Monthly Archives: July 2011

A New Phase

A couple of weeks ago I met a friend for coffee and while talking about boyfriends, husbands and relationships, she said, you should read this book called The Road Less Traveled. I wrote down the name and last weekend I went straight to one of my favorite bookstores to look for it.

When visiting this particular bookstore my first stop is near the entrance where the new books are displayed on low tables. The Memoir Project and Sex at Dawn caught my eye and after adding The Road Less Traveled to the other two I was able to notice that my reading taste was craving a new flavor. Maybe it was time, I said to myself, to take a little break from the world of novels and go for something more contemporary.

The Memoir Project – Marion Roach Smith

First impression

When I saw the slim book at the bookstore, I had a mixed reaction, part curiosity and part snicker. Nevertheless, curiosity being the stronger of the two, the book found its way into my hands and they were turning the pages before I even had time to consider other options.
The only other book about writing that I’ve read was Stephen King’s “On Writing”, and just like the first time I held that book, I was baffled by the size. Weren’t these types of books supposed to be thicker? I imagined them bulging with brilliant ideas and solid advice on “how to”, the kind that would make a wannabe writer like me run to her computer and start typing in a frenzy, pushing ideas aside as they swarm up and try to take over. Ha! If only it were that easy!
The snickering part knew that of course such a book doesn’t really exist, that there is no magic formula one can say or apply to get that book inside you out and on the paper, and that these “writing manuals” are merely the tools in the work-box and it’s up to the aspiring writer to figure out a way to use them to pen that first draft.

Let’s begin

There are many interesting ideas in the book and while I would like to discuss them all, I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise for whoever might be curious enough to actually pick up the book after reading this post (now that’s an idea!). Together with “write what you know and write it your way”, “everyone has a story” and “think in propinquities”, to name just a few, came a concept that made me laugh out loud. That was “the vomit draft”. So that’s what I was doing a few days ago when I was seized with the urge of scribbling out the beginning of my blog post about Amy Winehouse. I was busy vomiting up my first draft and in the middle of the supermarket no less! Go figure. At least the mess I made was only visible to my eyes.

The concept of hospitality doesn’t apply only when you’re having guests. Be hospitable is a nice and probably good piece of advice. The author believes you must set a time and a space for writing. It sounds much like a job: I’ll be there between 9 and 5 with a break for lunch. I have been guilty of writing when the fancy takes me, and that very few times included a schedule. In fact, I think the best writing I’ve done was away from the desk. Sometimes I write in bed, or on the balcony or scribble in a taxi on my way to work (not easy but not impossible either) or on a bench in the park. That makes for very infrequent bursts of writing but many times also the best. I always saw these moments as “when it comes you better be prepared” kind of thing. That’s also when I realize I don’t have either a pencil or a piece of paper but I try to prevent that.
Sure, I do recognize the validity of the advice. In setting a time and a space for writing you get more used to the whole process and chances are you’ll find it easier with time.
I always have ideas percolating somewhere at the back of my mind but to sit down and “vomit” on command seldom works. I tried to do that in the past but it hasn’t worked out for me. Just the idea that I have to sit down and write at a certain time makes my words run away screaming.

Writing a memoir may be a challenging work but at least you’ll be writing what you know. The information is yours, and even if your sister/mother/uncle can give a totally different account of how things really happened, in the end it’s just a matter of perception. Very true. That would explain why my sister always hated our visits to a certain aunt’s house – it was boring, she said – and why I loved them because that aunt had an impressive book collection where I happened to find Karl May’s Winnetou, one of the best reads of my childhood (and one I would very much like to read again someday).


I didn’t find any major faults with this book. The information is based on a lot of common sense and good advice which has worked for the author. She gives examples and one can see how the story gets to be written and what triggered it. The best way is to pick the ideas that work for you and try to put them to good use.
A useful read.

Coming up next: The Road Less Traveled. I finished the book but it will take a little while for the words to find me.

*Read in July 2011

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She’s Still Here

Amy Winehouse is dead.
She is?
When? How?
Yesterday, and they don’t know yet.
Oh, I’m sorry.

The words came out but they were just words. Was I really sorry? Did it make a difference to me if she was dead or alive?
I felt nothing but a passing shadow of regret. Two hours later I was still thinking, still looking for something, some deeper feeling, analyzing, probing. Who was Amy Winehouse and what did I know about her?
To me she was a voice, a face on a screen, a troubled person, a lost soul. I didn’t know her.

I didn’t know how she liked her coffee or if she walked barefoot in her house in the middle of the night. I didn’t know her favorite color, if she had any pets or the name of her first love. I didn’t know what made her burst out laughing and what movie made her cry. I didn’t know if she liked chocolate or vanilla or the name of her best friend. I didn’t know how she held her head when she brushed her hair or the look on her face when she was truly happy. I didn’t know any of these things and that’s why it doesn’t make a difference. What I know is that she is always a click of a mouse away. That’s all I need to see her and to hear that beautiful voice. To me, she is not dead. She’s still here.

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Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts

I want to go to India. This was the recurrent thought that ran through my mind while reading this book. It’s been a dream I’ve had for a long time, to visit this country, to see the people, to taste the food, maybe even to wear a sari. Until then, Shantaram has provided me with a glimpse into the life of that fascinating country.
Shantaram is the story of an escaped convict from an Australian prison. Based on the author’s tumultuous life, the book tells the story of Lin, (a name he acquired after he arrived in India), a man in his thirties, who finds refuge in Mumbay in the early 80’s, where he befriends a local guide named Prabaker. With his help, Lin makes a new life for himself in the crowded city by working as a doctor in a slum, learns Hindu and Marathi, works for the local mafia, falls in love and manages to survive the hellish treatment of a local prison and a raging war in Afghanistan.

I loved this book from the first page, no, from the first paragraph. It was love at first sight, something I firmly believe in when it comes to books. This is a book with a heart – it made me smile and it made me cry. I read it on my way to and from work, on breaks, in the bus, at home in bed in the evenings. I put it down, overwhelmed by the whole story, then I picked it up again because I couldn’t get enough. I dived between the pages, hungry to see more, read more, live more. I took it with me on a 3 day trip to the beach and sat under the umbrella with the sound of the waves in my ears and the words in front of my eyes, oblivious to anything else; in it I saw the slums of the city, walked in Prabaker’s village where Lin learned how to speak Marathi, smelled the incense and the gun smoke, sang with the people and cried when friends died.

Some people live several lives in a few years. The challenges they go through, the sheer intensity of their experiences changes them in ways they never imagined.
A friend once said about life’s trials: “these things are sent to test us”. Every anguish, every joy, transforms us, makes us look at ourselves in a different light. Sometimes we like what we see and sometimes we don’t, but the thing that is true every time is that we always have to learn. We suffer and we smile, we make friends and then we lose them, but the important thing is what we are left with at the end.
The best book I’ve read so far this year.


*Read in July 2011

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I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.

(Marilyn Monroe)

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The Woman in Black – Susan Hill

When I saw The Woman in Black on a shelf at one of my favorite book haunts I knew I just had to buy it. Having finished reading The Woman in White not very long ago, it seemed like this book would make a nice pair. Looks like I’m reading a lot of “women” these days, if I take into consideration Little Women as well.
The blurb on the back cover promised a wonderful, mysterious tale with a house in the middle of nowhere and an equally mysterious woman dressed in black, of course. Who was she and what was her secret I wondered, and I decided I wanted to find out.

The story is told by Arthur Kipps, and it’s revealed gradually and painfully, much like some sort of confession, something he needed to get off his chest. The events happened years ago, when Arthur was a young solicitor working for a firm in London and dreaming of starting a family together with Stella, his fiancé. One of his job assignments takes him to Eel Marsh House, whose owner, a Mrs Drablow had just died leaving no other known relatives behind. Arthur is asked to go to the funeral and then to the house to sort through some papers to see if he can find anything of legal importance. Little does he know this apparently mundane task will haunt his dreams and thoughts for many years to come.

His arrival at Gifford Arms, the inn where he was supposed to stay for the length of his journey, brings him in contact with the local people, and it is here where he tries to find out more about the owner of Eel Marsh House. Strangely enough, while not being exactly rude, those whom he speaks to about the place seem reluctant to say much about Mrs Drablow or her house. From the inn keeper to Mr Daily, the first resident of the place that Arthur meets, to Mr Jerome, the agent who had dealt with the property and such land matters connected with Mrs Drablow, to the local farmers and even Mr Keckwick, the man who was assigned the task of taking him to the house and back again in a pony cart, Arthur cannot obtain any relevant information no matter how much he tries. Determined not to let that stand in his way, he embarks on the task with the diligence and thoroughness one displays in cases when one knows this is a job that needs to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

This is where the best part of the book begins. At the funeral of Mrs Drablow he sees the woman in black, and because her unnatural appearance and manner of dress look a bit out of place, Arthur cannot help but feel curious about her presence there. His questions are deflected, and the people he asks seem unwilling to dispel the mystery of her presence at the funeral, although it’s quite apparent they know who she is. Undaunted by their reluctance, Arthur decides to stay at Eel Marsh House in the hope of doing his job quickly and perhaps finding more about the enigmatic woman. Mr. Daily, not wanting him to be there alone but at the same time not giving any reason for that, offers to lend him Spider, one of his dogs, and I must say I loved the little animal and the role she played in the story.

I have to say the house intrigued me the most. The locked room, the door without a keyhole, now open and then closed, the fleeting appearance of the woman in places where logic dictates she shouldn’t have been, the screaming sounds in the marshes near the house, all these were elements which contributed harmoniously to creating the dark atmosphere of the story. The author managed to build up the tension little by little, and the creepiness and dread that led to the final moment were perfectly combined to give the reader a satisfying reading experience. I wish I could tell you how the book ends but I won’t. What I can say is that it’s a wonderfully good creepy story which made me wish there was a sequel. I would have very much liked some sort of closure to the tormented tale of the woman in black.

*Read in July 2011

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Night Air

This is yet another song that came my way and which I liked instantly. The guy does look a bit like Keanu Reeves, I have to admit, and the slow sexy beat of the song is quite catchy. 🙂

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The Book of Unholy Mischief – Elle Newmark

One might think this is just another story of love, loss and life’s lessons. Boh, one might say with a dismissive wave of the hand, there are plenty of stories like that around. What makes this one different is a combination of straightforward storytelling interspersed with bits of philosophical musings and of course a lot of mystery.
It was yet another book I had chosen at random. How can I resist a book with such a beguiling name? It whispered of long ago times, of adventure and desire – all key ingredients in my own recipe of a good book.

The story begins with a life changing event. Luciano, a young orphan living on the streets is taken under the protection of none other than the Doge’s personal chef, the Maestro. The time is 1498 and the city is Venice, home of religious upheavals and dazzling opulence. It is in the Doge’s kitchen that Luciano finds out about the book, a magnificent object coveted by the rich and powerful. Even though many are looking for it, nobody actually knows what it contains and imagination fills in the gaps until it seems this precious object is some sort of key to a Pandora’s Box of desires. Some want it to get rich, believing it contains secrets of alchemy, some believe it can bring them love and others, immortality.
The search becomes so desperate that the whole city is in turmoil, people are imprisoned and tortured, forced to run for their lives. Luciano is soon caught in a web of intrigue and only his streetwise instincts manage to save his life. Although only a boy, he is forced to make decisions that will greatly influence his future life. In love with Francesca, a beautiful girl confined to a monastery, devoted to Marco and Domingo, his friends on the street, and also to his Maestro, who seems to be more than his mentor, the young boy goes through a myriad of adventures, learns a few hard lessons together with some interesting cooking secrets.

Ah, the food! To say this is a book about cooking would not be entirely accurate and yet the mentioning of delicious culinary concoctions and the smell of spices pervade nearly every page with a tantalizing subtlety bordering on erotic. The way the author describes various dishes and their effects on those who eat them give the impression that this in no less than some sort of magic. It reminded me of the movie Chocolat – wouldn’t it be amazing to have such power over people’s senses and all through food!

This book was a feast, one page at a time. I devoured it in two days, reading in every spare moment, resenting the times when I had to stop (life does get in the way sometimes), eager to get back to it at the earliest opportunity. The story is engaging, the words just flow and even though this is no intricate volume to ponder over and dissect, it satisfied my appetite for a good story from the beginning to the end.

*Read in July 2011

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Put Your Lights On

Today I’m a bit tired and this song fits my mood perfectly.

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House Guest

One of the “perks” of living in a perpetually warm climate is the amount of creatures one discovers in one’s house. From the ants – who can be a royal pain, and who seem to like the cakes/muffins/cookies (take your pick) which I bake and leave out to cool and come back only to discover at least one has been invaded by the little black pests – to the snakes, rats, frogs and monitor lizards which can be found in the yard, most likely without their heads, as a result of their lost battle with the three dogs we have.

I still remember the day I saw a huge monitor lizard for the first time. It was sunning itself on the concrete wall that separated our house from the next one on the left, and the first thought that crossed my mind was, oh my God, what’s that crocodile doing there?!? I stared at it from behind the safety of a window, couldn’t help but admire its long body, small head and the tongue darting in and out of its mouth. That’s when I realized it wasn’t a crocodile. The mouth was too small and the snake-like tongue didn’t fit the picture either but in my panic I wasn’t thinking about such obvious details. Oh, to have a camera at that very moment! By the time I went downstairs it was gone – back to the green wilderness at the back of the house.
We have moved to another house since then, and the biggest excitement we’ve had so far was the nocturnal visit of a small rat that came to nibble on the fruits on the kitchen table. Bananas were his favorite and that was his undoing. We caught him in a cage, released him far from the house on a field and not long after he was back. Or maybe it was his brother, who knows. The bananas on the table didn’t lie. So we took out the cage again, caught him and took him even further away. He didn’t come back, I’m glad to say. As much as I liked Ratatouille (remember that movie?) this one didn’t quite fit the picture. And I doubt he could cook, that would have been just too good.

The gecko is by far my favorite “house guest”. Although in the beginning I found it creepy to live in a house with those little creatures running here and there (now don’t imagine hundreds but two or three would be a more accurate number), these days, after more than a decade, I find it quite amusing. Sometimes I catch them, holding them carefully, and just look at the little bit of grey life in my hand, its little heart beating wildly under the thin soft skin, the legs trying to scramble free and once it has escaped, it vanishes with the speed of which only those small creatures are capable of when frightened.
This morning I saw one of them behind a curtain in the house. I hoped it wouldn’t move while I went and got the camera. It didn’t, not much anyway, and the sound of the device didn’t scare it away. There it is, our little house guest.

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The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

My first thought when I read the title of the book was that the story must have a ghost in it. In my mind I pictured a great house with a history, a tragedy, an unfinished tale and a ghost forever haunting the place in search for that one person who could help bring closure to the event that happened long ago. Maybe an act of vengeance, not to mention a happy ending. Well, it wasn’t exactly like that.

The opening line is intriguing to say the least, paving the way for the adventure to come. The story is told by different people, all of whom have had an important role to play in piecing together the mysterious tale of the woman in white.

Walter Hartright (a very fitting name) is the first to start recording the events. A teacher of drawing, he gets a job through his friend Pesca, who recommends him to the master of Limmeridge house where two young ladies require some private lessons in drawing and painting. On his way there Walter has his first strange encounter with the woman in white. Determined to find out more about her, he enlists the help of Marian Halcombe, one of his young pupils at Limmeridge and together they try to find out more about the mysterious woman. Following threads here and there, some of them providing astonishing revelations, the story is revealed little by little and a most intriguing conspiracy comes to light.
Tragedy spreads its gloomy wings when Walter falls in love with Laura, Marian’s half-sister, whose impending marriage to Sir Percival Glyde dooms the budding love story. And to make things even more interesting, Sir Percival is a man with a secret and that secret is connected to the woman in white.

I enjoyed the twists and turns of the story. Just when I thought that things could go one way they went another and kept me at the edge of my seat. Astonishing revelations, and some only hinted at, made me want to keep reading and I was pleasantly surprised at the clever way in which the author had managed to keep things going with a remarkable smoothness. The different perspectives given by the various characters involved in the story made for a nice change of pace.
We also get to read the opinions of Frederick Fairlie, master of Limmeridge, a whining, perpetually suffering and pathetic creature, whose eccentric habits and selfishness annoyed me to no end, his niece Laura, a frail, beautiful and prone to fainting young lady, her sister, Marian Halcombe whose strength and selflessness were beyond reproach, and probably the most intriguing character, Count Fosco, a scheming, educated and intelligent man whom I could not help but admire in spite of the negative role he played in the story.

This is one of the best classic stories I’ve read so far, worthy of taking a seat next to Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, a book I recommend to anyone who likes mystery, tragedy and the story of love that conquers all.

*read in June 2011

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