Monday, June 25, 2012

The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes

I enjoyed most part of the articles and books by Julian Barnes, but in the case of The of an Ending I could not wait to finish the book. I had the book on my priority list for a long time and the preview presentations made me want the book even more. But, when I started to read it I could not wait to finish it. 

Maybe a couple of years ago, when I was very young and open for hours of meditations about age, time and  the memories of early childhood I would have been the happiest person in the world. Now, not wiser, but more interested in rich stories than in monologues about life and death I was able to appreciate the writing, but am not resonating with any of the characters or of the story. I do not want to look as a not-very-snobbish reader but I felt the wing of the boredom around my head every moment spent in the company of the book.

Tony Webster is a former teenager with philosophical thoughts that will end up in the routine of the retirement, after a modest life of a divorced male in the 21st century. The best of his life, as in the case of many normal human beings, was the adolescence. The intensity of life and the courage of trying things for the first time is lost and even the efforts to go back into the past are a modest memory of what it should be. Once he advanced in life, the past is the lost hope of a better future. But even this image of the past is in fact not corresponding to the reality, as it is the result of a selective process of memory. "When you are in your twenties, even if you're confused and uncertain about your aims and purposes, you have a strong sense of what life is, and of what you in life are, and might become. Later...later there is more uncertainty, more overlapping, more backtracking, more false memories" (pp. 104-105). And here it comes the reason for keeping my heart cold when reading this book: I loved a lot being very young and starting to write the world in my own words. But, on the other hand, I think that the more I know the more I can grow and develop my thoughts and personality. I cannot be nostalgic and focus permanently in the past, but take the challenge of every single day and hour of the day as a way to discover myself and the world around. I understand that forgetting could be sometimes an anchor that save us from the inferno of the memories.

However, it is something I appreciated about the book: the cover is indeed explaining very well not only the title, but also the content of the book. Those interested in finding their own style and enjoying the perfection of the English language will also enjoy Barnes' special style. 

It is always something to learn about when reading a book.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Day of Honey, by Annia Ciezadlo

Day of Honey was the book I was looking to read for a long time. As I am passionate about books, the Middle East and travels, and trying to learn step by step the art of cooking, I found here all the perfect ingredients for a perfect literary lunch. First of all, it is a good writing of an experienced journalist able to use the words properly in order to create amazing yet not sophisticated visual images. I was equally impressed by the diplomatic art of avoiding to focus on the huge problems faced by the Middle East as such and for the countries and ethnic and religious groups part of the area. If you open your heart, with a good meal you can discover a different side of the coin. Thus, Annia Ciezadlo went far beyond the usual image that she mentioned: "The dominant narrative of the Middle East is perpetual conflict: the bombs and the bullets and the battles are always different, and yet always, somehow depressingly the same".
Starting from this grey perspective, she placed herself in a different perspective of history: "There are many ways to save civilization. One of the simplest is with food". The recipes and food and smells she is writing about are wonderful stories about life and death, survival and cultural habits. A salad can save your life and the bread and salt between the people at the same table can tell the story of love and friendship.

What is home?

Annia is a journalist living in New York City with a multicultural background that for sure contributed to her open mind in understanding and discovering the world. Following her husband, a NYC journalist too whose family lives in Lebanon she goes, discover and is trying to make a home in the war-torn Iraq and in Lebanon. Everything started with a honeymoon in Iraq, in 2003, and continued as a love story in the Middle East till today. Cooking is a way to appropriate the space, to create her own world and share it with friends and family. 
For many of us, always on the road, the entire world could be a huge home that we can hardly know during our short lives. However, there are some benchmarks that will help us to find our place somehow, and, in Annia's words: "We cannot go on journey unless we have a place to stop, food and water to drink, somewhere to sleep in safety and people to give us these things". As global citizens, we can decide where home is, but we still need the old ingredients for considering a place home.

Histories of food

Annia Ciezadlo is a journalist discovering the world with the peaceful weapons of the anthropologist. Familiar with this domain of human sciences, she reads the cultures through their food. "Even the most ordinary dinner tells manifold stories of history, economics and culture. You can experience a country and a people through its food in a way that you can't through, say, its news broadcasts". For a journalist, such an observation could guarantee a special consideration for the hard work of writing from the most difficult corners of the world. 
She starts by discovering the cuisine of the city and of the country. The ambition of the journalist leads her to find out that, for instance, despite the usual stereotypes about the lack of a proper and tasty Iraqi cuisine, the first cooking book discovered by the French historians was in fact written in Iraq. At the end of her Iraqi journey, she can conclude that the ''map of modern-day Iraq" can offer more insights if read through the smells of the traditional dishes.

Memories of the city

In both Iraq and Lebanon, she got in touch with a world of intellectuals that made me think about all stories I've read and heard about the writers and artists from Bagdad and Beirut. Unfortunately, due to the never ending sectarian wars and the danger of religious fundamentalism, I am pessimistically tempted to think that at least for a decade or so, we will rather meet such an eclectic life outside Iraq and Lebanon, in the places  where specific members of the Diasporas meet, than in one of those cities.
For someone that has never been in none of those cities, you are left with the impression of faded glory and traces of wars. Sadly enough, it is also about the histories of countries unable yet to tackle their destinies and whose present and future was hijacked by an uneducated gang, probably with terrible food tastes. I can bet that uneducated warriors and fanatics are unable to appreciate the pleasure of a good dish, even if it is a traditional recipe made in the country that they claim arduously they venerate. 
Besides the depressing feeling that we get caught in when it comes to breaking destinies due to unclear political circumstances, we can understand as well the powerful tool of the cultural diplomacy of the good food. Thus, I wish to hear more about Annia Ciezadlo's future works. 

Closing conclusions

Are there any aspects about the book that I did not like it? I feel that each time it was about writing 'life' stories about conflicts on the run she was like keen to get rid of those episodes and return to the creative cooking table. From the warm colors of the recipes, suddenly the writing was turning very neutral and unpleasant.  
There are a lot of episodes in the book that makes you smile and even laugh, beyond the tensed circumstances. For me, one of the most laughable is when the Muqtada's man in Iraq is lecturing about Marilyn Monroe. 
As for the cover, I appreciated very much the power of the simple cover. The image tells a thousand words but the words of the book as well tell more than a thousand words about the Middle East through Annia Ciezadlo's eyes.
One more thing: if after finishing the book you feel overwhelmed by the hunger for a good Middle Eastern food and you would like to try some recipes by yourself, you should turn the pages and discover at the end of the book a couple of recipes that will keep you busy for a long time from now. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Writing book reviews?

If you love books and you want to write about fresh new books out of the print, then you should apply to this very appealing offer
In order to be included as a regular reviewer, you should be simple, personal and more importantly to love books more than anything else.

The cause for banning books

The more you forbid a book the more readers you will have. I am against forbidding books, but totally in favour of explaining why you like or you do not like a certain book. In fact, I discover very often that many of the so-called 'forbidden books' were in fact very bad and did not even deserve my time and money. What determined me to run to find them was their so-called mysterious glamour.
I remembered that long time ago, when we used to live in a dictatorship of illiterate that did not want to hear about books, we have two rows of books. The simple and not-problematic books were on the first line. In the back, we used to have a couple of books that anyone should know that we have it. Most of them were old French books of disgraced communists, some Russian stories and books by local authors that for various reasons become hated by the regime. Once I grew up I started to read one by one the 'secret' books, but I was hardly able to finish more than 25% of them. There were bad stories and militant literature that even despite my lack of exposure to various literary theories I was able to detect the overwhelming lack of style and literary qualities. 

Recommend best Young Adults novels

The competition is over, all you have is to submit your selections for this NPR competition.

In a world with so many books published permanently, it is very important when you can make a right selection. Even though the tastes may differ from a person to another, it is very important that we write and talk about our choices and preferences. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

ELLE competition for creative writers



As a writer-in-process or experienced, any occasion when you can put your words on trial is very important. Thus, when I stumbled upon this ELLE Competition, I knew that I should participate. So you should give you a chance at least to get more experience, especially taking into account that it is a free of charge competition. 
Following, the content of the announcement:
"Calling all ELLE readers who are also writers: You could be published in ELLE’s October 2012 Personal Style issue! We’re looking for essays of 500–750 words in length about a treasured piece from your wardrobe. It’s about more than just a favorite item of clothing, because a cherished dress is never really just a dress: It’s a reflection of where you’ve been, what you’ve accomplished, how you see the world—a reminder of definitive moments in your life.
So here it is: your chance to write a humorous, poignant, heartbreaking, or shocking ode to the clothes that made you who you are today. To enter, simply e-mail your submissions to ElleEssays@hearst.com by June 25, 2012. (Please paste your text in the message window rather than sending an attached document.)".

Good luck everyone! Fashion is not such a trivial topic, after all!

Tales about Widows and widowhood

Apparently, being a widow or a widower is a good subject for the writer. Yesterday, while searching some more information about The Widow's Tale by Mick Jackson I discovered more than 5 books with the same title. Moreover, there are as well successful books about widowers and their stories. 

A lady in her 60s lost her husband in a car accident. The book is an account of her wanderings outside London, looking for herself and recounting the memories of her life. Do not expect a sweet story about stories from the past that make you cry. The tone of the story is very alert, with schizoid alternations between pure humour and unexpected craziness. You can feel the ups and downs the lack of regret for the treason and the late courage of finding what was hidden in the secret closet. What I found very attractive to this story was the good and strong beginning, when you are driving in the race by running far away from home. The action is authentic and you will realize that it is about to stop only a couple of minutes and pages later. Even though the language is interesting, I felt sometimes that it was maybe too pretentious. Otherwise, the words are well chosen and can create an accurate image of the anthropological diary of the woman, step-by-step. 

The book is pleasant to read and do not present a high level of difficulty. You can easily read the book when  travelling or late on a Saturday afternoon. Do not expect drama or nostalgia, but a very honest account of a normal life. 

As for the cover, I find it rather boring, it could be the cover of any book about loneliness.

Always judge a book for its cover

In the majority of cases the decision to buy a book is determined by my immediate various interests. Especially in the last year or so, since I have my Kindle, I prefer to order the books immediately and to read them the next second after my order was processed. 

On the other hand, I also buy books from the bookstores and, besides the books that I need or I've heard about, for the love at the first sight, I need something more than a standard description according to which the book was a New York Times Bestseller in the year 200x. And this magic ingredient is called the cover: I always judge the book by its cover and I will continue to do so. 

When I've found today this list of the 50s coolest covers, I felt as my choices were not only a fancy and fashionista habit, but something that is widely appreciated. My top 3 favorites? The Stranger, The Great Gatsby and Jurassic Park.

Murakami for the week?

I must confess that I am not a great fan of Murakami and I did not grasp easily many of his books. For instance, I did not like at all the Norwegian Wood. But, anyway, I am not at all a fan of the Beatles and thus, it is easy to understand how it was possible to do not come along with the style and inspiration. I am sure that I will need to re-read soon Dance, Dance, Dance and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but also A Wild Sheep Chase and South of the Border, West of the Sun.

On the other hand, I loved the normal fragility of being from After Dark and the well documented journey through the Japanese psyche from Underground

Maybe my mistake is to consider him too much a Japanese writer and to try to select and dislike the influences he brought from the 'Western' culture. 

I still have a couple of books by Murakami to read and a lot of occasions to reconsider my opinion on him. And after I watched this morning this image published in the New York Times I realized even more that if I want to understand his books, I should go beyond the literary and wordy-focused understanding of literature and to try to challenge my mind with visual interpretations of words. A Murakami book is waiting for me on the shelf for a couple of months already.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Writing mathematics

Very often, when I am faced with various manifestations of writer's block, I prefer to take a big break and read something completely different from the subject I am addressing for the moment. Indeed, in the majority of cases, it is like breathing a different kind of air. My mind is getting relaxed, the tension is decreasing and I am finally able to take the right distance from my former ideas.

One of my favourite topics, by far, is the scientific books and articles. When I was preparing my PhD dissertation, I used to read a lot of complicated chemistry articles or geology studies. Due to my technical high school background, I was also able to understand the majority of the articles. Such bibliography has helped me a lot in organizing and finding my academic style: I prefer to write in a simple way, without too many fluffy and complicated words, looking for clarity and concision. 

Today, as part of my busy schedule, I stumbled upon this interesting article including an interview and some reviews of books about mathematics, by Dana Mackenzie. I agree that it is a lot of fun and challenge in a book about mathematics, regardless of your basic background. And I made a mental evaluation of my current library and of the scientific books that I would like to read and review very soon. Apparently, my blogging activity is changing for good many priorities from my daily reading list. 

A good day for the writer

Working with words it is not a simple job. Some days are full of joy and nice sentences. Other days are cold and for a simple paragraph of a relatively simple writing I should wait more than an hour until I find a certain coherence and fluidity of my ideas translated into words.

Today, for the first time in months, everything went more than perfect: I woke up early, finished all the administrative correspondence within 30 minutes and spent the next 4-5 hours writing my daily articles and marketing plans. During the 10 minute breaks, while sipping my coffee, I added a little blogging article here, updated another status there...Now, after almost 6 hours of intensive and successful writing, I am ready to start my 'other' work: writing reviews, finishing some books, more blog posts and fishing for ideas for a healthy re-launch of my blogging life. 

It depends on my to continue in this new yet old writing pace. Most probably, with a little bit of courage, I will be able to finish my three very important writing projects till September and get ready for a new writing start. Working as a part-time or a full-time writer is never easy, mostly when your inspiration is the main source of profit and financial support for your other projects. 

Writing in process...I hope, it will be good writing...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ready for Kobo publishing?

Kobo promises to launch soon a new platform for writers. All you need is an account with them and your book ready to be converted. The rest will be done by them. 
While preparing this post, I took the opportunity to browse their library and I found many interesting books. The site can be read in English, French, Dutch and German. For iPad and iPhone users, there are additional possibilities to find the best formats for an easy reading.
If you are passionate about reading - as I am - but your reading budget is strictly limited, you have the option of free eBooks  covering the following domains: popular films based on books, verses, classics, gothic, mysteries and romance. If you are ready to pack for your dream vacation but feel unhappy that you can't take a book with you, now you have a couple of opportunities to relax while learning and reading something new.
Welcome to the Kobo world! 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

No space for the audio-books into my life



The idea of audio-books did not enter my universe easily. The reason was not a certain romantic idea about the need to feel and smell the paper. When the Kindle entered the market, I was more than happy to use it because I correctly seized the opportunity to save money and space for more books. My reluctance against the audio-books is purely of practical nature: very often, I use the musical/sound-related background when I am doing boring editing and, in general, activities that do not require a high level of concentration. Consequently, my choices of audio books are significantly narrowed: most probably will prefer books in languages that I want to improve and that will create a certain familiarity with the words.

But, due to the fact that many sites and blogs posting free books were closed or decided to shut down by themselves following the controversies around ACTA, the chances to find free books decreased. I know the pros and cons of the free books and I am tempted to support a middle position: free books should be allowed if the author wants to. On the other hand, the author should be aware that such a policy will encourage more readers to pay for the other titles if the first (free) impression was positive. Anyway, the alternative to free books are the audio books and there are some interesting websites offering free audio books. When no other solution possible, why not giving a try to the audio books? It is what I’ve done this evening, but I am still trying to get used with the system. Literature is a different category of reading and in comparison with, for instance, a lecture that you listen to refresh information already knew, for understanding correctly a novel or a short story, any word is important. The conclusion, at least for the next ten years to come, is that I will use the audio variants only when no other possibilities available. I continue to be a grateful follower of the written word. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Book Review: Warriors into the Wild (1)

As an aspiring children's writer myself, reading the books for the little ones could be considered a professional duty. However, the hidden reason is that I simply love to read such books and sometimes I find such lectures a real challenge from the point of view of the language and writing in general. 
I chose Warriors into the Wild completely by accident: One afternoon, in the bookstore, I wanted to find a book, not too expensive not necessarily for children. Even though I am not a fan of cats - I am even allergic to them - and do not fancy too much books with animal characters - a matter of age target - the good price and the attractive cover drove me to the counter for paying it. 
First, to start with the cover: pleasant colours and a dynamic image that gives you an idea that there is action is waiting for you under the covers.
Second, it is a pleasant and entertaining book to read either for your documentation or simply for spending a relaxing afternoon. The language is well chosen, with a lot of verbs of action and a moderate difficulty level which recommends the book for children up to 8 years old. Also, there are some episodes of moderate violence that could raise the threshold to 10 years and more.
The book is part of a long series which started to be published in 2003 and is written by Erin Hunter, in fact a name for two authors. The book was compared with the Harry Potter series but at least for this first volume, I did not find too many common points, except the magic stone that appears at the end of the book. 
The subject is the life of feral cats and the adventures of the apprentice Firepaw. Firepaw is a domestic cat that left his quiet life for living in the wild forest, where the rules are made by four fighting clans. Firepaw, the 'kittypet' used to the comfort of the life alongside the 'twolegs' succeeds to qualify as a good fighter, under the name of 'Fireheart', at the end of a couple of adventures during which honesty and the good heart guided him to make the powerful choices. Thus, for example, when he met Barley, a cat from the previous life, while hunting, and asked if he like his current life, Firepaw's answer was: "I know who I am now".
The characters have a dual nature: you expect their decisions and weaknesses and actions as cats, even though they make moral choices as humans do. The two levels of action do not appear as opposed and this feature makes the book pleasant to read and genuine.
I am not sure that I would have time in the next months to continue the adventures of Firepaw, but if I will have some available time, I will be curious to follow him up.