Category: Books

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Poet Of The Day — Langston Hughes

Poet Of The Day — Langston Hughes

Today’s poet and poem of the day is Langston Hughes, one of the cornerstone poets of the Harlem Renaissance.

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I’m a huge fan of the Harlem Renaissance movement in poetry. One of my earlier posts referenced Claude McKay and the meaning behind these poets’ style and choice of words. Langston Hughes is in a league of his own regarding style. He wrote gospel and jazz lyrics as well as long ballad poems. But perhaps the poems most indicative of the style of the movement were his poems like ‘To You,’ below.

This poem is classic Harlem Renaissance. The simple rhyme and the poem’s succinct method of delivery are key. The message is clearly a call-to-action for people who are sick of the oppression and injustice faced at the time (and unfortunately, to this day). With ‘Dinner Guest: Me’ just on the next page it’s almost a scoff by the publisher at how little has been done.

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books I want to read

Books I Want To Read

Books I Want To Read

Today’s books of the day are all these books I want to read! I got them years ago and haven’t gotten around to reading. Mark my words, I will finish them by the end of this year.

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Thomas Bernhard ‘Extinction’

When I was reading Knausgaard’s My Struggle, I wrote down anything and everything that might be useful to me. Whenever I love an author, I always try to find books they read, in an attempt to learn more about them. Knausgaard called Thomas Bernhard’s ‘Extinction’ the scariest book he’s ever read. Later on, as I was reading ‘The Lady in Gold’ I came across Bernhard once again, this time he was mentioned for his criticism of Austrian government’s involvement with stolen artwork during the Holocaust, and refusal to accept its past.

His constant reappearance in my life can only mean I really need to get into this book!

Deathless

This book grabbed my attention because of its’ references to the domovy – a Russian house hobbit. I have no idea what this book will be about, but it is an American author who does an amazing job of describing Russian folklore and traditions without missing anything.

Phantoms In The Brain

This is a scientific book I bought because it included a whole chapter on the sensory parietal lobule. This part of the brain is where the compiling of all our sensory information takes place. Illnesses like phantom limb syndrome have been linked to a misfire in this part of the brain. When I was writing my papers at university about the implications of brain research I found some studies that suggested trans people’s gender dysphoria is also linked to the sensory parietal lobule.

I can’t wait to read more about these scientific findings!

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The Master And Margarita

The Master And Margarita — Book Of The Day

I guess it’s not really book of the day, since Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita is technically a story, but it’ll do for our purposes.

I’m sorry to have another non-English book of the day, but I’ve been on a kick lately. I think it helps me speak Russian better. I love comparing translations, so give the English a read and let me know what you think.

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I guess it can be classified as political satire, fantasy, fiction. There really is no way to define this genre. Bulgakov is brilliantly funny and sarcastic. And as is the case with my favourite books, not a word is wasted. There’s no filler, everything is vital to the unfolding of this amazing satire.

Without giving it away, the devil comes to atheist, communist Russia. Unfortunately, there is no english word for the Russian ‘smeh i greh,‘ it’s basically when you laugh at something you know you shouldn’t. And I’ve been doing a lot of that as I re-read this, laughing while shaking my head.

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Unsolicited Book Review — Strugatsky Brothers

Unsolicited Book Review — Strugatsky Brothers

a modern, forward moving society can’t function while plagued by archaic beliefs

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Strugatsky brothers’ Ugly Swans is about xenophobia. Writing in the sci-fi/fantasy genre allowed the brothers to speak freely about their issues with society without fear of persecution in 1960s communist Russia.

My book, which I read in Russian, consists of two separate but intertwined short stories. Ugly Swans is popular stateside, perhaps for the story’s disdain, and eventual collapse of the “old” world, as represented by the older, rigid, stricter parents.

The children are influenced by ‘slimies’ or lepers; people with weird physical deformities, who are nonetheless brilliant and worldly. Young people take to them and developed a level of maturity and intelligence unmatchable by their parents and teachers. What this leads to is fear and eventual segregation of the ‘slimies’ into a closed off leper colony.

As with most hatred and xenophobia, fear is the driving force. Fear is a knee-jerk reaction that doesn’t give us an honest interpretation of what is happening around us. The story represents the kind of fear people experience when faced with something new. All drastic changes carry with them a sort of threat to the current life we have. Banev, the parent of one of the children in the book feels the same. But before he has a chance to take action, he understands. That our knee-jerk reactions are not always accurate, and that an ending to an ‘old world’ can bring forth a change beneficial to us all.

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Limping Fate

The second story is called Limping Fate, I highly recommend it if you can find it in English. One of the first lines in the book reads, “Lately, I get the feeling that whoever is in charge of my destiny is downright messing with me.” (My translation skills leave something to be desired, but that is the gist).

Unlike Ugly Swans, this story is about an author, who is forced to have his works evaluated by a machine which determines if something is literature or trash. The real theme according to some, is whether anyone can really be the judge of artistic talent. However, since the stories were lumped together into one book (samizdat – at that), I thought it better to interpret them as compliments of each other.

The world depicted in Limping Fate is wildly different from the brave, forward-moving society of Ugly Swans. Here, the populace cannot adapt or keep up. They maintain their archaic ideas of what is talent, artistry, and competition. Eventually, these old concepts and ideas fall away.

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Our world today is very much like the future Strugatsky brothers had in mind when they wrote. Ugly Swans is imperative to our current lives. We are plagued by xenophobia — racism, sexism, Islamophobia, ageism — all of these have their roots in fear.

A society that is as technologically and scientifically advanced as ours is moving forward at a fast pace. As we move forward, archaic concepts such as the ones mentioned above, will become nonsensical. If people choose to hold on to some of these notions, they will eventually be pushed out of society. We can’t maintain moving forward as long as these ancient, and quite frankly, absurd, ideas remain rampant.

Racism is one such mind-boggling concept that seems to me centuries too old for current American society. It doesn’t make sense to hold an iPhone in one hand, drive an electric hybrid car, yet have the person next to you hate or fear another race.

These two stories made me wonder about what will happen next. The two stories were printed together for reason. It was a harbinger of sorts. I believe if people maintain their archaic beliefs, it will create a chasm between the open-minded welcome members of society and those who refuse to move forward. This chasm can have catastrophic repercussions on our lives. I hope people understand this and adjust their ideologies.

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Author Of The Day — Borges

Author Of The Day — Borges

Today’s author of the day is Jorge Luis Borges! I always felt a personal connection to him even though I am not too familiar with his work, because he was Argentine, and a chunk of family lives there.

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Borges is considered a fantasy author. A lot of his work deals addresses philosophy as well. I wanted to make him ‘author of the day’ because I think there’s no one else like him. His stories remind of surrealist paintings by Dali and Dadaist Max Ernst. Borges’ work was filled with labyrinths, infinity mirrors, and mazes.

When I first saw Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” it had a very profound effect on me. When I read Borges’ El Aleph I felt the same. It was very intricate and hard to understand and I had to reread it multiple times, as if I was in the maze myself. Every line and every word had importance and meaning. The House of Asterion, another short story, gave me chills after I finished it.

All these stories can be found in El Aleph, the book pictured above. It’s like a crash course on his writing. With an active imagination, it literally feels like stepping into a painting, or a world created by him.

 

Book Of The Day

Book Of The Day

IT — the movie is coming up and everyone is reading it, including me!

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As you can see, it’s very scary that even Yves is hiding!

Probably the most interesting thing about this book of the day is that throughout the story the characters remember their childhood, things they have completely forgotten about. I’ve read this book before, and as I re-read it, I found myself remembering parts of the book much the same way the characters remembered their lives. Stephen King has an incredible way of weaving stories. He is a true artist with words.

This is one of the most popular horror books/movies/tv series, but it is so much more than that. For me it is about the disillusionment of growing up, and realizing that there truly are some horrors out there. There is a lot of symbolism and hidden messages. Stephen King’s books have been a favourite of mine for their duality, and I encourage you to look deeper as you read IT.

 

Give it a read and let me know what you think!

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Knausgaard and Koffee

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Knausgaard + Koffee

Knausgaard ‘s ‘My Struggle,’ or ‘Min Kamp’ in Norwegian, is a pretty ballsy move. First of all, it’s got the same title as Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf.’ Second of all, it is a six part memoir of a man’s life.

Ordinarily, I would never read such a book. It seems very conceited and self-assured to write six books about your life when you’re only in your mid forties. But I like to challenge myself, and learn new things, and I figured Knausgaard ’s books would do just that.

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It was a very surprising read. It was not conceited or self-assured at all. If anything, he was extremely self-deprecating which created an interesting juxtaposition to the concept of a six-part autobiography. I love that.

What struck me is his way of describing mundane, every day things. He sees everything in such an artistic light. One instance of him traveling somewhere he remembered an old man who ran through the streets when it rained.

I always thought that it’s nice to travel, see new things. But unfortunately all of that is useless when you don’t possess the creativity to make something of the experience. But if you do, beauty, intrigue, and lifelong experiences are everywhere. I feel that Knausgaard and I are alike in that way.

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I could never go over everything that I loved about these books, but I thought i’d go over this one connection I found.

Victorianism and Social Media

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There is a part in Book two when Knausgaard meets a friend and they discuss their behaviors in the world. One of the concepts that came up was Victorianism, and the ‘staging’ of life. His friend mentioned that during the Victorian period everyone was very proper, it was almost as if people lived their life on a stage. Everything that you could see was exactly what people presented to you. What they didn’t want seen was behind the scenes. It was never meant to be revealed.

This got me thinking about social media and how we nowadays behave very much the same way. I do not have nearly enough knowledge to address human behaviors, especially how they change through time. But this made me wonder, are societal trends cyclical?

Social media, or ‘the root of all evil,’ as some like to refer to it, is really just a stage. We see what people show us, and what they don’t want seen is hidden from view. I’m not sure why Karl Ove’s friend brought that up as only an aspect of Victorianism; it can be argued that this is true for all time periods and people. But I think with the advent of social media, and it’s widespread use, this concept has shot through the roof.

We are all familiar with the negative aspects of social media and how it can lead to comparing, and eventually cause us to have a very negative outlook on our own lives. I think this is fascinating. Mainly because I didn’t grow up with social media, I wonder about it’s longterm effect, and it’s effect on young people who’ve never knowing any other life.

When I was a kid, and I wanted something I saw in an ad, my mom always told me ‘it’s a picture, you don’t know how it actually looks in real life.’ I was so fortunate to be brought up that way because it’s a belief I apply to things today. I always remind myself that what I see is what people choose to show.

I love social media, without it, I would not have access to my family in other parts of the world. It’s a useful tool. Knausgaard’s book shone a light on the fact that ‘staging,’ and ‘showing off’ to others is something that can happen regardless of technology. People are people, and will behave similarly throughout history.

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How good does all this look? It was good indeed, but don’t let me mislead you. I took these photos on the floor of my living room, while starving and in desperate need to consume that caffeine.

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Yevtushenko – an unsolicited review

Unsolicited Book Review — Stolen Apples, poetry by Evegeniy Yevtushenko

Yevtushenko is a Soviet-era poet who rose to prominence in the 1960s and 70s.

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He is also a careerist, pandering to a western audience. He’s received a lot of criticism from the likes of Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov, and Brodsky for his inability to be brave, stare into the face of adversity, and speak up. He has always been seen as a kind of ‘safe poet’ by Soviet standards. He was never imprisoned or exiled, and because of this (I know it sounds horrible), I feel like he’s not authentically a rebel poet. His poetry has all the qualifications, but in the final moments, he backpedals and excuses himself from true revolutionary status.

Soviet poets are so popular because of the terrorism they faced on their own land. Many poets were imprisoned and then exiled upon their release. While this is certainly not necessary to criticize the Soviet regime, over time I find myself not taking seriously the poets who were never ostracized this way.

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Stolen Apples

Stolen Apples was written in Russian and English. On the back Yevtushenko wrote a nice letter to multiple Western poets asking them to translate his work. What poet worth his salt asks to be translated? Pushkin, Chekov (although not a poet) all wrote their work with such intricacies so as to make translation impossible.

I always feel that when I read a translated poem, I’m reading the translator’s poem. I was excited to read John Updike’s take on Yevtushenko. But after reading the poems in Russian, it became perfectly clear that Yevtushenko explained to Updike exactly what he wanted to say. Again, what poet worth his salt explains himself? The most beautiful poetry is beautiful for the meanings we assign it while reading.

His poems are for you. Yevtushenko’s poems about Central Park, Chelsea Hotel, the Statue of Liberty, Kent State shooting, they’re all for Americans. Soviet era Russians never possessed the same comprehension of freedom as Americans had. It wasn’t until I came here that I understood how truly horrible violations of human rights are. In Russia it was just business as usual. Our upbringing was different, and for Yevtushenko, someone behind the iron curtain during his formative years, the differences must have been profound. What business does he have writing about these topics?

One perfect example comes to mind. In high school we studied the Kent State shootings. After our class, one of my Russian friends asked what the big deal was. ‘Only four people died,’ she said. Growing up in Russia like me, she never had the right to peacefully assemble. The police violating that right was foreign to her. Freedom was never part of our upbringing. Yevtushenko comes from the same stock. We had a very different definition of what it meant to be free.

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Babii Yar

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I remember one time at university there was a rally supporting gay rights. One guy had a picket sign, it said ‘Love is Gay’ in big letters, and underneath it ‘or straight like me’ in much smaller letters. I always wondered why he needed to add that to his sign. Why did he want to make sure everyone knows he’s straight?

Babi Yar is Yevtushenko’s most famous poem. It is truly beautiful. He speaks so eloquently of the horrors that happened during the Holocaust. But at the end of the poem he adds two lines, reminding the reader that he is not Jewish. Yes, he is hated by the anti-Semites as a Jew, but he is not Jewish. Why did he feel the need to add that?

That last line always brought me back to the student at the rally. Their reasons were the same: cowardice. Yevtushenko’s last lines are there as if to say: ‘I wrote this poem to speak about an injustice, but just in case anyone is checking, I am actually not part of that group.’

My mom would argue and say that the last lines were vital to Yevtushenko’s safety, and she’s right, but during the 1960s in Russia many poets threw safety to the wind and went for it. Yet he didn’t. His most famous poem is pandering to Americans. He’s not genuine or authentic.

Stolen Apples highlights his shortcomings beautifully. I recommend it to anyone who loves poetry. And if you love to hate Yevtushenko, like me, please leave me a comment so we can discuss this further ;))

unsolicited book review — the lady in gold

Gustav Klimt and The Lady In Gold

Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer

It took Klimt six years to paint The Lady In Gold. They were having an alleged affair, and he used this opportunity obviously to spend more time with her. And then the Nazis stole the painting.

What is fascinating is that we know a lot about Klimt’s slutty behavior. He died of syphilis after all. There’s documented information of his illegitimate children, his many mistresses and affairs, but there’s nothing on his relationship with Adele — the lady in gold. It’s suspect that there’s absolutely nothing. Back then everyone had journals and wrote everything down.

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Anne-Marie O’Connor’s The Lady in Gold is a semi-biographical book about Adele Bloch Bauer, Gustav Klimt, and the Nazis. It raises the issues surrounding modern art and history’s biggest collective art theft.

 

In Austria in the 1920s, the ideas of the intelligentsia class were considered a bit ahead of their time. As history went on to show, what they believed turned out to be what we in modern society consider the norm.

A lot of people (myself included) are concerned about the current state of affairs. Our country’s political and criminal issues are serious. After reading this book and doing a little anthropological soul-searching, I had some hope. History shows us that the liberal, open-minded members of society eventually set the standard for the future generations.

The modern intelligentsia class today is comprised of the same people as during Adele’s times — artists, musicians, liberals, writers, and other intellectuals. If the past shows us anything, it’s that the beliefs of this group of people will become what the future considers the norm.

But I digress… Back to the Lady in Gold.

Alma Mahler, who later married the composer Mahler, was a friend of Adele’s. She married Mahler for love, and later divorced him, an unheard of concept in those times — a divorced woman. She later had an affair with Kokoschka, who even painted her, but they broke up as well. It has been discussed that she hoped to have an affair with Klimt.

These incidences were well documented, which just added to the mystery of the lady in gold and her relationship with Klimt. If they were in love, or if they hated each other, there should have been some evidence.

Perhaps they kept all of their relationship a secret for a reason.

 

The painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer was a sad story. As the war grew closer, many people escaped Austria, while others didn’t take the threat of Hitler seriously. Adele was long gone, but her art collection fell victim to the Nazis.

I love reading and learning as much as I can about art. This historical book was very thorough and eye-opening. The amount of research Ms. O’Connor conducted was absolutely inspired. This book was truly one of the most complete retellings of art history, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who loves art.

 

I would have liked to read more about Klimt’s relationship with Adele. Although not much information exists, even the opinions of art historians would surmise.

People often say this painting of Klimt’s Judith is another portrait of the Lady in Gold. It is obviously her face. Even if she did not pose for it, Klimt was inspired by her. Why did he choose her to be his Judith? In my previous posts I’ve talked about Judith Beheading Holofernes as the ultimate depiction of female strength.

Adele died of unknown causes. It seemed like she was tired of her life. Yet Klimt depicted her with insurmountable strength. He knew her better than anyone. Or he knew a different version of her, a private her she didn’t show to just anyone.

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After seeing this Egon Schiele painting, I once again thought it was Adele on the right. The two artists were colleagues, and it is not unreasonable to think Adele posed for Schiele.

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I would love to know the answers to the mysteries surrounding The Lady in Gold. But maybe the greatest thing about this whole story is that we don’t know the whole story.

Hope you enjoyed reading I would love to hear your opinions ;)))