Sunday, January 25, 2015

7 continents reading journey, part 1: China (+winter)



Reading this week: the first books for the "7 Continents, 7 Billion People, 7 Books Challenge", and the story of a winter journey on foot:

"A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" by Yiyun Li
My 7-continents reading journey around the world is starting in China, the country that ranks highest in the list of countries by population. About 1,37 billion people live in China, that's about 19% of the world population. (In comparison, the current population of Europe with all its countries is 742 million people, about 11% of the world population.)

But numbers don't really tell too much about the daily life in a country, and it was interesting already to go looking for books from China. In 2012, when Chinese author Mo Yan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, I read one of his book "Red Sorghum", a book with multiple timelines that reach back to the time when Japan invaded China. The red in the title refers both to the Communist party, and to all the blood that was shed. (more here: book fair days),

For the 7 continents, I looked for a more contemporary read - and found it in "A Thousand Years of Good Prayer". Here's the book summary from the Guardian book list "Best books on China":
"Li's prizewinning debut collection of 10 stories delves into the lives of everyday Chinese – both at home and in the US – struggling to cope with a fast-changing, new China." (more: Guardian list book list: The best books on China)
It's not a thick book, but it is a moving read, with every story conveying a different angle. One thing that becomes clear when reading through it: there are countless layers to China and the steps the country has gone through in the recent past, with Mao and his communism campaigns, and then the opening to communist-capitalism, the one-child-laws, and the student protests.

The most touching part of the book is the afterword by Yiyun Li, with her reflections on growing up in China, from the days of kindergarden and school, the witnessing of executions, and the time after the Tiananmen Square drama. Yiyun Li was a student in Peking at that time, and like many others, had to spent time in a military camp afterwards:
"It was the winter of 1991, and I was one of the freshmen of Peking University in the middle of a one-year brainwashing in a military camp in central China. The Harvard of China, as the university advertised itself, Peking University had been the hotbed of every student movement in Chinese history, including the one in 1989 in Tiananmen Square that ended in bloodshed. For the next four years, to immunize the incoming students to the disease that was called freedom, all freshmen were sent to the military for a year of brainwashing, or political reeducation, as it was called..."
You can read the whole afterword/essay online: "What has that to do with me?"

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"Wor(l)ds Apart" by Smitha Murthy and Dorothee Lang
Yiyun Li's stories and notes on life in China made me start to re-read "Wor(l)ds Apart", the book I wrote together with Smitha Murthy. The book, it started when Smitha was in China as a teacher, and I just had returned from India - and we happened to get into mail contact. "How is China? How does it feel to live there?" I asked in one of the first mails. And was amazed when she wrote back with notes from her journey. I still am stunned by the coincidence that brought this contact, and by the exchange of travel moments and stories it inspired. Below, the start of Smitha's journey notes. For more about the book, try these two links: the book page + the goodreads page: Worlds Apart.
"Bound by some hopes and spurred by some dreams – that’s how I arrived here in China. The earliest memory of China is of Beijing. Landing in Beijing, the first thing that strikes… having never travelled outside India is that the land smells different! Strange but true. The air has a different feel to it and the people… you realize that you are surrounded by people who don’t seem to be like you at all. People whom you realize only later are just the same… just like you. 
And the second thing that strikes you is the language. I hear sounds of a language unlike anything I have ever heard. I assume immediately, considering how difficult it was to carry on a normal conversation with even an average English speaker, that I would hardly be able to make friends here. How wrong I would be!..." 
Reading those pages also made me think that the things that remain are the things that feel fleeting: Journeys. Encounters. Words.

Revisiting books, that's also something I want to do more often this year, together with reading more globally. Yes, there are so many new books - but then, it's also a joy to revisit books and stories, and to see how reading them again feels different, and also brings back memories of the first reading, and the place / circumstances of that.

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"Germany, a Winter Journey" by Willi Winkler
In contrast / combination to the world books, I read the hike memoir from Willi Winkler, a German journalist who walked from Hamburg in the North of Germany to a town in Bavaria, in the South of Germany.
The thing that made his walk special: he walked in winter time, and followed the suggestions of his navigation guide. So he didn't take the most scenic route, but walked along all kind of roads and trails. Which lead to seeing the everyday-Germany, not the touristic / fancy one, not the most interesting cities and their attractions, but the usual small towns, villages, common roads, industrial areas, and the small suprises and encounters they hold. All this is accompanied by short reflections on life in Germany in these days.

A thoughtful, humorous and reflective read, and a reminder that most people in a country live in the not-wellknown places, and that the scenic tourist images you arrive at when you google "Germany winter" don't really show the way this season looks like in this country.

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Global Reading Challenge 2015 + Currently Reading:


For 2015, I try to read books / authors from different countries, the idea is to visit all continents. If you want to, join the reading challenge: 7 Continents, 7 Billion People, 7 Books - or just join the international facebook reading group.

In the previous book post, I put together some reading statistics and book memories of 2014 - so if you are into geeky reading statistics, try this link: A year in reading in geek statistics +  book memories

For more reading notes, click here: life as a journey with books. A reading list by regions is online at: World Reads by country


Saturday, January 24, 2015

on a walk

The new photo friday theme "on a walk" made me tour my archives.. and arrive at this walk from April last year:

 

the larger view, above...

...and one of the little moments along the walk, below in this photo:



The walk leads to a sightseeing spot with bench. I tried to capture this special moment of walking along the trail, past trees, and then arriving at this open view:



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more walks from around the world: photo friday

Friday, January 23, 2015

sky friday: birds on a wire



A bird moment from today - that was in the middle of town. I noticed the birds while walking to the bakery. When I walked past the place again a bit later, all the birds were gone.

The photo above is a play with colors. In reality, the skies basically had exactly one color since last Monday: grey. And more grey.

Here's the original photo:



More sky moments from everywhere: sky friday

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

the sum of it



This enclosed surprise
to find a sea
in seasons,
a ring
in spring,
a win
in winter,
all
in fall
--------
and the sum of it
in summer

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Note...
The moments that are up in my photo blog right now, as shown in the collage above: I picked them by color, and by the current photo themes "shadowed" and "serenity" - but in their current "sum", they cover all seasons, and elements, in such a good unplanned balance that makes me hesitate to add a new photo and shift the serenity of it...   


Sunday, January 18, 2015

a year of reading in geek statistics + book memories



At the start of the year, I spent some time sorting my books and bookshelves... and later came across some reading statistics in book blogs with geeky diagrams which made me curious for my own reading. So I put some statistics together, starting with the number of printed books compared with e-books, the  ratio of male and female authors. From there, I moved on to other angles, for example:  the continents the books are from / or are set in. It is interesting, to revisit the year from that angle.

This blog post includes the diagrams, and also some my favorite reads. It also includes some quotes and notes, so that it isn’t all about numbers. The diagrams are all organized in the same way, comparing my reading year 2014 with 2013 - the red columns are the 2014 numbers, and the blue columns are for 2013.

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Reading: e-books and printed books

The first diagram shows the shift to e-books in my reading. I started to read the first books on an e-reader in the summer of 2012. In 2013, about a fifth of the books I read were e-books – which grew to more than 50% in 2014:

 

There are several reasons for me to read e-books: you can easily take several books along wherever you go. And it's often much easier to get the e-book version of a book, especially with foreign books. Plus, with the option to read excerpts, I regularly try books out of curiosity, which I probably wouldn't have read otherwise. Here's a quote from my reading notes, from the island time in May:
"That's one of the special joys for me, starting long before leaving already: to pick the books to take to the island. With the e-reader, that is easier: you can take a library with you in a pocket. Still, you need to know which books you want to read."
The "book pile" I brought to the island looked like this: "On Looking", a paperback & another of my fav reads of the year, and several e-books (here's the reading note: island reads): 



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Reading: Female / Male Authors

Another interesting diagram: the effect of the #readwomen initiative, which gave the impulse to look for a balance of female and male authors in my reading - something I had done before, but then my focus shifted to world reads. Here’s how that looks in numbers:


 

Turned out, in 2013 more than the half of books I read were from male authors. In 2014, this shifted to a balance of 40% female and 36% male authors. The “missing” 24% are short story collections or story/poetry collections, which feature both male and female authors (more about that, below).



The "readwomen" impulse made me go and look for world reads by women, and arrive at some compelling reads - like the "In Her Place" online collection, and "Reading Lolita in Teheran", a memoir about a (forbidden) reading group of former students and her teacher in Iran, one of the most difficult reads for me this year, but also one of the best. Here's my reading note, and here's a quote from the book:
“The novels were an escape from reality in the sense that we could marvel at their beauty and perfection. Curiously, the novels we escaped into led us finally to question and prod our own realities, about which we felt so helplessly speechless.” - Azar Nafisi
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Reading: Collections

As mentioned above already, I read more collections in 2014: almost a third of the books I read belonged to that format (this includes online collections, too.) Most of the collections had a global or regional theme, and I found them while looking for world reads. A book that is typical for these reads is the “One World” short story collection:


"One World" is an attempt to redefine the borders of the world we live in through short stories, (and).. recognizes the many conflicting issues of race, language, economy, gender and ethnicity, which separate and limit us...."
Other collections that were remarkable reads: “Pepperpot” - Carribean stort stories: a collection that takes you to the reality of islands like Jamaica, Trinidad or Antigua, beyond the touristic beach photos. "The Places We’ve Been: Snapshots Across the Globe": this is a collection of 48 vivid and transportive, personal and original nonfiction pieces that portray contemporary snapshots across the globe.

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Reading: Type of books

Looking at the different formats of books shows my interests and preferences are rather mixed: I like to read memoirs, novels, collections, and non-fiction books. Plus, I read graphic novels regularly (which is connected to one of my freelance works).

Altogether, these preferences remained pretty constant in 2014 and 2013. The only larger difference between the years is a shift from novels to story collections.



So this is how a rather typical mix of my "currently reading" books looks like: two memoirs, a novel, and a story collection (here's more about the books: reading from Chile to Paris):


This photo also shows the mix of where my books are coming from: Canetti's "Marrakesh" memoir is a book from my bookshelf that I revisited (and originally bought in a shop), the Kundera novel and the Marquez memoir are chance finds from the "book box" (more about that, below), and the fiction collection from Romania is a gift from the book fair. Which leads to the next diagram:

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Source of books: book box & library 

Many of the books I read are books that I buy online or in a bookshop or second hand. And there are books that I have read already, but read again, or keep revisiting. Altogether, that's about 10%, and the books I revisit regularly are mostly reflective: "The Wisdom of no escape","Pilgrim at Tinker Creek",   "The Happiness Project"What book? Buddha poems...

But there also are two other, more random sources for my reading: the library, and the "book box". The book box is a telephone box that some people turned into an open free book exchange by installing shelves. It’s open, and without any guard or security: you can just go in, look at the books that are there, bring some books from your own shelves to share, and take some books in exchange. Surprisingly, it works really well, and stopping there always feels a bit like a game of chance: will there be an interesting book waiting? So far, the answer almost always has been yes.

 

I noticed that since I started to visit the bookbox, I went to the library less often - the book box was the "new library" in some ways, with this different, slightly wild concept. Counting books, it was interesting to see that the book box and the library swapped places, Combined, 20% of the books I read came from the two places.

Below is a photo of the book box, and here's a neat little story from there: "No princess books")



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Reading: by continents

And finally, a look at my reading from a global angle, sorted by the continents the books belong to (mainly that means: nationality of author, or when that makes more sense, by the country they belong to). I first sorted the list by continents, and then realized it would make sense to add a column for my own homecountry, Germany, and on the other end of the range, a "world" column for books and short story collections with a global focus.
Turns out, about 10% of my reads focus on German authors and their writing, and about 50% on the   "Western hemisphere": Europe and North America.

The other 40% of my reading focuses on the other parts of the world: Asia, South America, Africa. On first glance it looks as if those numbers decreased a bit in 2014, but that's balanced by the additional "World" column.


Reading more globally kept adding different views to the world, and different cultures to my year. It's something I really enjoyed, and often reading a book from a certain country then made me notice news or docus or films from that country afterwards.

For 2015, I want to continue to read books / authors from different countries. The plan is to visit all continents this year. The thing about those books is that they usually aren't on top of the usual bestseller lists, but looking for them so far brought interesting surprises - in a way, the internet itself is like a "book box" once you go looking with a different angle. That's also why I started the reading challenge again, with links to world book resources. More about the challenge, and some other book and reading links, below.

If you put together some book statistics, too, or a reflection on your reading, I would love to have a look - would be great if you leave a link in the comments. Here's to a splendid reading year 2015!

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Reading links + Global reading challenge


Reading Challenge: The idea of the 7 Continents, 7 Billion People, 7 Books Reading Challenge is to explore the world by books from different continents and countries, and by visiting various world lists while planning the reads, to encounter the one or other unknown angle and fact about our world.

For more reading notes in this blog, click here: life as a journey with books and a reading list by regions is online at: World Reads by country

Here's the geeky reading blog with statistics that inspired this post: Doing Dewey 2014 Reading Wrap-Up. It links to yet another blog which even includes a reading-spreadsheet to download.

And here's the reflection of author Ayelet Tsabari, who focused on reading authors of color for a year, and the insights and reactions this focus evoked: My year of reading only writers of colour.



Saturday, January 17, 2015

(before) sunrise + 70 names for rain



The skies are mostly cloudy here this january, but yesterday evening the stars were out. they brought back the memory of the before-sunrise skies of January, with Venus showing as "morning star".

Here's another before-sunrise moment, with moon and Venus:



And a sky story: the current issue of Asymptote magazine features a rain story: "Rain is a thing that happens in the past" by Martina Bastos, a Spanish writer from Galicia, where they have more than 70 names for rain:
We have more than seventy words for "rain" in Galicia. Froalla if it falls alongside sunshine, corisca if it comes down with snow, arroia if it fills up ponds, poalla if it's slow to soak, sarabia if it rains hailstones, chuvasca if it brings the wind, treboa if it comes with thunder, orballa when it's light, babuña when it's vicious, pingota if the drops are fat, mera if there's dense fog, batega if it's fleeting and barruña if it persists. It's logical: language adapts according to its environment and the rain is a frequent guest in our lives. 
Galicians treat the rain with a confidence of a friend—one who we forgive everything. We worry if it's late and implore it not to leave. ...Galicians feel less alone in the rain. It's an accomplice with whom we share both terrain and emotional memory: a relative with a spare set of keys to the house, free to turn up unannounced precisely because we're always expecting him.
Here in Germany, we have several words for rain, too. Rain is "Regen" in German, which works both as verb and noun. Depending on the intensity and length, a "Regen" can be a "Schauer" (short rain), "Nieselregen" (long light rain),  "Wolkenbruch" (strong rain, literally a "cloud break"), a "Guss" (heavy short rain)... To specify the rain, there often is a word added to it: snowy rain is "Schneeregen", rain during a storm is "Gewitterregen",  and there are also names referrering to certain rainy seasons with their own typical rain: "Sommerregen" (summer rain), "Aprilregen" (with April being the typical month of weather swings).
"Regen" also has a second meaning in German: it means "movement" or "to move".

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For more sky moments from around the world, visit skywatch friday, and/or photo friday, which is all about "sunrise" this week.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

macro moments & a picture is..






Two colorful garden moments for the current photo friday challenge "Macro", from summer days of the past. Right now, most of the garden is sleeping. But the first early spring flowers are waking already, in tiny new green sprouts.

And two photo quotes, one of a name sister of mine:
“A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.”  - Diane Arbus
“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” - Dorothea Lange
More macro moments from everywhere: photo friday

Sunday, January 11, 2015

the second round of chemo & my hair, falling



I am in the second round of chemotherapy now. The first chemo session was some days before christmas, and the rhythm is 3-weekly. So last Friday was the next date.

A thing I knew that would happen when I started chemotherapy, but it still feels strange: my hair now is starting to fall, as a side-effect of the medication. It's not happening right away, though: the effects of the chemo treatment come in different waves. The first wave is the direct impact: nausea, especially in the first days after the treatment. Which gets smoothed by medication that balances the nausea.

The second impact of chemo is delayed, affecting cells that grow faster than the average body cells: cancer cells. But also: leukozyte cells in the blood. And hair cells. Leukozytes reach their low point 2 weeks after the treatment - that was the first week of January for me. During that time, I got antibiotics for some days, until the leukozyte count was rising again. The most dangereous thing for me at this point is getting an infection or a cold – things that my immune system would need to handle, but would be limited in doing so. So shoveling snow is fine, but taking the train and hanging out in a shopping mall and being surrounded by many people (and their potential viruses) is the more dangerous thing. So far I am lucky, and didn't catch a cold or anything else.

The leukozyte low point is also the point when the hair tends to fall. It started slowly, but the others told me already that when it starts, it often happens quickly: that there first are a few hairs falling, and then in the evening, you draw your shirt over your head when you undress, and end up with a shirt that is full of falling hair. Sometimes, I found myself gently tugging at a curl, to see what happens. Emotional, it’s a mix of odd and sad.



The photo above is after the first larger loss of hair. I ended up cutting the remaining hair to neck-length. That was some days ago. Now maybe the half of back then is remaining, and I wear a hoodie. And try to see it as an experience. It feels kind of like a nasty joke of the meds, though, to have this side effect: we will help, but you will be bald.  And the loss of hair, it both is taking a part of your personality away - and it takes the treatment to the outside. You get reminded of it whenever you look in a mirror.

The other difficulty of the treatment is its cyclic character: you get the first treatment, you feel bad for some days, then you start to feel better while your leukozytes start to slide down and you actually are more vulnerable. And when you feel well again, and the leukozytes are up, the next cycle starts. And after it, the next. And then, the next... It's like a marathon, with every cycle leaving your body a level weaker, while there is still more way to go.

Right now, I am on the third day of the second cycle, and I still feel low and worn out. From tomorrow on, I probably will start to feel better. At least that's how it worked the last time, and so far things are happening in similar patterns. Which makes it easier to deal with: to know what will happen and what to expect.

The task will be to stay on the positive side of things, and not get too frustrated and tired along the way. And to enjoy the days that are better, instead of thinking of the lower days. To find ways to cheer myself up, with simple, little things. Like this owl napkin.



Looking at the year, and reading the new-year-notes of others, I noticed how some picked a word for this year. Which made me think: "2015 will be the year of healing for me." Which sounds so much more positive than “the year of chemo and related treatments”.

I am glad that so far, after the first days, things pick up again and I even feel close to normal for a while, at least for a part of the day. And so far, I didn't get bad headaches, which are another possible side-effect. Which means, I can still work, and write, and read. And I am really grateful for that - it makes such a difference to have other themes that are part of the day, and have a feeling of normality, beyond all, or rather: beyond those first overshadowed days.

And reading: thinking about the books I want to read, and of wider horizons, I started to read around the world again. The idea is to visit all 7 continents this year in books. And with the troubled world news of these days, hopefully this will bring some positive and beautiful sides of the world. At the same time, the news is a reminder that the world right now holds a lot of dark sides, and that there are so many who have to go through troubling times.

Related links:
If you are interested in world books, here's more about the word reads: 7 continents, 7 billion people, 7 books reading challenge. Or you can simply join the facebook group, to share reading notes.

I now started to mark all blog posts about this shadow journey with a tag, you can click here to read them: C is for cancer, and for courage, too