quinta-feira, março 16, 2017

We need to talk about Kevin, by Lionel Shriver

I had watched the movie, and liked it - fabulous Tilda Swinton - so I was curious to read the book. I liked it even better; it's very well written, moving and thought provoking. or personal reasons, I am very interested in these questions, of nature vs nurture and parenting, and I think the author poses these questions extremely well. A very good book.

segunda-feira, fevereiro 27, 2017

Scandinavians, by Robert Ferguson

For a number of years now I've been interested in Scandinavia and its culture, ever since I went to Copenhagen - and then to Sweden, Norway and Iceland. I can't remember what first attracted me, maybe the feeling of a very civilised atmosphere, or the beauty of the cities - Copenhagen and Stockholm - so different from our southern European ones, or the extraordinary natural wonders of Norway - the Lofoten islands, the fjords - and later the magical nature of Iceland - but by that time I was already totally hooked. I think it started with a combination of the urban civilisation and the natural beauty, that led me to try to know its culture, and then the somewhat austere and melodic literature kept my interest going - I was already acquainted with Selma Lagerlöf, Karen Blixen and Peter Hoeg, and then I discovered Vilhelm Moberg, Per Lagerkvist, Knut Hamsun, Halldor Laxness. I even learnt a little Swedish, enough to read Swedish papers on the internet, watch some Swedish television series - like Äkta Människor, Bron and 1790 - and even read a couple of books in Swedish.

So, I was curious to read this book, its premise being to analyse Scandinavian culture and "soul" and understand its allure. And it certainly is a very interesting and readable book. The author is obviously in love with Scandinavian culture, he is extremely knowledgeable and the book is very informative, full of interesting anecdotes and details about Scandinavian history and culture, from the Vikings to Bergman, Queen Kristina to Breijvik, the Icelandic assembly to Denmark under Struensee, Knut Hamsun and Edvard Munch to the Abba. All that makes for a very interesting reading, but do we really get that soul of the North the author is searching? I don't think so; it certainly helps us to understand its civilisation and mores, but I guess there is something unfathomable in what attracts us to a culture that's not rationally understandable, and that's part of its fascination.

sexta-feira, fevereiro 10, 2017

Un homme qui dort, de Georges Perec

Ever since I read the excellent La vie, mode d'emploi, I've been an admirer f Georges Perec, and even since no other of his books has appealed as much to me, I have liked all I've read by him. Un homme qui dort is very good, extremely insightful in what concerns the existential disenchantment with the world, a feeling we could call depression, but somehow if feels like is something simultaneous more and less than that, more a state of mind than a medical condition. And he writes in such a beautiful French! At the end, a sentence stuck in my mind: L'indifférence ne t'a pas rendu indifférent. He got it.

sábado, fevereiro 04, 2017

Sapiens - a brief history of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari

This is a really great book, I enjoyed it from the beginning until the last page. The author is extremely knowledgeable and writes in an engaging prose, and really knows how to convey the story of Homo sapiens since its origins until the present times.

It's also a very thought provoking book, the way it depicts the success of biologic evolution against the fate of individual beings, whether men or animals or plants. I really liked the author's description of the several breakthroughs in our evolution and history. All in all, it's an excellent book, and I highly recommend it.

terça-feira, janeiro 31, 2017

The Anatomist, by Bill Hayes

I heard about this book in Oliver Sacks' autobiography (Bill Hayes was his romantic partner on his last years). It seemed interesting, even if Gray's Anatomy was never a art of my college textbooks, since in Portugal we study by the French textbooks by Testut and Rouvière. It's a good book, it's interesting how the author started looking for the life of Henry Gray but ended up by writing mostly about the life of Henry Vandyke Carter, the other anatomist, the one who did the drawings that illustrate the famous textbook. Henry Gray looms like a shadow over the book, but Carter comes up as a lively and real person, whose aspirations and struggles are extremely well depicted. The narrative of the author's quest, his fascination for the study of anatomy, is also very engaging. I can relate to that, even if personally I hated the dissection classes in college - mostly because of the terrible smell of phormaldehyde, because I wasn't particularly impressed by the cadavers as people, they just seemed things, and mostly very repulsive ones. But all in all considering the author's quest and Carter's life and feelings as expressed in his diary, this book is worth reading.

domingo, janeiro 29, 2017

Les Confessions, de Jean-Jacques Rousseau

An extremely interesting autobiographic work. Rousseau wants to tell his life as fully and as candidly as possible, and he does it. One cannot but be touched by his candour and honesty, e really manages to convey a true portrait of a human being, with his faults, aspirations and qualities, all the more real for his flaws. And not only one gets a true picture of his life, but also of 18th century life and mores.

And I guess Rousseau would be diagnosed today as an ADHD patient, considering his life and the way he describes himself in several instances, as here:

J'aime à m'occuper à faire des riens, à commencer cent choses et n'en achever aucune, à aller et venir comme la tête me chane, à changer à chaque instant de projet, à suivre une mouche dans toutes ses allures à vouloir déraciner un rocher pour voir ce qui est dessous, à entreprendre avec ardeur un travail de dix ans, et à l'abandonner sans regret au bout de dix minutes, à muser enfin toute la journée sans ordre et sans suite, et à ne suivre en toute chose que le caprice du moment.

domingo, janeiro 22, 2017

Good Company, by Frances Partridge

It's always a pleasure to go back to Frances Partridge's diaries. For several reasons: I really like her personality, she must have been a very kind and warm person, passionate for life and friendship. Above all, I admire her capacity to keep making her life as interesting as she could, mostly out of her relationships with her friends, the good company of the title. Even over 60, she was still trying to make sense out of life, through reading, conversation with intelligent people, travelling. I like her keen observations about people and places and events, and I find her rending of her friendships extremely interesting and realistic - the way she conveys all the ambiguity and complexities of long term friendships is especially to the point when she describes her relationships with Julia Strachey or Gerald Brenan, who emerge from her depictions as real and lively people (not so much Janetta Woolley, who seems kind of lame).