Thanks to Sophie @ Sophie’s Corner for sharing this wonderful tag! I’m quite excited to do this one.
Let’s get it on!
Answer these questions truthfully.
Once you’re done, tag 5 other book bloggers to answer these questions next.
1. Which book, most recently, did you not finish?
To be honest, I rarely DNF books, except for some nonfiction. But the last book I didn’t finish was Verbalize: Bring Stories to Life and Life to Stories by Damon Suede.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed this book and I thought Suede’s writing style was a delight to read. The basic premise of Verbalize, is that we can represent each story character by a single verb, which was pretty fascinating. The reason why I didn’t finish this, was because as appealing as the premise was, I felt that I had already gleaned as much as I could from the Verbalize idea. By finding verbs for each character, I got to penetrate into their psychological essence and backstory wounds. Yet, I don’t agree that our characters can be simplified to just one verb, though I understand Damon’s viewpoint that each character is a force, an energy that propels the story in certain directions.
Damon also doesn’t see characters as real people, which I disagree with as well. To me, characters are much more complex and 3D than mere puppets or forces. Writing would be a much less rewarding activity for me if I saw characters as functions, rather than as people and unique individuals. Damon believes that viewing them as real people would make it hard to write compelling, fleshed-out characters. But my experience has been the opposite. My characters can come to life precisely because I see them as alive, sentient beings who possess free will.
In a nutshell, I can respect and understand why Damon sees characterization in this way, but our philosophical difference here, is the main reason why I put down this otherwise very engaging book. As a matter of fact, I find it interesting that some writers view characters as mere devices and functions, while some other writers treat them like real people; similarly, some writers see characters as puppets they can control, while some other writers see that the characters can do whatever they want, and will not be manipulated by you. It’s funny when I hear a writer say, “This might sound crazy, but I feel that my characters have a life of their own. I can’t control them.” I laugh because what they describe is such a common phenomenon; there is nothing crazy about it. I get that not all writers experience their characters as autonomous, free beings, but many other writers do experience this.
2. Which book is your guilty pleasure?
Hands down Fanny Hill by John Cleland. (AKA Memoir of a Woman of Pleasure.)
Fanny Hill was an assigned reading for my course: The Later Eighteenth Century Novel. (I was a double major in psychology and English literature.) Fanny Hill is the only erotic novel that I’ve read so far, and I love it! Most sex scenes in modern books bore me nowadays, but John Cleland’s are amazing! He employs so many metaphors that though it’s the same act over and over, he keeps it varied and interesting to read. If most modern novels had such well-written, even poetic sex scenes, I wouldn’t complain so much and wish that most romance authors would cut out their sex scenes altogether.
So I don’t dislike depictions of sex, but they’ve got to be more captivating and artistic for me to enjoy them! To summarize, I have very high expectations for sex scenes, and Fanny Hill completely fulfills my expectations.
3. Which book do you love to hate?
I detested Er Nu Ying Xiong Zhuan (兒女英雄傳) by Wen Kang (文康). The English translation of the title is The Story of Hero Boys and Hero Girls.
Not only is Er Nu Ying Xiong Zhuan very misogynistic, it even pretends to be feminist when it clearly isn’t. I felt crushed, hurt, and angry. It’s also one of the rare books that manage to be both boring and depressing at the same time.
This is a Chinese literary classic set in the Qing dynasty, starring a 19-year-old girl, He Yufeng, who is an undefeatable warrior. She beats everyone in the fighting arena, which sounds exhilarating, right? No! In the end, she was cajoled and persuaded into marrying this pretty rich boy who already has a wife. (On the bright side, at least the guy is two years younger than her, so she is still the dominant one, both in physical strength and in seniority.)
Interestingly, He Yufeng and her husband’s first wife, Zhang Jinfeng, clearly love each other a lot more than they do their husband. In fact, the two are like sisters, while their husband is just there. Some friends reminded me that back in ancient China, marriage was often not about love or romance, but about practicality, money, and social status. Yes, I understood that the marriages in this book are just practical arrangements, where He Yufeng could live in financial security and not be a lonely wanderer anymore. She is close to her co-wife Zhang Jinfeng, and her in-laws are decent, despite the circumstances. I don’t think He Yufeng really loves her husband, beyond his good looks, but they have a harmonious relationship, at least.
Nevertheless, I have read countless novels set in ancient China where people married for love, not for convenience. So this was a huge letdown for me. I also hate bigamy, the “one husband, multiple wives” system so much. What’s more, ever since marrying, He Yufeng hardly battles anymore, which is saddening because she is so impressive in her fighting abilities. It’s like becoming a world-class musician, only to give up on your music after marrying a rich guy.
In fact, a famous twentieth century Chinese author, Lu Xun (魯迅), had a similar complaint to mine! He hates how the main girl, who was strong and amazing, had her personality distorted in the end. She’s like a domesticated tiger. Once so mighty, now tamed to fit into the sexist system of bigamy.
N.B. I want to clarify here that I’m totally fine with polyamory. It’s bigamy that I hate. Polyamory is an agreement between equals, where each party gets to have more than one partner, and they would set specific rules, e.g. no bringing other partners into your shared home, or only allowing same-gender other partners (for bisexuals and pansexuals in a relationship with someone of the opposite gender). Bigamy, on the other hand, is an imposed rule where the man gets to have as many wives as he can support, but his wives only get to have one husband. Heteronormativity is also an issue here.
About compulsory heterosexuality, by the way, Jia Baoyu (賈寶玉), the male lead of another Chinese literary classic, Dream of the Red Chamber, had sexual and romantic liaisons with many girls, though he is most in love with Lin Daiyu (林黛玉), the female lead. Yet, Jia Baoyu clearly had a thing (and probably even a fling) with this guy, Qin Zhong (秦鐘), as well. Many of us know that Jia Baoyu is bisexual, but scholarship on the Dream of the Red Chamber doesn’t talk much about it, and some readers outright deny it. Nevertheless, I see an increasing number of references to homosexuality, as well as a rise in queer characters in online Chinese stories, so I believe that the Chinese society is slowly changing.
There is one thing I liked about Er Nu Ying Xiong Zhuan (The Story of Hero Boys and Hero Girls), however. The language was very vivid and evocative. If only the content could be as good.
4. Which book would you throw into the sea?
I was going to say The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, but that would be too cheeky, and though I found it very boring, I didn’t loathe the book so much that I would toss it into the sea. The book is already plenty involved with the sea!
Back to the question, since I’ve already used The Story of Hero Boys and Hero Girls for #3, then I’ll choose The Imperialist by Sara Jeannette Duncan.
We had to read this novel for our Canadian literature course. I could not believe how incredibly dense and dull this book was. Not only was it chock full of convoluted passages, The Imperialist also supports a political stance that I am frankly against. I would have given up on The Imperialist if it were not required reading for my course. Technically, I could still put down the book, but I wanted to earn participation marks when we discussed it during our conference. Plus, it’s out of pride that I obstinately finish all of my English lit readings. Rarely do I DNF fictional texts required for a course. Sometimes I read the whole book even if only parts of the book were assigned. So there was no backing down even from something as unpleasant as The Imperialist.
5. Which book have you read the most?
I almost never re-read books nowadays, as I just don’t have the time. However, I’ll talk about one of the few books I did reread:
笑傲江湖 (Xiao Ao Jiang Hu), translated as Smiling Proud Wanderer by Jin Yong (aka Louis Cha). I call this “a book,” but it’s actually a long story divided into four books, similar to how Lord of the Rings was split up into three books, except Xiao Ao Jiang Hu doesn’t have a separate name for each of its books, unlike Lord of the Rings’ The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Xiao Ao is the longest story that I’ve read more than once, so I have certainly spent the most time on this story.
Jin Yong is my favorite Chinese author. He writes martial arts stories, where typically, a hero in their late teens travels the world, becomes more and more powerful in their fighting skills, and even finds love. Not all of his stories end happily, but Xiao Ao thankfully does. 令狐沖 (Ling Hu Chong) is my favorite protagonist among Jin Yong’s books, and since I’ve read all of Jin Yong’s novels, Ling Hu Chong is really something. He’s free-spirited, lively, very open-minded towards different people, generous, compassionate, sweet, cheeky, humorous. He isn’t perfect, but he is one of my fictional crushes. I have a friend who looks down on him, however, because she thinks he’s just a drunkard. That sounds very judgmental to me, and to be honest, a fondness for wine isn’t that uncommon among heroes of ancient Chinese martial arts stories.
About the book itself, I loved the plot. It was complex, compelling, filled with mystery, suspense, heartbreak, good humor, all the things I like in a plot. Many of the secondary characters were hilarious, and some were very interesting. The villains were certainly despicable enough, though some of the villains were semi-likable. I adore one of the story’s central themes: even the people society sees as “evil,” may be better and more decent human beings than the people society sees as “good.”
The female lead, Ren Ying Ying (任盈盈) was pretty awesome: so cool, powerful, a 3D character, and wonderful and magnanimous in her own way. She really deserves the hero. Girl gets guy! Unlike the stereotypical boy wants girl, this was girl wants boy. The girl is the pursuer, not the boy. I love gender role reversals! Ren Ying Ying persevered for quite a while, and though she never forced Ling Hu Chong to do anything, she made her feelings for him very clear. (Highlight the space below to see a spoiler:)
Some readers speculate that Ling Hu Chong married her in the end not because he loved her romantically, but because he was grateful and touched by her devotion, love, and understanding. The reason why she fell in love with him in the first place, was because she was moved by how sincerely and deeply Ling Hu Chong loved Yue Ling Shan (岳靈珊), a girl who fell for and later married somebody else. I find Ren Ying Ying really amazing, because she understands how important Yue Ling Shan is to Ling Hu Chong, in spite of all that had happened, and that Ling Hu Chong has a need to visit Yue Ling Shan’s grave from time to time.
Xiao Ao Jiang Hu was an all-round fabulous book. Highly recommended!
6. Which book would you hate to receive as a gift?
It by Stephen King.
I bought and read this book some years ago. The book cover and the story creeped me out so much, that I gave it away for free at a book donation. So please don’t be inconsiderate by buying me a book I already gave away out of terror! The cover chills me so much that I’m not even including the picture in this post. You’ll have to Google it yourself if you want to see the book cover, because I’m not going to post the link here either!
7. Which book could you not live without?
There are plenty of books I can live without, especially as it would be so easy for me to purchase it again, if I ever need it, and if I don’t already have it permanently stored on my Kindle e-reader. Nor do I need to keep any reference books, since I can find most of the information online anyway. So it would be better for me to interpret this question as: Which book can I not go through life without reading? To phrase it in a more straightforward manner: Which book must I read before I die? I will only include books I already read. This is a difficult choice, but I’ll go with the Animorphs books by K.A. Applegate.
Yes, I know this is actually 60+ books, not one book, and yes, I’ve read them all, except for the two choose-your-own-adventure books. The Animorphs is such a beautiful, inspiring story with lovable characters. It also features one of my favorite couples ever: Tobias and Rachel. It has a neat story premise as well, where five kids gain the ability to acquire an animal’s DNA, and then morph into any of these animals at will. This is definitely one of my favorite sci-fi stories!
8. Which book made you angriest?
Too bad I already mentioned The Story of Hero Boys and Hero Girls, because I hate that book with a vengeance. But for this question, I’ll pick Lesbian: Private Investigations by Simone Carter.
The book features a lesbian romance with a detective story, which wasn’t too bad, though I thought the sex scenes were weird and the girls’ relationship progressed too quickly for my taste. But what made me angry were the two short stories included after this main story.
Both of these short stories were about a straight girl who is suddenly and inexplicably wooed by two very handsome, ridiculously rich, and even caring and considerate men. While I don’t have a problem with ménage sex scenes, Simone Carter has a way of writing about sex that makes me uncomfortable. And I can say this as someone who has read countless sex scenes by now, with all sorts of gender combinations, sexual orientations, one-on-one, threesomes, consensual gangbanging (pardon the language), and all the way from implicit and subtle to explicit and steamy.
Moreover, as I said, these super handsome, rich, and considerate guys fancy this girl for no apparent reason, and they want to be with her in the long-term too, so it wasn’t just a fling. This honestly reads more like a straight girl’s sexual fantasy than like a serious story. (No offense to straight girls in general, and far be it for me to kink-shame anyone. But I figured it would be a straight girl’s sexual fantasy because the MCs were both cishet women.) There was also no real conflict, obstacles, or anything bad happening. It was just a one-stop elevator all the way to the top. Unbelievably boring. Both heroines had minimal character development, and the guys had zero character development.
I am rarely this harsh towards a book; in fact, I tend to be positive and forgiving when I review books. But I just couldn’t find any redeeming qualities in these short stories. Also, why the hell did the author include two stories about straight women being happily gang-banged by men in a book marketed as a lesbian romance?? How outrageous and preposterous! The only reason I persevered till the end, was because I had to read a book I didn’t finish for the 2019 Toronto Public Libraries Reading Challenge, and this book happened to be a short one, thankfully.
9. Which book made you cry the most?
Plenty of books made me cry, so I’ll just pick one of them: The Final Reckoning by Robin Jarvis.
This is the third and last book of The Deptford Mice Trilogy. I just adore Robin Jarvis’s writing style, both in his storytelling and his use of language. Few authors from the late 20th to 21st century have enthralled me this much with their writing. The Deptford Mice trilogy, especially the final book, is so touching, in both a happy and a sad way. I also liked the romance very much. (Spoiler below. Please highlight the white space to see.)
Honestly, I really enjoyed the Audrey-Piccadilly-Twit love triangle, even though I usually dislike love triangles. It was heart-rending that Audrey had a secret crush on Piccadilly for so long, and that Piccadilly secretly returned her feelings. Unfortunately, it was already too late by the time they found out how they felt about each other. Oh my goodness, I feel like crying just from writing this! This is probably one of my favorite animal romances I have ever read, despite the tragic ending. Maybe I should reread this series.
10. Which book cover do you hate the most?
Too bad I already mentioned Stephen King’s It. But another cover I really hated, was a particular edition of San Guo Yan Yi (三國演義), aka Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
The cover was definitely one reason why I didn’t finish the book. Maybe I’ll read and actually complete the book one day, but I would get one with a much more engaging and interesting cover. For those who aren’t familiar with this Chinese literary classic, Romance of the Three Kingdoms is about three guys who become sworn brothers, and they conquer places and create empires together. This version with the boring cover also greatly simplified the original text: it sucked out the juice and made it dry. I can say this because I was originally reading another version, with an illustrated cover, that included much more plot detail, and I was much more absorbed into the story. I don’t believe my greater interest in the book was simply because this version had a nicer cover, however.
So there you have it, my book confessions!
I tag these lovely people:
Feel free to do this tag if this strikes your fancy too!