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. »

Book Review: Proud tobea Flyer

I happened across this book by pure chance. After having ice cream in our favourite place in Milano Marittima, my wife and I visited a small street market with all kinds of booths. Of course, there was a used book stand toward which I immediately gravitated. A quick scan revealed nothing of interest, so I moved along. But Serena, who arrived at the booth moments after I left, knew more. A simple, no-frills, cardboard-covered book which carried a giant PROUD 2BEA FLYER title on the spine caught her attention. »

Book Review: Nomadland

Some call them homeless. The new nomads refer to themselves as ‘houseless’. Many took to the road after their savings were obliterated by the Great Recession. To keep their gas tanks and bellies full, they work long hours at hard, physical jobs. In a time of flat wages and rising housing costs, they have unshackled themselves from rent and mortgages as a way to get by. They are surviving America. »

Book Review. Eight Days in May: The Final Collapse of the Third Reich

Volker Ullrich’s Eight Days in May describes the period from April 30, 1945, the day of Hitler’s suicide, to May 8, the day of signing the German capitulation, with significant jumps backwards in time and some hops in the future. We’re covering only eight days, and the dictator dies on day one. What essential events might ever have happened in such a short period? Well, many pivotal ones, as this well-researched work shows us. »

Proust's Madeleine Was Originally a Slice of Toast

A long-sought first draft of Marcel Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’ surfaced a few years ago. Its fascinating story and intriguing news are revealed in a Tablet article titled Proust’s Madeleine Was Originally a Slice Toast. Being the Tablet “a daily online magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture”, it makes sense that a good part of the article focuses on Proust’s ambivalence about his Jewishness. Still, there are many other interesting tidbits to be learned. »

Book Review: Power to the Words

Vera Gheno’s “Potere alle Parole” (Power to the Words) is an essay on the importance of appropriate use of the (Italian) language, not just in written works but also and predominately in everyday life. What would we think of a person who, having a vast wardrobe of beautiful clothes, always wore the same suit out of laziness? These situations appear unlikely; yet, they are examples of the attitude that many have towards their language: they have access to an immense, incalculable patrimony, which out of indolence, or fear, or inexperience, they use partially. »

Book Review: Alpi Ribelli: Storie di montagna, resistenza e utopia

The idea behind this book is fascinating. As the subtitle suggests, the book collects stories of rebel mountaineers of all kinds. Some chose to disobey orders; others built refuges of resistance, outposts of autonomy and laboratories of social innovation. The collection is rich and varied. We go from the heretics who went with Fra Dolcino to the partisans who stopped the Nazi fascists in the mountains of Cuneo and Belluno, up to the contemporary movements against the high-speed train in the Susa Valley. »

Book Review: The Voice of the Sirens. The Greeks and the art of persuasion

According to a famous and fortunate Homeric expression, words are winged, not so much like birds but rather like arrows, which cut the air quickly to go straight to the target and break through the listener’s heart. The Greeks have always known that the word is used to convince and show truth and correctness. But they also know that it has a magical force in it: it can turn into a spell, capable of dominating and dragging the listener’s soul; to bewitch like music and to heal like medicine; but, above all, to deceive and mislead. »

Book Review: One Man Caravan

Robert Edison Fulton was the first solo round-the-world motorcycle tourer. He made his worldwide trip on a two-cylinder Douglas motorcycle between July 1932 and December 1933, more or less 90 years ago. On his way from London to the colonial Middle East, Fulton crossed Nazi Germany. Some of the countries and places he passed do not exist anymore. Most have changed dramatically; others, not so much. I suspect, for example, that his adventures in Syria, Afghanistan, or at the Indian-Pakistani borders might have been written today. »

Book Review: The Silence, A Novel

It is Super Bowl Sunday in the year 2022. Five people, dinner, an apartment on the east side of Manhattan. The retired physics professor and her husband and her former student waiting for the couple who will join them from what becomes a dramatic flight from Paris. The conversation ranges from a survey telescope in North-central Chile to a favorite brand of bourbon to Einstein’s 1912 Manuscript on the Special Theory of Relativity. »

The Real Book (of Jazz)

What a fascinating read. It sits right at the intersection of two of my (too many) vicious interests: Jazz music and books. Since the mid-1970s, almost every jazz musician has owned a copy of the same book. It has a peach-colored cover, a chunky, 1970s-style logo, and a black plastic binding. It’s delightfully homemade-looking—like it was printed by a bunch of teenagers at a Kinkos. And inside is the sheet music for hundreds of common jazz tunes—also known as jazz “standards”—all meticulously notated by hand. »