Read this: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

A Confederacy of Dunces
by John Kennedy Toole

book

“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.

image

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!

 

Advertisements

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

image

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!

image

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!

image

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).

image

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

img_5676

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.

img_5678

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.

image

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: 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)

IMG_4056

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.

Read this: The Wind In The Reeds by Wendell Pierce

The Wind In The Reeds
by Wendell Pierce

“We make our stories. And our stories make us.” 

Spending the weekend at home looking after a sick little puppy meant I had plenty of time to read (yay), so I thought it’d be good to start the week with a new book to add to your reading lists… This book was a beautiful read, but I’m truly struggling to know how to define it…

Written by New Orleanian Wendell Pierce, an acclaimed actor who was part of arguably one of the best television dramas of all time (The Wire) and probably my favourite series of all time (Treme), this book explores:
– African American history in the south
– his family’s specific history
– the importance of religion and education in African American families
– his path to becoming not just an actor, but a true artist
– the people who influenced both his life and career
– his role in bringing his city back together after the horrors that came with Hurricane KatrinaIt’s not a strict autobiography, in that Pierce tells so many more stories than just his own, and gives such a touching insight into the lives and trials of his family and community.

He wrote a lot about his family, and the enormous debt of gratitude he owed to his parents. He spoke of how hard they worked in a time where they were so oppressed, when segregation was as horrible as you could imagine, and he write with such dignity that you can’t help but feel so much towards their struggles. Reading about how his father worked two jobs so that Pierce and his brothers could have the education their parents both firmly believed they were entitled to was heart breaking and inspiring at the same time; Pierce also write about his father’s most prized possession, a letter framed and hung on the wall declaring his final mortgage payment and that he was in fact the sole owner of his own home. Something that I’ve never thought twice about, the ability to apply for a mortgage to own my own home – that was a battle for his parents.

He writes about his time spent filming both The Wire and Treme, and if you haven’t seen them, I’d recommend making that a priority. Both are the creations of producer David Simon, and Pierce write about how they were created not just as stories or entertainment, but as true documentaries of life on the streets of Baltimore and post-Katrina New Orleans, respectively. Pierce’s work on both shows was incredible, and reading about his experiences at the times he was filming gave a lot more insight.

Those passages really struck me for another reason; I like to think of my blog as my time capsule, my running documentary of what my life is right now. Pierce writes about the fact that with something like Treme, future generations will be able to watch it with their grandparents and understand that that was really what they lived through, without all of the Hollywood dramatisation. That’s truly a precious gift to pass on.

While I’m not a religious person myself, my parents are, and I could relate to a lot of what he wrote on this topic as well. While not a strict Sunday church-goer, his faith and love for God came because he so loved and respected his mother and father, and they in turn loved God. His faith, in a way, was through and in his parents; that made sense to me. While the majority of his family were very religious, there were a few who shunned it completely. His mother said that men are fallible, but that’s no reason to turn your back on your faith. He and his brothers were encouraged to question the views that the church presented – perhaps if I’d had that encouragement rather than strict instructions to follow blindly and dumbly, I’d still have a little faith.

The importance of family also shone through very strongly – how having someone to lean on when times are tough is a necessity, and how you are never truly alone. And it wasn’t just his immediate family; it was extended family and the community. When one struggled, the others picked up the slack. He took that concept all the way back to a traditional New Orleanian tradition of second lines and Mardi Gras crews, group and clubs. Learning more about the traditions of New Orleans from someone who lived there was fantastic, too, and what held my interest the most.

So as you can see, it’s a bit of a mish mash, but at the end of the day, it’s about empowerment and overcoming. It’s a truly beautiful read; grab a copy here  : )

 

“Hope is a memory that desires. If we can remember who we were and what we had, and can act in concert to reenact the rituals that defined us, we might find in that the hope to go on, despite the indifference of others to our fate.”

Read this: Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Reasons To Stay Alive
Matt Haig

I don’t even know how or where to start in describing such an incredible important book… HUGE thank you to Paula from @booksfordessert for  recommending this one!

Basically, Matt Haig, like so many other people, was suffering from depression. He got to a point in his life, again like so many others, where he had to make the big decision so many depressives face: do I end my life, or do I battle on? He decided to battle on, and this book is about all the reasons why he did, and maybe some reasons why you should, too.

The problem with most “self-help” books out there is that they’re written by “professionals.” I don’t care how many doctorates you have – if you’ve never actually suffered the agony and torment that is depression, nothing you say is going to be helpful. Because you can’t write it from a place of true understanding. That’s where Matt’s book is different. He isn’t a doctor or “professional;” he’s a real guy who really suffered and really gets it. And he’s one of the lucky ones that have come out the other side.

Personally, I think that if you have suffered from depression or anxiety, or someone you love is struggling with it all (which should cover just about everyone on the planet), this should really be required reading. Why? Because it is a deadly, nasty disease:

Suicide is now – in places including the UK and US – a leading cause of death, accounting for over one in a hundred fatalities. According to figures from the World Health Organization, it kills more people than stomach cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, colon cancer, breast cancer, and Alzheimer’s. As people who kill themselves are, more often than not, depressives, depression is one of the deadliest diseases on the planet. It kills more people than most other forms of violence – warfare, terrorism, domestic abuse, gun crime – put together… Yet people still don’t think depression really is that bad.

So what should we do? Talk. Listen. Keep adding to the conversation… Keep reiterating, again and again, that depression is not something you have to ‘admit to,’ it is a human experience. It is not you, it is simply something that happens to you. And something that can often be eased by talking. Where talk exists, so does hope.

This book is brilliant, because it’s written in a way that can be understood, whether you’re being followed by the black cloud or not. This particular passage is a good start:

It’s hard to explain depression to people who haven’t suffered from it. It’s like explaining life on earth to an alien. The reference points just aren’t there.

The main thing is the intensity of it. It does not fit within the normal spectrum of emotions. When you are in it, you are really in it. You can’t are outside it without stepping outside of life, because it is life. It is your life. Every single thing you experience is filtered through it. Consequently, it magnifies everything. At its most extreme, things that an everyday normal person would hardly notice have overwhelming effects.

For me, this book was particularly poignant because of the incredible similarities and parallels I drew to my life – he speaks about how some depressives use travel as a means of alleviating the pain, which I’ve found to be incredible true, and have written about a little here. The other thing that’s been a massive part of my life and that’s always gotten me through the worst times (and this goes back as early as five year old me who had paralysing nightmares and what I now recognise as mini child-sized anxiety attacks) is words. Pure and simple. Reading and writing has been my lifeline. And Matt touches on this perfectly:

There is this idea that you either read to escape or you read to find yourself. I don’t really see the difference. We find ourselves through the process of escaping.

One cliche attached to bookish people is that they are lonely, but for me books were my way out of being lonely. If you are the type of person who thinks too much about stuff then there is nothing lonelier in the world than being surrounded by a load of people on a different wavelength.

This book arrived on my doorstep at such a perfect time (while I’m not religious or superstitious or anything like that, I do believe that the universe has a way of giving you exactly what you need exactly when you need it); September is testing me. I’m struggling a LOT right now with my mental health. We just had R U OK? Day which I wrote about last week, and am really hoping helped even just one person out there. My Don’t be a D.N.B. shirt (proceeds of which went to Didi Hirsch who work in mental health for women, and particularly body image issues) arrived on a day where disordered eating was at an all time high (or low, I guess). And we’re also in the midst of Liptember, which is a campaign held in September to raise funds and more importantly awareness for women’s mental health by wearing some brightly coloured lippy – I’m horrible with lipstick (make up in general really – all I own is mascara, some eye shadow I was gifted for a Christmas 8 odd years ago, and some eye liner I don’t know how to apply and have therefore only used twice), but I’m donning the bright red on my more confident days this month!

image

If you’re struggling, if you know someone who’s struggling, if you want to try to understand this deadly disease a little better, please pick up a copy of this book – it will only take you a few hours to read, and you never know what difference it might make 🙂