Monday, 20 November 2017

"The Street of Crocodiles" by Bruno Schulz

Title: "The Cinamon Shops" - originally, "The Street of Crocodiles" - translated.
Author: Bruno Schulz
Genre: Poetic/philosophical literature
Overall: 6/10

In The Cinnamon Shops, Bruno Schulz describes in fantastical, mythologized terms the cloth merchant's shop where he grew up and the bizarre antics of his father, such as turning the attic into an aviary and expounding strange theories on mannequins. Two sides of the Galician town of Drohobycz are seen: the old town full of ancient mystery is contrasted with newer districts that have sprung up in response to oil mining in the area. The Street of Crocodiles is a street of memories and dreams where recollections of Bruno Schulz's uncommon boyhood and of the eerie side of his merchant family's life are evoked in a startling blend of the real and the fantastic. Most memorable - and most chilling - is the portrait of the author's father, a maddened shopkeeper who imports rare birds' eggs to hatch in his attic.

Jo's review:
An ambivalent approach is needed when you're reading this book. There are moments when characters' naive and comically erotic behaviours make you laugh and feel indulgent and then shortly after that, there are sharp metaphors that force you to think about the meaning of existence. This book is a poetic journey into the depths of the imagination, to the places where the real becomes unreal, where ugliness becomes beauty, where consciousness becomes dreams. And vice versa. To be honest, it's a difficult and demanding read. That's usually how it is with philosophy. To me, the most captivating thing about this story is Schulz's language style. Luminous writing, words used as ornaments, beautiful metaphors, descriptions that make you see all the colours and scents.

Favourite quotes:
"What swift and fantastic flights cutting the air into packs of magic cards, sprinkling thick flakes of azure, of peacock and parrot green, of metallic sparkle, drawing lines and flourishes in the air, displaying coloured fans which remained suspended, long after flight, in the shimmering atmosphere."

“Reality is as thin as paper, and betrays with all its cracks its imitative character.”

“On Saturday afternoons I used to go for a walk with my mother. From the dusk of the hallway, we stepped at once into the brightness of the day. The passerby, bathed in melting gold, had their eyes half-closed against the glare, as if they were drenched with honey, upper lips were drawn back, exposing the teeth. Everyone in this golden day wore that grimace of heat–as if the sun had forced his worshippers to wear identical masks of gold. "

“On that night the sky laid bare its internal construction in many sections which, like quasi-anatomical exhibits, showed the spirals and whorls of light, the pale-green solids of darkness, the plasma of space, the tissue of dreams.” 

Friday, 17 November 2017

"The Plague" by Albert Camus

Title: The Plague
Author: Albert Camus
Genre: Philosophical literature
Overall: 10/10

A gripping tale of human unrelieved horror, of survival and resilience, and of the ways in which humankind confronts death, The Plague is at once a masterfully crafted novel, eloquently understated and epic in scope, and a parable of ageless moral resonance, profoundly relevant to our times. In Oran, a coastal town in North Africa, the plague begins as a series of portents, unheeded by the people. It gradually becomes an omnipresent reality, obliterating all traces of the past and driving its victims to almost unearthly extremes of suffering, madness, and compassion. 

Jo's review:
This story is as in-depth as Mariana Trench. Parabolic literature requires intellect, empiricism, philosophy. Albert Camus defined the term plague with several meanings. Fatal disease. War. Hidden evil in humankind. But most of all, it's a story that shows different behaviors in the face of danger. There are the cowards, the heroes, the ones who fight, the ones who pray for survival, the ones who try to escape, and finally those who, by accepting the inevitable death, want to make the most of the last moments of life. This novel proves that people can never truly tell how they would react in tragic situations. And it's not only a story of a contagious disease, it's a story of contaminated minds that accept a state in which nothing is dependent on them. It was the first "serious literature" read I have ever done. I was barely 14 when I first read it and ever since that time I've been referring to this novel as a basis for philosophical essays. Mon Dieu. This is a piece of a true literary artistry.

Favourite quotes:
“There are more things to admire in men than to despise.” 

"The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance."

“But memory is less disposed to compromise.”

Thursday, 16 November 2017

"Chanel: The Enigma" by Isabelle Fiemeyer

Title: Chanel: The Enigma
Author: Isabelle Fiemeyer
Genre: Biography 
Overall: 8/10

This new biography offers unprecedented insight into Coco Chanel’s complex and enigmatic life and features previously unpublished information and images. Coco Chanel continues to beguile more than two decades after her death; her life and work are a source of enduring fascination. Chanel expert Isabelle Fiemeyer unveils the mysteries that have surrounded the private and public figure by piecing together new research with accounts from Chanel’s intimate friends and relatives, artists, writers, photographers, directors, actors, and those who worked with her inside the House of Chanel.She describes Chanel’s carefully crafted persona and then gradually unveils each layer of mystery that surrounded the great fashion designer to reveal the woman behind the intrigue. While Chanel was sometimes reviled and vilified, this account offers fresh revelations about her life. The handsome volume includes photographs and previously unpublished material, including new documents from the wartime period.

Jo's review:
I have stumbled upon this book circling around the university library. They didn't have the marketing book I needed for uni and I still don't know how I ended up in a fashion studies section. I love reading biographies of inspirational people and Chanel is definitely one of them. This isn't a typical biography though, it's more of an insight of the source of Coco's genius, it explains were all her ideas came from. Reading through the chapters you discover how the legend was created and developed. The origin of double C, the vision of a little black dress that would suit every occasion, the idea behind the perfume that brought her fortune and became a synonym of women's fragrance. It's mind blowing how one woman started a revolution, how she freed women from the prison of conventions. This book also describes extremely pure and loyal relationship with her friends for whom she lived for. All of them were artists, like Dali, Cocteau or Reverdy, and they all adored her charm and magnetism. When I came across this book I thought it might be a typical coffee table book, which is more of a decoration you flick through when bored. But I'm so glad I've given it a try, it was purely inspirational!

Favourite quotes:
"Sometimes Coco Chanel's tragic grandeur contains elements of quiet simplicity."

"She undressed men to dress herself with their power."

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" by William Shakespeare

Title: A Midsummer Night's Dream
Author: William Shakespeare
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy
Overall: 5/10

Shakespeare's intertwined love polygons begin to get complicated from the start--Demetrius and Lysander both want Hermia but she only has eyes for Lysander. Bad news is, Hermia's father wants Demetrius for a son-in-law. On the outside is Helena, whose unreturned love burns hot for Demetrius. Hermia and Lysander plan to flee from the city under cover of darkness but are pursued by an enraged Demetrius (who is himself pursued by an enraptured Helena). In the forest, unbeknownst to the mortals, Oberon and Titania (King and Queen of the faeries) are having a spat over a servant boy. The plot twists up when Oberon's head mischief-maker, Puck, runs loose with a flower which causes people to fall in love with the first thing they see upon waking. Throw in a group of labourers preparing a play for the Duke's wedding (one of whom is given a donkey's head and Titania for a lover by Puck) and the complications become fantastically funny.

Jo's review:
I struggled with this book. I have never really had a problem with Shakespeare's language, but this is a difficult read. And I must admit, my least favourite of his works. Hamlet is one of my favourite stories, Antony and Cleopatra was fantastic, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Othello were all a solid 7. But with A Midsummer Night's Dream I feel...insufficiency. Maybe that's because it's a comedy and nobody dies. A very dark thought, but it has proved to be right in my case before. I simply prefer tragedies. What I liked though, was the mix of dreams and reality in the plot, I always like a bit of onirism in literature.  In the play, there are three, or rather four pairs, each of them are linked by a specific type of love, attraction or lust. Elves, fairies and magical creatures intervene in the world of humans on the night of the summer solstice, on the night when everything can happen. I plan to read this play again next Summer because it might be a bit more adequate time to feel the atmosphere of this story...

Favourite quotes:

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”

“Though she be but little, she is fierce!” 

“And sleep, that sometime shuts up sorrow's eye, Steal me awhile from mine own company.”

Friday, 10 November 2017

"A Scone To Die For" - H.Y.Hanna

Title: A Scone To Die For (Oxfrod Tearoom Mystery - Book 1)
Author: H.Y. Hanna
Genre: Cozy Mystery 

When an American tourist is murdered with a scone in Gemma Rose’s quaint Oxfordshire tearoom, she suddenly finds herself apron-deep in a mystery involving long-buried secrets from Oxford’s past. Armed with her insider knowledge of the University and with the help of four nosy old ladies from the village (not to mention a cheeky little tabby cat named Muesli), Gemma sets out to solve the mystery—all while dealing with her matchmaking mother and the return of her old college love, Devlin O’Connor, now a dashing CID detective. 

Jo's Review:
The cat named Muesli. That's the main reason I chose to read this book. Let me start by saying that I love cozy mysteries. Actually, I love everything cozy, especially at this time of year. For me, the thing with cozy mysteries is that I know the answer to the mystery halfway through the book but I don't mind because the story is extremely comforting. I needed a break from the heavy - Shakespeare and Tolstoy who have become my close friends over Spring and Summer. The story takes place in a tearoom with the best sticky toffee pudding in Oxford. The main character runs her small tea business, tries to deal with importuning mother, wants to have a fresh start a second life chance. And then she finds a dead body and starts her own investigation. Oh, and her ex is back in town (so there's some romantic background to this book as well). It's an easy, cozy read. And the fact that I only moved to the UK 2 months ago only made my experience with this book more pleasant and atmospheric. 

Favourite quotes:
"I'd opened three weeks ago, just at the beginning of October and the start of Michaelmas Term (a fancy name for the first term in the school year; hey, this is Oxford - at least it wasn't in Latin)"

"Muesli, I'm going to kill you! No, I don't have an abnormal hatred of cereals. Muesli is a cat and, like all cats, she delights in doing the exact opposite of what you want."

"How like an Englishman to make an understatement about everything. A brutal murder was reduced to 'the bit of unpleasantness'. I suppose the British newspapers reported the sinking of Titanic as a 'regrettable excursion'."

Overall: 7/10

Monday, 6 November 2017

"The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern.

Title: The Night Circus.
Author: Erin Morgenstern.
Genre: Fantasy

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night. But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway - a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love - a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands. 

Jo's review:
This book is oneiric. Dreamy. It's a feast for the imagination. It's one of those books that haunt you after you finish the last page, because its magic gets stuck in your soul, in your thoughts, in your memory. It's a book that does what every good book does - creates a world you want to sink into. World of black and white tents, red ribbons, stardust, tales, wishes, dreams, secrets, love and caramel apples. It's written in rich and enticing prose. I love the fact that the Circus is a background for a few stories told from the perspective of a few characters. Their fates are connected together, and the Circus is an arena where their stories reach the zenith. In brief, this book is pure magic. And my new favourite.

Favourite quotes:
“I have been surrounded by love letters you two have built each other for years, encased in tents.” 

“I would have written you, myself, if I could put down in words everything I want to say to you. A sea of ink would not be enough."

“There is so much that glows in the circus, from flames to lanterns to stars. I have heard the expression “trick of the light” applied to sights within Le Cirque des Reves so frequently that I sometimes suspect the entirety of the circus is itself a complex illusion of illumination."

Thursday, 2 November 2017

"Feminist Fight Club" by Jessica Bennett

Title: Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace
Author: Jessica Bennett

Feminist Fight Club provides an arsenal of weapons for surviving in an unequal world. You will learn how to fight micro-aggressions, correct unconscious bias, deal with male colleagues who can't stop 'manterrupting' or 'bro-propriating' your ideas - and how to lean in without falling the f*ck over. Every woman needs this book - and they needed it yesterday.

Jo's review:
This book is amazing. It's a serious research on sexism and unconscious bias in the workplace written in an extremely funny way. Empowering, motivating and hilarious. There are six chapters and each and every one of them is filled with smart advice on how to fight with patriarchy and stereotypes. The book is packed with relatable anecdotes, possible scenarios and their realistic solutions. Every working woman would profit from reading "Feminist Fight Club", I feel like the chapter about negotiation is, hands down, the best piece of advice about negotiation I've ever got. The same goes for the chapter about learning to speak up. It would make a great gift to literally every working woman. It's a quick read but I'm sure I'll keep coming back to it for reference.

Favourite part:
"There is no right way to read this bookRead it front to back, open it in the middle, or treat it like a cookbook: flip to the sections you like best, write in the margins, take notes in the back, tear out pages, or slide them underneath your boss's door. The goal is to provide you with battle tactics: simple, easy to follow, effective tricks for combating sexist, subtly sexist and sometimes just oblivious behaviors that exist in even our most progressive offices."

Saturday, 28 October 2017

"Belle's Library" by Brittany Rubiano.

Title: Belle's Library: A collection of literary quotes and inspirational musings.
Author: Britanny Rubiano+a foreword by Linda Woolverton
Genre: Fantasy


Disney's Belle is one of the best fictional bookworms around. But what exactly is on her reading list? In this unique literary journal, enjoy inspiring quotes from some of Belle's favorite books, as well as her insightful notes and colorful drawings.

Jo's review
Belle was my childhood hero. She was a bookworm and a feminist, filled with kindness and courtesy. She was smart and beautiful, not beautiful and then smart. She wanted to see the world and leave her little town. Belle simply wanted something more. She even wore a dress in my favourite colour. So it is only right to start my library overview with this particular book. A book that is supposed to be my childhood hero's personal journal filled with her reading lists, favourite quotes, and deep thoughts. This is a beautiful book. Every page has fairy-tale-like illustrations. On the left, there is a quote and Belle's reflection on the right. Most of the quotes are from various works of Shakespeare, Cervantes, Moliere, Swift, and Homer. It's a quick and easy read, but it has this Beauty&the Beast-like vibe to it that makes it wonderfully magical. You really feel like Belle's is walking you through her personal library and - may I say - she has a great taste in literature. 

Favourite quotes:

"Fine feathers don't make fine birds." - Aesop.
"We'll let time knit these gentle ties between us." - Moliere.
"For there is no book so bad it has something good in it" - Cervantes.