Sunday, June 26, 2016

Book Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Book: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Genre: Fantasy, historical fiction
Awards: Hugo Award for Best Novel (2005), Locus Award for Best First Novel (2005), World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (2005), Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature (2005), Book Sense Book of the Year Award for Adult Fiction (2005), etc… (Just read it, already!)
My rating: 5/5 stars
Short description: Practical magic

At first, I didn’t know if I would like this book or not. The premise had me feeling a little wary, but I enjoy reading fantasy and felt in the mood for a nice, long book. So I checked this one out from the library. It came in three volumes, making it feel more like I was reading a continuous trilogy instead of a massive, 1,000-page book. (My fingers thank the publisher for this decision by the way; I didn’t experience any of those horrible cramps from holding a heavy book for too long.)

In all, it took me about a week to get through. Although it is not particularly fast-paced, it is rather interesting, and I kept turning the pages wanting to absorb more and more of the story. What I enjoyed most was the writing style. The book had a very English feel, with constant remarks about the weather and the sophisticated nature of scholarship, both of which I can appreciate even more having lived and studied abroad in England.

Likewise, Clarke’s style was quite witty at points and yet practical at others. I particularly enjoyed one scene where Strange is trying to figure out how to move a massive ship that accidentally got beached, he talks through several scenarios with the seamen, much to his confusion with all their nautical terms. Instead of—I don’t know if it would work this way—simply moving the ship, he creates horses out of sand to drag the ship back to sea. Well, I suppose that’s one way to do it!

Another thing I appreciated about the novel was Clarke’s attention to detail. Magic plays a large role in the story, it’s central characters being magicians, but there’s so much more. I’ve never read anything set during the Napoleonic Wars, so it was fascinating to learn more about this time period. Similarly, Clarke includes the impact of war abroad and at home, married life versus a life of single intellectualism, politics, weather (obviously; it’s England), and a particular attention to books.

One particular passage that captures the style and love for books is where Mr. Norrell is invited to a party and, being a scholar devoted to books, finds it a rather awkward occasion:

“He was sick of the noise and sight of so many people and determined to go quietly away, but it so happened that just at that moment the crowds about the door were particularly impenetrable; he was caught up in a current of people and carried away to quite another part of the room. Round and round he went like a dry leaf caught up in a drain; in one of these turns around the room he discovered a quiet corner near a window. A tall screen of carved ebony inlaid with mother-of-pearl half-hid – ah! what bliss this was! – a bookcase.”

Although Mr. Norrell has a tendency to be a miserly, greedy gentleman, it is instances like these when I can’t help but relate with him. But if it came to picking between the magicians Norrell and Strange I prefer Strange, despite the fact that he can be arrogant and mad at times, even deliberately. But I particularly enjoyed the relationship he has with his wife, Arabella.

I would recommend this to readers of fantasy, particularly those who like books, people who love England and history, and/or students who don’t mind long footnotes interrupting paragraphs. While this book may not be for everybody, I’ve been particularly harsh on books this year, and I gave this one 5/5 stars.

For quite a while now, I’d been complaining about not finding the book I was looking for—something fat, something entertaining, and something thought-provoking. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was just that book. I’m only sad it’s over. Now I just have the BBC adaptation to look forward to...


Have you read this book? What did you think of it? If you haven’t, has it made it to your TBR list yet? What’s been on one your favorite books so far this year?

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Do What YOU Enjoy

When I was a kid, I used to daydream about how soon I’d be out of school. If the average American graduated high school at 18 then spent four years at college, then I would be free from school by 22. But life doesn’t always turn out the way you plan. As my dad would always say, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans for the future.”

As I neared the end of my senior year in college, I said I’d never go to grad school. I’d heard too many horror stories of people who went to grad school only to give up reading because they never wanted to touch another book again or others who had grad school completely kill their creativity. What kind of torture could possibly make anybody stop reading and writing? How could I survive? Then there was the workload. I cried after a grad student came into our senior seminar class to talk to us about what it was like to study English Literature at a master’s level.

That’s when I made up my mind I’d NEVER go to grad school. Long story short, God had other plans, and now I’m studying English Literature at the university of my choice. During my first semester, I decided I’d be creative anyway, despite what everybody else said. So what if other people found postgraduate studies to have killed their creativity? That didn’t mean it had to kill mine.
So it was that I’d spend most of the week reading for classes, stressing out on a weekly basis, and editing my novel as study breaks. That’s right. My study breaks. Yeah, sure, I’d still pick up a book every now and then, though I’d try to limit it to the weekends because I tended to get sucked into the novels and neglect my coursework until I got to the end of the book. That only lasted a semester though. Last spring, for every book I read for school, I read two for fun.

Double rainbow during one of my many bike rides.
If anything, I’d say that studying at a postgraduate level has made me more creative. Every other week, I jot down a poem, which I didn’t use to do. Whenever I get a rejection letter from a literary agent, I just send out another query. And I set aside every Sunday to ignore my school completely and just write. Or read. Or go for bike rides to my local park.

Aside from all the stuff I’ve been learning in my classes, I’ve learned that my circumstances don’t have to determine what I enjoy. Just because my coursework can get pretty overwhelming doesn’t mean I should give up doing what I enjoy. No two people are alike, so why should I become less creative just because somebody else was? Life is too short to stop doing the things I’m passionate about just because I struggle with my day job as a full time student.

So if you enjoy writing or painting or whatever, go for it! Make your passions a priority. And don’t let other people determine what you can and cannot do.
Tweet: Make your passions a priority. And don’t let other people determine what you can and cannot do. Do What YOU Enjoy #WordStormblog

While I may not have all the time in the world to write, I look forward to the day when I can write more often. Perhaps even on a daily basis. And I still look forward to graduation. As for the possibility of my studying at a doctorate level—well—it would take a miracle. But my mom always used to say God has a great sense of humor…


What are you passionate about? Were there ever times when your studies/work conflicted with your passions?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Don't Judge a Book By Its Cover

You know that one thing readers say you should never do? Never judge a book by it’s cover, right? Well, I’m guilty as charged. I do this all the time. Even though I’ve grown up hearing this phrase, and yes, I believe it’s important, I still do it. Why is that?

Several reasons actually. It’s there something just marvelous about art? When visual art is combined with the power of words, a magical thing is created. How can we not judge a book by its cover if we are predetermined to judge art? If you don’t believe me, take a look at two of my collections:

Don’t tell me they’re not pretty. Look at the details on those covers! On the left, you can see so many layers in the night sky, and if you look closely at Sherlock’s silhouette on the right you can see it’s made up of smaller images. (Yes, I did keep the price tag on Arabian Nights. No, you can’t buy it from me. I like the peel the stickers off gradually as I read because I’m a fiddler, [not the musical type].)

But there come times when art can be misleading, discouraging readers from picking up particular books. Take this one for example:

I hate this cover. This is actually a library copy. When I was reading it for my class Speculative Fictions, I was super self-conscious, kept the cover facing down whenever I was in public. In fact, from the very cover, I thought I’d hate the book itself. Instead, I ended up liking it and giving it 4/5 stars. Yes, the cover is crude, and there are some parts of the book that were disturbing, but I appreciated how Fevvers is a woman who ultimately doesn’t rely on other people for her identity, and throughout the book gender norms are often reversed. And the writing style is poetical.

On the other hand, pretty covers can be misleading.

I’d say this one is intriguing to say the least. It can lead readers to ask questions and crack open the book? Why is the sun so big? What’s the ruined structure? Who are the characters? And to be honest, even though I’ve read the book, I still don’t know. Last and First Men only has a couple selected characters. Humankind is the main character of this book. Overall, while I found everything rather interesting, I didn’t care for the book and gave it 2/5 stars.

Then there’s my Tolkien collection.

Not bad, right? Sure, some people don’t care for movie adaptations as covers, and sure this scene is from THE TWO TOWERS, but the book itself is good. And besides, it matches The Silmarillion in size and looks nice next to it on my shelf. Then I went out and bought these beauties:

Brilliant right? The shading, the angles, oh, I just love it. Except they don’t match. But in a way, this mishmash of editions is like my life as an army brat. I’ve moved around so much that I’ve picked up various cultures along the way. They may be different, and I’ve lived in different states and countries for different lengths of time. But despite my experiences, I’m still me on the inside.

Covers are unreliable. Yes, they can be pretty (or maybe not), but they are not the end-all-be-all of books. The words are. That’s why we read books, isn’t it? For the words? Yet it’s still difficult to separate an idea of a book (the cover) from the book itself (the individual words) until you’ve actually read it.

So, how do we go about not judging a book by its cover? Here are just a few tips that I use:

1)     Read the back blurb first.

If you can, don’t even look at the cover. Just read the description on the back or online. This will help give you a sense of the story more so than the cover. I did this with We Were Liars (4/5 stars; definitely recommend. Book review coming soon!).

Pros: Getting actual words!
Cons: Sometimes the back blurb gives away important parts of the book. If this book came with a recommendation, just skip the cover entirely and read the book!

2)     Ask for recommendations.

Word of mouth is a great way to find good books because they’ve already passed the test of at least one person.

Pros: If you enjoy the book, you already have somebody to discuss it with and you might find even more good books to read in the future.
Cons: Different people have different tastes. Until you find somebody who has similar tastes as you, you might end up with recommendations you hate.  

3)     Read reviews.

This is one of my favorite things to do. Not only do you get to read the blurb, which tells me what it’s about, but you can actually read what other people thought about it and why they did or didn’t like it. I even like to read the bad reviews because if all of the negative reviews center around the book being too long or simply too poetical, I’ll probably pick it up.

Pros: You’re more likely to know what you’re getting into, and it can lead you to think about things you wouldn’t have considered before.
Cons: Other people’s opinions can taint yours and potentially ruin your chances of picking up or enjoying a book.

4)     Take a chance.

Whether it’s grabbing a book merely based off the title, reading a book because of an ugly cover, or buying one of those books wrapped in paper so you can’t see the cover or the blurb (a.k.a. a blind date with a book), go for it. No matter how much pre-reading prep you do, reading a book is always taking a chance. So what are you waiting for?

Pros: You get to read a book! Who knows what you’ll discover.
Cons: You might choose the wrong book and end up spending money on something you don’t enjoy. But then, you’ll just have to get another one. 

I hope this helps. And remember, despite all the temptation, don’t judge a book by its cover. You never know which favorites you might discover if you take a chance! 


Be honest, how often—if ever—do you judge a book by its cover? What’s your favorite book cover? What are some of the ways you pick which books to read? 

Literary references: Tales from the Arabian Nights, translated by Sir Richard Francis Burton, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Other Stories, Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus, Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, and E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Seat D30: A Poem

If you’ve ever been on an airplane, you know they can be uncomfortable things. If you’re a passenger, you have the privilege of arriving an hour or more before your flight, hustling through security (hopefully without getting pulled aside and patted down. Awkward!), searching for your gate, waiting to get on the plane, all so you can sit in an uncomfortable seat for at least an hour in a pressurized container with recycled air. If you’re fortunate, you won’t get stuck behind a crying baby, in front of a restless child kicking your seat, or near somebody who’s sick. (The latter of which doesn’t, ultimately matter. I did mention it was recycled air right?

But don’t let me put you off flying! I thoroughly enjoy travelling. I really do. And flying often is the most convenient, even if it’s not the most comfortable, way to do it. I can’t count how many times I’ve flown, but I remember flying all by myself for the first time at age 14 and was quite comfortable with doing so. Today, international travel for me is a breeze! (As long as you don’t check your luggage, don’t wear bejeweled pants/shirt/belt, ensure you have all your liquids separate, etc., etc.)

Perhaps the most interesting thing about international flights are the views, and I’m not just talking about the transatlantic ones where you get a mini TV. No, by far, the best views are the ones of foreign countries—the coastline of England, the rolling hills of Ireland, the rivers of Germany, and the Alps of Austria and Switzerland. Oh, the Alps? How can I describe the majestic beauties?

I’ve always found myself in awe of mountains, having lived in both Washington State and Hawai’i, but nothing can compare to the Alps, as far as I’ve seen anyway. I’ve had the privilege of driving through them, biking through them, and just admiring them the day I turned 18. So you can image what a change of perspective flying over them was. Even though everything seems so much smaller, the mountain range couldn’t diminish in beauty. It just reminded me of how small and insignificant the human race can seem.

Seat D30

Have you ever felt the pulse of the earth?
Like waves in the ocean, a jagged storm,
tumultuous ripples in the powdered pie crust
pulsing beat after beat after beat in the monitor.
The claws of the soil press upward,
cutting through the green-and-white glaciers like an orange peel,
cracking, ripping, groaning.
The engines howl as the pregnant mountains kick
in a frozen snapshot of miniscule grandeur.
A silver jet putters like a slug,
streaking her filth over the mist,
the smudge on Her rounded belly.
A flash in a crevice, a sidewalk crack
down, down below whispers we are mere atoms, the salt in the crust.
The moon whirls overhead, caught in time,
like an electron, positive that her silver pimples are not alone.


What’s your favorite mountain range? What awe-inspiring sights have you experienced?

Similar posts: Backspace, Riptide, Starlight.