Tag: poetry

The White Book by Han Kang

Posted April 15, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Poetry / 6 Comments

The White Book by Han KangTitle: The White Book (Goodreads)
Author: Han Kang
Translator: Deborah Smith
Published: Portobello Books, 2017
Pages: 161
Genres: Poetry
My Copy: eBook

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Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2018
Longlisted for the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation 2018

Han Kang’s The White Book comes across as something different from this author’s Man Booker International Prize winner (The Vegetarian) but still feels very much the same. The White Book is a reflection of the colour White; part meditation, part poetry, Han Kang explores a range of connections with the colour. Weaving an autobiographical narrative, Kang is able to explore her feelings in this emotional book.

“At times my body feels like a prison, a solid, shifting island threading through the crowd. A sealed chamber carrying all the memories of the life I have lived, and the mother tongue from which they are inseparable. The more stubborn the isolation, the more vivid these unlooked-for fragments, the more oppressive their weight. So that it seems the place I flee to is not so much a city on the other side of the world as further into my own interior.”

When I think about these emotions, like grief and despair, I often then of the colour black. For Han Kang it is more “black waters shifting beneath the thick sea fog”. This fog is such an amazing metaphor, it is that looming cloud that shadows over our dark feelings. It is cold, if not chilling. The White Book, really challenged my thoughts on the colour white being warm and happy.

I like the way Han Kang was able to combine all her thoughts and emotions and associate it with the one colour. She led me on an emotional journey that was different to anything I have ever read. Yet, at the same time, it felt like her style and I cannot help but compare it to The Vegetarian. I would be interested to see if she is able to pull off something similar in the future, maybe with a different colour.

Despite the fact that I enjoyed the journey The White Book took me on, I do not think it is deserving of a place on the Man Booker International Prize shortlist. My main concern is that this blurs the line of fiction too much, this is an autobiographical meditation. While I appreciate everything it does, I wonder how it managed to meet the criteria for this prize. It is not just this book that blur the line between fiction and non-fiction, I just think this is one that is the furthest away from fiction. Having said that, this is a book that needs to be experienced rather than analysed; there is some literary merit here, but this is more an emotional journey.

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Posted April 21, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander EssbaumTitle: Hausfrau (Goodreads)
Author: Jill Alexander Essbaum
Published: Pan Macmillan, 2015
Pages: 336
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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Lisa Benz is a thirty-something American living in Switzerland with her new husband. While he is off working as a banker, she is alone to look after the kids; she cannot do much else because she has yet to learn German. Lisa wants to be the perfect mother and wife but she is unhappy and alone. Hausfrau is the punchy debut novel from poet Jill Alexander Essbaum.

If you look at Jill Alexander Essbaum’s Goodreads profile, you will see that she is obsessed with many things, including puns, sex, God and words. These kind of obsessions lead her to become a poet; her collections of poetry often feature religious and erotic imagery within them. I have heard mixed reviews of Hausfrau in the past, but when I heard her on the Literary Disco podcast, I knew I had to check it out. I think Essbaum’s love for putting words in the right way helped to release a strong debut novel.

The novel follows the life of Lisa Benz, who is unhappy and alone, which leads her to make some bad decisions. Hausfrau is a typical domestic novel exploring one person’s unhappiness in their marriage. However this book still feels fresh and different to the others, not just because it is the wife who is making terrible choices. I found Jill Alexander Essbaum took an interesting take on the importance of communication and the idea that a marriage should be a partnership. She explores the breakdown of the marriage and makes it obvious the root causes.

I really enjoyed Hausfrau and it was nice to see a destructive female character for a change; it always feels like the husband is the one that ruins everything. Jill Alexander Essbaum really knows how to write and I am very interested in trying her poetry, especially her erotic religious poetry. I think Essbaum will be an author to take notice of in the future and I eagerly await her next novel.

Ariel by Sylvia Plath

Posted December 5, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Poetry / 0 Comments

Ariel by Sylvia PlathTitle: Ariel (Goodreads)
Author: Sylvia Plath
Published: Faber & Faber, 1965
Pages: 81
Genres: Poetry
My Copy: Library Book

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It feels like Sylvia Plath’s life overshadowed her literary value; her autobiographical novel The Bell Jar was like a confessional and people tend to read it for all the juicy bits. Ariel is a collection of poems published posthumously, just a few years after her suicide. It is true that we have Plath to think for advancing the confessional poetry form and exploring topics previously taboo like suicide, mental illness and domestic abuse.

I would like to thank Meg Wolitzer’s book Belzhar for pushing me into reading more of Sylvia Plath. The book explores a struggling student that was sent to a private school that put her in a special English class. This class spent the semester journaling and reading Plath, most importantly The Bell Jar but also Ariel. That book made me want to re-read The Bell Jar which I loved but instead decided it was time to give her poetry a go.

However I am very aware that I don’t know how to review poetry let alone a whole collection, so this is more about my experience with this book. I feel like I am becoming a better reader but if you ask me to read out loud I am going to struggle. So I decided this is an issue I needed to work on and I read Ariel to my wife (she read some of it to me as well). This may seem like a romantic and intimate thing to do with your partner but Plath has a way of killing any sexy moods.

I loved the experience but I am struck with a sense that Sylvia Plath might have been a poor choice to begin with. She has a very strong sense of imagery and plays a lot with metaphors; some of which I picked up on but there was some stuff that went over my head. Poetry is meant to be read out aloud and I thought this would help with my understanding as well as develop my skills. However I found it extremely difficult to work out punctuation in these poems. Some sentences span over a few stanzas but my natural impulse was to pause after ever line.

Having said that, this was a wonderful experience and while the poems are often dark and depressing I am glad I shared this moment with my wife. Ariel kind of reminds me of those people on the internet that overshare about their lives and you can’t help but be glued to what they write even if it annoys you. Sometimes I think, that is too much information but Sylvia Plath seems to get to the heart of that raw emotion.

Sylvia Plath was an incredibly intelligent and complex woman; I can’t help being fascinated by her. I want to learn more about her life, and understand the emotion behind her writing. Take for example her poem “Daddy”; there is this anger toward her father as well as some holocaust imagery that I just want to understand. I am going to have to find a biography on Plath’s life because I think this places a big part in her writing. Can anyone recommend me a good biography?

Beowulf by Anonymous

Posted October 19, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

Beowulf by AnonymousTitle: Beowulf (Goodreads)
Author: Anonymous
Translator: Michael Alexander
Published: Penguin, 800
Pages: 137
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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Beowulf is one of the oldest, complete surviving epic poems in existent. There are a few others from the same era that have survived in fragments, so the significance of Beowulf remains in regards to English literature. Written in Old English (or Anglo-Saxon) the manuscript of Beowulf is believed to date back to the 10th century (1,000AD). This is an example of a heroic poem, which can be defined as a text that deals with heroic actions in battle. Beowulf focuses on three great battles, with Grendel, Grendel’s Mother, and a Dragon.

While this is an English poem it is interesting to note that it is not set in England but southern Scandinavia, half in Denmark and the other in Geatland (or Götaland) which is one of three lands of Sweden. Beowulf does incorporate a large amount of Norse and Germanic history and legends, however I don’t have the knowledge to pick up on this within the text, just information I learnt after the reading. I suspect that this information was added into the poem to help pass on the information to Anglo-Saxon people, like a history lesson or as the poet calls it “the treasured repertory” (line 871). It is believed that Beowulf was composed in a time of stability, in a time of some democracy; an early medieval Christian civilisation. One might say this was an age where art and literature were flourishing and often used as methods of education.

Beowulf was no exception. What I got out of this poem was a reflection of the cultural and, to a lesser extent, political views of the time; a civilisation that values courtesy and formality. Chivalry, generosity and thoughtfulness are valued but still have a strong sense of precariousness, ready of imminent attack and war. Strength is still considered important; Beowulf is a warrior willing to fight against enemies both human and demonic. He even travelled to another country to fight a demonic menace. However you have to look to the other warriors as well, who appear as strong and capable as Beowulf but without their faith are rendered useless.

The role of the poet (or bard) is actually depicted in the poem itself several times. The poet is “…a fellow of the king’s” (line 868) which suggests that he is of a high rank. One who knows old and traditional stories, “Whose head was a storehouse of the storied verse, whose tongue gave gold to the language” (line 870). This allows the poem to have a unique perspective on the events that unfolds within Beowulf, a tactic that doesn’t always get explained within modern literature.

It is said that you can interpret this poem as having both Christian and pagan themes; however for me this had a very strong religious message. A battle of good and evil but I suspect this wasn’t a conflict of morality but an inevitable clash between the two. In a Christian context, Beowulf could be compared to Jesus, coming to save our souls from evil. You can even compare it to the story of Cain and Abel which is referenced within the text of Beowulf.

Given that Beowulf is meant to be experienced a spoken word I found myself struggling to read this as a written text. I had a look for the Michael Alexander translation (which was assigned to me for my university course) but was unsuccessful. However I did try to think about the text as if it was a story been spoken and I found it difficult. For me the narrative felt too slow, it lacked suspense and felt a little awkward (possibly the translation). The obscure historical allusions may not have been an issue back in the 800AD but it was for a modern reading.

I was nervous about reading Odyssey by but ended up loving it; I was hoping I would have a similar experience here. I suspected that Beowulf will remain a difficult text. There is some historical context that would be helpful before going into the poem that I just didn’t get. Reading the epic poem as part of a university course did help but for me it wasn’t enough. Medieval literature will remain difficult for me and would rather enjoy something a little more recent, like the 19th century. If you have read Beowulf and have some interesting insights that might help get my head around it, please let me know.

Young Romantics by Daisy Hay

Posted May 21, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 2 Comments

Young Romantics by Daisy HayTitle: Young Romantics (Goodreads)
Author: Daisy Hay
Published: Bloomsbury, 2010
Pages: 384
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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The Romantics have been a huge part of my life; if it wasn’t for them I may never have become a reader. Problem is, I don’t know much about their lives so I have set out to learn more. Young Romantics by Daisy Hay tells the basic story of their lives, but with the subtitle The Shelleys, Byron and Other Tangled Lives you can be sure it will be heavily focused on Mary and Claire.

This is not necessarily a bad thing; Mary Shelley and Claire Clairmont were fascinating people, however this seems to be the primary focus of more biographies. I was a little surprised when Daisy Hay spends so little time on that fateful time in Geneva that birthed Frankenstein but I assume that she deliberately glossed over that story assuming everyone was aware of it anyway.

Young Romantics did something I didn’t expect and that was spending a lot of time talking about the Hunt brothers. I knew they played a big part in literature at the time and that in context to the Romantics it is relevant information. However I never viewed them as Romantics and often over looked learning about them. This is a mistake on my behalf; the role the Hunts played in the Romantic Movement is an essential part in dealing with context. I might not consider them Romantics but they were there shaping the literary world along side them.

Having discovered a new interest in non-fiction I find myself wanting to read more biographies. While I have a great interest in the Romantics, I found that Young Romantics works to create a basic understanding of their lives. You get a quick overview of the lives of the Shelleys and the Hunts. Unfortunately there isn’t much to do with Lord Byron and even less to do with the others. I would have loved to read more about Keats but he only got a brief look in.

I plan to read more biographies about a range of different authors but I’m sure there will be plenty on the Romantics. I like Young Romantics for the broad strokes approach it took on the Romantics. I learnt a lot from this book but I’m sure people with a great knowledge would have been a little disappointed with it. I think if you have a passing interest in the Romantics this might be the perfect choice.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Anonymous

Posted May 18, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 4 Comments

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by AnonymousTitle: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Goodreads)
Author: Anonymous
Translator: Brian Stone
Published: Penguin, 1390
Pages: 176
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

When I found out we had to read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight for a current university subject, I was a little worried. I often struggle with analysing poetry and something written in Middle English was not going to be easy. Thankfully we had to read the Brian Stone translation, which only hints at being Middle English. This is a famous 14th century Arthurian romance that is often known for the beheading game.

This is a typical quest narrative; The Green Knight exposes the Knights of the Round Table as timid and cowards when he challenges them to the beheading game. The rules are simple, one knight tries to behead the Green Knight and in a year and a day he will meet them for the returning blow.  The Arthurian world is governed by a well-established code of behaviour. This code is one of chivalry, a romantic notion that is deeply rooted in Christian morality, being a beacon of spiritual ideals in a fallen world.

The beheading game is a plot device used as a test in the quest narrative, Sir Gawain is thrown into participating in the game and he is left with a choice, to be a man that lives by his code or not. A game that is meant to measure the inner worth of the knights and it does it in a big way, it exposes the Knights as cowards but Gawain steps up, sort of.

There is a whole lot of humour in this story that often gets over looked when trying to analyse this difficult text. The idea of beheading someone and them returning for a reciprocating blow should have given that away. However the supernatural elements might have made this difficult to pick up on the comedic value. The Green Knight can be interpreted as an allusion of Christ and the strong religious overtones might lead you to think that but I saw him more as a plot device to represent life’s challenges.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was a rather beautiful and interesting exploration for me. The translation I read did make it easier to understand, I don’t think I could handle learning Middle English. I had to do an assignment on this text and the quest narrative so I feel like I’ve already said plenty about this poem before sitting down to writing this review. I hope there is plenty of information here and gives the reader an idea of what to expect when reading this poem. It isn’t hard to understand if you have the right translation and is well worth reading.

My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey

Posted February 16, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

My Life as a Fake by Peter CareyTitle: My Life as a Fake (Goodreads)
Author: Peter Carey
Published: Random House, 2003
Pages: 320
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In 1943 two conservative classicists set out to expose the absurdity of modernist poetry. Both James McAuley and Harold Stewart were classical trained poets, who didn’t think much about modernism; it didn’t rhyme, didn’t make sense and it just didn’t look right, it was fake poetry. If an everyman can abandon technique and rhythm and create poetry, what was the point of high art? They created this everyman, Ern Malley and submitted poetry under this name to the literary magazine Angry Penguins. The Ern Malley hoax has become one of the biggest literary scandals in Australian history. While the hoax crippled modernist poetry within Australia, ultimately this parody backfired on McAuley and Stewart. The poetry, which was written in a day and full of word plays and puns became a sensation in the 1970’s. Their attempt to parody modern poetry and create something fake turned into something real, beyond their control and is now celebrated as fine examples of surrealist poetry.

Peter Carey’s My Life is a Fake explores the idea of fakery while paying homage to the Ern Malley hoax. Knowledge of this hoax is the backbone of this post-modernist novel, so much so that he covers his thoughts on it in the back of the book. Thinking about this novel I get the idea that this is a book that demands the reader to think about the purpose of reading. While this is considered contemporary fiction, it really demands a lot from the read and it wants to address a number of literary issues. Editor for Monthly Review Sarah Wode-Douglass, while traveling to Kuala Lumpur, encounters the perpetrator of the hoax after many years. The novel goes on to explore the literate mystery of forgeries but I won’t go into too much detail, it is quite a ride.

“I still believe in Ern Malley. (…) For me Ern Malley embodies the true sorrow and pathos of our time. One had felt that somewhere in the streets of every city was an Ern Malley (…) a living person, alone, outside literary cliques, outside print, dying, outside humanity but of it. (…) As I imagined him Ern Malley had something of the soft staring brilliance of Franz Kafka; something of Rilke’s anguished solitude; something of Wilfred Owen’s angry fatalism. And I believe he really walked down Princess Street somewhere in Melbourne. (…) I can still close my eyes and conjure up such a person in our streets. A young person. A person without the protection of the world that comes from living in it. A man outside.” Max Harris, editor of Angry Penguins.

While this book is told in a first person narrative, from the perspective of Sarah, as a reader I wrestled with the perspective. The novel explored the life of Sarah, her traveling partner John Slater who she describes as an unapologetically narcissist. Also we learn about Christopher Chubb and his monster, the non-existent Bob McCorkle. My mind wrested with questions like, whose life was I reading about? Whose words am I reading? Whose mythology do I accept? Personally I think these are the questions Carey wants us to ask, also I have to wonder what type of fakery are we talking about in the title?

Now I called the fictional poet Bob McCorkle a monster because this novel is influenced by a lot of literature but the most obvious is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Like McAuley and Stewart’s hoax, Bob McCorkle was a monster in the eyes of its creator and takes on a life of its own. There are also references to Paradise Lost (which can be connected to Frankenstein) and T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. An understanding of Greek mythology is helpful as well, especially Orpheus. This is a tricky book to read, and it took me a while to get the hang of it. Once I got into the rhythm of the novel, I think understanding and progress was a lot easier, though I do think a better understanding of literature would be helpful.

My Life as a Fake explores the power of creation, sometimes it just takes a life on its own with no way of stopping it. We must wrestle with the question of whether the man claiming to be Bob McCorkle is a fanatic; someone with an identity delusion, a hoaxer’s hoaxer, an accident, or an illusion called into being by its creator. As My Life as a Fake is an Australian novel, I can’t help but wonder if this is exploring the idea that Australia doesn’t produce Art, rather parodies and fakeries. The misconception that Australian artist must trade in masquerades to get noticed, a slightly old point of view but one that might have been still relevant in the time of the hoax.

I had to read this book for a university course so I also had to think about post-colonialism (a common theme in the subject). I’m not sure how this works as a post-colonial novel but I have to ask, as a colonized nation is this book viewing Australia as Frankenstein’s monster. Whose country are we in? Why does it matter? Are we the bastard spawn of a powerful creator (England)? Are we just fakes in the eyes of Europeans? Did we start off as fakes that took on a life of its own? Not really important questions for the book but interesting enough to share in this review.

Given that Frankenstein heavily influences My Life as a Fake, does this make this a modern gothic novel? They do invoke similar themes, interesting that this novel is meant to be popular fiction and yet it still explores high art in a complex, post modern way. Makes me wonder just how successful this novel was for Peter Carey. For me, while it was a difficult read, I found pleasure in studying this book, makes me want to read all of Carey’s books, maybe I’ll try The True History of the Ned Kelly Gang next.

The Literary Exploration Reading Challenge Returns for 2014

Posted December 12, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 9 Comments

The Literary Exploration reading challenge is back, by popular demand. As most people know, Literary Exploration tries to explore all different genres in the hope to become a well-rounded reader and even discover something new. So we are challenging everyone to dedicate either 12, 24 or 36 books that you would normally read during the year to different genres. We have compiled a list which hopefully will give you a chance to explore literature a little deeper.

It’s real simple; below you will see an easy (12 books), hard (24 books) or insane (36 books) challenge. Each genre links to the Goodreads genre page if you need some suggestions on what to read. We want you to have some fun and explore; hopefully you might find a new genre that peaks your interest. To sign up either join the Literary Exploration book club on Goodreads and talk about your progress with others involved or for the bloggers out there, if you want to add it as part of your blogging experience simply let us know with a link (to your Literary Exploration Challenge page) in the comments below so our readers can see how you are going.

This year we have adjusted the insane challenge slightly to make it a little more rounded. The popularity of the reading challenge with overwhelming and we are pleased to see how many people wanted to do it again next year. We have even offered some bonus for those who want to take it to the next level. The idea of this challenge is to have a well-balanced list of genres and not focusing on one genre more than any others.

Good luck all who decide to join in. I personally am going to go for the 36 book, insane challenge and I’m really looking forward to it. While there are some genres I’m not looking forward to reading, it’s all part of being a literary explorer. What could be wrong with that?

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Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Posted May 21, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia WoolfTitle: Mrs Dalloway (Goodreads)
Author: Virginia Woolf
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1925
Pages: 185
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Clarissa Dalloway goes around London preparing to host a party that evening. It’s a nice day and she finds herself being reminded of her youth in the Bourton and wondering about her life and her choice of husband; marrying the reliable Richard Dalloway instead of the mysterious and challenging Peter Walsh, as she never had the option to be with Sally Seton. These conflicts have been reintroduced when Peter pays her a visit.

The novel begins with Clarissa’s point of view and follows her perspective closely, travelling forwards and back in time and in and out of her mind to construct an image of her life. Clarissa is bubbly and lively, caring a great deal about what people think of her, but she is also self-reflective. She is often questioning life and constantly wondering whether happiness is truly possible. Though she is happy with her marriage to Richard she feels both great joy and dread towards her life and struggles to strike a balance between her desire for privacy and her need to connect with others.

Her husband Richard Dalloway is a member of the conservative government and plans to write a history of The Brutons, a great military family. He is a loving husband and father and devoted to social reform while appreciating English tradition. Peter Walsh is a close friend of Clarissa, once desperately in love with her. When she rejected his proposal, he moved to India; though frequently having romantic problems with women throughout the novel he is currently in love with a married woman in India. A socialist and highly critical of people, he is conflicted about everything in his life. Then there is Sally Sutton, a close friend of Clarissa in their youth, she was a wild handsome woman who would say anything. They were sexually attracted to each other as teenagers. Sally now lives in Manchester where she is married and is known as Lady Rosseter.

This is primarily a novel about life and relationships, with Clarissa reflecting on her life and wondering if she has made the right choices when it comes to marriage. There are so other themes that play a big part within this novel as well; some of these include disillusionment towards the British Empire, fear of death, oppression and balancing life between the need to keep up appearances and having some privacy. I won’t go into these themes in any detail, for the simple reason that I feel that Virginia Woolf leaves it very open to interpretation and it is up to the individual reader to make of it what they will.

For me, the major theme that came out was the struggle Clarissa had with trying to play the good hostess by drawing people together through her parties and her introverted nature. I saw Clarissa as an introvert, though she has a bubbly personality, she is often feels shrouded within her own reflective soul and thinks the ultimate human mystery is how she can exist in one room. She likes the idea of being independent and able to spend time to reflect but she is also aware of the inevitable loneliness that comes with a life of self reflection. If you understood something completely different from this novel, please let me know how you read this book in the comments below.

Now that I’ve looked at the themes of this novel, I want to have a quick look at some of the motifs and symbols used in Mrs Dalloway. The most important of them is time, which is so important to the structure, themes and characters of this novel that Virginia Woolf almost called it The Hours. Time keeps order to this novel; with all the thoughts, memories, and encounters within Mrs Dalloway, it becomes a vital element to the book. Also the old woman in the window across from house symbolises the life Clarissa desires; a private life with time to reflect. You also have things like the flowers with all their colour, varieties and beauty being a motif for emotions, Shakespeare and poetry representing these emotions as well and water suggesting the possibility of death.

Virginia Woolf can be a difficult author to read and requires a lot of thought but as I’ve now discovered with Mrs Dalloway, it is worth the effort. I remember reading To the Lighthouse and really struggling, but when I was told it was about sex, I thought I really missed the point. It’s a novel I plan to revisit again but as I mentioned in this review, I think Woolf writes her novels in such a way that you can interpret it anyway you want.

I don’t know if I would call myself a Virginia Woolf fan now, but I was really impressed reading and studying Mrs Dalloway. I will admit that that I’m planning to read A Room of One’s Own and reread To the Lighthouse. Maybe after that I might call myself a fan but I would recommend reading Virginia Woolf for all serious literature readers and studiers and anyone that needs to increase their pretentious levels. For me, Mrs Dalloway was both an interesting book and an interesting endeavour into improving my critical reading skills.

The Artist as Mystic by Yahia Lababidi and Alex Stein

Posted December 20, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

The Artist as Mystic by Yahia Lababidi and Alex SteinTitle: The Artist as Mystic (Goodreads)
Author: Alex Stein, Yahia Lababidi
Published: Onesuch, 2012
Pages: 86
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Author

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

I’m going to have to borrow the blurb for this book, because I think it best summarises this book. The Artist as Mystic is a set of lyric conversations between aphorists Yahia Lababidi and Alex Stein. These conversations constitute what Australians call a ‘Songline’ — a set of sacred songs that allow the reader/listener to navigate through an unknown terrain, in this case, populated by tortured and ecstatic souls: Kafka, Baudelaire, Nietzsche, Rilke, Kierkegaard and Ekelund.

I’ve never really read something like this, blending biographical elements with literary criticism, but then it takes it a bit further by documenting conversations between Yahia Lababidi and Alex Stein and adding a reflective poem to each essay by Lababidi. It’s like being a fly on the wall and listening to two very intelligent people bounce thoughts and ideas off each other about literary ideas.

While it often felt more like an interview rather than a conversation, I never felt bothered by it; Yahia Lababidi has a lot of insight and knowledge and I think Alex Stein made a very strategic move by stepping back and letting Lababidi run free with his thoughts. While this may come across as very dense book, I found the book very accessible.

The Artist as Mystic is a thought provoking look at people I’ve had a real interest in understanding better; Kafka, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard as well as an insight into a few new ones I need to learn about. I’m not a very intellectual person, I do try but what I got out of this book was just how well it helped me understand the ideas it wanted to get across. Yahia Lababidi never talked down but rather mentored the reader along, making this the most impressive aspect of the whole book. I felt inspired by this book and plan to read this book with a highlighter and a notepad sometimes in the future.