for orange males. If, however, males differed by large amounts of orange, females ignored the choice of others and preferred the oranger males - in this case, genetic predisposition masked any cultural effects. With guppies, it is as if a threshold color difference exists between males in the eyes of female guppies. Below that threshold, cultural effects are predominant in determining female mate choice, and above that threshold genetic factors cannot be overridden - and this in fish with a brain the size of a pinhead! - Lee Alan Dugatkin in The Imitation Factor

Lee, in his book, talks about how females imitate other females when choosing partners. If a female sees a man surrounded by other women, she gets interested. So much so that she might choose that male over another, one that genetically appears more attractive to her.

Doesn't that sound like high school? Not even a little bit?

I remember being in college and feeling amused, mostly cause I don't want to use a worse word, about how a male would date one sorority sister and then another, until half the house dated the same man. A guy who's dating looks appealing. Maybe cause the female thinks that since another female found him attractive of date-worthy, there must be something special about this guy. Especially, if the girl is popular or pretty.

Why is that?

Obviously, if all the women chased after the same man, there'd be one very lucky man and tons of not-so-lucky ones. So, obviously, some women choose different partners. Maybe cause they are oranger. But many women do go after the same man. Many women like to pick a man who's desirable. The joke about how much more attractive men become when they're wearing a wedding ring is not entirely without substance. Maybe women like the competition, the idea of having been chosen from a crowd. The idea of being the one that this desirable man picked. Or maybe it's the safety in numbers.

Lee also talks about how young women seem to imitate more than older women. As if young guppies know that their elder equivalents must have good taste in men. I think that also has validity in its correlation to human lives. I, personally, see this competition much more in teenagers than in adults. When an adult goes after a married man or an adult pursues some other woman's boyfriend, it's considered somewhat immature. Like she should know better. But women of all ages seem to do it all the same.

I don't really know the reasons for the imitation factor, but I can certainly agree with Lee that it's a part of our society. Even if it isn't the most desirable one.

Previously? To Have or Not to Have.




IDEAL VS. OUGHT

"Empirical research reveals that there is a significant correlation between low self-esteem and psychological disorders and a high correlation between high self-esteem and happiness." - Marvin Kohl in Wisdom and the Axiom of Futility

Self-esteem is an issue I've grappled with often in my life. When someone has it in high doses, others call him self-centered. When others lack it, they would often give up a body part to accumulate more of it.

I wonder if we're born with high self-esteem. Is it something that our parents instill in us or is it something that comes with the genetic makeup of every individual? If we're born with it, then that puts a lot more responsibility on the parents and environment of a child to sustain it. If it doesn't come inherent in our genetic structure, how exactly do parents, teachers, environment, or mentors establish it?

As I kept reading the above paper, I ran into this most interesting distinction of different causes of lack of self-esteem:

"Of the many sources of low self-esteem, two are central to the present discussion. That is to say, human beings compare their behavior to at least two different kinds of expectancies which typically have become internalized standards (or selves) whose point is to guide self-regulation. These selves are the ideal self and the ought self. The ideal self is the kind of the person an individual would really like to be...The ought self is the kind of person an individual believes he or she had the duty or obligation to be?"

The distinction between the two different forces at play fascinated me. Once I saw it on paper, it was obvious but somehow I'd never made the connections before. Since I'm a list-maker, I took out my pen and paper and tried to list the influences of my two selves. Here are a few from my lists:

ideal self
weighs less
is less messy
reads more
performs better
is kind, caring and giving
ought self
weighs less
knows how to cook
dresses more elegantly
has children
is tidy


I think it's important to make the distinction of feeling bad cause you can't become who you want to be and feeling bad because you're not what others want you to be. If your list looks like mine, it has a lot more things on the 'ought' category than the 'ideal' category. Which is a good thing. It means that I have been reaching the goals I've set for myself and that I'm controlling the things that I can. It also symbolizes that the conversations that repeat in my head are just other people's priorities and I really need to shut them up, which is easier now that I can easily see they are not mine.

What are some of the items in your lists?

Previously? Picky.




BLANK SLATE

"Gordon focused on a seeming oddity first noticed by the linguist Paul Kiparsky; compounds can be formed out of irregular plurals but not out of regular plurals. For example, a house infested with mice can be described as mice-infested, but it sounds awkward to describe a house infested with rats as rats-infested. We say that it is rat-infested, even thought by definition one rat does not make an infestation. Similarly, there has been much talk about men-bashing but no talk about guys-bashing, and there are teethmarks, but no clawsmarks. Once there was a song about a purple-people-eater, but it would be ungrammatical to sing about a purple-babies-eater. Since the licit irregular plurals and the illicit regular plurals have similar meanings, it must be grammar of irregularity that makes the difference.

...

Gordon found that three- to five-year-old children obey this restriction fastidiously. Showing the children a puppet, he first asked them, "Here is a monster who likes to eat mud. What do you call him?" He then gave them the answer, a mud-eater, to get them started. Children like to play along, and the more gruesome the meal, the more eagerly they fill in the blank, often to the dismay of their onlooking parents. The crucial parts came next. A "monster who likes to eat mice," the children said, was a mice-eater. But a "monster who likes to eat rats" was never called a rats-eater, only a rat-eater. (Even the children who made the error mouses in their spontaneous speech never called the puppet a mouses-eater.) The children, in other words, respected the subtle restrictions on combing plurals and compounds inherent in the word structure rules. This suggests that the rules take the same form in the unconscious mind of the child as they do in the unconscious mind of the adult.

...

The children produced mice-eater but never rats-eater, even though they had no evidence from adult speech that this is how languages work.Gordon's mice-eater experiment shows that in morphology children automatically distinguish between roots stored in the mental dictionary and inflected words created by a rule." - The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker


Parents and teachers historically tend to operate under the belief that babies and children do very little thinking of their own. Or that kids' minds are blank slates when they are born and when they start school. It's a common belief that children learn their mother tongue by repeating what the mommy and daddy say. Teachers assume that their first graders take their teacher's word for facts about science.

Yet, none of the above assumptions is true.

There is increasing evidence to the contrary. One-year-olds might be born with a certain grammatical structure or they might be developing it instead of merely imitating mommy's words. First graders already have ideas on why we can see an object and how darkness affects our vision. No matter how 'clearly' a teacher might explain a scientific fact, it often doesn't override the misconceptions the child has already built in his head.

It seems to me that we underestimate children. We never even think to ask them if they have an idea on why the sky is blue or what makes a seed grow into a tree. We assume they don't know until we teach them.

And you know what happens when you assume, don't you?

Previously? Intents.




VENGEFUL

"But he's groping behind his aviator sunglasses for the point of his anecdote - that forgiveness is ultimately less self-destructive than the bitter desire for revenge. Or perhaps that there is no such thing as revenge, in the sense that it never actually offsets the original grievance. " - Michael Lewis in Trail Fever

I don't believe in keeping tabs. At least I don't want to.

While I am quite difficult to anger, once someone crosses me, especially someone on whom I'd placed my complete trust, I rarely ever forgive. The heartbreaking experience of being hurt to my core seems to leave a deep trace in my soul.

Compared to many others, I haven't suffered any major disasters in my life, so when I run across stories of people who've suffered intolerable torture and are still able to forgive their offenders, I feel small. I feel petty.

As much as I don't believe in the necessity of revenge, I also haven't been able to forgive as easily as I should. I think the above quote is a perfect explanation of why revenge is useless. People seek revenge with the hopes that they can undo some terrible sadness or unfairness that occurred many years ago. Over the years sadness gives place to anger and bitterness. They focus all of their energy towards their enemy and grow to believe that if only they could seek revenge, all would be all right with the world once again. And, inevitably, it never works out that way.

Revenge leaves a bad taste in the person's mouth. It becomes misplaced anger, an emotion that surfaces way after its time. It resolves nothing and the person suddenly realizes he's wasted his entire life looking forward to this one moment which fails to deliver the magic. Talk about a wasted emotion.

While I don't live my life with the hopes of seeking revenge, I certainly do have a hard time forgiving people who hurt me. People who take my kindness and generosity for granted. People who forget that I have feelings.

But it's time to grow up. Time to let go. Time to learn to be a bigger person.

Time to forgive.

Previously? Know It All.




DIVING IN

"Courage is the mastery of fear, not the absence of fear." - Mark Twain

Mark Twain's quotes are often my favorite, but this one has a special significance to my current state of mind.

I think most people assume that if you take a risk you must either be stupid or fearless. Why else would you give up all you have for a questionable future? Especially now that the markets are bad, the future of everyone is up in the air. This is no time to take risks.

So I must be fearless, right?

I must be a snob. I must be secure in my abilities. I must be rich. I must be dumb.

Well, I'm not.

I just believe in the power of fear and the necessity of conquering it.

A while back, I wrote about how sometimes it's okay to ignore an issue. Sometimes time helps issues disappear. Sometimes you change your mind. Sometimes you just learn to let go.

But that's not the case with fear. Fear tends to grow with avoidance.

Imagine you're in a bad relationship and you're scared to leave him or her for fear that you might never find 'the one.' So you put it off. Another year passes and now your relationship is even worse, yet you're a year older, and even more scared to leave. Another year and you're even worse off. One more year, and you're completely stuck. You may never get out.

The same applies to pretty much everything of which you're afraid. A bad job, moving out, moving in, a bad friend. The longer you're in, the harder it is to get out.

The trick is not 'not to fear', it's to face your fears. To attack them head on and remind yourself that you deserve better. Or at least that you owe it to yourself to try. As Shakespeare said, "Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt."

Cause if you don't try, you cannot possibly achieve.

So I'm going to try. I am scared. But I want to try. I need to try. I will try.

Care to join me?

Previously? Cuppcik.




CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE

Act only on that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. - Immanuel Kant

I was watching a TV program about the above philosophy tonight and since I've never studied philosophy before, Kant's categorical imperative was completely new information to me.

While most of us would probably agree that only doing things that we would be okay with the entire public doing is a pretty safe moral attitude, I wonder if it's actually used. I'd be interested in putting our own behavior to the test.

Let's say you're not really good about recycling. You mean to, but you just never get around to it and it's so much easier just to mix it all up and take it out as one big bag of trash. Well, that's not a huge deal. How many recyclable items are you throwing away? Maybe 10 a week, maybe 20. At the end of the day it's not a major disaster.

Now let's assume, no one recycles cause what you do became universal law. Suddenly, the numbers have grown exponentially. Suddenly, it became a huge deal. Suddenly, you're the cause of a major problem. Don't you feel responsible?

You'd better.

Yet in our day-to-day encounters how many of us actually use such a barometer?

I can personally volunteer the information that I would fail this test in a different way almost every single day. Some days I don't show as much patience as I would expect other people to show, or at least the world would be a bad place if everyone practiced as little patience as I do on those days. Other days, I'm too lazy. And at times too selfish. I try to be conscientious and I try to not overdo any of my negative traits, but I can not in good conscience say that I'd measure up.

On the other hand, I can see cases where Kant's theory doesn't work so well. Life is often not so black and white. Sometimes we have to reprimand people, sometimes we have to lie, sometimes we have to be mean in the short term to ensure the long term turns out okay.

But those are the exceptions.

Overall, I think the concept of "imagine everyone in the world did exactly as you did" is a good strategy to live in a society. Maybe if we all kept the principle in mind more, we might rethink a lot of our behavior or at least grow a conscious seed.

Sometimes a seed is all it takes.

How well do you measure up in Kant's barometer?

Previously? All-nighter.




INTIMATE STRANGER

A little over a year and a half ago, I lived in Japan for about six months. Knowing I was going to be alone in a non-English-speaking country for that long, I brought along twenty-three books. I figured they would last me at least for the first month, after which I was scheduled to be in New York to celebrate the new year with Jake, and to be at work for Y2K support.

One of the books I had with me was Jane Smiley's Duplicate Keys. The novel, in my opinion, isn't Smiley's best. Actually, it was quite forgettable and such I can't remember most of the plot.

But, as in most of her novels, the characters were enticing and one of them mentioned something that stuck in my mind. Since the novel is about a murder, each of the characters that has a key to the apartment where the murder occurred, of which there are many, starts discovering things about the others and suspecting them. One of the characters mentions that she's surprised how little she knew about her boyfriend with whom she'd been for quite some time.

The question of "how well do we know the people we think we know" starts dancing around in my mind. I sit down at my computer and start typing everything I know about Jake. I start with the basic facts: how he looks, his family, his background, etc. I move into preferences, past concerns, life goals, wishes, dreams, failed attempts. Then I move onto the really private things. Traits that I assume only I, or an exclusive set of people, know.

I look through my list and feel good. After five years, I know Jake quite well. Or so I think. I move on to make lists for the other special people in my life. Close friends. Even my sister.

I'm surprised at some of the details I remember. I'm also interested to see the pattern in some cases where I know a lot in one category and practically nothing about another. If it's so consistent, it must be me and my way of relating to others.

I like the idea of 'seeing' how much I know about a person in my life. I like knowing the holes in my familiarity. I like speculating on why they're there. Was it my choice or his? Did she just not want to divulge or did I never think to ask? Are we really as close as we seem? Do I know anything about her childhood? What about his disappointments?

I recommend that you try to make your own list. At least one. Pick a significant other, a best friend. Write down all you know. From the most obvious to the subtlest detail. Put it all on paper.

See how well you know the people closest to you.

Previously? Permanence.




THE NEW NEW THING

Jake and I want to reading by Michael Lewis tonight from his most recent novel, Next.

At one point, Lewis mentioned a study by Robert Sapolsky of Stanford where, quite unscientific, research was executed on why older people show an inability/reluctance in adapting to change. Lewis explained that the research team discovered that people's ability to adapt to change was closely related to their experiences at a younger age.

For example, if you hadn't pierced your nose by 25 or so, there was little chance that you'd ever consider piercing your nose. The team supposedly wasn't able to figure why this was the case and they couldn't find any specific area in the brain that is used in adapting to the "new" which somehow depreciated with age. However there was ample evidence in favor of this idea.

Which would mean that it's crucial to try as many things as possible at a young age.

Or that seeds of open mindedness and curiosity need to be planted early on.

Sitting there, I thought to myself that I would hope to never be one of those people who have a hard time adapting to change. When I meet people who are negative on computers today, I find myself thinking how these people are choosing to overlook something that might improve their live tremendously. Of course there are negative aspects of technology but to completely rule out the possibility of it affecting your life positively seems nothing but small-minded.

I want to make sure I'm always open to new things. I don't want to be afraid of or intimidated by my lack of knowledge. I want to be open to uncharted territories and jump in the bandwagon. I try to do that in my twenties and I need to make sure that I also do it in my fifties. The idea of becoming the sort of person who's bitter towards change is a frightening thought for me.

So should I run out and pierce my nose?

Well, no. But I think I should be open the idea. I should consider it. It's not doing everything, as much as being open to the possibility of doing it.

That's what I never want to lose.

I've always been a firm believer that you can learn at any age. There's nothing extra-special in my brain that makes it easier for me to acquire a new language. People who claim that a language can only be learned at a young age can talk to me. I learned Japanese at 25. So I know that it's bullshit.

Humans are very good at making excuses. We're very resourceful when it comes things we don't want to do. We use lack of time, other commitments, work, family, anything and everything as a reason to not accomplish something. If you don't want to do something, you should just say so. It's pointless to use excuses. And there's no rule that says you have to learn anything. (well, there might be work requirements, but that's another issue)

I might like to pierce my nose, learn Swahili, a new programming language, or I might not. But I'd like to have the option. Now and forever. If that means I need to start now or try a bit of everything at a young age, then that's what I need to do.

Suddenly taking all these classes and turning my life upside down has an even bigger purpose.

Previously? Shortcut into Heaven.


July 30, 2001 ~ 00:07 | link | literature | share[]


RECIPROCATION

"The point is...the point is how I feel. I don't care what gets done. I just don't want to die feeling that I never tried. I don't believe in Heaven, or anything. But I want to be the kind of person who qualifies an entry anyway. Do you understand?

Of course I understand. I'm a doctor.


Nick Hornby's new book, How To Be Good, raises many interesting points about the meaning of being good, marriage, family life, charity and cynicism. Although it's not directly related, the exchange above made me realize why I don't like some of the ideas that have become linked with Heaven and Hell.

My personal beliefs on the existence of Heaven and Hell aside, I don't like the implication that someone should "do good" so they can be allowed in Heaven. To me that sounds just as conniving as lying to get your way.

You should never do anything because you expect something in return. I've always believed that doing something because you want to or like to is the only acceptable reason. Anything besides that is guaranteed to leave you, and the other people involved, displeased.

Life is so very short and it makes no sense to waste your precious moments on something that makes you unhappy. I understand that people work so they can earn money so they can go on vacations or afford other things that make them happy. And, while I have another rant saved just for that case, that's not the scenario I'm talking about here. I'm talking about doing something because someone guilted you into thinking that's what you should do.

What's the point of doing something out of guilt? How much satisfaction do you feel after you've completed an act that someone else thought to be "important that you do"? How much energy do you put into doing something that someone else deems necessary? Do you think people are so stupid that they don't notice your heart's not in it?

What's the point?

Are you trying to cheat people, or God in the case of heaven, into thinking that just cause you go through the motions of doing something that someone else 'strongly urged' you into doing, that they suddenly will think you're this amazing and dedicated person? No one, but you, loses in the end. You're the one who gave up the time to do something that you didn't care to and you're the one who doesn't truly feel rewarded since deep-down you know you never wanted to do it anyway.

Talk about a sell-out.

I think you should help the homeless if it means something to you. Six mentioned a while back about reducing your guilt and how you should call your old grandma Jane only if you actually want to talk to her. There are no guarantees in this life and real and honest people, their emotions and God can not be bribed. Guilt is nothing but manipulation and doing something in the hopes of getting something in return is awfully close to bribery.

Stop fooling yourself.

Previously? Crush Me.


July 29, 2001 ~ 00:07 | link | literature | share[]


HAPPIE NEWS

"The grief channel, the woman at breakfast had said, but the deliberate stimulation of public mourning was hardly unique to the network where Wallingford worked. The overattention to death had become as commonplace on television as the coverage of bad weather; death and bad weather were what TV did best." - John Irving in The Fourth Hand

It's amazing how sometimes when you have a thought, everywhere you turn, you see examples of it. Earlier this morning, I was thinking of how the news always consists or tragedies and terror. Bad news is far more sensational than good news.

With the exception of rare outliers, all news organizations tend to place the negative news above the positive ones.

I am not saying that the bad news isn't important. By no means do I encourage avoidance of the sorrow in the world. Information, of all kinds, is necessary for each person. No matter which country you live in or are a citizen of, we all live in the same world and belong to the "highly-evolved" animal class of human. Miseries suffered in other parts of the world than our own are relevant to our lives. And it is partially our duty to do our part, however small it might be, in lowering the world's suffering.

Everything starts with awareness. If you don't know the news, you can't do anything about it.

Having said all of that, I've decided that there are many papers that highlight the bad news and to tip the scales a bit more even, we also need to read some good news. This is coming from the previously mentioned idea of celebrating successes.

Yes, there are terrible things going on in the world. Yes, there is too much suffering. Yes, we have much work to do. Yes, it's important to recognize the atrocities that are going on in the world.

But it's also important to be aware of the good news. The inspirational people. The movements towards making the world a better place, whether they're small steps or huge ones. The stories that fill us with hope, amazement, and happiness.

If we only look at the bad, we will feel defeated and frustrated. We won't notice that while many parts of the world are falling apart and millions of people are letting us down, there are quite a few who are fighting to keep things in place. A few who're striving to make positive changes.

So I decided I want to show people the good news. The stories that are often at the bottom of a web page or in the inside pages of a newspaper. So that after several hours of reading disaster news, you can spend a few minutes reading about the people who've chosen to do something about it. Or something that's simply going to lift you up. Or make you laugh.

In an effort to celebrate the good and be aware that it's out there, I present, happie news.

Previously? Cults.


July 22, 2001 ~ 00:07 | link | literature | share[]


DOWNHILL

People do not knowingly join "cults" that will ultimately destroy and kill them. People join self-help groups, churches, political movements, college campus dinner socials, and the like, in an effort to be a part of something larger than themselves. It is mostly the innocent and naive who find themselves entrapped. In their openhearted endeavor to find meaning in their lives, they walk blindly into the promise of ultimate answers and a higher purpose. It is usually only gradually that a group turns into or reveals itself as a cult, becomes malignant, but by then it is often too late. -Deborah Layton in Seductive Poison

Until recently, I hadn't spent longer than three seconds of thinking time on the topic of cults. I had no reason to; I had never known anyone who had ever had any involvement, to any degree, with cults.

To me, cults had always been something weak people joined. People who lacked the capacity to think for themselves. People who wanted others to make the decisions in their life. People who could easily be deceived. I knew I would never join a cult. I even remember the Hale-Bopp incident and how we laughed at the stupidity of the people. I never stopped to think what had caused these people to become non-individuals that acted like lemmings. I assumed they had always been so.

A few weeks ago, I got in touch with an old college friend. A good friend who had asked me to call him a few months prior but between my vacation and usual hectic state, I'd put off calling him. When I finally got around to dialing his number, it didn't take me long to ask about his girlfriend and get the shocking news. This girl that he'd dated for quite some time, a computer scientist, had left him to join a cult. Of course, she denied its being a cult, but it was quite obvious to him and I knew him to be rational and felt confident taking his word.

I must admit that "joining a cult" would not have been in my top-500-reasons-why-couples-break-up list. As I plunged into my diatribe of how I would never join a cult, he asked me to read Seductive Poison and said we would chat afterwards. I read the novel and decided the above quote drove home the point my friend was trying to make.

While I still think it takes a certain mindset to join a group that evolves to be a cult, I can recognize that it's a lot more likely for a regular human to temporarily enter such a mindset than I would have originally thought. There are times in most people's lives where we feel like we're ready to give up. It might be because you lost a loved one, a job, a lot of money or many other reasons. But almost all of us go through a phase, however short or long it might be, where we feel alone, misunderstood and under-appreciated. Many of us lack self-esteem and want to make our loved ones proud.

The cult-leaders strike during those moments. They take the person who feels at the bottom and lift him up. They give him a purpose. They make him feel proud and important. Since most cults start as an encouragement or salvation tactic, they don't cause alarm flags to rise in the person's mind. By the time, the movement becomes a full-fledged cult, the people on the inside have long stopped questioning.

And that's the crucial point.

You must never stop questioning. It's necessary to reevaluate life constantly. Once you stop questioning, you never notice anything, you are now no different than a sheep in a herd. We display this behavior consistently. We think a lot before we make a decision but once it's made, we don't feel the need to reconsider it.

A common pitfall in long-term relationships is not realizing that you've long stopped loving your partner. You're still together only cause it's practical and that's how it's always been. Same goes for a long-term job. You don't ponder whether you still like it. You just do it day in and day out until you get to the next level and then you keep doing what you need to to get to the next level, and so on. You never stop and think about whether you are happy.

The only time we stop to rethink is if something major goes wrong. A partner cheats or you don't get an expected promotion. At that point, you've hit another low.

I'll buy that if you're depressed enough, you may be out of your mind enough to get involved in a cultish movement, but once you've recovered a bit of your sense of self, it's best to rethink every decision before being forced to do so.

It's the necessary tool for you to be in control of your own life.

Previously? Choke.


July 21, 2001 ~ 00:07 | link | literature | share[]


DOCUMENTING LIVES

"Artists' lives, in those days, were brief. Often in the living, always in the writing. A painter's life was as long as a who's who entry or a note in a tourist guidebook. This was what artists' recorded lives mostly were, chronological lists of works with a note on technique or the odd illustrative anecdote thrown in. the most intelligent and ambitious of these assemblages - Vasari's in the mid sixteenth century and Bellori's a hundred years later - elaborated an idea of painting that each artist's career was used to illustrate. Neither the individual artist's inner life nor the minutiae of his social existence - the staples of modern biography - was felt worth retailing to anyone interested in the work." - Peter Robb in M: The Man Who Became Caravaggio

I can't claim to be a biography expert. I haven't even read many biographies, let alone studied the differences among sixteenth century biographies and twenty-first century ones. But the above paragraph made me think of how much attention we direct towards the personal lives of public figures.

The categorization of a public figure may vary widely from person to person. While we would all probably agree that the President of the United States qualifies as one, we might have heated arguments on the inclusion of specific painters, writers, actors, etc. This discrepancy will depend on our definition of public, our familiarity with the specific artist and his or her work, and how reclusive he or she is. For example, I'm quite confident that we could all agree that JD Salinger is not a figure whose name is plastered on the gossip columns weekly, yet he may easily qualify as a public figure because as the writer of a famous novel, his work is read by many and his name is familiar to the public.

I don't know if this has historically always been so, but what a public figure does during his or her private time is considered to be sought-after information today. A quick glance at the tabloids would suffice to prove my statement. There consistently is at least one headline in reference to a well-known actor. Stories range from distasteful to absurd. But anyone who's studied economics will tell you that the articles would never have been printed unless the readers found them interesting, or at least worthy. Obviously if no one cared about who Meg Ryan's current boyfriend is, no one would read the tabloid that prints stories on that subject matter and the paper would soon go out of business.

But it doesn't.

On the contrary, tabloids thrive. The paparazzi are well paid and keep their jobs without many struggles. They both continue making money even after the lawsuits and the badmouthing.

We don't care about Julia Roberts' acting career (well, acting students possibly do but not the regular population) we care about her relationships, her family, her misery. We feel that since she's chosen a career that's in the public eye, she owes it to us to make her life public. We feel that we already know her.

Yet we don't.

What the public sees of an actor is his or her character, scripted by someone else and simply acted by that individual. We read the stories invented by a writer (in the case of fiction). These public sides don't necessarily (or even often) correlate to the person behind the face or name. Just because I like John Irving's stories it doesn't mean we can be buddies or even that I would like him as a person. While each of his stories might contain some of him, they don't tell me who he is.

Also, these are one-sided experiences. I might have read all of Irving's books or watched every Julia Roberts movie, but they've never heard of me. They have never been inspired by me. And they don't necessarily care to welcome me into their lives. While they chose to have careers that affect the public, they didn't opt to not have any private life. And I believe it's unfair of us to assume otherwise. I can easily relate to the drive to want to get to know the person whose work inspires the reader and I can see the value of documenting the inner life of a person who's had a unique outlook on life. But lately, it seems we've become much more interested in the person, even to the point of obsession.

Peter Robb's words are not judging. They are merely a statement on the differences in styles of writing biographies between the past and now. However, to me, his words highlight a crucial difference in the society and its views on artists. They show how attention shifted from the work to the person behind it.

And I'm not confident that's a positive change.

Previously? New Day.


July 14, 2001 ~ 00:07 | link | literature | share[]


UNFORTUNATE OXYMORON

The same mentality of utter indifference to costs can be seen in a newly refurbished elementary school in the little village of Ichinosetakahashi, on the slopes of Mount Fuji. The principal's office has a gleaming new bell and loudspeaker system to broadcast messages and summon the student body from recess. But during my visit in 1998, I quickly realized that it would be simpler to yell through the window for Daiki Saito to come in.

Daiki, a seven-year-old with a mischievous sparkle in his black eyes, is the only student in the entire school.... It costs $175,000 a year to run Daiki's school....

As a Japanese taxpayer, I was appalled at this waste of money and at the resulting 65 percent marginal personal tax rates, but it was difficult to find Japanese who were equally outraged. Many Japanese seemed profoundly torn, for they worried that efficiency would come at the expense of egalitarianism and social harmony. I found this view enormously admirable and utterly impractical. When I spoke to Daiki's principal, Tomishige Yazaki, he was not in the least apologetic about the expense. "If we just pursued efficiency," he said, "the world would become a very dry place with no sensitivity." - Nicholas D Kristof in Thunder from the East


Yesterday, I was at my acupuncturist's and I mentioned to her that I was reading a book on Asia and that she might be interested in it since she's traveled to different Asian countries and her work is closely tied to Asian culture.

At the time the section I was reading gave insight into the reasons of the recent Asian crisis and I was telling her about some of the reasons when she said, "Well, maybe that's not what matters to them, Asia has some of the most developed spiritual and cultural identities in the world."

Her comments combined with the lines above made me ponder why a sensitive and caring business and a thriving and successful one has to be mutually exclusive. Is it really impossible for a company to do well without compromising the happiness of its employees?

I'm hoping the answer is No or life is really depressing for those of us who work in corporate America.

Earlier this week, Jake and I watched an episode of The Charlie Rose Show where Herb Kelleher, the CEO of Southwest Airlines was the guest. Here's a rare example of an outstanding company in almost every way. A culture that brings people together and doesn't single out company executives with special perks. A corporation that has record profits year after year. A CEO who is humble and caring. A company that recognizes major personal events in the lives of each of its employees.

And, unfortunately, as of now, a rare exception.

Herb Kelleher is retiring soon and he mentioned that he might write a book to tell the story of Southwest Airlines. I certainly hope he does.

Maybe, then, his company might move from being the exception to being the norm.

Previously? Hiding.


June 12, 2001 ~ 00:06 | link | literature | share[]


WE'RE NOT REALLY THAT CLOSE

"The sense of dislocation was sharpened by the presence, in the center of town, of a single major Western-style high-rise hotel, called the Jing Ling. It was anonymously grand conference-holding, revolving-bar-and-atrium-ridden modern hotel of the sort that generally I heartily dislike but suddenly it was like an oasis to us." -Douglas Adams in Last Chance to See

Your sense of foreigner and friend is heavily dependent on your environment.

Imagine you live in a small neighborhood and are close friends with Amy and Jenna. All three of you attend the same school, and such spend copious amounts of time together each day. At school, they are your closest friends.

On weekends, you generally tend to hang out with James and Katie. Well, your whole crowd consists of ten people but you're closest to those two. Katie has another close friend in the group and we'll call her Angie.

Ordinarily, you don't consider Angie a really close friend but you probably know a bit more about her than the other seven since she's friends with your close friend. If you run into her when you're with Katie, the two of you stop and chat for a few minutes. Katie might even invite her along, depending on what your plans are.

Without Katie, you probably wouldn't talk to Angie for long, you might acknowledge her with a nod and pass by. Depending on how you feel about Angie, you might not even do that (though, I must say I consider that bad manners.)

Now let's imagine you're in Japan and you don't know a soul. You're walking down the street and you run into Angie. Assuming Angie hasn't been a complete bitch to you, you're quite likely to treat her as a long-lost friend on that crowded street. Relative to the current environment, you and Angie go way back.

I'm even willing to bet that if Jenna, your friend from school, runs into Angie they will treat each other as if they're good friends. When surrounded by strangers a girl you've met once is a buddy.

In the case of Japan, a soul who speaks English or who's from America might be enough to qualify someone as a friend.

So, as in most things, friendship is relative.

Previously? Humble vs Doormat.


June 08, 2001 ~ 00:06 | link | literature | share[]


TOO LATE

"Life is wasted on the living." - Douglas Noel Adams


I first came to know about Douglas Adams through a Fast Company article. His firm and ideas seemed so outstanding and fascinating that I put his novel on hold in the library. I am not and never have been much of a science fiction writer, but TheHitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy made me laugh from the first paragraph. I went on to read the rest of the five-part trilogy and even some others. I found his writing refreshing and hilarious and I wish I were half as creative as he is.

Or I should say "was" since Douglas Adams passed away yesterday, at 49, from a heart attack.

I've often wondered whether I'd like to meet my favorite writers. I read pretty much non-stop and have a long list of favorite authors. And Douglas Adams is definitely my favorite science-fiction writer, assuming I can categorize his work as such.

On the whole, I tend to like character-driven novels, which must be why I like the works of Anne Tyler, Salinger and Nick Hornby. The combinations of unforgettable characters and interesting plots like with John Irving or Charles Dickens are even more rewarding. And then there are the classics like Little Prince, lovingly provided by Antione deSaint Exupery. There are novels that make me think like Fahrenheit 451 or The Fountainhead. And writers like David Sedaris who makes me laugh and Harper Lee who makes me cry. There also are the nonfiction writers like Feynman who show me the wonders of the world in which we live.

All of these writers, and many more, touch my life regularly. They give me glimpses of their thoughts, knowledge and imagination. This must be why it's common to be asked which writer you'd like to meet. Douglas Adams definitely was someone I'd love to have met. It seems he was really unique and I think he would have inspired me. I don't feel that way about Salinger or Dickens though I adore their novels. Feynman sounds like another amazing human being, someone so incredibly fascinated with the magic of science, who loved his wife passionately and played the bongos for fun is definitely worth meeting.

Douglas Adams's death made me realize that I need to be more active in going to my favorite writers' events. I want to attend readings and find out more about the people behind the novels. It also made me want to go back to writing my own novel.

So long and thanks for all the novels, DNA, I hope you have your towel with you.

Who are your favorite writers? And which ones would you like to meet?

Previously? Out There.


May 13, 2001 ~ 00:05 | link | literature | share[]


TOO NICE TO DATE

Dura Ť la stella mia, maggior durezza
Ť quella del mio conte: egli mi fugge,
i' seguo lui; altri per me si strugge,
i' non posso mirar altra bellezza.

Odio chi m'ama, ed amo chi mi sprezza;
verso chi m'Ť umile il mio cor rugge,
e son umil con chi mia speme adugge;
a cosž stranio cibo ho alma avezza.

Egli ognor dŗ cagione a novo sdegno,
essi mi cercan dar conforto e pace:
i' lasso questi, ed a quell'un m'attegno.

Cosž ne la tua scola, Amor, si face
sempre il contrario di quell ch'egli Ť dagno:
l'umil si sprezza, e l'empio si compiace.

Harsh is my fortune, but harsher still is the fate
dealt me by my count: he flees from me,
I follow him; others long for me,
I cannot look at another man's face.

I hate him who loves me,love him who scorns me;
against the humble lover, my heart rebels,
but I am humble to him who kill my hope;
my soul longs for such harmful food.

He constantly gives me cause for anger,
while others seek to give me comfort and peace;
these I ignore, and I cling instead to him.

Thus in your school, Love, we receive
always the opposite of what we deserve:
the humble are despised, the heartless rewarded.

The above sonnet is Sonnet 43 by Gaspara Stampa. She was influenced by the well known poet Petrarch.

Reading this poem reminded me of a pattern I frequently observed in my female friends since high school. For some reason most of my female friends were attracted to typical "bad boys" and quickly got bored with the nice, caring men who liked them. I never fully understood the fascination of the 'bad' but I noticed it with enough consistency that I can be sure Gaspara wasn't the only one who suffered from this phenomenon.

It seems the nice men have a low dangerousness quotient and are therefore less interesting to be around. They often make great friends but are rarely ever picked as a potential boyfriend. Of course, choosing the guy who makes your life more challenging becomes a major hazard in the long term. Invariably the guy cheats on you, abuses you verbally or, worse, physically or just ups and leaves. If he didn't do any of the above, he wouldn't qualify as the dangerous and exciting partner to have.

Almost all of my friends were acutely aware of the stupidity of their decisions, but yet they kept making the same choice over and over again, falling to pieces at the end of each one.

I remember a friend who kept turning down really wonderful guys who were interested in her. Guys who cared about who she was and what her thoughts and feelings might be. Instead she'd go for the good-looking guy who chose her for her looks and never really cared about her words. For some inexplicable reason being with this guy would make her feel good about herself. Even if the guy drank too much and trashed her place, she was dating the cool guy and that's all that mattered.

I've made a few misjudgments of character in my life, held on to people for a little too long but I can easily say I never went for the type who was obviously going to break my heart. I guess the biggest reason must be cause I was never really good looking enough to be chosen by such men and also cause I'm not really any fun: I don't drink alcohol, I don't smoke and I rarely dance. I'd much rather spend the night reading a book. So I guess in this case, it all worked out to my advantage as I ended up with the nice men and in durable relationships.

But I still don't understand why a person would knowingly go for someone who is obviously going to be disappointing. Isn't that sabotaging a relationship before it even begins?

Previously? Behind.


May 07, 2001 ~ 00:05 | link | literature | share[]


BEHIND

"Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden painted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there. It doesn't matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime." from Fahrenheit 451

When I read passages like the above, I try to look at my life and figure out what I plan to leave behind. Having children is an obvious answer. Assuming everything turns out okay biologically, I plan to have children and, hopefully, I plan to have them outlive me. So even if I accomplish nothing else, I can have that as a backup.

The fact is, I want more than that. I want to change the world. I want to touch people's lives, I want to save the planet, I want to create things, I want to make a difference. I think that's one of the main reasons I am displeased with my job. While it makes my financial life smooth sailing, programming applications for an investment bank isn't what I'd call 'saving the world.'

Don't get me wrong, I don't think I need to start a movement to save the world. On the contrary, I believe a tiny thing is all it takes. If everyone did a tiny bit, we'd all be so much better off. I've talked about this before and I still believe in what I said. But I also have this urge to do something great. Something bigger than I am. Something that isn't selfish and all about making my own life better. Something that will make me and my family proud of who I am. Something that will show the world that if I can, so can everyone else.

The question is what? Of course, I have no clue, cause if I did I'd be out there doing it instead of here, writing about it. But I promise you here and now that I shall leave something behind.

What will you leave behind?

Previously? I Am.


May 06, 2001 ~ 00:05 | link | literature | share[]


GAMES

A man had left a Czech village to seek his fortune. Twenty-five years later, and now rich, he had returned with a wife and a child. His mother was running a hotel with his sister in the village where he'd been born. In order to surprise them, he had left his wife and child at another hotel and gone to see his mother, who didn't recognize him when he walked in. As a joke he'd had the idea of taking a room. He had shown off his money. During the night his mother and his sister had beaten him to death with a hammer in order to rob him and had thrown his body in the river. The next morning the wife had come to the hotel and, without knowing it, gave away the traveler's identity. The mother hanged herself. The sister threw herself down a well. I must have read that story a thousand times. on the one hand it wasn't very likely. On the other, it was perfectly natural. Anyway, I thought the traveler pretty much deserved what he got and that you should never play games. - excerpt from Camus's L'etranger.

Playing games is always dangerous.

At the beginning of my relationship with one of my boyfriends, I thought to surprise him for Valentine's day. I ordered a rose through the college charity program, with the attached card reading, 'happy valentines from a secret admirer.' That evening I walked over to his place, quite proud of my sweet idea. He greeted me happily and we chatted for a while, but he never mentioned the rose. I finally broke down and asked him about it and he turned crimson.

He had thought it was someone else, and to not hurt me (or maybe to pursue the other person as well) he had decided in favor of not telling me about it. I, of course, got really upset and told him that he should never lie to me. He got mad thinking the entire idea had been a test to see if he'd be forthcoming or not. Which it wasn't. I had merely tried to be exciting and sweet. Needless to say, I had failed miserably.

Since that day, I've been extra careful not to play games. I feel that honesty is the best policy in a relationship of any kind. If I don't like someone what's the point in my working so hard to make her feel otherwise? If my boyfriend is interested in seeing other women, why should we continue to date? If I feel the need to lie or make up truths to keep up a relationship, I'm afraid what we have is not a relationship.

So, with me, brutal facts are all you get. I won't act like I like you if I don't. When dating, I never did the 'oh I should wait till he calls me first' thing. If I like him, I'll call him. If he likes me back, great, if not, oh well. I don't have the time to waste on misunderstandings. I can't keep track of how many days I need to wait till it's appropriate for me to call. I can't be bothered with thinking of good lies. I won't act nice if you make me feel bad and I won't act demure when I feel happy.

Life is too short to play games.

Previously? Fame and Fortune.


April 08, 2001 ~ 00:04 | link | literature | share[]


ART OF SUBTLETY

Last week, I started reading Dangerous Liaisons. Between that and the Decameron I'm remembering why I used to love such books.

They mastered the art of suggestion.

These novels are dripping with sexual acts yet the word sex is not mentioned once. The creativity of the author in weaving the appropriate words in with the beautifully amusing and intelligent characters makes me smile each time. I love these people. I admire this author. Not just for his ingenuity and wit but for not assuming that his or her readers are dumb.

I have the same problem with movies. What bothers me about recent movies is not as much their lack of creativity as their assumption that the audience is stupid. Characters have no depth, plots are rarely complicated and just about anyone can figure out the ending of most current movies.

I don't mean to imply that I want movies to have open endings. On the contrary, I enjoy when the story has an ending. I don't need every single knot tied but I don't like the ending left to the moviegoer's imagination, either. But the recent movies are so shallow that just viewing the preview is enough to get the entire plot. There are no surprises.

I'm offended by the implications of the recent movies and novels. Either the authors and moviemakers are dumb or they think that the population is. The characters are so unbelievably one-sided. No good characteristics on the bad guy and nothing bad about the good guy. It's so sad.

If the characters aren't going to be totally realistic, like in The Taste of Others, then I want them to be witty. I want them fun and interesting. I want them unpredictable. I want them to be worth my time.

I know it takes longer to read novels that dance around the issues. You need to pay attention to the words, you need to read between the lines. But that's what makes the reading so much more rewarding. You can read it once and then strip the layers and discover another level of meaning, like in Shakespeare. These novels are fun to read on the surface but they offer so much more to the person who's looking for it.

Especially since these deliciously wicked people are so much fun.

Sometimes what you don't say can mean so much more than what you do.

Previously? No More.


March 26, 2001 ~ 00:03 | link | literature | share[]


REWRITING

You're always free to change your mind and choose a different future, or a different past. from Illusions by Richard Bach

Many years ago, I went through a Richard Bach stage. I read almost everything he wrote and devoured his thoughts. Until Jake's parents ruined it for me, Jonathan Livingston Seagull was my favorite book.

After a while, I started to grow tired of his style and his ideas became less and less plausible. For some reason, the above quote always stuck in my mind. Obviously choosing a different future is no big whoop. Most people believe in the idea that they have the ability to change their future.

On the other hand, changing your past might require some more work. I'm not sure what exactly Richard Bach meant by that but here's my interpretation:

What I call my past is a collection of memories my brain stores from events that I believe occurred. It's pretty much proven that, in some cases, what we remember is an accurate version of the event and, in many cases, it's not.

Most popular sayings tell you to forget the past and the future and concentrate on today. They claim you have no ability to change what has already occurred or what's yet to come. But I disagree. I know that I don't like the way I remember my past and I've decided I'm going to change it. Memory is selective and I'm electing to no longer remember things in their distorted way.

Almost everyone has some horror stories from their past. One kid was teased mercilessly, another beaten by bullies regularly, and yet another had to go through much more severe problems. Some of these people get hung up on their past and others move on. I don't know how one 'gets over' it and the other doesn't and I've always subscribed to the notion that if you're the type who clings to the past, you can't just 'get over it'.

I am now changing my mind. I've decided to get over it. And I'm going to. Enough is enough. It's time to stop holding on to the negative memories. It's time to remember the good times, the kind people, the laughter. It's time to move on and make new memories.

It's time to let go.

Previously? Right Moment.


March 24, 2001 ~ 00:03 | link | literature | share[]


HEART

If you read Metafilter or McSweeney's , you might have heard about Dave Eggers's recent clarification. I've read several of Dave Eggers's works and I'm quite a fan. Since I'm not really a humor reader, I've always wondered why I like his work so much and while reading this clarification, I remembered why.

Here's the sentence that goes to the core of things.

David, you wrote that without heart. There is no heart in your piece.

In the end, it all comes down to heart. People who make solid friends, good movies, novels and music all have to have heart. Cause if the passion, the burn is not there than nothing matters. If you can't be enthused and thrilled and amazed about what you're doing, why are you doing it? If you don't care about your friends, why would you have them? If you're not giving it all you have, you're wasting your time. And ours.

Tonight, I finally watched Billy Elliot and I loved his answer to the judges from the ballet school. He said dancing makes him feel like electricity. I've always admired artists cause they have the balls to do the thing they truly love while the rest of us and just working so we can put food on the table. They have heart.

Another point by Eggers which is close to my heart is the following:

In your correspondence, you sound like a normal, even warm, person, who cares about truth, who enjoys books, etc. But in your journalism your persona is very different. Where does that tone come from? How can any reasonable person speak so snidely about books? Books!

I couldn't agree more. Each time I read a book critic that totally bashes a book in the most snotty, all-knowing way, I think the exact same thing as above. How pathetic must these people's lives be that they feel the need to bash others. If they know so much about books, they should sit and write one themselves! I guarantee their viewpoint and harsh judging criteria would change. How much bitterness and anger must these people have to do this for a living?

When I finally finish my novel, that's all I want out of it.

I want it to have heart.

Previously? The Universe and Me.




TRUST
Dave Eggers has a great section on trust in his new appendix. It's about halfway down the first page. He ends his little story with these words. The point is that trust is usually rewarded, even though trust is sometimes violated, horribly. Trust is fun. It is fun to trust strangers. It is fun to risk what you can reasonably risk - like, your car, or your reputation - on the trust of people you know only through something ephemeral shared, something like taste in books or cartoons, or having watched people suffer.

I couldn't have put it better. I've always been trusting. For the longest time, I expected nothing less than kindness and good intentions. I spent my whole childhood being made fun of and singled out. Karen the weird one. Karen the ugly one. Karen the bookworm. I never fit in. I was blessed with conniving and cruel friends who took every opportunity to talk behind my back and make fun of me to my face. Yet I still didn't lose my trust in the humankind.

I grew bitter and private. But finally I met people who appreciated me more and more. I came to the States and found people that even understood me. It became easier to trust people.

The thing is, if you don't trust people, you're not even giving them a chance. Assuming that people will disappoint you and let you down will only invite such people into your life. I think that when you give them the opportunity, people love to surprise you. Most people are too scared to trust. It's too hard and too painful.

I believe we're all born trusting and that somehow something happens that changes our mind about what the core of a person is. We become mistrusting, we become cynical, we become afraid. But you can't run away from people. You can't spend your life alone. You can't give in to fear. This is your life and you need to take control and live as you please. Trust, in the right hands, has magical outcomes. Giving up on trust is like giving up on the humankind.

You might as well give up on life.

Start small. Risk things you can afford to. Let people amaze you.

Previously? Fighting.




WRITTEN WORD
I enjoy the written word. I always have. When I was in college, I used to ask friends to write letters to me. Most of them, since they were such neat people, after telling me what a total whack job I was, actually wrote me really interesting letters. To the day, those are some of my most treasured college items.

I spent a good chunk of my day reading someoneís online diary or something along those lines. Now, Iíve never met this person. He doesnít even know my name. I only know his cause it says it on his web page. Yet I spent several hours of my day, work day nonetheless, reading about his life. These entries were dated, too. Around last February.

After all that time, I wondered why I was interested in reading about details of his life. Why did I care about the affairs of this guy whom I will most likely never meet? Iím not even into published non-fiction, why did I enjoy this strangerís writings so much?

Then I realized that this was just like those letters I used to ask people to write. As opposed to what they assumed, I didnít want them to write about me or how they felt about me. I wanted to know what they were thinking and how they felt. I have always believed that people are more honest when they write. Lack of instant reaction helps ward off worries about the effects of your words. These writings have given me a glimpse into this guyís soul. Or at least a part of his thoughts.

I love meeting new people. Getting to see how they think, what makes them tick and what choices theyíve made fascinate me. Every person I meet, on or offline, teaches me something new about myself. New people open my mind, broaden my horizons, and challenge my thought process.

The neat thing is, pages where people write about themselves give me a similar opportunity. While itís a skewed and one-sided relationship, itís still a peek into someoneís thoughts, feelings or life. I look at their hobbies, their passions and learn about new things. Thatís why I prefer personal pages to ones that simply contain daily links.

Even though I might never tell him, Iím delighted about the insights I gained from todayís visit.

So I wanted to thank him.

Previously? Straight Shooter.




ON WRITING
Goody Links
The ever evolving Sign Language. [ via Swallowing Tacks ] I thought this was a real neat article showing how fascinating ASL is and how it keeps improving itself to adhere to the times. Since sign language is quite conceptual, it makes perfect sense.

Steven Champeon of a jaundiced eye quotes from Justice Steven's dissent. You can read the entire opinion here.

If you ever thought there was such a thing as private email, think again. Yum or not, it probably wasn't meant to be distributed. [ via MetaFilter ]

This Time Magazine cover made my day! Even if it's a total fake. [ via CamWorld ]

Thoughts
I write fiction.

You might not be able to tell from the quality (or lack thereof) of these posts but I do write fiction. I'm currently in the process of writing a novel.

This morning, at my physical therapistís, I realized two things. One, I'm in the wrong profession for getting juicy tidbits of other people's lives. Two, it's amazing what people are willing to tell a physical therapist.

There seem to be quite a few people to whom we don't mind telling intricate stories about our life. Besides the physical therapist, there is the hairdresser, manicurist, dietician, personal trainer, dry cleaner, masseur... Most of these people are consistently in your life but for only small periods at a time.

This morning as I lay in a curtained-away table with a small electrical rod massaging my lower back, this guy in the section next to mine started talking in detail about his job to his therapist. Two interesting facts: I could hear every word and he worked in the same company as I did. As this person started divulging more and more information about his job, I felt like getting up and telling him that I was sure he didn't want me to know this information. Last week the same thing happened to me with another therapy patient talking all about her life, but she didn't work in my firm so it was less relevant.

The morning's session got me thinking about how we tend to share information with people whom we barely know. I can recall many manicure sessions where another client would talk about her bitchy mother or how she was a week away from quitting but was just waiting to receive her yearend bonus. Amazing how much we're willing to share when we think there is no way the information can be repeated to someone in our work or personal environment.

I was thinking how this therapist must have millions of little stories in his head from all the patients he sees. Considering the fact that he has three appointments an hour and works a twelve-hour day, he's got a minimum of 35 stories every day. Even if over half of his patients are totally silent and half of the rest are boring, we end up with at least 8 stories a day. I guarantee that's more than what I hear as a computer programmer.

Methinks it's definitely time for a career change. Any recommendations?

Previously?




BEAUTY
One other thing I meant to have noted from Mean Genes is the unusual fact about beauty. It talks about how the idea of beauty has changed over the years and one example it cites is the Miss Americas. Even though their sizes have changed considerably over the years, all the women have had one thing in common. Their waist to hip ratio has been between 0.69-0.72. So is Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Twiggy, and Elle Macpherson. No matter what your opinion of these women, I think that was an interesting fact. (And of course, the first thing I did was to measure myself and, yep, I am pretty much in that range, heh!) The book explains that women with that ratio are the most fertile, therefore most attractive.

I spent most of the day studying Japanese. It seem that the more I study, the more I forget. I can't even remember basic words anymore. Maybe it's time to stop. Not yet. Only one week left.

I used to avoid reposting links that are commonly available at the most popular logs and metafilter to not repeat the obvious, but I decided against that. A few months down the road, I might want to revisit a certain link and might not remember where I'd seen it and since this is my log, I figure it's only fair that I put links that I enjoy. Just letting you know in case you notice the appearance of those.

I am totally addicted to Cosi sandwiches. I eat a real plain one with just cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomato, but I can eat this sandwich for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It's incredibly delicious. I'm not sure if the stores are only in New York City, but if there's one near you, I highly recommend you give it a try (or maybe not since they are so addictive.)

Before?




GENETIC MAKEUP
Back in New York. I think the combination of severe allergies and extreme cold didn't treat me so well.

One more week and I will get to relax for a few weeks. Yum.

I finished Mean Genes. If you're interested in genetic behavior and whether our genetic makeup can be connected to the lack of ability to save money or lose weight, you might find this book interesting. For some reason, it was a long read for me but I really enjoyed the book. I can't vouch for its accuracy or the data's validity but it did give me some to think about so it was well worth my time.

Almost 20 days after the election and we still don't have a president. I think the situation has gotten so ridiculous that the outcome doesn't even matter anymore. Either way, people are going to whine and argue for the next four years. On the other hand, I'm delighted about the 50-50 senate. Especially if the presidency is gonna end up the way it looks like it will. I think it's wonderful that the American public has been completely calm and willing to wait things out. Considering all the mess going on in the courts, I think the public has been amazing. If this were Turkey, I can't say the public would have been equally sane. I'm still crossing my fingers for my candidate, tho...

Before?




RUDE WOMAN & SHRINKS
So this afternoon I'm in a cab, going to class, down Broadway. In the middle of a stoplight, this woman opens my side of the door and looks at me as if I'm going to be getting off. I look at her with, "What the fuck's your problem?" considering I was blocks away from my destination. She's not fazed. She says "Where are you going? I need to go down to Wall Street." The cabbie tells her to hop in on the passenger's seat in the front and she does. Several more blocks and I'm at my destination where I pay my fare and get off. If this were Turkey, I wouldn't have been surprised a bit, but in a city where people don't even look at each other in the eye, the entire experience was all too strange for me.

While writing the next scene in my novel, I started thinking about shrinks and how the relationship is so one-sided. Here you are pouring your heart to a person whom you know very little about. You don't even know if this person is married or has children. They never relay any personal stories of their own, yet you sit there and tell them every little thing about your soul. You pay them to listen and, hopefully, give you some clues into your problems and ways to find resolution. I'm sure this is no news to anyone, but it just made me think today.

In my art class, we looked at different paintings depicting the same story. It was interesting to see how the same biblical story was shown in so many different ways. Actually, the similarities were more interesting. The pose in which a character stood over and over again regardless of painter or period is really fascinating to me.

Before?




ANTISOCIAL & BOOKS
Many people complain about the net and how it keeps you away from socializing. They talk about the people you meet online and about how those are not real friendships. I have been involved with a writer's group online for a few years now. I've made some amazing friends with whom I shared some of my worst and best moments. If these people mean nothing to us, why did I spend a good portion of my morning crying for the loss of the husband of a woman I only physically met once? As tears strolled down my cheeks, I wished I could be in Canada and do anything for this woman to be okay. She is in my thoughts and my heart. Trust me, she's a friend.

I'm reading a book in Turkish on improper uses of the language and something the writer said made me ponder. I translate, "If you think that someone who doesn't use language correctly thinks properly, logically, conceptually, immediately give up that belief. A human is as much as he talks, as much as he writes, how he explains, nothing more. Language is what forms thoughts. No one can think without language." Do you agree? I've had several friends tell me how they cannot put their thoughts properly into any language. According to my author, that would not be possible. Since I started writing, mastering English has been crucial to me. Reading this book makes me feel the same way about Turkish. It takes very little effort to speak your own mother tongue properly and, if you ask me, it's really worth it.

Diane Ackerman, in her book, talks about how a smell can transport you to a specific place and time and bring back an entire memory. For me, music does that. Each time I hear songs from Roxanne's Joyride, I get transported to the boat taking me from Burgaz to Istanbul and images of the comic book I used to read back then dance before my eyes. I cannot imagine my life without music.

Before?




PAY IT FORWARD - THE BOOK
Make sure to watch the debate tonight. It's bound to be interesting. I'm not eligible to vote and I'll be watching.

Last night, I stayed up late and finished Pay it Forward. I started it at 2pm yesterday and was done the same day, which must mean some positive things about the book. The interesting thing is that I didn't really enjoy the way the book was written and organized. I didn't like the jumping of viewpoints amongst several characters and I didn't like that she switched from 1st Person to 3rd and back. But the story was engrossing, at least for me. The idea that you can change the world is always a good topic of discussion for me.

I love the rush of reading a book all day long cause I can't possibly put it down. Especially when it's not pure trash. .

3 days till I go home! Yeeeaaaaay!





STAGGERING GENIUS
I finished the Eggers book. I used to not be a non-fiction reader, but with books like The Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and The New New Thing I'm enjoying reading biographies more and more. Even though the two were totally different stories in style and substance, they both told the life of interesting people in a well-written manner.

I enjoyed the Michael Lewis book because it inspired me to do something extraordinary. He has found ways to discover the new new thing over and over again. Once he decided what it was, he delved into it totally and made it happen. He did it his way but he kept succeeding. A person with as little formal education as he proves that it's not schooling that matters in real life. It's how much you believe in something.

The Eggers book is more personal, maybe because it's an autobiography or maybe due to the angle he took with the book. The voice is that of a funny, self-conscious twenty-something who has had more than his fair share of misfortunes in life. It's heartbreaking and hilarious packed in one. It gets longwinded at times but it never ceases to be fascinating.

I also just finished How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. The 112 page book made me laugh so hard that I cried. As an amazon reviewer said, the drawings are the best part of this book.






SMALL PEOPLE
My signature file contains the following quote:

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great." --Mark Twain

I totally believe in the above sentence.

People who are truly good at what they do will never undermine others. They make it seem easy and possible. They can explain things in a clear, concise and easy to understand manner. The only person who can't break something to chewable portions is someone who doesn't truly understand it.

Many people, to cover up their lack of knowledge, will try to make things seem confusing and complicated. They will put down the efforts of others. I've heard people say, "Why does everyone think they know how to write a book?" The same sentence can be applied to many professions, especially ones involving artistic ability.

Why is it so awful if anyone can do what you can? I don't take it offensively if I meet another coder. I don't turn my nose at someone who's just learning how to write programs. I try to help people who are learning a language I can already speak.

If other people can do what you can, does it make it less important? Does it make it less impressive? Less cool?

Not at all.

The fact is, even if someone can also write a novel, they'll never do it the way you do. We are all unique creatures and have our own way of thinking, our own creativity, our own stories to tell, our own voices to tell them with. Even if everyone in the world were a painter, all the paintings would look different.

Next time you see someone making an effort, instead of bashing her, offer her advice and encourage her for trying. Remember that while that particular thing might be your forte, you have weaknesses too. If we all helped each other, we would all improve collectively.

If you try to do something and people make fun of you, remember Twain's words. Only the little people belittle your ambitions.

Cause it's so much harder to be nice.




FIGHT CLUB
Been to I am? The first thing I thought when I saw this ad was, I am Joe's Clenching Bowels.

I bought Fight Club way before the movie came out. Since I'm trying to write, I like to read first time authors. I dunno if you've seen the movie, but I gotta tell you, the book is much much better. I loved his writing style and the whole ending thing was handled in a much better way in the book. If you haven't seen the movie, I'd highly recommend reading the book first.

This is your life and it's ending one minute at a time.






NEAL POLLACK
I convinced Jake and a bunch of other friends to go to Neal Pollack's reading tomorrow. After having read the interview with Dave Eggers, I'm interested to see what their readings are like. I've never been to an actual book reading before but I have a hunch this one will be quite unique.




CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS
Home at last. Another seven-hour trip and we're back in the beautiful city of New York. My little bird jumped up and down when he saw us and my flowers seem to have survived the weekend. So far so good.

Have you read any children's books lately? I checked Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs from the New York Public Library after reading a delightful amazon review of it. I highly recommend it. It's neat to read creative and entertaining children's books. At the back of the book, in the blurb about Ron Barrett, the illustrator, is the following note: "Mr. Barrett says his drawings of meatballs in no way endorses their consumption. He's a vegetarian."




DIFFERENT BOOK
Bond market closed and we all got sent home. Yeay!

I finally got A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius from the library. I haven't read it yet, but even the blurbs on the back cover are amusing. I'm sure this book won't disappoint me.

Ash: A Secret History has a full version published in the UK while it will be published in four parts in the US. Hmmm, a marketing ploy you think?

A Clockwork Orange was also published differently between the UK and the US. Actually, the US version didn't have the last chapter. In the intro of my book, which did have the entire set of chapters, Burgess talks about how his American publisher thought the book ended better if the last chapter were left out. When Kubrick made the movie, he used the American version of the book, therefore, left out the actual ending. Burgess said that, for years after the movie was made, he got letters from his European readers asking why the ending was excluded. He was quite pissed about it.

Btw, that was one strange book.




SALINGER
As a huge fan of JD Salinger, I read all of his books. While my favorite was Franny and Zooey, I really enjoyed Nine Stories and Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters and Seymour. While, The Catcher in the Rye is his most famous, I think his other books are just as good, if not better. Anyhow, his daughter has decided to write a book about their life. If you're a fan, you might know that he is quite a recluse and hasn't published a thing in 47 years. While I never read Maynard's book, I think I might take a look at this one.





SMELL
I've just finished reading the smell section of Diane Ackerman's A Natural Histroy of the Senses and I learned an amazing number of fascinating facts. The Book talks about a disorder called anosmia which means that the person lost her sense of smell. (Or never had it.) It's interesting to me that when someone is blind or deaf, we can tell quite easily but I've never even thought of someone losing her sense of smell before. There even is an Open Smell Directory Project for people who suffer from anosmia. Quite interesting how many of us won't spend time thinking about something that we can't see. Or is it just me?






EGGERS INTERVIEW


I printed Dave Eggers interview with The Harvard Advocate after seeing it on Jason's page. It sat in my printer for a couple of days. The reason I even bothered to print it is mostly cause my boyfriend is a huge fan of McSweeney's. Anyhow, it sat in my printer for several days until, in an effort to find something to read during lunch, I grabbed the printouts on my way out. Since I am quite unfamiliar with Dave Eggers in general, a lot of the specific questions asked by Saadi went right over my head, but the answers Dave gave not only didn't require any historical knowledge but they were timeless. I am now officially a huge fan of this man.

I strongly urge everyone to read this amazing response. Specifically the butterfly analogy of criticism. While Jason talks about how he feels he won't be able to understand how beauty is created unless he analyzes and dissects it, I feel that you can't learn that way. Art, in my opinion, is not something that's constructed, therefore it's impossible for someone else to break it into parts that can then be rebuilt by someone else to produce the same piece. I think you absorb and relate to art. It's an emotional process and not a scientific one. As a huge hater of critics in general, I found Dave's words inspirational.

I love the way he chooses to construct his readings. It shows what a full-of-life person he is and finding an artist who is not full-of-himself is refreshing.

His words relating to how you cannot judge other people and what they do is well put. Here's the part that best sums up that subject-matter: "What kind of small-hearted person wants an artist to adhere to a set of rules, to stay forever within a narrow envelope which we've created for them?" Think about that one for a while.

He addresses the issue I find so fascinating about some people I've met who consider themselves a good judge of art. Just because something is popular doesn't automatically make it 'unreal.' What a twisted way to think!

I love that he talks about not saying no and how he mentions that he doesn't get along with people who say no. I've met many people who think refusal is a form of coolness. Real people are never too busy or too important. They don't worry about the messages they send and the way people might judge what they do or say.

"What matters is that you want to see and make and do, on as grand a scale as you want, regardless of what the tiny voices of tiny people say." If we could all live with this frame of mind, not only would we all be happier, but the world would be such a better place.

Thanks to Jason for pointing me towards this amazing article and I am glad people like Dave exist in this world.


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