For the past two months (on and off, there’s life outside this blog) I’ve been researching a post about the Hungarian corvette Implacabile – yes, you heard me right, a corvette of a land-locked country.
For an end-of-the-year round up, twelve books that entertained, educated or disappointed me in the last twelve months:
The winter’s first – and in these parts possibly only – snowfall put me in mind of books in which winter features prominently. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ones that came to mind immediately were children’s stories. So here are seven snowy stories to surprise your children (nieces, nephews, grandchildren, your best friend’s horrible brat…) with. Perhaps for Christmas? 🙂
The other day, in the course of an argument, somebody called me a person with a small brain.
Even while I took offence, I recalled a line from my childhood bible, Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne:
“For I am a Bear of Very Little Brain and long words Bother me.”
I’m all with the Bear of Very Little Brain on this one: long words bother me too. Especially when used by people who don’t know what they mean.
Leave it to me: I’m always top banana in the shock department.
A Truman Capote novella about Holiday Golightly, a New York socialite in 1943. A girl who makes a living from being taken out by men. Not at all the kind of girl I’d have thought I had time for, not even if she only took up a hundred pages. Not at all the type of novella I’d have thought I had time for either, even it was only a hundred pages.
I found Breakfast at Tiffany’s on the bookshelf of Sophisticated Young Lady, whose bedroom I appropriated for my study while she’s at university. I’ve never read anything by Truman Capote and I was between books. I picked it up and glanced idly on the first paragraph.
I couldn’t put it down afterwards.
What effect has ‘the silent pain of the species’ in Silvio’s soul?
This was the question that I had to write a short essay about in a Spanish literature and conversation class a few months ago. I attended the class in the Cervantes Institute in London because I knew that my fluency in Spanish left much to be desired and because I like literature, obviously. I had imagined that in class I’d have the opportunity to speak about Hispanic authors and that I would have to read some books at home so that we could discuss them in class afterwards.
¿Qué efecto tiene en el alma de Silvio «el silencioso dolor de la especie»?
Esta era la pregunta sobre la que tuve que escribir un pequeño ensayo para una clase de literatura y conversación española hace unos meses. Asistí en la clase en el Instituto Cervantes de Londres porque sabía que me falta mucho la habilidad de hablar con fluidez y porque me gusta la literature, claro. Había imaginado que en clase tendría la oportunidad de hablar de autores hispánicos, y tendría que leer unos libros en casa para que podríamos discutir sobre ellos en clase.
We live in the future that we used to read about: our smartphones bear more resemblance to The Hitch-hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy than to Bell’s telephone and there are people living on a space station above our heads. When I first read about helicopters and submarines in Jules Verne at the age of twelve, they were already reality; it was then difficult to grasp that to the author all this had been a fictional future. Good for Verne. There are plenty of contrary examples: books in which the authors were so wildly off the mark that we can only wonder at what they were thinking. Science-fiction? In many cases, the word science ought to be crossed off.
But not in the case of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
“The New York Times Bestselling Author”: Matthew Reilly
Today I give you a “New York Times bestselling author”: Matthew Reilly. I hope you’re impressed because it’s not often that I can talk to you about bestselling authors; long dead is more in my line.
Thirty-odd years ago I thought that the French author Montesquieu was enlightened, witty and clever. I based this opinion on reading his Persian Letters, an epistolary novel which details the experiences of two Persian travellers, Usbek and Rica, in France in the early part of the 18th century. Last month I picked up Persian Letters again… and found out what a change thirty-odd years made.
The world is full of books and they are all set somewhere; let’s explore some of the places where our favourite book characters walked, fought, fell in love or made a fool of themselves.
I started to look at photos of the soaring church towers of Spain the other day, thinking of turning them into a photo post, but by a series of those associations that you afterwards can never explain, I ended up with my tattered and bath-soaked copy of Graham Greene’s best novel in my hand instead.
(You’ll have to wait for the church towers.)
Okay, so your work sucks and you only live for the holidays, right? Or maybe your work is the best thing ever, but even so you do go on holidays sometimes – right? So you need a book to read that’s just the right length for a short-haul flight.
(I’ll let you know my recommendations for long-haul when I’ve managed to get further than three hours’ flight.)
En un lugar de la Mancha…
When I picked up El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha by Cervantes last week and opened it on the first page (okay, in my edition that would be page 113), and read,
En un lugar de la Mancha,
de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo…
In a village of La Mancha, the name of which I have no desire to call to mind, there lived not long since one of those gentlemen…
…I felt the heady effect of a sudden shift in time and space: all at once I was somewhere in La Mancha, under a harsh sun, confronting whitewashed windmills.
(Cervantes once looked at these.)
—¿Qué gigantes?—dijo Sancho Panza.
—Aquellos que allí ves —respondió su amo— de los brazos largos, que los suelen tener algunos de casi dos leguas.
—Mire vuestra merced —respondió Sancho— que aquellos que allí se parecen no son gigantes, sino molinos de viento…
“What giants?” said Sancho Panza.
“Those thou seest there,” answered his master, “with the long arms, and some have them nearly two leagues long.”
“Look, your worship,” said Sancho; “what we see there are not giants but windmills…
It is not often that you pick up a book – no matter how old, how famous – and you’re transported with such urgency before you even finished reading the first half sentence. But the unassuming En un lugar de la Mancha… must be the most well-known and memorable first line in Spanish-language literature – ever.
Somehow it doesn’t quite work the same way in other languages.
While reading a history of the Latin language recently, I came across one of the fables of Aesop – translated into English from Nahuatl. In case you’ve never heard of Nahuatl, it was the language of the Aztec empire and in consequence the lingua franca of Central-America up to the 16th century; it is still spoken in parts of Mexico.
The book in question is Ad infinitum: A Biography of Latin by Nicholas Ostler and I wouldn’t recommend it to the general public although if you do happen to be interested in historical linguistics and especially in Latin, it’s fine; all the more enjoyable if you can actually know Latin of course (sadly I don’t).
But what has a Nahuatl version of the fables of Aesop – who after all was Greek – got to do with the history of Latin?
Two years ago I read No One Writes to the Colonel (El coronel no tiene quien le escriba) by Gabriel García Márquez on the train en route for a day’s hiking. (It was just the right length.) Yesterday it was the first genuinely nice day of the year, so we went hiking; and I re-read No One Writes to the Colonel on the train.
I mean the first time round I thought it was brilliant and my Spanish is two years better now.
(The day’s hiking wasn’t bad either.)
There’s only one problem with No One Writes to the Colonel: I feel completely discouraged from picking up any of García Márquez’s other books ever again: there’s no way he could have surpassed this one.
In fact, I know he didn’t think he ever did.
You might also like: ⇒ Gabriel García Márquez, Minus Magical Realism
In a city under siege, the bodies of gruesomely murdered young women begin to appear. And at every spot where the police finds a corpse, a bomb has fallen. Is there a connection?
This is the (brutally simplified) premise of The Siege, a historical novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. A novel set in Cádiz during the French siege in 1811 and 1812, in the era of the Napoleonic Wars, two years during what the Spanish call the War of Independence.
En una ciudad bajo sitio aparecen cadáveres de jovencitas asesinadas en una manera horripilante. Y en cada lugar en que el policía encuentra un cadáver, ha caído una bomba. ¿Hay alguna conexión?
Eso es la premisa (simplificada de manera brutal) de El Asedio, una novela histórica por Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Una novela ambientada en Cádiz durante el asedio francés en los años 1811 y 1812, la era de la Guerra de la Independencia.
There’s an Argentinian cartoon from the late 1960s-early 70s, about a little girl called Mafalda, whose exclamation, ¡Paren el mundo, que me quiero bajar! (Stop the world, I want to get off!) became an internationally known phrase. As we all have moments in which we want to get off (I did, yesterday afternoon), perhaps it might be a good idea if you keep The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at hand?
As the title suggests, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the only – electronic – book you’ll ever need if you should actually succeed in getting off by hitching a ride on a passing UFO. It will also provide you with light relief while you’re waiting by the roadside, as it were, with your thumb stuck in empty air as those heartless aliens are driving by without stopping.
Over a year ago I read an article by Mario Vargas Llosa, who was at the time engaged in re-reading War and Peace by Tolstoy. It was so damnably well-written that not only it made me re-read War and Peace myself but it also made me to read Mario Vargas Llosa.
El año pasado leí un artículo por Mario Vargas Llosa (enlace al final del post), quien en aquel momento se dedicaba a releer la Guerra y paz de Tolstói. Y estaba tan condenadamente bien escrito, que no sólo me causó volver a leer Guerra y paz, sino también me animó leer el propio Mario Vargas Llosa.
Last year I borrowed the title of this well-known spaghetti western of my childhood for an end-of-year post, choosing a book for each category. I don’t see why I shouldn’t cast a look back at this year’s reading and do so again… (And I hope you appreciate that I’m sparing you an embedding of Ennio Morricone’s theme tune to play in the background while you’re reading this!)