7 Oct 2014

Offline Time From BookWorms & Library Mice

I have to admit that I've been neglecting my blog for some time. Yes. But moving in to another country (from Germany to Ecuador - that was a huuuuge decision), and then moving to another apartment (to the neighbouring block, but still haha) is verrry time consuming and mind exhausting. 

But BookWorms & LibraryMice is still here! With a little time off, soon I will be all into writing about my geeky stuff again :) 

So please be patient! Get some tan, eat a fruit and prepare yourself for more books.

27 Sep 2014

How Everybody Dies in Shakespeare's Tragedies

Throughout his successful career as a playwright, Shakespeare wrote 17 comedies, 10 tragedies, and 10 histories - all that along numerous sonnets of the amount of 154. It goes without saying that tragedies imply killing the main character, or, as it is in case of Shakespeare, multiple characters. And sometimes, it is not the matter of who, but how. Stabbed? Poisoned? Drowned? Strangled? The world of inventive murder is very diverse, so making a proper catalogue is quite a necessary thing - that's exactly what Caitlin S Griffin did. According to her list, Shakespeare usually kills his characters by having them stabbed. Second popular would be poisoning followed by being hanged or beheaded. But it doesn't stop there: sometimes heroes die from a broken heart, lack of sleep, and even grief and shame. And also from eating hot coal (wtf, Portia??).

Some deaths are ridiculous and very inventive. Check them out yourself!
*Timon of Athens, the 10th tragedy of Shakespeare, is not included here

16 Sep 2014

Book Review: Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
Publisher: New Amer Library Classics (2009)
Genre: Realistic fiction
Buy from Amazon
Sinopsis: A great American novel about a young girl who leaves her small hometown in the Midwest to Chicago where she climbs her way up, successfully realizing the American Dream at the cost of sacrificing her humanity.

To begin with, Theodore Dreiser is one of my most favourite authors. He writes in the genre of realistic fiction, which at first glance is as simplistic as it gets. On the contrary, however, it requires vast imagination, incredible talent and big scrupulosity for details. In addition to all that, Dreiser has an ability to emphatize with the main characters yet remaining objective and impartial at the same time, letting us, readers, be the judge. Which, reading Sister Carrie, can be quite difficult as this story is a true double-edged weapon. You can condemn Carrie's actions, labeling them as "immoral". And yet, giving it another thought, taking a closer look at her situation, you wonder whether you too wouldn't choose her choices... 

When reading Sister Carrie, the thing that always amazed me was Dreiser's skill to describe boring little details of the everyday life. Routine, littleness, dullness is suddenly interesting. And thinking together with the main character about how to survive on four and a half dollars per week, how to settle accounts with the baker whom you've been owing money for months, how to pay for rent, where to buy food cheap and how to still look presentable when you are completely drowning into poverty, is everything BUT boring. So I'm sure that, even if you won't like the story itself, you will definitely enjoy the novel's flow and Dreiser's writing style.

The story, however, is very enjoyable, too and, most importantly, requires some soul-searching. It opens with Carrie - a typical material girl. She wants to have lots of shoes and dresses, and she doesn't want to break her back working in a sweatshop to get that. Fortunatelly, almost as soon as she comes to Chicago, she meets Charlie Drouet, the salesperson, who liberates Carrie from financial difficulites and makes her his lover. This "deal" makes Carrie feel guilty and uncomfortable... at first. But when Drouet surrounds her with commodities and she gets a taste of nice clothing, she forgets about her shame and asks more and more from Drouet. And when her lover is suddenly not able to satisfy her appetite, Carrie dumps him for another - Hurstwood, a family man. For Carrie, Hurstwood ruines his marriage, ruins his career, ruins his life and is finally left as a broken man. Meanwhile, Carrie becomes a successful self-made woman, who has everything she ever dreamt of: money, clothing, admirers, public acclaim, her own house...  Dreiser ends the novel with a final paragraph that characterizes her "success":
"Oh Carrie, Carrie! <...> Know, then, that for you is neither surfeit nor content. In you rocking-chair, by your window dreadming, shall you long, alone. In your rocking-chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel."
So are they really worth it, those materialist dreams? This is one of the numerous never-ending questions that Dreiser raises in his novel. 

Is Carrie really a horrible person for using men and living at their expense? What about those men, though - aren't they horrible too for using a young woman's youth for their own pleasure and comfort? Considering that all Carrie's lovers were always older than her and had more life experience, one can argue who really takes advantage of whom.

Is it really wrong to leave your man for another one? Do you really have to stay with a man merely out of gratitude for everything he's done to you, even when the romance is dead and you've become strangers to each other?

Is it really wrong to leave a man, who sacrificed his life for you, but who has then spiritually degraded, stopped taking care of himself, doesn't wish to look for a job and is ready to live at a woman's expense? Coming from work home to a pathetic, peevish man dissapointed in life just because you feel sorry for him? Would you choose that?

Carrie answered "no" to all of these questions, and, as reprehensible as one may find her actions, let's ask ourselves whether we could always remain noble and heroic when life is breaking us down. This is already a different story that begins as soon as the novel ends. 

9 Sep 2014

Happy Birthday, Mr. Tolstoy!

Today, in 1828, was born Leo Tolstoy - one of the greatest writers and philosophers of all time. A master of realistic fiction, Tolstoy was critically acclaimed in his early 20s with the semi-autobiographical trilogy Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth, which are now a must-read at Russian schools.

Tolstoy was anti-government and anti-church, as the authority of both he greatly contested. As a result, he was watched by the Russian secret police most of his life, and, at the end of it, he also got excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church (in 1901).

He was a complicated persona full of paradoxes and extravagant habits. Coming from a noble family (Tolstoy was referred as Count Tolstoy in the society), the writer liked to plough and sweat working hard in the fields among the common people and farmworkers, which constituted a solid slice of then Russian society. Tolstoy tried to understand how 'the soul of a peasant worked' but eventually gave this attempt up. Instead, he started making shoes that he gave as presents to his numerous family members. 

At the age of 18, Tolstoy began writing a diary - a habit he was faithful to his whole life. 
In honour of his birthday, Tolstoy's official web-page made public the rarest of the writer's notes - 55 diary journals, which have been kept within the Tolstoy family all this time, were digitalized so that everybody could have a better idea what kind of a person the writer really was.
You can download them here for free [only in Russian]. 

7 Sep 2014

Writers Who Had Good Taste

When it comes to writers, literary taste is considered to be their most, if not solely, important quality. But when it comes to people whose profession is a writer, it's not only their taste in words that we judge. It's their taste in many other things - manners, eloquence, gallantry, elegance, and, of course, their taste in clothing. After all, how else do you make an impression on people who haven't read your books yet?

1854-1900, Dublin-Paris

First thing that comes to mind when mentioning Wilde's name is his belles lettres, inexhaustible wit and most beautiful style of writing. A true jeweller of words, Oscar Wilde supplied many literary almanacs with famous aphorisms and deep insights into human nature.
It is known that his mother, Jane Francesca Elgee, used to dress little Oscar in girl's clothing - perhaps, to take revenge for having a boy instead of a long-wished girl.

In Oxford, Wilde was always ultra-fashionably dressed, sporting culottes (knee-breeches commonly worn in the late Middle Ages and early Rennaisance by upper-class gentlemen), silk stockings, lemon-coloured gloves, and a waistcoat embroided with flowers. Every piece he wore, however, was chosen with perfected taste of a true dandy. Just like Wilde's writing style, his clothes were always artful, memorable, and elegant.

Oscar loved neckties and neckerchiefs, buttonholes, and jabots. Usually he would always have a cigar or wear a stylish cane. And at winter a coat with a big fur collar was a must.

Oscar Wilde was a true reveller: he loved expensive things, first-sort hotels, restaurants, beautiful people - such as Alfred Douglas, also known as "Bosie". Wilde mercilessly spent his fortune on trying to please the young man, whom he spoilt with expensive gifts and whose every caprice he indulged.

1899-1977, Saint-Petersburg - Montreux

"I'm an American writer, born in Russia, educated in England, where I studied French literature before moving to Germany for fifteen years... My head speaks English, my heart speaks Russian and my ear speaks French." - Vladimir Nabokov
Nabokov's famous phrase clearly characterizes his cosmopolitanism, which was mostly, of course, oblidged by his life circumstances. Born into the family of then-famous polititian, little Volodia got an excellent education at home.

Nabokov loved to read. He swallowed the books in impressively huge portions, and always seemed to be needing more. According to some sources, at his juvenile age Nabokov read about 3000 books in 3-4 years. By 14-15 years Vladimir had read, or re-read, complete works of Tolstoi in Russian as well as all works of Shakespeare in English and Flaubert in French. 

The light shade of aristocratism cultivated in Nabokov´s childhood also extended to his dressing, which, however, was always well-balanced without any kitchy details. Nabokov loved tweed jackets in light or dark colours, classic shirts and tennis outfits. The random visitors of Swiss forests, where the writer used to spend most of his spare time hunting for butterflies, were always amazed at this elderly but prompt and lively man wearing a cap and golf socks, running about among the thickets with a butterfly net.

Many people considered Nabokov to be lofty and arrogant mostly due to his elegant manner of speaking and ridiculously extensive vocabulary. And indeed, some of his novels are a hard nut to crack. In reality, however, Nabokov was a very friendly and cheerful person with a contagious laughter of a child. A child who was always wearing a superb, excellent-fitting suit.

Nabokov's suit Nielsen and Cie

Shoes Bata Goodyear

Writer's pince-nez and etui

1915-2005, New York - Connecticut

There is an opinion that Arthur Miller (not to confuse with Henry Miller) owes his fame to his even more famous wife - Marilyn Monroe. They were married for 4 years, and, of course, this marriage became the most examplary and immaculate in the U.S. society of the 20th century. 

He - a macho and an intellectual, supplying theatrical world with first-rate plays. She - the most gorgeous woman of her time. At the first glance, their relationship seemed quite unusual. It is known that it took Marilyn a year to win Miller over  - a tall, unarguably handsome and charismatic man, always with a pipe or a cigar in his mouth. The writer never stood out for being an eccentric in clothing: he preferred wearing classic suits, usually of white or black colours.

Miller saw Monroe as a serious dramatic actress, rather than another blond bimbo, as most people did. Magazine covers, Hollywood smiles on the photographs and a generally vanilla image of the couple was an antipode of their real relationship. Marilyn was difficult to handle - a sweetheart in the morning, by evening she used to turn into a demonic creature gulping down tons of sleeping pills. 

"Thanks" to Marilyn, for quite some time Miller lost his inspiration and ability to write - the owner of the myriad of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize (for Death of a Salesman), the author of most popular plays couldn't produce a single line. Nevertheless, Milled is considered to be one of the most productive writers of the 20th century. 

1835-1910, Missouri-Connecticut

"What can be more depressing than the somber black which custom requires men to wear upon state occasions? A group of men in evening clothes looks like a flock of crows and is just about as inspiring." - Mark Twain
In 1906 Twain suddenly began wearing exclusively white. But it seemed so perfect an image for him, that now it is impossible to imagine Mark Twain wearing any other colour.
The famous writer gave hygiene as his reason for preferring white - which was either a way of stirring up the attention of the society, or senile extravaganza. Or both.

On formal occasions, Twain would wear a suit of white broadcloth, "as immaculate as newly fallen snow", white enameled leather shoes, the coat, lined throughout with white silk, white velvet collar, white trousers with a white silk braid down the outside seams, and a huge white mane of hair instead of a hat. During the day, he preferred a light flannel suit - also white, of course.

It was only four years before his death when Mark Twain publicly announced that he would henceforward wear white because it corresponded to the original costume of one of the characters invented by him, Adam (Extracts from Adam's Diary). Shortly after his seventieth birthday, he also declared that he was old enough to wear whatever he desired.

"There is absolutely no comfortable and delightful and pleasant costume but the human skin. That, however, is impossible. But when you are seventy-one years old you may at least be pardoned for dressing as you please." - Mark Twain

30 Aug 2014

Chip Kidd: Designing Books Is No Laughing Matter. OK, It Is

I just came across a wonderful mini-lecture about book design delivered by Chip Kidd.
A real book designer, a real artist of books should always remember that he shapes a form of a text, which is hidden inside the book. And this form has to be coherent and, most importantly, functional in each and every case.

If you're interested in book design - and also if you're not - watch this:

Here are Kidd's most famous books jackets. They are so so cool that it feels like you're missing something using Kindle. 

Do you recognize some of the designs?

27 Aug 2014

Dining With Oscar Wilde

Source: Pinterest

Oscar Wilde was not only a poet, playwright, and famous English wit. He was also a great expert on food and wine. He loved both, and if you read his plays carefully, you can find out that this love to delicacies runs through almost all of his works. From "reckless extravagance" of cucumber sandwiches in The Importance of Being Earnest to the claiming the "partaking of two luncheons in one day would not be liberty. It would be license."

Of course, many of these memorable quips and aphorisms were part of his fictional heroes. But many also attributed to his most famous character: himself.

"When I am in trouble, eating is the only thing that concoles me. Indeed, when I am really in great trouble... I refuse everything except food and drink."
Algernon Moncrieff The Importance of Being Earnest, Act 2 (1895) 

Wilde was appreciated worldwide for his polish phrases, fresh analogies and poetic ingenuity. He managed to express even the most mundane into smart and sharp insights that are quoted until this point.
"A man who can dominate a London dinner-table can dominate the world."
Lord Illingworth,  A Woman of No Importance, Act 3 (1893)
"After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations."
Lady Caroline, A Woman of No Importance, Act 2 (1893)

"Now I know that all men are monsters [...] The only thing to do is to feed the wretches well. A good cook does wonders."
Duchess of Berwick, Lady Windermere's Fan (1893) 

Wilde's favourite drink was iced champagne, as he confessed during the testimony on his libel trial. In fact, the famous dandy of literature was quite obsessed about champagne. Wilde would drink champagne "at intervals" throughout his "normal" day and also gave elaborate champagne dinners. As well as pre-dinners and post-dinners. But that was at his best times. On the worst days of his imprisonment, Wilde could still order cases of his favourite 1874 Perrier-Jouёt straight to his cell.

- Iced champagne is a favourite drink of mine - strongly against my doctor's orders.
- Never mind your doctor's oders, sir?
- I never do... 
(From the cross-examination by Queenberry's defence attorney, Edward Carson)

Additionally, Wilde's aesthetic standpoint on life demanded meals to be beautifully presented. In general, food played a strong role in many aspects if Wilde's life and his writing. Many Wilde's biographers say, though, that writer's appreciation for splendid dining - emphasized so much in De Profundis - clearly had a destructive effect on him. But at least one can say that, apart from living big, loving big, and writing big, Oscar Wilde ate big, too. 
"I can't stand people who do not take food seriously." - Oscar Wilde

22 Aug 2014

Vintage Photos: Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov was not only a famous writer, but also a lepidopterist - a person who studies or collects butterflies and moths. Throughout his life, Nabokov collected around 4 000 specimens of butterflies, and drew millions and billions of beautiful pictures of the insects in the books he gave to his wife, Vera, and their son, Dmitry. That's how he expressed his sentimental emotions towards the people he deeply loved.

Author Vladimir Nabokov and his wife Vera chasing butterflies.

20 Aug 2014

Wednesday Writers

In 1862 Victor Marie Hugo wanted to find out public's reaction on his recently published novel Les Miserables, so he sent a telegramme to his publisher, which consisted of solely a symbol - "?". Likewise, the publisher also responded with a symbol - "!". This was, probably, the shortest correspondence in history.

Title page of the original, written copy
of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.
Source: Pinterest

18 Aug 2014

Bats In The Libraries

In the series World's Most Beautiful Libraries, which I started to run in this blog,  I once mentioned Marfa Palace Library. The library is famous not only for its beauty, but also for the little creatures that inhabit its dark corners, hunt insects at night, and are, apparently, book-friendly.

I'm talking about bats.

In a book The Library: A World History, its author James Campbell notices two libraries, Marfa Palace Library and Biblioteca Joanina (both, oddly, located in Portugal), that have been a welcoming home for books and bats since 18th century. During the day, these bats, less than 2.5 cm long, hide behind the "elaborate rococo bookcases" that they leave at night to kill insects, which would otherwise feast on the libraries' books.

However, the service for such pest control has its drawbacks, too: the bats, as Campbell informed The Boston Globe, "leave a thin layes of dropping over everything. So each morning the floors have to be thoroughly cleaned... and the furniture has to be covered at night."

I guess another drawback would be those poor, scarred to death humans, attacked by a colony of bats that suddenly got confused between book worms and bookworms.

Be careful in a library - it's more dangerous than you think!

Source: Pinterest

12 Aug 2014

Writers That Were Addicted to Coffee

The muse is always a serious subject for writers. It's hard to find one's writing momentum, but it's even harder to sustain it. So hip hip hooray to coffee - a thing that brings together all writers and helps them to 'stay tuned'. Caffeine is a drug with minimal drawbacks and powerful effects - it aids focus and attention, wards off sleepiness and tiredness, and speeds the refresh rate on new ideas. For many writers, coffee is a gateway to the creative mood. For example...

1. They say that Honore de Balzac used to drink enourmous amount of coffee - 50 cups a day - to maintain his crazy lifestyle. During the work periods, Balzac used to wake up at 1 a.m., write for seven hours, then take a 1,5 h nap at 8 a.m., then, from 9:30 until 4 he would work again - drinking cup after cup of black coffee. He wrote himself:
"As soon as coffee is in your stomach, there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move... smiles arise, the paper is covered. Coffee is your ally and writing ceases to be a struggle."
2. Søren Kierkegaard, famous Danish writer and philosopher, had his own coffee ritual. He poured sugar into a coffee cup until it was piled up above the rim. Next he would add an incredibly strong, black coffee to slowly dissolve the white pyramid of sugar. Then Kierkegaard would gulp everything down in one go. 

3. Voltaire, apparently, was just a bit less frenzy about coffee than Balzac - only 30 or 40 cups of coffee every day (mixed with chocolate, though).

4. Gertrude Stein was also a huge fan of coffee. According to herself, coffee "is a lot more than just a drink; it's something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup."

5. Benjamin Franklin loved coffee for its little side effects. He said: "Among the numerous luxuries of the table... coffee may be considered as one of the most valuable. It excites cheerfulness without intoxication; and the pleasing flow of spirits which it occasions... is never followed by sadness, languor or debility."

6. Alexander Pope enjoyed his cup of coffee before writing, too. He explained that is made him "see through things with half-shut eyes."

7. Jean Jacques Rousseau sang dithyrambs to the smell of coffee, which he adored: "Ah, that is a perfume in which I delight; when they roast coffee near my house, I hasten to open the door to take in all the aroma."

8. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was also a coffee enthusiast.

9. Jonathan Swift admitted that coffee was his 'fuel' that enabled him to write. He said: "The best Maxim I know in this life is to drink your Coffee when you can and, when you cannot, to be easy without it. While you continue to be splenetic, count upon it I will always preach. Thus much I sympathize with you that I am not cheerful enough to write, for I believe Coffe once a week is necessary to that."

10. Dave Barry, a contemporary American author and columnist: "It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity."

Coffee is a writer's best friend. Period.
And if you're merely a reader, you can still be good friends with coffee. Because, as famously declared Anthony Throllope, what can be more luxurious than a book and a cup of coffee? Nothing. Period.

10 Aug 2014

World's Most Beautiful Libraries: Part 2

Expanding the list of the most beautiful libraries in the world, here're five more that every bookworm should visit (first part can be found here).

1. Austrian National Library in Vienna, Austria
This structure was built by Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach between 1723 and 1735, according to a design by his father, Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, who was also an architect. Both names represent the highest quality in architecture. The Grand Hall of the National Library, which is seen here, is said to be the most beautiful library room in the whole world. 

2. Admont Abbey Library in Admont, Austria.
The library belongs to a Benedictine monastery located on the Enns River in the town of Admont, Austria. Built in 1776, it is the second largest monastic library in the world (after the one in Marfa, Portufal). 

3. Abbey Library of Saint Gall in St. Gallen, Switzerland.
The oldest library in Switzerland (also, one of the richest in the medieval world) holds about 160 000 volumes. The manuscript of the famous Song of the Nibelungs is kept there.

4. Biblioteca Joanina in Coimbra, Portugal
The library belongs to the University of Coimbra - one of the oldest in Europe and the oldest academic institution in the Portugese-speaking world. The library was build in the 18th century and represents one of the finest examples of Baroque. It contains about 250 000 volumes, namely works of medicine, geography, history, humanistic studies, science, civil and canon law, philosophy, theology, and hardly any fiction.

5. Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland
The library of Trinity College and the University of Dublin. Built in 1592, it houses the famous Book of Kells that is 1000 years old. 

2 Aug 2014

Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

First edition, July 1890
Oscar Wilde's only novel has by now become a very mainstream book. People on the Internet have quoted it so mercilessly, that there's hardly anything left from it at this point. Most know what the story is about; nearly all have seen the relatively recent film adaptaion starring Ben Barns (it's horrible, by the way); an everyone, I'm sure of it, once toiled at "art for art's sake"-essay for an English class at school. Portrait of Dorian Gray is one of those must reads that really is one. And it's not for all the topics that Wilde raises in this work and that excite our soul, open our eyes and give us so much food for thought. It's for the language that Dorian Gray is written in - utter, an indisputable masterpiece.

Only when reading this novel, I indeed felt grateful for knowing English. Chained to pages, I read slowly, languidly, imagining characters' voices in my head, putting the book aside once in a while in order to ponder over the wisdoms and theories of Lord Henry - a "collector" of beaufy and innocence that he perceives as merely a glass of wine needed to be drunk. I was, on the other hand, taking little sips, leisurely enjoying the story that was so entailing and so horrifying at the same time. Watching somebody slowly die is a hypnotizing thing indeed, especially if it happens as horridly beautiful as in the case of Dorian. After all, who's to say that his life wasn't beautiful? He surrounded it with art, and he embodied it. His life was a destructive whirlwind of pleasures but, as masterfully shown by Wilde, satisfying them causes more hunger than satiation. Greed for beauty and greed for aesthetic satisfaction does not praise but, rather, belittles the man. And there's no better way to illustrate this than in Wilde's perfect, magical language which by itself is real art. It's so witty, isn't it? I mean, to say "All art is quite useless" but in the most artistic way possible.

21 Jul 2014

Best Book Covers: Part 1

It's always nice to be holding a good book in your hands. Like Catcher in the Rye. But it's even nicer if the book has a great cover as, in my opinion, it adds so much to the experience of reading!

So I decided to start tracing best book covers that are out there - from that that are just 'cool' to those that are considered iconic at this point.

I'll start with my first list of the most famous book covers of all times. And indeed, I can't argues with that - without ever having any of the following editions, I easily recognize them.

Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. The cover was designed for the book's first edition in 1951 by E. Michael Mitchell, an illustrator and Salinger's friend. It is one of the most recognized book covers. The first edition with the author's autograph is considered to be the rarest bibliophilic artifact. 

A Farewell to Arms by E. Hemingway. This is the first edition, 1929. The design was made on a jacket and the book itself looked way simpler.   
Another novel by E. Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises, also known as Fiesta. This is the cover for the first edition (1926). As you can see, both covers were design in the style of art nouveau.

Lewis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland. This book is famous for its creative covers and also for having billions and billions of them. This particular one is from 1900-1901, but I personally like this by H. Altemus Company (1895) more.
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare. The design of the cover was made by a famous illustrator Paul Hogarth who worked a lot with Pinguin. This interpretation of his of a classical shakespearean comedy is considered quite rare. 

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. Penguin always has awesome ideas for book covers (this one is from Signet Classics Series), and sometimes, they say, they steal those ideas. Or other steal from them, who knows. Look at this edition of The Great Gatsby from Compact Books (a British publishing house), and compare the two covers yourself.
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