2013 Highlights – Book selection, #1

As I promised on Twitter (and in private, to myself), this is it, one new post to delight you all!

2013 has been a full year for me, so full that I have barely managed to reach my goal of 100 books (which you can check out here). Now, I don’t consider it a shame in general to not read a certain number of books because frankly not all of us have the dedication or the time to achieve that. It’s mostly that I feel I could’ve read more. Actually, I know I could’ve read more. I’ve slacked off and stopped reading for like two months of my summer. How ironic is that? I stopped reading during my school break, because I didn’t have enough time for it! That is why I consider this year, from a literature point of view, a bit lost.

However, I have managed to read more good books (classics, by all continents) than I have ever read. This happened because having so little time to read, I picked mostly books that mattered, so as not to spend time (I won’t say lose time because I am a firm believer you never lose time when you read) on works that didn’t matter for my culture.

The books are not ordered randomly, but in the sequence in which I read them, starting with the beginning of the year and ending about a week ago. I didn’t plan for it, but when browsing through my Goodreads records for them, I picked exactly 10 without noticing it in the beginning.

So, here we go! Top 10 books read in 2013 are…

1. 1984 – George Orwell

Read from 8 to 11 of January 2013

Original thoughts as found in my review on GR:

1984 is pure, cruel imagery. I don’t know if it’s just because of my imagination or I’m the only one who felt this, but it’s a powerful book not just in terms of “what-could-be”, but also in terms of “what-is”. Not just “what-ifs”, but more like coming to terms with the fact that some of those “what-ifs” are already here.

I’m not saying our world is 1984esque. But it’s not that far either. It’s already started on that slope and if we start going faster and faster, who can guarantee we won’t end up like that?

Along the book, I met tons and tons of greatly written lines, of thoughts that were also mine, but in different shapes. As Allan Bennett says in one of his plays, “The History Boys”: “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.”

Now:

So, I was pretty impressed. It scored a 5 star rating from me with a standing ovation. Now, almost a year after finishing it, I still remember the plot and the force of the character and just how complex the writing is. Sometimes books like these lack in good writing, even if the subject is worth writing for. Orwell doesn’t do that. He is a perfect photographer of human emotions and thoughts and how we react to stimuli under different circumstances.

One of the classics that deserve this title, a powerful story of deceit and fear, and a clear incursion into the human mind.

Quotes I liked

Talking to her, he realized how easy it was to present an appearance of orthodoxy while having no grasp whatever of what orthodoxy meant. In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. By lack of understanding  they remained sane. They simply swallowed everything, and what they swallowed did them no harm, because it left no residue behind, just as a grain of corn will pass undigested through the body of a bird.

Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.

He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.

The best books… are those that tell you what you know already.

To die hating them, that was freedom.

2. Delusions of Grandeur – Jason Najum

Read from 21 to 24 of January 2013

Original thoughts as found in my review on GR:

Yeah, we have them. These delusions, these unstoppable thoughts about our world, the one we inhabit without a permit, oh yes, we know all the facts. But then comes a man that decides to write about this, to write the truth. And, what’s even better about this, he does so in our time. This book wasn’t written 50 years ago, when Kerouac was telling the truth. This book isn’t created in the times of liberation. It’s actually created when we are becoming more and more sure of our imprisonment. Jason Najum kind of reminds me of Palahniuk. Palahniuk is a phenomenal writer, but he goes a lot on the dark side, he chooses to gross people out and remind them of the beasts they are, acting like they are not. Kind of like gorillas dressed in ballerina gowns. Najum doesn’t go there. He keeps it positive, he keeps it calm and decent and still delivers the same ideas: it’s time for a fuckin’ change.

Now:

I remember how I took up this book. The author direct messaged me on Goodreads to ask if I would be available to review his work and I of course said yes. I don’t say yes to everyone who asks me that (and, shamefully, sometimes I say yes but don’t come through due to lack of time), but I liked Jason and I thought why not give it a go.

I didn’t expect it to be this good. Honestly. I thought I would read it and maybe review it at 2.5 or 3 stars and that would be it. But I was instantly hooked and finished it pretty quickly.

For a debut book, by an unknown name in the industry, this was well written. Sure it has flaws and sometimes you can feel it’s been written by a novice but it has “heart” and a lot of substance to begin with. Well deserved 4 star rating from me!

Quotes I liked

I too have a secret identity. I too burn with an innate belief that I am meant for something more, for something big and beautiful. But I stop there. That is as far as I’ll go with the comparison. Because no matter how epic I wish my story was, no matter how much I suffer and struggle and hope, I know that Superman was not this much of a pussy.

Peel the layers off until you get to its core. And you will find us. We live and suffer in a world of our own creation. The systems that cause so much harm are built by our hands. The structures that confine us sit on foundations that we have laid. The corrupt political systems, the greedy corporations, the empty culture, the wasted lives. All of it made of people, by people. Almost any part of our misery can be reduced down to us. Choose something, anything, and if you reduce it down far enough you will find us sitting there, blood on our hands and dumb looks on our faces.

3. When We Were Orphans – Kazuo Ishiguro

Read from January 27 to 28.

Original thoughts as found in my review on GR:

And seriously, after I left it on the little table next to my bed and went to sleep, I felt good. And it’s when books manage to leave me with this sort of feeling that I know it was awesome.

From my perspective, the main character was wonderfully crafted. His flaws, his qualities, his laugh, his lines, his thoughts, his story were all so well integrated in his image that I had trouble realizing I don’t actually know this man, when I started comparing him to people!

In search of his parents, Christopher realized he never left the childhood period and is only now beginning to peek a different way of thinking. As a detective, you’d expect him to be extremely evolved on all fields, but turns out he missed on a couple of things from when he was a kid. And those couple of things were his own parents.

Now:

This was my first Ishiguro book and I became a junkie for his work. He writes poetry. His lines are perfectly balanced. His syntax is just flawless. He comes through as an amazing artist, playing with different wording styles and giving off emotion through every page. It’s one of the few works in the last 20 years that speak loudly to the public and demand their attention.

It was a 4.5 star rating on GR but a perfect read in general.

Quotes I liked

Perhaps there are those who are able to go about their lives unfettered by such concerns. But for those like us, our fate is to face the world as orphans, chasing through long years the shadows of vanished parents. There is nothing for it but to try and see through our missions to the end, as best we can, for until we do so, we will be permitted no calm.

It’s all right. I’m not upset. After all, they were just things. When you’ve lost your mother and your father, you can’t care so much about things, can you?

4. Brave New World – Alduos Huxley.

Read from February 17 to 18

Original thoughts as found in my GR review:

How is it that in the case of some authors, like Huxley, I can take one book of theirs, read it, hate it, and I can then read another of their works and love it? Aldous Huxley is a good example for that. I hated Point Counter Point, but I loved Brave New World. How come!? I can’t explain it..

Kind of like that famous quote: bread and circuses, that’s what you give them in order to maintain the low level of understanding. As long as they are fed and entertained, their bellies full and their minds blank.. they’re fine. You’re fine. Everything is fine.

Now:

This book I loved so much that I reviewed for my History class. It’s the opposite of 1984, if you will. While in 1984 the population if controlled by a repressive and demanding dictatorship, here you have none of that. The people are happy. They don’t need anything, they have no cravings, their wishes are constantly fulfilled by the drug they are given, the soma, and their fighting abilities are inhibited with the use of happiness. It really is the perfect system. Their minds are so empty that they are incapable of revolting. Not out of fear, as in Orwell’s book, but out of commodity. That is way scarier than any other totalitarian system.

Quotes I liked:

“All right then,” said the savage defiantly, I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat, the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.”
There was a long silence.
“I claim them all,” said the Savage at last.”

…most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.

5. The Magus – John Fowles

Read from January 4 to February 24

Original thoughts as found in my GR review:

How I got to get this book? At my friend’s house, I was, as usually looking through her library when I saw this big, fat, fluffy book with a big title, “The Magus” (though in Romanian it’s different), by John Fowles. Evidently, my eyes sparkled as they do at anything longer than 500 pages that seems serious enough for me to read, as I love long stories; the longer they are, if it’s well written, the better for me. And my friend, Ana, told me that “oh yeah, I didn’t read that, but it’s my mother’s favorite!” And I thought “hmm.. Long book, seems to be serious, and it’s her mother’s favorite”. Yep, I wanted it.

The characters. I really liked all of them. This rarely happens for me, to like every character and to feel that they are there with a purpose and that if one wouldn’t exist, everything would be dull.

Now:

It’s really nice letting a masterpiece like this settle into your soul. It’s only when you remember random stuff from the book by just looking at its title that you know you loved it. John Fowles writes complicatedly, but this intricate syntax was not enough to scare me. It’s a pleasure to decipher what he wanted to say, what’s the motivation behind this dialogue, or that description or this interior monologue. I find it hard to understand why people didn’t like this book as it has qualities that make it both commercial and off-marketed.. But then again, I can’t criticize people’s tastes in literature for that is not my job.

Quotes I liked:

“The human race is unimportant. It is the self that must not be betrayed.” “I suppose one could say that Hitler didn’t betray his self.” “You are right. He did not. But millions of Germans did betray their selves. That was the tragedy. Not that one man had the courage to be evil. But that millions had not the courage to be good.”

“I acquired expensive habits and affected manners. I got a third-class degree and a first-class illusion: that I was a poet. But nothing could have been less poetic that my seeing-through-all boredom with life in general and with making a living in particular. I was too green to know that all cynicism masks a failure to cope– an impotence, in short; and that to despise all effort is the greatest effort of all. But I did absorb a small dose of one permanently useful thing, Oxford’s greatest gift to civilized life: Socratic honesty. It showed me, very intermittently, that it is not enough to revolt against one’s past. One day I was outrageously bitter among some friends about the Army; back in my own rooms later it suddenly struck me that just because I said with impunity things that would have apoplexed my dead father, I was still no less under his influence. The truth was I was not a cynic by nature, only by revolt. I had got away from what I hated, but I hadn’t found where I loved, and so I pretended that there was nowhere to love. Handsomely equipped to fail, I went out into the world.”

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Carlos Ruiz Zafon – The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #1)

When I don’t know how to start a review, I usually go with “I liked this book. This book was ok.” and so on. I am going to start in a similar fashion, but please imagine the next proposition spoken in a tone of awe, while the said speaker melts away with happiness.

I loved this book.

I will try to reinforce that one more time, E.L. James style.

I. Loved. This. Book.

Are we clear?

Yes we are.

The characters, the plot, the writing, the everything, it was perfectly put together, flawlessly told. One thing I would’ve loved would’ve been to hear this story told orally, by an old man. Don’t ask me why. I’m weird that way.

The first thing that I felt with this book was how beautifully it is written. I’ve read enough in my life to appreciate good writing and even though I read some reviews about this book that told the future readers that this is not a good book and it’s boring and the writing is awful, I strongly disagree. It’s almost like a river. There’s nothing stopping this writing. I’m just trying to envision how a person can write so flawlessly, create such pure imagery of people and places. Barcelona was simply but efficiently described, the characters were at every pace giving off more and more traits and this was continuous throughout the book, not just in the first part, as it happens with some other works.

I can’t even express how happy I am this book was recommended to me by a classmate. A beautiful surprise she made me.

Take time and enjoy Zafon’s work. It’s worth it.

And if it’s not, you can sue me, hell, I’ll stick to my beliefs.

Kazuo Ishiguro – When We Were Orphans

4.5 stars, and I would have loved to give it a full, loving, fat 5, but I couldn’t.

I loved this book. First thing that attracted me to it was the title. For me it has a special resonance and I really longed to see what could be between the pages of such a greatly named book. I realized from the first page it wouldn’t be what I expected (I’m not sure why I thought it would be about a girl), but as I flipped through it I got more and more sucked in its world. It is stunning.

Let me make it clear – it’s not a 5-star rating because of a personal button that still blinks OFF. But it was the last button in a row of hundreds of buttons that this book pressed to be ON.

It’s beautifully written. Beautifully, really! Flawless, fluid, it treats you like a fine guest in a tea-house, when they give you the perfect blend of nicely smelling herb tea with milk, when they say “Please”, and “Thank you”. And as when you walk out of that parlor and the owner says “Have a nice day”, so this book leaves you, at its last page, with a happy hand wave. I felt so good after finishing it I actually read the last 20 pages again.

And seriously, after I left it on the little table next to my bed and went to sleep, I felt good. And it’s when books manage to leave me with this sort of feeling that I know it was awesome.

From my perspective, the main character was wonderfully crafted. His flaws, his qualities, his laugh, his lines, his thoughts, his story were all so well integrated in his image that I had trouble realizing I don’t actually know this man, when I started comparing him to people!

In search of his parents, Christopher realized he never left the childhood period and is only now beginning to peek a different way of thinking. As a detective, you’d expect him to be extremely evolved on all fields, but turns out he missed on a couple of things from when he was a kid. And those couple of things were his own parents.

When he actually found his mother, I almost shed a tear. She didn’t recognize him, for crying out loud! But when he said if she remembered “Puffin”, she did. She did remember. He was her child, still her child, after all the years apart, after all the pain she endured and after ending up in that sanatorium, she knew. She may not have known his face, his body or his voice. But she knew and loved that kid she left behind physically and carried with her mentally forever. Even.. even in her insanity she had him to caress her.

Three, maybe four scenes stand out for me from this book, because they were situations of real life put well in writing. Which I have always admired, this talent of representing vision, hearing, taste, feelings, thoughts, all in a mere two, three pages.

In the end, I love this book a lot. A lot lot lot! I relate to it on many levels, but it’s not just that. It’s the heart put into it, it’s the love that it teaches you and the wisdom it sometimes reaches. Beautiful.

The White Plague – Frank Herbert

I’m sorry for not being able to write more often on the blog! School started and what can you do when you have to learn and take exams and actually pass them.. But whatever. I’m back and that’s all that matters.
This time, with a SF master and a book to die for.

I absolutely loved this book. I already knew Herbert was a master of the genre, a man that has achieved in writing few have achieved, and I knew he wrote the “Dune” series, but when I took The White Plague off the shelve, I really didn’t make the connection between Frank Herbert the author of this book, and THE Frank Herbert.

Good thing I realised it at the middle of the book, when I took another look to see who wrote this amazing story, and I was like : “oh. now it makes sense. now you tell me.”

Of course, the plot is really good.

This guy’s wife and children, O’Neill’s, are blown up by an IRA bomb, on May 20, 1996. He immediatelly goes insane, and his mind shatters into different personalities, from which one is a mad man that is decided to make the world pay for what has been done to him. Because he was a molecular biologist, he is an apt scientist and he creates a plague that only affects women, the men being the carriers. He releases this plague into three countries – Ireland, England and Libya. He asks the governements to bring every emigrant back in the country and to let the virus take its course, so they feel the way he felt when his family was killed.

Because they are on a search to find him, he goes to Ireland to hide. He decides to get hired as a scientist in the project that is developed for counterattacking the virus he created, so he can sabbotage the results. Unfortunatelly for him, he is already suspected to being the terrorist, and he is sent to Ireland in the company of a priest, a boy and an IRA bomber, the same one that detonated the bomb that killed his wife and children.

In the end, it’s not just about how a man’s mind goes mad because his family was taken away from him, it’s also about how countries react to such a threat – a plague that was created by man and released in the world without remorse. What do they go then? Do they exterminate every human being that is infected? Do they wipe those countries off of the face of the world? Or do they stay and do nothing? Is this a casus belli? Or is it not?

Of course, the book was written with Herbert’s usual flawless techinique, making the reader enter a world of his own, but not his own entirely. What if this could be true?

xoxo

George Eliot – The Mill on The Floss

ATTENTION EVERYONE! THIS IS A CLASSIC! DELICATE OBJECT, TO BE HANDLED WITH CARE!

Contraindication – MIGHT CAUSE SEVERE HEADACHES.

Now, that we have gotten that out of the way and everything is clear, my review can start.

As some people now, I have a fear of classics. I think I am too young to read them and the only reason I do it is because I think a man cannot live his life without going through all the major and important works of literature that have been written, because those are the core for everything else. Nobody said I had to enjoy them all the time, but sometimes I do, as it happened with … uhm.. uhh.. wait.. uh.. Yeah. With those ones.

But no, for real, I liked this work. 3 stars. 3 and half. (I keep breaking my own rules in relation with the grades the books get. Oh well. I’m a sinner to the bone. Rawr. )

George Eliot’s “The Mill on The Floss” is an almost 500-hundred-paged story that follows the life of two main characters, Maggie and Tom, who are siblings. They grew up in a world where social status was much more cared about than internal values and where a man’s integrity was a negotiable thing. They were brought up in a family with an honest, but sometimes tough father, a farmer who owned a mill, and a mother that had once been part of one of the snobbiest families around. Their marriage was not necessarily happy, but not necessarily sad. That is until the father went sort of bankrupt and lost the mill and everything else he owned. Up to that point, their life had been pretty easy, but now they find themselves at the mercy of others.

At this point, Tom decides to repay his father’s debts and works his a** off to get the money, while his sister sinks deeper and deeper in her books and friendship (aka love) for Philip, her father’s worst enemy’s son.

The debt is repaid, but their father dies and the family goes through some sad times. Maggie is now alone, up until she is invited to stay at her cousin’s house, Lucy. She meets Stephen there, who falls in love with her and tries to take her away. She refuses and when she comes back, no one wants to accept her anymore, convinced that she has sinned with another woman’s lover. Of course she didn’t, she’s the damsel in distress, you morons!

The end is a powerful image of The Floss (a river) at the time of the flood. Maggie and Tom, her brother, die holding each other in their arms under the tumultuous waters.. “In their death they were not divided”, it says.

 

For those of you who like classics, this would be a nice read. I personally enjoyed it. Most of the time. At times I did, at times I didn’t, but what can you do?
xoxo

 

Millennium Series(#1, #2, #3) – Stieg Larsson

If I were to compare Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series with something to eat, I’d go for well roasted lamb chops cooked with red wine, a side dish of mushrooms cooked in the oven and a salad of rare herbs. In other words, a delicacy. Even more, it can even be compared with caviar. Pretty rare and expensive, quite luxurious, even.

If I were to compare it with a hotel, I’d definitely go for the Ritz.

But I can’t compare it with these things, because it is out of question. It’s not about how rare it is to find such a book, not even about how good it is, it all comes down to the passion that was put by the author in writing this piece. It is unbelievably good. It is like nothing I have read before, or heard about. Unique in it’s own style, rarely heard of in others.

By all means, this book was so good because it’s author was a damned good journalist. When work as a journalist, everything comes down to facts. Real, tangible, infallible facts. And this is precisely what this book did. It hung to the facts that made up a story that made up a world and eventually made me not sleep. Basically.

There are three volumes in this series, as follows :

#1 – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

#2 – The Girl Who Played With Fire

#3 – The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest
All three of them get from me 5 well-deserved stars. And I mean it with all my heart. This is one of the best books I have ever read. Ever.

The story is complex, complicated, deliberately surrounding the Swedish world, the Swedish law and enforcement of that law, the Swedish rights, democracy, etc. It uncovers sex-trafficking secrets, truths about the mob in this country, how they operate, how high are they infiltrated in the government, how much they can do to cover up secrets.

The main character of this book is Lisbeth Salander, a girl in her twenties that has been declared mentally unstable and incompetent and has been locked up several times in a sanatorium. She is not at all what the psychiatrists say she is. She is unbelievably smart, has a photographic memory, is very articulate and can read and write perfectly, solves mathematical equations in three weeks that scientists have spent decades trying to solve, and above all, she is one of the world’s leading hackers. She obviously knows her way around computers.

The second main character is Mikael Blomkvist, a swedish journalist who has a talent for ruining people’s lives. And I’m not talking here about ANY man’s life, I’m talking about the big fishes, the ones that do money laundry, the people that are involved in prostitution, child pornography, etc, etc.

These two characters are surrounded by other thoroughly described people that help them (or try to kill them), on the way.

#1 – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Blomkvist  tries to uncover a highly positioned man named Wennerstrom, but he is caught on the wrong foot and sent to trial. After he walks out of this mess, he is hired by a wealthy old man to solve a mystery – who killed his grand-daughter 40 (or so) years ago? Blomkvist is obviously intrigued, and finally says he’ll do it. Later on, after he realizes something is really fishy in this family, he hires a researcher – Lisbeth Salander.

Meanwhile, Salander is faced with real problems. Her old supervisor has a stroke and she gets a new tutor. This one doesn’t seem to be dying soon and has obliged her to sexual acts for money. The second time around, he rapes her an savagely tortures her with sexual toys for about 5 or 6 hours. She videotapes it all. When finished, she goes back to him and tells him that if he ever touched her again or does something she doesn’t like, the video goes to press. She tattoos on his chest :I’m a pervert, a pig, and a rapist.

Mikael gets to know her, realizes who she is and how good she is at what she’s doing, and starts a relationship with her. Lisbeth, who has had troubles in trusting anyone other than herself, finds that she can now trust this man, and she’s no longer afraid of him. By the end of the book, more secrets come to view, and the family history starts to look like a deeply problematic thing. At the end, Salander saves Mikael’s life.. and disappears.
What will she do next, right?

#2 – The Girl Who Played With Fire

Mikael is now a well-known figure in Sweden, for uncovering the truth about the Wennestrom affair, and is now faced with other problems. Salander is gone. He can’t find her, he can’t trace where she lives, she’s .. gone.

The man that raped Lisbeth decides to get back at her. She contacts some men and pays them to kills her. They fail. She then knows she is under attack and stars searching things and hacking into computers. She discovers what Bjurman is up to, and decides to punish him.

Mikael meets with a young journalist who is about to write a book that will uncover secrets about the sex-trafficking industry in Sweden. The journalist and his girlfriend get killed before the book goes public. Blomkvist knows something is up, so he stars digging.
He stumbles many times across the name “Zala”, but when he tries to talk about it, people are too afraid to tell him anything.

Salander starts out on her own rampage when she finds that Bjurman has talked to her father. The one she tried to kill when she was 12 years old. Alexander Zalachenko. Zala.

Trough the rest of the book, Salander and Blomkvist are each on their own investigation and come to the same conclusions. They both decide they have to find Zalachenko.

Salander gets to her father’s house. She finds he already knew about her coming. She’s about to lose it all.

Blomkvist arrives at Zalachenko’s house only to kind Alexander with an axe in his head and Salander with a bullet in hers. She’s to die soon if nothing will be done.

#3 – The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest

That brings us to the third and last book. Salander has three bullets in the body, one that smashed her head open. Her father has his jaw completely shattered. But they are both alive. And they both failed in killing each other. What a dysfunctional family, eh?

Now they’re on the run. Zalachenko has been hid by a secret organization inside Sapo, the Secret Police of Sweden. And they are commited to getting rid of Salander, because she’s too close to uncovering their secret in front of the whole world. And Blomkvist backs her up, sustaining her claim to innocence.

By the end, Salander is acquitted.  The Section, the secret part of Sapo, is uncovered. Sweden is stunned – how could their own government hide that from its people? Salander goes off the radar for some time, and then comes back to a life she has expected for 27 years. She’s finally free.

That took me a long fucking time.
And I haven’t even told you a fraction of what’s actually going on in the book. It’s amazing.

An amazing read, hope others will enjoy it too! Loved it!