On the weekend I went to see a play with the longest title ever known to plays:
We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884 – 1915
The title makes little sense before you see the play (excuse my ignorance, but I never heard of “Herero” and I thought it sounded like a misspell of “Hero”), but it would become very clear once it starts. The title literally tells you what the play is about: the story of the Herero tribe in Namibia, at the time when the Germans arrived and started occupying the land, between the year of 1884 – 1915, when Namibia was called Sudwestafrika (in German), and before the British started to take over and rename the area to Southwest Africa.
So colonization story, you think. Yes, colonization, racism, and all that. In a way, it’s “nothing new”. But the way the story is told is nothing short of genius.
The entire play is acted by six people: A Black Woman, A Black Man, Another Black Man, A White Woman, A White Man, and Another White Man. This is told to you from the beginning, in a presentation format: We are going to play These Characters. You’d know straight away, there would be stereotypes, something would go wrong with the stereotyping.
These six characters then discussed about how they should tell the story of the genocide of the Herero in Namibia, because it’s a very important story that is known very little. Unlike the holocaust that has evidence and documentation all over, the only written documents left about the Herero are some letters written by White Men that provide a little glimpse into what happened.
In documentary style, sort of, we followed these characters trying to do improv to depict what happened, so we were seeing a play of a play, if that makes sense, in the similar concept as A Chorus Line (musical). It also reminded me of the recent BAFTA winning documentary The Act of Killing. The play showed friction between the characters and problems “behind the scene” in recreating this period of history. It bravely touched sensitive subjects – racism being always a sensitive subject – and the result was a very vibrant, fresh, and energetic stage play, with accomplishments in stage techniques like sound effects, use of various media, including live use of video camera, and very efficient use of stage and props. The pace was amazing. The characters were bouncing off each other seemingly with ease.
I really enjoyed “We are Proud to Present …” – a very well produced play. It is currently playing at Bush Theatre until 12 April 2014. If you live in London or nearby, hope you get a chance to see it. I’ve been to Bush Theatre before for South Literary Festival (which I did not write about unfortunately, but it was a good event), and I always love the sitting room. It has tables and couches, with shelves of books around the walls, and drinks available to get just in the next room. I just had to have tea after the play and sunk into a couch — a perfect closure after a great play.
Thank you to the team for providing me press tickets to see this wonderful play.
Ever since I went to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, I have a little fascination for Vincent Van Gogh, as an artist and as a man. As an artist his brush strokes are unusual, and as a man his life story is probably even more so.
There’s a huge difference in seeing paintings in person, compared to seeing them on computer screens or books. I must’ve seen many Van Gogh paintings before, but they were just brimming outside my peripheral vision. Until I saw them in person, and really looked — so many of them too as the whole Van Gogh museum is full of his paintings. I think I can now recognize his paintings no matter when and where I see them in the world. And I got to learn about his fascinating life on the side.
Vincent graphic novel by Barbara Stok tells part biography of Vincent when he resided in Provence, France, in the town of Arles, and later Saint-Rémy when he admitted himself to the asylum. I find that the simple illustrations with bold colors and black outlines interesting choice to illustrate biography of Van Gogh, but it is very effective, as style that is too similar with the artist’s might get distracting I imagine. There’s very little text in the book, most of which are the letters between Vincent and his brother Theo – I assume they’re taken from real life records.
The life of Vincent Van Gogh that I knew was turbulent and sad, including the cutting of one’s ear and suicide by shooting himself. The graphic novel on the other hand, takes Vincent’s life in a very positive way, highlighting his gentle relationship with his brother, and Vincent’s passion about his art. His relationship with artist friend Paul Gauguin was also touching. Stok chose to end the book on a high note and not dwell on the dark aspects of Vincent’s life.
I had warm fuzzy feelings after reading this book, that life is colorful and that spending all one’s life for something one believes in is satisfying in many ways, and that everything will be okay at the end (Van Gogh was poor and hardly accepted as an artist when he’s alive, and his paintings only took off after his death). It may not be the whole truth, but it’s not a bad way to see things too. I personally loved this take on the life of Van Gogh, Vincent.
Mee’s rating: 4/5
Barbara Stok on working on Vincent
Thank you SelfMadeHero for the review copy! I love checking their catalogue and am especially fond of their Art Masters series featuring Rembrandt and Vincent, with Picasso and Dalí coming out in the future. I LOVE Dalí — I wrote on my travel blog about the time when I visited Dalí museum in Figueres, Spain.
I started reading Great Expectations back in late June 2013, by signing up to dailylit.com. That way a piece would be sent to my email every day, and I just needed to read that part for that day. If I stuck through it, I would get through Great Expectations in 229 installments – or 229 days.
And I did. Slightly quicker than that because there were days when I felt like reading more and I only needed to press a link in the email to get the next installment.
I did not think when I embarked on this project that I was going to get til the end, but I did. I think it was almost 7 months long, wow. I found out that now I could get through any thick classics by doing the same thing. Thank you dailylit!
I do believe that I probably wouldn’t finish GE if I read it the normal way. It’s not that I didn’t like it, but like most thick classics, there are parts that are interesting, and some parts that are simply boring, boring, boring, you’d-rather-do-anything-else-apart-from-reading boring. With this method, I only needed to read a small chunk every day, and made steady progress anyway. We read countless emails and web pages every day (or at least I do), why not treat this installment like any other email that I have to read? Also that way I was free to read other books the normal way, so it didn’t feel like I was hogging all my time to read this one thick classic.
So that is how I got through Great Expectations. I recommend this method if you have failed before by reading it the “normal way”.
I quite like the story, though at the end there are too many coincidences that made it a bit soap-opera like. Also I wish the boring parts could be abridged. There were a few events, usually somebody visiting somebody or a group of people visiting a group of people, and the description and conversation just went on and on. As I only read a few hundred words every day, this event could go on for something like a week or more, and induced internal comments like: Omg, are we still here? Can’t we just move on?
I watched the latest (2012) movie adaptation as soon as I finished the book – which was alright. I think everyone is pretty well cast. The only one that was a bit off was probably Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham. I usually like her, but I picture Ms Havisham to be very skinny (and most people do, or she’s even described as so by Dickens), but HBC is a bit too.. buxom. I’d love to see the depiction by Gillian Anderson in the older GE movie.
Mee’s Rating: 3.5/5
After my trip to the site of Troy in Turkey, I finally got to reading The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. I intended to read it before the trip, but didn’t get around to. It’s a question I often ask myself, is it better to read a related book before or after the trip? I’d say there are pros and cons to each.
Would the 2 hours I spent in Troy be more meaningful if I had read the book earlier? (I realised the serious of us would be thinking about Homer’s Iliad, but I’m not there yet.) As in my case, I ended up bringing home the memories of Troy, and read The Song of Achilles with the view of Troy – the coast, the city ruins – vivid in my mind. It made for a wonderful reading experience.
The Song of Achilles is told by Patroclus, a person close to Achilles whose fate is an important pivot point in the course of the Trojan War. Who is Patroclus? In Iliad he is a minor character whose death sends Achilles into outrage and despair. The experts have always argued about the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. Are they friends, comrades, lovers? (The Troy movie made them cousins.)
Madeline Miller made them lovers in The Song of Achilles, and the whole tale is told from Patroclus’ point of view. It starts from the very beginning when Patroclus is a child, which slightly bothered me at first, because the voice of the book felt mature and very feminine. But as he grows up, his voice got more believable to me. And at the end – I know lots of people probably say the same – I did shed a tear or two. It was odd, because I knew how it was going to end. The whole book builds up to that moment that most of us knew before going into the book (I’m sorry if you didn’t know, but I don’t think this is a spoiler). But their relationship is so believable, so tragic, and so sad. I was sad for them, Patroclus broke my heart.
I remember the time when I was at the site of Troy, overlooking the foggy coast, where the entire Greeks have sailed across the ocean to take Helen back, and to overtake Troy. Our guide, who also has read the book, told us about the two mounds in the distance, that people believed to be the tomb of Achilles and the tomb of Patroclus. The memory and the reading made the most profound impact.
It is historical fiction at its best.
Mee’s Rating 4.5/5
In The Dead Lake, we meet Yerzhan, a boy growing up in a remote part of Kazakhstan, where there are only two family living in two houses. His body stops growing and keeps the look of a 10 years old. How does he get into this problem? What happens when his childhood sweetheart grows up and he stays the same?
After The Sibyl and from reading The Dead Lake’s blurb, I was expecting the tone to be more fairy tale like, but it is mostly grounded in realism, which I was slightly disappointed about. I found the beginning to be a bit slow, though with only 120 pages the pace started to pick up halfway through.
The book is told in a collection of vignettes, so it could feel a bit disjointed at times. I’m not sure whether it was the combination of the foreign hard-to-pronounce character names, translation, and the vignettes style, but I felt the reading didn’t flow as well as most books written originally in English. I have not read translated works for a while, so that might be one of the reasons.
I quite liked the second half of the book, but at the end, I’m not sure what the book is about. Is it sociopolitical commentary on nuclear experiments? Is the physical effect that happens to Yerzhan something that happens in real life? (I never heard of it before) Is the book a mere coming-of-age? Is it an exotic tale of two families living in a very remote area? What is the purpose of the book? I think this probably would work well as a book group book, as I had questions after finishing and wished I had someone to discuss the book with.
This is my first Peirene Press books, and though I have some reservations for The Dead Lake, I look forward to reading more Peirene books. The term “Literary Cinema” is dead-on to me. The after-reading is akin to the feeling after watching a foreign film – the feeling of uncertainty whether you get the whole thing, but that you’ve learned a bit more about life and another part of the world.
Mee’s Rating: 3.5/5
Thank you to Meike and Peirene Press for the review copy.
Year of Wonders – Geraldine Brooks
This is my second book by Geraldine Brooks after Nine Parts of Desire, and the first fiction. I’d been tossing between Year of Wonders and People of the Books, but finally picked up this one after the nudge from Historical Fiction course I was following on coursera.org. After reading this, I am now a firm fan. I’ll be happy to read more of her books any time.
Year of Wonders tells the period in the village of Eyam, England, in the year of 1666. It was the only place apart from London that was hit by the plague, and the whole village decided to cut itself from the world to avoid spreading the plague further. The story is told from an unlikely hero of a housemaid of the village’s rector and his wife – a point of view that allows us to have a peek into the decision makers (the rector essentially) and the ordinary villagers.
Without giving anything away, the ending seemed slightly off in tone compared to the rest of the book, as if Brooks left the novel for a while before coming back to it to finish it. I wasn’t super bothered by it, just thought it was a bit odd. But apart from that, the writing is consistently quite wonderful.
The Sibyl – Pär Lagerkvist
The Sibyl is a really amazing, unexpected read. I didn’t have book set in Turkey to read while traveling in the country, so I opted to read this, as it is set in Delphi, Greece (the site which I went to last year). The narration has folk/fairy tale quality to it, and the premise is fascinating. The main character is an oracle priestess in the Apollo temple in Delphi, who fell into disfavor by god. Her tale is told to a wandering man who caught a glimpse of and in effect got cursed by Jesus. Sounds crazy? Yes. I was absolutely enchanted. I will definitely look fore more Lagerkvist’s books. Too bad many of them seem hard to find. It was the perfect book to read while traveling, as it was only under 150 pages, physically light, and the story has a good balance of being not too complex but stimulating enough.
Lagerkvist was awarded Nobel Prize of Literature in 1951. His most famous work was Barabbas – about the Barabbas who was chosen to be released instead of Jesus. It seems that a lot of his works are a weird mix of the old and the new religious beliefs, or the critiques of them. In any way, they seem thought provoking. His other famous book is The Dwarf, which I remember to have read good things about at Jackie’s. Another one I’m looking forward to reading.
End of 2013 and Beginning of 2014
These two books ended my reading journey in 2013. I picked up a good pace about half a year into 2013, and read the total of 19 books and 20 short stories. Not yet close to my golden reading year a couple of years back, but I’m feeling more positive about 2014. We’re only two weeks in and I have actually finished 4 books! It’s a good start for the year.
Where ever you are, hope you have a good reading year ahead!
Nearing the end of October, I got a sudden panicky feeling that the year almost ends. Two months! Plans made at the beginning of the year all went out the window, and think of all the books you don’t get around to read this year – some you have planned to since years ago! And so year after year we’d be pondering over the same thing, that there’s not enough time in the world to read all the books you want to read. But I’m going to leave my full year of reflection for the first post next year, as always.
For now, two books, one I super loved, one was a meh. I’ll start with the Love.
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud was the book I’ve been meaning to read for years. In fact, it was published in 1994, so really quite old already. I started knowing about it after this blog, so that’s only in 2007.
And just a second ago I realized that Bookie Mee is now SIX years old! OMG.
Since I haven’t been blogging much for a while though, I’m just going to let that slip by quietly. It still surprises me how long this blog has gone on. And how I feel still connected to the whole book community in the Internet, even though I have stepped far back. Will I keep this blog as long as I’m still reading? Only time can tell.
Back to Understanding Comics, I wonder why it took me so long to read it. It is the most thorough the most informative book on understanding comics (I haven’t read Eisner’s book on the topic, will do that next), that I’d highly recommend it to both people who love comics and those who misunderstand comics.
Comic has suffered long enough as a “low art” form, and people should start seeing it as what it is, a media, not a genre. You can use any media to convey your ideas, to express your creativity and views of the world. What you say is the content of the medium. So for example if you don’t like super-hero comics, it doesn’t mean you hate comics as the media (or I hope you don’t), you just don’t like the content. You can still like comics with other contents.
The book covers history of comics and comparison between American, European, and Japanese comics (which I’m especially happy for – since I grew up with Japanese and European comics). Also covered is how to read comics or how to understand comics. Many of these come very intuitively for me, but I grew up reading comics. From talking to a few people who have not grown up reading comics, apparently it may not come intuitively – which I found very interesting, and it may be the things that put them off. (The same with playing games. If you don’t grow up with it, it may not come intuitively for you.) If you’re one of them, this book is such a great way to “teach” you to read comics. Also have I told you that it is all told in comic form? — comics as in combination of text and pictures. It is so much fun!
5 out of 5 stars! I finally read this with the nudge from Comic Books and Graphic Novels course on coursera.org.
Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
In the effort to finish the Fantasy and Science Fiction course on, again, my-favorite-online-course-platform-on-the-planet coursera.org, I read Princess of Mars. On a side note, did you know that Edgar Rice Burroughs created Tarzan? That was a nice discovery.
I watched the movie adaptation John Carter when it was out. Kind of enjoyed it, but didn’t think much of it. It was done by Disney so it felt Disney-ish…? (doh) The book though is somewhat an important pillar in the history of FSF, as it is a pioneer in inter-galactic, or in this case inter-planet (Earth and Mars), romance. Could this be a seed of Star Wars? It started the rise of pulp fiction, and one of Guardian’s 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read.
The book was readable, but overall it was just meh for me. With John Carter as hero and his adventures to save the princess of Mars, slaying aliens, it all felt too boy-ish. I don’t remember much about the movie, but it seems to capture the book quite well (was thinking to re-watch it after reading, but naah…).
This time, watch the movie, skip the book.
3 out of 5 stars.
Since I am way way way behind in blogging about books read and all bookish things that happened in the past 3 month, I’m just going to write about them in one giant post. And I just realized those 3 months were summer (coincidence?), so I can call them summer reading!
Frankenstein — Mary Shelley (England/Europe, 1818, 4/5)
I liked Frankenstein, a lot more than Dracula, which I did not like very much. It seems that most people either like one or the other. I’m definitely on Frankenstein side. Also if you read a little about Mary Shelley’s life, it is as shocking and as interesting as her story.
Metamorphosis — Franz Kafka (German, 1915, 4.5/5)
Metamorphosis is my first Kafka, finally. Well the first was actually his short story called A Country Doctor, which I read just before Metamorphosis, but it was a 5-page short story. Metamorphosis is rather short too, around 90 pages. I thought it was amazing story about a man waking up as a giant insect. I got the impression that it was going to be depressing, and it was at the end, but overall I thought it was hilarious. I will need to read more Kafka!
The Night Bookmobile — Audrey Niffenegger (US, 2010, 4/5)
An illustrated book by Audrey Niffenegger about a woman who stumbles upon a mobile library, in which there is everything she’s ever read in her life. Wow it’s so dark and depressing at the end, that I’m not sure what the whole point of the book is. The story is just a bit strange. But there’s a lot of work put into the book as she illustrates it herself using various art techniques.
Don Quixote (graphic novel, vol 1) — Cervantes, illustrated by Rob Davis (Spain, 2011, 4/5)
As I imagine I won’t get into the real Don Quixote anytime soon, I jumped at the chance to read the graphic novel. The illustration is lovely and colorful – I really liked it. The story however seems a bit pointless, about a disillusioned old man and his servant-like mate. I’d probably need to read the real book to get the layers of the story. Don Quixote is still amazingly popular in Spain, as proven by my trips to Spain, so I’m curious.
Watchmen — Alan Moore (fantasy world, 1987, 3/5)
What a DENSE graphic novel! I’m not sure if I’ve read a graphic novel as dense as that. Apart from the comic style pages, there are also pages of writing, in newspaper clip style or letter. It took me forever to read Watchmen, and at the end I speed read it, because I could not stand it not-finished any longer. I know this is a very important graphic novel — it’s in one of Time’s All-Time 100 Novels, but I got impatient. I watched the movie after that and I’d probably recommend most people to just watch the movie. The movie stays very true to the book, and nicely directed (Zack Snyder). Watch the Director’s Cut (around 3.5 hours, while the cinema version is far shorter than that) to get more details from the book, including the meta-comic.
To the Lighthouse — Virginia Woolf (England, 1927, 3/5)
It is my first Woolf, so I’m happy that I finished it, and at least understood most of it. I probably wouldn’t ever be able to get through the book without Prof Weinstein’s lectures on Coursera though, so if you’re struggling, I’d recommend getting his lectures on Coursera’s Fiction of Relationship, and you can sort of read alongside the lectures (there are many of them). My advice is if there’s a paragraph that you don’t understand after reading a couple of times, KEEP GOING! Don’t obsessed and get stuck over one paragraph. In the bigger scheme of things, it really does not matter, and you’ll be glad once you get to the end and able to see the book as a whole.
The Invisible Man — H. G. Wells (England, 1897, 3/5)
Apart from Fiction of Relationship in Coursera, I am also following Fantasy and Science Fiction course, by Prof Rabkin. The reading list is interesting. There are many that I wouldn’t read by myself, so I’m glad to be able to broaden my reading horizon (the same as true for Fiction of Relationship). In one of the weeks the reading list includes all H. G. Wells: 2 novels and 2 short stories. I didn’t know how important Wells was in SF. He is often compared with Jules Verne, as they were from the same era, but as explained in the lectures, Verne is purely entertainment, while Wells questions social and political issues in his writing.
In Invisible Man, Wells created a man that because of a personal scientific experiment has turned invisible. And he can’t go back. Since I read this so close to Frankenstein, I saw some similarity, like how the two main characters are rejected by the society and turn bad as a result. I guess that’s the end of the similarity, because I didn’t enjoy Invisible Man as much. The description of actions tire me, and I kept waiting for deeper discussions of life like in Frankenstein, which does not happen in Invisible Man.
A Grief Observed — C. S. Lewis (1961, 3/5)
I feel the need to say that this book was given by a friend, who asked me to read this favorite book of his, so I felt compelled to read it. I might appreciate the book more if I were at different stage of life, but as it was, it didn’t speak to me in any profound way. I have long left any discussions of God and Christianity IRL, and therefore found the discussion here about God, his intentions and afterlife to be heavy handed.
C.S. Lewis wrote books journalling his thoughts after the death of his wife of 4 years, referred to here as H. I’m just glad that they edited much of it, and left a thin 60-page large-font book, as I wouldn’t have much patience for longer book about wallowing in grief. I feel a bit bad for not thinking higher of the book given the sad subject matter and the circumstances of my reading it, but as I said, in another time I could’ve taken it differently
The Island of Doctor Moreau — H. G. Wells (1896, 3.5/5)
In the Island of Dr Moreau, Wells plays with the idea of turning beasts into men. Our narrator is someone who got stranded in an island, where he meets two other men, one of them Moreau. Later finding shows how Dr Moreau has been experimenting with animals and turning them into imperfect human that is more half man half beast. Interesting premise, but after reading 2 books by Wells, I’m pretty clear that I don’t fall in love with his writing. His ideas are great, but his writing just doesn’t evoke much in me.
ps: Don’t even look for the movie. It seems to be really bad from what people say. I just some pictures, and the effects don’t impress me too.
Been reading Nathaniel Hawthorne (Before I started I didn’t know he is also well known for his short stories, some are mentioned as early conception of Science Fiction. I only knew he wrote Scarlet Letter prior to this.), Edgar Allan Poe (never quite like Poe. Maybe I’m just not into psychopathic behaviors?), Flannery O’Connor, John Updike, more H. G. Wells (I kinda liked the two I read: The Country of the Blind and The Star), Gustave Flaubert, William Faulkner, Jorge Luis Borges, Hemingway.
I got little sparks from Borges so I’ll be reading more. Flaubert, possibly. I’m eyeing Madame Bovary.
Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (remember John Carter? Also, did you know that Burroughs wrote Tarzan? Yeah, I didn’t know too!)
Great Expectations by Dickens via Dailylit, sent daily to my mail, which I try to read first thing in the morning on the way to work for. I’ve been doing this for a few months now, and I’m over a third in. I’m happy that it works. I don’t think I would be able to do it reading it like normal book to be honest. It is very very long, and in spite of the interesting bits, there are more boring bits.
On the Pipe
I probably shouldn’t mention much in fear that I would jinx it, but if all goes according to plan I’ll be reading Herland — Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Old Man and the Sea — Hemingway, and the Martian Chronicles — Ray Bradbury.
I can’t believe how much I’m reading considering how little I did for the last couple of years. I think I probably needed more structure and direction in my reading, and I’ve got them, thanks to the Profs and Coursera.
I did not use this copy (it’s free on Kindle), but isn’t this Art of Novella series lovely?
If there’s a classic that I do not wish to read ever, it is Moby Dick. I’m never interested in anything nautical, any story set in a boat does not grab me (Life of Pi is an exception), and Melville pretty much scared me. So with much reservation, I picked up Bartleby the Scrivener (1853), a novella / short story, for the third week of our Fiction of Relationship course.
I was pleasantly surprised. Bartleby is set in a New York office, and it has nothing to do with boat or sea. Bartleby is the name of a character who baffles everyone, as he “prefers to” do all kinds of things that people don’t understand. He refuses to do little things here and there at first, until it escalates into bigger things. I caught the humour early on in the story, and it stays funny or even gets funnier until the end. It is light and smart, and mightily enjoyable.
I thought if this is how Melville writes, I could read his works all day long!
Unfortunately when I moved on to his second work for the course, a short story titled Benito Cereno (also free on Kindle), I gave up after a few exhausting pages. The writing was dense like a stale old bread, it was impossible for me to penetrate. I went to Wiki to just get the gist of the plot, and found out that it is very smart in terms of both plot and technique, but again it would’ve taken me too much effort to get to the end. It doesn’t help that we get back to boats and sailors in Benito Cereno.
I guess I wouldn’t be reading Moby Dick anytime soon.
More books we read for this course:
Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Today I’d like to refer you to my post on Hay-on-Wye, Wales – the town of books on my travel blog Wandering Mee. I’m going to write in more details about the author events I went to, just for y’all bookish people, but for now, enjoy the story and the pictures of this lovely town :)
Another awesome thing that I found today was the series of pictures of people reading book around the world by the renown photographer Steve McCurry, the person who took picture of the Afghan Girl. Such a fantastic idea – which I would probably try to do too in my next travels. Below are a few of my favorites. Head to his blog to see more.
Afghanistan, 06/1992. A boy reads to his class. Credit: Steve McCurry
Thailand. A woman reads in the light coming through a window. Credit: Steve McCurry
Russia. A woman reads under a purple umbrella. Credit: Steve McCurry
And the last one from yours truly :)
Wales, UK. A woman reads while waiting for her phone charging. Credit: Dioni Zhong
At one magical instant the page of a book –
that string of confused, alien ciphers–shivered into meaning.
Words spoke to you, gave up their secrets; at that moment,
whole universes opened.
You became, irrevocably, a reader.
- Alberto Manguel