Posts tagged with "books"

the things we carry

I can’t fig­ure out why I’m so moody lately. Maybe it’s been too long since I smelled the wood of my gui­tar. Maybe it’s the fresh Autumn colours that tend to mag­nify my emo­tions. Maybe I’m feel­ing over­worked, over­stim­u­lated, and too rarely under­stood. Maybe it’s because I haven’t had a moment to myself in what feels like weeks, with so many feel­ings of lone­li­ness amongst so many people.

Autumn stream

 

I always think of exile in times like this, and in par­tic­u­lar, a stanza from Yevgeniy Onegin:

From all that to the heart is dear
then did I tear my heart away;
to every­one a stranger, tied by noth­ing,
I thought; lib­erty and peace
would serve instead of happiness.

Luckily, I’ve been read­ing The Poisonwood Bible, which reminds me that the only prob­lems I have are first-world prob­lems, and that I’m rich in ways many will never be.

I find it amaz­ing, the immen­sity of it, how any sin­gle per­son can be respon­si­ble for a tome of such rich sto­ry­telling, obser­va­tion, and wit. It’s the only book I’ve picked up in years, and I only started read­ing to get into her head as much as pos­si­ble (and piqued by my curios­ity on how she could describe a story of the Belgian Congo as sexy). Unsurprisingly, her favourite char­ac­ter is the strong, faith­ful, war­rior daugh­ter. Mine is like me too; the dark, brood­ing, intel­lec­tual child, dizy­gotic twin to hers. It makes me won­der if lik­ing one char­ac­ter over all oth­ers is too often an exer­cise in vanity.

In the end, Onegin real­izes he was wrong about exile, that he couldn’t fill him­self with empti­ness to replace the sad­ness, some­thing he only fig­ures out when he finds some­one worth lov­ing. That’s what’s pulling me back too, keep­ing me grounded amongst those dark moments of untem­pered emo­tion. I carry the image of her smile with me, the only thing as dis­tin­guished on her face as her Spanish eyes, and the rea­son I call her Cheeks from the way the flesh pulls up to round her face. I’ve stud­ied this smile for so long that I can see it every time I close my eyes, and with that, I carry a strength of my own too.

My Interest In Russian Literature

The story of a human soul, even the pet­ti­est of souls, can hardly be less inter­est­ing and instruc­tive than the story of a nation…

Many of my ear­lier entries con­tain ref­er­ences to Russian Romantic lit­er­a­ture, but I’ve never explained my fas­ci­na­tion with it. I’ve always iden­ti­fied with ideas of the Byronic hero and Nihilism, whether they were ideals or philoso­phies I felt drawn to. It was one book that intro­duced me to these ideas, called A Hero Of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov, a Russian poet (in the truest sense of the word) who died in a duel at 26. Whenever I meet some­one from Russia, I ask them if they’ve read it, in the hopes that per­haps I can gain some insight into this book from some­one who under­stands the orig­i­nal lan­guage. I read it when I was in grade 9, and so much of what the pro­tag­o­nist, Pechorin, made sense to me.

Death

Ah, well! If I must die, I must! The world will lose lit­tle, and I am weary enough of it all. I am like a man who yawns at a ball and doesn’t go home to sleep only because his car­riage hasn’t come.

During a brief phase, I’d say about year off and on in high school, I was at the very depths of depres­sion and some­what sui­ci­dal, but I could never bring myself to do it. I was just hop­ing death would take me. It was an easy way out. Not only did I have no rea­son to live, but my life was quite unpleas­ant. My best friend had ditched me for the pop­u­lar crowd1, so my time at school was mis­er­able, then I’d come home to an empty life and par­ents that ignored me.

Ever since, I’ve felt like I’ve been liv­ing on bor­rowed time, wait­ing for the end to come, when it should have already arrived. That’s why I remain unp­hazed by the idea that I’m going to die, and accept­ing of the fact that it’ll hap­pen one day. As Pechorin says near the end of the novel, “After all, noth­ing worse than death can hap­pen — and death you can’t escape!”

Onegin painting

There’s a par­tic­u­lar scene in the movie Onegin2 that cap­tures the spirit of this mor­bid accep­tance. Onegin (played by Ralph Fiennes) has been chal­lenged to a duel that he can­not back out of, lest he be the sub­ject of ridicule, so he accepts. He’s fired upon as he’s walk­ing towards his oppo­nent, and, faced with death, sim­ply closes his eyes. The expres­sion of calm in his face shows that it’s out of reflex, instead of fear.

Continue read­ing “My Interest In Russian Literature”…

  1. This was made espe­cially more painful by the fact that I was so inse­cure that I defined myself through oth­ers, being left with­out being anyone’s “best friend” meant that I was worth­less. []
  2. Written by Alexander Pushkin, arguably Lermontov’s biggest influ­ence. In fact, as the char­ac­ter Onegin was named after the river and lake, Onega, Pechorin was sim­i­larly named after the river Pechora. []

Switching Books

Over the week­end, with the cozy com­fort of my duvet, I fin­ished read­ing the Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. The story took me by sur­prise. I had no prior knowl­edge of the plot, char­ac­ters, or themes, so I had the lux­ury of read­ing with­out the taint of another opin­ion. Even as a teenager, Duddy has the ambi­tion to pur­sue his dream of own­ing a huge plot of land before he’s even legally allowed to own it, but he loses his human­ity in the process. It was a fairly gal­va­niz­ing story, some­thing I’m not sure I could say if I knew more about the book before read­ing it. It’s his drive, his ini­tia­tive that I admire.

Yesterday, I started The Republic of Love (on the rec­om­men­da­tion of Karen) by Carol Shields. Even though I’m only through the first chap­ter, I can already tell that Shields knows what she’s talk­ing about. She knows how rela­tion­ships dis­in­te­grate, knows how peo­ple think, knows how our daily lives are a reflec­tion of the moods we have and mind­sets we wear. I’m reminded of Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese philoso­pher and author of The Prophet who wrote as if he under­stood love and the spirit on a com­pletely dif­fer­ent level. Even though he never met the love of his life face-to-face (they knew each other through pub­li­ca­tions), their col­lec­tion of love let­ters shows an under­stand­ing and har­mony deeper than any other two peo­ple I can think of.

It always makes me won­der: how much of an author’s writ­ing is from expe­ri­ence and how much is from imag­i­na­tion? The details, sub­tleties, thor­ough­ness of the char­ac­ters they develop, expressed in the inge­nu­ity of the words they use must be from more than mere under­stand­ing. Would Frost have been able to write his rural poetry with­out mov­ing to New Hampshire, spend­ing his time there as a cob­bler, farmer, and teacher? Would Irving have been able to write from the per­spec­tive of a teacher at Bishop Strachan, with­out first watch­ing the girls in their plaid skirts being picked up by their wealthy par­ents? Even in the pref­ace to A Hero Of Our Time, Lermontov admits, “oth­ers del­i­cately hinted that the author had drawn por­traits of him­self and his acquain­tances” and brushes this off as a “thread­bare wit­ti­cism”, but could he really have cre­ated such an amoral anti-hero with­out a lump of burn­ing indif­fer­ence in his chest?

March Books

Thumbnail: March books

I love the feel of a new book. Before the cor­ners are dented, when the cover is still slip­pery smooth.

Guy Gavriel KayThe Last Light Of The Sun
I was a huge fan of Tigana (although not so much Fionavar Tapestry, even if it was partly based in the city I grew up in). I don’t even like fan­tasy books, and Tigana is on the list of my top five books of all time.

Carol ShieldsThe Republic Of Love
As I said in a pre­vi­ous post, I was in the mood for some­thing mod­ern although I couldn’t bring myself to admit that I was also in the mood for some­thing roman­tic. I found out about this book when I noticed Karen read­ing it dur­ing last years May 2–4 camp­ing trip.

Mordecai RichlerThe Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz
Ever since I read The World According To Garp, a book full of lust, humour, pas­sion, and life, dis­cov­ered from the “Recommended Reading” list that my high school pub­lished every year, I had a deep rep­sect for the books I was exposed to in class. However, two English classes meant two dif­fer­ent cur­ricu­lums. When I was study­ing The Great Gatsby, the other class was study­ing To Kill A Mockingbird. When they were doing A Prayer For Owen Meany, I was doing Pride And Prejudice. The Apprentiship of Duddy Kravitz is to make of up for the time I spent study­ing The Catcher In The Rye.

It was only a few days after I bought these three books that I real­ized every sin­gle one of these authors is Canadian. Why does this coun­try rule so fuck­ing much.

The Snake That Swallows Its Tail

Soul Mountain ends with the nar­ra­tor con­vinced that God is com­mu­ni­cat­ing to him in the form of a frogs’ blink­ing eye, and that’s become my favourite part of the whole book. I always read the intro­duc­tion both before I start the book and after I fin­ish the book, and this time the intro­duc­tion tied every­thing together in the end. I finally under­stood the big pic­ture in what was a mot­ley, slow-starting novel. I wanted to read Soul Mountain again, almost imme­di­ately after I fin­ished it, but I decided to start on Thus Spoke Zarathustra, even though both are rel­e­vant right now.