2012 Books and Movies

As promised, here is some in depth analysis on my books and movies/tv consumed in 2012.

BOOKS

Memorable Books from this year: This is not a definitive list by any means.

Worse Books Read this year: I read the Fifty Shades of Grey and the two sequels at the urging of a friend so that we could make fun of it. Oh, we made fun of it for two weeks, but my goodness, these books were horrible.

New-to-me Authors I look forward to reading more of: Erin Morgenstern, Haruki Murakami, Henry James, Laura Moriarty, and Georgette Heyer.

Books I found challenging to read: Bel-Ami because it was in French.

Classics Club update: In the first seven months of the Classics Club, I’ve completed 12 books. Off to a fine start.

Stats!

Author that I read the most this year: Georgette Heyer with 17. That’s 26% of the books read. While some of her books are slightly repetitive, they are generally very fun and addictive.

Poetry: 0. I really should read at least one poetry book for 2013. That’s usually my average.

Authors Split by Gender: Of the 65 books, 49 (75%) were written or edited by women and 16 (24%) were written or edited by men. This is the norm that I read more books written by women, but it was a particularly female year though. I don’t go out of my way to read any books by one gender though, but this is my first time really counting the split.

Nonfiction Books: 4 (6%). That’s an abysmal number so I really need to up it to at least 10% in 2013. The four books were on: reading, relationships, travel, and maths. That’s more or less my usual topics except I usually have a food book in there somewhere.

Total number of books read: 65. This isn’t a bad number. Let’s compare all book numbers for the last ten years for statistical purposes:
2012: 65
2011: 50
2010: 67
2009: 20
2008: 83
2007: 52
2006: 61
2005: 83
2004: 71
2005: 66
2002: 66

I did better than last year which wasn’t that hard, but I’m surprised I read less than 2010. Then again, I think I read more classics this year. I seem to stay within the same twenty book range. I should aim to go back up to 83 again, but I just want to read just as much or more as the year before so I’m sticking to 65ish for 2013.

Also, I went back and looked at my reviews for the ones I feel particularly proud of writing whether because I invested a lot time in it or that it was very personal and reflective.

Book Reviews of Note: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, and Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.

MOVIES AND TV

I find it harder to write about TV than for books or movies. Perhaps I see that as even more escapist and distraction than movies or books. The latter of which is not only an escape but an exercise of the mind. Or maybe since I watch a lot of TV as it is airing, I have less time to write my complete thoughts on it.

Here are some TV shows from this year that I watched, followed, and in some cases, loved:

From America and the UK: “Homeland”, “Downton Abbey”, “Once Upon a Time”, “Hart of Dixie”, “Elementary”, “Switched at Birth”, “Boardwalk Empire”, “The Borgias” (S1) “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited”

From Korea: “Rooftop Prince”, “Sungkyunkwan Scandal” – Pretty much the only Asian dramas I saw this year. It was a low TV/movies year.

Memorable Movies from this year:

Labyrinth: No wonder this movie has a cult following.
Whisper from the Heart: Added to my ever growing list of Ghibli favourites. Definitely going to need a rewatch.
Shame. Just for the tone and Fassbender’s performance. It left an impression even though I don’t want to rewatch it.
The Secret World of Arrietty. Yet another lovely Ghibli film.
The Artist. Even though I had issues with the casting, I really loved this as a homage to an era that I really like.

Movie/TV Reviews of Note: Austen Adaptations, The Artist, and Sungkyunkwan Scandal

Finally, here is my complete list of books and movies read and consumed in 2012, ordered by month. If you want all the reviews of the books, go to the 2012 Books tag and for the movies, 2012 Movies.

Continue reading “2012 Books and Movies”

Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant

Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant

I started reading this book in original French while living in France in the summer of 2010. I managed one chapter and then I had to return to the local library. I try to read one French book a year, but it’s more like I read one French every three years. This was the last French book I tried to start and I tried reading it over two years ago! With the Classics Club, I thought I would revisit this classic of French literature.

French is not necessarily an easy language to read and an even harder language to write. I have been lucky that my comprehension in French has always been good since I took immersion as a teenager, but even then, I am not completely fluent in reading in it.

People were telling me that the best way to read in another language is to read books translated into said language, but there are not many books that I want to read in French since many of them are in English or in the older, original French. One of my favourite French authors is Dumas, but I have largely read his books in English though I have reread some of the Count of Monte Cristo in French.

I read much slower in French than in English. I can’t quantify how much slower, but this book in English would have taken me one weekend day. I read the chapters in French then skimmed Project Gutenberg’s translation to verify.

This is a novel about Paris social life in the 19th century. Paris has and always will be an all-consuming place. The protagonist is very poor at the start of the story. Georges Duroy is apparently extremely good looking, charismatic, ambitious, but he also seems to be stupid and easily becomes conceited even at the beginning. It is funny to read in the beginning how transparent the characters and their motivations are. It is very much a critique of Paris life and a political satire. While the story is unique to the setting, a lot of the themes of social climbing, intrigue, and sex are still happening in political circles across the world.

Continue reading “Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant”

More Baths Less Talking by Nick Hornby

More Baths Less Talking by Nick Hornby

The full title of this anthology of personal essays is: More Baths Less Talking: Notes from the Reading Life of a Celebrated Author Locked in Battle with Football, Family, and Time Itself. I previously loved the first two installments, but for some reason, my library does have the third: Shakespeare wrote for Money. In any case, I love this series and wish I could a subscription to The Believer magazine just to read Hornby muse about reading every month.

Hornby is the kind of author you’d like to go to the pub with, but instead of just talking about football, you also talk about novels and interesting works of deeply researched non fiction. Hornby and I seem to share a love of not only literature, but also appreciation for non-fiction works focusing on social history and society. I find he writes quite eloquently about books, but not in a pompous way or in the conventional book critic way. He usually has a good thing to say about any book and we’re the same kind of reviewer. No matter how bad a book is, I try my best to find some silver lining in it and the time I spent with it.

I think Hornby’s series is great for all of us who enjoy reading and want to incorporate it in our lives. He offers experiences that many readers can relate to such as:

“Surely we all occasionally buy books because of a daydream we’re having–a little fantasy abut the people we might turn into one day, when our lives are different quieter, more introspective, and when all the urgent reading, whatever that might be, has been done.” (p 27)

That just explained my whole collection of cookbooks. Not to mention all those Pulitzer/Bookers I buy from book fairs.

I also really like personal essays too so I will keep reading these books as long as Hornby keeps producing the column for the Believer magazine. Recommended if you like reading about reading.

I must note that I was sleep deprived and ill when I read this book so I didn’t have the most concentration, but it was surprisingly light reading even when some of the books he read were not.

Read December 10-11, 2012.

Habibi by Craig Thompson

Habibi by Craig Thompson

Craig Thompson is probably one of my favourite graphic novelists. I enjoyed both Blankets and Carnet de Voyage, both of which were more memoirs of his life in graphic novel form.

Habibi is more dark and violent than his other works, but it was still full of hope, love, sly humor, and the simpe art work that I found addicting to read. As intense as it got, I couldn’t look away. I find Thompson’s characters real and honest.

The story seems to take place in multiple time settings or in a different universe, but there is a timelessness to it. It’s almost a cautionary tale about how greed and lust can take over humanity. It also tackles the role of religion in that darkness. The work is not preachy about faith, but it makes me even more fascinated with Islam and Arabic as Thompson seems to be.

The novel reminds me a bit of Alan Moore and I can see how fans of his work would enjoy Thompson’s take on old stories as well. This not light reading though, but if you like philosophical and thought provoking graphic novels, I’d recommend this.

Read December 2, 2012.

Soulless Manga, Vol. 1 by Gail Carriger and REM

Soulless the manga

As someone who has read and enjoyed The Parasol Protectorate Series and also graphic novels in general, I decided to read this managa to spur my current reader’s block.

This is actually a manga rather than a graphic novel. It has been awhile since I read the original Soulless novel, but I remembered relatively quickly. The adaptation worked really well. I found Alexia even more sympathetic in the manga than in the novel and while Alexia/Maccon is a bit more rushed, I also felt more invested in it. The visuals really helped and really illustrates this is more of adult book for teens.

I imagined Lord Maccon as looking more bigger and macho, but his depiction really grew on me too. Then again, this style of art renders everyone too being more pretty than handsome. Something I’ve really liked about this series is the supporting characters and Lord Akeldama is wonderfully depicted here too.

I don’t know if I’ll get the chance to read the rest of this series from my library, but I enjoyed myself as one should from manga. I think this series would do very well in Japan as it really reminded me of when I did read manga years ago, not only the artwork but the storyline too.

Recommended if you enjoy manga and fantasy series.

Read November 17th 2012.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

This book was epic. Once again, I was conflicted about giving it a 4 or a 5 on Good Reads. As with before, the deciding factor was if I would reread it again. I wouldn’t be against reading it, but then again, I’m not planning on it. It was frustrating and very long at times, but there is no doubt that this is a well written book in many ways and a classic.

I started reading this book September 20th, but I really didn’t read much of it until the last weekend of September wherein I read 70% of the book from Saturday to Tuesday October 2nd.

The Beginning: Not that bad, easy going, lots of exposition, lots of idyllic life of the antebellum South.

The Middle: Gripping, dark, and compelling. This was when I started to really hit my next page button.

The End: Scarlett gets more and more cruel, ridiculous and unbearable. Book just ends a bit abruptly.

Continue reading “Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell”

Lost Laysen by Margaret Mitchell

Lost Laysen Margaret Mitchell

This is the ‘lost’ romantic novella Mitchell wrote for one of her beaus when she was fifteen (going on sixteen). Mitchell probably didn’t want this published since she dictated that all her personal artifacts, writings and original manuscripts be burned after her death. Furthermore, this was seemingly a gift between young friends and lovers.

This story is melodramatic. Three men are in lust/love with the main female character named Courtenay Ross. Billy Duncan, the hard fighting sailor and narrator/protagonist, is ardently in love with Courtenay. I’m not sure why, but I guess Courtenay has Scarlett O’Hara level of attractiveness that make men want to marry, love, or rape her in this story.

Reading this and Gone with the Wind reminds me how sheltered Mitchell’s life seemed to be. I often wondered when reading what her exposure to other ethnicities and non-Caucasian people were. There is some derogatory remarks about the Japanese in this story. Did she even meet a Japanese person when she wrote this? The antagonist and would-be rapist of the story is a “half-breed” who is half Spanish and half Japanese, but receives no dialogue in this story at all.

It is a bit unfair to critcise this novella too much since she didn’t intend for many people to see it. I do think it shows her promise as a writer. It is definitely much better than most high school short stories. I enjoyed the book not just for the novella, but mostly for the insight about Mitchell’s life in the early twentieth century.

Read October 23-24th 2012.

My Gone With the Wind review will be up on Margaret Mitchell’s birthday November 8th.

Venetia by Georgette Heyer

Venetia by Georgette Heyer

This is one of the most popular Heyer books. I debated between 3 to 4 stars on GoodReads because while I think it is one of the most well written of her works, I found myself not particularly engrossed in parts.

My biggest issue was that there wasn’t enough of the main characters, particularly of the male lead Damerel. The relationship between the two protagonists begin very well. It develops into a lovely friendship and completely believable how they fall in love with another one. Then the lovebirds time gets cut short as obstacles get in there way.

The other issue was that there were many annoying, interfering characters. This aspect and the introspective nature of Venetia made the whole book very Austen-like in both the good and bad way.

There was something about the pacing of this book that was slower than the rest of Heyer’s books. I think it’s a lot like Lady of Quality which was one of Heyer’s books. Like that novel, the female protagonist is very well developed, clever, and independent. Also, like that novel, you only see the man in the denouement.

It is well written from a character stand point. It even hit a bit close to home. I really relate to those Heyer heroines in their mid twenties like Venetia. Like them, I think I have a romantic nature, but at the same time, there is a lot of sense shared between these characters and I. I don’t aspire too much in romance, and there is always and independent sort of zeal from many of her ‘spinister’ leads that I also share.

This novel has an additional twist that I didn’t really see coming. It was melodramatic (on the soap operatic end) which isn’t the usual for Heyer, but it worked. It was more of a minor plot device to move things forward. Still rather a nice little surprise.

All in all, I would say this one of the most well written of Heyer books, but it is not necessarily one of my favourites or the one I would reread first. Recommended if you like her stuff because this is a favourite for many of Heyer’s fans.

Read on my Kindle September 10-14th, 2012.

Arabella by Georgette Heyer

Arabella by Georgette Heyer

This was delightful. I haven’t read a Heyer novel in a month and maybe I missed her, but this is one of my favourite of her novels.

This classic Heyer: most eligible yet indifferent dandy bachelor gets enthralled with an innocent yet headstrong girl. I noticed that with this novel that sometimes I find the men in Heyer’s romances younger than their years and the girls somewhat older so it equals out. In her books, a lot of the rich men are encouraged to be spoilt boys. But they are still gentleman, otherwise they would be poor romantic leads.

Arabella is a lovely protagonist. While innocent and not the most cosmpolitan, she is a good daughter, sister, and a kind person. Also, she is mischevious just enough without being annoying. The fact that her lie was preposterous, but I liked it. She really makes up for it by being one of the few heroines actually to consider social justice and charity. She is flawed, but not overly. She definitely puts Mr Robert Beaumarais in his place.

There is aspects of Pride and Prejdudice in this work, and careful readers of Austen will notice the allusions. Mr Beaumarais is a bit of a Darcy. All handsome, proud, stylish and hiding his good heart beneath it. There are some really nice scenes with him and his dog Ulysses. The extent in which he draws to draw out Arabella is fun to read.

The only thing annoying about the book was Arabella’s brother Bertram. Often times, Heyer heroines have rather silly and not the most helpful brothers.

This was one of those few Heyer books where I love the hero and heroine equally. Usually, I favour one slightly more (or grossly more in some cases) over the other. The only other time I found this was Sylvester which was even more like P&P. I think the merit is that Heyer is able to balance out the time she spent developing both characters. She focused more on Arabella and her lively family in the first half and shifts the focus to Robert in the second half. Not many authors can really balance such nice character development equally, but when is at her best, she makes it look easy.

I would reread this novel. It was sweet and fun. I even laughed out loud once or twice which is not a common occurence for me. A good, light romantic read.

Read September 3rd-4th 2012.

Where We Belong by Emily Giffin

Where We Belong by Emily Giffin

I needed to wash my brain of the Fifty Shades series, but I didn’t want anything too arduous or deep either. I have read all of Emily Giffin’s books by now. I know what to expect with her, in that she brings all of her female characters through journeys. Ones that are real, emotional, and full of actual development.

Many of Giffin’s books are the same way. All of them feature thirtysomething women. All of them have been set somewhat in New York City or in that tristate area. All of the women and most of their circle are Caucasian. They are all firmly Upper Middle Class or are by the time of the books. I differ from these protagonists in age, socio-economics, and ethnicity, and yet, I really like Giffin’s brand of chick lit. She forces all of her women to go through emotional upheavals and change themselves. They are usually women who are good, flawed and therefore, human. They actually grow and develop in the books! I love that in characters.

There is a faint formula in all her works, but they all feel really similar in a good way. Still, it would be boring if they were all exactly a like. I think this is definitely one of my favourite of her works.

The book deals with two characters, adoption, and the relationships around that. The first person narratives switches from Marian (token Giffin protagonist) and her daughter Kirby whom she gave up for adoption. The story weaves how their relationship develops after they meet again, and all the relationships around it from Kirby’s adopted family to Marian’s family and friends and to Conrad, Kirby’s biological father.

Adoption is a very interesting topic for me. It always has been. I am not adopted and I do not have any friends who were, but it has always appealed to me. I don’t always read books about it either, but this is one of those times, when an author I like explores a topic I am fascinated by.

It really worked out because I found this touching and realistic. Kirby is really self-possessed for a teenager, but she still retains that awkwardness, obstinacy, and dismissiveness that plagues many a teenage girl. Also, where were guys like Philip Chang or Conrad Knight when I was a teenager? Giffin also makes so many of her male love interests dreamy… even the adolescent ones! Well, it isn’t chicklit if there isn’t charming men.

Another reason I like Giffin’s books are that they are all connected in some way. They happen in this same universe where many of the female protagonists know each other. Sometimes the connection is tenuous, but often like in this book, they are close friends. Marian is best friends with Claudia from Baby Proof. This gives the loyal reader an icing on the cake snippet of other previous protagonists. Generally, it means just an update to say, “They are still happy!” But whatever, it’s nice because readers get attached and all.

Something that I really liked about this book that stood out is the ending. This is chick lit so the ending is almost always happily ever after, and they usually are with her books. I won’t spoil and the ending is a happy one, but not quite conventional. For awhile there, it was looking to get into cheese factory, but I was very pleased with the real result. It is different than her usual endings, but then again, she could change it so that in the update Marian ends up with “X”. That wouldn’t bother me too much, but I liked how Giffin took a different road this time.

Read September 2nd, 2012.

Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed by E. L. James

My review of Fifty Shades of Grey is here. While I found that barely tolerable, I found the two books below awful.

Fifty Shades Darker

In fandoms, there is a type of fanfiction called PWP or Porn Without Plot. Alot of this trilogy is basically that. Not much plot, character development, but there is a lot of sex. Surprisingly, I found the constant sexual scenes rather boring halfway through the book.

The beginning of the book quickly resolves the cliffhanger from the first part. All of this second book happens in one week. I don’t know why the author does not spread anything out, but it makes this novel unbelievable. It’s utter fantasy. I was glad when I finished it because I was actually quite bored for most of it.

I still disliked the murmuring, the glaring Britichisms (the use of rude alone), and Ana’s inner goddess and subconscious. Actually, I couldn’t really stand Ana by the end of the novel; she became another Bella Swan. I found her not three dimensional enough. She is too goody goody and implausible as a real character. It wasn’t believable or relatable. She only ever thinks about Christian and that’s it. It’s also unbelievable what happens to her over the course of one week. Predictable novel stuff, but ridiculous.

Also, Ana is dumb. She is not a smart cookie. She constantly asks questions to her own head. She’s slow and emotionally immature. Not as much as Christian, but enough.

All the characters are black and white except for Christian and even he got schmoopy in this novel. He did get some character development, but he was very mushy by the end of it. It was saccharine and frankly, tedious to read them just have sex every ten pages.

This is why I don’t like traditional romance novels where it’s all “I need you’s” and “I love you’s” and blah blah. I sound unromantic, and that’s not the case. I like romances which are more complex and real, which involve more than just two people declaring their love for each other constantly. I prefer ones where both partners grow, develop, love one another against all odds, but without being ‘us against the world’. Hey, it’s great if you have an all consuming love, but your life is more than that.

Ugh, I don’t look forward to the third book because I saw the ending of this one a continent away. In any case, it’s short (Edit: It wasn’t short since I didn’t see the page count) and it’ll be over soon.

Read on my Kindle August 27-28th 2012.

Fifty Shades Freed

So my masochism continues. I found Ana really boring and stupid in this novel. The girl has no major hobbies and very few goals.She spends almost every single thought about Christian. Also for a woman who is an editor, was an English major and as per Christian “most well read woman I know”, Ana doesn’t really have a great vocabulary or diction.

This book was so boring that I avoided reading it on my downtime at work. Usually, I love to read when I can find the time, but this… MEH!

The sex scenes were very redundant. Why oh why did she not get an American to edit this?

I notice that Christian gets his way a lot. They solved 90% of their problems through the same rehashed up sex scenes. They were overdependent on each other.

It was predictable because Ana continue to be stupid. I did genuinely like her for a moment when they had their first real fight. Then I lost respect for her when she saved the day. Sigh, as predicted.

I saw all the plot twists. I generally see a lot of plot twists in movies or books, but that’s fine because sometimes, you have fun along the ride. But for this book, it was not fun. It was mind-blowingly tedious.

I’m glad to be done! I should have stopped after the first book, but now I can laugh about the fact I read books two and three.

Read on my Kindle August 28th-September 1st 2012.

It is clear I am not a fan of these books. I have nothing against people who think the opposite. This was not the worse thing I have ever read, but it was a long journey of boredom for me. I don’t hate it, but I struggled towards the end. It also offers a poor view of people with fetishes, kinks, and girls who are English majors. Do I recommend this? No, but if you want to laugh and see why this book is the fastest paperback bestseller of all kind? Go right ahead. Just try not to buy it and get it from the library or a friend or something. I find it sad that a woman is going to the bank on this work. Also, I will probably watch the movie with morbid curiosity and also laugh.

Here are some other reviews of the trilogy which made me laugh:

Fifty Shades of Bad Writing
Jen Reads Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

From The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle to Fifty Shades of Grey. Well, people can’t accuse me of not having eclectic taste in books.

I got these books on Kindle some time ago right when it was getting a bit of buzz. I didn’t even know what they were about other than vaguely it was romance. Two of my best girlfriends read it, and both of them got into it. The more popular the books became, the more I saw the necessity of reading it. I am always fascinated by certain bestsellers

A couple months ago, I randomly read a chapter of this book, and I was put off by the bad writing. This book was in serious need of an editor’s touch or rather, a severe dress down. Last week, one of my friends told me to look at the hilarious Amazon.com reviews of the book, and I finally buckled and read the book. One of the reviews on Amazon pointed out the bad writing and the author’s repetitive use of words.

The following words made me roll my eyes ad nauseaum (and Grey can come on over to punish me for it): murmuring (don’t these people know how to talk?!), muttering, control, control freak, hot as a synonym to describe Grey, the Briticisms (which would be fine if any of these characters were actually British), and many other small things. For example, why didn’t Ana have a computer? I don’t know any person who went to university/college in the last five to ten years to not have a personal computer. How can two high GPA college girls share one laptop?

Ana’s vocabulary also ranges from preteen to decent adult. It is inconsistent for an English major. I also did not like references to Ana’s subconscious and inner goddess. It was amusing the first couple of times, but grew increasingly juvenile.

I have read a lot of fanfiction spanning several fandoms over the years. The novel reads like fanfiction. Not surprising since it was originally a piece of Twilight fanfic. It still feels like it though. It’s unpolished and it feels indulgent. Even the comparisons to Tess of the D’Urbervilles is half-hearted. It’s a lot of sex, but not a lot of character development or much of anything.

Ana is slightly better than Bella (the reason I dislike Twilight the most), and there some moments early on when I even related to Ana. As the novel progressed, I became more and more indifferent to her due to the inconsistencies and the feeling that she wasn’t all that well developed.

I admit that Christian Grey is different and much better than Edward Cullen, but like Cullen, he feels more like a product of women’s fantasies than an actual man. Not to say that good looking, wealthy, kinky young men don’t exist, but they are hard to come by especially the way Grey is. I think the reason that this book is so popular, aside from the sex scenes, is that Grey is one of the best fictional sex symbols I’ve read in a long time. The author makes him mysterious, sexy, charismatic, cold, playful, bad, passionate, communicative, intelligent, severe, attentive, strong, beautiful, distant, warm and it goes on. He has traits enough for most women’s fantasies and traits for the ideal romantic man. He is both repressed emotionally and sexually expressive. He is wealthy, cold, and distant, but needy and in lust enough for the heroine (who is the reader’s stand in). I have to say the author did a good job of making a character that so many women desire. On the other hand, it sometimes feels that Grey is a vacuum as a result and not a real character. He is made to be a perfect man even with his flaws; his flaws are what make him so appealing to many women. There just isn’t enough character development in this first part. I will give credit where credit is due; it’s not often an author creates a character that affect the admiration of so many women.

I won’t say I love this book, but I finished it quickly enough both because of the vocabulary, the content, and there is a certain addictive quality. I am rather disheartened to think that such a mediocre piece of writing is making this much money. Ahh well, the mass wants what the masses want. Anyway, onto the sequel.

Read on my Kindle August 25-27th 2012.