Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What is courage?

Courage is:

"A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must no merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine"

From Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton (Project Gutenberg version)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Zite vs Flipboard

There are many news-aggregating apps for the iPad, the two of which are Zite and Flipboard. It's actually a really effective tool to read on the iPad, because of the pretty quality, and of course, the fact that the news are up-to-date. But after having both apps for awhile, I eventually deleted Flipboard yesterday.

This is actually in interests of space (I'm running out), and I realised that once I downloaded Zite, I gradually stopped using Flipboard. What I liked about Flipboard was the face that I could look at my twitter feed and facebook (although I use it mainly for facebook).

However, it seemed harder to get the content I wanted, and by-and-by, I got tired of those same few sections. Plus, while the format is pretty, the grid-like boxes were annoying because they updated individually and it took a really long time, especially if I didn't go onto Flipboard for a time.

The nice thing I like about Zite was how it can personalise content, which led me to spend more time reading it. The way the sections are arranged are also convenient, and it's easy to add or delete a section. In fact, the reason why I got a delicious account was because I wanted to save some of the articles I read. And this is the main "flaw" of Zite, that unlike Flipboard, the articles 'disappear' much faster. There was this recipe of a s'mores pie I forgot to copy, and now it's gone ):

Another difference between the two was that while they both need the Internet to update their content, at the very least, I could browse through the previews of the different articles on Flipboard. With Zite, I can't even go to the main page (perhaps that's something they could improve on?)

But ultimately, I think I choose Zite because of it's user-friendliness, and the fact that I prefer the content it offers (I'm not sure how they choose the content, but in the Japan section of Zite, I found all the things that I liked, while Flipboard only had a Tsunami section, which was mainly twitter posts).

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Chrysanthemum and The Sword by Ruth Benedict

After I read Japan Through The Looking Glass, I was quite interested in reading about The Chrysanthemum and The Sword.

But I keep thinking, maybe it's a bias with me, how much Caucasians can understand Asians. Even within Asia, it's hard for us to understand each other, how much can others, who have a very different set of traditional values, understand us? There are even books called Can Asians Think? which aim to give a defence of our cognitive capabilities.

This book, while interesting, has a few inherent flaws in it. Firstly, the authoress never actually went to Japan. This is due to WWII, but still, it does hinder the accuracy. Secondly, she depended mainly on interviews with Japanese living in America. To me, ABC (American Born Chinese) are already very far from our culture, (please, even Singaporean Chinese is far from Chinese culture), and there are Chinese movies poking fun of it. Hence, I really doubt the accuracy of the Japanese descended people she interviewed. If they even wished to leave their home for America, it might imply that there was something they inherently disliked about Japan (remember, it was a very insular nation at that time), which just means the findings would have error.

The book itself, though, is very interesting. She talks about the concept of on, and how it differs from China radically. But unfortunately, because she did not provide any kanji of the word, it's hard to see if that's even true. Much of the book, I have to believe at face value, because really, it could be a lot of words that she's talking about.

There was even a sense, at one point of time, that she was coming from a viewpoint which thought that American culture was superior, although she does take care to avoid it most of the times.

But even though I've pointed out all my doubts about this, the book is still worthwhile reading. The Japan that she talks about cannot really be seen now, with all the modernisation and influx of other cultures (which is the downside of Globalisation). So in a sense, this is a window into the past. Just be careful, this 'window' may not be the clearest. As Robert Frost says in After Apple Picking (my IOC was today)

I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary glass

(From North of Boston)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan

I have to admit, I've never been able to finish a book by the Bronte sisters. I was given Wuthering Heights, but stopped after a few chapters. As for Jane Eyre.... I'm not sure when I stopped, but it was early in the book. Yet for some reason, I picked up a fictionalised version of the lives of the Bronte sisters.

Initially, the writing style, which seemed a bit different to me, threatened to make me abandon the book. But after a while, I got the hang of it, and the captivating story just drew me in. According to the author, he tried to make it as close to the facts as possible, although there will always be a bit of license involved when it comes to their thoughts and feelings (letters and the such are limited after all).

The book actually makes me want to try reading from one of the Bronte sisters again. With the background of their lives, it'll probably be easier to understand their books.

But I'm not sure where all the books are. It's possible that they're somewhere in Malaysia, and it's equally possible that their thrown out. Right now, I'll probably just try to download them on the iPad, but it may just distract me from reading the books.

Still, despite what others say, I find Jane Austen an infinitely better read than all of the Bronte sisters combined (Sorry Mark Twain). I think because she combines readability with acute social observations, I enjoy the books. However, I may be defining readability too narrowly, since there are plenty of people who enjoy reading them. I guess it's just me. But I wonder, how much of the 'cannon' is really relevant for today's reader. And if they're not relevant, does that still make them literary?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Romance and Crime

I was wondering, lately, about the strange link between Crime/Mystery fiction and romance. I noticed it first in Third Girl by Agatha Christie, then in Blind Fury by Lynda La Plante.

Agatha Christie, of course (hmm... why did I say that?) writes a happy ending. In Third Girl, which is a confused novel (I mean literally, where the protagonist -not Poirot- is very confused), has a happy, albeit, unexpected romantic ending. I noticed that this appears to be a pattern, but the funny thing is, the relationship isn't how we tend to perceive it as romantic, and barely occupies a place in the plot.

Maybe that's a more realistic depiction. Why should romance be portrayed as so central to our lives? Maybe it's because I've always been single, so I really don't see the point. I've never bothered thinking about boyfriends and the like too much, since I believe it's all down to God's will. To me, the central relationships (apart from family) are my friends, of both genders. And honestly, I think it's much more fun if you just hang out with friends without bothering about all the drama that comes with BGR.

The next book, Blind Fury, is about "using a killer to stop another killer". But the book is actually around one central protagonist (not the killer) and that serial murderer that supposedly helps them isn't much use. The story isn't much of a mystery, but of dogged determination, that slow process of tracking down the evidence that helps you nail the suspect.

The romance subplot in the book is quite sad though, especially at the end, where she becomes so cynical (no spoliers now). But it's also quite unbelievable, as though it operates on a double-time scheme (don't you love studying literature?), because of the speed of the romance. I have nothing more to say.

Yeah. That's all.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blogger Vs Tumblr

This is a fairly unexpected post. Well, not to make, because I got the idea for it yesterday, but the fact that I even got this idea is unexpected. To cut my normally long digressions short, I was actually considering moving to Tumblr. And I'm fairly ashamed to admit, part of it was because I thought I could get more readers on Tumblr or something....

Well, there is another big reason. It's probably the main reason, come to think of it: the quote function. It's trivial, but I really wanted to have the cool quote-like things, but then again, I have twitter for that.

But coming back to the first point, I think when blogging, it's too easy to fall into the trap of thirsting after popularity or fame. I admit, I dabbled in it for a while, trying to see how to get 'famous' or just trying to appear on google's search results (a feat I have yet to accomplish). But then, I stopped and asked myself, what am I writing for? (and ok, maybe I was also too lazy to promote myself) But more importantly, I realised that I write for myself (as a reader), because it's a cathartic release, a rather selfish reason but true. It's a little different from IntoTheBook, which is for God and an audience. Which explains why even though I keep talking about posting less often, it doesn't happen. (It's also why late at night, I'm sometimes frantically typing into my phone so I can remember what I want to say - it's not very good quality, but better than average).

I do consider myself very blessed even to have 32 "followers" because, to be brutally honest, the quality of my writing is bad. I'm surrounded by such talented people I do feel like I'm wasting time just blogging. If you want to see good quality blogging from my friend, please go to , she's truly talented in writing.

Well, I keep talking so much, on so many unrelated subjects, although there is a main theme: and that is about reading, and how it affects my life (which explains the name change). The most I can say in my defense is "a poem [blog] must ride on it's own melting" (credit to Robert Frost). I hope that by taking people through what goes on in my mind, they have a better idea of why I think, and so, how reliable my reviews are.

And look how things turned out! I was talking about Tumblr and it turned to this. Well, as you can probably tell, I'm not moving anywhere anytime soon. I have some grouses about blogspot, but Tumblr doesn't seem like what I need. And I can always change the blogskin later (when I actually have time to work on things other than school - and reading). Well, when I go to Japan (of course, God willing), I'm thinking of starting another blog, which saves the hassle of emails, maybe, and then, I might go on Tumblr. But I'll probably be sticking to Blogger for quite a long time, because I cannot imagine writing long posts on Tumblr. And the critics have a point, the reblogging function is a little annoying.

So there you have it, another interlude. So please, continue bearing with me if you do read this, no matter how long or short the posts.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Japan Through The Looking Glass by Alan Macfarlane

As you probably know by now, I've a deep interest in Japan, and no, it's not limited to pop culture. In fact, I'm terrible lacking in knowledge of JPop or anime or manga (ok, maybe it's not that applicable to the other two). But I do like to read on society and politics and such, making me sound boring. But that's ok, it's my interest. Which is why, on a previous trip to the library, I borrowed a book called Japan Through The Looking Glass.

It's actually really interesting. Because it's written from an anthropologist's point of view, it covers things like "Power", "Beliefs" etc. In fact, there are few chapters, but each chapter is quite long. The purpose is to actually show what Japanese society is like, and compare it to American society. I didn't think it was a dry/academic read, because the author used a lot of personal stories, about when he was in Japan ( and I was happy to hear him quote Shusaku Endo once).

But me being me, went on the to check the reviews. It's probably a terrible habit, but when it comes to books, I do get very influenced by reviews, most likely because there were times where I regretted ignoring the reviews. But the reviews here were mostly negative, which quite surprised me because I liked the book. But after thinking it over, I do see how the reviews make sense, although I'm not as negative as them.

The biggest criticism (which, I think, is valid) is that Japan doesn't seem to be very realistically portrayed. I have to admit, there were times reading it where I didn't recognise Japan. But then again, as I tell myself, I'm not Japanese. And I can barely understand Chinese culture (I'm referring to traditional culture, not what's going on in China now, although that's equally mystifying to me). Hmm.... it doesn't seem like I'm cut out to be an anthropologist.

I suppose I really have no way to see if the book is true until I actually go to Japan and immerse myself in its society. Which, by the way, I'm working really hard towards. But one good thing, at least, came of reading the reviews: I was introduced to a book called The Chrysanthemum and The Sword, which is apparently a classic on Japan. When I went to the library to borrow it today, I noticed that it was a book that I had previously ignored and rejected. So in this way, I'm introduced to another (potentially) good book. (:

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My NDP Reads

I'm confused. I know I said earlier that my blog posts would probably decrease, but then it increased again. But today, I read this article on how quality, not consistency is what is important, which has me seriously reconsidering how often should I write. The problem is that I want people to be aware of the books I read, and to read/avoid them (basically, I'm sharing), but sometimes, I don't have much to say about the book. So... what should I do? I don't want to make this into an emo-portlet, where you have to suffer through my life-story before seeing a book review. As always, I'm indecisive so this will probably end on the back burner.

To go back to point, Singapore just celebrated it's 46th birthday *shoutandflourish*. As per tradition, I borrowed some Classic Russian books to read on National Day. I'm not sure why, but when my aunt started booking a hotel room every year to watch the parade, it somehow became a habit to read a Russian writer that day. I believe that first year, I read Anna Karenina and fell in love with Tolstoy's writing. Apart from last year, where I was in China, I've been able to do the same. This year, I read two books: Notes from the Underground and The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Ressurection by Leo Tolstoy.

I'm not sure why I persist in reading Dostoyevsky, because every time I read him, I never fully understand the book. Somehow, I get lost reading him. This collection (of two) is the same. I did understand Notes from the Underground more, which had a really interesting premise, but that may have been because I read that first. Notes from the Underground has for a protagonist this guy that appears thoroughly unlikeable. Sometimes like how I feel, so I suppose since I can relate...

On the other hand, The Double was a little more complicated. I understood the premise, but after that, I got very confused. It took a lot for me to finish the book, and I did it with a feeling of confusion. I completely didn't understand what happen. I did read the this is his juvenalia, which may explain why it's a little harder to understand than the others.

Ressurection, which is Tolstoy's last great novel, was quite different from his others in that it focused quite a lot on the 'lower classes'. It's actually so long, the end of the book has chapter summaries, where they summarise each chapter with a sentence so that you can understand the novel in it's entirety.

The story is quite simple, a noble man tries to find redemption by 'saving' a woman that he previously disgraced. During it's course, you can see Tolstoy's thoughts on serfdom and such. The ending, is a little, disappointing. I didn't expect what happened (romance-wise that is). But I wouldn't skip reading the book just because of this.

So, if you feel like reading something 'meaty' read Tolstoy! His writing, to me, is clear and very readable. (But start with Anna Karenina).

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Twelth Imam by Joel C Rosenberg

I've been writing reviews of Joel Rosenberg's books on IntoTheBook, but I think they've had enough of my  reviews of him. Well, Aunty Evonne has lent me his latest book: The Twelth Imam, which is different from his 'Political Thriller' series, as it focuses more on Iran and it's nuclear programme. Unlike the other books, this book also provides a rather comprehensive alternative viewpoint (i.e. he also writes from the viewpoints of the Muslims).

The book is suspenseful, because none of the characters start of as God-fearing. It's an interesting way of writing, because his past series started off with at least a few Christian characters. Well, I could probably continue praising the book, but that would probably result in a spoiler. So, I think I'd just talk about two points that I didn't like, but I figure will be pretty controversial.

The first thing, was that the book had a very obvious political agenda. I don't mind the 'Christian Agenda' as some of the critics on have pointed out, because I find it pretty well done. Furthermore, if you have read his other book, you can see that he is a staunch Christian, which is really cool, because it is another avenue to introduce the Gospel. But what I don't like, is this polarising of the two parties in America. In his last series, I could see it's necessity, because it's essentially a political thriller. But this book, which focuses more on espionage, seemed unnecessary for two reasons. One, it's quite a big overgeneralisation to say that all Christians are Republicans and vice versa. Two, it's confusing to those reader's outside the US. I've been following US politics as much as I can, and I still don't understand the difference between the two parties, or why they can't seem to compromise. I really don't think someone who has not even bothered with politics can understand. Since it doesn't seem to add anything to the book, I don't think it should be inside (perhaps someone like Ernest Hemingway said something similar).

The second thing was, somewhat similar, this idea that America is the only one who can make a difference. Again, I see it's necessity in the first book, and in real life, but this book seemed to be about one man's operating in Iran. In fact, the CIA (which I assume represents the American Government), is shown as inept and not listening to his opinions. In that case, why must blanket statements about how America is the only one who can stop Iran appear? I feel that it contradicts, and even diminishes the message of how it's Christ and Christians that will change the world.

All that being said, this is still an excellent book. I was genuinely caught up in the events, which are very well-depicted, and learnt about Shia Eschatology at the same time. I really can't wait for the sequel to come out(:

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Without Mercy by Lisa Jackson

At first, Without Mercy reminded me of Alex Rider's Point Blanc. That's mostly due to the blurb, which talks about a elite school for troubled kids. But it's not. And I have to say, I'm not very impressed with the Lisa Jackson books right now.

It feels as though she's pushing an agenda: She doesn't seem to have a good view of Christianity. Well, if you think so, ok. But why spoil a book with it? It's alienating a lot of readers, not just Christians. To make matters worse, Christianity had no bearing whatsoever on the plot.

And believe me when I say, the only redeeming feature of the book is it's plot. Mong read a section of the book and started laughing, due to the way it's written. And I have to admit, it's not very good. It reads like how I would write, and I'm a terrible writer :/ For instance, I have no ounce of poetry in me (It took very long, but I finally learnt how to appreciate poetry, although I still cannot understand Wole Soyinka). Which means unlike other writers, who can make their prose sound like poetry, I cannot do anything like that. Boring isn't it?

Like I said, the plot redeems the book. The premise of the book is interesting, and the plot is rather well-developed. I thought the characters were fairly well developed, except for one main character. The sudden (and I felt, unnecessary) plot twist made the characterisation painfully shallow, because unlike Emma, when I flipped through the book a second time, I could see no hints of what is to come.

Honestly, you should only read this book if you're very bored. The themes in the book aren't very good, and the writing is only average.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Keepsake by Tess Gerritsen

After I read The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen, I went to the library to borrow one of her books. In one of life's many coincidences, the next Tess Gerritsen book Aunty Florence wanted to lend me was The Keepsake, which happened to be the one I borrowed. It reminded me of how God works, that he's underneath sustaining things/letting the earth keep on going, and every now and then, you see his power in miraculous ways (this is a bad paraphrase of G. K. Chesterton)

But anyway, The Keepsake has an interesting premise. Someone has been leaving preserved women, starting from a 'mummy' found to be a recently killed body. And everything seems to revolve around the Crispin museum, specifically, a young archeology student named 'Josephine'. But as the story progresses, her identity is called into question.

I was glad to see the coroner Maura Isle feature more prominently in the book. However, detective Jane is still the main character. I don't really know why, but I find her rather irritating. But I do like the other characters, which is why I'll continue reading the series.

To me, this is one of the few good murder series around. It's very rare to find a modern author who does not use explicit material or copious use of profanities. Futhermore, the books are well-written and doesn't feel cliched at all (despite the fact that -spoiler alert- it is about a stalker-obsession book).