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Thang L. (lext) - Reviews

1 to 5 of 5
1984
1984
Author: George Orwell
Book Type: Mass Market Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 1676
Review Date: 2/9/2015
Helpful Score: 1


I didn't know much about this book until I saw it in the "banned book list" in the library and picked a copy. I vaguely know it has something to do with Big Brother and an Apple ad, but nothing else. (Nothing piques your curiosity like stamping "banned" on it, I can tell you.)

I'm glad I read it though. I think my perspective will probably differ somewhat from the typical American (Western) reader's, but I find the book rather amusing, especially the early parts. It reads like a satire to me, and many times I had to chuckle to myself "yeah, that's so true". It's like watching Saturday Night Live where everything is a slightly exaggerated spoof of the real thing. I grew up in a communist country, so I can appreciate a lot of practices mentioned in the book, for example the ever-watchful eyes around you, the banning of true romances, the need for Party-arranged marriage, the practices of unperson (including the act of removing references to someone from text or photos), the de-emphasis of personal feeling, the heavy bureaucracy, the adulation of the paramount leader, etc. (Although truth be told, on the last point the book probably pales compare to the current practice in North Korea). It's scary, it's suffocating, it's depressing, but it's so true. At first I thought that Orwell was so far ahead of his time, since at the time of the publication, there was no Asian communist countries to speak of. But now that I've read more about Stalin's USSR, I realize he got his inspirations from there. Still, pretty insightful book if you've never lived in that system before.

(Many people commented that it's a dystopian society in the future. Well I can tell you that there have been times in history in certain countries where it was very very close to being the reality. You should be thankful you're living in a society where you can afford to think it's way off in the future :)

Apart from the satirical content, I also find one idea very insightful (it's in the content of the little revolt book), and that is the suggestion of a 3-tier society, and how they've been interacting and probably will continue interacting till the end of time. I find it so funny, in fact I laughed out loud when I got there. Here you go, all the revolutionary thinkers and philosophers of the world, thinking their brain off (and at the cost of sometimes hundreds, sometimes thousands, and sometimes millions of lives) about how to have a better society. And yet all they do is just to rehash and repeat what Mr Orwell has so clearly described before. It's what come closest to capture TRUTH compared to all the other things you see each day (Michael Moore, Occupy movement, Congress, Wall Street, the NK Kim Dynasty, Gengis Khan, the Russian Revolution, the French Revolution, even the American Revolution, and so on). Isn't it amazing?

The last thing I really like about the book is the love story. I love the love story. Some people will see it as cold, bleak, unromantic, etc, but I see it as having everything: warmth, tenderness, playfulness, longing, heart. It's love, period. Especially the girl, she's obviously been described by the author as "the girl of your dream". She's hard to come by, but if you happen to know her, try to grab her heart before it's too late.


Ender's Game (Ender, Bk 1)
Ender's Game (Ender, Bk 1)
Author: Orson Scott Card
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 19
Review Date: 2/8/2015


This version is the most recent reprint of the book, I think to coincide with the launch of the movie. I've read/watched them both.

I find the book decent to read, although at times a bit distracting. This is one of those books where I'd love to see illustration. I had a hard time trying to visualize the supposedly impressive feat of the boy in the training room, to see whethere he's really that clever, or he's just cleaver because the author's intention is for him to be clever. Now, I understand that a book is mostly about the theme and author's intention, and the point of the book is not nitty-gritty but in the grand picture of the plot. Still, I would have liked to be convinced, impressed and swept away by the ingenuity of the actual setting, rather than straining to go through the description and eventually resigning myself to accept that "He's in, he's clever, he's outmanoevred them all, now they're pissed at him".

I do love the ending though, although I guess that's not very surprising. The plot and the setting are also nice, although nothing revolutionary for the fares today (it might have been revolutionary back then). There are some theme/references to the conflicts of those days (Cold War, Stars War) although the readers of today probably won't get. I love the name "bugger" :) I keep expecting some actor with English accent to say "Bugger off, buggers" in the movie, but no such luck.

The post-ending (what happens after the earth-shattering ending) is also interesting. It does have a touch of humanity (or rather, humanitarianism) in it. When it's mankind vs. alien, you know who to root for, but once it's all over, it makes you wonder: is man really kind? Hard to say.

The movie is simply a travesty of what's in the book. I don't remember much from the movie (it certainly didn't show any clever "Gravity"-styled manoeuvre I was hoping to see). The only thing I remember is that the ending of the movie was rather confusing and vague. If you didn't read the book you'll probably have a hard time telling how the movie ends.


The Fault in Our Stars
The Fault in Our Stars
Author: John Green
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 237
Review Date: 1/26/2015
Helpful Score: 1


I've both read the book and watched the movie. I love it. Some of the dialogs are a bit too witty/profound for me to believe they're from a pair of 16-17 years old (in the same way you'll find many dialogs in movies unreal). But I understand they're that way for a reason: so that the writer can provide his views (via the characters) and so that it can amuse us and hold our attention. (Believe me, if you write exactly like how two cancer kids talk, your readers will slam your book to death instead of praising you "oh it sounds so real").

Now back to my love for this book. I don't find it excessively (holy-smokily) depressing, nor is it necessarily a tear-inducing novel (either because I'm a guy, or because I'm weaned on much more bleak/sentimental writing from the world of non-English-speaking literature). It's indeed sad though, and real, and funny, and heart-tugging, and melancholic, and it gives you that moment to sit back and think about your life, your own mortality and what it means to exist on this earth at all. That part, the part of the existential questions and opinions, is what I like most about the book, although the average readers don't seem to give it any thought at all. I know the opinions (either purportedly from Gus, from Hazel or from that fictional Van Houten character) are all from the author (although he may just restate belief he first got off someone else), but that doesn't mean they're not intriguing or interesting or profound. Do you really exist to leave your "scar" to the world? To live an imprint to the ones you love? Is there a Something after you're gone? If you're among the 99% of people who leave no "scar" worth mentioning, does that mean you've lived in vain?

I guess I'm veering off into a direction hardly anyone else wants to go in, but if you ever have an inkling for that sort of thoughts, read it and feel it and think it for yourself. Or maybe just read and enjoy a really good piece of literature.


The Giver (Giver, Bk 1)
The Giver (Giver, Bk 1)
Author: Lois Lowry
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.3/5 Stars.
 576
Review Date: 2/19/2015


Perhaps I'm biased, because I just read 1984 not too long ago, but this book does remind me of 1984. I wouldn't be surprised if the author got inspired by 1984, either consciously or subconsciously. But again, she might have come up with it on her own. That this and 1984 belong in the same dystopian framework is fairly apparent: the orderly society, the all-imposing bureaucracy that dictates what you do and controls how you should behave, the lack of real emotion including love, hate, anger, longing, ... (Now, if you're a Buddist follower, you'd think that the lack of those emotions is not necessarily a bad thing, but that's a totally different topic).

What is more unique about this book (and make it a good read) is the calmness and nonchalance with which society seems to carry on. Unlike 1984, here there's no outwardly sinister characters or scheme. Society appear to have been designed for everyone's own good. Thus the malevolence (if one can call is that) is very subtle, almost like the breeze (that no longer exist in a climate-control society). Gradually one comes to really how chilling life really is behind the gentle and caring facade, and I give the author kudos for being able to do that in a relatively short book.

My reservations about the book is the lack of logical coherence. For example the setting: it's set in a futuristic society, but they're just a small part of the land? Their climate is controlled, the outside is not, but there's no apparent boundary? What do people do outside, why can't they just come over and visit (and cause upheaval in this society)? This advanced society has so many technological means, and yet they can't find a boy carrying a baby on bicycle? For months? And the two of them can survive months on the road, in the open, with nothing to eat and no tool to find food? I felt like in the rush to make a "cool" ending, the author kind of rushed a bit and didn't quite think through what would make sense. Granted, I know the plot is more important than the details, but I'd still prefer it to make sense than just force things on us and ask us to accept.

Btw I've also watched the movie version. Unlike other book-to-movie projects, for this I like the movie a great deal. They've managed to adapt very well, while also attempted to address some of the book's incoherence I talked about. In an effort to make the movie more exciting and less subtle, they've made the society and the Chief Leader a lot more sinister than in the book. It's all good though, it makes for a pretty compelling movie, while many of the original themes in the book are still retained. If you've read, I'd recommend the movie too.


Swimming
Swimming
Author: Nicola Keegan
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3/5 Stars.
 11
Review Date: 12/19/2014


I read this book a while ago, but my impression was that this is a very good book. I loved it. Unlike what the previous reviewer has said, the book has plenty to say about the main character. You'd find her endearing and lovable. You can sense her vulnerabilities, and you can't help rooting for her (or even falling for her!) as you read.

It's not really a good comparison since the target audience is slightly different, but I'd rate this as good as "Island of the blue dolphin" in the list of books I like.


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