Thursday, August 18, 2016

BOOKS | 100 Books To Read 2016

I'm still working on my reading list for this year. I was thinking of streamlining it down to just 40 books, but what the hell - why break tradition? So, list in progress for my readings in 2016.
  1. The Fifth Season • N. K. Jemisin
    [ 23/08/2016 ~
  2. The Obelisk Gate • N. K. Jemisin
  3. The Power and the Glory • Graham Greene
  4. My Brilliant Friend • Elena Ferrante
    translated by Ann Goldstein
  5. Work Clean: The life-changing power of mise-en-place to organize your life, work, and mind • Dan Charnas
  6. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance • Angela Duckworth
  7. Americanah • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  8. The Bone People • Keri Hulme
    [ 30/7/2016 ~
  9. Your Song Changed My Life • Bob Boilen
    [ 05/06/2016 ~
  10. Dig Me Out • Jovana Babovic
    [ 16/07/2016 ~
  11. The Wretched: A New Translation of Les Misérables • Victor Hugo [ translated from the French by Christine Donougher]
    [03/07/2016 ~
  12. The Folded Clock: A Diary • Heidi Julavits
    [ 05/03/2016 ~
  13. At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails • Sarah Bakewell
    [ 07/03/2016 ~
  14. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals • Michael Pollan
    [ 12/03/2016 ~
  15. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto • Michael Pollan
  16. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World • Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg
  17. Their Eyes Were Watching God • Zora Neale Hurston
  18. Dune • Frank Herbert
  19. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome • Mary Beard
    [ 04/01/2016 ~
  20. If the Oceans Were Ink • Carla Power
    [ 15/08/2015 ~
  21. Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese • Patrick Leigh Fermor
  22. Go Tell It On the Mountain • James Baldwin
    [ 11/12/2015 ~
  23. Baghdad Sketches (1932) • Freya Stark
  24. The Valleys of the Assassins and Other Persian Travels (1934) [On Mazandaran, Iran]• Freya Stark
  25. The Southern Gates of Arabia: A Journey in the Hadhramaut (1936)• 
  26. A Winter in Arabia (1940) [On Hadhramaut] • 
  27. Perseus in the Wind (1948). [Essays on philosophy and literature] • 
  28. Ionia, A Quest (1954) • Freya Stark
  29. The Lycian Shore (1956) [On Turkey] • Freya Stark
  30. Alexander's Path: From Caria to Cilicia (1958) [On Turkey] • Freya Stark
  31. The Zodiac Arch (1968) [Miscellaneous essays] • Freya Stark
  32. The Minaret of Djam: An Excursion into Afghanistan (1970) • Freya Stark
  33. Where the Stress Falls • Susan Sontag
  34. On Photography • Susan Sontag
  35. Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963 • Susan Sontag
  36. Against Interpretation: And Other Essays • Susan Sontag
  37. As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 • Susan Sontag
  38. The Book of Disquiet • Fernando Pessoa
  39. Jane Eyre • Charlotte Bronte
  40. Venice • Jan Morris
  41. Bleak House • Charles Dickens
  42. The Age of Innocence • Edith Wharton
  43. A Time of Gifts (1977) • Patrick Leigh Fermor
  44. Between the Woods and the Water • Patrick Leigh Fermor
  45. The Broken Road • Patrick Leigh Fermor
  46. The Magician • W. Somerset Maugham
  47. River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West • Rebecca Solnit
  48. A Writer's Diary • Virginia Woolf
  49. The Violet Hour • Katie Roiphe
  50. The Handmaid's Tale • Margaret Atwood
  51. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek • Annie Dillard
  52. The Abundance • Annie Dillard
  53. Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books • Azar Nafisi
    [ 27/09/2015 ~
  54. I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen • Sylvie Simmons
    [ 25/04/2015 ~
  55. The Design of Everyday Things • Donald A. Norman
  56. Orlando • Virginia Woolf
  57. The Heart of the Matter • Graham Greene
  58. Of Human Bondage • W. Somerset Maugham
  59. No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva •  Pema Chodron
  60. Quiet: The Power of Introverts • Susan Cain
  61. The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot • Robert MacFarlane
  62. Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark • Janet Fletcher Geniesse
  63. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks • Rebecca Skloot
  64. Felicity: Poems • Mary Oliver
  65. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  66. Real Happiness: The Power of • Sharon Salzberg
  67. The Seven Storey Mountain • Thomas Merton
  68. Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind • Shunryu Suzuki
  69. Collection of Sand • Italo Calvino
  70. Landmarks • Robert Macfarlane
  71. A Book of Silence • Sara Maitland
  72. Acedia & me • Kathleen Norris
  73. The Red Parts • Maggie Nelson
  74. Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered • E.F. Schumacher
  75. The Pirate King • Laurie R. King
    [ 23/12/2015 ~ 09/01/2016 ]
  76. Garment of Shadows • Laurie R. King
    [ 09/01/2016 ~ 10/01/2016 ]
  77. My Life on the Road • Gloria Steinem
    [ 09/01/2016 ~ 23/01/2016 ]
  78. Dreaming Spies • Laurie R. King
    [ 11/01/1016 ~ 26/01/2016 ]
  79. The Argonauts • Maggie Nelson
    [ 28/05/2015 ~ 29/01/2016 ]
  80. When Breath Becomes Air • Paul Kalanithi
    [ 23/01/2016 ~ 30/01/2016 ]
  81. H is for Hawk • Helen Macdonald
    [ 18/05/2015 ~ 08/02/2016 ]
  82. Girl Waits with Gun • Amy Stewart
    [ 01/02/2016 ~ 14/02/2016 ]
  83. In Other Words • Jhumpa Lahiri
    translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
    [ 27/02/2016 ~ 05/03/2016 ]
  84. Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation • Michael Pollan
    [ 28/02/2016 ~ 12/03/2016 ]
  85. The Murder of Mary Russell • Laurie R. King
    [ 09/04/2016 ~ 10/04/2016 ]
  86. To the River: A Journey Beneath the Surface • Olivia Laing
    [ 08/02/2016 ~ 14/04/2016 ]
  87. The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone • Olivia Laing
    [ 14/04/2016 ~ 26/04/2016 ]
  88. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World's Most Precious Manuscripts • Joshua Hammer
    [ 30 April 2016 ~ 5 June 2016 ]
  89. Wild by Nature: From Siberia to Australia, Three Years Alone in the Wilderness on Foot • Sarah Marquis
    [ 16/06/2016 ~ 03/07/2016 ]
  90. White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World • Geoff Dyer
    [ 03/07/2016 ~ 15/08/2016 ]
  91. Gratitude • Oliver Sacks
    [ 16/08/2016 ~ 18/08/2016 ]
  92. Just Kids • Patti Smith
    [ 15/08/2016 ~ 23/08/2016 ]

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Started reading Just Kids

I took a break from blog several years ago. I was in another country, overworked, sometimes working 18 hours a day 7 days a week, often insomniac, imbibed too much coffee, and generally troubled and unhappy. I couldn't focus my thoughts enough, or get them to a coherent string to write. Maybe there's something to this malaise of being unable to write for a long time.

There's also been my experimentation with social media. The more I get into the various platform, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc, the less I write. I pretend I was generating content on the other media, but as I truly examine my posts - often, I was merely reposting other people's stuff, and not creating my own. I wasn't articulating my true inner voice. But I have a sense that to write again, I need to read, again.

So many distractions these days, from reading. Just playing on my iPhone sucks the time away. But reading is so much a part of calming the mind. Why have I neglected my friends, my books?

I picked up Patti Smith's Just Kids last night. I bought it a while ago, full of inspirations, determined to read Patti Smith's lyrical prose, and about her profound friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe, about art, about being an artist. The pages were yellow, and spotted with yellow, the result of acid reactions on the paper.I bought it, and have left it unread for too long.

I'm a few pages in. Her writing lulls me into a state of quiet. The words are simple, but taut with memories, elegant even.

Much has been said about Robert, and more will be added. Young men will adopt his gait. Young girls will wear white dresses and mourn his curls. He will be condemned and adored. His excesses damned or romanticized. In the end, truth will be found in his work, the corporeal body of the artist. It will not fall away. Man cannot judge it. For art sings of God, and ultimately belongs to him.

Monday, August 15, 2016

BOOKS | White Sands: Experience from the Outside World

The best things about deleting Pokemon Go from my phone was that I finally found myself reading again. Granted, I am still not reading as much as I would like to, but some reading on the bus is still better than nothing; still a lot better than wasting it trying to catch Poke stops to refill my Poke balls, and catching Pokemons. Yep, I was one of those people.

I finished Geoff Dyer's White Sands eventually. I was still one day late to return it to the library. What can you do about it, right?

The thing that caught my attention in the beginning (the Author's Note part of the book) was how he stated that the book was "a mixture of fiction and non-fiction". He explained, or maybe just stated, "The main point is that the book does not demand to be read according to how far from a presumed dividing line--a line separating certain forms and the expectations they engender--it is assumed to stand. In this regard 'White Sands' is both the figure at the centre of the carpet and a blank space on the map."

A little cheeky, and it reminded me of the time when we had to do Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines for a literature class, and some of us were a little perturbed at the idea that while the narrator is known as Bruce Chatwin, Bruce Chatwin the narrator might not be Bruce Chatwin the author; Bruce Chatwin the narrator might just be a fictional construct of the author, and the book might not be meant as non-fiction. Now Geoff Dyer seems to be doing something similar, subverting the expectations of the readers, or just simply refusing to play by the conventions of genre or classification.

So what exactly is this book about? Well, I'm not totally sure. It's about going somewhere else, and not necessarily always somewhere geographically somewhere else. He wrote about going to China, to Tahiti, living in Los Angeles -- but along the way, he also ruminated on his childhood, thoughts on looking at certain pictures and art. I guess ultimately, this is a book about how we see: within and without.

From White Sands:

What is the difference between seeing something and not seeing it? More specifically, what is the difference between seeing Tahiti and not seeing it, between going to Tahiti and not going? The answer to that, an answer that is actually an answer to an entirely different question, is that it is possible to go to Tahiti without seeing it.

This quote drew a nod from me, because it is possible to look at a piece of art, and not see it - not understand it. It is also possible (and it happens a lot of the time) to be somewhere and not see what surrounds us. To be talking to someone, and not be communicating. To know something, and not see them.

Or I might be wrong. Either way, it had been an enjoyable book.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Some Thoughts on a Recent Trip to Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Yogyakarta, Indonesia - July 2016

I was in Yogyakarta, Indonesia last weekend. It was a quick 4 days break - what I usually call a "mental health break", so vital to emotional and spiritual well-being. Was there any great revelations? No. Was it restful? Slightly - and I got a mild sunburn along the way too. Was it fun? It was okay.

I used to speak of travel as the great spiritual journey, wandering to discover oneself. But slowly and gradually, I have come to accept that the journey itself is slow to unfold. Between the moments of great adventure is a lot of boredom and discomfort in between. You have to get over the dull, painful parts to get to the fun parts - and you probably only appreciate it later (or sometimes, not at all), when you look back.

Was Yogyakarta one of those things that I will look back and appreciate? Maybe. I was told by people who went there a few times that the best way to get around was to hire a driver. However, I was curious about the local buses that brought you to Borobudur, and Prambana - the two famous UNESCO Heritage sites in Yogyakarta. Against the advice of the more experienced, I tried taking the local buses. It was comfort - but I did manage to get seats during my journey. The trip to Borobudur took more than two hours each way. I was charged more than the locals, because I was a tourist. But was it worth it? I felt just that little bit proud of myself for taking the bus in a foreign country. Was it a big deal? Yes, to me. Because while I would probably never admit it to friends - I was afraid.

That was the key to why traveling is so important to me; I am afraid most of the time. Yet, little by little when I do the things that scare me, a mundane thing like taking the bus - in a foreign country, makes me feel just that little bit braver.

Travel has constantly reminded me of the kindness of strangers. I travel alone, usually. It's moments like these, where taken out of the familiar, and forced to pay attention, I noticed the little things that people do for me, like letting me know there's a free seat on the bus, giving me advice about the local bus routes, letting me know where the public restrooms are. Minor things yes, but I find myself being grateful - more grateful than I ever was back home, for these little gestures. The only difference lies in my physical location, and my attitude to them.

So, my advice is: travel. It nudges you into little things. After a lifetime of travel, you will look back, and it will be worth it. Unless you close your heart to all things beautiful and profound, then all you will have are cheap souvenirs and maybe even bitter memories of people cheating you of your tourist dollars.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

The ironically f-ugly Elena Ferrante book covers

I was curious about the series of novels from Italian author Elena Ferrante last year. What kept me from purchasing the books though were the horrendous covers. Oh gawd - they look pastel and vulgar, like those dull novels about dutiful daughters, and long-suffering wives that I cannot endure.

But I did read a few pages of the first book once, and I found the writing interesting enough to want to continue. But - but - the covers. My prejudices won, and I had not ventured to read the series. There was something about holding those awful covers in my hands. I picked up the Australian version of the first book though. One is thankful for the Australian covers.

Why such bad covers? Really. Why? You would think with the phenomenal sales, the publisher could have gone with a better look.

So, I came across this essay from The Atlantic recently, and it seems the choice for the bad covers were deliberate, the intention ironic. Although, these ironic covers were so universally despised (Ha! It's not just me! Yes, while having a popular opinion does not automatically validate my prejudice, at least I am not alone in my bigotry of awful book covers), the publisher were a little concerned:

The complaints are so numerous that Ferrante’s publisher even expressed concern to Slate that “many people didn’t understand the game we we’re playing, that of, let’s say, dressing an extremely refined story with a touch of vulgarity.”

So what is the game?

...In interviews, Ferrante has said that the ambition of her writing is to make “the facts of ordinary life […] extraordinarily gripping when read,” which well captures the genius of her fiction.

It also captures the genius of her bad covers. Although the U.S. dustjackets are far from gripping, they’re wholly, unapologetically domestic. And by binding her novels with domestic images, Ferrante insists that the women’s domestic lives are as literary as any others. Her covers don’t deny the possibility that the Neapolitan novels could be construed as “women’s fiction”; they argue that her novels are “women’s fiction,” whether or not they’re compatible with modern romance. Her fiction testifies that women’s stories are important not because they’re universal, but precisely because they’re specific—because women’s experience of their “sex and its difference,” as Ferrante has described her subject, are worthy of art, and worth reading about.

The covers were chosen by Elena Ferrante herself. Ah. Author's intent. I appreciate irony, and I get the implication that our aversion to these stereotypical images is as much about our own snobbery of what "women fiction" is about. Yeah, I get that. But irony just isn't enough justification for how f-ugly the covers are. So far the covers haven't really hurt the sales, so I guess we're stuck with the ugly covers.

Thank goodness for the Australian covers though. From the designer of the Australian covers:

Everyone initially involved in the Australian edition of My Brilliant Friend – publisher, editor, marketing and publicity – was of one mind about the original Italian cover: “no”’ [source]

Thank you, Australians.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Story of Ultramarine

A brief history of Ultramarine, from the Pari Review. Stories about colours always intrigue me. I feel like I should collect these stories about colours in notebooks with coloured covered - blue notebook for the stories about blue in all its shades etc.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Read these books. Be a Better Person. It's Easy

Just saw this on The Guardian: Top 10 Books to Make You a Better Person. I used to buy for the Self-Help section in the bookstore I worked for. Some Self-Help books make more sense than others. At least this list isn't about recommending Coelho's The Alchemist (boring), Carnegie's How to Make Friends and Influence People (meh), or Tolle's The Power of Now (you realise he's just repackaging other people's ideas and selling it back to you, right?).

This list seems more like a introduction to soul-stirring prose that raises your consciousness.

Then a thought hit me: What if I don't want to be a better person? What if I just want to know about myself, as I am, warts and all, and not need to feel like I am not good enough, and I need to be better? What if I am good enough, imperfect as I am?

What if I don't believe books will make me a better person? What if I believe reading all the books in the world wouldn't mean anything unless you also live a full, rich life? Learning and reading might give you knowledge, give you a clue on what to do, where to go - depending on what you read. What if I believe what will actually make you a better person is experience. Doing stuff. Connecting with people. Living life. Learning from mistakes. Rinse and repeat.

Why do people think reading a few books will make you a better person? That's crazy. What might work for him, might not work for you. What makes this writer's life experiences better than yours? His life is his, just was your life is yours. What he brings to the reading of the book, will be different from yours.

This article makes me want to throw a book at the writer.