Friday, May 01, 2015

Why Can't We Read Anymore?

I admit it - I have been having problems reading the last few years. I've been reading less - my attention span seems to shrink. I keep trying though, but there's always something to distract me.

Books, in ways that are different to visual art, to music, to radio, to love even, force us to walk through another’s thoughts, one word at a time, over hours and days. We share our minds for that time with the writer’s. There is a slowness, a forced reflection required by the medium that is unique. Books recreate someone else’s thoughts inside our own minds, and maybe it is this one-to-one mapping of someone else’s words, on their own, without external stimuli, that give books their power. Books force us to let someone else’s thoughts inhabit our minds completely.

Books are not just transferrers of knowledge and emotion, but a special kind of tool that flattens one self into another, that enable the trying-on of foreign ideas and emotions.

This suppressing of the self is a kind of meditation too — and while books have always been important to me on their own (pre-digital) merits, it started to occur to me that “learning how to read books again,” might also be a way to start weaning my mind away from this dopamine-soaked digital detritus, this meaningless wash of digital information, which would have a double benefit: I would be reading books again, and I would get my mind back.

- [full article]

Friday, April 24, 2015

100 BOOKS | 100 Books to Read 2015

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

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

Monday, March 30, 2015

Story of Lee Kuan Yew, from his Photographer

There has been many stories published about the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. This one, is among my favourite. It's from his former photographer, George Gascon.

As they were preparing for the shoot, Mr Gascon caught a glimpse of Mrs Lee combing Mr Lee's hair.

It was a moment that Mr Gascon dearly wished to capture. So he took out his Leica, knowing the quiet shutter would not intrude into the tenderness.

Yet, even with her back to Mr Gascon, Mrs Lee heard the clicking of the camera.

She said: "George, I heard that."

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?"

NO. THERE IS NO MORE TIME, EVEN FOR CAKE. FOR YOU, THE CAKE IS OVER. YOU HAVE REACHED THE END OF 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.

[source]

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.