Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas special

Unlike other bloggers I can't seem to get my act together enough to post seasonally, but I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and I wish you all the best for the New Year too.

I've had a myriad ideas for blog entries but they slip between my tired fingers. Too much work and no internet working on my own little laptop, sadly. Was looking at my e-mail and saw that I'd sent myself a reminding e-mail from work (where I have no other internet access, the stingy feckers) about a new edition of Frankenstein that's out - one with notes on the differences between Mary's original writing and Percy's additions and changes. I read about it in Dagens Nyheter, but the book is here. I'd quite like to read that. Another e-mail to myself was a reminder about a book called Lubiewo by Michal Witkowski - not for myself so much as for mr Bani. But I couldn't find it in Polish, so it was struck off the Christmas list, which it had admittedly been added to at the very last moment. Most excitingly, Sara Paretsky (see link to her blog on your right) has a new novel out - I have my feelers out for that one! Oh, and that was just some ideas of many... I don't have time to read properly, so no wonder there's no time to blog. However, I'm going to start working nights soon, and hopefully that will mean reading time. Library, here I come! Soon.

At the moment I'm re-reading Lord of the Rings. It is, as I've said before, one of the most important books in my life. I've been wanting to do a series of posts on books that have meant a lot to me, but I need some time and space to do them justice. The list is varied and ranges from Taikon to Tolkien to Austen to Brontë to Auel to Lindgren... One day perhaps.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Well, the snow mentioned above (below) didn’t last long. One week later it was all gone, bar the odd drift by the side of the road. Welcome to Uppsala. One week later also happened to be the 1st of Advent, when my church holds its traditional Advent Fair. Fair might not be an appropriate word though. There are no games, I mean. We call it “the Bazaar” or “the Christmas Market”. Anyway, my point is that second-hand books are sold there by the lorry-load, and mr Bani and I usually succumb and bring home about twenty. Especially mr Bani. This year however he wasn’t in charge of the hot-dog sales (naturally nobody then took responsibility for it, due to part misunderstanding and part plain indifference from some people who should know better, I went up briefly and got it started and trust me when I say my husband has the patience of a saint – some people are so infuriating, I mean really), so he wasn’t there the whole weekend, hence he couldn’t browse the way he normally does. I was working in the food stall, but I didn’t wander off and look at the books. Just a little bit. And I didn’t see anything interesting. Until Sunday afternoon when they started weeding out the surplus (there’s too much to save for next year’s sale) – suddenly I spotted, from afar, a Kathy Reichs novel. I missed that one unfortunately, because I mistook the weeding process for a purchase in the making. Ah well. I think it was one I’d already read anyway. But later I nabbed the fourth Stephanie Plum novel, Four to Score, from the “throw away” pile, and also Mark Haddon’s A Spot of Bother. I’ve read the Evanovich, of course, but hey, it was free. And it’s a nice sort of book to have, easy to read. Also it’s one of the better ones, partly because it’s an early one. The characters are not as exaggerated yet. In this one Benito Ramirez is let out of prison and comes after Stephanie. Those are quite good scenes. Stephanie is very frightened, so it’s not all one-liners and jokes. Nice. As for Mark Haddon – I’ve read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and enjoyed it. I vaguely remembered A Spot of Bother as getting mixed reviews, but it surely couldn’t be terrible, I thought. And it wasn’t. It’s a nice little novel about a family going through a crisis, with an ending that borders on happy, definitely, but with enough of an edge to make it not uninteresting. Mark Haddon writes well, and most importantly he doesn’t, thanks be to Christ, write wannabe film scripts. Okay, there is at least one scene that could qualify as such – when the gay son stresses his homosexuality in front of the religious aunt – but it’s not too bad at all. The father’s descent into full mental breakdown is quite nicely written I think, but it’s a little marred by a too-quick recovery at the end. I do have a reflection on the subject of homosexuality – why does the gay man, no matter how loving the relationship, have to fuck, when the heterosexuals have sex, or perhaps even make love? I think I’ve come across that before this book. It annoys me. But perhaps it’s accurate, I must ask a gay man when I next get a chance – maybe they, being men, are perfectly comfortable using cruder language, and maybe the book reflects that. Cultural differences and what have you.

Apart from these books not much has been read. Oh, I know I read one or two of Minima’s books that she took home from the library, but I don’t remember which ones they were… I just skimmed through them because she was so excited and said they were GREAT. (They weren’t. One wasn’t too shabby, but generally the books these days are so inferior to the ones I read as an eleven-year-old. Obviously.) On the whole though I’ve mostly been reading about reading. I brought home DN’s culture supplement to blog about Clézio’s reading list in it (all I remember is that YES, I had read one name on it, Chinua Achebe – I’m pathetically thinly read, as Eddie Izzard would put it). Then I’ve noticed a few authors getting good reviews, so I always mean to blog about it as a sort of memo. But I forget. Oh the irony. Only today in DN I found another such article of interest – what was it now again? Since I’m writing this at work, where I read DN, I can go and check. Please hold while I check… oh now I remember. No, I can’t write that in the blog because that’s a potential present and you never know who’s reading. What fun! I may use the trusty technique of e-mailing myself.

So on the whole I’m happy about the books I’ve read, but unhappy about the number, my general cultural updatedness and frequency of blogging. Nothing new there then. I almost got something enw to read the other day: I was Christmas shopping, and on the sale shelf I found the first book from Evanovich’s new series, and another one that felt very desirable at the time – probably largely due to it costing only 39 kr – but I ended up replacing them and walking away. Best mind my money now that I haven’t got a job after January 18th (all tips welcome). And since I can't even remember what that second book was it can't have been that important.
Now I’m going to post this and not worry about finding links like a proper blogger would.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Astounding amounts of snow

We're snowed in here in Uppsala today! It's been snowing for pretty much two days straight, and is set to continue into tomorrow, apparently. I had to wait 20 minutes for the bus after work this evening, but since I have good new boots and it wasn't that cold I just stood there and surrendered to the beauty of the falling flakes. Because snow, when it isn't blowing straight and hard onto your face and down inside your collar, is so spectacular you can't help but be mesmerised by it. Everything is white and so pristine, and everything is quiet, because the traffic sounds are muffled. It's wonderful. Especially if you opt not to cycle. If I cycled in this weather I'd be writing an incoherent blog entry about whom to kill on the snow-clearing team, I'm afraid.

So snow snow snow - and how is this related to reading? Well, for one thing I did not read the paper at work today, because it never came. More to the point, as I stood waiting for the bus I pondered on all the books featuring snow that I have or have not read, and I realised that the category for not read contains some embarrasing lapses. I have not read Laura Ingalls Wilder. Mostly because I had a home-language teacher who made me read it when I was too young to care, so I went off it. I really must remedy that, because I read this interesting article (probably in The Believer...) about L.I.W. and how she actually wrote very critically of the white expansion into Native land. Nor have I read Vilhelm Moberg's Utvandrarna and Invandrarna, which I know contains a blizzard episode, in which the father kills an animal to save his child (he sticks the boy inside the animal's gut so he won't die while he gets help). And that is embarrassing, that I haven't read it, I mean. But I saw bits of the TV series as a child and it just seemed so depressing. On the read side is the quite recently enjoyed Ursula K. Leguin novel about the planet Winter, and also Jean M Auel's Ayla series. Sorry, Children of the Earth or something she calls it. Lot of snow during the Ice Age... Oh, and of course Peter Hoeg's Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow, which I have read in Swedish. A very memorable book (not a very good film). I regularly remember little snippets from it, like how Smilla the child stuffs biscuits into her mouth to defy her father, or how Smilla the adult wears soft leather trousers with a silk lining, even though the stitches of such a lining is too fragile, really.

And also, one is inevitably reminded of Mma Ramotswe. Because in Mma Ramotswe's Botswana at least one of the cars passing me at the bus stop would have pulled over to offer me a lift.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

What I got from Ireland basically....

Our trip to Ireland generated me two books – one a gift from my cousin, the other a tip from same cousin that my husband, upon our return, went out and bought for me as a surprise. I am very pleased with this result and total number of two, albeit a little surprised, since I had assumed I was going to wander into a second-hand bookshop and find 13 Ngaio Marsh novels that I hadn’t read and the elusive E.C. Bentley I’m sort of actively looking for. Sadly such shops were thin on the ground – a quick peek into Wexford Oxfam revealed nothing but some John Le Carré and Danielle Steel and the like. Oh, and don’t remember if those were the precise authors, I just remember an impression of large-ish hardbacks with big bold (slightly raised) lettering. Anyway, it’s just as well, since our packing was FULL – the less said about the disaster that was our packing on the way home, the better. Just a little tip from me to you: even a small box of cereals is quite bulky. Why cereals, you ask…. but don’t. Just don’t. They do make much less sense than the three boxes of fig rolls.

Back to the books. My cousin gave me An Interpretation of Murder by Jeb Rubenfeld, a book she herself had read and thought I’d like – which is a bit wonderful in itself, since we’d lost touch a bit these past ohmygod fifteen years! yet she still managed to know me and get me something I would definitely have gone for myself, if not in the book shop at least in the library. An Interpretation of Murder attempts to solve the riddle of why Freud hated the US so much despite the fact that his visit in 1909 was so immensely successful. What could have caused such strong feelings of antipathy? The author has drawn upon real historical characters, invented a few fictional ones and stage-set the whole story in New York society. Does this remind us of the recently read The Blackest Bird? Why yes it does. Historical – check, criminal – check, New York – check and so on. As a matter of fact, the authors use the same trick of drawing upon actual quotes from their famous historical figures (Edgar Allan Poe and Freud, respectively) to make up their dialogue in the novels. However, Rubenfeld manages much better than Joel Rose in my opinion. In The Blackest Bird Poe’s lines felt disjointed from the rest of the book, while here it all flows rather well. That said, the novel has other problems. It shifts between different perspectives, the third-person spectator and the first-person diary-like account, but the result isn’t brilliant. The trouble is, in my view, that the writing is a little flat. This is no great problem in the first-person account, since I think it adds credibility to the diary-style. People don’t write florid and/or well-balanced prose in their diaries, generally. Not even authors. In the third-person narrative this becomes a bit slow and disappointing however. Another problem is that the author appears to have gotten carried away imagining how much money he could make from selling the film rights to his novel – or possibly he was watching too many historical action films (a genre to itself, and probably one that actually has a different name, but I trust you understand me) while writing it. Towards the end the main characters start cracking one-liners while facing imminent death. I found it distracting and annoying. And on the whole I suppose I just wasn’t taken with any of the characters in a deeper sense. None of them were sketched well enough for me to feel like they were real people, and so I didn’t care what happened to them. Which is a shame, because it’s quite a good story, with a fun premise, and Freud himself is not badly done. It just needed a better editor maybe, or a séjour inside a locked drawer for a few years, as Zadie Smith would recommend. Summary: alright, but not very memorable. Memorable enough for me to maybe read the author’s next one though.

The recommended novel then was The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist. I had, of course, not heard of this at all, despite there apparently being quite some hype over it and a not insubstantial bit of buzz. The reason for my ignorance is probably the limited time I can spend online these days – news of a book like this would normally have reached me via one of the forums I frequent. (Note to self: do a search on one and see if there is indeed a discussion in progress…) Always on the lookout for good, new, original fantasy I immediately got my hopes up when I saw the book – not only is the title wonderfully evocative, but so is the cover. Very promising! (Note to self II: start putting pictures in your blog. Really.) The story is set in a large city, sort of London but not quite. We are thrown right into the middle of the action when our heroine Miss Temple, an island colonial sent “home” to make a good match, follows the fiancé who jilted her. Much to her surprise she ends up in an enormous house in the country, where a huge fancy dress party appears to be taking place, and where none of the guests seem to know one another. She brazens herself in by pretending she belongs, and is assumed to be one of the women scheduled to undergo some odd and sinister procedure that is the centre of the whole arrangement. She narrowly escapes death, and in the next two parts we make the acquaintance of the two heroes, one after the other: Dr. Svenson, care-taker of a dim and lecherous German prince, and Cardinal Chang, an assassin. Both these men were also at the house when Miss Temple was there. The first part of the novel then is told from these three perspectives, all leading up to the moment when we know they must meet and work together. It’s packed with action right from the start, one of the blurbs on the cover says something about a rollicking ride, and it very much is. It’s also full of sex and silk, Victorian emotion and violence and an awful lot of villains and secondary characters.... for a good while I go for it and feel well entertained, until two things start to grate at me: one, the over-use of the verb “to scoff”. There are limits to how much people can scoff in one chapter, and Dahlquist ignores them. Grave mistake, possibly the editor's fault. Two, again we have the “I want this to be a film” problem. Or rather, after one third I started getting that same feeling I get when I read graphic novels. I don’t understand graphic novels, you see. I must just not be visual enough to “read” the pictures, and added to that is the annoying habit graphic novelists have of emphasising words by bolding them. “How I wish that Wolverine/Spiderman/Morpheus could find happiness… [new frame, sound effect swisch as character jumps over wall/building/tree] …. But I suppose a hero has to be alone… [new frame, close-up of eye of person thinking the lines] … so he won’t get hurt [final frame, character lands with a thunk].” It drives me around the bend. I read those bolded words with very heavy emphasis, as though someone was SHOUTING THEM and it completely breaks my reading flow. Anyway, Dahlquist slips into this habit of inverting certain words or phrases, and when you add to this the extremely detailed description of the surroundings and clothes and looks I suddenly realised I was reading a graphic novel in text, or... OR... one of those cartoon-like plans film directors make when planning a film. So I Wikipedia Dahlquist, and confirm my suspicions: he is indeed a playwright and filmmaker. Experimental filmmaker. Ha. Well, he needs to change his style a bit of he wants to write really good books, let me tell you. Towards the end I was tired and skimming the pages to reach the end, my eyes just glancing off the bloodbath unfolding on the paper in front of me.

Naturally, I'm going to read the next one. I'm hoping there's stricter editing, and that the plots will be less convoluted and confusing, but I'd definitely give The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters a ten for effort, not many writers have the imagination to create something that feels as new as this. Fingers crossed for improvement!

Monday, November 10, 2008


The week before Halloween we went to Ireland for a lovely but rather emotional visit. When I was little the drill was that summer holidays were spent in Ireland every other year, and with my paternal grandparents in Värmland the “other” years. This was so we’d have two years to save up for the holidays. After my mother died we went more often, even for Christmas. Since I was 17, however, I hadn’t been. Lack of money and time, basically (when there was time there was no money and vice versa). Now my sister and her family have moved there and we simply HAD to go somehow. The planned summer visit was spoiled by me working. However, it turned out that her kids were on holiday as well as mine, we found a cheap flight and so we took the chance. I’m delighted that we went. The visit was much too short for someone who has been away for more than 15 years, but better a short visit than none.

I wasn’t really able to allow myself to get emotional there (didn’t want to scare the kids) nor am I able to let it all out at home (yet), but it felt very sad suddenly to be living so far away from my sister and her family. Not that it’s far. Not like Australia or Namibia or Easter Island. But still. My nephew and niece are growing so big, and we’re not around. And they’ll never be as close to our youngest as they are to our elder daughters. It feels strange, even though I’m so pleased for them all, they seem to be doing so well. And there have been so many changes! My grandmother’s house looks the same from the outside, but inside it’s completely different. The rooms aren’t even in the same place. While part of me is unbothered by the differences (after all, change is inevitable), another part of me feels childishly upset.

Added to this is the death and funeral of a beloved aunt. She was my aunt by marriage, but you know how with some people it never feels like there’s a difference? Well, that’s what it was like with her. She was one of the warmest, kindest, most genuine people I have ever known. My heart breaks for her sons, my cousins, and for their children. She loved her grandchildren so much, and it feels so terribly terribly unfair that the youngest will never know her. As for myself, I am being eaten up by regrets that I never spent more time with her. It doesn’t help knowing that a lot of that is due to my own low self-esteem, that never allows me to think that other people really might enjoy my company – instead I keep away, so as not to disturb them. I’ve missed all those chances to talk to her. The last few years when I knew she was sick I found it especially difficult, because I was so afraid. It’s weakness, and I’m ashamed of it. I hope that she knew, or knows, that I loved her very much, that I am grateful for everything she did for me, and that I’m so so sorry. She loved literature too, and this spring she had sent me an invitation to join a sort of chain mail paperback swap that is all the rage here. You send a book to the person at the top of the list, and invite six friends to join, the idea being that you’ll end up with 36 books. I joined as a way to try to tell her I cared, but I should have rung and talked to her properly instead. I hope she received some books out of the swap, and I hope she enjoyed them. I feel so much guilt, and guilt is so useless unless you channel it. I hope I can channel this into learning to stay close to the people I love.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Michael Crichton is dead.

Something I find more sad than I would have thought. R.I.P. I've only blogged about one of his books, which surprises me. I'd also forgotten that the one I'd blogged about was Airframe - I thought it was Timeline, which is not very good at all compared to some others, so I was all set to write a blog entry now saying that I was sorry I'd only blogged about the bad novel. However, Airframe is one of the good ones, though not among the best-known (i.e. filmed, as far as I know anyway). I've also read (this list will serve sort of as an homage I suppose...): Sphere, Congo, Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, Eaters of the Dead and The Terminal Man. If you've only seen the films of any of his books - try reading one instead, because they're quite different in tone. It's entertainment, but often of the kind that would spark a discussion.

Friday, October 24, 2008


This month was my 33rd birthday, and for once I wanted to have.. well, not a party, but let's say invite friends over for munchies. Added bonus of inviting people over is of course the presents that follow, and among other nice things I got two books that I promptly read. My friends are very clever people who understood what my brain is up for, so I got one definite chick-lit (Janet Evanovich: Lean Mean Thirteen) and one chick-lit-ish (Toni Jordan: Addition). Dilemma – which one to read first? I decided on Evanovich out of both loyalty and a sneaky suspicion that Addition might well turn out to be the better book on the whole. However, I ended up reading half of the Evanovich and then bringing Addition on the bus to read one morning because I didn’t want to go back into the bedroom to fetch the Evanovich. I tend to avoid parallel reading, probably for the same reason that I read short story and poetry collections from the front cover to the back cover with no skipping around (and possibly this is why I don’t much enjoy reading poetry). Um, I put “for the same reason” without really having a clear-cut idea of what the reason is – possibly my very own brand of OCD. A feeble attempt to bring order into my universe. Kitchen floor knobbly with pasted-down dirt? No matter, at least my short story books are carefully plodded through from beginning to end. This Bani-OCD also manifests itself in how I choose my week-day socks, by the way. I bought the socks because I needed black socks for my work uniform, and ridiculous as the Monday to Sunday writing at the top is (both as concept itself and as look), it at least functions well as a method to separate the socks from all the other black socks of the household, thus ensuring that I always can find my socks in the morning. And the OCD? Well, I can’t wear the correct day socks on the actual day obviously, since that would be dorky, but I also can’t bear to wear a different day on each foot (mostly because the days are written in different colours). So I wilfully mismatch days but match socks. Fantastic.

Addition was indeed the better book. It's basically a boy-meets-girl-story (could be a Marian Keyes), but the twist is that our heroine Grace has a mental illness - she counts everything. To keep her universe in order she measures, weighs, counts and performs rituals every day. At first we're not told the reason, just that she's always done it, but gradually we discover why. When Grace meets Seamus she falls in love. With Seamus she can sometimes forget all about the numbers.

I was reminded of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. The similarities aren't huge or anything, but both novels tell a story from the perspective of the "ill" person, and in this way in an easy manner teach us about the affliction. This is not a bad novel. Grace becomes very real and quite complex, and Jordan doesn't shy away from being explicit about sex even though Grace is a nutter. Recommended - maybe not the greatest book ever written, but a refreshing addition (tee-hee) to the genre.

Lean Mean Thirteen is one I've been longing to read, obviously. It saddens me a little that the Stephanie Plum concept is getting so worn though. Over the books things have gotten more and more slapstick and cartoonish - a bit like that film, Last Action Hero, come to think of it. The first couple of books had that nice balance between funny, a bit cheeky, a bit OTT but also a bit of grittiness. In this the 13th novel I felt a little closer to the roots than I have in a while. Stephanie gets really scared here, which is good. More grit, less "what would this look like in the movie"-thinking. In this one Stephanie becomes a murder suspect, and the supposed victim is none other than her ex-husband. Oh, I'll definitely read Evanovich's 14th and 15th too...

Next week sees the Banis in Ireland, actually. With any luck I'll spot a second-hand book shop with lots of hard-to-get Ngaoi Marsh books (miraculously weighing next to nothing), or maybe the elusive E.C. Bentley I've been wanting. We'll see. May the chips be with me.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ian McEwan: Atonement

Just as I finished my last blog entry approx. ten million years ago I also finished this book. Since then I have not read much at all - well, I reread all my Mma Ramotswe books, but that hardly counts. Not because I don't like them, but because they're so easy to read and all.

Atonement is also easy to read, albeit considerably wordier. It's a better novel than the last McEwan I read, definitely, and this could be why the cover blurb labels it McEwan's masterpiece. But it hasn't stuck with me. I wonder why this is - isn't it funny how some things you read cement themselves into your brain, but others do not? Even if they're objectively speaking better literature...? I think I'm just not a huge fan of the rather wordy, introspective style that McEwan is an example of. Briony, who is 12 or so when the story begins, has an incredibly profound lightbulb moment about her writing which goes on for a good few pages and baffles me a little because is she thinking this as a 12-year-old? Really? Is the author interpreting her confusion into this succinct form? I wonder I wonder. Then Briony commits her crime, her false accusation, and that bit is great, it was hard to turn the pages knowing that she was going to go down that route - please Briony don't! but she does. Then comes very good descriptions of being in the war, very blunt and without hero-worshiping - I liked those bits a lot too, and then a lot of bits about how tough it was to be a nurse in those days, and then it sort of ends. And I'm not sure if I really liked it as a package. I've spent more time thinking about what to write about this book than I've spent remembering the book itself.

Maybe I'm just thick though. Not impossible.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Bram Stoker: Dracula

As mentioned, I re-read this not long ago. I can't remember why though - I think it was because I started humming the Annie Lennox song from the film for no reason, and that put me in mind of the book. We have - we had -two copies of Dracula. One was my old worn paper-back (Wordsworth Classics I think) that was practically falling to bits, and the other is a rather swankier paperback (Penguin Classics) with a fuller introduction by Maurice Hindle. The latter was accquired by mr Bani (who else?). I threw the older one out in the Purge now. One copy will do (but we still have three copies of Jane Eyre. Y'see, one is a love-gift (aaaawww), one is a cool old Penguin paperback, and one is an interesting boxed little thing from the 19th century. So we can sacrifice none of them, and besides Jane Eyre rocks.). Where was I - oh yes, Dracula. Vlad the lad.

I remember reading Dracula years and years ago for the first time, and finding it rather dry. What stuck with me then was the religious fervour, the pure and clean vs. sullied and wanton, the way the men all put Mina Harker on a piedestal. So when I saw the film - marketed as "Bram Stoker's Dracula" as you may recall, no small claims there - I was very surprised. I didn't recognize this sex-obsessed creation at all. Surely there was no sex in Dracula? It was all about God and the evil vampire. And it was not until I re-read it now that I understood where Coppola got all the sex from - which is funny because I must have read it a good few times between then and now. Maybe I was paying better attention this time? Although I don't know how that could be, seeing as how I have had no time to read properly, I was just snatching time while nursing... In any case, I still think Coppola went too far to tout his film as being oh-so-close to the novel. Too much added, plain and simple. I wonder why he felt the need to insist that it was closely based on the novel, surely his own vision was just fine with his name on it. (Not that it turned out all that well.)

I digress again. Back to the book: I enjoy Dracula. It's not really great literature, to be honest. It could have been trimmed down, refined, made more succinct. This was brought home to me even more clearly when I read Hindle's introduction. The more you read about mr Stoker the more you can tick off his hang-ups when reading the book, and the more it starts to come across as some sort of therapy session. But no matter, it's a classic nevertheless. And back to the sex: before I digressed I was saying that the first time I read it I didn't see past the nattering about phonographs and typewriting and mesmerizing. This time I must have had my imagination hooked up properly, and I noticed this scene for the first time:
With his left hand he held both Mrs Harker's hands, keeping them away with her arms at full tension; his right hand gripped her by the back of the neck, forcing her face down on his bosom. Her white nightdress was smeared with blood, and a thin stream trickled down the man's bare breast which was shown by his torn-open dress. The attitude of the two had a terrible resemblance to a child forcing a kitten's nose into a saucer of milk [ ... ] Her face was ghastly, with a pallor which was accentuated by the blood which smeared her lips and cheeks and chin; from her throat trickled a thin stream of blood. Her eyes were mad with terror.

Oo-er. The sexual innuendo is strong with this one. I see what you mean, Francis.

Therefore, my advice to you is: read this. It's historical, it's classic, it's... well, in all honesty not terribly scary for a modern audience, but we can certainly appreciate the effort, and it's The Original. Go for it. (And if you get a copy with the Hindle introduction, read it AFTER you've read the book. But do read it, because it's very enlightening.)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Joel Rose:The Blackest Bird

As I was reading this book I very frequently thought of Nick Hornby's Believer column Stuff I've Been Reading, the collection of which I wrote about last time. Because this book - he would have thrown it away in disgust, and not been able to write about it then in the column, since they have that No-Snarkiness policy.

I got it from my editor friend E, who got it I think from someone at a bookfair, trying to pitch it to her I suppose. E handed it to me with a shrug, saying she hadn't liked it much but since I liked mysteries.... this was ages ago this, and I had forgotten about the book completely. (Well, not completely. I did have this vague feeling that there should be something readable in the house that I had brought in and not my husband, but I couldn't think what it was.) Now, when we were clearing and de-cluttering and bookburning I came across it. Of course, I was tremendously pleased. A murder mystery based on the tragedy of Mary Roger's death, which is immortilized in Edgar Allan Poe's Marie Rôget story! Set in New York in the 1840s! How fantastic! I read the most prominent blurb on the cover:
"Murder, mystery, historical novel, portal to another time, you'll lose yourself for days on end in the perfectly depicted characters, atmosphere and low life of nineteenth-century New York. The Blackest Bird is a masterpiece."
--Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential and Bone in the Throat


Hang on a minute. Anthony Bourdain, who's he? And then I remember - I've seen the man on BBC Food, haven't I. He's a chef. (And now, reading the blurb, I remember reading about Kitchen Confidential in the papers when it was published. I never connected that with the fella on the telly until now.) And he has a blog and all. Anyway, a chef. Why is his opinion all over the front cover? This is not promising. I mean, I don't expect Harold Bloom endorsements or anything, but come on.

But I get stuck in, and for a good while I'm impressed by the thoroughness shown in writing so consistently in an old-fashioned style, right down to segars instead of cigars. This amazon.com reviewer says it's newspaper jargon - I'll take his word for it. But. However. There is a reason why this style of writing went out of style. It's quite cumbersome to read. And I should point out that only recently I re-read Bram Stoker's Dracula (oh that reminds me, I forgot to blog about that. Dracula deserves its own blog entry! I'll do that soon then) so I was used to reading dialogue in which people don't hold normal conversations, they lecture at length using convoluted sentences. This is all bearable, providing you have a narrative drive and characters to get involved in. Here, we don't. The story doesn't seem to know who to focus on. Is it a story about High Constable Hays getting slightly obsessed with Mary Roger's murder? Is it a historical novel about New York in the 1840s? Is it a sort of biography of Edgar Allan Poe? Ideally, it should be all these things. Zadie Smith, for example, she can write a novel from many different characters' point of view and bring it off and together to a whole. This book just collapses into a layering of facts and ideas and endless name-dropping of Famous People from New York History, and the whole thing just screams out "I spent 18 years writing this! Look at all the research I did! Look how much I've read! Look at how I've taken snippets that Poe actually wrote and said and worked them into what he says in my novel!" As for the last bit - yes I noticed. Because it's very noticeable and this is a bad thing. To get back to Zadie Smith - in an article in The Believer (God, I know, I keep going on and on about this, but this time it's just coincidence, I've read a grand total of two articles from that magazine and this was one of them) she writes about how to write. Among other things she suggests leaving what you've written in a drawer unread for a few years, and then taking it out and reading it afresh. This novel was 18 years in the working and could have done with 18 years in a drawer, in my opinion. And then it might still have needed a great and ruthless editor.

I think what upsets me most is that it could have been riveting and fantastic. I forced my way through the whole thing, because after the twist at the very end of Special Topics of Calamity Physics I no longer take anything for granted - but I was ready to give up not even half-way through. I have no doubt that Rose has talent, and has done a spectacular amount of research. The problem is it's just not very good the way it is now. What a waste. That said, in the right hands it might make a great film. This is of course another pet peeve of mine: when books appear written solely for the film rights. Ah well.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Nick Hornby: The Polysyllabic Spree

This past year or so mr Bani has been reading The Believer quite often (well, at least copies of the magazine have been turning up here and there in the flat). So it only follows that he would want The Complete Polysyllabic Spree, which is a collection of the columns Nick Hornby wrote for The Believer over a period of two years. So, since I'm a bit of a sucker for Hornby and was in the mood for something easy to read but not stupid, I nabbed it off the shelf, where it was resting atop the other books that had a space in the original row (now that we have de-cluttered it has its own space, three cheers for us!). I've read all Hornby's novels I think (barring maybe one? or two?). I was very pleased with How To Be Good, even though critics seemed to think it was weaker than his previous work - I thought he did a good job of writing from a woman's point of view, and the story was interesting. Well done.

So this compilation turned out to be completely my thing. Hornby's task was to simply write about what he had bought and/or read every month, and in theory, he speculated, this might show if there was a pattern to what he reads. Since the magazine has forbidden snarkiness there are a few instances of "unnamed literary novels" being abandoned half-way through because they're too terrible to finish - which amuses me. Hornby creates a fictitious fight with the Polysyllabic Spree, which is what he calls the people who run The Believer. He describes them as a sort of cult, and it's very funny.
[...] the fifty-five disturbingly rapturous and rapturously disturbing young men and women who edit the Believer [...]
[...]the eighty horribly brainwashed young men and women who control this magazine [...]
[... ]the seventy-eight repellently evangelical young men and women who run the magazine [...]
[...] those teenage white-robed prudes.
Anyway, that's really not very important. What's important is that I want to be like Nick Hornby. This blog was supposed to be more like that book - effortlessly fluently written, witty and clever without really trying. Although we don't always seem to have the same taste in books - Nicky breaks down in tears when attempting science-fiction, for example. I like science-fiction. Nick, I can tell you why you fail at sci-fi: it's because you think you have to understand everything. You don't. It's just there for the period effect, as it where. Hornby complains that he must be dim for the whole column
[...] I haven't felt so stupid since I stopped attending physics lessons aged fourteen.
Although I have a sneaking suspicion that he really thinks that sci-fi is stupid literature, but masks his dislike by putting himself down, so as to con the Polysyllabic Spree. But once or twice I could nod happily, seeing that we enjoyed the same things - admittedly not very often, given my obse... huge interest in crime fiction these past years, a genre Hornby doesn't revel in. I was extra happy then to read him praise Citizen Vince by Jess Walter. Yes Nick, you and me! We could actually, like, hold a conversation!

Why can't I write the way I want to? It's heart-breaking, so it is. This book left me itching to read more, and I'm definitely holding on to it for a good while so I can glean it for tips. Inspiring is the word I'm looking for.

Friday, August 01, 2008


Mr Bani and I are in an organizing frenzy here at casa Bani. As you may or may not know, we live in a two-bedroom apartment with one bathroom, with a total square metrage of just under 70. And there are five of us. So thank God we always resisted the children's desire for a pet, I say. There is a certain amount of compact living going on here, and by that I mean that we have a lot of stuff and it is everywhere. If that's compact, we're it. And 1½-year-olds? They believe in entropy. One spends a frighteningly large amount of time picking up stuff that he has emptied out. And then, finally, not bothering to. I had forgotten (as in repressed) that part about having small kids. Give me teenagers any say. You just say "Hey you, what the hell?" and they pick it up themselves.

So, we decided that we needed to change the furniture around in the livingroom and put the bookshelves on the other wall and in the corner, aso we could put those two cabinets from the Ivar range that have been "temporarily" arranged these past three years on top of one another on top of a semi-antique chest of drawers in our miniscule bedroom alongside that wall and so on. You get the picture - it isn't a tidy one. And where are the wheels we once had screwed on under that second cabinet? We unscrewed them to stack the cabinets and now I only found one set. Arse.

In order to manage this we had to scrap one whole bookshelf. This meant that we first had to have a big clear-out in the cellar so we could move discarded-but-not-unwanted-really books down to the cellar (and said shelf, of course). And since we can never be really structured about these things we end up just throwing things away and not even attempting to sell them - although to be fair, most of it was sort of rubbish anyway. Anyway, so all the course books, representing thousands of dineros (yet with no actual degree to show for it...) are being moved into the cellar, finally, and lots of books are finally being deemed as Not Necessary to Own so we're giving them away to the Christmas flea market at church. BUT, and here comes the explanation for the title of this entry - we've thrown away lots too. Books that were breaking (fair enough), but also just books that we didn't think were worth the trouble of carting off to some other destination than the rubbish room (my English translation of the word soprum...). And since they end up in the burnable bin in the rubbish room - WE ARE BOOKBURNERS, as mr Bani said, with a wince. We ended up becoming less and less ruthless, so the pile that is going to charity is now larger than it would have been if we'd carried on with the sacrilege. See, I'd planned to bookcross a lot of this stuff. I'm a CRAP bookcrosser. I should delete my membership. I haven't had a chance to search for ANY books, and I haven't released any, or even gotten to the point of starting to register one for release. And now I won't be doing any releasing for a long time, since I'm not prepared to let go of the ones I have left. (Yet.)

Among the books I finally got rid of is an old copy of Fanny Herself by Edna Ferber. I've held on to this book for ages because it made an impact on me. Little bits of it often drift to the surface of my thoughts - for example, for a while there Fanny dates a man who keeps volunteering snippets of Useful Information, so she dubs him "Fascinating Facts". So far I'm the only one who gets it when I say "fascinating facts" with irony in reference to people like that. It doesn't seem to be a widely read novel, but I really like it. Fanny grows up in a small town with her mother and brother. Her mother works very hard in her little shop to support them, but ends up being outmanouvered by a new, larger store. When her mother dies Fanny swears to never become like her, working her life away for nothing. She's going places, she is. Connecting her mother's failure to Judaism too, she rejects her entire background and goes off to the big city to make a career for herself. In the end she mellows and reconnects with her past, and the whole thing is quite sentimental (in the best possible way) and lovely. Also, it paints a great picture of a professional woman - actually, of two professional women, if we count Fanny's mother - in the 1910s and before. The Amazon link above states "that Edna Ferber has been called the greatest American woman novelist of her day" and I think that this book is well worth reading, as well worth it as, say, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, which I think is much more widely known. Well, I don't have it anymore. Nor do I have Flickan som inte sa nej by Elsa Nyblom. I've insisted on holding on to this for years, but I'm ready to let go now. This book is so little known I can find no good link to it, only online second-hand book sellers telling me they have it, and one Bookcrossing entry that turned out to be a dud. It's not about much this book, but I quite liked it. I liked how it felt so set in that particular time (1930s, 1940s), and its sort of dreamy quality, even though it deals with real matters. I can hardly remember exactly what it's about any longer, to be honest. The main character is a young girl who is easily influenced (she doesn't say no is the title), so she agrees to be married to a much older man. It's not a depressing story about abuse or anything, but it's about having a sense of self and being able to say what you want for yourself. Her life doesn't turn out badly, but she has to learn to say no. That's it.

It's a bit of a wrench to get rid of these old novels, because I might never be able to get hold of them ever again. I've found them in second-hand stalls and bought them on impulse. My one, sole ambition in life really has been to have a Library. To have bookshelves covering the walls, and to be able to go in there and see my life through the books I've read. It makes me sad that I can't realise this dream. I've wanted to save all those 1940s "young women" novels I'd collected, but I haven't. How will I ever get hold of Flickförbundet Silverkorset by Bertha Clément again - a 1927 story about some young girls who meet at a boarding house during their holidays and form a sort of charity club together. A moralistic little book, to be sure, but it paints an interesting picture of pre-Nazi Germany. I have to hope that Bokmamsell and others like her will remember all those books, because I can't be their custodian right now, and maybe never.

Anyway, St. Lars Catholic Church in Uppsala, during the 1st of Advent weekend - that's the place to be if you want to buy the Bani cast-offs. See you there - I'll be rescuing novels from other broken libraries.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

C.S.Lewis - The Chronicles of Narnia (sort of)

I went to see the new Narnia film with my kids (obviously I'm referring to the two older ones only, duh) last week (the Prince Caspian one). It was great getting out and spending some time with them. They've been away with their grandparents for several weeks, and, well, one does miss them. Now, going to the cinema isn't really very "spending time with" anyone, but walking home afterwards and discussing the film and other subjects is. It was a lovely evening, and we didn't fight once during the 2K trek thankyouverymuch. We talked about the film, which they both really enjoyed, and they actually had some very insightful comments about how it differed from the first one. I had the little gripe that there was an awful lot of fighting, which gets boring in my opinion. Also, all the fights are bloodless so as to not frighten the kiddies - but that just doesn't really work. Massive big swordfight and it's OBVIOUS that folks (people as in humans this time! Not just the Witch's monsters!) are being slaughtered - but no blood on Peter's sword. Annoying.

Personally I've never been that enamoured with the Narnia Chronicles as books. Moralistic plodding towards a predictable end in my harshest opinion. Some days I'm more mellow though - I mean, I'd have loved them if they were the only fantasy around, but there's much better stuff (like Tolkien. I still haven't written The Tolkien Blog Entry, but one day I will...). And compared to that they fall very short of the mark. One of my home language teachers made me read The Horse and His Boy and I remember how dreary I found it. I re-read it as an adult and found it better than my memory of it - up until the point where Aslan starts playing mind games with the lad and "testing" him. I don't get that. As a Christian I find it not only overly blatant, but also depressing. So this is God, is it? Well, thanks. So in short I was rather pleased with how the first film didn't focus on the moral but instead went more gung-ho action. I didn't feel it did the story any harm whatsoever. In this Prince Caspian one it becomes more problematic though, as the issue of the murdering of humans should be addressed (why is it not an act of evil etc.). I'm sure Lewis has some explanation for it in the novel but I can't remember. Haven't read that one in years and years. And in the end when (STOP READING NOW IF YOU DON'T WANT A SPOILER) Susan and Peter get told that they cannot return to Narnia - the film offers no explanation, but I'm pretty sure there's some claptrap about it in the book, something about Susan using lipstick and not being pure enough anymore. Not saying they should have run with that explanation, but they should have put something more in I think. Now I had to tell Minima that it was because they were adults now, and only children could come to Narnia. I feel confident in stating that this is a good and true explanation, so I think they could have spelled it out in the film.

In other news I have 12 glorious work-free days ahead of me. It's hotter than hell, but we won't be able to cycle off to go swimming every day since mr Bani's bike got stolen. It hasn't been our year for bike safety at all - mine got stolen too this June and I'm now pedaling around on a new one. So we'll fill our days with rearranging the furniture in the living-room, and I need new glasses and a haircut. It's a busy busy life, isn't it. On the up side BBC Prime is showing Dr Who S2, which I haven't seen all of. With a bit of luck I might be able to compile a good reading list too. I've just not had any time for proper reading, and it's getting me down. Time to do something about that!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Marcus Zuzak: The Book Thief

This is the only book I've read for ages. Unless re-reading some Laurie King or Kathy Reichs while nursing Junior to sleep counts. I have been only working. *sigh* Also, one-and-a-half-year-olds never stop walking, so you can't sit peacefully and read when you ARE home. Or rather, out playing with them.

My sister lent me this, she said it was quite sad but not completely depressing. And so it isn't. It's about a young girl in Nazi Germany, just before the war. Her parents are dissidents, and she gets placed with foster parents (presumably forcibly, i.e. her mother is sent away afterwards). She becomes very close to them, especially her new father. He is also a bit of a dissident, who has repainted Jewish houses after they've been vandalized. (So why would they be permitted to foster children? Bit odd really.) He teaches her to read, using her first stolen book.

One day a Jew turns up on their doorstep. He is the son of Papa's friend from the trenches, and Papa has promised to help. They hide him in the cellar, and he and the girl become friends.

Okay, so the end is very sad. I do cry when the town gets bombed and all those people die. But on the whole I'm not tremendously pleased with this novel. I've been trying to pin-point why... I think it's due to a lot of small things. For one thing, the novel is narrated by Death. And I'm sorry, but I've read too much Terry Pratchett, so that just becomes weird. I keep reading Death's narration in small caps and expecting one-liners. (Well, the effect wore off after 2/3 of the book, but it was a persistent feeling.) For another, the author has written about Germans and their wartime suffering, but seems a little unwilling to admit this. He seems to feel a need to emphasise that the suffering of the Jews was much worse. And I can't help feeling that - yes? We know. Surely you don't think that Holocaust revisionists are going to read this and use your novel as proof for their mad "history" theories of you don't point out several times that the Germans as a collective were responsible for the concentration camps? I think I'm being a little unfair, but that's how I read it when I was reading it. I wanted a little more balance, somehow. A little more artistic daringness - I wanted Zuzak to dare to NOT compare sufferings, but instead just describe it. Because he is a very talented, a very good writer, don't get me wrong. Thirdly, I was annoyed with a slight preoccupation with throwing in some German words and then translating them. It annoys me. It's something people do who don't really speak the language but need to put bits in for local flair, and I think Zuzak's better than that.

It is recommendable though. A strong début (I think it's the début). Very.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Är jag en kulturtant nu? På riktigt?

I fredags (jag veeeeet, det var länge sedan, men jag blev inkallad att jobba i lördags och yada yada yada ni vet hur det är) hade jag det stora nöjet att bevista en fest på Street i Stockholm, anordnad av Ordfront förlag för att avtacka den avgående förlagschefen. Det var ju jättekul bara att bli inbjuden, när allt jag gjort är en liten översättning, så självklart ännu roligare att faktiskt gå dit. Nu är jag inte så modig att jag vågar dyka upp helt solokvist. Istället klistrade jag mig fast på kompisen E, en av förlagets äkta anställda, och lät mig presenteras för diverse folk. Mycket trevligt. Bl.a. träffade jag en ännu icke utgiven deckarförfattarinna vars namn jag nu blir osäker på - Veronika? Kan det ha varit. I vilket fall som helst var hon mycket trevlig och vi var rörande överens om att Stieg Larsson är överreklamerad. Jag ska absolut läsa hennes bok när den kommer ut i november eller vad det var. Fördelen med henne var också att jag inte behövde skämmas för att jag inte läst henne, eftersom hon inte fanns i tryck så att säga. Satt nämligen bredvid den hemlige kocken också, och fick erkänna att nej, det hade inte blivit av (vilket känns extra dumt när det är ett ämne som intresserar mig). Mittemot satt en deckarförfattare som jag inte heller läst. Aj aj. Han skriver deckare som utspelar sig på Gotland, så det torde vara denne man. Med skammens rodnad på mina kinder ska jag nu se till att läsa även hans alster. Och hans fru Lotta Kühlhorn på andra sidan - hennes namn kände jag igen i alla fall utan vidare, det finns hopp.

Jag och E åkte hem med våra amningsbröst ganska tidigt. Därmed missade vi nog det värsta röjet, men det gör inte så mycket när man sover så lite som vi fått göra på sistone. Kul var det ändå att få komma iväg på en Ny Grej sådär på en helt vanlig fredag! Tack Ordfront för inbjudan!

Imorgon börjar jag jobba klockan 7.30. Häpp.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Bill Bryson: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

This is on loan from my brother. I think it was I who got it for him for Christmas, but no matter who it was, I remember saying “dibs to borrow” when he tore the wrapping paper. I’d dearly love to have all of Bill Bryson’s books, but I’m trying to amass books slowly, in a manner more similar to the gradual formation of a river delta than the sudden appearance of an entire archipelago after an underwater volcanic eruption. So borrowing is good, and it’s even better to get people books then that you want to borrow. They have to store them, you get to read them…

This is a book about growing up in Des Moines in the 1950s. In much of what Bryson has written about the US he returns to the difference between the country he grew up in and the country the way it is now, but this is a book all about it, and not just as an aside. The 1950s was – and Bryson doesn’t deny it – an insane era of nuclear armament and reckless testing, panicked anti-Communism and hateful racism. Yet it is also one of our most iconic eras, especially US-style. The French have cornered a small section in the 1950s nostalgia department (Brigitte Bardot), but the Americans definitely occupy most of it. This age of fabric-wasting skirts, futuristic cars (that still didn’t rule the society the way they do today), diners that weren’t part of a chain of establishments, lots and lots of comic books, lots and lots of kids outside playing. As Bryson points out in the book, there were fantastic new gadgets to buy, and people were still excited by them. Now we are jaded and don’t feel thrilled by owning a fridge – we expect to. He writes about walking down town through the Des Moines of his childhood, when the streets were proper streets with houses all the way out to the sidewalk and possibly even shaded by giant elms. You can tell that he is actually very saddened by how all of it has changed and all those old buildings have been torn down and that streets now are lined with car parks – but he still manages to be funny about it. It makes me sad too.

I laughed my backside off several times, naturally. I was also quite touched by Bryson’s homage to his parents. Both his parents were journalists, and Bryson (proudly) states that had his father left Des Moines to work for a bigger, national newspaper he might have been more famous and well-known as the best baseball-writer of all times, but since he stayed he’s more obscure. The theme of Bryson’s childhood fantasy of being a superhero, the Thunderbolt Kid of the title, that theme I could have lived without really, but it’s okay. It’s not really worked into the book enough though, if I have to be honest about it.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

Not long ago, Erin of A Dress A Day wrote about a word I'd never heard, namely diegogarcity, which means that you learn something new and then suddenly notice it all over the place. And it was also through a link in another of Erin's posts that I learnt of the red heifer, because being Catholic of course my Bible skillz are a little atrocious - too busy remembering the sacraments, dontchaknow. Anyway, so then I read The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon, and was immensely gratified that I knew what was coming the minute they arrived at the field with cows. Stuff like that makes you feel smart. So thank you Erin!

The novel is based on an alternative history premise. During WWII the Alaskan town of Sitka attracted Jewish refugees and settlers, and after the war the US government gave the Jews autonomous control of the place for 60 years. In other words Sitka is an alternative to the state of Israel, which in this novel lost that first Arab-Jewish war in -48, and all the New Hebrews were driven out. Instead Sitka grows to a Yiddish city of over 3 million inhabitants. Our hero is Meyer Landsman, a noir-esque policeman with plenty of demons, who hides in his work and in alcohol, waiting for Reversion, when Sitka once again becomes American and all the Jews (almost) have to leave. He lives at a grotty hotel, and one night the manager wakes him and asks him to come look at a dead body in another room. This becomes a case that he gets told to drop, but can't. Instead he and his half-Indian partner-cum-cousin slog at it, to find some sort of truth.

The idea of the Yiddish culture living on is, in itself, fascinating. The shards that survived the Holocaust were all but swallowed up in life post-war, and perhaps especially in Israel's desperate desire to leave the shtetl behind once and for all. Here they all speak Yiddish, except to now and they say "fuck you" in "American". People play chess and klezmer, they eat kugel and pickles, no-one has neo-Hebrew names. Chabon's future yiddische Sitka is quite depressing though. Crime seems to be rife, but maybe this is just because it's a cop novel after all, and that's what they see. In an unusual twist one of the most powerful Orthodox rebbes is also a major crime lord - the ultimate break with shtetl subservience perhaps. Is it this bleak because Sitka is only on loan? Because the shtetl came with the Jews to Sitka (not my opinion necessarily, I think our hero Meyer Landsman voices it at some point)? Because all hope really has died after the Holocaust and death of the fledgling Jewish state? I haven't quite decided what the angle is - if there is any. I read (on Wikipedia) that it was being filmed by the Coen brothers. I wonder if they'll be able to pull off the many layers the novel has, or if it will end up one-dimensional - good cop with booze problem and hot ex-wife. The Coens don't have a one-dimensional track record by any means, but the novel is full of pitfalls. And language - are they going to film it in Yiddish? How are they going to manage that? If they don't they'll miss out on a lot.

I had a lot of things I wanted to write about The Yiddish Policemen's union, but I'm having trouble expressing my thoughts... Let me finish by stating that I definitely will be reading more of Michael Chabon. He's very good.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Terry Eagleton: The Truth About the Irish

The other day my husband texted me: "Does your bag feel heavier than normal?" Well yes, it was a little heavy, but mostly because I'd found The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon at the library in hardback, and I'm not used to lugging hardback novels around - and I didn't think that was what he meant. So I texted back "What? What?", thinking that maybe Minimus had put his wallet in my bag or something, thus ruining all shopping plans for that day, and he texted back "look properly" - so I did, and in one of the front pockets I found this little volume. Wasn't that sweet? Impromptu present! God it's embarrassing, I never do this for him. I'm hereby making a note to change.

The book is a little encyclopedia of Irishness written (clearly) for Americans. The kind of yanks who turn up on the Emerald Isle dressed in Aran jumpers expecting thatched cottages and plain-spoken peasants. You look up words like begorrah and craic, but also jews, children, RTE and Easter 1916. It's very funny in an understated way. The articles can digress wildly from their starting point, as the entry Phoenix Park shows us - it starts off by describing where Phoenix Park is, and then moves on to the Duke of Wellington, Irish people trying to be English, Irish-British relations, Americans' shaky knowledge of geography and why the British are parochial. It ends with
None of this has anything to do with Phoenix Park, but Irish thinking is famously digressive.
I like that a lot.

My fave bit I can't find at the moment, so I'll just have to lend you the book if you're interested. Worth it!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Antonia Quirke: Madame Depardieu and the Beautiful Strangers

The beautiful strangers are the actors that Antonia Quirkes cinematographic obsession focuses on. Ever since her childhood she's loved films, and actors especially. This is a very frank autobiography, and I would have liked it more had I known her from Eve. She's quite a clever, rambling writer, so it wasn't a bad read, but I don't know who she is. And I googled her, but there's not an awful lot out there.She's some sort of film critic, but that's all in the book so I knew that. She's married to Jonathan Marr, whom I should also know about, apparently. But I don't. He's in the book too, of course, vyeing for Antonia's attention with her handsome actor loves.

Bits of this book are very funny indeed, bits would be funnier if I knew who she was going on about, bits are just okay, bits are actually moving. I got it from my editor friend E, who got it via work and made the probably wise decision not to get it translated. It's not translatable, because we don't know who Antonia Quirke is, and there isn't much else of tremendous interest in the book. Although after having read it I can say she sounds rather nice, if a bit scatterbrained.

If anybody wants to borrow it let me know. There was more I was going to say about it, it's not crap so merits more than this scant post, but by now it's been a while and I've forgotten the goodest parts so to speak. I can say that if she could write about something more universal, it could turn out great.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ursula K. Le Guin: The Left Hand of Darkness

Can’t remember how this book turned up in our house, but we own it. It must be the mister again. I like Ursula K, although I think she can be a little uneven as a writer. Her Earthsea books are of course classic. It took me ages to read them, I didn’t get around to it until I was an adult, and then I read them all in one sweep. The differences between the first ones and the last in the series became very apparent then. The first ones are, really, better as fantasy novels, since the latter ones are more argumentative. I’d hate to use the word preachy, but I had only four hours of sleep so I will, since my brain can’t find me another word. However, I haven’t actually read a lot of her books. That becomes clear now that I’m looking at her website, and seeing the very impressive bibliography. The library probably has it all, amassed during the decades of authorship, so I’ll just have to dedicate myself. (Speaking of library, I managed to run in today after work, and wasn’t allowed to borrow a book since I had a 55 kr debt on my card for late books. Embarrassing. They’d all been returned though (my lovely husband comes through once again!), so it was just a matter of giving them what coins I had to get the debt under 50 kr, which is the magic limit. Take heed, and learn from my absentmindedness!)

Anyway, according to said bibliography The Left Hand of Darkness is also part of a series (although I’m guessing more loosely held together) – the Ekumen novels. The Ekumen is a sort of space UN of the future, that with tremendous patience sends emissaries to non-member planets, to establish some form of peaceful relationship, simply for knowledge really. They only send one, because one alien will not be seen as an invasion. Enter Genly Ai, a (probably black) human who has come to the planet Winter, or Gethen, as an emissary of the Ekumen, a planet curious in that the inhabitants have no gender, and that it should really be too cold to sustain life. It is almost always winter. Only when Gethenians are “in heat”, in kemmer, which occurs on a cyclical basis, do they develop full-grown genitalia. But this kemmer-induced gender is not static. One person can both father children and give birth to them during a lifetime. The planet has two main large countries, one a traditional monarchy ruled by despotic and insane royals, who nevertheless give their subjects a lot of personal freedom compared to the other, a Soviet-type modern state that appears open and forward-thinking – until you’re sent to a prison camp, naked. Genly Ai unwittingly becomes a political pawn, and ends up depending on the only person he was sure he couldn’t trust.

Ms Le Guin wrote the novel expressly to explore the subject of gender and duality. Is gender necessary? What happens if there is no gender, if we’re not ruled by our gender roles? If they become meaningless? Gethenians cry freely, but can be tough too. In my opinion the novel has become rather dated in its handling of the subject. Genly Ai thinks too much like a human of the 1960s, which jars a little when we’re supposed to imagine him in a completely different time. He talks about his masculine pride being wounded, whereas I can already see that men are coming away from such notions. So those weren’t my favourite bits. But that aside, it’s quite a marvellous, different secondary universe Le Guin has created here. I really must read the book again some time, I think I missed lots. It’s surprisingly dense, and doesn’t explain much – preferring to throw you right into the story. My favourite type of fantasy/sci fi!

And here’s the baby, so the end for now….

Friday, May 09, 2008

Jasper Fforde: First Among Sequels

The latest in the Thursday Next series, a series I’ve had great pleasure from. Now,we’re not in the eighties any more. Thursday and Landon are long married, with three children. Thursday no longer works with the Literary Detectives, since most of Spec Ops has been dismantled. She still works at Jurisfiction however, and her carpet laying business is a front for covert Spec Ops work with former colleagues – not to mention her cheese-smuggling side income. None of this is known to Landon though. Now, people seem to be reading fewer books, which puts the Book World at risk, and the Goliath Corporation seem to be up to something. And Thursday’s and Landon’s firstborn, Friday, is not looking as though he means to fulfil his destiny of heading the Time Police.

Nice blurb eh? All from memory. Go me.

I got a tad tired of this one, to be honest. There are too many puns and Bookworld jokes, and just not enough story. The Nursery Crime series looks like the better one at the moment – shame, because I love Thursday Next as a heroine. Love.

Jasper Fforde at his best manages to combine nonsensical wit with real pathos and feeling, so his stories don't become ludicrous and merely flippant. But this one... hm. Doesn't cut it 100% at all.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Laurie R King: Touchstone

Well, this has taken a long time, hasn’t it? I just haven’t found the time, and also I’ve naturally been suffering from my standard achievement anxiety – you know, the anxiety that has been not insignificantly instrumental in hindering my writing of my law thesis. Essay. Whatever, the paper that would provide me with a paper saying “yay, she graduated”. I sort of felt like the utter specialness of not only the novel per se but even more the fact that I won it and it is signed by Laurie King to ME warranted something extra special blog-wise, something so clever and well-thought out that I really should have laughed at myself then and there and just written something already, Jesus. I now brought my laptop to work so I could write on the train (on the train was the plan. Sadly, Minimus decided that if I was getting up at six, so was he, and he didn’t want me to leave, so yada yada yada, I missed the train, and I’m on the bus instead and I’m not comfortable. And the noise, dear God the noise. How do bus drivers stick it, I really don’t know. I love trains. Commuting by train is a pleasure by comparison, a veritable treat.).

So, enough of the Livejournal-esque rants – Touchstone. *rubs hands with glee* This is a stand-alone novel, and I previously very much enjoyed Laurie’s stand-alones, I think especially Folly. Also, it’s very good for me, as a reader, to be forced to break free of the tyranny of a series and the characters therein. One does become a little too obsessed and stale I think. What can become true of the writer certainly can become true of the reader.

The story centres on Harry Stuyvesant, an American FBI agent – except not FBI, the other agency that preceded the FBI, the name of which escapes me at the moment, and I’m writing on the train (yes, the train now, because I had to keep going next trip) without the book at hand and no interwebz – who arrives in England to hunt for a bomber, a terrorist. His agenda is personal, so while he claims to be in England on official business, in reality it’s only semi-official. Harry’s search introduces him to an unpleasant man who operates in the background of British Intelligence, and he in turn directs Harry to a survivor of WW1, a shelling victim whose near-death experience has left him hyperaware of his surroundings, so aware it seems he can read minds. Our unpleasant Intelligence operative, Carstairs, covets this Bennet and his ability, to the point where he is almost blinded to everything else.

The idea of a person whose war experiences have left him supersensitive did, at first, strike me as more than a little naff, to be honest, and I blame that horrible tv series about the Vietnam veteran. You know, he’s developed superhearing and supersight in the jungle, and now he fights crime in that other jungle, the big city. And whenever he hears something four blocks away the camera sort of does this zoom-pan out-zoom-pan out thing that is really silly. As naff as Bionic Woman (or Man), the original. However, Laurie is a good enough writer to carry it off. Bennet is not naff. Actually. Nevertheless, I am not 100% happy with that theme, because I never really get into it as a main theme. The whole book is named after Bennet after all (the Touchstone), but somehow he never seems to really be the centre of things. Hm. But I am very tired and sleep-deprived, so I may be talking out of my arse.

The research is thorough, the writing is fluid, and I’m kept guessing about the culprit until the end (well done!). Nevertheless I found myself not completely riveted, and I’ve tried to think about why that might be. Possibly I expected something different, pure and simple, and was distracted from enjoying the book by those expectations.

Also, the book strikes me as a comment on current affairs in a sense (I think it sort of is, if I remember Laurie’s blog entries correctly, but again, I may well be mistaken), as it focuses on terrorism, bombings, what makes a terrorist and so on. Here, the terrorist is fuelled by the ideas of Anarchism. And since it is (a current-affairs-comment), I sometimes feel it slips into being just a tad too contemporary. There was a turn of phrase here or there that niggled at me.

However, I haven’t yet read a Laurie King I hated, and this certainly is no exception. Plus it’s SIGNED, which would make it a fave no matter what... I should take a photo. Maybe when I become a responsible adult.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I'm tinkering with the blog...

... while working on a Touchstone post. I'd better hurry up with that, because I have since reading it come a fair way through Antonia Quirke's Madame Depardieu and the Beautiful Strangers, and borrowed the latest Jasper Fforde at the library. I wanted to take photos too, because hey, there's an INSCRIPTION and EVERYTHING in the book. Oh I'm so pleased, still!

Anyway, this post serves mostly as an FYI to say that if you're searching for the labels they're at the bottom. I'm not happy with the labels thing at all, it's too long. And I can't be bothered to learn how to do proper web publishing stuff, which is stupid because then I could make the blog more "me". Actually, I think just taking more photos would help a lot... but then I'd have to find the camera on a regular basis.


Monday, April 07, 2008

I knew it

Dating services. AdSense - seems so good, in theory. Ah well, it can stay for now.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Mammon, servant of

I opened an AdSense account, mostly because I'm so curious and I want to see how it works. Not because I think I'll actually make money from it. *guffaw* Let me know if Google pick up on me mentioning sex in my posts and therefore must be wanting to sell sex toys or Russian wives. I'm still sceptical and don't trust this technology at all.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Amy Tan: Saving Fish from Drowning

I couldn't resist picking this paperback up at the library (together with Evanovich that last time), since I figured what with the new job requiring commuting I'd have all this reading time. However, despite this undoubtedly being true, I haven't read much. I've got a colleague who takes the bus with me most days so we talk, or I forget the book, or I'm so tired... excuses aplenty. Also, this book is a bit of a slow read, like wading through treacle. It hasn't grabbed me, I'm nearing the end, and I've started skimming to be rid of it.

I think part of the trouble is that the storyline differs a little from the Typical Tan (says the woman who's read all of two novels). Bibi Chen is murdered shortly before she was about to lead a group of her friends on a Buddhist art trip through China and into Burma. The friends go anyway, and Bibi's ghost follows and narrates the story for us. They end up being amicably kidnapped and disappear.

It seems like she was driven to write it so as to take a stance against the Burmese junta (emotionally understandable and absolutely commendable!). However, somehow the heart isn't there. By heart I don't mean the outrage against the atrocities - that's there - but the sincerity that comes of writing what you know. There is a farcical tone which I'm supposed to enjoy according to one of the cover blurbs, but I don't. It just confuses me.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Strage har så rätt så rätt

Läser DN på nätet, och fastnar för Fredrik Strages krönika. Heja Strage, du skriver bra krönikor tycker jag, men den här var ovanligt bra.

Och den ena repliken är egentligen inte mer korkad än den andra - i synnerhet inte när Duvalls ord citeras av en idiot som just eldat upp middagen. Ändå hamnade "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" på en hedervärd tolfteplats när American Film Institute listade de främsta filmreplikerna någonsin. "Nobody puts Baby in the corner" blev bara nummer 98.

Orättvist är vad det är. Och slutklämmen är också så rätt - faktiskt är Dirty Dancing en väldigt jämställd film. Sådana görs inte så ofta, tyvärr.

Hej, jag heter Bani, och jag gillar också Dirty Dancing.

PS: Nu fick jag markera texten i citatet och ändra till svart färg, för annars blir citaten i VIT text av någon outgrundlig anledning. Om någon klok människa vet hur man fixar det så hör av er.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Did I really WIN?

Oh my goodness, I can't describe how pleased this makes me! Scroll to the comments... Time for a happy dance I think! Luckily all my new co-workers are at lunch, so no-one is here to watch me jiggle...

Updates will follow.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Janet Evanovich: To The Nines

Okay, so I'd read it, but I reread it because why the hell not, and I hadn't blogged about it, so brief synopsis: the one where Stephanie has to find an Indian guest worker who has disapppeared, and ends up being stalked by carnation killer dude and goes to Las Vegas.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Another library failure

I borrowed Janet Evanovich's To The Nines yesterday - and I've read it. *stupid* Anyway, I got a job today so I can maybe afford to buy myself something fun to read instead. Hrmf.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Ken Bruen: The Guards

My sister lent me this. She’s bought it on recommendation. Apparently, according to the cover blurb, it’s “stunning”. Sigh. Allow me to rant for a moment on the current over-use of this word. STUNNING. I ask you. It’s bad enough that every. single. E-bay-seller seems to think that STUNNING is the definitive descriptive adjective, and that it must be included in all item titles. “Stunning wrap dress”, “Really stunning necklace”, “Stunning vintage skirt, gorgeous, L@@K”. Now I have to put up with it on book covers too. “Nominated for the Edgar Awards, the stunning first Jack Taylor novel.” Stunning. Did I fall over? Did I see stars? No I did not. Talk about a word being watered-down and losing its meaning and impact.

That said, it’s not terrible this. Jack Taylor is a former policeman and continous drunkard, who does a sort of P.I. thing, getting clients by word of mouth. A woman hires him to find out whether her daughter really committed suicide, and Jack discovers a form of conspiracy among the higher-ups, resulting in the genuine or forced suicides of young girls. I think. The precise nature of this conspiracy sort of eludes me now a month or so after finishing it, and frankly, the plot is not what I remember most about the novel. No, Bruen’s mellow yet pained story-telling, and his clipped but poetic language are much more memorable, not to mention a subtle tribute to both the new Ireland, with new ideas, new cultures and immigrants and less Church, and to the old Ireland, the old Galway, most notably its pubs. I’d recommend it, but with a warning – Bruen has this stylistic quirk, best descriped by my lack-of-sleep-addled brain by simply quoting examples:

She ignored this, sat on the bed. The room was cluttered with furry animals,

Pink bears

Pink frogs

Pink tigers

Leastways, I think that’s the colour. I wasn’t about to verify.

Malachy was like Sean Connery, minus

The tan

The golf.

You couldn’t call him a friend. Priests have other loyalties.

See what I mean? After a book of this my eye starts twitching, I swear. Fine, it’s certainly unique and memorable, but really.

Amy Tan: The Kitchen God’s Wife

A long time ago I read The Joy Luck Club and really liked it, but for some reason I never got around to reading more Amy Tan. However, the other day as I sat in the library working on job applications I just happened to be next to section T, and spotted the colourful covers out of the corner of my eye. So I plucked one and borrowed it (and made a mental note to some day read Quicksand by Tanisaki, but I got a deppresso-vibe off it so wasn’t in the mood that day).

The Kitchen God’s Wife is about Pearl’s mother Winnie, who has never told her daughter all the secrets about her former life, her Chinese life, when she was married to an abusive sadistic man. In classic Tan morality the secrets taint the relationship between mother and daughter and prevent them from understanding one another, so Pearl in turn has never told her mother about her MS diagnosis. However, other family members know and want mother and daughter to clear the air, so pressure is put on Winnie to come clean.

The greatest part of the book is therefore narrated by Winnie, who tells us about a life in a China that is now gone, about being the daughter of a rich man’s second wife, about being sent off to live with relatives, about being married off and discovering hell, about losing children and about war. I think Tan does a fabulous job of crossing that gap between Eastern and Western thinking – possibly it is her fellow Chinese-Americans who benefit the most from this, but her insights into a way of thinking and living that is very alien to us are educational to anyone. She is also a skilled storyteller and writer, plain and simple, and her books are easy and pleasant to read, despite the harrowing themes.

That said, I think her stories are too similar to stand up to binge reading, which is when you read everything an author has written that the library (or book shop, if you’re flush and have no shortage of shelf space) has available. (Note that I base this on having read two books only. So take it with a generous fistful of salt, I suppose.) I often binge read authors, but I don’t really recommend it. All the novels blur together, and you start getting annoyed with the author for “always writing the same thing”, which is ridiculous, because that is what a good writer does, writes about what he or she knows. Although Fay Weldon? She deserves the annoyance. Sorry. I’ve stayed annoyed with her for more that 15 years now.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Apparently the brain can only harbour a finite amount of information

I borrowed Clean Break by Val McDermid from the library, forgetting I'd already read it. And not realising until a chapter in. I read it before I started the blog (to remember what I've read), but I don't think it's an excuse.

However, today I impressed a Scottish fella on the bus by knowing where Fife is, thanks to Inspector Rebus. Don't let anyone tell you there is nothing to be learnt from crime fiction.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

This is the book my husband bought me for Christmas. Yes, I did actually finish it a long time ago, but have been waiting for some time to collect my thoughts properly. I have now admitted that this time will never come, so I might as well write what I can and ignore that pretentious nagging feeling at the back of my head, telling me that I shouldn’t bother unless I can produce world-class stuff. With that kind of thinking nothing gets done (like law thesises, incidentally – the lack of one with me as an author is weighing heavily on my mind lately; something needs to be done).

Special Topics of Calamity Physics is a real brick of a book, even as a paperback, with pages of laudatory quotes in the beginning. Our heroine, Blue, narrates in the first person from her college desk. She tells the story of what really happened to her during her dramatic senior year at high school in a small town. Blue has led an itinerary life together with her charismatic, highly intelligent and opinionated college professor father, after her mother’s death when she was a child. Since she’s changed schools several times every year she’s been rather isolated and has a close relationship to her father, who has trained and moulded her to be a prolific reader. Now she will spend her whole senior year in one school, to attain the goal of ending 1st and being chosen as valedictorian. Here she is drawn into a group of “cool kids” under the patronage of teacher Hannah Schneider, who is as charismatic and enigmatic as Blue’s own father in a way.

As the year progresses Blue becomes a part of the group, even though the other youngsters are resentful of her at first. She tries things she’s never tried before, drinking, make-up, she cuts and dyes her hair. After a man dies in an accident at a party at Hannah’s house, the relationship between her and the youngsters sours, and things start changing, ending in Hannah’s death (it’s okay to tell you, since Blue tells you in the beginning, don’t worry). So why did Hannah Schneider die, and how? This is what Blue sets out to tell you. I therefore first expected some sort of detective story. Half-way through the novel I’d come to the conclusion that it probably wasn’t crime fic at all but some sort of high school tale that Americans are so fond of, so when my husband asked me what I though of it when I was more than two-thirds through I held a long speech about how it seemed to be like Heathers, and I’m not sure I got it, since Heathers had been done dammit and what’s Christian Slater doing these days anyway. Then the book changed. I am not embarrassed to admit that I was really taken aback at the twist it took. I did not see it coming at all. However, I would like to point out that I couldn’t very well have predicted it, since some of the information needed isn’t given until towards the end (I may be wrong though. Remember, I read this with one hand while trying to nurse an interested baby most of the time.). So it turns out almost like a thriller at the end. A political thriller at that.

I’m not quite sure what to think of it all. It’s well written, to be sure. I have a slight quibble with the way Blue “footnotes” everything: she’ll describe someone and reference a book, to further clarify what she means I suppose, which is one way to emphasise how well-read she is, but still breaks up my reading flow a little. It’s clever though, and certainly different. Last book I read with such an extensive and unusual use of footnotes was Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. But did I like it? Did I enjoy it? Do I think about it now and then? I’m still not sure, and now it’s almost three months since I finished it. I didn’t think I was so rigid in my thinking, that I wanted books that fit into a certain mold, yet I was a bit annoyed with the sudden genre change towards the end. Would I recommend it? Yes, I think I would. I didn’t enjoy it as much I did Donna Tartt’s first novel (note to self – read the second one some day, even if it got worse reviews), and I compare the two because… well, there are similarities after all. But it did interest me, and if nothing else other people have to read it so I can discuss it with somebody.