What I’m Reading | Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

I’m going to start simply by saying this:

YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK! *deep breaths*

Beautiful Ruins according to Nick Hornby is “a novel unlike any other you’re likely to read this year.” the New York Times says it is a “monument to crazy love” and the Times calls it “an ambitious, large-hearted, exhilarating novel” and they are right. The book itself is about a man who lives in Italy and he falls in love with an American movie actress (with cancer) when she comes to stay at his hotel. Fifty years later he travels to California to find this woman who he lost way back in 1962 and embarks on an epic journey to find his love. 

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I first bought it initially because it is set, sort of, in Italy which is my favourite country and the blurb sounded incredibly sweet, how could I not want to read something so cute!? It’s also about California and actresses which is also what made me drawn. Normally I wouldn’t read something like this (I tend to go for more ‘dark’ stuff) but I had been drawn to it for a while- probably partly because the cover was all bright colours- and I gave in.

At first I couldn’t get into it. I admit that, but having came out of reading ‘Divergent’ which is a pretty easy read for someone my age, the writing style seemed a bit difficult and slow. Since I normally like to devour books I took the slow pace as a sign of it being bad and left it on my bookshelf unread from page 21 for three or four months and I picked it up again last week when, looking through my books, I realised I had not finished a few and this was one so I resumed reading. 

Once you come at it having taken a break from reading the style of the book is actually magnificent, if anything the slow pace helps you to contemplate everything that the book throws at you and therefore makes every word feel significant. And every word is significant. If there’s one thing I like it is when a novel uses words eloquently to create a story, where no word out of thousands is wasted and it is definitely a feel I get with Beautiful Ruins. 

The chapters are also well set out following the ‘points of view’ (though not in first person- thank god) of multiple people. It starts in Italy, 1962 and then jumps to California in a time simply known as ‘recently’ to 2008, and so forth, as the story unravels not only in the ‘present’ day Los Angeles but also in the past, in Italy and America, and it tells the story of how Pasquale fell in love with a woman, and how he found her. Every time a new character is introduced the next chapter is about them, it tells their part of the story. Though I’m not going to give examples because I want you to find it out for yourself. 

I love it. Beautiful Ruins is, I have to say, Beautiful. I’m only a little over a half way, if not more, and although I’m still reading it and do not know what is going to happen yet I could not recommend it enough. This book feels like it matters. I root for the protagonist- which is rare- I adore all the characters and how they all unwittingly held a significance. It’s a book that is uplifting and devastating at the same time, a tribute to love and cinema and so much more. If there’s one book you read this year it has to be this one. 

Morning Glory

Like almost every other blogger on WordPress I consider myself as I writer. I don’t have anything published (I’m pretty sure a poem I wrote about a cat when I was nine doesn’t count) but I write, therefore I am a writer. Often I would start a story, and think it was amazing, before I had another idea and moved onto the next one. I started a project about a year ago, when I was inspired by Margaret Atwood and by Youth Theatre sessions that I took on the weekend. It was that story that I submitted to a writing competition around the end of December 2013. And then I left it alone, and hadn’t written anything new for months. Until now. 

I guess I was using university to take myself away from my second of three passions. The other is acting. I had already taken myself out of acting as I didn’t like the society at university. Then it clicked. I wasn’t going to give up on writing, and particularly not this story which I had been obsessing with since I started, collecting books, and articles to help me, creating maps and characters and their stories. So this week I started to write it again, from scratch, so that I could do the best job I could. 

The problem is I’m obsessing over it again. Why did I stop writing it?! In some senses I had never forgotten about it, there was a niggling in my mind that told me to keep going, but I didn’t act upon it. Perhaps I wanted to start again when I had a fresh mind, or perhaps I was just lazy. But then I spent the past couple of days reading Divergent and my story sprung back to life at the mention of double yellow lines. So here we are. I’m not complaining. I LOVE writing. But today I have a Latin exam, and I couldn’t get to sleep anyway, having thrashed around bed for two hours. But the thing is inspiration struck just as I was about to sleep, for a scene.

It would be perfect for character development my brain called to me, as it was a problem I had. So I noted the idea quickly on my phone, writing a quick paragraph or two. But now I had it in my head, and it wasn’t going anywhere. It was all I could think about. So I spent another hour thrashing around bed, trying to stop thinking so that I could get some shut eye before my exam, but this thing was screaming to be written. So I gave up on sleep at six o clock in the morning, at least coffee is a thing, and took my laptop and have now written it out into something proper. What was a quick paragraph of about seven sentences of dialogue has quickly turned into two-thousand words and an hour of writing as I listened to movie soundtracks. I’m happy to be writing again. I’m not just an archaeologist. But couldn’t my subconscious mind decide to do it at a different time? 

Two People, Two Years

Today is a rather celebratory day for me, even if I have spent the day in lectures, cooking and watching unhealthy amounts of Netflix. The thing is that I am supposed to be celebrating the second year me and Ed have been together. The problem with living in different downs is it makes it too hard to do it properly. I have given him his gift already, a notebook in which I hand-wrote every memory we had together in chronological order, and to celebrate today I decided to share with you the first part of the story: how we came to be dating. 

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It started at midnight, which in fairy tales is when a lot of fateful things happen. It was November 19th 2011. We could have met two days before when we were on the same trip and knew the same people, but we didn’t. Perhaps if I took the hopeless Romantic approach I would say fate didn’t want us to meet then, especially when on that day he had a girlfriend. He did not on the 19th. At midnight I clambered on to a mini-bus (not a coach that used to be a pumpkin) as I was going on a school trip to Greece. As luck would have it the rest of the sixth formers packed too much and there wasn’t a seat for me on the designated “sixth form” bus. I made an awful joke as I sat down and awkwardly waited. Ed climbed onto the bus just a few minutes after and sat down next to me. As luck would have it it was the only seat left. At first it was awkward because we didn’t know each other at all and we were both pretty reclusive in our personalities, but we bonded quickly over music, archaeology and classics and our hobbies. We chatted for a while until we were too tired and fell asleep. I don’t know if I believe in love at first sight, but I knew I kind of liked him. 

When we got to Greece we had an evening in Athens, having been to Sounion, and I asked to hang out with him as the sixth formers (whose only reasons for going on the trip were to drink booze and smoke goodness-knows-what) weren’t the sort of people I enjoyed hanging out with. We went to a shop and I bought a souvenir or two to remember the trip. On the way out I looked at the bracelets they had displayed, and then I walked away. Half an hour later the men from the store approached me. 

“May you show us your pockets?” They said in broken English. 

“Excuse me?” 

“Did you steal something?” What?! As far as my memory serves I have never stolen anything. For some reason at that moment I thought telling them “No. I promise. I’m a girl guide.” would help the situation as I showed them all of my pockets and the contents of my bag. They asked me to be escorted to the shop. I admit I was scared. I was shaking. ED, who at this point I hadn’t even known for 24, came with me as I could barely talk and a second pair of eyes would perhaps help my case. We watched the CCTV footage they showed us and I explained how it must have been my iPod which I had in my hand to keep track of the time. Ed explained that I was the sort of person who would never intentionally against the law while all I could think to say in my head was “ego Britannica sum!”. They accepted my apology and let me go, and for the rest of the evening every time they saw me they patted my shoulder and showered me is “sorry”. 

We hung out a lot on the Greece trip. On the Acropolis, at the museums, and other sites. One evening I came into his hotel room while a person I shared the hotel room with was showering and wanted privacy. There I taught him how to use twitter and he fixed mums camera which I had dropped at the airport (and almost left in Delphi, sorry mum). And we talked and talked. At meal times we sat opposite each other and, like a gentleman would do on a date, he would pour my water. I bet he would have helped me into my chair if he could, but the space was next to the wall. 

One evening some of the students got tipsy and there was a huge row over a boy. Ed and I escaped the room where all the drama was happening and made our way to the fourth floor. We raced there. I took the stairs, two at a time, while he used the elevator. It was a close draw but I won. While we were hiding from the rest of the school we talked a bit and he admitted he liked this other girl. I would be lying if I said my heart didn’t sink, just a little bit. 

On the minibus home from the airport we sat next to each other on the mini-bus again, but the girl he liked flanked his other side. I fell asleep. So did he. And so did she. It was, theoretically a menage a tois, as there were three of us sleeping together, but it wasn’t like that. When we stopped at a station to get food the girl and a boy very much into card tricks traded places and the three of us stayed up the rest of the night. We recited Going On a Bear Hunt off by heart and discussed just about everything. I devised a plan to get his number which included getting other peoples to make it look normal, and it worked. 

After Greece we texted a lot and hung out in school and I would spend my lunch times walking in circles to “bump into” him. One day I saw him going through A-block corridor so sprinted across the car park and through the hall and positioned myself to seem as if I had been there forever. 

“You seen Vie?” I asked. I knew perfectly where she was. 

“No. I haven’t.”

“I’ve been looking for her all lunch time. Where are you going?” 

“Library.” 

“I’ll come with you, maybe she’s there doing last minute homework…” Needless to say she wasn’t in the library but I said that if she wasn’t there then I’d never find her, and used it as an excuse to stay in his company. Some people would call that sweet, others would call it creepy. They go sort of hand in hand. 

February was the first time we hung out outside of school grounds. It was a snow day and Vie wanted more sleep  so I texted him asking if he wanted a snowball fight. We met up, and there I met his mum, dog and little sister and we had a snowball fight. By the end we were drenched and I was freezing cold so I was invited back to his house for hot chocolates and to dry off. We spent the majority of the day in his room playing computer games and laughing about it. I was sat on his lap and he had his arms around me and occasionally we snuggled. This was definitely not what “friends” did. But when people asked us if we were a thing we would scoff and say no. I left in the evening and he walked me home. As we parted we hugged, and he may have kissed me on the cheek but I’m not sure. After that day we hung out every couple of weeks doing the same sort of things. 

On march something made me upset, and I knew that I wanted to talk to him about it, so I went to his house in tears. The door was open as he had just got home and I just stood there.

“Hey.” I said pretending to smile. 

“Hey!” He replied a little shocked to see me. And in that instant I broke into tears. He led me into the house and sat me down while I explained everything and he cuddled and consoled me and made jokes until I smiled. When I left he hugged me goodbye which we hadn’t done since February. Honestly, I was fairly confused about us. I knew I definitely liked him at that point, but I wasn’t so sure if he felt the same or not so I kept quiet for another couple of months. We hung out as usual, and I would come to his house every couple of days like I normally did. Around May I knew I didn’t want to be “just friends” anymore, but I was too scared to say it myself as I had tried before but chickened out. So I wrote a letter and walked across the park to post it through the door. I got half way across the park and stood there, stalling myself for forty minutes, to an hour, debating if I should or not. It was raining hard that day. Eventually I ran out of time and I had to go home to make it to Vie’s A.S performance for Theatre Studies so I did not send the letter. 

Instead we met up on Sunday and I packed the letter in to my bag, just in case. I don’t remember the details of the 6th of May 2011, I know I bought white choc-chip cookies as, I learned in Greece on an evening where we all dared him to have his finger nails painted and I bribed him with chocolate, white chocolate is his favourite, and I went to his house. I presented the cookies first thing. They say the way to a mans heart is through his stomach. Perhaps this would work? And we talked and did the usual, I suppose. But at some point we were both sat on the sofa-bed in his room and we were discussing something. I was mid-way through a sentence when, like the usual cliche, he leaned in and kissed me on the lips. I was surprised to say at the least, as I never thought he would. I think I was too stunned to kiss back at first, but I did. And I came away blushing, and smiling. 

When it was time for me to go, as mum had called me to say that dinner was ready soon, I grabbed my shoes and started to out them on. Ed saw the letter in my bag. 

“What’s this?” He asked. I blushed.

“It’s.Um. Nothing.” I mumbled as I his behind my hair. 

“It’s addressed to me?”

“Um, yes. But…I don’t think I need it anymore.” 

“Well, it’s got my name on it, thus it is mine. I’m opening it.” And I watched as he tore open the envelope and read it. I pretended to be concentrating on my shoelaces as I waited for my heart to explode, either through utter sadness and humiliation, or joy. I was preparing to say that if he said no I didn’t want it to affect out friendship and that I would still like to hang out. But just a minute later when I started to say it he looked up from the paper and said “okay.” I smiled and tried to stop myself from dancing there on the spot. We hugged, and kissed a little, before he took me downstairs to wave me out of the door. When the door was closed I skipped all the way home. 

Two years to this day we have been staying strong. Of course we have been through good times and bad times, but we made it through this far. It’s weird to see how it has been this long as he has been my first boyfriend ever, and first kiss. And it seems like an incredibly short amount of time, yet it seems miraculous. We are young, of course, I am only nineteen years old, but still there’s a part of me that is screaming “more!”. who knows if this will end in happily ever after or not, but we’ll see. For now I’m just celebrating two years. 

Daily Prompt | Make Me Smile

I like the idea of these daily prompts, taking fifteen minutes out of a day to say something quick about the chosen topic. It’s a nice idea, and starting out in blogging I like the title of the first one I have seen “Make Me Smile”. It’s positive. It’s simple. It’s…me. Because i like to smile and be positive so this is perfection.

One thing that makes me happy is visiting the British Museum in London, obviously for my love of Classics and Archaeology. I visited the British Museum at least four times in the last year and although it’s often the same things there’s something about the Elgin Marbles that never gets old. While I was in the museum a while back I saw this couple sitting on a bench and they were old – I won’t lie. But they looked happy. I got a photo of them, the man looks like he has seen what I am doing and is smiling (or he’s looking at the frieze behind my head an likes it) and his wife is looking at him with this look that could only come from being married for decades and decades. It’s beautiful, it’s my favourite picture. It’s everything I want to be, I want to be visiting the museum years from now and still loving it with the passion I have right now.

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The couple I saw at the museum

It was the moment that made me happy, and looking at the photo still makes me smile today.