Friday, May 29, 2015

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

"“Don’t you want to be alive before you die?”  - Anthony Doerr

The past few weeks I have had the absolute pleasure of reading All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I've read a fair share of war novels over the years. As a genre, I feel like I have to be in a certain 'mood' for them, because inevitably, they promise to be heartbreaking one way or another. I began reading this novel while in an indifferent mood. As you may have read in a previous post, my reading this year hasn't been great and upon deciding to dive straight back into it again this month, I primarily picked up this book as it was conveniently available at my local library. Upon noticing that it won the Pulitzer Prize last year, I thought I'd be mad not to give it a shot, and it delivered beyond my expectations. 

All the Light we Cannot See centers on the lives of two children during World War Two; one, a blind French girl by the name of Marie-Laure Leblanc, the other, an orphan German boy called Werner Pfenning who is chosen to attend a Nazi military academy and apply his impressive engineering skills. The book alternates between the characters each chapter, while also flashing forwards and back in time. I'm not usually a fan of this type of narrative construction, but Doerr is a master of his craft, knowing when and where to use the time changes to create heightened suspense while also maintaining a perfect balance between the two characters so readers don't lose interest in one character over the other.  

We often hear about war heroes, and the sacrifices they made, but what I really loved about this novel is that it's rather interested in the otherwise unknown histories of ordinary civilians and most of all, children. What's so impactful about it, and also most devastating, is that readers witness Marie and Werner struggle to maintain their childlike wonder and awe and to really own their lives amidst the chaos and complexities of man made devastation and destruction. Marie loves to read as Werner loves science, a passion instilled within him as a child when he would listen in secret to radio broadcasts about the mysteries of the universe. In the end, it is these passions that ultimately bring the two together and in doing so, Doerr speaks of the invaluable importance of education, the power of the written word and of an inquisitive mind. The story of Marie and Werner touched me in such a profound way that they haunted my mind long after reading the final page. I felt inspired by Mairie's unfaltering determination and struck by what Werner could have been, what he could have brought to the world with his talents; what all those fallen who fought for their country could have done to make the world a better place.

Anthony Doerr's writing style itself is illuminating. All the Light We cannot See is unforgettable. If there's one thing you read this year, make sure it's this. 5/5

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Life Lately: What I've been reading, eating, watching & pinning

With the semester drawing to a close and final assignments and tests looming, life hasn't been all that exciting. When I'm not at University, you'll find me at home, probably in my pajamas, researching or studying the whole day away with about five mugs of tea spread across various intervals to keep me going.

But in the in between moments, I've found reasons to stay optimistic and avoid grumpy tendencies, so I thought I'd share a few things that have been of interest and keeping me going over the past couple of weeks.

Reading: All the Light we Cannot see by Anthony Doerr. I was surprised I hadn't come across nor heard of this novel sooner, considering it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014. I finished it just a few days a go and thoroughly enjoyed it, so much so that I gave it a 5 star rating on goodreads. I wont elaborate too much on what it's about as I'm hoping to write a review on it soon, but in the meantime, I would definitely recommend getting your hands on a copy if you can.
Eating: These orange and rosemary shortbread biscuits. My god, they are divine. I first tried orange and rosemary flavoured shortbread at HolyBelly Cafe in Paris and I made sure to make a note of the flavour combination so I could recreate it when I returned home. This recipe tastes as good as what I remembered!
Asides from that, special mention goes out to the Nutella brioche French toast with butterscotch syrup that I had last week at a cafe near university. It was just as good as it sounds and I'm tempted to go back for more or re-create the dish at home
Watching: Exotica by Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan, which is about a group of characters whose lives are interconnected by the murder of Francis's, the main protagonist's, daughter. Much of the film takes place in the strip club of the film's name, where Francis goes every night solely to get a lap dance from Christina, who is always dressed in a uniform and performs a school girl strip tease every night.
I say I've been watching this film but I'm more analyzing it, as it's the topic for  my final English essay. The first time I watched Exotica I felt so uneasy and was adamant that I wouldn't go near it ever again...but oddly enough, I became so intrigued by it. It's such a mysterious film. I wouldn't say it's a thriller but it definitely leaves you feeling unsettled by the end. Don't be put off by the synopsis, which sounds highly perverted. It's a really intelligent and complex film that explores themes such as isolation, identity and psychological trauma. I've grown to really love this film; it's haunting in a kind of unconventional way and will leave you thinking.
Pinning: I've noticed that my activity on Pinterest has increased the past's so convenient to get distracted by pretty pictures of, say, long table dinners à la Kinfolk. I'd love to host a dinner party over the winter break, and my board 'Shared Meal' poses as the perfect inspiration.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Making time to read

Classic Book Stack Watercolor Illustration Art by KaraEndres
This year hasn't been nearly as productive for me, reading wise. Last year, I read a whooping 44 books, which may not seem a lot to some people, but it was such a big achievement to me. This was thanks in part to my heavy text based English units in which we would be required to read up to ten books each semester. This semester, I'm taking a film unit, which I don't regret taking at all. I have never been much of a film fanatic, but the unit has definitely made me more appreciative of the medium, but that's perhaps a story for another day.

Back to my reading habits of late. Is it shameful to admit that I didn't set a Goodreads challenge because I knew I couldn't match the amount of books that I read last year? I got so into it after a while, and while I'm proud of the number of books I read last year, beating my previous number in 2013, I also feel like I was reading just for the sake of completing my goal. I mean, this can't be a necessarily bad thing, I suppose, as I have always been driven to conquer my goals. But after taking a bit of a reading hiatus, and now ever so slowly getting back into it again, I have found myself enjoying reading at a more leisurely pace, especially since this semester has been so busy. I think from now on I would like to continue at this slow pace, to read when I want to and in my own time without the unnecessary pressure I placed on achieving a Goodreads challenge.

Making time to read, even if its just for 10, 20 to 30 minutes at a time, really helps me wind down and forget about all the 'to do lists' in my mind. And after reading, I always feel refreshed and ready to tackle what needs to be done, whether it be an essay, some study or even a blog post!

So I thought I would post some of my tips that will help you make time to read. Speaking as a person who just last year was constantly reading to a person who now takes her time, I hope these tips will be helpful, no matter what kind of reader you are.

1. Read before going to sleep: This is probably the easiest way to get in some reading time. Force yourself away from technological devices and get immersed in a good book. It doesn't even have to be every night! I for one am guilty of just wanting to watch TV shows until the wee hours some nights and that's fine, but I try not to do this often. I have found that I am able to fall asleep much faster after reading, as it doesn't require staring at the glare from the computer screen. You get some reading done and a good nights rest; it's a win win situation!

2. Set goals: Okay, so this may seem to be in contradiction to what I mentioned above, but when I say set goals, I'm more referring to the number of pages in a sitting. I like to read 50 pages every day, as I personally find it to be the perfect amount. Of course, there are occassions where I become so engrossed in a novel that I read way beyond that number in a sitting! But in general, if you're busy or tired at the end of the day, this tip should do the trick.

3. Read on public transport: I love this tip, and honestly, I probably get the majority of my reading done on the commute to university during the week! I know a lot of people hate public transport and I know that the hour long rides can be frustrating at times (especially at peak hour!), but you can make the most of the situation by getting some reading done. Reading on the bus is one of my favourite past times. If I'm travelling to uni in the morning, it helps stimulate my mind and wake me up, and if I'm returning home it helps to wind me down.

4. Always, always always bring a book with you: Yep, everywhere you go. You never know when a reading opportunity might arise, and when it does, you'll be so thankful to have a book with you (waiting at the doctors springs to mind!)

5. Read books that you enjoy: This is a given, really, but it's so important. In the past, I felt guilty if I abandoned a book. I felt like I had some kind of obligation to finish it, even if I didn't like it. But now I realize there's no point wasting time on a book if you don't enjoy it, especially if you're reading for leisure! The last thing you want is reading to become like a chore. There are so many books to choose from out there, so many worlds to discover. Don't waste time on one that's not to your liking.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Magazine of the Moment: Womankind

Womankind Magazine
More so the magazine of the decade rather than merely 'of the moment', Womankind is hands down the best magazine I have ever read, and I've only read two issues thus far. 

Published by the same team who run Australian magazine New Philosopher, Womankind is a quarterly magazine that caters especially for, you guessed it, women. Seeing a gap in the market, comprised of women who found themselves sick of 'the noise out there - the fashion, celebrity-focused, diet and nonsense fueled world of women's magazines', Womankind was born. Within its pages you won't find a single advertisement, meaning it relies solely on sales. Perhaps this seems like a risky route to take, but it appears to have worked. Launched only last year at the Byron Bay Writers' Festival in July 2014, where it was the best selling item in the festival's history, Womankind has garnered a firm and impressive following of women who are, like myself, appreciative of how refreshing and intelligent the content is. 

The articles in each issue range from a variety of things which are influenced by different schools of thought. As literary editor of New Philosopher Antonia Case summarized, Womankind "brings the best ideas [we] can from philosophy, sociology and economics." Despite this seemingly academic approach, Case insisted that the magazine itself isn't 'academic'. Indeed, each article manages to be enlightening, thought provoking but also incredibly engaging. In fact, Womankind is probably one of the few magazines which I have read from front to cover, being immersed in the words the entire way.

Asides from this, Womankind also includes articles written by authors and quite a lot of articles about art (which I adore). To compliment this, the design of Womankind is stunning, making each turn of the page a delight. Each issue tends to have a different theme as well; in the recent issue, gorgeous water colour images of bees made repeated appearances throughout the publication, whereas the previous issue featured cute cat pictures.

Womankind achieves a certain kind of balance between the pretty aesthetics of the magazine's visuals and the serious topics it presents. Indeed,Womankind reflects intelligent and worldly women from all over the world and through their stories, the magazine succeeds in catering to 'a broad demographic of women who are looking for a better understanding of the world around them'. In the recent issue, a lengthy, empowering feature article discusses the continued perseverance and astounding achievements of Frida Kahlo despite her numerous misfortunes. Another article presents a story on 'Women as Revolutionaries'; specifically, a group of women in Mexico called the Zapatistas who fight for gender equality.

Flipping through Womankind, I am reminded of a quote voiced by none other than Jess from New Girl:
“I break for birds. I rock a lot of polka dots. I have touched glitter in the last 24 hours! And that doesn’t mean I’m not smart and tough and strong.”

Reading it, I cannot help but feel inspired. I can't help but feel reassured that my delicate sensibilities are not 'weak' characteristics. You can be strong in many different ways, and the endurance of women throughout the ages never ceases to amaze and motivate me. I am so glad that this magazine exists, as I am able to gain more exposure to stories about women who are changing the world, and in turn, I feel that I too can make a difference, no matter how big or small my efforts may be.

*Womankind is currently on sale in Australia and the US at selected news agencies, but for those from other countries, individual issues or subscriptions can be made through their website.
*Quoted exerts via Mumbrella

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