The Orgastic Future That Year By Year Recedes Before Us

It was by accident that I had never read The Great Gatsby. Half a decade ago, an obsession about this book seemed to take hold of my closest friends, but bypassed me for some strange reason, and then again a few years later, other friends were hit by the wave (they were studying it in English Lit) and at around the same time a new film adaption of it came to and went from the cinemas.

That I have not seen this film is another small wonder. After all, it had all a film needs to lure me into the red velvety seats: Some famous director (Stephen Spielberg? No?), Leo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan and Kanye West and all my friends raved on about it. I can’t actually remember the exact reason why I did not see it, but I suspect that it was an accumulation of factors (no money, all my friends had already seen it, had to study or at least pretend to do so, or really anything along those lines).

I finally did it now. Read the book that is, not watch the film. Usually when I read so-called “classics” that I have heard so much about before even opening the book, I have a repertoire of three possible reactions:

  1. I love it.
  2. I don’t love it. This can mean both indifference and a proper dislike.
  3. I love it but still close the book with a disappointed impression.

Gatsby was the latter. Most people will agree with me that there are some undeniably brilliant qualities to this work: I mean, just how it is written. Fitzgerald generally has a way of being ridiculously quotable, but he’s definitely grown beyond himself in Gatsby. And it’s not even the main plot that makes you think “this is so true”, but the detailed descriptions. Take the descriptions of the first of Gatsby’s parties that our narrator attends. Even though this is a posh, sophisticated party set about a century ago, there are so many parallels to parties I’ve been to (that were improvised, featured cheap liquor and 90s music), or maybe just universal truths. Here are my five favourite quotes from that passage:

The bar is in full swing and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside until the air is alive with chatter and laughter and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names.

“(…) I’ve been drunk for a week now, and I thought it might sober me up to sit in a library.”

I had taken two finger bowls of champagne and the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental and profound.

“And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”

I was alone and it was almost two.

But then, marvelling at all this brilliance, as mentioned before, I was also stuck by some disappointment. There’s really only so much praise that a book of 50 000 words can sustain. The hype, the myth about this book as long outgrown it’s physical presence, the ink on the pages. This, of course, I can only judge from my point of view, which, in this case, is that of a leisurely reader. From the point of a scholar, or even just a year nine studying this book in class, I can only suspect how amass of literary devices and quirks the work is.

Here, as a way to end perhaps, is the quote that I think sums up the book best (back in my days of literary analysis and interpretation, oh boy, the amount of meaning I could have read into this one sentence…):

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…

B x (this post was part of an “Around the World Reading Challenge” I’m doing. Read all about it here!)

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Around the World Reading Challenge

Yes, another list with books on it, but I promise this one will be short: 6 books.

Inspired to do this by Booking It I chose 6 books from (well, more ‘related to’) 6 continents. Officially the challenge was set for all of 2015, so I could just look at the books I have read this year and tick some continents off the list. However, I chose to take the challenge as an inspiration to make a (very small) reading list.

Still, I will be posting my opinions and impressions about them here, as proof that I did it and of course to share my excitement, disgust and all the other emotions caused by some ink on some paper. Here is my list:

Africa: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo – I’ve had this one on my ebook reader for a while now and have not yet gotten around to reading it. Now’s the time!

Asia: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie – Also, I have to admit that I haven’t read a single book by Rushdie (although I have referred to his work extensively in one of my academic works… oops!). If you now rush to say that he lived most of his life outside of Asia, so be it, I’m reading this novel anyway.

Australia: Autumn Laing by Alex Miller – Australian literature is a true weak spot of mine. This too shall pass!

Europe: The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho – I know, I know, he’s Brazilian. BUT, the Camino de Santiago is quite clearly in Europe, so I win.

North America: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Another supersupersuper well-known novel I haven’t read and it will also be the first book I’ll tackle in this challenge.

South America: Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa – I lovelovelove his other novels, so this one is a must.

B x

That One Particular Hardback

Taste is a peculiar thing. Let me just say this and then launch into my anecdote:

When I was about 13 or 14 years old, I grabbed a book in one of those sales tables. I bought this book, although I instantly disliked it. It was a proper book, bound in a fabric-y cover and all of that, which was probably the only reason I had for disliking it the moment I bought it (I’m devoted to paperbacks, you should know). Other reasons surfaced later: The reader’s guilt it gave me by just sitting on my shelf was one and also the fact that it was a translation. Translations themselves don’t bother me much, although of course it is never the same as reading the original and blah blah, but this one had a really clumsily translated title. I can’t remember the title as such, but I remember looking at the original title on one of the first pages on the left, you know – where they have the copyrights and first published and all that -, thinking ‘Oh dear’. Clearly, both the English-language author and publisher had thought to market the book as classy literature – a cryptic title, existential themes; somehow, German publishers did not. You know when you can tell by title’s font what kind of readers they want to attract? Well, these people clearly wanted leisurely readers without high expectations or knowledge of literature as an art form or academic pursuit.

After about half a year, I read this book. It was a short book and I finished it quickly – this was still at the time when I finished every book I started, out of principle (a habit that is incredibly hard to overcome, my struggles continue). There’s not much I can say to you about this book, except that there must have been a rather solitary male character at the centre of the narrative, and the only other thing I can remember is the description of a residential road in minute detail. Of course, it has been years. But nonetheless, still today I can feel the impression that I had just read a truly bad book like a bitter taste in my mouth (this analogy or whatever they call it did not work out, soz for that).

Now, (I’ll finally get on to my point, sorry again for the delay) imagine my astonishment when I turned the page (onto the ‘About the author’ section) to find out that this guy had won the Nobel Prize for Literature! I have no yet decided whether I will tell you the name of this writer, I feel it might be better not to.

Right in that moment, part of me decided that one should not trust in prizes ever again. It was a natural reaction, a reflex almost. I had just aged about three years in that one quick moment. Books where my life then, my sole purpose. Not as a writer, but as a reader. But I was young. I knew nothing and I knew that. ‘Great literature’ was something I respected, looked up to, and I trusted in time and prizes (Nobel, Pulitzer, Man Booker) to reveal what would be good literature, and what would be trivia. This judgement did not impact my choice of books, I read them both regardless, but I read them differently.

But there was also that other part of me that did not come to this conclusion. Instead of losing total trust in those literary institutions, I lost a little bit of trust in my own judgement. Clearly, this was great literature and there was something wrong with me that I could not appreciate it.

Maybe I should add some context: Although I might have been young, I knew what a good book was. I also knew what a bad book was. I had many examples for both. By this point, I had even read War & Peace from cover to cover (I had enjoyed it, although I did not pronounce it my favourite book of all times – I found the war bits to be too lengthy but interesting; and the peace bits entertaining but too dull). Books had made me cry and laugh and despair at times. I had developed an acquired taste, I knew what I wanted in a book: I wanted it to make me think, at least, and feel something (really, anything!), at best. By this time I had accepted that some of the books I enjoyed most were not necessarily enjoyable to read, although I still did not find faults in books that were enjoyable.

If you now ask me the more significant of those two reactions to this one particular book moment, I would definitely argue it is the second one. We lose faith in institutions and external beliefs all the time, whether it is the concept of Santa being real or the effectiveness of our government or whether we finally realise we will never need most of what we learned in school. This is normal. It is healthy, even. It prompts change, improvement. The other sentiment is less beneficial. Losing confidence in yourself is no small matter, and its consequences can be catastrophic.

So please, please have faith in your taste. You can only ever like the things you like. And regardless of what you yourself and others might tell you (including me!!): Your taste is just as valuable as anyone else’s. NO ONE HAS ‘SUPERIOR TASTE’. And if you think about it, concepts like ‘good taste’ and ‘bad taste’ are cultural constructs and don’t even exist. There’s only ‘your taste’ and ‘his taste’ and ‘her taste’ (and, of course, ‘my taste’, which is the best of them all!) – even an ‘our taste’ and ‘their taste’ cannot truly describe anything real.

B x

P.S. You might have noticed I have decided not to reveal the author’s name, cheeky me.

Reading And Sleeping And All That

Finally (FINALLY!) my internet works again. I shift from thinking “the regular internet-free time enforced upon me is an opportunity – no more distraction”, to being like “why, WHY do I have to live in a building where the internet regularly just stops functioning for days or weeks on end???!”. Probably, it has been both.

It stopped working last Saturday, in the morning. In the time from Saturday evening and Wednesday I have read four books. My usual average is a book a week (which I struggle to keep up with). So that is definitely a point for the “we should live without internet”, others supporting this view are the amount of time I wasted on Netflix (none), Facebook (none) or reading up on some obscure things that are of no importance or relevance to me (none).

There are, however, of course also some downsides to being offline. Making something as simple as a bank transfer suddenly becomes a considerable task (using the internet at the library, which is painfully slow, for something as sensitive as online banking always makes me a bit queasy, hackers and all that). Looking up the bus times is impossible (Maybe I should also add that I had already used up my monthly mobile internet allowance before Saturday… oops!), contacting someone ends up being a lot less casual (ugh, I hate talking on the phone!), and it does majorly inhibit the work I have to do for university. For example, I use Duolingo to help me learn my languages, and with it’s complex graphics and sound effects, it was impossible to use it over the library internet.

When it comes to entertainment and information, as well, I really only have books and the internet to rely upon: no TV, no newspaper, no nothing. And the gravest flaw when it comes to reading as entertainment and pastime, for me, is that I so easily fall asleep when doing it. And I don’t just sleep for, you know, 20 minutes or an hour: I wake up after four to six hours, completely disorientated with my contact lenses burning in my eyes. Not very nice.

In this particular case, additionally, the temporary absence of internet connection from my life meant that I was not able to blog (sorry, dear reader!). As an integrated part of our ever-reflecting society (I read Eat Pray Love at the tender age of thirteen), this stimulated my brain – was my life better/worse without me blogging every day? Well, it was certainly different. Not only because the reading and sleeping and all that, but while I did not miss blogging as such, I did notice some changes in my daily life. The days seemed to pass quicker. I was rushing from place to place, and fell into bed exhausted in the evening. And while I ticked off my resolutions chart every night, I did not think about happiness once. Not once. Although I’m meant to be in the midst of a happiness project. Scary.

But I will not dwell. The internet is back (for now) and I will be able to blog every day, reflect the hell out of my tiny insignificant life. Yay!

B x

Sorting Out My Life

Today I will sort out my life. During my last years at school this was a sentence that you would often hear from me. And though I resist voicing it these days (it’s become a bit of a joke, saying it out loud just makes me realise how ridiculous it sounds when said repeatedly), it is still very much a daily thought (except on the ‘dark’ days, of which yesterday was one).

And yes, it may be Sisyphean labour (you know it’s good when it refers to Greek mythology…) but having things sorted, or at least having a feeling of having things sorted, seems to be essential to my happiness. This is nothing new: I’ve already described to you in minute detail how much I value overview. Today, however, I’ll spill the guts about one of the ways that help me to obtain this reassuring but quite possibly imaginary feeling of control.

My not so secret tools are what I call (spot o’ Miranda!) ‘projects’. Whenever I think there is a problem, or anything I want to achieve that seems confusing and a bit overwhelming, I declare it a ‘project’. Somehow, just naming it that makes it easier to tackle. An ‘issue’ or a ‘problem’ is messy and pressing and very not nice. If you have a ‘project’, however, you have time. You have the responsibility to approach the question from several points of view before you start thinking of ways to achieve results. And even when you start implementing these actions, there is little pressure, you simply observe how it goes. A ‘problem’, on the other hand, has to be ‘resolved’, immediately if possible. So now shut up everyone who says semantics don’t matter.

At the moment, I have four major projects on the go (and when I say major, then they are really minor, but they matter to me a great deal)

Project #1: Write A Novel In A Month. This does need some planning – when best to do it? what do I need? how many words a day? In this case, declaring it a ‘project’ also helps me doing it. Otherwise it would be one of those things that make me think “I could do that. I should do that!” and then I never do it.

Project #2: Organise A Summer Gathering. Sadly, or luckily, I have my closest friends spread across several countries. This can be fun, but it also means that we don’t see each other as much. The distance, as well, and the different lives we lead, make it more difficult to organise get-togethers. I have also always been the oraganiser when it comes to those things, partly because I’m quite good at things like this and mostly because noone else would do it and I really want things to happen, so I just do them myself. I actually like it, though. Group work is not really my style, way too messy. It means however, if I want something to happen this summer, I have to nag everyone on a regular basis about everything from telling me when they’re free to booking flights to actually packing their bags. And nagging is not really on the top of my list of fun things to do. I’ll do it though, now that it is a project.

Project #3: Sleep. This one might be the biggest project so far, and you’ll be likely to hear tons about it in the near future. Basically, I don’t have problems sleeping, but I do have problems going to bed and getting out of bed, for some reason. I do my best work at night, so it’s hard for me to waste quality working and creative time by just going to sleep. This, however, has completely disrupted my sleeping pattern and the general rhythm of my life. Gotta get that sorted, and I will.

Project #4: Read A Lot. This is where calling it a project really helps me be happier instantly. For years ‘read a lot’ was a resolution that I loosely remembered, but never fulfilled to my satisfaction. This is partly because reading widens your horizon and the more you read the more you think you should read, but also because I don’t think of reading as important as it is because I enjoy it so much. So now that I’ve made it an official project, I’ll keep track of what I read, I’ll make lists of what to read next, and just like that, reading a book feels a lot more like accomplishing something than like wasting time.

Also, (as you might have noticed) I have realised today how fun it is linking back to past posts! I’ll promise not to overdo it though.

B x

Having The Wobbles And Inspiring Blogs (While Feeling Utterly Uninspired)

These days I seem to be having a day that I feel uninspired and tired and mushy (let’s not even get into the state of my hair…) pretty much every day. Can’t do much about it (well, I could: I could put on some music I know will cheer me up, plug in my daylight lamp, eat something, drink something and feel energized and positive in a minute – but I just don’t feel like feeling that way today).

So maybe for now while I sulk in my misery (there’s not actually any misery, I’m just being whimsical), I can still keep one single New Year’s resolution (it’s only day 14, for God’s sake!) and write a blog post.

And what do uninspired people do who are too uninspired to come up with their own topics for blog posts (well, I could of course refer to my long list of ‘things to blog about’, but I just don’t feel…, you get the gist)? They consult The Daily Post and, if they are incidentally also enrolled in their Blogging101 course, they just look at their daily task.

Which I have, if you haven’t quite caught my drift yet. But, I am a cheat (always have been, probably always will be) so I cherry-pick* what I like from it and ignore the rest (thank God I’m not a scientist). And all that jazz about finding new blogs and commenting sounds very much inspired, so not for me (plus, in this mood, I’d probably ruin someone’s day with my point of view, so no comments from me today, it’s for the greater good), but I can manage to list some blog I really like and scribble down something about why I like them (although it is likely to be less enthusiastic than usual, my apologies). Here we go.

Let’s start with one that comes closest to what the original assignment wanted: I literally just found this blog yesterday (or was it the day before?) and it is a true gem. European Travel Adventures is a very hands-on travel blog written by a British student, who caught my eye with travel tips about Budapest, a city I fell in love with last summer. What I like most (bit uninventive, but let’s roll with it) is how her travelling seems to be more like my kind of travelling, meaning not at all like in Eat Pray Love or any of the like: you don’t always look amazing, you don’t necessarily find yourself but you have lots of fun and it’s totally worth it.

Time for the second blog: My favourite mildly (ok, hugely) amusing blog is It’s Dolly Darling. Please, just read for yourself, this lady is hilarious. I loved especially her most recent post with little wisdoms that I guess Gretchen Rubin would call her ‘secrets of adulthood’ (you know when you have read too much of one author in too little time and it makes you nuts? Well, I do), but Dolly just calls ‘Dolly-isms’ (charming, isn’t it!).

Last but truly not least (Blogging101 wanted me to do 4, but 3 is a much more congruent number, plus ‘look at me, I’m a rebel’): My favourite blog about my favourite pastime (apart from eating and sleeping, but I haven’t quite taken to food blogs yet…): A Year Of Reading The World is based on an amazing idea: The blogger read a book from each of the 196 countries that are member states in the UN. Now, she did this a while ago, in 2012, but it is currently relevant in that her own book will be published soon. While I love reading about what she did (she also did ‘A Year of Reading Women‘ the year before),it also leaves me with what I call reader’s guilt: I could be doing a project like that, I should be reading all the books she reads, and more! But gladly, despite my misery and egocentricity, I do have a voice of reason that asks me: If I read everything that she read, would I still have the time to read what I read? No. But, literally, so inspiring. I can’t get enough of reading about all the exotic tales and will definitely need that book on my shelf once it is published (UK release date: February 5th, 2015).

Cheerio and very sorry about the aggressive bracketing,

B x

*this word I picked up from the book I am currently reading, Ben Goldacre’s ‘Bad Science’, which is one of the many many books I have started ages ago but never finished…

Catch-Up Time And All About You

For me weekends are, and always have been, about catching up. Whether it was homework during my school career, catching up with friends and family or, like today, with assignments. As a part of Blogging University’s ‘Blogging 101’ course I have already written about why I blog, changed my blog title and added a tagline, yet, after only one week, I am terribly behind. Luckily, weekends are off and allow us busy blogging newbies to go back and see what we missed out.

Let’s see. I left out Friday’s “Love Your Theme”, but I’ve been through the process of the preview binge when I started the blog back in October and feel no need to repeat this experience. Why change something that works perfectly well for me?

So, next. Oh, I missed out on Thursday’s assignment, too.This is an interesting one: “Write To Your Dream Reader” (and include a new-to-you element, don’t like this part…). So, here we go.

You, my dear reader, probably know yourself best. You have your own opinions and convictions, but you love to learn about other people’s views. After all, isn’t it fascinating how different and yet similar all or our lives are? You’ve found yourself relate to someone with a life If you are part of Blogging 101, you are most likely familiar with the sensation of marveling at how diverse the blogs of participants are – from heavy metal aficionados to fiction-writing housewives. But what most impresses you is the amount of passion that each devotes to their life. You probably have your own blog or are toying with the idea, admit it. You have something to say, anything, and you like a good challenge (especially if it involves ticking things off a list!!).

But most importantly, you have an everyday life that has its unrecognized pit-falls and difficulties, difficulties that are rarely talked about and seem trivial but actually have quite an impact. And you know that the pleasure is in the little things – the two minutes that you stay in bed longer than you should and the teaspoon of honey that you add to your tea.

Ideally, of course, you enjoy reading this blog.

B x