Lullabies by Lang Leav

I hesitate to write negative book reviews. I don’t have a slew of writing awards. I am not even a published author. I’d probably cry if someone were to say mean, hurtful things about me. So writing negative reviews feels presumptuous and hypocritical.

But I started this blog mostly with the intention to write down my thoughts on the books I have read, to maintain my analytical skills. I admire witty snark from a distance, but that’s not me. I’m not really here to jab my untalented fingers and shout vitriolic abuse. So as long as I am not being deliberately mean, I think I’m okay. There are, after all, books that give you no personal enjoyment whatsoever.

Such was the case with Lullabies by Lang Leav. I have seen both Love and Misadventure and Lullabies hanging around in the local bookshops. Looking at their covers and their artwork, I assumed that they were Young Adult novels. I would have never guessed them to be poetry collections.

In some ways, however, my Young Adult guess wasn’t too far off the mark. The crux of the matter is that I’m too old for Lullabies. Lullabies is entirely a collection of love poems. It wants to document the wild, passionate, heartbreaking-in-its-enormity type of love. It only succeeded in conveying your first crush type of love. There’s something childish and altogether too unrealistic about the type of love exalted in Lullabies.

In one poem, it is claimed that a person who has fallen in love twice has never truly been in love. Such a statement implies belief in “the one.” The “one true love.” The one who will sweep you off your feet and completely change your life. In Lullabies, love is an emotion that does just that: completely change your life. Love is bewitching. Love is all-powerful. Love leaves you gasping for air and pleading for mercy. “The one” will make you the happiest you have ever been. Ever after, you pine for them. No one ever compares.

Lullabies, to me, provides a rose-tinted view of love. In Lullabies, love provides nothing but sweet emotional highs and crushing heartbreak. Nowhere does it talk about the banality of love. Granted, my experiences with love is limited. But each time I fell in “love,” the world still turns and my life still goes on. My bills still need to be paid. My job is still going nowhere. Love isn’t the medicine for all wounds. Reading Lullabies, at times, made me feel as though I was reading an old Taylor Swift album in poetry form.

Maybe I’m too cynical. Maybe Lullabies just wasn’t relatable to my life. Maybe one day I’ll experience the wild, passionate, heartbreaking-in-its-enormity type of love with “the one” and then Lullabies will become a revelation. Maybe I’m being too harsh in judging this book. But I also can’t help but feel that Lullabies’ target demographic is overly-romantic sixteen year olds.

From a literary viewpoint, the poems are a little twee, a little too sweet. The rhyming schemes can feel contrived. Some word choices are clichéd. I know Lang Leav’s style is meant to be simple and whimsical but it really fell off the mark for me. I was reading Lullabies to finish it, which is a major no-no when it comes to poetry. Poetry is meant to be savored.

After slating poor Lullabies so much, I feel the need to look on the positive side. Not everyone are book snobs and poetry can be intimidating. A lot of readers would appreciate Leav’s simplicity and accessibility. I can understand why both Love and Misadventure and Lullabies are bestsellers.

I remember none of the poems in Lullabies save one, titled “Broken Hearts.” “Broken Hearts” caught my soul the way a good poem does. In a sisterly voice, Leav talks about healing a broken heart. Leav understands the hurt and the wounds a broken heart inflicts. No, she’s not here to assure us that “it will get better.” But she is here to tell us to “take all the time we need.”

My heart has been hurt and broken before. Not by a man. But by that “black dog,” by depression. Two years of my life was spent wrestling with depression. Being told “it will get better” would have made it seem as though what I was going through was a phase, a teenage-mood. Something unserious. I already felt inferior every day. There was no need to feel belittled even more. But being told to “take all the time I needed”? I would have felt relief. I would have felt important. Important enough for someone to give me time to repair myself.

I definitely think you need to relate to the subject matter of the poems to enjoy them. Lullabies may be for you if you are experiencing the first flush of love. Or experiencing a broken heart for whatever reason.

There is indeed a touch of the unrealistic in Leav’s advice. Time waits for no one. The world still turns and my life still goes on. My job assignments pile up. I can’t ignore my responsibilities. It’s not always feasible to “take all the time I need.” But sometimes, sometimes, idealism is what you need.


On New Year’s Resolutions, Reading Diversely, and Epic Starts

I have very few New Year’s resolutions this year. This is deliberate; I have learned that choosing to do a lot only leaves me flat on my face. I just want to start writing fiction again this year. That’s my one general New Year’s resolution, I have a few reading resolutions as well. As usual, I aim to read fifty books in 2015 although I have decided that whatever will be, will be. If I end up reading only half that, I resolve to be OK with that. This year, there’s no need to be overly harsh with myself.

“Reading Diversely” was a big topic for the bookworld in 2014. There were articles, blog posts, and videos encouraging people to read more diversely. Yes, there are also contra-arguments that point out how post-colonial lit that do get published generally pander to the topics familiar to a Western audience: arranged marriage, poverty, immigration to the West, etc. Thus, reading from a variety of countries does not necessarily mean reading diversely. I think this is an interesting point; one that begs an exclusive post, not a blurb inside a blog post. I think I want to write more about this, but I need to sit down and think and outline what it is exactly I want to say. I probably need to read more about the topic too, so I’ll be more educated about it and not write out of my arse.

Disregarding the pro and contra-arguments for reading diversely, when I look at my bookshelves all I see is British, British, British books. My bookshelves couldn’t be more British even if they sprung to life and asked for milky tea. So I do want to read more diversely this year. While there is a massive bias towards British authors on my shelves, a lot of unread books I already own tick the boxes. I still have a lot of unread Indonesian books. I have been buying Japanese novels like there’s no tomorrow. I still have two unread Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Some hardcore investigation yielded two Australian novels.

Still, my shelves aren’t as diverse as I want it to be. There is a dearth of African writing there. In fact, I think I’ve only ever read one African novel and some short stories for a post-colonial lit class. I never kept those texts so there really is no book about Africa on my shelves.

I want to remedy that but I have also resolved to buy less books in 2015. The past year I have been on an endless, mad, book-buying spree! My reasoning was that I’ll get to them eventually anyway so I might as well buy the books I want! Now, I am horrified by the sheer amount of to-be-read books on my shelves. I don’t even want to count them, lest I give myself a headache.

And yet, this is the resolution I’m most likely to break. There are already two books at the local Kinokuniya I am aching for and I have found myself fiddling with amazon during these last few days of the holiday season. Sigh! We’ll see how this goes…

Finally, I decided that Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak would be my first book of the year. It ticks the diverse box since I’ve read very little Russian lit. And Doctor Zhivago came with a glowing recommendation from a friend whose taste I completely trust so I’m expected to tell her what I think of it when I’m done. I’ve heard that the prose is poetic and while I adore poetic prose, I was also in the mood for something more fast-paced so I decided to read Doctor Zhivago along with George R. R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords. It has been more than a year since I read A Clash of Kings and it’s really high time that I continue with the A Song of Ice and Fire series.

Somehow I went from reading two books to the sorry situation where I am in the middle of six books. An “epic start” indeed! I brought Jane Austen’s Emma to London for Christmas but never got past the introduction so reading it will have to start in 2015. Then my mother’s friend lent me Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang, knowing that I love history. Since it was a borrowed book, I figured I should bump that up on my to-read list. I was also recommended and lent the Indonesian translation of The Divine Code of Life: Awaken Your Genes & Discover Hidden Talents by Kazuo Murakami, Ph. D. since I have struggled with anxiety and depression. Again, borrowed book, so should be on top of the to-read list.

Then, as if that weren’t enough, I have also joined a literature club. We will be reading Laksmi Pamuntjak’s first novel Amba and I have until January 13th to finish it. Amba is a chunker; it is more than 570 pages.

I know this is a trivial, frivolous problem but piling up all the books gave me some anxiety. This is an altogether too epic of a start for 2015. I probably have to prioritize Amba and let the other books fall to the back burner until I finish. That’s a much calmer option than trying to storm through six books all at once. We’ll have to see how this one goes as well.