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The Curious Curator's Book Blog

Contemporary art curator. Student. Book addict. Art lover. Geek. Dreamer. Curious about everything. Check out my website http://thecuriouscurator.com/

Currently reading

EarthBound (Boss Fight Books, #1)
Ken Baumann
How to Do Things with Videogames
Ian Bogost
Philosophie des jeux vidéo
Mathieu Triclot

Lonely Planet Barcelona Encounter

Lonely Planet Barcelona Encounter - Damien Simonis

A standard travel guide, with a few gems. I've been to Barcelona a few times and absolutely love the city, and was hoping to read a bit more about what it feels like to live there, and about places off the beaten path. Alas, most of the book is dedicated to the most conventional places, the "must-visit" ones, if you will. I guess it's to be expected from an "encounter" guide, but still, I wish they would have explored the locals' contributions a bit more.


The book does offer an interesting section at the end, called "Background", which helps understand the city a little better. And the selection of shops and drinking places seems okay, even if a little limited.

The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature

The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature - Bruce Sterling, Jeff VanderMeer, Jake von Slatt, Libby Bulloff, Evelyn Kriete, S.J. Chambers, G.D. Falksen, Desirina Boskovich, J. Daniel Sawyer, Rick Klaw, Jess Nevins, Catherynne M. Valente

Steampunk is a subgenre / aesthetic that reimagines Victorian times in a retro-futurist way, embracing the past while reflecting upon the present and future. It is as much a way of life as it is a kind of literature, music or fashion. You will have seen hints of it everywhere: books, Hollywood movies, or strange people who dress in a fashion that mixes 19th century Victoriana with punk’s do-it-yourself mindset.


Relying heavily on Steampunk’s unique visual appeal, with beautiful photographs and illustration (just look at that cover!), this book has both style and substance, with contributions from some of the most active members of the worldwide community. Steampunk is (or can be) a lot more than just pretty corsets and goggles, or stuff with cogs glued to it. It’s a way of thinking about technology and the way it impacts us, it’s marrying escapism with social and political awareness, it’s a reaction against today’s consumerist world, in which the mass-produced things we own are never supposed to last more than two to three years, and you can’t fix them when they break.


The first few chapters cover the literary origins of Steampunk and the first authors to truly tackle it, all the way through to the most recent books and graphic novels. There are also chapters dedicated to the fashion, the crafty and tinkering aspects of Steampunk, movies (both Hollywood and less mainstream ones), and events around the world.


The inventors, authors and tinkerers featured throughout the book are guaranteed to inspire you to try your hands at something – there’s even a tutorial on etching tins to get you going. In short, there’s a bit of something for everyone in this book slash love letter to Steampunk. If you’re not a Steampunk fan already, you will be after you read this book. I do wish it would have gone a bit deeper in exploring the works listed – this is called a bible, after all – but as an illustrated guide, it works really well.

Lady Mechanika #1 - The Mystery of the Mechanical Corpse

Lady Mechanika #1 (The Mystery of the Mechanical Corpse) - Joe Benitez

On my quest for steampunk (or steampunk inspired) comics, I came across Lady Mechanika, courtesy of one of our local comic books shop here in Porto. I quickly discovered this is a notoriously difficult series to find – sadly, only the #1 and #2 issues were available. I’ve yet to find a #0, or the collected first issues, at an affordable price. This bodes well for the series, but not at all for my wallet.


Anyway, on the story. Since I didn’t get a chance to read issue #0, I may be missing something already, but reading issue #1 definitely peaked my curiosity. The setting is an alternative Victorian Era. Mechanika, the most advanced city in the Commonwealth, lends its name to the heroin, Lady Mechanika, a girl part human, part machine, who was found locked up in a laboratory surrounded by corpses, with no memory of her past life. With her unique mechanical abilities, she spends her time solving mysteries and doing detective work, while searching constantly for clues to her past life and who might be responsible for her transformation.


In this issue, a young girl with mechanical claws is being chased through the woods. She manages to dodge her attackers and lands on a train going to Mechanika. Who are the people chasing her? Is this girl related to Lady Mechanika, and in what way?The first thing you notice about this series is the quality of the covers. There are many different ones for each issue, each absolutely gorgeous. Inside, the artwork continues to amaze – the colors, the drawing, panels, all come together to produce an atmosphere that blends industrial, vintage, Victorian and sci-fi elements. The wealth of details is amazing, and steampunk fans will not be disappointed.

Bad Science

Bad Science - Ben Goldacre

Warning: Do not read this book. A study* has shown that reading this book increases your chance of developing depression by 70% and you will be twice more likely to develop a headache and losing your belief in mankind.


So, for example, the next time one of your smoker friends tells you that they saw a news story about a study that proves smoking doesn’t cause cancer, don’t ask them what kind of study it was, who did it, how it was carried out, or who financed it. Instead, admit your obvious ignorance, since you’re not a scientist and the people who did the study are, and even they can never seem to agree on anything, judging from all the studies you see in newspapers. Besides, you have a friend whose coworker’s grandmother smoked her entire life and she’s healthy as horse, so that proves cancer has nothing to do with smoking. High-fives all around.


Whatever you do, just don’t read this book.


* This study had a total of one (1) depressed subject being tested. Methodology included smacking this depressed person in the head with this book. The subject reported no improvement in his condition, but did show clear signs of annoyance and anger and appeared to feel pain in his head. The subject did not know he was being tested, therefore the placebo effect was nullified so there was no need for a control subject. This study was conducted on a well-respected medical research institute (on their parking lot) and included a highly-respected, published scientist in its team (the subject being smacked).

Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda

Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda - Noam Chomsky

I was familiar with Noam Chomsky's ideas, from references and such, but I hadn't actually read any of his books. Not knowing where to start, I chose this one purely for convenience. Even though the writing could be better - there were lots of repetitions and the writing in general didn't feel properly edited - there's no denying that the ideas he presents are powerful. And very, very important.


And yes, I know that a lot of people accuse him of being a conspiracy theorist. Nowadays, anyone who event attempts to see the big picture, make connections and draw conclusions is promptly dismissed as a conspiracy theorist, just like anyone who criticizes the banking system is a communist, and anyone who criticizes politicians is an anarchist (/end sarcasm). The real danger lies in not caring or thinking about anything other that what you're supposed to, or being told to think. Then you become easier to control.


And make no mistake, we are all being controlled in one way or another.


The first part of this book was written in 1991. The second part is a talk given in 2002. It's sad, though unsurprising, to see that nothing has changed in 30 years.

A Simbólica do Espaço em O Senhor dos Anéis de J.R.R. Tolkien

A Simbólica do Espaço em O Senhor dos Anéis de J.R.R.Tolkien - Maria do Rosário Monteiro

I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time when I was 13, and The Silmarillion and all the others after that, but strangely enough I never read any academic research on it, until this one. I'll be sure to search for the works that are mentioned in this book's bibliography.


This is a well-researched interpretation of several places in The Lord of the Rings, written in a language that is adequate to a systematic study of a lyrical subject, without falling into the usual trap of being too dry or indecipherable. It starts off extremely well, with an explanation of fantasy literature and its place and acceptance among other genres. However, the chapters about LOTR itself could have been more ambitious. I felt that the interpretation was at times very simplistic or rushed. And the conclusion confused me - why start a rant against Portuguese cultural agents in a book like this?


Still, this was a good book and I'm happy to see such great work being written and published in Portugal.

Designing for the Social Web

Designing for the Social Web - Joshua Porter

Finally, a good book on social media! The last few books I’ve read were all style and no substance, and I was getting weary of even trying new ones, so this was a breath of fresh air. It was actually useful, not just impressive-looking.


Not so much about practical design as it is about psychology applied to making smart choices about your web software, this book touches on many interesting aspects of building online apps and leveraging people’s need to be social. It looks at why people feel the need to participate, how you can encourage sharing without being pushy about it, and how to determine the problems people have with your site.


The only drawback is that, sadly, in the fast-moving world of today, this 2007 book is already showing signs of being outdated. It’s a little hard not to wince when the author talks about MySpace as the epitome of social media.

Going Postal: A Discworld Novel

Going Postal (Discworld, #33) - Terry Pratchett

Moist van Lipwig, con artist extraordinaire, finds himself at a crossroads in his life. Lord Vetinari, Ankh-Morpork's very own tyrant, saves him from being hanged and gives him a choice: die, or accept to be the city's new postmaster. This is easier said than done: the Post Office's staff is reduced to two rather quirky characters, the building is filled to the ceiling with decades of undelivered letters, and to top it off, the post has to compete with the Grand Trunk Semaphore Company, a high-speed communications system that's been taken over by greedy corporations.


I really liked the main character, Moist. Too often in Discworld books the characters take a background stance and let the world itself be the protagonist, but in this case you have a really interesting, likable and fully developed cast, in addition to the clever exploration of human nature that Terry Pratchett usually brings into his books.


However, I do think this book tried to do too much: you had the character stories, the pins / stamps collecting, the debacle of old versus new technology, the greedy corporations versus passionate workers, time travel, banshees and Igors, hackers (or rather, crackers), the golems' emancipation, and so on.


Still, another good book from Terry Pratchett and the Discworld.


P.S. As I was reading this book I started to get a feeling of deja vu; then I remembered that I recognized the characters from Making Money, which I read back when I was a teenager. It's number 36 in the Discworld series and the sequel to this one. I admit, reading them out of order probably wasn't the smartest thing, but back then I hadn't heard of the concept of buying things online and had to make to with whatever books I could find, specially when it came to foreign books.


All this to say, from here on I'll probably stick to the right order.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Something Wicked This Way Comes - Ray Bradbury

A dark carnival that holds many secrets, an Illustrated Man, a carousel, two boys on the brink of adolescence. Youth versus old age, summer versus autumn, good versus evil.


This is the second book I've read from Ray Bradbury (the first being Fahrenheit 451). It was a good read, but again I felt there was something in his writing that just didn't click with me. The way he used words struck me as beautiful at times, and completely ridiculous and over the top at others. I can't quite put my finger on why, but there you have it.


All in all, this was an interesting book, but in the end I just didn't love it.

World Wide Rave: Creating Triggers that Get Millions of People to Spread Your Ideas and Share Your Stories

World Wide Rave: Creating Triggers that Get Millions of People to Spread Your Ideas and Share Your Stories - David Meerman Scott

What to take from this book: build an online presence so people can find you, engage with your audience, create interesting content, share it for free, and you too could create a World Wide Rave. If you want some inspiration, google "viral marketing success stories" or something of the sort, and check out some of the results.


There. Now you don't have to read this book.

Stieglitz: Camera Work

Alfred Stieglitz. Camera Work - Pam Roberts, Alfred Stieglitz

Alfred Stieglitz is an important figure in the History of Photography, both as photographer, gallerist, curator and editor. He heavily influenced the development of American photography and helped promote European artists, such as Picasso and Matisse, in the USA, and the book's essay portrays him well. You can see Stieglitz's taste evolving as the images (and the issues of Camera Work they appeared in) are shown in chronological order.


Some reproductions look a bit dark and muddy, though I don't know enough about the images to be able to compare them to the originals. Regardless, there are a few beautiful gems among the many photographs in the book, and this will make a welcome addition to any Photography enthusiast's library.

Easy Peasy Chinese

Easy Peasy Chinese: Mandarin Chinese For Beginners - Elinor Greenwood, Carrie Love, Katharine Carruthers, Bin Yu

I started learning Mandarin a little over a month ago, so I decided to get a couple of books to accompany the one I already have for class, to get a slightly different perspective and to familiarize myself with the language. I bought this one solely because of the positive reviews I'd seen on the web - if I hadn't read them I would never have picked up this book, since the title is so ridiculous. There's nothing "easy-peasy" about Mandarin, unless you're a native speaker, I guess.


Still, this is a good enough book for those who, like me, are just starting out. It touches upon many interesting cultural facts, like traditions, festivals and the lunar calendar, and covers basic conversation skills and grammar. The CD is quite useful to get the pronunciations right.


However, if you don't want to go to classes and instead intend to study Mandarin on your own - I can't imagine why you would, but anyway - this book, while a decent place to start, won't be nearly enough. I'll be looking into others.

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? Vol 1

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? Vol 1 - Philip K. Dick

A graphic adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, the novel that served as an inspiration for the movie Blade Runner. However, I wouldn't call this book a graphic novel, exactly; it feels more like an illustration in the style of a graphic novel. The difference is that there's a lot more text that appears to be lifted exactly from the book (I didn't check this, but it felt like everything was there, included the "He responded absently" after the dialog balloons). It's a bit distracting.


This adaptation seems to be particularly directed at those who have seen and loved the movie but who aren't aware of the original material. For me, having seen the movie and read the book, it didn't bring anything new. The artwork is ok, but very straightforward. I was expecting something more experimental and daring. The cover gallery at the end, however, is gorgeous, and I fell in love with the Collector's Paradise Exclusive by Scott Keating.


Overall, this is a nice read, but not unmissable if you've read the original novel.

A Sociedade Literária da Tarte de Casca de Batata

A Sociedade Literária da Tarte de Casca de Batata - Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows, Ana Mendes Lopes

I came across this book a year ago, in a meeting with fellow readers - not exactly a book club, just a community of readers who got together for their love of fantasy and literature - in which we exchanged books with one another. I had never heard of this book and had no idea what it was about, and I have to admit, its title didn't help (whatever a potato peel pie is, it must be dreadful). Now, more than a year later, I decided to give it a go, and it's nice that a book about the power of books to pull people together should have reached my hands this way.


I knew little about the occupation of Guernsey during WWII, and in my opinion one can never know enough about these things. Humanity seems to forget easily, and those of us who didn't live through the war should know what it was like. The stories about the survivors and the history of the place were easily the best part of the book, together with all the literary references.


Other parts I didn't like so much. The writing style didn't convince me as 1946 writing, but then again, I'm not exceptionally savant in those things and may be wrong. But the fact that it was written in epistolary form, although fun at times, didn't convince me, as all the letters sounded like they were written by the same person. At least they weren't ridiculously long, like I've seen in other epistolary novels.


Still, this was an entertaining read, with some funny and touching moments.

Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers

Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers - 'Alexander Osterwalder',  'Yves Pigneur'

A book on business model innovation and how important that is for businesses on today's economic and technological climate. I was torn with my opinion on this. On one hand, it's a visually beautiful book which introduces some thought-provoking and useful tools, like the Business Model Canvas. On the other hand, for most subsequent chapters I felt like I was reading the same thing over and over again, with slight changes in the details. In the end, it was useful but not as informative as I would like it to be. Still, it's a good book for beginners, and a gorgeous one at that, and one can't help getting caught up in the genuine excitement the authors seem to have for business model innovation.

The Boys: The Name of the Game Vol. 1

The Boys (Vol. 1) - The Name of the Game - Darick Robertson, Garth Ennis

This was... Interesting. I suppose. Hmm.


The story is about a CIA-backed brigade of people who are supposed to keep superheroes in check, because apparently all superheroes are vicious, murderous rapists, and just all-around horrible (super)human beings. And the only way to fight them is to get an equally vicious group of humans who hate them, give them a compound that effectively turns them into superheroes as well (the irony of the situation seems lost on the characters), and unleash them upon the "supes" to remind them who's boss.


I guess I just don't see the appeal of extremely gratuitous revenge stories like this, where most of the characters end up acting like caricatures of themselves, with only a couple of them being believably human. I'll still read the second volume to see if it gets any better, as some of the characters have potential... But I'm not keeping my hopes up.