Saturday, August 17, 2013

Five Star Billionaire (Tash Aw)

It is safe to say that I have not read many English books written by Malaysians (despite being a Malaysian), neither have I shown much interest in them. But I knew I just had to read this after reading JoV's review

It is sad being a Malaysian Chinese. I have learned to accept everything but that doesn't mean I give in with resignation. I believe if one were determined to thrive, regardless of the system/ country/ whatever-it-is, he or she would still make it.

Back to the book, it was awfully comforting to read the familiarity, except the parts about Shanghai (because I have yet to go there). I identified myself with Phoebe  the most because I read self-help books, I rely on my personal mantras when things get tough and I do keep a goddamn diary which records everyday's challenge(s), fears and lessons learnt. As always, I was impressed with male authors who are able to narrate the emotional turmoils of the female well, particularly Yinghui's wish for a more intimate relationship with Walter. 

As much as I enjoyed reading this book (I actually read it on the way to and back from work), I doubt I wanna reread. It is simply too much to go through the pain and loss suffered by the characters. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

My Bad Habit

Oh no. April has come and will be gone in few hours. Time sure flies. I've been so caught up with work. There are simply too many things to learn and ask. 

Don't worry, I am still faithfully following book bloggers I like. Just that I am too ashamed to leave any comment because I have not been reading much! In fact, I have spent more time than ever reading online book reviews compared to before. Though, it might not be a good thing after all. 

In my opinion, resources (i.e. time and money) are limited. So before going to any movie, I make sure that I do my "homework" - look up Wikipedia for the plot and Rotten Tomatoes for the rating. However, that irritates The Boyfriend and brothers because it defeats the purpose of enjoying a movie when I have already known the details and have had my perception on whether the movie is good or bad. Most often than not, I skipped movies that didn't receive favorable reviews.

Same goes to buying and reading books. I survey for reviews and I look up the rating system on Goodreads. In a way, I have limited my options - I go for those that are well-received. What works for others might not work for me. As a result, I miss out the fun and surprise of discovering authors (and books) whom I might really like. 

So what's your take on this?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Amy Chua)

(This is not a post about how I find Chinese and Western parenting & whether or not I support/ condemn Amy Chua's parenting although I truly enjoyed her memoir and I certainly agreed with most of her views)

When I first read this memoir, after discovering it among a stack of leadership books at my training center's library, I found it hilarious and honest. I then got myself a copy and took my time to read it for the second time two months later.

I was filled with mainly two thoughts. Firstly, I recall with bitterness those days with an oppressively strict and demanding mom. Yes, I had a tiger mom. Afterall, I am an Asian living in a developing Asian country. But then again, I think it is unjustified to relate it to my background because my younger siblings were not entirely subject to the same parenting style. Everything Amy Chua shared was no stranger to me, except the part about playing musical instruments. Like Lulu, I rebelled. I was determined to make her life hell. At one point, things got so bad between us that we didn't speak to each other for a minimum 5 years. My liberal and supportive dad, who gave me all the choices and freedom in life, borne the brunt of the conflict. Things finally improved when I turned 18. Nevertheless, we still have this love-hate relationship going on today. After reading this memoir, I realized I was not alone as I previously assumed other teenage daughter-mother pairs seemed to have no problem getting along just fine.

Secondly, I start to question whether I have pushed myself hard enough to the limit. There are truths we simply can't deny. The younger generation, who has it so easy compared to their parents and grandparents, can be self-indulgent and pathetic. I looked around and saw peers who felt entitled to good things in life without wanting to fight hard for them. Then I was reminded that I too, was guilty of spoiledness and laziness. If we don't work as hard as possible and climb as high a mountain as we can when we are still young, we will never have the energy to do it when we are older. Among the meaningful quotes are:
'Everything valuable and worthwhile is difficult.'
"Nothing is fun until you are good at it."
"There is nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't."

Sunday, December 30, 2012


In 2012
- It's a shame that I failed to achieve goals I have set for all the reading challenges I have signed up to.
- I have read a total of 11 books with two thirds of them being non-fiction and Japanese literature. The last book I have read in December is Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. If I finish The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini within these two days, then it would be the last.
- The highlight of the year is my visit to the much-anticipated Big Bad Wolf Book Sale (the world's biggest book sale) at Mines Convention Centre on the 7th December. I bought 6 books for RM47. I could have bought more if my training schedule wasn't that packed. Overall, I have bought almost 15 books (or more) throughout the year.
- I remain and have mostly kept to myself (other than JoV) in the book blogging sphere. 

What I expect in 2013
- I might or might not sign up to participate in any reading challenges. I have not made up my mind on that.
- Now that I am a working adult, buying books is no longer a luxury. It is made affordable, thanks to my new job which pays above average. So I foresee myself buy more books. Considering the town I currently live and work has limited choice of bookstores and books, I will have to source my books elsewhere.
- I also foresee myself read more on weekends as this town does lack for entertainment, excitement, variety and spontaneity.
- I might start making more book blogger friends.

Happy New Years to everyone!  :)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Drive - The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us (Daniel H Pink)

I read this book because I was interested to find out what motives me to do something and what I can do to continuously motive myself.

All this time I thought motivation was built around external rewards and punishments - people respond to rewards and punishments. For example, the more severe a punishment is, the less likely someone is gonna commit that crime. It is not something hard to understand and correlate after all. However, little did I know that it is more than sticks and carrots, we have our third drive called intrinsic motivation as contrast to extrinsic motivation. 

Why do I read books and keep a blog when I am not receiving any monetary perks? According to this book, it is powered by our innate need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world. The three elements of intrinsic behaviors are autonomy (our desire to be self-directed), mastery (our urge to get better and better at what we do) and purpose (our yearning to be part of something larger than ourselves). Come to think of it, owning a blog does give me a sense of control (to decide the layout/ fonts I am gonna use) and I do want to get better at writing, reading and thinking through blogging. And maybe I do have the inner yearning to share the knowledge and my thoughts with people from the other side of the world. But if I start generating income through blog advertising, I might lose all the fun, joy and satisfaction because such an act can transform an interesting task into a drudge, turn play into work which in turn diminish the intrinsic motivation. This is why carrots and sticks method is no longer compatible in today's corporate world. 

My main focus is mastery, one of the elements in intrinsic behaviors - what can we do to move toward mastery in our lives? There are 3 laws - mastery is a mindset, mastery is a pain and lastly mastery is an asymptote. This helps to remind myself whenever I procrastinate.

All in all, this book is very useful to help you understand and improve your lives and your business. Another good thing about this book is that at the end of it, the author actually provides a summary of all chapters to strengthen your memory in case you have forgotten certain key points. The author also goes as far as to provide you a list of books/ websites relevant to this subject matter. I will definitely reread once I get a hard copy of it.

I am reading this for Non-Fiction, Non-Memoir Reading Challenge 2012.

Monday, October 15, 2012


I have not been reading as much as I should have over the past few months. So much had happened - graduation, a long-distance relationship, unemployment, job interviews, debate tournament, first job, convocation, The Boyfriend (and his family's) visit etc. Truth to be told, I was unsettled most the time, especially during my unemployment period. When I started working, I was simply too exhausted to read much after work. From time to time, I welcomed some good news and was overwhelmed with the joy which was soon followed with worries. 

So far, I have only read The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal by Ben Mezrich (which I might or might not blog about). Other than that, I have quit a few books half way. One of them is Lord of the Flies by William Golding (which I might reread). I doubt I would ever achieve all my reading goals and challenges since 2013 is approaching soon.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Dream Came True

(photo taken from Borneo Post - Refer here for the newspaper article)

Years of hard work had once again paid off. And it took more than just hard work to get to where I am today. Couldn't have been any happier to end my university life this way.

Looking at all the pictures taken, one thing I realized - my appearance is getting more and more "polished" (even without make up on) these days compared to how I looked in my late teen years.

That should be the case for everything in life.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Cement Garden (Ian McEwan)

Reading The Cement Garden was like running a marathon. All I wanted was to reach the finish line. Somehow quitting halfway was not an option.

The story is about four siblings named Julie (seventeen), Jack (fifteen), Sue (thirteen) and Tom (six) who had to stand on their own two feet after the death of their father, followed by the death of their mother. And it is narrated from Jack's point of view.

The father was not exactly pleasant and loving when he was alive. For example, he made jokes that could hurt the kids' self-esteem and he lost his temper easily. Following his death, the story highlighted intensively the role of the mother who tried to keep the family functioning. However, the dynamic among the siblings had changed - they grew distant. Later, the mother became sick and bedridden. The kids adapted well enough though. They divided and carried out the household chores. When the mother had passed away, they decided to wrap her up in the sheet, put her in the garden and covered with cement (which was previously purchased by the father for the garden). Concealing the mother's death was to avoid them from being separated and taken away by foster care. At last, it was discovered by Derek, Julie's boyfriend who later reported it to police
" I caught my mother by the shoulder, half closed my eyes and pushed her off the table back on to the bed. I avoided her face. She seemed to resist me and it took both hands to make her move. Now she lay on her side, her arms at odd angles, her body twisted and fixed in the position she had been lying in since the day before yesterday. Julie took her feet and I held her behind her shoulders. When we set her down on the sheet, she looked so frail and sad in her nightdress, lying at our feet like a bird with a broken wing, that for the first time I cried for her and not for myself. Behind her she left on the bed a large brown stain whose outer edges faded to yellow. Julie's face was wet too when we knelt down by Mother and tried to roll her over in the sheet. It was difficult, her body was too twisted to turn. "
" We worked like maniacs. Soon only a few patches of the sheet were visible, and then they too were gone. Still, we kept on. The only sounds were the scrape of the shovel and our heavy breathing. When we finished, there was nothing left of the pile but a damp path on the floor, the cement in the trunk was almost overflowing. Before we went upstairs, we stood about looking at what we had done, and catching our breath. We decided to leave the lid of the trunk up so that the cement would harden quicker. "
This is perhaps the most disturbing and dark story I have read. It talks about the awkward physical growth phrase everyone once went through - how self-conscious Jack was about the change of his body and mind; masturbation; the dreadful "talk" with his mother. It talks about child bullying experienced by Tom. With the encouragement of Sue and Julie, Tom even took up cross-dressing. Eventually, Tom fell back into a baby's state of mind, resorted to drinking from a bottle and crying for attention. Not to mention, the incestuous relationship among Julie, Sue and Jack.    
" What was wrong with me? I tired to frighten myself with the reflection of my eyes, but I felt only impatience and mild revulsion. I stood in the center of my room listening to the very distant, constant sound of traffic. Then I listened to the voices of children playing in the street. The two sounds merged and seemed to press down on the top of my head. I lay on my bed again and this time I closed my eyes. When a fly walked pass my face, I was determined not to move. I could not bear to remain on my bed, yet any activity I thought of disgusted me in advance. "
P/S: I read The Cement Garden somewhere in May or June. I reviewed it before I wrote this post. Again, I developed the exact same thought, which was "let's get it over with". Despite how disturbing the story was, it was actually overflowed with emotions like affection, guilt, jealousy, hostility, grief etc which touched me to a certain extent.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Naomi (Jun'ichirō Tanizaki)

I thought this would be my type of books, though I have yet to really "define" my taste. But more importantly, the sadistic side of me wanted to read stories about doormats. In this context, doormats refer to guys who continuously treat girls nicely despite being walked over. If we look at history, from Chinese Dynasties to Roman Empire, there were many instances of great heroes being taken in by the wiles of an enchantress. And it happens to people we know. I couldn't understand why they put up with heartless girls and let themselves be fooled, even though they know they are destroying themselves. I wondered do they even deserve sympathy for taking up the crap they have been put through.

Naomi provides a precious record of the marital relationship between Joji and Naomi, despite the distinct difference in their age, family background and education. Everything began with Joji's strong attraction to Naomi's name and Western look. 
" Whether Naomi's appearance would improve was something only time would tell; she was only fifteen then, and I viewed her future with both anticipation and concern. My original plan, then, was simply to take charge of the child and look after her. On the one hand, I was motivated by sympathy for her. On the other, I wanted to introduce some variety into my humdrum, monotonous daily existence. "
In short, Joji wished by having Naomi around would inject more excitement and warmth into his life. And it would be different from setting up a proper Japanese household,  which could be unappealing and tiresome. He tried to groom her by hiring an English tutor and sending her to have music lessons. Nevertheless, things didn't turn out as he wanted. He learned disappointedly that she was not as intelligent as he had hoped. His desire but her to become a fine woman was nothing but a dream.
" But at the same time, her body attracted me even more powerfully... ... There was nothing spiritual about it. She'd betrayed my expectations for her mind, but her body now surpassed my ideal. Stupid woman, I thought. Hopeless. Unhappily, the more I thought, the more I found her alluring. This was very unfortunate for me. Gradually I forgot my innocent notion of "training" her: I was the one being dragged along, and by the time I realized what was happening, there was nothing I could do about it. "
Stupid man. Little by little Joji was stripped off his resistance, confidence and sense of dignity. He became ensnared, gave in to Naomi's demands and rationalized her misconducts. And all this led to unforeseen misfortunes. Not to mention Naomi's extravagant spending and poor household management, which had gotten him into debts that he had to resort to lying to his mother for financial assistance. He could no longer perform at work. 

I never expected myself to get so angry as I was reading through this book. In fact, I was getting more and more disgusted at how pathetic Joji had grown into. He knew he was being a fool. He tried to get Naomi out of his mind when he threw Naomi out of his house. But he still let her back in his life again, even though he was certain of her ulterior motive. 
My delusions grew more frenzied every day. I only had to close my eyes, and Naomi's image would appear. Often, remembering her fragrant breath, I'd look up at the sky, open my mouth, and take a gulp of air. Whenever I longed for her lips, whether I was walking down the street or closed up in my room, I'd look skyward and begin gulping. I saw Naomi's red lips everywhere I looked, and every breath of air seemed to be Naomi's breath. Naomi was like an evil spirit that filled the space between heaven and earth, surrounding me, tormenting me, hearing my moans, but only laughing as she looked on. "
Useless men. Nah, they don't deserve any sympathy if they are spineless.

P/S: Tanizaki's writing is beautiful. I am more interested to read from Naomi's (female) point of view about the manipulation and seduction.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers (Lois P. Frankel)

I was introduced to this book through one of the posts made by JoV and I subsequently bought it with my RM200 book vouchers in January. This is a book every young girl should receive upon graduation.

The major I studied and the industry which I will be working are filled predominantly by men. I have my rationale for refusing to choose a major in which there are more female students than male. That way, I wouldn't end up in a stereotypical role. Anyway, there are always pros and cons when you are in the minority group. Hopefully, learning about the team dynamics and chemistry between two genders, as well as the mistakes made by women will work to my advantage.

Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office outlines the mistakes women make unconsciously at work which are divided by the author into 7 chapters - how you play the game, how you act, how you think, how you brand and market yourself, how you sound, how you look and lastly, how you respond. Coaching tips suggested at the end of each section help women to overcome the mistakes and further develop in their personal and career growth. 

I was embarrassed to find myself guilty of mistake #82 - Grooming in Public *facepalm*. Public displays of grooming, which I thought was no big deal, has now made me more conscious of what I do in public. Also, another mistake which has hit me hard is lengthy explanation. And the author was right with her analysis on why women talk more (and write longer emails or messages).
" Another (reason) is that we fear we haven't been thorough or complete enough, so in an effort to be "perfect" we keep talking. "
" And finally we overcompensate for our insecurity. We think the more we talk the better case we make.. when in fact the opposite is true. "
Thank JoV for introducing me this wonderful book on your blog. More to read and learn and experience! :)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hell (Yasutaka Tsutsui)

Just a few days ago, an acquaintance of mine asked about my views on heaven, hell, afterlife (and many more which included religion) and I went dumbstruck. First, I honestly didn't see it coming. And I thought it was incredibly rude and offensive to bring up anything sensitive and not to mention, personal over a casual dinner date. Second, I never gave a damn thought on those mentioned. So I picked up Hell (which I stumbled across in the library) to read. 

So what is hell like in this novel?
" In Hell it was possible to view moments in another person's life simply by staring at them. There were no-comic-book-style balloons above their head to indicate what they were thinking, nor was it a form of mental telepathy. Instead, the truth was revealed through a kind of vision that crept up from the back of one's mind. " 
" Had the familiar looking man been right? Was Hell really just a place without God? Why did everything for which Takeshi had worked so hard now seem silly? Why did everything he suffer for and agonized over in his youth now seem laughable? Everyone who came to Hell seemed to feel the same way, and not just about their own lives. Everything that had happened in the real world - everything that must still be happening there - seemed utterly insignificant. Could that be the true nature of Hell? To make people forget their attachments to their previous lives? Was that the real reason for Hell's existence? "
Takeshi sees a number of familiar faces in Hell after his death. No matter how horribly he and these people have died, they are in immortal form. People are indifferent in attitudes and emotions even after reading each other's minds and revisiting the darker details of their formal lives. No jealousy, anger or hatred despite the betrayal, infidelity, revenge and other forms of harm human beings are capable of inflicting upon others. The resignation, the feeling of release from the affairs of the real world explains about the tranquility that everything they cared and all the desires are gone. Well, Hell does sound like a great place, no? 

The only problem I have is there are quite many characters entangled in this story with each of them connects to one another in one way or another. The shifting focus from one character to another makes it hard for me to follow so I have to refer back from time to time to keep track of them all. One thing if these characters are being freed from all worldly desires which include curiosity, then why are they still persistently wondering about questions such as 1) is it possible for someone to turn senile after coming to Hell?, 2) who is in charge as there has got to be some kind of system in place for managing things, even in Hell, 3) what could be the fate that awaits them when they leave Hell to move on? nothingness or heaven? and many more. 

Overall, it is dreamlike and funny, especially on how people view and react to death when it is approaching. I myself have come close to death once - nearly drowned at the age of 12. The only things I could think about at that time (which I still recall vividly until today) are how regretful I was for not listening to my parents (as they forbade me to play with water on that trip) and how sorry I was if I were to cause them sorrow.
" He fell to the floor, gasping, his mind growing dim. He was reaching the point of no return. But he'd be laughing stock, dying like this! Finally, he yanked out his dentures. The mochi stuck to the false teeth and slithered back up his throat as he pulled out of his mouth. 

How many times had he managed to cheat death? And how many more times would he do so before the end finally came? If he were younger, he might have rejoiced at having survived, but age had changed him. He was tired. " 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Wild Goose (Mori Ōgai)

" The story is narrated by a friend and fellow student of the hero, Okada. It introduces us to three quite distinct though interrelated worlds of the Tokyo in the 1870s and 1880s. First is that of the students in the Tokyo University Medical Department - a world of young men living in cramped student boardinghouses, combing the secondhand bookstores for something to read, practicing jujitsu etc . The second world is that glimpsed through the figures of the moneylender Suezo and the heroine's father, the bumbling and unlucky candy seller. This is the complex world of plebeian Tokyo, where shrewdness and native wit rather than birth and education are what advance one's lot.  Third of the three worlds is the wholly feminine one inhabited by Otama, the young woman who becomes Suezo's mistress; Suezo's wife Otsune; the sewing teacher and her pupils; and the maids. "     
- Taken from the introduction translated by Burton Watson.
As much as I hate limiting my options, I tend to shy away from Asian Literature, particularly East Asian,  with Japanese Literature as the exception.

Otama had been living alone with her father since the death of her mother. Otama eventually agreed to be Suezo's mistress because of her obedient nature and the benefits that such an arrangement would bring to her father when things got harder for them. It was until later that Otama learned that she was a mistress of a despised moneylender. 
" In her mortification there was very little hatred for the world or for people. If one were to ask exactly what in fact she resented, one would have to answer that it was her own fate. Through no fault of her own she was made to suffer persecution, and this was what she found so painful. When she was deceived and abandoned by the police officer, she had felt this mortification, and recently, when she realized that she must become a mistress, she experienced it again. Now, she learned that she was not only a mistress but the mistress of a despised moneylender, and her despair, which had been ground smooth between the teeth of time and washed of its color in the waters of resignation, assumed once more in her heart its stark outline.
" In her attitude toward Suezo she became increasingly warm as her heart grew increasingly distant. She no longer felt grateful for his favors or indebted to him, nor could she feel pity for him that this was so. It seemed to her that, for all her lack of fine upbringing and education, she was wasted on such a person. Among the people passing by her window, she began to wonder, was there not some trustworthy young man who would rescue her from her present predicament? It was when she first became aware of imaginings of this nature that she started in surprise."
She started to fantasize about Okada who passed outside her window. Although she knew perfectly well that when Okada started raising his cap in greeting one day, the action was done with no studied intention, Okada didn't mind. After their encounter over the snake, she was so overwhelmed with feelings that she wanted him for her own, more than an object of desire that she was keenly looking out for opportunities to approach Okada. Nothing happened as the circumstances had kept Okada and Otama apart before Okada left to study abroad. The character that has my most sympathy nevertheless is Suezo's wife, Otsune whose husband wouldn't even buy her and the children new clothes. Thankfully more and more women are becoming financially independent in this era. 
" Well then, what should I do? When I came home this morning,  I wanted to have it out with him as soon as possible. But suppose he had been there - what would I have said? Whatever I said, he would have come out with some vague, incomprehensible answer, the way he always does. And he would twist things around and in the end make fool of me. He's too cleaver a talker - whenever we argue, I always lose. Should I just keep quiet then? But if I do, what will happen? As long as that woman is around, he doesn't care what becomes of me! What should I do? What should I do? "
In all, I thought this is a masterpiece. It doesn't bother me that the romance between Otama and Okada never comes about in the story. I am especially amazed at how detailed the writer explored the emotional and mental lives of the female.
" For all women, there are things they regard as desirable but which they do not feel compelled to pursue. Such objects - a watch, a ring, displayed in the window of a store - they will invariably stop to look at as they pass. They do not go purposely to the store to see them, but, happening along on some other errand, they will nevertheless pause for a moment of inspection. Their desire to possess the object, and their resignation to the fact that they can never afford to do so, combine to produce not distress but rather a subtle, sweet sensation of grief that women look on as a kind of joy.  
The situation is quite different, however, when a woman makes up her mind to possess a thing. The emotion then is one of intense anguish. She thinks of the object until she can think of nothing else. Even if she learned that in a few days it would come easily into her hands, she could not bear to wait. Heedless of heat or cold, darkness or storm, she will lay her impulsive plans for the acquisition.
I have been impatient about many things in life and also, guys I seriously lay my eyes on. Many nights I spent on scheming just so I could get what I want step by step. I also recall being the aggressor in most of the short-lived relationships I have been in. Not that I ever had any regrets, I am just hoping to be more composed from now on :P

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Dance Dance Dance (Haruki Murakami)

I tried my best not to search and go though online reviews about this book until I finished reading it. This is also the first ever Murakami's book I bought (with the RM200 vouchers given).
She is definitely calling me. From somewhere in the Dolphin Hotel. And apparently, somewhere in my own mind, the Dolphin Hotel is what I seek as well. To be taken into the scene, to become part of that weirdly fateful venue.
To return to the Dolphin Hotel means facing up to a shadow of the past. The prospect alone depresses. It has been all I could do these four years to rid myself of that chill, dim shadow. To return to the Dolphin Hotel is to give up all I'd quietly set aside during this time. Not that what I'd achieved is anything great, mind you. However you look at it, it's pretty much the stuff of tentative convenience. Okay, I'd done my best. Through some clever juggling I'd managed to forge a connection to reality, to build a new life based on token values. Was I now supposed to give it up?
The protagonist, whose name is not mentioned, has returned to the Dolphin Hotel in Sapporo. What was once a sad and peculiar hotel which buried deep in his memory has been transformed into a gleaming modern multistory building where the surrounding areas are booming too. From there, he makes friend with the receptionist with glasses, Yumiyoshi and a 13 years old girl, Yuki. He has also met and talked to the Sheep Man in his cramped room. While watching the movie Unrequited Love starring his former classmate (whose real name was Gotanda), he sees his missing ex-girlfriend, Kiki appear in one of the scenes. All sorts of strange connections are starting to come together.

Okay, I love this one!!! The reading started with quite a slow pace that at one moment, I thought I might give it up on. Lucky I didn't. Having read a few of Murakami's works, I thought this is the most logical I have read so far. There is nothing too absurd to follow. It can be summarized as a journey an ordinary thirty-four year old divorced man launched to reconnect with an old friend, reconsider meanings of loss and abandonment and lastly find love.
Thirty-four is a difficult age. A different kind of difficult than age thirteen, but plenty difficult. Gotanda and I were both thirty-four, both beginning to acknowledge middle age. It was time we did. Readying things to keep us warm during the colder days ahead.
Gotanda put it succinctly. "Love. That's what I need."
"I am so touched," I said. But the fact was, that's what I needed too. 
I love the murder mystery. It doesn't bother me whether or not Gotanda has indeed killed Kiki or Mei for that matter. And the friendship between the protagonist and Gotanda is well-evolved. In the last chapter, just when I thought the story would just end with a happy ending after the reunion of the protagonist and Yumiyoshi (which it eventually did).. but before that, Murakami did a great job at spicing it up with the suspense that the protagonist might lose Yumiyoshi in the dark. My heart skipped several beats. Dahlah I was alone in my apartment that night.
Yumiyoshi took the penlight from me and leafed through the pamphlet. I was casually observing my own shadow, wondering where the Sheep Man was, when I suddenly struck by a horrifying realization: I'd let go of Yumiyoshi's hand! 
My heart leapt into my throat. I was not ever to let go of her hand. I was fevered and swimming in sweat. I rushed to grab Yumiyoshi by the wrist. If we don't let go, we'll be safe. But it was already too late. At the very moment I extended my hand, her body was absorbed into the wall. Just like Kiki has passed through the wall of the death chamber. Just like quicksand. She was gone, she had disappeared, together with the glow of the penlight.

P/S: I am reading this for Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge 2012.   

Monday, February 13, 2012


... of recent backpacking trips to Ipoh - Cameron Highlands - Genting Highlands - Kuala Lumpur.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Freakonomics (Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner)

Firstly, the title is misleading. It's not all that freaky after all and I am not dazzled. Basically this book has been written based on a few fundamental ideas:
1) Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life.
2) The conventional wisdom is often wrong.
3) Dramatic effects have distant, even subtle, causes.
4) "Experts" use their information advantage to serve their own agenda.
5) Knowing what to measure and how to measure it makes a complicated world much less so.

" Morality, it could be argued, represents the way that people would like the world to work - whereas economics represents how it actually does work. Economics is above all a science of measurement. It comprises an extraordinary powerful and flexible set of tools that can reliably assess a thicket of information to determine the effect of any one factor, or even the whole effect. That's what "the economy" is after all: a thicket of information about jobs and real estate and banking and investment. But the tools of economics can be just as easily applied to subjects that are  more - well, more interesting "

The problem I have with this book is I don't find it mind-boggling. Okay, maybe I didn't know about what school teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common before this. But once I knew their dark side is cheating, I can see why. Just the same as why hundreds or millions of people faking or exaggerating their personal information on online dating sites. It all boils down to human nature which responds to incentives. The same reason why your dentist or real-estate agent is using his informational advantage to make more bucks. This is hardly something hard not to be able to comprehend. So the "findings" or "discoveries" in this sense are kinda  nothing new to me. And it was hard to get excited over something that u have already figured out all this time.

However, we gotta give the author(s) credits for not simply accepting conventional wisdom - the crime rate didn't just take a historical plunge because of stronger economy, increased number of police or all other explanations like what was being told in the media by the journalists or politicians, though it is not hard to relate abortion ban with the increase in crime rate twenty years down the road, especially when I am pro-choice.
" But just because two things are correlated does not mean that one causes the other. A correlation simply means that a relationship exists between two factors - let's call them X and Y - but it tells you nothing about the direction of that relationship. It's possible that X causes Y; it's also possible that Y causes X; and it may be that X and Y are both being  caused by some other factor, Z. " 

Overall, I would rate 3 stars out of 5.

Friday, January 13, 2012


2011 has been a good year. I believe everything that I have gone through will make me a wiser person. Now, I can't wait to see what 2012 has in store for me!! And my 2012 has officially arrived after I was done with my finals yesterday. Lol.

Here's a list of reading challenges which I would love to sign up to participate in 2012:

Middle East Challenge

South Asian Challenge
I have many acquaintances  from South Asia and Middle East (in fact, my supervisor and co-supervisor for my final year project are both Bangladeshi). Yet, I have little to almost zero understanding about their culture and everything. Hence, it is time for me to start reading books about South Asian and Middle Eastern. I am planning to read at least two books for each challenges. 

2012 is going to be a year with non-fictions for me! So for Non-Fiction Non Memoir Reading Challenge, I aim to try out for Bachelor's degree at 15 non-fictions or more.

I consider signing up for Dystopia Reading Challenge as well as I have a few books about Dystopia on my 2012 Reading List. My target is read 5 books, which is the first level: Asocial. 

How could I leave out Haruki Murakami?? There are so many of his books which I intend to read. Among them are 
- Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
- Norwegian Wood
- The wind-Up Bird Chronicle
- Underground
- After the Quake
So the level of participation will be Toro. But I really hope that I will read more than five.

Let's read more books!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Corresponding to my goal to read more non-fiction books, I have kickstarted the new semester with Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success and Robert Levine's The Power of Persuasion: How We're Bought and Sold. Truth to be told, I am very much relieved when I am writing this post. It is simply because I have finally finished reading these two books after one and a half month of carrying them around (not really, but I usually tried to read them when I was waiting for bus, lectures to start or before I slept.

I initially thought of reading The Tipping Point instead of Outliers but I couldn't find it on the bookshelves (probably getting misplaced). What a disappointment. Anyway, Outliers was brilliant. It presents to u that, despite the popular belief, successful people don't get to where they are just because they are hardworking, ambitious and passionate. The question we should be asking by now is "why do some people succeed far more than others?". Hence, the book argues, it takes more than personal merit to be Bill Gates or a star athlete or to be lifted onto the top rung or to be extremely good at Mathematics. And the book looks into it by dividing into two parts - opportunity and legacy followed with examples and statistics which the society itself tends to overlook.

I have always believed that environment plays an important role to shape a person, be it his personality or future. But I have never done more research or reading on it before. So this book is really an eye-opener and the chapters which I enjoyed the most - The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 1 & 2 where the comparison between Chris Langan and Robert Oppenheimer - two very brilliant young students, each of whom ran into a problem that imperiled his college career but they ended up having distinctly different lives is being highlighted. Then I realize, I won't be extraordinary successful. I didn't even receive much of the middle-class parenting style "concerted cultivation" (heavily involved in their children's free time, shuttling them from one activity to the next etc).
" It's an attempt to actively "foster and assess a child's talents, opinions and skills." Poor parents tend to follow, by contrast, a strategy of "accomplishment of natural growth." They see as their responsibility to care for their children but to let them grow and develop on their own. Lareau stresses that one style isn't morally better than the other. The poorer children were, to her mind, often better behaved, less whiny, more creative in making use of their own time, and had a well-developed sense of independence. But in practical terms, concerted cultivation has enormous advantages. "
Having said that, I was thankful that my mom did a good job at encouraging me to read and write since I was only 6 years old. She would make me a scrapbook with all the articles or essays she had cut down and collected from the newspapers and as I grew older, she ordered books and magazines for me (it was a luxury since it was quite a huge expense 15 years ago). Although she didn't sign me up for piano lessons etc, she is the reason why I love books so much. :)

(I might or might not write on Robert Levine's The Power of Persuasion: How We're Bought and Sold)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins)

Catching Fire is the second book in The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. It continues the story of Katniss Everdeen after she wins in the arena as the sequel to the The Hunger Games. I actually managed to finish reading it before the new semester started.

After being crowned the victors of the 74th Hunger Game, Katniss and Peter move in their new houses in Victor's Village. Life goes on but things are never the same for Katniss, Peeta and Gale. Peeta learns bitterly that the affection Katniss displays in the arena is just a show she puts up to survive and win the game while Gale is distancing himself from Katniss. Then there is Victor Tour which causes major anxiety for Katniss before she finds out that she, her family and her loved ones are in big trouble. She is being threatened by President Snow from Capitol for outsmarting Hunger Games and undermining his control when she challenges to change the rule of the game to keep her and Peeta alive (instead of either one of them). It is seen as a form of rebellion and most importantly it incites rebellions in other districts which Katniss finds out later. Hence, a special edition of Quarter Quell which is held on every twenty-fifth anniversary is dictated to reap from the existing pool of victors, which brings Katniss and Peeta, along with the past victors of the game back into the arena. This is served as a reminder that even the strongest (the past victors) among the rebels (people from the districts) cannot overcome the power of the Capitol.

That is the first half of the story. The love-triangle is seriously putting me off, but the huge difference is that I no longer see it merely a story about game like the first book. I mean the theme is still survival, but what strikes me even more is government control which reminds me of the uprisings happen in Eypgt, Libya, Yemen and their other Middle-Eastern counterparts. People who are oppressed for generations see no hope, change and a better future. They are desperate and desperate people will rebel, take to the streets to protest etc once it has reached the tipping point because there isn't much for them to lose anyway. And I guess the most important message that is sent out - never underestimate the power of people.
"Before I go down to face this new life, though, I take some time making myself acknowledge what it will mean. Less than a day ago, I was prepared to head into the wilderness with my loved ones in midwinter, with the very real possibility of the Capitol pursuing us. A precarious venture at best. But now I am committing to something even more risky. Fighting the Capitol assures their swift retaliation. I must accept that at any moment I can be arrested. There will be a knock on the door, like the one last night, a band of Peacekeepers to haul me away. There might be torture. Mutilation. A bullet through my skull in the town square, if I'm fortunate enough to go that quickly. The Capitol has no end of creative ways to kill people. I imagine these things and I'm terrified, but let's face it: They've been lurking in the back of my brain, anyway. I've been a tribute in the Games. Been threatened by the president. Taken a lash across my face. I'm already a target.

Now comes the harder part. I have to face the fact that my family and friends might share this fate. Prim. I need only to think of Prim and all my resolve disintegrates. It's my job to protect her. I pull the blanket up over my head, and my breathing is so rapid I use up all the oxygen and begin to choke for air. I can't let the Capitol hurt Prim.

And then it hits me. They already have. They have killed her father in those wretched mines. They have sat by as she almost starved to death. They have chosen her as a tribute, then made her watch her sister fight to the death in the Games. She has been hurt far worse than I had at the age of twelve. And even that pales in comparison with Rue's life."
Moving to the second half of the story. It is about the game - Quarter Quell such as strategies on tributes Katniss and Peeta should team up with as ally because they are no longer competing with trembling children. Instead, they will be facing competitors who have known each other for years. Katniss and Peeta are actually at a distinct disadvantage as they are the youngest and the most recent winners. And this is the part of the story which I was most fascinated about - Peeta and Katniss learning how their mentor, Haymitch won the last Quarter Quell; Katniss making a pact with the tributes she least expected herself to; the clock theory where each hour begins a new hour, a new Gamemaker weapon and ends with the previous, i.e. blood rain, poisonous fog, monkeys' attack, jabberjay etc. In fact, it took me only a few hours to finish reading the second half as contrast to days spent just to push myself to keep reading the first half of the story. And the story ends with Katniss being saved after the force field is blown and she is later disclosed that District 13 does exist; the wires and force field that Beetee working on are among the weapons to break the remaining players out of the arena with the coorperation with the undercover team; Katniss and Peeta are meant to be a piece in the game, to be used with consent and knowledge etc. Lastly, Katniss also discovers that Peeta is captured by the Capitol, District 12 is gone but luckily her sister and mother are saved.
“We had to save you because you're the mockingjay, Katniss,” says Plutarch. “While you live, the revolution lives.”

The bird, the pin, the song, the berries, the watch, the cracker, the dress that burst into flames. I am the mockingjay.

The one that survived despite the Capitol's plans. The symbol of the rebellion.
I think I will still proceed with the third book of the trilogy - Mockingjay after this even though online reviews say it is the weakest of all.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

After Dark (Haruki Murakami)

"Time moves in its own special way in the middle of the night."
What do u do after dark, when the night falls and u know dawn will not be there for hours?

I used to be nocturnal. I enjoyed the quietness, especially at the deeper stage of night when more and more people went to bed and I was still awake. In fact, in my second year of study, I kept the habit of sleeping around 7pm so that I could wake up at 12am to concentrate on whatever tasks I was doing - be it reading or finishing up assignments. When the night was nearly over, I would either grab a quick nap or jog to recharge myself before I started to attend classes with a cup of coffee. All these changed when I got myself a roommate who slept at 10pm.

"The giant digital screens fastened to the sides of buildings fall silent as midnight approaches, but loudspeakers on storefronts keep pumping out exaggerated hip-hop bass lines. A large game centre crammed with young people; wild electronic sounds; a group of college students spilling out from a bar; teenage girls with brilliant bleached hair, healthy legs thrusting out from microminiskirts; dark-suited men racing across diagonal crossings for the last trains to the suburbs. Even at this hour, the karaoke club pitchmen keep shouting for customers. A flashy black station wagon drifts down the street as if taking stock of the district through its blacktinted windows. The car looks like a deep-sea creature with specialised skin and organs. Two young policemen patrol the street with tense expressions, but no one seems to notice them. The district plays by its own rules at a time like this. The season is late autumn. No wind is blowing, but the air carries a chill. The date is just about to change."
Most Asian cities are vibrant and bustling by day and night. The night marks another new beginning, hardly the end of a day. And Murakami has just painted a picture of what it is like as midnight approaches in Tokyo, Japan.

I had meant to read After Dark for quite some time. I was curious with the kind of stories Murakami could weave around with night (and loneliness) as the theme. However, when I finally finished it, I was left puzzled. I must admit, I couldn't seem to find the true meanings of the stories as they were vague and bizarre (especially the part where Eri Asai was imprisoned in the TV set). How does one relate to another is another thing I couldn't comprehend. For example, Shirakawa, other than being the guy who beat up the Chinese prostitute.. the kind of involvement he has with Eri Asai is never clearly conveyed. Maybe the message is there, I just failed to grasp it.

While reading After Dark, I actually listed down every piece of song Murakami mentioned in the book then played them to get a feel of the atmosphere Murakami was trying to create. And one of them is "I can't go for that" by Hall & Oates. Overall, I like Sputnik Sweetheart and Kafka on The Shore better. Having said that, I still like After Dark quite a lot. I love the characters, particularly Mari Asai who is probably representing many young people these day who are aloof, cynical and indulgent in their own way. I know I am one of them. I also like the way he writes - it is always hard to predict how the story will progress (although it remains another question whether u can truly fathom it or not).