June 29, 2013

Aesop's Fables

Title: Aesop's Fables
Author: Aesop
First published: 560 BC
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository

I'm sure this book doesn't need any introduction: the fables are so well-known that sometimes we even don't realize we use some phrase or epithet because of the genius of Aesop who first came with the idea of describing human nature through shortish moralistic stories.

I was well acquainted with the fables too, but mostly through Krylov's adaptations. He took some of the most famous of Aesop's plots and translated them to Russian in verse. Apart from that, he also chose not to write explicit morals in the end of each fable, and that sometimes changed their meaning completely. So for me reading Aesop was more like a comparative investigation than just reading.

I must confess some of the morals were unexpected in the least, and sometimes even annoying. I guess this is because so much time has elapsed between modern times and the time they were written. It is especially true concerning the fables dealing with celestial intervention. But then, some of the morals hit the nail into the head, and I laughed a lot at some situations, because they sooo reminded me of someone.. :)

I guess this is a book that can be enjoyable for readers of all ages and all cultures, as it is amazing in its simplicity and at the same time intricacy. That's why there have been so many translations and adaptations of the fables through ages. Now I want to buy a big beautiful book of Aesop's fables that will decorate the shelves and provide distraction in times of boredom.

June 28, 2013

Bartleby and Benito Cereno by Herman Melville

For the fourth week of The Fiction of Relationship course we had 2 short stories by Herman Melville: the well-known "Bartleby" and "Benito Cereno". Short stories call for short reviews, and that's what I'm going to do :)

Title: Bartleby, the Scrivener
Author: Herman Melville
First published: 1853
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This story just blew my head off. It doesn't have a closure, it doesn't have complicated multidimensional characters, and the plot is not realistic at all. However, it is full of meaning, conveyed mostly in form instead of content. This polite protest - "I would prefer not to" - is much more powerful than any demonstration. It shows the shallowness of defining a person according to his job and of making a job the only important thing in one's life. The overall craziness of the office setting adds to the surrealism of the story, and in the computer-infested, career-oriented life of nowadays "Bartleby" is as relevant as ever.

Title: Benito Cereno
Author: Herman Melville
First published: 1855
Add it: GoodreadsThe Book Depository

This novella reminds me a lot of Poe's stories: there is mystery and delusion, there is sea and this characteristic feeling of uneasiness building towards the revelation of the truth. Too bad that I figured out what's happening there too early, and the rest of the book I was just impatient with the reflexive, intricate, "Melvillish" writing. The book is great in terms of psychology, but I'd appreciate it being three times shorter anyway :) Especially as it definitely requires re-reading after you know the truth in order to see all the hints from the beginning.

June 26, 2013

Language Freak Summer Challenge: June Update

Hi, everybody! It's end of June already, and we're like half-way through the Language Freak Summer Challenge! So the question is...

We haven't had a lot of reviews this month, just two (unless I've missed yours, then please tell me so!). I hope this means you are all having a great time outside! Are you? :)

I've read one book in Czech and have started another one, which is actually not a book, but an anthology for literature classes in Czech schools. I'm especially interested in the sections about Czech literature, because where else do you find that kind of info? :) That leaves me with only one book in German to go to finish the challenge, but I hope to read more than the minimum! There are still 2 months left!

Two new participants have joined us  this month, so say hello to:
  1. Natalie @ Many Media Musings - French and maybe Arabic, Irish, or Scottish Gaelic
  2. Juleschka @ Buchlogbuch - Russian and maybe Croatian
  3. a hot cup of pleasure - Urdu

Don't forget, that you can find the list of all the participants in sign-up post, see the link on the top of the sidebar.

And here is the list of all the reviews we have so far:

Challenge reviews by language:

Det caribiske mysterium by Agatha Christie (Jean @ Howling Frog Books)



Harry Potter y la cámara secreta by J. K. Rowling (me)

There is still some time until the end of the month, so if you've read something in a foreign language and want to write about your experience, you still have time!

Good luck with your reading and see you in the end of July!

Radost pro duši by Margaret Silf

Title: Radost pro duši
Author: Margaret Silf
First published: 2003

This is my first book in Czech for Language Freak Summer Challenge, and here is a review for it! Also in Czech, of course! :)

"Radost pro duši" je kniha příběhů k zamyšlení nad životem a prostě k potěšení. Je rozdelená na 9 části vzhledem k tématům vyprávění.

První část se jmenuje "Osud", a většína z příběhů v této části je ve stylu národní mytologické tradice: hlavními postavami jsou zvířata, například larva, nebo neživé předměty, jako pramen a papír, které se avšak chovájí jako živé, nebo úplné divné postavy, jako panenka ze soli. Příběhy v této části se zabývají smyslem života, nadáním a poznáním.

Další části tak podrobně popisovat nebudu, protože jsem je četla moc rychle a nedařilo se mi někdy určit, jaky je základ rozdělení knihy na ty časti. Některé z přiběhů byly milé, ale většína se mi moc nelibila, protože jsou příliš filozofické a náboženské, což nemám ráda. A také většina z nich je ve stejném stylu, a to může unavit jakéhokoliv čtenáře.

Z pohledu češtiny je tato knížka úměrně náročna: gramatika je primitivní a lexicum se často opakuje. Je moc vhodná pro studium, protože příběhy jsou kratké a stačí i pár chvil na čtení.

June 23, 2013

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson

Title: Three Cups of Tea
Authors: Greg Mortenson, David Oliver Relin
First published: 2006
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository

Mortenson was an alpinist, who wanted to conquer K2, the killer mountain in Himalayas. He failed and got lost while descending. People form a poor mountainous village helped him to recover and gave him food and shelter. He promised to build a school for them, as the children were studying in the open air in any weather. The problem was that back in USA he worked as a nurse and didn't even have money to rent a flat. So living in his car and working night shifts, he started his campaign to find money for the school.

It is a very powerful story of how a man can change the world with his enthusiasm only. Mortensen started with a bridge and a school for the village where he lived after the descent from K2, but he soon realized that there are hundreds of villages in need of a school, and so his charity foundation grew. During the war with Taliban he also realized that schools can be the only way to save the world from terrorism, as children end up in extremist Muslim establishments only because they don't have any chance to go to a secular school.

What surprised me most was that Pakistan was not included in any charity programs just because its citizens are Muslim. The neighboring Nepal is also a poor mountainous country, earning money mostly from alpinists, but they are Buddhist, and so after Hillary tons of good things were done for its education and health care. But nobody did it for Pakistan, as some people just think that Muslim = Terrorist.

The book gives a vivid picture of life, culture and nature of Pakistan, and the history of its exploration. The style of writing is journalist-like, as it is non-fiction, and the book includes quite some facts, citations and photos. A great introduction to the region!

UPD: Jenny mentioned in the comments that there was some discussion about whether the facts in the book are correct or not, so I'm a bit confused now about the whole thing. I will not change the review, but for justice's sake I'll add these links here:

June 22, 2013

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Title: Jane Eyre
Author: Charlotte Brontë
First published: 1847
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository

This was a wonderful re-read for the third week of The Fiction of Relationship course. My love for this book can be traced back to my childhood. I guess I was about 10 when I first read it in translation, and then in my teens it was the first big and non-adapted book in English that I bought and read. Of course, I understood no more than 50% of it, and it took me two months to finish it, but the fact that I knew what it was about helped a lot.

This re-read was different, because I considered the book from the prism of a much broader literature and historical background and I saw much more in it as a result. I remember that during previous reads I was really pissed off with Jane for refusing to become Rochester's mistress (I know, I know, I didn't have really high moral standards, I admit :) ), because it seemed to me that love was the most important thing in the book, but now I looked deeper and saw all the feminist ideas about women's self-respect and right to accomplish something in their lives. This time it seemed impossible for Jane and Edward to be together unless they are equal not only in status but also in their attitude towards each other.

The pattern of Bildungsroman was also pretty obvious for me this time and I understood the importance of all the characters that Jane interacted with to the forming of her character. That's what differs this novel from other love stories - that it is not a love story at all. It is a story of coming in terms with one's self, of choices and of understanding what is one's way.

I also liked to notice traces of a Gothic novel in the story now that I know what it is. Jane's dreams and drawings, spirits, haunted manor, voices - this is all pretty classical, but it is not out of the place as it sometimes is. These things add to the atmosphere and beauty of the novel. If you try hard, you can also find fairy tale tropes in the story, especially in the childhood part of it. Come on, there is even an evil stepmother :)

Sometimes re-reading a book is even better than reading it for the first time, because you not only enjoy the plot and the writing, but you also observe how much you have changed in the time elapsed between the readings. And I'm happy to notice that I can read and understand books much better now than then. I feel kind of proud and accomplished because of this, but also a bit sad, as I don't have so much excitement in me now as I used to have. But this is life :)

June 18, 2013

Once Upon a Time VII Wrap-Up

Once Upon a Time challenge at Stainless Steel Droppings was a very nice event - no stress, but motivated me to pick up some great books. Now it is finished, and I want to recap what I have read for the challenge.

My goal was to complete Quest the First, that is simply to read 5 books falling somewhere into the categories, but I ended up completing Quest the Third, which means I not only read 5 books for the challenge (more in fact!), but I also read at least one book for each of the categories (fantasy, folklore, fairy tale, mythology) and topped it off with A Midsummer Night's Dream.

So here is what I read with the category I count it for in brackets:
  1. A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin (fantasy)
  2. Oedipus the King by Sophocles (mythology)
  3. The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett (fantasy)
  4. Mabinogion (folklore)
  5. Stardust by Neil Gaiman (fairy tale)
  6. Harry Potter y la cámara secreta by J. K. Rowling (fairy tale)
  7. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (fantasy)
  8. A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare (fairy tale)

The event was fun, and I will definitely participate in it in the years to come! Thanks for hosting it, Carl!

June 17, 2013

The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier

Title: The Lady and the Unicorn
Author: Tracy Chevalier
First published: 2003
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository

This review will be a short one, because the novel doesn't deserve much. It grieves me to think that this kind of book could make it to New York Times bestseller list. Where is people's taste? As for me, I selected the book for Around the World in 12 Books challenge, as it is set in Belgium - our May country. Moreover, I love the tapestries described in the book, and I think a much more amazing story could have been written about them.

So the 6 tapestries composing The Lady and the Unicorn set you can see below. They are really a masterpiece! The idea of the book was to describe the process of waiving them and expand the idea of the set, which is believed to represent 5 senses, by the supposition that each of the women on the tapestries meant something to the painter. The problem is that the author had fantasy for only 4 girls out of 6, and the relationships between the painter and the girls were... meh. Especially sex. Strange how people are attracted to this kind of writing, but I've mentioned it already, right? On the positive side, I think that Brussels and the process of waving are described quite accurately, so some research has undoubtedly taken place.

No more about the book, let's just enjoy the beautiful tapestries!






À Mon Seul Désir

June 15, 2013

Manon Lescaut by Antoine François Prévost

Title: Manon Lescaut
Author: Antoine François Prévost
First published: 1731
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository

Last week I started The Fiction of Relationship course (Check it out! It's great, and it's not late to join yet!) on Coursera, which requires reading a selected book each week and then watching wonderful lectures that analyse the current week material. The books are chosen to cover relationship not only in a narrow sense - love relationship in a pair, but also relationship in a wider perspective - relationship with the society, with oneself, etc.

Manon Lescaut is the first book on the course schedule, and it is also considered one of the first books of the romantic era in literature. It tells about passionate love of chevalier Des Grieux and Manon Lescaut, a lady of doubtful descent and behavior. Des Grieux is a bright student deemed to become an abbot, but when he meets Manon, she becomes the only important thing in his life, and he sinks lower and lower, becoming an idler and a gambler, always taking money from his friends, frequenting prisons and alienated from his family. He is ready to do anything to keep Manon, whatever the cost.

Manon, on the other hand, however strong she claims her love to Des Grieux to be, is more practical. She likes money and Paris nightlife, and the only way to get it all for her is to become a mistress of some rich gentleman. So not once does she leave Des Grieux for a new lover, and she doesn't see anything wrong with it. Her body is her currency, and what is important for her in her relationship with Des Grieux is "fidelity of the heart", not of the body. It's difficult for me not to think of her as a slut, but I try to look deeper. Anyway, she seems really devoted to Des Grieux in the end, and they even decide to marry.

The novel doesn't end happily, and it leaves more questions than answers. Like, was it really love? is it society that spoils pure feeling? how comes money is what sustains their love? This novel is very modern, as the "love triangle" between feelings, money and society still exists nowadays. After I watched the lectures and discussions I see that there is even more meat in this story, but a small review is definitely not enough for a big discussion. All in all, a very thought-provoking and interesting read, and a great beginning of the course!

Wicked Wildfire Read-A-Thon Wrap-Up

Last week I was participating in Wicked Wildfire Read-A-Thon, hosted by My Shelf Confessions, trying to read more than I usually do. It was fairly easy for me, as the semester has finished and besides I had some problems with sleeping this week, so some nights were very productive :) The read-a-thon was fun, I enjoyed writing updates and participation in challenges, so many thanks to the hosts!

And now to my progress: I finished 5 books this week, which is a lot!
Here are the titles: 

And I made some progress with other books, totaling up to 926 pages in a week! I'm rather proud of myself, hehe :)

So it was an enjoyable event, and I'll be participating in the next one, I hope!

June 13, 2013

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

Title: A Midsummer Night's Dream
Author: William Shakespeare
First published: 1596
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository

It's been a while since I participated in Let's Read Plays event because of exams, conference and other stuff. So A Midsummer Night's Dream was actually supposed to be an April read, but it seems even more timely now, in June, when summer solstice is approaching. I've also decided that I don't want the pressure of catching-up, so I'll skip Romeo and Juliet and An Ideal Husband which were re-reads anyway and start next month with a clean slate to fully enjoy The Seagull.

Now to the play itself. Remember me writing that I'm not actually enjoying Shakespeare's comedies because of rude and primitive jokes which are moreover nearly impossible to understand because of the language? Well, this is completely not true about this play, and I enjoyed every line of it. I guess that's thanks to the main topic of the jokes, which is theatrical business, the thing that Shakespeare knew very well and so could ridicule best.

As for the plot, there are three distinct story lines in the play. One is a love triangle, or rather quadrangle with twisted sides: two men in love with one woman; she loves one of them, but her father is supporting another, and the second girl is in love with the unwonted suitor. She wants to fight for her love, but, as she says:
We cannot fight for love, as men may do;
We should be woo'd and were not made to woo.
and it takes a love potion to set all this straight. The love potion comes from another cast of characters, fairy folk, who has their own story: Oberon and Titania, the king and the queen of the faerie, are having an argument about a servant and are eager to spite each other, for which Oberon sets up a plan of enamoring his wife with something repulsive. And someone suitable turns up, as one of the troop of common men rehearsing a play for the royal wedding in the same forest is half-turned into an ass by another fairy character Puck. So there is a lot of fun in the play, but everything ends well, and the poorly rehearsed play is performed at the celebration, accompanied by the most hilarious jests and commentaries as to the setting, the plot and the performing ever!

Some more lines that I liked in the play:
...reason and love keep little company together now-a-days;
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; 

And I'll finish with my favorite:
Lord, what fools this mortals be!

June 10, 2013

Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Bernard Nordhoff and James Norman Hall

Title: Mutiny on the Bounty
Authors: Charles Bernard Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
First published: 1932
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository

I guess most of you have heard about mutiny on H.M.S. Bounty, a tragic and probably the most renowned (after Cook's voyages, maybe) event in the history of South Seas exploration. Of course, I have heard of it, too, but without any particulars. This book provides a lot of them. Particulars, I mean. The novel, although fictitious, is based on the recollections of the sailors, ship logs and court records. Sometimes it imparts a somewhat dry style to the book, but also makes the account of the events very believable.

The story is told from the point of view of a young gentleman Byam, a novice at sea, invited to the voyage for the purpose of compiling a dictionary of Tahitian language. A protagonist which is a linguist! I love the idea :) He has some off-center ways of learning the language, like marrying a Tahitian woman, but still. The main purpose of the expedition, however, is not making of the dictionary, but collecting breadfruit trees with the view of their further cultivation in British India. Captain Bligh, a former companion of captain Cook, is a harsh and rude man, who believes that strict discipline is everything and never hesitates to severely punish somebody, often not going into if he is guilty or not. He is also suspected of food speculation, resulting in undernourishment of the crew, which is the least tolerable unfairness at sea. All this results in a mutiny, and as the mutineers take the ship, the loyal crew must leave it in a launch with the captain at the head of it.

Byam takes no part in the mutiny, but he is left behind on the ship with the mutineers due to restricted place in the launch, and is believed to be one of them by the captain, who overheard his dialogue with the mutiny leader the night before and misinterpreted it. Nobody expects the captain and his men to reach England safe, but they do. So a case is started against the mutineers at the Admiralty and a ship is sent to recover them from the South Seas and bring them home for trial and execution.

The novel is very good at showing different sides of life at sea, the causes and consequences of the mutiny and the severe marine law system at the time. The characters, however, are quite shallow, most of them are either good or bad, although it it justly shown how effective a harsh captain can be in case of emergency. I was also not quite satisfied with the description of Tahitians, they are shown as an idyllic race without any troubles and flaws, which was not really true. But the end of the golden age of Tahiti due to the destruction brought by the Europeans is really heartbreaking.

It is a very enjoyable book overall, but I'm sure I'd enjoy it better if I was an 11-year-old boy dreaming of sea adventures, without high expectations for complex characters and unpredictable endings. But still, it's definitely worth the time.

June 8, 2013

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Title: Good Omens
Authors: Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman
First published: 1990
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository

As a lot of people told me not to give up on Terry after The Color of Magic, I've decided to try something close, but not exactly the same, and ended up choosing Good Omens, a book recommended by nearly everybody I know. And I love Gaiman, by the way. The choice has proved to be a very sensible one, as I enjoyed the book very much and I don't hate Pratchett any more :)

So the book is about an Apocalypse, and a very badly organised one. Antichrist was misplaced on the day he appeared on Earth and now nobody knows where to find him, while an angel and a demon, who happen to be friends, are trying to stop the Apocalypse altogether because they rather like it here on the Earth. And there is a book of prophesies of Agnes Nutter, witch, who saw everything that will happen, and a strange organisation of Witchfinders, and the four horsemen of Apocalypse, and four children who just play their games in a small village in Oxfordshire. Then it all gets wonderfully mixed up and spiced up with jokes and footnotes (which are the funniest part), and results in a pretty amazing book.

Biblical tradition is a good source of jokes in itself, but there are also a lot of jests about human ways, stereotypes, etc. I giggled a lot while reading it, which caused a lot of unpleasant looks from my neighbors on a night trans-Atlantic plane. It all got a bit too philosophical for my taste in the end, but one can endure it for the sake of fun.

I guess I saw a film once which was also about two angels doing some crazy stuff on Earth, and it also had Metatron, some other biblical characters and the end of the world. I guess the director found the inspiration for it in Good Omens. I'm mentioning the film here because I think it'd be pretty amazing to have Good Omens adapted for the screen, I think it will make an amazing movie. But the script must be written by Gaiman himself. He writes scripts, anyway :)

BTW, the amazing Coursera Fantasy and Sci Fi book club will be discussing Good Omens tomorrow. They are great guys, always choosing something nice to read. Welcome to join!

June 7, 2013

Wicked Wildfire Read-A-Thon Sign-Up And Updates

Today I've passed my last exam, and I feel free and happy and I want to read more! ;) That's why I'm signing for Wicked Wildfire Read-A-Thon! From 7.06 to 14.06 I'll try to read as much as I can, and I hope to catch up on my challenges a bit.

I'll post all my daily updates here.

Friday 7.06
Pages read today: 79 + 60 + 25 = 164
From the following books: Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman; Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell; Radost pro duši (in Czech; original - One Hundred Wisdom Stories) by Margaret Silf.
Books finished today: Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.
Total pages count: 164
Total books finished: 1

Saturday 8.06
Pages read today: 77
From the following books: Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Bernard Nordhoff, James Norman Hall.
Books finished today: -
Total pages count: 241
Total books finished: 1

Sunday 9.06
Pages read today: 35 + 57 = 92
From the following books: Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Bernard Nordhoff, James Norman Hall; A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare.
Books finished today: Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Bernard Nordhoff, James Norman Hall; A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare.
Total pages count: 333
Total books finished: 3

Monday 10.06
Pages read today: 80
From the following books: Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost
Books finished today: -
Total pages count: 413
Total books finished: 3

Tuesday 11.06
Pages read today: 80
From the following books: Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost
Books finished today: Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost
Total pages count: 493
Total books finished: 4

Wednesday 12.06
Pages read today: 49 + 32 = 71
From the following books: Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell; One Thousand and One Nights.
Books finished today: -
Total pages count: 574
Total books finished: 4

Thursday 13.06
Pages read today: 237 + 52 = 289
From the following books: The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier; Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.
Books finished today: The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier
Total pages count: 863
Total books finished: 5

Friday 14.06
Pages read today: 63
From the following books: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.
Books finished today: -
Total pages count: 926
Total books finished: 5

June 5, 2013

The Great Gatsby by Francis Scott Fitzgerald

Title: The Great Gatsby
Author: Francis Scott Fitzgerald
First published: 1925
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository

It took me a while to sit down and write a review for this book, not because I had a lot happening in my life, but also because I'm still not sure how I feel about it. I think it deserves a proper re-read some day, but it needs to be a gloomy autumn day, with heavy rain preferably.

The book tells about Gatsby, a literally self-made man. He is of a poor family, but craves for rich, sparkling life full of pleasure and he is not picky when it comes to the means of reaching it. He attracts people, but nobody actually knows the real him, and he is inevitably always alone in the world he has imagined for himself. His love, or rather obsession with Daisy, although very strong, is also only half real and half the ideal feeling he wants it to be. He is sure he is her only love and just can't imagine there was time when she loved her husband. I think he has never really allowed for it and never actually believed it.

Although the book is mostly about Gatsby and is even titled accordingly, he doesn't appear in person until the middle of the book, and is killed long before the end. I think he takes part in the narrative only half of the time, and all the other time the reader is given just the rumors and opinions about him. I like this technique very much, as it shows how little a person means in himself and how big part of the personality is created by public opinion and surroundings.

There is a lot of tragedy in the book, but most of it is behind scenes, it's in the way of life or rather in the way of killing the time of one's life shown in the book, which was so common in the certain social circles at that time. Through the flow of narrative the reader can feel uselessness and pointlessness of the events and deeds in the book, and it leaves a most bitter feeling after finishing the book.

I'm going to watch the new movie as soon as it's available on DVD, and I hope this adaptation will be true to the book, especially in the mood and atmosphere. We'll see!

June 4, 2013

The One With Photos

Hi everybody! I've just come back home after a day-long flight from Vancouver, where I was for the conference. Needless to say, I love the city! And I have two photos for you! First one is of me and the city (forgive me the quality, the camera in my phone is really crappy):

And the second one is my loot from Vancouver bookshops:

Unlike any normal girl, these were practically the only shops I visited, and they were amazing!

I'm hoping to get back to normal reading and blogging soon. I still have a Gatsby review to write, and I'm finishing Good Omens and Mutiny on the Bounty. So see you soon!

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