“I always feel like a traveler, going somewhere, toward some destination. If I sense that this destination doesn’t in fact exist, that seems to me quite reasonable and very likely true.”
– Vincent Van Gogh
“My friend, hold back your heart from enemies,
Drink shining wine with handsome friends like these;
With art’s initiates undo your collar -
Stay buttoned up with ignoramuses.”
– Hafez, translated by Dick Davis (from Faces of Love: Hafez and the Poets of Shiraz)
“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.”
― Franz Kafka
Rather than doing my traditional Sunday Salon today, I’m going to pick up on a meme that has appeared at a lot of blogs recently. Here are Ten Books That Have Stayed With Me, listed alphabetically by author:
The Palace of Illusions – Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
This retelling of The Mahabharata from the perspective of one of the female characters is simply one of the most beautifully-written books I’ve ever come across. Its transcendent ending actually brought tears to the eyes, something a book seldom does for me.
The Masks of God – Joseph Campbell
I cheat a little here by including all four volumes of Campbell’s magnum opus. While I may now resist some of his conclusions and his somewhat schematized approach, Campbell had the sort of comprehensive knowledge of history, mythology, and religion that I would love to be able to emulate.
Fifth Business – Robertson Davies
This radically intelligent Canadian novelist has remained something of a cult favorite. If you’ve never read anything by him, this would be a good place to start. You’ll end up reading more, I’m certain.
Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Rarely has a novel taken the reader inside someone’s mind and experiences so vividly. Even now I can practically feel the griminess of Raskolnikov’s clothing.
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel García Márquez
I can’t really add anything to what so many others have said about this masterpiece. “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” How can one read a first sentence like that and not want to read on?
The Shock of the New – Robert Hughes
This opinionated history of twentieth century art (the companion book to a television series I’ve never seen) came to me at just the right time. It remains the only book in my life that so gave me the information that I craved that when I finished it, I went right back to the beginning and read it a second time.
The Unconsoled – Kazuo Ishiguro
A crazy, atmospheric novel that portrays the “logic” of dream better than any other I’ve come across.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce
It captures the innocence, self-centeredness, pretentiousness, and growing awareness of an intelligent young person amazingly.
Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
An imaginative journey like few others.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami
The first novel I ever read by my current favorite novelist. I can’t wait for the English translation of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage coming out in a few months. By the way, Happy 65th Birthday, Mr. Murakami!
Place: At my main computer, still surrounded by the same mess of computers and books I wrote about in my last Salon a few weeks ago! Cleaning needs to be a major priority for me.
Consuming: Nothing, although I have a strange craving for hot chocolate.
Reading, Watching, Listening: A few days ago the Nevada Chamber Music Festival came to an end. With twelve concerts in six days, the Festival had me putting in over seventy hours of work (and by no means was I the hardest-working person associated with the Festival). With a schedule like that, it shouldn’t be surprising that little in the way of reading, or anything else for that matter other than fitting in some occasional sleeping, went on during those six days. That the Festival was a great success, artistically and financially and in terms of audience appreciation, is very gratifying. But honestly, I didn’t hear much of the music, and didn’t get much out of the experience other than the exhaustion that is still plaguing me. Right before the Festival I finished reading Roger Lipsey’s The Spiritual in Twentieth-Century Art, and now that I have some free time I may write about it (but possibly not; see below). I have moved on to The Circle by Dave Eggers, and will soon be embarking on both Michael Coe’s Angkor and the Khmer Civilization and Noble Ross Reat’s Buddhism: A History.
Pondering: Whether or not to continue this blog. For the three-and-a-half years this blog has been around, I have entered in it, very sporadically, my thoughts on the things that interest me, a very peculiar mix of books, music, films, art, and anything else that happened to grab my attention at the time. It was begun, and has continued, because I have all too little actual conversation on any of these subjects in my real life. In olden times I had friends with whom I would sit for hours, very often drinking, and discussing philosophy and listening to music and arguing politics and such. A couple of those valued friends are now deceased, and the others have moved on geographically or psychologically. In recent years it has become apparent that if I’m going to go to a concert or museum or film or play, it’s going to be alone. But I still feel a desire to share my thoughts and enthusiasms. The blog has become my interlocutor, even though it is the nature of blogging that the conversation is largely one-way. Fortunately for you, kind reader, your participation is entirely voluntary! However, knowing that this blog reaches but a few dozen people on its very best day, is there actually a need for these writings, aside from within my own consciousness? I don’t yet have an answer to this question, but am continuing to ponder it.
Blogging: My last blog entry was a review of the most-read blog posts here ever. It was fascinating to see what subjects have attracted the attention of readers.
Anticipating: My trip to southeast Asia is less than two months away now. It still feels very distant, but in a few weeks I’m sure it will start to become real to me.
Gratuitous Temple of the Week: Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Ayutthaya, Thailand (one of the places I’ll be visiting during my upcoming trip). Photo from Trekking the Planet.
A few weeks ago I was surprised to notice that this blog had been around for three-and-a-half years. I haven’t made as much of the blog that I would have liked to, at least not yet. But there have been some good moments. And there may very well be some more in the future! When I made this discovery about the age of the blog, I went into the WordPress statistics about the site for the first time. It was interesting to note which posts had the most activity.
So now, for no special reason, here are the Top Ten (actually, twelve) most popular posts to date at Thirty-Two Minutes!
1. Looking at Giotto’s The Lamentation
I’m not shocked to find this post in first place, with over three times as many hits as any other blog entry I’ve made. It seems every day someone is checking out this post — not because I had anything especially insightful or unusual to say about this famous painting (although I hope I did an adequate job in explicating it), but because this 700-year-old work still speaks directly to viewers and moves them deeply.
2. Sibelius’s Eighth Symphony
I was very happy to see this entry place so high. There are lots of bits and pieces of information out there about this legendarily non-existent piece. Last year a couple of possible fragments of the symphony were performed, and on that occasion I decided to assemble what information I could about the Eighth and its history in one handy place.
3. Jun’ichiro Tanizaki: Some Prefer Nettles
One of the best-known works of one of Japan’s greatest novelists, still too little known outside of his homeland.
4. Miguel Covarrubias: Island of Bali
This book on the landscape, history, and culture of Bali is nearly eighty years old now, but is still useful and informative. It also has the advantage of featuring many of Covarrubias’s own wonderful drawings. Bali ranks high on my list of places I hope to visit.
5. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: The Palace of Illusions
I loved this novel derived from the epic Mahabharata, and hope that some of my enthusiasm came through in this post.
6. Anna Karina and Wordless Wednesday 4-11-12
These two posts were simply dedicated to photographs of Anna Karina and Tatiana Samoilova, two of my major movie crushes. The photos, I think, speak for themselves.
7. Mozart, Mesmer, Franklin, and the Glass Harmonica
I can’t remember where the idea for this post came from. An obscure and unusual musical instrument brought together three fascinating people of the eighteenth century, and I wanted to look into those relationships further. I was actually hoping that I would find evidence that Mozart and Benjamin Franklin had met at some point, but alas, this doesn’t seem to have happened.
8. Stave Churches
One day I hope to view some of these remarkable old Norwegian churches first hand. In the meantime, I wanted to read up on them and share a few fun facts.
9. Arundhati Roy: The God of Small Things
My review of a remarkable book. Not long ago, just to pass the time, I made up a list of the ten people I would most like to invite to a dinner party if I could. The brilliant Arundhati Roy was on that list. Someday I may share who the other nine were.
10. Happy Birthday, Setsuko Hara!
Just a few days ago, I just watched the recently released Criterion Blu-ray of the restored version of Tokyo Story. One of the great films of all time (and oddly, just one of my five or six favorite Yasujiro Ozu films), it reminded me of why Setsuko Hara is, has been, and will likely always be my favorite actress. Still alive, so far as I know, at age 93, she remains as provocative as ever.
11. Martin Gayford: The Yellow House
A bonus eleventh pick … Within a fairly short period I read both this fine book, on the fateful months that Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin spent together in Arles in 1888, and the massive Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (about which I wrote an interminable but, I think, worthy review). It was a great way to immerse myself in the life and art of Van Gogh.