september-december.

It’s been a dark and long autumn and I haven’t done half of the things I was supposed to. Like writing here. My reading has been mostly good, I finished my 50th book two hours before the new year. I haven’t been good at writing about the books I have read in the past few months.

The first book, read all the way back in September, was All the Rage by Courtney Summers (2015). It is about a teenager being raped at a party and no one believes her because he is the popular girl. And they bully her. The book gave me a lot of feelings, and especially the raging kind. This is a book that should be taught in schools worldwide. If you’re curious about what rape culture is all about, this book will give you an idea.

The 7th Vera Stanhope novel, the Moth Catcher by Ann Cleeves (2015) was also read in September. I wasn’t entirely won over by the last Vera novel, so I’m happy to report that she’s back on track with this one. Ann Cleeves is my go to crime writer and I regularly check when she has a new book coming out.

From June to November I have been chasing Moby Dick (Herman Melville, 1851). My chase has been as hard as Captain Ahab’s. It should have been a great read for me, but all the detours made it boring. And that’s a shame because I was totally into it until the ship left the harbour. Oh well, at least now I can understand all the references to Moby Dick. I’m hoping Ahab’s Wife will be better.

I finally got around to reading Cannery Row by John Steinbeck (1945). I should have read it before visiting Monterrey back in 2012 (possibly the most touristy place I have ever visited – we ended up with a quick stroll and an expensive Mexican restaurant before continuing to Big Sur). Anyway, it is about a group of young men in Monterrey trying to work as little as possible and party as much as they can. It is a short, entertaining read and I wanted more. I’m glad I still have a lot of Steinbeck’s work unread on my shelves.

Book #49 was Career of Evil by J.K. Rowling (as Robert Gailbraith (2015)). I haven’t been too happy about the previous Comoran Strike books but this was bloody near perfect. It is surprisingly and delightfully dark, nearly grotesque and I was unable to put it down. I hope Rowling will never stop writing!

The final book of last year was Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata (1952). I chose it because of its length, 147 pages. It is about a young man attending a tea ceremony with 3 sexually frustrated women (okay, that was maybe taking it too far, but you can definitely feel the sexual tension between him and the women). It is a beautiful book and I fear I didn’t give it the attention it deserved as the clock was ticking towards midnight. Kawabata is an author I will definitely read more of, having won the Nobel prize and all.

Noon at the darkest day of the year in Jarfjord, Norway.

Happy New Year!

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.

murderess?

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (1996)
Grace Marks was just 16 in 1843 when she was first sentenced to death, then life for the murders of her employer, Thomas Kinnear and a housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery. James McDermott, who also worked on the estate, was hanged for the murders. Grace is placed in an asylum, where she does work for the family who runs it. There she is having conversations with a young doctor, Simon Jordan, who wants to examine her psyche.  Did Grace really partake in the murders?

Based on real events, Atwood has given life to Grace and painted a picture of her life before and in the asylum. And it is definitely interesting, I enjoyed the story and all the details. There are so many fascinating minor characters like Jeremiah the Peddler, Jordan’s landlady and her servant. I also got really interested in Susanna Moodie, so I need to read her account of migrating to Canada.

Despite being so good, it took two months to read this one. I have no idea why. Maybe it was because the book is so rich in details and prose. Atwood is still my favourite to win the Nobel prize and I’m glad I still have many books yet to read by her.

I’m left with some questions after finishing the book. Was she really guilty or not? If you have read it, what do you think?  And what really happened after she finally was released from the asylum? There’s a historic mystery waiting to be solved.

This was December’s read in Line’s 1001 books reading circle. 

Kings, queens and infidelities.

Three weeks away. Two of them were spent in New York, partying it up and sweating it out. A week was spent in Quebec and Nova Scotia, never enough time and I’m seriously considering migrating. I’m happy to report that I had an amazing time and only bought 5 books, and read 2 and a half of them. To celebrate my accomplishment, I made 3 orders at Amazon and 2 at BetterWorldBooks.

I don’t think I have ever read so little as I have done this summer. Only 4 in 5 weeks. Let’s start with the one I liked the least and end with the one you should read. Why, oh why, won’t you let me have as many tags as I want, Blogspot?

 Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow (1959)
Tags: not impressed, family and self, war and travel

Henderson is a millionaire who has all his life been driven by his inner voice saying I want, I want. This voice has driven him to primitive tribes in Africa where he tries to impress them with his greatness. Henderson is a serious contestant to the most annoying character award and that made the book really hard to read. The ethnocentric view didn’t help either. I had such high hopes for this Canadian Nobel Prize winning 1001-book, but was disappointed. So I’m reluctant to pick up Saul Bellow again. I read this as a part of Bjørg’s off the shelf project, this time the theme was books first published in English and it was supposed to be finished in May. Oops.

the Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham (2014)
Tags: family and self, queer, sex drugs and rock’n’roll


Barrett Meeks lives with his almost famous drug addicted brother and his dying wife. Barrett is too smart for his own good, never able to hold on to boyfriends or jobs. One night while walking through Central Park, he sees a light in the sky and he believes it has to mean something. I really enjoyed reading this book, but when I finished it was that all ran through my head. I expected something more out of this story and it is definitely not Cunningham at his best.

 Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (1814)
Tags: family and self, love

Fanny Price comes from a poor family with too many children and is therefore sent to live with her richer relatives at Mansfield Park.  Being an Austen novel, there will be love and there will be drama. But the build up was so slow that it took two months to finish the 500 pages, but when the drama finally started (around page 300 or so), I wasn’t able to put it down. There’s quite a scandal in this one. Of the 3 Austens I have read, this is a solid number two after Pride and Prejudice. This was June’s read in Line’s 1001 books reading circle, but I’m way behind. Another oops.

the Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner (2014)
 Tags: books you should read, books that made me cry, family and self, sex drugs and rock’n’roll, supernatural, crime and mystery

The Kings have been lobster fishers on Loosewood Island for generations, and now Cordelia has her own boat. The family legend says that when the first Kings settled on the island, the sea gave him food and a wife, but in return, the family have to give a son back to the sea. The interesting thing about Loosewood is that it is disputed, both Canada and USA claim it. There is also a feud going on with lobster fishers from another town because they fish in their waters and bring drugs to the island. I had been waiting for this book ever since I read Touch and it didn’t disappoint. I love how the island itself is a character and that it suddenly turned very gangster. Cordelia is a wonderful heroine and the selkies and mermaids brought their magical touch. Y’all need to love Zentner!

Hopefully my reading will pick up during the last two weeks of my summer, but those will be busy as well with wedding, music festival and general fun coming up! I’ll leave you with a picture of a fat woman wearing a bikini (scandalous I know) gazing at her childhood dream destination, Prince Edward Island. Hope you have a great summer!

fifty.

the Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
“I almost gasp: he’s said a forbidden word. Sterile. There is no such thing as a sterile man anymore, not officially. There are only women who are fruitful and women who are barren, that’s the law.”
The republic of Gilead is a strict religious society where the women are divided into groups. The Wives, dressed in blue, are on top of the chain, while the Daughters dress in white. The Econowives are married to men of lower statuses, and wear multicoloured dresses. The Handmaids dress in red and are surrogates for the infertile Wives. Then you have the Aunts in brown dresses who teach the Handmaids how to behave and the domestic servants, Marthas dressed in green.
Offred is the narrator who tells her tale while living in a house of a Commander and his wife, Serena Joy. Her daily life is a routine, and the only joy is the shopping round with an other Handmaid. But although she has been taught this new life, how can she forget her old life, when she was free, and had a man and a child? She doesn’t know if they are dead or alive at this point. 
I think this is one of the most provoking books I’ve read. The society is so anti-women that it made me quite mad. And of course it made me feel grateful for my freedom. It is brilliantly written, but to be honest, the end really disappointed me; I wanted more answers. I never seem to get enough answers when I read dystopian novels, I’m really fascinated with the societies and histories. 
I think this is the best Atwood book I’ve read. And it has placed her very high up on my list of favourite authors. Read it! This was also October’s read in Line’s 1001 books reading challenge.

forty-five, forty-six: maddaddam

Oryx & Crake (2003), MaddAddam (2013) by Margaret Atwood

 ““What if they get out? Go on a rampage? Start breeding, then the population spirals out of control – like those big green rabbits?”
“That would be a problem,” said Crake. “But they won’t get out. Nature is to zoos as God is to churces.”
“Meaning what?” said Jimmy. He wasn’t paying close attention, he was worrying about the ChickieNobs and wolvogs. Why is it he feels some line has  been crossed, some boundary transgressed? How much is too much, how far is too far?”

Jimmy, or the Snowman as the Crakers call him, is the only man left after the human population has been wiped out due to a virus. The Crakers are a specie designed in a gene-lab by Crake; they are perfect and lack the destructive tendencies of mankind. Snowman tells them stories about how Oryx and Crake made the world. But although the world is free of men, there are other human-made dangers, like the wolvogs and pigoons – enormous pigs with human organs and cells.

While telling the story in the present day, we also get a glimpse of what Jimmy’s life used to be, and who Crake is. The second book in the trilogy, the Year of the Flood, happens at the same time as Oryx & Crake, but at a different place in the same city, and with Ren and Toby as the narrators. MaddAddam starts when Jimmy meets Ren and Toby and then finally takes the story forward. You also get to learn the story of Zeb. The stories of the characters are really fascinating and definitely my favourite part of the trilogy. I also like how MaddAddam is built-up like a bible for the Crakers, and I just adored the Crakers, especially Blackbeard.

I read the trilogy as a critique of how the humans are abusing the planet’s resources and how the technology will destroy us all if we aren’t careful. And it is (of course) set in a totalitarian state. I have read a couple of dystopian novels and this trilogy is high on my list of favourites. Thanks to a week on the couch, I read them all in a couple of days and they turned into some pretty vivid dreams.

I read Oryx and Crake when it was published 10 years ago, but I felt that I needed to reread it after reading the Year of the Flood. What I really like is that it doesn’t matter which one you read first. And I found it easier to read the Year of the Flood first, then Oryx and Crake. Although MaddAddam has a recap of the two other books, I strongly recommend to read them!

Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite authors, and I’m glad I still haven’t read her most famous works, so I have something to look forward to. She’s also one of my favourites for the Nobel prize.  

forty-three.

the Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (2009)
 “As the first heat hits, mist rises from among the swath of trees between her and the derelict city. The air smells faintly of burning, a smell of caramel and tar and rancid barbecues, and the ashy but greasy smell of a garbage-dump fire after it’s been raining. The abandoned towers in the distance are like the coral of an ancient reef – bleached and colourless, devoid of life. There is still life, however. Birds chirp; sparrows, they must be. Their small voices are clear and sharp, nails on glass: there’s no longer any sound of traffic to drown them out. Do they notice the quietness, the absence of motors? If so, are they happier?”

Year 25 in the Gardeners’ calendar; the year of the waterless flood. The year which wiped out most of the human race. Toby is a survival at a spa, where she lives off the organic food and the rooftop garden. Another survivor is Ren, who has been locked in an isolated room at the sex shop where she works as it is suspected that she is unclean. Both women have been members of the Gardeners – a religious eco-cult. 

This is the second book in the MaddAddam-trilogy, and it’s almost a decade since I read the first book, Oryx and Crake, which I barely remember, but remember as difficult to grasp until the end. And that’s probably why it has taken so long before I started on this one (and because the final book has just been published). the Year of the Flood is a lot more easier to read. Im really curious about how the trilogy is going to end. But first I’m going to reread Oryx and Crake.

thirteen.

Touch by Alexi Zentner (2011)
 Stephen is returning back to his home town, the remote Sawgamet in British Vancouver during the second world war.  His mother is dying, and it brings back memories from his father and grandfather. His grandfather founded Sawgamet and the story about how he survived the first winter alone in the woods, is one of the many strange stories that Stephen has heard through the years.
His father died when Stephen was 10, trying to save his sister who went through the ice on the river. At the same time, his grandfather, Jeannot, returned after being absent since his wife died when Stephen’s dad was a baby. His grandfather tells him that he has come back to wake his wife from the dead.
The story has haunted me for the couple of days since I read it. I simply fell in love with its prose and the story is magical and sad. I really enjoy these stories where the nature plays an important role. And the mythical creatures were haunting, but luckily they didn’t give me nightmares. Still I wouldn’t want to meet a qallupiluit out in the woods, but I might be able to tackle a mahaha. 
Strange and beautiful with a mesmerising cover. Read it!

one.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2001)
 
“Japanese-owned cargo ship Tsimtsum, flying Panamanian flag, sank July 2nd, 1977, in Pacific, four days out of Manila. Am in lifeboat. Pi Patel my name. Have some food, some water, but Bengal tiger a serious problem. Please advise family in Winnipeg, Canada. Any help very much appreciated. Thank you.

Pi grew up in a zoo as his father was the director and he spent the days learning about animals. He was also very interested in faith and shocked his family and teachers by practising Islam, Hinduism and Christianity at the same time. His family decides to migrate to Canada when the situation in India became troubled and they sell off the animals to various zoos. Some of the animals are going to zoos in America and they are therefore on the same cargo ship which the Patel family set out for Canada with. But the cargo ship sinks and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat with a hyena, zebra, monkey and Richard Parker, the enormous tiger.

Seeing the film trailer every where at Christmas, I decided that it was time to reread the book. I remember that I really enjoyed the book the first time around, and although I remember the setting, there were lots I had forgotten.

It is certainly still a good tale, but I found the days on the sea rather repeating and boring. But then I guess that’s what it’s like on the sea. I still haven’t decided which of the two versions of the story in the end that I believe is the true one.

fifty-nine.

Surfacing by Margaret Atwood (1972)
A young woman goes back to the remote community in Quebec where she grew up to look for her father who has gone missing. She brings with her her boyfriend, Joe, and an other couple, David and Anna. She hasn’t been back for years but nothing much has changed on the desolate island where just her family lived.

Going back opens a lot of wounds. The fact that she has been married before and carried a child places a strain on the current relationship. David and Anna have their own problems which surface during the stay on the remote island. The search for the father is unsuccessful and towards the end of their stay she goes feral.

This is one of those slow-reading book as there’s much to absorb from each sentence. Reading it was easy in the beginning, but unfortunately for me, I quickened the pace as it got more exciting which made it a lot harder to understand. And then it was too late and I understood nothing towards the end. I had to google it after to check if I had missing out on something (so much easier than rereading the book), and after reading this, I got a little wiser, but still have some questions.

Fourth Atwood, and yes, she is a great read, but not the easiest. I read Oryx and Crake years ago, and there the confusion was at the beginning, but once I got through many pages I understood more and more. Cat’s Eye is one hell of a book, and the Robber Bride was also good. I’m glad there are many other books by Atwood to figure out.