Monthly Archives: May 2015

Book shopping in Bangkok

Every May, Neilson Hayes Library, the only English library in Bangkok that I know of has a book sale. Hundreds of books, most of them in good condition, some quite old and marked by the passage of time (and possibly some book-hungry bugs, judging by the intricate “designs” they left behind) await patiently on long tables under a big heat-trapping tent. Even at 11 in the morning it’s so hot that no matter what you’re wearing you’ll be sweating in no time. But that’s not a reason to stay away.


I had waited for this particular Saturday for weeks. And to make things even better, the same weekend, Dasa, my favorite second-hand book store, had a 20% off of all books. I guess it’s not hard to imagine what I did. First I braved the heat and bought five books from the library sale, then I went and spent some time browsing in the air-conditioned interior of the book store where I bought 5 more. The great thing about Dasa is that they have a list of the books available that you can download and browse through before going to the book store itself. I did that, and went there with a list and I’m happy to say I was able to come away with all the books I hoped to find. There were more I would have liked to buy but I decided to save both my money and my energy for a future visit. Buying 10 books sounds romantic until you actually have to carry them around.

ten books I came away with a few westerns – I was able to finally find a good copy of Winnetou by Carl May, a book I read as a teenager and wanted to re-read again ever since. Also In the Desert by the same author sounded too good to pass by and so did One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus. I liked the historical fact One Thousand White Women was based on. From the Author’s Note:

“…the seed that grew into a novel was sown in the author’s imagination by an actual historical event: in 1854 at a peace conference at Fort Laramie, a prominent Northern Cheyenne chief requested of the U.S. Army authorities the gift of one thousand white women as brides for his young warriors. Because theirs is a matrilineal society in which all children born belong to their mother’s tribe, this seemed to the Cheyennes to be the perfect means of assimilation into the white man’s world – a terrifying new world that even as early as 1854, the Native Americans clearly recognized held no place for them. Needles to say, the Cheyennes’ request was not well received by the white authorities – the peace conference collapsed, the Cheyennes went home, and, of course, the white women did not come. In this novel they do.”

The Ruins by Scott Smith is a book I’ve been looking for since I heard it’s supposed to be a fine work of horror and now I can finally read it. And because I enjoyed Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian I decided to get The Swan Thieves as well. I’m very curious to see if it’s just as good or maybe even better.

Tolstoy I also bought two very old books, which I was told were donated to the library by the son of an Indian doctor after his father passed away. You can see the stamp with the name on the first one, Tolstoy’s Twenty-Three Tales. I’m not a great fan of Russian authors (ever since I had to drag myself through Ana Karenina) but this made me want to give Russian authors another chance. Hopefully this collection of short stories will be more enjoyable.

I bought The Deerslayer, by James Jenimore Cooper because I’ve wanted to read it ever since I read The Last Mohican, and because it has a very nice looking hardcover. Just looking at that intricate design on the red cover makes me sigh with happiness. I’m very fond of old books.

I loved Joyce Carol Oates collection of short stories in Give Me Your Heart so when I saw The Female of the Species – Tales of Mystery and Suspense, I knew I had to have it.

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier whispered of love and secrets and that sounds like a great combination (and, to be honest, I can’t remember if I read Rebecca so I thought this might be a good choice when I’m in the mood for a classic).

Hard Laughter by Anne Lamott, was a nice surprise. She’s an author Vishy told me about and I was curious to see if I would like her novel so I decided to take it home.

Have you read any of these books? Did you enjoy them?

Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 22 Comments

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.

Posted in Guests | 13 Comments

The Tawny Man Trilogy – Robin Hobb

For the last month or so, I’ve been caught between three books. I started Books v. Cigarettes by George Orwell, thinking I’d take a break from trilogies for a while, then joined DolceBellezza for a read-along of Little, Big, by John Crowley which I abandoned after reading about 10% of the story on my Kindle (I blame the Kindle, naturally) before deciding I really can’t wait to find out what happens to Fitz and so went back to the next trilogy that follows him on his adventures.

I strongly recommend you read my review of The Farseer Trilogy before continuing with this one. I have tried to stay away from major spoilers – you’ll find more by reading the blurbs on the back covers of the books themselves.

TM1   TM2 TM3

After the end of the Red Ship Wars, Fitz disappears. His role in aiding the Farseer line seems to have been completed – the Outislanders commanding the Red Ships have been defeated, and the people of the Six Duchies are slowly rebuilding their lives. A new heir is to be born to the ruling house of the Farseers, and although King-In-Waiting Verity is no more, the future seems to run on a promising course again.
For fifteen years, Fitz lives in seclusion together with his wolf Nighteyes and later on, Hap joins them. He’s an orphan boy Fitz adopts as his own. Then, his old mentor, Chade, comes for a visit and brings dark tidings. Once again, the Farseer throne is in jeopardy and Fitz is required for a mission. He has to find the missing prince, Dutiful, and restore him to Buckkeep Castle before a delegation from the Out Islands arrives with his betrothed, Narcheska Elliania. After being at war for years, the marriage between the prince and the Narcheska is the key to a long lasting peace.

Book One is about retrieving prince Dutiful from the hands of his captors. This will once again bring together Fitz and The Fool who together with Chade, must act to bring Dutiful back alive. It will also be a time of loss – Nighteyes is dead. By the start of Book Two, Fitz is mourning the loss of his wolf companion but he doesn’t have time to do so for long as a new challenge presents itself – he must accompany the prince and the Narcheska to the cold icy island of Aslevjal, where Dutiful has to cut off the head of the dragon Icefyre and bring it to Elliania’s family if he is to win her hand in marriage.
In Book Three, a small group of people make it to Aslevjal. It’s a cold and dismal place, and finding Icefyre is no easy feat. They encounter an enemy and an unexpected friend, and when they finally complete their task, it’s not exactly as they planned. All I can say without giving away spoilers is that at the end everybody comes out with what they wanted.

The Fool has a much more active role in this trilogy. Although he remains a mystery, some details about his past emerge, enough to fit the puzzles of the story together but not all of them. His many faceted personality and ability to transform himself serves him well, as he has made a transition from King Shred’s Fool to rich Lord Golden, an exotic man with a penchant for flashy clothes and witty conversation. His friendship with Fitz will suffer, but like a wound, it bleeds and then closes, leaving them both with a new outlook on their relationship and bringing them even closer. As it was stated in The Farseer Trilogy, The White Prophet (The Fool) and his Catalyst (Fitz) can change the world and this they do, setting it on a new course.

I liked Book Three the best. The revelations, the decisions, the harsh conditions and challenges that Fitz and The Fool have to face made me read most of it during last weekend. Although I’ve enjoyed The Farseer Trilogy more, that could also be because it was a new story. Now, I feel like I already know the characters to some extent which made it possible to see ahead in the story, but I guess that is to be expected. There were enough turns and twists in the last book to satisfy the pickiest reader, even one with an appetite for drama like myself. I was happy for Fitz because in the end he got what he desired most even if it had to come with the price of one good friend and a lot of heartache. A little too convenient but it fit the story nevertheless.

If in The Farseer Trilogy I liked The Mountain Kingdom, this time I was intrigued by the customs of the Outislanders. Their world could not have been more different than that of the Six Duchies. According to their customs, men were raiders, going out to the sea to plunder other lands, while women owned the land passed on through maternal line. Women had the power to make the important decisions, and they were organized into “mothershouses”, each belonging to a clan, living in tight-knitted communities. Paternity was not an issue as children were seen as belonging to a house rather than to a man, and the women were the ones who choose their partner and how long they lived together.

As usual, magic was represented by The Wit and The Skill, two very special abilities that could allow people who possess them to bond with an animal (those people are called “Witted”) and to communicate and even influence and heal others or travel through special pillars to distant places for those who possess the gift of “skilling”. There are those who have either one or the other and those who have both. Thick, Chade’s aide, a “half-wit”, has strong skilling powers, and while he can be difficult at times, he can also be funny.

Another interesting aspect of the story is the presence of dragons. The Fool sees them as the only animal more powerful than man and he’s determined to do anything in his power to see them restored to earth. Without them, he thinks there is no balance and man becomes the most powerful creature, something he wants to prevent at all costs. I found the idea intriguing and I’m curious to see what will happen to the dragons in the next three books.

Now I’ll have to wait patiently for the next trilogy to be completed – “The Fitz and The Fool” is still a work in progress but I was very excited to find out from Goodreads that the second book in the trilogy is coming out this year and the last one in 2016. I’m really looking forward to reading them.

oncetimenine250 I’ve read this for the Once Upon a Time event hosted by Carl@stainlesssteeldroppings.

Read in: April-May 2015
My rating: 4.5 stars

Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 8 Comments

What kind of music do bloggers listen to?

I know what books and genres most of my favorite bloggers gravitate towards, but music? I don’t have the faintest idea. Do you listen to classical music while trying to get the words to behave? Do you nod your head to some R&B or hip hop? Do you feel inspired by epic music and pound away on your keyboard to movie soundtracks?
A blogger friend gave me the idea for this post when he asked me about my favorite songs/bands/singers, so I decided to write a post and share some of them with you.

1. Dépêche Mode
I have such great memories about this band. I grew up with them, loved and lost with them, and in 2006, when I was finally able to go to one of their concerts, it was one of the best experiences of my life.

2. Ed Sheeran – Give Me Love
I don’t remember how I stumbled on this one but I fell in love with it from the very first sounds. Sad, haunting, and the video clip is about a tragic story of a famous angel. I also like I See Fire which was on the soundtrack of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”, Photograph, and the chorus of Don’t.

3. Coldplay
I love so many of their songs it’s quite difficult to choose – Clocks, Paradise, Fix You, Speed of Sound, and my latest favorite, Lost. I discovered this one last year during NaNoWriMo and it saved both my story and my sanity.

I’ve liked them for almost as long as I liked Dépêche Mode. Need You Tonight and Suicide Blonde are songs I listen to every now and again.

5. Lenny KrawitzBelieve in Me, Thinking of You, I Belong to You, and the newest one, Chamber, are all great tunes.

6. Florence and the MachineBedroom Hymns and Shake It Out

7. One RepublicCounting Stars

8. Marilyn Manson – this one was a surprise to me. I have heard of Marilyn Manson and found him slightly scary (I like Gothic but I find his makeup a bit extreme) but never really paid attention to his music until I was watching an episode of Salem and really liked the song at the beginning of the movie. At first I thought it was a Dépêche Mode song because it sounds similar, but the voice was all wrong so I Googled it. That was a shock. The song, Cupid Carries a Gun, is from the album The Pale King and after listening to the album over and over again (and liking most of the songs) I decided he’s definitely on the favorites list. Killing Strangers, The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles, Birds of Hell Awaiting, Fall of the House Of Death are my favorites. There. I’ve said it.

9. SantanaMaria

10. Lana del Rey. If you have watched “The Great Gatsby” with Leonardo diCaprio you’re probably aware of Young and Beautiful, one of the songs on the soundtrack of this movie. And if you haven’t watched it yet (the movie I mean), you should. It’s a feast for the eyes and a beautiful if twisted love story.

11. Justin TimberlakeMirrors

12. Maroon 5One More Night, She Will be Loved

13. Ellie GouldingBurn, Lights, Beating Heart.
Somehow she made it on a playlist on my mp3 player and I’ve been listening to her songs for months while jogging.

14. Pink.
When Stupid Girls came out I thought it was a great song and admired Pink for daring to be part of a video that was both hilarious and real. I also like Try and Just Give Me a Reason.

15. AdeleRolling in the Deep, Someone Like You, Set Fire to the Rain

16. Thievery Corporation
Claridad. A great gem of a song from the album Saudade, this one I discovered on a plane trip in January.

17. GotyeHearts a Mess. I love this one and the video is really strange; it reminds me of Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride”. Somebody That I Used to Know is another great song and so are the weird and wonderful sounds of The Only Way.

18. The Idan Raichel ProjectMi’Ma’Amakim (Out of the Depths). I heard this song years ago at a friend’s birthday and loved it instantly. I didn’t understand a word but that didn’t make one bit of a difference.

What are your favorites? Can you find some of them on this list?

Posted in Favorite Sounds | 23 Comments

A weekend trip to Khao Yai National Park

Khao Yai National Park is about two hours drive from Bangkok. My husband and I have visited the place once before but always wanted to go back and explore further. Famous for its waterfalls, jungle treks and wildlife (including leeches!), it’s a perfect spot for a quick holiday because it has open fields as well as jungle treks. Many treks can be done without a guide, and we did two, one short and one long, stopping along the way near the running water to admire some colorful butterflies. The longer trek through the jungle took us three hours one way; the road wound up and down, straight and easy to walk on, then blocked by fallen logs, then almost vertical so we had to climb, while other sections of the trail had steps, some man-made, some just tree roots and hard packed earth. Quite a few thorny plants, some at eye level. My long pants were very useful to keep me scratch free but not great to keep the leeches away, even if I had sprayed my legs and arms with insect repellent. They probably liked the orange flavor. I should have worn socks.

Many of the animals didn’t seem too bothered to see humans – the gibbons were quite friendly, climbing up on cars and even coming close to touch people and beg for food. A curious baby gibbon found a scorpion but kept well clear of it.
The deer were grazing in the open fields, and a couple of them came quite close to an information booth where a ranger was watching. It felt so out of this world to just sit in the car and see the animal a few meters away. It wasn’t afraid, just grazed placidly as in the distance a fawn was bleating, probably calling for its mother. When we came back by the same route the deer was sitting on the grass.
In the jungle we spotted a crocodile, sunning itself on a log, and a baby monitor lizard tentatively making its way out of the water. Gibbons jumped between trees above us, big millipedes scuttled on the path and above all, extremely loud cicadas sang various rhythms.

The waterfalls didn’t have that much water – it’s best to visit them during the rainy season which is still a bit away – but we enjoyed dipping our feet in the shallow water and laying down for a short nap on the rocks near the small Kong Kaeo waterfall. The most spectacular, Haew Narok Waterfall, is a sheer fifty-meter drop to a natural pool at the base. Visitor access is restricted to a wooden deck accessible after going down 175 steps. Walking down the steps felt like descending from a sky scraper with no walls. I felt a bit dizzy but held on to the rails and walked slowly. Climbing back up was even more challenging because some steps were almost vertical. The way to Haew Suwat Waterfall is straight through the jungle. One of the most famous waterfalls, it can be seen up close, as the terrain is not that rocky.

The best part of the whole trip was seeing the animals in their natural habitat. The weather was hot but not as hot as in the city, about 28 degrees Celsius, and plants kept us away from the sun – it was almost like going through a tunnel. We saw elephant droppings and near a suspended bridge a Giant Black Squirrel (that’s the name of the species) bigger than a cat, who successfully avoided my attempts at photographing it.

Another famous attraction of the area is watching the bats come out at sunset. We found a place to watch them, behind a temple, a few kilometers away from the park itself. Apparently there is a bat cave somewhere in the mountain and if you’re there at the right moment you can see them flying away. What’s impressive about it is not that you see the bats up close – in fact they’re so far away they resemble a wisp of smoke – but the fact that it takes about five minutes (I looked at my watch) for all of them to fly away from the cave in a long queue. I’m glad we had the opportunity to see them.

On our way back we stopped at Khao Yai Art Museum and saw bronze sculptures and lovely paintings by Thai artists. My favorite is a painting I called “Beautiful Death”. There’s something beautifully ugly about it, like a reminder of the ravages of time.


Posted in Travel | 18 Comments