Monday, 14 January 2008

The book freeze

A small book written by a French academic is currently causing a stir in the UK. It’s entitled How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read – and I haven’t read it, but I can talk about it, thanks to all the reviews and blog posts I’ve found about it on the Net. It’s a guilt-free approach to literature, and we’ve all put it into practice at one time or another. We all talk about books we haven’t read; plays/films/exhibitions we haven’t seen. Does it matter?

Well, as far as not reading books is concerned, if, like me, you suffer from ‘Completion Syndrome’, you have to ignore certain books: it’s a question of survival; you might go mad otherwise. I am totally incapable of leaving anything unfinished – especially books. Once I start reading I am in danger of getting an attack of ‘reader’s block’, and that is very painful.

The first time it happened, I was trying to read The Scarlet Letter. I wasn’t enjoying it and when I came across a particularly stodgy page I froze. And that was it. I couldn’t drop it, but neither could I put it aside and give up on it. So I didn’t read another book for a good long while, until I forced myself to skip that page and a couple more, and finally managed to resume reading. I was triumphant when I got to the end. And I can now say I’ve read The Scarlet Letter, although, as Pierre Bayard points out in his book, we forget most of what we read and I have indeed forgotten the intricacies of Hawthorne’s novel. Was it worth the trauma? Probably not.

My most recent attack of reader’s block was even more distressing.

My father's eldest brother was a famous Jewish writer in the first half of the 20th century. (He lived in the USA and I was 11 when he died in 1959 so I don’t remember much about him – except he was very imposing and a bit scary, and yet cuddly, and very generous.) His novels and poems are part of the school curriculum in Israeli schools; there is a street named after him in Tel-Aviv. He was highly regarded by his peers around the world. There was even talk of a Nobel Prize in the 1930s, but it couldn’t happen in the political climate of the period. Anyway, only a tiny number of his books have been translated into the two languages I read, so, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to acquaint myself with his entire oeuvre, only with the novel that won him most of the acclaim, a few short stories and a couple of poems. I was delighted when another one of his books (a semi-fictional depiction of life in a small Russian community in Belarus before the First World War) was published in France a while ago. I acquired a copy and prepared for a good read. However, to my dismay, I struggled and finally stalled. It was The-Scarlet-Letter-big-freeze all over again, and this time the author was a member of my family. Had he usurped his fame? Sadly, I put the book down and didn’t pick another one up.

And then my cousin (the writer’s daughter) wrote to me and in the course of her letter mentioned that book and its execrable French translation, which harmed her father's reputation). Of course! I couldn’t read it because the translation is an absolute disgrace. I took the book out of the big pile by my bed, sat down and started reading where I
’d left off. I was able to edit the French – in my head – and work out what it should have sounded like, and the book is wonderful. The colourful characters (one of whom, a small child, is my father) are so endearing, and the whole atmosphere is funny and melancholy at the same time. I love it.

As a literary translator, I usually defend translators because they always get the blame when readers can’t get on with foreign books (and, until I started reading blogs about literature, I had never realized how quick people were to condemn the translators), but this particular one should be slapped – or even shot.

Hooray, I don’t have reader’s block any longer and I’m ready to tackle that big pile again. The next book is not a translation so if I freeze again I will know straight away whose responsibility it is. Alain de Botton, you have been warned.

Update (24/01/2008): I changed my mind about what to read next because cute Alain never disappoints me and I know I won’t be ‘frozen’ with him, so there's no rush. Instead, I turned to a Nick Hornby book I bought as a hardback (and I don’t like hardbacks: I don’t have the space for them in my tiny flat) as soon as I flicked through it in Books etc. – so long ago that it’s now in paperback.

Anyway, it’s entitled The Complete Polysyllabic Spree (I know!) and it’s about reading and books and life, etc. I cannot tell you how much I am enjoying it! And, on page 5, I found this, ‘I would never attempt to dissuade anyone from reading a book. But please, if you’re reading a book that’s killing you, put it down and read something else, just as you would reach for the remote if you weren’t enjoying a TV programme.’ I will from now on, Nick. I promise. Unless I have absolute proof that it’s a bad translation, of course.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Not a happy bunny

I was all right this morning – I woke up in a fairly good mood – and then I opened the one envelope that was lying by my front door. And that was it!

‘It’s time to think about claiming your state pension,’ it said. Three and a half months before I even want to begin to think how old I am. I keep telling those people I am 27, but they refuse to listen.

Anyway, do not speak to me today! I will not answer you.

Slapping my parents for having me 33 years too early.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Best of 2007

It’s that time of the year again when I wonder whether I truly belong with the perfumistas and make-up junkies listed below. I bought even fewer cosmetics and skincare products in 2007 than in 2006. I didn't fall in love with any fragrance: I am still in thrall to Tubéreuse Criminelle and see no reason whatsoever to be unfaithful to it.

Still, here are the few items that ‘made it’ to my bathroom shelves in 2007.
The main discovery of the year was undoubtedly Boots No.7 Protect & Perfect Beauty Serum. I am not usually swayed by hype, but I saw the TV programme that started the stampede and the evidence that P&P was effective against skin ageing seemed compelling so I decided to give it a try, thereby betraying my resolve to only use products devoid of parabens, etc. By the time I went to my local Boots the shelves were empty and there was a notice warning of a shortage and to expect a long delay. The situation was apparently the same all over London. I waited for a while and checked the display in Boots regularly: it was quite funny, actually, you’d see these women approaching the counter and glancing around furtively and then walking away; no one wanted to be seen openly looking for that product. I got rather impatient – you know, I was getting more wrinkles in the meantime, but one of my Internet pals – a very generous woman – took pity on me and sent me a large sample of the serum. I used it up and finally managed to buy a whole bottle. After a few weeks, someone commented, unprompted, that my skin looked smoother and plumper. Hooray, it worked!
However, things are not that simple (are they ever?) because at exactly the same time as I started using Protect &Perfect I also began to use Avon Ultimate Day and Avon Ultimate Night creams. You see, P&P is not a moisturiser; it has to be used under one. The question is then whether my skin has benefited from P&P or from the two Avon creams. I intend to test this further: when I have used up the tube of P&P (it’s now in a tube not in a beautifully luxurious but infuriating bottle – at least two days’ worth of precious serum was lost in the first bottle I bought), I will stop using it for a while and stick to the Avon creams. If my skin shows signs of regressing to its former state, I will know P&P is not the miracle-worker it’s been hailed to be, which would be a shame.
As I said above, I slipped, and slapped high-tech creams on my face again, but, I’m happy to say, not on my lips (well, except for the lip gloss below, of course). I have added to my small collection of natural lip salves: Badger Chai Rose, which tastes deliciously of cardamom and rose, and which, I have this minute discovered, is supposed to be for the body too – difficult when you only have a small tube of it, though. And Fresh & Wild Vanilla Honey, which tastes wonderfully of – yes, you guessed it – vanilla and honey. They are both 100% natural and 100% yummy.
I also have on my desk a small tube of Clarins Baume Couleur Lèvres in Coquelicot (Poppy - 11). I don’t like gloss: at my age, when the outline of your lips become rather ‘vague’ and you don’t want to look tarty by drawing it with a pencil, you need to wear ‘proper’ lipstick. Not too shiny is best, otherwise your lips look younger than the rest of your face and that’s not a good thing (the same goes with bright white teeth and long hair). I got that sample of lip gloss with a French magazine. How could I resist: it’s the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. It’s a gorgeous shade of red (the pic is of another one) and it smells of cherry; it glides on easily and it’s not sticky. I recommend it to anyone not ancient as I am, who can still wear lip gloss without looking silly. I just use it while I work – for me.
My only other purchase in 2007 was a small bottle of Palmer’s Olive Butter body lotion. I’ve never been able to use the original one: the smell of cocoa butter makes me nauseous (or nauseated, if you live over there, to the left of us) so I was delighted when I found the same great product with a smell that I could tolerate, nay that I could ‘love’. It doesn’t smell of olive oil, though, as one might expect, it smells of flowers, possibly hyacinth or lily of the valley. I can’t quite tell. What? Am I supposed to be a perfumista or something? Anyway, it’s gorgeous and soft and emollient. It’s not greasy and goes in very easily. A great, cheap product.

And that’s it for the new stuff. Told you I’d been very frugal in 2007. But don’t go away just yet: I must tell you about my favourite eye pencil. It was discontinued several years ago, obviously – anything that works and is attractive gets taken off the shelves; it’s a fact of life, but I got wind of it and stocked up. I am currently using the last of my little stash of five L’Oréal Eye Artist crayons in Muscat. It’s a purply brown with a hint of shine that suits me better than any eyeliner I’ve ever used (certainly better than the peel-off liquid eyeliner Dior launched in the early 1970s. It was so silly: it would come off in the middle of the day and you’d end up with a kind of thin, curling caterpillar on your upper lid, LOL!). One day, in a couple of years’ time, I will have to go in search of a replacement. I’m not looking forward to it.

This time, I’m done. Check out what the ladies below (Word 2007 is telling me I’m not supposed to use the word ‘ladies’; how sweet, I have a feminist copy of the program) are recommending. I will be joining you there...

  • 15 Minute Beauty Fanatic

  • Afrobella

  • All About The Pretty

  • All Lacquered Up

  • Beauty 411

  • Beauty Blogging Junkie

  • Beauty Talk

  • Beautiful Makeup Search

  • Beauty Hatchery

  • Beauty Jones

  • Blogdorf Goodman

  • Canadian Beauty

  • C’est Chic

  • Coquette

  • eBeautyDaily

  • For The Love of Beauty

  • Give Me Your Eyes I Need Sunshine

  • Getting Amped

  • Grayburn

  • HauteMommaStuff

  • Koneko’s Beauty Diary

  • Makeup Bag

  • The Makeup Girl

  • Miss Whoever You Are

  • My Life,My Words,My Mind

  • Legerdenez

  • Perfumista

  • Periodic Style

  • Platinum Blonde Life

  • Product Girl

  • Shop Diary

  • Slap of the Day

  • Steeping Beauty

  • The Beauty Alchemist

  • The Daily Obsession

  • The Life Of A Ladybug

  • The Non-Blonde

  • Urbane Girl

  • Victoria’s Own

  • We Love Beauty

  • My thanks to Annie of Blogdorf Goodman for organizing this fun event and to Melanie for the beautiful logo.