Five days into September and I’m a little over halfway through my 2015 reading challenge. After reading so many books so far in a year, I sometimes wonder if this challenge is even worth it, and how much have I actually gained from it. There are a couple of books that are a complete miss and others hit the mark, so before I start my next read in September I decided to do a little recount (plus mini-review) on the books I have read so far. Up to August I have read 31 books out of 50; some were borrowed from the local library, some were read while on holiday at home, and most others were bought during the past few months and were crammed in between deadlines. I had pleasure in reading these books, and I hope I’ll be able to keep it up until 2015 ends!
- A Simple Life by Desi Anwar
A Simple Life (or Hidup Sederhana, its Indonesian
title) is a collection of essays and anecdotes from Desi Anwar. To be honest, I didn’t expect much out of this book but her seemingly simple yet sharp musings on life, habits, and personal encounters are witty and insightful, making it the perfect read to start on a new year.
- Bumi by Tere Liye
The first Tere Liye book I read was Negeri Para Bedebah, it was a birthday present from my sister and I recall immensely enjoying it; it was fast-paced and unlike any other Indonesian novels I’ve read. A couple of months later I bought Daun Yang Jatuh Tak Pernah Membenci Angin after a recommendation from a friend. I enjoyed that, too — maybe because I’m a sucker for achingly sad love stories. Now at this point, after enjoying two well-written books by Tere Liye I was on the hunt for the next. I had my eyes on Bumi; the blurb at the back promised a great adventure story and I was sucked in. So I bought it, read it, but unfortunately didn’t enjoy it.
Bumi told the story of a teenage girl named Raib, Seli (her bestie), and Ali (apparently her nemesis at school). Now apparently Raib can “disappear”, an ability that led her to be chased by a group of other-worldly people and led her away to an adventure on another world, if I can put it that way. I had no idea that this was a fantasy novel so I was quite surprised. There are not many Indonesian fantasy novels that I know of, so this was a first. But unfortunately the book didn’t do it for me.
I enjoyed the first half of the book, but the second half left me a little disconnected from the whole story. It just wasn’t quite ‘there’. Maybe it’s because it was a little immature compared to the first two Tere Liye books I read. Or maybe it was too teen-flick-y, you know, the type of teenage fantasies that I’ve already frown out of so it was hard for me to like or relate to.
It is interesting though, and it has potential (apparently it’s part of a series. The second book, Bulan, was released earlier this year), but I would recommend it for younger readers.
- Treasure Island by Rober Louis Stevenson
The hot pink colour of this 2008 Penguin edition was what attracted me to the book; more than the story itself. I mean, how can I resist such an eye-catching cover?
While the story itself was first published in 1883, anybody can immediately understand why Treasure Island is a classic tale of rogue pirates, voyages, hidden treasure, a mysterious island, and talking parrots… Almost every modern pirate story that I know of has a reference to it. It’s fairly easy to read and follow, but it has several nautical vocabularies that might not be familiar to general readers, so keep your dictionaries handy. All in all, it’s an enjoyable read!
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Well, let me start with a whoa! It’s such a fun read, and by fun I mean the sort of fun that keeps you on tenterhooks, the kind that keeps you glued to the book. I did not expect it to be such a thrilling ride. To put it simply, it’s a story about two fucked up people in an extremely fucked up relationship taking a turn in the most fucked up way, and, ending quite disturbingly in an even more fucked up state than before. Yikes. Now, some people probably won’t like it as much and will consider it to be mediocre even, but personally I haven’t read a book that was this fun and twisted in a long while. It’s meant to be a story about a disastrous relationship; one that transforms people for the worse. I think that was what resonated to me, how we change so much in a relationship, we don’t realize it until it has gone too far. (Oh and I’d recommend watching the movie afterwards, it’s worth a watch.)
- Lelaki Harimau by Eka Kurniawan
Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas is perhaps my favourite read last year and my very first Eka Kurniawan book. I don’t know much about the Indonesian literature scene, as I don’t read much of it, but after Lelaki Harimau, he’s definitely up on the list of my favourite Indonesian authors. If in Seperti Dendam Eka Kurniawan speaks of the vulgar in an exquisitely elegant way, in Lelaki Harimau he cleverly takes a simple story by playing it out in an elaborate way, deliberately complicating, and going back and forth as if it was a mind game. It tells a story of young Margio, a village youth and his complicated relationship with the people around him–beginning and ending in death by the “tiger in his body”. Well, it was a tough read to finish in a day, even if it’s only 190 pages. I love how detailed and honest the writing is, not too over complicated yet not too simplistic. Definitely looking forward to reading his other works.
- Senyum Karyamin by Ahmad Tohari
Senyum Karyamin is an anthology of short stories written by renowned Indonesian author, Ahmad Tohari, during the 70’s-80’s. Ahmad Tohari is known for depicting the classic Indonesian villager life, or as I’d call it, cerita rakyat ndeso. He writes it in such a nonchalant way that it absorbs the reader into such village life.
My favourite short story would probably be the story of Blokeng, a village loony and outcast, subject to ridicule in her daily life; yet in her ridicule we find the hypocrisy of the villagers themselves. In light and humorous writing, there are many ironies and metaphors to spot, making it a well-worth read.
- Sycamore Row by John Grisham
By this moment I was particularly interested in thriller reads, so I picked up a John Grisham book; not realizing that it was actually a legal thriller book because I’ve never read any of his previous novels. I think I have a habit of picking things without reading much into it–sometimes they turn out great, other times not so much. This was one of those other times.
I enjoy thriller reads and I have read a legal thriller before and quite enjoyed it, but Sycamore Row was a slow one. After the first quarter I got pretty bored all the way up until the “confession” part, but that was mostly what I remembered from the book. Maybe legal thrillers just aren’t for me, to be frank.
- Pasung Jiwa by Okky Madasari
This year has been a year of many firsts, and this one was one of those moments. I got interested in reading one of Okky Madasari’s books from several rave reviews–I actually set out to find Maryam first but the local bookstore were out of stock. After a while I found Pasung Jiwa, and without further ado, I bought it and sat down to read it.
Verdict? I love it.
Pasung Jiwa is a story about how one person is trapped in his own life; trapped by everything and everyone around him. It is the story of Sasa and Jaka Wani, two people in trapped in one body; as they struggle to be free from the binds in life. Yep, it’s an LGBT themed story which is a rarity in the Indonesian scene, at least that I know of. And it is a story that does so without discriminating one or the other, portrayed honestly and beautifully that it left me with a lump in my throat after reading.
I still stand by what I wrote in my Goodreads review, that it wasn’t just simply a story about LGBT, politics, hypocrisy, or whatever else; in essential it is a story about living free and true to your soul.
- I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
Nobody can deny that Malala is indeed an amazing young girl. At the age of fifteen she was shot by the Taliban for fighting for something most of us privileged people never truly appreciated: education. Ever since I heard of her I was in awe, yet after reading her book–and especially this year after she spent her 18th birthday opening up a school in Pakistan–I have nothing but respect for her. This memoir tells of her younger days, how she struggled to go to school under the Taliban regime, and her personal experience of the changing Pakistan as a young child. It’s remarkable how such a young person have such courage and strong will; I know I have nowhere near half of her guts, intellect, or even her tenacity to survive. Her story is a slap to those who take their privileges for granted, be it education, a comfortable home, a war-free country… I know that the whole world expects her to be an amazing figure as she grows up, a huge burden, but one that I know Malala has the capability to achieve. Heck, she opened up a school at the age I was fussing about a boy.
However, there is one point in the book that didn’t quite fit well, and it’s how some parts of it felt like a lesson on the history of Pakistan. Don’t get me wrong, we do need some background on her country and what was going on at the time, but there were too many of it and it felt disjointed to her story in whole. Other than that, it’s good.
- East of Eden by John Steinbeck
East of Eden is an iconic work of Steinbeck’s, portraying human nature in it’s naked form. It is a detailed, honest account of its characters and it’s not a book to take lightly. I did the mistake of reading it for this challenge; this is one story that demands attention and frankly I was a little impatient at the time. As a result, I probably didn’t enjoy this as much as I would have, but I still understood the gist of it all. One important aspect of the story was the debate of the word thimsel–thou mayest. It was this word that was the key to the story and it was what ended it.
After I’m done with this challenge, I’m going to have to go back and read this book again; this time to do it justice.
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
As the author himself put it, Fahrenheit 451 is a story of a man falling in love with books in a time that books were outlawed and burnt; the irony being that it was his job to burn books. He runs around escaping authorities just to save books–the little darn things that contain humanity’s knowledge. It’s not hard to see why it is still a fascinating read today: book burning and book banning still exist in several parts of the world. It is a terrifying scenario, and one that Bradbury does an excellent job of narrating.
Fahrenheit 451 is intriguing yet depressingly spooky. The characters are strange, the world itself is strange, yet it feels… real? At a glance it seems like Bradbury was taking on the theme of television vs. books; showing how TV has taken over the entertainment and turning people into its slave while books are indefinitely better… If that was his point (I highly doubt it is) then I’d have several points to disagree with, but that’s going to need a longer review and analysis, so I’ll skip it. I should definitely make a proper review of Fahrenheit 451 though, but probably not in due course.
- The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Everyone knows the story of Anne Frank — confined in hiding throughout the Nazi regime, not seeing a day of light until that fateful day that ended it all. Anne Frank is without a doubt a bright young girl. At such young age she has an exceptional wit and writing ability to be able to provide a commentary, entry by entry, the amount of perseverance, change, and despair it was to live in a jail full of uncertainty. Another thing I admire from her is how much she had understood herself already, much more maturely than most girls her age. But this isn’t a book to enjoy, rather, it is a distressing and depressing account… Especially those entries leading to her last. It’s so well-written that it didn’t even feel like a diary. But I do wonder if Anne Frank had lived, how would she feel if her diary was read by millions around the world? I know that I wouldn’t be quick to be too pleased… 😉
- The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli
This book is perfect for those who, like the title itself says, need the art of thinking clearly. It’s told through various anecdotes and examples of cognitive biases and reasoning, all in a straightforward way. I found Dobelli’s insights to be mildly interesting; a few things that hit home and a few others missed. But I’m not as interested in how he uses economic examples for explanation. I’m sure that in general, many of his readers are (like yours truly) complete novices on that field, so it will be tough for those readers to properly grasp the concept.
- Trilogi Soekram by Sapardi Djoko Damono
For a celebrated author, I expected a lot from this book… But I guess disappointment was a big theme for this time of the year. The premise of the story is fascinating: what happens when a writer never got to finish his story? This story follows the adventure of Soekram, a fictional character within a fiction (this might sound confusing at first), coming to life and demanding us, the readers, to do something about his story as the writer has just passed away. It seems interesting… around a quarter way into the book. The more the plot goes by the more it thickens, and the more it goes haywire for me. It got to a point where I gave it up as a bad job and skimmed through just to see what happens at the end. I’m just not a fan of this book.
- Estetika Banal dan Spiritualisme Kritis by Ayu Utami and Eka Prasetya
Banal Aesthetics and Critical Spiritualism is a dialogue between literature (Ayu Utami) and photography (Eka Prasetya). I’m not sure how to describe the dialogue, you’ll have to read it for yourself, though only if you’re interested in the subjects discussed. It is a light and insightful read, yet I do despise the cover. Not that it’s bad because it’s ugly (though it is ugly), it’s more because that it seems as if they didn’t give a shit at all.
- Maryam by Okky Madasari
Well, I don’t know how to put this properly, but it’s a story that’s one part melodrama, one part tragedy, and one part a recount of our present day society. I do think that this wasn’t a story of Ahmadis vs. mainstream islam (or whichever) or which belief was right, but it’s a story of injustice and blind discrimination in our society.
It’s immensely interesting but it got pulled down somewhat by the slow narrative, I preferred a livelier dialogue. I think there was a silently suggested question by Okky at the end; when will all this madness end? When will the suffering end in justice? When will our society come to terms with religious tolerance? It is a simple question with an uncertain answer: we don’t know. We don’t know, not as long as our society’s mentality is the same. Not as long as blind belief and intolerance silently govern our life.
(I wrote a lengthier review earlier this year, though in essence it’s similar to what I wrote above).
- Entrok by Okky Madasari
3 books in just a few months by an author I never previously read before: that means she is insanely good, and I was not disappointed at all. Entrok is a beautiful piece on a mother-daughter relationship: of feminism, of faith versus love. It is a dynamic story, quite different to the slow-going Maryam. Of course, there are many other themes in the story: politics, corruption, violence, etc., but the relationship between Marni and Rahayu was what captivated me the most. Another excellent piece by Okky Madasari and I’m ecstatic for more!
- 1984 by George Orwell
The original “Big Brother” tale, 1984 is the most classic dystopian story I’ve read. Orwell describes a world ruled by extreme dictatorship; where all our movements are being watched and whatever we do or use–our habits, work, language, past, present, future–is controlled. It’s an completely convincing narrative, I suppose that’s what made it more haunting and depressing. I did expect more action from the main character, some sort of mass rebellion or something; yet the fact that Winston Smith couldn’t get far is more terrifying: the whole system has been so ingrained that it’s almost impossible for a way out, for a mass revolt. The ending was the most depressing part of it all, though you’ve got to be in the right mood to read this. 1984 is definitely not a light read.
- Looking for Alaska by John Green
There are those types of books that, after reading, leaves you that heavy impression of something. Looking for Alaska did exactly just that to me. There was something: some thoughts left to mull over, to rethink, something worth writing about. I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly those thoughts were — so I reread the whole book right after finishing it, but I was left with even more thoughts to ponder about. But I do, honestly, love this book. I would have loved it more if I had read it as a teen, but nonetheless I still love it. It is an honest story–love, loss, a sense of belonging–it doesn’t try to hide anything with tacky romanticism or with teenage dreams. I guess the impression of the realness of the feelings in the story was what caught me.
(You can read my longer review of this book here)
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Just like East of Eden, I made the same mistake of choosing a tedious read for this challenge. Frankly I’ve never been this exhausted while reading a book; though I wonder if I had really enjoyed it enough if I find it such a hassle? Well, Anna Karenina requires strict attention and will to read–it gives such a detailed exploration of the characters that they feel so real, but I don’t sympathize much with them. I don’t think I need to explain the plot, almost any literary enthusiast should already know; but I’m still halfway through reading it and realistically I won’t be able to finish it in a short time so I decided to stop and start another book. I will try and finish it, though. Hopefully.
- Tiada Ojek di Paris by Seno Gumira Ajidarma
Tiada Ojek di Paris is a collection of various published and unpublished essays by Seno Gumira Ajidarma. These essays observe behaviors and habits of urban inhabitants and the metropolitan city, the changing perspective and lifestyles as cities and its people continue to grow. All in all, it’s an interesting enough read yet it’s not immensely special; maybe because it is focused on Jakarta. As it is very specific and I don’t live in the Big J, I can’t really connect with the book as much.
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Probably one of my favourite reads of this year, Lord of the Flies is a tale of human nature and its darkest side; much like East of Eden yet not as tough a read. It is a terrifying story, I swear I got nightmares after I finished reading. Simply, it is about a group of children is stranded on an island, and (conveniently without any adult supervision) they try to establish a civilized community… Yet the “beast” in the island turns them into their darkest, most savage nature.
Personally what made it so haunting for me is how the beast Golding talked about in in truth, comes from human nature’s darkest side; how the beast is really what lies in everyone.
- Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Out of all the books I have read so far this year, Invisible Cities is definitely the most beautifully poetic one of all. It’s hard to define what type of book this is as it doesn’t have a definite plot; it is just a story of a discourse between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Polo describes all these surreal cities he claims to have visited: cities of the dead, cities of memory, cities like mazes, etc; much to Khan’s interest. Each reader would probably have a different interpretation of what each city means, as Calvino uses a lot of metaphor in it.
Mental note to self: I have to read this book again and make a proper review soon!
- Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
The thing is that this book is very simple; it’s a story of Clarissa Dalloway as she prepares for an evening dinner, going through the streets of London, she reminisces on her past and her youth. But the other thing is, I found it to be burdensome. I just couldn’t find the narrative to my taste. I couldn’t care less for Mrs. Dalloway’s flashbacks and I could hardly connect with her… Maybe because of the reading block I’m experiencing? Or maybe I just need to pick this book up at a better time. I’m not too sure.
- Indonesia Etc. by Elizabeth Pisani
Elizabeth Pisani’s account on the ‘other’ Indonesia (the Indonesia beyond Java) is a heartwarming eye-opener, especially for an Indonesian such as yours truly. Other than calling it the Improbable Nation, she also describes Indonesia as the Bad Boyfriend: as much as you want to slap him or to curse him to a living hell, you’ll end up finding yourself coming for more–and I cannot agree more with her. In this book Elizabeth Pisani explores the remote areas of east Indonesia all the way to the north-west, yet unfortunately skips over Papua. Still, it’s a must-read; witty and engaging. Even if you’re not interested in Indonesia, you will be after reading this book.
- Psych 101 by Paul Kleinman
I actually wanted to major in psychology before choosing architecture, and surprisingly it’s a desire that still lingers three years later! This is actually my brother’s book, so I picked it up while I was back at Manokwari (might as well learn something new while on holiday). This book describes important figures, theories, and researches on the human mind in simpler language for the general public; sort of like those crash courses on Youtube. Though it’s mainly basic stuff for general knowledge, I found that I learned a lot from it.
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
- Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
I decided to put these three books in one short paragraph, partly because I’m a lazy potato. I’ve lost count of the many times I read and reread the Harry Potter series; they have been my companion ever since primary school. And when a book has been such a great influence since a young age, it sticks with you. I’m not going to describe each book one by one, that will take several excruciatingly long posts and frankly I don’t think I’m able to write an adequate description on it. This is because each time I reread the series I encounter or learn something new that I had never noticed before, and it leaves me things to ponder on. J.K. Rowling is an amazing writer to have conjured up a world that we all want to be in, almost making it feel so real and larger than life. I can’t summarize how much I am attached to the HP series; all I know is I can’t go by one year without a HP read-a-thon.
- The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami
How can such a short, 30 minute read be so eerily intriguing? All the main character wanted to do was to borrow some books and yet he is sucked into a whole other library world, where old men eat your brains and sheep-men help you escape. I have the 2014 Knopf illustrated edition and mind you, it is mind-blowing. The illustrations accompanying the story gives of the feeling of a children’s book, though a highly disturbing one at that…
- Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
Dating back to the 18th century, this is probably the first castaway tale ever written. Everyone knows the story of Robinson Crusoe and how he survived on a deserted island; it’s a classic story of men’s triumph over nature and his own self. It’s so classic that it has been a blueprint for survival tales through the ages and it still is now. But it wasn’t my cup of tea, though. I picked up the Modern Library edition where, apparently the writing was in an older version of English. It’s a slight hassle to read but not to the point that I couldn’t understand anything, and I had to constantly remind myself that this book was written in the 18th century with 18th century views that is mostly incompatible with my 21st century mind. I understand how this was written like a diary entry, a self-description of his situation, but because of it the story went quite excruciatingly slow and… boring. I also didn’t find the idea of Crusoe to be authentic, he’s so damn resourceful that I can hardly believe such a human exist… Uh… Bear Grylls, maybe? But even Grylls had training on survival yet Crusoe is a sailor wannabe that had just started on voyaging the world. Oh, I don’t know. I can see how it’s a classic but it just isn’t to my preference.
Previously I wrote that I didn’t know if this challenge was worth it. I still wonder if it is, because after 30 books I start to get picky of what to read next. I begin to realize how much time I actually have and after a couple of bad choices, I want a book to be well-worth the effort. I do think that aiming for 50 books was, in hindsight, not a good choice because I was too preoccupied on reading as much as I can without paying much attention to how much content I am receiving, nor how much I’m actually enjoying it because it has become such a burden to read. That said, I don’t mind if I don’t end up with 50 books read by the end of the year, as long as the books I read were fulfilling.
Of course, achieving 50 reads and fulfilling ones at that would be ideal, but not every book I pick up will hit the mark (see proof above), so I guess I’ll just try to enjoy reading as much as I did before this challenge started.