Friday, December 30, 2005

Quote: Patti Smith & The Bearded One

Someone sent me this:

"I'm not attracted to guys with beards. Maybe that's why Jesus bores me. Maybe if he shaved I'd dig him."

~ Patti Smith, GQ, Dec 2005 Issue

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Gogol: Taras Bulba

Taras BulbaTaras Bulba by Nikolai Gogol, translated by Peter Constantine.

A Russian crtic wrote this about Gogol, "Seldom has nature created a man so romantic in bent, yet so masterly in portraying all that is unromantic in life."

Ernest Hemingway calls Taras Bulba,"One of the ten greatest books of all time."

My impression of Taras Bulba? Lots of bloodthirsty, carousing Cossacks - an unbridled force of violence. If this is truly Gogol's attempt to portray the Ukrainian/Russian spirit, it's a scary one. I'm not used to Gogol in this light. Not sure I like it.

Everybody's Reading Everybody

Was re-reading the interview with Camille Paglia and this struck me:
"I was always in competition with the other big-name columnists -- who would shamelessly rob from me. You know, it's like I would be in Salon on Thursday, and something from it would show up in Maureen Dowd's weekend column, and so on. But I had to make sure that when people went to it that it didn't just seem to be a rehash of someone else's column."

From time to time it really seemed like different websites are reading each other and picking up on everybody else. For instance,'s Hillary Frey reviewed Rachel Ingalls' Times Like These on December 7th, 2005.

Then on December 23rd, 2005, The Village Voice similarly ran a review of the same book.

This is not the first instance of such coincidence. And Rachel Ingalls isn't a hyped-up author of the month. She's a relatively unknown cult author published by a small independent press that does not have the big publicity budget.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Five Best First Sentences

Taken from the New York Magazine Culture Awards 2005: Best in Books.

This is my personal favourite out of the category for The Five Best First Sentences

The Almond: The Sexual Awakening of a Muslim Woman by Nedjma
"I, Badra bent Salah ben Hassan el-Fergani, born in Imchouk under the sign of Scorpio, shoe size thirty-eight, and soon to reach my fiftieth year, make the following declaration: I don’t give a damn that Black women have delectable cunts and offer total obedience; that Babylonian women are the most desirable and women from Damascus the most tender to men; that Arab and Persian women are the most fertile and faithful; that Nubian women have the roundest buttocks, the softest skin, and passion that burns like a tongue of fire; that Turkish women have the coldest wombs, the most cantankerous temperament, the most rancorous heart, and the most radiant acumen; and that Egyptian women are soft-spoken, offer kind-hearted friendship, and are fickle in their constancy."

Friday, December 23, 2005


I was high on vodka last night when I got home. And in a state of alcoholic euphoria, my dad and I started to discuss Mongolia, then Tibet. The old man is retiring next year, and he has a trip to Tibet planned.

Then he asked if I could make it? It's about 10 days, in April.

I said yes.

So we'll see. I don't want to get my hopes up in case it doesn't happen. But imagine if I'm really going to Tibet with daddy.

P/S: Did I mention my mum offered to sponsor the Tibet trip last night?

Patti Smith

Her music invokes Burroughs, Blake, Rimbaud, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones; Patti Smith is the Poet Laureate of Punk Rock. Her iconic debut album, Horses is now out in a 30th Anniversary version.

["Three chord rock merged with the power of the word" ]

The first time I encountered Patti Smith's work was in a bookstore. It was Tower Books before it closed. In the poetry section was a slim square volume. Many of the photographs were by Robert Mapplethorpe. Text was by Patti Smith.

It was The Coral Sea, her small book of tribute to her late great friend, Mapplethorpe. She addressed the reader:

The first time I saw Robert he was sleeping. I stood over him, this boy of twenty, who sensing my presence opened his eyes and smiled. With few words he became my friend, my compeer, my beloved adventure.

When he became ill I wept and could not stop weeping. He scolded me for that, not with words but with a simple look of reproach, and I ceased.

When I saw him last we sat in silence and he rested his head on my shoulder. I watched the light changing over his hands, over his work, and over the whole of our lives. Later, returning to his bed, we said goodbye. But as I was leaving something stopped me and I went back to his room. He was sleeping. I stood over him, a dying man, who sensing my presence opened his eyes and smiled.

When he passed away I could not weep so I wrote. Then I took the pages and set them away. Here are those pages, my farewell to my friend, my adventure, my unfettered joy.

I liked what Patti Smith wrote, this tenderness and loss. But back then I was an impoverished student on an allowance. So I did not get the book.

A few years later I read about the album Horses. It was an article in The Rolling Stones magazine, and Michael Stipe raved about Patti Smith.

I picked up the CD, listened.

One song caught me, the opening lines, Patti Smith in her signature low, deep drawl:

Jesus died for somebody's sins
But not mine
Meltin’ in a pot of thieves
Wild card up my sleeve
Thick heart of stone
My sins my own
They belong to me. Me

I became a Patti Smith convert that night. I learnt what it meant to be punk.

The album cover of Horses (the picture above) was taken by Robert Mapplethorpe. I have framed this picture in an IKEA photo-frame. It sits in my room, like an icon, an alterpiece.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Notebooks: My Notebook

It’s a black flexi-covered journal with squared pages. Over the years it’s been through much abuse. The edges are water-stained and there are some scratches on the cover.

I purchased the notebook from the Paperchase section of Borders bookstore. It wasn’t cheap, but I was willing to buy it because it’s black and it has squared pages. If it was any other colour, or if the pages were ruled, no way (unlined pages however would have been ideal).

It’s about the size and look of a regular black leather Bible. I have not out-grow my amusement every time someone makes the same observation; the legacy of a mission school education.

I started flipping through the earliest entries of this weathered notebook. On the first few pages were the scribbled notes to a story that I first conceived of towards the end of my final year of University. The story continued to develop inside my head and a few years later I gave some of the key characters their final names, scribbled onto my notebook. But their story is still not yet ready to be written. I am still not sure how I am to resolve the plot.

After that, a small section was torn out. I know what the missing pages contained – letters to an ex that I was too ashamed to re-read. Good riddance.

More: poems by Mary Oliver, hand-copied. Then a short story set in Rome, written by Jeanette Winterson. I liked the story, and hand-copied it into my notebook so that I can bring it with me to be read on the road. One day I will go to Rome again. With the story, taking the No. 8 Argentina line.

The paper quality of its squared pages is excellent. The ink from my fountain pens does not seep through the pages – unlike the Moleskine. This is my greatest grievance with the Moleskine – this annoys me more than:

1) the steep price of Moleskine
2) the fact Moleskine only has 240 pages.

I estimate there is about 60 pages left in the journal. It will not last me till mid-2006, and so I’ve picked up two Moleskine journals to succeed this one. Paperchase at Borders seemed to have discontinued this range of journal.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Revising My 100 Books to Read

I'm revising my 100 Books to Read list, as expected.

I’m taking out:
Julian Barnes’s Flaubert Parrot
John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces
Charlotte Bronte’s Villette
George Eliot’s Middlemarch
Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry
John Berger's Ways of Seeing

Who am I kidding? I am not yet prepared to go back to the life where everything is the 19th Century British novel. So only one Charlotte Bronte. And no Middlemarch yet.

As for Sexing the Cherry - I have to say it is one of those Winterson books I did not enjoy. I thought a re-reading of Four Quartets may help shed new light on Sexing the Cherry. I regret, it did not. So, if I'm going to re-read Winterson, might as well be The Passion. Or Gut Symmetries.

Shortlist for replacement:
Antigone by Sophocles
Stories by Anton Chekhov
Kim by Rudyard Kipling
New Annotated Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore
The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

Question is, should I take down the Qu'ran as part of my reading? I am both daunted and fascinated by it.

Will post the revised list once I've decided. *sigh*

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair

20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair
Twenty Love Poems and A Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda
[09/12/2005 ~ 10/12/2005]

Another poem from this collection that caught me. About yearning for the Beloved and the clenching heartache that comes with it.

Clenched Soul

We have lost even this twilight.
No one saw us this evening hand in hand
while the blue night dropped on the world.

I have seen from my window
the fiesta of sunset in the distant mountain tops.

Sometimes a piece of sun
burned like a coin in my hand.

I remembered you with my soul clenched
in that sadness of mine that you know.

Where were you then?
Who else was there?
Saying what?
Why will the whole of love come on me suddenly
when I am sad and feel you are far away?

The book fell that always closed at twilight
and my blue sweater rolled like a hurt dog at my feet.

Always, always you recede through the evenings
toward the twilight erasing statues.

She Wrote What?!

Taken from, Stephanie Zacharek's film review of The Chronicles of Narnia:
But I'm not sure the Jesus imagery in "Narnia" is any more overt than what you get in "E.T." (he does, after all, have the power to heal and to rise from the dead).
It warranted a raised eyebrow. ;)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Library and Reading

The NLB has recently doubled the lending quota to the public. This means you are now allowed to loan 16 books (or 8 books + 8 DVDs) instead of the usual 8.

This unfortunately put a dampener on my reading list, since part of the reason I have so many unfinished books is there's always many other books to read. And as I've mentioned it in an earlier blog: all books ultimately refer to other books.

Some of the titles I've borrowed in the last two weeks:

1. Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda
It's on my 100 Books to Read, so I'm not going to feel guilty about it. In the end, I find myself drawn to the few poems touched with loss. Still, my favourite in the collection remains Tonight I Can Write.

2. 100 Love Sonnets by Pablo Neruda
What can I say, I got carried away on a Pablo Neruda wave. Apparently these are love poems to his wife.

3. Poems and Readings for Funerals selected by Julia Watson
The 70 poems and prose extracts range from Shakespeare to Chief Tecumseh of the Shawnee Nation. And of course it must include W. H. Auden's Funeral Blues - the poem John Hannah read in Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Not all my friends will marry. Some may never fall in love. But they will all eventually die.

4. Gilgamesh a version by Stephen Mitchell
One more on my reading list.

5. Greene on Capri by Shirley Hazzard
Shirley Hazzard is one of those authors I will get to, if I ever get around to reading them. Hazzard and her husband were friends with the late Graham Greene; they met on the lovely island of Capri during the 1960s. Reminiscence of a mighty friendship:
'When friends die, one's own credentials change: one becomes a survivor. Graham Greene has already had biographers, one of whom has served him mightily. Yet I hope that there is room for the remembrance of a friend who knew him - not wisely, perhaps, but fairly well - on an island that was "not his kind of place," but where he came season after season, year after year & where he, too, will be subsumed into the capacious story.'
I love Graham Greene's writing. Will write more on him when I get around to The Quiet American.

6. The Final Solution by Michael Chabon.
It's a novella, so I figured it's going to be a quick read. Have read Chabon's The Wonder Boys and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I find that he's actually capable of being funny in the Wonder Boys, but he took a route down pathos in Kavalier and Clay.

Final Solution guest-stars a once-famous detective obsessed with bee-keeping. Into his life wanders Linus Steinman, nine years old and mute, who has escaped from Nazi Germany with his sole companion: an African grey parrot. Homage to a beloved literary figure. I hope Chabon does better than Caleb Carr did with The Italian Secretary.

7. Bee Season by Myla Goldberg
Now a movie starring Juliette Binoche and Richard Gere (who cares?).

Juliette Binoche plays a Jewish mother. Of a little girl who is a spelling bee. Little girl is not played by Dakota Fanning. Juliette Binoche is in this movie, so it's almost enough reason to watch. She has a delicate beauty about her, that when she comes on screen all you want to do is to look at her. And sigh.

Cut and paste from for the story:
Eliza Naumann, a seemingly unremarkable eleven-year-old, expects never to fit into her gifted family: her father, Saul, absorbed in his study of mysticism; her brother, Aaron, the vessel of his father's spiritual ambitions; and her brilliant but distant lawyer mother, Miriam. But when Eliza discovers an aptitude for competitive spelling, Saul takes it as a sign that she is destined for greatness. In this altered reality, Saul ushers her into his hallowed study and lavishes upon her the attention previously reserved for Aaron, who in his displacement embarks on a lone quest for spiritual fulfilment that leads him to the Hare Krishna. And when the unveiling of Miriam's secret life triggers an almighty explosion, it is Eliza who must order the chaos.

8. Nobody's Perfect: Writings From The New Yorker by Anthony Lane
I only picked this up after I read the introduction to it by Anthony Lane himself. He is hilarious in that British self-deprecating way.

9. Three Theban Plays: "Antigone","Oedipus the King","Oedipus at Colonus" translated by Robert Fagles & The Burial at Thebes translated by Seamus Heaney
Two versions of the plays by Sophocles. The one I'm currently looking into specifically is Antigone. In a nutshell, it's a story of civil disobedience; a woman whose conscience and duty supersedes the laws of the State. She dies at the end.

Monday, December 12, 2005

More on "Memoirs of a Geisha"

But really, it's about Gong Li. ;p

Oh, and the English.

Taken from Manohla Dargis's New York Times Review:
Ms. Gong's hauteur and soaring cheekbones work better for her character, a woman of acid resolve. Although there are moments when Hatsumomo comes perilously close to Dragon Lady caricature ("I will destroy you!"), the actress's talent and dignity keep the performance from sliding into full-blown camp. But even the formidable Ms. Gong cannot surmount the ruinous decision to have her and Ms. Zhang, along with the poorly used Mr. Yakusho, deliver their lines in vaguely British-sounding English that imparts an unnatural halting quality to much of their dialogue. The. Result. Is. That. Each. Word. Of. Dialogue. Sounds. As. If. It. Were. Punctuated. By. A. Full. Stop. Which. Robs. The. Language. Of. Its. Watery. Flow. And. Breath. Of. Real. Life. Even. As. It. Also. Gives. New. Meaning. To. The. Definition. Of. The. Period. Movie.

"Memoirs of a Geisha" is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). The film is as discreet as an unopened waterlily.

Memoirs of the Geisha: Orient Excess

Okay, I first saw the movie trailer for Memoirs of a Geisha during the Gala Premiere for Mirrormask. It opens with Ziyi Zhang's voice-over. I stopped myself (barely) from actually sticking my fingers into my ears to block out the poorly elucidated English.

Make no mistake: I do not like Ziyi Zhang. I find her sorely lacking in grace and charm. If she was less succesful I could forgive her - but since she's seen as THE ASIAN FACE of the world (okay, Hollywood) - I tend to be less forgiving.

Ms F says I am too harsh on Ziyi Zhang. Or was her exact word "unfair"? Can't remember. But then Ms F LURVES Hugh Grant, and for some reason I always mistake it for Hugh Jackman. Please, Hugh Grant? Huh?

Ms F and I will have to agree to disagree.

I thought I wasn't interested in Memoirs of a Geisha, but after this review, I decided I am going to watch it, just so that I can bitch about how much I hate it. If anything, Dennis Lin's Review in Village Voice articulates what I dislike about Hollywood Asian movies:
Chinese actresses play Japanese geisha (in a period concurrent with the Sino-Japanese war) and speak English the way Hollywood has always imagined Asians do, all stilted syntax and awkward enunciations ("You are! To become! Geisha!").
I laughed when I read it. So typical.

Oh yeah, and if Dennis Lin is right, I'm definitely watching it for the Ziyi Zhang vs Gong Li bitch-fight. My money will of course be on Gong Li. Always. Even in 2046 she kicks ass even when she's obviously not the winner

"I shall destroy you!" she hisses to Ziyi Zhang in the trailer.

So cheesy camp. I want! ;p

Girls Gone Wild: Garish geisha in Marshall's disastrous pageant of dragon-lady catfights
by Dennis Lim
December 6th, 2005 1:50 PM
[Article Taken from Village Voice]

In their great geisha dramas, Mikio Naruse and Kenji Mizoguchi bring an unblinking focus to the everyday realities of being a working woman: Naruse's Flowing (1956) is a crystalline portrayal of the okiya (geisha house) as a vanishing microcosm and a declining business. Arthur Golden's 1997 Memoirs of a Geisha—an exhaustively researched novel masquerading as an insider's tell-all—emphasizes exotic ritual: laborious face painting and masochistic hairdos, virginity auctions and patronage systems. The movie version of Golden's bestseller, from the director of Chicago, comes up with a new angle: In this garish pageant of dragon-lady vamping and drag-queen catfights, the geisha experience is roughly akin to working the bar at Lucky Cheng's.

Swaddled in the posh vulgarity that passes for awards-season elegance, Memoirs is deluxe orientalist kitsch, a would-be cross between Showgirls and Raise the Red Lantern, too dumb to cause offense though falling short of the oblivious abandon that could have vaulted it into high camp. While Golden's book was praised as a persuasive feat of ventriloquist empathy, Rob Marshall's movie is something of a lip-synch disaster: Chinese actresses play Japanese geisha (in a period concurrent with the Sino-Japanese war) and speak English the way Hollywood has always imagined Asians do, all stilted syntax and awkward enunciations ("You are! To become! Geisha!"). Golden coyly framed his novel as a translated autobiography, and the author invented for his stereotypical model of Eastern femininity an accordingly docile voice. The movie at least drops any pretense of authenticity, supplanting the whispery "Asianness" of Golden's prose with the heavy breathing of a filmmaker who goes weak-kneed at the merest glimpse of silk brocade.

Against the color-coded tumult of flicked fans and twirled umbrellas, the slenderness and predictability of Golden's fiction becomes painfully apparent. Drained of all anthropological value and incongruously imbued with Chicago's rancid showbiz cynicism, Memoirs is recast as an aspirational melodrama. Sold into an okiya in childhood, mysteriously blue-eyed Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang), often shot through bars and slats in case we fail to grasp her caged condition, longs to escape servitude—to become! geisha!—which she does under the tutelage of the kindly Mameha (Michelle Yeoh) and despite the vengeful plotting of the slatternly Hatsumomo (Gong Li). She also yearns, somewhat creepily, for true love with a generous big shot known as the Chairman (Ken Watanabe), whom she meets as a prepubescent. And in the scheme of this movie, which dispenses with pesky World War II in one or two sonorous voiceover lines, what Sayuri wants, Sayuri gets.

"What do we know about entertaining Americans?" one geisha asks another, rallying to put on a postwar show. It's also Marshall's foremost concern, of course, and as he can attest, Americans—or at least Academy voters—are gluttons for that old razzle-dazzle. In this back-lot Kyoto, which seems to have been achieved by plopping down some pointy Asian roofs on the set of Chicago, something is always falling from the sky: rain, snow, and on special occasions, cherry blossoms. The overall aesthetic could be approximated by turning on a wind machine in a Chinatown souvenir emporium. With Marshall preoccupied picking out fabrics and lacquer veneers, the task of directing the actors seems to have fallen to the beleaguered dialect coach. To complement the clashing accents, Memoirs is a free-for-all of wildly divergent acting styles. Zhang's phonetic struggles are the most (mis)pronounced, but she throws herself heartily into the film's hilariously anachronistic big number, a splashy expressionist routine on platform clogs that would have cleaned up on So You Think You Can Dance?

The supporting actors, who include some of Asia's biggest stars, mount savvier defense strategies. Poised as ever, Yeoh seems to be meditating as much as acting, creating a zone of Zen self-containment. In a quietly subversive turn, charismatic Koji Yakusho, despite sporting a decorously scarred cheek, makes rival suitor Nobu a more enticing romantic prospect than the Chairman. Best of all, Gong uncorks a broad, gestural performance that both captures the spirit of the movie and signals her superiority to it. Memoirs scans as round two in the battle of the Zhang Yimou leading ladies, carried over from 2046, and this bout also goes to Gong. Clad in chinchilla-fringed outfits and hurling sidelong death glares, Gong's viperous Hatsumomo wipes the floor with Zhang's cowering Sayuri: "I shall destroy you!" she hisses in the most Showgirls-like scene. What's more, she doesn't overstay her welcome. Hatsumomo's dramatic exit seems to sum up Gong's attitude toward the film: She torches the place and defiantly strides away from the smoldering wreckage.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Notebooks: Moleskine

"Keepers of notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with a sense of loss."

~ Joan Didion

Obviously if you know me, you would already know about some of my affectations. One of them being my "thing" with fountain pens.

Recently I've acquired a new affectation: Moleskine Notebooks (pronounced mol-a-skeen-a). For the uninitiated, here's a a link to Wikipedia on Moleskine.

Moleskine is produced by an Italian stationary company Modo&Modo. They hardsell the moleskine as "the legendary notebook of Hemingway, Picasso, Chatwin."

Now, I'm not sure about Hemingway or Picasso, but I first learnt about Chatwin's compulsion for moleskine from The Songlines:

For lunch we had beer and a salami sandwich. The beer made me sleepy, so I slept until four. When I woke, I started rearranging the caravan as a place to work in. There was a plyboard top which pulled out over the second bunk to make a desk. There was even a swiveling office chair. I put my pencils in a tumbler and my Swiss Army knife beside them. I unpacked some exercise pads and, with the obsessive neatness that goes with the beginning of a project, I made three neat stacks of my 'Paris' notebooks. In France, these notebooks are known as carnets moleskines: 'moleskine', in this case, being its black oilcloth binding. Each time I went to Paris, I would buy a fresh supply from a papeterie in the Rue de l'Ancienne Comédie. The pages were squared and the end-papers held in place with an elastic band. I had numbered them in series. I wrote my name and address on the front page, offering a reward to the finder.

Some details on the product:

The Moleskine Notebooks have a cardboard bound cover with rounded corners and an elastic closure. An expandable inner pocket made of cardboard and cloth contains the Moleskine history. The acid free paper pages are thread bound.
Pocket size: 9 x 14 cm (3½ x 5½").
Large size: 13 x 21 cm (5 x 8¼").

I avoid ruled notebooks, preferring squared or plain pages for my scribbling.

[Squared Moleskine Notebook]

Notebook Squared

[Plain Moleskine Notebook]

Notebook Plain

I like the freshness of new notebooks. The paper is crisp, clean and you almost can't bear to sully the surface. Problem is - a notebook isn't much use if we don't write in it. So I usually break in my notebooks with a quote or something transferred from an older notebook - a sense of continuity in the chronicle perhaps.

I broke in my first moleskine (purchased 1st December 2005) by hand-copying T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets unto the pages. By slowly and meticulously writing out the poem we're forcing ourselves to re-read them in a more deliberate manner. And goodness knows T. S. Eliot needs to be re-read until he starts to make sense.

Moleskine - the English site by the makers of the Moleskine
BBC h2g2 on Moleskine - it's a lifestyle choice, moleskine! ;p
Moleskinerie - a network for moleskine fans around the globe

Deptford Trilogy

Wrapped up Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own" last week and started on Robertson Davies' "The Deptford Trilogy."

Currently still in the early stages of the book, where the narrator survived the war, got his left leg amputated blah blah blah.

One of the character, a Mrs Dempster reminds me of an archetypal Holy Idiot. My mind made the cross-reference to Dostoevsky's The Idiot.

That is the thing with books - each book somehow leads you to another, and at the end you realise all books are essentially talking about each other.

I think Jorge Luis Borges wrote something about that at some point in his life.

Still Reading:
1. Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies

Completed Titles:
1. Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot
2. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
3. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
4. The Claudine Novels by Colette

Friday, December 09, 2005

Rapture By Carol Ann Duffy

Finally got this collection of Carol Ann Duffy's poems, Rapture. Been waiting for two months. *sigh* Better late than never. "You" is the opening poem from this fine collection.


Uninvited, the thought of you stayed too late in my head.
so I went to bed, dreaming you hard, hard, woke with your name,
like tears, soft, salt, on my lips, the sound of its bright syllables
like a charm, like a spell.

Falling in love
is glamorous hell: the crouched, parched heart
like a tiger, ready to kill; a flame’s fierce licks under the skin.
into my life, larger than life, you strolled in.

I hid in my ordinary days, in the long grass of routine,
in my camouflage rooms. You sprawled in my gaze,
staring back from anyone’s face, from the shape of a cloud,
from the pining, earth-struck moon which gapes at me

as I open the bedroom door. The curtains stir. There you are
on the bed, like gift, like a touchable dream.

Monday, December 05, 2005

First Book: Stories to leave you wanting more

By Jeanette Winterson

Taken from The Times

This is the Christmas books issue. Let’s celebrate all the things we love to read, and all the things we read and fall in love with.

Everybody remembers the first book that made a difference to them. Often, that book is still the one we give to our lovers, or wait excitedly to pass on to the kids in our lives.

The shared secret of a book you both adore is like nothing else. Even though thousands of other people have read it, it is still a private world. Certain cities, like Venice, have this quality, but that is because such a city is essentially an invention. And a continual re-invention; the outline is always there, but we make up the meaning as we go along.

This is not to say that the great books we love are wax tablets where we impress our own image. Rather, they have such power of purpose, revealed in form and language that they interpret us much better than we interpret them. That is why a strong text will keep armies of academics in salaries for generations. Most of this secondary work falls and fails as time passes, but the work itself remains. It is always possible to say something new about Shakespeare or Keats or the Brontes or Woolf. It is always possible to write (yet) another book about Venice. The thing is bigger than we are.

It would be wonderful if Christmas were a celebration of all the stories we have read and told, beginning with its own story of a difficult birth in a draughty stable. Most of us rail at the commercialism of Christmas, but we still load up with as much we can carry.

Sometimes it is necessary to pile up books like sandbags against the outside world – please god not another mince pie or singing Santa – a good book is a place to hide behind.

This year I am only giving books as presents. My godchildren, nine and six, are just at the point where I can start discussing favourite books with them, and mapping their meanings onto my own. In this way, we re-draw the territory. The book changes shape, because books are shape-changers. Like Venice, you know exactly what square is over the next bridge, and then suddenly, you realise you have made a mistake – or a discovery. Kids make wonderful readers because they pile into the book like backpackers off the bus. They aren’t sophisticated, and they don’t come with expectations. But they are sharp and alive, and they bring the venerable text back to its beginnings – books are always new, even when they are very old.

I have made a deal with my godchildren this year, that we will all write our own Christmas stories, and read them to each other on Christmas Eve. All children love to hear stories, and to tell them. It is a pity that we soon manage to lobotomise them into believing that the material world of more and more stuff, is of greater value than the world they can imagine and invent, or discover in the imagination and inventions of others. Christmas could be a time to correct this – and books are one way of doing that.

I might encourage them with snippets from a charming edition, just out, of The Hyde Park Gate News – The Stephen Family Newspaper . This is the weekly newspaper complied by Virginia Woolf, (Stephen) and her various brothers and sisters, for the entertainment of themselves and their parents, between 1892 and 1985. It is in manuscript in the British Library, and printed here for the first time.

I admit that I groan when any more Bloomsbury ephemera appears, but this deserves its place, not because scholars need it - but because it is fun. Virginia Stephen was ten, and the sharp wit is already present: ‘On Christmas Day Mrs Stephen and the four children went to the Lyceum. What the pantomime was about it is difficult to say. Santa Claus came down on his sledge from the ceiling. Then he made several moral remarks in a burly tone. Dances followed, then a bit of Babes in the Wood was introduced, and the babes, after dying in the orthodox way, are brought to life again by Santa Claus. The most interesting character was the dog Tatters.’

Scholars may think this leads us towards Miss La Trobe in Between the Acts; I think it’s a delightful way of encouraging kids to write their own Christmas this year.

RENT the Musical

Saw RENT the Musical last Saturday. Was seated at nice Circle seats where I imagined raunchy sexual escapades and intrigue of the kind you see in historical movie. But the Circle seats at the old Kallang Theatre was far from romantic. And a little wore for wear.

Just looking at your ticket, you are reminded that RENT stars Karen Mok. In BIG letters. When the musical opens, WW asks somewhere in the background if that's Karen Mok somewhere on stage.

You get the idea. She ain't the star, even if they're selling her.

Karen Mok plays Mimi, the junkie exotic dancer who's all Bad Girl. Okay, Karen Mok has a nice body and great tresses - but wild-abandon sex kitty she isn't. It was a lukewarm performance really, but it could have been much more.

Later in the evening I bought the CD for the original Broadway performance of RENT (Sucker!) Okay, my favourite tunes in the musical? "Light My Candle" and "Out Tonight" - oddly enough, both Mimi's songs.

Karen Mok just don't do it for me.

Declining Stars

We live in a period of declining stars. Few celebrities these days (aside from the smoldering Angelina Jolie) seem to have complex psychic lives.

~ Camille Paglia

In an age of Orlando Blooms, I so agree.

Friday, December 02, 2005

On Virginia Woolf

"She was night-time and words were the dream."

~ From Art Objects, on Virginia Woolf