Veronika Decides to Die

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For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile.  Care to join me?

I did not intend to include two different books by the same author in my list.  In fact, it had been my intention that if there were two books that I felt important enough to include, that I would include the author, and reference the works as part of the blog post.  Well, best laid plans of mice and (wo)men and all that.

Paulo Coelho describes Veronika Decides to Die as being an autobiographical novel, but I don’t think he has ever revealed how much of the novel is factual.  It would be understatement to say that Coelho’s parents didn’t approve of his literary aspirations.  They had him committed to a mental institution while he was still a teenager.  He escaped multiple times before he was released at age twenty.

As the book opens, the title character has decided to commit suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills.  Her attempt fails, and she wakes up in a mental institution.  She suffers from a series of cardiac events and is told that her heart was irreparably damaged in the attempt, and she is living on borrowed time.  Through her interaction with other patients, Veronika learns passive refusal to live is the same thing as actively choosing to die, and she had been guilty of both.  Eventually, she decides to choose life with all of its pain and uncertainty than to surrender to despair.

I encountered this book at a particularly dark time in my life when I struggled with the repercussions of my past, felt trapped, defined, and bound to it with no hope of redeeming it.  In this novel, I found not a panacea, but a kind of roadmap, a guide, if you will, to help me learn how to engage life rather than flee from it.

 

 

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being

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For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile.  Care to join me?

I didn’t read this novel by Milan Kundera until I was nearly 30, but it definitely left an impact.

It’s going to sound weird, but even though I knew I had read books in translation before, The Unbearable Lightness of Being marked the first time I read a translation that also made me aware of exactly how different my life, my world was from the one the author depicted.  And yet, of all the novels I’ve read, this one is probably one of the handful that has helped me understand myself better.

The novel is full of seeming contradictions.  A philandering doctor who loves only his wife, an intellectual photographer who turns dissident photojournalist.  Sex verses love, existential lightness verses existential weight, dissent verses conformity, innocence verses experience.  Body image issues, self-acceptance, the nature of freedom, reconciliation, and even the nature of art emerge throughout the narrative.  All of it is set in the time right around the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

It isn’t necessarily an easy read, but I wouldn’t call it heavy.  There is a kind of playfulness in the narrative, and in the language that belies the serious themes it introduces.  It encourages a kind of lightness (no pun intended) in grappling with life, humanity, and everything that goes along with it.

Tolkien, J.R.R.

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For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile.  Care to join me?

Up until 8th grade, I had been nose-deep in Shakespeare, Greek and Roman mythology (although I didn’t read The Odyssey, or The Aenid until college), and boat loads of science fiction.  I still read as many books about horses as I could, although my reading list began to drift into more technical tomes about riding, taking care of horses, and breed histories.

And then I was introduced to The Hobbit, our assigned reading for the semester.

I was immediately captivated by this language that felt so familiar to me, and yet had taken me so far away.  This was the language of my Saxon forebears, the folk tales and legends of the Cotswold hills, the musical lilt of Cymru’s tongue.

I won’t pretend to be a Tolkien scholar in any manner, but I had read that the tales of Middle Earth were a kind of conjecture on Tolkien’s part of what Saxon mythology might have looked like, had it survived the cultural purge after the Norman conquest. The romantic in me, the part of me that believes any tragedy can be redeemed with time and love enough, likes this explanation a great deal.  I almost don’t care about its veracity.

After reading The Hobbit, I went in search of anything with Tolkien’s name on it.  By the end of the school year, I was well into The Lord of the Rings.  It was because of Tolkien that I found C.S. Lewis, Narnia, and Till We Have Faces, which lead me to The Odyssey.

 

Shakespeare, William

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For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile.  Care to join me?

 

My father adored all things Shakespeare.  When I was growing up, he quoted long passages from Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and Hamlet.

It was the rise and fall of the language, the fluidity with which my father reeled off lines like:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar.

Or this:

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath.  It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest.  It becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.

Or this:

Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.

I first picked up Julius Caesar when I was about seven, but I struggled with the symbolism, with the history of it.  Dad, bless his heart, suggested I try something a little more straightforward.  Like Romeo and Juliet.  I did, and he was right; it was easier for me to get my head around Romeo and Juliet, although I thought both of them were idiots.  It may have taken me another year to tackle Julius Caesar, but I managed it.

I bought my first collection of the Bard when I was ten, a volume I still have. It was partly a gift from Mrs. Brand, and each time I look at it, I am reminded of her and of her place in my life.  Recently, I saw a play titled The Book of Will, which tells the story of how the first folio of Shakespeare’s collected works came into existence.  When I think of how close the world came to losing his manuscripts forever, I am again reminded how fragile our words, our stories really are.  We need to share them both, so the tapestry of our lives and our stories continue to enrich the lives of the people around us, particularly the people we love.

Rowling, JK

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For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile.  Care to join me?

 

This is going to be short sweet and to the point.

I was a late fan to the adventures of the Boy Who Lived, and his friends, for reasons I do not understand.  I couldn’t get past the first three pages the first time I tried to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (personally, I like the UK title better, but I’m weird that way). When I came back to it later, though, I was hooked.

I was amazed not only how sophisticated her plot was, extended through seven novels, but how many complex subjects she wrote about.  And her target audience was children?  Amazing.  But then I always did think adult vastly underestimate the capacity of a child’s mind to grasp difficult concepts.

So why do I include JK Rowling on my list?  Because she reminded me of the sense of wonder, whimsy, mystery, and flat out joy that brought me to reading in the first place.  And, because her work embodies one of my favourite quotes from Madeleine L’Engle:

“You have to write the book that wants to be written.  And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

 

Quiet

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For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile.  Care to join me?

 

This should in no way be mistaken for the brilliant Shusako Endo novel, Silence.  No, this is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, and it is another book, the most recent, that has molded who I am as a reader and as a writer.

This is an introvert liberation manifesto.  To be told, after so many years of “You should be more outgoing, you shouldn’t be so quiet, you have a great personality if you’d just put yourself out there,” that there was absolutely nothing wrong with me, was mind-blowing.  We introverts have some pretty amazing super powers when we’re not trying to contort our spherical personalities into the quadrilateral spaces carved out by our more extroverted companions.

As an aside, if you are an introvert, are related to an introvert, are friends with or love/like an introvert, you really should read this.  It is a treasure trove of explanations of how introverts think, and view the world, what gets us charged up, and what makes us want to retreat into a cave and hide.  Oh, and check out Quiet Revolution (@LiveQuiet) on Twitter, or at quietrev.com, as well.  Loads of good content for introverts and the people who love us.

Quite honestly, this is why this book is on my list: Words can liberate if delivered by the right authority.  If a book can free me, even if it’s just a little bit, it’s worth the time to read it.

 

 

Pride and Prejudice

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For this year’s A to Z Blog challenge, I thought I’d draw back the curtain and explore the life and times of a bibliophile.  Care to join me?

 

Okay, so this might be another cliché, particularly for a female writer.  I’m not going to apologize for this one either.

I have always been drawn to intelligent people, but that intelligence has to be tempered with a playfulness that borders on innocent.  Don’t use big words and expect me to swoon, but if you can use those big words in a way that makes me laugh in delight, or make me want to play, I might pause to slow down a bit.

In Elizabeth Bennet, I found my hitherto unknown sister?  Cousin?  Aunt?  I’m really not sure, but I am certain we must be related somehow.  Like “Cousin” Lizzie, I have no use for pretense or posturing.  I am more interested in a person’s character than in their bank account, and although I have been deceived by people who have known how to play me, pretending to be someone they are not, I am inclined to give someone the benefit of the doubt.  I am more inclined to keep my opinions to myself, like Jane, and it is a significant event indeed when I speak harshly about another person.

I love the subtle ways Austen turns the hearts of her primary characters, and of her readers.  The way she shows Jane’s disappointment, and then her joy, the way she paints the irrepressible coquettishness of Lydia, Kitty’s immature disappointment, even Mary’s “too old for her age” seriousness.  Jane Austen’s wit and intelligence is on full display in Pride and Prejudice.

To this day, I love intelligent comedy.  I love the kind of romance that is willing to sacrifice pride, ego, and reputation in pursuit of the beloved.  I love tales of close-knit families, close friends, and the foibles that we all try to hide, but which make us all endearingly human.  And I love writers who can combine all of that into timeless, enchanting story.  I think that’s what makes for fantastic literature.