Of Work, Hot Chocolate and Reading.

A picture of me reading (as usual) at Starbucks in Genting Highlands.

Hey guys,

It’s been awhile since I last posted anything here. I’ve been busy with work, that’s why. A marketing executive role for me has taken over three-parts of my life and by the time I get home, I’m too tired to do anything else. Also, after wading through heavy traffic from the office back to my home, the only time I have is to shower, play with my cats and get ready for bed. Damn, that’s what happens when work happens.

But that’s what we all need right, in order to live and survive? We need a job to support our cozy lifestyles, our travel lusts, our retail therapies, and whatever else that we want and need in our lives. Oh, and the books we buy too! How else are we going to pay for the books if not for the jobs that we’re tied down to?

Speaking of jobs and books, this is where the relevance comes into play. Because I rarely drink coffee these days, I’ve resorted to enjoying flavoured or specialty lattes which are (sadly) more expensive than your normal lattes. A cafe latte or cappuccino can come up to RM8.00 or RM10.00. But a specialty or flavoured latte usually costs more than RM12.00! This depends where you go for your daily (or like me, weekly) beverage boost. I’ve since discovered the super-ultra-goodness of a hot matcha latte at T & Co. in Mid Valley that sets me back of around RM13.00 for a cup. Not to mention, the creamy pleasures of a peanut butter latte at Coffea Coffee in Desa Sri Hartamas, which costs about RM20 for a large serving. If my husband and I bought two, we’d be spending a grand total of RM40, which is equivalent to paying for a meal for two at a good restaurant.

Where else am I going to get the money for these amazing lattes? Don’t get me started on the books that I’ve begun to buy off the Book Depository website. Ever since a friend had let me in on that delicioius, free-shipping secret where books are dispatched from the UK at no delivery charge, I’ve since bought 4 books and well, it’s not a very healthy purchase if I didn’t have a job.


Then, one fine day, I discovered the combined satisfaction of hot chocolate and reading!

It was a pleasant Saturday when I went out for some grub with my husband and a friend. We had dropped our cats off at the vet’s and headed over to the Atria Shopping Mall for some lunch. We hadn’t noticed it yet as we had taken a different route towards our lunch destination but there was a book warehouse sale at the lower ground floor that we missed. Which was a good thing because I tend to be drawn towards large book discount sales. Unfortunately for us, we took the lower ground route back to the car and we came across the warehouse sale… Needless to say, I left the two men behind and made my way through the aisles.

Long story short, I came away with two books. One for me and one for my cousin. Our lunch buddy then suggested we head to a cafe before he took his leave and there we were, tucked away in a cozy corner of Second Sunday with my hot chocolate, my husband’s classic pancakes and my friend’s oven-baked chocolate brownie. The book went so well with my hot chocolate that now, I read with a hot mug of steaming chocolatey goodness for RM10 instead of a hot matcha latte for RM13 or a peanut butter latte for RM20.


Here’s my third Antoine Laurain book, French Rhapsody (which I’m sorry to say that I’m finding it really hard to read because of the midsection politics in the book), and my cinnamon hot chocolate at Strangers at 47 today. I don’t know about you but hot chocolate makes me feel all fuzzy and warm inside. Like a thick duvet on a cold, winter’s day.

Book Review: The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain.

the-preisdent-s-hat-by-antoine-laurain-goodreadsType: Paperback, 208 pages

Publisher: Gallic Books, September 3, 2013 (first published in January 11, 2012)

Original Title: Le Chapeau de Mitterand

When I first read The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain, little did I know that I would be buying another two books written by him. Who would have thought that novellas could be so fun and enthralling to read? What drew me to his books were also each chapter that were short and sweet and you could stop reading whenever you please.

A few months later, I was found to be reading The President’s Hat, written in similar fashion as The Red Notebook. The chapters, no more than 3 or 4 pages, were short and straight to the point, yet exciting enough to draw me in further and deeper into the story. It certainly didn’t take me long to finish the book; this time, all I needed was 5 days.

A black felt Homburg hat could change the fortunes of everyone who possessed it, until, in a brilliant twist of fate, it was the last person with the hat who meets up again with the President himself. Who would have thought that you can give an inanimate object a life of its own? Well, almost.

The President’s Hat kicked off with accountant Daniel Mercier enjoying a ‘bachelor’ dinner at an elegant Parisian brasserie while his wife and son were away on vacation, when the French President François Mitterrand and his two colleagues sat down at a table next to him. Daniel was so thrilled at being in such close proximity to the most powerful man in France he’d never thought that his first bite of the seafood platter he ordered would stay with him forever. It could all have been so very different; he could have stayed home and made his own supper, or dined elsewhere, or as Laurain had painted, there was initially no free tables for him. Thus, Daniel had concluded that “the important events in our lives are always the result of a sequence of tiny details“.

Synopsis of The President’s Hat by Goodreads:

Dining alone in an elegant Parisian brasserie, accountant Daniel Mercier can hardly believe his eyes when President François Mitterrand sits down to eat at the table next to him.

Daniel’s thrill at being in such close proximity to the most powerful man in the land persists even after the presidential party has gone, which is when he discovers that Mitterrand’s black felt hat has been left behind.

After a few moments’ soul-searching, Daniel decides to keep the hat as a souvenir of an extraordinary evening. It’s a perfect fit, and as he leaves the restaurant Daniel begins to feel somehow … different.

And it was at that very moment that he realised that the President’s black felt Homburg hat had been left behind! Daniel’s decision to keep the hat as a souvenir of an extraordinary evening led to a series of unique events that unfolded throughout France from one city to another. The hat began to exchange hands and owners, which led to each owner experiencing a positive change in his or her life. The wearer of the hat was made to feel different about himself or herself; from Daniel, the hat went to Fanny Marquant, a young would-be author who is trapped in an affair with a married man, to the retired perfumer Pierre Aslan who is struggling to recapture his withered creativity, and lastly, art collector Bernard Lavallière whose life has lost its truth and purpose.

The President’s Hat is indeed a quirky and well-written piece of contemporary European literature. It had appeared, at first glance, to be as light as air. But within its 200 pages, the reader would be exposed to a world of clever and colourful storytelling with deep layers of subtle meaning. The book was written in a true French style of enchantment, with a smooth and effortless flow of the story. Each vivid character had his or her essence captured in a minimum of words and with a vitality that never ceased to surprise and/or delight the reader.

Mitterrand’s hat had been a talisman which made the wearers’ dreams comes true. The mundane became magical, a simple impulse became an act of life-changing importance. It’s evident that you’d have to take your hat off to an author like Laurain who conjured up a clever and refreshingly original story out of a hat, just like a magician would. Oh, and I learnt that carpaccio is the name of a famous artist. Vittore Carpaccio, a famous Venetian painter. Fascinating.

In less than a week, I finished reading it. I loved how short each chapter was, made for easy reading and easy digestion. I could stop any time or pick it up again at a later time to continue until I turned the last page of the book. Laurain’s writing style is crisp, clear and concise sans the long sentences, irritating jargon, and chunky paragraphs that other books tend to have. It was perfect, and he is now my literary inspiration to writing novellas and short stories.

To me, Antoine Laurain has got to be the best novella author ever! You may disagree with me if you have read other books by authors who are better than he is. Even if he isn’t, then he is now my new favourite novella author! When I first read The Red Notebook, I thought it was a one-hit wonder. Turned out The President’s Hat was just as amazing and wonderful, and back then, I had only read the first few chapters of the book.

And now I’m onto his third similarly-written book called French Rhapsody. I’ll be back in another 5 or so days to tell you all about it!


Readers of the World, Unite!

Image via www.travelandleisure.com.

Oh, for the love of books, this is (by far) the largest library in the world! I have not been to the library before but judging by the photos of it published online, it has to the largest in the world.

This is definitely a bookworm’s paradise! A grand location where readers all over the world can come to unite with the same passion.

Travel and Leisure presents to you… The British Library in London!

Here are the highlights of the library, for those who are planning, keen and interested to visit the heavenly place!

  • Established in 1973 as a result of the British Library Act
  • Largest public building constructed in the UK in the 20th century
  • Largest library in the world defined by the number of items catalogued
  • Home to the Diamond Sutra, the world’s earliest dated printed book
  • Includes other works of art, such as the Magna Cart and lyrics handwritten by the Beatles
  • Attracts over 1.75 million visitors per year, with enough room to accommodate more than 1,200 readers and 625 kilometres of bookshelves
  • Over 170 million books, manuscripts, journals, newspapers, magazines, sound and music recordings, and drawings
  • If visitors were to see 5 items every day, it would take up to 80,000 years to see the entire collection
  • Old manuscripts on display include Beowulf, Canterbury Tales,Jane Eyre, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, and Just So Stories—to name a few.

Source: Travel and Leisure.

So, what are you waiting for? Those who can and are able to visit the library, please do so and let me know how it went and how you felt when you entered the sacred shrine of books!

Why We Read and What Can Books Do For Us.


Have you often asked yourself why is it that you read? Why do you read what you read? Why do we even read in the first place?

I suppose the simple answer would be for pleasure. We read because it pleases us. We read because it feels pleasurable to read. But what exactly is the nature of that pleasure? How do we define that pleasurable feeling when we read?

You see, reading helps to remove us from the structure of our lives, from the daily routine and mundane activities, the sequential habits of our day-to-day lifestyles. By reading, we are allowed to enter another time zone, travel to another country without having to leave the comfort of our own homes. The storyline, characters and plot settings occupy us, and while we read, we end up inhabiting the reality on the other side. Hence, you could say that the pleasure of reading is derived from the process of escaping our own small, limited and repetitive lives and entering an exotic place elsewhere. I’m pretty sure that’s why we read, right? I know that’s why I read.

But perhaps there is also the attraction of reserving something else for ourselves, something more private, outside the realm of the public world of relationships, family, work, stress; something that is not physically challenged by the constraints of time and self.

Why do you read? Have you given it some thought?

I know some people feel it is necessary to read because we read to see ourselves. Some of us read so we can expand our language capacity and vocabulary. Some of us read to recognise ourselves, to tell us what and how to think, how to feel and how to perceive the world. Some of us read to feel less lonely; to be and feel more connected to the greater reality of what has happened or what is happening or may happen outside that of our own direct experience. Some of us read to assure and reassure ourselves that the search for meaning is relentless and that many creative minds have made sense of it all (or maybe not). Even then, the chaotic and radical texts are bound in covers and are still structured into coherent and conceivable stories.

There are still other reasons of why people read.

The rest may read to discover the consequences of actions without having to bear any of the responsibility. The rest may read with pity and empathy; they are searching for humour, validation and catharsis. They are looking to locate common sense, unravel confusion, iron out the kinks of absurdity, and to straighten out the course of righteousness. The rest may read because they know, instinctively, that books help us live a life that is more intense than we know.

They may read because they love the language, the vivid imagination, the landscapes that the minds conjure, the cobwebs of human desire, anguish and beauty. The rest may read because it helps us to sleep and dream of different sunsets and avenues, oceans and swamps. And the rest may read because they know there is someone out there tracing a life very much like our own, or perhaps not all all alive but still recognisable at the same time, and making it a beautiful moment that is worth sharing.

Even the bestselling authors have their opinions saved for why we read. Here are a few that we might be able to relate with:

  • For Galileo Galilei, reading was a way of having superhuman powers.
  • For Franz Kafka, books were the axe for the frozen sea within us.
  • For Carl Sagan, books were proof that humans are capable of working magic.
  • For James Baldwin, books had a way to change one’s destiny.
  • For Wislawa Szymborska, books stood out as our ultimate frontier of freedom.

And let’s not forget Neil Gaiman, celebrated English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre and film, whose views on why we read make equally as much sense as that of the five abovementioned authors:

  • Reading enlarges our lives
  • There are no such thing as bad authors
  • Its unparalleled ability to foster empathy
  • Its ability to introduce us to different versions of the world by envisioning alternate possibilities for the way things are

Last but not least, here we have several more prolific authors and readers on why we read and the power of literature.

Book Review: Odysseus: The Oath by Valerio Massimo Manfredi.

odysseus-the-oath-by-valerio-massimo-manfredi-goodreadsType: Paperback, 372 pages

Publisher: Pan Macmillan, October 1, 2013 (first published in November 6, 2012)

Original Title: Il mio nome è Nessuno: Il giuramento

Odysseus: The Oath was written by Valerio Massimo Manfredi and translated into English by his wife, Christine Feddersen-Manfredi. The Oath is the first book in a three-part series which also include the second book, Odysseus: The Return and the third and last book, Odysseus: The Oracle. The author of the books, Signor Manfredi, is an Italian historian, writer, essayist, archaeologist and journalist. Valerio’s wife, Christine, had been behind the translation of the books from Italian to English, and here I am, with the English-translated version.

The book kicked off with Odysseus’ childhood and life in Ithaca, where a legend was born. Odysseus was his name, being a great tactician with one of the most curious minds and a calm demeanor was his game. His legendary soul came part and parcel of something grave and so huge that it will remain etched forever in the minds of countless generations. His legacy had been tied up with the others who swore by his name and blood, alongside some of the greatest sons of the Greek soil.

Valerio Manfredi’s take on his titular hero couldn’t be any stronger and more loyal, despite the fact that the 10-year battle in Troy which led to the fall of the prosperous city and its impenetrable walls with the Trojan Horse also focused on the abduction of Helen of Sparta by Prince Paris of Troy, the exploits of Prince Hector, Paris’ older brother and King Priam’s eldest son, as well as the legendary Greek warrior, Achilles.

Synopsis by Goodreads:

The extraordinary story of a legendary hero…

As a young boy in Ithaca, Odysseus listens in wonder to his grandfather Autolykos – a ruthless fighter and a man feared by many across the land. He learns of his heritage and a lifelong passion is sparked: to become an adventurer and warrior.

In Mycenae, he meets King Eurystheus and learns the terrible story of Hercules – the man with god-like strength who slaughtered his family and as punishment was forced by the King to undertake impossible tasks to earn absolution. But is Eurystheus the man he says he is? When a child comes to Odysseus in the middle of the night, with another, very disturbing version of events, Odysseus embarks on the first of his extraordinary quests…

So begins the epic story of Odysseus, in the first of two volumes: an adventure of love, war, courage and heroism that weaves from a small Greek island, to the mighty fall of Troy.

I have watched the movie, Troy, before which starred Eric Bana as Prince Hector, Orlando Bloom as Prince Paris, Diane Kruger as Helen of Sparta, Sean Bean as Odysseus, and Brad Pitt as Achilles, and I have to say, the storylines for both the movie and the book were so very different. I’ve always known that watching a movie and reading the book were two different things. The movie left me no room for imagination. The book, however, gave me the opportunity to imagine all that were described and explained, page after page. It was a beautiful feeling indeed. Either the producer for the movie wanted something a little less prejudiced for movie-goers or the author of the book wanted to leave his readers feeling more sympathetic and empathic for Odysseus. The only way of finding out is if you went to do your own research on the history of Ancient Greece and its legendary warriors.

That aside, I did enjoy reading the book. After all, Ancient Greek history is one of my favourite history subjects and having been able to read it in a different angle had piqued my interest. Piqued it enough to log into Book Depository to buy the second book and am now waiting for the book to arrive. Reading this book made me relive the movie Troy all over again anyway, regardless of its differences with the book. I was reminded when Helen was wooed over by Prince Paris, when Prince Hector was forced to duel with Achilles and died heroically because his brother Paris was too much of a wimp to fight, when Troy was besieged and burned by a giant wooden horse on wheels pretending to be a gift from the enemy.

Meghant Parmar, of Expressions: One Too Many, echoed my sentiments about the book:

All in all, one cannot lament the fact that they missed the action. It’s all there to see and experience in the veins, through the eyes of one of the greatest Greek heroes. The unified lands and the war heroics are barbaric, yet subtle in the approach. The author carefully considers the journey and assembles the best of the best for the readers to experience and pass it on to future generation. The placid language and simplicity make it a magnanimous experience. From the signs of it, it’s no less than a victory in itself. A book to remember for long. (Ratings: 4/5)

Imagine, all it took for the battle to begin was the reckless act of one young selfish prince. That itself had set off a thousand ships with fifty thousand men to come knocking at your front door, demanding that one’s wife be returned or forever mourn the loss of everyone and everything. All this bloodshed and glorified murder for the sake of the wounded pride and ego of one man whose wife had left him for another man. The Trojans became victims of the Achaeans. No doubt the Achaeans themselves had lost many men too, many great and courageous men.

However, Alice Padwe of the Washington Independent Review of Books had a different idea to her opinions of the book:

The author of Odysseus: The Oath is clearly a fan of his title character. In an author’s note, Manfredi declares that “Odysseus is the absolute protagonist of the Iliad as well as the Odyssey,” which may surprise those readers who thought the Iliad was about the wrath of Achilles. Manfredi also credits Odysseus with the killing of Paris, although most sources chalk that death up to Philoctetes (that’s what I read online too!). 

Are these black marks against the hero meant to give the reader a more complex view of him? Manfredi never follows up on the question that Odysseus asks himself more than once: Why they are fighting the war? Odysseus thinks it must be something beyond just retrieving Helen, but does not attempt to answer his question.

Still, Athena, Odysseus’ patron goddess, who appears to him in various guises, declares “I love your fear and your courage, your hatred and your love, your voice and your silence…No god could ever be what you are, not even if he wanted to.” That’s a pretty ringing endorsement from the goddess of wisdom. May readers consider that hyperbole, or must they place this hero on the pedestal, like what Manfredi has done?

Which is why I said it depends entirely on how you perceive the plot in the book. Because I saw it as how arrogant and proud the Trojans were. How sure they were of themselves that they could keep Helen of Sparta and emerge victorious in the impending battle that took almost 10 years as well as the many lives of the warriors. How would you have seen it?