Brain Gourmet

The Ladies' Paradise

The Ladies' Paradise - Émile Zola, Ernest Alfred Vizetelly Only Zola is able to create a masterpiece despite a flat, one-dimensional, saint-like main character and a dull ending.
Capitalism doesn't seem to have come a long way in the past 100 or so years and humanity doesn't either.

The Conformist

The Conformist - Alberto Moravia, Tami Calliope How do you write a review if you are left speechless?

I have no idea.

All I know is that I need another dose of Moravia before the withdrawal symptoms suck the life out of me.

Becoming Sister Wives: The Story of an Unconventional Marriage

Becoming Sister Wives: The Story of an Unconventional Marriage - Kody Brown, Meri Brown, Christine Brown, Robyn Brown The one positive thing I can say about this book is that it was good exercise for my eyes – it had them rolling in an endless loop. The overwhelming naiveté of the text was skillfully underlined by the bad writing.

Stories like the Browns’ are why religion has been losing ground and credibility. Their life choice begs one question – if religion is there to keep you away from sin, how come then is sin being justified by religion? - it is like the chicken or the egg dilemma.
Every religion and all branches of a religion can have different dogmas, teachings, beliefs, principles and a different God almighty. So therefore it is not about deciding to believe in God, it is about deciding which God to believe in in order to validate your life choices to society.

Now I don’t believe in sin and I don’t believe in celestial afterlife, but I firmly believe in the right of all beings to lead the life they choose as long as they don’t interfere with or hurt others.
I was struggling not to judge or ridicule the Browns but they make it really hard on you. They will try to convince you of the perfect family happiness they have obtained through years of sacrifice and prayer, but self-delusion screams so loudly through the pages it is deafening.
The more they talk of bliss, the more they sound amiss. There is deeply-rooted unhappiness and bitterness that is palpable throughout. By trying so hard to paint a picture-perfect family life, the Browns only reinforce the common belief that men who choose this lifestyle are egocentric and self-indulgent while the women are brainwashed.

Everything about one husband, many wives and numerous children speaks to me of inequality. But then again, maybe we should stop dreaming of equality in an imperfect world. For what does equality stand for? Does it mean all beings having the same rights and opportunities or does it mean all livings having their individual needs met? The paradox that are the Browns who stand up to the world proclaiming they are different while being afraid to stand up to themselves and their community admitting they are dysfunctional, only goes to show how little of our life choices really is a choice.
The self is struggling to breathe in an atmosphere polluted by expectations, traditions, prejudice, fear, judgment. Whether it is religion, community, society, virtual reality or our own hell, we are all subordinate and this is where we are all equal.

Giovanni's Room

Giovanni's Room - James Baldwin This novel was everything I thought it was not going to be. And this time, I don’t blame my expectations for disliking a book. It did make an impression on me, albeit for all the wrong reasons.

I feel that Baldwin did no research before writing this book. He just used bits and pieces that he had heard of here and there and scrambled together a story that to me felt disjointed and predictable. I felt like he wanted to write about a sensible issue yet chose the wrong tools. I thought themes of homosexuality, lust, longing, love, fear, stigma will be central to the plot. If they were I never noticed because they were suffocated by all the prejudice and preconception the characters were built upon. They all fell flat, one-dimensional and hateful.
Why write about a sensitive topic that was considered unorthodox back in the day (and, sadly, still is to some extent) and make all your characters so conventional and judgmental? Was it supposed to create some kind of a contradiction in order to enhance the message?

I don’t know. Maybe I just didn’t understand this or maybe the below was just not my type of crowd:

The woman: ’Hell, I want to be knocked up. I want to start having babies. In a way, it’s really all I’m good for.

The confused man: ’I don’t see what’s so hard being a woman. At least, not as long as she’s got a man.’

The woman and the confused man: I stepped away from her. She swayed where I had left her, like a puppet dangling from a string.
‘David, please let me be a woman. I don’t care what you do to me. I don’t care what it costs. I’ll wear my hair long, I’ll give up cigarettes, I’ll throw away the books.’ She tried to smile; my heart turned over. ‘Just let me be a woman, take me. It’s what I want. It’s all I want. I don’t care about anything else.’


The homosexual man: ‘Oh, well’, said Giovanni, ‘these absurd women running around today, full of ideas and nonsense, and thinking themselves equal to men – quelle rigolade! – they need to be beaten half to death so that they can find out who rules the world.

The Italian man: ’Yes, I wanted to stay there and eat much spaghetti and drink much wine and make many babies and grow fat.’

The Italian man to the American man: ’I can see you, many years from now, coming through our village in the ugly, fat, American motor car you will surely have by then and looking at me and looking at all of us and tasting our wine and shitting on us with those empty smiles Americans wear everywhere and which you wear all the time and driving off with a great roar of the motors and a great sound of tires and telling all the other Americans you meet that they must come and see our village because it is so picturesque.’


To me this novel was an attempt to fight fire with fire, all the way not knowing how to light a fire.

Земя за прицел

Земя за прицел - Свобода Бъчварова Не мога да преценя каква е историческата, а дори и литературната стойност на този роман.
Образите на младия Борис и на Симон, както и техните отношения, ми се сториха еднопластови и клиширани. И въпреки това изчетох книгата на един дъх – плени ме старият банкер, самотата му, облечена в охолство, трите му живота. Плениха ме описанията на София в един от най-интересните периоди от нейното съществуване.
Нямам търпение да прочета следващите части.

Final Meeting: Selected Poetry of Anna Akhmatova

Final Meeting: Selected Poetry of Anna Akhmatova - Anna Akhmatova, Andrey Kneller The earthly glory is like smoke,
I wanted much more than this.
In all my lovers I evoked
The feelings of joy and bliss.
One is still in love somewhere
With a friend from long ago,
The other stands in the city square,-
A statue of bronze in the snow.

Rosary: Poetry of Anna Akhmatova

Rosary: Poetry of Anna Akhmatova - Anna Akhmatova He marked with coal, as I languished,
A target on my left side
To shoot and free the bird - my anguish
Into the empty night.

Your hand won't tremble in the least,
My dear! I won't suffer long.
The bird - my anguish will soar, released,
To perch and sing its song.

This will cause him to speak aloud,
The one who is home and content:
"A familiar voice, but I can't make it out," -
And lower his eyes again.

Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands - Jorge Amado, Harriet de Onís Any book that has me constantly thinking of food, sex and magic is amazing in my book.

Foundation (Foundation, #1)

Foundation (Foundation, #1) - Isaac Asimov Really, Asimov?

The future painted in Foundation, a future 10,000 years from now, has male emperors, scientists, thinkers, officials, warriors. Male humans. And they all have Western or Russian-sounding names. And they have the same life-expectancy as today, create conspiracies, fight, build monarchies and occasionally hop from planet to planet.

The women are another thing entirely. A thing might be an accurate description actually. Here are the three women I encountered in this story:
- A secretary, mentioned in passing, who doesn’t utter a word
- A model (kind of) whose only line is ‘Oh!’ and then she is made to disappear into thin air
- A wife (what a most noble occupation for a creature of the female sex) whose husband threatens to cut her tongue and nose off unless she shuts up

Oh wow, I can’t wait for the future to come! What exciting prospects! Thank God for male prophets like Asimov!


Really, Asimov? Really?

The Tongue Set Free

The Tongue Set Free - Elias Canetti A vivid, eloquent and well-written account of a nomadic, rather privileged childhood, told by a narrator smug, snobbish and self-righteous to the point of nausea.

Cosmos

Cosmos - Carl Sagan As a child, I was fascinated and mesmerised by our world. It looked so huge, so full of wonders. Еverything was a source of marvel and inspiration. The world, the Earth, waited to be discovered and I had a long life ahead of me to do that.

Then, in teenage years, I already knew all there was to know about life, people, the Earth and the Universe. Nobody could tell me any better. The new source of wonder had become love – falling in love, finding the purpose in another human being, the complete merging of body and soul.

Once I entered the world of adults, I realised that I knew nothing. I strived for a higher purpose which, it turned out, was extremely hard to find in between a daily job that gives you no thrill, the same four walls you hide behind every night, and the usual faces that say the same words day in day out. The mundanity and routine that sustain a human life make it really hard to notice this same life. Wine and poetry help the cause to some extent, but they pull one out of Earth’s gravity for very short instances only.

I have been at a crossroads lately, which shattered the illusive security of existence and made me anxious, itching with questions, sleepless, feeling an urge I couldn’t define. And then I started to seek answers, cosmic answers.
Suddenly, it feels like a meteorite has hit my little planet. I read with eyes wide-open, with the naïveté of a toddler, with a remarkable ignorance and with an insatiable thirst to learn more. I feel like a child again! I feel in love again! I feel my senses being heightened and my pulse rushing. Carl Sagan made me feel like a scientist. For I have made a wonderful discovery - the nutrient of my little earthly life is curiosity – no step for the Cosmos, one giant leap for the cosmic speck of dust that I am.

I could talk for hours about how beautiful and captivating I found Cosmos to be. It made me crave knowledge of the unknown. It made my underdeveloped imagination burst with colourful visions. It made my stunted mind race. I savoured every word, embraced every idea. I guess for someone who has read a lot on the subject I look like a newly hatched chicken, struggling to make its first steps. I have been intimidated by physics and chemistry all my life and now it is time to catch up.

My gut tells me that Sagan is not right in completely rejecting astrology, the occult or religion, but I choose to trust him because he has managed to put into simple words concepts that have scared away so many people for so long. His narrative voice is the perfect combination of a bright mind and humility. It is subtle and guiding, not patronizing. It is human and it is humane – it makes you believe you can understand and dream beyond the boundaries of your own mind.
Sagan was a great scientist, but I think his greatest achievement is that he made science accessible and interesting to his fellow human beings. His venture to bring the Cosmos closer to humans might eventually pay off in helping bring humans closer to the Cosmos.

There is so much more I want to say, but I don’t have words for all thoughts that Cosmos provoked in me. I feel ashamed that my review of this monumental work revolves around my little nichtigkeit, but, after all, even the biggest galaxies are made of the smallest particles.

Jakob von Gunten

Jakob von Gunten - Robert Walser, Christopher Middleton I know I have produced some cringe-worthy reviews lately, but I have been in a cringe-worthy state of mind with some unruly fingers to top it off, so there goes another one.

As much as I love literature, I have always felt that it has the tendency to mislead and subsequently create victims of society. Especially in the early years of one’s life – when the mind is full of thirst and inquisitiveness, literature can do a lot of harm. Fairytales for example – what an absurd world of fakeness, full of princesses who scrub floors and their Robin Hoods who pass their days in a drunken daze. Yes, literature often instills unrealistic expectations of life and love into a virgin mind.

And this is where Walser’s prose comes as a breath of fresh air. He doesn’t mask his ideas within the narrative; he doesn’t insinuate his visions. His madness is out there in plain sight, and it is so refreshingly delightful and inspiring. It is so down-to-earth and logical.

Walser puts on the table the question of purpose and makes you chew on it until your jaw aches and your stomach churns and you realise it will never feed you. Fairytales, on the other hand, offer the answer served regally in a five-gang menu – the purpose is to be good, to fight the bad, to marry well, to have children and to live happily ever after - until you are full of shit and empty of substance.

Robert Walser passed away during one of his walks in the snow one day. Just like that. I can't help but think that this is the only way I imagine Jakob von Gunten leaving behind the world he never felt he belonged to – a black exclamation mark on a white page.

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On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry

On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry - William H. Gass Please excuse my French, but reading this book felt like watching Gass trying to impotently force himself onto something he couldn’t see. In the dead of night, in the dead of all colour.

So his victim happened to be the blue of this world. He tried to perform on it all obscene acts one can think of - he tried to rape and then to caress it; he tried to kill and dissect it; he tried to revive and glorify it. I think he just tried to prove to himself how great of a mind he is and blue just happened to accidentally stumble upon his path.

Now, I suspect it might be me being not clever, not literate and not sophisticated enough to understand the genius of Gass. But one thing I am for sure (and I have been it all my life) – blue - and just having been violated by this man's handsome mind, I feel like blue is definitely not his colour.

Up At The Villa

Up At The Villa - W. Somerset Maugham Wow, Maugham seems to have written this in a hurry - was it my bad edition or his hastiness that had Edgar brown-eyed at the beginning of the book and blue-eyed by the end of it?
Anyway, a rather shallowish, yellowish sort of novel. I can't bring myself to give less than 3 stars, but this was not the Maugham I love.

The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them

The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them - Elif Batuman Just another one of those books with long, 'original' titles which in truth should have been called 'Me, Myself and I'.
There were some witty passages throughout, but I think it should be illegal to advertise one product and sell another.

The Human Machine

The Human Machine - Arnold Bennett As always, I love Bennett’s writing – it has an effect on my soul that red wine has on my brain – it makes me dizzy, content and emotional.

However, the idea of disciplining one’s mind in order to achieve one’s best sounds ridiculous to me. He talks of control of the brain all the time. One should make a habit of controlling one’s brain. Who is one? Which part of the human being can control the brain if not the brain itself? And why should it be controlled at all?

It is odd how violence in any way, shape or form is universally condemned (and rightly so), yet we still write ‘self-help’ books that teach us how to discipline the brain, control the brain, force the brain, become the master of our brain in order to be perfect and happy human beings. Apparently BDSM is good for the brain - it should be kept nicely submissive so we can fit in society and be model homo sapiens.

Thankfully, human nature is flawed enough and, as much as it has been brainwashed throughout the centuries, the human brain will always have a mind of its own.

Currently reading

Fortunata and Jacinta: Two Stories of Married Women
Benito Pérez Galdós