viernes, 24 de mayo de 2013

Designing book jackets

I love TED Talks. I usually watch them during lunch or while doing some house chores. I have recently watched one that was so fabulous I had to share it. And it get bonus points for being bookish!

Have you ever wondered how a book jacket is designed? Want to gain more insight into the process and be amused at the same time? Click the play button!

What are your favorite book-related TED talks?

miércoles, 22 de mayo de 2013

Vaclav and Lena - Haley Tanner

Summary (from the back cover):
Isn't the Italian cover the greatest?

Vaclav and Lena seem destined for each other. They meet as children in an English-as-a-second-language class in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Vaclav is precocious and verbal. Lena, struggling with English, takes comfort in the safety of his adoration, his noisy, loving home, and the care of Rasia, his big-hearted mother. Vaclav imagines their story unfolding like a fairy tale, or the perfect illusion from his treasured Magician’s Almanac, but among the many truths to be discovered in Haley Tanner’s wondrous debut is that happily ever after is never a foregone conclusion.

One day, Lena does not show up for school. She has disappeared from Vaclav and his family’s lives as if by a cruel magic trick. For the next seven years, Vaclav says goodnight to Lena without fail, wondering if she is doing the same somewhere. On the eve of Lena’s seventeenth birthday he finds out. 

At first, I had a hard time trying to get into this book. The writing seems choppy and awkward, and everything is unbelievable. It seems to be pure saccharine. 

But I continued reading and soon reached a turning point - The Long and Boring Tale. And while the story has nothing to do with what I thought it had (magic and circuses, and maybe magical realism) and I needed some time to wrap my head around it, it is still a good story. It is darker than I had anticipated, too, what with sexual abuse, prostitution, female slave trading and adoption. The plot has some inconsistencies, like how on earth not a single social assistant went to Ekaterina's house in four years. And I still don't like that kind of star-crossed lovers being in love from age 9 without ever meeting again until they are young adults, but that is a personal pet peeve -more a personal inability to suspend disbelief in certain situations- and not a fault of the book. The characters are part cliché and part unique, so I'm still ambivalent about them, althought it is undeniable that they are unforgettable.

Haley Tanner shows wonderful writing skills throughout the book. I specially liked Lena's inner monologue, when she's looking at that spot in the school bathroom. In fact, now that I've finished the book, I suspect the choppy writing of the beginning was done on purpose, to reflect the struggles of ESL learners when they try to communicate in English. Trust me, I can relate.

Verdict: I'll keep my eyes peeled for future Haley Tanner's books.
             3/5 - liked it.

lunes, 20 de mayo de 2013

Life Soundtrack Vol. 1

My life is being busier than I had anticipated and I'm really sorry I can't read and blog about it as much as I'd like. It sucks, but sometimes life does. So I'm listening to lots of relaxing music these days and have come across a beautiful song with beautiful lyrics at the beginning (and that is almost a poem, isn't it?). I thought I'd share it here:

Flowers for Yulia - Max Richter

I'd venture into the city with the first gray of dawn and walk the deserted streets, and when the streets filled with people, I holed up back indoors to sleep.
(I would read, but hey, to each their own)

 Actually, the whole playlist is a music dream come true. It's been keeping me sane this month. And is great background music for Proust.

miércoles, 15 de mayo de 2013

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

Summary (from the back cover):

The paperback cover, better than the hardcover, IMO
It's the year 2044, and the real world has become an ugly place. We're out of oil. We've wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty and disease are widespread.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who dies with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS - and his massive fortune - will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain his prize, knowing only that the riddles are based on Halliday's obsession with 80s pop culture. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle. Sudddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions - and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed.


The main narrative arc is not even remotely new: boy goes from rags to riches, meets girl, break-up happens, he repurposes his life and finally wins the girl and a fortune with his special snowflake abilities, while he destroys the most evil big company in the world. But his abilities are the nerdest thing ever: vast knowledge of the 80s pop culture. 

Cline's writing is nothing special, but he can tell a story, and this was a riveting one. No wonder it kept me awake during the read-a-thon. Wade is a nice character, although a very typical nerd one. Luckily for him, he lives in a world where nerd is cool since James Halliday, founder of the MMPORPG OASIS, created his Easter Egg hunt. The hunt is a game within a game, a standard quest story. I recognized many of the 80s references, which I think is an important factor in enjoying the book as much as I did (and also in making me feel old). Wade's sidekick, Aech, is my favourite character, though, with his snark and his tenacious temperament. The girlfriend is not such a great character, but alas, many a nerd's dream.

The dystopian background was an interesting aspect of the book. Wade's point of view as an IOI indentured servant put some weight into the novel. Until then, the bleak world was almost inexistent - only told, not much shown. You then realize that, as cool as it is, OASIS has become the ultimate drug and people are not trying in any way to save their world. This message is repeated a couple of times at the end, but not really stressed upon. The novel just never ends being something different than an adventure book. But! This doesn't mean I didn't like it. In fact, I really really liked it! It was so much fun!


So basically: it is fun and geek! When I try to describe it to people it ends up sounding as an adventure quest D&D-like with arcade games, space travel, samurai-like people, the Monty Pythons and an epic mecha battle between good and evil! And it comes with its own crappy 80s OST! No wonder Cline sold the film rights even before being published.

If you don't find that super exciting, skip this one.

Rating: 5/5 - loved it.

Edit related to Arcade games: Google celebrates Breakout 37th birthday with their own Easter Egg. Type 'Atari Breakout' in Google Images to see it for yourself. Perfect timing!

lunes, 6 de mayo de 2013

A Year of Reading Proust: Vatel

In the second volume of In Search of Lost Time, Within a Budding Grove, there's a wonderful scene where a diplomatic, the Marquis de Norpois, discusses his vain opinions on literature and politics. The political events described are the same ones that led to the Great War. The opinions entertained by the various characters attending the banquet are tragically comical to a modern reader. It's obvious that Proust was trying to mock a certain social stratum. Curiously, the book was written before the war began, although its publication was delayed until it ended.

During this scene, a famous French cook, François Vatel, is likened to the wise Françoise, the ever-present servant of the Narrator's family. As someone in the Goodreads group had recommended a film on Vatel and knowing that Proust wrote and rewrote every word of this colossal novel, I decided to explore this reference and watch the film.

Vatel (here's the IMDb page) was released in 2000 and had a great cast: Uma Thurman, Gerard Depardieu and Tim Roth play the main characters, and their acting is superb. The plot is quite a slim one: In 1671, the penniless Prince du Condé needs to impress the King Louis XIV to gain his favour, and he asks François Vatel to arrange the feasts and entertainments for the King's three-day stay at du Condé's state. Vatel falls in love with one of the King's favourites, Madame de Montausier, who reciprocates his feelings but is determined to climb the social ranks. Things get ugly when the Marquis de Lauzun discovers this relationship, since he lusts after Madame de Montausier and has the power to decide Vatel's fate. See the trailer:

The film wasn't exactly loved by the critics, but I found it engaging and visually stunning. Some bits of dialogue were also great and the film is almost fully historically accurate. I also prefer the explanation the film gives for Vatel's suicide. Historically, he was said to have suicided because of a delay of some fish delivery needed for the final King's feast. That is an interesting cause for a suicide, to say the least. 

I recommend it. If you don't like French court intrigues, at least you'll enjoy an hour and a half of pure aesthetic bliss.