sexta-feira, outubro 21, 2016

The Story of the Stone - The Golden Days, by Cao Xueqin

I don't remember where I read about The Story of the Stone, maybe it was in the Times Literary Supplement or in the New York review of Books, but it roused my curiosity so I ordered the first volume. I enjoyed it very much - it starts as a picaresque novel, and it grew on me, depicting a lost world of beauty and privilege, about a civilisation - the Chinese - I know very little about. It's a surprisingly modern novel, considering it was written in the 18th century. After some time, the narrative gets a little tiresome, with the silly pointless intrigues and pettiness of the characters' lives, curiously so reminiscent of the Ancien Régime, that was their contemporary across the world in Europe. But the characters are extremely lively and convincing, and they really come to life. So I think I will read the next volumes in the saga.

domingo, outubro 16, 2016

SPQR, by Mary Beard

This is a very good History book. The first part especially, until the end of the Republic, is just brilliant - the way the author reconstructs Roman history according to Roman sources is really interesting and up to the point, it's the best I've read so far. The second part is clearly inferior and it disappointed me somehow, but even so the depiction of the Roman way of life was extremely interesting and engaging. All in all, it's an excellent book.

sexta-feira, outubro 14, 2016

The danger in the absurd

I have written less and less about Jews and Muslims because dislike to fuel the hatred; it's such a charged subject and I have several friends that are already over incensed about it. But I can't resist writing my 2 bits about the news of the recent UNESCO resolution draft about the Temple Mount, that strikes me as particularly absurd and as a sign of what is saddening and frightening in our Western civilisation. The absurd starts with its very existence - why on earth would it be necessary to define a historical place in this way, as if it's not sufficiently known to all the parties interested. But there it is nevertheless. I can understand that some Muslim countries advance such proposition, as a political maneuver part of their usual strategy of playing victim and reinforcing the anti-semitic propaganda they use to demonize Jews as a scapegoat for their own failures, as xenophobia and minority groups discrimination has been used for centuries by many kinds of governments everywhere. I can also understand that immoral and corrupt governments like Russia's or China's support it, as a means to appease their own sizeable Muslim minorities while in a way undermining Western-styled democracies and thinking, so killing two rabbits with the same stone. But that Western democratic countries can support it or abstain to vote (as so many did, mostly abstaining), supporting in that way such a ridiculous and despicable rewriting of History for political reasons, is infuriating. It is the kind f misguided "political correctness" stemming from a ridiculous sense of colonial gilt allied to a coward ad counter-productive policy of appeasement that, by denying our Western values of honesty and democracy is corroding the very base of our civilisation. That is the real problem, not the refugees or the minorities. The Western problem is not standing for and upholding the values on which our civilisation - the most successful until now even if not perfect - allowing in that way intolerance and obscurantism to get a foothold and set in. That's how great civilisations fail, from within, and not because of the barbarians, who just take advantage of their weaknesses and tiredness and, in the end, become a kind of solution, as the famous poem by Cavafy so rightly expresses. This UNESCO pitiful vote is a sad sign of decadence, as is the Trump phenomenon in the US, the Brexit vote or the tolerance by the EU f its members' Hungary and Poland policies. In this case, it's mostly symbolic, but symbols are meaningful.

quinta-feira, setembro 22, 2016

This is London, by Ben Judah

I liked this book very much, I think it's an excellent reportage about the immigrants in London today. It starts in the Victoria Coach Station and ends at a Muslim cemetery, and it gives portraits of several of the different immigrants that compose the 55% majority of non-white British inhabitants of London at the present time. It focuses mostly on the poor people, the "invisible" ones, and I would have liked to see something more about the Muslims that are so often referred but have much less space than the Africans or the East Europeans. The writing is sometimes a little tiresome, but all in all it's a great book.

You Are Not So Smart, by David McRaney

This is a very interesting book, about human psychology, how our mind constructs our memories and judgements based on our emotional background and experience. I was aware of most of it, so it didn't change my conceptions about memory and decision-making, but I enjoyed it very much. It's an easy and engaging reading, funny and very informative.

quinta-feira, setembro 08, 2016

Hanging On, Diaries 1960-1963, by Frances Partridge

I was not expecting much of this volume of Frances Partridge's diaries, convinced they would get less interesting as they became farther from the golden age of Bloomsbury - since Frances Partridge's claim to fame is mostly as a witness and friend of the Bloomsbury set. I was pleasantly surprised - this volume deals with the loss and mourning of her husband and her happy marital life, and for the first time Frances Partridge becomes the main character, now it's her personality, herself that matters, interesting in her own right. The book depicts the way she coped with her loss and how she endured the mourning period and was able to build herself a new life, not as happy as the one she had lived before, but satisfactory and fulfilling enough, which I think it was quite an achievement. From her diaries, Frances Partridge doesn't strikes us as a particularly intelligent person, nor especially witty or creative; her main quality is warmth, a keen aptitude to enjoy life and friendships, a kindness that must have made her dear to the people who knew her, which it seems to me a wonderful gift in itself.

And so the narration of this woman's life journey, sprinkled here and there with some Bloomsbury anecdotes, and also stories about the post-Bloomsbury British literary and cultural set, makes for a very interesting and uplifting reading.

terça-feira, agosto 30, 2016

Guapa, by Saleem Haddad

I heard about this book in an article about modern Middle eastern fiction, and it seemed interesting. I was not disappointed, it's an excellent book. Very well written, moving and strong, a story about a young gay man coming of age in the Middle East, and the best depiction I've read so far of the feelings aroused in young local people by the Arab spring, a promise turned sour.

It reminded me very much of The City and the Pillar, by Gore Vidal, and it pained me a lot to think that 70 years later the situation for gay men has not changed in some parts of the world - actually, maybe it has gotten worse. Saleem Haddad is a very good writer, and I'm looking forward to his next book.

sexta-feira, agosto 26, 2016

The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch

I like to read books about life and death experiences, and this one seemed interesting. It is interesting, and somewhat uplifting - a celebration of life by a man who is doomed to die in a short time, of pancreatic cancer, and that leaves this collection of life lessons to his kids. I couldn't but empathize with the author's words - he lived fully a good life, he seemed like a really nice man and most of his advice is sound and sensible.

Yet, I couldn't help but think: "how American he is!". All the positive thinking, the sharing of his dire situation, the help groups he and his wife belonged to, it's really such a different reality from ours. It always impressed me how in the American culture people like to have everything so neatly organised and labelled - if you have cancer, you go to cancer supporting groups, if you find your son is gay, you join a gay men's mother's group, and so on. Also the use of therapy and counselling for all kinds of problems, in the optimistic belief that for every problem there are professionals who know better and that can help you deal with it. Of course there's nothing wrong about that, and if it's helpful, I guess people should go for that. But it's so different from my own individualistic approach to life and its problems, I never believed there to be neat labels and formulas to deal with problems and suffering.

Anyway, the book is a nice read and uplifting. And I heard about the project, that seems very interesting, I think I would like to explore it, maybe it will be a way for me to learn something about computer language!