ReadingsLast update: 5 December 2017.
Here you have a list of the books I have read lately and some comments about them. Titles are in the language I read the book, comments in English.
- El tallafoc. Henning Mankell.
- Los mares del sur. Manuel Vázquez Montalbán.
- La soledad del mánager. Manuel Vázquez Montalbán.
- La tierra de los abetos puntiagudos. Sarah Orne Jewett.
- ¡Ajá! Paradojas que hacen pensar. Martin Gardner.
- El extraño caso del Dr. Jekyll y Mr. Hyde. Robert Louis Stevenson.
- Fuster per a ociosos. Una antologia de Xavier Aliaga. Joan Fuster.
- ¿Qué es esa cosa llamada ciencia?. Alan F. Chalmers.
- Masculinidades y feminismo. Jokin Azpiazu.
- Ciència, Diners i Política. Dominique Pestre.
Interesting essay by Dominique Pestre, physicist, historian and especially science historian. He lucidly analyzes, given his extensive knowledge, the current and historical status of science. He distinguishes between the period 1870-1970, with nation states as maintainers of a balance between public and private research, basic and applied research , etc., and the period from 1970 to the present, in which the neoliberalism boom has promoted a shift towards private research (with the expansion of what’s patentable, for example), a glorification of applied research and a radical reorganization in the area of the production of knowledge.
Pestre also provides very interesting ideas to reverse this situation. It is especially important that his reasoning is based on the historical study, and not from prejudices or preconceived ideas that may lead to catastrophic perceptions or exaggerated idealizations.
- Nocturn de Sant Felip Neri. Sebastià Benassar.
In this novel, the author -expert in the Balkans conflicts, masterfully mixes the story of a Bosnian violinist in a wheelchair who plays in the streets of Barcelona, that of a writer who survives in the same city and that of a young girl from a bourgeois family, blind and unable to leave her home due to an illness. The book brings to us the reality that we have closer, both in space and time, but that unfortunately, usually goes unnoticed.
- El racisme explicat a la meva filla. Tahar Ben Jelloun.
This is a brief essay, aimed at boys and girls from 8 to 14 years old, which explains what racism is and why it occurs. The text could not be more relevant today, four days before the second round of the French presidential elections, with Marine Le Pen as a candidate. A highly recommended reading for schools!
- Terra d'elles. Charlotte P. Gilman.
Gilman wrote this feminist utopia in 1915. It describes a society composed only by women, who have lived for over 2,000 years isolated in the middle of the Amazon jungle and the experience of three male explorers who visit this land. The book compels us to rethink the most basic issues, such as education, economy, religion... I think it is a necessary exercise to imagine such utopias (and others), to escape from what’s “real” or “possible” and think freely.
- Tatuaje. Manuel Vázquez Montalbán.
Now that I am already a fan of the Carvalho series, I have read one of the first books in the series. It takes place in Barcelona, and Carvalho is just beginning as a private investigator, moving through the underworld of Barcelona before the Olympics.
- El premio. Manuel Vázquez Montalbán.
In this novel, Carvalho returns to Madrid for the most highly paid literary award. Vázquez Montalbán portrays the misery of intellectuals, financiers, industrialists, academics and politicians during the “cycle change” that marked the arrival of the right to power in Spain in 1996.
- Asesinato en el Comité Central. Manuel Vázquez Montalbán.
This is the first book that I’ve read by Vázquez Montalbán, and so it is the first book that I’ve read from the Carvalho series. I had previously heard about the plot of this novel: the murder of the general secretary of the Spanish Communist Party in a short power outage during a Central Committee. The book is more than entertaining, it describes the PCE just after the end of the Franco regime, the militant logic, the different trends and dynamics that were imposing with the arrival of democracy.
- Penúltimos días. Mercancías, máquinas y hombres. Santiago Alba Rico.
Great discovery. In this ensemble of articles, Alba Rico reflects about lots of themes and elaborates interesting argument starting from some current events. A very lucid and committed thinker.
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. J. K. Rowling.
Last book in the Harry Potter saga. It is a play taking place 19 years after Voldemort's defeat. The story revolves around time travels, in Back to the Future's fashion, which makes me doubt whether this book was really necessary.
- La rebelión catalana. Antonio Baños.
Hilarious book by Antonio Baños. He talks about the Catalan independence process, analyzing the historical reasons of the conflict and refuting lots of unionist myths. It is a pity that his time in politics was so brief, for he did add an unmatched touch of humour that we do surely miss.
- Alex, Camille. Pierre Lemaitre.
Pierre Lemaitre's novels are intriguing and fast-paced from the beggining to the end. A entertaining read that I recommend.
- Les noies. Emma Cline.
Brutal tale in which a teenager only 14 years old enters the world of Charles Manson and his group. Cline carries us hand in hand through the thoughts of the young girls and troubles us by revealing that some extreme experiences are not as far away from ourselves as we might think.
- El mundo a tus pies. Nadar.
Nadar portrays the situation of lots of youngsters of his (our) generation, and although we could find other examples, more encouraging or combative, it is also important staging constancy of the bitterness of the position of a great deal of our youth.
- El buen soldado Švejk antes de la guerra. Jaroslav Hašek. ▾
Some stories in which we discover the beginnings of the good soldier Švejk: how he did his military service, got locked in a mental hospital and finally joined the army to participate in the First World War. The beginning introduces the character perfectly:
Švejk joined up with a happy heart. His object was to have fun in the army and succeeded in astonishing the whole garrison in Trient including the garrison commander himself. Švejk always had a smile on his lips, was amiable in his behaviour, and perhaps for that reason found himself continually in gaol.
An when he was let out of gaol he answered every question with a smile. And with complete equanimity he let himself be gaoled again, inwardly happy at the thought that all the officers of the whole garrison in Trient were frightened of him —not because of his rudeness, oh no, but because of his polite answers, his polite behaviour, and his amiable and friendly smile, all of which anguished them.
Some of the stories are drafts of the later novels, and we get to know how Švejk arrives to the front and joins the Russians. Its is a pity that Hašek could not finish the novels, it would have been great to know how Švejk's adventures continued and ended.
- Las aventuras del buen soldado Švejk. Jaroslav Hašek. ▾
Hilarious novel by Czech writer Jaroslav Hašek. Hašek served in the Austro-Hungarian army in the First World War, until he deserted in 1915 and joined the Russian revolutionaries. He died in 1923 at the age of 40, and left unfinished the fourth novel —of the six planned— about the adventures of the good soldier Švejk.
Švejk is a soldier officially declared an idiot who by his kind-hearted and well-intentioned nature ends up having all kinds of problems. Švejk always tells colorful stories, and when he begins with "In Zliv, near Hluboká, there was a ranger many years ago who had a very ugly name, he was named Pindour...", the reader starts smiling, because Švejk surely will end up telling a story in which some officers are compared to pigs, the emperor to a rabid dog or any other mischief.
- A sang freda. Truman Capote. ▾Brutal story about the murder of the Clutter family on a farm in the state of Kansas. Centered mostly on the murderers Perry and Dick, it is startling how naturally the story unfolds from their point of view.
- Estudis d'Història Cultural. Antologia de textos. Joan Fuster. ▾Interesting collection of texts by Joan Fuster, published in the UJI shortly after his death. As always, his essay style with a touch of irony and sarcasm is second to none.
- Nuestro universo matemático. Max Tegmark. ▾The most complete physics dissemination book I have ever read. It reviews physical reality to the biggest and the smallest of scales, from widely accepted theories to modern and controverted ones to finally present the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis (which states that the whole universe consists of a colossal mathematical structure). The author tackles questions like the origin of the universe, the existence of parallel universes, the foundations of human consciousness etc. from the physics point of view without avoiding the philosophical dilemmas that derive.
- Contra les aules. Tomàs Llopis. ▾The writer and professor from Beniarbeig (and recently adopted son of Pego) reviews in this academic autobiography his experiences in the classrooms, first as a student and then as a Catalan literature teacher. It is good to know the history of our previous generation, and in addition to some funny anecdotes, the book contains interesting thought about teaching.
- Càndid. Voltaire. ▾Amusing adventures novel in which the philosopher explores different ways of seeing the world, specially optimism. Certain people and groups of people are picked on, particularly the clergy.
- Ecofeminismo. Maria Mies, Vandana Shiva. ▾A classic that was published 23 years ago and has been now reedited in Spanish. Vandana Shiva herself came to Barcelona to present it, where she also gave conferences and was interviewed in Catalunya Ràdio. Vandana advocates for feminism, ecologism etc. from the Third World, with a radically different worldview to the western one, which is a point of view that I wasn't used to. It is very interesting her criticism on modern science, which generally and conveniently overlooks from its social impacts.
- Learn You a Haskell for Great Good! Miran Lipovača. ▾The best introduction to Haskell, which I commented on the article Learning Haskell.
- Papel estrujado. Nadar. ▾The first long graphic novel by Nadar, which left me wanting to read his second one: El mundo a tus pies.
- The Girl on the Train. Paula Hawkins. ▾A thrilling novel from the beginning to the end; can be read very quickly but it's not forgotten so fast.
- Flush. Virginia Woolf. ▾Brilliant biography of the dog Flush by Virginia Woolf, with some specially memorable passages:
But, if we now turn to human society, what chaos and confusion meet the eye! No Club has any such jurisdiction upon the breed of man. The Heralds College is the nearest approach we have to the Spaniel Club. It at least makes some attempt to preserve the purity of the human family. But when we ask what constitutes noble birth — should our eyes be light or dark, our ears curled or straight, are topknots fatal, our judges merely refer us to our coats of arms. You have none perhaps. Then you are nobody. But once make good your claim to sixteen quarterings, prove your right to a coronet, and then you are not only born they say, but nobly born into the bargain. Hence it is that not a muffineer in all Mayfair lacks its lion couchant or its mermaid rampant. Even our linendrapers mount the Royal Arms above their doors, as though that were proof that their sheets are safe to sleep in. Everywhere rank is claimed and its virtues are asserted. Yet when we come to survey the Royal Houses of Bourbon, Hapsburg and Hohenzollern, decorated with how many coronets and quarterings, couchant and rampant with how many lions and leopards, and find them now in exile, deposed from authority, judged unworthy of respect, we can but shake our heads and admit that the Judges of the Spaniel Club judged better. Such is the lesson that is enforced directly we turn from these high matters to consider the early life of Flush in the family of the Mitfords.
- Un món feliç. Aldous Huxley. ▾Classic dystopia, prior to 1984, which strikes by the validity of the fears it arouses.
- Autopsia. Miguel Serrano. ▾The author goes through his youth in this autobiographic novel with which I couldn't identify much.
- Data and Goliath. Bruce Schneier. ▾Bruce Schneier, one of the world greatest experts in computer security, surveillance systems and cryptography, portrays in this essay the current trends, risks and challenges around data. He exhaustively dissects the origin of data, its collection by governments and corporations and analyzes how this affects people's freedom, privacy and security.
- La utilitat de l'inútil. Nuccio Ordine. ▾Manifesto in defense of "uselessness": literature, history, pure sciences (not applied), philosophy... that is, everything that doesn't foster production and consumption, but essential for personal and collective grouwth. The essay is complemented with a text titled The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge, by Abraham Flexner, American educator that among other things, founded the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and who defends the importance of "useless" knowledge for scientific progress.
- Número zero. Umberto Eco. ▾The last novel of late Umberto Eco. With the assignment of publishing a newspaper that reports news before they happen, the characters start a publication that invents news based on the worst —and more common— journalistic practices.
- Sociofobia: El cambio político en la era de la utopía digital. César Rendueles. ▾César Rendueles has been for me a great discovery this year. In Sociofobia he analyzes the relationship between technology and society. He presents digital utopianism as a movement aligned with neoliberalism, and cyberfetishism as a tendency of consumerism, from which leftist, antagonistic or anticapitalist movements can not benefit. He criticizes capitalism (also the left complacency) and defends an ethics of care as a fundamental pillar for its overcoming.
- Trilogía de fundación. Isaac Asimov. ▾Science-fiction trilogy: the greatest psychohistorian of all time predicts the end of the empire, followed by thousands of years of conflict. In view of this disastrous future, he ellaborates a master plan: concentrates the most prominent scientists in a foundation in charge of founding a better empier as soon as possible. The science of psycohistory (a branch of mathematics able to predict important historical events) is very compelling, and it is very delightful to see how events follow its predictions (or not).
- Crematorio. Rafael Chirbes. ▾A very crude portray of the housing buble (and our society), from the head of its main characters, its environment and a review of the most recent Spanish history. It is the most succesful novel by Rafael Chirbes, who passed away last summer and to whom Gregorio Morán dedicated the great article El lento suicidio de Rafael Chirbes. Recently an emotive and worthy speech Parlamento que no pronuncié, which he wrote for the Premio Nacional de Narrativa's ceremony, which as the title notes, he did not get to deliver.
- Peces luminosos. Lynn Margulis.
Lynn Margulis, great American biologist, writes the personal history, aspirations, resignations, fears... of first level scientists (some invented, some real), a world she knew first-hand. A book that triggers lots of thoughts.
- La mano izquierda de la oscuridad. Ursula K. Leguin.
Ursula K. leguin presents us a world whose inhabitants don't have a defined sex most of the time. One week every month they randomly express as males or females. The story is a journal of a human (as the ones we usually know) who arrives at this planet with the mission of convincing them to join an interplanetary alliance. A sample of how science-fiction can make our imagination fly far away of what we accept as possible.
- En el camino. Jack Kerouac.
The classic book of the Beat generation, with the journeys of Sal Paradise (Kerouac) and frantic Dean Moriarty.
- ¿Quién controla el futuro? Jaron Lanier.
Lanier starts by criticizing the current economic and technological model. He names "Siren servers" the big central servers of companies like Google and Facebook, and arguments that its expansion will continue as it is based on a superior technical capacity.
These companies are characterized by outsourcing risk, just like other companies that benefit of Big Data in their businesses; it is the case of an insurance company that doesn't want sick clients, or client with high possibilities of suffering a car accident. If we put together companies that outsource risk and companies that offer free products in exchange of user spying, we have an economic contraction in sight. This trend affects journalists, photographers and musicians, but will soon affect carriers, clerks and physicians, who will see the substitution of their jobs by "artificial intelligence".
It is mandatory to break this tendency, and to do it we need to identify the underlying founding myth, which is that these technologies offer value by themselves in the form of artificial intelligence. But this artificial intelligence is not intelligence, but mathematical algorithms based on data generated by humans. For example, automatic translators learn from translations made by humans and autonomous cars mimic the behaviour of human drivers who train them.
Lanier thinks we are facing a fraud because nobody pays the authors, creators or data generators, and proposes as a solution a futuristic network economy that takes into account all the contributions of everybody so they are paid.
I think Lanier's diagnosis of the situation is accurate, but its network economy is currently science-fiction, and it mustn't be mistaken with real measures that can be taken to solve real problems, a debate usually eluded in Silicon Valley.
- Lo que perdimos. Catherine O'Flynn.
A novel that I recommend very much! The story happens around a shopping mall. Before its construction, a girl was setting up there a detectives agency with her teddy bear; years later, a security guard sees the same girl through a security camera... After reading it, you don't feel like going to a mall for a long time.
- El Establishment. Owen Jones.
After the merited and successful Chavs, Owen Jones is back with his journalistic style to dissect the British Stablishment: ideologists, media, polititians, financiers, state-dependent companies, police forces... A very ambitious piece that achieves its goal. I wish someone made the Spanish counterpart.
- Trilogia: Les cares de Victoria Bergman. Erik Axl Sund.
The first novel is gripping, but the rest are not so good.
- Calibán y la bruja. Mujeres, cuerpo y acumulación primitiva. Silvia Federici.
In this essay, Silvia Federici examines the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Europe and the expropriation processes that took place. She does not regard primitive accumulation as a painful but necessary step for the development of capitalism and progress in general (as Marx did), but as a pattern of capitalism itself, which needs to to colonize (bodies, women, regions, races...) in order to grow. It also shows how the greatest advances in social justice have occurred when the balance of forces between the powerful and the weak was even.
Firstly she breaks with the historical narrative of the Middle Ages as a homogeneous time of darkness culminating in an intellectual and progress explosion. She presents medieval times as a dynamic and turbulent time: serfdom was not a stable system, but had the constant refusal of the people, often with organized struggles, having heresy an important role as a counterweight to the Church. The riots were answered with wars and massacres, but also with strategies such as the legalization of rape and the institutionalization of prostitution. One of the periods of more generalized wellness occurred after the Black Death, in which between 30% and 40% of the European population died, when the lack of manpower and loss of fear of death promoted a general improvement of living conditions.
Later, the transition to capitalism was only possible thanks to the forced breaking with the traditional ways of life, the disciplining of the body and the development of a sexual division of labor.
Industrial work was perceived by most people as unnatural, and begging or stealing was viewed as a more appealing alternative. The dissociation of mind and body, and therefore of humanity and nature was needed to incorporate people to the new productive tasks. This process was forced by the enclosure of the land, the privatization of communal property and the elimination of traditional sources of resources for subsistence.
Moreover, half the population –women– were excluded from these productive tasks, and were limited to unpaid, unrecognized reproductive work. The new submissive femininity was the result of their expulsion from the professional guilds and the execution of a huge terrorist operation: the witch hunt. The witch hunt, in which hundreds of thousands of women were tortured and murdered both in Catholic and Protestant countries, coincided in time with the Enlightenment. Therefore, it wasn’t the result of obscure medieval ignorance, but a fundamental part of capitalist accumulation at the time of maximum intellectual splendor.
The same arguments and pretexts that led to the witch hunt were used to justify the massacre of the indigenous population of the colonies (between 90% and 95%) and its submission. These same strategies and expropriation spread with colonization and provided the necessary resources to consolidate capitalism.
- Mi marido me pega lo normal. Agresión a la mujer: realidades y mitos. Miguel Lorente Acosta.
An essay about violence against women. It is a kind of violence with deep historical roots, that benefits and exploits an unequal society in order to maintain the subjugation of women. Lorente explains the ins and outs of this violence, its psychological component, the gradual development and the shock it supposes for coming from the closest environment. It is specially appalling to realize that it is not a matter of impulsive behavior, related with addictions, foreign cultures or lack of education; it is a deliberate violence, disciplined, with clear objectives and benefits for the agressor.
The book, written before the approval of the Integral Law Against Gender Violence in Spain, outlines a worse scene than the current one, specially with respect to social consciousness of the problem. However, it is obvious that we have suffered a regression from the first years of the approval of the law and it is necessary to revert this trend.
- Django Design Patterns and Best Practices. Arun Ravindran.
Good book for intermediate Django developers. It gives some guidelines and best practices for more advanced projects which are really useful.
- El buen soldado Švejk antes de la guerra. Jaroslav Hašek. ▾