29 Jun 2014

World's Most Beautiful Libraries: Part 1

When it comes to reading, there are two important things: the book itself and the place where you read it. Anthony Throllope famously said that nothing can be more luxurious than merely a sofa and a cup of coffee to accompany a good book. But for some, with a more extravagant taste, this is not enough.

So oh how happy are those living in Europe since there are libraries of the most beautiful interior - and the most beautiful books - in the world.

In this post series, I will be making up a list of the most stunning libraries that are definitely worth checking out if you are a book worm with a luxurious taste.

1. Wiblingen Abbey Library in Ulm, Germany
Situated in a former Benedict Abbey (in the North wing of it), the library was completed in 1744. Its facade was modelled on the Austrian National Library, or Imperial Court Library, as it was called before, in order to demostrate the attachment to the imperial house.
The library is constructed in the airy and whimsical Rococo syle, and is considered to be on of its finest examples. The library has exquisite ornamental features, long galleries supported by numerous columns, countless statues, and most gorgeous ceiling fresco that makes library be perceived as a place preserving "treasures of wisdom and science", as originally intended by the architect.

2. Klementinum in Prague, Czech Republic
Klementinum is the largest and most historic building complex in Prague's Old Town. It includes Mirror Chapel, famous Library Hall, Astronomical Tower, and two churches - St. Salvator and St. Clement. The Library Hall, designed in stunning baroque, is a home to 20 000 books that date as far as the 16th century. Built in 1722, it hasn't changed its foundation since and maintained all its frescos, paintings on the cupola, and famous large globes. Interestingly, the Library Hall of Klementinum was mentioned in The Secret Miracle, a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. There, the librarians of Klementinum were looking for God in the books of the library. (It will be my next read.)

3. Marfa Palace Library in Marfa, Portugal
Marfa National Palace, 28 km from Lisbon, is a palace-monastery designed in Baroque and Neoclassicism. It is mostly famous for its major library that is 88 metres and is the longest Rococo monastic library in the world. It includes 35 000 rare, leather-bound books, and they say that bats live in this library and at night eat insects that would feast on the book pages.

4. Bodleian Library in Oxford, United Kingdom
The main research library of Oxford University is also known as 'Bodley' or simply 'the Bod'. It was the first time for the English to shelve books along the walls, instead of putting them in bays or lecterns protruding from the walls. This is one of the oldest libraries in Europe and contains over 11 million books in print. One of the most famous books Bodleian Library has are  Shakespeare's First folio (1623), Gutenberg Bible (1455), and Bay Psalm Book (1640). The latter two are one of the only surviving copies in the world - 21 and 11 accordingly.
Also, Borleian Library serves as a location for many films and TV series. I was quite excited to find out that the Hogwarts library from the Harry Potter series was actually filmed there.

5. The Escorial Library in San Lorenzo de El Escorial in Spain
Located at 49 km from Madrid, the library is a part of a building complex that includes a monastery, a royal palace, a school, a basilica, a museum, two pantheons, an art gallery, and lovely gardens. The library, completed in 1585, established the template of using books to decorate the walls, which has been used ever since. Almost 45 000 printed works from the 15th and 16th centuries, as well as around 5 000 manuscripts, have found home in the Escorial Library, also famous for its ceiling frescos that depict all seven liberal arts: Rhetoric, Dialectic, Music, Grammar, Arithmetic, Geometry, and Astronomy.

26 Jun 2014

Book Review: The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris

What it is about:
The 4-Hour Work Week is a 3 in 1 book: a non-fiction, a self-help, and a how-to. Amazon describes it as a 'step-by-step guide to luxury lifestyle design'. Forget working from 9 to 5 and life in an office cubicle, and transform your life into becoming a New Rich who is able to own a business without running it, costantly take 6-month vacations from work, and travel all around the world without spending much money.

What I think about it:
I heard about this book years ago while I was still living in Latvia. It was hard not to notice the books since even in the post-soviet side of the world everybody went nuts about it. In a good way? Not really. If in the U.S. Timothy Gerris managed to become a NYT betselling author and keep this title for 4 years, on the other side of the Atlantic he was constantly accused of being a bragged and a douchebag who detests middle class and those unable to escape from its clucthes. The reason for such difference in opinions doesn't require to dig too deep: Ferris simply aimed for too large of a target, without realizing that socio-economical models are different (sometimes like day and night) depending on every region. Think about it.

Start-up model that works in the U.S. will under no circumstances work in Ukraine or Belarus. You can never make a business selling yoga for climbers DVDs in Russia, because in Russia the pirate version of it will appear on the web within the first few hours. You will never be able to become a New Rich somewhere in South America by re-selling sailor T-shirts from France at $100 each, because people are generally way poorer and can't form a decent market. It's the U.S. where people are so spoilt with the luxury of choices - in way too many other countries the situation is completely different.

So a lot of people displeased with the book actually have a great point.

At the same time, I don't believe that Ferris really intented to write a universal guideline of how to succeed with little effort. What he, on the other hand, suggests is plenty of practical advice on time management, work efficiencty, priority-listing, automation, and, most important, on being more creative, on thinking outside the box, acquiring views on life that allow more perspectives and bigger possibilities. Stop being afraid to take more from life and reach out, is what I hear him saying. Tim Ferris is a greedy man - you can feel it from his constant self-advertising and bragging with his living-on-a-beach, travelling-with-ease life-style. But he is greedy for life, and this energetic enthusiasm is - at least for me - a contageous thing.

So I do recommend reading - but only between the lines.

PS. The book is loaded with quotations, real life stories, extracts from various articles, useful web links, etc. The latter can be found on Timothy Ferris' blog that is saturated with useful info of very different kind:

25 Jun 2014


It took me a while to figure out that Blogger offers no subscription tool. Now I know it's been a year since they took Friend Connect off. Don't smirk. Instead, Follow my blog with Bloglovin

8 Jun 2014

Book Review: Thanks For The Memories by Cecelia Ahern

Finally being done with my thesis, I was very excited to be having free time again to read all those classic novels on my Kindle that I never had time to read before. But it appeared that writing the paper drained my brain out completely and utterly. So Thanks For The Memories by Cecelia Ahern turned up just in time.

This books is nothing special. I read it in a Russian edition in an embarrassing romantic cover with two kissing sweethearts. I didn't care. What I cared about was the plot that allowed me to follow the story and not to take part in it, to live with the characters and not to feel for them - not to suffer for them, not to empathize with them, not even to think about them too much. The story is exciting and challenging just enough not to be considered difficult or boring. And sometimes every reader needs to just scratch on the surface, enjoy an easy, even plain, style of writing, and take some delight in silly fairy-tale sweetnesses.

I think there are times when our brain is so exhausted that it is in no position to be reading good literature. By good literature I mean that that keeps the reader in suspense, causes pain and joy, harrows the soul, and touches upon the very dearest and innermost thoughts and feelings. So when the reader is dead tired, such books as those by Ms. Ahern, usually considered second-rate, help to restore the needed balance in order to get back at something more serious later on.

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