Through the Bookshelves or How I spend My Money (4)

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Since I didn’t do a book haul last week this is a bit of a big one, so on with it. From top to bottom:

1) The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
I keep picking this book up, carrying it around the bookstore, then putting it down again in favor of something more expensive. Because I got it considerably cheep compared with the normal price for books here in Brazil. So I’m supper exited to finally have it!

2) The Running Man by Stephen King
I grew up watching this movie, together with Terminator and True Lies and Jurassic Park, so when I saw it on the store I knew it would go home with me. It’s also the first Stephen King book on my shelf… we’ll see how it goes.

3) The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
I liked some other plays of his (and well, he’s Shakespeare), so this seemed like a good idea.

4) The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
This is another one of those classic that I’ve been meaning to read, but never get around to it. Now I’ve got no excuse to keep doing it!

5) Holes by Louis Sachar
I’ve just finished this one, so I’m not going to talk about it much. But it’s a hilarious read.

6) Quincas Borba by Machado de Assis
Machado de Assis is my favorite Brazilian writer and I’ve wanted this book for some time now. What was my surprise when I found an orange penguin edition of it? I grabbed it immediately and didn’t let go! Now it sits prettily on my shelf.

7) The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey
This book sounded interesting (I love monster books!) and I fell in love with the pretty cover. What else do I need? I think it was the most expensive book of the bunch, but not by much, so I’m not feeling guilty about it.

I also got a bunch of classic e-books from Girlebooks: The Anne of Green Gables series, some Elizabeth von Arnim I didn’t have, Frankenstein, Little Women, and others. Can’t wait to start reading them!

Tchau!

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Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

penumbraMr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a story narrated by Clay Jannon, an unemployed web-designer desperately needing a job. To keep himself focused in actually finding one, he prints out ads and goes out to walk around San Francisco while reading them. On one of this walks he stumbles upon a small bookstore and before he knew it he was Penumbra’s new night clerk.

The floor of the bookstore is far below me, the surface of a planet I’ve left behind.

At first glance this seems like a book for book lovers, but if you bother to read it you’ll realize that it’s about so much more. It’s about human curiosity, the human need to always know what comes next, what came before and how it all connects together to form history, which is actually someone’s description of life so far. It’s really hard to talk about all the things I loved in this book without giving anything away, so I’ll try my best to keep to the spoiler free zones.

Our friendship is a nebula.

First: the characters. This book had all the nerds in it, the computer nerd (many of those, in many different areas), the book nerd, the history nerd, the art nerd and a bunch of others I can’t remember now. Which is brilliant, they’re my kind of crowd after all. But there are also some lost people – people who don’t know what to do with their lives and try to tag along with others in hopes of finding out. If they do or not depends on how important you think Griffo Gerritszoon’s final message is.

The Unbroken Spine. It sounds like a band of assassins, not a bunch of book lovers.

Second: the plot. This is a very intricate plot and Clay’s not really in the know for half of the book (maybe more) so we figure out what he figures out. And solving the mystery beforehand is kind of impossible (and cheating, right Clay?), at least I didn’t guess. Well, I did guess a couple of things, but others just flew over my head. Although I have to admit, because I want to be completely honest here, that the reason this is not a five star book for me is that there were some parts that had me yawning, especially in the first part. The pace really picked up by the second part though, so hang in there people.

Books used to be pretty high-tech, back in the day. Not anymore.

Third: books. Because despite that gloomy quote this is a book about books. About the meaning of them and that in the end no matter how evolved our technology gets there are certain kinds of knowledge that only come from living human lives (they might also be cyborg or android or alien lives, but you get my point). Why else would there be bookstore in the title if this wasn’t going to involve some amazing books?

Penumbra says, and produces another e-reader – it’s a Nook. Then another one, a Sony. Another one, marked KOBO. Really? Who has a Kobo?

Fourth: I resent that Robin Sloan (or Clay, but whatever, he didn’t write the book). I own a Kobo and I’m proud of it. I actually read this e-book in it, so yes, people do have Kobos. And I realize this is not one of the reasons I loved the book, but it needed to be said.

Your life must be an open city, with all sorts of ways to wander in.

And Finally: Thanks Aldrag the Wyrm-Father. And Moffat (not Steven, no).

The Poe Project (1)

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Two Tales…

The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Pfaal

This was written in 1835 and intended by Poe to be a hoax. It tells the story of Hans Pfaal, who, to escape his creditors, builds a balloon and with it flies to the moon. The story starts with the people of Rotterdam watching while a weird balloon descends from the sky. The man upon it hands (or rather throws) a letter to the burgomaster (the mayor) Mynheer Superbus Von Underduk, which describes Hans Pfaal’s adventures in the moon. Well, not really in the moon, but of how he got there in the first place.

I had no idea what this tale was about when I started it, so it’s quite by accident that I chose a story so alike The First Men in the Moon. Although, it’s a lot less accurate. I’m not sure if it’s because it was written so long before or because Poe really did intend it to be a hoax. It also wasn’t exactly what I expected, considering I tend to expect gruesome tales of death by Poe. The most it did was leave me uncomfortable while he described the physical symptoms Hans Pfaal suffered when he reached the outer parts of our atmosphere.

I began to find great difficulty in drawing my breath. My head, too, was excessively painful; and, having felt for some time a moisture about my cheeks, I at length discovered it to be blood, which was oozing quite fast from the drums of my ears. My eyes, also, gave me great uneasiness. Upon passing a hand over them they seemed to have protruded in no inconsiderable degree; and all objects in the car, and even the balloon itself, appeared distorted to my vision.

I don’t think this will ever be one of my favorite of Poe’s tales, but I liked the fantastical nature of it, especially considering we now know very well that a journey like that is impossible. I’m not sure if H. G. Wells ever read this or Jules Verne (with his From the Earth to the Moon novel), but Poe most certainly wrote it first.

The Gold-Bug

This tale was written about 1842 and tells the story of Mr. William Legrand, who after losing all his family’s money moves from New Orleans to an island in South Carolina. During the story the narrator, a nameless person, and Legrand’s valet, Jupiter, join him in his mad quest. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but let’s just say he wasn’t so crazy after all.

The Gold-Bug is shorter than The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Pfaal and has a faster pace. It’s also more ‘Poe-ish’ than the other, although I’m starting to wonder if I haven’t been stereotyping Poe’s stories. They can’t all be horror and murder, right? Every writer walks through more than one genre I suppose. But still, it wasn’t the gruesome tale I keep expecting to see.

It’s more of a little adventure tale, about fluctuating luck and perseverance, even when no one believes you. And that following your instincts might reward you in the end. I may be making it sound profound, but it’s not really a layered story: there was a mystery and an intelligent man to solve it. With his sidekicks, of course, no sane adventurer leaves home without them.

Also, it’s one of those weird stories that start with a strange bug. In this case a gold one.

“Curse your stupidity! do you know your right hand from your left?”

and a poem by Edgar Allan Poe

Tamerlane

My Poe poem this month is Tamerlane, which is about a man who is corrupted by his ambition to rule the world. Or at least that’s what I got from it. I’m terrible with poems: I love them, but I never read them. So I’m very rusty at the whole interpreting poems thing and Poe isn’t exactly transparent. From what I can gather, Tamer is telling his story to his father, who sounds dead to me but who knows.

You call it hope – that fire of fire!
it is but agony of desire

Tamer describes to his father his greed in conquering all of earth and his love for a woman who he makes his queen. He talks about a storm, a fight between Heaven and Hell. Then in the end, when Death comes for him, he wonders about this never-ending ambition of his and what it did to him. I liked this poem, I thought it had beautiful images of love and sin. I won’t cast judgment on Poe’s style yet (be it good or bad), since this is my second poem by him (the first being The Raven). We shall wait and see.

We grew in age – and love – together –
Roaming the forest, and the wild;
My breast her shield in wintry weather –
And when the friendly sunshine smil’d
And she would mark the opening skies
I saw no Heaven – but in her eyes.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

ImageThere’s been a mad hype around this book (and the sequel) and it sounds like the kind of thing I’d love, I mean: fairytale retellings, aliens, cyborgs and a charming prince (or is it prince charming? I don’t know). Before I properly go into the review zone I apologize for the lack of quotes in this, it’s because I didn’t mark any. Which doesn’t mean it didn’t have some great ones, it’s just that after every single line I was already jumping to the next, I needed to know what happened. And now I have.

Cinder is about, well, Cinder. She’s a cyborg (which means she has mechanical parts inserted into her body, like prosthesis) and in the society she lives in that’s bad. Cyborgs aren’t considered human anymore, even though they are, and there’s a lot of prejudice against them. That’s one of the reasons her step mother hates her. So her only friends are her little sister, Peony, and an android called Iko. Cinder is a very well-known mechanic, but she’s surprised when Prince Kai comes to her to fix his android. That was the first of many events that turned her life upside down, twisting everything she thought she knew.

This is a very hard book to summarize, there’s just so much going on and it goes at a break-neck speed. I was honestly heeling at one point. And it was so good, I mean it’s not suddenly my favorite book of all time, but it’s worth the read. It absolutely is. Go pick it up RIGHT NOW. There’s just something magical about seeing those characters you’ve grown up with in a different way: Cinderella and her step family, the Prince and the fairy godmother (though I’m not entirely sure who that’s supposed to be, but I have a hunch).

In the topic of characters, I hated Cinder’s step mother, hated her. She was just plain mean; there was no excuse for what she did. None of it. I’m sure I’d have hated the bad sister too, Pearl, if she’d had a more active role in the story, because from what we can see of her she’s just like her mother. There was no pity in her and no empathy of any kind. I saw no redeemable qualities in her.

I really liked Cinder, she was a strong girl even after everything her step mother put her through. But we could still see the pain in her, the brokenness, just around the corner. And since the story is from her perspective we have a much better understanding of her than any other character. We get this unfair balance through her eyes and it only makes everything much more real.

There are also some chapters where we see things from Prince Kai’s perspective, but they aren’t many. Which is good, because I don’t really like those books that keep switching perspective’s every chapter. But we see enough of him to know his interest in the welfare of his country.

Now, the aliens. They are called Lunars and they used to be humans from an old moon colony, but have long since evolved into something very different. Lunars have what is called Glamour, or magic by some people, and with it they can make people see whatever they want them to see. Their queen, Levana, uses it to make herself beautiful and will do everything in her power to marry Prince Kai.

I’m starting Scarlet right after I read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, but I’m kind of scared. What if it doesn’t live up to my very high expectations of it? Waiting for the third book is going to be horrible. So, has anyone read Cinder? What about Scarlet? Wouldn’t a movie of this book be amazing?

Tchau!

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

ImageI’ve heard about this book from so many different people, everyone seems to either have read it or intends to. It’s also been staring at me from the YA part of my favorite bookstore’s English books section. And it’s a bit hard to resist this title; I mean how brilliant is it? Especially after I’ve read the story.

There are lights stretched out as far as they can see, like reflections of the stars, making great constellations of the runways, where dozens of planes sit waiting their turn.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is about Hadley and Oliver (but mostly about Hadley), two strangers who meet at the airport on their way to London. Hadley is on her, belated, way to her father’s second wedding, this one to a woman she’s never met. And doesn’t want to. Oliver is the cute guy who helps her with her bag, then spends the whole flight beside her. When they reach London, they lose each other at customs, and Hadley believes she’ll never see him again. And that’s it for a mostly spoiler free summary of the book.

This is a fun, quick book about love and family. About fixing broken connections and making new ones. I breezed through it in a single day and even managed to squeeze a Doctor Who episode in between chapters, but not because it was the most amazing book ever. I liked it a lot and got to see a bit of my beloved London (how I miss thee), even though most of Hadley and Oliver’s meetings were pure luck, or fate if you believe in that kind of thing (or the author’s writing, but that’s beside the point).

So, this is a short review, because it’s a short book and pretty straightforward in its development. It made me smile, it made me cry (I’m soft hearted like that) and made me glad I picked it up.  It also made me want to read more of her novels, especially This is What Happy Looks Like. As soon as I can find it that is. My favourite bookstore is unpredictable like that.

He laughs, then lowers his mouth so that it’s close to her ear. “People who meet in airports are seventy-two percent more likely to fall for each other than people who meet anywhere else.” 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

ImageThere is an on-going trend with me and books: I mean to read them, but never get around to it. The Great Gatsby is one of those books, those famous classics that I’ve been meaning to read ever since I was old enough to want to. When I saw the trailer in the cinema I knew I had to read it before the movie came out, so I finally have.

For those who don’t know, The Great Gatsby is mainly about five people: Nick Carraway, Tom Buchanan, Daisy Buchanan, Jordan Backer (but not really) and (obviously) Jay Gatsby. When Nick comes to New York to work he ends up living next to Mr. Gatsby’s huge mansion, who is a mystery for all who attend his famous parties. Since this is an easy story to spoil I’ll stop here. Suffice to say Nick gets involved with Gatsby’s glamorous and strange life.

Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water, and the history of the summer really begins on the evening I drove over there to have dinner with the Tom Buchanans.

There is a great hype about this novel (see what I did there?), and I’m not completely sure it lives up to it. I liked it and thought there could be no better ending, but there were some things I could have done without. Like Daisy. To me she was a weak woman who wasn’t happy with her life, but when the chance came to change it she backed away. I honestly can’t sympathize with her much. I do pity her a bit though, but to me her problems are rich people’s problems and I find that rather hard to move me. Especially what she did in the end, I don’t think there’s any excuse for that.

I feel more or less the same about her husband, Tom. Except that in the end he didn’t really know what he was doing and ended up blaming an innocent man. Those are spoilers, so I’m not going into that, but if anyone has read it then come talk to me about it. But Nick (or F. Scott Fitzgerald, actually) rather describes both of the Buchanan’s really well here:

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…

I think I liked Nick the most, with his honest outlook on life and his honorable intentions and his loyal character. He was someone who didn’t belong in that abundant life, and so through him we see how deplorable some of these rich people are. He’s also quite funny at times and I think he’s the best narrator F. Scott Fitzgerald could have chosen between the available characters, like here:

To a certain temperament the situation might have seemed intriguing — my own instinct was to telephone immediately for the police.

I don’t have much of an opinion on Jordan Backer, except that she was integral to the story in her own way. Gatsby though, I have a lot of feelings about him. During most of the book it was curiosity and a sort of awe, then a kind of disappointment with who he actually turned out to be and finally pity. Lots and lots of pity. He was a man in love with an idea, and that kind of love is not meant to last. Gatsby lived on hope alone and he was lost when it was gone. And to complete these passages about characters, here’s one on him:

“The poor son-of-a-bitch,” he said.

I also loved F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing, he painted such a complete and thorough picture that there was almost no need to imagine it. The glittering parties, the drunken people and the overflowing abundance reeked from every word. I think that was my favorite part.

People disappeared, reappeared, made plans to go somewhere, and then lost each other, searched for each other, found each other a few feet away.

So these are my thoughts on The Great Gatsby. If you’ve read it too what do you think of it? If not, do you plan on seeing the movie anyway?

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

ImageI have been meaning to read this book for a long time, but I’ve always been afraid of tragic stories, of sad stories. And this was a sad story and so, so much more. I fell in love with this book, now it’s definitively one of my favorite books of all time. If you haven’t read it yet: go pick it up right NOW.

The Book Thief is the story about a girl who steals books in Nazi Germany, Liesel Meminger. Since her mother can’t afford to take care of her, and after the death of her brother, she is adopted by Hans and Rosa Hubermann and goes to live in Molching with them. There she steals books from Nazi book-burnings, from the mayor’s wife and hides a Jew in her basement. She learns that Hitler was wrong about the world and makes Death an old friend.

Liesel stood in the mayor’s library with greed in her fingers and book titles at her lips.

There are just no words to describe the beauty of this book. It’s so good I tried to hold off finishing it by reading slower than I usually do, and I’ve never done that before. Of course, I sobbed during it. Of course, I had to stop reading because I couldn’t make out the words through my tears. But it was worth it. It was so worth it. I’m so sad it’s over.

I’m going to try to write some of my thoughts on this book, so bear with me if this doesn’t make much sense.

To me, this is a book about what it means to be human. That even the most unpleasant of people can get hurt. But that the good people are the ones that suffer the most. And it’s about reality; it’s about what these people went through during the war: the uncertainty of living and the death of good people.

The world is an ugly stew, she thought.
It’s so ugly I can’t stand it.

The Book Thief shows us that there are bad people everywhere, that they can be of every age and gender. Like Viktor Chemmel. Like Franz Deutscher. Like Adolf Hitler. People who think they are better than everyone else for many reasons. None of them are right.

It’s about suffering without sugarcoating it, but it’s also about happiness and the beauty of small things. Like a snowman in a basement, a book in a river and a really big cloud. About the power of words and how much they affect us. Be it good or bad. And the loss, like many other things in wars, of the innocence of youth.

As she watched all of this, Liesel was certain that these were the poorest souls alive. That’s what she wrote about them. Their gaunt faces were stretched with torture. Hunger ate at them as they continued forward, some of them watching the ground to avoid the people on the side of the road. Some looked appealingly at those who had come observe their humiliation, this prelude to their deaths. Others pleaded for someone, anyone, step forward and catch them in their arms.
No one did.

Obviously, this post could not be complete without talking about the narrator. Markus Zusak is a genius, really. I think this is the best narrator I have even seen, because, like he himself admits, he knows us at our best and our worst. It’s Death itself, of course. Seeing the war through his eyes was brilliant. Not that the war was good, just that we got to see the tattered souls of the Jews and the terrified souls of the soldiers. And understand: nothing is worth so much suffering and murder.

I have hated the words and
I have loved them,
and I hope I have made them right.

Through the Bookshelves or How I spend My Money (3)

Third edition of Through the Bookshelves or How I spend My Money is now here. Is it just me or has it been less time between this and the last one than before? My money waves at me as it goes, flying out of my wallet. The bastard. So, this weekend I bought:

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1) Micro by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston
Since I had such a good foray into Crichton’s books I thought I should try another one. Unfortunately, he died before finishing this book, so Richard Preston did it for him. It sounds Jurassic Park-ish, because it has all this biological experiment thing going for it. We shall see how it goes. Not super excited for it though.

2) Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
I am SUPER EXCITED for this! I can’t believe I didn’t have this book yet, it’s been in my TBR list for years really. That strong wish to read it returned to me full force since the new movie came out and I fell in love with it. With the story, the characters, the feels… everything! Now all I need is the time to read this book.

3) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I could say the same things I said about Les Mis (except the movie part) for this one: I have been meaning to read it for ages! And now I am, since I picked it up the second I got home. Expect a review of this soon, because I have a feeling I won’t be putting it down.

Any new buys or loans this week?

The First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells

ImageBeing a fan of sci-fi I knew I had to read some of Wells’ works, as they are considered science fiction classics. I wasn’t sure what to expect of his books, but since I find space travel and alien life really interesting I decided to start with this one. Now I can say I’ll, without a doubt, read more H. G. Wells.

We peered out upon the landscape of the moon.

The First Men in the Moon is Bedford’s account of his and Cavor’s adventures in the moon, how they began and how they ended. Cavor is more or less a mad scientist, who accidentally creates what he calls Cavorite, a gravity-defying substance, which he intends to use to build a spaceship. In comes the bankrupt and materialistic Bedford, who sees this as his chance of making a lot of money. These two completely opposite men reach the moon to find the Selenites, a genetically engeneered race living in an endless system of cavers inside the moon.

If you think this book might not be for you just because you’re not sci-fi fan: you’re wrong. This book is more than just space travel; it’s about how humans react when faced with the unknown, how we sometimes find normal things in other cultures horrifying. And how they, in turn, are equally horrified when hearing about us. In the end we still share this common characteristic: the instinct to protect our community from outside intervention.

The world outside the sphere, I knew, would be cold and inhospitable enough to me – for weeks I had been living on subsidies from Cavor – but after all would it be as cold as the infinite zero, as inhospitable as empty space?

I really liked this book. The way it poses both scientific and philosophical questions makes it less science heavy read than Jurassic Park (which, surprisingly, had less moral questions than this one). There weren’t many overly long explanations about Cavorite or the technicality of space travel, mostly because we were seeing things from Bedford’s perspective and he doesn’t know anything about that. The book is much more about how this first contact with a culture so different from ours could go.

By looking at this other beings that we cannot identify and that cannot identify us, we are able to study ourselves and how our society works. Are we better than this genetically manipulated moon-people? Are they morally superior in their lack of choice? These are questions we can’t answer without being at least a bit biased by our humanity. Also, who are we to judge them?

But it wasn’t all serious, no; it had its hilarious moments. Like when Cavor and Bedford, who are hiding from the Selenites and looking for their lost ship (which they call sphere), are so hungry they can’t help but eat this weird fungus thing (even against Cavor better judgment). Turns out the fungus is poisonous and has a sort of drunken effect on them. Their conversation at that time was so funny; they were speaking of completely different things to each other and not even realizing. There were some other parts, but since they’re spoilery I’m not going to talk about them.

That wretched-looking hand-tentacle sticking out of its jar seemed to have a sort of limp appeal for lost possibilities; it haunts me still, although of course, it is really in the end a far more humane proceeding than our earthly method of leaving children to grow into human beings, and then making machines of them.

The Poe Project

ImageIn which I read all of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, novels and poems. He has one finished novel, around 68 tales and 97 poems (though I’ll only read about 48 of them, because those are the ones in the book of ‘complete’ poems I have). So I’m in for one hell of a ride. Although I’ve read 3 of his tales, the Dupin ones, I’ll re read them because I loved it and they’ll be part of the project. I’ll list all his stuff in the projects section and cross them off as I go.

I’ll be reading two or three each month, depending on how much time I have. I’ll post my thoughts on Poe on the last Fridays of each month. Hopefully.

I’m so excited to start!

Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”