We interrupt this broadcast for a first at The Sleepless Reader: a review in Portuguese! It’ll do me good to exercise writing in my native language.

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Adorei. Gargalhei. Às vezes esqueço-me como me posso divertir com literatura Portuguesa, especialmente com clássicos. Porque é que não se lê este nas escolas? Teria gostado muito mais do que d’O Amor de Perdicão (um par de tabefes bem dado aqui e ali…) ou do Aparição (simbolismo óbvio dá sempre cabo de mim).

As quatro grandes razões porque gostei tanto da Morgadinha: o humor, o retracto da vida (rural) portuguesa em meados do século XIX, a crítica social, e a heroína.

Nas primeiras páginas a linguagem é tão rebuscada que me preparei para outro A Casa Grande de Romarigães, que li com o dicionário à mão. Mas depois arranca o primeiro diálogo (neste caso um interno) e pareceu estar a ler um livro diferente.

Fiquei rendida, nem mesmo o uso aqui e ali de personagens-tipo e o sexismo rampante me estragou a festa. Claro que existe algum melodrama (é possivel evitá-lo em literatura desta altura?) mas a crítica social e política tornam tudo muito mais realista. Uma das minhas cenas favoritas foi a chegada do menino de cidade hipocondríaco a casa das suas primas na aldeia:

- Tu dizias-me na tua carta que estavas doente; pois olha que na cara não o parece.
- Não—concordou a criada—tem boas cores, e, vamos, a magreza ainda não é lá essas coisas.
Era este o ponto fraco de Henrique; respondeu logo ao reclamo.
- Não me digam isso ! Então não vêem como estou? Pois isto é lá cor de saúde? de febre, será. Gordo? pois acham-me gordo?!
- Gordo, não digo, mas assim, assim…

Foi um prazer ler sobre a vida da época, especialmente porque hoje em dia sei mais sobre história Inglesa e Americana que Portuguesa. Achei fascinante as cenas sobre o Natal, a comida, o beatismo, as eleições, as cunhas, etc. Quantas coisas mudam e quantas outras estão na mesma! Olhem esta citação:

O conselheiro partiu no dia seguinte para Lisboa, para tomar parte na pilotagem da nau do Estado. Estive tentado a dizer, para satisfação de ânimo dos meus leitores, que, sob a direção dos talentos e aptidões do novo estadista, se locupletou a Fazenda Pública, prosperou a agricultura e a indústria, refulgiram as artes e as letras; e que Portugal, como a Grécia, sob Péricles, causou o assombro das nações do Mundo.

Mas receei que, fantasiando no nosso país um governo fecundo e próspero, a inverosimilhança do facto prejudicasse no espírito dos leitores a dos outros episódios narrados, e lhes entrasse com isto a desconfiança no cronista. Resolvi, pois, ser franco, declarando que, sob a direção do conselheiro e dos seus colegas, Portugal regeu-se, como se tem regido sob as dúzias de ministérios, que nós todos havemos já conhecido.

Touché Sr. Dinis!

Sobre a personagem da Morgadinha: tem de ser uma das mulheres mais fortes da nossa literatura clássica, não? Uma heroína que se declarar-se ao herói é algo raro (não existente na literatura da epoca?)! Madalena é alguém que faz coisas aconteceram e não se limita a responder a acontecimentos. É forte (mental e fisicamente), decidida, inteligente, confiante, com sentido de humor, mas não deixa a impressão de ser irritantemente perfeita. Adoraria ler mais livros sobre nela.

Para o ano: As Pupilas do Senhor Reitor ou Os Fidalgos da Casa Mourisca?

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Outras opiniões: biblioteca intrasmíssivel, Tempo de Ler, Dos Nossos Livros, Viajante no Tempo (a tua?)

While being away from blogging I almost didn’t buy any books. A couple of years ago my TBR shelves occupied 15 cubes in the iconic IKEA bookcase everyone and their dog seems to own, now I’m down to 10.

I’ll post a picture of a different cube once in a while because I’d like your feedback. Some books have been around for a long time and now I’m not sure if I still want to read them. Also, should I prioritize any of them? Thanks :)

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tumblr_m8o3y6cSEy1qzcqsfo1_500I need your help understanding The Left Hand of Darkness. I was almost indifferent to it, but it has a huge GoodReads average: 4.02 from 42,943 ratings. As Shannon from Giraffe Days put it on her own review:

When you dislike a popular book, a canonised book – a “masterpiece” and an “instant classic”, according to other reviewers – naturally part of you wonders whether you’re just not getting it, whether you’re not bright enough or clued-in enough, or whether you’re placing unnecessary or unfair demands and expectations on it.

(I wish I could just copy/paste her entire review because that’s also pretty much how I felt about the book.)

One of my biggest issues was not caring about any of the characters. Have the feeling characterization wasn’t a priority for Le Guin (who was Genly Ai, our main character? What really motivated him? What was his life before arriving in Winter?), preferring instead to focus on world-building. Fair enough, but apart from describing the planet and their mostly asexual people, Le Guin is never though-provoking about the implications of that asexuality in their civilization or how someone like Genly, an audience-surrogate, faces it.

The whole topic of gender politics, for which the book is so acclaimed, ends up reduced to a few isolated comments by Genly (“I don’t know. They [women] don’t often seem to turn up mathematicians, or composers of music, or inventors, or abstract thinkers. But it isn’t that they’re stupid.”) and one relevant conversation between him and the native Estraven. This lasts for a couple of pages and ends up not solving the obvious sexual tension between them. Was there something more I missed?

We often see the story from Estraven’s point of view, which would be a great opportunity to see the world (and Genly) from a non-gendered mind, but apart from a couple of cultural misunderstandings you could also find on Earth, nothing more stands out. Also, although Genly has been on that planet for two years, we never get any real insight into his own sexual desires, which could have been really interesting and though-provoking.

It’s almost as if Le Guin, having shocked everyone in 1969 by having penned a sci-fi novel set on a non-gendered world, felt it was enough to stir things up and decided not to risk going deeper. I felt the book dated, but the 4.02 rating is definitely not from the 60s and 70s, so I can’t shake the feeling I’m missing something!

Another thing that I’d like your input on is the alliance that Genly represents. Chris called it a “perfectly anti-imperialist empire without any will to power at all”. This also nagged at me. I swear that up to the last pages I was expecting a big twist, but nope, Genly did come in peace, cynical me!

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Other thoughts: A Striped Armchair, Opinions of a Wolf, The Wertzone, Shelf Love, Neth Space, Books Under the Skin, Gasping for the Wind, James Reads Books, The Book Smugglers, conceptual fiction (yours?)

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One of the best of the year so far. I pat myself on the back for having decided to read more non-fiction graphic novels and choosing Guy Delisle because of our trip to Canada (he’s Quebecois).

Delisle’s partner works for Doctors without Borders so he’s been a temporary “trailing spouse” and stay-at-home-dad in some of the world most challenging regions. Apart from Jerusalem he also recorded his experiences in Pyongyang, Burma and Shenzhen.

This is a personal travelogue of his year in the Holy City and it includes everything from the mundane to the geopolitical, from going to the supermarket to his attempts to enter Gaza, from visiting the zoo to experiencing the 2008-2009 Gaza War.

It’s a brilliant book because Delisle is inquisitive, sharp-eyed and funny. He is also highly aware of being a non-believing outsider in a country full of religious complexities and paradoxes, just like I felt when I was there myself.

The self-mocking humor of this stranger in a strange land is the book’s heart and soul, and because of it the though-provoking moments are that much stronger. Delisle’s clever light touch can have as much impact as, for instance, Joe Sacco’s more intense perspective.

His style is monochromatic, his language (I read it in French) simple and conversationalist. Both feel very appropriate somehow, probably because the subject is already complex enough.

Chroniques de Burma is already waiting in the TBR shelf! Have you read anything by him?

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washingtonsquareI’ve been reading too many “it was ok” books this year. I partially blame my absence from the blogging world that hasn’t expertly guided my choices, but I also need to convince myself once and for all that 2009 was a once-in-a-lifetime year. After all, you can only discover Dorothy Dunnett, Gone with the Wind, The Hunger Games and The Queen’s Thief for the first time once. And listening for the first time to Stephen Fry reading the Harry Potter series… 2009 was my perfect literary storm.

Still, 2014 has had some unexpected good surprises, with Washington Square standing out. When I picked it up I was bracing myself for the tragedies and thick language of The Portrait of a Lady, The Wings of the Dove and The Turn of the Screw but ended up with something closer in style to Jane Austen.

Henry’s characters in Washington Square are not new: the naïve and plain heiress, the handsome opportunistic cad, the neglecting and cynical father, the dramatic and silly aunt.

I loved none of them, but could eat popcorn reading their stories, I was so entertained! It was wicked of me really, because some of the characters really suffer, but James has such a sharp sense of humor, such a clever sense of inequalities in society and between man and woman that I couldn’t help it. I laughed several times as James sarcastically pokes fun at his own characters.

The language is clear and witty, very unlike the other of his books I’ve read. He probably regretted this step away from a dignified intricacy, because he tried to remove Washington Square from a collection of his works.

Washington Square was a book where I’ve fallen for the style more than the story. There’s lots of room for deeper analysis of the plot, characters, society, gender, marriage, etc, etc, but my lasting impression of it will be: I had fun!

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Other thoughts: 17th Street, Nishita’s Rants and Raves, Eclectic Indulgence, The Allure of Books (yours?)

Lately I’ve thought more and more about the blog. Maybe it’s the winter coming or that finally I feel settled in. Whatever it is, I’ve decided to take a stab at reviving it and regaining the pleasure it (and being part of the community) gave me.

Here’s a flashback at what’s been happening on this side of the line for the last 6 months. Back to book-talk tomorrow.

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Enjoying David

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Exploring our new home

Travel

Exploring the world: Hungary, Portugal, Kenya, Canada, USA

I’ve already started with bookish activities in Geneva. Joined a bookclub (discussing Virginia Woolf’s Orlando this week) and this Saturday we went to the Book Festival of Early Childhood and Families. They had activities planned for different age groups and even almost-15-month-old Davidhad the chance to join in.

It was also an opportunity to know more about Geneva’s libraries and the upcoming events they’re organizing. At the moment I’m having an information overload because there’s just too much I want to do, including an informal chat between librarians and readers about books for the summer, a “Read with your baby” atelier, a “Create a photonovel” workshop and several concerts.

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David exploring the books in the Yurt Library.

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André and David listing to stories and songs in the baby tent.

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Something that might interest my librarian readers. At the Festival, organizers were distributing this really interesting publication called “La Ville, mon doudou et moi“. It’s a set of children’s books recommendations about living in the city, including about what are streets, neighborhoods, public gardens, markets and transports,  the homeless (in photo) and infrastructures like libraries and hospitals. Super interesting and useful. Available for download here (in French).

ninetailorsThe Nine Tailors (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, #11) by Dorothy L. Sayers

One of my favorites books in the series so far AND there’s no Harriet or major insight into Wimsey’s character. What it did have was a great set of secondary characters and a perfect snap-shot of post-war village life. There was also extensive geeky conversations about bell ringing that were surprisingly fascinating. I didn’t understand most of it, but discovered a whole new world and found myself happily listening to bell concerts while reading the book.

The book blogsphere gave me really high expectation about the next in the series, Gaudy Night. It better be good, you guys!
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13481275Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

The latest by comfort writer extraordinaire Sarah Allen Addison, which half the world has read months ago, I’m sure. It’s likely that I’ll always have a good time with everything she writes, but within this, Lost Lake felt a bit watered down. It needed to be longer and more focused.

There are many main characters and even more back-stories, too many to go through effectively in only 8 hours of audiobook. A little bit more romance and magic realism wouldn’t hurt the book either – that’s why we pick up SAA in the first place, right?
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nicCaprice and Rondo (The House of Niccolo, #7) by Dorothy Dunnett

Very à propos, this book is mostly set in a Crimea on the verge of invasion. It’s exciting, complex, brilliant and everything else you’d expect from Dorothy Dunnett. I agree with Helen that the sense of place is more tamed this time around, but on the other hand there’s a satisfying focus on character development (Gelis managing the Bank, Julius reaction to the revelation) and a bunch of great action scenes (murder by bees!).

There was also The Letter. Actually, it was just a couple of sentences but I’ll put it up there on Captain Wentworth’s level.

My-Kid-Lies-Nurture-Shock-book-coverNurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

Together with Caprice and Rondo, this is the only 5-star of the year so far. A sort of Bad Science just about children. It’s written by two journalists in the child psychology field who specialize in reporting on studies that have gone unnoticed. In the different chapters they slowing and steadily dismantled my dogmas about kids and intelligence, lying, praising, race, sleep, only childs and, my favorite, language acquisition.

“Children key off their parents’ reaction more than the argument or physical discipline itself.”
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Abandon the Old in Tokyo by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Let’s just say that if you want something light for a sunny summer day at the beach you might want to skip this one. Don’t be fooled by the cartoon-ish artwork, there is nothing lighthearted about these short stories. It’s a look at the Japan of the 60s and 70s, full of lonely men trapped in bleak lives, self-hatred, family duty, perverse desires and social expectations.

Some stories are like nothing I’ve read before, and just for that I’m glad I’ve read it. Whatever this book may do, it will not leave you indifferent.

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The blog has been terribly neglected for the last months, but I have good excuses, promise!

Big changes are afoot Chez Sleepless Reader. I got a job offer from the United Nations so, since the world won’t just save itself, we’ve moved. After 9 years in Brussels we’re now further south in Geneva, Switzerland. We finally found an apartment (lovely, close to the Lake), paperwork is almost all done, so I can finally settle down and start obsessing about books and series again.

I’ve been looking forward to a change for a while, but I still have occasional panic attacks: “I loved Brussels, I loved my life there, so many friends left behind… WHAT HAVE I DONE?!” It’ll be ok once the brain makes the click and starts thinking of Geneva as “home”, instead of Brussels or Lisbon. My husband will be a stay-at-home-dad for a while, so that’ll also be a new experience.

We got married before coming south. After a 2-year engagement and not much wedding organizing done, we finally had the excuse courage to do it how we really wanted: informal and cozy.

On a sunny morning we walked to the Portuguese consulate with just our moms and brothers, signed papers, took the subway to a nice restaurant, came back to the apartment, took a nap and then had about 40 friends over for a catered yummy dinner. It was perfect!

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It’s that time of the year again: the Audible nominations are out and the Armchair Audies are open for business! Jennifer and Bob launched it in 2012 and it rapidly became one of my favorite book bloggers events. Glad to see the Audies gaining track in general, so much so that Audible even has a dedicated page.

The last two years I’ve tackled the History category, but this year I’m changing to Non-fiction. Two reasons: this category is almost always overwhelmingly US-centered and once again Audible doesn’t offer some of the nominees to non-US-based costumers (so frustrating!).

On the other hand, lots of good arguments in favor on Non-fiction this year: all books are available, Malcolm Gladwell, cheese, environmental classics and no book too long.

Are you participating? Which category are you “judging”?

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Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill, narrated by Sandy Rustin
Was always curious about Scientology, it’s good opportunity to know more.
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants written and narrated by Malcolm Gladwell
I’m a Gladwell fan, so this book sealed the deal for me.

The End of Nature 
by Bill McKibben, narrated by Jeff Woodman
A 10th Anniversary Edition of an environmental classic. I’ve heard good things about McKibben.

The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese
 by Michael Paterniti, narrated by L.J. Ganser
CHEESE! This is the one I’m more looking forward to.

Thank You for Your Service
 by David Finkel, narrated by Arthur Bishop
A journalistic-style book about life after coming home from a war.
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