Category Archives: Guests

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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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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Guest post – Stefanie

There’s not much left of October. Fall has been quick in coming to this corner of Europe but summer has made a brief visit so we had a few nice warm days lately. I had planned on writing a post or two for R.I.P., which is my favorite event of the year, but I’m still working on that one as a few more stories have come my way and I’m very excited to read them. In the meantime, I’d like to introduce my guest blogger for this month, Stefanie, whose blog So Many Books, is a place I stop by with the greatest pleasure. She’s also a blogger who loves to interact with her readers, a fan of the outdoors, and she has a garden, a cat, and works in a library. Thank you, Stefanie, for being my guest for this month, and for the lovely pictures of your library.

1. Who are you?

That’s a loaded question! Seriously though, my name is Stefanie and I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota with my husband and two cats and next spring will be adding a small flock of chickens to the party. I have been blogging for twelve years and it has been great fun. I work as a librarian by day and in my free time I am an avid gardener and cyclist. I’ve also been vegan for over twenty years.

I didn’t know you were a vegan. Obviously I will have to read your blog more often. Did you post any vegan recipes? I’d love to see them.

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

I started blogging because I didn’t have anyone to talk about books with except my husband and while he’s great, our reading interests don’t overlap much. Over the years I have “met” so many wonderful people and made a good many friends, something I never expected. It’s been so much fun I keep going and will continue until it stops being fun. My blog is about books and reading and all the stuff that goes along with that. A couple years ago I began dedicating Sunday posts to what was going on in my garden and this year when my casual cycling enjoyment exploded into passionate pursuit, I added biking stories to my Sunday posts as well. The rest of the time it’s books, books, books.

IMG_1002 3. Favorite books/authors/genres.

It’s easier to say what my favorites are not than what they are, but here goes. My go-to favorite genres are literary fiction, science fiction/fantasy, essays and poetry. Favorite authors include Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, Ann Leckie, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Adrienne Rich. As for favorite books, those would be ones written by my favorite authors.

I’ve heard of Ancillary Justice but didn’t know the name of the author. Thanks for mentioning Ann Leckie, as a fantasy enthusiast this must go to my TBR list.

4. Kindle or paper book?

I like both. I have killed two Kindles in seven years. Frustrated by that and Amazon’s horrible business practices, I now have a Kobo Touch. I pretty much only read digital on my public transit commute to and from work as well as during my lunch breaks, or if I am traveling somewhere. Otherwise paper is my preference.

Some people may find this question boring but I’m always curious to see what people choose. All my friends who have Kindles actually prefer paper books. Looks like the Kindle wins for convenience but not much else.

5. Three things you learned from a book.

How to create a permaculture garden (Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway), how to build a chicken coop (How to Build Chicken Coops by Samantha Johnson), and how to make a vegan chocolate cake (Simply Vegan by Debra Wasserman)

Simply Vegan – another book to add to the TBR pile. Thank you.

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

An e-reader with a solar charger and a wireless connection. Is that cheating?

Only a little bit. But you get points for creativity. 🙂

7. Best book to use as a doorstop.

The American Heritage Dictionary in hardcover. Though I would never actually use it as a doorstop, it is an impressively huge and lovely book!

IMG_1003 8. Favorite quotes.

“The words loved me and I loved them in return”

from the poem “For Mama” by Sonia Sanchez (I am going to have this quote tattooed on my arm for my birthday next spring, I can hardly wait!)

“If you have a garden and library, you have everything you need” (Cicero)

I love both quotes, though I’d have to add “chocolate” to Cicero’s. That would be perfection.

9. Three tips for bloggers.

Be part of the community — comment on other’s blogs and reply to comments on your own blog. Don’t worry about how everyone else does things, find your own way.
Be yourself.

Great advice. I appreciate bloggers who respond to comments. Not all of them do.

10. Best/worst blogging experience.

When I was contacted two years ago by Oxford University Press for permission to print one of my blog posts in a college textbook for freshman composition classes.

That is a wonderful accomplishment. Congratulations! I’ve read the article and agree with it even though I am a meat-eater. But maybe that will change.

11. What are you most passionate about?

Besides books – libraries, free speech, organic gardening, climate change, sustainability, animal welfare and bicycling.

12. Last book that made you cry.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Why?

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Guest post – Dolce Bellezza

Last month I was complaining about the heat. In the humidity of Bangkok, brought on aplenty by the rainy season, life was monotone and stifling. Now, as I’m writing this from an apartment back home in Europe while tree branches are literally knocking on my window and autumn has brought on the cold and rain, it’s difficult to believe that only a few weeks ago I was in such a different world. But such is life, and many times I got what I wanted but not exactly the way I wanted it.
Now, as I am trying to construct a semblance of a routine, between hospital visits, cooking, reading, and occasional meetings with friends and family, I am reminded that life does go on and so will this blog and it’s time to introduce this month’s guest – Meredith, who blogs about books over at Dolce Bellezza. I have liked her blog for quite some time for many reasons, one being that she reads so many wonderful books I’ve never heard of, and another, equally important (perhaps even more important) is the quality of her posts which often leave me wanting to read more. Thank you, Meredith, for being my guest blogger this month.

 

1. Who Are You?
Many of you know me as Bellezza, some of you know me as Meredith. When I began blogging about books in 2006, I wanted to be anonymous as I didn’t quite know where this would go. Now, 9 years later, it doesn’t seem to matter so much any more. I send my address to publishers on a regular basis, and I’m sure the postman thinks someone named Bellezza lives in our house.

I live in a suburb of Chicago even though my heart resides in Italy. (The first time I left Italy, when only 8 years old, I cried so deeply I can still remember it acutely. I hold on to a hope that someday I can live there full time.) I have taught elementary school since I graduated from college, a whole career of time, so my job and my parents keep me here. It’s important to me, though, to be with my family and fulfill my professional obligations until I retire in 2018.

 

2. What is your blog about?
The identifying tag for Dolce Bellezza reads “~for translated and literary fiction”. Perhaps it is because I have such a passion for the world abroad that I love translated fiction the best. My passion grew when I hosted the first Japanese Literature Challenge and became fully aware of famous Japanese authors as Haruki Murakami, Yoko Ogawa and Yukio Mishima. Then, when I read as part of the Shadow Jury for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for the last three years, the world of translated fiction became a broader spectrum. Events like Stu and Richard’s Spanish Literature Month, or Tamara‘s Paris in July are wonderful opportunities to read translated literature. Eagerly I anticipate Caroline and Lizzy’s German Literature Month coming this November. We all enrich one another in this book blogging world.

 

3. Kindle or paper?
Although I love my Kindle, and Nook(s), and iPad, nothing will replace the scent of a book, the feel of pages turned. They may be cumbersome, they may be heavy, but I will always love a real book best.

 

4. Favorite quotes:
If I would tell of the book from which I record the most quotes, I would say the Bible. However, lest I turn this into a post on Christianity rather than literature, let me share with you some quotes from a book I enjoyed so much this summer: Where the Bird Sings Best by Alejandro Jodorowsky:

“Wisdom above all, acquires wisdom. Make it great, and it will make you great. It will confer an adornment of grace to your head, a crown of beauty will it yield you.”

“If a wise man is one who knows that he doesn’t know, then at this moment I’m a wise man.”

“If you wish to possess everything, you must not possess something that is nothing. Leave what you have behind.”

 

5. Best book for a doorstop.
Anything by Nora Roberts.

 

6. Favorite books.
I had a hard time with this question because I can never narrow down my very favorite books! I guess if I had to answer I would say:

1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt (for the atmosphere)

2. Possession by A. S. Byatt (for the ending)

3. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood (for the ways each character faced Zenia, a disastrous woman)

 

7. Best book to take with you on a desert island.
That would have to be the Bible.

 

8. Three tips for bloggers.

Don’t think about stats.
Write about your passion.
Visit others and comment as often as you can.

 

9. What are you most passionate about?

my family
Christianity
books
teaching
the woods
blogging
origami
quiet time to reflect
French perfume
beautiful shoes

 

10. Last book that made you cry.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I think that it will win the Man Booker this year for the power of emotion it is able to elicit from its readers. The wonderful women with whom I participated on a Shadow Panel formed by Frances were divided on this book. Some felt that technical errors in writing, including its enormous length, keep this from being a contender. But, it is included in the Booker short list, and I eagerly await October 13 when the winner will be announced.

Finally, a few pictures from my study. My husband and I put it together this summer, converting it from my son’s room into a place where I can read and write. I wish you could sit with me in it now, and we could discuss all the wonderful books we know.

 

library 2 easy chair

 

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Guest post – Lynn

I don’t know where August has gone. It seems as if it almost never was and here we are on the last day of the month, which means it’s time for the guest post. This month’s guest is Lynn, who blogs at Lynnsbooks. She is one of the most prolific bloggers I know and how she manages to read and review so many books in such a short time is a mystery. Many thanks to Lynn for agreeing to answer the questions.

1. Who are you?
Lynn! I have a blog called Lynnsbooks.

2. Why do you blog and what is your blog about?
I started blogging after the electronic book diary I had been keeping was accidentally deleted. Blogging was an easy way for me to write up what I felt about a book and for it to be more permanent for me as a record. At the time, I never expected anybody to read any reviews to be honest. It was purely for personal reasons. My blogging is mainly book related. I review the books I receive or buy. I also take part in various events and challenges throughout the year which are all book related and a good way of keeping focus on the books I like. Occasionally I write about films or travel.

3. Favorite books/authors/genres.
This is too difficult – too many to choose from. I’ll go for something slightly different – Lord of the Rings by Tolkien, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – these were all teenage novels that I read and loved and had an impact on my reading. Tolkien – for my love of fantasy, Du Maurier for a love of great writing and Mitchell for epicness – let’s not forget the romance with this one (although I’m definitely not a big romance reader).
Three authors – Neil Gaiman, Mark Lawrence and Patrick Rothfuss – basically I love their books and their writing style.
Genre – mainly fantasy, occasionally sci-fi and sometimes horror. Basically, I love a bit of escapism, sometimes I enjoy something a bit different and on the odd occasions I like to be scared and given the goosebumps.

4. Kindle or paper book?
I would normally say paper book for this – because I love the feel of the book and the smell of it, the cover, the pages, just everything. Paper will always be my first love but electronic is more and more becoming my first choice – it’s great for reading epic fantasy because it doesn’t have the same weight; it’s great on your bookshelves; you can take a whole bunch of books on your travels rather than choosing just a few; you buy a book and it’s with you immediately; it’s easy to bookmark things, make comments or look up words. Yeah. I do tend to choose electronic books more often than not these days.

5. Three things you learned from a book.
Obviously reading helps your grammar and vocabulary but for the moment I don’t think I could pinpoint anything in particular for this one.

6. Best book to take with you on a desert island.
That would have to be a collection of stories by one of my favourite authors – that way I can cheat and take more than one!

7. Best book to use as a doorstop.
Well, reading fantasy usually means reading rather huge books. Not sure I’d use the books I love as a doorstop though – I’ll perhaps go instead for War and Peace. I haven’t read it but it does seem to be a huge book.

8. Favorite quotes.
A lot of my quotes come from The Lord of the Rings‘Fool of a Took’, for example. I’ll go for:

‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your front door…’

(Lord of the Rings)

‘There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife’

(The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman)

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’

(Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)

9. Three tips for bloggers.
Enjoy what you do. Don’t overtask yourself. Take the time to chat with other bloggers.

10. Best/worst blogging experience.
The best experience for me with blogging is the overall one of meeting other bloggers and being introduced to new books that I would probably have never picked up. The blogging community is a great place. I feel like I connect with people all the time about the books I enjoy and want to discuss and it’s great having a means to vent all your book discussions with like minded people.

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Guest post – Andrew Blackman

IMG_0271_2 This month’s guest is Andrew Blackman, author and blogger. He has written two novels, On the Holloway Road and A Virtual Love and I’ve read both, the latter being the first book I read in electronic format. He was also the first author who continued to respond to my emails making me believe there isn’t an actual parallel world where writers create unbelievable works of fantasy and we the ordinary mortals are just lucky to read said works. He was also the one who encouraged me to submit my novel for publication, therefore prompting me to finally finish the thing which would have taken a lot longer to complete otherwise. I know writers are very busy people and so I was very happy when he agreed to do this interview.

1. Who are you?

I’m a writer from London. I’ve had a couple of novels published in the UK, as well as hundreds of short stories, essays and articles. I used to live in New York, where I was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, but now I’m travelling long-term around Europe with my wife, and we’re paying for the trip by doing freelance work online as we go. My third novel is in progress.

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

I started the blog back in 2008 because something terrible was happening to me: I was reading lots of great books, and then discovering that after a year or two I had no memory of them whatsoever. I wanted a place to blog about my reading, so that I had a record of what I’d read. Since then it’s expanded a bit — after becoming a published writer I started to write more about writing, and also to do a bit of awkward self-promotion for my latest books — but still it’s writing about books that I enjoy the most. In fact I almost never refresh my memory by reading old posts about old books, but the process of writing the reviews, and of discussing the books with knowledgeable, enthusiastic fellow bloggers, solidifies them in my memory anyway.

3. Favorite books/authors/genres

I can’t give an honest answer to this kind of question. I love Jorge Luis Borges, Milan Kundera and John Banville, but if I name them as my favourite three authors, then what about Joan Didion, or Vasily Grossman, or Kazuo Ishiguro, or R.D. Laing, or George Orwell, or Edward Said, or Jamaica Kincaid, or… It’s just impossible. I’ve never been the sort of reader to fall in love with one writer/book/genre and read in that little corner over and over again—I prefer to read widely, always looking for the next new discovery.

4. Kindle or paper book?

This is something I’ve blogged about a couple of times. The bottom line is that I’ve had a Kindle for a few years now, but still prefer real books. Because I am living an itinerant life, I am almost exclusively buying ebooks at the moment. But when I’m settled in one place, I think I’ll go back to buying almost exclusively print books, only using the Kindle for an occasional 99p punt on an author I’m not sure about.

5. Three things you learned from a book.

When I was about eleven or twelve I read War and Peace, probably my first “adult” book. I discovered how a good writer could create a whole new reality. It took me months to get through the book, and I really felt part of that world, which was so different from my suburban London reality. It made me want to create those worlds myself.

When I was much older I read Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges, and discovered that fiction was a much more malleable thing than I’d realized. Many of Borges’s stories are not stories—they use non-fiction forms, or deliberately misquote from other books. He plays with form and narrative structure, writes mysteries and detective stories as high literature, and has stories with no real plot at all. The book completely redefined for me what short stories could be.

I’ve also learned a lot from non-fiction books about the way life really works. I studied history at Oxford University, but there were massive gaps in what we learned. I had to read Eric Williams’s Capitalism & Slavery to discover how extensively British economic development was financed by the profits from the slave trade, Britain’s Gulag by Caroline Elkins to discover the mass imprisonments, killings and torture administered in the brutal suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s, and so on. It’s not just Britain, either—all around the world, most of what we now consider to be normal has some pretty ugly origins.

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

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. There’s lots in there about acceptance and serenity, which I imagine would be quite important if you’re stuck on a desert island.

7. Best book to use as a doorstop.

A Game of Thrones. I’m enjoying the TV series, but couldn’t stomach the book. And the good thing is that when one doorstop gets tattered, you can work your way through the rest of the series!

8. Favorite quotes

I love it when a book begins with some beautiful prose that just makes me feel I’m in good hands. These are not necessarily my favourite quotes, but they are some of my favourite opening paragraphs:

Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

(Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking)

I am, therefore I think. That seems inescapable. In this lawless house I spend the nights poring over my memories, fingering them, like an impotent casanova his old love letters, sniffing the dusty scent of violets. Some of these memories are in a language which I do not understand, the ones that could be headed, the beginning of the old life. They tell the story which I intend to copy here, all of it, if not its meaning, the story of the fall and rise of Birchwood, and of the part Sabatier and I played in the last battle.

(John Banville, Birchwood)

Another sheep, mangled and bled out, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding. Crows, their beaks shining, strutting and rasping, and when I waved my stick they flew to the trees and watched, flaring out their wings, singing, if you could call it that. I shoved my boot in Dog’s face to stop him from taking a string of her away with him as a souvenir, and he kept close by my side as I wheeled the carcass out of the field and down into the woolshed.

(Evie Wyld, All the Birds, Singing)

9. Three tips for bloggers.

1. Don’t check your visitor stats. Or if you must do it, only do it once a month at most. Early on, I used to be quite obsessive about my stats, and it was a waste of energy. Now I try to follow a quote from the Tao Te Ching: “Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity.”

2. Remember why you’re doing it. It’s easy for blogging to become a chore or an obligation. If you’re not enjoying it, just ease up on your schedule, or even stop for a while, and only return when you’re feeling enthusiastic about it again.

3. Never write a “Sorry I haven’t posted for so long” post, or an “I’m giving up blogging” post, or an “I’m back again two weeks later” post. Just write when you have something to write, and be silent when you don’t.

10. Best/worst blogging experience.

The best part of blogging for me is not so much a single experience, but the cumulative effect of thousands of little interactions over the years. A comment here, an email there, and gradually I’m getting to know people from all over the world who share nothing in common but a love of reading. It’s a wonderful thing, and although my life circumstances mean that I’m not as active now as I was a few years ago, it’s something I treasure.

The worst blogging experience for me has been when I have a book out and am hoping to get reviews. It takes my relationships with other bloggers to a place I don’t like. I worry that they feel under pressure to read my book and review it. Of course I hope to get good reviews, but when I do, I wonder if they’re genuine or if the bloggers are just being nice because they know me. And if they don’t review it, I assume it’s because they hated it. Basically it’s not a process I enjoy. Being published, yes, but anything to do with publicity, no.

11. You are also a writer. Tell us more about your books.

Holloway Road cover final My first novel, On the Holloway Road, is a story about two young Londoners who are inspired by Jack Kerouac’s famous 1950s novel On the Road and try to create a spontaneous, free existence in the more limited world of contemporary Britain. The book was inspired by my own feeling of alienation and suffocation when I moved back to London after living in the U.S.

A Virtual Love Cover My second novel, A Virtual Love, explores relationships in the age of social media. It’s a love story of sorts, but one based on constructed identities and therefore crucially undermined. Although I love blogging and enjoy other social media to a certain extent, I do feel that we perform and are not our true selves when we construct these online identities, and the novel examines what happens when those dishonest, often idealised identities cross over into “real” life.

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

I write first thing in the morning, which is odd because I’ve never considered myself to be a “morning person”. I think it’s because to write good fiction, you need to access the subconscious, so it helps to be half-asleep!
I keep a regular writing schedule, every day from Monday to Friday, usually three hours a day, but it depends on what else I have going on. My routine has been disrupted this year by all the travelling, but I still aim to do at least some writing first thing in the morning, even if it’s only an hour or even half an hour. It’s important to keep the rhythm going. When I lose the habit of writing, it’s hard to get it back.

13. Three tips for writers.

1. Have a purpose. George Orwell said that writers’ four main reasons for writing are aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, political purpose, and sheer egoism. Understand your own motives. If you want people to read your stories, you should at least know why you’re writing them.

2. Be humble. Nobody would expect to sit down at the piano and immediately play like Chopin, but because we can all type, we think we can write a great novel with no practice, study or effort. It takes time to be good at anything, and becoming a good writer is a lifelong commitment. Read a lot, write a lot, and stick at it for a long time.

3. Be arrogant. To be a writer, you have to believe that despite all the millions of books out there and the thousands more being published every month, what you have to say is important and the world needs to hear it. In other words, you have to be unbelievably arrogant. So embrace that arrogance: be bold, be ballsy, and say something the world needs to sit up and hear.

14. What are you most passionate about?

Social justice. As a middle-class white British man, I’m aware that I enjoy a lot of unearned privilege. It disturbs me that so many people in my position refuse to acknowledge the fundamentally unfair ways in which we’ve chosen to structure our societies. So many of us live in a bubble, refusing to accept the reality that our comfortable existences are being propped up by the suffering of millions of others who will never get the chances we had, and more importantly refusing to do anything to change things. It reminds me of how Orwell ended his book Homage to Catalonia, giving a beautiful description of a train ride through the bucolic Kent countryside in which everyone was “sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs.”

15. Last book that made you cry.

I’m not sure if it was the last one, but I know that Everything Flows by Vasily Grossman made me cry. He described a village in the Ukraine having all its grain confiscated, and the villagers digging for worms, boiling their cats, making bread from acorns, eating rats, and making noodles out of shoe leather. Reading about people slowly dying made it impossible not to cry, especially because I knew that in some form it was a true story, and also because it was so beautifully written, so that the beauty of the prose clashed horribly with the brutality of the subject matter. Grossman’s Life and Fate also made me cry, and I preferred it overall, if you’re looking for a reading recommendation.

Ask me a question.
What’s your most daring ambition?

Over the years I’ve asked myself the same question. To travel the world while writing, to see and experience and live a freer existence. I guess this sounds familiar since this is the life you are living. But if you ask me to sum this up to one essential thing, that would be to one day see my novel in bookstores around the world.

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Guest post – Athira

Athira, who blogs over at Reading on a Rainy Day is one of those bloggers I love reading because she always manages to infuse a good dose of personal tidbits into her posts, be it a book review, a travel post, or the recent posts and pictures about her baby’s arrival (due next month, I’m told). That is why I was very excited when she agreed to be my guest for this month’s blogger interview.

C0BFEA90-F3ED-4FAF-9300-208DB32A70AD 1. Who are you?

I am Athira, originally from India and living in Virginia in the United States for about seven years. I work as a software programmer and read/blog/write/knit/watch TV in my free time. I’ve been married to my darling knight in shining armor for more than three years and we have a spoiled pampered Jack Russell/Pit Bull mix who bosses us. Currently, we are waiting to welcome the pitter patter of little feet in July and cannot be more excited about life than we are right now.

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

I did start out blogging because I wanted to be a part of the book blogging world. Thankfully, I blog for entirely different reasons now. I have always wanted to write and blogging to me is a great way to do it. I also love to read, so blogging is a great way to mix those two interests. My blog is primarily about what I read, how those reads affect me, and their reviews. But I have reached a phase where I want to talk about more than books. With a little one waiting around the corner, I can already see how much my blogging interest is going to transform soon.

3. Favorite books/authors/genres

Three favorite books I will happily gift someone:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
Sure, this book could have been done with a better cover and a lot less hype, but once you read this story of a bunch of little-known cells and the family that didn’t get any compensation, you will be completely amazed by the fact that this science book amazed you.
The Dinner by Herman Koch.
How interesting can a book set through a dinner from the first course through dessert be? “The Dinner” will make you answer “very” to that question.
Blankets by Craig Thompson.
Didn’t think a graphic or illustrated book can move you to tears? Read “Blankets” and you will be surprised at how much it moved you.

Three favorite authors:

José Saramago
Now, I have only read two books by this author. But I always look forward to his stories and his strange writing style.
J. K. Rowling.
I always feel guilty when I say Rowling is a favorite author. But truth is, I love her brand of sarcastic humor and character insight.
Emily St. John Mandel
Mandel sure knows how to tell a story. Even dreary depressing ones without losing you at all.

Three favorite genres:

Literary fiction
Magical fantasy
Epic sagas. Bonus if they are set in Middle-earth.

4. Kindle or paper book?

If I was asked this question even a year ago, I would say paper all the way. Even today, I am a big fan of paper books and will not hesitate to buy a book in paper format but will think twice before snagging an e-book. But, I read e-books faster than I do paper books. Maybe not seeing the size of the book and being able to escape into a book anywhere, even in the presence of company, makes me prefer e-books. Plus, I like being able to go on vacation without dragging with me a case full of books. And bonus, not taking any books to vacation gives me a little more space to buy some during the vacation.

DFBC1498-3735-4556-9FEC-EC7CA6D91B5F 5. Three things you learned from a book.

a. How I want to express my religion is my decision entirely. Just because you choose to wear a burqa doesn’t mean you are oppressed. Just because you walk around with a rosary doesn’t mean you are superstitious. Just because you credit every success to God and every failure to humanity doesn’t mean you are a blind devout. If I cannot respect your approach to belief and religion, then I am being intolerant. (Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah has a teen protagonist who is modern and independent, but when she starts wearing a head scarf, every one begins to wonder if she is being forced or oppressed by her parents. Plus, the school she goes to despises her decision because it makes her different and “violates” their uniform code.)
b. The human spirit is one of the strongest things in this world. You can break a human body as much as you want to but it will still survive and come back stronger than ever. Have faith in yourself even when faced with the worst the world has to offer. (Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand about Louie Zamperini, who survived unimaginable horror during WW2.)
c. How not to write a book and why gleeful torture should be eyed with distaste. (American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis about a psychopath who relishes chopping people. Or did it all happen in his head?)

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

This is a tough one. I should realistically take a book that will help me survive on the island. And I’m sure if I knew I was heading to an island, I would pick such a book. But, if I could take one more, I am pretty certain I will take one or all seven of the Harry Potter books with me.

7. Best book to use as a doorstop.

I honestly can’t think of one. To me books are purely decorative (they do dress up my shelves) and functional (they are just for reading and ogling at). I think it a scandal to use a book as a doorstop! Though in all seriousness, I would happily use Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts as a door-stopper. I hated trying to read that book!

8. Favorite quotes.

People keep telling me to do yoga. I tried it once at the place down the street. The only part I liked was the part at the end when the teacher covered you with a blanket and you got to pretend you were dead for ten minutes.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill.

“I love chocolate cake for breakfast,” Peggy stalls, “it sets me up for the day. A little decadence is good for the soul.”

The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag.

And my favorite one of all:

Percy wouldn’t recognize a joke if it danced in front of him wearing Dobby’s tea cozy.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling.

9. Three tips for bloggers.

– Don’t stress yourself out if you cannot stick to a routine. Your blog should be your retreat, not something that comes attached to a calendar and a to-do list.
– Put something of yourself into every post you write, even if it is a review or a meme. People love reading personal stuff. People will keep coming back for it.
– Don’t feel guilty if you have to step away from your blog. Your readership is always going to fluctuate even when you are blogging regularly. You should blog when your fingers are itching to write or type something – the best blog posts are born that way. But if your blogging mojo has gone to the beach, then go with it and enjoy something else. It will come back to you when you are not trying too hard to compel it back.

10. Best/worst blogging experience.

I haven’t had a blogging experience yet (touch wood) that has upset me. But I do want to mention one of my most memorable ones. I had only been blogging for less than a year (so I was still relatively new in bloglandia) when my brother got sick and was in the ICU for almost a month. Until then, I had been blogging every day. When I finally returned to blogging, I posted about what happened and how depressed it made me. When I hit the Publish button, I was expecting some condolences from some bloggers who visited me often. What I didn’t expect was an outpouring of comforting words and sharing of similar experiences, even from bloggers who didn’t often visit my blog. This is what always stumps me. I am not a person who is comfortable with displays of emotion. I struggle to find the right thing to say to someone who is suffering. I also struggle to talk about the things that bother me. And yet, when I saw all those responses to my post that day, I felt immensely grateful for being a part of the book blogging community.

11. You are also a writer. Tell us more about this.

When I was a kid, I used to read a lot of fan-fiction. There was one college story that I loved but the writer didn’t finish it. Feeling unsatisfied by the lack of closure in the story, I set out to write my own version of that story. If I had published that story, it would be obvious plagiarism, but I wasn’t planning to put it out in the public at all. I was just so impressed by the impact of reading a story that made me want to write my own story, even if it was similar to the one I read. Of course, I didn’t finish that story at all, but I believe I still have it somewhere in my computer.
I haven’t written a story since, but there are all these ideas in my head, that I know it is only a matter of time.

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

Lately, not so much. With preparing for our new arrival (just a couple of weeks now!), routines have taken a back-seat. Right now, I try to write as often as I can for my blog, which has gone down from three posts a week to about two. But now that most of the to-dos before the baby arrives have been taken care of, I am hoping to get back on the writing bandwagon. (Don’t want to find it hard to write even a few words once the baby is here.) But even when I was writing, I didn’t have a routine. I write when the inspiration hits or some topic is bothering me. This happens at work sometimes, and sometimes when I am running an errand. But I still try to pen down something – enough to flesh it out later. Most of these items don’t see the light of day, but I have enjoyed going back and reading some of the articles later. I strongly believe that you leave a piece of yourself in every article you write and I have found it interesting to revisit what I once used to believe in or felt strongly about.

13. Three tips for writers.

– If you are a writer of books or stories, then read. A lot. As a reader of the books you write, there is nothing that turns me off more than your admission that you don’t read books.
– Write like you care. Even if it is a simple blog post. I like to see depth, thoughtfulness, personality, adventure, and some risks in your writing.
– Please run that spell check on everything you publish. And do read what you wrote, a good amount of time AFTER you wrote it. Everything you proofread immediately after writing it will feel perfect – it’s your brain covering up the mistakes. Read it an hour later, and you will be surprised to spot some grammatical errors and wrong choice of words.

IMG_0049 14. What are you most passionate about?

Honestly, my passions keep changing like the seasons. Someday, it’s reading, another day, it’s writing. Yet another day, you might catch me lost in my knitting and not wanting to come out of it. Sometimes, it’s learning a new language. Another time, it’s fighting for a cause I believe in. And yes, there are times when I am not passionate about anything. I love it though – I love that my passions keep cycling between several different interests. I am thankful that each phase lasts a sufficiently long period, so I’m not just abandoning them. For example, every fall-winter, I catch the knitting bug and then I can do nothing else – not much reading or writing. But come the new year, the knitting bags are put aside and the books come out.

15. Last book that made you cry.

This was hard. I guess I don’t read that many books that are advertised as being melancholy or tearjerkers. I have stumbled across an occasional quote or character from a book that made me cry like a baby but once I am done with the book, I don’t always remember that teary aspect of the book. I had to go back all the way to 2013 to find the last book that made me cry like a baby – Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. That was a tearjerker without being manipulative about it – a very hard combination to achieve according to me because I always feel manipulated when I cry after reading or watching something.

Ask me a question.

I have always loved your blog name and thought it to have the right amount of mystery and personality. What is the secret behind your blog name? How did you come up with it?

It was years ago, during a conversation I was having with my husband. I don’t remember exactly who came up with the name or what we were talking about, but when I heard it I knew it was perfect for my blog. And I have to admit it fits – I hate spelling mistakes/typos with a vengeance, although I admit they do sneak up on me undetected from time to time. It’s always easier to spot them in someone else’s work.

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Guest post – Priya

Today I’m very happy to introduce this month’s guest blogger, Priya, who blogs over at Tabula Rasa. I’m a frequent visitor to her blog – in addition to reviewing novels she has reviewed poetry, wrote a post about music recently, and although she has not mentioned this, she is a writer. I really enjoyed reading her short story, The Dew Eagle which you can read online here.

Priya 1. Who are you?

My name is Priya, which means beloved in Sanskrit. It is a painfully common name here in India, a fact that used to bother me until I discovered that it shares linguistic roots with the name of the Norse goddess of love, Frejya or Frigg. I was further delighted to read that Frejya rode a carriage driven by cats. Scandinavian myths are a new hobby and the mythology section of the campus library is my favourite haunt. A twenty-something language buff, I am a year into a Master’s in Linguistics. I love to read and once had a friend introduce me to a group with the line, “She eats books for breakfast.” For a cat-lover, I am quiet as a mouse and rather fond of comfort zones. I am a TV addict, devouring everything from Downton Abbey to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I am a passionate doodler, a daydreamer and a closet believer-in-magic.

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

Tabula Rasa did not start out as a book blog. But because my life is largely composed of books, it was only natural for my passion for reading to eventually take over my writing space. Tabula Rasa turns five this month, and it has gone through many changes over the years. But peel off all the layers and you will find that it is still just a cozy place for me to find my voice.

3. Favorite books/authors/genres.

J. K. Rowling, Sir Terry Pratchett, Stephen King. These three have more in common than being writers of genre fiction. Their books are sincere, passionate and they have created worlds I care about as much as, and sometimes more than, my own. All three traverse uncharted areas of the mind, shine a light of hope in its darkest corners and most strikingly, often and with great insight, wield humour to combat its deepest terrors.

4. Kindle or paper book?

Every time this debate fires up, I want to remind people that it is the story that matters, not where it is written. I would read Harry Potter on eggshells! I have begun to embrace the handy Kindle lately, with the convenience of a lit screen and the harmless virtual highlighter. However, this is not to say that there aren’t days when I crave the smell of old paper and the coarse touch of a worn dust jacket… I guess a part of me will always remain old school.

5. Three things you learned from a book.

1. The Book of Brownies by Enid Blyton is a story of three friends who are tricked by a witch into kidnapping the King’s daughter. Banished from the Brownieland, they set out to rescue her. This was my first foray into fantasy. I do not claim to have understood either the nature or power of magic at the age of seven, but I do remember the conviction that I had stumbled upon something big. Soon, I developed a near-reverence for Blyton’s stories and idly dreamt of tea parties for pixies and fountains of lemonade.
Blyton taught me this – reading fantasy is like taking your mind to the gym. It is a crucial exercise that will strengthen your mind, stretch its horizons. Growing up, you will have hurtling towards you truckloads of knowledge, big facts and unshakeable emotions. School will offer convenient explanations for some, solutions that you can pack away in neat little compartments of your head. But fantasy will teach you to accept and love that not every problem has an answer.
Fantasy gave me, early on, the curiosity essential for learning even as it made me comfortable with the inexplicable. Years later, when Terry Pratchett told me that humans need fantasy to believe, to be human, he put into words an idea that had struck me at seven.
2. I learnt the significance of the written word from Possession by A.S. Byatt, which made me see the good in keeping records of life’s seeming inconsequentialities. Byatt inspired me to maintain a (fairly consistent) diary. I will never stop thanking her for it.
3. Joining a book club made me realize, on the very first meeting I attended, that sharing your experience of reading a book makes it at least twice as pleasurable. The book in question was Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I have always had issues with it, and while the discussion did not drive all of those away, it did introduce a myriad little details I had missed and allusions I had failed to draw. Readers are like snowflakes, no two are alike, and each one will add something of his own to the interpretation of a book. That was also the day I heard someone state that the aim of the club was not to critique books, but to admire them; this, I fashioned into my blog motto.

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

Life of Pi by Yann Martel. The book is more than an entertaining adventure. It is spiritual and cynical, offers both hope and an essential reality check. More than anything, it cheekily toys with your conception of truth. Pi Patel is an intriguing character and Yann Martel is a genius world-builder. Really, what better story to read on a deserted island than that of a boy who survived two hundred and twenty seven harrowing days on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger?

7. Favorite quotes.

I have always found Ray Bradbury to be full of this kind of sharp and delicate wisdom that forever sticks with you. I haven’t read nearly enough by him.

Life in the end seemed a prank of such size you could only stand off at this end of the corridor to note its meaningless length and its quite unnecessary height, a mountain built to such ridiculous immensities you were dwarfed in its shadow and mocking of its pomp.

– Something Wicked This Way Comes –

It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.

– Fahrenheit 451 –

We never sit anything out. We are cups, quietly and constantly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.

– Zen in the Art of Writing –

8. Three tips for writers.

I am no expert, the only thing I can attest for is consistency. I learned this from Ray Bradbury, who says you must collect all ideas you get and try to finish one piece (story, if you are a fiction writer) a week. Practice certainly made me better. So here is my tip – read what writers you admire have to say. Stephen King tells you to read, for every good writer is a reader. Even he insists on consistency, telling you not to wait around for the muse to appear. Neil Gaiman thinks that so long as you write with honesty and confidence, there are no rules. He basically tells you to set your own rules, which is the best and hardest advice you will ever get.

Priya01 9. What are you most passionate about?

I am passionate about language and how it creates and shapes thought. I am also passionate about teaching, especially children. I rarely talk about the latter on my blog, as I have not yet fully explored it. But I do believe one of the greatest pleasures in life is witnessing that moment of understanding in a kid’s eyes, catching the expression as it travels from dazed confusion to twinkling clarity.

10. Last book that made you cry.

I surprised myself last year when I teared up reading The Iliad. Admittedly, some of it may have been because I had made it through to the end, a feat I had deemed impossible. The Iliad presented a tense build up to its final showdown. It had been predicted from the start that Achilles would kill Hector, but even so, when it happened, Hector’s death hit hard. I was alone at home and had been reading aloud to myself, when I choked up. I could only imagine the stunning response the scene must have invoked in a live audience and found a new admiration for the style of narration.
The King and Queen of Troy react to their son’s murder in typical Greek-epic fashion, with wailing monologues. But it was the scene when Hector’s wife hears his mother’s cry that I found truly heartbreaking. Andromache is in a chamber, ordering her maids to heat a bath for Hector when he arrives, when she hears the commotion and runs out. The page ended with these lines:

“On reaching the great tower and the soldiers,
Andromache stood gazing from the wall
and saw him dragged before the city.
Chariot-horses at a brutal gallop
pulled the torn body toward the decked ships.
Blackness of night covered her eyes; she fell”

My tears resumed at the end when the Trojan King begged Achilles for Hector’s body, and he complied. I once met an English professor who waxed eloquent about the emotional strength of the Indian epics in contrast with the Greek ones, especially that of the Mahabharata, which is ten times the length of Homer’s works. If I ever meet the professor again, I would ask him to go back and read this.

There is a book I have been meaning to read, called Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad by Alice Oswald. The book, which sounds intense and lyrical, is a translation of the Iliad, chronicling all the deaths leading up to Hector’s. Here is a reading from it:

din-marile-legende-ale-lumii 11. Ask me a question.
Which is your earliest or fondest book-related memory?

I have so many great book-related memories that is difficult to choose just one. I used to read Jules Verne and westerns and Romanian folktales, but one book I loved very much and I would read again and again was a translated old copy of world myths. I remember the first letter of each story was an elaborate composition of curls and lines, such as you would find in a book of fairy-tales and each story had pictures. That’s how I found out about Gilgamesh, Tristan and Yseult, El Cid, Gudrun, Siegfried and Brunhilde, and King Arthur. It’s amazing how the books of our childhood stay with us for a long time. To this day I love stories based on myths and fairy-tales.

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Guest post – Brian

Today I’m pleased to post an interview with Brian, who blogs at Babbling Books. He loves the classics, Shakespeare in particular, and what I love about his reviews is that they reflect not only his opinion, but a desire to go beyond the words and into the heart of the writing itself.

Final Book Shot 1. Who are you?

First, I am a person who is all about relationships with people in my life. My wife, my family and my friends mean everything to me. They come before everything else.
Second, I am about morality and ethics. Trying to do what is right and absolutely essential to who I am. I do not look to a divine power for guidance here, instead it is based upon my own reason and feeling.
Next, I am a conscious being who strives to understand the Universe and humanity’s place in it. This means I am always curious and always learning about science, especially the “big questions”, as well as history, art, literature, philosophy and lots of other stuff.
All of the above sounds very serious. I am also a person who likes to enjoy life, including some of life’s material aspects. I really like having fun!

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

I started a blog because I wanted to be heard. I love to share my ideas. As reading is my primary life’s hobby, and because I can relate reading to just about all my three interests, I choose book blogging. Of course it is not all about me; the interactions with others relating to my blog, and to reading, are an essential reason for my blogging. I do this via my comments section, through email, twitter, etc. This communication with others is so valuable and rewarding, it alone would make blogging worth it.

3. Who are your 3 favorite authors?

My favorite authors are:
William Shakespeare who is incomparably great. His characters, themes, language and humanity are so rich and unequaled by anyone else.

Hermann Hesse is admittedly a flawed writer who probably does not belong in an objective list of all time great authors. Yet his explorations of the human personality as they relate to history, art and human existence are right up my alley. He pushes all the right buttons for me. Thus for personal reasons he is among my favorites.

Albert Camus depicts a secular and gloomy view of existence that is infused with compassion and caring for other humans. This odd mix just does it for me.
Honorable mention to Anthony Trollope – I am tempted to add him as a fourth name. I find that his depictions of people and their interactions may be the most realistic out of all the authors that I have ever read. I really need to read more of his books before I actually put him on the list.

4. Kindle or paper book?

This is an enormously controversial subject! Though this confession may vex some of my friends, I must sheepishly admit that I love e-readers. When using one, I take a lot of notes and highlight text. I would never do this with a real book, as this would damage the tome. In addition the cutting and pasting feature is invaluable when including quotes in blog posts. Of course being able to order or download a book whenever I want it is so very advantageous.
Folks often mention that they lose the aesthetic feel of a book when using an e-reader. I confess that I find it difficult to appreciate the aesthetics of a paperback or even a low cost hardcover. I do appreciate aesthetics of higher quality hardcovers. However I really cannot afford to collect those anyway.

Though I know that sales of old fashioned books have stabilized, I am not sure that low cost physical books will survive indefinitely in the digital age. I do foresee a possible future where people mostly read digital books but where some people maintain collections of high quality hard bound books. I am thinking of something similar to the way that some folks have gone back to collecting vinyl records with high quality packaging.

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

I tried to come up with something intellectually rich and comprehensive. Obviously I would want my choice to be long so I choose “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare”.

6. Best book to use as a doorstop.

Though I think that there are a lot of bad books out there, I would contend that the worst books champion ideas that are detrimental to people and society. I must first note that I am not in favor of censorship or the suppression of ideas. I am in favor of criticizing certain ideas however.

I choose two Ayn Rand Novels as doorstops. They are “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead”. In certain quarters, particularly in the United States, these books, as well as Rand’s ideology, exemplified by these novels, are all the rage. The books simplistically categorize all group efforts, particularly efforts initiated by the government, as “collectivism”. Furthermore such group efforts are depicted as harmful to human well-being. Furthermore the books espouse an extremely narcissistic and cold form of individuality, over all other human values. Rand goes even further and tends to demonize characters – those who do not adhere to her dogma. These days this ideology is having an extremely strong influence in American government and politics and is helping to drive really bad and extreme political and social decisions. Though occasionally insightful, the ideas here are more often sophomoric. As final word on these books, I must mention that I find Rand’s storytelling skills to be downright awful.

7. Favorite quotes

Carl Sagan from “Pale Blue Dot”.
The below quote refers to a picture of the earth taken from the Voyager 1 spacecraft when it was four billion miles from Earth. In the picture the Earth is just a speck.

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The below quote is from William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”. I am not always so nihilistic about life as this quote implies, but I do think it does put some things into perspective.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

8. Three tips for book bloggers.

1. Write as much or as little as you want. It is your blog.
2. Even if you are blogging about a limited subject, strive to express something about your beliefs and feelings about life and other important ideas into your blog. This is your chance to be heard.
3. Reach out. There is a dynamic and friendly blogging community out there. Engage with others. Comment on the blogs of others. Consider guest blogging or inviting others to write posts on your site. Join in on reading events, read along events, etc.

9. What are you most passionate about?

I tend to be passionate about social and political issues. These are the things that affect the most people. It is in these areas where much of our morality is played out. Though I believe that my views are moderate and reasoned, I feel very strongly about them and I am not shy about expressing them.

10. Last book that made you cry.

Though it was not the last book that made me cry, there is a passage from a book that never fails to make me emotional when I think about it. This is true years after reading it. It comes from “Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse. When the main character, Siddhartha, has sunk into the deepest depths of despair as a result of the vacuousness of the world and the hollow life that he has created for himself, he attempts suicide by drowning. As he nears the end he hears the sacred word “Om”, which at least in the context of this story, is symbolic of the harmony and balance inherent of the Universe. At this moment Siddhartha chooses not to die. Though I am not a believer in external spirituality, I do place a high value in finding meaning and strength in life based upon one’s own positive values as they interrelate to the Universe at large. I find this passage to be enormously impactful and affecting in a positive way. Thus, this scene never fails to bring tears to my eyes when I contemplate it.

11. Ask me a question.

What book has influenced you or affected you the most?

That is an easy question because this book is also my favorite – Don Juan by Josef Toman, a Czech author. I love the mix of history, religion, the battle between good and evil and the strong positive message in the second half of the book. I have never met a person who has heard of it or read it, although one or two people have done so at my recommendation. That makes me sad, because it’s an incredibly beautiful book who deserves to be out there next to the best historical fiction. I own a Romanian translation and thanks to a good friend I met in the blogosphere, an English translation from 1958. The book came out in 1944.

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Guest post – Caroline

My guest for this month’s interview is Caroline who blogs at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat. Her blog is one of my favorites because she writes in a way that makes me want to read most of the books she reviews, even one or two that I started and then abandoned. We also hosted some reading events together, the most recent being Angela Carter Week back in June last year. I was very happy when she agreed to answer the following questions.

1. Who are you?

This is such a difficult question. I wrote three different versions, one worse than the other. The first was an almost philosophical exploration of what “I” means. The second sounded a bit like a job application, and the third gave the impression that all I ever did was reading and failing at not buying more books.
And then I thought of a meme I’ve seen years ago on a few blogs. I liked it so much but never tried it myself. I figured this guest post was a good opportunity. As far as I remember, it was called something like “I’m from”. The idea was that you try a sort of prose poem about yourself and what you like.

Purple I’m from dark purple and rainy days, the pattering of drops on a glass roof, the dawn chorus on a bluish summer morning, from stuffy boudoirs and open spaces. I’m from sleeping cats and playful dogs, from rounded hills and leafy trees, bookshelves as high as cathedral roofs, sacred spaces and noisy pubs, from friendships spend talking until the early morning, from a smile on a dark night on a lonely road. I’m from a lively room and a quiet garden, from a writer’s despair and a reader’s delight. I’m from an old bathrobe and a silky dress, from high heels and bare feet on dewy grass. I’m from a book devoured in three hours and a poem learned by heart. I’m from silver jewelry and lucky charms, and talismans carried in a pocket. I’m from honey milk on sleepless nights, from popcorn while watching a movie, from olives and dates and elaborate meals, from coriander and spices. I’m from a painting of blackberries and African masks, from a song by the Waterboys and a composition by Glass. I’m from magnolia blossoms and the scent of lilac, from fern in the shade and moss under trees. I’m from the murmur of a brook and the wind in the reeds. I’m from saying no when it needs to be heard and yes when that’s what I can give. I’m from walking through Bath and dining in Rome, from book shopping in Paris and sleeping in Brittany. I’m from no parents, no siblings, no relatives, no kids; I’m from a few very close best friends. I’m from a day spent reading and a night at a club. I’m from no God but many saints, from prayers and from song. I’m from melancholy and the jokes of a trickster, from a pun and a curse. I’m from heady perfumes and freshly washed sheets, from a story told by firelight. From a poem by Yeats and a cat on the lap, from an owl’s hoot and bats chasing at twilight. I’m from foggy autumns and yellow leaves, a walk on a graveyard and a phone call late in the night.

Blue

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

Initially, my blog was meant to help me stick to a daily writing routine. I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to blog about. I have too many interests to stick to one topic only and, finally, I began to write two blogs in parallel. One was a movie blog dedicated to war movies, written in English, the other one was a blog about spirituality, music, and personal essays, written in German. I wrote them both on an almost daily basis for half a year – and still post regularly – before I decided it wasn’t enough. I had to start another English blog, dedicated to “Books, Movies, Cats and Other Treasures”. At first the blog was more varied but then, eventually, it became more and more of a book blog, or rather a blog, in which I review mostly literary books. These days I feel that that isn’t enough anymore. I feel like starting a book blog dedicated to children’s books and another one focusing on genre other than crime. And maybe a blog about writing.

Talisman

3. Favorite books/authors/genres

My favorite fiction: literary fiction, crime and children’s books.
My favorite nonfiction: memoir, psychology and spirituality.

I don’t think I have a favorite author. Not anymore. It used to be E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, and Raymond Chandler, but since I’ve read all of their books when I was a teenager and haven’t re-read them, I don’t know if I would still like them as much. I suppose I would.

I’ve loved too many books to pick only a few favorites. I have a list on my blog, in the About section. The books I like the most are those that touch my soul and find their ways into my dreams. Giorgio Bassani’s novel The Garden of the Finzi Contini is one of them and so is Jonathan Coe’s The House of Sleep and Paula Fox’s The God of Nightmares.

I’d like to mention three nonfiction books that have been extremely important to me. They are the type of books I usually don’t review. Ken Wilber’s Grace and Grit, Suzanne Segal’s Collision With the Infinite and Judith Handelsman’s Growing Myself.

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

I wouldn’t take a novel. I would take either one of Jiddu Krishnamurti’s books, or one by Ramana Maharshi. Or a book like Barbara Walker’s The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets because it is so full of stories.

5. Best book to use as a doorstop.

I would never use a book as a doorstop. I simply couldn’t. It would feel sacrilegious.

6. Three tips for bloggers.

Enjoy what you are doing and try to write regularly. Whether once a week or daily doesn’t matter, just stick to some routine. Be welcoming and answer comments. Someone has spent time reading what you have to say and was kind enough to leave a comment, so, unless you’re a famous blogger who receives hundreds of comments, you should always try to answer.

7. Best/worst blogging experience.

I’ve had too many great experiences blogging to name just one. I love to organize events and I’m always astonished and happy to see how many people join and contribute.
I also love that I’ve made some extremely good friends. I wish that I might meet them in real life some day.

8. You are also a writer. Tell us more about your books.

I am a writer but I’m not published yet. Until this year that was by choice. I didn’t want to publish too early. I’ve written two novels in German, several dozen short stories, personal essays, thousands of diary pages and a lot more. Then, a few years ago, I realized I didn’t want to write only in German and French anymore. Since then I’ve finished two novels and over a dozen short stories in English. Just like I read in different genres, I write in different genres. My „first love“ will always be literary fiction, but one of my novels is an Urban Fantasy novel, another one is a children’s book. At the moment I’m finishing another children’s book and a book for adults. I’ve also started a crime novel.
A month ago I finally took the plunge and sent out a few query e-mails and submitted some of my short stories to literary magazines. I’m still waiting for answers. The response time, in some cases, can be up to eight weeks or more. I’ve got one negative response, which was still very nice. The agent told me that she thought the book was hard to sell but that she’d be very interested in reading anything else I had to offer. Since she’s one of the top US agents, I’m more than happy.

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

I write daily, mostly in the mornings, and again later in the afternoon. I try to write at least 1000 words. On good days it’s a lot more. Sometimes less.

10. Four tips for writers.

Write regularly. Daily. Fix yourself a word count and try to stick to it. If you write more – that’s good, but try not to write less.
Don’t show your project or talk about it before it has a shape. If you share too early you might disperse the energy.
Finish your projects. Starting one story/book after the other is a form of procrastination.
Don’t try to publish too early!

11. What are you most passionate about?

Authenticity, compassion, and tolerance. Not just of different skin color or gender but of different styles and different rhythms.

12. Last book that made you cry.

I don’t usually cry because of books, that’s why I’ll always remember the one book that did make me cry. Back when I read it, I was working for an editor, reading foreign language fiction and assessing whether a book would be a good fit for the German market. One of the books the editor sent me was by an English author I’d never heard of, Lucy English. She’s written three novels, one of which, Children of Light, was sent to me. I don’t think I’ve ever been moved emotionally as much by any other book. It’s set in the South of France and in Bath. It contains so much joy and so much heartbreak. It is a truly lovely book. Her second book, Our Dancing Days, was a very emotional read as well. I’ve still kept her first novel Selfish People “for later”. I’m sad that she’s stopped writing and that hardly anyone knows her.

13. Two books that helped me overcome difficult situations.

In the past I’ve often sought solace in books. I distinctly remember two books that I found during extremely difficult moments and which were so helpful. One was a book of short texts by the Japanese author Kenko. Here’s my favorite quote from the book:

It is a most wonderful comfort to sit alone beneath a lamp, book spread before you, and commune with someone from the past whom you have never met…

The other book that was important was Nell by US writer Nancy Thayer. Her novels aren’t exactly literary, they are rather mainstream, but I like her very much. I loved that the character Nell was almost exactly like I was back then.

14. Ask me a question.
Will you stay in Thailand or do you have plans to move somewhere else?

I plan on staying here for now but I don’t see myself living in Thailand forever. I may go back to Europe at some point.

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