In honor of World Book Day here are top 10 book recommendations

I just couldn’t resist. Here are my bite-sized reviews of top ten books you should read. There should be something for everyone except the non-fiction fiend. For those doubting fiction, let me clarify that reading fiction can help improve some fundamentally human qualities:

  1. Fiction helps us explore abstract human experiences
  2. Fiction deepens our appreciation for concrete human experiences
  3. Fiction expands our range of experiences
  4. Fiction provides beauty and creativity to be enjoyed

“Literature is a form of discovery, perception, intensification, expression, interpretation, creativity, beauty, and understanding. These are ennobling activities and qualities.” Leland Ryken

And with that! Here comes a list that is STILL related to travel, because with an excellent book you can significantly improve the experience of your travel trip. Also, what else would you be doing on those train rides from A to B? Below is a list that I experienced in different places in the world… About different places of the world.

  • For a Paris filled with anecdotes about famous writers (did you know that Hemingway and Ezra Pound vowed to save T.S. Eliot’s position at the bank) and to learn that you don’t need a lot of money to have a good life, read Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast”:  And if you travel to Paris, head to 6th arrondissement to at 113 rue Notre Dame des Champs, which is where he lived.

 

  • A tour de force vomit on the twisted world of fashion, celebrity & derangement, go to Bret Easton Ellis’s “Glamorama”. Bret Easton Ellis have recently become the best writer of tweets and made a lot of enemies in his lifetime, but I still find his work interesting. It flows with such hedonistic abandon and completely dysfunctional moral compasses. (This is a fucked up book, avoid if you can’t stomach obscenity). I read this book during the hot summer of 2010, in Toronto.

glamorama

  • I work in digital advertising. Which ads changed the world? If you think, none, you’re wrong. And chances are, the top ad that you are thinking is not the one that is featured here. An excellent treatise spawning from the dawn of advertising is James Twitchell’s “20 Ads that Shook the World”. I read this in Toronto in 2009.

  • On the true face of Stalinism and fallen idylls of communism, read the startling “Darkness at Noon” by Arthur Koestler. I read this dark piece of intelligent and astute writing on a sunny trip to Los Angeles in 2010. This is one of the few books that deeply shook me and made me question the past of the country I come from (Russia).

  • For a beautiful treatise on memory, friendship, ageing and life in London after the Great War, immerse yourself in Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs Dalloway”. I first read it as a teenager back in Vancouver, but since moving to London, I re-read it and fell in love.

  • A progressively lunatic capture of LA hills, an early Hollywood & celebrity culture: Nathanael West’s “The Day of the Locust”. This is the book that starts sunny, full of the energy of the film industry and sunshine. Gradually, things start spinning out of control. There is a particularly gruesome description of a cock fight. There is a murder. There is madness. It spins out of control (like most of West’s books, which are only 4 because he died young in a car crash 😦 )

  • For a dirtier, sexier, sincere take on life in XX century Paris, read Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer”. Inhibitions, be gone! This was the book that I read the moment I returned from Colombia, as my friend recommended it to me. I knew about Henry Miller and his notoriety, but I did not anticipate how much it would affect it. After reading the first few chapters, I sat down to type out angry words of my own. I had a good reason at the time. I still view this book as the bridge that transported me to London. Unfortunately, I gave away my copy to someone who probably did not appreciate it.

  • Skip “Master and Margarita” and go for Mikhail Bulgakov’s lesser known novel “Heart of a Dog”. It’s an absurdist parable of the Russian Revolution: Professor Preobrazhensky and his young colleague Dr. Bormental inserted the human’s hypophysis into a dog’s brain. Couple of weeks later the dog became “human looking”. The main question is “Is anybody who is looking like a man, A REAL MAN?” Read the book to find out for yourself. There is an excellent film based on this book, check out the Mubi page.

  • Immerse yourself in a futuristic Russia where technology & draconian codes of Ivan the Terrible rule Moscow of 2028: Vladimir Sorokin’s “Day of the Oprichnik” is a straight spit in the face of what the Putin administration is becoming. This is advanced reading and requires some knowledge of the Russian history and what oprichniki were (basically, they were czar’s thugs, Wiki). There is also a lot of drugs, sex and rock’n’roll.

  • And the final recommendation to those with strong hearts and open minds: the most beautiful book ever written, and the one that made me feel more emotions than any other books: Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita”. I believe that Vladimir Nabokov was the greatest master of Russian AND English language, for the way he wrote is so articulate, scientific, precise and trembling that it borders magic. I also realized that I did not like any covers for the book, because they convey something other than what I got out of the book.

lolita

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On Spontaneous Eloquence

“My vocabulary dwells deep in my mind and needs paper to wriggle out into the physical zone. Spontaneous eloquence seems to me a miracle.” – Vladimir Nabokov, Strong Opinions

In May I spent more (than usual) time worried about the words I choose in everyday language. I became acutely aware of the differences in my written speech and my spoken one. I noticed that I had opted out for simple, quick words that popped into my mind like fireworks, instead of selecting the vivid and precise boulders of usually longer and mostly unpopular words. Words that communicated the meaning exceptionally, but words that also don’t spring into action at the slighted fancy of the brain. The words need mining. While I wanted to give them some spotlight, I ended up using the simplest normal words.

The more chipper, satisfied and energetic I was, the more my speech resembled a basic soap opera set. Exaggerating, I’ll even say, my speech was caveman-like! Sentence structure, all sorts of exclamations and exclamation marks. Well, the usual me, I guess, hehe.

Having learned English as a second language, I’ve always paid attention to my vocabulary, words I use, metaphors I create and more. Knowing more than one language makes you appreciate the variety of expressions that already exist and that could be created. Writing was not a problem. Writing allows for apt word selections and swollen metaphors because of the comforts of time and editing options, while speaking in person demands mental dexterity and immediate responses. I also couldn’t understand the incongruence between my written language and my spoken one. What the …!

So I entertained this worry until I ran across the aforementioned quote by Nabokov in Strong Opinions. That definitely relaxed me. Consulting with a couple of fellow lovers of words and letters, I found out it’s not an usual concern. Moreover, it made me consciously make an effort to give some air time to words we sometimes only see in print.

Progress! Yesterday for the first time I noticed that, while telling Meghann a story, I deliberately thought about colorful metaphors to employ. I took the time to summon a lengthier and sometimes even more pompous word where a simple one could suffice. I realized that ever since I consciously made an effort to decorate in-person parlance with more book-like words, I’ve been making some success. Now the only task is to continue to collect and use more of these epic words 😉

Fun Update: randomly searching the web, of course, yielded this paper: “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly” . I smirked. Tell that to the author himself!

I’d like to say that I believe there is a difference between literary, fiction-oriented writing and to-the-point writing style of the everyday (journalistic, business, too). I just like my goddamn language, so I will savor every word I can.

On the other hand, I, too, was annoyed when students mindlessly employed long words to add potential zest to papers. But never in my life have I discounted someone’s intelligence just because they used complex words. And knew when to use them. More often than not, their speech was also more entertaining, with puns and humor, jokes and various references.

Quotes, Words and Memory

I probably haven’t mentioned it in my official blog, that is, this one – albeit I posted about it on Twitter and via Facebook tumblr application, but anyway: Last fall I established a blog, a collection of verbal snippets. word quote machine, it is called (wtf, right?). Feel free to follow it for various quotes, interesting images [conjured by letters], curious words, sometimes definitions. So far I’ve managed to come up with 150+ posts which I consider above the average quote book. You know, none of those marginal uplifting or happy go lucky quotes favored by the Hallmark crowd. I tried to look beyond that and dove into deeper literature for what I amassed in my quote tumblr.

Feel free to follow and hopefully enjoy 🙂

More on Europe

Berlin was such a satisfying sight when it came to the roads (among many other things) – all the cars were either Mercedes, Audi, Opel or BMW. I saw ONE Ford and shivered to the bone. What’s a Ford doing in Germany? What kind of a nitwit would buy a Ford when they can buy a probably better Audi for that price?

Another note on Spain – Ibiza island is full of roundabouts. At first it was sort of tough on a scooter, but then we eased into it and found it much more practical than lights or highway exits. Roundabouts! I’m so happy that my Ibiza experience was just as wild as it was chill. Master of balance ze Karina.

I’ve been thinking about Hemingway a lot here, his Spain. I was trying to pick up one of his book to read since I am in Spain and I love reading books set in locations which I am traveling through. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything super intriguing of his (and I couldn’t deal with reading so much about bullfighting, considering Barcelona was the first city in Spain to protest against bullfighting or bull running). Instead I got Faulkner’s Light in August. It sounds quite promising; I spent several hours in a cafe yesterday reading it.

Hey, I just arrived in Bunol! Going for La Tomatina. Tomatoes, here I come!