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Art & Entertainment

How to start 2021 well: our book recommendations

assorted books on shelf
Reading time: 9 minutes

2020 has been odd – to say the least. While 2021 is still largely unpredictable, some well-thought readings may help you find your way. From graphic novels to history, from novels to philosophy, the following are the book recommendations from our editorial staff to our fellow Bocconiani. And, by the way, Happy New Year!

Marguerite Yourcenar, Memorie di Adriano

Memorie di Adriano” è un romanzo storico della scrittrice francese M. Yourcenar, edito nel 1951, dopo oltre vent’anni di lavoro.

L’opera è una lettera divisa in sei parti che l’ormai anziano e malato imperatore Adriano scrive al suo successore, Marco Aurelio, ripercorrendo le tappe più importanti della propria vita. Il racconto segue un morbido ordine cronologico, interrotto dai ricordi e dalle riflessioni che questi suscitano nell’imperatore.

Adriano, divenuto saggio filosofo, ripensa all’infanzia, agli affetti, agli studi e alla passione per l’arte, alla carriera militare e al matrimonio ma anche ai successi diplomatici, ai ricordi più dolci e alla felicità regalatagli dall’amore: questa lunga rassegna gli offre lo spunto per meditare sul destino e sul senso profondo dell’esistenza.

È un libro prezioso: l’imperatore riflette e si interroga con profonda sensibilità sui quesiti che accomunano tutti gli esseri umani, di ogni tempo e in ogni luogo.

– Anna Druda

Plato, The Symposium

Back to basics. If you have not read it yet, this is with no doubt the greatest book about love you are going to find out there. Socrates, who was Plato’s mentor, is the main character of the work and resembles the author’s thought. He participates in a symposium, a banquet accompanied by conversation hosted by Agathon, whose subject is giving encomiums to Love. Many valuable guests give their own speech. Ultimately, Socrates takes the floor, expressing Plato’s own vision about love and the concept of the Ladder of Love, one of the most renowned ideas of the book together with the Androgyne Myth told by Aristophanes. In the end, you might be surprised to find out that platonic love is not what you were used to think.

– Paolo Barone

José Saramago, Blindness

A mysterious pandemic spreads (sounds familiar?): across an unnamed city, people suddenly become blind, and all the measures to contain the spread of the infection prove ineffective. This situation, almost unthinkable when the book was published, leads to a social breakdown, with rule of law, goods production, the functioning of the government – all what civilization has built during thousands of years – being taken over by violence, theft, widespread despair. As odd as it may seem, both in terms of content and prose style, it fits well into the unprecedented period we have been living for months now.

Saramago compellingly describes how disasters can bring out the best and worst of human nature – a phenomenon we all witnessed during the Covid-19 pandemic, and which is even more of interest for a generation like ours, which is getting used to a world order characterized by crisis after crisis.

– Marco Visentin

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

In the critically acclaimed Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells the tale of a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, as she leaves behind her homeland and the boy she loves to immigrate to the US for her education. As Ifemelu struggles to come to terms with being seen as a “Black Person”, she starts working on a blog titled “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black” ¾ a blog that succinctly captures the disappointment inherent in chasing the American dream and one that will make readers laugh, cry, and throw their hands up in frustration all at the same time. Ngozi’s skillful art of weaving a gripping tale that tackles the themes of love, identity, class, and race makes this book a heart-breaking story of a girl in love with a boy and a searing portrayal of racial prejudice all at once.

– Eman Maan

Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country

If you are a bad case of wanderlust and look for a new adventure in these boring lockdown days – exactly like me -, I truly recommend you to read this book. The author, Bill Bryson, takes you on a road trip adventure all around Australia: from Sydney to Perth, from the monolithic rock Uluru to the Great Bareer Reef. With his fabulous sense of humor, he manages to describe all the peculiarities and oddities of this country and his people. This book turned out to be an easy and engaging read to get distracted from the sad news. Moreover, as a reader, I learned a lot and I felt even more inspired to visit this unique country.

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– Francesca Sofia Cocco

Umberto Eco, Numero Zero

Numero Zero is the final work of the influential novelist and cultural critic Umberto Eco. The book tells the story of Colonna, a “pen for hire” in his fifties who is unsatisfied with his life. Thinking that it is worth trying, he accepts a job offer from Simei, the managing editor of the newspaper to be launched Domani (Tomorrow). Along with the other members of the crew, Colonna is hired to write articles for the twelve “zero issues” of the newspaper, which will reveal the alleged truth about many historical and contemporary events. Simei believes that Commendator Vimercate, the financier of the project, aims to blackmail politicians and capital owners with these issues and eventually gain access to their shiny world, not publishing the newspaper at all in return. Released in 2015, this conspiracy thriller takes a satirical perspective on the politics and press of Italy. I deem this fast-paced tale of lies, crimes, and love a delightful read for 2021.

– Cansu Süt

Christopher Wylie, Mindf*ck: Cambridge Analytics and the Plot to Break America

Despite the extravagant title, the book is a must-read for every conscientious individual striving to understand the complex, and at times confusing, state of affairs in global politics. In 2018 he released documents that single-handedly prompted the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal, the details of which he shared in the book. The Cambridge Analytica whistle-blower describes how the company illicitly acquired the personal data of approximately 87 million Facebook user accounts later used for digital advertising campaigns. Through data profiling and psychological manipulation, the political consultancy firm managed to influence the global political scene – during both the 2016 US presidential campaign and the Brexit referendum. The book sheds light on a very serious issue that potentially represents a threat to modern-day democracy.  

– Jerzy Rozycki

Ian Morris, Why the West Rules… for Now

The uniqueness of this book comes from its unique approach to the analysis of history, considering all the different facets that can help us judge a society, and compiling them in a single index that allows the reader to clearly understand just how advanced each one was. This index then paints a clear story that shows just how much progress we have made as human race. But the story is much more than just about the West and the East; it is a story of mankind.

The reason I recommend this book is the connection it makes to our current world, especially in the context of this crazy 2020. The final predictions that Ian Morris makes tell us that we are at a critical turning point which will define our future centuries: we are either poised to continue our vertiginous rise to an incomprehensibly intelligent, complete and technologically advanced society or we can drastically fall from our pedestal, returning to pre-Industrial Revolution levels. One of the possible triggers for that fall? A global pandemic.

– Filippo Menozzi

Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

I would argue that any Joan Didion book is worth reading, but Slouching Towards Bethlehem is one to specifically look out for. The book is a series of non-fiction essays covering the nature of the late 1960s. In the heart of the hippie movement, Didion captures the essence of American culture. From John Wayne to Joan Baez, Didion perfectly portrays the end of the old age of Hollywood and California, and the new age of young political movements. Many of the essays cover different events in different locations, such as Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Hawaii, and New York. What I find especially remarkable about Joan Didion is her unmatched ability to make one feel like they are there. Wherever she may be, whoever she may be watching or talking with, you feel as if you were there with her as she takes you along through her thought analysis.

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– Daniela Castro

Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a journalistic approach to a controversial scientific experiment led on a Afroamerican woman. This work emphasizes the gap existing between social classes in United States and makes us reflect on the consequences of scientific studies. Samples of Mrs Lacks’ cervical tissues were taken without her agreement for experimental purposes. It turned out to be a huge advance for medicine since they were the first immortal human cells. The tissues market, yet unknown to the public, represents a multimillion industry and could have given Henrietta’s family a whole new chance in life. However, they only found out about the study years after her death and never received recognition. Even today, this technology is useful for in-vitro fertilization and gene mapping. The author relates the full story behind this discovery through interviews with the patient’s family and a decade of deep research.

– Mathilde Dansereau

Post Pink: Antologia di fumetto femminista

Il titolo apparentemente pretenzioso di questa graphic novel rispecchia solo in parte i temi seri, che vengono però trattati in maniera acuta e irriverente. Identità di genere, sessualità, pregiudizio e procreazione sono solo alcuni degli argomenti che vengono affrontati nei nove fumetti presenti nel libro. Ognuno di essi porta la firma di una donna, un’artista, come Alice Milani, Fumettibrutti, La Tram, le quali affrontano alcune delle mille declinazioni del femminismo utilizzando il loro punto di vista, il loro linguaggio e i loro disegni. Il risultato è una raccolta di brevi fumetti che narrano il corpo della donna nelle sue varie sfaccettature, nei suoi misteri e nel suo fascino. Post Pink è un libro che non fornisce risposte, né spiegazioni. È un libro “impegnato” più che impegnativo, il cui intento è far discutere.

– Olimpia Vitali

Charles C. Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

In an attempt to address the staggering amount of misconceptions on Native Americans prior to the arrival of Europeans, Charles Mann takes a riveting deep dive into pre-Columbian societies. Though this book lacks the latest research, I found Mann’s work to be comprehensive in tackling several out-of-date beliefs on Native American cultures, such as the notions that the pre-Columbian Americas were sparsely populated, that there were few complex societies, and that the natural landscape was “untouched” by human designs. What makes Mann’s work interesting is both its accessibility, in that it breaks down convoluted theories into digestible dialogues, and its wide coverage of topics, going from the Mississippi Mound Culture to the environmental disaster the Maya endured to the selective breeding of corn. It may be a dry read, but if you are looking to expand your understanding of American history before colonization, I urge you to try this book.

– Fabio Di Fabbrizio

Andrea De Carlo, Due di Due

Due di Due, capolavoro di Andrea De Carlo scritto per i figli del ’68, evoca rivoluzioni universali. Una Bibbia della gioventù in cui rileggere sé stessi, nel filo sottile tra la volontà di cambiare il mondo e lo smarrimento del non riuscirci. L’amicizia di Guido e Mario, “due possibili percorsi iniziati dallo stesso bivio”, la purezza di un amore sospeso, totalmente libero da sovrastrutture. La vera Grecia, quella del posto ponte sulla nave, descritta dall’autore con un linguaggio vivace, con la sua poesia nascosta del quotidiano.

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Lo so come ti senti… È come essere dietro un vetro, non puoi toccare niente di quello che vedi. Ho passato tre quarti della mia vita chiuso fuori, finché ho capito che l’unico modo è romperlo. E se hai paura di farti male, prova a immaginarti di essere già vecchio e quasi morto, pieno di rimpianti.”

Rompete il vetro e arrivate all’ultima pagina.

– Linda Fasoli

Paolo Genovese, Supereroi

Una storia d’amore poco convenzionale quella tra Anna e Marco, lei fumettista che lavora di notte, lui insegnante di fisica al Politecnico. Si sono incontrati per la prima volta sui Navigli e non è scattato subito il colpo di fulmine, e nemmeno la seconda volta, e forse per Anna neanche la terza. Eppure, sono ancora insieme dopo più di dieci anni, come due supereroi che hanno dovuto servirsi di numerosi poteri per farcela. In un mondo che esalta sempre di più l’individualità, stare insieme per sempre sembra una vera impresa eroica. Il regista di Immaturi e Perfetti sconosciuti ci racconta una storia con numerosi alti e bassi, colpi di scena e dialoghi stimolanti. Un libro per romantici? Non direi, anzi, lo consiglio proprio a chi non ama questo genere, perché i personaggi sono insoliti, il loro amore è singolare, e tocca nel profondo con un finale inaspettato e commovente.

– Sara Gobetti

Sally Rooney, Normal People

Set in contemporary Dublin, Normal People follows Connell and Marianne, initially seniors in a small, local high school and later students at Trinity College. Although seemingly opposite with regards to character and social background, the two are inevitably drawn to each other in a way that not even they can fully understand. Over the years, while each fearfully moves their first steps in the real world outside of their home, they find themselves constructing a relationship that transcends any common definitions but deeply shapes the way each will turn out to be. With her witty and yet simple, relatable style, Sally Rooney tells a story of love and friendship, addressing the anxiousness and excitement that come with growing up and experiencing things for the first time. It is the kind of novel in which, to an extent, everyone can feel at home, recognizing themselves or someone they know.

– Bojan Zeric

Yuval Noah Harari, 21 lezioni per il XXI secolo

Lo storico Yuval Noah Harari si interroga sulle grandi sfide che dovremo affrontare nell’arco di questo secolo, dalle migrazioni all’intelligenza artificiale, dalla descrizione teorica e funzionale del mondo liberale a come erroneamente viene applicato in diversi Stati.

Lo storico usa una metafora culinaria per indicare una ricetta liberale che, concretizzata, garantirebbe libertà – economica ed individuale – e diritti civili e sanitari che permetterebbero la costruzione di un mondo migliore.

L’analisi dello storico riguarda il mondo nella sua totalità, e mette l’accento su come le sfide che ci aspettano siano globali e – come tali – necessitino di risposte globali: dal riscaldamento globale fino ad un nuovo modello economico attento alle uguaglianze sociali e al rispetto delle risorse limitate del nostro pianeta.

Nel libro si trova una risposta a tante domande, ma altrettante sono quelle che rimangono con un interrogativo, e che ci portano a riflettere sul mondo che ci circonda.

– Gabriele Bernard

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