Book impression: “Scott Amundsen – Wettlauf zum Pol” by Kåre Holt

After a long hiatus I read a new book, found at the give&take shelf in my city.

Book cover – source: https://www.antikvariatsteiner.sk/

I have read some of the diaries and summaries of both expeditions, so there was no suspense for me, but I was interested in this book just the same. Holt took first-hand reports of both expeditions and made a side-by-side narration that felt credible and that did create an almost cinematic suspense.

I started the book with a vague worry that it would sound heroic and epic, which would have told more about the narrator than the expeditions themselves. The first chapter dispersed that worry right away, painting a portrait of Amundsen that was not exclusively about his courage, determination, and other necessary qualities for the expedition in that absolutely inhospitable continent. Somehow it managed to make statements that didn’t feel like bringing arguments for a specific point, and that was helpful for me, because it made me feel allowed to keep all information in focus. The following chapter about Scott was similarly somehow mixed. The whole book kept that non-filter / non-focus in a way that made it sound credible – in a way that I will not be able to double-check though, so I will not say that it is an accurate depiction.

As a difference from my other reads about both expeditions, this book is definitely shorter, so there had to be some selection from the full range of sources. Though, as for the portraits of the expeditions’ leaders, there was an overall impression of concreteness, down to the ugliest details – not the dangers and disagreements, but the difficulty in traveling by sea on overloaded ships, getting water for drinking when out on the ice, keeping themselves clean and dry (as good as impossible), on top of the most mundane logistic/transport/food issues.

I got slower and slower in reading the book, as it narrated the slow walk to death of Scott’s polar team. Even Amundsen’s return and celebration was rendered as a mix of feelings, reactions, details. I needed a couple days to emerge from the intense feelings woken up by the book.

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2022 knits

As my last post of 2022 I wish to share the overview of this year’s crafting, mostly knitting with some crochet items. This activity makes me particularly happy and proud, because it calms me, progresses slowly but visibly, and very importantly, progress is stable. I learned a few new techniques and gifted some items to friends. I made wearables that properly fit me and are comfortable.

For 2023 I want to keep knitting and crocheting, and have many projects in my queue already.

So, goodbye 2022, wishing you all a great start in the new year!

Book impression: “Nonluoghi” by Marc Augé

I found this book at the Italian bookstore while I was scanning the shelves for something that would somehow bring light on a topic I am familiar with, but not knowledgeable. As a former frequent traveller, the cover with the airport symbols caught my eye. I started reading it at a quick pace, then stopped and started over, equipped with a higlighter and a pencil, in a more study-like mode. It is a short text but it contains a lot of starting points for further analysis, reflection, observation, thought.

As I finished the book I found it intriguingly close to Calvino’s “Le città invisibili”, as both see the city (and per extension the world) as a mix of socially meaningful locations, impersonal places, traces of the past, people both as individuals and more or less part of the society. Maybe in the future I would read both books again, to pick up the cities in Calvino’s book and link them to the relevant part of Augé’s text.

While looking for links about the author I found this interview, held twenty years after the publication of this book. I listened to it today, enjoying the dual French-Italian quiet voices not less than a deeper, more philosophical, more symbolic view of the non-place – a place that is more a blank canvas and is seen as a crucial component of the globalisation process.

For further reading I would suggest to start with Marc Augé’s Wikipedia page and follow links. The French version has a longer bibliography, while the English version has more about his career and the development of his theoretical apparatus.

I’m sorry that such an intense book is not really shining in my short post, but I recognise that it left me with a sense of wonder, of “OK, I need to reset many of my opinions on so many things”, so it actually cleaned up space in my head – which is refreshing and sometimes necessary.

Book impression: “In nessun modo ancora”, Samuel Beckett

I initially gave this post the title “Book review” but there is not enough review to justify it, so I preferred the term “impression”.

This book is the Italian translation of Nohow On, and was lended to me by a very good friend. I usually read books entirely, including introductions and interpretations, but this time I skipped them and went directly for the text. The first novel, Company, first disoriented me then captivated me and I read it in one sitting. I assumed that the text was meant to be read, and therefore it would be written in such a way that thoughts could be followed by other people; instead, it seemed the full recording of thoughts formed into the brain, a sort of “raw data” version of a book. Surprisingly, I found that form extremely understandable, probably more than the potential revised form – and likely the introduction, that I haven’t read yet (sorry). I was led to analyse, think, smile, laugh, read again to appreciate every word. I read the following two prose pieces but I was not really focused and they were written in a slightly different form, so I will need to read them again.

Company sounded to me like a victory against revisions to a text and implicitely to thoughts. In school I had mixed feelings about someone else telling me “look, your text lacks clarity, you should change these parts, explain these ones better, remove that paragraph” because I didn’t feel that a third person could check if my text matched my own thoughts (in which case I would have accepted corrections that made the text a truer expression of my thoughts) and the corrections seemed to add their touch, their need for clarity, in my own words. My reactions got worse when I arrived to the point of writing scientific articles, because revisions tended to make the text less clear to me, the author, and that would have been ridiculous! I later kept writing my thoughts in a diary and started this blog. I don’t edit posts unless there is a mistake or a follow-up that I want to link to. I write only when the text has a clear structure in my mind, and consider it a snapshot rather than an encyclopedia entry – therefore, it represents my thoughts about something in that moment, and are not supposed to be edited afterwards, only connected to other posts.

On the other hand, there is text that I write as part of documentation or news items, for example OSM Weekly News. In that case the focus is on the tool/service that needs documentation, or the contents of the news items. I am not going to treat that text as my own thoughts, quite the contrary: I see myself as an ambassador for the tool/service/news item, so I am more than open to comments and review that get the text as true and clear as possible.

Apologies to Samuel Beckett for the minimal comment about his work. Next review will be a proper one 🙂 stay tuned!

Book review: “La délicatesse” by David Foenkinos

I have read this book last week, and I must say I struggled to finish it, still finding many interesting points along the story. The book has been adapted to a film and has been a big success in France. Still, I found that the characters shared many thought processes and action patterns, and it made them unrealistically similar in my eyes, despite being women, men, of different origins and living in different contexts. I found that some of the scenes were resolved too quickly for my needs, with a spectacular, film-like action, but that left me with open questions. I liked the ending the most, and some non obvious plot developments.

I am more puzzled by my reaction to the book, rather than by the actual content. I haven’t read a novel since a long time, and it felt odd to be in a story generated by the mind of another person. I feel that my review is harsh and that I missed the many inspiring points, but at the moment they are not accessible to me. That’s why I wish to recommend the book anyway and welcome you to write your impressions in the comments!

Book review: “L’Annonce” by Marie-Hélène Lafon

As usual, I picked this book from my meighborhood’s public library and I have read it in a couple days. I sank in the fluent French prose like in a calm lake, and I let myself be carried slowly around. It’s the story of several people in French countryside, I felt the cautious approach of the newcomers, the many wordless statements and the silences among the characters. There was no obvious outcome and not even a clear progress, no heroes, no leaders, no big programs. Things happen, thoughts get deep and feelings transform with time. Little things matter. Nature, animals and weather dictate how and when people can move and work, merciless but full of force and life.

I don’t think I can say more, this is my heartfelt recommendation 🙂 I’ll be looking for more books by Marie-Hélène Lafon and will definitely review them, stay tuned!

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Book recommendation: “The Capital” by Thomas Piketty

It took many months, but today I finally finished reading this book:

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I read it in Italian, as I borrowed it from a friend. The first pages sounded very French in the structure of sentences and maybe even the way in which the topics were presented to the reader. After this initial moment of curious disorientation, I settled in and continued reading, sometimes only a few pages per session, sometimes longer bouts. I took care to pay attention to every component of the discussion, as the topic is extremely broad and unfamiliar to me. Thanks to a simple prose, however, I didn’t have notable difficulties in following Piketty’s explanations, and I’m going to recommend this book to who has interest in the topic, regardless of their previous knowledge. I’m sure that who is new to economics would do like me, that is reading the text and assuming it’s correct, while who has more knowledge would be able to spot unclear conclusions or omissions. What Piketty did while writing the book was to publish the data behind the graphs and welcome others to replicate his results, and potentially correct mistakes. I find it a healthy scientific approach and a great chance to work together on such a vast field of research.

Dog-sitting: first week’s impressions

A friend of mine asked me to take care of her Yorkie for one hour every day of the week, as she started working longer hours and was worried that the dog would feel lonely or need anything while alone in the house. I accepted, and started at the beginning of June.

You have to know that I never had a dog before, and the few times I met dogs was not a great experience. My uncle used to have huge herd dogs at home, and every time we visited I was completely overwhelmed by them! I was a tiny girl and they were for me as big as horses. My family never wanted dogs and I haven’t thought about getting one myself, as I am aware that it’s a big responsibility, for which I never felt ready. Dog-sitting sounds much more feasible (not my own dog, only few hours per week)… so I accepted the challenge.

I wanted to catch up a bit before starting to interact with the dog, so I browsed the library’s pet section and picked up these two books (in German):

I found them fascinating. Karin Actun wrote two unconventional guides on how to establish a good partnership with dogs, focused on observing and developing the inner feeling of respectful leadership, instead of giving exercises or rules and focus on making the dog comply. The second book I read, “Hunde Orientierung geben”, moved me really deeply. Karin’s words made me realise that I could become a good reference person for the dog by setting boundaries, asking and giving respect, all by clear communication, without using force or fear, or letting the dog be the leader. I never saw the way so clearly. I also realised how hard it is for me to make my own boundaries clear to others – both dogs and people. I actually stopped reading anything else and examined a lot of my past, and found so many matches with the situations explained by Karin.

Then I started taking care of this little dog, and it made for a very interesting set of experiences. It is clear that he is used to lead and to take care of himself, and to ask for what he needs or likes. It will take a while for him to realise that he can delegate a few things to me, and that I’m good at taking care of them. For example when we go out he is on high alert, as any other dog could harm us: when one comes round the corner he makes himself big, growls and barks. I have to show him that I can defend both of us in case of need (for sure from small dogs!), and that he can stay quiet – and it starts working, he is calmer every day 🙂 On many other occasions I can understand what he wants to tell me. It’s fascinating to see how he start trusting me and how he is trying his best to understand what I want to communicate. I’m glad I got so much information from these books, and from the videos and explanations on Karin’s website, because I can process a lot more information than I would do by simple trial and error. What I see is that there is as little frustration as possible between me and the dog, and I find it incredibly reassuring, and promising, for both.

Stay tuned for more posts about this dog and what I’ll observe during our mutual respect building!

 

Book recommendation: “Pen and Ink” by James Hobbs

Some time ago, while looking for inspiration on drawing techniques, I found this compact booklet with a lot of drawing ideas, with a one-page explanation next each drawing:

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From the 100 suggestions I took pictures of a few, and keep them handy for when I find my own drawings too repetitive:

It’s more a “where do you want to go” than a “here’s how you get there” book, and I find I need both kinds.

That’s it for today – happy doodling everyone!!

Book recommendation: “Révolution” by Emmanuel Macron

This one is a different kind of book recommendation:

Source: XO Editions

It is awkward for me to write about this strongly political book, because I know very little about the French political scene, and having a vague opinion sounds lame and irresponsible. However, I picked this book with the intention to know more about Macron’s views and his perception of France’s political-social-economical current affairs.

As I expected, this book is meant as a manifesto and as a presentation of Macron’s political persona. There is not much about him, not much about controversial ideas, no debate of course – a series of chapters with his statements about various important topics. Of course if I wanted to hear opinions about him and his actions, I know I have to look elsewhere: books about him written by others, comments from journalists and people with enough experience in the topic under debate, opposition, locals… and consider all these information as pieces of a larger puzzle.

I have to say that I liked the simple, accessible style of the book. I wasn’t moved much, because I know that the book is intentionally written like this, to be readable by virtually everyone. I didn’t feel the urge to agree with him or to support his causes, I don’t know if it was expected or not. I just kept reading, not too fast, and consider his points critically (not knowing the background information for most of the topics forced me to take his word as is, but I know I can make my own research to double-check). I think he packed a lot of statements in such a short text, and it is probably a good overview of his political agenda.

What I would have done differently is reading the book even slower and fact-check everything, but I hadn’t at the moment that much interest. But at least I know something more about him than before.