domingo, 18 de enero de 2015

Final del juego - Julio Cortázar


Cortázar creates several conflicts in me. Sometimes I like his writing, sometimes it is wonderful nap material. But, there is a but. Some of his short stories may start really slow, may have a lot of tedious details that makes me want to finish the whole thing right away, however, in the last paragraph, or in the last two lines, he changes everything. And suddenly, because I was not paying too much attention to what I thought were boring details, I find myself lost. “Huh?” “How did I get to this?” So I have to re-read it. And THEN I GET IT. And it is amazing. Most of the times. Some other times, I still do not get it, so I have to do a little research, if my interpretation makes no sense at all.

That happened with a short story called "No se culpe a nadie". How long can you write about a pullover? On and on about a pullover, hands, hands, wool, hands, drool. And when you least expect it... that happens. And you begin to understand a little bit more until you arrive to your own interpretation.

You usually see things that the author did not actually write. He might have other intentions that you did not see. And maybe, if it really interests you, you will obsessively look for the real meaning (if it is explained) because you want to know what was in that writer's head. And then contemplate both, amazed, because a single story can create many different points of view.
And when I say "you", yes... I mean me.

Besides "No se culpe a nadie", Final del Juego contains other little gems like "Continuidad de los parques" and "El río". And bigger gems like "La noche boca arriba", where dreams and reality seems to be the same, and "Axolotl". A story about one of the creepiest living things I have ever seen.

Sólo una cosa era extraña; seguir pensando como antes, saber. Darme cuenta de eso fue en el primer momento como el horror del enterrado vivo que despierta a su destino. (198)

Only one thing was strange: to go on thinking as usual, to know. To realize that was, for the first moment, like the horror of a man buried alive awaking to his fate.

Cortázar is a challenging writer. You never know where you are standing, until you finish reading the story. He created his own playful, weird, twisted, complicated, beautiful and nostalgic style. To me, there is a sense of home that never goes away. Yes, a warm homey feeling, a bit different from, for example, Borges, a favorite of mine, whose work tends to be more philosophical, equally complicated. They both play with reality and dreams until those boundaries disappear completely. They do it in their own brilliantly unique ways.
Yes. Two of the finest examples of Latin American literature.

* Photo credit: Book cover via Goodreads.
Drawing via Cortazario.

El Matadero - Esteban Echeverría


I remember my reaction. This book was an assignment. I had to read it for my literature class. So, my only motivation for finishing this book was the test. There was going to be a test. I repeated to myself: “I HAVE TO FINISH IT. Finish. FINISH the damn thing. Open your eyes, you can do it. Forget naps, forget actually enjoying reading a book and finish this one”. (I was a bit competitive at school).

El mataderoSo, I managed to read the whole thing. And did well on my exam. AND I made a promise: never force myself to read a book I dislike. I mean, I can try it out, put my prejudices aside and see what is all the hype about, BUT if I don’t enjoy those few chapters, I won’t push myself to finish it. I don’t care being call a quitter (?) Reading should be having an amazing time with a book, and I read for myself, not to please anybody… So why would I make that feeling of actually physical and mental pain last? Unless it’s an assignment, I will not do it.

Well, I should say something about the book, right? It is considered one of the first (if not the first) Argentinian tales. It is about, mostly, a day in a slaughterhouse of Buenos Aires, in the context of a flood that causes economic problems. Echeverría’s story symbolizes the political atmosphere of the early 19th century, during Rosas’ dictatorship. So, there is a lot of issues that I usually find interesting: political power and social discrimination, fighting the system with new ideas, basically injustice and new ways of overcoming it, an excessively controlling government that causes differences among the citizens and, often, violent reactions (ringing any bells?), a political figure with a demagogic speech (bells, bells), a kind of silent opposition (BELLS) that must disappear completely, the loss of individuality, etc. It’s all there. So why did I find it so tedious? Maybe because I wasn't used to that writing style. And the long, too long descriptions about everything.

Two stars for now; I have to re-read it just to be certain. But I don't see that happening any time soon. 

* Photo credit: Book cover via Goodreads.

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1) - E.L. James

Rating: The star hasn't been born yet.

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1)I'm not even going to wait for the movie.
Good day.

The Jane Austen Book Club - Karen Joy Fowler


*DNF review alert. If you don't think they should exist, do not read this*

Jocelyn and Sylvia, two middle-aged women, one never married and the other crying rivers because she just got divorced; Bernadette, a sixty-seven year-old Liz Taylor; Prudie, a French teacher that shares her thoughts in French whether you speak it or not; Allegra, Sylvia's daughter, a thirty year-old lesbian who cannot get a happy relationship, and Grigg, a guy that... I don't know what to say about this choice. All these people start a Jane Austen book club.
The Jane Austen Book Club

This book starts slow and I don't think its pace ever changes (I couldn't finish this thing; I couldn't find the energy, so I put an end to this weird self-inflicted pain).

While I was reading this book, I couldn't stop thinking that if you are going to write about this outstanding author or her works, without a gram of her wit and fine humor, then please, do not do it. Save a tree and your dignity. Fowler's writing style can't get any drier. Let's be honest, some of these characters, from different points of view, experienced failure; they might be considered “losers”, though that is a harsh word so let's call them... “non-winners”. My point is, there are clever ways of describing non-winners, however, Fowler picked the dullest ways possible. They lacked development, in my opinion. Funny thing, there are many unnecessary and over-detailed anecdotes that tried to explain some... context?, but they only made me forget about the whole plot (okay, let's imagine there is a plot). So this Daria-on-Valium kind of writing really bored me. And that is a big problem for me because I prefer writing over plot. I can deal with an average plot, but the writing must be good. And this is certainly not the case.

Like I said, all these people are members of a Jane Austen book club, so you could imagine all the witty comments you will read. “No animal passion”, Allegra said about Emma. Really? Just find some Sade Book Club, there's some “animal” for you to enjoy. I found some other very insightful remarks like “Emma is a snob”. Yeah, mind-blowing.
A couple of lines later, I was reading some Jocelyn's story about tennis and yadda yadda yadda. Then, back to the book. And so on. And so on... I was lost. (Cohesion, coherence, connection?) It is a literary technique, sure, but if your going to use it, you have to be very crafty to pull that off, lady. And again, this is not the case. I was frankly annoyed by all this. And one of my rules in life (that helps me preserve my mental health) is to not force myself to read something I am not enjoying. I don't have to prove anything to anyone, really. So, if by, let's say, page 50, I feel like I couldn't care less about the whole story, then adiós.

Anyway, there is a movie based on this book. It is one of those chick-flicks you can watch on a Sunday afternoon; I didn't like it that much. Feel free to ask, "then why did you read the book?" Because I have read somewhere that the screenplay had little to do with the book. So, I thought it was going to be better.
Poor child! Let's just say that you might want to watch the movie and leave it at that. I found it much more entertaining than the book. Sacrilege, I know, but in this case, it is the sad truth.

Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell

Rating: -

May 12, 14

Let's face it. I will never finish this book.


Jan 19, 14
Sorry, Cath. It's not you, it's me. I'm sure there's a delightful story waiting to be read, but I just don't have the time. There are too many books and so little time. I have tons of great books to read and I can't see you on my currently-reading shelf anymore, it's just sad. It's time to face the truth: I'll probably read this one after finishing all those great books, and one can only imagine how long that will take. No matter how old, heartless, pathetic or uncool I may look, I'm not into your kind of story right now, dear. Believe me, I tried. We'll catch up.

Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, #1) - Cassandra Clare


Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, #1)
And... I'm done for now. This goes straight to its owner, thank you very much. Putting all prejudices aside (or most of them), I tried, and it didn't work. But I had to try, I can't talk about a book before reading it, even if I knew I wasn't going to like it. Clare's writing is quite simple, sometimes it seems forced. I couldn't finish it (it was physically and psychologically impossible) so maybe all the witty remarks are in the end of the book. I don't know.
Anyway, I didn't care much about the plot or the characters (that guy most people love, a bit of a jerk, huh?).
So, here we are. I'll wait for the movie.

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale - Herman Melville


Moby-Dick; or, The WhaleWell, no one can say I didn't try. I understand it is a classic. A complex classic with meaningful metaphors. A Great American Novel that begins beautifully. Most of us, at some point, can relate to Captain Ahab (in other circumstances, more likely, but it happens). But I just couldn't keep reading those passages (lines, chapters) about every little detail on whales, whaling, whaling ships. I tried to read it in English. Then I thought, 'Well, my English is not excellent and this vocabulary is a bit complicated. Maybe that's why it's taking me so much time'. So I tried to read it in Spanish. And... no. It was still dense.
I mean, I get it, it's called Moby Dick. I knew it was going to be some whaling involved. I wasn't expecting the author to write about partying by the sea or ships that mysteriously disappear because of a strange force that turns out to be the butler. But it was too much. It ended up being a long, tedious novel for me. (Emphasis in "for me". I'm not saying I could have written a better novel. This is just my opinion. I don't think I needed to clarify this but there is always someone thinking that.) Anyway, it felt longer than it actually is.
The author really loved sailing, whales... That's fine. As far as I'm concerned, I can't bear looking at a whale right now.
Maybe in a few years... who knows. I hope I can finish it someday.

domingo, 4 de enero de 2015

Essays and Aphorisms - Arthur Schopenhauer


Each individual misfortune, to be sure, seems an exceptional occurrence; but misfortune in general is the rule.
Arthur Schopenhauer, "On the Suffering of the World"

We are here to shatter your warm and fuzzy world inhabited by unicorns and puppies that eat cupcakes every time it rains. You may have the feeling of never leaving that world. And that's a valid choice, we all have our particular ways of dealing with our existence. If you do, avoid Schopenhauer's work. If you feel you can take it, proceed to read this book.

Essays and AphorismsIn 2005, I bought a little book called Schopenhauer para Principiantes. I was quite young and I am not sure where I found his name (I do remember the year because every time I buy a book, I write the date on them; a little quirk). I think it was during some period when I was obsessed with Hinduism and Buddhism and other aspects of the Eastern philosophy and religion. Schopenhauer was heavily influenced by the Upanishads.
Anyway, I felt so close to his points of view. I always thought I'd enjoy reading his books. And I did. I enjoyed reading this one, most of the times.

I decided to mention what I didn't like, first. And then, his other thoughts that truly emanate intelligence and creativity. That should be the last thing to be read.

Let's start with those simple-minded creatures whose only job is to have children and were born to be nurses and teachers. Yes, women.
One needs only to see the way she is built to realize that woman is not intended for great mental or for great physical labour. She expiates the guilt of life not through activity but through suffering, through the pains of childbirth, caring for the child and subjection to the man, to whom she should be a patient and cheering companion. (49)

After reading that, Schop certainly wasn't my favorite person in the world. And that is just the beginning. Do you think his misogynistic capabilities end there?
[they] are childish, silly and short-sighted, in a word big children... The nobler and more perfect a thing is, the later and more slowly does it mature. The man attains the maturity of his reasoning powers and spiritual faculties hardly before his twenty-eighth year; the woman with her eighteenth. And even then it is only reasoning power of a sort: a very limited sort. (50)

Yes, ignoble and imperfect ladies. Women are portrayed as little human beings that make babies and never mature, and have to hold on to their beauty and charm in order to get successful businessmen to support them (okay, I know a couple of those, but do not generalize, I beg you. Just like all men aren't noble and perfect, for god's sake). It has been said that, in his last years, he had a more favorable opinion about women. Well, I haven't seen the page. No redemption for you on that subject, my friend.

Next topic: freedom of the press. Or the permit to sell poison, whatever you want to call it.
For what cannot be put into the heads of the ignorant and credulous masses? – especially if you hold before them the prospect of gain and advantages. And of what misdeeds is man not capable once something has been put into his head? I very much fear, therefore, that the dangers of press freedom outweigh its usefulness, especially where there are legal remedies available for all grievances. In any event, however, freedom of the press should be conditional upon the strictest prohibition of any kind of anonymity. (89)

And then he focused on what he considered the perfect form of government... Yeah. I wasn't particularly fond of all his views developed in the essay "On law and politics".

Moving on to the things I enjoyed reading. First, Hollingdale's introduction. Thoroughly researched and well-written. He shared many facts of Schopenhauer's life and work and he managed to keep me interested. He chose several essays and aphorisms from the second volume of Parerga and Paralipomena (1851) to shed some light on his amazing work and form an idea of his philosophy.

Schopenhauer described brilliant ideas without using an extremely complicated language that only scholars would be able to understand. The complexity of his thoughts and the way they are written... simply outstanding. It reminded me of my experience with Bertrand Russell, while reading Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects. They have similar writing styles: straightforward and kind of humorous at times. Just the writing, though. Russell didn't think about S. with great enthusiasm since he considered him, basically, a hypocrite because he didn't lived according to what he preached... I wouldn't know.

The first essay is about a main characteristic of Schopenhauer's philosophy. Suffering. We seem to be doomed to suffer. And even if we wouldn't suffer, we would long for it.
Not the least of the torments which plague our existence is the constant pressure of time, which never lets us so much as draw breath but pursues us all like a taskmaster with a whip.
And yet if every desire were satisfied as soon as it arose how would men occupy their lives, how would they pass the time? (25)

If we wouldn't have misery in our world, we would create it, just to have something to worry about, apparently. (There is a funny Utopia reference, the land of More.) So, he recommended us to see the world not as the perfect work of a superior being because first, the world is full of misery; second, we live in it. Humans are considered highly developed beings but, in fact, they are not. However, think about it. It couldn't be otherwise since we are here thanks to a punishment for a forbidden desire (insert "story of the Fall" here). All in all, once you have accepted suffering, you'll see it as something ordinary, you won't be surprised because you will think of it as something normal. Considering we have such a tragic origin and we are doomed to suffer, we should conduct ourselves with some indulgence. We must treat each other with tolerance, patience, forbearance and charity. Everything has its silver lining.

The following chapter is about the vanity of existence, which I found brilliant.
Every moment of our life belongs to the present only for a moment; then it belongs for ever to the past. (31)

When I was younger, I used to be haunted by that thought. What is the present? What is now, this instant? Merely a second. Then it is all safe in the past. The past is not last year; it is already when I wrote "The past is not last year". That hopeless feeling of needing more time is universal.
He then continued squeezing and kicking my soul with his thoughts on the human life and our needs that are impossible to satisfy.
As things are, we take no pleasure in existence except when we are striving after something – in which case distance and difficulties make our goal look as if it would satisfy us (an illusion which fades when we reach it) – or when engaged in purely intellectual activity, in which case we are really stepping out of life so as to regard it from outside, like spectators at a play... Whenever we are not involved in one or other of these things but directed back to existence itself we are overtaken by its worthlessness and vanity and this is the sensation called boredom. (32)

There are other essays and aphorisms about religion, philosophy, ethics, books and writing (that ooze arrogance from time to time) and introspection that are written with the same accessible language and express impressive—sometimes provocative—ideas. We may not agree with a couple of them but we have to admit that this man was an endless source of creativity. He expressed his ideas and backed them up with his own arguments and created a representation of the world that influenced many people. He wasn't afraid of showing what he really thought about several subjects, no matter how miserable and disturbing it all might be.

So, here we are. I am full of contradictions, like any other person. I loved him and disliked him with the same intensity, at the same time.

Kant's fan, Hegel's foe and one of the greatest, most interesting and provocative philosophers I have read so far.

Actual rating: 3.5 3.9 stars.

The Misanthrope - Molière


This play was written in the 17th century and it is so contemporary, because of that feeling of rejection towards society and almost everything that surrounds it. And... the subsequent isolation that the person feels, of course.
The Misanthrope
It happens all the time. People that are sick of other people but then, they can't stand that deep loneliness they find. They were never ready for it, and they end up believing they are indeed cursed or something and kind of give up, accepting that miserable existence; very Harry Haller. They might accept it until they find that special someone that dislikes that side of the world, too. That "What! You too? I thought that no one but myself..." moment. Or they die alone, whatever comes first.

So, 17th century, today. No matter the time or place, some people feel like outsiders, and that brings, inevitably, alienation. That "other people" start to look at them like the personification of abnormality. Like human beings that just hate humanity for the hell of it. Like misanthropes. And that is the word that led me to this book. I wanted to read this one because I used to think I was one of them.

Back to the book. It is an insightful play about the essence of human nature, our virtues and flaws. Molière brilliantly portrayed the hypocrisy of its time through Alceste, the protagonist. A man with a profound existential conflict that fell in love with Célimène, a 17th-century French Holly Golightly. Oh, yes, that can't go wrong, right?

I really enjoyed reading this book. Funny stuff with actually some meaning.

Los Conjurados - Jorge Luis Borges


I read Los Conjurados in 2005. It is not that I have such an outstanding memory that I can remember what was I reading one, two, eight years ago. Moreover, if I can remember what I had for dinner last night, I am on my good days.
Anyway, I know I read this in that particular year because I tend to add footnotes, references, names, new vocabulary, personal thoughts on how little I feel when the book I am reading is brilliant... all that on the margins. I don't like dog-earing my pages, but when a book is that good, when it makes me work and begin my little investigation, I write on it (unless it's a really old one, but I tend to buy paperbacks, so I can work with them without feeling too guilty; plus, I just want to read them, not brag about having a beautiful hardcover or the first edition of Whateverthename; at least, not for now). So, "dog-earing people" of the world, it's fine. You don't like using bookmarks and I write on the margins. We're cool.

In this case, the first note was about Borges' prologue. This particular paragraph:
"No pasa un día en que no estemos, un instante, en el paraíso. No hay poeta, por mediocre que sea, que no haya escrito el mejor verso de la literatura, pero también los más desdichados. La belleza no es privilegio de unos cuantos nombres ilustres."

My first thought was something about his pretty optimistic vision and his humility, then I continued with some kind of "emo lines" that I will not mention now. Nor ever. And that was dated "nov/2005".

Today, I re-read it, and it was like reading a whole new book. And that's not because I found new meanings and all that, but because after those years, I didn't remember a thing. “Why did I write those remarks?" "Who are those people Borges is talking about?” “Huh?!” It's not that this is a forgettable work, it's my memory. Or my lack of it, actually.

Back to the book. It was written in 1985, a year before Borges' death. And there are little masterpieces all over this book. I personally love: Cristo en la Cruz, Juan López y John Ward, Abramowicz:
"Esta noche me has dicho sin palabras, Abramowicz, que debemos entrar en la muerte como quien entra en una fiesta."

...also Alguien Sueña, Alguien Soñará, Los Conjurados:
"En el centro de Europa están conspirando...
Han tomado la extraña resolución de ser razonables.
Han resuelto olvidar sus diferencias y acentuar sus afinidades"

A humble wish in the last days of his life.

* Photo credit: Book cover via Goodreads.

Como Agua para Chocolate - Laura Esquivel


I went to a book club once, years ago, and it was Esquivel's turn. That's it. That is all I should say about this book. Because if I begin to remember everything I hated about it... Well. It will not be pretty for me. I mean, I enjoy magical realism, but not when it is so damn sappy, mushy, sentimental and other 5 synonyms that I can't come up with right now. I don't know. I guess I don't do well with such an enormous amount of melodramatic romance. It is fine when it's a well-written part of the story. But when the descriptions become so ugh... I just feel bad. 

Those 2 stars are because of its acceptable structure and, well, there's food (?). Seriously, that creative connection among the story, the food and other cultural aspects, it is kind of interesting. But the rest... I just wanted to forget it. And I successfully managed to do so. Until this review.

The Art of War - Sun Tzu


Sun Tzu was a Chinese military general that lived apparently around the 6th century BC. So, this treatise has been around for a couple of years. Its maxims have been used by many well-known people through history. 

Before this book, I read another one of similar characteristics, A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to StrategyThere were a couple of insightful reflections in both books. They are not mainly about cold strategies and tactics. They wrote about discipline, honesty, wisdom, courage; all things needed in life and not just to fight. And one should fight only when necessary. According to Sun Tzu (and any other rational human being) war should be the last resort. 
“Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.”
Another book I read relating this subject was The Prince, which I reviewed here. These books make a powerful combination. They show you how to get power and how to keep it. And if things get too ugly, then you have to follow some rules and have a couple of strategies under your sleeve in order to win. However, in my opinion, The Prince has a more straightforward approach. It goes right to the point. Do you want to have power and learn how to maintain it no matter what? Do this and this and this because (reason here). Done. No poetic metaphors.

Anyway, there is a lot to be considered before your first move -once you decided it is wise to make that move. War is based on deception, so you should seem weak when you are ready to attack, make the enemy think you are far away when you are behind his neck! Yes, it is an art. The military general must carefully plan and calculate everything before taking action, that would sure lead him to victory. Same with life, it is always better to think things through before acting (I am sure you didn't see that line coming).

Good book. I am so ready to go to the office tomorrow.

The Cherry Orchard - Anton Chekhov, Tom Murphy (Translator)


This play was an enjoyable read for me. It is about a once aristocratic family, now impoverished and forced to sell everything, including their beautiful cherry orchard, that seemed to be the main thing they cared about, the reason of their pride. Even though they were about to lose everything they owned, they were in some sort of denial because they didn't (or couldn't) do anything to solve that situation. And while this family was in decline, a new kind of rich people arose: the once serfs were making their own money and gaining their place in society. “New money”, like Rose DeWitt's stuck-up mother would say. Rich people in decline trying to save their social position can be really unpleasant. They are willing to do anything to maintain their status. However, this family just stayed there, doing nothing... Some friends gave them possible solutions for their problem, and they did nothing.

The characters are likable, each one in their own way. The main one is Lyubov, a widowed landowner that also lost a son. She's a mixture of different kind of emotions and apparently unwilling to let go the past (something I can relate to, very much). Her brother, Leonid, adds a comedy element that I always enjoy. This play can be funny, witty and also heartbreaking. It has several things to consider that makes it an interesting book to read.

El Oro de los Tigres - Jorge Luis Borges


I can't write anything new about Borges. He is one of my favorite authors and I can't repeat over and over what I think of him. I love his prose and poetry. He is a complete yet fascinating challenge. While reading one of his books, I am actually reading two: his and an encyclopedia, because most of the times, I have no idea to whom he is referring to... And that is one of the things I love the most about him.

This book contains thirty-seven poems and some prose. Major works about love, time, hope, dreams, life in a yellow shade because of his progressive blindness. "El amenazado", "El centinela", "Tankas", "El ciego"... Simply beautiful.

Definitely not a forgettable book.

* Photo credit: Book cover via Goodreads.

Utopia - Thomas More


This book was published in 1516 and it's divided into two parts. The first one made my eyes feel exhausted, so I can sum up all that, just by saying that More found his friend Peter and this one introduced him to a fella named Raphael, a man who visited several countries to satisfy his desire to see the world. He shared some opinions of the political scenario of his time (a bit familiar; whether you are talking about yesterday's kingdoms or today's democratic governments, some things never change) and talked about some general aspects of this awesome island called Utopia. The other two guys could not believe that such a land could subsist, since it was a place where, for instance, private property didn't exist.

A million words and a couple of eyelashes later, Raphael started to talk specifically about Utopia: all things relating to their soil, their rivers, their towns, their people, their manners, constitution, laws...

And here I stop. Laws. This society has few laws. Why?
"They very much condemn other nations, whose laws, together with the commentaries on them, swell up to so many volumes; for they think it an unreasonable thing to oblige men to obey a body of laws that are both of such a bulk and so dark as not to be read and understood by every one of the subjects."
That last line seems to have been quite a source of ideas to the great Kafka. And I agree: laws should be simpler, everybody should be able to understand them; and that bureaucracy that sucks life out of people should be eradicated, etc., etc. And so did the Utopians: few laws and, of course, no lawyers.
"(…) they consider them as a sort of people whose profession it is to disguise matters and to wrest the laws; and therefore they think it is much better that every man should plead his own cause, and trust it to the judge... By this means they both cut off many delays."
Ignore this paragraph. I need to vent. Well, More, this is a bit irritating. It is not my fault that we have a collapsed legal system, I am not the one that spends a month signing one freaking paper! Fu@#$% bastards that after two months they give you one lousy answer while the moron that also had to study tons of books for five fu@#$% years (and has to watch those laws being violated just like that) has to answer to the client and try to explain why the freaking process is taking like five years of his/her LIFE, DAMN IT. 



Anyway, this is a book about an ideal land, a pagan place. Saint Thomas' perfect society was one that worshiped the sun or the moon or believed in a Supreme Being. A society ruled by reason had to believe in something. People who did not believe in the afterlife, commonly known as atheists, were considered beasts because they rejected a state of rewards and punishments to the good and bad people after life on earth. So, such a human being who is not afraid of anything but the laws is more likely to break them to satisfy his appetites... Not a warm and fuzzy land for the non-believers.

It has to be said, Utopians despised atheists and treated them like animals and forbade them ranks and honors and stuff, however, they did not punish them in order to avoid hypocrisy: so that men are not tempted to lie or disguise their opinions. Not that bad, huh?

As I said, this was a perfect place with no private property, with slavery (adulterers, watch out), with few laws and where everyone was happy with no legal problems to solve (yup, More, being a great lawyer himself, apparently wasn't a big fan of lawyers... sly creature!). Suddenly, a disturbing image comes to mind:

Jokes aside, this is an interesting book to read with lots of coffee in your body. A man imagined what a perfect country should be like, and yes, it is not that perfect. This book started a bit slow for me, but then it got better. I would recommend this to people who enjoy history, otherwise you can drink all the coffee Colombia has to offer, but you still won't reach page 5.

* Photo credit: Book cover via Goodreads.
Gif from The Simpsons by Matt Groening / via Giphy.

Cuentos que me Apasionaron - Ernesto Sábato


This book starts with a heartbreaking prologue. A couple of lines that shows you the quality of this author (this is if you haven't had the fortune of reading his work yet). In the final years of his life, he decided to share with us the stories that he loved, that he never forgot. He wanted us to get to know those authors because he thought it really was worth it. Jeez, he was right. This book alone will take you to other universes, and let me tell you (even though my opinion doesn't change a thing), you won't regret it. There is a couple of writers I have never heard of, and now, they are my next stop. (Well, after I read that Tower of Babel I have as a to-read shelf. There's so much to do and so little time. If only I could be paid just for existing, eating and reading... Fine. Babbling over.) 

Most of them are considered “classics”, but that does not mean they are unapproachable, difficult to understand and all that. Actually, several classics aren't. That specific word may lead some judgmental people to the silly conclusion that we are talking about difficult books that make you look smarter (even if they do... for me, it is annoying to listen to a person brag about it). I tried a lot of genres, but, as a “mostly classic” reader, I personally dislike people that think they are better than the rest because they read those books, or people that think that other people think they are better than the rest because they read those books. It happens, people that don't even know you but still give you the “oh you think you're so smart with your Dostoyevsky and your ego that's taking all over the room” look... those people are everywhere. All in all, it is a matter of taste. (Speaking of an objective review, babbling #2 over.)

I enjoyed reading this book, these stories filled with timeless thoughts and feelings. Sabato also included a little bio of each author, so you can be a bit more prepared. But I don't want to prepare you, at all! I don't want to spoil a single thing. I shall remain in “Siddharta contemplating the talking river” kind of silence, in order to let you read his brilliant selection with all the mystery and excitement intact.

* Photo credit: Book cover via Goodreads.

The Overcoat - Nikolai Gogol


* This review may contain a little spoiler *

My first contact with Gogol, and certainly not my last.
This little book tells the story of Akakiy Akakievitch, a certain official in a certain department where nobody showed him any sign of respect. He was laughed at by his co-workers. That must be one of the worst thing that may happen to any human being: realizing that high school did not end (for a lot of people, it wasn't all flowers and rainbows). All the bullying, the bad jokes, the embarrassing moments that make you gently ask the ground to eat you alive, the psychological violence you cannot get rid of, all that, now... at your workplace? You have to love the irony.

The Overcoat is, well, a story about an overcoat. It seems to have more importance than Akakiy himself, the responsible guy with the unfortunate name. That is another thing... mothers, what the hell are you thinking when you give your children ridiculous names? Please, spare them a lot of trouble and save yourselves a lot of money in psychologists and start naming your kids properly. I don't know why they don't change their own name into some fruit, weird magicians, comic superheroes, cars, cardinal points or whatever they seem to love. Especially you, celebrity people who don't know I exist and won't read this in your entire life!
Okay. Rant officially over. (If you search for "Akakiy Akakievitch", you will understand. I had to do that because I wanted to know why the author spent several lines explaining how he got his name and yeah, I don't speak Russian.)

As I was saying, this book is about a man that was constantly humiliated at work and his ruined overcoat, which he wanted to repair because of the cold, cold winter and the bad, bad jokes. So he decided to buy a new one and after living under a tight budget, he managed to do so. And suddenly, he was a respectable man. That laughable poor devil who always endured those vicious jokes and never replied to anyone, was now a significant part of his department; of society, even. His brand new overcoat gave him confidence, some self esteem. People at his department even organized a party in his honor. Actually, in the overcoat's honor but still, it was a big deal. And then something happened...

I loved this story. I found some honest and beautiful lines...
...and many a time afterwards, in the course of his life, shuddered at seeing how much inhumanity there is in man, how much savage coarseness is concealed beneath delicate, refined worldliness, and even, O God! in that man whom the world acknowledges as honorable and noble.

...that reflect society back then. And now. Everything seems to change but the most remarkable aspects don't change that much. That is one of the reasons I love literature. Books written hundreds of years ago reflect situations, attitudes, emotions, ways of thinking that we see nowadays. Feelings towards routine and overbearing bureaucracy, discrimination, injustice, exploitation, alienation are the same two centuries ago and now. Not all writers have what it takes to explore these universal emotions and write something that you can immediately relate to. But Gogol seems to be one of them. Apparently, he had that keen eye meant to observe individuals and humanity as a whole, and was able to write about it in such a beautiful manner (I could totally see my previous boss in some pages).

Gogol's influence on Russian literature is unquestionable. Dostoyevsky, Bulgakov. It also appears in Kafka's work, so my favorite authors are kind of connected here.
The Overcoat is a short story that contains too much. Do not miss it.

sábado, 3 de enero de 2015

White Nights and Other Stories - Fyodor Dostoyevsky


Well, at this moment, I'm supposed to be reading Clockwork Angel because I don't want to be a judgmental snob and form an opinion without even reading the book. Or this kind of book. BUT, then I found White Nights, lost in my bookshelves. I think it was fate; I don't usually believe in fate, even though I don't have any proofs to disbelieve in it but also no faith to really believe in it, so I'm kind of floating in that department. However, in this particular moment, I think fate spoke to me. And oh my... FD, what the hell are you doing to me? Yes, addressing to a dead person, here. But this man is always talking to my soul, wherever that thing is. I can always relate to his narrators (they're all so sociable and happy with no problems whatsoever) or some of his other characters. This author described human nature like no one. No one! What a talent to explore the essence of people, from a psychological and philosophical point of view, including the social, political and religious context, of course. 
He is the whole package. 

White Nights is a short novel told by an unnamed narrator that goes for a walk everyday and knows everybody by sight; never talked to any of those people. He even imagines conversations with St. Petersburg's buildings. That's how lonely he feels. He is too shy to have any sort of human contact, so he just dreams about it. Until he meets Nastenka, a lonely young girl with a not-so-cheery story, and they become friends. For the first time, talking-to-buildings guy had someone to spend time with, to talk about anything.

Anyway, this novel ends in such a way that shows you what a pure soul this lonely man had. A truly unselfish ending. I even forgot the fact that this man seemed too damn needy. I personally don't like a person THAT desperate for some human contact. You can be desperate, but don't show it that much... don't expose yourself that much, because most of the times, the other person doesn't deserve it. And you let it all out, you share your story and let them see your heart, for nothing. And that might be the cheesiest thing I ever wrote, but it is true.

Despite all that, I loved it. If you know what it is like to live in a heartbreaking solitude and to have this one single moment of true happiness repeating itself in your mind, night after night, then you'll love it too.
Dostoyevsky had an exceptionally brilliant way to describe his characters, their inner processes, feelings, thoughts, and if you can relate to any of them, or find them remotely familiar, well my friend, you're stuck with them. You won't forget those people. Ever. Lucky us.

Apr 26, 2014
Yeah, I've never finished Clockwork Angel...