Stoke the “Embers”

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Embers by Sándor Márai is one of those rare books that can fashion a slice of life story into something powerful and intriguing. It explores a deep friendship between two men that began when they were young boys, but fractures when they reach adulthood. They come from two very different backgrounds as one is very wealthy while the other struggles.  Despite the disparity they share a bond that does not break even when deceit comes between them. After an estrangement lasting forty one years, the main character laments that regardless of everything his friend has done, they are still connected.

Márai has an amazing gift of building a story bit by bit until it explodes with one twist after another. The story is told primarily through the eyes of the General (the wealthy one of the two). When he recieves word that his old friend is coming for a visit, the General begins to reminisce about past events. He thinks about how they met and vaguely alludes to what drove them apart. By the time his friend arrives, he is ready to confront the root of his long-held anger.

The two men share an evening of memories and accusations. Events of their history remain close to the surface, but tempers remain surprisingly in check. For both men, this meeting isn’t about proving who is right, but rather about closure and usurping the ultimate meaning of life. In particular, the General is looking to reconcile the human desire for passion, love, and friendship with the tendencies towards deceit, hate, and jealousy. They are inextricably part of the human experience, yet they are capable of both enhancing and destroying the very fabric and joy of life.  It is a paradox that has no answers and offers no consolation.

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I interrupt this book review for shameless, shameless self-promotion.  If you are a campaigner and enjoyed my entry, (The Call) for the first challenge, feel free to give me a thumbs up!  I am #93 and you can find my “like” button here.

So far I’ve read so many wonderful stories and I can’t wait to read more as they are posted! Good luck to everyone in the challenge!

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c.b. 2012

22 Writers Worth Reading (Part 2)

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The second half of my list of 22 is just as eclectic as the first with writers belonging to a broad spectrum of genres and time periods.  Some I’ve read all my life, while others are recent additions to my always growing list of favorite authors.  Regardless of when I found them, all 22 writers have inspired me to write with the same spirit of creativity.

For Writers 1-11, please see Part 1

Writers 12-22 in no particular order:

12. Sándor Márai
Márai’s work has only recently been rediscovered and translated into English.  He is a Hungarian writer who uses the power of subtlety to convey deeply emotional stories.  Márai captures the soul of humanity in his characters, who are so real I feel like I know them personally.  Even more impressive are how his stories often seem like he lifted them right out reality.

Favorite Book: Embers

13. Cassandra Clare
Bring on the romance and the demon fighters!  Clare knows how to spin quite a yarn that includes everything from action, suspense, love, and the battle between good and evil.  Urban fantasy has never been so appealing! Her writing style is clean, fresh, and full of wildly colorful descriptions.  I never know where the story is going to go and I’m always surprised when I turn the page.

Favorite Book: City of Bones

14. Ron Currie, Jr.
Currie only has two books to his credit, but they are magnificent pieces of work.  His writing is crisp, daring, and  openly defiant of convention.   In both of his books, he posits some pretty tough questions about what truly matters in life and how much we take for granted.  The real beauty of it all is his encouragement for readers to answer those questions for themselves.

Favorite Book: Everything Matters

15. William Shakespeare
When Mr. Miller taught me how to read Shakespeare in 11th grade, it was like he opened a window to a whole new world.  My love and appreciation for Shakespeare’s work only grew when I saw theater productions of Othello and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Ultimately, Shakespeare nails lyrical prose and is a keen observer of human behavior.

Favorite Works: Othello and The Sonnets

16. Paulo Coelho
When I read The Alchemist, I went out and bought a copy for just about everyone I know.  Coelho’s spiritual and philosophical style elicits contemplation and enlightenment.  His belief in the individual spirit and the importance of following your heart comes through in almost every one of his works.  Whenever I falter, I look to the wisdom in his stories to pull me back on track.

Favorite Book: The Alchemist

17. Yu Hua
Hua’s body of work delves into the darker corners of Chinese history and familial ties.  He focuses on the Cultural Revolution and the devastating impact it had on families and friendships.  Where other writers would lean towards the political atmosphere, Hua keeps the focus on the human condition.  In doing this, he creates a more accurate portrayal of China’s cultural history than any history textbook could dream of accomplishing.

Favorite Book: Chronicles of a Blood Merchant

18. Beatrix Potter
I remember my grandmother reading Beatrix Potter to me when I was child.  Even then I understood the genius of Peter Rabbit or Benjamin Bunny.  Potter mastered the fine balance between simplicity and distinctive description, a talent that makes her books pure magic to anyone who picks them up.

Favorite Book: The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit

19. Amy Ephron
Ephron writes fantastic historical fiction that takes place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. What sets her apart is her ability to use an era as a set piece rather than a focal point.  Her characters and stories could easily be pulled out and transferred to any time period as they are infinitely intriguing and realistic.  However, Ephron’s real talent lies in crafting surprise endings.  My mouth has fallen open more than once after reading the last line.

Favorite Book: A Cup of Tea

20. Benjamin Lebert
Lebert is a German writer who explores the backstreets of adolescence with a blunt and honest perspective.  He holds nothing back as he exposes everything from drug addiction, bullying, sex, and emotional angst.  More remarkable still, he was brave enough to do it at just 16 years old.  His young voice is provocative, intelligent, and deserves to be heard.  While his first novel Crazy was phenomenal, his second absolutely blew me away.

Favorite Book: The Bird is a Raven

21. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Mysteries are not usually my cup of tea, but I can’t resist Sherlock Holmes.  Doyle creates truly unique characters and spins fascinating tales of murder and intrigue.  His writing sparkles with witty dialogue and countless twists that always keep me guessing.  Working a case with Holmes is always a spirited adventure!

Favorite Work: The Speckled Band

22. Walter Farley
I was probably around 10 years old when I first read The Black Stallion and I still remember every part of that book from start to finish.  Farley’s story of a young boy and his horse showed me how beautiful the connection between man and animal can be.  Walter Farley is a huge reason why I fell in love with reading and I can’t thank him enough for leaving such a strong impression on me as a writer.  My original Black Stallion book still sits on my shelf.

Favorite Book: The Black Stallion

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What writers would make your list of 22?  If you take up the challenge, please post a link that leads to your list!

c.b. 2012

The Last Bit of Wandering

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June 19, 2011

I made my way back to Speaker’s Corner and spent the morning listening to some very radical points of view.  Religion, politics, and philosophy dominated the soapbox speeches so naturally debate was quick to follow.  Hecklers were more numerous than usual, but civility still ruled the day.  Probably the most interesting aspect this time around was seeing different speakers visit each other and interact.  Virtually the same people come and speak every week, which means they know each other pretty well.  Some are friends, while others have nothing more than civilized respect for one another.  This familiarity made for some interesting debate as each knows exactly what buttons to push to set off the other.  It’s always a show and I do enjoy the free entertainment as much as the curiosity it inspires.

After I had my fill of point/counterpoint I wandered down Knightsbridge and looked for a place to dodge the rain.  Harrods was in sight so I decided to see what all the fuss is about concerning this store.  The place was so packed it was impossible to enjoy anything about it.  From what I could see, there were a lot of people sifting through a lot of over priced stuff.  After fifteen minutes, the rain seemed like a better situation.  A determined shopper, I am not!

I backtracked to Hyde Park and went for a stroll down Constitution Hill and The Mall.  Even with the rain, it was a nice walk.

June 20, 2011

I needed a break from the city, so I stayed in the neighborhood that surrounds the flat where I’m staying.  There’s a lot to explore around here and I’m glad I took the time to see it.  I walked up The Avenue to get to Alexandra Park, a lovely little surprise I wish I had found a long time ago.  Alexandra Palace sits near the entrance, although I didn’t get to see much of it as it’s under renovation.  No matter, the park had plenty of other sites, namely a hillside that offered a stunning vista of the city of London.  After spending so many days in the thick of the urban center, it was refreshing to see it from a quiet patch of grass.

A lake in the middle of the park gave me a peaceful place to sit and write for most of the morning and into the afternoon.  Tall rose bushes and large old trees surround the lake and benches, while ducks and geese swim and play. The picture below was a lucky shot . . .

From the park, I followed Dukes Avenue, which leads directly to the roundabout of Muswell Hill Broadway.  This is essentially the center of the neighborhood and I thought it would be fun to wander down each street attached to the center.  It took all afternoon, but I got to each spoke on the wheel.  In the process, I found a great little local bookshop where I spent a while looking through their shelves.  I walked out with Esther’s Inheritance by Sandor Marai.  The author is one of my favorites and often very difficult to find at home, which made this a pretty exciting find.

I spent the rest of the day at a local bakery café where I indulged in hot chocolate and a homemade doughnut filled with strawberry jam.  As I ate and drank, I started reading my new book.  I took my time and the world seemed to slow down.  For at least a little while, life was as simple as a good story and a hot drink.

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