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...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Scripps Dinners, Party Weekends, and Mystery Flowers

Last week was pretty busy, and kind of stressful too. On top of having multiple tests to take and several important assignments due, I've been conducting zillions and zillions of interviews as part of my new job, so that's been going on all week as well.

My friends and I decided to get away from campus for dinner on Friday night, mostly in an effort to get away from the junk our dining hall tends to serve on Fridays. The four of us headed up to Scripps College for food and sat there talking until the dining hall staff turned out the lights on us, which we pretty much took as a cue to leave.

David picked a cherry blossom sprig on the walk to dinner. They were rather pretty. :)

In spite of intentions to go to bed early, we ended up going for a late-night walk around campus. On Friday night, our college hosted a concert by Lupe Fiasco, and aside from that there were a lot of parties going on. Needless to say, we ran into a lot of people who were not quite at their best. We even managed to catch a glimpse of one of our drunken contemporaries laying claim a light post. With his urine. Classy moment? Not so much.

A positive outcome of the excursion, though, was the discovery these beauties growing in one of the flower beds on the quad:

I have no idea what kind of flowers these are, but if anyone out there in the void does know, I'd definitely appreciate a heads-up!

After finding the lovely specimen above, I figured I wouldn't be buying flowers from the market this week. Of course, I was wrong. How could I have possibly passed these up?

Clearly, I couldn't resist. And why would I ever want to? These orchids are sitting on my desk in the bud vase that my mom cleverly devised from a broken olive oil drizzler. They're so lovely to look at that sometimes I'm almost sorry to get up from my desk after finishing my homework for the night. Almost, but not quite, of course.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Happy National Reading Month!

Well, I suppose the title says it all. March is apparently National Reading Month in the United States. I'm not sure when this was designated, but it's good to see that people still want to celebrate literature and the simple joy that reading a good book can provide. I'll always be grateful to my dad who, even after an exhaustingly long day at work, would diligently read me a story before bed just about every night when I was little. He to this day enjoys reminding me of how I used to jab him with my elbow to wake him up if he, God forbid, fell asleep while reading to me. Apparently I've always been a book fiend.

I hope you get to enjoy some quality reading this month, whether it's a piece of classic literature or a childhood favorite. I myself hope to buckle down and read at least a good chunk of Steinbeck's East of Eden while I'm on spring break. Wish me luck!

(Image courtesy of ModCloth.com)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Three Colors of Sky

I was standing in the exact same place on my college campus when I took these pictures. The sky sure looks different in all of them...
Oh, SoCal...you never fail to astound/amaze/confuse me!

Featured in the bottom left corner of this picture is my lovely
friend over at Striped Green Gloves. Go check
her stuff out--she writes a mean
music blog.
Just look at that sky!