Home is such a thin word

Home is such a thin word. So thin, and yet it can s t r e t c h between two continents. Maybe all thin words like this – hope, love – possess a flexibility that allows people to carry them everywhere, even across the oceans. But while hope and love can begin anywhere, home once had roots.
How do we define home – is it the place where we first saw the light of day, the place where we have lived most of our life, or the place where we live in at the moment? I’ve been asking myself this question for years.

Last month I was home – not the place I have lived in for more than a decade, or the one where I saw the light of day, but the one in between. My second home, perhaps that would be a good name for it.
I saw family and friends, went places, touched snow for the first time in years, ate way too much, slept erratic hours, visited bookstores and a big library, bought souvenirs. And I felt almost like a tourist, taking out my pocket camera to snap quick photos before my hands froze and I had to stop and search in my pockets for the warmth of my mittens. This is one thing I did not miss, the biting cold, the sudden departure from the 30 degree Celsius weather to temperatures below 0.

I found the city slightly changed – a bit more modern, cleaner, the people nicer. I was shocked by the number of pastry shops selling pretzels sprinkled with salt and poppy seeds, a popular snack which I indulged in nearly every day. I forgot how many such shops there were. I missed: bread, cheese, and the joy of walking without sweating in the first five minutes; mulled wine with a hint of pepper; Romanian books. I’ve read one in which a little old lady with a razor-sharp mind and the ability to deceive nearly everyone almost gets away with committing a crime. But then her cat spoils everything. I think Caroline would have enjoyed this book.
I visited a bazaar with all kinds of artsy things for sale and I took a photo of an old picture and I remembered M—l and his collection of vintage photographs he sometimes blogs about.
I had a great time. And I came back with some photographs and a handful of great memories.

Old church

Old church

Pretzel & pastry shop....

Pretzel & pastry shop….

...and 5 minutes later.

…and 5 minutes later.

In the city

In the city

In the city

In the city

Museum

University

Bookstore

Bookstore

Old city

In the Old City

Another old church

Another old church

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DSC00392 Irish pub in the Old City

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DSC00394 Carturesti Bookstore

DSC00398 Inside Carturesti Bookstore

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DSC00444 Humanitas Bookstore

DSC00446 Inside Humanitas Bookstore

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Books in a subway station

Books in a subway station

Used books

Used books

Posted in Travel | 10 Comments

Guest post – Vishy

It’s been a while since I posted anything here, but I had a very good reason for my silence: a nice long holiday! After several years of absence, I went back home to visit family and friends. Trying to catch up with so many things left me with very little time to actually sit down and write something (apart from my short post about Claridad). Now that I’m back and life is slowly getting back to what it was, it’s time to post a new blogger interview, and this month Vishy has agreed to participate in my year-long guest posts.

I’m a regular visitor on Vishy’s blog. Apart from his poetry reviews and a few read-alongs we did together, he’s one of the bloggers that interact with their readers not only on his blog but on his readers’ blogs as well, something I really appreciate.

Vishy 1. Who are you?

I am a reader and a book lover. Probably someone who reads too much (bibliobibuli). I also love buying books. If you have read Agatha Christie’s ‘Witness for the Prosecution’ and remember the description of the main character Leonard Vole’s house – well, that is what my house looks like.
Though I have many bookshelves, they have long since been filled to capacity and the books have overflown past the shelves on to the table and to the floor. This doesn’t prevent me from buying more books. I keep thinking that I buy more than I read and so at some point I should stop buying or at least read the new arrivals before buying new ones, but that is not how life works. There are beautiful pleasures in life and one of the most beautiful of them is buying a new book and there is no point in denying myself that. Life is too short. So, I have made my peace with that. I love the Japanese word ‘Tsundoku’ which perfectly describes my life – “buying books and not reading them; letting books pile up unread on shelves or floors or nightstands.”

I love having a cup of coffee or spicy Indian tea, while delving into the beautiful pages of a book. I also like playing with cats and dogs, watching cricket and tennis on TV and watching the occasional movie. I am also a TV series addict. If you have a favourite TV series, even if it is an obscure one or a one-season wonder, I have probably already watched it. Some of my recent favourites (that is ‘recent’ for me) are ‘Monk’, ‘Downton Abbey’, ‘Alias’, ‘The Good Wife’, ‘The Americans’, ‘Castle’, ‘Hostages’, ‘Homeland’, ‘Penny Dreadful’, ‘Trophy Wife’, ‘Growing Up Fisher’, ‘Breaking Bad’ and the TV series version of ‘Olive Kitteridge’. The important days of the year for me are Oscar night, Emmy night and the whole of the second week of the Wimbledon tennis championships leading up to the finals. I am more excited about these days than even my own birthday or Christmas or New Year or Diwali.

2. Why do you blog and what is your blog about?

I used to write book reviews and send them to friends by email. Then one of my creative writing group friends inspired me to start my own blog. I was a shy blogger initially, using my blog as a repository of my book reviews. Then I met other book bloggers who also reviewed books and many who read way more than I did. It has been wonderful getting to know many of them and being part of this wonderful book blogging community. I mostly review books on my blog, but I occasionally write about something else – probably a movie that I enjoyed or about music that I recently discovered. For example, I wrote about my favourite movies here and I wrote about a concert I went to, here.

3. Favorite books/authors/genres.

My favourite books keep changing often, because I discover wonderful new books and writers every year. At this moment, these are some of my favourites.

The Wall by Marlen Haushofer – Probably my all-time favourite novel. It is a book that I didn’t want to let go after I finished reading it. It is the story of a forty-something woman who is probably the last woman left on earth and she has a dog and a cat and a cow. The magic that Haushofer weaves with such a minimalistic setting is stunning.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque – My favourite literary war novel. In a not-very-long novel, Remarque has said everything that needs to be said about war. Others can only repeat what he said.

Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman – My all-time favourite essay collection. Fadiman’s collection of bookish essays never fails to delight me. I pick the book every year and randomly read some of the essays again. A must read for any bibliophile.

Beyond a Boundary by CLR James – My favourite sport is cricket, and like any self-respecting Indian, I have my favourite players and my favourite teams. I have read many books on cricket, but this is my all-time favourite. It is a memoir, a book on cricket history, a book on social history and a book filled with potted biographies, all rolled into one. It is literary in style and James’ erudition comes through in every page. Many imitators have tried to match James’ style and sweeping take on cricket since, but none have been able to match the master. When I got this book, the only edition in print was published by Duke University in the US and it was listed as a book of sociology. That was one of the ironies in life – the greatest cricket book in history was kept in print and published by a university in a country where cricket is not played and is made fun of (well, mostly).

When Eight Bells Toll by Alistair Maclean – One of my all-time favourite thrillers. I read it first when I was a teenager, and I keep reading it once in a few years. I haven’t read it recently, but I am sure I will like it when I read it again. The story is told in the first person, the hero is vulnerable but strong and brave, most of the action takes place in a ship, there are islands, search for gold, badass villains, a beautiful and strong heroine and surprises in the end – what is not to like. And to cap it all, the first page starts with a long description of the Peacemaker Colt and the damage it can do when it is used to shoot someone and just when we are wondering what Maclean is getting at, the action explodes – one of the greatest first pages ever.

A few other books that are my all-time favourites and which I can’t really miss out are:
Berlin (City of Stones and City of Smoke) by Jason Lutes
Odes to Common Things by Pablo Neruda
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma.

4. Kindle or paper book?

I recognize the usefulness of the Kindle. One can carry probably around a thousand books in it. For most readers it would be their lifetime collection. One can also increase the size of the font which is extremely convenient. The Kindle book collection also doesn’t occupy valuable space at home and create clutter. Having recognized all this though, I feel that there is a romance to paper books which is not there in Kindle books. Lending/borrowing books, buying used books, gifting books to bookish friends – all these cannot be done with the Kindle. Imagine this scene from ‘Gilmore Girls’ – Jess ‘steals’ the Ginsberg poetry collection ‘Howl’ from Rory’s bookshelf. He then returns it to Rory later. When Rory flips through it, she discovers that Jess has left comments on every page. She realizes that he has already read it many times. That revelation sparks some interesting and beautiful conversation. How can such a scene happen with a Kindle book? I know that at some point of time, I will be getting a Kindle, but as of now, I am sticking to paper books.

5. Three things you learned from a book.

1. This happened when I was in school. Our history teacher asked us to name the capital of Turkey. Most of my classmates said Istanbul, which was Turkey’s most famous historical city, but which was also the wrong answer. I answered correctly – Ankara. The reason for this was that one of my favourite comic stories ‘Johnny Nero in Turkey’ was set in Ankara and explored a little bit of Turkish history. It is amazing how much we can learn from comics.

2. There are probably no new stories, because they have all been written already. I had an idea for a novel – what happens if a man/woman gets out of the economic system (makes enough money and becomes financially self-sufficient), shuts himself/herself off from the world and decides to spend his/her days pursuing intellectual pleasures – reading, watching art films, writing poetry, painting, visiting art museums, listening to/learning music, self-educating oneself in different fields like mathematics, biology, physics, learning new languages. I wanted to explore how the life of this man/woman will be and how it will affect him/her psychologically and whether this life is possible at all. It looked like a novel idea to me as I haven’t seen this theme explored before in novels. Then I discovered a novel by J.K.Huysmans called ‘Against Nature’ which explores exactly this theme in a different era. That is when I realized that if an idea looks new and fresh, it has probably already been explored by the French (this has happened repeatedly during my French literature reading days that now I am no longer surprised).

3. We generally tend to equate beautiful prose with literary fiction. We expect thrillers, murder mysteries, romances, horror novels and books from other genres to look plain with focus on the plot. But beauty knows no barriers. It gives itself fully to everyone without any distinction. And it unfurls itself in all its glory from unexpected places. We should grab it when we see it and enjoy its company while it lasts. Forgetting about the highly artificial ways in which novels are classified. Raymond Chandler is, of course, the obvious example for writing beautiful prose in his hard-boiled detective fiction. But my favourite is Alistair Maclean. For example, take this passage from Maclean’s ‘Breakheart Pass’, the only Western that he wrote.

For the weary traveller seeking a haven of rest, the saloon bar offered nothing but a total lack of hygiene, an advanced degree of decadence and an almost stultifying sense of depression and despair. Neither did the majority of customers. They were remarkably in keeping with the general ambience of the saloon. Most of them were disproportionately elderly, markedly dispirited, unshaven and shabby, all but a lonely few contemplating the future, clearly a bleak and hopeless one, through the bottoms of their whisky glasses. The solitary barman, a myopic individual with a chest-high apron which, presumably to cope with laundry problems, he’d prudently had dyed black in the distant past, appeared to share in the general malaise: wielding a venerable hand-towel in which some faint traces of near-white could with difficulty be distinguished, he was gloomily attempting the impossible task of polishing a sadly cracked and chipped glass, his ultra-slow movements those of an arthritic zombie. Between the Imperial Hotel and, also of that precise day and age, the Dickensian concept of a roistering, hospitable and heart-warming coaching inn of Victorian England lay a gulf of unbridgeable immensity.

Isn’t that beautiful, almost Dickensian? Who would have thought that this was a twentieth century writer, writing in gorgeous, exquisite Victorian prose? Maclean wrote war novels and crime thrillers in gorgeous prose like this.

6. Best book to take with you on a desert island.

It will probably be a poetry collection. Because I can read a poem and then look around the island and see how they relate to each other and then go on and read the next poem. So, probably my desert island book will be the collected poems of Mary Oliver.

7. Best book to use as a doorstop.

It has to be a big and thick book. Probably ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell’.

8. Favorite quotes.

As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.

‘The Fault in Our Stars’ by John Green

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light.

‘First Fig’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay

It was evening all afternoon.

‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ by Wallace Stevens

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

‘Separation’ by W. S. Merwin

There are treasures everywhere, her father told her.

What kind of treasures? she asked.

All kinds. Like this, he said, grinning, holding up a record…

Oh, Isabel said, unsure if this was actually proof.

Belly, he said, putting the record down on his stack and squatting next to her, it’s a treasure if you love it. It doesn’t matter how much it costs, or whether anyone else wants it. If you love it, you will treasure it, does that make sense?

‘Glaciers’ by Alexis Smith

9. Three tips for bloggers.

1. Write regularly. That is the hardest part when we get started and also when there is a lull in our reading or there is distraction in our lives. Don’t put pressure on yourself to write so many posts a week/month, but write regularly.

2. Be a part of the blogging community. Book bloggers are friendly and warm and they are also very well read and smart and intelligent. There is a lot to learn from them and there is a lot to contribute to the community by sharing your own thoughts. There are so many ways of participating – in addition to regular things like posting book reviews, replying to comments and commenting on other blogs, one can participate in events like readalongs, 24-hour readathon, literature months and daily memes.

3. Always reply to any comments on your blog. Bloggers love other bloggers who nurture their readers. Also, comment regularly on your favourite blogs. If you do that, those bloggers will keep coming back to your blog and sharing their thoughts on your posts. This is what makes blogging magical.

10. Best/worst blogging experience

Probably the first time I discovered a book blogger. Or probably the first time I got a comment on my blog. Probably both these would be my favourite blogging moments.

11. You are also a writer. Tell us more about your writing/book/s.

I wrote one book as part of NaNoWriMo, a few years back. It is unpublished and is destined to stay that way for a while (it is beautiful to me, because it was my first literary baby and we always have a soft spot for our first child, but it has too many flaws to be publishable). It is a love story set in Shanghai, with lots of Chinese culture and literature thrown in.

12. What is your writing routine like? Do you have one?

When I write, I put aside everything else and immerse myself into it. So that means no phone calls, no emails, no Facebook, no social life, showing a curmudgeon-face to interruptions, erratic eating schedule and erratic sleeping schedule. This works well for shorter writing projects like essays, book reviews, short stories and poems but this probably is not a good way of doing things while working on a long writing project like a book. Though Balzac specialized in doing just that, I think it is important to make space for life also while working on a longer writing project like a novel.

13. Three tips for writers.

It is easy to give tips and so I am going to give three here.

1. Write regularly. Even if what comes out of your pen/keyboard is not satisfying, do keep writing – either so many hours a day or so many pages a day.

2. Read some of the books by the masters/creative writing teachers. They give good advice ranging from things like grammar and punctuation to things like plot and character. Two good books on writing that I can recommend are ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King and ‘The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop’ by Stephen Koch.

3. Read regularly. We learn a lot (about writing) from reading without realizing it. One beautiful book on this topic is ‘Reading like a Writer’ by Francine Prose.

14. What are you most passionate about?

I love all kinds of narrative art. So, I love stories told in all kinds of ways – through words, through poems, through pictures, through moving images and theatre and film, through songs. I also love discussing books and stories and beautiful sentences with fellow book bloggers and bookish friends.

Other things I am passionate about are drinking coffee (I love Anne Fadiman’s essay ‘Coffee’ which is an ode to coffee lovers), watching cricket and tennis on TV (I think they are the two greatest sports ever invented by humans), learning new languages (I have tried my hand at learning French, Russian and Chinese with varying results), trying different kinds of chocolate (chocolates comprise a significant part of my grocery bill), exploring new cuisine (love Italian ravioli, Russian blini, Ethiopian Injira, Spanish omelette, Mexican Enchilada, French crepe, Swiss Raclette, Persian rice with vegetable curry, Chinese mapo dofu and qing jiao tu dou and Indian Phulka with potato curry) and playing with cats and dogs. I live in a place filled with magnificent dogs and beautiful puppies and some of them are my friends. My newest project on this front is to befriend my neighbour’s St.Bernard – he is huge and intimidating, has a bark which sounds like a lion’s roar and doesn’t care for me much. It looks like it will take a lot of hard work to win the friendship of my St.Bernard friend. But I will get there one day.

15. Last book that made you cry.

There are many books which made me cry. But I have to mention this book one more time – ‘The Wall’ by Marlen Haushofer.

Other books which made me cry are ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ by John Green, ‘The Language of Flowers’ by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, ‘First Love’ by Ivan Turgenev and ‘Forbidden’ by Tabitha Suzuma.

Some of Vishy’s books:

NewBooksPart2
NewBooksPart1

Ask me a question.
No questions for me this time. No problem. :)

Posted in Guests | 26 Comments

Claridad – the story of a song I’ve never heard before

I love airports, the anticipation of what awaits me at the end of a long journey, but I hate flying. The emotional part of my brain tells me this may be the last time I am alive and whole, and by setting foot on this majestic and cold machine that can magically transport me to a place I’ve been missing for years, I run the risk of not making it there. But still, it’s a risk I must take and I always do wondering what if.
Once comfortably installed in the small space I am allowed to occupy during this journey, I try to take my mind off the macabre thoughts swirling in my head, and with the help of music or movies, forget that I am so far away from the safe feeling of having my own two feet firmly planted on the ground.

Saudade_(Thievery_Corporation_album)_cover I vaguely remember hearing about Thievery Corporation. Maybe I even listened to some of their songs before. I have no recollection of that now. What I do know is that the moment I listened to Claridad and the suave voice singing in well rounded words, dripping notes of tranquility into my soul, I fell in love. It was a love I haven’t felt in years, not since I was a teenager and lay down on my parents’ bed listening to a big old cassette player that sometimes used to choke on the flimsy brown tape, the lights off, my eyes closed, letting the music envelope me in a cocoon of safety. It’s a love made of the sweetness of the moment and the bitterness of knowing it will never have the same effect as the time goes by. And after listening to Claridad for countless times, I thought this may, after all, not be a bad way to cease being – dissolving into nothingness, listening to the divine sound of love.

Claridad is one of the thirteen songs on the album Saudade (2014), a word used to describe “a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese or Brazilian temperament”. Thank you, Google.
Please listen to it when you have the time and tell me how it made you feel. I’d love to know.

Posted in Favorite Sounds | 13 Comments

Guest post – Deb Atwood

Deb’s blog, peninherhand, is full of delicious ghost story reviews. As this is one of my favorite things to read – ghost stories! – you can imagine why I am a fan. Add to this a beautiful photo of her and her dog and you can see why I’m often visiting her blog. As part of my new year resolution of hosting guest posts by bloggers I’ve come in contact over the years, I’m very happy Deb has agreed to be a part of this. Here are my questions and her answers. More guest posts to come in the following months.

debatwood 1. Who are you?

Aside from a year in Utah and another in London, I’m a long-time Californian, earning my BA and MFA here. I’m a reader who maintains a stack of books by the bed. When the stack runs low, I get the shakes. I’m also sort of a research fiend. That’s the great thing about being an author—you get to find out cool stuff about whatever piques your interest, and it doesn’t even have to be for your current project. In my case, that includes studying Korean for five years as well as traveling throughout the “hermit kingdom.” I also picked up factoids about celadon pottery, martial arts, car trunks, samurai swords, adoption, shamanism, and iguanas. Writers are like magpies. We collect shiny bits first and figure out what to do with them later.

2. Why do you blog and what is your blog about?

On my blog I set out to be the go-to girl of ghostlit (okay, maybe no longer a girl). Just like Lucy from Peanuts who sits behind a desk offering advice, I wanted to match readers to ghost novels. Ghostlit fascinates me partly because it’s not actually a genre. You can come across ghost novels in Literary, Women’s Fiction, Mystery, Romance, really any kind of genre you read—yes, even horror—but it can be hard to locate. I review these ghost novels on my blog because I love to read them (and I even wrote one). I’m branching out now to include reviews of young adult contemporary and doglit. I’m currently writing a young adult novel featuring a service dog and finding myself drawn to books covering this new topic as well. I guess I read and review what I like to write. Or is it the other way around?

3. Favorite books/authors/genres.

Age of Innocence/Edith Wharton/historical
Catch 22/Joseph Heller/literary
Emma/Jane Austen/literary
The Madwoman of Chaillot/Jean Giraudoux/drama
Second Glance/Jodi Picoult/women’s fiction
A Single Shard/Linda Sue Park/historical middle grade.

4. Kindle or paper book?

Both are great as long as I’m reading! I like the Amazon feature of downloading 10 % so that I can preview a novel I’m thinking of buying. So handy! If it’s an old book, I love to check it out from the library. There’s nothing like the smell of leather and the touch of fine paper to get me in the reading mood. When I’m doing research, I find it’s much easier to locate a passage or consult the index in a physical book.

5. Three things you learned from a book.

From the opening pages of Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, I learned that prose can be poetry. I learned that forgiveness and redemption are the noblest of themes. And much later I learned that writings inform and interweave with each other and with the past. Alan Paton was so moved by The Grapes of Wrath that he set out to do for South Africa what Steinbeck had done for the Dust Bowl.

6. Best book to take with you on a desert island.

I would take Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I love this book, and it would make a great companion because of the unique characters and intelligent writing and ironic wit. More than that, though, Neverwhere offers so many connections to mythology, classics, fairy tales, and metaphysics that I could spend hours untangling all the allusions.

7. Best book to use as a doorstop.

My house is almost one hundred years old, so I favor a vintage book, perhaps something in burgundy tooled leather. Paradise Lost would do nicely. It’s big and fat, and if an earthquake traps me in my room, I would have something seminal to read since Paradise Lost has inspired such masterworks as Of Mice and Men and Frankenstein. Plus, there’s a part of me that would like to have John Milton at my feet, a man who was not nice to his daughters. When he knew he was going blind, he taught them to read Greek and Latin poetry. But Milton would not teach his daughters the meanings of these languages, so they sat for hours reading to him without understanding a word.

8. Last book that made you cry.

Meant For You by Edie Claire
I’m not a crier, not generally, though for some reason children working as school crossing guards can prick my eyes with tears – their shiny whistles and stop signs and somber expressions. Meant For You, a work of romantic suspense, does not include crossing guards, but the novel does touch another of my soft spots – the adoption quest. Though Meara has been raised by loving parents, she always wondered about her birth story, and Meant For You proves the perfect medium for the unfolding of her surprising discoveries. My family has been impacted by adoption (and my fiction inevitably references adoption in some way or other), so I was probably already primed for some tears. By the way, they were happy tears.

9. Favorite quotes.

Everyone knows that as one wears pearls, little by little, they become real…And isn’t it exactly the same with memories?

~ Jean Giraudoux.

Men have had every advantage of us in telling their story…the pen has been in their hands

~ Jane Austen.

10. Three tips for bloggers.

* Please use black type. When I visit a site with white or red type, I click off right away. White and many other colors are nearly impossible to read and will give visitors headaches.
* Establish an engaging voice. Marti does a good job of this in her blog What Has Been Read Cannot Be Unread.
* Make sure your menu and sign-up bar are easy to navigate.

11. Best/worst blogging experience.

I had a blast participating in my first Armchair BEA. Every morning the facilitators would post a writing prompt related to books. I so enjoyed composing responses to the prompts and having conversations about books with other bloggers. I highly recommend this annual event for book bloggers.

MDb 12. You are also a writer. Tell us more about your book.

A doll…a ghost…a love that transcends time. My women’s fiction novel Moonlight Dancer is about how we are connected in ways we may not know. Kendra JinJu Macgregor, a UC Berkeley student, discovers an antique Korean doll in a dusty warehouse. Once she brings home her purchase, her dog reacts with fear, and items go missing only to reappear. When unexplained events escalate, Kendra seeks the help of Hiro Piretti, the expert in Asian art who sold her the doll. Together they begin to uncover the past of NanJu—a ghost who will soon draw Kendra to war-torn 16th century Korea to right a grievous wrong and prevent murder.

13. What is your writing routine like? Do you have one?

I write longhand on the backs of used manuscript pages or pieces of junk mail. It’s less intimidating to scrawl my words on brightly colored sheets of paper destined for the recycling bin than onto a blank computer screen. Ice water and milky coffee are at the ready. Sometimes I sip boricha, Korean barley tea. Keiko Matsui, Kitka, or Bach play in the background. Then I type onto my ancient, heavy laptop.

14. Three tips for writers.

* Read all the time in as many different genres as you can and observe how writers resolve plot and characterization issues.
* Attend a writing conference or retreat. You’ll come away refreshed and inspired (and tired).
* Move your body. Walk, swing, or take a step or twirling class. Movement, especially back and forth or circular, stimulates the right brain, your creative center. When I have a writing problem to solve, I pose it to myself right before my weekly step class. By the end of class, I have my answer. A train’s rocking motion works, too.

15. What are you most passionate about?

Do I get to choose more than one? I love ghosts and all things Korean, but right now I’m feeling pretty passionate about service dogs. I’m in awe of sniffing dogs like the Belgian Malinois that parachute out of planes to hunt for bombs, and the allergen canines like the Portuguese Water dog who alert their owners to deadly substances. The novel I’m working on features one of the latter that has been trained to detect peanuts. I’m also a sucker for service dog stories, especially those about formerly homeless dogs. Operation Freedom Paws is a wonderful organization in Gilroy, CA that rescues dogs from shelters and places them with veterans suffering from PTSD. Something simple like standing behind a veteran in line at the grocery store to prevent him/her from being bumped and scared by another shopper can make the difference in that vet’s quality of life. I marvel that an animal can sense just what its owner needs and move into position to provide care and protection.

Ask me a question.

Goody! I’m interested to know how you came by your unique name. Delia, a diminutive of Cordelia, appears to be Welsh, meaning sea jewel. How lovely! There’s also a Greek shepherdess by that name. Do you identify with Lear’s daughter or with the shepherdess from Delos or…?

* * *

Thank you, Delia, for the opportunity to introduce myself to your readers! It’s been fun talking about a subject near and dear to my heart—me. I have enjoyed reading your posts and will continue to be an avid follower. Cheers!

Posted in Guests | 24 Comments

Giveaway winner

I’m very happy to announce the winner of my giveaway: Priya from Tabula Rasa!
Congratulations Priya, I hope you enjoy the book!

Giveaway - Letters from Thailand

Posted in Giveaways | 6 Comments

One Lovely Blog Award

lovely When Jade from scatterbooker nominated me for One Lovely Blog Award, I was quite surprised. Thank you, Jade!
As an award nominee (doesn’t this sound important!), there are a few simple rules to follow:

- Thank the person who nominated you for the award.
– Add the One Lovely Blog logo to your post.
– Share 7 facts/or things about yourself.
– Nominate 15 bloggers you admire and inform nominees by commenting on their blog.

7 facts or things about myself:

1. I love coffee but if I have it in the afternoon, chances are I’m going to be up until very late. Like right now when I’m writing this and it’s nearly 1 a.m..
2. I have a mango tree in the little green space I call “garden”. And since it’s the mango season, I’ve been eating mangoes for nearly a month. It is possible you can have too much chocolate (sadly) but you can never have too many mangoes (fortunately).
3. I love all animals, even when I find a snake wrapped around the electric cables. Luckily they don’t wait around, though I did manage to get a picture once or twice.

snake 4. I enjoy spending time on my own, just going to the bookstore or watching a movie, or simply staying at home and reading. But I also like to socialize occasionally. Finding the perfect balance is the key to my sanity.
5. I love wooden carvings.
6. I love traveling by train. I used to do that a lot when I was younger, not so much now.
7. I’ve recently started making notebooks. I made one for a friend as a gift and I hope to make more this year.
notebook2

15 bloggers I’m nominating for this award:

1. Caroline @https://beautyisasleepingcat.wordpress.com/
2. Vishy @https://vishytheknight.wordpress.com/
3. M—-l @http://outgoingsignals.com/
4. Deb Atwood @http://peninherhand.com/
5. Brian @http://briansbabblingbooks.blogspot.com/
6. TJ @http://mybookstrings.com/
7. Athira @http://www.readingonarainyday.com/
8. Priya @http://peskypiksipesternomi.blogspot.com/
9. Andi @http://estellasrevenge.blogspot.com/
10. Vasilly @https://classicvasilly.wordpress.com/
11. Olduvai @https://olduvaireads.wordpress.com/
12. Lynn @https://lynnsbooks.wordpress.com/
13. Dolce Bellezza @http://dolcebellezza.net/
14. Carole @http://pearlsandprose.com/
15. TBM @http://50yearproject.wordpress.com/

Don’t forget to enter my anniversary giveaway. Valid until Monday the 19th.

Posted in Meme | 27 Comments

Blog anniversary – thoughts & giveaway

Four years ago when I started this blog I thought I’d do a blog anniversary post every year. To my surprise however, I realized this is only my second such post. What happened to the other years, I have no idea. Most likely I was too caught up in something else and just forgot about it.
Photo source

Four years feels to me like a really long time. I have met some interesting people, made friends I regularly talk to, and discovered amazing books I would probably never have come to on my own. And I learned a lot – about sharing a reading experience, and about blogging, which brings me to my next idea. The other day I was reading a post on Lynn’s Book Blog, To comment or not to comment and I thought about it for a while because this is an idea I’ve had for a while but never actually put down in writing.

What is the etiquette of blogging?

Now internet has given us this amazing space to play in and we don’t even have to leave our homes. Our blogs have become our living rooms if you will, and strangers come by to see what’s new, what books we’ve added to that shelf and what bookish adventures got us all excited. Most people read, some even leave a comment. I’d like to think I was a good host – maybe not that fast in replying (life and time difference can get in the way) but definitely trying to answer every comment and being grateful to the people who took their time to leave one. And part of being a good host and blogger is to visit and leave a comment in return. Not every blogger I’ve visited has done the same, and for a while it bothered me. Don’t I deserve the same courtesy? Are the books I write about so uninteresting that people don’t have anything to say? I’d like to think not.
I know some people are shy, some think everything’s been already said so why leave another similar comment, and some just can’t be bothered. I know I read blogs I rarely comment on but if a blogger comes and leaves a comment on my blog I definitely try to return the favour. I don’t see it as an obligation. I see it as being polite. It’s all part of the blogging experience.

It is true that some blogs get 30-40, maybe even more comments a day, and to answer each one and visit every blogger would probably take hours. I don’t expect that to happen, as I’d rather have that blogger writing a new post rather than answer my comment. This I understand. But most of the blogs I’ve been to are not like that. Do I return to those blogs? Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. And sometimes I leave a comment and sometimes I don’t. One thing I’ve learned, though, is that if you want people to come visit your corner of cyberspace, you have to be prepared to do the same and sometimes you might have to make the first step.

Giveaway - Letters from Thailand On a slightly different topic, I decided to celebrate my blog anniversary with a giveaway. Choosing a book for this purpose was not easy. If you’ve been a regular visitor you know I love horror but maybe that’s not something everybody enjoys so while I was at the bookstore perusing the shelves, I remembered a book I read years ago and loved. You can read my review of it here.

From the back cover:

When the original Thai version of Letters from Thailand appeared in Bangkok in 1969, it was promptly awarded the SEATO prize for Thai Literature. Thirteen years later, it was translated into English to reach a much wider readership. Today, the book is still considered one of Thailand’s most entertaining and enduring modern novels, and one of the few portrayals of the immigrant Chinese experience in urban Thailand.

About the giveaway:

– It runs from today, 15th January, until Monday, the 19th (midnight Bangkok time).
– Leave a comment with your name and email address.
– Recommend a book.
– The winner must respond to email within 24 hours. If not, I will choose a new winner.

A big thank you to all who have made a regular stop here and also to new visitors. Every comment is important and I appreciate your time and your ideas.

Good luck in the giveaway!

Posted in Giveaways | 25 Comments

Best books of 2014

2014 was a good reading year. Fifty books read, forty-one reviewed, a few abandoned halfway through. This was a great year for horror books, and being my favorite category it will also be the longest.

BEST HORROR (I will include Gothic here as well.)

The Shining – Stephen King
This is the best horror book of the year. I’ve waited a long time to read it, don’t ask me why – maybe it was not the time, maybe some other book got in the way, but when the sequel, Doctor Sleep, came out, I knew the time had come so I read them both. The Shining was by far the best of the two. I still think about that fire hose with shivers down my spine.

Interview with the Vampire – Anne Rice
I’ve read a few books from “The Vampire Chronicle”, back when I didn’t know this was a series, but “Interview with the Vampire” stands out. Not only did it make me love vampire stories even more, but it made me want to read the entire series, in order this time. And with the recent addition of a new book, Prince Lestat, it looks like my journey through the land of vampires won’t stop anytime soon.

The Beckoning Fair One by Oliver Onions – a gem for fans of haunted houses stories. I don’t know why I didn’t review this one but I remember reading it and being lost in the story, just like the main character got lost in that old London house. And the creepy part is that I could see this being an entirely plausible thing.

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley is another book I had my eyes for a long time thinking “one day…”. That day came when I got a copy of The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler. Both of them amazing books, the former for its story, the latter for the details about the writers and poets that were connected with Mary Shelley. I’d love to read them both again at some point.

House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill
Hailed as “Britain’s answer to Stephen King”, I must admit this time the description wasn’t just a catchy trick. Nevill’s book brought me not only hours of delightful reading but some interesting twists and good horror scenes as well. Plus, reading about stuffed kittens all dressed up and taking tea is really creepy, believe me.

The Rats by James Herbert
This was Herbert’s first novel and it packs a good story with some disgusting scenes, so if you’re squeamish I’d say don’t go there. But if you love a fast-paced story and are not afraid of the dark (and rats), by all means, go in. Don’t forget your flashlight, though.

Shadow on the Sun by Richard Matheson – horror in the Wild West. Short and to the point, this is one story I enjoyed a lot and I expect it won’t be the last Matheson book I try.

BOOKS ABOUT WRITING

On Writing by Stephen King is a second (or maybe third?) read for me and a great book I can see myself reading again. There’s a lot of detail about King’s life, how he came to write, how he printed his first newspaper, his childhood, the accident that nearly killed him, and how all this made him into the writer he is today. It feels more like a biography than a writing book but as I am fascinated by details about writers’ lives, I thoroughly enjoyed this. Plus, in case I haven’t mentioned this a hundred times already, King’s storytelling is the reason why horror is my favorite genre and he is my favorite writer.

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg is a lovely, inspirational book, with emphasis on how-to and many great tips and some interesting writing exercises. This book has a lot of heart and offers plenty of encouragement for writers. I’ve read this during NaNoWriMo last November and it got me through some rough patches. Perfect for when you feel like you could use a pep talk.

BEST FANTASY

The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker is the absolute winner in this category. I loved both main characters and followed their story with a curiosity that never lost its pace. Beautiful writing, well-told story, great setting. I really can’t ask for more.

BEST BOOK/S PART OF A SERIES

This year I’ve read a few books that are part of a series. Robert McCammon’s “Speaks the Nightbird” and “The Queen of Bedlam”, the first two books in the Matthew Corbett series, were the ones I enjoyed the most. This historical fiction was amazing – great characters, good story and plenty of mystery. I’m very excited to read the rest of the books in this series.

AMAZING WRITING

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke, Volume I, Volume II and Volume III

From my review:

“It took me a while to get immersed into the nineteen century England, and the story was slow going at first. The omniscient narrator adds a lot of detail, and a somewhat annoying amount of lengthy fictitious footnotes which I read because I did not want to miss any detail that may come up in the story later on (I do like the explanations but preferred they were somehow integrated into the story itself). One can feel immersed in the time period, the language does a very good job of conveying the atmosphere, down to the Dickensian cast of characters very aptly named….”

Glaciers – Alexis M. Smith

From my review:

“At just under 180 pages, the book is nicely paced and the writing easy to read. Its melancholy tone and beautiful writing convey a sense of fragility that is both compelling and profoundly marked by sadness. It’s almost as if we know something dramatic is going to happen while at the same time we can’t hope but wish that Isabel finds the happiness she deserves.”

The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter

This is part of the review I wrote. While I may seem dissatisfied with the writing, it certainly was memorable.

“The writing is rich and intricate, perhaps a bit too much, like the lilies cloying the atmosphere with their perfume in The Bloody Chamber – at times I felt like being in a dense jungle without a machete to make my way through. While I can appreciate the opulence of the language, there were moments when I wished for a cleaner, less intricate way of telling the story.”

The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye – A.S. Byatt

From my review:

“Byatt’s prose is anything but simple and in this last story its construction is intricate, layered, there are vivid descriptions of colors and smells, of sensuality, and it pulls the reader right in from the first sentence. It is also the kind of prose that you have to work for to fully appreciate, but the reward is well worth it.”

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

From my review:

“I was shocked to discover how much I liked the writing, for in admitting such a thing I would have to admit I liked at least an aspect of the book. I hated the very idea the book was based on, because for me it’s just a story of abuse, of a life torn out of its way. On the one hand I admire the way the words slide down the page so magically until they remind me of what they are saying and then a shudder of repulsion replaces that admiration. Is it possible to love the writing and hate the story? Perhaps this is after all, the ultimate allure of Lolita, this combination of style and story that can leave the reader fascinated and somehow feeling dirty at the same time.”

What wonderful books have you read in 2014?
Please leave a link with your comment so I may come and visit (and add to that never-ending TBR pile!).

Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 17 Comments

Plans and dreams for 2015

New-Year-Quotes-Make-mistake...changing-yourself-changing-your-world A new year begins with hope. Some of us make plans – to enjoy life more, to get fit, to help others or try new things. They all sound wonderful to me. Except, they are too general. So before I set out to write my own list of dreams and hopes (I won’t call them resolutions), I decided to get specific.

I’m in two minds about to-do lists. I like writing down the things I should do, while at the same time dread having to look at them over and over again, a reminder of what still needs to be done. The glass is half empty, I know. But it’s also half full, isn’t it? Well, as I was toasting to the new year and thinking about beginnings, I decided a list is necessary, a tabula rasa, wiped clean of last year’s wishes and dreams (which I can’t really remember since I didn’t write them down), ready to receive this year’s, something I can look back to a year from now and say yes, I’ve done that, and that one, too. And so on to the last one. I wish!

1. Write more. More blog posts, not necessarily more book reviews. I think I’ve done pretty well in that department; definitely more stories (6 is a good number), and finish my second NaNo novel which is about ¾ done at this point.
2. Submit at least two short stories and a novel for publication. I need to re-read my novel again and see what needs to be changed before I send it out there.
3. Have guest posts on my blog. I’d like to host one blogger/writer each month. Still working on the details.
4. Make a scrapbook/diary from beginning to end. That means buying the paper, cardboard, glue and all the rest and actually making the thing from cover down to the last decorative detail. I’ve made a small notebook as a gift for a friend, and I was quite happy with the result, but what I have in mind will be a bit more challenging.
5. Read Bukowski, an author I’ve wanted to read for a long time.
6. Read “The Pale King” by David Foster Wallace, because it looks like the kind of book I would never pick on my own (I didn’t, a friend raved about it so I bought it thinking I do need to challenge myself, because if it were up to me I’d probably never step out of the horror-fantasy-fairytale “kingdom”).
7. Travel to a country or at least a place I’ve never been before.
8. Read poetry.
9. Move more – walking, yoga, jogging, at least 3 times/week. I’m actually anxious to get back to it since a jogging-related injury has forced me to take a break for the past couple of weeks.
10. Dust off my camera and take photos. This will go very well with my scrapbook idea.
11. Learn how to drive. Last year I learned how to ride a bicycle; better late than never, right? It was neither easy nor terribly difficult but I had to fight my biggest enemy, fear, and that kerb I steered too close to a couple of times.

Do you have any plans for this year? Maybe something you’ve never tried before or something that didn’t get done last year? I’d love to hear what challenges you’ve set yourself for 2015.

Posted in Updates | 18 Comments

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita readalong 1 I postponed reading Lolita for quite some time. I wanted to, yet something kept me back. Finally, when Vishy said he got the book from a friend (what a coincidence, so did I) and wanted to read it, we decided to do a read-along. His review can be found here.

I started reading Lolita with more than my usual curiosity. It was, after all, a classic. It was, after all, my first Nabokov, and it was, after all, a book about a subject I had heard and read just enough to fan my curiosity even more but not enough to know exactly what was going on. So I began.

Minor spoilers ahead!

Lolita From the first page Nabokov manages to establish closeness with the reader, like a friend who talks about an event that irreversibly changed his life. For better? For worse? We don’t know yet. The story begins with Humbert talking about his childhood – his distant father, dead mother, and the first girl he fell in love with. It’s a buildup. We are supposed to like Humbert; he is, without a doubt, very adept at portraying his early life in such a way as to make the reader sympathize. Poor Humbert, deprived of a mother’s love, in love with a girl who dies young, living his days dreaming of what could have been. Until he meets Dolores Haze, or Lolita as he likes to call her. Until then, Humbert, admirer of nymphets to such an extent that he goes to the park so he could be near them and see the girls playing, was too shy and possibly too afraid of consequences to approach them. But Lolita, she of the “tender dreamy childishness and a kind of eerie vulgarity, stemming from the snub-nosed cuteness of ads and magazine pictures, from the blurry pinkness of adolescent maidservants in the Old Country (smelling of crushed daisies and sweat); and from very young harlots disguised as children in provincial brothels; and then again, all this gets mixed up with the exquisite stainless tenderness seeping through the musk and the mud, through the dirt and the death, oh God, oh God”, she is not like all the others. From that moment on, Humbert plans his way to her. A boarder in her mother’s house, he warms (or worms, it works just as well) his way into the small family until fate very conveniently delivers the girl right into his waiting, lusty hands.

And Lolita? Well she is not the sweet innocent I thought she was, and her experience in certain matters was an unexpected twist in the story for me, but still, she was 12 years old and Humbert but a few years shy of 40. She flirts, and teases, and seems to want to be near Humbert until he is all she has left. Her mother’s death leaves her an orphan, and Humbert manipulates her into thinking life without him as her guardian could be very difficult. Lolita accepts the situation at first, but after a year of traveling and posing as the dutiful daughter during the day and unwilling mistress at night, Humbert finds things slipping through his fingers. He guards her jealously, and with just the right amount of bribes, promises and threats, manages to keep his nymphet, until she finally gathers the courage and breaks free. It does not end well. Not for Lolita, and not for Humbert, who writes his memoirs in prison, waiting to be tried for murder. Did he kill Dolores Haze, his Lolita? Yes and no. Her demise, tragic, like her life, may be the result of Humbert’s influence. I strongly believe that.

As for Humbert, I started the story liking him, or at least the way he wrote it. He knew what demons haunted him. He tried to stay away from them, or rather to indulge in his fantasy in such a way that no one would come to harm. He even got married.

“It occurred to me that regular hours, home-cooked meals, all the conventions of marriage, the prophylactic routine of its bedroom activities and, who knows, the eventual flowering of certain moral values, of certain spiritual substitutes, might help me, if not to purge myself of my degrading and dangerous desires, at least to keep them under pacific control.”

It didn’t work out. That was the moment I began to dislike him and it just went downhill from there.
I was shocked to discover how much I liked the writing, for in admitting such a thing I would have to admit I liked at least an aspect of the book. I hated the very idea the book was based on, because for me it’s just a story of abuse, of a life torn out of its way. On the one hand I admire the way the words slide down the page so magically until they remind me what they are saying and then a shudder of repulsion replaces that admiration. Is it possible to love the writing and hate the story? Perhaps this is after all, the ultimate allure of Lolita, this combination of style and story that can leave the reader fascinated and somehow feeling dirty at the same time.

These are some of my favorite passages. The first one I read over and over again, as I imagined it, not as the simple act it really is, but as something beyond that, the ordinary transformed by extraordinary words.

“I set out two glasses (to St. Algebra? To Lo?) and opened the refrigerator. It roared at me viciously while I removed the ice from its heart.”

“There and elsewhere. Hundreds of gray hummingbirds in the dusk, probing the throats of dim flowers.”

“And presently I was shaking hands with both of them in the street, the sloping street, and everything was whirling and flying before the approaching white deluge, and a truck with a mattress from Philadelphia was confidently rolling down to an empty house, and dust was running and writhing over the exact slab of stone where Charlotte, when they lifted the laprobe for me, had been revealed, curled up, her eyes intact, their black lashes still wet, matted, like yours, Lolita.”

My rating 4/5 stars
Read in December 2014

Posted in Challenges, The Book on The Nightstand | 5 Comments