2015: annus horribilis

Well, maybe horrible is a stretch too far. But, it has definitely not been one of the best years in my life. I spent most of January to April off work due to an illness that was only getting worse until my doctor had a vague diagnosis and gave me some pills that worked wonders. It turned out that I have hypothyroidism which really fucks up your body, but is easy to manage. And because of that, I slept through most of the autumn. My grandma got really sick just before Easter, and I decided to spend the summer taking care of her. It was really tough, but luckily she recovered and is in her 86th year doing better than she has in years. It hasn’t been easy to live a good life the last year (a proof of this is all the things I ended up not going doing – concert, parties, travel plans).

So, here’s to 2016! The year of getting out there and doing things. I’m going to quit my job and sell my apartment. It may result in travelling the globe, or just moving to a different city. Perhaps I even take a swing at writing out the two ideas that have been stuck in my head for years.

Fortunately we who read have the chance to escape to other worlds when things are lousy. My reading has been influenced by the year I have had. I read very little before April, and I read a lot through the summer and then less as the autumn progressed. And as 2014, I barely managed to read 50 books. Looking back, my reading goals seem very hairy. So, how did I do?

  • Read more than 50 books: Yes, just in time!
  • Read the alphabet (author’s surname of course): I think I gave it an attempt, then gave up.
  • Read at least 5 non-fiction books: 3 of 5, fail.
  • Read A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell. That’s 12 books in all: Didn’t even think about it. A great idea, though.
  • Continue working my way around the globe in books (47 countries so far): I counted, and I have just read books from 8 different countries this year. But, two of them were new (Slovenia and Bulgaria).
  • Lifelong goals: cross off as many 1001 books you must read before you die (11, 9%) and Nobel Prize winners (27/111): Up to 12,6% and 29/112 (Lagerlöf and Kawabata + another Steinbeck) so that’s at least something. Need to focus on 1001 books again.
  • If I want to buy a book, I’ll have to read one off my shelf first: I haven’t counted, but I did a pretty good job of restricting my bookbuying. But I bet I bought more than 50 books.
  • Read in a book every day, even if it’s just a page: This has been fairly successful and a good goal.

Well, there it is. Not too happy, and especially about how little varied my reading has been. Too many Norwegian books (18!) and books published in 2015. I also hardly participated in any reading circles, and I feel like I have been missing out. I’m most pleased by finally getting to read Moby Dick, even though it wasn’t the best book.

New goals:

  • Read more than 50 books
  • Read Ulysses by James Joyce
  • Read at least 5 non-fiction books
  • Continue working my way around the globe in books (49 countries so far)
  • Lifelong goals: cross off as many 1001 books you must read before you die (12,6%) and Nobel Prize winners (29/112)
  • Read in a book every day, even if it’s just a page
  • Write more

 Nothing too difficult, except perhaps Ulysses.

And finally, the list of books I read in 2015 which you should read in 2015

  • Persuasion by Jane Austen (1818)
  • Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)
  • Drop City by T. Coraghessan Boyle (2003)
  • the Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (2015)
  • the Hobbit and LOTR by J.R.R Tolkien
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (2015)
  • the Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy
  • Morvern Callar by Alan Warner (1995)
  • the Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahata (2015)
  • All the Rage by Courtney Summers (2015)
  • Career of Evil by Robert Gailbraith (or J.K Rowling, 2015)
  • Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata (1952) 

 I don’t ever think the list of books I recommend has been so small as this year. I blame it on annus horribilis. Bring it on, annus mirabilis!

Midnight at Grense Jakobselv, Norway. A fine summer’s day in July 2015.

the saddest book I ever read.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (2015)
  “They all—Malcolm with his houses, Willem with his girlfriends, JB with his paints, he with his razors—sought comfort, something that was theirs alone, something to hold off the terrifying largeness, the impossibility, of the world, of the relentlessness of its minutes, its hours, its days.” 

Four young men became friends at college and then move to New York to pursuit different careers, but staying friends. While JB, Malcolm and Willem are sharing everything about their past and present lives, dreams and failures, Jude is a closed book. They know very little of Jude’s childhood and inner life, the only things they know are the things they are able to witness themselves.

Jude was left in the trash as a baby, picked up by a monastery where he was punished for every little thing. And then sexually abused. Things go from bad to much worse as one of the brothers runs off with him. A couple of years later he barely survives something which he himself describes as a car accident to his friends, and his body is severely damaged after it. Once he starts college, things really improve, but yet he feels the need to punish himself almost every night.

 This book is incredibly sad. I cried, cried and cried. And despite the descriptions of all the terrible things Jude went through I couldn’t put it down. Luckily, it’s not all bad, it’s really about the strength of friendship and love. And that’s what makes it so beautiful. It is definitely the best book I have read in years, and it’s a long time since I have been so involved in a book. I had to keep reminding myself that it’s just fiction, and not real. I’m hoping that it will win this year’s Man Booker Prize.

(So much unsaid about this book, so many emotions running wild.)

 “You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.” 

performing Shakespeare at the end of the world.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)
 A pandemic has wiped out most of the world’s population and has left the towns and cities desolate. The Traveling Symphony is a troupe of performers travelling through a vast area around the Great Lakes. Kirsten was a child actress in a production of King Lear in Toronto when the pandemic broke out, but doesn’t remember much of the years before she found the Traveling Symphony. But what she does remember, is that an actor, Arthur Leander, died on stage that last night, and ever since she has been obsessed with him; and searches empty houses for magazines and other memorabilia. 

The post-apocalyptic world is a dangerous place, and the town St. Deborah by the Water has really changed since the last time they were in town. A Prophet has taken over and banished all non-believers. When they leave the town, they discover that a young girl has sneaked on board, and they find themselves in danger as the villagers are trying to get the girl back as she is to be married to the Prophet.

In addition to follow the Traveling Symphony, the book also has flashbacks to the world before the pandemic, and it especially focuses on Arthur and his wife, Miranda, but also on the man who tried to save Arthur on the night he died. I think the most interesting part is the difference between the now and the then, and how quickly everything we are used to just vanished. I had a burning question all through the book and I’m glad it was answered at the end and that it was the answer I was hoping for (and no, I won’t tell you what it is as it sort of spoil things). The only person I would love to get to know better is the Prophet, what happened in between his childhood and becoming the Prophet?  It is a really interesting read, perfect for long sleepless summer nights.

silent spring.

Or 8 7 6 books behind schedule as Goodreads keeps informing me. In other words, I haven’t read at all this spring/ early summer. But now I have endless time (or about 7 weeks a month) to do some serious reading. I was smart and planned ahead and used my mom’s address when doing some serious book shopping. Not that this house is already full of unread books. Hopefully I’ll read most of them before heading south again.

I finally got around to finish Gösta Berling’s Saga by Selma Lagerlöf (1891) in the middle of May. It took months to read it, mainly because I kept it by my bed. The book is about a handful inhabitants in a small Swedish town, and mainly about a priest turned a poor drunkard turned a cavalier, Gösta Berling. It can be read as a collection of short stories, as the chapters have little to do with each other, but are all linked to the small town. It was confusing because of all the characters and although I enjoyed the prose, I never got into it. And it’s a shame because I had high expectations for this book, mainly because of Haruhi‘s fangirling and the fact that Lagerlöf is a Nobel Prize winner. Oh well.

 I spent the beginning of the summer holidays rereading the Hobbit (1937) and the Lord of the Rings (1954-55) trilogy as I needed something familiar to get my reading started again after a long break. I used to read these books annually in my teens until the first film came out in 2001. I also reread them in 2009. I have always favoured the Hobbit, but this time I couldn’t quite get involved in the story, and that was really annoying. I don’t know why, but it could be that I was still stressed after the end of another school year, or that I simply have grown too old for the Hobbit.  

LOTR has definitely grown on me, I always used to find it too detailed, but this time I couldn’t get enough. I swear I must have screamed Gondor! and Gandalf! in my sleep. I never wanted it to end, and I had to take a long break before I read the final chapters, although the battle of the Shire is one of my favourite parts. I still haven’t decided who’s my favourite character.

What’s next on my reading list? I started Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel yesterday, and I love it. I’m forever reading the Crossing by Cormac McCarthy and Alamut by Vladimir Bartol, hopefully finishing them before the summer is up. I gave Villette by Charlotte Brontë the boot yesterday as too much of the important stuff is in French and je ne parle pas francois.

the dragon’s mist.

the Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (2015)
 “Yet are you so certain, good mistress, you wish to be free of this mist? Is it not better some things remain hidden from our minds?”
“It may be for some, father, but not for us. Axl and I wish to have again the happy moments we shared together. To be robbed of them is as if a thief came in the night and took what’s most precious from us.”
“Yet the mist covers all memories, the bad as well as the good. Isn’t that so, mistress?”
“We’ll have the bad ones come back too, even if they make us weep or shake with anger. For isn’t it the life we’ve shared?” 

Beatrice and Axl set out to visit their son in a neighbouring village.  The way to the village is dangerous as it is filled with ogres, bandits and other foul creatures. They spend a night in a Saxon village which is on guard as some villagers have just been attacked by ogres. When they are leaving, they’re asked to take a young boy, Edwin, with them as he has been bitten by a strange creature and the villagers banish him. A warrior, Wistan, also follows them to ensure that they will be safe.

Axl has lately been concerned about that they seem to have forgotten most of their lives. Whilst they are travelling he learns that the memory losses are caused by the shedragon’s breath which is also the reason for the misty valleys. He also learns that both Wistan and Lord Gawain, who they also meet, have been given the roles as dragonslayers. And after a lot of twists and turns, Beatrice and Axl find themselves at the dragon’s lair.

The book is certainly different from what I have been reading lately, and it’s refreshing. It has the perfect amount of fantasy for me, which means just a dash, and I love books about travelling. It was certainly an unexpected book from Ishiguro. I’m also curious about whether it will be nominated to any prizes this year. I certainly hope so, but I know that there are many books coming out this year by excellent authors like Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, Louis de Bernières and more, so it will be a tough competition.   

february/march.

Another short summary of the latest books I have read. Two very good ones, one so-so, and one that disappointed despite having the prettiest name and cover. An interesting note is that the two débutantes chose to write in English, and not their native tongues. And then I might have a new author amongst my favourites.

7. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford (2004)
Tags: non-fiction, state of the nation, war and travel, biography, usa

 “The Mongols made no technological breakthroughs, founded no new religions, wrote few books or dramas, and gave the world no new crops or methods of agriculture. Their own craftsmen could not weave cloth, cast metal, make pottery, or even bake bread. They manufactured neither porcelain nor pottery, painted no pictures, and built no buildings. Yet, as their army conquered culture after culture, they collected and passed all of these skills from one civilization to the next.”

Genghis Khan (1162-1227) was the man who united the Mongols and then created an enormous empire. This book gives a thorough account of his life and what happened to the empire after his death. Definitely entertaining and I learnt a lot (like that the empire crumbled as the black plague spread). Definitely a good pick if you want to learn more about the Mongols. I read this in the beginning of February as a part of Ingalill’s biography reading circle where that month’s topic was men with moustaches.

8. Drop City by T. Coraghessan Boyle (2003)

 Tags: books you should read, sex drugs and rock’n’roll, war and travel, 1001 books, books about the arctic, usa

A community of hippies are forced to leave their property in California after too many encounters with the police. Where can no one bother them? Alaska. So they pack everything they own, including goats, into an old bus and set off. Meanwhile, in Alaska, Sess Harder has lived alone for years running a trap line by a remote river, but now he’s getting hitched. How will they get along with hippies as neighbours?

I loved this book from the first page and I never wanted it to end. It’s hilarious, sad and violent. I think I have discovered a new dirty old man to add to my favourites, and I’m thrilled that he has written so many books to discover.

9. Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck (2014)

 Tags: crime and mystery, sweden, historical novels, books about the arctic, state of the nation, supernatural

‘Wolf winter,’ she said, her voice small. ‘I wanted to ask about it. You know, what it is.’
He was silent for a long time. ‘It’s the kind of winter that will remind us we are mortal,’ he said. ‘Mortal and alone.’ 

 Swedish Lappland, 1717. A family has just moved to Blackåsen from Finland. Then one day when the girls are out looking after the animals, they find a dead man. It looks like an animal has torn him up, and people speaks of the devil, but Maija is convinced that this is done by a human. But who?

I liked the book for the story, the setting and the characters. The writing is also good. But there are too many loose ends towards the end of the book, so I was left with too many questions at the end to really enjoy it. 

 

10. Wildalone by Krassi Zourkava (2015)
Tags: family and self, crime and mystery, supernatural, bulgaria, not impressed, sex drugs and rock’n’roll

Thea is a talented Bulgarian pianist who has just started at Princeton, just like her sister did 15 years earlier. But her sister never graduated, as she died at Princeton, and then her body was stolen from the funeral home and hasn’t been found. Thea loves Princeton, and she quickly meet the man of her dreams, but there is an air of mystery surrounding him.

This book was just too much. I got 50 shades of grey vibes from the Thea’s love interest and the mix of modern life and ancient Greek myths was exciting until the point when it just got too much. I had to read the end several times, and I still don’t get it. It was also too easy to guess what was going to happen. And apparently this is the first book in a saga… No, just no. 

Now, if only I can finish Gösta Berling’s Saga before Easter… It’s good, but I can only handle it in small doses.

in the midnight hour she cried more, more, more.

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)
 “Who what am I? My answer: I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’ve gone which would not have happened if I had not come. Nor am I particularly exceptional in this matter; each ‘I’, every one of the now-six-hundred-million-plus of us, contains a similar multitude. I repeat for the last time: to understand me, you’ll have to swallow the world.”
Saleem Sinai is born at the strike of midnight when India gained its independence, and then he is switched at birth. He discovers that he has a superpower, telepathy. He can communicate with the other children with superpowers whom are born in the midnight hour of India’s independence. Saleem’s life is influenced by the events that shape India’s history.

The book is high up on the list of the most difficult books I have read. I spent nearly three months on the 650 pages, and many pages had to be read over and over so I could decipher some meaning from it. But it was definitely worth it! There’s a myriad of characters, a large dose of magic realism and you will learn a lot about the history of India.

 It’s one of those books which are impossible to explain what it is about and why it is so mesmerising. I guess you have to read it yourself to discover what’s so great about it. I’m actually proud of myself for finally completing a Rushdie. I tried years ago to read the Satanic Verses, but I was way too young. I still don’t think I’m ready for that one yet, but I also have more to choose from on my shelves (and a new one to be published this year).

This was the November read(!) in Line’s 1001 books reading circle.

 “I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’m gone which would not have happened if I had not come.”

Another Austen under my belt.

Persuasion by Jane Austen (1818)
“They had no conversation together, no intercourse but what the commonest civility required. Once so much to each other! Now nothing! There had been a time, when of all the large party now filling the drawing-room at Uppercross, they would have found it most difficult to cease to speak to one another. With the exception, perhaps, of Admiral and Mrs. Croft, who seemed particularly attached and happy, (Anne could allow no other exception even among the married couples) there could have been no two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison, no countenances so beloved. Now they were as strangers; nay, worse than strangers, for they could never become acquainted. It was a perpetual estrangement.” 

Anne is the oldest of the Elliot sisters, 27 and unmarried. Due to money problems, the Elliots’ beloved property has to be let as they can’t afford to live there any more, and they will move to a much smaller apartment in Bath. It is an admiral and his wife, the Crofts who are the new tenants at Kellynch Hall, the Elliots’ estate. It turns out that Mrs Croft is the sister of captain Wentworth, whom Anne used to be engaged to. And they are bound to meet sooner or later. How will Anne react? And will she be forever alone?

As all the Austen novels I have read, it is too long in the beginning and then something unexpected happens and I just can’t get enough. Persuasion turned out to be one of the best I have read by Austen so far and Anne should be all unmarried women’s heroine. I like how I always guess who ends up with who when I read Austen.

Why do I like Austen? It is definitely because of the drama and intrigues when it comes to the matters of the heart. She writes so clearly and it is easy to picture the characters and early 19th century English countryside. And the language, of course. There are so many quotable sentences and passages, probably for every aspect of life and emotions. And that is why Austen is still so readable two centuries later. I’m glad I still have Sense and Sensability, Emma and Lady Susan to look forward to.

Persuasion was the first book in Line’s 1001 books reading circle in 2015.

2014, where did you go?

I read book 50 just hours before midnight while putting on my make-up and getting ready for the last evening of 2014. I remember who the killer was, but not too sure about the reason. And I think that sums up my reading year perfectly. Wtf happened? I have no idea, but I haven’t read this little in years. I have a sneaky suspicion that Netflix and the iPad are a big part of the blame, so less tv and games this year! But at least I managed to reach the goal of 50 books.

Time to analyse the what went wrong:

  • Read more than 50 books As I mentioned, I made it just in time.
  • Participate in a few online reading circles; Line’s 1001 books, Clementine’s Booker prize, Ingalill’s biographies and Bjørg’s off the shelf challenges. Nope. I ended up skipping books in all the reading circles, despite them being good books. I think this is what went really wrong as I felt that I didn’t get to choose what to read as I always had books I needed to read.
  • Finish Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset No, nei, njet. I put it away, possibly for good.
  • Read at least 5 non-fiction books 2 of 5. Better luck next year.
  • Continue working my way around the globe in books (43 countries so far) Up to 47 now, so 4 new countries. Yay!
  • Lifelong goals: cross off as many 1001 books you must read before you die (11%) and Nobel Prize winners Up to 11,9% and one new Nobel (Saul Bellow), so that’s something.
  •  Buy bookshelves, not books Hahahaha who am I kidding? Current number of unread books is 1035.

So how am I going to make this year a success? No reading goals at all? Of course not! This year I will:

  • Read more than 50 books
  • Read the alphabet (author’s surname of course).
  • Read at least 5 non-fiction books
  • Read A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell. That’s 12 books in all. 
  • Continue working my way around the globe in books (47 countries so far)
  • Lifelong goals: cross off as many 1001 books you must read before you die (11, 9%) and Nobel Prize winners (27/111)
  • If I want to buy a book, I’ll have to read one off my shelf first 
  • Read in a book every day, even if it’s just a page

 I think this is doable. By reading the alphabet I mean that the next time I’m not sure what to read I’ll use the alphabet and my endless tbr-pile to decide which book to pick up. In that way I believe that my reading will be more diverse and surprising. The last goal is also going to be really interesting and probably the hardest to keep. But I cannot continue buying the piles of books I do. (And just to be on the safe side I sent an order of about 20 books just before the New Year). Does this mean that I won’t be participating in any reading circles? Of course not. I’ll do Line’s 1001 books challenge and this year it’s full of classics, so that’s going to be interesting. Bjørg’s and Hedda’s off the shelf also looks interesting, but I feel that this was the one I least managed to keep up with, so I’m sceptical. Clementine’s Booker circle depends on the books and how busy I am next autumn. And Ingalill’s biography also depends on the topic and if I have time (and how good she’s at swinging the whip).

Books I read in 2014 which you should read in 2015.

  • the Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (2001)
  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (2013)
  • the Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (1860)
  • Harvest by Jim Crace (2013)
  • the Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (1955)
  • A True Novel by Minae Mizumura (2002)
  • We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (2013)
  • Dirty Havana Trilogy by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez (1998)
  • the Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (1984)
  • All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (1928)
  • the Alberta Trilogy by Cora Sandel (1926-1939)
  • the Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner (2014)
  • the Bees by Laline Paull (2014)
  • the God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1997)
  • A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz (2002)
  • the Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2012)
  • All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (1996)
  • the Blindness of the Heart by Julia Franck (2007)
  • Våke over dem som sover by Sigbjørn Skåden (2014)
  • Til Nuuk by Espen Haavardsholm (2014)
  • Bare et menneske by Kristine Næss (2014)

I hope you all have a fabulous reading year 2015! I still have two more blog posts to make from 2014, so I’m not quite ready to move on yet. Happy New Year!

Germany between the wars.

the Blindness of the Heart by Julia Franck (2007)
The Würsich sisters, Helene and Martha, have a Jewish mother and a father who is fatally wounded in World War I. While their father is away, their mother becomes the mad woman in the attic. The girls have to take care of themselves, and both of them become nurses. When Martha’s lover, Leontine, goes to study medicine in Berlin and also ends up marrying a man, Martha is heartbroken and starts doing drugs. The economy is bad after WWI, and the girls are struggling to find work that pay well. They end up going to Berlin to live with their aunt.

Their aunt, Fanny, is rich, has a string of lovers and throws many parties. Helene is too young for the parties, but Martha fits right in and Helene must often help her sister to bed. And once in Berlin, Martha and Leontine revived their relationship. Years pass, and then Helene meets the love in her life, Carl. But danger and tragedy loom in the horizon.

A book that starts with a woman being raped by Soviet soldiers and then goes back in time and continues with incest, is a heavy read. And especially when you know because of the setting and characters that something is bound to go wrong. But thankfully, this book has its cheerful sides as well. I especially enjoyed the part  from where the sisters lived with their aunt in Berlin and until the epilogue.

It is one of those books which are entwined with history, and I learnt a lot about Germany between the wars. And especially how they executed the race laws. The only thing that really irked me with the book, was the epilogue. I get the main idea behind it and the symbolism, but it just left too many questions unanswered. And the biggest question of all, was the simple why.  But the book is really well-written, sad, beautiful and dark. I have already put the rest of Franck’s books on my wish list.