What I’m reading #4

Book: The Liar
Author: Stephen Fry

Excerpt:
‘…I’m talking about love! You know what it does to me? It shrinks my stomach, doesn’t it, Tom? It pickles my guts, yeah. But what does it do to my mind? It tosses the sandbags overboard so the balloon can soar. Suddenly I’m above the ordinary. I’m competent, supremely competent. I’m walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls. I’m one of the great ones. I’m Michelangelo, moulding the beard of Moses. I’m Van Gogh, painting pure sunlight. I’m Horowitz, playing the Emperor Concerto. I’m John Barrymore before the movies got him by the throat. I’m Jesse James and his two brothers – all three of them. I’m W. Shakespeare. And out there it’s not the school any longer – it’s the Nile, Tom, the Nile – and down it floats the barge of Cleopatra.’

‘Not bad,’ said Tom, ‘not bad at all. Your own?

‘Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend. But he could have been talking about Cartwright.’

‘But he was talking about alcohol,’ said Tom, ‘which should tell you a lot.

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Book review: 50 Shades of Grey

Twitter alerted me to the “50 Shades” phenomenon, mostly with jokes. I held out against the trend until I thumbed through a copy and found some ridiculous lines staring at me. I was tempted: I had to read it and see if it was as bad as the random lines I read were.

And yes it was.

The back cover says: “Romantic, liberating and totally addictive, this is a novel that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.” HAHAHAHAHHAHAHA.

Anyway.

Here’s the basic story: Anastasia Steele is this insecure woman who is a virgin (OF COURSE SHE IS!) and has never been interested in any man until Christian Grey, a dashing tycoon, walks into her life.  All we know about how they look is that Anastasia has hair that doesn’t behave (tough shit, get a straightener) and he thinks she’s beautiful…and that Grey is hot and has a big p*nis, and is into BDSM. Yay?

They seem to have no personality whatsoever and there is absolutely no explanation of why they even like each other. She’s this moron who wants to work in publishing because she loves English Literature. And what exactly does Grey do as part of his business? I HAVE NO IDEA. He’s like one of those men in Indian TV serials who carry random briefcases and files around and announce pompously to their wives: “I’m going to the office.” Yes, but to do what, smartass?

Christian Grey… he’s the Edward Cullen of the non-vampire world: broody, sullen, powerful, and breathtakingly handsome. And all the while you have no bloody idea what he’s really about. BDSM is one thing, I mean that’s a lifestyle and personal choice, but his need to control her every single move, and quite literally stalk her… that’s ridiculous and sends the completely wrong message. No honey, it’s not romantic if he stalks you. It’s not romantic if you feel scared that he’s going to hit you. That is NOT BDSM (or so says my Google research). It’s messed up, is what it is.

Yes this book is about BDSM – when one of my friends found out I planned to read this book, she cautioned me against it, saying the scenes were graphic. Well, let me tell you… that’s not true. One of the truths about the s*x scenes in this book are: they are nothing special. I read Mills & Boons sometimes, and those have better intimate scenes than this pile of boring crock.

Anastasia is also a yo-yo. At one point she’s all, yeah I’m going to do everything I can to please him, how can I do better… and then she gets upset for all the pain he’s putting her through. Make. Up. Your. Mind. And she seems to be crying more after she met him than before! Abuse victim much?

The author also keeps repeating some phrases so many times, I could predict by the end when those damn things would rear their ugly heads on the page. Anastasia says the phrase “Oh my” so many times, I wanted to shoot her. And then she kept going: “Holy crap!” or “Holy shit!” or “Oh crap!” or “Holy f*ck!” or “Holy Moses!”… Every. Few. Paragraphs. For an English Literature graduate, she sure has a limited vocabulary.

I need to dedicate a paragraph to Anastasia’s inner goddess, whom I have taken a pledge to hunt down. Just some examples:

  • “My inner goddess is jumping up and down, clapping her hands like a five-year-old.”
  • “My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves.”
  • “My inner goddess has stopped dancing and is staring, too, open-mouthed and drooling slightly.”

Her inner goddess is a moron and needs to be put down.

The writing is, quite frankly, appalling. To borrow inspiration from the book, my inner editor was holding a red pen out and making horrific slash marks across the pages.

And there is very little plot. It’s like any random excuse to throw sexual scenes in … fine, but there still needs to be a story! All in all, Anastasia comes across as a super-confused, dependent, whiny moron. She’s the classic example of the emotional abuse victim btw: “I CAN CHANGE HIM! I JUST HAVE TO PUT UP WITH HIS SHIT FOR A LITTLE WHILE!” Ummm. No. Girls who like this book and think they can change their man ‘for the better’… yeah, that’s not going to happen. If they’ve lived a certain way for decades, the chances they’ll change because you’re putting out? Nada. Zilch. NONE! ZERO! GET IT?

The ending of the book is ominous because it alerts me to the fact that there are two more books out there in this series. TWO MORE!

I might do what I did with Lauren Kate’s series (my reviews here) and read on and stay appalled at the stupidity in this world. This is me putting myself through the torture of reading insane things so you don’t have to.

Oh. By the way…there’s going to be a movie.

Also read the review of 50 Shades of Grey by Savannah on her blog, Easy as Pie in Dubai, and this review on Kimi Who, which is from the perspective of someone from the world of BDSM (and they hate it too apparently).

What I’m reading #3

Book: One & A Half Wife
Author: Meghna Pant

Excerpt:
“It was as if immigrants transported the soul of their culture to the skeleton of another culture, and then plastered the former so it couldn’t come in contact with the host culture.”

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There was something else I identified with, and laughed at a bit. There’s a line in this book where the protagonist, newly arrived in the USA, addresses her teacher by prefixing “Mrs” to her last name. The teacher then tells Amara (the main character) she can call her by her first name, and Amara is shocked.

We (I guess I mean desis) have always been taught to give due deference to our teachers by calling them Ms XYZ, Mrs ABC and so on. The thought of using first names of someone older than we are, and in a position of respect, does not even come to mind. Such a cultural difference, isn’t it? When I was studying for my Bachelors degree, the teachers were happy with the usual Mr and Mrs method (I was based in Dubai), but when I went for my Masters in the UK, I had to get used to the idea of referring to my lecturers by their first name. Since I was 23 though, I felt less guilty than I would have 10 years younger!

Even when it comes to friends’ parents, for example: my instinct would be to automatically call then “Uncle” or “Aunty”. But in Western culture, those titles are only reserved for family and they would be, to say it casually, weirded out, if we started doing that. I suppose having a system like “Chaacha”, “Fui”, “Mama” and so on denoting each uncle’s and aunt’s relation to us make “uncle” and “aunty” useless to us in a familial setting, making it a way for us to show respect to non-relations. Ah, culture. I once met a friend’s parents and faced with the prospect of calling them by their first names or referring to them as Mrs XYZ and Mr XYZ… I chose neither. I honestly felt I was being disrespectful whatever method I chose, so I stuck with making sure I had eye contact with either the mother or father before talking to them! I do realise there is no way they would think I was being disrespectful but I guess the (desi) concepts of what is respectful and what is not were deeply ingrained in my mind.

Adjusting to “desi” mode and “international” mode is a bit of a struggle for some. Some just get swept away in refusing to change with the world, while some go all the way and forget where they’re from.

Anyway, I’m enjoying this book because of the ability to identify with all the little things. Will keep updating as I read!

What I’m reading #2

Book: The Master and Margarita
Author: Mikhail Bulgakov

Excerpt:
“But this is what disturbs me: if there is no God, then, the question is, who is in control of man’s life and the whole order of things on earth?”
“Man himself is in control,” was Bezdomny’s quick and angry reply to what was, admittedly, a not very clear question.
“I’m sorry,” replied the stranger in a soft voice, “but in order to be in control, you have to have a definite plan for at least a reasonable period of time. So how, may I ask, can man be in control if he can’t even draw up a plan for a ridiculously short period of time, say, a thousand years, and is, moreover, unable to ensure his own safety for even the next day?”

What I’m reading #1

Note: I read so many books and right now, with my Goodreads challenge to myself being 100 books in one year, I’ve definitely gone through a lot this year. Many lines leap out at me or interest me. I’m going to start sharing those on my blog.

Book: Under The Hawthorn Tree
Author: Ai Mi

Excerpt #1:
“The world exists objectively. but every person’s experience of the world is different, and if you use a poet’s eyes to look at the world, you see a different world.”

Excerpt #2

“If life is lived in a single file, please walk in front so I can watch you all the time;
if life’s road is walked in two lanes, side by side,
let me take you by the hand, so when we walk through life’s sea of people,
forever you will be mine.”  

A quick lesson in science fiction by Alastair Reynolds at Emirates LitFest

(Long post ahead, but I guarantee sci-fi fans will enjoy the read)

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This year, I seemed to be taking all sorts of chances with the Emirates Festival of Literature…picking authors I hadn’t heard of. Whatever will I do next?

So why did I want to go for Alastair Reynold‘s session? Simply because the topic said: “Beyond Rocket Science: Exploring the fine line between science and fiction”. That’s all it took for me to go click and buy the session.

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A few days before the LitFest, I mentioned to my colleague I was attending a session of an author called Alastair Reynolds, and had he heard of him? Within five minutes, I had a copy of Terminal World in my hands. By the time I attended LitFest, I’d finished roughly around 100-odd pages, but loved what I was reading so much I bought my own copy. The next day I had finished the book and in awe, looking forward even more to the session I bought on a sci-fi whim.
Here’s an account of the insanely fun hour-long session where I learned so much more about the sci-fi genre of books and more:

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The first thing that got me excited is the knowledge that Reynolds is writing the new Doctor Who novel, ‘Harvest of Time’. Absolutely cannot wait for that one now!

Reynolds used to be a scientist for a space agency, and had a lot more understanding of the realism of science in novels, which helped differentiate between what’s science fiction and what’s not.

For example, he said: “Is Star Wars since fiction or science fantasy? I think it’s not science fiction; it’s more like wizards in space.” He called it science fantasy, and said realistic science can be found in TV series/movies like Star Trek.

He helps chart out the movement of science fiction novels from earth to space. “One of the ways it helps to understand science fiction is the way knowledge of the earth developed in the 20th century,” Reynolds said.

With people discovering almost all there was to know about the earth, it was hard for writers to create fiction on home ground; space was the final frontier, literally.

The death knell of sorts pealed for sci-fi writers. In 1905, Einstein said nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. “Speed of sound is an engineering problem. Speed of light is more like a physical restriction on the universe, like 2+2 = 4 not 5,” explained Reynolds.

“This was terrible news for science fiction writers. How are we going to tell our stories if you can’t travel at the speed of light? The science fiction writers just said ‘We can’t hear you’ and people just decided to break the speed of light through science fiction, using wormholes and hyperdrive.”

Reynolds recounted a hilarious (well, hilarious in retrospect) situation where he’d given an interview saying nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, right after which CERN discovered neutrinos which seemingly travelled faster than light. As kids these days say: “*facepalm*”

However it’s been reported that these results could have been caused by a system error, so let’s not discredit Einstein (or Reynolds) just yet!

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Another cool thread of thought he talked about was how science influences science fiction and vice versa. We return to Star Trek; as fans might know the “warp drive” was Rodenberry’s way of allowing the starships to travel faster than light. According to Reynolds, a physicist at the University of Swansea decided to think more along these lines, and created the Alcubierre Metric, which would create a warp bubble. However, a massive downside is that to use it, one would need to use more energy that’s contained in the entire universe.

Bummer.

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Kip Thorne (can be seen in the slide in the background) is a theoretical physicist has researched into the concept of wormholes and time travelling (hands up those who thought of Farscape!).

Another idea from science fiction is the idea of ‘terraforming’. This term refers to the hypothetical process of transforming the ecology, atmosphere and everything else required to make it suitable for human beings to inhabit in Earth-like conditions.

Planets haven’t escaped this influence of science fiction either! “One of the problems is that we’re running out of names for planets, so experts responsbile for naming systems, in sheer desperation, turn to science fiction.” Earlier on in the talk, Reynolds mentioned “Dune”, the universe created in the sci-fi novels of Frank Herbert. In that, there’s a planet called Chusuk. And now, if one were to travel to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, one may cross one of its plains, Chusuk Planitia, named after Herbert’s fictional planet. Cool, innit?

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Reynolds seemed impressed with James Cameron’s Avatar – he mentioned it more than once during his talk. He said: “[There is a] clever thinking of mechanics of space flight and mechanics of the alien planet in Avatar. Cameron took the latest speculation and built it into the film. Avatar has clever thinking of alien ecology and physiology of the planet.”

Oh, and then the question/answer session. This bit is always fun, but was made so much better by the most adorable boy (he could’ve been seven? Eight? Ten?) who asked extremely intelligent questions about matter and anti-matter and the process of using these opposing forces to power a starship. With intelligent follow-up questions to boot! 

The signing session followed, and I can vouch for what a friendly person Reynolds is. I was feeling bad for the people behind me, wondering if they were cursing me for taking my time up front, but he’s so friendly! We talked for a bit and I walked off thinking I’d found a new author whose books I’d love to build a collection of.

To infinity and beyond!

[Note: There was so much more he covered during the session, with a slideshow of images, but I’ve only covered some major points that were my favourite bits]
My tweets from that day:

Writing tips & wholesome scares from Darren Shan at Emirates LitFest

I stumbled on Darren Shan quite by mistake. I was hunting around my library for books to borrow (I took home seven, yes that’s right) and I saw a little card next to a row of books that read: “Emirates LitFest author”. That piqued my interest along with the books in question being in the Young Adult (YA) section.

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So I picked up an omnibus of the first three books in a series: Cirque du Freak, The Vampire’s Assistant, and Tunnels of Blood.

I was impressed. While I may not be the conventional YA target market, I do enjoy YA books a lot. These were branded as “horror”, though I didn’t get very scared. Perhaps Shan had it down pat when he said at his session that his books are a mixture of things; indeed, the Darren Shan series is more action/adventure…with characters that happen to be paranormal.

Anyway, I decided to go to his session and I’m glad I did. Shan knows how to put on a great show for his audience; with three readings, tips as well as good-naturedly answering all the questions put to him, the session was a blast.

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Shan said he has published 30 books including three for adults, but has “written lots more that have never been published.”

He also read three excerpts from his books, including one from his new zombie series that will be published this year. And as he said, they’re suitably gruesome. A friend of mine told me later her 10/11-year-old son was very excited to hear the reading and said he absolutely had to read that book when it did release.

Boys.

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But what I really took away from that session was his writing tips, which are really quite helpful to those young, budding writers out there (including myself!). I even highlighted at the end the tip I found most insightful: 

  • “Don’t be discouraged if you write a story you don’t like.”
  • “If you are writing for yourself and not for school, write the sort of stories you would like to read.”
  • “If you are a writer, read different types of books and watch different types of movies.”
  • “I don’t think writer’s block exists except in very few cases. I think a lot of young writers use “writer’s block” as an excuse.”
  • “Writing is hard work.”
  • “To write good stories, you have to write bad stories first.”

Thanks for coming down to Emirates LitFest, Darren Shan. I bet you’ve inspired many young kids out there to get reading and dabbling in writing.

And judging by the insanely long line of kids wanting your signature in their books…you’re doing a fine job. A fine job indeed.

Book-to-movie adaptations; what do authors think about it? An @EmiratesLitFest panel.

An author, whom I must admit I hadn’t heard of before this year’s LitFest*, said something I whole-heartedly agreed with:

“It’s almost blasphemous to say this in a panel of writers, but a bad adaptation is when the movie is literal.” – Tom Rob Smith

*I shall add, Tom Rob Smith, that I’ve since purchased your book Child 44 and hope to dive into it soon.

He was speaking amidst the film panel at the Emirates Litfest 2012, on Friday, March 9. This was also my first session this year, and I’m happy to say I felt the weekend would go well with such a cracking start.

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The panel consisted of Smith, Mark Billingham, Nicholas Sparks (whose solo session I already blogged about) and Chan Koonchung, and was chaired by Paul Blezard.

Movies and TV shows are such an integral part of my life; I’ve got rows and rows of (original) DVDs lining the shelves in my living room, and I’ve been known to maniacally click on Amazon.co.uk’s Black Friday deals two years in a row now – the first year I came away with the entire boxed collection of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, and the second time got Star Trek: The Original Series.

Poirot is perhaps a good starting point. Based on the books by whodunnit writer extraordinaire Agatha Christie, the TV-movies are mostly excellent adaptations of her stories. But not all movies get it right.

My friends know I quite love the Harry Potter series. But I’ve no qualms in admitting the first two movies in the franchise were, to me, absolutely awful. Why? One massive reason stood out amongst others: it was too literal. Which is what Smith said.

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He went on to add that, in his opinion, the novel was the product, whereas the screenplay of the movie was the template. Sparks agreed with Smith and said as an author, one should be willing to see the movie “can be different from the novel”.

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And while movies that strike a chord with people leads them to seek the inspiration behind the story, for example the book it was based on, Blezard posed a question on whether the reverse was true…whether bad movies reflected badly on the authors of the book.

Sparks said not. “No one associates the movie with the book if the movie is bad, but if the film is good you get a bump. They are like commercials for your book-writing career if they are done well.” Sparks has three of his books in various stages of movie production at present.
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The problem with getting a movie to be an excellent adaptation is the essence of time. Blezard put it well; he conducted an experiment of sorts with a friend and here’s what he got out of it: “The average novel is about 120,000 words and it contains 700-800 events. The average movie is 120 minutes long and has 70-80 events and that’s why you lose so much of the essence of the book.”

Billingham had a similar point of view, I imagine, when he said short stories make better movies than novels, “because often great movies are the best of the heart of the novel than anything else.”

The authors agreed that getting to the essence of the book was important for getting a good movie; Sparks even commented on how the movie version of The Notebook was different from the book in treatment, that is, the life of the lead characters when they were young was given more air time than it was present in the book. Yet, he liked the movie because the essence of the book was captured.

I’m really glad the authors had to say this, because I’ve often had to deal with loyalists of books like Harry Potter, for example, who rant and rail about how the movie took liberty with the story, but from the third movie onwards, I’m so glad they did because clearly making it literal was just plain bad (an exception to this is in the last movie when I was actually really upset about how Voldemort was killed, but a minor quiffle after eight movies is not too bad, innit?).

When asked to pick their favourite book-to-movie adaptations, here’s what we got:
  • Smith – Jurassic Park
  • Billingham – Jaws and the Godfather series
  • Koonchung: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • Sparks: Forrest Gump
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There was a bit of a hilarious discussion on how important an author on a movie set really is. Billingham said the writer probably comes below the caterer in the grand scheme of things. He added that most movie production teams ask if the writer wants to get involved and secretly hope they won’t get involved at all.

Even another session with YA horror author Darren Shan, later in the day, brought up the topic of movies. I haven’t seen the film myself, but Shan seemed surprised he was happy with it. He said: “I didn’t think I would like it (the movie), but I did. It wasn’t perfect but it was a nice freaky film. But I really liked the manga adaptation.”

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Going back to the film panel, I really enjoyed the discussion that morning – along with discussing what the authors think of their books being brought to life, there was a lot of insight on how the film industry works and the lack of 100% control these authors have over the screenplay.

A lively session, which I’m glad, as a movie-buff and bookworm, I attended.

A Day to Remember, with Nicholas Sparks

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Ridiculously enough, I can’t remember when I first saw the movie, A Walk to Remember. But I can recall how much I bawled when I saw it.

And when I saw it was based on a book…well I had to read it, didn’t I?

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I’d never heard of Nicholas Sparks before this. A Walk to Remember is the first book I read, which, oddly enough, made me cry some more, even though I already knew the story.

And every book of his since has left me clutching at the tissue box like it was my best friend. He’s one of those authors who manages to make you feel like you’ve been hurt, in love, happy, sad, and every gamut of emotion there is … he makes you go through exactly what the characters go through.

So when I heard he was carrying out not one, but two sessions at the Emirates Festival of Literature 2012, I squealed and booked my tickets.

The first session was a film panel, which I plan to cover on this blog soon. The second was a solo interaction with him, in conversation with Paul Blezard.

The line to get into the hall that was hosting his event snaked back all through to the other end. And unpredictably enough, it wasn’t just women that were queueing up, but a whole host of men as well. Who knew…romance still lives!

It was packed inside, with attendees scrambling after seats upfront like they were gold dust, and when the session was about to begin, the enthusiasm in the air was thick.

We learned a lot about Sparks’ life, and certainly, he delivered hilarious, painful, emotional and happy anecdotes.

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Little, random nuggets I noted from the Q&A session:

  • Before hitting the publishing jackpot, he had a job selling pharmaceuticals.
  • The Notebook is the story inspired by his wife’s maternal grandparents.
  • He used a self-help book on how to find an agent for his first book.
  • After sending his manuscript of The Notebook to 25 agents, only one said yes.
  • Though born in different years, he shared a birthday with his younger sister, who unfortunately passed away due to cancer in 2000.

But now I’ll go back to A Walk to Remember. Here’s something he revealed during the audience Q&A that shocked the socks off everyone:

A Walk to Remember was written in eight days, where he wrote for 16 hours every day.

Wow.

After learning most of his books were inspired from real life (friends and family), I was curious to know where this book came from. Someone beat me to asking this question.

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Here’s what he said (yes, word-for-word as I was taking notes in shorthand):

“A Walk to Remember was inspired by my family. Jamie Sullivan, the character in the book, is my little sister. Just like Jamie, my sister wore the ugly brown cardigan [to school] every day and bought the Bible with her to school every day. Like her, my sister didn’t care about that [people taunting her]. And she had a really simple dream … her dream in life was to get married. And I was like, “That’s it?” Anyway, my little sister got cancer, and like what happened with Jamie Sullivan, there was a boy and like Landon Carter, this boy knew he could never, ever fall in love with a girl like her, but like Landon Carter he did. And like Landon Carter, he too knew what her dream was and so even when my little sister got sicker and sicker and we all knew that she wasn’t going to make it, he got down on his knees and asked her to marry him. I remember thinking that’s just the sweetest thing anyone’s ever done for anybody. And I remember after I wrote A Walk to Remember, I sent it to my little sister. A few months later I was talking to her, and asked, “did you read it yet?”, and she said, “no.” I asked why not, and she said, “Because I don’t want to know how it ends.””

And as Sparks often said through the one hour: “That’s a good story.”

I must say though, the line after that one-hour event to get books signed by Sparks was immensely long:

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Which is why I was glad I got his signature on my dog-eared copy of A Walk to Remember earlier in the day after the film panel.

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He was really great at the signing; he took the time to speak to everyone queued up, even said my name was a beautiful one (I nearly squee’d out loud), and then got up (yes, really) to take photos with everyone who asked…including me.

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…that’s a good story, isn’t it?

Reading challenge 2012

2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge
Devina has read 17 books toward her goal of 100 books.
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I was a nine-month-old when I started talking. I was two-and-a-half years old when I started reading. I’ve never stopped either, thank you very much.

I decided to set myself a target for number of books I’d read this year, after reading this post on my friend’s blog.

As you can see, I’ve decided to read 100 books this year. If you think this is too much (roughly works out to two books a week), then let me say when I was unemployed (read: before April 3, 2011), I’d read about 3-4 books a week. I’m voracious in this matter, left completely unsatiated when I finish a book…I need more. And more. And some more.

This may explain why I believe I own over a 1,000 books – I last counted them at 800-ish and that was five years back.

I’ve also discovered a like-minded bookworm at my place of work, who has just lent me a steampunk-influenced novel. This means I’ve more options to explore by way of finding books to devour.

I’m currently on track with my reading challenge…17 books down, 83 to go. I also read more than one book at a time – one on my desk where my laptop is, one on the dining table/living room area, one in the bathroom (ohhh yeaaaah) and one for bed (normally this is a free read on my phone’s Kindle to help me fall off to sleep).

Release the reading Kraken, I say.*

*only attendees of that fateful TwitBookClub session will get this