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Twilight (Stephenie Meyer)

With all the hoopla about the new Twilight movie coming out, I was considering finally picking up a copy of the book(s). I love the colours and designs of the book covers, but for some reason or other, I never got around to actually purchasing a copy.

I was in PageOne, the local English bookstore, earlier this week to pick up some gifts and other miscellaneous items, when I noticed that there was a very prominent display of the Twilight books and merchandise near the entrance. Being curious, I took a look. The paperbacks were about US$15 each, so I wasn't too keen on getting one. However, the freebies really excited me (I'm such a cheapskate *lol*), so I picked up a free "special chapter preview" of the first book, and a free movie postcard. Who knows, maybe they'll be worth something on Ebay in a year or two.

Now, Twilight is tremendously, insanely popular among the tween/teen set (and their moms) in the US, or so the media would have us believe. It's been likened to some emo, goth, high school, watered-down version of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles (the first 3 books of which were great, but everything after that was just self-indulgent overkill) meets The Lost Boys meets Romeo+Juliet (the Baz Luhrman version, not the Shakespeare version). I don't have anything against YA fiction: there are plenty of great books for young adults out there, such as Golden Compass, Harry Potter, etc. I even like "kids' books" like Watership Down and Little Women. Damn, even the Sweet Valley High series was better than this.

Granted, I've only read the preview first 2 chapters of Twilights, but already I have some issues with the book: 
  1. The writing style - it's like some bad Mary-Sue fanfiction written by a hormone-ridden teenager. I guess that maybe since it was narrated in the first person by the teenage protagonist, Bella, the author wanted it to sound "authentic". It reads like crap, though. For example:
  2. Just as I passed, he suddenly went rigid in his seat. He stared at me again, meeting my eyes with the strangest expression on his face - it was hostile, furious. I looked away quickly, shocked, going red again. I stumbled over a book in the walkway and had to catch myself on the edge of a table. The girl sitting there giggled.

    I'd noticed that his eyes were black - coal black.

    Argh! What terrible claptrap. There are many fanfic writers who write better than Meyer does.

  3. Bella starts off as a bit annoying and self-sacrificing, as she moves in with her dad so that her mom and her mom's boyfriend can enjoy themselves, and how she cooks and cleans etc for her dad. It's all very "woe is me"...
  4. The author disregards a fundamental storytelling rule: show, don't tell. She tells us everything, rather than let information come through naturally via the story.
  5. None of the events in the first 2 chapters are very subtle. Edward glares at Bella a lot and seemingly can't stand the sight or smell of her. He "glares", "stares" and "glares" again at Bella three times in the first chapter alone! OMG, I wonder why that is?! (Hmmff.) There are also five mentions of Edward's "tousled bronzed hair" in the first two preview chapters alone. This is terrible, terrible story-telling. It's almost insulting to the intelligence of the reader.
  6. Finally, although I don't normally subscribe too much to feminist rants, this article in the Guardian newspaper made some valid points about what's wrong with Twilight:
  7. Twilight's underlying message - that self-sacrifice makes you a worthy girlfriend, that men mustn't be excited beyond a certain point, that men with problems must be forgiven everything, that female passivity is a state to be encouraged - are no good to anyone. It should be staked through its black, black heart.

I'm glad that I didn't shell out my hard-earned cash to buy the book and settled for the free preview chapters, but I do see the attractions of this book for readers who will like the emo, angsty, passionate love-hate melodrama in this book. I must say, though, that I do read a LOT of trashy and sometimes bad books, but it is rare that I feel insulted, rather than just bored, by a poorly-written book. Most of the trashy books I read are not pretending to be anything else -- Twilight seems to be a romantic emo teen vampire fanfic masquerading as respectable reading.

In all fairness, though, perhaps I should read the whole book before condemning it, but I don't want to spend the money to buy it..

John Betjeman - Loneliness

The last year's leaves are on the beech:
The twigs are black; the cold is dry;
To deeps byond the deepest reach
The Easter bells enlarge the sky.
O ordered metal clatter-clang!
Is yours the song the angels sang?
You fill my heart with joy and grief -
Belief! Belief! And unbelief...
And, though you tell me I shall die,
You say not how or when or why.

Indifferent the finches sing,
Unheeding roll the lorries past:
What misery will this year bring
Now spring is in the air at last?
For, sure as blackthorn bursts to snow,
Cancer in some of us will grow,
The tasteful crematorium door
Shuts out for some the furnace roar;
But church-bells open on the blast
Our loneliness, so long and vast.


It's really dorky, but I love books, especially second-hand ones, because I like to imagine that the books have their own story beyond what's written in their pages:

1. David Attenborough's Life on Air

I recently ordered David Attenborough's autobiography, Life on Air, from a bookseller via Amazon.com. It arrived yesterday, but I didn't manage to take a look at the book until this evening.

It looked like a regular paperback until I flipped open to the first page, where I discovered that it was autographed by the man himself to a person called "Ann". I'm just very curious, because the original owner of the book, "Ann", obviously was a big enough fan of David Attenborough to buy his autobiography and also to attend a book signing. Why, then, would she get rid of the book? Also, it's the British edition (£7.99), so how did it end up in a second-hand book seller's in Hammond, Indiana? I suppose I'm romanticizing things, but I find the book's journey quite interesting. And now it's in my apartment in suburban Hong Kong. It's really gone around the world. :)

2. P.G. Wodehouse's Much Obliged, Jeeves

A while ago, I bought the above short story from a second-hand book store in Hong Kong for HK$5 (less than US$1). It turned out to have been published in the UK in 1971, but had come from a lending library in Chennai, India! The Indian library is called the Easwari Lending Library, see above photo. I wonder how it ended up in Hong Kong (from one former British colony to another)!

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

I recently bought this book guide/list, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (edited by Peter Boxall), and though I would hesitate to call it a definitive list, it has some interesting choices. On the positive side, I like how it includes not just English-language novels, but I don't like how it can include so many novels by the same authors (sure, Jane Eyre, but should Villette really be included here? Same with all those J.M. Coetzee novels here..). Also, there is relatively little Asian representation here, and it's very heavy on contemporary novels (I mean, 69 of their best books of all time came from the six scant years of the 21st century so far??).  After seeing David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest on this list, I think I really must look up his writing.

The ones I've read are in bold.
The full list of 1001 booksCollapse )

some non-fiction

I've been reading a lot of non-fiction recently.

I recommend:

Under the Banner of Heaven: A History of Violent Faith
A history of the Mormons - the fastest growing religion in the world. I was inspired by the trip to Utah and Salt Lake City. It was interesting to learn about the fervor and violence of Mormonism's early years. I read a newspaper in Utah that talked about a guy getting prosecuted for "plural marriage" (i.e. polygamy) but his "celestial wife" who was under 20 yrs old refused to testify against her much-older husband. I was very intrigued by this section of US society that seem so extreme, so different from what we consider as "normal".

Salt: A World History

I bought it at the airport in Vancouver for reading on the plane. It's very interesting, as well as talking about the usual Chinese, Roman, etc. history of salt, there is talk about how salt caused wars, rise/fall of nations and trades, etc. It dragged a bit in places (especially the technical parts about mines and the chemical composition of various kinds of salts). One chapter talked about how prisoners several hundred years ago were preserved in salt if they died before they could stand trial. Their salted, preserved corpse would be taken to the courtroom and tried by the judge etc. So bizarre!

There was one 1860s snippet from one of the chapters about the US Civil War that was sooo funny.

Confederate States Almanac: "To keep meat from spoiling in the summer: eat it in the spring."

I just found that wonderful. *LOL*


I started Jung Chang's Mao: The Unknown Story but it's very heavy going. I'm on an extended break and decided to start The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America instead.

Thomas Hardy - Two on a Tower

Rating: 6.5/10 (If I weren't such a fan of Hardy's style, I would just give it a 5)

Synopsis: This is a less well-known work by Thomas Hardy, one of my all-time favourite writers (both prose and verse). The story is a bit melodramatic:- rich aristocratic Lady Constantine, who has been abandoned by her husband, falls in love with naive wannabe astronomer Swithin St Cleeve (was this really a plausible name in the 19th century?), who is nearly ten years younger than herself and poor to boot. Since this is Hardy, you can probably guess that things do not end well for this mismatched couple.

Comments:It's definitely Hardian style, but somehow it lacks the heart and soul of his other work, such as Mayor of Casterbridge and Return of the Native.


Swing Kids


1993 film with Robert Sean Leonard, Christian Bale, Frank Whaley, Kenneth Branagh, Barbara Hershey, and Noah Wyle (yes, Dr Carter from ER!).

An uneven, if interesting story about German kids who like swing music in Nazi Germany, and the conflict and perils of being a "rebel" during those times. Strong performances from the cast, but occasionally cheesy dialogue weakens the film overall.

Admittedly, I watched this movie because it has RSL and Christian Bale in it (I love RSL in House MD, and Christian Bale is a favourite actor of mine), but was pleasantly surprised by this film. It's a bit rough around the edges, but worth checking out if you are a fan of either actor.

The Great Gatsby

Title: The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Dates Read: 12/8 - 12/9/2005
Rating: 8/10
Synopsis: Classic American novel of doomed obsession and riches in the reckless, heady 1920s.
Comments: Stylized and aloof, this short novella is like an art photo: Nick Carraway, the narrator seems so detached from the events. He merely views from the sidelines as Jay Gatsby pursues the unattainable, beautiful Daisy Buchanan and his dream of idealized love.

Byron: Life and Legend

Title: Byron: Life and Legend
Author: Fiona MacCarthy
Dates Read: 11/1 - 12/4/2005
Rating: 8/10
Synopsis: A meticulous biography of Byron's life and work.
Detailed, unflinching, and unjudgemental - MacCarthy's retelling of Byron's life is not swayed by the subject's cult and charisma. Rumours of child abuse, incest, sodomy and more are dealt with in a cool narrative voice. Absorbing reading for anyone curious about the Regency period, Byron, or the emergence of fandom and the cult of celebrity.

The Quiet American - Graham Greene

Title: The Quiet American (the edition with the Zadie Smith introduction)
Author: Graham Greene
Dates Read: 10/26-31/2005
Rating: 8/10

A classic story by Greene about two men and a woman in Vietnam. "Into the intrigue of Indo-China comes Pyle, a young idealistic American sent to promote democracy through a mysterious 'Third Force'. As his naïve optimism starts to cause bloodshed, his friend Fowler, a cynical foreign correspondent, finds it hard to stand aside and watch. But even as he interenes he wonders why: for the sake of politics, or for love..."

This is a simple, tragic tale elegantly told through Fowler's eyes, as he watches Pyle steal Phuong, his Vietnamese mistress, away from him, even while the bombings "in the name of democracy" explode in the street. It's a deeply personal story - of two men and a woman who doesn't know how to "love" in the Western/Romantic sense of the term - yet at the same time it's the story of a country at war with itself.


There is also a 2002 movie by Philip Noyce, with Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser.