Friday, November 25, 2011

Goodbye! (I'm off to Hong Kong)

Today, I'll be taking a midnight flight to Hong Kong (HK) for a holiday and to visit some family there. So, rather obviously, don't expect anything for at least a week, since I'm only bringing my iPad and it's terrible typing out a blog post without a proper keyboard.

Yes, I really love Ace Attorney as well. Anyone with a Nintendo DS should buy the game.
If you don't have a DS, well, get one!
But on another note (or rather, an announcement), I've finally jumped on the Tumblr wagon. No, I'm not moving my blog there, mostly because when I look at Tumblr, I don't feel like writing anything. Plus, the only reason I joined was because my friends convinced me it's not like a blog at all. So, if you're really bored, you can go to:

I wanted to use tfer (Time For Eustacia's Randomness), but unfortunately, that URL is already taken. But no fear, my tumblr will be just as random. The only content that will be mine is mainly some photos (maybe) and quotes (mostly). The rest are just reblogs or other things that I really like, so it's I dunno, a chance to see how my mind works I guess.

And since the reblogging function is way too easy to use, I'll probably 'update' my Tumblr (if reblog can mean update) in HK and anywhere else that has free wifi.

See you!

(And of course, even though I now have way too many books, anyone is free to bet/guess if I'll buy even more books there. Although there's not way I'm buying Chinese books, I'm simply not up to par).

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Hard to find books

Apart from out-of-print books, I think Singapore also suffers from a lack of variety of titles. Why else would I have to order from so many times? (Or, it could be sheer laziness). But as with almost everything, it's both a blessing and a curse.

Slammerkin is an earlier book from Emma Donoghue (author of Room). It's incredibly good, and apparently, unavailable in Singapore. Granted, I only checked Borders (before it closed), and my favourite independent bookstore Littered With Books and oh wait. I just checked the Kinokuniya online catalogue. Looks like it's in this one chain. I take back all my comments.

But since this was an purchase, it arrived just before my IB exams. Which meant I had to delay reading it, after which, the glut of books that arrived (I'm now one happy, albeit overwhelmed, girl) meant that it might have been delayed even longer. But thanks to Amanda, who proposed an outing to Botanical Gardens to read, I managed to take it out this morning.

I must say that the Botanical Gardens is incredibly conducive for reading. I probably would have finished reading the book there if not for my little brother, whom I brought along. But thanks to him, we did get to explore the place and visit the Orchid Garden. Word to the un-informed: DO NOT buy any food there. It's way too expensive.

So yes, thank Amanda for this post, since the whole outing was her idea, and my brother had such a fun time he's already proposing another outing, this time to the Zoo.

Back to the book. Slammerkin follows the (fictitious) story of Mary Saunders, who did exist. I'm glad that not much information about her existed, because out of the thin, intriguing scraps that are available, a wonderfully entrancing story was made. The story details her descent into prostitution, her attempt to get out of it, and her final, tragic ending.

But despite what could have happened (i.e. the unlikeable narrator), Mary managed to stay firmly within the "likeable character" region. It's so easy to understand her longing for bright pretty colours (oh look! I see a YELLOW spongebob!) and to have an 'easy' life. Her distaste for her 'job' is also evident, and you can't really help but pity her as she becomes immune to life on the streets.

While I was rooting for her to have a happy ending, I actually do understand what happened. What I really admire her for was the way she treated the African girl Abi. While she wasn't nice all the time (keeping in character), her last act of friendship to refuse to betray her was more than admirable, especially as they weren't very close, and she's always stated that she wanted an easy life - and what could be easier than blaming Abi and getting away scot-free?

The other book that I was reading isn't a proper book, more of a list. But what a funny list it is. Bizarre Books: a compendium of classic oddities by Russel Ash and Brian Lake was one of the many books I picked up at this years Bookfest (although my mom was paying, I did limit myself to choosing books under $10). You should be glad most books can't be found, the titles may be interesting, but would you really want to read the contents? It's basically a collection of weird (unintentionally) amusing titles, which short descriptions/excerpts where needed. I'll end off with some of them so you can see for yourself:

The Gas We Pass: The Story of Farts (Shinta Cho)

The Benefits of Farting Explain'd (Don Fartinhando Puffindorst, a pseudonym - probably Jonathon Swift)

Food for Survival After a Disaster. With Plates (Raymond Charles Hutchinson)

How to Draw a Straight Line (Sir Alfred Bray Kempe)

Be Bold with Bananas (Banana Control Board)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Agatha Christie: An Autobiography

I don't think it's a surprise to anyone that I'm a fan of Agatha Christie. Her mysteries are really clever, and she always seems to have a happy ending. Which is why, I was really happy to find that she wrote an autobiography. Now, autobiography's are subjective things, the author can choose to emphasise certain aspects, or gloss over them (like her disappearance for a few days). But all-in-all, this autobiography made me think of her as a warm, humorous lady.

I knew that my life and hers were very different, but I don't think I appreciated how different it was. I quite appreciate the literary schools of thought that emphasise the context of the book in its analysis. While I'm extremely likely to do an analysis of any of her books (too much of a good thing), I still hold that knowing her background is extremely useful. For example, I now know why she always emphasised the happy (romantic) ending - or at least, I hypothesise that it's due to the lack of happy marriages in her life, or as she put it:

"Up to date I have only seen four completely successful marriages."

There are many other things of course, but the other thing that sticks out in my mind is what a humorous lady she was. I like to think I have a sense of humour (who wouldn't!), but whether it's true or not, it's really up to you. There are people who might think I'm just lame, or that I have no sense of humour (but really, reading a lot does not mean boring). Or maybe, I just have this strange sense of humour, since I enjoy puns or jokes based on literary works. Such as talking about how The Woodpile by Robert Frost is literally his own quote about poetry "riding on its own melting" (approximate quote), since it begins in winter and ends with the "slow smokeless burning of decay". Yeah I know, it's a strange sense of humour. But Agatha Christie? She is humorous. As proof, here's a paragraph from her epilogue:

"It is, of course, all very well to write these grand words. What will really happen is that I shall probably live to be ninety-three, drive everyone mad by being unable to hear what they say to me, complain bitterly of the latest scientific hearing aids, ask innumerable questions, immediately forget the answers and ask the same questions again. I shall quarrel violently with some patient nurse-attendant and accuse her of poisoning me, or walk out of the latest establishment for genteel old ladies, causing endless trouble for my suffering family. And when I finally succumb to bronchitis, a murmur will go around of 'One can't help feeling that it really is a merciful relief'."

Reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with my Brother

Quentin Blake's a fantastic
illustrator. I (and my brother)
love his drawings!
I think, it's harder for my brother to like reading, especially when he has so many alternatives: Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, iPad etc. That's why, I tried to read him Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Road Dahl in the last few weeks.

Although I did try something similar before, it wasn't very successful. Perhaps it's because Enid Blyton is more suited to girls, or maybe the pace of the stories are too 'slow'. I may like her books, especiall those that involve animals (like the Children of Willow Tree Farm), although interestingly, whenever I pictured living on a farm, I never did think about what the toilets would be like. Anyway, the bottom line is: my brother is not going to be a fan of Enid Blyton, at least, not until he can appreciate stories with a slower pace.

Roald Dahl, on the other hand, is exactly suited. The stories are so fantastical, they basically grab a child's attention. Although the books are much longer compared to Enid Blyton (it took my mom and I taking turns to finish Charlie and the Chocolate factory), my brother also likes them more.

At first, I had to make him sit down for one chapter a day before he ran off. But once we got to the part about the Golden Tickets, something in my chocolate-loving brother's mind woke up and he requested another chapter, and another. Our record is seven chapters in one day (remember, I have to read it, so it's tiring for me).

When he learnt that a movie was available, I was afraid that he wasn't going to want to read the book. To my surprise, he read the book and watched the movie. Right now, his hobby is to go around singing "Augustus Gloop, Augustus Gloop" to various people. And of course, he made my day when he told my mom that he preferred the book to the movie(:

Right now, we are trying to read Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, and it's encouraging to see that he is starting to pick up books and flipping through them. That's how he learnt that there's a book called Charlie and the White House (although I have to explain it wasn't finished and so, not published). I think even though he's just flipping how, it might lead to him starting to read the book (he's reading sentences then stopping).

All in all, I'm happy that I decided to read him Roald Dahl. It's probably one of the few "classics" that can hold a little boy's attention (sorry Mark Twain, I tried reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to my brother. He didn't even last one paragraph, while he can last one short story for Enid Blyton).

Monday, November 21, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays - When Being Jewish was a Crime

I've been trying to be more engaged with the blogging community, and so, I figured I should try some of the meme's going around. Teaser Tuesday caught my eye, and I figured that it's a good way to give "air-time" to some books I might be reading but might not be reviewing, and it's a relatively easy one (for me anyway) to participate in.

Anyway, Teaser Tuesday was thought up by Should Be Reading, and I'm really excited to start doing this. Ok, ok, I'll stop rambling. Today's teaser is from the non-fiction book When being Jewish was a crime by Rachmiel Frydland. 

"During the night the snow fell, and we knew that our fate was sealed as our footprints would give us away. The three boys left us." (pg 119)

I won't be here next week (I'll be in Hong Kong with my Family), but I'll definitely continue this the week after(:  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers

Once my exams ended, my friends and I rushed into Malaysia to have a good time. The next day, the girls decided not to swim (for various reasons), and needless to say, we all decided to read by the pool. I've been itching to read a proper book, and I got my hands on my friend's book: The Murderer's Daughters (in exchange for a loan of the iPad).

The plot of this book is really unique, tracing what happens after a violent crime, specifically, what happens to the children of criminals? I thought that this book, in particular, had the weakness of descending into melodrama, but managed to successfully steer away from that, and overall, is a book that I can recommend wholeheartedly.

One thing about the book was it's very strong writing. I could empathise with both characters: Lulu (Louise) and Merry. Lulu, having watched her mother killed (sorta) and blaming herself for freezing up in shock, is bitter and refuses to see her father. Merry, who got stabbed by her dad, goes the opposite way and visits him every week. To add to the emotional complications, the girls are abandoned by their maternal family (her dad's family died off fairly early in the book) and Lulu is forced to scheme a way out of the terrible orphanage and into a decent foster home.

What I really loved about the book was how life-like the characters were. There were many sides to each character, and the switch between the two first person narratives makes it easy to understand their motivations. (I shall not go into this further, since it's scarily close to one of my Literature questions)

The other thing I enjoyed was the ending. Normally, I don't like messy endings, (I'm the girl that grew up on Disney movies and enjoys a good happily-ever-after), but somehow, the ending (which is not perfect), felt right somehow.

I do wonder, however, which girl I'm more like. Honestly, both girls have their emotional hang-ups and aren't exactly the best of sisters at times, but it's a pretty honest/real portrayal of a reaction to a terrible event. I think, though, given my nature, I'll probably be more like Lulu (if you already read the book, you can tell me if you agree). I'd want to be way better than them, but it's really hard. But on the other hand, I do have God on my side, so I'll probably get over it somehow.

So yes, if you're looking for something good to read at the poolside (assuming you have the same tastes as me), this book is a pretty good choice.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Energy of Children

"A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say 'Do it again'; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning 'Do it again' to the sun; and every evening 'Do it again' to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we."

From Orthodoxy by G.K Chesterton, one of, I feel, the most under-appreciated authors I have known.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Now that I've finished all my economics exams (for IB at least), I think it's only fitting that I do a post related to economics, and incidentally, I've also finished this book today, the same day my exams end.

Now, there are "boring" business books in this world, and they tend to be read by three types of people: the first type are the people who have to, such as students doing research papers; the second type are those who try to show off, who want to be able to give a cheem (deep)/impressive answer to the question "what are you reading?". The final type of people are like me, who being boring people, read these kinds of books like fun. The books tend to have names that begin with words like "Harvard Business Review...."

But Freakonomics is a different matter entirely. Despite being about a "rogue" economics, it's actually a very fun read that reminds me of Malcom Gladwell's books. He covers many topics, and makes quite a few controversial stances, such as the famous one on how abortion leads to a lower crime rate.

It's funny, and entirely fitting I suppose, that I can't identify a single economic theory in the book. He does say, however, that he's terrible at theory. In fact, on of the enriched/added chapters of the book deals with how he perceives himself, being that when called a sociologist instead of an economist, the look of horror on the face of the sociologists was enough to prove that he probably wasn't one.

Going back to definitions (which remember students, are the bedrock towards more marks), economics is the "study of how society uses scarce resources to satisfy unlimited human needs and wants." Going back to the basics, I feel, always makes things clearer. Of course, this book is about economics, he's looking at how we use the resources to get what we want, and how the externalities (econs-speak for third-party effects) affect us all.

This actually reminds me of how sometimes, we tend to let the details obscure the truth. The Business and Management notes I have by the school begin by saying something along the lines of "Business is taking things, turning them into something else and selling them at a higher price. Now you know the whole syllabus and the rest is just details."

The rest is just details.

That is really a wonderful phrase (and the only one I didn't have to paraphrase because I actually remembered it). I think next time we feel swamped with things, we should just remember the important things such as

I'm writing this blog because I love books, not because of followers. The rest of the blog are just details.

I'm here on earth because God has a purpose for me. The rest of my life are just details.

Think about it, how much simpler, and less stressful, could our lives be if we knew what we were focusing on, instead of getting distracted by red herrings.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Ghosts of Our Pasts by Sophia Duane (ARC)

This is my first ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), and I was so excited to get it, nevermind that it's not an actual book like I dreamed (a downside of living in Singapore), but an ebook. It took me longer than expected to finish this book though, although that's not the fault of the book, but the fact that my attention span is significantly smaller for ebooks than paperbooks.

To get back on track, Ghosts of Our Pasts is really quite good. I was a bit hesistant about it at first, because I'm Christian so I naturally take a more conservative view to moral matters, but the book really won me over by the end.

-Spoiler Alert-
Essentially, the book is about two wounded souls, Emily, who lost her father at the 9/11 attacks and Will Darcy, who lost his love of his life at the same 9/11 attacks, and how they come together to slowly heal.

Except, it feels like only Will actually moves forward. You see, when we first meet Emily, she's compensating/displacing her emotions by sleeping with guys she doesn't care about. While at the end she does end up in a steady relationship with Will, I felt that she didn't change much, although she made him change. Granted, he was a lot worse, with a fear of tall buildings and others, but I would have liked to see her as less "heroic" and more "becoming-heroic". Will, on the other hand, has a moment in the book where he has to make an explicit choice between the past and the future, and the obvious is a good marker for his character developement. And it didn't help that at that moment, Emily was acting as though she had gotten over her trauma years ago (when it's mentioned in the first few pages that she hasn't).

The book makes me wonder, what would happen if something like that happened to me? The title is a reference to how we can sometimes be stuck in the past, and is (I think), a subtle call to move beyond that. While I would like to think that I have the strength to go beyond crisis's, I doubt if that's true. Up til now, which is about 5, 6 years from when I moved from my childhood home to the house I have now (and is, mind you, less than a kilometer away) and I still think of the 107E (my old home) as "home". It's a bit worrying, I suppose, that I'm so attached to what I have fond memories of, but it is, nonetheless, better than to be wholly unsentimental. Or at least, that's what I'm telling myself.

It's strange though, how now I'm aiming to go somewhere completely unfamiliar for university. I suppose it's because I don't like change so much, that if I study in another school in Singapore, it will invariably disappoint me for not being MGS (my school for the first 10 years of schooling), and so, I'd rather be somewhere else.

After this rather weird digression, I think I should just end of by talking about the book again. Plot-wise, I really would have prefered to know that the tragedy that they experience is 9/11, which would have made their actions more understandable. Maybe it's because I'm not American, that I don't realise it from the start, but still, it would have been nice to know.

All in all, I recommend this book, but only to mature readers (no kiddies). It's not very explicit (thankfully), but it does seem to portray drugs in a positive light, which I think is not only ironic, but would outweigh the benefits of reading this novel about healing.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Reading Wishes has a Giveaway!

Santa is looking suspicious here.... Santa, are you here
to steal presents or to give them away?

I'm very bad with technology, so it always impresses me how other bloggers manage to put together such a professional looking blog. One of them is Rebecca@Reading Wishes, who started only in May this year, but already has a really professional looking blog and book reviewing system running. Me? I'm just muddling my way through, and the most I can do in the way of "planning" is to decide ahead of time what to post (review, or quote or something unrelated).

And now, she's even got a Christmas Giveaway! I have no idea how giveaways are run, so this just makes me respect her (and the other bloggers) even more. I guess after exams, I should really put in some effort into making this blog look presentable.

Anyway, the details of the giveaway are like this:

It's from 9th to 23rd November and you must be a follower of her blog to enter. And since bookdepository ships to Singapore, there's no need to worry about anything else.

So what are you waiting for? You should join the Giveaway! (Yes, I'm joining, of course, but apart from that, I need to find bloggin mentors. Or something like that).

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Outliers - Malcom Gladwell

Maybe it's because I'm having exams now, but reading Outliers by Malcom Gladwell was really appealing. While I generally think his books are interesting, the added layer (of stress?) caused by exams makes you wonder: what does it take to succeed? Can I succeed in the exams? The second question being, of course, of more importance than the first for now. But as usual, I think Malcom Gladwell poses some really interesting theories, that may or may not be true, so rather than ramble off into something, I think I'll just go through the key points of the book (it's non-fiction so you can't really cry "Spoiler!")

To succeed you need:

To be born early in the year. This is supposed to be especially applicable for sports, because you're born earlier, you're slightly bigger, appear to be more talented which gives you more training opportunities and so, a self-enforcing cycle is born. The same, I suppose, applies to school work, since being born earlier would imply that your brain had more chance to develop. Hmm.... I really wondered about this. All my siblings and I are born in the later half of the year, but so far, we're doing ok. My sister is a gymnastics coach (to cite the most athletic of us all), and she's born in December. In fact, all the sporty people I know are born later in the year....

To practice 10 000 hours. Ok, this, I believe in. The old adage: Practice makes Perfect is probably true. I don't think I need to elaborate, but you should read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother if you want to real life example (that's documented).

But seriously, 10 000? That more-or-less rules me out for success, since the only that I can remotely achieve 10 000 hours of is reading books. And um, while that is a valuable life-skill, it's one that is neglected by employers and those in the admission boards.

To have good EQ. Apparently, after a certain IQ range, the differentiating factor becomes your EQ. I think I'm inclined to believe this. My grandfather talks about how in business, what you need is for people to trust you, and that means going the extra mile (like driving across customs to give the client something). The same goes for the rest of life. If you can give reasonable explanations, most things can be solved. There are people in my school, that I think are probably smart, but I won't know because they're not very likeable. Even though I act like a spoilt brat many a time in school, I do try to give someone the benefit of the doubt so if I can't stand you, well, something might be wrong with me; but if the level doesn't like you, there might be a problem.

When and Where you're born. Because we all need a bit of luck (to be born in the right age, to the right sort of parents, in the right country even). Because this is really uncontrollable, I think I just want to touch on how culture affects us. Being Singaporean, we like to criticise ourselves by saying that we have a kiasu (scared of losing) and kiasi (scared of dying) culture. Basically, if it's to our advantage, we will take take take. It's definitely one of the ugly things about us, but I think it's also what makes us strong in things like rote-learning.

One of the things that was used as an example, was the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study). It was cited, that we're one of the top few countries who answer all the questions, and that is supposed to say something about our perseverance. Um, actually, it's because we were taught to answer all questions (or lose marks), so the students probably finished everything due to the kaisu-ness inherent in us. ("If I don't answer, but the guy next to me does, I may lose marks!)

Minor Quibbles with the book:

Singapore does not have a "culture shaped by the tradition of wet-rice agriculture and meaningful work". Yes, we are mostly descended from the South China immigrants who did engage in wet-rice work before they came to Singapore, but most of our forefounders were coolies. If we have a very advanced country now, it's probably due to the good leadership we have.

William Thistlewood, the guy who kept a diary of his Jamaican exploits, is actually called Thomas Thistlewood, at least according to all the Internet sources I could see.

Friday, November 4, 2011

My Two Cents on Goodreads and Librarything

Strictly speaking, only one of my friends. But I'm
attempting to get more to sign up.

Since I have a lull in my reading schedule (apparently, studying and reading are two mutually exclusive activities), I decided to finally write down my thoughts on two very popular book-social/sharing sites: Goodreads and LibraryThing.

I was actually pretty much unaware of both sites until I got Zite and started reading all these blogposts about Goodreads/LibraryThing, which more or less piqued my interest. So, being indecisive, I decided to join both sites, figuring that if I wanted to, I could just delete an account. So, after about a month or so of playing around with both sites, I came to a conclusion:

Goodreads and Librarything are more complementary products than competitive products (products in competitive supply).

While this may be a very obvious conclusion, it took me quite a lot of time to figure it out. At first, I was more in favour of LibaryThing, since I wanted a place to catalog my books, and from what I heard Librarything was the winner. And it's true. LibraryThing's cataloging system is superior compared to Goodreads. While Goodreads only has shelves (which I find rather cumbersome to use), LibraryThing has categories and tags. Which means you can subdivide the books. That's pretty much why I only use LibraryThing to keep track of the books I own.

On the other hand, Goodreads is supposed to emphasise the social aspect of reading more. I don't know how true that is, since only one of my friends use Goodreads, but it does seem so. And it's somehow easier to enter a review on Goodreads (they have a dedicated review box), so I tend to use Goodreads to record the books I read but don't own (borrowed books, library books mainly).

The next thing both sites have in common are their discussion groups. Since I'm quite lazy, I tend to neglect such things, but I am making an effort to participate more. So far, what I've gathered is that LibraryThing is good for specific things - like discussions on Japanese culture, while I'm learning how to improve this blog most from the Goodreads discussion (Especially the groups Blogger Lift and Creative Reviews). Although it is difficult for me to just jump in the discussions, I got many ideas on how to improve just by reading the posts (sorry, all improvements will only be done after November 18th)

Now on to the peripherals of each site. (Basically, my studying-induced vocabulary is trying to say that I'm going to talk about the 'add-ons' of the site).

To be honest, the reason why I joined Goodreads was because of its peripherals. It had a quiz function (And I knew the answer!) and an app (which LibraryThing does not have, but is supposed to be working on). Since you can read ebooks on the app (as long as you have the ebook open when you go offline), it's yet another and very convenient way to read, since you can post updates on your reading progress and record quotes.

LibraryThing has a very interesting "Common Knowledge" section, which has interesting information such as dedications, quotations, opening and ending sentences and such.

And I think, this discussion will be incomplete without talking about their giveaway programmes. While Goodreads does let me try to win physical books, the copies are very little and there are much more participants. So the chances of winning go down dramatically. On the other hand, while I can only win ebooks from Librarything (at least so far), they have more copies and less participants (due to, I think, the lower number of members), and I've got quite a few ebooks already. Not to mention that LibraryThing divides the give aways into early reviews and member giveaways, which increases the selection (to me, anyway).

In conclusion, both sites have their unique selling points. While Goodreads is free, LibraryThing is free only up to the first 200 books. But honestly, I love the site enough that I'm considering paying the lifetime membership fee. Unfortunately, that requires a credit card, which I don't have at the moment.

Does anyone have other opinions? Whether there are any bugs in either site that I've neglected or some function I've missed out? Just leave a comment and I'll reply(:

UPDATE (30/3/2013): Here's an update after using both sites for a while