Sunday, December 19, 2010

Book 18: Howl's Moving Castle

Finals just ended, and as a reward for a full week's worth of focused studying I picked up Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones from the college library for a fun bit of reading.  I read it years ago in high school after watching (and loving) the Hiyao Miyazaki film adaptation and wasn't terribly thrilled by the novel, but I was feeling optimistic after my final exams and decided to give the book a second chance.
I'm so glad I did!
I don't think I was reading diligently at all the first time around if I didn't like it then, beacuse I found it to be an absolute delight as I tore through it over the last couple of days.  I love the whimsy of the concept and the wit of the characters.  I often criticize Jones for employing a rather turbid writing style, but I found Howl's Moving Castle to have a clarity that that other books of hers seem to lack.  You have to read the book with some care to really glean the motivations and emotions of the characters (they're all quite British even if the story takes place in an imaginary country, so of course they never quite say what they mean), but it's completely worth it.
Now, the plot!
The main character is a young lady named Sophie Hatter who has decided that she is destined for failure due to the fact that she is the eldest of three (think about it--what fairy tale have you ever heard of in which the eldest child is successful? It's always the youngest, of course).  While her two sisters go off to seek their fortunes, she remains behind in her hometown, tending to the hat shop that her recently deceased father owned before he died. Sophie is all set to live a quiet, mouse-like existence until she finds herself in the line of fire of the evil Witch of the Waste, who curses her and turns her into an old lady.  In order to break the spell, Sophie sets off to the roving castle of Wizard Howl to seek his help, and finds herself entangled in the affairs of his strange, enchanted household.
The film adaptation by the same name is actually one of my favorite movies ever, but I prefer the book, since the story is more complete and the characters are a good deal more compelling.  Sophie and Howl in the book are a lot more fun than they are in the movie (they're just to darn nice in Miyazaki's version). They both have a lot more personality and engage in a  lot of that witty, snarky banter that I just love.  Still, the animation in the film is absolutely gorgeous, and the voice acting in both English and Japanese is brilliant (it doesn't hurt that Christian Bale plays Howl in the English dub.  What a hottie!).  In the end I've come to see the film and the novel as separate creative entities.
And they're both fabulous.

Friday, December 10, 2010


"By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest." ~Confucius

I discovered this quote in late May of this year, in the epitaph of a book I was reading.  Though the book itself ended up being no good, I found this saying of Confucius' to be pretty neat so I jotted it down on a piece of paper and tucked it away somewhere.  I don't want to say that it "came in handy" this summer, but it definitely applied.

As of today it's been six months since the passing of my beloved Golden Retriever, Shadow.  

He came into our home in April of 2000, a new presence in our lives during a time when we had just lost a close family friend and were facing the end of another's battle with cancer.  My family had just moved to a new neighborhood forty miles away from our old neighborhood, and finally getting the dog my brother and I had been asking for (and which our previous house couldn't have accommodated) was our solace.  The three of us--Shadow, my brother, and I--grew up together, and while he was theoretically our dog, Shadow took to our mom immediately.  She became his Person, and he remained unyieldingly loyal to her for his entire life.

Shadow saw us through a lot of funny stories, like the time he literally ate my homework, or the time when he drank a pot of oil my mom had used to try dumplings and cheerfully wreaked havoc from both ends for a week.  He absolutely loved fruit and was always sneaking into our neighbor's orchard for the apples and pears that fell from the trees in summertime. Going running with my dad thrilled him, even though he would get bored or tired quickly, and he was endlessly patient even when my brother and I went out of our way to annoy him.  

When I went home for spring break in April, he was fine.  And then he wasn't.  He declined suddenly, within the span of less than a month, while I spending my summer working in an on-campus lab four hundred miles away from home.  I wasn't there to watch him get sicker and sicker, but I heard about it from my parents.  It started out as stiffness in his hind legs.  A loss of appetite.  Then a fever.  And then the vet said cancer.  We didn't want to do the scans or biopsies to confirm.  What was the point?  "He's too old," the vet told us, "to be a candidate for surgery."  And we weren't about to put our ten-year-old dog--the equivalent to an eighty-year-old man--through chemotherapy.  

I saw him twice before he died, on brief weekend visits, and flew home one last time to be with him in the vet's office when we had to let him go.  It was quick, and I was holding him, and I felt it when his heart stopped beating and his pain finally ended.  Two days later, I went back to campus and returned to work.  

What followed was the worst summer of my life.  I wasn't alone on campus, but I felt alone even when I was with my friends.  I spent most of my time in my basement lab, where I was typically the only person working, and even when the other girls were there they didn't really talk to me.  I've never felt more empty.  My parents, troopers that they are, healed fast and by my next visit home they were fine even though I wasn't.  

We're not so good at talking about grief.  No one is.  All we're ever taught to do is be strong and bottle it up.  The stiff upper lip and all that.  No one's ever taught us what we're supposed to do with our sorrow, our rage.  Unaddressed and unexpressed, it has nowhere to go but deeper into oneself.  It becomes a part of our identity, this grief.  And we think that's a legitimate way of dealing with it.  If you bury it deep where no one can see it, that's got to mean it's gone, right? 


I've healed to the point that I can write this without crying now, but I can't downplay the tightness I'm feeling in my throat and chest.  At six months, my grief is lighter now--less like an open wound and more like a scar.  Other people won't know it's there (I can pet other peoples' dogs now without tearing up, and I suppose that's progress), but I know it's there and I have a feeling that it always will be.  

Of course, in our own grief we forget about that of others.  While I was home over Thanksgiving, my little brother broke down and cried in the car when I was driving him home.  I hadn't realized how much he still missed Shadow until then.    

I'm not of the belief that dead people or things can hear you, but since Shadow died I've made something of an exception for him.  So, darling boy, if you've got access to the Internet in Dog Paradise or wherever you are, hugs and kisses and MilkBones to you from me.  Miss you, sweetling.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Book 17: Memoirs of a Geisha

When a novel is adapted into a film, I almost invariably find the written version more appealing.  It might just be one of those elitist things that comes with the territory of being a longtime book-lover; you somehow always come to believe that your imagination is more accurate and on-point than the other guy's.

However, through pretty much no fault of its own, Memoirs of a Geisha as a novel is, in my books (ha ha ha, puns!), surpassed by the silver screen's version.  I think a lot of this has to do with the way the movie adeptly brings to life all the colors and sounds of the world that Golden strives to portray in his writing.  John Williams' arrestingly lovely accompanying score doesn't hurt either.  In any case, the novel is significantly improved upon in the film, which I find to be a good thing.  After all, isn't that why screen adaptations of books are made in the first place?  (And that noise you hear is Hollywood responding with a resounding "NO".  Clearly.)

At its core, Memoirs is a novel about overcoming adversity.  It tells the story of one geisha's dogged pursuit of love and happiness in the face of career challenges, political turmoil, and bitter rivalries.  Narrated from the perspective of retired geisha Nitta Sayuri, Memoirs paints an elegant picture of the colorful, separate reality--the "flower and willow world"--in which geisha once lived and worked.  It was the imagery that drew me in most of all; Golden's descriptions of the settings and costumes are vivid and arresting.  I found myself reading late into the night, just to get a "glimpse" of another one of Sayuri's kimono.  I've always been fascinated by Japanese culture, and Memoirs of a Geisha definitely fed that fascination.  

The novel also impressed me because it read like an actual memoir.  It is written in such a manner that it is easy to forget that it is, in fact, a work of fiction.  The book even begins with a (fictional) note from the translator.  For the five days it took me to read this book (which makes it a quick read, considering the fact that I'm a full-time student), I was absolutely ensnared by the world that Golden creates with his prose.  

That being said, the book definitely has its flaws.  While Memoirs is a good introduction into certain concepts within Japanese culture and the geisha subculture, it is clearly a novel written by an American.  Rather than being introduced and incorporated subtly, many of the cultural elements are addressed with a heavy-handedness that is sometimes jarring.  It is clear in these instances that Golden is trying to prove that he did his research.  He works hard to capture a Japanese "voice", and it's sort of hit-or-miss throughout the novel.  The characters were also kind of flat to me.  Even Sayuri, in spite of being the protagonist, is generally lacking in depth and definition.  

I do in some respects feel like the movie did it better; the characters are more real, and even the plot was executed more capably in the film than it was in the novel.  The screenwriters made changes to the plot that even I, as a purist when it comes to film adaptations, approve of.  The changes heightened the drama and improved the pacing, and these are changes which I wish Golden's editor would have made.

In any case, Memoirs of a Geisha is a fine book and a fine film.  While both provide a relatively good primer on Eastern culture and philosophy, they are both works of historical fiction, and this is a fact that is important to take into account.  As long as readers/viewers keep this in mind and don't try to take Memoirs at anything more than its face value, they will enjoy and benefit from their experience.  

Grade:  B+
Rating:  13 and up, for some (relatively vague) sexual content

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Today (Phoenix)

Today is the two-year anniversary of my grandmother's death.  I wrote this poem a week after she died in 2008.  It seems like it's been forever now.

I remember you in joy;
In laughter,
In echoes of voices, reminiscent foods
And silk that still smells like your skin.
Strange is the relief blooming now
Where grief, even in life, gnawed.
Silent is this journey's ending,
Which we take as fate.

Curious, the lack of the black rage,
For where I could not see before,
You are everywhere now;
Soft, golden, sunlit.

And even as weeping--so cathartic--
Cleanses backwards,
Spreading dirt to leave a snowy soul,
I can say nothing but "good night"
And wish you, the hero, safe travels to Valhalla;
No longer wasted, as in armored battle, but
Resplendent, glowing.
Eternally alive.
The phoenix of my dreams.

Brave warrior,
Dearest heart,
To where do you go now?

"Someday we'll all be gone,
But lullabies go on and on.
They never die--
That's how you and I will be..."
~Lullaby by Billy Joel

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Book 16: The Pillars of the Earth

After a good two months of slow, painstaking reading, I have finally finished reading Ken Follett's novel, The Pillars of the Earth.  The time it took me to finish the book reflects in no way upon the book itself, but upon the fact that I hadn't had much time to read until recently.

Pillars of the Earth is almost 1000-pages long and spans over fifty years of medieval history.  If you've seen Paul Haggis' 2004 film, Crash, then you'll be familiar with the broad idea of the novel.  Pillars takes characters from many different walks of life and unites their lives, ambitions, and story lines in one town, with the building of a cathedral church.  Their affairs tangle together quickly and become inexorably linked, which is what drives the novel's plot.  The book is also like Robert Bloch's Psycho in that it is divided into two parts, each of which is presided over by a different protagonist.

The novel partially takes place during a period in history known as The Anarchy--a nineteen year-long war of succession between King Stephen (also known as Stephen the Usurper) and the Empress Maud following the death of the King Henry's heir, William, aboard the White Ship, which sank off the coast of France in the year 1120.  This incident plays a major role in the political undercurrents which guide the novel's plot (and, besides, is a really interesting era of British history on its own).
And now for an attempt at a spoiler-free plot summary... I suppose I could come up with some keywords and list them in vague order of appearance.  Here goes:

public execution, perjury, maternal morbidity, attempted infanticide, treason, invasion, ecclesiastical trickery, ruination, bribery, LOTS OF WAR, arson, architecture, political cunning, building, evil plots, self-denial, oopsies-babies, epic love stories, more evil plots, global travel, epic disaster, more war, murder, royal succession, court disputes, marriage, divorce, skirmishes, religious miracles, science, public execution, changing the church forever

Ok, the order sort of went to crap towards the middle of the list, but it was spot-on at the beginning and end.  Anyway, there is a LOT that happens, to say the least.  

There are many things that I love about this book.  The characters are strong, and although some of them ended up being written too black-and-white for my taste, they are written vividly and well.  The settings are also stunningly portrayed.  Follett has a real knack for writing engagingly about architecture, of all things, and paints beautiful pictures with his words.  

The plot is also strong in that it honestly does have something for everyone.  Follett keeps the action varied, and in doing so engages his audience even further.  As in 'Crash', the end of the novel sees all the threads coming back together to form a complete, intricate tapestry of intersecting lives and worlds.  The melding of political intrigue, war, religious zeal, and iron-willed industry and innovation is evocative and intriguing.  

When I further analyze my fascination with this book, I have to admit that I've always had a weird, distant sort of fascination with the concept of a God.  I don't consider myself a believer in much other than science and people, but I definitely found myself interested by the frequently-mentioned theme of "God's will".  Watch out.  Some day, when I write a post about East of Eden, this idea--the idea of human will versus what is construed as the will of God--will come up again.  

In summary, I looooved The Pillars of the Earth, and I'll read it again as soon as I get a chance.  

Grade:  A
Rating:  15+, for language and strong adult content (definitely took me by surprise)

Since finishing the book I've also had the chance to watch the recent STARZ channel series.  I was fully aware before I started watching that it wasn't going to be great, since trying to cram such a huge book into a few one-hour episodes was definitely not going to happen.  However, I wasn't expecting to be quite so disappointed.  They drastically changed the fates of certain characters, cut out major themes, and added some really awkward undertones to certain character dynamics (hello, incest?).  The one thing that I felt the series was good for was the portrayal of England at the time.  While Follet's writing provided me with a lot of fabulous mental images, it was nice to have some of the corroborated by actual visuals.  If you haven't read the book and have watched the series, I implore you not to judge a novel by its screen adaptation.  The book is a zillion times better.

Monday, August 30, 2010

New Year

I never bothered to work on drumming up traffic for this sodding blog, so it's no surprise that I'm the only one who reads it.  Not sure why I actually bother posting here, but I think it has more than a little to do with narcissism.  Meh.  At least I have my own little corner of the Interwebs.

This has been a strange summer and, honestly, I could've gone without pretty much 100% of it.  Very little happened that I actually enjoyed, and a great lot of it was actually pretty crappy.  I learned things, I guess, but it was mostly stuff I wish I hadn't had to learn.  People suck, even (especially?) when they're related to you.  No matter how many times you experience loss, it never gets easy.  Folks don't communicate nearly as well as you think they do.  Just because you're nice to someone doesn't mean they aren't going to be an ass in return.  Stuff like that.  It's stuff that one ought to know, in theory, but it doesn't become something to live by until you have to actually experience it yourself.  And then it starts to suck.

It's been a bit of a downer, and I don't really know how to talk about it with people.  Clear solution:  spew it into the endless ether of the Web.  I'm a little disgusted with myself.

Junior year of college starts tomorrow, which is very weird.  People keep using the term "halfway over"to refer to our college experience, and I wish they would quit it because I'm not ready to be done with college.  After college comes medical school (hopefully), and I'm not nearly as excited for that transition as I was for the one from high school.  I want to feel optimistic, but I'm not finding much to work with right now.

I guess I should put things in perspective, though.  I have a great job, and my friends are back on campus now.  I'm still tight as ever with my parents and brother.  I have good relationships, and I'm working on making new ones.  I'm a respected member of the college community--a leader, even.  That's all good stuff.

Classes start soon, and there's nothing for mood-elevation like routine (I suppose).  I'm hoping that this year will be better than last year, and that the burnout I'm concerned about will just leave me alone.

I'm tired.  When I'm not surrounded by people, it's easy for me to sink into dark funks, which are difficult  for me to pull myself out of.  I feel old, and stale.  I hate to think of myself as being dried up and boring at the age of 20, but that's where I seem to have found myself.

This is probably just the fatigue talking.  Things are supposed to look better in the morning, right?      

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Last Airbender: Why I'm Boycotting (And Why You Should Too)

I'm not going to write something all that eloquent, because I'm terribly jet-lagged and very tired, but I figure I should send this out into cyberspace while it still has as a chance of influencing your decisions.

I implore you not to go and see Paramount's new film, The Last Airbender, this weekend in theaters. In fact, I would encourage you not to go see it at all. The reason? Racebending.

If you want a really detailed explanation and analysis of what Racebending is and why it sucks, head over to and take a read or watch some of their informational videos. Here, I'll limit my explanation to to the following:

In the casting and production of The Last Airbender, Paramount has displayed a level of racism that I, for some unknown reason, had come to not expect from Hollywood (silly me!). For those of you who know about the original Nickelodeon cartoon, Avatar: The Last Airbender, the source material for Paramount's new film is an American-made anime-style cartoon which features an entirely Asian/Inuit cast of characters. However, in the translation of this TV series to the silver screen, Paramount has made the inspired decision to replace all of the Asian heros with Caucasian ones, going so far as to ask specifically for white actors in their casting calls for the lead roles.

In addition to this, both actors and members of the casting crew have produced various quotational gems that amount to nothing more or less than a suggestion and expectation of brownface (see Wikipedia for more information). Here's a delightful bit from Deedee Ricketts, the film's casting director:

"If you're Korean, come in a kimono. If you're from Belgium wear lederhosen. Even if you came with a scarf today, put it over your head so you'll look like a Ukrainian villager or whatever."

Cute, right?

The best part is that there's more. Not only did Paramount decide to just ignore the fact that the show's heroes are Asian, but they decided to color code things for us a little bit in case we didn't get the fact that they were being just a wee bit racist. Which, of course, is why just about all of the actors playing the antagonists are South Asian, aka "brown". Thanks, Paramount for solidifying for us once and for all that white = good and brown = bad.

So that's racebending for you. I can't imagine that the decision was made for any other reason than for a perceived monetary benefit, since I don't imagine Paramount having a KKK-type agenda (though I could be wrong). And maybe that's what makes it worse. See, "Avatar" as shown on Nickelodeon is one of the only existing American cartoons that actually has Asian heroes. For just about the first time, Asian kids have self-reliant, able protagonists who look like them.

To a lot of people this might not seem like a big deal, but allow me to remind you of the fervor that surrounded the creation of Disney's first black princess, Tiana. If having a Disney character to aspire to was so important to black youth, is it at all difficult to imagine that the same might be true for Asian kids? Don't they deserve to know that you can be Asian and still save the world--that being a hero doesn't necessitate Caucasian descent? This, I think, is what boils my blood the most about Paramount's adaptation--the fact that it strips "Avatar" of what makes it special to so many of its fans around the world. It tells Asian kids that they aren't worthy of telling their own story--that someone pretending to look like them can tell it better than they can. And that's a sad thing.

This is an annoyingly long note, so if you read it all the way through I offer you serious props and thanks. I suggest you look critically at this issue instead of brushing it aside as a trivial matter of pop-culture. I encourage you to maybe even do a little research of your own. Most of all, though, I really hope you and your friends will take this into consideration when making the decision of which movie to go see at the theater this weekend and in the future. Since protests and letter-writing campaigns have clearly failed, Paramount will have to face a monetary blow if it is to learn a lesson from this experience at all, and only a failure at the box office will do.

If nothing else, be comforted by this: according to Rotten Tomatoes, this movie seriously blows.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Quick note--

Quick post before I hop in the car and head to the airport--
I finished The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman.  It's a piece of historical fiction based in 1700s, cholera-stricken England and has a troubled surgeon and an equally-troubled prostitute as its protagonists.  
I don't have much time to go into great detail, so I'll just tell you that once I got a good bite of the plot I couldn't put the book down.  Holman's tart, sassy prose keeps you coming back for more and lends new life to writing about this time period.

You should read it. 
More later.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Good Old Mr. Kissel

A lot of stuff has happened since I last posted, and most of it is stuff that even the phantom readers of this readerless blog won't actually care about. In summary, sophomore year is over. That includes organic chemistry, which I couldn't be happier to be over and done with (though, as my mom likes to remind me, I can't forget about it quite yet thanks to the impending MCATs). I'm looking forward to junior year.

As I've mentioned before, I'm spending the summer on campus doing research, which should be interesting. In an attempt to stave off any potential burn-out or homesickness, my parents were cool enough to fly me home for the weekend, so I'm sitting in the airport waiting for my flight back to Claremont. On my way to my terminal, I stopped in a restroom to, y'know, fix my hair...and was all of a sudden struck by how automated to the whole place was. Now that toilets, faucets, and even soap and towel dispensers are motion-sensitive, you don't have to touch anything. It's pretty wild.

This is something that I feel like my old science teacher, Mr. Kissel, would have appreciated. When I was a kid in his second grade science class, he had me living in fear of the bacteria that hangs out on toilet flushes, door handles, and everywhere else. "What's the point in washing your hands after using the restroom?" he would ask, "When the next thing you do is touch a door handle that's covered in bacteria?"

To keep us germ-free, Mr. Kissel used to have us dip our hands in a bucket of chlorine-treated water that he kept outside of the classroom before and after class, and then shake the water off so we wouldn't have to ruin our cleanliness with a bacteria-covered paper towel.

Mr. Kissel is the same guy who taught us how to count in binary, froze ping pong balls in liquid nitrogen, and gave us a very good mnemonic device for remembering the planets of the solar system (My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas...though I suppose it's moot now, what with Pluto not being a planet anymore and all). I credit him with much of my interest in science, so way to go Mr. Kissel!

I hope he's doing well.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


So it turns out that the flowers I bought on Sunday are not tiger lilies but are, in fact, orange Asiatic Lilies. The color is somewhat more subtle than I expected.
It's been really fun to watch them bloom throughout the week.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


I've been busy and, on top of that, I've been feeling lazy so I haven't posted in a while.
So here's a quick catch-up on what's been going on...through pictures~

1. Saw Sandra Day O'Conner speak. It was interesting, but it sounded more like an infomercial for her new KID-FRIENDLY INTERACTIVE website than a talk to be given to college students.

2. Did some delicious cooking with my friends. We had an adventure finding ingredients, and eventually we didn't even get all the stuff we needed, so it was a lesson in improvisation. The food came out quite deliciously though... Fusilli in tomato cream sauce and a pizza with roasted garlic, fresh tomato, and gorgonzola & feta cheese. Tasty.

3. The Red Cross Club, which I'm part of, held a CPR/First Aid Training event that went really well. We got to play with dummies and bandage people up. Good times! We got a bunch of people certified.

4. My sponsor was babysitting an adorable little puppy named Meryl. We went and played with her. Those of us on campus who have dogs back home tend to go into withdrawal, so it was awesome to actually have a puppy all to ourselves for a couple hours.

5. My fellow Red Cross Club VP, Gabi, brought a delicious cake in to our meeting last week! And she even had the bakery personalize it. So. Pretty.

6. Last week I decided to make the great leap and buy a mixed bouquet. It was rewarding. They were pretty (and stayed fresh for most of the week, too!). Orange/red Gerber daisies, azaleas, some unknown pretty purple-and-white things, and fern fronds. Love it.

7. I started making pretty hair clip things with all the scrap yarn I have sitting around. They're fun and easy to make, even though crochet isn't really my thing.

8. I saved the best part for last. My little brother came and visited me this weekend and we went and saw Russell Peters perform on campus. It was FANTASTIC. We had great seats--super-close to the stage, but just far enough that he couldn't pick on us. I haven't laughed that much in ages.
Photography was ultra-prohibited, so I didn't risk taking any pictures.

I put the boy on a plane back home this morning, and I'm already feeling the family withdrawal. It was a wonderful weekend. My brother brought me a vase from home, so now I don't have to do the sad thing where I arrange beautiful flowers in an unsightly water bottle.

This week, my brother paid for my flowers so I bought ten bucks worth of what I'm pretty sure are tiger lillies (Mr. Florist's nephew wasn't 100% sure, but I like lillies in general so I'm pretty sure it's worth the risk).

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sunday Flowers

I have no idea what these are called, but they caught my eye as I was walking through the market this Sunday and I just had to have them. The Mr. Florist who I usually go to had an unusually small selection, so I went to the other guy and picked up these beauties

I still don't have a legit vase, so I'm still doing a terrible injustice to these by storing them in the Arrowhead bottle. Sad...
To be fair, I've trimmed the stems since taking this picture, so they fit better in the...vase...but still. Yuck.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

EoE Progress

Since returning to school my progress on reading East of Eden has been...zilcho. Predictable. I don't have free time, and when I do have free time I tend to spend it doing brain-dead things. So sad. TV>Steinbeck? Well, no, but it's easier to zone out while watching TV than it is while reading. I'll have to get back into it soon...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sunday Flowers

Today I bought what Mr. Florist calls "fragrancy lilacs". I'm absolutely delighted by them. They smell lovely. :)

The process of getting them into a vase was pretty involved. Mr. Florist's assistant told me that I should crush the stems of the flowers so they'd pick up water better, and he said to use a hammer to do so because the stems are pretty woody. Unfortunately I don't have a hammer here at school so I just used the wrong end of a screwdriver. I've never made use of such an involved kit of tools in arranging a bouquet of flowers before...

There's also the snag that the friend of mine who lent me his vase needed it back, so I'm currently out one vase. Luckily for me a freshman of mine was kind enough to donate a giant water bottle to my cause. Thanks, Marco!

The only unfortunate thing is that apparently the ants think that these flowers smell delightful too, so they invaded my room this evening to take a whiff. Happily, my RA has sprays of death and destruction readily available outside of her room. Needless to say, the invaders have been routed. Woo!

Such lovely color contrast! Thanks, Mr. Florist! Now my next mission is to get a real vase...

Friday, March 26, 2010


I've received a grant to do research on campus for the summer.
This should make me happy, but it sort of doesn't. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm kind of sick of Claremont. Sophomore year for premeds is notoriously difficult, and even though I've done pretty well, it hasn't been easy. I was hoping to spend a quiet couple of months at home with my family, continuing research at the lab where I worked last summer. In all honesty, the research would've been pretty secondary to everything else I had planned--the epic reading lists, the backpacking trips, cooking, playing with my dog, and finally learning to use my dad's fancy camera. I won't be able to do a lot of that if I'm spending the summer on campus, and I guess that has me a little down.
The obvious thing to do is talk to my advisor about my options ASAP and see what she thinks. I do feel like I'd be a fool to turn down a paid on-campus research opportunity, though... We'll see.
In other news, I participated in a murder-mystery dinner this evening that was put together by one of the lovely freshmen on my floor. It was quite the adventure (though there was no dinner actually involved...)!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Book 15: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Cool fact: my aunt is Audrey Niffenegger's physician.

I guess that doesn't count as having a real celebrity connection, but it's within six degrees of separation so it's good enough for me. My aunt was cool enough to take my copy of her first novel,The Time Traveler's Wife, back with her to Chicago after her last visit to be signed, and she recently sent me a "mission accomplished" email. Apparently, Audrey Niffenegger thinks my name is pretty.

Awesome? Indubitably.

Unfortunately what isn't awesome is the experience I had reading her latest novel, Her Fearful Symmetry. It was one of those books that I bought in that epic Border's gift card splurge I went on at the end of last semester. Seeing as The Time Traveler's Wife is more or less my favorite novel, I was expecting greatness from this new addition to Niffenegger's body of work. Maybe that was the problem, since I was sorely disappointed with the novel in light of my great expectations.

Her Fearful Symmetry is about two identical mirror twins--Julia and Valentina--and, by extension, about their mother (Edie) and her estranged identical twin sister (Elspeth). The novel opens with Elspeth's death. She bequeaths her estate and most of her worldly possessions to her young nieces, stating that they will come into their inheritance at age 21 with the conditions that they live in her London flat for at least a year before selling it and that. The girls, who at age 20 have floated in and out of various colleges and now live in their parents' home in Chicago, decide to take Elspeth's offer.

They arrive in London a year later, Valentina more reluctantly than the bossy, dominant Julia. The two establish themselves in Elspeth's apartment next to London's famous Highgate Cemetery and explore the city together. Eventually they meet Elspeth's elusive lover, Robert, and Martin, an older man living in the building with persistent, debilitating OCD.

The novel quickly begins to explore the relationship between the twins. While highly dependent on each other, Julia and Valentina have very different ideas of what it means to be a twin, and Valentina spends much of the novel trying to emancipate herself from Julia. Her budding romance with the much-older Robert proves to be particularly divisive.

And then there's the ghost story. It turns out that Elspeth's ghost is still skulking around the apartment, and while she at first can't be detected or heard, she observes everything and eventually becomes able to communicate with Julia and Valentina using a Ouija Board set-up. The ghost story and Valentina's desire for individuality come together in what I consider to be a tragic but rather predictable end to the story, which I won't reveal here.

I was not pleased by this book. Besides being written in a manner that makes it difficult to really bond with or relate to the characters, the style is murky and lacks the fluidity and detail that made Niffenegger's first novel such a joy to read. It comes off as less intelligent and more gimmick-y than her previous work.

While the characters are life-like and believable, I found it easy to read about them without caring what happened to them (this is with exception to Martin, who was actually remarkably well-written and is arguably the single-most interesting character in the entire novel). The emotional developments of the characters are all so on the surface that there is no brain work left for the reader to do. Instead of being the literary experience that The Time Traveler's Wifewas for me, with its running themes and emotional undercurrents, Her Fearful Symmetry was something of a joke--predictable, cliched, and too much like the run-of-the-mill paperback. I wasn't a huge fan of the supernatural aspect of the story either, though it's undoubtedly a very cool idea. I guess it just wasn't for me.

Like I said before, maybe the biggest mistake I'm making in all of this is continually comparing Niffenegger's two books, but I think it's fair to hold one work to the standards of its predecessor. The conclusion I've come to regarding Her Fearful Symmetry is this: sweet idea, but lackluster execution. The book could have been shorter, less convoluted, and much more interesting.

Grade: C+
Rating: 13+ for mild language, minimal sexual content.

PS: Cool fact--I was presented with my high school diploma by none other than MC Hammer. And, what's more, I got a hug. That's right. I touched that. How d'you like me now? :P

Monday, March 22, 2010

Seven Weeks Left...

Spring break's over and it's my first night back in my dorm. Classes start tomorrow morning at 8AM.
I miss home already.
Good night.

Friday, March 12, 2010

East of Eden

Spring Break started on Friday, which means I have a good week at home to do whatever I want. Yesterday, I finally tucked into East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I bought a copy of the book after reading The Grapes of Wrath during my junior year of high school, so it's been sitting on my bookshelf waiting for me to crack it open for three years. I think it's about time.

I fell in love with Steinbeck's use of language in The Grapes of Wrath, and even though I'm only a few chapters into East of Eden it's clear that it's going to be just as beautiful to read, if not more-so. Steinbeck thought of this book as his magnum opus, and described it as the book that he had been practicing to write for his entire career. That's pretty heavy if you think about it, since Steinbeck has a lot of amazing novels to his name.

Apparently the major theme in this novel is Biblical, as seems to be the case with so many of the world's great works of literature. In particular, East of Eden parallels the story of Cain
and Abel, the ill-fated sons of Adam and Eve. Since I don't know very much about the Bible (most of my knowledge of it is derived from Mr. Deity, which you should totally go check out; it's hilarious), I did a Wikipedia search on the subject. This is what I found:
Adam knew his wife Eve intimately, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain. She said, "I have had a male child with the LORD's help."[33] 2Then she also gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel became a shepherd of a flock, but Cain cultivated the land. 3In the course of time Cain presented some of the land's produce as an offering to the LORD. 4And Abel also presented [an offering][34]— some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions.[35] The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5but He did not have regard for Cain and his offering. Cain was furious, and he was downcast.[36] 6Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you furious? And why are you downcast?[37] 7If you do right, won't you be accepted? But if you do not do right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must master it." 8Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field."[38] And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Cool. Yay, murderous creepy people! This should be a fun read.

Being home makes me feel like I must be just east of Eden myself. My family lives in a seriously beautiful place. It's the kind of beauty that you don't really get over, even after living
surrounded by it for a long time like I have. I love spending time with my folks, and being able to get away from school for a few days isn't shabby either.

That's not to say that I don't have piles of homework to finish by the time I get back. I have little to no idea as to how I'm ever going to get this organic chemistry problem set done...