Monday, December 02, 2013

Reading tips for me

I want all the books mentioned here.

I have read Brat Farrar and as usual love Josephine Tey, but I've never read anything by Mary Stewart so am very excited at the hint of a possible new favourite. Patricia Wentworth is good entertainment of course, but as Ela writes she's not the greatest author at all. Still, I'd like to read the trio together like Ela did and compare!

Josephine Tey - Brat Farrar

Mary Stewart - The Ivy Tree

Patricia Wentworth - The Traveller Returns

I miss this blog.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Lev Grossman: The Magicians

So I read about this in the paper, and decided that it sounded much to fun to miss. And it is fun, I really enjoyed it. It's so clearly and unashamedly influenced and inspired by boarding school books in general and Harry Potter especially, by Narnia, by every fantasy book like ever. It's pretty fantastic that Grossman holds it all together and really modernizes the genre without straying too far into urban fantasy (which he doesn't do, IMO).

The young magicians of the story have been taken from ordinary, mundane lives to go to Brakebills, a college of magic. It's old-fashioned, full of rigid rules, anglomanic. Classic boarding school stuff, complete with blazers and including a special made-up pseudo-British accent full of phrases like "hard cheese, old boy". However, being a magician doesn't not make you an adolescent/young adult. They drink, they have sex, they make stupid mistakes. And in the end, they go to another plane, another magical land, the one they've all read about as children and never imagined might be real, Fillory. It's a coming of age story, and a growing up story. It's honest and brutal and bloody, yet sweet. If it weren't for the fact that the final scenes has one of the women dressed in a leather bustier that she's spilling out of, while floating outside a skyscraper window, I'd be very impressed. Now I'm a little worried that Grossman is a shallow person writing for a dream screenplay. (If it is filmed, please God let it be good. Slow, a bit scruffy, with a lot of quiet. And take infinite care over the scene where the Beast comes from another plane and holds them all hostage, silently, in the classroom for hours. That is some good storytelling there.)

I've put in a reservation for the second book at the library.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Almost 3 for the price of 1

So I read my first mapback, Death In Five Boxes by Carter Dickson. It is really not very good, but then I'm no Carter Dickson/John Dickson Carr fan. The mystery is contrived, the detective hero is exaggerated which makes him a charicature and not a character, and come to think of it not one character in the book is fleshed out enough to be a real, believable person. I trudged through it, mentally comparing it to The Singing Sands that I read just before and thinking Jesus, THERE IS NO COMPARISON yet Dickson's/Carr's name is often mentioned among the classics while Tey is more forgotten. It's the locked room thing. Him and his fecking locked rooms. Haha, just saw that Wikipedia has a great quote from a critic in its article on the book:
"As usual, Carter Dickson's plot is extremely complicated and it depends on a variety of gimmicks, most of which are barely plausible. One good one is the method of poisoning the White Lady cocktails without anybody's going near the shaker or the glasses. For the rest, the dialogue is in the worst style of false excitement and byplay, particularly the part allotted to the egregious Sir Henry Merrivale, who calls everybody "son" and yells "shut up" whenever he is stumped. The early portion is dull, the middle chaotic, and the end interminable."


Directly after Death in Five Boxes I picked up the other mapback, Rinehart's The Window at the White Cat and wow, immediately drawn in by engaging writing and characters - NO COMPARISON. I was actually so offended by how much more enjoyable these two women writers were compared to the one man that I put the book away thinking I'd postpone reading it until I could write a detailed, exhaustive, comparative analysis of the three books in manner of highly intelligent well-read academic person. Since this obviously isn't going to happen, unfortunately, we'll settle for just writing about them, shall we. And I'll just finish the damn book this week.

While I read The Singing Sands I made mental notes of about twenty places I'd have liked to quote, and now sadly it's been a while and I've forgotten. But it's just gorgeous. There are so many period details which make it so interesting if you're the slightest bit into retro, and Alan Grant is just fantastic. The books starts with him being on sick leave for panic attacks connnected with claustrophobia. He heads up to Scotland to his cousin and her husband. Just as he's getting off the train after a sleepless, tortured night, the carriage attendant discovers a dead body in one of the sleeping compartments. Grant can't let this mystery go, and thinking about it distracts him enough to help cure his, well, mental illness we'd say now. The mental illness is treated with respect and delicacy, all things considered. I see on Wikipedia that this was found among her papers after she died and published posthumously. How I wish, selfishly, that she'd lived and written more. I don't know how much this was edited before publishing, but it's pretty perfect and doesn't feel unfinished.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Katy books

Ah, what everyone loves - a crap photo post! I really am the worst at photographs, I know. This one was shot in my window at work this morning while waiting for the computer to warm up, and you can just barely make out the covers, can't you? Mad skills.

I thought I'd given these books away. When we were moving, I agreed to let go of my collection of what in Swedish is called flickböcker and in English... I don't know offhand... books for girls anyway. The genre encompasses Little Women and Anne of Green Gables and Nancy Drew etc. Girls' series books? Google isn't being very helpful. Anyway, when I was little I used to go to a book shop on the way to church every week and spend my pocket money on second hand books, and a lot of these were girls' fiction about plucky good heroines and their adventures. I've held on to these books for years and years (with some very sparse culling), and finally agreed to give the final ones up last year provided my husband passed them on to his colleague who more seriously collects them. I'm so sure I wrote a post about this but I can't find it (maybe the post was in my head, sure I never get a proper chance to write these days). But he forgot! So I found them all in a plastic bag only the other day. Ha! And that prompted me to read them online as ebooks in English, because as you can see my copies were in Swedish.

There's so much written about Susan Coolidge's novels online I don't need to be elaborate. I've always been aware that they are classics even though I've never met anyone in the flesh I think who has actually read them, but for some reason I never actually bothered to look her or her bibliography up before. Therefore I was surprised to learn that the three I have are not the only ones about the Carr family. I didn't find a free copy of Nine Little Goslings online, but I found one of Clover, so I read that after re-reading What Katy Did, What Katy Did at School and What Katy Did Next. The photo shows my books in that order left to right. Note the cover art. The book in the middle, What Katy Did at School, has my favourite cover, and it was the only one that helped me somewhat place the books historically. The other two are much too modern and I remember as a child being mightily confused by these pictures when what was going on in the story was clearly happening a Long Time Ago (ca 1860s if you're asking). They are also fugly. I might get rid of these, nostalgia be damned, and look for copies in English instead. The middle one is pretty, and the colours and style do somewhat capture the books better.

I read these over and over. I wanted to be like Katy, loved and respected by her siblings and  everyone. I delighted in descriptions of Christmas boxes full of delicious treats for the boarding school, of pretty embroidered hankies and bouquets of flowers decorating every room. (As an adult I can see that Katy and her siblings are really much more interesting for the first half of the first book, before Katy is injured and reforms, but as a child I loved it all.) Any book with a description of a happy family was sure to seduce me of course (which meant that boarding school books were shoo-ins what with happy families at home AND happy family of friends at school - double win!).

Books like these have been derided for the message they allegedly send to young girls of docility, virginity and domesticity - but the problem isn't so much the message as the fact that only girls partook of it. The values (bar virginity perhaps, a value so taken for granted it's never even on the table for debate) are on the whole universal: be kind, be respectful, be neat, be considerate. The novels do in a way also stress what sort of values a woman should hold as ideal in a husband - and there is something refreshing about that in this shallow age where women are still taught to always keep looking for The One (man) but the brief on what he should be like focuses on his appearance or sexiness. Compared to what boys learned while reading Jack London (fuck him) this is grand. 

Speaking of Jack London - I obviously can't plead enlightenment on behalf of these books when it comes to questions of race. I think I counted two black people in all four - nothing disparaging said or anything but they clearly don't count at all. The worst bit is when they are talking about an old school friend who is now a teacher in the Indian Territories and they discuss how no Indian would take her scalp what with that smelly pomade she uses. Charming, I don't think. At the same time it is representative of how white people actually did think at the time, and sure I'm always complaining about modern books about the past in which the authors can't bear their main characters to be unenlightened but instead write them as pro-integration, pro-gay, pro-everything about a hundred years before this is at all likely. No, this is what the past was like. If we're charmed by the old-fashioned values of gentleness and politeness we'll just have to be more civilized here in 2013 and extend it to everyone, won't we.

Sometimes they can be surprisingly modern. I've often seen, on Facebook or forums, people (women) sharing quotes from old housekeeping books aimed at new wifes; the type with helpful hints like "help your husband put on his slippers when he comes home, he is tired after a hard day at work". Okay, I made that quote up, but it COULD BE TRUE. Here is a quote from Clover, as they read aloud from one such book that Katy receives as a wedding gift:

It proved to contain a small volume bound in white and gold, entitled, "Advice to Brides." On the fly-leaf appeared this inscription:—
To Katherine Carr, on the occasion of her approaching bridal, from her affectionate teacher,
Marianne Nipson.
1 Timothy, ii. 11.
Clover at once ran to fetch her Testament that she might verify the quotation, and announced with a shriek of laughter that it was: "Let the women learn in silence with all subjection;" while Katy, much diverted, read extracts casually selected from the work, such as: "A wife should receive her husband's decree without cavil or question, remembering that the husband is the head of the wife, and that in all matters of dispute his opinion naturally and scripturally outweighs her own." Or: "'A soft answer turneth away wrath.' If your husband comes home fretted and impatient, do not answer him sharply, but soothe him with gentle words and caresses. Strict attention to the minor details of domestic management will often avail to secure peace." And again: "Keep in mind the epitaph raised in honor of an exemplary wife of the last century,—'She never banged the door.' Qualify yourself for a similar testimonial."
"[Katy] never does bang doors," remarked Amy, who had come in as this last "elegant extract" was being read. "No, that's true; she doesn't," said Clover. "Her prevailing vice is to leave them open. I like that truth about a good dinner 'availing' to secure peace, and the advice to 'caress' your bear when he is at his crossest. Ned never does issue 'decrees,' though, I fancy; and on the whole, Katy, I don't believe Mrs. Nipson's present is going to be any particular comfort in your future trials. Do read something else to take the taste out of our mouths. We will listen in 'all subjection.'"

There, you see - nobody appreciated those books. And young girls reading the Katy books could be told that they are full of nonsense even then.

When reading old novels like these it's so much fun to see how the people who lived then clearly thought that civilization had reached it's absolute apex. Miss Nightingale had reformed nursing with her modern ideas on hygiene and order, there were telegraphs and even telephones! steamers! trains that raced along at 30 miles per hour! Things could hardly improve after all this!

So I ended up bringing these to my book club, which has been dormant for a while. To reinvigorate it we decided to each talk about something we'd read since last time and then set a new date and pick a new book (it ended up being one by Denise Mina, could be interesting). I don't know if I converted/reinspired anyone to read vintage girls' fiction, but I did try... It was so good to see everyone again, all together. I'm looking forward to next meeting in October!

Thursday, August 22, 2013


The library texted me that my reservation is in, Lev Grossman's The Magicians. I read about it in the paper and decided that it needed to be checked out. A quick google gives me lots of blog write-ups so I'd have heard of it before if I read other book blogs which I don't because it's too depressing since mine is a bit shite and also so many books so little time etc. I mean, I'm currently upset about not having had a proper chance of writing about The Singing Sands and Death in Five Boxes and also The Window at the White Cat (which I actually stopped reading so I'd feel pressured to write about the other two first). Bla bla bla, no fun at all.   

Friday, August 02, 2013

So, I did it...

... after all, they're collectibles. I may never have another chance to get them. Googling finds me much dearer copies (if I include postage).

The fronts: 

They are so PRETTY.  The backs:

Closeup of the back of Death in Five Boxes by Carter Dickson:

No closeup of The Window at the White Cat by Mary Roberts Rinehart because I neglected to get a good one, but how about the insides?

I love them so much. Am reading Death in Five Boxes now. 

Bonus picture: they had paperbacks of some Agatha Christies in an edition that my mother owned at least one of, Evil Under the Sun, the one on the left. Also great cover art. That brings back memories. 
Pardon the reflections, I can't take pictures worth a damn.

The one I didn't read

Like I said, cool cover art but I wasn't gripped at all. Gave it up. By cool I mean genuinely retro, you understand, not perhaps artistically pioneering. Anywhoo, despite glowing front blurb (sorry, hard to see) I found it dull. A bit too pastischy?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Dell Mystery paperbacks

Remember this post? I never got those paperbacks, even though they were lovely. As I wrote in the post, I'm not paying 50 kr for them. That was thinking they were Agatha Christies though. As you can see, the one on the far left is a John Dickson Carr called Death in Five Boxes. Now that one I saw as a possible it turned out, when I went in yesterday just to browse and saw that they still had two books left. They must have had loads in that I just didn't see at the time, but now there were too, this one and a Mary Roberts Rhinehart. Anyway, I decided that ok, I'll splurge on them. Go to the counter and your man says 175 kr please. What? Oh no, that pencilled "50 kr" on the inside isn't from us. Our price is here (pointing) and our price is 80 for the Dickson Carr and 95 for the Rhinehart (I think it was). Good grief. So I said sorry, I'll have to think about it. In my shock I walked out and realised I should have taken new photos of them, because I missed the backs last time - and the backs, my they're so adorable. They have little drawings of the layout of the murder scene and so on. It's all like a lovely vintage Cluedo game. I image-googled quickly and though you can see a lot of examples of the cover art you can't see any back covers, mores the shame. I'm going to see if I can get a photo today. If it's not the same fella behind the counter.

... Hang on now. While I'm writing I'm googling. They're called "mapbacks" apparently. LMGTFY again ... Oh, now I feel foolish. On Wikipedia no less. They are so pretty ... I'll have to think and google and see of they're worth it.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Not reading and re-reading

I "read" two books that I gave up on, one Simon Brett (The Murder in the Museum) which was as usual with a Brett mediocre and I have no tolerance for that type of nonsense at the moment so remind me not to bother ever again and am now re-reading Josephine Tey, The Singing Sands. I have a second hand copy with a ludicrous cover, viz.

Love the font, but the picture? Ha. I'll have to get back to a proper post on this, because I checked my archives and I haven't blogged about this one at all. It's worth a post.

Speaking of covers, one of the books I didn't read has a retro-cheesy cover deserving a photo, so I'm going to do a post for it later which is why I didn't bother writing more now.

 Reading Josephine Tey after Simon Brett is like ... like ... a drink of water when you're thirsty, if you'll excuse a worn metaphor. Such a difference in depth of writing. Brett must assume all his readers are pretty much illiterate. (I'm feeling snarky.)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Jacqueline Winspear: Among the Mad

Took it out of the library on a whim when I borrowed the Flynn book, even though I'm not that keen on the Maisie Dobbs series at all. God, she's so annoyingly perfect. This one is about finding a man threatening to commit some sort of act of biological terrorism, including making profiles and so on way before her time. If Maisie Dobbs could be more of a real person, I'd be very grateful plz thx, also the novels don't have to have such an irritating way of attempting to educate you on a Historical Fact, in this case care of the mentally ill in the 1930s.

Right after this I re-read Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers, and the contrast between the two  doesn't favour Winspear does it. I also had several thoughts about it that I wanted to write down in the blog but couldn't get computer time so now I've forgotten. I hate my life. But I love Gaudy Night.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Gillian Flynn: Dark Place

Come summer Swedish newspapers and magazines that have a literature section/page always have an obligatory "time for crime fiction" feature. Come any holiday, now that I think about it; whenever we have some time off. (Speaking of time off: my new job that I started today doesn't do what we in Swedish call squeeze days, so I won't be getting any more of those lovely long weekends that I feel is AN OFFICE WORKER'S PRIVILEGE. Dammit!) Anyway, this book was mentioned in one of said features recently, and the write-up interested me so I got it from the library. I'm basically avoiding reading Wolf Hall.

This book has been praised for its prose, it's a remarkably literary crime story. When Libby Day was a child her brother murdered her whole family - her mother and two older sisters. Libby's testimony put him in prison. Since then she has lived off money donated by strangers to help the poor orphan, but now that money has run out. Hoping to sell family trifles to crime collectors, she agrees to meet with a group of hobby investigators who believe her brother is innocent. And of course, the question is: if he is innocent - then who killed her family? And will she be in danger looking for the real murderer?

The book starts off really well. It is more a story of Libby's survival than the usual detection stuff, and it's both sad, poignant and bitter. Libby isn't a great person, but who can blame her? Gillian Flynn certainly has a knack for writing a good story. The ending  is a letdown though, it ends up being a case of connecting the dots and tying the knots and ta-daah, all problems are over! I can see this being made into a film soon, but it will be a dull, conventional thing. The book is written alternating chapters between the past and the present, between Libby now and her mother and brother then. This is exactly how it will be filmed one day. If I knew anyone else who'd read it I'd suggest a game of guess the director...

I might read Flynn's other book (books?), because she writes well and describes the Midwest farming society the story is set in just perfectly.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Richard Wrangham: Catching Fire - How Cooking Made Us Human

I was sitting outside with our neighbours one evening the other week, while the kids were playing/whining, and we started talking about books. Mr Neighbour is more of a fact than a fiction reader, and started talking about this book he'd recently read - probably the conversation had turned to Lasse Berg's books? - and he promptly ran up and fetched it for me to read. So I have, although I have been really tired recently and stressed what with working my final days at my old job and fretting about having to learn the ropes of a new one, so I probably haven't done it justice.

Wrangham's hypothesis is that cooking is what made us humans (more specifically evolved us into Homo Erectus). Cooking makes it possible to get more energy out of food with less effort. He cites several studies showing that this is true for both humans and other animals (but we are the only animals that have learned to cook). Drawing parallells to how our present-day close ape relations live, he shows that eating raw food takes an enormous amount of time to both chew and digest, leaving no time for evolving into something smarter. While the traditional idea is that we started to evolve into humans because we started to eat meat, Wrangham writes that raw meat is too energy-consuming to digest for any evolution to happen because of that alone. He also points out that we can thrive on cooked vegetable food alone - on raw food diets though we don't get enough energy. On pure raw food diets humans lose their ability to reproduce, which is not an evolutionary advantage. In other words it must be cooking that is responsible for our development, and we must have tamed fire earlier than has previously been thought.

Very interesting, solid arguments (although I did think he sort of skipped a step at some point or another? but that might have been me being too tired when reading). There's something like 200 pages of text and then 80 of sources. Solid.

However, I will admit that it has mostly convinced me that if maybe I tried a raw food diet I'll lose those surplus ten kilos WIN.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

John Dickson Carr: The Problem of the Green Capsule

Now THIS is a second-hand find! This is what I look for when I'm in charity shops, not any fecking Jeffery Deaver. The condition of this book is atrocious. It's an extremely cheap copy from 1956 (the book was first printed in -39) with rather magnificent cover art. And on the spur of the moment, since I happen to have time, I give you a picture.
Not a GOOD picture, mind. Don't get greedy. Isn't it superb? Anyway, all the pages start to come off the broken, torn spine whenever I turned the page, so we'll see how long it survives in my careless household.

The crime of the book is murder by poison. Very tragically the first murder is completely random -   poisoned chocolates are introduced into the local shop's countertop selection, eventually causing several children to be poisoned, with one fatality. Psychology plays a large part in the discussion and solution of this mystery - the psychology of witness perception and the mental setup of a poisoner, specifically men who poison. The analysis is remarkably modern, if I remember my popular psychology correctly:

"But the men are a more uneasy menace to society, since to the slyness of poisoning they add a kind of devilish generalship, an application of business principles, a will to make good by the use of aresnic or strychnine. [ ... ] First of all they are usually men of some imagination, education and even culture." [ ... ] "Now,", pursued Dr Fell, "what is the first most outstanding characteristic of the poisoner? It is this. Among his friends he usually has the reputation of being a thoroughly good fellow. He is a jovial soul. An open-handed companion. A real sport. Sometimes he may display slight Puritanical scruples, about strict religious observance or even good form socially; but his boon-companions can easily forgive him for this because he is such a decent sort."  [ ... ] "Whereas actually there is in their characters, as a reverse side to the same picture and perhaps an essential part of it, such a blind indifference to the pain of others - such a cool doling-out of death in its most horrible forms - that our ordinary imaginations cannot grasp it.  [ ... ] it really does express the attitude of the poisoner towards human life. Wainewright had to have money, so (obviously) someone had to die. Wiliam Palmer needed money to bet on horses, and so it became clear that his wife, his brother, and his friends must be given strychnine. It was a self-evident proposition. And it is also true in the case of those who blandly or even plaintively 'have to have something'.  [ ... ] and he gained only a few thousands by killing his wife's mother. But he wished to be free. He 'had to have it'. Which brings us to the poisoner's next characteristic; his inordinate vanity. All murderers have it. But the poisoner possesses it to a bloated degree. He is vain of his intelligence, vain of his looks, touched with the bruch of the actor, even the exhibitionist; and as a rule he is a very good actor indeed.  [ ... ]And nowhere does the male poisoner's vanity more clearly express itself than in his power - or what he thinks is his power - over women. "
 Dr Fell's lecture is much longer of course (you can see I've abbreviated it), and I think he's describing what we today would call a psychopath. The inability to feel empathy. The vanity - except we don't call it vanity these days when vanity is no sin. It's very good.

Another part that jolted me a little was a throwaway comment after the young woman suspected by the town of benig guilty has just had a stone thrown at her through a shop window. At the idea of her not being able to walk freely Detective-Inspector Elliot (who, sadly, has a Scottish volatile temper leading him to "growl" a lot - I ask you) says what! are they in Germany? are they a bunch of Non-Aryans cooped up in a citadel? - which is one of those little throw-away comments that shows that the rest of Europe knew oh perfectly well what was going on in Germany in the 30s. No-one can claim ignorance if you can reference persecution in a detective story.

God, now I'm back on the vintage horse, my dears. I need more. Perhaps perhaps I should commit to some internet shopping.

Thursday, June 27, 2013


.... what have I been reading ...

I read a book about children and bilinguality, which was very interesting: Barn med flera språk by Gunilla Ladberg.  I've always been bilingual, and so have many of my friends, so for me it was an easy decision to try to keep it up with my kids. My mother was quite committed to making us kids bilingual. For the time it was a bit avant-garde in Sweden. Of course, the advantage of having English as a second language is that people can understand that it might be "useful", so they accept it and think it's okay. If you're speaking something unbelieeeevably foreign to your kids you just haven't accepted that you live in Sweden now, you know. Anyway, what I learnt about bilinguality growing up was that you had to be very strict about sticking to the one language with your child, so they wouldn't get confused and start mixing languages. Mixing languages was bad. In this book the author writes about newer research saying that it is so not a problem when we mix - to the immense relief of us bilinguals who have always mixed with merry abandon. She also stresses that Sweden is extremely monolingual, if you adopt a global perspective, and we have a tendency to automatically think that oh learning another language is sooo hard whereas in other places on the planet people just do it without working themselves up about it because sure how else are you going to talk to anyone? So very interesting subject, everyone should read up on it.

I read a Jeffrey Deaver novel called A Maiden's Grave. I have no patience with this writing anymore. God, I used to be entertained by it, but I have evolved. It is shallow and boring. This one is about sign language and hostage rescue. A decided meh. But ok for a train ride if you skim a little.

I just read a  Kathy Reichs too (I got it and the Deaver second-hand somewhere thinking they'd be good summer reads) and feel a bit the same about it as toward the Deaver. The woman's writing style annoys me now something awful. Building up to monumental cliff hanger phrasing at the end of every chapter (what's with the Dickens complex?) that turn out to be NOTHING at the beginning of the next. Yet still more entertaining than the Deaver. Oh, it was Flash and Bones and was about ricin poison and Nascar.

There was something else, but I'm forgetting at the moment... Finished reading Bilbo for my son. When we'd read three quarters of the book he looked at how much we had left and said: "Mammy! We're nearly done! Then we never have to read this ever again!"

So... not a fan then.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ursula K Le Guin: Worlds of Exile and Illusion

Three novels in one, Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions. 

Rocannon's World just isn't very good, somewhere half-way through I just lose interest. You can tell that she hadn't found her voice and style yet, but was writing something much more generic. Planet of Exile was a lot more enjoyable, and I really liked having City of Illusions to read directly afterwards, since they're connected. As novels they are a little lacking, they lack tempo a bit and towards the end lose detail and sort of just peter out.

It's very interesting, and I think Le Guin has written about that herself somewhere, that she can be so comparatively daring (for that time) as to have the exiled Earthlings be all black, but it was hard to imagine a society without clear divisions between men and women - with women at the bottom (clearly this is based on some human patriarchal cultures). I mean, even though we don't want to be we are trapped into certain ways of thinking by our culture and upbringing. I think I wrote that this aged The Left Hand of Darkness too - it was very difficult for a writer in the sixties to imagine that a lot of the gender-specific ways of behaving and reacting would disappear.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Lee Child: Bad Luck and Trouble

Jack Reacher:
[...] a disheveled giant of a white man. Two metres tall, easily, a hundred and ten kilos, maybe a hundred and twenty, shaved head, wrists as wide and hard as two-by-fours, hands like shovels, dressed in dusty grey denims and work boots.

As if there is a casting director on the planet who wouldn't immediately think Tom Cruise, right?

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Björn Larsson: Döda poeter skriver inte kriminalromaner

Den här boken är 382 sidor lång, och det dröjer till sidan 170 någonting innan den börjar bli intressant. Intressant, märk väl - inte spännande eller så, bara intressant. Lite så att man höjer ett ögonbryn. Hm, säger man, det var lite kul. Där tänkte han till den gode Björn. Inte så nytt kanske, men lite kul var det allt.  Men vet ni vad? Det räcker inte på långa vägar. För jag har läst vidare till sidan 284 och herregud vad det ögonblicket dog fort. På omslagets insida haglar det dock superlativer - okej, medges att de gäller den tidigare romanen, Filologens dröm, men man får ju vissa förväntningar i alla fall, och dessa infrias ICKE. Varför finns det sådana mängder skribenter i Sverige som skriver så vansinnigt tråkig och styltad dialog? var en av de första tankarna som slog mig när jag började läsa den här boken. Och så kom jag att tänka på ett återkommande samtalsämne jag har med min man, som just har haft en liten fas där han tittat en del på danska kriminalserier; även om storyn i serien är rätt blaha och deras överdrivna användning av teknik löjeväckande (Örnen, tack och hej) så funkar det mesta rätt bra på danska. Det låter trovärdigt bara de inte tar in några utlänningar de ska försöka vara pk med på det där taffliga medelklasssättet som vita misslyckas med så bra - de grötar på och svär och låter naturligt danska liksom. Nu KAN vi iofs inte danska. Det kanske låter otroligt onaturligt för danskar. Men för en svensk låter det fint, till skillnad från alla svenska kriminalserier där dialogen verkar skriven av någon som klippt sönder ett antal ark med femtiotalsdeckare och sedan lagt pussel med orden, och lagt in några moderna svordomar också. Va faaaaan till exempel får man säga nu, det fick man inte säga förr i tiden så tryckeriet hörde. I alla fall. Denna bok har uselt tråkig dialog, där alla karaktärer har precis samma röst och är precis lika oengagerande. Texten däremellan är inte så mycket bättre om jag ska vara ärlig, men det är möjligt att det är färgat av att den i stora delar är inre monolog vilket blir precis samma visa. Jag blir så förbannad. Varför trycka skiten? Det är ju TRÅKIGT. Dessutom har jag för länge sedan gissat mig till mördaren, något jag är ruskigt dålig på (och jag har läst de sista sidorna så jag vet att jag har rätt). Ha, jag har precis googlat och hittat SvD-recensionen som säger att det är en spirituell deckarpastisch. Får jag be herr Lönnroth att slå upp spirituell i ordboken för det finns inget spirituellt med detta. Och DN tyckte den hade en "lycksalig lätthet som gör den till genuint kul läsning". Jag tror jag får ett mindre anfall här. Varför är recensenterna så välvilligt inställda? Den här boken har samma lätthet som ett par gummistövlar efter en promenad över en nyplöjd åker efter ett regnoväder. Och den metaforen var så krystad att den skulle passa in där förresten (i boken alltså).

Nu känner jag att jag måste lugna mig lite. Problemet är att det inte är ett dugg smart och sprituellt att skriva en bok i en för en själv främmande genre, som krim eller science fiction eller fantasy eller vad du nu vill, om du inte är ett skvatt intresserad av att respektera det hantverket och snickra ihop en bra historia, där dina intellektuella (eller, snark, pseudointellektuella) tankar och funderingar kan fungera som något som gör historien bättre, djupare, kvickare. Till en riktig roman. Som t.ex. Fröken Smillas känsla för snö nu när jag tänker efter. Och hej Danmark får vi väl lov att säga igen. Om du bara vill skriva ett manifest tycker jag att du ska göra det. Eller en insändare i Metro för all del. De tar in det mesta. Om boken ska vara läsvärd och inte aptråkig så måste ju ändå grundhistorien få ett grepp om läsaren tycker jag. Har jag fel?

Nä, det här orkar jag inte läsa ut. Urk. Och jag är ändå rätt tolerant mot dåliga böcker va. Det är nog de pretentiösa jag har svåra problem med.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Child and King

A trip to the library generated a Jack Reacher novel, The Hard Way, and The Pirate King by Laurie King. I had to get a Jack Reacher because we saw the film sort of and it was too ridiculous for words. Too too too. How on earth it got made is beyond me. I'm not saying the books are great literature or anything, far from it, but they do have a certain individuality that is appealing if you want a thriller novel and this individuality bears no resemblance whatsoever to Tom Cruise. This novel has a very simple plot line that I guessed in the first chapters and was right, so no points for originality there.

Sadly not many points for Laurie King either, because the book feels sort of rushed. I love the idea, and I love the idea of an ensemble stuck on a boat together, but can't help but long for Ngaio Marsh or Josephine Tey or even Dorothy Sayers to write the dialogue. This is the sort of setting that they'd excel in. Mix in a bit of modernity in Ms King's way (i.e. no fear of a censor) and it'd be great. Frankly, as it is now, it's seems a little as though - dare I say it? - it was written with a screenplay in mind. Never write for the movies folks! Still enjoyed it though, still devoured it.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Peter Høeg: Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow

Every now and then, say every five years or perhaps even more seldom, this book is taken down and re-read. It seems like we've had it forever - our copy was printed in -95, so I think it's a budget print my husband around the time when we'd moved in together so we could see what the hype was about. I've always had a soft spot for it. It's been put in the charity pile every time we've had a bookshelf clearout but it's always been moved back to the "keep" pile by me, and now I'm happily resigned to the position of defender of Smilla; she's not leaving us anytime soon, that's my firm stance on the issue. The film was of course a huge disappointment. Let us not speak of it. This is a film that should have been made in Danish by Danes. In Danish nothing in Smilla's Feelings for Snow is sentimental or moony - in Danish Smilla is brutally self-sufficient and both whole and broken. There is beauty and dirt. This time reading it (which I am doing completely by coincidence based on the book being moved into my line of sight by my husband who was looking for something else I think) I am the same age as Smilla. We are both 37 and I know what she means when she calls herself old and at the same time can feel like a child. The darker parts of Smilla's personality are clearer to me this time and more understandable. When she wants to revel in her misery on her own I understand how she is thinking, and also how bittersweet it is that she isn't permitted that kind of solitude, now that she has made some connections to others.  And it's not just a crime novel, it's more. Which is why it's good.

I wonder if it's worth the trouble trying to read this in Danish. Granted, Swedish and Danish are not that far apart, but I think there is a certain something extra-terse and ass-kicking about the Danish language that is probably lost in translation. Reading in Danish and Norwegian is oh such a pain though. Could they not film this, the Danes, and do it properly, and let me hear Smilla's rude remarks the way they're supposed to be heard?  Do it well and it'll be a good story about their colonial past aswell, which may be needing to be told to the world.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

I have to post something this time of year

I do believe I always post this time of year, my favourite time, and waffle on for a bit about nature being at its finest now before the greenery starts greening, the bare bones of it all so to speak yada yada yada. Which is all true. We've had a long, cold spring so here we are in May still without more than a few buds and very early spring flowers, so even though this spring post is late it really isn't.

I'm in the unfortunate position of not being able to keep the blog up, since I don't have computer time. It has led to me not reading. I want to blog about the books I read. If I can't blog, I don't read. I actually find this ridiculously upsetting. Haven't decided if I should just call it quits and live in the Now of the IRL  instead of getting too hung up on a digital journal that shouldn't be allowed to become the reason for enjoying literature.

I read all the Gregor the Overlander books, bar one, which I don't think I'll work to hard on getting hold of. I liked them, and like some reviewer I read find it a little surprising that they're not better known. Collins writes so well for kids, the stories don't shy away from darkness and difficult moral choices and are still easy to understand. I also read something somewhere about how this is one book that is NEVER going to be filmed - this may be a very accurate assessment. Giant rats and bats and other creepy-crawlies? Not really workable. I'd post links but this was ages ago and I'm not looking for them now (feel like I'm writing on borrowed time).

Other than that I've read nothing, bar a novel written by a fella I work with. Exciting, isn't it! It hasn't been published, so we'll keep it anonymous. Ever since he mentioned that he wrote a novel I've been pestering him to let me read it - especially after he showed me the rejection letter he got from a publisher. It was rather a good rejection letter as such ones go, pinpointing briefly but accurately what the problems were with the book. Anyway, my colleague is a tad miffed because he'll never get it printed now, because it's much too much like Kristian Lundberg's Yarden (which I've written about before and which was one reason why I was so keen to read this one). This is true. It's just bad luck. They wrote at the same time, and Lundberg got there first. And Yarden is a better book, I have to say. How much this is thanks to it being actually published and having the benefit of an editor (let's hear it for editors!) I don't know  (as I've also said I wasn't keen on book 2 so my confidence in Lundberg's writing went way down). My colleague's book could benefit from some sprucing up, some tightening up of certain passages and a clearer purpose in the storyline; all things he admits, but he says he just accepts that it's not going to be published now, so he'd rather keep it the way it is. It's sort of a document of himself, I suppose, since it's about a young man working a menial, soul-sucking job in a warehouse, despite being from a cultural middle-class background and "so promising" - which is what my colleague did a few years ago. In short sparse episodes he describes situations, emotions, people trapped in the warehouse, like a separate universe. I've become very curious about my colleague after reading this. How much is based on himself? If it's a lot, I'm immensely flattered and touched that he let me read it at all, because then it's very revealing and personal. But he's an intelligent man with plenty of empathy, so it's not at all impossible that it's only loosely based on himself and perhaps more inspired by someone else he worked with.

Because of this I've found that it's been a bit disconcerting to have read it, actually. Since I know the author it opens up for lots of questions - did you feel like this? Tell me more! What really happened? How much is true? - but the coffee room at work, with all the others around is not an appropriate place for the third degree. Probably, if I'm honest, nowhere is - we don't know each other well enough for me to be permitted to quiz him on personal matters. But he did let me read it, and I'm a very curious person and I want to know darn it. Ah well. So I passive-aggressively write about it here instead, in my own anonymity. I'm so terrible at this blogger lark, I should obviously have posted an interview with him instead, but there you go.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Lindsay Gordon or Wolf Hall?

Well, what do you think I chose? Came across Val McDermid's Hostage to Murder which I hadn't read, and I do have a soft spot for Lindsay Gordon I do, so easy contest. This is the one in which Lindsay doesn't want to become a parent, goes to Russia and takes on the IRA.

And it's not great, is it. The prose -  not marvellous. No. But I like it anyway.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Gregory the Overlander vs Wolf Hall

So far I'm not making stellar progress on my Christmas present, Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantle. I think I'm on chapter three maybe? don't frankly know because it's Monday morning and I cunningly forgot the book at work before leaving on Friday. To avoid the thing I've been immersing myself in blog reading and pod radio and haven't read for months. But I went to the library Saturday to borrow something for Minimus and his bedtime stories and saw book two of Suzanne Collins Gregory the Overlander series (The Prophecy of Bane) on the shelf, and since I've been so keen to see what they're like I picked that up too. It's just a kid's book, but it's good. Good story, good characters. Moral without being obvious and in-your-face-ish. I'm going to stalk them all. So far Gregory is winning over Thomas Cromwell and that contrived dialogue let me tell you. Give me a giant bat any day.

Saturday, February 02, 2013



In my defence, such as it is, I haven't actually been reading much, only blogs. For a while I listened to the radio on my commute instead of reading (mostly Spanarna and På minuten, but also some Tendens - yes, Swedish radio only), but now I'm having this huge blog-enthusiasm thing going and I've actually read several newly discovered blogs back-to-back. So I'm going to have to update my links I think to stuff I actually am reading. I added heaps of things to my Google reader too in a fit of go-get-'em but I don't actually want to follow more than say half of it, so I'm going to have to delete quite a few things and was most piqued when I discovered that it wasn't just hey, delete, it was Tricky. Google really are quite shite with lay-out, aren't they? A lot of my new blog favourites are clothes and/or sewing blogs, mostly retro, because I discovered Looks Good From The Back first and was so inspired to have more fun with clothes - and let's face it, retro is where the fashion fun is, isn't it. Because there is feck all in the shops, at least here. So now I've worked my way to Gertie's blog for better sewing, and am feeling that urge I sometimes get that maybe I'd like to sew my own clothes? I should take a sewing class. There's no way I can learn on my own, I'm too thick. Also, I felt ashamed and inspired to take more of an interest in my OWN blog, and maybe post stuff? With pictures, to make it more interesting! But it's not going to happen until I get my own computer somehow, one I feel I can use whenever. Until then the blog is not going really work, because the phone blog thing is a bit rubbish. I could of course just take a picture of the book I've just finished and post that but. how. dull. My unfulfilled wish to blog about what I'm only after reading has just led me to owe the library about a week's worth of late fees, because I read Backman's Saker min son behöver veta om världen and thought I'd post about it and didn't and didn't return the book because I wanted to remember to post first and there we are. And ironically, the only thing I really wanted to say was that this book is not very great. It's not even a proper book, just blog entries put together. I hate that. I also wanted to say that when I read En man som heter Ove I wrote that I just knew he was going to be offered a film deal, and then I meant to write that in a comment on his blog to say that even though it's going to be tempting for them to cast Kjell Bergqvist as Ove I think they should think carefully about that because it's a little too obvious. But then didn't he beat me to the revelation and then there were 600 comments. Bleurgh. 

But anyway, last post was a LIE, because I got books for Christmas! They were just late to arrive to The English Bookshop, but my husband gave them to me this week. And they are not just any books, he REMEMBERED that I told him I like Cyril Hare!!! That's worth three exclamation points!!! He got me An English Murder and a collection of short stories - I took a rubbish photo but can't upload it from my work phone because it's a bizarre Samsung I don't understand. I've linked you to them instead, they are so gorgeous and I'm so psyched. He asked me today if I was enjoying the book but in all honesty I'm hesitant to get into them because I want to savour them. I was so in the mood for some vintage crime!

Oh, and I read a rather meh teen dystopic novel called Pure by Julianna Baggott that my eldest brought home - it's not terribly good, but a quick and so-so entertaining read, if you happen to be on a flight or something. The author is much too enamoured with her idea of the survivors of the explosions being fused to whatever object they happened to have been near to remember that story, plot and characterization have to come first. Also, she gets praise for her prose I notice when googling briskly, but myself I felt like it was a bit of a copy of Burgess' Bloodsong to be honest. To be fair though Maxima didn't agree with me at all. That reminds me that Mortal Engines also reminded me of Bloodsong and I kind of felt that people need to be un-inspired, you know?