This book has changed my life.

I can only suppose that the book was initially advertised to me because the writer is from Japan. And my laptop probably betrays my enthusiasm for all things Japanese and my reading history of being addicted to Murakami.

In any case, I stood firm for many months. Seeing the advert and ignoring it or shutting off my e-reader. But I was curious about the title. It seemed like a very strong claim, almost arrogant.

Finally I downloaded the book and read it in just four days. But the speed at which I read it is not the important bit. Something in the book really inspired me, the author is so compelling, that I felt I had to give it a try. That was three weeks ago.

I can only conclude that the title, however seemingly improbable, was factually accurate, not some false advertising. I loved the author’s philosophy.

I’ve been busily reorganising the small stuff in my life. And the bigger stuff has somehow become clearer. I don’t often think of myself as being materialistic as such, though I had accumulated a fair amount of clutter over the years. I prided myself on being able to move flats with just a (packed-to-bursting) car as opposed to getting a removal van. I moved to my current city with one large suitcase, one small suitcase, one backpack and one handbag. Two years on, and well I’d certainly added to my collection of items. So it’s been a useful step, actually almost therapeutic, to reassess where I am now. What my priorities are.

Now I just need to find a way of giving this book to people that are important to me in my life, in a way that they feel open to reading it, and not offending or insulted by the title! (Which is proving to be almost impossible…)

XII: Denmark

In preparation for my Copenhagen trip I thought it’d be a good excuse to read a book from Denmark. The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking had caught my eye a year or so ago. So, I thought I’d give it a try.

Hygge roughly translates as cosiness in English. Though perhaps there is an extra emotional layer of significance in the Danish word. As it happens, I am enormously fond of the English word cosy. I have been known to repeat it like some form of mantra (“cosy cosy cosy”) when trying to warm up with a cup of tea and a blanket during cold winter nights. Almost with the belief behind my words that somehow just saying cosy so many times will enable me to change my body temperature.

I suppose I had especially high hopes with this book because I was very impressed that the author is CEO of The Happiness Research Institute. During my postgraduate year I spent a lot of time reading about health economics and became fascinated by the concept of comparing happiness levels. When I first heard that there was a Happiness Research Institute in existence, my immediate thought was, “I want to work there some day!”.

Whilst The Little Book of Hygge was an easy read and a good excuse to get a few candles out when reading curled up on the sofa, I don’t think I learnt much new information. I think I’d been expecting to get to know more about Danish culture specifically. Despite the claim that hygge is a uniquely Danish tradition, I can’t help but conclude that for me, hygge exists in various forms around the world. Perhaps the word hygge or the equivalent is just used with higher frequency in the Danish language.

I’m hoping that my trip to Denmark will be more inspiring to my hygge-habits than this book was.

XI: Iceland

For some reason Jar City (by Arnaldur Indriðason) caught my eye precisely because it wasn’t the type of book I’d normally really. I hadn’t read any Icelandic books before. And I don’t generally read murder mysteries.

But I was really impressed. It was an extra bonus that the translator (Icelandic > English) very helpfully provided extra information to clarify Icelandic naming customs. This was relevant to the plot. I’m not generally keen on endless descriptive paragraphs in novels but this book had just the right amount for me to actually feel like I was in Iceland whilst reading it.

 

X: Australia

Cloudstreet, by Tim Winton.

It’s been a strange realisation, whilst reading this book, to become aware of a whole load of vocabulary in the English language which I’ve been up to now totally unaware of. I suppose through the media, my knowledge of North American English is not too bad. But apart from watching the Australian soap Neighbours in my early teens, I haven’t seen many Australian films or series. I used to share a flat at uni with a girl from Australia. Now I’m more aware that she, after having already spent three years living in England, probably had adapted her language so that she would be more easily understood by non-Australians.

Though I do remember one time, she was packing her suitcase for a Christmas flight home to Australia. And she asked me to help her with packing. The next thing on her packing this was “thongs” and she asked me to pick out seven pairs for her! I immediately blushed, believing that she was asking me to help her select which pairs of revealing underwear to take with her! Seeing my discomfort, she started laughing, and explained that thongs in Australian English are like flip flops. So, it wasn’t quite such an intimate request to choose which flip flops to bring… though to this day I still don’t quite understand why she needed seven pairs!?

 

Required Reading

Came across this article on the TED website about required reading around the world. You can check it out here.

I’m unaware of there being an official required reading book in my country. I guess it was very common to read Lord of the Flies in English class, but I don’t think it was essential.

Anyway, happy to be able to check off: USA – To Kill A Mockingbird, Germany – The Diary of Anne Frank, and Pakistan – The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Next goal: Cien años de soledad by Gabriel García Márquez (Colombia).

Any other “required reading” books that you can add to the list?

IX: Chile

elamantejapanese

When I first moved to Spain, I kept seeing El Amante Japonés (The Japanese Lover) in every bus station I went to. And in those first few weeks I went to a lot of bus stations! It was on the bestsellers list. Due to my love of sushi and origami, I was particularly intrigued by the title.

A year went by, and eventually I bought a copy. Though not from a Spanish bus station. I opted for the translated English e-book edition. I raced through the book during breaks at work. I possibly wouldn’t have heard about Isabel Allende, if I hadn’t been living in Spain.

Without giving too much away… it is a story about migration, connection and being somehow the outsider or ‘foreign’ in the community in which you live. But it’s also about ageing and the decisions people make about their lives. Alma Belasco is the kind of older person I aspire to being like. She makes her own decisions, is fiercely independent, and doesn’t resign herself to behaving a particular way in order to match her supposed age. She lives in a residential home and the novel explores her younger years including her encounters with Ichimei, her childhood friend of Japanese descent. Throughout their lifetimes, Alma and Ichimei reunite again and again. There is a connection that remains bright, despite the social obstacles they faced during hostilities between the United States and Japan in the 1940s. Alma’s personal assistant in the residential home, Irina Bazili, is a European immigrant with a troubled family background. Together with Alma’s grandson, she gradually uncover the secrets that Alma kept so closely guarded over seven decades.

I read this the first time in English. I’m currently re-reading it in Spanish (though more at tortoise pace…).

I’m tagging this as United States because the bulk of the story takes places there, but also as Chile because the author, Isabel Allende, is Chilean.

Favourite Words: Stereognosis

Ok, so this post isn’t about a book. It’s not about a location. And it’s not about travel through time via language. Rather it’s about one of my favourite words. Ever.

Stereognosis. Stereooo-og-no-sis…I love how it feels to say it. But mostly I love what it means. I actually didn’t come across this word until my first year at university. But I instantly loved it. In case you’re wondering, it refers to the ability to perceive and recognize the form of an object in the absence of visual and auditory information. It is the word to describe how you find your house key in your handbag without actually looking. By using tactile information to provide cues about texture, size, spatial properties and temperature. It’s not just the ability to sense these different things independently. It’s the ability to put all that information together to recognise an object instinctively.

Granted, stereognosis does not often crop up in my day to day conversations. Though I have to admit it sneaks into my head a lot whenever I’m trying to work out if that card in my hand is my bank card or my photo ID.

stereognosis