Saturday, March 21, 2015

History Books Reading

A couple of friends and I were looking at this list recently, 10 Book That Will Change How You See History. I always believe history is just narrative fighting for dominance. In many ways, history has a lot to do with literature. History should be interesting, and even fun, which was probably why this list catch our interest.

My friends and I are trying out something new. Each of us will pick up a book from the list, read the book and then pass it on to the next person. It's about book sharing, and also a group reading. We just started, and I chose to read The Nuns of Sant'Ambrogio by Hubert Wolf first. It's about scandalous nuns, with some Papal politics thrown in. Why not, right?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

WILD | How wild it as, to let it be

I finished re-reading Cheryl Strayed's Wild last night, and it was as beautiful as I remember. Towards the end of her hike, Strayed's narrative shifted, as an author in a distant present looking back at her hike through the PCT, how her life continued since then - her meeting the handsome man who would be her husband, her children, bringing her family to the place she sat and ate an ice cream cone, and all four of them having an ice cream there.

What was it that hiking the PCT has given her? It gave her something to move forward in her life, yet like all mysteries, it is an elusive and wondrous thing.

It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn't have to know. That it was enough to trust that what I'd done was true. To understand its meaning without yet being able to say precisely what it was, like all those lines from The Dream of a Common Language that had run through my nights and days. To believe that I didn't need to reach with my bare hands anymore. To know that seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. It was my life--like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me.

How wild it as, to let it be.

How beautiful. How so very true.

The End of Cake

A certain realization dawned on him.

"Oh," he said.

YES, said Death.

"Not even time to finish my cake?"


― Terry Pratchett, Night Watch

Friday, March 13, 2015

Sir Terry Pratchett is dead.

Author Terry Pratchett has passed away. [BBC obituary here] His books gave me great joy, his writings showed me how great insight and wisdom must be slathered with copious humour to make them go down easier - sort of like lubricant down an inconvenient orifice. There were so many characters in Discworld that I love, but of them all, I adored Granny Weatherwax and Tiffany Aching - two characters so wise to the world, and so they suffer the world even as they continue to work for everyone around them, knowing that they do not know better.

Pratchett was wiser than a lot of us, yet I believe he never stopped wanting us to be better. I will miss him.

He was so much cooler than your usual knight. His coat of arms had an ankh on it, and he threw in meteorite rocks to forge his own sword when he was knight. Another fun fact: His family motto on his coat of arms was Noli Timere Messorem (Don't fear the Reaper).

You have nothing to fear from the Reaper, Sir Terry.


Monday, March 09, 2015

PEMA CHODRON |You have to do it alone

“Taking refuge in the Buddha means that we are willing to spend our life reconnecting with the quality of being continually awake.

Every time we feel like taking refuge in a habitual means of escape, we take off more armor, undoing all the stuff that covers over our wisdom and our gentleness and our awake quality.

We’re not trying to be something we aren’t; rather, we’re reconnecting with who we are.

So when we say, “I take refuge in the Buddha,” that means I take refuge in the courage and the potential of fearlessness, of removing all the armor that covers this awakeness of mine.

I am awake; I will spend my life taking this armor off.

Nobody else can take it off because nobody else knows where all the little locks are, nobody else knows where it’s sewed up tight, where it’s going to take a lot of work to get that particular iron thread untied.

You have to do it alone.”

~ Pema Chodron

BOOKS | Neil Gaiman reviews Ishiguro's The Buried Giant

In case you missed it - Neil Gaiman reviews Kzauo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant. I'm reading it right now. It's a slow built up, but I will probably stick with it, to find out what's going on with the story.

Ishiguro is not afraid to tackle huge, personal themes, nor to use myths, history and the fantastic as the tools to do it. “The Buried Giant” is an exceptional novel, and I suspect my inability to fall in love with it, much as I wanted to, came from my conviction that there was an allegory waiting like an ogre in the mist, telling us that no matter how well we love, no matter how deeply, we will always be fallible and human, and that for every couple who are aging together, one or the other of them — of us — will always have to cross the water, and go on to the island ahead and alone.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

SLEATER-KINNEY | This is the sound my heart would make if I could amplify it

I'm posting this Rolling Stones interview with Sleater-Kinney here. I was looking for a quote from Carrie Brownstein about the riot grrrl movement earlier:

Brownstein enrolled at Evergreen State College, in Olympia, Washington, the epicenter of the early-Nineties feminist-punk movement known as riot grrrl, where she started a band, Excuse 17, and saw shows by iconic Evergreen acts like Heavens to Betsy, who were fronted by Tucker, and Bikini Kill. The scene was revelatory: "I thought, 'This is the sound my heart would make if I could amplify it,' " Brownstein recalls. "Sometimes, with your family, you're like, 'How can you be so close to me and not see me?' And then, all of a sudden you see yourself portrayed in music, and it's like, 'On the other side of the telescope is someone that sees me.' "

I love it - 'This is the sound my heart would make if I could amplify it'.Sometimes, you come across music that echoes your heartbeat, and this is how it feels.

Friday, March 06, 2015

100 BOOKS | 100 Books to Read 2015

This is the list in progress for my readings in 2015.

  1. The Buried Giant • Kazuo Ishiguro
    [ 07/03/2015 ~
  2. The Nuns of Sant'Ambrogio: The True Story of a Convent in Scandal • Hubert Wolf
    [Translated by Ruth Martin]
    [ 16/03/2015 ~
  3. Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace • Anne Lamott
    [ 04/12/2014 ~
  4. Thrown • Kerry Howley
    [ 08/03/2015 ~
  5. What Days Are For: A Memoir • Robert Dessaix
    [ 20/11/2014 ~
  6. Barcelona the Great Enchantress • Robert Hughes
    [ 04/02/2015 ~
  7. A History of the World in Twelve Maps • Jerry Brotton
  8. Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence • Rick Hanson
  9. Running and Being • Dr George Sheehan
  10. Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom • Rick Hanson
  11. The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker's Guide to Extraordinary Living • Stephen Cope
  12. The Sanity We Are Born With: A Buddhist Approach to Psychology • Chogyam Trungpa
  13. Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism • Chogyam Trungpa
  14. Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery • Chogyam Trungpa
  15. The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live--and How You Can Change Them • Richard J. Davidson & Sharon Begley
  16. Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers • David Perlmutter & Kristin Loberg
  17. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West • Dee Brown
  18. Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites • Kate Christensen
  19. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals • Michael Pollan
  20. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto • Michael Pollan
  21. Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation • Michael Pollan
  22. Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History • S. C. Gwynne
  23. Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child • Bob Spitz
  24. Love Your Enemies: How to Break the Anger Habit & Be a Whole Lot Happier • Sharon Salzberg
  25. Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste • Luke Barr
  26. Running with the Buffaloes: A Season Inside with Mark Wetmore, Adam Goucher, and the University of Colorado Men's Cross Country Team • Chris Lear
  27. The Round House: A Novel Paperback • Louise Erdrich
  28. The Road of Lost Innocence • Somaly Mam
  29. The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present • Eric Kandel
  30. The Source of All Things: A Memoir • Tracy Ross
  31. No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva •  Pema Chodron
  32. Give and Take • Adam Grant
  33. Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them • Joshua Greene
  34. The Social Neuroscience of Education: Optimizing Attachment and Learning in the Classroom • Louis Cozolino
  35. Quiet: The Power of Introverts • Susan Cain
  36. The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot • Robert MacFarlane
  37. A Tale for the Time Being • Ruth Ozeki
  38. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants • Malcolm Gladwell
  39. S. Rajaratnam on Singapore: From Ideas to Reality • edited by Kwa Chong Guan
  40. When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice • Terry Tempest Williams
  41. Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation • Sharon Salzberg
  42. Hild • Nicola Griffith
  43. Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind • Shunryu Suzuki
  44. Lady Audley's Secret • Mary Elizabeth Braddon
  45. The Names of the Rose • Umberto Eco
  46. Dune • Frank Herbert
  47. The Stars My Destination • Alfred Bester
  48. Jane Eyre • Charlotte Bronte
  49. The Windup Girl • Paolo Bacigalupi
  50. Regenesis • C.J. Cherryh
  51. Among Others • Jo Walton
  52. Ready Player One • Ernest Cline
  53. The City & The City • China Miéville
  54. Baghdad Sketches (1932) • Freya Stark
  55. The Valleys of the Assassins and Other Persian Travels (1934) [On Mazandaran, Iran]• Freya Stark
  56. The Southern Gates of Arabia: A Journey in the Hadhramaut (1936)• 
  57. A Winter in Arabia (1940) [On Hadhramaut] • 
  58. Perseus in the Wind (1948). [Essays on philosophy and literature] • 
  59. Ionia, A Quest (1954) • Freya Stark
  60. The Lycian Shore (1956) [On Turkey] • Freya Stark
  61. Alexander's Path: From Caria to Cilicia (1958) [On Turkey] • Freya Stark
  62. The Zodiac Arch (1968) [Miscellaneous essays] • Freya Stark
  63. The Minaret of Djam: An Excursion into Afghanistan (1970) • Freya Stark
  64. Where the Stress Falls • Susan Sontag
  65. On Photography • Susan Sontag
  66. Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963 • Susan Sontag
  67. Against Interpretation: And Other Essays • Susan Sontag
  68. As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 • Susan Sontag
  69. The Histories • Herodotus
  70. Shantaram • Gregory David Roberts
  71. The Magicians • Lev Grossman
  72. The Magician King • Lev Grossman
  73. The Magician's Land • Lev Grossman
  74. Their Eyes Were Watching God • Zora Neale Hurston
  75. A Fine Balance • Rohinton Mistry
  76. Ancillary Justice • Ann Leckie
  77. Ancillary Sword • Ann Leckie
  78. Annihilation • Jeff Vandermeer
  79. Authority • Jeff Vandermeer
  80. Acceptance • Jeff Vandermeer
  81. Carthage Must Be Destroyed • Richard Miles
  82. This Changes Everything • Naomi Klein
  83. The Little Stranger • Sarah Waters
  84. The Paying Guests • Sarah Waters
  85. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption • Laura Hillenbrand
    [ 23/11/2014 ~ 
  86. The Trauma of Everyday Life • Mark Epstein
    [ 15/09/2014 ~
  87. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage • Haruki Murakami
    Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel
    [ 12/08/2014 ~
  88. The Devil's Star • Jo Nesbø
    Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
    [ 28/07/2014 ~
  89. The Ice Museum: To Shetland, Germany, Iceland, Norway, Estonia, Greenland and Svalbard in Search of the Lost Land of Thule • Joanna Kavenna
    [ ~
  90. Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness • Rebecca Solnit
    [ 26/11/2014 ~ 18/01/2015 ]
  91. The Outsider • Albert Camus
    Translated from the French by Sandra Smith
    [ 01/10/2014 ~ 19/01/2015 ]
  92. The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere • Pico Iyer
    [ 19/01/2015 ~ 25/01/2015 ]
  93. Station Eleven: A Novel • Emily St. John Mandel
    [ 23/11/2014 ~ 04/02/2015 ]
  94. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith • Anne Lamott
    [ 15/10/2013 ~ 09/02/2015 ]
  95. Travels with Herodotus • Ryszard Kapuscinski
    translated from the Polish by Klara Glowczewska
    [ 05/02/2015 ~ 15/02/2015 ]
  96. Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found • Cheryl Strayed
    [ 25/01/2015 ~ 14/03/2015 ]

Monday, February 09, 2015

From "Wild"

Watched "Wild" the movie on Saturday. Towards the end, this passage, in Reese Witherspoon's voice, came up. Her voice, quiet, gentle, so precious:

“What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I'd done something I shouldn't have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I'd done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn't do anything differently than I had done? What if I'd actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn't have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”

There's probably going to be quite a lot of "Wild" posts these days, in bite-size.

Some thoughts, and a Song from the "Wild" Movie Soundtrack

I'm re-reading this article from The Atlantic, about Annie Dillard and her writings - The Thoreau of the Suburb. I read the article while the afterthoughts of my recent readings was slushing around in my brain. Without quite being that conscious of it - although, perhaps being subconsciously aware of it - I have been picking up books related to the idea of women and retreat and journey. I recently read Rebecca Solnit's Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness, where she mentioned the bizarre controversy about Thoreau's laundry: did Thoreau's sister do his laundry? (She probably did. *gasp*) I'm re-reading Cheryl Strayed's Wild, and that has been interesting, including reading about the controversy that arose that some of Strayed's worse critics seem to object to her casualness with her sexuality in the book. (Why is it even an issue?)

Which amused me (and annoyed me a little) when I read that Annie Dillard had considered writing her book in a male's voice, because she had the idea that readers could not reconcile with the idea that a female would venture "into the wild".

“It’s impossible to imagine another situation where you can’t write a book ’cause you weren’t born with a penis,” wrote Dillard in her journal. “Except maybe Life With My Penis.”

Somehow, reading this, I thought, "She wields a pen". Sometimes I have no idea why I think the thoughts I do. But I do. The whole idea that one type of narrative is more gender-appropriate than another is sadly archaic, yet persistent. Even as Cheryl Strayed made her journey (and oh, how she suffered along the way) hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail, she's constantly behind reminded of how she was a woman, and how strange it was for a woman to do this. Perhaps this is why her book is so important, and it so speaks to me, for all the heartbreaking moments inside it. This is too, a woman's narrative.

Anyway, on an off-tangent note, I will end this post with First Aid Kit's cover of "Walk Unafraid" - taken from the "Wild" movie soundtrack. Catch it if you can. Reese Witherspoon is wonderful in the movie.