February 2014 – monthly update

So February has been a frustrating month. It seems I just couldn’t find time to read all that much. I have been working a lot all month and have just been too tired. In January, I read whenever I could find time and read through 6 books and lots of pages. This month I have unfortunately prioritized watching sucky tv more. I think it is sometimes easier to just vegetate in front of the tv when you are overworked and stressed out instead of picking up a book even though you know that in the end, you will enjoy the book more.
NightCircus.final_.2But still, I did read 5 books this month and I have still read some amazing good books this month. The first one was Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus which I had postponed reading but absolutely loved when I finally got around to it. The setting in this book was breathtaking and so lovely and I was just blown away by it. An entire black and white circus suddenly appearing out of nowhere and just spellbinding it’s audience. I also really liked the story in this book and the characters and I am really looking forward to Erin Morgenstern’s next novel.
possession-by-a-s-byatt[1]My other favorite novel this month was A.S. Byatt’s Possession. I watched her give a lecture back in 2005 and I was so impressed by her. So impressed that I actually got scared. She is just so clever and knowledgable and I have been really scared that I wasn’t able to get her books. But then I read her The Children’s Book a while ago and really liked it and I watched the movie version of Possession and decided to put the book on my list of reading goals for this year. And then I actually read it. And loved it. It’s a wonderful intelligent book and a beautiful love story. I was so engrossed by the romance of Christabel LaMotte and Randolph Ash. Talk about star-crossed lovers! Add to this that it is a literary mystery with beautiful writing. This is going to be one of my favorite novels of the year – and I can’t wait to reread it. I think it will be one of my favorite novels of all time. It is so intelligent that it can stand to be reread over and over.
It seems that I should learn from this experience not to postpone novels that I really want to read because I’m scared of not being able to get them or scared they are not able to live up to my expectations. I should just read whatever I want when I want it. I might have to work a bit on this before I accomplish doing so!
oryx-and-crakeI also began the MaddAddam trilogy by Margaret Atwood. I will not say too much about this novel or this series here before I’ve read the entire trilogy but I will say that Oryx & Crake is quite an accomplishment and the more I think about it, the more impressed I am. I am reading the second part of this trilogy right now, The Year of the Flood, and I’m just getting more and more impressed. This is clever writing!
My complete list of novels read in February look like this:

  1. Erin Morgenstern: The Night Circus
  2. Joyce Carol Oates: Carthage
  3. Susan Hill: Howard’s End is on the Landing
  4. A.S. Byatt: Possession
  5. Margaret Atwood. Oryx & Crake

Last year I read about 50 pages a day. This year, I wanted to do better. My goal was 100 pages a day. Sadly, February has been the month where it dropped. Not only below 100 but actually below 90 (although I ended the month just above 90 pages a day). I know it’s silly getting caught up in numbers and that the important thing is the reading experience. I know I should care more about reading amazing books and taking the time to really enjoy them than care about the amount of books I read. Still, I can’t help it. I want to read many books and therefore I want to read a lot of pages each day. And I just haven’t read all that many pages in February and it depresses me like hell, especially since I could have read so much more if I had just kept on prioritizing reading above other relaxing pastimes.
I’m actually a bit amused that I feel this way because five books in a month is excellent given my current schedule. I think I will have to think quite a bit about whether this focusing on pages a day is actually benefitting me or rather stressing me out. Five books is good – especially since these weren’t short books and they were really good books.

Related post:

Advertisements

A. S. Byatt: Possession (review)

possession-by-a-s-byatt[1]

‘She held his time, she contained his past and his future, both now cramped together, with such ferocity and such gentleness /…/’. (p. 287)

It seems that my go-to theme when talking about A.S. Byatt is that I’m afraid that she is so much more clever and well-read than me that I will not be able to understand her books. I hope this will change now when I’ve not only read two of her books, one of these being Possession, her most well-known work which also won the 1990 Booker Prize – but actually really liked them both.
And there’s absolutely nothing to dislike about Possession. A young literary scholar, Roland Michell, discovers two hidden and unfinished love letters by the great Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash. But there’s something different about these poems. They have a completely other feel to them than what Ash normally wrote and so, Roland is intrigued. He snatches the poems from London Library and starts investigating who they were written to.
This turns into quite the literary mystery hunt – during which he is joined by the Christabel LaMotte scholar Maud Bailey when it turns out that the poems were written to Christabel. But no one knew that Christabel LaMotte and Randolph Ash had a relationship – especially since Randolph Ash were (happily) married. As Roland and Maud dig deeper, they discover a beautiful, albeit very tragic, love story about two people who supplemented each other perfectly and fell in love through letters, yet could never be together.
Of course, Christabel and Randolph’s love story is somewhat paralleled by the contemporary story of Roland and Maud although the stories are vastly different even though Roland and Maud do their best to follow in the footsteps of Christabel and Randolph.
To make this novel even more impressive, Byatt has written the letters between Randolph and Christabel as well poems written by both poets. These poems and letters are convincing and have no contemporary feel to them. They felt so real, in fact, that I had to google to make sure that Randolph Ash and Christabel LaMotte were not in fact real people. It is such a convincing story that Byatt has written.
Now, of course no story is complete without a villain and in this book, it is a American Randolph Ash scholar who will stop at absolutely nothing to get what he wants. He wants everything that Ash ever owned to be in his or his university’s possession – and he does whatever it takes to achieve that. Academic life is definitely not always boring and predictable!
A character not to be forgotten in this novel, is Ellen Ash, Randolph Ash’s wife – although it seems easy to do, given you have two couples and two love stories, and she’s not a part in either. She shows herself fully towards the end and is just such a fascinating person, especially when we see what lengths she was willing to go to to protect her husband’s heritage and to protect him.
I absolutely loved this book. I was intrigued from beginning to end and just wanted to know what had happened between these two poets, what happened with their letters and why Christabel’s female roommate (or lesbian lover) committed suicide.
Add to this all the interesting thoughts on scholarship, especially the kind of scholarship that centers on just one person. What happens with a scholar who spends his entire life and career focused on the words and thoughts of one famous person? Does he just becomes a filter through which we experience another man’s life? Does his life loose all intrinsic worth and only gain importance through his scholarship? Does he become possessed by the poet in some ways, like Byatt at one point talks about Ash being possessed by Christabel as like a deamon? It’s fascinating to ponder – also the length scholars are willing to go to gain that piece of new knowledge that will not only ensure their career for life but also, maybe even more importantly, satisfy their curiosity.
This is definitely one of those books that shows you how good literature can be. Interesting and fascinating at the same time as it’s clever and intellectual. Extremely well-written and dealing with deep themes like feminism, Victorian poetry, academic scholarship, love. It was an absolute joy to read and I can only – again – regret that I didn’t read this one sooner. It is a book I can see myself rereading many times and because of the depths of it, enjoy it more and more with each reread.

First lines: The book was thick and black and covered with dust. Its boards were bowed and creaking; it had been maltreated in its own time. Its spine was missing, or rather protruded from amongst the leaves like a bulky marker. It was bandaged about and about with dirty white tape, tied in a neat bow.

  • Title: Possession
  • Author: A. S. Byatt
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • Year: 1991
  • Pages: 511 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 5 stars out of 5

Related post:

2011 Favorites

So I’ve read 41 books this year. Some good, some bad. Here’s a list of my favorites. I haven’t written reviews of all of them (yet) but for each book, I’ve written a reason for why it’s one of this year’s favorites. And I’ve linked to the review I have written. So in no particular order, my best reads of 2011.

Fiction

  • A.S. Byatt: The Children’s Book: This was the first book I read this year and it was a good start to the year. It was my first Byatt and I loved it. Byatt might make it onto the favorite author list one day! Especially since this is apparently isn’t one of her best books if I am to trust other reviewers and bloggers. For me, the best part and the part I keep on remembering is what gave the book it’s name. How the mother in the family wrote a story for each child and each child had it’s special notebook, decorated so it fitted the child and the story. Loved it!
  • Charles Dickens: David Copperfield: I have a weakness for Dickens. At least I think I do. I loved this, I loved A Christmas Carol, and I loved Nicholas Nickleby when I saw it in it’s entirety in a theater some years ago. David Copperfield is an amazing book, apparently kind of self-biographical. This is the story of David Copperfield’s life, starting with his birth, and it’s good.
  • Jonathan Franzen: The Corrections: Not only did I love this book and added Franzen to my list of potential favorite authors, my review of this also made it to the Fresh Pressed page here on WordPress which makes me remember it even more fondly. What can I say? It’s an amazing book. Franzen writes so so so good and everything in the book is just perfect (almost).
  • Colum McCann: Let the Great World Spin: This one surprised me. It involves a lot of different stories, most of which cleverly connect over the marvelous feat performed by a tightrope walker, walking between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The various stories gives the impression of a huge city, where a lot of it’s inhabitants get to share an experience that in some ways can be said to define the uniqueness that is New York.
  • Orhan Pamuk: Snow: The language in this one, the way he uses snow as an image and a metaphor … This is so good. Even though he reveals parts of the story, Pamuk still keeps you hooked. This is an amazing book and it has made Pamuk one of my potential favorite authors.
  • Marcel Proust: Swans Verden 1 (På sporet af den tabte tid 1)/Swann’s Way 1 (In Search of Lost Time 1): Proust is Proust. He’s in a league of his own. I don’t know yet if it’s a league above everyone else but I know he has his own league. Some of his thoughts are so interesting. And it’s weird that an entire book about a man who has just woken up but hasn’t gotten out of bed yet, can be so interesting. I need to read on to really figure out what my thoughts on Proust exactly are.
  • Jack Vance: The Complete Lyonesse: If you like a fairytales, this is a book for you. This is a beautiful and well-written and wonderfully long fairytale with princesses, princes, magicians, kings and queens, fairies and everything else, that makes a fairytale. This is good!

Non-fiction

  • Melanie Joy: Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism: The argumentation in this is simple: We’ve all ben indoctrinated to think that it’s all right  to eat our fellow animals but it really isn’t. I’m not vegan or even vegetarian but I hope to one day have the guts to take the step. Books like this are preaching to the choir – still, I think the argumentation in this was more sound than in lots of other books. And I loved it.

So out of 41 books, 8 got 5 stars. So close to 20% of the books I read, I gave 5 stars. Looking back now, the only one I might regret giving 5 stars, is the first volume of Proust’s Remembrance of Times Past/In Search of Lost Time. But I had a hard time figuring out what to rate it. And it’s Proust. I’ve had him on a pedestal forever so I couldn’t rate it anything else. Maybe I’ll change my thoughts about Proust as I read on.

When I look back, 2011 has felt like a really lousy year with regard to reading (and health). Still, I’m sitting here pain free, I got engaged this year (something I never thought I would be) and I did actually read some darn good books this year! So thanks for everything 2011 and see you in 2012! (Oh, and maybe I need to read a bit more non-fiction next year!)

Happy New Year!

Bookshopping in Paris (part 4)

Finally, the last installment in this short book shopping guide to Paris. On our last day, we visited the most commercial book store – which was also the store where I bought the greatest number of books. I do feel a bit bad about this since I prefer supporting the smaller bookstores which aren’t part of a chain but it just happened that this bookstore had a lot of books that I wanted. Also, this was the last bookstore so I knew I had to get everything I wanted here or I wouldn’t get it.

 

The bookstore I’m talking about is the WH Smith which is situated beautifully on the Place de la Concorde. I didn’t take any pictures of the outside since it’s exterior isn’t as interesting as the other shops (or more correctly, I was carrying a lot of books and just forgot…). I picked up 10 books in this store … and I could have bought even more but it was getting a bit hard carrying my stack as well as looking at more books.

Diana Gabaldon: Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander 2)

I read the first of the Outlander series in 2010 and although I liked it, I never got around to picking up the next volume. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how much they love these books so I figured I needed to read a bit further in the series and see if the like will grow to love.

Robin Hobb: The Assassin’s Trilogy

My best friend Henrik has talked about this for years. He always says that I’m going to love it – but that I will bawl my eyes out because there’s parts of it that I’ll find very very sad. I hate reading about anything that hurts animals and there’s some of that in these books. At the same time, there’s amazing bonding between animals and humans and I hope that will overshadow the sad parts.

Jennifer Egan: A Visit from the Goon Squad

Winner of the 2011 Pullitzer Prize for fiction. I heard Jennifer Egan read a part of this book on the New York Times Book Review Podcast. She read a chapter where a woman is a public relation advisor for a dictator. She advises him to wear a light blue knitted cap – but he wears it the wrong way and everybody thinks he’s dying of cancer and it’s a mess. When she gets him to wear it the right way, everyone suddenly thinks he’s adorable and he gets the Nobel Peace Prize … It was so funny to hear and I can’t wait to read this!

Howard Jacobson: The Finkler Question

Winner of the 2010 Booker Prize. I kind of have an idea about wanting to read the Booker Prize winners. So far, I’m not doing very good on that. But first step is to get the book and now I have this one, last years winner. It sounds kind of funny so I think it’ll be a good read. I really liked Skippy Dies by Paul Murray that was on the long list that year so hopefully, this will be even better.

A.S. Byatt: Possession

I’ve written before about how A.S. Byatt intimidates me (here). But after having finished one of her novels and having watched the movie version of Possession, I wanted to read it even more so here it is.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude

I’ve read Love in the Time of Cholera by Marquez and loved it, and this should be just as good or even better. I almost got Memories of my Melancholy Whores instead but I think I’m going to be glad that I picked this one.

Patrick Rothfuss: The Name of the Wind

I’m just so excited about this trilogy. The second volume was one of my most anticipated of the year, even though I haven’t read the first one …! I so think it sounds so so good. It doesn’t hurt either that this edition looks so amazing!

Joyce Carol Oates: We were the Mulvaney’s

Well, JCO is one of my all-time favorite authors. I just love her. I think this was the second novel I read by her (the first being Blonde). It’s been several years and I really want to re-read it.

So there you have it. This was the last Paris update. So the books featured in these 4 posts are some of the books you’ll get to see reviews of on the blog in the future. I think I did pretty good on my book shopping – at least I’m very happy with the books that came home with me. Of course, I could have easily bought more…

Review: The Children’s Book

A.S. Byatt: The Children’s Book (Knopf, 2009)

A.S. Byatt is a very clever woman, more well-read than I can ever dream of. She has humour and intelligence and I’ve been fascinated, intrigued and intimidating by her for some years now, since she held the 2005 Hans Christian Andersen Academy annual lecture. Her lecture was called Ghost and Documents: On the Writing of Historical Fiction and she talked among other things about Possession and I’ve been wanting to read it ever since. However, the Lady in question is so clever that I’ve been afraid that I wouldn’t get it so I’ve been postponing reading it now for 5 years. So when The Children’s Book was published, I thought that this was the opportunity for me to start reading Byatt.
I started out nervous but soon I realized that I didn’t have to be. Yes, she does mention a lot of subjects and yes, in the beginning I googled some stuff (who knew that the Fabian Society is a socialist movement who was part of the foundation of the Labour Party?). And she certainly does know a lot about pottery, about the Victoria and Albert Museum, basically about everything happening in England and Europe around the turn of the century. But at a certain point I decided, that most of this stuff was just to add flavour to her story and so I started just letting the story take me along and not care that I didn’t get each and everyone of her hints at current events – especially since these did read a bit like name dropping at times.
Now, I did say that I let the story take me along – and that’s not entirely correct because this is not a plot driven book. This is a slowly enfolding book about four families, mostly their children.
We follow the Wellwoods, both Humphrey’s family of Fabians and artists and his brother Basil who’s a business man, the Fludds where the father is a famous artist creating amazing pottery, and the Cains – and all the children. Especially the family of Humphrey Wellwood is rich in children and it’s this family and these children who are the center of the book.
These are the children of author Olive Wellwood who writes fantasy books for children – and write a separate, somewhat secret, book and story for each of the children in her family:
“The story books were kept in a glass-faced cabinet in Olive’s study. Each child had a book, and each child has his or her own story. It had begun, of course, with Tom, whose story was the longest. Eacch story was written in it’s own book, hand-decorated with stuck-on scraps and coloured patterns. Tom’s was inky-blue-black, covered with ferns and brackens, some real, dried and pressed, some cut out of gold and silver paper. Dorothy’s was forest-green, covered with nursery scraps of small creatures, hedgehogs, rabbits, mice, bluetits and frogs, Phyllis’s was rose-pink and lacy, with scraps of gauzy-winged fairies in florid dresses, sweet-peas and bluebells, daisies and pansies. Hedda’s was striped in purple, green and white , with silhuettes of witches and dragons. Florian’s book was only little, a nice warm red, with Father Christmas and a yule log.” (p. 80).
I just loved this! How amazing is this that the mother takes time to write a story for each child? Of course, it turns out that the children aren’t completely ecstatic about this.
Byatt has stated that the idea behind the book was that writing children’s books isn’t good for the writer’s own children. And that’s certainly true in this book. But in fact, being a child isn’t good in this book. These are children growing up and coming of age just as World War I hits with all the dire consequences we as readers can predict. While reading the fairytale beginning, we know that World War I is around the corner and that this will put an end to the kind of life, these people live.
The further you get in this book, the less fairytale it is. The endless summers of childhood are replaced by an adult life in the shadow of a war, and even before the war, the children slowly realizes that life is definitely not what they thought it was and that their parents have more secrets that one could think possible.
I really loved this book. I was envious of the lives these people led, the almost magic childhood some of these children had, a life surrounded by art and artists, people caring about what’s going on in the world and how to help those less fortunate. And then slowly, slowly, you start realizing that something is wrong. Firstly, in the Fludd house where the mother and two daughters walk around like shadows. And then in the other families as well where the children grow up and make disastrous choices as do the parents – and some of them pay dearly.
This is a book about relationships between children and their parents, it’s about how parents try to influence children to see their point of view as the right one – and how children no matter what the parents think will rebel at all time, to some degree at least. It’s a book about women’s right, sexual freedom, socialism and anarchism – and art; pottery, puppet theater, books.
It’s a rich, beautiful tapestry of a book – almost Russian in it’s immense scope and number of characters – but well worth the time it takes to read this huge novel.
And now I have the courage to read Byatt in the future!