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Ghost story for Halloween

Here is a little extra folk-tale for you to enjoy on Halloween. It is the most famous Icelandic ghost story there is, and almost every Icelander knows it. A modern version, filmed for television, had the deacon riding a motorbike.
In Icelandic folklore, ghosts are supposed to be unable to say the name of God and will change names which incorporate God’s name into something else. The woman in the following story is named Guðrún, which means “God’s Rune”, but the ghost shortens it to “Garún”, which I spell as “Garoon” in the story to approximate how the ghost would have said it. The name of the church-farm the deacon came from translates as ”Dark River”. I have used the translated name of the farm and left out all other place-names to make it easier to read the story aloud. Another thing you need to know is that in many of the old-style churches in Iceland, the church bell was not located in a belfry, but at the top of the gate that led into the church-yard. This type of gate was calle…

A baker's dozen of short stories for Halloween

Halloween is tomorrow, and since most of my readers are located in the USA, where it is celebrated in a big way, I decided to recommend some spooky short stories to get into the Halloween mood. They are all fairly short and would, I think, be perfect for reading aloud to a group on Halloween. Much as I would have liked to include The Willows or The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood, they are simply too long to be read aloud in one session.

I basically made a random choice of stories by Poe, James and King, because they have all written some really scary stuff.

I have tried to include some variety, so you will find a mixture of horror, suspense, scary and creepy stories, some paranormal or supernatural, some psychological, others fantastical. I make no claims as to their being the best of anything, merely that they would make good Halloween reading.

“Oh Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” by M. R. James. Ghost story.The Monkey's Paw by W.W. Jacobs. Magic. A hoary old classic of the u…

Friday night folklore: The Farmer and the Mystery Man’s Bargain

Readers will no doubt recognise elements from the story of Rumpelstiltskin in this Icelandic folk tale. The story is supposed to have taken place in A.D. 995-996 and is told with such detail that it becomes quite  realistic.
Late in the reign of Haakon II Sigurdsson, ruler of Norway, a young Icelandic farmer of Reyn (short for Reynisstaður) wanted to build a gathering hall on this farm and needed to get wood for the building. Late one summer he set out to Norway and arrived shortly after Haakon died and Olaf Tryggvason became king. 
Upon hearing the news, the young farmer decided to go before the king and ask to stay the winter and serve him until he could sail home the next spring*. The king granted him this boon and he stayed the winter, embracing Christianity and being baptised while he was there. In the spring the king gave him all the wood needed to build the gathering hall and a church and asked him to have the church built that same summer. 
When he arrived home he immediately hir…

Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

I really should have posted this before my list of scary books for Halloween, but with one thing and another I wasn’t able to.

Genre: Thriller/horror, ghost story
Year of publication: 1984
Setting & time: England, at a guess some time between 1920 and 1950

The story begins with a happy family group at Christmas. They start  telling ghost stories, but when asked to contribute a story of his own, the father rushes from the room, being overcome with memories of his own terrifying encounter with a ghost. He then decides to tell his story in writing, and takes the reader back to his youth. As a young solicitor he had been sent to a lonely coastal village to attend the funeral of a customer of the law firm he worked for and go over her papers. She had lived on an island that was only accessible at low tide and on his first visit to the island he became aware that it was haunted, but found it hard to get any of the villagers to tell him about the haunting. His arrival agitates the ghost an…

Chunkster (and TBR) challenge review: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Genre: Fantasy, alternative reality
Year of publication: 2004
Setting & time: England (mostly), Spain, Italy; Early 19th century

Mr. Norrell, a gentleman magician - the first to do genuine magic is several centuries - proves that magic has not disappeared from England and offers his assistance to the government in the fight against Napoleon. He is a very selfish man and in order to make sure no-one else can compete with him, he buys all the books on magic he can find and collects them in his well-guarded library, and prevents others from trying to do or learn magic. When another gentleman magician, Jonathan Strange, appears on the scene, Norrell is at first hostile, but eventually he accepts the young man as his apprentice. But that is only the beginning …

At a whopping 845 pages, this is the longest book I have read in quite a while, but unlike some other long books I have read (e.g. The Historian) it would have been very difficult to prune anything from it. The narrative is rich a…

Meme: Top Ten Books for Halloween

The Top Ten Tuesday meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. I expect a wide variety of titles from the participants this time around, since different things scare different people, but I predict that Frankenstein, Dracula, The Shining, The Haunting of Hill Houseand The Turn of the Screw will be mentioned on several lists.

I have tried to list only scary and spooky books, and not ones that are disturbing/creepy or disgusting without being scary, although on some levels the disturbing books are truly more horrifying than the merely scary ones. For example, I found The Wasp Factory by Iain M. Banks deeply disturbing, but it didn’t scare me one bit. This leads me to think I will have to list my top 10 most disturbing books at some later date.

Since I am already working on a list of short stories to recommend for Halloween reading, I decided not to feature short stories or story collections here, although it was tempting to put Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M.R. James and a collec…

Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

My thoughts about this book are rather scattered and what I have written below might sound more like notes for an essay, but I want to say something about it, so please excuse the rambling.

Genre: Psychological/gothic horror
Year of publication: 1962
Setting & time: New England, USA, mid-20th century

While I have labelled this a psychological/gothic horror novel, it is not entirely true, but this is a book that is hard to label. It is psychological and it is gothic, but a psychological and gothic What? It’s hardly a thriller because most of the action is internal (although there are some thrilling moments, especially during the climax), and it’s hardly a horror, although after a certain point in the story one is constantly expecting something of the kind, and it isn’t melodramatic enough to be called a sensational novel, although it draws on all of those genres. It is, in a way, a crime novel, and in fact I wouldn’t hesitate to put it on a list of some of the best of that kind I have…

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From fox hunting to whist – the facts of daily life in 19th century England

Originally published in November 2004, in 2 parts.
Book 38 in my first 52 books challenge

Author: Daniel Pool
Year published: 1993
Pages: 416
Genre: Social history, reference
Where got: Amazon.co.uk

I’ve read quite a number of novels set in 19th century England, and have often asked myself certain questions about the stories. One of those questions was “why did Mr. Darcy hand-deliver his letter to Elizabeth - surely he could have sent a servant with it?”(Pride and Prejudice) and another formulation of the same question was “why did Elinor think Marianne and Mr. Willoughby were engaged just because Marianne sent him letters?”(Sense and Sensibility). I had also wondered about certain social rules, like the order of precedence, which titles belonged to the nobility and which to the gentry, what was the definition of a gentleman, and when was the “season” and the “little season”. In all of these cases I could make educated guesses, based on the text and other books I had read, but I didn’t get …

List love 3.4: BBC’s Big Read list, books 151-200

The previous 3 parts can be found here (no. 1), here (no. 2) and here (no. 3).

Green means I have read it.
Blue means I plan to read it.
The others I am either not interested in or simply don’t know enough about them to decide if I am interested in reading them.

Status abbreviations:
PC = it’s in my Permanent Collection
WL = it’s on my Wish List

Soul Music: by Terry Pratchett. Status: PC Thief Of Time: by Terry Pratchett. Status: The Fifth Elephant: by Terry Pratchett. Status: PC Atonement: by Ian McEwan Secrets: by Jacqueline Wilson The Silver Sword: by Ian SerraillierOne Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest: by Ken Kesey. Status: OwnedHeart Of Darkness: by Joseph ConradKim: by Rudyard Kipling Cross Stitch: by Diana GabaldonMoby Dick: by Herman MelvilleRiver God: by Wilbur Smith. Status: Owned Sunset Song: by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. The Shipping News: by Annie Proulx. The World According To Garp: by John Irving.Lorna Doone: by R.D. Blackmore. Girls Out Late: by Jacqueline Wilson. The Far Pavil…

List love 3.3: BBC’s Big Read list, books 101-150 (updated 23 April 2013)

The previous 2 parts can be found here (no. 1) and here (no. 2).

Green means I have read it.
Blue means I plan to read it.
The others I am either not interested in or simply don’t know enough about them to decide if I am interested in reading them.

Status abbreviations:
PC = it’s in my Permanent Collection
WL = it’s on my Wish List

Three Men In A Boat: by Jerome K. Jerome. Status: PC Small Gods: by Terry Pratchett. Status: PC The Beach: by Alex Garland. Dracula: by Bram Stoker. Status: PC Point Blanc: by Anthony Horowitz.  The Pickwick Papers: by Charles Dickens.  Stormbreaker: by Anthony Horowitz. The Wasp Factory: by Iain Banks. The Day Of The Jackal: by Frederick Forsyth. Status: Owned The Illustrated Mum: by Jacqueline Wilson.  Jude The Obscure: by Thomas Hardy.  The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾: by Sue Townsend. Status: PC The Cruel Sea: by Nicholas Monsarrat. Les Misérables: by Victor Hugo.  The Mayor Of Casterbridge: by Thomas Hardy.  The Dare Game: by Jacqueline Wilson. 

Friday night folklore: Tricking a ghost

Once upon a time there were two brothers in eastern Iceland named Jón and Sigurður. For some reason they swore an oath other than neither should marry without the other’s knowledge. But then a theology student from the east needed to travel to the bishop’s seat in Hólar so the bishop could ordain him, and asked Sigurður to accompany him.
While Sigurður and the young priest-to-be were in Hólar Sigurður met a girl and they became engaged. She asked him not to return to the east, but to stay with her in the north, but the told her about the oath he and his brother had taken and hinted that his brother was wise in old lore, but she said it did not signify. After this they were wed and set up house on a farm. Sigurður knew that it would not be long until he would receive a sending from his brother, and in this he was right: one day he became so sleepy and nauseous that he took to his bed, but his wife sat by the bedside all day and until night-fall.
When dark had fallen, there was a knock on …

Useful website of the week - and a new reading challenge

I just came back from an information lecture on Iceland's role as guest of honour at the 2011 book-fair in Frankfurt, where I became aware of a fabulous new website about Icelandic literature, art and culture. It will play an active role in promoting Iceland and especially Icelandic literature in the months leading up to the fair.

The website is in three languages: Icelandic, German and English, and they are adding new material all the time. There is a newsletter you can subscribe to for free, and each month they introduce a new Icelandic author, a reader of the month, and a video. Do visit this gorgeous and very informative website (the biggest website about Icelandic literature on the web). The link will take you to the English version of the website.

In connection with this event, I am planning to read and review at least one Icelandic book every month until the fair, choosing books that have been translated into English and German, starting in November. I am calling this the &…

List love 3.2: BBC’s Big Read list, books No. 51-100

Continuing from where I left off last time around.

Green means I have read it and so does a link to a review.
Blue means I plan to read it.
The others I am either not interested in or simply don’t know enough about them to decide if I am interested in reading them.

Status abbreviations:
PC = it’s in my Permanent Collection
WL = it’s on my Wish List

The Secret Garden: by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Status: WL Of Mice And Men: by John Steinbeck. The Stand: by Stephen King. Anna Karenina: by Leo Tolstoy. A Suitable Boy: by Vikram Seth. The BFG: by Roald Dahl. Swallows And Amazons: by Arthur Ransome. Black Beauty: by Anna Sewell. Status: PCArtemis Fowl: by Eoin Colfer. Crime And Punishment: by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Noughts And Crosses: by Malorie Blackman. Memoirs Of A Geisha: by Arthur Golden. A Tale Of Two Cities: by Charles Dickens. The Thorn Birds: by Colleen McCollough. Stus:Mort: by Terry Pratchett. Status: PCThe Magic Faraway Tree: by Enid Blyton. The Magus: by John Fowles. Good Omens: b…

List love 3.1: BBC’s Big Read list, books 1-50 (Updated 23 April 2013)

In 2003, the BBC held a public voting to determine which were Britain’s best loved books. The result was a list of 200 books: a mixture of enduring old classics, modern books - some on their way to becoming classics - and some recent bestsellers that may or may not endure. If and when they do this again, it will be interesting to compare the lists and see which books enjoyed continuing popularity through the intervening years.
As might be expected, I, as an average reader who is not involved in the book trade, not a librarian, a professional reviewer or teacher of literature, and not particularly highbrow in my reading choices, found I had read a considerable number of these books.
I am breaking this down into 4 parts to make the posts shorter, and I am posting the books in order of popularity.
Green means I have read it. Bluemeans I plan to read it. The others I am either not interested in or simply don’t know enough about them to decide if I am interested in reading them.
Status a…

A good beginning

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck al all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead. From We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.
A very promising first sentence, don't you think?

Meme: Top Ten Tuesday

The Top Ten Tuesday meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. If you like my list, visit the main site and click on to some of the other lists.

First I have some predictions: I predict that Fitzwilliam Darcy will appear on at least three lists and Rhett Butler on at least two. Lord Peter Wimsey and Mr. Rochester may appear as well, but I hope not Heathcliff. However, you will not find any of these well-loved gentlemen on my list ;-)

Here are 10 literary crushes of mine, past and present, platonic and romantic, in no particular order – except the first one, who can always make my knees tremble.

Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon, from These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer. I love to read about bad boy heroes, and this is the archetypal reformed rake.William of Baskerville. This may seem like an unusual choice, but I was very taken with this character when I first read The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco), because of his honesty and fairness and sharp intelligence. Any relationship would have…

A Tourist in Africa

Originally published in October and November 2004, in 2 parts.
Book 37 in my first 52 books challenge. (I reworked no. 36 and posted it here).

Author: Evelyn Waugh
Year published: 1960
Pages: 160
Genre: Travel, non-fiction
Where got: National library

This is the second time I cheat and read an author I’ve read before. Early on in the challenge I reviewed a novel by Waugh, and now I’m reading one of his non-fiction books.

I had decided to read Eric Newby’s A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush as the travel book of the challenge, but then I came across this one. Because I have read very few travel books about Africa, I decided it would be in better keeping with my mission statement.

The Story:
This is Waugh’s journal of his two month’s stay in Africa in 1959. He escaped the English winter, feeling rather decrepit, and returned feeling much better after a sojourn under the African sun. Hating air travel, he took the long route, first by train to Italy and then by ship to Tanganyika (now mainland Tanzani…

Top mysteries challenge review: Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers

Year of publication: 1926
Series and no.: Lord Peter Wimsey, # 4
Genre: Mystery, cosy
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Semi-pro
Setting & time: Rural England and London; contemporary

Lord Peter Wimsey returns home after a prolonged stay abroad to find that his brother, the Duke of Denver, has been arrested on suspicion of having murdered the fiancé of his sister, Lady Mary, at a hunting lodge in Yorkshire. Both Mary and the Duke show suspicious behaviour and clearly have something to hide, even from their clever brother, who has to find out what they were really up to on the night of the murder before he can find out what really happened.

This story has one of those wonderfully intricate puzzle-plots that I enjoy so much, besides featuring adventure, romance and humour and Sayers’ trademark high-quality writing style, not to mention great characters that seem to jump off the pages. This is a pre-Harriet story, and Peter is here still prone to play the upper-class fop and s…

Friday night folklore: On the origin of Mermaids and Mermen

On the origins of the race of mermaids and mermen Icelandic folklore has is this story:

Once upon a time there was a king and his queen who had one daughter, an only child. When she was born the witches and sorceresses of the land gave her many good blessings, including beauty, riches and the promise of a good husband. But one of the witches was annoyed and jealous because of all the gifts heaped upon the child and cursed her, saying that she would turn into a sea-monster every ninth night after her marriage and she should live like this for three years so that none but her husband could find out and if he did find out, her freedom from the curse would depend upon him not revealing it to anyone, not being angered by it or stop loving her. But if one or more of these stipulations was not fulfilled, she must forever live in the sea and never be freed. But as some consolation she would have a such beautiful singing voice that all creatures who heard it would be soothed into sleep by it…

List love 2: Books people lie about having read

Preface:
It is beyond my understanding why anyone would lie about having read a particular book when they haven’t, but clearly some people think that claiming to have read, say, Ulysses, is going to make others think they are intelligent, cool, sexy, or whatever.

While I can, up to a point, understand that people may be reluctant to admit that they haven’t read some of the classics, what I absolutely don’t get is people pretending to have read recent books that have not and may not become an accepted part of the literary canon.So what if you haven't read The Da Vinci Code? Believe me: The literary police are not going to swoop in and arrest you.

The danger in pretending to have read a book is of course that the person you are talking to just might have read the book and want to discuss it in depth. Even if you have read and taken to heart How to Talk about Books that You Haven't Read or memorised the Cliffs Notes, you may be found out sooner or later. Isn’t it just better to…

Does reading do this for you?

've traveled the world twice over, Met the famous; saints and sinners, Poets and artists, kings and queens, Old stars and hopeful beginners, I've been where no-one's been before, Learned secrets from writers and cooks All with one library ticket To the wonderful world of books. Author unknown


Now reading Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers

Sayers had a way with words. Here is a sentence that says a lot:
"Lord Peter was awake, and looked rather fagged, as though he had been sleuthing in his sleep."
Here is an interesting piece of etymology: Did you know that the word "sleuth" comes from the Old Norse root "slóð", which meant "trail" or "spoor" and still has that meaning in modern Icelandic?

Meme: Top Ten Books I'll NEVER Read

This is another Top Ten Tuesday meme from The Broke and the Bookish.

My attitude to books may be generally described as “never say never”, so filling this list was a real challenge. The list actually covers more than 10 books, because rather than individual books, I mostly have genres and authors I don’t like reading. I tried to stay with books that are either considered to have literary merit or are bestsellers or considered "must reads". Starting with actual books, in no particular order:

1. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson. One of the longest novels written in the English language, about a young woman whose virtue is under siege. It isn’t that its length is overly intimidating, but it seems to me that its fame these days is mostly due to its length.
2. Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce. Experimental novels are fine, but I think reading Ulysses will be quite enough experimental Joyce for me.
3. Angelina: An unauthorised biography by Andrew Morton, and, for that matter, any mode…

Short stories 261-270

“The Patriarch by Colette. A story about a country doctor and his experiences that seems to be part of a longer story.
“Noah’s Ark”, by Jules Supervielle. PFS. An imaginative rendering of the story of Noah‘s ark. Recommended.
Fanny and Annie” by D.H. Lawrence. A story about choice and the lack of it.
The Voyage” by Katherine Mansfield. About a girl who has recently lost her mother.
“The Breakout” by Joyce Cary. About a man who has a breakdown. Or does he? Recommended.
“The Gioconda Smile” by Aldous Huxley. About love and infidelity.
“The Fly in the Ointment” by V.S. Pritchett. About the changelessness of human nature.
“Mr. Loveday’s Little Outing” by Evelyn Waugh. A nasty little story about mistaken kindness. Recommended.
“Across the bridge” by Graham Greene. About the sad fate of an elderly criminal.
“Raspberry Jam” by Angus Wilson. About the cruelties of childhood.Recommended.

Synir Duftsins

Originally published in October 2004, in 2 parts.
Book 35 in my first 52 books challenge.

As you can see below, this review was written before Arnaldur won the Gold Dagger award and the movie was made. This book - the first in the Erlendur series - has still not been translated into English, and probably never will. In the book, the cops are named Erlendur and Sigurður Óli, but they are really just stereotypes of the older, experienced cop and the by-the-book rookie, and have not been fleshed out like they are in the other books. In addition, the story has a strong science fiction element that was very relevant to a discussion of ethics in science that was going on in Icelandic society at the time, and would pretty much go over the heads of foreign readers unfamiliar with the situation.

English title (my translation):Sons of the Dust
Author: Arnaldur Indriðason
Year published: 1997
Genre: Crime
Sub-genre(s): Mystery
Where got: National Library

Before Arnaldur Indriðason wrote this book, orig…