When Breath Becomes Air ⎟ Book Exchange Series

Dear Reader,

I recently took part in a Book Exchange. A friend of mine posted a status asking if anyone wanted to take part in a gift exchange. I had often seen posts like this before. In the past, I’ve never answered the call because I felt uncomfortable giving my address out to total strangers. This time, I decided, I was just going to jump in. My friend sent me a long message immediately after I replied that asked you to send your favourite book to Person A; you would make a similar post on your wall and those who responded would send a book to Person B (the person who’s post I had seen and to which I had responded). One swapped addresses as the chain of connections grew.

At first, I was a little overwhelmed. I was about to say, oh, maybe this isn’t for me. But, I embraced it. I embraced that I would be asking my friends to send my friend a book and that their friends would be sending me a book.  I was to send a book to the person who caught her in this web of gift-giving, and those who responded to me would send my friend a book.  I kind of liked that this whole experiment was at least once-removed. It felt like a connection wherein you shared part of yourself to someone you did not necessarily know. I didn’t even think about the books I would get, I just thought about the book I wanted to give and the person who would receive my book.

Since money is tight and our government insists that young people just need to get used to precarious employment, I told the friends who responded to my post that it was perfectly okay to send a used book or to buy from cheaper online shops, an advantage being that one can ship directly to their person. I know that we should be supporting independent shops, but there just aren’t any around me. I suppose the ideal situation would be to send a book with a care package and a small gift, but that wasn’t in my budget and I didn’t want to ask anyone to spend beyond what they were able. The only downside of this method is that the person who receives the book doesn’t know who sent the book. I’ve decided to make a post for every book I receive and extend my most heartfelt thanks and bow in humility to those who sent the precious gift of a book to me.

 

***

Yesterday, I received a book from the book exchange. At first, I was trying to remember what books I had purchased. I was awaiting some Roald Dahl books and Black and British, and when I opened the bubbly envelope, out popped When Breath Becomes Air. Afterwards, I realized this wasn’t a book I’d purchased because of the name on the label, it had my nicknameI was a bit shocked. I knew that everyone was super hyped about this book; I was not. Two humans in my life had told me about Paul Kalanithi, one before Kalanithi’s death and one who had fallen in love with this book.

bpjm-square-1536

I really wasn’t convinced. He was sold to me as someone who had crossed the invisible but very tangible boundary between the arts and sciences. It seemed ludicrous to me. In my experience, science has heralded itself as the worthy occupation, and arts are usually sidelined as a luxury. It felt that science was a career, but literature, art, history, economics (not commerce), philosophy, etc., those things are considered to be hobbies. I’m wary of this crack in the earth, this line in the land, this unfathomable fissure. I never used to feel that divide so strongly when I was younger, I had studied physics and maths in secondary school, and I loved reading and history. I, myself, debated between studying engineering and history. My dad’s friends, engineers that had lived through Nortel Networks, told me to do history. So, I did.

As I studied, the prejudices against the arts from the sciences ruffled my feathers. It was like constantly going against the grain, and even though I was moving through molasses, people believed that work was somehow meaningless in the greater scheme. I had many existential crises in the library: what was the meaning of anything? History and revisionists and philosophies, oh my!  So, I let those experiences inform my opinion on this book, and I decided against reading it. I was wrong to have those prejudices.

Certainly, Kalanithi understands his own prejudices, the arrogances and ego that come with medicine or any career, really, and he conscientiously works against them. He notices it, and he remarks that it doesn’t feel right. Next time, we do better. I think that is one of the most refreshing aspects of this book; he recognizes that we are not always going to have the answers or be the same person day after day. Each day we have to struggle with the good and bad things that inform our past actions, we must be held accountable, and we must strive to shift our experience beyond what we know to be true.

tumblr_mrjdde7xcb1qa8sljo2_r1_500

Although Kalanithi doesn’t explicitly state: BE EMPATHETIC, his entire memoir is an ode to empathy and understanding. It does not bridge the gulfs created by class, race, and gender, but it does remind us that privileges may make us heedless to how others think and feel. We might become solipsistic, the sole ego that denies souls to others.

The book is chockfull of references and allusions to erudite and esoteric literary works, and, by applying texts that might seem elusive, dusty tomes directly to his professional and personal experiences, Kalanithi encourages us to think of them as relevant to our own lives. Things that seem elitist are within our grasp; he evidences this by the fact that his mother’s revolutionizing force in the previously somewhat bereft local education system gave opportunities to all students.

Indeed, I’m still figuring out how education and elitism go hand-in-hand, particularly when so many  young people are educated but lack the hoards of moveable property that accompany the elite. Moreover, I know reading classics of western literature is laden full of privilege and historical prejudices, and, surely, our sense of their beauty is tied to the colonialism that accompanied(s) them. And yet, words, literature, and thoughts are profound and full of meaning. Canonical western literature is not the be-all and end-all. There are so many voices to whom we should listen. We must actively make social and public spaces for those voices.

We must also not forget that Kalanithi had an extraordinary education, Stanford and Cambridge. I cannot ignore this in my review because it would deny the fact that many persons will not and do not have access to these kinds of experiences. I would also like to make note that the book does contain some privileging of able bodies and able minds. The book, at times, seems to preclude a world inclusive of neurodivergence, but that these are problems to be solved. I am not well-informed enough in this area to speak to it fully.

Kalanithi’s bridge between Literature and Neuro-science and -surgery echoes his investigation of the mind/body nexus, a philosophical problem as old as time. We accept that language gives us the tools of expression, meaning, feeling, intelligence. ‘Man’ has believed that what made him man was language. (Animals, meanwhile, have argued that it was the red-flower.) And then there is the brain that controls the lot. If we want to understand how we think and what we think, do we engage in philosophy or neuroscience? If parts of the brain that become damaged or put under the pressure of a tumour influence how we behave and act, then what does that mean about what it means to about selfhood? Kalanithi doesn’t give us a straight-forward answer; rather, he engages in a well-thought discourse that attempts to meaningfully untangle the seemingly unsolvable. Unsolvable things such as life, death, mortality, suffering, the liminal experience of the patient who may or may not return from the cusp of death, and the place of those who remain after death.

To me, and I think most people will agree, it is the abridged and purpose-driven autobiographical narrative that a parent would hope to leave their child, especially if the parent will die before the child can ask the parent questions about their life.

Finally, I’d like to finish by quoting one of my best friend’s favourite lines: ‘You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving’. A life in motion, a life that moves forward, learning from others, ourselves, and how to engage with people as people and not as problems or a ticking clock.

 

Heaps of Love,

Kat Xx

[Edit: see below]

P.S. In my desire to publish this before I had to take my dog out, I forgot to emphasize a few things. The main takeaway that I want people to have from this book is the importance of reading and the act of reading as a tool to build empathy. For all of its flaws, children that grew up reading the Harry Potter series have been shown to be more empathetic. Because so many young people have this shared experience, they are also able to connect through it. Likewise, we may not agree on which religion or why, we might agree that Hermione’s activities through SPEW are indicative of white feminism. We were given a language to discuss child abuse and the loneliness that teens and young adults feel alongside the loneliness and isolation of adults (re: Sirius). Literature is important. People who study literature are important. Their brains work in wonderful and often uncelebrated ways.

In addition to noting the importance of literature, I did make the point about the prevalence of western literature throughout the text. When I was studying, I was co-Chair of an off-shoot of a charity that builds local-language libraries, supports local-language publishing, and gives money for girls to go to school. When I was part of this charity, it was always important to me that the books that were placed in the libraries and the books that were published were not western exports. Those books are usually readily available, but it was important that money was given to regional and local authors. It is never about exporting the western canon elsewhere; it is about recognizing that we need to support local publishing. This is why writing, and empathy, and developing our individual and shared vocabularies through reading, writing, and supporting authors is important.

Look at the ways in which my own world was broadened by this book. Those are the things that are important.

 

Book rating: 3.5/5

One Thousand and One Nights or, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights ⎜Salman Rushdie

Dear Salman Rushdie,

When I was in secondary school, we were assigned The Moor’s Last Sigh. I remember they attempted to clad our vocabulary to understand your novel by giving us spelling and definition tests. I’m not sure it was the most successful exercise. I will however always remember Zarathustra, in relation to both you and Nietzsche.

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 5.53.11 PM

When I was working on my undergraduate degree, I read The Satanic Verses. I killed a fly with the book in Italy, and then left the book in a hotel in London. Sorry about that. I read it expecting to be shocked and altered. I don’t think about goats the same way, anymore. It also made me think about police brutality, which I had never really thought about before in my immediate context because of the privilege of my skin colour and where I grew up.

I have not yet begun your newest book Rushdie. I’m sorry. I will very soon. I also want to read Midnight’s Children because Indian History is so vital to understanding modern society. Don’t agree with me, other readers? Well, it is. The British had, for a very long time, traded with and, subsequently, colonized India. When the British left in 1947, they left ‘India’ divided and the catastrophic events of Partition occurred. Rushdie, your novel explores the decolonization of India and the events of partition through fiction. I will read this book; I promise. I am always on the look out for a nice edition. If you’re looking for some secondary literature on the subject, why not look up Neil Ten Korenaar’s book Self, Nation, Text in Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children”.

self, nation, identity

Before I even asked for Two Years, my mom and I were walking through a shop. I had picked it up and put it in my basket. She was about to catch up to me in the store, when she stopped and looked at the stack of your books. She picked the book up. She touched the front cover. She paused. She walked past the other books and came to me. Then she saw the book in my basket. She smiled and said, ‘How do you do that?’ ‘Do what,’ I asked, a little too innocently. ‘Use your brain powers to direct me to the books you want without telling me?’ I smiled, ‘It’s the jin.’

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 6.11.16 PM

Rushdie, there is a Goya print as your frontispiece. When I got the book, it was a birthday gift from my mom, we went through the pages. My mom saw the print and noted the name. When I saw Goya I cried aloud, significantly, ‘It’s GOYA!’ She smiled, because she had previously bought me an art historical book all about Goya. In case you’re wondering, it’s Goya: Order and Disorder. She then went on to skip to a random page and read out some lines. We were in the car. Our dog was staring at us from the yard, she was supposed to be going pee but was, instead, giving my sister a hard time.

I’m not sure what this all means. I think it’s just what is. You have been with me since I was less read and a lot more green. I wish that I had known then what I have since learnt. I think it would have made your book more meaningful and significant to me. That’s why I advocate that we should all always be students of history. Some authors would have us disregard context, prior knowledge, and an author’s life. Can we, or should we, do this? I don’t know. History and storytelling fix our narratives. They help us to learn how to use words effectively so we may speak our own momentary truths. Our capacity to keep learning and grow consoles me, so I can revisit your books as a different person every time.

When my dog bounces like a bunny or prances like a cat, I often ask her if she is having an identity crisis. Whether it would be useful for us to revisit Sartre? She stares with her big eyes and hopes I’ll give her a treat or, better yet, a full meal. When I am unsure of how or who I am, I look to you with my eyes full of hope and wonder, waiting to be filled with your words and meaning.

Dearest Rushdie, I’m about to begin your book. It will be the most glorious 1,001 Nights yet.

Heaps of Love,
WordPlay Xx
Connect with me elsewhere:
facebooktwitter YoutubeinstagramTumblr-Icon goodreads

#UnderhypedReadAThon ⎜21 Sept – 27 Sept

A Readathon is occurring this week. The idea is to read some books that are not discussed very often online, via booktube, blogs, or goodreads. Of course, one can pick and chose how they define what an underhyped book is. I am running fast and loose with this idea. I also do not anticipate that I will be able to finish both of the books in this time period because I am reading another series at the moment and trying to sort out applications. I will put all the links for more information below.

The candidates:
Thomas Hardy’s A Pair of Blue Eyes
Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 12.02.02 AM

So I realize that neither of these authors are necessarily under-hyped. But let me start out with these points towards my justifications. In the first case, Hardy’s book is rarely discussed amongst other classics. I do think Hardy has been brought into the spotlight due to this summer’s release of Far From the Madding Crowd, a film I have not yet seen. Yet, A Pair of Blue Eyes seems like a more obscure choice in the Hardy canon, so I am excited to read this particular text.

Next, although Dostoevsky is often discusses, and, perhaps, his shorter works are read, I do think his longer texts are often overlooked. I have a special soft spot for Russian literature, especially of the kind that is critical of nineteenth-century Russia. Additionally, Sartre and Camus, French authors, are very regularly discussed as the pioneers of existentialism, but Dostoevsky, particularly this text, is a key moment in existential thought. I want to read more before I say more. I have always been a fan of existentialism; I prefer Sartre’s philosophy to his literature. In fact, he is a really great read to understand neo-colonialism and his avid advocation for the decolonization of Africa by France (and other European countries). Sartre will always have a huge place in my heart for this. Additionally, he and Simone de Beauvoir are perfect. So, I suppose in the niche of existentialism, I am trying to reclaim Dostoevsky and see where he fits in the movement. #Goals.

I also want to note that the emaciated face on the cover of the book belongs to Christ. The full painting is The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb by Hans Holbein (yes, the same one who did the famous Henry VIII portrait). I will say more at a later date about Holbein’s place in existentialism by later generations of thinkers, such as Dostoevsky, due to his unique context of the Protestant Revolution.

holbein5

Hans Holbein, The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb, 1521.

Let me know if you are doing this Read-A-Thon and/or what books you’re reading!

The Links:
Goodreads Group: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/17484365-ready-for-round-3
Jean’s Bookish Thoughts’s Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v89-EpLGa-I

Heaps of Love,
WordPlay Xx
Connect with me elsewhere:
facebooktwitter YoutubeinstagramTumblr-Icon goodreads

Reader’s Regret ⎜On Reading When It’s Right For You

IMG_5753

I’ve been thinking a lot about when we read books. It has been said that we come to the books we read when we need them most. I’ve been going through my shelves lately, and I kept thinking, I bought this when I was a teenager, why didn’t I read this then? Why didn’t I read this then? How would my life be different? What complex emotions would I have derived from this experience at that time?

Reader’s regret?

I have to stop myself from giving into that feeling, except as a motivator to keep reading as voraciously as possible. Or, as much as I can. My eyes hate day-reading, so I end up staying up really late to read. It makes no sense; but I think years of libraries have, in fact, ruined daytime for me. So I will use this feeling to spur on better reading habits, but I won’t let it define me or make me feel bad for *past me* not knowing or empathizing or understanding those emotions and feelings the author presents or limits.

I remind myself that those books are still open to me, and, in fact, because I understand language and its nuance more than I did before, those words will take me to places into which I had, previously, been unable to tap. Booktubers often do a year-end wrap-up video about ‘Books that Made Me’. It applies to my reader’s regret. All of the books that I have read, thus far, inform how and what I read in the future. I may pick up a book that I bought when I was a teen, probably a little inappropriately (some of the books I bought were quite mature), and read and enjoy.

For example, I can’t quite remember how old I was, but Costo sold some of Ophah’s Bookclub Books. My mom bought me A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, East of Eden by John Steinbeck, and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. I have only read one of the three, so far, and I only read A Tree in 2013. I do plan on reading the other two, but not just yet. East of Eden seems like a summer novel—and Canadian summers can get sultry—so maybe this summer. Additionally, I think my reading was informed more by Canada’s links to the UK and slight idolatry of UK literature over American literature, so that also informed my reluctance to tackle American lit. (Sorry guys…but I’ll get there). The reason I haven’t picked up Solitude, is mostly that other people have said a lot of “it was a long book”…so peer-pressure!!

A Bit of Fry and Laurie / tumblr

***

Back on point, I was an avid reader as a child, so I read other books instead of these. I think they were also a little too mature for my preteen or early-teen self. I think the language and nuance would have been a little lost compared to my reading them now. I read Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men when I was in my early teens, and I did love it a lot. But, I had many other book to read and re-read. When I was younger, I definitely had an immortality complex when it came to books. I had/have all the time in the world to read. So, I read what I wanted and what I chose. I re-read books many time. I have re-read The Hobbit more times than I can count. Indeed, I read it so many times when I was so young, that it is a “gospel truth” to me. I don’t doubt the existence of hobbits. You all need to stop being such noisy walkers!!

Indeed, I read other books. I didn’t read some of the ones I was bought or took out from the library. I snuck books that belonged to my mom or sister. The books that I read then, have read since, and am reading inform what and how I read. I read Betty Smith’s book in the spring of 2013. I read it, and I saw myself so firmly in the character of Francie. Our childhoods were quite a bit different because I belonged to the sort of middling classes of a privileged country. Yet, I learned and could empathize and connect with the main character because of our mutual love of books and language, our desire to learn in spite of the expense of school, and our desire to share language with others. When I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I fell in love. I recommended it to everyone. I underlined passages and shared them on twitter. I would send photos via text of underlined pages. Pages upon pages, I underlined with love. Margins scribbled in a book that was warped from the final pressure my hands, heart, mind, and eyes exerted upon the covers and spine of this precious book. I loved it so much then and there and now, that I don’t regret that I didn’t read it when I was younger because I wanted to tell the world how much I read or how sophisticated my tastes were. I regret not reading it when I was younger because it was such a pleasure and I wish I had always known that feeling.

But, I remind myself, you did and do. I remind myself of reading The Hobbit and Harry Potter and picture books with my mum. I remind myself of dragging Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland around with me everywhere and not reading it. Sometimes we read books and sometimes we don’t, but books are our most exciting and powerful resources. Wielding a book means power. If you are reading right it is not a tyrannical power, but a power to engage and develop empathy. It gives us the power to engage with the creativity or frustration of the author.

IT Crowd / tumblr

I read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale the summer before I turned 14. I may not have really understood the stake of Atwood’s story: feminism, patriarchal structures of oppression, &c., but reading it exposed me to that language. I was exposed in a way that I had not been before. I may not have understood feminism from one book, but I was being equipped with the language to be able to understand. I read Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai in school, whilst gay marriage and homosexuality were being discussed distantly in the news or by our elders, this book provided a moment to engage personally and critically (literary not judgementally) with, for me and my peers, a new language: sexuality.

On a brief side note, this is why the internet is so important. It makes these types of knowledges so accessible. I read about these ideas through literature and later through various philosophers etc., but the internet allows young people to engage in discussions of feminism and LGBTQ+. Of course, there will always be trolls and havoc-causers, but I do think the internet has opened a space where language can instantaneously permeate through otherwise impervious spaces. The language of acceptance becomes normalized. But keep reading, young ones, it’s the stuff of life.

So, friends, I wish that I had always been capable of reading the way I do now. I wish that, at the age of fifteen, I could have picked up a book and seen through ideology. I saw the things I saw, even if I was still learning. I’ve read and listened; I’ve worked hard to read the way I do. It was never a chore, except sometimes. I wish I could see the nuance I do now. But, “we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” I hope that I am able to look back, in ten- or twenty-years time, and say, I wish I understood these (new) things back then, too.

The Great Gatsby / giphy

Heaps of Love,
Word Play Xx

Connect with me elsewhere:
facebooktwitter YoutubeinstagramTumblr-Icon goodreads

Alice, you’re doing it wrong!–

Queen! 👸 #shihtzu #PhDog #philosodog #misha #babyface

A post shared by Katrina-Eve (Kat) Manica (@kay_ee_em) on

The Red Queen

In Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Alice is always told that her ways are incorrect. She is doing something wrong. She tries to reason through what she is, authoritatively, being told; and sometimes she comes to her own conclusions and other times she is lost. I presume, that is how we make our way through life. We are told what is right or wrong, and we hold that information up to what we have learned or what we feel we know. Sometimes, our convictions are so strong that we refuse to hear any other truth–like the Red Queen, who wants everyone’s head off. Like the White Queen, who believes that the Mad Hatter should be locked up for what crimes he might commit; this, she claims, will teach him not to do the thing he might have done. Alice tests her own logic, but she, ultimately, gives into the bent the rules of un-reality.

Alice regards it as nonsense to lock the Hatter away for a crime he has not committed; ethnically it is not right. In the eyes of the law, one is innocent until proven guilty. Thus, one may not be locked away before a crime or evidence of the crime has been, undeniably, proven. [In an ideal world, but, I will briefly say, human error &c.,] Our society is based upon civil liberties (as much of a pipe dream that it is). But if more circumstances are added that show the person, who is locked away, is very likely to commit a crime, are we right in locking them away?  It is not lawfully right to lock someone up for something they might do. We believe that people have free will, and can chose to make the *right* choice. At least, we hope that they will. It seems unsatisfactory when there are lives at stake, or when our personal safety is in jeopardy. It is an ethical question over which the law and lawmakers will always puzzle. The simple answer is no, but, in life, there are no simple answers–are there? To lock someone away for something they might do is akin to dictatorship. Perhaps, Lewis Carroll offers us a bleak interpretation of monarchy and absolute rule of the monarch (and, by extension, in our own times, dictatorial rule). Although Alice opines that it is wrong, she does not alter the rule of authority in the stories. In fact, in order to regain her own autonomy–for she has little to none in Wonderland–she must wake up. She describes her experiences in Wonderland like a dreamworld, where we all have experienced the submission to plot and action. (I exclude lucid dreams).

disney // tumblr

Alice’s lack of autonomy raises yet another implication to the reader–are we submissive to our dreams and/or our superiors (in class/caste)? or, do we have autonomy in a dream state and/or towards our superiors? Is it possible to reclaim authority by waking, and then telling our story as we remember it? Changing events? Writing out history? In Derrida’s Archive Fever, he says memory always forgets–this is why we have archives. But the very archives themselves point out the fallibility of memory.  “Consequence: right on that which permits and conditions archivization,” he says “we will never find anything other than that which exposes to destruction, and in truth menaces with destruction, introducing, a priori, forgetfulness and the achiviolothic into the heart of the monument…The archive always works, and a priori, against itself.” (12) Derrida is explaining to his audience that the urge to record, to inscribe, to mark out a story or truth of our past always points to the destruction of that past. We record, because we forget. Indeed, Derrida cleverly plays with the classical notion of knowledge as being a priori, or that what comes before; the claim that we know by innate knowledge and not learned experience. In Plato’s Dialogues, he records the lessons of Socrates; in particular, the lesson of a priori knowledge of the soul. Socrates claims that knowledge is not something that one apprehends mortally but something that one remembers from a past life of the immortal soul. In the example of Meno’s slave, where Socrates nudges the slave to recollect past knowledge, or a priori, knowledge is something to remember. Derrida turns this on its head; the archive always seeks to destroy a priori knowledge. Derrida explains, the archive or information resource highlights to our forgetfulness, our need to collect to recollect. Our monuments, historical and cultural, inscribe historical events upon our landscape, lest we forget.

channel 4 // tumblr

Derrida explains, the archive or information resource highlights our forgetfulness, our need to collect to recollect.

Let us now return to the question of authority and story-telling. Derrida links the archive to psychoanalysis and Freud, largely, because his lecture was given at the Freud museum in London, which had been in a political battle with the Freud Museum in Vienna over which museum is the authoritative Freud resource. And, most importantly. WHO HAD FREUD’S CHAIR? It was like the Where’s Wally of Freud’s toosh. Where did that bum rest itself?

All silliness aside, this is a very real question. Who gets to claim to be the authoritative resource for a subject matter? In the dreamworld of Wonderland, where is the seat of authority? In understanding dreams, Freud would claim that our dreams reveal our desires and repressions, long hidden from our conscious minds. In this way, our waking mind seeks to control our desires, which manifest when we sleep or through slips in daily life. (This, of course, would be a suitable analogy for the idea of Victorians as repressed. Of course, there were repressions–Queen V was scandalized by her sons and their sexual liaisons. But this was also the age where serious studies into sex and sexual behaviour were beginning. As I mentioned in my Introductory post on Oliver Twist, historical periods are wrought with contrariety. It is our job, as readers, to make sure we don’t lean too far either way in our hermeneutics.) Indeed, Alice becomes a Queen in Looking-Glass, but her authority is always undermined, the reality of Wonderland changes itself so that Alice is always listening to characters who authoritatively inscribe their realness or legitimacy. The characters she meets are real and have their own rules and laws to which they ascribe. What makes these characters unbelievablly credible is their commitment to reason against our logic. The White Queen, when she offers Alice employment, says she will have jam every other day. Alice may have jam yesterday and tomorrow, but she cannot have jam today, never today but every other day. There is a strange logic in the nonsensical. To indulge in Wonderland, we willfully abandon the logic we have learned for the illogic we experience.

Alright, so we’ve reached the point in our discussion that leaves us alone with our existential crises. I think this is what is so brilliant about Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. Adulthood is fraught with ethics, laws, and coded behaviour. Wonderland represents this foggy space where Alice can ask big questions and be confronted by them, too. She rarely has the answer, and I think, if we were able to remember our childhood, a lot of the time, we did not have adult answers when we first encountered new ideas. (This is where and when shame tends to work its darkness.) We learnt coded behaviours from our own encounters with figures of authority. Indeed, Alice and Wonderland seems to be a successful archive of the befuddled state of childhood and childishness. Is Wonderland, then, an archive of childhood that is premised on the idea that we will, largely, forget what it is to be a child?

Perhaps, the reluctance to enter Wonderland carefree, by the older reader, is the reluctance to admit the fallibility of memory. Children enter, laughing at the play. Adults enter trying to solve the puzzle. One should enter Wonderland without the drive to untangle all of its riddles and puzzles and accept play as our motive—for do we really need to know why a raven is like a writing desk? But, you’ll say, Alice offers us so much to think about! We must not deny ourselves this. Of course not, I’ll respond, because the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe——for, if anything. Carroll teaches us how to revisit childhood, at any age.

***

I am going to be reading G.K Chesterton’s The Napoleon of Notting Hill now. I’ll continue working on my Oliver serialization. It is my aim to have a new Oliver post up every Friday. This week, it might be a bit late because of my dog. She had quite a rough night, Sunday night, and Monday was a bit draining (for me). Tuesday, she will be groomed, for her hair is becoming a tad long.

Here is an excerpt from The Napoleon of Notting Hill. It seems like an absolute treasure; with the slight (& unfortunate) casual gender essentialism, as you do. I hope you’ll join me! What are you reading?! Let me know in the comments.

Heaps of love,
Word Play Xx

Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever, A Freudian Impression, trans., Eric Prenowitz (London: University of Chicago Press, 1996).

Connect with me elsewhere:
facebooktwitter YoutubeinstagramTumblr-Icon goodreads

On Privacy and Narrative.

unnamed-6The act of reading is an intimate act. You sit alone in your flat. You become alone in a crowded space, as your mind submerges into the text. You hear the author’s words resonate from the silent paper as waves of sound pulsate through your body. At the perfect harmony, you are shattered. Reading allows for a personal intimacy, an intimacy with the text, and an intimacy with the character. Whether or not the narrator is reliable pressures our ability to trust our access to characters’ private lives. Part of us may let go, most of us may cling to the edges of the newly bound or ruggedly aged book in our hands. In my own experience, there is always a sense of wanting privacy and self-freedom, whilst also wanting someone to, omnipotently, understand our own narratives. We don’t want to have to explain ourselves. We want an empathetic audience to our lives, but on some level, wouldn’t that just be insufferable? I’ve been thinking, today, about the need for privacy and space whilst reading Oliver Twist. Of course, many narratives do not give the mundane reality of a person’s day. For instance, not once has Oliver had a wee. Am I the only one that this bothers? (haha, please don’t run away with the idea that I think about this and this alone). But such mundane acts are the building blocks of life. A narrative takes the reader through the character’s movements–as much as we can see, as much as is pertinent to the narrator and/or author’s articulations. Reading can seem especially invasive if we are reading a memoir or a memoir-styled fiction. It seems quite perplexing, in a humuorous sort of way, that to escape this world and slip into a quiet sanctuary, that we, unnoticed by the cast, emerge into other peoples’ lives. Of course, I am also going to claim that, although some might argue the observer effect is null-and-void in this context, it is at the forefront of our engagement with the text, story, film, or television show. We always bring our own biases and knowledges to a book. We each have our own particular strengths. I, for instance, can recall quotations from theoretical texts, but I find it much harder to recall lines from literature. I am incredibly envious of people who can memorise these quotations. I’ll have to work on it, I suppose. Back to my point, we always bring our own state of mind (at the time), our own set of knowledges, our own abilities and lack of ability to empathise, and our own interpretations to what we are viewing or beholden. Our observer effect does not effect the ink’s immutability upon the page, but it is key to our understanding of what we read. We cannot change what happens upon a screen, but how we engage with it is our own observer effect. This may be dubious in other areas of life, ‘research’, or writings, but our nature to engage with things on nuanced and varied measures is precisely the (abstract) beauty of reading. Thus, in our own small ways, as we escape into these worlds, you can align or malign with a particular character. The books become about us, inasmuch as they are about other things. Perhaps, that is why in cases of extreme emotion–it is difficult to lose yourself in a book. But, I’ll always remind myself. The lustful craving for privacy and lack of intimacy is willfully and beautifully undone by the power of narrative, character development, and/even the deconstruction of narrative itself. Those silly post-modernists; shucks.

***

Additionally, I am setting myself a goal of Five Books in March. I’m trying to whiz through Oliver, but so far, I’ve been a little slow with it. My own narrative continues to drown out Oliver’s. But, if anyone is intimidated by Dickens, do read this book. Dickens has such a beautiful way of phrasing things. tumblr_nkpcm0aFEe1sb2oz2o1_1280 Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think? I’ve read P&P, and if I don’t get to it this month, I might save it for early spring (Canadian weather). To me, it is a spring novel. Maybe, I can bring it forth sooner through literature? Also, I picked up my copy of Northanger Abbey today and was gently perusing it. This might also contribute to my slow pace with Oliver. Woopsiedaisy. I hope you’ll read along with me and/or let me know what you think about these books or a book you’re reading. Be the courageous ones I know you all to be. I wish you peace and happiness.

Heaps of Love,
Word Play Xx

Books & Me – Thoughts for the Ether

IMG_4917

I am reading The Parade’s End Tetralogy. I love it. I am at 90 pages, and the book is fantastic. I have been raving about it to everyone I who has stopped to say one word to me. It’s a really clever book, and I want to share that magic. I am disappointed at myself that my first impression was an unfavourable one. But, I think I have that way about me. I tend to dislike first before I fully love. For instance, Mika. The first time I heard Mika and saw his videos, I thought it was ludicrous. I was in high school. I was catching a few minutes of music videos on the television, and he was dancing with a fluorescent light tube. Judged. I was the judge, jury, and executioner. Did not like him. At all. But then, I saw his video again, maybe a week later. I looked it up on youtube.

Instant Love: 


A life-long longing was thus imbibed. I really liked his music and his character. I liked his fluidity of character. I liked that he was sexually ambiguous–in every way. In a world of rules and meaning, he just went with this ridiculous flow. He liked Freddie Mercury. He liked Grace Kelly. He told big girls they were beautiful. He did that for his mom and his sister. How could you not like the guy? It even began a life-long battle over who has rights to him between my best friend and I. I found him first! haha. *mmhhhhmm, but all her looks were too sad. So I tried a little Freddie. I’ve gone identity mad.* I just really loved this song. I loved what it was saying without saying it. That we create identities and niches for the world to consume, rather than for our own consumption and joy. The unfair world also inscribes prejudices and disadvantage for many. 

Let’s bring this back to reading. I suspect that, for me, reading is this undeniable consumption of joy and pleasure. Not always. Sometimes, you have to read A LOT of drivel before you get to the book that makes your heart race and has all those chemicals in your brain swirling in a soupy tub of pink mess. Yes, authors put these ideas out there to be consumed–hopefully profitably (Thanks to Charles Dickens’s work on copyrighting texts; check out Nicholas Nickleby ALSO, check out Edward Lloyd, who ridiculously plagiarised Dickens and also published Sweeney Todd). Sorry, that was rather a stupendous tangent. Anyway, I was using Mika’s Grace Kelly as a metaphor for reading and satisfying yourself rather than seeking to find the approval of others. Most people won’t really care about all the books you’ve read. I’ve read many books, and a lot of people I know probably don’t care or don’t think it’s important. That doesn’t make them bad people, because it doesn’t make me a bad person that I don’t read for them or for their approval. I do it for me. Often, I will try to make others engage with a text for which I’ve fallen, but that can be met with boredom, contempt, denial, and avoidance. But, if a book makes you happy, you’ve got to share that joy. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have Mika dancing with STUPID FLUORESCENT LIGHTS!

Haha. One time, I went for a 57 KM bike ride with not enough water on a REALLY uncomfortable bike. So, I was racing back to try and catch the ferry back to the mainland. Well, I started to sing Mika’s song Blue Eyes at the top of my lungs. I had been alone for most of the day. And this moment, an act of desperation to the gods of mercy and love and endurance, this man with calves the size of small cows rides past me in all his glory. I almost fell off my bike. Haha. Too funny.

I Love Lucy / Lucille Ball

My particular taste in books is 19th-century Victorian and postcolonial authors. So, I tend to fluctuate between those genres. The Age of Empire (with many authors denying this or hiding their privilege behind other privileges or even blatant racism) in contradistinction to postcolonial authors who sometimes choose to use opacity to reclaim the system. I get it. I appreciate it. Sometimes, we want people to have to work to understand us. If they won’t work for it, would they be there for the tough bits. In my experience, no. At the same time, there is nothing more refreshing than a clearly stated argument. So, I will make that my mantra and caution to others. *nods in a supremely wise manner* *pokes eye on computer screen* 

What I find most fascinating about this, and I am going to refer to a quote from the book I’m currently reading, Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End. I’ll get to my convoluted point hereafter.

And Tietjens, who hated no man, in the face of this simple-minded and agreeable schoolboy type of fellow, fell to wondering why it was that humanity that was next to always agreeable in its units was, as a mass, a phenomenon so hideous. You look at a dozen men, each of them not by any means detestable and not uninteresting, for each of them would have technical details of their affairs to impart; you formed them into a Government or a club and at once, with oppressions, inaccuracies, gossip, backbiting, lying, corruptions and vileness, you had the combination of wolf, tiger, weasel and louse-covered ape that was human society. And he remembered the words of some Russian: ‘Cats and monkeys. Monkeys and cats. All humanity is there.’

(Parade’s End, 79)

To me this problematises how we read things. If a Person tells you a story, you learn from them by the way they use language, the analogies employed, the mumbles and stumbles over certain vocabularies and styles. If a storyteller shares an excerpt with you, you may also learn things about their style, register, and motivations. But when a Person shares a story, you acquire a personal connection with them. When a storyteller shares a story, we are at a further remove than a personal connection. Does it matter that they drafted and edited the story? For all we know, we’re not the first one to hear the Person’s story. Maybe they’ve embellished, added or cut for time or suspense. When we hear the story face-to-face, are we more willing to trust it from the source? Or are we more likely to question tone and meaning? If they say that they are empathetic, but there is a weird twist to their smile that seems questionable, do we then not trust them? If we are removed from the storyteller’s tale, we may not feel threatened in the same way by the (lack of) personal connection. I don’t know. We are always careful not to read too much into the author’s link to a text. Freud is debunked. But ask any scholar, and they’ll tell you that’s a lie. Pick up Derrida, Deleuze, Lacan, or (my favourite) Kristeva– Freud is there in one way or another. Instead of trying to understand the author, because we feel that it has long since served a true purpose to the understanding-industry, we focus on character. Maybe this is where we leave off with Paul Auster’s anti-character in City of Glass. Will the real Paul Auster–imposter–please stand up?! 

So books and storytellers are, then, the ways we can learn to see the world as a vault of individuals, rather than seeing it as a depraved mass of peoples. Isn’t that always the case? We put our fears before our hearts. Compassion never stands a chance? The rich fear the destructive powers of the proletariat. Whites think everything will go to pot if things get ‘too equal’. Men claim that women just want to eat cake. Straights think gay peoples will make them gay. But all of these things are false assumptions. Claims based on faulty evidence and fuelled by fear. Everyone says you need to be acclimatized to your fears. Well, before you put that spider near me….challenge your own fears. Okay? 

Ultimately, this is the beauty of reading. Thinking. Perhaps, we don’t glean much of the true meaning of anything through these exercises of placing the verbs in the right spot and recognizing an author’s nuance, but we do get pleasure. That’s worthy too.

So, I’m about to let my heart swell and my mind dance. What book are you reading?

The Iliad — Thus Far

Whilst reading last night, I was trying to push past Achilles’s sulking, but I just wanted to visually articulate the story thus far. Of course, my artistic skills aren’t quite on the level, but I needed to render the story spatially. I know that warfare is not funny or humorous, but I couldn’t help but find the dispute between Agamemnon and Achilles quite ridiculous considering that Agamemnon has waged 10 years of war upon Troy because Paris seduced Helen and Menelaus’s honour was left in a dubious state. Additionally, I couldn’t help but bring my own modernisms into the story. I did find the naming of France’s capital city Paris to be so fitting and also cynically hilarious. I have a love/hate relationship with that city. To love that city, I feel that one must indulge purely in privilege, but, because life is far more complicated than that, one cannot and must not accept metropolitanism that caters to the richest of the rich as the ideal. So, Paris gets all the swag. Some things never change.

Oh, question. So, I’ve been wondering if anyone has any background in etymology, but is there a relationship between the Greek names Coön, like Laocoön, and the Jewish surname Cohen. Let me know.

Edit: I ask because Laocoön was a priest and the surname Cohen refers to the genealogy of the surname Kohen, priests of Temple of Jerusalem.

Hope you enjoy.
IMG_4866

Also, just a note, the Horse thing at the bottom refers to the Trojan Horse.

Heaps of love,

X

ps. here is some ear jam on toast for rather late elevenses. Maybe onesies? 
Always onesies :)

Pensives from a Smart Doggy

Pensives from a Smart Doggy

“No Kacheeny, you are mistaken. Achilles’s sense of honour and duty is juxtaposed with Paris’s. Paris seduces Helen and causes the Trojan war. In the midst of war, Achilles’s temper results in Agamemnon dishonouring him by taking Briseis. Here we see that Helen is the ‘object’ of a war, and Briseis a captured ‘object’ of war and a refusal to fight by the greatest warrior. Does that clear up your misapprehension?”