Read in October 2015

The Tiger’s Wife: A Novel by Tea Obreht ~ 3/5 ~ This was an audiobook read, which I think made the prose even more beautiful. I had had this book on my “to read” list for a while and actually totally forgot what it was about when I started it. I was happily surprised to find that it involved medicine, family relationships, and mythology (all some of my favorite things to read about in books). I ALSO was excited to see that it was based in Eastern Europe as I love Balkan history (although there wasn’t much of that at all). I really enjoyed the stories about the deathless man and the tiger’s wife probably more than the actual plot. Overall, I thought it was good but I wasn’t “wowed”, hence the 3/5 rating.

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling ~ 4/5 ~ Guys, I want to be Mindy Kaling’s friend so much. She has such a #realtalk sense of humor. I gorged on this via audiobook, and I had similarly done the same with her first book. I really enjoyed hearing about her relationship with BJ Novak (particularly in reference to her mom’s death), how she “came to be” with her own show, and of course her other tidbits/life advice. I hope she’s writing another book because I would love to hear about her experience with Inside Out! Anyway, one of my favorite quotes from this book- “Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled. Listen to no one except the two smartest and kindest adults you know, and that doesn’t always mean your parents. If you do that, you will be fine.” Love.

Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay ~ 3/5 ~ I enjoy retellings of fairy tales, which this was, and I thought overall it was well-executed. I liked that Aurora was a badass fighter who was actually “male” for most of the book. I thought that the romance was contrived/forced. I was kind of confused with the turn of events later on in the book, but whatever. Again, it was okay. Probably would have been more on a 2.5 star level but it was pretty fast paced and for that reason, I have to give it a slight bump to 3.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell ~ 5/5 ~ UGH, this book! I went into it knowing nothing except that it was super popular, and I can totally see why. This book threw me straight back to middle school and high school, and not in a bad way either. Yes, there were the awkward moments and you see some of the bullying here (as well as some other Big Issues like domestic violence), but this book was so much more too. Reading this reminded me exactly of what a first love feels like, and it hurt and made me so happy at the same time. The prose is just ridiculous — “Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.” and “You look like a protagonist.” and “He made her feel like more than the sum of her parts.” and “But you saved my life, and now I’m yours. The me that’s me right now is yours. Always.

White Cat by Holly Black ~ 4/5 ~ Magical mafia, kitties, boarding school… need I say more?

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater ~ 4/5 ~ I’m curious to see where this goes. Blue is such a spunky main character, and her family is hilarious. I really like Gansey… and Adam… and Ronan. I really enjoy the magic in this series.

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The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

I give this book a 2/5, and that might even just be generous. I know this is an American classic, and I think on some level I did enjoy reading it. But I absolutely despised Holden. I found him so whiny, narrow-minded, judgmental, and immature. I could not sympathize with him much at all. I wonder if I feel this way because now I am an “adult” (okay, sorry, I still don’t feel “grown-up” yet even though I am legally and developmentally) as opposed to a teenager reading the book (supposedly, a lot of adolescents identify with Holden’s angst). Perks of Being a Wallflower is commonly described as the modern version of Catcher, and I’m not surprised why. But I enjoyed Perks so much more. On some level it’s probably because I read it when I was younger and in the proper mindset. But I also think it’s because the main character in Perks was just not as annoying. Sure, he cried a lot and was a little oversensitive and clearly not socially adept, but I find that more excusable than someone who passes fast and harsh judgment on everyone they see.

I will say that one thing I liked about the book was the whole metaphor of the catcher in the rye and trying to catch children in their innocence and idyllic field before they fall off into the dark world of adulthood. As a third year medical student now, I feel even more separated from my youth because I’m finally “almost a doctor”. I finally almost have a full-time job, and not just a job but a career. My friends are getting married (!), my younger sister graduated college, and people around me are moving on and growing up. I might not be fighting it as much as Holden was, but it does make me feel sad, like time is passing on too fasts, and I’m not sure if I’m ready to step into that stage of my life yet. Like I always said with medical school and my initial fears the months before I started, I now feel like I’m on a train that’s just going to keep going without making stops anymore. I know I want to get to that end destination (I want it more than anything else in my life), but looking outside the window, I kind of wonder if I’m missing out on playing in those fields, and sometimes I want the train to stop just for a little while.

Steve Jobs

Just about anyone I’ve spoken to knows that I was reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson because I raved about the book to EVERYONE. I finally finished it last night. I was reading the Kindle version so it’s hard to approximate how much of the book was devoted to references toward the end (according to the %, it should be ~25%), but I was definitely reading the book non-stop for at least a week and it still took me that long to finish it. Regardless, I loved the book.

Disclaimer: I am NOT an Apple fan (I don’t own a single Apple product). I am not a techie person at all. And I definitely hate biographies. What honestly convinced me to read it was the insanely high # of positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and the fact that it was already loaded on my Kindle.

So you can assume that the fact that I loved this book says something either about the subject matter himself or about Isaacson’s writing style (gonna go with the latter since the main reason the book was great was due to its almost gripping/dramatic/cliff-hangery style). Some people think that this may all be some great marketing ploy, but Jobs never even got to read the book let alone make edits to it before it was published (the only part he played was in deciding the cover, which is hilariously quintessential Jobs). I think Isaacson did a brilliant job in gathering numerous resources to present an unbiased view of Jobs. I loved reading about how Apple and its products came to be, the development of Pixar, and Jobs’s way of managing a company and how he saw the future. I think all of it in itself was very inspiring. For example, I’d say here are some life lessons I picked up myself:

1) Do something you’re passionate in. Seriously. You’ll never achieve the same level of success if you’re just doing something for money — as was shown by Sculley’s leadership of Apple in addition to Microsoft’s downfall. As Jobs repeatedly mentioned in the book, he was trying to create a lasting legacy of a company and great products, not a profit. He also wanted a team of people who were equally passionate about the product, and as he said, when you put A players together, they like to play together to make great things.

2) The reality distortion field — if you think and believe and act like something will work, it will. Probably this follows point #1 in that when you really put your mind behind even the craziest ideas, you can make the impossible possible.

3) Focus. This goes back Apple’s rise to power, which was generated because Jobs realized that he had to focus on only a few products to make them excellent. I noticed that other companies are doing something similar now — for example, much to my chagrin Google decided to boot out Google Reader because they wanted to focus on other products (they also eliminated Wave, etc). I think we all know deep down that when you focus on a few things, you’re better, but it’s nice to get that refresher once in a while.

4) How you present yourself and behave is important. That includes Jobs’s strong eye contact, the way he could turn on charm when he wanted to (and equally turn it off to get you to beg for it back), the way he built his company and himself on design and simplicity and perfection and sophistication. It also includes some of his flaws. Be honest (like he was) but you don’t need to be nasty or rude to achieve your goals (as he learned later). Don’t abandon your family either. Take time for what’s important.

5) Take time for yourself. Maybe this wasn’t something Jobs was good at, but it’s definitely something I picked up as a lesson. He took walks all the time to think and discuss and tried to eat healthy foods (albeit to the point of crazy sometimes). And he admitted himself later that it was probably when he was taking on the role of CEO of Apple again plus running Pixar that he overworked and began to experience health problems. In America’s capitalist society we’re trained to be robots, keep pushing, be better than everyone else, sleep less, do more. But the thing is, we’re humans and unfortunately (as I also learned the hard way), eventually we get sick, and you HAVE to stop. If only we could all learn that lesson before it was too late.

I also noticed I have a weird connection with the guy. We love perfect things. We like white. We like clean. We like obsessing over fonts. It’s great! (however I prefer sharper edges and not rounded rectangles… and that’s why I don’t like iOS)

Personal updates — I know I’ve been MIA. Med school does that to you, I guess. I finished my first year. It was incredible. Long, stressful at times, but amazing and exactly what I wanted. I’m happy with where I am. I love my friends and my peoples and I’m enjoying exercise (!!!) and I love my kitty and I feel so calm and blissful. It’s great!

20/20: A Feast for Crows by George RR Martin

A Feast for Crows by George RR Martin
Category: F
Rating: 3/5
Date finished: November 25, 2012

Summary: Continuation (book 4) of the A Song of Ice and Fire series. (can’t come up with a better description)

My thoughts: So GRRM decided to split the same time interval into two books to give more room for character perspectives. This book mainly seemed to focus on Sam leaving the Wall, all the politics going on at King’s Landing and with the Lannister family (except Tyrion), the Stark sisters (both of whom took on new names), and some other random stories (like about the House Greyjoy and Arianne at Dorne). I’m not sure if this was the best decision on his part because it seems that most people disapproved of this book and the next one. I can see why, because I often found myself wonder what was happening to everyone else, especially Dany and Tyrion, among my favorite characters of the series. Also, with the time lapse until the next book comes out, I think we will have forgotten a lot of what went down in this timeline, especially since I have to read yet another 1000 pages on the other half of the cast of characters.

My overall thoughts are pretty boring. I was annoyed that Asha didn’t get the Iron Throne because I felt that was extremely sexist. I don’t care much for what Brienne is doing right now… or Jaime for that matter. Cersei’s chapters were interesting because she was clearly going more and more insane and paranoid throughout the book, and it was great to see that GRRM finally tied up a knot in that plotline in the ending. Let’s just say that she had it coming! And good on Jaime for sticking to his guns and not coming back to save her. Margaery is a BAMF, and I want to know more about her. I’m so sad Maester Aemon died!!! :O Sam’s involvement with Gilly is SO boring… she needs to become more interesting or he needs to drop her. I also like Arianne — go female power! I’m hoping she’ll play a bigger role in the upcoming books.

The Stark sisters were my favorite perspectives. I had always liked Arya, and it’s cool that she’s really off making her own existence. I promise somehow that GRRM’s going to find a way for her to come back and own everyone at King’s Landing because he’s kept her alive (no small feat for this author), she’s off doing really awesome things, and she’s the arguably the strongest Stark remaining (not counting Jon Snow, but he’s not really a Stark and his character didn’t have a POV this time around). I also used to despise Sansa, and then I started to pity her, but now I can see that she’s also growing into a stronger character, which I like. Although Littlefinger remains creepy as usual….

I thought it was funny how he ended by saying that since he had already written the chapters for Dance, GRRM was hoping the next book would be out in a year. Nope, try six years. Well, that gives me time to attempt to squeeze in book 5 during medical school before Winds of Winter comes out. (PS, I’m already excited for that book. He’s clearly paving the way for the big epic battle(s), potentially involving the Others at the Wall but also definitely a battle for King’s Landing. QUEEN DANY!!!)

** And with that, I’ve finished my reading new year’s resolution for 2012. :)

14-19/20: Europe books

Somehow, I read a lot in Europe. I guess most people I tell that to are surprised because they think why would you read when you’re in a foreign country with so many cool things to see? Well, sure, my days were packed, but what about those long train rides? What about the flights? What about my usual routine of a few pages before I sleep? What about the fact that it’s SUMMER, and a real summer (the first one I’ve had with no plans since… well, this is sad, before 2003), and that means I want to do things I like?

Anyway, there’s no way I can write up my thoughts on all the books, unfortunately, because I really just don’t have the time anymore. I should’ve thought about this beforehand and spent more time writing after each book instead of leaping on to a new one, but I got on such a reading high I couldn’t stop myself.

Here they are really fast with some quick notes:

14) Quiet by Susan Cain ~ NF ~ 4/5 (6/29/2012)
GREAT book about introverts in the extrovert culture. I’m an extrovert myself but reading this book (1) helped me appreciate my friends way better, (2) helped me understand myself too, and (3) kind of makes me wish I were an introvert! I highly, highly recommend this because I’m sure everyone of us knows/has interact with an introvert before. The book’s well-researched, well-written, and is overall… awesome.

15) Incarceron by Catherine Fisher ~ F ~ 4/5 (7/3/2012)
Needed to pick up something light after a non-fic book. YA dystopian but cool theme. Claudia made me think a lot about my life for some reason. The book felt different from most YA’s in that it wasn’t romance-focused and more world/plot focused.

16) Sapphique by Catherine Fisher ~ F ~ 4/5 (7/5/2012)
Sequel to above. Not sure I’m 100% happy with the ending but as usual, sometimes that makes for the best kind.

17) The Scorpio Race by Maggie Stiefvater ~ F ~ 4/5 (7/11/2012)
Read this because by this point, I wanted to read some romance. I failed because there was basically none in this one. HOWEVER, there was this one fantastic scene where the two characters are riding together for the first time on Sean’s horse, and it was just beautiful and magical, and I wanted to be there. I really appreciated this book because of the mythology with the water horses (good mythology always draws me).

18) A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard ~ NF ~ 4/5 (7/19/2012)
This book was very difficult to read in the beginning because it deals with a very heavy subject (child abduction/rape/etc.). It was the first book I had gotten to in a long while in which I really didn’t think I could finish it (not because I didn’t want to but because I just *couldn’t*). I ended up persisting, and it was a good read in the end. My mind is still blown at how crazy this situation was, though… and how strong Jaycee is for coming out of it.

19) I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella ~ F ~ 3/5 (7/19/2012)
Read this in one “Day” (the flight back home) as airplane reading… very light, very casual, predictable chick-lit. I finally got my romance fix!

NOW I JUST WANT TO THROW IT OUT THERE THAT… I am on book 20! This is the first time in many years I’ll finally hit my reading resolution for the year, so I’m very proud of myself! I may be speaking too early, though, because (unfortunately) the book I picked for #20 is 4th book of GRRM’s series A Feast for Crows. I’m almost 1/3 through but now school is really picking up, and I wonder if I’ll be able to finish it in time. I still have… several months? Wish me luck!

13/20: after the quake by Haruki Murakami

after the quake by Haruki Murakami
Category: F
Rating: 4/5
Date finished: May 18, 2012

Summary: A collection of stories about the lives of several people after the earthquake in Kobe.

My thoughts: This was my first introduction to Murakami, who’s all over bestseller lists, is on my “to read list”, my lab manager’s favorite author, etc. One of my friends KYP introduced him to me by physically loaning me the book to read, which was certainly a way to force me to read it immediately. He gave me the warning that Murakami writes about very typically mundane things that somehow allow you to impose meaning onto his words/stories? Something like that.

I’d say that’s a fairly accurate assessment! The first story ended so abruptly, I was immediately thrown off. I soon learned that I shouldn’t expect for neatly tied ends in his work, so I kept reading with that in mind.

The story I related to the most was “Thailand”. I think it’s because it’s about a female character (whereas most of the others were about males or a group of people) who’s a doctor (of course), and she’s single because she had a bad marriage and largely resents her ex-husband (totally know that feeling). She learns that there’s this great stone in her that she must get rid of, and it makes me think of how I still have all this anger too even though I try to pretend that I’m over everything. I don’t know if it’s something I can fix in my dreams, however.

I also really liked the last story “Honey Pie” probably because of all of them, it was the most “standard” story — there was a history and backstory for the characters, there was a pretty decently tied conclusion, etc. It made me wonder if some parts of it related to Murakami’s life with all the references to someone writing short stories, reading English literature, etc.

My favorite quote is from the Frog story (which was definitely about as weird as it gets): “The whole terrible fight occured in the area of imagination. That is the precise location of our battlefield. It is there, that we experience our victories and defeats.” Maybe it’s because of what I was thinking about that day, but it really resonated with me. As I was telling KYP after, I think this is totally true. There are two versions of what’s in the world: what is actually physically there and how we perceive and process the world. I had an MCAT passage on how everything that we think about has gone through some kind of fine-tuning before we could even come up with the thought of its existence, and I definitely think it’s true. Our reality is what we think is our reality. This was something that played into what I was thinking about that day because I was experiencing some personal issues that I’m pretty sure only surfaced because my mind put them there — as in they probably don’t actually “exist” but I made it up, and because I see my world, that’s how I saw it. And I’ve been fighting that battle in my imagination, and for now, it’s a victory, but it might be a defeat in the long war. We’ll see.

Definitely ready to read some more of his work. Also, as you can probably tell from my review, I put my life into the characters’, and it wasn’t even hard to do so.

12/20: Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes

Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes
Category: F
Rating: 2/5
Date finished: May 9, 2012

Summary: Mr Ward introduces a tradition of poetry readings at a high school set in the Bronx. Several students (I think 10+) share with us narratives on their lives, insight into what their thoughts are, and their words in their poems as we start to see how everyone is masquerading around at this school

My thoughts: See that low rating? So that was what my initial feeling on the book was. I will start with the disclaimer that I hate poetry. I know, throw your angry fruit and whatever at me. I really just never liked poetry. There’s some poems I can get into, there are some pretty words/phrases, but honestly, I either feel like poems are overrated (people put too much meaning into them) or too plain or not really anything. I don’t know how to explain it. I also know that I have difficulty, generally, grasping what poems mean. Maybe it’s because I can’t train myself to think more “freeform” because what I learned from AP Lit was rhythm changes, etc. The point is, I’m not good with poetry. This was the last ABG book, and I considered not even doing it because I really couldn’t get into the book, but since it was my last meeting, I couldn’t not go. So I suffered through it.

I think the main thing dragging my rating down was just the poetry. There wasn’t much of a plotline. I also got confused by who all the characters were, and I always had to flip back throughout the book when one character might reference another’s name. I also was not into most of the poetry. A lot of it felt like stuff I could just make up into “poetry” if I just artistically place line breaks, and I think that’s my main issue with poetry, really, is that some people make it bigger than life but I don’t know why it is because a lot of the times, I think it’s very fuzzy what’s considered poetry.There were a few I enjoyed, like Tyrone’s rap with the two other guys (Scott and someone else), and Devon (?)’s poems about not fitting into a box.

The interesting thing is that after we had our discussion, though, my thoughts on the book shot up a lot (well… I’d give it maybe a 3-3.5 now). I could really see how poetry could be therapeutic for someone to write, even if I myself cannot bear to read it. So I guess it’s a matter of perspective — poems are meant to be written, not read? I’m not sure. I know I don’t plan on delving into that genre anytime soon again. But a lot of the girls really related to some of the poems, the words, the stories, the characters, and for them, I’m thankful that we got to read the book. Furthermore, we did a sort of poetry slam ourselves at the end of the meeting, and seriously, some of the poems people read are incredible. Some read their “I am a leader” poems from a while back, and I still remember that one line from the ones posted outside that basically moved me forever: “I am mostly sad but I keep going.” I think I feel like that a lot of the times; that there are tough things happening in my life, and I wish I could make it stop, but I need to keep pushing ahead. I really liked the way she phrased it there. I think I brought it up at every single one of my med school interviews too! Quite memorable.

Anyway, ABG is over. I’m really sad; I cried at my last meeting because I’m sappy like that. I hope that everyone there aspires to reach whatever goal they want to read, they realize that being a pregnant teenager isn’t the end of the world, and I hope that all of them fill their hearts with love for the world and themselves, and I hope that everyone keeps reading because books can fill the holes in your life and books can heal wounds and books can do magic.