Tuesday, February 28, 2006

SALON: Get Over It

From Salon.com, Getting Over Happiness

Steven Hayes wrote Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life - which in a nutshell, is trying to remind us that life is not going to be any easier by running away from your pain. A truly meaningful life is the balancing act. It involves acceptance of all your experience, coming to terms with the emotions, notice your thoughts, and "carry all that forward down a path that you value that's neither indulgence nor suppression."

It echoes a very Buddhist teaching of mindfulness.

There should be a middle path between suppression and indulgence.

Western culture promotes feel-goodism. In part it's a side effect of having technology to make things easier or feel better. It's natural progress, so we don't have to do the sweaty, hard things our forebears had to do. But inside that is a meta-message, which is that you're supposed to feel good from morning to night. And add on top of that commercialism and medications -- because they feed it too: If you consume the right products, eat the right pill, drink the right beer, drive the right car, you believe that you're not going to feel anything you don't like. What I'm saying is that that is not the definition of a meaningful life, and I'm saying people know it.

In what little I know about life, it rings true.

It's not pain that makes us jaded. A jaded cynic is nothing more than someone trying too hard to hide away from pain. Pain has a capacity to teach, and offers an opportunity to grow - but our whole experience now is about avoiding pain. No wonder we don't seem to grow up.

Monday, February 27, 2006

BOOKS: Carson McCullers and February House

I was reading February House recently.

"February House" was the title given to a shabby brownstone house on 7 Middagh Street, Brooklyn, New York. What made this little place outstanding was its famous occupants in the 1940s, which included: Jane and Paul Bowles, W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers (with her husband Reeves) and siblings Erika, Klaus and Golo Mann (children of Thomas Mann).

The February House was an experiment in artistic communal living, the initiative spearheaded by Harper's Bazaar literary editor, George Davis.

In particular, the portrayal of Carson McCullers intrigued me. It was her stint in the February House, where she enjoyed Auden's mentorship, that she wrote the novel that was to become The Member of the Wedding.

It was during a discussion with Auden, on what the poet termed the "inarticulates" of the world, the down-trodden, the ones who did not have the refinement of artistic expressions, that Carson McCullers declared that she would write of these "inarticulates."

February House made me more interested in Carson McCullers as a writer, until the irony struck me:

Why don't I just read Carson McCullers, instead of reading about her?


So I dropped February House and picked up Reflections In A Golden Eye, her second published work. What astonished me is this: Reflections was a novella written as a relaxation exercise for McCullers.


Friday, February 24, 2006

BOOKS: Kim by Rudyard Kipling

I finished reading Kim last night. While I avoid British colonial literature in general, the admiration for Kipling by some authors I enjoy persuaded me to try Kim.

I was charmed by Kim, and Kipling's literary India, where all supporting characters endear in their own manner.

And Kimball O'Hara himself, a boy poised between the worldly concerns of The Great Game, and the spiritual pursuits of the Lama.

It's good to try some new books once in a while.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


We speak of "brand loyalty" these day, and I dislike the association. I have greater esteem for the virtue of loyalty than to mistake it as a function of mere consumerism.

To speak of loyalty to a brand of shoes is to belittle that virtue.

To ascribe loyalty too carelessly is to belittle this virtue.

THOUGHT: To Forsake

Right before the outbreak of World War II, even when the political situation in Germany was swiftly turning hostile for the German Jews, many of them refuse to leave the motherland.

I was struck by the statement made by one of these patriotic German Jews, which goes something like:
One does not forsake one's parents, just because they behave badly.

My memory is hazy, but the statement was to this effect. I imagined the man paid dearly believing this. In hindsight of the events that followed, it even seems naive. Yet there is an admirable quality in it. Something that inspires, even.

In this instance, the country failed the man, even as he stayed true.

Fidelity is that which has to be able to withstand adversity. And loyalty which has never been tested, can we claim that it even exists?

THOUGHTS: Remains of the Day

In The Remains of the Day, Stevens serves as butler to Lord Darlington. Towards the end of the novel, Stevens seems to express a regret for his loyalty to Lord Darlington, and the latter's Nazi sympathies.

It's a question I ask myself from time to time: how does one remain loyal if the person you have bind yourself to behaves in a matter that contradicts your own principles?

In The Remains of the Day, we, the reader, have the advantage of hindsight. Most of us not gifted with wisdom and clairvoyance, make our choices with our usual half-blindness. And sometimes we try to keep faith with someone, even as we hope the other will keep faith with us.

But what if keeping faith - this binding loyalty, is nothing more than blind faith?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

WORD OF MY LIFE: non sequitur

non se·qui·tur (noun)

  1. An inference or conclusion that does not follow from the premises or evidence.
  2. A statement that does not follow logically from what preceded it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

BOOKS: Locked Rooms

Locked Rooms by Laurie R. KingFinished Locked Rooms last night. This means I'll have to wait a few more months before the release of the next novel by Laurie R. King. Oh dear, oh dear. What will I do now?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Death of Handwriting

From The Guardian
Tuesday February 14, 2006

Somebody bemoaning the death of handwriting. Postmodernism and culture theory sucks. We're always moaning and groaning about the death of the author or something or another.
Yesterday afternoon I received a lovely letter from a correspondent that began: "Please forgive scribbled note. I can no longer type." But why, with all due respect, should anyone ask forgiveness when favouring me with the personal touch of their penmanship? When did typing become better than handwriting? (To which question an irritatingly good reply is: If you're so clever, why didn't you write this article by hand?)

See full article here

BOOKS: A Plea for Eros

Siri Hustvedt's new collection of essays, A Plea for Eros, embraces her psyche, herself - and her passion for the Brontes, says Serena Davies

The Observer
Sunday February 19, 2006

Read article.

FILM: Cache with Haneke

We love Hidden. But what does it mean?
From The Observer
19 February 2006

Jason Solomons asks director Michael Haneke to
shed some light on Cache.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

BOOKS: Everyman's Library

Independent write-up on the centenary of the Everyman's Library.

In every Everyman's Library classic there is this quote:

Everyman, I will go with thee,
and be thy guide,
In thy most need to go
by thy side

Each volume is printed on acid-free, cream-wove paper with full-cloth sewn bindings, gold stamping, and silk ribbon markers.

It's an indulgence for the reader, but if you want the collection of your favourite authors bound in beauty, this is a good series.

Check out Everyman's Library

Friday, February 17, 2006

QUOTE: Convent Girls

The BRAT reminded me of something I sent out a long time ago.

"I think one of the reasons why I was never properly domesticated is because I was actually socialised by a gang of mad women in flapping black habbits"

~ Germaine Greer

STUFF: From "Non Sequitur"

For those who know what's this is about... Hee.

BOOKS: A. M. Homes Sells Book

Variety reports that novelist and L Word producer A.M. Homes has sold the film rights to her novel This Book Will Save Your Life, which Viking will publish in April.

Click here for a slightly fuller report.

And if you're going to ask me why it's a link to Advocate.com, I will personally slap your ass. ;p

Thursday, February 16, 2006

BOOKS: Salterton Trilogy Missing


The only copy of the complete Salterton Trilogy by Robertson Davies has been bought by person unknown. So. There is someone out there patient enough to try.

We were supposed to do The Fifth Business (the first book of The Deptford Trilogy) for our January 2006 Book Club. Alas, Robertson Davies proved ... challenging.

Abu Ghraib Photos

In a Salon.com exclusive, never-seen-before Abu Ghraib photos are released.

Walter Shapiro, Salon's Washington bureau chief wrote:
Abu Ghraib cannot be allowed to fade away like some half-forgotten domestic political controversy, which may have prompted newsmagazine covers at the time, but now seems as irrelevant as the 2002 elections. Abu Ghraib is not an issue of partisan sound bites or refighting the decision to invade Iraq. Grotesque violations of every value that America proclaims occurred within the walls of that prison. These abuses were carried out by soldiers who wore our flag on their uniforms and apparently believed that Americans here at home would approve of their conduct. Rather than hiding what they did out of shame, they commemorated their sadism with a visual record.

That is why Salon is willing to publish these troubling photographs, even as we are ashamed to live in a country that somehow came to accept that torture and prisoner abuse were simply business as usual -- something that occurs while a sergeant catches up on his paperwork.

Miffy Turns 50

When I was young(er) my mom would bring us to the Queenstown National Library every Saturday. It was the only regular family outing we had. That was where I first got to know Miffy, the bunny with the "X" for a mouth.

For a while, I would dig through the "Just Returned" bin of the library for some Miffy titles that I had not seen before. Now, close to 30, I realise I don't remember much about those Miffy books. Just the "X" for a mouth.

Visit www.miffy.com

BOOKS: Current Reading

By A. L. Kennedy
[ 16/02/2006 ~

By Rudyard Kipling
[ 16/02/2006 ~

Madame Bovary
By Gustave Flaubert
[ 14/02/2006 ~

February House
By Sherill Tippins
[ 11/02/2006 ~ Stopped. Bored ]

A Burnt-Out Case
By Graham Greene
[ 10/02/2006 ~ 14/02/2006]

By Sean Stewart
[ 09/02/2006 ~ Stopped ]

Don Quixote
By Miguel De Cervantes (Translation by Edith Grossman)
[26/01/2006 ~ hiatus

By A. M. Homes
[08/02/2006 ~ hiatus

Tibet, Tibet
By Patrick French
[12/01/2006 ~ hiatus

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

NEWS: The Compact

From San Francisco Chronicle

About 50 teachers, engineers, executives and other professionals in the Bay Area have made a vow to not buy anything new in 2006 -- except food, health and safety items and underwear.
"We're people for whom recycling is no longer enough," said one of the members of the fledgling movement, John Perry, who works in marketing at a high-tech company. "We're trying to get off the first-market consumerism grid, because consumer culture is destroying the world."

Compact blog
Compact Yahoo Group

Monday, February 13, 2006

BOOKS: Wuthering Heights - NOT a Love story

The Washinton Post recently has a book feature: Editors' Choices: Who Wrote the Book on the Brokenhearted?. It's a Valentine's Day thing everyone's doing. This is the entry on Wuthering Heights:
Wuthering Heights , by Emily Brontë. Gothic romance endures in the haunting love story of stubborn, stormy Catherine and wild, dark Heathcliff. This is a classic tale of "what becomes of the brokenhearted who had love that's now departed," made all the more heartbreaking by the fact that Brontë died in 1848, just a year after the book was published.

Are you fine with this? I'm so NOT.

Wuthering Heights is not a love story. I read it when I was young and naive - when I was too ignorant to ask the question: if Heathcliff never laid a hand on Isabella as they claim, how the hell did she get knocked up?

BUT - I was still sober enough way back then to realise Wuthering Heights is an S&M novel. And Catherine Senior is the sexiest sadist ever in literature - not that it's a bad thing.

The next person to call Wuthering Heights a love story needs to be kicked in the teeth for sheer NOT GETTING IT!

FILM: Brokeback Mountain

Saw the much hyped Brokeback Mountain on Sunday.

The question remains: did I cry?

No. And I wondered, for those that did: why do they cry? What part of them relate so poignantly to the story that they wept?

I saw it as a story of damaged lives. It’s about people so haunted by Brokeback Mountain that they make choices that crippled themselves and those who loved them.

What is Brokeback Mountain?

For Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist – it seems Brokeback Mountain represented a happiness that they are forever trying to reclaim. And so caught up with reclaiming a lost paradise they inevitably lose sight of what is in front of them.

Or perhaps, so weighted down by the wreckage they made of their married lives, they needed to believe in a return to Brokeback Mountain.

Del Mar continues to work at his ranch jobs. He refuses to try for other occupations that might allow him to earn enough to support his family. He breaks the heart of the waitress who really seems to have loved him. When his eldest daughter Alma Jr, in trying to escape an unhappy home, asks to stay with her father. Again, he could only disappoint her.

And Jack Twist and his wife? Towards the end, we see a cold, almost indifferent Lureen (Anne Hathaway) informing Ennis Del Mar the details of her husband’s death. By now middle-aged, with a blowsy blonde hair job and vulgar, redneck jewelry. She is too often seen at her account books counting up the profits - it’s hard to sympathise with Anne Hathaway’s character. But she wasn’t always this cold. She was wild and young and sexy like hell – a cowgirl in hot-red riding hard and fast. And she smiled when she first met her husband. A flashy, seductive smile. Something happened to turn her so brittle.

I don’t see it as just a story of a doomed gay love affair. I find that simplistic. Perhaps that is why I failed to cry. It is poignant, but so very human. We break the hearts of those who loved us, because our hearts were broken long ago. We do it everyday.

Del Mar tells Twist, "If we can’t change it, we just have to stand it." But he fails to see the third option – just let go. So they hold on, and their lives are crushed by their Brokeback Mountain.

It is rare to find successful Hollywood movies where characters learn from their loss and are able to let go, to move on with their lives. Perhaps it is less dramatic and therefore less Oscar-friendly.

In spite of the possible backlash, I will still state this: perhaps the best thing Jack Twist could have done for Ennis Del Mar was to die. Jack Twist’s death forced a conclusion that neither men were strong enough to make.

After Twist’s death, all Del Mar have left of Brokeback Mountain is the postcard and the bloodstained shirts. But there is the part when Alma Jr drives up to Del Mar’s trailer. She is getting married, and she wants him to be there. Perhaps for the first time Ennis Del Mar finally sees what is truly important. He will be there for his daughter.

Friday, February 10, 2006

FILM: Cache and Binoche

La Binoche.

Throughout the movie I can't help but feel a little regret that La Binoche's body is gravitating towards a matronly plumbness.

FILM: Cache

Saw Cache last night. It's a French film, starring Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil.

There were mixed opinions on the film. Personally I did not find Cache powerful. So, my somewhat lukewarm response here and now.

The film opens with a still long take of the cozy, middle-class home of Anne (Binoche) and Georges (Auteuil) Laurent. Nothing seems to happen, the credits run across the screen in small white letters. You watch little banal scene. Nothing dramatic.

Then you hear the voices of Binoche and Auteuil. The screen runs in a fast-forward and you realised you are shown the video-recording the Laurents received at their door-step.

It's this sense of unease that I like about the film. You do not know what exactly you are looking at. The unknowing quality charge the scenes.

I wasn't allowed to sit back passively. The director keeps throwing me into the point of view of the video-recording (and by implication, the POV of the Laurents as they watch the video, and the POV of the mysterious person who taped the scenes.)

There's a kind of complicity via voyeurism. I think. Need to think about this a little more, but I don't think I will.

In the most evocative scene, Majid tells Georges Laurent that he wants Laurent to be here, and immediately slashed his own throat. It's an aggressive suicide, bearing the full blunt of Majid's self-annihilation on Laurent.

But that's about it. WW calls it an "edge of the seat" experience, although my butt very comfortably sank into the cushion. Hitchcock used similar still long takes technique in Rope and Rear Window to greater effect.

So it's not that great. But it's not that bad either.

FILM: Derek Jarman's The Garden Withdrawn

Celluloid Fringe 2006 - part of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival - will be held at Cathay Cineplex Orchard Hall from Feb 23 to Mar 4.

I was interested in Derek Jarman's The Garden, but found out things were not to be.

See Alvin Tan's (Artistic Director of The Necessary Stage) statement on the withdrawal.

MURAKAMI: A Shinagawa Monkey

The New Yorker loves Haruki Murakami.

From Issue of 2006-02-13 and 20: A Shinagawa Monkey.

WATERS: The Guardian

The Guardian on everything Sarah Waters.

"Why, oh why, did I ever allow the phrase "lesbo-Victorian romp" to cross my lips?"

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Quotes: Oliver Wendall Holmes

"What refuge is there for the victim who is oppressed with the feeling that there are a thousand new books he ought to read, while life is only long enough for him to attempt a hundred?"

~ Oliver Wendall Holmes, Sr.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

BOOKS: From "Break, Burn, Blow"

Camille Paglia's Break, Burn, BlowWas reading some poems from Break, Burn, Blow last night. I came across this Shelley poem I first read as an impressionable 16 year old.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert … Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wrecks, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

BOOKS: Harper Lee Letter

Since Lee refused to write a foreword for the thirty-fifth anniversary edition, HarperCollins published her letter so indicating, already two years old, in its place:
"Please spare Mockingbird an Introduction. As a reader I loathe Introductions. To novels, I associate Introductions with long-gone authors and works that are being brought back into print after decades of internment. Although Mockingbird will be 33 this year, it has never been out of print and I am still alive, although very quiet. Introductions inhibit pleasure, they kill the joy of anticipation, they frustrate curiosity. The only good thing about Introductions is that in some cases they delay the dose to come. Mockingbird still says what it has to say; it has managed to survive without preamble."

Monday, February 06, 2006

WINTERSON: Books That Don't Need To Be Books

Taken from Times Online
By Jeanette Winterson
February 04, 2006

'Let's stop publishing books that don't really need to be books'

Yes, she often rants, but she also has some pretty strong ideas that make sense. Winterson's recent comment on what should be in the future of books:
"First, we stop publishing books that needn’t be books. People who don’t really read don’t really need books — so let them have Jordan and Becks in lots of other ways. Audio, animated-audio, that is, audio with pictures — is just about right for most celebrity publications. Before you think that I have gone mad, remember that Susan Greenfield, who knows a thing or two, has speculated that in the future people won’t need to be able to read or write.
"Academic papers could also easily be stored as digital downloads. Most PhD theses will never be read, and that is probably no loss."

I so agree. If I have to order another football player's memoir...or Paris Hilton...

BOOKS: The Night Watch

The Night Watch by Sarah WatersThe Night Watch
By Sarah Waters

From Times Literary Supplement

Carol Ann Duffy's Telegraph review

Personally, I prefer this little profile of Sarah Waters in The Scotsman.

Carol Ann Duffy (Yes, you have been informed I like her poetry) claims Night Watch is "a quieter, sadder book than its predecessors". I disagree. Affinity left me heavy-hearted for a long while after I put it down. The Night Watch does not possess the same heart-breaking tragedy, but it is still haunting with its affliction of nostalgia.

Sarah Waters calls her previous novels (Affinity, Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith) "lesbo Victorian romps." (I like the word "romp." It’s a plumb bird of a word, stuffed with colour and play.) Of course she lives to regret it. "Why, oh why, did I ever allow the phrase 'lesbo Victorian romp' to cross my lips?" she later groaned in an interview for Fingersmith. I also say. ;p

The Night Watch is not a romp though. It’s a deviation from Waters’ earlier Dickensian pastiche. (Oh, I loathe the word "pastiche." Brings to mind all those dreary postmodern tutorials we had to sit through in the university.) Her new book is set in the 1940s.

Set in grey London, you feel the character of the city in her dust and fallen buildings, the people in their fears and loneliness. A ravaged city and her damaged souls. All the characters are linked in some way to each other, yet all terribly isolated in their own manner.

Kay was an ambulance driver during the war. Now she lives alone, and walks the London streets at night, wandering.

Viv is having an affair with a married man. She can’t leave him, and he will not leave his wife.

Duncan was in prison during the war. But for what?

Helen, whose jealous passion for Julia threatens everything.

The story starts in 1947, and it jumps back to 1944, and finally 1941.

Look back at what you would lose. The affliction of nostalgia.

All we have is the here and now. In the darkness we reach out - because not to do so will be unbearable. Yet to love is to risk, and only in possession can there be dispossession. So to love is to know loss. At the end is just the wandering, the nostalgia of what we risked and lost; Kay in her haunted walks. Duncan in his prison cell.

We struggle against it. We clutch desperately to our unhappiness, even as it devours us and we come to despise the face that stares us back in the mirror. Better the pain you can hold onto than the alternative; Viv with her married lover. Helen with her jealousy.

How does it feel after I put down the book?

I have been Kay. I have known Duncan. I have known Viv. I have been Helen.

I have felt how it was to love with the kind of pain Waters writes about. It made me think of all my failed loves, the loves of my friends - and wonder why we do the things we do, just to find love.

Essay: Cultivating Loneliness by Kaplan

Above all, it is the lack of appreciation for geography in the broad, nineteenth-century sense of the word that is basic to an age of journalism increasingly given to summarizing from above rather than reporting from below.

~ Excerpt from Robert D. Kaplan's essay, "Cultivating Loneliness".

Robert D Kaplan is a long-time journalist and travel-writer, an author of 11 books. His essay bemoans what is currently lacking in journalism, and he prescribes a return to travel-writing, to get us back to the "vivid reality of places."

BOOKS: A Journey Around My Room

A Journey Around My Room and a Nocturnal Expedition Around My Room
by Xavier De Maistre
(Hesperus Classics S.)

From the foreword by Alain de Botton:
In the spring of 1790, a twenty seven year old Frenchman, Xavier de Maistre, undertook a journey around his bedroom, later entitling the account of what he had seen "A Journey around my Room". Gratified by his experiences, in 1798, de Maistre undertook a second journey. This time, he travelled by night and ventured out as far as the window ledge, later entitling his account "A Nocturnal Expedition around my Room".

Xavier de Maistre was born in 1763 in the picturesque town of Chambéry at the foot of the French Alps. He was of an intense, romantic nature, was fond of reading, especially Montaigne, Pascal and Rousseau and of paintings, especially Dutch and French domestic scenes. At the age of 23, de Maistre became fascinated by aeronautics. Etienne Montgolfier had, three years before, achieved international renown by constructing a balloon that flew for eight minutes above the royal palace at Versailles, bearing as passengers a sheep called Montauciel (Climb-to-the-sky), a duck and a rooster. De Maistre and a friend constructed a pair of giant wings out of paper and wire and planned to fly to America. They did not succeed. Two years later de Maistre secured himself a place in a hot air balloon and spent a few moments floating above Chambéry before the machine crashed into a pine forest.

Friday, February 03, 2006

BOOKS: Graham Greene Reading List

What?! Another list? Yes, I have lots of them, usually in my head somewhere. From time to time I actually take the trouble of typing them out.

As WW once said, geeks make lists. And I have the T-shirt that declares my geekness. You might have seen it. It's blue.

I have a desire to read ALL the Graham Greene novels, and some of his non-fiction works. For those interested in Greene biography , I recommend Greene on Capri, a memoir of a sort by his friend Shirley Hazzard. Otherwise, there's always Norman Sherry's extensive Life of Graham Greene. it's 3 volumes in all.

Graham Greene Books To read

  1. The Man Within
  2. It's a Battlefield
  3. A Gun For Sale
  4. The Confidential Agent
  5. The Ministry of Fear
  6. The End of the Affair [Done]
  7. The Quiet American
  8. The Tenth Man
  9. A Burnt-Out Case
  10. Travels With My Aunt
  11. Dr Fischer of Geneva or The Bomb Part
  12. Stamboul Train
  13. England Made Me
  14. Brighton Rock [Done]
  15. The Power and the Glory
  16. The Heart of the Matter
  17. The Fallen Idol
  18. Loser Takes All
  19. Our Man in Havana
  20. The Honorary Consul
  21. The Comedians
  22. The Human Factor
  23. Monsignor Quixote
  24. The Captain and the Enemy
  25. A Sort of Life
  26. Ways of Escape

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Hicksville Report

Spot the mistake. Come on.
"The further you go into the mountains, the more dangerous it gets," said author Salmon Rushdie, speaking of the remote country of Kashmir where he spent boyhood summers, a region now torn by war between Muslims and Hindus.

Taken from the Clarion-Ledger report

BOOKS: Harper Lee Sighting

Harper Lee, pix courtesy of New York Times
Saw this in the New York Times, and I knew I had to put it up. She's still alive and kicking at the grand age of 79.
Since the release of "Capote," much of her time has been spent writing demurrals to reporters seeking interviews about her life. Someone suggested she come up with a form-letter response to such requests.

What it would say, she joked, "is hell, no."

Full article here.