A fountain of knowledge

No bookshelf is complete without a couple of good encyclopedias and reference books. This one I found at a flea market a few years ago and this is basically the Junior Woodchucks Guidebook, but in real life! (I actually bought a "Junior Woodchucks Guidebook" when I was a kid, but it was a huge disappointment. It was full of games and a few scout tips, like how to make knots and recognize animal tracks, but nothing like the wealth of information I imagined... I`m sure Douglas Adams read Donald Duck a lot as a kid.)

This, however, is a swedish translation of Reader´s Digest´s "How to do just about anything" from 1988. It starts with How to count with an abacus and How to adopt, goes through How to play Canasta, How to clean and repair eye glasses, How to make soups, and ends with How to deal with earache and How to avoid an OD of medication. I laughed when I found it and just had to have it. Can´t remember what I paid for it, but nowhere near what it´s worth, that´s for sure.

Reading maps

It´s two days away: our vacation trip to England! And this is what I´m "reading" at the moment. It`s a heavy thing, covers the entire country and not something I carry with me, but a great inspirational "book", splendidly suitable for armchair travelling. I can spend hours with it, fantasizing about fantastic trips to magic places like Tintagel, Salisbury, or Askrigg. I want to see it all! I really see no reason to travel anywhere else until I have...

In fact, maps are fascinating and one of the interests I share with my husband. If we find maps from some interesting place, like a boxful of historical maps of Berlin, with and without the wall, it is a obvious souvenir. Our guestroom is furnished with some of our favourites, like an old map of Prague, one of London (yes!), and one of Africa (with a big piece of land named "unexplored territory").

We will be traveling to places of literary interest like Coventry, Oxford, Cambridge and Milton Keynes. More on that later on.


Choosing the perfect vacation read, part III

A decision has been reached. I shall take Rosamunde Pilcher and her collection of short stories with me on vacation. A friend said "You won´t like it." and I suspect she could be right. At least I will have no problems giving it away.

But who knows? I might surprise myself.

"Storsien - 100 år i en norrbottnisk by", by Anne-Christine Liinanki

It´s taken me a while to get to this book. The author is local, she´s a friend of a friend, and she and I were both students at a creative writing course at the university. She has been clever and ambitious enough to get her first book published and it´s been available for two years now.

It´s a pretty short read, it only took me a couple of hours, and I like that because there is no interruption. It´s like a long short story, the format is comfortable. It´s about a family in four generations, from the late 19th Century to present day, about a village in the north of Sweden (in the middle of nowhere, some might say), it´s about a World War II labour camp for "traitors", i e people of dissentient views (marxist, mostly). It´s also about love for the forrest lands, about the conflict between the colonizing swedes and the indigenous people, the Sami, and the plight of women in the socially unequal society that pre-industrial Sweden was.

The author uses a language rich in imagery, which is usually not to my taste, but in a shorter novel like this, I have to say I didn´t really grow tired of it until perhaps the very last pages. The metaphores used are usually refering to the forrest, farming, animals and it really enhances the world view of these people. A girl tries to imagine a city, for example, and she sees a meadow. Or she gets the same feeling as a meadow. This is all really clever and very effective.

The psychology is also very convincing, until the last character enters the story. I can´t feel that this woman is real, even though I really, really like her. It´s like all the lack of power in the generations before her is realized in her. She is a piece of wishful thinking, perhaps. And that´s ok, this is fiction after all and an author should push the boundaries for her characters, I think. Set new examples for women to be inspired by.

I can really recommend this book, if you read swedish. It won´t take to much of your time, and you won´t forget it anytime soon.

Bread and circuses

Actually, I started reading one of those books in my might-take-on-vacation-pile. Just finished it. Pretty quick read, as all detective stories are. Usually with these books, I feel a bit hurried. I´m not exactly enjoying it, but like anyone, I want to know how it ends, how the author manages to stitch the whole thing up. Kerr has not done a bad job of it, I have to say.

What I object to in this novel is all the hostility, the hard-boiled american-type dialogues that seem so un-british, somehow. Philip Kerr´s hero is a female Scotland Yard Chief Inspector, ridiculously beautiful, young, clever, glamorous, and viciously man-hating (she actually regularly sees a therapist about this. Ironically, she is named Jake. The only genuine affection she shows to anyone is directed towards her target, a "multiple" (which refers to serial killing, not a personality disorder), an introverted (of course!) maniac who kills twelve men, execution-style. They seem to have something in common, somehow.

And, as the title, "A Philosophical Investigation", suggests, there is a lot of philosophy about the nature of crime and killing. Some of these parts I actually skipped. I suppose I´m not sufficiently interested in either philosophy or crime. It was this particular fictional crime I was interested in and I was eager to get to the end.

Another thing that irritated me a bit was that this story was set in the future. Being 2013. The book was published in 1992. And while Kerr has imagined a bit about future information technology, he has not been imaginative enough. He didn´t envision the mobile phone, or just how tiny gadgets were going to get, and he thought we would start calling our tv or our recorders something else because the technology behind the screen changed. Names stick better than he thought. Or we name things after the way we use it or the brand that supplies us with it, not after the technology inside it.

Not a classic, and a bit of a waste of time, really. But it happens. Sometimes I just pick something up and must finish it. A bit like a bad soap on telly, it draws you in by cheap, but effective tricks. Numbs you. But as far as detective novels go, it´s ok. Far better than that da Vinci-code crap.... After a read like this I kind of feel like I have been eating cream gateau for both lunch and dinner! I crave something a bit more nutritious now.


Choosing the perfect vacation read, part II

I have raided my shelves for candidates. There are six of them, all rather different. (That´s the crown princess´s wedding on tv.) I imagine you can see the titles.

First, there is Kurt Vonnegut´s "Cat´s cradle". An "apocalyptic tale... blackly fatalistic and hilarously funny". I really liked his essays in "Palm Sunday" but I haven´t read "Slaughterhouse-Five" or any fiction at all by him. A bit of a gamble.

Then, Rosamunde Pilcher´s "Flowers in the rain and other stories". I may have read her sometime in the 80´s, but I can´t remember anything about her. I have friends who love her, and it´s all very english, which fits with the general mood of the trip, I think. But will I really like it?

Then, two detective stories. Philip Kerr´s "A philosophical investigation" and Ken Follett´s "Night over water". Actually, the last one is described as a "romantic thriller" so it might not exactly be a whodunit.

I also have Joseph Conrad´s "Victory" with an anti-hero somewhere in the colonies and George Eliot´s "The Mill on the Floss". Eliot´s might turn out to be one I will like to keep, so I´m not sure I dare bring it along. And Conrad might be a bit too heavy for planes and trains.

I suppose Follett and Kerr are the sure ones. Perhaps. But I will need to sleep on it. I have a week to decide.

Choosing the perfect vacation read

I have a problem. What shall I bring on vacation? I want it to be something I can leave behind when I have read it, so it needs to be in english (we are traveling to Oxford, Cambridge, Coventry and London this year), it needs to be light (paperback), it needs to be something exciting and amusing but not something I will want to keep and read a second time. It must be clever, too.

I am hugely fussy with my reading under normal circumstances, I rarely read through more than one of three books I take home from the library. So to limit myself to one choice only, I can easily go totally wrong!

I will have to dive into my bookshelves this week and see what I come up with.

A REAL mystery

Ok, this is something I have been looking for for ages, Josephine Tey´s "The Daughter of Time". It´s an old novel that was first published in Great Britain in 1951, this swedish translation came 1959. It was at the library the whole time, can not think why I didn´t find it. The swedish title is very different from the english original ("An old scandal"), this might have had something to do with it.

It´s a detective story of sorts: inspector Grant from Scotland Yard is convalescing at the hospital after having broken his back trying to heroically catch a bad guy, and he is bored at his wit´s end when one of his friends bring him a stack of portraits - the inspector is most of all interested in faces and making character assessments from them. Not sure that theme would really work today... Anyway, he becomes fascinated with old king Richard III, who is credited with the murder of his two young nephews, as dramatized by Shakespeare and others. But Grant thinks this is not the face of a crook, and with the help of a young historian researcher, he starts to investigate the case.

It´s all really exciting, a pretty well dramatized "real story". And it´s nice to see Richard vindicated, he is one of those shakespearian anti-heroes that one kind of sympathise with, a bit like one does with Brontë´s Heathcliff. Turns out, the real Richard was young, popular and didn´t even have a hump or a withered arm! And was happily married. And guess who the real villain is? I´m not giving it away...

As a modern reader, I do find inspector Grant a bit stuffy, old-fashioned, and prejudiced, but when one picks up an older novel like this, it is to be expected. I´ll still recommend it to anyone who likes an puzzle, or political history. Or Shakespeare´s plays.


I found a lovely little book at the library, by my favourite author Jane Austen: "Love and Friendship and Other Early Works", the swedish translation. This book was published in England 1922, more than a hundred years after Jane Austens death, and it´s a sample of her teenage work. You still recognize her, she has her style already and some of the characters are already taking shape, like Lydia, Willoughby and Mr Bennet. The jokes are at the expense of the folly, vanity and greed of Austens contemporaries. And because these traits are ever present in the human psyche and society, her books are real classics. Though perhaps this one will not be as much. It´s all a bit too adolescent.

A foreword by G K Chesterton informs the reader that these texts would have been written to amuse her family and friends, and most of them are in the shape of mock letters that would have been read aloud after dinner, much like real letters might have been in those days.

She also writes a short history of England, very biased and very funny, as a sort of defence for Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. I think I enjoyed that more than anything.

All in all, I think this is mostly for the hardcore Austen fans.


Finished: "A single man" by Isherwood

I have finished "A single man". Sadly.

I have googled it a bit, I became very curious about the origin of this book and it´s author. Turns out, it was written when Isherwood and his partner of ten years had a major crisis in their relationship and it seemed probable that they would separate. What Isherwood did, to process this, was to fictionally kill his partner and explore what his life would be like without him. And this is the story: the day in the life of collegeprofessor George, mourning his lover Jim.

This is a book that manages to be very romantic, without being sentimental. George´s life is a happy life in many ways, but he doesn´t shy away from the less pretty realities of friendships, partnerships and sexuality. This makes the story so easy to identify with, even though it´s about a man and I am a woman. I guess Isherwood confirms what I have always suspected: at heart, men and women are just the same.


The ending is at first a bit enigmatic. George falls asleep and the author´s voice becomes more clear, more independent. And he says: "let us suppose...". And I´m at first not sure whether George dies, or not. But after sleeping on it, I see that the ending paragraphs establishes George as a thoroughly fictional character, and that Isherwood says, at the end of this exploration, that life without the man he loves is really not worth living. And he manages, in a very poetical way, to make it clear that this inner timebomb, if I may call it that, was created in George the very minute he laid eyes on Jim, years before. It is really a beautifully argued case for the "love of one´s life".

In real life, I am happy to read, Isherwood and his lover Don Bachardy stayed together for the remainder of Isherwoods life, and that Bachardy (a portrait artist) still to this day lives in the home they made together. He also makes a quick appearance in the film "A single man", as a college teacher. I am now very curious about the film, that everyone writes about as so visually beautiful. George´s life in the book isn´t that beautiful. Julianne Moore is not chubby like Charley, her character, is in the book. I imagine Tom Ford has made an interpretation of his own, and I am very eager to see it!


The creative process

I have taken a little break with Isherwood (I want to digest what I have read so far and prolong the time we will have together) and read Eva Sanners book "Det sjunde steget", which translates as "The seventh step". I doubt this book is translated to english.

Sanner is a psycho synthesis therapist and her perspective is a bit different to others in the field of creativity, I think. I did get some insights into my own particular hangups.

However, generally, I feel that a lot of the books in this genre are more or less rehashing the same stuff, the same quotes and then mixing it with some anecdotes. It can be very inspiring when you are low and I suppose these books are a kind of substitute for a good mentor, if you haven´t got one. And seriously, how many of us do? No wonder this is a lucrative market! And actually, that is one of Eva Sanners good tips: to create one´s own Inner Mentor, to balance that Inner Critic that we all got for free.

The state of my bookshelves

I own about 250 books. Works of fiction, I mean. I probably have two or three times as much in biographies and comics and non-fiction. Maybe more.

I like the fact that the books I own are either books I haven´t read yet or books I definately will read again. If I read a book not worth opening a second time, I give it away. I suppose I could sell it over the internet (plenty of good sites for that) but I´m too lazy and besides, giving stuff to good-will makes me feel undeservedly... well, good. I dread to imagine the load I would have had if I had kept all the books I ever bought or was given, or - the horror - all the books I ever read! I thank every deity for the miracle of the public library!

I do feel some kind of weight about all those unread books, though. A lot of them came in to my life quite recently, when my mother-in-law moved and let me take whatever I wanted. She had a lot of classics and I should be getting to them. Maybe I need a plan?


AL Kennedys ideal writing day

As a wannabe novelist, struggling to fit writing into my days, I soooo sympathise with this.

Finally: a good book!

I have a problem: finding good books to read. This is probably not to do with the quality of books around, more to do with the fact that I have read a bit by now and I want to be stimulated by a new read. I want it to be exciting, inspiring, a learning experience and I even want it to be well written. These are all relative qualities. What excited me at twenty feels quite boring now.

Anyway: seems like it could be a good idea to return to the classics. I stumbled on Christopher Isherwoods "A single man" while looking for something completely different, and since it has recently been made into an awardwinning film with one of my favourite Mr Darcys, Colin Firth, I decided to give it a go. And I have not been disappointed. This book is intriguing, engaging, beautifully written. I haven´t finished it yet, and I´m sort of dreading it´s ending (it´s just a short novel, only 158 pages) and having to go look for another one anywhere near the quality of this read!



I had a disturbing dream. I dreamt I was at a dinnerparty where an engagement was announced between a very 18th Century noble man (he had ridiculous manners) and a modern german novelist. During the evening it was clear that he was in conflict with the publishing house they both belonged to (a very famous swedish publisher) and he was wondering which of his seven father-in-laws could help him with this. I thought "I would not like to be engaged to him!".

The next evening (in my dream) I saw on the news that the german novelist had staged a demonstration in favor of her fiancée. She was throwing herself at a fence, face and hands first and landing on a small boy. The footage was at first shaky, like a handheld camera and someone was screaming "get the boy out of there! she´ll kill him!" and then an interview with her, face bleeding, teeth missing, holding up her broken hands. She said to the reporter "These are worth fortysix million to the publishing house.".

At this point I woke up, very disturbed. Where the heck do images like these come from and why are they taking shape in my brain when I sleep? Is it even possible to take control over that part of the mind? Luckily, I rarely have nightmares!