Bonjour Tristesse and A Certain Smile by Françoise Sagan

Posted November 28, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Classic / 1 Comment

Bonjour Tristesse and A Certain Smile by Françoise SaganTitle: Bonjour Tristesse (Goodreads)
Author: Françoise Sagan
Translator: Heather Lloyd
Published: Penguin, 2013
Pages: 217
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook Depository
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Françoise Sagan become an overnight sensation in 1954 which the publication of her first novel Bonjour Tristesse. At the age of 18, she published the novel she will be remembered for; the story of Cécile, a seventeen year old living with her widowed father and his mistress on the French Riviera. During an uneventful summer, an old friend of her late mother comes and stirs the peaceful balance of their summer villa.

Not knowing much about Françoise Sagan, I could not determine just how autobiographical Bonjour Tristesse might have been. I do know that Sagan, much like Cécile was kicked out of school and both enjoyed the bourgeois lifestyle. Sagan is a pseudonym (real name Françoise Quoirez) that was taken from the character Princesse de Sagan from Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perd (In Search of Lost Time). I expect that much of this novel is semi-autobiographical because she managed to perfectly capture the narcissism, emotions and angst of teenage life.

In 1955, a censored translation of Bonjour Tristesse hit the shelves for English speaking readers. It was only recently with Heather Lloyd’s translation that we able to enjoy an uncensored edition. Not that there was much of a reference to sex in the novel anyway. This new translation also packaged Françoise Sagan’s second novel, A Certain Smile into the one book. A novel about Dominique, who bored with her lover, starts an affair with a much older married man.

I found that Françoise Sagan likes to play with ideas of morality and pleasure, while also exploring just how problematic a wealthy and carefree life can be. She likes to look at the disillusionment of the bourgeois characters and explore the emotions that she must have been facing herself. In a lot of ways, I tend to associate the angsty style of Sagan with The Sorrows of Young Werther. Françoise Sagan and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe both managed to capture the intensity of emotions in their novels that I have not experienced in more recent books.

 Bonjour Tristesse is a stronger novel than A Certain Smile, but I think both books are worth experiencing. I feel like Bonjour Tristesse had a depth that was not found in A Certain Smile. Both come in at about 120 pages each and A Certain Smile might have benefited with more pages, to fill in the plot and characters a lot more. I enjoy the style of Françoise Sagan and I hope to get a chance to read a few more of her other novels. I wonder what age and life experience does to her writing style.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Posted November 27, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Contemporary / 0 Comments

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina GeorgeTitle: The Little Paris Bookshop (Goodreads)
Author: Nina George
Translator: Simon Pare
Published: Abacus, 2015
Pages: 320
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Jean Perdu is a bookseller, owning a bookstore on a barge floating along the Seine. Often referred to as a ‘literary apothecary’, for Jean Perdu had a unique ability to sense to perfect book to soothe his customers’ troubled souls. The only person he could never cure was himself and for the past twenty-one years he has been nursing a broken heart.

If it was not for the fact that The Little Paris Bookshop was picked for my in real life book club, I may have never picked it up. To be fair, this novel was picked based on the idea of bibliotherapy, without anyone reading it first. I was interested to see if this book was going to be as generic as it sounded as it is a book in translation; translated from German by Simon Pare. I did have hopes that this might end up as enjoyable as The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry, but sadly I was disappointed.

I normally love books about books but from the very start I was bored with The Little Paris Bookshop. It did pick up briefly when there was talked about The Elegance of the Hedgehog and Franz Kafka but this only lasted a few pages. My thoughts on this novel ranged from boring, cliché, overly sweet before cycling back to boring. I struggled to find anything to hold me through this book, the characters were dull, and nothing about the writing impressed me.

I tend to stay away from light reads; I like to be challenged a little, and I like to experience something exciting and explore interesting themes. There is nothing wrong with a light read, and at times it is needed. However The Little Paris Bookshop was not worth completing and if it was not for book club, I would have abandoned it (I should have). This is meant to be a romance/chick-lit type book but I have read so many better novels in these genres, and these are not genres I normally read. I hate to be so negative towards a book, but the only thing positive I can find with this novel is that it mentions other books, like The Elegance of the Hedgehog and the works of Franz Kafka.

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

Posted November 26, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

Satin Island by Tom McCarthyTitle: Satin Island (Goodreads)
Author: Tom McCarthy
Published: Jonathan Cape, 2015
Pages: 173
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Tom McCarthy has a unique approach to fiction; Satin Island is an avant-garde novel that explores the philosophical implications of corporate anthropology. A career path that I never thought existed but makes a lot of sense if corporations were using anthropologist for an extra edge. Rather than researching people for science, a corporate anthropologist would try to predict best possible scenarios to leak bad news, or which marketing strategies would have the biggest impact on the public.

Satin Island was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and it sounded very different to the other novels. I knew I had to check it out and see what it was all about; the back of the book gave nothing away. This is a post-modern novel and I am actually surprised to see it also making the shortlist for this year’s Man Booker. Normally the novels that are vastly different and experimental never make it past the longlist. Making the shortlist might mean that more people will pick up Satin Island and that can only be a good thing.

The protagonist for this novel is U. and it is pretty obvious that Tom McCarthy expects you to see yourself from this point of view. The book has no real plot or character development, leaving the reader to focus on the moral and social implications of corporate manipulation. The concept of a corporate anthropologist can be both fascinating and terrifying and McCarthy wants people to be aware of this fact.

For a book that is 173 pages long, this is in no way a short novel. The depth and complexity found in Satin Island would keep you thinking about the book for a while. I really appreciated what Tom McCarthy did in this book, it really opened my eyes to so many issues. Now that I am aware of the concept of corporate anthropology, I cannot help but see the way it could be used in marketing. Satin Island is experimental and if you are willing to try an avant-garde novel, it is well worth your time and effort.

Dexter is Dead by Jeff Lindsay

Posted November 25, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Mystery / 0 Comments

Dexter is Dead by Jeff LindsayTitle: Dexter Is Dead (Goodreads)
Author: Jeff Lindsay
Series: Dexter #8
Published: Orion, 2015
Pages: 286
Genres: Mystery
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

When I first started reading back in 2009, one of the series I became obsessed with was the Dexter Morgan series. I loved the concept of an anti-hero as the protagonist and Jeff Lindsay had come up with a good concept of a forensic analyst/sociopath. I liked exploring the mind of a killer but not just any sociopath; Dexter had a code, he could not control his urge to kill but he made it his mission to only hunt the people that deserved to die. We can talk about the moral complexities at great length but now I want to review Dexter is Dead.

This is the eighth and final book in the Dexter Morgan series; the books were a bit hit or miss but Dexter was a great character. Most people know of Dexter Morgan from the hit TV show Dexter, the character is the same but after the first book and season the two mediums took different directions. There are plenty of times where it felt like both the show and the books stole good ideas from each other but for the most part the storylines were different.

I cannot go into the plot of this one because it would contain too many spoilers; especially for book seven (Dexter’s Final Cut) as this takes place directly after those events. I liked that this novel took up after the last novel, bringing together a much larger plot; I want more crime novels to have an overarching plot line. I do not read many series, and I think the Dexter series is the only one I have spent so much time in, but I really enjoyed returning to such a great character.

Jeff Lindsay’s writing is not that strong and I felt there were many times where this book and series just got clunky or too clichéd. However because the protagonist was so well developed, this helped carry the bad writing. I am pleased to say Dexter is Dead is one of the stronger novels in the series and helped end everything on a high note. Also the ending of the book series is so much better than the ending of the TV show. I am going to miss the Dexter books and might have to find another crime series to replace the void it has left. Suggestions welcome.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

Posted November 24, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Non-Fiction / 2 Comments

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia DayTitle: You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) (Goodreads)
Author: Felicia Day
Narrator: Felicia Day
Published: Sphere, 2015
Pages: 262
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

I’ve been a fan of Felicia Day from when I first saw The Guild. I think she is a talented and quirky actress/writer/content creator. She knew how to use the Internet to her advantage and I have been watching her grow in popularity and in content creation. But let’s face it; her best work is from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, with Dr. Holly Marten from Eureka a close second. Obviously this is subjective and she has been involved with many great projects but those two really stand out for me.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is the first memoir from Felicia Day; it covers broad strokes of life so far. If you follow Felicia on the Internet, a lot of the information within the book is familiar. However it was nice to have everything in the one memoir. While I knew a fair chunk of what is covered in the book, I still enjoyed reading this.

The memoir goes into great depth with the concept of failure. Failure, should never mean the end, or taken so negatively. Felicia Day goes to great lengths to explain the amount of times she failed and the importance to keep going. This is a lesson Felicia had to learn time and time again and she hopes that she can pass on the advice to the readers. However I think this is one of those lessons we all have to learn for ourselves.

I listened to You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) as an audiobook, read by Felicia Day. I think the audio experience enhanced my experience. I really enjoy listening to non-fiction as audiobook, and when the author reads their memoir, that just makes the experience better. Felicia Day is an interesting person but I do not think this book is for everyone. Fans of Felicia Day or people with an interest in content creation might enjoy You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), but for everyone else, there is not much left here to offer.

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? 23rd November 2015

Posted November 23, 2015 by Michael Kitto in What are you Reading / 2 Comments

It’s Monday, What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted over at Book Journey. I thought I’d join in with this meme as a way to be more consistent with my posting schedule, the idea is to post regularly. As I treat this blog as a book journal I thought it might be nice to have this kind of information documented.

Numero ZeroNumero Zero by Umberto Eco (translated by Richard Dixon) *

1945, Lake Como. Mussolini and his mistress are captured by local partisans and shot in a summary execution. The precise circumstances of Il Duce’s death remain shrouded in confusion and controversy.

1992, Milan. Colonna, a depressed writer picking up hack work, is offered a fee he can’t refuse to ghost-write a memoir. His subject: a fledgling newspaper, which happens to be financed by a powerful media magnate. As Colonna gets to know the team of journalists, he learns the paranoid theories of Braggadocio who is convinced that Mussolini’s corpse was a body-double and part of a wider Fascist plot. It’s the scoop he desperately needs. The evidence? He’s working on it.

Colonna is sceptical. But when a body is found, stabbed to death in a back alley and the paper is shut down, even he is jolted out of his complacency.

Fuelled by media hoaxes, Mafiosi, love, gossip and murder, Numero Zero reverberates with the clash of the cynical forces that have shaped Italy since the last days of World War II. This gripping story from the author of The Name of the Rose is told with all the power of a master storyteller.

The PossessedThe Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them by Elif Batuman

The true but unlikely stories of lives devoted—Absurdly! Melancholically! Beautifully!—To the Russian classics

No one who read Elif Batuman’s first article (in the journal n+1) will ever forget it. “Babel in California” told the true story of various human destinies intersecting at Stanford University during a conference about the enigmatic writer Isaac Babel. Over the course of several pages, Batuman managed to misplace Babel’s last living relatives at the San Francisco airport, uncover Babel’s secret influence on the making of King Kong, and introduce her readers to a new voice that was unpredictable, comic, humane, ironic, charming, poignant, and completely, unpretentiously full of love for literature.

Batuman’s subsequent pieces—for The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, and the London Review of Books— have made her one of the most sought-after and admired writers of her generation, and its best traveling companion. In The Possessed we watch her investigate a possible murder at Tolstoy’s ancestral estate. We go with her to Stanford, Switzerland, and St. Petersburg; retrace Pushkin’s wanderings in the Caucasus; learn why Old Uzbek has one hundred different words for crying; and see an eighteenth-century ice palace reconstructed on the Neva.

Love and the novel, the individual in history, the existential plight of the graduate student: all find their place in The Possessed. Literally and metaphorically following the footsteps of her favorite authors, Batuman searches for the answers to the big questions in the details of lived experience, combining fresh readings of the great Russians, from Pushkin to Platonov, with the sad and funny stories of the lives they continue to influence—including her own.

* Books part of my reading challenge for 2015; re-reads and more books in translation

What Are You Reading?

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach

Posted November 17, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Non-Fiction / 6 Comments

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary RoachTitle: Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex (Goodreads)
Author: Mary Roach
Narrator: Sandra Burr
Published: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008
Pages: 319
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Bonk is a look into the history and study of sexual physiology. Mary Roach takes an interesting and humorous look into the world of sex research, exploring the weird methods used and the evolution of the field of study. Mary Roach has a unique style that has turned her into a household name. From a book about cadavers (Stiff), to more recently a look into the digestive track (Gulp).

This is my first Mary Roach book and I was immediately drawn to her writing style. I have never read her before, but I have heard so many good things. It was a toss-up between starting with Bonk or Stiff, but I am happy to finally have a chance to experience her writing. The blend of humour while teaching about science makes her an author I need to read more from. She has a style that I have always been interested in adopting for my blog; a balance between teaching and entertaining. Sadly my blog has been nothing but book reviews lately but I hope this will change in the near future.

I remember reading Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us by Jesse Bering a few years ago and found it completely fascinating. I wanted to learn more about the research side of sex but never read anything since then. While Perv looks at the psychological study of sex, Bonk focuses more on the physiological. There are so many topics to cover on the topic, so my biggest problem with Bonk is the fact that it was a very ‘broad-strokes’ approach to the topic. Although this is a good starting point to understand the science.

I was a little horrified with all the setbacks that happened in the study of sex. Whether they are religious or cultural reasons, there has been a lot of times research falls years behind just to save face. This topic alone would be an interesting one to explore, not just about sex but research in general. I am sure there are many times where science suffers due to public opinion. I wonder if there is a book that covers this topic (if you know of one let me know).

I am glad to have finally read Mary Roach and Bonk, I have discovered a new favourite author and a topic I need to learn more about. The more non-fiction I read, the more I wonder why I had an aversion towards it for so long. It was a non-fiction book that got me into reading and I am pretty much a non-fiction writer. I have so much to learn and I plan to learn more; hopefully this will reflect on my blog in the future. If you have an interest in reading about the research of sex both physiologically and psychologically, I recommend both Bonk and Perv.

Richard Brautigan

Posted November 14, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Literary Fiction, Poetry / 0 Comments

Richard BrautiganTitle: Trout Fishing in America / The Pill vs. the Springhill Mine Disaster / In Watermelon Sugar (Goodreads)
Author: Richard Brautigan
Published: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1964-1968
Pages: 400
Genres: Literary Fiction, Poetry
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Richard Brautigan is an iconic counter-cultural poet and author who is probably best known for his 1967 novel Trout Fishing in America. His novels deploy a unique blend of magical realism, satire and black comedy. I recently read an omnibus that included two novels Trout Fishing in America and In Watermelon Sugar and a collection of poetry The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster.

I think it is important to understand the life of an author when critically reading their novels. Normally Wikipedia is my starting place and often I find myself going down a rabbit hole of the internet. Richard Brautigan had an interesting life, with interesting ideals. Later in life he was diagnosed with both paranoid schizophrenia and clinical depression, even receiving electroconvulsive therapy as many as twelve times in an effort to treat his condition. Later in his life, he lived life as a recluse and eventually died to a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. It is unsure when he died, because his body was found much later.

The reason I think author context is important is evident in Brautigan’s book In Watermelon Sugar. The novel tells the story of iDEATH, a futuristic utopian commune that has found a way to live off the land; specifically watermelon sugar. This is told in a first person perspective and Brautigan could be considered the protagonist. However knowing the context of his life, I think Richard Brautigan saw himself more as the antagonist that is ruining this perfect society. Either way, it makes for an interesting read and In Watermelon Sugar was the highlight of this omnibus.

Trout Fishing in America was just a weird book, I had gotten use to the style of Richard Brautigan and I knew what to expect. However, Trout Fishing still leaves me perplexed. I know this is a social critique, but I never was able to fully grasp what Brautigan was trying to say. The term Trout Fishing in America became a character’s name, a hotel, a place, and becomes a modifier for just about anything. It was a weird novel and I probably need to do a lot more research to fully understand it.

The poetry of Richard Brautigan is just as unique as his novel writing. Most of his poems are short but pack a huge punch. There is so much depth within the poems and sometimes they have the ability to shock. For example, the title poem from this collection The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster, compares birth control to a mining disaster that killed 75 people. He believes that the pill and the disaster both leave life buried forever. Not all his poems pack a punch like this but I thought this poem was a good example of what to expect.

I do not think I would have read Richard Brautigan, without the encouragement of Jake from the YouTube channel Tales from iDEATH. This may not be entirely true, since Brautigan is on the 1001 Books list, and still need to read Willard and His Bowling Trophies. I appreciate the push to read Richard Brautigan, he is a weird author, but I enjoyed the experience. His style might irritate many people but I liked the surrealist nature of the three books I read in this omnibus.

Film Review: The Eye Has to Travel (2011)

Posted November 13, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Documentary / 0 Comments

The Eye Has to TravelTitle: The Eye Has to Travel
Released: 2011
Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Frédéric Tcheng, Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt
Genre: Documentary

I am not one for fashion but at a recent event, I might have been convinced otherwise. My wife and I attended an art/fashion show that was also attended by fashion photographer Lance Balchin from 27 Photographs who is best known for working with Vogue. Balchin has a fine arts background, with a focus on painting, and his interest in art really translates into his photography. Lance works with an Art Director (Ali Rigney) which he claims to be a vital element to his art. Rather than projectiong his masculine opinions of beauty into his photos his work with a female art director allows for a balance and unique photographs. Lance also introduced me to Russian fashion photography duo Andrey and Lili.

The night ended with a screening of the documentary of Diana Vreeland, The Eye Has to Travel. I will admit I knew nothing about Diana Vreeland or fashion but I found it fascinating to learn a little more. I do not care about the clothing, modelling, makeup, but I am interesting in fashion as an art form. There is a negative perception of photoshopping (manipulation) and projecting unrealistic body image but there is also a very artistic side to the fashion world. Diana Vreeland’s work for Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and later in life, the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art really shows fashion as art.

The documentary glosses over the life of Diana Vreeland quickly, trying to compress her life down to a mere 86 minutes. The art direction of this documentary really stood out to me; trying to mimic a fashion magazine, The Eye Has to Travel is a stylish and artistic production. The documentary attempted to give a balanced view on Vreeland’s life but as most of the interviews were from people who worked with and enjoyed success because of her, it tended to be a little biased. Having said that, Vreeland has a huge career, so I understand sacrifices needed to be made. For a more balanced portrayal I might need to pick up a biography (suggestions welcome) of Diana Vreeland.

Did this Artgaze event shift my perspective on the world of Fashion; will this mean that I will blog more about this topic? It is hard to say. I was fascinated about what Lance Balchin had to say, especially when it comes to the Russians. I am interested in learning a little more about Diana Vreeland; she seemed to revolutionise fashion magazines. I recommend The Eye Has to Travel, there is a lot to learn and Vreeland is quite a character.

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

Posted November 12, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Mystery / 0 Comments

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan LethemTitle: Motherless Brooklyn (Goodreads)
Author: Jonathan Lethem
Published: Vintage, 1999
Pages: 311
Genres: Mystery
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook Depository
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Frank Minna is a neighbourhood owner of a seedy detective agency, or he was until he was found stabbed to death. Lionel, along with Tony, Danny and Gilbert worked for Frank and were often collectively known as Minna Men. The group grow up together in St. Vincent’s Home for Boys and owe a lot to this small time mobster turned private eye. Lionel is determined to find out what happened by Frank.

This is my first Jonathan Lethem novel and I have been keen to read him for a long time. What I heard about Lethem is his ability to combine genre fiction and explore themes in an interesting way. Motherless Brooklyn does just this; under the vial of a hard-boiled detective novel, this also is a coming of age story as well as exploring life with Tourette’s syndrome. Lionel Essrog has lived with Tourette’s for his entire life, manifesting in physical and vocal tics. He is often referred to as Brooklyn’s human freakshow, which only begins to cover the reactions people to have Lionel’s disorder.

I have to admit I knew very little about Tourette’s syndrome going into this novel, I knew the effects but I did not fully grasp what was going through mind of someone living with the disorder. One of the things I love most about reading fiction is learning about the lives of people living in different cultures or living a different life than my own. Motherless Brooklyn allowed me to explore life living with Tourette, it was an eye opening novel.

On the surface Motherless Brooklyn is a pretty simple hard-boiled detective novel, but exploring growing up as an orphan in an all-boys home with Tourette’s makes this novel great. Jonathan Lethem is a brilliant writer; he takes a typical genre plot and explores just how complex the story can be. I believe The Fortress of Solitude does this with comic books (similar to The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay), Gun, With Occasional Music with science fiction and Chronic City with drug culture. I have not read these books, so I might be wrong; either way I am keen to check them out.

I am so glad to have finally picked up a Jonathan Lethem book and Motherless Brooklyn was the perfect starting point. I wanted to stay in this world for as long as possible, and I ended up slowing down on my reading. I have since discovered to joys of reading slowly with The Valley of the Dolls, but Motherless Brooklyn may have been my starting point. I have no idea which Lethem book to read next, I might have to try to get to all of them. Motherless Brooklyn was a great book and I loved that it was set in a hard-boiled setting. The combination between the genre style and understanding Tourette’s worked really well for this novel; highly recommend Motherless Brooklyn to everyone.