The Book Thief

book-thief-cover

The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak
Or, Death

First off, my impression:

This book resembles a brittle picture book with almost no pictures and heavily laden with words.

Brittle, with gritty details of events and scenery. Brittle in the sense that the narrative remains tinged with bitter, passive-aggressive anger throughout. Brittle, in that the sentences seem to have fallen onto the pages in tiny flakes – short, choppy phrases and clauses scattered almost randomly into paragraphs.

Yet, it’s super clear: the author chooses his words carefully and deliberately. He puts weight in each one with loving care. The crazy, random sensation comes from the fact that he’s taken these carefully constructed sentences and thrown them onto the page, bombarding the reader with laden descriptions and meaningful actions one after another.

The book is heavy with words. It was exhilerating, yet weighted. I felt rushed to read, while knowing full well I was missing half the significance of the little adjectives and verbs the author dropped here and there, almost carelessly. “The days hobbled on.” “The cold was streaming on.” “The crowd did what crowds do.” “The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring.”

I’m still a bit unsure whether the author spent hours upon hours crafting each word, or if he just kind of … typed it up all at once and never looked back. Either way, I liked it. I’d imagine the entire book was ALL CAPS and bold if the author truly had his way.

The book is a picture book, in that this book lives out the metaphor, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” It tries pretty hard to paint a picture using words (although it deliberately gives up this endeavor at one point to present to us a series of sketches in the middle of the story). The end result is a series of flashing images in the reader’s mind, though it all remains hazy and somewhat sepia-tinged. Not literally, but I got the sense of riffling through old photographs in an attic. The matter-of-fact tone of the author mixes with descriptions of startling clarity and punch to create a series of impressions. I never could imagine any of the characters’ faces, and I may have a bit of a complaint that the author decided not to zoom in on them a little more. But I appreciated the experience of imagining faded photos while reading a 500-page novel.

Then, some details I particularly appreciated:

  1. This book is narrated partially by Death, personified. A sort of snarky, cynical Death that knows how to appreciate color and a well-written book. I personally enjoyed Death’s subjective portrayal of events, and I think the author falls short in that the story only brings in Death as a narrator in parts, and not the whole. A lot of the actual events in the story are narrated in third-person, and Death only interjects sometimes to comment on how he sees what’s happening. I would have liked to see more of him, even if I understand that he is meant to provide commentary from off-screen, rather than take center stage.
  2. “Words” are a powerful symbol. “Words” represent power, control, and oppression in the printed form of Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler. They also represent the freedom and the ability to fight back, through Max’s handwritten book The Word Shaker. The title of Max’s book resonates especially powerfully – he shakes “words,” but words are a lot more than just words. Words are the tools of the oppressors, and he uses those same tools to shake their regime. Words also provide comfort as Liesel reads a book out loud to her neighbors during air raids. Words can connect people – like Liesel and the mayor’s wife. Unspoken words mean as much as spoken ones – in Rosa’s silence as she holds her absent husband’s accordion. The book is littered with this sort of symbolism. I had a lot of fun wading through it all (especially those moments when the author takes specific moments, cuts them out of the standard paragraphs, centers and bolds them, in order to drive home his point. This book in itself demonstrates the importance of words and their mode of presentation).
  3. The main character is … Polish? Her best friend is explicitly described as Aryan, with blonde hair and blue eyes. Her father qualifies for the Communist Party. This is a story about World War II from the perspective of several surprisingly marginal people groups, and shows how they may have been affected after all.

And one thing I didn’t quite appreciate:

The major spoilers given right at the start of the book. Call it a personal dislike. I do not favor a narrative style when major events are outright told to the reader before we even begin the story. It takes a lot of the suspense and anticipation out of the reading experience. Yes, the opening chapters were artistically written, and I admit I loved the experience of reading them. But still. I went into it knowing certain people were going to die. Not cool.

Despite that, I enjoyed the read very much. Like I said, exhilarating yet heavy. A unique reading experience not easily copied by others. Recommended, if only for the satisfaction of reading a book that appreciates its own genre.

A Novelist’s “Magna Carta” (x2)

Thesis: try writing a novel. Or a list of novel elements. Or something.

I have not been able to pick up any books in a while, let alone finish one. The busy schedule of life and a dash of laziness has taken my summer by storm. Having a legal internship all summer long has also drained the supply of hours I would usually have available during the day. At this point, I just want to sleep. But I can’t. Because college has trained me to stay up until at least 11 pm.

So instead, I’ve turned my attention back to a book that I never quite finished last year.

no plot no problem
image taken from amazon.com

“No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days”

written by Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month

Yes, or NaNoWriMo for short.

The 30-day marathon every November to complete a 50,000-word novel. I’ve participated twice, 2013-2014. It was awesome. And regrettably, I skipped 2015 because . . . well, because law school happened (a trending reason for dropping all of your most creative hobbies for 3 years). Looking back, I should’ve just gone for it in 2015. I would have been a more pleasant person to speak with. I wouldn’t have lost my creativity. And my novel would have been an awesome stress reliever. Put in some action scenes, ridiculous plot twists, and kick-butt heroes beating up all those tortious villains. . .

Regrets at the missed opportunity.

But, anyway, this book!

This book is a laugh.

If you have the slightest desire to write something creative, even if it is NOT a 50,000-word novel, just read any chapter of this book.

I mean any chapter.

Or read the convenient, online versions of it found through Google searches. Chris Baty has a knack for making “writing a novel” sound like “go walk in the park.” It’s something you’re always thinking you should do, because it’s healthy and good for Vitamin D content and stuff, but you never get around to actually doing it. No reason for not getting around to doing it. You just never did. And so, you need a slight push. Baty’s book offers itself as that “slight push.”

One of the things that caught my eye when I went back to this book was a little portion on what Baty calls the author’s Magna Carta. Basically, it is a list of everything you think a good novel ought to contain. Then you make another list of everything you think a good novel ought not to contain (Hence my blog post title, Magna Cart (x2)).

He says every writer should have one. A highly personalized guideline of sorts. I’m not sure if it’s a necessity, but it’s certainly a fun project. Plus, it presents an easier project than the daunting task of writing 50,000 words.

At this point, I would like to encourage everyone to try this project out. No, Chris Baty is not paying me to advertise his book. But doesn’t it just sound like fun?

I’ll share a portion of the two Magna Cartas I created, to get us started.

What a good novel ought to contain (warning: personal preferences):

  1. solid character development
  2. a multi-faceted villain, but one that still properly acts like the bad guy (none of those “wait, he actually slaughtered everyone for a good cause” type villains)
  3. solid world-building (see Tolkien for example)
  4. descriptive narration that informs all 5 senses
  5. romance that does not totally ruin the story (a.k.a. female lead does not go from hero lady to blubbering mush in the process)
  6. main characters with strength, whether that is emotional, physical, intellectual, or other
  7. main characters with at least one interesting talent or hobby
  8. elements of fantasy or history (because diving into a different world is much more fun than staying within our own sometimes)
  9. action driven by dialogue
  10. something distinct that the reader can use to characterize the work in one sentence (e.g. The Book Thief is uniquely known for being narrated by Death. Harry Potter is uniquely known for Hogwarts. Twilight is… I won’t go there. I apologize to the reader.)

What a good novel ought not to contain:

  1. excessive, direct, and over-the-top descriptions of what the characters look like (Don’t tell me about his dazzling eyes. Don’t spend three paragraphs describing her cardigan and jeans.)
  2. Mary Sue (please Google search if you do not know what this is, and then feel guilty thinking of that one book you enjoyed that this trope reminds you of.)
  3. stereotypical supporting characters (the friendly male friend, the jealous female antagonist, the short but funny guy who actually ends up driving the plot, etc)
  4. love triangles that exist just for the sake of having angst
  5. science fiction elements that are used to justify all kinds of fantastic occurrences (my reasoning: might as well just call it magic and be done with it. Don’t spend a chapter explaining how science allows the characters to teleport.)
  6. long, straightforward narration of what is happening in the story right now.
  7. multiple protagonists (I always feel conflicted on who to root for…call it a personal preference.)
  8. emojis (let’s limit these to social media and Venmo, please)

What does your novel Magna Carta (x2) look like?

Actively Pursuing Christ

Here is a piece I wrote for my undergraduate student ministry’s blog. They asked me to write an encouraging post for my fellow brothers and sisters at UCLA, so I decided to simply share a piece of my experience these past few months. Moving to a new state, attending law school, being away from friends and family… these experiences have stripped away some of the things that are important to me. God used this chance to show Himself to me as sovereign and holy – the only one in existence that really matters. I hope everyone finds encouragement in seeking out our God!

GRACE ON CAMPUS AT UCLA

blog-graphic_4W16

written by Lily Choi

Lily graduated from UCLA as an English major in 2015. She is currently studying for a J.D. at Harvard Law school. She enjoys reading, writing, and anything Korean. (안녕하세요!)

One of my principal worries when I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts was the loss of my Christian community. GOC had been an instrumental part of my life and my faith during my time at UCLA. I imagined that starting over, making new friends, joining a new Christian group, and establishing accountability would take time and effort. I imagined that it would be hard.

For the most part, I think my fears have been realized.

View original post 852 more words

PSA: How to Read a Hymnal

A helpful post for churchgoers like me, who have had the experience of opening a hymnal, feeling a bit lost, and looking around surreptitiously to see how everyone else is doing it. Hopefully, next Sunday everyone can join the chorus of worshipers with confidence!

citizens & sons

I attend Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA (aka John MacArthur’s church).  Recently, my church unveiled a new hymnal.  I’ve met a great number of people who had never opened a hymnal before coming to Grace.  There was one time I was having a conversation with a worship leader and mentioned that I sometimes followed the bass line of the four part harmony.  When he said he’d never noticed more than two voices in a hymnal, we realized he’d never noticed that there was music written BELOW the words as well as above them.  As a result, I figured I’d put together this guide to help understand hymnals.

A hymnal is a book of hymns.  Unlike a powerpoint slide, it shows you musical notation to help you follow the song.  This is the hymnal’s greatest quality, and one of several reasons using powerpoint instead of a hymnal is like playing…

View original post 866 more words

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

This was a literary display of fine art, Singaporean cuisine, pure cut diamonds, and fashion obsessions. I was simply blown away by pages and pages of high society descriptions. The reader gets taken along on a tram car tour through the world of crazy rich Asians. Paragraph after paragraph is dedicated to making sure we know the latest fashions, the oldest mansions, the biggest jewels. Along the way, Kwan has just enough time to give a sidelong glance at the characters, personality development, and plot.

That’s right; I got the distinctive feeling that the story-line took a backseat during this book. Not that there was anything particularly wrong with that. Rachel Chu and Nicholas Young have a romance thing going, and there’s nothing particularly special about the plot of an average girl suddenly finding out that her boyfriend is filthy rich. The scornful mother-in-law and high-society gals who want Nick for themselves also make an appearance as appropriately cliche elements of the story. The development of their relationship is fine. They run across some obstacles. Rachel has some monologue time to help her deal with the bombardment of dazzling riches that belong to Nick. Jealous girls plot; Nick’s mother seethes; a kind friend gives advice; the couple ultimately shows that their love is stronger than, well, everything else. Classic stuff.

I believe some readers even found this disappointing – no proper closure, no real character development. We don’t really see the characters doing much of anything. But I thought it refreshing. The author is absolutely unapologetic about using the medium of the novel to let us take a peek into the lives of rich people. It’s not about reaching the climax of the story, people. It’s about oohing and aah-ing at the glamour and splendor of it all. It’s about having a good laugh together about the ridiculously shallow nature of this miniature society.

Reminds of the feels I had when I watched this:

mean girls
From Mean Girls. Image taken from eonline.com

In any case, to me at least, the story and the characters weren’t really the point of this whole book at all.

First off, Kwan spends much more time and effort sculpting the descriptions of the characters’ designer dresses and brand-name handbags, than he does giving them real personality and recognizable traits. Most of the characters apart from the central cast quite quickly fade away from memory. Instead, they are mannequins – men and women with different last names who flash across the novel’s pages displaying their wealth, status, fashion sense, and fancy house before disappearing back offstage. Whether or not it was purposeful, I find it ironic in a meta-literary way that several fashion shows and runways make an appearance throughout the story.

Also, the story progresses according to the changing locations and events, not necessarily according to the development of the plot. They start in America, then fly to Singapore, and from there Rachel is whisked through a super deluxe hotel, a huge mansion, a getaway resort on a private island, another huge mansion, a church hosting a 40 million dollar wedding, another mansion (this one’s a summer villa), and so on. Nick moves from hotel to boat cruise to mansion and more mansions. And who can forget each and every kind of private jet, plane, yacht, and car they take to get from one place to another? It almost feels like the characters travel around for the sake of allowing the reader to have a glimpse of another five-star piece of property. Sure, Rachel goes to the getaway resort because it’s the location of the bridal shower…. for a bride she met 2 days ago. What can possibly have motivated the bride to invite Rachel, no matter how charming of a woman Rachel happens to be? The author’s determination to wow the reader with the dreamy landscape of this private resort island.

There is something strangely gratifying when I read this book. As a regular human being, I can’t help but wonder what it must be like to live this kind of lifestyle. A life where one worries for nothing except which summer villa to spend the boring summer season at. As a regular human being who has never been to Singapore (or has never had the pleasure of being acquainted with billionaires), I can’t help but wonder if people like this actually exist. If Kwan’s lovely descriptions of the finest private banquets and mouth-watering foods starts making me green with envy, he relieves me in the next instance by providing a scene of comic relief, in which these privileged humans betray a ridiculous attitude of self-worth and self-righteousness.

A marvelous display of scenery that I will never get to actually experience. A crazy amount of research must have gone into this book – the author’s knowledge of women’s clothing and brand names borders on ridiculous. The plot deserves polite applause, but the ball gowns that the characters wear demand a standing ovation. Kwan presents readers with the kind of book that could only be structured in this way because its subject matter yields to it. And of course, these kinds of books, where the form of it is organic enough to mold into the shape of the content, is all kinds of fun for the reader.

Keep a Close Watch on Yourself and on the Teaching

citizens & sons

Note: Calvin and I have found increasingly so that this is pretty much Grant’s blog but with Calvin and I as guest posters.


Often times, I find it easy to think that my sins only affect myself and my own walk with God.  I also find it easy to think of my sanctification on a very individualistic level.  Hey, “against [God], [God] only, have I sinned,” right?

View original post 1,316 more words

The US National Day Of Prayer (A Reprise)

One of the most amazing miracles is God’s promise to be with us always. He hears our prayers, He answers our prayers, and through our prayers He works His wonders. The world often talks about the power of speech and words. I think they could never understand the full impact of words as a Christian understands the force of words through prayer. May every soul including mine bow to God in the midst of communion with Him through prayer.

A Christian Worldview of Fiction

867434_prayer_at_sunrise

Today is the National Day Of Prayer here in the US. In a country with the freedom to worship when and how and who we please, it seems a little odd that we have a designated National Day of Prayer. I’m glad we do because it makes me think more about the subject, but part of my thinking is that, for most of us, the National Day of Prayer means very little.

For one thing, prayer, as an activity in and of itself, has no efficacious value. Isaiah illustrated that most clearly in a passage about idols:

Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he…

View original post 994 more words

R is for Realism

Recently, one of my literature classes has been doing a series of survey lectures on the development of Realism and Modernism in Korean literature. It’s pretty much the same thing that happened in Europe and America. Only that blossomed in the Korean language and occurred about 5 decades late. I thought these literary movements were interesting modes of thought to consider, especially from the perspective of a writer still trying to develop her own style.

SO, to give the super-simplified, over-simplified, simply simple explanation:

Realism: works meant to depict life and people as they are. The words on the page should try as much as possible to directly reflect the subject of the work. In the Korean context, Realism commonly became associated with authors who wrote with a political or social agenda in mind.

Original still life painting by Toni Grote. Pic source: dailypainters.com
Original still life painting by Toni Grote. Pic source: dailypainters.com

Modernism: works not meant to depict life and people as they are. Experimental, ambiguous, arbitrary, all over the place, sometimes dipping into techniques like stream-of-consciousness. In the Korean context, Modernist writers rallied around the idea of “art for art’s sake,” or pure art.

Rene Magritte's famous painting that reads: "This is not a pipe." Pic source: collections.lacma.org
Rene Magritte’s famous painting that reads: “This is not a pipe.” Pic source: collections.lacma.org

These both represent pretty loose definitions. I can see a lot of writers falling into both categories at one time or another; the ambiguous nature of Modernism (my professor described Modernism as only defined by what it is “not”) lends itself to a pretty fluid group of writers, who can get by with just about any style while slapping “modernism” onto it as a decorative badge.

I think, for the most part, my writing tends to be more realistic – perhaps that can be attributed to my educational background. Sure, I use similes, allegories, and metaphors as much as the next person, but for the most part I write what I mean in no uncertain terms. That’s probably true for most people who learn to write in the academia as well. We learn to write concisely, clearly, directly. I’ve known some hippie artistic writers scoff at that; for them, only stuff closer to Modernism can be considered art.

If it’s a poem that nobody can make head nor tails of, chances are some people are willing to dub that a masterpiece.

I don’t think that’s necessarily true, though. Call me conservative, but Realism is also art. You write, you depict something, you express it in a new way. It took effort to produce such work. It might be bad art, it might be crappy art, but it’s art.

It’s my hope that I can develop my writing style while keeping both ends of this spectrum in mind. Not getting bogged down in literal details, but not falling into the abstract worlds which, despite some very interesting results, tend to lose the average reader rather quickly. Maybe there’s some happy medium that can be achieved; maybe it has already been achieved among the hundreds and thousands of contemporary writers being published today.

Do you have any books or authors to recommend, who might be experimenting with the pendulum of Modernist and Realist within their own masterpieces?


R

P is for Power

“…and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.”

– 1 Corinthians 2:4-5

This weekend I had a chance to see some prominent judges and lawyers (you know, the kinds that get up and talk at the Supreme Court and 1st Court of Appeals and all that stuff) hold a mock trial about an issue with the ObamaCare program that’s been a hot topic recently. Honestly, it was super impressive. Shots were fired; they ethos, logos, and pathos’d their arguments to death; no ground given or taken. It was like, war, but with words.

I suppose people would call that a debate or argument 🙂

In any case, these were people who hold political and legal power in this world. The outcomes of their decisions can shape the government and even history – even if in minor ways, eventually they can have huge consequences.

Yet what exactly can 30 minutes of arguing a case do for a soul damned to eternity in hell?

Is anything worth something when faced with that question?

For Paul, and for me, and for every other believer of the singular saving power of Christ, the answer is no. Paul believed his own words useless; his own wisdom, pretty much garbage. He tosses it away like a ragged piece of half-used tissue and proceeds to preach the gospel with complete reliance on the Holy Spirit’s guidance. What does that look like? Probably simple. Short. To the point. Quoting the Bible at all times. Inwardly praying for God’s wisdom at all times. Careful to make sure not to say anything heretical – here also, cross-checking with the Bible helps.

Because the Bible is the only book in the world that provides the readers with any real, life-changing, eternity-building power.


P

p.s. I admit that my posts have been rather inconsistent, and the gaps between each post have been getting wider. If the moderators would like to remove me from the challenge list, please feel free to do so. I will, however, continue trying to post as much as possible under the challenge until April comes to a close. Thank you!

C is for Christ

It’s a day late, but I couldn’t bring myself to skip to the letter “D” when Easter presents such a great opportunity to blog about Christ my Lord and Savior!

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  -John 3:16

Can we just….take a moment to wonder at that?

How much love is the love of an almighty God, who made everything, and is hence the creator of love itself?

How much worth is placed in an only son? How much do parents love their only child? What a precious, irreplaceable treasure, for whom many mothers and fathers throughout history have gladly given their lives. It is that much more unfathomable that God would give up his only son because He loves us. Some say that for God, sending Jesus to earth was not a “sacrifice.” That is ridiculous. The verse says God “gave up” his only son. He did not send Jesus off as if he were going on vacation. The parting was painful, the sacrifice great, but His love and mercy for us was all the greater.

When I say “us,” that means “whoever believes in Him.” That means, basically anyone who turns to Christ! We only need to believe that Christ has the power to erase all our sins and make us guiltless before God, and it will actually be done. Was there ever any gift so precious that was given so freely? If someone just gave me a billion dollars in straight cash, along with a nice pension house by the beach and a humongous library to go with that, I’d remember what they did for me for the rest of my life, and always be grateful. If the “everlasting life” has been offered in the same way, then I should be thanking God every moment that I breathe.


C