Send via SMS

A Guy's Moleskine Notebook

Thoughts and reflections on works of fiction and literature. Pondering of life through pictures and words. Babbling about gay rights. Travelogues and anecdotes.

  • [1] Annie Proulx: Brokeback Mountain
  • [2] Arthur Golden: Memoirs of a Geisha
  • [3] Yu Hua: To Live
  • [4] Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty
  • [5] Colm Toibin: The Master
  • [6] Carlos Ruiz Zafon: The Shadow of the Wind
  • [7] William James: The Varieties of Religious Experience
  • [8] Charles Higham: The Civilization of Angkor
  • [9] Graham Greene: A Burnt-Out Case
  • [10] Dai Sijie: Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch
  • [11] Alan Hollinghurst: The Swimming-Pool Library
  • [12] Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita
  • [13] Colm Toibin: The Blackwater Lightship
  • [14] Alan Hollinghurst: The Folding Star
  • [15] Ross King: Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling
  • [16] Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Brothers Karamazov
  • [17] Jonathan Franzen: The Corrections
  • [18] Colm Toibin: The Story of the Night
  • [19] John Banville: Shroud
  • [20] Leo Tolstoy: Resurrection
  • [21] Peter Hessler: River Town, Two Years on the Yangtze
  • [22] Ian McEwan: The Atonement
  • [24] Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Love in the Time of Cholera
  • [25] Ignacio Padilla: Shadow without a Name
  • [26] Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose
  • [27] Richard Russo: Straight Man
  • [28] Fyodor Dostoevsky: Notes from Underground
  • [29] Alan Hollinghurst: The Spell
  • [30] Hermann Broch: The Death of Virgil
  • [31] James Baldwin: Giovanni's Room
  • [32] Ken Kesey: One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
  • [33] Xingjian Gao: One Man's Bible
  • [34] C. Jay Cox: Latter Days
  • [35] Harper Lee: To Kill A Mockingbird
  • [36] William Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew
  • [37] Daniel A. Helminiak: What The Bible Really Says about Homosexuality
  • [38] James Baldwin: Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone
  • [39] Kenji Yoshino: Covering - The Hidden Assault of Civil Rights
  • [40] Italo Calvino: If, On a Winter's Night A Traveler
  • [41] Arthur Phillips: The Egyptologist
  • [42] George Orwell: 1984
  • [43] Michael Warner: The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and Ethics of Queer Life
  • [44] Andrew Sullivan: Virtually Normal
  • [45] Henry James: The Wings of the Dove
  • [46] Jose Saramago: Blindness
  • [47] Umberto Eco: The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
  • [48] Dan Brown: Da Vinci Code
  • [49] Kazuo Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go
  • [50] Ken Follett: The Pillars of Earth
  • [51] Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace
  • [52] Michael Thomas Ford: Alec Baldwin Doesn't Like Me
  • [53] Jonathan Franzen: How To Be Alone
  • [54] Jonathan Lethem: The Fortress of Solitude
  • [55] Matthew Pearl: The Dante Club
  • [56] Zadie Smith: White Teeth
  • [57] Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Double
  • [58] Jose Saramago: The Double
  • [59] Andrew Holleran: Dancer from the Dance
  • [60] Heinrich von Kleist: The Marquise of O & Other Stories
  • [61] Andrew Holleran: In September, the Light Changes
  • [62] Tom Perrotta: Little Children
  • March 31, 2006


    You Have A Bad Day? | Current Music

    Bad Day - Daniel Powter

    Where is the moment when we need it the most
    You kick up the leaves and the magic is lost
    They tell me your blue sky's faded to grey
    They tell me your passion's gone away
    And I don't need no carrying on

    Stand in the line just ahead of the law
    You're faking a smile with the coffee you go
    You tell me your life's been way off line
    You're falling to pieces every time
    And I don't need no carrying on

    Cause you had a bad day
    You're taking one down
    You sing a sad song just to turn it around
    You say you don't know
    You tell me don't lie
    You work at a smile and you go for a ride
    You had a bad day
    The camera don't lie
    You're coming back down and you really don't mind
    You had a bad day
    You had a bad day

    Well you need a blue sky holiday
    The point is they laugh at what you say
    And I don't need no carrying on

    You had a bad day
    You're taking one down
    You sing a sad song just to turn it around
    You say you don't know
    You tell me don't lie
    You work at a smile and you go for a ride
    You had a bad day
    The camera don't lie
    You're coming back down and you really don't mind
    You had a bad day
    You had a bad day

    Sometimes the system goes on the blink and the whole thing it turns out wrong
    You might not make it back and you know that you could be well oh that strong
    Well I'm not wrong

    So where is the passion when you need it the most
    Oh you and I
    You kick up the leaves and the magic is lost

    Cause you had a bad day
    You're taking one down
    You sing a sad song just to turn it around
    You say you don't know
    You tell me don't lie
    You work at a smile and you go for a ride
    You had a bad day
    You've seen what you like
    And how does it feel for one more time
    You had a bad day
    You had a bad day
    You had a bad day

    March 30, 2006


    Back on Track | Reading Update

    My reading has been in a slump recently, lingering and procrastinating over the overhype The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips. I like historical novel with a tinge of adventure and the premise of the novel sounds really appealing. It is the story of an Egyptologist who is obsessed with finding the tomb of an apocryphal king. Situated not too far from the western bank of Nile in 1922, Professor Trilipush at the expense of financial difficulty and risk of forfeiting his imminent wedding thrives to derive an immortal fame that will remain after he dies, the value of which surpasses any financial rewards. He feels that he's born for the role to unravel the secret - that he knows more about the king Atum-hadu, the impulses and purposes, than he does about anyone and anything else in life. The story is a maddening suspenseful one, pieced together through an epistolary structure which mainly contains two narratives. It might seem witty to begin with, with a story that is layered with death, suspense and self-absorption and tries to produce this confusing effect to beguile readers, but it becomes so tedious and dessicated that I just wish to finish it for the sake of of ensuring I do not miss anything. So meanwhile, I re-read To Kill A Mockingbird, a beloved American classics which I haven't visited for years. People have sent me e-mails and left comment on the blog about how Dill from the book is Capote. Indeed, in his childhood Capote made friends with Harper Lee, who might have portrayed him as Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird. Vestige of Capote is found in this passage:

    "Dill was a curiosity. He wore blue linen shorts that buttoned to his shirt, his hair was snow white and stuck to his head like duckfluff; he was a year my senior but I towered over him. As he told us the old tale his blue eyes would lighten and darken; his laugh was sudden and happy; he habitually pulled at a cowlick in the center of his forehead."

    I just started Covering: The Hidden Assault of Our Civil Rights by Professor Kenji Yoshino. Perhaps its greatest contribution is its noble endeavor to show how covering affects all of us, whether we are white, black, yellow, red, or green, not just the marginalized or disenfranchised. Everybody covers, and everybody is harmed by it. Far from diluting his claim, this frank admission offers a way out from traditional civil rights discourse, which is increasingly viewed as provincial, dogmatic, and overly combative. Even people who are sympathetic to traditional (and more radical) civil rights efforts recognize this problem: the "race to the bottom" by which anybody who wants to comment on marginalization has to show how one personally has been suppressed by the system. But on the other hand, he clearly has faced his share of marginalization: Asian-American homosexuals are not exactly at the pinnacle of social acceptance. I'll post an update as I read along and follow up with a complete review.

    March 29, 2006



    Bookmarks (A Reader's Guide to the Best in Books) is the newest magazine for bibliophiles in the market. Since its preview/debut issue in Summer 2002, Bookmarks has released 10 issues featuring a mixed bag of classics and contemporary authors like Steinbeck, Dickens, Garcia Marquez, Virginia Woolf, Waugh, Austen, Morrison, Naipaul, Potok, Faulkner, Potok, Vonnegut, and Philip Roth.

    The bi-monthly publication has book reviews and selections for readers of all ages. The "Book by Book" section will features a detailed coverage on works of a specific author, suggestions on introductory books to the author, a specific genre of literature, or a particular time period. The currents issue (May/June 2004) features Leo Tolstoy and Literary Voices of the Pre-Civil Rights Era, with a look at classic works by Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin.

    More than half the pages of the magazine focus on navigating the ever-expanding sea of reading: new books, now-in-paperback books, and reader-favorite recommendations. This is by far the most useful and timesaving resource for me to search for my next reading selection. The "Selections" allows me to preview staff favorites from among the most highly rated books in an issue (usually 4 stars and above).

    The "New Book Guide" features book reviews separated into genres like spot, literary fiction, crime, sci-fi, general non-fiction, biography, history, science, and arts. It is therefore structured to find easily the information about a particular book most appealing and relevant to me. Each book featured in this section has a critical summary. The books covered fall into three basic categories: highly rated books that received many reviews, highly rated books that received less comprehensive coverage, and lower rated books that were widely reviewed and well-publicized. That way general popularity of the books, as well as the collective but disparaging critics may be accommodated. Highly rated books maybe balanced with the less publicized or lower-rated books. After all, it is frustrating to apply ratings to any works of literary arts in the absence of myriad choices. To accommodate such need, supplemental reading is provided.

    Bookmarks strives to accommodate palates readers of all ages and genres. In any given issue readers will find, in addition to the new releases and talk-of-the-town books that perch on bestseller list, works of classics. I find the inclusion on works of classics and their authors very appealing to me. Bookmarks has simply topped my favorite periodical list for the year and become my reading companion

    March 28, 2006


    Is Cargo Magazine Really a Gay Icon?

    An Amazon reviewer deems Cargo another magazine that is full of glorified advertising. Sure, but aren't most of magazines out there full of page after page of fashion brand names briefing on their season's newest arrivals anyway? Advertising is key to keep readers updated with the latest trends. But what distinguishes this slim magazine compared to its near-phone-book-size counterparts is the plethora of information it pours on its readers.

    Cargo is way more than just advertising. On top of reviews on the latest electronic gadgets (digital cameras, PDAs, MP3 players, car stereos...), the sneak previews of the coming season's trendy looks, Cargo interacts with its readers. You may ask the expert what to wear in your next wedding invitation. The editors will also find that pair of shoes that will match the shirt that you have forgotten about in your closet. After all, the editors are customers themselves, in a more techincal term, a maven, someone who has lots of information and inside scoops on different products or prices or places.

    This idea hinges on the fact that mavens like to initiate product discussion with consumers and respond to requests and provide recommendation. This maven logic tugs into the Amazon reviewing business perfectly: there is something about the personal, detached, two-cent type of opinion from a maven that makes us all sit up and listen. Maven's real power derives from the fact that reviews are voluntary, which makes opinion sharing so much more compelling than critics or staff editors whose job is to rate the products.

    I think there's nothing wrong with a shopping magazine that comes with sticker tabs to mark on things that interest us and we can come back to items later. Cargo is a fun magazine to read and to while away an afternoon with. Rumor has it that readership of Cargo is indicative of a gay man. Most of my gay friends read, if not subscribe to, Cargo. I think magazine like Cargo alludes to the result is a new gray area that is rendering gaydar - that totally unscientific sixth sense that many people rely on to tell if a man is gay or straight. It's not that straight men look more stereotypically gay per se, or that out-of-the-closet gay men look straight. What's happening is that many men have migrated to a middle ground where the cues traditionally used to pigeonhole sexual orientation.

    Cargo somehow carries this undertow of a new convergence of gay-vague style, which is not to be confused with metrosexuality. The magazine steers straight men to a handful of feminine perks like pedicures, scented candles, aromatherapeutic bathing oils and prettily striped dress shirts. Gay vagueness affects both straight and gay men. It involves more than grooming and clothes. It notably includes an attitude of indifference to having one's sexual orientation misread; hence the breakdown of many people's formerly reliable gaydar.

    By the way, I like Jeremy Piven too. His ruggedness is appealing.

    March 26, 2006


    How I'm Feeling Now

    給我一團熊火試煉我 證明我這麼狠狠愛過 期望不多只要得到過
    給我一場洪水冷靜我 眼淚太多已匯聚成河 力竭聲嘶請你喜歡我
    什麼事都做過 都不能感動你麼

    原來暫時共你沒緣份 來年先會變得更合襯
    頑石哪天變黃金  我可以等
    融和二人是哪樣成份 但願虔誠能顯得吸引
    用五十年溶化你  成就金禧一吻

    不夠激情仍可靠耐性 對付你的冷酷及無情 沉默假使都算種本領
    深信忠誠遲早會獲勝 那份固執終於都會被尊敬
    除非遺失人性  怎可能一直結冰

    頭白了  還在等  情人預約在黃昏

    原來暫時共你沒緣份 來年先會變得更合襯 期待再苦再難堪我都會忍
    談情十年未晚不怕等 渡日如年仍覺得興奮
    若最後能溶化你  何用心急手震

    March 25, 2006


    [35] To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee

    One of the most unforgettable stories of all time, To Kill A Mockingbird becomes a landmark novel in American literature since its publication in 1960. It is a novel of a lawyer, Atticus, in the deep south defending a black man Tom Robinson charged with the rape of a white girl. Nine-years-old Jean Louise Atticus, from whom her father always shelters and whom neighbors often deems too young to understand the racial struggle, narrates the story. She does it with a stark manner and equanimity of an adult who is savvy of the law. Her perspective is unbridled of the biased and disapproving voices of the town, of which nobody does even one thing to help Tom Robinson, let alone risking one’s own life to defend a black man who in the secret courts of men’s hearts have no case. That simply being a black yields a disadvantage in the jury’s deliberation let alone a black man who is allegedly convicted of an act of felony against a white person. Tom Robinson is dead as the girl opens her mouth and rains charges on him.

    A child’s narration cuts to the core of hypocrisy: some of the most religious people turn their blind eye to an innocent black man who in the absence of any corroborative evidence is indicted on a capital charge and is on the trial of his life. Jean Louise’s voice of the narrative might be hesitant, dubious, and questioning, she packs the novel with intimate voice of conversation, of people living and sorting out their lives and the whole racial entangle. Atticus therefore bears a formidable task to not only defend Tom Robinson but also to rebuff, with a righteous indignation, the inveterate discrimination against the blacks. He thrives to protect the children from absorbing the human ugliness: Why can’t people get along with each other? Who do people get out of their way to despise one another? What really scares me is such racial labeling still exists now but in a subtler manner that no longer makes people feel broken. In the recent Katrina news coverage, the media labeled a black woman who waded through the hip-deep water hurling supplies out of a store a looter. Racial labeling pervades people like babies born with basic instincts: it renders a stereotype that is culpable of perception that is laden with judgment.

    Atticus knows that Tom Robinson’s case, though it is as simple as black and white that it should never have come to trial, is something that dives right into the essence of a man’s conscience. Conscience is the one thing that does not abide by the majority rule. It transcends all racial difference and confronts the intimacy of one’s heart. That is the reason he wishes his children to embrace some “ugly things” that are concomitant of his defending a black man – for all he does is to abide by his conscience and to come clear of it. It is never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name, especially when one is defending a good cause against mendacious testimony. It just shows how poor and piteous people are when they with maddening superiority thrive to label and call name at others.

    To Kill A Mockingbird vehemently condemns those who recklessly bend the law at the expense of the innocent’s life for the satisfaction of one’s supremacy. It also satirizes self-righteous people who rave madly when anything involving a black person occurs. Every page of the novel reminds us that the fight for equality is yet over: it radiates a wave of racial tension and menacing undertow of conflict.

    March 23, 2006


    Coerced Conformity

    A timely hit-home incidence that didn't necessarily involve me happened this morning when I was having coffee. An Asian man in his late 20s settled into the table next to mine and started reading his paper. Strangely, I noticed that he covered up the outside of what obviously seemed to be a Chinese newspaper with the San Francisco Chronicle. I kept my surveillance on him through the corner of my eye to ensure he deliberated the cover-up of his reading Chinese paper.

    The incidence seems petty or even funny but it carries a serious undertow of a crisis: the invisible assault of our civil rights. My immediate reaction to his covering up of the Chinese paper is the insecurity of not fitting in. This coerced conformity has pervaded ethnic, sexual, and disability minorities. I hear Latino children badgering their parents to pack "American" lunch boxes; my Asian friends opt for the Abercrombie & Fitch look. The gays are told not to display public affection...

    What used to be overt discrimination has now crept under people's skin and become a more subtly form of stereotype. I don't think we live in a liberal movement: just because we have the Constitution does not mean we all have equal civil rights. We live in a society that resists allowing full equality for gays by instead advocating conversion, passing as straight, and covering homosexuality, tactics similarly imposed on racial and other minorities.

    Professor Yoshino argues about this coerced hiding of crucial aspects of one's self in his book Covering, which is inspired by his gay status. I just started reading it and can see the struggle for equality for ethic minorities and gays from the broad perspective of civil-right movement.

    March 22, 2006


    [34] Latter Days - C. Jay Cox

    Latter Days at the first glance seems a little out of the ordinary and is almost unconvincing: a WeHo pretty boy with muscles like fully-baked puffy muffins living in a kitschy apartment falls in love with his Mormon missionary neighbor who is in the closet. Christian Markelli is the typical player of the loose-moral, carefree, long-term-relationship shunning bunch who enjoys quick pleasure. Working at a high-end restaurant which makes prey hunting handy, Christian literally has hooked up with every straight male customer and commemorates each steamy encounter with an entry in his PDA.

    So when four young Mormon missionaries set us housekeeping in the apartment across the way, Christian and his friends place bets on how long it will take him to capitulate Elder Aaron Davis, the apple-cheeked, broad-shouldered evangelist who jolts his heart with love at first sight. Christian is stunned; he cannot make out of what it is that is so attractive about this young missionary. For Aaron the encounter evokes his repressed, closeted sensuality rooted in him. Aaron has nursed himself in the safety of the past, and in absolute obeisance to the ways of life the church has so diligently inculcated in him. He does not dare to reciprocate his affection to Christian for fear of harsh persecution from his colleagues.

    Above the comic inserts and episodes surrounding the budding romance between the two hangs the significant ideas of self-discovery, revelation, love, for both Aaron and Christian. Aaron has negotiated with himself, and with God, the consequence of the sin of homosexuality but at the same time nudges closer to the tender thought of Christian, who has heartedly declared his love for him. Aaron's discomfit escalates at the thought of his encounters with Christian and throws him into a constant state of enhanced sensuality. Self-discovery of who he is, instead of what he has done, puts him on the mettle to come out to his family and act in defiance of the church's expectations. The strenuous journey to enlightenment affords pain, humiliation and guilt.

    For Christian, he has never experienced such an indefinable madness for Aaron has stoically challenged and rebuked his shallow lifestyle. It prompts him to think about true intimacy, about getting to know the person to whom he wakes up in the morning. Christian's revelation is a glum one: that he has been fearful and inept to commitment and true intimacy. At the same time he feels utterly remorseful for getting Aaron into serious trouble with the church.

    Latter Days, though a sweeping romantic story it advertises to be, teaches us a lesson or two in relationship. It might have gone a little far with the miracle and the angel's singing but it's what fiction does after all. Neither Aaron nor Christian has ever felt the way he feels about anyone in his entire life - the snuggly feeling that "it's got to mean something." Yet they are both somewhat fearful to conform to this heart's calling. What if he is really the one he's been waiting for his whole life and he lets him go? In a world where everyone dances with one eye on the door, like we are all waiting for that next something better to walk in, LATTER DAYS calls us to be genuine with ourselves and promises the reward will be right around the corner.

    March 21, 2006


    Spring Break...Sort Of

    I'm enjoying the big load of work lifted off my shouder during spring break. Instead of the jump-right-out-of-bed posting, I compose the entry so much later in the morning than I normally do. In fact I think I skip a day too. Anyway, it's quite uneventual and relaxing. I'm still debating if I should head down to Disneyland with my friends and indulge in the Happiest Place of Earth's celebration of its 50th birthday (think Greg just went there and he said two rides were broken 30 minutes after he and his boyfriend went inside!) My other LA ritual is the Getty Museum, which presents the Getty's collection of Western art from the Middle Ages to the present against a backdrop of dramatic architecture, tranquil gardens, and breathtaking views. The admission is free and it does not require reservation. Last spring my friends Weizhu and Patty went around the central garden and the promontory striking pose and taking pictures.

    Meanwhile I'm being a pouch potato at home catching up with Six Feet Under from the first season and leafing through the big stack of books acquired from the lure of Borders Reward Program. I'm currently re-reading To Kill A Mockingbird and laying my fingers on Captain Alatriste and the Thursday Next's series. The most anticipated Sandy Lam in Concert 2005 | 林憶蓮夜色無邊演唱會 DVD just arrived at my house and I cannot wait to karaoke along! Even if I decide not to to see Mickey and Minnie, I've got Sandy to keep my company!

    March 20, 2006


    Bali/Denpasar, Indonesia (2)

    The shadow puppet plays, known as wayang kulit are popular not only in Bali but throughout Indonesia. Far more than mere entertainment, the wayang kulit is an extremely important vehicle of culture, serving as carrier of myth, morality play, and form of religious experience rolled into one. I was on a mission to look for shadow puppets as souvenirs.

    The puppets are believed to have great spiritual power, and are "brought to life" by special ceremonies performed by the dalang, the puppet master and story teller. The dalang is a man of many talents: he must have a repertoire of hundreds of stories, play the music, have a flair for showmanship, perform the necessary sacred rituals, and also know how to make the intricate, flat, leather puppets.

    Flanked the meandering streets of Bali are stores that sell cheap fake Ralph Lauren, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton merchandises. The salespersons never pretend these polo shirts and handbags are real although they are all dressed up professionally in uniforms. Kuta and Semiayak areas basically have everything you could ever need, from unique items mentioned above to cellphones (be sure to ask whether the phone is 'second hand' or not) to excellent fake Louis Vuitton bags, to originally made local shoes and such. If the fake Louis bags interest you then all I can say is that you will need to ask and look around as they are not on display and I prefer not to mention the shops that carry them.

    March 18, 2006


    Bali/Denpasar, Indonesia (1)

    I was sorting through my pictures and recovered a stack of which I took in Bali, Indonesia. That was December 2004. A friend of mine egged me on to the trip since I was already going to Hong Kong on an annual pilgrimage to the all-city-light-up show and the sales. So I squeezed my last-minute Bali itinerary into the Asia trip without any preparation. I didn't even have a Lonely Planet guide except for a hotel reservation at Puri Santrian Hotel. The impromptu booking with Singapore Airlines put me in a spacious Boeing 777-200 that was less than half full that landed in Denpasar Ngurah Rai International Airport at 7:05 pm. As in most Southeast Asian countries, predatory scams greeted me solicitously at the arrival hall offering all kinds of overpriced transportation services. A momentary taxi ride to the hotel that normally costs 40,000 rupiahs (US$1 = 9200 rupiahs) can become 200,000 rupiahs! Pretend to be confident and cogitant even if you're not sure what you're doing.

    Anyway the Bali trip was quite uneventful but pleasant. Everything was spontaneous. I woke up every morning with no idea of what I was going to do. I usually sat by the pool nibbling my breakfast until noon! Then I insouciantly took a stroll around the Semiayak area and tried to meet some of the locals. Most Bali visitors probably wake up to the Kuta beach, which is no more than 5 minutes away by walking so it was very accessible. Usually I thrive to look for a more out-of-the-way, secluded spot to sit down and read in order to avoid some of the on-spot grooming service the kids so persistently taut: washing your feet, manicure and pedicure. It is flanked with shops, bars and internet cafes. I found this family eatery place in one of the meandering alleys. For lunch you have a choice of five entrees of which two are vegetarian. I opted for the chicken in green curry, potato coquette and some mixed vegetable and a glass of fresh mango freeze: all for 16,000 rupiahs (US$1.60).

    to be continued...

    March 17, 2006


    [33] One Man's Bible - Gao Xingjian

    One Man's Bible is a profound meditation on the excruciating effects of sordid political oppression on human spirit. The sobriety of writing bespeaks a dignity, which is an awareness of existence, and it is in this existence that the power of the frail individual lies. In a laudably detached voice, Gao Xinjian stipples a vivid picture of human frailty, repression and suffering under the totalitarian regime that exists only in memory, like a hidden spring of spring gushing forth a deluge of feelings that are difficult to articulate.

    The book, unlike many of the contemporaries that expose austerity of life under Red Horror, is shockingly realistic and yet not a tale of suffering, at least that is not what Gao intends it to be. The delineation is so genuine and faithful to the reckless truth and excruciatingly painful purging that only men in Gao's generation can identify with. The reality is almost too heartrending to bear, even in words: the acrimonious politics, the class struggles, and a society that is riddled with paranoia and fear under such taut repression and miasma.

    Gao reflected on his childhood and adolescence, cudgeled his memory of China's most obstreperous times, and yet found an incredulously detached voice as if he is an outsider to all the horror. His narrative in the book is almost a form of joy without any connotations of morality. He is indeed like an outsider who narrates transparently the events, who scrapes off the thick residue of resentment and anger deep in his heart and articulates his thoughts and impression with amazing equanimity, and audacity.

    The result is a brand new voice in modern Chinese literature, a genre that deviates from post-modernism. It is a pure form of narration in which he contrives to describe in simple language the terrible contamination of life by politics, the tragic infringement of human rights, and at the same time manages to expunge the pervasive politics that penetrates every pore and sense. One can realize that Gao has carefully excised the insights that he possesses at the instant and in the place, as well as shoving aside his present thoughts.

    The meaning of the title is at total loggerhead to any preoccupied speculation that readers might possess prior to reading the book. Gao contrives not to write about politics though he means to accent his memories during the dark period. The outcome is a stunning account of man person's fate is being miraculously and calumnously determined with surpassing accuracy than the prophecies of the bible, attributing to the policies and regulations that fluctuate so frequently, according to the bitter contention of Party members.

    As accurate as it claims to be, the dossier, which exists for each individual, is generally inaccessible to the general public, does not necessarily reflect the truth (including mentality, thoughts, political stance, and affiliations) of individuals. People learn to wear a mask, to extinguish their voices, to hide their true feelings deep at the bottom of their heart in the midst of paranoia. Everyone seizes the opportunity to put on an act to score some good points for himself. Nobody dares to look one another in the eyes for fear of betraying any allegedly reactionary or counter-revolutionary thoughts.

    The sense of time is warped as Margarethe, Gao Xinjian's Jewish lover, stirs up his memories of the embittered childhood under the shadow of Mao in a hotel room during pre-handover Hong Kong. Though a fictionalized account, Gao has engaged in a dialogue that produces a state of mind that allows him to endure the pain of articulating the painful events. To him the country doesn't exist but exists only in memory that the country is possessed by him alone, and is thus a one man's account. The book is an epistle of freedom that is obtainable only through seizing the moments in life and capturing instant-to-instant transformations.

    March 16, 2006


    So I Succumbed to the Rewards Program

    ...and now I have to carry one extra card in my wallet, in addition to the Safeway Club Card, the Albertson's Card, the library card, the staff ID card... Are we in an economic slump or what? It occurs to me that all the major retail chains are on the binge of slashing prices and giving out perks. Anyway, I succumbed to the Borders Rewards Program and made a stunningly big purchase. I have acquired within the past week: Arthur & George, Never Let Me Go, Tell Me How Long The Train's Been Gone (I'm on a binge of James Baldwin), Enduring Love, The Sea (I regret of not getting this one in Bangkok as the city's Asia Books has stocked up on the UK trade paperback edition), and And Tango Makes Three (story of a charming penguin family of three in New York Zoo that provokes the controversy of shelving a book with an allusion to homosexuality in children books section in Missouri). I'm about $3 short of a personal shopping day, which is a reward that I earn when I spend $50 or more in Qualifying Purchases in any calendar month. A Personal Shopping Day entitles me to save 10% on an entire day of shopping, no matter how many times you shop on that day. While I'm on the way to earn this reward, Borders stuffs my mailbox with coupons galore. How can I resist all these perks right?

    March 15, 2006


    [32] One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey

    One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest is more than a social commentary: it is an allegory-like hyperbole of the psychopathic obsession of the 1960s. The decade marked a drastic proliferation of books that looked at psychiatry and mental illness but garnered little diagnostic or therapeutic value. Despite the prestige of these publications that usually attuned to academic standard in intellectual circles, none of such literature had the widespread impact of this novel written by Kesey who worked the graveyard shift at a mental hospital in Menlo Park, California. He participated in government-sponsored drug experiments during his employment with this hospital and became sympathetic to the patients and began to seriously question the boundaries that had been created between the sane and the insane.

    One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest is an unforgettable story of a mental ward in which the despotic Nurse Ratched reigns over the doctor and all the inhabitants. She exercises a somewhat cultic tactics to render her patients completely submissive. In what she embellishes a Therapeutic Community, an outwardly democratic entity run by patients, she imperceptibly manipulates them into grilling each other as if they are criminals. She has over the years has welded an insurmountable power over the ward that even the doctor is rendered frightened, desperate and ineffectual. She has no need to accuse or to enforce obedience because all it takes to maintain that tight grip of power is insinuation, which allows her to force the trembling libido out of everyone without an effort.

    The Nurse's unchallenged tyranny begins to whittle as McMurphy, a 35-year-old Korean veteran who has history of insubordination and street brawls, resolves to oppose her every step of the way and raises the racket in her ward. His defiance is justifiable: he is surprised at how sane everyone is in the ward. Nobody and nothing in life have got much of a hold on this boisterous personality, who knows that there is no better way in the world to aggravate somebody (like the Nurse) who is trying to make it difficult for him than by acting like he is not bothered. McMurphy's fun-loving arrival at the ward brings about a different shade of opinion among the staff and the patients. The latter come following him as if he is their Savior, for he is utterly different and has not let what he looks like run his life one way or the other.

    One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest is narrated by a patient in the ward, a Columbia Indian whom everyone thinks deaf, mute, and unintelligible, but who throughout the years of his commitment has overheard all the trickery of staff meetings. He epitomizes the mishap of the erroneous boundary with which the sane separates them from the insane. McMurphy's arrival and his friendship with the Indian Chief spur him on to recover his own identity and rebuild his self-esteem. The novel examines the notion of madness in the sense of its own and in the sense of the term being patronized by mental institution. The narrator's seamless observation and eagle-eyed description of the ward illustrate salient flaws of such a mindless system that targets only at reducing patients' mental capability. Kesey considers whether madness really means the common practice that confines to a mindless system or the attempt to escape from such a system altogether. Like its audacious protagonist, the novel itself is a literary outlaw.

    March 14, 2006



    I picked up this 40th anniversary edition and started re-reading this best0loved story of all time in American Literature. Hail began to pelter my window as I turned to this page:

    Next morning I awoke, looked out the window and nearly died of fright. My screams brought Atticus from his bathroom half-shaven. "The world's endin', Atticus! Please do something--!" I dragged him to the window and pointed. 'No it's not,' he said, "It's snowing."

    One moment we had rain, the next the sun crawled out of the crevice among the clouds, then an ominous cold air enveloped the coffee shop, hail began to batter the zinc rooftop relentlessly.

    What am I reading?

    March 13, 2006


    [31] Giovanni's Room - James Baldwin

    "Love him and let him love you."

    A young American expatriate in Paris is torn between relationship with a woman and love affair with a man. Set in the 1950s, Giovanni's Room is a man's excruciating repentance, or rather reminiscence, of one particular lie among the many lies he has told in his life. Could it be the first love, or maybe his only love, because David has never for an instant truly forgotten his first love, Giovanni, and the thought of whom often gives a guilty lurch in his stomach. He feels in himself a faint, dreadful stirring of what so overwhelming stirs in him. He meets Giovanni at the bar while his girlfriend Hella vacations in Spain. But David is uneasy about this relationship that is no more than just a sexual escapade with Giovanni. A feeling of contempt and pique conquers him to an extent that fear and anguish have become the surface on which he slips and tumbles. Is David really confused as he claims to be? Or is he just afraid of being despised? He is on a constant struggle for social approbation that he will forfeit his Giovanni's love for him - maybe his love for Giovanni as well? He thinks being with Hella will rescue him from his love for Giovanni.

    At first I am not sure how much David cherishes Giovanni until he confesses his irrevocable love for him. That he will never be able to love anyone like he loves Giovanni intensifies his mental struggle with the forbidden love: What kind of life can two men have together? He keeps on fighting his life, fighting his love because he sees no prospect of a life shared by two men. Beneath this struggle for social acceptance is laden with a deep calling to abandon the conventional norms of success, worth, and love. He views this abject terror of desire with interminable cynicism and cruelty.

    Giovanni's Room explores the troubling emotions of man's heart with unusual candor and yet with dignity and intensity. It delves into the most controversial issue of morality with an artistry. The most touching and absorbing thing is Giovanni's unconditional love for David, whose fearful intimation opens in him a hatred for Giovanni that is as powerful as his love for him. This love for Giovanni has been meticulously suppressed, and is not recognized until the ineluctable separation, which compounds David's scruple. The loss compounds his regret of not confessing his love. Even though Giovanni is very fond of him already, Giovanni's affection and loyalty do not make him happy or proud, as it should. Aren't we all somehow like David? We always want to wait to make sure the feeling is right, but how can we be sure? To David Love can only be measured by the grief so inconsolable that is concomitant of his loss. To the rest of us it's a message to drop our ego for an ideal relationship.

    March 12, 2006


    Snow Falling on San Francisco

    Snow, sleet, and hail have been making rare appearances in San Francisco Bay Area this past few years. My friend who lives in the Sunset district sent me a picture of his snow-blanketed backyard yesterday. The picture you see here is from our very own Portola Avenue, not too far from Twin Peak, where a man was about to do some grocery shopping at Mollie Stone. I attended an outdoor wedding and played a couple songs on the piano before my fingers turned rigid. I think I'll just read and write over hot beakers of tea today.

    March 11, 2006


    [30] The Death of Virgil - Hermann Broch

    I don't expect much feedback about this one, most of the bookworms whom I talk to haven't even heard of it, but its elegant prose and sober pondering of a poet's life leave a remarkable impression in me.

    Hermann Broch's The Death of Virgil revolves about the poet's wish to burn his masterpiece, The Aeneid, and creates out of his signified keen senses and heightened perceptions a rich vision, with full actuality, the religious, philosophical and political impulses of the time. The novel should be read as an epic poem in four parts (water, fire, earth, air) that parallel to four movements of a symphony in which the manner of the theme and variations of each successive part serves as some kind of commentary and reiteration on the parts that have preceded it.

    The book is arduous in reading, strenuous in contemplating the richly lyrical prose. Woven and sifted throughout are reflections and perceptions of Virgil's febrile yet lucid thoughts in such rocking rhythms that illuminate, to the full actuality, the macabre sensation of the drifting journey on which the poet is being carried by the bark of death. Death's signet was graved upon his brow. The epic closely accounts for the last 24 hours of Virgil's life as soon as the near-death poet returns to Rome from Athens. The uninterrupted flow of lyrical speculation begins at the port of Brundisium where the bark docks, lingers in the mental suspension between life and death, between the "no longer alive" and "not yet dead", and ends with the journey to death, to nothingness, to a dimension of non-recollection and stillness.

    Truth seems to be the recurring theme. The notion of truth is being illuminated and brought to full elaboration through the repeating insistence of reflections on life, death, memory, knowledge, perception, and philosophy. As the poet approached death, he admits with bitterness and cold sobriety that he has pursued a worthless, wretched literary life. The Aeneid, which is acclaimed by Caesar and to whom it is dedicated, has been a mere indulgence of beauty, self-sufficiently limited to the embellishment of concepts long since conceived, formed, and known, without any novel contribution in it. The truth of artistic inadequacies, lack of perceptions, thirst for superficialities, and egotism yields the decision to mock his works. Despite Caesar's effort to cajole Virgil, the poet comments that he lacks the perception, to which he never takes the first step, and yet nobody has ever attained the knowledge of truth of such perception.

    The stream of consciousness technique renders the poet's final hours to the full actuality. In fact, Virgil regards death as the most significant event of his life (perception and knowledge of truth?) and is full of anxiety lest he miss it. His sense of time seems to be warped and each passing second has grown to some immense, throbbing, empty space which is not to be linked. The body and its human qualities are denuded and are stripped to the naked soul with the most naked guilt. For Virgil, death is part of life and the understanding of death enlightens meaning of life. Strong than death and the shackle of time is fate, in which the final secret of time lay hidden. It is for this very secret of time (and death) that the suspense and tension of the book not being thwarted.

    The conversations are reproductions of external events and actual dialogues (Aeneid, Georgics, Eclogue, Horace Carmina) and their inclusion into the book's inner monologue (the narrative seems to have proceeded in the third person but soon has discerned that narrative constitutes to an inner monologue made up of Virgil's dreams, reflections, visions, and delusions) gains them an abstract touch. The flow of the book presses on through various tempi according to the degree of Virgil's consciousness. The more headlong the tempo (which usually occurs during Virgil's conversations with his friends, attendants, and Caesar), the shorter the sentence. The slower the tempo becomes, the more complicated the sentence structure (i.e. Part 2 - Fire). Virgil's reflections and musings manifest some interminable, richly lyrical prose that mirrors the dying poet's thoughts and ravings.

    The writing also deftly alludes to the religious impulse at the time of Virgil. Talks of the coming of salvation bringer prevail in Virgil's conversations with Caesar, who denies the need of such salvation. In various occasions Virgil forebodes the coming of a savior who will not only live in the perception, but in his being the world will be redeemed to truth, whom will conquer death and bring himself to the sacrifice out of love for men and mankind, transferring himself by his own death into the deed of truth. Virgil's audacious statement signifies the turning point in history, the crisis of the godless era between the no longer antiquity and the net yet of Christianity.

    From Broch's own words, nothing is really "reported or perceived" in the book but what "penetrates the invisible web of sensual data, fever visions and speculations." The richness of the writing and its lyrics sharpens the contours of the concrete and brings to full actuality Virgil's musings and memories. It's a strenuous, challenging read that requires undivided concentration.

    March 10, 2006


    I Am Busy

    Okay I'll skip my usual post because I'm so swamped with moment-to-moment tasks and a myriad of errands demanded of me. Within the next 24 hours, I have to finish:

    -Proof reading the critical review of James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room
    -Reading and marking marginal notes of James Baldwin's Going to Meet the Man
    -Scouring the bookstore for a trade paperback copy of Arthur and George by Julian Barnes
    -Learning the sheet music for piano of two wedding pieces: Ave Maria and Piano Concerto No.21 in C major (Elvira Madigan)
    -Securing the permission from Vintage UK to reprint Alan Hollinghurst's The Spell in a reader
    -Shopping for a CD account
    -Coming up with a proper recipe for chocolate truffle cake

    Random chores and the such. Braving the icy howling wind descending from the Artics.

    March 09, 2006


    Brokeback Mountain Domino Effect

    "You know, I'm not really the emancipated girl I try to be at all. I guess I just want a man to come home to me every night. I want to be able to sleep with a man without being afraid he's going to knock me up. Hell, I want to be knocked up, I want to start having babies. In a way, it's really all I'm good for. Is that what you want?"

    "Yes, I've always wanted that."

    And no matter what I was doing, another me sat in my belly, absolutely cold with terror over the question of my life...With this fearful intimation there opened in me a hatred for Giovanni which was as powerful as my love and which was nourished by the same roots...I was in a terrible confusion. Sometimes I thought, but this is your life. Stop fighting it. Stop fighting."

    From James Baldwin, Giovanni's Room

    The media seems to be on a binge of Brokeback Mountain even after Oscar's curtain is down. A Hong Kong newspaper deems a close friendship between two men a Borkback-style relationship. Yesterday the local paper estimates somewhere between 1.7 to 3.4 million women have married to men who harbor homosexual desire. These "Brokeback Mountain marriages" pervade all demographic and socioeconomic groups. These marriages could be for show or a refuge from discrimination. The movie Wedding Banquet (also directed by Ang Lee) comes to mind. Wai-Tung is the son of a rich Taiwanese family living in New York. Unknown to his family, he is gay and has lived with his American doctor boyfriend, Simon, for many years. His parents continuously pressure him to get married and have a child. At the same time, one of the tenants of the properties that Wai-Tung manages, Wei-wei, needs to get married to an American citizen to get a green card, or face deportation. Simon convinces Wai-Tung that both of these problems can be solved by a fictitious marriage, which would also allow for a nice tax break.

    It's time to stop fighting the heart's fight. Just admit who you are.

    March 08, 2006


    [29] The Spell - Alan Hollinghurst

    Unlike The Line of Beauty, Hollinghurst's most recent release, which affords the usual elegant prose of the story of a young man under the roof of a Parliament member during Margaret Thatcher's England, The Spell is almost completely rid of political overtone. Tinged with pique and cross-purpose jokes, page by page the novel weaves a tapestry of love, lust, and loss among a group of middle-class gay Englishmen who are friends, ex-lovers, father and son. In exploring each of these relations and the uneasy conflicts, Hollinghurst's elegant, crisp prose fosters a sharp observation and psychological insight that accentuate these men's vulnerability.

    Close reading of The Spell reveals a very fine-tuned delineation of each of the four men, whose personalities and struggles incontrovertibly pervade in many of us. The story kicks off when the 36-years-old Alex accepts invitation from his ex-boyfriend Justin to spend a weekend in the country home with his new lover Robin, a forty-something gay dad. The prose lends its abrupt nature to the suspicion that Justin must out of his guilty respect for Alex's feelings to extend the solicitous invitation. But Alex is mellow and meek - he can never blame Justin for capriciously leaving him. He still misses Justin despite of the devastating evidence that what his friends hostilely say about him is vindicated. From the weekend gathering Hollinghurst probes the topography of the hearts of these men.

    That Hollinghurst is able to capture the terrain of his characters' emotional and mental struggle through the intimacy of their thoughts touches me. The novel is an immediate warm attachment to my heart. Even though Alex is constantly in people's company, the companionship and the bar scenes compound his loneliness and amplify his depression. Alex's absence of any allusion to his ex-lover's new love is clear sign of how upset he might be. No sooner has he arrived than he regrets of taking up the invitation because he has to hide how wounded he is by Justin, and thrives to sustain the right pitch of pretended toward Robin. What ultimately dooms him is the cruel reality of his failure in relationship, that no other man will want him and to fall in love with him. This is not easy for someone like Alex who is serious, cultured, someone who wears his sleeve out in a relationship, and that one relationship into which he imbues all his hope breaks his heart. That commitment and innocence shall meet a reckless betrayal in the end must arouse sympathy.

    Hollinghurst's novel is never deprived of drug escapade. At the crossroad of relationship, Alex insouciantly drops a tab of ecstasy, provided by Robin's gay son, and plunges into the rave, high-energy, substance-fuelled London club scenes. Alex embraces nightlife as if it might promise a love life that is not as checkered. Under the power of the E pill, Alex has no regret of his late-booming hedonism in which he gropes in an unbridled way different kinds of happiness. As he dawns on his self-discovery through the liberation, the shock of seeing Alex again brings about Justin a quiet bout of vexation, undulation, whoofs of lust, and puzzled fondness. Reunion with Alex and his fight with Robin seizes Justin with the grip of scruple over his momentary caprice that sometimes can cause a horrid nuisance in someone else's life.

    The Spell with the outward blowsy parties and carefree affairs is endowed with an undertow of finding true love. It embraces the longing for a soul mate despite a humanistic thirst for carnal deviance. It maps out different paths in life taken by various men. The path could be one that has been gripped and shaped by sexual lore, or one that witnesses the constant indispensable presence of lovers, or one that relishes the deceits and the success of which delivers a sense of competence.

    March 07, 2006


    A Potpourri of Heartbreaking Films and Stories

    Over dinner with Bill at the landmark Thailand Restaurant that perches over the Castro, our conversation inevitably nudged to the direction of the Oscar result. Brokeback Mountain, with all the pre-Oscar nominations and hype, took only Best Director and Best Original Film Score. We speculated political reason, unfortunately, played a remarkable role in influencing the result. Anyway, I was not as disappointed as the dramatic San Francisco Oscar Party bunch at Concourse. Some shed tears as Crash won Best Picture and pulled off a major Academy Awards upset. Our proxy disheartening mood over Brokeback Mountain quickly mollified as we solaced ourselves that in spite of the Oscar defeat Anne Proulx had penned a very touching, heartbreaking story portrait-painting the intimate relationship between two gay cowboys.

    Then I told Bill that Brokeback Mountain reminds me of a Hong Kong film from 2001 called Lanyu, directed by Stanley Kwan. The much-discussed film between two gay men in Beijing, played by Hu Jun and Liu Yeh, bears some striking resemblance to Brokeback Mountain. Handong, head of a lucrative trading company and Lan Yu, a country boy who goes to college in Beijing meet often, and the boy is soon very secure in his love for the man. But the lustful Handong insists that he wants a play-mate, not a lifelong companion, and warns Lan Yu that they will eventually break up.

    "When people get to know each other too well," he says, "inevitably they part." Meanwhile he showers expensive gifts to Lan Yu, expecting to deflect the boy's love by turning it into gratitude or dependency. Lan Yu is indomitable until the night he arrives at Handong's apartment and finds his lover in the process of seducing a college athlete. Reminiscent of The Wedding Banquet, Handong conceals his love for men with the seal of a vow to a woman whom he meets at work. But neither he nor Lanyu can forget about one another...

    I admire Lanyu's love for Handong during a time when people often understate the meaning of the word love. What does one mean when he says he loves someone? But Lanyu has been faithful and loyal to this love, which has been proven real and indefatigable through time and devotion. In the novel The Spell, which I have recently read, what Alan Hollinghurst writes one of his characters so hits home with Lanyu:

    "...he's only had one real affair in his life, with Justin, who I would have thought was totally inappropriate. Anyway it was a big deal for two years, until, of course, Justin broke his heart. The first night he told me he hadn't touched another man for a year. Then he talked and talked all next day. He was still very mellow from the night before. He's not jaded. I sound like I'm a hundred years old but it was so sweet to be out with someone who finds everything new and amazing. He's quite serious too. He kept analysing everything he felt."

    Who doesn't want to find someone like Lanyu?

    March 06, 2006


    [28] Notes From Underground - Fyodor Dostoevsky

    Notes From Underground is probably the most arguable works of Dostoevsky, inviting numerous interpretations and speculation. Most of the undergraduates in discussion sections I TA believe the underground man is Dostoevsky. What about you? "So long live the underground. I already carried the underground in my soul." This quote best epitomizes Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground.

    The book is not easy to read let alone to digest. Dostoyevsky again placed some of his favorite arguments in the moth of a character (the 40-year-old underground man) he despised. The underground man self-proclaims to be angry and sick at the very beginning and goes out of his way to offend his readers. The book reads like a delirious man's babbling, in his own shy, wounded, and exorbitant pride. While a novel usually needs a hero, but here Dostoyevsky had purposely collected all the features of an anti-hero: self-contempt, wounded vanity, conceit, and sensitive ego.

    Even though the underground man might be extremely egotistical and has no respect for others, Dostoyevsky never meant for him to have any surface appeal. The recurring themes of the narrative revolve around the underground man's alienation from society, which he despises, his bitter sarcasm, and the heightened awareness of self-consciousness. He larks to revenge himself for his humiliation by humiliating others. I don't think Dostoyevsky meant for the underground man to be liked and pitied by the readers. In fact, our anti-hero is inevitably targeted for Dostoyevsky's harsh satire.

    The first part of the book (titled The Underground) introduces the anonymous underground man and his outlook on life. The second part (titled A Story of the Falling Sleet) sees how the man with heightened senses of ego and awareness submerges voluptuously into his underground, motivated by many contradictory impulses. Dostoyevsky paints not only a complex portrait of an anonymous personage who lacks surface appeal, but also a society in which people are so unaccustomed to living and the manners of which that they feel a loathing for real life. Notes from Underground is an egocentric man's monologue that is abound with fascinating nuance which reveals itself only upon close reading.

    March 05, 2006


    [27] Straight Man - Richard Russo

    In this hilarious but heart-breaking novel, Richard Russo paints a vividly true-to-life picture of the tragedy of a man who appears to have got it all in life. Henry William Devereaux Jr. is a 50 years-old professor of English serving as an interim chair of a department that is never in consensus in a badly underfunded college in a rusty locale of Pennsylvania. The pettiness of work politics and the turbulent drama among the personnel that enshrouds his department strikes him off guard like a belated mid-life crisis.

    In the course of a week Henry, an anarchist in heart with a lack of political acumen, is mangled by an angry colleague in his nose, battered by the wave of rumors auguring an impending university-wide purge, swept by a surging sentiment among the mutinous colleagues who threatened a recall. And to top it all, he dreads the returning of his father who left him and his mother for the first of his female graduate students some 40 years ago.

    Henry's determined reticence and the complaisance rooted in his character somehow galvanize the silent tension that reigns over him and his colleagues. So long as he dismisses the purge as rumors, his friends and colleagues think he is committing political suicide and are ready to strangle him. This is where his character flaw being fully exposed, that in the face of life's seriousness, its pettiness, its tragedy, its absurdity, and its lack of coherent meaning he seems to be unusually ignorant and indifferent, and sadly, he finds himself defenseless. This is where his tragedy lies dormantly until something as pathetic as the pettiness of people politics at work evokes its existence. His tragedy lies in the fact that he is too reasonable, being overly logical. So long as he can maintain the public posture that does not call him out of his comfort zone, he remains complaisant and unchallenged. His complaisance demonstrates that a great deal of havoc can be wrought in relationship (especially the ones that are no longer remediable) by anyone so inclined, at least if that person is sufficiently insensitive to ridicule, personal invective and threat.

    The mellow professor's sudden flamed-up reaction surprises all that is used to his insensitiveness. His threat to kill a duck (a goose!) on TV camera at the frustration of not receiving a budget serves more than just a comic relief of the tension that builds up incessantly. The escapade almost bespeaks his formidable conviction of refusing to sell out his colleagues; and on top of it he radically comes out of his nut-shell to protest injustice of the university administration. On facing the accusation of killing a goose of which he does not deny being the perpetrator, even his staunch political allies have aligned themselves against him. They speak of him performance as chair, detailing of many grievances, suspecting him of aiding the administration in the purge, and misinforming and betraying the department. At the core of this crisis he has to confront the question: Does he really belong? He is either to live among his colleagues who are as flustered, complacent, deadwood and tenuredly banal as the geese, or he should take a respectful leave and leave behind the squalor of politics.

    Straight Man alerts not only its protagonist but all his witnesses the conflicts, wounds, unsettled scores we have never come to terms with, that sneak up on us, insisting upon immediate attention and action, if not resolution. His cowardice is always understood to be the sole impediment to his reconciling with his philandering, distant father. This cowardice manifests in his assiduous contribution, under a pseudonym, of satires on academic lunacy which has raised ire of the university personnel. While one might laugh and feel disconcerted at Henry's vices, it's also time to reconsider issues in life that one has so adamantly evaded.

    March 04, 2006


    The undertow of construction around the site

    The launch of LibraryThing book catalog was one big step toward taking inventory of the charivari around my house, as books have taken over patch of my bedroom floor. With more and more books coming "out of the closet," my account will soon become a lifetime membership for $25. As Greg pointed out in the comment, we are on the lookout for similar site that will catalog CDs, DVDs, and anything of which we have a fetish to catalog! Maybe it's time to work on a searchable database for my books and media collection so any title can become just one click away.

    Then I discovered Flickr, yet another addictive online community that enables new way of organizing photos. Flickr makes possible for us to share some of our most memorable, goofiest, funny, interesting, esoteric, artistic pictures to the whole world or just a private audience for maybe more than 30 seconds of celebrity. Once I have uploaded my pictures, Flickr can also add one of those cool photo strips to the side of your blog. Just design your badge (HTML or a flash one like the one on the left sidebar of this blog), and cut and paste the code to your blog template! And another cool thing you can add to your blog is the Flickr Zeitgeist. Cut and paste to your blog. You can even set it up so it just shows your pictures and those of your Flickr contacts. Did I say it's addictive?

    An interesting idea comes to mind when I'm writing this post. For those who are on the quest for love and dating online, Flickr lets people see and find out more about you than just some legalistic, stat-oriented profile can offer. Just a thought. Anyway my Flickr account just burgeons so I'll upload more pictures of my travels. Pictures from the most recent Thailand and Cambodia/Angor Wat trip are up. The intricacy and details of the carvings, bas-reliefs, and architecture are fabulous. The pictures from Bali, Indonesia will be up next on the flash badge and followed by a collage of pictures of friends.

    Another project would be to re-do the blog to a three-column format. TypePad automatically formats blogs in three columns. Maybe I'll study the source code of some of the pages like Danielle's so I can align links to recent posts and book reviews on one side and links to favorite /daily pursuit blogs to another to enhance navigate-friendliness. Another glitch that I would like to correct is the Blogroll site update alert. It seems that Blogroll doesn't alert update of *some* but not all Typepad blogs. Anyone knows why?

    March 03, 2006


    [26] The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco

    In 1327, Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy. Brother William of England and his scribe, who is a Benedictine novice and the narrator of the book, arrive to investigate. The timely arrival of the perspicacious brother coincides with seven bizarre deaths at the abbey. The spree of deaths from surreptitious cause claims the life of an illustrator Adelmo, a Greek scholar Venantius and other monks at the abbey.

    The first fifty or so pages of the book brief the vicissitudes of churches and the emergence of heresies and diabolical practices. My first impression of the novel is some circuitous unraveling of heretics and power struggles between the Pope and the emperor. After trudging through these historical backgrounds and religious overtones, the book becomes nothing but an intriguing thriller in probing and unraveling the mystery behind all the deaths.

    As Brother William traces to the bone of the mystery that seamlessly entangles the relationships and the paths overlapped the victims, it becomes perspicuous that the possession and theft of a banned book from the abbey library has led to deaths of scholars and monks in vein. The library, its promise, prestige, and prohibitions, incurs a strong hold on the monks and scholars who have sinfully coveted and hoped one day to violate all its secrets and gain access to the books.

    While the abbot sternly tightens the grip of library access and so to thwart falsehood and infidel knowledge from befalling into wrong hands, barred from such knowledge only inevitably creates in everyone an insatiable lust for such materials. The very knowledge that the abbey has accumulated is used as barter goods, cause for pride, and motive for boasting and prestige. It has been adumbrated that a monk, stirred by unquenchable desires for intellect, will even comply with carnal desire in order to satisfy the pursuit of intellect.

    The probe for truth sheds light as Brother William and our narrator indomitably ventures into the library, collects evidence, deciphers secret zodiac symbols and manuscripts, notes the library's subjects and arrangements, and thus cracks the labyrinth. Evolution of the librarian appointments at the abbey indubitably gives away the identity of the ultimate devil.

    The Name of the Rose deftly evokes the paradox of truth. As William's investigation takes an unexpected turn and sheds light on the truth, the very unbearable truth that the abbot refuses to recognize and confronts out of fear of besmirching the abbey's prestige, Eco obfuscates readers with the ghastly consequence and the toll of the obsession with truth. Does truth really set one free as the Bible claims, or does it come with a price?

    The Name of the Rose is a tale of a master's journey in unraveling a complicated knot at a sacred institution. Under the veneer of scholastic and immaculate surface is prurient desire for knowledge, covet for power, and scruple for sin against chastity. The interminable discourse on church history and heresy will be elucidated throughout the novel (so don't be discouraged by the difficult prose), as relevant personalities will recount their involvement with heretics. It's an ingenious, fine piece of literature that challenges bright minds.

    March 02, 2006


    What Classics Novel Are You?

    I took a What-Classics-Novel-Are-You test through BookGirl's Nightstand. I'm supposed to identify from a bunch of statements to pick the ones that best suit my personality, social and political interests. The verdict of analysis is given in the form of a novel. So I'm The Name of the Rose.
    The name of the rose
    "Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose. You are a mystery novel dealing with theology, especially with catholic vs liberal issues. You search wisdom and knowledge endlessly, feeling that learning is essential in life."

    Which literature classic are you?
    brought to you by Quizilla
    Not bad at all. The book is a resident of my top-10 novel list. It is in perfect accord to my reading preference. I'm just curious at all the titles that the repertory might have embodied. Danielle from A Work in Progress reports her being 1984, while Amelia from Amelia's Passion is named The Lord of the Rings. Does anyone know all the possible verdicts? Does it include The Master and Margarita?

    Danielle mentions some 59% of Americans don't own a single book. So magazines and The Guiness Book of World Records don't count eh? The number is indeed quite shocking but, if you also think about the percentage of couch potatoes who subscribe to all cable TV options that are available, the number might be okay. Bookworms like me make up for the rest of the country. National Endowment for the Arts warned in a 2004 report that literary reading (meaning, Da Vinci Code doesn't count folks) has been drastically in decline with less Americans reading literature. The report is said to "document a national crisis." Women read more literature than men do, but the survey indicated literary reading by both genders is declining. Only slightly more than one-third of adult males now read literature. Reading among women is also declining significantly, but at a slower rate. The bookstores reflect this trend as you see more and more chick-lit, popular fiction titles which sadly inundate the literature section.

    March 01, 2006


    My Top 10 Cantopop Hits of 2005 [十大金曲]

    1. 為何他會離開你 - 林憶蓮 (本色)
    2. 勞斯.萊斯 - 何韻詩 (梁祝下世傳奇)
    3. 大哥 - 衛蘭 (My Love)
    4. 葡萄成熟時 - 陳奕迅 (U87)
    5. 好人 - 側田 (Justin)
    6. 情非首爾 - 李克勤 (李克勤演奏廳)
    7. 我真的哭過 - 鄭中基 (Before & After)
    8. 髮如雪 - 周杰倫 (十一月的蕭邦)
    9. 損友 - 容祖兒 (Bi-Heart)
    10. 無賴 - 鄭中基 (Before & After)

    [25] Shadow Without a Name - Ignacio Padilla

    Life is an ongoing, premeditated chess game and those who live life move like pawns on the chessboard. The chess game that took place in a train at the dawn of World War I in Ignacio Padilla's book, Shadow Without A Name, irreparably changed the lives of at least four men whose identities became warped even after death. The novel cleverly evokes the question of identity and selfhood against the historical backdrop of the darkest period of the twentieth century, as men appropriated names of each other, shielded off past memories and adopted new identities in the hope of a changed, better destiny. It was a time in which the truth became shrouded by lies and the lies adopted as truth.

    Four men contribute to the narrative, which, in an overlapping interval of time, recounted the sequence of events that spanned decades as well as continents following the chess game in 1916, between Viktor Kretzschmar and Thadeus Dreyer.

    In 1957, in Buenos Aires, Franz Kretzschmar reminisced his father, Viktor Kretzschmar, who faced Thadeus Dreyer on a chessboard for a life-and-death game. The winner would take Kretzschmar's identity as a railway signalman in Salzburg and the loser would head to the Austro-Hungarian eastern front, which promised death. When Franz's father (the true and only Thadeus Dreyer whose name had been appropriated and incarnated throughout the book) won the game, little did he know the exchange of documents would lend him a warped identity though he saw the deadly wager as a promise of immortality. However he despised trains, Franz's father approached the job with unbounded enthusiasm and not the slightest of his despondency betrayed his imposture until he was found guilty of premeditating a train accident near Salzburg. He wasted away in a sanatorium upon release from jail, rendered unable to recognize his son, let alone Franz's revengeful efforts to restore his father's peace of mind.

    Richard Schley was a seminarist falsely elevated to priesthood who attended to near-death soldiers and gave vespers in 1918. Schley met his childhood friend Jacob Efrussi who changed his name to Thadeus Dreyer, in the time of the pandemonium caused by the Balkans on the Austrian front in 1918. Efrussi (or Dreyer), who had stolen so many names and lived under so many identities, persisted in denying his real name. Another name swap occurred as Efussi agreed to stake his fate on a chess game with Richard Schley, who found Efrussi in the midst of ravages and brought him home from the front.

    Alikoshka Goliadkin was an orderly of General Thadeus Dreyer during his rise in the Nazi reign. This man was the key to unveil the clandestine relationships between Franz Kretzschmar, Adolf Eichmann and Dreyer. At the time, Dreyer supervised the training of a small legion of impostors (doubles) who would occasionally replace senior party officials or served as decoys in public appearances considered high-risk. Goliadkin was the only man who knew the where about of Dreyer and his impostor team (which was reported to vanish without a trace) when the project fell out of favor with the Nazi.

    Daniel Sanderson, one of the three heirs of Baron Woyzec Blok-Cissewsky who left an encrypted code in a chess manual that would resolve the whole mystery about the aforementioned men. The baron, took residence in Poland during his late years, turned out to be yet another incarnation of Thadeus Dreyer. The seemingly impregnable encrypted code embedded the secrets of the many failed attempts by Nazi officers opposed to Hitler's policies to destroy the regime from within. As Sanderson investigated the baron's connection with Eichmann, he became alert at the fact that a fourth heir who resided in a Frankfurt sanatorium existed!

    This book presents a story within stories, twisted and shrouded. At each turn of a page, at each switch of narrator, the book challenges readers with the question: is the man who he says he is? I have to flip back and forth to make sure I do not have the slightest confusion of who is who, though it is sometimes inevitable to fall into the trap of which who I think the man is. Once I get used to all the name swap and appropriation, and the underlying connection or disconnection of all the Dreyer incarnations, the book is a tantalizing, suspenseful, mesmerizing read. The constant changes of identities do not lose the way. It is cleverly written, with finesse and attention to details. It holds your breath to the end.