Flash Reviews [Book]: Sel Takes on the Classics! Part 1

Life Updates: the odds and ends of this at times extraordinary, at times off-kilter month of October

Happy Halloween, dear friends! 🎃✨ I can’t believe October is coming to an end — this month I sat for my first college midterm (Anthropology), submitted my first graded college paper (on Oedipus Rex), had my story workshopped for the first time in my life, met two of my literary idols in class (poet Susan Howe & Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist cum novelist Lorraine Adams!), went on a historical tour of Boston led by superstar history professor Jill Lepore (❤️), finally shopped to my heart’s content at Newbury Street (shopping is cathartic), experienced Freshman Family Weekend without my parents by my side… It seems strange to boil down a month to a couple of sentences, but I’ve tried. It is in monumentally busy periods that time has the swiftest wings — I have barely settled into my skin as a college freshman and now, I am almost at the end of an eighth of this whole college journey. 43 more days and I’ll be on a plane back to Singapore! It seems like only last week when I penned I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane on the eve of my departure; soon I’ll be Returning on a Jet Plane. Wow.

I’ve been reading a lot for class. There’s a category of books that I’ve been pretty unfamiliar with before coming to Harvard. So I’m dedicating my first series of flash reviews to them: the classics. Oh, Dawn with her rose-red fingers! (I finally cracked a Homer joke.)

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My dorm room bookshelf 🙂 2.5 months into college & the top shelf is already filled!

The Odyssey, by Homer

So very very long, it’s like swimming across the Aegean Sea, and yet — this epic is reminiscent of a lyrical Percy Jackson installment. It has a ginormous cast of who’s who in Greek mythology, with everyone from Helen to gods who run amok to man-eating cyclops making an appearance. Odysseus, our hero, is Robin Hood and Don Quixote wrapped up all in one muscled bundle. He’s worldly and wily, manipulative and charming (even goddess Athena isn’t immune), but he is also incredibly fallible. His embracing of mortality and yearning for Ithaca is what makes this homecoming tale thrum with humanity. At last, when the covers close, this vanishing world of supernatural happenings and mythical beginnings leaves behind a strange ache in us; we ache for what is recognizably tender in the tragedies, for the hero’s resilience, for our own sea-borne adventure, and for the kind of greatness Odysseus has that defies oblivion and reverberates through the centuries.

Readability: 🌓 🌔 🌕 🌖 🌗

Symposium, by Plato

Just from this book’s title, it seems like it very well could be about old wise philosophers who are embroiled in polemics on matters of pressing concern, maybe in a merry circle around the Pnyx. That’s somewhat accurate. Symposium in the ancient Greek sense of the word means a drinking party, not a fancy forum. The men in attendance (alas, no female perspective) devote themselves to the grand task of giving speeches, hurrah. Is it about a meaningful life? About beauty? About wisdom? Sort of. It’s about love, which ties all these loose threads together. The traditional Greek erotic relationship in question is one that is odd and objectionable even by today’s standards — a homosexual love between an older, educated man (the lover) and a younger, uninitiated boy (the beloved). Pause here and play this (MY REACTION WHEN I WAS READING). Even though it all seems strange and convoluted, read for interesting soul mate arguments, fantastical origin stories, distortions of love into philosophy, and glimpses of Socrates through Plato’s eyes.

Readability:  🌓 🌔 🌕

Fragments of Sappho, by Sappho

Sappho is basically the Taylor Swift of the ancient Greeks. You’ve got to give her credit for making angsty, raw love poems — brimming over with desire, physical agony, irrationality — trendy. Her poems survive in fragments, with empty spaces galore; for me, their incompleteness allows me to write my own experience (not that I’ve any, but) and opens up a huge abyss of love that accommodates various luminous possibilities. Personally, these fragments are way more powerful in expressing love than Symposium. Torn, burnt, lost, Sappho’s fragments have survived and continue to move us, just like how we — though “burned”, “shook”, or “broken” by love we may be — let out a soft sigh and succumb to the drumming of our hearts. Padam Padam.

Readability:  🌓 🌔 🌕 🌖

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What do you think? If you had to pick one book from the classics, which would be your favorite?

Part 2 will be coming soon 🙂

Lots of love,

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Review [Drama]: Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo — the clumsy fairy & the loyal fox

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Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo (역도요정 김복주) | 16 episodes | South Korean | 2016-2017

So adorable. The cutest show and couple I’ve seen in a long long time — the feeling of spring, sunlight, unpretentious youthfulness, and a pinch of stardust sprinkled in the air that seems to make every move and line uttered by each actor pulse with genuine emotion and earnest ambition. This college campus drama, revolving around athletes on various trajectories towards their dreams (be it weightlifting, swimming or gymnastics), is at its core about the many types of love that make our hearts full.

There’s the familial love between ace weightlifter Bok Joo (portrayed by an endearing Lee Sung Kyung, in a major deviation from her past mean girl roles) and her chicken store-owner dad and sidekick uncle (who has an unexpected love-line of his own); the friendship and sisterhood between the ‘swag’ trio that brims with support and hilarious moments (“혹시 메시 좋아하세요?” Do you like Messi?); the awkward, all-out first crush that Bok Joo has which resonates in all its cringe-worthiness; the passion for a sport that may enter into a slump, be distorted by endless competition, be stifled by trauma or insecurity, but still shines unflinchingly in its requisite amount of dedication, sweat, tears and self-belief; and, of course, the cracklicious friends-turn-lovers romance between Bok Joo and under-performing swimmer Joon Hyung (this role is Nam Joo Hyuk at his meltiest — I hail the drama gods that made this happen) which is tender, brilliant and about staying true to who you are.

Girls, if you ever find a guy who gazes at you like Joon Hyung, trust me, he is a keeper.

I was also unexpectedly invested in Shi Ho‘s storyline (a raw, nuanced portrayal by Kyung Soo Jin) — one of a girl who got pushed into a sport when she had no choice as a child, found it colonizing her life until the point when her years of training bankrupted and pulled apart her family due to spiralling costs and she had to come face to face with her dwindling talent. When it all culminated in that final performance of her career, she had to reconcile the warped person she had become by holding on at all costs (sleeping pills, bulimic tendencies, and consuming jealousies), with the fact that turning her back on all that she had known might just give her a taste of happiness.

While I had wondered about the incredibly natural chemistry between our two leads in the show, I guess the dramaverse has a wonderful intuition because Lee Sung Kyung and Nam Joo Hyuk are now dating in real life (squeals). So though this adorable, radiant drama might not have gotten its worth of ratings, it is a true gift in matchmaking.

❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

Favorite Quote

“We’re not afraid because we have nothing to lose, and our hearts flutter because we can have anything.” (Bok Joo in Ep. 16)

Favorite Scene (SPOILER ALERT) 

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When the weightlifting team goes on strike to get their coach back in the winter, Joon Hyung sees Bok Joo trying to warm her feet on the steps at night and just crouches down in front of her, takes out heating pads for her feet, warms them and puts them back in her shoes. Then, he says: “Don’t overstrain yourself. Please.”

So much warmth and trust in that simple moment on a cold winter night.

Favorite MVs

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Watch Weightlifting Fairy on DramaFever or Viu (Singapore).