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Year in Review: Books

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Feb. 7th, 2011 | 02:59 pm

2010 was a year of a lot of reading. I had a feeling of urgency to read as much as I can before I get bombarded by medical school in the future. I picked books from all different genres, styles, and ages. I have loved them, hated them, felt annoyed by them, and felt egh...Here are my collective rantings about the books I read in the past year in chronological order


out of 4
A beautifully translated classic. Dostoevsky is brilliant in his depiction of the inner psyche of a desperate "criminal". His deft prose enables the reader to live the mind of the protagonist. I broke into a cold sweat when Raskolnikov was in a tense situation; adrenalin pours through my own veins when he is caught up with the police. This book should be studied by anyone who is into criminal law or psychology.


1/2 out of 4
To be honest, at first, the plot of a man waiting for a consent for divorce from his wife did not interest me in the least. I mean, how interesting could a 300-page novel about WAITING be?? However, Ha Jin enriches his novel with cultural details and a textural vividness describing the daily lives of the protagonists so that "waiting" becomes something active, rather than passive. I also enjoyed reading Ha Jin's simple, realist style of prose. ~ A Poignant and graceful story :)


1/2 out of 4
Ok, so this book did not beat the first - "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo". I don't think any mystery book can top that. But it is still pretty damn good. I remember reading this book and watching the sun rise. It is just that hard to put down...


out of 4
This book started out fine -  a woman dissatisfied with her marriage and has an affair. But things started getting weird when her husband forces her to go live with him in a religious lay community. Don't get me wrong, "The Bell" is a well-crafted and intricate novel, and Murdoch is a phenomenal writer. However, the book centers too much around philosophy, religion, and morality for my liking. I guess I will be forever 100% secular...



1/4 out of 4
I was put on a roll with Russian classics with Crime and Punishment. (The only problem is that most of them are so thick!). Of course, I had to read Anna Karenina - one of the requisite classics. I quite like how the book began, with the Anna of strength, confidence, and self control. I could really relate to that. However, unfortunately, Tolstoy crafted the deterioration of her character so well, I could not help but become very upset. Then, there's the must-have tragic ending of all Russian novels. Tolstoy also injects lots of political and social commentary throughout the book, which I do not completely get since I am not too familiar with Russian history. I feel like I would have enjoyed the novel a good deal more if I were to get all of his commentary. That being said, I still prefer Crime and Punishment over Tolstoy's more romanticized characters and plot.


out of 4
A book about a Chinese girl from a poor, dysfunctional family who prepared to become a nun, but while at a Buddhist retreat, gets swept away by a rich old American sugardaddy. Um yeah... I know Mingmei Yip probably did not meant for her story to turn out sounding like this. She probably wanted to portray the protagonist (Meng Ning) as an innocent, somewhat confused girl just looking for herself. However, the book's awkward dialogue and prose turned Meng Ning into an annoying, frustratingly dumb, whinny lil biatch. I wanted to go punch her on the face at one point. (No, I do not need anger management classes :P)


3/4 out of 4
This book was recommended to me by a Paulo Coelho lover. My very first Coelho book, and I already do not like him. In this novel, Veronika survives a failed suicide attempt, is cast into a mental health institution, only to have a sketchy psychologist tell her that she is to die of heart failure soon (he's actually conducting drug experiments on her), and of course she then wants to live again. I dislike the weirdly spiritual and New Age aspect of Coelho's style, but if you really dig New Age mumbo, then this would be the book for you.


out of 4
At last another great book! I was getting really sick of bad contemporary writing. Rushdie is my salvation. His stories are always so layered and fantastical, with complex allegories (never tacky). The Satanic Verses is Rushdie's most controversial book, which got him death threats from Muslims all over the world. In the novel, he puts a satirical spin on the story of Mohammad, in addition to other things. Wry, entertaining to read, and also gives you things to think about. This is one of the few books I look forward to rereading!



out of 4
This was my first voluntary non-fiction read. I happened onto it on a book rack at work. In the book, author Rachel Dewoskin recounts her time living in 20th century China, where she is hired to star in a popular Chinese soap opera while working at a P.R. firm in Beijing. It is filled with quirky anecdotes of cultural clashes and things lost in translation. Although Dewoskin is a mediocre writer at best, I enjoy the refreshing lack of political commentary, which infiltrates almost all Western books on China. This is a fun and lighthearted read where one gets a view of the quirky side of Chinese culture. 


1/2 out of 4
Lisa Gardner is one of those commercial suspense writers who spits out mediocre masses of detective novels and series faster than bunnies can procreate. I sort of knew that when I picked up this book, but I needed a junk read after a grueling work week, and that is exactly what I got: simple plot, simple writing, no substance, yet contains the hooks to keep you turning the pages.


3/4 out of 4
Lolita is a very different kind of Russian Classic than I'm used to. For one, it is an extremely skinny novel by Russian standards (only 311 pages!). Secondly, Nabokov actually wrote it in English himself. This fact actually makes the novel harder to read - the translators tend to use more simple prose, while Nabokov happen to have a heavier, denser style, with some paragraphs lasting a whole page and a half. So yes, though it is only a bit over 300 pages, Lolita was a much more difficult read than the usual Russian novel.  However, if you can get through the dense writing, you discover a beautiful perverse and altogether groundbreakingly unique world.


out of 4
The Crazed is again centered around university students set in Revolutionary China (during the Tiananmen Square Riots in fact). Jian, a promising graduate student in literature, becomes disillusioned when his mentor starts having stroke-induced rants filled with inner torment and rage regarding the Revolution.  Jian then drops his prior academic plans to participate in the Tiananmen Square riots. The Crazed contains Ha Jin's signature gracefully spare and poetic writing style. Though this is not as cohesive a story as Waiting, the book remains fascinating and enjoyable with its psychological acuity and historical relevance.


out of 4
How long can you, or would you, wait for love? That is the question explored in Marquez's exquisite novel. I admit that I saw the movie (where Florentino was masterfully played by Javier Bardem) before reading the book, but I do not think it matters so much. It is less the storyline than Marquez's actual writing that makes me feverish. I almost become a Romantic while reading the book. Marquez makes no excuses for love. He writes about love as it is in its purest form - an everlasting element that survives war and cholera, and most of all, time.


out of 4
The finale to Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy. I have to say this was somewhat of a disappointment relative to the other two books. The plot of this book is not as well-crafted as its predecessors, and Larsson unnecessarily over-complicates everything here. The reader ends up becoming lost in the maze of twists and turns - not in a particular good way. However, this is all relative to the last two books, which were exceptionally spectacular. The book itself is still well above your average thriller mysteries. It still manages to keep me glued to the book till 5am many times.

out of 4
In Alina Bronsky's debut novel,  a teenage girl Sascha vows to kill her mom's ex-boyfriend/killer. The setting is a fictitious German slum, and the majority of the characters lead messed-up lives. No it is not a happy story, but as some of you know, I have a thing for depressing plots. And I loved this contrite novel. The story is narrated by Sascha . The language is starkly realistic, with a strong, true-to-age voice. It is amazing how Bronsky was able to transport the reader to Sascha's world in such a short novel.


3/4 out of 4
What can I say, this is just about one of the best works of contemporary fiction out there. Hands down the best crime fiction. You can read a good synopsis here. The story, told from multiple perspectives, is flabbergastingly (is this even a word?) multilayered. Martin Solares's interweaving the past with the present puts the reader on a whirlwind roller-coaster ride (the thrilling good kind that gives you lots of endorphins).
However, The Black Minutes isn't great just for its story-telling. Mr. Solares's depiction of Mexican culture, with its culture of machismo and rampant (police and political) corruption, gives the book an authentic and disconcerting feel. As this Mexican reviewer explains, The Black Minutes strikes a special cord with the people "both North and South of The Rio Grande" in light of the recent drug trafficking mess. I encourage you to read his insightful review here.
Back to the book at hand. I highly recommend this to anyone who likes to read anything other than junk sappy beach fiction.


3/4 out of 4
In this Nobel Prize winning book, Herta Muller, who has experienced Ceausescu's Romania herself, uses beautiful, simple, yet poignant language to perfectly convey the bleakness and hopelessness in the characters' lives living under Ceausescu's Communist regime. Metaphors intertwined in the novel vividly relates to the reader the extent of oppression and corruption in the government and its police force. This is one intense read!



1/2 out of 4
When I see books like these about traveling to find self-revelation and spirituality, I instinctively get goosebumps and walk away fast. For me, they resemble all too much the pitiful self-help books. Though, I must admit, I had to see what all the fuss about Eat Pray Love was. A lot of my friends (girls of course) are all hot over this book. So I jumped on the bandwagon. Unfortunately, it turned out to be all that I had expected.
Now, I had heard Elizabeth Gilbert's talk on TED and thought her a brilliant and funny speaker. However, her voice in this book makes her character appear weak and pathetic (she even admits it herself). She is confused and has almost no control over her emotions or thoughts. That sounds like a problem one should have gotten over in high school, yet she is in her 30s. Perhaps I am just not girly enough to appreciate this book's sap and spirituality. Anyhow, to each their own...



1/2 out of 4
After the goosebump-raising girliness of Eat, Pray, Love, it's nice to be grounded again by another novel by Herta Muller. The Passport is less complex and developed than The Land of Green Plums but is written with Muller's evocative and concise language. (As you can probably tell by now, I have an unhealthy infatuation with her prose). In just 92 pages, Muller was able to paint a vivid picture of her characters' joyless existence, where death and clocks are a constant presence. Her startling, hallucinatory use of metaphor and surreal imagery further heightens this bleak vision - an apple tree grows a mouth and eats its own apples, and a butterfly "flies through the tailor's cheek", passing "out of the back of the tailor's head, white and uncrumpled". UTTER BRILLIANCE!
Here are more excerpts from the book.



1/2 out of 4
You might think this is going to be a dry non-fictional text-book about economics from the title, but you are wrong. It was informative without being heavy. Kay uses everyday anecdotes to deftly explain the complex world of macro-economics in a way that normal folk like can have the "a-ha" moment of revelation. I had attempted this book not out of my love for economics, but because I had no formal education in it. This book is especially good for covering the basic workings of the global market - risks, securities, economic theories, etc. I highly recommend it to any non-finance person as a fun and informative read.



1/2 out of 4
The Piano Teacher is a period romance story involving European ex-pats in Hong Kong. I picked up this book as an easy and shallow junk read. Perhaps it was because of my low expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised at the exquisitely crafted story. The storyline reminds me of Atonement, with its rich and cinematic feel.  The characters are spellbinding and filled with human frailty and passion, reminiscent of the English Patient. If you have sworn off reading love stories, it's your chance to start again.



out of 4
Nick Hornby is actually a pretty good writer of fiction, as evidenced by his best-selling status. And he has a good touch of humor in his writing that I appreciate. However, How To Be Good is just not my cup of tea. All of the characters are wayy too unlikable. He also grossly miss-represents his main character, who is a mid-aged, mid-class female doctor. I could tell very quickly that he has no idea how women think. As a result, she turns out to be whiny, self-important, rattlebrained, and ridiculous. I also dispise the use of "good" in the novel - I can write a 5 page rant on all that's wrong with it. Just go and see for yourself.



3/4 out of 4
In this book, Paulo Coelho explores the delicate subjects of sexuality, prostitution and morality. I am not a fan of Coelho's writting by and large. His world seems too ideological and philosophical. In Eleven Minutes, dealing with such gritty and of-the-flesh subjects grounded him a bit, but not for long. The characters end up seeking and finding true, lasting, ethereal love, just like little white fluffy angels!



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Comments {3}

splitsville

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from: splitsville
date: Feb. 8th, 2011 12:52 am (UTC)
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LoL I feel the same way. Read lots before all I have in front of me are med school books!!!

Hmm, I did not enjoy "Waiting" very much... meh... but I've been wondering whether to read "The Girl with the dragon tattoo" trilogy... I have a huge backlog of stuff to read, lol. Currently working on "The Glass Castle: A Memoir" by Jeannette Walls atm. and its very very good.

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from: gewesind
date: Apr. 13th, 2011 03:37 am (UTC)
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pimples are really annoying, you can kill them using benzoyl peroxide but it will also make your skin red.

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from: nijobite
date: Apr. 13th, 2011 06:13 pm (UTC)
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