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I LOVE this book written by Betty Smith. An American classic, it is a story about a family in poverty in early 1900s America. There were so many great themes that were honestly yet tastefully portrayed there, notably: education, poverty vs wealthy, family life, male vs female roles, substance abuse, sex, truth, and to some extent, religion.

The writing was quite typically American: simple, easy to follow, with so many beautiful quotes. I nearly cried toward the end of the book…I guess one of the reasons why this book felt so dear to me was how strong the characters were, it was truly a book about overcoming adversity, not letting what is doled out to you be it; it was a book about fighting for what you don’t have.

Here are some of my favorite lines:

“This could be a whole life,” she thought. “You work eight hours a day covering wires to earn money to buy food and to pay for a place to sleep so that you can keep living to come back to cover more wires. Some people are born and kept living just to come to this…” 

“In teaching your child, do not forget that suffering is good too. It makes a person rich in character.” 

“Forgiveness is a gift of high value. Yet its cost is nothing.” 

“People always think that happiness is a faraway thing,” thought Francie, “something complicated and hard to get. Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains – a cup of strong hot coffee when you’re blue; for a man, a cigarette for contentment; a book to read when you’re alone – just to be with someone you love. Those things make happiness.” 

“Let me be something every minute of every hour of my life…And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.” 

“If there was only one tree like that in the whole world, you would think it was beautiful,” said Katie. “But because there are so many, you just can’t see how beautiful it really is.”

I could read this book again and again, and again…

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under layers and layers of covers, coughing and trying to sooth my aching body, I feel this rush of guilt and self-pity that I haven’t been physically strong enough to circumvent the flu bug and be less of a burden to Bry and my colleagues.

Counting the number of times I’ve been sick (not counting morning sickness) since my second trimester…probably about a week in total, made me feel almost embarrassed. As I wallow somewhat in this self-pity, yet thankful that I haven’t been sick to the point where I’ve had to be admitted to the hospital (like some women I’ve heard and read about), I remembered a powerful chapter in Annie Murphy Paul’s book, “Origins: how the first nine months shape the rest of our lives,” that traced the rise of this trend in pregnant women to work closer and closer to their due dates not necessarily just because of financial reasons but because of this ridiculous need some women have to put on a facade that they can still function like everyone else, if not better, when they’re pregnant.

She wrote poignantly:

 “The imaginary superhero never needs to sit down and take the weight off her feet, or catch her breath at the top of the stairs. She runs a marathon in her third trimester and works twelve-hour days until her water breaks. She’s just like a non pregnant mortal, in fact, only better, and she has become the unattainable standard against which women measure themselves during pregnancy…”

Tears welled up in my eyes after reading that paragraph, as I reflected on my own feelings during the last few months. I know that since my morning sickness had passed and my energy returned, I had transferred all my energy – and more – into proving to myself and the world that unless it was something I was physically incapable of (such as carrying heavy items), I would push myself to work just as efficiently and contribute twice as much as before. I sought to be a more caring and dutiful wife by trying out new recipes, volunteering to wash up, vacuuming the place, and continued my tasks despite feeling some discomfort at the end of the day. At work, I also wanted to absorb and learn as much as possible, and make as much contributions to the point where I was up till about 9pm everyday for the last couple weeks, planning, writing reports, researching, and at times even had insomnia because of all these work-related thoughts I had floating about in my mind.

I wanted to be the superhero pregnant woman. I didn’t want to be treated differently. And even though I acknowledged I was kinda like what the author wrote in her book about pregnant women these days, I still continued relentlessly. It took this nasty flu I’m fighting today, along with my transition into the third trimester this week (yipee!!!!), to remind me that my body is very different now and has been for the last 7 months. I have a little munchkin in me drawing all the best nutrients from me and if not careful, the stress that I place on myself might actually affect him more than I can imagine.

So, to treat myself, I’ve decided to book myself in for a hair appointment this weekend and possibly even a pregnancy massage session over the next few weeks. I’ve still got heaps to do at work and probably won’t go completely AWOL (not in my blood) but I’m gonna really try to be kinder to myself because this nasty sickly feeling and worrying that the baby might also be affected is not palatable at all (even though most people and the doctor would say that unless I had an extremely high temperature, the baby is fine). Also, I’m holding a 24/7 job here, carrying an ever growing baby, on top of my real life and work responsibilities! I should totally deserve to be pampered.

We returned from our annual US vacation about two Fridays ago, and because the kiddos are still on school hols here, I am on a reduced work schedule. This has allowed me to spend quality time with Bry, make minor cosmetic changes to our home, catch up on news and reading, and exercise.

I love being a lady of leisure. When I have a job. Somewhat of a paradox, yes, but really, isn’t is sweeter to be able to enjoy being on a break from work on your employer’s expense? 🙂

I mentioned that one of my new year’s resolutions is to resume reading books, and I have and rediscovered the joy of picking up a book (or experienced the satisfaction of thumbing e-book pages on an iPad) to read.

I got to finish a couple of great books over our trip that I HIGHLY recommend:

  • Man’s search for meaning by Viktor Frankl
  • Tattoos on the heart by Father Gregory Boyle

Both are non-fiction.  The former is an autobiographical account of Holocaust survivor and Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, using his experiences and analyzing feelings and thoughts about them thereafter to find meaning behind the suffering and break free from the horrific episode that left many of his friends and family, including his first wife, dead. The second part of his book is devoted to discussing how this concept could be helpful in therapy (logotherapy).

The second book, Tattoos on the heart is chock full of anecdotal stories about a Priest’s work with gang members in East Los Angeles. His indomitable spirit and selflessness emanated time and time again in the recounts. Reading about his love, faith, and hope for and in these people literally brought tears at times. I love how he weaves in quotes, scripture, meta-thoughts, spiritual concepts in the book. Some parts are lighthearted and some parts shows his frustration, which I felt makes him human and relate-able.

Am currently (re) reading:

  • The curious incident of a dog in the nighttime by Mark Haddon

and reading:

  • Notes from a small island by Bill Bryson
  • The facebook effect by David Kirkpatrick (NOT the book on which the award winning film “The social network” was based; that is “The accidental billionaire” by Ben Mezrich).

Some books on my current “wish list”:

  • Little house on the prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (been meaning to re-read one of my favorite childhood books in soooo long!)
  • Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Battle hymn of the tiger mother by Amy Chua
  • Cinderella ate my daughter by Peggy Orenstein
  • The blind side by John Lee Hancock
  • Intelligence and how to get it by Richard Nisbett
  • The everlasting man by G.K.Chesterton
  • The screwtape letters by C.S. Lewis

I know this is completely dorky, but I am so excited to go through this list! I feel lucky to get time to do this…tho, I have only about 4 more days of relaxed days ahead of me; school is back in session next week. Enjoy it while it lasts!

Most of you have probably read “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. I’m a bit slow…and *just* finished reading it for the first time and have to say that it is one of the most thought provoking books I’ve read. Ever. So many themes, parallelisms, imageries, references, fears, visions…I can’t even begin to write out all the thoughts and questions swimming in my mind right now, so I won’t. But I might have to revisit parts of the book soon after I’ve sorted out some of my thoughts. A seminal piece of work for anyone who lives in a society (i.e., everybody).

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Apparently, according to The Big Read, the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books on their list.

1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicise those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you LOVE.
4) Reprint this list in your own LJ/Wordpress/Blogspot… so we can try and track down these people who’ve read 6 and force books upon them

1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2. The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4. Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6. The Bible (haven’t read every single chapter or book, tho…)
7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell

9. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11. Little Women – Louisa M Alcott

12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare
15. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18. Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19. The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20. Middlemarch – George Eliot
21. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22. The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
23. Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

30. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33. Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34. Emma – Jane Austen
35. Persuasion – Jane Austen
36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40. Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
41. Animal Farm – George Orwell
42. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
45. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46. Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47. Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50. Atonement – Ian McEwan
51. Life of Pi – Yann Martel

52. Dune – Frank Herbert
53. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57. A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

63. The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65. Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66. On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68. Bridget Jones’ Diary – Helen Fielding
69. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70. Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72. Dracula – Bram Stoker
73. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74. Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75. Ulysses – James Joyce
76. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath (currently reading)
77. Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal – Emile Zola
79. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80. Possession – AS Byatt
81. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87. Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom

89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90. The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94. Watership Down – Richard Adams
95. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98. Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Bryan introduced me to David Sedaris’ books during our first month of dating and since then, I have read almost every book he’s had published. David Sedaris is definitely one of the wittiest writers; I even embarrassed myself once by laughing out loud reading his book on the train (after which I learned my lesson, to only read his books when I’m alone or in familiar company). He is also just as funny in person as he tickled the crowd (Bryan and I included) with his entertaining answers (yes, delivered extemporaneously and in a deadpan manner) during a Q&A session at one of his readings we attended a couple years ago.

And once again, he showed his hilarious side in a recent NYT article. In response to some people’s claims that his books – labeled nonfiction – are too exaggerated:

He also said that some details in his essays are obviously fictionalized. “Naked,” for instance, has a story “where my mother hits a cat with her car, and the cat dies, and the cat comes back to life and says, ‘You killed me,’ ” he said. Speaking of Mr. Heard, he added, “That’s what he was fact-checking, that book.” — Excerpt from “What you read, he is, sort of” (New York Times, 060808).

I’m excited for his new book “When you are engulfed in flames.” I think this will make a perfect graduation gift for Bryan who, in our last gmail conversation, declared “I heart D.S.”.