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The Madness of MokcikNab
Motives, movements and melodrama in the life of a thirty something mum.

Friday, June 17, 2005
Nads, This is For you

My last two weeks went by in a flash : proposals (non wedding kind) and nuptials (non-proposal kind) took me away from my kids, family and friends. I had undertaken to throw a going away party for Ms Nadia Mode, errr today, but I guess That's Not Going To Happen. I'll bet Nadia would fire me, but then I'll bet no one else would be willing to supply her copious amounts nasi dagang for free, so unfortunately you are stuck with this mokcik, dear girl. Yes, we'd do it soon, Nadia. Really.

This morning, I have resolved to at least discharge a very important responsibility : answer a meme when you've been tagged. So here goes :

The Last Book I Bought
Song of the Flute by Jalaluddin Rumi. It's just 4 pages, privately printed, only 240 copies in circulation. The cover is marbelised paper, with the title glued on by hand. Best of all, my husband bought it for me, to cheer me up before he went away.

The Last Book I Read?
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. This book has been lying around my mother's house for ages, I remember starting to read it when I was a teenager, but lost interest because it's sparse and talks about being a dervish and losing the Self -- stuff that would just go over the head of a fourteen year old. Now older, I can identify with Siddharta's conflict and pursuits, although I may not totally agree with how he finally finds his Meaning. It's a short, simple book that is amazingly complex and attests to Hesse's genius -- more so when you realise that this was written in 1922. There is more joy here than in Steppenwolf; the denouement is genuine salvation, whereas in Steppenwolf, you're really not sure.

Brideshead Revisted by Evelyn Waugh. I usually read more than one book at one time, chiefly because I tend to misplace the book I'm currently reading, like leaving it at the office when I'm at home, and then consumed by a terrible need to continue the story; I start on another one. Brideshead Revisited is one of those novels I bought from the bargain bin in Giant; and I have to admit it was neither for the love of Evelyn Waugh nor English literature : Sting played a character in its TV series; and I also wanted to see if it was really about homosexuality. No such act was ever described in the book -- but yes, I think it is about being gay. What else would you expect from a man named Evelyn?

The Book I'm Currently Reading?
Genji Monogatari (Tales of Genji) by Lady Murasaki. It's in two volumes, wth extremely small print, on what I swear is merely good quality tracing paper. I bought these in Fukuoka, in 1998, for what I admit was just a spot of bookshelf snobbery. Well, almost. I had bought Heike Monogatari during an earlier trip and had enjoyed it thoroughly that I wanted to start on another ancient Japanese epic. Unfortunately, Genji was just too tedious to read, and it stayed as ornament, until recently, when my husband was away, and being bored and insomniac, I started reading whatever else that was still in my house that was not secreted away by my sisters. (hint!)

Murasaki describes Prince Genji as a "shimmering beauty", and in my head Genji looks like Yutaka Takenouchi. This book, perhaps one of the earliest recorded novels, was written in the 10th century and is a fascinating look into the highly stylised lives of people living in the realm of the Imperial Court during the time. Genji is something of a philanderer, but he does truly love all his women, and is always appreciative of each lady's unique qualities. There's scandal aplenty, plus a general theme of Oedipus complex (for example, Genji lost his mother at five, and transferred his affections to his father's (the Emperor) young consort, whom he eventually beds and of course gets pregnant) He loves men too, and yes, I do mean that in a physical way. I'm still halfway through the first volume, and it does seem that Genji matures as the book progresses. Heady stuff, if you don't mind the verbosity.

Five Books that Mean a Lot to Me?
Haiyah, this is a difficult one. Can I fudge the numbers and first offer a couple of authors who mean a lot to me?

Muhammad Asad
The Message of the Quran
This comprehensive translation and commentary of the Holy Quran is my most treasured Book, bought for only 60 ringgit at a book fair. The marvel of this Work, is of course the Quran itself, but to have Asad as a guide has been essential in my quest for a deeper understanding of my chosen Deen. Countless times, this Book has been my lifesaver. I have opened it to any random page when I am troubled, and I have never failed to find the exact answer : Words of comfort, encouragement, instructions, chide. If I could take just one book into exile, this would be it.

The Road to Mecca
I had just finished reading Jack Kerouac's On the Road, when I bought this, and could not help but compare the two. It would be a grave injustice to call this an On the Road With Dromedary, because for one, this book was written before Kerouac's coast to coast jaunt, and second, while both authors followed their hearts and travelled in quest of life's meaning, it was only Asad who attained answers most profound. This is a book about a man, born to a staunch Orthodox Jewish family, who found his homecoming, in another land, and in another culture, thousands of miles away. It's a wistful look at what the Muslims were and could still be, it's history, philosophy, self-realisation and adventure bound in a single volume. For a Muslim who takes her religion for granted, this is a homecoming, too.

Islam at the Crossroads
No other book has made me regret Muhammad Asad's passing as much as Islam at the Crossroads. Published in 1934, Asad saw the dilemma of the Muslims vis-a-vis the West, with such clarity that at the end of his life, he must have been dismayed to see his words coming true, or worse, misconstrued. This is a book any one claiming to be a Muslim leader should read : it draws the line between the desire to instill the true values of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and pedantically trying to live his life as he did in 7th century Saudi Arabia. If Asad was still alive, perhaps he could shake some sense into Muslims today, who are too busy being at each other's throat, instead of building strengths on Islam's glorious heritage. I could go on an on about this, but perhaps in another post -- I fear that when we did arrive at the crossroad, all of us took the wrong turn.

Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut could write a shopping list and have it published, and I would still buy it. I picked up Vonnegut from my father, who would leave his books lying about the house, and never once told me what not to read. (And so it was that I stumbled upon Victorian erotica at thirteen, but that's another story) The first Vonnegut book I read was Slapstick, and from then on was set on my path to devour anything Vonnegut that I could lay my hands on. As expected, my favourite is Slaughterhouse-Five, which unfortunately I do not own (I borrowed it from the library) . I love Vonnegut because his fiction are such weird, fantastic conjurings, while at the same time, sad, tender portraits of human beings. I love Vonnegut for the strong sense he has of what is morally right and wrong, and for the fact that he would preach these values through such quirky characters as Eliot Rosewater or Billy Pilgrim.

Oh God, I'm running out of time. Forget the authors already : I like Ondaatje, that's a given; and I like Chekov and Conrad, and PG Wodehouse. But I'm too malas to write about all of their books, so I guess let's just stick to the original premise : books that mean a lot to me. I shan't be too indulgent, and list just the requisite five :

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera. If Elisa quotes David Gray's Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus as the instructional tome in her marriage, then this bleak love story of sorts, is mine.

Red Sorghum, by Mo Yan. It was Adam, my first child. The labour, though not painful, was two days long. My husband, who had to sleep on the labour room's cold linoleum floor, staved off his anxiety by reading Red Sorghum in its entirety.

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov. Despite its perverse subject matter, I can't help but love this book for its witty turn of phrase and the fact that Nabokov wrote it like a delightful puzzle. If I could be bestowed the talent of any writer, I would want to write like Nabokov : he's crafty and funny and wicked to his readers. He made us cheer on a child-molester! How monstrous, how clever.

To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Yes, I know my sister already has this book on her list, but look, I read it first. (Someone had to buy it, see) An enduring parable of prejudice and justice, the book is peopled by ordinary people you admire for their strength of character : Scout, Jem and Dill, Boo Radley, my favourite - Calpurnia, the maid, and of course Atticus Finch, who must surely be the standard by which all fathers and husbands were judged post Gregory Peck in 1962. I love the book for its message : Do the Right Thing, which should be simple enough, but in fact, is always the most difficult.

Oh, The Places You Will Go, by Dr Seuss. This is so inspirational, whether you're three or thirty-three. I bought it to remind my kids, and myself, to be fearless and be resilient, and that with the brains in your head, and the feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself any direction you choose.

I have a second hand copy of this book, apparently a parting gift from a woman to her boyfriend, as encouragement that he could succeed anywhere. Unless the book was stolen from him, I assume he didn't value her as much, since he allowed it to be sold off.

Sorry, can't write anymore. I'll tell you who I want to tag in the next post. Now, go out there and buy at least one of the books I've told you about.


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