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 alice.org 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!

terça-feira, agosto 23, 2016

Dynasty, by Tom Holland

I always loved the history of the Roman Empire in general, and the Cesar dynasty in particular. I've read it so many times, since I, Claudius to Suetonius, Tacitus, Cassius Dio and even Colleen McCullough, and I never get enough. So, I was curious when I read a positive review of Dynasty in the Times Literary Supplement, and I ordered it right away.

I thought it would be a history book, but it's more like a fictionalized history; the author bases his narrative on the known sources but surmises a lot, namely regarding the personalities of the main characters, and often the events themselves. Even so, it's an extremely interesting and enjoyable book. The author clearly loves its subject, and he comes at it with gusto and passion, and the whole book reads almost like a page turning thriller. What I found most interesting was the way the author weaves the story of the Cesar dynasty in the Roman history and Roman mores, the depiction of the transition from the Republic to the Empire, so the part from Augustus to Tiberius is the most well achieved, in my opinion.

All in all, a very good book about the Julio-Claudian dynasty.

sábado, agosto 13, 2016

The Queue, by Basma Abdel Aziz

I like dystopian novels, I think they're a clever way to depict present problems in a way that makes us think: what if it was lie this? The Queue is a very good dystopian novel, in the tradition of 1984, Brave New World or The Handmaid's Tale; it's clever and thought provoking. The kafkaesque absurdity of the totalitarian rule of a faceless dictatorship is extremely well described, as the struggle to keep leading normal lives under extreme circumstances, which is something I always find fascinating. The grim situation in Middle Eastern countries is indeed impressive, and one cannot but wonder how the sane people there can cope with sheer everyday insanity.

domingo, julho 31, 2016

Everything to Lose - Diaries 1945-1960, by Frances Partridge

This volume of Frances Partridge's Diaries is far less interesting than the one before, mostly because Bloomsbury, without Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Roger Fry and Maynard Keynes, became less and less interesting. Even so, I always liked to know "what happens next" in any story, so I'm curious to know what happened to the minor Bloomsbury characters, including Ralph Partridge etc. Besides, Frances herself had a keen and observant mind, her narrative is interesting in itself, as are many of her reflections and small portraits. So I don't think it was a waste of time to read it, and maybe I will still check the next volume.