The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

the-brief-wondrous-life-of-oscar-waoThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the highly acclaimed multiple-award winner, is incredibly intricate under the surface of its seemingly playful tone. By exploring the immigration of Oscar’s family, Diaz interweaves the themes of racial identity, Dominican male stereotypes, the pride as well as price of being oneself, fate and curses, the nasty legacy that Trujillo left in Dominican Republic, love, home, freedom, and ultimately what it means to be American.

I was particularly interested in the use of language in this book. Boy, Diaz does not shy away from obscenities. Other than the change of narrators in each chapter, there’s also a fairly intimidating amount of Spanish throughout. Diaz is witty and humorous. I had some good laughs. Beyond his writing style lie some serious questions that people often seek answers to. It’s a book that makes you chuckle, tear up, and ponder at the same time. It’s so close to real life that it’s comical and tragic at the same time. It’s one of my favorite recent reads!

“There was the initial euphoria of finding himself alone at college, free of everything, completely on his fucking own, and with it an optimism that here among these thousands of young people he would find someone like him. That, alas, didn’t happen. The white kids looked at his black skin and his afro and treated him with inhuman cheeriness. The kids of color, upon hearing him speak and seeing him move his body, shook their heads. You’re not Dominican.”

Oscar’s life was a continual struggle of fitting in, seeking love, finding and losing himself. As an overweight and extremely nerdy Dominican male, Oscar never met others’ expectations and was made fun of his entire life. He fell in love again and again but only to be slapped awake every time. He couldn’t find anyone to understand him, not that he really understood himself either. Doesn’t he sound astoundingly unlucky?

The white kids judged him by his skin color, and the Dominican males saw his nerdiness and blocked him from their clan. What’s Oscar’s identity? He was a little bit of everything but not entirely anything. His final letter brought tears to my eyes. He was a boy who had high hopes for life but never found a place where he belonged and could call home. Continue reading


East of Eden

east-of-edenThe only other John Steinbeck’s book I’ve read is The Grapes of Wrath, which was a required reading in high school. It would’ve been impossible for my 16-year-old to imagine reading another one of his books voluntarily. But hey who would’ve thought? A few years later I not only have read one but also written a blog post about it!

Two characteristics of East of Eden that stood out to me were its timeline and amount of details. The novel, set between the beginning of the 20th century and WWI, spans across several generations, resulting in an intertwining and complex story. Steinbeck describes the characters with such great details that you feel like you know them as real people around you by the end of the book.

Through the history of the Trask and Hamilton family in Salinas Valley, East of Eden explores themes of freedom, love, acceptance, and the limit of lies and evilness. My favorite character is Samuel Hamilton, the old wise Irish man. He’s intelligent and calm, able to see the bottom of many things but hardly speaks his mind. As Lee, the similarly wise Chinese servant, describes him, he is “one of the rare people who can separate [his] observation from [his] preconception.” While most people see what they expect, Samuel sees what it really is.

Cathy, on the other hand, is an extreme character in my opinion. Even though Steinbeck began the introduction of Cathy by saying that some people were born monsters, I still find her actions beyond horrid. It’s fate’s cruel joke to make Adam fall for her. He’s so kind but too naïve. He creates a perfect image for the woman he loves. He never sees her, only his creation. Continue reading

The Noticer: Sometimes, All a Person Needs is a Little Perspective

The NoticerI started reading the Noticer because it was recommended to me a few times by various people. The story was surprisingly simple. A mysterious old man named Jones goes around and touches people’s lives with his wisdom on gaining perspectives. To be honest, I didn’t get the feeling that it was “one of the best books ever” or even a “must-read” like many reviewers have said. The lessons in the book were great, but I have definitely read similar things from other places before. That being said, there are still some good pointers in the book. It’s a very short and simple read, so give it a shot and see for yourself, maybe you will have a difference opinion!

 “The way we feel loved is usually the same way we express love.”

If you are a verbal person and express your love for someone by telling them, you will expect the same from others in order to feel loved. But we often forget the obvious fact that we are not all alike! Your loved one might not be as verbal but expresses love in some other way—making you breakfast, for example. But since you speak different languages of love, you might misunderstand each other and feel unloved.

The solution to this problem is to think from others’ perspectives. This is the same as putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. The lack of communication often leads to a waste of effort trying to understand each other and costs relationships.

“Well, that’s why smart people get tripped up with worry and fear. Worry…fear…is just a misuse of the creative imagination that has been placed in each of us.”

Some people say that they can’t focus because they worry too much. But worrying is focusing! It’s just focusing on the wrong things. Fear for the unknown future consumes lives. Nobody knows what’s going to happen in the future, but human natures leads us to imagine the worst scenario possible. Optimism, on the other hand, is the best attitude one can have towards life. But of course it’s easier said than done. Especially during hard times, it takes not only a bright attitude but also real courage to keep a smile on your face.

What Jones is saying is that we should spend the energy we otherwise spend on worrying on the good things we have in life. Once we focus on those things, our heart would be filled with gratitude. It’s a waste of our creative imagination to doing something that does nothing but stressing us out. Continue reading

Looking for Alaska

looking-for-alaskssaPudge is a teenager with a not-so-interesting life prior to attending this boarding school in Alabama. Soon he was surrounded by teenagers who take on life passionately, recklessly, and fearlessly. Pudge made friends, whom he went on adventures and pulled ridiculous pranks with. And there was this girl, Alaska. She was mysterious and energetic, like a hurricane. Unexpectedly, Pudge found much of his life at his new school evolving around Alaska—her hilarious ideas, moodiness, and sometimes wild behaviors.

Through the twists and turns of Pudge and his friends’ time together, Looking for Alaska takes the readers on a somewhat confusing roller coaster ride. I found myself thinking “What’s going on??” a few times during the book. It’s a page-turner that you cannot put down until the mystery is solved at the end with the climax.

“You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.”

Alaska’s goal was to find a way out of the labyrinth of life. Sounds a bit ambitious for a teenager, doesn’t it? But she’s got a point here. Too many people are living for the future. Teenagers dream the day they are away from home in college; college students can’t wait to be done with school work for good; and working people live for the weekends. Everybody knows to enjoy the present, but it’s also so easy to begin thinking about how great an alternative situation would be when you get there one day. But the future, not to sound morbid, might never come for all you know. Have dreams, but don’t let them become merely hiding places from the present you are in now.

“That is the fear: I have lost something important, and I cannot find it, and I need it. It is fear like if someone lost his glasses and went to the glasses store and they told him that the world had run out of glasses and he would just have to do without.”

An ordinary teenager coming from a regular family, Pudge never thought that one day he would be robbed of something so precious to him and left struggling to piece his life back together. It’s such a frightening thought: something extremely important to you is irrevocably lost. And the worst part is, you never thought you would one day lose it. But life throws you curve balls sometimes. This might be the moment when Pudge grew up: realizing that, unlike glasses, there are things in life that he will lose and have to live without. Continue reading

And the Mountains Echoed

MountainsAt first glance, And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini may seem like a collection of individual short stories. From Kabul to San Francisco, Greece to Afghan, people leading completely different lives fight their own daily battles. But as the plot expands, the stories become complex and intertwined. Pari’s journey of finding her lost brother, Mr. Wahdati’s forbidden love for Nabi, Idris and Timur’s return to Afghan to reconnect with their childhood, Adel’s discovery of his father’s true nature, Markos’s friendship with Thalia…One thing leads to another, the fate of each character dates back to long before they were even born.

In reality, families not only love, protect, and honor each other, but also, in one way or the other, hurt and betray each other. And the Mountain Echoed recognizes this as it explores the many ways in which families interact and the surprising actions taken by the closed ones.

Many stories in this book do not have your typical perfect or even satisfactory ending. Abdullah never gets to enjoy the joy of reuniting with his little sister; Parwana never tells her sister the truth of her injury. But that’s just how it is. Some questions will remain forever unanswered. There will also be regrets. It’s all a part of life.

“In her smile, Idris sees how little of the world he has known, even at thirty-five years of age, its savageness, its cruelty, the boundless brutality.”

When Idris sees Roshi, the little girl who’s the only survivor of the murder of her whole family, he feels powerless. Things like this are out of his life and completely unimaginable. Idris promises to find a doctor for Roshi’s, but…life gets in the way. As he goes back to the US, he finds the distance between him and Roshi “infinite, insurmountable,” his promise to her “misguided, a reckless mistake, a terrible misreading of the measures of his own powers and will and character.” The initial indignation and ambition are soon replaced by the numbness and comfort at home. Continue reading

The Goldfinch

the-goldfinchThe Goldfinch has been on my reading list ever since it won this year’s Pulitzer Prize. It tells an intriguing story of a young boy, Theo, whose life was turned upside down by a tragic accident and, as a result, taken a sharp turn into the criminal underworld. The storyline is elaborate and engaging. You think you know what to expect but will most certainly be surprised as the plot unfolds. I especially enjoyed the first half of the book. It paints a vivid picture of a young boy, forced to grow up with little guidance and love, squandering away his time recklessly yet taking on life fearlessly. It’s a complicated story about love and hate, challenging and bowing down to fate, reality and dreams.

All the characters have distinct personalities. Theo, his dad, Xandra, Boris, Pippa, Hobie—they are people that would never meet had fate not crossed and intertwined their paths. I think the interaction between Boris and Theo is the most brilliant bit of the book. Theo was a good but sometimes mopey boy. Boris was ridiculous yet full of possibilities. These two got along incredibly well despite disagreeing on everything. Their encounter, separation and reunion make up the backbone of the book. Maybe my expectations were too high, but the Goldfinch didn’t’ impress me greatly. Although overall it was a good read that I would recommend!

“You could study the connections for years and never work it out—it was all about things coming together, things falling apart, time warp, my mother standing out in front of the museum when time flickered and the light went funny, uncertainties hovering on the edge of a vast brightness. The stray chance that might, or might not, change everything.”

Theo’s whole life has been thrown left and right unexpectedly by chances. Looking back, Theo sees his life connected by random dots that he never would’ve thought. Had the meeting with his teachers not been scheduled on a different day, or Pippa not happened to be in the same exhibit hall with him, or his dad got the funds to pay Mr. Silver in Vegas…Theo’s life would’ve been completely different. Like everyone else, Theo tries to cope with life with his own tactics etc. But it’s the stray chances that lead his life to drastic directions.

People like to think that the future can be planned. But it’s things, often those out of our control, coming together that paint the whole picture. No one can go down a single path in life not affected by anything else. All paths are crossed and you never know where life will take you next. On the bright side, this uncertainty is also the beauty of life. Continue reading

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

WillGraysonWill Grayson, Will Grayson tells a story of two teenagers with the same name living very different lives until their paths cross at an unlikely intersection. The alternating chapters tell the same story from two perspectives. It’s a story about young people finding love and themselves. In that sense you can say it’s a typical Young Adult fiction. The plot is unpredictable and the characters are hilarious—worth the read!

Tiny reminds of Cameron from Modern Family. Dramatic, sensitive, funny, with a huge personality, and full of love. I love the friendship of Tiny and Will from Chicago. Tiny has countless ex-boyfriends while Will can’t wrap his head around interacting with one girl. Yet they both love each other simply because they are best friends.

Will from Ohio reminds me of Holden from The Catcher in the Rye. They both sound like brats that complain about every little detail in their life. They are insecure yet somewhat self-righteous, pretending to be nonchalant to hide their depression. But when he meets someone like Tiny, Will discovers more of his inner softness than he’d probably like to admit.

“But with tiny it isn’t fake at all. it’s like he’s being tickled by life.”

Tickled by life. What an adorable expression! It sums up Tiny in a nutshell. An overweight gay teenager who wouldn’t stop rambling about his love life, Tiny doesn’t have the easiest life in high school. Yet he’s always beaming with confidence, invigorating his surroundings with his cheerfulness, and trying to change the world at least a little bit by putting on a musical about love. Continue reading

Man’s Search for Meaning

Man's search for trainingMan’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust,consists of two parts. The first half is the memoir of Viktor’s experience in the concentration camps,. He talked about emotions, suffering, love, human existence, and the meaning of life. The second half explains his theories of logotherapy. This is an emotionally and intellectually challenging classic. A must-read in my opinion!

Unlike the overall historic picture of the Holocaust that I learned from textbooks, Viktor’s memoire describes the daily life inside of the camp from an average prisoner’s view. He defined the three psychological stages of a prisoner: shock, apathy, and what he called “depersonalization” after liberation. Apathy is the scariest stage. After a while, the prisoners got so used to death and crime that they simply stopped reacting to them. In an incident that Viktor accounted, the corpse of a prisoner was being dragged by in front of his eyes, his reaction? “Two hours before I had spoken to that man. Now I continued sipping my soup.” This quote sent chills down my spine. After years of trekking from camp to camp, only those prisoners who “lost all scruples” and used every mean to survive, honest or dishonest, were able to save themselves. Viktor lamented the brutality of the reality, “we know: the best of us did not return.”

According to Viktor, logotherapy “considers man a being whose main concern consists in fulfilling a meaning, rather than in the mere gratification and satisfaction of drives and instincts…or in the mere adaptation and adjustment to society and environment.” In other words, men must have the will to meaning. We have to actively look for a purpose for our lives because the “meaning of life” is different for everyone.

Another interesting point in logotherapy is what Viktor called “hyper-intention.” When people try too hard to avoid a condition, they might make it worse because they focus on it too much thus become over-anxious. On the contrary, giving less attention to or even learning to ridicule certain problem might make it better. For example, someone with a stuttering problem will actually stutter less when they care less about it. While happiness is a choice, there’s a lot of unhappiness-shaming nowadays. People are so carefully avoiding it that they are not only unhappy, but unhappy about being unhappy. We all feel down at times and it’s totally natural. There’s fine line between optimism and denial. Continue reading

Tuesdays with Morrie–Part II


 “Aging is not just decay…it’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it’s also the positive that you understand you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.”

People don’t like talking about death. It’s like a taboo. But Morrie had a positive view on it. Understanding death dissipates the fear and enables people to realize how they really want their lives to be. Sometimes people live like they will never die—relentlessly chasing after materialistic values. “We put our values in the wrong things. And it leads to very disillusioned lives.”

Morrie said that the wish to be young again signifies “unfulfilled lives” and “lives that haven’t found meaning.” The meaning of life is different for everyone, but there’s no such thing as “too late” when it comes to finding yours. Morrie was changing until the day he said good-bye.

“As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed at twenty-two, you’d always be as ignorant as you were at twenty-two.”

As my friends and I start to transition from early-twenties to mid-twenties, I can say that quarter-life crisis is definitely valid. Besides realizing that you are an actual adult, I think what freaks young folks out more is the realization that we can’t stay young forever. Since my late teenage years, I always looked back at myself from two years ago and saw so many immature thoughts and actions. The intensity has flattened out a bit; unlike looking at my 18-year-old self when I was 20, I don’t see a complete idiot when I think about my 20-year-old self now. Seeing aging as growth can help us accept getting older, since it will happen anyhow.

“It’s impossible for the old not to envy the young. But the issue is to accept who you are and revel in that.” Everyone gets their turn to be young; and every age has its beauty. But it’s up to you to find what’s “good and true and beautiful in your life as it is now.”

“This is how you start to get respect, by offering something that you have.”

This is one of my favorite quotes from Morrie. Existential crisis occurs when people start questioning the meaning of their lives. Offering what you have. What a beautiful and simple idea. I have a lot to offer! It could be tutoring young kids, volunteering, helping a friend in need, or simply being generous with my compliments. Offering makes you happy! 🙂 Continue reading

Tuesdays with Morrie–Part I

Tuesdays with Morrie is my favorite book. Why have I not written about it? 14 Tuesdays with Morrie with 14 valuable lessons, this book of wisdom is always on my shelf. Sometimes when I’m stressed out, I would open it and read a few highlighted quotes. It helps me take a step back and realize that there are more important things in life.

“Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”

This is my favorite line in the book. If you accept the fact that you might die anytime, you might behave differently. If you were to die tomorrow, have you been the person you wanted to be? This is in no way morbid. It’s the opposite.

It’s not about big plans like starting backpacking around the world tomorrow. Instead, have you always wanted to donate blood? Hike in Yosemite? Volunteer in a shelter? Go do those things. Life is not about what you did in one crazy day. It’s a puzzle pieced together by every single day.

It’s not necessarily about if you’ve accomplished everything you wanted—if you got that law degree or traveled to Antarctica (although those would be nice, too)—it’s about whether you’ve been the person you want to be. Have you been generous, forgiving, loving, humorous, or anything you might “wish” you were?

“Every day, have a little bird on your shoulder that asks, ‘Is today the day? Am I ready? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person I want to be?’”

“The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

The sense of meaningfulness that “devoting yourself to loving others” brings is incredible. It’s no secret that giving brings more joy than receiving. Personally, volunteering has been an important ingredient in my recipe of happiness. I’ve been a consistent volunteer at the homeless shelter and nursing home etc. It feels wonderful to make a difference by making someone’s day better. Not to mention that you can learn so much about others and yourself during the process. If you can afford a couple extra hours per week for a great return of happiness, please try it! It’s the most selfless way to be selfish.

It’s also in the small things. Surprise a stressed-out friend with a candy bar; compliment on the style of a girl who seems to have put in a lot of effort in her outfit today; buy the homeless man two muffins when he only asks for one. Continue reading