Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Daniel Åberg: Dannyboy och kärleken

Den andra bokcirkelboken! Det är träff ikväll, så hög tid att blogga om den. För övrigt har jag läsförbud tills jag bloggat klart det som ligger och släpar. Numera finns det en Allers i väskan, för korsorden. Och en hög böcker hemma som väntar.

Det är inte ofta jag tar mig för att läsa ny (nåja, relativt ny. 2006 eller nåt, det är väl ganska färskt?) roman av en ung svensk författare, så det var roligt det här. Dessutom har romanen Uppsalaanknytning, och som bonus även Sandvikenanknytning, vilket är skoj om man har lite känningar i de trakterna. Vilket jag har, men mest min man. Som dock inte verkade fatta det roliga när jag bad honom läsa Sandvikenbitarna? Märkligt.

Huvudpersonen är kanske ett alter ego till Daniel Åberg, som själv är uppvuxen i Sandviken och har pluggat i Uppsala. Vi får inte veta hans namn, men senare i boken ett smek-/öknamn sedan gymnasietiden. Boken inleds med att han, i full frackmundering, springer genom Uppsala och hoppar på Stockholmståget utan vare sig pengar eller biljett. Väl i Stockholms tunnelbana stoppar han en tjej från att kasta sig framför tåget, och när de stulit Alexander Bards plånbok har de flera tusenlappar att lägga på en natts festande. Nutiden varvas med återblickar från hans studentliv i Uppsala (mestadels). På det här viset cirklar de runt varandras ursprungsproblem (varför flykten? varför självmordsförsöket?) och kommer slutligen till en insikt om att det inte går att fly.

Trots att jag hade rätt roligt när jag läste den känns det inte helt klockrent detta. I början fick jag definitivt lite "kartvarningskänsla" och upplevde att Åberg specificerade alldeles för mycket var någonstans i Uppsala vi befann oss - något jag avskyr - men den känslan avtog, så jag är inte helt säker på om jag bara inbillade mig. I slutändan vet jag helt enkelt inte om jag blev så intresserad. Det var kul, men inte så engagerande egentligen. Vad vill han? Hm, ska bli intressant att höra vad de andra tycker.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst: Trick or Treatment?

This is for one of the book discussion clubs. I nearly bought it, but the library had it in (in Swedish) so I borrowed it instead. It is the kind of book that theoretically is good to own, but after reading it I'm not sure I'm that bothered. I find the subject terribly interesting, but there was something lacking from the book. The idea of it all is that Singh and Ernst review different alternative health treatments to see if they have any effect or if people are just wasting their money. The basis for their review is a scientific approach and evidence based medicine, terminology which they explain quite thoroughly. Their target reader seems definitely to be the people who are more inclined to want an alternative treatment than conventional medicine, so they need to explain why we need to use certain methods - like randomized blind studies -  to discover if a treatment is working, and how history has shown that this is the better approach and not the traditional way of, well, guessing and trusting tradition. This is sadly repeated time and time again. Maybe it works better in English, the same way that inane pop lyrics work in English. I found it a bit repetitive. While I don't doubt their findings, I felt as though they didn't really trust me to understand them, and I would have liked a more science-paper-style book on the whole. With footnotes, so I could see where the source material came from, not just a reading list at the end. I would also have liked a more in-depth look at why people opt for homeopathy rather than actual medicine. The authors do touch on the idea that people are disillusioned with "scientific" medicine after scandals such as the thalidomide one, but I would have liked more. So maybe I'm not after more science then, maybe I'm after more philosophy.

Promising, but for me it didn't live up to the hype.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Terry Pratchett: Jingo

Another one from my little sister. She has looooots of Terry Pratchett, so I asked her to recommend a funny one because I find the quality varies. She likes the books about the guards of the Watch, so this is one of them. I have another one waiting that I'll start on tomorrow (but before you get to read about that one I have to blog about the two book discussion club books I've read inbetween).

This is one about an island mysteriously rising from the ocean, and how Ankh-Morpork and their neighbouring country Klatch both claim it. War brews. Assassinations take place under the eye of the Commander of the Watch. How to solve this.

Bits of this are hi-la-ri-ou-ssssss indeed. The butler going to war and switching between servile mode and rabid plutoon commander mode is very funny. In general though it can seem a little cramped. I'm not always sure I've grasped the whys and whatfors. Good entertainment though. Three cheers!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

John Connolly: The Book of Lost Things

I had not heard of Connolly before borrowing this book from li'l sis, but apparently he has written some crime fic, and I'll be sure to check it out since the library has it in. (This book contains criminal acts, but since the crimes are mostly committed by a fairy tale character I think we won't call it crime fic even in the loosest sense of the word.)

Reading this after reading the similarly themed shambles that was The War of the Flowers was very interesting. This is a much more researched and well-planned book in many ways, utilising the dark horror of original versions of fairytales, giving them a bit of a spin, and weaving it all together into a story about growing up and about loss. And sorrow of course, sorrow comes with loss.

Set at the beginning of WW2, we meet David, a boy of about 12, just as his mother is dying. The disease works at her slowly and painfully, and David escapes into books and OCD, thinking that his counting habits and rituals will somehow protect her. His father meets another woman so soon that David subconsciously realises that the affair went on while his mother was alive, leaving him feeling that there is really no-one he can trust, who is on his side. When Rose, the new woman, becomes pregnant, they all move to her family's house outside London, since it's safer. It's a big house, and David gets the room in the attic that used to belong to a boy called Jonathan, who also loved to read and who tragically disappeared together with his foster sister, many years ago. The birth of a demanding baby brother creates even more tensions in the new family. David feels unwanted, and starts to hear the books talking to each other. He also sees a strange man sometimes, a crooked man whom he perceives as somehow threatening. One night David finds the crossing into another world and goes through. The fairytale land is not what he expected. Talking wolves, trying to be human, are ravaging the land, and there are other monsters. David's journey on the way to see the King becomes a quest. He grows up. On the way he meets many characters from stories and tales, but with a twist. Some are horrifying, and in general there is a lot of blood and gore in this book. It's not gratuitious though - the original fairy tales were much darker than the versions we read today, and this is what Connolly taps into. David finally reaches the King, and completes his quest and gets home. Getting home does not mean a happy ending though. The last chapter tells us how David's adult life turns out, and how all his loved ones do die in the end. It's terribly sad and moving, yet ends with a sweet hopeful scene. 

The second half of the book is an interview with Connolly about the book, and an explanation to the fairy tales behind some of the themes in the book, plus the original stories. It's very interesting on the whole. On the annoying level (there's always something) - sometimes the book feels "off", like it's anachronistic or something, but the only think I spotted for sure was David making a reference to a tingling in his hand that feels like poison ivy. Which surely is nothing an English boy has experienced? Anyway, recommended to anyone who enjoys fairy tales. I was reminded of when my friend E's husband, a teacher, once complained about their school librarian's stupidity in not understanding what books to order when the teachers were working with the students on fairy tales. Instead of getting original versions of Grimm's collections or similar, she got Astrid Lindgren. Lame! This book though would have made an good addition to the theme.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Tad Williams: The War of the Flowers

I have a younger brother and sister who unlike me got more into the fantasy reading after Tolkien, whereas I sampled some of it and decided that it was pointless, because it couldn't hold a candle to The Lord of the Rings. I read the first, maybe the first two actually, of a David Eddings' series for example, and got bored when I realised this would never end. Which is odd, because part of what you want when you read this type of escapist literature is for it to never end, obviously. But I think I saw the difference in quality between a trilogy that is really one book - where the different climactic, pivotal events are spread out so the series has a certain pre-planned tempo and their significance is well thought through - and a series that is really just a fantasy soap. Soaps can grab my attention for a short time, but I tire quickly. I resent being shackled to the story, I resent never seeing the end.

So anyway, my brother and sister felt differently and got into the entertainment that is fantasy serials. Through them I was introduced to the Otherland chronicles (note this: important fantasy term!), an earlier work of Williams's that really impressed me when I read it in.... well, I don't remember exactly... turn of the century sometime? (it is SO COOL to be able to write that about MY life!). The War of the Flowers is of a later date, but has the similar idea of a person/persons from our world being transported into another world, another kind of universe. Otherland is set in the near future, where we go online into a virtual universe, using avatars of ourselves to move about in a more literal version of real life - your avatar walks into the virtual shopping centre and takes things off shelves, etc. A wealthy group of individuals have created an incredibly varied and realistic virtual world, into which children are being lured (can't remember why, more on that later), causing them to become comatose in the real world. I thought it was very clever, having the fantasy part, the secondary universe, as a computer programme, and also I thought the description of the future was great - not too much difference (no hovercars), and based for the most part in Africa, thus allowing Africa to be something else than the mud-hut place of starving children.

In The War of the Flowers we meet Theo, who is too old, 30-something, to be the musician-waiting-for-a-break/delivery boy that he is. When his girlfriend miscarries, and his mother wastes away in cancer, Theo wants to reassess his life. Before he gets to do that, a Tinkerbell-sized fairy arrives and brings him through a portal to Faerie. He is wanted there by several factions, but nobody tells him why. Faerie is confusing and much violent and cruel than Theo had thought. He learns that the King and Queen died a long time ago, and that since then the seven most powerful noble families have taken control. All the other fairy species are under their thumb. To get the magic needed to fuel Faerie - magic that the King and Queen could generate by themselves - they use slave labour in factories, to suck the magic out of them. It's a not-very-thinly-veiled critique of our exploitation of the planet and fellow men, basically.

Anyway, so. Tad Williams. The man likes to write a lot of words. My sister lent me this and a pile of other books (so watch this space as I go through them - I'm on the next one in the pile now and it's another fantasy-trip-into-fairystoryland so comparisons are interesting!) and she said "well, his problem is that he's a bit wordy". And so he is. This book could EASILY have been half as long, without suffering for it. Also, if we're doing modern versions of mythology, let's just face it: Neil Gaiman does the best work. I'm not getting into the who was first debate though, they're both pretty contemporary. But Williams's violence and cruelty lack the bite that Gaiman's work has. Gaiman makes his characters more believable and true, so the reader cares more and takes it seriously. Theo is one of the most annoying characters ever. The sprite that brings him across calls him thick all the time, and she's right. Good God. He seems to exist purely to ask stupid questions so that stupid readers can get e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. explained. I find it very depressing that Williams finds his readers so moronic. For example, we come across characters with the surname Daisy. Then some called weft-Daisy. This is not explained. After some chapters something is mentioned on the aside about fathering children on the weft side. Since we are not idiots we now understand what weft means. Theo however goes another few chapters I think before asking outright and getting the full explanation. Why? Why bog down a fairly entertaining fantasy story with this? Was this in any way a loose end? No it was not. It was detail that helped us make up an imaginary, believable secondary universe. We wouldn't understand everything if you dropped us in Beijing either - you don't have to explain!

That is just one example of many many many. This tedious lengthening of the stories just causes me to forget heaps of details. Otherland deteriorated in the last few books (I think there are four?), so I can't remember what the actual point of it all was.

Okay, this is a bit more than the book deserves. I get a little worked up, and that's because it could be so much better. And because I liked Otherland despite it all, and this I can't like. Disappointing!