Dubai 2013: Week 22

I had another busy week, but thankfully it was nowhere near as busy as the week before or the week before that!

My Sunday was relaxing. After my session with Randy I decided to do some work and then went to the pool with my book in the afternoon.

Monday was a busy day. I had my Arabic class at lunchtime. We learned:

  • How to ask what the date is – and how to respond
  • How to ask how many/how much – and how to respond
  • Two new letters
  • Random vocabulary – appointment, colleague, manager, husband, friend, teacher, lesson

I feel like I’m learning a lot but my writing is no better than a 3-year-old’s!

That afternoon I went to see a friend who had a baby recently. I hadn’t seen her since our lunch at Okku in March and it was nice to see her kids and catch up.

I left her place and went to a concert at The Fridge in Al Serkal Avenue – piano (Viktoriya Zaharieva) and violin (Nadine Artuhanava). These two women were young – and they were amazing. Not all the pieces they played were duets – sometimes it was just piano or just violin. They played the following:

  • Bach – Adagio and Fugue from Sonata in G minor (first two movements)
  • Chopin – Ballade no. 1 in G minor, op. 23 (I absolutely love Chopin)
  • Grieg – Sonata no. 3 in C minor, op. 45
  • Sarasate – Andalusian Romance for violin and piano, op. 22/1
  • Stoyan Stoyanov – Scherzo – picture (this composer currently lives in Dubai and was in the audience)
  • Bartok – Romanian Folk Dances

Whoever complains about there being no culture in Dubai clearly isn’t looking very hard.

My Tuesday was quiet. I didn’t have a piano lesson so I was home working most of the day.

I had another session with Randy on Wednesday followed by an Arabic class. We covered:

  • Some verbs – I am, you are, and so on
  • Four new letters
  • Random vocabulary – big, small, middle, chair (kursi), welcome (i.e. make yourself at home), thirsty

It doesn’t sound like much, but we’ve started putting sentences together: After Arabic class I have a meeting, or I’ve been in Dubai for 1.5 years and I’m happy, or I want tea with milk and sugar. As our teacher would say, ‘Shway shway‘ (slowly).

I started a creative writing course on Wednesday evening. I’d heard about it through Time Out a few weeks before and emailed the lady who runs the course. It was just 4 weeks in June – on Wednesday evenings – at The Pavilion Downtown. There were about seven or eight of us – we went round the table and introduced ourselves.

The first writing exercise we did was to write something (anything) for 30 seconds, just to get us warmed up. The next exercise we did was taking the letters of our name and then revealing something about ourselves beginning with that letter. For example, with ‘E’ I wrote ‘Ex-Londoner now living in Dubai’. It was harder than it sounds!

We talked about creativity and generating ideas. We each had to write three random words on three little pieces of paper (I wrote ‘desk’, ‘mobile’, ‘cigarettes’), fold them up and put them in the middle. We then had to pick three of these pieces of paper and write something which included all three words. The three words I ended up with were: tea, community, cigarettes. I wrote about someone who’s caught smoking by a senior member of her community while she’d popped out of the office for a cup of tea.

We got some useful tips: always use a clear and readable font, break up long paragraphs with dialogue, avoid using too many adjectives, avoid abbreviations and txt spk! We also got a list of writing prompts which might come in handy if I ever decide to write something and don’t know where to start – an example is: ‘He turned the key in the lock and opened the door. To his horror, he saw…’

It was an interesting evening – and it gave me a few things to think about.

I was home most of Thursday – either working or at the pool. I met a friend for dinner at Loca. We had been there in September and I loved the barbecued lamb wrap they did. I also had some Entertainer vouchers so we only paid for one of our two main courses. Halfway through dinner I started feeling a bit sick and I felt a headache coming on. When my friend suggested we go somewhere else I told her I had to go home – it was only 10pm. Normally I would have loved to go out (as you have probably figured out by now) but that night I just couldn’t do it.

I was home all of Friday, catching up on work – and I still wasn’t feeling 100%. I was home most of Saturday too. It was a quiet weekend.

I love my life.

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20 books in 2013

For the last 2 years I’ve aimed to read 20 books a year. I almost made it in 2011 (I got to 19). I thought that once I moved to Dubai I’d have more time to read but in 2012 I read only 11.5 books (that’s not even one a month – pathetic).

This year, however, I’m pleased to say I’m well ahead of target – I’ve finished 13 books this year, six of those in June!

Fall Giants

I started Fall of Giants by Ken Follett late last year and finished it in January. I’ve been recommending it to anyone who wants book recommendations (along with Pillars of the Earth and its sequel World Without End). This summer I’m going to read Winter of the World (once I finish my current book).

Brande

I then read Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer. I read this many years ago, but thought it was time to re-read it. I’ve decided this will be the first book I read every year (so from now on I don’t think I’ll include it in my ’20 books a year’ goal).

Tan Twan Eng

I wanted to read The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng before going to the Emirates Literature Festival. He has become one of my favourite writers and I’m waiting for his next book! It was fantastic to meet him and I got him to sign my copy of the book along with The Gift of Rain.

Understudy

My cousin in London lent me her copy of The Understudy by David Nicholls while I was there earlier this year. I laughed out loud a lot – and a good laugh was just what I needed at that time.

Circus

In March/April, I read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I enjoyed reading it at the time but when I look back at it a couple of months later, I don’t really remember much about it. Yes, the circus comes to town, it pops out of nowhere, people never age, there’s a weird challenge between magicians…

Monk

The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma was next. I’d heard about this book over the last few years and finally decided to read it. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed. I thought the message Sharma was trying to convey was great, but I felt it could have been presented in a different manner. As a writer (almost) I struggle with dialogue. The thought of writing an entire book based on a conversation between two people over one night would fill me with dread. I’m glad I read it, but it was a little disappointing.

Wonderland

I got several books for my birthday. One of them was Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I started reading it, thinking it was set in the 2000s (if not later) and was surprised to find that it was originally published in 1985. The ideas in this man’s head astonish me. It’s a sci-fi mystery – with two stories being told at the same time in alternating chapters: a data processor recruited by a mad scientist who lives in a cave. The scientist and his granddaughter ask the man to help them avoid the end of the world. The other story is about a man arriving in a quiet village surrounded entirely by walls and fields where unicorns graze. This man is forced to leave his shadow outside the village walls where it will surely die on its own. Bizarre stuff but I loved reading it. I’m still not sure I get how the two stories are linked but I keep thinking about it.

And then came June. I’ve read a lot this month, partly because I’ve spent most of my weekends (and some weekdays!) by the pool with a book.

Gatsby

I was in two minds about seeing The Great Gatsby and knew I’d want to read it before I saw it. Can you imagine I’d never read it? After reading it I decided that I wouldn’t see the movie – some people have raved about it, some have said it has absolutely nothing to do with the book. Maybe I’ll watch it one day. ‘Gatsby’ fever has even hit my piano teacher – I’m learning ‘Young and Beautiful’ by Lana del Rey in my piano lessons!

Monkey Business

Another book I got for my birthday was Monkey Business by John Rolfe and Peter Troob. It’s not something I would have chosen to read but I think this friend wanted to introduce me to the world of finance (and then borrow the book!). I gave it a shot and was pleasantly surprised. I read the book in 5 days – I didn’t want to put it down. It did make me wonder why anyone would want to work in banking. I laughed out loud in parts. My favourite paragraph was this:

As the crowd continued to pour a river of liquor down its collective throat, the dance floor began to fill up. The spectacle that ensued was solid evidence that if there’s one thing that money can’t buy, it’s rhythm. When it comes to pure foolishness, a room full of drunk investment bankers prancing around a dance floor pushes the limits of the imagination. To this day I pray that it’s a sign the civilized world will never be forced to witness.

Hilarious!

Gone Girl

I did a short creative writing course in June, and in the first session the woman conducting the course said she had finished reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and couldn’t put it down. I’d bought it when I was in London in February and started reading it that weekend. She was right – it was a gripping story. Basically, a man’s wife goes missing on their 5th anniversary, there are signs of a struggle at their home, all the evidence points to him, but is he really a killer? I won’t ruin it for readers who haven’t read it, but I thought the end was a little disappointing but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

I read the next two books in the space of 3 days.

Headhunters

Headhunters by Jo Nesbo was an easy read. It’s about a man who’s Norway’s most successful headhunter but also an accomplished art thief. He’s introduced to a potential client who claims to own one of the most sought-after paintings in modern art history and he plans to steal it. I couldn’t put this down – I read it in 2 days. It’s very different from the Harry Hole series (The Snowman, The Leopard) but just as thrilling.

Dinner

I read The Dinner by Herman Koch in one afternoon by the pool. Two couples meet for dinner at a trendy Amsterdam restaurant to talk about their children. Each couple has a 15-year-old son – the two boys are united by a horrific act which was captured on camera, posted on YouTube, and has launched a police investigation. What starts out as a civilised evening soon disintegrates as each couple shows how far they’re willing to go to protect their children.

Hosseini

Two nights ago I finished reading And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. I bought it in Kinokuniya a few weeks ago (with two other books – I really should not be allowed in there!). It begins in a small village in Afghanistan in the early 1950s. Abdullah and his sister Pari are children from their father’s first marriage and they have a very close bond. One day their father takes them to Kabul – they have no idea that their lives will be torn apart, never to be the same. The novel takes the readers through generations and continents – Kabul, Paris, San Francisco, the Greek island of Tinos – up to the present day. Family bonds, sacrifices, choices – it’s all here. It’s a great read, but I didn’t think it was as good as A Thousand Splendid Suns.

So, that’s where I am! I’ve just started reading Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. I’m slowly working my way through my unread books…

I’m sure the website goodreads.com isn’t new to most of you – I’ve been using it for a few years. I recently downloaded their Android app though – and it’s fantastic. It has a barcode scanner so you can just scan the barcode of the book you’re reading (or want to read) and it brings up the details of the book. No more searching for authors/titles/editions!

Review: The Other Hand

Cover_-_cleave

I’d never heard of this book or its author, Chris Cleave. I was in the bookshop at Dubai Airport in April, waiting for my mum and grandmother to come out of Customs, and I saw this. I read the blurb on the back. It told me nothing

We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it so we will just say this: This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice. Two years later, they meet again – the story starts there… 

Intriguing. 

I don’t think knowing a little about what the book was about would have ruined it for me. It wouldn’t have stopped me from buying it. Anyway, it’s about two women: one is a Nigerian refugee in the UK, the other is an editor for a popular magazine. It’s about the day they met, and how their meeting changed their lives. 

I was hooked from the beginning. I started reading it by the pool and before I knew it, I’d read one-third of it. I read the whole book in four sittings. I didn’t want to put it down because I had no idea what was going to happen next. It has so far been the best book I’ve read in 2012 and it will haunt me for some time to come.

And that’s seven of 20 books I intend to read in 2012. And because I bought it this year it doesn’t count towards my Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

 

Review: The Marriage Plot

Cover_-_eugenides

I bought this book in late 2011 (so it counts towards my Mount TBR Reading Challenge!) and had been looking forward to reading it as I loved Middlesex when I read it in 2005. It was so… different.

I found The Marriage Plot to be a disappointing ‘modern romance’. Madeleine, a student at Brown University in the early 1980s, is writing her thesis on the way marriage plots are used in Victorian literature. She has two men in love with her. This love triangle continues after graduation – she ends up living with one while the other goes travelling around the world. The way I’ve described it sounds dull. Actually, it was dull. I felt nothing while I read it. It was like kissing my gay best friend.

There are some passages of beautiful writing, but it reminded me of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom – smug, dysfunctional, flawed characters. I know flawed characters make interesting reading, but this was not interesting. 

It took me ages to finish the book – partly because I just didn’t want to continue reading it, and partly because I travelled for a while and didn’t read it for a month. I didn’t even consider taking it on holiday with me because I knew I wouldn’t want to read it.

Read no further if you’re planning on reading the book!

In a nutshell:

From the books you read for your thesis, and for your article – the Austen and the James and everything – was there any novel where the heroine gets married to the wrong guy and then realizes it, and then the other suitor shows up, some guy who’s always been in love with her, and then they get together, but finally the second suitor realizes that the last thing the woman needs is to get married again, that she’s got more important things to do with her life? And so finally the guy doesn’t propose at all, even though he still loves her? Is there any book that ends like that?

That’s the story. In one paragraph. On the last page of the book. I could have saved myself a lot of time. 

I’m lagging this year – I’ve only read six of the 20 books I plan to read in 2012 and according to Goodreads, I’m three books behind schedule. I thought that when I moved to Dubai I’d have more time to read, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I have some catching up to do!

 

Review: The Sandglass

Cover_-_sandglass

I’d mentioned in an earlier post that I went to a session at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature and Romesh Gunesekera was on the panel of writers. I’d read Monkfish Moon back in 2004 and had thoroughly enjoyed it. The Sandglass sat on my bookshelf for 7 years, and seeing Gunesekera at the festival reminded me that I needed to read it. And it would count towards the 12 books in my Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

I have to say I was disappointed with the book. It tells the tale of two feuding (but yet intertwined) families in Sri Lanka from the 1930s to the 1950s, through the eyes of Chip, the narrator, when he visits Sri Lanka in the late 1990s. He reminisces about the year before, when he discussed past events with Prins, who had arrived in London for his mother’s funeral. Their conversations take place over 1 day.

The story moves between contemporary London and Sri Lanka of the past, reminding me of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos, where Cesar Castillo spends his last hours thinking about his life. 

Even though I found the constant jumping between periods of time confusing, the author uses words beautifully:

Outside, the silence of freshly fallen snow pressed against the window panes; there was no traffic to be heard on the roads. This was silence like the dream of heaven. I began to realise how wrong all those composers were who heaped scales upon scales in their vain attempts to capture the grandeur of heaven: what they really needed to do was to stop. To hold their breath and try to imagine a stilled heart and the peace that can only come from the absence of conflict, of abrasion, of friction, of sound itself. No wonder we never hear the angels on our shoulders: they do not speak. They melt at the prospect of sound, perhaps even prayer. Heaven is not music: heaven, if anything, must be silence. The stillness of the centre, the eye of a storm whirling across the universe. An unveiling mind.  

I could hear the author’s voice in my head when I read that paragraph.

Was I expecting too much from the book? Have my reading tastes changed over the last 7 years? I don’t know, but I’m thinking of re-reading Monkfish Moon and trying to figure it out.

And that’s number five in my 20 books in 2012 challenge!

Writing and book group

On Saturday morning one of the women I’d met at the British expat drinks in January texted me to say she was going to a new writing and book group that afternoon and asked if I wanted to join her. I had planned to spend the afternoon at the pool, but I had also planned to do more writing when I moved to Dubai and that hadn’t happened yet. Perhaps this was what I needed. So I accepted her offer and she said she’d pick me up at 2pm. I had plenty of time so I spent the morning at the pool instead.

At 2pm we headed to Al Wasl – the writing/book group took place at an osteopathy centre. In fact, it turned out to be the same one I went to with my dad in January. You know, the one with the good-looking physiotherapist. One of the women in the group works in the same place so we used her office as our meeting place. It was the first time the writing part of the session was happening so I hadn’t missed anything. We began by introducing ourselves – apart from me and my Scottish friend, there were two other Indian women – a psychologist (whose office it was) and a copywriter, one French woman (a university lecturer) and an English woman (I think she was English). And then we began. The group was very much led by the psychologist.

We began with a short meditation and three warm-up exercises. Our first subject was ‘the smell of ripe bananas’. We had 3 minutes to write whatever came to mind about ripe bananas and we would read aloud what we had written (if we wanted to). I wrote this:

Each time I walk into the kitchen I can smell them, taunting me. ‘Why buy us if you’re not going to eat us?’ I will, I will, I tell myself. I just don’t fancy one so early in the morning. ‘But your trainer said…’ I know what he said, I tell no one in particular. They empty kitchen judges me as I reach for the crunchy peanut butter instead. This is OK too. A teaspoon of peanut butter or a banana, he said.

It’s not great, but what do you expect from just 3 minutes?

The next two subjects were ‘my father’ and ‘taste’ (I wrote about the truffle fried rice at Okku). 

After that, we did a longer piece of writing – we had to spend 15 minutes writing about an hour (or particular time) in our day. My days are pretty much the same and no reader would find them particularly exciting so I decided to write about my weekly visit to Lulu.

After we’d each read our writing to the others, it was almost 4pm and we took a short break. 

We started the book group after that. The English woman left, and another Indian woman (an English teacher) arrived. The book group is different compared to other book groups. With most book groups you all read the same book and discuss it for a couple of hours. In this one, we bring the books we’ve read in the last month and the books we’re currently reading with us and talk about them to the rest of the group. I took The Sandglass by Romesh Gunesekera as I’d finished it a couple of weeks ago. It’s actually a very good idea and I’m hoping I’ll find some new authors to read. My reading list is getting longer and longer!

It had been a long time since I’d used the creative part of my brain and by the time I got home I felt exhausted. I’m looking forward to the next meeting. They’re an interesting group of women and I think I could learn a lot from them. 

Review: The Hunger Games

Cover_-_hunger_games

I downloaded this to my Kindle late last year (so it counts towards the Mount TBR Reading Challenge). I met someone at a wedding in December and we started talking about books – she said she couldn’t put this one down. I was in the middle of a couple of other books, and it took me about two months to get through the first book in the Game of Thrones series, so I didn’t pick this up until mid-March.

I started it on a Friday and finished it on Saturday. I couldn’t put it down. I took it down to the pool on the Saturday and read in peace. I came back upstairs, got into bed (at 5pm) and continued reading until I’d finished it. 

The book is set in a future where the United States no longer exists. Instead it is the nation of Panem, consisting of 12 districts, all governed by the Capitol (somewhere in the Rockies). Each year, one boy and one girl are chosen from each district and taken to the Capitol, where they have to participate in the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games is a live TV show where the contestants fight to the death. There can only be one winner. 

The story is told from the perspective of the main character, Katniss Everdeen, who is from poverty-stricken District 12. She volunteers for the Hunger Games when her 12-year-old sister’s name is called out during the Reaping (the process of selecting the boy and girl). She and Peeta (the male contestant from District 12) are taken to the Capitol and given make-overs and advice on how to survive this game (‘Don’t get killed’). And then they’re let loose in the arena. Carnage ensues, and it is a little predictable, but it’s a gripping, easy read. 

I usually never watch a movie if I’ve read the book. Film adaptations never live up to the book and I end up disappointed and irritated. But I had a feeling this would be a fantastic movie so I went to see it. Did it live up to the hype? And was it as good as the book? Well, the simple answers are ‘No’ and ‘No’. While the book is fast-paced, I thought the movie dragged in places. So much of the history and detail in the book is lost when transferred to film. I came out of that movie 2.5 hours later wishing I hadn’t bothered to see it.

 

So do yourself a favour: read the book, don’t see the movie!