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Mel’s Book List 2017

2017 is going to be a good year for reading. I can taste it. I’ve already finished five books and broke open the spine on my sixth.

There’s a proverb floating around the internet that it takes 21 days to form a habit. I Googled it to make sure before I hit publish. Conveniently and coincidentally, I’m writing to you from January 21 and I am going to surmise that I’ve unintentionally habited myself into reading a lot of books this year and I’m very okay with that. This ‘hit the ground running’ mentality was possibly spurred on by a visit to ‘The Strand’ bookstore in New York City last week. Continue Reading

Lifestyle

My Top 12 Quotes from “The Alchemist,” by Paulo Coelho

 The Alchemist is Paulo Coelho’s famous allegorical novel, first published in 1988 in Brazil. It follows Santiago, a young Andalusian shepherd as he makes his way to Egypt, following a dream he had of finding treasure there. The Alchemist has been translated into more than 70 languages and has been inspiring people for decades. Its message of following your heart and finding meaning in life has resonated with thousands (if not millions) of people.

After re-reading the book last week, I wanted to share some of my favourite quotes to try and capture the essence of the book.

The first thing I highlighted was this excerpt from Coelho’s lovely forward to the 25th Anniversary Edition, published in 2014:

“Wherever I go, people understand me. They understand my soul. This continues to give me hope. When I read about clashes around the world — political clashes, economic clashes, cultural clashes — I am reminded that it is within our power to build a bridge to be crossed. Even if my neighbour doesn’t understand my religion or my politics, he can understand my story. If he can understand my story, then he’s never too far from me. It is always within my power to build a bridge. There is always a chance for reconciliation, a chance that one day he and I will sit around a table together and put an end to our history of clashes. And on this day, he will tell me his story and I will tell him mine.”

I wish everyone could read this. Like, could wake up and find it under their pillow and know what it means.

Here are my top 10 quotes from “The Alchemist,” by Paulo Coelho, in chronological order.*

“What’s the world’s greatest lie?” the boy asked, completely surprised.
“It is this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.”

— Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.20

The boy didn’t know what a person’s “Personal Legend” was.
“It’s what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their Personal Legend.”

— Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.23

“To realize one’s Personal Legend is a person’s only real obligation.”

— Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.24

“You dream about your sheep and the Pyramids, but you’re different from me, because you want t realize your dreams. I just want to dream about Mecca. I’ve already imagined a thousand times crossing the desert, arriving at the Plaza of the Sacred Stone, the seven times I walk around it before allowing myself to touch it. I’ve already imagined the people who would be at my prayers we would share. But I’m afraid that it would all be a disappointment, so I prefer just to dream about it.” 

— Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.57

He still had some doubts about the decision he had made. But he was able to understand one thing: making a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision. 

— Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.70

“There is only one way to learn,” the alchemist answered. “It’s through action.” 

— Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.129

“And what went wrong when the other alchemists tried to make gold and were unable to do so”
“They were only looking for gold,” his companion answered. “They were seeking the treasure of their Personal Legend, without wanting actually to live out the Personal Legend.”

— Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.129

“But men began to reject simple things, and to write tracts, interpretations, and philosophical studies.” 

— Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.130

“You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say.”

— Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.134

“My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer,” the boy told the alchemist one night as they looked up at the moonless sky.
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.” 

— Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.134

“Most people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place.” 

— Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.135

“When men are at war with one another, the Soul of the World can hear the screams of battle. No one fails to suffer the consequences of everything under the sun.”

— Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, p.140

“The Alchemist” was originally published in Portuguese and its name was “O Alquimista”.

Does seeing the quotes make you want to read the book? If you already read it — put your favourite quote in the comments below!

*All page numbers taken from the The Alchemist 25th Anniversary Edition from HarperCollins.

Lifestyle

“The Year of Magical Thinking,” by Joan Didion

Didion’s reading on grieving and loss should be required reading for everyone who dies. That is to say, everyone. Period.

Examination of personal grief is often shoved out of sight and out of mind. It’s a scary boy in the basement who we attempt to defeat by not looking at it directly, or using prescriptions as missile strikes. The loss of civilian lives we encounter, our own.

“Life changes fast.

Life changes in the instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

The question of self-pity.”

So begins the book. Didion is making dinner one December evening when John Dunne, her husband, creative and romantic partner of 45 years dies of a sudden heart attack.

In the wake of John’s death, she finds herself alone, old and caught up as many of us should be in the frustration of no longer having a loved one in our lives to talk to, made amends with, question or rely on.

She inquires for us into medical literature, spiritual guidance and the company of friends as to how to solve this problem. The problem of grieving. What do we do with ourselves when we find ourselves unable to function because of a loss? For Didion, the answer lies somewhere between letting it go and seeking control through knowledge.

The book captures the portrait of their marriage. Two artists who working as partners as individually, as novelists. Who loved a child together. Who fought and reconciled and wondered as people who make their lives together do.

Didion is a quick thinker and the book moves swiftly. It’s only about 240 pages. Go out, read it. We might not all experience death in the relatively comfortable socio-economic net that Didion does. We won’t all have our New York Times obituaries arranged, bills paid for, work easily to be put on hold and friends flying from around the country to comfort us. She doesn’t have to deal with the economic frustrations that a lot of people also deal with when death happens.

Despite that, I would still recommend her book to anyone, because no matter what your circumstance, (as she examines in her book, even animals) grieving hits us all equally hard.

Happy reading,

Mel Hattie Signature 2016 - Final - Mel Only

 

 

 

 

 

Lifestyle Tea Reviews

Muse Monthly Tea Box Review and Giveaway

Happy Tuesday! I’d like to welcome you to the second day of the week by introducing you to a cool company I found for literature and tea lovers while scanning the Internet. I reached out to their CEO and Creative Director Christina who was obliging enough to send me a box to test and also offer a box for a reader giveaway.

Muse Monthly is a subscription service box that sends a hand-picked pairing of tea and book to your door every month.

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The February Box

This month’s box featured Yann Martel’s The High Mountains of Portugal and paired it with an organic banana coconut rooibos tisane from Amitea.

The light and fruity, caffeine-free drink reminds me of driving around Cuba in the heat and pulling up at a roadside shack for a piña colada. Except in reverse. Here it’s freezing outside and the beverage is hot. Still, it’s a nice reminder of the tropics during the winter months.

On the package Amitea recommends trying it brewed double strength with a shot of rum. That’s an idea I can get behind. And also reminds me of Cuba.

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I haven’t had a chance to read The High Mountains of Portugal just yet, but a few days ago the New York Times released their take on it. Martel is known for his 2001 book Life of Pi that won the Man Booker Prize.

Muse Monthly is based out of New York City, so I was excited that Martel, who is Canadian, featured in this month’s box. Inside the box Muse Monthly did a great job of presentation: the tea and book were each wrapped separately in black tissue paper and presentation did not not disappoint. This would make a great gift for someone (like me).

Pricing

So how much do these boxes cost? Well, from what I can tell they’re priced very reasonably. For example, a one-month subscription will cost you $21 USD. The list price for Martel’s book is $27 USD. Plus, you also get the tea. You can read in my interview with Blok below how they work with publishers.

To look at it from a Canadian perspective, right now The High Mountains of Portugal is listed at $32 CAD. You can find it discounted right now at Chapters for $20 CAD. Right now with the low Canadian dollar the $21 USD cost of the box equals about $29 CAD. So the pricing is still a pretty good deal considering you’re also getting the tea and the whole artisan experience.

You can buy a subscription in bulk (3,6 or 12 months) for a slight discount.

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Interview with CEO and Creative Director Christina Blok

What made you want to start Muse Monthly?

Muse Monthly really stemmed out of the idea of comfort and relaxation – after a long day at a stressful job, all I wanted was to curl up with my book and the most gigantic cup of tea possible. I knew I wasn’t the only one, so Muse Monthly was born!

When did you get started?

The Kickstarter ran in May, and the first box was delivered in June, with Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller & Mt Hood Vanilla tea from Townshend’s Tea.

You work with some big name publishers (Tin House Books, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Bloomsbury)! How did you establish those connections?

It was really much easier than expected. I started out researching books that were coming out for the rest of the year – book that were getting some buzz already, or just ones that looked really different from the usual thing you’d find at Barnes & Noble. And from there I just sent emails to publishing companies explaining the concept and asking if they’d be willing to work with me. I’ve been fortunate enough to form some really great relationships since then.

Christina Blok, CEO and Creative Director of Muse Monthly. Photo provided by Muse Monthly.

Christina Blok, CEO and Creative Director of Muse Monthly. Photo provided by Muse Monthly.

You support female, LGBTQA, trans and POC writers, as well as writers from around the world. What goes into choosing the book of the month?

The first thing I look for is strong writing. That is always the most important thing. I look for stories that are exciting and different, not what everyone else is going to be reading. I think it’s really important to offer books that are challenging and might open readers up to a different worldview. I try to support debut writers as well.

What about the tea?

The tea is paired with the book by what I call “atmosphere” – they’re meant to create an experience. For example, The December Collection included a story called The Blue Between Sky & Water by Susan Abulhawa, which is a story about a Palestinian family. We paired that with Green Tea and Mint from Teapigs, because mint tea is the traditional way to drink tea in Palestine. The hope is that the reader will be transported!

What comes first – book or tea?

Usually the book comes first, but not always!

What’s your favourite kind of tea?

Personally, I really loved the Earl Grey Lavender from Rishi tea that we included in the August box!

Why are books awesome?

Books are awesome because they expand your mind and expose you to new thoughts and feelings! Books make you smarter, and being smart is badass.

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Giveaway – One Free Month of Muse Monthly’s March Collection!

We’re so lucky! Christina has agreed to give one reader the March box for free! Just enter below by February 21 to be entered to win. For March they’re teaming up with author V.E. Schwab who’s upcoming novel A Gathering of Shadows will be released on February 23.

A Gathering of Shadows is the second book in her Shades of Magic series. The first book, A Darker Shade of Magic, has just been acquired by Gerard Butler’s production company, G-Base, for tv series production.

There are a few ways to enter. Each one you do puts your name in the draw! Do one or all four for your best chance of winning.

Enter to win the March Collection from Muse Monthly featuring author V.E. Schwab:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Lifestyle Tea Education

“The Book of Tea,” by Kakuzo Okakura

Kakuzo Okakura’s classic 1906 long essay about the east, west, tea and everything in between is less about tea itself and more about the history and philosophy of the east, west and cultural differences as explored through the lens of tea.

His essay links the role of tea, or teaism, in Japanese aesthetic life. It was written by Okakura in English to be read by a western audience. He learned english as a boy and was known throughout his life for writing and explanation Japanese culture to early 20th C westerners. You can feel the cultural tension in his writing.

“Those who cannot feel the littleness of grea things in themselves are apt to overlook the greatness of little things in others. The average Westerner, in his sleek complacency, will se in the tea-ceremony but another instance of the thousand and one oddities which constitute the quaintness and childishness of the East to him. He was wont to regard Japan as barbarous while she indulged in the gentle arts of peace: he calls her civilised since she began to commit wholesale slaughter on Manchurian battlefields.”

  • Kakuzo Okakura, The Book of Tea, p.10-11

Sometimes his writing is pretty tongue-in-cheek. This is a guy who was known for his eccentric habits. His prolific writing and visibility in the pop culture of the time gave him a high statue in Japan. This stature was marred by the fact that he had an affair with his patron’s wife.

His patron was a man nammed Ruichi Kuki and the woman was named Hatsu. She was a former geisha whom Kuki asked Okakura to accompany from the US back to Japan when she was sickly. When the affair became public, Okakura had to resign from his position as Principal of the Tokyo School of Fine Arts. Just some background for you.

Back to tea. Okakura gives a nice historical account of the bringing of tea to Japan for cultivation (near Kyoto) as well as a good nod to Sen no Rikyū who almost 500 years before had brought the way of tea to Japan, and made it a cultural necessity. His poetic description of Rikyū’s final tea ceremony and death and breathtaking. It sent chills down my back.

Okakura speaks at length about the art of tea and the ideals of tea masters. How to appreciate tea. How they select good tea. How the cultivation of a good tea practice becomes really a microcosm to examine the art of living.

I loved reading Okakaura’s explanations of how we fail to appreciate what is in front of us. He talks about people who refuse to live in the present because of nostalgia. This and other societal habits he addresses make me smile in a way because it reminds me that people have been dealing with the same shit since the 1900s. How many Facebook memes do you see today that say something akin to, “Live in the now.” That’s what Okakura was saying. A hundred years ago.

This is why reading is so important. The cure for whatever you’re dealing with now is out there now, written by some philosopher, ages ago. We’ve been fighting the same age-old battles since the dawn of humanity. We only fool ourselves into thinking they’re new.

I would recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in the history of tea, the art of tea or the history of Japan. It was entertaining and educating. The essay itself is broken up into several chapters. You could read them out of order and still take away the same message. They do relate to each other but don’t require chronological progression to be understood. Sometimes he goes on rants, albeit, very nicely-phrased ones.

Occasionally while reading I pretended I was scrolling through the Tumblr of a well-read 1900s philosophy student obsessed with tea. I think that’s the best way to describe it.