February 28, 2016

Books I Have Read (February 2016)

Filed under: Books — Tags: — rvchua @ 10:52 pm
  1. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick – I picked this up by chance since I was getting more interested with North Korea. It seems that there are a lot of books that go beyond the synchronized inflated marching soldiers we see on tv. Are North Koreans completely brainwashed by their Supreme Leader? Are they automatons? It seems that some people have an inkling of the truth especially those who live near the border to China. Who would thought that North Korea has a black market? This was used by the people to survive the famine during the late 1990s. As expected North Korean defectors have a hard time integrating into South Korea. They look different (especially those who grew up during the famine), they have non-transferrable skills and they have a hard time overcoming the guilt of leaving their family behind. This is a highly enjoyable and readable non-fiction. Is there a published book on Kim Jong-un?
  2. The Last Princess: The Devoted Life of Queen Victoria’s Yongest Daughter by Matthew Dennison – This is further reading for my fascination with Queen Victoria and her descendants. Although this is a biography of Princess Beatrice, it is also her unique relationship with her mother the Queen. I may have missed out on this but I was looking for information on finances. Did she get an allowance from her mother, the government, the reigning monarch? The Princess herself did not keep a diary, she probably did not have time beyond her mother’s companion, secretary, etc. I have a couple of books to read about Queen Victoria’s other daughter Princess Louise and on her five granddaughters who became royal consorts.
  3. Born to Rule: Five Reigning Consorts, Granddaughters of Queen Victoria by Julia P. Gelardi – I was surprised to read this right after The Last Princess. I am very familiar with the life of Alexandra (Alix) of Russia but I have passing information of Queen Victoria’s other granddaughters: Sophie of Greece, Maud of Norway, Marie of Romania and Victoria Eugenie (Ena) of Spain. Though the cousins share the same traits (duty, honor, etc), not all of them share the same fates. They were either adored, loved or detested by their husbands. All of them underwent the turmoil of WWI and revolutions. Alix is murdered, Sophie and Ena are exiled, Marie is adored and Maud is loved. There were a couple of hiccups while reading the book. There was a saccharine quality in the earlier part when the book talked about the courtship of the five women. Fortunately it did not permeate the remainder of the book. In one paragraph, it starts as Empress Frederick then a couple of sentences later she is called Vicky, both which refers to Victoria, Princess Royal. Also with the numerous Victoria, Alexandra, etc, it got quite confusing. Out of Queen Victoria’s 22 granddaughters, 17 of them will have Victoria in their names. Also, all of the 5 granddaughters in this book are all Victorias!
  4. Spark Joy by Marie Kondo – The second KonMari book gives further insight not just about the author but on the Japanese psyche. Spark Joy talks more on the folding technique and how to organize things. Some of Marie’s off-the-wall comments made me laugh but at the same time it made sense. This book has a certain levity that reading it just makes the world feel a bit brighter.
  5. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari – This book wouldn’t be talked about if the author isn’t a well known comedian. Instead of the usual memoir, Aziz Ansari used the subject matter (modern romance) as a backdrop of some portions of his life. A quick, interesting read that would lose any relevance in a few years.
  6. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson – This is the best non-fiction book I have read this year. There are two sides of the story, naturally I was drawn to the serial killer story but the expo story was also very interesting. I have never heard of this expo so I was surprised to learn that this was where the first Ferris wheel was erected and it introduced new food stuffs to the publick like Aunt Jemima’s pancakes, Juicy Fruit, Cracker Jack, shredded wheat and Pabst Blue Ribbon. The expo was spearheaded by the architet Daniel Burnham who would later on would do some commissions in the Philippines and the Burnham Park in Baguio is named after him. The book captured the pivotal, energetic and dangerous air of both the expo and the murders.
  7. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee – This book almost took me forever to read. It was exhaustive and engrossing read on the history of cancer. I particularly enjoyed the early occurrences and diagnosis of cancer. I got weary with all the things that happened in the 20th century yet I was surprised with the link between cancer and AIDS. I also got paranoid, I thought I was developing cancer while reading the book. Despite the advances in the last century, we still are a long way from eliminating cancer.

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