Kindle and Kindle Unlimited

I was fortunate enough to spend the summer doing what I love most to do: read! I had plenty of time and also a need to break away from the intense year of academic reading and writing (thank you, grad school!). I have a pretty extensive reading list that I started tackling, and I got my reading on all….summer…long!

I must admit that I’ve been doing a lot of reading with my Kindle. I LOVE LOVE LOVE having actual books to hold, make notes in, and smell (yes…I love the way books smell). However, having moved across the Atlantic made me realise how useful a Kindle could be for a book nerd like me (thanks mom for such a wonderful gift!).

My intense reading holiday was a mix of books I had acquired and books I purchased on my Kindle. Slowly but surely, the tab on my Kindle went up and I started looking for more economic options to continue reading. One of those options was Amazon’s latest venture Kindle Unlimited.

Kindle Unlimited is a subscription available for Amazon customers with U.S. accounts. For $9.99 a month, members enjoy unlimited access to a selection of books. Unlike Prime, with Kindle Unlimited, you can have access to the book as long as you want. Once I subscribed, I was very excited to see how many of my wish list books were available on Kindle Unlimited.

To my disappointment, less than 5 books on my very extensive wish list were available. I did, however, find other good reads such as “The Storied Life of A. J. Firky” by Gabrielle Zevin, “Three Daughters” by Consuelo Saah Baehr, and “The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make us Human” by Jonathan Gottscall.

In short, I wouldn’t recommend Kindle Unlimited right now. I am hopeful that Amazon will eventually release more books for members, and when they do, I will be anxious to try it again!

My Kindle with its Awesome Moleskin Kindle cover!

My Kindle with its Awesome Moleskin Kindle cover!

Blogging Etiquette

For the past year, I have been writing for a commercial blog and I have found the experience to be very rewarding (and not just for the pay). The blog has provided a platform for a community of readers to share ideas and feelings that are relevant to the blog’s purpose. There is a fair share of comments and discussions, and this experience has provided me with a different outlook on blogging because this blog as well as my previous blog have never received the amount of feedback the commercial blog does.

One issue my collaboration with this blog has raised is the two-sided sword of being able to have discussions and comments. While I will always always ALWAYS accept and encourage comments because it is a way to share ideas, learn, grow, discuss and debate, I am a bit baffled by the thin line between discussing and criticising. When are we being critical and when are we being simply plain rude? When are we enriching a discussion and when are we simply trolling the internet? Is the mask of a computer making us rude?

Because of this dilemma, I would like to open up this space for ideas about this. What behaviour should we expect from ourselves and others when blogging (both as writers and readers)? How can writers handle pesky situations?

Book Review: “It’s Not Love, It’s Paris” by Patricia Engel

While looking for case studies for my thesis, I came across this novel. One particular quote from this story caught my attention:

I was already an artist by blood; all immigrants are artists because they create a life, a future, from nothing but a dream. The immigrant’s life is art in its purest form.

While I cannot say this novel is entirely about immigrants as artists, the quote was enough to spark my interest given that I am a three-time immigrant and I had just spent a year researching art and migration for my master’s program. I started the novel hopeful for more deep quotes like this one, words that leave me in deep thought for hours.

I must admit that my search for deep words like this ended without much material. Many quotes seemed very cliché and superficial. Despite this setback, I must say that It’s Not Love, It’s Paris left me with other wanering thoughts. I ended the novel thinking about MY trip of self-discovery around Europe, and what this trip meant.

It’s Not Love, It’s Paris is the story of Lita, a Colombian-American young woman who goes on a year-long stay to Paris to study French. Lita’s  family life is the heroic American dream…her parents moved to the States from Colombia and by working hard, they created an empire with which they continue to help migrants. Lita was born in the States with economic wealth and a clear picture of her roots. Like many second-generation migrants, Lita lives searching for balance between her Colombian past and her American present. It seems it is this “balance” that Lita is escaping on her trip to Paris.

In Paris, Lita lives with several other girls in a type of boarding home mixed with European freedom. Although the girls live under the roof of a well-to-do woman, the house is very much like any college dorm with parties, men and gossip. As Lita is immersed in this new lifestyle, she begins to figure out who she is, what her family obligations are and what is it that she wants from her life.

No self-discovery story would be complete without a romantic encounter. In Paris, Lita meets Cato, a lonely, sickly and senstitive young man whose father is a very famous and conservative politician against all types of migrants in Paris. Their love is ill-fated since the beginning, but despite the odds, Lita and Cato decide to give their love a chance.

I will not spoil the ending of this novel, but I do recommend it despite its cliché-story and dialogue. The story is relatable, the protagonist earns the reader’s sympathy, and, personally, the novel is immersed in the romantic image we all have of Paris (this is the one cliché I cannot resist). After reading the story and pondering about MY Euro-self discovery trip, I return to my artistic life of creating a life from nothing in Europe.

Personal photograph of Paris and the Eiffel Tower

Personal photograph of Paris and the Eiffel Tower

Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Photography by Stewart Black found in

Photography by Stewart Black found in

I have spent a good part of the summer catching up on my reading wish list since the master’s I just finished gave me little time for “recreational reading.” Yesterday, while I was searching for a novel, I came across Paula Hawkins The Girl on the Train. I must admit that I was a bit skeptical when I first found it on Amazon’s best seller list. The summary wasn’t captivating enough to pull me into it. It was rather a review I read that made me give it a chance. One reader compared it to Gone Girl, and I was intrigued to find out why.

At the beginning, the story is told through the eyes of Rachel. Rachel is a recently divorced woman who is dealing with her world crumbling down mixed in with alcoholism, unemployment and loneliness. Every morning she makes a useless commute to London, and on her way she is captivated by two houses in one of the towns the train stops in. Every morning Rachel sees a couple who lives two doors down from where she used to live before her world collapsed. Every morning she observes this couple and creates a story in her head of how their lives must be, their names and even their jobs. However, on one of those days that Rachel observes them, she sees the woman with another man. The day after, this woman goes missing. Rachel holds on to this crucial piece of information in order to help find this mysterious woman that has gone missing as well as to save her husband from being blamed for her disappearance.

As the story progresses the reader hears more from two other characters, Megan and Anna. We see what Megan was going through before she was missing, as well as Anna’s life as Rachel meddles into her life and that of her husband Tom, Rachel’s ex husband. The story is as mixed as it sounds: everyone’s lives are connected in the way you least expect. People’s assumptions of what is happening have a great effect on the story plot and it isn’t until the very end that we can somewhat understand it all.

The story line of The Girl on the Train is very interesting and relatable. Although Rachel’s destructive behaviour creates a bit of frustration because it is this behaviour that continues to get her in trouble, her sadness and loneliness are very much relatable. Who hasn’t felt at the bottom of the world after a terrible break up? Hawkins manages to keep us on our toes throughout the entire novel as we try to figure out what happened to Megan and who is responsible.

A deeper issue that makes The Girl on the Train not only a great novel but one of extreme relevance is its closeness to women’s issues such as domestic abuse, depression and having children. While these issues are not solely female issues, Hawkins presents them in the lives of three very different women. The pressures of becoming a mother affect Rachel, Megan and Anna in very different ways as well. In these characters, we can appreciate different ways of dealing, of surviving and of making peace.

In short, I am very glad I found The Girl on the Train yesterday. I read that Dreamworks purchased the rights for this movie. While I am a firm book-nerd that believes the book is ALWAYS better than the movie, I am curious to see the adaptation of this novel.

What are your thoughts on The Girl on the Train?

‘The Imitation Game’: Turing, Nazis and Homosexuality

It has been seventy years since the end of World War II, and the stories of courageous men and women who risked it all for their country keep flowing out of the film industry. Regardless of who the story is about, the romance, bravery and horror of the war fill the movie screen reminding viewers of a dark time in history. The Imitation Game, released on Christmas Day 2014, is a unique story of the war, one that isn’t so much about the war but about a silent hero.

Alan Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, was a brilliant perhaps prodigious mathematician whose role in the war was, in short, to help the Allies beat Nazi Germany. Turing, along with other great mathematicians, codifiers and linguists of the time such as Joan Clarke played by Keira Knightley, are given the task to break Enigma, the machine the Nazis used to codify secret messages about their attack plans against the Allies. Enigma was said to be undecipherable, something that attracted Alan Turing much more than winning the war. In order to break Enigma, Turing designs Christopher with the reasoning that only a machine can beat a machine. Christopher not only beats Enigma, but also becomes the predecessor of modern-day computers.

However, the real story of The Imitation Game is not Christopher or even World War II, but Alan Turing’s struggle with his homosexuality. Up until the late 60s, homosexuality was illegal in England, and Turing was forced to keep his sexual preferences hidden. This does not only create problems for Turing’s personal life, but also for his professional life. Blackmail, secrecy and double lives provide The Imitation Game with the usual turns and twists of war movies. Flashbacks of Turing’s first love, who was also the person who interested him in codes, contextualize Turing’s behavior and traumas that shape his decisions with Christopher. The film concludes with Turing’s life after the war, where regardless of his contributions to society, he is unable to live freely.

Regardless of how much the trailers and the movie itself try to overshadow the importance of Turing’s story, The Imitation Game becomes a movie about the unexpected. Turing says to Clarke “Sometimes it is the people who no one images anything of who do the things that no one can imagine” (2014). This quote, which is repeated throughout the movie, reveals not only what might surprise us about the characters, but also about the film itself. The Imitation Game does something the viewers cannot imagine: it tells the story of the sielnt hero who cut the war by two years, who saved an estimated 14 million lives, who created what would become the beginning of computers, who until 2013 was still classified as a criminal. The Imitation Game is filled with overused images of war movies, particularly World War II movies: people running to the tube for shelter, surprise attacks by the Nazi troops, people in despair and even losing objectivity by the loss of a loved one. Despite these war clichés, The Imitation Game provides the viewer with a different approach to the war, an approach about the silent heroes who fought courageously, but were not free to be. Alan Turing’s life, his contributions to the war and modern-day technology as well as his struggle to be himself, are what make The Imitation Game a movie worth watching, worth remembering.

Should We Judge Based on Someone’s Effort?

I consider myself to be a very patient person; perhaps its due to the fact that I love to teach and patience is a crucial characteristic. I believe each person has their own rhythm and strengths, their own likes and dislikes, their own way to do things. Some people like to study or read while listening to music while others prefer silence for concentration; some people like to take on tedious tasks right away and others like to delay them; some people are overly organized while others find order in their mess.

It seems that lately I have shown no patience for one thing: indifference. I feel utter dislike for someone who doesn’t care, who doesn’t make an effort, who sits there and lets everything pass. Like I said, I know everyone has their learning methods and times, and I really respect that. What I am finding trouble respecting is not doing anything. If I get a low grade or I am having problems with a course, I study harder. Dutch is one big example of this: the more I learn Dutch, the harder I have to work at it because it becomes even more complex. I know it isn’t right to compare, but this discrimination (because I cannot find any other way to see it) is towards something I find to be unacceptable in anyone. We have one life to live, one chance to show what we are made up; we should me making the best of this chance.

In my meditation classes, the teacher would say that someone who was doing something that bothers us is a teacher in patience. I think I have also found a teacher in tolerance and patience. I had always considered myself to be tolerant, but I am learning that I am not as tolerant and patient as I thought.

Have you ever been in a similar situation?

Music to my Ears

Six years ago I began learning Italian because I had nothing to do. It may sound like a lame excuse, but it was the truth. I had just moved to Mexico and needed to start doing something to settle down. The Italian school of the embassy was just a few blocks from where I lived, and, since I had always wanted to learn more languages, it seemed like an excellent idea. I began classes and the biggest challenge I faced at first was learning a language in a language that was not my native language. Although I had always spoken Spanish, most of my education had been in English and switching to Spanish to learn Italian was a bit complicated. I had to not only learn Italian vocabulary but also how to say verb, noun, pronoun, past, future, etc. in Spanish in order to be able to understand what I was learning. Thanks to my knack for languages, I was speaking, reading and understanding Italian very quickly. I spent a month in Venice polishing my Italian and reading as much as I could. After about 2 years, I was certified to teach and translate Italian.

I must admit that Italian wasn’t a language I had been eager to learn. I had always imagined myself speaking French; I have this strange fascination with France, the French and Paris, of course. Although a good French school was just as close to home as the Italian one, for some reason, I started with Italian. Six years later, I find myself wanting to speak and hear Italian. Perhaps it has a lot to do with the fact that my father-in-law is from Italy so I hear Italian often, I constantly eat Italian food and it is a language I KNOW. Once I warm up, I really enjoy speaking Italian.

Yesterday, while I was on the bus to my evening Dutch class, I overheard what was music to my ears. An Italian couple was seated behind me, the woman was upset about something and she was telling the man. In Italian, things are always told with a lot of emotion. I don’t really know what happened or why the woman was upset; I simply let the sounds and the emotions serenade my ears. It was five minutes of the best language symphony with curse words and anger and emotion and very fast talking. Once they left the bus, I realized what a treat it is for a language lover like me to live in Europe, where the sounds of so many languages can be heard in the train, on the bus, walking down the street and among friends.

Second Class Personality?

I recently read Susan Cain’s book titled Quiet after hearing reviews saying that all introverts should read it. After reading it, I did find it very enlightening in some aspects of my personality (I already knew I was an introvert). Cain defines an introverted person as someone who is drawn to inner worlds, who focuses on meanings of events, who work slowly, who listen more than they talk. She makes distinctions between introverts and extroverts, and why certain social customs bother introverts. I, personally, hate small talk. I don’t know how to do it, nor do I see the point in it. If we are going to talk, I want to really know about you, not your opinion of the weather and gossip from work. Cain says that this is because introverts tend to think in more complicated ways, and therefore small talk isn’t interesting.

Cain also calls out that our society has labeled introverts as a second class personality trait, something unwanted and that will limit your success. She describes the program at the Harvard Business School, and how, since early on, students are forced to socialize, to interact, to be extroverts, just like in the business world. For those who are extroverts, this isn’t too hard, but those who aren’t find themselves in unwanted situations. Although Cain makes an excellent case for the advantages of having introverts in the business world (slower and more rationalized thinking, for example), I am of the opinion that certain fields need certain personalities.

Like I said, I am an introvert who hates small talks and speaking in public. However, I love teaching, and consider myself to be a good teacher. I had to work with my introvert personality to be able to work with my students. If I didn’t work with my introvert personality, I would end up a very knowledgeable (hopefully) teacher with no tools to share with my students, much like the stereotype of a brilliant college professor that gives the most boring lectures to the board and not to the students. As an introvert teacher, I was able to enjoy the extroverted personality of my students, and understand the introverted personality of others. I gave introverted students their space and time, and supported them as they came out of their shell. I pushed myself to develop a workable introverted personality, where I can be outspoken in certain situations and sit back and listen in others.

The personality descriptions and situations in which both personality types have to interact put a lot of things into perspective. One such section was being an introverted parent to an extroverted child. Both my boyfriend and I are introverts, however, this is no guarantee that our children will be. I have also noticed that a lot of my friendships are with extroverted people. Personally, I enjoy their personalities and I enjoy hearing their stories. I also enjoy, after some time with them, to retreat to a quieter place and breathe.

The latter part of the book became much more of a “self-help book” which I must admit I was disappointed with. I am not a fan of self-help books; I was looking for a mere analysis of introverts so that I can do my own self-help. I know this is a very personal opinion, and many people will find the book as a whole very helpful. Overall Quiet is a great read about introverted personalities, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the topic.

Where will I work with an English Degree?

After years of wanting to study a masters, I finally started this September. The title of the study program is “Art, Literature and Society” and it falls under the Humanities/Social Sciences/Liberal Arts area. My bachelor’s was in English Literature so this is right up my alley with a big bonus of making it more “real world oriented.” I have the option of doing a regular research thesis or a combination internship-internship thesis to culminate everything I learned throughout the year. I originally wanted just a thesis because I am all about researching and writing in my PJ’s (thank you world wide web and online databases), but the idea of getting work experience here in the Netherlands has made me consider the internship.

As I look through internship possibilities and wonder about what I would like to focus on for the thesis, I keep questioning the practicality of my bachelors and masters degree. Eleven years ago when I started my bachelors, I knew very well that I was destined for a life of small poorly paid job opportunities that would make me incredibly happy. I still have that same mentality, but my accountant/finance/business boyfriend has made me reconsider. Am I really destined for a meager salary? What is the importance of what I am studying and what can I, with all my studies and work experience (translator, writer, teacher) offer?

I still haven’t figured this out on a personal level, but I just read an article that gave me hope that I do have marketable, practical and necessary skills for the work field. “Two Reasons You’re An Idiot If You Don’t Hire Humanities Majors” explains, in a very funny way, the skills humanities majors have to offer the business world. I don’t think the skills of all humanities/social sciences/liberal arts majors are limited to just the ones Peter Weinberg mentions, but it is a start!

The Scars We Carry

We carry scars from what we’ve lived, where we’ve been and what we’ve done. These scars tell our stories, for it isn’t one story that makes up our lives, but a combination of stories.

We have stories of playgrounds and friendships, and scars that go along with those stories. We’ve bumped and bruised our knees, our arms, our faces, our hearts and our souls. We have stories of teenage hardships and heartbreak, scars of anticipation turned into disappointment, of hopes and dreams turned into nightmares. We have stories of family arguments and problems, stories of tears and sadness. With those stories come the scars with the pain and the itch, the burning and irritation.

But we don’t only carry scars. We carry band aids and disinfectant and mommy’s kisses that make everything better. We carry band aids of understanding, of listening, and of nurturing. We carry band aids that smell like grandmother’s cooking, that sound like the laughter of mom, that feel like our sisters, and taste like the kisses of those we love.

We carry the scars and the band aids, we carry the hurt and the healing, we carry the tears and the laughter. We carry it all, all in our hearts.

“But the thing about remembering is that you don’t forget.”
-Time O’Brien, The Things They Carried