Saturday, December 19, 2015

Parlez- vous français ?


Title:French Illusions : My Story as an American Au Pair in the Loire Valley
Author:  Linda Kovic-Skow    france booktours French-illusions
 “Je suis américaine . Je ne parle pas français”  Linda Kovic-Skow began her journey to France in the summer of 1979. Simply awesome. As Linda shares her enchanting  story as an au pair in a French household  and her wonderful adventure in Tours, I wish I could travel back in time as I have always harboured the dream of spending some months in France in order to be able to fully immerse myself  in the French language. While snapping a photo of a scene or a moment may be  an efficient way to help us recall the scene and remember the sequence of events, we still need to keep some kind of journal and jot down some notes about the experience including details of a particular place and a specific encounter. Ms Kovic-Skow definitely has kept the memory of her travelling experiences to France with such clarity and the places and sights in Tours as accurate as possible as she recounted the time she spent in France. Linda might have changed the names of everyone she met in France and  the name of the town she lived in as an au pair, nonetheless her dream like adventure has come across heart warming and truthful. It reminds me of the quote  by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry “Fais de ta vie un rêve, et d'un rêve, une réalité.” Make your life a dream and the dream a reality.


When Linda was twenty –one,  she worked  as a medical assistant for a busy family practice clinic in Seattle. When she grew increasingly disenchanted with her mundane work, she decided to pursue a career as a flight attendant. She imagined herself ‘ on sojourns in cities around the globe, meeting fascinating people and living life to its fullest’. There was one hitch  in her pursuit of her dream job. At the interview with World Airways, she was told that all flight attendants had to be bilingual. The interviewer suggested “Spanish, French , or German.”

French appealed to Linda  so  she decided that total immersion would be the best way to become fluent in the shortest amount of time. A coworker suggested that she could become an au pair for a family in France. She decided to take up the challenge as an au pair that usually entails childcare, twenty- five to thirty hours a week along with some light housework and cooking and in return she would have her own bedroom, a small allowance and one day off per week. Again there was another snag. The agencies required prospective au pairs to be conversant in French. Linda was determined so she filled out the applications as though she spoke basic French  when in reality, she did not.  She found a family in Songais within the Loire region of France. The family she was going to work for lived in Château  de  Montclair , a real – life castle  in Songais and the couple had two young children and the third one was on its way.   The Dubois family who engaged her was surprised to find that she spoke very little French. However they decided to let her stay as they were expecting their third child. She soon found that her inability to communicate in French did pose a barrier between her and the children who were under her charge.
 When Linda first met her employer, Madame Dubois , a tall, statuesque woman, she asked. “Parlez- vous anglais?”. That probably did not kick off on a good ground. When Madame Dubois knew that Linda could only manage a few French phrases, she was definitely not amused. Life as an au pair posed several challenges.  However during her stay in Tours,  she had made  new friends who were kind and helpful. When she was overwhelmed with frustrations, she had also experienced kindness, abundance of joy and happy encounters.

 Written in the first person voice, Ms Kovic- Skow’s memoir is a captivating read and I cannot wait to read her next book entitled “From Tours to Paris ( French Illusions Book 2)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Time Out


Villefranche-sur-Mer 
It is a cliché that we all remember things differently. A week ago, I found myself being included in one of the group whats app created by classmates from my primary school.  I found it a little incredulous as I had recently quitted from whats app group consisting of my secondary school friend and now I have to decide if I should exit . While it is nice that friends from the past show up and play catch up, they can be a little overwhelming when the phone is swamped with a hundred over messages in one day.

I am amazed that some of these school friends could recall  things that happened in school as my own memory bank has since been reprogrammed  and many memories have been erased and replaced by more recent events. Perhaps I am not too nostalgic about childhood not that I had a  bad one. I just do not travel back in time with the same degree of sentimentality and enthusiasm that my school friends demonstrate. A school friend lamented about how one Bahasa cikgu used to hit every pupil on his or her hand for not performing well in ‘ejaan’ ( spelling test) and I was apparently spared the rod as I used  to ride the same taxi as the teacher for my trip to and from school.  I asked my sister if she remembered any of it. She told me I used to be picked up from school in my dad’s business van or truck and occasionally the ice cream truck belonging to our neighbour. I had trouble remembering any of this though I could remember  the super thin and tanned driver who used to smoke a lot and resembled what I thought a drug addict would look like. Our late dad was an entrepreneur and I remember he was never on time. He did make it a point to take us on a beach or movie outing on Sundays. I also had some fabulous time practising duets with him playing the violin and me the piano when we were young. So to me, he had pretty much redeemed himself.  Nobody is perfect and everybody is different. That is probably the best motto anyone should have in life. 

When I was studying in Sydney, I used to enjoy retreating into the world of old movies that played on television so much so that there was this one time I was late for a part-time waitressing job I took during my first summer holiday. I can still recall the yelling from the Greek cook but he was not intimidating at all. The café I was working at was located at Bondi Junction and the breakfast crowd arrived after 7 am and many of them had to start work at the departmental stores in the vicinity. It was the month of December so Christmas was approaching just like now.

Chick lit can be nauseating because it is often  pretty much a fairy tale. A night in with Audrey Hepburn is an entertaining read.  But Lucy Holliday  has made it really hilarious about how aspiring actress Libby Lomax has retreated into the world of classic movies as her dad had been instrumental in influencing her for her love for movies. Her dad has left the family to focus on writing a book about Hollywood screen icons like Audrey Hepburn. And at her new bachelor pad which has been reduced in its size by her  dishonest landlord, Libby meets her screen idol, Audrey Hepburn complete with little black dress, tortoise shell sun glasses and vintage cigarette holder sitting on the Chesterfield sofa that her childhood buddy has picked up from used furniture store at the movie studio. Just as she feels everything is going wrong and she has been unlucky then things start to look up when she starts whining to her sofa about her life.


The story is written in the voice of Libby.
'I mean , I may just have been chatting to my new sofa, but I ‘m not 100 per cent crackers, not yet. Obviously there’s no way this is the real, bona-fide, sadly long-dead Hollywood legend Audrey.

 She’s got the voice down absolutely pat, I have to say. The elongated vowels, the crisp, elocution- perfect consonants, all adding up to that mysterious not quite-English –not quite –European accent. Exactly the way Audrey Hepburn sounds when you hear her in the movies. ‘

 Libby has issues with her estranged dad and she needs to work them out of her system. Audrey encourages her to re-connect with her dad. So  Libby listens to her alter ego and responds to her dad’s tweet and agrees to meet up.

 Once again, I remind myself to give Audrey a piece of my mind when I get back to my flat tonight. Because this is going even worse than I thought. I’d forgotten, somehow, just how flat and unenthusiastic my dad can be. How it’s not just the way he smiles at me that makes me feel like that tiresome neighbour: it’s the way he talks to me as well. The way he’s always talked to me, in fact.’

When she is with her dad, she wonders if ‘Dad happens to recall – as I ‘m doing, right now – the occasion we watched Charade, together, when I was nine or ten. It was at a time , a rare and brief time, if only I’d realized it back then, when he was making sufficiently good progress with the book to mean that he wasn’t canceling our one weekend a month at the last minute , and that he was in a relaxed mood when I went to stay with him.’



We have to accept that nobody is perfect not even our parents. We should not forget  the good part and accept that not everyone thinks alike and we have to work out what works for us. 

A night in with Audrey Hepburn is definitely a girly escape as the protagonist has  a hot and popular actor  falling for her, a wonderful girl pal whose brother constantly looks out for her and he is sweet, caring and reliable. Life is definitely looking better for Libby whose story is  continued in Lucy Holliday's next novel A night in with Marilyn Monroe.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Digital World


Villefranche-sur-Mer
Another half hour before everyone knocked off for the weekend, my colleague asked our despatch to collect a translated document from the court interpreter and brought it back to the office. The distance between the court and our office is one kilometer away and it  should take five to ten minutes or less for a return trip on a scooter.

Fifteen minutes later, I asked my colleague if our staff was returning with the documents. She said “ yes” because she told him to do that .

Half hour later, there was no sign of him.

'Ambit Balik'  literally means 'bring back' in Malay language. When she called him, he was on his way home and he agreed to turn around. My colleague asked him to 'ambil balik' and he had thought it meant 'ambil balik rumah'. Bring home. 

My colleague said she should have been more precise but I thought her instruction was clear enough given that it was not yet time to knock off from work. The staff was thinking about heading home thus he had interpreted what she had said about bringing back the documents to mean bringing them back home. It definitely made no sense for him to bring home the documents over the weekend. Often I feel that it does not need  rocket science for staff to understand that they should  check alignments and spelling before printing out any documents. Since they leave everything to the professionals, perhaps it is time we invent robots who can be programmed to assist some of us in doing the mundane part of our work.

I feel I am becoming an alien as I notice that people do not understand what I am saying and I am baffled as to the size of micro-managing  necessary to get a piece of work done according to my specifications. It can be exhausting as I usually assume that everyone has a certain degree of common sense. 

Each day everyone is distracted, not only we are participating in our daily physical activities, we also have the social media and the virtual world to manage and occupy our time with. We are definitely keeping ourselves so very busy. Often I find that reading and responding to these whats app and instant text messages can be time consuming particularly so when I have far  too many books to plough through and I cannot stop buying them.

I have recently raced through The Rise & Fall of Great Powers, an engaging read written by Tom Rachman.  From its first chapter, I need to know what actually is the story about Tooly @ Maltida  Zylberberg who is the owner of World’s End, an isolated bookshop in the Welsh countryside . There are two book worms in the story : Tooly and Humphrey Ostropoler, a self-proclaimed Russian who has a passion for reading.  The plot  takes its readers  from  1988 , 1999 to 2011. Tooly’s  real dad, Paul brings  her along with him globe trotting wherever his work takes him.  When she and Paul are in Bangkok, she is abducted by Sarah,  a woman who claims to be her mother.  Paul somehow vanishes from her life and she ends up being whisked from one country to another and across continents with Sarah showing up intermittently while her constant companion is Humphrey. One day, Duncan, an ex-boyfriend finds  her on facebook and tells her that Humphrey  is ill and in need of care. When she sees Humphrey who has lost his thick Russian accent, she becomes intrigued and ends up on a trail looking for the missing links in her growing years. While Humphrey has been responsible for her reading passion, her world views have been very much influenced by a charismatic but unreliable and  roguish man, Venn whom she has idolized  as a young girl.  Her hobby as a teenager is  to wander Manhattan, talking her way into other people’s apartments by pretending that she used to live there. While playing that game she meets Duncan who becomes her boyfriend in the late 90s. I find that Tooly is unreal because  as a child and as an adult, she is good natured, incredibly cool, detached  and smart. Nonetheless she is an endearing fictitious character.

When Tooly tends to Humphrey, she asks him.
‘“Who’s your favourite writer, Humphrey?’
“Samuel Johnson, Yeats and Kears,” he said, pronouncing the two last names to rhyme,” Kafka, Baudelaire, Baron Karl Wilhelm von Humboldr, Thomas Carlyle, Fichte, Demosthenes, Cicero, Rousseau, Aristotle , and Milton.”
“If you had to pick one.”
“That is who I pick.”
“ It’s not one.”
“Also ,” he added, as if the unmentioned might complain, ”John Locke,  Plutarch, Thomas Paine, John Stuart Mill.” ‘

Her lawyer friend , Duncan has demonstrated kindness towards Humphrey while he can be so absent in his own family life.

But Duncan was a rare presence. He missed most family dinners, often returning after the kids were in bed and departing before they rose. When home, he was pursued by emails. His respite was what Bridget termed “anger hour,” a nightly rant at the cable news channels .It was peculiar: he spewed such vitriol in that house, yet acted with notable kindness outside it . Accounts emerged from Bridget of his decency toward new hires at the firm, toward strangers, and to Humphrey in the months before Tooly arrived. Bridget once cited an entire chapter in her husband’s life of which Tooly had known nothing, how he had nursed a sick friend till the person’s death. When she inquired about this, Duncan changed the subject-he couldn’t accept praise.

Then by breakfast, he was gone. It was Bridget who poured the kids’ cereal and orange juice. She was present, involved, interested. Yet it was Duncan ‘s absence that shaped the household.’

Tooly’s present world is  set against the contemporary digital age.

‘For more than a year, Tooly had remained aloof from that computer. At most ,she tried simple Web searches like ‘ukulele.”nearly scared at the landslide of hits. Then , gradually, she explored a little further. Eventually, hours vanished there. Like a black hole, the Internet generated its own gravity, neither light nor time escaping. Cats playing the piano, breasts and genitals popping out, strangers slandering strangers. The lack of eye contact explained so much of what happened online. Including her own new habit : prowling through the past.

In recent  weeks, she had started searching for names, old ones, of lost friends, former schoolteachers, fellow pupils ,acquaintances from cities she’d left years before. Through the online murk, she spied their lives, piercing together what had happened:colleges ,employers, married to, activities, interests. An employment history on LinkedIn might suggest a glittering start – Trainee to District Manager to Vice President – followed by an unexplained Self-Employed.’

There appear to be many ideas packed in the book but  in essence the novel is about the unusual childhood of a young woman who has to piece together her own story and try to find a place where she belongs.  Only after going through more than two-third of the book, the story of Tooly’s life gradually comes together . While the  characters are quirky, complicated and flawed, the story is well orchestrated and intricately woven. I definitely want  to read the debut novel by Tom Rachman “The Imperfectionists” .



Friday, November 13, 2015

The wonder of words




When words about one’s perception can so easily be woven into another’s memory, if not phrased properly, they may be misinterpreted and misunderstood. Thus words have to be chosen to describe accurately the actual experience and one’s views, thoughts and feelings. Usage of emoticons and emojis come in handy when we do not have much to say but it also makes us feel flippant and  easily dismissed. 

Words matter, language matters. I only wish that the love of language could be taught. While multiplication tables can be taught and learnt, the reading habit must be nurtured. Words are powerful. Words persuade, words dissuade. Words describe and transcend all that define us, our beliefs, our insecurities , our hypocrisies, our truths  and the ordinary  events that shape our lives. Poignant writings touch our hearts, humour tickle and make us see the lighter side of life while thought provoking passages find its way to stir our conscience. When I stumble upon good writings, I  fervently hope that more people read them. Quite often, even very good writings have to be promoted before they are  known to the readers who are spoilt for choice. Winning a literary prize is a sure way to gain a place in the literary world, thus like all competitions, it may create envy and anxiety amongst the contestants. But can real talent be recognised and agreed upon by a prize committee where everyone has an agenda or otherwise has his or her preferences?

Lost for Words the 2014 winner of the Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction is a satire about the process by which literary prize winners emerge. It raises the questions about the place of art in our celebrity-obsessed culture.  In Lost for Words written by Edward St Aubyn, the Elysian Prize   is much  coveted by a host of authors while the Elysian jury appears to have little interest in the artistic merit of the books it nominates. Apparently, few of the jurors have bothered even to read the books, some 200 of them and  a book of Indian recipes accidentally gets on the short list along with a historical novel about Shakespeare called All the World’s a Stage and a work by a Scottish writer, “Wot u starin at”.  Malcolm Craig, a member of the parliament is the chairman of the prize committee. Amongst the jurors, Vanessa Shaw, an Oxbridge academic tells Malcolm that she is interested in especially good writing. Vanessa is  looking for the qualities that characterize a work of literature : ‘depth, beauty, structural integrity , and an ability to revive our tired imaginations with the precision of its language.’ and she has voted for the novel ‘ The Frozen Torrent’ by one debut novelist, Sam Black. Jo Cross, a well-known columnist and media personality, the first juror to be appointed on the prize committee tells Malcolm that the question she'll be asking herself as she reads a book is just how relevant is that to her readers. She is a strong advocate of the Palace Cookbook.

Right from the start, Malcolm had laid down some ground rules with a speech he made about ‘social responsibility’.
‘We have eighty thousand pounds at our disposal, as well as the promise of several hundred thousand pounds which the winner can expect to earn over the next few years, and to me it’s of paramount importance that the money goes to someone who really needs it.’
‘It’s lucky Proust or Nabokov aren’t competing this year,’ said Vanessa, ‘or Henry James, or Tolstoy, or anyone who ever sold a novel because word got out that it was worth reading, like Dickens, or Thackeray,or …’
‘All right, all right,’said Jo,’we all know that you’ve read every book under the sun, but I think Malcolm has a very good point. If I had my way I should add,”no pseuds and no aristos’.’

The serious argument is uttered by Liu Ping Wo , Chairman of Shanghai Global Assets, the new owners of the Elysian Group. He is present at the Elysian dinner when the prize winner is going to be announced.

It’s a prize for literature. I hope it will go in the direction of literature. My wife takes a great interest in these things. Personally I think that competition should be encouraged in war and sport and business, but that it makes no sense in the arts. If artist is good, nobody else can do what he or she does and therefore all comparisons are incoherent. Only the mediocre, pushing forward a commonplace view of life in a commonplace language, can really be compared, but my wife thinks that ‘least mediocre of the mediocre’ is a discouraging title for a prize. ‘

Lost for Words is witty and an enjoyable read.  Lost for Words makes us ponder : What makes a good novel and should anyone be judging ? 
Penang 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Anywhere but


These days, it is getting harder for me to compartmentalize my time  as my attention is somewhat terribly divided. I had a sense of relief when I recently quitted one whats app group as I found the exchanges very distracting though I was  not obliged to read nor respond to anyone of the videos and photos that had been posted. Technology requires us  to multitask even if we are not willing to conform. Apart from  texts and emails which I personally have to respond to, I have to pay more attention to the work that is  done by the staff as everyone is so  distracted by their whats app, facebook and text messages  so much so that seemingly nobody is paying full attention to their tasks at hand. Being competent is not one aspires to be. Everyone is distracted, anywhere but what they are supposed to be attending to. Quite often the attitude is to get by and the attention span is  brief.

In legal practice, though we are still unable to do away with printed copies for record purposes, we try to minimize wastage by working electronically on agreements and various documents  and only print them out when they are finalised. Till this date, I still prefer to read the printed texts and not the online versions. Even though I have books downloaded on my iPad, I still prefer to read printed books. We have to find a way to strike a balance between digital texts and printed ones while embracing technology. Il faut trouver un  équilibre entre tradition et innovation.

Last week I dropped by one of the local bookshops to pick up a book as a birthday gift for a friend and I stumbled upon the novel Techbitch by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza.  I was hooked from its prologue. Every so often , I need one of these feel good stories as it is comforting to know that ultimately good persons will triumph over the evil ones. I used to purchase fashion magazines namely Vogue, US, UK or Australian editions as they were my guilty pleasures just as much as chick lits about women who work in fashion media industry. So voila, a novel about fictional characters working in  a fashion magazine  in a digital age is bound to take me on a delightful ride. And it does.

Techbitch  is all about the technological revolution. Imogen Tate, the editor-in-chief of Glossy magazine , aged 42 returns to work after her hiatus only to find that her former assistant, Eve Morton who is now a graduate from Harvard Business School has been engaged to convert the magazine into an app. Eve is ruthless  on the borderline of a sociopath . Imogen has worked hard  to get to where she is , a reputable and successful editor and she is also a happily married woman and mother of two young children whom she adores. She is determined to learn all about tweeting and instagramming to keep up with the rapidly- changing world of tech with google glass already popularized and she refuses to let the twenty- somethings who do not acknowledge her presence  break her .

Imogen was barely on Facebook and had signed onto that only because the kids’ schools used it for all of their PTA updates ( important news about early dismissals, fund- raisers and wear –green –to – school days) and to keep an eye on Annabel now that her daughter was growing more and more distant and mature.

That reminds me of how I first created a facebook account years ago when my younger daughter was going on a student exchange AFS programme in France so  I could see her updates when she was busy having fun. Although I am not in the fashion media industry, I can relate to  how the protagonist Imogen Tate  has to adapt to the age of technology. Despite the urgency to re-invent fashion media to attract the young readers, ultimately Imogen’s experience, talent and dedication to the magazine  prove to be invaluable and Eve’s go-getter and social climbing style without manners is  crass. The story is funny and sassy, a wonderful read indeed.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

All that glitters is not gold


Whenever I hit the book store or the library, I see books that I want to read as every book offers generous sharing of its author’s  perspective and insights  whether it is non-fiction or fiction, the latter less explicit. Every work of fiction is a piece of creative writing that often tells more truths ( often psychological) than some writings  that purport to report the truth. The imaginary tale contains narratives that resonate with its reader and engages him or her with the unfolding of the story that might actually happen or is already happening in the real world and as the reader turns the pages, he or she is perplexed by the intricacies of the plot or seized  by an overwhelming feeling of joy at the  brilliance of the writer.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes - Marcel Proust.  Apart from pleasure, one primary reason I feel compelled to read is that reading helps me to see things with new eyes. Some writings prompt us to look at things from fresh perspectives while some writings remind us that we should believe in humanity and see life for what it is. I particularly enjoy reading satires by authors who cleverly put forward a hilarious fictionalized account of the madcap world we live in.
  Park Güell
In the MARK and the VOID written by Paul Murray,  the fiction  is set against the backdrop of the ongoing crisis in the eurozone . Claude Martingale is French and he works as an equity analyst in the Bank of Torabundo in Dublin. His father was a blacksmith who had encouraged him to study but his father subsequently resented Paul for  his success as a banker in Paris as he was mortally against the whole financial industry. His father remembered ‘the scandals that emerged after Liberation, the bankers who had collaborated with the Nazis in order to enrich themselves and he accused Claude of taking the job out of malice.’

Claude does not agree as he narrates,

Empires fall, that was what he had taught me; the world turns, and people, whole cultures, become obsolete. Progress might be a lie, but it was a lie that swept all before it and so the best tactic was to find high ground.

After his mother died, Claude had to flee France to work in Dublin as he and his father could no longer be in the same room and he subsequently reproached himself for not having made up with his father before his death . Claude is approached by a down-on-his-luck author Paul, who is looking for his next great subject and plans to write a book about Everyman who works in a bank. Claude does not think that his life would make an interesting book. But  Paul assures Claude that he represents the perfect Everyman in the modern times and he plans to shadow Claude for his writing project. Claude later finds out about Paul’s real  situation and tries to get him to feel inspired to write again. One reason why Paul gives up writing is that he thinks “modern people live in a state of distraction”.
                                    
Paul has written a novel and it is called For Love of a Clown but the book was eclipsed by another prize winning novel written by Bismal Banerjee called “ The Clowns of Sorrow.” Paul has the serendipitous encounter with his ex-editor who happens to be in Dublin for a reading by Banerjee who has published another book. Claude and Paul are both invited to the reading followed by a dinner. During dinner, Banerjee tells Paul that he should feel no regret at having failed as a writer for it is the dying art of a dying civilization.

I believe art is a dying art,’ he says. “What we are witnessing in twenty-first century Western society is nothing less than the death of subjectivity. We are in Dublin, so I will quote to you a Dubliner, George Bernard Shaw, who said that man looks in a mirror to his face, and at  art to see his soul. But modern man has no soul to see. He has become little more than a conduit for the transfer of wealth between corporations.’

Amongst Claude’s colleagues at the investment bank, Ish is the least likely investment banker in the real world.

Ish is an anomaly -  not of the god’s eye view sort, but not especially interested in money either, other than what she needs to pay for her apartment, which she bought off the plans during the boom at a price she now admits may have been extravagant even for an investment banker.’ 

I was hooked  from the first pages of the MARK and the VOID click.The book has interesting twists though the story  becomes  a little draggy due to various sub-plots. It is not an easy read partly attributed to my lack of understanding of the mechanism of the finance world which one can conclude that  it is actually a bit of a farce in the way how re-capitalization work to save the financial crisis. John Freeman, Globe correspondent writes, 'Fiction, however, with its blurred dreams and refractory points, is not a way to control reality or even profit off it. Novels become a way to look at things from the side.' click The reality is indeed like fiction and vice versa.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Bookmarks


I keep losing my bookmarks!! Last week, it suddenly dawned upon me that  I have lost nearly all the pretty book marks that I  bought during my visits to various places . In my urgency to devour all the books that I have purchased, these bookmarks have somehow been dropped off in transition as I carry these books along with the bookmarks around in my car. While at work during the week, I cannot wait for the moment when I can nip out for a coffee break with a book in tow. I have a tendency to begin reading several books at the same time thus I need  book  marks to tag all the different  pages  so I can get back to reading these books without losing the respective pages of each of the books that I  last read.

I  read voraciously with a hope to connect with these great literary minds. I have to take time with some writings and in between such writings, I usually pick a quick read that I can finish in one sitting. I may not do justice to the writers as I read their  books as quickly as I can manage. Many books require your full attention and you would like to read it uninterrupted in one sitting but you simply cannot afford the time for you need your sleep and you are obliged to  attend to your daily tasks and responsibilities. Some books require you to take your time due to their style of writing or their contents, you need to take a breather from time to time as you read.

I am attracted to words thus I am simply amazed at how so many writers just know how to use the words to their perfection. I cannot help feeling the adrenalin rush in anticipation of what is in store between the covers as I  turn  the pages of these creations. Only a reader can imagine the joy and excitement  of  drooling over  beautiful writings and amazing stories. 

I recently read the Killing Monica by Candace Bushnell. It is a story about  Pandy “PJ” Wallis, a successful writer who  created Monica when she was at the lowest end of her life. She remembers Monica ‘when the third book she had written had been rejected, when she had to borrow money to pay her rent, when the man she thought she was seeing turned out to be seeing someone else-she suddenly remembered Monica.’

Pandy had conjured up Monica as a child , for the entertainment of herself and her younger sister, Hellenor. Monica had hair the color of yellow marigolds, and she had quickly turned into their favourite creation, becoming the str of a series of notebooks called Monica: A Girl’s Guide to Being a Girl.’

Monica becomes the beloved heroine of four Monica books and four Monica movies. When it is time to move on as PJ Wallis wants to write different stories such as a historical novel based on her ancestor  Lady Wallis, her publishers do not want them . It is apparent that the publishers and the  audience only want her to keep cranking out more Monica so does her greedy soon to be ex- husband, Jonny. When the boathouse of her family home in Connecticut goes up in flames, Pandy suddenly realizes that  she has an opportunity to reinvent herself. Killing Monica gives us a glimpse into the publishing world and also the movie world. And in Bushnell’s  trademark style that is witty  and entertaining as illustrated by her earlier creations, Sex and the City, Lipstick Jungle, Killing Monica is a story about modern women, celebrity worship, fame, bondage and  celebration of  friendships.

If you ask, why I read. I  say  for pleasure, definitely for pleasure and to gain insight to the mystery of the universe, the workings of the human world  and the intricacies of  human minds and  behaviour.  
Venice

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Gusto


For  Connor  Franta who used to get nervous speaking in front of big crowd, speaking is now his job. He is a YouTuber, vlogging is what he does for a living.

Connor writes in his memoir, ‘ To this day, my voice STILL cracks, but now I roll with the punches, make a few self-deprecating jokes, and continue. Some things never really change. You can only control your perspective. If you do, the big things that haunted you at school seem so pointless.
In his memoir A Work In Progress, he writes about his pubescent self-consciousness and how he, the goody-two shoes became engulfed in teenage angst and rebellion in high school.  He was never the bad kid, he was only made aware of the real world and did some things that were out of character for him- the consequences of trying to care less. . He didn’t care if his homework wasn’t done to absolute perfection and ended up failing several tests, got pulled over a few times for speeding, staying out late instead of taking care of his responsibilities. His parents eventually had a little chat with him and he knew he was not being himself so he went back to the old him.

Connor also writes about how as the new kid in school, he had to improvise and live the lie as long as his social status benefited. He wanted to be the cool kid and as he reflects in his memoir ,  he cared far too much about what he wore and how and about the words that he spoke. So in a lot of ways, high school can be the training ground for going out to the real world.  He writes, 'That’s the downside of growing up. There’s a lot of pretending involved. We frequently act like someone other than who we really are because we don’t know or aren’t comfortable with our true selves. “Just be yourself “ , parents and grandparents often say, but that’s easier said than done. It seems we must grow up before we can even begin to think about flourishing. It’s taken me years to realize and embrace this.

A cynic  probably scoffs at these successful people who keep telling us not to be afraid of failing and that success involves failing first. Connor writes, ‘Failure is your teacher, not your judge. Like any other good thing, ti takes time, and you’ll just have to wait it out. All you have to know is why you’ve done something and like it, without seeking the validation or approval of others. If you think it’s unique, that’s all that should really matter. Create first and foremost for yourself, no one else.’

Whenever we have a fabulous meal at home or when we eat out, my elder daughter will stop everyone from digging in so she can snap photos of the food before we start eating, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. She has an eye for taking the best photographs for the food before us and she takes photos with not just her Cannon 60 D also her iPhone. I do take photos of the food I eat to  remind myself of where I have been and to capture the wonderful dining experience. In his memoir, Connor talks about his passion in photography and how he whipped out his iPhone , stood on his chair, and began to take five to ten photos until the angle, light, and overall aesthetic were perfect despite hearing people around him giggling and could feel the eyes of strangers burning through his back like the hot summer sun. I recall an incident when an European middle-aged couple was looking at us with an amused look as my daughters started snapping photos of the seafood before us at a restaurant inside Les Halles  de Lyon Paul Bocuse, Lyon’s famed indoor food market named after the legendary Paul Bocuse. It could be my hyper-sensitivity, the man was not only amused, his expression was one of condescension.

Connor is a self- accepting millennial and wise beyond his age. He talks about our addiction “nomophobia” ( no-mobile-phone phobia). When he dines with his friends, they  play the “all phones in the centre of the table” game where everyone has to turn their phones on silent mode and place them in the no-touching zone on the table. The first person to reach out and use it must pay for dinner. It is true that whenever we go out for dinners we cannot leave our phones behind. It is ironic that we  have a tendency to interact with those who aren’t with us. We tend to reach out for our phones in moments of  awkward silence around the table. I feel terrible if I am distracted and look at the phone when I have a  friend or friends in front of me.

The choice is ours: engage with real life or escape into a virtual world. Do you want to communicate with living, breathing people right in front of you ? Or wait until some lifeless words pop up on a screen ? You decide which is more fulfilling.’

I could not agree more when Connor writes that it is the act of making and  savouring his coffee that he enjoys when he drinks his coffee. Though  there are  days when I need to knock off a cup of coffee for the caffeine to keep me going because I am particularly tired, more often than not , having a cup of coffee means ‘me time’ when I can sit down with a book  as I take a break during a work day or between running some errands.  These days I am in such a race to fit in both my work and everything else that I find myself missing out on the joy I used to get from making a cup of coffee in the morning.  I actually much prefer grinding and making my own coffee. It is a ritual to start off the day ahead.

I also totally agree with Connor when he writes that life is about figuring out who we are and that we humans are all complex beings. We can never place anyone in a particular box for everyone of all ages cannot be defined by labelling them. Every individual is a lot of things if they care to reach out  their full potential.

'We are constantly growing, learning , and changing as people, and I love that. Honestly, I could barely recognize the person I saw in the mirror a year ago if I saw him today. I want to be able to keep saying that through life.'

I feel that  to a large extent we are the same person we were yesterday , or the day before or years or decades before. It is our perspectives that evolve constantly.

To the question : ‘ Who are you? Connor’s  answer :  ‘You are who you are in this given moment. Label-less. Limitless.

Connor shares with us his mantra : Live now, worry later  and reminds us that you can’t change the past. It’s done. Finished. As we all know the future is an unknown and he writes, ‘Destination unknown. It’s like being in a movie where you don’t know  the end . Think of it that way.’

Connor’s words are heartfelt and sincere when he tells us about his hang-ups and how he comes to terms with his sexuality. The  book is about many things and one of them is about coping with loneliness and how loneliness is really a state of mind. He writes, ' But Mom's right - a thought is only as strong as you allow it to be. We either fuel it or release it. Same with loneliness. '  While he tries to reach out to  young adults, the core of his message is timeless : Don’t be afraid to be yourself and to go after what you truly want.  I believe no matter what age we are, we are all work in progress.

Connor Franta must be taken seriously despite his young age. Impressive.

London

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Story of Books


During my trip to London in July, there were three books that I had wanted to get. They were Muse by Jonathan Galassi, Why Grow Up by Susan Neiman click and A Work in Progress  by Connor Franta.  When I entered the London Review Bookshop, I immediately spotted Muse and Why Grow Up  which were on display on top of  the table in front of the cashiers. On the last day of my stay in London, I bought Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee click and I ended up reading it before reading the non-fiction by Susan Neiman. Muse has taken me longer time than it should to finish reading  as I had not been able to give my undivided attention to it. Muse is a roman à clef   by an author who had a career in the publishing industry. Jonathan Galassi is the president and publisher of Farrar, Strass and Giroux. The novel is set against the backdrop ‘when men were men, women were women and books were books, with glued or even sewn bindings, cloth or paper covers , with beautiful or not –so-beautiful jackets and a musty, dusty, wonderful smell; when books furnished many a room, and their contents, the magic words, their poetry and prose , were liquor , perfume, sex, and glory to their devotees. These loyal readers were never many but they were always engaged , always audible and visible, alive to the romance of reading. Perhaps they still exist underground somewhere, bidden fanatics of the cult of the printed word….’ The story ends with the changing landscape of the traditional book trade when the books become accessible on electronic devices .  In the story, there is Ida Perkins, a poet who is made to be larger than life. The protagonist is Paul Dukach the heir apparent at Purcell & Stern, one of the last independent publishing houses in New York. He learns the ins and outs of the book world from his boss, Homer Stern and also Sterling Wainwright, Homer’s biggest rival who happens to be cousin, lover and publisher of Ida.

Paul is the youngest son and the bookworm in the family. He has a football star father and  three older brothers‘ all obsessed if only moderately talented athletes vying for the largely withheld approval of their college football star father, now the local district court judge.’

As an introverted teenager desperate to escape from the rah-rah bell jar of Team Dukach, Paul had had one saving grace : Pages, the rambling, heavily stocked bookstore housed in an old brick office building on Hattersville’s run-down town square where he worked afternoons and Saturdays all through high school.  Morgan Dickerman, Pages’ owner, was  a woman of kindess and discernment, statuesque if not conventionally pretty, with prematurely graying hair; a long , elegant neck; and an assured stylishness that stood out in Hattersville , which still felt stuck in the Eisenhower era.’

Morgan is the bookseller  who first introduces  Ida Perkin’s poetry to Paul and since then Paul has read every single one of Ida’s work and eventually he meets the elusive poet who entrusts  him with the manuscript that  changes all of their lives forever.

Galassi writes,

Morgan was an extremely canny bookseller who’d outsmarted the chains by making Pages the heart and soul of the community in and around Hattersville. She had local and visiting authors give readings weekly; she had children’s hours on Saturdays; she was the den mother to a hundred book groups; she supplied books for events at Hattersville State and Embryon, the local private college. Besides , she was Morgan Dickerman, and people naturally gravitated to her the way Paul had (he wasn’t self-deluding enough to believe he was her only protégé , though he liked to flatter himself that he was still Number One.) So Pages was still doing all right. But some of Morgan’s perhaps less talented or less energetic colleagues were not faring nearly as well. The chain store across the square had gone out of business, too, which , paradoxically, hadn’t helped matters at Pages.’ 

Pages sounds like a delightful bookstore  to be spending Saturday afternoons . When I read Muse, I think of jazz, books and Venice.