The Ladies Paradise, by Émile Zola

26782749The Ladies Paradise (Au Bonheur des Dames) recounts the rise of the modern department store in late nineteenth-century Paris. The store is a symbol of capitalism, of the modern city, and of the bourgeois family: it is emblematic of changes in consumer culture and the changes in sexual attitudes and class relations taking place at the end of the century.
Octave Mouret, the store’s owner-manager, masterfully exploits the desires of his female customers. In his private life as much as in business he is the great seducer. But when he falls in love with the innocent Denise Baudu, he discovers she is the only one of the salesgirls who refuses to be commodified. (from Goodreads)

Ohhh this book… I couldn’t possibly find a physical copy of it in Buenos Aires, at least in Spanish. I ended up downloading it as epub, to read on my computer, which barely happened and put a hold in my reading of the Rougon-Macquart. At the end, I finished the reading from my phone (which at first was totally “ugh”, but then was like “this isn’t so bad”).
A couple of years ago, I was just beginning to read some of Zola’s works, without any judgement (I wasn’t even aware that they were a series), and I came around The Paradise, a BBC series allegedly based in one of Zola’s novels. I looked for it tirelessly without any result, like I just said. But, in the meantime, I kept reading the others and watching this tv show, which I enjoyed very much, at least the first season. It seemed a little too “happy” to be some of his works, but “well”, I thought, “there might be an exception”.
Some time later I began to read Pot-bouille, and started to recognize John Moray in Octave Mouret. “This might be it!”, I thought, but no, of course it wasn’t, as I realized later this was a prequel of that story. I also noted that Octave didn’t seem to be a lot like Mouray, or at least how I remembered him to be. However, I let it pass…
After reading this book I can now finally say “yeah, that tv thing was waaaay too sugar-coated”. It’s ok in its own, but as an adaptation works really bad. Or maybe I’m wrong for thinking it was supposed to be a word by word adaptation, like they sometimes do for Austen’s works… This definitely wasn’t.
Leaving all that behind, this book is fantastic. Like I think I already said before, what I love about Zola is the real research work behind his writing, and how his novels can perfectly work (in my opinion) as any other history or sociology book explaining the Second Empire. Each book tackles a different subject, and this one in particular shows us the socio-economic revolution that meant the creation of this mega-super-stores. The work conditions, the dreadful consequences for the historical artisanal and specialized stores, and the beginning of the crazy consumerism we have today.
As always, there’s a great myriad of characters to love, hate or feel sorry for (so much of the latter, actually, those poor little store owners, heartbreaking).
As usual, this was that kind of novel that I never wanted it to end. However, now that I finished it, it means that I can move forward with this project.

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Les Superstitions au Moyen Âge, by Jean Verdon

33290126English title: Superstitions in the Middle Ages

I couldn’t find an English translation of this book, nor an abstract in Goodreads…

I fucking love the Middle Ages. There’s no other way to say it. Would I like to live there? Definitely not, but damn it’s an interesting subject. Probably my favorite subject for history books.
What’s a thousand years in the history of mankind? Absolutely nothing, and however it’s so mind blowing to read about these times, just a millennium ago. Sometimes it feels like I’m not reading history, that it’s more like any other fantasy novel, all the otherworldly experiences this people had back then, in apparently a daily basis. It probably wasn’t like that at all, most people sure had plain lives, but when one is reading about it, it feels as if things were like “oh well, that neighbor was killed by a demon last week and a guy in that other village saw a witch flying in her broom the other night” etc.
I really liked this book. I especially loved the way in how these subjects were treated, like they were real. Because they were totally real, as long as people believed they were. There were documents, treaties, essays from those times, proving the existence of all this stuff. And, at the same time, it was also very clear when things weren’t real at all and were used for political, social or economic reasons. Like witch hunts and such.
Great great great reading!

Just Patty, by Jean Webster

33299440Just Patty is the prequel to When Patty Went to College, which was Webster’s first novel. We see the same lovable prankster at school, causing just as much havoc as ever and delighting her fellow students with her scornful disregard for rules and etiquette (from Goodreads)

There’s no storyline, it’s more like a recollection of episodes from Patty’s last year of school. She attended to a boarding school for girls, because of course.
This book began as a huge disappointment. I had high expectations of it, because Daddy-long-legs and Dear Enemy, her most known works, are books that I have read unnumbered times and I cherish them with all my heart.
But the first chapters were dreadful. I understand that this book was written before WW1 and that everything was different and blah, but I couldn’t read it without my 21st century mind, and fear what could a young person today could learn from it (I kept thinking about my 13 years old cousin)
During the first chapter we learn that Patty is, basically, a bully. She and her friends begin to torment their classmates in the aim of “improve them”. Studying too much, being too religious, being a butch, those where the kind of sins they wanted to erase from the other girls… Fat shaming? SURE! Were they punished for their behaviour? Of course not, Patty and her friends are intelligent, vivacious, joyful, resourceful, a role model for everyone! Ugh…
I kept reading hoping it would get better eventually… Luckily, the extreme cringe-worthy events occur in that first chapter. The rest of the book is… ok. Patty is annoying throughout the entire book, and there were always little bits here and there that kept reminding me of how far we have come in terms of human decency, feminism and general common sense in the last century, despite everything.
I couldn’t stop thinking, though, that if I’d read this book when I was 12, I’d probably enjoyed it. That’s a little disheartening.
I’m wondering now whether I would read the other book about Patty or not.

The Gioconda Smile, by Aldous Huxley

33290188I’m not a fan of reading plays, as I said here so many times, but I had to read one for a reading challenge, so here I was… I chose this book because, every now and then, when I saw it in the bookshelf, I thought “Ah, might be interesting”, but then I saw it was a play and lost interest immediately. This happened to me many times, because apparently I always deleted the memory of it being a play.
What I’m not certain if this was originally written as a play, or this is just an adaptation…

The story plot, as found in Goodreads, is this:
Henry Hutton, a prosperous English landowner, flirts with Miss Janet Spence, an unmarried woman in her late thirties. After toying with her affections, Hutton hurriedly departs to take home his young Cockney mistress, Doris, and then to return to his wife, who is an almost complete invalid. Mr. and Mrs. Hutton have reached an impasse in their marriage: He is terminally bored with the relationship, while she approaches life with the querulous disapproval of the chronically ill.

This is a crime story, with so much drama added to it
I believe the Goodreads’ plot is a little misgiven, or maybe my interpretation is a bit different. I don’t think Mr Hutton flirted at all with Miss Spence, I don’t think he ever saw her as other thing than as a friend, but oh well, Miss Spence would have disagree with me, surely.
The back cover of my edition totally sold me the book as a crime mystery, with an unexpected ending. I don’t think there was a mystery at all. After reading the first pages, I could foresee who was going to be the victim, who was the murderer (I mean, the character practically does it on our faces) and who was going to be falsely accused. It did grow on suspense towards the ending, as one wondered if the true was ever going to come out.
All in all, it was ok, was enjoyable, and, as most plays, would probably look better performed than read.

Momo, by Michael Ende

2799598At the edge of the city, in the ruins of an old amphitheatre, there lives a little homeless girl called Momo. Momo has a special talent which she uses to help all her friends who come to visit her. Then one day the sinister men in grey arrive and silently take over the city. Only Momo has the power to resist them, and with the help of Professor Hora and his strange tortoise, Cassiopeia, she travels beyond the boundaries of time to uncover their dark secrets. (from Goodreads)

I first read this book when I was a kid, and took it from my school’s library. Back then I used to ”eat“ books one after the other, without any judgement. I can’t name any of the books I read and have very vague memories of some of them. This was the case with Momo, which I remembered it’s title, but I couldn’t say a word about it.
Last year I found it in a second-hand bookstore because even if I couldn’t remember exactly what was it about, I knew it was important and that I should have it. Mostly because the cover was so pretty [it wasn’t until I started reading it -I always start reading the “credits page”, with the edition year (1978, hence that cool typography), editor, translator, etc.- that I realize that the cover and all illustrations in the book were made by the author himself! I love when that happens (especially if the illustrations are as good as the story)].
Even though I felt like it was a book strictly written for children as its target public, I feel it needs to be read by some many adults…

Flush, by Virginia Woolf

33009322First published in 1933, Flush is the story of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel. Although Flush has adventures of his own, he is also the means of providing us with glimpses into the life of his owner and her days at Wimpole Street as an invalid, her courtship by Robert Browning, their elopement and life together in Italy. (from Goodreads)

I bought this book blindly. I’ve been reading now and then some works from Woolf through the last couple of years so when this one crossed my path I didn’t think twice. There was nothing in the title that gave me a hint of its content, and there was no synopsis or abstract of any kind in the back cover. I opened the book just enough to see it seemed to be some kind of novel and that was that. As soon as I started reading it and realized it was about a dog I thought “Ughh, I hope he has a good life and doesn’t die horribly”. Spoiler alert: he has and he doesn’t.
I’m not used to read novels written from the point of view of real animals (not anthropomorphized versions), and when I do I tend to constantly think “Do my pets feel or felt like this?”. I look at my dog, she’s a senior now, and spends most of her time just laying here and there, trying to keep herself cool or warm through the seasons. How was the domestication process for her? How do pets learn and understand us? When did my cat stopped being a fuzzy vindictive little demon and became a furry napping ball that learned to ask me to pick her up? Or did she taught me? Why my other cat doesn’t like me? Why does she likes my brother more? What does she sees in me?
Did Virginia Woolf understand dogs in a way that I don’t? She wrote this to be so believable. Or is it that she just put into words what we all want to believe about dogs’ thinking process?
This book was so lovely to read. Sure, Flush goes through some tough moments, but no more than any other main character in any novel.

Quidditch Through the Ages, by Kennilworthy Whisp

424020Did you know that: there are 700 ways of committing a foul in Quidditch? The game first began to evolve on Queerditch Marsh – What Bumphing is? That Puddlemere United is oldest team in the Britain and Ireland league (founded 1163). All this information and much more could be yours once you have read this book: this is all you could ever need to know about the history, the rules – and the breaking of the rules – of the noble wizarding sport of Quidditch. (from Goodreads)

Just like with Fantastic Beasts, here is another of Hogwarts’ textbooks that I’ve read uncountable times in the past, and I decided to re-read, for those good times. But, unlike FB, this one is more like a history book, as you could imagine for its self-explanatory title, and this one didn’t belong to Harry Potter, it was property of Hogwarts’ Library, so there aren’t any funny notes through the pages, or else the writer would have suffered an awful hex.
This wasn’t my favorite when I was a kid, but in all these years I’ve grown fond of history and I actually read history books for pleasure, so I actually enjoyed this book so much more than before. Even when it’s made-up history. Or isn’t?