Thoughts on 13 Years in America

13 Years in America
Author: 
Melanie Steele
Genre: Memoir, Autobiography
Purchase: Smashwords (free)

Summary:  After moving to the United States from Canada in 1998, a free-spirited young woman rejects the status quo and embarks on a journey to discover what it means to be truly happy and fulfilled in the Land of Opportunity.

Her 13-year search spans half a dozen states, a bunch of fearless adventures, and ever-increasing crises, divisions, turmoil, and discontent. Through it all, she holds on to her fearless pursuit of happiness and fulfilment against ever-decreasing odds.

13 Years in America is a moving personal journey and a sharp, hard look at the American Dream.

– via www.smashwords.com

* * *

13 Years in America. I wonder. Would I be able to write something like this, too, like 4 Years (plus) in Malaysia? Or perhaps 2 Years in Australia? Or 25- 6 Years in La Islas Filipinas?

I didn’t expect this book to be so thought-provoking. Reading through the first few chapters simply gave me a glimpse of a life of a girl who fell in love, got married, left the country she grew up in, came face to face with the realities struggling young couples face, and so on and so forth. It wasn’t until I got to the latter chapters that questions about happiness, fulfilment, and conforming to the system that we live in as a whole started nagging me.

What is happiness? Is it found in the end point or in the journey itself? Where do we find our fulfilment? Do we find it in reaching our goals or in loving and making a difference in the lives of others? And are we content in living in the prevalent system in this world? Working our butts off, making some decent money, getting stressed, getting tired, saying hello to our loved ones every now and then, repeating this cycle over and over again? Is this the way life is supposed to be?

I highlighted some of my favourite passages from the book, but it appears as if my e-reader lost all but one. Still, I can share this passage here as a penny for our thoughts:

After a few minutes, we rise and keep going. This time I fall behind, and I start thinking about how the beauty and wonder of this mountain aren’t just at the top; they’re here, right now, around me. Have an open mind on the way up. That’s where the experience is. My whole focus for years and years now has been on a goal, on reaching and achieving. And that goal, no matter how hard I work or how far I go, is always further on. It’s almost like the goal is a mirage, always on the horizon, just out of reach.

Have an open mind on the way up. That’s where the experience is.

13 Years in America ended, of course, with Melanie Steele’s 13th year there. But for me it didn’t really “end”. It’s not that there wasn’t any closure — there was — but it wasn’t the closure I was expecting.

But I guess that’s just the way life is. It’s continuous, it goes on and on, and — a lot of times — the chapters don’t end in the way that we want them to.

So let’s just make the most of the ride. Let’s enjoy life and drink in the beauty, savour every word and phrase before the pages of our books are through. :)

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Thoughts on Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice
Author:
Jane Austen
Genre: Classic Literature
Purchase: Download for free (Project Gutenberg and Kobo)

Summary: Prejudice meets pride when middle-class Elizabeth Bennet encounters well-to-do Mr. Darcy, a dashing young man who has come into town accompanying Meryton newcomer Mr. Bingly. He (Mr. Darcy, not Mr. Bingly) is stiff and haughty but eventually falls in love with sassy Lizzie. She hates him passionately but soon realizes that she might be having feelings (other than disgust) for him, too. But will Mr. Darcy get over his pride and humble himself enough to really woo her? Will Miss Bennet overcome her prejudice and just let Mr. Darcy love her? Yes. No. Maybe.

***

After countless attempts of reading and of only being able make it through to Chapter 2, I was finally able to finish this book through and through. It was the pacing and the prose that made me want to surrender. I felt that the story moved too slowly. And there was too much conversing. Sometimes I didn’t know who was speaking; sometimes I didn’t know who were the people actually present in the scene.

But because I wanted to know why this book made so many women sigh and swoon, I trudged on diligently until I got to the 61st chapter — until I got to the very end.

I must say, despite having to “trudge through”, I liked the book. Very much.

Favourite lines (some spoilers are up ahead):

The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news. (Chapter 1, on Mrs. Bennet)

He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again. (Chapter 3, on Mr. Darcy)

“That is exactly the question which I expected you to ask. A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony, in a moment. I knew you would be wishing me joy.” (Chapter 6)

“But if a woman is partial to a man, and does not endeavour to conceal it, he must find it out.” (Chapter 6)

He began to feel the danger of paying Elizabeth too much attention. (Chapter 11, Mr. Darcy falls in love)

Mr. Darcy corroborated it with a bow, and was beginning to determine not to fix his eyes on Elizabeth, when they were suddenly arrested by the sight of the stranger. (Chapter 15, Haha! I am Team Darcy!)

He had ruined for a while every hope of happiness for the most affectionate, generous heart in the world; and no one could say how lasting an evil he might inflicted. (Chapter 33, one of Elizabeth’s prejudices against Mr. Darcy)

“In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” (Chapter 34, Mr. Darcy makes his confession. And all the women swoon.)

She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. (Chapter 50, Ayii!)

There was too much to be thought, and felt, and said, for attention to any other objects. (Chapter 58)

Elizabeth’s spirits soon rising to playfulness again, she wanted Mr. Darcy to account for his having ever fallen in love with her. “How could you begin?” said she. “I can comprehend your going on charmingly, when you had once made a beginning but what could set you off in the first place?” “I cannot fix the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It was too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.” (Chapter 60)

“I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.” There you go. Sigh. Swoon.

If you have the patience for classics, read it and fall in love all over again.

Thoughts on The Secret of Counting Gifts

the secret of counting giftsThe Secret of Counting Gifts
Author: Heidi Kreider
Genre: Inspirational
Purchase: Smashwords*

Summary: For 28 years, Kris and Liz have been roommates, best friends and later next door neighbors. They have lived life and supported one another through marriage, babies, miscarriage, depression, death, and infidelity. 28 years will be all they have as Liz loses her battle with breast cancer. On her last night, they look back and count the gifts of gratitude that has made up their story. (via www.smashwords.com)

* * *

Every now and then, you’ll find a book that would touch a very deep place in your heart. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter did that a few years ago for me. The Secret of Counting Gifts did it again just recently.

It’s a short read. The book is composed of 29 chapters (plus an epilogue) with a narration that slips back and forth between the present (Liz’ last night with her friends and family) and the past (the 28 years that comprised Liz’ and Kris’ friendship). I say it’s a short read because the individual chapters are actually pretty short and the language Kreider uses is actually pretty simple. Simple, but touching nonetheless.

I almost cried while reading the last chapter. My emotions have been pretty placid the past days — perhaps I’d have cried more during one of my more emotional seasons — but that chapter definitely left a mark.

Some highlights:

She held my hand when I buried my father and I stood with her when her husband walked out. It was I who encouraged Liz to pursue her dream of song writing when she lacked purpose, and it was I who found her agent. When my son was deployed, it was Liz who framed his army portrait and put it in her mantle. (Chapter 1)

She knew peace could only come from surrendering that bitterness. She knew that freedom comes from forgiveness. She knew. (Chapter 9)

“Kris, I’ve found Jesus.” Liz announced. “Was he lost?” I asked, confused. (Chapter 11)

Isn’t this how it is? Even while we wait for death, we live. We , who are alive, keep living. We go on, day after day, saying things like, “I’d die if I had to do that” or “that scares me to death.” We speak so glibly of dying and death. We know nothing of that which we speak. (Chapter 12)

“More than anything,” she said, gently brushing tears from my face, “continue counting. Count with me to the end and keep counting after I’ve gone.” (Chapter 28)

This book shows how life becomes more meaningful when we begin to count the gifts it has given us. When we live lives filled with gratitude, you can look back at anything — depression, failed marriages, miscarriages, cancer — and say that it’s still all worth it.

There are portions that some people might find preachy, though. But again, the book is a gem. Read it. It might just change your life.

*Smashwords is an ukay-ukay for books like Noistrade is one for music. You have to scour through piles of mostly independently published books (some with “just okay” writing) to get that find that you’ll treasure forever. Drop by if you’re a fan of e-books. Your next good read might there waiting for you today.

Thoughts on The Hobbit

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The Hobbit or There and Back Again
Author:
J.R.R. Tolkien
Genre: Fiction, fantasy, children’s literature

Summary: Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who has lived his whole life in a comfortable hole in the ground, finds himself joining a band of Dwarves who, in an effort to take back what was rightfully theirs, have set off to raid dwarfish treasures guarded by the dragon Smaug. Their journey is a long and perilous one. They encounter many strange and dangerous co-inhabitants of Middle Earth — trolls, goblins, rock throwers, elves, a fellow named Gollum, and a skin-changer named Beorn — as they make their way from the Bag-End to the Lonely Mountain. This enchanting book was written by Tolkien as a prelude to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The Ring makes its first appearance here.

* * *

Yey! After living 24 years in Planet Earth, I was finally able to dive into the world of Middle Earth. Yes, I’m that lame. I call myself a bookworm but it’s only this year that I’ve allowed myself read (and finish) a Tolkien book. Well, I was only able to read the Narnia books last year, so there.

In my defense, I’ve already seen the movies (LOTR plus The Hobbit part 1). But that doesn’t really count if you’re a bookaholic. Thus, I decided to make it a point to read and finish the Tolkien books this year.

My fifth grade teacher actually read The Hobbit to my class years ago, during our free sessions. She would read it to us chapter by chapter while we drew or did whatever. Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin and the gang were no strangers to me, because of her. I also found myself reading the book hearing a gentle female Australian voice inside my head, because of her.

On to the review. Oh but who could review The Hobbit? It’s a literary masterpiece! It’s a children’s classic! It’s — it’s —

It’s an amazing, humorous, enchanting, magical book.

Really, I think it would just be better if I shared some of my favourite passages:

This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected. (Chapter 1: An Unexpected Party)

“Go back?” he thought. “Not good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter. (Chapter 5: Riddles in the Dark)

Somehow killing the giant spider, all alone by himself in the dark without the help of the wizard or the dwarves or of anyone else, made a great difference to Mr. Baggins. He felt a different person, and much fiercer and bolder in spite of an empty stomach, as he wiped his sword on the grass and put it back into its sheath. (Chapter 8: Flies and Spiders)

Already he was a very different hobbit from the one that had run out without a pocket-handkerchief from Bag-End long ago. (Chapter 12: Inside Information)

“Of course!” said Gandalf. “And why should they not prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit?” (Chapter 19: The Last Stage)

I found myself greatly identifying with Bilbo Baggins. Just like him, I have embarked on a long and perilous adventure. Just like him, I’ve had my doubts along the way. But just like him, I’ll come out victorious. Ooops. Spoiler alert.

Enjoy the book. It’s a very worthy read.

Thoughts on One Short Year

20130115-160814.jpgAuthor: Diane Dunning
Genre: Fiction, Short Story Anthology
Purchase: Amazon, B&N, Smashwords (free for a limited time)

Summary: College student Greta endures a shattered attempt at sophistication through wine class; teen surfer Kai struggles to find meaning as he copes with his father’s death; Andy, a wanna-be corporate climber, fumbles his image makeover before he even makes it into the office. Through a series of haiku-like vignettes, One Short Year takes you to the lives of 10 characters coping with a variety of poignant, sometimes funny, situations. (via http://www.dianedunning.com/)

* * *

I read One Short Year in one short sitting. I’ve been challenging myself to expand my reading horizons lately so I scoured through the internet and found this short story collection in smashwords.com. I’m glad this book has put that challenge off to a great start.

According to the author, One Short Year is actually a selection of posts from a previous blog of hers — ones which have generated the most reader interest. I found that noteworthy. I have a couple of stories here and there in this lil’ ol’ blog right here and — oops. I’m supposed to be writing a review, aren’t I?

Dunning’s collection reminded me of O. Henry. There were surprising “twists” at the end of certain stories (I liked the one about Andrew/Andy) but there were ones that I had to go back to just so that I could understand what really went on. Her prose wasn’t too wordy and I liked how she introduced sections with descriptions of the different seasons in that short year — fall, winter, spring, and summer. These really set the scene for the series of stories that followed.

My personal favourites would have to be Love, Mark (one of the longer and more emotional ones), Cellphone Conversation (one of the shorter ones), and A Career in Politics (the Andy story — one of the more humorous ones). Love, Mark was told from a young girl’s point of view. There was a lot of sibling rivalry, a big surprise at the end — it was rather heartbreaking, actually. Cellphone Conversation was a witty breaking-up exchange — who breaks up through phone anyway? A Career in Politics, meanwhile, was just something that made me laugh aloud. Go, Andrew!

I’m not really one to give ratings. If it makes it to my blog, it is because I believe it’s very read-worthy.

Read more about Diane Dunning here.

Did you enjoy this review? I plan to read more books this year – classics, bestsellers, and ones by independent self-publishers to mix it all up. Expect more posts under this category. I still believe in the profound effect that books — fiction and nonfiction — have on us, even in this tech-savy, fast-paced, internet-loving, film-consuming world. Here’s to more book reading!