The Book Lover?

July 26, 2012

Having entitled myself the 'Book Lover' I haven't exactly had an abundance of posts about books, literature, or reading. The word 'farce' might spring to mind.
However, here is my long-awaited first novel of the summer, and how desperate I have been to begin, (I had to ban myself so that it wouldn't interfere with the revision for my exams)

Anna Karenina
Well one of the reasons for my delay is because it took me forever. I would say I'm a fairly quick reader, but with a lot going on and a pretty hefty sized book, it took me a while. 

A quote from the blurb epitomises the novel for me, it is a 'brilliant, multi-layered depiction of an entire society'. It astounds me how Tolstoy was able to capture and communicate such deep, profound and poignant emotions that are experienced, often unknowingly, in: love, joy, hurt, confusion, upset, deception, and death.
The novel contrasts different views of love, marriage, religion, and the purpose of life through several families, (the Oblonksys, the Karenins, and the Levins) all of whom are interconnected, but who follow different principles in living their lives. The theme of parenthood is prevalent throughout and the dynamics within relationships are intricately described.

What I enjoyed:

  • The language and wording is simply beautiful and is what has always attracted me to 19th Century literature. Tolstoy is the master of description, carefully crafting his prose, but allowing them to remain pure and free from seeming contrived. 
In describing his guests
'..he meant to ask the well-known crank and enthusiast Pestsov, a Liberal and a great talker, a musician and historian, and the dearest of fifty-year-old boys, who would serve as a sauce or condiment to Koznyshev and Karenin; while he himself, Oblonksy, would stir them all up..' 
As Kitty goes into labour
'Little as there was affectation and conventionality in Kitty's general character, yet Levin was astonished at what was revealed to him now that every veil had fallen and the very kernel of her soul shone through her eyes
In Anna's climatic fatal chapter
'hope and despair, alternately chafing the old sores, lacerated the wounds of her tortured and violently fluttering heart'

  • Something that I have never experienced before is such a conflict of feelings towards the characters and the way in which I ought to perceive them:
Is Anna guilty and to be condemned, or brave, passionate, independent and worthy of our respect? Does she humiliate her generous and accepting husband?

Is Karenin cruel; indifferent; insufferably cold and emotionless; and overwhelmingly concerned with his professional life and the male sphere, at the expense of Anna's happiness?

Why should Vronsky be exempt from the condemnation and cruelty of society given his very prominent role in the fall and subsequent degradation of his married lover?

  • Their acute and subtle emotions are represented in such a realistic and credible way- with regards to the quarrels between lovers, but the immense power of this emotion is handled skilfully by Tolstoy. Even the conflict within our own thoughts and the frequent contradictions that arise within us are present. Tolstoy elucidates our own fickle attitude from an overwhelming passionate love, to the absence of it- and the very rapid dissipation between these two binary oppositions.
  • I love reading about courtship, and the courtship in this novel is perfectly tragic, dramatic, but romantic. The characters are not without flaws, but that is why they are so believable and why, for me, Kitty and Levin are so endearing as a naive couple that grow, as does their love, into an experienced married one. Levin is a character for whom my fondness grew, and it is he who acts as the voice of Tolstoy's own thoughts and on whom Levin is based, (more on Tolstoy in another post.)

On the other hand, if you need a lot of action and get bored by long 'transgressions' from the plot then you might not like this book. The 800 + pages aren't for the impatient reader. Sometimes it would be argued that it's difficult to justify such a number of pages, but in this instance, and whilst Tolstoy wasn't obviously concerned with being succinct, I did a) not mind, and b) enjoyed the (unnecessary) depth of description.
This was primarily due to my small knowledge of some of the topics concerned. There can be nothing better than reading a novel and it relating, reinforcing, or extending your previous knowledge. In my first year of A-levels I studied Russian history and thus the references to the landed gentry and their relationship with the serfs after their emancipation in 1861, the reference to Russification, and the feeling of liberalism and revolution in conflict with authoritarian Tsars, were particularly interesting to me.
Ultimately however, if you have no interest in reading about agriculture you might struggle with getting through large chunks of text regarding this issue. There are two main plots, of which adultery and love concerning Anna Karenina, constitutes only one.
The depth in which Tolstoy writes about education, art, philosophy, science, economics etc can be overwhelming.

As such, if you enjoy feeling as if you had learnt something then this novel is perfectly capable of awarding you that pleasure with the plethora of social issues it examines and comments upon. 
The book certainly makes you question yourself and your beliefs and in that way appears timeless, despite the very precise societal influences, and the general context which is set so distinctly in time and place.

The novel is original and for that reason it doesn't seek to occupy itself with likeable characters, pleasant encounters, and a happy plot, but the aspects that the reader struggles to plow through is what makes it such a realistic commentary on life and such a rewarding read.

So if you think you might enjoy the book, I certainly recommend giving it a try. If you have already read it I would love to hear what you thought.

..Lastly, and irrelevantly, if you want a book that will impress others, this is a safe bet. The number of people who commented on it, (whilst I read it on my break at work), mostly in shock that someone in the modern day could find the time or even enjoy a book is pretty shocking in itself. Indeed, according to one of my colleagues, reading a book that is 'larger than the width of my finger' is completely absurd and should not be embarked upon ..

Camel riding

July 17, 2012

During our stay we went on one sole trip, but an integral one. It was the Camel Safari, which I was treated to by my boyfriend- and what a treat it was. We were driven into the desert where great sand 'mountains' enveloped us as our modern and air-conditioned coach penetrated the empty and flat landscape. Occasionally we came across Bedouin settlements where one of the basic buildings was amusingly juxtaposed with a satellite dish on its tin roof! 

We sat down in the Bedouin tent for Hibiscus tea before our camel ride. 

My boyfriend and I rode side by side, guided by a young boy, on our respective Camels. I insist that our camels were in love as they animalistically and affectionately brushed and bumped their heads together. The ride was lovely and scenic; the dismount was a little frightening, (they rapidly and unexpectedly buckled their back legs.)

Subsequently we walked up a small hill to watch the sun set and admire our surroundings from an aerial view.

The sunset itself wasn't absolutely breathtaking, but the view and landscape undeniably was. The colours were so vivid and everywhere we turned were different hues of yellow, blue and red.
We then enjoyed our authentic dinner before stargazing which marked the end of what had been a truly memorable evening.

I would certainly recommend the trip if you have the chance. Now that I have crossed off Camels from my list, Elephants are next!


July 13, 2012

My boyfriend and I took a trip to Egypt
It was probably my most anticipated holiday ever given that I used it as motivation to believe that there really was light at the end of the melancholy and mundane, infinite, and dark exam tunnel.

Was it all that I hoped for and more? Well, in short, yes.
We went to Sharm El Sheik'h and after stepping off the aeroplane we instantly knew we weren't in Europe. Later we were to find out that we were neither in Africa, but, to our surprise, Asia. Thus many asian and arabian influences were immediately evident, and certainly made for a very different culture to any I have revelled in before.

Our days were spent basking in the sun, relaxing in the impressive pools, drinking tequila sunrises at the Beach Bar, snorkelling, and, of course, reading. 

We found ourselves this secret hiding place from which we had a delightful view and complete solitude.

The fish were incredible with a wide variety of colourful species: from the parrot fish, to a striking shoal- one which caused my boyfriend to fear for his life due to his small graze, from the day before, which had obviously attracted an unwelcome visitor in the form of a shark.. Meanwhile I enjoyed the turquoise company that swam elegantly underneath me taking in the sublime nature of the underwater world.

Of course it was then time for drinks, to calm his poor nerves and to cool down.
Enjoying a coffee on the balcony felt very sophisticated and was just as pleasurable as spending time at the pool side, but with the comfort of a little shade.We tried to fit in as much as we could whilst simultaneously relaxing a little. I say relaxing, but unfortunately, for my boyfriend, my alarm was set every morning before 8am- well we wouldn't want to waste the day would we!One morning we even got up to watch the sun rise at 4.30am, but I did allow us to return to bed. It was perfectly calm and silent.

I had a thoroughly enjoyable time, and can't wait for my next holiday. Egypt was a lovely place to visit and especially romantic and luxurious. It was wonderful spending a week away, and the company wasn't too bad either! It's just as well I'm back home now though as I have plenty of things to get on with and normality to grudgingly return to. Normality that means that I can drink as much of the tap water as I desire when brushing my teeth, consume copious amounts of Tea; but normality which doesn't allow for my hair or clothes to dry within minutes of being outdoors, nor for me to prance about in anything less than a jumper, jeans, a bobble hat and scarf, (well, almost!)

I hope that those of you who have been away, who are going on holiday, or those who are revelling in the delights of their own country, enjoy everything they get up to. I also wish that anyone who isn't holidaying has a lovely, or, at least, pleasant time- basically I wish that you are all well and happy.

..There's more from Egypt to follow!

Third the one with the hairy chest

July 11, 2012

And then after that we never knew them, fourth the golden eagle? Who knows, but after quickly googling them, (as you do), I discovered some interesting ones - disappointingly we never reached Sixth the one in the washing machine..
Moving on, swiftly..

The poached egg is a simple and tasty accompaniment to a dish, or one in itself, but getting it just right takes a little practice. In my opinion there are a few components and measures to make the perfect hardened, but runny egg. 
For me, these include: 
  • The means of binding of the egg,
  • The amount of water used,
  • The temperature at which the egg is cooked, 
  • The time for which it is cooked

  • Crack an egg into a ramekin, both to ensure it isn't a bad egg, and so that it can enter the water easily. 
  • Boil some water in the kettle, (and why not boil enough for a cup of tea at the same time), pour it into a small pan -about 3cm worth, it's important not to use too much water which will overcook it.
  • Splash a little vinegar to bind the egg white, then whisk into a whirlpool.
  • Pour the egg into the water by placing the ramekin into the water itself,(this will hopefully allow the white to form around the yolk.)
Turn the heat down so that it is gently bubbling and cook on a low setting for 3minutes. 
With 30 seconds to go, lift the egg out using a drainer (as pictured in the top photo), and with the back of a fork, check how hard the yolk has become. If you're happy then remove it, but usually the full 3 minutes will do the trick.
Now drain the egg and serve as you wish. Personal favourites : combined with smoked salmon and steamed asparagus.
Or just with a sprinkling of pepper and ideally a nice thick piece of bread.

Enjoy! I hope this helps you to develop your perfect version of a poached egg.
Please let me know how you get on, or if you have any variations of your own.