The Prophet-Kahlil Gibran

I obtained The Prophet, a book by Lebanese author Kahlil Gibran, from a second hand sale. It is a short read, taking a little longer than an hour.

Kahlil’s works are mostly poetry/prose poetry, parables and short stories, with influences from most of the major religions and mysticism. His writings sit in that space of things where you can’t figure out if they are profound but obvious once said, or are something you have always known but appreciate being articulated.

While not my favorite book of all time, I appreciate the themes of freedom and acceptance running through it.

You will be free indeed when your days are not without a care nor you nights without a want and a grief, but father when these things girdle your life and yet you rise above them naked and unbound.

And if it is a care that you would cast off, that care has been chosen by you rather than imposed upon you.

-the first quote reminds me of mindfulness (see here  or here) a common technique used to improve mental health/coping, without having to try and get rid of the all bad thoughts or stress.

-the second reminds me of an observation I had- that we all look at someone else’s life, and think that if we had their life we wouldn’t be stressed by the things that they find stressful, and that we would be happy. And they probably think the same thing looking at us. This is because we find particular things stressful because we choose to- we place importance on them, we choose to focus on small failures rather than possibility for improvement, we make certain outcomes or things the be all and end all… Someone else could be in the same situation without it being stressful.

On love and relationships:

Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but itself. Love possesses not nor would be possessed. For love is sufficient unto love.

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore… but let there be spaces in you togetherness. And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

On children:

They are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts

On talking:

You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts… and in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered.

and probably my overall favorite,

Say not, “I have found the truth”, but rather, “I have found a truth.”

And with that thought, I will leave you for today.

 

 

Jane Austen- Mansfield Park

I have read all the Austen books before, and so had planned on ticking Pride and Prejudice off the list without rereading it, but I had a craving for a chick-flick book and my mind settled on Mansfield Park for some reason and I decided to post about it instead. It is one of my lesser favourite Austen books, but that had probably contributed to it being one I hadn’t read, or watched a tv adaptation of, for a while. I would rank the books Pride and prejudice first, then Northanger Abbey, then Sense and sensibility, and Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion last. I do like the modern adaptions of Emma (like Clueless) but found the book had quite a few sections that dragged on a bit, and Emma herself can be a bit annoying. Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility all have great BBC adaptions that I highly recommend, and could watch multiple times.

 

My copy of Mansfield Park is a free ebook obtained either through Amazon or project Gutenberg , I cannot remember which now as I downloaded it a while ago. (You can get all Austen’s books in various ebook formats for free, as well as a biography.) It had an introduction, which discusses how Austen wrote characters to be representing both sides of the industrial revolution- the old ways with land owners who were considered at the centre of society, looked after their tenants and made improvements slowly over time, if at all, valuing tradition, versus the new ways with land owners who could delegate radical changes to people they hire, and who spend their time and money on novelty often away at town. Apparently there is a big debate among Austen scholars about whether she was pro- or anti-industrialisation. I had never really thought about the context of when she was writing- more just reading the stories for the people and their relationships. As I read through Mansfield park, I felt that although there was a great deal of discussion amongst the characters about how they would improve their houses/lands, I noticed disapproval in the way the author wrote about anyone’s view point. There definitely was disapproval of certain character traits.

 

The main character is Fanny, a shy young woman brought up in her uncle’s house to be acutely aware that she is not on the same level as her cousins. She found a friend in Edmund, her kind, devout, cousin who is to go into the church. After years of learning most of what she knows from him, and him being her only true support, she grows up to be a young woman very much in love with him, and almost always of the same opinion as him. One of the first times they disagree is when their circle admits a brother and sister duo (Henry and Mary Crawford) who are rather modern and flippant. Edmund finds Mary enchanting and soon starts overlooking her faults, whereas Fanny can see her impropriety all too clearly.

 

And this is what I found interesting when rereading Mansfield Park: all through it I automatically take Fanny’s side-  I feel that she judges situations rightly, and that her disapproval of various things others do is correct and proper, when by today’s standards she would be thought unreasonable. Mary is the type of character that would usually be the heroine- she is pretty, lively, witty and has a worthy suitor fall in love with her. But she also speaks ill of her uncle occasionally, and of the church frequently, and doesn’t think there is anything wrong or immoral about various male-female interactions that were considered wrong in her day (I am trying not to be too detailed about what happens in case you haven’t read it yet!) Fanny on the other hand is perturbed over the slightest hint of impropriety (people being in the garden unchaperoned, acting in a play etc).

 

In all these things I sit on Fanny’s side of the fence when reading the book, but in real life I think most of us would probably agree with Mary on most things- what is the harm of acting in a play? Nothing. Make jokes about the church? Of course that’s fine. Disagree with the church’s teaching and feel cynical about their use of money? That’s commonplace. Have annoying family members, teacher, bosses? Complain to your friends! And as to relationships- anything goes these days! So why do I judge Mary for having a lot of the same thoughts that I/my contempories have? Does being in a different time mean she has to live by a different set of morals to us, just because those around her did. If you hold a set of morals that belong to a future time, does that really make you immoral? Or just avant garde?

 

I can’t really find an answer within myself as to why I feel the characters in Mansfield Park should be judged by the moral standards that Fanny and Edmund hold, rather than by my own beliefs, or the morals of today, except that Fanny is the main character and so the reader automatically takes her side, and in some ways is experiencing the book as Fanny instead of as themselves. There is something about stories, where when you choose to engage with a story, be it a book or a movie, you are committing a not insignificant amount of time and energy. I think making that decision primes us to connect with the main character, because if we don’t make a connection, that is a lot of time and energy potentially not well spent. I first noticed this willingness, or almost impulse, to connect to the main character when I read an old book that had been my grandmothers when she was a schoolchild. The first character we met was actually not the main character, but having spent the first chapter with her, I wanted her to be the one who got the boy. But for the rest of the book we followed another girl instead who the book was actually meant to be about. I hadn’t been expecting that, and felt kind of upset and disappointed for the first girl. It was the first time I had gone into a book and not had it clear pretty soon who the main character was- which I am guessing is to do with the book being quite old, and not sticking to the same formula as today’s books.

 

So it was certainly interesting reading the book again, although I am starting to find with all the Austen books that having read them several times, I am no longer getting as caught up in the stories. If you haven’t read any Austen I would recommend Pride and Prejudice for the interesting characters, social commentary and romantic storylines. And because every else know it. Next I would recommend Northanger Abbey because it is just fun. If you are not a big reader- the 6 hour BBC adaption of Pride and Prejudice is worth it- definitely the best adaption, and I really enjoyed their Sense & sensibility (3x 60 minute episodes with lovely seaside vistas and amusing neighbours) and Northanger Abbey (movie length).

Which are your favorites? How do you feel about the different character?

Eleven Minutes- Paulo Coelho

The first country on my reading trip around the world is Brazil.

Paulo Coelho is a Brazilian author, most famous for his allegorical short novel The Alchemist. I have read that book previously, and found the writing style fascinating. The simplicity initially irritated me. ‘I could write this’ I thought, which is always a thought that irritates me if it is about a best-selling book, and I have not in fact written a best-seller myself. But then as the story progressed I found the cadence soothing, and the interspersed references to multiple different religious stories and philosophies to be intriguing. It has now been translated into 67 languages, and is one of the all time best selling books.

I saw Eleven Minutes at a second hand book sale, and it was soon mine for the minuscule price of $2.

As he says in the dedication at the front, this novel deals with a harsh, difficult subject- prostitution- but i found it was never judgemental, pessimistic or overly dark. It was like being carried along inside the consciousness of the main character, a young woman from rural Brazil called Maria, who travels to Geneva in search of adventure, and finds a different sort of adventure than she had planned. But we are slightly removed; we ourselves are not caught up in what is happening and what she is thinking to the same extent as we are in most novels that get us to identify as though we ourselves are the main character. I wondered whether this was Coelho’s writing style itself, the effect of translation or something to do with the language it was originally written in (Portuguese), because there was a similar effect in the Alchemist. The act of reading feels like a meditation. And although we see the happenings from the view point of the main character, we feel a slight detachment, and into that space Coelho brings in another aspect- what is her soul thinking and feeling, and how it is changing throughout the novel.

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Welcome and Alons-y

Hello!

Welcome to The Armchair Explorer- a blog about books. Not just reading for the sake of reading though, which I do often and enjoy thoroughly, but reading as an act of exploration and adventure.

I recently stumbled across a TedTalk by Ann Morgan, a London based writer who set herself the task of reading a book from every country in a year. As I watched, I felt my inner child stir inside with excitement. I have never been a person who has a dream career to aim for, or who planned a dream wedding years before meeting someone. Thinking back, I have never had anything in particular I wanted to do when I grew up, or anyway I wanted to change the world. The only goal or dream I remember having as a child, was to learn every language and go to every country. It was a short lived dream, as the realities of time and cost came crashing in. But the idea was joyous to me. By the end of the Tedtalk, I knew this was something I had to do.

Unfortunately, on the same weekend, I found this list of books that I also really wanted to read. I was googling search terms like ‘things I should know/learn’ and ‘books I should read’, because I had recently realised there were whole areas of knowledge I didn’t know anything about, and sometimes didn’t know I should! Just so you know, google doesn’t come up with many quality in depth results- lists including crochet and surfing weren’t really what I was looking for. Online education portals like Khanacadamy and coursera are a better starting point- you can flick through the offered courses and see if there is anything that’s a blind spot. Personally, I have always wanted to learn more about history and read the classics more extensively. That with my ongoing desire to learn languages means I often toy with the idea of going back to university and doing an Arts degree. Or I could use the wonderful world wide web and learn a lot on my own!

So now the plan is to read a book from every county in the world AND the hundred or so on the ‘liberal arts reading list’. While working full time and doing additional study for specialist qualification… Totally doable, right? In the spirit of global reading I was really tempted to also add a list of the best/most important Asian and Islamic works throughout history, but thought that might push me from being borderline crazy into actually being crazy. I don’t have a set time line. Realistically this is probably at least a five year endeavor already. We will see how it goes and take it one day, and one book, at a time.

Join me in exploring the world, from the comfort of an armchair. There are things to learn, and adventures to be had! Alons-y!