January 2015 Reading Round Up

jan round up

Here’s the round up of all the books I’ve devoured in January:

Game of Thrones by George R.R Martin: Finally I’ve gotten round to reading this series and the first book did not disappoint. I find it interesting to read from a multitude of characters points of view, each chapter acting as a scene of the show and slowly building. Martin can be merciless with his plot twists which make Game of Thrones so interesting. It’s quite easy to get immersed in this intricate fantasy.

Verdict: Game of Thrones is merciless and addicting.

Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi: Embroideries is a wonderful read, making you feel like you’re gossiping with a group of Iranian women who have countless stories to tell. To speak behind others’ backs is the ventilator of the heart, the author’s grandmother says and that captures the spirit of this graphic novel. Virginity( and faking it), sex and how penises are non-photogenic are some of the humorous aspects touched upon.

Verdict: Emroideries is a great, witty and hilarious read.

Bone: Out from Boneville by Jeff Smith: Bone was interesting but I wouldn’t say it was the best of graphic novels, in my opinion. It does, however, prompt you to want to find out what happens with the subsequent installments. The characters are funny and adorable which is nice.

Verdict: Bone is an average graphic novel better suited for younger readers.

Selected Short Stories by Edgar Allan Poe: Having heard how Poe is the master of the macabre and eerie, I found the stories in this book to be a bit of a let-down overall. I did however, enjoy The Masque of the Red Death for the interesting personification of the plague. Other tales I found worth reading were The Tell-Tale Heart and The Black Cat.

Verdict: These selected stories don’t really send a chill up your spine.

*George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl: This is one of my favourite Dahl books and it was enjoyable to read once again. Check out my re-read post about it!

Verdict: Please grab a copy for a refreshing and humorous break!

* Re-Read Challenge

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5 Tried and Tested Study Hacks

As a past science student and current arts student, I’ve found there are some study hacks that everyone ought to know. I know for a fact that these five work:

1. Take notes using different coloured pens and use different colour highlighters to highlight key terms so that when you’re skimming through the material you know the key terms and info. Why does this help? Color stimulates the brain. When retrieving a mental image of the page, the brain recalls highlighted terms and colored text in particular. You can even recall their position on the page which helps in constructing answers in an exam and stimulates flow of information. If you don’t write notes, then use post-its in your textbook with main points written on them.

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2. Write little outlines for each chapter containing topics, sub topics and key terms as a review for before the exam. If you have lots of formulae, write a master list of all of them on a sheet of paper to have them all in one place. (Also, before answering the questions on an exam, write down all the important formulae on the side so that you don’t forget later on. I recommend this for physics and math papers especially.)

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3. If you’re writing notes and/or studying an uninteresting subject for a long time, play instrumental music in the background to help you focus through it. Don’t listen to rap or pop or anything but instrumental as the voice of the singer can be a distraction.

4. Use food as positive reinforcement in the form of rewards for studying milestones like a chapter, section or entire unit.

5. Use more difficult to read fonts to study material instead of easy to read font because we tend to gloss over the fonts that are easy on the eyes. Difficult to read fonts ensure you concentrate when reading study material.

Where I ought to be?

The feeling that you ought to be somewhere else in the world can be confusing especially when you have no idea where that somewhere is. It’s an answer I have yet to find.

the eiffelA quiz once told me I ought to live in Paris, going on to describe why:

You are a romantic who enjoys strolling through cobblestone streets and markets. You are inspired by art and architecture, and thrive being surrounded by other artists and intellectuals. You enjoy the bustle of a city, but also love spending time in the warm countryside, sitting at a cafe, and having a glass of wine or coffee. Your soul is nourished by being in nature, and by having deep meaningful conversation about love, art, and the meaning of life.

It’s quite accurate for a quiz, I must say.

Then again, I’m so drawn to the open and spectacular Irish countryside. There’s a Game of Thrones tour of the locations in Northern Ireland used to film the show and I’d gladly pack a bag to fly out there. I believe they also shoot Reign there as well. The thought of visiting ancient castles in the country sounds like a better vacation than going to Hawaii which I’m well aware may sound ludicrous but I’ve always found colder places more appealing than warmer ones.

But then there’s the snow-capped mountains in Switzerland…

As you can see I suffer from European wanderlust.

The Reality of Depression

“Get over it.”…”Just be more positive.”…”How can you not want to get out of bed?”

People’s reactions to news about someone they know suffering from depression is shockingly insensitive. However, their insensitivity often arises out of ignorance about depression as a mental illness and misunderstanding the symptoms.

According to the American Psychology Association, ‘depression is more than just sadness. People with depression may experience a lack of interest and pleasure in daily activities, significant weight loss or gain, insomnia or excessive sleeping, lack of energy, inability to concentrate, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.’

As you can see, depression is more complicated than it seems and this explains why people at large are misinformed about this mental illness, especially with media portrayals straying from reality.

I found some minimalist illustrations by Nick Barclay, perfect and simple representations of depressive symptoms which hopefully can elucidate how each one makes the depressed individual feel. I just felt like I had to share them for this very reason and expand on the image to explain that depression is not just something you can ‘get over’.

Here are some symptoms of depression:

1. Isolation and Withdrawal

Isolation and social withdrawal are  the most common telltale signs of depression.

According to Stephen Ilardi, Ph.D, associate professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, “When we’re clinically depressed, there’s a very strong urge to pull away from others and to shut down.”

This is the exact opposite of what we need while depressed because social isolation tends to worsen the illness and significantly affects how we feel.

Social contact helps counteract withdrawal and isolation so it is important to reach out to the right people and not just anybody when one is depressed. Social activities with friends and family can be helpful in this regard although it is imperative to keep in mind that they are not instant cures but steps to recovery.

2. Feelings of dread

People who suffer from depression find themselves feeling a sense of dread when waking up in the morning which could account for how they do not wish to get out of bed. Patients have described this sense of dread in more colourful terms than psychiatrists and psychologists do (blue, sad, unhappy, worried).

Terrie Williams said, “I would wake up with an overwhelming sense of dread and anxiety. I would lay there for hours, sometimes in a fetal position, crying. I would pull a sheet over my head.”

Others describe a feeling of heaviness that accompanies dread as well.

 

3. Hopelessness

With depression comes hopelessness, pessisism and a bleak outlook for the future. Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust, found that depressed people held the opinion that their lives were not going to improve. In fact, they were certain of it.  This hopelessness can lead to thoughts of suicide and death since depressed individuals see nothing left to live for. More often than not, those who have recovered from chronic depression reported that they were very happy that they did not choose to end their own lives. So long as they pushed through, they did find a light at the end of the dark tunnel that is depression.

4. Confusion and lack of clarity

Depression leaves people with a confused state of mind in which thoughts become unclear. There is difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions while depressed. This can have adverse affects on a student’s academics or an employee’s work performance, just to name a few. It is difficult to stay motivated during this state of confusion.

Other characteristic symptoms are:

  • Loss of interest in activities that were once interesting and pleasurable prior to the onset of depression (eg. hobbies)
  • Excessive sleeping or insomnia
  • Overeating or eating less compared to usual

It’s been found that Type A personalities and Type B personalities differ in their depressive symptoms. Type A’s tend to sleep excessively and eat less while Type B’s suffer from insomnia and overeat.

If you’re interested in knowing the biological science behind depression, I’d recommend watching this video:

Hopefully we can spread awareness about depression and stifle insensitivity towards those who suffer from it.


 

Source of images: http://news.distractify.com/pinar/nick-barclay-depression/

Sources of information: 

Mint Sky and Tulip Clouds

Summer days
don’t look like this
all too often.
Both lazy and vermillion.
Abandoned tricycles
on cobbled streets
with cool cream left running.
The wind played a game
of hide and seek
between our ribs.
With mint sky and tulip clouds
poured above our heads.
The day was teal tinged
beginning with canary yellow
and ending in pleasing reds.

The Reread Challenge: George’s Marvelous Medicine

This is the first book I’ve read as part of the Re-Read Challenge.

WHEN I First Read

I first read George’s  Marvelous Medicine when I was 11 years old, probably one of the last of his books I ever read. It was also one of the few that helped me get through my dad’s death. It was given to me as a gift from my cousin and a valuable one at that.
 
WHAT I Remember
From what I remember, 11 year old me found George to be a genius, with his catastrophic concoctions. As a kid, I would spend afternoons in my mom’s kitchen mixing all sorts of ingredients together under the misguided impression that I too was making something marvelous. In truth it must have been quite disgusting to taste but looked fantastic. That was why George’s Marvelous Medicine hit home with me and I found it such a wonderful read as a kid. The illustrations were chuckle-worthy along side the chapters as well.
 
WHY I Wanted to Re-Read
Roald Dahl is  one of my favourite authors and re reading his books is not only fun but a great way to revisit my childhood so it was quite an easy decision to re-read this one. The sentimental value this book holds is one that merits revisiting, in my opinion. Besides that, I have an upcoming presentation in french class where I’m supposed to discuss a book in french so I thought I’d talk about this one. In a way, it’s killing two birds with a single stone.
 
HOW I Felt After Re-Reading

Now, as a twenty year old re reading this book, I have a new found respect for Roald Dahl in the way he defied traditional conventions. He depicted George’s grandmother as a nasty old
lady when most children’s authors typically describe them as bundles of sunshine with candy in their purses. Thinking critically, this serves as a source of humour layered with subtle realism packaged for children.

The plot is delightfully twisted and there is something so entertaining about how George seeks to punish his hag of a grandmother. A recurring theme of Dahl’s work is the triumph over children against nasty adults and it’s nice to read about the power children weird in them. It makes me think of how valuable the mind of a child is and how we ought not to forget it.

It’s also lovely that the book can be read in a single sitting, considering how it can be quite difficult to find time to read this far into the semester. It’s like a refreshing break from reality, exploring George’s experiments.

Roald Dahl is a wonderful children’s author who seems to invest so much in his writing. I particularly love how it starts off with a warning:

Do not try to make George’s Marvelous Medicine yourselves at home. It could be dangerous.

You just know it’s going to be a good read when a book starts off like that.

WOULD I Re-Read Again

I am definitely going to re-read this book in the near-future. It’s also a great book to read to kids before their bed time!

Literary Theory- Deconstruction

Deconstruction is a post-structuralist perspective in literary theory that is not a theory per se but rather a set of strategies or ways of reading a text.

Jacques Derrida is a leading figure in deconstruction.

There are two aspects that are important in deconstruction:

  1. Binary oppositions
  2. Centre of the structure

Binary Oppositions

Drawn from Levi-Strauss’ findings, units in a system exist in binary pairs or oppositions. One is favourable or positive while the other is unfavourable or negative.  Eg. good/evil

We think about the world in terms of binary oppositions.

In Western metaphysics, the term that comes to the left of the slash is considered positive while the term to the right of the slash is considered negative. We argue about which position a term should be placed. For example, why is male better than female or why is white better than black? Deconstruction asks how the first term is valued over the other.

By taking the example of speech/writing and how speech is favoured over writing, it’s been found that we associate speech to the presence of another wherein writing is associated to the person who has written the text. The privilege of speech or presence over writing or absence is an example of logocentrism ( word-centredness).

Eg. God said “Let there be light” which associates his presence to light. The fact that He spoke reinstates His existence.

Each term has meaning or what Saussure calls value in reference to the other. Binary opposites are inseparable in their opposition because the term on either side of the slash has meaning as the negation of the term on the other side of the slash.

Centre of the structure

The centre holds the whole structure in place, keeping each binary opposition on the proper side of the slash.

Terms like God, human being, truth serve as the centre.

Functions of the centre:

  1. It creates the system and governs the units within the system according to the rules of the system.
  2. It is something beyond the system and not governed by the rules of the system. Hence the structure is paradoxically inside and outside the system. It escapes what Derrida calls the totality or structurality.

Characteristics of the centre:

  1. It limits play. The centre thus holds all the units in place and in relation to one another, keeping the structure for moving too much. This motion is called ‘play’, so the centre limits play and keeps the system stable and rigid. Derrida says this isn’t good for a signifying or philosophical system. Play is what makes literary language. In literary texts, language plays (polysemy) while in non-literary texts, language does not play (each term has only one meaning). You wouldn’t wonder what the word wrench means in a plumbers manual means but you would in a poem.
  2. It cannot be replaced by any other unit in the system. Eg. God is the centre of the system and nothing else is equivalent to replace as the centre
  3. It is the transcendental signified i.e the ultimate source of meanings.

According to Derrida, there was a rupture or a moment when structuralism enabled philosophy to think about itself differently. It was the moment when philosophers were able to see philosophical systems not as absolute truth but as systems and structures.

Prior to this rupture, there was continual substitution of one centred system to another centred system like God was replaced by the rational mind and the rational mind was replaced by the unconscious and so on.

Derrida and other poststructuralists write in a way that is constantly reminding the reader that meaning is unstable and that makes us aware of the constructed systems which make the text possible. That is why their works are so difficult to read and understand.

So what does Derrida mean when he says deconstruction is a set of ways to read a text?

  • Deconstruction reads a text to see where it posits its own centre, how it constructs its own system of ‘truth’ and ‘meaning’ and then looks to see where it contradicts itself. Hence it’s a way of reading that looks for chinks in the armour of the text i.e where the structure gets shaken up. A deconstructive reading reads a text against itself.

Bricolage

The term bricolage means tinkering in French. In art or literature, bricolage means construction from a diverse range of available things. Someone who engages in bricolage is bricoleur, the equivalent of a handy man or jack of all trades. A bricoleur doesn’t care about the purity or stability of a system but rather uses what’s available to get the job done.

Bricolage doesn’t worry about coherence of the words or ideas it uses. For example, you are a bricoleur if you talk about the Oedipus complex without knowing anything about psychoanalysis. Bricolage understands that meaning is something shifting.

A bricoleur is contrasted to an engineer. A bricoleur cannot plan or make projects since to do so implies both that the necessary tools and materials can be obtained as required and do not have to be ready at hand.

Source- Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed by Mary Klages

E.X.A.M.S

A week of exams had me left deflated through out, with a severe lack of motivation to study when all I really wanted to do was read A Clash of Kings and watch Game of Thrones. Yet I suppose Tyrion Lannister’s words never seemed better fit for life than now:

 “A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.”

By far one of my favourite quotes from a book, it has led me to think of exams in a different albeit greatly dramatized perspective, more or less to make it seem worthwhile as I question their necessity…


 

E.X.A.M.S

There are battles and wars fought with swords and gunfire, skilled in bodily strength but there are trials and tribulations to test the mind as well. They are now, in modern times, called examinations.

It is known how wars are not won in a single day but by fighting many battles and triumphing. Examinations, it can be said, are a war of their own in which our plethora of subjects ranging from arithmetic to psychology serves as battles.

Just as swords are sharpened on stone, so too is a mind with the aid of books. Knowledge is a powerful and complex weapon, you see. It can win wars just as well, perhaps better, than a spear through an enemy’s eye.

Armed to conquer mathematics we wield swords of logarithms and formulae of circumference and integration. Against, literary theory we load our crossbows and let it slip arrows showering terms of ‘binary opposition’, ‘polymorphously perverse children’ and ‘ostranenie’  like fire upon a battle field. Wearing armour doused and oiled in ‘electric potential’, ‘escape velocity’ and ‘restitution coefficient’, we shield ourselves against physics. With these abstract weapons and shields, we go off to defeat exam after exam, slaying biology, french and chemistry alike… or perhaps they slay us.

In the end, we come out as victors or the overthrown. I hope the victors do not aggrandize their conquests nor that the overthrown diminish their capabilities.

Why?

Because they are inevitably meant to fight more wars, years to comes, term after term with the coming and going of pleasant summers and foul winters.

It is my solemn hope that we do not lose track of what we are truly (or perhaps somewhat falsely) fighting for.

Our future. Our fate.

Popsugar’s Reading Challenge 2015

I found an interesting reading challenge that I thought I’d share. For those who want a do a bit of  (or maybe a lot of) diverse reading this year, I think the Popsugar challenge is right up your alley. Even if you’re already signed up on Goodreads for a reading challenge, this one shouldn’t distract too much and can most likely be completed simultaneously. You can just tick whichever books you’ve read and each one is different and intriguing. Sort of like 50 challenges summed up in one. Take a look!

Source: popsugar.com