Month: September 2015

Monthly Review – September 2015

Posted September 30, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 0 Comments

Valley of the DollsI went into the month of September with an overly ambitious ‘to-be-read’ pile. If you saw my first blog post of the month “September’s Reading List of Doom” you would know there were fifteen books on the TBR pile. I normally object to having a TBR list, I much prefer to read on a whim and just pick up what I feel like reading. However I had so many books that I needed to read; it was a combination of books from the library and planned book-club/buddy-reads. In the month of August I did manage to complete sixteen books, granted there was a weeklong readathon and six were consumed during that time. I had a feeling I would fail this TBR but I was determined to at least get on top of my pile and tick off the majority of these books.

September is my favourite month of the year, not just because it is my birthday (today) and my wedding anniversary back on the 9th, but also I tend to spend a lot of time reflecting on my blog and this year, also my BookTube channel. I really enjoyed contemplating the past and the future for my passions and while I get anxious and I want to achieve so much, I still find it useful to reflect. It helps me to refocus and evaluate my priorities. Currently I have around twenty reviews to write, edit and post on the site; I have been doing some mini-reviews but I still plan to write something for everything I read. I like the idea of having a record of my entire reading life (or at least since starting this blog). I want to do so much more with this site but first I need to get on top of the backlog.

In reflecting I have also been thinking about the frequency of library visits. I love the library and recently I have been using this fantastic resource a little too much; it got to a point where 90% the books I read in a month came from the library. I have been trying to find a decent balance, I want to continue to using the library but I need to read books on my shelves as well. In September, I was able to hit a nice balance, 40% of all books came from the library, leaving the other 60% from my own library (40% physical copies, 20% from Audible). I am very happy with this balance and I hope to be able to continue this ratio. Out of the six books I borrowed from the library, I finished five and currently in the middle of the sixth.

Book Source (September)

Another issue I reflected on was the speed I read books; I have a love/hate relationship with reading goals and I need to work out a solution. From the readathon last month and the overly ambitious TBR this month, I have been thinking about the concept of quality over quantity. I want to be able to read bigger books, not worry about the amount of books I read and take extra time. Readathons are fun and you know I hate TBRs, however they tend to push me to read faster or pick shorter books. I do not want to spend my time calculating how many shorter books I can read while reading something much bigger. Also with the case of The Valley of the Dolls (will talk about this novel later), I want to be able to take my time and not worry about schedules or numbers.

One action that was recommended to me a few times to help manage my priorities and to understand where to focus my energy was starting a journal. I love the idea of journaling, and I want to get into the habit, but I am failing to do so. I hope to get into the habit, I also think a more detailed wrap up (and maybe more journal type posts) will help me develop some journalist type skills. I have started with dot-point journaling but I just need to remind myself to write down my thoughts every day. I have discovered my thoughts must be very boring that do not share my interests; I spend a lot of time thinking about literature, blogging and vlogging.

Getting to the books I have read this month; I have competed eleven in total. The first book, surprisingly made the Man Booker shortlist. This was Satin Island by Tom McCarthy, and I found myself really enjoying this novel. I knew nothing about corporate anthropology; I did not know how it would work in an office environment. I really enjoyed learning the corporate anthropology but I never thought it would make the Man Booker shortlist. I thought it was too experimental, post-modern in its approach. The novel had no real plot, or character development but still made for an excellent reading experience. Full credit to Tom McCarthy for writing this.

I am a part of a book club that meets monthly at my favourite independent bookstore, this month we had to read The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. This is a German novel, which was translated into English by Simon Pare and it tells the story of a bookseller who runs a book barge that is often referred to as a literary apothecary rather than a bookshop. I will not say too much about this novel, but let’s just say my notes for this book included words ‘overly-sweet’, ‘clichéd’, and more words along the same effect.

I had the pleasure of buddy-reading Bonjour Tristesse and A Certain Smile by Françoise Sagan with the amazing Stephanie from the BookTube channel Time to Read!. If you have not had the pleasure of watching videos from BookTube, then I will recommend starting with someone like Steph. Françoise Sagan has got a little bit of hype recently, thanks to Waterstones’ Rediscovered Classics series. The tag line for this series of books is ‘the best books you’ve never read’ and I can honestly say that I never heard of Françoise Sagan till very recently. Françoise Sagan is a French novelist from the 1950s, and the book I read featured a new translation by Heather Lloyd. Originally when Bonjour Tristesse was translated into English, it was censored but the new translation aligns more with the original text. I recommend reading Bonjour Tristesse if you have never considered it; it reminds me of The Sorrows of Young Werther when it comes to angst.

When I was a new reader, I read The Handmaid’s Tale but Margret Atwood and while I enjoyed it, I struggled to see why it was held in such great regard. This month I re-read this modern classic and now I can see it. There is one line that really stuck with me that really summed up what the novel is about; “There is no such thing as a sterile man anymore, not officially. There are only women who are fruitful and women who are barren, that’s the law.” I am sure many people know about The Handmaid’s Tale, and I was just a little late to the party when it comes to understanding its appeal. The joys of re-reading have become clearer to me and now that I consider myself well-read (to some extent) I plan to re-visit many other classics, maybe even Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

My next book was a Chuck Palahniuk novel, and I probably do not even need to mention the title, because I feel like that is interchangeable. I read Fight Club a few years ago and this other novel follows a very similar format. I expected misogyny, attempts to shock the reader and some kind of psychological twist. Seriously, are all of Chuck Palahniuk’s novels the same? I do not think I need to read any more.

While half way through The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin I found out it won the Hugo Award for Best Novel. I was reading this novel because I suspected it might be similar to Russian Sci-Fi, where it would explore the social-political of Communist China. Translated by Ken Liu, The Three-Body Problem did explore life in China in a far different way. There were a lot of references to science, philology and the China’s Cultural Revolution. It reminded me of the old science fiction novels from the 1960s and with the translator notes left by Ken Liu everything just worked for this one.

I really enjoy listening to non-fiction with Audible, I think the structure just works for the medium. Listening to Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain was a great experience. As a very introverted introvert, I was fascinated with the history of how introverts are treated and surprised how much of it is still relevant today. The world is very focused on extroversion and I just enjoyed spending a little time learning about the introverts. Pop-psychology books have become a favourite of mine in recent time, after listening to The Lucifer Effect recently and I plan to read (or listen) to so many more.

Before I picked up The Devil’s Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth, I attempted to predict the themes and motifs within the novel. The problem with that is how accurate I was in my predictions and ruined my enjoyment of this light read. The good news is I am probably improving in critically analysing a book and I am able to spot themes and techniques with ease. I know I have a lot more to learn but I have to wonder the price I will pay. It is possible that this was just an average novel and I will still enjoy dissecting better books. I will have to try this again and see how I go with a book that I am more likely to enjoy.

I have already mentioned Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann earlier on. I enjoyed this novel so much, I wanted to slow down and take my time. There is something interesting about the way Susann talks about feminist issues that really stuck with me. From the three women in the book, I think Jennifer was my favourite, she was such a strong character, but I will not spoil it for the people that have not read Valley of the Dolls. There is something about a cult classic that I love, maybe it is just the counter-culture element that interests me so much.

The final book I read was Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which is a letter he wrote to his teenage son trying to explain the world. Beautifully written and awfully confronting, this is a book that Toni Morrison calls “required reading”. I have to agree with her, the state of the world, especially when it comes to racism, is awful and a little more understanding and compassion could only do good. I really love the way Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, it makes me want to read everything he has written.

I managed to read eleven books this month; it was not the fifteen that I had planned but still impressive. I will not set myself a TBR again for October, but it is Spooktober and I will probably read some darker fiction; maybe not horror but we shall see. Currently I am still working through A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, Candide by Voltaire (translated by Theo Cuffe) and How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster, so I will probably finish those three books in October. There are a few books I would like to read but I have learnt not to plan my reading so much; I am just glad it did not end in a slump. How was your reading month?

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A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Posted September 29, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 2 Comments

A Little Life by Hanya YanagiharaTitle: A Little Life (Goodreads)
Author: Hanya Yanagihara
Published: Picador, 2015
Pages: 720
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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

A Little Life is a novel about the lifelong friendship of four classmates from a Massachusetts liberal arts college. After college, Willem (an actor), JB (an artist), Malcolm (an architect) and Jude (a lawyer) move to New York to begin their lives. The novel begins by following the friends through their lives and careers and the shifting dynamics of the group. However, Jude becomes the primary focus as we learn about his horrifying backstory.

I am of two minds with this novel; first of all, there are some very important issues explored within A Little Life. I am sure many people have been told about the high amount of trigger warnings that come with this book, dealing with depression, abuse, self-mutilation and so much more. It was nice to explore friendship that are not just a group of heterosexual men. The book itself explore so many issues and I got to a point where I wanted to yell at the friends of Jude, telling them to get mental health first aid certificate, and learn how to handle the situation better.

This brings me to all the problems I had with A Little Life; for starters, I felt like Hanya Yanagihara was just piling all the worst situations onto the character of Jude to a point where it was just getting ridiculous. I understand that some people have suffered a lot but in proportion to everyone else in the book, Jude just has to suffer through it all. I began to hate this aspect of the book to the point where if this was not a library book I would have thrown the novel across the room. Everyone focuses on how wonderful this book was for dealing with so many issues, and I agree, but if we dealt with these issues more regularly in fiction and the media then this book would not get the same amount of attention. I found the writing very flat and boring, it was dull. It became a real chore to read through the novel but I was determined to finish A Little Life for the themes.

Congratulations on Hanya Yanagihara for writing a novel that is dealing with so many important issues. A Little Life is great for this and I hope it paves the way for literature in the future. I hope this will begin a shift from the norm where we are constantly reading about white heterosexual males where there only problem is their own self destructive nature (even if I enjoy that in fiction). A Little Life is the crowd favourite to win the Man Booker prize but I really hope it does not win. There is better literature in the short-list, and I do not think A Little Life is a good representation of what they consider ‘good’ fiction.

Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère

Posted September 26, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 3 Comments

Limonov by Emmanuel CarrèreTitle: Limonov (Goodreads)
Author: Emmanuel Carrère
Translator: John Lambert
Published: Allen Lane, 2011
Pages: 340
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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

Eduard Limonov1 is a Russian born writer and politican. Best known for founding and leading the banned National Bolshevik Party which opposed Vladimir Putin from 1994 till 2007. The National Bolshevik Party2 (Natsbols) was a militant type organisation that defended Stalinism, it was never register as an official political party. Nowadays Eduard Limonov is a member of the umbrella coalition known as The Other Russia3 which oppose the leadership of Putin for a variety of reasons from political to human rights issues. The Other Russia has a mixed group of supporters from liberals, nationalists, socialists and communists all working together to achieve a Russia without Vladimir Putin leading it.

Firstly I would like to point out that the subtitle for Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère is ‘a novel’ and there can be debates around if this should be considered a biography or a novel. Eduard Limonov’s life reads very much like a novel and this could be in part because Emmanuel Carrère is an excellent writer and John Lambert translated it into English wonderfully. I do not know enough about Limonov to be able to disagree with categorising of this as a novel but I do think all good biographies have elements of fiction to make them more readable.

Having said that the life of Eduard Limonov is a fascinating read; some consider him a terrorist, others a political leader, and there is no denying that. The beauty of Limonov is the way Emmanuel Carrère has captured this complex character in a way that shows all sides of the man while avoiding a biased portrayal. There is a lot worth talking about when it comes to Eduard Limonov but I do not want to go too much into his life story; there just is not enough time.

I am fascinated by the history of Russia, especially when it comes to the Soviet and post-Soviet eras. I love the way Emmanuel Carrère has captured the life of Eduard Limonov, a political figure that I knew nothing about. I am tempted to try some of Limonov’s own books, in particular It’s Me, Eddie: A Fictional Memoir and Memoir of a Russian Punk. Has anyone read anything by Eduard Limonov and is he worth reading? With his life experiences, I am interested to see just how he portrays himself in his books and explore more of his life story.

Nest by Inga Simpson

Posted September 24, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 2 Comments

Nest by Inga SimpsonTitle: Nest (Goodreads)
Author: Inga Simpson
Published: Hachette, 2014
Pages: 296
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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

Jen was once an artist and a teacher, but now she spends her times watching birds and working in her gardens. Her house is surrounded by her lush sub-tropical gardens which help keep her from being disturbed by other people in the small town that she grew up in. The only person she sees regularly is Henry who comes after school for drawing lessons. However a girl in his class has gone missing, which pulls Jen back into her past where she lost both her father and best friend in the same week. Now forty years later, the town is talking about those disappearances in connection to the newly missing girl.

If I went into Nest as a book on nature writing, I may have a completely different reaction to the book. For me I went in thinking this was going to be a novel revolving around the disappearances and possibly solving the mysteries of her past and what happened to this young girl. Nest focuses mainly on a life of seclusion and the birds Jen finds within her garden. It is a quiet and even gentle novel that I did not connect with at all.

The mysteries only served as a sub-plot and no real depth went into developing it. I found Jen was very evasive and did not want to explore her past or talk about the situation. This was meant to be a way to show the damage caused by the loss of her father and best friend but it was just over done. It was a useful technique for exploring Jen’s hurt and pain but because it was used so much the mystery plot really suffered.

I know I went into the book with the wrong expectations, and I eventually did enjoy the nature writing, and the quiet and peaceful sentences. I put too much focus on the sub-plot and this really highlighted the problems I had with the novel. Inga Simpson can really write and there are some great sentence structures to be found in this novel. Nest is beautifully written and if you love nature and bird watching, this will be worth reading; just do not read this for the mystery.

One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Posted September 22, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 2 Comments

One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag MontefioreTitle: One Night in Winter (Goodreads)
Author: Simon Sebag Montefiore
Published: Harper Collins, 2013
Pages: 480
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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

Moscow 1945, the Soviet Union is preparing for their Victory Day celebration on the 9th May, celebrating the defeat of the Germans. While Stalin and the rest of Moscow is celebrating, on a nearby bridge a teenage boy and girl lie dead. Was it murder, a suicide pact or part of a bigger conspiracy against the Bolshevik state? Stalin himself is interested in this investigation which at the centre of it all is an exclusive school where all Russia’s most important leaders send their children.

Simon Sebag Montefiore1 is a British journalist and historian who has written many books about Russia including two biographies on Joseph Stalin (Young Stalin and Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar). His book Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar went on to win multiple awards including the now defunct History Book of the Year at the British Book Awards. It is with this background he wrote One Night in Winter, his third novel set in Soviet era (the other two being My Affair with Stalin and Sashenka).

While the novel is set around the deaths of a teenage boy and girl, One Night in Winter starts off with our protagonist, Andrei. Having returned with his mother from exile in Stalinabad (known Dushanbe, Tajikistan2) for the sins of his father, Andrei is determined to start a new life. This included being enrolled into the exclusive School 801, where he wants badly to fit in and make friends. This is the school which the country’s top leaders send their children, and he quickly falls in with a group of people who are trying to start their own literary movement; The Fatal Romantics.

The Fatal Romantics are inspired by the workings of Alexander Pushkin and in particular, his novel in verse, Eugene Onegin. Despite the fact Pushkin is a cultural icon and even one of Joseph Stalin’s favourite poets, The Fatal Romantics are playing a dangerous game, one could be accused of bourgeois sentimentalism or being un-Bolshevik. The rules for The Fatal Romantics club were as followed;

  1. We suffocate in a philistine world of science and planning, ruled by the cold machine of history.
  2. We live for love and romance.
  3. If we cannot live with love, we choose death. This is why we conduct our secret rites; this is why we play ‘The Game’.

What stood out to me the most about One Night in Winter was the amount of research that seemed to go into this novel; the afterword from the author even goes into details about historical inaccuracies and why facts were changed for the story. I appreciate this in a piece of historical fiction and made me more trusting of what I was reading. Because this novel was a campus type novel, featuring a literary movement, set in Russia, I had high hopes for the book and it did not let me down. There are a few problems I did find with the book, however for the most part, I was completely sucked in.

I have not read Simon Sebag Montefiore’s non-fiction but I am interested in reading a biography or two on Joseph Stalin. I got the impression Montefiore is a little sympathetic towards Stalin and might lead to a bias view in a biography. Being aware of his opinions towards this tyrant will allow me to go in with a different expectation. One Night in Winter gave a great insight of the cultural and mindset of the people living through the Soviet era, and I found it to be a compelling read.

A Dog’s Heart by Mikhail Bulgakov

Posted September 19, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic, Russian Lit Project / 4 Comments

A Dog’s Heart by Mikhail BulgakovTitle: A Dog's Heart (Goodreads)
Author: Mikhail Bulgakov
Translator: Antonina W. Bouis
Published: Alma Classics, 1925
Pages: 144
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Library Book

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Serge Voronoff is a surgeon born in Voronezh, Russia and later a naturalised French citizen, famous for experiments implanting animal testicles into humans. This was during a time when xenotransplantation research was trending and in 1889 he injected himself under the skin with a combination of ground-up dog and guinea pig testicles. He theorised that the animal implants will help increases the hormonal effects to retard ageing. However his methods quickly lost favour when it was discovered any improvements were a result of the placebo effect. This real life scientist helped inspire Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel Dog’s Heart (also known as Heart of a Dog).

While foraging through the garbage on winter night in Moscow, 1924 a stray dog is found by a cook and given a scrubbing with hot water. While waiting his end, the dog lies there in self-pity, but to his surprise a successful surgeon Filip Preobrazhensk comes and gives him a piece of sausage. The dog followed Filip home where he is give the name Sharik, which is a word to describe a well pampered dog. Very experiments were performed on Sharik, including various transplants of human organs until he was transformed into an unkempt human and given the name Poligraf Poligrafovich Sharikov.

Having read a few books by Mikhail Bulgakov, I have come to expect one thing; social satire on the state of Communist Russia. A Dog’s Heart has this in spades, satirising the Communist ideal of the New Soviet man, while even criticising eugenics. The New Soviet man was an idolised version of what the Communist Party of the Soviet Union believe all citizens should be like. Leon Trotsky wrote about this in his 1924 book Literature and Revolution; “Man will make it his purpose to master his own feelings, to raise his instincts to the heights of consciousness, to make them transparent, to extend the wires of his will into hidden recesses, and thereby to raise himself to a new plane, to create a higher social biologic type, or, if you please, a superman.” The New Soviet man (or woman) was selfless, learned, healthy, muscular, and enthusiastic in spreading the socialist Revolution, this was the ideal citizen needed to grow the Soviet nation.

The plot of A Dog’s Heart parodies Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein while it looks at the idea of the New Soviet man. This gives Bulgakov the ability to look at eugenics as well. Take for example the practices of Serge Voronoff and compare them with Victor Frankenstein. This paints a vivid picture and if the Soviets knew how to create their ideal citizen in a lab there is no doubt in my mind they would be working towards; it is possibly, they were researching a way in secret.

Mikhail Bulgakov seems to have started a tradition of doubling names with patronymic; Poligraf Poligrafovich in A Dog’s Heart and Leopold Leopoldovitch in A Young Doctor’s Notebook. This could be considered a nod to Nikolai Gogol’s with his hero Akakii Akakievich in “The Overcoat”. However I have come to learn this is also satirising the new naming conventions adopted during the early Soviet Union. A large number of Soviet children were given atypical names to show their Revolutionary support. This included initialisms, for example; Мэл (Mel named after Marx, Engels and Lenin), Марлен (Marlene named after Marx and Lenin) and Стэн (Stan named after Stalin and Engels).

The more I read from Mikhail Bulgakov, the more I think he was one of Russia’s best satirist. I have been slowly working my way through Manuscripts Don’t Burn, which is a collection of Bulgakov’s letters and diary entries compiled by J.A.E. Curtis. This has been beneficial in gaining insight to the start’of the Soviet Union at the time of writing his novels. A Dog’s Heart is one of Bulgakov’s better known novels and I am glad to have read it with an understanding of the personal and historical context. I believe The Master and Margarita is Mikhail Bulgakov’s best novel but A Dog’s Heart is worth checking out too.

Mini Review – Books About Books

Posted September 17, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 4 Comments

As most people are aware, I am a big fan about books about books. I am fascinated about people’s journeys and relationships with books. As a big fan of books, I like to learn about how people view and write about books; I use this as a way to inspire me to improve as well as give me some new ideas on how to approach this topic. Sadly I am so far behind in my book reviewing so I need to resort to some mini reviews. However it is a good chance to talk about four very different books about books in one hit.

Mini Review – Books About BooksTitle: How To Be a Heroine (Goodreads)
Author: Samantha Ellis
Published: Chatto & Windus, 2014
Pages: 272
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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

Samantha Ellis is a playwright and journalist who decided to write about the woman in fiction that have influenced her life. The subtitle to How to be a Heroine is “…What I’ve Learned from Reading too Much” and this really encapsulates what Ellis is doing within the book. This is less of a bookish memoir or literary criticism and more of a revisit to some of her favourite books throughout her life and talking about it through the lens of feminism. This book includes references to The Little Mermaid, Anne of Green Gables, Pride and Prejudice, The Bell Jar and Wuthering Heights.

While this is a very important topic to discuss, I felt a bit of a disconnect to the book in general. There was times where I felt that Samantha Ellis was being dismissive and cynical towards literary criticism. Because I am fascinated and passionate about learning literary theory, I felt that her feelings towards the topic really took me away from truly enjoying the book. I did however enjoy the way Ellis analysed the good and bad qualities about each story and told the story about her relationship with the books mentioned. I think if it was not for that one thing that bugged me about How to be a Heroine I might have had a completely different experience while reading this book.

Mini Review – Books About BooksTitle: Where I'm Reading From: The Changing World of Books (Goodreads)
Author: Tim Parks
Published: Harvill Secker, 2014
Pages: 244
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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

Tim Parks is a translator, critic and even a professor of literature, so when I discovered his book Where I’m Reading From, I was excited to see what he had to say on the topic. I went into this book thinking it was a bookish memoir but found out this was a collection of essays he had written for The New York Review of Books. Some of the topics discussed in this book include, Why we read, Should you finish every book you start?, How is the Nobel Prize like the World Cup?, Why do you hate the book your friend likes? and so many more topics. I was very interested in what he had to say about translations, and the concept of how we are reading a second-hand story.

There is so much within Where I’m Reading From that I did not agree with, but I still found it interesting to read someone else’s perspective on the topics. It really got more thinking about the state of literature and the bureaucracy behind the industry and awards in far greater detail. In a lot of ways this book reminded me of What Is Literature? by Jean-Paul Sartre, although Tim Parks’ book was a lot more accessible and did not make me feel stupid. I also did a video review for this book on my YouTube channel.

Mini Review – Books About BooksTitle: Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction (Goodreads)
Author: Christopher Butler
Series: A Very Short Introduction #74
Published: Oxford University Press, 2003
Pages: 144
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

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

I like to think I am a fan of post-modern literature, but ask me to explain it, I will have a hard time. Post-modernism is often referred to when talking about art, films, architecture, music and literature but what does it actually mean? I picked up Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction in the hopes of understand it a little more but I still do not think I can explain it. For me, I view post-modernism, as a reaction to modernism which seemed to reject past thinking in favour of innovations like stream-of-consciousness. Post-modernism still found value in the past techniques and theories and found interesting ways to use them in new and exciting ways. Post-modernism wanted to invoke thought and criticism; within its literature you might find something bizarre or weird that you just need to talk about.

I know my view on the topic is very broad and it is far more complex but that is what I love about post-modern literature. I want books that force me to think critically about what I am reading and post-modernism forces you to do just that. In Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction, Christopher Butler tries to equip us with the basic ideas behind post-modernism to allow us to recognise and understand the theories more easily. This is still a very complex movement but I am starting to understand why I love it. This is a good starting point, if you are actually interested in the critical thinking side of this movement.

Mini Review – Books About BooksTitle: My Reading Life (Goodreads)
Author: Bob Carr
Published: Penguin, 2008
Pages: 432
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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

Bob Carr is a former Australian politician and member of the Labour Party; during his career he was a Senator, Premier of New South Wales and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. My Reading Life is a literary memoir about the books he has read and have influenced him; this was written during a period where he was not in politics. Carr divides the book into topics, focusing mainly on the political, which is obviously a reflection of his interests.

One of the things I did not like about this book was the way Bob Carr kept his political face on throughout the entire thing. I would have liked him to drop his public persona and just have a more real conversation about books. I understand that he was still political and he became the Minister of Foreign Affairs after publishing this but I would have preferred a more honest look at literature. I do hope that no Russian’s read this book after he become the Minister of Foreign Affairs, because to me it felt like Carr liked Russian lit but hated everything else about this country. There was some interesting insights made within the book and overall a decent memoir, just a little too guarded.

Girl at War by Sara Nović

Posted September 15, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

Girl at War by Sara NovićTitle: Girl At War (Goodreads)
Author: Sara Nović
Published: Little Brown and Company, 2015
Pages: 336
Genres: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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

Ana Jurić is a carefree young girl, running and playing through the streets of Croatia’s capital city Zagreb. This was the summer of 1991, and this is the summer that will change everything, not just for Ana, but also for all of Croatia. The country has declared its independence from Yugoslavia, which has sparked civil unrest and quickly became the Croatian War of Independence. Girl at War tells the story of Ana as a ten-year-old in 1991 and then ten years later while living in New York City.

The Croatian War of Independence lasted from 1991 to 1995, between the Croat forces local to the government and the Serb-controlled Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA). This war started when the Croatian government declared independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). The majority of Croatians wanted to become a sovereign state, but Serbs remained loyal to Serbia’s wish to remain apart of Yugoslavia. This cost Croatia between 6,000 – 8,000 soldiers and almost as many citizens were killed (or missing) during the conflict as well. However they estimate about 220,000 people were displaced during this period.

Girl at War is a coming of age story of a girl living through the crumbling soviet state and trying to move on. She founds herself in New York City when 9/11 happens, which forces her to confront her past and deal with the part of her life she has tried to bury. Sara Nović’s debut novel is a perfect novel, reminding me of books like A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra and All That is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon. This is an unflinching look at a crumbling Yugoslavia and a country unsure of their future.

This is a heart-breaking debut, that was flawlessly executed, many people might be familiar with my love for novels set in a crumbling soviet state and this was my chance to explore the history of Yugoslavia. I hope there will be many more novels like this released in the future, and I am eagerly anticipating the next Girl at War as well as a new novel by Sara Nović. There is not much about Nović to be found online, but I suspect some autobiographical elements within this novel because the emotions just felt too real. Do you know any other books similar to this that I might enjoy?

The Russian Debutante’s Handbook by Gary Shteyngart

Posted September 12, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary, Russian Lit Project / 0 Comments

The Russian Debutante’s Handbook by Gary ShteyngartTitle: The Russian Debutante's Handbook (Goodreads)
Author: Gary Shteyngart
Published: Riverhead Trade, 2002
Pages: 476
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Paperback

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

Vladimir Girshkin is not your typical hero, but the unhappy and sickly, twenty-five year old bureaucrat is just that in The Russian Debutante’s Handbook. His mother gave him the nickname “Little Failure”, he spends his days as a clerk for the Emma Lazarus Immigrant Absorption Society. An encounter with an old Russian war hero leads Vladimir on an adventure away from his job on the Lower East Side of New York to Prague. Surrounded by a Prava expat community Vladimir launches a scheme so ridiculous that it is actually brilliant.

Czechoslovakia was a satellite state of the Soviet Union, ever since the coup d’état of February 1948 when the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia seized power of the country with the help of the USSR. The Soviets call this Victorious February but most people are more familiar with the Velvet Revolution of 1989. This non-violent protest against the one-party government of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia saw the end of a 41 year rule by the Communist party. Then finally the dissolution of Czechoslovakia into Czech Republic and Slovakia as of 1 January 1993. In the 1990s Prague saw an invasion of expats and the city was often referred to as the “Paris of the 1990s” or “the Eastern European Paris”.

As many people are aware, I am a bit of a fan of Gary Shteyngart, he has a way about writing humorous and satirical novels, and I am all too quick to recommend Super Sad True Love Story to anyone that is willing to listen, especially since it is very relevant to today’s society. After reading his memoir Little Failure I was surprised to find just how autobiographical his novels were, I had an idea of some of it but not to this extent. Since reading Little Failure, I was determine to read all of Shteyngart’s novels starting with his debut The Russian Debutante’s Handbook.

This is a highly imaginative novel blending satire with some bizarre humour. I really enjoyed the use of language within this debut but found the rest lacking, although this is a testimony of the growth of Gary Shteyngart as a writer. I have to say that The Russian Debutante’s Handbook is a novel for people that enjoy and know what to expect from Shteyngart and I would recommend starting with Super Sad True Love Story (obviously) or maybe his memoir Little Failure. Shteyngart is a brilliant writer and while I did enjoy The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, now I need to try his next novel, Absurdistan.

The UnREAL Reality of Reality TV

Posted September 10, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Film & Television / 0 Comments

unreal_tv_series_posterA new TV show discovery for me is the Lifetime show UnREAL, which chronicles a dating reality show (similar to The Bachelor) called “Everlasting”. This is told mostly from the perspective of Rachel Goldberg (Shiri Appleby), a producer of the show who was brought back by the executive producer (Constance Zimmer) after an epic breakdown during the previous season. Rachel has to find the balance between rebuilding her reputation, the high demands of producing the show and her own mental health.

Let’s face it, Shiri Appleby will always be Liz Parker (Roswell) in my eyes, but it was good to see her back acting. I had a quick look and it seems like she never stopped acting, with a main role in Life Unexpected and in a few episodes of Girls. Also does anyone remember her web series Dating Rules from My Future Self? Anyway, despite the lack of alien love interests, UnREAL is a dark comedy that really dives into the psychological manipulation of reality TV.

I can honestly say I have never thought about reality TV as much as I had while watching UnREAL. I have never watched The Bachelor but from what I have seen in advertising, it seems to be a horrible distorted concept of romance and love. Essentially you have one bachelor dating twelve woman at once, and the show documents all the melodrama that happens between the contestants. However if you think about it, there is a lot of manipulation and distortion of people’s lives all in the name of trying to make good (this work is subjective) TV. UnREAL plays a lot with this behind the scenes look at a show called Everlasting and the way producers force these intense displays of emotions in the hope to capture it on screen.

However the show focuses on producer Rachel Goldberg, who had an emotional breakdown in the last season of Everlasting. The show starts at this new season of Everlasting and Rachel has been brought back because she is very good at her job. Despite the fact she is good at her job, it becomes quickly evident that the show is not good for her and UnREAL documents this struggle between career and mental stability.

I am excited that UnREAL will be returning for a second season; I was not sure if it was possible but I hope that it will be another satirical look at the state of reality TV. I do not know how I discovered this show, I think it was because of Shiri Appleby but my wife and I binge-watched this too quickly. Binge-watching is a lot of fun but when it is over it leaves you wanting more. Have you seen UnREAL, and if so what do you think it says about the Television industry? Let me know in the comments below.