Category Archives: Literature

Here to Eternity: An Anthology of Poetry

Right off the bat, I would say that I don’t really like poetry. If I were to rank text types, I would take prose and drama over poetry any day. You might ask why. I think for me, while poetry does showcase language and it really gets you to fully appreciate the deliberacy of each chosen word and its effect, I feel like poetry can sometimes seem overly indulgent. You know, putting words together so they sound beautiful, but in its construction, it feels unauthentic and unnatural.

So it was really with much reluctance that I read Andrew Motion’s poetry anthology, Here to Eternity. Sure, it is a selection that is personally handpicked by the Poet Laureate but I’ve never been one to be wooed by accolades. But in all fairness, I gave it a good unbiased read and came across a few beautiful poems that I really did relate to and enjoyed. One of the things that I liked about the anthology was how it classified poems into themes: Love, War, Home, Belief, Travel, Space etc. From a teacher’s perspective, this is awesome for me to handpick selected poems in order to drive home a message. From a reader’s perspective, it puts me in the right frame of mind to fully appreciate the poetry cos I could be reading the ‘Home’ section on a flight back to singapore, or read the ‘Travel’ section on a long bus ride.

There’s also a wide range of poets featured eg.metaphysical poets like Marvell and Donne, modernists like T.S. Eliot and classics like Shakespeare, Keats et al. Here are some of my picks, mainly from the “Love” section.

One Flesh by Elizabeth Jennings

Lying apart now, each in a separate bed,
He with a book, keeping the light on late,
She like a girl dreaming of childhood,
All men elsewhere – it is as if they wait
Some new event: the book he holds unread,
Her eyes fixed on the shadows overhead.
Tossed up like flotsam from a former passion,
How cool they lie. They hardly ever touch,
Or if they do, it is like a confession
Of having little feeling – or too much.
Chastity faces them, a destination
For which their whole lives were a preparation.

Strangely apart, yet strangely close together,
Silence between them like a thread to hold
And not wind in. And time itself’s a feather
Touching them gently. Do they know they’re old,
These two who are my father and my mother
Whose fire from which I came, has now grown cold?

 
Making Love by Sharon Olds 

You wake up, and you do not know
where you are, or who you are
or what you are, the last light of the evening
coming up to the panes, not coming in,
the solid, slanted body of the desk
between the windows, its bird’s-eye slightly
shining, here and there, in the wood. And you
try to think back, you cannot remember it,
it stands behind your mind, like a mountain,
at night, behind you, your pants are torn
or across the room or still dangling from one leg
like a heavy scarlet loop of the body, your
bra is half on or not on or you were naked to begin with,
you cannot remember, everything is changed.
Tomorrow, maybe, taking a child yo school,
your foot in the air half off the curb you’ll
see his mouth where it was and feel it and the
large double star of your two bodies,
but for now you are like the one in the crib,
you are everyone, right now,
the milky, greenish windows still as
sentinels, saying, Don’t worry,
you will not remember, you will never know.

 
Adultery by Carol Ann Duffy 
Wear dark glasses in the rain.
Regard what was unhurt
as though through a bruise.
Guilt. A sick, green tint.New gloves, money tucked in the palms,
the handshake crackles. Hands
can do many things. Phone.
Open the wine. Wash themselves. Now

you are naked under your clothes all day,
slim with deceit. Only the once
brings you alone to your knees,
miming, more, more, older and sadder,

creative. Suck a lie with a hole in it
on the way home from a lethal, thrilling night
up against a wall, faster. Language
unpeels a lost cry. You’re a bastard.

Do it do it do it. Sweet darkness
in the afternoon; a voice in your ear
telling you how you are wanted,
which way, now. A telltale clock

wiping the hours from its face, your face
on a white sheet, gasping, radiant, yes.
Pay for it in cash, fiction, cab-fares back
to the life which crumbles like a wedding-cake.

Paranoia for lunch; too much
to drink, as a hand on your thigh
tilts the restaurant. You know all about love,
don’t you. Turn on your beautiful eyes

for a stranger who’s dynamite in bed, again
and again; a slow replay in the kitchen
where the slicing of innocent onions
scalds you to tears. Then, selfish autobiographical sleep

in a marital bed, the tarnished spoon of your body
stirring betrayal, your heart over-ripe at the core.
You’re an expert, darling; your flowers
dumb and explicit on nobody’s birthday.

So write the script – illness and debt,
a ring thrown away in a garden
no moon can heal, your own words
commuting to bile in your mouth, terror –

and all for the same thing twice. And all
for the same thing twice. You did it.
What. Didn’t you. Fuck. Fuck. No. That was
the wrong verb. This is only an abstract noun.

Are you a fan of a particular poet? What is your favourite poetry anthology?

 

Literary Titbits

It’s been awhile since I’ve been in touch with my literary soul and I haven’t been the least bit guilty about it. I think it is perfectly understandable given the fact that school is out and I feel like I need a well deserved break from devouring pages and pages of critical material on narrativity (this is all the more stressful because I have to teach this to inquisitive 17 year olds). The new school term brings lots of excitement and apprehension what with getting a new form class, teaching a new syllabus for lit and implementing my very own research module in (wait for it)……… literary geographies (okay, it’s not as geeky as it sounds). There’s many challenges ahead but I’m kind of putting that all aside and numbing myself with episodes after episodes of my new favourite series, Switched at Birth and New Girl.

Clearly that is becoming an unhealthy obsession so I decided that it’s time to get back in the swing of things and sort of ‘test the waters’ of literary-dom again. And that’s where this came in handy- 21 Scathingly Witty Insults by Famous People. Okay, admittedly the amount of literary merit in these quotable quotes is kind of dubious but hey, some are really funny. And I mean REALLY funny.

Check out the witty comeback… Burn!! Nothing like using someone else’s words against them.


And this is sadly true for some people. Sometimes you’ve got to tell them straight. The truth hurts.

I’m going to try to weave in this on into my everyday speech. Especially when I’m having conversations with Mark and he has Air Supply and Journey played on loop. Not that these artistes are bad by any means, though you’ve got to admit, they are really cheesy. Oh the number of tiffs we’ve had when we wrestle for power over the car’s radio.

If witty insults isn’t quite your thing, then perhaps this link would interest you more albeit it’s rather morbid… the last words of 25 famous dead writers…  Sometimes you wonder how people can be so poetic even when death is at their door. Either that or we read too much into it. I mean, “I’m dying… please bring me a toothpick” is hardly poetic in any shape or form (though in retrospect, it’s kind of funny).

Either way, hope these words inspire you to reach your literary potential! I’m off to do some work-related reading. Bummer.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers

Forgive me if you are bored by my countless book reviews but that’s all I’ve been doing lately. Work’s been abit of a drag and reading is my form of escape. My colleague passed me The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano and if I’m not wrong, this is his first ever novel. She told me that the ending was so heartbreaking but it was a good read nonetheless and so I shelved Wicked (yet again) to start on my Italian adventure…

It’s alittle reminiscent of Murakami for me what with the rather dysfunctional characters. On one hand we have Alice. Anorexic, crippled, had a highly traumatised past which includes bullying and a secret violet tattoo. And we have Mattia, the brilliant half of a pair of twins who became all dark and twisted after his sister’s disappearance. We are talking about a social recluse who slits his wrists and inflicts pain on himself in uncomfortable situations. So you can imagine that once the two of them collide, it’s like the imperfectness cancels out yet there is always that little distance that separates them. Alone together, together alone.

“All Mattia saw was a shadow moving toward him. He instinctively closed his eyes and then felt Alice’s hot mouth on his, her tears on his cheek, or maybe they weren’t hers, and finally her hands, so light, holding his head still and catching all his thoughts and imprisoning them there, in the space that no longer existed between them.”

I think that’s where the title becomes so apt to describe their relationship. The solitude of prime numbers is a poetic way of showing how they will always be separated by an even number so even if their first impulse is to reach out and connect, they can’t. There’s always some invisible, unspeakable barrier that stands between them.

I’m definitely not one to love math or numbers for that matter but I thought that Giordano weaved such a compelling story around math that it really made me see the beauty in the subject and how this might lend insight in the way we perceive relationships.

“They lived the slow and invisible interpenetration of their universes, like two stars gravitating around a common axis, in ever tighter orbits, whose clear destiny is to coalesce at some point in space and time.”

Giordano was also brilliant at making the grotesque and the mundane beautiful. I mean, anorexia and wrist slashing aren’t exactly palatable topics of conversation but somehow he broaches the subject well and he handles it very tastefully. There’s an almost a Jonathan Safran Foer quality to his writing that I like. You know, the beautiful prose, the enigmatic epiphanies…

It’s a very thoughtful novel that is quite a good choice to read on a rainy day methinks especially if you are in a contemplative mood.

One Day Movie

I have gushed about how wonderful this novel is to friends and of course I had to watch the movie on its opening day. I was so excited because Ann Hathaway plays Em almost to a T and Jim Sturgess was the charmingly detestable Dex. I thought that Ann succeeded in capturing Em’s endearing wit and I’m glad that some of my favourite lines were featured in the film.

“You’re gorgeous, you old hag, and if i could give you just one gift ever for the rest of your life it would be this. Confidence. It would be the gift of confidence. Either that or a scented candle”

“Salmon. Salmon, salmon, salmon, salmon. I eat so much salmon at these weddings, twice a year I get this urge to swim upstream.”
 
“You’ve got to stop letting women slip drugs into your mouth, Dex, it’s unhygienic. And dangerous. One day it’ll be a cyanide capsule.”
 
 

For people who have not read the novel, the transitions between the years may be alittle abrupt and that’s really cos chunks of the story are missing like how Em has an affair with the Principal of the school she was teaching in or even Dex’s time in India was glossed over. But in all fairness it is difficult to represent a full year’s passing within a matter of minutes so yes, the significant scenes are all there, some of which are poignant to say the least.

“I’m not the consolation prize, Dex. I’m not something you resort to. I happen to think I’m worth more than that.”

“I love you. I just don’t like you very much anymore.”

In addition to the great chemistry that Ann and Jim share onscreen, I thought the magic was also present in the setting. Edinburgh, Paris… the landscape and the soundtrack was just made the novel come alive and of course, the cinematic ending where the two of them were gamboling down the hill was just breathtaking. It reminded me alittle of the ending to  Time Traveller’s Wife (with the flashbacks and all) and when they parted after saying goodbye with Em giving this confident, mischief in her eye glint… wow that was such a good ending. In short, I really really did enjoy it. I felt that it stayed true to the essence of the novel.  

Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway in One Day

I will end with my favourite quotes of all time from the novel:

“Live each day as if it’s your last’, that was the conventional advice, but really, who had the energy for that? What if it rained or you felt a bit glandy? It just wasn’t practical. Better by far to simply try and be good and courageous and bold and to make a difference. Not change the world exactly, but the bit around you. Go out there with your passion and your electric typewriter and work hard at…something. Change lives through art maybe. Cherish your friends, stay true to your principles, live passionately and fully and well. Experience new things. Love and be loved, if you ever get the chance.”

Sexing the Cherry

Why is the measure of love loss?

Winterson often has a provocative title for her novels: Oranges are not the Only Fruit, The Power Book, Written on the Body, The Passion… But what really stood out for me was Sexing the Cherry. It was a short novel, maybe 140+ pages or so but every bit of it was enthralling. Winterson pulls you into this magical world of storytelling and I find it so difficult to differentiate reality from fantasy. I love how she weaves in bits of myths and fairytales but she appropriates and rewrites them. My favorite was the stories of the 12 dancing princesses and how they all found fulfilment and happiness without having to depend on men. There is definitely a strong feminist slant but it doesn’t feel as didactic and off-putting as I thought it would be.

And of course, Winterson has a knack for capturing elusive feelings like love, attachment and loss and conveying it so poignantly through language.

 

It’s really amazing how she makes language and images come alive. It’s almost hard to describe how I felt at the end of the novel really. A sense of wonder I suppose. It’s interesting also how she keeps to this whole motif of fruits- pineapples, bananas and even towards the end the Dog Woman feeds Jordan oranges. Perhaps a signature literary technique? And through it all, despite the barbarity, the religious fanaticism and the grotesque outer appearance of the Dog Woman, I empathise with her and I really did enjoy her story. I think the beauty of this novel is how you can read it over and over again and you can never truly be bored because there’s just so much meaning to be unpacked and so much interpretation that is left open to the reader.

It’s been awhile since I read something that is remotely “academic” and it’s been a breath of fresh air! I need to do this more often.

Norwegian Wood

The rain is falling and the sky is gloomy and it just felt like the right time to do a review of Murakami’s Norwegian Wood. I took almost a month to read this novel. Not because it was by any means difficult to read but because alot of things got in the way so every night I would read little by little hoping to finish it but I guess it’s because I didn’t read it in one shot, but really savored each chapter that I grew to love the language and how poetic his expressions were.

I had learned one thing from Kizuki’s death, and I believed that I had made it a part of myself in the form of a philosophy: “Death is not the opposite of life but an innate part of life.”
By living our lives, we nurture death. True as this might be, it was only one of the truths we had to learn. What I learned from Naoko’s death was this: no truth can cure the sorrow we feel from losing a loved one. No truth, no sincerity, no strength, no kindness can cure that sorrow. All we can do is see it through to the end and learn something from it, but what we learn will be no help in facing the next sorrow that comes to us without warning.

He leaves such nice thoughtful almost philosophical anecdotes about love and life that really ring true today though probably (and hopefully) not on such a melancholic, fatalistic level as what Naoko and Toru experienced. But I think what really did draw me into the novel was how even nonchalant characters like Nagasawa have such powerful lines.

“It’s not that I don’t believe in contemporary literature, but I don’t want to waste valuable time reading any book that has not had the baptism of time. Life is too short.”

“Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Only assholes do that.”

Yes he is a bastard but what an eloquent bastard.

Though admittedly, I can’t stand Naoko. I know she is supposed to be a sick troubled child but she frustrates me. It is amazing how Toru and Reiko are so patient with her! She is almost as mysterious as Melanie in Coetzee’s Disgrace. I mean, you can’t tell if she wants sex with Toru or not and I don’t like the fact that she is stringing him along. Not to mention that she cries an awful lot. Midori is so much more likable even though her random requests to get Toru to think of her while masturbating and her delight in watching S&M movies are really quite weird. But hey, at least she is a sweet and funny oddball.

I also can’t wrap my head about Toru especially towards the end when he hasn’t slept with a girl in months cos he’s “saving himself” for Naoko and eventually he realises that he loves Midori upon Naoko’s death, shouldn’t he pursue Midori wholeheartedly instead of having sex with Reiko four times? That to me was a David Lurie moment and I don’t know what Murakami’s intentions are but at that point, I felt that Toru was way more messed up than I thought he was and it seems that his life isn’t going to get any simpler even with Naoko gone.

Or perhaps I’m just reading too much into things and that guys fundamentally just need to fulfill their sexual desires and can conveniently separate love from sex (I swear, I’ve been marking too many scripts on Disgrace that it is really filtering into my interpretation of Norwegian Wood!)

But in short, a messed up story about broken people. Lots of sex. Lots of suicides. Mildly depressing but very poetic and ultimately it showcases Murakami’s brilliance as a storyteller.

Books Galore!

I finally got down to Expo to check out the Borders Sale and it was AWESOME! I actually went on the last day so I think all the really good books would have been snapped up so I didn’t have too high hopes. Initially as I browsed through the Fiction section, I was SO dismayed. It was just boxes and boxes of random fantasy/sci-fi novels which is totally not my kind of thing at all but thankfully, I found some rare gems in the Non-Fiction section!

I think it’s really all about give and take at one of these mega sales. You either go on the first day where there’s lots of good stuff but you squeeze with the crowd, or you go on the last day where the good stuff is pretty much all gone but you have the luxury to browse and scan through your purchases before paying. I prefer the latter. I find that I’m more rational when I shop without the crowd so I tend to only pick up things that I will really use so that’s definitely good news for my wallet (Note to self: avoid H&M)

Anyway, here’s what I bought!

Ok, it looks rather blah and nondescript but it’s for work. Really. Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary is a book by Vivian Cook that provides cool trivia about the English Language and how it came about. It’s pretty fascinating (forgive me if I totally sound like a nerd) but it teaches you about the little quirks of the English language like silent ‘th’, the spelling errors that Keats and Wordsworth makes and even a full list of the Cockney alphabet! It’s pretty cool in a geeky kind of way.

The cream colored book is actually a handbook with facts and fables about… wait for it… CRICKET! Yes, how completely relevant this is to work! I can now read this book and learn all the rules and cool trivia about the sport and boast about it to my kids afterwards! The best part? This was like $5! I love a good deal!

My last find is a Shakespeare teaching guide and given the fact that the Lit syllabus is changing next year, I thought this would be a good weapon to have in my arsenal. What was completely creepy and ironic however, was that I was commenting to my friend that I was looking for a teaching guide for Othello and Twelfth Night while flipping the pages of this book and immediately I saw it…

Alas, it was fate.

But what really sweetened the deal for me was that all three books cost $14 ALTOGETHER because for the last day, everything was going at 70% off. It was just incredible considering the original price of my Shakespeare guide was like $36.90!

And once I got back home from my book shopping high, I continued browsing Book Depository for fiction books that I couldn’t find at the Borders Sale and proceeded to check out US$50 worth of books which is seriously insanely cheap. It’s like each book is US$10? And the most awesome thing about Book Depository? Free international shipping!

Book shopping beats clothes/bags/accessories shopping hands down! I cannot wait for my new reads to get here! I’m especially excited to read Starter for Ten because I enjoyed One Day so so much and since I’m going to watch Wicked at the end of the year, it would make sense to actually read the novel first and of course, dear Jeanette Winterson. It’s been a long time coming but I am finally going to read Sexing the Cherry and of course, I’ll save that sappy Nicholas Sparks novel for a rainy day. I think I have bought enough books to satiate my book cravings for awhile now. I will save Neil Gaiman’s Stardust for the next round! Have you been reading anything lately? What books have you got to recommend?

Dear Words, Wow.

Sometimes I miss uni life. It was a time in my life where I really felt like my entire world opened up and I was exposed to the genius of so many literary greats. Sure there were some painful reads (James Joyce ouch!) but those aside, I forged friendships with Bram Stoker, Don Delillo, Bharati Mukherjee, Chinua Achebe and one of my fond favourites, Jeanette Winterson.

I just love the way she writes. It is so poetic. Especially when she talks about love.



She expresses love with such ferocity, passion and honesty that it just leaves me reeling. I really need to pick up some of her novels asap. I need to feel and experience the beauty of words and language once again. Sigh.

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell is a Canadian author who has been making waves recently with his writing. Perhaps The Tipping Point might not sound familiar to you, but walk past any of the stores and you might remember seeing his other novels: Blink, Outliers and What the Dog Saw.

I’m presently halfway through the book and finding it quite a pleasant read so far, though not as “brilliant” as the back describes (then again, when have publisher summaries ever seemed close to the truth?). The Tipping Point explores the social phenomenon of… well, social phenomenons. What aids this otherwise potentially dead-boring book is his writing genius. I love how he adds interesting anecdotes to every point he makes, which serve to emphasize the intricacies and nuances of the thoughts he tries to convey, ending in that momentary “wow” moment the reader gets upon reaching the same realization that he does.

The Tipping Point is the biography of an idea, and the idea is very simple. It is that the best way to understand the emergence of fashion trends, the ebb and flow of crime waves, or, for that matter, the transformation of unknown books into bestsellers, or the rise of teenage smoking, or the phenomena of word of mouth, or any number of the other mysterious changes that mark everyday life is to think of them as epidemics. Ideas and products and messages and behavious spread just like viruses do.

– extract from The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

It’s definitely an interesting read, if you can keep up with the tons of anecdotes he throws at you. I wouldn’t say that it’s particularly enlightening, but it’s an interesting collection of examples of social phenomenons and provides an insight to anthropology studies. Recommended for those seeking an eureka moment, marketeers, trend setters and anyone who’s interested in how human beings groupthink :)

Disgrace

I’ve said before that it’s very hard for me to read for pleasure when I am actually reading a text for work purposes. I’ve come to realise that the reading experience is so different. When I’m reading a text for the purposes of teaching, I find myself really paying attention to the literary style and taking pains to absorb each detail before I flip a page. In a way, this slow careful reading process has allowed me to truly enjoy the book and I’ve been able to unveil many layers of meaning that I probably wouldn’t have noticed if I were just to skim through it during my leisure time.

Coetzee is South Africa’s literary gem having won 2 Man Booker Prizes and honestly, I really enjoyed this novel immensely. Disgrace is basically about a literature professor David Lurie who falls into disgrace because of inappropriate sexual relations with his student. He then seeks refuge at his daughter, Lucy’s farm where a horrible incident occurs that forces them to reexamine their life and their priorities. Through that terrible ordeal, he learns to put down his lofty idealistic ambitions and finally discovers what humanity really is.

I cannot even begin to describe how wonderful this novel is. The use of biblical allusions, the animal imagery, the Wordsworthian and Byronic intertextual references, the levels of meaning associated with the rape and how this has historical bearings… it’s just such a rich text and so much meaning can be mined from it. Sure, Lurie comes across as a detestable figure. I can’t say that I like him very much and I initially found Lucy just as distasteful. But you know, the beauty of the novel is that through the course of some 200 pages, your opinions change. You begin to understand why the characters behave the way they do and you begin to empathize with them.

Being the hopeful optimist that I am, I try to view the ending as a positive one but yet there remains a feeling of melancholy and helplessness that leaves me hollow. It’s definitely a wonderful read for anyone who loves reading about a foreign land. Disgrace has certainly intrigued me enough to read up on South African history, the reasons why the apartheid came about and why Nelson Mendela was even persecuted.

It was really quite an enriching experience for me. I honestly can’t wait to watch the 2008 film starring John Malkovich. Keep you all posted once I do!

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