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.”

Through the Bookshelves or How I Spend My Money (2)

Here’s the second edition of Through the Bookshelves or How I Spend My Money, in which I can’t resist a good book. They are just so… good? But anyway, these are my recent buys:

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(from bottom to top)

1) The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy
I’ve always wanted to read Tolstoy, though I have to admit that I’m a bit intimidated by Anna Karenina, so I thought I’d start somewhere else and work my way up. The Kreutzer Sonata seemed a good place as any and it sounds like my sort of book. Meaning: murder. Even though it’s about much more than that. I’m so excited!

2) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo by J. R. R. Tolkien
Tolkien + Arthurian legend = instant buy. It’s a collection of three stories in verse about some of the Knights of the Round Table written by an unknown poet and translated to modern english by Tolkien. Which goes along with my recent interest in the legends of King Arthur (if only I could finish The Once and Future King).

3) Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
I’ve been seeing this book in my local bookshop for a few weeks and although it sounded interesting, I wasn’t sure about buying it. Until I saw this video at booksandquills about it and it convinced me to try. I’m surprisingly excited to read it.

4) The Complete Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe by (surprise, surprise) Edgar Allan Poe
Ever since I read Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue and his other Dupin tales I’ve been wanting to read more from him. So I armed myself with all his poetry and all his short stories plus The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket which is his only novel. I’m thinking about making a project of it: The Poe Project. I’m also super excited to start it!

And those are all my new books. So: share your own recent buys with me and we shall squee together like the bookworms we are.

Tchau!

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers

ImageThis was the first book I read in my shiny new Kobo, which I’ll talk about in another post, and also my first Dorothy L. Sayers book. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of this, maybe a mixture of Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes? Which I suppose means high expectations for me. Well, it didn’t quite meet them.

Assigning a motive for the murder of a person without relations or antecedents or even clothes is like trying to visualize the fourth dimension – an admirable exercise for the imagination, but arduous and inconclusive.

Whose Body? is a crime novel, and as such the book starts with a murder. An unknown man is found naked in a bathtub wearing glasses; no one knows who he is or how he got there. In comes Lord Peter Wimsey, a detective by choice and English aristocrat by birth. He gets involved in the solution of this case, but is soon also dragged onto another parallel case: Sir Reuben Levy has gone missing, leaving all his clothes behind, and Inspector Parker has no idea how to find him. And it’s clear from the beginning the man in the tub is not Sir Reuben Levy.

Let’s start with the main character, shall we? Lord Peter Wimsey is definitely not Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, which is not to say he doesn’t have his own unique style of joining all the clues together and discovering the rest. I thought he was funny and although his ‘what?’ were really starting to irritate me, he got over them by the end of the book. Another thing he got over by the end was his flatness and we finally see some layers to his personality, which sadly isn’t that developed. But still, the story is not about him, yes? And I think he was the most complex character.

“You want to be consisted, you want to look pretty, you want to swagger debonairly through a comedy of puppets or else stalk magnificently through a tragedy of human sorrows and things. But that’s childish. If you’ve any duty to society in the way of finding out the truth about murders, you must do it in any attitude that comes handy.”

Regardless of all that I thought he was, rather like the whole book, fun. The book was in third person so we never really knew what he was thinking when he went on one of his tangents or made an off-hand comment to Bunter, his manservant, about something seemingly unrelated to anything. His partners in crime solving, Bunter and Parker, complement each other and become a sort of Watson/Hastings duo. Though Bunter was casually ironic and witty, talking back to Wimsey like nobody’s business and making the other man presentable at the same time. I liked his character a lot, maybe more than any other in this book.

Another flaw with this book is that I figured out who the murderer was long before the end, I don’t know if it was obvious or if simply being allowed a closer look at this person made me realize it. It was a click and suddenly I was like ‘Oh! That’s the murderer!’ and that was that. But that has never stopped me from enjoying the big reveal of crime novels and I really wanted to see how it had been done, if it had been planned or a spur of the moment decision. Also, why those freaking glasses and not, say, a hat? Or a shirt? Or anything else really.

The knowledge of good and evil is a phenomenon of the brain, and is removable, removable, removable. The knowledge of good and evil is removable.

So despite the lack of suspense and in depth characterization, I had fun. It was a light read and something I really wanted to read since I read Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue and the other Dupin tales, who is the inspiration for all this detective characters we have today. Which reminds me: I really need to read more of Poe. Something to think about, but only after I finish Possession and/or The First Man in the Moon by H. G. Wells.

Tchau!

The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje

ImageIt’s taken me another month to update this blog, because it’s been one hell of a few weeks settling into uni. But I’m settled now and back for more reading! I stopped The Once and Future King for now and decided to pick up a less fantastical book for a while (not that I don’t love my fantasy books). This is one of the books I mentioned buying a while ago, together with 1984 which I hope to read soon, and I’m really glad I did.

When I could not see the ocean, the fear was not there, but now the sea rose in the half-dark, surrounding the ship, and coiled itself around me. No matter how scarred I was, I remained there, adjacent to the passing darkness, half wanting to pull myself back, half desiring to leap towards it.

The Cat’s Table is about an eleven year old boy who travels from Colombo to London in a ship called Oronsay, in the early 1950s. He and his two friends, Cassius and Ramadhin, get in all sorts of trouble together, running through the ship with the barest of adult supervision to keep the in check. At meal times they sit as far from the Captain’s table as possible, at the lowly ‘cat’s table’ with a mismatched group of people who will in time change their lives. And at night they watch the prisoner Niemeyer in his controlled freedom around the ship.

I have to say that this was a bit of a confusing read for a while. I spent half of the book not knowing the main character’s name (which was revealed in a casual way later) and the other half thinking this was an autobiography. Turns out that even though the boy, Michael or Mynah (how his friends call him), shares a name and a ship journey with the author, the rest is fictional. This meant that I had to reorganize my thoughts on the book twice, but I ended up liking it anyway. So it’s all fictional.

There was a lot going on in the book, and not always in the right order. He would sometimes spend chapters on his memories of England with Ramadhin or his bumping in with other passengers. We could clearly see the way his time on the Oronsay reflected on his future choices. The way he’d wonder for years about his cousin’s involvement with Sunil (the leader of a circus troupe traveling with them) and Niemeyer, never really getting an answer. The way he’d look at Cassius paintings, see those weeks through his eyes, and feel connected to it.

There is a story, always ahead of you. Barely existing. Only gradually do you attach yourself to it and feed it. You discover the carapace that will contain and test your character. You find in this way the path of your life.

This was for me a growing up story. About going from careless boy to a guarded adult – not that it was a smooth transition, no. They were thrown into the unknown and expected to fend for themselves. And they did, with the normal bumps along the way. These three children were introduced to the adult world, full of rules and lies, where people aren’t always what they seem at first. In the end it changed them, in ways they would only fully comprehend later when they could look back and wonder about it all with the eyes of the adults they had then become.

I liked the book, even though it’s not the kind I’m used to picking up and going “I’d love to read this!” and was not that enthusiastic about it at the beginning. I bought it mostly thinking it would be a mystery novel, that it would involve the prisoner Niemeyer and some devious scheme of his. And it does, in a way, but it’s not the most important event nor is it as devious as I imagined it would be. Simply human nature and human relationships.

But he had a serenity the came with the choice of life he wanted to live. And this serenity and certainty I have seen only among those who have the armour of books close by.

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Well, it’s certainly been a while since I posted anything here, mostly because I had my uni entrance tests but also because I haven’t been able to finish a book. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve started many, but none of them managed to catch my interest long enough to sit through 300 pages of it. So, now that I’m officially a uni student and still have time to spend doing whatever I like before classes start in about a week and a half I’ll dedicate myself to my books once more.

Some of the books I started I intend to finish, so I won’t talk about them just now, only about the one that brought me out of my misery. I bought this book back when I first read Doyle’s The Lost World and even mentioned wanting to read it, unfortunately it’s been sitting on my shelf since then. I recently went on a trip to Florida and it seemed fitting to read a book with dinosaurs in the everglades, regardless of the whole reptiles/birds discussion involving said dinosaurs.

ImageI’m really glad I finally read this! This movie is a part of my childhood and since I don’t remember much it didn’t spoil the book. Although, I spent half of it expecting something to go horribly wrong. And of course it did. For those who don’t know Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton tells the story about dinosaurs brought back to life through cloning and genetic manipulation by a man whose goal was to make lots of money. John Hammond built a theme park/zoo with these animals, in an island off the coast of Costa Rica, and called it Jurassic Park.

“What is he talking about?” Hammond said, his voice rising. “Three hundred animals? What’s he talking about?”

After some accidents with the workman and a new species of lizard biting children in Costa Rica, his investors wanted to make sure the park was safe, so they invited specialists who had in some way participated of the project (however unknowingly) to see it. Paleontologist Alan Grant and his colleague Ellie Sattler, the mathematician Ian Malcolm, InGen’s legal counsel Donald Gennaro, and Hammond’s two grandchildren (who he took upon himself to invite).

I won’t say anything else, but I do have to say that if you’re easily grossed out this is not the book for you. It goes without saying that death by dinosaur isn’t pretty. It takes a while to get to that though, as I said, half of the book is about the how they did it. It gets very scientific at some parts, but it was pretty understandable (although I might be biased since biology is my field), it doesn’t make sense to write a book people can’t understand, right? At least from the scientific point.

The writing shifted a lot too, changing points of view all the time, which is something I don’t normally like and did bother me a bit. Especially when it was Hammond, because that man made me angry just by being in the room. He’s completely blind to all the problems Jurassic Park has and even when things start getting really ugly he still refuses to accept it. He also likes throwing blame around, as long as it doesn’t land on him of course, so it’s everyone’s fault but his. I just wanted to shake some sense into him. Which makes him a good character, much as I dislike him.

Funny thing is that in the movies my favorite character was Dr. Grant, who was the adventurer and the source of knowledge about the dinosaurs, but surprisingly Ian Malcolm was the one I liked the most in the book. He was sarcastic and quick with a reply; he had no qualms about speaking his mind and did so whenever he wanted to. A lot of what he said was a bit harsh and perhaps a tad rude, he was mostly that guy who said uncomfortable truths that people didn’t want listen to, but should. With added mathematical theories to back him up, of course, which he extrapolated on a lot.

“Don’t you think it’s human nature?” Ellie said.

“God, no,” Malcolm said. “That’s like saying that scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast is human nature. It’s nothing of the sort. It’s uniquely Western training, and much of the rest of the world is nauseated by the thought of it.” He winced in pain. “The morphine’s making me philosophical.”

Crichton also went into people’s backstory a lot, whenever he shifted povs actually, which was distracting but somewhat realistic since we are always connecting new experiences with old ones. And I loved how he mixed things, like scientists aren’t sure whether dinosaurs were more like reptiles or birds, so Crichton made them both, he mixed their characteristics, different species were more like one or the other. There was also this thing where everybody commented on the velociraptors, how smart they were, how fast, how bad, it was pretty obvious that they would end up escaping at some point to cause mayhem.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but I found it very weird that no one knew about amphibian reproductive cycles except Dr. Grant, I mean, even I know! And all I have is high school biology and an interest in it. Not even Dr. Wu, who was the geneticist who made the dinosaurs, knew anything until Grant talked about it. Regardless, it was a fun read, not a very deep one or one that challenged my view of the world, but a good distraction and something I might revisit as a guilty pleasure someday. Like my Agatha Christie books.

I’m reading two books at the moment: The Once and Future King by T. H. White and Possession by A. S. Byatt. I plan on finishing both of them, but will probably be faster with White’s, so I’ll probably post about it soon-ish. I love history and, although it’s not something I’ve ever pursued much before, the legends of King Arthur. So expect to hear more about it, since I also plan on reading The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (which my mom owns in Portuguese, but I want my own English copy) and Sir Thomas Mallory’s original Le Morte D’Arthur (which has been surprisingly difficult to find). Maybe some others later, but those are the most famous ones I believe. Perhaps Sir Gawain and the Green Knight too.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

ImageI started this book a few months ago, but stopped because I had to read some school books and for some reason never went back to it. I really didn’t know what I was missing. It’s my first Gaiman book (even though I own Stardust, Good Omens, a novelization of Sandman and some of his short stories) and I went in with high expectations, it did not disappoint. Although it did leave some unanswered questions.

It takes a graveyard to raise a child.

The graveyard Book tells the story of a boy named Nobody Owens, who, quite literally, grew up in a graveyard. When he was a baby a man killed his parents and his sister, but could not kill him, which sounds very Harry Potter-ish. Trust me when I say it’s not. Bod crawled his way to the graveyard at the top of the hill and there he was adopted by two ghosts, the Owens. He’s given the freedom of the graveyard, which allows him to do things that ghosts do while he’s perfectly alive. The killer, the man Jack, is still out there though.

I like the way Gaiman makes each character’s voice completely different and the ghosts all speak the way they would at the time they died, which made it seem more real. There are also all sorts of things in the graveyard (and out of it), like ghouls, Hounds of God (werewolves), witches and night-gaunts (sort of a bird thing), but there are some things that are not really explained. Silas (Bod’s guardian), for example, we never find out what he really is, all we know is that he’s neither dead nor alive.

And that is only one of the unanswered questions. Where does Silas come from? What sort of creature were the man Jack and the other Jacks? What did their organization really do? Why could Scarlett dreamwalk? What does the Honor Guard? I’d really like to know. But, again, as a John Green fan, I’m familiar with unexplained endings and Gaiman’s was not even that bad. It’s just that the story moved somewhat slowly for most of the book and only picked up in the end, which (to me) was somewhat rushed. I think those are the only things that bothered me a bit, but ultimately didn’t stop me from liking the book.

From the things that I loved, one of them was the first chapter. The man Jack’s point of view was really creepy and shilling, I could almost taste the dampness of the air and the darkness that engulfed him. There’s just something magical about the way Gaiman writes.

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade fiercer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been but, not at immediately.
(…)
The street door was still open, just a little, where the knife and the man who held it had slipped in, and wisps of nighttime mist slithered and twined into the house through the open door.

Another thing I loved were the ghouls, they were really funny, with their too big names and manners. There was the Duke of Westminster, the Honorable Archibald Fitzhugh, the Emperor of China and the 33rd President of the United States. Seriously, reading those names made me laugh every single time, I kept imagining some little, dirty things with such big pompous names and such a bad smell.

The Graveyard Book is also richly illustrated, all the shades of grey. I loved the ghosty feel they have and the way the things take shape as if forming out of mist. It definitely added to the general atmosphere of the book.

I really want to pick up another of Gaiman’s novels this summer, even though I’m afraid to read Good Omens because it had such a big hype around it. I’ll probably try another one before, and get more familiar with his style. Probably Stardust, since I loved the movie. But now that I’m back into full studying rhythm it’s going to take longer to finish a book, since up until now I was doing basically a book a day. Not to mention I’ve got to finish Jane Eyre.

Through the Bookshelves or How I Spend My Money (1)

ImageI have a problem, which I’m sure every book lover shares. I can’t see a bookstore that I have to go in, and I never get out empty handed. Never. Recently I’ve been relocating some of my books to my mum’s room, to try and make more space in mine. Not that space problems stop me from buying more, but it makes my mum crazy. I think she’s the only book lover I know that doesn’t have this problem, how I wish she had taught me that one.

Here’s what I bought:

1)      The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje

This book first caught my attention because of its colourful cover, then the year its set in (1950s) and finally that it happens in a ship! I love ships, even though I’ve never actually been in one, because my grandfather was a ship Captain and I loved when he told me stories of his sailing days.

2)      1984 by George Orwell

I’ve wanted to read this book for ages, but something else always came up and I’d leave it behind. But no more! And now I’ve got no excuse not to read it. Not that I’d need one, since I’m pretty excited to start.

3)      The First Man in the Moon by H. G. Wells

I love sci-fi, books and movies, so this was something I definitively wanted to read. I’ve never read anything by Wells, but watched a movie once from The Invisible Man and I remember liking it a lot, so I decided to give him a try. Not to mention he’s one of the fathers of the genre.

I’m making progress in the two books I’m reading: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Is it weird that I’m liking Jane Eyre more? Not that Gaiman’s book is bad, but for some reason I find myself wanting to go back to the walls of Thornfield Hall, to Jane and Mr Rochester. Perhaps those weren’t the best books to be read together, huh?