Como Elaborar uma Dissertação de Mestrado by Felipa Lopes dos Reis

Rating: * (1 out of 5)

Review: This was a huge disappointment. The writing is redundant and most of the themes aren’t well explained. I’d recommend Umberto Eco’s book “Como se Faz uma Tese em Ciências Humanas” instead.

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Como se Faz uma Tese em Ciências Humanas by Umberto Eco

Rating: **** (4 out of 5)

Review: I’m currently enrolled in a Master’s program and about to start working on my thesis in Museum Studies. Since I used to be a Medicine student, I’m more familiar with scientific research, so I wanted a book that was more focused on other kinds of works. This one by Umberto Eco seems to be regarded as the authority in the matter.

It was a nice read (even if the author can seem rather unorthodox at times) and overall quite useful. I read an older edition so the research chapters are painfully dated (no internet back in those days), but I don’t mind because it’s helpful to know what to do in those cases when the library you want to use doesn’t have a completely digitalized catalog.

Overall, useful, specially if you’re, like me, just starting out.

Nada de Melancolia by Pedro Mexia

Rating: *** (3 out of 5)

Review: This book is only available in Portuguese.

Graças à Feira do Livro do Porto, posso finalmente começar a cumprir a minha resolução de ler mais livros de escritores portugueses. Como não faz muito sentido escrever reviews em inglês de livros que só existem em português, e como anos a fio a escrever maioritariamente em inglês parecem ter prejudicado a minha capacidade de me expressar na minha língua nativa, decidi começar a escrever mais em português.

Este livro reúne um conjunto de crónicas de Pedro Mexia publicadas na revista NS. A escrita de Pedro Mexia é lúcida e económica, com um tom característicamente português de melancolia, um pessimismo latente de alguém desiludido e ao mesmo tempo fascinado pela vida.

As crónicas, pessoais e nostálgicas, tratam assuntos tão diversos como música, cinema, relacionamentos e experiências de vida. Gostei particularmente de “Os Filisteus”, dedicado àqueles que, detestando ler bons livros ou ver bons filmes (algo que por si só não é tão problemático assim), procuram provar a sua superioridade sobre os que gostam e que apelidam constantemente de “pseudo-intelectuais”.

Infelizmente, a maioria das crónicas pareceu-me excessivamente curta para o potencial de cada ideia, algo compreensível tendo em conta o medium para o qual foram escritas, mas que se torna incomodativo em formato de livro. Ainda ssim, foi uma boa introdução ao trabalho deste escritor, e fiquei com curiosidade para ler mais.

Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton

Rating: **** (4 out of 5)

Review: In the world that surrounds us, there are many smaller “worlds” that regular people don’t usually have access to. Some, like the medical or forensic experts world, are explored through popular TV shows and mass media culture, so that the general population, not exactly being a part of it, still feels like they have some access and knowledge of it (even if it is of a highly romanticized, flawed and fictionalized account). Such a thing doesn’t happen with the art world, the internal workings of which remain virtually shut off from outsiders (with a few exceptions).

Sarah Thornton, the author, is a sociologist who adopts a “cat on the prowl” method rather than a “fly on the wall” one, that is, she immerses herself in the world she is studying, searching for situations and exploring them to their full potential. The access she obtains is remarkable, with some of the major players in the art world as interviewees, and the reporting of a few events that few people ever get to be a part of. This book is divided into seven parts, each depicting “a day” in a different part of the art world: the Auction, the Crit, the Fair, the Prize, the Magazine, the Studio Visit and the Biennale.

I bought this book because, even though I’m technically a part of the art world she describes (I’m taking a Master’s degree in Museum and Curatorial studies), there are still a few parts of it that are a mystery to me. The art world is rather schizophrenic, with intense contrasts and polarized beliefs and actions, and the book does a great job presenting this: for example, we have the very rich people who believe art is a commodity versus very poor art students who abhor words like creativity and never speak about money. There’s a delicate balancing of these conflicting beliefs, and it’s fascinating to see the mechanics behind that balancing.

However, I have to say that the tone of this book was one of exaggeration. In all these stories, the volume is turned up high, and the people described and their actions seem at times so extreme that I  started to wonder if they were not caricatures of themselves. It makes it seem like there is no place in the art world for balanced human beings or actions. This is far from the truth (again, I speak from my own personal experience); this probably happens because it’s much more interesting to show the extremes than to make space in the book for less sensational situations.

There was also a lot of name-dropping, a few of which weren’t familiar to me, so I read this with a search engine in front of me. I actually loved that, since I like learning about new artists and critics, but I imagine that it can get tiresome for some people.

All in all, this is a fascinating book if you’re interested in the mechanics of the art world, with an easy to read (but still interesting) language, based on a remarkable research work. Definitely worth it.

It took me a long time to finally finish this, seems like life got in the way of reading this year. 2010 is almost over and I haven’t reached 50 books yet, let alone my initial goal of reading 100 books! Here’s to hoping 2011 will be a better year for reading (and everything else, for that matter). Right now I’m reading What Makes a Great Exhibition?, edited by Paula Marincola.

On Writing by Stephen King

Rating: **** (4 out of 5)

Background: In my search for books about writing, this one came up virtually everywhere. I’ve read a few of Stephen King’s books, and I have a mixed opinion of them, but overall I think he’s a great storyteller (one just has to look at how many of his stories turned into truly influential movies!). So it was with curiosity that I set out to read this one.

Review: The author starts by describing episodes of his life that were relevant to his eventual development as a writer, and it ends with King recounting an accident he was involved in while writing this book, in which he was almost killed by a wandering van. In this sense, the book feels like a memoir, with a section on the nuts and bolts of writing in between. This actually works quite well, since everything is written in the same light and funny language which makes the reader feel comfortable, sort of like talking to an old friend who just happens to be Stephen King.

Even though I bought this for the section about writing, I found myself enjoying the memoir parts more. It’s fascinating to see how a specific life experience can lead someone to become what you know them to be, and in that sense this book is invaluable. King writes as if he has nothing to hide, as if he doesn’t care what people will say. And some of his life experiences are really interesting. I found the description of his time working at a laundry, washing hospital sheets, particularly gruesome.

His advice for writers is very much to the point, and mostly makes perfect sense. Good writing has no formulas, and it’s subjective enough to leave room for interpretation, but some things are obvious, like his first advice to “Read a lot, write a lot”, or, the one I found most useful for me personally:

The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.

However, there were a lot of things I just didn’t see eye to eye with the author – which is actually perfectly okay with me, since if I agreed with everything I would probably end up writing things that were too similar to his style. Still, this was a very useful read, not just because it was funny and entertaining, but also because it showed a glimpse into the mind of one of the best storytellers alive today.

What’s Next: When I bought this one I also got a couple of others about writing, and this book gives a few others to check out. But reading this mostly made me want to read fiction… And write!

I haven’t decided yet what to read next… My to-read pile is getting dangerously high, which means I have far too many options at the moment – a great problem to have.