“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Saenz

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Secrets are not necessarily mendacious. Most secrets are actually the truth – the truth kept hidden deep inside our hearts and minds, concealed not only from the others, but from ourselves as well. Such secrets are essential and definitive to our existence. They imply who we are; who we want to be; who we love; where we derive from; how we envision ourselves in society. They are the hardest truths to accept but you can’t live in peace with yourself until you come to terms with them.

Such secrets are gnawing at the heart of Aristotle, a 15-year-old Mexican pariah. He is a bitter teenager, condescending towards his peers and perturbed by the skeletons in his family’s closet. His closest friend is his own mother and even though he is never bullied at school kids ostracize him. He is fascinated by the mysterious air around his brother who has been imprisoned, but his parents’ reluctance to talk about it engenders yet another secret to frown over.

Aristotle meets Dante while trying to learn to swim without the help of any instructors. Not only do their names complement, but so do their personalities.  Dante hates wearing shoes and is extremely vehement about animals. He falls in love with paintings and lyrics and inhabits a world completely different from that in El Paso. “Dante’s face was a map of the world. A world without darkness. Wow, a world without darkness. How beautiful was that?”

 Unlike Aristotle, Dante is enchanted by the world, its wonders, its beauty and its infinity. He leaps at every opportunity and never avoids social contact. Their unconventional friendship changes both their lives irrevocably. It defines their present and their future and endows their past with a meaning. It is a spectacular portrayal of the sacrificial and altruistic part of love.

As the story traces the growth and maturation of those two innocent boys, it questions whether we ever truly get to know ourselves and the world we live in. It depicts life as an incessant strive to take control over your feelings and actions, and accept everything that makes you up. “High school was just a prologue to the real novel. Everybody got to write you – but when you graduated, you got to write yourself”

What defines us is all the inner conflicts and contradictions which beget our deeds. It’s not what you do that makes you – you, but the reason you do it. “Because when you do something, you have to know exactly what you are doing.” It is the driving force that distinguishes us from each other and determines what we would delineate as beautiful, inspirational, worthwhile or scintillating. Thus, we are fundamentally different in our purpose to go on breathing. “We all fight our private wars.”  and within those ruthless struggles our brilliance and uniqueness arise.

The novel describes how two boys acknowledge what propels them forward. It alleges that the secrets of the universe: why do we live? what is the point of our existence? what purpose do we serve? do we matter?; are actually the secrets of the self. The meaning we bestow upon our lives is the meaning we bestow to the universe.

As Aristotle says “Summer was a book of hope” and so is this novel. “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” offers a captivating glimpse in the Mexican culture and the struggle to outgrow one’s Hispanic heritage. It is one of those books that you get glued to and can’t put down for a second. Once you embark upon it, there is no quitting, so I strongly suggest reading it during the summer holidays.

Mery

Mery

“A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini

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Khaled Hosseini is a name that peeks from every book store. It is frequently found on the shelves in different and diverse people’s houses. Not having read ‘The kite runner’ I have always felt like missing out on something that everybody else was enjoying. That is why when a classmate literally shoved ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ in my hands there was no doubt in my mind. I had to read that novel.

The plot line of the book traces 40 years of Afghan history from 1963 to 2003, from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding. The whole story is told by the lives of Mariam and Laila whose paths cross in the house of Rasheed, their husband. Even though they come from different backgrounds and hold different grieves, the two women come together and find comfort in each other in the horrible place which they must call home.

The unstable times that war brings corrupt even the most precious and valuable human morals. Family is converted into something twisted and terrible that has a taste of fear and loneliness. With the struggles for survival come the pain and suffering. The hardships grow even more when the Taliban take over control. A woman is no longer a normal human being. Her rights are crushed like an insect under the heavy and unflinching boot of the government. The two protagonists must survive in such a world carrying not the weight of their past but also this of their present.

Living in the 21st century in a civilised habitat we sometimes forget that the world is not heaven on Earth. Even in these ‘modern times’ war is still present. From time to time it is a good thing to educate ourselves and learn about even those countries which are very far away and which business does not have an immediate effect on us. And I believe that fiction books are not a bad place to start at, especially those written by Khaled Hosseini.

Some might think that ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ is a typical women’s book. I beg to differ. I believe that it is a novel that men should read. Because it is of the utmost importance how men treat women. Even if we are better at doing most things, we are still the more delicate sex. Women can not handle every situation and sometimes it is up to the male part of society not to put us in such.

‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ is a story about love and hatred, hope and despair, humility and rising above, fear and security and mostly about the never ending search for happiness. Khaled Hosseini’s style of writing contributes to the plot his mind has come up with, creating a moving tale where friendship and love are found even in the darkest of corners.

Sophie

Sophie

“Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” by Robin Sloan

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I decided to read “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” thanks to all the adulatory reviews it had received on Goodreads and Youtube. I thought that a novel so praised couldn’t bear any concealed disappointments and I was right. As any rabid booknerd, I love reading books about books, and this one happened to be particularly special. And so it came to pass that now it is my turn to contribute to the plethora of commendation for Robin Sloan’s ingenuity.

Clay Jannon has been duped out of his job in the virtual realms of web design and the pixels of logos of burger behemoths by the Great Recession. Unemployed and chronically bored with life, he whiles all his days away surfing the net for adverts and reading over and over again “The Dragon Song Chronicles” by Clark Moffat (who, dear Whovians and Sherlockians, may be Steven Moffat’s relative since he is dead and entirely apocryphal). One night, though, serendipity and curiosity lure him into Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which waged right next to a strip club cloaks a global conspiracy – the secret of immortality.

Clay’s extraordinary adeptness at climbing ladders lands him the plum job as a night clerk in the most peculiar bookshop-slash-library in San Francisco. While he catters for queer bookbats who barge in in the middle of the night to request novels from the deep end of the store, the protagonist becomes more and more fascinated with the Waybacklist as he refers it. In that dim and obscure section of the library are nestled books brimming with codes and enigmas instead of mysteries and punch lines.

“Turning the pages of this encoded codex, I realize that the books I love most are like open cities, with all sorts of ways to wander in. This thing is a fortress with no front gate. You’re meant to scale the walls, stone by stone.”

And as you correctly surmised during his inextinguishable attempts to popularize and contemporize the bookstore, he will as well, try to break into the fortress with the help of his unique friends. They , the warrior, the wizard and the rogue, will embark on the quest they have always contemplated – the quest pertaining to their favourite adventure book and the quest to immortality. But will they manage to live up to other praised heroes or will they fail ignominiously?

Well, I’d love to tell you but all my friends condemn me for being a huge walking spoiler. All I can disclose that in all certitude, the right book at the right time may alter the course of one’s life.

“Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” stands out from the rest of the literature about literature for it entangles the written world with the online one – something most bookworms are reluctant to do. The friendship that sparks up between old Penumbra, his ancient books and Clay, and his high-tech friends binds those two apparent opposites in a symbiotic relationship. It attests that books and technology may not merely coexist but thrive off each other.

A virtual world, on the one hand, constantly inundated and updated with information cannot exist without the traditional and old knowledge that resides in the ink of all pages around the globe – there would, otherwise, be a perilous precipice on the path of curiosity.  One can, on the other hand, benefit from the technological advances in order to decipher books better; I mean, Sparknotes, Cliffnotes, Goodreads, Booktubers and Bookbloggers. Thus, the novel renders the ubiquitous dichotomy between paper and electronics groundless. Here, we are after all, collaborating in our appreciation and fondness of books via technology.

This glorious unification answers the question I found most compelling and poetic in the whole read: “How can you stay interested in anything- or anyone- for long when the whole world is your canvas?” The answer is simple – you needn’t to. When you have so much notions, ideas, facts and information at your disposal, you simply can’t restrain to eat solely vanilla when you can have any other incredible flavor you hanker for. And by broadening the variety of your passions and interests, you could preserve people in your life much longer. Variety is the spice of life, right?

“Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” will take you on a wild ride across the picturesque San Francisco to the buzzing metropolitan New York. It will introduce you to some of the weirdest and nerdiest characters you will ever meet and divulge to you secrets kept clandestine for centuries. I promise, you’ll have the time of your life reading it.

“After that, the book will fade, the way all books fade in your mind. But I hope you will remember this:
A man walking fast down a dark lonely street. Quick steps and hard breathing, all wonder and need. A bell above a door and the tinkle it makes. A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.”

Mery

Mery

“A Series of Unfortunate Events” by Lemony Snicket

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If you want read a romantic comedy – this is not the book for you. If you want a pleasant adventure that definitely has a happy ending- this is not the book for you. If you want to enter a world full of beautiful and magnificent magic creatures that help the protagonists every step of their way – this is not the book for you. I guess that the title should’ve hinted all of the above but better safe than sorry.

’A Series of Unfortunate Events’ follows the lives of the three orphaned siblings who seem to bump into misfortune all of the time. They struggle to keep their heads held up while the merciless hand of destiny keeps pushing them down. Why would somebody want to read such a gruesome story? Well, let’s start from ‘The Bad Beginning’.

When Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire are left without parents and a home after a fire has broken out in their mansion the person who takes to care for them is their distant uncle Count Olaf. After he discovers that the vast fortunes of the Baudelaire family can be accessed only when Violet reaches 18, the orphans’ new guardian drops all friendly and kind attitude and starts treating his new ‘children’ as servants. And while the young protagonists are scrubbing floors, washing dishes, cleaning windows and cooking dinner, Count Olaf is busy plotting schemes to get his hands on their money.

It is in this hostile environment that Violet, Klaus and Sunny must survive. But the grief and the difficulties do not prevail over the siblings. For they have some cards up their sleeves. Violet is a 14-year old amateur inventor, Klaus Baudelaire – a 12-year old book worm, and Sunny Baudelaire – an infant with unusually powerful teeth. All the things that most kids get laughed at school for are proved useful in real life. So don’t give up on reading, chewing and trying to make that very complicated and absolutely useless machine. Someday it might help.

In a world where adults make the rules it is inspiring to see such youngsters make their way through thick and thin, especially if the reader of the books is approximately as old as the Baudelaires. It is important that children never forget what a vital role they have in the complicated web of life. Parents should know that at some point their precious and seemingly helpless babies are actually capable of handling themselves. Not in such a distraught and hostile situation.

The author of the books who goes by the pen name Lemony Snicket puts a lot of cross-references with other literature. It is fun to discover such links. ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ holds secrets for readership of all ages. So don’t dismiss it just because it looks like a children’s book. Grab ‘The Bad Beginning’ and enter the world of the Baudelaires and their everyday life full of dismay. From that point of view your life doesn’t look that bad now, does it?

Sophie

Sophie

Happy Esther Day!

This star won’t go out!