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review 2014-06-16 13:38
Junish reads: I Am Livia, Phillys T. Smith
I Am Livia - Phyllis T. Smith

Everything depends on how much Phyllis Smith's "alternative" Livia can be approved or not by the single reader (if aware of the storiography about her). 
Livia Drusilla has been accused of all concerning his husband Octavianus, even his death. She has been accused too of almost all the accidental deaths of the possible heirs of Octavianus. She has been accused of manipulating his husband's political decisions for her benefits (Tiberius, her son from the first marriage, will be the next princeps after Octavianus) and we know for sure from the storiography that Octavianus considered her political opinions and listened to her petitions and suggestions. 

There is no direct testimonies for what there was behind Livia's actions and events with her involved, only external points of view from writers like Svetonius, for example. So the possibility that all the evil voices were false can not be rejected. Smith has the advantage of moving in the territory of speculation and you can't simply say that her Livia is.."wrong". It's a choice like others, that can please or not.
Livia here is a woman in love, caring, strong, smart and shrewd but not an evil genius, absolutely not. She feels and suffers like everyone else. In fact Smith plays a lot on this factor, her humanity and goodness, considering many Livia's intents passed under the cloud of suspicion by history as substantially good and misunderstood by those "evil voices", which Livia comments during the story. Is it naive or inadequate? I don't think so. Like I said before, it's an interpretation. And in my personal opinion behind it there is the will of telling the story of a marriage without giving a little romanticism up and, at the same time, without crashing into the idealisation of the characters.
Octavianus's character risked more than his wife. In fact Smith has been astute: ending the story immediately after Tavius's return from the battle of Actium doesn't allow her to tell how he concentrated all the power on himself, passing it under legitimate acts of the Republican costitution and concealing the evidence: the rise of a monarchy and death of the Republic. Even if it has something evil (his opposition? inexistent, or, better, promptly erased), its strategy was an act of a political genius. 
Clearly telling this part of Octavianus's life with the same tone of this book would have been more difficult and maybe, yes, out of place. So excluding the start of the Imperial Era has been wise if we consider the precedent decisions about the characters and their personality. It is a pity, because it's very interesting, but I understand it.


Octavianus is one of my favorites historical figures, so it was easy for me to like this book, even if has the "ghosts of fictionalization", but I accepted Smith's choices and so this version has ben enjoyable. A possible version in which some of the evil voices about Livia were followed? Interesting, maybe with a more controversial character, but I don't see why an author could not propose a bit of romance even in this marriage, if he or she doesn't bump into cheap solutions or banalizations and "selloffs" in the characters. 

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text 2014-06-01 11:54
What June could bring
When God Was a Rabbit - Sarah Winman
The First Man in Rome - Colleen McCullough
The Brothers Karamazov - 'Fyodor Dostoyevsky'
Pan - Knut Hamsun,Sverre Lyngstad
The Sleeping Voice - Dulce Chacón
Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter - Mario Vargas Llosa
Embers - Sándor Márai,Carol Brown Janeway

I say "What June could bring" because the last month I tried to say with a certain confidence "What May will bring" but some of the promised books have been cut off from the tyrannic 31 days of only 24 hours. In fact The Sleeping Voice by Dulce Chacòn, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Vargas Llosa and Embers by Sandor Màrai are the evacuees who are looking for a place in June. 


In the meantime I'll read the monthly book of my online book club, Pan by Knut Hamsun, who inspires me a lot. I'm eager to read one of his most acclaimed works and maybe discover a remarkable author :) 

And I want to be ambitious, inserting too in this monthly session The Brothers Karamazov. Let's say that I dreamed a dream in which I manage to read even this book in June. All About Books from Goodreads will read it in this month and the temptation of joining them is very high, given that I wanted to read something else by Dostoevskij for months after The Gambler, White Nights, The House of the Dead and two short stories. Maybe a huge classic of his bibliography like this. And doing it with other bookish fellows then would be more encouraging.

But June is also the start of a new themed session and I'd like to remain in Ancient Rome after the listening in progress of I Am Livia. So I've thought about the famous saga of Collen McCullough, whose first book is The First Man in Rome. I'm impatient to read it too. Usually I don't get excited by historical books set in those times but now for unexplicable reason I'm really inspired to this kind of genre and I want to read this and that and that other and well, I have to keep calm, like my (original!!!) t-shirt says.

Don't ask me the reason of the consumerist excitation in the bracket. 

..many intense literary wishes for a month not so free. But my (current) heroic mood says...challenge accepted! 

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review 2014-05-09 18:37
Mayish reads: The Short Stories, Ernest Hemingway
The Short Stories - Ernest Hemingway

Now I know that my misgiving was a correct prediction of this unhappy read. For all these years I escaped from reading him because he's one of my mother's favorite authors and I was scared and I had this premonition about the possible result of a meeting between Hemingway and me. How much I wanted to change idea, how many hopes invested on it! And nothing. 

I strongly disliked this collection of stories, and Hemingway and his style lie down on this distressing adversity. 

You could think that it's because of his themes: hunting, for example. Not particularly: I was actually bored by it and surely it's not one my favorite subjects at all, but it's not the main cause of these two stars.

My mother is an animalist and pacifist and probably I inherited it in an underlayer of my psyche (and Hemingway surely is a bit repetitive in his choices), but on the surface what disturbed me mostly is his style.

His dialogues...aaaah! Hateful! I hated his mania of repeating and repeating the object of an exchange of lines. Like:

"Do you want a beer?"

"No, I don't want a beer"


"When did you get in this town?"

"I got in this town last night".

And so on: damn it, why? It seems an elementary textbook. I can't believe that every single characters of these forty-nine short stories is highlighting a sort of irony behind it. It's unbelievable, unconvincing.

And the famous 7/8 underwater: really, I've tried to re-read some of them with this point of view but what did I gain from it? The same bored, cold and uninterested consequences. His stories don't say anything to me, I read them and forget them quickly. I had to skip some of Nick Adam's stories because I was really falling asleep. I can do nothing about it. 

But I want to leave the door ajar: my mother doesn't like his short stories too and she recommended me other works like The Sun Also Rises, maybe I'll give him (no, I'll give us) a chance again in an uncertain and remote future. 

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text 2014-04-15 22:05
Thematic paths: musicians (December 2013 - February 2014)
A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan
Mozart's Sister - Rita Charbonnier
The Awakening - Kate Chopin
The Sky is Everywhere - Jandy Nelson
Amsterdam - Ian McEwan
Lettere alla cugina - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
The Loser - Thomas Bernhard,Jack Dawson
Bel Canto - Ann Patchett

I started months ago a sort of personal challenge with 3-months thematich pats. The first has been the one on musicians: reading books about musicians or in which at least one of the character plays an instrument or sing, in other words, fiction and non-fiction related in some way to people doing music.  

The first candidate has been A visit from the goon squad by Jennifer Egan.  Bennie Salazar, one of the many characters of the book, is inserted in music industry, although he's not enjoying it so much when we meet him, showing a very nostalgic attitude towards the past musical tendecies in his youth, when, in addition, he had a band too. Relating to this book was like going in a seesaw: my emotional disposition has changed among light indifference, sudden love, diplomatic or, sometimes, hearty and trustful friendship and surprisingly light indifference again. This has to do with the structure: changing setting, time and character too in every story of the mosaic. My disorganic appreciation depends very much on it: some "short stories" were really great (like "Safari", or "Goodbye, My Love", "Great Rock and Roll Pauses"), others have not fascinated me ("Pure Language" for example). 

I liked very much how Egan has proposed the idea of time in her character's lives, particulary in how we change during our time and how often this changes imply decisions that the old-self would have denigrated, those tiny compromises sowed in our life which carry us to our actual person and situation. 

I'm eager to read other books by her, she surely has talent. 

Then I've read two books about Mozart's life: Mozart's Sister by Rita Charbonnier and a collection of Letters to her cousin. He's surely a character, I mean..

"Wouldn't you like to visit Herr Gold-smith again?—but what for?—what?—nothing!—just to inquire, I guess, about the Spuni Cuni fait, nothing else, nothing else?—well, well, all right. Long live all those who, who—who—who—how does it go on?—I now wish you a good night, shit in your bed with all your might, sleep with peace on your mind, and try to kiss your own behind; I now go off to never-never land and sleep as much as I can stand. Tomorrow we'll speak freak sensubly with each other. Things I must you tell a lot of, believe it you hardly can, but hear tomorrow it already will you, be well in the meantime. Oh my ass burns like fire! what on earth is the meaning of this!—maybe muck wants to come out? yes, yes, muck, I know you, see you, taste you—and—what's this—is it possible? Ye Gods!—Oh ear of mine, are you deceiving me?—No, it's true—what a long and melancholic sound!—today is the write I fifth this letter. Yesterday I talked with the stern Frau Churfustin, and tomorrow, on the 6th, I will give a performance in her chambers, as the Furstin-Chur said to me herself. Now for something real sensuble!"  (One of the Letters)

 A prankster! Who would suspect it, if not informed.. Even Charbonnier's novel about her sister paints him like a sort of divinally gifted libertine, who messes up several lives without care. Her sister's life, for example, because she's not a fictional character at all, she really existed. Nannerl Mozart had musical ambitions during yer youth, but fatally she had the misfortune of being obscured by a celebrated genius and a father totally engaged in building his fame. So, this is the story of a slow and progressive surrender to a dream, with much pain, silent endurance and jealousy stirred with brotherly love. 

The book is good, except for some rushed executions in the psychological developments of the second part. 

Then I've read The Awakening by Kate Chopin, in which a secondary character is a pianist. It's a fascinating book, particulary for the main character, Edna. She has an evocative, sinous beauty, but what she do for being so fascinating is the same amount of actions which can't be shared at all for me. She's extremely free and indipendent from any tie, cruel exactly for this reason. She fascinates and distances at the same time: I would never accept a person like Edna in my life. So I understand her, but I don't approve her actions. It's a great book anyway, maybe it's great precisely for all these reasons together. 

In my mission (opening myself to YA) I've inserted The Sky is Everywhere too. Lennie is a misfortuned teenager who discover herselves through love and music (he plays clarinet) in a new intimate birth after the grief for her older sister, Baley. It was not bad at all, moving, particulary for Lennie's grief, although Lennie's life seems to rotate only on her sentimental interests, even with male characters who seem to burst out from those hughe cakes like the one of Singin in the Rain, given the idyllic profiles. 

Then I came back to a loved author, Ian McEwan, with Amsterdam. Less than the the other two I read by him, Sweet Tooth and Atonement. At the centre of the story there is a sort of face-off between Vernon, a journalist; and Clive, a narcisissist composer, through the death of Molly Lane, who has been close to them, and a scoop about Julian, a famous politician. More cinic, ironically colder, less focused on feelings than Atonement for example, but also duller, less powerful than the other two generally, who were truly loose cannons in this sense. Not bad, I'd say, but it has not gained from me the same enthusiastic partecipation, only a tepid appreciation. 

In comparison with Cloud Atlas, Amsterdam is a remarkable experience

I didn't even finished it, I've tried hard, but really: at 150 pages to the end I said no, I've had enough. I understood that I was wasting my time. Extremely boring at the first story, then a little better but unsustainable in the long term. Totally uninteresting for me and I don't find the structure so brilliant, the technique of cross references was badly used. 

I've read it because of this pianist in one of the stories, Luise, but he wasn't really worth the dramatic endurance. 

A dramatic but worthwile book is The Loser. Simply dramatic? Depressing, oppressive, gloomy. And I believe that! What atmosphere do you expect from a depressed loser? In fact the book shows again a confrontation among three musicians, but Glenn Gould - the classic genius - is destined to win without effort. The effort, if need be, is the one of the other two: the main voice will leave music world to undertake a career as a poor intellectual (philosopher) and Wertheimer, the real protagonist, is the looser. Gould will instill in him a feeling of inferiority which will degenerate in a destructive obsession for the rest of his life. It's disturbing for the whole range of the typical feelings and behaviors of a loser: shameful, inglorious I'd say but pitful. Full of self-compassion and clumsiness. One of the most undesiderable state of mind for a man, I think. 

Bernhard really knows how to describe this kind of man, but really, he's really burdensome to follow. I'll probably read other books by him.

And the last but not least: Bel Canto. An enjoyable read! I didn't expect a fully accurate historical book, like others did, but only a possibly good book of fiction. In fact if we pause on this aspect, critics would prosper. It's fictionalized, essentialy optimistic, surprisingly against the tide of a dystopian degeneration (in situations like these). So optimistic in this sense as becoming utopian (a cohabitation among fifty individuals can't be so tender). But it's clear that the entire book is an ode to love (and the ennobling power of music through one of the main characters, who is a opera singer), and I've appreciated its way of doing it. 

I perceived it as an emotional story.

The ending was totally improper though. 


Taking stock, the most appreciated are the last two and also Chopin's book and parts of Egan's one. The subject of musicians seems to trace a common idea of music as intimate discovery of oneself, in which a dejected heart (and soul) can revive, not simply console itself. A beautiful concept.

But music world, for example, can be seen also as an umerciful battlefield full of harsh competitions, like in Amsterdam, Mozart's Sister and The Looser. Often the main characters seems destined to succumb or otherwise loose an ethical code in the way.

But I'd say that this belongs to many sectors, not only creative but also financial, economic, and so on. So it's not particulary surprising. :P

It has been absolutely interesting! I'd like to see Amadeus by Milos Forman and I have to the VHS here at home, so I'll do it sooner or later, given that I love cinema. :)

What will come next in this section of thematic paths? ....Who knows..;)

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