Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

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

Review: Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD.

I admit, this book surprised me. It didn’t leave me feeling pleasant, or hopeful, or happy. It’s by no means a happy ending, and I understand now all those bad reviews I’d seen on Goodreads (I didn’t read them before to avoid spoilers, but couldn’t help looking at the number of stars). Honestly, the only complaint you can have about this book is that it’s too realistic. In real life, not everyone who is important to you gets away unhurt. Wonderful, talented and special people die everyday in the most useless, worthless kinds of ways. People try to control you, and succeed, in a myriad of ways, specially if you happen to be important or famous. Sometimes there is no way to break free without causing even more damage to others and yourself. And in real life, war never leads to happy endings. That’s just the way it is. It’s complicated, this life thing.

And Katniss? I admit she annoyed me in the other books, but on this one, she is so fleshed out that she becomes one of the most realistic characters I’ve ever read about. I’ve seen people complain she is whiny and can’t seem to do anything without being pushed to do it. But let’s face it. She’s a sixteen year-old girl. A teenager. She’s still growing up and hasn’t had time to learn how to deal with anything she’s been through. And she goes through a lot. It’s all very nice and well to complain about her, but how many of you would go even through a fraction of what she did and come out ok? Make an effort to imagine it, to feel it. What kind of person would you be if you had lost a parent and gone hungry with a depressed mother at the age of 11? If you had been forced to kill other teenagers at the age of 16 for the pleasure of others? If you had seen your city reduced to rubble? If you had had your body burned by acid, pierced by arrows, etc.? If you had seen your friends beaten to a pulp while trying to protect you? If you had seen all your efforts to wrestle back control of your life thwarted by people with more power than you, who seem to control the fate of everyone around you? I could go on, but really? At sixteen, there’s no way you can deal with it and come out unscathed. Hell, maybe not even as an adult, but definitely not while you’re still trying to figure out who you are.

So even though this book was rather painful to read, it was one of the most honest and raw accounts of first-hand war (even a futuristic one) I’ve read in fiction. Highly recommended.

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

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

Review: I’ve seen many movies that were inspired by Philip K. Dick’s stories, but had never actually read one of them. That will definitely change now that I’ve read this book. Once I finished I immediately felt like getting into another story like this, one that defies and faces the future and presents its possibilities in a chillingly believable way.

It’s sometime in the future and Earth has been ravaged by nuclear war. The animals are all but extinct, and most humans have emigrated to other worlds to escape the radioactive air that eats away at them and turns them into “specials” (aka, degenerates). Androids that are virtually indistinguishable from humans are made for slave labour, despised and given no rights because they are machines, even though they are programmed to act and “feel” like human beings. The only thing they cannot feel is empathy, which has become so important that a religion has been founded on it. Humans are empathic to each other, and specially animals – everyone is expected to care for a real animal, but those who cannot afford it buy an electric replica. Yet this empathy isn’t extended to androids, who are promptly killed if they escape the colonies and try to come to Earth. This job is done by the bounty hunters.

So that’s the story. But this book delves deep into many issues. What is empathy, and why do humans show it to each other and to animals (and even to electric animals!) but not to electric humans, aka androids? What’s the difference between a human brain and a brain programmed to work like a human’s? What is a human being, then?

This is an amazing book, one I can hardly believe was written so long ago. I recommend it to everyone.

How to Get a Job in a Museum or Art Gallery by Allison Baverstock

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

Review: A thorough and sobering look at the business of museums and galleries and what it is really like working in this field. The art world sometimes feels like a confusing place, and it’s hard to plan a career because nobody seems to have followed the same route to where they are, erroneously leading one to think that everything depends on luck. So it’s refreshing to read a practical study, with interviews and case studies from people in the field.

The only negative point is that it’s very UK centric, but I guess that’s to be expected. All in all, a very useful read, highly recommended if you’re starting out.

The Locals’ Guide to Edinburgh by Owen O’Leary and Claudia Monteiro

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

Review: This month, I went to Scotland for the first time. I was only there for a week, but in all honesty, if I could I wouldn’t have left. I’ve traveled to many places in the world but this is the first time I’ve felt so strongly about a place. Edinburgh is the city of my dreams. I heartily recommend going there to everyone, no matter where you’re from.

Since I prefer to visit places by exploring and meeting locals rather than following tourist routes, I went into a book store searching for a different kind of guide. I’m really glad I found this one. It’s a beautifully designed book written by people who live in the city, and features recommendations that go far beyond the obvious. It’s made me want to go back even more, and I actually didn’t want this book to end, because delving into it felt like being back in the city.

Recommended!

Dustcovers: The Collected Sandman Covers 1989-1996 by Dave McKean

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

Review: A book about the wonderful work of Dave McKean for the Sandman comics. There really isn’t much else to say – if you love Dave McKean’s artwork you will love this book. Each cover has a story, and all the little details will have you stare at the images for a long time. It’s interesting to see how his work evolved over the years, and the commentary from both the artist and Neil Gaiman (who also wrote a short story for the book) is funny and insightful.

Definitely worth it if you’re a Sandman fan. If you’re not, I’m sure you’ll be interested in checking it out after you read this book.

Nudez by Giorgio Agamben

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

Review: I first heard of Giorgio Agamben during an art criticism class. We were discussing the definition of contemporary art, and the essay in this book come up, which piqued my interest about it.

I was pleasantly surprised with this book. It’s a collection of essays on varied topics, from nudity (which gives the book its title), to Kafka, to identification methods and their influence in people. All of them were very interesting and mentioned facts and thoughts that I hadn’t heard of or considered before.

Highly recommended as a thought provoking book.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

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

Review: After reading this I realized one thing. It is much easier to write a review about a book you didn’t like than about one that deeply touched you.

For once I’m not going to describe the plot, since I can’t think of a way to do it without over simplifying it. Suffice to say that “Life of Pi” may not be for everyone – it’s not, after all, just a simple story, and at times it’s closer to philosophy than fiction – but in the right state of mind, it can be breathtaking. It certainly was for me.

This book is about transformation, faith, humanity, survival. The writing is beautiful, equal parts crude and delicate. I honestly can’t think of anything else to say other than “read with an open mind”. Highly recommended.