7 pieces of literature related data.

I have run around with Nabokov’s favorite word is mauve by Ben Blatt in my bag for the last few days and what a joy it has been. This was exactly what I needed right now in terms of literature, something light and easy access but not too long as my attention span right now is down to 0.5 seconds. Blatt does study writing quirks or oft used expressions by a variety of authors, a similar study of my blog would probably reveal that I use the phrase “I’ve been meaning to read it for ages” very often. Not my favorite expression but one I use a lot because a) it’s usually the case b) I’m probably too lazy to write in a different way, as it’s not the point. It’s a bridge to the book I want to discuss, and I’ll save my fancy words for that. When it comes to this book all of the above is true.

As I love literature and have a fondness for statistics, this is right up my alley. But even without being the kind of person who goes through the appendix, checks method and make little notes on the very neat and logical arguments in regards to sample size and variables, this is worth reading. Because it’s fun, irreverent and infused with a love of books. It is heavily skewed towards the Anglo-saxon of course. I hope somebody does similar studies in other languages because it would be fun to see the results.

That said let me share some of the cool, cute, quaint and relevant data about literature that I have learned in this book.

  1. James Joyce uses a lot of exclamation points. I will use this piece of data as another excuse not to read him. I will claim that I have a problem with exclamation marks. Anyone who has seen me comment knows that is not really the case. However in literature I will claim it is vulgare.
  2. The opening sentence in A tale of two cities by Charles Dickens uses 119 words, 17 commas and an em-dash. However because he sometimes started his books with short sentences he has a reasonable average. A Christmas carol starts with the words “Marley was dead: to begin with”. The lesson here is that Dickens knew how to start a book.
  3. Danielle Steel has gone beyond writing opening sentences about weather. Reading the compilation of 42 of her opening sentences is like looking at a piece of post-modern textual art. I feel OK about not reading Danielle Steele now.
  4. Dan Brown uses the expression “O Draconian Devil” several times in his books. Like why? That’s the worst. It’s making me not wanna read Dan Brown ever. I wasn’t interested before either but that’s beside the point. He also uses the expression “O lame saint” a lot (it’s on the same list). However I feel that “Draconian devils & Lame saints” might be a great name for an electro-pop band (dibs on being the cool girl behind the synth).
  5. Nabokov’s favorite words were mauve, banal and pun. The first one was no surprise in one sense, it’s the title of the book but it’s not a colour that I think of when I think of his books. I wasn’t too surprised by the others though as those are words that I think fits well with his style.
  6. The road to hell kind of is paved with adverbs, as Stephen King says. A particular adverb though, that ends in -ly. Suddenly, hastily, quietly, etc. If you are gonna use those word be sure you know what you are doing.
  7. There are no rules when writing books. There seems to be an opinion that a book shouldn’t start with weather, but then Orwell wrote 1984 which does just that to great effect. Don’t use to many “-ly words”, unless you are Nabokov in the process of writing Lolita in which case you do it like a boss. There are patterns but a good writer knows when to break the rules or use expectations to his or her advantage.

-Suss

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Thursday & The Accusation

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When I rounded up some of my recommendations for books about North Korea I mentioned The accusation by Bandi because I had heard great things from people whose opinion I trust, but now that I have actually read it I can verify my statement.

I still think that if the point is to get an insight into life in that country, then one book is not gonna be enough; this does a great job does a good job of explaining the everyday life  of citizens, trying to be human in an inhumane society. In addition to that I would suggest Dear Leader and Nothing to envy  from my list get the perspectives of those higher up and those that have left. Not that I claim to have full knowledge or anything, but they are different parts in a rather complex puzzle.

According to the afterword there has been a discussion about the veracity of what has happened in this book, if it is in fact not fiction but autobiographical. I personally think that it’s beside the point as what happens in this book does speak of a bigger truth. The details have been changed to protect people but in general it does give a feeling of what life in the republic is like. Then there is the curiosity of it being written by someone who still lives there but does it matter? Should it?

I read the Swedish translation (Called Anklagelsen) which has footnotes to explain some of the words, plays on words or phenomena that Bandi makes use of to tell these stories. In terms of literary qualities it does stand on its own two feet I think. There is a tenderness and intimacy in the stories and Bandi manages to convey feelings and mood with few well-chosen words.

-Suss

Wednesday&What I’m into right now

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As much as I love Byredo candles, and will buy them again, for once I decided to try something new. Having seen Overose candles around I decided to splurge on one of them. They are not cheap because apparently making a decent scented candle that cost less than a pound of flesh is impossible but it’s worth it. We can get the “similar to Byredo look of the label” comment out-of-the-way immediately. I agree, it does look like one of theirs. This scent though is a lot more powdery then anything I have ever gotten from Ben Gorhams line. It smells like the inside of a posh Italian ladies handbag, and I mean that as the highest of compliments. I have a thing for that. On the box it mentiones amber, benzoin resin,labdanum, vanilla and sandal wood. Also it mentions Himalyan Spikenard and I don’t even know what that is but it sounds cool.  I once had a candle from Caffé Florian in Venice that smelled like this (or maybe it was a room spray?). I know I’ve had at least one candle that was similar and that one was a collaboration between a Swedish company and an artist that lives in Milan (I’m referring to Liselott Watkins). I should have stocked up on them. There is something about this candle that to me smells very sophisticated and un-Swedish. I find it very easy to pretend I’m elsewhere.

Another way to be transported to another place, and time, is obviously books. I’m currently reading Gengis Khan by Frank McLynn and I’m really enjoying it. I don’t think that he always strikes the balance between detail and flow in the way I would have liked but who am I to judge? I don’t write books and I give people too much detail always. The point is: of course Gengis Khan is not the brute that we kind of imagine being uninformed about that period in history, and certain people within the Chinese history have done a good job of telling the story of how the were occupied by uncivilized horsemen (they would do that, wouldn’t they? I get that). But in this case there is more to the story. That said he was not a peaceful ruler by any measure. I’m just saying that everyone back then was savage AF quite literally. There is another connection to the smell of an old Italian Ladies handbag, or at least to Caffé Florian, as Marco Polo turns up. That old Venitian scoundrel.

The cover of this book is a beaut, all glam and disco. I’ve already matched it with one outfit. Maybe I should play that old disco tune Gengis Khan by whoever that they play on radio sometimes?  For a full on thematic reading I mean. (This is the one I’m talking about, and no, I won’t play it). However I also have matching earrings now as I got stuck with part of  one in my scarf and long story short, my Bollywood earring bought in Bethnal Green for 50p have now become somewhat smaller but hopefully a little more wearable. We’ll see though because even though I changed the part that goes in the actual earlobe when I got them I can feel it itching when I’ve worn them for 10 minutes.

The reason that I was wearing them in the first place is because I’ve been watching the Mindy Project and I.am.hooked. It is the perfect antidote to all the sad books and as an added bonus Kaling wears patterns and amazing earring like a boss in that show. In fact she is one of the bosses, if you run your own business or part of it you get to decided the dress code. But it’s a show with fast talking people who are obsessed with junk food, alcohol and revel in being inappropriate. And in all of that every now and a again there is a little nugget to think about in terms of feminism, relations,friendships etc. I think that maybe it has a little of what made Gilmore Girls so popular but I have never really watched that show so I don’t know. Maybe it’s just that people drink reasonable amounts of coffee in both (i.e. by the bucket).

Related:

Overose candles 

-Suss

 

Tuesday&Tale of Genji

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I’ve long had a bit of a weak spot or the Heian era. Doesn’t Japanese history between the years 794 to 1185 get you all excited, with the black teeth as beauty standard, constant fires ruining the capital and literary achievements? (It doesn’t? Who are you people?). It started with The diary of Lady Murasaki and The pillow book of Sei Shonagon that I read one after the other after reading an article about them. It is fascinating that of the very few written texts remaining of that time, two by women are the most known (given that it was a very patriarchal society) . I’ve been told that poems cited in The pillowbook of Sei Shonagon are some of the first ting Japanese schoolchildren learn.

Of the two, Shonagon has always been closer to my heart. Her “voice” is surprisingly modern and translates well to our time, with her little lists and the snippets of gossip. Part of that is probably due to the format, a pillow book is looser then a diary, in a sense only the fun stuff. Its her IG feed if you will, curated to make her look fab and be the envy of all of the court. Murasaki is a good girl but also as a writer, to me she is too detached in her diary because she observes so much. I get the sense that she is highly sensitive but in many ways she is the “good girl” according to the standards of the time.

The world of the shining prince by Ivan Morris is great reading to complement the diary and the pillow book despite Morris’s partiality; it gives a lot of insight in to what it all means, and it’s nicer to read that then read all of the footnotes in the actual books. When Ivan Morris wrote about them, and their cultural and historical context, he clearly favours  Murasaki in my opinion. Maybe after reading The Tale of Genji I will change my tune and declare her the genius. It should be noted that I don’t dislike Lady Murasaki, quite the opposite, but always felt closer to Shonagon.

Oh well, the time has come for me to attempt, yet again, to read The tale of Genji. I did try once and didn’t get very far. I know now that I can blame the translator for everything. This time around I have done my research, although I somehow ended up with the version that not a lot of people seem to like. But it’s also the newest one and how often to people read book that are around 1200 pages (In my case? At least once a year. What can I say? I like big books).

Judging by this article that I found online and that is very helpful in that it provides examples of the different translation, I think that my previous attempt was a version by Royall Tyler and all the footnotes distracted me, and that I should try Seidensticker this time. The latter has homogenized the titles so the characters do not change names/titles as the story unfolds. If I’m to have any chance of getting through that is of the essence.  I’m shit with names so they really need to stick to one. Over time with the Russian novels I have learned the diminutives so I understand know that “Sasha” isn’t a new character but a previously mentioned Alexandre. Not so with Japanese lit.

However the Washburn wasn’t published when that article was written. Ian Buruma, for whom I have a lot of respect, reviewed the Washburn version in The New Yorker which you can read here. It gives some insight and he touches on some very important points but does not think the Washburn adds much to the canon of Genji translations.

How come I ended up with it then? I did some snooping on Goodreads and other forum and Washburn has his fans. Accessibility is another reason, this is not a bestseller and some of the older versions can be difficult or expensive to get a hold of. This? It came in soft cover for €15 and was delivered in three days. So I’ll give it a go.

There are more books by Morris that I would like to read in conjunction with this but those have not been delivered yet. And you can expect the reading of this to be reported contiouasly on the blog, that it will probably inspire a couple of kimonojackets and what not. A cocktail maybe?

So the plan is to start reading on October 1st and finish before the year is over. I haven’t figured out how I will tackle this gigantic read but I will consult my own list of strategies that you can read (again) here. Anyone who wants to join me in reading this?

-Suss

Thursday&Tiny reviews

IMG_3964One of the books that I’ve read lately is Giulia Enders book about the stomach and digestive system. Called Gut in English and Charmen med tarmen in Swedish. I’m one of the last people in the world to read this so I don’t know what I can add to the conversation. Enders is passionate about her subject and tries to make that come through in the text. It’s on the verge of being too silly for me but reading a little then and now solved that dilemma, then the tone of it is diluted by time. I did learn a lot; like so many others I have had tummy-aches and problems for most of my life and even though I have gotten help from doctors, this is a good reminder to take care of myself and use the information I have. And these are things that nobody really want’s to talk about so I’m glad that this book is out there for people to read. It’s hard getting good answers from a doctor if you are not asking good questions, I do wish this had been around a couple of years ago.

IMG_4134I found myself rather between books the other day. I have two “buddy reads” lined up but one is put on hold as my dear friend is waiting for the book (online book purchases always fail when there is a deadline or obligation involved) and the other is planned for later in the month. So I picked up something to have at home to read that was rather hefty (more about that later) but still needed a little small something in my bag. Luckily I found Välkommen till Amerika by Linda Boström Knausgård. It’s so thin it was hidden in the stacks. But as I have already said about this book elsewhere, those 100 pages manages to tell an engaging story about love, loss and life. The young girl who’s thoughts we follow has lost her father so there is grief. But the father was mentally ill and tore the family apart and was a threat to not only himself but also his wife and children as he was unable to control his impulses. So in a sense the child is happy he’s not there anymore. But did as she make it happen? When she wished for peace and quiet, to let the light rule in her life, did she actually wish for her dad to die? And did the heavens grant her wish? Her thoughts are whirling around, in fact she stops speaking because she feels the need to think and figure out the world. This book was intense and more so since you read it in one sitting which is the point. It’s like a maelstrom of thoughts and you get sucked in. I will try to read more by Boström Knausgård.

IMG_4144The hefty thing that I’ve been reading at home is Gutenberggalaxens nova by Nina Burton. It has an under-title that translates to something like  a story in essays about Erasmus of Rotterdam, the 1600th century media revolution and humanism with special appearances by Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein jr, Paracelsus, Martin Luther, various popes and a few rebels. This is a heavy book due to the thick paper it’s printed on and space devoted to illustrations. The story is of Erasmus is lovingly told with a light hand however. It would have been odd not to spend money on the actual book and giving it a nice shape and weight since this is the story of how books conquered the world. In just a few decades Europe went from a society where books were rare handmade objects to being a continent that had several publishers, celebrated authors and books on a variety of subjects. No longer was the Bible the only thing widely spread although with books having become more accessible and humanism and independent thought being in the air, Erasmus translation of the Bible obviously was one of the biggest successes. It paved the way for reformation although he did not see that one coming. When Burton says that this is “a story in essays” what she means that all the chapters are about a certain period or Erasmus meetings with another of the famous men of that era. It’s nicely proportioned that way but it gets a tiny bit repetitive after a while. But I must say that I have loved it. As Burton isn’t writing a traditional memoir but rather a portrait of a man and his time she doesn’t get bogged down in minutiae but uses broad strokes, a few anedcotes and liberally scattered reflections about then and now. I cannot stress enough that I have loved reading this, it doesn’t sound like it when I try to describe it but for me this is the ultimate feel-good book. It’s well-written, using a very playful language, and it’s infused with a love of books, learning and celebrates “the good conversation”. Erasmus had about 500 people that he corresponded with regularly and was a firm believer that if you couldn’t find an intelligent human to discuss with amongst your contemporaries then dead authors were readily available, in fact he semmed to count them as some of his best friends. This book has been a delight to read, I feel a tiny bit more intellectual just by reading this and it’s the kind of thing that restores a bit of my faith in humanity. It one the August prize for best non-fiction last year and The August prize is THE literary prize up here. Let’s hope that it gets translated to English.

-Suss

Monday & Mermaid & Mixology

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As the season, and I will point this out many times more, has taken a turn for the colder and more colorful my mood turns to meatier reads and stiffer cocktails.

This is the perfect time of year for historical fiction, Dickens, Balzac and a few horror stories. Then in November when the mornings are frost nipped and there is a possibility of snow we’ll turn towards the Russians and possibly fairytale interpretations. Then for spring the taste is for the new and contemprary fiction is where it’s at. Or so this seasonal reader lives anyways. I don’t know about you.

But back to the season at hand, which is off to a flying start with The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar. Let me first point out the obvious; this is a stunning cover. It has been remarked upon by many people this week as I’ve been carrying it around everywhere (with no thoughts to my back). Kudos to the publisher that they let this debutante be presented to society in such fine and eye-catching attire. It can only improve its reputation and increase the general interest.

But you should never judge a book by its cover, it’s always (always!) about the story.

If I’m going to try to sum it up it sounds like this; Mr Hancock, a trader, one day finds himself in the possession of a mermaid. It has procured by one of his captains, without authorization, in exchange for one of Mr. Hancock’s ships. In order to recoup his losses he puts it on display and by doing so enters into a part of society of which he has known but never taken part; the courtesans of London. His life is forever altered as is the lives of those he comes in contact with. Maybe some of those things would have happened anyways, maybe not. As readers we are following a chain of events both likely and unlikely. I don’t want to give too much away but I was surprised more than once. And I did get attached to Mr. Hancock, his niece Sukie, the infamous Angelica Neal and to some degree the cat that lives in Mr. Hancock’s house. This is a story of obsession, passion, fear and the stories we tell ourselves to justify our actions.

What I will say is that I was a much darker novel then I expected, it doesn’t  view the Regency era with rose-tinted glasses and is brutally honest about the life of courtesans. I have A harlot high and low by Balzac in fresh memory and thought about it more than once; Old Honoré was always very observant and honest about human nature in his books and that’s why I love him. That I even make the connection, and mention the two in the same review,  should be interpreted as the highest of compliments.

So the idea is a fabulous one in many ways but how does it do on the page? It is told in a rather detached way which reminded me of The Essex Serpentt. The language however is much more colorful and of that time I guess, which is both entertaining and mood setting. I also love the attention paid to details of interior and clothing, little vignettes that set the scene.

Are there flaws? Yes, but this is a debut novel so I have a very forgiving eye. And the fact that I like all my storylines tidied up in the end, which I didn’t get, might be more a reflection on me then the book.

I did thoroughly enjoy this book despite it giving me a knot in the stomach at times, and I don’t hesitate to recommend it. This was as ARC given to me by Vintage Books but I probably would have bought it/lent it at the library when it came out anyways. The book is published February 8th 2018. Make a note in your calendars people.

Also; about the stiffer drinks I must warn you that Old-fashioneds will feature heavily in the next few weeks. To sip on whilst reading the last few pages of this I made one with bourbon, plum syrup and plum bitters from Fee Brother’s. The bitters, inspired by the spices in plum pudding, seemed to tie in nicely with the book as plum pudding is actually mentioned (it is historical fiction in the Regency Period. I assume the law demands that plum pudding is mentioned). The flavours worked really well together. Just an idea.

-Suss

Friday & Futuristic reading

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The last couple of weeks I have read one book about the possible future of mankind (however speculative) and three books that are categorized as science fiction ( so speculative was always the point). I guess futuristic reads are trending in this house.

The three body problem by Cixin Liu is not in the photo as I had to return it to the library. I kind of accidentally read that one as it was on the #obamabookclub list. A surprisingly enjoyable read although to be honest I glossed over some of the science heavy parts. There is a bit about two-dimensional neutrons that felt like” information dumping” and not a very relevant such. The key thing is rather “if there is life out there in the universe, do we want to have contact?”. The plot revolves around a few people in China, mostly scientists, that come in contact with a video game that changes how they see things. As the possibility of contact with an extra terrestrial lifeforms opens up there are those that want to welcome them and those that sense the danger and would rather not. The main focus is on the people on earth and the hunt for the aliens liaisons officer if you might call it that. It suffer what many detective novels suffer, characters are left underdeveloped in favor of action-packed plot. That said it’s an entertaining read and I was obsessed with that video game in the book, it was a fascinating creation.

Very much like that are the novels by Sylvain Neuvel. Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods are the first and second installment in a series that is called The Themis files. Here we have the same fast paced plot but over the pages I feel that some of the characters are pretty well fleshed out so to speak. It also helps that I have read both book one and two in this case, with Liu I have only read the first part of a trilogy so I have had more time to get to know them. With Neuvel though the format is a bit of a novelty; it’s all transcripts of interviews, log books and fictive newscasts that tell the story. I read a book once that consisted only of emails sent back and forth between two people. This fared better in my view but that is partly because I read it on the commute and the many small “chapters” made very good reading as I changed trains etc. Had I read too much in one go I might have felt that the book was too fragmented and been more stressed out than entertained. And it also bring up the question of technology; what do we want it for? We say we have to have weapons to defend ourselves but in reality most people are shot by people they know; in homes and in war. In Afghanistan “friendly fire” is a common reason of death. That means that Americans are shooting Americans. Who is the enemy here? If we found something on earth that didn’t belong to us, then how should we act? Just say “finders keepers”. The argument “everything can be used as a weapon” is true but it isn’t really valid. Advanced weapons makes it easier to kill with a higher degree of precision and from a remote location, and it can escalate quickly. We could be it’s first victims.

Which brings us to Harari’s book “Homo Deus”. If Waking Gods was about us vs. a possible technologically superior race then Harari writes about our own evolution. Not becoming immortal but cheating death for longer and longer. Of finding ourselves in the grasp of technology possibly owned by other financially superior humans or the machines running their algorithms. He wrote the book so that people would start thinking about ethics when it comes to medicine and machines, but I have to say that I wasn’t all that impressed. The ideas are there but to many sloppy arguments, factoids and repetitions made for little reading pleasure and not so much thinking in the end.

In short; fiction probably made me think more about the dangers of technology then the work by an historian this time. Didn’t see that one coming.

-Suss