3 things I learned from reading 50 books in 15 months

“Your library is your paradise.”

– Desiderius Erasmus, circa 1520s

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”

– Jorge Luis Borges, 1955

When Henry James dissed Victorian novelists for writing “large, loose baggy monsters”, he kind of had a point: in an age where distractions abound, the idea of spending time on the nitty-gritty ins and outs of imagined people does seem quite cavalier. What is the use, what is the point, what is the objective end goal target achievable of reading fiction etc etc.

And yet, utilitarian checklists, dull and soul-sucking as they may be to some, are beautiful in their slavishness to time efficiency. As such, the combo of boxes-and-ticks is often the boon of corporate-minded souls, or just people who find solace in structure and reassurance in the regimental.

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What’s wrong with science fiction?

Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.”

– Frank Herbert, Dune (1965)

Rockstar outta space penthouse hideaway
Fountain blue getaway King of Diamonds where I lay
Yeah, fresh wheneva we wanna play free band A.1. LBG man we global
Yay, yay yeah we selling plenty coke have a drink have
A toast nigga we don’t brag or boast so Rolls Royce
Lamborghini doors suicide open up your brains now your casket closed
Im in NASA outta here 3 carats in my ear
I can make you disappear drape like a chandelier
Astronaut when I shine racks on racks
Now Im understanding crystal clear

Future, ‘Space Cadets’ (2012)

How often do you notice the presence of irony in your life?

For as far back as I can remember, things usually happen in series of ironic ‘echoes’ for me. What this means is I’d be aware of something that hasn’t happened for quite a while, or someone who I haven’t seen for quite some time, only to – lo and behold – find myself experiencing or encountering these somethings and someones shortly thereafter.

Call it the sixth sense, or a ‘woman’s intuition’, but despite the regularity with which this pattern occurs, I’m always slightly taken aback or bemused (or freaked out – context depending) whenever it does.

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What it feels like when someone tells you to “just sit there and not speak”

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“(                                                           )?”

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-Andre Le Toit (Koos Kombuis), ‘Tipp-Ex-Sonate’

Ever since I (re-)started my cardio routine one year ago, I have – miraculously – become more Zen and Namaste about things in general.

In the grand scheme of personal growth, this can only be a good thing.

yoga_zen

In case you’re recoiling in horror at the thought of Jen having become a Gillian Michaels-quoting, juice bar-hopping, Lululemon-wearing gym bunny, I can confirm that I would still pick a cosy library corner over a Protein Shake-fortified-ego-filled space any day. So, no, I’ve not changed.

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What does it mean to be a ‘strong, independent woman’ in 2016?

Tryna get saved, she wanna get saved, I ain’t gonna save her
Tryna get saved, she wanna get saved, I ain’t gonna save her
Tryna get saved, she wanna get saved, I ain’t gonna save her
Tryna get saved, she wanna get saved, I ain’t gonna save her

Ty Dolla $ign, ‘Saved’ (feat. E-40) (2015) 

Yo my vag Harvard Law School
Yo vag Apex Technical
My vag speak five different languages
And told yo vag bitch make me a sandwich

Awkwafina is a genius
And her vagina is 50 times better than a penis

Awkwafina, ‘My Vag’ (2016) 

Lately, I’ve come to realise that men almost always feature in me and my friends’ conversations. The idea of men, the reality of men, the nature of men, the good, bad, and ugly men – the whole lotta ‘em.

It’s not as if this happened overnight, but along with the increasing number of dates I’ve been on in the past year, I couldn’t help but notice how much verbal limelight we grant the opposite sex (and I’m guessing this goes both ways). Somehow, our get-together chats always eventually segue into ‘soooo, what’s the deal with that new guy you’ve been seeing?’, or ‘any interesting dudes around lately?’, or sundry recounts about boyfriend so and so.

For all the supposed differences between guys and girls, one thing’s for sure: we talk about each other a lot.

What’s funny, though, is that both sexes also spend a lot of time trying to figure out why the other sex is so hard to figure out.

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Adventures with rogue lit journo Jen: Covering the HKU Open Forum on ‘How, What & Why Do Writers Write?’

“How do I write? Why do I write? What do I write? This is what I am writing: I am writing Mr. Potter. It begins this way; this is its first sentence: ‘Mr. Potter was my father, my father’s name was Mr. Potter.’ So much went into that one sentence; much happened before I settled on those eleven words.”

-Jamaica Kincaid, ‘Those Words That Echo… Echo… Echo Through Life’ (1999)

Two weeks ago, I went to a writer’s open forum hosted at the University of Hong Kong, titled ‘How, What and Why Do Writers Write? A Conversation between David Tang, Hannah Rothschild, Simon Winchester and Wilbur Smith’.

hku open forum shot

(From left to right) Simon Winchester, Hannah Rothschild, David Tang, Wilbur Smith

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Please don’t hate me for loving him: Why we should all read John Updike

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

– Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877)

“All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy ones are more or less alike,’, says a great Russian writer in the beginning of a famous novel…”

– Vladimir Nabokov, Ada or Ardor (1969)

Last week, I finished reading the fourth and final sequel in John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom tetralogy.

rabbit_tetralogy

First love, last rites (left to right): Rabbit, Run – Rabbit Redux – Rabbit is Rich – Rabbit at Rest 

For a fiction maniac like me, this is cause for celebration, because I don’t think I’ve ever fully completed a novel series. I abandoned grew out of Harry Potter after The Half-Blood Prince (6th book), and – shock horror – I’ve never been big enough on Tolkien or high fantasy to plough through the LOTRs.

In fact, after an extended period of fiction sampling in the past 10 months, I can pretty much confirm that my literary taste tends towards the opposite of sci-fi and fantasy, which is realism, and American realism, in particular. British realism is more in the tradition of Charles Dickens, George Eliot and – if you want something grimmer and more naturalistic – Thomas Hardy, all of which are authors I have grown to love and admire, but wouldn’t put at the top of my ‘to-read’ list any time soon.

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What I learned from one year of being ‘Miss Jen’

“The word ‘education’ comes from the root e from ex, out, and duco, I lead. It means a leading out. To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul.”

-Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1999)

In the past two weeks, I’ve clocked a total of 60 teaching hours.

In a month’s time, I will have reached my one year anniversary of being a teacher.

clock

In hindsight, it doesn’t feel like that much time has passed, which I guess is a good thing. Time flies when you’re having fun and all that. If anything, I find it scary how quickly time flies by these days.

Every morning, as I make my way up a semi-slope that leads to my workplace, I feel like a walking locomotive chugging a brainload of stuff, some useful, others confused, but mostly just mush.

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