Monday, 30 December 2013

fifty-seven.

the History of Love by Nicole Krauss (2005)

 “Once upon a time, there was a boy. He lived in a village that no longer exists, in a house that no longer exists, on the edge of a field that no longer exists, where everything was discovered, and everything was possible. A stick could be a sword, a pebble could be a diamond, a tree, a castle. Once upon a time, there was a boy who lived in a house across the field, from a girl who no longer exists. They made up a thousand games. She was queen and he was king. In the autumn light her hair shone like a crown. They collected the world in small handfuls, and when the sky grew dark, and they parted with leaves in their hair.

Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.” 

Alma Singer is named after the woman in a book called the History of Love, which her mother is translating from Spanish to English. Alma is trying to figure out who the Alma in the book is. The other main narrator is Leo Gursky, an old man who went to America to look for his love after they got separated in a small Polish town during World War II. When he finds her, she is married to another man, but Leo is the father of the oldest son. Devastated, he spends the rest of his life alone.

There are plenty of other characters and their stories, and they are all fascinating. But the way all the stories eventually become one is the best thing about the book. And Alma Singer. I definitely loved it, and as always with books I love, I have a hard time coming up with smart things to say about them. Read it and find out for yourself why it's great.

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

Saturday, 28 December 2013

2013 in books.

A couple of days early as I'm heading off to celebrate the new year in Berlin.

Last year's reading goals were:
  • Read more than 50 books 57 so far, so that's a success. But I have read less this year than before, I blame work, travelling and Netflix.
  • Complete Line's 1001 books 2013 challenge Will succeed once I finish the History of Love.
  • Read at least 5 non-fiction books 4 of 5 isn't that bad. One book about World War I, one about World War II, Edna O'Brien's autobiography and the Manson murders. I still love fiction more than real life.
  • Read something by Henry James, Selma Lagerlöf, Thomas Hardy, Knut Hamsun, Henry Green, Sigrid Undset and Nancy Mitford Yes to Henry James and Thomas Hardy. Working on Sigrid Undset. Tried Henry Green, but no. The rest I didn't even give a chance.
  • Continue working my way around the globe in books (37 so far) 43 now, so 6 new countries.
  • Lifelong goals: cross off as many 1001 books you must read before you die (9%) and Nobel Prize winners Up to 11% on all of the 1001 books lists. No new Nobel Prize winners read. Something must be done about that next year.
  • Own more than 1000 books (no more holding back! current number is 939.) Current number is 1259, so I bought over 300 books this year. 
Not as bad as I thought, but there's plenty of room for improvement. The next year's reading goals will be as following:
  • Read more than 50 books
  • Participate in a few online reading circles; Line's 1001 books, Clementine's Booker prize, Ingalill's biographies and Bjørg's off the shelf challenges. 
  • Finish Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
  • Read at least 5 non-fictions books
  • Continue working my way around the globe in books (43 countries so far)
  • Lifelong goals: cross off as many 1001 books you must read before you die (11%) and Nobel Prize winners
  •  Buy bookshelves, not books
 Books I read in 2013 which you should read:
  •  Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2001)
  • the Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino (2008)
  • Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton (1941)
  • the Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926)
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937)
  • Touch by Alexi Zentner (2011)
  • the Inspector Barlach Mysteries by Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1950-1951)
  • the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (1994)
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)
  • the Twins by Tessa de Loo (1993)
  • Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1934)
  • A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (1995)
  • the Cuckoo's Calling by J.K Rowling (2013)
  • Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene (1958)
  • the Honorary Consul by Graham Greene (1973)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
  •  the MaddAddam trilogy by Margaret Atwood (2003-2013)
  • Kätilö by Katja Kettu (2008)
  • Quesadillas by Juan Pablo Villalobos (2012)
  • the Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
  • the Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (2013)
  • the Hours by Michael Cunningham (1998)
  • Ali and Nino by Kurban Said (1937)
  • the History of Love by Nicole Krauss (2005)
 I'm satisfied with this year's reading, and I hope that next year will be just as good.
Happy New Year!

Thursday, 19 December 2013

fifty-six.

Helter Skelter by Bugliosi & Gentry (1974)
the True Story of the Manson Murders

 Helter Skelter is a song by the Beatles. Charles Manson believed that the Beatles spoke to him through the White Album and that they ordered the Family to start a race war.

On the night to 9th August 1969, four members of the Family broke into the house rented by Roman Polanski and his wife, Sharon Tate, and killed 5 people. One of them was Sharon who was over 8 months pregnant. The killers wrote pig on the front door using blood. A day later, seven members of the family set out again to kill. This time the victims were the La Bianca family, and both victims were tied up and brutally murdered. The killers wrote the words healter skelter, rise, death to pigs with blood when leaving the house.

The investigation is a mess, and it took a long time before the police connected the two cases. The trial which followed, was the longest and most expensive, and resulted in the death penalty for Charles Manson and three of the girls.

The book is written by Vincent Bugliosi who was the prosecutor in the case, with the help of Curt Gentry. That means that this is a thorough account of the entire case, starting with the murders, and then to the trial. It also gives a detailed account of Manson's life and the way he gathered the Family members. The afterwords, written 25 years after the trial, tells what happened to the members of the Family since then.

It is a long and really detailed book, with nearly 700 pages. As it is written by the prosecutor, I felt that a lot of it is not really necessary to get a clear picture of the murders and the trials. But then again I don't feel that I need to ever read another book about Manson again. It is the most sold true crime book in history, read it if you're curious about the cult and the murders.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

fifty-five.

the Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín (2012)

 Mary, the mother of the man who died on the cross and then resurrected, is interviewed by two men about the event. As Mary tells them her version, her mind wanders, and she lets us in on her secret.

When her son starts to gather a band of misfits, as Mary calls them, she is concerned about her son's safety. She knows that the Romans aren't fans of rebels. Her son is performing miracles, like waking Lazarus up from the dead. She is at the same party as her son, and she tries to warn him, but he won't listen to her. And then he is seized and the rest is history. But which version is the correct one?

How do you picture Mary, the most famous mother of them all? Colm Tóibín makes her a mother of a rebellious child who then gets killed. She's angry all right, but she is also sad. And it seems like she's angry at her son for not listening to her.

It's a good book, and it certainly makes you think. It's certainly well-written, but yet I feel that it's missing something, but I can't put my finger on it. Maybe I want more memories from his childhood, or what happens later in her life. Read it if you are interested in religion, pass on it if you're not interested.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

fifty-four.

Ali and Nino by Kurban Said (1937)

"And for me this was the bell that went wrong; my first impulse to go to war as soon as possible. Now I had time to think. The caravan was wandering eastwards over the soft sand, lost in dream. The train was pushing westwards along its iron rails, mindless and mechanical. Why did I not raise my hand to pull the communication cord? This was where I belonged, to the camels, to the men leading them, to the sand! What was it to me, this world behind the mountains? These Europeans with their wars, their cities, their Czars, Kaisers and Kings? Their sorrows, their happiness, their cleanliness and their dirt - we have a different way of being clean or dirty, good or bad, we have a different rhythm and different faces. Let the train rush to the West. My heart and soul belong to the East."

Ali Kahn is a Muslim of noble heritage, yet he falls in love with a Georgian Christian princess, Nino. They have been friends ever since they met on the way to school. Their worlds are completely opposite, Ali loves the eastern traditions and loathes the Russian dominance, while Nino loves Europe. Despite their differences, they love each other, and Nino says yes to Ali's proposal on two conditions; he must never force her to wear the veil or put her in a harem. Nino's parents give consent to their marriage on two conditions; Nino has to graduate and it must happen after the war.

The war happens to be the first World War, and it brings a lot of change to Baku. Ali wants to fight, but he doesn't want to help Russia, so when Turkey goes to war against Russia, a lot of the Muslims of Baku decides to rise up against the Russians. But the uprising goes wrong, and they are forced to flee to Persia, where life changes completely for Nino.

This book will give you a crash course in religion and the history and geography of the Caucasus. It is also an intense love story. Once I started reading, I couldn't put it away. It is a great story and the language is lovely. In the beginning, I felt that the contrasts were too obvious and forced, but fortunately as the story gathered speed, they became less important.

Although Ali is the narrator in the book, Nino is in my opinion the real hero. I loved the parts where she fought with the eunuchs in Tehran. She also sacrifices everything for love. I have more mixed feelings for Ali and his beliefs. And why couldn't this book have a happy ending?

Sunday, 24 November 2013

fifty-three.

the Hours by Michael Cunningham (1998)

“We throw our parties; we abandon our families to live alone in Canada; we struggle to write books that do not change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes. We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep. It's as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out windows, or drown themselves, or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us are slowly devoured by some disease, or, if we're very fortunate, by time itself. There's just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we've ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) know these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more. Heaven only knows why we love it so...” 

In 1923, Virginia Woolf is working on a new novel, later to be named Mrs Dalloway, while trying to pull herself together. In 1949 in Los Angeles, Mrs Brown is pregnant with her second child and it's her husband's birthday, but all she wants to do is lay in bed and read Mrs Dalloway. In present day New York, Clarissa, who is called Mrs Dalloway by her former lover, Richard, is holding a party for him as he's dying from AIDS.

The book starts with the suicide of Virginia Woolf, and that really sets the mood for the rest of the book. I kept wondering whether both Clarissa and Mrs Brown would kill themselves as well. It is beautifully written, and I really like how Cunningham has included passages from Mrs Dalloway. It was a perfect read for my current mood, and it really hit home. Save it for your blue periods.

Another thing I discovered while reading this, is that I totally didn't understand Mrs Dalloway at all. I definitely need to read it again, but it needs to mature for a couple of years first. I also need to watch the film again.

This was November's read in Line's 1001 books reading circle.

Friday, 22 November 2013

fifty-two.

the Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (2013)

 Walter Moody, fresh off the ship in Hokitika, the booming gold town in Southern New Zealand, wanders into a gathering of 12 men. The 12 men are talking about a curious case, which they all have some information about. The curious case involves the death of one man, a suicidal whore, forgery, shipping crates and, of course, gold. All the men present have something to add to the story. They have all witnessed one thing or another, and they take turns explaining what they have seen.

I have been struggling for three days now to come up with something clever to say about this book. It is simply a brilliant old-fashioned mystery novel with plenty of intrigues. I really love the design of the book, something which is definitely lost in the Kindle edition. But I discovered the X-ray tool on Kindle while reading this, and it has plenty of information about the places mentioned in the book. It also has a feature where you can see how much a name or place is mentioned in the book. Fun for book nerds!

The Luminaries won the Man Booker Prize 2013 and I have yet to read the others on the short list to see if this is a worthy winner. But it is definitely a great book! 

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

fifty-one.

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan (1997)

Joe and Clarissa are on a picnic, celebrating Clarissa's return. Suddenly they see a hot air balloon in trouble, and they, along with some other men, rush to the rescue. The accident ends tragically with the death of one of the rescuers as he didn't let go of the rope and was carried upwards.

Although the accident is very unsettling for the couple, the affairs which take place in the following months are worse. Shortly after the accident, Joe receives a phone call from one of the other rescuers, Jed. Jed claims to be in love with Joe, and stalks him. For unknown reasons Joe hides the fact for a while from Clarissa, and when he finally tells her, she believes that he is imagining it as she never she or hears Jed and his handwriting is awfully like Joe's.

What drives this beautifully written slow story forward is the madness, and the fact that it's unclear who the mad one is. I, as always, am never right. Joe is the perfect narrator, and I really like how a lot of the story is left untold. The only thing I disliked about the story is that it felt too rushed towards the end.

I have been holding off for years reading a new McEwan book after I read Atonement in 2008, as I loved that book and I have heard that McEwan can be a hit or miss. But I know he must be a great author as no less than 8 of his books are on the 1001 books list. I'm glad I picked Enduring Love as it didn't disappoint. Read it if you are in the mood for a passionate story with a crazy stalker.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

fifty.

the Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)

“I almost gasp: he's said a forbidden word. Sterile. There is no such thing as a sterile man anymore, not officially. There are only women who are fruitful and women who are barren, that's the law.”

The republic of Gilead is a strict religious society where the women are divided into groups. The Wives, dressed in blue, are on top of the chain, while the Daughters dress in white. The Econowives are married to men of lower statuses, and wear multicoloured dresses. The Handmaids dress in red and are surrogates for the infertile Wives. Then you have the Aunts in brown dresses who teach the Handmaids how to behave and the domestic servants, Marthas dressed in green.

Offred is the narrator who tells her tale while living in a house of a Commander and his wife, Serena Joy. Her daily life is a routine, and the only joy is the shopping round with an other Handmaid. But although she has been taught this new life, how can she forget her old life, when she was free, and had a man and a child? She doesn't know if they are dead or alive at this point. 

I think this is one of the most provoking books I've read. The society is so anti-women that it made me quite mad. And of course it made me feel grateful for my freedom. It is brilliantly written, but to be honest, the end really disappointed me; I wanted more answers. I never seem to get enough answers when I read dystopian novels, I'm really fascinated with the societies and histories. 

I think this is the best Atwood book I've read. And it has placed her very high up on my list of favourite authors. Read it! This was also October's read in Line's 1001 books reading challenge.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

forty-nine.

Quesadillas by Juan Pablo Villalobos (2012)

"'Go and fuck your fucking mother, you bastard, fuck off!' I know this isn't an appropriate way to begin, but the story of me and my family is full of insults. If I'm really going to report everything that happened, I'm going to have to write down a whole load of mother-related insults. I swear there's no other way to do it, because the story unfolded in the place where I was born and grew up, Lagos de Moreno, in Los Altos, Jalisco, a region that, to add insult to injury, is located in Mexico."

Orestes is the second oldest of 7 siblings and their family is middle-class. All the children are named after Greek heroes or mythology. But Mexico in the 1980s is not politically stable which makes the family's economy unstable. The result is that there are several variations of the daily quesadillas; inflationary quesadillas, normal quesadillas, devaluation quesadillas and poor man's quesadillas. 

Orestes is a poet, and loathes his older brother. One day during the curfew, the family needs to go shopping. And in the state owned grocery shop, the twins suddenly disappear. The parents are devastated, but Orestes sees this as an opportunity to get more quesadillas. Then his older brother, Aristotle, is convinced that aliens have kidnapped the twins and goes looking for them, dragging Orestes with him.

The second book by Villalobos is even better than the first. I fell in love with the family, and Orestes is a great narrator. Although the story is funny, the undertones are serious and the downgrade of the family is sad. I was about to get really upset about the end, but fortunately it turned out to be awesome. Juan Pablo Villalobos is an author I will definitely keep reading, and so should you.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

forty-eight.

Jordmora by Katja Kettu (2011)
(Kätilö)

Villøye is the midwife in Petsamo during World War II, and the place is crawling with German soldiers. Villøye falls in love with one of the soldiers, Johannes, and although he has got another girl pregnant, she follows him to a POW Camp with Soviet prisoners where she becomes a nurse. But the war is at its turning point, and Villøye and Johannes have to flee and they end up in an isolated hut in a remote Norwegian fjord.

Ohmygodthisbook! It has everything and so much more. It gives an excellent portrait of the complex Barents region, and the terrible war which devastated the area. It is a gruesome story, and really shows how people deal with the worst situations. And the choices Villøye makes have terrible consequences.

I really liked the language in the book, and the way it's a mix of Finnish, Russian and Sami words in the translation. And it's always interesting to read about the place where you hail from. I really regret that I gave up on learning Finnish because I'm really curious how this is in its original language. The translator, Turid Farbrergd, did a hell of a job and I have learnt so many new words. I also got a better picture of what it was like during the war, and I definitely need to read more about the war in the Barents region.

I hope it will be translated into English soon. If you get a chance, read it! It is definitely the best book I have read this year and on the list of my favourites and I already need to read it again. And Katja Kettu is an author I will definitely read more of. 

Ps: I think Villøye might be the horniest woman I have come across so far in literature, and I love it!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

forty-seven.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869)

""How can we fight the French, Prince?" said Count Rostopchin. "Can we arm ourselves against our teachers and divinities. Look at our youths, look at our ladies! The French are our Gods: Paris is our Kingdom of Heaven.""

It is 1805 and Russia and France are about to go to war. In the Rostov household, they are concerned about three things; money, marrying off their children and war. The Bolkonskys' estate is out on the countryside where the old Prince holds the rest of the family in a tight clutch. Pierre Bezukhov is the illegitimate son of one of the richest counts in Russia, and he unexpectedly inherits the money and climbs on the social ladder. He marries one of the important ladies, Helene Kuragina, but the marriage is colder than ice.

Napoleon and his army destroy the Russians, and even the aristocracy suffers horrible losses. The war changed the lives of the noble families, and they lived through tragedies, but also had some happy moments during the war. 

War and Peace is said to one of the best novels ever written. I cannot say that I agree, although I really enjoyed the story. But the bloody philosophical essays in between, and especially in the final epilogue. That really ruined the book for me. And Tolstoy sure takes his time to get to the point, and I believe that it would have been a lot better if only he had a strict editor. If you plan to read it, I suggest you go for a good edition which has put all the essays in an appendix.

But luckily, Tolstoy's genius shines through, and those parts which deals with family life, and especially love, are brilliant and as good as Anna Karenina. I just wish he would have kept to those subjects, as the strategies and details about warfare don't interest me at all. I do, however, see why many men list this as their favourite book. I'm just glad that I can tell the world that I have read War and Peace. 

This was September's read in Line's 1001 books reading challenge (and yes, I needed another week to finish it).

Thursday, 12 September 2013

forty-five, forty-six: maddaddam

Oryx & Crake (2003), MaddAddam (2013) by Margaret Atwood

 ""What if they get out? Go on a rampage? Start breeding, then the population spirals out of control - like those big green rabbits?"
"That would be a problem," said Crake. "But they won't get out. Nature is to zoos as God is to churces."
"Meaning what?" said Jimmy. He wasn't paying close attention, he was worrying about the ChickieNobs and wolvogs. Why is it he feels some line has  been crossed, some boundary transgressed? How much is too much, how far is too far?"

Jimmy, or the Snowman as the Crakers call him, is the only man left after the human population has been wiped out due to a virus. The Crakers are a specie designed in a gene-lab by Crake; they are perfect and lack the destructive tendencies of mankind. Snowman tells them stories about how Oryx and Crake made the world. But although the world is free of men, there are other human-made dangers, like the wolvogs and pigoons - enormous pigs with human organs and cells.

While telling the story in the present day, we also get a glimpse of what Jimmy's life used to be, and who Crake is. The second book in the trilogy, the Year of the Flood, happens at the same time as Oryx & Crake, but at a different place in the same city, and with Ren and Toby as the narrators. MaddAddam starts when Jimmy meets Ren and Toby and then finally takes the story forward. You also get to learn the story of Zeb. The stories of the characters are really fascinating and definitely my favourite part of the trilogy. I also like how MaddAddam is built-up like a bible for the Crakers, and I just adored the Crakers, especially Blackbeard.

I read the trilogy as a critique of how the humans are abusing the planet's resources and how the technology will destroy us all if we aren't careful. And it is (of course) set in a totalitarian state. I have read a couple of dystopian novels and this trilogy is high on my list of favourites. Thanks to a week on the couch, I read them all in a couple of days and they turned into some pretty vivid dreams.

I read Oryx and Crake when it was published 10 years ago, but I felt that I needed to reread it after reading the Year of the Flood. What I really like is that it doesn't matter which one you read first. And I found it easier to read the Year of the Flood first, then Oryx and Crake. Although MaddAddam has a recap of the two other books, I strongly recommend to read them!

Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite authors, and I'm glad I still haven't read her most famous works, so I have something to look forward to. She's also one of my favourites for the Nobel prize.  

Sunday, 8 September 2013

forty-four.

All Dogs Are Blue by Rodrigo de Souza Leão (2008)

"And what if a blue dog really existed? It would be fucking amazing to have one. And if it had a puppy, would it be born blue, too? If he could bark and eat, what would a blue dog eat? Blue food? And if he got ill, would he take blue medicine?"

The narrator is a schizophrenic who is a patient at a psychiatric hospital in Brazil. He spends his days thinking, and conversing with his imaginary friends, Rimbauld and Baudelaire.

I had a hard time following the train of thoughts of a mad man. What was real and what wasn't? There were parts, mainly stand-alone sentences which I really enjoyed reading, but most of the time I kept counting the pages I had left to read. Thankfully, it's just a mere 109 pages long.

I have a feeling that this is a book you'll either love or hate. Or rather, understand or not getting the point. And I'm definitely one of those who don't get it.  

Friday, 6 September 2013

forty-three.

the Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (2009)

 "As the first heat hits, mist rises from among the swath of trees between her and the derelict city. The air smells faintly of burning, a smell of caramel and tar and rancid barbecues, and the ashy but greasy smell of a garbage-dump fire after it's been raining. The abandoned towers in the distance are like the coral of an ancient reef - bleached and colourless, devoid of life. There is still life, however. Birds chirp; sparrows, they must be. Their small voices are clear and sharp, nails on glass: there's no longer any sound of traffic to drown them out. Do they notice the quietness, the absence of motors? If so, are they happier?"

Year 25 in the Gardeners' calendar; the year of the waterless flood. The year which wiped out most of the human race. Toby is a survival at a spa, where she lives off the organic food and the rooftop garden. Another survivor is Ren, who has been locked in an isolated room at the sex shop where she works as it is suspected that she is unclean. Both women have been members of the Gardeners - a religious eco-cult. 

This is the second book in the MaddAddam-trilogy, and it's almost a decade since I read the first book, Oryx and Crake, which I barely remember, but remember as difficult to grasp until the end. And that's probably why it has taken so long before I started on this one (and because the final book has just been published). the Year of the Flood is a lot more easier to read. I'm really curious about how the trilogy is going to end. But first I'm going to reread Oryx and Crake.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

forty-two.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)

“Atticus said to Jem one day, "I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird." That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. "Your father’s right," she said. "Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” 

Jean Louise Finch, also known as Scout is barely 9 years old when she is witnessing her father, Atticus, defending the trial of his life. A black man has been accused of raping a white girl in the small town Maycomb, Alabama. But Scout and her brother, Jem, are also obsessing over their neighbour, Boo Radley, who has never left the house, and they do as much as they dare to get him to come out. And when he finally comes out, it is to save their lives.
Although it's told through the eyes of the child, this book deals with many important topics; racism, class and gender. It is also based on Harper Lee's personal life and the people around her, including Truman Capote, and a court case where her father defended two black men. 

I first read the book a couple of years ago, and I found it heavy and remembered very little of the story. I knew I loved it, but couldn't remember why. I'm glad I reread it and I found it easy to read this time around. I love the way Scout tells the story. It is definitely a book I will read again and I must also get around to see the film. 

It is still an important book and a must-read. This was also the August book in Line's 1001 books challenge

 “We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe- some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they're born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others- some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of men. But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal- there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court.”

Monday, 19 August 2013

leserprofil

Tora på bloggen bokmerker.org oppfordrer oss til å svare på noen spørsmål om lese(u)vaner.


1. Hvilken bok leste du sist?
Country Girl av Edna O'Brien til biografisirkelen til Ingalill. Interessant dame som er flink til å skrive og som må leses mer av. (Og en av mine favoritter til Nobelprisen, faktisk).

2. Hvilken bok skal du begynne på nå?
To Kill a Mockingbird av Harper Lee. Jeg leste den for 4 år siden og likte den, men husker lite av innholdet, så gleder meg til å lese den igjen. Startet akkurat på the Year of the Flood av Margaret Atwood, og er 104 sider i Kristin Lavransdatter.

3. Er det mest mannlige eller kvinnelige forfattere i bokhyllen din?
Hvis vi bare teller forfattere så er det nok mannlige. Men hvis vi teller verk så er det kanskje flere kvinner, noe som i stor sak er på grunn av Agatha Christie.

4. Teller du alltid hvor mange sider du har igjen av en bok, eller tenker «nå har jeg kommet en fjerdedel/halvparten» eller lignende?
Ja, klarer ikke å unngå det. Teller også hvor langt det er igjen av kapitlet. Leser som oftest også de siste 100 sidene i et jafs.

5. Hvordan velger du hvilke bøker du vil lese? (For eksempel omslag, tips fra venner, anmeldelser, topplister, blogger osv)
  Jeg plukker opp tips overalt. Til og med fra eksamensoppgavene i engelsk. Mye takket være andre bloggere og anbefalingssidene til Amazon. Følger lite med på topplister. Og i butikker klarer jeg alltid å plukke med meg noe jeg aldri har hørt om takket være omslagene. Valget av hva jeg skal lese avgjøres mye av hva slags humør jeg er i når jeg avsluttet den forrige boka. Og så har jeg en prioriteringsliste som aldri blir fulgt.

6. Når er en bok for lang?
Når den blir kjedelig og jeg er for langt inni den til å avbryte den (men det kan hende den får seg et par kast i gulvet/veggen).

7. Leser du like gjerne på engelsk (hvis det er originalspråket) som på norsk?
Alle bøker som ikke er nordiske leser jeg konsekvent på engelsk. Først var det fordi jeg leste så fort på norsk at jeg mistet innholdet så jeg prøvde meg på engelsk som jeg leste mye saktere, nå er det fordi det har blitt en vane. Prøver å lese et par nordiske bøker i året, men jeg syns jeg burde bli flinkere til det.

8. Hvilken bok var den siste du bare måtte overtale ALLE vennene dine til å lese?
Tvillingene av Tessa de Loo. Suveren bok om to tvillinger som vokser opp på hver sin side under 2. verdenskrig. Bør absolutt leses! Ellers står Vi, de druknede av Carsten Jensen høyt oppe på anbefalingslista mi.

9. Kan du slutte å lese en bok hvis den er kjedelig? I så fall – når gir du opp?
Jeg gir vel aldri opp en bok, men setter den tilbake for å lese den senere. Om den noensinne blir plukket opp igjen er en annen sak. Jeg gir som oftest opp etter 20-30 sider hvis jeg ikke blir fenget.

10. Hvilken sjanger er overrepresentert i bokhyllen din – og hvilken finnes ikke?
Den allinkluderende sjangeren fiction er det jeg absolutt har mest av. Lyrikk er presentert med en eneste flis (Howl and other poems av Allen Ginsberg), og jeg har også lite sci fi og fantasy.

Friday, 16 August 2013

forty-one.

Country Girl by Edna O'Brien (2012)

 Edna O'Brien is an Irish author, born in 1930. Her first book, the Country Girls (1960), was banned in Ireland as it sparked a lot of controversy because it describes the sexual tensions between girls in Catholic schools and the sexual relationship between non-married couples. In her memoir she gives glimpses of a life which started in the poor Irish countryside to dinner parties with the rich and famous in London and New York. 

the Country Girls trilogy is based on her own experiences; a childhood in a strict religious home, crushing on the nuns in the convent she was educated in and running off with a married man. I read the trilogy last summer, and I'm glad I did before I read the memoir, and it is interesting to compare the fiction to the reality. I really enjoyed the reality; she does a marvellous job describing the scene when her family comes looking for her and the fight which followed. She eventually marries the man, Ernest Gébler, and they have two children together. But the marriage doesn't last, and the battle between the couple, and especially over the custody of the children, is heartbreaking.

She also describes the amazing parties with famous people and drugs in the 60s and 70s. There is plenty of name-dropping and anecdotes. My favourites were when her children was sung to sleep by Paul McCartney and when she was kissed by Jude Law (I love that she describes him as an Adonis). But she is at her best when she describes her surroundings; the houses and cities she has lived it. She also gives a crash-course in the Troubles in Northern-Ireland, and I think it is the best chapter in the book. 

Although it was fascinating to read about her life, I felt that she was distant; I never really got to know Edna, but got a good look at the world through her eyes. She is good at describing other people and the books and writers which influence her. She doesn't say much about her own work, except mention it in relation to other people. I enjoyed the memoir, and I will definitely keep reading her books. And so should you!

I bought the memoir when it was published last year, and I've been meaning to read it right away (as I always do, the problem is that I buy too many books). Ingalill's biographies challenge gave me the push I needed to finally do so.     

Monday, 12 August 2013

forty.

the Honorary Consul by Graham Greene (1973)

Charley Fortnum is the Honorary Consul in a small northern Argentinian town. He is old enough to entire, a heavy drinker and an embarrassment to the British Foreign Office. The small town has only two more Englishmen, Dr. Humphries, an English teacher, and Dr. Eduardo Parr, a real doctor. Dr Parr is half English and half Paraguayan, his father was too involved with politics in Paraguay and sent Eduardo and his mother across the border to Argentina. Eduardo hasn't seen his father since then, and has no idea if he is dead or alive, or a political prisoner. 

It is the politics which will cause problems for both the Consul and Eduardo. A group of revolutionists makes an error and kidnaps the Honorary Consul instead of the American Ambassador. And as the kidnappers manage to hurt the Consul in the affair, Dr Parr must get involved.

Another great book by Graham Greene. I enjoyed it more than Our Man in Havana, mainly because this book has more developed characters. I felt that I really got to know them. Greene is also an expert on painting the perfect picture of expat-life in South-America. The progress of the story is also very good, and the ending was not what I expected. I'm glad I have more Graham Greene to explore!

 

Thursday, 1 August 2013

thirty-nine.

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene (1958)

James Wormold is an Englishman selling vacuum cleaners in Havana. He lives a quiet life with his 17 year old daughter after his wife left them, and he has a few friends which he sees for drinks regularly. Then one day he is contacted by one of his fellow countrymen and is persuaded to become a spy.

James says yes because he thinks the money will give his daughter, Milly, a better education and future. He is expected to get his own agents and write reports, but instead he invents them. Trouble finds him when the agency is so interested in his findings that they ship him a secretary, Beatrice, and an accountant. And then his invented agents become very real.

This was my first meeting with Mr Greene and I enjoyed it from the first sentence until the last. It is entertaining and a satirical take on the Cold War. But most of all, it is the characters that makes this book, from the devoted Catholic Milly, to the Cuban police chief who is in love with her and goes under the name the Red Vulture, and I mustn't forget Beatrice.  In fact, I liked it so much that I started on the Honorary Consul right after.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

thirty-eight.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1963)
(first published in 1980)

Ignatius J. Reilly spends his days eating junk food, writing notes and screaming obscenities at the telly and his mother. After a series of unfortunate events which puts his mother in debt, he has to go out in New Orleans to look for a job.

Is it possible to like a book if you hate the main character? I really disliked Ignatius, and I know I should feel sorry for him because of his obvious mental state, but I just can't. His obnoxious character annoyed me so much that I was at several occasions tempted to give up. I often skimmed the parts which were all about him, and especially his notes and letters. But luckily the rest of the characters made this book worth the read.

And yes, it is an absurd tale with some very interesting characters. All my sympathies went to Mrs Reilly and I also found her friend, Santa, hilarious. The rest of the characters make the story interesting, but some of them I found as annoying as Ignatius himself. The ending certainly made me think. And it almost made me root for Ignatius.

This was July's book in Line's 1001-books reading challenge.

Monday, 22 July 2013

thirty-seven.

The Cuckoo's Calling by J.K Rowling (2013)
(As Robert Galbraith)

A famous model, Lula Landry, fell off her balcony and the inquest ruled suicide. Her brother, John Bristow, is convinced that his adopted sister, despite having a mental illness, never would have killed herself. He hires the private detective Cormoran Strike to investigate the case.

Strike is an ex-military with just one leg after a landmine blew off the other. The detective business is not making much money and his creditor is constantly on his back. Still he hires a temp to do his secretary work, Robin. And together they make a brilliant detective couple.

After finding out that J. K. Rowling wrote this, I instantly bought it on the Kindle. And I instantly fell in love. Her characters are amazing and I just love Strike and Robin. I also like how she manages to describe the layers of the society, from the rich skinny models to the homeless. And the solution of the murder is just crazy. I also like how this is one of those old-fashioned types of a crime story, its style reminded me of Agatha Christie.

And finally, it's a perfect portrait of London and as I'm there right now, just a stone's throw away from the streets described, it was a perfect read on my way to London.  I hope that Rowling will continue with the series despite the raised expectations from being found to be the author.

Friday, 19 July 2013

thirty-six.

Monstermenneske by Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold (2012)

Kjersti has ME and has been sick for years. So sick that she is so exhausted that she cannot even sleep. But she cannot give up, and decides to put one of the stories she has in her mind, onto the screen. Even if all she can manage is a few sentences every day.

Skomsvold debutated with the Faster I Walk, the Smaller I am in 2009 and her second book is about ME, the writing process and what happened after she finally managed to finish her first book. But it is also about heart breaks, hating yourself and your looks, fascinating people, literature and wonderful friendships. It is painful to read about Kjersti's view of herself and her condition, but there are so many amazing and funny observations.

 I really enjoyed the book despite it being sad and hard to read at times and I'm definitely going to read her first book!

thirty-five.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (1995)

 “...there was another, gorier parturition, when two nations incarnated out of one. A foreigner drew a magic line on a map and called it the new border; it became a river of blood upon the earth. And the orchards, fields, factories, businesses, all on the wrong side of that line, vanished with a wave of the pale conjuror's wand.” 

Dina Dalal's life hasn't been easy after her husband died after just three years of marriage. Refusing her brother's pleas for her to get remarried, she has to support herself. When her eyes are failing her, she hires two tailors to do her job, Ishvar and Omprakash and takes in a boarder, Maneck, as well. And she hopes that the landlord won't notice the three extra people in her flat.

A mesmerising read from the first page to the last. The story takes you through the history of India from its independence through the eyes of its people. It mainly focuses on the four people in Dina's flat, but also the people they meet. There are many wonderful stories within the story. There are so many tragic stories, but it is written in a dry witty style. 

The only thing I didn't like with the story was the ending. Why did it have to end that way? But I guess it's one of those books that just don't work with a happy ending.
 
“You see, we cannot draw lines and compartments and refuse to budge beyond them. Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping-stones to success. You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.' He paused, considering what he had just said. 'Yes', he repeated. 'In the end, it's all a question of balance.”

thirty-four.

Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner (2001)

 Cannie discovers that her ex-boyfriend is writing a column about their love-life in a popular magazine. Most furious is she about the way he is describing her big body. Humiliated, she realises that she is not over Bruce yet and tries to get him to stop writing about her and get him back at the same time.

Cannie, why are you so angry? I definitely didn't like her personality, and although she is meant to be snarky, I found her whiny and bitter. Yet there were many things I could identify with (and I guess every girl can). Still, she isn't the kind of heroine I need or want.

Not my favourite genre by far, I read it because I had it up to here with wars and other sad and difficult topics I usually read about.  It is an entertaining story for sure, sort of a modern fairytale and quite predictable. Love the cover and I loved the author's introduction more than Cannie.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

thirty-three.

the Second World War by Antony Beevor (2012)

The Second World War was a 6 year long and the most devastating in history. Antony Beevor's book explains why and how the war started, and gives a detailed and chronological description of the events mixed with witness accounts. It is a great book which explains the unfathomable. From the rape of Nanking to the holocaust, not to mention the deaths of millions of soldiers and civilians. 

I can't say I enjoyed reading it, the events are too terrible and real, but I definitely liked Beevor's style. Although I think he focused too much on the details of some battles (like which division attacked which), he did a great job explaining the horrors of the war. The only thing I missed, was the mentioning of the war in Finnmark. I was surprised that it was completely left out, while other events in Norway was mentioned. But apart from that, I think all the other main events are in there, and I learnt a lot of new things. I really liked the story which opens the book, and I have used that as a starter when teaching the subject to the 14 year olds. 

A must-read for those who want to learn more about the Second World War!

Monday, 1 July 2013

thirty-two.

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1934)

"' When one writes on psychiatry, one should have actual clinical contacts. Jung writes, Beuler writes, Freud writes, Forel writes, Adler writes - also they are in constant contact with mental disorder.' 
'Dick has me,' laughed Nicole. 'I should think that'd be enough mental disorder for one man.'"

Dick Diver is an American psychiatrist working in Switzerland where he meets a charming young rich American patient, Nicole Warner. Baby, Nicole's sister, suggests that a doctor should marry Nicole so she would always have help. Dick then decides to marry Nicole, and they go to the French riviera to live. They live splendidly, with drunken parties and amazing friends. One of the people they meet, is Rosemary, a young American actress, who falls in love with Dick at the first sight. And Dick is not able to resist her, and he has to choose.

Fitzgerald is a master of writing about the rich and famous and intrigues. And this book has everything from love affairs to duels and the cover-up of a murder. I really enjoy reading about the Jazz Age and the glamourous lifestyle. The plot is also intriguing, and it is interesting to see how the characters change. My favourite scene was the break-up in the midst of Tour de France. Hilarious and sad at the same time. And what was the unspeakable thing Mrs McKisco witnessed in the bathroom?

A perfect book for lazy summer afternoons! 


Sunday, 30 June 2013

thirty-one.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927)


 The Ramsays are spending the summer at their Scottish summer house with a few friends. From their house they have the view of a lighthouse and the children, and especially James, want to visit it. But Mr Ramsay says that the weather won't be suitable, which brings tension to the house.

The novel suddenly shifts, both in style and theme. The Ramsays have abandoned their summer house and the house is in decay. The most interesting thing is the deaths of some of the children, which is just mentioned in brackets, while the decay of the house is the main focus. And then there's another shift, 10 years on and the remaining family members and friends return. But will they get to the lighthouse this time?

Virginia Woolf is a master of the streams-of-consciousness style. I have a hard time following the narrator's train of thought. Last year I read Mrs Dalloway which I found really hard and I feared that To the Lighthouse would be just as hard. Luckily, it was easier to read, but there were parts, and especially in the beginning where I had no idea what I just read. But other parts were really well-written and I really enjoyed those sentences. 

This was June's read in Line's 1001 books challenge





Friday, 21 June 2013

thirty.

the Twins by Tessa de Loo (1993)

 Anna and Lotte are twins born in 1916 in Cologne. After their parents die, at the age of 6, they are separated and Lotte grows up in the Netherlands, while Anna stays in Germany. They don't see each other again, except on two brief occasions, once during the war and once after, until they suddenly meet each other at a peat bath in Spa, Belgium, 70 years later. 

The meeting brings up painful memories for both sisters, and they tell each other stories, mainly from when they got separated and until World War II ended. It is easy to see that the sisters hold a grudge against one other, and that the war has made them enemies.

This is one of those stories which suck you right in and keep you there. I loved it from the beginning to the end, and it is such a fascinating read. I really like how the war is the background, and how Anna and Lotte blame each other sides for letting Hitler carry on. The history of Anna was the one which I found most interesting as I haven't read much of ordinary life in war-time Germany before. 

A definite must-read if you're interested in European history or just want a really good story. I have put the film version (and another book by Tessa) on my wish list. 

Friday, 7 June 2013

twenty-nine.

the Sisterhood by Helen Bryan (2012)

Menina Walker was the miracle in a terrible storm in a South-American country when she was found alone in a fishing vessel with a medal around her neck and an ancient book. She was adopted by American parents and had a nice upbringing. Now, at nineteen, she is going to Madrid to research a medieval artist, but bad weather and a stolen purse eventually leads her to a remote convent. Bored out of her mind, she tries to make sense of the convent's numerous paintings and starts reading the ancient book which has always been with her. And unveils a remarkable story about the convent and its secret gospel.

The same old story, just a new setting. Which means that it is predictable and I was right in all my guesses how it would turn out. Luckily, the setting, with the Spanish Inquisition and the Sisterhood, was to my tastes, otherwise I'd give up pretty soon as the plot and language in the beginning when you get to know Menina are terrible. 

It is definitely the historical context which saves this book. I have made notes to learn more about the Spanish Inquisition, both in Spain and South-America, about the Spanish settlers in South-America and the Incas. And it irks me that there is no Wikipedia page about the book, or author, yet as I'd like to know whether the convent and the Sisterhood are based on historical facts or entirely made up.

If you like the genre, you'll enjoy it. And I have a feeling that this will be one of the summer's must reads for many women.    

Thursday, 30 May 2013

twenty-eight.

the Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (1881)

 "Most women did with themselves nothing at all; they waited, in attitudes more or less gracefully passive, for a man to come that way and furnish them with a destiny. Isabel's originality was that she gave one an impression of having intentions of her own. "Whenever she executes them," said Ralph, "may I be there to see!"

Isabel Archer is a young American who has been lucky to be picked by her wealthy English aunt to be her new project. Her aunt's plan is to bring her into society and find her an English man. When her uncle dies, he leaves her most of his fortune, so Isabel suddenly becomes a rich lady who is in charge of her own destiny. She quickly turns down two marriage proposals, but the third one, to an American artist living in Italy, she says yes to. The marriage surprises both her family, friends and her former suitors because they do not like her husband, Mr Osmond.

The characters surrounding Isabel is the strength of this book. You have Ralph, Isabel's cousin, who has a very ill health, but is enormously fond of Isabel. Henrietta Stackpole is Isabel's American friend, who comes over to Europe to be a journalist and is very modern. Madam Merle is a woman of the world who doesn't live anywhere, but spends her time visiting friends in all countries. Her two suitors, Caspar Goodwood and Lord Warburton are very decent men.

Although the book is good, it is way too long and it seemed to never end. In the first part, you get to know the characters who observe Isabel, but you never get to know Isabel herself. In the second, Isabel is finally letting us now some of her feelings and thoughts. And here you start to understand that when Isabel sets her mind to something, she follows it through, even if it's bad for her and all her friends advise her to escape.

One thing which hit me is that all women, except Isabel, are living in very open marriages or are single. Her aunt spends only a couple of months in England with her husband, the rest is spent in Italy or travelling around. Henrietta is never going to get married, but have male companions. Countess Gemini is married, but dislikes her husband so much that she spends most of the time away from him.

Should you read it or not? Yes, if you like the good old classics and have no problems with a very slow plot and love characters. If not, I would steer clear. Unless you plan to cross of all the 1001 books you should read before you die. Then it's not a choice.

Monday, 27 May 2013

all the books i never finished in may

For some unknown reason I have only finished one book this month. I know I still have four days to go, but I doubt I will finish another one.

The main reason is that I have had a difficult time picking the right book. All required a lot of philosophical thinking or guessing and my brain couldn't cope.  the Book of Disquiet which is supposed to be one of the best books ever, went back to the shelf after a couple of weeks where I really tried. Same with the Flood. I didn't even make it halfway through the prologue. And then there was Loving, which I had high hopes for, but thanks to the entire book is written in bloody dialogue, I couldn't.

Then there are the books I started, but haven't given up on yet. Portrait of a Lady has been my nemesis this month. It never ends! According to Kindle, both part I and II is over 600 pages long. Only 200 more pages to go. And because I'm a stubborn bitch, I rather struggle with that one, instead of giving the Twins a good, long, deserved reading. I have high hopes for that one. Why do I even bother to attempt to read the Second World War? I know I started because that's what I'm currently teaching the kids, but soon school's out. Will I continue? Only time will tell. I finished the Red Room on Friday, so naturally I had to find a new book to read. I landed on Tender is the Night because the world is again crazy about Fitzgerald. After reading about the Sisterhood, it went straight to the top of the books to read next list, mainly because I need something light as my head is full of Victorian ladies, war and about 200 papers to grade in the next weeks. Hopefully my reading mind is in a better mood before I turn to To the Lighthouse when the summer holiday begins.

But at least May was a good month for buying more books. About 20 books found a new safe home, and I also downloaded a lot of free books to my Kindle for the next time I decide on something crazy as reading classics.


And then the big question is, as always, what to read next? (Yes, all these books are unread. Also: find 5 things which aren't made of paper)







Sunday, 26 May 2013

twenty-seven.

the Red Room by August Strindberg (1879)

Arvid Falk is a struggling young writer in Stockholm. He has quit his job within the civil service, which isn't approved by Arvid's much older brother, Carl Nicolaus, who is very unlike Arvid. Becoming a writer is hard, but it pays off with new friendships with the radical struggling artists and they invite him along to the Red Room.

The Red Room paints some excellent portraits of characters and it is very witty. I was surprised how easy it was to read the book, and the language was really enjoyable. I suspect it must be the work of the excellent Norwegian translator, Per Qvale. I wonder if the English translation is as full of excellent sentences and choice of words.

But sadly it isn't a story that sticks. Already two days after I finished it, I have problems recalling it. I do remember how I felt while reading it, but only very vaguely the plot and I have trouble remembering the names of the characters. Yet I know that it was a good read.

This was May's read in Line's 1001 books reading challenge.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

twenty-six.

Captain of the Steppe by Oleg Pavlov (1994)

"They used to deliver newspaper like potatoes to the company stationed out in the steppe: a month's worth at a time, or two, or even enough to see them through to spring, so as not to waste fuel and not to pamper the unit."

Khabarov is the captain of the 6th regiment far out on the Kazakh steppes. Surrounding their camp there's nothing as far as the watch towers can see. Food is always scarce, so when the captain gets the brilliant idea of planting the potatoes instead of eating them, he reckons he has solved their food shortage. But this is Soviet where no one does anything without a permission from someone above them in the system, so Khabarov soon finds himself in serious trouble.

My first reaction after reading it was: all that trouble because of potatoes? Second: what the hell did I just read? Definitely too much confusion and those Russian names I never can tell apart, made this a hard one. Yet there are definitely good parts and some parts had me snickering. And I do have a feeling that this will get better with a second read. It is the first book in a trilogy, and I do hope that And Other Stories is going to publish the other ones as well, as it has received grand reviews and prizes, not only in Russia, but also abroad.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

twenty-five.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (1817)

"No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be a heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her."

 Catherine is 17 when she is to follow her neighbours to Bath for a couple of weeks to be introduced into society. She quickly makes friends with the Thorpes and she adores Isabella, and along with their brothers they explore Bath and its surroundings. And although John Thorpe has an eye for Catherine, she has fallen head over heels for Henry Tilney. And she tries and succeeds to befriend his sister, Eleanor. And when she is invited to go with them back to their home, Northanger Abbey, which she believes to be like Udolpho, nothing could be more perfect.

The part where Catherine is exploring her room with the curious chests and cabinets had me laughing out loud. I love how Jane is using Ann Radcliffe's the Mysteries of Udolpho so much, and I'm glad that I read it before this. The naivety of Catherine was something which irked, but also amused me. And  the whole conflict between the Thorpes and Tilneys over Catherine was also amusing. I didn't like how quickly things eloped at the end, and I'm sure it would have been fascinating to follow the exact events which happened after Catherine went home again.

This was one of the first books Jane wrote, although it was published after her death. And her latter works are definitely better. For me, it was the mocking of the gothic novel and especially Udolpho which made me like it. This book was April's read in Line's 1001 books reading challenge.

“The person, be it gentlemen or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

Friday, 26 April 2013

twenty-four.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)

 "Her blog was doing well, with thousands of unique visitors each month, and she was earning good speaking fees, and she had a fellowship at Princeton and a relationship with Blaine - "You are the absolute love of my life," he'd written in her last birthday card - and yet there was cement in her soul. It had been there for a while, an early morning disease of fatigue, shapeless desires, brief imaginary glints of other lives she could be living, that over the months melded into a piercing homesickness."

Ifemelu grew up in Lagos, then moved to USA, the land of opportunities, when she got a scholarship and a visa. Her boyfriend of many years, Obinze, will join her once he is able to get a visa. But starting a new life in USA is hard, and especially when no one will hire you. When she is no longer able to pay rent she sees no other way out than take the position she was offered as a personal relaxer, which turned out to be the almost the same as selling her body. Loathing herself, she breaks off all contact with Obinze and sinks into a depression.

But USA is really the land of opportunity, and she is lucky to find a job as a baby sitter for a fantastic family. She has also started an anonymous blog about being a Non-American Black and all the discrimination and racism that still are very present in USA. The blog takes off, the studies are going well and she meets some amazing people. And then one day, out of the blue, she makes the decision to go back home to Lagos.

A candidate for the book of the year? At least I think so. I loved every sentence of the book and Ifemelu is such an amazing character. I loved how I got utterly lost in her world and it was so easy to picture the scenes. It is also an important book as it deals with the issues of identity and race, while painting a new and a more positive picture of Nigeria. Which is necessary, because when did you last hear something positive about Nigerians and Nigeria?

It is definitely the best book by Chimamanda so far. Read it! 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

twenty-three.

Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo (2006)

 "If you kill with homemade bombs it's called terrorism, and if you kill with machine guns and hunger it's called defense. It's a play on words, isn't it? Do you know what the difference is? We don't care. But your people piss with fear without a machine gun in their hands."

 Felix Chacaltana is the district prosecutor in Ayacucho when a burnt out body is discovered during the Carnival. Is it simply a murder or is the resurrection of the terrorist organisation Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path)? The Prosecutor has a difficult time getting the police to investigate the murder properly.

The setting is certainly interesting and as the author states in his note, most of the events in the book are true, they are just set in a fictional setting. And in the beginning it was certainly interesting to read about the prosecutor's struggles with the corrupt and lazy police. But as the story evolved, I was less impressed. I'm not sure why, but I think the main reason is that it just turned messy and rushed. I wish it would have stuck to the path with the terrorist and the resurrection theme.

Yet Roncagliolo does a wonderful job portraying the brutality of both sides of the conflict. And that even the best of men can have the worst intentions.  

Thursday, 11 April 2013

twenty-two.

the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (1994)

 “Between the end of that strange summer and the approach of winter, my life went on without change. Each day would dawn without incident and end as it had begun. It rained a lot in September. October had several warm, sweaty days. Aside from the weather, there was hardly anything to distinguish one day from the next. I worked at concentrating my attention on the real and useful. I would go to the pool almost every day for a long swim, take walks, make myself three meals.

But even so, every now and then I would feel a violent stab of loneliness. The very water I drank, the very air I breathed, would feel like long, sharp needles. The pages of a book in my hands would take on the threatening metallic gleam of razor blades. I could hear the roots of loneliness creeping through me when the world was hushed at four o'clock in the morning.”

 Toru Okada has left his job when the cat in the house goes missing. His wife wants him to find the cat, which leads him to meeting some new and weird acquaintances. A woman called Malta Kano calls him and says that she'd help him find the cat. May Kasahara is a 16 year old living in one of the houses next door who has been in a motorcycle accident and therefore doesn't go to school. And then there is this unknown woman who phones him and asks him about sex. From there things get more complicated. One day his wife, Kumiko, simply disappears. Toru doesn't believe that she has gone willingly, and blames his nemesis; his brother-in-law.

This is the kind of Murakami I like. Nothing too weird, amazing characters, cats, corridors and sex. I also liked that Manchuria and World War II is one of the settings, and I definitely want to read more about the subject.  Murakami has turned into one of those authors whom I need to have at least one unread book from on my bookshelves. He is also best in small doses, so one or two books a year is enough.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

twenty-one.

the First World War by Michael Howard (2002)
A Very Short Introduction
How did the Great War start? And what happened?

I was going to teach my super smart class about World War I and I knew that I needed to come prepared to class, so I bought this small book of 156 pages and used it prepare myself.

It gives a very good overview of the reasons the different countries had to enter the war and a good overview of what happened in the war, both on the battlefields and back home in the major participating countries. But I missed a couple of things when reading it. Most importantly a simple time line because there are a lot of dates to keep track of. And then I would have liked more pictures, maps and statistics. 

And although it didn't answer all my kids' question like what did Japan do and how did it go with Serbia, it definitely made me able to do a much better job teaching the subject. 

  • Oxford University Press has published many Very Short Introductions books on a whole range of topics and I will probably pick of more of them on topics I feel I know too little about.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

twenty.

the Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates (2013)

 "Fellow historians will be shocked, dismayed, and perhaps incredulous--I am daring to suggest that the Curse did not first manifest itself on June 4, 1905, which was the disastrous morning of Annabel Slade's wedding, and generally acknowledged to be the initial public manifestation of the Curse, but rather earlier, in the late winter of the year, on the eve of Ash Wednesday in early March".

 In the winter of 1905, Princeton was hit by strange events, deaths and people swore they saw ghosts and vampires walking around in the streets. For the prominent Slade family, the curse seems to evolve around them, and when the beautiful Annabel runs from the altar on her wedding day with another man, the scandal is complete.

The book description tricked me into buying this and reading it for Easter. Sadly, it didn't scare me at all, yet I enjoyed reading about the happenings in Princeton. I really enjoyed all the famous persons in this book, from Woodrow Wilson to Upton Sinclair and Jack London. Although if Jack is portrayed correctly, I certainly lost a lot of respect for him. It was also interesting to read about the feminist and socialist movements and the way upper class families reacted to these trends. My favourite character was Wilhelmina Burr(?), and I was disappointed when she sort of disappeared off to art school and thus out of the story.

But I found the historian's narrative really annoying, and confusing. And as I already said, I wish it had been more thrilling, although I really enjoyed those supernatural parts as well. Sadly I just wished I would reach the end, so I skimmed the last chapters which is probably the reason why I feel that I missed out on the whole explanation of the curse.

Joyce Carol Oates has done a great job with the setting of this book, and I simply forgot at times that this just came out and wasn't a classic. This is the fifth book in the Gothic series, and I will definitely read the others, as well as explore more of Joyce Carol Oates' books.

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