Sunday, April 28, 2019

Fighting the Writer's Block with Story Cubes

I am rarelly facing writer's block, except when my time is so limited and the to-do-list so long that I can hardly look myself into the mirror. However, I realized that very often I need a creative twist to my writings - especially when I am trying my hand to fiction - which happens way too rarelly those days. 
Either I have to do with travel writing or my non-fiction books (hopefully one new title will be added to the portfolio the next month) or some other specific assignments, I feel sometimes the need to grow up my creativity, to challenge myself. And how else would it be possible if not by playing games? Creative games.
Actually, I've got familiar with Story Cubes through one of my German classes teacher. As I've mentioned that my German should improve at a level high enough to allow me to write in this complex language news and media reports especially in the field of travel, she brought me nine little cubes. You roll the dice and based on the choices you start building your story. My brain kept thinking in images although my German words needed some time to put themselves together but I've found the idea excellent and right now I am using the Story Cubes - also available as an app - for launching my creative flow in various domains - in both German and English. 
Since its first launch 11 years ago, the Story Cubes - that can be equally used as a nice entertainment for you and your children during long flights - developped various themes, inspired by heroes and specific cartoons, such as Batman, Looney Tunes or the Mumins.
For your own creative needs, I suggest to try playing it with another - preferably writing - partner and for at least 40 minutes. You need some time to get into the right mood, but once you're in it is hard to give up. If you are really looking for some good ideas in a specific field, I recommend to have a piece of paper and a pen near you when playing, as you can keep some of the thoughts for later, when you want to further develop your stories. 
Good luck with your spontaneous stories and keep playing Story Cubes! It's still time left to call this weekend a (very) creative one!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Hippie, by Paulo Coelho. A Review

I approached Paulo Coelho reluctantly, long after he was so famous among every kind of readers, embracing the easy truths from books like The Alchemist. I don't like popular writers and the lures of cheap spirituality and this is how books like the above mentioned title looked for me therefore the resistance to ever put my money on such bestsellers. 
But once I've started to read his books, one by one, I realized that in fact, in a much simpler way then Hesse - which influenced at a great extent my development as a young human - his writings answer a very simple need of spirituality and connection outside the institutional religions. And it is anything laughable or despicable to search for such a connection and follow your own spiritual path. Such endeavours can only make the human being a better person and it is a natural way to follow and develop.
I've skipped some of his books, and was really surprised by the approaches in some of them, especially in the new perspective of the famous woman spy Mata Hari, a book I've reviewed on my blog a couple of years ago. 
Thus, I was very curious to read about Coelho's own (his)story as featured in his latest book-cum-memoir Hippie, which I've readed it in the German translation.
Slow paced, it outlined not only Coelho's own spiritual adventures - the main character himself is called Paulo - but also the background of a whole generation that created a new mentality, society, education system and way of making and consuming politics and especially approached to spirituality. It is a testimony of a new generation for whom sex, music, drugs and travel were wrapped in a thin spiritual cover. Although more than a generation ago, millenials can relate and be thankful for those dramatic changes that took place at the society level in the 1970s.
Paulo, together with another hippie Karla, he met in Amsterdam, are taking the Magic Bus heading to the magic Kathmandu, together with other random seekers of truth and adventurers. Their paths will separate in Istanbul but the persons they are about to become are writing the stories of a generation thirsty for new beginnings and a connection to a new dimension. 
I've personally read the book as a historian of mentalities and although not impressed from the literary point of view, I'll recommend this read as an useful insight into an era as well as a good guidance into the intellectual sources of Coelho's works.

Rating: 3 stars 

Friday, April 12, 2019

Fascination of Numbers

At the end of a hectic, insecure and exhaustic, although also successful in some parts, week, I needed to delve into some reading which is completely out of my comfort zone. Reading about mathematics, and science in general, is not necessarily a complicated and hard to understand topic, but it has to do with a part of my life - and brain too - which is not regularly nurtured everyday. I might be aware of scientific facts, theories and mindset more than once the day, but the reflection and theoretical evaluations are seldom, for more than one reason.
Therefore, I was very happy to be given the chance to spend a couple of good hours in the company of Understanding Numbers. Simplify Life's Mathematics. Decode the World Around You, by Marianne Freiberger and Rachel Thomas. The book doesn't require a high-end mathematical knowledge, although a more than basic familiarity with using numbers and equations would be useful. It is simply yet insightful written, offering practical use of the numbers and mathematical models for the everyday life. Exactly what very often doesn't happen in the classrooms as teachers rather focus on the very 'cold' aspect of being able to solve equations instead of making a case for the overwhelming presence of mathematics in almost every aspect of life, especially in our nowadays high-tech world. 
Therefore the book is addressed both to curious teens and adults looking to catch up with their lack of understanding of mathematical knowledge.
Galileo said that 'mathematics are the language of the universe' and it takes only a short look to figure out that this assertion is available more than ever. From climate change to architecture - by the way, Gaudi's spectacular architecture was in fact inspired by mathematical surfaces he saw in nature - traffic jams - Michel Foucault would have had something to say about the way in which power and order are able to control the smallest aspects of life, including the not-so-banal traffic roads in cities - genetics and biology, voting systems - one of the most complex mathematical systems that I ever encounter in my short number-oriented life experiences - epidemics prevention and spread, cryptography, game theories - which I find fascinating, but whose application in international relations models wasn't unfortunatelly approached by the authors . or dating. You have now the full picture.
Those interested in finding out more about various models and theories are offered some useful bibliographical sources that could advance the knowledge and familiarize with specific topics.  
Especially if you are looking for a non-fiction break from real life, Unterstanding Mathematics is a very useful book. It might eventually open-up the appetite for more readings on such topics which is always a good medicine for the busy, creative brain.

Rating: 4 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The City of Women

The Tripoli in the 1960s, is the city of women. They knit the urban and social networks, carry on the house and family responsibilities, but they are also the object of lust and victims of their aggressive husbands or lovers. The children are nurtured by their stories and melancholy, while their childhood is passing fast, under the impact of the adults everyday's struggles. 
This is the Tripoli Kamal Ben Hameda which lives for decades in Europe. A mysterious, delicious, secret and imbued with unheard of spices and sweet juices. A diverse city where the representatives of various religions are aware of each other's presence and difference. A Tripoli of sad and melancholic and lonely souls. 
The relatively short book is an account of memories and personal stories, following a very simple narrative flow. It is the memory that counts and the writer's effort is to recreate with words feelings and environments, events and ambiances that ceased to exist for a long time. 
After Hisham Matar, Kamal Ben Hameda is the second Libyan author I've got to know. Hameda wrote mostly poetry and is involved in various jazz projects, especially in the Netherlands. 
His evocative and poetic storytelling art is a testimony of old times, that were most probably interrupted by the political aggressions of the last decades. Although the book is placed in a geographically precise location and is taking place at a specific time moment, it uses the power of words to create worlds and keep memories alive.

Rating: 4 stars