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Follow her as she prepares and partakes the "bread for the stomach" in http://beforesixdiet.blogspot.com/ . And while you are full at it, she offers you the "bread for the soul" in her travels by foot and by thoughts in http://footandfire.blogspot.com/ Happy Reading!

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Reading Lolita in Tehran
Azar Nafisi
Memoir, Randomhouse 2003.
Paperback, 347 pages

This memoir is a sure delightful read among readers as they can immediately connect with the relish of the author in reading in a way that only readers can savor. Though I do not read fiction nowadays, I still can relate to the joy of reading. But amazingly, this book offers more. 

While the author and her students reflect on their lack of freedom in their country, Islamic Republic of Iran, in every character or circumstance in the novel that they read, I cannot help myself from reflecting as to how in my country, Philippines, freedom is disregarded simply because it is just around. I can only conclude that want is always a good motivator in achieving something.

The memoir tells of a reading circle hosted by the author for two years at her house at the time when universities were either closing or being dictated by Mujahideen (holy warriors) and when the author was out of her job as a professor (to her relief, of course). Books were scarce and reading of foreign books are outlawed and can send one to prison for indefinite period of time. This situation made me think of the influx of secondhand bookstores and libraries, the availabilty of internet everywhere and the encouragement of  reading in my country and how we still miss reading quality books, how we abuse the social media just because we can access the internet, and the fact that reading is foregone because of youtubes and free films. Despite our freedom to read, we are not known as a nation of readers but a nation of over-the-board texting and social media users. If we lose this freedom of reading books/accessing the net, perhaps, I can imagine we will be salivating for one more book or pay whatever price just to use the net for important matters.

The memoir made me understand the suffering of women when leaders of a Muslim country decides to interpret the Islamic teachings in such a way that even just wearing the veil is mandatory since showing a strand of hair or neck is evil because it can attract a man. I consider this memoir as a window to peep on the Islam faith and politics. There were no liquors, no nailpolishes and blush-ons during those years in Iran. On the otherhand, this part made me realize that the freedom to drink alcohol is certainly abused in my country. Alcohol consumption in the Philippines is nearly insane since alcohol is cheap and available in every small community stores that even minors can buy and that alcohol-related illness and deaths are a public health concern already. Regarding supposed seduction of women by wearing nailpolishes and blush-ons, I can only think deeply and sadly as to how my country's liberty to court or establish romantic relations are abused given the many cases of seduction and sexual assault cases as well as the prevalence of sexual permissiveness, prostitution, online dating and porn sites being accessed.     

Reading this memoir made me also think of that  forced desire of the author to leave her country because of its ills and her accompanying longings of familiarity when she left it is  like that of our ofws and immigrants who chose to better their lives even if the same is not true since leaving one's country is always about uprooting and discovering the ills of ideal adoptive country.

Why am I reflecting a lot while reading this memoir? I guess because the author influenced me because all throughout the book, she reflects on the novels and applied each character or plot or even the life of the author  she reads. For one, she is fond of Nabokov because Nabokov wrote his novels while the revolution is on-going and writing became his medicine, if not temporary vacation, from violence. She likened it to her desire to read at the time of her country's own change of politics which gave her so much emotional and intellectual disturbances.

This memoir is a gift to understanding another culture. This is a celebration of how reading can empower helpless individuals. This book is full of reflections worth our every cent, whereever one is and whatever one reads.      

Reading Lolita in Tehran
Azar Nafisi
Memoir, Randomhouse 2003.
Paperback, 347 pages

My reading can only go on if can I underline something. Here are some passages which I underlined when I finally saw my marker halfway through the book. Sorry, this bad habit is hard to let go.

The balance between the public and the private world is essential to this world.

Perhaps she married so often because marriage was easier in Iran than having a boyfirend.

In our case, the law really was blind; in its mistreatment of women, it knew no religion, race or creed.

At the core of the fight for political rights is the desire to protect ourselves, to prevent the political from intruding on our individual lives. Personal and political are interdependent but not one and the same thing.

The first lesson in fighting tyrranny is to do your own thing and satisfy your own conscience.

They risk ostracism and poverty to gain love and companionship, and to embrace the elusive goal at the heart of democracy: the right to choose.

It's frightening to be free, to have to take responsibility for your decisions. Yes, he said, to have no Islamic Republic to blame.

Inside the sealed country, Stalin poured on the old death. In the West, the ordeal is of a new death. There aren't any words for what happens to the soul in the free world. 

All that is good in their eyes comes from America or Europe, from chocolates and chewing gum to Austen and the Declaration of Independence. Bellow gives them a truer experience of this other place. He allows them to see its problems and fears.

We are not with the regime in our hearts and minds, one had said, but what can we do but comply?

How does the soul survive? is the essential question. And the response is: through love and imagination.

“Perhaps to remain a poet in such circumstances,” Bellow wrote, “is also to reach the heart of politics.” 

Memories have ways of becoming independent of the reality they evoke. They can soften us against those we were deeply hurt by or they can make us resent those we once accepted and loved unconditionally.

It was a special brand of cowardice, a destructive defense mechanism, forcing others to listen to the most horrendous experiences and yet denying them the moment of empathy: don't feel sorry for me; nothing is too big for me to handle.

There in jail, we dreamed of just being outside, free, but when I came out, I discovered that I missed that sense of solidarity we had in jail, the sense of purpose, the way we tried to share memories and food.

Other people's sorrows and joys have a way of reminding us of our own; we partly empathize with them because we ask ourselves: What about me? What does that say about my life, my pains, my anguish?

Mahshid and I have been talking about that, about how ever since we could remember, our religion has defined every single action we've taken.

If one day I lose my faith, it will be like dying and having to start new again in a world without guarantees.

I wanted to write a book in which I would thank the Islamic republic for all the things it had taught me 

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Promise of a Pencil: How an ordinary person can create extraordinary change

The Promise of a Pencil: How an ordinary person can create extraordinary change
Adam Braun with Carlyle Adler
Scribner, 2014
324 pages

I read this already many months ago. I just need to write something about it. This book tells of the journey of Braun from a promising wallstreet boy to becoming a CEO of a successful nonprofit organization which helps poor countries build schools as well as also engaging the community where the school stands. Braun is not only a dreamer but transformed himself as a dynamic leader along the way as he reach for his dream. He is also ready to learn from everyone he meets.

Each chapter of this book is titled with a mantra. Among my favorites are “Do the small things that make others feel big,” “Tourists see, travelers seek,” “Focus on one person in every room,” “You cannot fake authenticity,” “If your dreams don't scare you, they're not big enough,” and “ Change your words to change your worth.”

Just one warning: This book of kindness is infectious. Just get ready to be infected.

Here are the ones I highlighted as I went along reading:

The more we speak in the voice of our most aspirational self, the closer we pull our future into our present.

Joel Puac had once instructed me to always walk with a purpose. If you look like you know what you are doing, people will assume the same.

We are more often bystanders to conflict than we are victims or perpetrators, and with that comes the recognition that we have a moral obligation to defend others, even when the crosshairs of injustice aren't pointed at us personally.

The recovery period is just as essential as the working period if you want to be a peak performer.

In those moments when prorities clash, always stay guided by your values, not your perceived necessities.

Leadership isn't just about telling people what to do. It's about doing the right thing even when it's not written in the rulebook.

Failure is a necessary step toward achievement. In fact, it often accelerates it.

What you are describing is the state of bliss. Bliss does not come from materials or possessions, it comes from fulfilling one's purpose in this existence.

Start by changing the subjects of your daily conversation from life you are living to the life you aspire to create. By speaking the language of the person you seek to become, you will soon find yourself immersed in the converstaions that make you most come alive. You'll sense the energy you emit attracting similar energy from others.

I'll tell them that the most direct route to happiness is through creating joy for someone else.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir
Haruki Murakami,
Alfred Knopf, 2007
Translated Copy, 2008 
119 pages

Forget the title. I can say that this book is a book on meditation. Okay, just almost. 

Murakami transported me to the world of marathon without fondness or favor. He just wanted to run for the sake of running. He loves to undergo the physical challenge in the process of preparing to a marathon. While physically challenging himself, he also make me understand that his character is being challenged too. Discipline, perseverance, focus, stamina, self-examination, and many others are all put to test and use while one is running, just as in writing.

Of course, as I expected, while he is writing about his running, he inevitably talked about his writing novels. And mostly on the virtue of what he does, running and writing. 

Though I was not able to read his novels, the genre of which I believe I could not ever read, I still loved to peek through the artistic process of this Murakami.(If it lands on my hands someday, I will read his lone nonfiction to date, Underground: the Tokyo Gas attack and the Japanese Psyche.)

What I love about this memoir is that it is simple and direct with little observations and perceptions of the world from Murakami which he oftentimes translate to his writing, to his own character, his aging, his life.

And like any mature and accomplished man, Murakami can readily be a subject of his own joke.

He ran in Greece alone and while his promoters thought he should not complete the run after some photos were already taken, he surprised his crew that he finished the original Athens to Marathon route. Given the hot summer weather and the fact that he counted dead cats along the road just to get it through, I can say that that was not a happy business doing it but he did it anyway. I believed that he did it as a tribute to the origin of marathon, now that's the beef in all the effort.

Imagine the utter lack of pleasure in the process of running in a marathon. He  confided that he ran and think of this: I'm not human. I'm a piece of machinery. I don't need to feel a thing. Just forge ahead. He is just one crazy running novelist. 

In the later years, he joined the triathlon only to be challenged more. He wrote that narrating his adventure is an anticlamax to his story but then he can't help but state it as it is. He was disqualified at one time because of swimming and he practised for four years without joining any triathlon if only to challenge himself. And he wanted revenge. 

There are more anecdotes worth peeking through along the way. And I can conclude that he is one funny serious guy.

Underlined passages as I "ran" along with Murakami:

Most of what I know about writing I've learned through running every day. These are practical, physical lessons. How much can I push myself? How much rest is appropriate – and how much is too much? How far can I take soemthing and still keep it decent and consistent? When does it become narrow-minded and inflexible? How much shouls I be aware of the world outside, and how much should I focus on my inner world? To what extent should I be confident in my abilities, and when should I start doubting myself? 

The end of the race is just temporary marker without much significance. It's the same with our lives. Just because there's an end, (it) doesn't mean existence has meaning. An end point is simply set up as a temporary marker, or perhaps as an indirect metaphor for fleeting nature of existence. It's very philosophical – not that at this point I'm thinking how philosophical it is. I just vaguely experience this idea, not with words, but as a physical sensation.

After my fatigue disappered somewhere after the forty-seventh mile, my mind went into a blank state you might even call philosophical or religious. Something urged me to become more introspective, and this newfound introspection transformed my attitude toward the act of running. Maybe I no longer have the simple, positive stance I used to have, of wanting to run no matter what.

My knee started to hurt. Like most of the troubles in life, it came on all of a sudden, without any warning.

On Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. 
I find it amazing how such a young writer, only twenty-nine at the time, could grasp – so insightfully, so equitably, and so warmly – the realities of life.

Will I be able to fully enjoy this autumn in New York? Or will I be too preoccupied? I won't know until I actually start running.

In most cases, learning something essential in life requires physical pain.

But it turns out I really was tense, just like everybody else. It doesn't matter how old I get, but as long as I continue to live I'll always discover something new about myself.

It's precisely because of the pain, precisely because we want to overcome pain, that we can get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive – or at least a partial sense of it. Your quality of experience is based not on standards such as time or ranking, but on finally awakening to an awareness of the fluidity within action itself. If things go well, that is.

Through the act of writing I wanted to sort out what kind of life I've led, both as a novelist and as an ordinary person, over these past twenty-five years.