My 2013 in Books

2013 was a good year for us as a family. I finally got a job and it’s a wonderful job with great colleagues, lots of challenges and I love it! My boyfriend got a promotion and he’s so much happier with his new job. Both girls are happy and healthy and fighting just the right amount for us to think that everything is as it should be. And we have added three bunnies to the family, something I’ve wished for for a long time.
Skærmbillede 2014-12-31 kl. 12.07.17When it comes to books, it was also a good year. I met my goal of reading 52 books (finished the last one at 2 am on December 31st!) and I read some amazing books. So here’s a breakdown of the best reads of 2013.

Overall Favorite
9781451673319_custom-90768645bbf0156499f341fdaa4acd3e3e3cecc1-s6-c10I was going back and forth about what my favorite read was – but the last book of the year proved to be it. For me, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 was an eye-opener. It is one of those books that make you realize how important books and reading are and it blew my mind. It was so so good and I want to read it again as well as read books discussing it’s worth and importance. This book was published  in 1953 but still it comments on our current media consumption, the decline of reading and the way we live our lives, focusing on entertainment. It is so important and everyone should read this book! It is just 159 pages but on almost every page, there’s something quote worthy. For me, it was a perfect read.

But even though this was such a shining star, there have been other wonderful reads this year.

Fiction
I have separated Classics and Fantasy from this category but still. It’s so very hard to choose a winner – or even which books belong in this category or in one of the others so I will just immediately say that there will be more than one winner in both this and the Classics category!
Whether you consider Fahrenheit 451 in this or the next category, it is of course still a winner but since it has already been highlighted as my overall favorite, I will talk about some of my other 5 stars reads from this year.
Despite reading both John Irving, Martin Amis, John Updike, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates and many more, there are two books that stood out the most.
9780141382227First of, there’s a reread. I first read Richard Adams’ Watership Down many years ago and liked it, but didn’t love it. When I reread it this year, I absolutely loved it. I would sit in the garden, looking at our bunnies play and read about Fiver, Hazel and all their friends and their struggle to establish their own warren after a long, harrowing journey. It was absolute bliss. Richard Adams manages to write these rabbits in a way so they still feel like rabbits. Their way of behavior is spot on and there are hardly any humans in the book. I was in love from the first page and it just continued throughout the entire book and it went straight to my favorites shelf. What a wonderful cozy read!
7548643_origAnother favorite novel this year was Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning BelovedThere was nothing cozy about this one but it was still oh so very good. It’s a devastating tale of what a mother will do to keep her children safe and it definitely made me question how far I would go to keep my girls safe. I am not sure that I could go so far as this mother but then, her circumstances was very special and her life was so different from mine. Morrison’s writing is perfect for this story – I had to reread certain key passages over and over to fully grasp it all – and to fully grasp the horror of what was happening. Such a special book.

Classics
2013 was also a good year for classics. I read Wilkie Collins, Jane Austen and Evelyn Waugh – but the following three deserves special mention.
18839Virginia Woolf’s Orlando is so many things at the same time. It’s a biography on the surface – but it’s also a love letter, a critique of male dominated history and the biography genre and much more, and then it’s just fascinating and intriguing and like nothing I have read before. And this is only in part because the main protagonist changes sex during the book and that he/she lives to be 400 years. It takes quite a lot of time to read even though it’s such a short book but that’s in part because my edition, at least, came with a lot of footnotes and I needed them to put Orlando’s history in perspective and get the connection between Orlando, Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West.
2611-review.jpg_full_600Another favorite read was The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. I had never read this book before or watched any movie version so I didn’t really know anything about the story. Even though I expected much more swash-buckling and sword fights, I really enjoyed it. The count is a very conflicted character who are mistreated by both his peers and betters and who has his life ruined by being thrown in jail. When he escapes and acquire a vast fortune, he seeks revenge on those that wronged him. This is indeed an example of the old saying that revenge is a dish best served cold – or not quite, since the count does have a few misgivings about mistreating the families to the men who mistreated him. It doesn’t stop him though and since he is generous and caring to the people who helped him and who he loves, he is indeed a many facetted character who feels very real. A very interesting book.
$(KGrHqJ,!h!E-7S82Jb6BP0N1CdgO!~~60_35And finally, my third favorite classic of the year, is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. This was a wonderful book. It was so understated and lovely and Gatsby was so lost and desperate and it was just a beautiful story of a man who will do anything for the woman he loves – whether she deserves it or not. And luckily, this book is so short that it will be easy to return to it and read it again – and it deserves to be read more than once since it’s complicated main character will certainly yield more and more depth and insight with each read. I really want to watch the movies too … Just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

Fantasy
I didn’t read a lot of fantasy this year although it is one of my favorite genres. But in a category with contenders like Stephen King’s The Waste Lands (Dark Tower #3) as well as other Dark Tower novels, the first two novels in Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files series, there still was a clear winner.
shadow-and-bone_lowresLeigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone (The Grisha #1) was just such a great read. I was drawn in from the very beginning and even though there was signs of inspiration from both Harry PotterThe Hunger Games and The Wheel of Time and more, it was a unique story, drawing on elements of Russian folklore – and I loved it. Fantasy often suffers from using the same ideas over and over – like a band of unlikely heroes or the one hero/heroine coming from unlikely circumstances and overcoming adversities. And so it is here – except the novel doesn’t suffer from it. It just works and I enjoyed it very much.

Biography & Non-Fiction
Even though I try to read more non-fiction, I mostly fails. Again this year, there are only very few books in this category. Four to be exact: Daniel Miller: The Comfort of ThingsAmy Chua: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Nina Sankovitch: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair and Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. And this was a category where I never had any doubts about the best book.
9780141032009-2Of course it’s Anne Frank. This is also the book, I’m most annoyed with having waited so long to read because I think it would have been a great book to read as a teenager, in my 20s and now again in my 30s. But now I will just have to settle for not having read it earlier – and with loving it. The diary is just so expressive. Anne Frank comes across as a teenager full of life and full of self-questioning. She is trying to figure out who she is and what kind of person she wants to be – and she uses her diary for that. At the same time, she writes about the hardships they suffer in their tiny rooms as well as what other Jews, the Dutch people and their helpers in particular suffer. She wanted to be remember and she definitely got her wish. It’s a wonderful book – even though it is a weird experience reading it and knowing she gets closer and closer to being discovered and sent to a concentration camp.
Skærmbillede 2014-01-02 kl. 12.56.53As it can be seen, either I read mostly very good books or I’m generous with my ratings. Either way, according to Goodreads I read 18.767 pages this year of mostly good and great books!

Women v. Men
My male to female author ratio on the other hand – not so good. 15 books by female authors – 36 books by male authors and one collection of short stories with both male and female authors.

Own books v. borrowed/rented books
I read 7 books that were either borrowed from friends or rented from the library. The rest were my own books, either e-books or real books.

Kindle books v. dead tree books
I read 10 books on either my Kindle or iPad this year – the rest was regular good old books. I prefer reading real books over Kindle books but I love that I can get books in just a minute or so – especially since the book stores are rather lousy in my town.

My Private Reading Challenge
I make my own reading challenge each year as well as challenge my boyfriend and my best friend to each read a book I choose – as they challenge me with a book each. This year’s challenge consisted of 24 books all in all including a few books from 2012 that I didn’t make it through then. Again this year I haven’t read all the books I wanted too but I did read the number of books I wanted – 52 books in all – and I’m very proud of that.
Another goal this year was to get my to-read list lower when the year ended than it was when the year began – that is, to buy fewer books than I read. And I did read more books than I bought – I just also read Kindle books, library books and books borrowed from friends.
So I didn’t get my to read below the 195 books I started the year with – but I got it back down to 195 books. So I ended the year at status quo and I’m okay with that.
I have a few books left over from the 2012 and 2013 goals I will try to make it through this year:

  • At least one book by Margaret Atwood
  • One nonfiction book
  • Don DeLillo: Underworld
  • Read all of Sherlock Holmes
  • One non-fiction book about philosophy: Coppleston vol. 1

So these are the sort of left-over goals. In a later post I will write about my 2014 goals.

And I think this is it. I think I have said all I want to say about my reading in 2013 – oh, except that I’m going to do a post about the books I missed in 2013. But until then I just want to wish you all a Happy New Year and thank you for visiting my blog, reading my thoughts and commenting on them. I love this blog and I love all of you for making it worth it. Thank you – and Happy New Year!

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Third Quarterly Update of 2013

Let me just start with a sigh. I am so behind and I feel behind. We’re almost completely through October and I’m writing my quarterly update post. Last year, I wrote one every month – this year only one every quarter and still I can’t do it on time.
And I’m behind on every challenge. I had hoped to read A Year with Rilke this year but I abandoned it months ago. I wanted to read all the Doctor Who short stories published this year to celebrate the 50th Anniversary but have abandoned that too months ago. I’m behind on my reading goals, both the books I intended to read this year and the number of books I wanted to read. I actually feel a bit disillusioned with it all right now although I’m trying to find my mojo again with some very light reading as well as a couple of days holiday in October – and not very much time to a long Christmas holiday.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This is a post designed to reflect and look back, to take stock of what I have read, what I have loved and where I am with my goals. And let’s just just agree that I’m behind and not talk more about the goal thing.

So here’s the books I’ve read this quarter:

  1. Alexandre Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo
  2. Neil Gaiman: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
  3. Tim Stutler: Hillari’s Head
  4. Virginia Woolf: Orlando
  5. Stephen King: The Waste Lands (The Dark Tower #3)
  6. Stephen King: Wizard and Glass (The Dark Tower #4)
  7. Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey
  8. Jane Austen: Mansfield Park
  9. Richard Adams: Watership Down
  10. Evelyn Waugh: Brideshead Revisited

I’ve read 10 books again – just as in the second quarter of the year (but I did read 16 in the first quarter so …). I really like how I mix classics with more contemporary things and I’m actually quite impressed with the amount of classics I’ve read this quarter. And 10 books is still somewhat impressive when The Count of Monte Cristo is one of them … (I’m trying here!)

9780141382227My favorite this quarter has been Watership Down by Richard Adams. I absolutely loved The Count of Monte Cristo, I was so impressed with Orlando and Northanger Abbey was so good too. And of course I enjoyed reading King – especially The Waste Lands. But despite all these wonderful books, Watership Down was my favorite. I loved everything about this book. Adams really get bunnies. He writes them so wonderfully and then the book is filled with lessons about politics and how we live together with each other and welcome immigrants, encounter other species etc. – and it’s all just perfect. It’s definitely one of my all time favorite books.

I am not sure about my plans for the rest of the year. I intend to try and make my reading goals – that is, read 52 books in all as well as read the books I listed at the beginning of the year. But I just have to accept that my work is taking a lot out of me and that I stress if I don’t read. So the most important thing is, that I read. And if I have to read lighter fiction to be able to keep awake, so be it. Nothing wrong with that. Except that I had some other plans for the year but again, the most important thing is that I read. I also hope to finish at least the first volume of Coppleston’s History of Philosophy but we’ll see. It’s not going all that great right now…

I hope my last quarterly update of the year will be more upbeat and positive – and that I will feel that it has been a good reading year. Oh, and I hope that I have been able to afford to buy a huge comfy chair (two actually, since my boyfriend want one too) and dedicate a corner in our living room to reading!

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Richard Adams: Watership Down (review)

9780141382227So I have a history with this novel. I read it years ago in a Danish translation and I liked it but didn’t love it – mostly because of the myths which I found a bit boring. Then back in 2008 I was in London with my boyfriend. In the meantime I had owned – and loved – four house rabbits. So when I spotted the 35th Anniversary edition of Watership Down, I had to have it. And then 5 more years passed by before I again became the owner of bunnies – this time three beautiful bunnies together with my daughters – and it just felt like the right time to reread this book.
And guess what – it so was. I loved it! I’ve added it to my favorite shelf and I really just want to establish a routine where I reread it every year or so.
But what is so special about a book about bunnies, you might ask. Everything, I’m tempted to answer. But I know that’s not enough of an answer so I’ll try to elaborate.
On the surface, this is the story of a small group of bunnies. Hazel, his brother Fiver who is something of a psychic, Bigwig, Dandelion and a few others. Because of a premonition, Fiver convinces Hazel that they have to leave their warren and they persuade a few other bunnies to come along – and fight their way away from the warren.
What follows now is a description of their journey towards finding a proper place to establish a new warren, the hardships they meet on their way as well as the realization that a proper warren needs does as well, not only bucks.
This is the essence of the story. But the book is so much more. First and foremost, it’s a must for any rabbit lover because it’s evident that Richard Adams has spent time researching rabbits’ mannerism, ways of interacting, movements and more so he just nails the ways rabbits are in his descriptions. But even if you don’t think rabbits are one of the most amazing animals like I do, this is still a wonderful book. Because it’s so much more than a bunny book.
In a lot of places, if not all, it’s a political analogy. This is a book showing what dictatorships and powerful leaders mean to the souls living in their shadow. It’s a book about friendship and the sharing of common dreams and the ability to see that life can be different. The plants are new, the smells are new. We’re going to need some new ideas ourselves.’ (p. 129) It’s about gender roles and how they doesn’t necessarily make sense and have to be questioned. It’s about forming friendship with the other even when he doesn’t look anything like you. And it’s a book about group dynamics and to use each individual’s competences and strengths in the best possible way so you get the greatest results.
It’s also a book about myths and legends and what story telling means to a community and how it can be a way of coming together and learning. And well-known life lessons told in a refreshing new way – like you shouldn’t worry about problems before they arises: ‘You are trying to eat grass that isn’t there. Why don’t you give it a chance to grow?‘ (p. 339)
But of course, mostly it’s a book about Hazel and his friends. The small Fiver who is overlooked by most but is hugely important to the ones who know him and realizes the power of his gift. The big and powerful and unimaginative Bigwig who is so hugely important to the rest of the group. Blackberry the clever one. Dandelion, Silver, Holly, Clover … And of course Hazel, the leader of them all.
Richard Adams manages to create unforgettable characters with this group of bunnies. He also creates a world that seems consistent with it’s inhabitants. Humans play only a very little role – this is the story of wild animals and they have special words for the things from the human world, they are forced to interact with, like cars and roads. They also have words for specific rabbit activities like going above ground to eat, silflay. And he doesn’t make them so intelligent and clever that it becomes unrealistic. When they are escaping from danger and a couple of them are hurt and tired, one of the bunnies realize that the injured bunnies can be put on top of a board and pushed across a river by a strong bunny but most of the other bunnies are incapable of understanding this. And one of the injured bunnies don’t even realize that he was rescued by this – he simply doesn’t understand it. And this means that the world of Watership Down is realistic and believable but also that it at the same time is well-known and a bit strange because it is viewed from the point of view of these bunnies. And that is definitely one of the novel’s strengths and charms.
It’s simply a wonderful and very special novel which I absolutely loved reading and completely adored and I’m a bit annoyed with myself for not rereading it sooner because it’s just such a charming book with so much depth.
‘Rabbits (say Mr Lockley) are like human beings in many ways. One of these is certainly their staunch ability to withstand disaster and to let the stream of their life carry them along, past reaches of terror and loss. They have a certain quality which it would not be accurate to describe as callousness or indifference. It is rather, a blessedly circumscribed imagination and an intuititive feeling that Life is Now.’ (p. 159)

  • Title: Watership Down
  • Author: Richard Adams
  • Publisher: Puffin Books
  • Year: 2007 (original 1972)
  • Pages: 475 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 5 stars out of 5

The Classics Club – Year One

imgpressSo it’s been a year since I joined the Classics Club. I had decided early on that I didn’t want to join the Classics Club since I had so much going on already and a lot of commitments, both connected to which books I wanted to read and the rest of life.
But people kept on writing about the Classics Club and they seemed to enjoy themselves so much that I started to feel left out. I also love making to-do lists (although not necessary doing what they say) so the whole idea of making a list of books I wanted to read, was very appealing to me.
So yeah, I caved and I joined and I made a list of 50 books that I want to read before September 2017.
And now, a year has gone by and where has it left me. I have read 8 books so far which is not quite as much as I would have liked to. But it has been wonderful books – see the list below.

Richard Adams: Watership Down. (5 stars)

Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey (4 stars)

Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone (4 stars)

Alexander Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo (5 stars)

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby. (5 stars)

Victor Hugo: Les Misérables. (5 stars)

Toni Morrison: Beloved (5 stars)

Virginia Woolf: Orlando (5 stars)

So yeah, it has been amazing books. Only two of them got below 5 stars – and I’m thinking now that I might have been a bit harsh because I remember them both very fondly. It has just been such amazing reads so I’m really looking forth to the next 42 books on my list. I’ll try to get a lot read during this next year so I’ll be on target with my reading of this list.
So while that has been good, what hasn’t been as good is my general participation level in the club. I have participated in one of the monthly memes, just one. And that is a bit shabby. I’ve never really explored all the wonderful reviews I know has been written for the club by it’s members – and I hope to explore that more during the next year too.
So what I can conclude after this my first year is, that I have read some wonderful books but if I’m not participating more in the various club activities, I could just as well have made a list completely on my own and not be in a club. And that’s a shame. So my goal for the next year is to read many, many more wonderful books from my list and to try and be an active member of the club.

Oh and I promise I’ll write the last reviews soon – it’s a bit shameful that I have only written 4 reviews out of 8 when I loved all the books and really want to convince everyone else to read them!!

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