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Laundry On Sundaes

Every beginning is only a sequel, after all, and the book of events is always open halfway through.

Tag Archives: books

I love books. I love getting lost in the different worlds of novels and learning cool new things from nonfiction. I’ve loved books ever since I learned to read in English (age 12-ish, for some reason I never read that much in Chinese). Unfortunately, it’s so hard to find time to read for my own pleasure during school. So my gap year between undergrad and dental school was an amazing gift to me in terms of reading books. I wrote about this in a previous post, and here I just wanted to share the books that I’ve read in my gap year (May 2012 to September 2013). I feel pretty accomplished and happy when I look at this list :) I may not have as much time to read this year, but I’m going to try my best to squeeze in a few books too.

Fiction
Paulo Coelho – The Alchemist
Laurie Fabiano – Elizabeth Street
Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl
Sara Gruen – Water for Elephants
Phillip Hawley Jr – Stigma
Neve Maslakovic – Regarding Ducks and Universes
Karen McQuestion – The Long Way Home
Carlos Meza – Silicone
Kyle Mills – The Immortalists
Erin Morgenstern – The Night Circus
Haruki Murakami – Sputnik Sweetheart
Haruki Murakami – Kafka on the Shore
Robin Sloan – Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Wendy Nelson Tokunaga – Falling Uphill
Wendy Nelson Tokunaga – Midori by Moonlight

Non-Fiction
Izzeldin Abuelaish – I Shall Not Hate
Zac Bissonnette – How to Be Richer, Smarter, and Better-Looking Than Your Parents
Susan Cain – Quiet: The Power of Introverts
Charles Duhigg – The Power of Habit
Nora Ephron – I Feel Bad About My Neck
Nora Ephron – I Remember Nothing
Joshua Foer – Moonwalking with Einstein
Malcolm Gladwell – The Tipping Point
Malcolm Gladwell – What the Dog Saw
Malcolm Gladwell – Outliers
Malcolm Gladwell – Blink
Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha – The Start-up of You
Meg Jay – The Defining Decade
Mindy Kaling – Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
Maria Menounos – The EveryGirl’s Guide to Life
Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow – The Last Lecture
Oliver Sacks – The Mind’s Eye
Sheryl Sandberg – Lean In
Hervé This – Molecular Gastronomy

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I have always loved reading. But reading for pleasure had become a thing of the past during my 4 years of college. Honestly, the only books I remember having read just for my personal enjoyment was the Hunger Games series, which I read over the summer before senior year. However, since I graduated and have been working only part-time over the past half a year or so, I suddenly found myself with more free time than I have had in years. And what else to do with all this time but read for pleasure?

I really began to read a lot since I found out that I can borrow free Kindle books from the San Francisco Public Library through Overdrive. What an amazing thing! I love my Kindle, but I didn’t always like having to pay to get e-books. I’m also a huge fan of libraries, so I was so happy when I found out that I can borrow e-books from the library. Of course, the library doesn’t have all the books I want to read, or they might not have it in the e-book format, but they have a pretty great collection going! So far I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction (ha, maybe college did change my reading preferences after all), including a lot of Malcom Gladwell and Oliver Sacks. Right now I’m working my way through Susan Cain’s Quiet and really enjoying it so far.

It feels amazing to read for pleasure again. I had forgotten how good it feels to curl up with a good book in bed at night (or all day for that matter). I hope that even when life gets busy again in the near future, I will find time to read. Not for school, not for work, just for myself.

What good books have you read recently? Any recommendations for me?

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I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 this past weekend, and the experience brought back waves of nostalgia.

I first heard of the Harry Potter books when I was 11 years old and still attending a French school in Quebec City. It was the spring of 2001, and the first four books in the series had already been released. But with my imperfect French and my peers’ imperfect pronunciation of the English name, I didn’t have a clue of what everyone was talking about. It wasn’t until we moved to Edmonton, Alberta a month later that I finally clued in. Since I was still not fluent in French and I could barely speak English at the time, my most proficient language remained Chinese. So I downloaded the first four books in Chinese and began reading on my home computer. It was a long summer with nothing much else to do in this new city, so my days were spent with my eyes glued to the computer screen, taking in the magic that was Harry Potter. If you ask my mother, she will still blame Harry Potter as the reason my vision got bad and needed glasses the following school year.

I was obsessed. “I’ve changed my name,” I wrote to a friend back in Quebec, “to Hermione” (I was quite serious). “Hermione?” She obviously had not read the books, “I’m not sure I know how to pronounce that” (neither did I, at the time, but that didn’t stop me). I waved around a dowel like a wand, and I was quite sure that I just didn’t know how to master my magic yet. I wore a tiny glass bottle around my neck filled with “magical” glass beads that would grant me wishes. I drew pictures of the characters, printed out quotes (in Chinese) from the books, and visited the official Chinese Harry Potter website religiously every day. I stared dreamily out my window, half expecting an owl to bring me my acceptance letter to Hogwarts. But to my disappointment, it never came.

At the start of fall, we moved again to Langley, British Columbia. My English had improved vastly over the summer, and as soon as I thought I was competent enough, I begged my parents to buy me the books in English. They reluctantly obliged, suspecting that the series was already doing enough damage to my mental state. I read the books every night before going to sleep, sometimes way past my bedtime, dimming my lamp so much that I could barely make out the letters (this probably did contribute to my worsening vision). Since I hadn’t made any friends yet at my new school, I dragged my dad to the theater to see the first movie with me.

I remained a dedicated fan for the years that followed, eagerly awaiting the release of each new book and film. Mugglenet became the website most visited by me, and I even did a short stint translating Harry Potter news into Chinese for the official website I used to frequent. I did more fan art (including a few I’m proud of even today – see below), wrote short fan fictions, and even fan poetry (yes, poetry).

The summer of 2007 was devastating. The book release of the Deathly Hallows and the film release of the Order of the Phoenix came within 10 days of each other, and I had to miss both. I was away at a summer program, and the coordinators were strict about keeping us on campus and focused on the program at all times. A few of us spoke about sneaking out at night to see the movie, but were too scared to be caught to carry out the plan. So as soon as I got home, I went to buy the book (I got the second last copy at the store!) and see the movie. It was the last book, and I told myself to read slowly to savor it, but I couldn’t help but finish it within 2 days (my reading speed when it came to Harry Potter never failed to astonish my mother).

A strange feeling of emptiness washed over me as I turned the last page. I’ve always felt this way when I finish a series of books – Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables – but this time, it was particularly strong. It had been six years since I started the books, and I literally grew up with the characters in them: I was 11 when I began the books and 17 when I finished. Harry Potter was a veritable part of my life, an essential part of my childhood. I knew I could always count on it for an escape when reality got too harsh or mundane. It was a good friend that was there for me at all times, when things got lonely at each new school I attended. Despite my childish attempt to change my name earlier, Hermione remained a role model for me, especially when things got difficult when I was perpetually “the new girl”. She helped me focus on my studies during my adolescence and to learn to pride myself on my intelligence, not my looks. These characters that I grew up with, they were like friends to me, friends that I lost touch with after the books ended, friends whose lives I long to learn about now.

Now there is only one more film left before it’s all over. By the time the Part 2 of the Deathly Hallows is released next summer, it will have been a full ten years since I was first introduced to the world of Harry Potter. Ten years. It’s incredible how a mere story can stay with you for half your life. At the same time that I’m anticipating the release of the last movie, I can’t help but feel a bit of sadness to see it all come to an end. But I know that it won’t be over: all seven books are still sitting in a neat row on my bookshelf back home, waiting for me to open them, turn their pages, dive into the timeless adventures. Harry Potter is timeless. And that’s the magic of it all.

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Ever since my catharsis and subsequent realization regarding who I am and what I want to do, I’ve felt like a huge burden has been lifted off my shoulders. A sense of freedom and choice, a kind of bravery I’ve never had before. A kind of “why not?” attitude towards the things I naturally gravitate towards. Before, when any kind of art related opportunities come up, which happens a lot at Columbia and NYC, my heart would long for it as my brain tells me no, it won’t be of any use to me. But things are different now. I’ve finally come to terms with it: I’m an artist, dammit, and the world is just going to have to deal with that.

So, as part of embracing my creative side again, a side of me that I’ve sorely missed, I’ve finally begun to take advantage of all the wonderful art opportunities offered by this great university in this great city. When I received an e-mail from Columbia about some free, non-credit workshops offered by Columbia’s Graduate School of the Arts, I immediately jumped on it and signed up for a couple of visual art related ones. One of the workshops is called Art/text, which examines the interplay between art and text in graphic novels and graphic short stories. Run by 2 graduate students, a fiction writer and an artist, the workshop will also help the students create their own graphic short story. How cool is that? Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I got an e-mail saying that I got into the workshop.

The first session was held last Friday. I walked into a small seminar room in Dodge, the arts building at Columbia. There were about 10 people there, in addition to the 2 workshop leaders. I was happy to find out that we had a really diverse group; our majors ranged from Biology to Statistics to East Asian Languages and Cultures. After introductions, we began looking at a few samples of graphic novels/short stories, including a chapter from Persepolis, which I enjoyed tremendously and would like to read more of.

After discussing these works, we were given a creative assignment. Copies of lithographs of things like classical architecture, natural scenes, geometric shape, and other random objects. We had to cut out one or more image and glue it to a piece of paper, and add to it and fill in the rest of the paper with our own drawings using a Sharpie marker. I ended up picking a figure of several hands pulling on interconnected ropes, as something one would see in a physics textbook. It was such a fun little exercise, and I was quite happy with my finished product: a dreamscape of children flying over a meadow, along with other things related to flight, including a flying hot dog and a blimp.

It had been so long since I was in any sort of art class, and I had nearly forgotten what it felt like to be sitting in a classroom but feeling so completely at ease and happy to be doing what I was doing. It made me so happy and excited about art again. I’ve already begun brainstorming and sketching some frames for my graphic short story, which will recount one of my favorite childhood memories.

This week we’ll be going to Butler Library, not to study but to go to the Rare Book & Manuscript Library to look at the collection of works by Edward Gorey that’s been donated to Columbia just this past May. Definitely looking forward to that!

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“… had been cold and gray he could have grasped the reins of the past in an instant, but it was one of those days that New York gets sometimes in May, when the air on Fifth Avenue is a soft, light wine.

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I absolutely loved this week’s 100th episodes of How I Met Your Mother. Yes, we only saw the Mother’s feet and Ted didn’t even get to meet her, but you know what, sometimes life’s like that. Sometimes the perfect person is just inches away from you, and perhaps your paths have already crossed many times before. Yet you know none of it at all. To you, they are just isolated events that hold no significance. But there’s something waiting to happen, something magical. You just don’t know it yet. But when it does happen, the dots will connect, the stars will align, and you will see that everything that has happened before has happened to bring you here. There is a grander plan outside of you.

To quote the wonderful blog Have You Met Ted dedicated to all things How I Met Your Mother:

There’s something magical about just missing someone you don’t know as they pass through a doorway. They’re right there, all of them, their whole life and memories and thoughts and hopes and dreams, but you know nothing of it, you can’t read it. It’s like when you meet someone and find out they lived on your block years ago. It makes you realize there’s a whole world going on around you that you can’t see and experience. It makes you wonder what things are happening just on the other side of the door, or the street, or the city, that someday you’ll know about and realize how close it was then, or maybe you’ll never know it. How many things are a bathroom’s door and a glimpse of a foot away that you’ll never get a chance to know better?

It’s a beautiful thought, isn’t it? It reminds me of the story 向左走 向右走 (A Chance of Sunshine) by the wonderfully talented artist and writer 几米 (Jimmy Liao). It’s one of my favourite books of all time. You can read it in Chinese here. It’s also available in English, but I heard that it really doesn’t capture the charm of the original. There is also a movie made based on the book – Turn Left, Turn Right – but again, it doesn’t do the book justice.

The essence of the story is nicely encapsulated by the poem Love at First Sight by the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, an excerpt of which appears in the prologue of the book. The complete poem is below:

Love at First Sight
Wislawa Szymborska

They’re both convinced
that a sudden passion joined them.
Such certainty is beautiful,
but uncertainty is more beautiful still.

Since they’d never met before, they’re sure
that there’d been nothing between them.
But what’s the word from the streets, staircases, hallways –
perhaps they’ve passed by each other a million times?

I want to ask them
if they don’t remember –
a moment face to face
in some revolving door?
perhaps a “sorry” muttered in a crowd?
a curt “wrong number” caught in the receiver?
but I know the answer.
No, they don’t remember.

They’d be amazed to hear
that Chance has been toying with them
now for years.

Not quite ready yet
to become their Destiny,
it pushed them close, drove them apart,
it barred their path,
stifling a laugh,
and then leaped aside.

There were signs and signals,
even if they couldn’t read them yet.
Perhaps three years ago
or just last Tuesday

a certain leaf fluttered
from one shoulder to another?
Something was dropped and then picked up.
Who knows, maybe the ball that vanished
into childhood’s thicket?

There were doorknobs and doorbells
where one touch had covered another
beforehand.

Suitcases checked and standing side by side.
One night, perhaps, the same dream
grown hazy by morning.

Every beginning
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open halfway through.

How amazingly beautiful is that? It’s one of those poems that haunts you with this feeling of wonder and possibility. And how amazingly does it embody How I Met Your Mother? I can’t believe I never made the connection between one of my favourite poems and one of my favourite shows. “… the book of events/ is always open halfway through.” I just feel fortunate to be able to listen as Ted reads his book – after it’s been written, from the beginning, all the while watching him struggling to find what he believes is the beginning, but what really is halfway. And I hope that one day when I look back, I will find my book as beautifully connected.

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While reading Martin Luther for my Contemporary Civilization class, I found the following notes from a previous owner of my second-hand-yet-still-overpriced book:

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And then, 5 pages later:

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Finally, the anger could not be held back any longer:

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