Sunday, 30 December 2012

sixty-four.

the Monk by M.G Lewis (1796)

Father Ambrosio is the most popular priest in Madrid because he is so pure. His church is full of people who want to listen to his sermons. His monastery is wall to wall with the St. Claire cloister where the terrible Domina who rules with an iron hand. Lorenzo and his friend Raymond are attending one of Ambrosio's sermons when they spot a really beautiful young girl, Antonia, and Lorenzo falls head over heels. Lorenzo's sister, Agnes, is at the St. Claire cloister and she has a secret relationship with Raymond. But the relationship is found out on the same day that Father Ambrosio discovers that one of his favourite monks happens to be a female.

Mathilda is the monk's real name and she has been in love with Ambrosio for ever. She manages to corrupt his innocence which leads Ambrosio down a path of destruction which includes rape, sorcery and murder and eventually a meeting with the Devil himself.

Once you get through those first hard chapters (why is it always so with the classics), this is a hilarious account of the corruption of the Church. There is so much more to the story than the life in the cloister; a good dose of the old fashioned tales about damsels in distress and quite a lot of sex and ghosts. Just the perfect end of the year read I needed.

This was the final book this year in Line's 1001 books reading challenge. 

Saturday, 29 December 2012

2012: how did it go?

This time last year I cracked my head trying to find some reading goals and now, a year later, they should all be completed. Or not?
  • Read 50 or more books. Success! I rounded 50 some time in November and am currently at 64 books. I have a long list of books you should read, see below.
  • Complete Line's 1001 books 2012 challenge.  A lot of heavy books on that list! Another great success! Read all 11 (12 if you count that I had already read Beloved previously). Many were great, but some like the Hunchback of Notre Dame I loathed.
  • Read something by Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf and start on the books about Sherlock Holmes. Another yes! Read Pride and Prejudice and really enjoyed it, Mrs Dalloway was difficult and read the first two Sherlock before I got tired of him. 
  • Read at least 5 non-fiction books. Two and a half. The biographies (Wild and We Bought a Zoo) were good reads, but then I really struggle with a history of the Crusaders. Will try again next year.
  • Read more Nobel Prize winners and continue on the 1001 books lists (read 6% until now). Life long goals. Up to 9% on all the four 1001 books lists. I also read John Steinbeck and John Galsworthy so that means two new Nobel Prize winners.
  • Continue working my way around the globe in books. 27 countries so far. 37 now (if I counted correctly) so 10 new countries.
  • Own no more than 500 unread books, the number of unread books is currently 428. Which also means buying less books. Hahahahaha. Current number of unread books is 566. Which means that I have books to read for the next 10 years, still I buy new ones. 
Almost there, at least. Better luck next year.

My goals for next year are as following:
  • Read more than 50 books
  • Complete Line's 1001 books 2013 challenge
  • Read at least 5 non-fiction books
  • Read something by Henry James, Selma Lagerlöf, Thomas Hardy, Knut Hamsun, Henry Green, Sigrid Undset and Nancy Mitford
  • Continue working my way around the globe in books (37 so far)
  • Lifelong goals: cross off as many 1001 books you must read before you die (9%) and Nobel Prize winners
  • Own more than 1000 books (no more holding back! current number is 939 (I spent a lot of money I got for Christmas on books, there are about 30 coming my way right now)
And finally: Books I read in 2012 which you should read

  • The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
  • You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik (2011)
  • We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen (2006)
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (1838)
  • A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1887)
  • The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (2008-2010) 
  • Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (1932)
  • Annabel by Kathleen Winter (2010)
  • the Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (1999)
  • Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant (1885)
  • Woman at Point Zero by Nawal el Saadawi (1975)
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
  • the Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868)
  • Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: a Wicked Bestiary by David Sedaris (2010)
  • Wife of Gods by Kwei Quartey (2009)
  • Big Sur by Jack Kerouac (1962)
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877)
  • the Country Girls trilogy by Edna O'Brien (1960-1962)
  • the Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed (2011)
  • the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
  • the Latin America trilogy by Louis de Bernières (1990-1992)
  • the Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis (1987)
  • the Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (1984)
  • the Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy (1906-1921)
  • the Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah (2007)
  • the Crow Road by Iain Banks (1992)
  • the Casual Vacancy by J.K Rowling (2012)
  • Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver (2012)
  • the Last of the Vostyachs by Diego Marani (2002)
  • the Monk by M.G Lewis (1796)
Woha! I hope 2013 will be as exciting when it comes to book reading and book buying as 2012 was. Happy new year everyone! 

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

sixty-three.

the Bat by Jo Nesbø (1997)

 Harry Hole is in Sydney, Australia to help the Australian police investigate a rape and murder of a young Norwegian girl. The body was found by the sea, probably thrown from the cliffs above, and the body was clean. Harry Hole is teamed up with Andrew Kensington, an Aboriginal police man. The case is difficult because there are few leads to go on.

This is the first book about Harry Hole and it has been on my reading list for some years now, and finally I got around to pick it up at the airport before Christmas.  I wasn't impressed at all by the first chapter and it took a while before I enjoyed the book.

What I really liked was the way Nesbø has used a lot of Australian history and especially the history of the Aboriginal peoples and especially their myths.  I'm not sure what I think of Harry Hole himself. I guess I need to read another book to form a picture of him.

I will put Jo Nesbø on the list of books to look for in second hand stores as I don't think they are worth the ridiculous price of new books in Norway. And I do prefer second hand books anyway.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

sixty-two.

the Lower River by Paul Theroux (2012)

"Just like them, he was a wisp of diminishing humanity, with nothing in his pockets--hardly had pockets!--and he felt a lightness because of it. With no money he was insubstantial and beneath notice. As soon as everyone knew he had nothing, they would stop asking him for money, would stop talking to him altogether, probably. Yet tugging at this lightness was another sensation of weight, his poverty like an anchor. He couldn't move or go anywhere; he had no bargaining power. He was anchored by an absence of money, not just immovable but sitting and slipping lower."

Ellis Hock is not satisfied with his life in the small town of Medford, just outside Boston. His wife has left him, his daughter is spoiled and ungrateful and his clothing business is struggling as there isn't any need for well-made and expensive clothes any more. He often dreams of the peaceful and easy days he spent as a teacher at the Lower River in Malawi when he was younger. And then he decides to go back. But instead of finding the beloved village he left about 40 years earlier, he finds a place which turns into a nightmare.

The inhabitants of the village has heard of the famous Ellis who has a fascination with snakes, but all they want from him is money. The school he built is long gone and so is the clinic, all that is left are hungry, angry people and the ruins. He tries to escape, but the chief discovers his plans every time.

I hated the naive, helpless and whiny Ellis and I hated the bleak picture Theroux painted of Africa. Yet Theroux writes well. Still it was one of those books that was annoying and the fact that the book is full of snakes didn't make reading it more pleasant.  I read the Mosquito Coast a few years back, and that was not a very pleasant read either. I guess I have to read Paul Theroux when I need a pessimistic world view.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

sixty-one.

12.21 by Dustin Thomason (2012)

A prion virus that causes insomnia is being spread in Los Angeles. It was first discovered on a patient who sold an ancient Maya codex to a middleman who also gets infected. The Maya expert, and also of Mayan descent, Chel  Manu, gets her hands on the codex and is also used as a translator for the dying patient. Together with the prion expert Dr Stanton, they try to find a connection between the Maya codex and the virus.

As probably most people are aware of, the Maya calendar ends on the 21st of December 2012. And some people interpret it to mean that the world is going to end. Needless to say that I just had to read this before that happens.

The plot is the same as always in the genre: a problem - man and woman try to solve it - man falls for woman - throw in a few obstacles along the way -  then saves her and the world before they live happily ever after. The writing is the same too: focuses on the science and action and hardly any dialogue or reflections. Just the perfect easy read I needed. And just as forgettable.
 

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

sixty.

the Last of the Vostyachs by Diego Marani (2002)

"They came out silently, without exchanging a glance; unhurriedly, expecting to be shot at any moment, to crumple on the spot, on to that mud they'd traipsed over so often." 

Ivan has been living almost his entire life in a gulag in Siberia. After his father was shot while they tried to escape, he hasn't uttered a word. Then one day the guards have suddenly disappeared and Ivan is free to walk. And when he realises that he's free, he utters a long cry, a sound which stirs all the animals.

When Ivan returns to the place he grew up, he discovers that he is alone. Driven by hunger, he eventually makes his way into a small village where he meets a woman, Olga. Olga is a linguist and is shocked to discover that Ivan speaks a language, Vostyach, which is believed to be extinct.  She learns his language and persuades him to come along with her to the Finno-Ugric languages conference in Helsinki.

Don't judge this book by its cover! Which is certainly one of the ugliest I have seen. The story within is amazing. It starts on the desolate Siberian tundra and journeys to Helsinki where it turns into something resembling pulp fiction with pimps and whores, a murder plot and the release of zoo animals. But it also deals with the loss of languages and although Vostyach is an invented language, the theory behind it is true. 

Diego Marani turns out to be the perfect December read for me. I read New Finnish Grammar last year and it was a linguist's take on the English Patient; small, beautiful and powerful. And the Last of the Vostyach is like a book by Arto Paasilinna, but with a linguistic twist. I hope that Diego Marani's works will continue to be translated so I can continue to read them in December.

Monday, 10 December 2012

reading goals 2013

Another year's coming up. Unless the world goes under, of course. I'm still working on the current goals, but I have already come up with the ones for next year. And I'm keeping it simple.

  • Read more than 50 books
  • Complete Line's 1001 books 2013 challenge
  • Read at least 5 non-fiction books
  • Read something by Henry James, Selma Lagerlöf, Thomas Hardy, Knut Hamsun, Henry Green, Sigrid Undset and Nancy Mitford
  • Continue working my way around the globe in books (37 so far)
  • Lifelong goals: cross off as many 1001 books you must read before you die (10%!) and Nobel Prize winners
  • Own more than 1000 books (no more holding back! current number is 895)
 Should be doable. Am I right? 

fifty-nine.

Surfacing by Margaret Atwood (1972)

A young woman goes back to the remote community in Quebec where she grew up to look for her father who has gone missing. She brings with her her boyfriend, Joe, and an other couple, David and Anna. She hasn't been back for years but nothing much has changed on the desolate island where just her family lived.

Going back opens a lot of wounds. The fact that she has been married before and carried a child places a strain on the current relationship. David and Anna have their own problems which surface during the stay on the remote island. The search for the father is unsuccessful and towards the end of their stay she goes feral.

This is one of those slow-reading book as there's much to absorb from each sentence. Reading it was easy in the beginning, but unfortunately for me, I quickened the pace as it got more exciting which made it a lot harder to understand. And then it was too late and I understood nothing towards the end. I had to google it after to check if I had missing out on something (so much easier than rereading the book), and after reading this, I got a little wiser, but still have some questions.

Fourth Atwood, and yes, she is a great read, but not the easiest. I read Oryx and Crake years ago, and there the confusion was at the beginning, but once I got through many pages I understood more and more. Cat's Eye is one hell of a book, and the Robber Bride was also good. I'm glad there are many other books by Atwood to figure out.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

fifty-eight.

Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg (2011)

 Reverend MacKenzie and his pregnant wife, Lizzie, are about to move to the remote community of St. Kilda in 1830. The inhabitants have been described as heathen and filthy and he can't wait to show them the right way. 

But the life on St. Kilda is tough. The harsh weather conditions and the fact that it is so remote from the rest of Scotland mean that ships rarely come. And when the ships fail to show up, the inhabitants have to live with what the nature provides and that isn't much. Their main ingredient is sea fowl. Most newborn babies die of the 8 day sickness. Lizzie loses more than one baby and the relationship between her and her husband goes astray. But worst of all for the reverend is that the inhabitants are reluctant to believe in the words of God.

Reverend MacKenzie and his wife Lizzie did live on St. Kilda from 1830 to 1943 and Karin has done a great job fictionalising their lives. She has described the islands so well that when I discovered the map after reading the book, it looked exactly how I pictured it. It was a fascinating read and I felt that I learnt a lot about the history of St. Kilda. 

I have been fascinated by the isles after reading about it in my absolute favourite book Atlas of Remote Islands.  Sarah Moss has also written a great book about St. Kilda, Night Waking, where she mixes past and present life on the isles.

Monday, 3 December 2012

fifty-seven.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (2012)

 "A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away, and it is one part rapture. Or so it seemed for now, to a woman with flame-colored hair who marched uphill to meet her demise. Innocence was no part of this. She knew her own recklessness and marveled, really, at how one hard little flint of thrill could outweigh the pillowy, suffocating aftermath of a long disgrace."

Dellaroba is walking uphill, away from the damned farm owned by her parents-in-law, to have an affair in the wettest autumn in living memory. She got pregnant in high school and married the boy, and then year later she is having inappropriate thoughts about other men. But when she gets up that hill and sees something which resemble a lake of fire above the trees, she flees back again, taking it as a sign of God.

The lake of fire turns out to be a massive gathering of monarch butterflies, which when it makes the headlines, puzzle scientists and bring tourists from near and far to the small community in Appalachia. 

I wished this book would never end because it's one of the best I have read this year. I love Dellaroba and her struggling family. I especially liked the conversations Dellarobia had with her best friend, Dovey, they are witty. And one of the many things that made the book so great is the humour which shines through although the conditions are very severe.

Kingsolver has done a great job mixing religion, faith and science. It's one of those books which give you so much knowledge that you feel like a student while reading it and a professor when you are finished. I learnt as much about the Bible as about monarch butterflies, and if I hadn't studied it, I'd have learnt a lot about climate change too. 

But the thing which hit me hardest was the hardships of the family. The state of their poverty and the struggle to make ends meet. It was a truly perfect read after the Casual Vacancy, both being political and works I'd classify as social realism. It is also strange to read books that are so up do date; they mention Facebook, smart phones and Wikipedia, and I can't help wondering what people in a 100 years or more would think about our world today.

“A million dead butterflies, she said. Sorry as hell they ever landed here.”

Sunday, 2 December 2012

fifty-six.

the Casual Vacancy by J.K Rowling (2012)

“Cobbled streets and no shops open past six o'clock, a communal life that seemed to revolve around church, and where you could often hear bird song and nothing else: Gaia felt as though she had fallen through a portal into a land lost in time.” 

Pagford is a small drowsy village, but when one of the parish council members suddenly dies of an aneurysm, the inhabitants have something to gossip about. Who is going to take his chair at the council and will it decides the faith of the run-down council housing project, the Fields?

Pagford has some interesting characters which take turns as narrators. All of them have their own problems and secrets and when the Ghost of Barry Fairweather starts posting accusations of the runners for the council elections, they all are concerned. My favourites were definitely the teenagers and they were the ones that really made the book an awesome read.

J.K Rowling uses the same observations and details as in the Harry Potter series, but the language is much more mature. It took a while before the plot thickened, and I spent a lot of time wondering what the book really was about. But around page 200, I became really interested and read the remaining 300 pages in one sitting. And the story of Krystal and her family really broke my heart. Some of the characters got what they deserved, while others really got away with things. I like how this wasn't some sort of happy ending fairytale book, but a criticism of municipal spending and politics. I just wish she didn't have to go about killing my favourite characters. I cried buckets at the end.

I hope J.K Rowling continues to write brilliant stories, whether they are meant for kids or adults, I will definitely be reading them.

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