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Archive for the 'Reading' Category

Recently…

Well, it’s been an awful long time since I’ve written anything on this blog, so I figured I’d throw an update.

Recently addicted. Addicted to Facebook. I’ve been avoiding social networking sites like the plague for the last few years, refusing to sign-up on Friendster or MySpace. Then along came Facebook. And now I find myself checking it multiple times a day, like everyone else. You’re probably reading this blog entry as a syndicated note on Facebook, you addict you.

Recently purchased gadgets. I finally bit the bullet and bought that lens I’ve been eyeing for the last few months: the Canon EF 70-200 f/4L IS USM telephoto zoom. I love it. It’s oh-so-sharp, and I’ve been taking it around on walks around Toronto. It takes beautiful portraits, and great photos of random people, which has been nice with all the nice weather! In the past, I’ve never been able to take pictures of random strangers, but it’s much easier with this lens since you’re usually standing 20-30 metres away. See recent photos, amongst others, at photos.grchiu.com. I’ve also recently loaded up on 10 gigabytes of compact flash. This should be sufficient for about 1400 photos in Rome… enough, I hope?

Recent reading. In preparation for an upcoming trip to Italy (next week!) I’ve been reading Rick Steves’ Rome and Rick Steves’ Italy. Both excellent reads, packed with information and lots of nice maps of the different sight-seeing venues. The Lonely Planet Best of … guides are also nice and small for carrying around.

Before that, I rediscovered the public library system and borrowed Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story by Kurt Eichenwald, a surprisingly gripping and outrageous true store of the boom and subsequent demise of Enron in its corporate accounting scandal. It’s a great read, offering a unique look into the politics and inner workings of big corporations. On the lighter side, Spin, the 2006 Hugo Award winning novel by Robert Charles Wilson, is captivating, with an interesting premise and memorable characters full of vigour. Also recently read was the classic The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. I’m looking forward to reading The God Delusion.

Recent Listening. In the past few months I’ve started listening to vocal/instrumental jazz. It all started when I saw Melissa Stylianou, a Toronto jazz vocalist, perform at Hugh’s Room on the home stretch of her tour. Her latest album, Sliding Down, is great. Check it out.

Italy next week. Some stories and pictures to follow when I return. Arrivederci!

reaching the end of LMB

I am deeply grateful and forever indebted to my former housemate, who, two days before the end of my last term at university, suggested that I borrow from her and read Young Miles, an ominbus edition of two of Lois McMaster Bujold‘s earlier books. I was skeptical… a female science fiction writer? I was a fan of Douglas Adams, Orson Scott Card, and Larry Niven, and I wasn’t sure if Lois McMaster Bujold would fit the bill. Could she be as witty as Adams, or as masterminded as Card? Or could she weave a technical reality like Niven?
Nevertheless, I declined, noting that I couldn’t possibly read and return the book in the two days before I moved out. She, of course, disagreed, but then again, she was always up all hours diving deeper and deeper into a stack of books. I kept the title in mind, however, and the next time I was at a bookstore I picked up a copy.

I finished reading it that very night. After staying up all night reading, of course.

I was enthralled from the first page. Her first few books are very swashbuckling, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants stories about a young boy, Miles, of high but troubled birth, trying to make his mark on the world and universe. The rest of her Vorkosigan saga tells a stunningly vivid tale. You learn, in pieces, about the history of the backwater planet and the origins of its caste-like system, and you watch the development and struggles of the main character to grow, learn, and survive. You also get a few insights into Miles’ parentage and the general universe and times in which he lives.

The series is an absolutely entertaining read. Things I love about it:

  • Bujold has an incredible flair for creating characters that are vibrant and leap off the page, but still have complex personalities and multi-dimensioned traits.
  • Her continual re-introduction of old characters, so we get to see what happened to previous secondary characters and watch their (sometimes painfully slow) character development.
  • Bujold always addresses some core theme or value in her novels and novellas — she always has some subtle story or point to make, and she does so masterfully without interfering with the plot at hand.
  • Much like her characters gradually changing from novel to novel in her saga, Bujold changes her themes and sub-genre with great fluidity over the decades. Her books range from straight science fiction, to mystery, to fantasy, or even to romantic comedy.

There’s one last piece of unread Bujold: “Winterfair Gifts”, a novella (everything else she’s published, I’ve read). I’ve been saving it for a rainy day. Some part of me also dreads reading it, as it would sadly mean no more new Bujold novels to read. No more updates on the lives of her intriguing and witty characters, no more social commentary on family values or honor. No more exciting swashbuckling adventures. But hats off to her, for changing my perceptions: before her, I never knew science fiction could be like this!

still reading…

So I just finished reading a non-fiction piece, Edison and the Electric Chair : A Story of Light and Death by Mark Essig. I picked the hardcover book up for quite a steal at $5.39 at the local Indigo. It’s quite an interesting read: in a style not much unlike Bill Bryson (in his famous A Short History of Nearly Everything) Essig recounts almost laughable historic gaffs and misconceptions about electricity; he goes on to detail the great inventor Edison’s struggles in creating electric light and the difficulties in delivering this new product into the homes of the masses; finally he segues into the dangers of electricity and the development of the electric chair: a humane alternative for execution. This morbid curiosity into capital punishment was spawned recently from perusing Dead Man Eating, an addictively grotesque website archiving the last meals of inmates prior to execution.

I’m moving on to read Moon Handbook: Atlantic Canada in preparation for my jaunt in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island later this summer. As of today, travel guides from all three provinces are hurtling towards my mailbox at an accelerated pace. Had I known you can order free travel guides through their respective tourism office websites, I wouldn’t have forked out some exorbitant sum for the book.

Why Atlantic Canada? Lobsters, hiking, coastal scenery and towns, and of course, photography. The only problem is now figuring out where to go and how to spend the oh-so-valuable vacation time. Any trip suggestions from well-travelled readers?