Another trivia roundup

I run through trivia books like other girls run through, say, a tube of lipstick.

At any given time, in between the novels I read, I thumb through five to eight trivia books simultaneously and all over the house — in bed, in the bathroom, in the den, in the kitchen. As I’ve said before, they make great palate cleansers, especially when I’ve been reading text-heavy narratives, plus they contain snippets that can be read and digested easily, not to mention the convenience of being able to stop at any point of the book and pick it up days or weeks later and just keep on reading. The trivia junkie that I am, these useless bits of information do come in handy from time to time during the weekly quiz nights and the monthly geek fights that I attend.

I finish a batch of trivia books several times in a year, hence the trivia book roundups. Here’s the last bunch from last year, which includes Say Chic; The Bathroom Trivia Book; Be Safe!; Cocktail Party Cheat Sheets; Kiss and Tell; A Year in High Heels; From Altoids to Zima; The TV Guide Book of Lists; The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fun FAQs. These are books 189-198 for 2010, which means I only owe you 6 more book reviews in my 2010 backlog. Hopefully I have the remaining six up by next week so I can move on to my January reads (12 and counting) as well as a surprise in the works for this month (patience!).

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Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman!

I was watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory where Leonard celebrates his birthday, and Wollowitz presents him with a signed copy of Feynman’s Lectures on Physics. By then I’d watched enough BBT episodes to know that Richard Feynman won a Nobel Prize for Physics (and is somewhat of a god to theoretical physicists), but I had a nagging feeling I’d come across that name somewhere else.

Last week, I was rooting through my shelves for a book to swap at the FFP book discussion, when I spotted a book I’d forgotten about, a copy of Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character), a semi-autobiographical collection of stories narrated by Feynman, caught on tape by his friend Ralph Leighton. I’d gotten it for about P30 at a Scholastic warehouse sale last year, and I got it mainly because the cover looked interesting and I had a bag to fill, but I had no idea what it was about.

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The Verdict on Percy Jackson

I’ve had the Percy Jackson books thrust at me by random people because they know I’m a big Harry Potter fan, and people who really know me can tell them that the more people foist a book on me the less likely I am to pick it up. Hence, it’s taken me a while to pick up the Percy Jackson books.

I originally read the first book because I was planning on seeing the movie, but changed my mind about the movie when I heard it was a long way away from the book.  So I ended up reading on in the series instead. I finished all five books in the space of one week in February: the first two books in one night, and the next three books (borrowed from my cousin Chickoy) in one sitting.

Here goes my verdict post.

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Up, Up, and Away

(blogging about another old favorite, as I’m still in the middle of reading Silverlock and am majorly swamped, hay…)

When I was in 4th grade, my dad usually picked me up after work so I had a few hours to kill while waiting. I usually read books if I didn’t have any homework to work on, or if I didn’t feel like doing it, which was more often the case.

Now in those days, we decorated the room with special corners for each subject — Christian Doctrine, Science, Math, Social Studies, etc. Of course, my favorite corner was the Reading Corner, where everyone brought a book or two to share with the class and we would have a mini-library to escape to in between classes or during DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time, so we wouldn’t get listed down as “noisy girls”. Haha, magically by the end of the school year the books would have dwindled to a couple mo.tley ones; I lost a lot of books to the Reading Corner, although I gained some other kids’ books too, wink, wink.

One of the books I discovered in our 4th grade reading corner is the 1947 Newbery Award winner The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois, which I first read while waiting to get picked up from school one rainy afternoon at Gate 1.

The Twenty-One Balloons one of the best escapist stories I have ever had the pleasure of reading, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it and how many copies I’ve worn out and lost (e.g. loaned and never returned to me! grr).

I really love the premise: Professor William Waterman Sherman decides to retire from teaching arithmetic to grubby kids, and decides to fly off on a grand vacation — drifting aimlessly on a hot-air balloon! I loved the detailed description of how The Globe (Prof. Sherman’s hot air balloon) was constructed — a small wicker house with an observation deck, and everything made from the lightest materials — even a small library of paper-bound books in tiny print!

Professor Sherman left San Francisco intending to fly across the Pacific Ocean, and three weeks later, he mysteriously turns up floating in the Atlantic Ocean, in a wooden wreckage with 21 balloons!

Where exactly has he been? On the island of Krakatoa (he flies over the Philippines!), which turns out to be an extremely wealthy island-nation of eccentric citizens!

The Diamond Mines

I love the idea of Krakatoa in The Twenty-One Balloons, and this book has made me daydream about living there, and given the choice, I’d drop everything and go. The island has an expansive diamond mine right under the volcano Krakatoa. According to Krakatoan history (as narrated by Mr. F), a sailor got shipwrecked on the island and discovered its treasures. As soon as he was able to return to America, he handpicked 20 families of diverse talents and interests. Each family was renamed with a letter of the alphabet, e.g. Mr. A, Mr. B, A-1, and A-2 and so on until the Ts, and the small nation lives a leisurely life financed by discreetly selling a small load of diamonds each year.

The Coat of Arms of Krakatoa: “Not New Things, but New Ways”

What’s most interesting about Krakatoa is its “Gourmet Government.” Each day of their 20-day calendar (A through T) is assigned to a specific family, who is tasked to serve meals at their house, which functions as a restaurant specializing in a particular cuisine — A for American, B for British, C for Chinese, D for Dutch, etc. It’s a lot of fun, as each house resembles the architecture of the country too — from an Egyptian pyramid to a Russian tea house to an Italian Bistro and a miniature Versailles! — and the families are very competitive in coming up with great dining experiences for one another, and they have theme months too, like “Month of Lamb,” depending on their surplus stock. I imagine every day to be a gastronomic adventure!

There are also a lot of imaginative Krakatoan inventions in the book, including a bed that automatically changes sheets, a collapsible dining room, living room bumpcars, sky beds, and flying merry-go-rounds. William Pene du Bois is not only a gifted writer, he illustrated the book as well, and the illustrations are great fuel for the imagination.

M-1 and M-2’s Sky beds

Of course, you will have to read the book to find out how Professor Sherman ends up in the wrong ocean with 21 balloons. It’s a great book for all ages; kids and adults alike will appreciate the rich experience that Pene du Bois lays out for the reader.

Interesting factoid: the story came out around the same time as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz” in 1947, which has a similar plot although very different ideas. William Pene du Bois writes a horrified note as an introduction and quips,”The fact that F. Scott Fitzgerald and I apparently would spend our billions in like ways right down to being dumped from bed into a bathtub is altogether, quite frankly, beyond my explanation.”

My copy: trade paperback. Looking for a hardcover copy!

My rating: 5/5 stars

Oh, the drama!

It took me over a year to go and read Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner (also avoiding the movie like the plague) because I have a built-in aversion to books that are overly hyped or foisted on me by other people.

I dragged my feet for about six more months, then I decided to bring it along on a trip after Christmas. That’s another book-related habit of mine: whenever I go on trips, I always take books I have trouble starting, or books I have been hedging on for a long time, just so I’ll be forced to read them.

I’m not going to summarize it anymore, as most people have probably read it, and if not, it’s easy enough to look up on the internet. But despite the fact that I have never met anyone who’s read the book and not raved about it, I would have to say that it wasn’t particularly groundbreaking for me.
While the writing was fluid, I felt like I was reading something out of Chicken Soup for the Soul. The book seemed to be engineered to tug at the reader’s heartstrings. How can it not, with the cast of characters that are designed for the perfect tragedy? The flawed Amir who is weak and prone to doing things you just know he’ll regret, the meek and devoted Hassan, the gruff Baba who turns out to be a sad man with a lot of secrets, the equally meek and devoted Ali, the father-substitute Rahim who serves as his moral compass, and the tyrannical Assef who seems to come straight out of a B movie!
Each plot device read like a cue for the waterworks to start, and I, who can cry at the drop of a hat, was tear-free for most of the book. I’m all for catharsis, and I love books that give me a good cry, but The Kite Runner was a shade too melodramatic for me.

It wasn’t a bad read, in total, but I could have passed on the book and I wouldn’t have felt the difference. In no hurry to read A Thousand Splendid Suns.


My copy: trade paperback, mooched from Cheche

My rating: 3/5 stars