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środa, 01 kwietnia 2015
The End

Dear All,

this blog has begun as a student initiative, but there comes a time when one says goodbye to the college life and its pleasures. :)

I will not leave you, though, without the Book of March. The good new is that I get more worthwhile books that I have time for, so again I bring a quality reading. Coin Locker Babies  .k.a. "the other Murakami", was written by Ryu Murakami and published in 1980. At that time it presented a dystopian future, distorted and weird like Alice's Wonderland. However, even today it can be read as a valid prediction of the things to come.

The story is centred on two boys, sole survivors of children left by their mothers in coin lockers. The orphans grow up and realize their dreams: one becomes a celebrity singer, the other finds the mysterious "datura", which is supposed to free him from his internal tension. The book seems especially valid today, as a reflection on the psyche of test tube babies: the sense of uprooting and the constant fear of being rejected. There is of course more to be said, but perhaps not in form of a blog entry.

One of my favourite sublots was the one of Anemone and her crocodile, Gulliver. The girl is attached to one of the brothers (Kiku). Allusions reaching out to embrace the European mythology (flowers of immortality) and Englightenment (Swift's satire), creates a mindboggling mix.

In a word, highly recommended. :)

That said, thanks for your appreciation and the time you spent with me.

Bye!

poniedziałek, 02 marca 2015
Tibetan Idiot

It was not my first meeting with Tibetan literature, however, the previous encounters presented to me the world "after". Despite the title, Alai's Red Poppies (1998) keep the Communist China at the margin of the world of feudal lords, suffused with what a European mind identifies with medievalesque charm and romance. The effect achieved by the choice of the topic is strengthened by poetic style of the author: the human merges with the natural, the natural with the spiritual, giving one the feeling of depth and seeming supernaturality of the world. The narrator is the idiot son of one of the lords, who - just like Dostoyevsky's "idiot" - is a kind of a юродивый, a holy fool, both a wiseman and a simpleton, whose perception of the world is rendered convincingly. Delicate balance between Dostoyevsky and Shakespeare (the pretended madness of Hamlet) makes one extend the reading experience to encompass more than solely one particular plateau. The unwritten on the verge of written, the illud tempus on the verge of historicity, the agricultural on the verge of the industrial - there is much to discussed and pondered upon in this book, so no wonder it wins the Book of February hands down.

Well, almost hands down, since the competition was stiff. However, I expected more from W.S. Maugham, and although the story of one Charles Strickland corresponded to my recent interest in Art, it was somehow lacking in its obvious construction and agreeable style of the novel of manners.

There will be more coming from the Far East over the next months, but will the books match Alai? We will see.

Stay tuned!

09:27, merryminstrel
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wtorek, 03 lutego 2015
The Running Man

My mother keeps asking me why I get up 5 a.m. and go swimming every day. I answer: "Not every day," but she doesn't understand. Getting up at 5 is a pain, but I know that it is each day at 5 that I have a chance to do something for myself, to be my own. Yes, my own and on my own. When I was reading Murakami, I determined that I need to give her the book to read. Maybe she'll see the similarity.

Normally, I don't much like Murakami, especially translated from English. I wish I could read him in Japanese to compare. Whatever my apprehensions, What I talk about when I talk about running, 2007, justly earned the Book of January. The book continues the tone of serious reflection of last year, with all the concerns about the body. In simple words Murakami spells out the experience of so many people in the world: besides, obviously, addressing the dilemmas of a runner, a swimmer, a cyclist, he subtly interweaves in his memories the reflection on death and transience. The descriptions he crafts testify to his mastery, and now I see why he was a Nobel contender. Better late than never.

For the beginning of the year I got to read two inspirational texts, the other by Randy Pausch. But when I cringed on the American dreams of a precocious child, I clinged to the mono-no aware aesthetics of a bartender. And it is from him I take my lesson:

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” 

14:58, merryminstrel
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Book of the Year 2014

It has been long since I announced that I'm working on the evaluation of the past year's reading. It was not easy to define preferences, to cage individual taste, to weigh the canon against the pulp. However, having thoroughly thought it over, I have to incline to

 

STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, TENNESSEE WILLIAMS

 

However strong the motifs of medicine, growing up and aging, and Williams's book being ostensibly different from The Triumph of Surgeons or Pretties, it only confirms that in a masterpiece we can find all that we've experienced, and more. Like the navel of a dream, it escapes definition and offers a staggering whole to take in, rather than to analyse. Whatever you name, it is there.

I just hope I have a similar experience this year.

czwartek, 01 stycznia 2015
Nuts

I thought that over Christmas break I would make up for the reading I haven't done over the year, but it turned out that my workaholism did not leave me much time for what I was trying to complete, so for 2015 there will be some should-have-read leftovers. I spent December completely juvenile, worse - badly-written juvenile. After Westerfeld, the difference was acute.

I do not want to say that you can't read Musierowicz or Patterson because of the stylistic quality or strained plot. I hurts, but there are saving graces. In the case of Wnuczka do orzechów*(2014) - it is so endearing, and it really gives you this warm, Christmassy feeling. Obviously, I do not regret it, since I collect Jeżycjada. And I am waiting for the next installment, but. I just hope it returns to the quality of some of the middle volumes.

As far as Maximum Ride, I've been interested in the cycle for years. Having read the first parts, though, I am deeply disappointed. Hack-and-slash page-turner instead of a valid reflection on the bioethical problems like genetic manipulation and hybrids... What a pity. Of course, the cycle is bubbling with imagination, with complete disregard for the writing craft, and it leaves some hope for unfettered thoughts to appear. However, judging from the quality, it seems to be written for kindergarten. But wait: with all the violence? (and there is a lot, trust me) So, there are contentious issues.

All in all, I picked Wnuczka do orzechów as the Book of December, because it was simply better written.

In a couple of days I am going to announce the Book of 2014, so stay tuned!

* the best translation I could think of was Nuts (literal Granddaughter for cracking the nuts is a pun on the Polish equivalent of the nutcracker)

poniedziałek, 01 grudnia 2014
Pretty is who pretty... is?...

Just what I promised last month. :) Although November invites rather ugly associations, I spent it in a bubbly juvenile world, full of surgically beautified people, hoverboards (and hovercams! :)) swooshing to and fro, and oh so many questions about aging, deformity and imperfection. Having read the whole cycle, I must say that Scott Westerfeld's Uglies cycle is not perhaps the best fiction ever written, but coupled with my recent experience, it significantly shaped my worldview. More than advertising and cheating people into buying my "product", that is, literature, with pretty faces and saucy anecdotes, I dare them with worse-for-wear humans and dull, quiet lives.

... Oh fine, habits are not easily battled. But just like the heroes of the cycle I start seeing the value behind "ugliness", something that is not welcome in an aesthete's world. It needs to be said that, taking everything into consideration, the whole cycle rather subvert's its own message. Rallying against Ana style, it has one of more likeable characters (Zane) propagating starving oneself. And Tally never rejects her special body. So, what's the final message?

However you ultimately judge it, the books are worth reading. I decided to give the Book of November to the second part, which I liked best (Zane!*): The Pretties. It has the heroines, Shay and Tally, indulge into surge crazes and wild parties, but at the same time battling - at least, Tally - to regain the independence of thinking, to free oneself from the infernal circle of perfection.

But it's hard.

The question of the perfect body is much present in the juvenile literature of the beginning of the 21st century. The bottom line is that we all want to be "enhanced" to the point of defying death. It is somewhat troubling that at the end of the cycle (Extras) we, as humanity, seem to retrace our steps and go back to the stage of monkeys - the animal stage. Isn't that too much, Mr Westerfeld?

In a word, I hope that you'll look up the question, in this or another form. Reflect a little bit. And perhaps, when the time comes, your mirror will not reject you. It's just a fairy tale saying that it's alive. The silver screen is not mirror, and the mirror is not you.

Stay bubbly.

 

* sounds like Heidegger's Sein, doesn't it?

20:51, merryminstrel
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sobota, 01 listopada 2014
Far over the misty mountains cold...

Perhaps it is this "misty" quality of fantasy that makes it such good reading for the autumn months. Especially the epic kind, which rests on the sublimity of images and loftiness of themes. The books I read over the passing month, though, instead of providing one with a deeper breath and the mystery of the veiled horizon, portrayed a world dystopic and nightmarish it its makeup.

Let me start with a little bit of a comment on Patrick Modiano. The Nobel-prize winning author had been unknown to me, but that was soon mended. The quality of his literature makes him stand out from my usual reading, in the tradition of the fine French writing. If you will, this is the heritage of the existentialism, with questions about personal identity and a profound feeling of being lost in the world. However, I find him much closer to Murdoch or Auster than to Camus or Abe Kobo, which does not leave much hope for Modiano in my annual classification. I do appreciate, but I'm rather sick of the ugliness of the world he portrays. 

Speaking of ugliness, I have something up my sleeve, but let it wait for the next month. It's worth the wait. :) By far, the book that best inscribed itself into my autumnal mood was the first part of The Mistborn series  by Brandon Sanderson, The Final Empire (2006). Admittedly, I do not reward it with the Book of October for its literary quality or the importance of the subjet it raises. Rather, it has been a long time since I've been gripped by a narrative like that. Sanderson has a particular skill in the creation of characters: practically each and every one of them is coherent and appealing to imagination. My favourites by far were Sazed and Kelsier, and I could easily identify with Vin. The book is set in a dystopic fantasy world and - briefly - deals with a rebellion against an evil Lord Ruler, led by a couple of Mistborn: people skilled in Allomancy. (here an appreciative nod to the author's imagination: allomancy and ferruchemy allow for boosting one's skills with the help of various metals) It is fun to read, although some passages read like a corporate meeting (Kelsier and teamwork, oh please). I'm looking forward to the next volumes, if I ever get them.

So, there is some hope for the coming months, especially speculative fiction-wise. Which is good, November being usually the bleakest time of the year. As Spook would say: 'Niceing the not on the playing without.' :) So, let's keep on reading.

środa, 01 października 2014
The Triumph of Thorwald

...or else, Hartmann? The winner Book of September is yet again a nonfiction volume by Thorwald, but this time constructed as a tale from the notes of his grandfather, Hartmann. The Triumph of Surgery follows the surgeon's passionate search for the novelties in medicine, be it in gallbladder or brain surgery. Regrettably, I didn't have the first part, but it can be read as a stand-alone work.

I must say that even though I would fain reward some other book (but I've read too little over the month), this one for sure altered my view on medicine. I realized how limited is the knowledge about human body. We can only make educated guesses, nothing more. Additionally, it seems that there is no end to the discovery of the etiology of specific conditions. It is likely that you're being treated inadequately, for the limited diagnostic possibilities in the first place, and secondly, because of the lack of research or technical means to counteract your condition.

Finally, the book has successfully undermined my faith in medicine, what from a would-be doctor amounts a minor life crisis. So, even though Thorwald does not leave us in an optimistic mood, he gives food for thought. Still, I do not feel I should take back what I said last month. He's not made for prizes - his grandfather is.

16:55, merryminstrel
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środa, 03 września 2014
In Cold Blood

The title of this entry is rather tongue-in-cheek, since it refers to Truman Capote's celebrated non-fiction, which swept the Pulitzer from this month's winner in 1966. Jürgen Thorwald with his The Century of the Detective (1964) perhaps does not possess the dramatic power of Capote, or perhaps his subject is too broad and the beloved thrill of Dexter audience gets diluted among the details about the chemical makeup of various poisons. Thorwald does not aim at giving insight into the psyche of a criminal: rather, his book is a factual account of the development of the modern techniques of constructing evidence out of vestiges, like bones, traces of certain substances, scratches on the bullets, etc.

Besides being obviously a historical manual for Sherlock Holmes' fans, it also provides an interesting crosssection of the Western societies. In my opinion, the most clearly drawn are those of France, Great Britain and the USA of the fin de siècle. It is additional value of this book, and makes it a rewarding reading for those interested in sociology.

All in all, though, the Book of August was worth it, but not appealing enough. With the view of a better reading in the coming months, I leave it as a strong point in this year's classification, but unlikely one that will make it to the top. Somehow, it seems, Thorwald is not made for prizes. :)

piątek, 01 sierpnia 2014
Train Named Dragon

Trains in modern literature for children have always had deeper significance. Perhaps it is not the age group for calling them "Desire", but they almost inevitably lead to the fantastic. It's obvious in such cases as Harry Potter or Narnia books, but much less so in the Nesbit classic - The Railway Children (1905/06). Despite the fact that I found it in the library in the section called Magic/Fantasy, it does not deal with the supernatural, at least directly.

When you read the story, you immediately recognize it as one of the key texts for children's literature. I couldn't believe that I've been reading Nesbit for years - with not much enthusiasm - and I still missed her best. In contrast to her other classics, like Five Children and It, it does not feature an all-out breaching the boundary between the world of imagination and reality. In much more subtle way it hints about the direction in which the trains lead.

The plot is centred on a trio of children - Bobby, Peter and Phil (two of them are girls) - whose father has been unjustly accused of treason. They spend hours on the railway station, imagining that the trains, which seem to be dragons, take their love to their imprisoned father. While waiting for the poetic justice to be realized, they befriend people around them and meet everyday challenges. The book is evenly paced, flows leasurely, and is charmingly poetic (flowers, wild cherries, Russian writer), while retaining realistic elements of the period. My special favourites are the description of the landslide (geotechnics marriage with Shakespeare!) and building a train out of flowers. The whole does have this Woolf and Chekhov feel I normally do not like that much, but here it is thoroughly enjoyable.

Having said that much, I must formally state that Edith Nesbit's The Railway Children becomes the Book of July and is currently a strong contender for the Book of the Year.

08:31, merryminstrel
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