Teaser Tuesdays


TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!
  • My 2 “Teaser” Sentences for today:

    "Men cannot be raised in masses, as the mountains were in the early geological states of the world. They must be dealt with as units; for it is only by the elevation of individuals that the elevation of the masses can be effectually secured. Teachers and preachers may influence from without, but the main action comes from within."

    ~page 29, "Duty" by Samuel Smiles (1908 ed.)









    Monday Blogcrawl

    Write my chapter. Write my chapter. Write my chapter....
    But first, surf net:

    What on Earth? Inside the Crop Circle Mystery


    A confession.
    I am fascinated by Crop Circles. Fortunately I don't live in the UK or America or I would become one of the crazy "Croppies" who travel all over the place to experience being inside the Circle itself. Still, maybe one day I can go on a trip...
    Knowing of my secret passion, Adyar Bookshop asked me to review this wonderful DVD, What on Earth? on Barry Eaton's Radio Out There, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
    To be honest, I don't care how the Crop Circles got there. Whether it's aliens, another dimension or a half-dozen teenagers with cricket bats, the end results are still extraordinary and seeing them makes my heart sing with wonder.
    It's so much a visual thing - something about seeing a design writ so large across a landscape is just plain exhilarating. And I don't think I'm alone in my response to the design element - I noticed on the DVD a number of "Croppies" bearing T-Shirts and jewellery featuring images derived from the Crop Circles. One fellow even had them tattooed on himself. I remember that when I worked at Adyar the first calendar to sell out every year was the one bearing Crop Circle images.
    This is a charming DVD, and well worth a look no matter where you stand in the Crop Circle debate (is there even one, I wonder?). The images, the wonderfully semi-crazy enthusiasts, and the sheer energy and enthusiasm of the fim maker render the whole thing a great entertainment, and once you've seen it I dare you not to be drawn into the msyterious world of the Crop Circle phenomenon!

    "The Three Dangerous Magi: Osho, Gurdjieff, Crowley" by P. T. Mistlberger


    When Adyar bookshop gave me this book to review on Barry Eaton's Radio Out There I was instantly challenged. None of the three figures being studied in the book had ever held any attraction for me, and the size of the book was daunting. Nonetheless, in the spirit of professional enquiry I took it home, and almost from the first page I was completely absorbed. Mistlberger's is a unique voice, and he writes elegantly and sparely about three of the most intriguing and challenging spiritual figures of the twentieth century.
    The men discussed are the Indian mystic Osho (fomerly known as the Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh), the Greek-Armenian spiritual teacher Gurdjieff and the magician and self-promoter Aleister Crowley. At various points in his life the author has followed the tradition of each, and in this extraordinary work he attempts to synthesise their wildly disparate ideas.
    At the simplest reading this is just a wildly entertaining book. Mistlberger is an accomplished writer, and in the first section of the book he writes simply brilliant potted biographies of each of the teachers and their influence on spiritual culture. If you only read the book as an introduction to these three incredible, magnetic and problematic characters the book would be worth the cost of purchase. It is refreshing that the author does not attempt to be "objective" in his assessment of the men. He is completely and confessedly partisan, crediting each for their profound influence on his own spiritual development.
    What he sees as unifying these three magi is the theme of rebellion against the established order which prevails in their work and teachings. Each of the men was steadfastly anti-establishment and enjoyed quite vile reputations in their day. Indeed, even now the name of one - let alone all three - of them is enough to ruffle the feathers of the more religiously conservative.
    Mistlberger also identifies their willingness to work with the dark as well as the light sides of human character. In fact he claims that each of them attempted to unify this binary in spiritual teaching, to varied degrees of success.
    The other things that unifiy them were their interest in communalism - each attempted to lead spiritual communities, all of them surrounded by controversy - and their representation of the archetype of the wizard, hence the book's wonderfully evocative title. He also claims that together the men represent an almost total embrace of the world's spiritual traditions - Osho from the East, Gurdjieff from the centre and Crowley from the West . That each liberally drew on the traditions of the other direction only solidifies their place as religious and metaphysical syncretists.
    The Three Dangerous Magi then goes on to present a quite unique summary of the essence of the spiritual teachings of each, followed by chapters detailing some practical ways to use these teachings. Mistlberger also pulls apart the historical influences on each of the teachers, making this quite a scholarly work, though the author wears his scholarship lightly.
    Altogether a unique and ultimately successful effort. Definitely worth the time if you are interested in the history of religion in the twentieth century, or if you have ever come across the work of any of the three amazing characters discussed.

    Teaser Tuesdays



    TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

  • "The best way to check if you're in Chinatown is by counting gold shops. If there's not one on each corner, chances are you've taken a wrong turn. The shop signs are invariably yellow on red in Chinese characters, and the gold is of the extra-shiny variety that screams at you from the windows. "
    ~p. 152, John Burdett's "Bangkok Haunts"



    New Books - Fiction


    I have a doctoral dissertation to write, and the due date looms ever closer.
    To calm my nerves I have decided to read some novels, which have absolutely nothing to do with my thesis. That's the spirit, Walter! I've always really excelled at avoidance tactics. Anyhoo, here are the novels I have purchased for May. From the top:

    The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb - A new-ish book set in Vietnam, I knew I had to get this one the moment I read about it.

    Where Angels Fear to Tread by E. M. Forster - Having finished the wonderful new Forster biography by Wendy Moffat I have had a passion for reading all of his novels. I will start here.

    Married Lovers by Jackie Collins - I recently saw Jackie Collins judging on Season Two of RuPaul's Drag Race, and she was so campy and such a great sport. I read all of Jackie's novels when I was 11 (inappropriate, I know) and they have almost certainly shaped my worldview. Thing is, I haven't read one since then, so I thought I'd revisit my glamorous childhood.

    Sprout by Dale Peck - Peck is such a wonderfully cantankerous creature that I thought I might actually read one of his books to see if he has a right to be so contrary.

    Fine Just the Way it Is by Annie Proulx - Proulx is the ultimate stylist, and I love her fiction completely. This is one I haven't read.

    The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone by Tennessee Williams - My Williams obsession continues.

    Love, Etc. by Julian Barnes - Barnes is one of my more recent obsessions, and because I haven't yet bought his new collection of stories, I thought I'd read these.

    The Page Turner by David Leavitt - Leavitt is another I have followed since I was a youngster (I read The Lost Language of Cranes when I was in high school). I admire his peculiar fiction, and think he is one of the most fascinating, and underrated, writers alive.

    No Dominion by Charlie Huston - When I was working at Hachette Charlie's crypto-queer vampire detective books were a great favourite among the staff and I developed a taste for him. Wonderfully escapist stuff.

    Our Kind of Traitor by John Le Carre - An elegant, old-fashioned kind of writer, Le Carre is one of my pantheon of greats. Pure class.

    The Help by Kathryn Stockett - This has been huge in the States, though I don't know if it's been all that notable here. I was kind of ignoring it, but then I was listening to the New York Times Book Review podcast and they mentioned some legal problems faced by the author, and in describing the book they made it sound kind of intriguing.

    Mary Ann in Autumn by Armistead Maupin - Armistead was here in Sydney for the Mardi Gras, and I took my dear old dad along to hear him speak at the Opera House. He was charming and he reminded me of how much I used to love his books. My dear friend and publisher, Maggie Hamilton, had also read it recently, and she raved about it.

    Love and Summer by William Trevor - Dear old William Trevor. Surely he is almost the perfect writer? I want to be him.

    Burn Bright by Marianne De Pierres - I got this one signed when Marianne made an appearance at Galaxy bookshop. She is a fabulous author of sci-fi and has an international reputation as one of the best. She won an Aurealis award last week, too, so I need to read this one soon.

    The Spruiker's Tale by Catherine Rey - Catherine is part of my research group at university, and to say that she is a brilliant woman is understating things. I have yet to read one of her books, so I am starting with this one. She is French and fabulous, and I know I am going to enjoy it.

    The Father Brown Stories by G. K. Chesterton - I read the Father Brown Stories years ago when I was spending an extended period in Vietnam, and they made perfect reading at the time. I found this Folio Society edition at a second hand bookshop, and I had to get it.

    Monday Blogcrawl


    I have a chapter to write.
    Indeed, it's overdue - so far overdue that my next chapter is coming due.
    And it's quite extraordinary how many things I can find to do to avoid writing my dissertation.
    Like compiling this list, for example:

    Wake Up


    I went along to Adyar Bookshop last week for their second film night, and it was a wonderful experience. We watched a fascinating documentary called Wake Up, about a man who has started to see spirits and angels and goes on a spiritual quest in order to gain some kind of understanding of what is happening to him. Questioning his sanity, and finding himself on rocky ground with his sceptical girlfriend, he travels across America seeking out wise spiritual advisors and undergoing all kinds of transformative experiences in his quest for truth.
    It's a wonderfully honest and searching film, and one that I think a lot of people would respond to.
    The screening was booked out, and Adyar are planning a second screening, so give them a call on (02) 9267 8509 and book - it's only $5 and, just like I did tonight, you could win the lucky door prize! And they throw in a white chocolate Tim Tam with it. Heaven!

    New Incense from Jade Buddha Temple, Shanghai

    One of the things I notice most when I visit Buddhist temples in China is the amount of commerce going on. For a start you have to pay to get into most temples. Once inside there are any number of shops selling Buddhist artefacts and religious objects at vastly over-inflated prices. At Jade Buddha Temple there were signs in place inside the shops saying "All Items Blessed by Monks - No Haggling." Not surprisingly, business seemed to be less than bustling. An elderly American chap browsing next to me commented to his wife, "Buddha doesn't come cheap!"
    Nonetheless, the Jade Buddha Temple is a fascinating complex in Shanghai, one well worth visiting. Indeed, you should give it a whole afternoon, in order to best absorb its energy and observe the constant activity. Prayers are chanted at 4pm, and it is always great to catch them.



    I spent most of a day there, eating at the temple's fantastic vegetarian restaurant. I noticed that the faithful were purchasing beautifully-scented incense. The incense sticks were brightly coloured, and quite unlike anything I'd seen at other temples.



    So, naturally I had to go and buy a box.
    It came in pink, red and green varieties, each one subtly different according to my delicate senses. The grumpy woman behind the counter scolded me for taking so long over my purchase. "They're all the same," she grumbled. "Just take a box."
    So I selected my box and have brought it back with me to Sydney.



    I am particular about incense and where and when I use each type (eccentric, I know). And this box is for downstairs meditations in the evening, along with the expensive Japanese incense.

    Monday Blogcrawl

    Lord but it's cold in Sydney. I am wearing multiple layers around the house, and a man my size can anever really get away with the layered look. But necessity defeats style every time, and I have reached that dreaded age in which I begin to dress for comfort. I promised myself I would never do that! Here are some nice interesting pieces to keep you inside, away from the cold:


    "E. M. Forster: A New Life" by Wendy Moffat


    It is a sad fact that, until relatively recently, one of the indignities visited upon gay people of note soon upon their deaths was their almost instant neutering. A varied and rich sexual life, a history of friends, lovers, partners and companions - all was washed clean in the name of normality. Sexual relationships were re-cast as close friendships and the poor dead celebrity was soon spoken of as "asexual." It was a predictable and almost ubiquitous process of "straightening up" queer lives, and biographers, academics, journalists as well as the friends and families of the late queer were all complicit in the conspiracy. In her lively, beautuifully written and constantly fascinating new life of E. M. Forster, Wendy Moffat has set about reversing this process, re-claiming the great British novelist as the lustful, horny old poof that he was. And I can't thank her enough for it.

    E. M. Forster - never a dashing figure, but with a gift for friendship


    Predictably, staid and genteel reviewers have been squeamish about this project. The reviewer for the Guardian (and many others) thought such a project unnecessary. Reviewer Ian Samson pouted that "sex doesn't explain everything," giving rather too much away when he praised one of Forster's earlier biographers who "draws a veil of decency" over the great man's sex life. But (and I'm happy to be proven wrong here) I am willing to bet that had the pure heterosexual exploits of a more manly novelist been delved into, The Guardian and the rest of the mainstream press would have been fascinated and would have acclaimed the biographer's bravery and thoroughness.

    There, that's my little bout of bitchiness and conspiray theory over. It has done me good. Let me tell you , now, what a marvellous and compulsively readable book Wendy Moffat has written. Biographies of literary giants are, of course, one of my very favourite genres (Ellman's mammoth biography of Wilde is one of my desert island books), but sometinmes I throw them aside, bored with the detail and the uninispiring literary analysis. Moffat has wisely avoided this, instead embarking on a reasonably old-fashioned project of matching the texts to the author's life. What such analysis may lack in literay fashionbable-ness it more than makes up for by being endlessly fascinating, inspired and quite enlightening.



    Forster (Morgan to his friends) was painfuly conscious of his homosexuality, almost from boyhood. His own shyness, self-consciousness about his looks (and he was a remarkably ordinary looking fellow) and the constant presence of his terrifying mother meant that he didn't act on his instincts till quite late in life, when he was safely abroad. The first great love of his life was a young Egyptian tram conductor that he met in Alexandria, and so began a lifetime of loving and caring for ostensibly heterosexual working-class men, a pattern that forced a great deal of secrecy and discretion, though Forster's own liberal impulses constantly urged him to stand up for homosexuals and seek some kind of equality in the law.

    As the man who famously coined the wonderful (and slightly desperate) phrase "Only connect," Forster himself possessed a gift for friendship, and Moffat captures perfectly the quite extraordinary literary, creative and queer milieu he established around himself. Indeed, reading of his wonderful friendships with incredible people made me rather wistful, wishing and hoping that someday I, too, might become as conscientious about collecting the great and talented and making them a part of my life.

    And then there are the parts which the erstwhile newspaper reviewers find so ucomfortable. The fact is that, after beginning at a remarkably mature age, Forster led a varied and really rather impressive sexual life, though some of it might be somewhat unsettling for the 21st century reader. His was a world still riven by class and race, and he set out to break down some of those boundaries. His was, unquestionably, a male-dominated world, though he maintained some strong friendships with women, including Virginia Woolf, who totally misunderstood him and his impulses, and described him as "limp and damp and milder than the breath of a cow" at the very stage of his life that he was rooting around like crazy and taking all kinds of reckless risks in the pursuit of lust.

    Perhaps most fascinating is the incredible length of Forster's life, from post-Oscar Wilde victorian repression through to rock & roll. He died at a grand old age, and well into his 70s Moffat describes his continued interest in popular culture:

    "Lady Chatterley may have seemed scandalous, but Morgan had read Roger Casement's Black Diaries, and Ulysses, Lolita and Giovanni's Room in the interim years. And just down the street at the local cinema, Elvis Presley - "a handsome boy" - sang and danced "most provocatively" in Jailhouse Rock."


    Moffat's great talent, apart from subverting the biographical form in the service of queer reclamation, is in her storytelling, and Forster's life is rendered in this book dramatic, scandalous and oh-so-fascinating. This is a must-read - you won't be disappointed.

    "The Wish" by Angela Donovan


    In a world of so many choices, with such an abundance of opportunity, many of us remain trapped by our inability to make important. Indeed, many are willing to accept a compromised, cramped existence in exchange for never having to face the fear of confronting the world in all its confusing glory. Psychic intuitive Angela Donovan has written a wonderful book called The Wish to address exactly this problem, so emblematic of our age. Using her own gentle but deeply profound system of personal exploration, she guides the reader into ever greater realisations of possibility, and once you have finished The Wish you will be a changed person.
    Set out in a progressively more action-focused manner, The Wish is deftly written and Donovan has charm as a writer, with an eye for a good story. This is a self-help book that is not content to skim around the edges of achivement - it plunges into the very depths of our being, confronting some of the darker and more querulous aspects of our character. It is principally about finding your passion, either for the first time, or in a project of reconnection. Urging us to list those things we love most and schedule them into our calendars, Angela Donovan reminds us that joy is an essential aspect of our being, perhaps even the very thing we were put here to express.
    And while the subject matter may be grand, The Wish is careful in the way it approaches the fears and shadows that may have been holding us back. Angela Donovan is humble and sensible enough to acknowledge the limits of her own knowledge, and recommends the reader consult health and psychology professionals if things get really tough. Such honesty is refreshing and highly ethical.
    It's the kind of book to read slowly and carefully. It is filled with practical exercises, and I think it is important that these are done progressively and in order. It is the kind of book you approach as a project, the perfect companion for morning sessions of self-development, or as a counterpoint to journaling and meditation. Certainly by the end of it my copy was heavily underlined and highlighted, stray words floating in the margins as I made realisations and felt challenged to look more deeply into my resistance.
    I feel it is such an important book, and it is one that is reasonably free of dogma or wacky assertion. Donovan seems to be allowing the reader to retain her or his own particular worldview, avoiding argument and encouraging instead growth and expansion of consciousness. The Wish describes a process of self-understanding, of re-connection with talents and dreams.

    "When you know where your true talents lie, you're able to work them into your daily life and you can give yourself the opportunity to find complete fulfilment."

    Inspiring, thought-provoking and completely down to earth, the time I spent reading The Wish was enormously valuable. I know you will find it so as well.

    Details:

    The Wish: How to make your dreams come true by Angela Donovan
    AUD $29.99
    ISBN: 9781742374932
    Published in Australia May 2011
    Publisher: ALLEN & UNWIN

    50 New Things: No. 12 - The Fast Train

    New Things No. 12 - The Fast Train

    I am not much of a trainspotter, and to be honest, new modes of transport don't particularly thrill me. So I didn't expect to be overly excited when I was in Shanghai recently and caught the fast train not once, but three times. But who would have thought it - I have become an enthusiast! I want fast trains all over Australia, and believe they would revolutionise living and tourism here.
    Now, the Maglev train from Pudong Airport in Shanghai will get you into town in 6 minutes, as opposed to an hour-long taxi drive. You've gotta admit, that is pretty impressive.
    And when I travelled to Nanjing to attend a conference I caught the fast train from the brand new station at Hongqiao.



    This is an impressive place, smack next to an airport and constructed along similar lines.



    It is sleek and cavernous and ultra-modern. Just as I was being wowed by the glamour of the new China, the man sitting next to me hacked out a really impressive glob of something from his chest and spat it out on the gleaming floor. Then I felt comfortably back at home in the old China.
    As befits a Socialist nation, the Fast Train in China has a handy first class section to avoid all of that nastiness, and it is luxurious indeed. I got to Nanjing in 80 minutes in a quiet, clean carriage that, in terms of comfort, leaves any airplane for dead. This is the way to travel.
    Even better, it's a way to meet celebrities. On the way back my First Class carriage was invaded by a half-dozen improbably good looking young men of about 30. They turned out to be an ageing Chinese boy-band, and I spent 80 minutes in their elevated company as they giggled, snoozed and put their feet up on the seats (rock and roll!), constantly attended by the most extravagant entourage. I should have asked for a job.
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