What I Have Been Reading

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The first duty of the novelist is to entertain. It is a moral duty. People who read your books are sick, sad, traveling, in the hospital waiting room while someone is dying. Books are written by the alone for the alone.

—           Donna Tartt

I open my latest post with this quote from the author of that wonderful book, The Secret History. I really love this quote, particularly this bit: books are written by the alone for the alone. Now most people would view the use of the word alone in a negative context, lonely, isolated, insular (suggestive of an island and separated from others). Not me, I discovered the relationship between loneliness and creative vitality a long time ago. Like that most gifted writer, Virginia Woolf, I have found that lonely silence is inseparable from creative impulse. Adrienne Rich agrees, claiming that “the impulse to create begins — often terribly and fearfully — in a tunnel of silence,”

the secret history

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I digress because my actual point was to wax lyrical about the joys of reading, not of being alone…although I kind of love both.

I believe that one of the most amazing gifts you can give anyone is to pass on the joy of reading, to teach them how to read purely for pleasure. I myself am a voracious reader and a huge bibliophile. Yes! I consume books, I luxuriate in them! And I am unashamedly old school about it. I want the physical, the tactile, the actual book, not some glowing kindle screen!

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In my apartment I have a library that I am really proud of. It contains mostly academic books now, focusing on art and art theory. This is due to the demands of my studies and lecturing duties.  But you can also find Tom Robbins Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas or Alice Sebold and her Lovely Bones amongst them. Carlos Ruiz Zafón and his Cemetery of Forgotten Books share shelves with Francesca Woodman’s ghostly portraits while Ana Mendieta and her Blood Works are pressed up against Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the DayI even still have my old copies of Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye and Goodbye Columbus from way back when I was a teenager. I love my books.  One of my greatest pleasures is to hang out in second bookstores on a rainy day. To be surrounded by shelves of old (and new) books is something I will never tire of. For me it is an almost-embryonic sensation, as if being embraced and enveloped by dear friends. I am at peace and yet simultaneously filled with anticipation and excitement at the thought of all the wonders that await to be discovered within the covers and on the pages.

the rites

So what have I read recently and what am I reading now?

I generally have 3 or 4 books that I am reading at one time. As I am doing my Master’s at the moment and this requires a massive amount of research reading, so there will always be at least one book related to my research next to my bed. I have just completed The Rites of Men: Manhood, Politics, and the Culture of Sport by Varda Burstyn. In this fascinating book Burstyn analyzes how sport socializes boys into manhood by providing rituals of conquest and aggression. I played rugby from the age of 13 up until I was 36 so I really found it amazing to be able to relate my actual experiences to the theoretical thinking behind sports like rugby football. Kind of like how I felt when I began my journey as academic within the art world. Relating the thinking to the making is glorious.

 

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At the moment I am reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. I highly recommend reading this author’s work, especially The Remains of the Day. I have to sheepishly admit something though. I actually watched the movie based on the book first. To be honest the title left me cold and still does. It is a really lame title for such a beautiful piece of writing. Anyway, so I never read the book. But once I had watched the film-adaption I really just had to read it. It is a quite stunning movie and a very British . Ironically it is directed by an American though.

the beach

Alex Garland, who wrote another one of my favourite books, The Beach, is friends with Ishiguro and wrote the screenplay for the movie. It stars Carey Mulligan (love her), Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley as friends Kathy, Tommy and Ruth who grow up together in a seemingly idyllic boarding school situated in the English countryside. The story, however, is set in an alternate history where cloning has become every day and is socially and morally accepted. I do not want to spoil the movie or the book for you so I will not reveal any more of the plot suffice to say that both are totally engrossing, thought-provoking and just beautiful. Both have a place on swany’s list of awesomeness!

 

 

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To end off I am going to reference my 2 previous posts which dealt with rape. A book that deals with the subject very honestly is Alice Sebold’s Lucky. It is an autobiographical account of her rape at the age of eighteen while at university. She describes what she was like before the rape and the aftermath of this harrowing, life-changing event. Her description of the actual rape is heartrending. It is a must-read.

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THE OFFICIAL SWANY LIST OF AWESOMENESS

On Friday night/Saturday morning my dead cat, Champers, visited me in a dream. For those who have not kept up with my saga, Champers had to be put down by a vet as he was in the final stages of leukaemia. This on, of all days, 21st December, the Mayan end of the World!.  Champers was such a brave, gentle little soul. He was rescued from an abusive owner by the organization I volunteer at, and so came into my life. He was my companion and best friend for 8 years, that is until LA Woman came into my life. I could not take him with me to start my new life in the US as I honestly believed the move would be too cruel and traumatic for the brutalized creature. But I was so ecstatic when a fellow artist, friend, and just one of the most special people, adopted him. She is a stay-at-home parent with 2 young children, and has a beautiful home. Champers, I believe, was happy and content, and more importantly, loved to his very last day. I miss him terribly, and it was so special to see him again, even if only in a dream.

In the dream, I was viewing a flat (apartment) I was moving into. It was white, pure white, with dark wood inlays and windows that looked out onto the bluest of seas. Champers was there in the apartment waiting for me, his champagne-coloured fur made pale gold by the white of the walls. He looked at me with his huge amber eyes as though to say, “About time.” My friend, Nicole, believes he came to say hello to me, and I jokingly said that I hoped this didn’t mean I was going anywhere as I wasn’t quite ready to leave just yet. She sent me a frowny face and said she preferred her story better. [Nicole has an awesome blog at http://www.neptitudes.blogspot.com/, take a look you will not be disappointed].

Now Nicole was referencing The Life of Pi,  the movie we had seen the day before. In it the lead character presents the author, the investigators and the reader/audience with two very different versions of the same story and asks them to choose the one they like best. The movie, much like life, was a harrowing, joyful, sad, enlightening and beautiful experience. I highly recommend you see it; as I put on my fb page: Dear “Life of Pi”, you had me at: “I believe animals have souls”! And Nicole and I do, believe that animals have souls, therefore our discussion about Champers’ visit.

So while I am recommending things I thought I would do a proper job and give you, dear reader, my list of awesomeness!

 

THE OFFICIAL SWANY LIST OF AWESOMENESS

 

Book/Authors: 

1)Tom Robbins – is an American author. His novels consist of complex, wildly imaginative, totally inventive stories with strong social undercurrents, a satirical bent, and obscure detail. For example: Still Life with Woodpecker is sort of a love story, that takes place inside a pack of Camel cigarettes! I know, I told you so! It reveals the purpose of the moon, explains the difference between criminals and outlaws, examines the conflict between social activism and romantic individualism, and paints a portrait of contemporary society. Robbins has a way with words that is pure wizardry, his descriptive powers and the use of the metaphor/simile will leave you with images that are 3D in their clarity, and sniff and snort in your ear, their breath on your neck and their scent in your nose! Here are some quotes to wet your appetite.

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“The highest function of love is that it makes the loved one a unique and irreplaceable being.”
Jitterbug Perfume

“Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won’t adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honour and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question. The words “make” and “stay” become inappropriate. My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.”
Still Life With Woodpecker

 

 

“Who knows how to make love stay?

1. Tell love you are going to Junior’s Deli on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to pick up a cheesecake, and if loves stays, it can have half. It will stay.

2. Tell love you want a momento of it and obtain a lock of its hair. Burn the hair in a dime-store incense burner with yin/yang symbols on three sides. Face southwest. Talk fast over the burning hair in a convincingly exotic language. Remove the ashes of the burnt hair and use them to paint a moustache on your face. Find love. Tell it you are someone new. It will stay.

3. Wake love up in the middle of the night. Tell it the world is on fire. Dash to the bedroom window and pee out of it. Casually return to bed and assure love that everything is going to be all right. Fall asleep. Love will be there in the morning.”

Still Life with Woodpecker

“Love easily confuses us because it is always in flux between illusion and substance, between memory and wish, between contentment and need.”                                       Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

“In the haunted house of life, art is the only stair that doesn’t squeak.”
Skinny Legs and All

“You should never hesitate to trade your cow for a handful of magic beans.”

“There are only two mantras, yum and yuck, mine is yum.”
Tom Robbins

2) Carlos Ruiz Zafón – is a Spanish novelist born in Barcelona, which is where most of his tales take place. His Cemetery of Lost Books series (El Cementerio de los Libros Olvidados) is a book lover’s dream. Beautifully written and wonderfully translated, they tell of creepy mansions, musty libraries, dark secrets and introduce the most vivid characters, whom you will truly love or loathe as if they were real!

Hidden in the heart of the old city of Barcelona is the ‘cemetery of lost books’, a labyrinthine library of obscure and forgotten titles that have long gone out of print. To this library, a man brings his 10-year-old son Daniel one cold morning in 1945. Daniel is allowed to choose one book from the shelves and pulls out LA SOMBRA DEL VIENTO by Julian Carax.

But as he grows up, several people seem inordinately interested in his find. Then, one night, as he is wandering the old streets once more, Daniel is approached by a figure who reminds him of a character from LA SOMBRA DEL VIENTO, a character who turns out to be the devil. This man is tracking down every last copy of Carax’s work in order to burn them. What begins as a case of literary curiosity turns into a race to find out the truth behind the life and death of Julian Carax and to save those he left behind. A page-turning exploration of obsession in literature and love, and the places that obsession can lead.

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3) Alice Sebold – is an American writer. She has published three books: Lucky (1999), The Lovely Bones (2002), and The Almost Moon (2007).

The Lovely Bones is the story of a family devastated by a gruesome murder – a murder recounted by the teenage victim. The details of the crime are laid out in the first few pages: from her vantage point in heaven, Susie Salmon describes how she falls prey to a predator one icy December afternoon on her way home from school. Lured into an underground hiding place, she is raped and killed. But what the reader knows, her family does not. Anxiously, we keep vigil with Susie, aching for her grieving family, desperate for the killer to be found and punished. It is truly a spellbinding and gripping story. Read it! There is also an amazing movie based on the book but my advice, take the time to read the book and then see the movie.

Lucky is what we are generally told we are after being the victim of some sort of traumatic event; car accident, armed robbery, assault…or as in this case, rape. “It could’ve been worse, you’re lucky to be alive.” In her memoir Sebold reveals how her life was utterly transformed when, as an eighteen-year-old college freshman, she was brutally raped and beaten in a park near campus. as she struggles for understanding (“After telling the hard facts to anyone, from lover to friend, I have changed in their eyes”); as her dazed family and friends sometimes bungle their efforts to provide comfort and support; and as, ultimately, she triumphs, managing through grit and coincidence to help secure her attacker’s arrest and conviction. In a narrative by turns disturbing, thrilling, and inspiring, Alice Sebold illuminates the experience of trauma victims even as she imparts wisdom profoundly hard-won: “You save yourself or you remain unsaved.” A hard and difficult read but ultimately worth it.

The Almost Moon is one the most detailed explorations of the mother/daughter relationship I have ever read.  But this is what Sebold does so extraordinarily well: she takes on those taboo, unpleasant subjects we generally skirt around with eyes averted and presents them to the reader in beautifully written, lyrical prose that will not allow you put down the novel once picked up.

 

4)Neil Gaiman – is a British writer who works in the US now across all media; graphic novels, screenplays and adult as well as children’s literature. He wrote Coraline which was made into an awesome movie but what I love him for is his masterpiece of a novel: American Gods. It is a scary, gripping and deeply unsettling in equal measures, and takes a long, hard look into the soul of America and her origins. It is extremely inventive and the details he masterfully etches will remain in your mind long after you have finished it. Highly recommended!

What’s it about?  It’s about Shadow, the hero.

What should I believe? thought Shadow, and the voice came back to him from somewhere deep beneath the world, in a bass rumble: Believe everything.

It’s about the gods we create.

It’s what people do. They believe, and then they do not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjuration. People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe; and it is that rock solid belief, that makes things happen.

Love this quote!

What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore it knows it’s not fooling a soul.

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So dear reader, these are some of my favourite authors. Not all by any means. I am somewhat of a voracious reader, but certainly in my top ten! I know you will also enjoy them. Keep an eye open in future posts for THE OFFICIAL SWANY LIST OF AWESOMENESS where I will present music, art, poetry, sports, hell anything and everything I rate as awesome!