Thursday, October 5, 2006

the books i return to

Been wondering about what to post and was looking through my archives where I came upon my lists of movies and music, and I thought, what about the books that I have read and re-read over the years?

Some books I found and read over and over again while young and have now forgotten. Some, I re-visit briefly, looking for certain passages that have inspired me or troubled me. I don't have many treasured possessions from my youth, but the few I do have from way back then are books.

Then there are some books I discovered at uni or in later life and have been an avid re-reader since. I would like to share with you some of the titles, and what it was about them that kept me bound to them throughout my life.

"Emily Climbs" by L.M Montgomery (author of Anne of Green Gables

I had read Ann of Green Gables and liked it but it wasn't till I came across this book by Montgomery that I really felt I could identify with the heroine, 14 year-old Emily Byrd Starr. At the time I was slightly younger than her (maybe 9 or 10) and I imagined that one day I would be the intense and romantic girl that she was. She loved to write in her Jimmy-book, her diary, and she was both beautiful and awkward. And forward. Set in a time when little girls didn't talk back and when choosing to be a writer was a bit of a lofty aspiration for a little-house-on-the-prairie-type setting, Emily spoke to me like no one else did. When I left home for school in Australia, I took up writing in my own Jimmy-book (more of a writer's log than a diary) and collected and pressed wildflowers and lavender in it. I even kept them for a long time till one day I had a momentous cleansing and threw out what was basically compost.

One of my favourite moments in the book is when Emily, now older, is reading alone on a hill when one of her suitors (the one I always wanted her to get with) comes upon her while she is smiling at something she has read:

"You are smiling," said Dean. "I like to see a woman smiling to herself. Her thoughts must be innocent and pleasant. Has the day been kind to you, dear lady?"

Dean is a distant cousin of hers, much older, with whom she always felt she had a kindred soul. However he has a crooked back, and is talked about behind his back, even by his and her own relatives. It was beauty and the beast, where the beast had a fine sense in him that nobody else could see for the hump on his back. And now, although they are very young, I have taken to reading excerpts to the girls before they go to sleep at night.

"My Family and Other Animals" by Gerald Durrell

A staple in the high school english lit diet, I was about 13 when I read this and read it over and over again, even till a few years ago when the urge to re-visit Greece through idyllic eyes and to remember school feelings over again would overcome me.

Through the eyes of the youngest Durrell, it is Greece in its most heavenly form, a hard knotted country beaten down by the sun, where its people cultivated and worked the land and felt close to nature and god every day. When I read this book I feel a blinding sun shining inside my head and I hear the buzzing of cicadas and the clinking of ice in ouzo. His sense of humour was delicious. I often found myself giggling uncontrollably at his astute observations of the humans in his life. Durrell went on to write many books about his zoological and botanical interests, and it was only later that I realised that the book was actually autobiographical, and that his older brother Lawrence, of whom he often spoke of with fond humour, was a real writer who also wrote his own paean to Greece - and that many other characters in Gerald's book were real too, inlcuding the beloved and quietly spoken Theo Stephanides, a naturalist who shared Gerald's love for nature.

Fantastically inspired by the knowledge that this fairytale was actually true and that these were people who were historically noted, I searched for Lawrence Durrell's books and found that he was a very close friend of Henry Miller. Both had written about Greece, and though I found Durrell's not to my taste, Henry Miller's was an eye-opener.

"The Colossus of Maroussi" by Henry Miller

Reading this book was like being old enough to kiss, but being kissed by someone too old for you. You get that there is something happening and you know what it is, but you don't quite understand why it has such force - and that that someone else does. I read this book sometime before the end of high school, as I had found it in my wonderful school library.

There is nothing scandalous at all about the book. It is simply him writing about his travels to Greece and the people he met there. It was in the writing that I discovered that sensualism is not just a physical experience, but and emotional and mental one as well. This is the man who wrote Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn which were banned I think, for being lewd and about sex. If you look at his pictures, you see a man with small eyes, a large head and forehead with short, balding hair. He had thick glasses and often wore a panama hat. He looks like a rough labourer. But within that rough, sensualist exterior (within that writing style) there was a fine and astute observer of men.

I wish I could quote you a passage but blahdy Jit has absconded with my copy!!

"The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever" by Stephen Donaldson

Fantasy set in a kind of medieval magical kingdom. Absolutely a rip off of Tolkien's Lord of The Rings, but since I hadn't read that yet, I thought this was the best thing since sliced bread.

Thomas Covenant is a writer who contracts leprosy and loses two fingers. His wife divorces him and takes away his son. One day, after being ostracized by his whole community, he faints or something and gets transported to another world. There, he is magically healed by the loam (mud) that someone spreads on his body, and finds that he has been mistaken for The One, the Halfhand (because he is missing two fingers). He finds that actually, he has magical powers. There is a bad guy who wants to rule the world and there is a council of good guys.

I was sooo in love with Thomas Covenant. He might as well have been Dean from Emily Climbs. a self-tormented soul who finds what he thinks is absolution - if only he could get over his doubt (The unbeliever, get it?)

I even made plans as to who would star in the film version (Harrison Ford would have been perfect ten years ago, but now he's a little old for it) and tried half-heartedly to write my own screenplay of it. Then someone told me to read Tolkien and that it was practically a pastiche of it. Well, I still have my two sets of Chronicles, six books altogether. I loved fantasy books, they were much better than science fiction books, because they ususally had magic in them.

THough I still have those books, I haven't read them in ages, and I sometimes still wonder why I have them when there are other books from my youth which mean more to me now.

"Linda Goodman's Love Signs"

Linda Goodman was THE astrologer of the 50s and 60s and this book has not dated since then. It's huge. It's good. It has everything I want to know about me that I couldn't put into words myself or wanted to hear someone else say to me. She managed to turn all the character writeups into little parables of human being, which I really loved. It does seem a little quaint to me now, and I've hardly read it (I think cause I know most of it by heart).

Here's something about Virgo:

"That's the way all Virgos really prefer to wake in the morning - greeting the virginal dawn's promise of a day of peace, loveliness and perfection. Too bad most of them don't.
The majority of them climb grumpily out on the wrong side of the bed and slump into the kitchen, groping for their prune juice."

"Millionaires Are From A Different Planet" Azizi Ali

Azizi Ali is one of my local heroes. He's also a commercial pilot and Panini had the good luck of meeting him for an interview for one of our episodes of Jeff's Place, out whenever the powers that be take their finger out of their collective bottom.

Anyway, his kitchen-table, down-home, common sense advice was the best thing I had read about money. Forget Robert Kiyosaki - first of all, you can't legally do some of the things he says to do, here in Malaysia. No one knows what a 401k is here either. Azizi Ali says it straight and with common sense. And I like that he isn't championing the big investment, but the small everyday things that we can do to make our income work for us.

A nice quote from the book:

"The Greek philosopher Socrates was fond of the marketplace. He would go around from stall to stall at the Athens marketplace, stopping every now and then, admiring the goods on display. But despite the frequent visists, he never bought anything. A friend asked him why, and this way his classic reply: "I'm always amazed to see just how many things there are that I don't need."

"What You Wear Can Change Your Life" Trinny and Susannah

All those fans of What Not To Wear out there will surely understand wy I would read and re-read this adorable book. With their sarcasm and fantastic balls, these girls can make a siren out of a ninny, and Iove their vivacious love of life and what they do. In the book, they take age-old and new sayings about fashion and lifestyle and turn them upside down with what they think should be done.

For example, in the chapter about organising your wardrobe, the quote that head is is Bob Dylan's "Chaos is a friend of mine". Trinny and Susannah's reply? "And boy, does it show."

Well, those a re a few of the books I have or do obsess over. There are more, but I think that's been too much for a post. I'm exhausted.

Lovey, C

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