I've got a couple reviews coming down the pipe at Adventures in SciFi Publishing and at least one on here. Here's another entry in Brief Thoughts until then.
If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino
Calvino quickly became one of my favorite authors after I read Invisible Cities and Cosmicomics. This was his first novel that I read, and I love it as much as his short stories.
The book is told in the second person for the most part. You, the Reader, are tying to read Italo Calvino's new novel If on a winter's night a traveler. You discover your copy is defective and exchange it at the book store. You find that your replacement copy is actually an entirely different novel. You set out to find the complete novels and stumble on an international book conspiracy made up of duplicitous translators, overzealous academics and a beautiful fellow reader that you fall in love with.
This is one of the most readable "postmodern" books that I've read. A lot of these types of books intentionally alienate and confuse the reader. This one's not much different, but the main story is a straightforward enough thriller that it keeps things grounded. It's pretty funny too.
The most interesting thing I've found in the book was the dynamic of reading as a form of personal enjoyment vs literature as a social and political force. While Calvino makes fun of the latter with the goofy academic characters, he doesn't dismiss it altogether. It's clear, though, that Calvino believes that literature is an individual experience to the reader, and that should be primary above sociopolitical considerations.
As he demonstrates in this very novel, it's very possible to create books that work to satisfy the reader as an individual without being completely asocial, apolitical or amoral. Being this is a novel about reading, the fact that people are not free to read as they please in many countries comes into play. The later chapters mock censorship of literature without being didactic or preachy
If you haven't read anything by Italo Calvino, you're missing out on a lot. This clever novel is as good a place as any to start with him.
Buy If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino here.
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
I randomly picked up this book without knowing much about it or Hermann Hesse, but I'm glad I did. This is a beautiful novel.
The story is about the spiritual journey of an Indian with the same name as the Buddha, who he meets along the way. He finds himself taken by the Buddha's teachings, but can't bring himself to become his disciple. He believes that in order to fully grasp this knowledge, he has to learn it himself as the Buddha did.
I'm hardly an expert on Buddhism. The only things I know about it comes from a few articles and Osamu Tezuka's Buddha series. This novel conveys the basic teachings of it (to my knowledge) very well, however. In an very poetic way too.
Even people who don't gravitate to Buddhist teachings will get a lot out of this book. It packs a lot of emotions in it's short length (only 122 pages in my New Directions edition). The basic lesson that true wisdom can only come through thinking for one's self is probably the most important theme in the work. It sounds trite, but I've never seen it presented so well.
This is a book who's beauty and importance I don't think I can properly convey. Highly recommended.
Buy Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse here.