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.


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.