10 Favorite Books

10 Favorite Books

Many people have been saying they’re bored, twiddling their thumbs, feeling restless. I find myself restless with feelings related to confinement, but not necessarily boredom. My daughter has been keeping me plenty busy–there’s been a lot more cooking, washing dishes, cleaning, teaching, engaging, etc. and I kind of miss having my own time in the mornings. Nevertheless, I will share some of my favorite (fiction) books because you may be in search of a good read or an escape during this isolated time.

A side note: My favorite genres are comedy/satire and mystery, with well-written prose. There are many books that are quick and entertaining, but not necessarily well-written. My favorite books lean more towards classics and dense material. If you find yourself cooped up indoors without work or kids hanging onto your ankles, here are my recommendations:

  • A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz: Laugh-out-loud funny
  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes: Another funny one, and original
  • The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle: Pick any story, any volume; they’re all so good.. and unexpectedly humorous
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas: Thrilling
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith: Nostalgic
  • Bleak House by Charles Dickens: Dickens’s best, somewhat relatable to current times (amidst epidemics), and detective work for the reader (following characters, plots/subplots)
  • A Lover’s Discourse by Rowland Barthes: Heartfelt, metacognitive
  • The Collected Stories by Amy Hempel: Perfectly written endings
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Thought-provoking, not as dense as his other novels
  • (Poetry) The Art of Drowning by Billy Collins: True to life poems

[Photo from this site: source: elenaleonova/iStock]

Trip to the Bay: Day 3-4: San Francisco & Berkeley

Trip to the Bay: Day 3-4: San Francisco & Berkeley

I’m finally getting around to posting the last bit of our Bay Area trip from almost a month ago. Our final full day was our actual anniversary, so we indulged in many foods and sentimental sites.

We walked across the street from our hotel to Rick & Ann’s for breakfast. I’ve been to many a breakfast joints in my somewhat adventurous life, but I would say that Rick & Ann’s is one of my favorites, if not my favorite. The location is charming, somewhat hidden in a neighborhood block, and on an early Monday morning, you will find locals walking their dogs, sipping coffee from Peet’s and munching on a pastry from Fournée Bakery while reading the newspaper (yes, newspaper) or a book seated on a bench. On weekends, I imagine a crowded and hectic space, but our Monday morning was peaceful and we were seated immediately at the restaurant. Everything on their menu is fresh and so good.

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Then we headed into the city. Our first stop was City Lights Bookstore. It was one of our engagement photoshoot locations and I wanted to find a place to walk off our breakfast stomachs. Back when I was into beatnik poetry and literature, which sprouted from my fascination with Jack Kerouac’s writing style, I used to visit the bookstore and neighborhood thinking how cool it was to be stepping into part of American literature and history.  I soon realized my naïveté about their whole movement so I grew out of it quickly, but the bookstore holds a meticulous collection of poetry and it’s sometimes fun to open a book of poems and read some profound nonsense. ;)

We wanted Elaine to have fun too, so we had her run around and play at Mission Dolores Park. On the way there, we made a quick stop by our wedding church. We couldn’t find a leisurely pedestrian to take a photo of us, so Elaine obliged and did her best to capture a photo of Mommy and Daddy.

Elaine had so much fun at the park she didn’t want to leave. When we convinced her by bribing her with some ice cream at Bi-Rite, she wanted to go back to the park to play as soon as she finished her ice cream.

By this point it was mid-afternoon and we hadn’t eaten lunch. Our stomachs were still full from ice cream and Elaine was getting crankier by the minute. We needed to find a quiet space so that Elaine could nap while ate something light. Tartine was nearby and it turned out to be the perfect location. While waiting for a table, I browsed through Heath Ceramics next door and it was a good thing our table was ready quickly because I might have purchased dinnerware sets that would’ve taken money out of our savings. haha. My one of many weaknesses: kitchen/tableware.

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We then drove to Embarcadero, walked around, I bought a jar of jam, Y had Blue Bottle iced coffee, as always, and we still had time before our dinner reservation.

Dinner was Sotto Mare, which was supposedly where Y took me on a date once (I didn’t remember). Since we had some time before our reservation, we walked around the neighborhood and found another one of our engagement photoshoot locations: 101 Music. We took photos, walked through the basement with over 50,000 LPs, regretting that I didn’t buy one, (why didn’t I think of Nina Simone!), btw, I don’t even have a record player, so only a little regret.

Sotto Mare’s cioppino, though. My other weakness: good seafood.

While we were at Bi-Rite, I bought Elaine a souvenir coloring book of S.F. Most of the places we visited were in the coloring book and I thought our last stop before heading back to the hotel should be another landmark.

Our little one was cranky by this point and all she wanted to do was go back to the hotel and play, which was why she wouldn’t look at the camera for photos. The unabashed moods of a toddler! Never a compromise.

Well, that’s it. The next morning, I grabbed several pastries and a loaf of corn grits and seeds bread from Fournée Bakery to take home as my other food souvenir, we met with my siblings for breakfast at La Note, and we ended our trip with a long drive home. Some time in-between roaming the city over the weekend, we managed to fit in two visits to Boba Guys. It well-exceeded our expectations: Y loved the muscat oolong iced tea so much that he ordered it on both visits, and Elaine had her very first boba experience with strawberry rice milk. So spoiled; her first boba experience was Boba Guys.

(So happy Tartine is coming to L.A. and Boba Guys can also be found in Culver City)

Book Review: Harry Potter (1-7)

It’s hard to believe the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was published in 1997 in the U.K. (1998 in the U.S.)–20 years ago! To celebrate its 20 year anniversary in the States, Target has dedicated a special section in its stores to sell some wizarding merchandise. The truth is, I bought myself a pair of Hogwarts shorts in size XL for kids. They serve as comfortable pajamas. ;)

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I didn’t start out as a Harry Potter fan; in fact, I was pretty adamant about being anti-Harry Potter for a long time and refused to add to Ms. Rowling’s billion-dollar empire. I did try to read the first book a couple of times due to many friends’ persuasions, but it simply didn’t click each time I tried. At the time I was also reading a handful of heavy novels a week for my English major courses, so I refused to abase myself with elementary school level reading, which was what I thought (and still think) of the first book. I think the The Sorcerer’s Stone was written for a middle school audience (11-13 year olds), much like the characters themselves in Book 1, so the vocabulary, jargon, and character portrayals of Harry and his friends were not relatable and captivating enough to hook me into Rowling’s wizarding fantasy. It seemed too childish.

A year ago, a friend gifted me the entire set as a specially requested item from none other than myself. I requested it because I found more time to read and decided to tackle the series with fair-mindedness. I started again with The Sorcerer’s Stone, rereading it to give it an open-minded review, and I finally finished The Deathly Hallows a couple weeks ago.  It’s difficult to remember the details of each book since it has been a year-long feat, but here are my not-so-brief thoughts and review:

To enjoy the books, one must read and think like the characters at their progressing age levels in each book. Book 1 should be read how an eleven-year-old would think and read and Book 7 as an eighteen-year-old. Although witches and wizards are nothing new, the conjuring up of a magical world with new vocabulary, i.e., Hogwarts and its wizards and witches in the middle of London mixed with regular people (“muggles”), was a brilliant, if not novel*, idea, so kudos to J.K. Rowling for allowing the reader to imagine a parallel world where witches and wizards could live amongst us and by propelling the story with a unique problem set by the protagonist and antagonist.

J.K. Rowling creates great villains. Voldemort (Tom Riddle), the Dursleys, Draco (the Malfoys), Peter ‘Wormtail’ Pettigrew, Bellatrix Lestrange, the Death Eaters, some characters from the Ministry of Magic such as Dolores Umbridge, Rita Skeeter, the dementors, and even Snape. Their cruelty and irrational/evil intentions are often so compelling that you begin to hate and/or fear them. The twist was that you also began to feel compassionate towards a few of them because of their unfortunate pasts and turn of events. In the end, Dudley was shown expressing gratitude towards Harry in his own way, Dudley’s mom, Petunia, had a sad story, where as a little girl she too wanted to attend Hogwarts but was rejected because of her non-magic gene. Her bitterness towards her sister and Harry was understandable.  Draco and the Malfoys were characters that you kind of felt sorry for in the end. And Snape, not quite a villain but characterized as so until the end, was my favorite character for his complexity, loyalty, abilities, and unintended humor (Books 3 and 4 had some funny parts that made me laugh out loud).

The heroes, on the other hand, were dull, if not terrible. Harry Potter was probably one of my least favorite characters, alongside Ron, Hagrid, and sometimes even Dumbledore. Harry was plain egocentric. Book 5: The Order of the Phoenix, was awful, filled with Harry shouting most of the time. He is said to be sixteen years old, so I guess it makes sense that a sixteen-year-old would be so self-absorbed, confused, and annoying. In most of Book 1 and in several other serious situations in latter books, Harry seemed preoccupied with Quidditch than the problems at hand. In Book 7: The Deathly Hallows, Harry finally seems to have outgrown some of his egocentric ways, but he is nonetheless annoying most of the time. Ron and Hagrid were irksome because they were–how should I put it nicely–simpleminded. Even Hermione with her preoccupation with elf rights, and in Book 6 and 7 displaying her short-sightedness with serious problems in which Harry was disclosing, disappointing the reader because we expected more and because she ended up with Ron. What a cruel joke, Ms. Rowling! And Dumbledore–a ubiquitous figure who knew everything and controlled everyone like puppets under his grand scheme to bring down Voldemort. He is said to have cared for Harry Potter, but nothing in his personal interactions with Harry gave me that impression. A classic writing flaw where the author “tells” rather than “shows” (from the adage, “show, not tell”). Dumbledore seemed a bit too distant and omniscient in a way without much character or depth until parts of Book 7. His care for Harry seemed superficial. Of all the good characters, I liked Hermione (half of the time), Lupin, Arthur and Molly Weasley, and Dobby.

Lastly, let’s talk about the failure of love story-telling. Cho-Harry, Cho-Diggory, Ron-Lavender Brown, Hermione-Viktor Krum, Ron-Hermione, Fleur Delacour-Bill Weasley, Ginny-boyfriends, Harry-Ginny. If J.K. Rowling meant to portray all the flings as what middle school and high school romance really turns out to be, then she did well in portraying them in such a juvenile way. Books 4-6 were filled with them. The only love story that was believable and moving was Snape’s love for Lily (“always“), and even that story was subdued. The love stories for the main characters felt forced and shallow.

As a whole, I liked the Harry Potter series. But I wonder if I simply liked the idea of Hogwarts–a magical school with magical people, and a magical London/world. Major events and minor stories were well developed and tied together, but the love stories could have been so much better, if not, omitted. Story-telling was best in Books 3 and 7, and maybe 6. Book 5 was rubbish. Book 4 was a bit digressive. Books 1-2 were interesting enough. And that is my review.

My next blog post on books will feature love stories that are written well.


*Side note: Sabrina the Teenage Witch was sort of like Harry Potter but it was a T.V. show and Sabrina the witch was shown growing up as a witch in a normal high school. Studio Ghibli is also known for creating fantastical realms featuring child/teenage characters, e.g., Kiki’s Delivery Service, but there were no books, or none that I know of. The Chronicles of NarniaLord of The Rings, and T.H. White’s The Once and Future King are the closest comparisons to Harry Potter but The Chronicles of Narnia transports the characters in an alternative world where most of the stories take place, Lord of the Rings seem more suited for adults because of its complex themes and The Once and Future King takes place in medieval times. Harry Potter exhibits unique and original traits.

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January Books: Lost City Radio and The Trellis and the Vine

First seen on the ‘Staff Picks’ section of a local bookstore, I purchased Lost City Radio for leisure reading and, in my own silly way, to support the small bookstore so it won’t go out of business. Independent bookstores have disappeared everywhere and it will be so sad when this place disappears too. I go when I can and purchase books in futility as if my one purchase could prolong its existence. But I digress–back to my thoughts on the book: Set in an anonymous country in South America, people are slowly recovering from a war that has torn families and friends apart and everyone is looking for someone. There is a jungle village called 1797 and a city where the protagonist named Norma is the famous voice at a radio station who reads off names of those who are missing.  One day a boy from the jungle comes to the radio station with a list of names, one of which happens to be Norma’s missing husband. The story unfolds in a narrative that constantly switches time and scene–various characters’s past and present. Because of its ambiguous time and setting and shifting perspectives, it’s not very compelling or engaging, at least not until the end.   Ultimately, it’s about war and its damaging affects on people, of love ones lost and irremediable recovery. Tragic. On a side note, while I was reading this, Serial became popular and after listening to an episode or two of the podcast, Norma’s voice became Serial’s host voice, Sarah Koenig. I couldn’t get Sarah’s voice out of my head! Haha. Well.

The Trellis and the Vine was a recommended reading as a new member of my church. It describes  the roles of each member in the church and how ultimately our job as Christians is gospel work. Everyone is responsible to grow in faith, keep each other accountable, and spread the good news (by making disciples) so that the “vine” grows for His kingdom. A quick read with common questions answered, one of mine being, “Does calling people to ‘ministry’ create two classes of Christians–the special, gifted ones who aspire to the noble calling of full-time ministry, and the rest of the plebs who are consigned to working a job in order to give money to the special ones?”     Practical reminders.