What I’ve Read: “On Such a Full Sea”, by Chang Rae Lee

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I dislike reviews that begin, “I really wanted to like this book.” They sound so dismissive, and so definitive about it. “I tried my hardest, guys, but this book just sucks.” Did it, though? Did it really?

I know, I know: I shouldn’t be so sensitive. I’m only annoyed because I did like this book, and I want everyone else to like it with me. (Fortunately, most of the folks on GoodReads did.) I can see where the review-writer is coming from. After all, who hasn’t picked up a book they were sure they were going to like, only to be disappointed?

The fact remains, I did like this book. I want to convince others to read it so they’ll talk about it with me. I am only slightly nervous that they’ll react the way that one reviewer did.

On Such a Full Sea is about a civilization on the brink of decline. The book takes place in a far-future America where the ruins of the cities have been converted to labor colonies, inhabited by throngs of citizens brought over from the collapsed country of “New China”. The job of the Colonies is to provide food for the elite, who live in the former suburbs, in beautiful housing developments deemed Charters. The largely unseen “everyone else” lives in the boundless territories of the Open Counties: a land about which little is known, and much is feared.

The book begins with this quote from Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare:

We, at the height, are ready to decline.
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves
Or lose our ventures.

Young Fan is the first to take the current. An unlikely heroine, she is employed as a diver, cleaning the tanks of fish that B-mor (formerly Baltimore) produce for the Charters. She is content with her job, and happy with her boyfriend, Reg, a kindhearted but average fellow who works tending the trays of vegetables that grow above the fish tanks. When he disappears one day without a trace, no one can say why. Nor can they imagine why the devoted and gentle Fan would poison the tanks of beloved fish she cared for before setting out into the Open Counties to find him.

Is this, then, a simple love story of a girl set out to save the boy she loves? Lee makes it clear from the beginning it is not:

It couldn’t have been just Reg she had gone to search out. She had no real leads as to where he might be, or if he was even alive. So why would any sane person leave our cloister for such uncertainties? He was the impetus, yes, the veritable without which, but not the whole story. One person or thing can never comprise that, no matter how much one is cherished, no matter how much one is loved. A tale, like the universe, they tell us, expands ceaselessly each time you examine it, until there’s finally no telling exactly where it begins, or ends, or where it places you now.

As much as this is a story about Fan, it is a story of how her story will impact upon the world she left behind. The narrative is told in first person plural, describing how “we” the citizens of B-mor might view the strange, inspiring story of the unlikely Fan, and where it might lead us as a society.

All right, so the POV is difficult to get into at first. Very few stories are written in first person plural, and in the beginning, I found it jarring. I got used to it fairly quickly, though, and in the end, the author’s choice of perspective serves a purpose, and serves it well.

I was most frustrated by the breaks in the action. A new development would occur, or Fan would find herself in peril, and the next chapter would shift focus, describing what is happening back at B-mor, or some other background detail to the story. I often found myself tempted to skim or skip through these parts, and being a pleasure reader less concerned with discipline and completeness, and more interested in my own enjoyment of a book, I occasionally did.

In the end, though, I’m glad I was a little more strict with myself than I usually am. After all, this is a tale much rounder than the shape of Fan and her adventures; a fact I only began to appreciate fully as her story drew to an end.

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What I’m Reading…”The Dinner”, by Herman Koch

I looked, as I said before, at Claire’s face in profile. If she turned her head and looked at me, I would know. Then she would have seen the same thing I did.

Claire turned her head and looked at me.

I held my breath–or rather, I took a deep breath, so that I could be the first to say something. Something–I didn’t know exactly which words I would use–that would change our lives.

Claire held up the bottle of red wine: there was only a bit left in the bottom, just enough for half a glass.

“Do you want this?” she asked. “Or should I open another one?”

Though it started slow, I finished the last 2/3 of the book in one sitting. My co-worker likens this novel to Gone Girl, and though the plots of those two books haven’t much in common, I think it’s a solid comparison. I slogged my way through Gone Girl because I was assured that the payoff would, in the end, be worth it. I didn’t think it was.

In The Dinner, the payoff is worth it. The story doesn’t so much unfold as slowly unravel, as details that were present all along come into sharper focus under the light of new information. The final picture is horrible, but just the sort of tragedy you can’t look away from.

My favorite short stories: The Machine Stops, by E.M. Forster

click to read the story in full

This story was written in 1909, but like all good sci-fi, it has stood the test of time: it reads just as true and relevent today.

The story describes a world in which most of the human population has lost the ability to live on the surface of the Earth. Each individual now lives in isolation below ground in a standard ‘cell’, with all bodily and spiritual needs met by the omnipotent, global Machine. Travel is permitted but unpopular and rarely necessary. Communication is made via a kind of instant messaging/video conferencing machine called the speaking apparatus, with which people conduct their only activity, the sharing of ideas and knowledge. The two main characters, Vashti and her son Kuno, live on opposite sides of the world. Vashti is content with her life, which, like most inhabitants of the world, she spends producing and endlessly discussing secondhand ‘ideas’. Kuno, however, is a sensualist and a rebel. He persuades a reluctant Vashti to endure the journey (and the resultant unwelcome personal interaction) to his cell. There, he tells her of his disenchantment with the sanitized, mechanical world.

source: Wikipedia.org

The people of the village have always hated us.

From We Have Always Lived In The Castle, by Shirley Jackson:

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.

This is the opening paragraph: one of the best introductions to a novel and to a character I’ve ever read.

30 Day Literary Challenge: Most Disturbing Book (TW: sexual abuse)

  1. Your 10 favorite books of all time.
  2. Your 5 least favorite books of all time.
  3. Your favorite characters (and which books they’re from).
  4. Characters you hate.
  5. If you were stranded on a desert island, what five books would you take with you? Include one reason for each.
  6. The best book you’ve read in the last year.
  7. The worst book you’ve read in the last year.
  8. Your favorite quotes from books.
  9. Your favorite quotes about books.
  10. Name five absolutely great film adaptations of books.
  11. Name three absolutely awful film adaptations of books.
  12. Your favorite author(s).
  13. Your favorite book from childhood.
  14. A book you regret not having read sooner.
  15. A book you haven’t read, but is on your “will read” list.
  16. A book you haven’t read and have no intention of ever reading. (If you want, tell us why you don’t want to read it.)
  17. A book you want to like, but can’t get into for whatever reason. Why can’t you get into it?
  18. A book you think is highly overrated.
  19. A book you think is woefully underrated.
  20. The environment you most enjoy reading in.
  21. The most disturbing book you’ve ever read.
    When I was a child, I used to frequent the “young adult” section of the library. It was there I found books like Judy Blume’s Forever, and the Princess of the Chameln series that made me fall in love with fantasy.

    It was also where I found a rather frank and graphic book about child sex abuse. It contained an extremely moving, and very disturbing, account of a girl being raped by her father. I don’t remember the name of the book, and I’m not going to look for it, because to this day I can’t face that book again. I can still quote passages of it from memory, and it haunts my dreams.

  22. A book you once loved, but don’t anymore. What changed?
  23. A book you once hated, but now like. What changed?
  24. Your favorite series.
  25. The nerdiest book you’ve ever read.
  26. Your favorite type of non-fiction book.
  27. Your favorite genre.
  28. The first book you can remember reading on your own.
  29. An author you wish was more well-known.
  30. The book you’re reading right now.

Whatcha Readin’?

What have you just finished reading?
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. I…really need to talk to some people who have read it. All I can find are glowing reviews, and I had so many issues with this book. For one thing, the palpable air of misogyny that ran throughout. The book is narrated by two different characters: Amy Dunne and her husband Nick. No matter which character is narrating, there’s just a slew of misogynist language: each woman is a whore, a cunt, a bitch, or a slut. And it’s not just the narrators: every character quoted uses these words in excess, creating not a misogynist character, but a world in which women are promiscuous, duplicitous, and evil by nature. I found each main character profoundly unlikeable, and while the plot twists were satisfying and shocking in the beginning, in the end, I couldn’t help but wonder: what’s the point?

What are you reading now?
I’m more than a third of the way through The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. It’s about a mysterious circus that travels the globe, cropping up overnight to delight and enchant, and two rival magicians who have been brought up since childhood to compete for the glory of their instructors.

I have always been fascinated by circuses; I touch briefly on that fascination in “Lady Nadya Parts the Veil of Mists”. (A short story which can be found in the Sampler Plater section of this blog.) I am really enjoying this book, and it’s seamless weaving of fantasy and reality. The story is just on the edge of a cliff, I can feel it, and I can hardly wait to tip over tonight!

I am also reading Bad Science, by Ben Goldacre, on the recommendation of my friend LG.

Ben Goldacre has made a point of exposing quack doctors and nutritionists, bogus credentialing programs, and biased scientific studies. He has also taken the media to task for its willingness to throw facts and proof out the window. But he’s not here just to tell you what’s wrong. Goldacre is here to teach you how to evaluate placebo effects, double-blind studies, and sample sizes, so that you can recognize bad science when you see it. You’re about to feel a whole lot better.

I’m a longtime skeptic, and so haven’t encountered anything new so far, but Goldacre’s writing is both compelling and concise, and I’d recommend this book to pretty much everyone, science afficianado or not. We are all presented with scientific information everyday and expected to make choices: this book will help you make better ones.

What will you read next?
Probably one of the many books off the “Essential Sci-Fi Reading List” put together for me by my friend JD. So many sci-fi books I need to read, and she is a damned good salesperson.

I’m also open to other suggestions! I like to read what other people are reading: it makes me feel a part of something. :)

30 Day Lit Challenge: Best Film Adaptations

  1. Your 10 favorite books of all time.
  2. Your 5 least favorite books of all time.
  3. Your favorite characters (and which books they’re from).
  4. Characters you hate.
  5. If you were stranded on a desert island, what five books would you take with you? Include one reason for each.
  6. The best book you’ve read in the last year.
  7. The worst book you’ve read in the last year.
  8. Your favorite quotes from books.
  9. Your favorite quotes about books.
  10. Name five absolutely great film adaptations of books.
  11. Name three absolutely awful film adaptations of books.
  12. Your favorite author(s).
  13. Your favorite book from childhood.
  14. A book you regret not having read sooner.
  15. A book you haven’t read, but is on your “will read” list.
  16. A book you haven’t read and have no intention of ever reading. (If you want, tell us why you don’t want to read it.)
  17. A book you want to like, but can’t get into for whatever reason. Why can’t you get into it?
  18. A book you think is highly overrated.
  19. A book you think is woefully underrated.
  20. The environment you most enjoy reading in.
  21. The most disturbing book you’ve ever read.
  22. A book you once loved, but don’t anymore. What changed?
  23. A book you once hated, but now like. What changed?
  24. Your favorite series.
  25. The nerdiest book you’ve ever read.
  26. Your favorite type of non-fiction book.
  27. Your favorite genre.
  28. The first book you can remember reading on your own.
  29. An author you wish was more well-known.
  30. The book you’re reading right now.

  1. Last of the Mohicans (1992) (FAR BETTER than the original novel!)
  2. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  3. Pride and Prejudice (1995) (Basically a scene-by-scene recreation of the novel. Once you’ve seen this miniseries, how can you be satisfied with a mere 2 hour movie?)
  4. The Princess Bride (1987)
  5. Much Ado About Nothing (1993) (Minus Keanu Reeves.)

Am I mistaken? I welcome correction in the comments. ;)

30 Day Book and Literature Challenge

Yes: I stole this from Tumblr. Since this blog and my Tumblr are connected, though, I think that’s totally fair!

I shall have to say this up front: I am not going to do this in 30 consecutive days. I am not even going to do it in order! (I mean, really: some days I have more time than others. I do not have time to list my 10 favorite books right now. That’s going to require at least an entire weekend afternoon, and the better part of a bottle of wine.)

I am going to start with Day 16:

  1. Your 10 favorite books of all time.
  2. Your 5 least favorite books of all time.
  3. Your favorite characters (and which books they’re from).
  4. Characters you hate.
  5. If you were stranded on a desert island, what five books would you take with you? Include one reason for each.
  6. The best book you’ve read in the last year.
  7. The worst book you’ve read in the last year.
  8. Your favorite quotes from books.
  9. Your favorite quotes about books.
  10. Name five absolutely great film adaptations of books.
  11. Name three absolutely awful film adaptations of books.
  12. Your favorite author(s).
  13. Your favorite book from childhood.
  14. A book you regret not having read sooner.
  15. A book you haven’t read, but is on your “will read” list.
  16. A book you haven’t read and have no intention of ever reading. (If you want, tell us why you don’t want to read it.)
  17. A book you want to like, but can’t get into for whatever reason. Why can’t you get into it?
  18. A book you think is highly overrated.
  19. A book you think is woefully underrated.
  20. The environment you most enjoy reading in.
  21. The most disturbing book you’ve ever read.
  22. A book you once loved, but don’t anymore. What changed?
  23. A book you once hated, but now like. What changed?
  24. Your favorite series.
  25. The nerdiest book you’ve ever read.
  26. Your favorite type of non-fiction book.
  27. Your favorite genre.
  28. The first book you can remember reading on your own.
  29. An author you wish was more well-known.
  30. The book you’re reading right now.

I know it’s a classic. I know it is full of beautiful language, and metaphors, and struggle and whatnot, but: hundreds and hundreds of pages. About fishing. Just…no.

Disagree? By all means, let me hear it!

Lines I Love: The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas

Lines I Love

Favorite quotes from my favorite books.

  • “A rogue does not laugh in the same way that an honest man does; a hypocrite does not shed the tears of a man of good faith. All falsehood is a mask; and however well made the mask may be, with a little attention we may always succeed in distinguishing it from the true face.”
  • “Love is the most selfish of all the passions.”
  • “I do not cling to life sufficiently to fear death.”
  • “Everyone knows that drunkards and lovers have a protecting diety.”
  • “Don’t be afraid of opportunities, and seek out adventures.”
  • “Time, dear friend, time brings round opportunity; opportunity is the martingale of man. The more we have ventured, the more we gain, when we know how to wait.”

Lines I Love: A Room With a View, by E.M. Forster

~ “It isn’t possible to love and to part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal.”

~ “When we were only acquaintances, you let me be myself, but now you’re always protecting me… I won’t be protected. I will choose for myself what is ladylike and right. To shield me is an insult. Can’t I be trusted to face the truth but I must get it second-hand through you? A woman’s place!”

~ “Do we find happiness so often that we should turn it off the box when it happens to sit there?”

~ “This desire to govern a woman — it lies very deep, and men and women must fight it together…. But I do love you surely in a better way than he does.” He thought. “Yes — really in a better way. I want you to have your own thoughts even when I hold you in my arms.”