Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

My copy of Little House in the Big Woods may be 20 years old now. I can’t remember exactly how long I’ve had it. I mean, look at this photo:

The pages of my copy have the yellow-brown tint of vintage (cough, old) books. It has begun to smell like something on my grandfather’s shelves, which are stocked with titles from the 60s and 70s.

My copy has also become delicate. Look! I chipped the lower left edge of its back cover.

The fabric tape with “Book #1” written on it remains sturdy to this day though.

Whenever I turn the pages of my Little House in the Big Woods, they make a concerning creaking noise so I was dainty in reading as I didn’t want the book to fall apart (and yet I still chipped that edge. Curses!)

I am deeply attached to my copy and will keep it as long as I can. Little House in the Big Woods and 3 subsequent books from the series were gifted to me by my aunt’s mother-in-law (whom I shall call Grandma R) when I was a young girl spending her holidays in Seattle.

My aunt married an American and they settled near Seattle for many years. My cousins were raised in Washington state and my family would visit as I was growing up. These visits exposed me to elements of American culture I wouldn’t have access to otherwise. I remember going Halloween trick-or-treating one year.

Grandma R would visit my aunt and uncle’s Washington home too. During a visit when everyone converged (probably a Christmas holiday), Grandma R gave me the books. She must have chosen them because my aunt told her I was a little bookworm. I had zero life as a young girl: all I did was study, read, and write in diaries. Uh. To be fair, nothing has changed…

I remember Grandma R saying that she loved the books as a little girl and hoped I would too. I did not see her often and she has now sadly passed away. I treasure the remaining memories I have of her: how she wore pastel chunky sweaters, how she baked sugar cookies for me and my brother and my cousins using Pillsbury dough (is there a more American brand?), and how she loved collecting lighthouse-related paraphernalia from paintings to figurines. Most of all, I treasure these 4 Little House books. They are now my most tangible connections to her. Sometimes items outlive us, often they are less fleeting than memories. Sometimes, you live in the things you leave behind.

I remember loving the books as Grandma R hoped. On afternoons after school, I would devour them inside an air-conditioned car braving the notorious Jakarta traffic to get home. My body may be stuck in traffic congestion, but my imagination was absorbed by the wilderness of 19th century North America.

Rereading this at 30, I think some of the writing isn’t great: the prose doesn’t always flow well and the story is at times choppily presented. Little House in the Big Woods is slice of life – a year in the life, to be exact. It follows a year of life in the Wisconsin “Big Woods” for Laura’s family.

Life for little Laura and her family in their log house was isolated and subject to the seasons. They were hours away from the nearest town and hours away from other family members in their log houses in other areas of the “Big Woods” so they had to be self-sufficient.

We begin when winter was coming. Laura, her big sister Mary, Ma, and Pa had to cure meats to make sure they had enough food supply to last the winter. Winter was also for making maple sugar and maple syrup, spring was for making cheese, summer was for planting vegetables, and autumn was for harvest and storing food away for another winter.

Family members would visit each other for Christmas, dances, and to help each other with harvest crops. While families in the “Big Woods” were independent, there was still enough social interactions to nurture life.

As a child, I loved these descriptions of chores from a bygone era. Life, in Little House in the Big Woods, was very tactile. You churned your own butter, you made your own cheese, you created your survival. As a child getting her produce from supermarkets and her food cooked by others, there was something enchanting and exotic about Little House in the Big Woods.

As a 30-year-old, I see Little House in the Big Woods as a profoundly American product. The story it tells is the Puritan lifestyle: absolutely no work and no smiles on Sabbath day, strip yourself of all frivolity, rigid days of never-changing and never-ending chores, etc. Without this constant ethos of hard work, you would die. At times, I sensed a rejection of pleasure that I simultaneously admired and recoiled against.

This isn’t to say that life in Laura’s household was always po-faced. They had the simple joys of Pa playing his fiddle and telling stories. They sometimes went to the general store to buy pretty fabrics for dresses. They would go to grandma & grandpa’s for dances and delicious big family dinners. As an adult, however, it’s easy to see that Laura took so much pleasure in these trips because of how few and far between they were. Law of diminishing returns and all…

As a 30-year-old, Little House in the Big Woods does read like an instruction manual for the pioneer lifestyle and like an instruction manual to raise good little boys and girls. A bit didactic. At this point in my life, I prefer my stories to be subtler.

(Of course, I couldn’t help but smile a little. With all this manual labor, who’s got time to deal with an existential crisis?)

If I were to read Little House in the Big Woods for the first time as a 30-year-old, out of curiosity for this American children’s classic, I’d leave underwhelmed. I’d be glad to have checked it off the endless list of books I would like to read before I die but I wouldn’t seek out Little House on the Prairie, the next book in the series (and the one I remember as my favorite!).

But my relationship with Little House in the Big Woods is not purely about its content. In fact, its content matters little. The book no longer takes me to the woods of Wisconsin; it takes me to innocent childhood days of seeing firsthand life in the American suburbs, of baking Pillsbury cookies, of Grandma R’s sweaters and sweetness.

These books now embody Grandma R to me rather than a children’s story. Fiction evokes the emotional. No. Fiction is emotional.

Rereading Little House in the Big Woods also created a connection to my younger self. There were long descriptions of Pa making hunting bullets and cleaning his rifle that I forgot existed. Yet scenes and imagery of Mary churning butter and Laura’s palpable joy from receiving her first real doll for Christmas remain in my mind’s eye even to this day.

It made me smile. I was always a girly girl. Now I’m just a very feminine woman. Some things don’t change. I still had to force down boredom when reading passages about guns and hunting game. But I still devour pages about making homemade cheese and maple syrup with gusto.

It’s such a cliched takeaway, but our personal histories often eclipse the textual content of a book. The words in a book connect us to the wider world: they teach us about various fields and broaden our understanding of faraway places and people. But even without the words contained within, books embody things for us, connect us to precious memories, and become physical mementos of places and people and ourselves.

Early July Bonuses

My brother is back home for the summer holidays! And with him came some gifts. Items in the top row I had requested, but he very thoughtfully bought me the coloring book without me asking.

Top Row: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente, La Roche-Posay Toleriane Dermo-Cleanser, and NARS 413 BLKR Semi-Matte Lipstick

Bottom Row: Lost Ocean by Johanna Basford

The title of Catherynne M. Valente’s fantasy novel is a mouthful, isn’t it? I’ve been intrigued by Valente for a couple of years now. I even read the prologue of her novel Deathless on Tor’s website (which you can also read here). Whilst I really loved her lyrical writing style, I kept dithering. Not sure why now that I think about it. Then, I found out she has written a middle-grade fantasy series and decided I would rather read that even though I haven’t touched anything middle-grade in years. Moods are changeable and strange.

The plot of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making sounds pretty standard. A bored young girl is whisked off into a magical place called Fairyland where she has her own quest and adventures. I’m here for the sensory prose, however – I’ve read small bits of the novel and was not disappointed by the writing.

(Funnily enough, this is one moody acquisition that logically ties into my life. My new job is demanding so it makes sense to stock up on easier reads).

This is not a beauty blog (she protests, for the hundredth time), so I’ll keep this brief. The La Roche-Posay is a facial cleanser that I kind of regret requesting, since my skin isn’t finicky. There really is no point in buying a more expensive cleanser. As for the lipstick – err, I own a truly shameful amount of lipsticks (sounds familiar?), but that plummy red-brown color! auxiliarybeauty has an excellent blog post about 413 BLKR, including swatches.

I had pooh-poohed the coloring for adults trend as a fad, but then someone suggested I try it to alleviate some of my anxiety. So I did. And I realized that I love it, although I think I demolish the entire point by taking it way too seriously. But I guess that’s my nature – I have a tendency to pour my heart and soul into projects (while simultaneously having a tendency to avoid projects but forget I wrote that). Here are some of my work:

As you can see, I love slapping on the bright colors. I’ve seen others utilize shading and gradation to beautiful effect and at first, I was envious of such skills. But in the spirit of being kind to myself, I tell myself that all that intense vividness doesn’t mean a less-skilled work. It’s just different.

Now that I’ve inundated you with shiny new things, it’s time to actually review a book. I finished Yoko Ogawa’s short story collection Revenge last week and really loved it. Its full-length review will be my next post.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck: More a Comparison than a Review


Read and reviewed as part of my Classics Club Challenge

My copy of Of Mice and Men. Inherited from my grandfather and published in 1938

Isn’t it strange how the fiction we completely adore are the most elusive to review?  When you are completely absorbed in another world, a world more real than our own, who has the time to analyze themes, symbolism, motifs, and all that faff? Sometimes fiction just works, no thousand words necessary. And I say this as someone who used to spend every day analyzing themes, symbolism, and motifs.

In case you haven’t guessed, I completely adored John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. I couldn’t put it down when reading. I even spent my lunch break reading. I was desperate to know what will happen to George and Lennie. What I’m having trouble with is putting into words why I loved Of Mice and Men so much.

In Of Mice and Men, we enter the lives of two drifting California laborers during the Great Depression: George and Lennie. Both men have fled their previous employer because of an incident involving Lennie. It’s easy to infer that Lennie has a mental disability and is both devoted and dependent on George, but George cares deeply for Lennie as well. They are sustained by a shared dream of owning their own piece of land.

George and Lennie quickly find new employment, where they find friends and kind souls along with the new boss’ belligerent son and his dangerous wife. Characters and events weave around each other to a climactic action, leading into tragedy.

(I will never laugh again at generic blubs. It is difficult to write the synopsis of a book without spoiling key plot points while not sounding pathetically vague, which I have failed to do. Apologies)

Part of the reason why Of Mice and Men confounded me, despite my love, was how similar I found Steinbeck and Hemingway’s themes and dominant male presence. Yet I found Hemingway cold and dead. I reviewed Hemingway’s collection Men without Women very negatively last year. Meanwhile, Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is heartfelt and exciting.

A dear friend and fellow Steinbeck lover suggested that Steinbeck had “sensitivity to injustice and personal emotions [and] deep commitment to realism and humanism.” I do think there’s something to her theory. Humanism and sympathy are key. There’s a tenderness to Steinbeck that Hemingway lacked. I cared for George and Lennie and Of Mice and Men’s cast. Fiction that inspires emotions just work, no thousand words necessary. Sometimes the difference between a magical author and a merely skilled author is the breath of life he gives his world and characters. I think, ultimately, that is the main difference between Steinbeck and Hemingway.


The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Penguin’s Little Black Classic version of The Yellow Wall-Paper contains three Charlotte Perkins Gilman short stories: the highly influential “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” along with “The Rocking-Chair,” and “Old Water.”

“The Yellow Wall-Paper” is told through an unnamed woman’s perspective. She is ill with what her physician husband and brother diagnosed as “temporary nervous depression.” She is “absolutely forbidden to work until [she is] well again.”

To accelerate her health, husband John rents a beautiful colonial mansion for the summer so his wife can rest. And rest. And rest some more.

Against her wishes, our narrator’s bedroom is placed in an old nursery with hideous yellow wallpaper she finds objectionable. Left with nothing to do, however, the wallpaper starts to consume her life. She begins to imagine a trapped woman behind those yellow walls, trying to break free. She becomes obsessed, convinced that she must try to rescue this imprisoned woman.

In many respects, “The Yellow Wall-Paper” is an excellent short story, deserving of its classic status. The text is rich and dense, encompassing many themes. Published in 1982, it is far ahead of its time. It’s a feminist manifesto, a horror yarn, an observation on mental health struggles, all at once. “The Yellow Wall-Paper” is hailed as a seminal feminist text and is widely taught as such. I am more intrigued by the theme of mental health in this story; I think it particularly timely.

Much ink has been spilled over “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and I’d like to devote some more Internet space to an analysis of the themes of feminism and mental health as part of booksandstripsFemme Friday project. Some points are really worth discussing, I think. For now, I’ll talk about “The Yellow Wall-Paper” as a horror story and its pacing.

The first section of “The Yellow Wall-Paper” gave me the chills. Its horrors are tangible, palpable. It’s very easy to slip into our narrator’s skin and watch our every opinion disregarded, our wishes scoffed at.

And isn’t that a basic human fear? To have no agency. To feel smothered by the people around you. To feel as though you don’t matter.

Unfortunately, the second half lost its pacing. The narrator’s descent to madness happened too quickly. I would have appreciated a slower setting and more detailed, atmospheric description. This is one short story I wish were a novella to give it justice.


“The Rocking-Chair” is the lone dud of the three Gilman stories. A standard, reasonably well-written, and entirely forgettable Gothic horror.

Best friends Maurice and Hal are looking for rooms to rent when they halt at a shabby guesthouse, enchanted by the golden hair of a strange and beautiful girl in a rocking chair. The men pay for the rooms and supernatural events begin to happen. The rocking chair moves. The golden-haired girl shows from afar and disappears up close like a mirage. Both men grow obsessed with the girl, gradually destroying their relationship in the process as they accuse each other of rocking with her on the chair.

Like “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” the pacing of this short story’s second half is a bit off. The disintegration of Maurice and Hal’s relationship is a bit abrupt, which renders it unbelievable.


I feel like “Old Water” is a story many won’t appreciate because I can see a lot of people finding it dull and pointless, but I really enjoyed its themes. The story itself has a slight subtle feel I admired.

“Old Water” follows the exploits of a mother, her daughter, and a poet. Mother and daughter are night and day. The mother is romantic and cultured, her daughter is athletic and sensible. When she was young, the mother was married off to a man with a stable job and good prospects. But she longed and longed for romantic passion – and now desires to give her daughter what she never had by foisting a young handsome poet to her daughter. Some supernatural happenings infuse the short story, but the tone of “Old Water” is quite comic.

Essentially, “Old Water” is a story about a mother’s love. A mother’s flawed love. Ignore the poet. He is as one note as they come. He doesn’t matter. It’s the mother-daughter relationship that does.

Despite its light touch, I found “Old Water” rather tragic. The mother wants her daughter to have what she never had, yet the tragedy here is that her daughter doesn’t want what her mother never had. She is happy with the status quo. The tragedy is: love needs to be supported by listening and understanding. We may love fiercely, but sometimes we forget the gentleness to stop and listen.

I found it hilarious that the comic-tragic aspect of the mother’s love bled into the daughter’s relationship with the poet. Is there a relationship more tragicomic? I don’t know who is more persistent, the mother or the poet. Or who is more dense, for that matter.


Bottom line: “The Yellow Wall-Paper” deserves its status in the literary canon. Yet I also understand why critics rarely rate Gilman’s other stories. “The Rocking-Chair” is as average as they come and while I really, really liked “Old Water,” I don’t think it is for everyone.

“The Yellow Wall-Paper” is readily available to read for free online. Here’s an example link. “Old Water” is, unfortunately, more difficult to come across.

April Persephones, the Joy of Receiving, and Self-Care

I wanted to kick off April with my March book haul but it’s already April 10 here. It feels a bit late and my notes for the aborted draft ballooned to insane length. I shall spare you that baggy monster and give you something shorter. Still about new books, but in gift form aka I don’t have to record my own gross consumerism.

Someone lovely spent March in London and asked me if I would like a book. I didn’t even have to think; I almost screamed “PERSEPHONE!”

Greenery Street and Heat Lightning

My love for Persephone Books is welldocumented on this blog. Plus, I thought, most books I can order online.

(Actually, you can order Persephone books from their website and they will ship it to you, even internationally. What? You expect me to be logical when it comes to books?)

And so to the Persephone website I went for “research.” There are always Persephone books I kind-of-want. Miss Buncle’s Book, for one. The Victorian Chaise-longue is another. I dithered between Little Boy Lost and High Wages too. I just really love Persephone, okay?

Eventually, I settled on Heat Lightning by Helen Hull, a relatively new Persephone reissue –or number 101 from their current list of 115 books. The plot follows Amy Norton, who returns to her Michigan hometown to escape her family problems in New York only to find her home is no longer an idyll. The moral seems to be: don’t run away from your problems, face it. Heat Lightning’s blurb really hits home. On the spectrum of fight vs. flee vs. accept, I definitely flee. No wonder I have crippling anxiety. And so Heat Lightning became my pick, bypassing Miss Buncle’s Book and the other Persephones I sort-of-wanted.

But wait! I knew Persephone sometimes runs out of a specific title and takes a while to restock. So I needed a back-up option. I relied on this wonderful list of recommendations by the equally wonderful bookssnob. She lauded Greenery Street as a splendid, joyous, positive gem about a happy marriage. A dear friend and I lamented the dearth of enduring loves in literary fiction. It must be so much easier to sound “deep” when your subject material is 100% depressed and dysfunctional. On to the back-up choice Greenery Street went. I gave specific word that Greenery Street was to be purchased only and only if Heat Lightning was unavailable.

Imagine my surprise when the lovely one sent a message late March saying “I have your books.”

Books? As in plural? I cautiously replied, “Books? But I only asked for one.”

Reply: “I got them both.”

Happiness can be such a simple thing. I found it so easy to smile that day.

I met my lovely benefactress last week to pick up Heat Lightning and Greenery Street. Of course I told her I would transfer money for them but she would have none of it. She went on a ten-minute tangent on the ‘joy of receiving’ and how important it is for healing and a well-rounded life. Being so grateful, I was at full attention for eight minutes but nodded off the final two minutes.

(Actually, that probably was her master plan. To bore me into not asking for her account number. Gambit successful, madam!)

And yet, I find myself mulling over the ‘joy of receiving’ a lot. When I was younger, my philosophy was ‘Expect nothing from others. You are the only variable you can control in life, everything else is unreliable.’ I’m beginning to think that I was arrogant and presumptuous, that having faith takes a lot of bravery. I also suspect my anxiety was caused by burnout or overcompensation. Maybe. Could be. I don’t know yet.

I’ve been thinking of self-care a lot too. Being productive and meeting deadlines is self-care because it keeps anxiety and depression at bay in the long run. Pleasure reading is self-care as no other leisure activity makes me happier and teaches me to be a better writer. Writing every day is self-care. I am my worst critic and defeat myself if I ever so much as write a mediocre sentence. Yes, writing is hard. Yes, I need to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite again. But I love writing so much. If I stop often, I’ll never the good writer I aim to be.

I’m currently in the middle of six books and I’ve lost passion for all of them. The one book I really want to read right now is Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. I’ve been saving it for, well, something. I always save Persephones for special reading occasions, most likely because it’s not easy for me to get ahold of them. But my books are not more special than I am. I think I’ll take out Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day from my shelf. I’ve been doing well at my new job and rewarding myself with a good book is also self-care.

Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway

Men Without Women is Ernest Hemingway’s 1927 short story collection and a more apt title for a piece of fiction I have yet to find! There is practically no women in this short story collection. There are fourteen stories here and I only remember two stories that had women as characters and those were the now very famous “Hills Like White Elephants” and the potent “A Canary for One.” Some stories like “Ten Indians” only mentioned women in passing and in others, ladies are absent entirely.

This is my foray into Hemingway and unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy the experience. Lucky for me, Men Without Women is only 160 pages. If it were over 400 pages, I would have given up. I persevered for the sake of finishing, not for pleasure.

I’m sure most readers know that Hemingway’s prose is famous for being blunt, short, and muscular. Meanwhile, his themes and subjects were very masculine, revolving around boxing, war, bullfighting, more war, and other sports.

The prose itself I had no problem with. I liked Hemingway’s to the point approach. Yet the stories themselves I found dull and plodding. The opening story, “The Undefeated” is the longest story in Men Without Women at nearly fifty pages. To me, it is also the most tedious. “The Undefeated” is meant to be a classic tragedy, chronicling the fall and disgrace of an aging bullfighter. The bullfighter stubbornly rejects all talk that he is growing too old for the sport. For all the talk about Hemingway’s brevity, the story dragged on far too long. We all knew what was going to happen by the first few pages, that the bullfighter will humiliate himself in this endeavor. The buildup to get there was much too sluggish. Hemingway famously disliked providing character backgrounds, but without a motive, it was difficult to feel anything for the bullfighter. All I felt was irritation that he was endangering others.

There are war stories, with soldiers suffering what we would now diagnose as post-traumatic stress disorder. But I felt these stories have aged unfavorably. These days, Hemingway’s war stories have nothing new to tell us.

Hemingway utilized what is called the “iceberg theory.” He wrote the tip of the iceberg, the surface only. The massive roiling underneath we must figure out ourselves. Depending on your mileage, this could be fun or this could be frustrating. There is no correct interpretation. But I just found that I didn’t care. Because I cared for none of the characters, I didn’t even bother analyzing the stories. I just wanted to get this book over with. Admittedly, themes of war and sports interest me very little so my apathy could be subjective.

The two stories I mildly enjoyed were the stories that had women in them: “Hills Like White Elephants” and “A Canary For One.” Misunderstandings between men and women were fun to immerse in after all that war and sport. Even then, I missed the pep and vivacity someone like Dorothy Parker would inject into the same theme.

Ultimately, although Hemingway’s prose is renowned for being muscular, it lacks life and excitement. Which is why I found myself not caring about any of the content. I still have The Snows of Kilimanjaro on my bookshelf but it will be a long while until I pick it up.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn


I have no idea if the fame and momentum of this book has endured, but it had its moment. Half the Sky was adapted into a PBS documentary about a couple of years ago and it has been used as a university text. That’s how I swiped this book; my baby brother was about to dump it after his uni class was over so I gladly took Half the Sky since it has always been on my radar to read someday.

 Half the Sky is structured into two halves. The first half is a tableau of human rights abuses towards women; sex trafficking and prostitution, gender-based violence such as honor killings and rape as a war tool, maternal mortality, etc. The second half is a list of actions that are working now to combat these abuses: investment in education, microcredit, grassroots movements, even television programs.

If you are looking for academic rigor, you may be disappointed. The bulk of Half the Sky are personal stories; dozens and dozens of women are interviewed, their stories inked on paper. There are horror stories about women twice-and-thrice-trafficked, there are hopeful stories of how a little education can go a long way. In fact, the narrative of the entire book is set into a pattern of most horrific to most hopeful. Almost as though designed to reel you in with sensation and misery before alleviating it with hope. If that sounds emotionally manipulative, that is the point. Kristof and WuDunn are upfront about their methods. They are honest about their choice to showcase personal anecdotes. Research has shown that statistics have a numbing effect, while stories tug at the heartstrings and spur people to act. Half the Sky was never meant to be a dispassionate text; Kristof and WuDunn wants you to get up and act after finishing the last page.

Funnily enough, despite Kristof and WuDunn admitting to emotional manipulation, I found their voices to be earnest. Earnest, well-meaning, and passionate. Reading Half the Sky, I completely believed that they truly cared about their mission to help women worldwide.

I, personally, found Half the Sky to be very powerful. It broke my heart and angered me to see these women suffer such obscene injustices. The back of Half the Sky had a list of charities and organizations that Kristof and WuDunn have vetted to be least corrupt in helping women worldwide. It is a testament to the book’s power that I searched for a charity I could look into and volunteer some time to. In this respect, the book has been successful. I won’t effusively recommend Half the Sky though, because I am aware it’s not for everyone. It worked for me, but I can easily see someone different frustrated at Kristof and WuDunn’s approach.

Something else of note is that Kristof and WuDunn readily acknowledge that Half the Sky focuses its scope on the developing world, which opens them up to criticism of ignoring women’s rights issues in the first world and thinking only poor benighted third world dwellers have massive problems.

I mentioned that this is not an academic text and being a feminist myself, I knew about most of these problems already. Half the Sky is great for the uninitiated, as the book covers women’s rights issues in a readable, accessible way. Yet Kristof and WuDunn also provides surprising complexities. For example, I had not known that pimps and human traffickers dose their victims with meth to ensure addiction and a return to them if they ever manage to escape, making it exceedingly difficult and dispiriting to rehabilitate sex-trafficked people. It was heartbreaking to read these women go back to their traffickers, desperate for a hit of meth. It was also heartbreaking to read about the frustration of aid workers trying to help them. Even I, a longtime feminist found something of value from Half the Sky.

At the end of the day, helping the downtrodden, women or men, is a noble cause. And despite how Kristof and WuDunn’s approach might frustrate, even anger some, if most reactions to Half the Sky are close to mine, Kristof and WuDunn have written a useful book indeed.

Book Tag: My Life in Books

The lovely Marwhal once again tagged me in a fun book tag that I am very happy to participate in.

  1. Find a book for each of your initials

I have quite a long name, so for brevity’s sake I will only use my first, middle, and last name. All together, they add up to R-C-S. Here are my choices:


R is for Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. I read this novel in August and while it is not my favorite book of the year, it is technically faultless. I still think about this novel from time to time; I especially cannot let go of Yates’ masterful characterization. There is a reason why I found Revolutionary Road quite funny, despite its crushing tragedy and that reason is Frank Wheeler. Oh Frank, you silly, silly man. So unlikable! And yet, so shockingly true to flesh-and-blood people. So charming, so charismatic! Yet so false and desperate. So many found you onerous. Yet I found you a delightful scream!


C is for Cotillion by Georgette Heyer, a recent acquisition of mine. I’m very excited to read this, as it has been described as “a literary bubble bath” and “like pink champagne.” Who doesn’t want to read something light and frothy and romantic and uplifting? We can’t all survive on literature alone. Yes, yes, I have clearly misnamed this blog.


S is for Saman by Ayu Utami. Very thought-provoking, especially for a city girl like me. I was –and still am- quite ignorant on how corrupt central government and big business can affect negligible villages. But Saman gives a piercing, distressing portrait on just one small example in novel form. It’s a shame that most of the press this book gets is for its depiction of female sexuality. I would think corruption and human rights abuses should generate more uproar but hey, sex is so distracting, innit?

  1. Count your age along your book shelf: What book is it?


A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. Gosh, I’m so ashamed to say that I’ve only read book 1 and 2 of this series when I love the story so much. When you can juggle multiple characters and POVs and plot points and characterizations, yet make things comprehensible to the reader, you are a talented author. GRRM is certainly a talented author. I just have too many books. Will try to dive back into the series next year. Hopefully. Fingers crossed.

  1. Pick a book set in your city/state/country


Senja di Jakarta (Twilight in Jakarta) by Mochtar Lubis. An Indonesian classic I have yet to read. I hear Lubis is very harsh on Jakarta in this novel since this book is all about Indonesian corruption and the unsavory characters that populate the city. This novel was published in the 60s and everyone who has read it has said the corrupt practices evoked this book is still applicable fifty years later. Since I plan to write an author spotlight on Lubis, I hope to read Senja di Jakarta very soon.

  1. Pick a book that represents a destination you would like to travel to


Out by Natsuo Kirino. This is an odd choice, since Kirino’s depiction of life in Tokyo is scathing. The characters here work numbing, menial jobs. A lot of horrible things are done to people. Yet boring jobs and crime happen in every city. It’s probably not healthy to build an idealized version of any place in your mind. Kirino’s prose, despite her subject matter, is pristine and effortless and I look forward to reading more of her work.

  1. Pick a book that is your favorite color


One of my favorite books has my favorite color as its cover scheme. Perfect. Reams has been written about The Handmaid’s Tale but I do have an unpopular opinion about it. Beneath the din of whether this book is science fiction vs. speculative fiction, my own belief is that this is domestic fiction. This is a book about the small spaces women make for themselves, the steady ways women try to survive despite the grind and oppressions of life.

  1. Which book do you have the fondest memory of?


The easiest question! The Adventures of Tintin. Thanks to Herge, my first big dream was to travel the world. I was sad that reviewing Tintin on this blog proved to be an unpopular endeavor, it seems that not a lot of people care for this series anymore. Yes, some sentiments are outdated. Yes, there’s racism in Tintin in the Congo. But Tintin is life-affirming too. The most beautiful depiction of friendship! The lesson that changing yourself for the better is hard and will slap you with setbacks, but you can do it. And Captain Haddock! Who doesn’t love Captain Haddock?

My favorite of the series (and this was excruciatingly hard to decide) is probably Explorers on the Moon. An engaging plot, the funniest slapstick and dialogue, and a darkness I did not expect to see at something aimed for children are the ingredients for something truly sublime.

  1. Which book did you have the most difficulty reading?


The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. So many sleepless nights were spent during high school trying to figure out whether the nanny was insane or if there really were supernatural forces at work. I still have nothing. I still don’t know anything! Not to mention, James had a lifelong torrid affair with commas. Gosh, he loved endless sentences. It was exhausting trying to make sense of his excessive clauses

  1. Which book in your TBR pile will give you the biggest sense of achievement?


Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. Russian epic. Bigger-than-a-brick tome. Nuff said.

I know I’m supposed to tag others in turn but I’m not sure who would want to be tagged. I love being tagged but I don’t think this sentiment applies to everyone. So anyone who wants to do this tag, please go right ahead!

Frankfurt Book Fair Haulage

Forgive the month-long blog silence. Life happened in the form of work, illness, work, illness, flying to Germany and working at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair, and jet lag. All in that order, in fact.

There are posts that have to be postponed for now. In particular, the author spotlight on Leila S. Chudori needs more time. As an apology and a way for me to get back in the swing of things, here’s a post on the freebies I snagged from the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair.

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The Frankfurt Book Fair happens during the course of five days; the first three of which is open exclusively to trade visitors and exhibitors for business deals and rights negotiation. The general public is then allowed to attend during the weekend or the last two days.

Each publisher or exhibitor would bring many of their key titles for display. Ultimately, however, carrying the books home is a cumbersome and expensive affair so most publishers and exhibitors will either sell these books or give them away during the weekend.

Unfortunately for me, I was on full work mode on the final day, the day most physical books at the fair gets sold or given away. Penguin Random House, for example, would only put their books on sale starting 11am on the last day. I looked on in envy as I watched the Sunday crowds cradle their considerable hauls. But it was probably for the best that I couldn’t buy more books during the final day. Even without the Sunday scramble I had already found myself with nine books.

I’ll talk about the books I got from top to bottom.Featured image

The first book I got was directly from the author herself: an Indonesian named Lily Yulianti Farid. As I have mentioned constantly on this blog, Indonesia is the Guest of Honor at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair so plenty of Indonesian authors were invited to the fair for many speaking events. I met Lily and I complained about wanting to read her books but finding them difficult to find. Without a word, she held out her bag and took out Maiasaura out of it. “Here you go. This is yours,” she said. After a brief skip of speechlessness, I said, “Well, now you have to sign it for me.” And she did, which was very lovely of her.

I did most of my exploring on the Thursday. Two wonderful small presses deserve a lot of love on this blog post. Mainly because I ransacked their booths. The first publisher is Graywolf Press. This Minnesota-based small press literally arrested me on my tracks, so well-made and well-designed were their books. I just had to tell the lady managing the stand how lovely I found her products and ask if the books would be available for sale later during the fair. She very kindly told me that she would be leaving Friday night so I would be free to take Graywolf books from then on. Ah, how fortunate am I!


I took two books from the Graywolf stand, both of them short story collections. Not only did the lady very kindly let me have her books, she also gave me recommendations. When I told her that I am a short story devotee, she pointed me to this book: Per Petterson’s debut. I have never read any Norwegian literature and I have never read Out Stealing Horses, Petterson’s most famous work but I am willing to give it a shot. I was told that this is a series of vignettes gently illustrating a boy’s coming-of-age. And this is a very small book, so if anything else, I’ll wolf through it.


The other book I took from Graywolf was Half an Inch of Water by Percival Everett. This was the book that stopped me dead on my tracks when I walked by the Graywolf Press stand. I’m not usually fond of loud color schemes like this, but it does attract attention, and I was immediately intrigued. This is a book that I would normally have misgivings for, as the short stories within are about the American West. I have little to no knowledge of the American West and I am usually not partial to the pastoral imagery (city girl here!) but it was the first book recommended to me and a little risk once in a while is good, right? I might end up loving this book.

Lather, rinse, and repeat with House of Anansi Press of Canada. I had to do a double take when I passed by their booth. Was compelled to compliment their books and ask if they would be for sale. Was incredibly lucky to be told that everyone’s leaving Friday night and I was welcome to help myself to their books Saturday morning. Took what I liked first thing Saturday morning and was shameless, since I took six.

House of Anansi has an imprint for children’s books called Groundwood Books and I was surprised to find that I took five Groundwood Books. It has been a while since I indulged in anything middle-grade or young adult.


If you have been following this blog for a while, you’d know that I do love my Japanese-themed books so of course, I had to have this. I’m currently reading this so expect a review soon. The way the book is packaged, it is probably aimed for middle grade or younger YA, but there are some darker themes in these tales. There’s murder, envy, betrayal, horror, and sexuality. But considering that original fairy tales and folktales are usually dark, I would attribute the lurid themes to the source of these stories rather than authorial intent.


Wanted this book because a) short stories and b) the arresting cover. But I was told by the lady handling House of Anansi and Groundwood’s booth that Lisa Moore is a very famous Canadian author in her own right. Well, since the only Canadian authors I know are Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro, I am very much open to expanding my horizons. By the way, why are all the famous Canadian writers ladies? Not that I’m complaining, of course.


This is a super new release. Goodreads marked its release date as October 6th 2015 and Groundwood is apparently trying to hype it as their next big thing. It is also a graphic novel. You’re going to notice a trend now, as the rest of these books are graphic novels. It has been a long, long while since I collected graphic novels. I loved Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi in high school and was a big reader of Japanese manga during junior and high school but my enthusiasm for the genre petered out.

Groundwood produces amazing graphic novels. I picked up four. I haven’t read the text but the illustrations are divine. A Year Without Mom is set in early 1990s Moscow. Our young protagonist is navigating life without her mother, who has taken off to America. It’ll probably the first one I read, as something about its vibe echoes Persepolis.


Harvey follows a little boy’s life following his father’s death from a heart attack. Beyond that I don’t know much about this graphic novel. I do love the artwork though and within the book, there was a beautiful three-page spread that convinced me that I had to bring this one home as well.2418888The final two graphic novels are probably the best-known books I have on my set. These would be Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki and Jane, the Fox, and Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault. I have seen reviews for both books floating on booktube and they have gotten good reviews from what I can gather. Is it bad that I picked these up purely because of booktube? Please don’t ask me for a synopsis, I don’t know. I’ll tell you after I’ve read them and have written a review.17214302

And that’s it for this long, picture-laden post. I might write more about the Indonesian presence at the Frankfurt Book Fair but I’m sure the newspapers and other news outlets have already covered the happenings. You’re perfectly welcome to ask me questions about the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair, of course.