The main collection that I’ve consciously undertaken, and that I try to keep up to this day, is a postcard collection. I’ve always loved stationery and paper things (from a quick browse through my supplies stash, I could say I collect fancy pens and notebooks too), so I would just have to stop at whatever stationery or newsagent shops I’d randomly pass by and pick out a postcard or two. Landscape photographs, drawings of daily life, animals…those were my favourite subjects. Whenever my father went overseas on a business trip, he’d bring me back the best he could find, which I’d carefully stash away in a white cardboard Ikea box meant for CDs. The postcards that first come to mind are a bit larger than normal. One is a pastel colour drawing of a tropical fruit stall, and another is a photograph of an oryx’s head from the front, its delicate, long horns pointing to the sky. I haven’t bought a postcard in a long time now, mainly because I tend to travel to places that I’ll see again. Also, since the practice of sending postcards has dramatically fallen into disuse, those that I do manage to find on weekend trips here and there tend to be rather dated and sad. The last postcard I received was about two years ago now, and depicts animals from South Africa.
When I was younger I used to collect stamps too. Shops used to sell “multi-packs” of assorted stamps from far-flung and tiny countries, tightly wrapped in thick cellophane. I’d also pilfer some doubles from the old collections of my mother and her siblings from when they were children. It felt very grown-up to be handling such official-looking, “historical” and fragile documents. I had a few books, each page of which was lined with a low plastic sleeve and alternated with a thin, translucent shiny paper sheet that made a very satisfying, official and solid sound when turned.
I guess I could also say that I’ve always collected books…? Lately I’ve been “collecting” Russians (see “Reading Russians” post below) and what I suppose could be defined as modern classics.
A beautiful – and slightly painful to read – passage that I just found.
I remember that lovely passage in Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, after the death of her husband, John, where she realizes that when he looked at her, he saw all of her faces back to when she was young, not just the old face. There’s that layering of selves that we can have with someone else across a long relationship. [bold added]
2016 reading list, meet your new entry.
The quote is from an interview of poet and cultural critic Maggie Nelson, which I’ll soon read in its entirety (https://www.guernicamag.com/interviews/inflections-forever-new/).
My reading list is currently dominated by the Russian authors of yore. It all started when I first read Anna Karenina about a year ago. I’d always thought it was an overdramatic tale of unrequited love… boy, was I wrong. I just could not put that book down. I lugged it with me everywhere I went, stealing a furtive read every second I got the chance – in the subway, queuing for the cash machine, anywhere – even a few pages would do. It had been the first time in years that a book enraptured me that way. I absolutely loved it – Tolstoy’s intricate characterization brought each figure so alive, which reminded me of the paradox that the more one expresses one’s most intimate thoughts, the more “universal” our experience becomes. It’s one of those books I can imagine reading and rereading again, and there will always be a new theme, a new image, a new reflection to be found. It’s more than a plot with colourful characters: because it speaks to the psyche, it’s a book about life itself. [You can imagine how sore I was when I found out that a girl I’d just met was reading it and her response to my gushing was a diplomatic grab to find something good to say, which was “yeh, yeh, the author is clever, I see what he’s doing”. I found a whole lot of post-(only post?)colonial self-centredness in this. The finding was not dispelled by the fact that when we visited a bookshop in an ex-colony, which was renowned for focusing on lit from that ex-colony, MsClever only browsed white Western authors. Honey, you can’t even pronounce “th” properly, and it’s one of the defining sounds of your language. But this will be the subject of another post.]
Right now, I’m almost halfway through Nikolaj Gogol’s “Dead Souls”. I decided to buy it because (a) he’s Russian (as much as I find national labels vacuous, for the above reasons it seems to be something of a guarantee for me lately) (b) walking home after a rejuvenating night out, I chanced upon a plaque commemorating the place where he wrote part of it (c) the name was intriguing. Solid reasons, eh? So I dug into it, expecting a dark tale of despair and depravity. Well, not the case so far. I’d say that the predominant tone is rather caustic sarcasm and cynicism, which sometimes take a downright hilarious turn. Yesterday I laughed out loud at a description of an heavily drunken party among men, whose conversations grew in a crescendo of absurdity; when the discussion turned to politics, “they effortlessly solved a multitude of intractable problems” thanks to the sweet nectar. Unfortunately, many English versions available online seem to be rather stuffy and omit this genius phrase. The power of a good translation!
Posted in Literature, Uncategorized
Tagged book blog, books, discoveries, Gogol, literature, post-colonialism, reading, Tolstoy, translation, writing
In an effort to curb this velociraptor of a temper (multiple trustworthy reviews have described it as much), I’m trying to apply the principle of the “seven breaths”. Geek Princess colleague friend told me about how she read about it in an ancient samurai combat manual. I like the principle of taking seven breaths before deciding upon the course of action. It usually prevents a temper eruption/wholly rash and reckless deed/rocketing to a conclusion altogether and places things into perspective – or inspires a more Machiavellian response. Both of these are better for blood pressure and general serenity/satisfaction levels.
I’m not sure why, but when I think about this principle, I subconsciously ascribe it to Sei Shonagon and her “The Pillow Book”. For the unfamiliar, Sei Shonagon was a Japanese author and courtesan who lived around the year 1000. The Pillow Book is basically her diary,in which she wrote all manner of thoughts and observations. Although I haven’t finished reading it, I did find some real gems in there – such as what one can glean about a man from how he leaves you after a (wink wink) night. I might associate the seven breaths principle with it because the Book contains many lists, so 7 breaths = 7 items on a list… yeah, that’s the pervasiveness of the Buzzfeed listiculture for ya.
My God, a whole moment of happiness! Is that too little for the whole of a man’s life?
-F. Dostoevsky, White Nights