19 July 2014

Before I forget: June's haul of books

Count: 17 (one not pictured because it's a leaflet with no printing on the spine).
Out of which I have already read: 2 (The Widow Clicquot and All Venice).
Previously read: 2 (Eats, Shoots & Leaves and Unnatural Selections, which turned out to be featured almost in its entirety in the Far Side Gallery 4, which I bought last month).


17 July 2014

Review: Arnaldur Indriðason: Skuggasund (Potential title translation: Shadow Channel (source: Wikipedia))

This is a "crimes of the past revisited" story, something Arnaldur has done before in several of his other books (e.g. Silence of the Grave, The Draining Lake and Strange Shores). Told in chapters alternating between 1944 and the modern day, it tells the story of how the murder of an old man sets a retired police detective on the trail of another, unsolved, murder that happened during WW2 in Reykjavík. This is not a detective Erlendur story and does not feature either of his two closest collaborators on the police force but instead introduces a new character, a recently retired detective named Konráð.

I don't know if the English title given for this book in the Wikipedia entry on Arnaldur and elsewhere on the web (except that literature.is gets it (almost) right), is the one that will be used for the eventual translation, but to me it looks suspiciously like a Google Translate blooper. Skuggasund actually means "Shadow Alley" and is the name of a street in Reykjavík, behind the National Theatre. Near the beginning of the story an Icelandic girl and her American serviceman boyfriend stumble upon a body at the back of the theatre and the man sees someone standing on the corner of the eponymous street. I will post the eventual  English title as soon as I find out what it is.

This is a plot-driven story for the most part. We get to know some background information about the characters, but almost all of it is pertinent to the story in some way, like the descriptions of what they look like, which are important for reader visualisation, and little details that allow us to see them as fully developed characters, but the personal lives and problems of the detectives don't intrude into the story like they sometimes do in the Erlendur books. This is a good thing, in my opinion, because I have always thought that Arnaldur wasn't very good at making his detectives interesting. The only protagonist in any of his books (of those I've read) that has a (semi-)interesting private life is Erlendur, and that's because the others are just so normal, and normal is very hard to make interesting.

The two stories unfold bit by bit, with the historical and modern detectives discovering the same information at different times and puzzling out what happened using different methods. As in all of the books by Arnaldur that I have read, the story really makes one think about justice and how criminals often manage to escape it even when they're found out, while innocents suffer and potentially useful lives are cut off, because Arnaldur's victims are rarely stereotypical "deserved to die" types.

SPOILER WARNING

06 July 2014

Desert Island Books 2014

In 2008 and again in 2011 I posted my choices for Desert Island Books, i.e. books I would take with me for a year’s stay alone on a desert island. Since three years went by between these two posts and another three years have gone by since the second one, I thought it was time to do a third such list.

To recap the rules:
There can be more than one book in a volume, but I can only choose 10 volumes plus a book of national importance to my culture and one religious book. My previous choices in these categories were the Icelandic Sagas and the Mahabaratha in 2008, and in 2011 I again chose the Sagas and the religious book was the Koran.
My culturally important book for 2014 is yet again the Sagas (I have read one of them since last time), and the religious book would not be a book of religion (like the Bible or the Koran) but one about religion or the lack thereof - title not decided yet but God: A Biography by Jack Miles comes to mind.

As in 2011, I did not look at the previous lists before I drew up this one. In the order I thought of them:

  • The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Grammar and literary history in one neat package.
  • Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. For some drama and romance.
  • One of my Discworld omnibuses, probably the one containing Pyramids, Small Gods and Hogfather or maybe the one containing the first three City Watch books. For some humour and to have reliable fall-backs if I don’t like the ones I haven’t read yet.
  • Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I keep meaning to read it.
  • The Iceland’s Bell trilogy by Halldór Laxness (I’ll have to hand bind them into one volume since I don’t think there is an omnibus edition available). I thoroughly enjoyed the first book and think it is time to reread it and read the others.
  • Sögur íslenskra kvenna 1879-1960. This is a volume that I keep intending to read and keep putting off because it’s such a large book. It contains a number of short stories and some short novels written by Icelandic women.
  • The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.
  • Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset. The Icelandic translation because I don’t fancy having to take a Norwegian dictionary as one of my books.
  • Don Quixote by Cervantes. Another big book, one I have been intending to read for the last 15 years or so. An English translation, critical edition.
  • Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin. I figured I had to bring one work of non-fiction and this has been on my TBR list for a long time.
  • If I could smuggle in one more book, it would be The Norton Anthology of English Literature (one-volume of it).

And now to look at the old lists to see what has changed and what has not:

2008 list
2011 list

I first thought to include Dalalíf by Guðrún frá Lundi (a long historical novel), as in the previous two lists, but after making my first draft of the list I found a copy of the first volume and started reading it and decided that I didn’t really want to finish it. Therefore the Sagas are the only book on all three lists. Instead of Dalalíf I chose The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. If I had to replace the Sagas, I would choose a Tómas Guðmundsson poetry anthology or a Jónas Hallgrímsson prose anthology.

The Norton Anthology which I almost included on this year’s list was not on the 2011 list but was included in the 2008 list. Same goes for Small Gods, plus there is an unspecified Terry Pratchett omnibus on the 2011 list.

Two books that were on both previous lists did not make the grade this time: The Once and Future King by T.H. White (one Arthurian novel is enough, I think), and The Arabian Nights. Both might reappear on the next version of the list.

I have only finished one of the previously listed books that I had not read before: London, the Biography. Pitiful, I know, but my interest fluctuates and new books come into orbit all the time.

So, Dear reader, do you have a current list of desert island books?

03 July 2014

Reading report for June

I read a total of 17 books in June. 6 were rereads and 7 were TBR. The genres included romance, travelogue, history, geology, biography, fantasy, true crime and visual humour.

I reached the 100 books mark around mid-month, meaning that if I keep up the current rate of reading I will finish just over 200 books in the course of the year. I also read the 30th TBR book of the year, putting me on course and boding well for the completion of the challenge.

The stand-outs of the month were Krakatoa and The Kon-Tiki Expedition, closely followed by The Nonexistent Knight and Medicine Road. I bought all four books on clearance sale at one of the charity shops I sometimes visit.

Krakatoa is one of those juicy history/science books that I love to read, and it doesn't hurt that it was written by Simon Winchester, whose writing never fails to please me. The subject of the book is the explosion of the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa, the lead-up to the event and the aftermath. Winchester is a trained geologist and clearly interested in the subject, and manages to make the complexities of volcanic activity and tectonic movements understandable for a layperson.

The Kon-Tiki Expedition is Thor Heyerdahl's first-hand account of his epic journey by raft from Peru to Polynesia in 1947. I read an English translation I came across in a charity shop, but when I was about 2/3 finished with it I found a copy of the Norwegian edition. However, I decided to finish it in English because otherwise I might be liable to remember it as two separate stories. The Norwegian edition has many more photographs and also illustrations and artwork by one of the expedition members, so I'm keeping both.

The Nonexistent Knight and Medicine Road are both accomplished works of fantasy, one a humorous medieval tale of knights on a quest and the other a gorgeously illustrated romantic story of mythical beings in modern south-west USA looking for love and trying to break a spell.


The books:
  • Þjóðsögur frá Eistlandi (Estonian Folk Tales). Folk tales.
  • James Bowen: A Street Cat Named Bob. Memoir.
  • Italo Calvino: Riddarinn sem var ekki(The Nonexistent Knight). Fantasy, historical novel.
  • Jennifer Crusie & Bob Mayer : Agnes and the Hitman. Romantic suspense. Reread.
  • Kate DiCamillo: Because of Winn-Dixie. Children’s book.
  • Georgette Heyer: The Unknown Ajax. Historical romance. Reread.
  • Georgette Heyer: The Nonesuch. Historical romance. Reread.
  • Thor Heyerdahl: The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By raft across the Pacific. Travelogue.
  • Elizabeth Kaye: Lifeboat No. 8: An Untold Tale of Love, Loss, and Surviving the Titanic. History.
  • Charles de Lint: Medicine Road. Fantasy.
  • Nancy Mitford: The Pursuit of Love. Novel.
  • Derek Pell: Doktor Bey's Book of Brats. Humour (mostly visual).
  • Nora Roberts: Jewels of the Sun; Tears of the moon; Heart of the sea. Paranormal romance. Rereads.
  • Ferdinand von Schirach: Glæpir (Crime). True crime.
  • Simon Winchester: Krakatoa: The day the world exploded: August 27, 1883. History.