Sunday, 30 December 2012

A Century of Books

I found this idea in another blog that I really like. The blogger had the goal to read a book from every year in the last century during the year 2012. Now, I'm not as adventurous as that, I know I wouldn't be able to read all those books in one year plus my book club books and any new books friends recommend. So, I started to go through my notes and see which years I already have or which are on my wishlist already and came up with the following list. I will add to the list as soon as I read new books from those years.

1900 - Jerome K. Jerome "Three Men on the Bummel" (Three Men on Wheels)
1901 - Thomas Mann "Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family" (Buddenbrooks)
1902 - Joseph Conrad "Heart of Darkness"
1903 - W.E.B. Du Bois "The Souls of Black Folk"
1904 - Henry James "The Golden Bowl"
1905 - Edith Wharton "The House of Mirth"
1906 - Maxim Gorki "The Mother" (Мать/Matj)
1907 -
1908 - Montgomery, L. M. (Lucy Maud) "Anne of Green Gables"   
1909 - Frances Hodgson Burnett "The Secret Garden"
1910 - E.M. Forster "Howard’s End"
1911 - Edith Wharton "Ethan Frome"
1912 - Mann, Thomas "Death in Venice" (Der Tod in Venedig)
1913 - Sarah Morgan Dawson "1842-1909 A Confederate Girl's Diary"
1914 -
1915 -
1916 - James Joyce "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" 
1917 -
1918 - Willa Cather "My Ántonia"
1919 -
1920 - Sinclair Lewis "Main Street: The Story of Carol Kennicott"
or Sigrid Undset "Kristin Lavransdotter"

1921 -
1922 - Herman Hesse "Siddhartha" (Siddharta)
1923 - Khalil Gibran "The Prophet"
1924 - E.M. Forster "A Passage to India"
1925 - F. Scott Fitzgerald "The Great Gatsby"
1926 - A.A. Milne "Winnie the Pooh" 
1927 - Virginia Woolf "To the Lighthouse"
1928 - Grimm, Hans Herbert aka Emil Schulz "Schlump. The Story of an unknown soldier" (Schlump. Geschichten und Abenteuer des unbekannten Musketiers Emil Schulz, genannt 'Schlump', von ihm selbst erzählt) - 1928
1929 - Thomas Wolfe "Look Homeward, Angel. A Story of the Buried Life."
1930 - Pearl S. Buck "East Wind: West Wind"
1931 - Willa Cather "Shadows on the Rock"
1932 - Stella Gibbons "Cold Comfort Farm"
1933 - Pearl S. Buck "The Mother"
1934 - Mikahil Sholokhov "And Quiet flows the Don"
1935 -
1936 - Margaret Mitchell "Gone with the Wind"
1937 - Isak Dinesen= Karen Blixen "Out of Africa"
1938 - Graham Greene "Brighton Rock"
1939 - Pearl S. Buck "The Patriot"
1940 - John Steinbeck "The Grapes of Wrath"
1941 -
1942 - Albert Camus "The Stranger/The Outsider" (L’Etranger)
1943 - Betty Smith "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn"
1944 - Eleanor Estes "The Hundred Dresses"
1945 - Mika Waltari "The Egyptian" (Sinuhe Egyptiläinen)
1946 - Pearl S. Buck "Pavilion of Women"
1947 - Albert Camus "The Plague" (La Peste)
1948 - Alan Paton "Cry, The Beloved Country"
1949 - George Orwell "Nineteen Eighty Four"
1950 - Nevil Shute "A Town Like Alice"
1951 - Jack Kerouac "On the Road"
1952 - Ernest Hemingway "The Old Man and the Sea"
1953 - Mary Scott "Breakfast at Six"
1954 - William Golding "Lord of the Flies"
1955 - Yaşar Kemal "The Drumming-Out" (Teneke)
1956 - Iris Murdoch "The Flight From the Enchanter"
1957 - Mahfouz, Naguib "Sugar Street" (السكرية/Al-Sukkariyya)
1958 - Elie Wiesel "Night" (La Nuit)
1959 - Goscinny, René; Uderzo, Albert "Asterix the Gaul" (Astérix le Gaulois)
1960 - Harper Lee "To Kill a Mockingbird"
1961 - V.S. Naipaul. "A House for Mr. Biswas"
1962 - Doris Lessing "The Golden Notebook"
1963 - Scott, Mary "It’s Perfectly Easy"
1964 - Hannah Green (Joanne Greenberg) "I Never Promised you a Rose Garden”
1965 -
1966 - Jean Rhys "Wide Sargasso Sea"
1967 - Gabriel Garcia Marquez "One hundred years of solitude" (Cien años de soledad)
1968 - Lew Nikolajewitsch Tolstoi "War and Peace" (Война и мир = Woina i mir)
1969 - Jurek Becker "Jacob the Liar" (Jakob der Lügner)
1970 - Dee Brown "Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee"
1971 - Alexander Solzhenitsyn "The Red Wheel" cycle
            (Узел I - «Август Четырнадцатого», Красное колесо)
1972 - Richard Adams "Watership Down"
1973 - Kurt Vonnegut "Breakfast of Champions"
1974 - Valentin Rasputin "To Live and Remember" (Zhiwi e pomni = Живи и помни)
1975 - Imre Kertész "Fateless/Fatelessness" (Sorstalanság)
1976 - Rasputin, Valentin (Распутин, Валентин Григорьевич) "Farewell to Matyora" (Прощание с Матёрой) 
1977 - Mario Vargas Llosa "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter" (La tía Julia y el escribidor)
1978 - Rita Mae Brown "Six of One"
1979 - Italo Calvino "If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller" (Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore)
1980 - Eco, Umberto "The Name of the Rose" (Der Name der Rose/Il nome della rosa) 
1981 - Morton Rhue "The Wave"
1982 - Isabel Allende "The House of the Spirits" - Walker, Alice "The Color Purple"
1983 - Sten Nadolny "The Discovery of Slowness" (Die Entdeckung der Langsamkeit)
1984 -
1985 - Margaret Atwood "The Handmaid’s Tale"
1986 - Patricia MacLachlan "Sarah, Plain & Tall"
1987 - Toni Morrison "Beloved"
1988 - Paulo Coelho "The Alchemist: A Fable about Following Your Dream"
1989 - Ken Follett "The Pillars of the Earth"
1990 - A.S. Byatt "Possession"
1991 - Jung Chang "Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China"
1992 - Harry Mulisch "The Discovery of Heaven" (De Ontdekking van de hemel)
1993 - Vikram Seth "A Suitable Boy"
1994 - Marianne Fredriksson "Hanna’s Daughters" (Anna, Hanna og Johanna)
1995 - Stefanie Zweig "Nowhere in Africa" (Nirgendwo in Afrika)
1996 - Joyce Carol Oates "We Were the Mulvaneys"
1997 - Charles Frazier "Cold Mountain"
1998 - Jane Smiley "The All-true Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton"
1999 - Nancy E. Turner "These is my words"

Find the original list here and  here.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

My favourite books 2012 and 2011

A lot of friends keep asking me about my favourite book of last year. Tough question, I'm sure I'd give a different answer every day. And the same applies to my ten favourite books. However, I have been going through my list and have chosen a selection of books that have left an impression on me. I hope there is something there for everybody, I think there are quite a few different choices. Enjoy.

My favourite books 2012

Allende, Isabel "Island Beneath the Sea" (La isla bajo el mar) - 2010
Atwood, Margaret "The Handmaid’s Tale" – 1985
Bryson, Bill "A Short History of Nearly Everything" - 2003
Chang, Jung "Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China" - 1991
Follett, Ken "World Without End" – 2007
Hamill, Pete "Snow in August" - 1998 
Mandela, Nelson "Long Walk to Freedom" - 1994
Oates, Joyce Carol "Mudwoman" - 2012
Sackville, Amy "The Still Point" - 2010
Shute, Nevil "A Town Like Alice" - 1950 

My favourite books 2011

Bryson, Bill "At Home. A Short History of Private Life" – 2010
Camus, Albert "The Plague" (La Peste) – 1947
Falcones, Ildefonso "The Hand of Fatima" (La mano de Fátima) – 2009
Ilibagiza, Immaculée with Erwin, Steve "Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust" – 2006
Lowenstein, Anna "The Stone City" (La Ŝtona Urbo) – 1999
Mortenston, Greg "Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan" - 2009
O'Farrell, John "An Utterly Impartial History of Britain or 2,000 Years of Upper Calls Idiots in Charge" – 2007
Pamuk, Orhan "Istanbul - Memories of a City" (İstanbul - Hatıralar ve Şehir) – 2003
Ruiz Zafón, Carlos "The Prince of Mist" (El príncipe de la niebla) – 1993
Rutherfurd, Edward "The Forest" – 2000

Friday, 28 December 2012

Oates, Joyce Carol "Mudwoman"

Oates, Joyce Carol "Mudwoman" - 2012

Joyce Carol Oates is one of my favourite authors. She surprises me with every new novel. As she did with this one.

Meredith Ruth (M.R.) Neukirchen is an abandoned and then adopted child that grows into a very successful woman. When she is at the top, she starts struggling with her past.

It is amazing how ordinary events can bring up topics you have long forgotten. And it is close to a miracle how Joyce Carol Oates can bring this to life on her pages. An almost fantasy-like story, although more magic realism, a story that has it all, it's a thriller, but it's so much more than a thriller. It's a philosophical book as well as the description of a journey to find oneself.

A quote to think about: "Earth-time is a way of preventing everything happening at once."

Find links to all my other Joyce Carol Oates reviews here.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Hamill, Pete “Snow in August”

Hamill, Pete “Snow in August” - 1998

Brooklyn, two years after World War II. An 11 year old Irish Catholic boy whose father died in battle and who lives alone with his mother befriends a Czech Rabbi and learns about Judaism and the Holocaust. Together they face racism and violence. Together with Michael, we learn about the Yiddish language, Jewish history, Jewish literature, the Jewish folkloristic Golem and - baseball.

The story is well-told, switching between the past and the present, building anticipation. You could almost read the story in a day but you don't want to say good-bye too early to the characters as you hopefully grow to love them as much as I did.

I really loved this book and would like to read more by this author.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Liao, Yiwu "Testimonials or: For a Song and a Hundred Songs"

Liao, Yiwu "Testimonials or: For a Song and a Hundred Songs: A Poet's Journey Through a Chinese Prison" (Chinese: Zheng-Ci) - 2000

I read the expanded German translation of a Chinese book by Yiwu Liao "Für ein Lied und hundert Lieder: Ein Zeugenbericht aus chinesischen Gefängnissen". He just received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis). The book "describes the horrific treatment of Liao Yiwu and other political prisoners in a Chongqing prison who were arrested after the June 4, 1989 crackdown".

It's terrifying to read what people in Chinese prisons have to go through. This is a good book to read but with horrible pictures of what they do to each other. It's hardly believable that human beings can be like that.
What a tragic report of so many lives lost and wasted. At times, I thought, "Do I really want to know all this?" But then I carried on because if people can endure those tortures, we should at least make an effort to know about it. How much can a person endure?

There is also a lot of poetry in this book since Yiwu Liao is a poet, and a lot of Chinese history and literature, information about Chinese life and thinking. My favourite proverb mentioned: "Distant water won't quench your immediate thirst".

Yiwu Liao received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis) in 2012.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Stowe, Harriet Beecher “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

Stowe, Harriet Beecher “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” - 1852

This is one of the most tragic stories I have ever read, and I think I've read my fair share of tragedies. I have read books about wars, concentration camps and slavery, to name but a few. As with other classic stories, I had heard about the content, I knew what was going to happen to Uncle Tom, I knew what happened to slaves, how they were sold and tortured, how they would sell spouses and children away from their families. But it's tragic every time again, especially if you put a name to the people involved, if they are described in such a way that they come alive on the paper.

Harriet Beecher Stowe has managed to do just this, she brings alive all those poor people who had no rights at all and who had no hope that anything would ever improve in their lives, that they and their loved ones would get away from a fate worth than death.

There is Uncle Tom, a faithful servant to a good "master" who would never sell him. Or would he? Several other characters in the novel learn that when money is involved, everything is possible, whether the owner wants to sell their "possessions" or not. Then there is his family who have to say good-bye to husband and father, knowing they will never see him again. And then there are all the other poor souls, all of whom have a cross to bear, one story seems more unbearable than the next. Amazing how they still can go on and even have compassion. But they do.

I read that "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is not read in school anymore because of the racial prejudices that were around at the time and that the author repeats several times. I don't think that's a reason not to read it anymore, on the contrary. That would be the same as not reading anything about concentration camps and the Nazis anymore. No, I think as long as we read these stories and are aware of the prejudices that used to exist, we can fight those that still are around. The more we see about it, the more ridiculous they seem and the earlier they will be eliminated.

I totally loved reading this story, even though I never like this way of describing a story of this content.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Buck, Pearl S. "The Exile"

Buck, Pearl S. "The Exile" - 1936

Pearl S. Buck grew up mostly in China, the daughter of American missionaries. In her many novels she describes the life of Chinese people past and present.

This book, however, is a biography about her mother, Carie Stulting Sydenstricker, a missionary and the wife of a missionary, who led most of her adult life in a foreign place, who went through hard times both politically as well as personally. She lived through several invasions, the Japanese, the Russians, through illnesses and death of her children. She lives in two worlds and cannot claim either of them as her real home in the end.

Same as her novels, I really loved this biography of the author's mother. She shows how much love can change life of the people around you and sometimes of a lot more.

From the back cover: "The biography of the mother of Pearl S. Buck, a portrait of an American woman in China."

Find other books by Pearl S. Book that I read here.

Pearl S. Buck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938 "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces".

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Brijs, Stefan "The Angel Maker"

Brijs, Stefan "The Angel Maker" (De engelenmaker) - 2005

A story about a doctor who clones lives a very private life with his children in a remote village in the German speaking part of Belgium. As the story unfolds, we get to know his secret.

We had chosen the book because there are only a few Dutch books translated into English. We had different feelings about the story. It was gripping, a thriller, thought-provoking.

We learned about Asperger syndrome, autism and how inmates of asylums used to be treated. And about cloning.

It was interesting to see the contrast between modern science and narrow-mindedness. The book was easy to read but had so many layers. There was a lot of symbolism, the trinity appeared again and again.

The author did a great research, a lot of information and facts seemed correct.

Some really enjoyed the book, others found it disturbing and depressing, even horrific, disgusting, took some of us way past our comfort zone. It is very gothic-like.

The small town mentality was disturbing. We found that they are the same everywhere.

There was nobody in the whole novel we could relate to, even the children were portrayed so inhuman, we could only feel empathy for the school teacher.

We like to say that "science is value free", that there can be no limits, it's discovery for the sake of discovery. What do we do with the discoveries, someone will use it who doesn't have the inhibitions. The quote "Medicine has allowed us to die more slowly." was mentioned.

You know from the first sentence, this is not going to end well. He leaves a lot of questions open.

I didn't care much for the title, in German, an angel maker is someone who performs an unsafe illegal abortion, However, as a subject, this was just as bad. I hadn't looked forward to the book and didn't care for it much. I also didn't like the (original) cover picture or the one of the artist. The former reminded me of a fried egg gone bad, the latter made me think the author was writing about himself.

Still, we had a very interesting discussion about a sensitive subject.

We discussed this in our book club in November 2012.

Friday, 7 December 2012

The 100 Greatest Fiction Books as Chosen by The Guardian

I love lists. Lists that have been put together by people smarter than me, who have read more than I have and who know so much more about them. It's always a great way to find "new" and interesting literature.

I already have a list of the 100 Books by the BBC, and lately, I came across one by the Guardian "The 100 Greatest Fiction Books". Not at all the same novels as on the other one, therefore it is so interesting to add this to my ever increasing "wishlist".

1. Don Quixote - Miguel De Cervantes
2. Pilgrim's Progress - John Bunyan
3. Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe 
4. Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift
5. Tom Jones - Henry Fielding
6. Clarissa - Samuel Richardson
7. Tristram Shandy - Laurence Sterne 
8. Dangerous Liaisons - Pierre Choderlos De Laclos
9. Emma- Jane Austen
10. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
11. Nightmare Abbey - Thomas Love Peacock
12. The Black Sheep - Honoré De Balzac
13. The Charterhouse of Parma - Stendhal
14. The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
15. Sybil - Benjamin Disraeli
16. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
17. Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë
18. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë
19. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray 
20. The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne
21. Moby-Dick - Herman Melville
22. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
23. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
24. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
25. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
26. The Way We Live Now - Anthony Trollope
27. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy 

28. Daniel Deronda - George Eliot 
29. The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoevsky
30. The Portrait of a Lady - Henry James
31. Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
32. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson
33. Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K. Jerome
34. The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde
35. The Diary of a Nobody - George Grossmith
36. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
37. The Riddle of the Sands - Erskine Childers
38. The Call of the Wild - Jack London
39. Nostromo - Joseph Conrad
40. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
41. In Search of Lost Time - Marcel Proust
42. The Rainbow - D. H. Lawrence
43. The Good Soldier - Ford Madox Ford
44. The Thirty-Nine Steps - John Buchan
45. Ulysses - James Joyce
46. Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
47. A Passage to India - E. M. Forster
48. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
49. The Trial - Franz Kafka
50. Men Without Women - Ernest Hemingway
51. Journey to the End of the Night - Louis-Ferdinand Celine
52. As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner
53. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
54. Scoop - Evelyn Waugh
55. USA - John Dos Passos
56. The Big Sleep - Raymond Chandler
57. The Pursuit Of Love - Nancy Mitford
58. The Plague - Albert Camus
59. Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell
60. Malone Dies - Samuel Beckett
61. Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
62. Wise Blood - Flannery O'Connor
63. Charlotte's Web - E. B. White
64. The Lord Of The Rings - J. R. R. Tolkien
65. Lucky Jim - Kingsley Amis
66. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
67. The Quiet American - Graham Greene
68. On the Road - Jack Kerouac 
69. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
70. The Tin Drum - Günter Grass
71. Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
72. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark
73. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
74. Catch-22 - Joseph Heller  
75. Herzog - Saul Bellow
76. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel García Márquez 
77. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont - Elizabeth Taylor
78. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - John Le Carré
79. Song of Solomon - Toni Morrison
80. The Bottle Factory Outing - Beryl Bainbridge
81. The Executioner's Song - Norman Mailer
82. If on a Winter's Night a Traveller - Italo Calvino
83. A Bend in the River - V. S. Naipaul
84. Waiting for the Barbarians - J.M. Coetzee
85. Housekeeping - Marilynne Robinson
86. Lanark - Alasdair Gray
87. The New York Trilogy - Paul Auster
88. The BFG - Roald Dahl
89. The Periodic Table - Primo Levi
90. Money - Martin Amis
91. An Artist of the Floating World - Kazuo Ishiguro
92. Oscar And Lucinda - Peter Carey
93. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting - Milan Kundera
94. Haroun and the Sea af Stories - Salman Rushdie
95. LA Confidential - James Ellroy
96. Wise Children - Angela Carter
97. Atonement - Ian McEwan
98. Northern Lights - Philip Pullman
99. American Pastoral - Philip Roth
100. Austerlitz - W. G. Sebald

Same as with the BBC list, I don't think I'm ever going to read all of them because there are a few I really wouldn't want to read but I have marked those in bold that I have read (only 34 so far) and added the links to those books I have already reviewed.

There are also other lists on Art, Biography, Environment, History, Journalism, Literature, Mathematics, Memoir, Mind, Music, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science, Society, and Travel  that you can find HERE.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Fitzgerald, F. Scott "Tender Is the Night"

Fitzgerald, F. Scott "Tender Is the Night" - 1934

An American in Paris, well, no, several Americans in the South of France, to be exact. Some rich expatriates live the perfect life, only, one of them is schizophrenic and marries her psychiatrist.

You can detect in the story and the way it is told that this is also the writer of "The Great Gatsby".

Apparently, the authors wife was also schizophrenic, and he based this story on his own life. He describes the whole situation very well, very lively, absolutely believable. It seems so true, and, yet, immensely sad.

I have read this book years ago but it still resonates with me. I also really liked the title.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Lindgren, Astrid "The Six Bullerby Children"

Lindgren, Astrid "The Six Bullerby Children" (Swedish: Barnen i Bullerbyn) - 1947

Next to "Seacrow Island" (Swedish: Tjorven Vi på Saltkråkan), my favourite story by Astrid Lindgren. This is a trilogy about six children who live in the little village of Bullerby, Lisa, Britta, Anna, Lasse, Bosse and Olle. They talk about their life in the little village, their little adventures and pranks. They live in the first half of the last century, no technology, a life most of us don't remember.

These are lovely little stories about an innocent childhood that doesn't exist anymore. Still, a lovely account, also a very nice read to for younger children.

From the back cover: "Welcome to Noisy Village! Go crayfishing in the summer at Nocken, "dipping in the pot" at Christmastime with Lisa and Karl, and join Britta and Anna who know the best way to go about "nutting" for the New Year. In this gently humorous tale, master storyteller Astrid Lindgren takes us through a year in the lives and customs of six Swedish children living on a group of three farms in the countryside.
Ten-year-old Lisa tells about her brothers and playmates and the happy times they spend at work and at play in their Swedish village."

Astrid Lindgren received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis) in 1978.  

Robinson, Barbara "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever"

Robinson, Barbara "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" (aka "The Worst Kids in the World") - 1972

I first learned about this book when my son played Charlie Bradley in a school play. Since we are quite the book family, we went and bought the book to read. It was just as fantastic. I think every child should read this story.

You can learn in this play what Christmas is all about, what it really means. Not about who has the tallest tree and the most presents, who has the best grades and the largest house. But about a little child being born more than 2,000 years ago and people are still talking about it.

The story is both unusual, even unconventional and hilarious. A lovely plot with a happy end. A good Christmas story.

From the back cover: "Comedy / All Groups / 4m, 6f, plus 8 boys and 9 girls In this hilarious Christmas tale, a couple struggling to put on a church Christmas pageant is faced with casting the Herdman kids - probably the most inventively awful kids in history. You won't believe the mayhem - and the fun - when the Herdmans collide with the Christmas story head on! This delightful comedy is adapted from the best selling book and the only story ever to run twice in McCall's Magazine. "An American classic." -McCall's Magazine "One of the best Christmas stories ever - and certainly one of the funniest." - Seattle Times"

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Bach, Richard „Jonathan Livingston Seagull“

Bach, Richard „Jonathan Livingston Seagull“ - 1970

"This is a story for people who follow their hearts and make their own rules...people who get special pleasure out of doing something well, even if only for themselves...people who know there's more to this living than meets the eye: they'll be right there with Jonathan, flying higher and faster than ever they dreamed."

This book was published more than 40 years ago and I remember reading it almost immediately. I was a teenager at the time and was very interested in everything spiritual, anything that contributed to world and inner peace. This book was just the right one. Jonathan Livingston is a seagull who is not happy with his life, with all the other seagulls always fighting. He tries to do something better, he wants to be the best flying seagull. Then he meets two other seagulls who want to take him to a higher place, a kind of paradise. He learns a lot about the meaning of life which he teaches to his fellow seagulls when he returns.

I loved this book. I loved it even more when Neil Diamond wrote a soundtrack to the movie they made from this story. I don't remember the movie all that well but as a huge Neil Diamond fan, I do remember his music. Very well. It might have to do with the fact that I bought the CD (well, first the vinyl, later the CD) but I doubt it, his music is just fantastic.

The novel is very positive yet very thought-provoking. And it's still very meaningful today. It advises us not to put people in a box, to keep an open mind.

From the back cover: "This is a story for people who follow their hearts and make their own rules...people who get special pleasure out of doing something well, even if only for themselves...people who know there's more to this living than meets the eye: they'll be right there with Jonathan, flying higher and faster than ever they dreamed."

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Shakespeare, William “Romeo and Juliet”

Shakespeare, William “Romeo and Juliet” - 1597

It's always weird reading a well-known classic for the first time. I had this experience with "Romeo and Juliet". We all grow up with the story, it is retold again and again in other books, other plays and movies. And since I don't particularly like reading plays which I think should be performed rather than read, I had never read the whole story.

So, the other day, I picked it up. 126 pages, not a biggie, can be read in a day or two, so even if I don't like the book, no harm done.

Was it worth the effort? Totally. Shakespeare's writing makes it worth reading his plays, even if it's not always easy to understand those old English words. Oh, to be able to write like that! How wonderful would that be. But reading him is the next best thing.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Roy, Arundhati „The God of Small Things“

Roy, Arundhati "The God of Small Things" – 1997

A tragedy, full of neglect, abuse, deceit, an almost poetic narrative. Sounds interesting.

However, I have quite an ambivalent relationship with Booker prize winners, I either love them or loathe them. Some of them I dislike so much, you will find them among the worst books I ever read.

This novel had a strange effect on me. I love reading about India and have read and really enjoyed quite a few of their literature (see here). So, I always wanted to know how the story goes on, what happens to the characters, that was the good side of this book.

But the characters, there wasn't a single one I liked, well, maybe one but he didn't fare very well in the novel. The story jumps back and forth, I suppose the author wanted to build anticipation. Usually, I quite like that style, here, it was just annoying. A very bleak and hopeless story.

Arundhati Roy won the Booker Prize for "The God of Small Things" in 1997.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

When I close a book ...

I read this little quote the other day: "Stories never really end". I agree wholeheartedly. If a story is written well, you get attached to the characters, you get to know them, you get to feel with them, fear for them, love them, hate them, they are almost like real people to you. Well, they are almost like real people to me.
So, when the book ends, when there are no more pages on which my friends live, it is more an "Au Revoir" or an "Auf Wiedersehen" than a "Good-bye". First of all, I can go back and re-read the book. But in the meantime, I can think about them the same way I think about friends who just go on a long holiday. Or who move away. I can imagine what happens to them in the meantime, if they are still alive at the end of the book, that is.

Every novel has a story that starts long before the first page of the book, sometimes we are lucky and get told a big part of their history, sometimes just a little , but we always can imagine our heroes and heroines as little children. Have they been naughty or nice? Have they been rich or poor? In any case, as we can imagine their lives before the book, we can also remember their lives after the book. We can try to imagine whether that happy end really is a happy end. Or how the open end works out.

That is one of the main reasons I don't really like sequels that have been written by another person. I don't want to read what another person thinks what happened to my friends, I want to imagine it myself. If the author didn't write a sequel, she or he must have had a reason for it. And if the author died before finishing the novel, I don't want to know what someone else thinks should have happened, I will have to rely on my own imagination. Which is the best in any case.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Jonasson, Jonas "The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared"

Jonasson, Jonas " The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared" (Swedish: Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann) - 2009

Translated into 35 languages, the biggest success, except for his native Sweden, was in Germany where he sold over a million copies. And that's where I found this gem of a book. This story contains everything, crime, murder mystery, historical fiction, alternate fiction, love, drama, and a huge sense of humour. It is so hilarious, and exciting. The story is told in two parts, the life of Allan Karlsson until he turns 100 and after he turns 100. And both parts are full of adventures.

This is an easy read novel that is still full of information and philosophy. A nice story about a man who does not want to fit in, who does not want to give up.

On Jonas Jonasson's website, you can find all the countries he travelled to and the people he met during his life. He travelled from Sweden to Moscow, Stalingrad (Volgograd), Gulag camps, Vladivostok, Los Alamos, The White House, Washington, China, Himalaya, Tibet, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Bali, Paris and met Tsar Nicolas (well, that was his father), Gustav Fabergé (his father, as well), Vladimir Lenin, Miguel Primo de Rivera, Francisco Franco, Robert Oppenheimer, Harry S Truman, Soong May-ling, Eleonor Roosevelt, Jiang Ping, Winston Churchill, Tage Erlander, Joseph Stalin, Kim II Sung, Kim Jong II, Kirill Meretskov, Mao Tse Tung, Charles de Gaulle, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon.

Apparently, the author is presently writing his second novel. I know exactly who is going to read it once it's out.

From the back cover: "It all starts on the one-hundredth birthday of Allan Karlsson. Sitting quietly in his room in an old people's home, he is waiting for the party he-never-wanted-anyway to begin. The mayor is going to be there. The press is going to be there. But, as it turns out, Allan is not...Slowly but surely Allan climbs out of his bedroom window, into the flowerbed (in his slippers) and makes his getaway. And so begins his picaresque and unlikely journey involving criminals, several murders, a suitcase full of cash, and incompetent police. As his escapades unfold, we learn something of Allan's earlier life in which - remarkably - he helped to make the atom bomb, became friends with American presidents, Russian tyrants, and Chinese leaders, and was a participant behind the scenes in many key events of the twentieth century. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is a fun, feel-good book for all ages."

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Lukefahr, Oscar, C.M. “We Worship"

Lukefahr, Oscar, C.M. “We Worship: A Guide to the Catholic Mass” - 2004

Oscar Lukefahr is a well known Catholic priest and theologian in the United States. He has written several books about the Catholic faith, including "We Believe... A Survey of the Catholic Faith". In this book, he doesn't just explain how a Mass is set up but also what it means and why every Catholic should attend it. He answers a lot of questions people have about the set-up of Mass and also its spiritual meaning. It can also be used for teaching anyone who wants to know more about the Catholic Mass.

Lukefahr, Oscar, C.M. “We Believe"

Lukefahr, Oscar, C.M. “We Believe... A Survey of the Catholic Faith” – 1995

Oscar Lukefahr is a Catholic priest and a very well known theologian in the United States. In this book, he gives a good overview about what Catholicism means, a good information for Catholics and non-Catholics who want to know more about the belief. He refers to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and gives on overview about the Bible, the history of Catholicism and how it can be incorporated into modern day life.

A very helpful book, 200 pages of theology for lay people. Easy to understand, it answers a lot of questions you always had about "God, the Bible, the life and teaching of Jesus, the Church, Mary, the saints, life after death, the Sacraments, moral living, and Catholic prayer".

The author has also written a good book about the Catholic Mass "We Worship: A Guide to the Catholic Mass".

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Buck, Pearl S. "Peony"

Buck, Pearl S. "Peony" - 1948

This book is the reason why I fell in love with Pearl S. Buck. It must have been one of the first "adult" books I read and still, I remember it as if it had been yesterday.

Peony is a young servant (almost a slave) in a rich Chinese Jewish household. Her love to the son of the family cannot result in anything as traditional rules don't allow a marriage between them.

While we learn about Chinese traditions, the author also tells us about the life of the Kaifeng Jews of which I had nothing heard before (or after). We can again dive into the sea of knowledge Pearl S. Buck acquired about Chinese life when she spent most of her life there, starting when her missionary parents took her there at a very young age. I have loved reading about China ever since, both historical and present day novels as well as non-fiction. I would love to visit this highly interesting country one day.

However, other than a lot of her other novels, she tries to incorporate the multi-cultural theme into this one, the trial of assimilation. How far does an immigrant want to become like the people in his host nation. A wonderful account of two worlds colliding.

From the back cover: "In 1850s China, a young girl, Peony, is sold to work as a bondmaid for a rich Jewish family in Kaifeng. Jews have lived for centuries in this region of the country, but by the mid-nineteenth century, assimilation has begun taking its toll on their small enclave. When Peony and the family’s son, David, grow up and fall in love with one another, they face strong opposition from every side. Tradition forbids the marriage, and the family already has a rabbi’s daughter in mind for David.
Long celebrated for its subtle and even-handed treatment of colliding traditions, Peony is an engaging coming-of-age story about love, identity, and the tragedy and beauty found at the intersection of two disparate cultures.

Find other books by Pearl S. Book that I read here.

Pearl S. Buck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938 "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces".

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Ling, Laura & Lisa "Somewhere Inside"

Ling, Laura & Ling, Lisa "Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home" - 2010

In our international book club, we always try to read books from different parts of this world and usually quite enjoy discussing novels or non-fiction literature about parts of this world we haven't visited. This was the reason, we picked up this story. A journalist, Laura Ling, gets captured in North Korea and gets sentenced to twelve years of hard labour. Meanwhile, her sister Lisa, also a journalist in the States, tries to get her released. The book tells both sides, inside and outside of North Korea.

We expected to have more background information about North Korea, but too much name-dropping was going on, we had the feeling they wanted to show the world how important they are.

The whole team had been visiting China with a tourist visa, we thought they  acted very irresponsible, naïve, the guide was crooked, they should have seen it, and one of their colleagues just disappeared and left them alone. During the whole time, they came up with excuses. There should have been fines placed on them when they returned. Many reporters are imprisoned who stick to the rules, they can't call on former presidents to get them out of their predicament.

We want to find a book by a North Korean defector.

Most of us had been excited about the topic but were hugely disappointed, we didn't learn anything new, had hoped for more insight.

The whole story, the whole recollection was very repetitive. Laura did not seem emotional enough about her captivity, she seemed very detached from the story, we would have thought that a journalist could write better and are of the opinion that they only wrote the book to make money. We missed dates, at times you were not sure who was where at what time, dates would have helped.

We were also shocked that journalists couldn't write a book that takes you in, especially on a subject like this and that you could get more information. And what about the people left behind? Names of the guards were mentioned, for example. Do they realize the consequences they will face? The question came up what the US had to pay or promise North Korea for their release. We also imagined that they would have been humble after such an experience and just shut up.

The only good part was that some of us said this is an opportunity to get more interested in stories about North Korea. E.g., the question was raised whether it is good to trade with nations who don't obey human rights. Of course, that is always a tough question, it has its pros and cons.

Our final impression was that here were two spoilt young Americans who have everything put in front of them on a silver platter. They can do whatever they want and God and the president will help. No realistic view of the world. If you don't respect the law, the law doesn't protect you anymore.

We discussed this in our book club in October 2012.

From the back cover:
"Somewhere Inside is the electrifying, never-before-told story of Laura Ling’s capture by the North Koreans in March 2009, and the efforts of her sister, journalist Lisa Ling, to secure Laura’s release by former President Bill Clinton. This riveting true account of the first ever trial of an American citizen in North Korea’s highest court carries readers deep inside the world’s most secretive nation while it poignantly explores the powerful, inspiring bonds of sisterly love. "

Monday, 12 November 2012

McGarry Morris, Mary “Songs in Ordinary Time”

McGarry Morris, Mary “Songs in Ordinary Time” - 1995

I chose this book because it is on the Oprah list, and have I loved all the novels on that list but one and that was by the only author who declined to be on the list in the first place.

Anyway, an American town in 1960, a time I remember a little. Almost anyone in this novel is poor but that's not all. My family was poor when I grew up but there is a huge difference, we had a family. It looks like there is not one normal functioning family or relationship in this whole book. Everyone has huge problems, starting with alcoholism and ending with murder. There is not a single person in the whole story that looks at life realistically, the most sensitive people are probably the 12 to 17 year old children but, having said that, they don't come across as the brightest ones, either. Life in Atkinson, Vermont was not just hard, it was depressing. The setting somehow reminded me of John Steinbeck's books, one of our book club members asked why all his books have to be so depressing.

Having said that, the book is well written, it builds anticipation, you hold on, you hope for something good to happen to the characters, you feel for them. You don't really expect a happy ending but a glimmer of hope. And this is what happens, in the end, not everything is alright but the outlook is not too bad. And, it is a long book. I like big books, 740 pages of stories, enough time to get to know everyone well. The characters are so well describes, and also the situations,

Still, I hope this is not normal life in America, or at least was not, and that there were ordinary families with a mother and a father who work together for the welfare of their children, who allow them to get a decent education, who converse with their neighbours and relatives.

All in all, I am glad I read this book and I can see why it is on the Oprah list. Not necessarily my favourite of her list, I would have liked to see at least some "normal" people, but a good read. I'm surprised it hasn't been turned into a movie, yet, it would be a great subject.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Different Countries - Different Covers

I have been a member of an international book club for more than a decade now. During that time, we often get to see several different copies of our books, the English versions from the UK, US, and Canada, mostly, sometimes even more than one from each country if some have a hardback and other a paperback copy, then translations (or originals) in other languages. It is highly interesting to see the different covers, to compare which one is best, to discuss why the designs vary so drastically in a lot of cases. With classics, you can sometimes get a dozen different covers, just have a look at one of the internet bookshops.

Sometimes one nation has the best cover, the next time another one. But in general, I think there is a reason for these different covers, the editors know what their readers like best, or at least they try to capture the prospective reader with a picture or a design they might like better than that from the other country.

As I have already mentioned in my post "Never judge a book by its cover?", the publishers know why they choose a certain cover, and they try to capture their audience with what they hope they will like best.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Dickens, Charles "A Tale of Two Cities"

Dickens, Charles "A Tale of Two Cities" - 1859

Two of the most famous quotes in one book, how often do you get that? But is the rest of the book as good as the beginning and the end? It is. Whatever you look for in a book, "A Tale of Two Cities" has it, history, politics, revolution, love, drama, intrigue, revenge, forgiveness, sacrifice, you name it, it's in it. How often can you say that about a novel?

Even though Dickens didn't live during the French Revolution, he captures the spirit of the time, he portrays his characters as lively as posible and he manages to bring in everything that was important so people born a hundred years later could imagine living during that time and even today, another 150 years after it was written and while the world has changed even more, we can imagine the same.

Oh, and if you wonder about the beginning and the end, it starts with "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ..." and ends with "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known." That is good writing and I'm not surprised Mr. Dickens has been so well-known and admired for centuries. His stories just don't get old.

In any case, if you didn't guess it, yet, I loved this book.

Other Dickens novels I read: "A Christmas Carol", "Great Expectations". See more here.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Larsen Line, Joanne/Loving Tubesing, Nancy "Quilts From The Quiltmaker's Gift"

Larsen Line, Joanne/Loving Tubesing, Nancy "Quilts From The Quiltmaker's Gift" - 2000

A great sewing book accompanying "The Quiltmaker's Gift" by Jeff Brumbeau and Gail de Marcken, 20 patterns taken from the beautiful drawings in the picture book, each one embellished with extra drawings and ideas. Even if you don't sew and just like quilts, this is a beatiful book to look at.

Brumbeau, Jeff/de Marcken, Gail “The Quiltmaker’s Gift”

Brumbeau, Jeff/de Marcken, Gail “The Quiltmaker’s Gift” - 2001

Beautiful book with great illustrations about the most beautiful quilts ever. I bought this book for my children who were not as interested in it than I was, after all, they are boys. However, they did like the story of the king who ahd everything but the one thing he really wanted. A quilt from the quiltmaker who would only donate one of the most beautiful quilts you have ever seen to people who have nothing. This puts the king in quite a dilemma and we can follow him as he changes his heart by admiring all the beautiful quilts the quiltmaker makes.

There is also a book with quilts that were made after the illustrations in this book "Quilts From The Quiltmaker's Gift" by Joanne Larsen Line and Nancy Loving Tubesing.

Whether you have children or not, you might want to have a look at either of these books if you love quilts.

From the back cover: "When a generous quiltmaker finally agrees to make a quilt for a greedy king but only under certain conditions, she causes him to undergo a change of heart."

Monday, 5 November 2012

Bradley, Alan “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie”

Bradley, Alan “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” (Flavia De Luce Mystery)  – 2009

England 1950. A little girl lives with her father and sisters in an English village. When a body turns up in their garden, she starts exploring.

I am not a big fan of crime stories. I am an even smaller fan of stories where little children are the big heroes by screwing up everything and then in the end everything is fine. I never really liked the "Famous Five" because of that when I was a child and I dislike these kind of stories even more now than I did then.

In any case, you can guess, I did not like the "Flavia De Luce Mystery" No. 1 very much, so I'm not going to even try reading any of the following ones. I can see how someone who likes these kind of stories likes this one, the surroundings are nice but I prefer to read about England and its countryside and village life through Jane Austen, Charles Dickens or, if you look for more contemporary authors, Bill Bryson has written wonderful books about Britain, for example, something more substantial.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Huxley, Aldous "Brave New World"

Huxley, Aldous "Brave New World" - 1931

I have read several dystopian novels. And there is some truth in all of them. If we consider when the book was written and what was the greatest fear of the time, we recognize the foundation of their subject. And the more time has passed, the better we can judge whether the author was right or not.

Interestingly enough, here we are, eighty years later, and we still talk about the same subject, gene manipulation. This book is so up-to-date, it might as well have been written yesterday. That's how great it is, you can tell good writing.

There are a lot more ideas Huxley was afraid of, e.g. the "hypnopaedic process" where children are inundated with hypnotic messages, where they get "pre-conditioned" for the life they are destined to lead. Other processes makes them not like flowers and books, for example. Of course, you can use those findings in a positive way, e.g. take your baby on your lap while reading to them. And would I want to choose to have my migraine gene removed from my children. Definitely!

But on the whole, I am more than glad not having to live in this "Brave New World", having the choice of what I want to be, who I want to be with. As in most dystopian novels, there is always a kernel of truth in them. We need to read them in order to know what to do to avoid these theories becoming reality.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Mandela, Nelson "Long Walk to Freedom"

Mandela, Nelson "Long Walk to Freedom" - 1994

This has been on my list for a long time but it took another book club to put it on their list until I findally got to touch it.

I have always admired Nelson Mandela for how he coped with his life, for his struggle with oppression, for his fight for freedom. I mean, who wouldn't? He is one of the great heroes of our lifetime and the world would be a better place if everyone had just a little bit of Nelson Mandela in them.

The book hasn't changed my mind about him. If anything, it has enhanced my admiration. I have learned so much from this man just by following his thoughts in his autobiography. I hope I can use at least some of it in my life.

How does anyone cope with being imprisoend for almost thirty years. And not just being imprisoned, the situation in those jails was not exactly ideal, not what you can expect if you have to do time for any crime you would commit in our Western countries, time for a crime you actually commited, not for fighting for some of the basic rights any human being should be granted in the first place.

From his childhood living with an African chief to his studies of the law and the beginnings of his dedication of eliminating the cruel effects of racism in his country, this man has stood up to any injustice caused to the innocence. He was granted the Nobel Peace Prize and there probably has never been anyone more deserving for this.

What more is there to say than: Everybody should read this book.

Nelson Mandela received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1993 "for ... work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa".

Monday, 29 October 2012

Movies recommending books

Movies recommending books

I love movies but don't always like them when it's a book I've read (and loved) turned into a movie and have already mentioned that in my blog "Never judge a book by its cover?"

However, there is one thing I don't mind at all, and that is if they talk about books in a movie. If I've read them before, I love to hear what the character (or author) has to say about them, if I haven't read them, it's a good recommendation.

There are certainly a lot of books I heard about in a movie but one that always comes to my mind is “Ballet Shoes” by Noel Streatfeild, a book so vehemently recommended by Meg Ryan in "You've got mail". I must admit, I hadn't heard about the book before that movie, either, but I was just there with "Kathleen Kelly" condemning that book salesman for not knowing it. After all, I didn't grow up in an English speaking country and I don't earn my living with selling books. However, I read the book because Kathleen loved it so much, I just had to read it.

I will try to add more books to this list once I will think about more and/or see more movies that mentione books I read but if any of my readers likes to add some of their suggestions, I'm happy to add them.

Austen, Jane "Persuasion" in "The Lake House"
Austen, Jane "Pride & Prejudice" in "You've Got Mail" and "Fahrenheit 451"
Brontë, Emily "Wuthering Heights" in "The Proposal"

Conrad, Joseph "Heart of Darkness" in "King Kong"
Dickens, Charles "David Copperfield" in "Gone With the Wind"
Dickens, Charles "A Tale of Two Cities" in "On Golden Pond"
and "Up the Down Staircase"
Dickens, Charles "The Pickwick Papers" in "Fahrenheit 451"
Forster, E. M. "Howards End" in "Educating Rita"
Franzen, Jonathan "The Corrections" in "The Holiday"
Hosseini, Khaled "The Kite Runner" in "The Holiday"
McEwan, Ian "Atonement" in "The Holiday"
Rowling, J.K. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" in "The Holiday"
Salinger, J. D. "Catcher in the Rye" in "The Good Girl" and "Annie Hall"
Shelley, Mary "Frankenstein" in "Paris When It Sizzles" 
Stevenson, Robert Louis "Treasure Island" in "On Golden Pond"
Stowe, Harriet Beecher "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in "The Other"
Tolstoy, Leo "Anna Karenina" in "The Shop Around the Corner"
Tolstoy, Leo "War and Peace" in "Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation"

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Murasaki, Lady Shikibu "The Tale of Genji"

Murasaki, Lady Shikibu "The Tale of Genji" (Japanese: 源氏物語 Genji Monogatari) - early 11th century

A highly  interesting but tough read. How was life a millennium ago in a completely different part of this world.

This book is often considered the first novel ever written. That was partly the reason I was interested in it.

And I didn't regret reading it. The story of Genji is about a young prince in Japan and his life at court. Very different from any life nowadays, this first hand narrative concentrates on the relationship between Genji and the many female members at court, from older ladies to young girls.

Is there a better way to find out how people used to live than reading about them in a book? This is the best way of time travel.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Rutherfurd, Edward "Awakening"

Rutherfurd, Edward "Awakening: The Rebels of Ireland" - 2006

I rarely read the sequel to a book right away, I usually take a little break from the story. But this time, I could not resist. After reading "Dublin", I just had to carry on reading about all those Irish families that witnessed the history of this interesting country first hand.

This novel picks up in 1597, right after the first one finishes, we follow the descendants of the brave characters from book one carrying on the struggle of their ancestors, we follow them through the occupation through the English with the various trials of erasing all Catholicism from the island through the famine to the Easter rising until the declaration of the Republic. What a vivid history.

One thing this book teaches us more than ever, any religious war or dispute is not really about religion but about power and money.

I also highly recommend  "London" and "The Forest" by the same author.

Find a link to all my reviews on his other novels here.