23 June 2014

Enough with the shaming already!



Just because you like highbrow, it doesn‘t entitle you to shame others for reading what you consider lowbrow.

You might be tempted to say "At least they're reading", but that would be wrong too. They have the right to do whatever they fucking want to with books: read them, ignore them, use them for decoration, use them for toilet paper for that matter.

22 June 2014

Reading report for May

I read 17 books in May, a mixture of first-time reads and rereads, all but two of which were fiction. The rereads were the Jennifer Crusie books and the YA Terry pratchett novel Nation, which I picked up second hand in May and reread before adding it to my keeper shelf.

There was an unusual (for a single month) number of books I rated 4 or more stars (out of a possible 5) so I decided to include the star rating I gave each first-time read. Keep in mind that the enjoyment I got out of the book tends to weigh heavier than the quality of writing, style and narrative, so you might see some ratings that surprise you. Sometimes these components come together into something sublime, which is when I find myself compelled to give more than the top rating of 5 stars. In any given year only a handful of books gets this 5+ rating, but the ones that do always end up – when I own the copy I read – on my keeper shelves, or – when I don‘t – I end up buying a copy, and vigorously recommend the book to my friends, family and coworkers.



The standout for May was I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven, which I reviewed yesterday. I must also mention another classic, Stephen Crane‘s The Red Badge of Courage. It’s an excellent psychological study of a young soldier during his first battle. Unfortunately I never completely connected with the protagonist, so it didn’t perhaps get from me the score it might have deserved, but that’s how it goes. I also enjoyed the Griffin & Sabine trilogy by Nick Bantock, not because of the story (which is actually rather trite) but because of the packaging, which is fantastic.

The books:
  • Nick Bantock: Griffin & Sabine. Mystery, art book.4 stars.
  • Nick Bantock: Sabine's Notebook. Mystery, art book. 4 stars.
  • Nick Bantock: The Golden Mean. Mystery, art book.3.5 stars.
  • Stephen Crane: The Red Badge of Courage. Novel, war, coming-of-age. 4 stars.
  • Margaret Craven: I heard the owl call my name. Novel. 5.5 stars.
  • Jennifer Crusie: Anyone but you, Welcome to Temptation, Crazy for You, Strange Bedpersons, Bet Me. Contemporary romance. Reread.
  • Jennifer & Bob Mayer Crusie: Don't look down. Romantic suspense. Reread.
  • Julia Delaney (ed.): Chocolate: York's Sweet Story. History, summary (brochure).
  • Terry Pratchett: Nation. YA, alternative history. Reread.
  • Nora Roberts: Morrigan's Cross, Dance of the Gods, Valley of Silence. Romantic fantasy. 3.5 stars.
  • Sverrir Kristjánsson & Tómas Guðmundsson: Í veraldarvolki. (English: Adrift in the World). Biography. 3 stars.



21 June 2014

Review: I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven

This is perhaps a bit of overload, as this novel is considered a modern classic and has been heavily reviewed, discussed and dissected. There are even study guides. However, I felt I needed to say something about it because it's such a lovely story.



This exquisite short novel is about a young anglican priest sent to a native outpost in the wilds of Canada and describes in lovely, elegaic prose how he becomes, with his patience and non-judgmental attitude towards his parishoners, accepted as part of the native community. Because we are told right from the beginning that he is dying and doesn‘t know it, this book could so easily have become a tear-jerker, but it isn‘t (I probably would have cried anyway if I‘d read it as a teenager full of raging hormones). It is open (and dry)-eyed about death and doesn‘t preach religion as books about religious persons have an unfortunate tendency to, but yet gives one a deep sense of faith, fatalism and acceptance. The message is that in order to accept death, one muct first learn to live and to accept life with both the good and the bad. 

It is also a perfect example of a story brought to its logical conclusion, one which, to some, might seem unfair or unhappy, but to my mind could not be bettered. Although the execution of the ending is somewhat unexpected, it does not feel tacked-on, clumsy or wrong (on that subject refer to my reviews of My Sister‘s Keeper and The Elegance of the Hedgehog) and deftly avoids the shmaltzy, pathetic or over-dramatic death scenes that have plagued some other literary novels I have read. The death scene is unemotional, sketched in few details, and somehow just right. 

If the book has a fault, it is that of seemingly glossing over the problems of the native community, but since it isn‘t supposed to be a novel about social ills but about a personal journey, this is a minor fault. If one pays attention, one can find a deep sorrow and sympathy for these people who are slowly but inexorably being uprooted from their native culture without being transplanted wholly into the white man‘s culture. 

5+ stars.

18 June 2014

May's haul of books

It's official: I'm buying books again. Why, after the book-buying ban, all the culling and the TBR challenge and all that?

Well, buying second-hand books is a cheap form of retail therapy (especially when the charity shop is having a clearance sale) and as I don't need any more clothes at the moment I need something else to shop for. Also because I culled some books I didn't want to keep and let go some stuff I had no use for that was cluttering up precious shelf-space in my apartment and I again have shelf-space for books.

But I'm not just buying any old books. I'm being fairly picky and not buying as much on speculation as I used to (I was using the charity shops and second hand shops like libraries when the book-buying mania was at its worst) and I'm buying more large format and coffee-table books, and novels in hard covers in preference to softcover novels, and more non-fiction than fiction. Basically books I think I might definitely want to keep, books that are expensive to buy new (and that I know I'll want to keep), and books that will look good on my coffee table and make for nice browsing.

Below is May's haul, guarded by my cockatiel, Ljúfur. His friend, Quasimodo, flew off when he saw the camera, and you can see that my poor, flightless baby is straining to see where his friend has gone.

I was so happy with the haul that I have already read four of them and am close to finishing the fifth. Click on the image to see it full size.