meditations – transience

This year, I have read some very interesting, and very “different” books. I read New Earth which is sort of about spirituality and focuses a lot on focusing on the present moment; I read Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World which was a very bizarre story in which death – particularly the imminence of death – featured quite prominently; I read A Tale for the Time Being which dealt with suicide a lot; and, not too long ago, I finished reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations which is a philosophical text that addresses, among many things, the idea of transience.

All these books – which, let it be noted, I did not intentionally choose to read in that order, or consciously plan to read them all this year, but rather that it so happened that I came across them or otherwise felt compelled to pick them up when I did – all these books have got me thinking, subconsciously and consciously, from time to time, about how everything is transient and ephemeral and impermanent and all those beautiful words that mean more or less the same thing.

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Thursday Doors – Burnett Lane

It seems that I’ve unknowingly developed quite a backlog of door photos, so I might actually manage to publish kind of regular Thursday Doors posts on top of my regular blogging.

This week’s location is Burnett Lane, located in the heart of Brisbane’s CBD. I read online that it’s Brisbane’s oldest laneway, and, back in the day, was a prison exercise yard. It was also the site of floggings and hangings. Back in the day.

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forget me not

These last two weeks, I’ve been reading The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I feel like people have been recommending Shadow to me for so long, it’s really about time I got around to it. But I’m only about 200 pages in, so no spoilers please.

Anyway, anyone who has read it, or knows anything about the work of Ruiz Zafón will know that Shadow is magnificently written, and full of beautifully poetic prose. If I spent all day trying to mark or note down every line I liked, it would take me forever to finish reading it. Since I haven’t been writing down notable quotes, I actually feel like I’m really powering through this. I mean, considering how slowly I usually read, this feels almost too fast; but it’s just such a page-turner, and maybe I’ve just been in more of a reading mindset lately (?)

All of that aside, there is one quote that I wanted to share:

“He would have liked to know that somebody wanted to keep him alive, that someone remembered him. He used to say that we exist as long as somebody remembers us.”
– Nuria Monfort, speaking of Julián Carax (Chapter 20)

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All Quiet on the Western Front

When my friend lent me her copy of All Quiet on the Western Front (along with a couple of other books), she told me that it was pretty depressing. At the time, I was just finishing reading David Copperfield, so I was kind of keen to read something a bit shorter as my next book. But, taking her advice, I held off, and read other things while mentally preparing myself for AQWF (plus there were a lot of other things going on at the time).

All Quiet on the Western Front, written by Erich Maria Remarque, had been on my to-read list for quite some time (it was just lucky coincidence that this friend of mine had a copy to lend me). To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I actually knew what the novel was about when I put it on that list – I just knew that it was something about war, and that it’s a classic. Yeah, I never even bothered to Google it before adding it to my TBR list…

Well, anyway, as it turns out, AQWF is about World War I, and is told from the perspective of a young German soldier (Paul Bäumer). It is both gut-wrenching and heart-rending, and I kind of wonder if it wouldn’t be a bad idea to make this compulsory reading for high school students (except for all the graphic details…)

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porcupines & donkeys

I feel like a lot of my recent posts have been rather “thought-heavy” – by which I mean that they seem to be heavy with thoughts. (That makes sense, right?) With this in mind, I’ve been meaning to post something a bit more light-hearted and whimsical to kind of balance it out.

Something else that seems a bit unusual about my blog lately, is the absence of book-related posts. The last post to be filed under the “books” category was written at the start of January! That’s two and a half months since I wrote anything significant about books! The main reason for this is, of course, that I’m still making my way through David Copperfield, which is an incredibly long novel. (I generally prefer to wait until I’ve finished an entire novel before posting anything about it.)

Having made these observations about the state of my blog, I’ve finally decided that, tonight, I’d do something to remedy it.

Charles Dickens has held the post of my most favourite author for many years. I believe the first Dickens novel I read was Oliver Twist, which my class studied in grade 10 English. Afterwards, having thoroughly enjoyed everything about his writing – the style, construction, character development, etc, etc – I proceeded to read A Tale of Two Cities, and then Great Expectations. I’ve also read The Old Curiosity Shop (although I’ll admit that this one did not have quite as great an impact, or leave quite as strong an impression upon me, as the other two).

I will acknowledge, of course, that 19th Century literature isn’t for everyone, but so many “classics” were written around this era, and the wit and profundity contained in these works is incredible (in my opinion, anyway).

But let’s not get too far into that. I want to keep this post relatively “light”, and wanted to mention the above simply as a preface to the short excerpts that I wanted to share. But, first, in my typical way, there’s still a bit of preamble to get through:

I do a lot of my reading in public places, around other people: on the bus, at train stations, at cafes/restaurants, in waiting rooms, and, very occasionally, at the cafeteria at work during my lunch breaks. Consequently, I am often in these public places when I come across particularly amusing moments contained within whatever novel I happen to be reading, and often cannot help grinning as I read through these. Far from being embarrassing, however, I find that I tend to be further amused by the very situation, and am compelled to grin all the more. Not surprisingly, this has happened many times while reading David Copperfield.

To appreciate the amusement I derived from the below quote, you don’t really need to know anything about the story, but I would like it to be known that it is spoken by Thomas Traddles, a friend of the novel’s eponymous protagonist. The two of them are on their way to meet important people (it does not matter who, but, if you must know, they are Dora’s aunts), and David kindly implores Thomas to smooth down his hair. Thomas’s response is thus:

“Nothing will induce it… You have no idea what obstinate hair mine is, Copperfield. I am quite a fretful porcupine.”

(I just think it’s funny that he called himself a porcupine.)

Another amusing character is David’s aunt, Betsey Trotwood, who displays innumerable eccentricities. One of the first of these that we are introduced to is her ongoing war against donkeys trespassing on her front lawn:

The one great outrage of her life, demanding to be constantly avenged, was the passage of a donkey over that immaculate spot.

And I could go on, but it’s getting late, and it’s just started raining, and those two things combined are clearly a sign that I should go lie in bed and listen to the rain (and, I dunno, maybe sleep as well).

moving forward

I feel like today has been rather unproductive. That’s probably not such a bad thing, but it doesn’t feel great either.

Today was a public holiday – our annual show holiday – so I had the day off work (thankfully). I had a good sleep-in, went to a friend’s place for lunch, came home to type up some notes about IVF drugs… Ok, maybe it wasn’t completely unproductive. Maybe? I kept getting distracted while typing up my notes. It’s been one of those days when my mind wanders constantly.

I’ve still been reading “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” (by Richard Flanagan). After work yesterday, I felt like eating out, so I went to a little restaurant in the City. It’s near my train station, so I’ve walked past it a few times; it’s intrigued me but I’ve never been inside. From the outside, it looks small and cosy. Once inside, I realised it’s actually quite spacious and well set out. There’s a lovely bar/lounge area that’s probably as big as the restaurant itself. The place is called Nest – simple and elegant.

I no longer feel awkward about eating out alone. I don’t know if other people get that or used to get that too. Sometimes I actually prefer to dine alone. Some nights I can’t imagine anything better than having a meal at a nice restaurant and sipping wine/cocktails while reading a good book. I just need to find places that have suitable lighting.

I’m really enjoying TNRDN but as I’m reading it, there’s a part of my mind that’s still stuck at an earlier point in the novel. It’s like a loose thread that gets caught on a barb or thorn, and everything unravels as you walk on so that even though you’ve moved forward, you’re not all there anymore. I’ve always found that it’s easier for my mind to let go of something – or at least loosen its grip on something – if I write it down somewhere. That somewhere usually ends up being this blog. (That’s part of the reason why I need this.)

The barb that has caught my mind is right near the start of the book, less than 30 pages in. It was the point at which I knew I liked the protagonist – “liked” in the sense that I could understand him, sympathise with him, and commit to reading the rest of his story. Perhaps this part isn’t even that important – I’ve wondered if maybe Flanagan put it in because that’s how he, himself, feels – but it’s a part that’s resonated with me.

“A good book, he had concluded, leaves you wanting to reread the book. A great book compels you to reread your own soul.”

And that’s not even the best part…

“He believed books had an aura that protected him, that without one beside him he would die. He happily slept without women. He never slept without a book.”

I pretty much share these sentiments. I’m not 100% sure about the part about books having an aura, but I’m sure that, without books, I would probably die. Of course, not in the literal, corporeal sense, but in the sense that some part of my soul would die.

You know, something that I find funny is that, in all this time that I’ve been reading TNRDN, I haven’t noticed any significant smell or scent from the book (I love the smell of books – there’s such a nostalgic quality in it) but just then, as I had the book open while I typed out those two quotes, there it was. Even though my sinuses are still half-blocked from this cold I’m recovering from, I could distinctly smell the pages of the book. It’s such a minor yet momentous thing for me.