Saturday, September 24, 2016

BOOKS | 100 Books To Read 2016

I'm still working on my reading list for this year. I was thinking of streamlining it down to just 40 books, but what the hell - why break tradition? So, list in progress for my readings in 2016.
  1. Emotional Agility • Susan David
    [ 23/09/2016 ~
  2. On the Move: A Life • Oliver Sacks
    [ 31/08/2016 ~
  3. Running & Being: The Total Experience • Dr George Sheehan
    [ 28/08/2016 ~
  4. The Power and the Glory • Graham Greene
  5. Orlando • Virginia Woolf
  6. My Brilliant Friend • Elena Ferrante
    translated by Ann Goldstein
  7. Work Clean: The life-changing power of mise-en-place to organize your life, work, and mind • Dan Charnas
  8. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance • Angela Duckworth
  9. Americanah • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  10. The Bone People • Keri Hulme
    [ 30/7/2016 ~
  11. Your Song Changed My Life • Bob Boilen
    [ 05/06/2016 ~
  12. Dig Me Out • Jovana Babovic
    [ 16/07/2016 ~
  13. The Wretched: A New Translation of Les Misérables • Victor Hugo [ translated from the French by Christine Donougher]
    [03/07/2016 ~
  14. The Folded Clock: A Diary • Heidi Julavits
    [ 05/03/2016 ~
  15. At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails • Sarah Bakewell
    [ 07/03/2016 ~
  16. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals • Michael Pollan
    [ 12/03/2016 ~
  17. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto • Michael Pollan
  18. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World • Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg
  19. Their Eyes Were Watching God • Zora Neale Hurston
  20. Dune • Frank Herbert
  21. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome • Mary Beard
    [ 04/01/2016 ~
  22. If the Oceans Were Ink • Carla Power
    [ 15/08/2015 ~
  23. Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese • Patrick Leigh Fermor
  24. Go Tell It On the Mountain • James Baldwin
    [ 11/12/2015 ~
  25. Baghdad Sketches (1932) • Freya Stark
  26. The Valleys of the Assassins and Other Persian Travels (1934) [On Mazandaran, Iran]• Freya Stark
  27. The Southern Gates of Arabia: A Journey in the Hadhramaut (1936)• 
  28. A Winter in Arabia (1940) [On Hadhramaut] • 
  29. Perseus in the Wind (1948). [Essays on philosophy and literature] • 
  30. Ionia, A Quest (1954) • Freya Stark
  31. The Lycian Shore (1956) [On Turkey] • Freya Stark
  32. Alexander's Path: From Caria to Cilicia (1958) [On Turkey] • Freya Stark
  33. The Zodiac Arch (1968) [Miscellaneous essays] • Freya Stark
  34. The Minaret of Djam: An Excursion into Afghanistan (1970) • Freya Stark
  35. Where the Stress Falls • Susan Sontag
  36. On Photography • Susan Sontag
  37. Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963 • Susan Sontag
  38. Against Interpretation: And Other Essays • Susan Sontag
  39. As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 • Susan Sontag
  40. The Book of Disquiet • Fernando Pessoa
  41. Jane Eyre • Charlotte Bronte
  42. Venice • Jan Morris
  43. Bleak House • Charles Dickens
  44. The Age of Innocence • Edith Wharton
  45. A Time of Gifts (1977) • Patrick Leigh Fermor
  46. Between the Woods and the Water • Patrick Leigh Fermor
  47. The Broken Road • Patrick Leigh Fermor
  48. The Magician • W. Somerset Maugham
  49. River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West • Rebecca Solnit
  50. A Writer's Diary • Virginia Woolf
  51. The Violet Hour • Katie Roiphe
  52. The Handmaid's Tale • Margaret Atwood
  53. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek • Annie Dillard
  54. The Abundance • Annie Dillard
  55. I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen • Sylvie Simmons
    [ 25/04/2015 ~
  56. On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes • Alexandra Horowitz
  57. The Design of Everyday Things • Donald A. Norman
  58. The Heart of the Matter • Graham Greene
  59. Of Human Bondage • W. Somerset Maugham
  60. No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva •  Pema Chodron
  61. Quiet: The Power of Introverts • Susan Cain
  62. The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot • Robert MacFarlane
  63. Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark • Janet Fletcher Geniesse
  64. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks • Rebecca Skloot
  65. Felicity: Poems • Mary Oliver
  66. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  67. Real Happiness: The Power of • Sharon Salzberg
  68. The Seven Storey Mountain • Thomas Merton
  69. Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind • Shunryu Suzuki
  70. Collection of Sand • Italo Calvino
  71. Landmarks • Robert Macfarlane
  72. A Book of Silence • Sara Maitland
  73. Acedia & me • Kathleen Norris
  74. The Red Parts • Maggie Nelson
  75. Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered • E.F. Schumacher
  76. Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness • Jon Kabat-Zinn
  77. 2666 • Roberto Bolaño
  78. A Philosophy of Walking • Frederic Gros
  79. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity • Katherine Boo
  80. The Pirate King • Laurie R. King
    [ 23/12/2015 ~ 09/01/2016 ]
  81. Garment of Shadows • Laurie R. King
    [ 09/01/2016 ~ 10/01/2016 ]
  82. My Life on the Road • Gloria Steinem
    [ 09/01/2016 ~ 23/01/2016 ]
  83. Dreaming Spies • Laurie R. King
    [ 11/01/1016 ~ 26/01/2016 ]
  84. The Argonauts • Maggie Nelson
    [ 28/05/2015 ~ 29/01/2016 ]
  85. When Breath Becomes Air • Paul Kalanithi
    [ 23/01/2016 ~ 30/01/2016 ]
  86. H is for Hawk • Helen Macdonald
    [ 18/05/2015 ~ 08/02/2016 ]
  87. Girl Waits with Gun • Amy Stewart
    [ 01/02/2016 ~ 14/02/2016 ]
  88. In Other Words • Jhumpa Lahiri
    translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
    [ 27/02/2016 ~ 05/03/2016 ]
  89. Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation • Michael Pollan
    [ 28/02/2016 ~ 12/03/2016 ]
  90. The Murder of Mary Russell • Laurie R. King
    [ 09/04/2016 ~ 10/04/2016 ]
  91. To the River: A Journey Beneath the Surface • Olivia Laing
    [ 08/02/2016 ~ 14/04/2016 ]
  92. The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone • Olivia Laing
    [ 14/04/2016 ~ 26/04/2016 ]
  93. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World's Most Precious Manuscripts • Joshua Hammer
    [ 30 April 2016 ~ 5 June 2016 ]
  94. Wild by Nature: From Siberia to Australia, Three Years Alone in the Wilderness on Foot • Sarah Marquis
    [ 16/06/2016 ~ 03/07/2016 ]
  95. White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World • Geoff Dyer
    [ 03/07/2016 ~ 15/08/2016 ]
  96. Gratitude • Oliver Sacks
    [ 16/08/2016 ~ 18/08/2016 ]
  97. Just Kids • Patti Smith
    [ 15/08/2016 ~ 23/08/2016 ]
  98. The Fifth Season • N. K. Jemisin
    [ 23/08/2016 ~ 28/08/2016 ]
  99. The Obelisk Gate • N. K. Jemisin
    [ 28/08/2016 ~ 12/09/2016 ]

Sunday, September 18, 2016

BOOKS | The End of Your Life Book Club, for the Waiting Room

After The Obelisk Gate, I was at a temporary loss at which book to read next. I eventually started on The End of Your Life Book Club, and continued On the Move, the Oliver Sacks memoir that I picked up from the library a while ago.

Will Schwalbe, the author of The End of Your Life Book Club, started writing this when his mother was being treated for cancer. They spent many hours sitting in the hospital waiting together, and to pass the time, they started talking about books. They got around to exchanging books, and Will told his mom that this will be a bookclub of two.

It was the state of my mind then, which led me to pick up The End of Your Life Book Club. I am following up on some medical issues right now, and it has led me to some reconsideration of my life and my priorities. I have also been spending too much time in the hospital waiting room this year, and on days when I forgot to bring something to read, the waiting just feels harder. Which is perhaps why The End of Your Life Book Club rang true to me; I have always believed a person's brings their own experience and state of mind into the books they read. We are meaning-makers, and if someone is made conscious of their own mortality, how will this likely influence their reading?

I was reading this book last week while waiting in the hospital waiting room. So far, it feels interesting, and the conversations between the family and their dying mother were touching. They obviously love their mother. Sadly, it reminded me of my own damaged relationship with my mother. I thought about how it was all those weekly Saturday trips to the library with my mother, that probably turned me into the reader that I am now. Yet ironically, I have never discussed books with my mother.

I'm barely a quarter into the book, but it has already made a recommendation for a title to check out: Susan Halpern's Etiquette of Illness. The book was supposed to be able how to talk to people with illness. It's something that I feel I should pass to friends and acquaintances. To offer as a guide on how to approach this.

Some tips from the book on how to approach the people with illness:

1. Ask: "Do you want to talk about how you're feeling?"
2. Don't ask if there's anything you can do. Suggest things, or if it's not intrusive, just do them.
3. You don't have to talk all the time. Sometimes just being there is enough.

I felt there could also be a fourth tip - depending on the person, it is also important to know when to give space, and respect their need for privacy. Most of all, don't always assume you know better - because you don't.

The Ghostbusters, and Why It Represents What I Want to See in Books and Movies

I'm an unabashedly loud fan of the all-female remake of the Ghostbusters movie. I have the toys to prove it - including the Lego set with Ecto-1.

This article from Bust magazine was listing out the reasons why it's so important for women. The writer did have a very important quote from Kate McKinnon, who played the kooky and charismatic Holtzmann in the movie, and I think it also captured why I loved the movie so much:

In short, maybe McKinnon put it best when she said, “But his [director Paul Feig] most revolutionary act has not been in casting women as scientists and badasses. We’ve seen that before. Ish.

“No, his true subversion lies in creating female protagonists who are striving for the universal goals of friendship, connectedness, justice, and personal growth. These golden fleeces have always been the sole province of male protagonists. They don’t call it an Everyman for nothing. By building stories around female protagonists who are striving not for romance, but simply to become their best selves, he has permanently changed the game for us all.”

I would like to see more good movies made, where the women characters are not there to be the wives, the girlfriends, the desperate single female pining for a man to love her. This is also one of my pet peeves about some of the Young Adult novels I read recently - why does it seem like the romance is the most important part of the story? Can we just have female characters that are interested in friendship, in personal growth, and of course, occasionally, in saving the world? The Hunger Games would be so much better without the love triangle. Take out the romance, and The Hunger Games would be about a brave young teenager who would sacrifice herself to save her sister, and end up becoming a symbol of something larger than her, and overthrowing a flawed government in the process. Well, it still is that, but the love triangle part of the story dragged it down for me.

As a woman, I would like to see more stories where women help lift each other up, instead of backstabbing and jealous in-fighting - especially over another male. I want to see more stories of women being themselves, unabashedly, confidently, but with compassion and good-humour.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

READING CHALLENGE | R.I.P. XI

A long time ago, when I used to blog more frequently, I joined reading challenges. I did it for fun, and it was fun to be connected somehow through other book geeks around the world. Then I stopped blogging. I stopped reading even.

I'm back reading again, though I don't write as much as I used to.

I was reminded today of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XI. From September 1st, 2016 to October 31st, 2016, to read books in any of these categories:

Mystery
Suspense
Thriller
Gothic
Horror
Dark Fantasy

I can do that, right? So I shall attempt to read at least 2 books from the genres mentioned. For my reading list, I choose:

  • The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin, since I just started on that. It is so good, but I'm afraid to continue with the story, because it seems to be leading up to something bad between two of the characters.
  • The Stress of Her Regard, by Tim Powers. There's Byron, Keats, Shelley - and some evil stalking them. I had the book for years, but I still have not started on it.
  • The House of Shattered Wings, by Aliette de Bodard - fin-de-siècle Paris, with magic, angels and deaths. Sounds cool, right?

Let us just have fun with it, right?

Monday, September 05, 2016

BOOKS | The Fifth Season

I just finished reading N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season, and am working my way through the second book in the series, The Obelisk Gate. It's been a wild ride. Grand world-building, with a world built on people, known as orogene, or rogga, as they are also called by those with little reason to love them. It is difficult to explain how the orogenes' powers work, but in a nutshell, they are able to harness the energy in the physical universe, and part of it includes harnessing sesmic forces - they are able to cause and redirect earthquakes, air and wind currents, heat and other types of energy. They are born with their powers, and their race has been vilified for their potentially destructive powers. It's a story full of a lot of hate, and death, as it begins with a father's murder of his son, after he realised his son is a rogga, inherited from their mother. The mother returns to find the battered body of her son, and her husband and older daughter, gone. Oh, did I also mention it also begins with someone setting out a massive sesmic rift that brought forth a type of apocalypse? Yeah, there's a lot of death and destruction in just the first few pages.

The story unfolds with multiple point-of-views, and I was curious how these different plotlines and characters will converge later. The beauty is they do eventually fold unto each other seamlessly, like stacking up Russian dolls, until there is only one grand doll left. Jemisin patiently builds up the intrigue, in the nature of her world, and the characters. There is a grand mythology at work, and you are left with a nagging sense at the back of your mind that the history and lore in this world is never the truth, and there's always something that was forgotten, or lost and misinterpreted through time and memory, or manipulated by those who in power. From the beginning, you are told this:
This is what you must remember: the ending of one story is just the beginning of another. This has happened before, after all. People die. Old orders pass. New societies are born. When we say "the world has ended." it's usually a lie, because the planet is just fine.
The Fifth Season was one of the few books lately that made me stay up all night to try to finish reading it, because the story was so compelling. Not just in the world she creates, but also in the themes, and the social consciousness inherent in her stories. In the Foreword of The Fifth Season, it says:
For all those who have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question.
Which reminds me of the recent debacle of the Sad Puppies and the Hugo Awards, where some "aggrieved" people (I'm not sure if I want to call them "fans") are trying to manipulate the results of the Hugo Awards. Jemisin by the way, won this year's Best Novel Hugo Award with The Fifth Season. (The Atlantic spoke with Jemisin after she won, and she is both articulate and thoughtful about her books, and what drives her as a writer.)

For me, what's interesting about Jemisin's stories is her narrative on power - how we would seek to control those with power, because we fear them, and because we seek their power to serve us. In The Fifth Season, the orogenes are brought up to be trained in controlling their powers, and to serve the Fulcrum - the faceless authority in their world. However, those who are not able to control their powers are taken away. Brutal brain surgery were performed on them to reduce them to a zombie state, strapped to a wire chair, and sent to node stations across the country, so use their powers to repel earthquakes etc. It is one of the more disturbing part of the book, but so powerful as it set up the motivation for the characters later, as this is a cruel, unjust social system that needs to be broken, so that one might build something better.

I love her stories that dare says, we cannot look away from a cruel, unjust system, and we need to have the courage and the strength to change it, for something better. And I love that her universe is populated by people of different races, of various shades of colours, and sexual orientation. Her stories do not look away from differences, and prejudices - but acknowledges them as part of the world as it is. That, is something beautiful.



Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Started reading Just Kids

I took a break from blog several years ago. I was in another country, overworked, sometimes working 18 hours a day 7 days a week, often insomniac, imbibed too much coffee, and generally troubled and unhappy. I couldn't focus my thoughts enough, or get them to a coherent string to write. Maybe there's something to this malaise of being unable to write for a long time.

There's also been my experimentation with social media. The more I get into the various platform, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc, the less I write. I pretend I was generating content on the other media, but as I truly examine my posts - often, I was merely reposting other people's stuff, and not creating my own. I wasn't articulating my true inner voice. But I have a sense that to write again, I need to read, again.

So many distractions these days, from reading. Just playing on my iPhone sucks the time away. But reading is so much a part of calming the mind. Why have I neglected my friends, my books?

I picked up Patti Smith's Just Kids last night. I bought it a while ago, full of inspirations, determined to read Patti Smith's lyrical prose, and about her profound friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe, about art, about being an artist. The pages were yellow, and spotted with yellow, the result of acid reactions on the paper.I bought it, and have left it unread for too long.

I'm a few pages in. Her writing lulls me into a state of quiet. The words are simple, but taut with memories, elegant even.

Much has been said about Robert, and more will be added. Young men will adopt his gait. Young girls will wear white dresses and mourn his curls. He will be condemned and adored. His excesses damned or romanticized. In the end, truth will be found in his work, the corporeal body of the artist. It will not fall away. Man cannot judge it. For art sings of God, and ultimately belongs to him.

Monday, August 15, 2016

BOOKS | White Sands: Experience from the Outside World

The best things about deleting Pokemon Go from my phone was that I finally found myself reading again. Granted, I am still not reading as much as I would like to, but some reading on the bus is still better than nothing; still a lot better than wasting it trying to catch Poke stops to refill my Poke balls, and catching Pokemons. Yep, I was one of those people.

I finished Geoff Dyer's White Sands eventually. I was still one day late to return it to the library. What can you do about it, right?

The thing that caught my attention in the beginning (the Author's Note part of the book) was how he stated that the book was "a mixture of fiction and non-fiction". He explained, or maybe just stated, "The main point is that the book does not demand to be read according to how far from a presumed dividing line--a line separating certain forms and the expectations they engender--it is assumed to stand. In this regard 'White Sands' is both the figure at the centre of the carpet and a blank space on the map."

A little cheeky, and it reminded me of the time when we had to do Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines for a literature class, and some of us were a little perturbed at the idea that while the narrator is known as Bruce Chatwin, Bruce Chatwin the narrator might not be Bruce Chatwin the author; Bruce Chatwin the narrator might just be a fictional construct of the author, and the book might not be meant as non-fiction. Now Geoff Dyer seems to be doing something similar, subverting the expectations of the readers, or just simply refusing to play by the conventions of genre or classification.

So what exactly is this book about? Well, I'm not totally sure. It's about going somewhere else, and not necessarily always somewhere geographically somewhere else. He wrote about going to China, to Tahiti, living in Los Angeles -- but along the way, he also ruminated on his childhood, thoughts on looking at certain pictures and art. I guess ultimately, this is a book about how we see: within and without.

From White Sands:

What is the difference between seeing something and not seeing it? More specifically, what is the difference between seeing Tahiti and not seeing it, between going to Tahiti and not going? The answer to that, an answer that is actually an answer to an entirely different question, is that it is possible to go to Tahiti without seeing it.

This quote drew a nod from me, because it is possible to look at a piece of art, and not see it - not understand it. It is also possible (and it happens a lot of the time) to be somewhere and not see what surrounds us. To be talking to someone, and not be communicating. To know something, and not see them.

Or I might be wrong. Either way, it had been an enjoyable book.