Have I whined yet about the new order of the e-book library? Because of the expense of it - the libraries and the publishers seem unable to reach a sensible decision about this - the libraries have had to severely limit the number of e-books one is allowed to borrow, and the new limit is, unbelievably, two books per month! It used to be five or seven a week, more than one could read, really, but this is ridiculous! My reading friend and I lamented this but decided that perhaps it was time to turn towards the classics. The Swedish Academy has a good, open library with literature they consider part of the Swedish cultural heritage, Litteraturbanken (= the literature bank). I had been considering Karin Boye´s "Kallocain" for years, and my friend was up for it.

From Wikipedia.
Karin Boye was born in 1900, and is mostly known for her poetry, but also wrote novels and worked as a journalist. She also painted, and you can see some of her watercolours here, at the website of the Karin Boye Society. Several of them have been exhibited at Waldemarsudde, the art museum founded by Prince Eugen, who was not just a royal, but one of Sweden´s most prominent painters. After her death, by suicide in 1941, her friends published a book in remembrance of her, and for it Hjalmar Gullberg (who wrote the poem "God in Disguise") wrote a poem called "Död amazon" (= dead amazon), which is still quite well known: "for the Thermopyle of our hearts, some must still give their lives" (my translation).

"Kallocain", from 1940, is probably her best known work internationally, and can be viewed as a precursor to Orwell´s "1984", which was published about a decade later. The narrator of the novel is Leo Kall, inventor of the truth-drug Kallocain. He is a citizen of the World-state, lives in Chemistry City Number 4, which is more or less an underground factory, with his wife Linda and their two youngest children. Their oldest, at eight years old, has already been moved into a reformatory of sorts, where all children go to be shaped into good "fellow-soldiers". The World-state is a severely supervised society, where every home has an "eye" and an "ear" on the wall, behind which supervisors may at any time look in on family life (such as it is: most of their spare time, family members are assigned some kind of policing/supervising duty), and informing on anyone, even family members, not seemingly devoted to the state, is a proud duty, not a dirty secret.

Leo Kall is a fanatic, but about to crack. His supervisor is Edo Rissen, an introverted, thoughtful man and Kall projects all his insecurities on him; he even imagines that Rissen has an affair with Linda. As they start to test the Kallocain drug, Rissen sceptically says that every man over 40 has a guilty conscience, which Kall takes as admission of crimes against the state. The confessions they get from their volunteers are not about crimes as such, but rather "emotional infidelity" to the state, a disturbing longing for human affection and trust, a natural faith in one´s fellow. The police authorities order Kall and Rissen to start training Kallocain interrogators, but it turns out that now, anyone can be convicted. As is Rissen, when Kall finally turns him in. He also steals some of the drug and uses it on his wife, with surprising results.

I found it a captivating read, and fast, at only 130 or so pages. I got quite spooked for a while, as I think anyone with some degree of maturity - as Rissen says, with reasons for a guilty conscience - will recognize that state of awakening from truths earlier taken for granted. I think most teenagers feel what Kall does, as they realize that all families and societies are not alikel, but that there are several ways of doing things and looking at the world, not necessarily on a scale from good to bad, just different. I suspect being a lesbian at the beginning of the century, coming from a middle-class family, would have given Boye a profound insight into being at odds with ideas of what is normal and natural.

You can read "Kallocain" for free on-line, at the University of Wisconsin digital collections, but it is also available through amazon, as is her "Complete Poems". Her most famous poem goes "Javisst gör det ont när knoppar brister, varför skulle annars våren tveka?" (= of course it hurts when buds burst, otherwise, why would spring hesitate? the entire poem can be read in English here) and I think most Swedes with an interest in literature recognize it, even if they are not poetry readers; references abound. The Karin Boye Society even have short recordings of her voice, reading her own poems. (Although, for them to work I had to download them first, could be my browser acting funnily.) She has that very clear enounciation they had in those days.

All in all, a good read. I am quite keen on reading more of her in the future.


A Retro Crime Series

A few weeks ago, I saw the first episode of a new detective series on television (available on amazon as "Crimes of Passion"), based on a book series (three novels available in English on Kindle) by Maria Lang (pen name for Dagmar Lange) that was first published in 1949 and that she kept writing until 1990, which featured her rural Swedish version of Lord Peter Wimsey (or so the Wikipedia article on her claims - I find the comparison preposterous), Christer Wijk. I didn´t really know what to expect, I hadn´t read the books, but I was surprised how well made it was (though not perfect, for sure). It has a funny kind of noir vibe to it, as well as a 50´s retro milieu, with a slightly anachronistic adaptation to suit modern (feminist) sensibilities (which I know now, since having read three of the novels). And, of course, excellent actors, some of whom can say some pretty corny dialogue without making the audience too embarassed, particularly Tuva Novotny, who is perhaps the best Swedish actress of her generation.

Borrowed from tv4. Wahlgren, Novotny, and Rapace.
Actually, my first thought, about five minutes into the first episode, was how much the male body has changed over the last decades. One hears all the time how fashions have changed for the female body, from the 20´s gamine to the 50´s bosomy glamour girl, the 70´s fresh-faced "Charlie" girl to the heroin chic Kate Moss of the 90´s. But think how the male body has changed since body building started to become mainstream in the late 80´s, early 90´s. You know, when I started going to the gym in 1992 or thereabouts, I still had friends who refused to lift a single dumbbell, as they thought it would make them instantly look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, even though they were girls. The pumped up bodies of Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were controversial in those days, I remember a lot of heated discussions for or against that kind of training.

Borrowed from Finnish television.
Now, there are very few actors who doesn´t look like that, to some extent. (And even a fair amount of regular people, at least here, where winter outdoors training for the desk bound male is grim, and the gym a cozy option. I just have to look over at the husband and remember that he comes from a stock of wiry lumber jacks!) But they didn´t look like that in the 50´s (and they ate differently) which is why this first episode felt a bit off to me. Yes, the male actors Ola Rapace (ex-husband of more internationally known Noomi) and Linus Wahlgren do look very dishy in their suits, hats, topcoats, bowties and slipovers. And sleeve garters! Remember those? My dad used to wear them all the time, and I had a pair myself (I nicked some of his old 60´s suits and wore all through the 80´s). Now they accent the fact that both Rapace (particularly Rapace) and Wahlgren have very sexy upper arms. Novotny is made out more like a tomboy, but the other women in the series are gorgeously made out in colourful gowns, pinched waists and high hair.

(a short peak from tv4 on youtube)

Maria Lang wasn´t anything we read, in my generation. My mother didn´t read her either (at least I think not). The characters have been much changed. The narrator and our hero, Puck, is not a perky little 50´s academic young wife who stumble over corpses left and right, but rather a serious, introverted career-woman with a taste for analysis and writing crime fiction. Her husband Eje has been changed from what Puck has now become (in the books he is the crime writer), into a bumbling, slightly naiv teacher who goes back and forth between being proud of his wife and jealous of her attachment to his oldest friend and the real hero: police investigator Christer Wijk, who in the books is a skinny, tall, jovial, pipe-smoking man with a taste for checked tweed (even in summer), a father-figure for Puck. In the films, he is a sexy womanizer, a real contender to Eje, at the end of most episodes making due with a widow or other woman left-over from their latest investigation when Puck has turned away from his advances (yeah, his best friend´s wife, but he can´t help himself because of the passion, you see...).

Maria Lang would not have approved, I´m sure, though she was no stranger, even in the 40´s, to writing quite candidly about sex. Still, the films are entertaining, and so are the books, as long as you take them for what they are. I like. Oddly, I like quite a lot, both the books and the films.


Obsessive Passions

I thought for sure I had blogged about Lena Andersson´s novel "Egenmäktigt förfarande - en roman om kärlek" (being translated to English as we speak: "Wilful Disregard: a novel about love" will be released next summer, according to British amazon) but I can´t find the post, so probably I read it while I was on blogging hiatus, in the spring. Well, now I have read her second book about Ester Nilsson, her passionate and not just slightly disturbed heroine, a novel called "Utan personligt ansvar" (= without personal responsibility). I read both in tandem with my reading friend, but I probably wouldn´t have considered it - a novel about love sounded a bit tiresome - if the husband, of all people, hadn´t heard it being read on the radio on his way home from work (he has a 40 minute commute, one-way, most days) and became so engrossed with it that he was quoting from it for weeks! He is not normally a reader of fiction, so of course I had to see what the fuss was about, and my friend jumped aboard.

It makes sense to write about both novels in one single post, as they have a similar topic. Ester Nilsson is a middle-aged academic, poet, student of the world through language, forever searching for the exact words, which to her equals the truth; she is uncompromising in her rock-hard integrity, but also blinded by her passions and able to decieve herself in considerable measures. Her command of language and logic and her ability to convince herself as well as others leads her so far astray that she crosses the line into severe self-delusion and madness not just once, but over and over again. She falls in love.

The first object of her affection is artist Hugo Rask. He is much older than she, he is flattered, both by her youth and the applauding articles she writes about his art. He is single, sort of (there is a woman in another town that he seems to have some kind of long-standing relationship to, but sexually he seems free to stray), he surrounds himself with a team of young artists in his studio, and Ester´s life very soon focuses entirely on how far she can push herself into his circle. She dumps her old boyfriend without a second thought or any feeling of regret, and becomes what can only be described as Hugo Rask´s stalker. He does go to bed with her once or twice, but they are never in a "relationship" (though Ester tries to convince herself that they are); most of the time, he seems unaware of her. She is like an ant in his elephant´s life.

The whole story focuses on what goes on inside Ester, her feelings, her thoughts, her efforts to come closer, to break it off (after having epiphanies of clarity that are muddle every time Rask is kind or just polite to her). It is cringe-making, to say the least. However, it´s not a long novel, and the pain is over fairly soon. I think Andersson has measured out the size of dose of Ester Nilsson one can take fairly accurately.

In the second novel, Ester Nilsson is at it again. This time, she falls for Olof Sten, another older, this time married, man, actor in a play she has written (and later director of other plays she writes). I feel more sorry for her this time, as she is clearly falling into the claws of someone a lot more vicious than Hugo Rask. She buys a car so that she can drive her lover from playhouse to playhouse, from town to town, all the while battling him for the truth of what is going on. It sounds something like this:
Ester: I want to live with you. I will not be your lover. (But of course, she jumps into bed with him every time.)
Olof: We are not in a relationship. I will not leave my wife or be unfaithful to her. (See brackets above.)

It´s very, very tiring. Ester´s girlfriends thinks so too, and after a few years of obsessively discussing Olof Sten with everyone, some of them begin to withdraw from her. If the book had been any longer (220 pages, slightly longer than the first), the reader might have given up as well, but as before, Andersson knows when to quit.

The first of the novels was awarded the prestigious Swedish August Prize last year, and Ester Nilsson has been discussed by everyone. Really, when people like the husband, who normally don´t have time to pick up a novel, throw themselves over the next chapter in the saga of Ester Nilsson, you know that this is something special. It is probably Andersson´s tone of voice: the exact, dissecting manner in which she slices Ester and her lovers open for us to see; this is the opposite of "show-don´t-tell"-writing. And, as tiresome as we find her, we have all been there, to some extent: hopefully self-delusional. Not that everyone interprets the novel the same way. Many seem to find Hugo Rask a predatory a***ole, but I don´t agree. Probably Roy Andersson doesn´t either, as he declared himself to be the real Hugo Rask some weeks ago, only to be ridiculed on the cultural pages of the papers (not that I think he cares in the least). Andersson insists that what she writes is fiction, but the debates have kept up the interest, and perhaps Andersson has written herself into the Swedish literary canon. Time will tell.

There is a very nice interview with Lena Andersson, in Swedish, but I guess Google translate can do something with it. I find I like her. I have always liked what she writes in the paper (she is a regular in Dagens Nyheter, on the editorial page), she is always analyzing those phenomenons that we seem to take for granted, turning the perspective around. She is a true intellectual and reading her will expand your horizon; authors like that are thin on the ground.



Some weeks ago, I got an email from Marta, a lover of Barna Hedenhös, of which I blogged - oh my! - exactly one year ago! Must be some kind of benign sign... Anyway, this led to my discovery of a recent publication on the collected works of Barna Hedenhös´ creator, "Boken om Bertila", or Bertil Almqvist as was his full name, by Nisse Larsson. I immediately walked over to the library and got it, and what a revelation!

I was completely unaware that Bertila was the man behind one of the most iconic images in Swedish history: En Svensk Tiger. These words mean two things: A Swedish Tiger, and A Swede Keeps Silent. It was a variation on those many posters the Brits had, like this one. But because of the word play, it was also an affirmation of the strength of both the nation and its individuals during a time when they needed reassurance. A brilliant image, really, and the words that was part of it made it go beyond the visual. It is so ingrained in the nation´s conscience that it has been re-used for other purposes, like selling Swedish milk and Swedish magazines.

 A high ranking military man didn´t like the tiger, he thought it should have been a lion instead,
completely missing the point - a story Bertila enjoyed telling. 

Bertila´s column, with tall Prime Minister
Erlander as the father of the Swedish "folkhem"
(the Swedish Welfare State) with the leader of
the Farmer´s Party, Gunnar Hedlund, as his
supportive wife.
 You can see more columns here.
Bertil Almqvist was born in 1902, to a middle-class family in Stockholm. He got into drawing and writing funny verse already in school, and pretty much continued to do that for the rest of his life. He was perhaps not the most gifted visual artist of his time, but in combination with his word play, his output was unique. For many, many years, he published a weekly drawn and written column that commented on anything that was happening, from politics to sports and culture. It was called "På tapeten", which means literally "on the wallpaper" and means "the topic of the day". He made a sport of drawing the headline differently each week and in accordance with the topic.

He made all kinds of illustrations: theatre posters, children´s books, campaigns. And, of course, he wrote and drew "Barna Hedenhös": the books, the comics, the films. He died in 1972, while working hard on a film for Swedish Television about the Hedenhös children (he wasn´t just overworked, he was fond of his drink and his cigarettes, too, there is hardly a photo of him without a fag between his lips). He had by then been retired - quite forcibly - from his newspaper column, something that had made him so upset he even complained to the Prime Minister of Sweden! Perhaps he had lost touch with the times. When you look at his works they have very much that 50´s positivity, a stout belief in progress.

Mother Svea (Sweden) gives Bertila his uniform.
Word play was part of his game and the Swedish language started to change in the 70´s, as a new political and social awareness developed, as Swedes became more internationally aware, and society was being reshaped by immigration and the developement of modern media. Some of the Hedenhös books are no longer reproduced, considered racist and misogynist - which would have offended Bertila, who was a pacifist and a very outspoken advocate of equality and progress, both social, cultural, and technological. For example, he was a keen driver and fiercely lobbied for right-hand traffic for more than 30 years before it became a reality, in 1967. He also had strong convictions about spelling reforms. He did go into the army during the war, but reluctantly so, as he explained in comic form. He thought he could do more for the nation with his pen, and he did that as well, as you already know.

He also composed, which was a surprise to me. He wrote one of the most loved children´s songs in Swedish history, "Droppen Dripp och Droppen Drapp" (performed below by Alice Babs and her daughter Titti), and even recorded songs and put up a revue in 1934, where he sang his own songs in front of fifteen large drawings.

I only knew him for Barna Hedenhös, but I think now that his most lasting work will be "En svensk tiger" - even though perhaps that work has outgrown the memory of the man who created it.

(on Youtube by Tosukep)


Droppen Dripp och Droppen Drapp    (the drop Drip and the drop Drap)
satt på varsin isetapp                         (sat each on his own icicle)
ovanför vår förstutrapp                      (above our landing)
Droppen Dripp och Droppen Drapp!   (the drop Drip and the drop Drap)

- Hej, sa Dripp till Droppen Drapp       (- Hi, said Drip to the drop Drap)
trivs du bra uppå din tapp?                 (are you happy on your icicle?)
- Åjavars, sa Droppen Drapp              (- Oh, allright I guess, said the drop Drap)
fast min sittplats är rätt knapp!            (although my seat is rather small.)

- Hördudu, sa Dripp till Drapp,            (- Hey listen, said Drip to Drap)
ska vi hoppa ner ikapp,                       (shall we race each other down,)
ner på våran förstutrapp?                    (on to our landing?)
Så sa Dripp till Droppen Drapp.           (That´s what Drip said to Drap the drop.)

- Hu, så högt! sa Droppen Drapp,         (- My, that´s high! said Drap the drop,)
såge helst jag hoppa slapp.                   (I wish I didn´t have to jump.)
- men det gör väl hipp som happ,          (but I guess it´s neither here nor there,)
låt oss hoppa ner i kapp!                      (let us race each other down.)

Och så hoppa Dripp och Drapp            (And then Drip and Drap jumped)
från sin isetapp ikapp,                          (from their icicles together)
ner på våran förstutrapp                      (down onto our landing)
- och blev platta som en knapp!            (and became flat like a button!)

(my own translation - quick and dirty)

Bertila with his daughter Monne Kristina, to whom he wrote the first Hedenhös book. 


Drawing Your Life

I have already told you about Danny Gregory´s fabulous book about creativity, "The Artistic Licence". He is also one of the people behind Sketchbook Skool, which looks like a pretty interesting project. I was curious for something more personal by him, and got this, "Everyday Matters", which is a memoir of sorts, a compilation I would assume, of pages from his own personal illustrated diary, with a no doubt heavily edited text to make a coherent story.

It starts when he and his wife Patti are a young, successful couple in New York, he is an advertiser, she a stylist, they have a dog and a new baby, and the terrible thing happens: she falls onto the railway track and is run over by a train. Her spine is crushed and she ends up wheel chair bound.

This book has none of that cheerful entusiasm that "The Artistic Licence" had, as you can imagine. This is personal, this is an account of what it´s like to have life - as you expected it to be - taken away from you. Gregory starts to draw in an attempt to deal with things - the word he keeps using is "slow"; this new life is slower than it used to be, and that is frustrating. Some things he took for granted are suddenly out of reach. Some things he took for granted now seems incredibly valuable. Other things he took for granted means nothing any more.

These aren´t cute drawings of beautiful still lifes. There is no sentimental glow to any of Gregory´s drawings. His surroundings - as he sees it - is what I recognize when I look around my own home, just the stuff of every day. Gregory draws himself into his new life. What Gregory is communicating to me is a lack of self-awareness - a mindfulness - that I find admirable and difficult to obtain. Perhaps only really difficult times can get you there. Or drawing, I hope.



This post at Austin Kleon´s blog made me smile, as I had just been tossing out a few pages in my diary on how my reading was frustrating me. A prayer-answer, if ever.

I am really into no 14 on his list right now: "I will re-read favorite books the way I watch favorite movies and play favorite records over and over." Actually, I feel a bit like I have gone into some kind of literary fetal position, if that makes any sense. Comfort reading in the extreme, for me anyhow. I am trying to be kind to myself, though, as life is crazy right now, both inside and outside. Things are changing - in a fundamental way - I can feel it and I am eager for it, but it´s not yet ready. It´s like being very, very hungry and having to wait another three hours for the stew to brew. (I don´t suppose stews actually brew, but I like how that rhyme.)

Also, no 8: "I will not finish books I don’t like", no 10: "I will throw a book across the room", and no 21: "If I hate a book, I will keep my mouth shut". Actually, even no 22: "I will make liberal use of the phrase, “It wasn’t for me.”". Yeah. It´s painful to realize someone was hurt by a remark you made and you can´t take it back. So, will I only blog books I like? Can´t really blog something I stopped reading and tossed across the room, I guess. (Though I´m sure I have done.)

As you can tell, I am having a bit of a reading crisis and it´s been coming on slowly all year. It´s just a small part of the whole change, though. Since I stopped working on that novel of mine and started doing other things, reading just isn´t the same, and the reasons for picking up a book has changed. Writing anything, even blogging, has changed. Or rather, is changing. I just made a list of things to work towards, with a deadline that is nine months ahead of me, so the fetal analogy isn´t so far off. I am tempted to make changes happen, make declarations of this and that, but it just isn´t the time. I´ll just wait and see.


Trip to the Mediterranean

As I was doing away with my desk (turning my study into a studio for this winter´s art classes) I found a note to self to go see a librarian about a book. The book in question is "Medelhavsresa" (= trip to the Mediterranean) by Birger Lundquist from 1952. It was published the year he died, only 42 years old.

This is drawings we are talking about, not stories. Birger Lundquist was a famous illustrator (of whom I have written before) at Sweden´s number one daily newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, from the 1930´s. According to the foreword by Georg Svensson, this was his first trip abroad. He set out in the fall of 1937 - to get away from some personal problems (his daughter with colleague and journalist Barbro Alving was born in 1938, so that might have had something to do with it) - and the drawings are from that trip. Some of them were published in the paper at the time, but most not.

Lundquist was a prolific draughtsman, he was never without a pen and a pad according to the legend, which also says that there were some 80.000 drawings among his belongings when he died, and he had given many away, as he was not precious about is art.

He said that he learned how to really draw on this journey, and that he owed much of it to the French artist Jean Launois, whom he met in Oran and Tlemcen. Svensson claims that Launois was an obscure artist no one but Lundquist had heard about, who died from drunkenness in 1948. A quick googling shows he was important enough to have a Wikipedia article, which states that he died in 1942, and there is some of his art on different sites, like this one. He certainly could draw, and I don´t doubt that he taught Lundquist quite a bit, or that they drowned their sorrows together in the strong stuff; there are quite a few drawings in this book from bars.

Most of the drawings - which are only a small selection of what I imagine is a suitcase full, at least - are of people on the streets. Lundquist really knew how to capture a character, sometimes slipping over into caricature, particularly in the drawings he elected to send home to be published. You can really see the fashion of the day in the girls hair and makeup, even if he only uses his reservoir pen - they all look like little Edith Piafs. But he also has some more scenic city views, and it´s amazing to see what he could express with only a pen, and pretty fast too, I think. The energetic, confident line speaks of a restlessness that almost seems manic. Some drawings are watercoloured, but this wasn´t something he did much

I love these drawings, and will forever aspire to be able to work a pen like this. This is urban sketching before the concept existed, and it is just too bad he died so young. I would have loved to see what he could have done as a mature artist.

Throughout, Lundquist makes wonderful sketches of hands,
which is very hard. 

I love this composition: the minaret, the camels, the robe, hat and the expressive hand.
I  bet he did this in seconds. 

I have never been to Athens, but the husband went earlier this year, and I thought I recognized the mountain on the lower half of the page. I bet he stood on pretty much the same place as Lundqvist did when he took this snap, or what do you think? Or perhaps on the hill in the drawings middleground, depending on what kind of lens he had on.


The Bones of Paris

I had finished the third novel in the Lord Peter Wimsey series and felt like I needed a change. Not a big change, but a little one. I decided to stay in the 1920´s and in the genre, and bought the second in what I imagine is becoming a longer series about former US agent Harris Stuyvesant, who was the hero of "Touchstone" by Laurie R King. This one is titled "The Bones of Paris", and Paris is where we find Harris now. It´s been three years since the last story took place, his friend Bennet Grey is back in his cottage at Land´s End, and Bennet´s sister Sarah, who was also Harris´s love interest, has disappeared, badly wounded from the ordeal they went through together and needing time to heal, alone. Harris is hurt, but also understanding and patiently waiting for her to get in touch again. Not that his emotional loyalty to Sarah stops him from having one or two flings...

Laurie R King has a great
moodboard on Pinterest!
After going in circles around Europe, stopping here and there, working both in bars and as a private investigator, Harris is in Berlin when he gets the assignment to locate a missing American heiress, Pip Crosby, with whom he had a short relationship at the south coast of France a few months earlier. He returns to Paris and goes in search of her, expecting to find her in some arts or political commune, doped up by drugs or ideals. He reaquaints himself with the Paris of the artists and American expats, the writers (like Hemingway and Fitzgerald), the visual artists (like Man Ray, Picasso, Matisse, Dali, Buñuel), the models (Kiki, Lee Miller), he sees films like "An Andalusian Dog", and strikes up an awkward friendship with a police officer, Doucet, who is troubled by what he sees as a cult of death in the art community and investigating a disturbingly long list of missing people who were connected to it. As were Pip Crosby.

Pip had also been the mistress of a Parisian count, Dominic Charmentier, the man behind a horror-burlesque type theatre which he claims provides a release to those tormented by the memories and losses of the war. As Harris goes investigating the man and his connections, to his surprise, he finds that the duke´s assistant is his own Sarah Grey. Though she is hardly his any more, but turns out to be engaged to the police officer Doucet!

By now, I did find that the number of coincidences were a bit too remarkable. Or was it that what Stuyvesant was uncovering seemed so disturbing? I try to avoid books with perverse murderers going after women and children, and found myself so eagerly distracted from the reading, that when one of Laurie R King´s newsletters came in my mailbox, I started re-reading old Mary Russell stories instead of going ahead with Harris´s search for Pip.

I realized during this reading how much I like the way King can turn a phrase. I´m not really capable of grading English prose on a scale of beauty, but she is to my taste, that´s for sure. Finally, I pulled myself together and read to the end. Which was happy enough, but pretty hairy just before the finishing line, just as you would expect. And now I am knee-deep in "The Beekeeper´s Apprentice", again...


On Drawing

This weekend, I finished four books I have been simultaneously reading - or looking in, as is the case with some of them; three of them are about drawing, one has very little text at all, just a preface, not even written by the artist. At first, I thought I might do one post for all of them, but now it seems that it would be unfair to them all, as they are each very good and recommendable.

I´ll start with one by Andrew Marr, the British political journalist. I had no idea that he is also a very good draughtsman, who knows a thing or two about art. Turns out, he has also written a book on the subject, "A Short Book About Drawing". I was curious and got it, and was not disappointed. I am not the kind of bibliophile who gets excited about what a book looks like or anything; I have favoured cheap paperbacks before I easily transitioned into the world of e-books, but with this one, I have to mention that it is a very pretty book to look at. Also, it doesn´t smell or give off cough-inducing fumes, something I am always wary of with books containing many pictures.

The chapters have headlines like "Drawing and happiness", "The eyes - drawing and movement", "The heart - what is drawing about?", and it is very enjoying to read his thoughts on why he (and others) draws, and the role of drawing in education, culture, and art. He isn´t just sitting in his room with this either, being a journalist he goes visiting drawing teachers and talks to artists like David Hockney, who
"goes as far as to say that the age of photography is now coming to and end, that its shallowness is boring us.
He may be ahead of the mass, but it´s certainly true that there is something about the physicality and simplicity of drawing that makes it undefeatable. With strips of charcoal or pens, basic tools in our hands, it has barely moved forward. An iPad app which I use all the time, Brushes, is not essentially different. It is faster, brighter, more flexible, but in the end it is a stylus and a surface, and the drawing is just drawing. Personal, direct, drawing has not "advanced". It stands outside glib ideas of progress."
Andrew Marr: Central Park, New York.
Marr uses only his own drawings to illustrate the book, both because - he says in the preface - they are cheap, and because he thinks that while he doesn´t regard any of them as real works of art, he thinks that most of them will encourage people to try for themselves. And they do. I like Marr´s drawings a lot. Most of all I like that he seems comfortable to go at it with all kinds of tools, from pencil to paint, and - and this is not something I have seen much of until now - the iPad, with which he produces both some flat and some startlingly vibrant drawings.

But do modern artists even draw today? Many art schools don´t teach drawing at all, Marr says.
"Conceptual art is needed in a book on drawing because the status of drawing fell so far after Duchamp´s rewriting of what the word "art" means. Like the aftermath of any explosion, the debris is scattered and awkwardly shaped. Some great traditional artists hang on to their status, like well-decorated rooms exposed to the outside world when half the house has been blown away. Far from the commercial centres of the art world, many thousands of traditional painters and draughtsmen quietly keep going, as if nothing has happened, rather like the late Romans carrying on with their quietly satisfying provincial lives - planting vines, mending tracks - even after Attila´s hordes had sacked the Forum." 
Andrew Marr: Hay-on-Wye. 
And what about using mechanical tools? While reading, I think of two Swedish artists (very successful) I have seen working by tracing a photograph from an overhead projector onto a large piece of paper. Isn´t that cheating? No, says Marr:
"Artists have used mechanical tools and aides of all kinds. They have used light-boxes and lenses of all sorts, squared lattices, spray-guns, and, yes, computers. Artists have also always copied. [...] ...aids are neither here nor there. Nor is the quotation and reworking of somebody else´s picture.
The only question is aliveness. A lame, mechanical copy of another work is a lame, dead thing. Most of us, even, subconsciously, can tell. The drawing must say something about the drawer as well as the thing drawn."
Marr may humbly say that his drawings aren´t art, but some of them reveal quite a bit about him, particularly a night-time drawing on the iPad where you can see his lonely reflection in a New York hotel room. Does it possess aliveness? I would say so. (If you want to see it, you must buy the book, so there!)

This is, without a doubt, one of those books that you can have on your shelf and take down every year, read a chapter or two, or let yourself be drawn in and re-read the whole thing. Or just look at the drawings, be impressed and inspired. I would recommend it for anyone who draws or would like to draw, or even anyone who is the least interested in art and personal expression. Marr has the attitude of the very accomplished amateur. You will understand more after having read him.


Lord Peter Wimsey Investigates

I started on "Doctor Sleep" after I finished "The Shining", but was easily distracted. I must - reluctantly - confess that Stephen King isn´t really my thing. I really like his book "On Writing", but the fiction just leaves me, ahum, bored. I may finish it some day, but I´m not going to read it out of a sense of duty.

Instead, I read an article, I forget where, about Dorothy L Sayers, and realized that I had never read her. I immediately bought the first book "Whose body?" about Lord Peter Wimsey, which was 99 cents on amazon (Kindle version), and by serving the first third of the second novel, "Clouds of Witness", at the end of the first, I was hooked. Now I´m on the third one, "Unnatural Death". There are around fifteen, I think.

It reminded me at first a lot of Nancy Mitford´s novels, but it´s really just the similarity in the character gallery, and the way people talk. Wimsey is like a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Bertie Wooster, and I even think Sayers herself has said so. Sayers is a much better writer than Mitford, and she is just as interested in portraying the lower classes as her upper class hero and his entourage. She delights in dialects, to the point that it can become tiresome, but I forgive her.

We meet Lord Peter Wimsey, younger brother of the Duke of Denver, in the 1920´s, a few years after the War. He is a man of leisure, with a flat on Piccadilly, a faithful bulter called Bunter (who tells him what to wear, what to read, where to go and how to get there, more or less), and a couple of hobbies: collecting rare first editions, and solving crime. His mother, the Dowager Duchess, encourages him (to the irritation of his much more conservative older brother and wife, the present Duchess of Denver) and some pages into the novel, we see why:
"...Mr. Bunter, sleeping the sleep of the true and faithful servant, was aroused in the small hours by a hoars whisper, "Bunter!" "Yes, my lord," said Bunter, sitting up and switching on the light. "Put that thing out, damn you!"[...] Listen! Oh my God! I can´t hear - I can´t hear anything for the noise of the guns. Can´t they stop the guns?" "Oh, dear!" said Mr. Bunter to himself. "No, no - it´s all right, Major, - don´t you worry." [...] "Thought we´d had the last of these attacks," he said [later, to himself]. "Been overdoin´ of himself. Asleep?" He peered at him anxiously. An affectionate note crept into his voice. "Bloody little fool!" said Sergeant Bunter."
Many young men returned home from the front with shell shock, and being a lord doesn´t make one immune to this affliction, as we see. We also understand more about the depth and history of the relationship with Bunter. The Dowager Duchess´s opinion is that investigating is good for her son, as it distracts him and gives him something useful to do (a modern writer might phrase it as a matter of self-esteem).

Wimsey´s crime solving is much facilitated by the fact that he is friends with the head of Scotland Yard, who welcomes any help he can give and puts the Yard´s recources completely at his disposal, and his close friendship with Charles Parker, a very good detective at the Yard who collaborates with him. Or, as Wimsey likes to say:
"This is the real sleuth - my friend Detective-Inspector Parker of Scotland Yard. He´s the one who really does the work. I make imbecile suggestions and he does the work of elaborately disproving them. Then, by a process of elimination, we find the right explanation, and the world says, 'My god, what intuition that young man has!'"
I love this. A good, honest murder mystery in the English tradition. A clever and sympathetic hero, some excellent supporting characters, they all feel like real people, even if they talk like "Hullo! Look here, I say, deuces!" (Note to Swedes: hullo, is hello pronounced upper class-like, as Maggie Smith does in "Downton Abbey": höllöu)

Two actors have played Lord Peter on television, Edward Petherbridge being the most recent one. I didn´t see it when it was on, in the 80´s, had much more interesting things to do then, and from what I have seen on youtube, it hasn´t aged very well. The husband is old enough to remember Ian Carmichael from the 70´s. Both can be seen on youtube, if you are curious, but I personally think that they should do a revival instead of doing the same Austen and Sherlock films over and over every five or ten years. I see Laurence Fox as Lord Peter, Judi Dench as the Dowager Duchess (she a bit too old, but who cares, so is Fox), and anyone really as Parker, since he is described by Sayers as "nondescript". The Duke of Denver, who is most inconveniently accused of murder in the second book, would be played by Benedict Cumberbatch, and oh, Bunter, who should play him? Someone able-looking, like Douglas Henshall, perhaps. Too old again, of course, but I think that war aged them at least 20 years, so it wouldn´t matter much.

I can´t really recommend this enough. I expect you know your own taste well enough to know if you should try it yourself.


The Creative Licence

Ever since 1992 I have been in the habit of keeping a diary. For the first ten years, it was mainly a therapeutic tool, helping me to unveil some not so healthy structures and behaviours in myself and people around me. After that, however, I felt that the habit was restraining me rather than helping me forward but I didn´t know how to break out of the mould I had created. I tried to quit, I tried other ways, but always came back to the same thing I had been doing; it was kin to an addiction.

I wish I had stumbled upon Danny Gregory´s book "The Creative Licence" a few years ago. (Actually, I would have needed it before it was written, probably!) The subtitle is "Giving yourself permission to be the artist you truly are", and it is an enthusiastic class in how to do an illustrated journal, whether you think you can draw or not. It is about seeing your world differently, challenging your perceptions and bringing impressions to the page, mixing it around and creating ideas for whatever you are into, not just the visual arts.
Drawing is seeing [...] looking is a language [..] In Genesis, God has Adam name the animals. Labels make abstract thinking possible. But because we overdo it, looking replaces seeing, and we soon stop seeing things for what they truly are. We say "tree" and stop saying "elm" [...]. This is where drawing comes from. You can look at something slowly and carefully [...] you stop thinking about bills and aches and grievances and chores. You, your pen, your paper, your subject, you just are.
This is drawing as mindfulness practice. And being mindful is the door into the state of creativity. It´s like that old cliché: the nutty professor/inventor who gets lost in his own thoughts and work, forgetting all about sleeping, eating and the world around him.

Gregory has a story of his own, of course, about the creative person who got lost in advertising and found his way back and now wants to share and encourage others. Personal experience is always a good place to start. He also has several suggestions on how to start a journal, how to re-start, challenge yourself to "draw ugly", "be specific", "draw negative space", and such things. Lots of illustrations, naturally, not just from his own journals but from other people´s journals as well. He also encourages the reader to experiment with writing, arguing that writing is drawing too. My only objection to this book is, actually, that at times, it is very hard to read, because the writing is so awkward and wonky. A challenge, perhaps, but also a source of irritation. But it´s a minor objection.

I´d like to finish with a quote that made me think, not because of what is said, but because of who says it:
"I cannot tell you how happy I am to have taken up drawing again. I´ve been thinking of it, but I always considered the thing impossible and beyond my reach." - Vincent van Gogh, in a letter to his brother.
If you are bored and don´t know what to do, or you know what you want to do but don´t know how to do it, this can be the book for you. You don´t have to be wanting to learn how to do art, just wanting the courage to put your impressions and ideas on anything down on paper. That´s what Gregory is teaching: courage to create.

No Real Ladies

I got the tip of this book, a feminist anthology, from fellow blogger the Teacup. It´s not the kind of thing I usually read, but sometimes one must break out of one´s rut and look at something else, like "Av oss blev det aldrig några riktiga damer" (= we never turned in to any real ladies). It is edited by Charlotte Signell, who also contributes. At 190 pages, with a large-ish typeface and several blank pages between every contributor, it was a very quick read. 

It is a motley mix of contributors, some I can really relate to, others not so much. Most interesting is the transsexual experience of womanhood, as told by journalist Andy Candy, perhaps because I know less about that. Most of the contributors I have never heard of, and they seem very young. Sometimes during the reading I got provoked and wanted to bitch back when I thought they got too bantering, too generalizing, and too stuck up their own arses, as young people tend to be (and I was, for sure - probably still am). But that´s the point of this book, to be a collection of opinionated and passionate voices. 

One thought that I had during most of the reading was that many of the contributors seemed to be extroverts and that their feelings of being rejected or not confirmed by "society" was not something I could relate to because I am introverted and care less for what other people think of me. In my experience, people are not particularly bothered about what I do or how I live. On the other hand, I am not a gay person who tried to have children, I am not a transsexual who had to live up to some universal idea of gender behaviour to get my operation, my "county council vagina" (landstingsvagina) as Andy Candy so poignantly put it. So who am I to talk about being an outsider?

This was a good read for me. At first I felt that it had broadened my horizons. In the days after, forgotten memories of what it was like for me to be a young woman popped up in my head, I remembered choices I made that wasn´t so very popular with the patriarchal world view of the men in my life at that time, men who are not in my life any more. And I realize now that I could have contributed to this anthology as well. I certainly never turned into a proper lady either. 



Both the husband and I are die-hard comic fans. We have a cupboard upstairs filled with old comics, everything from "Donald Duck" (dating as far back as the 60´s), to Swedish comics like "91:an Karlsson" (set in the Swedish army), action-adventures in "Agent X9", and of course, "Fantomen" (= the phantom). When my little sister started university here in Luleå some 20+ years ago, one of her hazing assignments was to find a Donald Duck comic from 1967. She came straight here and got one - no problem.

Lately, I have been enjoying the comics of Noah van Sciver. I am not sure how I discovered him, but somehow I happened upon his blog and was immediately hooked on his diary-comics (love this!), which he does a month at a time, when he feels like it, I guess. He does autobiographical really good, because he doesn´t make the character Noah van Sciver particularly heroic or cool or anything. He is basically a looser who struggles with a lot of things in life, and who can not relate to that? I say character, because even if it is autobiographical, an autobiographical self is a subjective portayal. I am sure everyone has a slightly different image of themselves than other people has.

In April he started doing a comic about a character called Fante Bukowski, a struggling Next Big American Writer of His Generation, living in ratty hotel rooms, hammering out his stories on an old typewriter, feeling misunderstood and sorry for himself - and naturally, he sucks at writing. This was just brilliant! I wrote van Sciver fan mail. I think any artist can identify with Fante - if not, I suspect there is some serious hubris going on!

I ordered a couple of his Blammo comics, number 6 and 8 (reading them was a bit like being a little girl again and having the latest issue of  Fantomen, as they are roughly that size), from his Etsy store. They took a few weeks to arrive, having to pass through customs and all that. I was charmed to find a drawn thank you note on yellow note paper. Wait, I thought, is that like, Yellow Legal Paper? I googled it and no, it doesn´t have the right size, but for a European like me, Yellow Legal Pads belong to the mythology of Great American Writers. Perhaps saying they write their first drafts on it signals humility in the US, where you no doubt can buy this stuff in any supermarket, but for us... I tell you, if Fante Bukowski was Swedish, he would import Yellow Legal Pads from the US, to get in the proper creative mood. The only Swedish artist I ever heard used yellow notepaper is Ingmar Bergman; perhaps he had a Fante Bukowski deep inside, too? 

The stories in Blammo are a mixed bag, some of them are a bit absurd, like a Monty Python skit, some are touching, and some satirical. Having thus whet my appetite, I ordered "The Hypo" (which is sold in Sweden, I bought mine via bokus), a very ambitious work about Abraham Lincoln in his younger years, struggling politically, professionally, socially, and battling severe depression. This is a powerful story, and a side to the revered president I certainly had never heard of. It is very impressive how van Sciver does it all himself: story and drawings. I am impressed by his skill in both areas.

Damian Melven has recently made a short film about van Sciver´s work in his series "Sketched Out". And I have not had enough of it - I just ordered "The Lizard Laughed" from Oily Comics.

"The Hypo" can be found in one Swedish library (Malmö) but any local Swedish library can borrow from them if you request it. I am considering donating my copy to the local library, if they will have it. I think more people should have a chance to discover van Sciver. I just have to get over my possessiveness about it, so give me a few days...

Random page from "The Hypo".

This paper doll of Lincoln´s wife is just too charming! 


The Shining

I have just finished reading Stephen King´s "The Shining". The only other thing I have read by King apart from "Cujo" in the 80´s, is his excellent book "On Writing" which I have read twice, with a few years of experience in the meantime. Ok, everyone´s process is different, but King seems to be fairly accurate about how I function, at least - although I didn´t know it the first time I read him. He has some good advice, if you are bent on writing a book yourself. (And why shouldn´t you? Everyone has a story.)

In the mountains, no one can hear you scream...
I decided on "The Shining" in particular because I had read rave reviews about the sequel, "Doctor Sleep", and because Priya seems to think it´s one of the best books ever. I have not seen Stanley Kubrik´s film with Jack Nicholson and I understand it differs quite a bit from the book. 

It took me more than two months to finish "The Shining", which must be some kind of record with a novel, for me. It wasn´t that I didn´t like it. It wasn´t that it was badly written - gosh no, King knows his stuff and he has a lesson for you on every page if you are a student of his. It was partly because I had a pretty busy summer, and partly that the main character, Jack Torrance, was a bit predictable. Crap childhood, history of abuse, mood swings, temper control issues - perhaps characters like these were not regulars of crime and other fiction in the 70´s, but Torrance has certainly had many, many followers in books, on film, and television. The chemistry between Torrance and his wife Wendy and their psychic son Danny, is also pretty familiar. Fear and love is a bitter brew; many of us can relate, and not just through fiction either. These character feels real because they are, there are versions of Jack Torrance in every village, on every block, in every extended family - I hope you are lucky enough not to have one in yours. 
...his father´s attitude was strange. It was a feeling that he had done something that was very hard and had done it right. But Danny could not seem to see exactly what the something was. His father was guarding that carefully, even in his own mind. Was it possible, Danny wondered, to be glad you had done something and still be so ashamed of that something that you tried not to think of it? The quesiton was a disturbing one. He didn´t think such a thing was possible... in a normal mind. His hardest probings at his father had only brought him a dim picture of something like an octopus, whirling up into the hard blue sky.
In short, what happens is that Jack takes a job as a winter caretaker of the summer mountain resort The Overlook. The family gets snowed in for months in the Colorado mountains, in a house brimming with tragic history and the dangerous shadows these events are casting. As they settle in, King tells the background story in flashbacks. Like I said: well written and realistic, but familiar. Then the spooky stuff starts, and that cheered me up a bit; I finished the last half of the novel within a week. King is really good at making the most improbable things absolutely believable. Also, I fell head over heals for the wonderful Mr Hallorann, who comes to the rescue in the end. 
Jack wasn´t out there anymore. She was hearing the lunatic, raving voice of the Overlook itself.
For me, this is a story about rage, and by rage I mean anger that grows bigger than what you were initially angry about, until it is out of control or even controls you. Wendy and Danny keep repeating that it wasn´t Jack doing those things he did, it was the house, the Overlook, the ghosts that made him do it. But I keep thinking that Jack had all that rage in him when he came. The Overlook didn´t make Jack Torrance any different, it just worked with what was already there. And of course, that is King´s point (or so I imagine): that the people who love us are capable of infinite indulgence, forgiveness, and hold hope for us even when we are hopeless. To the point of self-sacrifice; Wendy and Danny see what´s coming, and yet choose to stay.  

I kind of wish I had read this when I was a bit younger. Perhaps it would have taught me something that could have been useful to me. But that´s easy to say in retrospect. Now, I am much eager to go on with "Doctor Sleep", which, I imagine is about the grown-up Danny and how he (hopefully) breaks his father´s curse. 


Coolest Library Ever!

Some people (particularly British ones), when you say you are going to Birmingham on vacation (or Milton Keynes, or Coventry), they ask "Why?". Ok, so Birmingham isn´t quaint in a Midsomer-ish or Downton Abbey-ish way, but it has its charm and a lot to offer. These industrial cities took quite a beating during the war, and were perhaps again victims at the hands of some less classy architectural fashions during the mid- to late 20th Century. There are fine examples of brutalist architecture, but there are too many that hasn´t done humanity any favours at all and some are being pulled down. Birmingham is really pushing the envelope when it comes to innovative architecture and I was so curious to see how the new library had turned out. Yes, we went to Birmingham just to see a library. We saw a lot of other fine things too, but it would have been totally worth it to come all the way from Sweden just to see that library.

We had to pass the old library on our way to the new one, and it looked as dull as every. When I was there in 2009, the site of the new library was just a demolition site - I don´t know what stood there before, but I expect it must have been something ugly. Now, I was just awestruck at what appeared. I imagine they must be very pleased with how it turned out.

When you come inside, it feels a bit like looking up into that spaceship in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". If the old library was a Tomb of Dead Books, this is the Temple of Learning. Very fittingly indeed, it was Malala Yousafzai who opened it in September last year. And it is full of people! Reading, working, talking, eating lunch on the terrace or in the café by the entrance, kissing! and some walking around in wonder, as we were. The building is a magnet.

They have two terraces, and the library even extends underneath the square in front of it. There is a "sunken" stage with a stand built into the pavement above it. When we were there, they had a steel pan orchestra playing old Beatles´ tunes. Everywhere the circle theme is used to give it a coherent aesthetic look. What a great place! If you want to know more, check out their website.

Neighbours: The Hyatt Hotel, The Symphony Hall, The ICC, The Rep.

The view overlooking the town centre.

To the captain´s bridge....

The captain´s bridge The Shakespeare Memorial Room, a reading room
built in 1882 for an earlier, now demolished, city library.

The Secret Garden