The past few weeks (part 2)

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The word nesting harbors imaginings of warmth and coziness, often ascribed to winter. But I wish to paint an alternate picture. One of  late afternoons at Gail’s, spent reading  a book,over freshly brewed iced berry tea with rose and pistachio cake. Sometimes I’ll have the oat,pecan and cranberry cookie,which is one of my favourite things to eat in the world.

Over the course of summer, I read a succession of great literature.While at Daunt Books on Haverstock Hill some weeks ago, I found myself holding pleasant conversation with a well read Canadian man. We found out that we shared a mutual love of James Baldwin and so he fished around the bookshop to find me the last copy of Baldwin’s Another Country,which I purchased in a blink. It was no Giovanni’s Room,but it was uncomfortable and genius.

During my trip to Oxford last month, my sister took me to Blackwell’s where I purchased a hardcover copy of Alain de Botton’s The Course of Love. I had read his somewhat prequel to the book On Love some months back, which I found to be beautifully philosophical, albeit a grim take on first love. The Course of Love felt like a maturation and practical understanding of human interaction. I still find myself picking up the book and feeling absolutely breathless by how this man puts words together.

Two evenings ago I devoured the last pages of Chogozie Obioma’s The Fishermen. Obioma’s strength lies in offering quite a varied narrative of Nigeria, than the international literary world is used to.He also plays this magic trick of conjuring up such strong and beautiful metaphors.

It is how past 5am and I am certain that the morning light will meet me here,if I write some minutes longer .I am however  glad that I have briefly covered the solid few books that will keep on living in my head.

 

 

The books I read (April-June)

April

May

June

The books of the second quarter were a little lacklustre in comparison to most of the books that I had read in the first quarter.Falling slightly short of reading an ideal of 15 books(I read 14) is a reflection  in part of reading much longer books and others that were so heavy that I needed a breather once in a while.Having read a total of 30 books in the first half of the year,I have reached exactly half of my goal of 60 books.

For the average pieces of literature,I found some form of redemption when I walked into Daunt Books in Marylebone almost 3 weeks ago and discovered that my favourite art historian Alastair Sooke, had written a book on Matisse,in conjunction with the Tate’s current exhibition on the artist(which I had already seen).Isn’t the paperback stunning? I suspect that the design is an homage to the artist’s blue nudes.

From reading Chomsky,I’ve developed a lot of respect for him,akin to my adoration of Arundathi Roy. The Elegance of the Hedgehog is impeccably written and made me a little teary for us underdogs,who appreciate art and culture in quiet ways.I was astounded by the humility that comes with Murakami’s genuis,Mindy Kaling is so cool and smart and Matisse taught me that any day of our lives can suddenly feel like the very first-we are never too old to discover an enlightenment.

and I shall end with one of several bookmarked quotes,found through the course of my reading.

“Personally I think that grammar is a way to attain Beauty. When you speak, or read, or write, you can tell if you’ve spoken or read or written a fine sentence. You can recognise a well-tuned phrase or an elegant style. But when you are applying the rules of grammar skilfully, you ascend to another level of the beauty of language. When you use grammar you peel back the layers, to see how it is all put together, to see it quite naked, in a way.”- Muriel Barbery

On books: Jules et Jim

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2 definitive things  happened to me at the age of 17. I commenced university and I also discovered French cinema. While enrolling for my lectures, I had the opportunity to choose a module that wasn’t related to the Social Sciences and without giving it much thought, other than the fact that I spoke a fair amount of French(and love the language), I signed up for a French cinema class.It was there, in that dark lecture hall for two hours on late Monday evenings,that  a wiry grey haired professor and a projected screen releasing black and white images,led me to Jules et Jim.

That year, we studied only 3 films by the greatest French directors, the most poignant of them being Jules et Jim.The story was the director François Traffaut’s story to tell, but not his to write, because when Henri-Pierre Roché released his partly biographical novel Jules et Jim, his book was neither exalted nor disregarded,until Trauffaut brought it to life in cinema, with the great actress Jeanne Moreau.

Henri-Pierre Roché’s life story, is the epitome of romantic and intellectual bohemia(partly set in the turn of the century Paris)and that is what made me pursue the story in print(despite the film being a cinematic genius). Roché was friends with great authors and artists, ranging from Picasso to Gertrude Stein.His real-life best of friend,(known as  Jules in the story),happened to be Proust’s Greman translator! If this isn’t cool overload I don’t know what is!

Together, Jules and Jim seek the thrilling pleasures of travel,books and art and their generous friendship is of the kind of disposition where they share women as often as they share a good cigarette. This becomes the basis of their friendship which is magnified, toppled over, exaggerated and fiery when they both fall in love with a beautiful and oftentimes volatile woman named Kate, who would romantically love both men on and off…leading to dire consequences…

When I first watched the film based on this book, I was fascinated and that did not change with the book. What a screen shot cannot capture is the abrupt ending of the short and beautifully connected sentences making up the story-which was Roche’s style of writing.I think this is genius, because you don’t have to be stuffed with words for a great story to be made. The lyrics of artistes like Sting are a testament to this(in my opinion).

In Roche’s story, one minute he writes about a little apartment in Paris, the next,you find yourself transported to an obscure German village, where the characters pursue their interests.Their exaggerated mobility is something any traveller will fall in love with or anyone who simply daydreams.

While I enjoyed the culture of the book and style of writing,my view of the story has changed,from what it was 8 years ago. I found the female lead terribly  annoying and my opinion on sexual liberation, the main themes of love and freedom,as well as  little themes that pop up in the course of the book, have certainly altered with time. But that is personal to me. This one is a story one must know, but the choice is your own to make.Will it be the book or film?

For me personally, film.

On Books : Anne Frank- The Diary of a Young Girl

imageJean Cocteau compared reading the journal of a writer after his death, as akin to receiving a long letter from an old friend. How right he was.

The circumstances in which I got hold of a copy of Anne Frank’s Diary, lends itself to fate. It was last week, a time during which I was suffering a lot emotionally and was not my usual resilient self. I had always wanted to read the book, but I didn’t quite need it to inspire as I did at that moment, when some psychic god dropped it into my hands for a cost that was almost as good as free.

I am pretty sure that Anne was one among many, who had recorded their experiences of Nazi occupation- in fact, I am sure that many Jewish writers and artists of similar persuasions, used their creativity to lessen the burdens of their hardships, so how did a young girl’s account of her time hiding under Nazi occupation of the Netherlands stand out more than the others? Undoubtedly because she had the makings of a great writer, through which her infectiously strong spirit shone.

The Diary of a Young Girl, is poetic and lyrical. It is wise, it is resilient,it is bleak but funny, it is history, it is the liberation of women(which she explores sometimes passively, yet importantly) and it is faith. 

Anne and her family, hid with a dentist Fritz Pfeffer and another family the van Pels, in what was once her father’s office for just over two years. A time during which they never stepped outside(besides her father Otto Frank briefly, when the malady of hiding drove him to almost take his life). Luckily, their lives were sustained by the help of a few of Otto Frank’s former employees/friends.

In her diary, Anne writes about mundane squabbles in her hidden annexe,the shortage and poor quality of food, her love for books and constant education, despite being in hiding. She explores big themes like her belief in her faith, strained relationship with her mother, desire to be a journalist and writer, alongside her romantic dalliance and friendship with Peter van Pels. She did not write childishly, but as a curious being, who relentlessly sought knowledge and aspired to be a better version of herself.

What struck my curiosity most of all, was that although she was prone to spells of melancholy, not once did Anne question her faith. She regarded her experiences so to speak,as a store house of strength, that would  lend itself useful at the end of the war.

I don’t think her premature death was worth it. But from her resilience, the world continues to learn some of life’s biggest lessons. There is a lot of worth in that.

On Books: Bonjour Tristesse

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After my interview today, I hopped on the tube for a hair appointment and enjoyed the last few pages of Bonjour Tristesse as my hair was blow-dried.

This is a perfect holiday read, most especially because Françoise Sagan’s book is set over a couple of weeks, on a summer holiday in the French Riviera. It tells the story of  17 years old Cécile, who with her father Raymond live a rather gay and fickle life,until Raymond, falls in love with his late wife’s friend, much to the dismay of his daughter,who does not want her lifestyle and relationship with her father to change, so she devises a plan to end their romance, which develops interesting consequences…

At the backdrop of the main romance, is the romance between Cécile and a young law student she meets on holiday.

Personally, I enjoyed reading this book and ironically on a very very wet and cold English day. The plot is somewhat fickle , but very honest and thought provoking(which is a rather hard hybrid  of contradictions to achieve in a literary work). Also it is so deliciously written that you feel like you have stared into the eyes of the characters and know their personalities.

I think the most fascinating thing about the author, is that she wrote the book at age 18, after she was kicked out of school for failing her examinations. The book was considered rather racy when published in France in 1954. Quite frankly, I don’t think it is exceptionally racy but rather was sexually liberating at the time it was published(we have certainly gone a lot farther these days!).

But it is the best book I’ve read thus far, this year. A great read. Also rather skinny that you can pop it into your handbag and let the story accompany you about town.

On Books: The Remains of the Day

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I spent the past few days engrossed in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. I’m familiar with another of his works, (Never Let Me Go), which although also well acclaimed, is the less glorified of the two( The Remains of The Day is a Man Booker prized novel). I very much preferred the delicious style of writing of this novel and generally found it more interesting than Never Let Me Go,which to me had quite annoying characters and was a rather grim(although unique) read.

The novel centres around Stevens, an ageing butler, who narrates in first person style, past memories of his experience as a landed gentleman’s butler, particularly leading up to the second world war. I loved Ishiguro’s writing of this book, it reminds me a bit of the cosy and picturesque style of my favourite book, in the way that you can pleasantly imagine the green of the rolling English countryside or the warmth of a crackling fire in an elegant drawing room.It is similar in that way, but nonetheless stays distinct.

The stories that Stevens recounts are quite pivotal in ultimately unraveling the very important themes of the book. I think that is what I loved most about this book-how telling  our simple daily occurrences are, of the essence of our lives. There are philosophical debates to be had over the meaning of dignity and how maintaining dignity can oftentimes strip us of our humanity, which is really all that matters at the end of the day. I must say, the historical backdrop of the second world war, made me nostalgic for my long ago school days,reminding me of just how much I loved learning about the world wars during history lessons.

A great novel.I’m glad I read it and wholeheartedly reccommend it. 

on books:the fault is in our stars

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I’m taking a break from the thanksgiving face stuffing(well not really, got a glass of wine in tow),to review a book I had greatly anticipated reading and recently just finished.

The Fault Is In our Stars, is the second book by John Green I have read(the first being Looking For Alaska) a couple of years ago.What can I say?

In typical John Green fashion, the book was philosophical and characters witty.The characters are as usual, the intelligent kind of teenagers you wish you had been, or the kid you imagine you still are deep inside.

The story revolves around two teenagers Hazel Grace and Augustus who both have/had cancer, fall in love and look for the meaning of life through their favourite piece of literature.They also deal with the hardship of illness,while living life to as much of a capacity as they can,giving their circumstances.

I initially started the book thinking it was a good book, but ‘too john green like’, however, this book soon deviated and found its own path and was a great read and incredibly emotional. The characters were likeable and Green adopts a great style of mise en abyme,which goes to the heart of the theme of the book.

John Green’s writing style is so delicious to read and every sentence feels like the most beautiful combination of words put together, that they tug sweetly at your heart a little.

It is most especially a book for people who appreciate the beauty in words,be it a book or poetry.From Shakespeare to someone more philosophical.

It is certainly worth a read and not a book that will easily be forgotten.