On creativity and the gift that keeps on giving

Last year I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s a beautiful inspirational book about creativity – how to make time for it in our busy lives and how the act of creation can be so beneficial to us as human beings. I loved the book, it spoke to me on so many levels and it made me think of ways in which I can bring more creativity into my daily routine and get rid of that “I don’t have time” mantra that threatens to take over my life. I think this thought was lurking at the back of my mind the minute I saw the package and it sprung up the minute I saw the wrapping paper.

The package was a Christmas present from my blogging friend, Vishy. It traveled all the way from India and came to me just as I was beginning to think that maybe it got lost somewhere in the deep dark recesses of a storage room, there to die a lonely death. I’m so glad it didn’t. Thank you so much, Vishy!

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Inside was this bubble wrapped package with a card. Oh, the suspense!

 

And inside the package, a book I have been looking forward to reading for years – The Mountain Shadow by Gregory David Roberts, which is the sequel to Shantaram, a book I read and loved five years ago. The sequel only came out in October last year. That’s a long time between books…I can’t wait to see if this is as good as the first one.

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As soon as I saw the beautiful wrapping paper I knew it was perfect for my next notebook cover. Luckily, given the size of the book, a large section of the paper was in good shape so I even had enough for a bookmark. The timing was perfect, as the notebook I usually carry with me has only a few pages left, so this new one is ready to take its place in my little backpack. I always carry a notebook and a pen with me – I find it so much more comfortable jotting things down on paper rather than fiddling around with my phone.

It took me a few days to finish it, working an hour or two a day when I had time. It’s a lot easier to glue paper in the dry, cold weather we’ve been having here, as opposed to the stifling humidity of Bangkok. I’m definitely going to miss this when I get back there. The little string bookmark I used came from a jar of jam. It was wrapped around the lid as a decorative item. The colors – red, yellow and blue, symbolize the Romanian flag. So now not only do I have a new book (and chunky, too at nearly 900 pages!) but also this notebook and a lovely paper bookmark. I can’t wait to use them both.

 

Posted in Handmade | Tagged , , , , , , | 19 Comments

The true meaning of a three star rating

three stars A while ago I had a conversation with an author whose book I read and reviewed and rated three stars. The author wanted to know, why only three? Was there something I didn’t like about the book? So began a back and forth of emails in which I tried to explain my rating. I found the question a bit weird but a part of me understood why the author wanted to know.                  Wouldn’t you, as an author? Wouldn’t I, if I ever publish that fantasy novel I’ve been working on?
The online conversation was very nice and polite – I felt that the author was genuinely trying to discover why I had not given the book a higher rating. As I explained in my emails, there was nothing wrong with the book, but rather with my perception of it. In fact my review was rather on the positive side with the negative being entirely subjective. Still, I thought three stars was a good review for the book and a good review generally speaking and I stand by my decision.

I’ve been a member on Goodreads for nearly six years. In that time I read and rated a number of books based on the system available on the site. If you’re not familiar with it, here it is:

*did not like it
** it was ok
***liked it
****really liked it
*****it was amazing

So, three stars was not “I’m not sure if I like this book and I’m still making up my mind” but “liked it”. That’s it, I liked it. Isn’t that good? Is it bad? Does it mean I didn’t quite make up my mind? No. It means I liked it. Sure, there were parts I liked less, but the overall impression was good. Would I read another book by the same author? It’s entirely possible. After all, as you can see below, Stephen King’s books fall into both categories and I’m a huge fan. So I went back to my reading list on Goodreads and searched for books I rated three stars. Here are some of them:

three star books

2010 A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway
2011 Weaveworld – Clive Barker
2012 Anatomy of a Disappearance – Hisham Matar
2013 Joyland – Stephen King
2014 Love Minus Eighty – Will McIntosh
2015 And The Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini

 

and five star books

2010 After Dark – Haruki Murakami
2011 Fahrenheit 451- Ray Bradbury
2012 The Yellow Wallpaper and Selected Writings – Charlotte Perkins Gilman
2013 Dracula – Bram Stoker
2014 The Shining – Stephen King
2015 The Farseer Trilogy – Robin Hobb

Here are my questions for you, book lovers and reviewers: what does a 3 stars review mean to you? Is it good, is it bad, is it in between? Would this rating make you click away, in search of a higher rated book? Would you read another book by an author whose book you rated 3 stars? Do you rate the book thinking about that emotional connection or do you try and look at it with a rational mind? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Posted in Wandering Thoughts | Tagged , , , , | 29 Comments

The Great Hall – flash fiction


I wrote this for the Random Flickr Flash Fiction Challenge I found on terribleminds. After finishing the entire piece in one go, I went back to look for the photo on Flickr to post here, but it was gone. That will teach me to save things first. These things are elusive. No matter how hard I tried I could not find that photo but I do remember the title which is also the name of this story.

*Edit: After seeing Deepika’s doodles I asked her to draw one for this story. I’m very pleased with how well it reflects the image I had in my mind. Thank you, Deepika.

 

The Great Hall

That is the strangest thing, Jack thought as he made his way through the undulating sea of people heading for the subway. In his hand he had a crumpled piece of paper he’d picked up from the street, maybe even right outside his favorite coffee shop which sold his favorite coffee, black with the tiniest bit of sugar, which he desperately needed on this, the least favorite day of working mankind, Monday. He could actually feel the hot liquid making its way though his benumbed veins, and grateful, took another sip. He had managed to peel the paper from his left shoe with an embarrassed grin, realizing the annoying swishing sound he’d heard behind him did not belong to anybody but himself. Well, at least it wasn’t toilet paper. In fact, the picture intrigued him.

He threw the empty paper cup into the nearest bin and descended into the open mouth of the subway station.
He found a not-so-crowded corner in one of the cars and after waiting for his fogged glasses to clear, proceeded to study the piece of paper carefully.

The Great Hall My God, he almost said out loud as he scanned the image with the shocked expression of someone who’s seen the exact same picture but couldn’t quite remember when or where. He looked closer, trying to see as much detail as possible, swaying with each jolt of the subway train making its way into the belly of the city. In a way, he felt he was descending into the very bowels of the earth and into that mysterious room that he was sure he’d seen somewhere but couldn’t quite remember where. The stark white of the black and white tiled floor, the arched doorways, the ascending stairs, three doors, one open just a tiny bit – at this stage he brought the paper closer, trying to see if there was someone holding open the door. There wasn’t. The high ceiling supported by white beams, the small chandelier , the long table pushed into the far right corner, all this made Jack feel as if he was watching one of those hypnotic images that looked like something but were actually something else.

By the time he raised his eyes from the paper, he realized his stop was behind him and he was going to be late for work. He got off the train and went and sat down in one of the red plastic chairs on the platform. He felt a sudden craving for another cup of coffee to shake him out of the lethargy. But the coffee only made him remember the coffee shop and then the paper which he was now gripping into a tight fist. He looked around at the people walking, standing, sitting, talking on their phones, but he could not focus on them too long. With a shudder he realized where he’d seen the image.
But it’s not possible. He shook his head, dashing a furtive look to his right where an elderly gentleman was reading the paper. He had an unlit pipe in a corner of his mouth and gave Jack a quick look before returning to his reading.

Jack felt himself sweating despite the cold draft of air that signaled the approach of the subway train. He shivered and looked at the paper again. This time the floor was dirty and looking closer Jack thought he could see black footsteps leading to the barely open door. He raised a hand to his forehead, pushing his slippery glasses all the way back to the base of his nose. The footsteps were actually coming from the door towards him and with a shudder Jack remembered where he’d seen the image. The whole thing looked like a scene from The Shining, and it could have very well been from the damn book, he thought. He was sure now that he’d never seen this image in real life, that it had been just how he had imagined one of the rooms in The Overlook Hotel to be when he’d read the novel, years ago. A mad thought flickered somewhere inside his brain and Jack was almost afraid the mad man with an axe in his hand – or maybe a fire hose (remember the fire hose, Jack?) had come out of that door and was well on his way to murdering him, this Jack, the other Jack in this world who wanted nothing than to drown his horror in the black comforting abyss of a big cup of coffee, sugar be damned.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. After a few minutes, when he’d called his boss explaining why he couldn’t come to work – Mr Holloway seemed to be perfectly reasonable and sympathetic to hearing his feeble excuse of catching a cold, yet another anomaly to add to the day – Jack decided to head back home and go straight to bed.
He had no memory of the way back. He must have crossed to the other platform, got on the train and by some miracle this time got off at the right station. He must have walked back, past the coffee shop, never mind the thoughts of coffee, and straight to his condo. Somehow he made it to the door of his apartment on the twelfth floor, turned the key in the lock and got in. Before his eyes stretched the impossibly shiny black and white tiled floor, and the doors, three of them, just like in the picture, were all halfway open. He searched frantically for the crumpled paper in his pockets, even on the back of his shoes, as if that could ward off the evil he felt rising from the magnificent solitude of the room, but it was gone.

Posted in Flash Fiction | 12 Comments

Some thoughts on 2015 and a “best books” list

winter 2016 -1 I’m writing this from a cold Europe, with an empty mug of chamomile tea next to my laptop. I’m still on this continent for a while, and winter, a season I was never fond of, has finally arrived. It was fun to feel the snow under my boots for a couple of days hours but now I long for t-shirts and the stifling heat of Bangkok. I managed to lean out the window and take a phone pic of snow, right before my fingers froze and my teeth started chattering. Summer is definitely my season.

I can’t believe it’s been almost a year to the day since I wrote my Plans and dreams for 2015. I started last year with a list of things I wanted to do. Maybe I was a little too ambitious – looking back now I can mark as done less than half of them: I’ve submitted two short stories (and got my first rejection letters), had 12 lovely guest bloggers (one for each month), and started a scrapbook/diary, which I will continue in 2016. I didn’t learn how to drive, or take more pictures (unless phone pictures count; do they?), did travel a bit but not to new places, Bukowski and David Foster Wallace are still on my TBR list along with “more poetry”. This year I’m not as expansive and many of my goals center around writing. We’ll see how that goes.

As for books, 2015 was an interesting year. I finally read Kafka and Remarque as part of German Literature Month and I can’t wait to read more of their books. I was a little afraid of Kafka, imagining this is one of those classics one should read but may not necessarily understand – so glad to finally find out how accessible and enjoyable his short stories were; I loved The Metamorphosis so much it’s going to be on my list of best horror stories forever! I was a bit apprehensive on reading war novels but Remarque swept all my doubts away and really impressed me with his powerful, emotional writing.

Goodreads tells me I’ve read 34 books. More than half of them are either horror, fantasy, or a combination of both. These are the best of 2015:

1. The Farseer Trilogy – Robin Hobb (links)
2. The Tawny Man (another trilogy) – Robin Hobb
3. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer
4. The Verdict and Other Stories – Franz Kafka
5. A Time to Love and a Time to Die / The Black Obelisk – Erick Maria Remarque
6. The Ruins – Scott Smith
7. Haiganu–The River of Whispers – Marian Coman
8. The Forgotten Garden – Kate Morton

I’ve also read three non-fiction books which I loved and recommend to all creative people out there – Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman, The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron, and Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert. Strangely enough, I ended up not writing reviews for any of these three but that’s because I found it difficult to say anything that would show just how much I liked them.
On the first day of the year I woke up in my old bedroom at my parents’ house and grabbed the book on the nightstand which proved to be The Rake by Mary Jo Putney. I normally stay away from romance because I find it so cheesy and predictable, but this proved to be a light read and I really liked the guy in the story. Right after I’ve read a Romanian translation of short horror stories by authors like Algernon Blackwood, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft and two Romanian authors, Oliviu Craznic and Serban Andrei Mazilu. Some of the stories I’ve read before but most of them were new and I was sorry to get to the end.
I’m really looking forward to reading more of Robin Hobb’s trilogies this year. I started The Liveship Traders months ago but put it aside when I found out I was coming back to Europe for a few months. I would also like to read The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King and hopefully get to a few classics. I really miss reading a nice chunky Gothic novel.

What about you? What books made your “best of 2015” list? What are you looking forward to in 2016?

Posted in Updates | 24 Comments

Guest post – Bina

When I first saw Bina’s avatar, a guy’s picture and a girl’s name, I was intrigued. And then there’s her blog name, ifyoucanreadthis which always makes me want to come up with a clever ending (still working on that one, but maybe you can help). I had seen her comments here and there on the blogs I visited but not until recently have I really started to get a closer look at what she writes. It turns out I missed some great posts because she reads a lot of books I haven’t read but want to – Life after Life by Kate Atkinson being one of them (maybe next year!). So when I asked her to be my guest for this last month of the year, she graciously agreed and these are her answers. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Thank you, Bina, for answering them.

1. Who are you?

Hi! My name is Bina and I’m from Germany. Currently, I’m finishing my thesis in the field of Cultural Studies. When I get away from the desk, I love going out for dinner and a movie, running and popping by my parents to play with the cats. This year I’m also trying to bake the tastiest bread. #Reallifegoals

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

I started blogging ages ago, just to have a place to collect my thoughts about the books I read. Though most of my friends read a bit, I couldn’t subject them to the intense bookworm life I aspire to. So, now I take it out on all of you, the book blogging community is the loveliest corner of the web. I don’t really read one genre particularly, though mysteries are my comfort genre. I also like to keep the blog pressure free. Meaning you’ll often have to deal with rambling and unedited posts, but I need to keep it apart from thesis writing.

3. Favorite books/authors/genres.

I love mysteries, especially cozy crime by Agatha Christie, some social justice nonfiction and a lot of what I read falls under the very general umbrella ‘fiction.’ This year, I’ve really gotten into sci-fi and fantasy and discovered the amazing Nnedi Okorafor – Binti was a favorite of mine this year. But basically, give me diverse literature with strong female characters, and I’ll read anything.

4. Kindle or paper book?

E-books aren’t my favorite way of reading, but the last couple of years I’ve used my Kindle frequently. This year I joined an e-book flatrate service just to have a wider selection of books available and have been getting a lot of use out of it. It means reading on the tablet, which strains my eyes a bit, but with a badly stocked library and small budget it’s worth it. Though my first choice will always be the real paper book!

5. Three things you learned from a book.

I learned that it’s okay that book love sometimes leaves a book in tatters (Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman), I learned to make my own sourdough starter (Das Brotbackbuch by Lutz Geissler) and learned more about how the wave model of feminism makes invisible the contributions of Women of Color (No Permanent Waves by Nancy Hewitt).

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

The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. Amazing world-building and each book takes you on a long journey. Also, finally available in one huge tome!

7. Best book to use as a doorstop.

I have a huge copy of five Daphne Du Maurier novels in one book. But I like it too much to put it on the floor.

8. Favorite quotes.

“Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity for our existence. It forms the quality of light from which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.”

(Audre Lorde)

“It doesn’t matter. I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books.”

(Jo Walton)

“The sort of twee person who thinks swearing is in any way a sign of a lack of
education or a lack of verbal interest is just a fucking lunatic.”

(Stephen Fry)

9. Three tips for bloggers.

1. Comment on blogs you like.
2. Respond when people comment on your blog.
Those are most important, I think, interaction makes you part of the community. Lurking, sadly, does not.
3. Have fun!

10. Best/worst blogging experience.

Oh there’s been so many good ones! Meeting good friends early on and keeping in touch through all the changes in the blogging world (Remember Vox.com, Vishy?). Hosting a read-along with JoV of Bibliojunkie). Every. Single. Comment!
I haven’t had bad blogging experiences really. Sometimes I had to take a break from blogging because of my workload. That sucked a lot.

11. What are you most passionate about?

Social justice, family and friends, chocolate.

12. Last book that made you cry.

I try not to read books that are likely to make me cry. Still haven’t read The Fault in Our Stars. But one I read this year was so perfect and beautiful, I did tear up: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

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Posted in Guests | 15 Comments

Haiganu. The River of Whispers – Marian Coman

Haiganu and its author

Haiganu and its author

It’s been a few weeks since I read the book and I’m still in love with it. I love the glossy gorgeous cover, the off-white page color, the drawings, the cover art, but most of all I love the story. As a fan of horror and fantasy (Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and Robin Hobb are among my favorite authors) I often wondered if there was a Romanian author who would take elements from Romanian mythology and/or fairy-tales and use them to tell a magical story. To my pleasant surprise, such an author does indeed exist.

“Haiganu. The River of Whispers” is the first volume in “The Cursed God” trilogy. It’s a story that uses elements from a famous Romanian fairy-tale about Harap Alb (which is also the name of the story) – the son of a king who travels to his uncle’s kingdom to be crowned king. On his way there he falls prey to an evil man who takes his place, swears him to secrecy and has him fulfill some dangerous tasks, one of them being the killing of a deer whose bejeweled skin and especially his head are supposed to hold some of the biggest and never before seen precious stones. Harap Alb manages to overcome all the obstacles with the help of some unusual friends who posses incredible talents that come in handy in time of need. All ends well, as the hero of the tale resumes his rightful place and he lives happily ever after. But that’s the oversimplified version.

Marian Coman, the author

Marian Coman, the author

Haiganu is the name of the hero in this new tale. Proud and defiant, he wants nothing to do with the mortals, spending his days in solitude, away from them. He is one of the Great Ones, a god with a single eye, cursed to wander the earth, never to find rest but to forever be tormented by the voices in his head. Voices of mortals, each with his own predicament, crying, cursing, shouting, all in pain, a never-ending stream of lamentation. Until one day he hears a voice that is different from all the others. It’s the voice of Zourazi, a child with wizard blood in his veins. Suddenly Haiganu has a purpose, to find this child, an orphan taken from his family and forced to serve his master, the cruel Dekibalos. With the help of Moroianu and his spells, Dekibalos is building the Orphans’ Army, comprised entirely of children whose only purpose is to kill and eat the flesh of their enemies. It’s a cruel world, bloody, tormented, on the precipice of change, where griffins are more than just a means of transportation and the secrets of the great wizards not as safe as they once were.

The author combines elements from the story of Harap Alb with bits of Romanian history and to this he adds a dash of horror to create a new world that has all the makings of a great fantasy. This first volume felt a lot like warming up. We get to know the characters, there are a few twists and turns but it feels as if the great mysteries are yet to come. Reading this I was reminded of Robin Hobb’s “The Farseer Trilogy”; the two stories seem to have some things in common – the ability of some of the characters to bond with animals (I particularly loved such a scene that is described with exquisite detail in Haiganu), and the prisoners of war that are captured, transformed into soulless beings and used with the only purpose of destruction.

Gaudeamus International Book Fair

Gaudeamus International Book Fair

I loved the book. I had to re-read the original story of Harap Alb because it’s been so long since my last reading and I’d forgotten some of the details. I’m glad I did because it helped me understand how the author used the original story to forge something new. My only complaint is that I’ll have to wait another year for the next volume to come out. So far it’s only available in Romanian but I’m hoping that one day soon it would be translated so more people can enjoy it. And with it, the story of Harap Alb. It would be useful so see where it all began.
I had the pleasure of meeting the author at a book signing during Gaudeamus International Book Fair last month. We chatted a bit, he signed my copy and I took some photos. It was one of the best days I had this year.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Read in November 2015

Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 20 Comments

Reading Erich Maria Remarque for German Literature Month

German Lit Month big
November was German Literature Month, an event hosted by Caroline@Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy@Lizzy’s Literary Life. I’d like to thank them for devoting their time to such a great event. I’ve wanted to participate for years and I loved all three books I managed to read.
I’m a little behind with my reviews, trying to carve slices of time to write and succeeding only today in finally putting my thoughts together. My first contribution to the event was a short collection of stories by Franz Kafka which can be read here.

Remarque A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1954) is the first novel by Remarque that I’ve read. It starts with a rather graphic description of the ravages of war, of dead bodies and smell and the horrible weather that changes the human flesh in a way I didn’t really want to know but became fascinated with from the first page.
The main character, Ernst Graeber , is a German soldier who, after two years spent fighting in the war, finally gets a two-week leave to go home and see his parents. But home as he remembers it is no more. His parents’ house is a heap of rubble, as are quite a few of the houses nearby. He tries to adapt to this new reality, nurturing the hope that somewhere his parents are safe and one day he will see them again. When he meets Elisabeth, things don’t look so bleak anymore. Suddenly the two weeks that seemed like an eternity before, now seem too short to spend with Elisabeth.

Can a lifetime be lived in fourteen days? Can happiness and love blossom on the wasteland of war? Is living a normal life possible? I found myself pondering these questions as page by page, Graeber becomes more and more a person and less a character. He’s compassionate and he questions the part he had to play in the war. The conversations he has with Elisabeth are full of depth and meaning and sometimes they’re quite philosophical. Questions about life and death and the futility of it all, the disillusion of war, the reality behind what he’s been told on the front and what actually happened back home, it all becomes a living nightmare. But Remarque gives Graeber resources to keep on living and the wisdom to appreciate whatever morsel of goodness he finds.

What I liked the most was the dialogue. It gives the story a real and urgent pace, sprinkled here and there with humor, something I did not expect to read about in a war novel but there you go, it’s there and it’s done in such a way that it adds even more depth to the story. Many times I stopped and wondered at the passages showing the cruelty, the hope, and the ability of the characters to climb right back from the abyss of despair. It wasn’t an easy novel to read, but Remarque doesn’t let things get too bleak – an unexpected turn here and there, help coming from strange places, and the extraordinary beauty of the words make this truly a book to remember. And I’m sure I’ll remember the abrupt and beautiful ending. It could not have stopped any other way but I still have mixed feelings about it.

The Black Obelisk (1956)

Having liked “A Time to Love and a Time to Die” so much, I immediately dived into “The Black Obelisk”. This book is set in 1923-1924, a time when war was a thing of the past but its effects were still very much palpable. Inflation was running every business into the ground, and for those working for the funeral house Heinrich Kroll & Sons staying abreast was done with the ability of a juggler performing at the circus.
Georg, the owner, and Ludwig, the main protagonist, work together, trying to stay in business. And dying is a profitable business after all, says Remarque with an irony present from the first page. It is clear this book is a lot lighter, more than slightly ironic and a lot more humorous than “A Time to Love and a Time to Die”. The characters have their own idiosyncrasies, and they each play their part in something that resembles more of a spectacle than anything else. Eduard, the owner of the restaurant Walhalla, who once sold coupons to his customers thinking this will bring him more money, only to have inflation ruin his plans; Wilke, the carpenter who made coffins and sometimes slept in one; Isabelle, the young lady living in an insane asylum; Lisa, the temptress, married to a horse butcher; Knopf, the former general who comes home drunk in the evening, and Gerda, whose relationship with Ludwig made me remember that of Graeber and Elisabeth.

Ludwig is an idealist; a World War I veteran, he clings to his beliefs, keeping himself apart from the new world of greed and speculation. Because of this his relationships with two women don’t last. Through his conversations with Genevieve Terhoven, or “Isabelle” as she likes to call herself, he is as close to love as he can, but Remarque adds a twist to this story – the young lady is a schizophrenic and their relationship anything but simple.

I enjoyed this novel as much as the first but for different reasons. While “A Time to Love and a Time to Die” is somber for the most part, and more introspective, it is clear that in “The Black Obelisk” the author created a more relaxed atmosphere where humor plays a bigger role, and the conversations verge on cheerful at times, only to be punctured by the achingly heartfelt exchanges between Ludwig and Elisabeth. The black obelisk that gives the title to the novel is real and as I often wondered about its role in the story, it is at the very end that it is made clear. I have to say I love Remarque’s endings even if I wish they were different; the novels feel complete, and Remarque trades open endings for something with more substance, giving plenty of answers and not much ambiguity.
I’d be hard pressed to choose one book over the other. I liked both. The writing is superb, the dialogue is perfect, his characters believable and likeable. Unfortunately I can’t quote from my favorite passages since the books I read were Romanian translations, but there were so many! I would like to read more of Remarque’s work – perhaps his famous “All Quiet on the Western Front”. He’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors.

*Read in October-November 2015
*My rating 5/5 stars for both books

Caroline’s review

Posted in Challenges | 14 Comments

Guest post – Deepika

Winter is coming. No, this is not a “Game of Thrones” related post but the cold reality. After a long and gorgeous autumn, these past few days the rain has taken over and the wind has stripped the trees of their golden crowns. But I’m trying not to dwell on the changing seasons. To counteract the cold, my guest blogger for this month is a person full of warmth – Deepika, who blogs at Worn Corners. I’ve discovered her wonderful blog only this year but in the short time since then I’ve learned to appreciate her emotion-filled posts and the beautiful photos that go with them.
Here she is.

Deepika Ramesh 1. Who are you?

I am a logophile, animal-lover, and an aspiring cyclist from Chennai, India. I love talking to animals, having profound conversations with strangers, and reading quotes from my favourite books. And, I am a sucker for tiny, warm moments in life. I began reading when I was about 22. I am not sure how I managed to endure life before that.

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

When I am insanely chased by a thought, I write to liberate myself from it. I have to blog about that pressing idea to move on with life. If I resist, the thought would almost sabotage my universe’s equilibrium. Besides that, I am addicted to words. I often write about books and animals, and also about my childhood, the significant changes that take place in my life, and the heartwarming things I encounter. I consciously refrain from calling my blogs on books ‘reviews’. I am more content if I call them ‘bookish thoughts’.

3. Favorite books/authors/genres.

I adore Neil Gaiman, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, PG Wodehouse, EB White, Michael Morpurgo, Ruskin Bond, JK Rowling, RK Narayan, and Haruki Murakami. I still haven’t developed a strong palate for romance. So, I love reading everything else. I don’t expect plot-twists, and racy narratives. I fall in love with a book if it has extraordinary characters, and memorable passages. I wouldn’t complain if the story is not particularly great. Just a few remarkable moments would do to keep me happy. And, I devour animal-books, and children’s literature.

4. Kindle or paper book?

I must confess that I am beginning to like my Kindle. Although I got it five years ago, I was reluctant to use it, only because I thought that it diluted my reading experience and retention. But, for no reason, I bought some highly-acclaimed books on Kindle, and chose to give it a fair chance. To my surprise, I found myself enjoying the experience and comfort. However, if there is an animal on a book’s jacket, I would choose to abandon my Kindle. No surprises there. :)

5. Three things you learned from a book.

Cheryl Strayed’s Wild taught me to make peace with my past. It made me realize the significance of letting go, forgiving myself, and following my heart. It was a powerful book. EB White’s Charlotte’s Web and AA Milne’s Winnie The Pooh had so much wisdom to offer, especially on friendship, and the need to slow down in life. Almost every book of PG Wodehouse reminds me that there is something to laugh about every situation.

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

I will take all the books that I want to reread. I barely reread since the TBR is ever-growing. So, I think it’s a great opportunity to revisit my favourites. I will read Harry Potter, The Art of Racing in the Rain, The English Teacher, An Unnecessary Woman, Neverwhere, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Stories of Hope, The Old Man and the Sea, Dogsbody and many more.

7. Best book to use as a doorstop.

Gone With the Wind, only because it’s been on my shelf for about six years, and I still haven’t read it. If it becomes a doorstop, I will see it more often, and remind myself to finish reading it soon.

8. Favorite quotes.

“Most of us can’t rush around, talking to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven’t time, money or that many friends. The things you’re looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book.”

― Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

“I long ago abandoned myself to a blind lust for the written word. Literature is my sandbox. In it I play, build my forts and castles, spend glorious time. It is the world outside that box that gives me trouble. I have adapted tamely, though not conventionally, to this visible world so that I can retreat without much inconvenience into my inner world of books. Transmuting this sandy metaphor, if literature is my sandbox, then the real world is my hourglass — an hourglass that drains grain by grain. Literature gives me life, and life kills me. Well, life kills everyone.”

— An Unnecessary Woman, Rabih Alameddine

“What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”

— Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed

Bookshelf

9. Three tips for bloggers.

– It’s okay if your readers do not agree with your opinions. It’s okay if they detest the book that you love dearly. Try having constructive discussions with them. If there is no room, it’s still really okay. But, most of all, enjoy yourself while writing.
– Do not be crestfallen if your blog doesn’t garner traffic. Continue to visit more bloggers, and interact with them. We are here to meet more folks.
– Try adding a personal touch to your blog. It is more interesting to connect with bloggers who open a window to their lives beyond books and things that fascinate them.

10. Last book that made you cry.

The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo. I didn’t cry because it was mushy or depressing. I cried because it was heartwarming, delightful, and I felt full. Books on animals always, always do that to me.

Ask me a question.
If you choose to include an animal in your book, which one would it be, and why?

The first book I wrote during NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago had a black dog in it so I’d have to go with dogs. Why? Because I knew a black dog once who gave me many moments of happiness and a litter of shiny black pups to play with. She died many years ago but I’ve never forgotten her and those happy times.
Horses would be my second choice – such wonderful majestic creatures!

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The Verdict and Other Stories (Das Urteil und andere Erzahlungen) – Franz Kafka

German Lit Month big Franz Kafka has been on my TBR list for some time and finally I decided to take the opportunity and read some of his work as part of German Literature Month, an event hosted by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life.

The book I have is an old but well-preserved Romanian translation printed in 1969 with a beautiful sepia color bordering each page so that the words seem encompassed in a sort of frame, a painting without the picture.
There are nine stories, and the first, The Verdict (Das Urteil), pulled me in right away with its beginning – a young man writing a letter to his friend who had gone to Russia years ago where he was supposedly working hard for some business or other. We also find out the young man, Georg Bendemann, lives with his elderly father and is engaged to a girl from a rich family. It’s not until the dialogue between father and son that something begins to feel amiss – it’s like suddenly getting a whiff of an unknown scent coming from a place we can’t pinpoint. It’s unsettling, slightly disturbing, and forced my mind, which until that point had a fairly linear thought process, to take a leap. I felt like I had to take sides – is it the father who has lost his mind or is it the son? Even the last sentence of the story adds more to the uncertainty and I loved that about it.

DSC01270 The Metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung) is my favorite story from the book. I could very well argue that this is a horror story because how can it not be? Can you imagine waking up as a human size bug one morning?
Gregor Samsa’s nightmare begins when he realizes his shocking change just as he wakes up to go to work. The cause of the metamorphosis is never explained but through plenty of detail the reader is introduced to Gregor’s life following this amazing misfortune. Or is it not a misfortune after all? If you have read the story you might think I’m slightly off (or more than slightly) but it is clear the whole family went through a metamorphosis. Perhaps Gregor, as the dutiful son and breadwinner got the short end of the stick; it is however just as captivating to see his family’s reaction and the changes they go through as they adjust to their new life.
Interestingly enough, both The Verdict and The Metamorphosis begin in the morning. I found this clearly defined frame of time to add a realistic tone to the story ahead.
“Bug” may not be the best term to describe Gregor’s transformation. The edition I have refers to it as an “insect-like” creature. We have a specific word for that in Romanian which perfectly fits Kafka’s description.

On a personal note – I’ve had a couple of unfortunate encounters with bugs, the most recent one when I found one in my jacket pocket while taking a stroll through a park, not long after I finished reading this story. Maybe it was a reminder.

In A Country Doctor (Ein Landarzt) the author present us with a moral dilemma told from the point of view of an elderly country doctor who is called away suddenly to the bedside of a patient. An unexpected help presents itself – a man with two horses, ready to replace the doctor’s own horse that had died the night before. The doctor’s housemaid, a young woman named Rosa, helps the man with the horses but it’s clear the man can hardly wait for the doctor to leave so he can abuse the girl. The doctor doesn’t want to leave Rosa behind but somehow the horses take the carriage away before he can get down and he can hear her screams as the man breaks down the door. From this moment on the story takes a fantastical turn – the horses become agents of evil, and the patient, a young boy, is dying of a terrible wound.
Has this been just a wasted call? Did the bell, which rang in the night and whose voice the doctor always obeyed, lead him not to save a life but to lose two? Is this an allegory for something that happens in life? I found myself totally captured by the story and utterly immersed in the doctor’s predicament.

Some of the stories are quite short but not less powerful. Up in the Gallery (Auf der Galerie), which is something that brought to mind an “if – but” story (a term I just came up with), is a two page story that describes a scene at the circus. The urgency of the image presented is not less potent than a story sprawled across a dozen pages. It is the precision of every word and their capability to surge forward that create an emotion which cannot be explained easily. Not by me, at least.

Before the Law (Vor dem Gesetz) is the story of a peasant trying to gain access to the law. The way is barred by a guardian who, every time the peasant tries to go in, comes up with clever excuses to delay him – from warnings to accepting bribes to other ways in which he shows his power. This goes on for years when, at last, the peasant asks the one question which prompts a revealing answer from the guardian. The end is abrupt, and while we don’t find out why the peasant wanted to see justice done, it is, somehow, satisfying.

Eleven Sons (Elf Söhne) is a father’s description of his sons. It’s a case of a man who is never satisfied – one son is clever but not good looking, another is very handsome but lacks courage, yet another is nearly perfect but for the fact that he travels through the world, self sufficient and content, ignoring his father’s wish of starting a family, and the list goes on. Reading this story felt like watching a man who, no matter how many gifts is given in life still finds fault with all of them.

In A Report to an Academy (Ein Bericht für eine Akademie), a man is called to recount his experience as a monkey in front of distinguished members of an unnamed academy. He launches into lengthy descriptions of what he calls “his past life as a monkey”, starting with allowing himself to be captured by people, then talking about how he finally learned to do whatever was necessary to please his captors. I find this story more than slightly ironic, as if Kafka was poking fun at the origins of the human species by claiming the man’s life as a monkey ended but five years prior to this confession. Also, the amount of detail makes it hard not to believe the man – the story seems entirely plausible.

At first glance, In The Penal Colony (In der Strafkolonie) is a story of an execution. A famous explorer is invited to witness the execution of a man whose offense is punished by death. But beneath this obvious story there’s another layer, deeper and even more troubling than seeing a man being crushed to death by a man-made machine. It’s the story of a belief, an absurd belief, and a man willing to go to great length to show his devotion to it. Aside from The Metamorphosis, this was the most disturbing story in this collection because there was no way I could have guessed the horrible turn it took. And I could also argue that this one as well is a great horror story.

A Hunger Artist (Ein Hungerkünstler) is the story of a man who fasts for days while being exhibited like some kind of freak in a cage, while people come to watch him. The fasting goes on for forty days, a period of time set by his manager as being the maximum time people will take an interest in this curious form of art. Of course this brings to mind the famous “15 minutes of fame” so prevalent these days. This could also be interpreted as a man choosing to display himself in front of others, risking their admiration, distrust and revulsion. It could also be a way of trying to get their attention by choosing to stand out from their midst, a person who’s doing something others don’t. I find the title very apt – aren’t many artists after all courageous people who are willing to brave people’s displeasure by displaying their art?

I loved my first encounter with Kafka. He scared, delighted, and surprised me. He’s fascinating, bold, and his attention to detail is worthy of the highest praise. I didn’t know what to expect from his writing and I confess to reading next to nothing about his books because I like to start on a new author with a blank slate and form my opinion of them with as little influence as possible. I will, however, read more of his work in the future, although I confess I’m a little uneasy (but also delighted and fascinated) by the prospect.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Read from September 29 to October 06, 2015

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November is German Literature Month

October was quite a slow month reading-wise. Life took over to such an extent that I simply could not focus on the printed word for too long. I managed to review a couple of books for R.I.P. XThe Ruins by Scott Smith and The Birth of Venus by Jarl Nicholl, both perfect for this event.

I’ve also participated for the first time in writing the Stephen King Message Board Halloween Story, a great project in which a few message board members contribute a segment to a story that gets posted on the forums on Halloween. This year the story had werewolves, gypsies, some great fighting scenes, an evil dwarf and, of course, a cemetery. I had a lot of fun and hope to replicate that next year as well.

German Lit Month big

This month I will be participating in German Literature Month, an event hosted by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. I knew about the event for a few years but the last two were taken up with NaNoWriMo. This year however, I’m not joining in the mad, wonderful, exhilarating rush to write 50,000 words in 30 days so I decided it was about time to broaden my horizons by reading German literature. So far I’ve finished a collection of short stories by Franz Kafka, which includes “The Metamorphosis”, a story I’ve wanted to read for a very long time. It was one of the best stories I’ve read. I’ve also completed “A Time to Love and a Time to Die” by Erich Maria Remarque, whose wonderful dialogue will probably stay with me for a long time. Reviews coming soon.
As for future reading plans, I have The Black Obelisk by Erich Maria Remarque and The Trial by Franz Kafka. I’m rather favoring the former but we’ll see if time allows for both of them.

Are you participating in German Literature Month? What do you plan on reading?

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