Extra Books – August 15 to 21

Now that I’m home, I’ve decided that I should tackle some of the books on my bookshelf that have yet to be read…these two books from the shelf.

  • The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya by Nagaru Tanigawa
    •  Published: October 2009 (English)
    • Genre: Science fiction
    • Why I picked it up: Enjoyed the first book in the series
    • Rating: 3.5 stars
    • Challenges: Global | 100+
    • My Thoughts:
      • I first encountered the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise when I watched the original anime in 2009. When I discovered that it was based on a series of novels, I read an unofficial translation online but didn’t get too pulled in. When I found out the books were finally going to be published in English, I bought each one as they were released but somehow never got around to reading them until now. 
      • One of my favourite aspects of this series is the design. I love the bold colours, the simple icons and the creative fonts.
      • While the first book is still my favourite, this book (and the following) continued to uphold the aspects I love about this series.  
  • The Boredom of Haruhi Suzumiya by Nagaru Tanigawa
    • Published: July 2010 (English)
    • Genre: Science fiction
    • Why I picked it up: Enjoyed the first book in the series
    • Rating: 3.5 stars
    • Challenges: Global | 100+
    • My Thoughts:
      • See above 🙂
  • Zen Meditation In Plain English by John Daishin Buksbazen 
    • Published: 2002
    • Genre: Spiritual practice
    • Why I picked it up: Interested in Zen Buddhism
    •  My Thoughts:
      • Does what it says 😛 The author’s teacher is Taizen Maezumi, who compiled and edited one of the first books I read on Zen Buddhism. This is the first book I’ve read that was solely dedicated to Zen meditation, the aspect of Zen Buddhism I am most interested in. 
      • I appreciated the structure of this book (a very brief introduction to Buddhism, a person with little knowledge of Buddhism would need to look further than this book to understand), a large section on sitting meditation, and a smaller concluding section on community. This book helped expand some points I had read about in other books (such as hand position) and was overall useful in filling some of the gaps in my understanding. While I won’t be purchasing this one, I will be taking some notes! Which sounds a little silly, given that this book outlines a spiritual practice, something one shouldn’t really be taking notes on, but I ‘take notes’ because I am a newcomer to the practice and won’t focus on/think about some aspects of meditation at this stage without some form of a reminder.

Catherynne M. Valente – The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of Her Own Making

Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Title: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of Her Own Making
Published: May 2011
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Length: 256 pages
Genre: Fantasy, fairy tale
Target age: Preteen (10+)
Why I picked it up: Browsing Amazon, sounded like something I would love
Rating: 4.5 stars
Challenges: 100+
Buy: Chapters | IndieBound | Check your local bookstore!

It may be that I have a weakness for these kind of stories. Young brave girl is whisked off to have an adventure in a fantastical land, she encounters all sorts of wondrous places, creatures and people while accomplishing great deeds but more often than not eventually has to return home. I also have a weakness for books with long titles and chapter subheadings such as ‘In Which We Turn Our Attention to a Long-Forgotten and Much Suffering Jewelled Key.’ The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairlyand In a Ship of Her Own Making contains all these elements, and so I may be somewhat biased in my judgment of this novel, but I believe it is a lovely story and a fantastic read. When I read the first page, I knew this was going to be a story to savour.
While this book certainly has all the elements I previously described, Catherynne M. Valente puts her own distinct twist on her elegantly crafted tale. As do most authors when they tell their version of this sort of story, but I am absolutely in love with Valente’s style. Her prose dances around the page and comes to life in magical ways. The main way that the author distinguishes her tale from other similar ones, I believe, is through often breaking the fourth wall, but not so often as in, for example, The Princess Bride, and in an unobtrusive manner that flows with and is appropriate for the story. An example:

The Key entered the Autumn Provinces far too late but followed the trail of September’s memory into the Worsted wood. There, it met with the Death of Keys, which is a thing I may not describe to you. It is true that novelists are shameless and obey no decent law, and they are not to be trusted on any account, but some Mysteries even they must honour.

Valente also breaks the fourth wall, in a way, through her role as narrator and through the character of September (oh, I love that name! I used to use it as an online name years ago) by voicing similarities and differences between September’s adventure and other little girls’ adventures. I didn’t mark any examples while I was reading, but again, she does this in tasteful and creative ways that enhance the story.

The characters and scenarios that September encounters were more creative than anything I can ever imagine. A capital city that is woven entirely out of fabric? An island full of furniture that’s come to life once it reaches 100? A wyvern who believes his father was a library and who is called A-Through-L because those are the encyclopedia volumes he read? Death as…well, I won’t spoil it. But all these ideas, I think, are brilliant. I love these little things, these little sparks of ideas that can be woven together to make a fun and unique story.  

The only thing that felt a little off to me was September’s age, which is 12. At times it felt too old. Perhaps that’s because I’ve been conditioned to think of girls in stories such as these as being closer to six years old (Wendy and Alice being two of my favourite female protagonists) than to their teen years, but there were times when I thought ‘A 12-year-old would not behave like that’. And then, there were parts when I thought ‘She’s only 12 and she’s saying things like that?’. Those thoughts only distracted me if I dwelled on the age, otherwise they were not bothersome. So this is a minor criticism and more so on myself than on the writing. Just something to note, though.

As for the plot/story, I quite enjoyed it. The story moved along at an acceptable rate, with interludes to follow the progress of A Key. I felt that the actual ‘circumnavigating Fairyland’ part, maybe 3/4s of the way through the novel, was a bit dry and difficult to get through. But, I’m sure September felt the same way. 😛 Unexpectedly, the story quickly picked up after an appearance from the Green Wind (hooray! Did I mention I have a weakness for those mysterious, funny, odd, kind, strange male characters that always appear in these stories? Of course I do.) and moved along to a conclusion I had not seen coming and was pleasantly surprised by. The last 40 pages of the novel were fairly impressive with regards to the action, what was happening with the plot. I felt myself being drawn in to the story and very eager to reach the outcome, a feeling I don’t often experience nowadays. An outcome, mind you, that I didn’t even guess at beforehand [unlike I seem to be doing so often with Doctor Who lately =.=].

To finish this up, an excerpt of a bit I particularly liked, for some reason…:

“Good girl,” chuffed the Green Wind. “When little ones say they want to go home, they almost never mean it. They meant they are tired of this particular game and would like to start another.”

“Yes, please, I would like to start another.”

“That’s not a magic I have, love. You’re in this story. You must get out on your own if you are to get out at all.”

 My concluding thoughts: Read this book if you like fairy tales. If you don’t, best stay far away, but if you do…I am sure you will find this a delightful and enjoyable novel. It has taken me a long time to find a ‘children’s book’ that I can fall in love with, but Valente has  managed to create one for me 🙂

J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (AKA, My Reflections On Harry Potter As)

Author: J.K. Rowling

Title:  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Published: July 2007
Publisher: Raincoast
Length: 759 pages
Genre: Magical fantasy
Target age: Children (of all ages~ :P)
Why I picked it up: Rereading the series
Rating: 3.5 stars
Challenges: Harry Potter 2011 | 100+
Buy: Chapters | Barnes and Noble | Check your local bookstore!

Here we go. The big Harry Potter post. This post will be a very messy mash up of my thoughts on the series as a whole, the last book individually, the book vs. the movie, and the whole community built up around Rowling’s magical world.

So. I finished rereading this on Wednesday, watched Part One of the movie for the first time on Thursday and then went to the midnight premier of Part Two with a friend of mine. For someone who wouldn’t really call herself a Harry Potter fan, I’ve been keeping right up in all this Potter business! But that’s how I wanted it to be. Harry Potter means so, so much to all my friends and to all the online communities I’m a part of that I wanted to experience that too, just for this last time. HP never meant anything to me like it does to so many other people…and I have to admit, now that it’s all over, I’m a bit sad that it wasn’t important to me. I’m not really sure how that happened. Maybe it’s because HP was the series that got so many of those people into reading and helped them find a community of friends where they belonged, and it just wasn’t that for me. I read the books the day after they came out (borrowing them from my best friend) and only watched the first three movies. It just wasn’t a big deal for me, but I absolutely love how this magical book series transformed so many people’s lives, people who are very much like me, and I just wanted to experience that sense of community with this ‘ending’, which is why I ended up at the midnight premiere.

Here’s how my premiere night went. (You can skip this paragraph if you want ;P It’s a messy ‘This is what we did then’ paragraph). We’ll skip to about 11:15PM on Thursday. My friend Jack and I had been in line for six hours that went by very quickly. Jack’s brother, Greg, and two of his friends had been in line with us at the beginning, but had gone to a football game and were due back any time. I should note that Jack and Greg had dressed up as Death Eaters, and they probably had the most impressive costumes in our line (there weren’t a lot of people decked out in full costume…). They had big black cloaks, Dark Marks drawn in sharpie on their arms by their talented artsy sister, wands carved from tree branches and painted silvery masks. So. There’s a massive crowd of us waiting in line and we’re all just standing around, being all anxious, when someone comes running into lobby, shouting something. People cheer, but I can’t really see anything because I’m short. Then Jack goes ‘I think that’s Greg.’ I push my way through the crowd a bit, and sure enough, there’s Greg, running around and getting people all hyped up. Eventually he yelled ‘Where’s my bro, where’s my bro Jack?’ so Jack puts up his hood and mask and goes out, and they terrorize people for a minute when two Gryffindors come out and challenge Jack and Greg and they have a little duel until the movie theatre people yell at them for wearing masks. People cheered and took videos on their phones. It is hard to describe in words how awesome this all was, so just picture it in your head and you should be able to understand then 😛  Then it was time to go into the theatre. This was kind of scary and pretty intense, everyone rushing to get good seats without running. I liked it when everyone cheered (Ron and Hermione’s kiss [I loved the lack of enthusiasm for Harry and Ginny, haha. What a poorly constructed relationship.], Neville killing Nagini, and plenty of other bits I can’t remember) together and cried together. (I especially liked it when everyone ‘Whooo~’d at the Sherlock Holmes trailer, when RDJ came on screen XD). As with all the HP (in my humble opinion), it could have been so much better but it got enough parts right that it’ll be a satisfying conclusion for fans, I think. Even I teared up two or three times (Snape’s death [that was so well done. Man.], the Weasleys crying over Fred [if they had actually shown his death (which I am very disappointed they didn’t, it could’ve made the whole battle scene so much more meaningful and emotional), I would’ve bawled] and at the end, before the epilogue). The epilogue was a joke, though. It was kind of bad in the book, but in the movie it was ridiculous. Lots of laughing. And what was with Voldemort hugging Malfoy?? Way to destroy the tension. Also, Mrs. Weasley’s line could have been so much better, it’s like they quickly threw it in because they knew we all wanted it. It sounded half-hearted. There was so so much they had to leave out, which is too bad. But still. There were enough proper emotional bits.

Random movie notes: What I like best about the movies is that they provide material for making music videos, not that they’re a ‘good adaptation of the books’ 😛 My 3D glasses, shaped like Harry’s, are now sitting on the two HP books I own (I’m working on getting them all, don’t worry…). Watching the movie, I couldn’t help but think ‘Frodo!!’ in my head for good portion of the film towards the end. This wasn’t something I ever thought while reading the book. Obviously, there are some similarities between the two and their ‘final showdown situation’, but each character and scenario holds their own. I think it was the cinematic environment that put those thoughts in my head. XP

What I love most about this series is the characters and their relationships. There’s far too much that I could say about that subject, I don’t even know where to begin. I love the Weasley family. I love how Lupin and Sirius and Dumbledore and Snape and all those grown-ups do their best to support Harry. I love the friendships of Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Luna and all. I love the characterization of Umbridge and Stan Shunpike and Tonks and Fred and George and every single other character. All the characters support each other and play their own significant roles in the story so well. Meh blah wahietpiouaer. I don’t even know what to say. It’s such a big subject and so emotionally tangled for each person, I can’t elaborate on my own feelings XD For the whole Harry Potter phenomenon as a whole, the books and the movies, I don’t really care about, but I admire so much the characters and their interactions. I’m jealous of Harry and Hermione and Ron. Blarg. I’ll shut up now. ^^; Meh, no. I’ll keep on rambling…now that it’s properly finished, er, wait, for me, back when the last book came out, I was like ‘Okay, that’s that’, the movies didn’t mean anything for me, but now that I spent the year rereading the series and getting caught up in it all, I feel like it really is properly over and now I can look back and see this incredible story about friendship and growing up and love and being strong, it’s a pretty incredible thing, these Harry Potter books, and who knows when or if we’ll ever see another book series that will revolutionize the world (because it did, really, this series affected millions of people, helped them grow and change for the better) in the way that this one did. I love how it affected/created the nerdfighter community. That’s just one tiny example, but that’s what I like about Harry Potter. And this is one of the most rambling posts ever XD Basically. Now that it’s complete, I can look back and see how much I really did enjoy the series, even if it wasn’t meaningful for me, and I can see how it’s ultimately affected me by affecting everyone around me. I don’t love the books as books, but I love them for what they’ve done to my world.

Hm, I haven’t talked about the book at all…I dunno, it’s kind of hard to try and give this final book an objective review, especially right now, when there’s so much going on surrounding the story.  I think I’ll just leave you with my jumbled up thoughts…

One quick final thought: Yup, book three is still my favourite, hands down, for all the reasons I said when I gave it a tiny review. 😛

And an afterthought (^^;): It’s been four years since I started watching vlogbrothers. I was one of the ones who started watching at Hank’s song Accio Deathly Hallows and here we are again…his annual Potter song:

Extra Books – June 13 to 19

  • Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
    • Published: July 2005
    • Genre: Magical fantasy
    • Why I picked it up: Rereading the series
    • Rating: 3.5 stars
    • Challenges: Harry Potter 2011 | 100+
    • My Thoughts: 
      • Spoiler alert!! Snape kills Dumbledore – what a fantastic, dramatic, shocking twist. So good. I was never sad about the whole thing, and I had it spoiled for me the day the book was released, but it’s still a great climax which is not the word I want to use but I can’t think of the right one. 
      • The scene with Harry and Dumbledore in the cave…I dunno, that scene never felt very real to me, but it’s kind of terrifying if you can properly believe it. I just have a hard time imagining Dumbledore acting like that, which I suppose is kind of the point (to show how serious and dramatic, etc. the whole situation is) but it just didn’t work for me. Probably because I would be too freaked out if I properly believed it. 😛 

    Michael Pollan – The Omnivore’s Dilemma

    Author: Michael Pollan
    Title: The Omnivore’s Dilemma
    Published: 2006
    Publisher: Penguin Press
    Length: 408 pages
    Genre: Non-fiction (investigative)
    Why I picked it up: Interest in these sort of ‘food books’
    Rating: 3.5 stars
    Challenges: 100+ | Foodie’s 
    Buy: Barnes and Noble | Chapters | Check your local bookstore!

    I was in the midst of writing this post and then I found out that I am to get a third roommate. This is the worst news in the entire world, for a variety of reasons I don’t need to go into here, but now I am too distraught to work on this and I need to go for a walk. XP So, look! Here are the notes I make. Can you understand any of them? I will refine them later when I stop panicking…

    Fun fact tidbits such as ‘Originally, “corn” was a generic English word for any kind of grain, even a grain of salt – hence “corned beef”‘ – I always wondered about that

    ‘And I wondered if Billy gave much thought, in those late-night hours rolling up the miles on Interstate 80, to how he got to this point, and about who he was really working for now. The bank? John Deere? Monsanto? Pioneer? Cargill? Two hundred and twenty bushels of corn is an astounding accomplishment, yet it didn’t do Billy nearly as much as good as it did those companies.’ Talk about corn subsidies.

    But a solution is considered wildly impractical by the cattle industry and therefore the USDA. (re: germs and such in slaughterhouses). THERE, AUGH, THIS IS STUPID!

    ‘Each weed strip is as smooth and flat as a tabletop, levelled with a laser so that the custom-built harvester can snip each leaf at precisely the same point.’

    ‘He reminded me taht his meat would be considerably cheaper than it is if not for government regulations and the resulting high cost of processing – at least a dollar cheaper per pound. “If we could just level the playing field – take away the regulations, the subsidies, and factor in the health care and environmental cleanup costs of cheap food – we could compete on price with anyone.”” so sad 🙁

    Andrew Weill, the Marriage of the Sun and the Moon
    Big, sprawling, vast, covers a lot, explore meat more in depth, ethically wise, lots of good references that sound interesting

    William Cronon’s nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West

     Sidenote – miffed about ‘young reader’s edition,’ ‘”Originally written for adults and now adapted for teens,’ what the hell, we’re not stupid, we dont’ need a seprate edition.