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Book Reviews

As much as I would like to brag about the reason I began posting book reviews, the miserable truth is that I stopped reading once college started. It is a petty excuse, one I palpably resuscitate every now and then somebody dares ask what was the last book I read and here lays the realization it probably was something in our high school curriculum. Thus, my will for reading new or old material vanished and I gasped or mimicked a gasp. However, this summer I managed to reclaim my personality, though it sounds barbaric. Some of the books I read are best-sellers or not, I tried to encompass an atypic diversity to it. All I can say is enjoy. I have no advice for people who cannot seem to keep to reading. It’s on you, losers. I am just joking, really.

For more, my Goodreads profile. I am a pitiful jock of books, I suppose.

SUMMER 2019

  1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

My good friend Alex gifted me Frankenstein before I left for Romania. She was flushing through texting (I don’t know how I noticed, but I did), making excuses that it wasn’t a genuine gift since she hadn’t paid for it, merely took it from some boxes in the hallways. However, she knowingly grabbed it when I told her I couldn’t find time to read our library’s Frankenstein before I go home. Thus, it was settled, I was to read it on my way back home. I have to admit, it took me a while, even if Mary didn’t put pen to that many papers, but the language struck me. So, let’s keep it short and sweet for now. I do recommend Frankenstein for odd people in search for openly knowing classical plots in our literature. I, for one, had no popular clue about what it entailed but the sudden creation of a monster in a lab. Shelley, at her ripe age of nineteen, actively pursued to prove herself as a woman in the game of romantic writing in front of Lord Byron, Byshee, and Polidori one night at Lake Geneva. Although rest should be history, there is even a movie for us to visualize the context of it. Frankenstein not only brings to life science fiction and the dichotomy between good and evil in quite the fascinating way but trails the way for character development. It begs the question if evil is nature or nurture by playing God in a cryptic attempt to advance science when science was barely a seed in its history. The vocabulary is rich in anecdotes, clinging to every sentence for the reader to dive deeper in the plot. In my personal opinion, since Shelley is long gone now and won’t be reading my silly commentary any time soon (similar to a lot of well and alive people), it represents a hard book to follow, yet contains a promising maze in sight. Crack it open, boys and girls, let it breathe for a while, and then jump headfirst into what seems to be the beginning of intricate classical reading, at least for me.

I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other. 

2. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson

My mom gifted me this book at the beginning of summer with the pretty idiotic premise that it will somehow make me manage the influx of my post-first-year depression into a bliss of rainbows and a parade of not giving fucks here and there. I will not be dreadful just because a great bunch of people have been with Manson’s obituary when it comes to caring about things in general; I might even state that it contains some useful tips if you are smart enough to take them out of context. After all, it represents one of the easiest reads I have had in a while: middle school vocabulary, way too many personal paradigms, and life failures to continuously cheer the reader up, subjectively presented psychological studies that only confirm the writer’s point of view, and way too many fucks/shits/whatever petty insult comes to mind to keep you interested. So, if this sounds like something you would want to spend you afternoon reading in an airport, this is the right fit for you. Nevertheless, it is quite curios the approach he sustained for a self-help book by basically shouting at you that this world cares about the same insignificant dramas that resume to nothing in particular at the end of the day. This is the most basic message I was left with after finishing the book and ultimately, my cigarette. Now, now, I stopped underlining interesting paragraphs when I realized this book will gather some dust before another easily impressed person will get it off my shelf. I only recommend it for people who consider their lives should be drawn down to a minimalistic approach. This silly lecture is brought by an author who sincerely considers his interminable Don Juan days to count as life-saving examples for people in search of a better life. That is true, I really stopped giving a fuck about his book the moment I finished it.

Our crisis is no longer material; it’s existential, it’s spiritual. We have so much fucking stuff and so many opportunities that we don’t even know what to give a fuck about anymore.” 

3. A Man Called Ove by Backman Fredrik

I do not remember when was the last time a book made me genuinely weep like a toddler in distress since this is exactly what I was almost three quarters of this bestseller. I do not mean to say that it will go down as a classic or that it even pertains the most complex, yet humane plot in existence of literature but the talent in which Fredrik managed to carry me through three hundred pages on the life of a grumpy, old man is remarkable. Every other chapter, we are taken back to Ova’s adulthood where he learns about hardship and love, and sometimes even the hardships of love and all that. However farcical the language at times may be, its wholesomeness should tickle the fancy of any old, grumpy reader. I have no complaint, just a regret it has been on my to-read list for three years before I ordered it online and fell in love with it for good. I duly recommend it to anyone who wants to be reminded of the smallest things we take for granted as one day, you might wake up with them gone and with yourself unprepared for adjustments. More than Manson, Frederik’s Ove made me realize that every day counts, even if you are given to live just half of it. Come to think about it, it almost feels as if this book is The Little Prince’s younger brother – for anyone to pick up and toy with. Yes, I ended with a preposition, no, I do not care. I should recommend it unrequitedly and with no leftover shame simply due to the fact that it may resonate with the dingiest of all; and if books are not meant to draw us a little bit closer through oddly attractive language and happy-but-not-really endings, then I do not know why we bother to read in the first place. Also, there is a movie in its name. It’s a date. My place?

This is hard.

Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it’s often one of the great motivations for living. Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury. Some need its constant presence to even be aware of its antithesis. Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival. We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.

4. We by Zamyatin Yevgeny

I am positive most of you use Orwell’s masterpiece, 1984, as a flamboyant example in casually smart conversation when traversing utopia and other incredibly hard to understand concepts just because. It so happens I hypocritically did too until We fell into my hands this summer. I have to admit I thought this was a short love story written by a heartbroken Russian man but, boy, was I far from the truth. We was Orwell’s inspiration for 1984 so much so that it represents basically the same plot written in mathematical language. Sort of. Since the majority of people are already familiar with Orwell’s story, reviewing Yevgeny seems a bit head-scratching. I would not assert they are somewhat twins in plot and such, but they definitely come from the same mother. Right at the front, we have D-503 who is facing several personal and ideological dilemmas prompted by I-333, a woman, the face of an upcoming revolution against anything normal in a perfect mathematically built society. What I found to be completely revolutionary was the science fiction machineries used to describe this dystopian society which was extremely advanced in 1924, when Yevgeny wrote this novel, whilst agreeing to leave Russia for the sake of it. My suggestion would be to read the author’s biography before heavily diving into this one-seat read and be prepared to question most of its paragraphs. Is it an easy book? No. Will it change your life? If you let it.

I am aware of myself. And, of course, the only things that are aware of themselves and conscious of their individuality are irritated eyes, cut fingers, sore teeth. A healthy eye, finger, tooth might as well not even be there. Isn’t it clear that individual consciousness is just sickness?

5. Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff

This might not be everyone’s cup of tea when discussing the current American political climate mainly because everyone has had it up to here about it. Trump does this and that and mostly anybody loses their minds which has become suffocating and, let’s face it, boring. However, if your interest still peaks when hearing this name, Wolff prepared an awfully interesting, albeit dubious investigation into Trump first nine months into the White House. I honestly do not know how he had access to such private conversations between top tiers on the Hill, conversations including controversial information that needs to be verified and, well, Wolff failed to do that. There are some chapters focusing on the entire irony of the free eagle’s 45th President and its branches which might be fun to read and nod along with it: “yes, Trump is incompetent, yes, Ivanka and Jared are incompetent, yes, Barron is somewhat incompetent, yes, mostly everyone associated with this presidency is virtually incompetent.” If you are able to take everything presented with a heavy pinch of salt and assume the worst (it is not that hard after three years of this presidency), then you are good to go. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to first-hand witness how Capitol Hill was turned into a mad kingdom of gut decisions solely based on biased knowledge on a small array of subjects and gross personal interest (of course, if everything in the book proves to be the factual reality of the events).

-Once, coming back on his plane with a billionaire friend who had brought along a foreign model, Trump, trying to move in on his friend’s date, urged a stop in Atlantic City. He would provide a tour of his casino. His friend assured the model that there was nothing to recommend Atlantic City. It was a place overrun by white trash. “What is this ‘white trash’?” asked the model. “They’re people just like me,” said Trump, “only they’re poor.”-

6. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

This can get rather difficult for me to put into words without getting harshly criticized for it. I might be also a little biased since Nabokov used to teach at Wellesley College a lifetime ago, being the founder of our Russian Department. So, it hits close to home knowing a literary giant walked the same dusty path to work like me. This entire book represents a part of his genius, something that should be valued in the most complex way we can. Talking about pedophilia, but making it seem innocent, vulnerable as if Lolita wanted to attract older men in her lure is what Nabokov is made of. The choice of words is abundant, it is captivating, it doesn’t let go. I would find myself falling in the love with the style, with the prose, with the tiniest detail of action, followed by an obvious self-apprehension: that was so… wrong. And yes, it is. Most of the book is clearly wrong from any point of view you take it. That’s why it’s the perfect poster for literary censorship and why we cannot let ourselves be tamed only by literature plots that are on the same moral high ground we find ourselves in. Literature is meant to slap you in the face, but in such a twisted way that you end up enjoying it and demand more. It is true, this book is not destined for everyone. Just for those dreading the completely obvious.

“You have to be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy, with a bubble of hot poison in your loins and a super-voluptuous flame permanently aglow in your subtle spine (oh, how you have to cringe and hide!), in order to discern at once, by ineffable signs―the slightly feline outline of a cheekbone, the slenderness of a downy limbs, and other indices which despair and shame and tears of tenderness forbid me to tabulate―the little deadly demon among the wholesome children; she stands unrecognized by them and unconscious herself of her fantastic power.”

7. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Oh boy, this will be a hard one. The most pleasurable of all the little things literature has to offer us (me), I suspect that recognizing real-life places between the lines of a famous book might bring the most joyful heartbeat for some reason. As I said before, Plath used to live in Wellesley during her teenage years and was even offered a scholarship to attend Wellesley College, but committed to Smith instead. Either way, she grew up where I am currently growing and I can’t help but fantasize about our lives being similar in that way. When I first started this book, her way with the pen was fascinating: she wrote as I do now, adding way too many descriptives to the page, which may be nothing short of kitsch, but one must keep in mind she was a poet before she was anything else. Poets and (novel) writers are two different human species: one wants to make you cry and the other will explain why you cried. And in her only novel, Plath deals with quite the autobiographical heroine, Esther, who is progressively falling into, from my understanding of the back cover, insanity. I say from my understanding of the advertisement itself because the way I interpreted the book, Esther falls prey to disappointments as a sexually frustrated, white, middle-class woman in New England dealing with abrupt misogyny and a curiously portrayed almost-rape scene that sets the tone for the rest of her mental illness. Her virginity may be the pretext for the bell jar (jars in which dead babies are kept for medical students to examine), constantly hanging over her head, but since Plath wrote this while simultaneously living a satirically similar life, I doubt she understood the privileges the main character was drowning in. However, it does offer a somewhat realistic image of depression, maybe borderline personality in that period of time, designed especially for people who do not understand how mental illness can occur in a healthy environment. It could be a great recommendation for people wishing for a tiny insight into her troubled head.

There is something demoralizing about watching two people get more and more crazy about each other, especially when you are the only extra person in the room. It’s like watching Paris from an express caboose heading in the opposite direction–every second the city gets smaller and smaller, only you feel it’s really you getting smaller and smaller and lonelier and lonelier, rushing away from all those lights and excitement at about a million miles an hour.

8. Crime and Punishment by F. D. Dostoyevsky

It took me long enough. In my humble attempt to fully grasp what Dostoyevsky wished to impart on the lowly (us), I suspect I have failed terribly. Even the sheer taste of what an incredible writer he was (still is, as I devour his words) opened my eyes. I am nothing but an insect compared to his genius. Thus, the arrogance of a fan should do this review justice. Spoilers are, in this case, useless. There is no particular ending. Just the main plot in which Raskolnikov murders an old lady and her sister to dispute his status as an extremely impoverished student in Russia. Fair enough. However, there is a certain agonizing method in which Dostoyevsky pushes us face to face with his consciousness. His ego. His mortifying feelings of guilt to the point you think that you murdered those poor ladies. In this remarkable novel, we are pulled by our teeth to understand what it means to commit a crime (even if the main character believes that a handful of people are entitled to murders, based on his published paper you get to read in the midst of the novel). In the end, the line between righteousness and evil is quite foggy, at least for me. You might ask yourself all sorts of questions you didn’t even know existed in you and that, my friends, is what makes a novel worth your time.

I used to analyze myself down to the last thread, used to compare myself with others, recalled all the smallest glances, smiles and words of those to whom I’d tried to be frank, interpreted everything in a bad light, laughed viciously at my attempts ‘to be like the rest’ –and suddenly, in the midst of my laughing, I’d give way to sadness, fall into ludicrous despondency and once again start the whole process all over again – in short, I went round and round like a squirrel on a wheel.”

9. Jazz by Toni Morrison

This was my first Morrison delight. There was a sense of high expectations on my behalf since I was ashamed I had not picked up one of her books up until that point. Here is what I have to say: her style of writing is not for everyone. Jazz, the book in itself, is written as though you are listening to jazz in the background and you are devouring the words in front of you. It’s not necessarily the subject matter that impressed me, yet how she moved alone the lines: indeed, a girl was murdered out of love, yet I do not sense the grotesque feeling such a thing would normally give me. I empathize with the characters. With the cheated wife. With the husband. With the dead young woman. Morrison keeps her foot on the gas and delivers every line by offering an insight, in what I found most compelling, how black women braid their hair. What an intricate, yet majestic process it is. How it must be done irrespective of the consequences. How they got to that point in their lives from their ancestors to 1920’s Harlem, through the city of jazz, New Orleans. I believe you need to pick up the book and speak for yourself. It’s somewhat irrational how I keep going about a book you might never open.

I’m crazy about this City. Daylight slants like a razor cutting the buildings in half. In the top half I see looking faces and it’s not easy to tell which are people, which the work of stonemasons. Below is shadow where any blasé thing takes place: clarinets and lovemaking, fists and the voices of sorrowful women. A city like this one makes me dream tall and feel in on things. Hep. It’s the bright steel rocking above the shade below that does it. When I look over strips of green grass lining the river, at church steeples and into the cream-and-copper halls of apartment buildings, I’m strong. Alone, yes, but top-notch and indestructible-like the City in 1926 when all the wars are over and there will never be another one. The people down there in the shadow are happy about that. At last, at last, everything’s ahead. The smart ones say so and people listening to them and reading what they write down agree: Here comes the new. Look out.

10. Where The Crawdads sing by Delia Owens

This book needed to be in my life. A word of advice: if you happen to read the back cover, do not linger over it and under any circumstance, do not buy it thinking you are going to get an Agatha Christie thick plot surrounding a murder. Indeed, it does represent a central focus, but Owen’s writing expanded beyond that. Her knowledge in the North Carolina swamp and fauna was astounding. The beauty of details she used to describe every word concerning our little and abandoned Kya found herself was grappling and it induces you in a trance of fullness and continuity. There is a sense of confusion as to how a child manages to survive and beat famine and loneliness on her own ever since her abused mother and siblings leave for a better future. Kya is left to fend for her own and finds herself immersed in the care of Mother Nature. However, for me, as I began to understand towards the end of the book, it was merely about the act of survival in silo. Not just keeping yourself alive, but keeping yourself safe. From everything and everyone. It might come off as a pretty unremarkable plot if we are to judge it from this perspective, but I presume Owens focused on something entirely different: creating the world of the swamp right inside our heads with every little bird, snail, algae, and strand of sand perfectly positioned in our brains. We just had to follow Kya accordingly.

Sometimes she heard night-sounds she didn’t know or jumped from lightning too close, but whenever she stumbled, it was the land who caught her. Until at last, at some unclaimed moment, the heart-pain seeped away like water into sand. Still there, but deep. Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.

11. How I Became Stupid by Martin Page

When I bought this book in my quarantine rendezvous runs to stare at the book shelf in our local market, I puffed at the title. There was a certain humor to it, dark even. You do not consciously make the decision to become stupid, do you? There was my person pre-take on it where I genuinely thought it was going to be another run down self-help book that helped me understood cognitive biases that I already studied in college and understood infinitely better. Boy, was I wrong!… It is an absurd-comic story! This genre is quite infamous in Romanian romantic and interwar literature, as it deals with uncomfortable topics for the general audience. In this case, the idea of being too smart for the 2000s society in France. Or the world, come to think of it. Antoine wants to become stupid as the burden of actively being aware of the infinity of knowledge out there is too heavy to carry. He tries alcoholism, suicide, and even becoming a broker for the stock market. That does it, apparently. Now, if you are a broker and you find it a bit offensive, might I suggest you get over it and read the book? Kind reminder: it is not for everyone. Though quite short in length, if you are not the greatest fan of ethics and morality with a sprinkle of literally every complex domain out there, Page’s debut novel might not do it for you. Anyway, I should try becoming stupid one day.

I have the curse of reason: I’m poor, single and depressed. For months now I’ve been thinking about my illness of thinking too much, and I’ve established with complete certainty the correlation between my unhappiness and the incontinence of my mind. Probing and pondering and overanalyzing have never given me any advantages; they’ve only played against me.