Monday, November 27, 2006

NYTimes Top 10 & 100 Notable book lists of 2006

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NYTimes Top 10 books for 2006

NYTimes Notable 100 books of 2006 list

I've yet to read any of the books listed, so don't quite have a grasp on whether or not I agree with the list. But this will undoubtedly be a good source for books to check out.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Crime and Punishment


Crime and Punishment

By Fyodor Dostoevsky

In summary, I rather enjoyed this classic.

(Updating this a year later...)
I noticed it touched upon a number of more abstract individual and society issues that Rand grappled with in Fountainhead, specifically pertainining to super-talented people. (i.e. if you think of people on a bell-curve for talent, those to the far right). What are the responsibilities of these individuals to society and what can they get away, if anything?

An aside, I wonder if these type of issues were just something the Russians liked to think about during that period?

One of the interesting things I found was that there was an overall sense of progression towards ... I guess enlightenment would be the best word. This occurs both for the protagonist and the reader. To clarify, the novel begins as a jumble of mixed irrational emotions, during which the protagonist commits his crime. Afterwards, the protagoniosts expectedly goes through various emotional states and then the interesting part occurs. As time passes by and the protagonist still has not been caught, he begins to really internalize what has happened and figure out what he should do. And this was what I really liked about the book - an intelligent main character, working out his responsibilities for his crime.

The reader gets a broader vision of what's going on, getting a chance to see friends' and the detective's perspective on the story, all of whom are intelligent as well.

I think it's pretty difficult to communicate abstract concepts without sounding foolish, but it's done with a great deal of grace in this one.

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
by Douglas R. Hofstadter

Perhaps if I had more time on my hands, I might have finished reading this. It's well written, especially when you consider the complexity of some of the topics. But as I feel strapped for time these days and felt as I already had been introduced to many of the concepts, finishing reading the book didn't seem worth it.

I mention it here as a recommendation for those who might be interested in logic and mind-binding stuff, but haven't yet had the education in it.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Dooce

While I'm on the subject of non-book reading material, I thought I would mention my favorite blog: Dooce. I've been reading her blog for probably a year and a half and it's been consistently entertaining, humorous and touching. Yeah, blogs are certainly a different beast than books, with their own pros & cons, but I think Dooce is a damn fine example of a blog well done.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Watching Beirut Die

Watching Beirut Die
Anthony Bourdain

Not a book, but an interesting read nonetheless. An article by Anthony Bourdain on being caught in Beirut as it was being bombed. I must admit to being terribly stereotypically American in being rather ignorant about world news, so it's interesting getting a more personalized view on something I would otherwise have had zero contact with.

(As a side-note, I'm a passive fan of Anthony Bourdain. I really enjoyed reading Kitchen Confidential and when I actually watch television, his show, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations on the Travel Network is cool to catch.)

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Stephen R. Covey

Ironically, I am being more effective and efficient with my time by choosing to discontinue reading this book than to finish it. I got a little past the first chapter.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Metafilter recommended books

http://ask.metafilter.com/mefi/42616

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Master of Go

The Master of Go
by Yasunari Kawabata

I really liked this one. It 1) was well-written 2) gave me a deeper respect and understanding of the game Go, and 3) followed the entertaining upstart versus master storyline, sometimes found in sports, albeit at a more peaceful and conscientious pace. Kawabata starts off by jumping around in time, but once the Go game starts, follows the moves of the (multi-month) game in chronological order and even shows diagrams of the board so you can follow the game. I'm unfamiliar with even the most basic of strategies of Go, so some of the moves described and some of the Go terms were slightly lost on me (despite the book even having a glossary). But in the end, this was a rather enjoyable, relaxing and mentally stimulating read.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Sound of Waves

The Sound of Waves
By Yukio Mishima

A simple love story that is a quick and entertaining read. This was slightly reminiscent of Old Man and the Sea in its simplicity and its setting, but it was not quite as masterfully put together.

My only complaint was very minor. Some of the narrator's meta comments regarding the main character's inexperience with women seemed a little awkward (perhaps this was due to translation?)

But all in all, this was definitely a good read, one of those books that those of almost any age can pick up and enjoy.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Long Stay in a Distant Land

A Long Stay in a Distant Land
by Chieh Chieng

A Long Stay in a Distant Land is written interestingly enough to be engaging and I'd categorize it as yet another airplane reading book. I think there are a couple of details that set this slightly apart from some other books, one of which is a personal reason and the other, I think is more generally applicable.

The personal detail that I found particularly interesting was that the main character is Cantonese-Chinese American, which I've never really encountered before. Now granted, I haven't been looking particularly for such an author, but I must say that it was refreshing to read phrases in Cantonese and realize, hey I get that, instead of having to do a cultural empathy translation so to speak.

The other more generally applicable, but still subtle pro about this book was how the generations of family were portrayed. A lot of books and movies, which involve multi-generation family subjects, tend to rely on the same tired stereotypes - the grandparent generation tend to be played really sappily, the youngest generation really cut-throat, and the parents generation caught somewhere in the middle. And while there were issues that I kind of rolled my eyes at, once in a while, certain scenes were be subtly well-done. For example, when one of the characters walks into the bathroom to catch his parents starting to make love in the bathtub, that was a nice detail.

Anyways, to sum it up, decently done, but nothing all that unique.

(PS. My step-grandmother's cooking is out of this world and my parent's cooking is pretty good. All in all, when I'm with my family or extended family, I tend to expect to eat well. To hear one of the characters talk about his grandmother's turnip cake being awful struck me as really really odd.)

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Bless Me, Ultima


Bless Me, Ultima

by Rudolfo Anaya

A decently written novel. On the cover, it's described as a Chicano classic, a term which had I googled before reading probably would have given a little bit more context and appreciation of the novel, but alas I did not. (definition ).

Bless, Me Ultima is more geared towards the high school or younger crowd. It's really a coming of age story with religion, spirituality, and magic/witch-craft/mysticism playing a large role in the story. Apparently it got banned from some school reading list, I'm guessing because the child questions Christianity a lot and ends up focusing on other local powers, such as a God that lives as a golden carp in a local river or the powers of the benevolent witch (witch isn't quite the right term), Ultima.

Anyways, it's not exactly high-intellectual, but it's well-written, eye-opening and enjoyable, a good one for the summer.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

China, Inc.

China Inc.
By Ted C. Fishman

Unlike Guanxi, which I was heavily disappointed with, China, Inc. was exactly the type of book I was looking to read on China. First, it provides a fair and wide-ranging perspective on China: discussing various industries, concerns over legal enforcement of intellectual property, an attempt at historical perspective, etc. Second, given the rapid changes that China is undergoing now, it is essential that the book be as recently published as possible and this is (2005). Third, despite doing his homework and digging up numbers from a number of studies and articles, the writing remains very accessible and contains a number of personal stories of when Fishman was in China. And lastly, the perspective with which he writes, I appreciated on two levels: as an American citizen, I have concerns over whether China's rapid growth will cause a decline in the excellent quality of life here. Fishman cannot obviously answer those issues (can anyone?), but does his best at bringing up the issues to the forefront. And secondly, being Chinese in ethniticity, I appreciated that Fishman attempted to be as informed as possible in the culture and its differences. There is nothing worse than when an American of non Chinese heritage travels to China once and is suddenly convinced that he/she knows more than you about it.

All in all, a very good read and I would recommend it to anyone in the US to read, because like it or not, if things keep on going the way they are heading, China's dramatic growth will change the lifestyle here in the near future.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Guanxi: Microsoft, China, and Bill Gate's Plan to Win the Road Ahead


Guanxi: Microsoft, China, and Bill Gate's Plan to Win the Road Ahead

by Robert Buderi and Gregory T. Huang

This book wasn't really that insightful in examining Microsoft's thought process in establishing their R&D lab in Beijing or into the Chinese culture. The authors write with too much reverence for Microsoft and those in China, such that they really don't challenge their subjects enough and delve into the more interesting issues. For example, while they proclaim that the researchers at Microsoft create truly innovative products, I never got the sense that they really understood why something was innovative and what the significance of the product was. Their discussion of everything else, Chinese cultural differences, decisions to expand, etc, were similarly light-weight.

I think the most interesting part of the book was their description of the departure of Kai-Fu Lee, the person who led the initiative to start a lab in Beijing, to go work for their competitor, Google. This part was interesting, for really the opposite of what you'd want out of a good book, because it seemed like the authors were so biased in favor of Microsoft, that you indirectly got a sense of how those at Microsoft reacted to the decision. That is, they attempted to be accepting, but on some level smarted with a sense of betrayal. To me, it was interesting to note that that particular aspect might be a large part of Microsoft's company culture now - that the best and the brightest of talents may not automatically go to work for Microsoft anymore; however, their employees remain fiercely (and slightly irrationally) loyal.

Anyways, I will be attending the authors' talk at MIT. It should be interesting to see whether my critiques were well-founded or not.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Lizard

Lizard
By Banana Yoshimoto

This was a set of 6 short stories that were introspective and mostly dealt with the subject of the perception of life and relationships. It's decently written, but not particularly memorable. Mainly this is because the writing style seems like a mix of different influences. In addition, the short story format inherently translates to less depth that I could sink my teeth into. I'd say this would be passable as relaxing reading material on a plane, but I can't imagine myself rereading this again.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Shanghai Baby

Shanghai Baby
by Zhou Wei Hui
Translated by Bruce Humes

An interesting, but in the end somewhat light-weight novel. I generally have an affinity for books that go into detail about relationships, especially complex ones. Shanghai Baby definitely does this, talking about love, loyalty, sex, attraction, etc and does so quite honestly. I think the best aspects of this book are first and foremost, the strong and specific perspective of the main character, Coco, who is young, ambitious, creative, attractive, sexual, and Shanghai-centric and secondly, her take on being in love with one man, Tian Tian, while having a sexual relationship with another, Mark.

However, going beyond that, there is not much actual meat to the novel. Just to name a few complaints: the details about the main character's relationship with the man she loved was actually surprisingly sparse. There was very little description of what Shanghai was like as a city. And lastly, there were a number of pop-culture references and quotes which were just random and without any particular deeper meaning for their use.

All in all, this was a interesting and fast read, but in the end, not that significant.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Untouchable

The Untouchable
by John Banville

Ugh, I was unable to finish this, mainly out of frustration.

The novel is written as a memoir of a former spy. From what I read, the focus seems to be on how a lot of the things involved in being spy are mundane, just like any other job... which I was fine with. But what bothered me immensely was the main character's rather pointless and shallow reflections on his actions and reactions and his not-enlightening mullings on large-scale schools of thoughts. To me, it was like listening to college students in "philosophical" debates - bloody pedantic and not insightful at all. It pains me to even think this much about this.

On to my next book.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

More books on queue

Yeah, I know I haven't ripped through another book in some time. But I'm just getting around to reading more books - up next on the queue is The Untouchable by John Banville.