‘The Sense of an Ending’ was on several best of 2011 fiction lists, and the concept appealed to me. It is a story of a middle aged British man looking...more‘The Sense of an Ending’ was on several best of 2011 fiction lists, and the concept appealed to me. It is a story of a middle aged British man looking back on his life and being forced to reconsider a variety of things the thought he understood all along, and to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.
It was a good read. It sucked me right in and held my attention for the duration. It’s a short sophisticated read, and it’s packed with psychological/emotional depth. The main character was very Holden Caulfield-esque with a bit less cynicism and more cowardice toward living his life. He never really ends up engaging with much of anything in his life. In essence, he lives his life in a “safe” way not taking risks and eventually even splitting amicably with his wife of 20+ years—interesting to have such lack of emotion—toward her—but given the rest of the narrative one understands why he treats her so. The heartbreak of his first love/death of a friend consumes much of the narrative as he tries to make sense of himself, who he was and who he has become. One can’t help but relate to his insights, and especially the experience of his heart being broken, and also the egotism with his spin on the memories. It is equally moving to see him presented with new information and how uncomfortable it is to confront long held ideas about yourself and who you thought yourself to be. Many profound statements of what it means to remember, what history is and how we must reexamine it over time and as new information presents itself.
“Indeed, isn’t the whole business of ascribing responsibility a kind-of cop out? We want to blame the individual so that everyone else is exculpated. Or we blame the historical process as a way of exonerating individuals. Or it’s all anarchic chaos, with the same consequence. It seems to me that there is—was—a chain of individual responsibilities, all of which were necessary, but not so long a chain that everybody can simply blame everyone else. But of course, my desire to ascribe responsibility might be more of a reflection of my own cast of mind than a fair analysis of what happened. That’s one of the central problems of history, isn’t it sir? The question of subjective versus objective interpretation, the fact that we need to know the history of the historian in order to understand the version of what is being put in front of us.” (less)
I love history and I also love women's studies, 'The Buddha in The Attic' is a great combination of these two generes. "The Buddha in The Attic" was o...moreI love history and I also love women's studies, 'The Buddha in The Attic' is a great combination of these two generes. "The Buddha in The Attic" was on the best fiction of 2011 list, and it is a short, gentle, understated, powerful novel. The story is not about one particular character, but rather the collective voices/experiences of mail order Japanese girls who were brought to America during the period prior to World War I. There is no one narrative voice, rather a cumulation of experiences for each particular chapter...some triumphant, some heartbreaking...mostly matter of fact.
The experiences start with traveling over to the California on the boat, meeting and sex with their husbands whom they had never before met, life on the various farms, child bearing, raising children, eventually being viewed as traitors due to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and then just disappearing from the cities as they were all gradually shipped to Japanese internment camps. They were suddenly just gone.
Here an example of the narrative and how it reads (The imagery lingers long after the simple sentences are read):
"We gave birth under oak trees, in summer, in 113-degree heat. We gave birth beside wooden stoves in one-room shacks on the coldest nights of the year. We gave birth on windy islands in the delta, six months after we arrived, and the babies were tiny, and translucent, and after three days they died. We gave birth in nine months after we had arrived to perfect babies with full heads of black hair. We gave birth in dusty vineyard camps in Elk Grove and Florin. We gave birth on remote farms in the Imperial Valley with the help of only our husbands, who had learned from 'The Housewife's Companion' what to do. First you bring the pan water to boil...We gave birth in Rialto by the light of a kerosene lantern on top of the old silk quilt we had brought over with us in our trunk from Japan. It still had my mother's smell. We gave birth alone, in an apple orchard, after searching for firewood one unusually warm autumn morning high up in the hills. I cut her navel with my knife and carried her home in my arms....We gave birth easily, in two hours, and then got a headache that stayed with us for five years. We gave birth six weeks after our husband had left us to a child we wish we never had given away. After her I was never able to concieve another. We gave birth secretly, in the woods, to a child our husband knew was not his...We gave birth on a Sunday, in a shed in Encinitas, and the next day carried our baby onto our back and went out to pick berries in the fields. We gave birth to so many children we quickly lost track over the years. We gave birth but the baby was too weak to cry so we left her out, overnight, in the crib by the stove. If she makes it through till morning then she's strong enough to live. We gave birth by the baby was both girl and boy and we smothered it quickly with rags. We gave birth but our milk never came in and after one week the baby was dead. We gave birth but the baby had already died in the womb and we buried her, naked, in the fields, beside a stream, but have moved so many times since we can no longer remember where she is."
Haunting and Recommended. Each chapter is just as powerful as this above selection. I would love to read it in a bookclub. (less)
This book was a delight. I laughed so hard I cried on some of the words and the definition based on the author's experience with it in terms of his re...moreThis book was a delight. I laughed so hard I cried on some of the words and the definition based on the author's experience with it in terms of his relationship and his lover. I was moved and got misty at some of the shortest, honest passages of his love for her. Very cleverly written. Recommend.(less)
I recently heard John O'Donohue on one of my favorite podcasts, "On Being.” I fell in love with his Irish accent and his message of beauty, souls and...moreI recently heard John O'Donohue on one of my favorite podcasts, "On Being.” I fell in love with his Irish accent and his message of beauty, souls and sense of the meaning of life. I loved his sharing and perspective on ancient Celtic wisdom, German philosophers and even bits of his Christian message about what God is. “The word blessing evokes a sense of warmth and protection; it suggests that no life is alone or unreachable. Each life is clothed in rainment of spirit that secretly links it to everything else. “
“To Bless the Space Between Us” (isn’t that a lovely thought?) is a book of blessings to encourage comfort throughout life’s journeys and different thresholds (for making the transition into new unmapped territories). I found several of the poetic blessings so moving that I asked for a copy of the book for my birthday. This book of blessings was compiled posthumously, and divides the different blessings up into different life stages with a beautiful introduction into each section: Beginnings, Desires, Thresholds, Homecomings, States of Heart, Callings, and Beyond Endings. The blessings provide perspective and hope as we journey through life, I've loved holding on to some of the thoughts as I make my way through the day.
One of my favorites:
On Waking I give thanks for arriving Safely in a new dawn, For the gift of eyes To see the world, The gift of mind To feel at home In my life. The waves of possibility Breaking on the shore of dawn, The harvest of the past That awaits my hunger, And all the furthering This new day will bring. (less)
I am not the target for this book, but I couldn't help but pick it up. The cover reads:
I have finished the beer that was in the icebox
and which you were...moreI am not the target for this book, but I couldn't help but pick it up. The cover reads:
I have finished the beer that was in the icebox
and which you were probably saving for Friday
Forgive me this girl came over so sweet and so hot
Doesn't that make you smile? (And remember your 20s...) The target audience for this book is males somewhere between mid 20s and 30 somethings. There are poems about women, drinking, love, trying to find a job and pop culture. I found it pretty hilarious and really entertaining. Broetry is a look into the psyche of the average male in this age range. Its poems about coming into adulthood, trying to figure things out, and odes to "cool" things...as a woman in the same age range married to a man going through similar things, I couldn't help but appreciate it. It would make a good gift for those guys who can appreciate this stuff. (less)
"Some things must be said, and there are times when silence becomes an accomplice to injustice." -Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Although Infidel was a tough book for...more"Some things must be said, and there are times when silence becomes an accomplice to injustice." -Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Although Infidel was a tough book for me psychologically, I highly recommend it. Infidel is the memoir of Aayan Hirsi Ali's experiences in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Ethiopia and finally Holland. It follows her life as well as the other familial women/men: her grandmother, aunt, mother and sister and her father and brother. The message and experiences really affected me as I was reading, and continue to haunt me.
Critics have indicated that Aayan is too extreme and too critical about Islam. (She lives under constant threat of death due to her message.) I disagree. It is precisely based on her experiences with Islam, as a woman, that her voice is so valuable. It is also because she freed herself mentally and emotionally from the “religious cage” that provides the strength behind her arguments. I learned a lot about the religion of Islam through her personal experiences, as well as what a life is like for a woman in those cultures. Viginity. Excision. Modesty (Covering the Female Body). Obedience. Submission. Silence. Physical Abuse. Arranged Marriages. Bloodlines. Clans. Quran.
In Islam, a woman is not a person but a posession. The only path to escape the mental cage is through education and moving these societies toward equality and modernity. Inifdel is a fascinating glimpse into Islam and various African countries plagues by civil unrest, corruption and poverty.
Some thoughts I liked and want to remember: “The message of this book, if it must have a message, is that we in the West would be wrong to prolong the pain of that transition unnecessarily, by elevating cultures full of bigotry and hatred toward women to the stature of respectable alternative ways of life."
"I first encountered the full strength of Islam as a young child in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is the source of Islam and its quintessence. It is the place where the Muslim religion is practiced in its purest form, and it is the origin of much of the fundamentalist vision that has spread far beyond its borders. In Saudi Arabia, every breath, every step taken, was infused with concepts of purity or sinning, and with fear. Wishful thinking about the peaceful tolerance of Islam cannot interpret away this reality: hands are still cut off, women still stoned and enslaved, just as the prophet Mohammed decided centuries ago."
"The thinking present in Saudi Arabia, and among the Muslim Brotherhood in Kenya and Somalia, is incompatible with human rights and liberal values. It preserves a feudal mindset based on tribal concepts of honor and shame. It rests on self-deception, hypocrisy, and double standards. It relies on the technological advances of the West while pretending to ignore their origin in Western thinking. This mindset makes the transition to modernity very painful for all who practice Islam. It is always difficult to transition to a modern world. I moved from the world of faith to the world of reason—from the world of excision and forced marriage to the world of sexual emancipation. Having made that journey, I know that one of those worlds is simply better than the other. Not because of the flashy gadgets, but fundamentally, because of its values. I took a chance at a life in freedom, a life in which I would be free from bondage and in which my mind, too, could be free."
"Life is better in the Western world than it is in the Muslim world because human relations are better, and one reason human relations are better is that in the West, life on earth is valued in the here and now, and individuals enjoy rights and freedoms that are protected by the state. To accept subordination and abuse because Allah willed it—that, for me, would be self-hatred."
"I would like to be judged on the value of my arguments, not as a victim. My central, motivating concern is that women in Islam are oppressed. That oppression of women causes Muslim women and men to lag behind the West. It creates a culture that generates more backwardness with every generation. It would be better for everyone—for Muslims above all—if this situation could change. I need to seek out the other women held captive in the compound of irrationality and superstition and persuade them to take their lives into their own hands. If we face up to the terrible reality we are in, we can change our destiny."
"I would start by telling people that values matter. The values of my parents’ world generate and preserve poverty and tyranny in their oppression of women. A clear look at this would be tremendously beneficial. When people say that the values of Islam are compassion, tolerance, and freedom, I look at reality, at real cultures and governments, and see that it simply isn’t so. There is far worse moral corruption in Islamic countries. In those societies, cruelty is implacable and inequality is the law of the land. Dissidents are tortured. Women are policed both by the state and by their families to whom the state gives the power to rule their lives."
"Men and even women may look up and speak to Allah; it is possible for believers to have a dialogue with God and look closely at Him."
"The rigid interpretation of the Quran in Islam today causes intolerable misery for women. Through globalization, more and more people who hold these ideas have traveled to Europe with the women they own and brutalize, and it is no longer possible for Westerners to pretend that severe violations of human rights occur only far away."
"I may no longer submit. It is possible to free oneself—to adapt ones faith, to examine it critically, and to think about the degree to which that faith is itself at the root of oppression.” (less)
My sister gave me this for Christmas, its not a type that I would normally read. I've loved stories about Dystopian/Totalitarian governments since hig...moreMy sister gave me this for Christmas, its not a type that I would normally read. I've loved stories about Dystopian/Totalitarian governments since highschool, Brave New World and 1984...add a strong female heroine and little romance (i.e. Hunger Games)and I'm sold. BUT...Matched did not do it for me. I liked the set up of "The Society" but I felt that the "romance" between Cassia and Ky was lame and cheesy. It had minimal depth and I found it hard to believe that they were little than infatuated with each other not that they had some deep and lasting love for one another. Poor Xander too! He was little more than an after thought after being Cassia's bestfriend for years? She moved on that quickly? Hard to believe you can shake your bestfriend/first love that easily, and that he would just back down and start helping her to get to Ky...seriously...a major flaw. The romance was just too juvenile.
Despite this, I am curious enough to read the sequels, but I will have to draw the line at watching movies. ;-) (less)
An interesting story about aging, morality and of course, the circus. I got sucked in and it was a quick read, but I didn't love any of the characters...moreAn interesting story about aging, morality and of course, the circus. I got sucked in and it was a quick read, but I didn't love any of the characters. Gruen spent more time researching 1930s circuses and adding various historical incidents/circus jargon than adding dimension and meaning to the characters. Kind of just an interesting make believe story of what life in the circus may have been like.(less)
Gorgeous book. Accessible history and tenents of various types of yoga. A good starting off point for anyone intersted in enriching their basic knowle...moreGorgeous book. Accessible history and tenents of various types of yoga. A good starting off point for anyone intersted in enriching their basic knowledge and practice of yoga, but it should be followed up with actual asanas and techniques for the serious practitioner.(less)
I recently heard Jon Kabat-Zinn on the 'On Being' podcast. I've been fascinated with facets of Buddhism for years, but Jon Kabat-Zinn was so clear wit...moreI recently heard Jon Kabat-Zinn on the 'On Being' podcast. I've been fascinated with facets of Buddhism for years, but Jon Kabat-Zinn was so clear with his approach to mindful living that he had me within the first five minutes of his conversation with Krista Tippett. When he led a meditation, I was hooked.
I checked out 'Wherever You Go There You Are' from the library, but halfway through I knew that I needed to buy a copy for myself to keep and mark up. Every page is dense with uplifting and powerful ways of thinking about things that beg to be reexamined and pondered. His hands on approach to meditation is excellent and accessible. I followed 'Wherever You Go There You Are' with his cds on guided meditation/yoga. All of these have really enriched my spirituality, being, and trying to stay present.
'Wherever You Go There You Are' is a must have for anyone interested in meditation and mindful living. Highly recommended.(less)
“All you really need to be a French woman are two lipsticks and a lover; one lipstick for the day and the other for the evening, of course.” (A BOOK R...more“All you really need to be a French woman are two lipsticks and a lover; one lipstick for the day and the other for the evening, of course.” (A BOOK REPORT OF SPOILERS BELOW)
1. French Style. Style is life. French women are slim, incredibly pretty, elegant and sophisticated—always perfectly turned out—indefinable and alluringly chic. French women hate to be badly dressed, and by badly dressed they don’t just mean in bad taste but in the wrong outfit for the event. Another key to French style is restraint—they want to be casual looking but not like they put in much effort (effortlessly elegant)—they also want to keep it a little mysterious/subtle (seductive), not slutty. No sneakers. It is also not ok to dress slovenly—it’s like letting oneself go. You can dress down, but not slob out. Make an effort at all times and don’t skimp on the details. Accessories can turn an unremarkable outfit into something else. It’s also in how you carry yourself.
2. Zen Exercise. A fundamental attitude. Get it where you can, a little everyday—they don’t go for a lot of bouncing around. They move, but they don’t believe in sweating a lot. They go for a more serene form of exercise which is more elegant and, well, French. Shopping is exercise, and so is sex. Men can also be used as a “workout.” Walking, tennis, stretching (most important/essential) and cycling are good—maximum effect for the least amount of effort. Look on any opportunity to move as one not to be missed, there is no need to compartmentalize your day into times to exercise. Be aware of opportunities you have during the day to improve your fitness and take them. If you think about the ways your body looks and are aware of it, then you will work harder to improve it.
3. The Secret Weapon. Lingerie/Underwear. Daily. Matching. Pretty. It is fundamental to how you feel about yourself. If your underwear isn’t right, nothing else works. Underwear is the key to self-confidence and assurance. Very worth the expense. Beautiful underwear gives you something nothing else can. Your underwear can make or break you.
4. Never Mind the Botox. The key to aging is to look natural. Aging can make you quite beautiful—plastic surgery destroys the life you’ve lived (wrinkles and all). Too much make-up plastered on with unnatural hair dye is unacceptable. You can do these things, just don’t let the rest of the world know. Exfoliation is also crucial as are numerous creams and potions. Age has nothing to do with sexiness, attraction can transcend any age. A plus side to aging…older women are more passionate, easier to handle and are more fun to be with. Age with grace, take care of yourself—it is possible to be stunning until the day you die. Take pride in your appearance, look polished. Beauty is something to work on (habits)—protect oneself from the sun and eat well. Hang out with young people, but also appreciate your life and the wisdom that comes with age.
5. Indispensible Allies. The most beautiful make-up on a woman is passion, but cosmetics are easier to buy. Creams, potions, perfume…you can never have too many…each serve an essential and different purpose and mood. Cleanse well and everyday—crucial and fundamental. Looking good is of paramount importance to French women. Don’t take out the garbage without putting on lip gloss. Being well turned out should be a constant and is psychologically necessary. So are chic hats. A hat completes a look. If someone is badly dressed, the French will not take them seriously. Letting yourself go physically is seen as a sign that you cannot hold things together intellectually. Souci de soi = care for oneself, in every way. This means brains and looks, you can’t let yourself go and be intellectually rigorous. The French would sooner forgive an extra-marital affair than a bad haircut.
6. Le Rein du Beige. Love of clothes and fashion. A dress makes no sense unless it inspires men to take it off you. All clothes should fit you well and be age appropriate, feminine and sexy. A lot of French women’s elegance is in the attention to detail. You should always buy the most expensive bags and shoes you can, for they will finish an outfit. Scarves are also essential. Mix colors and materials. Coco Chanel’s impact on France cannot be overestimated. Fashion is deeply embedded in French culture, it is important to women as love. Fashion should be practiced every day in order to be kept up. Fashion is a skill but it doesn’t have to be an obsession.
7. Beyond One’s Control. There is kind of no such thing as a girlfriend for a French woman. The thing about French girlfriends is that sooner or later they end up sleeping with your husband or boyfriend. Most French women are insanely jealous, suspicious and competitive. One of the reasons they spend most of their time trying to look good is to stop their girlfriends seducing their husbands. There is much more rivalry and much less solidarity between women. In other countries it’s a given that you are not going to seduce your girlfriend’s husband, in France it’s assumed you are. Women are right to be anxious. The girlfriends do usually end up sleeping with their friend’s boyfriends. It just happens. Marital infidelity also happens mainly with people you are close to. The French don’t want to resist their instincts and passions; it’s not in their genetic make-up. The French have a weird, if rather charming attitude towards fidelity. Love or lust, excuses everything. (I think I’ll take the camaraderie of my American girlfriends instead of French girlfriends.)
8. Work and Careers. French women don’t have to choose between having a career and having a family. The French structure strongly supports child care. There is a state primary school where you can drop off your children from the age of two—free of charge. If you are a mother and you’re working you’re going to feel guilty wherever you are. Either in the office when the phone rings and there’s some problem at school, or at home when you feel you should be in the office. You just have to accept that you’re not going to be the perfect woman. Accept that you may not be the perfect mother, but that your children can’t find a better one and they’re very happy with you. Accept that things can be a bit messy. Accept that you not five different people at once and just relax a bit. Apparently working with other French women is also a bit like being friends with them, not easy, for the perpetual comparisons between them and the competition.
9. 22 pounds. French women are thinner than their counterparts in other countries by roughly 20 pounds. The key is small portions/moderation. They eat whatever they like, but don’t over-indulge. No diets, but also eat minimally in the evening. Take time for eating, take pleasure in it. France is a very good place to lose weight, despite the masses of runny cheese, pate, foie gras, gallons of red wine and millions of cigarettes—the French are 30% less likely to die of heart disease than their American counterparts. Fresh fruit and vegetables are still a cornerstone of the French diet. They shop every day at the local markets from local farms. This means they are less likely to eat pre-packaged foods which are unhealthy and fattening. They also don’t satisfy you as much as fresh food does. Just be aware of what you are eating—common sense and willpower, smaller portions. Quality—not quantity when you are eating. The French may not believe in god, but most of them still revere their cuisine. There is no such thing as a ready-made meal--unless it comes from their local “traiteur” whom they worship like a priest and have known for years and trust to produce something fit for their dinner table.
10. Text Appeal. In America it can be embarrassing to be intellectual, in France it is essential. French women see intellectual rigor as important as their beauty regime. It is not enough to look good to be seductive; you have to be cultured as well. Seduction has as much to do with the mind as looks. A woman is sexy only if she is intelligent—with humor, spirit and knowledge—accessories to complete her look. Avoir du chein = to be sexy, brainy and attractive. To seduce a man you have to be able to make him laugh, entertain him and keep him interested. You need to go on with him about books too. French women love going to anything remotely arty. In France the cultured and intellectual still have a privileged place. The intellectuals in France can bring down a government. Gabrielle Colette, Simone de Beauvoir are two of the foremost female intellectuals—they seem to have everything a French woman wants; husbands, lovers, confidence and they were incredibly intelligent and attractive.
11. Dangerous Liasons. The French differ hugely from the Brits and Americans when it comes to fidelity. The French view adultery as a fairly normal pastime. The chain of wedlock is so heavy it takes two, sometimes three to carry it. In France, affairs are justifiable if carried out with discretion. Love and lust excuse any conduct. (Possibly it is not the lover in the physical sense, rather the idea of a lover. The idea of being attractive to someone is motivating to look after oneself—nice to have a flirtation but anything more than that and it could all go horribly wrong.) Elegance is refusal, but the French attitude to love is that if you don’t have a lover, you should always behave as if you do. Always be ready and presentable enough to be seen naked (or in matching underwear) by the man of your fantasies, even if he stays just that.
All you need is two lipsticks and a lover? Not true according to this book. You need a lot more. You need an iron will to resist any (edible) temptation that comes your way. You need to be able to make a little time for yourself each day and spend some money on a beauty regiment. You need to make your body, hair, face and style a priority and then you need to read. Is the truth that French women are thin and perfect looking, but don’t have much fun? Maybe. They are working so hard to be perfect that they never stop to enjoy the way they are. Message: “Keep your sense of humor but still be able to fit in your trousers—and obviously wear garters and matching underwear underneath.” (less)