[Book Review] The Hobbit

the-hobbit-first-edition

 

When I was around 11 years old, I got a The Lord of The Rings copy from my parents. It was (is, I guess – I still have it and love it) huge, especially on my then tiny (ok, still tiny) hands. 1200 pages long, it included all three books, translated to Portuguese, and a huge picture of Gandalf on the cover, then intact, now rugged with age and flicking.

So is it too strange that I see LOTR as a childhood friend? After being seduced by Harry Potter, I went on to find out that these books, these much more complicated, dense, descriptive stories, caused a whole new level of reading satisfaction on me, and that Frodo Baggins and his companions were multifaceted, complex characters who would teach me more about life than many real adult figures ever managed to.

The reason I love LOTR so much is also the reason why I, ten years later, didn’t expect much of The Hobbit (J. R. R. Tolkien, read on Harper Collins’ paperback, 400 pages). I thought it would be more of the same and, being older, perhaps I wouldn’t be as interested, considering most of my favorite characters weren’t in it – and the fact that I had just read The Great Gatsby, which then became my favorite book. My mistake. I think I might have actually enjoyed this more than LOTR.

The Hobbit follows Bilbo Baggins on his adventure out of the Shire and throughout Middle Earth, joining Gandalf and a group of dwarves as they try to reclaim a treasure of their people from the claws of terrible dragon Smaug. And it is fun. While LOTR is such a serious journey that you feel yourself growing weary with the characters, Bilbo’s story is light, easy, funny at times, a simple, pure adventure – in fact, if I had to pick a word to describe this, I would really pick light. I flicked through pages and found myself having to save some of the book, in one of those moments in which something you read is so, so good that you need to put every word on your mouth, mentally say it twice, close your eyes and smile with joy. Probably the best storytelling skills I have ever found.

Another great part of this book are its characters. Bilbo lives every reader’s dream of running around, breaking barriers and living an adventure no matter what cost. Isn’t that what reading is all about? I do believe we read partially because it feels so good to live what the characters live, to dream higher and higher and still believe in it, to run around and slay dragons and kiss princesses and win the world. People who don’t enjoy reading must never have discovered that reading is actually feeling, and I feel sad for anyone who hasn’t experienced falling in love with characters. Bilbo and the dwarves are the perfect mix of crazy and smart; they are small, but they conquer it all. Gandalf is wise, but lets everyone make their mistakes and learn from them. Smaug is a dragon with more personality than a lot of people I know. All secondary characters are so perfectly created – and described – you keep wishing for spin-offs for every single one of them.

Every song Tolkien wrote, every new species he created, every short, fast-paced adventure that keeps you holding your breath is nothing but the expression of a master on the arts of heart touching and story telling. Whatever you do, whoever you are, I promise you’d finish this book with a smile on your face and the feeling of a whole journey lived. Bilbo is the ultimate improbable hero, who, by leaving his tiny little house on his tiny little feet, showed the entire world that, with wit and heart, anything is possible.

(This review is dedicated to my friend Raphael, who I hope will always keep one foot on the Shire and one running after Smaug)

[Book Review] Invisible

invisible

 

Sometimes we come across books for the weirdest reasons.

I had never heard of Paul Auster and still can’t believe how lucky I was to discover about him in such an unorthodox way. Being a FC Bayern Munich fan, I was scrolling around on Tumblr one day, in a period when all players were on vacations and saw a photo of my favorite player (and one of my favorite people, if it is possible to make such a list), Bastian Schweinsteiger, reading a book at a beach in Miami, completely focused, while his gorgeous girlfriend stood beside him, ignored for a while in favor of what he was reading. Yes, I have proof:

So  of course this must be a hell of a book. I googled the author, found out which book it was and, about a month later, bought it, imagining it would be just another great, regular thriller.

I couldn’t have been more surprised. I don’t think I have read something as innovative as Invisible (Paul Auster, St. Martin’s Press, Paperback 308 pages) since I was in high school and was introduced to Brazilian Modernism. This book is so wildly new, fresh and brilliant I hope I manage to find words to show at least half of what I felt about it.

The story revolves around Adam Walker, a young student at Columbia University and aspiring author. In 1967, Walker meets a couple at a party: the beautiful, seductive, mysterious Margot and Rudolf Born, a strong, loud, polemic man. The tiniest event that will, however, change his life forever: as his relationship with both Margot and Born develops, a chain of events (which I will not, of course, reveal) lead to a profound change in Walker’s character, turning his life upside down and leaving him alone to pick up the pieces of his developing personality. I can’t say much about the story itself without spoiling it, but I can talk about the technicalities of the book, which are exactly what make it such a masterpiece.

The book is divided in four parts, all written by different narrators, who tell us four parts of the same story, Walker’s story, from four different points of view. This is where Auster reveals his genius: every part is written in a completely different style, as if real people had actually sat down with a pen and handwritten their quarter of the story. The vocabulary is different, the phrasing is different, the pace is different – even the information each character shares is different from the others, making us eternally skeptical of what each one is saying and, by the end, completely paranoid, trying to figure out which version is true. To make this immersion in each character’s mind even more complete – and, therefore, each line that is written less neutral and objective -, Auster uses no signals on dialogues. Without a “, ‘, or -, the reader is compelled to read through the entire book as fast as possible, the voices are mixed during long dialogues, we lose ourselves inside characters only to have this attachment cut on the next part.

The fact that Walker is writing a book is also part of what makes Invisible so great: Auster seems to put pieces of himself in Walker and the entire book mixes itself with the struggle of writing a novel, making the reader wonder how much the character’s frustration is also Auster’s. Very metalinguistical, the author’s ability to play with text and texture, words and phrasing, prose and poetry, styles and personalities is one of a kind. I had never read anything alike and I’m not sure if I ever will.

I can’t find words precise enough to describe how much I loved this. Who would say that a soccer player would introduce me to one of the most intriguing books I have ever read? Just as I was pleasantly surprised to find out about it, I hope I managed to do Invisible some justice and that, just maybe, someone might end up reading this review and giving the book a chance as well. Maybe it’s too ambitious of me, but as one of the most brilliant lines on the book puts it, I believe we all live by

“Never nothing but the dream of nothing / Never anything but the dream of all”.