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Showing posts from June, 2011

Weekly Geeks: Technology and reading

Here is my contribution to this week's Weekly Geeks:

I consider myself to be open-minded when it comes to the format of the books I read. Give me audio books, pop-up books, books with upside-down, spiraling or variable text, books like The Dictionary of the Kzars which you read out of order of the pages, or books like the Griffin and Sabine trilogy which are told in a series of letters and postcards, some of which are removable or stuffed inside envelopes – if it can be read or listened to, I’ll read it or listen to it as long as the subject interests me.

E-books are no exception. I have been reading them on my computer since I discovered Project Gutenberg way back in the mists of the 20th century and I knew that with the advent of portable computers it would only be a matter of time until someone came up with a dedicated device for reading books on a screen. As a matter of fact it surprised me that it didn’t happen sooner.

Reading books on a computer screen has the drawback of ti…

Top Ten Bookish Websites/Organizations/Apps, etc. (aside from book blogs)

The Top Ten Tuesdays is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. To see more lists of useful and fun bookish resources, please visit thehosting site and click on any or all of the links to the participating blogs.

Here are the 10 bookish places/resources I use the most, that are not blogs:

Project Gutenberg: Thousands upon thousands of free e-books. Read them online or download them and read them on your computer or your e-reader. All books are in the public domain. If you want to read a classic and you don’t mind e-books, why buy them from Amazon when you can have them for free from Project Gutenberg?BookMooch. Actually I don’t go there so much nowadays, because there are very few Icelanders active on BM and fewer people abroad are sending books outside their country or continent because postal charges seem to have gone up everywhere (here too), plus customs regulations have changed here and I now have to pay customs for every book I receive. When people forget to mark a book…

84 Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, by Helene Hanff

Originally published in March 2005, on my original 52 Books blog.
84 Charing Cross Road has been described as a “love affair between a woman and a book-shop”. For 20 years, Helene Hanff conducted a business correspondence with a second-hand bookshop in London that developed into a friendship between her and the bookshop staff, especially between her and Frank Doel (and later his wife and neighbour as well).

The two main correspondents, Hanff and Doel, quickly seem to have reached an understanding of each other, and one sees in their correspondence a pair of people with a similarly witty sense of humour, although Doel is more restrained (for obvious reasons).

This is one of those books in which nothing much happens on the surface, it is just a little slice of life, as is the companion story, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, Hanff’s journal from her visit to London. She had been planning the visit for nearly 20 years, but always kept getting put off, usually because of financial troubles…

Icelandic folk-tale: The Devil Takes a Wife

Stories of people who have made a deal with and then beaten the devil exist all over Christendom and even in literature. Here is a typical one:
Once upon a time there were a mother and daughter who lived together. They were rich and the daughter was considered a great catch and had many suitors, but she accepted no-one and it was the opinion of many that she intended to stay celebrate and serve God, being a very devout  woman.
The devil didn’t like this at all and took on the form of a young man and proposed to the girl, intending to seduce her over to his side little by little. He insinuated himself into her good graces and charmed her so thoroughly that she accepted his suit and they were betrothed and eventually married.
But when the time came for him to enter the marriage bed the girl was so pure and innocent that he couldn’t go near her. He excused himself by saying that he couldn’t sleep and needed a bath in order to go to sleep. A bath was prepared for him and in he went and staye…

Wednesday night video: Book trailer for Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indriðason

The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter

Originally published in March 2005, on my original 52 Books blog.
Year originally published: 1976

Read this a while ago.

The story: A basic coming-of-age story. In 1930, Little Tree, a boy who is part Cherokee and part white, becomes an orphan at age five. He is taken in by his Cherokee grandparents who bring him up in close touch with nature and teach him the ways of their people. He is briefly taken away and put in an orphanage where he is mistreated, but is able to return to his family after a while.

Technique and plot: The book is written in the simple, straightforward first person narrative style of a memoir, and sounds so honest that it’s easy to see why so many people believe(d) it to be non-fiction in spite of some rather unlikely events. Spellings reflect the speech patterns and accents of the people, but not so much that it makes the book difficult to read. Little Tree is very much a child of nature, and from it he learns lessons, both harsh and gentle, at the side of his gra…

I'm on holiday

I am off on holiday until next weekend.  The only posts during the next week will be the regular Monday Blast From the Past, the Wednesday Night Video and the Friday Folktale.

YA review: Boys That Bite by Mari Mancusi

This is my fourth Gothic Reading Challenge book.

I read a review of this book on one of the blogs I subscribe to through my blog feed or one of the blogs I follow on Blogger, but I can’t for the life of me remember which one, so I don’t know who to thank for the recommendation. It was definitely a blog that mostly focuses on young adult fiction, urban fantasy or romance (or any combination thereof), which narrows it down a bit, but not enough for me to go to the trouble of checking which one it was.

When I came across this book on one of my random trawls through the public library the title looked familiar and I recognised the story and remembered it had got a good review, so I checked it out and took it home with me to read.

Genre: YA urban fantasy
Year of publication: 2006
No. in series: 1
Setting & time: New Hampshire (I don’t recall seeing a town name), USA; contemporary.

Identical twins Rayne and Sunny McDonald are polar opposites in everything except looks. Goth Rayne has decid…

Icelandic folk-lore: Crossroads

Some say that cross-roads are where you can see four churches, all in a different direction. The oldest cross-roads belief is that you should stay out by a cross-roads on Christmas Night, because that is when the new year begins, and even though the new year is now celebrated a week after Christmas, people still speak of having lived for a certain amount of winters when they have lived that number of Christmases. When you sit at a cross-roads elves will come from every direction and flock around you and ask you to come with them, but you must not answer. Then they will offer you all kinds of treasures, gold and silver, cloth, food and drink, but you must not take any of it. Then elf-women will come to you in the guise of your mother or sister and ask you to come with them and all sorts of other tricks. You must not respond, whatever happens. But when dawn breaks you should stand up and say “Thank God, the day brightens all the sky.” Then the elves will disappear, leaving behind all the…

Simon Winchester’s Calcutta by Simon & Rupert Winchester

Genre: Non-fiction, portrait of a place
Year of publication:2004
Subject: Calcutta (India) at various times and through various eyes

Simon Winchester is one of those authors whose books I love to read. He is a good writer and chooses interesting subjects to write about, whether he is writing about the history of the Oxford English Dictionary and one of its most prolific submitters, or about his own walk through South Korea. Therefore I was pleased to discover that he had edited and partially written a book about Calcutta, a city that brings up various images on one’s mind: of impressive mansions and sprawling slums, wide boulevards and narrow, rambling alleys, of fancy cars and human-powered rikshaws driving down the same roads, of splendid riches and grinding poverty existing side by side.

I haven’t been to Bengal yet, and so haven’t had the opportunity to visit Calcutta and form my own opinion of the place, but the viewpoints presented in the articles, essays, poetry and excerpts in…

Wednesday night video: How not to handle a valuable book

Here Mr. Bean shows us how not to react when we have an accident in the library:

Zombies of the Gene Pool by Sharyn McCrumb

Originally published in March 2005, on my original 52 Books blog.
I borrowed this book from the library because I liked the title, which put me in mind of a wacky 60's sci-fi story, or rather a parody of one (I was actually looking for another of McCrumb’s books). The title comes from the fact that all of the characters that matter are in one way or another connected with science fiction, either as authors, failed authors, or fans, and some of them might be described as metaphorical zombies. Fandom plays a big part in the story, and is described in humorous terms, and although I have never been involved in fandom of any kind, I have spent enough time participating in Internet book discussion groups to know that the descriptions are accurate.

As a mystery, the book is not what one has come to expect of the genre: the death occurs more than halfway through the book, and is not revealed as a murder until 30 pages from the end, so the whodunnit part of the mystery is solved very quic…

Icelandic folk-tale: The Virgin Mary and the Ptarmigan

Next Sunday is Whitsunday, so here is a story that mentions that holiday.
This story sounds very much like it might have first been told about some goddess and then transferred to the Virgin Mary.
Once upon a time the Virgin Mary called all the birds in the world to her. When they came she ordered them to walk through fire. Knowing she was the Queen of Heaven and very powerful, they dared not disobey and all of them jumped into the fire and waded through it, with the exception of the ptarmigan. But when they got to the other side of the fire all the feathers on their legs had been burned off and only the bare skin remained, and so it has been to this day. 
As for the ptarmigan, whose feet remained feathered because she didn’t wade the fire, her disobedience made Mary so angry that she laid a hex on the bird, saying that she should henceforth be the most harmless and defenceless of birds and likewise so persecuted that she would always live in fear, except on the Whitsun. Furthermore, th…

Quotation for today

"To feel most beautifully alive means to be reading something beautiful, ready always to apprehend in the flow of language the sudden flash of poetry." Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962)

Review: The Spanish Bride by Georgette Heyer

I must admit to having gone through a bit of a crisis with Georgette Heyer a couple of years ago. I love her historical novels but I got so thoroughly fed up with a couple that prominently featured silly-beyond-suspended-disbelief young females making trouble that I was filled with dread every time I tried to pick up a Heyer novel I hadn’t already read. You might say I was suffering from a surfeit of farce.

This weekend, however, I finally got up the momentum to read The Spanish Bride, which I knew was based on a true story and took place during the Peninsular War and the battle of Waterloo, but beyond that I had no clue. The cover for it is pure romance, but what I discovered was actually a history of certain battles the male protagonist, Harry Smith, took part in, tied together with the story of how he met his wife, Juana, and their first four years of marriage.

The military theme may be daunting to some, who like me are not particularly interested in military history, but rest assu…

Heigh-ho and a bottle of rum!

This is a Weekly Geeks post. I didn’t write it specifically as such, but I had it on hand and it fit one of the two themes for this week.

Dear Reader: Are there any subjects or themes or sub-genres you avoid reading about in a literary genre you otherwise like?

I have a few of these red flag subjects, and one of them is pirates, specifically pirate protagonists. Since there is actually a pirate sub-genre in the historical romance genre, which I periodically turn to when I get tired of reading mysteries and non-fiction, I come across them often. I enjoy reading about the lives of real pirates, and will pick up a book where pirates are the bad guys without a second thought, but to me pirates and privateers always invoke the image of violent murderers and robbers and therefore I have never been able to suspend my disbelief sufficiently in order to enjoy a tale in which a pirate is the hero.

I have yet to come across a pirate protagonist in a story where the piracy is neither prettified no…

Top Ten Tuesdays: Top Ten Settings In Books

Top Ten Tuesdays is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. To see more lists of weird and wonderful places people would like to visit after having read about them in books, please visit the hosting siteand click on any or all of the links to the participating blogs.

There are so many places I would have liked to mention, but I am going to stick to ten places. However, next time I don’t participate in Top Ten Tuesdays, I just might post my alternative list of top ten settings instead...

Middle-Earth, especially the Shire and Lothlorien. From The Lord of the Rings trilogy by Tolkien. In real world terms this means New Zealand, because since the movies it is Middle-Earth.The Discworld, esecially Anhk-Morpork and Lancre. From the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett. Mind you, there are areas of Ankh I would rather avoid, but I would love to visit Unseen University and take a tour of the library in the company of the Librarian. I would also like to climb the Tower of Art and have a drin…

The Secret Life of Bees

Originally published in March 2005, on my original 52 Books blog.

Just finished reading The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. For the sake of all the people who recommended it to me I wish I could say I liked it, but I didn’t. It was one of those books that I found to be okay, but nothing more than that. It was too predictable, often superficial and sometimes felt contrived, like Kidd felt she had to show the whole range of human emotion and just didn’t know when enough was enough.

There are redeeming points, however. The characters, narrator Lily, her surrogate mother and best friend Rosaleen, and the Boatwright sisters, especially August, are rounded and real. The story, of Lily’s coming of age in the American south during a hot summer in the tumultuous 1960’s, rambles somewhat, and could have done with a little sprinkling of magic realism. The tone it is told in screams out for something like that, and you kind of expect it from a book with such a mysterious title.

Added March …

Reading report for May 2011

I finished only 7 books in May, just over half of my regular monthly intake. There were a number of reasons for this, not the least that several things conspired to make my myalgia flare up so that it got worse than it has been for several years. This brought on tension headaches which have started getting better since I joined a gym and started taking fitness classes with consist of deep stretching in a hot room – not very pleasant while it is happening, but feels very good afterward.

I’m not worried about reading so little – it’s finally summer and I have my new camera to learn and the season to enjoy.

The Books:
Laura Childs: Death by Darjeeling: Murder mystery, cosy.Trevor Corson: The Secret Life of Lobsters: History, popular scienceJennifer Crusie: Bet Me: Romance, contemporaryNgaio Marsh: Grave mistake, Photo finish and Light thickens: Murder mysteries, police detective.Amanda Quick: Mischief: Romance, historical
Reading plan for June:

I don’t have one as such, only that I will co…

Refreshingly politically incorrect and funny (and just a bit ignorant)

"Calcutta takes its name from [Kalikata], which in turn was named after the black Hindu goddess Kali. The dreadful Kali is the wife of Shiva, and is portrayed as a bloodthirsty, axe-wielding psychopath, dripping in blood, with the heads of her victims hanging on string around her neck. In normal circumstances the likes of Kali would be taken in for police questioning. But in Calcutta she is revered as the city's patron goddess. The similarly evil appearance of Calcutta must be more than mere coincidence. The forces of Hindu destiny at work again?" Peter Holt, from In Clive's Footsteps, reprinted in Simon Winchester's Calcutta.

Icelandic folk-tale: The Laughing Merman

Icelanders not only believed in the existence of selkies, but also in mer-people. The mermaids were said to be very beautiful, while the mermen were supposed to be ugly as sin but very wise and able to see things others did not. Once upon a time a farmer went out fishing and pulled up a merman. He tried to get the merman to talk to him but he would not answer, except to beg him to release him back into the sea, but this the farmer refused to do. The farmer rowed back to land, taking the captive merman with him. When he pulled up the boat on the shore, his wife came to him and greeted him with tenderness and kisses, which he received with pleasure. This made the merman laugh.
Then the man’s dog came to him and greeted him tenderly in the way of dogs, by jumping up to him, but the farmer hit the dog. Again the merman laughed.
Then the farmer walked up towards his house, but on the way he tripped over a tussock and hurt himself. He got angry and gave the tussock a good kicking. Then the me…

The oldest book I own

When I was about 12 years old I read, for the first time, a classic Icelandic novel titled Sagan af Heljarslóðarorrustu (the title translates as The Battle of Hell's Domain) by Benedikt Sveinbjarnarson Gröndal (1826-1907). It is one of the earliest modern-style novels written in Icelandic, and possibly the first humorous Icelandic novel, written in a deliberately grandiloquent satirical style and telling the story of the Battle of Solferino as if it were an Icelandic Saga.

My grandmother owned a copy of the book and promised to give it to me when I was older. Much later, having forgotten her promise, she gave a copy to someone else, but I knew she had another one because the one I read didn't have illustrations like the one she gave away, so I knew all hope was not lost. Then, recently, she decided to get rid of most of her book collection and gave the family the go-ahead to take whatever books we wanted.

Lo and behold! This book came out of the first box we opened. It wasn&#…

Review: The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson

Full title:The Secret Life of Lobsters: How Fishermen and Scientists are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favourite Crustacean
Genre: Non-fiction, popular science (marine biology, anthropology)
Year of publication: 2004
Setting & time: Mostly in Maine, USA; 1970s to 1990s

This is a fascinating book, full of weird and wonderful details and discoveries about the life of the Maine lobster. But it isn’t just about lobster biology, it’s also about the people who study the lobsters and the people whose livelihoods depend on catching lobsters. Corson has cleverly woven together these three narrative threads into one very readable and absorbing book. He spent a couple of years working as a lobsterman in Maine and conducted interviews with lobstermen and scientists and thoroughly researched his subject, and it shows. There is a lot of detail, but Corson manages to deliver all those fascinating facts and tit-bits of information in a remarkably readable manner. He also manages to keep himself ou…