Ruined by Reading

Posted in Uncategorized by M on March 17, 2010

As long as the earth and the sky last,
Smile like a flower in the garden of the world.



Posted in Uncategorized by M on March 17, 2010

I want a fresh start.

The Lost Symbol

Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction by M on October 3, 2009

Title: The Lost Symbol
Author: Dan Brown
Pages: 528
Rating: 2/5

The Lost Symbol follows symbologist (is that a word?) Robert Langdon to DC, where he’s fallen into the trap of a freakishly tattooed psycho who seems to think that the Freemason’s have hidden some ancient mysteries, which is the key to unlocking man’s full hidden potential. The key to this mystery is a pyramid with codes, symbols, and maps hidden on it. Langdon teams up with the CIA and his friends sister – a scientist doing cutting-edge research in the field of Noetics (don’t ask, just google) – to save Langdon’s friend and maybe possibly keep the ancient mystery out of the hands of the weird tattooed guy. (They keep changing their mind on what they’re going to do so I lost track.) Add in some cliche family drama, and plenty of idealistic spiritual hippie-dippy talk, and you have Brown’s latest book.

I finished this book over a week ago, but I’ve been procrastinating on a review. My feelings on this book changed several times while I read it and after. I’ve decided that it was a disappointment.

It was difficult to get into the story, but it was pretty good when the plot really took off and things started to come together in the middle of the book. But eventually it got boring again and the ending was very anti-climatic and it really ruined the whole book for me.

The whole premise of it – a lost treasure inside DC, which is of course full of creepy facts and ancient secrets hidden in its architecture – sounds like National Treasurer. The whole secretive, spiritual concept of the book – that men are divine, gods, or have God inside them – is pretty interesting, but the story built around that wasn’t that interesting at all.

Brown’s strong point has always been that he can tell interesting stories, even though his writing is not so great. The story always distracted me enough from the poor writing, but since the story flopped I definitely took notice of his writing skills in this one. He goes way too heavy with the foreshadowing. It’s almost laughable.

I wanted to like this but I really didn’t. It’s probably worth reading but definitely not worth buying.


Posted in Book Reviews by M on August 29, 2009

Title: Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
Authors: Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner
Pages: 352
Rating: 4/5

(From Amazon) Forget your image of an economist as a crusty professor worried about fluctuating interest rates: Levitt focuses his attention on more intimate real-world issues, like whether reading to your baby will make her a better student. Recognition by fellow economists as one of the best young minds in his field led to a profile in the New York Times, written by Dubner, and that original article serves as a broad outline for an expanded look at Levitt’s search for the hidden incentives behind all sorts of behavior. There isn’t really a grand theory of everything here, except perhaps the suggestion that self-styled experts have a vested interest in promoting conventional wisdom even when it’s wrong. Instead, Dubner and Levitt deconstruct everything from the organizational structure of drug-dealing gangs to baby-naming patterns. While some chapters might seem frivolous, others touch on more serious issues, including a detailed look at Levitt’s controversial linkage between the legalization of abortion and a reduced crime rate two decades later. Underlying all these research subjects is a belief that complex phenomena can be understood if we find the right perspective.

Freakonomics isn’t economics in a traditional sense. To me, it seems more like sociology and plenty of data and statistics.

A large part of this book addresses the nature vs. nurture debate. What makes a good parent or a good student? What effect does a name have on ones outcome? It also talks about the testing gap between blacks and whites, which I found to be the most interesting and important discussion in Freakonomics. If random facts is your thing, there’s plenty of that too, including the history of the KKK and an explanation on how crack gangs operate.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s written in such a way that it keeps your attention and never goes over the readers head.

The Girl Who Played With Fire

Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Mystery by M on August 29, 2009

Title: The Girl Who Played With Fire
Author: Steig Larsson
Pages: 512
Rating: 4.5/5

(From Amazon) A few weeks before Dag Svensson, a freelance journalist, plans to publish a story that exposes important people involved in Sweden’s sex trafficking business based on research conducted by his girlfriend, Mia Johansson, a criminologist and gender studies scholar, the couple are shot to death in their Stockholm apartment. Salander, who has a history of violent tendencies, becomes the prime suspect after the police find her fingerprints on the murder weapon. While Blomkvist strives to clear Salander of the crime, some far-fetched twists help ensure her survival.

Much like in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a very large part of The Girl Who Played With Fire is character development and side stories that involve the lives of the main characters – not necessarily the main mystery. Normally this might have annoyed or bored me, but I find all the characters in this series to be completely fascinating, especially Lisbeth. I really enjoyed following her character in the beginning before the story really got started, and learning more about her life.

The Girl Who Played With Fire also serves as a critique of Swedish society and its treatment of women because it discusses human trafficking and the sex trade. I was shocked by the treatment of women in this book and how little punishment rapists and violent criminals received in the Swedish justice system. But Larsson also talks about responsibility, guilt, and innocence. Lisbeth constantly repeats that no one is innocent, there are just varying degrees of guilt (not a direct quote). Is a criminal truly completely to blame for his actions? In both books there is a character who is raised and trained to be a killer and criminal, so shouldn’t the circumstances also be blamed?

The only reason why I gave this book a 4.5/5 was because I wasn’t really ‘wowed’ by the plot twists. Maybe it was just that it was a little predictable, or maybe it was just my mood when I read it, but when the big mysterious fact that was meant to shock the audience was revealed near the end of the book, I wasn’t exactly shocked or overwhelmed. That being said, The Girl Who Played with Fire is still a great book with great characters and a pretty good plot. I’m really excited for the next, and final book, which comes out this fall.

The Art of Racing in the Rain

Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction by M on August 19, 2009

Title: The Art of Racing in the Rain
Author: Garth Stein
Pages: 336
Rating: 5/5

I think this just might be the best book I’ve read all year. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and more importantly, it made me think.

The Art of Racing in the Rain tells the story of a family from the perspective of their dog, Enzo. His master, Denny, is a semi-professional race car driver, who falls in love and starts a family. Enzo shares his observations and his thoughts on the family. More than anything, he wants to be a human – to have a tongue that works and a pair of thumbs, if for no other reason than to warn Denny’s wife, Eve, of what he smells growing inside of her brain. But he can’t, and it’s too late for her, so Enzo is left to helplessly observe the aftermath of her death and his crumbling family.

Its impossible not to love Enzo. He’s insightful and spiritual with the soul of a human and a wisdom well beyond his years. The author has a beautifully touching way of describing life and death from Enzo’s perspective. I was moved to tears twice while reading this book and even at the end I could smile through my tears. Despite the sadness it does actually have a happy ending.

I can’t recommend this book enough. Not only is it the best book I’ve read all year, but it’s one of the best books I’ve read, period. It’s such a fast read and now I even find myself wondering if my dog is thinking similar things about me. I doubt it!

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction, Mystery by M on August 14, 2009

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Author: Stieg Larsson
Pages: 590
Rating: 5/5

I’ve been complaining for a long time that it’s become difficult to find a book that’s so good, it’s difficult to put down. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of those books.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo deals with two intertwined plot lines. There’s a murder mystery, along with a story of political and financial intrigue and revenge. After being convicted of libel for breaking a story on an industrial big shot, financial journalist Blomkvist is lured into the countryside to write a biography on the Vanger family and its financial empire. He’s also asked to solve the 40-year-old mystery of the disappearance of 16-year-old Harriet Vanger. He discovers a dysfunctional family and unearths unspeakable crimes with the help of a strange social outcast, Lisbeth Salander, who also happens to be a genius computer hacker and private investigator.

I like how the book speaks about how women are treated – both in general, and in Sweden. Some of the statistics given in the book are absolutely shocking. The original Swedish title of the book was Män Som Hatar Kvinnor, which translates to Men Who Hate Women, which reveals a lot about the underlying message.

I loved Lisbeth Salander from the beginning. Probably because I can relate to her in some small ways. Her character evolves and changes drastically. Almost unbelievably so. On the other hand, I really didn’t like Blomkvist very much. He seemed to be a little too perfect. He never acknowledges any faults, and he’s too much of a lady’s man, bedding anything that moves. I hated Erika Berger, his boss and occasional lover, even more. The dislikable characters don’t ruin the story, though.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to discuss the mystery without giving something important away, but it definitely is suspenseful and well thought out.

I can’t wait to get my hands on The Girl Who Played with Fire and see the movie version of this book.

My Big Fat Pakistani* Wedding

Posted in Culture, Feminism, Personal, Religion by M on August 3, 2009

After my reaction to the Doha Debate on women’s choice to marry whomever they want, it should be apparent that I really don’t like Asra Nomani. Which is cool, because I’m pretty sure if she knew me, she wouldn’t like me either. I pray (and wore hijab for a brief period of time), so according to her and her documentary, that makes me an extremist.

Thanks to MMW, I ran across an article she wrote for Marie Claire – My Big Fat Muslim Wedding. In it, she discusses Islam, and says that Islam’s idea of marriage oppresses women. She frames this in a story about her own personal love life and failed marriage.

She starts off by incorrectly labeling cultural practices as Islamic, and thus marrying the two (pardon the pun), making them inseparable for the rest of her article.

There’s a photo of me as a toddler, my sullen face peeking out from layers of bridal finery—part of a tradition that sets Muslim girls on the path to marriage.

I see this as Nomani insinuating that this is an Islamic practice. Honestly, it’s the first time I’ve heard of such a thing. I’m assuming it is actually a South Asian practice, because Arabs and other Muslims definitely do not preform such rituals or practices.

To me, abiding by the dictates of my culture and religion meant finding a love that would be halal, or legal, according to Islamic law.

Here, again, she’s confusing culture with Islam. Culture definitely influences the way everyone practices their religion, but it is not an Islamic teaching that a woman marry within her culture or find a match that meets her cultures requirements, it is purely a cultural practice and preference.

Nomani goes on to gives the details of her failed relationships and how she lost her virginity. This is just my personal opinion here, but I find it pretty tasteless and classless to divulge such information. No, it’s not because she’s a woman, or because she’s Muslim. I just think it’s distasteful to use such things to try to make some kind of point.

Nomani eventually settles down with a guy who is suitable. Meaning, he’s Muslim, and he’s South Asian. Of course, this marriage fails. Why? Because of Islam, of course. It’s not her family or her culture which pressured her into such a relationship, it must be because of Islam, right?

She eventually falls in love with a non-Muslim who she describes as knowing Islam better than most (and probably better than her as well). I honestly hope she can be happy, and I do feel bad that she wasn’t strong enough to stand up to her family and follow her heart in the first place. But she is not a victim of Islam like she claims – she is a victim of her culture.

It irks me to no end that people like her have an international stage to spout their nonsense and further their agenda. Obviously, it’s because she’s easy for Westerners and ignorant people to sympathize with. I know many non-Muslims take crap for fact from CNN, Fox, etc., but it’s much worse that it’s fellow Muslims like Nomani are feeding into this incorrect and ignorant ideas.

The Calligrapher’s Daughter

Posted in Book Reviews, Culture, Fiction, Historical Fiction by M on August 3, 2009

Title: The Calligrapher’s Daughter
Author: Eugenia Kim
Pages: 400
Rating: 4/5

In early twentieth century Korea, Najin Han, the privileged daughter of a calligrapher, longs to choose her own destiny. Smart and headstrong, she is encouraged by her mother – but her stern father is desperate to maintain the ways of traditional Korea, especially as the Japanese steadily gain control of his beloved country. When he seeks to marry her into an aristocratic family, her mother defies generations of obedient wives and instead sends Najin to serve in the king’s court, where, in the shadow of a dying monarchy, she begins a journey through the increasing oppressing that will forever change her world. Spanning thirty years, The Calligrapher’s Daughter is a novel in the tradition of Lisa See about a country torn between ancient customs and modern possibilities, a family ultimately united by love, and a woman who never gives up her search for freedom.

The Calligrapher’s Daughter is a story of the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 20th century, told through the life of Najin, a young girl who comes of age during a time of modernization and revolution. She’s caught between her desire to be an independent, educated woman, and her father’s desire for the old ways where the elite scholarly class ran society, and women are seen as inferior.

Najin does not actually have a proper given name. It is revealed throughout the book that her father refuses to name her because he sees her as a symbol of the occupation and Korea’s fall. It’s shocking and sad how much her father actually detests her. He sees her as a shame to the family.

The thing that really shocked me the most about Korean traditions and culture at this time is how women were treated. I knew nothing of Korea prior to reading this book. Women were to be seen and not heard, were less than men, and were seen as really just machines there to have children and serve dinner. Even within the family, the women’s area is kept separate from the man’s, and man and wife don’t even eat dinner together. One proverb even says that a woman without talent is a virtue. I have no idea if these traditions or attitudes were specific to the class Najin’s family belonged to, or if it was more universal. But the arrival of Christianity and the Japanese occupation really changed the opportunities women had and the attitude towards them.

The thing I really loved about Kim’s style of writing was how beautiful and poetic it was. It was perfectly descriptive without being too over the top and distracting from the story. Here’s an example:

My hands reached to catch the sunshine poking between the leaves, and my feet traced the maze of shadows that I pretended would lead to a cave of glories and awe.

The only problem I had with the book was that the description didn’t actually match the story. I had originally thought it would be a book about court intrigue and drama, like a lot of the historical fiction I read. But it’s not. It’s about the life of Najin, her family, and Korea.

I learned a lot from this book, and I would definitely read anything else Kim puts out.

Thank you to the publisher and to Library Thing Early Reviewers for sending me this book. This book will be available for purchase on August 4, 2009.

Banning the Burkha in Britain?

Posted in Culture, Feminism, Politics, Religion by M on June 27, 2009

Saira Khan is a British Muslim woman who, in the wake of Sarkozy’s controversial move to try to ban the burkha*, wrote an article, explaining the reasons why she supports it’s ban in Britain. You can read the full article here.

She starts off by telling a little anecdote about how she was amused by the irony of women wearing the burkha, shopping the latest fashions in Harrods. Right away, I was offended. Does she think Muslim women who cover don’t deserve nice things simply because they won’t wear them for everyone to see on the street? Does she think women who wear the burkha are uncultured, with no fashion sense? She is contributing to the idea that women who wear the burkha have no personality and no sense of self – the same idea which she is so strongly opposed to throughout the rest of the article.

Later, she makes a statement that she has no problem with grown women who wish to wear hijab. However, she later contradicts herself by equating hijab with forced marriages, abuse, and women who aren’t allowed to go to university.

However, despite how ridiculous the overall article is, I found myself agree with several things.

Khan brings up the health aspect of wearing the burkha. Women who wear it don’t get enough Vitamin D, and as a result, they develop health problems. I definitely agree that this is a problem. However, banning the burkha doesn’t solve this. Educating women on the health risks associated with fully covering, and making sure they’re aware of it and take Vitamin D supplement does solve this problem.

Fundamentalists are blamed by Khan for the rise of the burkha. I agree with this. I also agree that some fundamentalists think that it makes you a bad or improper Muslim woman if you don’t wear it. Fundamentalists who refuse to tolerate the legitimate differences of opinion regarding it’s use.

I agree that even among women who claim that they wear it out of their own free choice, many of them probably do not. Besides women who are directly forced to wear it, many women are pressured by their community, family, or friends to wear it. It’s not as if they wake up one day, and out of the blue they decide to wear it. I’m sure any Muslim woman can tell you that there is at least some pressure from community, family, or friends, to simply wear hijab. Doesn’t it make sense to think that similar pressure exists for some women to wear the burkha?

Khan claims that the burkha is dangerous to society. I agree. However, her reasoning is mostly that it doesn’t allow full integration with British society. I completely disagree with this. If the government bans the burkha, the women who wear it won’t be okay with it. They won’t wake up the next morning, put on a t-shirt and jeans, and go about running their errands. They will most likely stay inside, further marginalized and restricted. The ban would be more restricting and damaging to women than it is to allow them to wear the burkha.

But I do believe it’s dangerous to society in many cases. I believe that it takes all responsibility away from men, and places double the burden of responsibility on women. I think it makes it much too easy to dismiss women, stereotype them, and marginalize them. I think it contributes to misogynistic ideas and treatment.

However, no matter how much I may disagree fundamentally with the wearing of a burkha, I disagree even more with the idea that the government can tell citizens what they can and cannot wear. This isn’t an episode of What Not to Wear, or 1984. This is England, France, etc. – countries and governments which pride themselves on freedom. By Sarkozy or Saira Khan telling people they cannot wear the burkha, they are no better than a man who tells his wife she must wear it.

* “Burkha” in this article refers to this which is also called a niqab, not the typical blue burkha you’re probably used to seeing in Afghanistan.