Saturday 30 January 2010

Taiwan A to Z: Review

Taiwan A to Z: The Essential Cultural Guide
By Amy C. Liu
Published in 2009
Published by the Community Services Center, Taipei
ISBN: 978-957-97847-6-4
Available through Amazon here.

The author of this book asked me to review her book. The copy I reviewed was purchased.

For many of us expatriates who find ourselves in foreign cultures, working out norms and expectations without offending anyone is a really daunting prospect. I know when I first came to Taiwan for a visit in 2006 for three weeks I was petrified nearly the entire time that I would do something stupid and offend my then boyfriend, now husband's family. I was one of the lucky ones - I didn't mortally offended anyone but then I did have the best guides possible in my mother-in-law and my lovely man. For those who come to Taiwan without such an advantage, this books is the next best thing to having someone personally guiding you through the confusion.

Amy C. Liu, the author of this book, grew up in Taipei in the late 70's and early 80's before moving to the United States with her family. She completed her education there, gaining a Masters degree in Counselling Education from San Jose State University but then surprised a lot of her friends and family by returning to Taiwan. Having becoming completely Americanized during her time in the States, it was on a trip to Japan as an exchange student that Amy came to realize that she knew far less than she would like about her home country and its rich and diverse culture. Thus started the journey that lead her back to Taiwan where she has been living and working since 1999 as a cross-cultural educator with the Community Services Center in Taipei, a center set up to assist expatriates relocating to Taipei.

Taiwan A to Z really is just what the title says it is. It covers everything you ever wanted to know about the culture in Taiwan as well as many things you'd never thought of. It gives clear advice about how to decode what Taiwanese people really mean when they say "Yes" and why they hardly ever say "No"; it looks at the important festivals celebrated here in Taiwan, such as Moon Festival, Dragon Boat Festival and of course, the big one: Chinese New Year; it introduces you to local foods and eating customs and coaches you on expected etiquette in a range of circumstances. It really is the only guide you'll ever need to navigating Taiwanese culture.

The thing I love the most about this book is the personality of it. Reading this book feels more like a friendly conversation with Amy than anything else. The advice and information is delightfully sprinkled with personal anecdotes and stories - this is the written version of the top-notch training that Amy has been providing expats in Taipei with for the last ten years.

Who should read this book? In my opinion it is not only a guide to navigating the culture here in Taiwan but a fantastic introduction to a wonderful country. Taiwan, the unsung hero of the Asia region, is so often overlooked by travelers and I really feel that they're missing out on something incredible. If you are interested in learning more about Taiwan, have an interest in traveling here (for either business or pleasure) then this is the book I would recommend.

Watch this space later on next month for an author interview with Amy herself!

Friday 29 January 2010

The Road: Review

The Road
by Cormac McCarthy
Published by Vintage
Published in 2008 (reprint edition)
ISBN: 0307455297

This book was given to me by my dear husband and I am reviewing it of my own accord. 

What does the end of the world look like? When you let your thoughts wander into the darkest recesses of your imagination, do you ever wonder what will become of this planet? Who will survive and how? Would you fight until the end or quietly end it all? 

Previously, post-apocalyptic literature has depicted a world brought to its knees by nuclear war but more recent offerings of this genre have seen the more recent concerns of environmental demise brought to the fore.* The Road by Cormac McCarthy is a stunning example of this recent shift of our collective fears. It follows the story of a man and his son as they follow a road heading south in a post-apocalyptic America. Very little is offered by way of explanation as to exactly what has happened to the world, but the reader soon learns that civilization as we all know it now is gone, mobs roam the wilderness raping and pillaging other survivors and each day is a struggle against the cold and starvation. 

Although the characters of the father and child have no names and their dialogue is sparse, the warmth of their relationship is a stark contrast to the relentless nature of their existence. The father's only concern is for the boy's safety and sees him as a beacon of hope - "If he is not the word of God then God never spoke" - that motivates him to carry on, one foot in front of the other through what can only be described as a mind-numbingly depressive landscape. He teaches the boy that they are the "good guys" who are "carrying the fire" although at times his actions must necessarily err on the side of survival rather than ethics. The character of the boy is truly a wonder. He surely must be traumatized beyond all reason yet his innocence and wish to help others remains - he doesn't mind going without food so they might share their limited food with others.

The imagery in this novel is stunning. The description of the woods, the abandoned and looted houses and worst of all, the marauding mobs was so vivid and petrifying that a few days after finishing the novel I can close my eyes and still see it. The horror is burned onto your mind's eye. The sheer desolation and inconceivable nothingness (cows was extinct! Cows!!) is a sharp reminder to all of us of what may happen if we don't care more for our planet. 

Basically, this novel is just so overwhelming and so utterly absorbing that words cannot do it justice. It is something you simply have to read and experience for yourself. I spent 48 hours with this book basically glued to my hand experiencing a full range of emotions from despair to terror to hope to grief. The recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and the James Tait Black award for fiction, this is a brilliant piece of contemporary literature that will, in my opinion, become a classic. That is, if the planet lasts long enough. 

*An article on the Guardian books blog looks at this recent trend in more detail here

Tuesday 26 January 2010

Man in the dark: Review

Man in the Dark
By Paul Auster
Published by Picador
Published in 2008
ISBN: 0312428510

I purchased this book myself and am reviewing it of my own accord.

We've all been there. Wide awake in the middle of the night with sleep taunting us from the other side of the room, just out of reach. Thoughts, anxieties and guilt swirl together into a broiling mire of self-loathing that slows seconds to minutes and minutes to hours. Exhausted but unable to sleep, everything seems worse at 02:27 than it does in the clear light of day.

Such is the predicament of August Brill in Paul Auster's novel Man in the Dark. Unable to sleep and haunted by his thoughts he desperately tries to avoid them by making up stories to tell himself as the night drags on. In his story he creates a parallel America where 9/11 never happened and instead of being at war with Iraq, America is in the throes of her own civil war after New York seceded from the USA in 2000. Yet, try as he might to escape from reality through his fictitious imaginings, real life and echoes of what which he seeks to ignore seep into his story. The hero of his story, Owen, is exported into parallel America to carry out an important mission: find and assassinate the man who is responsible for this civil war, none other than our narrator August Brill himself.

August isn't the only one having trouble sleeping, however. His daughter and granddaughter with whom he lives are troubled by their own issues: his daughter is unable to get over her divorce and his granddaughter is suffering as a result of her boyfriend being brutally murdered. As the night rolls on, the futility of his resistance becomes clear and Brill reveals more and more about their lives.

This novel takes a closer look at the inner torment of those who live in the shadow of the events of 9/11 but does so in a way that doesn't give in to sentimentality and idealisation, nor does it allow the events of 9/11 to dominate the narrative. People's lives have been always had tough patches and grief, guilt and alienation is nothing new but the events of 9/11 lend a new layer to everyday problems. It's also interesting to read this post-9/11 novel and note the effect that a few years have had when comparing this to other post-9/11 novels. Earlier novels were more raw but with the distance of time, the response to the events of that awful day appear, to me at least, to becoming more measured and reflective.

A well-paced and engrossing read that deals with the heart of human emotion and relationship, this is a novel that will satisfy those who like a book driven by the characters but won't disappoint those who like a bit of action and intrigue either. Even though at 190 pages it's a relatively short read, as you reach the final pages you feel as if you have indeed been up all night in the darkened bedroom with August, coming out of it exhausted but all the better for the experience.

Sunday 24 January 2010

When something a bit fun becomes AWESOME!

Not so long ago, I wrote a short post about the World's Smallest Library in Westbury-Sub-Mendip in Somerset, awarding these good folks my inaugural Most Awesome Village award. I didn't think much would come of this post but then I got a comment from a local of this very village who lived within yards of the library in question. How fun is that? Here I am in Taiwan, tapping away on my laptop about this place and I get a reply all the way from South England!

Anyway, given that I heard about this place on the forums on the Bookcrossing website, I asked Andrew (the cool local) if he knew about Bookcrossing and if so, could I send a couple of books over from Taiwan to put in the library. He kindly agreed and I posted off a couple of books from my bookshelf for someone else to read and enjoy.

I casually mentioned this on the bookcrossing forum where this had all started and was suddenly overrun with messages from people who also wanted to send books to this library - bookcrossers from the USA, Scotland, Cornwall, the Netherlands and Canada - it seems that this whole idea had captured the hearts and minds of bookcrossers internationally and they wanted to be a part of it. Now Andrew is a fully signed up member of bookcrossing and receiving books from all over the place - goodness knows if it gets to be too much more of a phenomenon they may need to locate and convert a second phonebox!

Photo credit: Bob Dolby

I love this kind of thing: blogging and Bookcrossing bringing people and books together no matter where you are. It makes life more interesting and the global community just a touch smaller and more connected. Three cheers for Westbury-Sub-Mendip and for Bookcrossing!

My postcard on the village website

Monday 18 January 2010

Tuesdays with Morrie: Review

Tuesdays with Morrie
By Mitch Albom
Published in 1998 (Australia/NZ)
Published by Hachette Australia
ISBN: 978-0-7336-0955-8

I bought this book myself and am reviewing it of my own accord. It also counts towards the Gilmore Girls Reading Challenge.

Morrie Schwartz
Image credit: Here

Occasionally you come across a book that makes you stop and think. Really think. About the big things - life, love, what's important and what's not. Tuesdays with Morrie is one of those books. I bought it at Brisbane airport on the way home from Taiwan a couple of years ago and had always intended to read it, especially as it had been highly recommended to me by a few people. It's taken me a while to get to it but I'm glad it did in a way - I feel like now I'm in a better place to appreciate the message of the book.

Mitch Albom graduated from university intent on fulfilling his dream of becoming a pianist but soon realised that the world is a pretty harsh place and sometimes the need to earn money supersedes passion for the things we love. Before he knew it, he was well and truly in the rat race: working insane hours as a sports journalist, earning good money but not being entirely true to the ideals he had once held back in his university days. A major influence on these ideals was his old sociology professor Morrie Schwartz. This unique and sparkling gentleman was beloved by many of his students, including Mitch. During his undergraduate degree, Mitch and Morrie had shared a special relationship that went beyond the classroom. They had many lunches together - usually on a Tuesday - during which they would discuss a wide variety of topics. They grew close over the four years and when he graduated, Mitch promised to stay in touch. Unfortunately, as happens with so many of us, this promise lapsed as life got in the way and other things took priority over the old professor he had once held in such high regard. Until, that is, he overheard Morrie's name on a Nightline broadcast.

Morrie was dying - he had contracted ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) - but refusing to give up he went into intellectual overdrive, using his own death as an opportunity for research and discussion. As a result he began producing more and more of his aphorisms for life, which a friend of his collected and sent to the Boston Globe. The resulting piece in the Boston Globe caught the attention of the folks at Nightline and they decided to make a documentary about this extraordinary man as he studied his own dying process.

Mitch flew to visit Morrie, whom he hadn't seen in 16 years and so started Morrie's final class with Mitch as his only student, learning lessons about life through looking at death head-on. Mitch recorded these conversations and wrote this memoir as a result. Initially, the project was done with the sole intention of finding a way to pay Morrie's medical bills but became an international success, selling 11 million copies world wide.

And really, it's easy to see why. Reading this book feels good. It renews hope and inspiration. It relights the fires of determination in a world that too often does all it can to put that fire out. Morrie is the professor/uncle/father/neighbour everyone wishes they'd known and by reading this book the reader gets to 'know' a small slice of Morrie. Although someone more cynical might dismiss some of the things that Morrie says as being over-sentimental or simplistic, I think that he's bang on the money. And what's wrong with sentimentality and simplicity anyway? Why make life so complicated and hard-nosed? If more people could embrace life with the enthusiasm and mentality that Morrie had the world would be a very different place.

I very much enjoyed reading this book. It was a quick read but at the same time deeply meaningful. I finished the last few pages on the train and just sat, thinking for the rest of the way home, letting the words settle over me like a soothing blanket. Life is about the small moments of joy: a ray of sun hitting your desk a certain way; a joke shared with good friends; a cute baby smiling at you from across the train carriage. For those who are feeling overwhelmed or out of touch with the joy of life, this book would be a great antidote. For the rest of us, it's a timely reminder of what's important.

Read and enjoy.

Related links and videos:

Mitch Albom's Webpage

The Nightline Interviews:

Morrie's Quotes:

The Honest Scrap Award!

The Honest Scrap Award was received from Helen at Helen Loves Books. Thanks, Helen! The rules for this award are:

1. The Honest Scrap Blogger Award must be shared.
2. The recipient has to tell 10 (true) things about themselves that no one else knows.
3. The recipient has to pass on the award to 7 more bloggers.
4. Those 7 bloggers should link back to the blog that awarded them.

Here are my 10 things...

1. I wish that I was Lorelai Gilmore - her wit, her style and her overall cool is something I have coveted ever since seeing my first episode of Gilmore Girls.
2. My favourite book is Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. It never gets old, the darkness and broodiness of the novel is unequalled in anything else I have ever read. And I'm re-reading it for The Gilmore Girls Reading Challenge.
3. I developed my caffeine addiction from my first job at a coffee shop. Since then barely a day has gone by without some sort of caffeine infusion.
4. Despite my LOVE of books I took absolutely no English classes in my undergrad degree. Why? Who knows. I think I was trying not to do what everyone expected me to do. In the end I gave in and did a Grad Dip Art (English) which is like a second undergrad major you complete once you already have an undergrad degree and now I'm half way through my MA (English Lit).
5. In my life I have studied French, Japanese and Chinese, but since I never used any of my French or Japanese I have forgotten most of it.
7. I'm a total bibliophile. I love every single thing to do with books. My version of heaven is a massive, old school bookshop with a fantastic coffee bar attached to it which has huge comfy couches and overlooks the ocean. When I die, that's where I wanna be.
8. Moving to Taiwan six months ago has been one o the best things I have done in my life for many reasons but one of the most unexpected ones is that it reintroduced me to recreational reading again - in NZ I'd gotten so busy and overloaded with stuff that I forgot to make time to read. Now that it's back, I'm never letting anything get in the way of my reading time again!
9. Apparently, according to a test I did, I read at 400 wpm with 80% comprehension.
10. My goal in life is to be as "windswept and interesting" (Billy Connolly) and as well-read as humanly possible.

I'm passing this award on to the following blogs:

1. The New Dork Review of Books
2. Literarily Speaking
3. Obsessed with books
4. Miss Remmer's Review
5. Lit and Life
6. Brizmus Blogs Books
7. Out of the blue

Sunday 17 January 2010

The Zero by Jess Walter: Review

Jess Walter

The Zero
By Jess Walter (see right)
Published in 2006
Published by Harper Perennial
ISBN: 978-0-06-118943-2

I bought this book for myself and reviewed of my own accord (and because I will include it in my thesis eventually).

My reading of this novel unintentionally mirrored the narrative - there were unexplained gaps and absences in my reading attention - and as a result I took a lot longer to complete this book than I would otherwise have. It's not a reflection on how much I enjoyed it, though.

The novel opens with the protagonist, Brian Remy, waking in a dreamlike state after he has just tried unsuccessfully to shoot himself in the head. Remy used to be a cop in New York but since the events of September 11th, has taken on another government intelligence type role, the details of which remain vague throughout the story as even Remy himself doesn't appear to know what it is he does. You see, Remy suffers from some sort of memory issue (or mental illness?) that sees him lurching through life in fits and patches. He 'comes to' in strange places like a restaurant or on a park bench with no idea how he got there, why he is there nor the identity of the person with whom he is talking. This lack of awareness haunts him and becomes increasingly problematic as Remy starts to suspect he is entangled in some kind of shady government investigation.

Jess Walter works narrative miracles on the pages of this book. The breaks in Remy's conscience leave you confused yet intrigued; frustrated yet unable to tear yourself away. As the novel progresses the reader gets a strong sense of being pulled down the plughole into the darkest recesses of the American conscience where fear rules and reality and fantasy are impossible to distinguish. The Zero is a wonderfully layered and complex piece of fiction which can be read at several different levels. At the most basic level it is an engaging page-turner that will keep you guessing right until the very end but for those who like to dig a little deeper there is a powerful examination of how the events of 9/11 have frayed the social fabric of American society.

If you're looking for a serious piece of fiction that will make you think, I'd strongly recommend that you pick this up. It's given me so many ideas for my post 9/11 lit thesis, it's untrue. A stellar book.

Other works of fiction by Jess Walter:
- Over Tumbled Graves (2001)
- The Land of the Blind (2003)
- Citizen Vince (2005)
- The Financial Lives of Poets (2009)

Sunday 10 January 2010

Something a bit fun...

Image Credit: Bob Dolby

I came across this on the bookcrossing forums and thought that it was just too good not to share. The good folks in the village of Westbury-sub-Mendip, near Wells, Somerset came up with a fantastic use for their decommissioned red telephone box. They turned it into the world's smallest library, a place where locals can bring along a book and swap it for another already on the shelves. What a wonderful idea - and kind of fun, given that despite the upgrades in technology the good old book is still going strong. These folks sure win my vote for Most Awesome Village.

Image credit: Bob Dolby

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Helping out the 'little guys'


It has oft been said that smaller, independent bookstores are finding it harder and harder to survive due to the ever-present larger chain stores that can offer the same book at discounted prices that the smaller stores just can't afford. It's a crying shame and many a good independent bookstore has had to close its doors as a result. It's hard to walk past a bargain though - human nature makes it hard to resist saving that extra $5 for a matter of principles. Thankfully, living here in Taiwan I'm not quite so riddled with guilt for not buying books from my local bookstore as they don't carry any English language books so I have to buy them from the larger chains like PageOne. Mind you, if I'm ordering from online I do try and use Better World Books or Good Books NZ as they're doing good work for worldwide literacy and Oxfam respectively.

In light of the constant struggle for survival that smaller bookstores face, this story from the Guardian was a real heart warmer and proof that those in charge of some of the larger chains are human after all and not just about the bottom line. Turns out that Lingham's, an independent store opposite UK retail giant Tesco, successfully appealed to the head honcho of Tesco to advertise the fact that their store carried many titles that Tesco didn't and were able to provide a more in-depth book-related customer service. I can hardly believe that Tesco went for the idea but certainly very glad they did. Good on them. By helping out the 'little guy' they surely won't be hurting their profit margin. Who knows. The good karma might even pay PR dividends when people are trying to figure out which supermarket to get the weekly shop from.

Inside Lingham's. 
Image credit: Rambles from my Chair

Good on you Tesco. You've made the world a slightly better place.

Sunday 3 January 2010

Crossing the bridge: Review

Crossing the bridge
By Michael Baron
Published by The Story Plant
Published in January 2010

I received this review copy from the publisher. I was not paid for this review.

Satisfaction. That warm, contented feeling you get after a good cup of hot tea, the first sip of a well-made latte, or waking up at 7.30 in the morning and realising it's Saturday. This is the feeling I got after reading this novel by Michael Baron. It was immensely satisfying. Normally, I'm wary of novels described as "romantic" (and I'm just plain scared of the "romance" genre which is really code for "books about people shagging") but I was happily surprised. Although at the very heart of it this is a love story, it's also a whole lot more than that.

Hugh is in his early thirties and is by all accounts a lost soul - he's had a variety of short-lived jobs and left a string of broken hearts across America. The reason behind his lack of direction is the untimely death of his younger brother Chase in a car crash 10 years prior. He has just quit yet another job when his father suffers a heart attack and Hugh decides to come back to Amber, his hometown, to help out. However his visit ends up being longer than he had previously anticipated and sees him taking on more responsibilities than he is comfortable with including helping to run his father's beloved stationery store. He feels trapped and suffocated. There is a ray of light, however, when during his stay, Hugh sees Iris, the woman whom his brother was dating when he died - and whom Hugh has been secretly in love all along and things begin to develop.

The character of Hugh is well developed throughout the course of the novel. To begin with I have to admit he grated on me a little with his whining about having to stay in Amber and help out at his father's stationery store for a few weeks and how this was holding up his life, but with time and some other influences he starts to see that the people and places right under his nose are what counts rather than running off to the next town in search of goodness knows what. The character of Chase and what really happened in the months prior to his death adds an element of intrigue and helps keep the reader hooked.

Although romantic novels are usually fairly predictable (boy eventually gets girl, happy ever after ensues) this novel wasn't. I wasn't entirely sure what was going to happen until the very end which I appreciated. The novel is more complex than your regular romantic novel and was well written. Plus it was set in Connecticut, a short drive away from where Stars Hollow (home town of the Gilmore Girls) would have been if it were real who can resist that? All in all, this is a good read that will keep you occupied on a cold winter's night and leaving you with a sense of satisfaction after you've finished it.

Saturday 2 January 2010

The brain, reading and language...

This article over at the NY Times got me thinking this evening as I sat comfortably on our couch, stuffed full of homemade tortillas and the last of the bubbly wine from New Years. It started a catalystic process and bought together a few ideas that have been lying around for a while waiting to be a quasi-intelligent blog post around the ideas of reading and language.

Reading, according to the book at the centre of the article in question, is not something our brain was evolved to do, which given the voracity with which the majority of us consume information visually (books, internet, signs, menus...) is quite something. However, it seems that the reason that we do despite this fact is that our brains are nothing if not adaptable little buggers that will have a crack at most anything and rise to any occasion. So much so, it seems that the brains of each successive generation are markedly different to the previous ones - quite something to get your head around if you'll excuse the unintentional pun.

Another thing the book talks about is the arbitrariness (or not) of words. As it says in the article:

"In one of the most interesting chapters, he argues that the shapes we 
use to make written letters mirror the shapes that primates 
use to recognize objects. After all, I could use any arbitrary squiggle 
to encode the sound at the start of “Tree” instead of a T. But actually 
the shapes of written symbols are strikingly similar across many languages.
It turns out that T shapes are important to monkeys, too. 
When a monkey sees a T shape in the world, it is very 
likely to indicate the edge of an object — something the monkey can grab 
and maybe even eat. A particular area of its brain pays special 
attention to those significant shapes. Human brains use the same 
area to process letters. Dehaene makes a compelling case that 
these brain areas have been “recycled” for reading. “We did not 
invent most of our letter shapes,” he writes. “They lay dormant 
in our brains for millions of years, and were merely rediscovered 
when our species invented writing and the alphabet.”

If I haven't completely missed the mark here, and do keep in mind that leftover bubbly already in my system, then it sounds like Dehaene (the author of the book on reading and neurology) is saying that there is some connection between the physical shape of words and their meaning, something which directly contradicts the theory of Saussure who claimed that "the connection between the signifier (the word) and the signified (the concept for which this word stands) is arbitrary."

This is where my own jumbled musings come in - before I had the opportunity to make the acquaintance of the Chinese language I would have heartily agreed with Saussure, whom I studied in the first year of my Masters in the dreaded literary theory class. Logically, it seemed there was no more reason that "cat" should signify the fluffy, occasionally demanding domestic creature that goes meow anymore than the word "bleft" should. It just seems that the word cat was chosen and for some reason, stuck. Then I started to learn to read for the second time in my life and found that this theory didn't always necessarily hold true. There  are a few choice examples from written Chinese I'd like to point to:

This first one means middle. A line through the centre of a box - you can see how this means middle.

This one means tree and looks like a tree too!

These two words, separately, mean woods and forrest. The one with 2 trees is woods and the one with 3 trees means forrest (more trees - bigger - forrest). Again - it just makes sense!

Finally, this one means big - imagine a person stretching their arms to describe a fish they caught - "It was thiiiiiiis big!"

There are others of course and in turn, not all chinese words look like their meaning, but enough of them do to make me wonder what Saussure would make of this. It's just a mild curiosity I've been nursing for a wee while and this NY Times article kind of brought it all together for me. Maybe the written language isn't so arbitrary after all? How can it be - we are after all creatures who crave meaning and pattern so language surely must have developed from this desire in some way.

In any case, I think that's about the extent of my linguistic musings for this evening. It's far too large a subject area for me to tackle with any seriousness and I don't claim to be anything but an interested observer - reading a few articles here and there surely doesn't make you an expert. It's fun to speculate though! Any thoughts?

Friday 1 January 2010

Welcome to 2010!

Image credit: Here

As this is the year I start writing my thesis, I'm being careful not to overburden myself with too many things. I have an awful habit of saying "YES, that sounds great!" without first thinking if I actually have the time to do it. Ask my hubby - he's constantly shaking his head at how ridiculously full my plate is.

Already for this year my challenges include:
- Writing my MA thesis
- Learning Chinese
- Editing a book on a very tight schedule
Plus of course everything else that's going on like other part-time work, reviewing, bookcrossing, being a wife, still adjusting to living in Taiwan...

Image Credit: CW
Sourced from: Here

But then I saw the Gilmore Girls Reading Challenge. And I just couldn't resist, especially given how much I love the Gilmore Girls and how much I admire Rory's reading prowess. It's because of her that I took on the crazy challenge of trying to read War and Peace! So I thought, what's the harm in adding another wee challenge to the list. Since there are three levels of participation:
Emily: Read 5 books from at least two different categories;
Lorelai: Read 10 books from at least three different categories; or
Rory: Read 20 books from at least four different categories,

it shouldn't be too much of a strain. If I aim for Emily, then I won't overburden myself and if I happen to achieve Lorelai level then awesome! I reallllly doubt I can attain Rory level, not this year anyway. 

Overall, my goals for this year (I don't make resolutions) are:
- To be happy and enjoy life;
- To read as much as possible;
- To get fluent(ish) in Chinese, and
- To worry less. 

I hope you all had a wonderful New Years! 2010 is going to be a fun year. Enjoy!