Literature & Books

+ Infinite Jest Word List

Expanding my vocabulary with Infinite Jest

I finished reading David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest a few months ago and along with keeping up with the dozens of wildly different characters in different walks of life, I've had the pleasure of learning some new words along the way.  While 'cunctation' and 'quincunx' are fun to say out loud, my favourite words so far have to be aleatory or lacuna.

This Infinite Jest word list below includes words that I already vaguely understood, but it took reading them in a novel to force me to learn their meaning once and for all! Hopefully this list is a nice cheat sheet for anyone else reading the novel. I also hope to pull together a list of blogs/websites that helped me understand the novel, watch this space.

New Words

Élan - energy, style, and enthusiasm

Loquacious - Tending to talk a great deal; talkative

Fugue - A state or period of loss of awareness of one's identity, often coupled with flight from one's usual environment, associated with certain forms of hysteria and epilepsy

Dipsomaniacal - An insatiable craving for alcoholic beverages

Nadir - The bottom, the lowest point

Optative - Of, relating to, or constituting a verbal mood that is expressive of wish or desire

Mordant - Sharply caustic or sarcastic, as wit or a speaker; biting

Anticonfluential - (this is likely a word that David Foster Wallace made up) A reluctance/refusal to allow things to flow together or merge

Leonine - Lion-like

Chiarascuro - The treatment of light and colour in drawing and painting

Deliquesce - (of organic matter) become liquid, typically during decomposition

Ideation - The formation of ideas and concepts

Diurnal - Of or during the day

Dentate - Having a tooth-like/serrated edge

Lebensgefährtin - Partner in life

Leptosomatic - Related to leptosomic, a person of asthenic build

BröckengespenstAlso called Brocken bow or mountain spectre, is the apparently enormous and magnified shadow of an observer, cast upon the upper surfaces of clouds opposite the sun. The phenomenon can appear on any misty mountainside or cloud bank, or even from an aeroplane

Auteur - A filmmaker whose personal influence and artistic control over a movie are so great that the filmmaker is regarded as the author of the movie

Rapacious - Inordinately greedy and predatory

Samizdat - Literature secretly written, copied, and circulated in the former Soviet Union

Teratogenic - Able to disturb the growth and development of an embryo or foetus

Anfractuous Tortuous, full of windings and intricate turnings

Fantods - To have the 'fantods' is to be in a state of nervousness, distress, or anxiety

Prandial - During or relating to dinner/lunch

Quincunx - A geometric pattern consisting of five points arranged in a cross, with four of them forming a square or rectangle and a fifth at its center.

Plosive - The kinds of sounds usually associated with the letters p, t, k; b, d, g, in which air flow from the lungs is interrupted by a complete closure being made in the mouth.

Aleatory - Depending on chance; random.

Sangfroid - Composure, to be self-possessed in trying situations 

Gibbous - Marked by convexity or swelling; when the Moon is more than half full, but not quite fully illuminated

Aperçu - Concise, clever review or summation of something

Capering - Skip or dance about in a lively or playful way.

Hirsute - Hairy, shaggy

Rutilant - Having a reddish glow

Fronds - An often large, finely divided leaf

Eidetic - Relating to or denoting mental images having unusual vividness and detail, as if actually visible.

Nacelle - The outer casing of an aircraft engine **I had no idea about this at all, and when I asked my boyfriend he knew it instantly?!**

Afflatus - A strong creative impulse, especially as a result of divine inspiration

Teutonic -  Of or pertaining to the Germanic languages and to peoples or tribes who speak or spoke them

Lacuna - An unfilled space or interval; a gap.

Diorama - A three-dimensional full-size or miniature model

Detente - The easing of hostility or strained relations, especially between countries.

Ephebic - Of or relating to the characteristic of a young man

Apotheosizing - The glorification of a subject to divine level

Mens-sana - Of sound mind

Effete - (Of a person) s overrefined, and ineffectual

Florid - Having a red complexion; elaborately or excessively intricate

Nictitate - To wink/blink

Priapism A persistent and usually painful long-lasting erection

Coprophilia - A sexual fetish people feel when they come into contact with faeces.

Onanism - Ejaculating outside the vagina during intercourse; (the performing of) coitus interruptus

Apothegm - A concise saying or maxim; an aphorism.

Cunctation - The action or an instance of delaying

Prolix - Using or containing too many words; tediously lengthy.

Amanuensis - A literary or artistic assistant, in particular one who takes dictation or copies manuscripts.

Falcate - Curved like a sickle; hooked

Fulcrum - The support about which a lever pivots.

Jejune - Naïve, simplistic, and superficial.

Glabrous -  Without hair e.g skin or a leaf

Mephistophelan - Wicked

Turpitude - Depravity

Saprogenic - Causing or produced by putrefaction or decay.

Eschatology - A part of theology concerned with the final events of history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity. This concept is commonly referred to as the "end of the world" or "end time".

Orts - Remains/scraps 

Pulchritude - Physical beauty

Nacreous - Possessing the qualities of mother of pearl; iridescent 

Escutcheon - An individual or corporate coat of arms

Crepuscular - Of, resembling, or relating to twilight

Hellacious - very great, bad, or overwhelming

Coprolite - fossilized faeces!

Evince - reveal the presence of (a quality or feeling)

Decoct - extract the essence of something by boiling it

Picayune - of little value or significance

Zaftig - A plump woman

+ 30 Books to Read Before 30

So last month I turned 28. Yep, in the grand scheme of things I'm still a spring chicken, but edging ever closer to the big Three-O has made me more conscious of all the things I could/should try to do in my twenties.

I'll be compiling '30 before 30' posts on various topics as I edge ever close to entering my fourth decade on earth! First up is a list of books to read before 30:

What I Know Now: Letters to my Younger SelfWomen from all walks of life write a letter to their younger selves. Some lovely advice such as the following:

“Notice some of the beauty around you.Partake in joy. And when you get the choice to watch on the sidelines or to dance, get out there and dance" - Lee Ann Womack
Leaves of Grass - Walt WhitmanI've only read Song of Myself so far, but love the following passage:

"My sun has his sun and round him obediently wheels /
He joins with his partners a group of superior circuit /
And greater sets follow, making specks of the greatest inside them."
The Second Sex - Simone de BeauvoirThis is a REALLY dense book and I will be surprised if I finish the first chapter before I hit 30! I know that this is a rite of passage and I'll definitely commit to finishing this one day.
Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace
Currently reading this. I firmly believe this should be on everyone's reading list regardless of age, and if you don't believe me here's some reasons on why we should!
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love - Raymond CarverI read this for a module at university, and it affected me more than nearly all the other books during my English Literature course. It's so raw, honest about relationships and for that reason everyone should read this in their twenties
Adulting - Kelly Williams Brown
Not read this yet but I'm a massive fan of Kelly's blog, for posts such as this.
The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret AtwoodMargaret Atwood's novels are compulsory reading for women (and men), not least because of their tendency to deal with harrowing, thought-provoking subject matters in such a way that anyone can read them.
The Bell Jar - Sylvia PlathFor me, this was a boring but must-read novel. Boring in the sense that the protagonist seemed to have nothing to live for. But again, that's why you should read it. The metaphor in the title, of being suffocated/trapped by depression is haunting and needs to be observed to have a greater understanding of humanity.
As Conscious Is Harnessed to Flesh - Susan SontagI love her free-flowing, personal phrase in this collection of intimate thoughts.
Nights at the Circus - Angela CarterTruly memorable, one-of-a-kind novel. Angela Carter's work is deeply original and I'd also recommend The Passion of New Eve for another wildely insane, memorable read!
The Mark on The Wall & Other Fiction- Virginia Woolf"Still, there’s no harm in putting a full stop to one’s disagreeable thoughts by looking at a mark on the wall.”
Wild - Cheryl StrayedI really enjoyed following Cheryl's fucked-up but cathartic journey into the desert.
Middlemarch - George Eliot“ is in these acts called trivialities that the seeds of joy are forever wasted until men and women look round with haggard faces at the devastation their own waste has made and say the earth bears no harvest of sweetness—calling their denial knowledge."
Under My Skin - Doris LessingTo Read
Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas HardyI read this when I was a teenager and I still remember it clearly. “Tis because we be on a blighted star, and not a sound one, isn't it Tess?”"
Lady Chatterley’s Lover - DH Lawrence“A woman has to live her life, or live to repent not having lived it.” Anything by DH Lawrence is a must-read in my book. I love his ability to describe human emotion with such beautiful prose.
Letters of Note - edited by Shaun UsherMy favourite letters include the NASA scientist writing to the nun, and John Steinback giving advice to his son about love; "And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away."
Freedom - Jonathan Franzen"But nothing disturbs the feeling of specialness like the presence of other human beings feeling identically special.”"
Burial Rites - Hannah KentSemi-historical novel depicting the unjust treatment of a young women in Iceland.
Diving into the Wreck - Adrienne RichAdrienne Rich is a hugely important poet whose poetry and essays raised questions about feminism, sexuality and modern-day life.
Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie“If you don't understand, ask questions. If you're uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway. It's easy to tell when a question is coming from a good place. Then listen some more. Sometimes people just want to feel heard. Here's to possibilities of friendship and connection and understanding.”
Sons and Lovers - DH Lawrence“Night, in which everything was lost, went reaching out, beyond stars and sun. Stars and sun, a few bright grains, went spiraling round for terror, and holding each other in embrace, there in a darkness that outpassed them all, and left them tiny and daunted. So much, and himself, infinitesimal, at the core of nothingness, and yet not nothing.”
The Awakening - Kate ChopinTo Read
Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Haruki MurakamiI love this book because it's wholly unlike anything I've ever read. It's on this list for precisely that reason.
Song of Solomon - Toni MorrisonWhether it's Song of Solomon, the Bluest Eye or Beloved, Toni Morrison is essential reading.
Delta of Venus - Anaïs NinTo Read
Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”
Eat Pray Love - Elizabeth GilbertStill haven't managed to finish this book, but I think it's a necessary read not least because it deals with the discontentment of a woman who "has it all".
Ghana Must Go - Taiye SelasiAlmost poetic debut novel from Taiye Selasi. Cannot wait to read more from her
Revolutionary Road - Richard YatesA thought-provoking read centring on the mundanity of domesticity. “Intelligent, thinking people could take things like this in their stride, just as they took the larger absurdities of deadly dull jobs in the city and deadly dull homes in the suburbs. Economic circumstances might force you to live in this environment, but the important thing was to keep from being contaminated. The important thing, always, was to remember who you were.”





+ Reading Ulysses

Ulysses I started reading Ulysses in July 2011, and after various sincere attempts to get into a routine of fitting this book around my daily life, I lost my enthusiasm halfway in. However, I have carried it on my commute more often than not, and finally made it to the end of the book.That doesn't mean this book is now finished and ready to send off to the chrity shop.

This is the first book I've ever read where finishing the book is actually the beginning. My intention was to read it free of any critical influence, study guides and chapter-by-chapter summaries, and I'm glad I did. Here's my advice for anyone who wants to read James Joyce's seven-year effort (and a quick note to remind you that 2012 is the year it becomes property of the public domain):

* Don't be disillusioned if there's vast swathes of prose you can't make head. or tail of. Just continue to let the sounds of the words splash around your mind, looking up problematic words where possible, but the important thing is not to STOP. I honestly believe the first reading of Ulysses should be approached like a wise relative - you may not understand everything they are try to tell you but that doesn't mean you should therefore turn your back on them! And what is a mystery today will almost certainly reveal itself on a second read, or when you finally get round to analysing the book itself.

* Don't set yourself reading goals by page. One page of Ulysses might take you two minutes, another much, much more! Instead, view the task of reading Ulysses as an evolving activity that should not be made into a competition and rite of passage!

* Listen to recordings of James Joyce's voice to imagine how the book's if vocabulary and nuances would sound if uttered from the man itself. I found a YouTube clip of Joyce reading aloud.

* Read other book simultaneously. I made the mistake of refusing to read other prose while reading Ulysses, but this is setting yourself up to be very frustrated! Inevitably, There might be periods of days or weeks when the thought of re-opening Ulysses makes you shiver in fear, and if you don't have a less challenging book to fall back on in those times of despair you will be novel-less, and I can think of nothing worse on the world!

* I didn't do this myself, but I've heard watching the film can be a nice way of introducing you to the main story arc without interfering with your own opinion-forming of the book itself.

* If you haven't already, download a Dictionary app to your smartphone if you can! This is invaluable when reading Ulysses on the go, although some words should be read firmly tongue-in-cheek, as Joyce has the wondrous habit of inventing quirky words and conjoining separate words into a new one.

I only actually found out about Frank Delaney's episodic podcasts Re: Joyce AFTER I'd finished the book, but I really think they will help crack through the fear that prevents a large majority of people ever even turning to the first page. No-one should miss out on attempting this novel just because of the hype and critical minefield that surrounds it, and Delaney's voice calms the nerves as he demystifies the prose.

I think I'll write another review once I've really read into the novel a bit more, as I feel like I have only just scraped the surface and there's a lot more rewarding reading to come.

+ Goodreads: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita Vladimir Nabokov fascinates me. He had synesthesia, and literary synesthesia is defined as “a writer’s use of a metaphor of the senses”. It gave him a unique perspective to weigh up the world around him, which I think manifests itself beautifully in the prose of Lolita.

Despite the taboo subject matter, I found myself forgetting that this was told from a narrator in love with an underage child, and instead got so seduced by the prose all I could perceive was the beauty of it. There are countless examples of stunning descriptions, effortless yet biting remarks on the world as Humbert saw it, and not to mention the rich use of words to add meaning. I must have had to look up 50+ words on my Dictionary app just to be able to keep my grasp on what exactly the narrator was trying to convey!

Yes, the choice of subject matter is shocking, but I find it all the more shocking that some readers have failed to perceive the irony and sarcasm throbbing through the pages of this book. Take, for instance, Humbert's assertion that he is "now faced with the distasteful task of recording a definite drop in Lolita's morals", or Miss Pratt's blind assumption that "Dolly is obsessed by sexual thoughts for which she finds no outlet".

I find it dangerous that so many have read this novel and seen it merely as a depiction of paedophilia, when it is so much more than this. In the novel's afterword, Nabokov declares that Lolita has "no moral in tow", and I'm inclined to agree with this. He was not writing this to raise questions about whether or not Humbert's behaviour was abhorrent - that's already perfectly clear in Humbert's fate and his realisation that "What I heard was but the melody of children at play [...] the hopelessly poignant thing was not Lolita's absence from my side, but the absence of her voice from the concord".

It's useless getting too bogged down with WHY and HOW an author write the novels they do. I think the key is just to appreciate the fact that they put pen to paper at all and could then subsequently inspire and influence thousands of others. What's especially poignant is Nabokov's almost inane assertion that his inspiration for writing the book was reading about an ape that was given drawing materials and then simply drew the bars of his cage. But the more I think about it, the more I am inclined to beleive that Lolita was Nabokov's attempt to write a novel outside of the confines of his literary cage - to write in a unfettered style, ignoring the traditional limits and restrictions of the literary tradition.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

+ A Beautiful Weekend in London

For much of the year I view London as a chaotic, jumbling hive of activity; cold, impersonal and anonymous. But there are times when the the rain ceases, the clouds evaporate and it reveals itself to be a pretty damn beautiful place. I'm always thinking about where I want to move to next, but on weekends like this I feel like I never want to be anywhere else! This weekend (in no particular order) I walked along Brick Lane, visited a student showcase of graduate photography, drank cider near Lancaster Gate, had a picnic consisting of cava, strawberries and jaffa cakes with Hard Rock Calling in the background, sunbathed by the Peter Pan Statue in Kensington Gardens, saw the sunset from Putney Bridge, hired Boris bikes and then still found time for three episodes of Mad Men!

Clear blue sky above London
The bluest sky I've seen in London in a long, long time.

Putney Bridge at Sunset
Putney Bridge at Sunset

On Putney Bridge around sunset

I found a link via Gala Darling to a great blog post featuring Literary Love Letters to NYC, so I thought I'd hunt for some quotes where London was the muse.

"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."
— Samuel Johnson

"I had neither kith nor kin in England, and was therefore as free as air -- or as free as an income of eleven shillings and sixpence a day will permit a man to be. Under such circumstances, I naturally gravitated to London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained."
— Arthur Conan Doyle (A Study In Scarlet)

"Go where we may, rest where we will,
Eternal London haunts us still."
— Thomas Moore

I disappear, but London would have none of it, and rushed her bayonets into the sky, pinioned her, constrained her to partnership in her revelry."
— Virginia Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway)

Some more London-related blog posts:
Thirty Essential London Novels
London Literary Locations--Mrs Dalloway