Books: 68 posts

Books and reading lists

The Garden of the Seven Beauties of Nezami

For the Persian New Year and the vernal equinox, the first day of spring, I would like to take you to a secret garden with thousands of blossoms and thousands of scents. The passage will be provided by the twelfth-century Persian poet Nezami, who described this enchanting place in his poem Haft Peykar, The Seven Beauties.

Nezami (1141-1209), also known as Nizami Ganjavi, lived in the city of Ganja, the area of Azerbaijan that was part of the Persian empire until the 19th century. Like most poets of his day, Nezami had skills in various branches of arts and science. He was a philosopher, a mathematician, an astronomer, a historian, and a botanist, to name only a few fields in which he was skilled, and his marvelous erudition and knowledge of Persian literature and folklore make his works vivid.

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10 Books on The Art of Science

Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time revealed to me how fascinating and beautiful physics can be. Whether he was talking about black holes and explaining that if the universe had a beginning then it was likely to have an end, page after page Hawking was inspiring me to see the world in a new way and to follow him in asking big questions. How does time flow? How did our universe come together? What is matter? What is the spirit? I had by then received a thorough science oriented education, but I had no idea that science could be discussed in such a creative and beguiling manner.

Hawking (January 8, 1942-March 14, 2018) had many achievements in the fields of theoretical physics and cosmology. One was his famous Hawking radiation discovery. Black holes were long predicted to swallow everything that crossed the surface that surrounded them, event horizons, but Hawking showed that they emit radiation and even glow because of the energy they radiate. It was a revolutionary discovery, because in the process of explaining it Hawking connected two seemingly incompatible domains, that of quantum mechanics and relativity.

Even more important, however, was Hawking’s drive to make scientific subjects, even complex ones like theoretical physics, part of popular culture. He found it a loss that with the increasingly technical nature of science and the overspecialization of academia as a whole, few people, other than specialists could understand it. In his books like A Brief History of Time, The Grand Design or The Universe in a Nutshell he set out to show the general public why science can enchant with its ability to answer complex questions or ponder the mysteries of life.

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Incense and Poetry : Scent Diary

The smoke
Is now making
The first sky of the year.

Issa (1763 – 1828), a Japanese poet, whose name means simply “a cup of tea”

You can write about anything you wish in this thread, including your favorite poetry. For those who would like to use the Scent Diary to sharpen their sense of smell, I will give a short explanation. As I wrote in How to Improve Your Sense of Smell, the best way to do so is to smell and to pay attention to what you’re smelling. It doesn’t matter what you smell. The most important thing is to notice scents around you. It’s even better if you write it down. So please share your scents and perfumes with us.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

10 Favorite Novels

Last year I made a resolution to read more fiction. Since graduate school, my reading has always gravitated heavily towards memoirs, history, science and poetry, but last summer as I unpacked the boxes of books left at my grandmother’s house after we emigrated to the United States, I began to miss the pleasures of reading novels. When I was a teen, I read them to find different perspectives on life and to discover a variety of experiences that my own situation couldn’t afford. Some might say that it’s a naive approach to a novel, but it kept me enthralled. Later I read novels for the language, the style, the ability of the writer to express ideas in unexpected ways. Last year, I read them for pleasure.

My list below is compiled from a selection of about 70 novels I read last year. I also reverted to a childhood habit of keeping a reading diary, and when I decided to feature 10 favorite books to share with you, deciding on the titles was easy. I didn’t include authors that I’ve already reviewed or mentioned on these pages, such as Barbara Pym, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Yukio Mishima, Margaret Atwood, or Danilo Kiš. The remaining 10 novels–including one play and two short stories–gave me many hours of thrill and emotion, and I hope they will likewise become loyal companions to you.

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How Books Smell : My New Christmas Themed Article in Oh Comely Magazine

This month I have an article titled How Books Smell in the mid-winter issue of Oh Comely. Oh Comely is a magazine covering food, recipes, film, fashion, music, art and culture. It’s based in the UK and you can subscribe or buy any of its six yearly issues online at the Oh Comely store, or in shops all over the UK and internationally (here is the stocklists). It’s an independent magazine with a creative and refreshing approach to art, culture and lifestyle topics, and I think that many of those who read Bois de Jasmin will enjoy it too. Its latest issues included stories on poignant prose, Victorian women, dressing like your favorite literary heroine, and the art of keeping secrets.

My article is on the topic that’s close to my heart–books and scents. I explore the sensory pleasures of reading and explain how I enhance it by visualizing scents in my favorite books. The two authors who guide me are Marcel Proust and Nikolai Gogol. The article also features incense inflected hawthorns, moon-stealing devils, Christmas revelry, and saffron brandy. I hope that you will like it.

The cover of Oh Comely 2017 winter issue.

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