Publisher: Scribner

Back to Moscow by Guillermo Erades

Posted January 25, 2017 by Michael Kitto in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Back to Moscow by Guillermo EradesTitle: Back to Moscow (Goodreads)
Author: Guillermo Erades
Published: Scribner, 2016
Pages: 371
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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Martin has just arrived in Moscow, on the advice of an old girlfriend (she thought it would be easier to score a scholarship from a Russian university). He plans to finish his studies and write a thesis on the Russian heroine, exploring the difference between Russian literature and the western world. However, it is the early 2000s and Moscow is changing rapidly, and the appeal of nightclubs, woman and cheap alcohol is distracting him from his study. Guillermo Erades’ debut novel Back to Moscow is a booze soaked exploration of an aspiring writer in a new setting.

Do not get me wrong, I love those novels that are set in New York that follow to wannabe writers that are often difficult men. I cannot get enough of those types of stories but this is so much better, for starters this is about Russian literature. Back to Moscow thrilled me from start to finish because of the setting and the exploration into Russian classics that appeared at the start of every part.

I am normally am hesitant in picking up a book set in Russia by a western author, but I seem to have decent luck with Spanish authors. Granted I have only read Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia by Jose Manuel Prieto and now Back to Moscow but both have impressed me greatly. Maybe my hesitancy should be directed towards American authors rather than the entire western society. I find the lack of knowledge of Russia often reflects poorly on the author.

With Back to Moscow, the whole novel was structured around understanding Russia and its literature and this is a quest that I am personally on as well, so my gushing review is inevitable. I also enjoy reading about terrible people and Martin fits into that category but I never thought of him as an anti-hero. I had some empathy for him, partly because I have made so many of those stupid mistakes. I have put my desire for pleasure over the feelings of others and as result hurt myself and the people I love.

This does not mean I sympathise with Martin; I did get frustrated with every selfish action but I could relate (as much as I hate to admit it). Add that to the mix of an antisocial writer with a passion for Russian literature, and you have someone that closely resembles me (although the bad life choices are over for me, thankfully). I do wonder if Back to Moscow is at all autobiographical, because the way he writes makes me think this is the case.

I like the focus on exploring the differences between Russia and western society. This becomes the focus of the novel. It is this exploration that allows people to try and gain a better understanding of the differences. One of Martin’s friends even said. “You Westerners are always angry because you want to change everything in life. We Russians are always sad because we know that most things cannot be changed.” This quote really stuck with me in really understanding the differences. There is so much more to understand, but I am working on an essay on Russian literature (stay tuned).

“Russia is lost” she continued. “First we had God. Then we had Lenin. Now we have nothing.”

Without giving away much about the plot, I will say that this debut novel impressed me greatly. There is a definite affection for Russia and the classics coming from the author and I think that is the appeal. The novel ends with the perfect metaphor for the entire story and Russia literature itself.

“In Metro systems around the world, a screen about the platform shows the time left until the arrival of the next train. Five minutes. Four minutes. Three minute. Two minutes. One minute. Then the countdown stops and you feel the breeze and you hear the rattle of a new train approaching through the tunnel.

Not in Moscow.

In Moscow’s metro, the electronic counter about the platform shows the time that has passed since the departure of the last train. With unnecessary precision, the seconds keep adding up one by one, informing you not about the train to come, but the one you’ve missed, the train that would be carrying you, if only you arrived earlier. But that train is for ever gone. You don’t know when the next one will arrive.”

The back of the novel compares Guillermo Erades to Ben Lerner and Bret Easton Ellis, while I can see the comparison with Larner, I debate the other. I think the only thing Erades and Ellis have in common is their ability to write a difficult men. Back to Moscow is one of those books that I wanted to turn back to page one and re-read straight away. I cannot say this is a novel that will appeal to everyone, it appealed to me for the reasons I have mentioned. I do not think there is anything profound to get from this book, but the quotes I have added to this review are lines that stuck with me. I find it hard to review this critically because I got so much out of it personally. If you have a love of Russia and its literature then maybe you need to give this book a go as well.


The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

Posted February 20, 2015 by Michael Kitto in Non-Fiction / 4 Comments

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill LeporeTitle: The Secret History of Wonder Woman (Goodreads)
Author: Jill Lepore
Narrator: Jill Lepore
Published: Scribner, 2014
Pages: 432
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

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The Secret History of Wonder Woman is the story behind Wonder Woman and her creator William Moulton Marston. The life of Marston is a fascinating and unconventional one, full of contradictions and this book really explores this in a bit more detail. The idea of Wonder Woman grew from the Amazons in Greek mythology and the feminist movement. Wonder Woman first appeared in All Star Comics #8 in 1941 and is now one of the most recognisable superhero’s to grace the comic book pages. Despite this fact, there has not been a major motion picture about Wonder Woman yet, The Lego Movie (2014) has been her first and only film appearance to date.

American psychologist, lawyer and the inventor of the Lie Detector, William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman under the pen name Charles Moulton, but it is his life that seems to be the biggest influence on this caped crusader. Wonder Woman is a powerful feminist and this may have been a little problematic for the movement. First of all, Marston’s Wonder Woman was a powerful woman but she lost her powers when bound by a man. This could be considered a symbol of the oppressive nature of a male dominated society however the frequency use pointed to his a fixation of bondage and submission.

Originally William Moulton Marston called his character Suprema and she stated that she was a “tender, submissive, peaceloving as good women are, [combining] all the strength of a Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman”. This in itself shows the problems facing the creation of Wonder Woman and Marston was very controlling of his creation and the vision he had for her. While on the surface Marston was promoting the feminist movement, his personal life contradicted his ideals; living with two women, his wife and his mistress, he expected them to fulfil all there wifely duties at home while his wife was the main source of income for the majority of their lives.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman is an interesting micro-history that explores the life of William Moulton Marston and Wonder Woman. While some of what is revealed within this book is nothing new, Jill Lepore does a good job of bringing feminist history into the world of pop-culture. There is so much worth talking about here and this book asks the question, should Wonder Woman be recognised as a feminist icon? Well worth checking out if you are a fan of this superhero or are just interested in the history behind her.


Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway

Posted August 30, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

Death in the Afternoon by Ernest HemingwayTitle: Death in the Afternoon (Goodreads)
Author: Ernest Hemingway
Published: Scribner, 1932
Pages: 416
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: eBook

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Death in the Afternoon is a non-fiction book by Ernest Hemingway that explores the ceremony and traditions of Spanish bullfighting. Looking at the history and the culture behind bullfighting, the book also explores the dangers and fears being faced. Still considered one of the best books ever written about bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon explores the sport by one of its aficionados.

This is an interesting book, not something I would read normally but I did enjoy it. While I am morally opposed to bullfighting I didn’t have any really knowledge of the sport and culture behind it. So I went into this book with an open mind and a little hesitant. I had never had a good experience with Hemingway in the past; granted I’ve only read one of his novels (The Old Man and the Sea) but it was enough to never go back. I know this is not a good reason not to return but I have to admit I did enjoy the writing styles.

Ernest Hemingway has a very descriptive writing style which makes for some interesting insights; but sometimes too much. I get the impression that he is using humour in some of his writing but it’s so obscure that it either goes over my head or is just downright weird. I know Hemingway was a rather unusual man and had an interesting life but he isn’t someone that I think I will ever understand or connect with in any way. While I’m against bullfighting, Hemingway seems to be an advocate towards it and often wants it to be more violent and deadly.

You have to understand that Ernest Hemingway is an arrogant, sexist, pompous ass and it often comes through in his writing, so you have to take everything he says with a huge grain of salt. I found myself disagreeing with him all too often but still interested in what he was saying. I went into this book knowing that Hemingway and I weren’t going to get along at times, which was lucky because I was ready to throw out any of his opinions that didn’t align with mine. I did find it interesting how he kept using bullfighting as a metaphor for art and Spain; I don’t know if I agree with this but he seemed was be determined to make this point.

While I’m still opposed to bullfighting, I now have a whole lot more information about the topic; possibly too much. Hemingway’s writing style was enough to make me willing to try something else of his (if I find something good) and this was an interesting and different reading experience. I don’t read enough non-fiction, let alone travel or sports writing so this was a book way out of left field. I’m determined to read more non-fiction now and I hope that I manage to get through at least one a month. Also interesting to see how this review turned out; I’m never know how to approach a non-fiction review and I think I did alright here.


The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Posted May 17, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Classic / 0 Comments

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott FitzgeraldTitle: The Great Gatsby (Goodreads)
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Published: Scribner, 1925
Pages: 180
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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Nick Carraway moves in next door to the young and mysterious millionaire, Jay Gatsby. Nick is soon following the dramas of Gatsby’s quixotic passion for Daisy Buchanan. Often hailed as the “Great American Novel”, F Scott Fitzgerald’s magnum opus is a portrait of the Jazz Age and the great American dream.

We all know the story, we’ve either been forced to read it in school or we’ve seen the movie, I wanted to reread this in the lead up the terrifying new adaptation by Baz Luhrmann. I remember reading it when I first started become a serious reader and I thought I would look at what I originally wrote and try and dissect and expand on it now that I think I’ve improved in reading critically.

First of all “One of the most interesting aspects of The Great Gatsby is the Point of View”, while this has probably been covered many times by people I will just cover this off again. Carraway tells the story of a group of destructive personalities but first you have to understand Nick before trying to understand the others.

Without going into anything controversial by claiming Nick Carraway was bisexual and in love with Jay Gatsby, let’s just say he idolised him. A Yale graduate, World War I veteran and relatively well off (inherited money), Carraway moves in next door to the charismatic and much talked about Jay Gatsby. But this leads to the question of just what is the relationship between Nick and Gatsby; is Jay using Carraway to get closer to Daisy? I think there friendship was real, Nick envied the person Jay was and he in return grew fond of Carraway.

The book does a decent job at shedding light on the egotistical, desire driven tendencies of human nature.” While this is true I think to expand on this you really need to look at what F Scott Fitzgerald was trying to do with this book, and to do that we must first look at the colour scheme (weird I know). There are two primary colours that play an essential role in this book. Firstly, green, the light over the river on the East Egg dock. The representation of Gatsby’s hopes and dreams, the green light represents the American dream. This would be considered objectification, that Gatsby believes that his American dream is to have Daisy.

The other major colour in this book is Gold or Yellow, the symbol of wealth and beauty. I think Yellow and Gold play as much of a significant role as the green light. This is true American goal; wealth and beauty, to be able to live without a care in the world. This is what I think Fitzgerald was trying to show us; like I said in my original review of this novel, these people are egotistical and desire driven and I think the author wanted us to see that. The problem with a carefree life is the fact that you don’t care about anything other than yourself and you don’t realise just how destructive that can be.

Carraway starts out starry eyed towards high society but slowly becomes more and more uncomfortable with the unrestrained materialism and lack of morality that comes with it.” I think that Carraway found himself sucked into high society and captivated by the presence of Gatsby. While in some respects he remains an outsider, he tries desperately to fit in and pursue the idea of the American Dream. The Great Gatsby tries to highlight the decline of this so called American dream, which originally was about discovery, uniqueness, and the pursuit of happiness but in the 1920s it seemed to decline and represent easy money and a social of leisure.

F. Scott Fitzgerald paints a unique literary picture of the time and life style, with interesting, snooty and slightly annoying characters.” I will admit that I sigh every time I read this sentence. Why was I the type of person that wanted likeable characters? Just because I hate these people, doesn’t mean that the book isn’t great and that they don’t have anything significant to teach. These people are supposed to be unlikeable, Fitzgerald isn’t trying to show us how great high society is; he wants to point out the flaws and what he sees as the decline of the American dream.

Everyone seems so self-absorbed and never think of each other; which helped drive the story beautifully.” We can probably argue if this really is the great American novel or even the great Jazz age novel. I know a lot of people hated this novel but I think there is so much this book can teach us and it’s less than 200 pages. F Scott Fitzgerald did a brilliant job of layering everything on top of each other that I feel the need to read this book again (already) just to see what I might pull out of it this time.

Someday I would like to do a post about motifs because there are so many recurring themes in the book, I think this would be a perfect novel to explore the idea of what a motif is. I read all the reviews from people that hate this book and I feel like I want to use that dreaded saying, “I don’t think you got what this book is trying to do”. But I hope this helps understand what this book really is about; while pointing out what you think I got wrong.

I reread this novel in anticipation of the new adaptation, which I’m scared about; I remember the old movie and think it failed to capture the true essence of this novel. This leads to two questions I want to ask the readers; “Is The Great Gatsby unfilmable?” and “Was Gatsby truly great?”.  I know my answers, so I’ll be interested to see what others think. I’m surprised how much fun I had dissecting my original thoughts and expanding on them.

 


11/22/63 by Stephen King

Posted November 21, 2012 by Michael Kitto in Science Fiction / 0 Comments

11/22/63 by Stephen KingTitle: 11/22/63 (Goodreads)
Author: Stephen King
Published: Scribner, 2011
Pages: 849
Genres: Science Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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Jake is a recently divorced high school teacher who finds himself time traveling to 1958. Fascinated by the chance to live his life in what feels like a much simpler time without mobile phones and the internet, Jake decides to live a life that transgresses all the normal rules. He makes his home in 1958, gets a job he enjoys, falls in love with the beautiful librarian and tries to live the ultimate American dream. But he is also obsessed with making the world right, most importantly trying to stop a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. But does Jake know just how much the world would change if he stops the Kennedy assassination?

I’ll be honest with you, I’ve not read much by Stephen King before, two books in fact (one of those was On Writing). I went into this book expecting a novel about time travel and the effects of changing the past would have. I also expected some weird plot with supernatural or horror elements but that’s just what I expect from King. What I got was something a lot different; this was more of a “what if?” novel. King explores his own thoughts of alternate history and time travel but he doesn’t really stop with that.

Possibly the most unexpected part of this novel was the character building and living life in the late fifties and sixties. King does an interesting job at telling a story of living in the era but in his own unique way by making the protagonist feel out of his element. The whole idea of living life in a time you are not from and finding someone in that time that could possibly be your soul mate. That was not what I thought King would write about but he did a great job building a memorable story around what he wanted to talk about.

Sure, some people are going to want him to skip all the normal life stuff and get to the time travel and alternate history aspects but I found it enjoyable leading up to it. It’s no Mad Men with the characters and life in the sixties but I did enjoy reading it. It’s a huge book and it could have been trimmed but if I was the one to take out elements I probably would have taken out the time travel. Then the book wouldn’t have worked as well.

I’m very interested in that time period, but I would have either preferred a more Mad Men style novel or more noir style with the war on organised crime and those dodgy back door deals made by the FBI. It did end out being a very interesting novel; it definitely surpassed my expectations and turned into a good read. Stephen King is a good story teller but there was not much to love about the prose and style but overall it was worth the read.


The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Posted July 21, 2010 by Michael Kitto in Classic / 0 Comments

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott FitzgeraldTitle: The Great Gatsby (Goodreads)
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Published: Scribner, 1925
Pages: 184
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: Amazon
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

One of the most interesting aspects of The Great Gatsby is the Point of View. I don’t think I’ve read a book in the point of view of an onlooker, which was written as well as this F. Scott Fitzgerald classic. The book does a decent job at shedding light on the egotistical, desire driven tendencies of human nature. Nick Carraway tells the story of a group of destructive personalities. Carraway starts out starry eyed towards high society but slowly becomes more and more uncomfortable with the unrestrained materialism and lack of morality that comes with it.

F. Scott Fitzgerald paints a unique literary picture of the time and life style, with interesting, snooty and slightly annoying characters. Everyone seems so self absorbed and never think of each other; which helped drive the story beautifully. The book is very familiar to the movie, though the book is far superior. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.