27 July 2013

This week's book haul

I hit on a sale at one of the charity shops I occasionally visit - any 10 books for a fixed price - and since there were some books there I wanted and buying 5 of them full price would cost more than getting 10 on sale, I went browsing and found five more I wanted. I got one more from the free books basket, and another two from another charity shop, a total of 13. In the background is the biggest of my TBR bookcases:

What I got was:
A French book of portraits of farm animals and their owners. Have I mentioned that I love photography books? If I haven't, well: now you know;
A sampler of English poetry through the ages (I have the big Norton Anthology of English Literature, but this is something I can read in bed without breaking my nose if I fall asleep reading it);
A Nancy Mitford novel - I have had her books recommended to me by several people and this one especially;
Les Misérables, which I actually also have as an ebook, but this is a newer translation. One day I hope to read it in French, but until then the English translation will have to do;
Maurice I have wanted to read for some time and the same goes for The Handmaid's Tale;
Eco's Theory of Semantics is related to my field of work and I like his non-fiction better than his novels;
The Medici book looked interesting, as did the red book with the Icelandic title, the English title of which is  Sex in History.
The cookbook is one of the old Time-Life Foods of the World books, and the recipe booklet is missing, but the book will make an interesting read. 
Finally, I bought yet another art book. I have a number of them but have never given myself the time to study any but the rock painting ones. I will probably wait until I retire and then take up sketching and painting on canvas as a hobby.

26 July 2013

Friday book list # 11: Shirley by Charlotte Brontë

It's quite tempting to also list those pieces of poetry and hymns quoted (some extensively) but not mentioned by title, but I will resist. If I go down that road it will become endless toil and spoil the reading for me.
I may have missed some, but I hope not many.

Coriolanus by Shakespeare

"La Jeune captive" by André Chénier
"The Castaway" by William Cowper

Folk ballad:
"Puir Mary Lee" (Scottish)

Arabian Nights

22 July 2013

Look at what I got!

I've been a bad, bad girl and bought me some books. The attempt to diminish the TBR stack by buying only books I strictly think I might keep has flown out the window. The TBR challenge, however, is still on, although it has slowed to a crawl.

I give you last week's book haul:

I love travelogues and like to read about foreign countries and I also like to read memoirs, especially those of people in interesting jobs and/or exotic locations. Therefore I was quite thrilled to find a number of such books. There was a travelogue about Paraguay (At the Tomb...), a country I have hitherto only visited once before in a book (Greene's Travels with my Aunt) and a book describing France - a country I think I should know more about since I am learning the language and am about to reach the step of deciding whether or not to splurge on a month of language school in the country. The Seven Pillars of Wisdom of course combines memoir and travelogue and although I have an ebook edition of it I felt like reading it in physical book form. The Carter memoir just looked like good fun.

History is another of my favourite genres and I hope that A History of the Scottish People lives up to my expectations for a good read.

I have had the sushi book recommended to me by more than one person and it was a piece of good luck to find it. The French cookery book was just irresistible - I love big cookbooks - and apparently this is one of those cookbooks that chefs speak of with deference as one of the ultimate French cookbooks. I'm looking forward to reading it.

As for the novels, I have been planning to read Their Eyes Were Watching God for some time, and Vonnegut is always a good read. I have been slowly accumulating his books through the years and haven't been disappointed in any of them yet. The Alchymist's Journal and The Magical Christmas Cat, represent two genres I find irresistible: historical novels and Christmas stories.

It will be interesting to see when I get around to reading any of these books, but some of them will probably get read quite soon because my mother will definitely want to borrow some of them.

18 July 2013

Booking Through Thursday: Summer reading

Today's prompt on Booking Through Thursday concerns summer reading:

Do your reading habits change in the summer? Do you take your books outside more? Do you curl up in the air conditioning? Do you read fluff instead of serious books? Are you too busy playing in the sun or gardening or whatever to read much at all?

My reading habits do not change all that much during the summer.

I don't read more outside - living where I do means that for it to be warm enough for comfortable outside reading it has to be sunny, and I burn easily. I do love to read on my living room sofa with the balcony doors open and a breeze wafting in the sounds and smells of summer. Only yesterday I was reading and the room was filled with the heady scent of newly mown grass - wonderful!

Neither do I exchange brain food for brain candy in the summer - my reading is always an eclectic mix of both - but I do tend to read shorter books and to reread more.

My summer reading sessions are shorter than the winter ones: I will read a chapter, then go and do something else; but there are also more of them, so I don't really read any less than I do in the winter.

16 July 2013

Not only women read romances

I came across this a couple of days ago:

It was during the first days of my librarian career that I found copies of Harlequin books in the drawer of my little metal desk. The previous librarian, who was less than a week away from being discharged, informed me that the dogeared pages of those romantic books would always be hotly sought after by soldiers.

“Be mindful of those Harlequins,” he briefed me. “Never let soldiers bring them to their barracks. Or it will be YOU who gets into trouble.”

My Little Library in Anatolia by Kaya Genc (follow the link to read the whole article

13 July 2013

Reading journal for Shirley, final entry, with SPOILERS

After I wrote the last entry I picked up the book again and read it more or less in one session.

Final thoughts: 
All the character descriptions are brilliant. Some characters are summed up in one pithy sentence or one short paragraph, and you know exactly what kind of people they are, and yet none of the primary or secondary characters are stereotypes, because their words and actions then take over and show them to be more than mere cardboard cut-outs. This takes skill. The disapproving Mrs. Yorke, for example, is shown to hate youth and beauty, but is perfectly capable of changing her mind about said youth and beauty when it is suffering (e.g. Mr. Moore), when she turns out to be a mother hen type.

There are passages that seem to serve no particular purpose, or which at least could have been shorter, but taken altogether the story does not sag badly at any time. It sails on at its own pace and gets there in the end. I am certain there are readers who would have wished the ending to be a bit less tidy, especially as narrative convention almost demands the death of Caroline Helstone. In fact there have been speculations that the original intention was to kill her off, but Charlotte drew back from it because she lost all her siblings while she was writing the book. Be that as it may, since none of the primary characters dies, Shirley makes a satisfying romantic read.

But it isn't just a romance. There are also speculations on social issues, such as on the responsibility of mill owners for the livelihoods of thousands of mill workers that were being shattered by industrial changes, on justice and religion, and especially on the position of women in society. Although the narrator (and presumably author) is firmly of the opinion that marriage is the best place for women (witness the rather miserable position of the two spinsters and the experiences of Mrs. Pryor before she was employed as Shirley's companion), it is clear that this only applies to marriages where both parties love and esteem one another. The marriages of both Helstone brothers end badly for their wives, one in death, the other in divorce followed by drudgery, and it is implied that this happened because the love in those unions was one-sided.

These two unions of people unsuited to one another are contrasted with the upcoming marriages of the Moore brothers with Caroline and Shirley. One side of each couple has been in danger of contracting a union unfit for them - Robert wooing Shirley for her money and Shirley being wooed by a young man who, while both richer and of a higher social status, would never be able to give her what she needs in a marriage, i.e. a man who can help her control her excesses of temperament. Shirley firmly prevents both mistakes from being made, and love finds its way, with the implication of, if not happily ever after, than at least happier than they might have been.

So far, of the two Brontë Project books I have read (not counting the two I read many years ago), the ranking is as follows:

For story, narrative technique and reading enjoyment: 
  1. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
  2. Shirley

For characters and quality of writing:
  1. Shirley
  2. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

11 July 2013

Booking through Thursday: Dogs and Pets

Today's subject on Booking Through Thursday is dogs and other pets:

My dog just had his birthday (12 years old, thanks), so … how do you feel about books about dogs or pets? Fluffy stories of fluffy family members? Solid books on training them or taking care of them? Touching reminiscences of trouble and the way a person’s dog (or pet) has helped get them through?
(Mind you, almost all the pet-related books on my shelf are about dogs, but I’m well aware that people love their cats, horses, ferrets, rabbits, fish, etc. just as much, so … any species is fine!)
Any favorite books to recommend?

I used to love animal books and still read them occasionally. My favourite books featuring pets specifically are by Gerald Durrell, who kept a varied and exotic menagerie of pets throughout his life and ended up running a zoo, and the books by Yorkshire veterinarian Alf Wight, writing as James Herriot, about the animals he treated through his years in practice.

I have also enjoyed pet biographies, i.e. books that follow one particular animal through its life, although I have come to dread the inevitable final chapter about all the things the (by that time inevitably dead) pet taught its owners. Marley and Me is a good example. It was a fine pet biography without the author having to feel he needed to expound on all the things Marley taught him about life, love, etc. That particular chapter lost the book a whole star when I reviewed it.

Books about pets or featuring pets I would recommend are:

  • Books by James Herriot. I have linked to his bibliography on Wikipedia because they were published under different titles in the USA and the UK and there are a number of them.
  • My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. It's not about any particular pet or indeed only about pets, but they make up an important feature of the book. Most of the rest of his books feature animals as well, but mostly wild animals, which is outside the scope of this meme.
  • The Cat Who Covered the World: The Adventures Of Henrietta And Her Foreign Correspondent by Christopher S. Wren. This book covers the adventurous life of the eponymous cat who travelled all over the world with Wren and his family, including stints in Moscow, Beijing and Johannesburg. She roamed free in all those places, and even put in a stint as a stray in Cairo when she got lost for several weeks.
  • I also have to mention Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand. Although Seabiscuit was a racehorse, he was a domestic animal and became his owner's pet after he was retired from racing. The book is an amazing portrait of American society at the time, with the horse binding all the different strands of the story together.

09 July 2013

Reading journal with comments and conjectures on Shirley. As always, do not read if you don't like SPOILERS.

'Mutual love! My dear, romances are pernicious. You do not read them, I hope?'
'Sometimes - whenever I can get them, indeed; but romance-writers might know nothing of love, judging by the way in which they treat of it.'
'Nothing whatever, my dear!' assented Mrs. Pryor eagerly; 'nor of marriage; and the false pictures they give of those subjects cannot be too strongly condemned. They are not like reality: they show you only the green tempting surface of the marsh, and give not one faithful or truthful hint of the slough underneath.'
From Chapter 21. 

So, not a new sentiment, then.

As you can see I have finally picked up Shirley again, to find lots of things happening: a funny clash between the C of E followers and the other congregations in the neighbourhood and an attempt by the Luddites to storm the mill repelled with lethal force.

Emotionally a lot going on as well: Shirley possibly in love with Mr. Moore but being rather inscrutable about it and Caroline miserably in love with Mr. Moore, but the narrator giving hints that there might be man around who is a better match for her. It will be interesting to see if nought comes of that.

If narrative conventions are to be trusted, Mrs. Pryor will turn out to be Caroline's long lost mama. I hope not. 

04 July 2013

Booking through Thursday

 Today's Booking through Thursday is a about somewhat sensitive subject, especially for non-Americans:

So, Fourth of July here in the USA … Do you ever read books that could be considered patriotic? Rousing stories of heroes? History? Brave countrymen & women doing bold things?
What would you recommend if somebody asked you for something patriotic–no matter what your country?
Be as specific or as general as you like?

There aren‘t many novels of this kind available in my language (there are some, but they tend to be maudlin and I don‘t like maudlin). There is more available in the non-fiction field, but history books here mostly tend to focus on social aspects rather than on glorifying the country.

Icelanders as a tribe are a rather cynical and deprecating lot and on the occasions when it doesn‘t show in our writing it comes out in the reading instead. You will find plenty of stories of individual heroes in Icelandic literature, e.g. in the Sagas, but not much prose which I would call wholly patriotic in the "heroic glory of our nation" mould. The only glorious "heroes of our country" I can think of right now who are generally not criticised are handball player Ólafur Stefánsson and the Saga hero Gunnar of Hlíðarendi (from Njáls saga). However, if you read the Wikipedia entry on Gunnar, you will find the aforesaid cynicism at work even there (especially in the final sentence of the entry).

We tend, when being patriotic in all seriousness, to praise the natural beauty of our island, the beauty of our women and the physical prowess of our men, the purity of everything from wool to water and the ways in which we are better than other nations when looked at through the „per capita“ filter. I find this kind of discussion tends to be jingoistic in nature which is why I tend to eschew the issue.

Traditional literary patriotism is mostly found in our poetry, especially poems and verses written during the era of the 19th and 20th centuries when Icelanders were campaigning, first for autonomy and then for independence.

What I would recommend, therefore, is poetry, especially the rousing "I love my country" and "why you should love your country" poems from the second half of the 19th century up to independence (1944).