Friday&Fine words (not mine obviously)

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In my head I have a bunch of ideas for post, and I do want to at least try to make better book reviews this year but time just disappears. Where did my week go? (I spent it reading Ferrante and watching the Crown on Netflix that’s where).

What I do manage to be consistent with is my poetry reading, it has come to mean a lot to me. I’m not sure I understand poetry, I don’t know that much (I think) but that also means that I feel rather free in reading it. Some poetry I read little by little, some I read from cover to cover (which is how some poetry is meant to be read). On that note, about learning more I do want to recommend the episod about Edith Södergran from Swedish pod “Bildningsradion” if you understand Swedish, and my long time fave podcast “In our time” has episodes about Anna Akhmatova(this week), Pushkin and Byron (in the archives)(and the one about Beowulf is also very good).

Speaking of Byron, I did get a slim volume of some of his poetry sent to me by a friend so I read that. Enjoyable as that was two things are worth mentioning: 1. I’m probably more fascinated by Byron the person than the poet. 2. The best bit of the collection of poetry was the high level snark of the introduction.

The reson for his extraordinary popularity as a poet on the Continent of Europe remains something of a mystery to the English reader. Romantic rhetoric was the fashion of the age yet the greatest poets, such as Wordsworth and Shelley ,escaped it…The frequent insincerity of Byron’s sentiments, combined with the inferior poetic technique of his lyrics, harmed him in his native lands.

-from the introduction

Ouch. Prior to the lambasted I had read the critically acclaimed; Danish poet Olga Ravn’s collection Den vita rosen (the White rose; my translation) which is meant to be read in one go. I cannot say I understood it but I did enjoy it. Poetry, for me, is interesting because it challenges how I read and how I take in text and that is something to be considered. It can be an excersice in form, which tells as much as the words put together.

Now I will get back to Ferrante. I’m obsessed I tell you.

-Suss

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Tuesday & Time for Patrick Melrose

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To recap; The Patrick Melrose-novel are much hyped and have recently been turned into a miniseries with Benedict Cumberbatch as Patrick Melrose. There are five novels in the suite; the first came out in 1992 (Never mind), Mother’s Milk was shortlisted for the Man Booker in 2006 and it ends with At last.

I read Mother’s Milk first because someone had told me that they were “independent of each other “. No, they are not. I didn’t think much of it at the time, so didn’t bother. Then I read Dunbar (also by St Aubyn) and was dazzled, for a lack of a better word, by the language. It is also the case, as it often is that  I see the Patrick Melrose-novels all over Instagram and so many whose taste in books I admire, adore these books. So here we are; I’ve read the first one, about an afternoon in the life of your Patrick and I am reeling I tell you.

The people around that dinner table are horrid. I couldn’t stop reading but I also had a lump in my throat the whole time. The language, the phrases, the words;they are all brilliant but they really are as daggers in my heart because there is no getting away from what is going on in the book, there really isn’t. They are so mean to each other which is one thing, but to the defenseless and the young?

What St Aubyn does in almost 200 pages is describe an afternoon at a house in the south of France, where the Melroses are staying; David, Eleanor and five-year old Patrick. Guests are coming; old friends supposedly but old enemies is closer to the truth. And Bridget, who is the young girlfriend of one visitor.

Through stories about them all, what happens between the meeting’s and in the run up to dinner we learn more about them all, which you kind of wish you hadn’t. David Melrose is a cruel man, and if you are sensitive then don’t read this book.

I have only read on book so we’ll see how it all plays out in the end. But read on I shall.

-Suss

 

Friday&Fellows

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I started this year by reading Winter by Ali Smith which I thought was brilliant. A though act to follow, so in order to not be disappointed I read a little something lighter between that and my current read.

The choice fell to Snobs by Julian Fellows. I will allow him almost anything as he created Downton Abbey, a series I loved (although that is much in part thanks to the costumes, a fair amount of love can also be attributed to Maggie Smith as the dowager Duchess). Moving on. In this book Fellows does what he does well; slightly mocks a British upper class that he so clearly adores, and is a part of. That’s what made, and still make, Nancy Mitford brilliant; she can mock the upper classes because she belongs, but she is also clever enough to not be blind to it, and scrutinizes accordingly.

Fellows does much the same. It feels like the story of Charles, Lord Broughton, and Edith, London girl whose mother deludes herself that she is aristocracy, is merely a vehicle for Fellows observations about the people listed in Debrett’s (i.e. British aristocracy), and a few generalizations about human kind. But I do love that British sarcastic tone.

I enjoyed this, I’ll give it a 3 but I have to admit that the observations and musings become a bit repetitive, and in the way of the story. Which is quite thin to begin with so maybe it’s best to spread it out.This is not as good as Love in a cold climate by Mitford but tries to be.

All in all? Save this for your holiday reads. It’s going to be splendid on a beach somewhere with a wine spritzer close by. And if you haven’t read the Crazy rich asians by Kevin Kwan I would suggest that first.

-Suss

 

 

Tuesday&Thoughts

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So I finished Winter by Ali Smith, early in the first morning of the year. It should be noted that this is only my second Smith, and that I sort of fell in love with the first one I read; which was also the first installment in this series, her seasonal suite (Spring and Summer are supposed to turn up eventually, and I for one cannot wait.

Even with the first line in Autumn she had me on the hook, as it was a based on the first line of Dickens A tale of two cities. He wrote “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” which in Smith’s retelling becomes “It was the worst of times, it was the worts of time”. She does it again in this on, by using that famous first line from A Christmas Carol as a starting point to tell us the story “God was dead; to begin with”.

As I am someone who loves, and rereads, A Christmas Carol I cannot help but use it as a conceptual framework when reading. My mind looks and tries to see where the old story fits into the new. The way I read it, it is a story about Sophia; rich and alone. She has stopped talking to her son more or less, hasn’t talked to her sister in ages either. But around Christmas she get visited by them; her son first, with a supposed girlfriend and then her sister turns up. I see them as the ghost of Christmases present (the son), The future (the supposed girlfriend) and the past (the sister). This might be a completely crazy analysis or a rather mainstream one. I haven’t read any reviews of the book( I seem to get all my reading recommendations from other books, Instagram and librarians nowadays).

That is far from all however; there is goings back and fort in time, absurdities in the here and now, Art’s girlfriend drama, family secrets and much more. All in a chaotic mix.

What I do love about this book, and the previous, is the writing. It’s not exactly stream of consciousness, because it is much more airy in the text and on the page. But thoughts are mixed with dialogue and memories very freely. I feel when reading that I am immersed in the conversation, and the narratives overlap because everyone is trying to speak at the same time; much like at a dinner party.

Another thing about these books, which I must mention, is that they do not (yet) have the same characters or plot lines. It might all be tied together at the end, who knows, but currently you can read one without reading the other (but you will want to).

What they have in common is their love of culture; the references to artists, books and Shakespeare (in addition to the Dickens homage in the first line). All British culture so far; does Ali Smith have an OBE? Is she making a dash to become a Dame? Hilary Mantel has written about English history and she got one (although I’m so over waiting for the next book in the Cromwell trilogy, Mantel is blacklisted in this house, I can’t even look at her books right now. However, as soon as I hear of a publication date all will be forgiven, and I’ll start fan-girling again). Anyways, there is this dimension to these books, doors that you can open to other stories. You don’t have to, she doesn’t push it down your throat I think but introduces the topic, making it seem enticing.

There is also the mood, I must say something about the mood. In this case a rather gloomy one, but with rays of hope shining through. Many said that Autumn had a “post-Brexit feel to it” which I didn’t catch up on, but in this case the shadow of our lives that is Donald Trump is mentioned. Darkness indeed. I still love losing myself in the world and words of Ali Smith.

I hope that this year will bring a new installment in this series, and I do hope that it starts with a retelling of Bleak House, but it starting in November it doesn’t sound like the beginning of Spring. Probably Oliver Twist or Great Expectations then? I’ll through in Nicholas Nickleby for good measure; not Dickens most famous work, but the first line is a good one.

-Suss

Saturday&Smoking Bishop

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It was a wonderful gift; to begin with. I do like cookbooks, and a love love love books, so a cookbook with recipes mentioned in or inspired by books was a great Christmas gift. I spent part of the holiday with coffee in hand, browsing the recipes and reading the stories accompanying them. Oh, and the photos! What delicious photos!!

Now let’s talk a bit about the books mentioned shall we? One in particular, why not? As it happens there are several recipes in this one of dishes mentioned in A Christmas Carol by Dickens. Fancy that. Obviously I got right on it and made the hot drink called Smoking Bishop; it being cold winter nights and all.

As a wise man said; first time you do it by the book. So I did follow Young’s instructions to the letter. In the back of my head there was a voice, making comments based on all that time I’ve spent research vintage cocktails and Victorian punches but ignore that for now. The end result was a great success. If you do it according to what’s written in The little library cookbook you will have a brilliant time reading and cooking and drinking Smoking Bishops. You are sorted for food and book recommendation.

However, I can never leave well enough alone and made it a second time, according to my own mad ideas. This is how it went down. I’d like here to issue a note of caution and a disclaimer; this recepie contains instruction to set something on fire. If you do not know how to handle it, skip that step. Have a lid ready to put out the flame should it be needed.

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Smoking Bishop; makes 2 very generous servings, or 4 small ones

8 cloves

1 orange

1 stick of cinnamon

3 cm ginger; sliced into 6 slices or so

a couple of crushed allspice berries (4-5)

(the odd cardamom pod should you have it around)

3,75 dl Port wine

1,75 dl red wine (plonk is fine)

3+1 tsp granulated sugar

1,5 dl water

2 clementines

fresh nutmeg, to serve

for preparing/serving;

waterproof glasses or cups

Matches

Tea strainer

  1. Divide the orange in half. Stick cloves in one half and place it in the oven at 190 degrees/gas mark 5 for around 30 minutes (I put the flat side down) until the orange is slightly brown or the kitchens smells like Christmas. Mine was nicely caramelized  on the side that was cut (that had been placed downwards).
  2. In the meantime; peel the other half of the orange thinly. No white, just the orange. Chop it in rough bits and place with 3 tsp sugar on like a saucer. This is a mini version of a classic Victorian oleo-saccharum (a sort of citrus sugar), usually used as a base for punches. The oils in the zest will give the sugar a lovely fresh orange taste, use the back of a spoon or a proper muddler to give it a bit of a bash to get things going.
  3. And as two things isn’t enough; in a saucepan, combine the water, ginger, cinnamon stick, allspice berries and one teaspoon of the sugar. Bring to the boil and then lower the heat somewhat, and let reduce to about half. The little bit of sugar releases the flavors (things you learn when making cocktail bitters). Then turn of the heat and let it steep for an additional 10 minutes, then strain it. I use a vintage tea strainer with a fine metal mesh, but a seasick or a coffee filter is fine.
  4. At around the same time the orange and the spiced water should be ready. Then you proceed to mix wine and port in a sauce pan and place it over a low heat. Now comes the fan part; when it is hot you take a match, light it and gently set the port/wine mix on fire. It burns with a blue flame. After a few seconds, blow it out. Add the spiced water and the orange with cloves. Let it simmer on a low heat for 10 minutes.
  5. In the meantime, slice the clementine and add to the glasses (I like a lot of citrus). Squeeze the juice from the other clementine and have it ready.
  6. When the 10 minutes have passed, take the saucer with sugar and zest and add to the hot liquid. You will probably have to scrape it of the saucer.
  7. Take the orange out of the saucepan, fish out the small bits of peel too (or use the tea strainer again). Dived the clementine juice between the glasses, then pout the hot wine/port mix over. Grate a little nutmeg on top.
  8. Serve piping hot.

My version also worked well and so this is how I will make it, and it has less cloves in it, which is an advantage as I see it. Not thrilled about cloves (which might have something to do with me fiddling with the recipe to begin with).

-Suss

Thursday&TBR

IMG_6307I did the “best nine”-thing last week; my nine most liked posts on Instagram. Four of them were poetry, something I’m happy about. Having already discussed my fave reads of the year it’s time to look onwards. TBR is bookstagram-speak for “To be read”. And it is high time to think about what to read in 2018.

I don’t do “reading goals”; for me it’s counterproductive. I have in the past but it is a stress I don’t need so I gave it up. A few reading challenges? A reading ambition or focus? Much more my thing.

For 2017 my reading challenge ended up being Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. I toyed with the idea for a while, and a few other big books was in the running but that’s what I ended up tackling. For 2018 I don’t know yet what it will be, it depends where the mood takes me, and frankly what books I find under the Christmas tree. Undoubtedly it will to some degree be decided by what others do and what I end up reading otherwise.

I started 2017 with a very small stack of unread books, and those in that pile were very much bought late in December with the intention of reading in the year to come. This year the stack is big, and I have no idea where they all came from (publishers? gifts? bought randomly at the second-hand bookshop?). It’s thirty something books, some of which are huge, and I don’t stress it. Some really good books that I’m excited to read no doubt. It is what it is.

I’m one of the most prolific readers I know, partly because I listen to my reading mood and I’m consistent. My reading time is on the train which means I read 50-70 pages a day and man, it adds up. If I have time I also read a bit at home. I’ll get around to reading these books, someday, if they continue to feel relevant. I cherish the day when I learned to give up on books I don’t enjoy. Which doesn’t happen so often anymore, I’ve decidedly gotten better at choosing books. That doesn’t mean I “like” all the books I read; that has to be noted here, some books are a challenge in the way they are written, the topic, unlikeable characters etc. and (I’m flogging dead horse here) but I think there is a worth it reading books that take you outside of your comfort zone, and try to do so from time to time. Even if I don’t like something, I can still enjoy it. I’m perfectly capable of having two thoughts in my head at the same time, and so are most people if they apply themselves and try to be open-minded.

Regarding the reading focus, the ambition, I’m gonna continue down the poetry-path. It has made my life better for sure, and it’s such a ritual now that I’d feel a bit lost without a poem every day. However I will try to read more in Swedish; either Swedish poets or translated into Swedish from languages that are not English.

What are your reading ambitions for 2018?

-Suss

7 favorite books of 2017

It is early in December, but late in the year. Over the weekend I was asked about which were the best books I’ve read in 2017, and I was little perplexed as there have been so many of them. I have read prodigiously, and a fair few have been good. Now that I had time to think about it I’ve narrowed down my favorite books down to these seven (admittedly limiting myself to just seven make it more difficult but that is the magic number on this blog and that’s that. I’m sticking with the program). Do note that this is a list of seven books, not a ranking. Not all of these book have been published this year, some are positively ancient, but it is a reflection of how varied my reading is. These are the books that have moved me, inspired me, stayed with me and that I will keep on recommending to people. Very little in the way of news I’m afraid, my love of these books is already known.

  1. On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder. Makes it onto the list as it gave me fighting spirit and tools on how to deal. Written in a simple and accessible way it is the kind of book that I urge anyone to read. Is it the best book ever? No. It’s one of my fave books, which is different. It might be one of the most needed books however.
  2. How to be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman. After reading this book I realized that I knew a fair bit about Victorians but also was completely ignorant about other things. Perspective on life is a good thing (if nothing else to make me appreciate the electric kettle and) and as Goodman not only has read about the period but also “lived it” i.e. lived like a Victorian she tells the story with empathy and manages to convey knowledge and sympathy. A joy to read with the added bonus that for about a week after reading it you can be that insufferable person that mentions facts about the Victorians in every conversation “Did you know that…”.
  3. China Rich girlfriend and Rich people problem by Kevin Kwan. OK, so maybe it’s a bit of a cheat having to books by the same writer on the list in one spot, but this isn’t serious journalism and they are in the same series. At some point in the future all three books in this series will be printed in one, because all books are nowadays (it is a legit publishing plague, as it makes for books that are too big to read). I’m just pretending we are already there in some way. Kwan is a clear example of that “feel good-books ” doesn’t have to mean silly or insipid stories. These books are funny because they are true, maybe not everyone lives like that but much of the behavior the pettiness, the gossip and the sibling rivalry, hits the mark. Like Downton Abbey but in current day Asia.
  4. The narrow road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches by Bashō. I have a Bashō-thing. Maybe he is not for everyone. Or maybe he is exactly that?
  5.  A time of gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor. For me this was such a joy to read. It’s a great story and so wonderfully told. A memoir of an adventure in a lost world is what it is. First of all not many people would come up with the idea of walking on foot from London to Constantinople. That should tell you something about Paddy to begin with. And then there is the fact that the world has turned many times since, when he walked it was the brink of WW2 so in many ways this is a documentation of a world that no longer exists, and even then it was fading ( WW1 set us on a path, and then there was the whole thing called modernity). But it is also very much the same. Recently I read a book by Per Wirtén, about his travels between the poorest area and the richest one in Europe, to paint a picture of the continent and the current waves of xenophobia as well as globalization, and I kept making mental notes of the similarities and differences with the time and observations of Fermor. His is a book that is timeless.
  6. Hamlet by Shakespeare. I’m slowly but surely making my way through the works of Shakespeare and so far this is on of the best I have read, and for sure my fave this year. It caught me off guard I have to say, I was not prepared at how different impression it would give when reading it from cover to cover in an afternoon (I was slightly hung over but still). Utterly brilliant.
  7. The bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. Did I read it like two days, savoring every minute, get slightly obsessed and inspired to make cocktails? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. This book, about a young girl living in a fairytale Russia in a time long ago, brought together family drama, mythical creatures and a coming of ages story that was very entertaining. There is a little something to be desired when it comes to the characters but the backdrop of magic and mayhem makes me forgive everything. I need a few book like this in my life, I cannot reread Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell every year (or can I?)

-Suss