Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Guide for Creating 'Confident Digital Content'

Storytelling never dies it only embraces different medium and technologies in order to diversify and magnify the stories. Especially nowadays when social media plays such a dramatic role in our everyday life, it is important to acknowledge every single aspect and angle of the digital content.
In Confident Digital Content you are offered a couple of practical insights guiding anyone interested in a career in this domain to start on the right foot.
Content means more than a good choice of words, it has to do with the setting, the timing, the organisation of the materials, the visual - photo and/or video - accompaniment. 'By understanding how to make great content you can get your customers to do your advertising for you as they share your osts and watch your videos'. A career in this domain is as challenging as engineering sometimes, although the ironic smile cannot be avoided when you might answer to someone active in a classical job what you are actually doing. However, selling digital content requires a lot of skills, time and dedication and even more hard work. Being multiskilled guarantees professional success translated into an expanding portfolio of customers. 
The knowledge in this domain is a permanent workshop and a successful professional in this field should keep being updated to various techniques, editing programs, SEO and algorithms, webdesign techniques, types and capabilities of various smart phones or social media specificities. On the other hand, a considerable investment is not requested. 'You don't need specific qualifications, expensive equipment or exclusive contacts. All that's required is a desire to learn, to be creative and a passion for telling stories'. As the book rather addresses beginner and mid-level professionals such a statement stays valid but once you are on a higher level you cannot further advance without a significant financial investment. At this level though, you can learn about various techniques and medium while watching YouTube videos, for instance. 
The book provides exercices and practical examples, which increases its practical value. 
The guidelines are useful both if you want to create individual content or content for various communities and organisation. It's written in a systematic simplew way, browsing all the currrent possibilities and opportunities. 
My only big observation about this otherwise good useful book is why the cover is so uninspired. But the content hiding under that cover is worth reading it.

Rating: 4 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Stories of Love from the Therapy Couch

Love, as a fact of mentalities, depends at a great extent on a social, geographical and historical concept. Includig the absence of it. For centuries, marriages were not supposed to answer the overwhelming cry for love and perfect compatibility, but very peculiar yet socially important reasons, such as social and economic status or simple reproduction. Romeo and Juliet failed to turn their passion into love and who knows what would have happen of their feelings once settled in the household routines?  
The last two centuries - at least in Europe - changed the shift: love is what it matters and not finding the right partner to answer our idealized - often unrealistic - conception(s) or projection(s) of love delays considerably the 'yes' moment. Some are becoming so fearful and unable to assume resposibility that they rather prefer to be alone, eventually caring of a pet, than in a stable relationship. 
But what is love, actually, beyond the poetic smokescreen? The Incurable Romantic by Frank Tallis is mostly a very clear, surgical-like account of various faces of interpretations of love. You will read about jealousy and depenndency and obsession, all tragical masks of what we call and sometime experience as 'love'.  On the therapist's couch, there are people that cannot give up former relationships, manifestatios in fact of deeper trauma and psychological urges, people fantasizing about relationships that do not exist or unable to have any relationships at all. The diversity of cases and backgrounds - although at a great extent limited to England, the country of practice of Frank Tallis - is overwhelming and gives a complex - although frightning overview - of what we call love, which often fell closer to a psychotic manifestation than on the romantic dreams we are nurturing way too much. But as Alfred Adler, quoted in the book said: 'The only normal people are those you don't know very well', and this may apply to ourselves as well. Getting to know yourself through therapy and introspection might reveal unpleasant truths and realities.
Average life, of many those not ending up on the therapist's couch is simple and less tormented, including when it comes about relationships. 'In reality, few people get to marry their ideal parter. Love involves making a series of compromises. This is non bad thing, because an idealised partner is only nominally human'.
Besides the diversity of cases and angles, what is recomforting in Frank Tallis' book is the diversity of methods used for the analysis, from the classical Freudian sources to systemic. The pure account of the author's challenges and personal experiences makes the book valuable not only for those curious about a different perception and interpretation of love, but also for future and current therapy practicians. 
Although each and every one of the cases presented are complex and with a long term impact on the reader, I've found some of the stories ending up too abruptly and without a much deserved conclusion or in-depth and outreach. 
But am I to judge when it comes about love? Some things are better left the way they are without further ado. 'Life is a precarious business and love is its essential ingredient'. As essential as death some optimists will say.

Rating: 4 stars 

Monday, October 28, 2019

A Slow-Paced Delicious Chick-Lit Novel for the Beginning of the Winter

If you are looking for a slow-paced novel with realistic characters with many historical references and a inter-cultural touch, this debut by the Iranian-American writer Marjan Kamali is a perfect way to spend some quality reading hours. Published in English as Together Tea (I've read the German version translated as Tausendundein Granatapfelkern - which means 1001 Pomegranate Seeds, not necessarily a smart choice), the novel follows for several decades the story of an Iranian family that left the country for America after the Islamic revolution. Darya is looking for a perfect marriage candidate for her 25-year old daugher Mina, among the available bachelors within the Iranian community in the USA. After 15 years in America and an American citizenship later, Darya is still longing for the smells and the warm human relationships from her home, although she despises the religious dictatorship. 
When Mina realizes she needs a moment of reflection about herself and her future, the decision she took is to revisit the places of her childhood and reconnect to her Iranian roots in her country of birth. Her mother can't wait to join her and together they embark on the adventure that involves not only revisiting old relatives and places, but also coping with the religious police and the double life mostly the young people are living: the segregated outdoors life where the women outfits are under the scrutinity of the religious police versus the freedom of enjoying the simple things in life behind the closed doors. 
Finelly written, the story is flowing nicelly. The character are realistic that you can imagine each and every one of them in real life. The story is adorned with interesting details about the rich Persian history, culture and cuisine. Those details are adorning beautifully the narrative offerig an alternative to the scarcity and usually stereotyical information available about Iran in the Western media.
This quality chick-lit has everything a modern reader might be interested in: a coherent story, a love episode, strong women fighting with difficult circumstances, multicultural contexts and recent history. On a weekend afternoon, you hardly want to move from the couch until the book is finished. 

Rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

PJÖNGJANG, by Guy Delisle, a Visual Diary of 2 Months in North Korea

On professional assignment for two months in North Korea - apparently, such projects are possible for foreigners in the world's most absurd dictatorship - Guy Delisle is taking note of his environment. 
He is not the only foreigner here, as he joins once the week another bunch of people working for NGOs or other projects using local workforce. Always surrounded by assigned personnel, never able to see the country with his own eyes, Delisle is offered the version that the propaganda set up for him. Everything is a potemkinesque show aimed to brainwash the locals and confuse the visitors. 
Once out of North Korea, where he worked in an animation studio, Delisle is setting up the visual diary, where he mentions the camps and the political and economic/social restrictions from the everyday life. He is not a passive observer, far from it. However, he mostly prefer a very detached, half-ironic attitude. After all, he is just a passer-by through this bizarre world.
Pjöngjang - which is the North Korean capital city - could be a good introduction into this strange universe. The information is dense and the illustrations might help to figure out the extent of the everyday life absurdity.
Personally, the graphic format did not appeal too much to me, as I am more into expressive drawings. Delisle style is very much typical for the French school of graphic novels. There are also a couple of arrogant/mysoginistic observations when it comes to women characters that are completely out of context and completely misplaced - not that such lines are ever welcomed in a public text.
I've read the German speaking version, published by Reprodukt.

Rating: 3 stars

Friday, October 11, 2019

ISTROS Books put SE Europe back on the publishing map

South Eastern European countries are interesting - or rather were - only when a bloody conflict was taking place. The wars in the ex-Yougoslavia and the difficult post-communist transition to democracy in the former communist block created a certain interest for a limited amount of time for this part of Europe, including from the cultural point of view. After that, nothing. The funding for various projects was severed, the scholarships covering topics related to this area were considered 'unuseful' and a curtain of neglect separated this part of the world from the centers of intellectual and political interest.
When I've discovered Istros Books on Twitter recently, I felt like coming back home. Home not only because I've spent a couple of years discovering and learning about SE Europe but also because it took the risk of revealing special authors from this region to the world. Like, for instance, Ludovic Bruckstein a literary voice for long forgotten in his native Romania. 
I am honoured to be given the opportunity of publishing an interview on my blog with Founding Director Susan D. Curtis about this very special edition house, whose works are more needed than ever. 

- What was the idea of creating this edition house?

I started Istros with the deliberate cultural agenda of making the literature of SE Europe more visible to the English-speaking world (and therefore a large portion of the world). Being a regular visitor to Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Romania, I knew a lot about their literature and also about the lack of translations available in English. 
- The literature from this part of Europe is not so well known worldwide. Besides the shift of political interest in the last decade, what are the reasons for this unfair treatment?

Borders change but some things stay the same - the invisible Byzantine/ Catholic divide or the West/East Europe divide still exists in a way. Nothing much has improved in terms of the exposure of the literature or culture of that region, despite the EU expansion. This is obviously an unfair state of affairs and also dangerous - the less we know, the less we care, and we know to our detriment how short-sighted it was to ignore the Balkans in 1914 or Yugoslavia in the 1990s. 
- How do you pick up the list of books for translation? How do you find the translators?

Almost all of the authors I publish have won prestigious national or international awards.  I have seven winners of the EU Prize for Literature on my list. I also attend book fairs, conferences and publishing fellowships around the region, and get to talk to key players in the book world, so I know which books or authors are getting attention. 

- Do you have an approximate profile of your readers?

I don't like to think in terms of marketing and find this a difficult question. I think that many people would like to read books with and authentic authorial voice and with an original story. Authors from SE Europe have so much to offer - the region itself is so multicultural and so rich in story. The main problem for me as a small publisher is not being about to reach readers because I don't have a marketing budget or the reach which the bigs boys have. I rely on reviews, the enthusiasm of individual booksellers and word of mouth. 

- What can be done, in your opinion, to create interest for the literature from this part of Europe? 

I cooperative with a number of embassies and cultural institutes and try to organise as many book launches and promotional events as possible. It would be great if more literary festivals were open to having foreign authors as well as the much loved best sellers and celebrity writers. The best thing that us small players can do is cooperate with like-minded organisations and other publishers in order to find new ways to reach the public.  

- What are your publishing plans for the next six months?
Our October titles come from two Slovenian authors writing about two different periods in the history of their country: a story of survival in the northern town of Morska Sobota during WWII, and a tale of loss and confusion during the more recent conflict of the 1990s. Billiards at the Hotel Dobray is Dušan Šarotar's second book in English, following on from his highly praised 2016 novel, Panorama .Once again, we are offered a semi-autobiographical story which blurs the distinction between fact and fiction. The End. And Again offers a beguiling, imaginative reworking of the history of the independence of Slovenia and the break-up of Yugoslavia through the eyes of its four main characters.

Friday, October 4, 2019

'What My Mother and I Don't Talk About'

Mothers are a difficult topic to talk about. Even to think about it is frightening. More than the relationship with our fathers mothers - or their absence - are setting up impossible to break neural networks. Their love, neglect, indifference, hate and aggressivity is what further define our relationships, life disfunctionalities or success. We want to be like our mothers, or someone else completely. 
What My Mother and I Don't Talk About. Fifteen Writers Break the Silence is a terrible testimony of this complex reality we set up - rarelly consciously - with our mothers. The fifteen essays collected in the book expose different aspects of this relationship. Each story is different as each and every relationship with a mother differs, with its goods and bads. The essays differ also in intensity and in the ways in which the writers are reevaluating this relationship. From curiosity to complete rejection and pity, mothers are not easy to talk about, to understand and describe in just a few words.
Each essays open wounds or questions, and one of the heaviest emotionally is the opening one by Michele Filgate, about how her mother ignored the repeated abuse of her step-father. I've heard about similar situations more than once and I am still puzzled: how it is possible to sink into such a deep denial that you ignore the terrible things done to your own child? The answer to this question always leaves me speechless in sadness. 
Between mothers and children there are so many open questions, silences and regrets. But after going through the essays I figured out that there are so many ways left to see, understand and translate motherhood. So many questions to ask, answers to get and forgiveness to allow. Unless by the time you are reaching such a level of self-reflection, your mother is long gone. 

Rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Story of the Cat Man from Aleppo

When a conflict breaks up, animals and children are the first victims. They cannot protect themselves, they depend upon other people and when those humans are killed or disappear or forced to leave, they are left with no one. 
In the famous city of Aleppo, a treasor of humanity destroyed by the intensive 7-year conflict, Alaa choose to stay. His friends and relatives left or were killed, but he cannot live anywhere else. Alaa has a mission too: to rescue the cats whose owners are no more. He is feeding them and with the help of other generous and kind people he is able to create shelter for cats first, where other abandoned animals are hosted too. Soon, he will extend his generosity to orphan children which are offered a playground and a regular daily care.
The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Bashi is a beautifully illustrated story - by Yuko Shinizu - about the story of this kind man, Alaa. In simple words, his tremendous efforts and kindness are explained and introduced to the reader. Because Alaa exists. Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel is living in Aleppo and he is helping abandoned animals and children on a daily basis. There is some hope for humanity, indeed...
'Alaa loves his ciy of Aleppo. He hopes one day soon its bazaars selling pistachios and jasmine soap will return, and he can enjoy eating boiled corn and dried figs. Meanwhile, he loves the sanctuary's courtyard filled with fat, sleepy-eyed cats. There's no place he'd rather be'.

Rating: 5 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review 

NaNoWriMo is coming. And this time I am in! Again!

In one month, NaNoWriMo, an online challenge for writers to finish a 50,000-word novel within 30 days, is on. I've been a successful participant a couple of years back, but unfortunatelly, for a couple of more or less excusable reasons, I've give up. I not even know what happened with the text of my novel I've written during that month. 
However, during all those years, my writing went sometimes well, sometimes at all. Although I do not suffer of writer's block - as a big part of my revenue is provided by my writing, I simply cannot afford such a luxury - I often notice how I am getting lost in small - blogging projects - instead of working on my big writing endeavours, such as my books. True is, in the last years, I've self- published three books on different topics, but I'm very far from reaching my potential. I have for over a year three books in various stages of elaboration. I am writing fast and enjoying it, and the research stage is also an enjoyable activity, but what I am sometimes lacking is that strong motivation of finishing them. Sometimes I am thinking the reason for the delay is that I am also a bit afraid to expose myself publicly, but it is not such a serious thought as I love clearly and strongly express my opinions - on almost everything
After so many second thoughts and the prospect of just another year of delays, I took a very brave decision. This year, I am back to NaNoWriMo and as I am writing, I also set up a new fresh profile on the website. As I want to dedicate October to finishing my non-fiction projects - hopefully will be able to finish at least two of them until the end of the month - and focus on November on a fiction book. The topic and the final outline are to be determined in the next weeks. Enough is enough. It is about time to assume my writing identity and invest my time and energies accordingly. When you know from the age of 16 - blame it on Virginia Wolf's essays - that all you want to do is writing and nothing else, all I have to do is to channel my energies and start writing those books and articles that are waiting for.
The countdown starts now and I can't wait to. Meanwhile, I have enough time to practice my writing and eventually, to win again the NaNoWriMo competition.