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Grief, Loss and Creativity

Dead Poets Society

Yesterday the world lost an incredibly talented comedian and actor. He was a man who saw me through my childhood, teens, twenties and beyond with an equal measure of thought-provoking moments and good humour. But it was no surprise to hear that the star of Dead Poets Society and Goodwill Hunting had also been battling severe depression.

I felt stunned by the news of the death of Robin Williams because he was part of the fabric of my childhood and teenage years, through what I watched and through what those films taught me about life. It was his remarkable ability to bring characters to life that has entertained millions of us through the years. And I believe that comedy and acting quite possibly provided the escape that he needed, an escape from the darkness of his own mind. Depression is a very hidden issue and it is often misunderstood. Scientists have been fascinated by the possibility of a link between depression and creativity for years. In this interesting article on the link between the two, we learn that Norwegian artist, Edvard Munch, wrote the following diary entry: “My fear of life is necessary to me, as is my illness. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art.”

Early studies found that creatives often suffered from depression: Charles Dickens, Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, Hans Christian Andersen, Leo Tolstoy and Virginia Woolf. Sylvia Plath also sadly took her own life.

Why am I discussing this here? Because I believe that writers have an innate ability to tap into the pain of grief and loss; to take the experiences which they encounter, and to illustrate the difficulties of anxiety and pain. They are able to translate these emotions into the lives of their characters, allowing the reader to tap into their own difficulties and to rise above them.

I often hear people talking about finding solace in books. Some readers say that they find particular books healing. The talent of a creative who is able to paint, act, write or create music lies in their ability to mold their own suffering and angst into a form that is universally understood. Where it might be difficult and overwhelming to face certain situations head on art, books, film and music allow a release of emotions and allow people to reach into the painful aspects of life and engage with issues that can be difficult to discuss.

Writers and artists are often accused of being oversensitive or overly analytical, as though these traits might be weaknesses, but I would argue that this is exactly where their strength lies, and where their empathy and ability to connect with difficult emotions helps them to write a character with flaws, a character who experiences setbacks and difficulties. Interestingly, the body releases natural opiates as a result of the creative process. Harvard Professor, Shelley Carson, says that “creative endeavors are intrinsically rewarding, and you get shots of dopamine in the rewards center of the brain.”

What are your thoughts? Are you a writer with any experience of depression? Do you find find solace in reading or writing?

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Space to Read and Relax: Bookshop Cafés and Bars Around the World…

What is there more enticing for any book lover than to find a combination of books and coffee (or cocktails)? I often see images of bookshop cafés,  and I idly begin to dream about finding a corner (and some time) to while away a few hours reading with a mug, or a glass of something, in the beautiful surrounds of a bookshop or an atmospheric bar. Is it just me? I suspect not! Here are some of the places, both sumptuous and simple, to which I would happily transport myself, in the name of reading and space to relax.
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1. B2 Boutique Hotel, Zurich

Once the site of the old Hürlimann Brewery, this is now a hotel, with the industrial character of the buildings carefully preserved to illustrate the history of Zurich’s legendary brewing era. The B2 Boutique Hotel has a sumptuous library lounge, which boasts over 33,000 books, is an inviting place in which to lose yourself in a good book. With its tall arched windows and eleven-metre high ceiling, the library is reminiscent of a cathedral. The books were once housed in an antiquarian bookshop and can also be borrowed by guests during their stay in the hotel. The library is a space where you can work, talk business or relax and unwind. I have had my eye on the hotel since I first cast eyes on a photograph of the library some months ago. I’m now even more keen to go at some point, having just seen the incredible Thermal Spa, which is connected to the hotel. Spread over 3,300 square metres, the spa is housed in the former barrel filling area of the Hürlimann Brewery. But I digress! Back to books….

 

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2. The Bookworm, Beijing, China. 

The Bookworm is a library and a bookshop with a large collection of books. 16,112 titles on their library shelves at the last count! There is a gourmet European café on the premises. Thousands of English-language books fill the shelves and can be borrowed for a fee or read inside. They also sell books and magazines. A range of interesting talks and spontaneous musical evenings make this place a hive of activity. It’s easy to see why The Bookworm is such a hit among Beijingers. The spacious, interconnecting rooms with floor-to-ceiling books on every wall are light and airy in summer, yet cosy and snug in winter. And the roof terrace is perfect for yard-arm cocktails.

Their coffee is always freshly ground, they say; their chocolate cake voluptuous, and staff delightful! Anyone interested in testing this out?

 

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3. Cafebreria El Pendulo, Mexico City, Mexico. 

Books line the walls of Mexico City’s Cafebrería El Péndulo, but visitors can order breakfast, lunch and dinner from the café  and drinks from the bar. There is also a cocktail happy hour! Read a book while enjoying live music, poetry readings and stand up comedy.

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4. Pickwicks Cafe Bookshop, Vienna

This small book café named after a Dickens’ novel, serves Irish beer and has a library and rents out videos. They sell burgers, bagels, salads and fish and chips. There is free wi-fi and a big screen. I have yet to visit!

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5. El Ateneo in Buenos Aires, Argentina
This bookstore opened as a theatre called The Grand Splendid in 1919. It was first location in the world to show silent movies. Now, book lovers can enjoy a coffee in the café on the old stage. It still has the original balconies, painted ceiling, ornate carvings and the crimson stage curtains. The Guardian named El Ateneo second in its 2008 list of the World’s Ten Best Bookshops.

The theatre had a seating capacity of 1,050, and staged a variety of performances, including tango artists. In the late twenties the theatre was converted into a cinema, and in 1929 showed the first sound films presented in Argentina. Chairs are provided throughout the building and the theatre boxes are still intact.

The ornate former theatre was leased by Grupo Ilhsa in February 2000. The building was then renovated and converted into a book and music shop, with the cinema seating removed and book shelves installed. El Ateneo Grand Splendid became the group’s flagship store, and in 2007 sold over 700,000 books; over a million people walk through its doors annually.

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6) Scarthin, Peak District, England.

Some might prefer the altogether more earthy beauty of a shop like Scarthin Books in the Peak District. Scarthin’s has been selling new and second-hand books since the mid-1970s. They boast 40,000+ new books, 50,000+ second-hand books, 5,000+ rare and antiquarian, music, a café AND publishing! It is a bookshop so beloved, that it advertises local guest and farmhouses on its websites where devotees can stay overnight.


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#bookadayuk Hooked you into reading: The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm

For those of you who have been following the #bookaday posts, I’ve been up in the Alps for a week. I’m back and refuelled, and will pick up with the posts and get back to writing. We drove the length of the Grossglockner Pass, which is the highest and one of the most beautiful roads in Europe. Here are a few photos before I write about what hooked me in to reading. It seems fitting that the photos are of Europe, the home of the writers I want to talk about.

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I was influenced by so many great authors throughout my childhood. While I enjoyed Enid Blyton, Judy Blume and Noel Streatfeild early on, what hooked me in to reading was primarily fairy tales. I loved Hans Christian Andersen’s The Princess and the Pea and, although I wouldn’t necessarily subscribe to the Happy Ever After endings, there was something magical about the idea of anyone being able to feel a pea beneath layers of mattresses. Children often want to believe the unbelievable, don’t they? Think Peter Pan, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; or, in my case, The Lochness Monster, the Abominable Snowman and the Tooth Fairy. The first two exist, don’t they? Anything implausible, I believed in it. Such was my hopeless and incorrigible imagination. The thing is children want to believe in unreality, they want a world beyond the real and the plausible. And I think adults sometimes look for the same thing. It’s why we read fiction.

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And then there were the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales: Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella. I devoured them all, utterly absorbed in another world. Hansel and Gretel grabbed my attention for the suspense as the children become lost in the woods. I liked the idea of a house made of sweets, and was always captivated by images of the roof. I have started to make a European gingerbread house at Christmas, a tradition in Germany which comes from this story.

In Germany, there’s a rhyme that’s said about Gingerbread Houses that comes directly from the story of Hansel and Gretel:

Knusper, knusper, knäuschen,
wer knuspert an meinem Häuschen?
Der Wind, der Wind,
das himmlische Kind.

English Translation:

Nibble, nibble, gnaw
Who is nibbling at my little house?
The wind, the wind
The heavenly child.

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I’ll also throw in Joseph Jacob’s Jack and the Beanstalk. A giant at the top of a beanstalk? Really? These imaginary worlds are a wonderful escape from the real world and teach children about the far reaches of the imagination. And you are never too old to read them.

Einstein said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” While I am certainly no genius, I find his quote interesting because it suggests a link between the imagination and the intellect. What are your thoughts?

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#bookadayuk A book you pretend to have read. I haven’t. And a confession about Romeo and Juliet

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Why would you pretend to have read a book? I’ve never lied about what I have read, because what’s the point? I do have a confession, though. We studied Shakespeare at school. I first read his work at the age of eleven and struggled with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Then at fifteen we looked at Romeo and Juliet as one of our GCSE texts. I struggled with romantic books then, and I still do in a way. Somehow, the whole forbidden love element of the story didn’t grab my attention. So I listened to the discussions, read the notes and miraculously managed to get a good grade in English Literature, despite never having read the whole text.

I later saw Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation but I struggled with this, too. I can understand why it was popular and I think he has an amazing eye for what works, but it was too overly dramatic for me. It wasn’t until we studied Othello that I really began to enjoy Shakespeare, and I made up for my sad lack of reading Romeo and Juliet by reading Othello three times! There was something about the darkness of Iago, and his persistence that held my attention. I saw a production of the play a few years ago at the Donmar Warehouse and was equally captivated. Both plays are tragedies but the effect they both had on me were vastly different.

Here is an interesting video of Ewan McGregor talking about the character of Iago in the play:

 

Do you have any favourite Shakespeare plays?

Or have you pretended to read something that you haven’t actually read?


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#bookadayUK The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

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This is a short #bookaday post today as I’ve already posted photos of yesterdays trip to Sopron, Hungary. Today’s #bookaday challenge is to choose a book that reminds you of someone you love. My husband bought and read this to me on our honeymoon. I love being read to (although it doesn’t happen often), and the magical settings of the book and the nature of the holiday at the time has burned this story into my memory. I look forward to going back and rereading it someday.

The Alchemist was first published in Portuguese in 1988, written by Brazilian born Coelho, and has been translated into 56 languages. It follows the story of a young Andalusian shepherd named Santiago in his journey to Egypt, after having a recurring dream of finding treasure there.

The book is an international bestseller and has sold more than 65 million copies worldwide. It has become one of the best-selling books in history, setting the Guinness World Record for most translated book by a living author.

It’s not necessarily my favourite book but it is evocative and full of imagery, and the memories of hearing the story are what remains.

 


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#bookadayUK Book to Film Adaptation: The Great Gatsby

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This one was a choice between To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby. Film adaptations from books can often be a huge anticlimax, and it can be an even greater disappointment in reverse. If I have not managed to read the book before a film is released, then I come to the book with preconceived images in my mind. I find that it completely ruins the story. Part of the joy of reading is the creating of a world in your mind as you delve into the pages.

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The Great Gatsby, for me, was anything but a let down. I don’t really need to say anything about the book, but the film was an extravaganza to fill the senses. Some may say that the cinematography detracted from the story, but I disagree. It is one of the most striking films I’ve seen for a while. In typical Luhrmann style, the film is a modernised version of the original story. I liked the addition of music which would not have existed in the 20s. His originality of style is partly what makes the adaptation work.

As of 2014, it is Baz Luhrmann‘s highest grossing film to date, earning over $350 million. At the 86th Academy Awards, it won both Best Production Design and Best Costume Design.

I’m very much looking forward to the film adaptation of Before I Go to Sleep, due to be released in 2014!