Books, sketchbook

Not islands, but a life

Finally this year, the travel bug bit me hard. As we have all discovered, one can only do so much within the confines of one’s own home, and so I started reading travel books.

One part of Monisha Rajesh’s journey

After finishing Around the World in 80 Trains, I read From the Alleghenies to the Hebrides by Margaret Fay Shaw. She was a folklorist, a collector of Gaelic music, and an early photographer, and in this book she shares how it was, living in the remote Scottish island of Uist between 1925 – 1935.

The book was so detailed it was as if we were right there, looking over her shoulder. I think she must have kept diaries to be able to remember in such great detail.

Here’s a sketch that I made while reading about what they usually ate there.

“Don’t watch it being made, or you’ll never want to eat it again!”

Every once in a while you end up reading something that you don’t usually read, and this was one such book. Ms Shaw’s voice comes through joyously through the pages after all these years, and I ended the book thinking that she must have been quite a nice person to know.

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Books, sketchbook

Find little spaces inside of you and tease them open

After Lonely City I read Crudo, of course. More qualified people have written about it so I won’t go into that, but I enjoyed it immensely. It was funny, raw, and brilliant.

“When she was young, she’d sliced up her own flesh at the blink of an eye, she loved to get truly abject, but now she’d dried out…not appetising exactly, not desirable, but fodder for someone, a pigeon, at least. Was this getting older? Kathy was worried about ageing, she hadn’t realised youth wasn’t a permanent state, that she couldn’t always be cute and hopeless and forgivable.”

It takes place over a few days in her fortieth summer, and she’s about to get married. It’s not often that we see ourselves reflected so accurately in literature with all our fears and pimples and headaches, and Olivia Laing as Kathy Acker was spot on.

Take a look at the covers too: The UK paperback edition which I read, and here’s the US paperback one.

Title & this quotation from Crudo

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art, Books, sketchbook

‘If you’re lonely, this one’s for you’

If there was ever a book for the pandemic, it was this one for me – Olivia Laing’s Lonely City – Adventures in the Art of Being Alone. Though written in 2016 I could not believe it was not written about the early days of the pandemic, our first experiences of living through a lockdown, and a disease for which, at the time, there was no cure…

Simply put I just loved this book. I read it first on Kindle, then bought a paperback and read chapters multiple times. Olivia Laing is a genius and a master of art and language. She skillfully weaves her experiences of being lonely in Manhattan, through the stories of these artists in Manhattan who had used their loneliness to create, and derives the most definitive insights about loneliness and art.

As always I keep drawing as I read.

Andy Warhol

“If everybody’s not a beauty, then nobody is.”

Andy Warhol
David Wojnarowicz

“Art was a way to bear witness; to reveal things I’d always felt pressured to keep hidden.”

David Wojnarowicz

One parallel to our present time was of course the loneliness that people felt as they stayed shut up in their houses. We often overlook the smallest social interactions we have in shops, with neighbours and so on. It’s even more pronounced if you live by yourself and then these small interactions are also missing. There is a universal human need for connection, for reaching out, for just being seen. I remember my first few weeks in Sweden when I didn’t know anyone. Swedes are wonderful, gentle people, but terribly shy, and they really respect each others’ personal space as well. For most, it means not even making eye contact. So you can imagine, even a smile from a shop assistant was a special day for me. For the first time in weeks, I felt seen.

The other parallel was the onset of the AIDS crisis in the States, and how the gay community were shunned and excluded. India’s Covid Relief has by default excluded multiple marginalized communities. (If you want to help, take a look at #DesignUpForACause)

Despite, or maybe because of all the pain, I found the book so uplifting and inspiring. I would read a few pages every night, these moving accounts of the pain and suffering that gave birth to so much art, and how they created what they did, and feel inspired and grateful.

Looking at Strange Fruit by Zoe Leonard

There are so many things art can’t do…but it does have some…odd negotiating ability between people, including people who never meet and yet who infiltrate and enrich other’s lives. It does have a capacity to create intimacy; it does have a way of healing wounds, and…of making it apparent that not all wounds need healing and not all scars are ugly…

Olivia Laing, Lonely City
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Books, sketchbook

Books of 2020

Like everyone else, I probably broke my all time record for reading in 2020, so this is going to be the first of a series of book posts over the months.

Spring 2020 – Grapefruit by Yoko Ono, Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, Michael Rosen’s Book of Play and Keep Going by Austin Kleon.

Grapefruit was an experience – I found that it was an “early example of conceptual art“. I go back to The Book of Play and Keep Going again and again, both are inspirational and great for sparking ideas.

I don’t remember much about Daily Rituals, though, except that it gathered the routines of a large and diverse set of people, and it really doesn’t matter whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, or whether you get up at 5 am like Medium articles recommend! Here are some of the sketches I had made while reading it – about Patricia Highsmith and Frederico Fellini.

Some other book posts from 2020: Sputnik Sweetheart (So many vaccine puns :P), a bit from Ruined by Design in The Difference between Friday and a Fried Egg (mustread for designers today) and Letters from Tove in Fjords & Islands

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Books, Life, sketchbook

The difference between Friday and a fried egg

Monday arrived with Max makes a million. Which of course reminded me of Swami on Rye: Max in India which has one of my favorite love poems.

Tuesday was busy.

On Wednesday and Thursday lunch was even better with Ruined by Design.

Friday began with us reading Who ate my book.

Saturday ended with this insight from Yo-Yo Ma:

“But the mental process, the emotional process, the psychic investment, in trying to make something easy is infinitely hard…”

Yo-Yo Ma

So now you know the difference between Friday and a fried egg!

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Books

As long as you have a book to read…

Do you know that feeling when you’re between books to read? When you’ve just finished a great book and you’re looking around for the next book?

That was what I felt that day – I was torn asunder by not being able to find a suitable book –

But then The Folded Clock felt like coming home. A rare book about a woman in her forties keeping a diary about her life, being a mother, wife, writer, friend, artist, writer….

This summer I read Letters from Tove a collection of letters Tove Jansson wrote to her family and friends. So lovely and fresh it made me homesick for Sweden and Finland.

Unlike Infinity Net, the autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, I grew quite fond of Tove Jansson while reading this book. She was such a loving, funny and good-natured person and so much of her voice comes across in the early Moomin books.

She wrote in a letter about choosing the right life partner: It’s important for one’s partner to love the art equally if not more for it to work.

“When one is lost to the art the partner need have no expectations.”

and so true that.

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Books, Life, sketchbook

Although I cannot see your face

Honestly who would have thought that we would spend a quarter of a year in physical isolation from each other. A story to recount in my old age.

And speaking of old age. Umberto Eco once wrote that books are the most robust format of content transmission that we have seen over centuries, and so that if nothing else, my sketchbooks would probably survive till my old age at least, and I will look back on these days and laugh…

"Although I cannot see your face 
As you flip these poems awhile
Somewhere from some far off place
I hear you laughing - 
and I smile..."

Shel Silverstein
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