READING UPDATE, NEW FINDS: MARIO VARGAS LLOSA AND RAGNAR JONASSON
I did a lot of reading this January& February. I even discovered two new authors that I plan to follow more closely, so I'm really happy about that. The same thing happened last year, if I remember correctly. There is something about the start of the new year that makes me motivated to read even more. As Asimov wisely said, self-education is best education. Not that I don't believe in formal education. I've spent a lot of money and time on my formal education. I've also invested in different courses and workshops. It is always easier to study with a good teacher. As someone who has worked as a teacher, I can see many benefits of standard education. However, it is also important to work on our education ourselves because we are the ones who know ourselves best (or at least we should) so we know on what areas we should work on. The way I interpret Asimov words is not a critique of formal education, but a call for continuous education. I'm a strong believer that we should always keep learning. Books can teach us a lot, but we have to be willing to learn. Unless we read with a true desire to learn, the lessons that books have to offer will be lost on us. That goes both for life and reading. In life, you have to keep your mind open or you'll never learn anything.
Naturally, I also read for pleasure. I'm the kind that always enjoys learning something new and books are a great help for that. Indeed, books can be a great tool for self-improvement. I would say that being an avid reader definitely has its benefits. You can learn so much if you read with an open heart. Alright, enough of personal philosophy for now. Today I'll share with you my views of some books that I have been reading lately. Feel free to comment on outfits shown and home decor as well. Just because the theme of this post is books, it doesn't mean we can't talk about other things as well.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: GUIDE TO NATIONAL PARKS OF THE UNITED STATES,
We'll start with non-fiction shall we? It's been a while since I reviewed a non-fiction book, so this will be fun. This book is certainly an excellent guide to national parks of USA. It is packed with useful information and a lovely selection of photographs. Its pocket size, so don't expect too much from these NG photographs, they're quite small- and so is the writing, which strains the eyes a bit. I think this one is meant to be more of a reference book and that's how it works. The printing is great, though. I imagine this book would hold well over the years. I didn't buy it, I just read a copy from the library. The study of parks is obviously short but the writing is descriptive enough to get you a feeling of them. It is well written and interesting book about US national parks. I don't plan to buy it, as it is not the kind of book I could use. I might buy a National Geographic book eventually, but it won't be a small sized one. I've included a few photographs so that you can get the feeling of this book. It certainly wasn't a disappointing read, but I don't think I'll be ordering it any time soon.
I always say that national parks are the first thing I'd like to see if I ever visit the United States. While we were in the library my husband pointed out that I would enjoy a book like this one. I sure did. As I said, it's a great reference book. One of the things I liked is that the information presented is incredibly specific. For example, the foliage in X park is best in X month. Y park offers the most in Y period. You might want to stay more than just a few hours in X park and so on. On the other hand, a few more personal sentences wouldn't hurt. I like how informative the writing was, but it would be great to read a more personal account of these parks, even if it was a single sentence. There are so many of them, after all. It is easy to get lost in all that information. A bit more of history would be welcome. An anecdote or to would have been appreciated. They could have included recommendations from real visitors. I think that would have given the book a more 'real' feel. I understand the editors didn't have a lot of space, but little 'personal' details could have made a lot of difference. Nevertheless, it is a great book. I imagine it would be most useful to someone actually living in USA because they would have the best options of visiting all these parks all year round, but it is also a good reference for travellers, especially those who are nature lovers.
MORE STORIES FOR THE HEART BY ALICE GRAY, 2/5
The second book I'll be reviewing was somewhat of a disappointment. Stories for the heart that didn't exactly appeal to my heart. Most of them, anyway. To put it simply, I have very mixed feelings about this collection of stories. Some stories were touching and inspiring, while others were overly preachy, sentimental and emotionally manipulative. At some point I had asked myself: "Is my heart rotten if I couldn't appreciate most of this stories? " However, I think it's more a matter of that old-there is no accounting for tastes. What is an inspiring Christian story for one person, will be annoying and emotionally manipulative one for another (that is myself). I suppose the good thing is that the stories themselves are very diverse. They all strive to be motivational, I think, but they differ in writing style, tone and length. If they aim to be motivational, the logical question is- do they succeed? I think the answer is bound to be subjective. For me personally, most of the stories weren't that motivational. Some were nice, some were really touching (like the one about a famous writer who mentored both William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway- I didn't know about that), some brought a smile to my lips (like the story of a dying man who ordered a puppy for his wife before his death-to keep her company) and some had me rolling my eyes. Can we please not abuse the victims of Auschwitz to prove a point? What I'm trying to say that some of these stories really annoyed my heart. Another issue I have with this book is that while I read the acknowledgements at the end of the book, I'm not sure what kind of editing was done. The author (Alice Gray) compiled and collect these stories, but what were her artistic liberties in telling and retelling them? I'd like to know. I'd have appreciated a brief commentary on the sources or something of the sort. Do I have a heart if I didn't like all of these? Or is simply that I abhor preachy short stories? I'm sorry but some of these were really condescending. There are some five stars stories in this book, so for those alone, I guess the book is worth reading. Nevertheless, the number of stories I either actively disliked or didn't care for is quite large, so I honestly can give it more stars that two, which means that (taken as a whole) it was an alright book, but I haven't the slightest intention of buying it.
SPLIT FOR BEGINNERS BY BARETIĆ AND VISKOVIĆ 3/5
I don't have the time to translate this review for Croatian, but let me just say that I wasn't impressed. This book is supposed to be a guide to Split city for beginnings but I found it a bit boring and cold. Maybe I'm just picky because it's my hometown but I wasn't happy with it.
THE HISTORIAN BY ELIZABETH KOSTOVA, 3/5
I have to admit that I have very very mixed feelings about this novel. I enjoyed some parts of it, but at the same time the writing made me roll my eyes frequently. I can understand why so many readers enjoy The Historian. The concept of the book is interesting, and it seems that Elizabeth really put some effort into it. On the other hand, I also understand why some hate this book. The Historian is incredibly slow paced and repetitive novel. Moreover, the story drags terribly for most part. In my opinion, around 3/4 of the novel are not necessarily at all. If half the novel was cut out, the story wouldn't loose much, and it would be a more rewarding read.
THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET BY SANDRA CISNEROS 2/5
The best I can say about House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is that it is an unique and interesting book. I know that it is a popular book, but personally I had some issues with it. Let's talk about the form first. I wouldn't call it a novel, but it seems to be viewed like that. I'm not sure how exactly to describe it. It feels more like a collection of short stories about growing up, than as a novel. The protagonist of this book is Esperanza, a young Latin American girl. Hers is the narrative voice in the stories. Esperanza describes her life in USA, while also talking about her family and friends. Often she talks about neighbours and high school friends, recounts things that have happened to others, things she had witnessed.
Written in a clear narrative voice, these stories capture both sad and happy moments. Some of these stories are disturbing, such as those that hint at or talk about abuse. I found it strange how some of these stories ended suddenly, not leaving us with an answer to our questions. When it comes to the themes of this book, one could certainly say that it talks about growing up, forming one's identity but also about gender issues. Identity is one of the themes discussed often in this book. Some of these stories are entirely devoted to someone else, but it is always Esperanza that does the talking. Her voice seems to be that of a child/teenager, and the writing is very simple for most part. I do like the idea behind this book. The Introduction to it is simply brilliant. When I read the introduction, I was so sure I'm going to love it. I wanted to like it so badly. However, the book itself proved to be somewhat of a disappointment. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy the writing as such. I found it hard to get into the writing, which was very simple on the surface, but the meaning behind it was often too confusing and elusive for my taste.
I felt like so many things were left unsaid, and there were too many episodes that ended suddenly and with no sense of closure. For example, that one episode when some old guy forcefully kisses Esperenza on her first working day (she was fifteen) and the story just ends there. What happened next? We don't know how it effected her. Did she tell anyone? Did she get back to work? I mean, I found it disturbing how something so horrible seemed to be so casually mentioned. Maybe casual is the wrong word to use, maybe it is just the style of the writing, but from my personal perspective, the sudden endings to every chapter were too confusing. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't connect to this book on a deeper level. The theme interests me, and so does this writer but I failed to connect to the writing. The book feels more like a sketch for a book, than a real book. This is all just my personal opinion! I know a lot of people love this book, but I'm not impressed with it at all. To be more precise, I liked the general outline of it, but not the execution. In addition, I did like the last story in the book. It shows that author wanted to be the voice for others (which I admire), but on overall, this book has left me wanting.
I'm not sure what the reason is, perhaps the author was aiming for modernist poetic prose, but to me it just seems unfinished. Maybe she wanted the stories to appear like fragments of memory, almost dream like, yet to me they seem too chaotic. Almost every story ends just as it started, and there seems to be no connection between them besides the narrative voice. Most of us, I was left wanting answers. As I said, maybe it is just that the style of writing doesn't appeal to me, and I do plan to reread it. However, I probably won't count this book among my favourites, I'm pretty sure of that.
SNOWBLIND BY RAGNAR JOHANSSON 4/5
I've never been to Iceland, but at least I can brag that I'm familiar with an author from Iceland. I read this novel in a heartbeat or so it seemed. Snowblind is certainly a book that knows how to keep one's interest. I really enjoyed the atmosphere and the writing of Snowblind. This is my first novel by Ragnar, but I'm pretty sure it won't be my last. Taken that Snowblind is a part of the series, I might just read the whole series.
This novel has what any good crime novel should have- a great protagonist. Orphaned young detective Ari Thor is just that. Easy to relate to and convincing protagonist, one that a reader wants to get to know. I must admit that I'm curious about what happens with Ari next and I'm sure many a reader has felt the same way. That means that the writer was successful in motivating the reader to read his next book. Speaking of that, I just thought of something that might put some people off. You see, Snowblind pretty much leaves the story unfinished, so if you have a problem with loose endings, this might not be the book for you. I guess this is often the case with books that come in a series, but in this case it is especially so. I had bought this book in a supermarket. I was attracted by the cover and as soon as I read that it happens on Iceland, I decided I had to BUY it. I don't think I had read a book set on Iceland before, so this seemed like a good place to start. Nordic noir is often a safe bet. As a child I adored Agatha Christie, so maybe that sparked my sympathies towards the crime novels. I did read a few Scandinavian crime novels (with mixed feelings I might add, but on overall they were always good- some were better than others, though) so I was happy to try an Icelandic one. I wouldn't say crime is my favourite genre, but it is very dear to me.
Now, to be completely honest, there were some things about this novel that I didn't like. It is not the loose ending that I already mentioned. I do plan to read more into the series, so that doesn't bother me as much. The thing is- the story itself could have been better. There seemed to be too many 'deux in machina' solutions for my taste. Everything turns out a bit too convenient for our protagonist. Ari often has information served to him as opposed to really working for it. I know he is young and experienced, but he is a bit passive, isn't he? That being said, I enjoyed getting to know all the characters. The way author managed to interconnect so many background stories was quite impressive. The fact that the story happens in a small town makes it more credible too. Perhaps it is the cast of characters that makes Snowblind a lovely read.
PLAY IT AGAIN SAM BY WOODY ALLEN, 3/5
Let me start by admitting that I have embarked on reading this play with a whole set of prejudices against Woody Allen. I honestly believed I would dislike seeing the play the stage- only I didn't. Nobody was more surprised than me. I dislike the man, alright? Both as a film maker and as a person (possibly also as an actor?). I think that as a person he has done some really horrible things. As a film maker and actor, he's just not my cup of tea. I never liked his films. Not even before all the stuff about him came out, that's not even the reason. The truth is that I didn't find Woody Allen to be that terribly funny. I can see why others thought him funny, but to me his awkwardness often seemed like a self-dense hiding his selfishness. I believed his ramblings were a form of passive aggressive behaviour. I considered Woody's writing (as witnessed in his scripts) to be too narcissus and self-indulgent to be any good. His movies were watchable, but I never enjoyed them. I was pretty sure this play would be more of the same old. This play, however, is actually really good. It is well written and easy to read. Watching it on stage was a treat. There are some tiny things that annoy me, but on overall I have honestly enjoyed it. Play it Again, Sam is filled with wonderfully humane humour. It tells a story of a man Allan Felix who is trying to get over his wife leaving him by setting on a serious of disastrous dates. Honestly, this play was so much better that I expected. As someone who has never liked his films, I'm perplexed by how much I liked this play. It is not a masterpiece, but it is quite lovely. The isolated individual that is our protagonist was easy to sympathize with. Yes, I could still see Woody in him, but it was a more human Woody. One that doesn't hide between irony, sarcasm and all that. Simply a human being human and vulnerable. It made all the difference I guess. So, maybe I was wrong. Maybe Woody Allen has some writing talent. I'm still not crazy about his films and writing, though. I'm just admitting that it is not as bad as I thought. What did I learn today? If you dislike someone's films, it doesn't mean you'll dislike his plays. Nevertheless, I doubt I'll read more of him. True, this play was better than I excepted but I'm still not sold. It is good to try something new but with so many authors I enjoy more, why not stick with what I like?
THREE YEARS, A NOVEL BY ANTON CHEKHOV 5/ 5
Why is it that I love Chekhov so much? I'm sure there are many reasons I could think of, as his works have many literary merits but what gets me the most is probably the highly successful portrayal of characters. To breathe life into a character, to make us peep into his or her soul, to me seems almost like a godly act. Isn't describing someone so perfectly and making us care so dearly an act of divine creation in itself? Is not an author a bit like God in that sense? Chekhov is a master of characterization, and this is evident both in his plays and in his prose works. Nothing seems as worthy of admiration of putting together a great cast of characters and a good story. Three years is a novella that speaks of changes that can occur within three years. Besides being a study of Moscow life, this novella is a touching tale of married life. Aren't the best stories the stories about love? Well, this story opens with a protagonist named Laptev, a bachelor who while being away from Moscow to take care of his sick sister, suddenly falls in love with a young doctor's daughter Yulia. Yulia first refuses his offer, then upon second thought, she accepts it. Yulia feels nothing for Laptev, but it is wrong to think she marries him for money. It is not money, but marriage itself that motivates her. Yulia wants to get married, and she realizes that she will probably not find a suitor in her small town. Moscow attracts her, Yulia wants to see more of the world and the big city seems like a perfect place to do that. Moreover, Yulia can't find any flaws with her suitor. There is a big age difference between them, that seems to alienate them even more. Many things seem to be against them, a lack of romantic love of Yulia's side being the most important one. How sincere is his life?, is a question one could ask as well. Laptev is clearly smitten by Yulia, but is that true love? He realizes, it seems, her lack of affection quite early. Why then Laptev lets Yulia change her mind and accept this offer? Isn't he a bit apprehensive about marriage as well? Is it because he is too proud to take it back? We see that his feelings are a bit amphibious as well, at least at the start of the novel. At the very start we see that Yulia doesn't loves him, doesn't even like him particularly. Nevertheless, Yulia believes him to be a good man. At any rate, Yulia's reasons for marriage are both simple and complex. I found the beginning of this novella terribly interesting and the continuation of it didn't let me down either. Right from the start, I felt myself grow attach to both of their characters. Their relationship with other family members is fascinating as well. When Yulia accepts Laptev offer, he brings her home with her at Moscow. However, Yulia doesn't get along well with his family. A difficult time period start, and they both seem miserable in this marriage. I'm not saying that this novella focuses solely on the topic of marriage life, but that's what got me thinking the most, that's what I focused on most. What will become of it? Will they learn to love one another in the right way or not? Can people learn to love each other in marriage? Reading this novel, I asked myself how many people do get married for love? How often is desire, attraction, simple friendship or convenience a reason for marriage? Isn't marriage always a decision to take on commitment? Does it not depend on more than just feelings, that can be fleeing at best of times. Reading this novella, I realized that marriages are complex things, arrangements built on hope and trust. There can't be a recipe for a perfect marriage because a person's needs change so often. People change. So do marriages. Sometimes love dies and it doesn't mean it wasn't true. Sometimes love disappears and then it reappears when one least expects. Sometimes love appears (seemingly) out of nowhere. There are no guarantees. Some people really get to know each other before marriage but that doesn't mean they're live happily ever after. I know of a couple who went on three dates, got married and lived happily ever after- as unlikely as it might seem. I know of couples who lived together for years and got divorced shortly after getting married. Is it that important where we start? Can there be a love at second sight? Can love flame one shot, be turned on again? There are no definite answers. I suppose one just have to put one's heart into it and hope for the best.
AUNT JULIA AND THE SCRIPTWRITER BY MARGIO VAGAS LLOSA
This Nobel written author is new to me, so the fact that this novel is largely autobiographical makes it a great introduction. Yes, this was my first work by the award winning Mario Vargas Llosa but I hope it won't be my last. What a fantastic novel! It reminded me of other Latin American authors I read, but at the same time it feels quite unique. This novel is quite focused on a love story ( quite an original love story, I might add) but it still paints a good picture of what growing up in this particular place and time must have felt like. In fact, this novel is quite autobiographical. Llosa writes with ease, in a very straightforward and honest way. This writer definitely has that great and elusive gift of connecting with the reader. The hero(the protagonist) of Aunt Julia and The Scriptwriter is a young aspiring writer. As the title indicates, there is a certain aunt Julia. Our eighteen year old protagonist falls in love with his aunt Julia. They are not really related, but there is an age difference to consider. At the same time, the novel follows the fate of a famous radio soap opera writer. The book is divided into chapters devoted to episodes of popular soap operas that are then followed by chapters describing the life of our protagonist. The two merge together perfectly. I quite enjoyed the bit of intertexuality that is present in this novel. The novel is exquisite. It asks all the right questions (I especially enjoyed when our protagonists ponders what it means to be a writer) but manages to be wonderfully funny. It is not magic realism as such (for most part anyway) but a feeling of it seems to present. I got caught up into multiple stories, sudden turns and the final joining of stories really impressed me. Llosa managed to turn radio soap operas he wrote about into art by giving them additional meanings and interpretations. The fact of the scriptwriter was especially touching. Like most of the Latin American literature I read so far, this book managed to make me feel both sad and happy. It is this ambiguity of emotion and meanings that fascinates me about this novel. This was an excellent read, for sure!
Did you see anything you like? Do you enjoy reading? I've been a reader since I can remember. If you want to find out how you can read more, I can offer you a break down of my reading strategies here.I've included most books I read in January & February in this post. February isn't over, so who knows what other interesting book I might read by the end of it? I'm thinking of doing a little January& February highlight or recap post at the end of this month. I'll have to give it some thought.