• Current Reads

      Life after Life Jill McCorkle
      This Is Your Captain Speaking Jon Methven
      The Starboard Sea Amber Dermont
      Snark David Denby
      Bring Up the Bodies Hilary Mantel
  • Popular Tags

  • Recent Reflections

  • Categories

  • Moleskine’s All-Time Favorites

  • Echoes

    The HKIA brings Hong… on [788] Island and Peninsula 島與半…
    Adamos on The Master and Margarita:…
    sumithra MAE on D.H. Lawrence’s Why the…
    To Kill a Mockingbir… on [35] To Kill A Mockingbird…
    Deanna Friel on [841] The Price of Salt (Carol…
    Minnie on [367] The Rouge of the North 怨…
  • Reminiscences

  • Blog Stats

    • 1,081,336 hits
  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,710 other followers

Round-Up of 30 Day Book Meme

I thought it would be nice to have a round-up post for the 30 Day Book Meme (actually it took me 3 months to finish because I didn’t have a daily post for 30 consecutive days). If you like to recap the answer for each day in details, just click on the links. This meme will give you an idea of the kind of books and genres I enjoy. I also encourage book bloggers and readers alike to join in the fun. You don’t have to write a full post for each prompt, you can share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Day 1: best book you read last year (2010)
East of Eden b John Steinbeck

Day 2: A book you’ve read (at least) three times
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Day 3: Your favorite series
Michael Cox The Meaning of Night – The Glass of Time series.

Day 4: Favorite book of your favorite series
The Glass of Time by Michael Cox

Day 5: A book that makes you happy
A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron

Day 6: A book that makes you sad
City of Night by John Rechy

Day 7: A book that is most underrated
Shadow Without A Name by Ignacio Padilla

Day 8: A book that is most overrated
Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun

Day 9: A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

Day 10: Favorite classic book
Multiple answers, including books by John Steinbeck and E.M. Forster

Day 11: A book you hated
Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Day 12: A book you used to love but don’t anymore
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Day 13: Favorite author
A most difficult question. Multiple answers, including John Steinbeck, E.M. Forster, W. Somerset Maugham, James baldwin, L.P. Hartley and Wallace Stegner.

Day 14: Favorite book of your favorite author
I pick The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley because both the author and the book are overlooked and underrated.

Day 15: A favorite male character
Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Day 16: A favorite female characer
Lucy Honeychurch from A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

Day 17: Favorite quote from a favorite book
Two quotes:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther . . . And one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. from The Great Gatsby

But would you kindly ponder this question: What would your good do if evil didn’t exist, and what would the earth look like if all the shadows disappeared? After all, shadows are cast by things and people. from The Master and Margarita

Day 18: A book that disappointed you
From this year’s reading, Divisadero by Michael Ondaajte

Day 19: Favorite book turned into a movie
The Remains of the Day

Day 20: Favorite romance novel
The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham is one of the two.

Day 21: Favorite book from your childhood
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

Day 22: Favorite book (item) you own
An illustrated copy of The Master and Margarita published by The Folio Society.

Day 23: A book you’ve wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t
For Whom the Bell Tolls or anything faction by Ernest Hemingway; I just conquered A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Day 24: Most overlooked book
Shadow Without A Name by Ignacio Padilla

Day 25: A character who you can relate to the most
Lee, the servant from East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Day 26: A book that changed your opinion about something
What The Bible Really Says About Homosexuality by Daniel A. Helminiak

Day 27: A book with the most surprising plot twist or ending
Rebecca by Daphane du Maurier

Day 28: Favorite title, as is
“The Gentleman in the Parlour”

Day 29: A book everyone hated but you liked
A Separate Peace by John Knowles

Day 30: Favorite book of all time
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

30/30 Day Book Meme: The One Book

Day 30: Favorite book of all time

Longtime readers and followers of this blog would know right away that it is The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. I might have challenge my readers’ patience with an overload of the book’s publicity campaign. Set in the iron curtain of a society that is Soviet Union in 1930s, The Master and Margarita, banned in Bulgakov’s lifetime, is his response to this fear-struck, panic-stricken era. Despite the atmosphere of terror that deepened all through the years he was working on the novel, the book takes on a surprisingly light tone, one of multifaceted humor, without compromising its philosophical depth. It is Bulgakov’s embittered and sarcastic response (and indictment) to his era’s denial of imagination and its wish to strip the world of divine qualities.

I own all the current/in-print editions in English, which are translated by various scholars. I have read the novel six times, with the seventh reading due in early next year. I have always recommended this book to friends and book bloggers with no reservation. It’s not a difficult book but it does require careful effort and patience. It contemplates on the ever-ending philosophical question about the duality of good vs. evil. Highly allegorical, with humorous, surreal, and religious nuances galore, the book is a product of reconciliation of the absolute opposites: how would anyone ever conceive a world in which God and Satan work toward the same end, and that good is not necessarily better than evil? This is only possible through Bulgakov’s enduring experiences during the remarkable era that powerfully affected his perspectives on politics and life. I cannot say it’s the all-time favorite of every person to whom I have recommended, but it’s a consensus that people felt they should have read it sooner.

29/30 Day Book Meme: Pink Sheep

Day 29: A book everyone hated but you liked

Hate might be too severe of a sentiment. But I was surprised the negative feedback that A Separate Peace has garnered when the book comes up in conversations or the book blogging world. Set in a New England boarding school for boys in 1942, the novel begins with a tiny incident among ordinary teenage boys that runs a seditious course and ends by being as deep and as irretrievable as evil itself. I remember the reception was mixed in high school. My guys friends thought it was “lame” and that they’ve got betting things to do than to read about some “loser” who wallowed in a gamut of emotions such as jealousy and insecurity. Then my social book club about five years ago, which consisted of mostly married women in their late 30s to early 40s, didn’t like it very much. They recognized the main character’s refusal to admit feelings of jealousy and insecurity is his real enemy projects his fear upon his best friend; but they couldn’t detach themselves from his vice. I enjoy every page of the rich nuance in humanity: the desire to outsmart everyone else destroys any feeling of affection and friendship he might have had for his friend. The loss of innocence, the coming to terms of his evil side just stun me. This has remained one of my all-time favorite novels.

28/30 Day Book Meme: It’s in the Name

Day 28: Favorite title

This is difficult. I don’t really know. (Three cups of coffee later) I’ll say The Gentleman in the Parlour by a favorite author of mine, W. Somerset Maugham. Not only is the title unique, it contains a word spelled in British manner, which somehow exudes an air of staidness and dignity. W. Somerset Maugham once said in this delightful, engrossing travelogue that captures his travel from Rangoon to Haiphong he didn’t know how he would put in words an account of all the wonders and render more than a vague and shadowy impression of the gradeur. He needs not to worry, for every page, which I try to delay reading, is eloquent, absorbing, and is never below the weight of the matter. His writing evokes deep interests of local life and makes no attempt to euphemize nor to judge the natives’ ways of life, customs and traditions. I actually followed Maugham’s travel route and lived vicariously through his descriptions. In many a palour I have drunk tea, written in my journals, read, and tried to be a gentleman!

27/30 Day Book Meme: Twist and Turn

Day 27: The most surprising plot twist or ending

Sarah Waters is known for her convoluted plot and surprised endings. Also highly suspenseful, The Woman in White nourishes a surprised ending except that Wilkie Collins adroitly creates “blindspots” in everyone involved so that one is often led to court suspicion that is wrong for the sake of diverting himself from other suspicion that is right. The one ending that I didn’t see it coming was Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris. The worst, or the most disappointing rather, unexpected ending is Bel Canto, which was before the time of the blog and I never reviewed it. I call it the nose-dive into disaster. After that book I’m through with Ann Patchett. The best book in this category is Rebecca. Many twists and turns, convolutions, and suspense fuel the mystery of Rebecca. Daphane du Maurier furnishes one of the best unexpected endings in my reading. On top of the surprise, the book also gives you creep with a chilling atmosphere. Did he or did he not (kill her)? It’s the perfect book to read under the cover in bed, or to barricade yourself at home with the lights off. The room is dark except for the cold glare of a lamp on my night table. I would sink deep within the covers, only my head poking out from the blanket. Everything is quiet. (Too quiet.) There is only the sound of pages turning, and the heart beating, hammering, echoing in the ears until you turn the last pages. The surreal setting and the presentiment of Rebecca’s possible appearance at the beginning of the novel somehow gives the impression that the newly-wed couple would perish at the evil power of the dead.

26/30 Day Book Meme: Ground-breaking Book

Day 26: A book that changed your opinion about something

Growing up religious (Baptist and then non-denominational) has afforded me a solid knowledge of the bible. By high school I could quote scriptures to the verse numbers. But there has always been a pent-up fear, which over time evolved into a stoic acquiescence that I cannot be saved being homosexual. Salvation does not seem a very tangible idea to me. Not that I do not give two straws about God or salvation, I just don’t see the big deal about Jesus being inclusive or exclusive. By fourth grade I knew I am attracted to men and this is something I’m born with. Until I read What The Bible Really Says About Homosexuality by Daniel A. Helminiak.

It’s not like I would blow the trumpet and get the party streamers out for a celebration after I read the book, which, to my understanding from Helminiak, the Bible is not addressing our current questions about sexual ethics. The Holiness Code embedded in Leviticus, for example, in the context of its historical horizon, spells out the requirements for Israel to remain holy, meaning to separate from the Gentiles. So Leviticus forbids homogenitality as a betrayal of Jewish identity. This concern about male-to-male sex is an offense against Jewish religion, not violation of the inherent nature of sex. No thought is given to whether the sex is right or wrong.

When the Bible does talk about same-sex behavior, it refers to it as it was understood in those ancient times. In other words, hermeneutics from literary theory affords the importance of the biblical interpretation over time. Meaning of the scriptures remains the same but the significance fluctuates. The Bible must be situated within its historical horizon and be examined under the context of cultural meanings within which it was written. Therefore, the biblical teachings will apply today only insofar as the ancient understanding of same-sex behavior is still valid.

So what does it all mean? Does it mean I can be saved? That, as a homosexual, I won’t be excluded from God’s grace and salvation? I do not have answer to the question. But at least it’s comforting to know there is hope if you do believe. As for me, I am not bound by any religion or religious beliefs and/or doctrines, I am who I am, since I left my mother’s womb. I never look for justification in the bible or anywhere for my homosexuality. I didn’t choose to be gay. It’s not a lifestyle—it’s a life. I believe in kindness and that I should behave and treat others the way I want to be reciprocated.

25/30 Day Book Meme: Character

Day 25: A character who you can relate to the most

Lee, the servant, is a far more significant character than any other in East of Eden. Steinbeck uses irony by portraying Lee as a simple-minded servant. There are numerous occasions where Lee fixes a problem in the Trask family. He is the reason that the Trasks stayed together as long as they did. He is a parent to Aaron, Cal, and Abra, a friend to Adam, and a philosopher of life. While I might not be the intellectual and bonding servant who philosophizes, I can relate to Lee because I prefer to be thriving in silence and not being at the center of the stage. I want to be exerting positive influence in people’s life without being recognized. Throughout the book, Lee’s social status presents tremendous irony. Being a servant, he is of a lower class than all other people. However, it’s evident that Lee is the most superior character in the story. To be honest, even after 20+ years in America, it gives me goosepimples when people identify me an “American” or “Asian American.” Eating habits you can assimilate, but not your roots. Sometimes I feel like being a second-class citizen, especially when you’re minority and gay.

The conversation between Lee and Sam Hamilton shows that Lee is only hiding behind the status of a servant, but in actuality, he is an intelligent, English speaking American. It’s odd for Lee to hold trust in people, but he immediately trusts Sam Hamilton when they meet. Sam Hamilton’s understanding of Lee is important because Lee now has someone to talk to about his insights on life. Throughout reading East of Eden, I questioned how the story might have turned out if Lee’s character doesn’t exist. The story is about the Trasks, but it is Lee that provides the nuts and bolts. Lee is not afraid of Cathy, but in fact makes her feel uneasy. Lee is obviously unique if Cathy, a quite conniving and manipulative person, cannot control him.

“Lee,” he said at last, “I mean no disrespect, but I’ve never been able to figure why you people still talk pidgin when an illiterate baboon from the black bogs of Ireland, with a head full of Gaelic and a tongue like a potato, leans to talk a poor grade of English in ten years”.
Lee grinned. “Me talkee Chinese talk” he said.

“Well, I guess you have your reasons. And it’s not my affair. I hope you forgive me if I don’t believe it, Lee.”
Lee looked at him and the brown eyes under their rounded upper lids seemed to open and deepen until they weren’t foreign any more, but man’s eyes, warm with understanding. Lee chuckled. “It’s more than a convenience,” he said. “It’s even more than a self-protection. Mostly we have to use it to be understood at all . . . . If I should go up to a lady or a gentleman, for instance, and speak as I am doing now, I wouldn’t be understood.”

“Why not?”

“Pidgin they expect, and pidgin they’ll listen to. But English from me they don’t listen to, and so they don’t understand it . . . . I think I can guess what your next question is.”

“What?”

“Why am I content to be a servant?”

“How in the world did you know?”

“It seemed to follow.”

“Do you resent the question?”

“Not from you. There are no ugly questions except those clothed in condescension . . . . But a good servant, and I am an excellent one, can completely control his master, tell him what to think, how to act, whom to marry, when to divorce . . . ”

Pidgin English I don’t speak, but I feel so close to Lee and we’re perfectly aligned in our sentiment. Lee doesn’t crave recognition, wealth, or status, but Lee is unswervingly devoted to his master. At the end of the story, Lee makes a great effort to help keep what is left of the Trask family. The Trask are now at their worst moment, as Adam is on the verge of death, Cal is overwhelmed with guilt, and Aron has been killed in the army. Who would imagine a simple-minded servant be that influential?

24/30 Day Book Meme: Most Overlooked Book

Day 24: A book that you wish more people have read

I wish to say The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov but one book that deserves much more publicity and attention is Shadow Without a Name by Ignacio Padilla. The book made a quiet, clandestine release back in 2004, escaping the radar of almost all critics except for the newspaper book sections. I found the book while browsing the bookstore and bought it cold turkey. It turned out to be one of my all-time favorites. As befit a literary fiction, the writing is both ponderous and form-blurring. It cleverly evokes the question of identity and selfhood against the historical backdrop of the darkest period of the twentieth century, as men appropriated names of each other, shielded off past memories and adopted new identities in the hope of a changed, better destiny. It was a time in which the truth became shrouded by lies and the lies adopted as truth. The reading requires concentration and effort from readers. Four men contribute to the narrative, which, in an overlapping interval of time, recounted the sequence of events that spanned decades as well as continents following the chess game in 1916, between Viktor Kretzschmar and Thadeus Dreyer. This book presents a story within stories, twisted and shrouded. It holds my breath to the end.

23/30 Day Book Meme: It’s About Time

Day 23: A book you’ve wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t

I consider finishing The Fountainhead a high-flying accomplishment because I have procrastinated since 11th grade. Now that automatically bumps up Atlas Shrugged in my TBR pile. I have decided it’s impractical to write down all the books I have intended to read for years but have yet failed to touch, because this post would never end. With all the recommendations from book bloggers and books that attract my eyes t the store, it’s easier to buy than to read. If I have to outdo myself and read another book that’s been staring at me for years, it would be either one of two novels. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser induces an awe in me, not only because it has long made the canon of classics but also because of the grandiosity of the words “American” and “tragedy.” It’s the story of the corruption and destruction of one man, Clyde Griffiths, who forfeits his life in desperate pursuit of success. It’s appealing because it is an antithesis to The Fountainhead, in which the main character, Harold Rourke, forfeits projects offered to him that are at odds to his principle.

Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls is the other novel. I have always a shortcoming when it comes to reading Hemingway. This book is about love, death, honor, and betrayal. The many stories that sprouted out of Hemingway’s generation on war give me pause. It wasn’t until I read A Moveable Feast that it dawns on me the true canonical nature of this novel, which is considered one of his best. With two months remaining, it’s feasible to at least read one of these two classics.

22/30 Day Book Meme: Treasure

Day 22: Favorite book I own

I own all my favorites. Without hesitation my favorite book in the collection is a beautiful, hardbound, illustrated copy of The Master and Margarita published by The Folio Society. As you might have recognized, it is my all-time favorite novel. It is absorbing, brilliant slapstick, and looks deep into the heart of fantasy and longing. The beautiful illustrations by Illustrated by Peter Suart and buckram bound with a pique touch certainly do this classic justice. The translation of this edition is by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, a minor foible. It was gifted to me by a very special friend with whom I share common reading interests. Bulgakov wrote this 20th century classic in secret between 1928 and 1940. Smuggled past the censors, its subversive message, dark humor and lyrical force combined to make it an instant success and a beacon of optimism and freedom that spread through Russia and the world.