White nights, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

7747063A young, lonely man strolls the streets of St. Petersburg contemplating his solitude when he happens upon a young woman in tears. While escorting her home, the two strike up a conversation and soon become friends, meeting up at night to share their stories. When the young woman, Nastenka, explains that she was crying because she had been waiting for her fiancé who promised he would be back to marry her, the young man, despite his growing feelings toward her, promises to help her locate her beloved. (from Goodreads)

I really enjoyed the two stories/novellas that were compiled in this little book, although they couldn’t be more different.
The first one, giving its title to the book, was imbued with a rather very contagious melancholy. One couldn’t help but feel pity for the young man in his overwhelming loneliness, although at times he said things that in our day and age would raise a thousand red flags (things such us we women shouldn’t refuse the conversation of such a shy and helpless but totally honorable man as him… ugh). Also, the madly-in-love-at-first-sight trope is as always no so believable, so even though the story leads you to want the two characters to end up together, I was glad to see that the young woman had more sense in her and stick to her original plan (although it still wasn’t great, in my opinion, but oh well)
The second story, “A Disgraceful Affair” (or also, according to Wikipedia: “A Nasty Story”,  “A Most Unfortunate Incident” or”An Unpleasant Predicament”) was much more fun in general, although the amounts of second-hand embarrassment for the character were off the charts. A sort of high-rank man, after a sort of dinner party with a couple of colleagues and with not-a-few drinks on him, ended up crashing the wedding of one of his subordinates. What in his mind was going to be an event that would remain fondly in the memory of said subordinate and his family as the day in which such a high-rank man did them the honors of his remarkable presence, ended up being a trainwreck of embarrassment and foolishness, where he became the but of the joke and ruined the entire night of the poor groom, as we later find out. Reading this was both a very amusing and awkward experience.

The black monk (and other stories) and The Swedish match and other stories, by Anton Chekhov

These two are little anthologies of some of Chekhov’s short stories, that I read almost one right the other, one in May, the other in June. There were a couple of stories that were repeated in both, but I didn’t even mind reading them again just a few days after I had the first time, because they were really enjoyable.

The one that gives the title of the first collection, “The black monk”, is the longest and most bizarre of that group, dealing with a topic such as an untreated mental illness which leads the main character to believe that his hallucinations were an indication of his superiority over the “common, sane people”, living happily in his delusion of grandeur until he goes into treatment for this ailment, which gives an end to these hallucinations but turns him into a bitter man.
My favorite story was “The House with the Mezzanine”, about a landscape painter who gets introduced to a couple of sisters. The elder works as a teacher (even though she doesn’t have the need to work for a living)  and has a very active presence in the community and is very stern and vocal about her political ideas. She’s always arguing with the artist, doesn’t like him and is always mocking his profession. The younger sister is a sensitive girl and has a more contemplative life. She has her sister in high regard and respects her opinions and decisions. The artist falls in love with the younger sister, and she retributes the feelings. You might guess how this ends.

My favorite story of the ones collected in the second volume was, precisely, “The Swedish match” (or “The safety match”, depending on the translation), which is actually hilarious. I’d say “it could be a very fun movie”, but it was already adapted in the 50s. It’s a very absurd murder investigation where there’s no body and all the hypotheses are made up basically out of thin air.

Overall, I really enjoy reading the whole collection. The stories were mostly about everyday problems or little conflicts, of very common and generally unremarkable middle-class people, and yet, in very few pages, one gets to care about the characters and gets enthralled by the at times inane, at times dramatic, or even ridiculous situations they find themselves (or they put themselves) into.

Twelve dozen dialogues*, by Pierre Louÿs

46130761*Followed by Handbook of behavior for little girls to be used in educational establishments

(…) an erotic classic in which humor takes precedence over arousal. By means of shockingly filthy advice—ostensibly offered “for use in educational establishments”—couched in a hilariously parodic admonitory tone, Louÿs turns late-nineteenth-century manners roundly on their head, with ass prominently skyward. Whether offering rules for etiquette in church, school or home, or outlining a girl’s duties toward family, neighbor or God, Louÿs manages to mock every institution and leave no taboo unsullied. (from Goodreads)

This is quite a famous collection of books among Spanish speakers, very easily recognizable for their bright pink colored covers that scream loudly,  for anyone who pays attention, “I’m’ reading an erotic novel!” xD

This is far from being a novel, though: the so-called dialogues are snippets of conversations that were, allegedly, “overheard” among sex-workers. Rowdy, raunchy and hilarious at once, it’s a very quick and amusing read.

And the exact same words can be said about the Handbook, which is, I believe, much better known.

Tabby’s Tablecloth (and other stories), by Louisa May Alcott.

6594788._sy475_My mother, much like me, likes to go out to second-hand book fairs and flea markets, and every once in a while she comes back with a book or two for me. Usually, these are books from the “Robin Hood Collection”, a collection of yellow, hard-cover books, aimed at children or teens, that were common when she was a kid. She gave me the ones that were hers, and I’ve (or should I say we?) been engrossing that collection ever since. This is one of those books, which she brought home last year from one of her rounds. Extra points for being one I didn’t already have (has happened before).

This book is an assorted collection of short stories, that my adult self found a bit too moralizing, but still quite entertaining, probably because the experience of reading them filled me with a pleasant nostalgic feeling of when I was a kid and enjoyed reading other stories and novels by this author, also published in this same collection. It was like re-entering into a very familiar realm, it felt cozy and cute, and gave me a longing and a desire to re-read some of those other well-known stories, surrounded by that old-book smell. As if I needed to add even more books to the list! Luckily, I do have a couple of those on my list already.

The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka

50490963._sy475_“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. He was laying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see his domelike brown belly divided into stiff arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly keep in position and was about to slide off completely. His numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes.”

 

With this startling, bizarre, yet surprisingly funny first opening, Kafka begins his masterpiece, The Metamorphosis. It is the story of a young man who, transformed overnight into a giant beetle-like insect, becomes an object of disgrace to his family, an outsider in his own home, a quintessentially alienated man. A harrowing — though absurdly comic — meditation on human feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and isolation, The Metamorphosis has taken its place as one of the most widely read and influential works of twentieth-century fiction.
(from Goodreads)

According to this article:
The Metamorphosis was banned under both the Soviet and Nazi regimes, with the Soviet Union describing the story as ‘decadent’ and ‘despairing’. All of Kafka’s work was also banned in his home country of Czechoslovakia (now split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia) because of Kafka’s preference for writing in German rather than Czech.
I read this book for the first time when I was a teenager, so probably around 15 years ago? Something like that. And in the years since then, I was aware that my teen self probably didn’t pay the attention it’s due, particularly considering that I could barely remember anything of the plot other than “the main character turns into a bug”, so I took this chance to finally give this story a well-deserved re-read.
And, honestly, it was as if I actually never read it before xD Which is good, how many people can have the luxury of reading a book for the first time… twice!
really enjoyed it this time. At first, I find it funnier and much more amusing than I thought it’d be. Maybe because I was just starting in a new job, but I could really identify with that sense of responsibility to his job and his boss that Gregor felt, and his despair for not arriving on time, for not being able to go to work, and all that ridiculous sense of obligation (almost near to degradation, in the case of the character). And I don’t know why, but I found it funny, maybe because it made me realize the uselessness of it all. I don’t know. I’m probably not expressing myself well enough (I’m sure I’m not), so let’s move on.
And then, as the story moves forward, it was much less funny, much less amusing, and definitely going into the “despairing” realms, as the soviets described it. (still, not a good reason to ban a book). And I then identified* to the, once again, extreme sense of obligation of his family, mixed with resentment and that incommensurable guilt, for having to take care of this creature, that was once a loved son, a loved brother, that now seems to be less than a shell of what it was (turning almost into a pet), while we know for sure that Gregor is still there, inside that creature, grappling desperately to his last remnants of humanity, but has no way to show that to his family.
*Not that this ever happened to me, but I definitely fear to be in such a situation.
This book also had some other short stories, that left me with even more thoughts of “is any of this worth it”?
So, a fun ride! xD

Un novelista en el Museo del Prado, by Manuel Mujica Láinez

40701744This is such an entertaining little book. The premise is very simple: an hypothetical novelist is, somehow, able to stay at the Prado Museum once its doors are closed, and he becomes the only witness to the antics the artworks get into during the night, when the characters that live in the paintings are able to leave their canvases and the sculptures their bases. From that point on, the stories are marvellous! Thanks to this novelist, we became spectators of an “elegance pageant”, of a very populated reunion of all the virgins and madonnas, of a “Sleeping Beauty” pantomime, and some very clueless group of lovers that, thinking they were being embarked to the Kythira island, were actually going in Charon’s boat to the Underworld, just to name a few of these adventures.

Sometimes, the characters behave like the people they’re representing, sometimes like the people who modeled to the artists. Sometimes they are fully aware of their identity, sometimes they have completely forgot who they were suppose to be; either way, they love to brag about the artist who painted them, specially if was one of the masters.

I highly recommend to read these stories with an art history or museum catalogue at hand, to have a more comprehensive reading, if one’s not familiar with some of this artworks.

Next time I’ll visit any museum, I’ll make up my own stories.

Miniatures: the very short fiction of John Scalzi, by John Scalzi

33792999

The ex-planet Pluto has a few choice words about being thrown out of the solar system. A listing of alternate histories tells you all the various ways Hitler has died. A lawyer sues an interplanetary union for dangerous working conditions. And four artificial intelligences explain, in increasingly worrying detail, how they plan not to destroy humanity. (from Goodreads)

This book was recommended to me by Jennifer in a swap. She recommended it so HARD and with such passion and enthusiasm that totally convinced me that I had to read it. Once I told her this, she was super kind and she sent it to me.

This is a comedy book. And this is also a science fiction book. Like I said earlier, sci-fi is far from being familiar to me, so I’d like to get a little more into it. If all sci-fi books are like this one, that won’t be a problem at all!

Each one of these short stories (there are more than the four summarized in the Goodreads’ synopsis) is presented by Scalzi himself, giving a little context,  and they’re not exactly narrated, is more like they’re acted. Some stories have several characters, so at times there’s a whole bunch of different actors.  

There’s no story I didn’t like, they all made me laugh! If I had to choose a favorite, that would be “Pluto tells all”. Pluto was always my favorite planet (thanks to Sailor Moon), so I’m still resentful that they kicked it out of the solar system. But, apparently, as it explains in this story, it took it pretty well.

So, as Jen did first, is my duty now to recommend this book. It really won’t took more than a couple of hours of your time (I really wish it were longer) and you won’t regret it.

The Confessions of Dorian Gray: The Complete Series One and Two, by Simon Barnard et al

20695672“To have written such a book was nothing… to convince the world it was a work of fiction was a triumph!”

Inspired by Oscar Wilde’s classic story of hedonism and corruption, The Confessions of Dorian Gray imagines a world where Dorian Gray was real, and his friendship with Oscar Wilde once spawned the notorious novel. (from Goodreads)

I got this audiobook because is starred by one of Versailles’ main actors and I was feeling blue after the end of the second season. “I NEED MORE” was my basic thought. And it fulfilled this need, so that was good.

I really enjoyed listening to it. It takes Wilde’s character and gives him so many more stories! I liked their approach, the “cameos” from other well known literary characters and how they adapted Gray’s personality to different eras (they brought him up to the 21st century!). It really gave me second thoughts about my wish to live forever…

I’m looking forward to listen to the remaining stories!

Painé y Juan Cruz, by María Cristina Casadei

34328679Painé and Juan Cruz have a lot of things in common. They were born on the same day and both are very loved by their parents. Painé is mapuche*, Juan Cruz is criollo**. They met one morning in which they both disobeyed their parents and went to play near the railways. Pretty much since the first moment they become friends and leave on an adventure, accompanied by a lost puma cub, meeting a lot of new people and exploring the natural surroundings.

This is a children’s book lent by a friend during my vacations. She meant to show me the beautiful illustrations it has, but I went on and read it. It’s a great book I believe for kids living and growing up in Rio Negro, the province my friend is from and where I spent my summer vacations. It shows a bit of the different cultural background that compose today’s population in the area, and talks about the particular environment in the region, teaching kids to value and respect their historical and natural backgrounds.

* a group of indigenous inhabitants of south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina

** Latin Americans who are of full or near full pre-colonial Spanish descent, distinguishing them from both multi-racial Latin Americans and Latin Americans of post-colonial (and not necessarily Spanish) European immigrant origin.

Hogwarts, An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide, by J. K. Rowling

31538647Hogwarts An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide takes you on a journey to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You’ll venture into the Hogwarts grounds, become better acquainted with its more permanent residents, learn more about lessons and discover secrets of the castle. . . all at the turn of a page. (from Goodreads)

I knew beforehand that this book compiles some of Rowling’s writings from Pottermore, which I had already read. What I wasn’t expecting was the whole “that Simpson’s episode hosted by Troy McClure where he introduces excerpts from previous episodes”* vibe. So bad that it’s good. It’s super short also, so I read it one day while commuting, it’s great to kill some time.

*S07E10