Wednesday, 29 December 2010


And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks by William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac (1945)

In 1944 both Burroughs and Kerouac were charged as accessories to murder, after one of their friends murdered a much older homosexual suitor. After the event, the two, then unpublished author, co-wrote a book based on the days before the murder. They couldn't get the book published in the beginning, and later on they also promised the murderer that the book wouldn't be published. It was finally published in 2008, long after all the people involved were dead.

The story is narrated by Will Dennison (the chapters are written by Burroughs) and Mike Ryko (the chapters are written by Kerouac), and follows them around New York in the days before the murder. Will Dennison is occasionally working as a detective, but also deals on the other side of the law. Mike Ryko is trying to find a ship to work on, but drinks too much. The pretty boy, Phillipp, is fed up with his much older suitor, Al, and wants to ship out with Mike, but the trouble is that they never find a suitable boat for their plan to run off to France.

It was great to read a not confusing story by William S. Burroughs. I read Naked Lunch a few years ago, and it was so confusing that I have been dreading to pick up Junky, although it has been on my shelf for too long now. Jack Kerouac is, as always, brilliant.

The afterword by James Grauerholz explains the real circumstances concerning the murder and gives a great insight in the life of the Beat generation.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010


Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)

"124 was spiteful. Full of a baby's venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children. For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver were its only victims. The grandmother, Baby Suggs, was dead, and the sons, Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were thirteen years old - as soon as merely looking in a mirror shattered it (that was the signal for Buglar); as soon as two tiny hand prints appeared in the cake (that was it for Howard). Neither boy waited to see more; another kettleful of chickpeas smoking in heap on the floor; soda crackers crumbled and strewn in a line next to the doorsill. Nor did they wait for one of the relief periods; the weeks, months even, when nothing was disturbed."
Sethe, a runaway slave girl, kills her eldest baby girl, Beloved, when her owner comes looking for her. Beloved haunts the house until a day when a former slave, who knew Sethe from a farm, chases the ghost away. A few weeks later, a beautiful girl, turns up at the house, claiming she is Beloved.

The story changes between present and past, and thus gives a good insight in the lives of slaves at the time of the American Civil War. The language reminded me a lot of William Faulkner, though a lot easier to follow. Such a sad and violent tale. I will definitely read more by Toni Morrison, who got the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.
"Could she sing? (Was it nice to hear when she did?) Was she pretty? Was she a good friend? Could she have been a loving mother? A faithful wife? Have I got a sister and does she favor me? If my mother knew me would she like me?"

Thursday, 23 December 2010


the Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton (1947)

"London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own obscure, malignant way. Its vital oxygen is composed of suburban working men and women of all kinds, who every morning are sucked up through an infinitely complicated respiratory apparatus of trains and termini into the mighty congested lungs, held there for a number of hours, and then, in the evening, exhaled violently through the same channels.
The men and women imagine they are going into London and coming out again more or less of their own free will, but the crouching monster sees all and knows better.
The area affected by this filthy inhalation actually extends beyond what we ordinarily think of as the suburbs - to towns, villages, and districts as far as, or further than, twenty-five miles from the capital. Amongst these was Thames Lockdon, which lay on the river some miles beyond Maidenhead on the Maidenhead line.
The conditions were those of intense war, intense winter, and the intensest black-out in the month of December."
Miss Roach, a woman around forty, had to flee from London during the Blitz. She seeks escape in a boarding house, the Rosamund Tea Rooms, which is occupied by a bunch of lonely souls. All meals are either eaten in silence or follow a strict, polite pattern led by Mr Thwaites. Miss Roach loathes Mr Thwaites, they often quarrel about everything and anything. He has a way of speaking in his own language which sounds like something out of Shakespeare, and it takes a while for the people around him to understand what he is actually saying. Miss Roach has an American lieutenant who takes her out to drinks and kisses in the park now and then. Miss Roach is also friends with a German girl, Vicki, but when she moves to the Rosamund Tea Rooms, Miss Roach is filled with hatred for her.

I have said it before, but I will say it again; Patrick Hamilton writes bloody well. The dark streets of Thames Lockdon and the dark mind of Miss Roach are enchanting and the terror of the war is ever present. Yet I didn't quite enjoy the book, I think it was too detailed for my liking. Yet I loved the detailed writing, the way the sentences are structured. I love the last sentence in the book. And Miss Roach didn't get my sympathy at all. I also really liked Doris Lessing's introduction to the book.

Thursday, 9 December 2010


the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1926)
"In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.
'Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone' he told me, 'just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had'"
Nick's neighbour is the infamous Jay Gatsby. Every weekend his house on Long Island fills up with people and they party all day and all night. There are plenty of rumours about Mr Gatsby. Is he an illegal bootlegger smuggling booze from Canada? And where did he get all his money and rubies from? Nick admires his neighbour and they turn into great friends, but Mr Gatsby has an agenda for befriending Nick. Gatsby wants to reconnect with his great love, Daisy, who is a relative of Nick's.
"And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night."
This is considered one of the great American novels. And it really is. Read it, weep and smile.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

epic fail.

I and Ikea furniture do not get along. I always get something wrong. This time as well. The top shelf is the wrong way, I couldn't get the screws out again so it is stuck, and therefore I couldn't get the cardboard fitted on the back either. I'm not touching the other bookshelf until I have someone of the opposite sex present.

As I had just one suitcase with me when I moved down south, most of the books are bought in the two past months. Will bring some more with me when I go home for Christmas, still have plenty of unread books in my bookshelves there.
I also bought my first proper plant today. Hopefully it will live a prosperous life.

ps. A new camera is on my wishlist for Christmas, can't take good pictures when you see nothing.

kindle and bookshelves

I have been wanting a Kindle for a long time and now I finally could afford one. I will mainly use it for non-fiction as I still intend to have a library one day. It sucks that it will take over a month before it's delivered, but I'm sure it will be worth the wait.

I also went to Ikea today and bought bookshelves and I'm in the midst of putting them out (and other Ikea furniture, takes forever apparently). Will take pictures once my books have found their new home.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

reading goals and such

As this year is approaching its end, and as I reached my reading goal of 50 books already in August, I think it's time to look ahead to the new year.

My main goal will be the same; read 50 books during the year. But I have been thinking about what books I should read and have come up with some aims:
  • Read non-fiction, a genre I have ignored as I love fiction, but there is so much to learn from non-fiction books. Non-fiction books I own are King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, Empires and Barbarians by P. Heather and A Carpet Ride to Khiva by C.A Alexander.
  • Read those classics. Many of them have been gathering dust on my bookshelf for years.
  • Read contemporary young adult fiction. I need to be able to recommend some books for my students to read. So far, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli is the only book on my list.
  • Cross off some more books on the 1001 books you should read before you die list. Only 5% complete. The shame! Also work on my life-time goal; read something by every Nobel Prize laureate.
  • Continue my journey around the world in literature. This year I covered 17 countries.
  • Read indigenous authors, and especially from the Arctic.
  • Read the books I own instead of buying new ones. Almost half the books I own are unread, circa 200.
Recommendations on how I can reach these goals are greatly appreciated, especially tips on indigenous Arctic authors.

2011 in books should be as entertaining as 2010 was.

Thursday, 2 December 2010


Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart (2006)

"This is a book about love. The next 338 pages are dedicated with that cloying Russian affection that passes for real warmth to my Beloved Papa, to the city of New York, to my sweet impoverished girlfriend in the South Bronx and to the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). This is also a book about too much love. It's a book about being had. Let me say that right away: I've been had. They used me. Took advantage of me. Sized me up. Knew right away that they had their man. If "man" is the right word."

Misha is the son of the 1238th richest man in Russia, a famous Jewish Soviet dissident. He is living a carefree life in New York after graduating from an American university when his father wants him back to St. Petersburg. While he is there, his father kills an American and Misha is denied visa to the US again. And then his father is murdered and Gary is the sole inheritor to his money. Because of his father's influence, he is guaranteed a Belgian passport, but he has to move to Absurdistan, the Norway of the Caspian Sea, to get it. And then things get really complicated for Misha.

This book is absurd and brilliant. The stereotypes are spot-on; the filthy newly rich Russians, the multicultural girlfriend from Bronx, the American investors in Absurdistan, the various Absurdi ethnic characters and the rest of the characters. I also liked how Gary Stheyngart had put himself in the book. I also loved the description of St. Petersburg (made me miss the city) and New York. He also did a great job making up an entire country and describing the every day life in the capital. And I finally learnt some new Russian swearwords!

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