Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie T. Chang

130 million of Chinese citizens have moved from rural villages to urban cities searching for work and a better life. This book follows a couple of young women who move to a big city looking for factory work. We learn about the job market, dating, housing, friendships, and hardships. We also learn about their families back home and how different the girls' lives become from how they grew up.

There were some fascinating chapters in this book. But I found it difficult to follow who was who since the stories jumped all over the place. The author also included several chapters about her own family history which did not fit in with the book at all. I actually skipped those chapters.

This book was okay, but if you want to read a book on China, I recommend Peter Hessler's books (Rivertown and Oracle Bones). They are much more cohesive.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Learning from the Heart: Lessons on Living, Loving, and Listening by Daniel Gottlieb

This is a collection of essays about slowing down and listening to ourselves and others. The author is a therapist and is also a quadriplegic.

Each essay was rich and relevant. One essay was enough for me to chew on for one day, so I read one essay a day. The essays made me step back a little and think about life, always a useful thing to do.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I read this in high school and re-read it last week in my effort to read more literature. I understood it much better this time around.

This book is Required Reading and that's all I have to say.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

A young lady, Willie Upton, returns to her hometown of Templeton, fearing that she is pregnant after a disastrous affair with her PhD advisor. She stays the summer in Templeton and embarks on a journey of finding out who her own biological father is.

This book is part mystery, part historical fiction, and part just plain old fiction. Overall, I found it quite solid, engaging, and well-written. However, the whole premise of the character's research into who her father is seemed a bit weak. Her mom knows who the father is, but wants her daughter to find out for herself. I don't really understand why the mom didn't just tell her.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan

A short little book about the last day at a Red Lobster restaurant that is closing its doors. The weather is pretty bad out and the manager is trying to keep his staff contained and working even though most of them will be out of a job the next day.

This book isn't too exciting or fancy, but I think this is actually what makes it neat. The descriptions in this book are so real and true that they really capture a day in the life of the characters and the restaurant.

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

I enjoyed reading Malcolm Gladwell's other books, The Tipping Point and Blink. His newest book looks at what makes people outliers and stand-outs. Gladwell argues that it is a lucky combination of being born at the right time and having the right opportunities.

There are some really interesting stories in here which makes it a very easy book to read.

Some of his assertions and connections are, however, a bit over-generalized and simple. For example, I didn't agree with his argument that Chinese people (especially those from southern China) are excellent at math because they come from a rice-farming background that requires skill, persistence, and accuracy.

I think it's unwise and pretty dangerous to label an entire ethnic group as good or bad at something. So it's quite a claim that 1.3+ billion people are good at math because they have rice-farming in their background. Because if that's true, as a Chinese gal with good Guangdong province rice growing ancestors, I gotta say that maybe my ancestors were really bad at the rice thing, because I didn't get a knack for numbers. But I got one for words! Ah, maybe they played Scrabble in their spare time when they weren't tending to their failing rice seedlings.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

I know the title sounds depressing. And yes, this novella is about the death of the title character. Ivan lives his life exactly how he is supposed to with the right jobs and connections, marrying a lady and having children. But at the end of his life, he wonders, "What if my entire life, my entire conscious life, simply was not the real thing?" It is this question that makes Ivan's story timeless.

How many decisions have we made based on what we were supposed to do? Or because it was the safe and easy thing to do? Or because our parents thought it was the right thing to do. How many times have we quietly dismissed our dreams because it was going to be too hard?

Maybe we don't even know the answers to these questions because how often do we even sit in silence and solitude and consider our lives, hearts, hurts, and desires?

Anyway, I know that life is complicated and it isn't always a matter of just always choosing to follow your heart. But how conscious are we of life, our decisions, and the direction of our lives? Or does life just happen to us?

The main character, Ivan, faces death and realizes, What did I just do with my life?

I highly recommend this book because I don't want this to happen to us. Yes, you might say, "I don't want to read about death. It's so depressing." And I would say that we can't really consciously and fully live until we do think about our own death because it's coming sooner or later. And being conscous of that will probably change how we decide to live today, tomorrow, and in this moment.

This is one book that I checked out of the library, but I will buy it because I want it in my personal library.

A quote about how Ivan chose to marry his wife:
"Praskovya Fyodorovna came from a good family and was quite attractive; she also had a little money. Ivan Ilyich could have counted on a more illustrious match, but even this one was quite good...in acquiring such a wife he did something that gave him pleasure and, at the same time, did what people of the highest standing considered correct. And so Ivan Ilyich got married."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Old School by Tobias Wolff

I read this book in an effort to put more literature into my reading diet. It's from the Big Read list.

The story takes place in the 1960s at an all-boy boarding school where creative writing is the cool thing to do. Every so often, famous writers (Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, Ayn Rand) visit the school and there is a contest to win a private meeting with the author. The boys write like crazy and submit stories to try and win this coveted prize. The visiting writer determines which boy wins.

This book is beautifully written and it looks at honesty, deception, and consequences. I whizzed through it even though I probably should have been studying for my final exams. I guess I took a break from school by reading about school.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Leap of Faith by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

This is the first Young Adult book I've come across that addresses faith and religion.

Abby is a sixth-grader who is kicked out of public school and starts at a private Catholic school. She discovers a talent for acting and also starts exploring the Catholic faith. Near the end of the book, we find out why Abby was kicked out of school and what really happened. Throughout the story, Abby changes and finds her own voice and a lot more peace. Along the way, she has lots of quality people supporting her.

A quote from Abby:
"I had not been transformed into a believer. I had been transformed into someone who was willing to believe. I knew the difference. I knew I'd get there eventually."

Friday, March 6, 2009

Let's read more literature.

I read this article from the National Endowment for the Arts about how fewer than half of American adults read literature. The article is based on a 2002 survey that asked 17,000 adults if they had read any novels, short stories, plays, or poetry in the last year that weren't required for work or school.

The National Endowment for the Arts also has a book list of their "Big Read" books to encourage Americans to read more literature.

As for myself, I'm going to pick up Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. How about you?

To look at the book list, click here.

To read the article, click here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

I've finished Breaking Dawn, the last book in the Twilight series.
It was predictable, flat, and the author introduced dozens of new vampires at the very end who don't really matter.

My rating of the Twilight series: One star.

One star because it was interesting enough for me to finish the whole series.

But only one star because it was pretty flat. I spent 2,000+ pages reading about Bella, the main character, and she never developed into anything else besides, well, a vampire. Before her transformation into a vampire, she was a girl with no depth, personality, or smarts. Her distinguishing characteristics were that she muttered, loved Edward, and was clumsy. When she changes into a vampire, she's just a vampire with the same lackluster qualities, but now she drinks blood.

My final word on the series: Don't waste your time.