28 January 2016

Booking through Thursday: Shakespeare

I came across this question while going through old posts on Booking Through Thursday:

Okay, show of hands … who has read Shakespeare OUTSIDE of school required reading? Do you watch the plays? How about movies? Do you love him? Think he’s overrated?

While the subject is now closed, I thought it was a rather good blogging prompt, so here is my reply:

I have only read a couple of Shakespeare's plays outside of school: Macbeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream. I suppose that as an English major I should feel ashamed that I didn't read any of his plays at university, but since my focus was linguistic, not literary, I make no excuses.

In any case, I prefer to see plays performed, either on stage or as films. I know the stories of most of the comedies and tragedies, thanks to Tales from Shakespeare and a similar, albeit better written, book by Helgi Hálfdanarson, the man who also translated all the plays into Icelandic.

I try to see every Shakespeare play that is staged here in Iceland, meaning of course I am more used to hearing them performed in Icelandic than in English. I did read the English version of Macbeth after I saw the play performed in Icelandic. So far I have caught Hamlet, A Midsummer Night's Dream (school play, the choice of which I am sure was influenced by the popularity of the movie Dead Poets Society), Romeo and Juliet (the controversial acrobatics version by Vesturport) and Macbeth.

I gave King Lear a miss, however, since I find that story so incredibly depressing that I'd rather stick needles in my eyes and ears than watch it or any version of it. Finally, I will mention - but not count - an experimental version of Othello I saw a few years ago, titled Óþelló-Desdemóna og Jagó, since it was an interpretation of the story in which the only character who spoke was Iago (Othello expressed himself in dance and Desdemona through sign language).

As for Shakespeare movies I have seen: 
  • The 1948 Olivier version of Hamlet, which I found to be stagy but good.
  • A so-so black-and-white Romeo and Juliet with actors old enough to be the parents of Shakespeare's originals.
  • Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing and Love's Labour's Lost. I re-watch the former on occasion, but didn't like the latter much.
  • The Burton and Taylor Taming of the Shrew, which I enjoyed. I also saw an enjoyable made-for-TV modern version of that story, starring Shirley Henderson and Rufus Sewell. Unfortunately I missed the rest of that series, which also included Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night's Dream. (Kiss Me Kate is great, but doesn't leave in a whole lot of Shakespeare's text, any more than the aforementioned TV adaptation).
  • Twelfth Night, the one starring Helena Bonham-Carter, Imogen Stubbs and Toby Stephens as  the people caught in the love triangle, plus a host of other great British actors. This is my favourite Shakespeare movie and I re-watch it every now and then.

20 January 2016

Is there anybody out there? (must be, I still have 70 followers.) Anyway, here's a review

I thought it was about time I posted a review, even if it's an informal one. I haven't read that many books lately that I felt like reviewing, but I finally got my hands on a book I have been looking for for many, many years. I haven't been looking for it in a "Oh. My. God. I. Must. Have. This. Book!" kind of way, but rather in the "It would sure be nice to have this book, if only to read it", but still.... I finally came across a second hand copy with an intact dust cover, the right price, no stains and only a slight musty smell that wasn't ripe enough to stop me from buying it, although I did read it at arm's length.

The book?
The Flight of Dragons by Peter Dickinson, illustrated by Wayne Anderson.

Why this book?
I watched an animated movie titled The Flight of Dragons when I was about 13 years old and absolutely loved it. It may possibly have been the first high fantasy film I ever watched (certainly the first one I can remember) and it left a lasting impression on me. Several years later I found out that it was based on a book by an author of the same name as the hero of the movie: Peter Dickinson, but I thought it was a novel. It is fiction, to be sure, but I wouldn't call it a novel. What it really is, is speculative natural history, i.e. cryptozoology, but I only found that out much later, when the Internet came along and I started doing research. Then I ran across information that it was based on a book by Gordon R. Dickson, titled The Dragon and the George. This was confusing, but finally Wikipedia came to my aid and I learned that it was based on both books. I also discovered the real nature of the eponymous book, which only increased my desire to read it. I got my hands on The Dragon and the George several years ago, but the copy had so many pages missing that I gave up trying to read it and turned it onto a hollow book. I did read enough to figure out that other than the names and abilities of some of the characters, the story in the movie seems to bear little resemblance to that in the book (correct me, please, if I'm wrong).

Anyway, I got my hands on what a second-hand bookseller would probably call "a good, clean copy" and, unusually for me, considering most of the books I buy go on the TBR shelves and remain there for months or even years before I finally read them, I got down to business reading it right away. I was expecting a light-hearted, pseudo-scientific, even satirical, treatment of the subject. I did find a tongue-in-cheek treatment, but the humour is subtle enough and the treatment thorough enough that a true believer in the existence of dragons could read it as a straight thesis on the history and zoology of the beasts, albeit one illustrated with light-hearted drawings of dragons and other mythical beasts.

Dickinson looks at dragons from many different viewpoints and pulls up references to mythology, legends, folk-tales and literature to present a natural history of the dragon, including an almost plausible theory explaining why they have left no fossil record. He also quotes literature about dragons, and ends with an interesting chapter on Beowulf and dragons. The only thing, apart from the humour, to distinguish The Flight of Dragons from a book on the natural history of a real animal is the lack of a bibliography, which I would have loved to see because dragons are in the top five of my favourite mythological beings and I like to read about them. However, I can always glean the titles from the text.

The only dragon reference known to me that he seems to have missed (or perhaps I overlooked it?) is one to the lindworm reared by Thora Borgarhjörtur (from the Saga of Ragnar loðbók). Otherwise he seems to have the field of dragon-lore pretty well-covered. He even quotes The Dragon and the George. 

The book gets slightly long-winded at times, but enough to make me lose interest. All in all, it's an interesting reread and a good reference book to have if the subject interests you.

I'm not giving it stars - I've come to the conclusion that giving star ratings to books does not accurately reflect what they are like and henceforth when I post reviews I will rather try to categorise them in a way that reflects what they meant to me. How I do this remains to be seen, but I might go for short, tweet-like summaries of the longer review (e.g. "liked reading but not enough to keep" or "keeping reference", etc.).

23 March 2015

Book blogging elsewhere

I am experimenting with book blogging on Tumblr. I like the ease with which one can blog - and reblog - on Tumblr and it has, to some extent, revived my interesting in blogging about books.

The new blog is wider in scope than this one, and more photo-oriented.  I started out posting some of my photographs of books, and have started adding mini reports of the books I have been reading. The format of the latter is not exactly reviewing and not exactly book journalling, but but a little of both. I post a cover image, a sentence/paragraph from the book (usually the first or last of either, but if neither is interesting I may quote something from within the book) and a paragraph or two about the contents, genre and my impression of it. I'm also considering adding links to other bloggers' more in-depth reviews, but haven't started yet. The Tumblr blog is here, if you want to take a look, and if you're specifically looking for the aforementioned book reports, the hashtag is #books I have read.

This does not mean I am abandoning this blog - it might even be just the spark I need to revive it.

27 February 2015

Book haul for January and February 2015

I bought 21 books in January and February, adding, among other things, considerably to my collection of out-of-date guidebooks. 
Remarkably, only one of the books in the stack is fiction (guess which one?)
While I am not particularly fond of "must read" lists like the one in 1001 Books..., I do enjoy reading about books others have loved enough to recommend, and it will be fun to go through it and see what it has to say about the books I have read (liking or disliking) and to discover new books to read. However, I have no intention of reading all of the recommendations. 
As for the rest, they reflect some of my many interests: pastiche literature, trivia, folkloristics, cooking, history and anthropology.

02 February 2015

Still hibernating (sort of) but felt the need to brag

I started and finished reading more than 60 books in January, which is a personal record. Admittedly, most were in the long novella/short novel range (80-120 pages), with a handful as long as 180 pages, but since they are sold as separate eBooks, they still count as entire books. The page count is probably pretty similar to that of an average month. If I manage to keep this up, I might manage to read an average of a book a day for the year, but I expect I will start to slow down as February progresses.

I traded Kindles with a friend and delved into the short romance novels she had collected, mostly series of paranormal-themed novels and one space opera series. This was the reading equivalent of binging on candy - inducing a satisfying rush with lots of calories but little nutrition. But this is just the kind of reading I need at this time of the year: entertaining, with guaranteed happy endings and not much substance. I expect I will probably end up with a massive reading hangover, but it will have been worth it for having kept me from plunging into one of my depression downswings, which tend to happen at this time of the year.

In-between I have been reading A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. Continuing with the food metaphors, it might be likened to a juicy hamburger with the works: still fast food, but with substance and some nutritional value. In fact, I have gleaned several interesting tidbits of science history from it that I want to delve into in more detail, thereby adding some steak to the menu.

18 December 2014

Going into hibernation

I'm putting this blog into hibernation for the unforeseen future. I have been reading as much as ever, but my interest in blogging about it has taken a decided downward turn and the blog has been languishing for more than a year. I may stop by now and again if I feel the urge to post something or I want to update the Invisible Library page, but other than that I don't plan on blogging here regularly until my interest in reviewing returns. This may happen a month from now, or a year, or possibly never, I really can't say.

In the meantime, why not check out my Photoblog?

08 December 2014

(Christmas) gift suggestions for book-lovers

I did this once before (thought I'd done more, but I can't find them). As I have come across more goodies for book-lovers, I decided to do another one. With pictures. And links (just click on the photo and the link will open in a new window).

Book pillows
Choose between Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes, and Treasure Island.

A book holder

 I like the look of these (I haven't tested any of them, but I do own a Little Book Holder. I just haven't found occasion to use it yet.)

The Gimble:

The Easy Book Clip:

The Book Gem:

The Little Book Holder:

A personal library kit

For the inner librarian and for the person who lends out a lot of books and then complains when people forget to return them:

Archival book covers

Another one for the inner librarian, also for the collector and indeed any other person who insists on keeping their books looking fresh and unread:

Library book pockets

Buy them from stationery shops or make them yourself. Here are some examples from one blogger.

I'm considering making some to put in my books to hold bookmarks when I'm reading, because I often put the bookmark somewhere I can't find it and have to hunt up a new one.

02 November 2014

The TBR Challenge is done! (plus, some news)

It just occurred to me that I have reached my goal of reading 60 books from my TBR pile. In fact, by the end of October there were 63 of them, so I exceeded the goal with two months of reading to go. By now, the number is 64 and I am reading what may become books 65 and 66. Yay!

The speed with which I managed this is in large part due to the fact that I bought a number of interesting books I couldn't wait to read. It is a sad fact that, once I have bought a book, if I don't read it within a few weeks I start to lose interest in it, and if I own it for long enough I forget I ever owned it in the first place. This is how I occasionally end up buying a second copy (rare, now that I keep a list of the books I own on my smartphone) and also why I sometimes end up culling books without having read them.

I had hoped to reach 200 books read in total by the end of the year, but as I have only finished 157 books by now, I expect the final number will be closer to 180. Not that the 200 book goal isn't within my reach: if I finish 22 books in November and another 22 in December, I will reach 200 before the end of the year.

This is unlikely, however, as I have a project I'm working on that will keep me quite busy for some weeks, possibly even until spring. I have recently become the proud owner of a brand new Volkswagen Caddy Maxi panel van that my father and I are going to transform into a mini-motor home for me. Work has started and will keep me quite busy, planning and working and possibly doing some freelance translating to pay for the whole thing. This may leave me too little time and/or energy to read as much as I am used to. As a matter of fact I think I would probably have managed to read 15 books in October (instead of only 10) if we hadn't already started the work. On the other hand, this just might energise me into reading more books than average - I really can't tell.

Also, while I found any number of foreign blogs and websites about van-to-motorhome conversions, I didn't find many of either in Icelandic (my native language). In fact what I found was mostly travelogues written by motorhome owners, and a handful of discussions about DIY motorhomes on message boards and Facebook, so I am trying to fill that niche by writing a blog in Icelandic about the whole process, which is also going to take time away from reading.

I hope to be able to take my motorhome on the road next spring. Until then I have one book about motorhome life lined up for reading: Queen of the Road by Doreen Orion (if I can find it - it seems to be playing hide and seek with me). I am hoping to find a copy of A monkey ate my breakfast: Motorhome adventures in Morocco by Julie and Jason Buckley, when I go to London at the end of this month. Incidentally, their blog, Our Tour, is a fantastic resource about the various aspects of motorhome travel as well as telling the story of their travels in Europe and North-Africa.

And now, dear reader, I have a question for you: Can you recommend any other books about motorhomes and motorhome travel, including guides to DIY motorhomes? 

11 October 2014

Reading report for September 2014

I went through reading slump in September. For me, this usually does not mean I read fewer books in a given month, but that I read a larger proportion of books I have read before. I finished a total of 16 books – which is actually above my monthly average – but 10 of them were re-reads (of which three were audio books I listened to for the first time). Out of the remaining six, two were books I had started reading long before and then put aside for some reason.

For more than half the month I kept picking up never-before read books, opening them, reading a chapter or two, losing interest and grabbing a familiar book to read instead.

This coincided with the beginning of my yearly struggle with the winter blues. As I have mentioned before, I suffer from depression. It is usually mild these days and comes in fairly predictable waves throughout the year, but the downswings are always deeper during the winter and the first signs are usually an increased need for sleep and everything around me starting to feel uninteresting. At such times I feel the need to surround myself with things that are cosy and familiar, including books I have enjoyed many times before. The key to fighting this is novelty, and reading new-to-me books is one of the way in which I find novelty.

The book that finally helped me break the re-reading pattern was Gene Simmons‘ autobiography, Kiss and Make-Up. I used to be a Kiss fan when I was a teenager, and I still enjoy listening to their music. Not that the book is terribly remarkable, except possibly in the fact that he (or his ghost-writer) mostly actually writes about himself and doesn't spend half the book recounting juicy gossip about others, which has been the case with a number of celebrity autobiographies I have read. It was interesting, however, and so I kept reading and read it pretty much in two long sessions.

There were two stand-outs. The first was Katie Hickman‘s Daughters of Britannia, which examined various aspects of the lives of the spouses of British diplomats (mostly women). It gives an insight into the world of diplomats that shows that it used to be hard work being married into the diplomatic corps and it isn‘t all glittering parties and fun, and indeed the parties are only glittering and fun if you are on the outside looking in at them. The other stand-out was, predictably, the Gary Larson collection The Far Side Gallery II.

The low point of the month was a Mills & Boon romance: In Love With the Man by Marjorie Lewty. It is one of those books one finds one day in one's book collection without having any recollection of ever having bought or otherwise acquired it. I don't have any particular gripe with Mills & Boon per se, but this was one of those "innocent young woman falls for experienced older man" stories with a side order of industrial espionage, exotic foreign location (Tokyo) and a spiteful competitor for the hero's affections. The heroine is a wide-eyed innocent and the hero's behaviour towards her borders on the creepy at times and falls under my definition of sexual harassment. I think I read it from cover to cover only because it was short and I was feeling too lazy to stand up and get another book.

The Books:
  • Mike Ashley, ed.:The Mammoth Book of Historical Detectives. Short detective stories, historical.
  • Jennifer Crusie:The Cinderella Deal. Romance. Reread.
  • Georgette Heyer:The Reluctant Widow and Masqueraders. Historical romance. Rereads.
  • Katie Hickman:Daughters of Britannia. History.
  • Gary Larson:The Far Side Gallery II. Humour, cartoons.
  • Marjorie Lewty:In Love With the Man. Romance. Reread.
  • Ólafur Davíðsson:Ég læt allt fjúka. Collected letters and diary.
  • Terry Pratchett:Truckers, Diggers, Wings. Children’s fantasy. Reread. Audio books, read by Tony Robinson.
  • J.D. Robb:Naked in Death. Futuristic police procedural. Reread.
  • Oliver Sacks:The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Neurology. Reread.
  • DorothyL. Sayers:Strong Poison. Mystery.
  • Gene Simmons:Kiss and Make-Up. Autobiography.
  • Winifred Watson:Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Novel, humorous. Reread.