It must be running in your bloodstream, the love for books.
I don’t believe that it is something you acquire over time. It must be in your DNA code, something you’ve born with, like the color of your eyes or that moll on your cheek. You’re born with, blessed with, then it runs through your blood, like a virus.
When I say love for books I do not mean enjoying books and reading, that’s love of books, fondness, liking the way you like something you glance at. By love for books I mean needing books. Needing to read them, to hold them, to own them, to surround oneself with them. Like an addict.
I hear people saying, ‘I like to read, but I don’t have enough time so I read just a bit.’
Those with the virus, with love for books, don’t have to make time. And you see them every day, nights too. Mornings are the best, surprising them with a book in hand. They don’t need an ideal reading spot, or silence or background music. They can read everywhere, in the subway, the bus, the train, in a crowded room, and sometimes even during in class.
And you do know how their homes look like too. I don’t mean bookshelves, but stacked with books.
People with a love for books always carry a book with them the way others hold their cellphone or fashionable ladies carry their emergency cosmetic bag. But those with a love for books are fearless. They do not worry that they will miss a call, or a message, or a Tweet, or that their beauty will smudge during the day. They do fear, though, that the thin paper layer protecting their souls will get damaged throughout the day, exposing them to noise, to wickedness, to mental pollution.
You see, people with a love for books, those who carry that book virus in their bloodstream, need a periodic shot, call it chronic medication, of reading. Of living elsewhere for a short while so that they can survive in the present. Of accumulating life experience so that they can share it with the rest. Of laughing or crying elsewhere, so that they can compare it to the laughing and the crying from the real world and clarifying, once and for all, how original life can be.
For only when life is conveyed into a book will that book be cradled and read by someone with a love for books, and afterwards explained to others.
You see now why writers need readers with a love for books just as much as those with a love for books need books.
‘Literature is the most pleasant way of ignoring life.’
I turned to books and reading, as well as writing, many times over in my life, yet only lately have I thought about the idea of therapy through books and reading to stay happy.
Yet I am not the only one, nor am I the first, as since ancient times people have noticed the amazing healing power of art. As if by magic, negative emotions, whoosh, evaporate to be replaced with a state of peace and harmony.
Catharsis. Coined by Aristotle in Poetics to describe the effects of tragedy on the spectator, that of freeing the soul from suffering.
Bibliotherapy (book therapy, poetry therapy or therapeutic storytelling) uses creative arts as therapy. It involves storytelling, the reading of poetry or specific texts with the purpose of healing. It works by utilizing an individual’s relationship with the content of a text as therapy. Bibliotherapy is often combined with writing therapy. It has been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression.
You see, the concept that books, library therapy, bibliotherapy or reading can be used to stay happy started a few thousand years ago.
The inscribed marble above reads Psyches Iatreion, Healing Place of the Soul, and is found in the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, Patmos, in the wall over the entrance to the Monastery’s Library. The inscription goes millenniums back. The same phrase was inscribed above the entrance of the sacred library of the tomb of Ramses II at Thebes. A similar one decorated the vast library of Alexandria, the largest and most significant library of the ancient world.
A very quick look at books, reading and their use as therapy throughout the centuries
Fast forward a few hundred years and we find the majority of Medieval people (men, women and children, rich and poor) to be illiterate, yet storytelling prevailed as people loved to hear stories, enjoyed listening to historical, religious or local folktales being read to them or simply recounted. It taught them lessons and morals, it connected them with their ancestors.
Worth remembering is that while most women living between the Dark Ages and the Age of Enlightenment could not write or sign their names, many could read, to some extent.
Then Gutenberg came, developing a press that mechanized the transfer of ink from movable type to paper. Printing was easier, faster.
And humanity dipped its foot in the Renaissance, freighted with famous writers, treasured texts, and a general curiosity about humankind. The Renaissance Man. Highly skilled writers (who were readers too) emerged, yet none was just a writer if one wanted to make a living.
The Enlightenment brought along the development of the educational systems in Europe that continued into the French Revolution, so literacy and learning were gradually provided to rich and poor alike. But bear in mind that historians measured the literacy rate during the 17th and 18th century centuries by people’s ability to sign their names.
The increase in literacy rate was mostly influenced by the fact that most schools and colleges were organized by clergy, missionaries, or other religious organizations, as literacy was thought to be the key to understanding the word of God. The reason which motivated religions to help to increase the literacy rate among the general public was because the bible was being printed in more languages. By 1714 the proportion of women able to read was approximately 25%, and it rose again to 40% by 1750, with literacy rates raising more quickly in predominantly Protestant Northern Europe than predominately Catholic southern Europe.
It was the Kingdom of Prussia who introduced a modern public educational system that will reach the vast majority of population, a system copied across Europe and the United States in the 19th century.
19th century medics and nurses working England’s psychiatric hospitals used to read to patients anything from novels and travel journals to the Bible. This was because works of fiction lend a helping hand to the readers (listeners) by giving them the opportunity to escape into another universe, to identify with a favorite characters (outside their own skin) and to be inspired by them.
World War II veterans were also recommended books to help them cope with post-traumatic stress.
Today, reading clubs are a real help to psychiatric institutions in improving the care for the elderly or for young people with disabilities or behavioral disorders.
What is the connection between books, therapy, bibliotherapy and that happy feeling?
A research done by the University of Sussex and quoted by The Telegraph showed that only six minutes of reading a day can reduce stress level with up to 68 %. Keeping an active mind proved protective against the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) later in life.
Simply turning the pages of a book and immersing oneself in reading gives the brain a state of relaxation similar to that produced by meditation, providing our health system with the same benefits as those of achieving a state of deep relaxation and inner calm. It has been found that people who read regularly sleep better, have lower stress levels, a higher self-esteem and are less predisposed to depression than those who do not have this habit.
Could there be more to paging through a book than the joys of reading?
Reading is often associated only with relaxing activities, with spending time in a pleasant way. But, in reality, reading is a very complex activity.
The University of Liverpool conducted a study between reading and increasing the quality of life and found that reading is not only good for our health, but can make us happier and more empathetic. In addition, many of participants in the study confessed that certain books inspired them to make those changes in their lives that they had long wanted to make.
Psychologist Becca Levy, an associate professor at Yale University, published a study in the Social Science & Medicine journal on the benefits of reading observed over twelve years. The conclusion is impressive: people who read regularly live 23 months longer than those who do not. Although it is not yet clear how reading can actually increase life expectancy, Dr. Levy and other scientists who participated in the study believe that it is due to the cognitive benefits of this activity – from the simultaneous integration of several brain regions and increased ability to concentrate , to the development of empathy and emotional intelligence.
How is all this possible?
Keith Oatley, a writer and professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, has led an extensive research on the psychology of fiction. “We started to show how identification with fictional characters appears, how literature can improve social skills, how it can move us emotionally and can quickly cause changes in the process of self-knowledge,” says Keith Oatley. After years of research and study on large groups of subjects, the Canadian psychologist concluded that reading fiction is “a simulation, but not on a computer, one that takes place in our minds – a simulation of our interaction with others, with the society, which implies the possibility to imagine our future under different variants.”
So, even if we do not realize this, when we read we experience hypothetical life situations that prepare us for the real ones. The advantage is that in the realm of fiction we do it without danger and without pain.
And so is writing.
I will leave you with Proust’s words:
“In reading, friendship is restored immediately to its original purity. With books there is no forced sociability. If we pass the evening with those friends—books—it’s because we really want to. When we leave them, we do so with regret and, when we have left them, there are none of those thoughts that spoil friendship: “What did they think of us?”—“Did we make a mistake and say something tactless?”—“Did they like us?”—nor is there the anxiety of being forgotten because of displacement by someone else. All such agitating thoughts expire as we enter the pure and calm friendship of reading.”
I was enticed by the idea behind this blog post as read on author Laura Tisdall’s blog 🙂 based on a meme created by author A.M Burgess or Jillian the blogger – so here it is, my life in books I read during 2019. The links will take you the book’s page on Goodreads.
Using only books you have read this year (2019), answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title.
I love books with secrets. Especially enigmatic locations kept hidden from the general public. While researching for my latest contemporary novel Silent Heroes, I uncovered five secrets and revealed them: one mysterious fortress buried underground, one hush-hushed by politicians, one too dangerous to be researched and shared with the world, one inconceivable in the 21st century, and one heartbreaking in its humanity.
Qala-e-Bost, Afghanistan’s secret fortress now featured in Silent Heroes
Unbeknown to many, near Lashkar Gah, in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, rises the great fortress of Qala-e-Bost, an 11th-century castle that overlooks the life-giving Afghan River of Helmand. This is the mysterious fortress whose secrets are ready to bury the Silent Heroes. But will they give in?
“The stones of Qala-e-Boost have seen wars as well as the joys of celebrations. They have known wealth and ruin. Early hymns of the Zoroastrian religion, one of the oldest religions in the world, were once performed here. One of them was the Nowruz, the famous ceremony dedicated to the Sun and marking the Iranian New Year and the Spring Equinox. Along the years Bost fortress has been used as a guard post for the traditional caravan trade from Iran to India. The Mongols, then the Persians have been here too; the Arabs, even the Russians. Leaders and warriors came here as attested by the terracotta figurines, the inscribed seals, and the many coins discovered here, and then they left. Still, Bost remained.”
Qala-e-Bost, a mysterious fortress hidden underground
The fascinating and less known detail about Qala-e-Bost fortress is that its five levels are underground and few visual images are available, let alone descriptions of its deep buried secret chambers: “the heart of the fortress, its well, going five levels underground. The well is a maze of corridors, stairs, secret rooms, and side entrances” (Silent Heroes).
So I threw my soldiers in a fight in the dark belly of Qala-e-Bost fortress. The idea that there are concealed, less-known meanings behind things in plain sight always fires my imagination.
Who dares enter the belly of the beast?
Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for is a work of contemporary fiction inspired by the War in Afghanistan.
Amazon 5 Stars Review: “It is clear that the author did an amazing amount of research for this book. Over the last few years I have read many, many book written by our soldiers. All of these books were based on each soldier’s experiences. The author of “Silent Heroes” has captured the experiences of our military men and women. I highly recommend this book and I plan to read more book by this author.“
13 unique reads for thriller fans and the enthusiasts of the macabre or sombre comedy. If you like to sleep with your lights on, pick one book from my 13 for Halloween list.
1. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
This book will give you the story of a mysterious writer with her own dark, ghastly past that will make your skin crawl. You will want to throw the book across the room to get rid of it, yet you won’t be able to, caught under its spell. Blood-curling. Creepy. Disturbing. Published in 2006.
2. Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie
A Halloween classic that will make your hair stand on end, plus you get Ariadne Oliver to torment Hercule Poirot. When a children’s party goes wrong, only looking into the past will help solve it. Ghoulish. Eerie. Witty. First published 1969.
3. Cross Bones by Kathy Reichs
One of my favorites by this author, it takes you to excavations conducted on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. It has corpses, tombs, tight spaces, and forensic anthropology. This the Temperance Brennan #8 book, but can be read as a stand alone. Frightening. Bone-chilling. Magical. Published in 2005.
4. Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for by Patricia Furstenberg
Sometimes violence, death, and gore are part of modern day history and we choose to ignore them, while making up our own versions, safer ones, of what Halloween looks like. A brutal read what life and humanity mean to the soldiers, the dogs and the civilians caught in the War in Afghanistan. Petrifying. Real. Deadly. Published in 2019.
5. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind
A timeless, international sensation and a classic, this is a petrifying and unnerving read. A hauntingly powerful tale of murder and sensual depravity. Omnius. Wicked. Haunting. First published 1985.
6. The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie
Death, witches, a spooky inn and Ariadne Oliver sleuthing. Published in 1961, The Guardian wrote: “the black magic theme is handled in a masterly and sinister fashion.” Witchful. Superstitious. Spook-takular. First published 1961
7. Dracula by Bram Stocker
Written as a series of diary entries, it has vampires, spooky locations and everyone will mention it, at some stage. And, no, it is not based on Vlad Tepes Dracula, or Vlad the Impaler, ruler of Wallachia, Romania. Supernatural. Bloody. Fang-tastic. First published 1897
8. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Not many know, but the latent reasons behind Mary Shelley’s narration of Frankenstein is the death of her first child, Willy, whom she had thoughts to restore to life. A Gothic thriller and a passionate romance, Shelley wrote this book when she was 18 years old. Black. Pagan. Eerie. First published 1823.
9. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
What would Halloween be without a ghost? Both a Gothic horror novel and a romance story, it will capture you and fill you with a terror that the musical could never emulate. Moonlit. Chilling. Unearthly. First published 1909.
10. The Complete Tales And Poems Of Edgar Allan Poe
Pick this collection of ghastly stories for words that will stick to your skin like a cobweb. A classic, must-read from the pioneer of short stories. Unearthly. Fear-inspiring. Strange. First published in 1902.
11. It by Stephen King
A 1138 page horror novel by a haunting author and a book that has been refereed to in mass media more than we care to count to out loud. Read it quietly and with a friend near you or a clown will show up at your door. NOT for people suffering from coulrophobia. Frightening. Nightmarish. Nasty. First published in 1968.
12. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
A dark and funny comic tale for lovers of satire and spine chilling reads. A book written in the Soviet Union between 1928 and 1940 during Stalin’s regime and censored by Stalin; first censored edition out 1966, full manuscript published in 1967 in Paris, after the author’s death. Dark. Spine-chilling. Mischievous. First published 1967
13. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
First published in 1886, this Gothic novella can still hold the modern reader’s attention. For the book lovers of split personalities and classic horror. Supernatural. Gothic. Occult. First published 1886.
If you love coffee as much as I do each day is coffee day, but since today my American readers celebrate #NationalCoffeeDay and on the 1st of October everyone will celebrate #InternationalCoffeeDay, I thought I’ll dedicate this post to coffee lovers all over the world!
A Love Letter to Coffee
My beloved, it has only been moments since I’ve left you and… I already miss you!
I will not shy away from my feelings for you! You are my one, true joy in the early hours of the morning. No matter how restless my night has been or how busy my daily schedule is, sharing those special moments with you in the morning, holding you, reveling in your scent and your full body… Oh, nothing can take away the simple pleasure of our time together.
sweet and understanding you are of my living you behind each morning.
You do know that there is no one else for me, but you. I always return
You are so unique, yet your flamboyant personality has me under a spell, I can never get bored with you.
Don’t bend your ear to childish gossip. There is only one for me and
that one is you. The others, as you perceive them, are but mere
acquaintances. No even a fling, but a brush with cruel, ordinary life.
None will ever stand a chance near you, let alone compare itself with
you, my beloved. They are. .. so different, so much more less than you
will ever be. They do not have your charm, the strength of your core,
your unmistakable perfume. They are not you. They can never take your
the way you can change your looks, it never ceases to surprise me! And
the heavenly scent of your voluptuous body, always surprising, yet
always them same; homely, unique, promising.
You can be hot or cold, I’ll take it; I’ll never turn you down.
My Espresso, my Latte, my Cappuccino, my Americano, my Chococino, my Macchiato, my Viennois…
Besides BOOKS, what else can one pair coffee with?
Chocolate, of course! Since both tend to originate from similar regions of the world… Try Dark Chocolate with Brazilian Coffee if you dare…
Sweet pastries, bread, doughnuts, and dairy also go really well with coffee…
Poultry is said to go well with a coffee with fruity notes like the coffee from central and east Africa, while red meat is best paired with a dark roast coffee originating in the Pacific Islands.
Last, but not least, berries go well with the coffee from east Africa, while pitted fruits such as peaches, plums, apricots, and the citrus fruits enhance the taste of coffee originating from central Africa and central America.
I love how Gertrude Stein speaks of coffee:
Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup.
Gertrude Stein, Selected Writings
I hope you will have a fabulous day today and will never have to say:
“I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now.”
Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
How do you enjoy your coffee?? I love coffee during any time of the day, milk, no sugar. I am not very fond of espresso though, but I love cappuccino, cafe latte, macchiato, chococino, Viennois… you name it and – in summer – the iced coffee!
Women writing war fiction is a controversial topic and one close to my heart. The question I was asked most often after publishing “Silent Heroes” was: why I wrote a book about war?
To me, “Silent Heroes” is a book that asked to be written. The idea behind it began to germinate in my mind long ago. It took over two years of research and assiduous work for this book to see the printing press.
Having lived through a Revolution and the fall of the Eastern Bloc, I can see that the power of historical knowledge and historical locations is often overlooked. From my point of view, the situation in Afghanistan is of global interest. There are many similar historical hot spots throughout the world. My interest in the War in Afghanistan was stirred on understanding what a major influence the use of military dogs has on the lives of civilians. Most books written on this subject are from a military or political perspective. A retelling of true facts. I wanted to create a work of fiction that will appeal as well as stir emotions, something plausible, yet appealing to a wider category of readers.
We tend to read a book from the perspective of our own experiences. Some books, after reading them, manage to change the way we see our own life – and this is what I tried to achieve with “Silent Heroes”. Find out more about the symbolism behind its pages here.
I would rather have you ask me “why I wrote ‘Silent Heroes’, rather than “why I wrote a book on war”.
Women writers wrote about war many times over. But how many are known?
War is a part of life. As in life, there is fear in war, but there is also resilience and a raw lucidity in it.
War draws in all kinds of people, men and women, children and elderly, rich and poor. War stamps its tattoo on their lives, no questions asked, by killing their loved ones, by forcing them to relocate, to give up the mere life necessities in order to survive. To give up life, as they knew it, in order to stay alive.
Most war literature I came across during my lifetime and while researching for “Silent Heroes” and for “Joyful Trouble” before it was written by men. True accounts of battle and hardship. “War and Peace” by Russian author Leo Tolstoy must be the best known war novel. I have enjoyed Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and loved, for its epic descriptions and sensitivity in portraying human beings and raw emotions, Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind” in which an entire generation was wiped out by the Civil War.
The question that inevitably rose was:
What is the major difference between a war story written by a woman and one written by a man?
And I don’t mean linguistic differences.
When reading a book written by a woman, I tend to feel closer to the author than when to a male author. I find their writing style more interactive. This aspect does not involve characters, but the overall feeling I get when reading -reading for pleasure.
Male authors tend to focus on conveying information, on the courage of the soldiers, on their super-human acts and vigor and less on the emotions that trigger or haunt them. On the intensity of their pain, the taste of their passion, the gut feeling.
From a sociology-cultural point of view we are a product of our upbringing and of the society we live in. Considering ideological factors and forces, we are a product of our interactions with and of our reactions to society. It is only normal that this will reflect in a writer’s work.
What about the communications style?
Will the fact that men and women have a different communication style reflect in their writing? Much like a piece of art or a music sheet reflect the author’s core structure.
On the other hand, writing is very much a products of our biographical reading. Which brings us back to our upbringing, influencing us in everything we do.
But since we only speak of the war theme here, I think that this difference shows in the type of relationships the characters tend to built with one another.
If you look at a novel as it would be a river, I tend to see a woman’s writing running smoothly, in a fluid movement, while a man’s is almost bubbling in it’s banks. But this is only my own imaginary.
War stories are a two way narrative.
War involves those who actively take part in it and those who are sucked in it, no choice given. Soldiers and civilians. And civilians, too, deserve to be heard. Their emotions should be given a voice, too.
But what if we don’t know if a book was written by a man or a woman? Would we still be able to spot the difference? And how will that knowledge influence our perception of the book?
Again, we only look at war books here.
We are past the women’s rise to prominence during the mid-nineteenth century and past the women’s rights movements.
Do women still need to prove themselves by writing about war?
War is a topic monopolized by men authors throughout the centuries.
Four years ago The Guardian published an interesting article, “Male writers continue to dominate literary criticism, Vida study finds“, VIDA being a group of volunteers interested in drawing attention to gender inequality in the field of book reviewing. The results of the study shows that men appeared 66 percent more often in The New York Times Book Review; three times more often in the London Review of Books; The Times Literary Supplement and others had worse numbers.
If reputable publications involved in book reviewing choose less books by women, will this influence the reader’s / buyer’s choice and view of books written by women?
My view on this subject may be biased as I am both a woman and a woman writer penning stories about war. Yet I feel that little is known about war stories written by women.
Amazing fiction books on war written by women
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (for the vivid image of how much the American Civil War changed people’s lives and characters)
Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (an entire generation changed by WW1)
The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam (for its hypnotic details of the Sri Lankan Civil War)
The Gold Lieutenant by Whitney Terrell (for depicting so truthfully the surviving nature of women during the Iraq War)
Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky (filled with the human sensitivity that often escapes WW2 written by an author who, sadly, died in the concentration camp at Auschwitz)
Nella Last’s war by Nella Last, an inside view of WW2 from a civilian’s point of view.
The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu (a touching tale of teenagers’ experiences in the Israeli Defense Forces)
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli (an amazing novel about the Vietnam War).
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (although an autobiography, is a must-read portrayal of the Holocaust)
Transcription by Kate Atkinson (a great spy novel of WW2)
The Night Watch by Sarah Waters (a great historical fiction set during WW2 London)
Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian (an amazing WW2 read for children over the age of 10, especially boys)
A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert (set during the WW2 occupation of Ukraine and Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2018)
Good Evening, Mrs Craven: Wartime Stories by Mollie Panter-Donnes (short stories written during WW2)
The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obrecht (set during in an unnamed Balkan country experiencing a rebirth after the collapse of communism).
Can you Hear the Nightbird Call? by Anita Rau Badami how three women survive the rise of the Sikh separatists in India).
Sparta by Roxana Robinson (about a war veteran’s battle with PTSD after the Iraq War).
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (for the humanity shared by different cultures when held hostage by terrorists)
Silent Heroesby Patricia Furstenberg (on the strong connections between US Marines and the Afghan civilians during the Afghanistan War).