Books of February 2018

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling

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This is my least favorite book in the series, because

  • The characters are a lot less fun. Malfoy is not only a bad person but also a fairly boring villain, Snape is still slimy (and now you know he's a traitor), Ron and Lavender Brown is yuck, Harry obsessing over Ginny is weird (especially the monster metaphor), Ron and Hermione arguing the entire book is annoying, Fred and George are gone... everyone in general is a lot more subdued because of Lord Voldemort and generally less fun.
  • The plot of the story- Dumbledore dies :-((((((((((((((
  • Once again Dumbledore doesn't tell Harry what's going on and Harry makes all these crazy assumptions and does dangerous stuff. You would think Dumbledore would learn, and more importantly, you would think Harry would realize after 5 years Dumbledore is probably not an idiot and knows more than he does, but nope.

My least favorite book in the series is still a pretty good book though, which says a lot about what I think about Harry Potter ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Slughorn is also a cool character. 

How to Rap: The Art and Science of the Hip-Hop MC - Paul Edwards 

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If you're interested in the various aspects of being a good rapper, compiled by interviewing tons of rappers, then read How to Rap

In How to Rap Paul Edwards breaks down the different areas of rap, covering stuff like rhymes, themes, rhyme schemes, rhythm, recording, style, performing, etc. Some of it was interesting and educational, like rhyme schemes and different types of rhythms, but some of it was simple to the point of being useless (like explaining what alliteration is), and some of it was just not very relevant or interesting to me (like how to record music or how to perform).

I also really disliked the format. The overall structure was OK and pretty straightforward, but every chapter is formatted the same way: <very simple statement or explanation from the author> + <bunch of very broad, not very in depth reiterations of the idea from famous rappers> which was boring and also made simple things unnecessarily long.

Doki Doki Literature Club - Dan Salvato

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If you're interested in an insane experience with a psychological horror visual novel that breaks the fourth wall in incredibly clever and innovative ways, then read (play?) Doki Doki Literature Club

Not knowing what the game is about is a pretty integral part of the experience so I thought a lot about trying to write a review without ruining it, but I think it's more important to give fair warning. The game has a disclaimer in the beginning: "This game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed," but the disclaimer is wildly inadequate. DDLC does not just deal with heavy topics- it is a horror game and the trigger warning is absolutely serious. You should not play DDLC if you are affected by or are likely to be triggered by depression, anxiety, self harm, suicide, or abuse.

That being said, DDLC is a phenomenal piece of work. It starts as an innocuous dating sim, starring you as an unmotivated high school boy who gets dragged to join an after school literature club by your childhood friend. The four members of the literature club are all cute girls who seem to be into you, and for the first few meetings you write poetry at home and share poetry with the other club members. About an hour into the game, there's an insane twist that completely changes the game, and DDLC descends from cute dating sim to abject psychological horror. That experience is really crazy and nothing else I've read or watched really compares.

======================== It's hard to talk about the rest of the game without spoilers, so everything below has potential to be a spoiler ========================

The most obviously admirable part of DDLC is how well thought out the game is, which takes shape in a lot of different ways. I generally dislike works that break the fourth wall and directly address itself or the reader, but DDLC does it in such a clever, creative, and purposeful way. Characters that talk to you, dialogue options that change or disappear, portions of the game repeating or resetting, and interactions with literal game files all reinforce DDLC as a game, and in the latter half you are painfully aware that you are just playing a game despite the game feeling so uncomfortably real. I think this dissonance is a very big part of why DDLC is so scary- the line between the game and you blurs because DDLC constantly reminds you that it is a game while it is actively interacting with you and bringing you into its world.

The game is also very detailed. It is obvious that a lot of effort that went into DDLC: there's a ton of dialogue, a bunch of art, and even custom music that the guy wrote and made (the music is so good). There are also a lot of random easter eggs (the DDLC wiki has a very comprehensive list) and a lot of small details that together make the game so tremendously impressive. --heavy spoilers-- For example, one of the main characters Monika says she is late to a meeting because she was learning piano in study hall, and for the rest of the game, when weird or ominous stuff starts to happen, you hear the same music as before but with slightly off key piano music. When you meet Yuri out of school, she wears a long turtleneck and mentions her obsession with knives, a hint that Yuri cuts herself. Dialogue in your first play through before the game repeats seems very normal and innocent, but on the 2nd and 3rd run (after the game changes) takes on wholly different meanings. The tagline of the game is "will you write the way into her heart?", not their hearts. Monika has an active Twitter account that she reveals sometime in her 20 minute+ monologue. --end spoilers--

What I also really liked about DDLC after I thought more about the game and got over the scary parts was how the game engages with its heavier topics. Depression and mental illnesses are not treated lightheartedly or used as props or gags; instead they are given serious and honest portrayals.

The game is very haunting and I would never play it again, but if you feel like you are able to, I highly recommend the game. It is an incredible experience. 

P.S. if you were wondering I didn't try to play a dating sim on a Friday night, my friend Ben played the game before and recommended it to me

P.P.S I find it hilarious my friend Steve played it on a plane ride from NY to Taiwan

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K Rowling

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is one of my favorite Harry Potter books, and it rounds out the series so well. I remember coming back from Harry Potter themed camp right when the book was released and being extremely hyped to read it (those who know me will know this is especially significant because I only have something like 4 memories before 7th grade, and one of them is being excited about reading Harry Potter 7 after a week of camp).

This is the most unique book in the series because past HP books were all roughly structured by the school year, but this time there is no school year, because the book is centered on Harry, Ron, and Hermione trying to find and kill horcruxes and defeat Lord Voldemort. The story is really enjoyable and interesting, and also neatly ties up a lot of big questions and nicely resolves the series. There are a lot of very cool parts of HP 7: breaking into the ministry, escaping from Malfoy Manor, breaking into Gringotts, Ron destroying the locket, the final battle at Hogwarts... every part of the story was fun to read and built on the hype of the last 6 books in the series. More than just excitement though, plot points like Ron leaving and then coming back, Harry defending McGonagall, Tonks and Lupin having a son, Dobby sacrificing himself, and Snape's real motivations and background story were all very touching and heartwarming and quintessentially HP.

I also thought the ending was very good in both content and intent. It very satisfyingly follows through on the good triumphs over evil story that's been built up over 6 years, is engaging, remains consistent in themes, and best of all, address the biggest annoyance for me in all of HP. In the end of Book 7, when Harry and Dumbledore meet on King's Cross, we find out that this time Dumbledore intentionally doesn't tell Harry all the details because of his past experiences with the Hallows, and wanted Harry to not rush into searching for the Hallows to dominate death but rather truly understanding his sacrifice and embracing death. 

J.K. Rowling has continued to hammer ideas of loyalty and love and friendship over the past 6 books, and all of those shine beautifully in Book 7. All in all it is a wonderful end to the series, and reading about Harry and his family and Ron and Hermione on Platform 9 3/4 19 years later... man... :')

Oblivion - David Foster Wallace


I like short story collections because in these stories authors explore and flesh out many focused variations of their project, so since I am an unabashed DFW fanboy I obviously also love Oblivion.

None of DFW's fiction is particularly positive, which is kind of sombering because DFW wanted to write fiction about what it is to be human, but Oblivion is especially depressing because it is focused on the bleakest aspects of being human. The stories are about wanting/needing to be remembered despite our inevitable insignificance and oblivion, about the painful feeling of objectively knowing you are small despite subjectively feeling like you are big and important, about feeling like a fraud and never being able to communicate who you are to other people, and about the soul rotting boredom and gut dread that make up the lives of so many Americans.

This was a really short review but I have a half finished review of 3 short stories from Oblivion that I'm still working on. It's hard to write about DFW :-(. 

The Comedy of Errors - Shakespeare

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If you're interested in a Shakespearean comedy masking a tragedy about identity, family, and community then read The Comedy of Errors

In The Comedy of Errors, Egeon and Emilia get separated by a storm, and their two twins (both Antipholus) and two serfs (also twins, both Dromio) get separated, one with the father and one with the mother. Several years later, Antipholus of Syracuse come to Ephesus to search for his brother, accompanied by Dromio of Syracuse. A series of misunderstandings and mistakes and confusion happens, where there are a lot of amusing mix-ups between the two Antipholuses and the two Dromios, eventually ending up in the family reuniting. 

The Comedy of Errors is the first Shakespeare play I read that made me understand how malleable and open to interpretation Shakespeare's works are, and how important it is that he wrote plays to be performed and not novels to be read. In Titus Andronicus, small differences make big changes in the play, but nothing that completely flips the interpretation of the play. What struck me the most about The Comedy of Errors was when I first read it I thought it was just a cute and funny comedy, but in class when we discussed it we learned that under its comedic surface there is a very dark tragedy, and with certain readings and interpretations, the play could take on a whole different meaning. It was the first play that made me realize the multiplicity of Shakespeare and see Shakespearean comedies as thinly veiled tragedies divided by a very blurred and fragile line. Something always has to bend to make comedies and not tragedies, and it is the seething anxiety about identity and marriage underlying The Comedy of Errors that makes it such an interesting play.

Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation - Jeff Chang

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If you are interested in the cultural and social context of hip hop from its birth in the 1970s to the 1990s then read Can't Stop Won't Stop

Can't Stop Won't Stop chronicles the early hip hop scene from its roots in the 1970s to its widespread popularity in the 1990s, placing hip hop in context of the times and discussing it as a cultural, political, and societal force. It starts in Jamaica and begins in the US in the Bronx with DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation, Sugarhill Gang and Rapper's Delight, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, continuing to hip hop's new sound Run-DMC and Sucker MCs, to political hip hop groups like Public Enemy in the East Coast and gangsta rap in the West Coast with Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. Along the way, Chang gets into a wide variety of different topics, including radio, legislation, gangs, graffiti, break dancing, police brutality, government intervention, racial tension, and gangs. 

Reading Can't Stop Won't Stop was a very new experience for me because I thought pretty hard about quitting after the first few chapters but ended up putting it in my cream shelf after I finished because it changed the way I understood hip hop. Hip hop today is the most popular genre of music in the US, but it started in the Bronx as nothing, a very underground and niche genre of party music. In tracing hip hop's initial 30 years of growth, Jeff Chang establishes the context in which hip hop was created and spread, explaining the anxiety and fears and anger from violence and oppression that birthed and inspired hip hop. 

In many ways it is a very infuriating book, especially the chapters about Public Enemy, N.W.A., and gangs in the 90s (Chang does a very good job defending and explaining gangsta rap in the West Coast). Very heavy structural racism deprived minorities of opportunities to work, make money, find housing, support their families, or even just to walk outside without fear of the police, and things like the policy of containment and police brutality resulted in a lot of boiling existential fear and anger. It was out of that seething anxiety and helplessness that songs like Straight Out of Compton, Fuck Da Police or Fight the Power were created, and the same feeling that drives songs like Alright or King Kunta today. It is incredibly important to have that context to understand these songs and not just think of them as just cool sounding angry black music, but rather as genuine responses to desperate circumstances. 

One of the big areas where I feel the book is lacking is the rap music itself. It's titled The Hip Hop Generation but discusses hip hop mainly in terms of political impact and social context, missing out on a lot of actual discussion of the music (for example, he talks a lot about Public Enemy and only mentions a couple of their songs in passing). I've read similar criticism in other reviews and I think it's a fair point, but as Jeff Chang says, his work is not the definitive work and it definitely helps contextualize and understand hip hop. 

I also didn't find the chapters on Jamaica and the Bronx that interesting, although that's more to do with what I personally like to read about, so YMMV, and regardless, if you're remotely interested in hip hop, I definitely recommend reading Can't Stop Won't Stop to understand why hip hop is so important and how it is both an influence on and a reflection of America in very deep and resonant ways. I also found it a very good complement to The Rap Year Book because it focuses a lot on the music, whereas Can't Stop Won't Stop emphasizes the societal and cultural impact of rap.

Fullmetal Alchemist - Hiromu Arakawa


If you're interested in the goat shounen then read Fullmetal Alchemist.

Fullmetal Alchemist is about two brothers, Ed and Al, who are on a quest to restore their bodies after they performed human transmutation to bring back their dead mother. Because of the law of equivalent exchange in alchemy (to obtain, something of equal value must be lost) and because there is nothing as valuable as the human soul, Ed loses his left leg and Al his entire body to their failed transmutation, and Ed sacrifices his right arm to bind his brother's soul to a suit of armor. 

FMA is the best shounen I've ever read, and comfortably sits at least top 3 in my favorite manga of all time. It is an incredible work, fantastic on many levels, and not only hits but smashes basically every dimension you can think of to evaluate a shounen.

The combat panels are very easy to follow, and have very clean lines. Characters generally look pretty good and are fairly proportional and consistent, and I especially like how Arakawa does eyes. The character design is also very good; even in a manga with a lot of characters it's generally very easy to tell different characters apart (especially the important ones). The art is nothing phenomenal like Berserk or OPM but generally pretty good.

The characters are arguable the best part of the manga. There's a crazy good cast of characters in FMA, many of them sympathetic and diverse and complex and well-developed. They all have different motivations and backgrounds and very distinctive strengths and weaknesses and character traits, like Riza being loyal, Mustang ambitious, Ed hot headed but good hearted, Ling ambitious and dutiful, etc. I think because Arakawa does such a good job with character exposition there are so many characters to like in FMA that really make the manga a lot of fun to read.

The villains are also pretty interesting and very multi-dimensional, which is a beautiful thing for shounen manga where most villains are power hungry uncreative edgelords. Each of the homunculi (the major antagonists) in FMA are a different sin, and each of them have very different personalities driven by the sin they represent. I especially like how --spoilers-- Envy's real body is a tiny bug, and he chooses to commit suicide after Ed pities him, and Pride gets killed by Kimblee when he tries to take over Ed's body. Scar especially is a very cool antihero and I really like how he symbolically defeats Wrath and becomes an Ishvalan high priest. --end spoilers--

There are just so many characters that you can understand and relate to and really root for. The only mangaka I can think of that's capable of doing this is Urasawa, and that is insanely high praise. 

It's a funny manga, there are lots of gag panels and recurring character jokes (mostly centered on Armstrong and Ed). I also really like when she caricatures her characters:


Combat concept:
This is another really important part of shounen which really makes or breaks a lot of manga. The concept of alchemy is cool, and the different types of alchemists are cool, but more importantly, the system of alchemy itself makes a lot of sense. It's cohesive and doesn't suddenly change, there are no random asspulls or deus ex machinas (Bleach, 7DS, Naruto, Fairy Tail are all egregious offenders) which is very important for immersion and allows for suspension of disbelief. 

There are a lot of very emotional moments in the manga!! These include some of the very sad moments like Nina Tucker and her dog Alexander transmuted into a chimera and Hughes getting killed, some heartwarming moments like Marcoh returning to Ishval as a doctor or Doctor Knox having coffee with his family, some bittersweet moments like Captain Buccaneer and Fu fighting Wrath, some very satisfying moments like the butcher and Major Armstrong defeating Sloth, and some very happy and proud moments like when Scar becomes an Ishvalan priest and when Ed and Al both get their bodies back. In general only very good authors and books can make you feel emotions very strongly, and FMA pulls your heartstrings in a million ways.

The overall story is also very good! It's cohesive and well structured overall, a large part of which is probably due to its length. FMAis about 108 chapters long which is pretty short (although each chapter is 45 pages, so about 200ish for a traditional manga) and it's clear that the ending was already planned from the inception of the manga. Each arc leds to the next very smoothly and in a very natural way, and the story as a whole is tied well together. That's also a big issue with some mangas where some arcs just seem pointless or completely unexpected, and it hurts the cohesiveness of the story as a whole. 

The ending is also insanely good. I completely did not expect the ending but I found it very satisfying and thought it was the perfect ending to the story to accompany and really bring home the theme. 

Speaking of the theme, I really like FMA's approach to engaging the dangers of hubris and blindly seeking truth. FMA is fundamentally about arrogance and the abuse of power, and a lot of the suffering and pain in the manga stems from the belief that we can learn everything and achieve everything, whether it be the hubris to think we can bring people back from the dead or the hubris to think that we can become immortals or gods. The question posed by the manga is resolved by accepting limitations of being human, and this is beautifully represented in the manga's ending when --spoilers-- Ed gives up his Gate of Truth and says "I've always been an ordinary human. A puny human who couldn't even save a little girl." --end spoilers-- This is explored in alchemy in the manga, but acknowledging and accepting our limitations also extends to war, science, power, and our search for knowledge.

Semi related to characters, one of the really cool things Arakawa does is that each person who opens the Gate of Truth has a different thing taken from them. Hohenheim loses his ability to die & to live and connect with others, Izumi loses her organs and her ability to have kids, Mustang who has a vision for the country becomes blind, Ed loses his leg to stand on and support his family, and then his right arm to bring back his brother (his metaphorical right arm), and Al loses his body and ability to feel warmth. "The truth is cruel but right."

I usually don't think this about manga or even most books, but I really think anyone will enjoy FMA in either its manga or its anime form (although the manga is better).

Richard III  - William Shakespeare

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If you're interested in a charismatically evil anti hero, a historical play, or Shakespeare's breakthrough play, then read Richard III. 

Richard III is a semi-fictional historical play about the rise to power and short-lived reign of the eponymous King Richard III of England who deceives, connives, and kills his way to the throne but is ultimately defeated in battle by Richmond, ending the reign of the Plantagenet House of York and beginning the rule of the House of Tudor.

In some sense his historical plays are also propaganda because Shakespeare is obliged to present the House of Tudor in a favorable light and R3 as a villain, but what his plays are really concerned with is what it means to be an effective ruler, and what happens when rulers get destroyed. Because the goalposts and ending are already set, Shakespeare's primary focus in his historical plays is how history is being created and how political change happens, an interest no doubt driven by the anxieties of succession his contemporary audience was feeling.

Some parts I liked or found interesting:

  • R3 is a very charismatic antihero. He's a terrible person but you can't help but like him, kind of like a cool Bond villain. He doesn't take the throne by force; instead, in the first scene of the play and R3's first soliloquy, he shows his mastery over and love of language, and it is despicable but still admirable how he charms and deceives to get what he wants.
  • Shakespeare suggests in R3 that the nature of kingship is acting, and R3 is a superstar- he can "quake and change thy color, Murder thy breath in the middle of a word, And then begin again, and stop again, As if thou wert distraught and mad with terror." Being an effective ruler is not about violence but about playing many roles, and R3's downfall begins when he reaches the top and starts to fail as an actor, becoming easily irritable and gullible. 
  • My favorite scene in R3 is Act 5 scene 3 when R3 has anxiety dreams before his big battle, dreaming that ghosts of his past victims have come to curse him. His painful soliloquy about the terrible loneliness of building and living the R3 persona is phenomenal, and for me this soliloquy made his character so much more interesting and sympathetic.

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting - Milan Kundera

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If you are interested in a lovely but haunting meditation on laughter and forgetting then read The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is a collection of 7 short stories by Milan Kundera, all of which are structured as variations on a theme and a form. They are all about laughter and memory, connected by an exploration of how losing the past (historical or personal) undermines the identity of people and countries. The novel is about memory and the past, crucial things that make us who we are, and the terribly light laughter that comes when we lose these things.

Kundera knows this because he's experienced this firsthand. "The first step to liquidating a people is to erase its memory," and Kundera felt this liquidation when he lost his teaching position and his books were banned and removed from Czechoslovakia after the 1968 Prague Spring and the beginning of the Soviet communist regime. This erasure of identity is characterized by a profound lightness that is symbolized by laughter. Laughter makes light of the serious, making even the most important things cheap and absurd, and so together with forgetting drives the us further away from ourselves and into insignificance and meaninglessness. There is pleasure in laughing and forgetting and sometimes we want a carefree life without the weight of our memories and ourselves, but what that also means is a life without context, without purpose, and without progress.

My favorite stories are Part 1: Lost Letters, Part IV: Lost Letters, Part V: Litost, and Part VI: The Angels.
Some of my favorite quotes are:

  • On the struggle for identity:
    “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting” 
  • On the frightful innocence of children:
    “Children, Never look Back!" and this meant that we must never allow the future to be weighed down by memory. For children have no past, and that is the whole secret of the magical innocence of their smiles.” 
  • On writing as the struggle for permanence:
    “For everyone is pained by the thought of disappearing, unheard and unseen, into an indifferent universe, and because of that everyone wants, while there is still time, to turn himself into a universe of words.”

Decoded - Jay-Z


If you're interested in Jay-Z's autobiography then read Decoded.

Decoded is Jay-Z's autobiography and memoir following in rough chronological order his childhood years in Marcy to his fame and success as a rapper. The book combines lyrics, annotations, anecdotes, and reflections, and is intended to defend rap as a poetic art form and share a generational experience that people can relate to.

Some of it is interesting and it was cool to read about Jay-Z, but I honestly didn't really like Decoded that much especially compared to Gucci's autobiography. I think one of the main reasons is just that I'm not that interested in his artistic project (or at least the one that he explains in the book). I respect and like Jay-Z and I think his music is very cool and his success as a rapper is very admirable, but the story of "being a hustler" just doesn't really resonate with me as much. The book also does not feel personal enough and doesn't provide a lot of detail about Jay-Z's life, despite being an autobiography. Decoded felt very filtered through Jay-Z, and read much more like a constructed and thought out story rather than a genuine presentation of himself. Decoded talks about Jay-Z like Jay-Z wants you to think of Jay-Z, not the more interesting and raw-er Jay-Z from the perspective of Shawn Carter, which I'm know exists because in his newest album 4:44 he talks a lot more about himself and his struggles and shares deeper revelation and introspection that just isn't present in his book.

He also says some kind of stupid things sometimes, like "I have a photographic memory so I'd I glance at something once I could recall it for a test. I was reading on a 12th grade level in the sixth. I could do math in my head but I had no interest sitting in a classroom."  

Zatch Bell - Makoto Raiku

If you're interested in a fun and pretty good shounen with a decent concept then read Zatch Bell

I used to really like Zatch Bell, but recently I've been rereading some of the mangas I like more critically and on this reread I found Zatch Bell pretty average (although to be fair I just read FMA and FMA is goat). Zatch Bell follows demon child Zatch and his human partner Kiyomaro in their fight to make Zatch king. Every 1000 years, 100 demon children go to earth to battle to be king of the demon world. Each demon child has a human partner that has to read from a spell book in order to unlock their powers, and if the spell book is burned, the demon child returns to their world and they lose the battle. The last one remaining becomes the king for the next 1000 years (coincidentally, this would be an extremely cool battle royale game like PUBG except instead of guns and armor you pick up spells and maybe mana). 

I liked the breakdown of FMA, so along the same lines, what Zatch Bell does well is:

  • Art: The combat is pretty good. It's generally pretty easy to follow, and there are a lot of cool looking panels.
  • Characters: arguably the best part of the manga. There are a lot of different characters (100 demons, 100 human partners) and they all have very different personalities and motivations. Some of them are kind of heavy handed and follow very basic archetypes, but they still add a lot to the story and their diversity is pretty impressive.
  • Humor: the manga is funny. I like when Kiyomaro's face changes and strangling Tio.
  • Combat concept: another really good part of the manga. The concept is fairly creative and interesting, and there's a lot of flexibility and diversity in how different characters fight.
  • Emotion: on second thought probably the best part of the manga. There are a lot of very powerful emotional moments in the manga, especially towards the end of the manga.

Where Zatch Bell falls a little short is:

  • Story: the story as a whole is pretty entertaining, and it gets a lot better with the last three arcs, but there's a bunch of filler chapters that don't tie together up until the Millennium Demons arc. There's also a lot of weird plot holes and story developments that are never really explained (why does no one use guns?! Why is everyone so accepting of random demon children shooting lightning from their mouths? How does no one notice massive missiles flying through the air?) 
  • Emotion: especially early on, some of the arcs are a little heavy handed with the emotional response.
  • Characters: the characters are a little simplistic and are weirdly OK with sacrificing themselves to help make the children king. If a small child came up to me, handed me a book only I could read, and when I read it, he would shoot lightning or fire or gravity balls then hell no I wouldn't want to fight other demon children that could do the same thing, but everyone in the manga seems to have no problem with that.
  • Art: The art style is a little silly, which not everyone will like, and I also don't like how he proportions the demon children (they have very doughy limbs and big heads).

Letters to a Young Poet - Rainer Maria Rilke

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If you are interested in a beautiful collection of letters on what it means to be a poet and a person then read Letters to a Young Poet.

Letters to a Young Poet is a collection of 10 letters written from poet Rainer Maria Rilke to a young aspiring poet about to enter the German military. Over the course of these letters, Rilke advises Kappus on how a poet should feel, experience, think, see, and understand the world, emphasizing the difficulty but importance and beauty of solitude and patience, and in these letters we get lovely insight into ideas and themes that show up in Rilke's other works and his philosophy and perspective on life. I haven't read much of Rilke besides his book Auguste Rodin, but Letters to a Young Poet is just as poetic and beautiful, and similar to Auguste RodinLetters is better quoted than explained, so here are some of my favorite quotes from his letters:

  • On your passions:
    "This before all: ask yourself in the quietest hour of your night: must I write?"
  • On patience:
    "You are so young, you have not even begun, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything that is unsolved in your heart and to try to cherish the questions themselves, like closed rooms and like books written in a very strange tongue. Do not search now for the answers which cannot be given you because you could not live them. It is a matter of living everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, one distant day live right into the answer."
  • On embracing sorrow:
    "If it were possible for us to see further than our knowledge extends and out a little over the outworks of our surmising, perhaps we should then bear our sorrows with greater confidence than our joys. For they are the moments when something new, something unknown, has entered into us; our feelings grow dumb with shy confusion, everything in us retires, a stillness supervenes, and the new thing that no one knows stands silent there in the midst."
  • On doubt:
    And your doubt can become a good quality if you train it. It must become aware, it must become criticism. Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, why something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it, and you will perhaps find it helpless and nonplussed, perhaps also aggressive. But do not give way, demand arguments and conduct yourself thus carefully and consistently every single time, and the day will dawn when it will become, instead of a subverter, one of your best workmen,—perhaps the cleverest of all who are building at your life."

I wish I read this book earlier in my life because I feel like those ideas would've resonated very strongly with me as a teenager, but I enjoyed it nonetheless and I look forward to reading it again. 

Dragon Rider - Cornelia Funke

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If you are interested in a cute children's story about friendship with fantastic creatures then read Dragon Rider.

Dragon Rider is about a silver dragon Firedrake, a brownie Sorrel, and a human boy Ben who travel to the Himalayas to look for the legendary Rim of Heaven, the last safe haven for dragons when they find out that humans intend to flood the valley they live in. There's not much to say about Dragon Rider; it's not a terribly complicated book but it is a cute children's story and it's very hard to dislike this book: it's got a fun story, simple but endearing characters, and a pretty straightforward theme of courage and camaraderie presented via a classic good beats evil story.