Wednesday, 26 October 2011

sixty-four.

Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos (2010)

"Some people say I'm precocious. They say it mainly because they think I know difficult words for a little boy. Some of the difficult words I know are: sordid, disastrous, immaculate, pathetic and devastating. There aren't really many people who say I'm precocious. The problem is I don't know that many people. I know maybe thirteen or fourteen people and four of them say I'm precocious."
  Tochtli is an only child, living with his father and some helpers in an enormous house far away from everyone. He has a private teacher that teaches him about the world. He collects hats and animals. His biggest wish is to get a Liberian pygmy hippopotamus.
Tochtli is starting to realise that something odd is going around in their house. Why are the four empty rooms in the house locked? And why is his father worried about the news showing corpses and body parts? And when he discovers that his father has been lying to him, he decides to go mute.

I laughed half-way through this book and then suddenly everything got very serious and I was close to tearing up. I spent a week getting through the 70-page long story, but it was because I wanted it to last. It is filled with humour and great sentences.
"When we run out of body parts we look up new ones in a book that has pictures of all of them, even the prostate and the medulla oblongata. Speaking of the brain, it's important to take off your hat before you put bullets in somebody's brain, so it doesn't get stained. Blood is really hard to get out. This is what Itzpapalotl, the maid who does the cleaning in our palace, always says".
This book is published by And Other Stories, which allows subscriptions for either 2 or 4 books a year. And after reading this book and having taken a look at the other books they have published, I will subscribe.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

sixty-three.

the Elephant's Journey by José Saramago (2008)
 
The elephant, Solomon, and his keeper, Subhro, are journeying from Lisbon to Vienna in the 1550s. Solomon is a gift from the Portuguese king to the Hapsburg archduke.

The journey of Solomon is a true story, but José Saramago has invented the details about the trip. I enjoyed parts of the books, there were even sentences I found hilarious. But most of the book is sadly boring descriptions about the journey. I would have wanted more fiction, maybe a few amazing conversations between the men taking part of the journey. 

A few years ago I read Blindness and loved it. And I think that's why I'm so disappointed by the Elephant's Journey.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

sixty-two.

the Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (2011)

 "To start with, look at all the books."
  (A book starting with describing a bookshelf ought to be good.)

Madeleine is graduating from Brown and has been suffering from a bad break-up with Leonard. After a rough night she wakes up late for breakfast with her parents. They run into one of her best friends, Mitchell, whom Madeleine hasn't talked to in months due to a fight. Mitchell has been in love with Madeleine for years. And then, just as she's leaving for the graduation, a phone call from a friend of Leonard saying that he's in the psychiatric ward makes Madeleine run straight to the hospital. Let the drama begin!

I think this is the book I have been most looking forward to this autumn. And it didn't disappoint, well, maybe just a little bit at the end. It is, however, not as great as Middlesex, which I need to reread as soon as possible.

I'm trying to decide what I like best about this book, but it's impossible. Mitchell might be my favourite character, but it's a close race.

This is a great book from a great author.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

sixty-one.

the Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1952)

An old man hasn't caught a fish in 84 days when he heads out alone. The man gets a giant merlin on the line, and he struggles with the fish for days while the fish drags him further from Havana.

How is it possible to write such a great story about something as dull as an old fisherman? The struggle with the fish is really exciting and I kept wondering what would happen to the story if the fish swam off and the old man had to give up. And what would happen to the man if he was successful?

It is a short story, merely a 100 pages long and because the struggle was so exciting it took a little over an hour to read. And I'm glad that I finally got around to read Hemingway. I will definitely read his other works - but right now there are so many other books that I feel I need to read right now.

Friday, 7 October 2011

sixty.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)

"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed."
Yossarian does everything he can to avoid having to fly another mission. He has been in and out of the hospital with real injuries and fake diseases. He has been asking everyone he knows if they could ground him, but no success. His (and others') attempts to get out of flying get more desperate as the war increases.

Yossarian is stationed on a fictional island outside Italy during World War II. The number of flights they have to fly increases every time they have reached the limit and no one, despite how crazy they are, is sent home. And the fear of flying increases as they watch planes being shot down.

How is it possible to write so witty about something so serious as war? Because the book is witty. The situations and conversations they get into as they try to get out of flying are absurd. The characters are spot-on and although I mixed the characters all the time, they really made the book. I also loved the scenes where they were chasing for whores in Rome.

On the other hand, I really struggled with this book. I don't think I have ever read so slowly as reading Catch-22. And I don't know why. It is really frustrating to read a book of 519 pages when you feel you're never getting anywhere with it.

Some of the teachers at work are using Catch-22 as a catch-phrase (and if the students ask what it means they answer read the book. I have also seen it being used in various newspapers and articles and it feels good to finally know what it means!

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