Books: Gibraltar reading (part 2)

(Part one is here.)

The book: Scruffy, by Paul Gallico

The edition: Penguin paperback, 288 pages

About the book: a fictional account of ape history in Gibraltar during World War Two, of the people who cared for them, and of the efforts made to safeguard them. Includes an extremely misbehaved ape, a love story, two births, several deaths, a drunken pilot and a very big firework. (Can’t say more without spoilers, but hope it’s enough to pick your interest.)

My thoughts: hilarious. Probably the funniest book I read this year. No, really, you may think “it’s just an ape story, nothing much”, but it is a jewel! And it does something strange: it has characters that are at once stock figures, and very lively. I cannot explain it, because they are all mostly stereotypes, but still they really come to life through the page. Recommended? Definitely yes, go check it out this minute!

The covers you can find online are less pretty than the ones I have. Too bad the picture quality here is so bad 😦

The book: The Rock, by John Masters

The edition: Sphere paperback, 383 pages, including bibliography

About the book: this book is strange in format and hard to define: half history, half fiction. Each chapter includes historical information about a period of Gibraltarian history, followed by a fictional episode set in that period. The narrative is not continuous, although there are elements (especially families and their histories) that return again and again.

My thoughts: such a peculiar format is hard to make right. I don’t think the level is the same throughout the book, there are some parts that stick better than the rest, and I do have a small doubt about the accuracy of the non-fiction part. Still, as a whole it works very well, the author is a good narrator and history makes sense in his stories. Recommended.


Bottom line: two authors I want to read more from. If you know them, can you recommend any titles?

Books: little to say about these

Alternate title: it’s mini-review time!

The book: Lisbon – What the Tourist Should See by Fernando Pessoa

The edition: Italian translation by Luca Merlini, 65 pages, as published by Einaudi with an essay on modern-day Lisbon by Maria Teresa Bonafede and pictures by Gianmario Marras, total page count 115

My thoughts:  while it opened my eyes to a couple of things in Lisbon that I had never noticed before, this is nothing more than a dated guidebook. From such an author as Pessoa was, I expected something more, some poetic commentary or some inside knowledge or some social satire. Nothing of the kind.


The book: Stabat Mater by Tiziano Scarpa

The edition: Italian (original) edition as published by Einaudi, paperback, 144 pages, with a note by the author

My thoughts: you may have heard me praise Scarpa’s love song to Venice in Venice is a Fish, but that was the one and only book I had ever read by him up to now; this one, also a winner of a prestigious Italian award, was supposed to be at least as good. But I’m afraid I cannot say so. It is supposed to be a homage to the musical tradition of Venice, and especially to Vivaldi, but all I could see was the pointless and sometimes horrific meanderings of a man’s mind trying to come to terms with the female body. I mean, this is supposed to be the story of a girl on the brink of womanhood, but all the details of her dealing with this change and her body either made me laugh for how improbable they were (think: a girl having a nightmare about water and waking up to find her legs covered in blood from her first period — I have lost count of the male authors believing this is how it happens!) or made me sick with disgust (think: comparing the belly of a woman giving birth and the bubbles exploding in boiling water — and this is just the least example).


The book: The Sacred Night, by Tahar Ben Jelloun

The edition: French (original) edition, as published by Seuil, Points paperback, 189 pages

My thoughts: I read this for the Africa challenge, and because I hope to visit Morocco, and Ben Jelloun is said to be the author to start from. I’m afraid I have to say this one went right over my head, and I understood nothing of it. I guess it is intended to raise the subject of gender, and of identity, but it does so in a way that is completely different from anything I had read before. It’s a kind of magical realism, but full of symbols, and dreamlike details and events that may or may not be symbols, and I can’t say I know what most of them stand for. If you have read this and can help me understand, I’d really like to hear from you!


The book: Fables 11 – War and Pieces, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Niko Henrichon and Andrew Pepoy

The edition: Vertigo edition, 191 pages

My thoughts: this is the closing book for a cycle of the series, with most threads coming to an end. I already mentioned that I did not like the way this particular story (i.e. the Adversary) was being developed, and this may be the one book I liked the least. It read like some war movie, and that’s not a compliment. The series is still great, and I love it to pieces, but I’d have chosen another angle and another story altogether. Now that that is closed, I’m curious to read where the authors will bring us next!

Books: nonfiction fairy tales

As I have mentioned before, I have taken an interest in fairy tales and, as part of a personal reading goal, set off this year to read about them including retellings and nonfiction. Nonfiction took over recently with two (very different) reads on the subject.

Book #1: Tree and Leaf, by J.R.R. Tolkien

The edition: Italian edition published by Bompiani, 231 pages. It includes the original Tree and Leaf (“On Fairy Stories”, “Tree by Niggle” and the poem “Mythopoeia”), plus Smith of Wootton Major and The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth. Translation by Francesco Saba Sardi and Fabrizio Dubosc.

My thoughts: I am completely baffled by Tolkien’s nonfiction essay. The whole thing is way too theological for me, and full of scholarly references that I didn’t get. But the thing that baffles me is another one: Tolkien never wholly makes up his mind whether to consider fairies as real or not. At the beginning, I thought his references to the fairy folk were a kind of inside joke, but they were not, and I am left wondering. Because to me religion and fairy tales belong separately, being one real an one fantasy, I cannot agree with Tolkien’s views — and really wonder how it was possible for him to mix them up. Maybe he did believe in fairies after all.
There is just one thing I save: Smith of Wootton Major is a very nice and tender fairy tale and it made me think of Stardust.


Book #2: Morphology of the Folk-Tale, by Vladimir Propp

The edition: Italian edition, as published by Einaudi in Piccola Biblioteca (softcover), edited (and translated, I think) by Gian Luigi Bravo, 124 pages. The edition also includes a comment by Claude Levi-Strauss and a reply by Propp, but I didn’t read them this time.

My thoughts: I remember studying this theory as part of one of my courses at university, but it didn’t leave much of a memory. Reading it with a different attention and a different interest was, indeed interesting. On the other hand, this too was full of references, this time to Russian tales I had never heard before, and a bit too “technical” for my liking.

These two left me wanting. Have you read any good non-fiction about fairy tales? Please share in the comments!

Book: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

The book: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami

The edition: English translation by Philip Gabriel, Vintage Books paperback, 178 pages

About the book: to use the author’s own words, “a kind of memoir centered on the act of running”.

My experience with the book & my thoughts: beware: don’t read this book if you’re not interested in running. It came highly recommended by husband, who is a runner himself, and I can see how a memoir about running&writing would appeal to amateurs runners who struggle to fit their hobby in their too-crammed schedules. To me, the main merit of this book is its straightforward use of language, making it a light and quick read; and it’s always good to hear a novelist talk about his experience as a writer (which is also threaded into the book here, although it’s only a minimal part of it).
For the rest, it felt like Murakami wrote this collection of thoughts on running for himself (he even states so somewhere), and then it was published because, well, Murakami is a successful writer and any book by him would ensure good sales. In other words, it fell a bit flat for me.

In the author’s own words: most of what Murakami writes about writing is self-evident, but it’s still good to read (and applies to translators as well!):

In every interview I’m asked what’s the most important quality a novelist has to have. It’s pretty obvious: talent. No matter how much enthusiasm and effort you put into writing, if you totally lack literary talent you can forget about being a novelist. […]
If I’m asked what the next most important quality is for a novelist, that’s easy too: focus — the ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever’s critical at the moment. Without that you can’t accomplish anything of value, while, if you can focus effectively, you’ll be able to compensate for an erratic talent or even a shortage of it. […]
After focus, the next most important thing for a novelist is, hands down, endurance. If you concentrate on writing three or four hours a day and feel tired after a week of this, you are not going to be able to write a long work. What’s needed for a writer of fiction — at least one who hoes to write a novel — is the energy to focus every day for half a year, or a year, two years.

Read this if: if you are a(n amateur) runner, this is an interesting and easy read.

Counts as: Dewey Decimal challenge #1

Challenges and book clubs and read-a-longs, oh my!

Sorry for posting so little lately, it’s been an IRL whirlwind, and still is. But I’m still here and, guess what?, I’m ready to challenge myself some more. As if I had not over-committed already. Oh well, I cannot resist.

Earlier this year, I mentioned that I wanted to try read-a-longs. Alex directed me to, and I have to say that Wallace seems to be an extraordinary and extremely well-organized host. So I decided to take the step. Starting today, Unputdownables is hosting a 13-week read-a-long of Dickens’ Bleak House (follow the link for more information and sign-up).

I downloaded this as an e-book (it is also my first experience with my brand new Kindle) and hoping for no tech problems I am all ready to go. It’s been a while since my last Dickens book and I am looking forward to it, but even more so I am looking forward to the read-a-long experience. To say it all, it looks daunting… but I’m ready for the challenge 🙂

Speaking of which… I have a new postful of reading challenges to sign up for!

Remember how I was looking for a non-fiction challenge? This one, over at The Introverted Reader, may be the best one around. It lasts the whole year 2012, you can sign up any time, it features 4 levels and basically all you have to do is

Read any non-fiction book(s), adult or young adult. That’s it. You can choose anything. Poetry? Yes. Memoirs? Yes. History? Yes. Travel? Yes. You get the idea? Absolutely anything that is classified as non-fiction counts for this challenge.

Last year I read 4 non-fiction books, and I want to do better, so I’m signing up for the Explorer level, 6 to 10 books.

Kinna is hosting the Africa Reading Challenge. I discovered this through Alex and was tempted to follow her idea and read all Lusophone authors. Then I thought again, because I want to read some Francophone lit too. Aaaand, I still hope to visit South Africa sometime soon, so that comes into the equation for the Travel With Books Project. Anyway, the idea is to read 5 books by African authors in 2012. That’s it! I’m in.

I’ve seen this challenge around in the past, and never participated… but I think this is the right challenge for me. According to host Vasilly, a chunkster is 450 pages or more of adult literature, whether non-fiction or fiction. And because, as they say, I do like my books fat and chunky, here I am. I should probably sign up for level 4, but I couldn’t resist the name of level 3: “Do These Books Make my Butt Look Big?“, so I’m in for SIX Chunksters from the following categories: 2 books which are between 450 – 550 pages in length; 2 books which are 551 – 750 pages in length; 2 books which are GREATER than 750 pages in length.

And the Chunkster Challenge also has its own book club! The Chunky Book Club has a schedule of four reads this year. I am already late to participate in the first discussion, and I am not sure I will be able to read the other books in time, but I sure hope so!

That’s all (for now…). If you want to join any of these events, just click through!