Bewitching Book Bonanza

“Shadows mutter,

mist replies;

darkness purrs,

as midnight sighs.”

~Rusty Fischer

Brace yourselves for the spook fest! When October is here, you know Halloween won’t be too far behind. Here’s my stash for the upcoming days – from classic horror to contemporary thrillers, my Halloween reading pile is ready. The bookstore even sent Halloween-themed bookmarks. So cool! I’m currently reading Shirley Jackson’s “We Have Always Lived In The Castle” on Kindle. Will move on to these paperbacks soon enough.

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Sculpture and Literature

“Sculpture is the art of the intelligence”, said Pablo Picasso. Books lend themselves to more than just reading. The Walk of Ideas was conceptualized as part of a campaign called Deutschland – Land der Ideen (Welcome to Germany – the Land of Ideas). It comprised a set of six sculptures in Berlin, designed by Scholz & Friends, one of Europe’s largest advertising agencies, for the 2006 FIFA World Cup football event in Germany. The sculptures were  were put up between 10th March and 19th May 2006, and were on display until September 2006. They were placed on central squares in Berlin’s city center.

The six sculptures included Modern Book Printing, Milestones of Medicine, Masterpieces of Music, The Automobile, The Modern Football Boot, and The Theory of Relativity. The sculptures were built using neopor – a graphite polysterene foam for construction materials, and coated with a white varnish. The production time for each sculpture was about two months, with on-site assembly spanning three days. Plaques were created in both German and English, with details on the symbolism of each object.

Der Moderne Buchdruck (Modern Book Printing) was installed on 21st April 2006 at Bebelplatz, opposite the Humboldt University of Berlin. The 12.2 meter structure took three days to assemble on the Unter den Linden street. The steel structure held seventeen “book” segments of different sizes, each representing a different author’s name. Inclusive of the stabilizing ballast weight, the overall weight of the “book tower” amounted to thirty-five tons. The seventeen books were stacked, with their spines prominently displaying the names of German poets and writers. The sculpture was said to be erected in memory of Johannes Gutenberg, who invented the printing press in Mainz around 1450 and introduced printing to Europe. Gutenberg had even created the first bestseller in history – the Gutenberg Bible – the first major book printed in Europe using mass-produced movable metal. It marked the age of the printed book in the West.

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Der Moderne Buchdruck

Here are the author names displayed on the spines, starting from the topmost:

Günter Grass

Hannah Arendt

Heinrich Heine

Martin Luther

Immanuel Kant

Anna Seghers

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

The Brothers Grimm

Karl Marx

Heinrich Böll

Friedrich Schiller

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Hermann Hesse

Theodor Fontane

Thomas Mann and Heinrich Mann

Bertolt Brecht

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

 

Can You Read This?

“Literacy is the most basic currency of the knowledge economy.”

~Barack Obama

Today is International Literacy Day. It is a joy to read, and even more so to connect with fellow bibliophiles. The picture below is a collage made by marathoner, author and founder of our book club here, Lt. Cdr. Bijay Nair (Retd.). What started off as a bunch of runners who came together to share their common love for reading and discussing books, snowballed into a full-fledged book club which attracted even non-runners/athletes who attended and loved the book meets. We don’t discuss just running or exercise related books, though running was what brought us together. Founder Nair prepared this collage of some of our many meet-ups, as a reminder of the value books play in our lives. In a twist to Joseph Addison’s words, Nair quotes – “Reading is to the mind what running is to the body”. And we have been blessed to find like-minded souls from the runner-reader tribe. “A child without education is like a bird without wings” , goes a Tibetan proverb. Education is a gift no one can take from you – perfectly highlighted on a day that pays tribute to the importance of literacy. Pick up a book today, and be grateful that you can read it.

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Image copyrighted by DYRT

Writer Wednesday – Thich Nhất Hanh

~ “There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.”

~ “People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”

~ “It takes time to practice generosity, but being generous is the best use of our time.”thich-nhat-hanh-hand-mudra

Our featured personality for this week is the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, Thich Nhất Hanh. The global spiritual leader, revered for his powerful teachings and bestselling writings, was born as Nguyễn Xuân Bảo in the city of Huế in Central Vietnam. He entered the monastery at Từ Hiếu temple at age sixteen, and graduated from Báo Quốc Buddhist academy, from where he received training in the Vietnamese traditions of Mahayana Buddhism and Thiền Buddhism, and was ordained as a monk in 1949.

In 1956, Hanh was named editor-in-chief of Vietnamese Buddhism, the periodical of the  Giáo Hội Phật Giáo Việt Nam Thống Nhất (Unified Vietnam Buddhist Association). He subsequently founded  Lá Bối Press, the Van Hanh Buddhist University in Saigon, and the School of Youth for Social Service (SYSS). In 1961, Hanh went to the United States to teach comparative religion at Princeton University, and was later appointed as a lecturer in Buddhism at Columbia University. Over the years, he gained fluency in French, Chinese, Sanskrit, Pali, Japanese and English, in addition to his native Vietnamese. He returned to Vietnam in 1963 where he taught Buddhist psychology and Prajnaparamita literature at the Van Hanh Buddhist University. In 1966, he received the “lamp transmission” from Zen Master Chân Thật at Từ Hiếu temple, and earned the sobriquet of dharmacharya (teacher). He returned to the US in 1966 and then moved to France where he became the chair of the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation. In the same year, he created the Order of Interbeing – an international Buddhist community of monks, nuns and lay people.

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The first six members of the Order of Interbeing.

 

Hanh’s teachings cover a variety of disciplines from early Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhist traditions of Yogachara and Zen, and mindfulness of breathing from Western psychology. As a teacher, some of the other sobriquets bestowed upon him include Thầy (Master), Thầy Nhất Hạnh, and Thiền Sư Nhất Hạnh (Zen Master). In November 2017, the Education University of Hong Kong conferred an honorary doctorate upon Hanh for his life-long contributions to the promotions of mindfulness, peace and happiness around the world.

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With Martin Luther King Jr., who had nominated Thich Nhất Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.

Thich Nhất Hanh‘s selection for this weekly feature on writers, is his enormous contribution to the literary world. He has written over a hundred books, out of which more than forty are in English. Mindfulness is at the core of all his writings which address various subjects. The key element of mindfulness is that by learning to live happily in the present moment, we can truly develop peace – within ourselves and with the outside world. His books have spanned decades of writing, beginning with Lotus in a Sea of Fire (1967). Subsequent titles include The Miracle of Mindfulness (1975), Old Path White Clouds (1987), Peace is Every Step (1990), A Handful of Quiet (2008), You Are Here (2009), The Art of Communicating (2013), No Mud No Lotus (2014). He has also applied mindfulness in dealing with various emotions, reflected in books such as Anger (2001) and Fear (2012). Mundane activities have been covered in books such as How to Eat (2004), Walking Meditation (2006), and How to Sit (2014). The most recent publication, The Art of Living, came out last year.

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With over five decades of literature available, reach out to one of his books if you haven’t read him already. You can browse through his myriad writings here – both prose and poetry; there’s something for everyone which strikes a chord. The beauty of Hanh’s writing is the conversational tone he imbibes when he puts pen to paper – the reader feels as if one is engaged in a pleasant chat with the Master himself. Unlike many self-help books, his style of writing is never preachy. Rather, there are innumerable anecdotes scattered through the book, as he shares his life experiences about the people he meets around the world. The advice provided is very relatable as well, as his writings are dotted with practical applications.

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Sources:

~www.plumvillage.org

~www.thichnhathanhfoundation.org

In August Company – Books Of The Month

Here’s a compilation of the books I read in August – four novels, two anthologies, one biography, and one technical book, along with a short story. A pleasant combination of fiction and non-fiction, serious and not-so-serious ones, classics and contemporary books, including translated works.

1) The Joke – Milan Kundera (Review coming up)

2) If A River – Kula Saikia

https://tomesandtales365.wordpress.com/2018/08/09/if-a-river-book-review/

3) Why Do Buses Come In Threes – Jeremy Wyndham and Rob Eastaway

https://tomesandtales365.wordpress.com/2018/08/15/why-do-buses-come-in-threes-book-review/

4) Silver Linings Playbook – Matthew Quick (Review coming up)

5) Who Goes There – John Campbell

https://tomesandtales365.wordpress.com/2018/08/18/who-goes-there-book-review/

6) Time Out – Jasjit Mansingh (Review coming up)

7) The Monsoon Murders – Karan Parmanandka

https://tomesandtales365.wordpress.com/2018/08/27/monsoon-murders-book-review/

8) A Life Like No Other – Sujata Prasad (Review coming up)

Short Story:

Scheherazade – Haruki Murakami

https://tomesandtales365.wordpress.com/2018/08/25/scheherazade-book-review/

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Writer Wednesday – Rachel Cusk

Our feature for today is an author I was recently introduced to. Rachel Cusk is a Canadian-born novelist and writer who spent her early childhood in the United States, and currently resides and works in the United Kingdom. She has written eight novels and three non-fiction books.

Her first novel, Saving Agnes, published at the age of twenty-six in 1993, dealt with themes of femininity and social satire. This was followed by The Temporary (1995), The Country Life (1997), The Lucky Ones (2003), In The Fold (2005), Arlington Park (2006), and The Bradshaw Variations (2009). Cusk’s novels are set in an imaginary elsewhere which undermines the constitutions of her characters. Wanting to be a part of something and yet be apart from it are recurring themes in her works. Cusk’s writing is less concerned with how things are, than with what they might be compared to. Her reliance on metaphors and similes feels as if everything is actually something else. One of her skills as a writer has been her means of describing something, and placing it within a context of “something else”. What is transformation? When you imbibe a new identity, do you retain any part of your previous self? Cusk’s oeuvre of literary presentations is subtly comic and coldly ironic. Innocuous moments like hellos, goodbyes, cups of tea, meals, are all minutely dissected.

While simultaneously dabbling in non-fiction, A Life’s Work (2001) and Aftermath (2012) were autobiographical accounts on motherhood and divorce, while The Last Supper (2009) showcased her travels and adventures in Italy, where she was residing for a while.

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The first novel.

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Among her recent works, Cusk attempted a change in writing style – one that would represent personal experiences while avoiding subjectivity and literalism, and stayed free from conventional narratives. This experiment was reflected as a trilogy comprising Outline, Transit, and Kudos. Referred to as the Outline Trilogy, the trio was well received by readers and critics alike, with Outline (2014) being described as “reading underwater”  and thereby “separated from other people”. Outline was one of the top five novels of the New York Times in 2015, and was shortlisted for several prizes. Transit (2017) stood out for it’s brilliant and insightful prose that offered transcendental reflections, and Kudos (2018) has been described as a book about failure that is a breathtaking success; reiterating Cusk as an author who can make words turn to magic. The trilogy has been hailed as a reinvention of the novel, where fiction merges with facts, the structure of the text being a mosaic of fragments.

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The Outline Trilogy

Cusk, as a writer, has been said to have a painter’s eye for detail, a psychologist’s fascination with human relationships and psyches, and a storyteller’s ability to create more from mundane. Her language offers beauty not as mere ornamentation, but to serve a purpose. Her writing provides an experience to the reader, that goes beyond merely reading a story. She was awarded the Whitbread First Novel Award for Saving Agnes and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel Award for The Lucky Ones, won the Somerset Maugham Award for The Country Life, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize for In The Fold, and shortlisted for the Orange Prize For Fiction for Arlington Park.

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Foray into non-fiction.

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Rachel Cusk is a storyteller narrating stories about storytellers. An author who observes people she meets and records their stories. Her novels are stories of students, teachers, publicists, interviewers – regular folks she meets. For those who enjoy experimental writing, here is an author whose oeuvre you should try. A quote from the latest release Kudos, “Sometimes, he said, he amused himself by trawling some of the lower depths of the internet, where readers gave their opinions of their literary purchases, much as they might rate the performance of a detergent. What he had learned, by studying these opinions, was that respect for literature was very much skin deep, and that people were never far from the capacity to abuse it.” Cusk’s writing aims to remind us that there is so much mystery within so called normality, that causes the reader to resist the pull of fantasy. Pick up one of her works if you haven’t read any yet. If you have already read Cusk, which were your favorite books from the writer?

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Bookworm Babies – Literary Choices For Children

“A child who reads will be an adult who thinks.”

Our monthly book club meet was held over the weekend. The debate segment for this month was titled “Freedom To Choose Books” . The floor was left open for discussion on the subject of whether parents should select books for children, or should kids be allowed to read what they want to read. As with any debate session, we were not looking for right or wrong answers, but a fair conversation that shed light on both hemispheres of the argument.

The points put forth regarding parents deciding what literature the child should avail of, cited reasons of children not knowing what to choose if left to their own devices. When it comes to very young kids, language learning with growth in vocabulary and improvement in grammar are of prime importance. At this age, the child is picking up new words, stringing them together into sentences, and learning how to make coherent conversation. Picture books were suggested as essential learning aids at this age of development, where the child associates a word/phrase with pictures, which helps in imprinting what is being read. A child left to pick whatever he/she wants at the bookstore might choose on the basis of bright colorful books with eye-catching covers that might not necessarily contribute much in terms of the text. When parents read to children, the latter learn to associate the words heard with those displayed in front of them.

Moving on to older kids, pre-teens or teenagers, the opinions were quite divided. If the parents, grandparents or other older family members are all avid readers and the child is born and brought up surrounded by books, they might try exploring on their own. A member cited an instance of her ten year old reaching for a Sidney Sheldon from the mother’s bookshelves. The latter offered an Enid Blyton instead as more age appropriate reading. When books are on full display, curious children will want to read them all, not knowing about genre or age-specific reading. The parents’ prudence comes into play here – in not only discouraging the child from picking up a book not meant for them, but also suggesting appropriate alternatives.

When it comes to age appropriate books, there is, however, a wide discrepancy in what is available in the market. Most kids love comics – they are fun, quick reads and help pass the time if the child is left unattended and needs to be kept busy. They might not, however, build vocabulary or sentence structure, and do not teach paragraph formation or changing between direct and indirect speech in a longer text. Translated books (or just about any book for that matter) might have grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, or any editorial inaccuracies that the parents need to check for, since the child is at an impressionable age and might assume what they are reading to be absolutely correct.

An observation was cited about pre-teens/teens who access Kindles and other e-readers, wherein parents are unaware of the kinds of e-books being downloaded. A helpful aid here is to encourage the child to analyse and share their thoughts on what has been read. Three children at the book meet reviewed books they had read – Anne Frank’s “The Diary Of A Young Girl”, Ashwin Sanghi’s “The Krishna Key”, and John Green’s “Paper Towns”. These happened to be all paperbacks. But even when it comes to e-books, initiating a literary discussion enables parents to know what books are being read, and at the same time respecting their kids’ literary choices. Some might prefer to write down their thoughts, reflect on the story in case of fiction, or on world events in case of non-fiction, or draw comparisons with what they have just read and other books by the same author, or books on similar themes. Children who prefer being vocal can be led into a conversation on the same lines – would they recommend the book to others, any quotes or phrases that stood out, any new words they learnt, their reasons for liking/not liking the book or parts of it. An added benefit of vocalizing one’s thoughts is that parents can check for pronunciations, and correct any discrepancies in the written word versus spoken word. Very often even avid readers mispronounce words because they have never heard them and only read about them.

A point was also made of the role of siblings in reading choices. When it comes to new writers in the market, parents might not be aware of current works of literature. Rather than pushing one’s own childhood reads onto one’s child, elder siblings or cousins who have read newer books might be a good lead in what they would recommend to their younger selves. Children being curious also like to see the books their siblings are reading and this offers an opportunity to diversify reading habits, and have an engaging book discussion with someone from a similar age group.

The presence of children at the meet ensured a well-rounded discourse by receiving their perspectives as well. The session came to an end with the youngest participant expressing her views that she would prefer having her parents select books for her to read, because she trusts them in making better choices.

At the end, there is no right or wrong between who selects the books. The emphasis is on the context of reading in children. The age of the child, external influences from schools and peer groups, presence or absence of older/younger siblings, the child’s grasp over the language of reading, reasons for reading (pass the time or improve vocabulary) – many factors play a role in whether children should pick their own books or parents need to intervene in their literary choices.