Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

A Night With Bush And A Reading With Al Aswany

Earlier tonight, I was able to catch the premier of Oliver Stone‘s controversial biopic film W., which stars Josh Brolin as the current president of the United States, George W. Bush. The theater was generously packed (almost full) but what was most interesting to me was the reception I perceived from the audience, especially since I live in a predominately democratic, liberal county in the state of Colorado. Some of the attendants were waiting for the right, “comedic” opportunity to laugh at Bush, and others were deceitfully sympathetic regarding his character and actions in the film. I’m going to save the details for the review (which I’m going to postpone it for tomorrow since I’m quite tired right now) but the thing is, I really had a nice time watching the movie, and it actually made me think and reflect regarding the real George Bush.

My next surprise is when I found out Alaa Al Aswany‘s famous novel, Chicago, being both translated and published in English. I heard great things regarding the novel from many of my friends who read the Arabic version, which eventually  led me to buy the book when I went to Dubai last summer, but unfortunately never had the chance to read it. In fact, it is still probably nicely sealed and carefully placed in my bookshelf back home. If The Yacoubian Building is any indication (since my mom gave it her seal of approval), I think I’m going to enjoy reading this one. Thankfully, I just finished Charles Bukowski’s Post Office so the book wouldn’t have come at a right time than this.

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Book Review: The City of Ember

  • Author: Jeanne DuPrau
  • Genre: Science Fiction / Fantasy
  • Demographic: 9+

Even though I don’t quite fall into the appropriate age demographic for many fantasy novels that are intended for young adults readers, I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy them one bit. Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, and His Dark Materials trilogy are among my favorite books in my bookshelf. They are powerful and perhaps deeper than some literature books I’ve read in my entire life. The City of Ember (part of Book of Ember series) is one of my latest findings in the young adult section; when I read the synopsis, the book resonated with me as a deep fantasy adventure with ambitious themes that might strike as a “younger version” of George Orwell’s 1984. Unfortunately, what I got at the end was different from what I perceived, but the book definitely kept me entertained and intrigued until the very end.

For over two hundred years, the citizens of Ember have lived in darkness, save for the great lamps and flood lights that illuminate the city by day. But now, the lights are flickering, and blackouts are occurring more often. The buildings are crumbling, and the stockpiles of food and supplies are scarce. Enter the twelve-year-old Lina who discovers the remains of an ancient message that was feared lost long ago. The message, left by the Builders of Ember, contains the instructions on how to escape the city. With the threat of eternal darkness looming, Lina and her friend Doon work together to decipher the message. In doing so, they discover the secrets of why and how Ember was built, and many others that are darker than the city itself.

First and foremost, it is important to disclose that The City of Ember has all the elements of a great young-adult novel. The book is fast-paced and there is such life-threatening urgency in the plot that readers will be engrossed from beginning to end. Thus, The adult nature of the setting, combined with the young, resourceful protagonists, makes this book appeal to a wide age range of readers. However, when it comes to style of the writing, and the elegance of the story, the book somewhat falls short. Respectively, it seems DuPrau purposely dumbs down her own script to appeal to a much younger audience; despite the mature plot, the book doesn’t read like one. Furthermore, despite the rich context of the City of Ember, DuPrau was incredibly vague in her descriptions but she does manage to gradually unfold the realm of the city in an intelligent way that doesn’t distract us from the main plot. Other minor criticisms would be the simplicity of the mechanics of the city and its inhabitants; you will stumble to many aspects that you will question if it is possible for people (specifically adults) to behave in the manner they were shown. For example, DuPau does not provide any type of religious dogma or laws that prevent the inhabitants from experimenting and questioning the authority of the city and its illogical built; certainly humans are constantly curious creatures and always investigating their life as they live it.

~Parting Words~

Nevertheless, despite the criticisms, The City of Ember managed to become one of the most fascinating stories I’ve read recently. The plot ends with an enchanting cliffhanger that would leave most of it readers in a desperate need for a sequel. As a matter of fact, as soon I finished the book, I couldn’t help but not to pick the sequel (The People of The Sparks) in order to find what happens next. Thus, The City of Ember is definitely an engaging tale of mystery and exploration, just don’t try to explore deeper in its realm too much, because all you will find is a dark abyss with no “movable light” to guide your way out.

~Rating~

My Weekend Pick-Ups

Another weekend, another show-off.  Since my Eid sucked ass, I decided to indulge myself with some purchases (and the idea that I have a limitless credit card access), so I bought some stuff that are bound to elevate my heart from the Eid blues. I wouldn’t lie to you, that actually worked and I feel much better thank you very much. Of course, it really helped that your family didn’t forget about you and the fact they transfer some dough to your bank account as an Eid surprise, or an Eideyah if you prefer. So, here goes:

  • iPod Nano (8GB): Even though my iPod Touch serves me very well in the time of need, I always felt the need for a smaller MP3 player, and I thought the new iPod Nano would fill that void quite perfectly. Initially, I wanted to pick up a funkier color (i.e. orange, yellow, green) but the silver was the one that resonated with my senses strongly; it looked sleek, sexy, and cool. Plus, now that I have Nano, I can finally get the Nano + Nike Sport Kit.
  • Men’s Health Magazine: Now that’s Ramadan is over, I can finally quit slacking off and hit the gym once again. And in order to get motivated, a Men’s Health magazine would do just that, but with Gerard Butler‘s excessive manliness and chiseled body on the cover, it seems I got intimated than motivated.
  • Edge Magazine: Another great issue with great articles. The Heavy Rain article looks promising and appealing, and the special report of “How Nintendo fell out of love with the hardcore gamers” should provide an interesting read.
  • Silent Hill 5: Homecoming: I’ve always been a huge fan of Silent Hill games, and I still am. With the American based ‘s “Double Helix” taken charger of developing the game instead of the original Japanese team, I was tempted, and hopefully the new direction of the game won’t fail my expectations or ruin the series for me. Expect a review anytime soon.
  • Tomb Raider Legends (Used): I missed this game when it released on the PS2 two years ago, and now, I wanted to play it before I move to the much improved Anniversary, and gets my hype up for the new iteration of the series. The game cost me a measly $15. It should be good.
  • Xbox360 Play & Charge: Now, that’s a purchase I won’t regret investing my money in. For the last month, the Xbox360 controller has been draining my supply of batteries, and this device should put an end to that.
  • Post Office (Charles Bukowski): Fellow blogger Purg published an inviting review regarding this novel last summer and I’ve been keening on purchasing one for quite some time now, but I’ve always put if off for unapparent reason. With a new bargain price tag placed on the novel, I couldn’t resist and I had to buy one. I’ll probably read if after I’m done with City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau.

Book Review: My Name Is Red

The American Bookcover of My Name Is Red

The American bookcover of My Name Is Red

It’s so unfortunate that your average Arab has based his facts and intuitions about Turkey through a portal of a TV show, that even though it captivated the hearts of many people, it also agitated many to the extent it won several fatwas from several Saudi and Gulf clerics, condemning the show upon the level of secularism that “exposes”. It’s so unfortunate that your average Arab has neglected the fact that despite that Turkey has one of the most successful democracies in the Muslim world (you might hold a different view in that regard), it still holds its Islamic identity dearly: from breathtaking, magnificent mosques that rival the beauty of churches, from the elevated level of spirituality of the influenced Sufi tradition that would put any sect to shame, and finally, to the superlative paintings and captivated poems that Turkey brought to the Islamic art and culture. Which brings me to the context of this great book that was brilliantly printed by the Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. This historical novel has brought a plethora of information to me through its fictional story that combines the elements of mystery, art and romantic novels.

My Name Is Red is set in 16th century of Istanbul where The Sultan has commissioned an illustrated book to demonstrate his power to the Venetian Doge. Because it will employ controversial aspects of the Frankish style, head illustrator Osman has been bypassed and the project given to Enishte, who coordinates miniaturists nicknamed Elegant, Stork, Olive, and Butterfly. But when Elegant suspects the orthodoxy of the final page and threatens to denounce the project to the followers of the conservative preacher Nusret Hoja, he is murdered by one of his colleagues. Enishte’s nephew Black, newly returned to Istanbul after twelve years absence, is asked to investigate. To complicate things, he revives an old passion for Enishte’s daughter Shekure, who is technically still married to a husband missing in battle, and who has other suitors. The brilliance of this novel comes to light with its distinctive narrative where each chapter is told by the perspective of those mentioned main characters, along with minor ones including the murderer and the subjects of the illustrated book (a dog, a gold coin, a horse, Satan, etc) given voice by a storyteller in a coffeehouse.

As a mystery and a reworked folktale, My Name Is Red has some surprising twists and turns, powering a readily engaging plot; as a historical novel, its setting in late sixteenth century Istanbul is convincingly detailed; and as a novel it offers some memorable characters and complex relationships. But what is most notable about My Name Is Red is the extent to which it is a novel about art, indeed almost a study of Islamic illustration. It contains descriptions of paintings, some of which verge on prose poems. It is full of stories about the great miniaturists and their history, going back to Bihzad and the Chinese influences brought by the Mongols. And it is riddled with discussions and debates about form and style, the relationship of art to morality and society and religion, the effects of Western ideas, the future of Ottoman illumination, and the significance of blindness. Even though Pamuk is a western modernist, his intention wasn’t to destroy his 16th-century artists, but instead, illuminates their world as no one has before. It brilliantly captured the past and present contradictions, but also its terrible, timeless beauty that makes it so perfect that it is deserved to be taught in history courses. Unfortunately, the length of book (500+ pages) and the rigid use of vocabulary and terminology are bound to turn off some people in seeing this novel to the end.  As much I want to recommend this book to everyone, it would be a futile effort to convince those who crave straightforward historical mysteries to pick up this book. Regardless of that, this book deserved the Nobel Prize that it won for, and a permanent place in your bookshelf.

~Rating~

Too Many Books?

Ewooh! What's inside this Magrudy's Green Bag?

Ewooh! What's inside this Magrudy's Green Bag?

Just some books. Maybe too many or too little...

Just some books. Maybe too many or too little...

Or maybe there isn’t such a thing as having too many books. I purchased those books from those three stores in a six-day Dubai trip. Although, I’ve to say that I re-bought couple of books because I lent them to people who refuse to hand it back. Don’t worry; I’ll give them a piece of my mind once I see them again. And yes, there’s one Arabic-written novel in that pile.

The Three Earthly Heavens

Magrudy's Bookstore - BurJuman

Magrudy's Bookstore - BurJuman

Virgin Megastore - Mall of The Emirates

Virgin Megastore - Mall of The Emirates

Borders Store - Mall of The Emirates

Borders Store - Mall of The Emirates

Just take me there and let me be…

Book Review: Invisible Monsters

Anyone who read any of the notorious Chuck Palahniuk‘s novels (he’s the author of Fight Club) should know what he got himself into. The characters are usually people who have been marginalized in one form or another by society, and who react with often self-destructive aggressiveness. The narrator usually is the character himself, beginning at the temporal end, where he or she recounts the events that led up to the point at which the book begins. Then, There is often a major plot twist that is revealed near the end of the book, which relates in some way to this temporal end (i.e. the hidden gun). The formula can be described as refreshing and original, but sometimes, if the formula is great but the story is not, the book might not be as appealing as the writer intended to be. However, even though this is not exactly the case with Invisible Monsters, it did suffer from similar relapses.

The book recalls the misadventures of a beautiful fashion model that had everything: a boyfriend, a career, and a loyal best friend. Unfortunately she got into a horrific traffic accident (or was it an accident?) leaving her disfigured and incapable of speech, and suddenly she goes from being the center of attention to an invisible monster that no one wants to see. Enter Brandy Alexander, the queen supreme, that teaches our jawless hero how to reinvent herself, erase her past, and make something up instead. The fashion model then decides to reciprocate from that by kidnapping her boyfriend and setting her best friend’s house on fire, along with many events that are bound to shock you twice or thrice.

Granted, this book is not for everyone. However, it does contain a crude black humor that ranges from drag queens to overt sensationalism and searches for identity. Since the plot is so out there, it makes sense that the themes are also out there, in terms of characters and the writing style. The latter however might be a little bit confusing for those who aren’t familiar with Palahniuk’s work, but gives it a decent 30 – 50 pages and the manner will gradual grow on you. There are moment that can be described as humorously funny and others that don’t make any sense whatsoever. The plot twists start a little cheap at first, but then, they take a major loop toward the end and become much better in terms of execution. I cannot help but to feel sympathetic for the major character, but I honestly didn’t care for the rest (except for Brandy Alexander). If you think you can cope with the mystifying writing style and the off the wall script, you will definitely cherish the time you dedicated to this novel, but if you want simpler stories, then you probably should steer clear from this one.

~Rating~