Books: 63 posts

Books and reading lists

10 Books to Read About the Russian Revolution

My great-grandfather was a Bolshevik. Although he was too young to have participated in the events of the Revolution of 1917, he joined grass-roots Communist groups to spread literacy–and the word of Lenin. He was the first in his family to earn a university degree, and until his retirement he worked as a school teacher in central Ukraine. On the day marking the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, November 7th, he donned the military honors he received during WWII and joined the parade.

Growing up in the Soviet Union, of which Ukraine was a part, I took the parades and processions for granted. I didn’t like them, because they felt perfunctory and empty of any meaning, but I participated, because refusing wasn’t an option. The older I got, the more I detested the slogans and the marches. “What did this revolution of yours achieve?” I would say to my great-grandfather whenever our discussions erupted into arguments. “Endless parades and endless lines?” The 1980s were a time of endemic shortages, when even basic goods like toilet paper disappeared from store shelves. When that happened, without a trace of irony we cut up the old issues of Pravda, the main Party newspaper whose name meant “Truth.” My great-grandfather was the only one who used it for its original intended purpose–reading the news.

Yet, for all his ardent belief in the revolution, my great-grandfather never romanticized it. I’m sure he would find the contemporary left’s nostalgia for a time they never experienced as deeply baffling. He might have thought that it was necessary to remove the corrupt, despotic tsarist system, but he recognized the tragedies it unleashed, especially the Civil War during which my great-grandfather lost much of his family. He was a believer and an idealist, but he wasn’t blind to the fact that the Red Revolution was followed by the Red Terror.

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Japanese Ghost Stories : 5 Books

Frightening oneself with ghost stories or haunted houses is a summer activity in Japan for the chilling frisson it’s believed to provide. Yet the Japanese literary tradition filled with spirits, ghouls, specters and other supernatural phenomena is so rich that a full year wouldn’t be enough to even scrape the surface. Since dark fall evenings are a good time to delve into it, I decided to share five of my favorite Japanese books over whose pages hover ghosts.

The Japanese concept of a ghost, yūrei, is quite complex, but in its essence, it’s a soul of someone who died in a violent manner and may not have had proper funeral rites. The soul then returns to the living world to seek vengeance and to torment those who were responsible for the crime. The purpose of Japanese ghost stories, however, is not only to paint the frightful deeds of the unpacified souls, but also to examine the complexity of love, betrayal, loyalty, faith, and other human emotions and dilemmas.

Japanese Gothic Tales by Izumi Kyoka, translated by Charles Shiro Inouye

“She seemed too delicate for someone living in the mountains. Even in the capital you don’t see many women as beautiful. As she rubbed my back. I could hear her trying to stifle the sounds of her breathing. I knew I should ask her to stop, but I became lost in the bliss of the moment. Was it the spirit of the deep mountains that made me allow her to continue? Or was it her fragrance? I smelled something wonderful. Perhaps it was the woman’s breath coming from behind me.”

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Haiku of the Day : Snowflakes of Autumn

At the beginning of fall one of the resolutions I made was to go running on a regular basis. As they say, be careful what you wish for, because lately my days have been on a fast track. Nevertheless, one must carve out moments of contemplation even during busy, stressful periods, and my other autumnal resolution, to read more poetry, came to the rescue. Poetry concentrates images and sensations, and it’s an effect it shares with perfumery.

Japanese poet Yamazaki Sōkan (1465–1553) was a poet and calligrapher in the shogun’s court, but he gave up the courtier’s life and became a Buddhist monk. Though I have no wish to renounce the world, reading his poetry is like shutting out the noise and focusing on the beautiful. Today I bring you one of my favorite autumnal poems by this haiku master.

If they were silent
flights of herons on dark sky –
snowflakes of autumn.

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Top 15 Cookbooks for Fall : From Venice to Sri Lanka

If like me, you haven’t accepted the end of summer and would like to carry a sunny note through fall, there are several means to achieve it. For instance, scents can help but so can flavors. One of the reasons I love cooking is that it allows me to blend two of my passions–and savor the results. This fall, cooking is even more exciting because 2017 has been a year with many excellent cookbook releases. I had difficulty picking just a couple, so I decided to show you my favorite 15 books, from which I’ve cooked already and which I recommend wholeheartedly. They will satisfy your hunger as well as your wanderlust.

Europe

Veneto: Recipes from an Italian Country Kitchen by Valeria Necchio

Venice is on the well-trodden tourist trail, but its food and that of its region isn’t. This is a shame, because Venetian dishes blend a full spectrum of flavors and ingredients like polenta, pine nuts, rosemary, raisins, shellfish, white wine, and saffron. Veneto is Valeria Necchio’s debut cookbook, and it’s exquisite. I don’t mean the photographs and styling, beautiful though they are. The recipes are the only thing I’m interested in. For a taste of real Venetian cooking, I suggest trying fried marinated pumpkin with onion, pine nuts and raisins, prawn and Prosecco risotto, stir-fried beans with basil and garlic, and ricotta pudding cake.

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Nazik Al-Malaika on Why Do We Fear Words

Do you want to feel impressed and inspired? If so, here is the story of the Iraqi poet Nazik al-Malaika (1923-2007). Her life could be a movie script–wrote her first poem at the age of 10, studied at Princeton before it accepted women, established a university, turned the ancient tradition of Arabic poetry on its head.

If anything, my synopsis understated what a meteor this woman was. Al-Malaika was born into a literary family. Her father was a teacher and her mother was poet, who as was common at the time, published under a male pseudonym. Nazik al-Malaika not only would revolutionize Arab poetry by adopting a novel, free-form style, but she also would secure a place for women in literature and lend her name to a poetry prize. Al-Malaika won a scholarship to study literary criticism at Princeton where she was the only female student. She earned a comparative literature degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1959, and when she returned to Iraq, she taught at the University of Baghdad and helped to establish the University of Basra. The rise of the Ba’ath Party forced her into exile in 1970, and al-Malaika lived the rest of her life in Egypt, where she published several collections of poetry and prose.

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