Friday, 29 June 2012

Poetry by León Felipe: "I am leaving because the earth is no longer mine..." (Me voy porque la Tierra ya no es mía)

For college, not too long ago, I translated Ganarás La Luza poetry collection by a man called León Felipe. He's completely underrated, and one of the finest civil war poets in my opinion.

Felipe was born in 1884 to wealthy parents, and later went on to start a business as a pharmacist. However, due to his literary talent, he elapsed with an itinerant theatre troupe.

Felipe was charged with fraud for becoming bankrupt after neglecting his business, and spent two years in jail. Upon his release he began writing literary reviews, and eventually his own books began to be published.

Some scholars have included him in the Generation of 27, and various poems of his were found in Che Guevara's "Cuaderno Verde", found amongst his belongings when he was shot in 1967.

He fought in the Spanish Civil War for the Republicans, and in 1938 he left Spain and began a voluntary exile in Mexico, where he died.

In Ganarás La Luz, published in 1943, Felipe touches upon the political and military position of Spain. He does this beautifully, and often refers to other collections of poetry (Whitman's Leaves of Grass) and ancient myth (story of Prometheus) amongst his metaphors. 

I thought I'd include a poem from the collection, and perhaps post more in the future. It's something different to read from the usual Lorca or Neruda, and it gives you something to think about.

Because my feet are tired,
My eyes are blind,
My mouth parched
And my body docile and light,
Ready to enter the air.
I am leaving because there are no paths left for me on earth.
I emerged from water, I have lived in blood
And now the Wind awaits to sweep me to the sun...
I emerged from the sea...and I will expire in the flames.

It's not the most positive of poems, perhaps, but it provides me with some consolation when I'm facing a bit of an identity crisis. I certainly don't want to "expire in flames", but it shows how life is really just a cycle that we complicate with our minor anxieties and problems.

My boyfriend's staying this weekend, and so if the weather's good I'll be having two days of walks and baking. Ah, the good life. I'll leave being "swept to the sun" for a long time in the future if I can help it. 

Monday, 25 June 2012

Off To Devonshire

I'm off to the South West tomorrow, to go with my sister to a university open day (that should be... interesting). We're staying with a friend on their farm/bed and breakfast, which is always relaxing. I'll try and be as social as I can, and push myself to be more involved and talkative around people. My current mission should be called "Project Confidence". I also need to try and not get into an argument with my mother during the trip.

Goal: To be the centre of attention in a group of people. I'll let you know how that goes. Or what I have to do to make it happen.

Five Favourite Covers (1)

As a lover of pretty books, I do judge books by their covers a lot of the time. When I know that the book's a classic or that it can come with a beautiful cover, I'll usually buy a copy rather than getting it from the library or for my Kindle. I know not everyone is like this, but I view books as items for decoration as well as reading. Exciting covers also make me happy, so I'll encourage the inclusion of them in my life.

In this post are five of my favourites, which I'll list from the top left to the bottom right in the photo.

  1. Flappers and Philosophers: The Collected Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is a Penguin Hardback Classics edition, as part of a series to mark the seventieth anniversary of Fitzgerald's death. The others are in similar Art Deco designs, and are just as beautiful. 
  2. The Odyssey - Homer. Another of the Penguin Classics. To be honest, I have a massive pile of them. I always ask my boyfriend for "pretty books", and so I have the Penguin hardbacks of Bleak House, Oliver Twist, and Inferno amongst others.
  3. The Savage Detectives - Roberto Bolaño. This is one of twelve novels, all in black and white, that Picador released upon their fortieth anniversary. "All The Pretty Horses" by Cormac McCarthy is another that I'd like to get.
  4. Requiem for a Dream - Hubert Selby Jr. I tend to buy a lot of these Penguin paperbacks with the particular white font for titles. The rather sensual photo on the front is by Michael Ackerman, and matches the covers of other recently released Selby Jr. novels by Penguin.
  5. Notes From Underground - Fyodor Dostoevksy. Another (!) Penguin edition, although this is one of the "pocket classics". It does look a little small on my bookshelf, but the cover is interesting and very... Dostoevsky-ish (you know what I mean). The photograph is by Brian David Stevens.
  6. The Enchanted April - Elizabeth Von Arnim. This is part of a Virago modern classics collection, in which each book has a cover created by a textiles designer. The flowery design really matches the nature of this story, which I love. I'd really like to get some of the others, as shown in the photo. The female authors of the collection are generally overlooked and undervalued, and I'm sure that after reading I'll have some new favourite writers. 
The rest of the Virago collection

My Favourite Novels to Read During Summer: Books From Around the World

When English weather finally decides to act against its stereotypes, I like my reading to reflect it. I look for books set in the sun, and that have light and not-to-taxing content. It isn't really the time for Russian literature, no matter how much I love it. I need a book that I can read in the garden, preferably with a glass of Pimms. Here are some of my favourites, sorted by country:

What reading The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim brings up in my mind. Image source.

Novels to read during summer, set in...


  • The Enchanted April - Elizabeth Von Arnim. This tells the story of four ladies, all strangers to each other, who go abroad to Italy and share a castle. It sounds a bit peculiar, but it's a lovely novel. Italy is so vibrant and flourishing with nature, and the characters gradually become closer  together (after initial issues) and understand themselves better as a result. Try not to be tempted by this advert that appears in the opening pages:

"To Those Who Appreciate Wistaria and Sunshine: Small mediaeval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be Let furnished for the month of April. Necessary servants remain. Z. Box 1000, The Times."


  • A Parrot in the Pepper Tree - Chris Stewart. I recently wrote this post on A Parrot in the Pepper tree, a novel set on a Spanish mountain farm. It turns out that the reason I found it on my family bookshelf was that my Dad used to shear sheep with the author, which added another dimension to my reading experience somehow. 
  • Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel García Márquez. The love story of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza: from youth to old-age, through obstacles and six hundred and twenty-two affairs (you heard that right).


  • Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis de Bernières. I'm currently reading this for what must be the third time. I first read it for A Level English and loved it, unlike other books by de Bernières that I've tried to read. I know a lot of Greeks still aren't happy at how the ELAS is portrayed, but to me, de Bernières successfully brings together so many nations at a time of war. 
  • The Odyssey - HomerCaptain Corelli's Mandolin is influenced highly by The Odyssey, like many other novels. Look for de Bernières's reworking of Penelope's shroud and Homer's soliloquies, and also the parallels between Odysseus and Mandras then Corelli. I love The Odyssey - for the beauty of its language, its characters and its imagery. 


  • Of Marriageable Age - Sharon Maas. A story of race and intertwined legacies, following three people across three continents and three decades. 

Savitri, intuitive and charming, is brought up among the servants of a pre-war English household in India. Both her own and the English family are torn apart by the racial upheavals, and by Savitri's love for the son of the house. Nataraj, raised as the son of an idealistic country doctor, finds life in London heady and mind-spinning, with girls and money easily available, so drops out of both his family circle and his medical studies until a chance meeting brings him unbelievable news of his parentage. Sarojini, tempestuous and outspoken, is brought up in Guyana, part of a group of rich Indian families who settled there, and finds herself in rebellion against her strict parents and the regime. (Goodreads)


  • The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett. A ten-year old orphan comes to Yorkshire, where she discovers an invalid garden and a locked garden. Even if Yorkshire isn't the sunny capital of the world, the flowers and nature described make up for it. 
  • Collected Poems - William Wordsworth. Perhaps Wordsworth and his daffodils are most suited to reading in Spring, but I don't mind; it's still beautiful. 
One impulse from a vernal wood May teach you more of man, Of moral evil and of good, Than all the sages can. (The Tables Turned)

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Exposure Therapy for Anxiety

Over the years, my social anxiety has been bad. Really bad. It led to agoraphobia of some sort, and that made everyday life even harder. It's getting better now, as I've made sure to continually expose myself to the things I fear. It was really difficult at first, but I like proving myself that I can do the things that make me anxious.

When I was fifteen I was shipped off to Santander for a language exchange. I spent two weeks there on my own, and must have spoken about ten words of Spanish. The girl I stayed with enjoyed saying how lazy English people were and that she hated the language, which was charming of her. Needless to say, it wasn't a fantastic experience, and I don't think I was ready for it. I think I'd have the confidence to enjoy travelling alone now though, as I've gradually built up experience of smaller exposure tasks.

I love Ralph Waldo Emerson's quote, "Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain". However, you really do need to make sure you're ready for it and that you haven't pushed yourself in at the deep end. Perhaps this quote is more appropriate, as it suggests to me that you need a record of smaller success before facing your larger fears:

"The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of successful experiences behind you." - William Jennings Bryan

Santander 2008

Below are some exposure tasks that I've done or am planning to do, from lowest to highest anxiety level. It's like a ladder I can work along.
  1. Smile at a cashier
  2. Talk to my boyfriend's sister
  3. Ask a waitress a question about a meal on the menu
  4. Walk along the main road into my village alone
  5. Go to a shop I've never been into before
  6. Use a normal checkout instead of self-service as much as I can
  7. Answer the phone
  8. Make a phone call
  9. Compliment someone (even if the person is a friend)
  10. Be the centre of attention in a group of people
  11. Address a group of people
  12. Strike up a conversation to someone sitting next to me on the train
  13. Ask for the time
  14. Ask for directions
  15. Speak to a lady at a make-up counter in a posh department store
  16. Say yes to every social invite I have no reason to miss (e.g. most of them)
  17. Jog through a public place
  18. Book a taxi by phone
  19. Go on a bus
  20. Attend a university society event
  21. Go to a bar with a friend
  22. Tell a friend about my anxiety
  23. Wear a dress with bare legs in summer
  24. Wear shorts
  25. Wear my hair down in public when it's curly

It's important that I give myself a pat on the back after completing any of the tasks above, and not berate myself for anything that may have not gone perfectly. I am learning to finally become better at this, and I like to write down things I've achieved in my journal, or think of a little reward for myself (hello ice cream!)

Friday, 22 June 2012

Spending Too Much and The Great Gatsby

I went a bit crazy at the shops yesterday. I even spent £19 on a conditioner (does my hair really deserve that?) The art shop couldn't accept my card if the amount was under £5, so I circled around the shop again looking for something enticing. When I came back with a fifteen-pound notebook the cashier looked rather... surprised. "Oh... right" I think was the answer.

To be honest, I needed a treat or two. Everything I bought (I told myself) I needed. However, it got me thinking about Gatsby, and how meaningless possessions are shown to be by F. Scott Fitzgerald. When Owl Eyes exclaims that there are "real books" in Gatsby's library, he is surprised that anything real exists in his superficial life of parties and possessions. Whether Gatsby reads these books is a different question - he is a man who can afford to decorate his house/palace with the real thing. Daisy too is buried deeply under wealth:
"They’re such beautiful shirts," she sobbed, her voice muffled in the think folds. "It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such – such beautiful shirts before."
Daisy doesn't seem to understand her feelings towards Gatsby, and consequently tries to explain it through wealth. Alternatively, we can just see her as a character spellbound by the wealth in front of her, mistaking it for love. I adore this novel, like so many others, as there is so much you can understand from it.

I guess the message for today is not to get too carried away. Live simply, and you'll be alright. Pay attention to the good things in life: friends, family and memories. I do enjoy having the things I own, especially my books, but I aim to not let them consume me.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A Parrot in the Pepper Tree - Chris Stewart

I've almost completely run out of reading material. Well, I have my Kindle, but I like to have actual books lying around. Luckily, I found A Parrot in the Pepper Tree lurking in my bookshelf, a book I've always dismissed before. I think it was from a pile of books I stole from my Mum's (very limited) collection, and I'm guessing she bought it because it's about a sheep shearer originally from Sussex - two traits that also apply to my Dad. However, this particular sheep shearer, Chris Stewart, relocates to a remote Spanish mountain farm in Las Alpujarras, south of Granada. The non-fiction tale follows the life of Chris, Ana and their daughter, Chloë, as they are unexpectedly joined by Porca, a mischievous parakeet. 

It's such a homely story, and I particularly loved the neighbours of the farm. There's a real sense of community, and everyone has their own particular quirks. Everything about the life of Chris and his family is so alien to what most people are used to, as evident in the visit of journalists to their home. It's a clash of two worlds: the English countryside and it's (somewhat traditional) sheep shearing, and Spanish flamenco, language and lifestyle. 
"Porca is particular about not only the guests in his bathroom but objects. He detests above all the presence of the blue plastic toothmug on top of the washing-machine cover, so sometimes, to keep my end up, I place it carefully on that very spot. It never fails to enrage him. Incensed, he hurls himself from his shower tap at the offending mug, trying to guide it towards the gaping lavatory to score the longed-for hit and watch the loathed object float on the waters within. He can be further tormented by filling the mug up with water so he can't move it, or shutting the lid of the lavatory. Such are my small revenges on my rival."
4 Stars

Ten Favourite Classics

At around nine years old, I decided I was too old for children's books and that I was ready to move onto the world of classic literature. For a book to be considered one of the "classics", I believe it needs to possess artistic quality, universal appeal, and success over time. Classics are the books with the great reputations, and they are found at the top of every "Read Before You Die" list. I've listed below my ten favourites, although it was incredibly hard to condense to that amount.
  1. The Odyssey - Homer. One of the most influential and beautiful pieces of writing ever written.
  2. The Waves - Virginia Woolf. I love the structure of this (short) novel. It collates the voices of several characters throughout life, and shows how they progress and move apart as individuals.
  3. King Lear - Shakespeare. This is by far my favourite Shakespeare. It's themes are so universal (family disputes, power, class), yet as a tragedy it's also so exciting, moving and distressing. 
  4. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy. No matter how long it takes to read, give it a go. I was surprised how much I was drawn to Pierre in the opening pages, and didn't find it boring at all. 
  5. Dubliners - James Joyce. I read somewhere that a person either likes Joyce or Woolf, although I've chosen both to be on this list. If you haven't read "The Dead" - the last short story in this collection - you better get to it. The ending is incredible. 
  6. First Love - Ivan Turgenev. I found Turgenev's writing to be really simple, yet he really drags you into the story. A great story of first love, like it says on the tin.
  7. The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas. This is a massive book, and so much happens, but everything that happens is of such great consequence. Being falsely imprisoned in an island jail is probably one of my greatest fears!
  8. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens. So far, this is the only book by Dickens that I've read more than once. Yes, it's one of the easiest to read, but it's also so good. I think I've probably shouted at Pip, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" on several occasions.
  9. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky. I was surprised how much I was scared and disturbed by a piece of literature written in the nineteenth century. Dostoevsky provides a lot to consider psychologically and morally, as usual. 
  10. The Lady With the Little Dog - Anton Chekhov. After hearing the opening of this short story read aloud in "The Reader", a film starring Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes, I set about tracking down a collection of Chekhov's short stories. It really is written beautifully: 
"The talk was that a new face had appeared on the promenade, a lady with a little dog."Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov, who had by then been a fortnight at Yalta, and so was fairly at home there, had begun to take an interest in new arrivals. Sitting in Verney's pavilion, he saw, walking on the sea-front, a fair-haired young lady of medium height, wearing a béret; a white Pomeranian dog was running behind her.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Addiction and Talent in Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Jr.

Seriously, what is the world coming to? This book really got to me, perhaps more than any other book. Murakami's The Wind Up Bird Chronicle left me completely on edge after reading (that well was terrifying), but Hubert Selby Jr. does something entirely different. The scary thing is that we can relate to everything he writes. We know that we spend too many hours in front of the television and pop too many supposedly magic pills. Our society is led by addiction, and this is something the majority of us seem to welcome.

"Harry locked his mother in the closet" - these are perhaps my favourite opening literary lines ever written. They're so matter-of-fact and blunt that you can hardly think to question the content. Is acting like this normal? I'm sure many of us have at some point considered doing something similar. The deterioration of human values as a result of addiction, consumerism and material objects is all too apparent here, alongside in our own lives. 

Nonetheless, Harry and Marion's aspirations are contagious. They're such complex and creative people, and I began envying Marion's artistic ability and potential. She's one of those mysterious, beautiful girls who has everything before her. My favourite passage of the book was early on, when she's thinking of her travels in Italy:

"It was then, for the first time in her life, that she felt alive, really and truly alive, like she had a reason for existing, a purpose in her life and she had realized that purpose and would now pursue it and dedicate her life to it. All that summer and fall she painted, mornings, afternoons, evenings, then walked around the streets that were still echoing the music of the masters, and every stone, every pebble seemed to have a life and reason of its own and somehow she felt, though vaguely, a part of that reason."

Marion and Harry are so talented. Yet they are characters prone to addiction. Drugs heighten their creativity and senses, and enable them to escape the stress and pressures of modern society. However, they are effectively consumed by modernity - and the drug industry - in the process of doing so. Requiem for a Dream is a novel of contradiction, loss and mourning, and it's so upsetting to see the characters lose all ambition and promise. 

“I suspect there will never be a requiem for a dream, simply because it will destroy us before we have the opportunity to mourn it's passing.”
4.5 stars

Monday, 18 June 2012

Using Ayurvedic Medicine for Anxiety: Compassion, Relaxation, Self-Care, Diet

I'm a fan of all things natural when it comes to solving problems with my body. I just can't deal with prescription drugs, it seems. I'm not sure if that's because I'm quite a little person or that I'm not used to chemicals, but they're not right for me at all.

I know you are told to persevere through the nasty side effects, but there is no way I will ever manage to do that. So instead, I've done quite a bit of research on more natural ways to deal with anxiety levels. I'll probably do a few posts on different methods, but today I'll write about Ayurveda. Ayurveda is a Hindu system of traditional medicine, and literally means "knowledge of life" or "the science of life" in Sanskrit. It recognises that we are all unique, and focuses on food, lifestyle, yoga, massage and herbal remedies to suit the individual.

Ayurveda recognises three body-mind types, although many people overlap categories. The descriptions below are found on the lovely Pukka website, which also has dietary and lifestyle guidance for each. The book "A Pukka Life" by Sebastian Pole is also great.

  • Vata types tend to be visionary, imaginative & full of creative energy. They can also be forgetful, spaced out, anxious & uptight. Vata problems are erratic digestion, bloating, anxiety or joint disorders.
  • Pitta types are confident, passionate leaders, organised & perfectionists but excess pitta can make them fiery, snappy & irritable. Pitta people have a tendency to suffer from skin irritations, overheating, heartburn & ulcers.
  • Kapha types tend to be loyal, kind-hearted, calm and full of love, but a kapha overload can make them lethargic, lacking in energy and a little overindulgent. Kapha types are prone to congestion, excess weight and sluggish digestion.

I'm a vata type, and it's likely that if you're often anxious you are too. However, regardless of constitution, here are some general tips on dealing with anxiety:
  1. Make time for peace and quiet. From an Ayurvedic perspective, anxiety is caused by excessive sensory overload. Our lives are too busy and noisy, and we don't have enough time to rest. When you are not feeling particularly anxious, make an effort to lower your base anxiety rate further. Take care of yourself, whether by walking, meditating or just sitting quietly.
  2. Find the source of your anxiety. Perhaps CBT, journaling or talk therapy would benefit you. If you have repressed memories causing you suffering, consider EMDR therapy.
  3. Be compassionate. Pain is completely natural, but when it is suppressed and allowed to become a defensive behaviour pattern, problems arise. By opening your heart to the pain that life brings, we can cure our pain and avoid suffering. Remind yourself to do good deeds and treat others how you'd want to be treated (so cliché, but it works).
  4. Exercise. It relieves stress, improves digestion, reduces fat and lowers blood pressure among so many other things. However, this doesn't mean you should head to the gym every day, don't worry. According to Ayurveda, vata types benefit most from calming or grounding exercise such as gardening or walking. I was very happy to find that out. Pitta types should try cooling exercise, such as swimming or walking, and the more active kapha types should try running, hill-walking or competitive sports. 
  5. Consider a yoga class. It will aid breathing and mindfulness. 
  6. Buy some relaxing herbs. Chamomile tea is traditionally recommended to fair-skinned people who are prone to anxiety and are emotionally vulnerable - that's me! Passion flower, found in Bach flower remedies, can also be relaxing, alongside lavender oil (try space sprays). 
  7. Find a creative outlet. Journaling helps me, whilst others enjoy music, singing, dancing or poetry. I recently bought a book called "Drawing for the Artistically Undiscovered", which is great. My drawing isn't so fantastic, but it's a way to unwind and use my mind for something other than worrying.
  8. Care for your body. Ayurveda highly recommends massage, whether done by yourself or another. I think I'll always prefer the latter, but before bathing, or first thing in the morning, it's beneficial to massage warm sesame oil from your feet upwards - long strokes on the limbs, circular motions on the joints. Also, get enough sleep.
  9. Watch what you eat. I know, it's common sense. However, that doesn't mean that I don't feast on chocolate without one thought for how I'll feel afterwards. By the way, I'll always feel rubbish. Everything in moderation, I know. I guess it's fine for everyone to slip up once in a while, though.
Today's busy lifestyle makes stress seem inevitable, but there are ways to manage it. Learning to consciously relax has always been very difficult for me, but with practice it becomes a whole lot easier. It's an ongoing process, and the factors above make it more simple. Journaling with a herbal tea in the morning, eating a nutrient-rich lunch and having an afternoon walk are all things that can make a big difference to your mental health.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Inpsiring Reads: Fiction to Help Us Improve Ourselves

Ever since my early teenage years, I've always made lists of ways in which I can be better. I wanted to be better at sports, top of the class and a linguist. A life of never being satisfied admittedly isn't healthy, but I've always wanted to continually improve myself. I guess that's a positive quality. I just need to ensure that I congratulate myself on what I achieve before moving on to the next thing.

It was quite comforting to find out that Tolstoy was also a perfectionist. He had a list habit like mine, although he wasn't often successful. Writing his ambitions seemed to have a detrimental effect, judging by the lapse of planning and the gambling and debauchery that followed his list. Lists are entirely ineffective if you lose motivation and ignore them. I'm often guilty of this.

Reading books that inspire me prolongs my motivation, I've found. I enjoy reading novels with characters who have qualities that I'd like to develop, or skills I'd like to gain. It keeps my on my toes.

Books that motivate me to improve myself

Once in a House on Fire - Andrea Ashworth

A tale of domestic abuse and poverty in the seventies and eighties. I read this at around the age of thirteen (too young!), and was inspired by the author's journey to overcome her past by acquiring knowledge and confidence.
Austen's ladies are oh so accomplished. Most of the time. Why can't women these days be more like her characters? One passage states, "A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word". Perhaps one day I'll deserve the word. Ah, one can dream.
Ok, it's clear that the parts about drugs, insanity and addiction aren't exactly inspiring. The lives of the characters before heroin addiction is more promising. They're creative, ambitious and, in the film, gorgeous.
Practically all of the characters in this novel are writers, and their lives are led by poetry, passion and art. One even reads books in the shower, but I see that as a bit disrespectful.

Speak, Memory - Vladimir Nabokov

This man was pretty talented. It's incredible to see what he could do with words, considering he was a non-native speaker. However, perhaps it was his command of Russian and French that allowed him to write in English so beautifully. Nabokov was a linguist, a great writer, a lepidopterist and a chess composer. Speak, Memory is his autobiography.

Eat, Pray, Love and Understand Yourself

My life isn't exactly full of activity at the moment, but I'm loving it. It's great to have time to slow down and decipher how I'm feeling and what I feel like doing (which isn't much). I think I'm finally beginning to understand how to rest without panicking about what I should be doing - at last! Bring on long soaks in the bath and reading too many books.

I downloaded the Kindle sample for Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert this morning. Yes, I know. All the reviews I've ever seen have been at entirely different ends of the spectrum: it's certain that this woman can't please everyone. I do understand the negative views, to be honest. She has already written about praying in English, Italian and Sanskrit (no need to rub it in), and has an inner-voice to guide her when she hits rock-bottom. Hmm. However, I am enjoying it so far.

Gilbert decides to spend four months in Italy, India and Indonesia, whilst documenting her travels by writing this novel. It's quite exciting to read about a woman who rejects everyday life to travel and get to know herself, and I'm curious to see how she changes in the process. I'm going to Italy in September, and this novel has only made me more excited. The culture, art and scenery seem incredible. I studied the language for a set of evening classes recently, and so it will be a great opportunity to see if I have actually learned anything from them.

Gilbert herself does intrigue me, as a woman seemingly so in touch with her wants and needs. Perhaps she just has the confidence to not ignore her doubts. Deciding that you want a divorce means great implications on your finances and mental stability, and so it's not surprising that many ignore the possibility. Even if you turn out in a better place. So this woman is not only strong-willed, but she writes, she's spiritual, she makes friends easily and she's not bad-looking. She goes to Bali to write about yoga retreats. Fair enough.

I think my version of her trip around the world will be a little... tamer. I'm fine working on my identity and spirituality from my home. I have my yoga mat, English countryside outside my window, and peace and quiet (most of the time). I can definitely work on the "eat" and "love" elements, although the former is certainly a lot easier than the latter at times. I'm not too sure about praying though. I don't disagree with religion, I'm just not sure if praying is the way I like to go about spirituality. I often pause and appreciate beautiful things, and think about how grateful I am for everything in my life. I also write my hopes and wishes for others in my journal, so perhaps that is my alternative. For now, that is enough.

I'll write another post on how I feel about the rest of the novel, and if it influences me in any way.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Road - Cormac McCarthy

I remember my English teacher once saying how her most hated book was "about a guy and his son who just walked along a road... and that was it". She was a great teacher, but after finally reading The Road, I'd have to disagree.

I can't believe I left so long before reading it - it really is one of those novels that remains deep inside you. It's known to be a book where not a lot happens, but I found myself drawn into the writing and unaware of the passing of pages. There has to be something truly masterful in an author to allow that. With minimalism of style and plot, McCarthy provides access to the very core of human life:
“He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.” 
No matter how hard we try to conceal it with possessions and material desire, this is what life really is: a bleak reality under the colours of art, advertising and modernity. A reality that can be all too easily exposed. When nothing else remains, the relationship between father and son takes centre stage in the novel, alongside their basic hopes for survival. They exist in a world devoid of hope, but they still retain the human urge to persevere along "The Road": "Nobody wants to be here and nobody wants to leave.” 

I first began reading this novel a few months ago but stopped after a few pages, feeling it was too depressing. Yet after now finishing it, I realise I don't feel depressed at all. Instead, the novel leaves you with a sense of gratitude for the security of basic needs we so take for granted. You feel connected to the true nature of life, separate from all the material possessions and superfluous anxieties that conceal it. Our worries are meaningless in the grand scheme of things, and 99% of the time the feared situation doesn't even materialise. I think I'll have to return to The Road when I need reminding of this.
“When one has nothing left make ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them.” 

4.5 stars

Monday, 11 June 2012

"Innocent Holy Foolishness": How Leo Tolstoy Dealt with Grief by Cycling

Tolstoy: the most famous cycling author?
Tolstoy with his bicycle, next to his wife.
Tolstoy was sixty-five when he took up bicycling on a British-made "safety bicycle" just coming into fashion in Russia.

He began taking lessons held in the Moscow Manège, a long classical building used for parades (where he'd also learned to fence). After showing the police his proficiency, he obtained a license that let him cycle around the city as he pleased.

He would cycle with an intense look of concentration on his face, and would generally cycle alone.

The grief of Leo Tolstoy

In the days before his seventeenth birthday, Tolstoy's adored son Vanechka had died of scarlet fever. His daughter Masha wrote to a friend,

"Mama is grief-stricken [...] Her whole life was in [Vanechka], she gave him all her love. Papa is the only one who can help her, he's the only one who can do that. But he is suffering terribly himself, and keeps crying all of the time." 

It hit him as hard as his brother Nikolay's death in 1860, and Tolstoy saw cycling as a kind of "innocent holy foolishness" that allowed him to deal with his grief. He took his bicycle to Yasnaya Polyana - the family estate - during the summer, and would exhaust himself cycling to Tula and back (a fourteen mile trip).

Was it innocent, foolishness, or both?

A Cycling Notes entry in Scientific American for April 18, 1896, included the following:
Count Leo Tolstoi, the Russian novelist, now rides the wheel, much to the astonishment of the peasants on his estate.
One can only imagine what his wife Sonya thought of this new obsession, but it was surely preferable to the deep depression he often fell into between novels. Tolstoy once wrote,
“I felt that something had broken within me on which my life had always rested, that I had nothing left to hold on to, and that morally my life had stopped." 

A reflection on Tolstoy's favourite habit

I guess I'm like Tolstoy in that I need to keep busy. I like being alone, but I don't like having too much time alone with my thoughts: it only seems to get me down and makes me over-analyse. When I'm finding life challenging, I distract myself with activities that require concentration, such as baking (eating the result also cheers me up), reading or cleaning (an unusual choice, I know).

Journaling does help, but I don't like to dwell too much on the problem. Having something to work and improve upon keeps your mind occupied and provides entertainment, and so I can empathise with a sixty-year-old Russian on a bicycle, even if many could not.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Self-Improvement and Transformation in Patrick Süskind's Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Perfume by Patrick SüskindThis is a disturbing yet magical book. In eighteenth-century France,  Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with an extraordinary sense of smell. People immediately reject the unusual baby, believing him to be the devil, and eventually Grenouille sets about Paris alone in search of scents. He becomes the apprentice of a master perfumer, but this isn't enough to satisfy his ambition. Grenouille goes on to capture more unusual aromas: that of doorknobs and freshly cut wood, for instance. But one day he is enraptured by the smell of a beautiful young virgin, and his mission to create an "ultimate perfume" begins.

The protagonist is a classic outsider, and there are passages that really resounded with me. Grenouille hides from the world for a passage of the book in order to rest, think and to get to know himself. That's effectively what I'm doing right now. In order to be ready to go back to uni for my second year, I'm having as much time to read, write and reflect as possible at the moment. My first year of studying was difficult: I struggled with anxiety and didn't really make any friends, but I'll cover all of that in a separate post. Here is a particular quote I liked from the novel:
“He had withdrawn solely for his own personal pleasure, only to be near to himself. No longer distracted by anything external, he basked in his own existence and found it splendid.” 
I love how solitude isn't portrayed as negative at all here. Yes, Grenouille isn't a model character to follow, but he expresses human needs that are often overlooked. Everyone needs time alone, and those who don't are often the least aware of their identity. I think we could all benefit from having time alone to think in peace.

Grenouille, right, before his transformation. From 

"He then had them lead in the new Grenouille dressed in a handsome velvet blue coat and silk shirt, rouged, powdered and coiffed; and merely by the way he walked, so erect and with dainty steps and an elegant swing of the hips, by the way he climbed to the dais without anyone's assistance, bowing deeply and nodding with a smile now to one's side, now to the other, he silenced every sceptic and critic."

This really shows how the way you act influences how others perceive you. It's definitely true that you can fake confidence. I guess you just need the confidence to let go of everything and do so, ironically. When I put on a nice dress and my hair decides to behave, I'm able to do it. By feeling good about myself, my posture straightens and I look relaxed and approachable. I just need to ensure this happens more often.

4 stars

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Books Made Into Films 2012

Anna Karenina - September - Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Johnson, Matthew Macfadyan
I think Keira Knightley is a good choice as Anna, to be honest. Also, I'm interested to see what Kelly McDonald is like as Dolly (she played Diane in Trainspotting). I can imagine she and Keira would act quite well together. I can't say I imagined Karenin to be at all like Jude Law though! I think this has the potential to be a really good film; I hope it doesn't disappoint. I'll definitely schedule a re-read before it comes out.

The Great Gatsby - December - Carey Mulligan, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire
EDIT: The release has been delayed until 2013!
This is another of my favourite books, although I'm not sure what I think of the film so far. I'm glad Baz Luhrmann is directing it, but some things just don't match how I thought they'd be. Like Gatsby being played by Leonardo DiCaprio. For some reason I thought Gatsby would look older and more powerful. Although I do really like the 1920s atmosphere in the advert. Like in the novel, everything seems so material and fake.

Cloud Atlas - October - Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant
All I've ever heard is how great this book is, but I could never get into it. Maybe I should give it another go. Or I could watch the film and then read the book if I like it. But that would be literary blasphemy.

Life of Pi - December - Tobey Maguire, Gérard Depardieu
I hope the entire film is as beautiful and dream-like as the shot below.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Date TBC - Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Paul Rudd
Emma Watson, really? But I love how Paul Rudd is playing the English teacher. He seems to fit the role perfectly. I think I'd feel too old going to watch this film though - it has a very prominent young adult feel to it. I guess the book belongs to that category, but it doesn't seem so noticeable.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Positive Books, Films and Actions to Brighten Your Day

We all have days where we just can't really be arsed. Maybe it's because of the weather (if you're English...), or perhaps life is just getting a bit too much. Treat yourself to a day of undivided attention, no matter how selfish it feels. You'll feel better in no time.

  1. The Little Prince- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. A lovely book all round. It really does make you realise how trivial most things are, and it also has great illustrations, which is always a plus.
  2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. A tale of a community coming together through literature and baking.
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird- Harper Lee. A novel that promotes tolerance and love. It may not be happy throughout, but it's heartwarming nonetheless.
  4. Pnin- Vladimir Nabokov. You may find yourself laughing at Pnin rather than with him, but oh well. Nabokov is a fantastic writer, and his language is so comforting: “…two lumpy old ladies in semitransparent raincoats, like potatoes in cellophane…”
  5. Pride and Prejudice- Jane Austen. Or anything by Austen, really. It'll make you feel all cosy inside. Just thinking about it, I think I'll schedule a re-read. 
  6. As will something you read as a child. Try and read The Very Hungry Caterpillar without smiling.

  1. The Bucket List. There's something about Morgan Freeman that makes you feel as if God is personally addressing you. I don't think you can possibly watch this film without wanting to get off your bum and do something.
  2. The Shawshank Redemption. I promise this'll be the last Morgan Freeman film on the list...
  3. Shrek. You know it makes sense.
  4. (500) Days of Summer. A great love story that may not end the way you hoped, but still has a happy ending.
  5. The Change-Up. Just one of those Hangover-esque films to make you laugh.

  1. Get outside and find nature. Or just pay attention to what beautiful things are already around you.
  2. Put on the radio and dance around. Or do a few stretches. I have a yoga mat in my room to facilitate de-tensing after sitting at my desk too long.
  3. Make a cuppa. Then sit down and enjoy it in a comfy chair. Go on. I have "yogi teas" which have lovely little messages on them.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

What books did you read at school?

Great Expectations: the ultimate novel prescribed by schools?
The literature we read in school has different effects on people. It can put someone off reading for a long, long time. It can give someone else a lifelong love for reading.

The latter is probably more applicable to me, yet isn't entirely true. Some books I didn't finish, whilst others will always be associated with endless mind-maps and essay plans. I will always be consumed with rage when I hear, "mark scheme" or "assessment objectives", that's for sure.

The books I remember best from school:

  • Great Expectations- Charles Dickens. I didn't enjoy it as much in school as I do now. We couldn't take the books out of the classroom (!), and so it was hard to get into the book, or remember what had happened so far. I don't even think we finished the book, but instead watched what we hadn't read in film-format. Ah, the English education system. After re-reading it, it's probably my favourite by Dickens.
  • Romeo and Juliet- Shakespeare. I did enjoy reading this at school. Also, studying it almost inevitably means that you get to watch the film at least once.  
  • To Kill a Mockingbird- Harper Lee. I loved this book. It's definitely one of the better choices of books for children to read in school. When you're young and alienated, this novel provides some reassurance and familiarity. As someone who struggles with social anxiety, this book was certainly a good choice!
  • Wuthering Heights- Emily Brontë. This novel is a bit too large and complex for a classroom, I think. There's just so much to think and write about, and so many of my friends ended up hating it. I'd previously read Wuthering Heights before studying it, and did enjoy exploring it in more detail. I'd never thought of Cathy's ghost coming through the window as symbolic of a loss of innocence, however...
  • The Color Purple- Alice Walker. Probably the most awkward moment in my school life was my English teacher reading the opening of this novel aloud in class. Maybe that was the reason I could never finish it.
  • Captain Corelli's Mandolin- Louis de Berniéres. When left to enjoy this alone out of a classroom, I loved it. My Mum's not a reader at all, but she read this all in a weekend at Center Parcs (in an attempt to escape home!). 
  • The Great Gatsby- F. Scott Fitzgerald. This was something I'd always been meaning to read, but had been put off by its reputation. I loved it, and think that the research and reading I did around it for my exams was really useful. It's one of those books you can't just read and forget about - a lot of thinking and reflection is required!
  • The Handmaid's Tale- Margaret Atwood. Not one of my favourites, I'm afraid. It was one of those novels in which you're forced to explore the symbolism of everything. I'd rather just read it, to be honest. Everyone always says how great a novel it is, so I will re-read it... one day.
Which were your favourite and least favourite books read at school?

I'm a Book Blogger After All: Twenty-Five of My Favourite Books

A Girl Reading, 1932 by Vanessa Bell
I think you have to do a post like this on a blog largely about books. So here we go, twenty-five of my favourite books.

  1. The Death of Ivan Ilyich- Tolstoy. This book is incredible. It covers so much in so few pages, and leaves you with a lot to think about. You're left questioning your own life, and wondering if you're an Ivan or a Gerasim.
  2. The House of the Spirits- Isabel Allende. Allende's other works didn't appeal to me so much, but this one I've loved every time I've read it. Great descriptions of suffering and surviving. I wrote a school essay on the theme of catharsis in this novel. 
  3. Anna Karenina- Leo Tolstoy. This book is legendary for a reason. 
  4. Trainspotting- Irvine Welsh. My boyfriend recommended the film to me, and after a while of putting it off, I read the book and absolutely loved it. Then the film also. I've never been high, but oh well, there are lots of other things to relate to.
  5. First Love- Ivan Turgenev. This guy is a great writer. The stereotype is that Russians are impossible to read, and you need to inflict extreme force on yourself to get through a book. Read this and you'll realise it isn't true.
  6. War and Peace- Leo Tolstoy. My family thought I was insane when I put this on my Christmas list in my early teens. It's not the easiest book to carry about (and people on the train give you strange looks!), but its message stays with you for a long time. The love stories were incredible. Everyone really should read it.
  7. A Christmas Carol- Charles Dickens. There's something great about reading this in the week up to Christmas. I have a lovely Penguin Classics hardbound edition with a load of his other Christmas tales in. 
  8. The Book Thief- Markus Zusak. I loved the narrator. I'm not saying I love Death, but this Death  can really write.
  9. The Brothers Karamazov- Fyodor Dostoevsky. Alyosha was such a good guy. The rest of his family, not so much.
  10. The Shadow of the Wind- Carlos Ruiz Zafón. There's something different about Ruiz Zafón that makes him really stand out from other writers. Maybe not in his other books, but this one presents his skill and imagination in all the right proportions.
  11. Rebecca- Daphne du Maurier. One of the first classics I read as a child. I remember there being a fantastic description of a wood; I'll have to track it down.
  12. The Count of Monte Cristo- Alexandre Dumas. A loooooong book. But worth it. The plot line never fails to make me want to shout, "WHYYY?!"
  13. Love in the Time of Cholera- Gabriel García Márquez. I read this a while ago, then re-read a World Book Day copy. The idea is to give it to a friend after reading, but my boyfriend - as my chosen recipient - has neither read it nor given it away. I'll have to summon more anger when I next see it on his bookshelf.
  14. Kafka on the Shore- Haruki Murakami. A writer in a league of his own. His books are always so different to everything else I read, which provides a welcome change.
  15. Requiem for a Dream- Hubert Selby Jr. Scary, very scary. Not in a conventional sense, but the effect is probably worse.
  16. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic- Alison Bechdel. The only graphic novel I've ever read. Anything with literary references in it makes it a winner for me. Amusing but also has serious themes. 
  17. Paradise Lost- John Milton. This book has a bad reputation. A really bad reputation. Well, I'm sure there are many people who love it too, but I've never met them. 
  18. The Waves- Virginia Woolf. This novel is written in such a revolutionary way for its era, and contains so many international themes: empire, friendship, alienation. Short but complex.
  19. Pnin- Vladimir Nabokov. Ah, Pnin. You can't help but feel sorry for him.
  20. The Twits- Roald Dahl. I had an audio-tape of this as a child. The food in Mr Twit's beard still gets to me.
  21. Ulysses- James Joyce. I loved this. When I was regularly reading it, I flew through the book. When I spent weeks staring at the sheer size of it, my reading pace wasn't so consistent. 
  22. A Clockwork Orange- Anthony Burgess. The first disturbing book I read. Perhaps I should've started with something a bit more tame.
  23. The Great Gatsby- F. Scott Fitzgerald. This author is incredible. I should probably have included "Flappers and Philosophers", his short story collection, on this list. But Gatsby is just as incredible. One of those school books I'm glad was forced on me!
  24. Dubliners- James Joyce. The ending to "The Dead" must be one of the greatest pieces of writing, surely.
  25. The Odyssey- Homer. Self-explanatory.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Poems to Memorise for Life & Difficult Situations

“Always learn poems by heart. They have to become the marrow in your bones. Like fluoride in the water, they'll make your soul impervious to the world's soft decay.”

- White Oleander, Janet Fitch

There's something therapeutic about memorising poetry and reciting it during difficult times. Not necessarily aloud, but just letting it run through your head mindlessly. Perhaps it's just me (or I've slightly lost it), but internally reciting "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness..." or "My heart leaps up when I behold..." always soothes me.

I used to memorise sections of Howl or poems by Wordsworth before going to sleep, and it would let me drift off in an orderly, methodical way.

After memorising a certain poem, it would then come up at unexpected moments during the day. I'd recall certain lines when on a long train journey through the English countryside, or perhaps before meeting a friend I hadn't seen for a long time.

In my introductory lecture to English at university, the lecturer advised us to "memorise as much poetry as you can whilst you're young - it'll give you something to do if you get put in prison". It got a lot of laughs, and created a great deal of awkwardness among the other lecturers, but it made sense.

Literature is cathartic, and gives you a direct insight into someone else's suffering or joy. After memorising select passages, they seem to arise naturally at the appropriate time.

I was watching Pearl Harbour last night, and for some reason I couldn't get King Lear out of my head: "As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods, — They kill us for their sport".

Poems to memorise for life 

A poem for love: Ben Okri, I Held You in the Square

"I held you in the square/And felt the evening/Re-order itself around /Your smile [...]"

A poem for heartache: Pablo Neruda, Tonight I Can Write

"[...] Tonight I can write the saddest lines./ To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her"

A poem for depression: Sylvia Plath, Tulips

"The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here./ Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in [...]"

A poem for joy: William Blake, The Angel that presided o'er my birth

The Angel that presided o’er my birth/ Said ‘Little creature, form’d of joy and mirth,/ Go, love without the help of anything on earth.’

You can find something for any emotion or situation, which is probably what most draws me to poetry. Perhaps memorising passages satisfies my obsessive-compulsive side somewhat, but there's also a sense of security that comes through having an arsenal of poetry for when things aren't great. And it gives my brain a little workout.

Which poems have you memorised? Do they come to mind unexpectedly?

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Philosophy for Life by Jules Evans: Control, Nietzsche and Savouring the Little Things

I recently picked up "Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations" by Jules Evans. I only read the blurb before compulsively buying it, but I can't say I regret it. Beforehand, the only people I knew interested in philosophy were consumed by arrogance and felt a need to speak incoherently. Needless to say, that had put me off it until now. Reading this book completely changed my attitude, and presented philosophy as something relevant and accessible to all. Jules Evans has so much of interest to say (check out his blog).

Here are three things to mull over today:
  • If a situation is out of your control, don't worry about it- This is common sense really, but incredibly hard to accept. Next time you're worrying about the prospect of bad weather or what someone thought of your actions, remind yourself that there's nothing you can do to change it. Focus on what you can change instead. 
“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power or our will. ” Epictetus
  • Let your hair down (or tie it up if needs be) - In Friedrich Nietzsche's "The Birth of Tragedy", life is said to always contain a struggle between two elements. Firstly, there is the Apollonian: the ordered, cultured and individual force. Next, there is the Dionysian: the collective, intoxicated and chaotic force. Consider which dominates your daily decisions and activities. Is more of a balance required? I feel in control when I'm working, studying, or creating order independently. As soon as I enjoy myself, pour a glass of wine or socialise, I immediately feel more relaxed and balanced. Alternatively, others may need some time alone to reflect or create order. 
“There is nothing more notable in Socrates than that he found time, when he was an old man, to learn music and dancing, and thought it time well spent.”Michel de Montaigne
  • Enjoy your lunch - Epicurus didn't necessarily advocate a rampant pursuit of pleasure, but we should all regularly enjoy little moments of pleasure. Have a piece of chocolate, make a nice meal, have a long bath - just take your time and savour the moment fully.


When choosing a name for your first blog, I've discovered that it seems to just come to you. It doesn't have immense amounts of reasoning or consideration behind it, but it simply means something to you.

Last week I finished university for the summer, which means I have absolutely nothing on my agenda until October - crazy! Yes, I'll read insane amounts, travel a bit and socialise, but I want to do something with meaning and purpose behind it. A blog should satisfy that, I think.

I'm a student of English and Spanish at university, and have always been guided and helped by what I've read. Epictetus tames my control-freak alter-ego somewhat, Dostoevsky implies that craziness is all too common, and Dickens adds so much depth to the people I pass in the streets. This blog will be a way to explore the impact of literature on my past and present, and also see how it is influencing my direction in life. I'm not sure if anyone will read this, but I hope they will.