Wednesday, April 25, 2012

THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak


Death narrates the tale of a German girl during World War II. She likes to steal books.


This story is a love letter to words in content as well as form. The main character arrives in an unassuming German town unable to read, and throughout the story she discovers the dignity and passion that the written word can provide. The usual World War II themes are present in this book, but the connections that develop between people through the act of reading are particularly powerful. Language can save and destroy, and the author explores this theme with poetry and compassion.

The narrative is not strictly linear, and it took me a little while to get into the book. Using Death as a narrator seems gimmicky at first, but the character actually provides a take on the tragic events of the period that is both poignant and refreshing. He insists on giving away details about the ending from the very beginning, so the reader's focus is on the souls of the characters, not on the plot points. The ending still managed to bring me to tears right in the middle of the MTR.

This story is special because of the language. Zusak has a gift for playing with words in a loving, surprising manner. The unexpected metaphors and sophisticated anthropomorphisms force you to pay attention to Zusak's imagery. He does have a tendency to overuse sentence fragments and odd, capitalized declarations. I know this is intended to emphasize powerful statements and images, but reading too many of these punctuated moments can be exhausting. They start to lose their impact. Overall, the real power of Zusak's language comes from the joy of invention and play that comes out in the writing.


The UK website for this book is quite snazzy.


$9.99 for the Kindle edition


When is a time when you've seen reading bring people together? Are there other writers you enjoy who use unconventional forms or narrative techniques?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bookspotting: Week 65

Welcome back to another episode of Bookspotting in Hong Kong! This week I spotted a woman reading an English paperback on the MTR. When she left the train, I saw a flash of bright blue on the cover, but couldn't read the title. Another woman was reading Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin and a man was carrying Gazza: My Story by Paul Gascoigne. Kindles are becoming more popular around here: I spotted three this week alone! It is, of course, World Book Night, so I was also treated to the sight of my school's 600 students reading together in the hall this afternoon. Most of them read in Chinese, but I spotted a few English titles here and there. I brought along Madeline in case any of them forgot a book. Two guidebooks made an appearance on the streets of Hong Kong this week, along with four other Chinese books.

What are people reading in your town? Did you do anything special for World Book Night?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Walking Tour: Ma On Shan Country Park

For this week's walking tour, we are going way out into the New Territories, the not-so-new part of Hong Kong that actually still has some rural space. Ma On Shan Country Park is in the eastern New Territories, about halfway between Hong Kong Island and China.

At the edge of the park there's a humble activities area for local families. Naturally, you can still see high-rises from here...

...but there's a nice big pond inside the gates.

Turtles aren't the only animals that you'll see here.

Walk past the edge of the lake and you'll find a little farm.

They have baby goats!

For a second you might even forget you're not at an American county fair.

The women grow organic vegetables and sell them to visitors.

The farm feels like something from another time.

The facilities are humble...

...and the only people left are the elderly.

The little fields displayed an impressive variety of plants.

Some I didn't recognize...

...and others were quite familiar.

At the edge of the field are some beekeeping boxes. I bought a jar of the honey from the little shop.

The field is surrounded by sweet village houses.

I said goodbye to the cactus...

...which reminded me of home.

Then I continued on to the activities section of the park.

There was a racetrack where you could ride tricycles shaped like animals...

...paddle boats for an idyllic cruise on the lake (don't forget those high-rises)...

...and there was even a spot where you could walk on water.

A bunch of kids were making use of the mini racetrack.

Their laughter next to the pond made you forget the city for a while.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bookspotting: Mammoth Edition

I was on holiday for most of this week, so I didn't spend much time on the MTR, my primary bookspotting grounds. Today was my first day back, and on my way home from work this afternoon I spotted a young man reading a hefty tome called Moral Vision in the New Testament. I saw someone sitting in a restaurant with Paulo Coelho's Aleph on the table beside her. This week I also spotted one person reading a book on a tablet, two people carrying Kindles around town, and three people reading Chinese books.

I also paid a visit to Lyuba, the mummified baby mammoth on loan to Hong Kong from a museum in Russia. In a twist that seems uniquely "Hong Kong" she is not on display in a museum, but in a shopping mall. Life seems to revolve around shopping malls in this town, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. I lined up with the crowd in the IFC Mall Atrium to see what all the fuss was about.

There are ropes directing traffic into an enclosure made of info boards about the discovery of the almost perfectly preserved mammoth. Rising above the crowds and the info boards is a replica of a full-sized mammoth's skeleton. Past the legs of the skeleton and dozens of camera-wielding people, the baby mummy sits in a glass box.

For some reason, I found the crowds around Lyuba almost as intriguing as the mammoth herself. It was a strange scenario, but one that somehow manages to be typically Hong Kong.

Have you seen anything strange in your town lately? Have you spotted any books?

By the way, thank you so much to everyone who took my survey on last week's Bookspotting post!

Thursday, April 12, 2012



An epic fantasy series in which politics and characters are more important than magic and dragons (although that stuff is there too).


Game of Thrones is the reason there haven't been as many reviews as usual on this blog lately. I don't like posting about individual installments in series, but this is a hefty collection of 900-page books to get through. Now that I'm finished with the series, I can let you know what I thought and then give my brain-space back to other books. This is a consuming, addictive story because you just don't know what will happen. Good and evil are not clear-cut, the body count is high, and the plot is delightfully unpredictable. Also, the HBO adaptation of the first book is awesome, if you haven't seen it.

At face value, the Song of Ice and Fire series, popularly referred to as Game of Thrones, is a typical epic fantasy set in a world that is vaguely like Medieval Europe. I like this type of book, but usually relegate it to guilty-pleasure reading. However, Martin's epic is so clever and involved because he doesn't allow the typical patterns of this genre to limit his story. This can be infuriating when he is killing your favorite people, but it definitely kept me reading. The politics are complex and messy, and this is probably the most realistic fantasy series I've ever read.

This book benefits from non-stop action and surprisingly complicated relationships. The characters have histories, grudges, and desires that are not easy to nail down, just like in real life. I was impressed when some obvious villains turned into nuanced, sympathetic characters. On the other hand, I just don't like Jon Snow, who is one of the primary players in the story. Unfortunately, the series feels uneven at times. There are so many characters to keep up with that the sections about the ones I'm less interested in tended to drag. I'm also worried that there is no end in sight. Martin could wrap everything up in one more book, or he could write half a dozen more. Still, I know I'll be reading all of them.


George R. R. Martin's website


I borrowed some of the books in this series in paperback form and read some of them on my fiance's iPad. Most of the Kindle editions are $8.99.


What's your guilty pleasure reading?

PS. If you are a regular reader of this blog, please take the reader survey on last week's bookspotting post. Thank you!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bookspotting: Survey Edition

I must confess that there has been very little bookspotting in my life this week. It's a school holiday, and I've spent the last 7 days alternately focussing on a cool new project I have coming up and watching teen movies for hours on end (Adventureland, Heathers, the list goes on). I haven't seen sunlight in days. I did spend a few hours working in the new Queen's Road Starbucks, where I spotted two Western guys with economics textbooks and a very elegant couple reading fashion magazines together. So without my usual bookspotting fare, I decided to try a survey.

I can tell from my stats where the people who find this blog live and which posts are popular, but that doesn't really tell me about you regular readers. I'd like to know about your interests, what you like to read here, how often you visit. I know from the comments that there are some very cool people who come around, but I want to know more! Take the Kindle in Hong Kong Reader Survey. Thanks everyone.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Writing Video: Critique Partner

Here's the latest video about my writing journey. Check out my critique partner's blog: Jane Cornelius. She's really cool and you guys are going to love her book! (P.S. That's my face in her March 29th post).

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Bookspotting: Week 62

This week I took the ferry out to Discovery Bay on Lantau Island. On the way there, a man was reading Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes. Disco Bay is an expat enclave that looks a little like San Diego. People drive around on golf carts, and there's a plaza with a collection of chain restaurants, a Dymocks' bookstore, and an assortment of palm trees. The plaza was filled with Western kids running around in the safe, spacious environment. We had dinner with some friends who live on a houseboat with enough space for a small library. It was an unexpected side of Hong Kong that I don't encounter in my crowded, urban life. On the return ferry, I spotted a girl reading The Hunger Games, which is becoming an increasingly common sight over here. I spotted a Chinese man on the MTR reading a hardback with a cover like a red-checked tablecloth called French Children Don't Throw Food. I only spotted two Chinese books this week, plus one Lonely Planet guidebook to China.

What are people reading in your town this week?
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