Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
My Teasers:

"Not everyone is blessed to be working in an environment that endorses silence, but I believe any worker can bring this gift to the workplace. Anyone can pause for twenty seconds, a monastic moment, and acknowledge the presence of God within them."

~ The Quest for Meaning by Jim Rosemergy














Committed


Perhaps not unsurprisingly, I often find myself defending Elizabeth Gilbert's mega-selling book Eat, Pray, Love. I mean, it's not like she requires my defence - her massive readership and very healthy bank-balance don't really need much defending. It's just that, in my own humble way, I find myself writing in the very same sub-genre that Ms. Gilbert almost single-handedly invented - the spiritual travel memoir. Indeed, it was her success that caused me to be signed up with my publishing house in the first place - before the popularity of Eat, Pray, Love I would have probably been laughed out of every publisher in Australia. So I feel a great debt of loyalty to Elizabeth Gilbert, and look upon her work fondly.

I was always going to like Committed anyway, simply because it's such a peculiar - and peculiarly old-fashioned - book, a book I am convinced would never have seen the light of day had it not been for its author's exceptional profile and success. And so I am cheered by the fact that it's been successful.






In many ways it is quite a literary effort, a belletristic reflection on marriage, both as it pertains to the author's own life and travels, and to culture more broadly. The central narrative is of Elizabeth Gilbert's own difficult journey toward being married - mostly unwillingly - for the second time. Of course, this story has especial significance for anyone who read Eat, Pray, Love (i.e. half the world), because her new intended is none other than Felipe, the louche Brazilian playboy who swept her off her feet in that book.

But in between this personal tale is a wide-ranging and frequently engaging (no pun intended) meditation on the peculiar history and varied cultural baggages related to the institution of marriage. She finds time to deliver a long explanation of why she believes in gay marriage (and it's actually rather cleverly argued), and she is challenged in her own assumptions about matrimony by the people she encounters in Vietnam and Laos. There are also any number of brilliantly drawn events that speak of the deep and frequently messy machinations of the human heart (I loved the story about the naughty, love-struck young monk in Luang Prabang).

It's much funnier and sharper than Eat, Pray, Love. I also think it is more thoughtful and - no offence intended - a good deal less neurotic. Committed has turned me into a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert, and I am very interested to read anything she has to write in the future.

Well worth the time.

Monday Blogcrawl


Just a couple today, because I need to get to the State Library.

Who knew Jane Russell was still alive? She's looking naturally fabulous at 88 [awfulplasticsurgery]

Anyone for a licorice-flavoured macaroon? [chocolatesuze]

An interesting little piece on Gary Vaynerchuk, who has written one of my favourite books of this year [social media examiner]


Happy Together


Ho Po Wing and Lai Yiu Fai are a couple of aimless Hong Kong gay boys. No longer in the first flush of youth, they have run away to try their fortunes in Buenos Aires, and there they fall into a destructive cycle of violence, promiscuity and self-loathing, each feeding the other's sense of hopelessness.
Not the cheeriest premise for a film, I'll grant you, but Happy Together is Wong Kar Wai's masterpiece, and it won him Best Director in Cannes in 1997. It also marked the pinnacle of Leslie Cheung's career as an actor, still remarkably youthful as the dissolute hustler Po Wing.
It is an hypnotic piece of film making, capturing perfectly the frayed glamour of Argentina, and the fascinating world of the Chinese who wash up there escaping family, past and the stifling conformity of their home societies. Tony Leung smoulders as the hopelessly romantic Fai, slave to the sexual whims of Leslie Cheung's character and later lost in a sexless romance with a young Taiwanese man he meets while working in a Chinese restaurant. I should mention here the extraordinary presence of Chang Chen as the Taiwanese ingenue - I had heard of him neither before nor since this film, which seems a shame, because he gives a brilliant performance.
I'm not at all sure what to make of this film as a political statement. It hardly presents a very positive picture of homosexuality, and somewhere deep within its layers of torment there is some sort of comment about race going on (Leslie Cheung's character is sullied by his sexual liaisons with caucasian men) which is potentially troubling. But I don't think it needs to be viewed for those kinds of ideas. For me it stands simply as a testament to that very real moment of masculine frustration in late 20s or early 30s when men start to feel washed up, desperate and totally alone. It is a study, too, in queer angst, unfashionable as that may still be.
It works on so many levels, not least on the aesthetic, with its lingering shots of the disheveled but still stunningly beautiful Tony Leung stalking through his lonely Buenos Aires hovel in tight white y-fronts, a smouldering cigarette in his lips.
This was the first of Wong Kar Wai's films that I ever saw, and it still remains my favourite. With its washed-out colours, its peculiar tangents and its frankly bizarre premise, it serves as a perfect introduction to the work of Hong Kong's most celebrated auteur.

Monday Blogcrawl

As the weather turns colder, I become increasingly bookish.

Ajahn Brahm


I have spent the weekend at the Mitra Buddhist conference in Sydney, and it has been the most enlightening couple of days. The quality of speakers was really remarkable, and I was rarely bored, which is really quite a rare thing!
This morning I had the great good fortune to hear Ajahn Brahm speak on the topic of the overuse of Buddha, which was an intriguing concept. He was well worth getting up early for. His honesty, lack of pretension and puckish limey charm make him a gifted teacher, and I will certainly make the effort to go and hear him whenever he comes to Sydney (he is the Abbott of Bodhinyana Monastery in Perth).
He has been one of my heroes for some time now, ever since he was brave enough to ordain a number of nuns into the Theravadin tradition late last year. Such an act is meant to be forbidden in Theravada circles, with most monks claiming that the order of nuns faded out long ago, and that its re-introduction will mark the end of Buddhism. Ajahn Brahm exposed this as the sexist, antiquated bunkum that it is, and went ahead and ordained a group of women to full vows and status as female monastics in the Theravada order.
Such an action caused a huge scandal in the Theravada world. There has been talk of expulsion from the monkhood, and he has been banned from appearing at the United Nations combined Vesak gathering in Thailand this year.
The Ajahn (an honorific title meaning "teacher") seemed unperturbed by it all, and gave a wonderful talk, filled with jokes, challenges and some genuinely unsettling reflections on the danger of blindly accepting tradition in any religion.
I liked what he said about the place of Buddha images in the gardens of the West. Some Buddhists are cagey about this (see the recent scandal about rapper Akon in Sri Lanka), but Ajahn Brahm sees it as a wonderful thing. He says that people react positively to the images at some level, which is why they want them around. So long as the Buddha continues to represent calm, peace and transcendence, Buddhists should be happy about his appearance in unlikely places. Because the essence of Buddhism is NOT statues, or monks and nuns, or even books. The essence is in the lived experience of the Buddha's teachings, and it is impossible to disrespect this.
I am inordinately proud that Australia can boast a spiritual teacher of such originality and bravery.

Tony Leung


Tony Leung Chiu-Wai is muse to Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai in much the same way that Johnny Depp fascinates and inspires Tim Burton. Leung has starred in most of Wong's films, which seem in part to be some sort of drawn-out study of the possibilities of Leung as actor, icon and - it has to be said - sexual object.
In the world of Hong Kong cinema there is another Tony Leung, but here I am talking about "Little Tony," the quiet, intense and effortlessly masculine leading man who has been a feature in serious Hong Kong cinema for more than 15 years now. I am a huge fan, and am fascinated by his bravery, his loyalty to Wong Kar-Wai and his extraordinary lack of vanity. In many ways I see Tony Leung as a method actor in the more typically American tradition - he seems to inhabit his roles with a wonderful fullness, and on-screen he is possessed of the most immense presence.
Part of this has to be attributed to the barely-contained sexuality which always seems to be bubbling under the surface of the characters Leung inhabits. Wong Kar-Wai constantly plays up the homoerotic charm of Leung, but to my mind he is at his most sensuous as the pathetic, repressed and cuckolded anti-hero of Wong's delicious period piece In the Mood for Love. Here the short and sad salaryman becomes obsessed with the statuesque and icy Maggie Cheung, and never was a more believably sex-obsessed couple rendered on the big screen.
I think Tony Leung will go down as one of the greatest Chinese actors of this period, due largely to the incredible challenges that are thrown his way by the constantly adventurous (and frequently outrageous) Wong Kar-Wai. I watch everything he is in, because I always find his presence so magnetic and slyly seductive.

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