Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Title/Author: The Marriage Plot / Jeffrey Eugenides
Publisher: FSG New York
Pages: 406
ISBN 13: 978-0-374-53325-0

In a nutshell
I'd say this novel is a combination of Twilight by Stephenie Meyer and One Day by David Nicholls. It's a love story with lots of teenage angst. What helped it score a notch higher than the other two is of course the language and the literary theories that revolved around The Marriage Plot.

The story concerns three college friends from Brown University who graduated from Brown University in 1982. The friends - Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell, are 'victims' of a love triangle. Mitchell loved Madeline, who loved Leonard who's mentally depressed.

Madeline tries to accept Leonard's condition, while Leonard tries to keep what's left of his 'sanity' by trying to hold down a job and his relationship, and Mitchell, the hopeless romantic, tries to get over Madeline and find spiritual enlightenment.

The story follows them in their senior year at Brown and then into the real world as they go on a journey of self discovery.

What I liked
Eugenides's depiction of Leonard was really, really good. His evocation of depression and mental illness was done so well it was disturbing. Leonard found solace in his 'dark moods' and as he embraced them, he fell deeper and deeper into depression. I could feel Leonard's pain, confusion, and emotional highs and lows. I could empathise with him. It made me realise that it's wrong for us, bystanders to assume that depression can be easily 'handled' by asking the victim to 'change' their perception, to 'accuse' them of not wanting to get well because they don't want to. I think it's not because they don't want to, it's because they can't; it's difficult.

In Leonard's words,
"The brain thinks it's dying, and so the body thinks it's dying, and then the brain registers this, and they go back and forth like that in a feedback loop." Leonard leaned towards her. "That's what's happening to me right now. That's what's happening to me every minute of the day. And that's why I don't answer when you ask me if I had a good time at the party."

Some favourite quotes
Heartbreak is funny to everyone but the heartbroken. (p.82)
People don't save other people. People save themselves. (p. 124)
You can't get clean from depression. Depression be like a bruise that never goes away. A bruise in your mind. You just got too be careful not to touch where it hurts. It always be there, though. (p. 260)

Disappointed that...
it is nowhere near Middlesex - the style (language), scope, depth; it lacked the elements that made me love Middlesex so much. The Marriage Plot was a little 'flat' and not as compelling as Middlesex. It did have some beautiful moments though, and quotes which I liked and that kept me going at first, but after that, all I cared was how it was going to end.

Good stories make me want to enjoy the journey, but this, I just want to know the ending and nevermind who got Madeline (who shares the same name as a character she loves - Madeline, created by Ludwig Bemelmans); I am neither Team Jacob (Mitchell) nor Team Edward (Leonard), as long as nobody died. (Although at one point I thought Leonard would commit suicide.)

(By the way, Madeline reminds me of Bella from Twilight. Eugh!)

My verdict? 3/5

This book might interest literary enthusiasts who are into literary theories and theorists such as Derrida, Tolstoy and Barthes (A Lover's Discourse, Madeline's favourite reading material). I'm sure they'd have a different kind of review and/or comment.

Once the first avowal has been made, "I love you" has no meaning whatever. - Barthes

Monday, November 21, 2011

Found in Malaysia Vol 2 by The Nut Graph

Title/Author: Found in Malaysia Vol. 2/The Nut Graph
Publisher: Zi Publications
Pages: 256
ISBN 13: 978-9675-26622-5

In a nutshell
Found In Malaysia Vol. 2 consists of 50 interviews. This volume is divided into 7 sections - 1930's right up to the 1980's and an 'Exclusive' (never-before published interviews) section which include personalities such as Lillian too, Asha Gill, Khairy Jamaluddin and Baru Bian.

Throughout these pages, you'll find Malaysian celebrities like Patrick Teoh, Daphne Iking, Mano Maniam and Harith Iskander; and politicians such as Lim Kit Siang, Ibrahim Ali and Teresa Kok sharing their stories and experiences, while comparing the then and now, and their hopes for Malaysia's future.

What I liked
I definitely enjoyed reading the first volume more than the second because I didn't know what to expect in the first and was pleasantly surprised by what it offered. Volume 2 shares the same concept and idea, but it has more well-known public figures as compared to the first, giving me the opportunity to know them better, in the context of 'being Malaysian' as opposed to being 'famous' or being 'a celebrity'.

Issues that were commonly brought up in these interviews were the issue of brain drain, race and religion, and our education system. And I'd like to highlight one that is tearing us apart - race.

Once upon a time (yes, a long long time ago :P), when I used to speak fluent Bahasa Malaysia, people used to ask me, 'You Cina ke Melayu?' One, because I speak fluent Malay; two, because of my name, which sounded Malay too; three, my looks. My close friends were mostly Malays too. Did it bother me? Nope! Not at all. I loved them and am still keeping in touch with them now. At one point, I even tried learning Jawi from them :)

So, I believe when Mano Maniam said, "It is true when people say that we grew up in a time when it (race) didn't matter one bit."

But today, a child as young as 7 years old can tell me, "Teacher, I don't want to work with him." When I asked him why, he answered, to my horror, "He's Malay." Appaling, isn't it? He's only a kid, and already he's telling me this? What would become of him later when he's older? Would dislike turn to hatred? What would happen then? I shudder at this thought.

The interviews...
I enjoyed reading a couple of interviews such as those with Datuk Dr. Dionysius Sharma, Reza Salleh and Datin Mina Cheah-Foong. I thought they were frank and weren't afraid to speak their mind.

Datuk Dr. Dionysius Sharma reminisced those days when race didn't matter, when children then, put wealth, race, culture and religion aside. A friend of mine shared me a story of a 7 year old child, who told his mom (who worked really hard to get him into a private school) not to drop him off in front of his school because it'd embarrass him as his friends' parents all drive luxurious cars, and his mom only drives a Proton.

Reza Salleh spoke disapprovingly of how we contradict ourselves when "We talk about losing touch with our culture and heritage, but we tear down heritage sites and our forests", about how ridiculous it is to ban animated movies about Moses just because we think the people's faith will be shaken and how disappointing it is to see religion being used as a tool to control and judge people.

Datin Mina Cheah-Foong had a slightly different take on the kind of Malaysia she wants to see for herself and future generations. She wants us to be comfortable saying who we are - Indian, Chinese, Malay or Dan Lain-Lain, and 'not to be all hung up about it'. She wants a Malaysia where its people are able to acknowledge our differences and to accept them.

While Chong Ton Sin on the other hand said, "I think it's not about not emphasising 'I'm Chinese' or 'I'm Malay'. We all have our traditions and beliefs, it's true. I think the younger generation knows this. But there are politicians, especially from the Barisan Nasional and Umno, who use politik perkauman to influence young people still. Otherwise, our young people would be happy living together."

Different views and opinions aside, I think at the end of the day, we all want peace and equality. Easier said than done, isn't it? But I do know of many Malaysians who care, who walk the talk and do their part to make this country a better place to live in. To you, I thank.

I highly recommend this if you haven't yet bought Volume 1. If not, get Volume 2 and own its complete series.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Stop the Bullying! by Andrew Matthews

This is a book every parent and teacher should and must read.

In a nutshell
This book is about:
why bullies bully, why bullied kids don't tell their pareents, and how bullied kids can make a stand.

It is also about:
how parents sometimes create bullies, what schools can do about bullying, bullying in the workplace, preventing suicide, and how bystanders can help.

Stop the Bullying! is divided into 15 chapters:
1. Bullied to death, 2. Bullying at school, 3. Bullying at home, 4. Why bullies bully, 5. Girl bullying, 6. Tips for bullied kids, 7. How can I like myself? 8. Not my child! 9. No innocent bystanders, 10. Loneliness amongst our teens, 11. Raising young children, 12. Who's in charge? 13. Let your children know you love them, 14. What you can do, 15. Kindness

What I liked
I learnt alot from reading this book. As a teacher, these methods will come in handy. I have highlighted some of the lessons/methods suggested in this book.

"Young people learn best when they focus on how they feel about their actions rather than how adults feel." - Stan Davis
Whether you are a parent or a teacher, your job is to encourage bullies to take responsibility - no blame, no excuses, just the truth.

So, what do you say to a bully?
* Tell me exactly what happened.
* I don't care who started it, tell me what you did.
* You didn't have to thump him. You chose to thump him.
* How do you think he feels?
* How can you repair the situation?
(I normally use the last 2 questions)

Once the child has admitted to bullying, you can help him explore his own reasons for why he does it:
* What were you trying to achieve? Was it for fun? For attention?
* What else could you have done?
* Is there anything worrying you that is causing you to bully?
* Why do you bully? What would help you to stop?
You can't make bullies change. But you can make punishments predictable.

What if you're a bystander? What can you do to help?
Matthews suggests:
* Tell the bully to stop it.
* Ask the victim to leave the scene WITH you, i.e you walk away WITH THEM.
* Be a friend to the person who is being bullied.
* Chat with the bullied child.
* Take the bullied child to see a teacher.
* Encourage the bullied child to tell others.

And a chapter that will be very useful to me one day - Raising Young Children:
Psychiatrist and Director of the Family Institute of Berkeley, Dr. Robert Shaw's message to parents is:
* act like grown-ups
* give your children chores and responsibilities
* limit their TV and video game time
* limit their privacy
* teach your children about right or wrong (Manners lead to respect. When you respect people you don't bully them)
* don't buy them everything they want
He says, at least one of the parents has to make raising the children the top priority.

Dan Olweus, professor of psychology at Bergen University, finds four factors that help to create bullies:
* lack of warmth, lack of involvement from the parents, particularly the mother
* No clear limits on aggressive behaviour
* Physical punishment. Children that are disciplined with violence learn violence
* The temperament of the child. Hot-headed children are more likely to become bullies.

There's also a section on teaching children empathy. I think empathy is equally important in teaching them about bullying, because "when you appreciate how others feel, you don't bully other people." Happy, well-adjusted children don't enjoy seeing other kids cry.

As always, his drawings enliven the entire book, making this not only an educational read, but also an 'entertaining' one with jokes spread throughout the pages :)

Ex-bullies and victims share their stories, most of which are shocking. Parents and teachers share their experiences on handling and solving the issue.

I highly recommend this book, especially to teachers, parents-to-be and/or new moms and dads.

Here's an interview I did with Andrew Matthews in 2009.

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