21 February 2017

Meme: Cover Characteristic: Teapots

I regularly stop by a couple of blogs that participate in a rather cool meme: Cover Characteristic

Each week, the participants choose five covers that show a cover element posted on the hosting blog, Sugar & Snark, post them on their own blog and add their link to the links on the hosting site. 

I have enjoyed looking at what the participants have come up with, but this week's characteristic proved irresistible and I decided to finally participate. The characteristic is teapots, a subject close to my heart, as I used to collect novelty teapots and am still a great tea lover. 

When you mention teapots on book covers, three things come to mind: cozy mysteries, cosy romances and books about tea/teapots. I, however, decided to get creative. 

The covers below were not chosen for their aesthetics, but rather for the imaginative use of teapots. My search brought up some interesting book cover art, and two of the books ended up on my "Maybe I should read this" Pinterest board.

The first cover at first look seems to be rather unimaginative, until you realise that The Ugly Teapot in Fred Holmes's book is actually an Aladdin's lamp:

 Next comes Mr. Teapot head and How He Found Love by Paul & Lydia Leith. This is a surrealistic children's book. I like the whimsicality of the art:
 I actually think the cover of The Teapot Dome Scandal by Laton McCartney is rather ugly, but you can't fault it for imagination:

 Then there is The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman, which shows a lovely but impractical teapot on the front: 

Finally, here is Robert Rankin's Snuff Fiction. Just feast you eyes on this - have you ever seen a punk/goth teapot before? Me neither.

  I couldn't resist adding a little bonus - after all, what tea-loving reader wouldn't want to own a book teapot?

20 February 2017

Reading Report, 20 February 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at the Book Date and is "a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week."

Visit the Book Date to see what various other book bloggers have been up to in the last week.

I have only finished one book in the last week: Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch.
 I began reading it weeks ago, but something interfered and I set it aside. Then I had a hankering after something funny and fantastical, and so I sat down and finished this humorous urban fantasy. There wasn't nearly as much mayhem and destruction as in the first book in the series, Rivers of London, but the author continues to develop characters from the previous book. The author left one part of the plot unresolved and it looks like it will continue on into the next book. I only hope this doesn't become an endless series in which the villain is always the same Moriarty-like mastermind.

I expect to finish Shadow of the Silk Road by Colin Thubron this week. I finally got to the point in the book where there was no going back, after having had a rough start of it, but since I have read several of Thubron's books before I knew I had to give myself some time to get into it. I do find his imagined conversations with a long-dead merchant traveller of the Silk Road slightly annoying, but those passages have fortunately not been too long.

I have also read one chapter of the King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany and am looking forward to continuing to read it. I had forgotten the beauty of Dunsany's prose (I read a number of his short stories many years ago) and am very much looking forward to immersing myself in this story once I finish Thubron's travelogue.

My newest slow read, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, is proving to be a disappointment. I am only on the first chapter and am finding the tone almost intolerably snobbish and the majority of the places I have read about so far have been hotels or restaurants of the "if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it" type (and a version of that phrase has actually been used once already in writing about one of the recommended restaurants). I almost feel as if I have strayed back into the days when travel for leisure was only for the rich and the guidebooks were written for people with plenty of money. This is really a pity, because the book is well organised and full of useful information, e.g. opening hours and seasonal closings, addresses, phone numbers and so on.

In other news: My oldest and best friend got married last weekend, so I got to attend a lovely, intimate wedding.This was the culmination of 16 years of cohabiting and the couple's two children were happy and just a bit bewildered by it all. I didn't have a lot of time to make them them a wedding present, because they only announced with a week's notice, but I gave them a small quilt that I made many years ago, with a Sunbonnet Sue and Overall Bill theme that was suitable for the occasion:


17 February 2017

Friday links, 17 February 2017

Friday links is back after a short break (i.e. I was too lazy to gather up some links for last Friday). It's a mixture of older and newer links.

  • The Icelandic version of Bram Stoker's Dracula has been translated into English: New Life for Dracula. Apparently the translation/rewrite, titled Makt myrkranna and back-translated into English as Powers of Darkness is based on a different version of Stoker's story than the one that was eventually published in English and also contains material apparently written by the translator/co-author.
  • This is interesting, but doesn't make an ounce of difference for my perception of Mr. Darcy: Here's what Pride and Prejudice's Mr Darcy would really have looked like. Not like Colin, that's what. I guess, since he is only very sketchily described in the book, that every new generation of readers will see him as the masculine ideal of their own time, regardless of what the experts say.

Today's book list is 10 Books to Read if You Love Watching The Crown and Victoria.

Finally, the book I'd like to read is actually a trilogy.

Imagine my reaction when I found out that one of my favourite animated movies, Howl's Moving Castle, is based on a book. It's probably different in many ways from the movie, but I have hopes it will be as least as enjoyable.

14 February 2017

Top Ten Tuesday, 14 February 2017: My Top Ten Romance Pet Peeves, 2nd edition

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Visit the hosting blog to see lots of other lists.

Today's topic is a romance freebie (what else), to celebrate Valentine's Day. Since I love freebies, I decided to participate this week. Please visit the originating blog to see some of the other lists.
I posted a list of 10 romance pet peeves of mine in 2011, and decided to revisit that theme in today‘s Top 10 Tuesdays. Some things have changed, while others haven't. 

The list:

  • Weak heroines who need rescuing by the hero or others – All. The. Fucking. Time. Understandable to a point in historical novels, since most of those are about the aristocratic classes, whose women were often quite sheltered, but I prefer to read about women who are strong and capable. 
  • Alpha jerk heroes who remain jerks at the end of the story. If he doesn‘t change, he‘s not interesting. He don't have to stop being alpha, but the jerk part has to go.
  • Sexual violence. I get it that it‘s easy to create conflict and angst by having it happen to someone, but I feel it is overused. As for “forced seduction” of the heroine by the hero, please just don‘t. Not even when the heroine discovers halfway through the ordeal that she likes it.
  • Heroes who are gangsters, hit men, pirates or other violent criminals. Even if they become reformed by the end of the book.
  • Characters in historical romances who behave like modern people in historical drag. I don’t mind it a little - after all, we can’t know for certain that opinions and attitudes we think of as modern didn’t exist in olden times - but too much of it and the story becomes unconvincing.
  • Too much sex/Unnecessary sex scenes. I like it when a sex scene strengthens the bond between the principal characters or furthers the plot in other ways, but I detest sex scenes for the sake of sex. Especially when they are clearly padding and go on for chapters. I had to take a long break from Nora Roberts after reading a romance where a sex/love scene covered three chapters.
  • Slut-shaming. I don't care who she is, if she's good, bad or evil, or the heroine herself. Just stop it already. I don't mind if another character slut-shames someone (unless it's the heroine doing it), but if the author does it, shame on her/him.
  • Flat stereotypes as supporting cast. You know: the sassy gay friend, the plot-moppet, the creepy but otherwise characterless stalker, the bad parent, the evil ex, the wise elder, etc. They must have something more than just these characteristics to make them just a little bit rounded.
  • Insta-love/Lust=Love. Authors, if you can’t make the falling-in love development convincing, you have no business writing romance. (I like a slow build-up).
  • „Oops, why didn‘t you tell me you were a virgin?“ scenarios.

13 February 2017

Reading report, February 13, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at the Book Date and is "a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week."

Visit the Book Date to see what various other book bloggers have been up to in the last week.

I didn't read much last week - didn't feel like making a push to finish any of the books I have been reading - but did finish one I have been steadily reading over the last couple of years:

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. This monster of a book is more than 900 pages long and I have been reading it bit by bit in the loo. It's funny (or perhaps not) that when I started it I was going "I've read that!" almost every time I turned a page, but after the 1920s these silent exclamations got fewer and fewer as I got closer to my own time, and I had only read a handful of the books published after 1990, although I own copies of several more that I plan to read when that mythical "one day" rolls around.

Much as I detest books and articles telling me I must do something, I found it interesting to see what books were chosen for inclusion in this volume. The edition I have is the original 2006 one, but I know the list has been changed in subsequent editions.

I figured it might be interesting to see how many of these books I have read, but I haven't been able to find the original 2006 list online and I am certainly not going to type it all up myself, so it will have to wait.

Its replacement in the loo is 1000 Places to See Before You Die. I expect that one will take at least a year to finish. I hope I may find some places in it that I deem worthy of visiting, but I am no more  going to start chasing those places than I am going to read all the books in 1001 Books....

I have started reading Shadow of the Silk Road by Colin Thubron and expect to finish that in rather less time than 1000 Places.... I am having slight doubts about whether or not to continue reading it (Thubron can be a bit hard to get into, as I experienced when I read one of his previous books), but I am planning to give it the 50-page treatment before deciding.

10 February 2017

Friday links for today

Friday links is taking a short break. Services resume (hopefully) next Friday.

08 February 2017

List Love: A Dozen small islands I have enjoyed visiting in the pages of books

Authors use islands for various purposes. Small islands with only a few inhabitants are often utilised in fiction for their isolation in order to create suspense or horror, often in combination with bad weather so that no-one can get on or off. Desert islands are often a source of adventure, either for people stranded there by shipwreck, for treasure seekers, or as the bases for nefarious goings-on like smuggling and espionage, while larger, inhabited islands serve as miniaturised cosmoses, often full of eccentrics. Below are some dozen books I have enjoyed in which it is important that the stories told in them take place on islands:

  1. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. Full title: The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un‐inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates. Phew! This classic has spawned innumerable imitations and spin-offs. It describes the 28-year stay of the eponymous hero on an island. I have never read the full English version of this story, only a translated and, I suspect, abbreviated version, but I am putting it on my TBR list as a book I need to read in full. Whether it will still be on this list after I do so remains to be seen.
  2. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. A tense psychological thriller about 10 people stranded on a small island, one of whom is a murderer who picks the others off one by one.
  3. Nation by Terry Pratchett. A heart-warming adventure tale of a young south sea islander left alone in the world when his tribe is wiped out by a tzunami, and an English girl left stranded on his island by the same tzunami, and how together they build a new nation out of the refugees that start arriving on the island.
  4. The Off-Islanders AKA The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming by Nathaniel Benchley. A Russian submarine runs aground on a sandbar near a small island off the coast of New England at the height of the Cold War, and adventure and misunderstandings ensue. This is an entertaining little book that should be read with the political environment of the story firmly in mind for maximum enjoyment.
  5. The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. The island in this story isn’t terribly isolated - in fact it’s connected to the mainland by a short bridge - but it’s the kingdom and fort of the narrator protagonist.
  6. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. An elegy for a time gone by and a memoir of a golden childhood, this is also a paean to the Greek island of Corfu with all its eccentric characters and quaintness.
  7. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. All of his adventures take place on a series of islands: Lilliput; Brobdingnang; Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan. The Country of the Houyhnhnms is presumably also an island.
  8. Onions in the Stew by Betty MacDonald. The only non-fiction book on the list. A funny account of her life on Vashon Island in Puget Sound.
  9. A Winter's Tale by Nathaniel Benchley. A depressed theatrical director is hired by an eccentric old lady to direct a troupe of amateur actors in a play, on an island off the shores of New England in winter-time, and drama ensues. Benchley captures perfectly the air of isolation and the eccentricities and the closeness of the small community and it is also quite funny in parts.
  10. The Mockery Bird by Gerald Durrell. On the whole I enjoy Durrell’s non-fiction more than his novels, but this one is full of interesting and strange characters and he shows he definitely knows his islands. On the surface, this is a light-hearted tale about funny antics and funny people, but underneath lies an important message about protecting nature.
  11. The Saga of Grettir the Strong. The last chapters with him on the island of Drangey are some of the most memorable in the story.
  12. Vestal Fire by Compton Mackenzie. This novel takes place on a small island off the coast of Italy (a barely disguised Capri) and describes happenings within the expat community there in the years leading up to the first world war. All seems harmonious as the novel begins, but soon a snake arrives in Eden. 
    I think this book would be a perfect project for the writers (and maybe some of the cast) of  Downton Abbey to make a TV mini-series out of.

Island books on my TBR list:
  • Treasure IslandRobert Louis Stevenson. I have only only read it in a picture-book edition, but of course I’ve seen one of the movies.
  • Whisky Galore - Compton Mackenzie. I've seen the old movie and am looking forward to seeing the new one. Here's the trailer.
  • CastawayLucy Irvine
  • Island of the Blue DolphinsScott O'Dell.
  • The Sex Lives of Cannibals - J. Maarten Troost.

06 February 2017

Reading report, 6 february 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at the Book Date and is "a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week."

Visit the Book Date to see what various other book bloggers have been up to in the last week.

The weather in Reykjavik has been annoying lately. There have been such temperature swings that I never know how to dress for my walk to work in the mornings. At the beginning of last week it was balmy and sweet for a couple of days, with mildly frosty nights and calm, clear days and warm for the time of year. I could swear I smelled spring in the air on Monday.
Then it snowed.
And then it rained.
Last night it snowed again, but the rain is already washing the snow away and we are expecting three storms to hit during the week, one after the other.
I'm getting ready to curl up on the sofa with a good book.

I finished three books last week, two new reads and one partial reread. My luck in picking good reads still holds, and I enjoyed all three books very much and will be putting all three on the keeper shelves.

Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach. The author took a year off from work to get to know herself better in unfamiliar environments and away from friends and family, and spent it in Europe, divided between Paris, London, Oxford and Milan.

A lovely travelogue that doesn't try to stuff its message of self-discovery forcefully down your throat (unlike some previous books of this sub-genre of the travelogue I have read).

The Dover Publications edition of The Diaries of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain.

I had read parts of it this before and enjoyed both the humour and the philosophy. When I saw this edition, I had to have it. This is a beautifully illustrated, lovely book that I enjoyed looking at as much as I did reading it.

The Colour of Heaven by James Runcie.

This was an appropriate read, as the book I finished before that was Marco Polo's Travels. The hero of this lovely book is a contemporary of Polo's who travels along the same route to China as Polo did. Polo is even mentioned in the book.

This is a charming fictional imagining of how the colour ultramarine was brought to Europe and used to paint the sky in this painting:

Maestà by Simone Martini

My yarn stash is diminishing bit by bit. Just before Christmas I looked at my overflowing baskets and boxes of yarn and something went 'ping!' in my mind. I have been crocheting every chance I have had since and trying desperately not to look at yarn when I go grocery shopping, which is difficult because in the supermarket where I buy most of my groceries I pass the yarn aisle on my way to get bread.

I am 1/3 of the way through an adult-sized Midwife blanket, which should rid me of 12 skeins of yarn, and I have also made a number of plushies and dolls and several scarves. The goal is to finish up some odd balls of yarn left over from previous projects, to use speciality yarns I bought with no particular project in mind, e.g. ribbon, eyelash, furry, glittery, spangled, variegated, and to use yarn from projects I have planned - and even started - but then abandoned.

I think it's all really a pretext to delay deciding whether or not to continue with the Sophie's Universe mandala blanked I started last year. One the one hand I'm unhappy with the colours I chose, but on the other I have already made so much of it that I might as well continue...

03 February 2017

Friday links, 3 February 2017

This week I'm featuring mostly new (or new-ish) links:

Language-related: English has 3000 words for being drunk. Why does this not surprise me?

Book cover design: Top Five Ways to Have an Awful Book Cover. Warning: contains snark.

More on book covers: Delightfully Macabre, Vintage Edgar Allan Poe Book Covers. I wouldn't mind owning some of these.

Discussing a trilogy of books I have been planning to read: Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter. It's really just a question of whether I should read the Icelandic translation or if I should try to read the original Norwegian edition.

About food scenes in books: The Best Food Scenes in British Literature, according to one writer.

02 February 2017

Review of the Travels of Marco Polo, 2011 edition by Watkins Publishing

Marco Polo was a Venetian merchant who travelled to to court of Kublai Khan in the 13th century and wrote a famous account of his visit, that was long considered to be more or less either made up or based on other travellers' accounts, but his account was in later years proven to be factual and probably mostly based on first hand experience.

The book itself as an object is lovely. It is bound in fabric that looks like bright red silk, is printed on heavy, luxurious paper, has a bound-in bookmark, and is richly decorated with photographs, reproductions of paintings and other art, and background graphics that enrich the text. The designers have taken the decision to let the main text stand for itself instead of cluttering the pages by competing text, so the extensive notes on the text are provided as endnotes rather than footnotes, and the captions and credits for the photos and artwork are to be found at the back of the book as well. It is a sumptuous book, what we Icelanders call an "eiguleg" book, i.e. it is worth owning as an object of beauty.

This English version, which is an amalgamation of two of the most respected English translations, is quite readable, which brings me to the text itself, or rather its contents.

Anyone expecting thrills and high adventure from Marco Polo‘s Travels is bound to be disappointed. That said, if you don‘t come to it with any particular expectations, you might be pleasantly surprised. The actual travels are covered in a short prologue that tells of the journey, first of Marco‘s father and uncle and then the two of them and Marco, to the court of Kublai Khan and back. Little is said of their actual stay there.

You can see a glimpse of the map under the bookmark here.
The rest of this famous travel book is about the Khan and his court and about his dominion. The latter parts are comprised mostly of travel geography, i.e. how long it takes to travel between many places, with brief, often quite repetitive descriptions of the places and their peoples, their climates, geography, layouts and other interesting features, interspersed with occasional accounts of kings and nobles, dark deeds and noble ones, and especially how Kublai came to conquer this place or that.

You may occasionally read about the hardships offered by a particular stretch of the route, but with no mention at all of any adventures or hardships that might have personally befallen the Polos themselves. It really reads more like a travel guidebook than a travel memoir and strikes me as a largely factual account. While Polo often gets dates and names mixed up and sometime exaggerates the greatness of this and that, there are not many tales of the kinds of improbable wonders often found in other travel accounts of the era.

Since many of the places mentioned in the text have since acquired new names – sometimes several , one after the other – or have never been definitely identified, or may even have been wiped off the face of the earth by war or natural disasters, the extensive endnotes and the map between the prologue and the main text are necessary for the reader to get an idea of the area covered in the text, and the endnotes also supply explanations and clarifications of the names of people and of events and other things mentioned in the text. One would have to be very well-read indeed to supply all of that information out of one‘s own memory as one reads on. I found that the best way of reading main text and footnotes together was to lay the book on a table for reading and keeping one hand inside the footnotes for easy access, as I prefer to read notes as their reference numbers come up.
You might choose to do it differently.

I am definitely keeping this book, partly because it is a beautiful object, but also for reference.

I am now planning to read Colin Thubron‘s Shadow of the Silk Road, as it covers part of the route taken by the Polos to China. It will be interesting to compare Polo‘s account with the modern situation. I suspect that although travel through the area would be considerably faster today than in Polo‘s time, some of the places he mentions would also be much more difficult and dangerous to get to in today‘s political climate than they were 800 years ago.

I wouldn‘t mind reading (and owning) similar editions of The Travels of Sir John Mandeville and The Travels of Ibn Battutah.

Finally, I wonder if there exists a good modern travelogue of the „in the footsteps of...“ kind, that traces Polo‘s actual routes and places of residence, rather than covering just part of it like Thubron‘s book. If you can recommend me such a book, I‘d be happy to hear about it.

01 February 2017

The great book cull of 2016

Yesterday, I took three boxes of books and left them in a donation container for a local charity shop. Some of them were going back to where I originally bought them, while others were going into circulation as used books for the first time.

These books were the final batch of books from the great book cull of 2016. Last November I decided it made sense to keep my TBR books in the living room where I would see them every day and could select books to read without having to climb over obstacles, which is what I have to do where I kept them previously: in my office/workroom. The bookshelves in there are all situated behind something: desk, worktable, my paper cutter and various boxes of stuff.

In the process of emptying the living room keeper shelves in preparation for switching them for the TBR books, I came across books that I had placed in the keeper category and then never given a thought to until I took them down from the shelves to move them.

It was tempting to reread them to find out why I decided to keep them in the first place, but in the end I reread exactly one book (which I decided to keep) and culled just over 100 others, mostly mysteries and romances, with a handful of travelogues and old text books thrown in for good measure. I also - reluctantly - got rid of some of my 200+ cookbooks, specifically speciality cookbooks about carbohydrate-rich foods that are better off being owned by people who don't have diabetes.

I have managed my goal of culling 100 books from my shelves, and as a matter of fact I made it to about 150 if I count books that I got rid of little by little throughout the year.

Culling these books was easier than I anticipated. I didn't regret letting any of them go, and I hope they end up in good homes where they will be read, respected and hopefully loved.