Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Time is running out.

By the third of May I am to have read The Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao for my book discussion club. I don't have the book yet. The suspense is tangible.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Utterly utterly down in the dumps.

I was meant to go on a long-awaited and much-anticipated trip to England this week, but volcano ashes put a stop to it. It's very unfair and I feel very hard done by - I'd been looking forward to it so much, and I hardly ever get to travel. Plus I've lost money on it, which is very upsetting.

All in a trivial, industrialised-nation way, of course. But I really am sad.

In my childhood I used to always escape into books when I was down, preferably something homely and familiar like Enid Blyton. I don't feel the same urge now (possibly because I don't think it will work). Although I wouldn't say no to a stack - a STACK - of vintage crime. Do I have any? No. And part of looking forward to my trip was thinking about the possible second-hand bookshops there, just brimming with old Cyril Hares, Patricia Wentworths, Ngaoi Marshes.

I read a Patricia Wentworth recently, a book called The Silent Pool that I bought off Tradera a while ago and saved. It was enjoyable in it's own way, but the killer turned out to be the same type of character as in another one I read, so it was predictable. It's about a rich former theatre star who thinks someone is trying to kill her, and her suspicions are confirmed when murder is done and it is obvious that the killer thought it was her. Nothing special, but grand for it's purpose.

I've also read a very disappointing Kazuo Ishiguro collection of short stories, Nocturnes. Oh why can not a favourite author remain perfect? This was dull. The meticulous, careful, detailed and simple language that works so well in Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day feels bland, trite and almost contrived. Very disappointing. There is an overall theme to the short stories, namely music, and some of the characters appear in more than one, but I don't get that carefully crafted Shortcuts effect, I just feel meh.

Oh I just feel meh in general. But at least I've done my blogging duty.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Neil Gaiman: The Graveyard Book

Oh I think I like Gaiman's children's books the best, and I even think I've pinpointed why: he can't be too long-winded in a children's book. He is forced to be a little briefer, and it's for the good. I loved this story about a toddler who escapes the massacre of his family and is adopted by the ghosts in the nearby old graveyard. It's beautifully imaginative, yet has familiar characters - ghouls, werewolves, possibly vampires - that are all given the Gaiman touch. Very scary and doesn't shy away from the brutal truth (the killer wiping the blood from his knife as he goes upstairs to find the baby), and I think children sometimes need to read stories like this that send a genuine tingle of horror down their spines, to process all the horror they read every day in the headlines.

Very pleased. One quibble: we kinda glide over the whole evil guild of assassins thing really. It just suddenly appears and then is resolved. But for a kid's book that's fine.

Monday, April 12, 2010

P. G. Wodehouse: Something Fresh

A while ago I visited one of Uppsala's newest libraries, in the new "cultural centre" in Stenhagen. It's still very sparsely stocked with books, so I wandered around a bit and felt a little sad when I saw that the English fiction all fit into pretty much one shelf. If I want to donate some books I'll know which library to prioritise, clearly. Anyway, I did borrow this and two more: a short story collection by Ishiguro and a children's novel by Gaiman. So not all bad!

I read this one first, on the sly (trying to fool myself that I wasn't really reading in defiance of my self-imposed ban). It's the first of the so-called Blandings novels, which means that Blandings Castle and its inhabitants stand somehow at it's centre. It's the usual Wodehouse thing, with a young couple falling in love and the necessity to recover a stolen something (in this case a rare Egyptian scarab).

What struck me was how modern it was. The young hero and heroine are both working people, trying to make a living writing for cheap magazines and struggling with it. There is talk of emancipation and the struggle for the vote. It is taken for granted that people will want to choose freely whom to marry. It feels a little as though it's 15 years before its time, at least. Definitely recommended on this fact alone. I had to struggle to put the characters in the right type of clothes in my imagination!

It was apparently first printed in the US which explains why prices are sometimes given in dollars and sometimes in pounds. Bit so-so on the editing in general, but then he was a productive gentleman and didn't perhaps have time for cleaning up his manuscripts.

Cute and funny, I liked it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Carl-Johan Vallgren: Den vidunderliga kärlekens historia/The Horrific Sufferings of the Mind Reading Monster Hercules Barefoot: His Wonderful Love And His Terrible Hatred

This is one of the few Swedish books my sister owns. She got it from our aunt - most likely an open attempt to force her to read more in her second mother tongue, but it worked. My sister enjoyed it, to her surprise, so she recommended it to me when I last was on a borrowing spree.

Now, it's a skilful book - hang on, I just realised I was writing in English. I hadn't meant to - the curse of being bilingual! Well, I'm not going back to change what I've written, I'm too tired. It'll stay in English... so... adding the title for the translation... there, and here's the link to an "about the book" page. Back in business. By the way, this is the author's homepage, one of those monstrosities where they think we have they energy to wait for things to load. We don't. Like I was saying, skilful book, yet I wasn't that blown away because it reminded me of something else I've read and I can't pinpoint what. Possibly P O Enquist, and if so Enquist to my taste is much better, even though I had issues with the one book I've read  (ha ha ha) that I linked to there. So it didn't grip me altogether, plus I always hate when a storyline has a huge Catholic priest conspiracy with evil killer priests. Boring boring boring. I would recommend it though, it's worth a read, but it's very personal whether you really enjoy it or not I'd say.

Fredrik Falk: Överlevnadshandbok för cyklister

Lånade denna lilla skrift på måfå för att jag råkade gå förbi den på bibblan, och trodde att det skulle vara ett fyndigt litet debattinlägg. Men det är en ganska självgod, överdriven och ooriginell historia. Med en hel del goda poänger, visserligen, men alldeles för mycket "putslustigheter" av den typen som får mig att misstänka en överkonsumtion av Grönköpings Veckoblad.

Men jag ska skriva en sak jag gillade, och det var påpekandet att man ska betrakta övergångsställen som en fortsättning på trottoaren som råkar korsas av en bilväg. Det är med andra ord gångvägen som är huvudled. Ingen bilist skulle väl ha något problem med att väja för en huvudled avsedd för bilar? Man ska tänka om helt enkelt. Det var bra.

Boken är för övrigt försenad till biblioteket, tillsammans med Dannyboy och Kvacksalveri. Jäkla skit, jag har hyrt böckerna.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Terry Pratchett: Monstrous Regiment

I quite liked this one - I think as a general rule I quite like the Discworld books with female main characters. He's quite the feminist our Terry and does a good job of describing a woman rebelling against her traditional lot.

In Monstrous Regiment we meet Polly who joins the Borogravian army, disguised as a boy, to try to find her brother Paul. Borogravia is a country forever picking fights with its neighbours and suffering under the increasingly arbitrary commandments of their god, Nuggan, who has condemned a million things. This includes women in the army, but also red hair and garlic.

Polly's new regiment includes a vampire, a troll and an Igor, apart from a selection of humans - one of whom is extremely religious and claims to speak to the Duchess (the by now almost mythical leader who acts as a go-between to Nuggan). Gradually Polly begins to suspect that she is not the only woman (this is not a spoiler, given the title of the book). They also discover they aren't doing so badly on the fighting front, and that someone is clearly frightened of them, and someone else looking out for them.

There are many very funny and clever bits in this Discworld novel, from the satirical portrayal of military brass and religion to the character spins - Pratchett's trolls and vampires are in their own league. My one quibble is that I didn't really understand the end, but I was in a rush then and skimmed it (not expecting him to want to Say Something). I may re-read it.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

More on Trick or Treatment

Not being allowed to read (which I've done anyway, so I'm going to try to blog quickly now at work before my train leaves) led me to buy a woman's magazine for the crosswords. There are four or so main ones of this inexpensive type in Sweden. They contain recipes and some crafts, cheap serial stories (preferably with an historical theme), crosswords (natch), "ask the doctor", "ask the lawyer", "ask the therapist", "ask the psychic", true-life stories and pictures of people's grandchildren.

These magazines are always full of alternative cure articles. "I never thought I'd be rid of the pain, but [insert alternative therapy here] saved me!" Granted, there is always a doctor's opinion too, but in general these articles cater to these masses of women out there with aches and pains that the medical profession has ignored for years "because they're only old women". It annoys me to hell that all these people feel that alternative therapies are the only solution for them.

The article in my copy was about acupuncture increasing the chances of successful IVF treatment.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Happy Easter!

A quick pop-in to wish everyone a wonderful holiday, whether you celebrate or not. In Norway I know they have a tradition of reading crime fiction over Easter - sadly I can't participate because I'm still not allowing myself to read until I'm finished blogging about the ones that I have read. But I strongly recommend everyone to make Norway proud if you happen to have a few days off. Go for it.

Now - off to Mass. Soon!