Author Archives: Delia

Ten Days at Wat Suan Mokkh (part 2)

CLICK HERE to read the first part.

4 a.m. – Rise and shine. Meditation eludes me. Silence.

After a night at the monastery I was looking forward to seeing The Dharma Hermitage. I went there in the morning with the other travelers, most of them in their 20’s and 30’s, backpacking through the world. It took about 20 minutes to walk there, while our bags were being brought up in a pickup truck. We went through the registration process which involves a short interview, picked a chore to do from a list and left our “distractions” (books, phone, camera) at the office. These 10 days are free from any form of technology, although some quick notes are permitted while listening to the talks. I wrote in a notebook nearly every day, in my room.

Inside the women’s dorm area. I loved waking up to see that tree just outside my door every morning.

The schedule was the same every day with small changes: rise, meditation, yoga, meditation, breakfast, chores, more meditation, talks about Buddhism and meditation, more meditation, lunch, chores, meditation, chanting, evening tea, more meditation, walking, meditation, lights out. You may think it’s a lot of meditation but all the activities are arranged in such a way that you don’t spend more than an hour doing each of them. Chores ranged from sweeping leaves to cleaning the toilets. I saw that chore list early on and because it’s a “first come first served” kind of thing, I was able to put my name down for sweeping the dining hall after breakfast and lunch. We also had some free time which I spent taking a nap. You can be sure that after waking up at 4 a.m. every morning, a nap was essential for my sanity and most of us made it a daily habit.

My bedroom for 10 days. That’s my backpack, my yoga mat, and in the corner it’s the old fashioned lantern with a candle.

I made some improvements. Notice my comfy mattress?

The famous wooden pillow. It’s not as bad as it sounds.

Waking up at 4 a.m. is challenging. The first couple of mornings I didn’t know where I was or where that terrible sound came from. It was the bell. But I learned quickly on that it was best to have my flashlight handy, look around before I got out of “bed”, and try to be awake and alert on the way to the bathroom (even if I was too sleepy to walk straight), because it was dark and I certainly didn’t want to step on a frog or spider or even a scorpion or a snake.

We were told the type of meditation we practiced at this retreat was called Anapanasiti (mindfullness of breathing). This means being aware of our breath and trying to focus on it. This was my first serious attempt and it was not easy, but I didn’t give myself a hard time over it. Breathing in and out, trying to visualize the air going through my body and back out without allowing my mind to wander was a hard task. My mind went like this:

Breathe in. Out.
In. Out.
Hey, this feels so relaxing.
I wonder what bird makes that shrill sound.
What time is it?
Breathe in. Out.
Slow. Don’t rush.
Oh, I could do this all day….this is not difficult at all.
How many people are in this hall? There are five rows on the women’s side, and it must be like 12 people in a row, so that means….
Don’t think! Just breathe, in and out.

Well, you get the idea. I was actually amused to see how my mind went off in different directions. What I found really interesting was that I never got bored. I would remember things, visualize things and have these funny internal monologues, but it never got bored and I found this strange. I would get bored at home, with so many things to occupy me: books, movies, and that bottomless pit called THE INTERNET. But there, at the retreat, walking around barefoot under the trees, watching the birds and the bugs and just being in the moment, there was nothing but a feeling of contentment. I felt carefree, light, even happy.
It was during one of those moments when my mind was doing anything but meditating that I really understood what this retreat was about. What I got from this retreat was something so simple it could be condensed into one word: TIME. I had time to spend with myself, for myself, time away from distractions, from people (as much as I love people there are moments when I’d rather be alone), from obligations, from doing things that are expected of me. Time, this essential concept we never seem to get enough of these days. Time to breathe, to be alone, to be in the moment, to enjoy watching a bird or a tree. Having to follow a certain program every day can be monotonous but it also frees one’s mind from having to make decisions. You just go with the flow. It’s an incredible thing, to be able to give yourself to the present. Sometimes I forget that.

Next time: Ten things I’ve learned from this retreat






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Ten Days at Wat Suan Mokkh

Hello, again. I know it’s been a year since my last post but here I am, writing about something I’m excited to share with you. Don’t ask me what happened this past year. A lot has happened and most of it wasn’t that great. But what you’re about to read was (great, I mean).
In May I went on a silent meditation retreat for 10 days. I’ve never tried meditation before and I’m not Buddhist but ever since I’ve read about Wat Suan Mokkh in a book of travel essays called “To Thailand With Love”, I’ve wanted to go see this place for myself.
Because this was going to be a really long post I decided to split it into several parts and add a new one every few days.

“A retreat at the Suan Mokkh monastery is an emotional roller-coaster. But if you survive it, it will cleanse your soul.”

Colin Hinshelwood

For days I’ve been sitting in front of my computer trying to put my experience at Wat Suan Mokkh into words. It’s harder than I thought. There are so many things I want to say and to explain, but taken out of context they will probably mean little to anybody else. But I will try, hard as it is, to tell you about my personal experience.

That’s what I like to call “a letter to humanity”. Written by the founder of the retreat, who died over 20 years ago.

Even though I’ve spent nearly half my life in a Buddhist country I haven’t really paid much attention to Buddhism as a way of life. Sure, I knew some of the rules and what’s appropriate and not, especially when visiting temples, but not much more than that. I know Thai people who go to meditate at temples for a few days, but these temples are in Bangkok and frankly this city is such a tumultuous place that somehow, in my mind, it seems like the last place suitable for meditation. However, when I read about Wat Suan Mokkh something clicked in my mind. This, I told myself, this is where I should go. The prospect of spending 10 days in silence, sleeping on a hard bed with a wooden pillow and eating two vegetarian meals a day appealed to me. Okay, maybe not the hard bed part with the wooden pillow but the rest of it, especially the silence. I wanted something different, a bit of adventure, something I haven’t done before. A boot camp for the mind, I thought. As it turned out, Hinshelwood’s words were spot on.

I did my research – read anything I could find about the place and watched videos of people talking about their experience. I booked my ticket and flew to Surat Thani province (an hour away by plane from Bangkok and about 8 hours by train) two days before the retreat started.

Arrival. Abandon all worries, all who enter here. Chaiya
I arrived at Wat Suan Mokkh on the 29 of April, at around 10 a.m. I figured this would give me time to familiarize myself with the surroundings and prepare for the days ahead. The retreat starts on the 1st of every month but participants at the retreat need to be there before 3 p.m. on the previous day. I was so excited about this journey I just wanted an extra day.
There are two separate places – one is the monastery “headquarters”, where anyone can stay for up to 7 days, and the other one, called International Dharma Hermitage, is where the 10-day retreat takes place. They are within walking distance of each other.

Wat Suan Mokkh or “The Garden of Liberation” lives up to its name. As soon as I passed through the gates at the entrance to the monastery, the world seemed to have altered. I was in awe, the kind you feel when you’re seeing something extraordinary. There were trees everywhere, tall and green and loud with cicadas. Monks and visitors walked around. Everyone was smiling. I felt welcomed and relaxed instantly. I was so immersed in the atmosphere I almost forgot to take pictures. My relaxed attitude was somewhat altered when I saw “the room” where I was going to spend the night. Sure, I’ve seen pictures online, but reality still took me by surprise. The bed was a slab of concrete, and the wooden pillow its worthy companion. My first night felt a bit like sleeping in a crypt, which is no surprise considering how many vampire stories I read.

Chaiya, near the train station

That day I went to Chaiya with a couple of young American travelers I met at the monastery. A small town just a few kilometers away from the monastery, Chaiya’s most impressive feature is probably a coffee shop, which has Wi-Fi, fancy cakes and even fancier drinks. Think Starbucks on a smaller scale. There’s also a small train station, and the rest is just rows of town houses with shops on the ground floor.

At the monastery, bedtime is 9.30 p.m. Facilities include individual showers with cold water, there is only soap so you have to bring your own toiletries, and something I found extraordinary: there were NO BINS anywhere! Isn’t that a scary thought? Visitors are responsible for disposing of their own trash. I had a vision of myself carrying a plastic bag with me for ten days. What if there were no bins at the meditation place? As it turned out, there were bins at the Dharma Hermitage. That was a relief. It did make me more aware of the trash I produce and I did my best to keep that to a minimum.

Next time: 4 a.m. – Rise and shine. Meditation eludes me. Silence.






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Musings on time & spine poetry

It took me a while to realize that time was not what it used to be. There’s less of it now or so it seems to me. That being said, instead of complaining that I don’t have an hour or two or four to write my next blog post, I’m going to steal pieces of time and use them to write shorter posts until I can manage to get a bigger chunk in which to think and dwell in order to find all the beautiful words I want to use to write my next review. Also, shorter sentences would probably be better. That, however, is a hard habit to break.

*

I saw the “book spine poetry” on a few blogs but it wasn’t until reading the ones on TJ’s blog that I suddenly got the urge to go and look at the books on my shelves. If you haven’t read them, go have a look. The second poem she posted made me smile. It’s perfect.

For each poem I wrote I chose a book. The first one had to include Winnetou, because it’s one of my favorite books which I’m hoping to re-read soon. For the second one, there was something about On the Holloway Road which called out to me. I quite enjoyed that book.

In the Desert
Our Mutual Friend
Winnetou
The Deer Slayer
Haunts
Weaveworld

Red Earth and Pouring Rain
On the Holloway Road
After Dark






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Mircea Cartarescu – Why We Love Women (De ce iubim femeile)

Mircea Cartarescu’s book is a collection of personal essays on women. I’m not sure why I picked it up; maybe it was the idea that soon enough I would be far away from Romanian literature (the odds of finding anything in this language in Bangkok are pretty slim) so I’d better take advantage of the time I had left and the books available. Strangely enough, a few days after finishing the book I found out about Romanian Writers Challenge hosted by Snow Feathers and thought this was too much of a coincidence. Hence the review.
I really liked this book up to the last story. That one robbed it of a 5 star rating. But bear with me, we’ll get there.

Mircea Cartarescu

Mircea Cartarescu

Twenty-one short essays about women – women who were unforgettable for different reason, some, because of their beauty, others because of what they did (or didn’t do), or the way they came back into the author’s life after a long time. Stories of lust, love, eroticism, betrayal, tragedy, all plucked from the folds of memory, dusted and printed on the page, ready to be smiled upon, frowned upon and even shed a tear upon. I smiled reading about Carturescu’s self-professed awkwardness and I can very well imagine the strange, thin youth who used to go around quoting favorite authors to the dismay of acquaintances and girls in particular. I kept smiling when he talked about finding a room filled with old books in a dilapidated building, and spending hours of pleasure immersed in reading, sealed away from the world until one day the room along with its treasure was gone.

It’s hard to describe with accuracy the tone of some of the stories. Imbued with the air of a long gone era – some of them take place during the communist regime that ended in 1989 – I found myself laughing at some of the expressions I found nearly impossible to translate. I wonder what the English translation of this book is like. Although Cartarescu is older than I am (he was born in 1956 and is still living), he talks about a Bucharest that doesn’t seem that old – a dilapidated house, a subway station, the gray apartment buildings rising tall and ugly (they’re still there), a black and white photograph (my parents still have those, where people look like ghosts printed on hard pieces of paper with jagged border all around), a big market that still exists where Gypsies are on the prowl for wallets belonging to inattentive customers. This is probably the main reason why I felt such a connection with these stories – he writes about the familiar, things and people I can readily imagine and accept because at some point I’ve seen/met them.

There are some stories that are not that personal – Zaraza is one of them. This is one of my favorites because it’s a tale of a love story so intense and dramatic I couldn’t help but be moved and immensely saddened by it. According to the author, this is a true story that happened in 1944 when Bucharest was caught in the grip of war and the nightlife was luxurious, loud and tumultuous. Two famous singers vied for public attention, Cristian Vasile si Zavaidoc. They were rivals and both under the protection of local gangs. Because they were so popular nobody would touch them, although Zavaidoc wished his rival’s death and even asked a local gangster to kill him. But the man liked Cristian Vasile’s music and refused to kill him. He killed his lover instead, the famous Gypsy woman Zaraza. Her death was the end of Cristian Vasile’s life as a singer. After she was cremated, he stole her ashes and ate them one spoon at a time, then tried to kill himself by drinking a toxic substance. He survived, lost his voice and kept on living, a broken man who made his living as a stagehand in a theatre, nearly voiceless and forgotten.
Probably his most famous song which bears the name of his beloved has survived and you can listen to it here:

The last essay in the book is an ode to women everywhere. Carturescu sees women as candid beings, sensual, sometimes difficult to understand but always great to be loved. He also shows a somewhat archaic understanding of women by claiming they don’t do things I’m sure most of them are familiar with. Here’s a 5 minute YouTube reading of that last essay. I found minute 4.20 particularly funny.

I enjoyed these stories/essays. They kept me alert, the writing is smooth and lyrical and sensual, with a pinch of the bizarre, and Cartarescu’s flair for the dramatic stands out. This is certainly a great book and one I recommend. You can find the English translation by following this link.

My rating: 4/5 stars
Read in February-March 2016






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A little bit of everything, including Easter eggs and squirrels

I am now back in Bangkok after eight months spent at home in Bucharest. Those were probably the most intense months I have experienced, save perhaps for the first year I came to Thailand (nothing will beat that year). These months left me feeling like I’ve been through an emotional cyclone – I’ve seen hospitals, scars and suffering, and I’ve experienced the horrible feeling of watching someone very dear to me fight unbearable pain without being able to do much to help. I’ve been to a funeral, two weddings, and was there when my two best friends announced their pregnancies. All this made me look at life in a new way and it is also the reason I was mostly absent from the blogosphere – spending time with family and friends took over everything else, even reading and most definitely writing.

Books for sale in central Bucharest

Books for sale in central Bucharest

It didn’t really dawn on me I was coming back to Bangkok until the last week – I had a “moment” while in a café & bookshop near Cismigiu Park, a moment when I realized it might be a while before I would be back. It was definitely a goodbye moment, something I didn’t really want to think about but apparently that wasn’t up to me.
And so here I am, and as I made my way out of the Suwarnabhumi airport, I got to experience all over again the overwhelming heat – it’s the hot season and the difference in temperature is shocking, even if Bucharest was warm enough for short sleeves when I left. Bangkok air is heavy and humid and it has an almost liquid quality – it feels as if the air itself pushes its sticky claws into your lungs.

Last Sunday was Easter day and I woke up thinking I should get up and do something before it got too hot to do anything. So I painted some eggs and took some photos and just about managed to avoid the worst of the heat. It’s hellishly hot from around 12 to 5 in the afternoon, which is the time I usually spend watching a movie and reading or aimlessly browsing Facebook posts and lying to myself that I’m just getting settled even if it’s been more than I week since my return and this is my first blog post in a long time.

Ship of Destiny As for reading, last year I left in the middle of a trilogy – I was reading book two of The Liveship Traders, a wonderful work of fantasy by Robin Hobb, and now I’m almost halfway through the last book. Ships with talking figureheads, a pirate, and a family drama unfolding against a backdrop of political unrest, this trilogy is truly wonderful (even if not as amazing as The Farseer Trilogy).

I’m still participating in the Romanian Writers Challenge and the review for the first book will be posted next week if the internet cooperates. It’s been behaving erratically these past few days.
I look forward settling back into a routine, definitely reading more and hopefully writing more as well. It may take me a while to catch up with all of the blog posts I missed but I’ll get there.
And finally, a squirrel, because why not. I took this photo with my phone, in a park back home, sneaking up on the little creature as it was in the middle of a feast.






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Don’t Look Now and Other Stories – Daphne du Maurier

Nu-privi-acum-si-alte-povestiri-Daphne-Maurier-Editura-Univers-1983 I must confess, I expected a lot from this book. With a title like that, I thought, this must be a great book. As it turned out, it really was. There are four stories and I loved them all but one truly stands apart.

Don’t Look Now is about a couple on holiday in Torcello, Italy. What seems like an innocent holiday game of making up stories about strangers begins to be more than that when John and Laura spot two elderly ladies at a nearby table. And when one of them claims to see the couple’s recently deceased child, a girl named Christine, things really get interesting. Told through vivacious dialogue and dropping clues one after the other, the story reaches the end and everything comes full circle, leaving one more mystery behind but providing satisfying closure nevertheless.

The narrator of Not After Midnight is Timothy Grey, a 49 year old bachelor who remembers his fateful trip to Crete and the horrible incident that changed his life. He’s not an unreliable narrator, plagued by bouts of madness concealed into the folds of everyday routine. On the contrary, the accuracy of detail makes him a highly credible story-teller and I couldn’t help but sympathize with him and wishing things had ended on a different note. Timothy seems like the kind of person who’s almost pedantic in his routine. It’s obvious he likes things done a certain way and he highly values his privacy. That is why, when he meets an odd couple – the big, drinking man and his silent wife, he tries to keep his distance. I really liked how the author gave a new spin to a famous snippet of Greek mythology.

A Border-Line Case is about Shelagh, a young woman who tries to find out more about her father’s best friend. The men had had a falling out after Shelagh’s father got married. Her mother can’t stand the man. And following her father’s death in such strange circumstances – he was watching his daughter when it happened – Shelagh decides to employ her talents as an actress to fabricate a story that will allow her to find out the truth. What’s really behind the mysterious, reclusive man living on an island with a few trusted companions? And why does he have a picture of her parents on their wedding day but with himself as the groom? As Shelagh finds herself caught in the mystery, it is Shakespeare who ultimately unlocks the past and reveals the terrifying truth. This is perhaps the most dramatic story in the book and also my favorite.

The Way of the Cross takes place in Jerusalem. A group of people under the supervision of young reverend Babcock visit the holy city. They are quite a mix – the young couple on their honeymoon, an older couple from the high society and their spoiled nephew, a businessman and his wife, and an elderly spinster. It’s obvious from the start that things aren’t as they should be. Reverend Babcock had to take the place of an older and much beloved reverend on this trip, a fact that will have devastating consequences for all in the group. With uncanny precision, the author unveils the insecurities, weaknesses and secrets of all involved. Shocking revelations, betrayal and humiliation follow in rapid succession. Come here all, and have yourselves be stripped to your very soul – this seems to be the motto of the story.

I was fascinated by the stories and only wished there were more in the book. Du Maurier doesn’t waste any time in lengthy descriptions or flowery turns of phrase. Straight to the point using dialogue for the most part, this seems to be the best way to tell the stories. A clever manipulation of clues dropped here and there throughout make them almost seamless. It was not until quite close to the end that I remembered them, and when the ending came it was as unexpected as it was natural. Of course this is how it happened, I told myself, there couldn’t have been a better way. I went back and forth a couple of times, because I had forgotten some of the clues that were vital to the story. Who knew Shelagh’s love for acting and Shakespeare in particular were more than just a literary allusion? Or that a half-god’s legacy would find a new victim in poor Timothy? Or that a strange prophecy of an old blind woman will prove to be so accurate? The characters are exposed, their flaws and hopes and desires revealed. There’s cruelty but also love and vulnerability.
I couldn’t praise this book more. I had no idea such a little gem was hiding in my library. The edition I have is a Romanian translation from 1983 which I discovered one night when sleep was slow to come. If you’re a fan of mystery, I recommend you give this book a try.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Read in February-March, 2016

***

roch
A few days ago I was ver excited to read about a Romanian Writers Challenge on Bellezza’s blog. The challenge is hosted by Snow Feathers, a Romanian blogger, and lasts until 1 December 2016, so there’s plenty of time if you want to join. Coincidence or not, I found out about this event not long after I finished a Romanian book, Why We Love Women, by Mircea Cartarescu, so this event seemed too good to pass up. As soon as I’m done with Dan Brown and the mysteries of the Vatican (I’m about halfway through “Angels and Demons”) and write a review for Cartarescu’s book, I’ll see what other Romanian writers I can read for this challenge.






Posted in Challenges, The Book on The Nightstand | 20 Comments

Celebrating – a blog anniversary and an old tradition

05 I completely forgot about my blog anniversary until today when I read Deepika’s post. My blog turned five in January.
Five years seems like such a long time. Even though I’m not as active here as I thought I would, I decided that since this is a hobby and life does get in the way often enough, I will only post when I can and feel like it. If you’ve made this place a regular stop during your browsing sessions, thank you. If you left a comment, know that I really appreciate it.

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If you come to Bucharest between the 1st and 8th of March, you will see a city in celebration. On these two days, and the days in between, girls and women receive flowers, chocolates and “martisoare”(pronounced “martzishoare”). “Martisoarele” are small brooches to be worn pinned to the clothes during this time, and they come with a red and white little cord. They are a symbol of spring and can also be worn as bracelets. According to tradition, between the 1 and 9 of this month we can also choose a day which is said to foretell how the year will be for us. If the weather is good, we’ll have a great year, but if it’s rainy, our year will be one of challenges and hardships. This belief is said to come from ancient times, before we were conquered by the Romans and became Romanians. An old woman named Baba Dochia (baba means “old woman”) climbed the mountains on the 1st of March and every day she took off one of the sheepskin coats she was wearing. Every day it got warmer and every day she cast away a coat – a symbol of the spring to come.
I’ve missed this tradition. Living in Thailand can mean a blur of months melting into one another. The weather is pretty much the same most of the time (hot) and I would often lose track of the holidays we used to celebrate back in Bucharest.
I also call it a holiday because some companies give their employees a day off.

When it comes to reading, I’m off to a slow start this year. I’m almost done with a collection of four short stories by Daphne du Maurier. “Don’t Look Now and Other Stories” has proven to be a wonderfully bizarre book. I hope to finish it this week and review it soon. The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman is another book which I read recently and should also write about because it’s a beautiful novel, even if it took me a while to warm up to it.






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A return to Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights – Weighing on the sequels

I was downtown a couple of weeks ago looking for a pharmacy when I stumbled upon a tiny bookshop with big Sale signs plastered all over its windows. I went in, of course I went in, because well, I was on my own so I didn’t have to drag anybody with me and because it had been a while since I visited a bookstore and because…never mind, we don’t really need a reason now, do we?
As I made my way past the table in the middle and near the bookcases lining the wall, admiring all those books waiting to be taken home, I noticed two things:
1. The books were translations, mostly classics and romance (Dickens, Barbara Bradford Taylor, Jackie Collins among them).
2. Most of the books cost less than two US dollars and they were new and neatly wrapped in plastic foil.

Now I prefer my books in English if that’s the original language the author wrote them in but when I saw these two volumes, I conveniently ignored my preference and bought them. They were, after all, the sequels to two of my favorite classics, and English books are a lot more expensive here in Bucharest. I read the books one after the other and enjoyed them both.

JE Jane Rochester by Kimberly Bennett is the sequel to Jane Eyre. The book begins with a summary of the main events in Jane Eyre and continues with the story of the two main protagonists after their wedding.

Edward Rochester is nearly blind and missing a hand as a result of the terrifying fire that consumed Thornfield. Jane is now his wife, confidante, friend and caregiver. Their relationship is marred by Rochester’s demons – people and events from the past that seem to torment him, resulting in mood-swings and arguments with Jane. His passionate nature and Jane’s reserved one don’t seem to mingle very well. It is only in time and after a few soul-baring conversations that the two manage to truly understand each other. There are echoes of Jane Eyre – a mad woman, a love story, ghost-like visions and tragedy.

I found this story a bit stretched and I’m in two minds about it. Perhaps it was to be expected that the contemporary author would not follow in the same style as the original story. Still, the shade of modernism it brought to the old story made me think that “fifty shades of Jane” would have been a better title. What bothers me is the blurb which proclaimed this to be indistinguishable from the style of Charlotte Bronte. I don’t know if it’s a translation gimmick but I hardly read such boasts without a raised eyebrow. On the other hand, I appreciate that the author wanted to show us what happens after the happily-ever-after and that things are not as neat and romantic as the ending to Jane Eyre implies but somehow this book made me feel like I’ve stumbled onto something I wasn’t supposed to see. Despite all this, I enjoyed the story – Edward and Jane didn’t seem so very different from the characters I read in Jane Eyre and I was glad to read about them once again.

H H – The Story of Heathcliff’s Journey Back to Wuthering Heights by Lin Haire-Sargeant is, as you may have guessed by now, the sequel to Wuthering Heights.
I read Wuthering Heights a few years ago and immediately fell in love with the tormented souls of Catherine and Heathcliff. A love like that, strong, willful, obstinate and doomed to tragedy appealed to my need for drama, romance, and a Gothic setting. I always wondered what happened to Heathcliff after he left Wuthering Heights that fateful night and what kept him away from Cathy for so long.

Writing a sequel is tricky, but writing one nearly two hundred years after the original story is even more so.
I was captivated by the narrative told for the most part as a long letter from Heathcliff to his beloved, a day before he planned to come see her and ask her to marry him after which they would go and live together happy for all eternity.
The author reveals the story of Heathcliff’s absence, his rise to fortune and his education as a gentleman, and also the origins of his birth. In this way, it was a quite satisfying read because it answered many questions I had while reading Wuthering Heights. It is obvious, even through the layers of translation, that the author wanted to keep the writing as close to that specific period as possible (the 1800’s) and there is a melody to the words that, while not as perfect as in Wuthering Heights, it is somewhere in the vicinity.

Heathcliff’s benefactor, his education, his carefully constructed plans reveal a cunning nature, perhaps not entirely evil but driven and passionate. There was one moment where I absolutely hated him but considering I had the same feeling when reading Wuthering Heights I say that it was in keeping with the original.
What I found the most interesting was how the story was weaved, yes, that’s the word that comes to mind, in such a way as to include the Bronte sisters, Charlotte and Emily, and even characters and events from Jane Eyre. I can’t say this book is on the same level as Wuthering Heights. When I started reading I told myself I should let go of such hope. But it did provide answers (not all of them) and did so in such a way that they seemed plausible (even if sometimes a bit too convenient) and I read it remembering how much I loved Wuthering Heights.

*I gave 3/5 stars to both books, although Heathcliff’s story deserves more, perhaps another half star.
*Read in February, 2016






Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 12 Comments

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!

G1

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.

S

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 , , , , , , | 22 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