Buddhism: Tools for Living Your Life

Buddhism: Tools for Living Your Life

 
Recently, I’ve been introduced to the teachings of Buddhism. Over the past few months, a good friend of mine has taught me how to meditate. At first I thought I would be really distracted and constantly thinking over my to-do list, but actually I found meditation really insightful and calming and I think it has began to alter the way that I perceive things in my daily life. The idea of this mindfulness is that you can apply it to every day life. My friend said that sometimes a negative external or internal factor can “hit” us, like an arrow (as in bow and arrow), and often we “hit” ourselves with another arrow, in the form of worrying, stressing, dwelling. This book teaches methods of meditation, questions you can ask yourself, and ways of being mindful to just accept whatever happens in life, and to acknowledge feelings of dissatisfaction etc, and positive feelings too and just accept them. This is practised through meditation by acknowledging and accepting any thoughts you may have, but not indulging in them. This also works for physical things, if you are uncomfortable or have an itch, you attempt not to shift around, and just accept the feeling and return your attention to your breathing. Although this can be hard to do, I feel like practising meditation has helped me to be less prone to stress. For someone like me who has spent most of their life trying to control every thing to ensure perfection, being able to practise the action of just accepting was quite the revelation!!
 
I really loved this book, although it is the first book on Buddhist teachings that I have read so I don’t have any others to compare it to.  I found it interesting, insightful, clear and concise. I’m particularly interested in meditation and mindfulness at the moment as it is currently being introduced as a therapeutic technique in line with an upcoming aspect of psychology known as positive psychology. This is the idea that changing thought processes in people of all ages can really benefit them in terms of how they perceive events and situations, to in turn help issues such as mental health and education. I would definitely recommend this book, but it also really helps to have someone to teach you meditation in person :) 
 
 

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

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Hello everyone! Apologies for being so absent from my blog in the past month – it’s been pretty busy for me, and I’m still nowhere near to finishing ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ – the book I started back in March (or possibly February…?). As Twelve Years wasn’t keeping my attention, I decided to peruse the Cardiff Central library – a cave of absolute treasures (complete with a grand piano!!) and one of the first treasures I discovered ‘Attachments’ by Rainbow Rowell. 

Ok I just want to say, I seriously loved this book. Although it didn’t *quite* keep my attention at all times, it really was fantastic to read and get immersed in. At several points while reading this, I got completely captured and spent hours reading, only to have that wonderful feeling when you come out and have to remind yourself of what is real in your life and what’s the fiction you’ve just been reading :P

This book was so great because it really emphasised the difference between how one perceives themselves and how one is perceived, although that was definitely not the main theme, it was one I particularly enjoys. ‘Attachments’ follows the story of Lincoln who has a kind of strange job where he has to monitor how the employees of a media company use their work internet, and ends up following some emails that are flagged up by colleagues and friends Jennifer and Beth. Lincoln enjoys reading their emails (not in a creepy way) and we get to know them through a series of emails they send to each other (although they seem to spend more time sharing news over email rather than actually seeing each other – they are in the same building after all – so may be slightly unrealistic. I’m sure some conversations would be best kept to lunch times). Beth begins to discuss ‘her cute guy’ that she sees around the office, and it is only a bit of the way into the book that we find out that she’s talking about Lincoln! I think this was quite a cool way of the difference between the way that Lincoln describes/refers to himself and the way he is perceived by others. It is not expected that he would be considered cute from the way he narrates the story from his side.

I don’t really have much more to say, there’s a lot more to it, but to find out you’ll have to just read it. I would definitely recommend this book – really enjoyable, a bit of a chick lit but with a twist! 

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

It took me quiiite a while to finish this novel, and at some points I just wasn’t really sure what to make of it. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka is… different. I sat there for a couple of minutes just thinking “what adjective can I use?”. I was going to say “sweet” but it’s not really sweet given some of the lewd references throughout the story. I also thought of “heartfelt” but then, I thought twice about that one too. So it’s different, but in a good way.

From the perspective of Nadia, the younger sister of two, it portrays her dealing with her elderly father and his nonsensical decisions. Her father is in his eighties, and decides to marry the Valentina, who is from Ukrainian and would like to live in the UK, please. Although Nadia and her big sister, Vera, both see that Valentina is playing their father for a fool, for his money, he is adamant that their love is real.

I found the characters really interesting in this novel. The fact that Nadia and Vera are both middle aged, yet they still treat each other like big sister and little sister was very quite entertaining. I also enjoyed the fact that quite flawlessly the narration dipped in and out of the family history so you gain a further understanding for each character through snippets of the past, and the events of the present.  However, I think this novel was meant to be comedic, and although it wasn’t dark by any means, I didn’t find it particularly amusing. For me, this was one of those books that I kind of enjoyed; I liked it while I read it and then when I put it down it didn’t draw me back in again very easily.

The Fault in Our Stars

‘The Fault in Our Stars’ by John Green is a novel that I was given for my 21st birthday from one of my best friends. At the time, I enjoyed the book but wasn’t overly affected by the characters or the content. For me then, it was one of those books that I enjoyed while reading but then didn’t think much about after I’d put it down.

This time, however, it was a completely different experience.

It follows the story of 16 year-old Hazel who has terminal lung cancer. At support group, she meets the handsome Augustus Waters who turns her world upside down. Often, in my experience anyway, reading a male author’s perspective of a teenage girl is usually a bit cringe (take Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder for instance – a book about philosophy, but because the protagonist is 14 year old, in the midst of all this intense philosophical ramblings, Gaarder feels the need to slip in the fact that Sophie’s on her period. Thank you Mr. Relevant). With The Fault in Our Stars though, John Green is able to realistically talk from the perspective of a teenage girl. The story is beautiful, heart breaking, educational, inspiring and magic, and it really reels you in. I loved the characters, they are so beautifully developed with such rich personalities. The way the characters banter with each other is so realistic of being a teenager, there are running jokes within the book, and so many important things to think about and consider. It opened my eyes to consider a person’s perspective that I hadn’t really considered before – that’s all you can ask of a book really, isn’t it?

I really REALLY enjoyed this book and I really want to read every other novel John Green has written. Please read this, it really is fantastic. The film comes out in March, I have watched the trailer approximately 1 million times.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

So over the past week and half, I have been re-reading We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, and it was quite an intense experience! However, I am so happy to be coming back to this blog and being able to tell you all about it. 

So, the story is about Eva, an ambitious globe trotter with a series of successful travel guides behind her, decides to have a child. Well, she kind of decides, in a moment of panic about wanting her husband to be around forever. But when she has the child, she finds him hard to love and from the moment he was born she starts to feel resentful towards him. He does not immediately take to breast feeding – which she takes as a personal affront and shuns him in return. 

The story was incredibly powerful and very disturbing. Eva talks of Kevin as though he is an intruder in her perfect life, ruining everything, when no child asks to be born. She describes him and his upbringing in a series of letters to her husband Franklin as a malicious child, hurting people’s feelings deliberately. The amazing thing about this book is the series of events that Eva describes as manipulative, malicious acts, can quite easily be thought of from another angle as just things a child might do who doesn’t know any better. There is an incredibly well defined uneasiness on the topic of who is unreasonable. The first time I read this, I took Eva’s word as gospel. The second time I read this, I came at it with a more critical view point. Kevin has problems, we know that. It is no secret that the whole book is centred around the fact that 16 year-old Kevin committed a mass murder at his high school. Eva tells the story as though it has all been Kevin’s fault right from the start – he was born evil and it was nothing to do with her. But then you are encouraged to take the perspective that it could be Eva’s “fault” (I don’t believe it’s anybody’s fault in this scenarios, but a consequence of a variety of factors) which explores the well trodden path of nature vs nurture. I found this an incredible read, even more powerful the second time through, and I felt so much more for the characters. 

It’s so true, as my mum always said that books speak different things to you at different times of your life. 

The only thing I have a little problem with is the fact that Lionel Shriver (female) has never been a mother. Not that I think that’s massively important, but a little part of me wonders about the evolutionary factors involved when we have a child that gives us a cocktail of hormones making us perceive our children to be wondrous little angels. Is it possible to have a child and simply not love it? I don’t know, in all honesty, but I hope not! From an evolutionary perspective, it seems pretty illogical for that to happen. 

My 52 Books Success!!

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Well after a pretty excellent year I’ve come to the end of my 52 books project successfully! I’m so pleased that I managed to do this, and it just goes to show that there’s always time in the day to pick up a book and start reading more. There were so many books in my list that I had been intending to read for ages and I feel so great to have finally read them, and to be safe in the knowledge that I could pick up any book now and complete it, even if I like to tell myself I’m too busy. I’ve proved to myself now that I can do this and this year in particular I’ve had a lot going on – I’ve moved house twice, lived in three places, had about a million different jobs and have faced a lot of change and uncertainty, and having that escape in reading and an activity to fill an idle hour has been so awesome! 

Although I’ve completely loved this project, I am really looking forward to picking up some old favourites, and re-reading a few books that I’ve seen this year and told myself not to. I’m definitely going to keep up this blog though and continue to review/document the books I’ve been reading. I’ve really loved keeping up this blog and it’s been a fantastic source of inspiration to keep going so thank you so much for reading/commenting – I really appreciate it! 

So without further ado, here is my completed list of the 52 books I have read this year. I have put a little star next to the ones I particularly enjoyed (that’s not to say I didn’t like the others but the stars are for the ones I particularly loved) :) 

1) Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – Paul Torday
2) Life of Pi – Yann Martel* 
3) How to Be a Woman – Caitlin Moran
4) The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson*
5) The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka*
6) Before I Go To Sleep – S. J. Watson
7) A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
8) The Five People You Meet in Heaven – Mitch Alborn*
9) Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
10) Room – Emma Donoghue*
11) I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith
12) Into the Darkest Corner – Elizabeth Haynes*
13) Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden*
14) The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
15) The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year – Sue Townsend
16) The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce*
17) Wonder – R. J. Palacio 
18) Mister Pip – Lloyd Jones
19) Misery – Stephen King*
20) A Room with a View – E.M. Forster
21) The Silver Linings Playbook – Matthew Quick
22) Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
23) Animal Liberation – Peter Singer
24) Fifty Shades of Grey – E. L. James
25) The Language Instinct – Steven Pinker
26) The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky*
27) The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini*
28) Shutter Island – Dennis Lehane*
29) The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman
30) Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
31) A Spot of Bother – Mark Haddon
32) Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
33) A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess*
34) The Road – Cormac McCarthy*
35) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
36) Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen
37) The Glass Castle – Jeannette Walls*
38) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
39) The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
40) The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks*

41) Helping Hands – Tim Watkins
42) Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk
43) Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen*
44) Billy and Me – Giovanna Fletcher*
45) Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks*
46) The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien 
47) The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupery*
48) Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins*
49) Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins 
50) The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
51) Holes – Louis Sachar
52) Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf*

And there we have it! A year well spent I think! 

Book 52: Mrs Dalloway

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Hooray! Here we are finally at book number 52 – Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. 

I’ve got to say, I did really enjoy this book despite the time limitations I had to read it in – but I’m very happy to say I finished it at 11:30pm on the 10th January 2014 – with 30 minutes to spare!! 

This novel was lovable, sort of in a Jane Austen kind of way, with a lot of intelligent social commentary, but then it had a bit of a quirky edge to it too. The most exciting part was when Mrs Dalloway was recalling how fond she was of sharing a kiss with a certain Sally Seton… lesbians in the early 1900s!! How risqué. 

For those of you who may not know, Mrs Dalloway is a novel following a 51-year-old protagonist, set in just one day as we follow Clarissa Dalloway around London, rifling through her memories as she explores her beloved city of London. I really enjoyed this segment of the book, her descriptions of London intertwined with her memories as she fondly recalls some events, and not so fondly recalls others. The main story is in her preparations for a party she is holding at her house that evening, and most of the characters recalled in her memories are present at the party. As I said, the book is pretty out there for the time it was written, which I think gives it a certain charm and mischievousness. I very much enjoyed Woolf’s style of writing; a lot of commas I noticed, broken up sentences, and added thought, here and there, wherever she deemed them appropriate, followed by the occasional; unnecessary semi-colon.

My one qualm with it that I would like to say though – before reading it I learned that this novel was sort of a product of two seperate stories spliced together; one of Mrs Dalloway and one of the Prime Minister – and you can totally tell!! It would have been better off getting this ridiculous prime minister sub-plot out the way and hearing more about Clarissa – I can’t tell you how much I wasn’t even vaguely interested in the prime minsters story. Other than that though it was fantastic and a very nice introduction into Woolf’s writing style and a fantastic note to end on for my successful 52 books project!!