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Hottest men in fiction

(Caption: Gone with the Wind’s Rhett Butler immortalised in film by actor Clark Gable).

For those of us who spend much of their life in the imaginary land of books, it is only natural that our crushes should also be imaginary (nerdy but true).  After an extensive poll of a representative cross section of women (chatting to a few friends) I compiled a definitive list of the hottest men in fiction. If they don’t make you swoon then I don’t know who will.

Continue reading “Hottest men in fiction”

blogs · books · culture

Writers’ lives: behind the books you love

I’ve been asked to do a post on some of my favourite writers and it got me thinking about why certain books and writers are favourites of mine.

It begins by discovering something beautiful, then finding out everything at all possible about the writer. This includes memoirs, diaries, articles, hearsay, everything. I make no distinction between art and writer. If the writer does not live up to my lofty expectations of the artist either by being a swot in person or having unforgivable misdemeanor- misogyny, dullness etc they are promptly removed from my list.

This has of course led to a lot anxiety for me. V.S Naipul was once unceremoniously dropped after revelations he treated his wife badly. I couldn’t read Camus or Ted Hughes the same again without thinking about their tragic wives devastated by their infidelity.

Purists will say judge a book on its merits. I think the book is a part of the artist, and to understand the book or philosophy you need to understand the life of the artist. As Nietzsche said “All philosophy (and art) is an unconscious memoir.”

Many would disagree, saying a purely imaginative work should be enjoyed on its merits without an  unjustified intrusion into the private world of an author. And who are we to judge, for artists are no saints.  It certainly wouldn’t be a scrutiny I myself would enjoy.

But I don’t think the creative process happens in isolation and I’m always fascinated to read of the life and experiences of the writers which you know have inspired a favourite fiction creation and how it came into being.

Would the works of the Bronte sisters or Dickens be understood in isolation from their own experiences of injustice in the society of the time?  Would Oscar Wilde’s delightful extrapolations on sin and hypocrisy not be influenced his trial by Victorian  puritans on sodomy charges?

 The lines between reality and fiction can sometimes blur, and finding where the distinction is and the world that informs the artists you love helps you understand so much more about a book and its significance.

When you read a book are you curious to know more about the writer and their creative process?

From ABC bookshow blog

blogs · books · culture

Writing, procrastination and social media

I’ve commented before on the fabulousness of social media in saving the world etc and am a great fan (despite being on a protest sabbatical from spacebook) but I haven’t discussed the evil side, in particular its effect on (ahem ok I am using the word) ’serious’ reading and writing generally (at least for me).

We know social media has plenty of pros. There’s the ability to share your work and read other people’s work. There’s the feedback and interaction. There is the ability to find stories and contacts and check out trends. There is the  accessibilityand exposure to different ideas and people instantly and constantly. This should all be excellent for creativity and writing generally right?

Yes and no, for me anyway. This is where the evil side comes in. The side that cuts your attention span so that if you are not constantly bombarded with a cacaphonous stream of message relayed through various technologies you get impatient. The side that has this dumbing down effect where the more information you have, the less you know. The side where  you lazily let your opinion on a complex political or social issues  be summed up in a status update or140 character tweet (why bother writing that 1000 word feature or opinion piece I was planning when I could avail myself of such a witty and succint mode of self-expression?) Not to mention the massive waste of time spent procrastinating over the pointless and inane.

I am sure I have many detractors who will rhapsodise on the joys of debate and artistic expression running wild in the social media sphere.

I do admit there some cyber gems to be found, but with the jadedness of a true believer I can’t help feeling a little nostalgic for the days when silence from technology did not feel deafening and where thought had a depth that went in a classically linear line instead of these postmodern tangents all running into each other.

What has social media done for your writing and creativity generally?

From ABC bookshow blog

blogs · books · culture

Poetry to save your life

In my previous post on the Pleasures of Reading I ruminated on why we read and why as humans we find art so essential. I reflected that perhaps it was because we are essentially social animals needing to communicate and something about seeing life reflected that helps us give meaning to our experiences.

This got me thinking why I read or why I turn to a particular piece of work when I am in a certain mood. Sometimes it is literally reading to save myself, reading to see my melancholy and despair understood and experienced, reading for words of inspiration, reading as a balm for hurt, to be cheered, to laugh and to know that as Kahlil Gibran said we see only the ’surface of things and not their secrets’.  

Poetry is made for this kind of drama of the heart which is why it is so delightful to share. I remember (sometimes still now but more in my uni days) swapping poems indulging in wild despair with friends (other poets of course, my own excesses were locked safely in drawer of course).  

 Poems are like magnified, concentrated bursts of of bang.  Prose on crack. Which is why there is a poem for every feeling, from the follies of ambition and fame (Emily Dickenson’s  ’admiring bog’ , existential despair (Larkin), heartbreak (Yevgeny  Yevtushenko),  rage (Erica Jong), idealism (Elizabeth Barrret Browning) and of course soul-food (Rumi).

At the risk of crowding this post I am going to share some of my personal favourites.  Two of these are translated from the Russian and Farsi so let us respectfully acknowledge they are magnified by a thousand in awesomeness in their original language.  This one is one is “The Guest House” from 13th century Sufi mystic Jalaladin Rumi.

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond. 
 

If that doesn’t get you through your worst day with that annoying telemarketer,   those hideous in-laws or jarring colleague I don’t know what will.

The best ones are the one sent by friends on the commiserations of failed love. This one ’Unrequited Love’ by Yevgeny Yevtushenko is on well, the obvious, and also the courage needed to transcend yourself.

We yawn and play at shabby little passions,
discarding hearts as though they’re last year’s fashions,
afraid of tragedy, afraid to pay.
And you and I, no doubt, are being weaklings
whenever we so often force our feelings
to take the easier,  less binding way.

Then there is the mysterious one left in your inbox that makes you laugh out loud and of course want some of what she’s having please.  This one is ‘I don’t want you for your beauty alone’

I don’t love you
For your beauty alone,
but also for your large vocabulary
When you say emporium and brouhaha instead of
shops and a fistfight it really turns me on.
tell me all the synonyms for smitten
and I’ll tell you what I am.

We can’t figure out who the poet is but apparently she is English (and a pretty cool chick). If anyone knows please enlighten us here. And of course let us know what are your favourite reads to save your soul.

From ABC bookshow blog

blogs · books · culture

Pleasures of reading

I’ve recently made the transition to nine to five life of the worker and I find myself trying to fit my reading around the rhythms of my new life. A few chapters on the train in the morning through bleary eyed half sleep, a few on the way back squashed in peak hour traffic. Some more snatches of reading in between skimming the papers and keeping up to date with work reading.

 The kind of reading I do has changed too. I find myself attracted to stories of utopias and dystopias. There’s something about being settled in a pattern that makes one attracted to the alternate visions of reality (if anyone knows where I can find a second hand copy of Brave New World let me know!)

 There’s no time anymore to scour second hand bookshops and stay up enthralled in new book when you come home exhausted (even from a job I love) and fall asleep at depressingly early hours.  There’s no more languor of endless escapism enraptured in a new world.

A lot of  friends tell of similar experiences. When they start working or have kids its easy to become overwhelmed with the responsibilities of their new life and time to read for pleasure becomes scarce.  Or conversely pregnancy or illness provide an unexpected opportunity to indulge in what has become a forgotten pleasure.

 It made me think,  is reading an essentially bourgeois activity for students and those with endless leisure time, kind of like golf? Or is there something more essential about it? I always thought there was something egalitarian about reading, more so than any other art form being so varied and relatively accessible.

I often wonder why humans find art so essential. Is it because we are essentially social animals needing to communicate, express ourselves and understand others? Or is there something about seeing life reflected that helps us give meaning to our experiences?  

I always find myself out of sorts when I haven’t read something purely pleasurable for a while. It’s like something is missing and I need to come out of myself and see the world through another person’s eyes. Then there is the aesthetic pleasure of simply enjoying the contours of a perfectly formed piece of prose that invokes exotic scents and colours from the ordinary and extraordinary aspects of life.

Why do you read? How has your reading changed through different phases of your life?

From ABC bookshow blog

books · culture

Literary heroes and villains

We all know them. They are those characters in books who feel like real people, who live on with you well after you finish the book. Their thoughts mirror your own; their struggles resonate with you and leave you ruminating. Or conversely they infuriate you and challenge you to think differently. Here are my top five:

1. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’)

It probably helps if you are brainy, angsty teenager suffering from an identity crisis to really ‘feel’ Jane, but anyone who feels they were not blessed with life’s advantages can empathise with Bronte’s heroine.  Lonely and poor, orphan Jane forges her way from a cruel boarding school to love and independence.  Even when she falls for Mr Rochester, she has the confidence to negotiate the terms of their equal partnership.  She is not beautiful, wealthy or connected but she has self-respect damn it, and that’s why she is No.1.

2. Raskolnikov (Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’)

The tortured soul of Dostoevsky’s classic, Raskolnikov’s journey from his philosophical experiment to eventual redemption, is the ultimate in existential literature (the only other exception being Dostoevsky’s other foray into The Meaning of Life ‘The Brothers Karamazov’.)  If you have been a starving student in Sydney’s overblown rental markets, you will feel Raskolnikov’s pain (and the Russian winter too, viscerally.)

3. Atticus Finch (Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’)

Some may like their bad boys, your Dorian Gray’s and Heathcliff’s (two who were hotly contested for this list), but I’ve always loved the noble man. Atticus is the ultimate straight shooter, a widower who uses his skills as a lawyer to controversially stand up for justice by defending a black man accused of rape in America’s segregationist south. It is Atticus’ love for his children, his integrity and quiet humility that make him a winner on my list

3. Elizabeth Bennett (Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’)

Bright and beautiful, Elizabeth Bennett, the heroine of Austen’s classic, is beloved precisely because she has the confidence to be haughty despite the manifest disadvantages of being a woman in Victorian England and coming from a somewhat dysfunctional family.  Ms Bennett wins because she is another strong woman who has the courage to navigate her own destiny within and even transcending the limitations of her circumstances and unlike the earnest Jane, she does it with wit and style.  When she is not trading barbs with her love interest Darcy, she’s laughing up a social custom or absurdity.

4. Channu (Monica Ali’s Brick Lane)

The Bengali husband in Monica Ali’s Man Booker prize short-listed novel Brick Lane, Channu is a favourite, because he is complex and nuanced. One of those characters one cannot help loving and hating, sometimes at the same time. It would have been easy to relegate him to the 2-D cliché of the overbearing patriarch, but Ali’ genius lay in her ability to give even her make even her  ‘villainous’ character sympathetic,  flawed and human.

5. Mrs Dalloway (Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs Dalloway’).

The wife of a Tory MP who ‘had parties to cover the silence’, Clarissa Dalloway is chosen, because despite being conventional and insipid, she loves life and gives an insight into the sometimes uncomfortable mind of comfortable privilege. We meet Mr and Mrs Dalloway fleetingly in Woolf’s first novel ‘The Voyager’ and are immediately intrigued.  She is one of those superficial, yet mysterious people you’ve always wanted to be able to decode and somehow get inside their head.  We know Mrs Dalloway is more than meets the eye because she attracts interesting people like the marauding Peter Walsh and the once outrageous Sally Seton. She’s also an archetype, the natural socialite and gravitational centre from which everyone is brought together.

Who are your favourite characters?

From ABC bookshow blog

blogs · books

What is your type?

My previous post looked at how what we read, wrongly or rightly creates a perception of who we are. Superficial though it is, have you noticed yourself finding a lot about someone’s personality by what they read? Here are some outrageous generalisations on a few personalities I prepared earlier!

The Capitalist

The Capitalist thinks the The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is the best book ever written. They would rather watch the movie version than read the book.  Also likes– crime fiction, Dale Carnegie.

The New Ager

New Ager has the zeal of the newly converted and awash in pseudo-spiritualism. Men may be vegetarian and girls may wear beads and make constant references to ‘The Universe’.  The New Ager loves Kahlil Gibran, Paulo Coelho, The Celestine prophecy. Also likes– India, self-help. 

 The Bonnet Girl

BG is named as such for her love of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. She is an idealistic romantic who watches period dramas on the ABC and has fantasies of a modern day Mr Darcy sweeping her off her feet. She often engages in mock-Victorian speak in everyday conversation and thinks it’s hilarious (though nobody else does). Also likes– Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James and Edith Wharton.

The Existentialist

The Existentialist follows the prophets Camus and Sartre. They are postmodern, melancholy with nihilistic tendencies, often ruminating on the futility of life and human condition in general. The Existentialist has Marxist/revolutionary  tendencies.  Also likes– Russian writers, Kafka, Che Guevara.

 The Feminist

The feminist feels morally conflicted about enjoying artists that don’t jive with her politics. She often judges a writer by his personal life (only the male writers are judged.)  She loves Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, Maya Angelou and Alice Munro and will often go into rants about patriarchal hegemony.  The Feminist makes a good pairing with The Existentialist and despises but is also strangely drawn to Cowboy/Seducer.  

The Cowboy

The Cowboy thinks of himself as a freedom loving non-conformist. Cowboy fancies masculine writers such as Jack Kerouac and Norman Mailer. He thinks of homelessness as a fashion statement and may justify cheating on philosophical grounds. Also likes- Hemingway, Updike, Steinbeck. The more idealistic Cowboys are inspired by Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The Seducer

The Seducer is an unapologetic libertine who find their inspiration in Byron and Oscar Wilde. He may actually think he IS Byron or Oscar Wilde. The Seducer enjoys saying droll and witty things in order to impress and is depressingly self-conscious.  Also likes– Marquis de Sade, Choderlos de  Laclos, Kama sutra and the romantic poets.  Attracted to– Everyone.

The Sci-Fi geek

The Sci-Fi geek enjoys all things science fiction.  They are usually massive Lord of the Rings fans. Generally warm, nerdy, loyal, uber-smart and  mathematically minded. Also likes– Star Wars, Star Trek, astronomy and obscure fields of interest like nanotechnology. Sci-Fi geek and Bonnet girl are a match made in heaven.

The Witch

The Witch will refer to herself proudly as such and regards herself as somewhat of a femme fatale. She adores Anais Nin and has a fascination with erotic literature and the occult. Also likes–  Lolita, horror novels, Stephen King,  Lady Chatterley’s lover.  Attracted to– the Seducer.

The Serious Literary Person

SLP can quote from the Iliad and the Odyssey, and will often drop in conversation their love of Proust and Ulysses.  SLP disdains all things commercial and will often hunt for the most obscure literary titles to show off their encyclopaedic knowledge. SLP enjoys getting into arguments and generally has a background in criticism or academia.  Also likesguilty pleasures , hates- the Capitalist. Attracted to– themselves.

Do you see yourself or anyone else in one or more of the types? Can you think of anymore ‘types’?

From ABC Bookshow blog