Spring/Summer Reads

As the months are slowly turning towards summer the need to relax and enjoy the seasons becomes greater. If you’ve found yourself with no plans then there’s no better time to step outside and lounge away an afternoon reading. Even if you’ve not purchased a get away you can settle yourself on the grass and be taken to a far away place in the pages of these books.

 

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Sometimes books are written too late. Normal People is the novel I needed when I was sixteen and will now be the unwanted gift I give to all young adults. The story follows Marianne and Connell in Northern Ireland as they journey out of high school adolescence into university and subsequent adulthood. Rooney depicts these years with the quick pace, freedom of language and emotional intensity they deserve. It’s a must read for any age, even ease to get hold of after the recent paperback release.

 

Twelve Rules for Life by Jordan B Peterson

As the sun gets hotter you become more motivated to become a better person, stride outside and achieve your goals. Peterson shows you how develop as an individual through a combination of psychological, scientific, theological and personal examples. The journey the book provides is sometimes difficult to follow.  As a reader I found myself confronting some of my short comings and considering the negative traits I ignore. But by the twelfth lesson there’s a feeling of motivation and an urge to seize life a little harder. Overall, Peterson has presented the world with a particularly challenging book that will leave your reflection slightly altered.

 

The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco

I first came across Umberto Eco in a literary criticism lecture and had no idea he was a novelist until several years later. His role as an academic initially put me off reading his creative work. I’d developed a prejudice that his fiction would just be a vessel to demonstrate his critical thought, But after reading The Name of the Rose and The Prague Cemetery my opinion was quickly altered.

Prague Cemetery takes place throughout Italy in France from around the mid eighteenth century until the early twentieth. Through a combination of real history and conspiracy, Eco creates a complex and intriguing mystery novel. The most shocking part of the story is despite the Freemasonry, Illuminati, political upheavals, that all the characters (excluding the protagonist) were real and apparently committed the events within the pages. Eco’s vast historical understanding has truly enriched the book, transforming what could have been a seminar into one of my favourite books of the year.

 

Selected Poems by Wendy Cope

The title selected poems is a little misleading. Whilst there are compilations of Cope’s work there are three collections I’d recommend: Serious Concerns; Family Values; and Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis. Each of these books are a great introduction to the poet’s witty and accessible style.  With humour and tear wrenching emotion Cope explores the whole range of the human experience from Love and Loss to buses and motorway service stations. After a few books she’s quickly becoming one of my favourite poets and a perfect way to spend an hour, reclining in the summer sunshine.

 

 

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In Defense of Poetry

If you tell somebody you read poetry you’re likely to get a funny look. Their eyebrows automatically lift a little too high and the pupils glaze over slightly as they internally pass judgement. Most likely this stems from a misconception that poetry is flowery and difficult to understand. In truth a lot of it is, especially the stuff force fed to teenagers at school and it’s hard to shake the impression instilled in the formative years. But I’d encourage everybody to give it another go.

The best way to enjoy poetry is first thing in the morning. When you wake up and sit for your morning coffee take the time to read a poem. Start simple with writers from your century. If you don’t understand every line even better. What was confusing at 6am will slowly churn around your head and be unraveled at lunch time. Everybody deserves a little Eureka moment whilst  doing the dishes or sat in a meeting. Even if you never crack the lyric code the puzzle is enough to keep the mind churning.

Just like exercise to maintain a healthy body, poetry should be used to encourage a peaceful mind. A little time spent every day to discuss a shard of the human experience with someone you have never met can only be beneficial. We encourage the disciplines of yoga and meditation but neglect the need to enjoy creation. Poetry should be treated as a daily vitamin supplement for the soul. Just like apples, one poem a day will keep mind rot at bay.

 

Maya Angelou’s Most Memorable Lessons

Some days life can knock you down and sending your hiding under the duvet. On these occasions I find myself before the bookshelf. The pages contain past wisdom, with the power to perk me up and send me back into the struggle. From Camus I learned to keep pushing the eternal boulder with a smile like Sisyphus.  Whilst the Stoics and Buddha teach how to accept the inevitable. When times seem especially tough I turn back to one of my favourite teachers: Maya Angelou. It is simply Dr Angelou’s positivity that picks me up again, preparing my return to the wider world. I’d like to share some of her most enriching expressions. Hopefully, I don’t infringe too many copyright laws along the way.

 

Love Liberates

This is a simple lesson and it’s probably one you’re already aware of, “if you love something, sometimes you have to let it go.” Even though concept is common knowledge it’s hard to exercise. Like most things Love liberates is easier said than done. After all, complex emotions and bonds are easily muddled by every day existence. Our intentions can be perfectly pure in wanting the upmost for another but how we express these intentions can be binding. If you are blessed enough be loved and have people that you love then it’s worth loving a little like Dr Angelou.

 

Homo Sum Humani Nihil a me Alienum Puto

If you’re anything like me then your Latin language skills are none existent. Thankfully there are a number of slightly different  translations of the sentence. Angelou offers, “I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me.” Although she was multifaceted person Angelou wasn’t a time traveler from Ancient Rome. The phrase originates from the playwright Terence. A slave who penned himself to freedom during the heights of the Roman Empire.

Dr Angelou emphasised the importance of these words and internalising their lesson. Doing so allows you enjoy  the great achievements of our species. All the components for ingenuity, compassion and creation rest within you. Conversely, any destructive act a human can commit is within capabilities. This makes you empathise and stops you from imparting a moral judgement on another.

Homo Sum Humani Nihil a me Alienum Puto is a hard lesson to live. I must fail about a hundred times a day. But it’s always worth trying again. Offering understanding to yourself and others can only bring people closer.

 

And Still I Rise

There’s only so long you can lounge in your melancholy. If I need something to kick me into the shower and out into the sunshine then I remember And Still I Rise. When I hear the poem I am reminded of the effort that came before this day: A thousand hunter gatherers who scrapped through harsh winters for our survival; the immeasurable love and support that pushed me to this point in time; every drop of rain water and every rotation of the earth has projected me here. The lesson I learn from Dr Angelou’s poem is that the battle of life must be loved. It’s going to knock you down but eventually you will stand up again.

London, Hot Leaf Juice and Twinings Tea Shop

My love for tea is unparalleled. As much as I enjoy a bottle of good red wine or a strong morning coffee, it is tea that I turn to throughout the day. On average, I will consume eight to ten cups during a twenty four hour period. This is probably because I am British, and our affection for the beverage is renowned world wide. However, unlike the majority  of my country folk, my preference is always for green tea. Some people find the choice a little odd. They’re more accustomed to a stronger brew, often diluted with milk and sugar. Occasionally, I’ll join in a cup the country’s favourite but I know the best cup is always green. That being said, in tea, as with most things in life,  if it makes you happy then you’ll hear no objection from me.

This weekend I journeyed to London. I realised it was unusual I have visited five other capital cities but not my own. It’s difficult to pin point what it is about London that has always deterred me. Perhaps it is because I am already familiar with the tourist sites. The attractions are possibly so well assimilated into  our culture that there  appears to be no adventure in visiting them. Either way, it was my partner’s birthday and he chose to visit London to celebrate the event. I went to the capital regardless of my apprehension.

We did some of the typical tourist activities: strolled the national gallery; marveled at the British Museum’s stolen Elgin Marbles; and took in an afternoon West End Show. By the final day, as we wandered through Hyde Park, I found I had warmed to the city. Eventually, we reached the Albert Memorial- an effigy to the Victorian Empire. The subject of the structure made me uncomfortable but the monument was none the less awe inspiring. Looking at the corner that represented India I remembered I was in a pivotal tea drinking city and hadn’t thought to look for a tea shop. A quick online search revealed that the Twinings Flagship store was located on The Strand. With just over an hour before we had to catch the train home we headed for the subway and the tea haven.

The shop is approximately three hundred years old and a testament to the variety and development of tea. Walking the narrow aisle you’re greeted by a hoard of boxes all filled with different leaves. It’s difficult to know which to choose when all the smell samples are strange perfumes enticing you to purchase. Towards the back of the shop is a small exhibit exploring some of the history of tea drinking. Across from the lesson was a lady brewing three pots, each vessel with a different potion to sample. In the end, I settled on a charming wooden box and filled it with new and my favourite teas.

If you appreciate tea then I would recommend a browse of the shop. If you aren’t then there are tea pots and cups available for purchase. I’m sure the staff can direct you towards an exciting taste test. Just don’t make the mistake of purchasing loose leaves because they don’t sell tea strainers. In honour of the shop and the great beverage I shall leave you with a poem and implore you to visit the store if you’re ever in London.

Green Tea

When it’s too cool to be tepid

or to warm to drink with ease,

the honey has sucked the side

to form a gel altogether sweet,

If you can drive your digit to

the center, flail and feel no pain,

It’s time to throw the cup away

and braise the leaves again.

 

Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge

At the start of 2017 I set myself a challenge, through Goodreads, to read a total of forty books. Nine months into the year I have completed the task. I should have probably set the target a little higher but I wanted a goal that would encourage consistent reading as well as open my horizons to fresh authors and ideas. The following list is what I have read since January. Some of these texts were incredibly short (such as the Penguin black classics and books of poetry) which may be why I finished the challenge so early. Other books, like the denser Philosophical texts and anthologies, took weeks to finish. On balance I think my reading list contains a little something for everyone. Hopefully you find a title for you, one of your favourites or are able to leave me a suggestion or two.

Fiction

Never Let Me Go by Kazou Ishiguro (3/5)

The Remains of the Day by Kazou Ishiguro (5/5)

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (3/5)

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (4/5)

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (5/5)

Madam Bovary by Gustav Flaubert (3/5)

Anasi Boys by Neil Gaiman (4/5)

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh (3/5)

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (5.5/5)

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (4/5)

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster (4/5)

A Cup of Rage by Raduan Nassar (3/5)

The Stranger by Albert Camus (4/5)

Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr (5/5)

Maurice by E.M Forster (4/5)

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (3/5)

The Plague by Albert Camus (4/5)

Candide by Voltaire (5/5)

The History Boys by Alan Bennett (5/5)

Demian by Hermann Hesse (4/5)

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (5/5)

Poetry

I Knew the Bride by Hugo Williams (4/5)

The Poetic Edda by Anonymous (4/5)

The Complete Poetry by Maya Angelou (5/5)

Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara (3/5)

Complete Poems by Karen Boye (4/5)

Making Cocoa for Kinsley Amis by Wendy Cope (5/5)

Selected Poems and Letters by Arthur Rimbaud (3/5)

Nonfiction

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang (4/5)

Aphorisms on Love and Hate by Friedrich Nietzsche (4/5)

A Modest Proposal by Johnathan Swift (4/5)

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (2/5)

The Republic by Plato (5/5)

Only Dull People are Brilliant at Breakfast by Oscar Wilde (5/5)

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Noam Chomsky (4/5)

Five Dialogues by Plato (4/5)

Beyond the Pleasure Principle by Sigmund Freud (3/5)

The Symposium by Plato (4/5)

The Culture Industry by Theodor W. Ardono (3/5)

Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (4/5)

Two years of Goodreads

I first joined Goodreads in September 2015 and have been using it on & (mostly) off ever since. In the last eight or nine months my activity on the book review site has accelerated. Before opening the first page I immediately update my “book shelf” and after final sentence I award the author my stars. My visits to Goodreads have probably increased due to ‘Reading Challenge” function. This feature allows the user to set a reading goal for the end of the year, so that whenever you complete and update your latest favourite you’re also reaching a goal.

For this year’s reading challenge I set myself an attainable target of 45 books. Now we are roughly half way through the year and I’ve managed a respectable 27 titles (60% apparently). This pile of books has been bolstered this year by being able to update eBooks from my kindle devices. Opening up my Goodreads to electronic texts has been helpful in finding new books as well. Sometimes, one of the worst aspects of being a heavy reader is that you simply run out of books, or rather you can’t see the wood for the trees. Perhaps a more subtitle metaphor for this stage in the paper’s production would be ‘not seeing the pages for the books’? Whichever allusion you choose, it’s handy to have a community of people, across several platforms with varied reading interests that mirror and inspire your own.

The other function I’ve recently discovered (I shall exorbitantly name) is multi-platform reviewing. This allows me to share my recent Goodread reviews on my WordPress blog. Sharing the reviews onto my blog is something I am excited about because it enable me to join two areas of my writing experience together. Now that the reading challenge is slowly rolling downhill towards the goal I intend to focus more intently on the reviews and hope you enjoy them.

Happy Reading

Maya Angelou: The Complete Poems

I was fifteen when I read my first poem by Maya Angelou. Angelou’s poetry wasn’t something I stumbled into in the library or online but was studied in an Literature class. Before reading Woman Work we were introduced to the poet. Our teacher cut out facts about the poet and the varied life she had led on slips of paper. The class then had to go around collecting and sharing the snippets of information that compiled a rough biography of the author. Then we read the poem and compared it with an old English text, which I can no longer remember. Woman Work is a beautiful piece that kindled my appreciation for Maya Angelou and strengthened my adoration of poetry. I would have liked to leave a copy of the poem in this post but I’m uncertain of the legality of doing this. Instead, I’ve included a link at the bottom to poemhunter.com.

After my first exposure to Angelou’s work I read a lot of her poems online. Her collective works are vast and due to publishing rights a large proportion of the poetry isn’t available on the internet. I read what was accessible in the early 2000s and moved towards other writers. About three years later I became curious about Angelou again and in order to satisfy my craving for the author’s words I purchased all of her memoirs that had been published until that date. Unfortunately, these books weren’t to my taste. Perhaps the non-fiction nature of the stories deterred me, or the introduction to new writers at university pulled me away. In either case, it shames me Maya’s collect memoirs are gathering dust on my book shelf and to this day remain unread. I’m drawn to the every time I pick new text but for some unknown reason they’ve yet to be chosen.

Despite neglecting Angelou’s prose for several years I have always remained a bit of an admirer. I’ve devoured all interviews that I can find online and have internalised the lesson Angelou repeats from Roman playwright Terence:

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto”

“I am a human being, nothing human can be alien to me.”

Last week I purchased Maya Angelou: The Complete Poems onto my kindle. The book has become part of my morning routine. Every day I have awoken, made my coffee, and before heading for the shower I read several poems in the book. Several mornings I have been a little late for work because I wanted to finish another page. The poetry ranges across several themes, however several topics such as love, poverty and the African American experience uphold the collection. Angelou writers these subjects with passion that is infectious to the reader, making it as electric as the caffeine in my cup. Between the coffee and the poetry collection the day is more inviting to dive into. What surprises me is how effortless her world is to connect to. Despite our generational difference, ethnic experience, gender  and geographical divide Angelou’s poems are refreshingly accessible and important to me. In the shower this morning I asked myself,

“Why should a white working class man be captivated by Harlem Hopscotch?”…

“Because it’s all human.” I replied.

https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/woman-work/#content