Book Review: No Sleep Till Shengal

Zerocalcare is an Italian cartoonist whose strips, especially in the form of illustrated books, have surged to an iconic level in the last decade. His drawing is excellent, but it is with his writing that, I think, he conquered fame. His stories are fun to read and yet profound and vibrant, all at the same time. Also, he often touches on themes nobody else covers, at least not in the comics world. »

Book Review: Red Mars

Regarding space-related topics and scientific research, Casey Handmer’s blog is one of my references. So when Casey started his Mars Trilogy Technical Commentary and I learned about Kim Stanley Robinson’s masterpiece, I was instantly intrigued. In Casey’s opinion, KSR’s Mars Trilogy is “one of the finest works of literature ever composed.” It took a couple of weeks of futile resistance before I gave in and ordered the first book in the series, Red Mars, a 420 pages tome that attempts to depict a scientifically credible human colonization of Mars1. »

Book Review: Sanguina Ancora (Still Bleeding)

Sanguina Ancora (Still Bleeding) is not a biography but a passionate and informative tribute to Dostoevsky. The nonlinear, not literary style works and the continuous back and forth between Dostoevsky’s epic and the author’s own experiences as a scholar and Russian literature enthusiast is probably a good idea as it helps stress the actualness of Dostoevsky’s opus. However, the continuous jumping in and out of the Russian’s life, though sympathetic at first, gets tedious over time. »

Barnes & Noble's surprising turnaround

According to the always-interesting Ted Gioia, the recent turnaround of Barnes & Noble is to be attributed to the company’s new CEO and his love of books. Quite astonishingly James Daunt, who took the helm of B&N in late 2019, refused to take promotional money from publishers: Daunt refused to play this game. He wanted to put the best books in the window. He wanted to display the most exciting books by the front door. »

Book Review: Uomini, boschi e api

I wish everyone could listen to the song of the partridges as the sun rises, see the deer on pastures in spring, the larch trees reddened by autumn on the edges of rocks, the darting of fish among the clear waters of streams, and the bees gathering nectar from the flowering cherry trees. In these stories, I write about village places. These natural environments are still livable, about the beautiful social insects that are bees, but also about ancient jobs that are slowly and inexorably disappearing. »

My favorite books of 2022

I only read 17 books in 2022, confirming the slowdown of the last few years. The total number of pages decreased too, albeit not too much compared to the previous year. In 2021, though, there was a significant drop, as in 2020, I read 28 books or 8073 pages. Stats have been going down since 2015, which is interesting. Like last year, I’m not sure why I’m reading less. More tired? »

Author image Nicola Iarocci on #books,

Book Review: Stoner

I tend to shy away from publishing cases, so Stoner has been resting on my yeah-maybe-one-day list for years. Over time I stumbled on notable mentions that kept the book on the fringe of my attention zone. Then one day, I read a brief and intriguing review in Giovanni Zagni’s excellent newsletter, Incertezze. Like me, Zagni suffers from the stay-away-from-editorial-cases idiosyncrasy, but he finally gave in, read the thing, reread it, and finally tagged it a modern classic. »

Book Review: Candide

This short novel was a genuine surprise. I certainly didn’t expect Voltaire to be this accessible, witty, sarcastic, and also outrageous for the era (1759). Below the surface of a seemingly entertaining and often absurd sequence of improbable events is a constant philosophical struggle. Quoting from the back cover: Candide is the story of a gentle man who, though pummeled and slapped in every direction by fate, clings desperately to the belief that he lives in “the best of all possible worlds. »

Book Review: When We Cease to Understand the World

When We Cease to Understand the World, by Benjamin Labatut, is a strange narrative object. It mixes fact and fiction in imaginative ways, sometimes making it hard for the reader to distinguish between them, which is probably a testimonial to the experiment’s success. As I was reading, Wu Ming’s unidentified narrative objects (UNO) came to mind. If it doesn’t qualify as UNO, it comes close enough. It certainly fits the ‘faction’ (fact+fiction) genre, if such a thing exists. »

Book Review: Mašen'ka

Masen’ka (or Mary) is Nabokov’s debut novel. It was written when he was in his twenties, living as an émigré in Berlin, just like the story’s protagonist. In the introduction of my Italian edition (Adelphi), the author admits that some life events poured into the narration. The depiction of Ganin’s life in a pension filled with fellow Russian ex-pats, and the relationships between them, is undoubtedly reminiscent of Nabokov’s own experience. »

Book Review: The Crow Comes Last

The Crow Comes Last is a collection of thirty short stories written between 1945 and 1948, primarily based on the author’s wartime experiences as a resistance fighter during WWII and then in postwar Italy. Some are brutal, others funny, and some are gritty. They all revolve around the themes he perfectly defined while talking about his book: I prefer to divide the subject into three parts, to highlight three thematic lines of my work from those years. »

Book Review: Ravenna

Nerdy prelude. Local Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) were all the range when I was a teenager. With my group of local hackers, we hacked our way into ITAPAC, the then-leading Italian packet-switching network (we are talking pre-Internet era here.) Via ITAPAC, we’d connect to so-called “out-dial systems” in the USA. From one of those, we’d finally call our target BBSes with a local call at no cost. We felt so invincible! »

The Tripitaka Koreana

The Tripitaka Koreana - carved on 81258 woodblocks in the 13th century - is the most successful large data transfer over time yet achieved by humankind. 52 million characters of information, transmitted over nearly 8 centuries with zero data loss - an unequalled achievement. The full story is available here (via). Subscribe to the newsletter, the RSS feed, or follow @nicolaiarocci on Twitter »

Book Review: The Count of Monte Cristo

In my early morning stroll, I sometimes listen to audiobooks. This was the case with The Count of Monte Cristo. Rai Radio 3, the third channel of the national broadcasting service, has been airing Ad Alta Voce (Aloud) for many years. In the program, top-tier actors read old and new literary classics. The quality of these productions is astounding. Audio editions are often edited, which was the case with The Count, as the unabridged edition surpasses the 1200-page count (a little-known fact is that most printed editions are also edited for brevity). »

Book Review: Smiling Bears

My perception of zoos has always been of prisons—places of suffering where animals are held captive for human entertainment. Smiling Bears offered a new perspective. Some (hopefully most) zoos provide a safe harbor to abused and rescued animals who could never return to their natural habitats. Zookeepers like Else Poulsen care for these creatures, accompanying them in their rehabilitation process. I imagine not all zoos and zookeepers meet these standards, but it is reassuring to know these things happen. »

Book Review: A Captive West or the tragedy of Central Europe

Adelphi1 prints in book form two unpublished speeches by Milan Kundera, one from 1967 and the other from 1983, in which the great Czech writer reflects on the fate of the small nations in central Europe and the cultural drift of (western) Europe as a whole. As we read along, thanks to Kundera’s acumen and depth of analysis, we find many surprising ante-litteram references to today’s critical situation (Russian-Ukrainian war). »

Book Review: Just an Ordinary Day

As a Shirley Jackson fan, I couldn’t pass on this new collection of unpublished short stories. A good chunk of these was unheard of for thirty years until someone unearthed some cardboard boxes in a Vermont barn and then sent them to her heirs. Unlike The Lottery, where all tales followed a distinct theme, Just an Ordinary Day has little to unite the stories. Several genres are represented: classic family stories, supernatural, horror, and unsettling accounts of day-to-day life in the fifties all make up the list. »

Book Review: Italica

Suppose you are looking for a juicy and thought-provoking read on Italy’s twentieth-century crucial moments. In that case, I heartily recommend Italica by Giacomo Papi, a significant collection of short stories by prominent Italian writers of the period including the likes of Italo Calvino, Elsa Morante, Beppe Fenoglio, Natalia Ginzburg, and Giorgio Scerbanenco. A short essay introduces each tale. I thoughtfully appreciated these introductions, sometimes even more so than the story itself, as they are quintessential to comprehending the tale’s historical background. »

Book Review: The Rings of Saturn

W.G. Sebald is widely considered among the best modern German authors, so I approached this book with curiosity and high expectations. The Rings of Saturn records the author’s walking tour along the East Coast of England. As W.G. Sebald resides in the intellectual world, his tour naturally brings up literary, cultural or historical reminiscences. An astute Goodreads reviewer noted that Britain’s decline’s eccentric and grotesque aspects are this work’s central theme. »

Book Review: Invisible Cities

“Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his.” So begins Italo Calvino’s compilation of fragmentary urban images. As Marco tells the khan about Armilla, which “has nothing that makes it seem a city, except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be,” the spider-web city of Octavia, and other marvelous burgs, it may be that he is creating them all out of his imagination, or perhaps he is recreating fine details of his native Venice over and over again, or perhaps he is simply recounting some of the myriad possible forms a city might take. »