Sunday, 20 June 2010

José Saramago, The Grapes of Wrath, Doctor Who and more stuff

José Saramago, the world famous Portuguese writer and Nobel Prize winner died two days ago, at the age of 87. He was a very controversial figure in Portugal, admired for his books but not so much for some of his political and religious views. After his book O Evangelho Segundo Jesus Cristo (The Gospel According to Jesus Christ) wasn't allowed to compete for the European Literary Award by a very conservative Portuguese government, he decided to leave the country and went to live in Lanzarote in the Spanish Canaries. In spite of these events, another of his works, Memorial do Convento (Baltasar and Blimunda) one considered by some his masterpiece, became part of the Portuguese Language study program in highschool. I have tried to read the novel but his writing style with little respect for rules and its subject had me give it up. I have plans to read something from Saramago, especially Ensaio sobre a Cegueira (Blindness), Ensaio sobre a Lucidez (Seeing) and O Ano da  Morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis), but I don't know if I'll ever be able to retry the one I gave up on, I usually don't. 
Although I can't give a substantiated opinion on the writer, I can still say that I agreed with some of his views on how the Portuguese people seems resigned and with some of his anti-catholic opinions. I must emphasize he disagreed with the Catholic Church having the one and only accepted interpretation of the Bible and I like the idea that as a book written and organized by people, limiting it's understanding to what one group with a very specific agenda say seems quite senseless.

With all that said, I am currently reading and enjoying The Grapes of Wrath and I won't be over soon. I can advance that I have read there some of the best book chapters I've ever put my eyes on. Before and even while reading it, I've finished reading some other books that deserved their own reviews here, ones that I couldn't elaborate for lack of time. I hereby leave a honourable mention to Mighty Avengers: The Unspoken Premiere HC, Serenity Vol.1; Those Left Behind and As Incríveis Aventuras de Dog Mendonça e PizzaBoy.
I'm also following George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, have now read the first two books, here in Portugal translated into four volumes: A Guerra dos Tronos, A Muralha de Gelo, A Fúria dos Reis e O Despertar da Magia. The part I preferred was the end of The Game of Trones, it left me baffled and I felt like running to a bookshop and buy all the other books, which I ended up doing and I am now excited about the TV series being produced at the moment.

One other subject I want to speak about eventually is Doctor Who. It was presented to me by a friend who told me his favourite episodes of the previous series. I enjoyed them so much that I am now following the series with 11Th Doctor. My favourite episodes of the David Tennant era were Blink, Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead (yes, Steven Moffat) and I would recommend watching them to anyone even if not following the series, they are worthy on their own. Matt Smith is taking over quite well, helping create a new image and personality while not severing ties with what fans have seen of the Doctor all these years. Expect more comments from me on this.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Free Comic Book Day Editions

As I said in my previous post, I went to Mundo Fantasma during the free comic book day event and bought some comics. With them, as a part of the event, you receive three free comic book day editions of your choice. I got Fractured Fables: "Red Riding Hood"; "Rumplestiltskin"; "The Real Princess"; "Raponsel"; "Hey Diddle, Diddle", Iron Man: Supernova (plus The Superhero Squad Show: "The Hulk in the Fixit") and Mouse Guard: "Spring 1153" (plus Fraggle Rock: "Boober the Doozer"; "The Birthday Present").
Fractured Fables is a compilation of jokes based on a few known children stories. I particularly liked the illustrations on "Red Riding Hood" by Camilla d'Errico and Edison Yan and on "The Real Princess" by Christian Ward. "Hey Diddle, Diddle" left me completely puzzled and speechless.
There isn't much to say about Marvel's free comic I but that Iron Man: Supernova was quite uninteresting and that "The Hulk in the Fixit" made me laugh out loud in the end.
Last but definitely not least, I must comment on Mouse Guard by David Petersen. As I know nothing about Mouse Guard, this small edition left me curious about the whole story and the art is so beautiful I am considering looking for and buying some of the author's works. If anyone wants to know more about him, here is a link to David Petersen's website.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Arcanum by Brandon Petersen

I bought this book on the Free Comic Book Day celebration at Mundo Fantasma, the one shop here in Portugal I still buy comics, if not for the price, which in Portugal is quite expensive compared to buying at for example, definitely for the people working there, really helpful and and knowledgeable and to support the effort of maintaining such a business in a country with so little love for comics (yet, I hope). I knew nothing of Arcanum apart from the author, Brandon Peterson, from some of his Marvel works but the description of a story with magic and avatars always piques my curiosity.
Arcanum has a good original beginning, with an Avatar running from others being accused of murdering one of them as you find they are all trying to find a new Avatar who´s own power is just awakening and scaring her. The plot in then developed as a pyramid, with the reader finding out there is a worse villain each time he thinks he has seen it all. It is interesting to see the story from the new Avatar's point of view, as she actually doesn't know a thing about what's happening to her. Eventually we learn that the good guys' leader is brother of the bad buys' apparent/initial leader, and this is the first of many clichés that plague the story in my opinion. Readers find that the Avatar of Darkness is being manipulated by a human wizard that has been alive for 800 years and wants the power of gods. Then we find that there is an even bigger villain, Death, who seems to see everyone's death as the one way to end humanity's and his own suffering and has been manipulating every Avatar to that end. As the Avatar of Life, the new avatar, exposes Death's plan, the Avatars run with their power through a portal to the god's plane and Death and a now powerless wizard stay behind with their plans frustrated. One point in favour of the story was keeping Death initially as an accepted neutral being and having an Avatar of Life without an opposing Avatar of Death (Death is described as a cursed immortal man, different from the Avatars) even though in the end it's Life that exposes Death's machination. 
I must say I enjoyed reading it, even while feeling the story was told too fast, finished hastily and was cuffed to some clichés. It was still quite interesting to learn the mythology created, the development of each group's relationship and the way the Avatar of Life reacts to her power, stands out for what she believes and ends up having a definite importance to the whole plot. The illustration is very good, adding a lot to the story and to help understand the characters' personalities.

Style - 7
Creativity - 5
Entertainment - 7
Relevance - 3

Overall - 6

I am still reading The Grapes of Wrath and I feel it's going to take me a while to finish it and I might read something else while I'm at it.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

I became curious about Ernest Hemingway after my visit to Cuba, where I saw the place where he stayed and wrote while he lived in Havana. I know little of Hemingway apart from him having lived in Cuba, his work as reporter during the World Wars and others, that he ended up committing suicide and of course, that he was an awarded writer. I chose to read The Old Man and the Sea because the author himself described it as the best he could ever write and also because of the general acclamation.
Hemingway writes with a simple style, short sentences direct to the point and plain dialogues that contribute to this dichotomous sense of the story. Though I liked the whole text, I was specifically amazed at his accuracy and realism in describing a person thinking and talking to herself. This book consists of a small story about an old fisherman, a boy that helps him and fishing. As simple as this might seem, and the story is told in a straightforward way, the message that it is capable of transmitting is far from obvious and direct. For roughly the first half of the book, I was thinking about fishing as a habit and as a craft, about elderly men working for a living and imagining a community around them. After that, and as I came closer to the end of the story, I started trying to grasp what the story could imply, what Hemingway could be saying while describing the lives of the Cuban people he knew and observed. And it was then that I understood how the man fishing can be interpreted as much more than a report, as a metaphor for life itself, how working the skiff, the lines and the bait can be a person's effort towards the giant fish, the dream, the purpose, how sharks can be trouble, unsolvable problems, failures, how a fish's head can be such a small part of an objective that it can be given away, how the spine can be just a memento of what has become unreachable. I should also say that this is all but one interpretation and the story probably allows for much more.
This is a quick interesting book and I would recommend it to anyone that enjoys reading and looking for different meanings and messages from the author. Overall, I'm glad to have read The Old Man and the Sea although it didn't make me feel very enthusiastic, perhaps for being so short and fast or perhaps for having read it while travelling.

Style - 8
Creativity - 8
Entertainment - 7
Relevance - 7
Overall - 7

I am now reading The Grapes of Wrath by J. Steinbeck and will also start Arcanum as soon as possible.