Monthly Archives: March 2014

“Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children” By Ransom Riggs

When I agreed to read this book I had absolutely no idea what I was saying yes to. I was running low on book ideas and when this one was offered I jumped at it. But then I started reading the book. It wasn’t as drab as the black and white cover suggested but rife with mystery, creepy coincidences and plot twists; and I’m only on chapter 7!

For those who have never read nor heard of this book, it is a story of a young boy, lead by the stories his grandfather told him as a child, who travels to an almost deserted island in search of Miss Peregrine and her home for children. The key point in this book are the stories told by the grandfather. For these are not  stories of a refugee of World War Two, these are stories of adventure and danger. Monsters and the supernatural. But no one believes these stories because to everyone else, they are just fairy tales.

And this leads me to my point and an important quote: “We cling to our fairy tales until the price for believing them becomes too high.” (Riggs 118). The narrator (whose name is Jacob)  says that eventually all must let go of their fairy tales and that he eventually did the same. But soon, contradicting this point, the stories Jacob’s grandfather told him rise up and plant that seed of superstition in his mind when he is in high school. This shows understanding of human nature on the author’s part and the way many think. One of the most beloved fairy tales of childhood is Santa Clause. It is a fairy tale that parents strive to preserve and children flourish with. Yet after reaching a certain age believing in Santa Clause is no longer endearing, it’s pathetic, embarrassing. That’s the ‘price’ for holding onto innocence and fairy tales.

There is a saying “innocence is bliss. ” Jacob held onto his fairy tales and grandfather’s stories, his innocence, until the price, payed through bullies and ridicule, became too high. But there is also a saying “everything comes at a price.” And the comfort of being without ridicule came at a high price. Jacob finds this when the stories he once believed to be fairy tales came back to haunt him. Riggs shows this contrast of prices throughout what I’ve read so far in the book.

The way this book is going so far is promising. There is mystery, fantasy, history and tragedy all in the first few chapters. I can honestly say I am glad I agreed to read this book. If writing a blog is the price for reading this book, it’s worth it.

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“Killing Kennedy” By Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

The President is not only considered the most powerful man in America, but he is well respected and extremely influential throughout the world. Reading a novel that provides insight on both the broadly publicized aspects and very private aspects of president John F. Kennedy’s life is highly intriguing. The authors were able to gather the kind of information that readers crave; the inside scoop that people were not necessarily aware of during Kennedy’s presidency. Although I have only read the first quarter of the book at this point, I feel like I know Kennedy well. The book elucidates the way in which Kennedy was able to obtain the support of the American public and become the reigning political leader and figurehead of America during the 1960s.

An aspect of the book that captured my attention rather quickly was the explanation of Jacqueline Kennedy’s role in her husband’s presidency. The fact that that she was able to become so prominent during the time period of his presidency is inspiring. Jacqueline was forced to tolerate Kennedy’s inconsistent and impulsive behavior, and despite her somber attitude towards their relationship at times, she was able to maintain her widespread popularity. I like that the authors place noteworthy emphasis on Jacqueline because I can see how here role in JFK’s presidency might be overlooked. In addition, although many have perceived her lifestyle to be very luxurious and desirable, she overcame significant emotional adversity, and this is relatable to readers.

Aside from the authors’ interesting elaboration of Jacqueline Kennedy, they relay their story from unique angles. Most books we read are in simple chronological order and skipping events or jumping around rarely occurs. However, because JFK’s presidency was so eventful between his busy public and private lives, the authors transition from one event to another quite frequently. The reader might be in the midst of hearing about the unfortunate nature of the Cuban situation when he is suddenly thrown into JFK’s secret affair with Marilyn Monroe! This constantly changing angle keeps the story alive and causes the reader to constantly crave new information.

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“Animal Farm” by George Orwell

Prior to this independent reading session, I had been wanting to read Animal Farm for quite some time. Also, in history recently we learned about the Russian Revolution, which made the timing even better. Off the bat this book was so intriguing and well written that I didn’t want to put it down. I had to though, because of the length. The book is so short that stopping so soon was hard, but I did it so that I could be fairer with the blog.

To me, the whole idea of comparing the Russian Revolution to animals on a farm is amazing. Every single animal in the story is tied to a real person or idea from the revolution. For instance, the competition between the two pigs Napoleon and Snowball is a direct correlation to how Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky fought for power after Vladimir Lenin, portrayed by another pig – Old Major, died. The way that every character represents a real “character” from the Russian Revolution is so mind bogglingly perfect that it makes the experience of reading Animal Farm so much better.

Another way that Orwell conveyed his comparison was through the setting.  He describes the buildings as, “dishonest, the fields were full of weeds, the buildings wanted roofing, the hedges were neglected and the animals were underfed” (15%) (I am reading on a kindle and there aren’t page numbers). This description gives the impression that the farm is old, broken down, and in terrible condition. This is the exact same state that Russia was in prior to Stalin’s Five Year Plans. Russia had just started industrializing, and was perhaps forty years behind more modernized countries such as Great Britain and the U.S. (other farms in the novel). All of Russia’s machinery was way behind the others and the state of their nation was in shambles, just like the farm.

One last comparison that took me more time than the others was how all the pigs wanted the milk and apples produced on the farm. I understood their motives – as they are the smartest and believe that they deserve the milk and cookies – but for a while the correlation to real life didn’t show. I realize now that this is much like how Stalin started collective farms. He took all of the crops that peasants labored for and sold them to other countries to fuel the industrialization in Russia. The pigs in the novel are saying that they need the food to keep the humans (royalty) from coming back, while Stalin wanted the crops to strengthen Russia. Both had the similar goals, and that is how I figured out that comparison.

The one thing that I don’t like about this novel is the fact that I know what will happen. I have learned about the Russian Revolution, which sort of spoils the plot of the book for me. My hopes as the I continue to read are that I keep enjoying the correlation between real life and the story, and to be able to communicate with others about the book through this blog.

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“Exodus” by Leon Uris

Part 1 (up to page 154)

At first, I regretted agreeing to read Exodus. I felt a bit foolish for saying yes to a book just because my friend was offering to read it with me. I had initial doubts when Sarah said that it was about the history and creation of Israel, and I only agreed because she promised there would be explosions. When I cracked open the ancient cover of my library-rented copy, I did so begrudgingly because I expected a drab history-textbook style narrative detailing names and dates. I expected the sort of book my grandfather reads and writes. (Several editors turned down reading his “adventure” book about spanish galleons because apparently, it read too much like a ship-building manual.)

I could not have been more wrong.

The multi-perspective narrative brings what could have been a dull summary of events to life. This book acts like an adventure story (which just so happens to be historical) and I do enjoy reading it! I don’t usually care for historical novels because they almost always take an inaccurate spin on over-taught events.

When I was little and attending a tiny charter school, one of the things which bugged me was the spiral curriculum in history/social studies. I really despised learning about the same 5 events over and over and over. Not once did they even mention anything leading up to the study of the modern world, and that really bothered me. I wanted to know what was going on at the time! What little kid doesn’t? And this topic of British-American-Jewish-Pakistani tensions and conflicts in the Middle East has played such a large part in the formation of our modern world. I wish this could have been brought up even in our 9th grade Modern World History class. However, the study of World War 2 has brought in some crucial new information which dovetails perfectly with this story, and I am thankful for some fresh knowledge.

But I digress into a rant about the public schooling system. (I have a couple choice words for whoever came up with the No Child Left Behind act. Good God, what a limit for gifted children! Agh. Down with teaching to the average! I digress again.)

I think that Leon Uris has done a good job so far of conveying such a crucial tale in an interesting, suspenseful action novel. I am actually anticipating the next due date so that I may continue with the story. So far, 4 or 5 stars.

P.S. Sarah, are you and I the only ones reading this?


P.P.S. I like the photo of the Pentagon you shared with me. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an account with Nat’l Geographic so I couldn’t “Like” it on the page. Pity.

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“Life of Pi” by Yann Martel

Although I’ve only read one-third of the book, “Life of Pi” is proving to be an interesting, thought-provoking novel well-deserving of being the winner of the Man Booker Prize.  The first passage that caught my attention was no more than four pages in during Pi’s description of sloths. They survive by being so slow and unmoving that predators hardly even notice them. Of course, laziness is a helpful trait if you’re a sloth, but in the human world, it is often considered undesirable and associated with a lack of motivation. In fact, Sloth is one of the seven deadly sins in Christian moral tradition.

Now, consider Pi’s predicament.

A lover of all kinds of gods, Pi takes it upon himself to practice Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. Evident by the encounter with three religious leaders and his parents, Pi’s habits are considered abnormal and mind boggling. Both sloths and Pi share a connection where their habits, although thought of to be strange or immoral by others, allow them to be more comfortable in their environment and get through hard times. Perhaps it can be taught through this example that judgement of whether something is “normal” or “right” cannot be determined solely by a single person, group, or perspective. Oftentimes we write something or someone off as a label because we cannot fathom the thought of how it would make sense. Through this narrow outlook we lose the larger knowledge that the world is not black and white and people are not skin and bone.

Yet another point I interpreted from the book was on page 6 during the illustration of death and its somewhat pitiful enchantment with life. The passage reads: “The reason death sticks so closely to life isn’t biological necessity–it’s envy. Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can. But life leaps over oblivion lightly, losing only a thing or two of no importance, and gloom is but the passing shadow of a cloud”.

Death, in this light, can be easily compared to us. Impulsive and greedy with a liking for pretty things. This quote emphasizes the importance of exercising caution in one’s desires. If one reaches for something too aggressively, too quickly, or too eagerly without sensible restraint, then the object of desire will all too often slip from one’s grasp, like life “leaps over oblivion” and eludes death.

As for the writing style of the novel, I found it to be easy to follow and humorous at times. Even though the entire first third of the book is just Pi’s opinions on life, zoos, and religion, it’s refreshing to have your original beliefs challenged on subjects you instinctually form biases on, like the concept of “freedom” in the wild and captivity.

Also, I found Pi’s comparison of humans to animals quite intriguing throughout the first part. He often talks about human instincts, appearances, and habits as similar to those of animals. It’s definitely not hard to tell he was raised in a zoo-environment!

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“Night,” by Elie Wiesel

Unlike many other books, it did not take me long to become riveted by Elie Wiesel’s “Night.”  (For the first quarter of the book, I read the first two chapters, or the first 26 pages in my edition of the novel.)  In only the first few pages, the author foreshadows the horrors of Nazi oppression with a moving account of a Jewish man surnamed “Moshe the Beadle.”  He describes how Moshe the Beadle was expelled from the area because he was a Jewish foreigner.  Although Moshe miraculously survived, he was scarred by the terrible experience of witnessing the Gestapo (German secret police) slaughter his fellow prisoners.  He himself only survived because he was thought to dead after being wounded in the leg.

The author continues to describe how Moshe the Beadle was permanently scarred: “Moshe had changed.  There was no longer any joy in his eyes.  He no longer sang.  He no longer talked to me of God or of the cabbala, but only of what he had seen” (4).

Instead of merely describing how terrifying and ghastly it was to be a Jew during the time of Hitler and the Nazis, Wiesel provides an example of a person who was forever changed by German cruelty.  The author shows instead of tells about these early experiences, and he does a masterful job of drawing the reader in and conveying his message.

“Night” is a short book, and it must be succinct for it to be considered such a powerful and moving piece of literature.  Even though I am only a quarter of the way in, I can tell why it has been so enduring; the way in which Wiesel gives such a personal and raw account of his experiences and suffering is what makes it so effective.  One such example is when the author and his family are beginning to leave their home: “My father wept.  It was the first time I had ever seen him weep.  I had never imagined that he could. As for my mother, she walked with a set expression on her face, without a word, deep in thought.  I looked at my little sister Tzipora, her fair hair well combed, a red coat over her arm, a little girl of seven.  The bundle on her back was too heavy for her.  She gritted her teeth.  She knew by now that it would be useless to complain” (16-17).

From what I have read so far, “Night” is such an inspiring novel because the author describes his experiences with so much emotion.  He does not need to explicitly explain his hatred of the Nazis, because the reader is able to feel it through the vividly dark tone throughout.  This tone is what has struck me the most so far in the novel; what has struck you, Nic?

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“I Am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai

In the first quarter of this novel, the main protagonist, Malala, gives an introduction about her background in her Swat community, and how the women in the community are oppressed. The author does an excellent job in connecting to the diverse audience so that the reader can perceive this novel beyond the barrier of differences in culture and society that separates regions of the world. But all the time and detail spent explaining these cultural differences come at a cost: boredom.

The beginning seems excessively slow, and there is not much analytical depth that could have been explained at possible moments, such as, “Children in the refugee camps were even given school textbooks produced by an American university which taught basic arithmetic through fighting. They have examples like ‘If out of 10 Russian infidels, 5 are killed by one Muslim, 5 would be left'” (Yousafzai 33). In this section of the novel, the author misses an opportunity to rant about influences and biased education to further explain the hostility between certain countries. Maybe it is the author’s choice for the reader to interpret that meaning upon reading that quote, but that is what makes this book less powerful than acclaimed titles such as “Crime and Punishment”. By adding in deeper analytical content, the reader is able to understand more clearly what the author is trying to inform him, and commentary is exactly what makes novels so influential. “I am Malala” seems to me just an assortment of facts and details compiled together to convey a meaning of how “minorities have it rough” that can be interpreted differently, but that does not seem right for this novel’s potential.

To demonstrate my point on the importance of commentary, I’ll use religion as an example:

In Churches, there is a Pastor that teaches other Christians on what is deemed the morally correct lifestyle. The Pastor uses the Bible as a source of credibility to appear legitimate in his teachings. Everyone perceives a concrete detail in a variety of ways, and what that Pastor does is teach the Christians not what the Bible is about, but his interpretation on what the Bible is about. The Christians therefore learn the PASTOR’s way of life, not the Bible.

Maybe Yousafzai is to set up her novel as an assortment of concrete details to be interpreted by people however they want, and to be used as a credible source. Maybe Yousafzai is going to include a whole barrage of commentary nearing the end, although inconveniencing the reader for having to turn back some pages and make sense of the concrete detail. Maybe I should start on my Artistic Interpretation project.

With love, care, and $wag,

                                                          Jinghui Lou

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