Saturday 25 December 2010

Laurent Gounelle and Dieu Voyage Toujours Incognito

In the spirit of Christmas, one of the most sacred Christian holidays, I wil talk about God today. Most specifically, about God, who always travels incognito. I am not a passionate Christian; in fact I rarely go to a church. I do not believe in God in the religious sense; yet I believe in the power of the human mind. I believe that God dwells in us as us (as Elizabeth Gilbert said in her Eat Pray Love). All we have to do is find that inner strength of ours and apply it. Sometimes, though, people need a bit of help. And that is when God appears in the most unexpected ways.And as Laurent Gounelle points out, Dieu Voyage Toujours Incognito.

Laurent Gounelle managed to become one of my most favorite authors with exactly two books. Both focused on the spiritual search of happiness and stability; both featuring the difficult, yet incredible paths one must travel to reach one's dreams. In Dieu Voyage Toujours Incognito (God Travels Always Incognito) Alen Greenmore is a 24-years-old desperate man on the verge of a suicide. Grown up without a stable father figure, trapped in a job he doesn't like, and left by his beloved girlfriend, Greenmore doesn't see any reason to continue living. He decides to commit suicide in the most "fashionable" Parisian way - jumping off the Eiffel Tower. That is when he meets God (or in his case an old man), who offers him a deal. The stranger promises to save Alen's life in exchange of the man's strict subordination. Alen starts the journey of his life, trying to overcome his fears and to transform himself into a confident and stable individual. The tasks given by the stranger seem easy; however they affect the weakest aspects of Alen's character, prompting him to take risks, to realize his own potential, and to bravely follow his dreams. Who is this old man and what is his motive behind helping Greenmore? Gounelle gives the actual answer at the end of the book and the spiritual one in its title.

Gounelle, a writer and a psychologist, continues the amazing trend set by L'Homme Qui Voulait Etre Heureux. While his first literary piece was short and more philosophical, the second one resembles more a novel. Still, the author adresses the metaphysical questions of stability, inner piece, and happiness. In a unique and enthralling way Gounelle presents us with a story of a human quest towards self-understanding. Lately, I am more and more into philosophical books and I am exploring different cultures and nations. So far Gounelle's style is the closest to my character. I just love the simple and understandable way in which the author tracks the changes in his characters. Greenmore transforms from a weak and insecure man into a mature and strong individual. His meeting with "God" helps him discover his potential. It makes him more confident in approaching other people, in defending his opinions, and in following his dreams. After all, that is what all of us attempt to do.

Going back to the subject of God and Christianity, I must admit I believe in God. I believe in that person (whether it is someone else, or I myself) who will be there for me to help me and take me down the right path. So far, there are no suitable candidates so the strength is left to myself. It is good though that I have the help of my books on the way. In fact, I liked Gounelle's novel so much that I decided to follow the strange man's advice. As if I am Alen Greenmore on the top of the Eiffel Tower and I meet my God, who takes me on a journey. The only thing missing is love.

Thursday 23 December 2010

Robert Langdon Searches for the Lost Symbol

I was a bit skeptical when I started reading Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. Having read The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons (and subsequently having seen both movies) I didn't think there was anything that Mr. Brown could write that is worth reading. After all, both of the above novels are essentially the same - they feature the recurring themes of symbols, keys, cryptography, hidden secrets, secret societies, etc. I admit that Dan Brown has a great imagination and an enthralling style of writing but still, I do not wish to read the same thing over and over again.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by The Lost Symbol. Of course, you can immediately tell who the writer is. Robert Langdon, the clever Harvard professor of symbology is again trapped in a chase-and-run situation, in which he has to solve the mystery of the lost Mason symbol and unlock the ancient secrets. Whoever possesses these ancient secrets, possesses the greatest knowledge in the world. The stake is the life of the greatest Mason and Langdon's friend and mentor Peter Solomon. There is the absolutely crazy antagonist, who is obsessed with weird Christian rituals and is determined to stop the world from acquiring this knowledge and to pray himself a sacrifice. At the end in a typical American manner good conquers common sense, the ancient secrets are revealed (you will be surprised here) and the "bad guy" is punished.

Still, The Lost Symbol is an enthralling reading, which you cannot leave until you have read it cover to cover. Brown has this manner of posing questions and giving answers several chapters ahead. Where he poses another question, which absolutely leaves you no choice but to keep reading. And of course, you keep asking yourself "What could these ancient secrets possibly be that they give their owner access to the ultimate knowledge?" Having in mind that Brown's literature may be exaggerated but it is never fantastical, this question becomes even more itching throughout the novel. I simply couldn't go to sleep without finding out. At the end, as with all complex ideas, the answer is pretty simple. I will not spoil the fun for those of you who haven't read it but I am more than sure nobody thought of that interpretation.

As a whole, The Lost Symbol is hardly a masterpiece. But, the author doesn't even attempt it to be so. It is just a thriller novel, which demonstrates Brown's extensive knowledge about secret societies, Christianity, and history. It is worth taking time to read it. Bear in mind, even though the author claims at the beginning that all societies and symbols are real, after all this is fiction. Even if you wished there were hidden treasures and symbols all over Washington (and Paris for that matter) I sincerely doubt it.

PS: The greatest disadvantage of having seen the Hollywood adaptions is that I kept picturing Tom Hanks while reading about Robert Langdon. Spoils the experience a little bit.

Thursday 16 December 2010

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway is a big name in American (and in world) literature. He is one of those authors of whom you have most definitely heard a million of times and you think you must have read something by him. I thought so too but it turned out I hadn't. While searching through my library and looking for a book I haven't read I saw three heavy volumes by Ernest Hemingway. That is when it hit me - I hadn't read anything by him and I didn't have even the slightest idea about his writing style. Having to correct this error, I started with For Whom the Bell Tolls

The novel tells the story of Robert Jordan, an American attached to a republican guerrilla in the Spanish Civil War. He is assigned to blow up a bridge during the attack of the city of Segovia and thus stop the offense of the enemy's troops. In this case, the enemies are the Fascist (having in mind of course that the year is 1939, a little bit before the beginning of World War II). For Whom the Bell Tolls comprises exactly 4 days and 3 nights, throughout which Jordan together with several Spanish partizans prepares the blowing of the bridge.

Hemingway wrote the novel in Cuba in 1940 inspired (or should we say disillusioned) by the outcome of the Spanish Civil War. In 1939 Madrid falls under Fascist rule and Hemingway exclaims: "There is nothing left for me to do but write". And indeed he does. The events in the novel are inspired by the author's own experiences in the Spanish Civil War.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls the author discusses the theme of death, and especially the theme of sacrifice for the greater good. The protagonist, Robert Jordan, and the other partisans are faced with a difficult task, which will most probably lead to their death. The story is told from a third person point-of-view but throughout it we get acquainted with Jordan's feelings and thoughts about war and sacrifice. The protagonist is faced with an awful choice - he has just met the love of his life Maria in the partisan's group but he knows he is meant to finish up his mission. Jordan realizes he has experience the peak of his life by spending several days with Maria. An interesting trivia fact is that the relationship between the two is claimed to be one of the greatest love stories written in the 20th century. When you get acquainted with the novel, though, you will find that the way Robert and Maria talk is strange - their conversations are characterized by an extensive use of archaisms and medieval way of talking. You will hardly expect people in the 20th century to talk that way. Yet, Hemingway amazingly portrays this love story in the middle of war, violence, and death. Suicide, the alternative of being captured and tortured is considered weakness by Jordan, mainly because his father committed suicide. Jordan considers him a coward but at the end of the novel injured in the face of the enemy Robert makes one last desperate attempt to contribute to the cause and then kill himself. The author does an amazing job in depicting brave and strong men, who faced with death act with dignity and sense of purpose for a greater cause.

Hemingway faces both appraises and criticisms for his novel. Some accuse him of being a communist, while others claim it to be among his greatest works. Understandably, he is nominated for a Pulitzer price in 1940 but the award is never given. The title is rather interesting and deserves mentioning. For Whom the Bell Tolls is a citation by John Donne. What's more, initially Hemingway wrote two more chapters to describe what happens to the guerilla and the generals that attacked Segovia. Later, the author chose to delete them and instead finish off with the destiny of Robert Jordan, the main protagonist.

I quite enjoyed For Whom the Bell Tolls. Even though it is a war story (and I am not particularly fond of war stories) Hemingway's style is easy and enchanting to read. And he is definitely a must-read author, whom I will continue to explore.

Saturday 11 December 2010

Laurent Gounelle Teaches Us How to be Happy

My quest for self-understanding and happiness continues and it takes me again to Bali. Laurent Gounelle's The Man Who Wanted to be Happy is the first book I bought from the Sofia Book Market. It is only 130 pages, which I read for exactly 4 hours. I couldn't let go of the book, I was a human possessed. Gounelle's style is simple and easy to follow. The book is a light reading on a very difficult issue - the issue of individual happiness.

Laurent Gounelle is a famous French writer and psychiatrist. He has travelled the world, meeting with different people to discuss the problem of human behavior and balance. It is safe to say that his novel is as close to an autobiography as it can possibly be. L'Homme Qui Voulait Etre Heureux (I just love the French title) combines a novelist story with popular psychology to arrive at a story that is familiar to each and every one of us. After all, the quest for happiness is why we live on Earth. Many people though mistakenly believe they are happy because they possess material goods that society claims to be vital. Gounelle shows us that true happiness can be achieved only when an individual acts according to his or her moral principles. In that way and in that way only happiness and balance will become an integral part of our life.

The protagonist is spending a few weeks in Bali, when he decides to meet with a popular local healer. Even though his health is in good shape, Julian is not happy. He has been trapped in the reality of his perceptions and beliefs, which interrupts his ability to be content. The healer invites him on journey of self understanding, which shows to the American tourist that the world he has come to percept is not real. What's more, the way he percepts himself affects his relationships and his successes.

Gounelle uses simple examples to illustrate the main flaws of contemporary society. People tend to believe something about themselves, which is often destructive and unreal. Whether they believe they are beautiful or ugly, boring or interesting, thin or fat, these beliefs tend to shape their reality. People start perceiving the world according to this modified reality of theirs. This tendency to believe fallacies about ourselves may be caused by a troubled childhood, by problems with friends and relatives, or by several failures.Through several straightforward examples and stories the healer changes Julian's view of the world. He shows him that reality depends on your attitude towards it. If people are positive and happy, they tend to see the beauty of the world around them. If they are scared and suspicious, this will affect negatively their relationship with others and with the world.

I really loved Gounelle's novel because of the simple way the author describes all these ideas. I came to the understanding that I know all of these staff but in reality I fail to apply them. I lack to a large extent confidence in myself, which badly affects the way I behave towards other people. I am mostly negative and thus I tend to notice only the problems in my life. That is why I fail to see how many things I need to be grateful for and I mistakenly claim life to be terrible and unfair. This simply theory of how to be happy is not so simple to apply. What I (and people in general) need to do is change my attitude. I remember last summer, when I was positive and inspired. I liked communicating with people and I wanted improve my skills and to meet new people when I was an intern. Thus, my whole summer was a paradise, where I achieved what I wanted and I liked my life. Similarly, the following year I had some issues and I started perceiving everything in gray colors. I was disappointed by my failures and I believed I will always fail. Thus, I saw only my issues and I hated my life.

Simple, isn't it? In The Man Who Wanted to be Happy Gounelle shares this amazing story to show the individual that he/she is the only barrier to his/her own happiness. Gounelle claims that the only way to find balance with yourself is to follow your dreams and to act according to your morals. Whenever you feel down, remember, that your thoughts and your beliefs shape your life and not the other way around.

In The Man Who Wanted to be Happy the setting of this quest for self understanding is again Bali. Just like in Eat Pray Love. I am seriously thinking that the first place I will visit when I have the resources will be indeed Bali. I just long to touch this spirituality myself and to feel what many writers have felt themselves. Maybe even I can then write a novel about my journey. Hopefully towards understanding who I am and what I want so that I can finally be happy.

Thursday 9 December 2010

Committed - The Disappointing Sequel of Eat Pray Love

Why is it that the moment a nobody author accidentally writes a besteller, he or she immediately decides to continue in the same direction with the given bestseller's sequel? Is it some king of diluted self-confidence? Is it all about money and fame? Or is it something else?

I do not know the answer but I do know one thing - the sequels for such bestsellers are more or less absolute distaster. Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert is a very good example of that. After the amazing Eat Pray Love, which became every woman's guide towards pleasure and devotion, which make females around the world believe in themselves and in their right for happiness, Gilbert ruined all that great work with her sequel. Committed is by far (and I am not exaggerating here) the worst piece of non-fiction (and fiction for that matter) that I have read for a long time. I adored Eat Pray Love and I was amazed by Gilbert's style, sense of humour, and originality. That is why I didn't hesitate to order the sequel. Worst money spent ever. I want them back.

In Committed the reader meets Liz and her lover Felipe two years after they became a couple. Felipe is refused entry in the USA and the only way to get pass the Homeland Security regulations is for them to get married. Skeptical about marriage (as we learn in the first book), Gilbert decides to investigate the topic and "find peace with it". I hope she did, but I couldn't find any peace with her writing. I was just irritated and disappointed.

Committed is basically a trivia about marriage. Elizabeth Gilbert pours out an enormous amount of information about marriage, its history, its customs, and its traditions. Finally (how useful) she gets to the conclusion that after all marriage is not that bad. She twists information and data to make it work for her case, she scores points for and against marriage, but at the end she is forced to get married by law, whether she likes it or not. It seems to me as the popular fable about the fox and the grapes. The fox can't get the grapes so it is not delicious any more. In the same way, Gilbert is forced to get married and she is determined to convince herself (and the readers) that despite her criticisms against marriage in the first book (and her solemn vow that she will not ever marry) after all marriage is actually great. At the end, she even arrives at the conclusion that marriage is a form of protest agains authorities that attempt to control the masses. I do not even want to start on how she arrived at that conclusion but it is obvious she is trying to justify her actions.

Why don't give us to it straight - if she wants Felipe to live in the US, she has to marry him. She is forced to do so, so she does it. Enough of this bullshit that at the end the reason is that she wants to. No, she doesn't want and if it weren't for the Homeland Security she never would marry. And I wouldn't have pushed myself to read Committed.

The only thing Committed did was ruin the pleasure I had from reading Eat Pray Love. For the sake of it, I refuse to accept that whoever wrote a brilliant insightful and clever book such as Eat Pray Love can end up with such a weak nonfiction literature piece. For me, the only thing that Elizabeth Gilbert ever wrote remains Eat Pray Love.

My Experience on the Sofia Book Market

The annual Sofia Book Market is a fact. From 7th to 12th of December the National Culture Palace becomes the center of a reading fever. All publishers and bookstores are there, presenting their most famous bestsellers and trying desperately to make the ever so poor Bulgarian reader spare some money on a new book (s). Of course, there is 20% off on every novel you purchase, which is a very good reason to at least think about improving your library.

I do not need to mention that I was there the first day the market opened. I spent 2 blissful hours going around it, checking out new and old books, making a list of all the novels I wanted to buy, smelling new books, asking questions. Basically, I has having the time of my life. I was pleasantly surprised by the initiative of the French Institute. The latter created a reading cafe in the middle of the market, where one can sit, go through some of the contemporary (and no so contemporary) French pieces of literature and just read. Basically, you can sit there the whole day, surrounded by the smell of books and read with no fee at all. You don't have to buy a book or pay anything; you are entitled to read as much as you want. I took advantage of this opportunity and that is how I stumbled on a book, which I bought afterwards.

Laurent Gounelle's L'Homme Qui Voulait Etre Heureux (The Man Who Wanted to be Happy) attracted me firstly with its title and then with the description on the back. Gounelle is a French psychologist and writer, who explores the problems of human happiness and mental equilibrium. As my mom says lately I am more and more into psychological books, novels that explore the nature of human content and stability, novels that help you discover who you really are and what you want out of life. By exploring so many different aspects, I get closer to understanding myself and my dreams. I also realize I am not the person I thought I was. I realize the dreams I thought would make me happy upon achievement do not bring anything but mere resentment and disappointment because I am still not happy. That is why I am determined (and actually fascinated by the possibility) to read as many self help, self understand, or whatever those books might be called. Some are very good (Eat Pray Love) some do not work for me (Froth on the Capuchino) and others just transform my world view completely (Ayn Rand's literature, although she is not really a self-help type of writer). I can't wait to see what Gounelle has to say about the subject since once more I will have the chance to touch the Buddhist culture and way of thinking through exploring L'Homme Qui Voulait Etre Heureux.

Of course I didn't want to limit myself to only buying one book but unfortunately due to budget restraints I had to. I nevertheless made a list of all the books I wanted to buy eventually (so that I do not forget) and I attempted to convince my mother that I absolutely desperately need all of them. She was not that sure at all, given that my room starts to look more like a library than like a living space ( I literally have no space to accomodate my books already) + she doesn't really believe in buying books. She is the type "I will borrow from the public library" type. I am different, so I am determined to own these novels one way or another. So here is my wish list for next couple of months:

1. Anne Heller - Ayn Rand and the World She Made
2. James Clavell - Shogun
3. Ray Bradbury - All
4. George Orwell - Animal Farm
5. Arthur Clarke - A Space Odyssey

If you still haven't visited Sofia Book Market, I urge you to do so. We must support this amazing initiative and prove that Bulgarians still read and are still ready to spare some cash for a good book.

Sunday 5 December 2010

Life of PI by Yann Martel

"I have a story that will make you believe in God, " says a strange Indian man to a Canadian novelist. That is how the latter encounters the unbelievable story of Piscine Patel (or Pi), which he shares from first person point of view in this amazing novel. Life of Pi combines strong believe in God (in all of its forms) with extensive knowledge about animals and zoology. Sounds like the two areas have nothing in common but Martel combines them to create a revolutionary and original novel, one that keeps surprising the reader up until the very end.

Piscine Patel is a young Indian boy, whose parents own a zoo in Pondicherry, India. In the late 1970s, when the political situation is unbearable, the whole family decides to flee its home country on a cargo ship through the Pacific Ocean and into Canada. The cargo ship is like Noah's ark - Pi's father is bringing along all of the animals to sell them in the US and in Canada. After the tragic sinking of the ship, the only survivors are Pi, a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra, and a Royal Bengal tiger. All trapped on a small solitary lifeboat. That is how Pi's adventure towards salvation begins.

I was given the book by my roommate. To be honest, when I read the title I had no idea what the book will be about. After all, Life of Pi can be the life of ANY person, animal, or creature. When I read the back cover I was disappointed. It sounded like an adventure story about children, where good overcomes common sense. To be honest, the first couple of pages didn't change my mind. However, the following ones did. And the end was extraordinary. Definitely got me thinking.

Life of Pi is structured as a story within a story. The narrator (not necessarily Yann Martel) encounters the story when he is visiting India and tells it from Pi's point of view. Pi's name, which resembles the irrational number 3.14 is essential to the story; pi is a number that goes on forever without a discernable pattern and is used in the calculation of a circle's radius and diameter. In the same way, Pi's life on the lifeboat and his struggle of survival are also irrational; trapped with a tiger the little boy has to overcome all challenges and difficulties while floating without direction or purpose in the Pacific ocean.

understanding about religion is another part of the novel that attracts attention. Born as a Hindu, the boy is fascinated with Christianity and Islam as well. Confronted by the three religions, Pi refuses to pick just one; for the Indian God is one and he loves all people. This rather liberal understanding of religion is unique to the story; it helps Pi through the difficulties on the lifeboat, it allows him to store his courage and strength and to survive.

I come to the most interesting part of the novel. Pi is rescued and he is telling his tale to Japanese officials of the Ministry of Transport. The boy shares two stories with them - as he refers to them "the one with the animals" and "the one without". I personally have my opinion about which of the stories is the real one. Faced with the strive for survival, people exhibit their worst characteristics - they become savage, selfish, and ruthless; they rely on their instincts rather than on their feelings. Just like animals, the strongest will survive. My understanding is as follows: Pi chooses to tell his story with symbolic animals - each representing one of the sole survivors of the sunk ship. When the officials claim his story unreal and unbelievable, he tells another one - "without animals". Whatever the truth is, as Pi points out it doesn't matter - he has lost his family, he has suffered, but he has survived. Quite brightly, thus, he asks the Japanese officials whether the "animals story" is better than the other one.

The narrator's point of view is obvious in the following quote - "That's what fiction is about, isn't it? The selective transforming of reality?" Life of Pi is a unique and original novel, which has many layers to be explored and discussed. I rarely say that about a book, but I would have definitely loved to have studied it in school. The author's logic and psychology is so deep and enthralling that I am disappointed to say I feel I only understood a very little part of the novel. Looking like a shallow children's book on the outside, Life of Pi is a very ADULT (if there is such a definition) novel about the challenges we face in life and the strength and courage needed to overcome them.

I sincerely thank my roommate for sharing this book with me.

Sunday 28 November 2010

Eat, Pray, Love - The Modern Woman's Guide to Devotion and Pleasure

Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love...I have no words to describe this novel or to express my gratitude for the author. Certainly, the bestseller of the year; the most influential "girl" book since...Well I am not going to compare it to anything because it is not like anything I have ever read. The influence this tale of the pursuit of devotion and pleasure had on me is beyond anything words can express. You just have to read it to feel the energy and strength coming from it.

Eat, Pray, Love is Gilbert's biography, which she starts writing at a every difficult time of her life. She is going through a difficult divorce and a remorseful rebound break-up, which both leave her depressed, lonely, and hopeless. Elizabeth had tried everything - psychiatrists, pills, meditation, yoga, another lover...But nothing seems to take her out of her depression and into life again. That is when she decides to take a one year journey in the pursuit of pleasure and devotion. 4 months in Italy, eating pizza and pasta (pleasure), 4 months in India trying to find God within herself through meditation (devotion) and 4 years in Bali combining both. Gilbert shares this amazing journey with the reader, commenting on issues such a self-understanding, religion, devotion, purpose of life, and love. A truly amazing novel, Eat, Pray, Love must be experienced (I am not saying read because this novel has to be experienced with the heart) by everyone. People live such a hasty life now, that they forget to pursuit their own balance and stability. This is exactly what Gilbert aims with this year of travelling. And she succeeds.
The novel as I already mentioned is divided into three parts and into 108 tales. Each part has 36 tales and is devoted to one of the amazing places Gilbert visits during this year. Why exactly 108 - well, you have to read and find out yourself. What is more important is Elizabeth's motivation behind this journey. She gets almost no support from her relatives. They say she is irresponsible to take a year of at the age of 35. However, as Elizabeth points out "I have lost my appetite for life. I need to get it back".

And this is exactly what she does. Gaining almost 10 pounds in Italy, Gilbert indulges herself in the pleasures of good food and good wine. In India she spends almost every hour of the day meditating and trying to find this balance (or God) within herself. Finally in Bali, she is calm, secure, and happy.Throughout this journey the author meets a lot of new people and new friends, who help her in her search for her true self.

I was highly fascinated and touched by the novel. It can still be claimed to be one of those self-help books but I am starting to love the idea of a self-help book. Each and every one I read is better and better than the previous one. I want to compare Lorna Martin's Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown to Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, because both of these novels are full of sarcasm, humour, self-irony and deep honesty. Both authors reveal themselves in a time of crisis and both find a way to deal with it. I am starting to get this sense of admiration for self-sufficient strong women, who do not need men to validate their existence, who are willing to go against the current, so to say, in order to find this inner balance necessary for a happy ending. I would like to believe I can be this kind of a woman some day.

The main difference between Martin and Gilbert, though, is that the latter goes very deep into the self-understanding concept. I mean, she travels half the world in the search of her true self. The author of Eat, Pray, Love is an amazing woman and her autobiography is a must-read for any self-respecting modern woman. What Elizabeth does is to transform the patriarchal view of the woman as a housewife and as a cooker into a self-sufficient individual, who is not afraid to break up with conventional norm and to find happiness in the most unexpected place.

I do not even need to mention that the movie is not even half as influential as the book itself. If you want to feel Gilbert's warmth and passion floating through your body, I suggest you buy this novel and indulge yourself in some properly deserved pleasure and devotion.

Saturday 20 November 2010

My First Book in Russian: The Chicks - Two Years Later

My first visit to Kazakhstan coincided with the first book I ever read in Russian. Even though I studied Russian for nearly 12 years, the only things I ever read were textbooks and autobiographies.

Now I decided to give it a go and actually try to read a novel in Russian. Of course, as ambitious as I am, I started from the top, and by the top I mean the only book by Dostoyevsky I haven't read - Idiot. Very soon (by very soon I mean the first 5 pages) I realized that Dostoevsky is a challenge I am not ready to face without a dictionary, so I passed on to something lighter - Sergey Minaev's Videoty - the sequel of his famous novel The Chicks. I read The Chicks several months ago in Bulgarian and I was quite impressed by Minaev's style. Of course, he is vulgar, brutal, and sometimes insensitive, but hey, he is talking about the "values" and "morals" of contemporary society. He ought to be vulgar, brutal, and insensitive, as this is the world we are currently living in.

In Videoty we meet Andrei Mirkin two years after the unfortunate AIDS incident. Mirkin has spent the last two years in Holland, living a trivial existence with a girl named Helen. However, when his friends Anton and Vanya call him with an offer to lead his own TV Show on Moscow's most popular TV channel, Mirkin instantly catches the plane and returns to his ordinary life - drugs, alcohol, forgettable nights, expiration dating, and shallow girls. Soon, however, Andrei realizes he is not the guy he used to be 2 years ago. Mirkin despises the TV show he leads; he condemns the public media and the tools it uses to control the masses. Andrei indulges in his former lifestyle only to discover he feels lonelier than ever. Being a TV star and having many followers and imitators doesn't translate into happiness. When meeting Natasha Andrei feels it is time for him to change. However, is he capable of leaving behind his old habits and entering into an honest and loyal relationship?

Minaev cleverly compares contemporary society to video idiots (hence the title Videoty). We are controlled and possessed by the mass media sometimes without even realizing it. All the endless TV shows work towards identity and conformity (in the negative way). We are told what to listen to, how to dress, how to act, how to look like. If you are different - you are weird. If you are different - you are an outcast. We've become video idiots - slaves of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc. We have more than 500 friends, yet no one to go out and have a cup of coffee. We can talk endlessly on Skype, yet somehow when we go out we have nothing to tell each other. We have replaced real hugs with virtual teddy bears; real kisses with virtual ones. The test of a real relationship is whether your significant other has admitted to the whole world (IN FACEBOOK) that you are together. Of course, you realized you are dumped also thanks to Mark's genius invention.

In this abyss of digital information it becomes harder and harder to find this one "special" person out there for you. When a girl dies in his studio, Andrei is devastated. He realizes his life (and the life of the people around him) is pointless. Fame and adoration are temporary, youth is fleeting and Mirkin doesn't have anything permanent to stick up to. Anything but Natasha.

If you liked Minaev's style in the first part, you will be even more enthusiastic about this second part. We meet Andrei struggling between his old self and his new self; between the shallowness of his life and the opportunity to enter into a brand new unexplored territory. Sounds familiar? At least to me it definitely is.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Which Came First - The Movie or the Book?

In the era of commercialism more and more bestsellers are turned into movies with the hopes of generating huge profits for the producers. In some rare cases, though, a very good movie may be turned into a book. Obviously, the choice between the book and the movie depends on the particular individual. Sadly, however, contemporary society prefers to spend 2 hours with popcorn and coke, instead of many hours actually reading. Still, some people read the novel and then watch the movie only to discover that it has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the book whatsoever. So my question is Which came first - the movie or the book?.

I prefer reading the book and then if I feel like it maybe watch the movie. However, I have had many disappointments so lately I evade watching movies based on my favorite novels. It seems that the producers and the directors either haven't read the book, or have read a completely different one. Let's take Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. I understand that a 2 hour movie is incapable of capturing all the nuances of the book. However, dear producer, this doesn't justify you actually CHANGING part of the books. If you can't incorporate everything, do not add additional moments. I do not reckon Mr Wilde authorized you for this.

Same story with my most favorite novel Gone with the Wind. As much as I adore Vivian Lee and Clark Gable's amazing performance, I still cannot overcome the fact that two out of Scarlett's three children are simply eliminated from the story. As if they haven't existed. In fact, Scarlett had children from all of her husbands, which I believe is an important part of the story. The producers could have squeezed in two more children; I doubt this is such a waste of film time.

One of the books of 2010 is definitely Eat, Pray, Love. Not because it was just published, but because Julia Roberts stars in the movie of the same name. I wouldn't even start commenting on the differences between the film and Elizabeth Gilbert's book. Let's just say that if you felt very inspired to change your life simply by seeing Roberts travelling around the world, I would imagine you would conquer the world if you actually benefitted from Gilbert's writing. Much more influencing, enthralling, and inspirational.

Of course, there are some tolerable Hollywood examples. The Harry Potter movies are all very good, keeping of course in mind that the novels are enormously long and it is practically impossible to translate everything into scenes. Still, as I have read all of them as a child, I find it particularly enjoyable actually visualizing all the characters and the magics. And for the sake of little children, it is a great amusement.

i>Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote is another example of a book turned into a very good movie. Of course, some of the story is distorted, but Audrey Hepburn's amazing performance makes us forget about it and simply enjoy. I just cannot skip the fact that the ending is sugarcoated Hollywood style but there is no ideal satisfaction.

Finally, I was pleasantly surprised by the Swedish film industry. I loved Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy so much that I was dying to see it on a movie. The Swedish outran their Hollywood competitors and did an outstanding job with the movie adaptation. The actors are very good, the plot is as closest to the book as possible, and the movie keeps almost as excited as the novels themselves. I most certainly recommend them.

I haven't actually read a book based on a novel. To be honest I hadn't hear about one until lately, when one of the most successful Bulgarin TV Series, Glass Home was turned into a book. I cannot imagine what the feeling of reading something based on what you have watched be like. The author is a very promising young Bulgarian singer and writer and I expect the result to be worth it.

Here comes my greatest concern - the availability of most novels as movies does make reading superfluous. I am afraid that in some decades libraries will be extinct and will be replaced by more and more cinemas. As all of us passionate readers understand, reading a book has almost nothing to do with seeing the movie. I want to pick up on the plot through the author's own choice of words, to feel the characters'feelings through my own perspective and not through the perspective of some American producer, to extend the pleasure of reading a book beyond the two hours spend in the stuffy cinema, to appreciate the ending as a kind of completed "job". However, most people do not think that way. Their loss, you would say, but this loss translates into less and less books being bought and read. Which, of course, raises another question: Would very talented authors be bothered to write anything if the payout is close to zero. Of course, they could hope to sell the rights to some producer and see their piece of literature being torn to pieces and transformed into something else. Without being too pessimistic, this "bright" future expects the book of the 21st century.

Thursday 4 November 2010

A Little Bit More from Bogomil Rainov's Sweet Propaganda

Bogomil Rainov is one of those authors, whom you either openly worship or you severely criticize. It actually depends on your point-of-view, or, to be honest, on your political preferences. I am not exaggerating even a bit because Rainov is known as one of the most prominent Communist authors in Bulgaria. If you have read at least one of his criminal novels, you will understand what I am talking about.

My first experience with Rainov was with the novel There is Nothing Better than Bad Weather, which I quite enjoyed. Emil Boev is not the typical investigating protagonist you may encounter. That is why I am not going to call him the Bulgarian Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, or even Mikael Blomkvist. Boev has his method of action and his own charm. His monologues, descriptions, and comments are full of self-irony, sarcasm, and a light sense of humour, which cannot leave the reader be bored even for a second. Of course, after the first novel, Rainov becomes a little bit predictable but still, if you fancy stories about secret agents, who try to uncover the traitors of Communist Mother Bulgaria, this type of literature is definitely for you.

The next two novels I read are Die as a Last Resort and Typhoons with Tender Names. I apologize for the poor translation in advance but I have no information about whether they have been actually translated in English at all. Anyways, in both novels we encounter Boev in a typical situation - trying to capture a Bulgarian traitor, who is selling important government information to foreigners. The only difference is that the first novel is set in London, while the second one - in Bern, Lausanne, and Geneve. All else is pretty much the same - Boev receives a task from the general and he has to travel to Europe, find the traitor, and capture (or liquidate) him. We are of course gently subjected to a sweet Communist propaganda - the traitors are the bad guys, who are so selfish as to sell even their mother country to the enemy. They need to be punished for treatening such a peaceful and ideal regime as the communist one. The European capitalists are also the bad guys, using every method and possibility to attack communism and bring it to its end. Here comes Boev aimed with the uneasy task of saving our country ONCE again.

What made Typhoons with Tender Names slightly better is the bitter chase of 9 legendary diamonds, whereas in Die as a Last Resort we are faced with a trivial drug contraband. I enjoyed Rainov's novels but only as a slight distraction from my overwhelming everyday routine. Otherwise, I am not a huge fan of his type of writing. Do not get me wrong, it has nothing to do with the propaganda (although sometimes it gets a little bit too much). I just find Rainov predictable and repetitive. The three novels are more or less the same; only the place and several details about the situation are changed.

Still, we shouldn't judge Mr. Rainov too harsh. After all, the freedom of speech in Communist Bulgaria was non-existent. If a writer wanted to be published, he had to write about the communists, or not write at all. Remember the case with Dimiter Dimov's Tobacco. The author had to add a whole new plot line and a whole new love story and to shorten his original novel as to fulfill the ruling party's requirements. Still, Dimov is an amazing author and this slight alternation didn't in any way decrease the quality of his novel. I read the Communist version and still Tobacco is one of my favorite Bulgarian novels.

Rainov just chose the easy way around. Or he was really a communist believing in the world-wide conspiracy against Communism. Whatever the truth may be, I don't really care. Although Boev sometimes utters a phrase worth remembering, more or less the novels are just a criminal story with a political touch. Definitely not my style of literature and I can safely say I am done with Mr. Rainov.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

The Millenium Trilogy - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest

The Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, probably one of the most enthralling, obsessive, and entertaining novels I have read lately, is over. The last novel, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest doesn't spoil the amazing impression from the first two ones. On the contrary, I must say it is probably the best one. Maybe because it is the last one. Finally, after nearly 1500 pages we get to see how it all ends. Mikael Blomkvist, Lisbeth Salander, Dragan Armanski, Erica Berger, the policemen, the prosecutors, the criminals, they all gather for one last show. The audience (if there was such) must be on their feet, clapping. Larsson is incredible.

In The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest the author unravels the story he has been building for the past two novels. All secrets are now out and Mikael, Lisbeth, and company fight fiercely to make sure the guilty ones are punished. Throughout the last novel we see their struggle to prove Lisbeth's innocence, fighting corruption and secrets in the highest hierarchical level of the Swedish police. Finally, justice is recovered, thanks to Mikael's persistency and Lisbeth's impressive abilities. I won't spoil the ending but I will only say - it is worth the whole reading.

Interestingly, Mikael and Lisbeth meet only twice during the last two novels. Yet, I felt they were extremely connected. Not only their communication over the internet seems very real, but the reader feels they connect mentally as well. As if Mikael and Lisbeth are the two sides of a coin - one can never see the other, yet they cannot be separated. Far away from a typical love story, Mikael and Lisbeth's relationship is strong and robust. The last few pages indeed prove that.

In my last three novels I have shared so many superlatives about Stieg Larsson's writing style that now I feel I want to comment on some particular parts of the whole trilogy. Firstly, I kept thinking about his attitude towards sex relationships. None of his characters has a conventional love story. Erika and Mikael have been lovers for twenty years. Even though she is married (and her husband knows about her affair and approves of it) and he has a lot of other relationships, they never really lose passion for one another. Lisbeth, on the other hand, finds herself in relationship with both women and men, but Larsson never actually states her sexuality. Because it doesn't matter. I admire his openness about sex and love. He doesn't enclose his characters in the sugarcoated version of love we know from the American movies. On the contrary, his characters are mature individuals, ambitious and genial in their field of work; however, they do not undermine the importance of passion, and the imperfect human nature. They understand human beings are not born to be with only one person, they enjoy sexual freedom, and they are not ashamed to say that to the world. Bravo!

After this literary deviation, back to Larsson and the Millenium Trilogy. To summarize, the critics praises were not exaggerated at all. The Swedish journalist presents an incredible criminal trilogy, which doesn't bore the reader even for a second. You get the mafia, the sexual crimes, the drugs, the secrets, the corrupted police, but nothing of this is trivial or banal. As if Larsson manages to bring a whole new perspective of the typical criminal novel. He transforms what could have been a regular crime story into a literary masterpiece.

I am definitely going to miss Stieg Larsson. For the past month I have lived with these personages, I have thought about their behavior and issues and I have indeed learned from them. I keep repeating one of Lisbeth's phrases when I am about to do something I know will only hurt me at the end: ANALYZE THE EFFECTS.

PS: English translators are driving me crazy. They had a little blast with The Girl Who Played with Fire but in translating the last novel they have once again freed their imagination. The original Swedish title is The Blasted Air Tower. All of the three novels in their English translation start with the girl who. Lisbeth is indeed the main heroine but alternating the author's original choice of a title in such a way is simply unacceptable. Although, I kind of like the association with hornets.

Tuesday 19 October 2010

The Millenium Trilogy - The Girl who Played with Fire

Yes! I finished the second novel from Stieg Larsson's famous Millenium trilogy and I am a human possessed. This guy is just so good that I have no words to explain it. Well, I will try of course but I am still excited and amazed. The Girl who Played with Fire ended so unexpectedly that it prompts the reader to grab the next book immediately. Unfortunately, I was in the gym and I wasn't able to do so, which resulted in 10 more minutes (which seemed like ages) when I was contemplating the fact that I didn't take the third novel as well.

In The Girl who Played with Fire we meet again Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, our favorite investigating couple. The case from the first book is long gone, but its reflection on the two characters and on their destinies is still obvious. Larsson again focuses on a crime connected to sexual violence. Blomkvist and Salander are trapped in a life-or-death situation, where they investigate trade with sexual slaves and under-age prostitutes from the Soviet republics. The crime is connected to Lisbeth's secret past, about which Larsson only hinted in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I won't spoil the fun; I will just say that nothing in the book is what you expect it to be. I find most contemporary criminal novels highly predictable. Well, Larsson is nothing like that. He just takes you, swipes you of your feet, and then presents you with a solution that seems so logical. It is drawn on the events that have preceded it and it is never something that comes up out of the blue. The Swedish journalist simply possesses a great imagination, an enviable touch for details, and an enthralling style. Combined, these qualities make him a must-read novelist for each one of you that enjoy a really good piece of literature. Being even a criminal novel.

While I was reading the first two novels, I kept thinking - why is Larsson so obsessed and disgusted with sexual violence crimes? I researched it a bit and I found an interesting fact. When he was 15 he witnessed a gang raping a young girl, named Lisbeth. He never forgave himself for not being able to prevent the crime. Obviously, he named his heroine after that girl.

Another thing that grabbed my attention is a little bit more trivial. Whenever Michael or Lisbeth are in the process of investigating or thinking about the crimes (and this is most of the times) they make a coffee and sandwiches. I can't remember how many times I read the phrase "he (she) made coffee and sandwiches and..." but it was A LOT. I know it may sound stupid but it was one of those things that kept sticking up in my mind. The more I thought about it, the more I noticed it. I have my own interpretation of the fact. Larsson, like Michael, is an investigative journalist. Probably, the author here draws from his own experience. It is funny though, as if the only food these people are eating is sandwiches. They surely help with the brain action, or at least that is what Mr. Larsson believes.

This time, the title of The Girl who Played with Fire is the same in Swedish, English, and Bulgarian. No unauthorized liberties from the English translators here.

I already started the last novel, The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. I am both excited and disappointed. I just do not want it to be over. I have enjoyed the trilogy so much that I feel I can keep reading about Michael and Lisbeth for quite a long time.

On the brighter side, The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest is the longest novel. This means nearly 700 pages of blissful enjoyment.

Thursday 14 October 2010

No More Excuses - Books in Bulgarian Available for Rental in the UK

A while ago I read a rather shocking article in a Bulgarian newspaper - the Bulgarian buys on average 1/2 a book a year. Simple mathematics means that two people share 1 book for a year. And they manage to read it! Well, congratulations to the well educated Bulgarian nation, which finds time to go out and drink, go to the gym, go to (or pretend to) work and all those daily routine activities that make up our lives. But for books, somehow, the average individual doesn't have money or time.

Well, this article is entirely for all those of you who study, work, or both in the UK. The excuses that 1)There are only English books here. I study/talk/work enough in English and I just want a Bulgarian book but I have nowhere to get one from; 2)Well, I have so much luggage and EasyJet just allows 20kg, so if we add up the rakia, the lukanka, the lutenica, etc...well I literally don't have space for books or 3)I don't have money to eat, yet alone spend for books are no longer valid. The first online library in the UK is a fact and now the only excuse you have for not reading is that you simply DON'T WANT TO.

A little bit about Knigoteka. I found out about it from our favorite website Facebook (God bless you, Mark). The terms and conditions are more than simple. You register on, providing your name, e-mail address, telephone and valid address for correspondance. Knigoteka, on the other hand, promises not to use your personal data for anything else, but to deliver your book. You can order up to two books a month. If you order one the price is 6 pounds, for two - 10 pounds. All postage expenses are handled by Knigoteka. When you register you give a deposit of 10 pounds, which is returned to you right after you mail back the first book/books, of course in good condition and on time.

If you are such a passionate reader, you may as well pay for a year subscription. In that case you pay 100  pounds and you can again borrow up to two books. Once you return them (no deadline here) you can borrow two more and so on. It gets better. With the books you get a free envelope and free stamps, together with an address where you must return the book/books within 1 month.

I have skimmed through the library and it looks pretty good. You can basically choose from almost all genres and authors. I expect that the authors of the site will keep updating the available books if business goes well. And this depends only on you, guys!

I find this initiative positive and inspiring. Personally, I won't be using it because as a passionate reader most of my luggage when I fly to Manchester is full of books. Whenever I feel like I may be out of something to read, my mum sends a package and the drama is over. Of course, I have an enormous library at the university, but I always connect it to studying and textbooks, so I rarely borrow books from there. Call me weird, but I just want to know that the book doesn't come from the same place I spend day and night during exam period.

So now, what is your excuse for not reading? 10 pounds for 2 books is too much? Come on, speaking in UK terms, it is 1/3 bottle JD, two packs of cigarettes, one good dinner at Nando's, 2-3 drinks in Tiger-Tiger or Birdcage, 2 waterpipes and two teas over at the Arabs, 10 Tesco pizza's, 3 menus from the Arab shop next door...Are you still advocating you can't really sacrifice any of these for 2 books a month?

Just for the sake of it, I hope this inspires some people to at least check it out. Maybe think about it and spare 10 pounds to order 2 books. If you are wondering on which ones, I am always there to help and give advice. Just tell me when to stop talking because when I start, I just do not feel the boundary, when I begin boring my company to death.

Read, people, just read!

PS: Even Paris Hilton reads. Or at least it seems so.

Saturday 9 October 2010

The Millenium Trilogy - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I have never quite believed the book reviews in the newspapers. Whenever I see that a novel is far too popular, I have the feeling it is a bit overrated. Of course, I always buy it to see what the fuss is all about, but I read with suspicion.

Something similar happened when I bought Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy. In fact, I was quite furious because in most bookstores the novels were actually all sold out. This in fact tuned me up against the trilogy even more, but as a rule in life, the more you can't have something, the more you want it. So I walked around all bookstores until I was one of the obviously chosen few that have the privilege to read Larsson's books. When I saw the back cover review (a journalist investigates a crime) I was even more convinced that I wouldn't like it. I just can't understand how my mother has the patience to read Lee Child, John Grisham, and all those Russian criminal authors, when the story is ALWAYS the same. Crime. Policeman (alternatively journalist, retired GI, etc). Beautiful and smart woman. They have a relationship. They solve the crime (drugs, prostitutes, money laundering, mafia, you name it). Finito.

Stieg Larsson's first book from the trilogy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo though is amazing. Yes, it is a criminal novel. Yes, there is an investigating journalist and a girl. However, they are far from the typical personages we meet. Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander are contradictory, quick tempered, impulsive, yet extremely smart. They cooperate to solve a dramatic crime that happened 40 years ago. Only to discover the dirty and disgusting secrets of a big and wealthy family. The novel kept me excited and questioning until the end. Absolutely not a regular criminal literary piece.

Stieg Larsson is a famous Swedish journalist and writer, whose investigations expose a world of immoral financial affairs, extremist conspiracies, sexual violence, and antidemocratic practices. The Millenium Trilogy deservingly brings him many awards, among which are Best Scandinavian Novel for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Best Swedish Criminal Novel for The Girl Who Played with Fire. Unfortunately, the author never lived to see his trilogy being published. Some people believe his death is connected to his work as an investigative journalist. Whether these are rumors or not, I doubt we will ever know. The point is, Larsson has an amazing talent, which is a great loss to contemporary literature. I must admit the first 150 pages of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are a bit like a journalist article - long descriptions, dry and mostly informative style. However, after that I simply dove into the novel and I just didn't want to let go. I expect the other two books to be as great, and maybe even better.

An interesting trivia is that the Bulgarian translation is The Men Who Hated Women. This in fact is the original translation from Swedish. I have no idea why the English translation is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but I don't like it even a bit. I just hate when translators simply decide to alter an author's original choice as they fit. They just ruin a huge part of the explanatory power of the book.

Of course, we shouldn't doubt the Hollywood industry, which takes ANY bestseller and tries to win millions from it. Understandably, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has also been turned into a movie, which this year has been presented in Cannes. I suppose the other two novels from the trilogy will be soon to follow.

Next on my list - The Girl Who Played with Fire. I can't believe I am so excited about a criminal trilogy but I am. Imagine, it must be really good!

Wednesday 6 October 2010

My SRB - Secret Reading Behavior

If you are a fan of Carrie Bradshow and Sex and the City you might remember that episode, when Carrie is talking about her SSB - secret single behavior. Today, I decided to share with you some of my SRB - secret reading behavior. Maybe some of you also have those habits. I will be more than happy if I find other reading freaks like me. 

So here it goes. My top 5 of secret reading behavior. I have ordered them bottom up so bear with me till the end of the blog post - the most weird SRB indeed comes at the end. 

  1. In a previous post I have mentioned I enjoy good food. Not only deliciously, but prepared and served with desire. Do not get me wrong, though, I hate cooking. I like going to restaurants where I can order exactly what I want in the amount I want it. What makes a dinner perfect, though, is the presence of a book. I just love the sense of sitting alone in a restaurant, telling to the surprised waiter No, it is just me, opening my book and having a delicious meal. Yes, just by myself. I am not ashamed to sit alone somewhere; in fact whenever I am stressed I simply book a room for just me in a fancy restaurant, I bring my book, I order a glass of wine and I simply forget about all of my problems. 
  2. As mentioned in my profile description, I am a highly organized person. I always arrive early or promptly on all of my meetings (and dates unfortunately; although I would like for the guy to wait for me instead). Unfortunately, most people are just religiously late. And as I hate waiting (and I have to wait most of the times) I bring my book with me. Trust me, even half an hour of waiting for your best friend in the Sofia city centre seems like a second with a good reading in hand. 
  3. Travelling. This is pretty obvious and most people indeed read on long bus, train, or airplane rides. However, I go further than that. I read in the city bus, in the tram; once I was in terrible trafic and I even read in the taxi. I received the weirdest look from the taxi driver. Yes, darling, this is a book and I READ. 
  4. Cues. Who doesn't hate them. This summer I had the unfortunate luck to be stuck in several terrible cues, waiting for an ID, a passport, or whatever. And that's when my current book comes in hand. Again, I received the strangest looks from the people on the cue. OK, what am I supposed to do for 4 hours? Waste my time. Of course, you know me, a passionate reader I sometimes read even on the cue in the supermarket. I know, it is just a few minutes, but come on, this book is just SO DAMN GOOD. 
  5. Well, this you wouldn't believe. Actually, I have never met someone who does that. I walk and I read. Seriously. As much as I love walking and thinking about staff, sometimes I get bored. Plus, I find it a waste of time, which can be pleasantly filled with some reading. Well, the result is not always desirable. I bump into people, I almost get hit by moving objects (cars, buses, bikes, you name it), I hit trees, columns, basically anything that stands in my way. I get these weird comments from people passing me by and one time a guy even took a picture of me. Like an extinct animal. What can I say, I just love reading. 
Well, this is my top 5 secret reading behavior. It is mostly secret because it is usually in front of people I do not know. However, now I have shared it with you. I hope I inspired you to open up a book in a different situation, not only before you go to bed or when you have nothing else to do at home. After all, as I love to say This life is not enough for me to read all the books I want to. Thus, I take every opportunity to make sure this doesn't happen. Call me insane, if you wish, but I have a target, a dream, a purpose. Pleasure is not in achieving your dream, it is in the way of getting there. And my way is marked by a lot of reading. In weird place, weird times, weird situations. 

Thursday 30 September 2010

Charles Bukowski's Alter Ego in Post Office

When I hear Bukowski I no longer associate it with this terrible cafe a friend of mine made me go to because of some bartender, cocktail or whatever. Now I connect it to Charles Bukowski, definitely a unconventional author. Born in the beginning of the 20th century, the American poet, novelist, and short story writer is highly influenced by the atmosphere of his home city LA. He focuses on the life of poor and ordinary American citizens, on the act of writing, booze, women, and on the drudgery of work. Critics call Bukowski the Hemingway of the West Coast and absolutely deservingly assign him a very special place in the modern American literature.

Post Office is the first novel, which features the author's alter ego Henry Chinaski. The story follows the years the author worked in a post office; the female characters in Chinaski's life resemble Bukowski's women. Before reading Post Office I wasn't quite prepared for the brutality and vulgarity of Bukowski's descriptions. By the end of the novel I got used to this language and I must admit I enjoyed reading something honest, light, funny, and ironic for a change. 

The plot is simple. Henry Chinaski is the regular 30 something guy, who starts work at the post office as a substitute mail carrier. The work is tedious, boring, and unimaginative. Henry has to endure his boss's hatred, his colleagues' stupidity, and the ingratitude of the rest of the society, whom he supposedly serves. Chinaski survives the monotonous life by indulging in booze and women. The protagonist quits for a while and lives on his winnings on the track. Yet, he again returns to the post office to become a mail clerk. With a great sense of humor and reasonable sarcasm Bukowski explores the life of the ordinary person, who is trapped in a boring, degradative, and menial work. 

Personally, Henry Chinaski is not my protagonist. He is unambitious and sluggish; he hates his job and his boss but he does nothing to change it. Whenever Henry feels like it (and this is very often) he gets drunk and spends money he doesn't really have on women. Without any purpose in his life, Chinaski has left himself on the flow, not caring where it will take him. Women, people, jobs, even events pass by him without making any change to the degradative and purposeless life he has chosen to live. It seems as if Henry doesn't care about anything that happens around him as long as he has booze. As a friend of mine, who recommended the book, correctly pointed out, the protagonist in the Post Office reminds of Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye by J.D.Salinger. However, in the latter novel Holden is a confused and lonely teenager, for whom the whole world is simply phony. Here we are introduced to a middle-aged man, who behaves just like a careless and irresponsible child. 

Do not get me wrong. I am not criticizing Bukowski's novel. On the contrary, I sincerely loved it. I am just pointing out that this kind of life is a great contradiction to all my morals and perceptions. 

Wednesday 29 September 2010

The Pigeon - Disorder Intruding in an Organized Existence

Recently I shared with a friend of mine that I was bored with life. I didn't have anything in particular to complain from - my parents and friends were in good health, I had the possibility to travel, go out, visit the seaside, I studied in a good university and got good grades; basically I wasn't deprived from anything in particular. Yet, I felt deprived from all in general. I felt I was living a monotonous life, where nothing really exciting happened. I didn't want a calm and organized existence, I wanted fireworks. I couldn't settle for a day, just a simple regular day, where you get up, do your chores, see your family and friends, watch a movie and then go to sleep. I needed excitement, passion, risk. I longed that each and every day of my life was a day to remember. And if it wasn't, I fell into depression, self-resentment, and panic. Wait a minute, I was 21 and I was barely living. At least that was what I thought.

The Pigeon by Patrick Suskind is a story about a monotonous, meticulously organized existence, where each and every day is exactly the same as the previous one. The protagonist, Jonathan Noel, is a solitary Parisian bank security guard. He has been a Parisian bank security guard for almost 20 years and he doesn't want to change. Jonathan lives in small room with a bed, a desk, and a wardrobe. He has lived in that small room for 20 years and he doesn't want to change. Jonathan gets up every morning at exactly the same time, performs his morning ritual, and goes to work. There he has a strict routine, which he follows unquestioningly. Jonathan has followed this routine for 20 years and he doesn't want to change.

Until one day Jonathan meets a pigeon in front of his door. The pigeon is a symbol of a disorder intruding in the character's pre-organized existence. An event so insignificant that many wouldn't even notice it, this rendezvous threatens Noel's sanity. Jonathan becomes obsessed with the pigeon. He feels his whole life is collapsing because something different from the daily routine has happened. The novel follows one day of Noel's life, shaped by this strange acquaintance. The Parisian security guard is unable to perform his daily routine, his struggles to focus, to work, to move, even to live. He even considers killing himself. Jonathan's obsession with the pigeon is terrifying. For a man, who doesn't want anything from life, except that it doesn't change even in a bit, this pigeon seems like a catastrophe. A catastrophe that threatens to impose change, something Noel has fought throughout his whole existence.

Are we really so terrified of change? Why is there a negative connotation to the word change. Isn't change supposed to be a good thing. There was a saying When one door closes, another one, a better one, opens. So shouldn't we anticipate change, welcome it, appreciate it, search for it? Isn't change what helps us grow and develop, what motivates us, what distinguishes us, what pushes us forward? I like change. I envy change. I want change there, in my life, every second, every minute, every day of it. I don't want to simply exist, I want to live.

You may recognize Patrick Suskind from his famous bestseller The Perfume, which was also made a movie. Here, the author explores one day of the life of an ordinary Parisian. Even if it seems to the reader that nothing really happens, The Pigeon is one of those novels, which swaps you like a whirlwind. I was astonished and terrified of how an obsession can startle, change, and even ruin someone's life. Noel simply couldn't handle the change that came into his life. His thoughts obsessed him, leading him to exaggerated and strange conclusions. I leave to the readers to decide: is it because Jonathan Noel's existence was so monotonous and pre-organized that he was resistant to change? Or is it that we should settle for what we have here and now and do not let an obsession disrupt and pervade our existence?

You know me. I want that change. I am just not sure whether I can handle it.

Sunday 26 September 2010

L'Homme Qui Rit by Victor Hugo

L'Homme qui rit or The Man Who Laughs by Victor Hugo is a strange novel. Full of irony, sarcasm, symbolism, and hidden messages, it left me thinking about it long after I finished it. I still cannot make up my mind whether I like it or not. 

The Man Who Laughs or should we say the man who cries, the man who condemns, the man who criticizes, the man who laughs, the man who suffers, the man who grows. Many more can be said about the main character of the novel, Gwynplaine. As a child, he becomes a victim of a group called the Comprachicos (a word invented by Victor Hugo referring to child buyers). These criminals steal children and transform them into carnaval freaks, whose only purpose is to amuse and entertain the aristocratic English society. Gwynplaine has a grotesque face, which provokes laughter amongst the people, who see him. The boy is left as a little child and is grown up by the charlatan Ursus (latin for bear) and his wolf Homo (latin for man). Here Hugo demonstrates a great play of words, which I am going to discuss a bit later. The three of them, together with the blind orphan Dea, earn their living by performing on carnavals and fun fairs around England. Until Gwynplaine discovers he is the long lost son of a lord, an enemy of the king. The latter ordered the severe transformation of the boy as a revenge to his father. Now Gwynplaine enters a different world; he moves up the social caste, from a poor travelling performer to a wealthy and powerful member of the English aristocracy. 

The Man Who Laughs was written during Hugo's fifteen months exile in the UK due to his political beliefs. Through the character of Gwynplaine, the author condemns the current caste system in England. Victor Hugo is a well known socialist and idealist; he preaches democracy and social equality, an ideal which has transformed him from a well known romantic poet to a politically engaged individual. Still, the plot is typical for the Romanticism - unbelievable events, complicated situations, secret conspiracy, all around Gwynplaine and Dea's unearthly and sublime love story. Gwynplaine passes from the lowest to the highest social class to realize the immense injustice in the English political system - the poor are very poor and the rich are very rich. The latter explore the first, who suffer and die on the streets. Hugo's disappointment with a world, where democracy and freedom cannot exist is highly evident in his novel.

 To be honest, I started reading The Man Who Laughs two times before I managed to finish it. The reason - Hugo's EXTENSIVE descriptions. I had to CAPS LOCK this word because it is very typical for the French romanticist's way of writing. More than 1/3 of the novel is devoted to the norms and habits of the English aristocracy, which, although valuable to know, I found a bit boring and excessive. Thus, I was slightly tempted to skip pages (which I honestly didn't do) or to leave the novel for yet another time. I managed to finish it and I was really glad. The Man Who Laughs is worth reading because it demonstrates a view of social equality and freedom, which although highly idealistic, is desirable. What's more, Hugo's style (excluding the descriptions of course) is enthralling without being too serious. If you have been a religious reader of my blog, you might have deduced I like a bit of irony and sarcasm in the works I read. Even if they discuss urgent and pressing issues.

Another bonus of the novel is the extensive use of symbolism and word play. Take Ursus (bear) and Homo (man). The fact that the animal is named after the human, and the human after the animal, says a lot about Hugo's pessimistic view of contemporary society but I will leave the actual interpretation to each and everyone of you, through your own social and moral prism. Sadly, even an idealist, the author sees that his ideas are not applicable to the current political and social system. His exile to the UK is though a proof that Hugo stays strongly behind his views and is ready to defend them. Using literature as a main weapon of course.