For me, autumn is associated with circuses and carnivals, maybe because Halloween is approaching and I think of country fairs, masks, costumes, etc. Thus, I am presenting ten books, in no particular order and both fiction and non-fiction, that revolve around circuses or carnivals.
I. Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham
Nightmare Alley is a fast-paced pulp noir that tells a journey of ambitious and street-smart Stanton Carlisle, working as a mentalist, through all the dark sides of one second-rate carnival show. The structure of this book is dictated by a Tarot deck, and the novel has now been adapted twice – as a 1947 film noir starring Tyrone Power and as a 2021 film directed by Guillermo del Toro.
II. The Circus Fire: A True Story of An American Tragedy by Stewart O’Nan
This book is about the 6 July 1944 circus fire disaster that occurred in Hartford, Connecticut, when a big top of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus caught fire in the middle of a performance with some 7000 people inside. At least 167 people died and another 700 were injured, and this book, filled with maps and photographs, painstakingly sets down all the circumstances leading up to the tragedy, including previous fires and circus arrangements, before talking about acts of heroism on the day and the aftermath, when the injured had to deal with PTSD.
I. In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki
This persuasive essay by Japanese author Jun’ichirō Tanizaki illuminates the darkest corners of cultural and aesthetic Japan, explaining the country’s traditional preference for imperfection. Tanizaki says that there is an eerie beauty to be distilled from things that at first seem “dark”, “small” or “imperfect” (such as special charm emanating from lacquerware illuminated by candles). Those who are open to experience the imperfect and not afraid to crouch in the dark, will find that special delight. It now appears to me that Tanizaki might have also been influenced by the writings of Yoshida Kenkō, a Buddhist monk.
II. Another Kyoto  by Alex Kerr& Kathy Arlyn Sokol
In this book, Alex Kerr and Kathy Sokol capture and explain the nuances of the Japanese culture by focusing on seemingly mundane objects of the Japanese society, such as walls, gates, tatami mats and screens, opening to us a whole new way of perceiving these attributes of the Japanese culture. In Kerr and Sokol’s book, Kyoto never felt as intimate nor its most distinguishing features better explained.
I thought this was an exciting read, presenting Japanese history through the lives of twenty distinguished citizens, from mythical Princess Himiko (“Shaman Queen”), who lived in the year 200, to Empress Owada Masako (1963-), an intelligent, well-educated woman, but once a very unlikely contender to the title. It is possible that Harding based his book on Gen Itasaka’s 100 Japanese (People) You Should Know, and those who want to read a more linear history of Japan, can pick up Andrew Gordon’s A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present .
It is said that this “funny and sad novelis about religion, the fight between good and evil and the terrible accidents of human frailty.” The Bell should be right up my alley because I love stories that focus on small communities and morality. The synopsis reads: “A lay community of thoroughly mixed-up people is encamped outside Imber Abbey…A new bell, legendary symbol of religion and magic, is rediscovered“. At the same time, it appears that a number of characters also decide to either confront their partners or change their relationships status.
II. The Iliac Crest [2002/17] by Cristina Rivera Garza
Sometimes I am up for something subversive and unusual. The Iliac Crest is by Mexican author Cristina Rivera Garza who decided to explore the concepts of gender and identity, presenting in her story two women who come to an unnamed narrator’s house and start their questioning. “The increasingly frantic protagonist fails to defend his supposed masculinity and eventually finds himself in a sanatorium.” The novel has been called “haunting” and “otherworldly”, and I am sure there are many surprises along the way.
I have recently watched A Clockwork Reader’s YouTube video 10 Short Books You Can Read in a Day and have decided to share my own recommendations of short books you can finish in just one day (and by authors from eight different countries!). The books below are listed in no particular order and they are all under 160 pages‘ long (though the number of pages given is approximate since editions vary).
I. Colonel Chabert  by Honoré de Balzac (101 pages)
What everyone knows is that Colonel Chabert died honourably in one of the battles of Napoleon. He is one of the heroes who gave his life for the glory of the Empire. The problem is that he has actually survived, while everyone believed him dead, and he returns to France. Finding his wife re-married, Chabert slowly senses that everyone thinks that he is really better off dead. This is a penetrating novel by Balzac about society’s hypocrisy and the fight for justice.
II. The Death of Ivan Ilyich  by Leo Tolstoy (86 pages)
This novella by Tolstoy is about the examination of life, dying and how morality fits into all of this as it focuses on a judge who is finally forced to face his death and ponder his past actions. Japanese director Akira Kurosawa famously re-worked Tolstoy’s story to film Ikiru (To Live) (1952), a film which I highly recommend (Kazuo Ishiguro has also recently re-worked the script of Kurosawa for the film Living (2021)).
I would like to explore the worlds of French playwrights and I am going to start with Molière. The Misanthrope, The Hypochondriac and Le Médecin malgré lui (“the doctor in spite of himself”), a satire on the 17th century French medicine, all sound like great (tragi)comedies.
II. Hiroko Oyamada
I cannot believe I am still to read any Oyamada because I have wanted to read her books for so long. I am excited to read both The Factory  and The Hole . Oyamada’s writings have been compared to Franz Kafka and so her books are likely to be right up my alley.
III. Julio Cortazar
I already ranted elsewhere how badly I want to read Julio Cortázar’s masterpiece Hopscotch , but its size and complexity do put me off. I am also curious about this Argentine-French writer’s short stories and he had left plenty.
Today is 40 years since the death of science-fiction writer Philip. K. Dick (1928 – 1982), an American author who created addictive dystopian worlds where advanced technologies compete with humanity, where space-travel is not only available and optional, but at times essential to evade planetary catastrophes, and where drug-induced hallucinations become a new reality for all. The science-fiction books of Philip. K. Dick may not be the height of mastery in terms of their execution and in some ways do remain products of their time, but no one can deny their unparalleled creativity in setting out intriguing worlds of the future where there are layers and layers of unfathomable realities just beneath the one you see.
I. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 
Few people have not heard of this book, or if they have not, they have surely heard of Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner , which (and I would say it very frankly) is only loosely based on this sci-fi novel. In this story, set in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco, possessing a real live animal have become a social status akin to being one of the richest persons on earth because so few of them are in existence and, androids and humans co-exist in a world torn by the devastating effects of the recent nuclear war. Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter, has a task of “retiring” a number of criminally-minded androids who have recently escaped from Mars. The success of this book, and the film, lies in a way it taps into the very essence of our humanity – what makes us – us? Our thoughts, our memories, our emotions? If all of these can be “replicated”, does our sense of humanity become redundant? Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a great sci-fi full of irony and suspense that was unfairly overshadowed by its cinematic counterpart.
To follow from my January post on two American true crime non-fiction books, here is my list of 10 further recommendations in the true crime genre. It is in no particular order and I purposely left out books that I already reviewed on my blog – Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah and Tom Wainwright’s Narconomics.
I. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI 
No other non-fiction has had as much effect on me in recent years as this book by David Grann. This is an outrageous story about a series of inexplicable murders of the Osage people in Oklahoma in the 1920s after big oil deposits were found on their land. High levels of local corruption meant that a completely independent force had to take charge of a covert investigation and subsequently uncovered some very shocking facts. I also enjoyed Grann’s book The Lost City of Z, and Killers of the Flower Moon is currently being adapted as a film by no other than Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio (no, not in a “good guy” role), Robert De Niro andJesse Plemons (The Power of the Dog).
II. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
The story of Stanford drop-out Elizabeth Holmes must be one of the most shocking to come out in the 21st century. Holmes started her company Theranos in California in 2003, emulating Steve Jobs, and persuaded a number of influential people (alongside millions of onlookers!) to part with their cash and invest in her new medical technology that, from her words, could revolutionise blood testing and lead to accurate diagnoses years before any symptoms appeared. Only no such “miracle” technology was ever in existence, and this book by a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter not only tells of Holmes’s tale of ambition and deception, but also of the company’s later attempts to cover-up and intimidate as snippets of truth started to emerge around 2015. In January 2022, Elisabeth Holmes was convicted of four out of eleven charges laid down against her.
It is that time of the year again when we indulge in spooky stories, so I have compiled this list of ten most disturbing books I have ever read (not necessarily horror, but rather unsettling/upsetting reads and they are in no particular order).
I. A Clockwork Orange  by Anthony Burgess
I read this book a long time ago, but its disturbing aspects stayed with me. In this story, sociopathic Alex and his gang participate in random acts of extreme violence until Alex is caught, convicted and is forced into a special conditioning programme that is designed to make him averse to violent actions in future. The book may be on a short side, but it is full of thought-provoking, philosophical issues, for example, implicitly commenting on the nature vs. nurture, and free will vs. determinism debates. Stanley Kubrick based his 1971 film on this novella by Burgess.
II. Sleepers  by Lorenzo Carcaterra
This book talks about a group of boys who are into pranks of all kinds until they are sent to one juvenile detention centre for their misbehaviour and there endure horrific abuse at the hands of people in authority. There is still a dispute whether Carcaterra based this book on his own story or that of his friend (and perhaps added some details), but the book is still compelling and harrowing. The film Sleepers by Barry Levinson and starring Kevin Bacon, Brad Pitt and Dustin Hoffman is also one of the most disturbing films I have ever watched (and thus I do not really recommend it to anyone).
If New York City’s literary themes are all about career ambition skyrocketing, the divide between the rich and the poor, crime, and claustrophobia sensed and caused by numerous tightly-built skyscrapers, San Francisco’s literary themes tend to focus on rights and liberties, the Gold Rush and immigrants’ stories. Below I am highlighting ten books set in San Francisco, US and see also my short review of this amazing non-fiction book about San Francisco: Spirits of San Francisco: Voyages Through the Unknown City by Gary Kamiya & Paul Madonna.
This semi-autobiographical book by Jack London is set in San Francisco and tells of one poor and uneducated sailor who gets charmed by the prospect of education, culture and literary career, especially when he gets acquainted with sophisticated daughter of a well-to-do man – Ruth Morse. This powerful book with one penetrating character study is now criminally under-read and must be one of the best, if not the best, work(s) of the American novelist. There is also a book now in print Jack London’s San Francisco Stories, published by Sydney Samizdat Press and released in 2010.
I loved Hanya Yanagihara’s previous books – her heart-wrenching A Little Life  and fantastical The People in the Trees. So, naturally, I am looking forward to her next book titled To Paradise. The story here is said to span three centuries and here is what Goodreads/publisher has to say about it (my emphasis in bold): “In an alternate version of 1893 America, New York is part of the Free States, where people may live and love whomever they please (or so it seems). The fragile young scion of a distinguished family resists betrothal to a worthy suitor, drawn to a charming music teacher of no means. In a 1993 Manhattan besieged by the AIDS epidemic, a young Hawaiian man lives with his much older, wealthier partner, hiding his troubled childhood and the fate of his father. And in 2093, in a world riven by plagues and governed by totalitarian rule, a powerful scientist’s damaged granddaughter tries to navigate life without him—and solve the mystery of her husband’s disappearances. These three sections are joined in an enthralling and ingenious symphony…To Paradise is a fin de siècle novel of marvellous literary effect, but above all it is a work of emotional genius.” This definitely sounds great and very ambitious, too, if I may add…but then again, Hanya Yanagihara is exactly one of only a few writers working today who is more than capable of pulling it off.
The Experimental Fire: Inventing English Alchemy, 1300-1700 by Jennifer M. Rampling
“Alchemy is the art of manipulating life, and consciousness in matter, to help it evolve, or to solve problems of inner disharmonies“. Jean Dubuis
“I had discovered, early in my researches, that [alchemists’] doctrine was no mere chemical fantasy, but a philosophy they applied to the world, to the elements, and to man himself”. William Butler Yeats, Rosa Alchemica
Alchemy, an ancient, mysterious practice of transmuting base metals and finding the Elixir of Life, is a fascinating subject to read about, and I previously talked about alchemy in art.This new book traces the history of alchemy in England from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, illuminating “the role of alchemical reading and experimental practice in the broader context of national and scientific history“. The great thing abut this book is that Jennifer Rampling uses “new manuscript sources” to support her arguments, and emphasises “how English alchemy was continually [reinventing itself] over the space of four centuries, resulting in changes to the science...”
I have been putting off reading this popular book for ages and this maybe because I have such high expectations of it. Unfortunately, it is now a “topical” book too since it deals with a plague spreading in the year 1666. We follow housemaid Anna Frith as she tries to come to grips with her town’s horrific situation and all the scapegoating and witch-hunts that are ongoing. The novel was inspired by a true case of the English village Eyamand boasts some 400 pages.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Perhaps I have not read this book yet because it is so popular and I am afraid to be disappointed. The premise appeals to me: “Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself?…Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision” (Goodreads). In the past, such “magical” books as The Night Circus and The Book of Flying also fell well below my expectations.
I previously wrote inone of my posts that F. Scott Fitzgerald wanted to title his novel The Great Gatsby as Trimalchio in West Egg and that Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen was originally titled First Impressions. In this post I look at ten other books that changed their original titles.
I. 1984 by George Orwell
Original Title:The Last Man in Europe
George Orwell titled his most famous book The Last Man in Europe before his publisher intervened and suggested 1984. Allegedly, the author also tweaked with the title for Animal Farm .
II. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Original Title: Catch-11orCatch-18
Heller seriously considered calling his satirical book either Catch-11 or Catch-18. However, because, in 1961, at the moment of the publication, there was already something titled Ocean’s 11 (the original heist film with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin), as well Leon Uris’ novel Mila 18 , Heller and his publisher finally settled for Catch-22. The reasoning was that, after all, 22 is simply 11 doubled.
This is a list of five books which I am eager to read in 2021. As usual, I am drawing attention to books from different genres: (i) literary fiction; (ii) non-fiction; (iii) thriller; (iv) dark mystery/horror; and (v) historical fiction.
I. Klara & The Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
This is the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he won his Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017. The Penguin Random House says on its website that this new novel “tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behaviour of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her. Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: what does it mean to love?“. Obviously, my expectations are sky high regarding this book and I think Ishiguro can pull this one off beautifully since he previously distinguished himself as the author of a literary “dystopia” Never Let Me Go  and his books often emphasise the pains of love and missed opportunities. My only hope is that he would not follow the path of Ian McEwan and his Machines Like Me  and keep his narrative “grounded” and “subtle”.
In The Goldfinch, one boy comes to terms with his tragic past while clinging to one work of art that still reminds me of his late mother, an exquisite painting of a goldfinch created in 1654 by Carel Fabritius. This is a great book about growing up, friendship, love, loss and hope. Even though The Goldfinch is an international bestseller, I hold Tartt’s two previous books – The Secret History  and The Little Friend  – in an even higher esteem.
Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk has crafted something magnificent, unputdownable and exquisite with this book. Pamuk’s novel is part murder mystery, part meditation on history and the nature of art. When one of the miniaturists working in the Ottoman Empire is murdered, the suspicion falls on the three remaining, but who is the murderer and will Black, a recently returned miniaturist, help solve the murder? This is a beautifully- written novel with unreliable narrators, red herrings, and unexpected and delightful forays into the very nature of art-making in the Ottoman Empire.
I am continuing my contribution to the Non-Fiction November Initiative with the list below of seven most fascinating “history of medicine” non-fiction books.
I. The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris
Lindsey Fitzharris’s book on British surgeon Joseph Lister and the transformation of the Victorian medicine is an unputdownable book that introduces the reader to the astonishing medical practices that people expected in the 19th century. In times when the “germ” theory was deemed “implausible” and when hospitals were places with unsanitary conditions, one man challenged the traditional way of looking at operations and diseases that follow open wounds. I cannot praise this book highly enough.
I don’t review fantasy books often, but I do read and enjoy them (see my reviews of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and The Night Circus). I love fantasy novels that are well-written, characterised and that take me to magical places. Below I am sharing five fantasy books that are currently on my TBR list and that I am excited to read in the near future.
I. The Gray House  by Mariam Petrosyan
“Rowling meets Rushdie via Tartt…Nothing short of life-changing.”The Guardian
The Gray House is an Armenian author’s debut which she published in Russia in 2009 to a critical and popular acclaim. Translated from the Russian by Yuri Machkasov, this book has been described as a magical realist saga about disabled students who live in the House under the direction of the Outsiders. With references to Russian folklore (a house that is alive) and popular Soviet literature, the tale takes a sinister turn when students deaths pile up and the leaders of the House struggle to maintain their control and power.
To complement my previous post that was about books featuringidentical twins, I am presenting this list of 7 books that feature doppelgängers and look-alike people. Doppelgängers or doubles sometimes appeared in folklore and paranormal stories and, famously, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a German writer, saw his identical self on horseback. The way literature deals with this phenomenon is also curious, giving rise to very thought-provoking and interesting psychological situations, with characters or narrators sometimes questioning their own identity. In that vein, short stories by Edgar Alan Poe (William Wilson ), Henry James (The Jolly Corner ) and by Guy de Maupassant (La Horla ) all focused on this theme, and this situation involving the meeting of two look-alike people also appeared in such novels as Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities  and in Du Maurier’s The Scapegoat .
I. The White Castle  by Orhan Pamuk
In this book, Turkish author and Nobel Prize Laureate Orhan Pamuk introduces a young Italian scholar who becomes a prisoner in the Ottoman Empire. He meets Hoja (the master) and it soon becomes apparent that both men are virtually identical to each other in appearance. Fiercely intelligent, uncanny and mythical, The White Castle may a short novel, but it astutely portrays a curious situation whereby the two men grapple with each other, each other’s identities, each other’s knowledge and with their respective countries’ histories and cultures. Continue reading ““Mirror Image”: 7 Books That Focus on Doppelgängers/Doubles”→
Maybe because I have a twin brother myself I have always been fascinated by twins and especially how they are presented in literature. Some narratives focus on the differences between identical twins (one “evil” and another “good”) or on the infernal competition between them, while others are more realistic and emphasise brotherly love or the pain of separation. A pair of twins has always represented something mysterious, poorly understood, and even eerie and unsettling. The level of this close emotional bond between identical twins can hardly be comprehended for someone born without a twin. What is it really like growing up with another human being beside you who looks exactly like you? Below, in no particular order, are 7 fiction books that focus on identical twins or on the consequences of having an identical twin in one’ s life:
I. The Separation  by Christopher Priest
This book is the book about identical twins since every imaginable and unimaginable scenario involving them is explored, including mistaken identity and a battle for one girl. At the centre here are two brothers who find themselves on the eve of the WWII – one becomes a RAF pilot and another is a conscientious objector. Their destinies play out in a curious manner, and Priest employs sci-fi elements and the alternative history trope to make the story more intriguing. Continue reading ““Double Trouble”: 7 Books That Focus on Identical Twins”→
“If there is one sure thing about food, it is that it is never just food [in books]. Like the post-structuralist text, food is endlessly interpretable, as gift, threat, poison, recompense, barter, seduction, solidarity, suffocation” (Terry Eagleton). Below is the list of 10 fiction books that include food as part of their narrative/descriptions or revolve around food/its preparation. Food can play different roles in a book, such as emphasise the character’s belonging to a particular culture or simply be there to stress the coming of people together, such as at a dinner table, where they can form or cement their relationships.
Food/its preparation is everywhere in this heart-warming novel by Japanese author Durian Sukegawa. In this case, it is delicious home-made dorayaki (Japanese red-bean pancakes), which the main character decides to cook at his street stall and employs an elderly woman with a secret to help him. Both subtle and powerful, this short novel stresses the love for good food, as well as the importance of friendship and the fight against societal discrimination.
II. Chocolat  by Joanne Harris
This book is about Vianne Rocher, a single mother who arrives to one provincial French town and opens there a chocolaterie. The novel explores such themes as the mother-daughter relationship, discrimination and hypocrisy, and all in the background of sumptuous chocolate and chocolate-making descriptions. The film of 2000 with Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp and Judi Dench is a perfect companion to this book. Continue reading “10 Fiction Books Featuring Food”→
First, I would like to wish a Merry Christmas to all my followers and may the New Year bring happiness and only the best to you and your families! Here is the list of my 5 most anticipated books of 2020. I wanted to draw attention to a diverse range of books, so I am presenting a literary thriller, a fantasy, a family saga, a contemporary novel and a non-fiction book.
I.The Truants by Kate Weinberg (Release Date: 28 January 2020)
This book is supposed to have similarities with both Agatha Christie and Donna Tartt’s works, so it immediately shot to my list of anticipated books. I first spotted The Truants on Rachel’s site Pace, Amore, Libri, and this debut thriller is “set in an English [sic] university, [following] a group of friends as they become entangled under the influence of a mesmerizing professor” (Goodreads). The description hints at Tartt’s The Secret History, and I hope there will be more instances of originality in the book and maybe something unexpected even. I do not really want to see a second If We Were Villains , which, in my opinion, strayed too closely to Tartt’s novel. Maybe that is what I will get, but the mention of Agatha Christie keeps me hopeful.
II. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (Release Date: 15 September 2020)
Words cannot describe my excitement for this book. I am a huge fan of Susanna Clarke’sJonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which I recommend to everyone, and Piranesi is a novel coming after the 15 years’ wait. I think it is unrelated to Jonathan Strange’s story and the summary is as following: “Piranesi has always lived in the House. It has hundreds if not thousands of rooms and corridors, imprisoning an ocean. A watery labyrinth. Once in a while he sees his friend, The Other, who needs Piranesi for his scientific research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. Piranesi records his findings in his journal. Then messages begin to appear; all is not what it seems. A terrible truth unravels as evidence emerges of another person and perhaps even another world outside the House’s walls” (Bloomsbury). Continue reading “My 5 Most Anticipated Books of 2020”→
I do not read many graphic novels/comic books, but, once in awhile, I love reading thought-provoking or emotional graphic novels that introduce me to another culture, way of seeing the world, an interesting central character or to a mystery to consider and possibly solve. Below are ten comic books that I enjoyed reading in recent years (they are in no particular order).
The creators of this graphic novel are twin brothers from Brazil who were ambitious enough to make their graphic novel about life and what it means to live, hope, love and have no regrets in life. The opposite of this is to despair and not be brave enough to follow one’s dreams. The creators’ slightly transcendental journey centres on one obituary writer in Sao Paulo who learns his life lessons by experiencing his life in reverse or sometimes jumping through his life events. Emotional, with deep and important messages, Daytripper is a very memorable book that stays with you.
II. V for Vendetta [1982 – 1989] by Alan Moore & David Lloyd
I am not indifferent to the vision of Alan Moore, a British comic writer. His graphic novels are often very insightful and thought-provoking, grappling with interesting issues (such as personal revenge and redemption), and introducing intricate, often misunderstood and complex characters. They also provide for great film adaptations. V for Vendetta may now be better known as the 2005 film, but, in my opinion, the graphic novel has a subtler and more realistic vision, as well as more coherent picture in place, as it introduces a dystopian setting that can rival Orwell’s 1984 and – V, a mysterious character whose extreme methods at doing away with the unfair regime would push our sympathies for him and his cause to the very limit. Continue reading “My 10 Favourite Graphic Novels/Comic Books”→
Since it is Non-Fiction November, I thought I would make a list of non-fiction book recommendations on some of my favourite subjects to explore – the human mind, mental illness and psychiatry. Even though some of the books below border academic and are dated, they still reman very insightful. Some of them were also initially seminal works that opened a new way of thinking about the topic. This list is in no particular order.
I. Asylums  by Erving Goffman
Erving Goffman (1922 – 1982) is considered to be “the most influential American sociologist of the twentieth century”. His work Asylums is a compelling study on mental institutions, in particular, which he terms “total institutions” since, in his view, they insist on certain patterns of behaviour making people inside to conform to certain roles, such as “guards” or “captors”. This is a thought-provoking book which gave way to the whole new theory behind the confinement of mentally ill.
II. History of Melancholy [2009/2011] by Karin Johannisson
History of Melancholy talks about melancholic feelings throughout history – how people viewed melancholy and what forms it took through the ages. It has always been my favourite book on the subject, because it dips into history, literature, psychology and modern psychiatry. It also talks about fugue states, amnesia, anxiety, loneliness and fatigue, emphasising how people were diagnosed with that or this illness depending which one of them was also “in vogue” at that time. I read this book translated (from Swedish) to Russian, and I am not sure whether it is available in the English translation. Continue reading “7 Fascinating Books on Human Mind & Mental Illness”→
I spotted this meme at Kath Reads(it was created by The Broke and the Bookish), and decided to also post my answers to it. We may be avoiding reading certain books on our TBR lists for a variety of (rational and not-so-rational) reasons. We may feel that we simply must be in the right mood for certain books or have enough time in our planners to finish really heavy tomes. Below are ten books from my TBR list which I have been avoiding reading because (i) they are too big and/or complex; or (ii) I receive conflicting messages whether I would love them; or (iii) I want to love them, but I am afraid I will not (for example, because I loved an author’s previous work), etc.
I. 2666  by Roberto Bolaño
The sheer size and complexity of 2666 mean that I keep avoiding reading it. Bolaño’s last book is 1126 pages’ long, and its themes are manifold. It talks about ongoing murders of women in one violent city, but also touches upon the World War II, mental illness, journalism and the breakdown of relationships and careers, among other themes – a monumental work, in many respects.
I think it is the perfect time in the year to get cosy in a warm place with one’s preferred hot beverage and read a novel by Ira Levin (1929-2007), an American master of psychological suspense, who was capable of expertly evoking the horror out of the mundane and everyday situations, providing thrills and surprises no one expects. I have always been a fan of his books, which also translate marvellously onto the screen (for example, see Polanski’s film Rosemary’s Baby  or Forbes’ film The Stepford Wives ). Below are Levin’s novels in the order of my enjoyment of them (meaning that the ranking is not based on any objective criteria, but on my own perception of their merit).
This is my favourite novel of Ira Levin. It is masterfully suspenseful and completely immersive. In this story, Rosemary Woodhouse is a happily married woman living in New York City with her husband Guy, who is an aspiring actor. Upon moving into a prestigious apartment block Bramford, the couple makes friends with their neighbours next door Minnie and Roman Castevet, an elderly couple. Soon after, Rosemary notices strange, overly-friendly behaviour of their neighbours, and Guy’s demeanour also changes. When Rosemary’s becomes pregnant with her first child, her suspicions escalate also because of her very unusual pregnancy; but are her suspicions simply the result of her active imagination or stem from some fact she simply finds hard to accept? Continue reading “Ira Levin’s Novels: Ranked”→
I love reading science-fiction – reading these books is like entering an exciting parallel universe where your imagination fires up (for example, see this list of My 10 Favourite Science-Fiction/Dystopian Books or my reviews of the work of Philip K. Dick – A Scanner Darkly, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch& A Maze of Death). However, for some reason, when I started reading (read) the sci-fi books below I either did not get far or did not particularly like them after I finished them. I realise that some of the books below are very popular and beloved by many and, therefore, I want to give them a second chance – either to re-read them or pick up where I left off and finish them.
I. Station Eleven  by Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven is a very popular dystopian book, but I did not progress far in it. The book’s beginning did not pull me in (and only made me want to re-watch Soderbergh’s film Contagion ). However, I realise it has much to offer, and I want to start it again. The synopsis to this book reads that it is “set in the days of civilisation’s collapse“…and “tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be saviour, and a nomadic group of actors“. The beginning is about the death of a Hollywood actor on stage, after which the story moves “back and forth in time“, becoming “a suspenseful, elegiac and spellbinding novel” (Goodreads).
Emily St. John Mandel has another novel coming in 2020 titled The Glass Hotel, and I am looking forward to reading it. The Glass Hotel is described as “a captivating novel of money, beauty, white-collar crime, ghosts, and moral compromise in which a woman disappears from a container ship off the coast of Mauritania and a massive Ponzi scheme implodes in New York…” (Goodreads). Continue reading “5 Sci-Fi/Dystopian Books I Want to Give a Second Chance”→
It is hard to believe that this Booker Prize-winning novel is a debut of Arundhati Roy, but it is true. This book changed my perception of literature and what it can do. The tale of a pair of twins growing up in India in the late 1960s is a powerful and exceptionally beautifully account. Roy’s language is inventive as she explores in this book such themes as hope, love, loss and despair. A modern classic. Continue reading “10 Great Debut Novels”→
I started reading Agatha Christie’s detective novels when I was very young, and my passion for crime mysteries stems largely from my early literary acquaintance with the Queen of Crime. I believe that when you read Christie’s crime mysteries, you also pretty much read the best and certainly most influential murder/detective mysteries there are (apart from probably those of Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe), and others either influenced Christie herself, see TheMystery of the Yellow Room, or are twisted imitations, seeThe Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle . Below are my ten favourite books from Agatha Christie (as you can see I prefer Hercule Poirot mysteries over those of Miss Marple, and also enjoy “exotic location” mysteries).
I. And Then There Were None 
Obviously,And Then There Were None leads my list since this is Christie’s detective masterpiece. In it, eight people arrive to an isolated island invited for different reasons (some with job prospects in mind). They do not find their host on the island, and, it turned out that the cause of their arrival is more sinister as one by one they die from unnatural causes, with their deaths eerily in line with one nursery rhyme. Full of twists, with one big unbelievable reveal towards the end, this book is Christie at her best, and the cleverness and originality of the plot design is still unsurpassed, even though widely imitated. Continue reading “My 10 Favourite Agatha Christie Novels”→
Orwell’s 1984 will forever remain the dystopian novel to read. In the story, we meet Winston Smith who rewrites historical records for the Ministry of Truth in Airstrip One (formerly the UK), one of the future totalitarian states. The future world of surveillance, propaganda and brainwashing that the author imagines is a powerful reminder of the importance to stick to the truth and freedom of thought anywhere in the real world. Moreover, the novel has a particular relevance to modern times because there is a global concern now about data protection, fake news and privacy when browsing online.
II. Brave New World  by Aldous Huxley
Huxley presents an unforgettable world and vision in his novel. The year is circa 2540, and the humanity made unbelievable advances in genetics, sexual reproduction and sleep-learning. Presented as utopia, the world is actually a well-ordered totalitarian state where there are certain classes of people who should know their societal positions, and where happiness is achieved through a particular drug. The novel is as thought-provoking as it is enjoyable. Continue reading “My 10 Favourite Science Fiction/Dystopian Books”→
I. In Praise of Shadows  by Junichiro Tanizaki
Jun’ichirō Tanizaki first wrote his essay In Praise of Shadows in 1933, demonstrating how the Japanese penchant for darkness and imperfection not only has a right to be, but should be appreciated since its eerie beauty can be distilled. From the charm of lacquerware illuminated by candles to toilet meditation, Tanizaki touches on many aspects of the Japanese society slowly vanishing to make his point that there is a certain delight to be found for those not afraid to crouch in darkness and for those who are open to experience the imperfect.
II. Quiet  by Susan Cain
Susan Cain’s Quiet is revolutionary in some profound way, and for the first time ever introverts can feel good about being themselves. In her book, Cain not only dispels some of the myths about introversion, such as that introverts are shy, but also points out that introversion and leadership are not antonyms, and, in fact, introverts can take better decision because of the time and research they put in beforehand. This is just one of the chapters in this amazing book designed to free introverts from their mental prisons, enabling them to take their rightful place in the world “that does not stop talking”. Continue reading “10 Fascinating Non-Fiction Books”→
Tom Wolfe’s acclaimed novel is set in New York as it tells of a high-flying bond trader Sherman McCoy and his eventual fall from the societal ladder when he is involved in a hit-and-run accident alongside his strikingly-beautiful lover Maria. We get a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the New York’s privileged, while also mull over the lives of the disadvantaged living in the Bronx and those on the media outlets’ outskirts desperate to make a big story whatever it takes. Though, in terms of plot, it probably takes cues from both The Great Gatsby  and the Spanish film Death of a Cyclist , Wolfe’s novel is still a pure joy to read: witty, bitter-sweet and engrossing. One of the chapters is titled The Masque of the Red Death, so there is plenty of nuance and hidden irony.
II. Breakfast at Tiffany’s  by Truman Capote
“What I’ve found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany’s. It calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there, not with those kind men in their nice suits, and that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets” (2001: 36, Capote). Capote’s novella is short, and both sweet and melancholy in a way. It is about Holly Golightly, a stylish, vivacious young woman, living and enjoying life in Manhattan, not even wanting to think of her past, while men who admire her continue to speculate and probe into her mysteries and the secrets to her success. It is an easy read, but no less fascinating for it. Continue reading “10 Great Novels set in New York, NY”→
“Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.” [1984: 9, Camus/translation]. “You could never change your life…[and] that in any case one life was as good as another and…I wasn’t at all dissatisfied with mine here” [1984: 44, Camus/translation].
II. José Saramago – The Cave 
“Human vocabulary is still not capable, and probably never will be, of knowing, recognising and communicating everything that can be humanly experienced and felt” [2002: 254, Saramago/translation]. “What a strange scene you describe and what strange prisoners, They are just like us” [Plato, The Republic, Book VII]. Continue reading “10 “Must-Read” Existentialist Novels with Memorable Lines”→