Review and Redesign | The Left Hand of Darkness

Book: The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin (1969)

(this review contains mild spoilers, but nothing that will ruin the book for you if you haven’t read it)

The Book Review

What we all know: it’s a classic of speculative sci-fi literature. It’s slow-paced and hard to get into it, most people don’t until a second or third reading. There’s not much that haven’t been said, this book has been around for quite a while and it’s a classic for good reasons, what else can I add? I can add that upon picking this book up, at my dad’s insistence that I read something, anything, by Le Guin, I also didn’t get into it. But I didn’t put it down and give up, I just took a few breaks to read other things (which I normally do anyway). I came into it without knowing anything about it except that it was a classic. I didn’t know when it was written, what it was about, or even what the premise was. And to be completely frank, I didn’t understand any of those things either by the time I finished it. I didn’t love or hate the book, I thought it was slow-paced, yes, but not in a bad way. The story was introspective and beautifully written, I highlighted so many quotes from it because I truly loved how Le Guin wrote. But I still had no idea what the heck I was reading. So when I was done, I looked for other reviews and found out, and then suddenly the book became clearer.

Maybe it would have helped if I had read this as part of a class or book club and had people to discuss it with, I think I’d have gotten more out of the read. But I read a review on goodreads where someone explained the premise: what happens when you strip people from gender labels and just get to the thing we all have in common: that we are humans. The story is told from the point of view of a male character, an “alien” in the planet of Winter, trying to convince the leaders of Winter to join a galaxy community and trade knowledge. But Mr. Ai, the alien, is full of biases, and has some issues understanding and connecting with the people of Winter, which are neither male nor female, and he just can’t wrap his head around it. The real hero of this story is Therem (or Estraven), who believes in Mr. Ai’s mission even more than he does, and goes to extraordinary lengths to help Ai.

Favorite Passages

I usually only select one stand out quote to share, but this book had too many good soundbites. The following are just a few of my favorites.

From the intro of this edition:

“Is it any wonder that no truly respectable society has ever trusted its artists?”

“In reading a novel, any novel, we have to know perfectly well that the whole thing is nonsense, and then, while reading, believe every word of it. Finally, when we’re done with it, we may find—if it’s a good novel—that we’re a bit different from what we were before we read it, that we have been changed a little.”

From the book:

“I’m not sure. I’m exceedingly ignorant—” The young man laughed and bowed. “I am honored!” he said. “I’ve lived here three years, but haven’t yet acquired enough ignorance to be worth mentioning.”

“The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.”

“The man was like an electric shock—nothing to hold on to and you don’t know what hit you.”

“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

“And I wondered, not for the first time, what patriotism is, what the love of country truly consists of, how that yearning loyalty that had shaken my friend’s voice arises, and how so real a love can become, too often, so foolish and vile a bigotry. Where does it go wrong?”

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The Cover Redesign

Photo by Christian Grab on Unsplash

I read this book on the kindle, and the cover is a very 90s affair. It’s perfectly suited, but I wanted with my version to modernize it a bit. I kept a lot of the same elements: wintery photography, typography heavy, more weight on Le Guin’s name than book’s title.

Towards the end section of the book, the central character Ai comes to a revelation about his friend Therem and the people of Winter. He sees in them a duality, in which they are all things

“It's found on Earth, and on Hain-Davenant, and on Chiffewar. It is yin and yang. Light is the left hand of darkness... how did it go? Light, dark. Fear, courage. Cold, warmth. Female, male. It is yourself, Therem. Both and one. A shadow on snow.”

I liked the visual of this quote, and that’s what I wanted this cover to look like, yin and yang, light and darkness. I found this beautiful image on Unsplash (it’s linked above) and thought it would work perfectly for this. Then I kept the rest simple with minimal typography work.

Review and Redesign | She Went All the Way

Book: She Went All the Way, by Meggin Cabot (2002)

(this review contains very mild spoilers, but nothing that will ruin the read)

The Book Review

It is February, and I just finished two books I had a really hard time getting into, so I took a break from my always-increasing to-be-read pile to reach for an old favorite: Meg Cabot’s She Went All the Way. Before Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot had written a series of historical romance novels under the pseudonym Patricia Cabot, but then in the very early 2000s she started to write contemporary romance under her real name. What followed was a very long career now almost exclusively writing contemporary young adult (YA), middle grade, and adult romance. I’ll admit I haven’t picked up one of her novels in a while, but I’ve always admired the way she tells a story. It’s like her brain works like my brain. If you ever have a conversation with me—or even read this blog regularly—you will see the similarities. Of course, she makes it an art form, while with me it probably just comes out as babbling.

But I digress.

She Went All the Way is a classic romance novel: the two main characters hate each other, until they find out they love each other. The heroine, screenwriter Lou Calabrese, gets accidentally embroiled in a plot to kill a movie star, Jack Townsend, and the two spend most of the book being chased in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness in the winter. So this story has a lot of my favorite themes: a Pride and Prejudice type of romance (even though JT is no Mr. Darcy), a lot of movie references, and a survival element. I love a good story (fiction or not) where the characters need to fight for their survival. But do take She Went All the Way with a grain of salt, because there’s no way those people would have lasted as long as they did on the conditions described. But this is a romance novel, and frostbite would take a little romance out of it.

The characters have good chemistry, the plot develops fast and intensely, the side characters are the comic relief and adorable, and the writing is funny. But the best of this novel (and most of Cabot’s novels) is that the heroine kicks ass and the hero is a genuinely nice guy. A womanizer, yes, but still a nice guy. One of my biggest pet peeves with romance novels is that the male heroes tend to always be rude and mean towards the heroines, but they still see through it and fall in love… bleh. I want to read about the strong and independent women falling for the nice guys. And that’s where Meg Cabot delivers.

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The Cover Redesign

I actually had no intention of redesigning this cover, but… the husband saw me reading it and said “Is this about a dog show?” And it’s not. I mean, there is a dog in it, but he is not really a main character… And it always struck me as odd the dog on the cover, but I never really thought much of it. But after his comment, I decided to come up with a new cover for it.

The redesign rules: must take me less than a hour, it’s not meant to be a finalized cover, but a polished first draft, something I’d share with an author for feedback.

I loved the cover for After She’s Gone designed by Heike Schüssler (author Camilla Grebe), and my first instinct was to just recreate it because it is a perfect fit. But maybe not super romance novel? Also, I didn’t have a wonderful drone shot of a winter forest to work with. So I went with option two from my head, a very simple, vector-like, illustration of a couple embracing in a snowy mountain. It’s a look I’ve been seeing a lot in contemporary romance novels now, and it felt like a good fit. I restrained from adding textures and too much detail, because I wanted it to be very simple. I think that if I was to take this cover to the next leve, I’d re-draw it on Illustrator to get smoother lines, and add more shadowing and details to the couple. I’d maybe play with the color scheme a little more too.

And that’s it! Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the cover I own and my redesign:

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Review and Redesign | Light a Penny Candle

Book: Light a Penny Candle, by Maeve Binchy

(Review contain spoilers)

The Book Review

I told a friend that reading this book felt like watching Benjamin Button: it was like I was reading the story backwards, a happy beginning and a crescendo of unhappiness until it ends and leaves you feeling unresolved and unsatisfied. My friend suggested that I rewrite the ending in my head, and I did. (Skip rest of this sentence to avoid the ending spoiler) To me, the story ended with Aisling, Elizabeth, and Eileen moving to Aisling’s cottage in Kilgarett, to take over Sean O’Connor’s business and raise Eileen. In my head-ending, they also adopted lots of stray cats and lost Johnny Stone’s number.

I did love this book, though, Maeve Binchy did such a brilliant job telling the story of Aisling and Elizabeth, and I really felt part of their lives. In a way, it was very similar to reading the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. It was a similar time period and a lot of the story is told through letters. It’s interesting how characters come alive and become real through letters. Diaries rarely work as well as this. It was still frustrating at times to read the story, because of all that happens to Aisling and Elizabeth. Maeve Binchy spends time at the beginning making you get to know and care about those girls like they were your friends, and that makes it all the harder to see all they go through in their life.

I gave it a 4 out of 5 stars. I liked it, and if you like historical fiction, and books set in the UK, or books set in the 40s-60s, you may enjoy this as much as I did.

The Quote

...but mainly, she felt he brought a lot of it on himself. Not his deafness, not his veins, but his rejections and his disappointment. He went out halfway to invite it.
— Maeve Binchy, "Light a Penny Candle"

The Cover Redesign

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I’ve been really loving some more simple illustration I’ve been seeing on redesigned covers of classic novels. Although this is not exactly grand literature, I felt like that style of illustration would be perfect for the time period of this story. It’s similar to what I did on my redesign of Guernsey, and I really like this type of simple drawings. I also wanted the girls worlds to be flipped, with their hands extending to meet in the middle. It sort of looks more like they are waving at each other, now that I look at it, but…

Aisling’s bright red hair is my favorite thing about this. I loved the section of the book that talked about them as young girls, and that’s what I wanted to show here with this cover redesign. It might give the wrong impression that this is a happy story, but to be fair, I thought it was with the original cover too. I don’t know why, and it’s not that I am disappointed that it didn’t have a happy ending… But my drawing is sort of a nod to the ending that could have been.

Review and Redesign | Attachments

Book: Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell

The Book Review

I think Rainbow Rowell is great, and I’ve loved every book of hers I read. BUT (there is always a “but” isn’t there?), Attachments has two issues…

  1. The obvious issue with this book is that it is about someone reading other person’s emails, falling in love with that person, and then continuing to read emails. I mean, I do still remember 1999 vividly, and I know internet was still at its infancy, but it’s hard to read this book today and not cringe a bit. Hard not to think of Lincoln as a bit of a creep. And it’'s funny that the author often acknowledges in the writing that what Lincoln is doing is wrong, but it still feels like his redemption happened too quickly. Which leads me to point 2:

  2. The ending felt a bit too quick and happily ever after—I think I needed a few more pages to believe it was real. Curiously, as I was re-reading this book, Rainbow Rowell posted to her Twitter account about how much she does not like writing endings. “I don't like writing the ends of books, and I avoid it as long as I can every single time. With Attachments, I started a whole new second plot and worked on that for a year, rather than wrap things up.” I get it, I am not a writer, but writing conclusions for school papers were always the hardest part for me.

But even though this book had those, Attachments is still full of wonderful moments.

  1. Beth and Jennifer’s friendship is beautiful. I want to be friends with them.

  2. The 90s references warmed my 90s teenage girl heart.

  3. The good old days of internet. Y2k. I guess you just had to have been there.

  4. Rainbow Rowell is an amazing storyteller and if this book is the worst of them all, it’s still a pretty damn good and funny read.

The Quote

The worst thing about the internet, as far as Greg’s bosses were concerned, was that it was now impossible to distinguish a roomful of people working diligently from a roomful of people taking the What-Kind-of-Dog-Am-I? online personality quiz
— Rainbow Rowell, "Attachments"

The Cover Redesign

DISCLAIMER: This cover redesign might need a disclaimer if this is the first thing you’ve come across here: the point of this exercise is for me to have fun, and re-design a book cover in 2 hours or less. In the case of this book, Attachments, I am in no way suggesting that this would be a good cover for this book, but I wanted to explore a different style.

Okay, now that we got that out of the way, here’s why I redesigned Attachments like this.

  1. It's a joke.

  2. Thrillers with unreliable narrators are big right now, everyone wants to read/write the next “Girl on the Train” and/or “Gone Girl.” Considering this story has a major creep factor on the character of Lincoln—who is reading other girls emails and falling in love with them, and lightly stalking them—I thought it would be fun to play up that aspect, and turned this book into a thriller instead of chick-lit.

  3. It’s set in 1999, computers and technology play a major part, and we have the Y2K scare that the world would end thrown in the mix, I wanted to give this cover a post-apocalyptic vibe as well. As if the computers were all shutting off the moment the year ended. And Lincoln has read your emails. Run, girl.

Review and Redesign | Juliet, Naked

Book: Juliet Naked
Goodreads | Book Depository

The Book Review

In hindsight, maybe I shouldn't have read two Nick Hornby books in a row. I picked up Juliet, Naked at the tail end of reading Fever Pitch, and it was a bit trippy. Juliet, Naked is basically a novel about Nick (I call him Nick, just... deal with it), and all of its three main characters reminded me of the man I had just read about in his memoir (yes, we all know that all his books are basically about himself). Duncan, the obsessive fan; Tucker, the artist questioning why everyone likes the art he created but hates; and Annie, who just wasted 15 years of her life and now desperately needs something new. So yes, it took me a while to get into it and relate to it. It's just that at first glance, Juliet, Naked is sort of meta, isn't it? I got a little sick of hearing Nick waxing poetic about the weirdest shit, like “For the best part of 40 years she had genuinely believed that not doing things would somehow prevent regret, when, of course, the exact opposite was true” and “The truth about life was that nothing ever ended until you died, and even then you just left a whole bunch of unresolved narratives behind you.” It felt a bit shallow and like Nick was just hoping he'd be quoted on Instagram. 

Things finally got good and less "quotable" when Annie finally meets Tucker. From that part on, I started to actually care about what was happening to those characters. The romance element of this story was incredibly naive (maybe Nick has been writing too many movies and lost his touch?), but the friendship between Annie and Tucker felt real, and I enjoyed reading and waiting to see what happened. 

Overall, I did like Juliet, Naked, but necessarily because of the plot itself, but because it was just a flowery and complicated essay on art. What it means to people who experience it and to the people who create it. I found myself often thinking of my musical idol, Noel Gallagher from Oasis, and how growing up the songs he wrote meant something to me that years later I found meant something completely different to him. 

(I don't know how I always end up talking about Oasis when I talk about Nick Hornby). 

The Quote (I almost didn't want to do one this time...)

You are telling me that art is made up? My God.
— Nick Hornby, "Juliet, Naked"

The Cover Redesign

I had two things in mind for this redesign: the first one was that I wanted it to match the template I started with Fever Pitch, with the solid black background and the minimal look; and the second one was that I wanted it to be about art. I liked the idea of this conversation we were reading in which, yes, in very basic concepts, we explore the idea of creation and authorship. So I didn't want it to be about music, but about visual art. And I wanted it to be quite literal, with the classic Aphrodite statue, naked. I don't know if it is because art (sometimes) makes you feel "naked" in a way, raw and exposed. And then I added some fun shapes on the back, because I can't take anything too seriously, it's just not me. And in true Nick Hornby fashion, this is all about me. 

Oh, it was a complicated business, loving art. It involved a lot more ill will than one might have suspected.
— Nick Hornby, "Juliet, Naked"