Tuesday, February 27, 2007

BOOKS | Follow Your Own

A while back, Jenclair posted a question on how we decide what to read next. I thought a little about my own reading choices and came to the conclusion it's all whims and fancies.

Then Jeanette Winterson wrote something along this topic for The Times' Her Word column. Her advice:

Then – and this is the fun bit – proceed to a section of the bookshop in which you think you have no interest, and buy something that catches your eye. I have just been reading Captain Cook’s Journals, which made me read Robinson Crusoe again, which made me think about island narratives, and has run me towards Boswell and Johnson in the Hebrides, Marianne Wiggins’s wonderful novel John Dollar and to Diana Souhami’s award-winning Selkirk’s Island, which made me order Coconut Chaos, her new book on Pitcairn.

For me, this is the way to read and reread books. I don’t want to be told that if I liked X I could read Y, or that people who bought A also bought B. Reading is not a place to be one of a crowd, it is the place to be yourself. In our world of lookalikes and wannabes, being yourself amounts to a social service. Give books for good reasons – because you love them – and buy new books that can become part of a living library, a place where the unexpected still happens.

I'm always at a loss because I really find it hard to sum up quickly what books I like to read. Really, the most accurate reply I can give is this: I read whatever catches my interest at that time.

The thing is, an answer like this often do not satisfy people. It does not allow them to understand or classify you immediately.

I work in a bookstore and you would think people who work in bookstores are good judge of readers and reading habits. Not true. My manager was surprised that I have a pretty good working knowledge of fantasy novels; she thought I was all serious fiction. One of my vendor was caught off guard that my degree was in English Literature; he thought I was all non-fiction.

I guess I shouldn't tell anyone that my graduating thesis was a Bakhtian reading of William Gibson's Neuromancer - Cyberpunk as Cybergothic. (I always imagined Angelina Jolie as Molly Millions.) What will people think of me then?

My friend once told me how her editor, RL, found my Director's love of comic books demeaning. A grown man reading comics? I was amused because I have very little respect for my Director's taste in general - but I have to stand up for the genre and say RL should keep his mouth shut about people who read comics, since he knows very little about it.

We often have assumptions about people and what they should be reading. One of my colleagues once told me she doesn't read fiction because she is a person well-grounded in reality. She was particularly disdainful of speculative fiction. Yet she is in fact one of the most fragile character I have ever met, because she breaks down completely everytime her worldview is challenged.

People in fact, should read as widely as they can. And read what they want to. Forget about the critics or reviewers who tell you what you should or should not read - unless you really trust their taste of course. A friend used to jacket her romance novels with pages from magazines - she was self-conscious about being thought of poorly as a "romance reader." Oh, how we blush.

I hate it when someone remarks, "This is so not you" - about a book I'm reading. Well, I chose it, and I'm reading it - so it is definitely Me. It's just inconsistent with your definition of Me.

It doesn't matter if your reading is a little esoteric. It doesn't matter if no one in your bookclub wants to read Robertson Davies, and no one else seems to share your passion for this funny but wise Canadian author. You can just keep giving away Robertson Davies novels as presents. Birthdays, Christmas, Baby Showers - lots of good excuses for giving away books. Who knows? Maybe some day a friend will finally read your favourite author - and enjoy the experience. They might even pick up other Robertson Davies titles.

I have often thought my reading choices too on the whim, and there can't possibly be any active decision-making behind the books I pick up. But maybe not. Maybe my choices are not as incidental as I assume. Isn't it our spontaneous choices that truly reveal our genuine desires?

So why do I have a book on the history of salt?

We should all follow Jeanette Winterson's advice:

"I began to follow my own eccentricities, which is really the only way to read."

On an ironic note, I recall one of my teacher, Mr C., who came from a Jesuit seminary, training for a life of celibacy and service to his faith. As fate would have it, he met the woman who would become his wife, gave up God and ended up teaching Shakespeare to ignorant eighteen year olds. Mr C is a voracious reader on the subject of true crime and serial killers, and he has heaps of these paperbacks. If our libraries are archives of our longings, what does it say about Mr C?

And I have books on suicide and manic-depressive artists. What does that say about me?

Why care? Just go forth and read whatever you want.

Monday, February 26, 2007

TRICYCLE Meditation Challenge

Tricycle Magazine

I'm way behind on my magazine reading. Only just found out about Tricycle's 28 Days Commit To Sit challenge. And I'm interested.

Our twenty-eight-day Commit to Sit challenge puts that daydream of an intense daily practice to the test. How different will you feel when you meditate every day for a month? What happens when you commit to the five traditional Buddhist vows for laypeople, including refraining from intoxicants and minding your speech? The meditation instructions provided here come out of the Vipassana tradition, which can be traced directly to the way the Buddha himself practiced. The program schedule is based on Vipassana retreats popular in the West and has been constructed to encourage and support your practice.

Twenty-eight days. How about it? My meditation practice is something I have neglect of late. While I practice yoga diligently and I approach it as part of my spiritual practice, I know it is necessary to actually sit and meditate if I really wish to deepen my practice. Perhaps that is why I have avoided it.

Meditation is difficult for me, because my mind is usually unfocused; precisely the reason I need it.

I came to the dharma and yoga at around the same time. But I have stopped identifying myself as a Buddhist for a while now. It was a quiet decision. I have not discussed it with anyone. Most of my important life choices are made quietly.

I have not abandoned the dharma. But there are issues I have to sort out before I can call myself a Buddhist. I just want to be more honest. Or just less hypocritical.

But I can meditate. And I can try to practice the teachings in my life. And if I can do that, it doesn't matter if I identify myself as Buddhist or not, does it?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

IRONY | I'm a Writer Too

Oh my gawd! That's me! It really is me!

Saturday Library Haul

I swung by the local library today as I had to renew my library loan for The Art of Eating.

More than 700 pages of culinary writing, and you had to swim through pages of adorations and critical reviews before you get to M.F.K. Fisher's writings proper. It's enjoyable, as Fisher explores the preparation, cultural history and philosophy of eating. She also writes movingly on her own gastronimical experiences, and how it is all tied up with desire and hunger. More on it later.

Anyway, while I was at the library, I picked up some other titles. Alessandro Baricco's An Iliad is finally available for loan. Baricco is an acclaimed Italian author whose books I have enjoyed recently. This is his rendition of Homer's epic through a more subjective angle.

If you're interested in Baricco other titles, look out for Silk - a historical novella set in the 1860s. French silkworm merchant Hervé Joncour travels to Japan where he falls under the spell of a beautiful woman.

Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It by Geoff Dyer. A travelogue that mentions yoga in the title. Okay, I'm easy bait.

Then there's Camilla Gibb's The Petty Details of So-and-so's Life. Recommended to me by someone who knows just how much I adore books about fucked up childhood and who also knows how much I enjoyed Ann-Marie MacDonald's Fall on Your Knees.

And, in the vein of Turkey related readings, I picked up The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay. It's published by New York Review Books, and the reviews say it's humorous and well-written, as it chronicles the madcap travels of a group of eccentric characters from Istanbul to legendary Trebizond.

Finally, Freya Stark's Baghdad Sketches. I collect travellers as my heroes. Freya Stark is one of them. This is a collection of articles she wrote while travelling in Baghdad during the 1930s.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

My Library

"My library is an archive of my longings”

~ Attributed to Susan Sontag

It's supposed to be something that Susan Sontag wrote in her journal, and it's the kind of thing that makes me take a long hard look at my library and wonder how true this statement is for myself.

All these unread books. Why?

What does it say that I have a huge collection of travel writings to places I may never get to see? What does it say of me that I have all these books on dead civilisations?

Just a note: a posthumously released collection of Susan Sontag's works is now available: At the Same Time: Essays and Speeches. Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

BOOKS | Twilight of Love

Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev
By Robert Dessaix
[16/01/2007 ~ 20/02/2007]
[Memoirs; Travel Writing; Russian Literature]

I've just finished Twilight of Love by Australian author Robert Dessaix. In a sort of introduction to the book, Dessaix provides the background to how he came to this journey, to Turgenev, and writing this book. When he was about 11 or 12 years old − a long time ago, when "the first sputnik began crisscrossing the sky", Dessaix bought himself a Russian dictionary. That purchase changed his life and set him onto a lifelong Russian romance. Within weeks he signed up for Russian classes, studied a year in Moscow, and eventually began teaching Russian language and literature to students.

Dessaix had intended to trail the footsteps of Russian writer Ivan Turgenev across Germany, France and Russia, to the places he had lived, loved, and wrote his novels. Yet like all good journeys, he meandered, "so crabwise, as it were, while seeming to fix my sights on Turgenev, I have ended up scuttling past him, heading for a broader target."

For a great part of the journey, Dessaix reveals to us how Turgenev spent forty years in love with the diva Pauline Viardot, following her and her husband around Europe until the end of his days. It was a bizarre menage a trois, as Turgenev was on good terms with the husband, Louis Viardot. It gives a perspective into another way of love, not the twosome affair that we are used to. Dessaix asserts that Turgenev understood he was never meant for the conventional twosome love. In fact, for a man so concerned with love, Dessaix noted that there was never any "happily-ever-after" in Turgenev's stories. The characters come to passion, illicit or forbidden in some ways, and it ends. Turgenev continued to have relationships with many other women, but his devotion to Pauline Viardot was unquestionable and complete.

Nowadays I expect we'd call such a scene high camp, but in 1843 it was deliciously theatrical. They knew how to do things in those days. He was twenty-five and she was twenty-two, and he was hers forever.

Dramatic, almost too unreal. Something changed in us between the time of Turgenev to present days. We are unable to love without fulfilment; we have come to assume love and happiness as our inalienable birthrights. We find it hard to believe in love like that, love that could just be − yet there is something that still remains in us that admires the chaste devotion Turgenev had for his Pauline Viardot. We have lost the vocabulary for it.

Yet all the words I might find to describe this love somehow miss the mark. To call it a 'great love affair' makes it sound oddly banal, as if he and Viardot were lovers, which, as far as anybody knows for certain, they were not. To say he was 'deeply in love' with her all his life makes him sound eternally frustrated in his feelings, even adolescent, yet for most of his life it was a stable, enriching love. It was not just a matter of 'passion', either, although there was ardour there of a kind, especially in the early years. Nor was it merely disembodied 'adoration' − in letter after letter he kissed her hands and her feet (although not her lips.) …

One thing seems obvious to me: a love such as this is only possible between two points in a triangle. Otherwise there will be thunder and lightning and what links the two lovers will eventually break asunder. The third point may be a husband or wife or it may be something else entirely.

Quite possibly there is no name at all for this kind of love. Perhaps, in fact, there is no need for a name since so few of us will ever experience anything like it. For the lives most of us lead, the old words will almost certainly do, one replacing the other as the years go by. On the other hand, if I could fin the right word for what Turgenev felt, perhaps the love my own life is rooted in would grow even more luxuriantly.

I want to know what it felt like to love someone like that. I want to find the words.

Dessaix goes back and forth between Turgenev's life and his writings. For him, the focus of Turgenev's life's works is not the politics − nor is it the nihilism, the philosophy that is supposed to have sparked a failed revolution and led the Tsar to free the serfs.

Rather, it is Love. How to love. That is core of Turgenev's life, says Dessaix. Dessaix it seems, following the footsteps of the Russian author, is also exploring his own path to love in twilight, questioning what is means to love, his own realisation of Love. And he leaves us with these thoughts:

Human life may seem pointless and always end badly, but you must make your peace with it. If lasting happiness escapes you, you must resign yourself to magnifying the blissful moments. If burning pasion kaleidoscopes into something slower, mellower and more sweet-tempered, then you must have the grace to warm yourself by this gentler flame. If shafts of light are rare, or only a mirage, wait for them quietly all the same. If love, when you try to lay hold of it with your hands or even just your heart, slips from yout grasp like water because there's no one there, you must reconcile yourself to loving what you find. Love is never enough. It must always be enough. There's nothing else. That, at least, is what I hear him say when he talks to me.

I had picked up the book expecting something else. I had not imagined a treatise of love. It is introspective, lyrical, romantic and well-written. It warms me to the idea of reading Turgenev.

My thanks to Acquistionist for recommending Robert Dessaix.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

HBO turns 'Fire' into fantasy series

Just found this news online:

HBO has acquired the rights to turn George R.R. Martin's bestselling fantasy series "A Song of Fire & Ice" into a dramatic series to be written and exec produced by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.

Via Variety.

Now, allow me an excited, girly scream.

I gave up on the sword and sorcery epics a long time ago. Those fantasy trilogies where the farmboy turns out to be the Chosen One stated in ancient prophecies where they will battle some dark god risen? It wasn't a conscious decision, but over the years you get jaded about the new stuff that comes out that doesn't quite inspire your taste. Then one day you just stop browsing at that section of the bookstore altogether.

Except for A Song of Fire & Ice. George R. R. Martin's multi-volumed high fantasy epic is the only series that still keeps me interested, long after I gave up on Robert Jordan and David Eddings. Why do I love his Song of Fire & Ice?

Martin never forgets that character drives the story, and if necessary, very bad things can be allowed to happen to your well-loved characters. And some really bad things have been done indeed.

Martin is also an accomplished writer of horror and it comes through in his writing.

Martin is always aware of the state of moral ambiguity. There are no real heroes, and his villains are heroes at the other side of the fence. His best character created in the epic is Tyrion the dwarf - a complicated and compelling anti-hero whose fate is unknown since the end of A Feast for Crows. Get him back. I want to find out what happened to him.

Martin still knows how to write an epic, with the rise and fall of great houses, lots of political intrigue and betrayal. He takes his time, yes, and so each book is worth waiting for.

I love love love love love A Song of Fire & Ice.

Visit George R. R. Martin's Official Website.

Uncanny Likeness

When I was watching Superman Returns last year, it occurred to me that Parker Posey shares a bit of likeness with Margot Kidder. Of course, it was whole Superman thing, but today I did a web search on the pictures of these 2 ladies, and the likeness just seems uncanny, especially around the mouth.

Oh, and I Heart Parker Posey.

Parker Posey in 'Superman Returns'

Margot Kidder in her younger days

BOOKS | More on Ice

I've previously mentioned this title, Ice, by Vladimir Sorokin. I just found out it's the first installment in a projected trilogy, to be released by NYRB (somebody go give them a pat on the back for doing a very good job, please). Sorokin himself apparently is known outside of Russia for his clashes with conservative groups over the last several years - but until now, very little of his particular brand of gritty satire has been available to English-language readers.

I still have the book on reserve. Will purchase it next week and hopefully read it soon.

My TBR pile aspires to the heights of the Tower of Babel.

There's more write-up on Ice in The Moscow Times.

News via Literary Saloon - still doing the world a favour by expanding our minds to literature beyond our own borders.

BOOKS | The Art of Detection

The Art of Detection
By Laurie R. King
[04/01/2007 ~ 20/01/2007]
[Mystery, Detective Fiction]

This post is long-overdue. I finished reading the book some time back, but just never got around to writing about it - as usual.

The latest in Laurie R. King's Kate Martinelli series, The Art of Detection features the usual set of characters that fans are familiar with: San Francisco homicide detective Kate Martinelli and her detective-partner Al Hawkins, as well as her life-partner, Lee Cooper. In this book we finally meet little 5 year old Nora - Lee and Kate's precocious daughter.

Since last we left Kate, she has settled into domestic life and juggling her police work with her duty to home. The character is at peace, which unfortunately seems to throw her and most of the characters into a blandness. Laurie R. King has the ability to write believable three dimensional characters with rich emotional lives - that is one of the reason she has such a strong following for her Kate Martinelli and Mary Russell series. In Art of Detection unfortunately, the characters are more pushed into motion than active protagonists.

Present time, San Francisco, the story opens with Detective Kate Martinelli going into the home of a murder victim, Philip Gilbert. What is disturbing is that the victim had set up his entire apartment like the interior of 221 Baker Street, with violin, fireplace, and bullet holes in the wall spelling the initial of Queen Victoria. It turns out the late Mr Gilbert was a collector-dealer in Sherlock Holmes memorabilia and he has recently acquired a typrwritten manuscript that is supposedly written by Sherlock Holmes himself.

The best part of Art of Detection is this mysterious manuscript, a short mystery story told in the first person by a male narrator of extraordinary deduction skills. Here is where fans of the Mary Russell series, especially those who have read Locked Rooms, will be excited.

I visit the Laurie R. King's blog from time to time, and my impression is that she is an intelligent, self-aware lady with a wry sense of humour. Here is the author playing on the consciousness of her own literary creations. Sometimes the characters you create seem to possess a life if their own and all you really are doing is acting as biographer for someone else's life. The crossover between the Mary Russell and Kate Martinelli in Art of Detection is playful, wry and very well-done. It is fun, and shows us how sometimes authors need to take a step back and not that themselves too seriously.

But one complaint: The Art of Detection pales in comparison to other Kate Martinelli novels, especially the wonderful first Martinelli novel, A Grave Talent (which won King the Edgar Award), and To Play the Fool, where we meet the most intriguing character King has ever created: Brother Erasmus - a living embodiment of the archetypal Fool, who buried within himself some tragic secret too terrible to speak of, that he could only communication in quotations.

A fan of Laurie R. King would find enough to enjoy the book, but I would not recommend it to newcomers. The plot is too conveniently tied up at the end, and there is none of the emotional engagement with the characters found in previously books. Even the victim, Philip Gilbert, is hardly a sympathetic character. I would suggest a newcomer to King try the abovementioned titles: A Grave Talent and To Play the Fool if you're interested in the Kate Martinelli series.

Or try the Mary Russell series, if you're more inclined towards Sherlock Holmes pastiche. In The Beekeeper's Apprentice (first in the series), in the year 1914, young, feisty Mary Russell meets a beekeeper and becomes his assistant in the world of mystery and intrigue. The Mary Russell series by the way, has always been more successful for King.

A little background: King has a BA degree in comparative religion and an MA in Old Testament Theology - all of which she puts in good use when she writes. Odd theological knowledge comes up when you least suspects it, and Mary Russell, protagonist of her Sherlock Holmes pastiche series, translates Sanskrit for leisure.

Another good King to start will be A Dark Place. It's a stand-alone, which features Anne Waverly, an esteemed university professor, who also works with the FBI on cult activities. (Here, King again puts her theological education to very good use) She goes undercover to unravel the truth behind a new fangled cult, the People of Change. A complicated and haunted character, Anne Waverly was previously a member of a cult herself, where she lost her family. Tragic, self-destructive, you feel for Anne Waverly as she gradually loses herself in her new assignment. The character of Anne Waverly was so compelling that I wish there was a sequel for her. But just as well. Sometimes a good thing is knowing when to stop.

Meanwhile, if you are already a fan of the Mary Russell mystery, check this out.

Another Non Fiction Reading

I just recalled the other non-fiction title I wanted to check out. Pauline W. Chen's Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality. It's about a surgeon's questioning of the medical profession and how it seems so inadequate in dealing with death. A human perspective into a profession meant to heal, but sometimes losing its way.

I think sometimes we forget doctors are human too, and medicial science does not have all the answer — especially when we are dealing with terminal illnesses and we look to them for the solution — then, realising they are not god.

This is of course part of my own recent experience, where we were frustrated by the number of tests the doctors were running on my grandmother and nothing seems to help her, because she is dying.

Again, since it's in hardcover, I'm checking out the library first. So it's definitely not going to be a selection for the Non-Fiction Five Challenge.

If I do sign-up.

Friday, February 16, 2007

SOLNIT | Storming the Gates of Paradise

I haven't seen anyone announcing this, so I thought I'll just drop a note:

Rebecca Solnit, author of the deliciously discursive Wanderlust: A History of Walking and A Field Guide to Getting Lost has a new book out later in the year.

Published in a hardcover by the University of California Press, Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics collects more than 40 essays across her career, and deals with her insights into culture, social politics and environmental concern. It is more politically motivated than Wanderlust and A Field Guide To Getting Lost, but yet totally coherent with her entire life's work. Her writing has always been about staying engaged with the world we live in, opening our hearts and minds to the infinite curiosities of everyday life and acting conscientiously. Afterall, this woman wrote an entire book on the ordinary everyday act of walking and made it profound and romantic.

Amazon.com states release date as June 30, 2007. If you're interested - I am - do reserve it in your Amazon cart or look out for it in your favourite bookstore after the publication date.

Pacemaker May Explode During Cremation

We were at the crematorium this morning for my grandmother's cremation. I couldn't help but catch a note posted on the notice board inside:

Pacemaker may explode during cremation

My mind went: "Wooooh. Boom."

That was disrespectful, right? Not the right thought, right? Bad brain. Bad, bad, brain.

But you had to be there. It was funny.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Non Fiction Books To Consider

I'm still udecided about the Non-Fiction Five Challenge. Should I, or shouldn't I?

Meanwhile, here are some non-fiction titles I'm looking, regardless of whether I sign up for the challenge or not:

Thanks to Jenclair's recommendation, I'm looking at Written in Bones: How Human Remains Unlock the Secrets of the Dead, edited by Paul Bahn. It's a collection of articles by different contributors. They cover a variety of topic, from Incan sacrifices found on the Andes Mountains, to a discussion of the murders of the nephews of Richard III.

One of my little known childhood ambition was to be an archaeologist. I wanted to be like Howard Carter and explore the pyramids, discover ancient tombs and find hidden treasures. I loved books on old secrets and mummies and even now, I find myself fascinated by well-researched books on anthropology and how the ancient remains seem to speak to us. (Hmm...maybe that's why I love CSI: Crime Scene Investigation)

I'm also looking at Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner, by Dean Karnazes. I first read about Dean Karnazes from Wired magazine last year. This man is amazing.

An ultramarathon is any run beyond 26.2 miles, and Dean Karnazes has done lots of them. In fact, he seems like a guy out to punish himself, with his habit of going for 100 miles run, and also having run in the first ultramarathon in the South Pole — "breathing the superchilled air directly [without a mask] could freeze your trachea" — Nice.

But there is something seductive in knowing more about a guy who would push him to the limits. What makes him do it, and more specifically, where does one find the motivation to go so far? Karnazes says the first half of the run is done with the body, the second half is with the mind. Sounds almost New Age, but this man has done it. And I want to know how.

The best part is, the books are actually available through the local library. So it's just a matter of hoping down one of these days.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

You Are Alive. So Live

I was thinking of this this morning:

HIPPOGRIFF: Orpheus. We have heard of your loss; you have our sympathies also.

ORPHEUS: I do not need your pity, Hippogriff.

HIPPOGRIFF: It was freely given, boy. You should not scorn it.

ORPHEUS: Don't pity me.

MORPHEUS: You should have gone to her funeral.


MORPHEUS: To say goodbye.

ORPHEUS: I have not yet said goodbye to Eurydice.

MORPHEUS: You should. You are mortal: it is the mortal way. You attend the funeral, you bid farewell. You grieve. Then you continue with your life. And at times, the fact of her absence will hit you like a blow to the chest, and you will weep. But this will happen less and less as time goes on. She is dead. You are alive. So live.

~Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: Fables & Reflections,
"Orpheus, The Song of Orpheus"

Valentine's Day Blog

Today, if you are in love, or with someone who loves you, remember to cherish. That we will die, that we will lose the ones we love, is something we always seem to forget.

I have a copy of my grandmother's death certificate with me right now. Is it ironic that my grandmother died on Valentine's Day?

It was a surprise this morning at around 2:14 am when we received the phonecall. I was half-cursing the idiot who would call at 2 am, then the sobering moment when I heard my mother ran into her room in loud sobs; I understood immediately what had happened.

How do I feel? Nothing. We were virtually strangers, my grandmother and myself.

My grandmother had been suffering the last few weeks of her life. The doctors had tubes stuck in her because she could no longer eat. She had in fact begged to die. Yet her children were arguing over surgical procedures that were unable to save her or relieve her of her suffering - which I therefore deemed unnecessary.

Now she has no pain. I'm not that sure about going to a place of peace and all that rubbish though.

Monday, February 12, 2007

WTF | Anna Nicole Smith?

Call me unsympathetic - but why is the world in mourning for Anna Nicole Smith? It's not like she's Gandhi (or even Princess Diana).

There was even an article with the headline: "Chasing the American Dream: Anna Nicole Smith".

Now, is it the American Dream to become a Playboy Playmate with surgically enhanced breasts and an unfortunate drug habit?

QUIZ | Which Austen Heroine Are You

I am Catherine Morland!

Take the Quiz here!

:: C A T H E R I N E ::

You are Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey! You love a good Gothic romance - so much, in fact, that you'll fool yourself into thinking you're living one! You are imaginative and naive, which is at once endearing and perplexing. perhaps your heart is TOO pure...but it is adventurous. After all, you love a trip to Bath or a stay at an ancient Abbey.

Did I mention that's one Austen I have not read? I always thought I was more an Emma Woodhouse.

Via Ex Libris.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Discursive Polymaths and My Weekend

I'm meeting some of my friends in Chinatown later in the evening. Next week is Chinese New Year, so Chinatown will be crowded. *

Oh, to soak in the quagmire of agitated human sweat! Oh festive joy! **

But before I log off for the weekend, would like to point you guys to this piece posted at Conversational Reading, entitled "Discursive Polymaths." It's an interesting piece and I'm taking down notes on some of the titles discussed. Go read, while I go play.

A good weekend to everyone. I also leave you a picture of funny kittens.


* Understatement of the week

** I need to point out that I am being sardonic. I tend to dislike contact with foreign sweat. We need to get to know each other better, preferably with dinner, flowers and a movie included, before we even begin to discuss consensual exchange of bodily fluids, thank you very much.

Mary Oliver | The Uses of Sorrow

The Uses of Sorrow

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

~ Mary Oliver

You don’t have to read a book to talk wisely about it

Full story from The Times.

Pierre Bayard, a French professor of literature who wrote a bestseller on how he comments authoritatively on books that he failed to finish, has forgotten or has never read. In fact, he often makes references in lectures, meetings, reviews and conversations to works that he has not read — without being found out.

Confession: we actually used to do that in English Lit classes. Try giving a presentation on James Joyce's Portrait of An Artist as a Young Man without having read it. It's do-able, especially when the rest of the class probably have not finished reading it either. It makes students who rely on Cliff Notes seem (almost) forgiveable. Afterall, at least they are trying, right?

Meanwhile, Pierre Bayard's book has been sold out and he insists that his not having finished reading - or even read the book - does not diminish his opinions or discussions on them.

Makes me wonder why someimes I feel I have to finish a book, meditate a little on it, before posting about it. Duh. In fact, why bother to read all 6 volumes of In Search of Lost Time? Just read the commentaries on it.

Perhaps we could all follow his advice below:

How to talk about a book you have never read
Avoid precise details. Put aside rational thought. Let your sub-conscience express your personal relationship with the work

How to review a book
Put it in front of you, close your eyes and try to perceive what may interest you about it. Then write about yourself

How to discuss a book with its author
Stick to generalities, remain ambiguous and say how much you like the work

Oh dear, I think I'm guilty of all of the above.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Gabriel Knight

Gabriel Knight portrait from 'Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers'

I'm not sure if anyone out there still remembers the computer game Gabriel Knight, released by Sierra On-Line (the company responsible for King's Quest, Leisure Suit Larry and Half-Life)?

The series was written by Jane Jensen, a computer designer who understood the importance of story-telling for computer adventure games. Three Gabriel Knight games were produced: Gabriel Knight 1: Sins of the Fathers [1993], Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within [1995] and the superb Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned [1999].

In Sins of the Fathers, you play Gabriel Knight, a New Orleans bookstore owner/unsuccessful writer/successful "love 'em and leave 'em" womaniser, started having a series of disturbing nightmares of voodoo and strange symbols. Through the game, he realised that he is the last in the line of a German family of Schattenjagers - Shadow Hunters. To save his soul, he has to become a Schattenjager, and atone for the betrayal committed by one of his ancestors. In his journey, Gabriel is assisted by his beautiful and very intelligent (but of course) and witty friend, Grace Nakimura. There is some sex, some gore (a character has his heart cut out for a sacrifice) and an alternative ending.

The Beast Within has Gabriel Knight coming to his new role as Schattenjager. He is uncertain about his duties, and the darker side of him is rebelling against the duties of the Shadow Hunter. Jane Jensen wrote a story about werewolves, interwoven with a story about King Ludwig II of Bavaria, and featuring a lost Wagner opera.

The third installment was exceptionally powerful. For Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned, Jane Jensen centred her story around the mystery of the Knight Templars, the Priory of Sion, the bloodline of Christ, with vampires - and our sardonic hero, Gabriel Knight in the middle of it all. She researched the material thoroughly, and wrote a more intelligent plot with more credible characters than Dan Brown ever did.

I loved all 3 Gabriel Knight games, but the last game was my favourite; Jane Jensen wrote a good story, with a heart-wrenching ending for the fans of Gabriel Knight and Grace Nakimura.

The series had a huge international fan base and we communicated online - through the fan forums, the fan websites, and there was even a weekly scheduled iRC chatroom. (There was one time on iRC , some of the GK fans from Italy, Netherlands, India, Singapore, England and Mexico started to discuss the World Cup - and the Americans had no idea.)

I was also part of the Gabriel Knight fanfiction community back then. I wrote a fanfic of my own, and even started a small fanfic archive on GeoCities for the stories I liked. We started a proof-reading mailing list for fan-writers who wanted some feedback on how to improve their stories. We discussed Gabriel Knight fanfics we would like to read. We even wrote slash. We were fans who had fun sharing our interest for a computer game that inspired our imagination, and whetted our appetite for horror mysteries with a paranormal twist. We made friends, us all geeks and loving it; those were the days of X-Files and Gillian Anderson was a sex-symbol.

After graduation, I found a job, and as they say, I put aside childish things. I stopped updating my GeoCities website, where I kept the Gabriel Knight fanfics. After a while, the site was removed, and I forgot all about Gabriel and the story I wrote. I simply stopped writing stories, something that used to keep me sane even though I wasn't very good at it.

How it all seems like another lifetime ago.

My Mother's Progress

Thank you everyone for the very kind words. Right now my mother is focusing on my grandmother's condition instead. I think it helps her avoid thinking about her own illness.

I've been ranting a bit recently due to the emotional roller-coaster. At work, I'm trying to keep frustrations under control. To keep sane, I've been going online to look at crazy cat pictures. You will see a lot of them on this blog for a while, I think.

My mother will be having some tests done before her next doctor's consultation. That's when we'll know for sure what's in store. I insisted on being there with her; she insisted on going to the doctor's alone. We argued over it. She think she's winning but I'm going to take leave from work to show up anyway.

My mother believes parents should protect their children from the bad things in life. Part of my difficulties with my mother is how I felt smothered by her over-protectiveness. Even now, when I am in my (very early) thirties, my mother still feels she has to protect me from her illness.

As for the dispute about my grandmother's hospital bills, I told my mother the other day I will meet her family with her. She told me that was no need. I rebutted, with emphasis:"No. You're nice. I'm not."

But she went alone anyway. (She felt I will make things ugly for Eldest Uncle - yes, that's the point. I enjoy making things difficult and ugly for people who bully my mother).

So, what came out of the meeting: It seems we are going to forgo the painful and unnecessary surgery for my grandmother. Instead, it will be hospice care - to be paid for by my mother. My mother agreed to it. My grandmother is dying and she was too tired to fight over money and hospital bills.

Meanwhile, I have started looking at my own expenses, and trying to cut down. That means less book buying, less movies - and eating at cheaper places. The greatest concern right now is my Turkey trip, which will be my biggest expenditure. But it will also probably be one of my last major holiday for a long time. Let us see how it goes.

Cat Bookends

New bookends. I like.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

My Anger

After my aunt passed away a few years ago, her flat was sold and the majority of the proceeds went to my mother. What was left unsaid was that for the past few years while my aunt was alive and battling cancer, a good part of the medical bills were paid for by my mother.

My mother's side of the family were left with the impression that she inherited a LARGE sum of money. They did not know the exact figure, and they chose not to believe my mother did not care for the money.

What was further left unspoken was that my mother used part of the inheritance to pay off my Eldest Uncle's debts. My Eldest Uncle is a gambler, and sometimes he borrowed from family friends. When he did not pay up, some of them went to my mother. She paid them, because it was her brother's debts. And when her sister-in-law (my Eldest Uncle's wife) needed an operation, my mother loaned $10,000 to the family. She never got the money back, but she never expected it back in the first place.

I asked her about the unpaid loans, and she simply replied, "We should only lend out money that we are prepared to give away." My mother is this sort of person. Too kind for her own good sometimes.

My maternal grandmother has been ill for many years now. I found out recently that my Eldest Uncle and his family have dumped all the medical bills on my mother's lap. Their excuse was the HUGE inheritance she received from my aunt.

Recently my grandmother's condition is heading for the worse. The mounting medical bills is also starting to worry my mother. Two nights ago I found her tabulating exactly how the inheritance from my aunt had been used. I questioned why, and she explained how hurted and frustrated she felt because her family (including my grandmother) always assuming she was rich and ready to pick up the bill.

She is not rich, and when she showed me how my aunt's money was used, I realised how much of it went into my aunt's own medical bills, her funeral - and to my Eldest Uncle and his family. Only about one-third of the money is left, and the family still insist my mother is rich.

I have been seething with rage and resentment since that night. Partly because I realise none of the other children of my grandmother has paid a single cent for her medical care. My Eldest Uncle has always been the Apple of my grandmother's eye. In the family drama, my mother has been cast in the role of the unappreciated Cordelia. It enrages me, how my mother has been taken for granted.

I told my mother how I felt, and she just sighed, "Is that so?" It has not yet occurred to her that she has been badly used. Guileless to a fault, is my mother. I want so much to protect her from her own family.

Last night my mother dropped a bigger shocker on me: She went to the doctor's earlier in the day, and they informed her that she's suffering from some form of kidney infection; her kidneys are unable to purge the waste material. We do not have the details because my mother was too stunned to ask question. It might be kidney problem, and she might have to go for some form of long term treatment. Maybe long term dialysis. We will not know until more tests are done.

And now I think, the money from my aunt would be very helpful for my mother's own medical bills. But too much of it has been wasted on my wastrel Eldest Uncle. I do not begrudge my grandmother's medical expense. As my mother told me, "When we are young, our parents raised us. Now they are old, we take care of them." My mother has never harmed anyone, and her first instinct has always been to help. She is too often afraid of being an inconvenience to another, and so she often does not confide her own suffering and unhappiness. She is a good person, better than me, and life has been unfair to her.

My anger is what is holding me up right now. It is what is stopping me from crying last night when I found out about my mother's condition. But the rage comes from the sense of a lack of control of our lives. I have been angry my whole life. It is a powerful energy and it offers an illusion of strength in the face of adversities. It took me a very long time before I finally understood that anger is a self-devouring emotion; it leaves you spent, and you are no closer to solving the problem in the end.

But right now I am still angry, and trying hard not to break down in front of my mother.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

My M&M

Okay. I've too much fun with this. Meet Reddy LeBlond. My M&M Avatar.

Go create your own M&M

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

SNL Digital Short- Body Fusion

I love SNL. They keep throwing things at me that makes me laugh. Here they have Drew Barrymore spoofing all those cheesy exercise videos way back in the 80s (remember those?)

It's hilarious because it's so spot on, right down to the big hair and the spandex. Why didn't I realise how porny those video looked back then?

And how they also seem just that little bit gay? ;p

My Favourite Line: "This aligns our chakras and helps oxygenates the blood."

Monday, February 05, 2007

WTF | No More Whedonesque Wonder Woman

More post to totally destroy (further) my credibility as a mature adult: Joss Whedon is no longer doing Wonder Woman! Oh god! What will we do? He is one of the few script-writers these days that could do credible (and respectable) ass-kicking female superheroes.

This is part of Whedon's statement on this recent development:

You (hopefully) heard it here first: I'm no longer slated to make Wonder Woman. What? But how? My chest... so tight! Okay, stay calm and I'll explain as best I can. It's pretty complicated, so bear with me. I had a take on the film that, well, nobody liked. Hey, not that complicated.

Let me stress first that everybody at the studio and Silver Pictures were cool and professional. We just saw different movies, and at the price range this kind of movie hangs in, that's never gonna work. Non-sympatico. It happens all the time. I don't think any of us expected it to this time, but it did. Everybody knows how long I was taking, what a struggle that script was, and though I felt good about what I was coming up with, it was never gonna be a simple slam-dunk. I like to think it rolled around the rim a little bit, but others may have differing views.

Rest of his statement, on Whedonesque, here.

There Goes My Dignity Cred

Sometimes it totally embarrasses me that I allow myself to post my ramblings on friviolous topics like "Oh how I lurve Stick It and Bring It On!" I re-read what I've just posted and I'm acutely self-conscious about how air-headed this area of interest seems. A part of me knows I'm not getting any younger and I should stick to more dignified and more becoming interests.

But then I'll probably have less fun.

Self-consciousness is frequently the ego taking itself too seriously. So stick it. I typed up the Stick It blog in a spirit of playfulness and it is utterly honest about how I feel about the movie and the thoughts that came up. So I'm just going to keep it.

Even though it totally demolished any credibility of mine as a sombre dignified adult.

Stay tuned for my post on "Oh how I enjoyed Blade: Trinity the DVD".

Saturday, February 03, 2007

DVD | Stick It

Stick It

It was a slow night and I just needed some form of mind-candy. So I watched Stick It on DVD.

Stick It is directed by Jessica Bendinger, who also wrote the script for that Kirsten Dunst/Eliza Dushku cheerleading number, Bring It On. So you know what to expect from this movie - a feel-good flick centered around a young 18 year old female athlete who learns something important through her sport that is going to see her through adulthood. It's also a very good excuse to see athletic young bodies doing *stuff*.

As the story goes, Stick It has rebellious 18 year old Haley Graham (played by Missy Peregrym) getting in trouble with the law. The judge sends her to an elite gymnastic academy run by Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges, in a commonplace performance). As it turns out, Haley is actually a gymnastic prodigy who was on the World championship team. But Haley walked out of the competition at the last minute, thus causing her team to lose their chance at a gold. The world of competitive gymnastic never forgave young Haley for that infraction.

Missy Peregrym in ice

Forced to resume her gymnastics, Haley Graham trains to enter the gymnastic Classics. So the audience get a montage of Haley training, and a few scenes of her inmmersing her aching body into a bath-tub of ice. You get the idea she's working hard. Oh, and she has great abs. Very nice.

I am not familiar enough with gymnastics to acertain if Bendinger got it right, but the film does comment heavily on the judging criteria: a contestant starts with 10 points, and deductions are made for flaws in their execution. Haley comments that gymnastics is the search for the perfection that doesn't exist. Yet the way the film illustrates it, the judges are less concerned with perfection, but more concerned with actively seeking out imperfections and the penalty for them; it is not about how good you are, but how you fall short. Wait, sounds familiar? Yes, this is gymnastics as metaphor for life.

In gymnastics, one is rewarded for performing by the written rules. It tells you consistency is rewarded, and flash has no place on the mat. It encourages obedience, predictability and dullness. Spontaneity, originality and fire are suppressed, or otherwise penalized. Haley Graham is all flash and fire, and she is telling them to stick it. This is not a story about a female rebel who learns to play by the rules because in this case, the rules are unfair.

The Punk in me likes it. ;)

When an unfair deduction is made on a superb performance, Haley Graham and the rest of the gymnasts staged their protest by collectively forfeiting their turns. For the first time, Haley's intransgience has a purpose. They are standing up for something larger than themselves, and more important than medals. This is something we should be teaching our young people - not to just beat them over the head to obey rules and turn them into sheepish followers - but to nuture their natural intelligence and courage to stand up for what is fair.

As much as we want to laugh at the premise of the film – elite female gymnasts reaffirming life through their sport – if you take a good look at the moves you will realise gymnastics is no joke. It takes a tremendous amount of training to be able to do the things these athletes do. And lot of hard work, discipline, sacrifice, injuries and pain. Jessica Bendinger knows what she is doing when she wrote Bring It On and Stick It. Whether it is cheerleading or gymnastics, the mental and physical demands of both sports have the potential to build tremendous character in a person. If we teach them right.

Both films are fun energetic celebration of female athleticism and sportsmanship. Bring It On too, reminds you that winning is about more than a trophy. In the end, the better team did win - and it isn't Kirsten Dunst's team. Yet coming in second place may be sweeter for Dunst's team because this time they did it on their own merit.


I enjoyed Stick It, though I admit I probably enjoyed Bring It On more because of the Kirsten Dunst and Eliza Dushku factor. Some of the best bits of the film is of course the poetry of the gymnastics. It is beautiful what the body can do. I was awed by the cheerleading in Bring It On, and I was even more impressed by the gymnastics in Stick It. Wow. Handstands. The strength, the grace, the utter control of body and balance. Did I mention walking handstands? And watch out for Wei Wei when she does her routine near the end – it makes you want to dance.