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Showing posts from January, 2011

Interpreter of Maladies

Originally published in February 2005, in 2 parts. Book 52 in my first 52 books challenge.
Edited out some stuff unrelated to the review.

Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Year published: 1999
Pages: 198
Genre: Literature, short stories
Where got: Second hand

This book had been waiting on my TBR shelf for nearly a year when I finally read it. I had forgotten about it until I visited the Lonely Planet online forum, the Thorn Tree, like I do 2-3 times a week. On the Women’s Branch there was a book discussion going on, and the original poster and several others highly recommended this book. I thought, “Hey, I have this!” and decided there and then that it was about time I read it. Looking over the list of books in the 52 books challenge, I realised I had not read any short stories, so it was perfect to end the challenge with this short story collection. It won the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 2000.

Reading progress:
I have been reading 1-2 stories from Interpreter of Maladies per day, and now have fou…

Frankfurter Buchmesse 2011 Challenge: Þar sem djöflaeyjan rís by Einar Kárason

I decided to review this book even if I didn’t read it in January because, frankly, I haven’t been to the library all month and it suddenly dawned on me that I only have 3 days left to do a Buchmesse review for January.



Genre: Generational novel
Year of publication: 1983
Setting and time: Reykjavík, 1940s to 1960s
English title, translator and year of publication: Devil's Island; David MacDuff and Magnus Magnusson; 1999
German title, translator and year of publication: Die Teufelsinsel; Marita Bergsson; 1997

This story covers, in realistic detail, a couple of decades in the life of an Icelandic working-class family in the years following the Second World War. Shortly after the end of the war they settle in a house in the middle of a neighbourhood of Nissen huts left behind when the American occupation ended. These neighbourhoods were seen as slums, but they were a much-needed solution to a housing problem caused by the hundreds of people who left their homes in the countryside and smal…

List Love 7.2: Children’s books I have fond memories of, part II of II

Continuing from my posts on Tuesday and Thursday:

It is interesting to note that most of the books I loved best when I was a child were fantasies. Some of these I still occasionally pick up and read.

Fantasy by Astrid Lindgren:
The Brothers Lionheart. About 2 brothers who are reunited after death in a fantasy world where an evil warlord armed with a dragon has part of the land in thrall and is trying to invade the free parts.

Mio, my Mio. About an orphan who discovers that he is really a prince. He ends up fighting an evil knight who steals people and animals from his father’s kingdom.

Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter is a more lighthearted story about a girl who grows up as the only child in a group of rowdy robbers, and finally finds a friend when she meets a boy, the son of the leader of another group of robbers. All sorts of mayhem ensues when the two robber kings start fighting for territory and the children decide to teach the adults a lesson.

I was never very fond of the Pippi Longstoc…

Friday night folktales: The Bakki-brothers on the go

Read part one.

Read part two.

Whenever one of the Bakki-brothers needed to go somewhere, they would all go together. Once they went on a three day journey and had travelled for 2 days when they remembered that they had intended to borrow a horse for the trip. So they turned back, borrowed the horse and set off again.

--

Once when the lease for the farm was due the brothers visited the widow who owned the land and paid the lease. They spent the night at her farm and then headed for home, which was a long way off.

When they were more than halfway home one of them spoke up and said: “Well, Gísli-Eíríkur-Helgi, now I remember that we forgot to ask the good woman to send us off in God’s peace. The other two agreed and so they turned back and asked her to send them off in God’s peace. She did, and off they set again, but when they were halfway home they remembered that they had not thanked her. Not wanting to be ridiculed for not having any manners, they turned around again, met the widow an…

List Love 7.1: Children’s books I have fond memories of, part I of II

In continuation of my last Top Ten Tuesday post, on books I wish I had read as a kid, I decided to repost a reworked book list from my old blog. It is on two parts, and part 2 will be posted on Saturday.

Meet the books that shaped my reading habits.
These are the books that moulded my reading habits and affected my future reading preferences. Some of them are still favourites but others I haven’t read in years.

I first read all of these books in Icelandic, and later some of them in the original languages. All were originally written in other languages, and nearly all of them are available in English, in some version. I haven’t bothered with my favourite Icelandic children’s books because very few (if any) of them have been translated into English, although several have been translated into German and one or more Scandinavian languages. Therefore you will not find on this list any books by Guðrún Helgadóttir or Ármann Kr. Einarsson, to name two Icelandic authors I liked, although I re…

Top Mysteries Challenge review: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

This is a triple challenge book for me: A Top Mystery, a TBR book and a What’s in a Name read. I can now strike out the “size” title in the last one.

Genre: Hardboiled detective story
Year of publication: 1939
Setting & time: The Los Angeles area, USA; contemporary

Private detective Philip Marlowe is hired by elderly General Sternwood to look into a blackmail attempt, but more may be at stake. The General’s older daughter thinks he has been hired to find her husband, who has been missing for several weeks, and the younger daughter wants to have some fun with him and will not take ‘no’ for an answer. Before long, Marlowe has uncovered some criminal goings-on, including not only blackmail, but also gambling, illegal pornography and murder.

Raymond Chandler was a master storyteller, and also had a way with words and poetic and startling turns of phrase pop up from time to time, usually when Marlowe is contemplating things. Characterisations are simple but just escape being flat, but the…

Meme: Top Ten Books I Wish I'd Read as a Kid

The Top Ten Tuesdays meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Show your appreciation by clicking on this linkand checking out some more book lists on the other participating blogs.

This is a tough one, since I didn’t really read English at any kind of proficiency until my teens, so I really should list Icelandic books. However, few if any of my readers will have heard of any of them, so instead I will list books in English I wish I could have read as a kid. Some were available in translation, so theoretically I could have read them, while others were not.

(Later I may draw up a list of children’s books written after I grew up which I would love to have read as a child).

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Such a wonderful children’s book. I hope it gets translated so Icelandic kids can enjoy it.Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. I loved the movie and liked the book and would have liked to have discovered it as a child.A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I …

Seed Leaf Flower Fruit

Originally published in February 2005, in 2 parts.
Book 51 in my first 52 books challenge.
Slightly edited.

Author and illustrator: Maryjo Koch
Year published: 1998
Pages: Not numbered
Genre: Art, nature study
Where got: Bookstore

I first came across Maryjo Koch’s nature study books on a visit to the USA. All four books, Bird Egg Feather Nest, Seed Leaf Flower Fruit, Pond Lake River Sea, and Dragonfly Beetle Butterfly Bee were available, but I had already spent all my shopping money on Christmas presents and decided to put them on my whish list and buy them later. Sadly, since then they have all gone out of print, which is why I was happy to find Seed Leaf Flower Fruit and Bird Egg Feather Nest at a second-hand store recently, in near perfect condition and at a great price. I bought them both. I had to flip a coin to decide which one I would review here. I hope I will be able to get my hands on the other two before too long. They come up occasionally in auctions on ebay, and I have every in…

List Love 6: Top 10 politically incorrect kids books

I am in a reviewing slump at the moment, so here is a bit of list love:

Top 10 politically incorrect kids books

I came across this list when I was researching the Dr. Dolittle books by Hugh Lofting (which I loved as a child), and thought it would be interesting to take a look at them. I think when adults read children’s books, they tend to forget that children generally don’t read much between the lines of books, and pretty much take a situation at face value. I know that when I was a child, I never noticed any racism in any of the books in this list that I read at that time.

Little House on the Prairie - Laura Ingalls Wilder
Politically incorrect because: it is offensive to Native Americans.
I have read this one, but it was so long ago that I don’t feel up to commenting on it. I do remember that I liked reading these books as a child/teenager, but I didn’t love them.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
Politically incorrect because: it is offensive to black people, due to ra…

Friday night folktales: The Bakki-brothers and old Brownie

I don't think the following story is supposed to be funny. In fact it is rather tragic. It seems to be included to prove that the brothers were indeed dumb, dumber and dumbest. Of course, when a modern, educated person reads all these stories, they don't see inexcusably stupid people to be judged and ridiculed like their contemporaries did, but rather a trio of men who had lower than average IQs and really needed help they didn't get.

Read part one.

As well as inheriting the farm, the Bakki-brothers also inherited old Brownie, their father’s mare.
Once there was a great storm and the brothers were afraid that Brownie would be blown away, so they gathered up a quantity of rocks and piled it up around her and on top of her, as much as would stay put. After that the mare neither blew away nor indeed ever stood up again.


Copyright notice: The wording used to tell this folk-tale is under copyright. The story itself is not copyrighted. If you want to re-tell it, for a collection of …

Book lover's thanksgiving

ON THE RETURN OF A BOOK LENT TO A FRIEND
I GIVE humble and hearty thanks for the safe return of this book which having endured the perils of my friend's bookcase, and the bookcases of my friend's friends, now returns to me in reasonably good condition.
I GIVE humble and hearty thanks that my friend did not see fit to give this book to his infant as a plaything, nor use it as an ash-tray for his burning cigar, nor as a teething-ring for his mastiff.
WHEN I lent this book I deemed it as lost: I was resigned to the bitterness of the long parting: I never thought to look upon its pages again.
BUT NOW that my book is come back to me, I rejoice and am exceeding glad!
Bring hither the fatted morocco and let us rebind the volume and set it on the shelf of honour: for this my book was lent, and is returned again.
PRESENTLY, therefore, I may return some of the books that I myself have borrowed.
(Christopher Morley, The Haunted Bookshop)

New auxiliary blog

I have started a new blog as an auxiliary to this one. I will be posting stuff on it that is book related but doesn't exactly belong on this one, like author bibliographies and lists of book series showing which books I have read, links to other readers' reviews of the books I have been reading, themed TBR lists, and so on.

It is mostly meant to be a memory tool for me that I can access from anywhere that has an Internet connection, but I would love to hear your comments on the lists, which books you have read, which ones you recommend and which ones you don't, and so on. It's called This'n That.

Shotgun by Ed McBain

Genre: Police procedural
Year of publication: 1968
Series and no.: 87th Precinct, # 23
Setting & time: Isola, a fictional city in the USA, based on New York; contemporary

When I get tired of reading long detective stories I know I can always turn to Ed McBain. His books are generally (although not always) short, yet he still manages to put into them as much detail as some other authors need three times as many pages to convey. In Shotgun Carella and Kling investigate a gruesome double homicide by shotgun, while Meyer and his partner handle an unusual and mysterious stabbing of a woman in her apartment.

McBain wrote a spare style stuffed full of information and knew how to get across an amazing amount of information in a simple conversation, of which there are several in this story. He also managed to tell stories that were darkly funny, thrilling and interesting. The stories are also realistic. Most of the investigations described in the books are solved by good solid investigative …

Four Hundred Years of Fashion (Victoria and Albert Museum)

Originally published in January and February 2005, in 2 parts.
Book 50 in my first 52 books challenge.

Editor: Natalie Rothstein
Text: Madeleine Ginsburg, Avir Hart, Valerie D. Mendes, et al.
Photographs: Philip Barnard
Year published: 1984
Pages: 176
Genre: History of clothing styles
Where got: Public library

I was planning to read a Danish book titled Krop og klær: Klædedragtens kunsthistorie (In English: Body and clothing: The art history of dress) for this week’s review, but leafing through it I realised I could never finish it in one week AND enjoy it, because it’s been a while since I’ve read anything more complicated than craft magazines in Danish, and there is a fair amount of technical vocabulary in it that requires the use of a dictionary. I did want to read something about textiles, and picked up this overview of dress history as seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Dress Collection. It is published by the museum and contains a large number of photographs of clothes from the co…

Top Mysteries Challenge review: The Firm by John Grisham

Genre: Thriller
Year of publication: 1991
Setting & time: Mostly Memphis, Tennessee, with brief stops and other places around the USA, and the Cayman Islands; contemporary

Rookie tax lawyer Mitch McDeere accepts a lucrative job offer from a prestigious law firm, but finds out to his dismay that all is not what it seems within the firm. Caught between a rock and a hard place, he has to use his wits and find a way out of the hole he has dug himself into.

Review: Many years ago I overdosed on John Grisham novels and swore I would never read another of his books again, but since I have committed myself to finish all the books easily available to me that are on the challenge list, I knew that sooner or later I would have to tackle The Firm. When I started reading it soon became apparent that distancing myself from Grisham had made me forget what it was in the first place that I had disliked about the books.

The Firm is a hugely enjoyable thriller, even if the protagonist is a bit too perf…

Lynn Viehl: Night Lost

Genre: Urban fantasy/paranormal romance
Series and no.: Darkyn, # 4
Year of publication: 2007
Setting & time: Rural France, England, Ireland and the USA; contemporary

Darkyn lord Gabriel Seran is the prisoner of the Brethren, a religious sect dedicated to eliminating the Darkyn. Chained to a cross and walled in down in the basement of an old chapel on the grounds of his former estate in France, he feels abandoned by the other Darkyn, but is honour-bound to protect their secrets. Meanwhile, burglar Nicola Jefferson is searching for a particular relic in the chapels and churches of Europe while stealing such treasures as she finds and selling them to finance the search. She has also freed a number of imprisoned Darkyn, but when she frees Gabriel something feels different. Meanwhile, the Darkyn king has imprisoned Dr. Alexandra Keller (If Angels Burn) in his stronghold in Ireland, forcing her to search for a cure for the affliction that is slowly turning him into a mutant. Her lover, Da…

Friday night folklore: The Bakki-brothers and the keg

Every nation has stories about fools and simpletons and their antics. The Bakkabræður or "brothers from Bakki" stories are an Icelandic example. In the weeks to come I will be posting one Bakki-brothers story every Friday.
Long ago, on a farm called Bakki in Svarfaðardalur there lived a farmer who had three sons: Gísli, Eiríkur and Helgi. They were famous far and wide for their stupidity and their antics were a source of fun for the neighbours. 
Once, when the brothers were almost grown men they rowed out to sea with their father to do some fishing. The old man was suddenly taken ill so he had to lie down to rest.
They had brought with them a keg of whey mixed with water (a traditional refreshing drink). The old man called out after a while to his sons, asking for the keg. 
Then one of them said: “Gísli-Eiríkur-Helgi (which is what they used to say when one of them spoke to one of the others), our father calls for the keg.”
The second one repeated after the first: “Gísli-Eiríkur-…

Libraries and librarians

Book collecting and the building-up of great libraries is as much a matter of the heart as a matter of the head. The man who is all heart and no head would be a very bad librarian. But the man who is all head and no heart is a very dangerous librarian.  Randolph G. Adams (1892-1951)

Lynn Viehl: Dark Need

Genre: Urban fantasy/paranormal romance
Series and no.: Darkyn, # 3
Year of publication: 2006
Setting & time: Miami, Florida, USA; contemporary

Homicide detective Samantha Brown is a dedicated police officer living with the memory of a shooting that nearly killed her and is plagued by the fear that the colleague who was stalking her, and who she is certain was behind the shooting, will come back to finish the job. She meets the mysterious Lucan when the only clue to a horrific murder is a replica of a medieval cross bearing his name. Lucan, once a powerful Darkyn assassin and now a nightclub owner in Miami, is immediately attracted to Samantha, but he has a job to do and can’t allow himself to love her. Additionally there is a mutated, insane Kyn on the prowl and the religious fanatics who pose a threat to the Kyn are nearby and preparing to attack.

Lucan was a minor villain in the first book, If Angels Burn. He has a powerful talent: he can kill any living being with a touch, and w…

List love 5: The most disturbing novels I have read

When I was posting about my Halloween-themed reads, I mentioned that I was planning to make a list of disturbing books. Well, here it is. As you can see, there are no outright horror novels on the list - instead they are mostly thrillers and suspense novels, the kind that can play endlessly with one’s imagination because one always tends to imagine things as being worse than they really are. A good writer can scare the living daylights out of the reader merely by using suggestion.

We have always lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. A tale of mental disintegration and murder, it is disturbing on several levels, from the cheerfully manipulative unreliable narrator, to the evil cousin, to the townspeople who turn into a lynch mob in the flash of a moment. Most of all, the atmosphere just keeps getting more thickly oppressive and creepy with each new chapter.The Wasp Factory by Iain M. Banks.The protagonist lives in a world of his own making, with strange but logical rules that seem per…

Hear! Hear!

Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired (by passionate devotion to them) produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can peradventure read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity … we cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access, reassurance. – A. Edward Newton (1863-1940)

Murder Mysteries

Originally published in January 2005, in 2 parts.
Book 49 in my first 52 books challenge.

Story: Neil Gaiman
Artwork: P. Craig Russell
Year published: 2002
Pages: Not numbered
Genre: Graphic novel
Where got: Public library

Have I mentioned that Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors? The first book I read by him was Stardust, a fairy tale that reminded me of Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn. Earlier I had read Good Omens which he wrote in collaboration with Terry Pratchett, and loved it. It is, in fact, one of my perennial reads. Gaiman’s prose is very visual, and translates well into the graphic novel form (I would love to see American Gods made into a graphic novel). This appears to be a stand-alone short story.

The Story:
Three stories are told simultaneously: the framework story of the storyteller, telling the story of how he was once stuck in L.A. due to bad weather at his destination and met a (possibly) crazy old man who claimed to be and angel and told him the story within the s…

Friday night folklore: The Vengeful Finn

For some reason, Finns and Lapps were, in the old days, considered by Icelanders to be the most powerful of sorcerers. Here in one story of a Finnish sorcerer.This story is unusual in that usually the foreign sorcerer is completely thwarted by an Icelander, but  here he is only partially thwarted, and that by the advice of a friendly Norwegian.
The fever mentioned in the story is some kind of very contagious and lethal disease that affects both cats and dogs, but I have seen a similar story that gave these events as the explanation for the arrival of rabies in Iceland (which has since been eradicated).
Eyrarbakki is village on the south coast of Iceland that was a trading center for several centuries. As often happened, a merchant ship arrived and one of the crew was from Finland. He had some merchandise that he was selling, among other things an empty bottle. He wanted more for it than a regular bottle would sell for and no-one seemed interested in buying it. 
Eventually he had an offer…

All about bookmarks

I just discovered a great blog about bookmarks that is full of links to information about bookmarks and bookmark collecting and other things about bookmarks: Bookmark Collector.

There are plenty of  links to instructions on how to make various kinds of bookmarks, which I am in the process of exploring.

A Quotation for Today

"Luckily, I have trained myself over the years never to go anywhere without something to read, just in case someone turns up late, the meeting ends early, or I'm inadvertently imprisoned for thirty-five-years and put into solitary confinement. I'm actually quite worried about those people you see on long train journeys with nothing to read, just staring blankly into the middle distance. What the hell is going on in their heads, then? Perhaps they've got excellent memories, and they‘re just remembering a particularly good book they once read, which saves them having to carry one round. Because there‘s a danger in carrying a book round: you might leave it somewhere before you've finished it. I once left my copy if Get Shorty in the back of a drunken farmer‘s Jeep in Costa Rica when I was only two-thirds of the way through, and it completely ruined the trip. The rainforest is a much duller place without Elmore Leonard."
From McCarthy's Bar by Pete McCarthy.


About reading challenges in general

Apropos of my last post, I decided to post some thoughts about reading challenges. After having done one or more reading challenges per year since 2004, I like to think there are a few lessons I have (finally) learned about making/choosing ones that can be followed with enjoyment and relative (but not too much) ease. There are three principal rules I have found that work for me:

Make it simpleMake it enjoyable Make it new 
The fourth, unwritten, rule is of course to make it challenging.

I have noticed that I tend to be somewhat overambitious when I think up a new reading challenge for myself. I often begin by making things too complicated, either with too many rules, overly complex rules, or too many books. Everything goes well for a couple of months and then either my enthusiasm begins flagging or something comes up that puts a spanner in the works and throws me so far off the track that it’s difficult to get back on it. This is why rule no. 1 is to make it simple. Too much of anythin…

Meme: Top Ten Books I Resolve To Read in 2011

The Top Ten Tuesdays meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Show your appreciation by clicking on the link and checking out some more reading resolutions on the other participating blogs.

This is actually more of an “I would like to finish” list than a resolution - I have stopped making those.

Douglas Adams: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. I like the Hitch-hiker’s Guide series, so I really should read this one and see if I like it as much.R. Broby-Johansen: Krop og klær. Illustrated costume history, in Danish. It’s a subject I am interested in and I have had the book for several years, but for some reason never read it.Charles Darwin: Voyage of the Beagle. Third attempt...Amelia B. Edwards: A Thousand Miles up the Nile. I need to finish this one.Neil Gaiman. Anansi Boys. Bought it soon after it came out and never read it, which is surprising because I like Gaiman's work.Gregory Maguire:Wicked. Got it for my birthday years ago but never managed to work up the enth…

My reading challenges in 2011

As my regular readers may know, I considered a number of reading challenges for 2011. In the end I decided to do two year-long ones with numerous books: my very own Top Mysteries and TBR challenges.

I am stepping up the TBR challenge with the goal of reducing my TBR stack to below 850 books before the end of the year. The rules are, as before, that the stack can be reduced by reading and by culling and the books allowed for the challenge are the many, many books I have accumulated over the years but never read, provided I have owned them for more than a year. Furthermore, I will be unable to do this unless I cut down even more on my book buying. I plan to focus especially on non-fiction and on further reducing the number of my unread short story collections.

In the Top Mysteries Challenge I am planning to read 2 books per month, averaged over the year.

I will also continue the Frankfurter Büchmesse Challenge until the book fair starts in October.

Additionally, I’ll take part in some …

Encounters With Animals

Originally published in January 2005, in 3 parts. Book 48 in my first 52 books challenge.

Author: Gerald Durrell
Year published: 1958
Pages: 180
Genre: Memoirs, animals and animal collecting
Where got: Bought it somewhere

This is a collection of essays about animals that naturalist Gerald Durrell recorded for the BBC in the 1950’s. Some of the essays are original material, and some are about animals he had written about before in his books, so this will be partly a new reading experience for me and partly a return visit to old friends (I've read about 90% of Durrell's non-fiction books). Part of the book is about animal habitat and animals in general, part is about specific animal characters (some or all of which he has written about in his other books), and part is about interesting people.

My love-affair with Gerald Durrell’s books
It’s strange to read Gerald Durrell’s wonderful books knowing that he hated writing and only did it to finance his animal collecting expeditions and hi…

Progress report for December and tentative reading plan for January

Of the books I planned to read in December, I finished the 5 TBR challenge books plus one more. I only finished 1 Top Mysteries challenge book and neither did I finish the third top mystery, The Woman in White, which was also to have been my Chunkster Challenge book for the month. The Buchmesse challenge read was 101 Reykjavík, a comic novel by Hallgrímur Helgason.

In the latter part of the month I found myself unable to concentrate on any but short reads that didn‘t require the concentration needed for a long and detailed novel like The Woman in White or a dense read like Lark Rise. As I have already mentioned, I lost two close relatives in quick succession in December. After the first death I focused on short reads that didn‘t require much concentration and were unlikely to set me off crying, which is why I avoided Dickens.

In January the plan is to continue the TBR challenge, the Top Mysteries challenge and the Buchmesse challenge. I will be posting about other challenges soon.

I…

Reading report for December 2010

A very Happy New Year to my readers and casual visitors!
Here is the final reading report for 2010. I will be doing my yearly report soon.

Of the 11 books I finished in December, I started 7 in December. The rest I had been reading for various lengths of time. The actual page count is probably not impressive, but as I am not striving to finish a particular page or book count, it doesn‘t really matter.

6 of the month‘s finished books were TBR challenge reads. 1 was a Buchmesse Frankfurt challenge read, and 1 a Top Mysteries Challenge read and 4 were not part of any challenge. I failed to finish a second Top Mystery and my last Chunkster challenge book.

I lost two close relatives in December and found light literature the best books to read under the circumstances. First to go was one of my maternal aunts, on the 15th, and then my maternal grandmother, who passed away on December 23rd. I found books to be somewhat of a comfort, but most of all I was happy to be able to spend time with m…