Category Archives: Books

The Haints’ Sunday Best: April 15, 2012


You can’t have failed to miss that this week marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. However, one would be excused for not realizing it’s been 100 years, as every year since I’ve been born has seemed like the 100th anniversary. I can’t recall a year where the tragedy hasn’t been marked by re-showings of all the Titanic films (my favorite is A Night to Remember), documentaries etc. I can understand the fascination, but it really is a sick obsession. We all know how the story ends, but yet we can’t tear ourselves away from the inevitable conclusion. This year, many people actually took memorial cruises to the exact spot in the North Atlantic where the ocean liner went down and 1500 people died.  I can’t say I’d be prepared to do the same. The North Atlantic scares the bejaysus out of me. I fly across the ocean a lot, but each time, the thought of perishing in the frigid waters of the Atlantic in the pitch-black night, surrounded by icebergs causes my hands to sweat and my teeth to hurt from clenching them so hard. The distance between Iceland and Ireland is the worst (if anyone knows of a secret landing strip in that corridor, please let me know. My blood pressure would thank you). Courtesy of Slate, I came across this fascinating article about Theodore Dreiser (author of that darling of required reading lists everywhere – Sister Carrie). He was very nearly a passenger of the Titanic, and provided a very poignant perspective of quite literally “missing the boat.”

Santorum suspends his campaign; Mittens can now let rip

The man with a name like a Latin genitive finally called it quits. But technically, he just suspended his campaign, which still allows him to raise money (for what, you may be asking. I have no idea). Intriguingly (or perhaps not given the tone of the campaign to date), Santorum didn’t refer to Mitt Romney by name, yet he gave a shout out to the Duggars for their support. Fortunately for Mitt, the Duggars have now officially endorsed him for President. Romney now has the election in the bag! Can’t beat those families with 19 kids. Imagine if they all could vote. I think Michelle Obama needs to get in tight with the Sister Wives.

Anyhow, some commentators have started speculating that Santorum may have his eye on 2016 already (assuming President Obama wins a second term). Most, though, have ruled him out a potential running mate for Romney. Personally, I would love to see him as Romney’s running mate. And I’m sure David Axelrod would do.


Rosen encounters a foe bigger than Napster

OK, so Hilary Rosen stepped in it this week, but it’s only because the chattering classes said she stepped in it. The trouble with the times we live in is that people do not process what’s been said before they react. It drives me bananas how both the left and right jumped all over Rosen before she even came to a full stop of the offending sentence. I am sort of paraphrasing (which is a little hypocritical seeing that I loathe people who take things out of context or paraphrase the meaning out of a statement), but Rosen basically said that Ann Romney was not the right person to advise her husband on women’s economic issues as she has “never worked a day in her life”. It was a poor choice of words (and tone as well), but what she meant, and I think what we all know she meant, was that Mrs. Romney has lived a life of privilege all of her adult life and has never had to think about the monetary issues which affect most women in the U.S. or anywhere. I would hope no one would dispute that raising kids is a hard job and just as important and significant as any work which takes place outside of the home. However, having a fat bank account creates a very different experience for those women raising those kids. There’s a big difference between sitting at the kitchen table at night itemizing the high costs for basic necessities like food, electricity, gas, clothes, etc. and sitting at your desk in the home office telling your personal assistant to book your hair and pilates appointments. If I were a mother with a husband whose job barely paid the bills or a single mother on government assistance or juggling the needs of work with costs of childcare, I would not be interested in Ann Romney’s opinion about what matters most to me (though, to be fair, Mrs. Romney’s views on strength of character and the emotional needs of raising a family are certainly relevant). Maybe it’s just me, but I think Hilary Rosen nailed it. Now if only people would stop being so afraid to admit that she nailed it.

Charity starts at home

Back in here in the U.K., all hell is breaking loose over the Government’s Budget. It’s a very long document, so I understand if the reality of it takes a while to settle (for those seriously interested in the minutiae of it, you can find it here). There are so many to choose from, but the latest issue (you must pronounce it “issoo”, rather than “ishoo” to get the full effect) to stem from the Budget is that tax relief will now be capped at £50,000 on charity contributions. According to the Government, this is to prevent wealthy individuals from getting tax relief from bogus charities. You don’t say? Well, I know of a bogus charity. It’s called the HM Revenue & Customs. I give them all of this money, and I haven’t a clue what they’re doing with it.

Anyway, I sense a retreat. Even though countries like the U.S. cap tax relief on charitable donations, I don’t think this policy will fly over here. You can hear the “tut, tuts” from the Royal Academy of Art all the way to Burma.

I honestly do think now would be a good time for George Osborne to jump into the family business. Why anyone would want to be Chancellor over being a wallpaper magnate is beyond me, but hey, what do I know?

How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

So North Korea’s rocket didn’t launch and Iran has entered into talks regarding its nuclear program. I am grateful, but always amazed at how far we’ve gotten without one of those monstrous weapons actually being launched against an enemy. Maybe the dreadful memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is even too much for the twisted mind of despot. I am being optimistic but maybe anti-democratic, tyrants have their own version of MAD, which kind of defeats the point of launching one of those things in the first place, no?

On the road to Damascus

I don’t think the ceasefire will hold. Until Assad is gone, there will be no peace. How that happens I don’t know.

Next Year in Jerusalem

There’s nothing like a good Passover seder around Easter time. Sadly, it’s been a few years since I’ve been to one, but I do manage to make a meal of some bits and pieces. However, I mostly live vicariously through other people’s seders. My good friend David sent me a mouth-watering picture of his gefilte fish. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if I shared it with you.

As always, here are some other highlights of my week:

What I’m reading: Band of Brigands by Christy Campbell (still).

What I’m listening to (new): Roman Reloaded by Nicki Minaj

What I’m listening to (old): Performance by various (including Mick Jagger and Ry Cooder)

Most anticipated event of the week: The release of the 1940 census. Such an amazing treasure trove of history. You can check it out here.

Until next time.

All best, HaintsFollow me on twitter.


The Haints’ Sunday Best: April 1, 2012


I am fully aware that I skipped a week. I was off sowing my non-existent wild thespian oats. After a week of memorizing Shakespeare, Mamet and Rodgers and Hammerstein, I’m now ready for some real fluff! I tried to think of some clever way to start this post with some April Fools’ Day craziness, but I’m way too tired to be clever, so here goes my hazy rundown of the week:

The Lady triumphs:

After spending nearly 20 years under house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi has, at last, won a seat in the Burmese parliament. Her party, the National League for Democracy has claimed that it may have won 10 other seats as well. What does this all mean? I hope it means that Burma (also called Myanmar) is finally realizing that in order to advance its society, you must allow freedom. Burma sits in a part of the world rich with natural resources, but its reliance on authoritarian military rule for nearly 50 years has made it fall way behind its Asian neighbors in both development and economic prosperity. Is this Burma’s Nelson Mandela moment? We have to wait and see. The election of The Lady is a moment to relish, but she will have much hard work to do. Getting elected is the first step. Whether or not it will actually give her the power to do anything remains to be seen. But for the time being, who could have imagined that this extraordinarily resilient woman who patiently waited in the confines of her home for two decades would get this far?

A Tale of Pasties and Petrol:

Here in the UK, the Tories (a/k/a the Conservative Party) have had a very, very bad week. The government (led by the Tories with its Liberal Democrat partners) decided to raise the VAT (tax) on hot foods, meaning those all those poor souls who fancy a sausage roll or cheese pasty to or from work will now have to fork over some extra cash to do so. The Chancellor said he couldn’t remember the last time he had a pasty, which may sound a little bewildering and class divisive to some, but I can’t remember the last one I had either. They’re awfully tasty, but a little fattening. I very nearly got a sausage roll the other day because I was starving, but instead bit the side of hand to make myself refrain. I love a good sausage roll with a nice cold pint of cider. Mmmm. But I digress. Anyway, the Prime Minister claims to have had a pasty very recently while he was at Leeds station, but alas for poor Dave, there hasn’t been a pasty shop in Leeds station in nearly five years. D’oh! Then there was the Great Petrol Panic of 2012. Cabinet Minister, Francis Maude, thought it was a good idea to prepare the country for a possible strike by fuel tank drivers by telling people to go out and fill jerrycans full of petrol (that’s “gas” in American) in case supplies run out. I didn’t even know what a jerrycan was until this week. The rush on gas stations was insane. It seemed a plot straight out of a Sacha Baron Cohen film (think mad OPEC dictator trying to bring the West to its knees). The threat of a strike has now subsided, but I think even the truck drivers got scared by the mad run on the gas stations. I mean, eventually, even they would have to get from point A to B. But basically in the space of week, Cameron and his Tories were at once fear mongers and out of touch elitists. So much for eating hot dogs with Obama in Ohio. I think Cameron’s next photo op should be of himself and a fuel tank driver eating cornish pasties and sausage rolls in a roadside diner. Or the government should take up the Guardian‘s clever, but actually quite good April Fools’ Day suggestion: Appoint Shaun Ryder as advisor on class issues, and have the Happy Mondays singer take Cameron to a chippy in Salford. How much worst can things get? Seriously.

Live from the Supreme Court, it’s Obamacare!

Will or won’t the Supreme Court uphold President Obama’s healthcare plan? That is the question. Before the proceedings began, the general consensus was that Obamacare would be upheld, but the aggressive and confrontational questions from the conservative justices have sucked the confidence out of the law’s supporters. The official title of the case is The Department of Health and Human Services v. the State of Florida. Very dull-sounding as most cases tend to, but it’s been extraordinary listening to the oral arguments. The crux of the issue is whether or not it’s constitutional for the US government to mandate that its citizens must have health insurance. The right thinks it’s an intrusion of government to force people to take on something they don’t want, and the left feels that the cost of health insurance will decrease if everyone must have it. Listening to the arguments, Obamacare’s supporters would be understandably nervous, but as many commentators have pointed out, aggressive questioning doesn’t necessarily mean the conservative justices will strike it down. They could just be airing out their thinking process, but who knows? There are 4 liberal justices (Bader Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan) and 5 conservative justices (Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Scalia, and Alito). The decision will most likely be announced in June and the ramifications will be immense. It could sink or swim the Obama administration, or it could be the rallying cry the left needs for the November election: the intrusion of the Supreme Court into the lawmaking function of Congress to make a political statement that benefits the right. Whatever the result, it’s good to see people interested in the process.


Has Madonna finally lost it?

This is a question that will be asked through the ages because we all know Madonna will never die and she will be around in like 2000 years because she’s clearly got some tank somewhere that keeps her going, and her body is so full of chemicals, I don’t think it’s capable of decomposing. This week, deadmau5 unleashed his fury on Madonna because of what she said at a concert in Miami. She came on stage and shouted out to the crowd, “HAS ANYONE SEEN MOLLY??” OK, I fully admit, I would have no idea what she meant and would have probably thought she was referring to the opening act I missed, but apparently “Molly” is a reference to ecstasy and deadmau5 thought this was a a totally inappropriate way to try to connect with the young crowd. I concur. It strikes me as more than a little desperate. It would be like shouting out to an audience in the Ozarks “HAS ANYONE SEEN GEETER??” But that’s just Madonna, and for better or worse, she’ll probably be here long after all of us have bit the dust in a nuclear wipe-out because lord knows what this woman is made of. And frankly, I’m a little scared of it.


The Trouble with Trayvon:

This case has so many twists and turns, I will not comment about it until more facts come out. But it’s hard to deny is that Florida has crazy gun laws, and the police are lazy when it comes to investigating the facts behind the death of a black kid. Seems to be too easy just to say job done, case closed and walk away. However this turns out, I’m glad that people have forced a spotlight on the case even if the only result is the full revelation of what actually happened.

My paranoia of the week:

On Thursday, southern and eastern England will undergo water restrictions (i.e. no use of water hoses). This is due to the lack of rainfall over the last 17 months. We are officially in a drought. This is very strange to me considering most of my nearly decade-long residence in London has been plagued by seasonal and unseasonal downpours. Where’s the water going? So, being in drought mode and also since I have a penchant for apocalyptic thinking, I couldn’t help but be alarmed by this article from Salon: The Impending Water Crisis. Needless to say, I’ve cut my showers to 3 minutes and trying to run my dishwasher and laundry once a week. But still, I can’t get images of drinking from mud puddles out of my head. I bet Madonna has all the water.

As always, here are some other highlights of my week:

What I’m reading: Band of Brigands by Christy Campbell.

What I’m listening to (new): Home Again by Michael Kiwanuka

What I’m listening to (old): So by Peter Gabriel

Most enjoyed TV program: Sex and Sensibility – The Allure of Art Nouveau

Favorite website of the week: – Amazing desktop wallpapers by prominent and cutting edge artists for free download

Finally, since I didn’t win the $640 million Megamillions jackpot, guess I’ll be here next week. Remember, questions and comments are always welcomed.

All best, Haints. Follow me on twitter.

The Haints’ Sunday Best: March 18, 2012


As a new feature of my blog, I’ve decided to have a weekly summary of my top events.  I have emphasized “my” as I’m sure my weekly highlights might not always match yours. I was thinking I’d have it as Friday feature, but I really want to suck the lifeblood out of the week, so Sunday surely is best.

So here goes (not necessarily in chronological order):

Being Rick-rolled is not as fun as it used to be:

Republican candidate for the presidential nomination Rick Santorum continues to take the campaign to extraordinary heights: of craziness. He started the week in Puerto Rico by saying in order to become the 51st state, Puerto Ricans should speak English – in Puerto Rico. He’s since tried to soften his statement on Puerto Rico, but seriously, it’s like trying to bottle a lightening bolt. He didn’t stop there. Santorum ended the week by declaring a war on hardcore porn because gosh, you know, without porn, people would get straight back to work and those pesky gas prices might come down. And this already from a man who is against both choice AND contraception (because, of course, using contraception has no affect whatsoever on the number of abortions). But Santorum has really found his mojo on this latest issue. No porn + no sex = a prosperous America. I guess Walmart will start selling hair shirts soon.

I’m every woman:

Hillary Clinton had a few choice words for those who have declared a war on women’s rights (that means you, Rick Santorum).


Obama learns a new language:

David Cameron had his first official visit to the United States, though, to be honest, most Americans don’t even know who David Cameron is. And boy, did he and his wife, Samantha, get the five-star treatment – a far cry from what he gets back in the U.K. Dave got to eat hotdogs and ride on a big plane that has its own operating theatre. I loved all the references to the War of 1812 and Obama even learned British. I hate to admit it, but that Dave sure is a charmer. On excursions like these, you can see why poor Mr. Brown didn’t stand a chance.


So is Apple not laced with poison?

NPR’s This American Life retracted the story of Mike Daisey’s visit to the Apple factory in China. Turns out, Daisey’s interpreter claims much of the story was fabricated. When the story first came out, you could hear the sharp intake of breath amongst privileged, foot-conversed hipsters everywhere wondering what they should do about all that expensive Apple kit they either owned or coveted. Would they have to dress like Mitt Romney’s sons, wear drawn-down hats and shades when they entered an Apple store? The ensuing furore caused Apple’s new CEO Tim Cook to issue a statement that Apple took human rights seriously and claims of workers’ abuse would be vigorously investigated.  So is the story not true? Well, Daisey has already scrubbed Apple references from his theatre act, so who knows. In the meantime, is it now OK to buy the new iPad 3 with a clean conscience? Judging by the queues outside Apple stores this week, I think people left their consciences on the Oregon Trail years ago.

Trouble in Kony Island:

I must be one of the few people on the planet who has NOT watched the Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video. When I was copying the link from youtube, I saw that it had over 82million views. There are less people in the United Kingdom. I’ve kind of zoned out on the surrounding controversy about the video, but I caught snatches of “misappropriation of charitable funds,” “misguided focus on a criminal who no longer terrorizes Uganda,” “shady filmmakers,” “right-wing Christian agenda”, etc. So it goes. But what REALLY caught my attention is this video of Invisible Children’s founder, Jason Russell. Talk about breaking down under pressure. It’s never a pleasant experience to watch someone lose it – especially like this. I’m afraid we should always keep in mind the medical association with “going viral”. Whatever good Jason Russell wanted from his film has gone epidemic, but unfortunately, so has the crazy.

What I love about George Clooney:

That he went from this to this in the space of a day. I love him.

So has Tyler Clementi been vindicated?

Dharun Ravi was found guilty on a number of charges relating to Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers college student who committed suicide days after Ravi uploaded a live feed of Clementi having a sexual encounter with another man on his Twitter account. The jury found Ravi guilty of intimidation, tampering of evidence and invasion of privacy. While I’m pleased that Ravi was rightfully found guilty of the charges, I agree with Emily Bazelon in Slate who wonders if punishing a 20 year-old with a long jail sentence is actually the right course of action. There’s no question that what Ravi did was wrong, but I think it would be helpful to find out exactly why he did what he did. We never got to hear Ravi in his own words. Until we address the root causes for homophobia, racism, sexism etc, we can’t expect to really make that much progress, as people will just focus on not getting caught, rather than the fact these “isms” are just morally and fundamentally wrong.

So! That was my week. There was so much more, but either I forgot, I downgraded, or I just haven’t fully-digested yet.

To end, here are a few quick things that have also made my week:

What I’m reading: The Blitz by Juliet Gardiner.

What I’m listening to (new): Visions by Grimes

What I’m listening to (old): Ill Communication by Beastie Boys

Film I’m most looking forward to (this week, but not out in the UK until May): Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Favorite images of the week (courtesy of Flavorpill): People jumping rope from the perspective of a jump rope. Genius.

Hope you enjoyed my first Sunday Best. I’ll tweak it as I go along, but comments are always welcomed. Or you can just enjoy (or despair) in silence.

All best, Haints. Follow me on twitter.

It’s International Women’s Day!


A 1932 Soviet poster for International Women's...

I have the same issues with International Women’s Day as I do with Black History month, but I am marking it today.

So in honor of IWD, I’ve decided to feature a clip from one of my favorite authors of all time – Toni Morrison. Here, she talks about the challenges of being a female writer. I really admire her pride in being both a black and female writer. She makes a critical point about how people often assume they’re giving a compliment by saying one’s art is too good to be rooted in one or the other. But more often than not, the opposite is true. As Morrison says so passionately, being black and female is actually a “a very broad, deep, wide pool to draw from. It’s [actually] richer than some other label.”

At the end of the day, you’re who you are for a reason, so use it.

Happy Birthday, Charlie!


On my way to yoga last week, I happened to see two different people reading Great Expectations on the tube. One appeared to be a school boy, and the other a businessman unwinding after a long day at the office. They sat at nearly opposite ends of the train. At the time, I remarked it with a barely audible “hm!” as I’ve seen coincidences before. But today being the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’s birthday, the remembrance of seeing two men on the train reading his book made me realize how much of his legacy we now take for granted (but maybe the recent BBC adaptation also helped).

One of the first books I remember reading on my own was A Christmas Carol, but the Dickens book I grew to enjoy the most is A Tale of Two Cities. It’s not the most humorous of his novels, but I think it’s one of the most inspiring. If you fail to be moved by the final scenes and Sydney Carton’s last lines, then you’re just not human.

Thankfully I have yet to read all of his work, so I still have lots of Dickens to look forward to.


In praise of bookstores



I have a serious book addiction, so reading this article from one of my favorite sites, Flavorpill, sent my pulse racing. It lists 20 of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, and I am seriously tempted to visit each one.

Although all of them look amazing, I’m not sure if Selexyz in Maastricht or Livraria Lello in Porto is my favorite. I could happily die in either.



The Way By Proust

Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust

Five years ago, I read In Search of Lost Time.  Since then, whenever I have periods of writer’s block or inactivity, I think of Marcel Proust.  He, too, spent most of his life as an aspiring writer, only to get distracted by real life (mostly socializing) or buried by the weight of other people’s expectations.

Before I actually read ISOLT, I spent years writing it done on a list of things to do.  As I had often heard, most people never got past the first volume – Swann’s Way.  However, in the summer of 2005, I made plans to go on a yoga holiday in the Lot region of France and it was then I decided to begin what would become a six-month journey. Actually “journey” is not the right word.  It was more like entering a relationship.  For six months, I knew everything about the character of Marcel and saw the world through his telescope.

I will admit it was very slow going at first.  Such long, rambling descriptions of even the most prosaic thing was taxing to someone like me who often likes to skip descriptions and go right to the action.   I initially missed the impact of the famous lines describing how the taste of a morsel of tea-soaked madeleine transports the character Marcel to his childhood in Combray.   I had to re-read it about three times before I could appreciate the possibility of why these lines were so memorable.  However, it probably wasn’t until I finished the entire book that the full power finally hit me.   Just as I was about to finish Swann’s Way, I bought the next volume, and that was to be my pattern until I finished.  Thus, committing me to the relationship until the end.

It did help to have started ISOLT while I was in France.  I remember, especially, how the rhythm of the prose felt right as I sat in a café in Paris in my last hours before catching the Eurostar back to London.  From then on, I found myself reading the book at lunchtime in a café in Kensington called Montparnasse.  The staff was French, the food was French, and the clientele was French.  But actually, that wasn’t so important.  I read the books everywhere I could.  I found myself thinking about them even when I wasn’t reading them.  And gradually, his descriptions of people and places really got under my skin.  His thoughts were so similar to mine and he used similar descriptors.  I remember one scene at the opera when he’s recounting the behavior of the aristocrats and the commoner admiring them from a distance reminded me of all the gigs I’ve been to watching the celebrities in the upper rafters or by the soundboard, and the people on the floor craning their necks to see them.  Also, his fascination with the Guermantes and his determination to become part of their inner circle, only to become profoundly disappointed once he got inside brought to mind my years in LA hanging out with vacuous music industry types.

As I got nearer the end of ISOLT, I felt sadness for I knew the relationship was ending.  But I knew there would be revelations at the end.  As you’re pulled into the vortex of ISOLT, you’re also pulled into the cycle of disappointment, unrequited love, grief and a myriad of other emotions, which basically resulted in a continual feeling of frustration.  But just as in life, the character Marcel comes to some vital truths, which I suppose mirrored the life of the real Marcel Proust.  A dilettante writer who spent his last years confined to his room, he was continually asked when he was going to produce his magnum opus.  Well, it came at the end of his life as he literally wrote most of ISOLT on his deathbed.  In the last two paragraphs of the last volume, Time Regained, Proust is at an end, and he sums up what he’s learned since Swann’s Way.   He writes:

“I had a feeling of intense fatigue when I realized that all this span of time had not only been lived, thought, secreted by me uninterruptedly, that it was my life, that it was myself, but more still because I had at every moment to keep it attached to myself, that it bore me up, that I was poised on its dizzy summit, that I could not move without taking it with me.”

So the great reveal, at least for me, is that sometimes it’s your life that’s the magnum opus, and that if it takes your whole life to produce your great work, then so be it.