Douglas Coupland, Generation A

This article was originally published in Italian on Bookavenue

I remembered bees. I remembered seeing them in spring among the bloodroot, the yellow goat’s beard and the swamp buttercups in my grandparents’ back ditch – happy, industrious, slightly furry and oh-so doomed. Then they began to flee their hives, and before there was even time to figure out why, they were all gone.

generation-a-9781439157022_hrThe Book Club meeting takes place in the heart of Frankfurt, in the courtyard of a quiet pub. At last, I have managed to book a seat in this circle devoted to wine and books. Today I am interested in the topic, that is the problem of environment in a narrative text. It’s a beautiful evening and the city looks at itself in the river like a picture by Van Gogh. By my side walks the metaphor of a society that considers itself attentive to ecology: a tramp is collecting empty plastic bottles in order to gain the return money. A bee rests on my knee: is it a sign? Probably yes, since the novel we will speak about tonight is Generation A by Douglas Coupland, a post-atomic Decameron on the end of the human species and the salvific power of narration. Continue reading

Alice Munro, gothic queen in Friend of My Youth

Originally published in Italian on Bookavenue

It will take you 7 minutes to read this article

Once upon a time there was a child who listened to a story. The story was The Little Mermaid and it was so sad that the child decided to rewrite it. She began going to school and the school was far away. Since she had a long walk every day, she started inventing stories to fill the time. Until 2013 – she was 82 years old at this point – when she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature with this motivation: “Master of the contemporary short story”.

In place of the traditional lecture in the presence of the Swedish Academy, Alice Munro gave an interview titled In Her Own Words. Wearing a grey cardigan in front of a white window, she introduced herself as one of her stories: pretending that she had nothing to show apart from an anonymous Canadian road. About those early days she says: “Generally, [it was] a very satisfying story from my point of view, with the general idea of the little mermaid’s bravery, that she was clever…”, because “she deserved more than death on the water”. “In those early days the important thing was the happy ending, I did not tolerate unhappy endings. […] And later on I began to read things like Wuthering Highs, and very unhappy endings would take place, so I changed my ideas completely and went for the tragic, which I enjoyed”. The interviewer also asks her how her writing has changed growing older: “Oh, well, in a very predictable way. You start out writing about young princesses and then you write about housewives and children and later on about old women, and this just goes on, without your necessarily trying to do anything to change that. Your vision changes”.

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Azar Nafisi and the subversive power of literature

 

Iranian writer Azar Nafisi has written her last book in 2014, titled The Republic of Imagination. I haven’t read it yet, but a couple of years ago I wrote a review about her previous works. It is a short essay about her two wonderful memoirs – Reading Lolita in Tehran and Things I’ve been Silent About, but I also mentioned a lecture she gave in Rome in 2004. The main theme is the subversive power of imagination and the political, empathic role of literature. Besides, I was particularly stunned by Nafisi’s analysis of the role of family as the first model of tyranny and the liberating power of books. All the links are taken from Azar Nafisi’s website, where you can also read excerpts from the two works.

Article first published in Italian on Leggere Donna, 157/2012, Tufani Publishing

Reading Lolita in TehranWhat we search for in fiction”, writes Azar Nafisi at the beginning of the novel that has made her famous worldwide,“is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth”. The expression holds the essence of her entire work and is the advice she used to give her students, a group of Tehran girls who “had both a real history and a fabricated one”. From 1995 to 1997 they periodically met at her house, in a clandestine literary salon. The meetings – described in Reading Lolita in Tehran – went on with resolution in spite of the dictatorship and were all dedicated to the most “wanted” subversives of the Iranian Republic: Truth and Beauty. Writes Nafisi: “We were, to borrow from Nabokov, to experience how the ordinary pebble of ordinary life could be transformed into a jewel through the magic eye of fiction”.

No doubt, Azar Nafisi is the literature professor we would have liked to meet at school. Her presence is delicate and familiar, but she possesses the charm of those masters who build bridges between imagination and reality, literature and life. Through her words, the great works of literature shake the dust off in order to reveal their universal wisdom.

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J. K. Rowling, Very Good Lives

23731881It is a speech – just published in English – by the author of Harry Potter. It has winked at me from the window of a bookshop near an Asian restaurant guarded by a gigantic Buddha. I entered to have a look: it was a tiny hardcover book, an edition with poetic illustrations. Buddha was still smiling at me with indulgence, so after an exchange with the bookseller – Is it a present? Yes… for me!” – I went to sit near him. I ordered a dish of boiled rice in tamarind sauce and started reading.

“President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers, members of the faculty, proud parents, and, above all, graduates…”. The text opened this way, with the voice of J. K. Rowling Dumbledore filling the Great Hall at Hogwarts. It was the 2008 Harvard commencement speech, that still remains famous in the history of the prestigious university: “The first thing I would like to say is ‘thank you’. […] I am at the world’s largest Gryffindor reunion”. Continue reading

The Girl with the Wooden Glasses

This article was originally published in Italian on Bookavenue.

“Io Leggo Perché…”  

I Read Because…

Last month in Rome I was attracted by a large panel in front of a bookshop. Passers-by could take a post-it, write their sentence and stick it on the panel. “I Read Because I need to dream”, “I Read Because the journey by train is too long!”, “I Read Because I want to forget my mother-in-law”…

Foto_Ragazza_occhialiI was overwhelmed by memories. I realized that every book I had loved was – in its own way – a proclaim on the redeeming power of imagination and words. I thought about the last one I had bought, which had been laying on my table for days. I didn’t have the courage to open it: in addition to the painful empathy for the story, I wondered how I could draw the readers’ attention. How could I convince them that they were involved? The Road by Cormac McCarthy came to my mind… that book on my table began with a couple of words that seemed stolen from the father of the novel: “I am cold. I am so cold”. But what the heck had Cormac done to convince us that The Other did not exist?! How had he persuaded us that those father and child pushing a shopping cart towards the end of the world were us all? Perhaps… with a story? Continue reading

Paul Auster, Hand to Mouth: a Chronicle of Early Failure

1107529I wanted a book for an hour and a half journey, something short that could prevent me from thinking over that creeping groans of planes that all of you perfectly know. I entered the bookshop with the familiar sense of Connection with the Universe that goes together with the act of Buying a Book, but I had finished Brooklyn Follies a few hours before so I was in the middle of a Paul Auster Withdrawal Syndrome. I thus pointed to his shelf like a diviner and caressed the covers until I sensed a bookish vibration. I chose a tiny, thin book. The back cover said: In my late twenties and early thirties, I went through a period of several years when everything I touched turned to failure. At that point the Message from the Universe was quite clear, but it was the following line that convinced me that it would be my plane-book: Paul Auster speaks of his initial failure and his struggle to write and earn a living. Continue reading

Kafka’s Doll

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While I was reading Paul Auster’s The Brooklyn Follies I stumbled upon this passage, which deeply moved me. It is a sort of cammeo, a metaliterary digression that interrupts the plot in order to blink at the reader. You will find much material about this passage and this (at first glance) light novel by Paul Auster. Here, the author clearly reflects on the double-edged power of literature and imaginary worlds.

Down here for you, the wonderful excerpt about Kafka’s doll…

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Currently reading V – A novel, an essay, a poet

I ‘m coming back to literature. I spent nine months in a submerged study of biochemistry and molecular medicine in order to understand my illness and cope with it, but Spring is taking me back to reading and life. I am already writing my reviews, but I would  like to introduce you right now to three great authors I am reading in this period:

  1. Paul Auster, The Brooklyn Follies
  2. Nicholas Ashford/Claudia Miller, Chemical Exposures – Low Levels and High Stakes
  3. Abtellatif Laabi, Poems and prison writing

 

Currently reading IV

Primavera silenziosa

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will ensure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.

It is also an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged.

I am currently reading Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. Published in 1962, it is “widely considered to be the most important environmental book of the 20th century“, as writer Margaret Atwood stated in this article from The Guardian. And as Eliza Griswold wrote on The New York Times on the 50 years anniversary, it was the book that ignited the environmental movement and all the modern research on the massive and widespread effects of toxic chemicals on human health.

Creative writing I – Books

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There are many books about creative writing and my next choice will surely be The Mindful Writer by D. Moore. However, what is a book about creative writing? What does it deal with? And above all: why should you read a book about creative writing, considering that you have never thought about writing? Well, there are many reasons. And your love for essays or your interest for creative writing would be just reason number one.

Post index:

  1. Creative writing books by great writers: the adventure of writing and living
  2. Books about the craft of storytelling: why Harry Potter is your everyday life
  3. The Woman’s Journey

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