Here are a few more books I've read recently... 1. "Wind, Sand and Stars" by Antoine de Saint Exupéry <http://www.amazon.com/Wind-Sand-Stars/dp/0156027496> This is a compact selection of philosophical memoirs by a pioneer of French aviation. Antoine de Saint Exupéry was born into an old, noble family. During his military service he was trained as a pilot. He later became a pilot for the French aviation company called Aéropostale, which specialised in delivering mail between France and the French Colonies in Africa and South America. The chapters look at various episodes in the author's life when he was as a pilot. One of the main chapters is about how he and his navigator survived a crash landing in the Sahara Desert, with very little food and water. It's a classic story of desperation and survival. Within the memoirs there are meditations on life and other philosophical issues. There are many interesting quotes, such as this one about perfection: "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." It's an inspirational little book, challenging the reader to make their lives special, not necessarily by taking dangerous risks, but rather by being open to new ideas and perspectives. 2. "City" by Alessandro Baricco <http://www.amazon.com/City/dp/0375725482> The central character in this book is a 13 year old boy genius, Gould. He's already studying at university, but lacks emotional development. His childhood has been anything but ordinary, having missed out on many things that normal children do. His father is in the army and lives at a military base. His mother suffered a mental breakdown shortly after his birth, and has been in hospital ever since. So the boy has to live with governesses in a house off-campus. The story starts when Gould meets his new governess, Shatzy Shell. She's a single woman in her thirties who carries around photos of Walt Disney and Eva Braun! She also carries around a tape recorder, which she uses to capture ideas for a screenplay of a Western she's writing. Gould, meanwhile, daydreams about a championship boxer, and makes up interviews and stories of championship bouts while he visits the bathroom. Often he gets so wrapped up in these stories that he forgets why he's even in the bathroom. I wasn't that interested in Gould's boxing stories, but Shatzy's Western had an amazing climax which was the highlight of the book for me. This "story within the story" is about a town in the Old West where time has suddenly stopped. This coincided with the disappearance of the town's founder, and the exact moment when a large clock in the town stopped ticking. The people of the town have grown tired of eternity. They engage a clock repairer from out of town, in the hope that once the clock starts up, time will flow freely again. The resolution is suitably intriguing. Several other interesting characters appear throughout the book. For example, the disgruntled academic who has become sickened by the process of academic research, and has written a critical "Essay on Intellectual Honesty" (on the back of a pamphlet for a strip club!). There's another professor who is obsessed with the rules of soccer, and together with Gould they sit and watch kids play in a local park. Gould always challenges the professor to apply the rules to hypothetical situations that occur in a game (e.g lightning hitting and almost destroying the ball before it goes into the net). The hypotheticals get more absurd over time. I didn't find this book as cohesive and compelling as some of Baricco's other work ("Silk", "Ocean Sea" and "Without Blood"), but it was still a good read. 3. "Il libraio di Selinunte" by Roberto Vecchioni (not available in English - title translates as "The Bookseller of Selinunte") This is a short story about a strange bookseller who sets up shop in a sleepy Sicilian town. He's a short man who dresses oddly. His shop is full of books, all with the same blue binding. It seems the man is less interested in selling books, and more concerned with sharing the stories contained within them. The other people in the town don't seem to like the new bookseller, and try to avoid him. He holds regular readings at his shop, but nobody ever attends. Despite this he still goes through the motions and reads selections and poems from the greats, including Dostoyevsky Proust, Manzoni, Shakespeare and Dante. One boy, Nicolino, is curious and sneaks out of his house late at night to eavesdrop on the readings. The boy is moved and inspired by what he hears. This goes on for several months, until one day, the bookshop is engulfed in flames. The boy thinks he sees the books floating away, following a pied piper-like figure into the sea. After that day, words began to lose their meaning in that town. People could no longer communicate easily. An interesting story - more of a fable, really. 4. "branchie!" by Niccolò Ammaniti (not available in English - title translates as "gills!") This is the debut book from the author of "I'm Not Scared", which was published in many languages and made into a movie. The first part of the story seems pretty "straight". Marco Donato is a 30 year old fish and aquarium expert. He has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and despite the wishes of his mother, he isn't seeking treatment. He hasn't even told his girlfriend of his condition. He's pretty resigned to his fate, and is happy to live in his "den" above his shop until the end. One day he receives a letter from a rich Englishwoman living in India who wants to commission him to build the biggest aquarium in India. A cheque for 5000 pounds is included with the letter, so Marco believes the offer is genuine. When he arrives in New Delhi, the story takes a surreal turn. After getting off the plane, he is drugged and kidnapped by a group of people dressed in orange. He manages to escape and starts looking for his client. He soon realises that the letter was not genuine and there is no client. Despite this he decides to stay, and he soon meets up with a musical group ("BAP") that likes to rehearse and perform in sewers and other confined places with special acoustic properties. The group performs for a rich Indian industrialist, and things start looking up for Marco. Alas he gets seduced and drugged by Mila, the nymphomaniac daughter of the tycoon. It turns out she is in cahoots with Marco's mother, who was behind the letter that lured him to India. Marco's mother, obsessed with youth and beauty, has arranged a dual lung transplant for Marco. The operation is to be performed by the evil Subotnik, a radical plastic surgeon who is harvesting human organs to make rich people look younger and live longer. Marco is taken to Subotnik's secluded castle in the Himalayas. Marco is locked up in the castle's dungeon, along with captured Indian villagers whose organs are being harvested. With the aid of his BAP bandmates, Marco escapes the dungeon. They later decide to go back and free the other prisoners, then destroy the castle. There's a lot of blood, guts and general gore in the resulting mayhem. Many of the things that happen in this book are bizarre and hilarious - possibly the most outrageous things I've read for a while. It's not surprising that Marco's favourite director is Peter Jackson (who directed some far-out stuff before going mainstream). The ending is suitably far-fetched. Not quite the book I was expecting, and I wouldn't say it's a great piece of literature. But it was quite entertaining. Apparently it was made into a movie in Italy.