English degree & reading fiction

I went down (what I think of as) the typical path of an “avid” reader starting a university degree in English/American literature.
I read a lot before starting the degree, three or four times the amount of books I am probably going to read this year (=hopefully 50). Once I started studying English (and a bunch of other things), I still read a lot, but 80% of the books were comfort reads: books I have read before, books without complicated narrative structure, fast-paced books, and ultimately books which allowed me to shut out the reality for a couple of hours.
A few semesters into the degree, throw in some massive anxiety show-downs about the future career (now that I had run away from the “secure” law degree), linguistic melt-down due to my omnivorous appetite for learning languages, and a major identity crisis on cultural/linguistic basis, and you have a former reader who doesn’t read much.

In the past 15 months, I’ve read 35 books that were not assigned reading.
In the past three years, I’ve read 23 full-length novels and plays, dozens of short stories, a handful of poems, and countless academic articles for classes (which really isn’t a lot, for three literature degrees combined). Among them, there were famous books, best-selling books, thought-books and problematic ones, but none of them allowed me to sink into their world and just absorb, which was how I used to read.

I suppose my reasons for reading have changed after three years of analytic approach to narratives. I used to read for the immersive experience that let me become somebody else, for the surge of emotions hitherto unknown to me, for the fictitiousness of it all. I used to decide on my favorite books mostly based on feelings: the ones evoking the strongest emotions in me were my favorites. In hindsight, what a romantic approach to reading it was!
Strangely, however, the books from past few years that are lingering the most on my mind are books I had a lukewarm attitude toward while reading, books that were confusing and not exciting, books whose fictitious reality faded away the moment I put them down. Among them I count Come to Me by Amy Bloom, Our Town by Thornton Wilder, Dance of the Happy Shade by Alice Munro, The Love Object by Edna O’Brien, I Know Why a Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou and Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones.

Why do we read?

I think it’s an important question a reader should ask themself more often. I’ve been thinking lately that I want to read and re-read good books. Now, “good” is a totally anti-academic description that has no place in a term paper, but my personal requirements for “good” books are that they are written beautifully or extraordinarily (in literal sense), that they do not have a simple message of “this is good, that is bad”, that they teach me new things, and that they linger.

After three years of reading while looking out for narrative techniques, metaphors, character inconsistencies and so on, I have become unable to “simply read”. My reading pace has slowed down considerably and I have stopped accepting the finished book as the god/dess beyond reproach.
I used to resist every step of this change in my reading behavior, and – ironically enough – almost at the end of my university career, I have finally arrived at a place where I can live with this new version of reader and can even think of some perks this might bring into my life.

To be honest, though, this is rather an inevitable legacy of a literature degree and not the most profound discovery I have made in the last three years.
I still believe that I have run away from law degree three years ago. But at the same time, studying Humanities has allowed me the time, room and tools to deal with my anxiety, to get to know my bad habits better, to be wary of everything, to realize how intolerant, stubborn and hypocritical I am, and, most preciously, to recover my Korean roots and to stop running away from the task of digging up past memories and acquiring new knowledge about my and my family’s country.
Since I am such a scaredy cat, I didn’t make full use of everything my university has to offer, but in the past few semesters I was fortunate enough to (re)discover my interest in acting and theater, in translation, in creative writing, in editing texts, in anime, in Japanese, Dutch and Russian.

One more week of the summer semester to push through! (Followed by an intense semester break in which I have to write numerous term papers, again.) I suppose I’ll go read some good books now.



예전에 나는 독서 하는 게 아주 간단했다. 그냥 집에 있는 책 중 한 권을 책장에서 끄집어내 읽기 시작하면 다였다. 초반부에 몰입이 잘 되지 않아도 집중해서 읽다보면 나도 모르게 이야기 속으로 빨려 들어가는 느낌이었다. 만약 정 몰입이 안 되면 읽고 있던 책을 다시 덮어 버리면 끝이었다.

어쩌면 나의 독서생활이 그렇게 순조로웠던 것에는 내가 그 당시에 읽던 책이 그만큼 소와하기 쉬운 책이었던 걸지도 모르겠다. 고등학교 무렵에는 솔직히 내키는 책만 읽었고 (솔직히 이건 아직까지 변함이 없다) 영어를 늘린다는 핑계아래 몇 시간 안에 해치울 수 있는 청소년 소설을 주로 즐겨 읽었다. 그렇지만 지금 생각해보면 그 때의 나는 이야기에 굶주려 있었고, 서양 (특히 미국) 문화에 큰 궁금증을 품고 있었다.

심지어 대학교에 입학하고 난 뒤로도 나의 독서양은 줄지 않았고, 오히려 소설을 현실도피 도구로 사용했다. 그러다가 무시하려야 무시할 수 없는 ‘representation’이라는 개념을 알게 되었고, 현신을 잊기 위해서 읽던 소설 속에서 나 자신을 찾으려고 하다가 나와 비슷한 사람은 주인공은커녕 조연급으로도 나오지 않는다는 걸 알고 갑자기 흥미가 뚝 떨어져 버렸다. 갑자기 책을 읽으면서 내용을 습득하기보다는 그 책의 문제점 먼저 집어내게 되었다. 옛날부터 책을 읽으면서 공감할 수 있다는 게 무척 좋았었는데, 자꾸 밖의 시선을 의식하다 보니 공감의 문이 닫혀버리면서 독서를 해도 도무지 즐겁지 않았다. 책을 읽기도 전에 작가의 출신지, 성별, 성적 정체성을 분석하고 있었고, 이 책이 과연 고전 혹은 현대문학 중에서 클래식에 속하는지 따지고 있었으며 책을 읽으면서도 캐릭터가 혹은 서술자가 정치적으로 올바른 (politically correct, PC) 묘사를 하고 있는지 더 큰 신경을 썼다.

그렇게 특히 영문학 공부를 시작하면서부터 삐걱거리던 나의 독서생활은 올해 3월쯤 완전히 무너져버렸다. 워낙 독일에서 유학하기 시작한 뒤부터 흔들리기 시작했던 정체성이 급커브를 돌면서 내 뇌가 한동안 영어를 거부하기 시작한 것이다. 참 영문학도로서 여간 낭패가 아니다. 하지만 한창 사춘기 때 한국어가 그토록 싫었던 것처럼 갑자기 영어, 독일어에 거부 반응이 걸리면서 한 두 달 동안은 아무 독서도 하지 않게 되었다. 옛날에 매달 스무 권 넘게 책을 읽던 걸 생각하면 참 놀라운 진전이다. 솔직히 지난 3달 동안 읽은 책 12권 중 7권은 전공 혹은 부전공 과목을 위해 읽은 것이고, 나머지 다섯 권중 두 권은 한국어로 된 소설이었다 (에쿠니 카오리, 한강).

아직도 독서는 힘겹다. 별 생각 없이 술술 읽어 내려가는 독서 방법으로는 더 이상 돌아갈 수 없을 것 같다. 그러기에는 소설 자체에 떨쳐버릴 수 없는 의심을 품기 시작했기에. 그렇지만 앞으로도 천천히, 가끔은 고통스럽게 책을 읽어가게 될 것 같다. 자신이 발견하고 싶은 게 무엇인지 알지도 못하면서 끊임없이 그 무언가를 찾아가며. 그렇지만 기분전환으로서는 아직(?) 너무 버거운 과제이기 때문에 현실 도피로는 만화와 아니메의 힘을 빌려야겠다.

November 2016 – Part II

Friday, November 18th
… Everything is falling apart. The great deconstruction has begun, and I don’t even know why I am doing anything anymore. To forget that, I’ve been medicating myself with The L Word, and now I have to be back in the real world, and I don’t know how to act. Everything feels unreal, and all I can think about is me, me, me. So self-centered…

Sunday, November 20th
… I hate the dark. I can’t believe I forgot how much I hate the dark. … Maybe it’s my winter blues again, but I’m fed up with obsessing about sex & relationship. … I look around & no one in my circle of acquaintances has a functioning relationship. The majority of the people I know lose themselves in the relationship or stay with people who makes them feel insecure & anxious. So far I can see that relationships are not only pain in the ass but also a huge energy-sucking distraction. …

Monday, November 21st
… Along with the will to push forward with my plan despite all the uncertainty is the desire to hide & run away for another degree. The desperation shouting, I’ll stay in Germany! The instinct for immediate security warring against the intuition for risks. Risks I can even consider taking because of my privileges.
I realized that I don’t know humans. I don’t understand them, what is going through their minds, what makes them do certain things.
All these years, I’ve looked at them through the lens of all the narratives I’d gobbled down. But the people in the books are simpler. Less conflicted. They change, or adapt to change, easily. They have two or three big traits that define them – bold, funny, soft-hearted, nice, aloof, insecure, etc. – and none of them has a dusty collection of tiny characteristics that are clumped & dumped together like abandoned toys. They are single-minded in their pursuit, so sure of who they are. They get over traumas easily without having a relapse. They never have socially awkward conversations (unless being awkward is one of their traits) with strangers/acquaintances/friends. Other people trust & like them so easily that I am green with envy. They are rarely lazy. Sometimes there are genuinely nice characters whose niceness doesn’t vanish no matter what is done to them.
They are not humans. They are created by humans as some sort of idols, similar enough to humans but ultimately too good to be real. None of them are messy, disgusting, abhorrent, conflicted about the smallest and the biggest thing.
It’s not easy to be loyal and vulnerable. It’s difficult as fuck to stay true to yourself or even to find yourself. It’s hard to escape the feeling of being an outsider, warranted or not. It’s probably normal to hate the world & everyone in it, because they all sicken you without any reason. We think about, like, and do certain disgusting things. We run away or medicate our pains a lot. We blame other people, we victimize ourselves (although watching Jenny Schecter has shown me how fucking selfish & revolting that be), we become irrational on regular basis.
Goddess, what fucking messes we all are.

Tuesday, November 22nd
The people in my head are translucent paper-people, and I don’t know how to turn them into solid, flesh-and-blood people.
… I tend to be pretty unforgiving towards people – esp. those whom I want to like. Once they are inside my heart, I don’t care as much, but until then…

Thursday, November 24th
My head is a cluttered place; a bleeding wound. I vomit other people’s words out of my ears.
… Being vulnerable – being authentic – is hard. Being self-compassionate is uncomfortable. Engaging with my fears feels like I’m going mad.
… I crave certainty like a drug addict, and yet at the same time, I harbor a disdain for the society’s rules. I want chaos. I already am chaos, but then I lose my head, certain that I will never find my way back to reality.
… I look at the reading log for this year, and 80% of the books I’ve read this year were escapist reads. And I spent a lot of time in front of my laptop, watching movies and TV series. I have been emotionally numbing myself the whole year.
And maybe I haven’t been honest with myself, either. I am happy alone, but at the same time I feel like no one is going to love me. I do want to write, but I am terrified I suck at it. I do like reading, but I am constantly ashamed of my choice of reading materials. I do practise the mindset of enough, but scarcity creeps up on me again and again. I still measure my proud moments against what other people would be impressed by. I am still loathe to disappoint my teachers and professors.
… It’s difficult to see myself as I am, because there are a slew of things I want to become, but can’t do until I accept my current self. Humans are messy and ugly and always, always struggling. I want to create art that captures that struggle. I want to be honest. I want to stop playing a saint and just be my selfish, quirky, lazy, intent, struggling self.

Saturday, November 26th
… [I was at a poetry evening with a friend.] It was held in a studio place with a bit of run-down, starving-artist minimalist look. The people who came – there were many, and we were one of the early ones, so we had an ample time to observe them all – were very diverse in background & looks, but they all knew each other & we didn’t know these people, plus the music was too loud anyway, so we just sat there and looked around a lot. After an hour or so of socializing, some people read aloud their poems, and I liked having this read-and-share movement (also because it gave us a legitimate reason to sit around & not talk), but the poems… and the poets… they didn’t resonate with me at all. It’s definitely a matter of taste, but I couldn’t understand even the vaguest outline of their poems and it sounded like a string of words that conjured up all sorts of weird jumble of images – sexual, guttural, human waste. The theme or the form themselves weren’t disturbing, but what bothered & shook me the most was that I couldn’t feel the writer’s authenticity in their writings (except for one piece). The words felt empty, the whole presentation a cliché, and the art dishonest.
It is true that I am not into this twentysometing’s retro, hip & broke(n), artsy scene. The kind where the past seems to have been appropriated and the past authenticity turned into a grotesque cliché. Scenes where the said twentysomethings smoke pot, talk about having beautiful souls, and sprout Hemingway-esque poems (in the sense that they are vaguely misogynist and so male). … A year ago or less, I would have been intimidated into believing that an artist has to be like that way to be a “true” writer/poet. Maybe I’m being too hasty in my judgment/condemnation, but that’s the impression I had when we left the party. …

Tuesday, November 29th
… Does no one feel like this? Does no adult remember the emptiness? Does no on-the-cusp-of-adult experience this hollow space we call “self”?
… I am very rigid in my ideas of what I want when it comes to work. … Am I being too picky, so drenched in the privilege that I have my sight trained on too high? Or am I so afraid of working that I reject everything, thus deluding myself that I am “looking”, but at the same time still leaving the status quo untouched? …
I act and act and act out whatever I can get my hands on, because if I were to let myself be authentic, I’d probably sprout off some incoherent sentences at random, grin toothily, and scurry away.
… I just hate, hate, hate, HATE dealing with my emotions – there’s a reason why I’ve been numbing them for so long. I am not good at anything; this knowledge hits me like a brick on the back of my head, because my fragile ego had constructed this reassurance precisely to keep myself from this black-out. … And worst of all, I am disinterested in so many things that I can almost hear my neuron pathways dying off. It’s not that I find everything uninspiring or boring; I just don’t have any subject that I would dig into its depth to the center of the earth. …

Wednesday, November 30th
… Winter is the time of the year which I recoil from in the beginning and whose darkness I embrace eventually. Instead of brightening the room as much as possible, I am content with a flickering candlelight limiting my view to only what is right in front of me. Instead of feeling grateful for the technological advancement that allows us comfort (hello – radiators??!), I am annoyed that the city never truly sleeps, that it never lets its occupants recuperate.
I think that always being in search of my identity might be my identity. Perhaps because I had to learn the lesson about the instability of identity earlier than usual, and with more force than usual. Playing the various personas that are probably a part of me, all the while frantically searching for the core of my self, even though I know in the back if my mind that there is no such thing. But the emptiness – or the fragmentation – how to bear if without going mad?
… When we talked about “identity” in my Cultural Studies lecture, I encountered ideas/theories that opposed the Enlightenment notion of a core self. Certainly, how we perceive ourselves change a lot over the years, and I daresay it is influenced by external circumstances… but maybe it is a choice, you know? The characteristics that you choose to let go, and the ones you choose to hold on to. There are of course going to be parts of yourself that you are unaware of.
I feel so conflicted. … I do want to change, because I think change can lead to growth… but a part of me mourns the pieces I will inevitably have to leave behind, pieces that I have to let go in order to embrace new ones. Perhaps a human’s capacity for contradictions is limited. Another part of me, though, is terrified of both letting go and letting in. That part just wants to bury myself in the ground and talk myself into being content where I am right now.

reading: another year of retrospection

To give a brief summary of my reading history: I started devouring books on October 4th 2009, when I first picked up Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones. I haven’t stopped since.

I’ve come to realize and accept that different books have different functions, and they can be both meaningful.

Books With Impact
I read quite a few books that shifted the way I view things, even if it’s just a little.

Eating AnimalsThe Circle WithinDaring GreatlyCreative VisualizationThe Soul of Money
These books helped me to question what I thought was the “norm” – things that I thought I couldn’t change because that’s how things are, right? Eating Animals basically gave me the final push to become vegetarian. The Circle Within made me question my own set of values and whether I am living up to them; it also gave me food for thought about my religious views. Daring Greatly connects me with people by showing the universal struggle to be vulnerable and the crucial importance of vulnerability. It helps me in my effort to be authentic every day. Creative Visualization, despite its suggestive title, is not just a how-to book. The author also talks about her own philosophy of life. The Soul of Money is a mixture of psychological myth-debunking, promoting fund-raising, and spirituality (that blind leap of faith). It does not have a particularly smooth style, but its messages were very important in me re-setting my own values.

On the Shortness of Life A Day in the Life of a MinimalistA Story of Debt
These three books are more centered around minimalism and living simply, but these two ideas are really tools for living intentionally, or living with awareness. What I really liked about On the Shortness of Life, A Day in the Life of a Minimalist and A Story of Debt were the authors’ personal stories. They are not just sprouting off their personal philosophy like Ralph Waldo Emerson in “Self-Reliance”. Seneca, Joshua Field Millburn and Ashley Riordan write about their philosophies in application, which makes them so much more relatable. (I’m not dissing Emerson – I agree with a lot of what he says, but his writings remain very abstract.)

A Room of One's OwnBad FeministCome As You AreWe Should All Be Feminists
Great books on feminism and female sexuality. I am ashamed to admit that it’s only recently that I’ve come to realize the crippling effects our gendered society has on women and men, and I really, truly appreciate #HeForShe (although I still think it should be WeForUs – like he for he, he for she, she for he, she for she, and it would include genderfluid and agender people as well; but I admit it wouldn’t be as catchy or as thought-provokingly different as in unusual). However, gender inequality on the economic front, double standard, sexism, violence against women because of their gender – all these still exist, and they should be acknowledged and fought against.

Books With Comfort
Regardless of my name (it means ‘contemplating about truth’), I don’t want to be in an existential crisis 24/7. I fell in love with books because they provided me with fun and comfort, because they offered me a temporary escape, and because I could relate to fictional characters in such a way that it lessened my loneliness. All of this still holds true, and here are two series that were my main companions throughout the year.
1. Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Its ordinariness is the extraordinary in this series. Humorous, heart-warming, critical without judging, and absolutely relatable.
2. In Death series by J. D. Robb
The only Nora Roberts/J. D. Robb series I still follow. Having finished Obsession in Death today, I am now caught up with all 40 paperback releases and limited to two new releases per year! I steampowered through this series this year (re-read #13 – 18, then read #19 – 40 for the first time). It’s a murder mystery series, of course, but it’s actually the futuristic world and the characters that have their hold on my soft spot.

free time!

I survived!

I even cut my last class to get an earlier start into my two-week holiday, and it’s hard to feel guilty about that, so I won’t. I came home around lunch time, actually cooked a meal after a succession of days sustaining on bread and cheese, then sat around, feeling weird. I picked up a book – after this I am caught up with the In Death series, which is just another surreal thing happening in my life right now – and kept reading without glancing at the clock and feeling guilty.

The last two, three weeks have been stressful to the point of driving me to frenzy. Now all assignments are turned in, all tests taken, and instead of feeling exhausted, I feel downright giddy. I’m full of plans, trying to balance rest, play and study. I already know that I’m going to be cooking like no one’s business – lasagna, spaghetti, maybe even pizza, chilli -, and I’m going to admire Kate Moennig on The L Word watch TV series, animes and/or movies. Books aren’t very high on my priority list, probably because I have a lot of reading to do for my classes*. Which reminds me, I have almost two months’ worth of lecture notes to revise, key texts to read through, and additional materials to cover. I also have another essay due mid-January, but I want to get a jump-start on that because I have two more writing assignments to complete in January and I want to be able to actually sleep and eat next year. All this should be causing me brood and sulk and grow mushrooms in my dark corner. So why am I grinning like an idiot? Huh. Something to ponder before the year is up.

*correction: I want to keep reading A Game of Thrones so that I can continue on with the series. I started to re-read AGoT back in summer and then stopped about halfway through.

I’m back on track & what I am reading

I’m back on track. It feels good to feel secure and enthusiastic about my next steps, big or small.

About a month ago, I started to crumble. I was shattering into pieces, and too exhausted and depressed to do anything about it. I took a week for myself to discover why. I looked into myself and at first couldn’t see myself. When I stripped away all the guilt and fear and other negativity I had surrounded myself with, I still didn’t see anything because that’s what I had reduced myself to: nothing. How have I let myself come this far down? It was, I dimly realized, high time that I actively decided my own future.

In order to do that, I had to be brave to admit what I really wanted, what really mattered to me. Deciding to study Law was my first mistake, but a mistake with benefits. Not dropping out a year ago was my second mistake. I almost made a third when I thought I’d study Political Science instead. At that time, I thought “This is a choice I can live with”, promptly forgetting that that’s just what I was thinking two years ago when I decided on Law as my major. A good friend of mine sent me a link to Ruth Chang’s Ted talk on how to make hard choices. So I started questioning the values I had put behind my choice of Political Science – and my other choice, English Literature. The former was relative financial security without breaking my back (as I did with Law). The latter was me.

I talked to my Mom and sister about wanting to drop Law but I wouldn’t tell them any of my future plans until I was firm in what I wanted. Mom was a bit baffled but she said she’d support me in whatever I think is right.
I was being given a second chance. And I was deathly afraid that I’d somehow mangle this precious gift. I knew enough now to know that I’d live with whatever future I chose. But I wanted to use this second chance to its fullest potential and not burn myself out the second time.

So I chose to be unashamedly myself. It was an exhilarating and scary moment to finally own myself exactly the way I am. Once I had made the choice to be the only person I know how to be, it was surprisingly easy to tell my mother and sister about it. My sister just nodded, as if it all made sense and she had known it all along, and my Mom looked a bit disbelieving but still encouraged me to follow through.

The last part, and the hardest one, was to tell my father. I have a turbulent relationship with my father, and it was his disapproval and criticisms I had braced myself against the most. I had planned on telling him when he was here in Germany next month but all this untold weight on my chest was making it impossible for me to do anything else. So I dialed, and we talked.
And he completely threw me off. He wasn’t critical. He wasn’t upset. He didn’t talk down to me. He was thoughtful, surprisingly gentle, and supportive. He was certainly caught off guard but he wasn’t trying to dissuade me or to steer me into another direction. He did raise a few alternatives and asked if I found them equally appealing. “Safer” alternatives. But I wasn’t about to make another mistake. So I told him, quite sincerely, that I wanted to study English Literature. I told him, and later also Mom, that I was determined to go jobbing on the side to complete my education. My parents, bless them, are resolved to support me until they are unable to do so. I am grateful for this new opportunity and intend to work hard to make most of it.
Later I told Mom that a weight has been lifted off my shoulders now that I told Dad. She looked at me strangely and said: “I thought it would be the opposite – with this uncertain future hanging over your shoulder.” No, I told her, I haven’t ever felt this certain about the future.

After I finish my education, I don’t know where I will end up. But I am sure I will find something because I have come to realize that there is a lot of hitherto unknown sources of awesomeness within me.

This kind of leads me to my next topic: what I am currently reading. I am reading The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist. It’s a lot about fundraising but not in a how-to or why-to way. The book examines our own and our culture’s relationship with money, and it’s basically a mixture of minimalism, questioning our values and the idea of sufficiency. I also keep finding traces of what I found in Shakti Gawain’s Creative Visualization: the belief that you trust the Universe to help you realize your potentials (but only if you don’t struggle against the gentle stream). It’s about recognizing that the world doesn’t have to be you-or-me but you-and-me.
The book is written a little in a disorganized, rambling kind of way without a clear structure. It can be annoying at times but you can find good anecdotes and some great, thought-provoking ideas. The Soul of Money is one of those books that, if you let it, can change the way you look at life. You can apply the idea not only to money but also to other concepts as well, such as time.

Lately, there were so many days I woke up thinking I don’t have enough time to get all this done. But I have been proving myself to the contrary these last two, three days. All I have to do is to know what I truly want to do, and why I want to do it. Knowing the why helps me find a fresh spurt of motivation. I also believe in the sufficiency of time, and that there are enough hours in a day to get done what I need to get done. It’s not about wishing there were more hours in a day but about doing the best with what I have and appreciating it.

Can we […] in our relationship with money and all resources shift from the assumption that more, no matter what, is better? Can we recognize that better comes from not more, but in deepening our experience of what’s already there? Rather than growth being external in acquiring anc accumulating money or things, can we redefine growth to see it as a recognition of and appreciation for what we already have?

The Soul of Money, p. 86

I have to put “reading” off my priority list, but that’s okay

My life is messy. I feel so totally out of control in every area of my life. I am afraid I won’t be able to turn in my paper, or take part in the seminar in Ukraine, or do my work at AIESEC. I am afraid I will resent everything and that my everyday life will be just gray, gray, gray. I keep thinking, there just isn’t enough TIME! I will never be able to finish everything!

Maybe I won’t. So what?

I am learning to place more value on the process than I used to. Doing 98% is better than doing 0% because I’m afraid I won’t be able to reach 100%, or doing only 50% because I let that fear hold me too long and I started too late because of that.

I identify myself as a reader. I take pride in that, and comfort, too. Reading is just part of my life. Reading outside of school has never been a burden to me. I am constantly learning new things through books and developing compassion.
But lately, I never felt happy reading a book. I didn’t feel fulfilled. I kept getting rid of books, thinking I am reading only books that give me no value. As of today, however, I think the problem is not the books themselves but my relationship to them. I see an unread book and think: I should read that. I see a book I’ve already read before, remember the good time I had, and think: I want to re-read that!

Sometimes, though, life demands your full attention.
I see my 53 years old mother working 10+ hours every day, enduring brutal commutes in an overpopulated city, with only 5 days of vacation per year (but de facto zero, actually, because the employers pressure the employees into not taking any day off). For my mother, who first entered the workforce at the age of 40, left it again only four years later and to re-enter it after a 9-year-break, it means she has to give everything she has to her work. Her work fulfills her in a way that nothing else can right now. She needs to do this to take care of herself. So she pours herself into it and has little time or energy left to devote herself to anything else.
I see my cousin who is in military service right now. Instead of sitting in lecture halls, instead of pulling all-nighters to write an essay, instead of hanging out with his friends and having fun, he is experiencing something totally out of his realm; something that he hadn’t known before.
When life demands your full attention, you have to give it if you don’t want to go under. You can’t cling to your old habits and routines and hobbies. New cards have been dealt. Adapt or miss the chance.

I don’t want to go under. I don’t want to miss the opportunities. So I have to give my full attention to school, and to AIESEC secondarily. I won’t be able to read long, difficult books on feminism, history, literature. I won’t be able to write long, elaborate reviews. I won’t be able to watch movies every week.

But that’s okay, because I have some really important chances I don’t want to miss. It has taken me a long time to finally see the right priority; but I see it now, and I’m fine with it. I’ll probably be able to read The Imitation Game or complicated classics in the summer break for a little bit between the exams, the seminar, the paper and hopefully an internship.

Reading and blogging in 2015

This is not about my reading & writing resolutions for 2015. For me personally, new year’s resolutions are bullshit. I forget about them a few weeks after making them anyway. I set my goals too high and end up being irked that I didn’t meet them by the end of the year.

I do have plans, though, and I’d like to share them with you.

Reading-wise, I do not have a specific number of books I want to read. As briefly mentioned before, I am going to stop separating my new reads and re-reads – they are to be treated equally. Genre-wise, I’d like to read more non-fiction, especially those with a personal touch such as memoirs or essays, and literary fiction. I can slowly feel my tastes changing, and the fact is that I am leaning away from most of YA fiction and Nora Roberts (although I still have a lot of unread books in those areas, so I am still going to read them as my mood strikes).
I’d like to keep on doing my monthly reading themes because they help me to approach a new terrain with a sense of excitement. I also plan on reading classics for my Classics Club Challenge (by now I’m about 6 or 7 classics behind…), and especially North and South is a must-read because I promised in my Classics Club Questionnaire! I’d also like to read Twelfth Night since I just watched a 1996 adaptation of it and was highly amused, although I do tend to think my life experiences are not yet ripe enough for Shakespeare.
Ever since introducing my filter-system, I rarely buy books I end up regret doing so, so no problems there.

As to blogging, as long as I keep doing it, I am happy. Although I did realize that especially last year, a personal touch was missing. I do write in private on paper almost every day now but publishing them online to the whole wide world feels awkward. And yet there is this desire for me to do it – so I will, every once in a while.

The underlying theme in all aspects of my life, however, is practising self-care. And listening to my gut. I plan to make these my first priority, and in doing so I am trying not to feel guilty or ashamed or selfish about myself.

December Reading Theme: Irish Literature

For December, I decided to go with Irish Literature! For a person who has fallen in love with Dublin the first time she saw it more than three years ago, I have read shockingly little that is about Ireland or from an Irish author.

What I plan on reading: Dubliners by James Joyce, actually a re-read; The Love Object by Edna O’Brien; Out of Dublin by Ethel Rohan. I had originally planned to read Morgan Llwelyn’s 1916: A Novel of the Irish Rebellion, but then I found a book in a bookshop last month that I really wanted to read so I replaced it. I might read it still, if I am in the mood. Out of Dublin is a short book, but The Love Object is pretty chunky so they level each other out.
Let the fun begin, I say!

Dubliners Out of Dublin The Love Object

November Reading Theme

What-ho, people! Since The Classics Club is hosting a Victorian Literature Month and coupled with The Pickwick Papers read-along over at An Armchair By The Sea, I suddenly had an idea how to shape my reading in November.

The read-along starts mid-November but since I will try to finish the book by the end of this month, I’ll have to start reading The Pickwick Papers earlier. It’s a huge book, so that will have to be the only classic for the month. Going along with the Victorian theme, however, I will (obviously) reading Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger as well as The Traitor in the Tunnel by Y. S. Lee. So I’ve got three books to look forward to that are all set in Victorian England – one classic, one steampunk, one historical fiction!

Who needs the present anyway? Right?

The Pickwick Papers (Wordsworth Editions, black)Waistcoats & WeaponryThe Traitor in the Tunnel