Thursday, 10 December 2015

Wake Up, Sir! By Jonathan Ames

When I have friends over I always bring them to Shakespeare and company. It is my little Parisian treasure. This time was not different, I had a dear friend visiting, during a very tough period for this city and for all of us, so I brought her there to show her this place of peace. We straight decided to buy a common book to read "together" in distance. The choice was literally like this "tell me a letter and I will show you which book will decide to be read by us". The letter was the A, this book "jumped out" from the crowd to be read (with her big amaze).
I thought it was the perfect book, light but not ordinary.
So we started it together in two different countries. I have just finished it, she is almost there. During the all reading we would share impressions and quotes.

Alan Blair is an alcoholic and a writer, in this order. One day he decides to start a trip with his valet Jevees. The initial intentions are very good, they will get a bit of fresh air and he will eventually find the concentration to finish his second novel. However, things get an unexpected turn from the beginning of the trip and Alan will start to display all the strange aspects of his temper. You might think the book is all around Alan, but I found the main character being his valet, Jeeves, the detached but caring man who helps Alan to face all his adventures (mostly turning into problems).

I found the book very enjoyable, easy to read but never predictable, and it made me smile all the time ( and I really needed that in this period!). Critics say Jonathan Ames is the modern Wodehouse, I found this book being in between Jonas Jonasson's books for this series-of-unfortunate-events' s style  and the Barney's Version by Mordecai Richler for the on-the-edge- effect of alcohol (both books I actually think were written after this, so the inspiration might be reverse).

He walked me to the door. He said, "I'll miss you until I see you again."

Friday, 9 October 2015

SLEEP by Haruki Murakami

Me and Murakami have a very difficult relationship.  It started few years back when a friend gifted me "Norwegian wood". It is like this: I read him, I don't dislike him, or his writing, but when I finish his books I am always like: and so?. I also created a book club to read "Kafka on the shore" to try to discuss with others on what I was missing of this writer.  If you are asking why I tell you it is because I really want to find what people love of him, and I don't.
So I had given up, untill my mum gave me this little book full of nice drawings, and I decided to give him another try. I started the book and I really liked it, I was so much into this magic story, these nice drawings making you live in a dream.  Then I reached the last  page and I wanted to scream at him:  you did it again  Mr. Murakami, you cheated me!!. One thing is to finish with an open end, another is to not finish a book,   'cause this is exactly what he does for me.
I am sorry, I just can't see it, I just can't!
Actually from today I stop to be sorry about it, he is just not for me...

Monday, 14 September 2015

Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Just finished to read the book, and mixed feeling are crossing my mind right now, from "wow nice book!" to "what was that?". And I really don't know which one is going to win.
I started this book couple of times and every time I would stop it 'cause I wouldn't really understand what I was reading; Then this time I decided to give it a more serious chance. I still didn't understand what I was reading for half of the book, then, all of a sudden, I was not able to put the book down: literally! I missed my stop on the metro, I sneaked a read during the breaks at work, I read while walking....till today it ended, on my bed, while I still had the coat on 'cause I just didn't want to waste time removing it.
It made me think at times, cry at others, laugh really little, most of the time it kept me wondering, till the end, when I thought it would finally be all clear...and it wasn't, or maybe yes...

“Once you hear something,
you can never return to the time before you heard it.”

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

I think heavy books in respect to smaller books have a bigger responsibility. More than others they have to be worth the reading and the carrying, since they imply generally you have to carry an extra bag just for the book. So I think writers should put extra care.
This is absolutely the case here! A heavy book, but more for its content than for the weight. A heavy, hard-at-times, reading about one century history of China pre- and post-Mao. All of this is explained through the life of three strong women of the same family: the grandmother, the mother and the daughter.

The story is told by Jung (the daughter) and the events are explained for what they are, but also for what they were thought to be: a critical explanation of Communism, with its advantages and disadvantages. 
Jung's parents were both actively  involved in spreading Communist's propaganda and its settlement. This meant that all the actions of the all family were fully controlled and checked to be sure they were not going against the Party. With almost-absent parents and a climate of indoctrination, Jung, at the beginning without realising, then more openly, tries to understand and discover what really freedom means and what could be the best way to reach it. This was not at all easy, in an environment where information was censored and bias and hard work was thought to be the only way to support the cause and fully devote to Mao and the Party.
An important book and testimony of China's history!

I read many reviews charging the book for the flat writing, almost without emotions, however, for me this is what I liked most of the book. A book that goes straight to the point, without fripperies, but that still has the power of emotions. Great reading!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (the book, the movie and so on)

During my childhood, instead of falling in love with Cinderella and Snow White, I used to watch all the time Alice in Wonderland and Mary Poppins (with the addition, as I grew up, of Back in the Future and Rocky Balboa). I knew all the lines by heart, and even now when I watch them, I can repeat most of the script. So once in a while I like to go back in wonderland!
Emotionally I go there very often, when I want to escape this mad world ("but you must be mad too to imagine it"), "physically" I have been recently there: I was in the cup of the Mad Hatter tea party, in the Cheshire Cat's labyrinth and down the rabbit hole, a dream I had since I was a kid.

I read the book many times, in many versions, but those riddles and rhymes are able to enchant me every time. The main questions that follows Alice every where are: who she is and where she ought to go, the most normal and easy questions in "our" world, but there underground nothing seems as it is.
There is actually a book, not as famous as Alice in Wonderland, that tries to find out who Alice is, and if she is at all happy of being Alice in Wonderland (Alice I have been by Melanie Benjamin), which I recommend to have a better idea of the life of Alice.

Few have actually read the sequel of Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, which I find at times nicer than the first book. And without reading it, it is hard to realise that the Disney cartoon and, even more Tim Burton's movie, represent lot of facts happening in the second book. For instance while watching the movie by Burton, you might have asked your self who is this Jabberwocky. Well it is definitely not an invention of Burton, but rather a mysterious riddle you find at the beginning of the second book, with a note of the author that I will not spoil it for you here.
I was indeed amazed to discover that the Cheshire Cat sings this poem in the Disney's cartoon (video here).
If you are interested there are a couple of old movies adapted from the second book (one is here)

Spoiler Alert (jump if you wish): Since we are talking of Burton's movie, let's get this straight: if he would have called the movie by a different name, something like "Alice BACK in Wonderland" or the sequel, I could have watched it with a different spirit, but please Alice and the Mad Hatter cannot fall in love, even if the Mad Hatter is Johnny Depp!!! Without even talking of how badly the Cheshire Cat is represented. Apparently the sequel of the movie is going to be released next year and I am afraid of watching it.

'Who are you?' said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, 'I—I hardly know, sir, just at present— at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.'
'What do you mean by that?' said the Caterpillar sternly. 'Explain yourself!'
'I can't explain myself, I'm afraid, sir' said Alice, 'because I'm not myself, you see.'
'I don't see,' said the Caterpillar.
'I'm afraid I can't put it more clearly,' Alice replied very politely, 'for I can't understand it myself to begin with; and being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing.'
'It isn't,' said the Caterpillar.


Friday, 19 June 2015

Cain by José Saramago

Here we are with the second "religious" book of Saramago (the first was reviewed here). This time we go back to the Old Testament and to the story of Cain and Abel.

Cain, after killing his brother out of envy, will be convict by god in person (with a small g) to never find peace and to roam around the world. He will be present to the most important events described in the Bible as a witness of the violence and selfishness of the aforementioned god (still the one with small g).

Samarago is clearly in contrast with religions in general and his books show it very strongly, but he never gives his opinion on the matter, he writes in a way that makes the reader feel he is the one to express such doubts and uncertainties.

Saramago is never disappointing, I love his style, his way to not use punctuation and strong rules of writing, and I know that most people give up on him for the same reasons.  However this is not his best book so it is suggested for people that already love him.

So when they ask me what I see in him that people don't understand I always suggest to read the "The double" so far the best book I have read by him, but the list can be very long...

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Palestine by Joe Sacco

I feel very small in writing this review, because this is not a book, nor a graphic novel, this is, as it was cleverly defined, a "graphic reportage".  And how do you review history and journalism?

You open the book and you are in the Gaza Strip, during the first intifada, but for a change you are looking at the side of the Palestinian, trying to gain back their freedom.

You will know stories of people who lost everything, from the roof on their head, to their job, their land, and often even members of their families.
How does the population react to this invasion? They throw stones!When Sacco asks them what do they think to achieve by doing so (if not to be arrested and tortured) they just tell him that this is the only way they have to be heard and not completely submitted.

Everyone should read this book, to have a different point of view. I obviously don't know where the truth stand in this battle but I promised my self to be more informed on the topic to better understand.
My personal opinion is of course that bringing peace via violence is never the solution, as history shows us every day, equality should be the universal answer!!!
 I recommend to watch this video to understand a bit more.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

A woman (Cheryl), after her mother's death and the resulting series of unhappy turns her life will take, decides to start a long solo hiking over the Pacific Crest Trail to find a new dimension and a new strength. Cheryl has no experience, no training for such an adventure and this would clearly be a big problem on the hiking, but her strong will and motivation, will help her to eventually keep on hiking, step by step.
Will she find herself? Will she find the inner strength to get her life back?

An engaging memoir that flows quite well, however nothing wowing.

I decided to start to read this book in a week I knew I would travel quite much, to feel a bit more the experience. So the book has been with me in 3 countries, on plane, bus, train and by walk, from 6 degrees to 20, with rain, wind and sun: I did my personal "hiking" as well.

An adaptation of the book has become a movie.

Friday, 8 May 2015

The extraordinary journey of the fakir who got trapped in an Ikea wardrobe by Romain Puertolas

I bought this book caught by the title, a clear reminder to The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.
If you need a nice, quick reading, this might be the book for you.

Ajatashatru the fakir lands in Paris with a specific mission: to buy a new bed of nails from Ikea. So when he asks the taxi driver at the airport to bring him directly to Ikea, the shock of the driver would be ours: Ikea? Really? You are in f***ing Paris and the first thing you want to visit is Ikea?

Oh well, like the driver, we would think that after all it is not our business, and indeed it is not, so let's bring him to Ikea.
Filled with curiosity we will just follow him to see what he is up to (the taxi driver will leave for the moment, at least till he realises that the fakir had tricked him).

We will discover that the fakir is planning to sleep in Ikea, where, to avoid to get caught, he gets trapped in a wardrobe: it will then start his funny, absurd, definitely-atypical trip around Europe and more, that would put his life in danger but would also bring a personal growth and maturity.

The book reads very fast, it is funny, at times sparkling and it also carries a very serious and sad meaning, although not so original, as it recalls, a lot, ‎Jonas Jonasson's books.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki

Last week was the "World Book Day" and there was this tag going on on the networks #Ireadbecause. I don't think I would be able to describe this in one sentence, but I can tell you that one of the reason I read is 'cause it makes me travel without moving from my chair.
And it is not that I don' t travel, I do, a lot, but travelling with a book is like being hosted by a local who shows you around, the secret corners, the little spots.
This book will definitely make you travel, of course to Japan, but in particular to Gion Kobu, the Geisha homeland.
You will be sent first class to the life of Mineko, and her "struggle" to become the perfect and most influent Geisha. In this memoir we will discover the reason for this "choice", and all the efforts and giving up that this will bring to her life.

I found the book quite sad, as if you are waiting all the time for the next bad thing to happen, but despite that this book is full of courage and lots, but lots, of passion and dedication.

I got so interested and fascinated by the life of Geisha that started surfing for a bit more. I actually discovered that the famous book "Memoir of a Geisha" by Arthur Golden was inspired by the life of Mineko but that Golden apparently had told a lot of lies about the life of Geisha. This is why Mineko finally decided to write her own memoir, to tell the truth about Geisha and, especially about her life. You can understand more in this interview.

Here you can find a traditional dance of a Geisha and here a traditional Geisha's make up.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Has a book ever changed your life? People think I am crazy when I say this!
Well, I had  read this book the first time 15 years ago and I felt like I was not the same afterwards.
And this is exactly why I couldn't read it again for so long: I was scared to change the "memories", to overcome the wrong I was!

Macondo, the imaginary place where the book is set, is a magic place, where feelings and emotions do not have boundaries, where everything is exaggerated in one sense or in the other. A place where love, guilt and passion are faces of the same coins.
No, I am not gonna tell you what is the book about, this you could easily find everywhere, I will just tell you to go to Macondo and try to stay there the longest you can, its loneliness will fill your days, the smell of banana trees will be with you for long, you will look at chestnut trees with sorrow and joy.
Macondo is the place where your emotions will sit under the shadow of a tree, while waiting for the next train, or the next plane to catch, but will you really dare and want to get it?

Remembering Márquez 
(Aracataca, 6 marzo 1927 – Città del Messico, 17 aprile 2014)

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

The Voice of the Violin: The Inspector Montalbano Mysteries by Andrea Camilleri

Have you have watched the (TV series): The Inspector Montalbano? It is a thriller series inspired by Camilleri's book. It is very nice, sharp and addicting. Said that, I had never read the book that inspired it, maybe 'cause I read so many thriller book when I was a teenager that I got saturated by them, but seriously, why had I not?

This book is so intense, addicting, full of suspense and, yes, also funny. Montalbano is not a normal inspector, he is "incazzuso" as we would say in slang, which cannot be really translated but means something like "prone to get pissed and annoyed". Every character in the book has his own distinct personality, that create growing interest in the book.

I recommend both the TV series and the book series!!!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by José Saramago

It is a bit difficult to review this book, my last intention is to talk about faith, religion and beliefs, but I think I cannot avoid it.

This is the "biography" of Jesus Christ, so forget the apostles, the priests and so on, and just concentrate on the version that probably Jesus would have liked to give of his life.
Think about that: one day the Holy Mary discover to be pregnant of a boy that is suppose to be the Son of God. As much faith as she can have, I think every person would have question the situation and be a bit scared. The boy, called Jesus, has an apparent normal life, till he discover he has some form of "powers", that people call miracles, but why? Why is he so special? And why has God chosen him to be his son?
In a book that face religion and beliefs you will find yourself wondering if the Good and the Bad aren't just two faces of the same coins, if faith can justify million of wrong things in this world and most of all if Jesus was happy of the life he was chosen for.
All of this with the distinct sarcastic style of Saramago, never disappointing.

I don't deny that having grown up in a catholic contest at times the book was a bit too pushy, describing intercourse between Mary and Joseph and also Jesus, and guess who?
 Nevertheless, I think such a book could bring more followers than the Gospel itself, 'cause it makes everyone more human and less divine.

Saramago, as usual, THANKS!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

The Overcoat and the Nose by Nikolaj Gogol

How could I not read Gogol for so long? How, how, how?

Dostoevskij said "We are all born under Gogol's overcoat", and after reading him I can fully understand what he meant. Most of the writers were inspired by him, by his sarcasm, by his talking to the reader.
Maybe in this sense it was good I read him "later", so I could still appreciate the writers he inspired.

The strong idea of reading Gogol came after watching a great movie: The Namesake, adapted from a great book by Jhumpa Lahiri, in which the main character is called Gogol after the writer, for a circumstance that you should discover by reading the book or watching the movie. So after that I had a strong desire to read Gogol and understand why there was such a feeling toward this writer.

The writing is so sharp and somehow funny, a must read in everyone life!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Maus by Art Spiegelman

I finished this book weeks ago, but I was not ready to write a review. The punch in my stomach was still strong and bleeding; a book that you can only pretend to not have read to maybe try to forget it.
But let's start from the beginning. Maus (the German for "mouse") is a graphic novel, the main characters are indeed Mice and Cats, in an eternal fight for survival.
But soon you would forget about the identity of the characters and you will just be left with the "ass-holes vs innocent fight". That the book is about the Holocaust you will need just few pages to understand. The book is  actually a memoir of Vladek Spiegelman, the father of Art, a survivor of Auschwitz
You think it has been said already everything about it? Well, I personally never get tired of reading of such an absurd and WRONG period of our times, but, in general, this book will still tell you something you haven't found elsewhere.

The graphic makes the words stronger and more incisive, and the narrative will just tell you things without any filter. No imagination, no suggestions here are possible.The truth, nude and crude as it is.

I think this book is important for the new generations, that won't have the direct narrative from fathers and grandfathers, and that won't probably have that curiosity to understand a period too far from them. This is a good way to give the message and to keep the memory up for one of the worst and tragic period of our history.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

The melancholy death of Oyster boy & other stories by Tim Burton

It happens like this, you fish through second hand books and one of them just pop out silently screaming to be bought. That's what happened here.

You go back home and read aloud what I like to define "bed stories for adults".
The stories are all so sweet and funny at the beginning, all in rhyme, which gives them a happy touch, then the laugh would immediately stop in your throat to give space to deep sorrow.

Creepy, creepy, creepy, but so addicting!!! A little treasure!

I will miss you Oyster Boy...

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Stoner by John Williams

I would like to tell you something it was not already said about this book.Well, you will find all about the fact that it is a book where nothing happens, the simple story of a man who slowly become a professor. The average story of a man that lives his life without too many emotions and shaking events, but that for an unknown reason you would still love this book and would not be able to close it.
Hold on a second...Really? No 'cause I think in this books there are lots of things happening: there is a man that changes his designed destiny of farmer first and agrarian then by simply listening to a class on literature. I saw a man that fishes for love and even if he has been really unlucky, and yes, also at time very lazy, still accepts happiness when it crosses his way.
Many describe Stoner as a "stone", listless, indifferent, apathetic, a man that accepts everything that happens in his life without fighting. I saw, instead, a man that just saves energies for things he likes, that understood which are the flights worth fighting for, that looks for answers in his books rather than in people, that is able of very strong lasting feelings. Yes, mostly an unhappy, melancholic man, but able to find delight in small things.
A slow, introspective book for misanthropic minds.

           "The True, the Good, and the Beautiful. They’re just around the corner, in the next corridor; they’re in the next book, the one you haven’t read or in the next stack, the one you haven’t got to. But you’ll get there someday. And when you do—when you do"

P.S. It was years I wanted to read this book and finally I got it gifted from a person in a reading group on Anobii (btw feel free to add me here). A person that I don't know in the real life but that got the right book for me. I love the connection that can be created through books.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Barney's Version by Mordecai Richler

The first book read in this 2015 and I think my year couldn't have started better on the reading side. Thanks mum for this precious book! But let's start from the beginning (or at least let's try)...

This is the story of Barney Panofsky, or better, his autobiography. Did you say autobiography? But the author has a different name! Yes, you are right, this is indeed a story in a story. Some say that Barney is the alter ego of Richler, but the author has never confirmed this theory. So here starts already the brilliancy of the book!

The book is structured in three parts, one for each wife of Barney: Clara, the artistic wife; the second Panofsky's wife, whose name will never be declared; and Miriam, the only true love of Barney.
Between a glass of whisky and one of cognac Barney would try to describe his life in chronological order, but the intent is very soon lost with the many digressions and memories that are brought continuously in the book.
After few pages it would be already clear that Barney is selfish, drunken, misogynist, chauvinist, social climber and more...
But still I could not avoid to love him (and neither would you) and to want to have a whisky with him, talking about love and life.
Yes love, not the right person to discuss with, you say? Oh well, how to tell that you are wrong: his first wife killed herself in depression and he doesn't even dare to give the identity of his second wife, but Miriam, oh Miriam, I want to be loved as she was (and I am by the way). Barney is simply drunk in love, and yes also of lots of alcohol, and this part in the love matter would obviously create him a lot of problems.
The leitmotif of the book is the presumable killing of his best friend Boogie. The first intent of the book is indeed to defend himself for the murder accuse. Between digressions and memories Barney will eventually give his version of the fact. Will the society believe him? And would you?  The reading will tell...and trust me you will laugh, a lot, but don't get surprised if all of a sudden you would just like to cry.

Thanks Richler, I really needed this!

I read a lot of crazy, brilliant reviews on this book, and please do as well.
Next on the list is to watch the movie, I might get highly disappointed, but I want to take the risk.

Sorry for this confusing, crazy review, but I wouldn't know how to describe better this book.

I would suggest to read the book with this soundtrack , from an Italian musician, who recently passed away.

At the next book...

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Post-Christmas' collection

How many books did you get for Xmas? Here is my collection: books I received, bought, brought back to read again and stole from my mum.
One I have still to open, some I got in a "secret box". Not bad!
In the hope that they would bring a bit of happiness in this 2015 that definitely started on the wrong foot.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Pen not guns!!!

"The response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation."
The Norwegian prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Happy 2015!!!

Happy new year! May it be full of emotions, joy, happiness, satisfactions and many many inspirational books!!!!

A Man's Place by Annie Ernaux

One of the book I got for Xmas from a dear friend, and the last book read in 2014.
It describe the life of Annie Ernaux's father in a attempt to understand their relationship and their many silences over the years.
It is generally described as a very "rational" book, in contrast I found it very poetic and imaginative, even though, I must confess, it didn't captivate me that much.