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.

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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.

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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

When You’re Reading EVERYTHING

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Dear Reader,

Sometimes curiosity strikes, and it strikes hard. You know how in a film, a bell will toll in an eerie way, indicating that something dramatic is about to happen. Basically, that is how I feel at the moment, but with a lot less eer, ear? eerie? Good grief!

I am currently working on the first episode of my podcast, and I have been meaning for it to go up sooner than later, but I have been waiting on some sources to arrive via the post, and I also wanted to make sure I really got into all the sources I could before I put the first one out into the world. I know that I am putting a lot of effort into this first go, and I am so happy to be “creating”. That feels good. It does leave me slightly apprehensive about what future podcasts will look like. The book I am working on is not that long, and I’ve really spent a lot of time on it. I want these podcasts to be monthly, but I need to evaluate how much work needs to go into each one. I’ve re-read the book, gone over and over passages, read secondary sources, read primary sources—honestly, I don’t mind that it has taken me the time it has taken me, simply for the reason that I needed to read those sources ANYWAY. There is a point in your life where you just need to sit down and read the hard stuff. And I firmly believe that you should spend time on those things. You don’t have to rush that. You want to linger in it—go right ahead. I feel like maybe in the future if I’m teaching a class or someone is on a deadline with me, they might reference this blog post and say, well you said it was okay. Uhh, alright, but at least make sure you’re really getting to know the material. That is one of my biggest loves–I love when one is given the opportunity to really get acquainted with history, theory, methodologies, philosophy, critiques, criticisms, ideas, art, tragedy: DO THOSE THINGS.

So, in the last little while, I’ve read and re-read some Foucault texts, I’m re-reading/reading the whole book for the first time Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, and I’ve read Plato’s Symposium. I also read this little legal book I bought in England–back in the days when I wanted to study law–about the legal case(s) of Oscar Wilde [I mean, really, past-self, you bought the book about the literary guy you love, and you thought you were going to do law…rightttttt!] So, lots of pride there for me. Remember to be proud of the effort you put into reading. That’s amazing stuff! Feel really good about cracking those spines–both the books and yours as you remember that your back bone does not like to be discombobulated into that contortionist pose in which you must read.

I wanted to touch in because I know I have been absent for a while. I’ve been harnessing that instinct to hop on here and share all of the excitement I have for what I am reading and putting it into my podcast. I’ve got tons of notebooks and papers scattered around my room, and it will soon be funnelled into aural communication.

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Another thing on my mind is the fact that I really need to organize some of the books next to my desk. It would be helpful if I could just live in this idealized space that grew as I acquired books, but marshmallow-world is not yet a reality. So, until then, I’m going to have to spend time organizing. But, I mean, that is also a rather soothing task.

Also, I want to add, you should read books that make you happy. I know that sometimes we try to force ourselves into loving things that aren’t necessarily right for us at the time. So, if you’re not feeling something, just put it down and respect that feeling. You can come back to it, or not. I think we put a lot of pressure onto ourselves about needing to read certain books because it is what other people are reading. I think we should always challenge ourselves in our reading careers, but I also think we need to remember to enjoy what we read. I’ve wanted to read The Idiot for a while now, but, at the same time, I also did not feel like reading that kind of book. And, there will be a time, maybe in November, when it’s frigid AF outside, and I pick up the book and I think: why did I wait so long? But that is the paradox of reading, we can get so much pleasure from one book that, at another time, might have been a massive headache or thorn in our eye. So, respect how you feel when you read. Don’t be afraid to put the book down: unless it’s an assigned reading and your grade depends on it–then, my airy-fairy, free-will advice sort of goes to pot, you can call me kettle.

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So, I’ve got to go make Nietzsche peachy, create some queer book words, and share my voice. Women are doing it! We really are (women is not an exclusive identity, that is, you do you!).  Be free, my pretties! (How on earth did I just go to giving off wicked witch vibes? YOLO! Just don’t splash me with water!)

 

Heaps and heaps of love,

Word Play, Xx

Great Expectations⎟ When Books Gobble You Up

Dearest Reader,

Do you remember when I was reading Great Expectations, and I even did a lot of legwork to do research via methodologies and theory? Well, a strange thing happened; I read Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. I then got a massive book hangover. Yes, I know that the book is intensely flawed. It is full of white feminism, and that is super problematic. But, boy, oh boy, is it such a good love story. She also does an extremely good job at representing 19th-C strikes, and the need for employers to listen to their workers as they communicate their needs. I even purchased the audiobook because I know that I am going to want that shiz in my life pretty much always. Cue Snape references, now. After this dramatic and rather romantic literary interlude, I got sucked into E.M Forster’s Maurice (that’s Morris not More-eece, for the non-Brits out there). Dear lord, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Well, as you can imagine, I got sucked into a whirlwind of really good reading material. It totally detracted from my Great Expectations of producing multiple podcasts for you guys. Sometimes, books just manage our lives more than we’ll ever know. Please read these books and get sucked away with me.

This means that I am rather unsure if I should try to write a Dickensian podcast when I am no longer in the mood for it. My somewhat odd mood is due to the fact that I am now reading George Gissing’s The Odd Women. It feels like the type of book that every feminist should read, except that they should not. I am almost halfway through the text, and I find it dreadful. The writing is not awful, but it is too close to the daily lives that women lead. It isn’t telling me anything new. At the time, it was super revolutionary because Gissing’s female characters were espousing a marriageless life in favour of a working life.  The book is also super classist. Only a particular type of woman could have this life. Some women, according to some of the characters, are just to weak-willed to marry. Or, the poor women, they were too unintelligible and unrefined to be ‘saved’. Ugh, how patronizing. Additionally, women of colour do not feature at all. I suppose I wanted to read this book and hear myself go ‘YES!’ that is exactly how I feel about this and this. Rather, I find that I am forcing myself to read through it. I’m almost tempted to ‘did not finish’ (DNF) this book. It isn’t exactly the book I want to open my podcast. If I am not enjoying it, then how will a listener?

In all likelihood, I will finish it–haha! But, I do not think I am going to make notes whilst reading. I’m just going to read in the moment. Maybe, I might begin with Maurice. It made me love EM Forster so much. I have not been the biggest fan of A Room with a View. It felt a little hollow for me, but I am also struck by the thought that I may want to revisit A Room in the future to have my mind changed. That is one of my favourite things about reading; you don’t have to like a book the first time you read it. You can leave it there, or, on some future date, you can pick the book up and give the relationship another chance. And, in this case, you won’t feel like your ex is still as annoying as ever.

Books I’ve Been Reading: 

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I’ll leave it there, dear Reader. Keep very well!

 

Heaps of Love,
WordPlay Xx

The Shakespeare Project – Lend me your Shakesp-ears!

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Hey friends,

I decided that I need to get back into Shakespeare. I feel like my soul breathes when Shakespeare in my life. I am going to attempt reading at least one Shakespeare play a month. I will share my thoughts, experiences and struggles throughout this project.

Does anyone have any suggestions as to where I should begin? I have read a few, but it has been some time. Let me know in the comments what you think! Thank you for your help! May a worthy feast bless your midsummer’s daydreams.

Heaps of Love,
WordPlay. Xx

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Alice, you’re doing it wrong!–

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).

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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.

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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).

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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

A Not-So Valentine’s Day Post

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I’ve been trying to think, all week, about an appropriate Valentine’s Day Post. I’ve been largely unsuccessful. I wanted to write about the love in the book I’m reading. For goodness’s sake, the ‘girl’ is called Valentine! But I love the book too much to have it fit in with a themed post. I want to unravel this book more intimately, if you will. Perhaps, I am delegitimizing the opportunity for love and true caring that is meant to surround Valentine’s Day, but this book is pretty rad. I am looking forward to ruminating on the text even further. I’ve read the first book of four, Some Do Not…(by Ford Madox Ford), and I feel so in love with the text and its meaning. Valentine struggles against being a (first-wave) feminist and the realities of the Edwardian society in which she lives. For all her innocence, society has painted her as a mistress, unkept by her lover. And whilst I think we should always be wary about making anyone sexually-innocent or not, I think those societal pressures are there, so it is valid that she struggles with it. Additionally, she is quite thoughtful about the whole situation. The man she loves, and who does love her, is married and heading off to war. He may not return. Some Do Not…

I hadn’t meant to talk about the book, and look what I did! It just happens. I think when a book is that momentous, you just want to share it with everyone. I find that I am always slightly ashamed over books that have a theme of love. This text isn’t quite just that. It’s far more complicated. My GoodReads review reads as follows:

I want to rant and rave. I want everyone to know of its genius. The way the novel envelops you; reminds you of your own love. The novel cleverly creates an empathetic reader, and we want the rose-red days of love to live on forever. Tietjens is a man of great intellect, and his knowledge translates into a great criticism of Edwardian England. Richly engaged and tied to every corner of the world, England seems isolated, but this text reminds the reader the far-reaches of England’s Empire and the biting nature of a gossip-ready bureaucratic class.

Read this novel and fall in love. Fall in love and recall it’s intricacies.

From my review, it should be clear that the novel contains a lot more than just romance. And, I am going to take a little moment to censure my last sentence and my shame. I do not think that we should judge a reader, writer, or novel based on the inclusion of love and romance. Love always surrounds us. Just like Christmas:

So why do I, and others, think that books which contain romance, love, or social affairs are somehow bad or less worthy of our time? Isn’t it these kinds of books that teach us how to empathise and connect with others? Aren’t there so many internet posts about social awkwardness? I am not saying reading romance novels is going to solve these issues; I wouldn’t characterise Ford Madox Ford’s novel as a romance novel. I just think that we/I should stop shaming ourselves for liking the emotional gratification that comes with these reads.

I guess I am just trying to say that, whatever your jazz is, just enjoy it. It wouldn’t be right for me to judge someone who reads a book that I find flakey or lightweight. I’ve read YA, and I think that, whilst they don’t always contain the best of grammar or plot-lines, they do contain something current and instantly meaningful to the reader. It’s like this…you may know something really well, but sometimes someone rephrases or frames an idea in a way you never considered, and that moment of recognition is the same space in which your brain grew a little wiser. To end with an example, Ford’s novel reframed WWI in a way I hadn’t before considered. The protagonist is extremely clever and really only likeable to few people, but his cleverness presents a new way for me to think about things. His politics, though not always overt, offer me an opportunity to see the difficulties of Toryism, Whiggism, and early feminism in England.

Just read something that makes your heart swoon this Valentine’s Day. If you’ve done that. If you’ve found the book that makes your heart race, your blood rush through your veins, and your brain quiver with beautiful words…you’ve lived and you’ve loved.

Heaps of love,

Xx

P.S I think I might read Barbara Pym’s Some Tame Gazelle now…

Books & Me – Thoughts for the Ether

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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 Silly-ad Iliad

Hades agreed to represent Achilles’s rage. // Disney / GIPHY

Yes, Achilles sulked. And it is humorous to regard his sulking as the petulance of a child, but we must recall that the opening of the epic tells us of Achilles’s rage. We are meant to envision rage. Indeed, it is what gives Homer’s tale a beginning. The Iliad does not review the full Trojan War. Rather, we land somewhere about the end–after nine years of battling. Achilles’s rage devours nine-years worth of war, and it makes the reader forget that they’ve been fighting for so long. His rage overpowers the entire act of war-making. That is some pretty powerful rage.

Achilles stops fighting because Agamemnon dishonours him by taking Brisēís, a woman Achilles won in battle, to recover Agamemnon’s loss of his own trophy. He was forced by Apollo to return Chryseis to her father, who offered a large ransom for her return. Achilles and the wiseman Calchas, alone, stand up to Agamemnon to say that the woman should be returned to her father. So, Agamemnon takes revenge and takes Achilles’s woman. Essentially, the men aren’t very concerned over the women as people but as property and conquests of war. To them, the women represent property won in battle. These women are representative of the men’s status as a warrior, but they are not represented—as humans or characters in the text. Indeed, even the beautiful Helen, for whom the Trojan war is being fought, represents the defamation of Menelaus’s honour because she ran off with Paris. Helen is much desired for her beauty and the property—her booty, in the many senses of the word. But these attributes are meant to be consumed by the men in her life; her husband(s).

These women are representative of the men’s status as a warrior, but they are not represented—as humans or characters in the text.

Troy will meet its destruction for the battle over honour; but, because Agamemnon dishonours Achilles, the Achaeans almost lose. Honour is constructed by many facets of war and warfare. As we have thus far seen, the conquest of women and objects signifies honour to other warriors and, especially, the people of one’s own race. (I use race here not in its modern sense but to refer to ones countrymen or allies). Furthermore, honour is signified by the performed masculinity of fighting and one’s armour. The gods urge on certain men, breathing courage and energy into their bodies. The gods discourage other men, casting fear and uncertainty into their hearts. Yet, the true warriors are men capable of destroying MANY other men. In an ironic twist, one man who eliminates hundreds of others is the pinnacle of masculinity. Man-ness determined by de-manning; the ultimate game of survival of the fittest. Hector, King Priam of Troy’s son, is beloved for his skill as a warrior. Likewise, Achilles, a man who easily kills many other men, is also distinctly male. Except that he sulks. For this reason, the listener/reader must be made aware, indeed, of Achilles’s rage.

Much of the plot is moved by Achilles’s anger at Agamemnon. The parallels between his dishonour and Menelaus’s is fleshed out. We are left in no doubt that Agamemnon committed the same sin that Paris did. Achilles’s similar rage and intra-Achaean act of warfare is sanctioned by Zeus, who allows the Trojans to, seemingly, win until Achilles re-enters the battle. If Agamemnon and Menelaus can begin full-scale war with Troy, then Achilles can rage his own fury. Indeed, borrowing from Homer’s many metaphors, the scales of battle are tipped in favour of the Trojans, and the warfare ebbs and flows like the tide against the sandy beach. This drama-filled poem contains many graphic scenes of warfare and the many men whom death covers. The ultimate scenes of battle occur when Achilles re-enters the fray, and his rage has intensified.

A quick note on the pace of the poem. The rapidity and the softness of pace that compels you onward. Most of the poem takes place in very fast-paced moment of war. What is extremely fascinating is the pace of the text. At times, many things are happening in what seems like mili-seconds, but there is a grace to the way words take their time and stamp their own authority over the timing of the events. Moreover, at times when fast-paced scenes unravel, gods or other characters will take a moment to interject and monologue, and these moments seem to be a false eternity before the eternity of all eternities: death

The ultimate scenes of battle occur when Achilles re-enters the fray, and his rage has intensified.

(More-revealing spoilers below)

Achilles is a hero for the Achaeans (and somewhat of an anti-hero, generally); crucially, Hector is the true hero of the poem. The poem ends with the Trojans and the listener/reader mourning Hector. Even Helen, who has cursed both Paris and Menelaus honours Hector as a great man. But let’s look a little closer at what happens on the battlefield. Hector kills Patroclus, Achilles’s BFF, and this prompts Achilles to re-enter the war. Hector removes Achilles’s armour–so Momma Thetis goes to Hephaestus and asks him to make Achilles’s another set (MORE ON THIS LATER). Achilles seriously mourns Patroclus’s death. The depth of their friendship is revealed, and Achilles’s sorrow moves the listener/reader. Quite so, he must avenge his death, aside from the fact that he must kill the Trojans to win, anyway. So, as Achilles re-enters the war, the scales are forever turned in the Achaean’s favour. BUT ARE THEY?

At one point, Zeus is tempted to save Hector from death at Achilles’s hands. Surely. this would be the greatest dishonour to Achilles. (22.167-4). Zeus says:

How dreadful! A man I love is being pursued
around the wall of the city, My heart grieves for Hector

But now Achilles, whom no one can match running,
is chasing [Hector] down. All of you–we must decide
whether to save him from death or allow Achilles
to finish him off, brave fighter though Hector is.

Athena quickly quells Zeus’s desire to save Hector. She knows that Achilles must be the one to kill him, or he will never be satisfied. And Athena rather likes Achilles and the Achaeans. But look at the way Zeus offers to save Hector. He loves him and he grieves over his likely death. He wants to save Hector, but he also wants to allows him the chance to fight Achilles because he trusts his bravery. Parent-like, Zeus wants to protect Hector but also allow him to prove himself brave, even it means he dies.

Die, he does. Achilles tries everything to defile Hector’s body, but the gods protect his corpse so he may be honoured by his family with a proper death. Of all the raging men in The Iliad, Hector has his honour intact throughout. Hector is given a full burial rights; the gods ensure this too. How beguiling! A Trojan is the mourned hero of the epic. Indeed, Hector’s proper burial rites gives Homer’s tale it’s ending, not the end of the war or even Achilles’s death. The burial of a hero and not the triumph the the Achaeans, who will destroy and enslave Troy, ends Homer’s epic.

Now, to return to Achilles’s armour. Hephaestus’s craft-godship is perfectly and staggeringly breathtaking. Book 18 contains the magic of Homer. The detail of the armour is spectacular. One could study endless pages on the relationship between the scenes on the armour and the themes of the entire epic. (18. 521-531):

Upon it he set rich farmland that had been lying
fallow the year before. It had just been plowed [sic.]
three times, and the plowmen were wheeling their teams across it,
back and forth and up and down the deep furrows.
When they reached the edge of the field and before they turned,
a man would hand them a cup of honey-sweet wine;
then they would turn back, eager to plow through the soil
and reach the other edge of the field for the next turn.
And the land darker behind them and looked as if
it had just that moment been slowed, although it was fashioned
pure gold: so marvellous was the craft of its forging.

And this is only a brief taste of Hephaestus’s skill. As a final note, I want to remind the reader of the fact that in Homer’s Iliad the only two characters who create are Helen and Hephaestus. Helen sits at a loom making a purple robe with scenes of the battle. Both characters also destroy. Helen is at the centre of the Trojan war. Hephaestus helps save Achilles from an angry river god by casting his fires upon the water. Just like the ultimate claim to manness is de-manning the battlefield, these characters create and destroy. An unholy balance is somewhere set at equal by these characters.

The ending was always clear. The Trojans would lose and the Achaeans would leave triumphant; Odysseus would his famous journey home. Do not let these facts stop you. For, within this text, is heart-breaking language that will stir your soul. Of course, there are many problematic issues with the text: glorification of warfare and the appalling treatment of women–bitch is a recurrent word. But, for the beauty of language, the eloquent use of metaphor and imagination I would recommend this to all. I will definitely revisit this text again and again.

p.s
Hector's Theme song:  'Only bad people live to see their likeness set in stone'





Knits and Books

IMG_4852 I am currently working on a knitting project. It will be a hat, when all is said and done. The border will be knit in one direction and then I’ll knit the top in the other. 🙂 It is my intention to work quite slowly on this project because it’s one of those things. Normally, I knit quite quickly and I stay up even later to finish projects, but this time I am knitting patiently and I do believe it will be quite pretty. I’m using quite fine wool, it is alpaca and deliciously soft. I have 8cm / 3 inches complete, and I know I’ll probably have to knit to at least 21 or 22 inches before I begin the top of the hat.  Now, onto books. I’ve been trying to find a unique way to keep myself on track, and I think I’ll just set up my own bookclub of one. Currently, I’m reading The Iliad by Homer and The Pickwick Papers by Dickens.  IMG_4853 Both texts are quite unique, and the pairing is like trying a new dish. I am going to try and work my way through quite a few novels and texts this year. I will read The Odyssey in the near future, but I will break up my time between Iliad and Odysseus’s journey home.  In order to make sure I’m not overwhelming my to-be-read list, I will probably set myself a currently reading and the next book I want to read, rather than sit down and make a plan of attack. I will choose books on a more short-term basis because I think books have stronger magic upon us at certain times, and we should respect that magic. Additionally, my pace might seem a little slow because I also like to do background reading on some of the more historic works, such as Homer’s texts. I can write an entry on some of the history and critical theory on The Iliad if you would like. Let me know in the comments.  I’ll make a more effective and creative post about this bookclub of one. Feel free to read along with me, and let me know what you’re reading too or even if you want to read the same book too. I scoured Goodreads for ages to find a book club that hadn’t yet read the books I wanted to tackle, but I’m so fickle that nothing seemed to fit. I haven’t yet decided what I will read after these two texts, and part of that is because I am waiting for some books to come in the post.  What books are you guys reading, and what tips do you have to stay on track? Keep well and lots of love, X