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Man Booker International

Repost link from

Man Booker International Prize 2013.

I have followed The Man Booker Prize for years but not the Man Booker International Prize. This year I’m familiar with two judges Yiyun Li and Tim Parks so I paid attention to the prize. I have not heard of any of the nominees except for one—Marilynne Robinson, so this is new territory for me. The Man Booker International Prize is significantly different from the annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction. In seeking out literary excellence, the judges consider a writer’s body of work rather than a single novel.

Swapping Books & Update

Recently I have been trading books with friends. Can I tell you how amazing and enlightening this experience is? I have been introduced to authors and books that I would otherwise have not picked up. While browsing through a friends’ bookcases, I fished out Why I Hate Abercrombie & Fitch, Exiles in America, and Sing Them Home—a very mixed pool of book. As a note to those who are reading Tale of Genji, I’m still perusing it although the progress has been slower than I have planned. I have been weighed down with so many good reads that I have to compromise the schedule. I still plan to finish it. With the impending Abercrombie book, which is a collection of academic essays that explores blacks and homosexuality, along with Julia Childs’s My Life in France, I’m having a major comeback with non-fiction reading. As some of you might notice, I haven’t been living at home so I’m delinquent in attending to comments and visiting the blogs. Bear with me and I’ll straighten things up in no time. Thanks to Trish from Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’ who has nominated me for an award. Last but not the least, I’m excited that more book public agents have been contacting me to have galley of new books sent to me. That means I’ll be very busy…reading!

Library Loot, a Monday Musing

musingmondays1Do you restrict yourself on how many books you take out from the library at a time? Do you borrow books if you already have some out? Do you always reborrow books you don’t get to?

Since my branch has closed over a year ago for seismic retrofit and renovation, I can count with my fingers the number of times I pay visit to the library. Recently a new branch opens across town in the Richmond District, right where my favorite indie bookstore is, so I have rekindled the fun of browsing the library stacks. I usually limit my book loot to 2 or 3 books, at most 4, assured that I will have plenty of time skimming, if not reading through them. I usually acquire on my own books that are very popular among library patrons, as the paging list can be painfully long. I don’t borrow books when ‘ve already had some out, partly because I’m not most organized with different due dates.

[181] The Clothes on Their Backs – Linda Grant

clothesbacks2“My parents had brought me up to be a mouse. Out of gratitude to England which gave them refuge, they chose to be mice-people and this condition of mousehood, of not saying much (to outsiders or even each other), of living quietly and modestly, of being industrious and obedient, was what they hope for for me, too. And whatever Uncle Sandor was, he was no mouse.” [54]

“Until I was 10 I was completely unaware that I had a relative.” This is not the opening line of the novel. It doesn’t appear until the start of the third chapter, but it is where the novel truly begins. The narrator is Vivien Kovaks, the relative is her uncle Sándor.

Ervin and Berta Kovaks arrived London from Budapest in 1938. They left Hungary to flee from the Jews persecution. The reclusive refugees who hide behind the door are timidly grateful for any kindness shown to them. Their daughter, Vivien, is a sensitive and bookish girl who grows up sealed off from both past and present by her socially aloof parents. The arrival of a man who dresses impeccably in a mohair suit with a diamond watch on his wrist pierces the long period of calm in her parents’ uneventful lives. The man, Sándor Kovaks, is the uncle from whom Ervin and Berta strives to protect their daughter.

Curious of her family’s past and also suspicious of her parents’ tight-lipped silence, against her father’s wishes, Vivien sets out to forge a relationship with her estranged uncle, a man reviled and imprisoned, whose treatment of his tenants prompts one newspaper to caption a photograph of him with the words: “Is this the face of evil?” But that he constantly challenges her notions of morality makes her feel otherwise. The gripping narrative that unfolds Sándor Kovaks’ story is quintessential of the imperil of hypocrisy: no man is all good or all bad, the same notion that division of humanity into good and evil is no longer useful to measure morality as raised in The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. As much as Vivien tries to hold on to her disgust at Sándor’s choices, she is convinced that life itself can be so opaque that it is sometimes impossible to analyze beyond the surface. Sándor’s choices muddle her notions to define immorality. Her interactions with her uncle turn out to be the best part of the novel.

While all that the media and her father say about her uncle is true—cheap thug, pimp, racist, bloodsucker and libertine, Sándor is owed a fair judgment on his character from the perspective of the line between selfishness and self-preservation. The more Sándor comes into life and color, the more shadowy her parents’ quiet inheritance has become. The more her uncle elaborates on his choices dictated by survival, the less defined the line between good and bad. The novel shines in characterizing Vivien’s uncertain scope in life, and her frustrations and the incredible loss in her early marriage. Disappointingly, the other strand (as suggested by the title) that is never fully realized is the one around clothing, which gives the title of the book one of its two meanings; at various points we are told how the clothes we wear define us and change us – a fascinating idea, but one which is not fully woven into the narrative. The book reminds us that the way we acquire of our sense of elf from what gets reflected back to us, either in the mirror or in our relationships with others.

“The clothes you wear are a metamorphosis. They change you from the outside in. We are all trapped with these thick claves or pendulous breasts, our sunken chests, our dropping jowls. A million imperfections mar us…So the most you can do is put on a new dress, a different tie. We are forever turning into someone else, and should never forget that someone else is always looking.” [288]

293 pp [Read/Skim/Toss]

Merry Christmas To You


Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yule-tide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.

Everybody knows a turkey
and some mistletoe
Help to make the season bright
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow
Will find it hard to sleep tonight.

They know that Santa’s on his way
He’s loaded lots of toys
and goodies on his sleigh
And every mother’s child is gonna spy
To see if reindeer
really know how to fly.

And so I’m offering this simple phrase
To kids from one to ninety-two
Although it’s been said
many times, many ways
Merry Christmas to you.

“The Christmas Song” (1944), commonly refered to as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire“ or “Merry Christmas to You”, is a classic Christmas song, written by vocalist Mel Tormé and Bob Wells. According to Tormé, the song was written during a blistering hot summer. In an effort to “stay cool by thinking cool,” the most-performed (according to BMI) Christmas song was born.


A revelation.

You can fully claim possession of something only if you can endure the pain of losing it.


Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), a government-owned broadcasting agency, aired an episode of Hong Kong Connection last summer that stirred up some nasty controversy last summer. The Broadcasting Authority, pressed by Christian groups, ruled that RTHK had breached the Generic Code governing their operations for not providing an opposite viewpoint when it aired Gay Lovers, the episode in which a lesbian couple and a gay man shared their life, discussed same-sex marriage and addressed the challenges they faced.

Yesterday the High Court overturned the Broadcasting Authority’s ruling that the program was deemed to have breached broadcasting guidelines for not including anti-gay views. The judicial review was sought by one of the documentary’s subjects, Joseph Cho, after the Broadcasting Authority announced its ruling that would in effect require RTHK and all other broadcasters to include the views of the anti-gay lobby in every future documentary program discussing LGBT issues. So it’s a victory on our part

We all know what the Christian churches’ stand on homosexuality. Do they really need to get their 15-minutes fame of a shout-out in a program that objectively examines a real social issue and real people who just deserve as much love and respect as anybody? These loud-mouthed homophobes are probably not even in for moral justification but rather fearing that the churches will lose membership and thus seeing a drop in contributions.

On Burma, Another Memoir

Chance encounter with a visiting professor from Cambridge changed the life of Pascal Khoo Thwe, a member of the remote Burmese tribe known for the giraffe-necked women. They struck up a scholarly correspondence that would take Pascal from the brutal hardships of guerrilla warfare to the hallowed world of Cambridge University. I just started the book which has a brief history of Burma–the rise of Burmese Socialist Programme Party and the Burma Nationalists, the latter being responsible for helping the Japanese Imperial Army invade Burma, hoping in reward for Burma’s independence.

In 1962 U Ne Win, claiming that the unity of the country was in danger, seized power in an almost bloodless coup. But he regarded himself as the Father of the Country, and made no distinction between his own and the national wealth. His regime was marked by hostility to educated people. When he set up the one-party system, he banned all other political parties, shut down independent newspapers, and outlawed all student organizations. All these helped army become the super-privileged body.

This is hardcore reading. It requires con-cen-tration! Not that I usually don’t concentrate when I’m reading…

Manual Labor

btt button

Writing guides, grammar books, punctuation how-tos . . . do you read them? Not read them? How many writing books, grammar books, dictionaries–if any–do you have in your library?

A great deal of my shelf space is devoted to these guides. I have my Webster Collegiate Dictionary, the pocket-size Webster New World Dictionary, the Oxford Advanced Learner’s English-Chinese Dictionary, a thesarus, and The Chicago Manual of Style which comes in rescue in so many occasions for writing term paper. I turn to my English/Thai dictionary for useful phrases and expressions before I travel to one of my favorite countries. I also accumulate two English/Japanese dictionaries being a sensei of nihongo for six years. Recently I acquired the illustrative, hardback edition of The Elements of Style to replace the yellowed, brittle paperback. Another one that often thumb into is A Concise English Grammar, gift of my then English teacher when I left Hong Kong for America.

Ocean Deep

It’s my habit to set the radio on a timer at night. I’d fall asleep on the easy-listening tunes that gently airs out into the dark room after I have turned in for the night. Last night the silky, sexy voice of Cliff Richard seeped to my earshot. Ocean Deep. The tune has been a weakness, a tear-jerker, a stinger. It was no more than just another catchy tune when I first heard it in the 80s, then the magnitude of its impact on me has inevitably grown as my dating life has become horrifyingly assimilated to the lyrics.

Love, can’t you see I’m alone
Can’t you give this fool a chance
A little love is all I ask – a little kindness
In the night
Please don’t leave me behind
No – don’t tell me love is blind
A little love is all I ask and that is all

Oh love I’ve been searching so long
I’ve been searching high and low
A little love is all I ask – a little sadness
When you’re gone
Maybe you need a friend
Only please don’t let’s pretend
A little love is all I ask and that is all

I wanna spread my wings – but I just can’t fly
As a string of pearls and pretty girls go sailing by

Ocean deep – I’m so afraid to show my feelings
I have sailed a million ceilings – in my –
Solitary room

Ocean deep – will I ever find a lover
Maybe she has found another
And as I cry myself to sleep
I know this love of mine Ill keep – ocean deep

Love can’t you hear when I call
Can’t you hear a word I say
A little love is all I ask
A little feeling when we touch
Why am I still alone?
I’ve got a heart without a home

A little love is all I ask – and that is all

I wanna spread my wings – but I just can’t fly
As a string of pearls and pretty girls go sailing by

Ocean deep – I’m so afraid to show my feelings
I have sailed a million ceilings – in my –
Solitary room
Ocean deep – will I ever find a lover
Maybe she has found another
And as I cry myself to sleep
I know this love of mine Ill keep – ocean deep

I’m so lonely lonely lonely…

Don’t worry–I didn’t cry myself to sleep. 🙂 It was just a reflection of reality–a call that I should no longer dwell on all the negatives of relationship. Without doubt man’s heart is as deep as the ocean, and to find that special someone is like searching for a needle in an ocean. The song is just one of the many attributes in life that helps shape who I am. A beautiful song. Why is it that the most beautiful romantic tunes are always sad?