I read this initially about a year ago, and thought it was quite interesting. A bit earlier I had read several of Strindberg’s plays, and also his novel-memoir “The Inferno”, so I was naturally interested in it. Now, I should say that what I read originally was called “Zones of the Spirit”, which was an excerpt of “A Blue Book” published in English in 1913; then I found out that the original work is much larger. And so, since then, I thought that I wanted to publish a larger selection of its contents.

August Strindberg’s “A Blue Book” was written between 1906 and 1912, the final period of his life, when he was influenced by his readings of the mystic Immanuel Swedenborg. During this same period he also wrote some of his best plays, including “The Ghost Sonata” .

“A Blue Book” was published in Sweden in four volumes. What we are publishing with Contrarium is a selection of volumes I and II with many texts never published in English before.

It is difficult to summarize “A Blue Book”. Many texts in the Vol. I take the form of a dialogue between a pupil and a teacher. Some interpret the pupil, sometimes also called Johann Damascenus, as being Strindberg himself, and the teacher as a proxy for Immanuel Swedenborg, the Swedish visionary who influenced Strindberg in his later years. However, since both pupil and teacher eventually make references to Strindberg’s own life, perhaps it would be more correct to understand the discussion between the pupil and the teacher as a discussion between the younger and the older Strindberg – or, at least, that’s another possible interpretation. The texts in the second volume abandon the “teacher and pupil” motif and simply consist of digressions by Strindberg himself, but basically in the same style as before, discussing themes such as love, human psychology, religion and mortality.

It is a fascinating work, which can give further insights about many of Strindberg’s later plays, as well as about “The Inferno” (1894), the narration of his previous spiritual crisis. While “The Inferno” is interesting in its own right, we believe that this book, which is in a way the solution to the preceding crisis, shows a much more serene Strindberg, a man coming to terms with life, Christianity and his own past, and offers many illuminating thoughts that can be interesting not only to scholars or those interested in the Swedish writer’s work, but to all general readers interested in religion, philosophy and human behaviour. August Strindberg (1849 – 1912) was one of the best playwrights of the modern era, author of “Miss Julie”, “To Damascus”, “The Dream Play” and many others.

Few know that Strindberg was also an excellent painter and photographer. We included here some of Strindberg’s own paintings and photographs, including his experimental “celestographs” on the cover, and also a few drawings or prints by the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, who was a friend of the author.

Most people are happy to own a cat or a dog, or perhaps a goldfish, but some prefer other more unusual creatures. Here there’s an article I just published elsewhere that talks about a few writers and artists who had a taste for exotic or unusual pets, most of which I did not mention in the boo “Our Pets and Us“.

Frida Kahlo with Granizo.

Our first Contrarium book, “Our Pets and Us: The Evolution of a Relationship”, is now available for purchase at Amazon or in our own online shop (cheaper price, but only Paypal accepted).

It is a short illustrated book (170 pages) about the history of the relationship of humans with pets (mostly cats and dogs, but we also discuss other animals), from the beginning of domestication to current trends.

Each chapter focuses on a specific theme or historical period, discussing the most varied subjects such as the fate of pets during the French and Russian revolutions, the use of pets in the space race, how the use of dogs as guides for the blind started, the association of cats with witches in the Middle Ages, and many other fascinating curiosities.

It’s a good book for anyone interested in history — or in pets, which I guess would include most of us. It’s also a nice gift for friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, mothers, fathers, grandfathers, in-laws, etc.

Please buy it! It costs less than a package of dog or cat food.

I watched the other day the latest version of “Little Women”, by Greta Gerwig (2019). A fine directorial effort, very nice photography, but I just could not concentrate very much on the plot, had some difficulty getting which girl was which, and the wine I was drinking at the time didn’t help. I guess that, if there is a story that was created specifically for females, it has to be “Little Women”.

Nothing against it, of course. It’s just that it feels like when you’re a boy and you’re watching a pirate movie and then there is some kind of boring kiss scene and romantic drama and you just want it to end and get back to sword-fighting and shipwrecking. Well, here there’s only romantic drama.

Now I admit, I never really liked romantic comedies in cinema. And in literature, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, well, they are good writers, for sure, but their themes are so “for women”, that I just never had too much interest.

On the other hand, I love Emily Dickinson, Wisława Szymborska and many female poets. Novelists, I’ve read with pleasure Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton, among others. And Flannery O’Connor is a genius short story writer, better than most men. So it’s not a question of women being or not being good at writing, but really about the themes of the stories they choose to tell, which in many cases tend to be about love/relationships/being a female and are thus more appreciated by women.

Is there a similar case of books “for boys”? Well, I suppose that science fiction and adventure books (Jack London, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, etc.) are in general more interesting for men/boys, but there are some women who like them too. Many non-fiction themes (history, politics, science, war) are also heavily preferred by men, but I suppose there are some women who are history or science buffs.

Yet the opposite almost never seems to happen: it is rare for men to be interested in explicitly romantic novels. How many men have read “Fifty Shades of Grey?”

But then again, it might be just a case of personal preference. There are some great books written by women that are wonderful for both boys and girls, and I might compile a list one day.

Pandemic, protests, economic crisis. Rougher times ahead, it all seems to indicate. What books to read?

Some choose to read classic books somewhat related to pandemics. Such as Camus’ “The Plague“, or even better, Bocaccio’s “Decameron“. Good choices, but, perhaps what you want is something more relaxing that actually makes you forget the virus, the protests and the crazy times we’re living in?

Well, I guess it’s all a question of choice. Here are some indications that we feel might be of interest.

Down and Out in Paris and London. George Orwell. If the economic situation turns for the worse, this might be a good book to prepare oneself.

Democracy: The God That Failed. Hans-Hermann Hoppe. An interesting discussion about democracy, in a moment when it appears to be in crisis.

Rhynoceros, Eugene Ionesco. An absurdist play about a very particular kind of epidemic. Funny and scary at the same time.

Brave New World. Aldous Huxley. Everybody talks about “1984” as the defining dystopia of the 20th century, and while it is perhaps the better book in many ways, this novel may have gotten closer to what current society is really like (or will be soon).

Fahrenheit 451. Ray Bradbury. Everyone thought that the Internet would herald a new age of free speech, but the current censoring going on at Youtube, Facebook and Google in the name of the “politically correct” has disproved that idea. Actually, in some ways, thanks to technology, it has never been easier to institute censorship and thought control.

The Great Depression. Dorothea Lange. Classic photographs of a period of crisis after the 1929 crash. Iconic images of a time that no one hopes will come back.

What are “malacomorphs”? Well, “malakos” in Greek means literally “soft”, but it’s also by analogy how we scientifically call mollusks, including snails: malacology, for example, is the study of mollusks. So “malacomorphs” are snail-creatures.

For some reason that even most specialists don’t know, many manuscripts have in their corners little illustrations of snails and other animals. In some cases, the snails are crossbred with other animals or even humans. There is even a manuscript with an illustration of people living in snail houses.

Why snails? There are some hypotheses about their possible symbolism, but no one know for sure. Violent rabbits are also popular, which might have influenced Terry Jones in creating that famous scene in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”.

An angry malacomorph

We spend several hours each day looking at screens. Most of what we read, for work or for leisure – reports, student essays, blogs, newspapers – now we read on a screen.

But reading on a screen is less conducive to concentration than reading on paper. At least, that’s what a recent study from 2019 seems to indicate. Students memorize better what they read on paper.

I don’t think it has to do with the brightness of the screen affecting our eyes. It’s just that on a screen, and particularly if we are reading on the web, that so are many more elements that catch our attention that it is difficult to focus just on simply following the text. And most of it is really involuntary: our eyes meander around the screen captured by images or ads, and our brain has so many different stimuli that concentration becomes harder.

But there is another question related to reading on the Internet that has been less discussed: what would happen if, say, there was some kind of digital apocalypse and all servers worldwide went down? A lot of the information online has no actual existence beyond data in the cloud. Granted, it’s not likely that this could happen, and of course there is a lot of redundancy and multiple copies on multiple servers, but still, text written on paper has survived for millennia. And digital technology is very recent and yet it has gone to so many changes, from floppy disks to zip drives, that we really cannot be sure how it will be a thousand years for now.

So paper will probably remain with us, one way or another.

Some people love ice cream. Some people love video games. Some people love alcohol and drugs. We love books.

Well, I know I do.

I grew up surrounded by a large collection of books and by my dad’s full set of twenty volumes of the original Encyclopedia Britannica. It was my Google. There was no Internet then, or, at any rate, no Wikipedia yet. (And nothing against Wikipedia, but the old-style Britannica was something else).

I still love the physical aspect of paper books, and I prefer to read in the paper format whenever I can. Which means, most times except when I am travelling. I do love the practicality and malleability of e-books, but as physical objects, there’s nothing like a paper book.

Of course, paper books occupy space. And if you move or travel constantly, as I did in the last ten years of my life, then you cannot carry them with you at all times. Unfortunately, I had to get rid of an awful lot of books in my life, some of them books that I liked very much. Well, not really “get rid” – they were not thrown in the trash or burned, I couldn’t possibly do that. They were given away to friends or donated to libraries, so there’s the hope that the same old books will give joy to others the same way they gave me.

I hope you love books too. I hope you love the books that we publish, especially. I hope you buy them all. And if one day you need to move and can’t carry all of them with you, give them to a friend or donate them to a library.