Wednesday, October 1

Reading Challenge 2014: Update #1

This has been in my drafts for months, and I only finished writing it a few hours ago, not to mention that I read the last book on this update in March! Needless to say these may be the shortest, vaguest reviews you have ever read (but if it helps, I liked them all)!

1. The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

Through brilliant and witty dialogue with the beloved Pooh-bear and his companions, the author of this smash bestseller explains with ease and aplomb that rather than being a distant and mysterious concept, Taoism is as near and practical to us as our morning breakfast bowl.

I'll be honest, my decision to read this wasn't based on wanting to find out more about Taoism or become more zen. I was mostly intrigued by the Winnie the Pooh aspect; like most children I grew up on AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh - I have the books on my shelf and the sketches on my walls, it was pure serendipity that I enjoyed the Taoism side of the book. 

I think there's a branch of philosophy (which I vaguely remember discovering through Road Trip, so we won't spend too long on this) that suggests that you can teach a person anything, as long as you communicate it in a way that relates directly to them. That is basically what this book is - Taoism for dummies, who happen to really like Winnie the Pooh. It was rather a good book to star the year off with, like a resolution within a book, it definitely made me think about my actions and the way I approach things, and more importantly the amount I worry about everything (which is kind of perfect as Tao translates as 'the way').

“Wisdom, Happiness, and Courage are not waiting somewhere out beyond sight at the end of a straight line; they're part of a continuous cycle that begins right here. They're not only the ending, but the beginning as well.” ― The Tao of Pooh

2. Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro

In Nocturnes, a sublime story cycle, Kazuo Ishiguro explores ideas of love, music and the passing of time. Gentle, intimate and witty, this quintet is marked by a haunting theme: the struggle to keep alive a sense of life’s romance, even as one gets older, relationships flounder and youthful hopes recede.

I think the most appropriate way of describing Kazuo Ishiguro (or the two Ishiguro books that I've read so far) is that they remind me of a song without a chorus - building up to something climatic that never happens. I have absolutely no problem with this in the films I watch, but I'm still getting used to it with books; technically there is absolutely nothing wrong with it, I suppose it's like being told a story by a friend, there aren't necessarily any explosions or plot twists, but it doesn't make it any less interesting. 

'Nocturne' by definition is 'an instrumental composition of a dreamy or pensive character', and the short stories in Nocturnes are just that, dreamy character-driven stories that transport you to their setting. 

3. Petite Mort by Beatrice Hitchman

Mesdames et Messieurs, presenting La Petite Mort, or, A Little Death... A silent film, destroyed in a fire in 1913 at the Pathé studio, before it was seen even by its director. A lowly seamstress, who makes the costumes she should be wearing, but believes her talent - and the secret she keeps too - will soon get her a dressing room of her own. A beautiful house in Paris, with a curving staircase, a lake, and locked rooms. A famous - and dashing - creator of spectacular cinematic illusions, husband to a beautiful, volatile actress, the most adored icon of the Parisian studios. All fit together, like scenes in a movie.

Petite Mort is a book I bought based solely on other people's reviews/recommendations, as they say 'it has excellent word of mouth'. As far as reviewing books goes 'unputdownable' is probably the oldest cliche going, but it works perfectly for this book. An historical drama/mystery is certainly not my usual choice of book, but I found it so incredibly intriguing that I read it in just over a week.

4. Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton

The art market has been booming. Museum attendance is surging. More people than ever call themselves artists. Contemporary art has become a mass entertainment, a luxury good, a job description, and, for some, a kind of alternative religion. In a series of beautifully paced narratives, Sarah Thornton investigates the drama of a Christie's auction, the workings in Takashi Murakami's studios, the elite at the Basel Art Fair, the eccentricities of Artforum magazine, the competition behind an important art prize, life in a notorious art-school seminar, and the wonderland of the Venice Biennale. She reveals the new dynamics of creativity, taste, status, money, and the search for meaning in life. A judicious and juicy account of the institutions that have the power to shape art history, based on hundreds of interviews with high-profile players, Thornton's entertaining ethnography will change the way you look at contemporary culture.

A definite geeky indulgence, there's so much of the art world that I don't know about, and so much that I don't know outside of my basic knowledge of the art world. A lot of other reviews that I've read describe this as lacking depth, personally if this went any deeper than it already does I think I would have been a little bit lost. My favourite part was the day spent at auction, the explanation and consideration of why and what sells depending on the market, was incredibly interesting, possibly because I've always seen auction houses like Christie's and Sotheby's as being completely inaccessible to someone like me who wouldn't be able to drop a couple of million pounds on a painting; it was interesting to read that you do get people visiting who don't actually intend to buy.

Our lives are constantly changing. Different things become relevant at different times in our lives. We are motivated by our changing sensibilities. Why can that not be applied to art?” -- Seven Days in the Art World

As I said above, the last book on this update was read in March, so fully expect a few updates in quick succession - there are a lot more vague reviews to come!


1 comment:

  1. There actually is a new "Taoism for Dummies" book and it talks about the Tao of Pooh.


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