[Window Shopping] March 20th, 2013

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As promised, I intend to get started on a few fix weekly posts on this blog, the first one being this: window shopping! Since I can’t buy books because of The Rules, I might as well mentally make my extravaganzas.

ImageThe first book I chose to mentally buy – after a lot of physically admiring and touching and internally weeping at the bookstore as I held it on my hands and wondered at the injustice of book prices – is Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book, Tree of Codes. Yes, the paperback costs 30 dollars. On SALE. And here’s why.

Having read Jonathan’s Eating Animals, I am aware of how brilliant a writer he is and, from what I’ve heard about his fiction novels, he seems to be a highly creative one as well. So when I saw Tree of Codes on the bookstore, I went straight to it with a determination that would scare Jonathan’s biggest fans. Only to have my jaw drop after opening it.

Safran Foer took his favorite book, Tree of Crocodiles, by Bruno Schulz, and cut out parts of it. Yes, cut it out. As in the-biggest-crime-and-most-horrific-thing-one-could-possibly-do-to-a-book. But he did it with good cause: after most likely going through hell to publish it, the book tells a story through what’s left of the original, and the result is shocking and brilliant. The price comes from the fact that every single page inside the book comes with holes from where the story was cut, leaving the rest of the printed words to sum up and tell a story. Here’s what it looks like:

ImageI can’t be the only one in love with this, right? I kept looking at it and wanting to cry at the perfection. I couldn’t – and still can’t, to be honest – believe how innovative it was. This reminded me of why I will never understand people who prefer digital copies of books: paper is touchable, “smellable”, and gives our hands a pleasure that accompanies the one that the text produces on our hearts. Books like these remind me of why paper isn’t and, in my opinion, should never be dead. In the words of the author:

 On the brink of the end of paper, I was attracted to the idea of a book that can’t forget it has a body.

So yes, I will have to stick to window shopping for a while. But I wish I could have this on my hands forever – because books, paper-and-ink books, are friends who will always wait, patiently, to be once again touched and discovered, to have the pieces you once missed be finally found. And, in this case, to have the pieces that are missing also become part of your story, reminding you that there is a lot more to a book than what is actually printed.

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[Additions to my bookshelf] March 15th, 2013

I have recently left my internship and, as a present, the wonderful people who work there gave me a gift card to my favorite bookstore, Livraria Cultura.

As the money was given to me and could be used at a bookstore only, it fits on Rule #2 and I’m allowed to buy books!

Here are the ones I have bought so far (yes, a very generous gift):

1. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy – The links are all to the actual edition I chose. I’m not a big fan on tie-in editions, but in this case I decided to buy the movie cover because a) it was cheap; b) it’s a gorgeous cover and c) tiny-but-gorgeous Aaron Johnson as Vronsky. Judge me if you want!

2. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, John Green and David Levithan – Basically because of John Green. I have not the slightest idea what the book is actually about, but having loved An Abundance of Katherines (review here), Looking For Alaska (review here) and The Fault In Our Stars (review on its way), I trust Mr. Green and anything he touches.

3. Van Gogh, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith – After Anna Karenina, this was the easiest one to choose. The edition I bought is hardcover, (decently, it seems) translated to Portuguese (which is, after all, my mother language), with colored illustrations and about 1,000 pages long. And it was considerably cheap – 80 reais, about 40 dollars, which is the original price. A bit heavy to carry around, so it’ll wait for vacations.

4. The Statistical Probability Of Love At First Sight, Jennifer E. Smith – I had never heard about it, but after seing it at the bookstore decided to search for reviews from people whose tastes were similar to mine. I was happy to find out there was a positive review on The Infinite Curio, one of my favorite literary blogs, so I decided to give it a shot. (Also: CHEAP. It costs 16 reais in Brazil, around 8 dollars, and books, even paperbacks, haven’t been that cheap for a while).

4. Wonder, R. J. Palacio – To be quite honest, this was a shot in the dark. I hope I like it, especially since I bought it on hardcover. But I have been hearing a positive buzz surrounding it, so I guess it must be good.

5. The Duke and I, Julia Quinn – Two friends of mine like this author a lot and told me this was a great place to start. It seems to be the first of a series and, according to one of them, every book focuses on a member of a large family, but gives glimpses on the lives of previous couples (a bit like Meg Cabot’s Boy thrilogy, I guess). It also caught my eye that these are basically Jane Austen meets Sophie Kinsella, which must mean a good read. I had to import it, though, and my copy will only arrive in May!

For now, that is all, but there’s still some money left. I’m open to suggestions both on what else to buy and what to read first!

[Book Review] Why We Broke Up

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“I was stupid, the official descriptive phrase for happy.”

Sometimes the end of a relationship is difficult to explain. Sometimes it isn’t. When Min Green and Ed Slaterton – respectively a movie-director-wannabe and a basketball player at a regular high school that I’m sure looks a lot like yours – break up, it certainly isn’t easy to pinpoint what when wrong, but Min manages to do so with perfection. After filling a box with her ex’s belongings that were still in her possession, Min drops the box and a letter at Ed’s doorstep, explaining in a long, long text and going object by object, why they broke up.

That is the basic story line to Why We Broke Up (Daniel Handler, Electric Monkey, 368 pages, read in Portuguese: Por Isso A Gente Acabou, published by Companhia das Letras). Handler, famous for writing A Series Of Unfortunate Events as Lemony Snicket, creates the text that, accompanied by Maira Kalman’s beautiful illustrations, covers the story of Min and Ed’s relationship, from object number 1 and how they got together to the last one, showing how every day they were a couple was a day closer to their breaking up.

The book is beautiful. Not only because of Kalman’s drawings – which seem to have been handmade by Min herself, so perfectly they fit the character’s style -, but also because it is rich in detail and speaks truthfully through the voice of a teenager, without sounding fake or pretentious. Min, a lover of old movies, is a great, complex character, who escapes all cliches and is, therefore, highly credible: she likes things, she hates things, she feels jealous, she feels numb, she takes a stand, she gets hurt. I have rarely come across a fictional teenage girl so coherent, reminding me instantly of Juno MacGuff and her strong personality.

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Other than Min, there were three very strong points for me in this book. First of all, the rhythm. I’m a big fan of authors who write on the perfect pace for the story, getting you to fly through pages and even (am I the only one who does this?) to breathe according to the lines and dialogues. Handler is a master of rhythm: there are paragraphs of Min’s thoughts that go through pages, some with very few dots, which gets the reader on and on with her opinions, understanding her logic and feeling her pain better. It made me wonder if the author had ever read José Saramago, who uses that same technique, even if he takes it to the extreme.

A second aspect that touched me was how Min’s friend, Al, clearly had a crush on her without her noticing. This isn’t even a spoiler, I swear – it is very explicit from the first pages on. Just like Meg Cabot, Handler has that great ability to reveal facts unknown to the character who is telling you the story, making the reader go wild, trying to shake Min by her shoulders and point out what she can’t see. And, of course, rooting for her to notice that her sweet friend is better for her than jock Slaterton.

The third – and best – aspect of Why We Broke Up is also the most shocking one. Reading the book, I was fascinated by Min’s favorite movies and wanted to watch every single one of them. She referenced titles, actors, plots, release years, everything. I considered making a list of all those wonderful movies I absolutely needed to watch as soon as I was done reading it. Imagine how heartbroken I was to find out that none of them existed. Not a single one. Handler created title by title, story by story, of at least fifty different movies, an information that, I must confess, brought tears to my eyes. You don’t have to write deep, complex plots to be a genius – brilliancy is waiting to be discovered by eager hearts in every corner of human creativity. I’m still desperate to listen to Hawk Davies, the fictional jazz artist whose songs seem to play as a soundtrack throughout the entire book.

Though the translation to Portuguese was poorly done (I even had to mentally translate some parts back to English in order to understand them), this is such an adorable, honest book that Min’s heartbreak will speak to any reader in any part of the world. Even if we can’t have Min’s movies, songs and thoughts, the author makes it possible to love them unconditionally, just as she loved Ed Slaterton unconditionally. Love is, after all, an international language.