In honor of World Book Day here are top 10 book recommendations

I just couldn’t resist. Here are my bite-sized reviews of top ten books you should read. There should be something for everyone except the non-fiction fiend. For those doubting fiction, let me clarify that reading fiction can help improve some fundamentally human qualities:

  1. Fiction helps us explore abstract human experiences
  2. Fiction deepens our appreciation for concrete human experiences
  3. Fiction expands our range of experiences
  4. Fiction provides beauty and creativity to be enjoyed

“Literature is a form of discovery, perception, intensification, expression, interpretation, creativity, beauty, and understanding. These are ennobling activities and qualities.” Leland Ryken

And with that! Here comes a list that is STILL related to travel, because with an excellent book you can significantly improve the experience of your travel trip. Also, what else would you be doing on those train rides from A to B? Below is a list that I experienced in different places in the world… About different places of the world.

  • For a Paris filled with anecdotes about famous writers (did you know that Hemingway and Ezra Pound vowed to save T.S. Eliot’s position at the bank) and to learn that you don’t need a lot of money to have a good life, read Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast”:  And if you travel to Paris, head to 6th arrondissement to at 113 rue Notre Dame des Champs, which is where he lived.

 

  • A tour de force vomit on the twisted world of fashion, celebrity & derangement, go to Bret Easton Ellis’s “Glamorama”. Bret Easton Ellis have recently become the best writer of tweets and made a lot of enemies in his lifetime, but I still find his work interesting. It flows with such hedonistic abandon and completely dysfunctional moral compasses. (This is a fucked up book, avoid if you can’t stomach obscenity). I read this book during the hot summer of 2010, in Toronto.

glamorama

  • I work in digital advertising. Which ads changed the world? If you think, none, you’re wrong. And chances are, the top ad that you are thinking is not the one that is featured here. An excellent treatise spawning from the dawn of advertising is James Twitchell’s “20 Ads that Shook the World”. I read this in Toronto in 2009.

  • On the true face of Stalinism and fallen idylls of communism, read the startling “Darkness at Noon” by Arthur Koestler. I read this dark piece of intelligent and astute writing on a sunny trip to Los Angeles in 2010. This is one of the few books that deeply shook me and made me question the past of the country I come from (Russia).

  • For a beautiful treatise on memory, friendship, ageing and life in London after the Great War, immerse yourself in Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs Dalloway”. I first read it as a teenager back in Vancouver, but since moving to London, I re-read it and fell in love.

  • A progressively lunatic capture of LA hills, an early Hollywood & celebrity culture: Nathanael West’s “The Day of the Locust”. This is the book that starts sunny, full of the energy of the film industry and sunshine. Gradually, things start spinning out of control. There is a particularly gruesome description of a cock fight. There is a murder. There is madness. It spins out of control (like most of West’s books, which are only 4 because he died young in a car crash 😦 )

  • For a dirtier, sexier, sincere take on life in XX century Paris, read Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer”. Inhibitions, be gone! This was the book that I read the moment I returned from Colombia, as my friend recommended it to me. I knew about Henry Miller and his notoriety, but I did not anticipate how much it would affect it. After reading the first few chapters, I sat down to type out angry words of my own. I had a good reason at the time. I still view this book as the bridge that transported me to London. Unfortunately, I gave away my copy to someone who probably did not appreciate it.

  • Skip “Master and Margarita” and go for Mikhail Bulgakov’s lesser known novel “Heart of a Dog”. It’s an absurdist parable of the Russian Revolution: Professor Preobrazhensky and his young colleague Dr. Bormental inserted the human’s hypophysis into a dog’s brain. Couple of weeks later the dog became “human looking”. The main question is “Is anybody who is looking like a man, A REAL MAN?” Read the book to find out for yourself. There is an excellent film based on this book, check out the Mubi page.

  • Immerse yourself in a futuristic Russia where technology & draconian codes of Ivan the Terrible rule Moscow of 2028: Vladimir Sorokin’s “Day of the Oprichnik” is a straight spit in the face of what the Putin administration is becoming. This is advanced reading and requires some knowledge of the Russian history and what oprichniki were (basically, they were czar’s thugs, Wiki). There is also a lot of drugs, sex and rock’n’roll.

  • And the final recommendation to those with strong hearts and open minds: the most beautiful book ever written, and the one that made me feel more emotions than any other books: Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita”. I believe that Vladimir Nabokov was the greatest master of Russian AND English language, for the way he wrote is so articulate, scientific, precise and trembling that it borders magic. I also realized that I did not like any covers for the book, because they convey something other than what I got out of the book.

lolita

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The time I had a martini with Mrs James Brown at Hotel Bel Air

One time I was invited to a wedding in Los Angeles. This was back in 2007, when I was young and vulnerable, at that impressionable age when brushing with semi-famous people was pretty cool (probably still is for some people; I mean look at how they recite the names of Jersey Shore and American Idol participants – who are they anyway?).

No matter. The wedding took place at the Bel Air hotel, the day is June 1, the time is roughly 6 or 7, and it’s a perfect evening in California. The palm trees are everywhere in sight, so are dark pastels, I’m wearing a sexy white dress (is the non-bridal white a taboo? No matter) and it’s the hors d’oeuvres time in the grassy area around the Bel Air Hotel. The wedding ceremony finished, and the happy couple looked like this:

The wedded pair are doing photos, guest books are being signed, and everyone is waiting for the wedding party to get back. Or have they just gotten back? As I chomp down a cheesy puff that is also probably spiced with gold dust, I see a worried bridesmaid running up to me. Her name is Gaia and she is terrified, because she took a bite of her cheese puff and the gooey inside projectiled onto her shinyish brown bridesmaid dress (not my ideal choice).

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This was not that wedding, but you get the idea. Swans, seats, romance at Bel Air.

“Karin, can you go with me to help fix this?” she says tipsily, because the wedding party was in a limo all day, rolling around LA and drinking whiskey.

“Sure”, I say. And we walk to the ladies toilets at Hotel Bel Air.

I have to admit that I was doing a lot of eye rolling at that moment, but I was also holding a grudge at my boyfriend at the time (which is why I was at the wedding in the first place), and wanted to get away. He was in the wedding party and nowhere in sight.

We enter the toilet and Gaia excitedly talks the whole time we are there. I propose napkins, I propose water, we discuss my relationship briefly (Gaia brings it up), when the door opens and two things happen:

A beautiful, tall, long-haired redhead walks in a sexy pencil skirt, lovely top, fishnets and fierce Yves Saint Laurent heels that I immediately know were in May’s issue of Vogue. I’ve got a great photographic memory, and those heels were all the rage in 2007. She eyes me, says in a deep, seductive and velvety voice: “Nice hair”, and walks into a stall.

I melt.

Second thing: an African-American woman in a flowerful (that’s right) turban walks in. I am completely startled also by the fact that she is wearing a long mermaid skirt emblazoned with tropical fruits and flowers, plus a bikini top.

I am embarrassed to say it, but seeing the two of them together, the first thing I thought was, “Is there a gay party happening at the Bel Air tonight?” And an air of excitement filled the room.

The woman in the turban says, “Do you know who that is?”

“No”, we both say, mesmerized. I’m sitting on the bathroom counter, waving my legs in white heels that match the dress.

“That was Mrs James Brown”, says the flower lady in a loud whisper.

I immediately think “Right”, and then: wait, I’m in Los Angeles, Hotel Bel Air, it is summer and James Brown died on Christmas 2006. Where does this go now?

Mrs James Brown emerges and pays attention to us. The wedding party girl squeaks about her cheese puff problem. “Oh, we can help you,” and they shoot a barrage of stain removal advice. I have to admit that I must have been tipsy at the time or it was a long time ago and I don’t remember all this very well.

Mrs James Brown calls the Bel Air concierge from the toilet and asks her to bring some soda water and a hair dryer. This happens.

Gaia, the bridesmaid, is so grateful that she exclaims that she must buy Mrs James Brown and – drumroll…. guess who we are with? Princess Selassie of Ethiopia, or so she says and I have no reason not to believe her – a drink. Princess Selassie looks suspiciously like this, and apparently she was on Real Housewives of New York (I’m not surprised):

So we all make our way to the Hotel Bel Air Lounge Bar not too far away. It looks like this:

Hotel Bel Air Lounge Bar

Bridesmaid recommends an apple martini to Princess Selassie and to Mrs James Brown, whose real name is Tomi Rae Hynie, and apparently they never heard of those. “Really?” I think. I highly doubt that, but hey, if the ladies want to play the part, that’s absolutely fine.

Gaia goes to pay for the drinks and she is upset that the cost is $80 for four martinis. Sounds about right, but at the age of 2o or 22, that is a huge chunk of money. Realistically, you could have bought 1.5 bottles of Veuve Clicquot at the store, so that counts for something too.

We return to the table and converse with the women. All the celebrity crap, B-A-C, whatever, aside – the women were kickass. They talked to us about the importance of career, about not letting the man trample all over you, girl power, being independent, strong and more. We also exchange phone numbers (really? That did happen, I had the Princess’s number and Tomi Rae’s number down), and we were invited to a couple of jazz shows and some other events.

I have to say that Tomi was at the time embezzled in a vicious battle of James Brown’s estate (read more here), and she was really pushing the story on us too. Which is fine. I would probably also go for the money had my late husband died and I wanted to take care of my kid, James Brown II.

What else? A great evening. The Bel Air Hotel lounge is beautiful, and it was filled with dark types that – in my young digital mind – resembled the smoky, analog Hollywood era long gone. I swear I saw a mafia guy or two.

“There you are!” yelled the wedding planner. Our dreamtime had to end. “You should return to the wedding.” A wedding planner was telling US what to do. If it happened today, I’d slap the living hell out of that woman. But we obliged and went to the wedding banquet area.

Everybody heard of our adventures by now (bless me and my BBM abilities of 2007).

The first song that the wedding DJ played?

This: 

PS. Random little observation. Tomi Rae’s hair colour darkened from the same bright that I had to a more somber color (like me). Could it be that we were using the same L’Oreal Feria brand and then had to stop?

Past year’s travels and the look ahead

The cat is out of the bag!

There comes a time for everyone, or at least I would hope for many people, when it dawns on them what their number one passion (at least for the moment being) is. Mine has been sitting and fermenting under my nose for so long that I did not notice it until its aroma turned particularly pungent. No matter. Last week I realized that it was high time to take said passion by the horns and do something more productive with it besides an exemplary Instagram, tweets and status updates. Channel that shit, baby! So here we go. I’m doing this for myself and my own memory more than anything else, but also to maybe help inspire others to make the plunge and to explore with no fear. 

Let’s first look over the shoulder. Where did I go in 2012?

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Around Villa de Leyva, Colombia. #nofilter

  • Toronto, Canada – starting point. This is where I lived at the beginning of last year. 
  • Austin, TX, USA
  • Bogota, Colombia
  • Villa de Leyva, Colombia
  • Quito, Ecuador
  • New York, NY, USA
  • …moved to London, UK and then went to:
  • Helsinki, Finland
  • Brighton, UK
  • Whitstable, UK
  • Brussels, Belgium
  • Manchester, UK
  • Paris, France
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Lisbon, Portugal

I have more than enough content to write a little travel book about these places. Which is what I will do. I’ve had a really great year for travel last year, and I am thankful for every moment.

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Brussels, Belgium. Happy to be here, of course. First Eurostar experience.

What is currently planned for 2013? I hope to take the following trips. What will actually happen? I suppose I’ll find out by the end of this year.

  • Budapest, Hungary (done)
  • Hamburg, Germany (surprise,for work)
  • Bath, England
  • Brussels, Belgium (tentative)
  • Brighton, England (tentative)
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Bristol, England
  • Copenhagen, Denmark (tentative, still debating)
  • Glasgow, Scotland
  • Vancouver, Canada (home!)
  • Vancouver Islands, particularly Cortez Island, to visit a friend’s farm
  • Seattle, USA (not far from home)
  • Portland, USA (if some friends join me)
  • Bologna and Parma, Italy
  • Bratislava, Slovakia (for a “goose party”)
  • Vienna, Austria (apparently it’s only a 30 minute drive from Bratislava)
  • Istanbul, Turkey

I also really want to go to Krakow, Poland, and Ljubljana, Slovenie, but that’s a bit up in the air. Dubai, UAE would be great to visit a couple of friends who relocated there recently. I want to go to Madrid, Spain as I have never been. 

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That’s the plan anyway.