reading: 9 posts

My Favorite Childhood Book

A few days ago I was going through some old photos when I came across this image of my mother and me taken in our apartment in Kyiv. I must have been 5-6 years old and I still remember this photo session. My father’s friend Petya, a professional photographer, came over to take photos of our family and had us pose in different ways. For some reason, I didn’t like posing the way Petya suggested, so my mother gave me a book and the result was this photograph.

The moment I picked up the photo, I could imagine the heft of that book, its shiny green cover and the colorful drawings of plants. I recalled that it was a book of medicinal plants. It used to be one of my favorite books to leaf through, and  when I learned to read, to lose myself in its descriptions of plants, their aromas and healing properties. The more I thought about the book, the more my later fascination with flowers and fragrances made sense.

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My Favorite Books of 2022

Last year held a few memorable reads for me, even though I finished fewer books than I normally would have. When I looked through my diary, I noticed that my favorite titles ran the gamut from travelogues to novels, with short stories and poetry in between. Putting together the list of my favorites below was a pleasure, as I recalled what I read and why I was inspired to pick up these books. I hope that you will find my selection compelling, and in turn I look forward to hearing about the books you read and liked.

Elisa Shua Dusapin, Winter in Sokcho (French: Hiver à Sokcho)

A winner of the Prix Robert Walser, Winter in Sokcho is a debut novel from the French-Korean author Elisa Shua Dusapin. It’s the story of a meeting between a young French-Korean woman who works as a hotel receptionist and a comic strip artist who arrives looking for inspiration. The emotional gap between the characters in the novel, the alienation, and the unsaid words leave a lasting impression after reading this book. The writing exquisitely evokes the wintery atmosphere of a small port town with its neon lights, fish market and endless snow.

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Three Travelogues to Read This Fall

With summer travels winding down, autumn is a good time to turn to travelogues to satisfy one’s wanderlust. I have always been a fan of this genre, being a traveler myself, and recent releases promise to take us to far-flung locations. My favorite travelogues combine explorations of culture with history and provide a way to understand how the past influences the present.

A good traveler arrives at a place without strong preconceived notions and allows it to take them in–or reject them, as sometimes happens. This sensitivity is what distinguishes modern travel writing from classical examples, but all excellent travelogues share the same trait in that they transport the reader to another place. When our world feels narrower due to travel restrictions and cumbersome rules, opening a book is the easiest way to break down walls.

Erica Fatland, The Border: A Journey Around Russia Through North Korea, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Norway, and the Northeast Passage.

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5 Books about Dance and Resilience

Dance, like all arts, is about making a connection with others. I was thinking lately about Gelsey Kirkland, a dancer with whom I was fortunate to study when she gave her much beloved classes at Steps in NYC. Kirkland was one of George Balanchine’s star dancers and an American ballerina with a striking style. I will never forget how she told us that when dancing, we should remember that we are holding our beating hearts in our hands. That image solved the problem of dropping the wrist even during the most complicated movements, but it stayed with me even when I changed into street clothes and put my pointe shoes away.

These days I also think about Kirkland’s comment often, whether I dance or write. Making a connection with others is much more difficult in this time of Zoom and social distancing, but being genuine and honest and not being afraid of being vulnerable towards others is still important. My ballet training has influenced my attitude to life and shaped my personality. I admit that not all  such influences have been entirely positive–the relentless push for perfection comes with a price, ballet taught me what resilience means. Reading about other dancers and dance has always inspired me, and I would like to share my list of favorite books with you.

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Learning Languages and Reading Techniques

Reading is one of the biggest pleasures for me, and often when I learn a new language, I relish the chance to read in it. It’s also a great way to expose yourself more to the language and to make it part of your life. People often assume that “studying a language” means sitting down with a grammar book and doing exercises or spending time in the classroom, but that’s not enough. You have to surround yourself with the language by filling every free moment with it. Listen to music, watch YouTube clips about a subject you like, read.

And so today I will focus on reading and share a few tips. These are classical approaches, but they’ve been invaluable to me. In general, I start reading as soon as possible, even when I know that the text is too difficult. The most important part is to want to read the story, not to want to read in Arabic/French/Italian, etc. If you’re learning French and you long to read 19th-century novels, go for it. I don’t like texts especially written for language learners or children’s stories, but I have a soft spot for traditional fairy tales.

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