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Books / Writing

Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses

“There was this notion in my mind that somehow yoga was going to make me better. Better than I’d been, better than everyone else. More virtuous. I liked the idea of myself as a yoga person. (I could not bring myself to say yogi, or yogini.) Lithe, probably thin, with some kind of ineffable glow. And my back wouldn’t hurt.”

I finished this book a month ago. As a person who has had an on and off yoga practice over the years, I loved the bits on yoga, I find myself relating to most of the writer’s experiences and insights, it’s the most highlighted book I read this year, in fact.
I loved Claire Dederer’s idea of relating certain yoga poses to various points of her life, but the latter chapters I find were haphazard and quite confusing. I honestly didn’t care about most of the other topics, except when she was talking about yoga. I lost interest halfway into it but I forced myself to finish because every now and then I stumbled upon ‘gems’.
Claire wrote about having difficulties with chaturanga dandasana and the wheel, I struggled with the same and I am quite convinced my body is not meant to do these poses even if I try so hard. Chaturanga is an important transition pose as you move through the vinyasa flow, and I would always feel awkward not being able to stay in this pose with integrity, that is with the elbows bending at 45 degrees, my knees not resting on the floor, and the belly not dropping. When it is time to do inversions, I find the rest of the class opening up their chests with ease, meanwhile I lie in corpse pose unable to lift myself to do a wheel. It’s a bit comforting to know some people have certain asanas they cannot do well.
Reading this book served as a reminder of how I needed yoga in my life and I need to get back on the mat real soon.

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I thought I would do yoga all my life, and I thought that I would continue to improve at it, that I would penetrate its deepest mysteries and finally be able to perform a transition from scorpion directly into chaturanga. But here’s the truth: The longer I do yoga, the worse I get at it. I can’t tell you what a relief it is.
I did yoga because of an idea I had of who I wanted to be: serene, fit, spiritual.
For years, yoga had been the one place where I paid attention to how I was feeling. I did the poses and actually, right there in that moment, felt them.
Those of you who are really bad at yoga, you’re in the right place. I hope everyone will allow themselves to be really crappy today, to walk away from being perfect. The real yoga isn’t in the perfect pose; it’s in the crappy pose that you are really feeling. You want to feel it from the inside out, rather than make it perfect from the outside in.
When your teacher shows you how something is done, there’s a feeling of possibility, a transmittal of something like faith. Yes, this can be done. I’m seeing it right before my eyes.
t was easy to think of yoga as a cure, a program, a teleology. You were going to end up somewhere really great if you just stuck with it. I often thought about what yoga would give me: yoga butt, open hamstrings, equilibrium, a calm mind, that mysterious yoga glow. And it was true, a person would be more likely to have those things if she went to yoga than if she, say, played Tetris for hours on end. (Always an option.)
The idea was, you got better, looser, stronger while you were at yoga, and then you exported that excellence to the rest to life. You learned how to act right at yoga, and then you acted right, or righter, when you were in your car, or at the grocery store, or putting your children to bed.
I had discovered something; there was a pleasure in becoming something new. You could will yourself into a fresh shape. Now all I had to do was figure out how to do it out there, in my life.
Books / Writing

On Reading

SOMETHING ELSE HAPPENED to me on the metro recently: I learned to read. I know it didn’t happen all at once, but today it felt like someone flicked a switch. Suddenly the lights went on inside my head and the words passed through, like one of those healings you read about at a tent revival, where blind men see and mute children speak.
Reading, the pleasure I most took for granted, finally restored. I looked around me, wondering if anyone had noticed. No one did. I was part of the urban wallpaper.
from Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes, Elizabeth Bard

I used to read a lot of some fiction when I was younger, so most of my books are from that genre. In my mid-twenties my tastes changed and I bought more of travel & food literature. My real bookshelf is practically untouched now, except for when I need to look something up.
This might sound terribly corny, but finally purchasing an ebook reader sort of changed my life, so much that I have separation anxiety with the device even if I’ll be away for a couple of hours.
I have close to 700 lovingly curated books in my e-library, no random stuff or trashy romances. I have been more interested in nonfiction as I grew older, specifically travel narratives, memoirs, cookbooks (even if I don’t really cook!), and food literature. I probably have more than enough ebooks now to last me a lifetime.

Favorites so far (July – Sept 2012):

Blankets, Craig Thompson (graphic novel)
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, Jenny Lawson
Lunch in Paris, A Love Story with Recipes, Elizabeth Bard

P.S. I do realize that I mentioned having “no trashy romances” but I did read the first Fifty Shades of Grey book. It was a waste of time.

Books / Writing

Reading: The Amateur Gourmet

I have been reading more frequently now, mostly memoirs. Going back to reading somehow activated a part of my brain with distracting thoughts, including delusions of writing my own memoir someday, being fully aware that it will be severely uninteresting.

The Amateur Gourmet

The most recent book I’ve finished is Adam RobertsAmateur Gourmet which I enjoyed.

One of my favorite parts from the book was when Adam met up with food critic Ruth Reichl to talk about the ways of fine dining.

The Sixth Commandment: Be Intelligently Critical
The waiter exits and Ruth tastes. The salad immediately fails her scrutiny.
“This isn’t good,” she says matter-of-factly. “The corn isn’t good– it’s starchy, it doesn’t have much flavor.”
I taste too and nod my agreement.
“Whatever flavor it has,” she continues, “is obscured by the goat cheese, the chanterelles, and the nuts.”
The prognosis is thoughtfully delivered and done so in a way that justifies her status as a great arbiter of taste. She’s articulate in a way that most diners aren’t because they don’t know how to be. Her pronouncements are those of a good writer: they are specific. She doesn’t say “yummy” or “bad.” She says “the corn is starchy” and “the flavor is obscured.” She knows her field, she knows how to analyze, she knows how to be critical.
And this is true of anyone who’s passionate about a subject. Ask a movie buff what he thinks of the new Almodovar film and he’ll answer you with great enthusiasm and flair. Ask a wrestling fan how he feels about cage matches, and he’ll wax lyrical for hours. The lesson is that once you care about food, once you care about dining, you will pay more attention. Understand why some dishes succeed while others fail, notice how a dish is composed, what flavors it contains, how those flavors are contrasted, the freshness of the ingredients, the level of seasoning, the overall balance. Once you start noticing these things your ability to judge a restaurant on its merits will improve immeasurably. Ruth Reichl got to where she is because she paid attention. She pays attention now and I attempt to do the same.

 

And so from here on out I will also attempt to do the same. Such a nice takeaway for this writing space.

France / Writing

browsing through Shakespeare and Company

From Notre Dame we crossed the bridge to the Left Bank to get to Shakespeare and Company, the cosy little English-language bookshop in the academic Quartier Latin.

Shakespeare & Company

Shakespeare and Company has been around since 1951, and since then the bookstore has been hosting writers in exchange for a couple of hours of voluntary work. It has provided shelter to some 50,000 people now.
Shakespeare & Co.

The shop is full of new books as well as used ones. Apparently, there are also 8 makeshift beds all over the place, for the writers to sleep in.
inside Shakespeare & Company

A is one of the biggest literature lovers I know and she purchased a hardbound book here. I confess that I am sort of a mild hoarder of books, mostly of the travel and food literature variety, but I find the prices here rather steep, perhaps the markup is mostly because of the location and nostalgia. At this point, I’m perfectly fine scouring the Booksale outlets back home.

One of my favorite movies, Before Sunset, filmed here so it makes the place quite special as well.

Shakespeare and Company
http://www.shakespeareandcompany.com
37 rue de la Bûcherie 75005 Paris
Weekdays: 10am – 11pm; Weekends: 11am – 11pm
Metro: St. Michel / Cluny / Sorbonne
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Kazakhstan

Da, Da, Da

From Central Europe, I find myself in Central Asia. Post-communist, cold, and unfamiliar– there are no English signs and hardly any English speakers at all. Yet, I welcome this brief change and new experience.
Lonely Planet describes it as one of the world’s last few unknowns. When one mentions this nation, Borat immediately comes to mind. It’s quite an insult, people here don’t look and act like Borat at all.
It’s getting late so my note ends here, dosvidania for now.