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Monthly Archives: January 2013

On time and place

You know how certain smells will always remind you of certain things?  There is a smell I catch, occasionally, which instantly takes me to my Grandma’s house.  And music can do the same.  Every relationship I have had has had a soundtrack and there are certain songs I can’t listen to without the memories flooding back.

My relationship with books is kind of like that in reverse.  For me to enjoy – no, more than enjoy, utterly immerse myself in – a book, I have to be in the right place, physically and emotionally.  Naval Gazing partially hit the spot because I was on my own, feeling introspective in cold, rainy Copenhagen.  I don’t think Fifty Shades of Grey would have been the same in my cosy flat in wintry England as it was in a stark hotel room in sunny Houston.  There are books I loved when I was younger – On the Road being the prime example – that I could never read again, for fear I could never love it as much.  Wrong time; wrong place; wrong Kate.

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Since I finished Fifty Shades I have picked up and put down a few books.  Books that should have stuck in an American environment, like A Confederacy of Dunces.  And I am not sure what this says for my emotional state, but the one that has really hit home with me here, now, is Life of Pi.  I think when I travel (and particularly on planes themselves) I tend to become more philosophical and introspective.  And Life of Pi suits that mood perfectly.

I am only halfway through, but loving it.  And it is a book I would never have read of my own accord: I am not normally won over by either religion or animals (on paper – in real life is another story).  So this is absolutely what this project is all about.

As always, one of the reasons I really like this book is the quotes.  More to follow in the proper review, but to end, a strangely appropriate quote, for this wistful traveler:

“All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways.  This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt.  Without it no species would survive.”

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Oh the shame…

So, after the last blog I got a lot of kudos, from people I know and some I don’t.  And that was wonderful, and touching, and great for the ego.  But now I am going to blow it.

Fifty Shades is kind of addictive.

fifty shades

Okay, it is poorly written and kind of wrong and takes women’s  liberation back about 100 years…. but still I found myself wanting to come home, curl up and read it.

Because, awfully, you (or at least I – I won’t tar you with my brush) kind of want their crazy relationship to work.  Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want to be friends with the female protagonist if I met her in real life.  She is all talk and no trousers – mouthy where it doesn’t count and insipid (or worse) when it does.  And he is pretty one-dimensional: a human being made out of kinky sexual proclivities and some underlying damage. But I am a romantic.  And every woman I know has, at some point, fallen for the bad guy and desperately – against all the evidence – hoped that they can be the one to change them.  And let me tell you, a few of them have….

This novel is also strangely addictive because, what nobody tells you, is that it gives you a whole new language for ‘in’ jokes.  If you mention vanilla, or grey ties and someone sniggers, they have read it.  Riding crops too, though I find they come up less frequently in my conversations.

Now I am in a quandary   No, not an intellectual one.  Well, maybe a philosophical one.  Because I kind of want to read the others.  But luckily for you, dear reader, I am sticking with the rules.  Nobody has suggested the others (in fact, quite the opposite), so time to move on, to something more intellectually stimulating.

The January-ness of it all

Not being a very serious person is usually great.  More fun.  Fewer tedious conversations.  The ability to laugh at yourself.  And others.  The uncanny ability to go out, have ridiculous conversations where bizarre tangent follows bizarre tangent, and wake up the next morning smiling at the stupidity, rather than blushing at the humiliation. Hilarity and mockery without consequence.  Genius.

Only now there are consequences. Because, careless chat becomes my reading future.  I am the reading equivalent of Yes Man – suggest it and I will bloody have to read it.  It’s early days and that has already led me down some bizarre, but well-intentioned, alleys.  I may not have read books I would have chosen for myself, but the people who chose them had my best intentions at heart.  They wanted to challenge me, or better me. What I didn’t take into account is the January-ness of that seriousness.  Right now people are making serious suggestions because they are sober and somber.   Sobriety and other associated (read, boring) New Year’s resolutions lead to earnest, mind-expanding suggestions.

careless

Alcohol, it turns out, leads to suggestions of Fifty Shades of Grey.  I guess I can expect more of these kind of suggestions as the January-ness wears off, and my friends go back to not being very serious people.  Unlike most years, I await February with a little trepidation.

 

Novel Therapy: Navel Gazing

It is hard for me to blog about this book with my usual, slightly blasé disinterest.  Firstly, because I know the author: she is my friend.  And so I can hear her recounting her story as I read it.  But more than that because reading it was like therapy.  I devoured Navel Gazing (awkward metaphor, I know) in less than 24 hours.

Navel-Gazing-One-Womans-Ques

Okay, Anne’s case was more extreme than many, as was her response.  Most readers, including me, will not have suffered in the same ways as Anne, or gone through surgery in an effort to manage our weight.  But we women have a surreal, awkward, challenging relationship with our bodies and food.  I was a chubby kid and a pretty fat teenager.  And god do I (and I am sure my poor mother) remember rejoicing when one style of Topshop jeans fitted me, and crying when no knee high boots would do up over my calves, and eating Weight Watchers chicken korma for months on end and buying jewelry when shopping with friends to avoid humiliation.  To this day, I own a disproportionate number of earrings.

So hearing Anne’s story, so personally written, so beautifully shared, really resonated with me.  As do the residual feelings of confusion and self-loathing.  I am now a ‘normal’ size (well, maybe not – is it normal?) 10.  But I still can’t quite hold something up to myself in a shop and understand that it will fit me, or eat a piece of cake without assuring myself I won’t do it again tomorrow, or stop beating myself up for not going to the gym as often as I would like.  And I crave that simple relationship with food that my tall, slim, brother has – he eats when he is hungry, or particularly wants something and then stops. Just like that.

The weirdest thing is, now I am in my thirties, I have come to accept that all this craziness is normal.  Literally every woman I know has an up-down relationship with the gym, has fat days or fat clothes, has months of giving up certain foods and massively over-thinks what, when and how they eat.  So many of us will tell people what size we normally are or should be, in conversation, even if they don’t care. Many of my friends have had eating disorders.  I am sure many of yours have too.

As Anne pretty much says (okay, I’m paraphrasing here…) the best we can do is accept our own personal brand of crazy (well, as long as it’s not life threatening) and try and limit the amount of thought we give to it.  All most of us have ever wanted was to be normal.  And it turns out this is what normal is.

The above goes far more into the personal than this blog normally does.  But I guess what I am trying to say is read this book.  Because it’ll make you laugh and think and wimper quietly from time to time.  It will make you want to pick up the phone and call your mum / girlfriends / partner / other wonderful people in your life and thank them for the times they put up with your own personal brand of crazy. But more than anything, because it will make you feel normal.  And it will remind you, as it did me, that behind the beautiful, intelligent, witty people you are friends with (and yes, I am talking about you Anne H. Putnam) is basically the same muddled, insecure person as you see in the mirror.

NB: Normal service will resume on the next novel.

Be careful what you wish for

Tomas, by James Palumbo, tick. Bloody hell.  That’s was the weirdest book I have ever read in my life.  TOMAS_large

Where do I even start?  This is a book on modern society which includes (and this is not an exhaustive list): aliens, animals as people, sexual humilation involving pigs, resurrection, extreme reality TV, women who carry their breasts on carts, penis warriors and Napoleon.  It also includes some of the weirdest images (even on Kindle) which makes for interesting train reading. 

At the start, you think some of these things are metaphors, but you quickly learn that Tomas simply isn’t that deep.

Now anyone who knows me would expect me to be put off by the above.  But in reality, that was the most interesting thing about this novel.  Otherwise it was just endless moralising, shoved down your throat, at a repetitive, almost rhythmic, pace.  And the moralising itself wasn’t massively insightful: banks = bad, modern society = obsessed with money and looks, bigger = better = abhorent.  In sum. So in a way, the penis warriors were really a welcome distraction.

And just so you don’t think I am being whiney, here are a few choice examples:

“‘ Look at me’, whoops Tomas, ‘I’m having such fun.  I’m spraying champagne.  I’m dancing.  I’m cool, swaying my hips and exposing  myself.  I’m alive with pleasure’.”

“The bride turns to her groom to speak the sacred words.  To her horror, he is playing with his Blackberry.  She spins around, seeking consolation from the congregation, but all the men have turned into hedges, playing Blackberrys with their leafy hands.”

“‘The first question is why did you become a banker?’ Hank catches his breath. ‘Money’, he gasps.  ‘It’s an obsession.  We see magazine covers – CEOs and billionaires – and we want to be like them.  To be a banker.  It’s about status and wealth.  There’s no thought beyond that.'”

The style of this novel is also weird.  It consists of snippets of stories, which are sort of linear, but sometimes seem to miss sections, as if you are supposed to guess what was missing.  This feeling is probably exacerabted in the Kindle edition, which seems to have extra line spaces between paragraphs all over the place.

Now maybe this is all satire within satire.  Or maybe the author was high (not unlikely, as the owner of Ministry of Sound) and the meaning is just lost on me.  I accept that this may be possible.  But I am mostly just glad this novel was short.  And is over.