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I Said to My Soul, Be Still…

I was reading T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets today when this section from “East Coker” hit me right in the heart like a jolt from a defibrillator.

On it’s own, it’s an amazing and brilliant passage. But, in addition to that, it pretty much sums up everything I’m going through and everything I need to hear right now.

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“I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away—
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing—
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.

                                        You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again,
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
  You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
  You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
  You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
  You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.”
—T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets: “East Coker”

I can remember thinking, when I read it the first time, that this was a brilliant and deep passage, but it didn’t quite jump out at me. I guess I didn’t need it as much then. This time, reading it was like being resuscitated. Everything about it is perfect for me, at this very moment. It’s as if it were written just for me.

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I’ve been learning to be still and sit with the discomfort, but it isn’t easy and I still needed someone to “say it again.” Who better to have say it than the supreme T. S. Eliot? 🙂

7 Ways to Maximize Your Misery

I’d heard about this video a few times in the last few days, but I finally watched it today, when a friend shared a direct link. Apparently, it’s based off a book by a psychologist named Randy J. Paterson called How to Be Miserable: 40 Strategies You Already Use. I don’t know if I’ll read the book, but the video is great and so true. It made me laugh a lot. 😀


Ps. The last minute is just an ad for Audible.com. I found it a bit annoying. If you want save yourself a bit of time, the maximizing misery part ends at about the 6:15 mark.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Spent a rainy day reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

I don’t know exactly what I expected going into it, perhaps a whole lot more doom and gloom. I think I expected something more along the lines of the Nazi death camps. Everything I’d read about prison camps, up until this book, had been about the Nazi camps, which were, pretty much, set up for the sole purpose of extermination. Russian camps, on the other hand, were more along the line of slave labor camps, and while the reasons for incarceration and conditions and treatment of prisoners were still inhumane and terrible, when compared to a Nazi extermination camp, it’s terrible and weird to say, they seem relatively humane.

I think I was also expecting more of an exposé of the ideology behind the Communist/Stalinist regime, something more along the lines of what I imagine (since I haven’t read it yet) Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago is. I guess I hadn’t really taken into consideration the fact that One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was personally given the stamp of approval for publication by Nikita Khrushchev. I should have realised, for that reason alone, it wouldn’t be a blatant and searing indictment against Communism and the ideologies that led to the prison camps (though I can definitely see it being the beginning of a crack in the armour).

Instead, what I found was, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is exactly what it’s title professes it to be: one ordinary day in the life of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, a prisoner, in a freezing Soviet labor camp. From the moment reveille sounds to the moment he goes to sleep, we follow him and get a close-up look at his life and thoughts and interactions with his fellow human beings. It’s a story of humanity and hope; a tribute to the dignity, strength and survival of the human spirit in the bleakest of circumstances.

There is a lingering theme through the book, put both at the beginning and end, first as a question and then as a statement:

AGNH6214rs“How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand one who’s cold?”

A man who is warm can’t understand a man who’s freezing.”

Yet, despite the impossibility, in this little novella, without any chapters, Solzhenitsyn, somehow, makes us feel and understand. He also opens our eyes to the gift of life and the treasures and wonders we have all around us, from moment to moment, and in the tiniest of things.

I have a lot more to say about this book, but, alas, time fails me. So, for now, I’ll just say, I highly recommend it. This is also one of those books that you really have to read until the last paragraph, to fully appreciate, but it’s a quick read (my book is 142 pages) and could easily be read from start to finish in a day.

I haven’t done much research into translations, but from the little I have done, I’d recommend the Ralph Parker translation (which is the one I have) over the Max Hayward/Ronald Hingley, translation which seems to be rather poorly translated with some blatant errors.

If you decide to read this book or if you already have, I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about it. 🙂

Adventures at the Fountain Valley Friends of the Library Bookstore

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At the end of last month/beginning of this month, I visited my brother and his family in California. During one of my last days there, my sister-in-law took me to her favorite place to to look for books: the Fountain Valley Friends of the Library Bookstore; a tiny, little, room of a, gem of a bookstore run by book-loving, friendly, volunteer staff. 🙂

For some reason, I’d always imagined library bookstores to be full of old, worn library books, that no one was reading any more, with ugly library card pockets glued to the front of the book and stamped all over with an ugly “WITHDRAWN” stamp–overall, a pretty drab and aesthetically unappealing collection. I figured if I were to ever visit a library bookstore it would be for the sole purpose of a book’s contents (e.g. to look for some scholarly, obscure book that I couldn’t afford to buy at the regular, new or used price), never for aesthetics. I’d never been to a library bookstore, so I had my doubts when I walked in, but about five minutes later, I was sure that if I lived even remotely near there, I’d likely be a very strong contender for the label of “most frequent customer”. 🙂 It turned out that all the books there, as far as I could tell, were donated by readers. I found a few ex-libris books, but I didn’t find a single ex-library book.

It was such a pleasant surprise to discover a vast and quality selection of books, in excellent condition, in such a tiny place. Best of all, their prices. were. incredible. Most books were 1 dollar; the most expensive books were 2-4 dollars; and romance novels…well, they were on sale! 🙂

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Unfortunately, romance novels aren’t my thing, but I imagined for a moment how lucky I’d be if they were: 100 romance novels for 10 dollars! (Oh, the joy! 😀 )

We only had about thirty minutes there, because closing time was at 5:00 pm, but it was a small enough of a store that I felt I was able survey all the essentials, and yet it still left me with more to explore. As it was, I had a hard enough time cutting down the stack of books that I’d collected, in about 20 minutes, to a size and weight I was sure would be manageable in my luggage on my flight home.

In the end, I settled on the nine awesome and beautiful books you see at the top of this post, for the incredible price of $11! They are all in excellent condition and the Kafka and Isben books look as if they’ve never been read before! I walked away feeling like a treasure hunter who’d stumbled on to some local secret. 🙂

It’s funny because, prior to my trip, I thought I’d have a lot of extra time and imagined that I’d use it to visit plenty of bookstores. Things turned out differently and I ended up without much time to spare, but that was okay, because thirty minutes at the Friends of the Library Bookstore was really all I needed. 🙂

If you’re someone who loves to own a physical copy of the books you read and you’re lucky enough to have a Friends of the Library or any library bookstore in your vicinity, I can’t recommend them enough. They are lovely and fantastic places to explore; the gems you can discover and prices you can purchase them for are a book lover’s best-kept secret.

What I’m Reading #10

After my last frustrating experience photographing a year’s worth of reading, I figure it’s probably a better idea to get back to doing my What I’m Reading posts more regularly. 🙂

Here’s a look at what I’ve read, so far, in 2017.DSC_8949rs

  1. The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
  2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  3. A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle
  4. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
  5. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
  6. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
  7. The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
  8. Nevsky Prospect, The Diary of a Madman, The Nose, The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol (four out of six of the St. Petersburg Tales), Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
  9. Oddkins by Dean R. Koontz
  10. The Martian by Andy Weir (Not pictured because I borrowed it from a friend)
  11. Rise of Endymion (Hyperion Cantos #4) by Dan Simmons (Not pictured; I listened to the audiobook)

I’m having a bit of a dilemma regarding Nikolai Gogol’s works; I’m not exactly sure how to count or list them, as his tales are collected/listed differently depending on the publisher. I think I’ll just wait until I’ve finished reading the other two St. Petersburg Tales and then count all of them as one book. In that case, so far, I’ve finished reading ten books this year (1/3 of the way through my reading goal for the year, yay! 🙂 ). All of them were great reads, though I’ve only managed to blog about one. Hopefully, I’ll eventually get around to blogging about a few more of them.

These are the books I’m currently reading.DSC_8974rs

How to be Decadent by George Mikes
I and Thou by Martin Buber, Ronald Gregor Smith (Translator)
Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
Notes from Underground (A Norton Critical Edition / 1st Edition) by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Michael R. Katz (Translator/Editor)
The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
St. Petersburg Tales (The Portrait, The Carriage) by Nikolai Gogol, Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright

For the last few weeks, I’ve been focusing on Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. I’ll be meeting up with a friend this Sunday to discuss it, so I’ve been using that as impetus to really dig in and finish all the critical essays and background information included in my Norton Critical Edition. In addition to that, I’ve also been re-reading Notes from Underground for the second and third time simultaneously. (As you can see I’m somewhat obsessed. 🙂 ) I’m actually not exactly sure how you would count it, as I’m reading two different translations simultaneously (i.e. I finish a chapter in the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, and then I read Michael R. Katz’s translation of the same chapter). I don’t think I could manage to pull off this kind of simultaneous reading with any other book, but Notes from Underground is short enough and such brilliant piece of work, I’m finding it’s actually a really interesting way to read it. 🙂

I’ve been slowly making my way through George Mikes’ How to be Decadent and Martin Buber’s I and Thou for about a year now. I actually started reading Buber’s I and Thou last May, but it was a tough read and hard to follow. I only got about 20 pages in before I put it down. I figured maybe it was problem with Ronald Smith’s translation and decided to wait till I could get my hands on a Walter Kaufmann translation instead. But, recently, I came across a few paragraphs from I and Thou that I really liked that turned out to be a section from the Ronald Smith translation just a few pages down from where I left off. So I figured maybe I’d just stopped before the good stuff, and decided to have another go at it. I’ll still likely still buy the Kaufmann translation, eventually, but I’m gonna give Ronald Smith another go and we’ll see how that turns out.

N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God is a tome I’ve been meaning to read for nearly a decade now. I finally bought a copy as a sort of Christmas present to myself last year and figured I’d make it my Lent reading project this year. Unfortunately, that plan got hijacked, by my Notes from Underground reading project. Still, I’ve been slowly chugging along at it. I’m only 50 pages in, so there’s no way I’m gonna finish it by Easter, but I’m determined to slowly make my way through it this year.

I haven’t started reading Dostoevsky’s The Gambler or the last two of Gogol’s Petersburg Tales, but they’re up next, after I’m finished with Notes from Underground.

Aside from those books, in celebration of National Poetry Month, I’m hoping to dig into some of the poetry of my two favourite poets T. S. Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins.

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I especially want to focus on T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, and possibly “Ash Wedsnesday”. But definitely Four Quartets, which I think is the best of T. S. Eliot’s best. I’ve been wanting to really dig into to it ever since I read it for the first time in November, 2015.

It’s such a deep and profound and beautiful and perfect collection of poetry, I think I could explore and meditate on it for a lifetime and still have more to discover and explore. I feel like it will take me years to even begin to scratch the surface of it’s depth, but I’m looking forward to making some progress towards that this next month. 🙂

A Wrinkle in Time

It’s very rare that I come across something I truly wish I’d read when I was a kid or an adolescent, but that was one of the strongest feelings I had when I finished reading this beautiful little gem of a story last week.

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It was almost a feeling of regret and frustration at the injustice that I was not even aware of this book’s existence, at that age, because I know that my adolescent self would have truly appreciated and found a kindred spirit and guide in it. I even share the same name as the protagonist 🙂 (a first for me; although, we don’t share the same derivative) and I could see a lot of myself, especially, a much younger me in this Meg. I think this book could have given me wisdom and helped to fortify and guide me through a lot of the issues I faced growing up.

But I don’t really mind, that it took me this long to finally read it, because I found it surprisingly relevant to my life right now. It still seemed like the perfect timing to read it. 🙂

I may do a more in depth review on the book at some point, but to try to sum it up in one paragraph: A Wrinkle in Time is a story that explores deep truths about what it means to be truly human. It’s a book that looks at darkness and evil and uncertainty with the eyes of  faith, hope and love. It’s a book that gives the imagination worlds to explore and wings to fly, without bogging it down with too many details. It’s a story that explores difficult ideas and concepts–such as: equality of opportunity vs. equality of outcome; conformity vs. individuality; confronting and resisting ideologies and the herd mentality; how freedom and true joy requires responsibility and the risk of pain, mistakes and unhappiness; how life isn’t simple and often there are no easy solutions or quick fixes and we can only respond to life by being responsible; how we don’t have to be afraid of being afraid or of life or of who we are (imperfections vulnerabilities and weaknesses included); how weaknesses can also be our strengths (and vice versa); how often times, the only way out is through facing our fears (taking an honest look at who we are and the things we are most afraid of or least want to do), but if we are brave we’ll find we are strong enough to and that good can come of it–all in a relatively simple and uplifting way, that even a child could understand and synthesise.

Simply put, A Wrinkle in Time is a gift and a story for all ages. I love it and I would recommend it to just about anyone.

That said, I can imagine that there may be people this book may not appeal to. There’s this little gem of a quote I came across, for the first time, yesterday, at the end of C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain. It pretty much sums up how I feel about recommending this book:

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“You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words: but most of your friends do not see it at all, and often wonder why, liking this, you should also like that.”
C. S. Lewis,
The Problem of Pain

There’s so much of that secret thread–that binds books that I really love (and ideas that capture me) together–running through this book; it’s brimming with it. I’d say if you’ve read and loved, at least, two or three of the following titles: Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series (as well as his Space Trilogy), Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, or George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin books (or his other fairy tales and stories), and maybe even Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows or Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, or even, Edwin A. Abbot’s Flatland and the Bible then you may be someone who as an inkling of that secret thread and you may enjoy this book too. 🙂

Actually, I’d still say to just about anyone: give this book a read. It isn’t a long book (a little over 200 pages) and a very easy read (I read it in a day). And, if you do read it, let me know what you think. 🙂

This was my first time to read anything by Madeleine L’Engle and it definitely won’t be my last. I’m sure this is a book I will revisit too. It’s on my list of favorites and I’m already looking forward to reading it again. 🙂

If you, dear reader, have already read this book, do you have any thoughts (positive or negative) on it? If so, I’d love to know what you think. 🙂

There Are Two Kinds of People…

My sister sent me this cartoon the other day, she thought it was perfect for me. It was. 🙂 It resonates and makes me laugh, because it’s literally the exact way I’d put it, if I had to.

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I may or may not have been guilty of doing this to a few books as a child, but, until a few months ago, I hadn’t actually seen anyone do this to a book in years. I can’t remember exactly where I saw it, if it was in-person or on the internet. I just remember feeling a jolt and shudder of shock and horror, then disappointment in the owner and terribly sorry for the book! 🙂 Haha.

I understand why people might want to dog-ear a book, i.e., you have a few places you want to keep track of and you want to find them easily (I often end up using two or three bookmarks in one book). Still, once dog-eared, always dog-eared. Books that are well-read and loved naturally get well-worn and dog-eared, but there’s no need to deliberately speed up the process. 😦 If you want your book to have a long and happy and healthy life, it’s really in your best interest to find a slip of paper to use instead (I even use tissue and napkins when I have nothing else on hand), or buy or make a bookmark, or buy a pack of sticky-note-flags. Your books will thank you and will last longer too. 🙂