Tag Archives: books

I Like Books with Pictures

1 Aug

There, I said it. One of the few things that I brought with me from Bulgaria and that I still keep, despite periodic, merciless purges, are two of my favorite childhood books—The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen and La Fontaine’s Fables. You can find both books in any bookstore, even in the bestseller emporium that is Barnes&Noble. But I keep them because of the pictures by Libico Maraja and Cremonini. They are rich, detailed, perhaps a bit too old fashioned by today’s standards, but they still make me want to read the stories again and again, so I can get to the points that each illustration makes unforgettable.

Books

I am a grown up now, but I still can’t help myself when I see a book with beautiful illustrations. Sometimes the illustrations do the book justice. Sometimes they actually are better than the book itself. Either way, I end up buying them (for the kids, of course):

Anything by Paul or Josh Kidby

Luckily they mostly illustrated Terry Pratchett, so that is a no-brainer. Josh’s are manic, crazy, busy, chaotic as the Discworld itself. Paul’s have this self-mocking quality, as if Havelock Vetinari himself drew them.

josh_kirby_discworld_017

Chris Riddle

446muddleearth

All of Chris Riddle’s characters have the curious expression of a little kid. While some books are brilliant (Muddle Earth and Something Else need to be read by every parent to every kid; The Emperor of Absurdia is just plain fun), others do not make much sense (the Ottoline series). He also made Gulliver’s Travels look really good. Unfortunately, the story is still the same.

Illustrated books for adults

Sacre Bleu002These are few and far between. Christopher Moore’s Sacre Bleu, Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery and Hasek’s The Good Soldier Svejk are on my bookshelves because of the illustrations. They are all better because of the illustrations, too.

Then there are those books that beg for illustrations but which for whatever reasons – something as trivial as cost, or as self-conscious as fear that they would not be taken seriously – lack them. Think about it – wouldn’t My Name is Red, Wolf Hall or The Passage be better with pictures that show the obsession, intrigue and horror?

A picture is worth a hundred words, after all…

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The Immigrant Novel

15 May

At a recent conference, a tech guru said something interesting (probably not original, but it was well put). What drives us are two conflicting desires — the need to be unique and the need to belong. While in different cultures one of these desires may be slightly more dominant than the other, overall, it is a pretty accurate way to sum up a universal truth about people. It is also a source of a permanent conflict for immigrants. What we have in abundance is uniqueness. What we strive for is to belong. But in order to do that, we have to leave behind, unlearn, forget and even denounce some things that make us who we are.

Molding to a new culture can make you question yourself as if you are a teenager, rebuilding the idea of who she is every time she passes a mirror, a real one or her reflection in someone else’s eyes. It is exhausting. It is an impossible conflict between who you are, who people think you are and who you want to be. Perhaps, that is why it is such a fruitful topic for good novels — because it is complex and human, and requires a mastery of language to express the nuances of emotions that paint even the most mundane situations a deep rich blue:

Shards

imagesEven when you escape a war-torn place, a part of you always remains there. Like your reflection in the shards of a broken mirror, you are not whole but a sum of overlapping, skewed and twisted images, each from a slightly different angle, in slightly different light. Even when you manage to put the pieces together, the cracks remain, like permanent scars. Ismet Prcic’s scars are much deeper than mine. 

Brooklyn

brooklynThis is a book about hope and about love and the sacrifices people that leave and people that stay make in the name of hope and love. It makes you think about the cost of change and wonder (on gray days) if the choice and freedom to build a new and better life might be a Pandora’s box, better left unopened.

Ru

ruThis lyrical book is not as much of a novel as it is a reflection on identity. Tragedies are described in simple words, a stream that sometimes almost feels monotonous and that is what makes them more striking. A key recurring theme is the power of extended family in retaining your identity. Ultimately, this is what grounds you, whether you are in the country you are born, or on the other side of the world.

The Facebook Book Club “Disaster”

24 Mar

reading-nook-design-ideas-2A few months ago I came up with a brilliant idea (or so I thought). I love reading books and I spend way too much on Facebook. Why not bring the two together and form a virtual Facebook book club? (Isn’t that what Good Reads is, you may ask, and my answer to that is: Does Good Reads also have pictures of your friends’ kids, pets and vacations?)

So, on my list of 180 FB friends (I am not that popular after all), there were a few who responded to the recruiting call. They shared the news with their friends, but apparently they are not that popular either, because at the end we ended up with a book club of 35 people. While that is a pretty good number if you compare it to an “analog” book club.

The rules were pretty straightforward. We take turns picking a book, we read it till a certain date, and then we post discussions and reviews. Well, we lasted exactly two books. So what caused our bookish enthusiasm to wane?

When we set up the book club, we decided that we will also use the group to comment on what we are reading as we go along. Facebook gave us an opportunity to jump in and share an insight or question right away without having to wait for the end of the month meeting. But it turns out that while the real time-ness of it theoretically should have encouraged comments, as the novelty of it wore off, so did the real-time comments. The absence of ongoing conversation meant that one of the biggest potential advantages of a virtual book club was gone. Which really exposed one of it huge drawbacks—getting together with a bunch of friends, over wine and snacks, to discuss something you all experienced was not possible on Facebook.

Our book club was big, but as we did not know each other that well, our tastes in books varied. Perhaps that resulted in book choices that were more limiting than we needed to engage everyone. I can’t help but think that people felt a bit more restrained in their discussions with this group of people they knew only virtually. Would we have had a different discussion on Italy in the 50s, if we knew where each one of us was coming from and knew what other things we, the club members, had in common? This single shared interest was not enough to keep us engaged with each other, it did not inspire us to get to know each other better or outside of the book club.

This is not to say that a bad choice in books does not happen in a “real” book club. We’ve all had our fare share of book choices that make us secretly groan and roll our eyes. But having to meet with your club peers in a month makes you endure the book and forces you to either find some redeeming qualities or, if you like the confrontation, build an argument for why it sucked. And here lies the other weakness of Facebook – it does not create the strong bonds between people that are the foundation of guilt.

Perhaps we were all just a bunch of detached Northwesterners. But I can’t help but think that it is not just our aloofness that prevented us from making the Bookclub Experiment a success. And I must admit, I am sort of glad for that.

Books as a Fashion Accessory

9 Mar

This month’s Vanity Fair features “embroidered canvas classic novel clutches” for only $1,330/each. I am pretty sure that none of the people who buy the Dr. Zhivago clutch would have read the book.

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