[Book Review] Ein Kater schwarz wie die Nacht

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 Losing a pet can be devastating, especially at young age. When Lukas, a six-year-old boy, gets a black cat as a birthday present, he can’t foresee the happiness or the pain his pet will bring.

Ein Kater schwarz wie die Nacht (Henning Mankell, German version printed by btv junior, 127 pages), released in English as The Cat Who Liked Rain, is a sweet book about the excitement of having a pet and the sorrow of watching it go. This is so remarkably the strongest point approached by this book it’s not even a spoiler to say that the cat disappears – it happens so early in the beginning of the book the reader wonders if the author couldn’t at least let poor Lukas have a tiny bit more fun with his pet.

The story is well written and readers will instantly fall in love with Munkel, a cat that, much like other cats, lives his life the way he wants to, but loves his owner very much. Lukas is also a very believable character: his insecurities and fantasies are very well told, as if the author could perfectly get inside a six-year-old’s head; his relationship with his older brother, Wirbel, and his parents is described in a very simple manner, which only makes it sound more real. The anxiety to go to school, the desperate search for Munkel, everything in this book is coherent and sweet, which is of the essence when one has children, perhaps the most critical readers there are, as an audience.

Even though the book is quite charming, I must say that I was left with the impression that the author spends perhaps too much time describing the search for Munkel. The cat disappears, as I said, right on the beginning of the book, and then it all becomes a seemingly endless searching-not-finding-searching-again plot. It became tiresome even for me (and I’m 22 years old), which only makes me wonder if it would keep children interested for long. Maybe the idea is to divide the reading through many days at bedtime, but I still can’t imagine a kid being happy with the same plot for very long. Lukas and Munkel are, however, good enough characters to make it all worth it and keep readers rooting for them until the very last page.

The end (don’t worry, I’m not spilling it out) does make up for the slow development. It’s both satisfying and believable. That is actually one of the greatest virtues of Henning Mankell’s book: in a time of otherworldly, magical, sometimes exaggerated children books, it’s nice to read something that is the simple story of a regular boy and his regular cat. No witches, no spells, no magical creatures. Just the bond between a kid and his pet.

As a side note, I must say that I read this in German as an attempt to finish my first book on the language, which I have been learning for the past four years. As a C1-level student, I found this to be a great read, both full of vocabulary I didn’t know and easy enough to allow me to deduce those words through the context. It was also great to be in touch with so many verbs in Präteritum, since most of what I read is written in Perfekt. I think anyone starting B1 would be able to read this, even if a dictionary is of the essence. It’s great practice!

I highly recommend this both to those learning German and (in whichever translation you prefer, since the book is actually Swedish) to all lovers of children books. We are in part, after all, still the kids we once were, with or without a sweet, black cat named Munkel.

[Book Review] An Abundance of Katherines

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All of us want to be remembered. Yes, even you, denying it with your head and thinking “No, not me”. It’s natural to want to matter, whether it’s in an ambitious, I-want-to-conquer-the-Universe sort of way, or simply by longing to be loved. Mattering is better than being famous – it’s being assured that we are actually doing something, even if it’s just being who we are, and that our lives are not going to waste.

Colin Singleton (brilliant surname for a brilliant character, as a matter of fact) is a child prodigy who isn’t sure as sure of his importance to the world as he used to be. His father has big plans for him, plans that require him to study everything and anything, learning many languages and memorizing facts. On his leisure time, however, Colin has found a hobby: dating Katherines.

And that’s where An Abundance of Katherines (written by John Green, 215 pages, paperback by Speak) starts: Colin, smart kid with a promising future, has just been dumped by his nineteenth Katherine. A lover of anagramming and languages, he seems to have quite a hard time making these nine letters work for him. This time, however, the heartbreak is mixed with insecurity and doubts about whether he’ll ever have his “Eureka moment” or not, about the possibility of mattering to the rest of the of the world like his childhood promised him to.

So begins an adventure with Hassan, Colin’s fat, Muslim friend, who is one of the highlights of the book. Hassan is funny – hilarious, even -, easygoing, charming and wears his characteristics as an armor (much as Tyrion Lannister, from Game of Thrones), preventing others from putting him down and giving him the confidence that Colin lacks. Hassan also seems to constantly bring Colin back to the rest of society, preventing him from becoming too self-absorbed or getting lost inside his own mind. On their road trip without a destination, they meet Lindsey, a not-so-typical girl from Gutshot who was supposed to show them Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s gravestone and ends up helping them in ways they hadn’t predicted (I know, how vague of me, but I promise I’d spoil the book if I said to much).

The story is centered on Colin’s search for a mathematical function that could predict exactly how relationships will work based on a Dumper/Dumpee variable – and, let’s face it, someone who has dated nineteen Katherines has some experience to analyze the subject. That’s all just an excuse, though, for John Green to, in a very Nick Hornby-ish way, reveal in unpretentious sentences big revelations about relationships, love, intelligence, friendship and (why not?) life itself. Green, more famous for his The Fault In Our Stars, has an easy to read, light, humorous writing style, filled with references and footnotes about many topics, including History and Physics (though he does say the  wave-particle duality was Einstein’s work, when it was actually de Broglie’s, most of the information is fascinating to anyone who enjoys “fun facts”). It has many dialogues, making characters grow on the readers’ hearts and develop in a very credible way. A very, very nice read.

If you enjoy books without great action, but with beautifully written characters and feelings, this is your book. I haven’t yet read The Fault In Our Stars, but I can promise anyone interested on getting started with John Green that they most likely won’t regret it. I hadn’t read anything so modern, simple and enjoyable since David Nicholls’s One Day. It’s the definition of a great story by a great storyteller. As Lindsey would say:

‘That’s how I remember things, anyway. I remember stories. I connect the dots and then out of that comes a story. And the dots that don’t fit into the story just slide away, maybe. Like when you spot a constellation. You look up and you don’t see all the stars. All the stars just look like the big fugging random mess that they are. But you want them to see shapes; you want to see stories, so you pick them out of the sky.’

This book is, in my opinion, a star to pick out of the sky.

Virtual bookshelves

The best part about social networks is how they allow us to keep in touch and to make great discoveries through our friends. Most of us have gotten to know a band or a movie because someone we know talked about them – and, well, sometimes we get out of spending some hours of our lives on something we wouldn’t like because we were advised not to read/watch/listen to whatever it was we originally intended to.

That is one of the best reasons to keep a virtual bookshelf. Our actual, made of wood or plastic, stuck-to-our-walls bookshelves are of course prettier and nicer to look at, but, much like websites for keeping track of tv shows watched, these social networks might help you control what you have read, what you are reading and what you want to read while looking at what your friends themselves are reading. Another positive side to it is finding out about books you didn’t know or that perhaps never interested you: you can read reviews, meet people with a taste similar to yours or even, depending on the website, tell others that you would be quite delighted to receive a particular hardcover or paperback as a present.

That said, I present you the virtual bookshelves that are, in my opinion, most interesting:

  1. Skoob – This is a Brazilian website and the first one I found out about. It’s brilliant to say the least. Very simple, organized and easy to use, it’s perfect for us who also read in Portuguese and want to add Brazilian or Portuguese literature to our lists. The only downsides are the fact that it has no version in English and that, for that reason, sometimes the user has to register a book (especially if not in Portuguese or English). I’m sticking to it, though, since it works just fine for me and some of my friends also have accounts on it. Here’s my bookshelf, in case you want to see it.
  2. Goodreads – First of all, I must admit that I love a good layout. Social networks and apps have to look good or they just won’t get me addicted. Goodreads not only seems to be the most organized and steady option for readers who don’t speak Portuguese, it seems to be the best of all these websites period. If I weren’t so happy on Skoob, I would most certainly migrate. The number of users (12 million, according to their website) reflects how thorough their website is when it comes to the book-sharing experience.
  3. WeRead – The best part of this one, as far as I’m concerned, is the possibility to read book previews from the website itself. It also seems well organized and steady, but, if I were to choose, I’d pick Goodreads.
  4. Shelfari – The best part of Shelfari is its connection to Amazon.com, which surely will be significant to users of the online store. For people like me, though, who do their purchases much more on actual bookstores, that doesn’t make it better than Goodreads from what I’ve seen. I haven’t registered, so maybe there is more to it, but unless you are an avid Amazon user, it doesn’t seem much more interesting than its competition.

I’ll continue to use Skoob unless something goes wrong with it, but the other websites also look very interesting. Do you use any of them at all? If so, what are your impressions? And if not, why not give them a try? You might surprise yourself at how easier your life might get!

Reviews listed by author

A

Auster, PaulInvisible

B

Butcher, JimStorm Front

C

Cabot, MegJinx

D

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan – A Study In Scarlet

F

Fitzpatrick, BeccaHush, Hush and Crescendo

G

Gaiman, NeilThe Ocean At The End Of The Lane

Green, JohnAn Abundance of Katherines, Looking For Alaska, The Fault In Our Stars, Will Grayson, Will Grayson

H

Handler, DanielWhy We Broke Up, Who Could That Be At This Hour?

Hawkins, PaulaThe Girl On The Train

Holmes, Lucy-Anne – 50 Ways To Find A Lover

K

Kaling, MindyIs Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

Kinsella, Sophie – Wedding Night

L

Le Carré, JohnTinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Levithan, DavidWill Grayson, Will Grayson

M

Menkell, HenningEin Kater Schwarz Wie Die Nacht

S

Sestero, GregThe Disaster Artist

Simsion, Graeme The Rosie Project

Smith, Jennifer E.The Statistical Probability Of Love At First Sight

Snicket, LemonyWho Could That Be At This Hour?

T

Tolkien, J. R. R.The Hobbit

Tolstoy, LievAnna Karenina

W

Wilde, OscarThe Picture of Dorian Gray

Reviews listed by title

0

50 Ways To Find A Lover, Lucy-Anne Holmes

A

Abundance Of Katherines, An, John Green

Anna Karenina, Liev Tolstoy

C

Crescendo, Becca Fitzpatrick

D

Disaster Artist, The, Greg Sestero

F

Fault In Our Stars, The, John Green

G

Girl On The Train, The, Paula Hawkins

H

Hobbit, The, J.R.R. Tolkien

Hush, Hush, Becca Fitzpatrick

I

Invisible, Paul Auster

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), Mindy Kaling

J

Jinx, Meg Cabot

K

Kater Schwarz Wie Die Nacht, Ein, Henning Mankell

L

Looking For Alaska, John Green

O

Ocean at the End of the Lane, The, Neil Gaiman

P

Picture Of Dorian Gray, The, Oscar Wilde

R

Rosie Project, The, Graeme Simsion

S

Statistical Probability Of Love At First Sight, The, Jennifer E. Smith

Storm Front, Jim Butcher

Study In Scarlet, A, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

T

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, John le Carré

W

Wedding Night, Sophie Kinsella

Who Could That Be At This Hour?, Lemony Snicket

Why We Broke Up, Daniel Handler

Will Grayson, Will Grayson, John Green and David Levithan

Books yet unread

This is the list of the books I currently own but haven’t read yet:

  1. Fairy Tales, Brothers Grimm
  2. The Litigators, John Grisham
  3. Inheritance, Christopher Paolini
  4. Complete Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1/9 read on December 2nd, 2012)
  5. The Girl Who Played With Fire, Stieg Larsson
  6. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  7. Everything Is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer
  8. Inkspell, Cornelia Funke
  9. Incarceron, Catherine Fisher
  10. The Power of Six, Pittacus Lore
  11. Tell No One, Harlan Coben
  12. The Vampire Diaries, books III and IV, L.J. Smith
  13. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
  14. The Serial Killers Club, Jeff Povey
  15. Kafka at the Shore, Haruki Murakami
  16. Mansfield Park, Jane Austen
  17. Theodore Boone: The Abduction, John Grisham (given on December 17th, 2012)
  18. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens (given on December 24th, 2012)
  19. What Maisie Knew (reading in Portuguese: Pelos Olhos de Maisie), Henry James (given on December 24th, 2012)
  20. Paper Towns, John Green (given on December 30th, 2012)
  21. Van Gogh, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (given on March 5th, 2013)
  22. The Duke and I, Julia Quinn (given on March 16th, 2013)
  23. Wonder, R.J. Palacio (given on March 16h, 2013)
  24. A Hopeless Romantic, Harriet Evans (given on April 5th, 2013)
  25. Bad Girls Don’t Die, Katie Alender (given on April 5th, 2013)
  26. Tales and Poems, Edgar Allan Poe (given on April 30th, 2013)
  27. The Double, Fiodor Dostoyevsky (digital)
  28. Ship of Theseus, Doug Dorst (given on November 30th, 2013)
  29. Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman (given on November 30th, 2013)
  30. Abundance,  Peter H. Diamandis, Steven Kotler (given on February 17th, 2014)

In German:

  1. Kein Keks für Kobolde, Cornelia Funke
  2. Fabelheim, Brandon Mull
  3. All Jane Austen books
  4. Der Hund des Baskervilles
  5. Der magische Dieb, Buch 1
  6. Alice im Wunderland (given on December 17th, 2012)
  7. Worte der Liebe, Goethe (given on January 8th, 2013)

And it begins.

Hello, my name is Mariana and I have an addiction.

And not a bad one, either. I am addicted to buying books. Ever since I was nine years old and won my first 100+ pages book, it has all happened like a snowball: I have read more and more and more and more.

There are worse addictions to have, of course. I don’t smoke, rarely drink alcohol and find buying clothes to be an obligation rather than a pleasure. But books… I love buying them to the extent that I now have titles and more titles waiting to be read, piling up, bought but yet untouched, observed but not fully discovered. And as time passes by, I have less and less hours to spend on reading things I actually chose to read for leisure, making the whole matter worse.

My biggest difficulty is that I’m a sucker for bookstores. My favorite place in my entire town (Recife, by the way, on the Northeast of Brazil) is a bookshop called Livraria Cultura, a wonderful place that sells from anything I could possibly hope to read to – and there lies the problem – everything I didn’t even know I wanted to buy. I simply can’t help myself: the titles are just standing there, colorful and pretty, hoping to be picked up, hoping to be the one copy to come home with me, smelling so good (admit it, you must also love New Book Smell. I can’t be alone on this one). And leaving the bookshop without a book is my equivalent to going out for ice cream and only looking at the flavors without actually tasting any of them.

I do not, by any means, intend to read less. Quite on the contrary. I simply want to stop a) piling up books on such an amount that the older ones do not get read at all and b) spending money on titles I could buy for cheaper prices if I read everything I already have first. And for that, for finding peace with all my sad little friends waiting on my shelves to stop being a cover and become a story, I have a plan. A plan that might actually help other people on the same situation I am.

THE UNBREAKABLE RULES FOR CONTROLING MY BOOK BUYING HABIT

1. I will not buy any more books until all but five of the ones I already own are left unread, unless one of the following exceptions happens.

2. It is ok to ask for/be given books as presents.

3. I am allowed to buy one book at most on each national travel; four books on each international one.

4. No more books in German until I have read my first one on the language.

5. Books bought a while ago must be read between books recently bought.

6. If friends are buying from incredibly cheap, once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity websites, one book purchase is allowed.

7. Borrowed books are top priority.

8. Every book read will get a review here, so perhaps I might help anyone looking for a good read.

There it is. Perhaps as I enter an abstinence crisis more rules will be necessary, but I find these to be enough for now!

The next post will be a scary one to make, but a much needed one to face: I will make a list of all books I have unread so I can tick them as I (hopefully) advance. Wish me luck!