Read this: The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk

The Museum of Innocence
by Orhan Pamuk

I came across this book a few months ago while reading a travel magazine that mentioned a few books worth reading that were set in certain cities. Considering we’re planning to visit Turkey next year, and it was described as being a beautiful look at Istanbul over the past few decades, I thought I’d add it to my reading list without looking too much more into it.

How to describe this book… I really have no idea. There are a few aspects to it, for me…

1. I guess on the surface it’s a bit of a demented love story. Kemal, the gentleman telling his story back in this book (beginning in the 1970s), is from a very well-off family in Istanbul society. He’s engaged to another society darling, Sibel, but manages to fall in love with a not so well-off, younger, distant relative (before anyone starts thinking this is more incestual than it sounds, it’s a relation by marriage, not by blood), Füsun.

The book starts when they first meet, and follows an incredibly tumultuous number of years; not to ruin the story for those also wanting to read it, but basically, he’s madly in love with Füsun which costs him his engagement to Sibel, and it seems, ultimately, his happiness. Star-crossed lovers, heart break, romance, etc, etc.

 

2. At several points while reading this (very long) book, I was ready to throw in the towel, because I am not a fan of romance novels. I don’t care for love lost or “The Notebook” or star-crossed lovers or any other crap like that. At those points, it just felt like a sad romance novel. But then I’d read parts like this and I realised that it actually wasn’t just a love story after all; it was a story of melancholy, of loss, of confusion, of someone trying to find meaning in their life. That, I could relate to.

“‘Don’t worry, it will pass,’ he said softly. ‘You’re still young. It’s still very early for you to be losing sleep over this kind of pain, so don’t fret. But when you’re my age, if you have some regrets in life, you’ll have to lie here counting the stars until dawn. Beware of doing things that you might regret later.'”

 

 

3. It was also a really interesting study of Istanbul as a city, with Pamuk noting how the city evolved as the characters did over the years. As someone who was already looking forward to seeing the city, I was really fascinated to read about how it had changed. And, as a woman, I  really enjoyed reading about the changing roles women played in society, and how families and groups of friends interacted. The book was written in such an effortlessly descriptive way that you almost felt you were right there when they were dining in a noisy restaurant or eating at the family dinner table.

 

4. I’ve never had an unrequited impossible love story of my own, yet parts of this novel were so scarily relatable in other ways, and just so, so beautiful…

“In fact no one recognizes the happiest moment of their lives as they are living it. It may well be that, in a moment of joy, one might sincerely believe that they are living that golden instant ‘now,’ even having lived such a moment before, but whatever they say, in one part of their hearts they still believe in the certainty of a happier moment to come. Because how could anyone, and particularly anyone who is still young, carry on with the belief that everything could only get worse: If a person is happy enough to think he has reached the happiest moment of his life, he will be hopeful enough to believe his future will be just as beautiful, more so.

But when we reach the point when our lives take on their final shape, as in a novel, we can identify our happiest moment, selecting it in retrospect, as I am doing now. To explain why we have chosen this moment over all others, it is also natural, and necessary, to retell our stories from the beginning, just as in a novel. But to designate this as my happiest moment is to acknowledge that it is far in the past, that it will never return, and that awareness, therefore, of that very moment is painful. We can bear the pain only by possessing something that belongs to that instant. These mementos preserve the colors, textures, images and delights as they were more faithfully, in fact, than can those who accompanied us through those moments.”

Reading this hit home and made sense to me. I’m a journaller, a recorder of details, a hoarder of memories. I am prone to melancholy, nostalgia, quiet sentimentality. I spend a lot of time analysing life and it’s meaning, trying to understand who and what and why I am. So does Kemal, in this book.

 

5. Following on from that sentiment that mementos have the power to preserve memories, Kemal’s character collects bits and pieces throughout the story that remind him of his love, Füsun. Cigarette butts, hair pins, pencils, a shoe, restaurant menus… He collects these things to bring him back to moments that remind him. At the end of the book, he decides to open a museum to display these memories of his life and love, and the author of the book actually opened a real life Museum of Innocence in Istanbul a few years ago.

“Sometimes, thus consoled, I would imagine it possible for me to frame my collection with a story, and I would dream happily of a museum where I could display my life… Where I could tell my story through the things that Füsun had left behind, as a lesson to us all.”

 

It was such a strange book, and it seems that people either love it or hate it. I can understand why; I kept thinking I’d hate it when I got to the end, but actually, I absolutely loved it. It was beautiful, and so worth the read. You can grab a copy here – really looking forward to visiting the museum in Istanbul now!

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Read this: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

A Confederacy of Dunces
by John Kennedy Toole

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“Novels are often able to capture reality very well, much better than in the world we see on Facebook, where, ironically, it’s about real people. Fiction, with its invented characters, gets much closer to reality. It’s about people as they really are, with all their problems and quirks. On top of this, the parallel world of books, film and television is always available. Even when the whole world is falling upon you, this is the one thing that keeps standing. A world that doesn’t change, that is nice and safe.”
— Marieke Nijmanting in Flow Magazine

I read this quote in Flow Magazine recently, when I was half way through reading A Confederacy of Dunces, and I couldn’t believe how apt it was. Despite the fact that this book is hilariously demented and the anti-hero’s every movement is a complete debacle, it was about a person as he was, with all of his problems and quirks, in a parallel world.

I’d heard about this novel a long time ago, but never knew what it was about. Until I read about the Ignatius J. Reilly statue that resides in New Orleans while I was reading 111 Places in New Orleans That You Must Not Miss. I figured if he was a big enough fictional character in a city full of characters (fictional and real), he must be worth reading.

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John Kennedy Toole’s novel was finally published over a decade after his suicide, after his mother pushed writer Walker Percy into reading it. It follows the adventures of Ignatius J. Reilly, a fat, lazy, unemployed 30-year-old man still living at home with his mother…

“A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs.”

It paints a picture, doesn’t it? Doesn’t sound like a character that embodies a “hero” of sorts. And yet, I absolutely adored him! He may be unemployable, eccentric, incredibly eloquent and well educated, and yet completely deluded, but he’s a character that I really related to in parts. At the heart of it, he’s struggling to find his place in the world. That’s partially his own fault, sure, but it’s a universal struggle I think most of us can relate to.

His misadventures in his home city of New Orleans are hysterical, and magnificently written – the articulate insults, the comedic disbelief at his own misfortune, the other characters, it’s all fantastic. Part of the novel is told through the Journal that Ignatius is writing, his indictment on the world. It chronicles his attempts to find employment at the behest of his mother, first in an office, then as a hot dog vendor on the streets of the French Quarter. This part had me in stitches, because it was just so perfectly written and so vivid…

But back to the matter at hand: Clyde’s vengeance. The vendor who formerly had the Quarter route wore an improbably pirate’s outfit, a Paradise Vendor’s nod to New Orleans folklore and history, a Clydian attempt to link the hot dog with Creole legend. Clyde forced me to try it on in the garage. The costume, of course, had been made to fit the tubercular and underdeveloped frame of the former vendor, and no amount of pulling and pushing and inhaling and squeezing would get it onto my muscular body. Therefore, a compromise of sorts was made. About my cap I tied the red sateen pirate’s scarf. I screwed the one golden earring, a large novelty store hoop of an earring, onto my left earlobe. I affixed the black plastic cutlass to the side of my white vendor’s smock with a safety pin. Hardly an impressive pirate, you will say.

However, when I studied myself in the mirror, I was forced to admit that I appeared rather fetching in a dramatic way. Brandishing the cutlass at Clyde, I cried, “Walk the plank, Admiral!” This, I should have known, was too much for his literal and sausage-like mind. He grew most alarmed and proceeded to attack me with his spear-like fork. We lunged about it the garage like two swashbucklers in an especially inept historical film for several moments, fork and cutlass clicking against each other madly. Realizing that my plastic weapon was hardly a match for a long fork wielded by a maddened Methuselah, realizing that I was seeing Clyde at his worst, I tried to end our little duel. I called out pacifying words; I entreated; I finally surrendered. Still Clyde came, my pirate costume so great a success that it had apparently convinced him that we were back in the golden days of romantic old New Orleans when gentlemen decided matters of hot dog honor at twenty paces.

 

He actually has many run ins with his fellow New Orleanians, and they don’t get any less hilarious as the novel plows on; in the end, I felt like he was just a misunderstood and slightly deluded man, who wanted things to just be right and couldn’t quite work out how to make them so. He just wanted to be left alone to write and express his thoughts. I get that; I can relate. But don’t take my word for it – pick up a copy for yourself here and enjoy a truly entertaining, unforgettable read!

 

Read this: 111 Places in New Orleans That You Must Not Miss by Michael Murphy & Sally Asher

111 Places in New Orleans That You Must Not Miss
by Michael Murphy & Sally Asher

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When husband spied this little number in a bookstore a few weeks ago, we couldn’t not buy it, particularly with a return to this incredible city imminent. When we visited last year, we thought we saw a fair bit, but we actually only covered eight from this list!

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Unlike almost every other travel guide-type book I’ve read that promises an off-the-beaten-track list, this book genuinely means it. Eschewing the “hidden gems” that most people know about anyway, this has some seriously brilliant ideas, like the Holt Cemetery (where, unlike the more well-known grounds like the St Louis Cemeteries, the resting places are mostly beneath the ground), the beautiful steamboat houses (a pair of homes built in the fashion of steamboats for two riverboat captains in 1905) and the Plaza d’Italia, below, which I know nothing about but have added to my visit list for next year!

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It was exciting to see a few familiar pages, like Angelo Broccato and the Cornstalk Hotel (where we’re certain a friendly ghost hung up a coat for us), and to make some discoveries I don’t have to wait to visit again to enjoy; I’d read that the book “A Confederacy of Dunces” was a) a classic and b) set in New Orleans, but had no idea a statue of the book’s ‘hero’ resided in the city! I obviously purchased the book immediately (book review post coming soon).

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If you’ve visited New Orleans or are even remotely interested in the city, this book definitely belongs on your bookshelf! You can pick up a copy here, enjoy!

Read this: The Holiday Goddess – handbag guide to Paris, London, New York & Rome

The Holiday Goddess: handbag guide to Paris, London, New York & Rome
edited by Jessica Adams

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I was given this book as a gift a few years ago, and had a good read through it while planning our 2013 EuroTrip; a lot of the pages still have folds in them from when I bookmarked them. Given the next mega trip we’re planning to take will encompass all four of these cities, I’ve taken it out again to re-read and re-bookmark.

Part travel guide, part girly glamour guide, it’s a beautifully curated collection of travel tips and places to see and things to do, geared more towards the ladies. It’s not a super new book, so it does run the risk of becoming a little obsolete as a travel guide as places close their doors, but it covers a lot of classics and city stalwarts that aren’t going anywhere soon, like New York City’s Guggenheim. Because there are a range of contributors, you’ll get to read a whole lot of different takes and stories about their individual travel experiences; also super handy are the little extra bits of practical info like the website and how to get there.

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The shoppers will love all of the beautiful places suggested to max out the credit card at, but I like the less designer, more down-to-earth stuff, like the cheap picnic page below for Rome. I also love all of the market and park suggestions; the places you can go to experience the city as it should be experienced, amongst the locals.

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And even if you’re not travelling to any of these cities any time soon, it’s actually a really gorgeous coffee table book, and makes an awesome gift for that girlfriend with wondering feet  : )   Pick up a copy here and enjoy planning your trip to some of the most beautiful and cosmopolitan cities of the world!

Read this: Simplicious by Sarah Wilson

Simplicious 
by Sarah Wilson

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Do you remember that whole “I Quit Sugar” thing that was going on a few years ago? Sarah Wilson was the lady behind that. I’m a massive sweet tooth and don’t think I could ever actually give up sugar, so I didn’t bother with that, but after seeing her new book pop up on several Instagram accounts I follow and seeing it at KMart for a very reasonable price, I decided to check it out.

This is my kind of cookbook. It’s pretty simple and straightforward, plenty of info, beautiful pictures, nice and colourful. But it’s also realistic and helpful, which is something that cookbooks absolutely must be in order to justify spending money on them, particularly when Google brings recipes for almost anything to your fingertips within a few seconds.

Sarah’s book focuses in a big way on sustainability and doing it yourself. She starts off with her 5 step Simplicious Flow:
1. Start where you are with what you have
2. Buy in bulk when it’s advantageous
3. Sort & store
4. Park-cook, freeze & preserve
5. Use the leftovers
She also has a big focus on using food for health, which is so important these days, where so many health problems can be helped and managed with something as simple as the right diet.

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Recipes are all about making the most of your ingredients and doing as much as possible from scratch, but in the easiest possible way. Things like homemade stock, condiments, kombucha and fermented veggies are all broken down into less confusing and confronting steps, which makes this a great way to dip your toes in and start experimenting. It’s also designed to be incredible cost efficient, so if things stuff up the first time, you won’t have spend a fortune on it, which is a massive pet hate on mine.

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It’s also really great to see how many of the recipes fit together, and how creative you can get with your leftovers – for example, she has a great looking recipe for pulled lamb, but how often are you going to need 2kg of lamb in one hit? Doesn’t matter here, because she runs you through another few recipes you can use it in, and how to keep it all properly. Too easy.

I actually cooked a Simplicious fish pilaf for dinner last night which turned out to be pretty damn good, so I’ll share that recipe tomorrow as a bit of a taster for anyone interested in how the recipes actually work in real life, so stay tuned 🙂 And if you want to get stuck into it yourself, grab a copy here!

Read this: Wanderlust: a Modern Yogi’s Guide to Discovering Your Best Self by Jeff Krasno

Wanderlust: a Modern Yogi’s Guide to Discovering Your Best Self
by Jeff Krasno

Good morning sunshines! I hope everyone’s having a great start to 2016 🙂 After starting the year with my new year’s resolutions, I wanted to carry on with the theme of finding your true north and share this brilliant book with anyone else who’s been struggling to find their path and is looking at 2016 as their new start.

Last year, I discovered Wanderlust, an incredible tribe who are best known for their global yoga festivals, held regularly every where from Oahu to Thredbo. They also run their Wanderlust 108 event around the world, a “mindful triathlon” consisting of a 5km run, a mega yoga class and a guided meditation, which I participated in for the first time last year. When I found out that Jeff, the co-founder of the festivals had put a book together, I knew it was something I had to get my hands on.

The book is a gorgeous collection of ideas, writing, stories, photographs and practices from Wanderlusters around the world. Yogis, artists, thinkers, philosophers, meditators, mind-body experts and business leaders have all lent their voices to this tome, contributing pages on what they know best.

The title is a little deceiving – it’s not just about yoga. It’s about wellness. Yeah, there are a few fantastic guides to physical yoga practice, but there’s also a lot more to it. It touches on all aspects of wellness. Guided meditation practices, wholesome recipes, hands on activities and worksheets to help you plot things out (goals, vision boards, that kind of thing). There are beautifully written essays and provocative pieces to really make you think and re-assess your priorities and direction, and the photography is bohemian perfection.

The main themes are about finding your true north (your direction, your meaning, your path) and finding your tribe:

“In yoga, we often hear the Sanskrit word kula, which means intentional community. The basis of any kula is the feeling that life is best when shared.”

I’ve had this book for 6 months, and it’s stayed on my bed side table since the day it arrived. It’s one of those books you can flick through any time you’re feeling a bit lost or flat, any time you’re needing a little guidance or soul re-setting. The little yoga flows are fantastic when I need a quick 5 minute practice to re-calibrate, and so many of the ideas resonated with me – with so many different contributors, they each connected with a different part of me.

I’m already looking forward to attending my next Wanderlust event and am researching right now which one it’ll be (maybe I could travel a little for one…?!) and as I sit on the train finishing this off and hitting the POST button knowing that today is going to be a stressful one at work, I think I know what I’ll be doing when I get home tonight…

Grab a copy here, brew a pot of tea, and enjoy finding your true north 🙂

Speaking of which, any new year’s resolutions you want to share?

Read this: MONSTER: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member by Sanyika Shakur (aka Kody Scott)

MONSTER: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member
by Sanyika Shakur (aka Kody Scott)

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As far as choices in literature go, this one was kinda hard to explain to my psychologist when she came to collect me from her waiting room the other week…

To give it a little context, I’ve always been fascinated by human psychology and behaviour. I’ve always been interested in how other cultures operate, what motivates communities at war, what factors unite people, how individuals leading lives completely different to mine think and feel and act. Enter MONSTER.

This book was written by one of LA’s most notorious gangsters, Kody Scott, from the confines of his prison cell, after spending 16 years of his young life as a gang member on the streets of Los Angeles. After killing members of a rival gang at the ripe old age of eleven back in the 1970s, Scott was officially a Crip, and a “soldier” of the streets. But this isn’t just a story about gangs. It’s a story that, while written over two decades ago, is still incredibly relevant. It’s a story about racial prejudices, about the lives that impoverished and uneducated black children can fall into, about the way they become victims of a system that didn’t/doesn’t care enough.

“How many fell that first night? And from what sets did they come? No one knew the actual count, except the recipient set and the parents who had to bury their children. And that’s what we all were, children. Children gone wild in a concrete jungle of poverty and rage. Armed and dangerous, prowling the concrete jungle juice in search of ourselves, we were children who had grown up in a city that cared too little about its young.”

It’s a surprisingly well written account of LA’s gang life, no holds barred, written as you’d imagine it being verbally retold, and completely unapologetic. The number of gangs on the streets were (and still are) at war with each other. And they took the war seriously, comparing themselves, their actions, their organisation to military outfits. One of the most horrifying aspects of the book, and one that was really difficult to constantly keep in mind, is the age of the subjects. Scott wrote this passage about himself at 16 years of age, only two weeks after being released from prison; he makes no attempts to hide his wrongs, but he also refuses to be anything but transparent about the wrongs of others involved:

“Our missions were largely successful because we had logistical help from the LAPD CRASH units. For four nights in a row now, we had been getting helpful hints from “our friends” in blue – as they liked to refer to themselves…

Then, calling me to the car in a secretive manner he said, ‘They on Fifty-ninth Street and Third Avenue. All the ones I just mentioned who’ve been bad-mouthing you. I was telling my partner here that if you were there they’d be scared shitless. If you get your crew and go now, I’ll make sure you are clear. But only fifteen minutes. You got that?’ he added with a wink and a click of the tongue.

‘Yeah, I got it. But how I know you ain’t set to’ me up?’
‘If I wanted to put you in jail, Monster, I’d arrest you now for that gun in your waistband.’
Surprised, I said, ‘Righteous,’ and stepped away from the car.

We mounted up and went over to Fifty-ninth and Third Avenue. Sure enough, there they were. And just as he had said, we encountered no police.”

Whether you’re into the gang scene or not, whether you know the streets of LA or not, whether you’re into the politics of racism or not, this is an unlikely but completely fascinating read. Hard to justify to your psychologist, perhaps, but utterly worth your time. Pick up a copy here and appreciate this brutally honest look into the lives of ghetto LA.