On reading and not writing

August 30, 2016

I’d sort of given up on blogging, since life was just too hectic and I wasn’t finding time to do anything much at all. But then I found that life without blogging was not necessarily more productive than life with blogging. So I’ve decided to start again. Even if it’s just a way of checking in and saying “this is what I’m reading and not writing”. So to make it sort of easier to write, I’m doing a Q&A.

Q: What are you reading at the moment?

winnicott A: I’m reading Winnicott by Adam Phillips. I’m enjoying it but it’s definitely harder to read this on Kindle. I lose the thread and it takes days to pick it up again. I’m interested in Winnicott because he’s more hopeful than Freud or Klein. He was also one of the first clinicians to stress the primary importance of the mother-infant relationship. He says there’s no such thing as a baby, only a baby in relationship with its primary caregiver.

He stresses the importance of playing, of creativity, of holding (physical and emotional), and of transitional objects. He’s interested in aggression, in real and false selves, and in many other things as well. I just wish that I had more time to read and think.

I’m also reading “Towards an Emancipatory Psychoanalysis: Brandchaft’s Intersubjective Vision”. brandchaftIt’s long, it’s good, it’s dense. I’m reading this for our self-psychology reading group, and so it’s one chapter a month. I’m also reading this electronically since the physical copy was very expensive. Even with the pound taking a slight dip with Brexit fears, books are still outrageously expensive.

I need to find a good novel to read. Maybe a re-read. The last novel I read was “The Little Paris Bookshop” which was good but not great. I always feel a little guilty saying that. Is it me? Is it the book? A combination of the two? Seeing a Goodreads rating of below four stars also tends to make me think that it’s not just me.


Q: What are you writing at the moment, if anything?

A: I tend to write a lot of concussion reports since it’s rugby season. To be honest, I really dislike them. I write the minutes of meetings. I write off and on in my journals (both electronic and book-form).

Q: What would you like to write?

A: I would like to write some sort of memoir, but I know that that’s not possible at the moment for a number of reasons. Firstly, I could never bring myself to write about my family knowing that they might read it. And secondly, I need to work on my writing fitness.

Just today I thought that I would like to write about my mother. It’s a difficult topic but it just feels right. For a long while I thought I should write about my dad. Since he is the more well-known of the two (famous even, one might say). Sons writing about their fathers seems more logical, right? But actually the more difficult story would be the more interesting one. But I can’t write about it here. Part of me thinks that I would have nothing to say. But I know that’s not true. I also have a whole drawer full of journals which I could trawl through. *sigh* It’s complicated.

And you? What are you reading at the moment? And writing?

A Liebster meme

August 7, 2013

liebster-blog-awardThanks to Smithereens for the Liebster meme. 🙂 Here are my answers.

1. What’s your most recent favorite book?

Fiction: Life after Life by Kate Atkinson. It was quite different in that the main character kept dying and being reborn but it was brilliantly executed and I think it worked very well.

Non-fiction: I’ve already posted briefly about The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman. He covers such a lot of ground in this book in an easy and readable way. I think it’s a must for those interested in psychology and specifically the psychology of happiness. Home AwayI’ve also just finished Home Away (edited by Louis Greenberg), which is a collection of 24 stories by 24 writers (mostly South African) covering 24 hours and 24 cities. Some really excellent stories there and it made me want to read more local writing. It also made me want to write my own such story, which is something that really good books do too.

2. Name a writer you would blindly follow and buy any new book of.

Probably Julian Barnes. I’ve just bought his most recent one (Levels of Life) and am enjoying it so far.

3. What book would you like to re-read?

I very seldom re-read but I want to try it this year. It would have to be a novel or a collection of short stories.

4. What favorite book would you read to your 5 year-old child (or relative)?

I don’t know if I ever read Charlotte’s Web as a child but I’m looking forward to reading this to my daughter when she’s a bit older.

5. Have you ever regretted posting something on your blog?

Yes, I commented about a relationship which upset my then-girlfriend. I’ve also regretted letting my family know about my blog because it definitely constrains me in what I feel comfortable to write about.

6. How do you manage nasty comments on your blog?

I don’t get many of those (my blog is very small). But if I did get one I would see if it had any merit and either reply or delete. More annoying are the spam comments. Thankfully, WordPress filters most of these.

7. Have you read and enjoyed Tolkien’s books?

Yes, loved them. I remember reading somewhere that the (reading) world is divided into those who have read Tolkien and those who haven’t. It seemed a profound comment at the time, although not anymore. I would definitely revisit The Hobbit (with my daughter perhaps) but I wouldn’t re-read The Lord of the Rings.

8. If someone offered you a free air ticket, which destination would you choose?

So many places I’d love to visit (or revisit). In no particular order: Sydney, Auckland, Vancouver, San Francisco, London, Paris, New York, Amsterdam, Mauritius, Florence etc.

9. What is the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?

I can’t remember if I’ve ever eaten snails or mopane worms but it would probably be an insect of some kind.

10. What’s your favorite post on your own blog?

Two of my favourite posts (and two of the most popular) are “Jung, Calvin and Hobbes and the Unconscious” and “Wedding readings”. I like the wedding one because it reminds me of a less stressed time in our relationship when we were more in the moment and weren’t worrying about houses and childcare and parents and jobs. And the “Calvin and Hobbes” one reminds me of a time when I felt more creative and intellectually alive. Nowadays I have long to-do lists at work and feel more under pressure.

11. What website do you visit for a 1 min break?

Facebook, Goodreads, the Guardian Books page


Who to nominate in turn? You know, my blog is so small at the moment that I would struggle to find 11 regular visitors who are bloggers themselves and who haven’t already been tagged. So if you feel like answering the questions below then consider yourself tagged. If I had to nominate some blogging friends I’d start with: Litlove, Grad, Lilian, Shrink on the Couch

My questions which you would need to answer:

1. What’s the most difficult thing you managed to do this week?
2. The most thought-provoking writing you read this week?
3. Do you still read a physical copy of the newspaper? Which one(s)?
4. Kobo vs Kindle vs Ipad?
5. What’s the best book you’ve never read?
6. What’s your favourite place for writing?
7. If you could learn a new skill, what would it be?
8. What’s the last TV series that you really enjoyed?
9. What’s the most played song currently on your iPod/ computer?
10. What’s the most unusual present you’ve received?
11. And lastly, since this is a blog after all, which of your popular posts do you really like?

Liebster rules (if you’re feeling rule-observing!)

When you’re nominated for a Liebster, here’s what you do:

1. Thank the Liebster Blog presenter who nominated you and link back to their blog.
2. Nominate 11 blogs who you feel deserve to be noticed and leave a comment on their blog letting them know they have been chosen.
3. Answer the 11 questions you were asked and create 11 questions for your nominees.
4. Display the Liebster Award logo.
5. No tag backs, meaning you can’t just re-nominate the person who nominated you.

Our House

June 20, 2013

Our House 3

We’re in the process of trying to sell our house (pictured above) and it’s not an easy task. Two more lots of people came to see it this afternoon and found it unsuitable in different ways. For the first woman, living alone with her daughter, there wasn’t enough security. The joint driveway is a worry for her, and for many others it seems. We’ve found it actually adds to our security since the neighbours who live behind are a middle-aged, retired couple who are home a lot and who can keep an eye on things when we’re away. But, as the first woman pointed out, the main gate is low enough for anyone to jump over if they’re set on it. And this would keep her awake at nights.

Lots of people like the house but want more space, either in the house or in the garden. They don’t like sharing a driveway and feel less secure knowing that they don’t have complete control over their own security. The neighbours might forget to close the gate for example. And what if they (the neighbours) decided to sell and did so to an obnoxious family? I’ve seen more than one family stop looking right there.

We’ve already found a slightly larger house down the road that we like. It has an extra bedroom, a solar-heated pool and a large playroom for Leah. We’ve both said that we could happily stay here if we can’t sell but in the meantime we have to put up with the discomfort of scrutiny, the inevitable criticism of our lovely house, some more show-days and a long wait.

Otherwise, things are relatively upbeat this week. It’s the first day of my school holidays and I’m really relieved this term is over. We’ve all been battling colds and flu’s and other ailments (the little one for example seems to be backed up until Christmas). And the weeks of rain haven’t helped. But every now and then we get a gloriously sunny day and we forget all about the gloomy skies and the attendant anxieties.

AntidoteReading-wise, I’ve got a few books on the go. I’m still reading and enjoying The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht. I’ve also renewed my Audible subscription and bought a detective thriller for L (The Bat by Jo Nesbo) and a psychology book for myself. Oliver Burkeman writes on psychology for the Guardian and I’ve enjoyed his columns in the past. With The Antidote he tackles the cult of positive thinking and shows how negative thinking (or just balanced thinking) can be a lot better for us. It’s too early to say whether I’m going to like the majority of what he has to say. But I’ve enjoyed the balance between the drier academic discussions and the more personal anecdotes such as his ‘Circle Line tube experiment’ and the background to Albert Ellis. Basically, he’s against positive thinking and for all the right reasons. But so far he hasn’t engaged with Positive Psychology itself but rather with the cult of positive thinking of people such as Norman Vincent Peale as well as going into a detailed discussion of Stoicists old and new. I liked the ideal of “negative visualisation” as a kind of innoculation against getting too upset about things. Applying this technique to our house situation, I do feel a bit calmer but also resigned about it. I’m wise enough to know that things are seldom as bad as I fear they are. The estate agent says to give it time (and it’s only been one and a half weeks so far with one show day, which coincided with a long weekend). I’ll let you know how things pan out.

On turning 43 and reading Bluets

April 18, 2013

KB collage1

Pictures of Kirstenbosch this past Saturday. Late summer sun shining on Castle Rock. Red balloons in the trees. A quiet bench. I was in a bit of a mood. Still digesting turning another year older (43). Nothing to feel bad about really. Tea on my birthday with family two days earlier. Lovely presents (including some really interesting books, many of them chosen by me).

Admittedly Leah had a complete meltdown on the evening of my birthday. It was a good thing we hadn’t planned to go out. Screaming. Refusing supper, bath, bottle, bed. Climbing out of her bed. Telling L and I to “Go away!” It’s all relative of course. I told L that I thought our daughter had the beginnings of a mood disorder. “This is not normal! Our daughter will end up with Bipolar.” L in tears.

So to Kirstenbosch on the Saturday. By myself for an hour. A book (Bluets) to finish but I was disappointed. I loved parts of this book but as a whole it was disappointing. As a memoir there was so much she left out. As a meditation on the colour blue and what it meant to her in that period of her life it was amazingly powerful but also …. skimpy perhaps? It didn’t fit the mould of memoirs that I’m used to.

But as always, just thinking about this book makes me appreciate it more. And I know that when Litlove reviews it, I will see it again in a whole new light. But on Saturday I was grumpy. And the book didn’t help. I think she captured the intangibility of the colour blue and also the intensity of emotion. (Very crude plot summary: she was a bit depressed at the end of a relationship.) The result was a disturbing but also inspirational read. We love (people, colours, things) and then those things disappoint us. Life goes on.

Tempted by audio

February 28, 2013

examined life2

1. I’m seriously tempted to buy some more audiobooks. I know that I often don’t have the time or the energy to read so it might be easier just to listen instead.

Wolf Hall or The Examined Life? I’m really interested in Stephen Grosz’s account of 50,000 hours of being a psychotherapist. This is just the kind of book that I like. Purrr.

2. I enjoyed Netherland by Joseph O’ Neill but I also found it a bit boring in parts. However, since I finished it and read an interview with the author I’ve been thinking about it a lot more. There was the whole comparison with The Great Gatsby which completely passed me by but which now makes perfect sense. Chuck Ramkissoon and Jay Gatsby. Both self-made men embodying the American Dream. Both idealists who are brought down by their own greed. And the voice of Hans van de Broek has also stayed with me (and the comparison with Nick from the The Great Gatsby). I found the descriptions of cricket in the US charming. And I’ve warmed to the book a lot more now that I know that Joseph O’ Neill lived in the Netherlands and the UK himself. I presumed (quite wrongly) that he had decided to make his lead character Dutch on a whim.

2012 reading wrap-up

December 22, 2012

I can’t believe that Christmas is only 3 days away. I have been on holiday (when not looking after Leah) and have done almost no writing. I know I need a break and I’ve been trying to relax but even the summer books are not quite hitting the spot at the moment. I have one book to go to reach my target of 20 books for the year but I’m not stressing about it. This was a guide more than a fixed target.

Looking over the books read this year, a few stand out. The year started with Book 3 of the Hunger Games Trilogy and that was a quick and easy read. I haven’t felt moved to watch the movie though since I think I got quite enough of the story in three book formats. The year ended with Portnoy’s Complaint which I generally didn’t like at all. I’ve been meaning to review it properly here but I also wonder if it’s worth it. If a book is that bad, does it warrant a review? But in the week or so since I finished it (and this was a skim-read for the second half since I didn’t want to spend too much time with Alex Portnoy) I’ve softened my reaction a bit and I can appreciate the significance of the book for its time (1969). I’m prepared to give Philip Roth a second chance at some point since I hope that having got this book out of his system, it freed him up to write more significant material? I’m also interested in the premise of the novel, which is that the whole book is addressed to his psychoanalyst as if he was lying on the couch telling the story of his life. The book ends with a rather telling punchline:
‘So [said the doctor]. Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?’

Let me just say that my chief gripe with this book was that it was misogynistic and that Portnoy spent way too much time complaining and worrying about masturbation, his sexual relationship with his girlfriend whom he called The Monkey, as well as countless pages kvetching about his Jewish identity in a way that was very unproductive. The early chapters on Portnoy’s parents were hilarious but the rest of the book I found pretty dire.

Perhaps the most enjoyable read of the year was Sweet Talk by Stephanie Vaughn. In contrast to Roth’s vast output, Vaughn has published almost nothing but hers is the voice I would much prefer to hear telling her stories.

Also worth a mention in terms of fiction: The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Silver by Andrew Motion, The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, The Night Circus, The Gift of Rain.

Shoot the Damn Dog by Sally Brampton was very good at debunking the science around depression. What I took from this is that anti-depressants just don’t work for some people and what worked for Brampton was regular exercise (walking mostly), maintaining friendships, a bit of therapy and generally regaining a sense of balance in her life.

The Real Self by James Masterson was very insightful. Masterson is a revered figure in psychology for his work with personality disorders. I was particularly interested to read what he said about the importance of rage and disappointment in facing up to reality and to engaging our “real selves”. Quite enlightening also when dealing with a toddler. If rage and tantrums are part of the process then it’s OK to say “No”!

I also enjoyed The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner.

Finally, one of the finds of the year for me was A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard. The level of detail that Knausgaard is able to access is phenomenal and I was pretty impressed with his insights and the courage that it took to write this memoir. I would be interested to read a follow-up.

Reading goals for 2013? A balance between fiction and non-fiction. More South African writing (e.g. Redi Direko from 702 has written an interesting memoir on her childhood, particularly her friendship with an older boy who turned out to be violent criminal). Perhaps a few classics. More Self Psychology. More memoirs if possible.

Have a great festive season and see in you in 2013.

xmas 2012_3

What I’m reading

November 6, 2012

Thanks to Litlove and Simon (Stuck in a Book) for this great meme. I’ve been wanting to post something for a while so this gives me an easy option.

1. The book I’m reading
is Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. I’m reading it slowly and so it could take a while. I’m interested in what he has to say but I find long eBooks a bit difficult to read. It’s taking ages to move from 6% to 7% and I do like to see that I’m making progress. At the moment he’s talking about the difference between System 1 and System 2 thinking. System 1 is more automatic (including unconscious) thinking while System 2 is the slower, more deliberate effort of thinking that we use in our day-to-day lives. The most effortful thinking, in his research, involves doing an exercise such as ‘Add 3’ where you have to hold a string of numbers in memory and then add 3 to them as you go along. Our dilated pupils as we do this are a sign of intense concentration. And trying to walk at the same time will be too difficult.

2. The last book I read
was Sweet Talk by Stephanie Vaughn. I discovered her writing through The New Yorker Fiction podcasts when I listened to Tea Obreht reading ‘Able Baker Charlie Dog’. I was immediately drawn to Vaughn’s distinctive voice. Sweet Talk is a collection of 10 short stories and five of them are written from the perspective of Gemma, a teenage girl growing up on a military base in America. They are semi-autobiographical and I found them brilliant. Moving, funny, quirky and written in deceptively simple, powerful English. The story ‘Dog Heaven’ is one of the best in the collection and I love the way she blends the various layers of the story – Gemma’s perspective, the dog’s perspective as well as wry descriptions of the teacher and life on the military base.

I’ve been mulling over how to write a review of Sweet Talk even before I finished it. Vaughn is a professor of creative writing at Stanford but she has very little published writing herself. That’s a great pity since some of these stories are the most memorable ones I’ve read in a long while.

3. The book I’ll read next
will probably be a children’s book. I have four other books to finish and also four weeks before the end of the term. I’m looking forward to a good, escapist novel for my end-of-year holiday. There’s no shortage of to-be-read books but I need something special.

4. The last book I bought
was a children’s eBook and it was a complete waste of money. I was sitting in bed reading to Leah and I suddenly thought I could find something entertaining at the Kindle store rather than walking over to her room to read one of the books we’ve read 20 times already. The book was a piece of doggerel about the biggest cupcake in the world.

The last proper book I bought was David Lodge’s biography of H.G. Wells called A Man of Parts. It was on sale at my local bookshop and since I both enjoyed the last Lodge that read and am intrigued by the subject matter of this one, it seemed like a good impulse-buy.

5. The last book I was given
was The Gift of Rain by Tan Kwan Eng. I enjoyed this a lot but it did make me think that I’m probably a difficult person to buy books for. L gave me this for my birthday after a friend raved about it in her bookclub. She said it was one of the best books she’d ever read. Well I didn’t find that but I did find it a good read (after a slow start).