Poetry from 1955 to 2008, by John Berger

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As you may suspect, I am not a good reader of poetry. Despite the efforts of our book club’s organizer in getting us poetry books from time to time, I just don’t like it, but this hasn’t made me give up (yet), because I *know* there must be something out there for me. My relationship with poetry is kind of a challenge, and I think perseverance will be the key.

Anyway, some days ago I had the irrepressible need for browsing in the poetry section of the library (this is a reconstruction, as Offred from The handmaid’s tale would say), and I borrowed this book: the complete poetry work of John Berger, an author I knew from an epistolary novel I have read recently (From A to X).

So the experience has been… uneven. But this is due to the different themes presented on the book: rural life, death, war, emigration and, of course, love. Taking into account that my aim in life is to seek romance, I think I might have enjoyed some of the love ones.

Shirt on the chair

My heart born naked
was swaddled in lullabies.
Later alone it wore
poems for clothes.
Like a shirt
I carried on my back
the poetry I had read.

So I lived for half a century
until wordlessly we met.

From my shirt on the back of the chair
I learn tonight
how many years
of learning by heart
I waited for you.

This bilingual edition also contains a CD with the author reading some of his poems, and it has been nice to listen to them since they sound so much better than the “in-my-head-English”, as I call it.

So it has been a good experience after all; poetry requieres extra effort because it’s not easy to fully concentrate in every line, but want to keep trying. One book at a time.

PS: I’m not rating this book because I still don’t know how to rate poetry.

PS2: For those interested in poetry books, I recommend Lianne’s series of post titled “So you want to read poetry”, with recommendations on this genre.

PS3: This book made me add a touch of poetry in my postcards, too 🙂

April 2017 #Readathon: goals and hopes

I’m so excited to start the readathon in a few hours!

As always, I’d love to explain what my plans are for today, since I’ve been gathering books all week at the library, planning the cakes I’ll be baking tomorrow morning, and having fun on twitter this previous week.

First of all, I plan to get back on track on my Goodreads challenge, which at the moment looks like a mess:

I have chosen more books that I could possibly read in 24 hours, but I wanted to have a complete enough list to make sure I have different genres and authors to fulfill any possible mood I’m in during the readathon. All of them are very short, and most of them are in Spanish, so I can read faster; you know how finishing a couple of books within the first hours boosts your energy for the rest of the readathon!

Here is my list:

  • Headhunbers, by Jo Nesbo (which I’m currently reading)
  • Leporella, by Stephan Zweig (Leporella)
  • The old man and the sea, by Ernest Hemingway
  • Bartleby, the scrivener, by Herman Melville
  • The enchanted, by Rene Denfeld
  • The beginner’s goodbye, by Anne Tyler
  • Get well soon, by Marie-Sabine Roger
  • Everything I never told you, by Celeste Ng
  • And other books that are not translated into English by these authors: Alessandro Baricco, Rosa Montero and Ronaldo Wrobel.

I’m also planning on participating in the Instagram challenge, and in all the mini-challenges I can, as well as cheering people on twitter, because that is one of the biggest part of the fun.

Happy readathon!

The handmaid’s tale, by Margaret Atwood

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When I first came across this book, I didn’t bother to read the synopsis, assuming it would be a medieval tale of some sort (the illustration on the cover made me think so, the word “handmaid” helped as well); something I would enjoy, but nothing “special” I should consider reading as soon as possible, until I began to read about the TV series and the actual plot of the book. I found a medieval tale, yes, but not the kind I expected.

Offred (meaning “Of Fred”, the name of the man who owns her) is the narrator of her own tale, a story of a country that turned itself from a so called democracy into a patriarchal dictatorship in which a few privileged people live more or less as the time before, whereas the rest serve them. For the women this means they have to provide healthy children for the regime, but not freely with their husbands, but submitted to their owners and separated from their families. Love is forbidden. Friendship is forbidden. Culture is forbidden for women too. To make things worse, Offred lived in “the time before”, so she had to be reeducated in a special centre to serve to this new society, and she often goes back in time in her narration to talk about the life she had with Luke and their little daughter, her mother, her best friend Moira…

The book addresses the assumption of human adaptability to whatever the circumstances we face. The issue here is that the political environment doesn’t change for the better, for the achieving of more freedom and favorable rights for the people, as we foresee as the path for future generations, but instead it goes for restrictions and terror for the majority of the population. And as the author has said, this idea is not her own, but borrowed from history (nazism, for example). And yet the heroine is not so, in the usual understanding of a character fighting to take her life back, but instead she just goes with the flow, paralyzed by the fear and living the life this new patriarchal elite has decided for her. And that’s what I liked about her because, in my eyes, she is real. I mean, most of us have probably gone to a protest march against any political issue or another, but would you go if you were likely to be imprisoned for life, or even executed? I am sure I wouldn’t, and this fact made me sympathize deeply with Offred.

This is the second book by Margaret Atwood that I read (Cat’s eye was the first), and I have found them very different regarding the plot but with similar characters; both women, both confronting a situation they can’t or don’t know how to face, and both lonely and carrying such sadness over their shoulders.

PS1.: The ending, which will not be discussed here, was absolutely great because it is open to many possibilities.

PS2.: I listened to the audiobook narrated by Claire Danes and she is the protagonist in my mind. I love her, by the way.

The handmaid’s tale
Margaret Atwood
Anchor Books
311 pages

Let me be Frank with you, by Richard Ford

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As I am writing this, I am trying to decide whether I want to finish this book or not…

let-me-be-frank-with-you-richard-fordThis was a book club pick, probably based on the fact that Richard Ford was the Princess of Asturias (Spain) award-winning for literature in 2016, but this particular book is a collection of short stories in which the main character, Frank Bascombe, is the character of three previous novels that, needless to say, I haven’t read. So I think this is not the most appropriate choice to start reading Ford.

Now regarding the stories (the book contains four short stories), Ford uses Frank Bascombe as an instrument to explain how it is to be American; and this has a good side and a bad side for a foreign reader. First the bad, which is basically the amount of references to situations or places that I can’t understand because I don’t share the author’s culture on this regard: I don’t know if he is being critic, sarcastic or funny when he addresses a certain neighborhood or town because it is assumed that the reader knows what he is talking about. And I have no idea; I didn’t get many of the points he tried to make. I don’t want to blame Ford entirely, for I am sure that some of the unseen references are plain ignorance of my part, but the cultural gap is there too.

However, what I did understand made me think I was reading a great book on American life. The two stories I read were basically an internal monologue of Bascombe, with no action, and through this character he addresses interesting issues like being black in a white neighborhood, how to be politically correct without being overwhelmed about being politically correct, or the problem with the American soldiers returning from Iraq to find that the idea of themselves and the country they were fighting for was just wrong. Bascombe is amusing because he is unable to act as a normal person, but I got to like the man – I agreed with him most of the time.

Well, maybe I have convinced myself a little towards finishing Let me be Frank with you, but what I am sure of is that I want to try another novel of Richard Ford. Perhaps Canada

Have you ever experienced this cultural gap with a book? I think it could be solved with a proper work of the translator explaining the things the reader has not knowledge of. It might be tricky because, as I said, I assume the reader’s ignorance plays its part, but not entirely impossible.

Let me be Frank with you
Richard Ford
Bloomsbury Publishing
240 pages

2016: a year in books

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So another year has passed and it’s time to review my bookish statistics – I love to do this every year!

2016-a-year-in-books

In 2016 I read 65 books, just enough to finish my GoodReads challenge! Of those 65 books:

  • 31 were written by women and 34 were written by men.
  • 12 were “my own damn books”, meaning books I owned before 2016 started.
  • 12 books were written by Spanish authors.
  • I read 14 books in English.
  • I listened to 16 audiobooks (all of them in English too).
  • 5 were ebooks.
  • I read 24 books borrowed from the library, thanks to the book club, but also because I’ve been browsing the library in search for short books to complete the challenge – I’ve discovered a handful of authors I want to read more of!

I will include more categories this year, such as author’s nationality, year of publication and fiction/non-fiction books, to make it more complete.

I’m really pleased with the amount of books I’ve read, and with the quality too: I think that we, as readers, know ourselves better every year so we chose reads we know we’ll enjoy. I have only read three books that I didn’t like or did not finished: one was a gift, another was a book club pick, and the other was my own choice.

Among the best of the year, I want to share with you the following:

best-books-2016

I have read the two novels of Anna Hope this year, and I enjoyed both, but I fell deeply for the characters in The ballroom.

Never let me go was an unexpected favorite in my list: a sad story of love and friendship with a premise so hard to assume.

Jodi Picoult is an author that always brings up ethical and moral issues, and in The storyteller she asks if a sweet old man should be forgiven from the crimes he comitted in the past.

Daybreak is a book written as a diary in which a woman has an affair with a man, and it’s so well narrated that one just can’t believe it hasn’t been written by the protagonist, but by a man!

Life after life made me think that what we call “right” or “the best for us” sometimes brings unhappiness.

And finally, The fireman was a thriller that made me realize that I should read more books of this genre, because I have such a good time with them!

*****

Hope this new year 2017 brings you wonderful reads.

Happy New Year!

When opening the letter box: Reasons to write letters

reasons-to-write-letters

Some time ago I wrote about my small collection of typewriters (here), and the fact is that the machines themselves have made me began to write more letters to friends, a hobby that I’m particularly enjoying lately. I don’t know if it’s part of this new trend of liking things of the past –hats, beards, spending less time online, etc.– but I find myself constantly seeing people on social networks writing on paper, either on journals, planners and, of course, writing letters to pen pals, and it’s making me be part of the trend.

I have always loved to send cards in Christmas and birthdays, or postcards when I am on holidays, and I have also received this discontinuous mail from other people, especially from my friends of my University years and the book bloggers I’ve got to know from all over my country, and now from abroad as well. It has slowly turned now into a habit: I write letters often, and the big difference is that I expect – and I usually get – a response from my correspondents. I love it!

So here I am, talking to the hidden correspondent you have inside, encouraging him to take a piece of paper and tell a friend how was your day, or just picking a card to say you were thinking of them.

Five reasons to write more letters

1. Letters make the person who receives them happy. Imagine: you are waking up today and, in another part of the world (why not?), someone’s day has been brightened thanks to you. And you don’t even have to write an eight-page letter; it’s fine if you begin by sending a greeting card or a postcard. Isn’t that awesome?

2. It is a way to disconnect. Not only do you have to write letters away from the computer or TV, disconnecting from the online world, but it also makes you stay away of the daily routine and stress as well.

The act of writing a letter requires calm and concentration, so you mentally spare a length of time in your schedule to devote to writing, thinking about the recipient and what you want to tell them. It is so intimate that I also like to light a candle and maybe listen to music while writing; I usually write my letters on Sunday evenings as a way to relax before starting the next week.

3. It improves your language skills. This is very different from writing an email because you have to actually think what you want to say before writing it down, or you’ll have to cross out half of your letter (no no no!).

My best friend confessed that she first writes a draft and then the real letter, to make sure she doesn’t make mistakes; that’s how elusive our self-confidence has become! Here is where I see the real value of sitting down, thinking about what you want to say and how, saying it in your head, and finally writing it on paper: it is a process that requires effort, like some kind of training and, with time, words began to flow in your head and it becomes easier.

If you think about it, as adults we only write things down on paper and without drafts when we take exams of some sort, if we take them, so our brains have lost some of their languages abilities since school/university, and it’s up to us bring them back again.

Needless to say, when you write letters in another language your language skills improve as well and, believe me, this sometimes is kind of a painful process, but totally worth it!

4. It is a creative activity. The act of writing itself is creative, but the culture around letter writing has evolved profoundly, as I have the opportunity of see every day on social networks.

  • There are people who put special effort in choosing their stationery and use their best calligraphy in order to write long letters that are a joy to behold (like Lizzelle’s letters).
  • Other people have transferred the art of scrapbooking to their letters, creating a totally new concept of mail: they don’t send letters, but create cards, books and other paper inventions to put together with their letters. Take a glimpse of this video (among thousands).
  • Finally, decorating envelopes has become a mandatory task in order to send cute mail, and there is also a wide range of examples, so to pick just one, look at this.

I am a newbie in this burst of creativity around the letter writing community, so what I try to do is copy the masters, try this washi-tape or that calligraphy, see if a typed letter looks good in this kind of paper, etc. I’m not any good, but I enjoy trying! (you can see some of my attempts on my Instagram)

5. It helps you to let go of the addiction to immediacy, because there is no room for rush when it comes to write a letter. There are unwritten rules about the maximum amount of time to wait for a reply to an email, whatsapp, tweet, etc., and in none of them is acceptable to delay your response more than a few hours.

That doesn’t work with letters. There are simply no rules: for a start, you don’t even know when your recipient receives the letter and, second, you don’t expect them to leave whatever they are doing and write you back right after reading it. Letters take time, time to reach their destinations and time to be created; and you want for your correspondent to find a serene moment to sit down, think about you, and devote herself to communicate with you. Because this, my dear, is the beauty and comfort of correspondence: when two people who are far away keep their appreciation for each other alive in the distance and time.

*****

So tell me, do you write letters? If not, do you feel more inspired to do so now?

Sweetness

I have no books to review, so let me tell you what happened today…

empty-benches

I attend to an activity for adults where, recently, a girl with Down syndrome is attending too. I guess her mother couldn’t schedule another hour for her, because she is very young (about 13 years old) and should be in school. Anyway, she is now in class with us – me and other women above 50 years old – but we hardly see her because the instructors make her do different exercises than what we do, so we only see each other at the beginning and the end of the class.

Thanks to my job, I have been in contact with other boys and girls with Down syndrome and I see everybody talks to them as if they are little kids, but that’s difficult to me because I have what I think is a disability to interact with children: I never know what to say, and I certainly can’t speak with that “voice” people use to talk to them, so I end up speaking in my normal tone and I simply ask questions in order to find something in common.

Anyway, everybody in the class seems to talk to this girl like she is a little kid as well, trying to tease her a little (in the good way), and I just smile to her, say hello and talk very little about what I would say to whoever else. She is not very talkative and, as I told you, we don’t see her very much.

But today, as we were arranging our stuff to go home (she is the fastest of all), she came to where I was and said me goodbye. She said, “Isa, goodbye.” Only to me. She even made my name hers, since people there call me Isabel. This girl made me feel so special and appreciated that lightened my day, and I thought that perhaps you would like to hear this little story.

It’s so simple to touch another heart…

The ballroom, by Anna Hope

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I received this book from Netgalley

the-ballroom-anna-hopeIn 1911, a young woman called Ella is confined in a mental asylum against her will. In her first moments there she tries to escape and catches the attention of John, another inmate who is working in the fields around the institution. But Ella’s attempt to flee doesn’t succeed and soon she finds herself getting used to the routines and the people of the asylum.

Charles, one of the doctors of the institution, is a frustrated musician who, in an attempt to bring his job and his calling together, is studying the effect that music has on the mentally ill people under his care, gathering the women in a music room during some hours of the day, and assembling a dance for the men and the women together every Friday evening in a magnificent ballroom inside the building – the only moment men and women are allowed to interact with each other. Charles’ revolutionary method seems to go very well, supplying the doctor with enough evidence to support that mental illness can be cured – the doctor wants to present his conclusions against the Eugenics movement, whose supporters think of castrating men with these mental conditions as the solution to the spreading of illness and poverty.

high-royds-asylumThe asylum where the book is set really existed.
Source.

As the previous novel of Anna Hope, I was hooked on the atmosphere of the book. Ella’s point of view is of a weak woman, scared of this new place where people are “crazy”, but secretly brave enough to try to find her way out. John’s chapters are more masculine and apathetic; he is always working outside in the fields whereas the women are always doing chores inside the building. But from his first meeting with Ella, the seed of freedom begins to grow, so he tries to bring little treasures from the outside world for Ella, taking risks to write and send her letters, and feeling like his old self again. On the other hand, Charles’ chapters talk about the way other people see the institution and how dangerous was to be considered “different” in that time, taking into account the healing methods in mental asylums.

This is probably the best novel I have read this year; from the story of impossible love between these two characters whose destiny are in others’ hands, to how easily one might confuse madness and sanity and who has the right to decide if you must be freed or locked in; I felt the author has created a wonderful story on the basis of mental health.

rakin5

The ballroom
Anna Hope
Published by Random House
320 pages

Memoirs, tales and short stories: mini-reviews from October’16 Readathon

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As I told you, I chose short books for the Readathon, and that was the best idea I ever had: I read five books during the event! And, this is remarkable, all of them were interesting and enjoyable reads. This was a surprise because I just browsed the library and borrowed books based entirely on their number of pages, without any further information about them but the synopsis on the back cover.

I read almost all of them in Spanish, but I have seen they have also been translated into English, so I am free to recommend them here on my blog  🙂

Bitter Herbs: The Vivid Memories of a Fugitive Jewish Girl in Nazi Occupied Holland (Marga Minco)

bitter-herbs-marga-mincoThis is a memoir of the author, and I think it is considered a classic in some Northern European countries, like The diary of Anne Frank.

The story starts when the German soldiers enter Marga’s town and, when she asks her father if they are going to deport the Jews, like they were doing in Germany, he says that ‘Something like that could never happen here‘. Her family didn’t want to leave the country and none of them survived except Marga.

It is a terrible story, of course, but the author doesn’t put any sentimentalism on the text; she just gives us her memories as facts for us to cover the passages with the fear and pain Marga must have felt in her youth.

Book on Goodreads.

The blue fox (Sjón)

the-blue-fox-sjonThis is a short tale set in the middle of the Nineteenth Century in Iceland. I thought I was going to read a story of men against nature, but I was very wrong.

The story starts with a priest chasing a fox for its fur but, as they move towards the mountains through the snow, the narration is interrupted to tell us what has happened those days in the village. There has been a death, and thanks to the preparations for her funeral, we are going to know the story of a girl who was “different”.

This is that kind of book you don’t want to talk about so much, for the prospective readers to discover the story by themselves. It is thought-provoking, sad and beautiful.

Book on Goodreads.

I wish someone were waiting for me somewhere (Anna Gavalda)

i-wish-someone-were-waiting-for-me-somewhereThis is a collection of short stories and, even though it is not a genre of my liking, I have to recommend it, because most of the stories are shocking, affecting the reader in one way or another.

What they have in common is the impact of one single event that, in less than a minute, changes everything. Apart from this, there are different genres, characters, situations, etc.

I specially liked three of them: a humorous story about two rich boys who take their father’s car without permission; one about a female veterinarian who has trouble making herself a place in a small village; and one about a salesman whose life has been destroyed by himself alone.

Book on Goodreads.

Getting ready for October’16 #Readathon!

I have been planning this event all week, and I want to share with you part of the fun.

This year I’m not reading as much as I used to mainly because my Law studies prevent me from having free time (to say the least). At the beginning of the week I saw on GoodReads that I am nine books behind my goal, so I began browsing my bookshelves and my local library in search of very short books (no more than 100 pages) in order to cheat try and save the challenge. So that is basically what I plan to do in the Readathon.

Preparations

Well, first things first: the food!

apple-pie

I made an apple pie as my main source of calories for the Readathon lol, and I also went to the cake shop to buy some chocolate muffins (because an apple pie is too much healthy, right? haha).

Don’t worry about my feeding, for I also bought some real food in the supermarket that is going to be cooked tomorrow morning (the Readahon starts at 2 pm here in Spain, so I have plenty of time for housework).

libraryRegarding books, today after work I made the last trip to the library and I got five short books on several genres (memoirs, tales, short-stories, etc.) all by European authors, translated into Spanish. I also bought a book a month ago (The totally geeky guide to The princess bride) with the Readathon in mind.

I’m also listening to an audiobook (Law of success, by Napoleon Hill), and tomorrow I’ll take it with me for my walks and errands.

Goals

books-for-the-readathon

As I told, I have been reading some short books this week so I started being 9 books behind schedule and now I’m 6 behind. And my pile of books has this six books so… I want to read them all and be on track again!

In the past readathons I only read an average of 300 pages because I got stuck on social media and all the wonderful mini-challenges, but one can dream, right? Besides, this time I will be reading primarily in Spanish so I think I’ll go faster.

Anyway, all I want is to have fun.

See you tomorrow on twitter and Instagram!  ❤