art/craft/cooking, Book reviews, books, History-Geography, Poetry

Serendipity

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Just a quick update of my current reads.

Choosing Civility. This is a gem of a book. Not too long. Nothing new. Just a warm and wise way of expanding on the concept of civility.

We exist and we perceive our identity not in a vacuum but rather in relation to others. Life is relational. Whether we like it or not, we are wax upon which others leave their mark. When someone sees us as a thing to use or abuse, that becomes part of who we are in our own eyes as well (self -esteem notwithstanding). When we are on the receiving end of an act of kindness, we feel validated. We translate that act into a very simple, very powerful unspoken message to ourelves: I am not alone, I have value and my life has meaning.

One day, while lecturing on the Divine Comedy, I looked at my students and realized that I wanted them to be kind human beings more than I wanted them to know about Dante. (…) I know, however, that reading literature can develop the kind of imagination without which civility is impossible. To be fully human we must be able to imagine others’ hurt and to relate it to the hurt we would experience if we were in their place. Consideration is imagination on a moral track.

Persuasion. I was a reluctant Jane Austen reader. I did not like her books. Or not that much. I kept reading them. Something happened. After my fourth title, Mansfield Park, (that came after Prided and Prejudice, Emma, and Northanger Abbey, I just settled in her style, her ways of telling us things. I’m enjoying Persuasion, and I’m anticipating my reading of Sense and Sensibility. Sad to know there won’t be another first time for her main six titles. Elated to know her books get better every time one re-reads them.

The Mystery of the Princes. I’m not sure I’ll read this one. I pulled it out because I’m reading The Princes in the Tower, after last year we read Daughter of Time. OK. Daughter of Time, pro Richard III, -he didn’t kill these two teen boys. The Princes in the Tower, Richard III was evil, he must surely have killed those two young boys. The Mystery of the Princes, Richard III didn’t do it. I did not like Daughter of Time, it’s dismissive and nonchalant towards some recorded injustices that truly happened. And in the topic of Richard III or Henry VII, Josephine Tey, the author, presents a thin case on a juicy controversial unresolved tragedy. The Princes in the Tower’s author, Weir, after her research, concludes that Richard III’s life and inferred personality leads us to believe he ordered the killing of the boys. That’s the traditional theory. However, it’s not set in stone either that all she concludes about Richard III’s is true. I enjoyed the first half of The Princes in the Tower, now it’s getting a bit more stagnated. It’s an OK book club read.

Las intermitencias de la muerte, by Saramago, (Death with Interruptions in English), was a title I checked out of the library when I read about it here. Strange to hear that for my friend, this book felt very poetic in the English translation. I read it in Spanish, -from the Portuguese, but I didn’t hear or felt that poetry. It was a very likable and original story, though, and this won’t be the last Saramago I read. His style did not blow me away, but his tale telling was pretty good. I’m glad I’ve read it.

Don Quijote, part II. Another blogger shared this Yale’s free course on Don Quijote, 24 videos, an hour each. I haven’t started yet, but I mean to take the course. All to prepare the better to be your courageous leader some time next year. Lord willing. I reckon that to any who accept the challenge, I can make you enjoy and appreciate this classic. Both parts, I and II.

Volverás a región, by Juan Benet, (Return to Region). I had to buy this book since my dad is reading it in Madrid, and told me I had written this in it, dated 05/28/1997,

I’m reading a book by Juan Benet, Return to Region. His style is absorbing, distressing, kafkaeske. I want to write like him when I grow up.

My dad told me he identifies himself with some of the characters, and the place reminds him of his home town, some characters, he says, are like his dad.

At first I could not remember anything about the book. I left to the States the summer of 1997 to never come back to Madrid, only to visit. I’m not sure how I’d feel reading it 21 years after.

It’s strange to read some reviewers complaining about the difficult read this book is. The style, -Benet’s favorite author was Faulkner, can be obscure, they claim, hard to follow, maybe even bad.

I’m still trying to figure out what makes us connect with some of the modern or postmodern authors, (I will never get to anything canon wise after postmodern literature), and find a wall in others. It has to be a mix of content and form. 25 year old me had no problem with Benet, but 47 year old me in the present, couldn’t connect with Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. I had no problem with Saramago’s peculiar writing style, which, if explained, may sound difficult and obscure, which is not. It’s just that old new trend of not using traditional punctuation or signaling dialogue like the rest. If interested, she also talks about it and she has some quotes from it so that you can see for yourself.

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Serendipity. What are the chances that I, in Houston Texas, find the Novelas Ejemplares by Cervantes, at my neighborhood’s used book store? But I did. And bought them for next to nothing. In the two pictures you can see that which I’ve told you about Spanish editions. If you stack them with covers facing up, like my English published books, the spines will be upside down. If you can read the spines, -as in the second picture below, then books will face the back covers.

I also found The Ink Dark Moon. I can’t wait to read these poems by two Japanese women, Onono Komachi and Izumi Shikibu. It’s safe to say most of us have heard of Haiku. I believe these poems are what’s called Tanka. From here,

The Tanka poem is very similar to haiku but Tanka poems have more syllables and it uses simile, metaphor and personification. There are five lines in a Tanka poem. Tanks poems are written about nature, seasons, love, sadness and other strong emotions. This form of poetry dates back almost 1200 years ago.

One of those party pooper reviewers said that reading poetry in translation was like taking a shower with a raincoat. Really? What about being in the rain with a raincoat, but bare foot on the grass? I can’t read Japanese, and I’m going to be happy and grateful to Jane Hirshfield and‎ Mariko Aratani for their translation.

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Today I was lucky to find a used (in great shape) copy of Slaughterhouse-Five, (or was I?) No idea. I tried to read a bit of his Breakfast of Champions, but I don’t have stomach for this widely revered author. Breakfast of Champions was written by Kurt Vonnegut (and I must say that his name sounds pretty cool), in 1973, while Slaughterhouse-Five is from 1969. I believe this would be more palatable. It’s an iconic book. I want to give it a try.

Last one, Icons of Art, The 20th Century. I inspected it, and it features lots of modern artists, from 1901 to 1993. Left side has a picture and short bio of the artist, and an explanation of the one chosen painting or creation to represent him/her. Some are more known than others, (at least to me.) Some art pieces were plain ugly, or violent, (such as it’s the case with poetry, literature, and music, -specially as we get to the second half of the 20th century.) I believe that knowing about the purpose of the piece has some value, -even if that doesn’t make us enjoy the art, or even acknowledge it as such. Art can be art or Art, it can be loved, loathed, or a matter of indifference, I still embark in a personal quest to learn more about it. It’s a quirk of mine.

And that was all for now. 🙂 Thanks for reading.

Update: not in the pictures, I’m also re-reading, -and admiring Ishiguro’s talent more than ever, The Remains of the Day. Don’t forget we have a date with that book and The Buried Giant starting soon!

12 thoughts on “Serendipity”

  1. Slaughterhouse-Five was one of the books that got me into literature, after my dad recommended it in high school. Certainly a bit strange, but I still remember the Tralfamadorians and their way of seeing. I have not yet read any other novels of his. I have also finished my first round of every Austen novel! I think Emma will be the first I reread.

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    1. Maximilian, you always amaze me. I’m hoping to enjoy it, truly. Isn’t Jane Austen so amazing? (I never knew I would end up liking her so much.)

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  2. A sentence from the Forni book on civility resonated with me: “I looked at my students and realized that I wanted them to be kind human beings more than I wanted them to know about Dante…” That’s the conclusion I also came to when classroom teaching, especially when trying to educate reluctant learners about music.

    I must read more Spanish authors in translation. To the best of my knowledge I’ve only read Cunqueiro, his ‘Merlin & Company’, but have no memory of reading any others except the first few chapters of Cervantes. A scandalous admission, I know!

    Tanka is new to me. I’m starting a creative writing course module on poetry next week and the discipline of writing minimalist forms appeals to me, so I shall research this further, thanks!

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      1. I used to teach music in state education but now am happily retired, and am only involved in musical activities that doesn’t cause the same amount of stress!

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  3. As always, so fascinating! 🙂 I was chuckling about the mysterious formula floating out there that makes us like certain authors or stories. I’m so emotional in my decisions, usually I rate right away on how something made me “feel” and then after the feeling has cooled off, I can look at it a little more objectively. Kind of like with The Eyre Affair. 😉

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    1. I do that too. That is what made me stop giving stars at Goodreads (but I miss it to, I like when others rate with stars, and I do so at the blog, I – and sometimes I change the ratings, when the feeling has cooled, as you say.

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  4. I reread this post, and I can’t believe how many mistakes it had. Sigh. Bear foot! (Anyway, I only see the mistakes after I post. My apologies.)

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  5. I am glad you gave Austen another try and now love the books! When I was younger, I suspect I would not have believed this, but we really do GROW as readers. Some things we grow into, some we grow out of (which can be painful to realize). Personally I am finding that there is real value for me in reading challenging books (not every week, more like one a year!) like some of the post-modernists, even if I don’t “get” everything.

    Sorry that The Daughter of Time didn’t work for you! I really liked it, but I didn’t really pay that close attention to the historical facts. I just liked the idea of the detective working from his hospital bed. There is an Inspector Morse novel that does this to (albeit with a different historical event).

    I love Vonnegut, but he is not to everyone’s taste. He is playful and funny but often only to point out the most lithesome aspects of human behavior. The fire bombing of Dresden plays an important part of Slaughterhouse Five and Vonnegut lived through this event as a POW. the book is not exactly auto-fiction, but it is clear (to me at least) that this horrific event hugely influenced him and all his works.

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    1. Absolutely, we grow as readers, into and out of. I too love challenging myself, and my comment on postmodern lit is more self incriminating than dismissive. I want to be there, but most times I can’t. Modernism that is becoming classic, that I can do. In small dose. 🙂
      I always feel so bad after criticizing a book. Daughter of Time. I am glad I read it. The idea wasn’t bad. It’s short. It has good moments. I just have a Presbyterian friend who was sad to read about what happened in Scotland being dismissed as an exaggerated view of history. Linking that to Vonnegut, she was there, where some were impaled. I know the “winner” side tells history in a way we need to correct by looking at the other side, but that put me off. On the other hand, I have another friend who was inspired to do research, and become a librarian, when she read the book. How could I put this? (I do LOVE books, even the ones I don’t “like”, haha).
      I want to love Slaughterhouse-Five, I just think Breakfast FC was too heavy for my first Vonnegut. I loved Catch 22, (if there’s any resemblance), the part autobiography is usually something I welcome.
      With JA, I have a very different nature as a person and as a reader. She requires persistence, and loyalty, and I am too impetuous to appreciate her subtle ways. I also was tone dead to her humor at the beginning. It’s a case of reading more than 1 or 2 books, and the fruits start to pile up and become noticeable, at least to me.
      Thanks for commenting, I always love your conversation.

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  6. Breakfast of Champions is my least favourite Vonnegut, out of what I’ve read. Cat’s Cradle is my favourite, but I thought Slaughterhouse-Five was great.

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