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Category Archives: Autobiography

Four Days in January: A Letter to Jillsan – Nils-Johan Jørgensen

letteringThis is a modern tale, a journey of the heart, a road back, revisiting many cities and enduring Eastern and Western sentiments to light and lighten our understanding of life’s fleeting appearance.

It is a way of honouring the life of a loved one, to tell a personal story that reflects the shared, universal truth of the silence of loss from Kakimoto to Goethe and beyond.

Four Days in January is a beautifully told, deeply moving and poignant letter of loss, yet also the celebration of the life of a loved one through allegory, music, poetry and personal records.

Told in letter-form, Four Days in January records the story of two lovers and their lives through marriage and parenthood following his diplomatic career spent in different parts of the world, and the role and dedication of the diplomat’s wife.

Here is a very open volume that offers an array of inspirational thoughts for anyone facing loss and bereavement.

Having read most of Mr Jørgensen’s other books this one, whilst no less readable was an altogether different beast. It is a meditation on life as well as loss.  A union of two coming together to live as one, of a love that really shines through, a life lived fully but also a statement on the cruelty of having it cut short.

The beginning takes us through the unfolding tragedy of a life suddenly declining. It is told in an unflinching way and it moved this reader immensely.  Despite reading this book in January, I know that the opening will be the best one I read all year, which is saying something as I continue to amass great literature.

This personal final letter to his love is an intimate portrait, delicately penned, a chronicle of a shared existence, told through a number of key vignettes.  What makes this an intensely moving piece of work is that it is real life, good and bad things happen but it is a reminder to appreciate it every day for what it is.  Even the most mundane of times can become something beautiful when viewed the right way. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 23/02/2017 in Autobiography, Life, Memoir

 

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Howards End is on the Landing – Susan Hill

LandingLightsEarly one autumn afternoon in pursuit of an elusive book on her shelves, Susan Hill encountered dozens of others that she had never read, or forgotten she owned, or wanted to read for a second time. The discovery inspired her to embark on a year-long voyage through her books, forsaking new purchases in order to get to know her own collection again.

A book which is left on a shelf for a decade is a dead thing, but it is also a chrysalis, packed with the potential to burst into new life. Wandering through her house that day, Hill’s eyes were opened to how much of that life was stored in her home, neglected for years. Howard’s End is on the Landing charts the journey of one of the nation’s most accomplished authors as she revisits the conversations, libraries and bookshelves of the past that have informed a lifetime of reading and writing.

After the disappointment of Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, I needed something which would encourage me more in my bookish ways (as well as reinforce my reasons to unashamedly buy more) and this one does just that.  It views the personal landscape of a famous author’s reading life, in which she doesn’t buy any books for a year – something I tried once and it made me feel miserable – and focuses on the ones she has.

As well as her detailed bibliophilic thoughts, there is also talk of fonts, titles and years of accumulating books and the associated memories of where they were brought and the circumstance of the time, it’s an autobiographical insight into Hill and her influences.  There are chapters about authors, genres and attitudes all with plenty of anecdotes which allows the reader to get to know her somewhat.

A litany of authors and aspects of the fine art of reading are discussed and it’s good to be reminded that spending time with one’s own carefully built collection can be as rewarding as reading from it.  It seems easy sometimes to take for granted what we have and see everyday and we probably forget just how rich our lives for having them so close at hand.

There are diversity of genres (albeit, mostly fiction) and authors discussed, it’s all agreeable and amiable in its way, especially in the chapter ‘It Ain’t Broke’ which argues against the charmless e-reader.  Howards End is Not on the Landing gives an excuse to hoard more books but also it’s a lament to the ones sadly abandoned or worse not read; as well as an encouragement to explore the obscurantism of books, to delve into the lesser known and pass on the gems to other lucky and voracious readers.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 21/08/2016 in Autobiography, Book Memories, Essays

 

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Days of Reading – Marcel Proust

Books!In these inspiring essays about why we read, Proust explores all the pleasures and trials that we take from books, as well as explaining the beauty of Ruskin and his work, and the joys of losing yourself in literature as a child.

Part of the challenge with Proust is finding plenty of time in which to become intimately involved with his approach to writing.  This is my first reading experience of P. and his style is impressively immersive and made me feel nostalgic for places  and a time I have never experienced.

Plenty of essays ramble on but P. prefers clear concise language whilst being able to digress at will, yet each meandering discovery the reader makes always – eventually – comes back to the original point but makes one feel richer for the detour.

It’s a joy to read, although it is understandable that Proust splits readers due to his technique.  This reader had to change his mindset and learn to soak up the ambience of the prose, rather than feeling I was getting somewhere with plot or idea like I usually would.  In that regard the first few pages were a grind but realising that the author was going to take his time puts the reader either resigns the reader to a long haul or to the appreciation of a slow meditation of life.

The book opens with an essay on John Ruskin’s contribution to the understanding and appreciation of art and architecture, especially inspired by Christianity.  How art in general echoes its greatness (when it is) through the centuries and reaches to us emotionally, each example studied is a communing with antiquity.  It’s a study of us as well as a celebration of what we can achieve through our own creativity.

The essays on childhood memories and in particular of reading books when the mind is still open to the most innocent wonder and imagination is gloriously evocative writing.  Proust appreciates how rereading books brings forth a tangible memory of his formative years, he mirrors the echoing of art down the ages with thoughts, of ideas from our past that define modern life; not to mention timeless characters, books and the universal joy for all seasons and people. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 30/07/2016 in Architecture, Art, Autobiography, Essays, History, Life

 

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A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway

NotEasterPublished posthumously in 1964, A Moveable Feast remains one of Ernest Hemingway’s most beloved works. Since Hemingway’s personal papers were released in 1979, scholars have examined and debated the changes made to the text before publication. Now this new special restored edition presents the original manuscript as the author prepared it to be published.

Featuring a personal foreword by Patrick Hemingway, Ernest’s sole surviving son, and an introduction by the editor and grandson of the author, Seán Hemingway, this new edition also includes a number of unfinished, never-before-published Paris sketches revealing experiences that Hemingway had with his son Jack and his first wife, Hadley. Also included are irreverent portraits of other luminaries, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ford Madox Ford, and insightful recollections of his own early experiments with his craft.

Sure to excite critics and readers alike, the restored edition of A Moveable Feast brilliantly evokes the exuberant mood of Paris after World War I and the unbridled creativity and enthusiasm that Hemingway himself experienced. In the world of letters it is a unique insight into a great literary generation, by one of the best American writers of the twentieth century.

Two people have mentioned moveable feasts (Easter in particular) to me in recent weeks and having heard good things about the book of the same name, it was fitting to give it a go.  Hemingway is one of those authors that leaves me constantly undecided, on the one hand there is his unconvincing monosyllabic dialogue and on the other hand there is The Old Man and the Sea.  This book I hoped would push me to make a firm decision about his work one way of the other.

Written with Hemingway’s trademark pared down style, as a series of vignettes on Paris life, I was immediately drawn into his time and experiences.  Set in the early to mid twenties at a time when the highly artistic gathered in paris, Mr H. gives us plenty of insight into the eating habits and thoughts of such famous names as Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Ford Madox Ford, F. Scott Fitzgerald as well as on the subjects of skiing, books, racing  and so forth.

It is an engaging look at the writers life, living in relative poverty – although thankfully the currency exchange rate helps out in their favour on that score,  he never overly sentimentalises his life, writing or the poor quarter of the city he lives in.   The city is painted as not only vivid but also as ever so slightly nostalgic perhaps – yet still in the author’s macho style – which we can forgive the man for. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 19/02/2016 in Autobiography, Memoir

 

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Addicted to Dimes: Confessions of a Liar and a Cheat – Catherine Townsend-Lyon

61Wah0x6duLHow does a good girl go bad? Based on a true story, told in the author’s own words, without polish or prose, this haunting tale of addiction, family secrets, abuse, sexual misconduct, destruction, crime and…. recovery! One day at a time, one page at a time. Learn of this remarkable and brave story.

It’s to easy these days to dismiss an addict without any real thought as to the contributing factors and the struggles they face each day, when coping in a world that actively encourages habit-forming pursuits.

Catherine Townsend-Lyon is a recovering gambling addict who guides us through her journey, reliving the most heartbreaking of times upto today, where the lessons hard learned are put forward in their stark honesty.

As you would expect from somebody who has felt the pull of addiction, this retrospective holds nothing back.  It’s brutally honest, makes no excuses but does explore the complex history of the author’s case.

It’s challenging to read but that is how it should be, an uncompromising, self-aware examination of a life that has turned out in an unexpected way.  If you are looking for a writer who leans towards the more literary style of writing, you won’t get it here but hiding behind fancy words is sometimes detrimental to the message.   Here the gritty and down to earth writing bring forthright range of observations to a dysfunctional past.

As well as looking at just one specific life, there is also an insight into the flaws of a system that on one hand allows the encouragement of gambling (responsibly of course!) and enjoys the taxes off of said companies,  yet doesn’t have the ability to support the people who fall prey to the industries ills.  It’s a blatant conflict of interests, the swirling lights and noises drawing people in to a world fundamentally obsessed and geared to money and glamour that cannot be sustained for any length of time despite what the adverts would have us believe. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 16/09/2014 in Autobiography, Blogging

 

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Book to the Past

Books are magical, this is a fact and as I am always right it is also indisputable.  Over the coming 3-5 weeks I’m going to attempt to prove this in a fairly abstract way by telling you all about my past associations with these paper edifi.  Once every period of seven days I will be randomly posting another part of how I got to be reading today what I have read and how this has brought me to the eclectic mess of a mind that occupies the inner recesses of my slightly lopsided skull.

Your author and tour guide for this odyssey is going to do his best to convey the spells that he has become enchanted with and the books that housed them.  Specifically how they influenced thoughts and wider reading. It has been noted that I don’t talk about me enough so with a little light persuasion, the decision was made.   This is my story through books, that’s what the movie will be called anyway and I hope it inspires some similar thoughts in you.

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As someone once said to me…’it is the books that impact on you…shaping who you became…who you will become that is the point’…so please excuse this long rambly look at me, it is rare I will do anything like this as I know all about me and as a consequence am not particularly interested in the subject, perhaps a few of you are though…You’ll note that I’ll be name checking a lot of books, I hope some titles or the context within, which they are mentioned will catch your eye and you will want to explore them for yourselves. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 05/03/2014 in Autobiography

 

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Tuesdays With Morrie – Mitch Albom

tues-with-morrieI read this a few months ago but needed time to think about it before I put my thoughts down on screen, it’s strange to have ones opinions on a book so polarised that you swing from enjoyment to apathy with each thought…

This true story follows Mitch meeting up with his old college professor Morrie, 20 years after they last spoke.  Morrie has Motor Neurone Disease and is slowly dying but before he does, Morrie is ready to teach his final lessons to Mitch each Tuesday just as he did 20 years ago.

You may have already gathered that this book has lots of soul searching, honesty and much emotion, it deals with a dying man’s views on the world he has experienced and is leaving and his lessons encompass culture, money, regrets, forgiveness and death amongst others.

To start off with I absolutely loved this, it has a life affirming message and will make you want to go and hug people (although make sure you know them) but then I thought about the subjects spoken about, the primary part of the book, and wondered how profound the messages actually were.

That sounds cynical I know, I don’t wish to belittle the conversations that these guys have, I mean they are a good reminder about what’s important in life and how we should treat ourselves, each other and the world but is it a life changer?

You hear about these mythical books all the time, the life changers…I am yet to meet one in person, they usually range from conspiracy theories, poorly conceived pseudo history and then the emotive books such as this one, personally I think that the revelations, or advice if you will, espoused are messages that we hear a lot, everywhere. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 17/04/2013 in Autobiography, Philosophy

 

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