trust me…

There’s a state election coming up this week-end, so I’ve been seeing a lot of campaign ads on TV, and a lot of campaign people on the streets. I’ve encountered these people mostly at the train station where I get off (or “de-train”, as the train announcer likes to say) for work, which doesn’t really make sense to me because a lot of people who get off there (myself included) probably aren’t in that electorate anyway – we just go there to work. Also, since we’re all going to work, we definitely do not have time to be standing around talking to these people about politics.

Anyway, the other day, as I was leaving the train station, on my way to work, I saw ahead of me, just beyond the exit, two people handing out fliers for a certain political party. I didn’t look long enough at the poster beside them to determine which party they were from, nor to figure out if one of them was the person on the poster, and hence an actual candidate (and not some random handing out fliers). Didn’t matter, anyway. All of the people exiting ahead of me either declined the proffered fliers or outright ignored them. I didn’t notice anyone smiling back or somehow acknowledging that these people were people (granted, I wasn’t really paying attention). I did, however, notice one man accepting a flier, but, judging by the disinterested look on his face, I’m not sure if he actually wanted it or knew what he was taking; or if he was still in an early-morning haze and would’ve taken anything that any random stranger gave to him.

I would not have thought all of this to be interesting enough to blog about as it is, but something else made me think twice about that morning. (Yes, believe it or not, I actually haven’t gotten to the point of this post yet!)

The other day, I read something (ok, it was just the headline – no time for the rest of the words…) about how pharmacists in the UK are trusted less than pharmacists in Australia, relative to other professions in the respective nations. (Not sure if that makes sense… Basically, pharmacists in Australia are usually ranked pretty high up in “who do you trust?” surveys, but UK pharmacists don’t rank so well. Again, I got this from a headline and, at most, the first sentence, so even I only have the basic jist of it.)

Having studied Pharmacy, and then worked as a Pharmacist for several years now, I’ve noticed that our professional/representative bodies like to put a lot of weight on these surveys. I think recently we’ve slipped down the list a bit (but still top ten?) and that was a really big deal. Pharmacists on the other side of the planet not being trusted is a big deal too, apparently. It makes sense, though – of course we want people to be able to trust us. But that’s not the issue.

The question I was pondering that morning was whether or not politicians experience this same anguish about people – the very people that they’re meant to be serving – not trusting them. (On a side note, do politicians have professional associations or something that … I don’t know … represent them or disseminate news or something?)

It’s no secret that people don’t trust politicians in general (and much less if the two main parties are constantly pointing out all of the lies told by the other party), so surely politicians know it; surely people who want to be politicians know it. Does it bother them? Do they make it a goal to improve their standing, and find ways to make people trust them? Are there any democratic countries where people actually trust their politicians? Is it just the natural order of things that politicians cannot be trusted? So many questions…

The Book of Tomorrow

Hmm… so I finished reading “The Book of Tomorrow” (by Cecelia Ahern), and I feel obliged to write a “review” post, as I’ve been doing for every book I’ve read for the last … however long I’ve been doing this… but I’m just not sure what to write.

I borrowed this book from a friend (it’s a bit of a double-edged sword having friends know that you love reading – they’re always happy to recommend and lend books to you, adding to the never-ending pile of books to read), and it’s probably not the sort of book that I’d normally pick up and read, which, ironically, was one of the things that attracted me to it.

Ok, for one, the edition I read has a bright purple cover. Nothing against the colour purple, but it kind of made the book seem like something a teenage girl would read (there is an awful lot of swearing in it though, so I’m not sure if Ahern was really going for the younger readers on this one). Also, I knew the author’s name sounded familiar, but a little note at the bottom of the front cover helpfully advised me that Cecelia Ahern was also the author of “PS, I Love You”. Again, nothing against that book/movie (I’ve only seen the movie, but not sure if I watched the whole thing…) but, from what I remember of it, it is a romance and, at the risk of sounding a bit jaded, romance stories kind of make me roll my eyes a bit.

But, despite all that, the blurb sounded kind of interesting, and it was a novel that my friend liked. And I was kind of interested in reading something by Cecelia Ahern, so… I read it. Besides, I guess it didn’t seem too romance-y, and I quickly established that this certainly was not a children’s book. An added bonus was that the actual print is reasonably large compared to what I’ve been reading lately, so it was a welcome relief for my eyes. (I am dreading the day that I need glasses.)

TBOT is basically about a spoilt teenager, Tamara, and how her dad suddenly commits suicide, and she and her mother are forced to live with her aunt in the middle of nowhere. Tamara eventually finds this old diary of sorts, which magically shows her the entry that she writes the next day, before any of it has even happened. As such, she is able to see into the future, and alter the course of certain events. This is particularly helpful for her because she suspects that her aunt, Rosaleen, is up to something.

One question i asked myself after finishing TBOT was whether the story could have worked without the diary, and I think the answer is yes; it just would have taken her a whole lot longer to figure out what was going on. I do like the concept, although if such a thing existed, it would likely get horribly abused…

Something strange that I’ve realised is that I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likeable – well, maybe except for Sister Ignatius. I didn’t really sympathise that much with Tamara, her mum was a bit “meh”, Rosaleen wasn’t even remotely likeable, and even Marcus didn’t turn out to be that great. Weseley seemed alright for the most part, but I kept reading his name like “Weasley”, and I’m not sure that’s the right way to say it. Maybe it’s meant to be more like “Wesley”. Whatever.

Yeah, ok, maybe Tamara becoming less bratty as the story progressed kind of made her more likeable.

But it was a good book. I did enjoy reading it. It was actually very easy to read (despite the grammatical errors – mostly missing commas). I finished it within a week, amongst work and blog-reading and whatever else I do with my time. I even got a bunch of CPD done, and I still finished it in a week. Maybe the large font really did help.

sought & found

After a dreadful week-end of hot and humid weather where the very thought of going outside, away from the comfort of aircon can make you sweat profusely, it looks like maybe we’re finally getting some relief.

On Saturday, I went to the bi-annual Lifeline Bookfest, which is thankfully held in the pleasantly air-conditioned Convention Centre. As I still have many books from previous years that I have not yet read, I made a short list of wanted titles/authors, and set out determined to stick to this self-imposed limit. Now, before you all go and predict the obvious outcome to this, let me tell you that there were only eight things on the list, and at the end of the day I came out with only five books. Amazingly, one of the books was from the list. So, overall, I’d say that’s not too bad…

For those who are interested/curious, the listed novel was “Never let me go” by Kazuo Ishiguro. He was actually on my “authors” list, so I was quite excited when the one Ishiguro novel that I (eventually) found was the only one that I’d actually heard of before. However, as soon as I picked it up and saw that it had the film cover, I swear the change in my expression must have been plain as day. For one, I don’t like book covers with pictures of people (especially if they’re photos of real people), and secondly, I just don’t like movie tie-ins. As much as I try to not be judgemental of book covers, I will admit that these two, very superficial things are enough of a deterrent to make me put down a potentially very good book. Well, almost enough.

I did actually have to phone a friend on this one. Of course, by “phone a friend” I mean I messaged a friend who I thought could understand my dilemma (apparently there aren’t many people these days who like talking on the phone). So, ever the voice of reason, she asked me if I want to look at it or read it. That was easy enough to answer; totally put it in perspective.

The other four fortuitous acquisitions were “Wool” (Hugh Howey), “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (Truman Capote), a Readers’ Digest “Select Editions” book which included “The Rosie Project” and “Six Years” together in the one tome, and “Catch 22” (Joseph Heller). Strangely, the one that I’m particularly stoked about is “Catch 22”, even though that’s the one novel in the list that I have read before. The reason I was so excited to find it was because, as you may (but probably won’t) recall, that was the one book that I had really wanted to find a few Bookfests ago. After a fruitless search, I then despaired that I would never be able to find a second-hand copy, as no one who had read it would just give it away to charity.

I did buy a new copy after that time, but I subsequently lent this to a friend who, shortly thereafter, moved to the other side of the country… Not to worry! I have another copy now! Well, I had another copy; I’ve already lent this one to a friend as well. In truth, however, I’m not too fussed about getting it back any time soon. After all, I have so many other novels to read before I get back around to re-reading it!

As I’ve been typing this, we finally got some rain – some refreshingly cool rain. The only unfortunate thing is that we have to keep the windows closed when it rains, and hence miss out on the cool breeze. Summer rain also seems to bring mosquitos. Sorry, usually I’m more of an optimist, but this heat has just been positively stifling! But now, as I finish this post, the rain has stopped, which means it’s time to get the windows open again, and let the cool air in! I’m looking forward to not waking up in the middle of the night feeling like I’m in some sort of gigantic slow-cooker.

polarising foods

From my vast experience both eating and talking about food, I’ve noticed that there are certain foods that seem to polarise opinion: you either have it one way or the other, or maybe not at all.

What prompted me to think about this was a certain lunchtime conversation at work last week. The impetus for this conversation was none other than the humble avocado, a simple fruit with neither a very strong aroma or taste. Actually, it is perhaps this very quality that gives it the scope necessary for dividing opinion. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation started, but I think someone must have been eating something with avocado in it (which was savoury), which prompted one colleague to comment that avocado is much better with sweet accompaniments (e.g. honey). This, in turn, triggered a rather passionate discussion about why avocado is better in sweet/savoury contexts – an almost too passionate discussion, considering what we were talking about.

So, basically, some people like strongly prefer avocado with honey and/or sugar, or with condensed milk, but the other half of the table seemed to think this was odd, and would rather have it in a salad or on toast or something. And thus a line was drawn. As for myself, I don’t mind it either way. I grew up eating avocado with honey and a sprinkling of raw sugar – sometimes on toast, sometimes just the avocado, honey and sugar. When I discovered how amazing avocado on toast drizzled with sweetened condensed milk was (despite how messy it is to eat), honey lost pole position. (Granted, this particular revelation came about from a recommendation to improve the condensed-milk-on-toast experience rather than with a view to enhancing the avocado-on-toast experience.)

I was never really a fan of avocado in savoury sandwiches (toasted or not), so at this point I thought that that was it – avocado on toast surely couldn’t get better than that. Well, no, apparently it can. Last year I discovered, via a website that a regretfully cannot remember the name or address of, the delicious simplicity of avocado on toast with lemon juice and cracked pepper. This also has the added benefit of not having as many calories and hence as much guilt as is associated with excessive condensed milk consumption. It is also easy to prepare and not as messy to eat. This is now my preferred option.

I really did not expect to write three paragraphs about avocado, but when I think about it, I don’t know how I expected to write any less than three paragraphs about it. Nevertheless, let’s move on. Another fruit that gets thrown around in the sweet vs savoury debate is pineapple. The usual point of contention here is whether it is acceptable to have pineapple on pizza, and there seem to be only two sides to this. No elaboration needed (but, personally, I don’t like pineapple on its own – I’d rather it were on a pizza or in a cake; just cooked somehow).

Another one that has popped up in recent memory is that of crustaceans, especially crabs and prawns. The issue here, however, is not about taste. Perhaps it is a generational thing, but apparently I’m not the only one who believes that the effort-to-reward ratio for eating (hard-shelled) crab is simply not worth it. Prawns have a similar issue, but not as bad – at least the shell-to-meat ratio is more favourable, and it generally requires less effort to eat prawns than to eat crabs. In either case, I’d prefer to be able to eat the shell: soft-shelled crab, and prawns cooked in a way that renders the shell crispily edible. (Yeah, “crispily” is probably not a real word, but it will have to do for now.)

There are, of course, lots of other foods that people just do not sit on the fence about, and, as much as I would like to, I could not possibly go through them all. Examples include oysters, licorice, durian, and raw tomato (I can’t remember specifics, but I feel like raw tomato is one of those things that a lot of people have told me that they absolutely refuse to eat). If you have some examples of your own, you’re more than welcome to share!

classically

I was just thinking about what I’d like to write about in my post for this week, so I browsed through my Filing Cabinet (not an actual cabinet – the one on the side of the blog with various blog categories), and realised that I haven’t published anything under the television category in a while. Having another look, I realised that I haven’t published anything movie-related in almost an entire year! Well, one day short of a year, so I can probably round that up.

The reason for this lack of movie posts is simply that I have not watched many movies in this past year. I seriously cannot remember the last time I watched a movie in the cinemas. I feel like maybe it was mid last year, but I’m not sure, and I cannot, for the life of me, remember what it was.

I do know that the most recent movie that I watched (outside of the cinemas) is, in fact, “The Sound of Music” but only because I just watched that on Christmas, and only because it seems to be some sort of crime against humanity to have never watched it. Ok, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but I guess it’s just one of those sorts of classics. I actually wasn’t paying that much attention to it – just enough to get the idea of what was going on – and the other day, when I was talking to a colleague about it, I didn’t even recognise the name of one of the main characters.

It seems that I don’t tend to do well with “classic” films: “Chariots of Fire” and “Casablanca” are two that come to mind. Incidentally, they were both films that I watched in high school English classes…

One classic that I don’t mind too much is “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, although, admittedly, I don’t remember an awful lot about what happens in it. But my memory’s not great on these sorts of things anyway, so it’s hardly indicative of how good it actually was. It would seem that the memory of enjoying something is generally greater than the memory of the actual event. I wonder if there’s some sort of neurological explanation for that…

Anyway, thinking of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” brings me to another thought (surprisingly for me, it’s not about breakfast). Despite the fact that Audrey Hepburn passed away at a time when a lot of the people of my generation were still learning to speak, she seems to be quite widely quoted on social media. Imagine having that much impact on people that, almost 22 years after your death, people are still quoting you as if you’re the authority on living life. Well, it could be said of other famous people who are now dead, but that’s beside the point.

As I was thinking about this, I realised that I knew nothing about Hepburn other than she was an actress famous for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and good quotes, so I did a quick internet search. Some of the things I discovered that I had not previously known include: she was born in Belgium, she could speak five different languages, and she was a UNICEF ambassador. Also, according to IMDb, she lived through the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, during which she suffered depression and malnutrition.

Before this, I had contemplated finding and reading a biography about Hepburn (considering her stature, I’m sure there are plenty out there), but after finding out a bit more about her, I definitely want to read more about her life. But, don’t worry, it’s not that I’m suddenly idolising, or even trying to emulate her; I’m just curious. Besides, doesn’t it sound like her life would be interesting to read about? Well, the main problem is finding the right biography to read. There’s a lot riding on this because I don’t read a lot of non-fiction (I would just much rather read fiction books), so one boring or poorly-written biography could spoil this entire category of books for me. If you have read an Audrey Hepburn biography before, or otherwise have a good recommendation, please do share!

Actually, in the spirit of generosity, I’ll also accept suggestions for biographies about people who are not Audrey Hepburn.

(After re-reading this post, I realised that, although I started off intending to write about movies, I finished this post by writing about books… Typical…)

paradise of solitude

What a good start to the year – my first novel of 2015 is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’. Well, I started reading it last year, and read most of it in 2014, but I just finished it today, so I’m counting it in my 2015 tally.

I think I wanted to read a Marquez novel ever since I read Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s ‘The Angel’s Game’, and read on the back cover that it was comparable to Marquez’s writing. However, after having read OHYS, I’d say I much prefer Marquez. That could just be recency bias, though…

To be fair, about halfway through, or a bit over halfway through OHYS, I did contemplate not finishing it. I know, shock horror, right? It was around the time that I wrote this post about my epiphany-like realisation that I’m not obliged in any way to finish reading novels that I don’t find engaging/exciting/enthralling enough (gee, that’s a lot of E words). This day was also about a week away from the day that OHYS was due to be returned to the library, and I was having doubts about my ability to finish reading it in that small and crowded timeframe (remember: public holidays, festivities, etc tend to mean less reading time).

But I later realised that I actually have two weeks after the “due date” to return it before they start charging late fees… Yeah, I know, it’s one earth-shattering shock after another – OHYS is a bit overdue now, but I’ll return it tomorrow!

Ok, before this becomes a post about random confessions of various book and non-book related crimes, let’s talk about what I liked about OHYS. For a book that I almost resigned to the “too hard” shelf, I am so glad that I persisted and finished it. One way that I know that I’ve read a remarkable novel, something worth five stars, is that I feel immensely sad after I finish reading it because it means that there is no more of it to be read. This is generally accompanied by the feeling of urgently wanting to re-read it, and rediscover any small details that might have been overlooked along the way.

As with a lot of books I read these days (or so it seems), I didn’t really know what to expect when I started reading OHYS. The three things that struck me quite quickly were that Marquez wrote in really, really long paragraphs (I’m talking about four-page paragraphs at times); there’s very minimal dialogue or actual speech (preferring to describe what the characters are talking about rather than provide a script); and that the transitions between one scene and the next, or one concept and a completely different one were absolutely seamless.

Basically, in these gigantic paragraphs, Marquez might start off describing one particular point in someone’s life. Then he kind of comes across a bridging concept, and before you know it, you’re suddenly somewhere else or with someone else or at a different point in time (or maybe all three). On the surface, as I describe it, it might seem like something that would get annoying. For me, however, it was both unbelievable and impressive. It was also a bit confusing at times, but that sometimes also added to the appeal.

What was confusing, though, especially at the start and then toward the end of the book, was the repetition of names. Of the central characters, there was only a handful of names shared among them: Jose Arcadio, Aureliano, Remedios, Amaranta, etc. This Buendia family tradition of naming kids after their father/grandfather/etc necessitated the use of people’s surnames all throughout the book, which was not a terrible thing, but for a character with a name as long as “Santa Sofia de la Piedad”, I kind of wished Marquez could have used a short form now and then. But I don’t mind, really; it kind of has a nice ring to it. Fortunately as well, the copy I borrowed had a family tree at the start, so it was a bit easier to track how everyone was related.

For a novel with so many characters, and in which so much happens, I don’t think i could pick a favourite character. I found something almost admirable about Ursula, though, and Colonel Aureliano Buendia, for the most part, was likeable. OHYS is actually quite moving and poetic. I found myself pitying a lot of the characters. It is a book about solitude, though, so it would kind of be expected… The “solitude” in OHYS, however, is not just the usual physical solitude of being by oneself, but a kind of metaphorical solitude of being emotionally/spiritually shut-off from the world. Well, something like that; it’s hard to explain.

Would I read ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ again? 100% yes.

When I quickly came back to my senses after entertaining the idea of abandoning the book unfinished (man, it’s even hard to just write those words, let alone think that I thought of doing that), I had even considered buying a copy so that I could read it slowly, and then re-read it, and probably lend it to people to get them to read it. That’s another thing – I’m not sure if it’s just the way it was translated (excellent translation, by the way, Gregory Rabassa) but it was generally easier to understand the long sentences when I read faster than if I read slowly to try to absorb everything. Also, I feel like more commas in the right places might have helped.

Well, I didn’t end up buying a copy. Kind of need to clear up more bookshelf space first… It is definitely on the wish list, though (very subtle hint… too bad Christmas has just passed…)