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. »

Becoming the Emperor

Today, probably not just by coincidence, I came across Becoming the Emperor, an excellent New Yorker piece from 2005 on Memoirs of Hadrian, Yourcenar’s other works, and her peculiar career and life trajectory. Having just read the Memoirs, I was glad to see several of my reading impressions confirmed. I found the New Yorker article to be spot-on on Yourcenar’s prose and theme: Actually, some of Yourcenar’s prose is marmoreal, but not so that you can’t get through it. »

Book Review: Memoirs of Hadrian

Memoirs of Hadrian and its author Marguerite Yourcenar have always induced a cautious fear in me. I fretted the tome for high literary circles, one of those texts so infused with learned quotations and obscure literary references as to be utterly indigestible to the average reader. Despite their evident reputation, I relegated the Memoirs to the bottom of my reading list for a long time. When I stumbled on another reference to Yourcenar’s work a couple of weeks ago, I finally decided to plunge and pull the Memoirs off the shelf. »

Book Review: Lone Rider

In 1982, at just twenty-three years old and halfway through her architectural studies, Elspeth Beard left her family and friends in London and set off on a 35,000-mile solo adventure around the world on her 1974 BMW R60/6. Exhausted by a recent breakup and with only a few savings scraped together from her job in a pub, a tent, a few clothes and some tools, all packed on the back of her bike, she was determined to prove herself. »

Neuromancer and the birth of Cyberpunk

I went back to my library to check the year of my original Neuromancer edition. It’s 1993. For some context, I was 23 back then, with my software company founded only a couple of years earlier. The World Wide Web was at its very early stages. I distinctly remember getting out of that book dazed and confused. Characters were two-dimensional at best. There was a certain lack of exposition. The recurring streams of consciousness were complex for me to follow1. »

Book Review: Roumeli

Roumeli describes Fermor’s travels around Northern Greece and Macedonia. He visits secluded and remote areas and describes the rugged countryside and how people of these remote regions live. As he meets Sarakatsan shepherds and spends some time with them, visits the impressive monasteries of Meteora, attempts to track a pair of Byron’s slippers in Missolonghi and investigates Kravara and its secret language, he makes acute observations about these communities and their history. »

Endurance: Shackleton's lost ship found in Antarctic

A few months ago I started my review of Lansing’s Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage with these words: Of all the stories of maritime adventures I’ve read, that of the Endurance, masterfully told by Alfred Lansing in this book, is the most incredible and shocking. And I meant that. As the book’s title suggests, that story is simply unbelievable, yet true. Imagine my astonishment this morning at the news that the Endurance was found in the depths of the Antarctic. »

Book Review: Thinking Fast and Slow

This book stands up to its fame. It’s chock-full of precious insights on our decision-making and behavioral processes and how and why we humans are often capable of making informed yet awful decisions. The bad news is that we can hardly avoid most of these biases, no matter how hard we try and even if we know about them. So-called experts in the field are subject to these same biases: their short-term estimates and predictions can even be pretty good, but they will fail miserably in the long term, like any other man or woman. »

Book Review: Eichmann in Jerusalem. A Report on the Banality of Evil

This book is not about the famous, daring, and in some ways fortunate capture of Eichmann in Buenos Aires in 1960, nor about the covert transfer of the Nazi officer to Israel. Instead, the volume recounts the 1961 trial in Jerusalem, which ended with the defendant being sentenced to death. Hannah Arendt followed the trial as a correspondent for The New Yorker. She took notes, studied the papers, and reconstructed the many witnesses’ personal stories. »

Book Review: Finnish Fairy Tales

Over the years, Iperborea, one of my favorite Italian publishers, has been publishing an unofficial Nordic Tales series. Their renowned nordic fiction series includes one fairy tale volume per year, usually published in December, just for Christmas. The first book was Lapland Tales in 2014, and then they continued with Danish, Icelandic, Swedish, Faroe, Norwegian, Greenlandic and then Finnish in 2021. I’ve been greedily reading each one of them, usually as my last book of the year. »

Three Good Books I Read in 2021

This year I’ve read twenty-one books or 5903 pages. That’s fewer books than last year (28 / 8064), the year before (25 / 8394), and the one before that (30 / 8447). Heck, I must look back at 2014 to score a win in my very own yearly reading challenge. What surprises me is not much the number of books but the pages I read, which constitutes a more relevant metric. »

Book Review: Consider the Lobster

I found a Consider the Lobster review on Goodreads that almost precisely matches my thoughts on DFW and the book. Hence, given the lazy Christmas-break mood I am in right now, I am conceding myself the right to copy-paste and edit David’s review right away. I know of nobody else who writes as thoughtfully and intelligently as DFW. That he manages to write so informatively, with humor and genuine wit, on almost any subject under the sun is mind-blowing – it’s also why I am willing to forgive his occasional stylistic excesses. »

Book Review: About the Meaning of Life

I’m not a regular philosophy reader, much less of self-improvement guides. I’m wary of the latter and too ignorant for the former. Yet, theologian Vito Mancuso has intrigued me for some time. I followed his podcast on the “Four Masters of Life”1 and found it excellent. In it, Mancuso discusses his four tutelary deities: “Socrates, the educator. Buddha, the physician. Confucius, the politician. Jesus, the prophet.” I also listened to some TV interviews where I always found him fascinating. »

Book Review: A useless man

Sait Faik Abasıyanık is an acclaimed Turkish storyteller. A useless man is a collection of short stories that spans nearly two decades of the author’s output, offering a glimpse into his imaginative and troubled mind. His overflowing love for others (even sensual, with a preference for street kids) combined with a “mal de vivre” that pushes him towards self-destruction are apparent. His passion for the most popular areas of Istanbul and, in contrast, the atavistic nostalgia for the simple life of the nearby fishermen islets exudes from these stories, which often run similar one after another. »

Book Review: Endurance, Shackleton's Incredible Voyage

Of all the stories of maritime adventures I’ve read, that of the Endurance, masterfully told by Alfred Lansing in this book, is the most incredible and shocking. Unbelievable to say, given the premise (a crew of 28 men stranded on the Antarctic pack, camped on floating slabs of ice hundreds of miles from any human settlement, at the gates of the Antarctic winter), but the story does not end in tragedy. »

Book Review: Mathematics is politics

Mathematics as the study of relationships: in this aspect lies the similarity and affinity with politics. And then the need in both cases to proceed with stubbornness and trust, without fearing error which, as in all difficult things, is not only lying in wait but inherent, and often, when it is discovered, it is the stimulus and engine of new successes and goals. Hence the need to respect rules and (not or, mind you) the compelling need for revolutions. »

Book Review: King and Emperor, A New Life of Charlemagne

In this scholarly biography by Janet L. Nelson, Charlemagne is stripped back from the years of mythologizing and idolizing that have occurred since his death. He is presented as distinctly human, and this book is the first time I have felt I could reasonably understand Charlemagne as the man he was, not the man he has since been painted to be. Moreover, Nelson is excellent in her discussions of Charlemagne’s wives and their roles. »

Book Review: Language of the Spirit, An Introduction to Classical Music

In this introduction to classical music, Jan Swafford explains the different musical periods and their differences. Each period has its introductory chapter, followed by chapters dedicated to the most influential composers of the era. The choice is comprehensive and well cared for, with the most relevant names well-investigated both in biography and works. For each composer, Swafford also offers some listening suggestions. Biographies thicken as we get into the contemporary era. »

Book Review: Nausea

Antoine Roquentin, the protagonist of the novel, is a former adventurer who has been living for three years in Bouville, a fictional French seaport town, researching the life of an 18th-century diplomat. During his previous life around the world, Antoine has seen many places, met many interesting people, done exciting things. For the last three years, however, he’s been alone in Bouville. He has no friends and no desire to make some or meet anyone. »