March & April Book Bites

Gosh it’s been a month since I’ve written here, so, sorry about that! I simply didn’t get around to writing so now I’ll be combining March and April into one big update! Let’s go!

 

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 23.27.10

March was a very interesting reading month. The first book I finished in March was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. This book is incredibly popular since it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014. Sadly for me it was a huge letdown. The book is about Theo, a boy who loses his mother in a horrible explosion in a museum. It is a coming of age story in some ways, since we see the man he becomes, but also the way he developed (or not) after that tragic moment in his life. The best part for me was the role of the painting for which the novel is named: The Goldfinch. It is a small painting that Theo ends up connected to for the rest of his life. It is the thread that connects every part of the book, and also a beautiful metaphor for Theo’s life. Unfortunately, I felt like I didn’t gain much from this book, instead it made me feel hopeless and anguished, but with no actual lesson on how to make life better. I love books that give me perspective, but this one was a perspective that did not give me anything that I would want to hang on to. Simply disappointing…

  • Favorite Bite:

“Only occasionally did I notice the chain on the finch’s ankle, or think what a cruel life for a little living creature — fluttering briefly, forced always to land in the same hopeless place.”

  • Perspective Rating: 2/10 Yeah, didn’t gain much from the main perspectives provided…
  • Emotional Rating: 4/10 There were certainly very strong emotional moments that occurred mostly in the beginning of the book where Theo loses his mom and is completely lost that really got to me. But after that there was little connection to him or most of the characters.
  • Bites Rating: 6/10 Sure, I did highlight many phrases in the book because yes, the book is filled with beautiful imagery or interesting metaphors and symbols (mostly relating to the painting). But few of them were powerful (one of the few examples is mentioned above).
  • Overall Rating: 4/10. Yeah, not super impressed… It’s also a shame because the book is waaaaay too long! I feel like a few good editing sessions would have served that book well.

The Spark

Next I read The Spark by David Drake, which I reviewed here, and I really enjoyed it! It is about Pal, a young man who has lived his whole life in Beune and only dreams of going to Dun, the big city, to become a champion for the king. It is a take on an Arthurian legend, but with a very sci-fi world. I really enjoyed that the characters were complex, their intentions more than just power or love. The lack of cliches and stereotypes really took this book to another level for me as well! I will certainly look for more of Drake’s writing.

  • Favorite Bite:

“Since I’d come away from Beune, everything I’d seen was people in pyramids, somebody at the top and everybody else scrambling to get on top instead. Or at least to get off the bottom.”

  • Perspective Rating: 7/10 This book doesn’t give a very original perspective but it didn’t give me enough to warrant a higher rating.
  • Emotional Rating: 7/10 There were definitely some emotional moments, I was able to connect to the characters and care about them but not much more than that.
  • Bites Rating: 5/10 There weren’t many passages to highlight, but it was fast-paced and
  • Overall Rating: 6.33/10 I really enjoyed this book! It was entertaining and it was filled with really interesting characters!

March 22, 2018 at 10:08AM.jpgThe next book I finished was a re-read of Ready Player one in preparation for watching the movie that came out. I knew that it wouldn’t be anywhere near the same as the book but I still wanted to go back to that world before watching the film.

So this novel is about Wade, a high school student who is obsessed with the OASIS, a virtual reality world. There’s no surprise there seeing how the real world is completely messed up, most people living in poverty and only a few in riches. All he wants is to be wealthy enough to get away from the planet that is rotting away. Thankfully there’s a game inside the OASIS, and if he wins the game and finds the easter egg within it, he’ll own the OASIS and he’ll be able to do whatever he wants with his life from then on. Definitely a great novel with much insight into the world of people who choose to live in virtual worlds more than in this real one.

  • Favorite Bite:

“I quickly lost track of time. I forgot that my avatar was sitting in Halliday’s bedroom and that, in reality, I was sitting in my hideout, huddled near the electric heater, tapping at the empty air in front of me, entering commands on an imaginary keyboard. All of the intervening layers slipped away, and I lost myself in the game within the game.”

  • Perspective Rating: 8/10 Definitely great to see the perspective of someone who is nerdy, a gamer, a loner, someone who isn’t super confident in real life but has a different persona in the virtual world.
  • Emotional Rating: 7/10 I connected with Wade in many levels, from his loneliness in the real life to his bravery in the OASIS ❤
  • Bites Rating: 6/10 I didn’t annotate this book very much, it was another one of those books that you just want to keep reading and there’s no time to pick up the pen to underline things XD (Not necessarily a bad thing!)
  • Overall Rating: 7/10 I really enjoyed this book, I can imagine myself rereading it multiple times in the years to come.

IMG_20180204_104827657.jpg
Next I read one of the most amazing books I’ve read this year so far, “Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man” by Vincent Carretta. This is a non-fiction book for which I wrote the review here. Briefly, this book is about Equiano, a man who was a slave and was able to buy his own freedom and ultimately fought for the abolition of slavery in Britain. He was a man with incredible perspective, that of being a slave, a sailor in the British Navy, and a writer during a time when it was difficult to lead a life in any of these situations. It’s a beautifully researched book and one that gives one further appreciation of our lives today, and how far we still have to go.

  • Favorite Bite:

“The traditional definition of race as bloodline was increasingly replaced by the notion of race as species that became dominant in the nineteenth century. This “modern” concept of race, which was secondary during the early colonial American period, became primary.”

  • Perspective Rating: 10/10 Yes! So much perspective from this book, not just historical, also cultural, psychological, and social. The depth and breadth of this novel is extensive and it’s one you can definitely go back and dive deeper in various parts.
  • Emotional Rating: 8/10 Gosh so much of this book was hard to read, the difficulties of living as a slave, the hardships endured while trying to buy his freedom, and the discrimination he encountered in places, or that he saw others endure while he was free, it all was definitely an emotional journey that was hard but worthwhile.
  • Bites Rating: 9/10 I was annotating left and right here! There were just a few chapters where I didn’t annotate, but there were so many facts and stories that blew me away and that I made sure to mark and tell people about those passages (too long to quote here).
  • Overall Rating: 9/10 This book is just so good, I recommend it to everyone because it teaches not only the story of a man, not only about history, it teaches about life and the prices some people have to pay to live it.

On to April!

April 03, 2018 at 01:58PM.jpgIn April I read the first installment of The Dark Tower series by Stephen King and I really enjoyed it! I wasn’t sure if I’d love it and I don’t think I do but it certainly got me thinking.  The Gunslinger is about a man who is hunting another for some unknown reason. The trip is really strange and creepy (as all King things are), but it was also interesting and wondrous. As we follow the Gunslinger we meet a variety of people who are super interesting, but we only get a snapshot of their lives, nothing more.

  • Favorite Bite:

“The eyes were damned, the staring, glaring eyes of one who sees but does not see, eyes ever turned inward to the sterile hell of dreams beyond control, dreams unleashed, risen out of the stinking swamps of the unconscious”

  • Perspective Rating: 5/10 There are some very interesting ideas here, but there’s no clear picture yet we shall see what happens with the rest of the series. I might add another Rating section to account for this.
  • Emotional Rating: 7/10 Given how disjointed and confusing it was at some points, it’s impressive how connected I was to the Gunslinger, the boy, and their fate.
  • Bites Rating: 8/10 There were plenty of moments where I had to underline or comment on the margins in this book. Moments of beautiful writing but also very interesting ideas.
  • Overall rating: 6.66/10 There’s definitely room for growth here for me, perhaps the rest of the series will make it all make better sense for me.

img_20180506_192005115_ll.jpgIn April I was looking for a lighter read and I found it in Neil Patrick Harris’ “Choose Your Own Autobiography”, which is modeled after the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. I never really read this books but I am a big fan of NPH’s work and I did need a lighter read so I picked this up from my bookcase. The book really is his autobiography, told with humor and filled with fun anecdotes about his life. As with other books of this style, it can be finished multiple times in different ways. I ended up finishing this book about 6 times but I think I haven’t read the whole book per se. I won’t try to do so now, instead I’ll be picking it up whenever I need a light and fun read, this book really is many in one.

  • Favorite Bite: Okay too hard to pick! Basically the chapter starting on page 107, where NPH describes meeting his future husband, David, and which was annotated by David. Simply romantic and hilarious! ❤
  • Perspective Rating: 6/10 Not much perspective here but it’s awesome to see NPH’s perspective as a child actor and see what his life has been like so far (magical!)
  • Emotional Rating: 8/10 There were some happy tears shed with NPH’s magical romantic relationship with David, so beautiful! ❤ ❤ ❤
  • Bites Rating: 6/10 Not lots of annotating here, but that’s because I was busy just flipping pages to the next part of the story XD
  • Overall Rating: 6.66 So it’s not a mind-blowing book, but it sure is one that gave my mind some rest after the complex and difficult reads I had previously gone through. 😉

April 24, 2018 at 07:23PM.jpgFinally, the book that I read both in March and April was Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood! It’s a fiction book based on the real life of Grace Marks, a woman convicted of murder in the 1800s in Canada. She was not given the death penalty because people thought that she was manipulated by a man (who was hung for the same murder). People thought she was innocent or crazy so she was treated differently. It’s an amazing work that shows much research and thought behind how the story is composed. If you like mysteries based on real life stories then you’ll definitely enjoy this, if you also like stories that tell a perspective not usually told, then you’ll find something worthwhile here as well.

  • Favorite Bite:

“Lying… A severe term, surely. Has she been lying to you, you ask? Let me put it this way– did Scheherazade lie? Not in her own eyes, indeed, the stories she told ought never to be subjected to the harsh categories of Truth and Falsehood. They belong in another realm altogether. Perhaps Grace Marks has merely been telling you what she needs to tell, in order to accomplish the desired end.”

  • Perspective Rating: 9/10 The perspective of multiple people of different ages in the 1800s in Canada is one I’ve not encountered before. It’s surprising to see how much of it still holds true today and how things were back then that could be unthinkable now!
  • Emotional Rating: 7/10 There were aspects of Grace’s life that I could connect with and others I couldn’t, I did not empathize with her too much because it’s hard to tell if she’s being truthful, but I guess that’s the point 😉
  • Bites Rating: 10/10 I started annotating from the first page! The imagery and also the mood evoked throughout the book is tangible. I simply love Atwood’s writing.
  • Overall Rating: 8.66 It really was just the emotional attachment that I missed from this book. But it is powerful and definitely worth re-reading in the future. I shall watch the Netflix adaptation next and report back 🙂

So there you have it! 7 books read in the past two months! I need to figure out better how to keep up with a posting schedule so that time doesn’t just pass by for me XD

Have you read any of these books?

Bites that inspire — Solidified light

Some bites of books trigger inspiration to write. When I read Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood two years ago I came across the following bite that sparked the short story below. I’ve been tinkering with it since then and I like how it is now. I hope you enjoy it!

“The body is pure energy, solidified light.”
–Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood–


Purple and neon lights flashed inside the club, scintillating and glittering as if they were the music itself enveloping her. Her silver hair reflected the light as she stood in the middle of the empty dance floor. She swayed to the music, to a beat from long ago.

“How long has she been like this?” the policeman asked the woman at the bar.

“Since I came in an hour ago, she broke in through the back, broke the glass and let herself in. She turned on the music and the lights, I just found her like you see here there, not sure at what time she broke in.”

The music stopped, the lights froze.

“Okay lady, time for you to go back home. What’s your name? Where do you live?” The policeman said as he approached the woman who had not stopped swaying, she wrapped her arms around herself, one across her chest, another across her waist. She smiled softly as she swayed, as if the music were still holding her to the movement.

“Ma’am, my name is Curtis, what’s your name?” Curtis said softly, placing his hand on her shoulder.

She stopped slowly and opened her eyes as if waking from a dream. “What?”

“What’s your name?” Curtis asked again.

“It’s Leonore young man, nice meeting you. I’ll just head home now.” Leonore sighed, looking around once and heading towards the front door of the club.

“Wait! Hey lady! Who’s gonna pay for the door?!” the young woman exclaimed, looking from the policeman to the woman.

But the woman was already on her way out the door and as soon as the young woman and the policeman walked outside into the afternoon sun, she was gone.

Leonore opened the front door to the house, stepped in and placed her keys on a conch by the phone near the door. She walked down the hallway and opened the first door on the left which led into the library. The walls were lined with books, around the desk were more books organized in neat piles. She sat behind the desk, took a large book from one of the piles and opened it. Inside were lists dating back years. She wrote down:

“August 16, 2070
ºSend payment to club — door”

She closed the book, sighed and took the next book in the pile, larger than the last. It was filled with ticket stubs from museums, movies, and buses. There were some pressed flowers and a napkin from a club could be seen sticking out. She got to a page that was half full, no longer with stubs but small notes. The last three read:

“Went to the park, watched sunset holding your hand”

“Took a trip to the zoo, ate curly fries and fed the ducks. We laughed so much”

“Went to our favourite restaurant, still can’t finish the lasagna without your help”

She took a pen and wrote:

“Broke into our favorite jazz club, we danced all night, it was hard to find the rhythm without you”

She looked at the book, smiled, and closed it slowly; she sat back and watched as the sunlight poured through the window.


Happy Saturday everyone! 🙂

The echoes between the beats

Today I went to my ballroom class like usual, and I kept getting frustrated because I felt like I was always behind the beat. Perhaps it’s not noticeable to someone watching, but I could feel slightly off from the music.

I told my instructor and he said, “You’ll never technically be on the beat. You are a follow, as a follow you will always be at least a fraction of a second off the beat. The leader is the one who is on the beat”.

I was shocked! How could this be? I definitely wanted to be on the beat!

He then said, “Think of it this way, I lead and you follow, I lead right on the beat and you go right after because you can’t anticipate exactly what I’ll be doing next. You are the echo to the beat, you must take that time between the beats and make them your own, decorate them, flourish them, make them hard and strong, or soft and elegant. The echo gives the dance dimension and space“.

This conversation got me thinking about spaces and things that are seemingly empty. It wasn’t long before I thought of this quotation:

“We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom.
We lived in the gaps between the stories.”
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is now widely known, but when I read it back in 2013 I thought about the idea of standing on the sidelines and simply observing events passing by. I told myself that most of these things were really nothing that affected me and that in the end things would unfold as they would. I was in those blank white spaces.

Now things are different, I try and inform myself about what’s happening in the world, the country, and my community. I have more of a sense of the space I fill in this world and therefore what my actions can do in those spaces. It’s not just the people who pass laws, who discover new treatments for cancer, or those who score a touchdown in the Super Bowl. They might be “on the beat”, but the rest of us fill the rest of the space, we give those moments dimension and importance, or lack thereof. For example, if a million people turned to watch a Bolivian woman weave occluders, medical devices used in heart surgeries, those women may be seen as important as a famous soccer player who scored the winning goal of the World Cup.

We might not all step on the beat, but we do determine what we do in between those beats. Are we soft and elegant, enjoying and cheering on the important movements in this dance, or are we strong and brave, forcing our leaders to change the pace, change the rhythm, and focus on those things that we care about?

Let’s fill those spaces with strong, beautiful echoes filled with those things we believe will make the world a better and more beautiful place.

An introduction…

“Perhaps I write for no one. Perhaps for the same person children are writing for when they scrawl their names in the snow.”
–Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale–

Hello and welcome to Bites of Books!

When you take a bite of an apple there are a few things that happen:

  • You taste the sweetness of the apple, the crisp sound reaches your ears as you bite into it.
  • Your mouth salivates reacting to the enzymes the apple is filled with, telling your brain to tell your stomach to get to work.
  • Perhaps a memory of another apple comes to mind, maybe when you were a child your grandfather worked in an apple orchard and he always came home with that smell in his clothes. That bite takes you back to the moment you hugged him as he stepped through the door.

When you read a book some similar things may happen:

  • You read the words, savor the alliteration of some, the smoothness of others, the rhythm of the sentence sets a tone for the next one.
  • You relate the words to their meanings, from which your brain now forms an image or a scene.
  • That scene may also bring forth a memory, an emotion, it may open a box that you’ve not opened in a while and which will unleash waves of more memories.

For me, opening a book and starting to read means the opportunity to explore a new world full of new characters. However, these new worlds and characters will most likely take me to places that I’ve already been to, will help me see those places or memories in a new light.

Take the following quotation:

“How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past?”
–John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath–

When I read those two questions in The Grapes of Wrath I closed the book for a moment because so many memories came back to me, from my childhood, from a few weeks before when I was spending some time with my friends, from years before when I was participating in a dance competition.

The power that a few words can have on us is immense if we let it. We must be open to these intrusions if you will, we can read the book superficially and we will get the message and the images created by the writing we are reading. But if we open ourselves up to being touched by the writing we are reading, we will get much more than what’s written on the page.

So, here I shall explore these Bites of Books, bites that transport me to other places, to other times, be it in my own personal life, or in other fictional worlds. I hope you will join me in these voyages and that you will be able to take on journeys of your own as well.