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

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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 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/)

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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!