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.” 

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.

psycho bitch.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012)
Nick Dunne comes home on the day of his 5th anniversary to find the door wide open, the living room in disarray and no trace of his wife, Amy.  What has happened to her? The police quickly find evidence of foul play, and they also react to Nick’s bizarre behaviour. Would you be smiling if your wife was missing?

Nick is desperate to prove that he is innocent, but every time he uncovers a new clue, it all leads back to him. In between Nick’s narratives there are diary entries from Amy from the time they first met and until things started to fall apart. And then BOOM! Plot twist.

The plot twist is what I liked best about the book, and the ending is certainly the worst. So… pointless? I had to see the film right away in case they had done something better concerning the ending, but no. I really enjoyed the film, but the book is perhaps slightly better as you get more insight and it’s interesting to read the diary. I’m also disappointed that they cut off the part with that crazy stalker chic from the film.  Another thing that really irked me about the book was the overuse of fucking bitch . I did a search on my Kindle, and bitch has been used 82 and fucking 99 times. I mean, I get it, but some variation? Please. But, nevertheless, nothing is better than reading a fast-paced mystery when you’re in need of a little escapism, and I have the two previous novels of Flynn saved on my Kindle for a rainy day.

“I can’t recall a single amazing thing I have seen first hand that I didn’t immediately reference to amp is of a TV show. You know the awful singsong the blasé: Seeeen it. I’ve literally seen it all, and the worst thing, the thing that makes me want to blow my brains out, is: The secondhand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and soundtrack manipulate my emotions in a way reality can’t anymore. I don’t know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script.

fuck cancer.

the Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2012)
“But it is the nature of stars to cross, and never was Shakespeare more wrong than when he has Cassius note, ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves.” 
Hazel Grace has terminal cancer and borrowed time. She is miserable and spends most of her days reading, so her parents force her to go to a support group for cancer kids. There she meets Augustus and they feel a mutual attraction and become instant friends. Hazel forces Augustus to read her favourite book, and he loves it and writes to the author because Hazel wants to know what happened to the characters in the book. The author then invites them to Amsterdam, where they get to taste champagne before their dreams are shattered.
I cried my eyes out. But before that, I laughed plenty. It’s easy to see why half of the girls in one of my classes chose this for their book report project. And it was because of them that I read it as I was extremely bored while they were typing away their reports and not needing any helped so I picked up the book and began to read. I was hooked. 
I love the way it’s written and the language. And there are so much information about everything from cancer to Amsterdam and Maslow’s pyramid of needs. I’m saving the film for the next time I need a good cry.
  
“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

on not reading nor writing.

the books I haven’t blogged about
I cannot remember the last time I have spent so little time on books. I just don’t seem to have the time nor energy to read. And I read so slow, it took over a month to finish the Lives of Others. And that would have been okay if I had read other books at the same time, but I haven’t.  My main concern is that I won’t be able to complete my main reading goal of reading 50 books this year. Nine books to go and less than two months left of the year. The most frustrating thing is that I don’t seem able to write about the books I have read. I’m not going to care about the rest of my reading goals as long as I complete my main goal. Which means giving up on all the awesome reading circles, although I really want to read those awesome books, and I will try to read them as fast as I can (and link of course).  What went wrong? I have absolutely no idea. Anyway, here’s a short summary of what I have actually read in the last few months:

36. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (1996)
Tags: 1001 books, books into films, state of the nation, war and travel, books you should read, family and self, love, sex drugs and rock’n’roll

Two teenagers ride from their homes in Texas into Mexico where they find jobs at a horse ranch. The first book in the Border trilogy and it is as amazing and awful as all of McCarthy’s works. I’ll write more once I have finished the trilogy. Read it!

38. Encircling 1 by Carl Frode Tiller (2007)
Tags: family and self, sex drugs and rock’n’roll

David has lost his memory, and his friends, ex-lovers and family write him letters to help him get his memory back. This is the first book in the Encircling trilogy and I will write more once I have finished it. It will be published in English next year, and I hope it will be as well received worldwide as it has been in Norway, despite the fact that I’m not entirely convinced this is brilliant. That is probably why I’m still only a few chapters in in book 2 and haven’t picked it up in a month or so.


40. Våke over dem som sover by Sigbjørn Skåden (2014)
Tags: books not yet translated into english, books about the arctic, books you should read, family and self, books that made me cry, from the library, sex drugs and rock’n’roll

Amund is a young Sami artist who travels to Kautokeino to work on his new project and with the kids at the local lower secondary school. When he is there, he learns about the extended abuse of under age girls while he himself forms a relationship with one of the pupils he got to know in the lower secondary school. The ending is disturbing, and the underlying theme of Sami identity in the flashbacks is thought-provoking. This is high on my list of best books read in 2014. Cross your fingers that it will be translated into English or another language you understand!



41. the Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee (2014)
Tags: man book prize, family and self, state of the nation, sex drugs and rock’n’roll

The extended Ghosh family lives in a big house in Calcutta. It is 1967 and India is seeing the start of the Naxalite movement. Supratik Ghosh suddenly disappears from the house to join the movement, and through his letters we learn how they work, while we follow the rest of the family’s everyday drama and also get an insight in the family history. Why do I feel that I have read this before? Could it be because I have read both the Lowland and the God of Small Things this year? My conclusion is that writing about the Naxalite movement will get you nominated for the Booker Prize. My favourite parts of the book are the prologue, the final epilogue and the letters. The family saga was way too confusing and I don’t think I have ever used the family tree as much as in this book (well, perhaps when I read Tolstoy). A lot of it could have been cut as it was just too much and not related to the plot. The book has a lot of strong points, and it was a lot of things; funny, gruesome, compelling, boring and thought-provoking. Mukherjee is on my list of the many authors I want to read more of.  I’m curious about how it will compare to the rest of the Booker shortlist, and the book was October’s read in Clementine’s Booker readalong.

I’m currently reading the Blindness of the Heart and it is really dark and beautiful. What am I going to read next? I have no idea, but I have 980 books to choose from + a library card.

the Fox sisters.

Talking to the Dead by Barbara Weisberg (2004)
Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism

Kate was 14 and Maggie 11 in 1848, when they started hearing strange rapping in their bedroom. After a while, they realized they could communicate with the dead through the rapping. Through the communication they learnt that the spirit they were talking with had been murdered in the house they lived. Bewildered neighbours came to watch the seances. Rumour about the sisters’ abilities spread, and they are today known as the symbols of modern spiritualism.

The rapping evolved into playing of instruments, pulling of hair and slaps in the face and the spirits becoming visible. And one of the spirits that often visited them was Benjamin Franklin. Many famous people met the sisters throughout the years, even the Presidents’ wives. All through this, the girls were put to many tests, often scandalously only in their undergarments.  Their much older sister, Leah, was the one who arranged the seances and probably took most of the money as well. But it was the spirits that demanded that they should hold the meetings.

Although the girls were famous, their lives were sad. Both had broken hearts after love affairs gone wrong, and they both got addicted to alcohol and drugs. A few years before her death, Maggie confessed that it all had been a hoax and she travelled around showing how they made the raps.

It was an interesting read, and I learnt a lot about life in the late 1800s. But somehow I still felt like I couldn’t quite get under the skin of the Fox sister. I’m also glad that the book wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be, and I definitely believe that it was all hoax. I would never have read this book if it weren’t for Ingalill’s biography reading circle which was about alternative lifestyles this round. I chose the Fox sisters after listening to a radio programme about spiritualism, and I was curious about how it all started. And now I know.

who was Harriet Burden?

the Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt (2014)
 Harriet Burden; struggling artist, mother of two and the widower of Felix Lord, a famous art dealer. Fed up with the sexist art world, where a man is more likely to get praised than women, she plots a project where a man should play the role as the artist behind her art. The unfolding of Harriet Burden and her project is done after Harriet’s death by a professor Hess through a number of interviews and Harriet’s notebooks.

Harriet chose three very different men for her maskings project. The first was a black gay man, the second a young man, and the third was an already quite famous artist, Rune. The project went well until Rune, and no one believed that Harriet was behind it all.

I have been having a hard time with this book and I think I finally can put my finger on why. I think it’s because it simply became too technical for me. It is written in a very scientific way with footnotes and references to both fictional and real work. For people interested in psychology and neuroscience, this must be a great read, but I’m not. And that’s why I couldn’t really enjoy this book, despite it being well-written (especially towards the end) and I rather enjoyed the feminist approach.

The Blazing World is on the Man Booker Prize 2014 long list, the first year the prize includes American authors as well. This was the first book out in Clementine’s Booker reading circle, and I’m excited to read the short list in the coming year. And this will not be the last Hustvedt I read, despite not quite getting into this book.

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!

ten.

the Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (1955)
“They were not friends. They didn’t know each other. It struck Tom like a horrible truth, true for all time, true for the people he had known in the past and for those he would know in the future: each had stood and would stand before him, and he would know time and time again that he would never know them, and the worst was that there would always be the illusion, for a time, that he did know them, and that he and they were completely in harmony and alike. For an instant the wordless shock of his realization seemed more than he could bear.”
Tom Ripley is a man with no purpose and he takes whatever he can get. When he gets an invitation to go to Italy to try persuading an acquaintance to go back home, he immediately says yes. But the man, Dickie Greenleaf doesn’t want to go home, so Tom decides to stay as well in Mongibello, and eventually moves in with Dickie. Tom is a sociopath and he is insanely jealous of Dickie. He then murders Dickie and pretends to be Dickie, but Dickie’s friends are suspicious. Will they find out the truth?

 Highsmith has made the impossible possible, and I actually rooted for the murderer, even if he has nothing likeable about him. It was fascinating to read about how he fooled everyone and just kept spinning his net of lies. The book made me yearn for a time I have never known and travelling around Europe. I think she captures the mood of Americans in Europe at that time and the book reminded me both of Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald and American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. I became hooked on Mr Ripley, and I’m glad that there are 4 more books to look forward to.

This was February’s book in Line’s 1001 books reading circle, and although I read it in February, I just have been too busy to write about it until now. Which is bad because I have forgotten what I wanted to say.

three.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (2013)
 “Hi!
My name is Nao, and I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you.

A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be. As for me, right now I am sitting in a French maid cafe in Akiba Electricity Town, listening to a sad Chanson that is playing sometime in your past, which is also my present, writing this and wondering about you, somewhere in my future. And if you’re reading this, then maybe by now you’re wondering about me, too.

You wonder about me.
I Wonder about you.
Who are you and what are you doing?” 

Ruth finds a box containing a diary in English, a notebook in French and some letters in Japanese washed ashore on an island in British Columbia. The diary is written by a young Japanese girl, Nao, who is getting bullied and wants to talk about her 104 year old Zen Buddhist nun great-grandmother. The book alters between Nao’s diary and Ruth reading it. As Nao’s story progresses, Ruth gets more worried about her and tries to find her on the Internet.

Once I started this, I couldn’t put it down. I was fascinated, both by Nao’s diary and by Ruth’s island life. But the end was such a let down. I mean, so much potential, and then you end it with a conversation about quantum physics? And the other thing which annoyed me was that she chose to put herself and her husband in it. Especially when Ruth turned out to be my least favourite character. Oliver was more likeable. And although I read this great interview, I worry that I will always link the author Ruth to the Ruth in the book, and I fear that this will make it harder to read her other books.

But, yes to everything else! I loved the mesmerising and sad tale of Nao, her awesome great-grandmother and the island community. I also like how the nature on the island is a character, and that there are so much to learn from this book; both of Japanese culture and how the environment works.