7 strategies for tackling big books

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By popular demand I give you my list of strategies for tackling big books(i.e. two people said they were interested). It should be noted that once you go down the big book path your perception changes. I’ve made the cut-off mark att around 700 pages but some would say that anything over 500 is a tome. Like really, 500 pages is big? That’s like half of Bleak house(<– obviously a remark made by a madwoman. But if loving Dickens is wrong I don’t want to be right). It should also be noted that having a rather terrier like personality make it easier to handle a greater number of pages.

1. Make sure it’s a good book to begin with. This is rather self-explanatory. If it’s a good book, then it will draw you in and time will fly as you move from one page to the next. I’ve read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell many times and it never feels like +800 pages. It feels like a minute and a half when I’m immersed in that world. It always ends too soon.

2. Be inspired. There is nothing like a recommendation from a trusted source or a loving introduction to ease the way. I got into reading The story of the stone (five installments à 800 pages) because the man who translated it wrote a column in the paper that was pretty much a love letter, and in every volume there was an introduction that described his process and all the care and devotion that had gone into it. If I at any point swayed in my determination then I thought of that, to respect the work and the love that had gone into it. The same with A little life, when feeling the strain of the story I thought of friends who had recommended it and their praise. In hindsight they were absolutely right. Later, when I heard Hanya Yanigahara speak, she told about her editor wanting to trim it down cirka 300 unspecified pages. It would not have been the same book, and lucky for us she stuck to her guns.

3. Be snowed in/stranded on an island. Not the most applicable advice but I will say that many a big book has been tackled when at the cottage during bad weather( i.e. most of the time). Did I during June of this year finish A place of greater safety by Hilary Mantel(about 800 pages) whilst there? I did indeed. A rainy week will do wonders for my reading. The light version is bringing it on a long haul flight( what are you gonna do instead? Watch the bad movie in-flight movie? Sleep?) or getting the book from the library. That will give you a soft deadline when the first four weeks are up and then a hard deadline when you can no longer extend the loan. Returning a book late is not an option, it would mean disappointing librarians and I cannot bear that( they probably don’t care, I just have a mental image of the librarian we had at school where I grew up. Never mad, just disappointed). I have failed however and returned a book or two half-read.

4. Draw up a strict reading schedule, make sure to have a little treat at every point. Take the books number of pages, divided that by the number of days you want to read it in and bada bing, you have your allowed daily page count. Possibly adjust to fit with chapters. Make sure to devote time to the pages and it’s vital that you have coffee and a few pieces of salty licorice every time (or tea and a brownie; whatever your vices are). Shortly the reading will be something to look forward to. And ticking off the allotted pages is the kind of positive feedback the brain needs ( don’t quote me on that, it’s not scientifically proven I think. But it could be and it is in line with my “good girls do everything they said they would do mentality”. Oh, the satisfaction of checking things of the list). Humming Rihanna’s “Work” in between reading sessions is a good idea. If you attempt this strategy with War and Peace by Tolstoy I will point out, as I always do when reading this novel is the topic, you are allowed to skim when Pierre has his long rants. Tolstoy is just using him as a mouthpiece for his own opinions and it isn’t all that relevant to the plot.

5. Get a reading buddy. Nothing like moral support to get the job done. You can have a karaoke session singing “It takes two” by Marvin Gaye before you start and possibly during the process. Having someone to discuss the agonies of reading that big.old.thing with, and then at a later point discussing who did what with who behind the shed and sending that ” On p.689. Oh no he didn’t!!! So so pissed” message in the middle of the night to. Because beware; the joys and sorrow of a big book is that can draw you into it’s world, and when there you loose yourself, and get too bloody invested. You are a grown woman, and still you cry when fictional characters die? FFS Suss, get a hold of yourself. (full disclosure and preempting the criticism; a big book isn’t needed to move me necessarily. Shakespeare gives me all the feels). I still have the ambition to read Tristram Shandy and Tale of Genji; if anyone is interested in joining me in that, let me know.

6. Be unfaithful. Having your big book at home, caressing it’s spine in the evening and giving it all your devotion might be easier if you have something light in your bag, just a little bit of something to give comfort when you are out and about. I promise I won’t tell. Great undercover lovers include Bashō, Nancy Mitford and How to be a heroine by Samantha Ellis.

7. Think of the rewards. There is no doubt that to many tackling the Russian classics and works of Dickens, means you are part of the elite reader force. You earn a badge of honour, it’s like climbing Mount Everest. I don’t necessarily think in those terms as the reading is enough for me but undoubtedly the fact that I did make it through In search of Lost time by Proust(not a big book but a suite but logic still applies) and have read my fair share of tomes comes in handy in certain conversations. And once you have tackled a few big books it isn’t so intimidating any more which is a good thing in it self. Fear and apprehension shouldn’t rule what you read and not, love and curiosity should.

And that’s all I have to say about that. Probably. I can get Dickensian in my ramblings about books.

Now go forth my minions and tackle Wolf Hall, A little life or anything by a dead Russian. You can do it, I know you can.

-Suss

7 translations to consider

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I’ve been asked once or twice about Swedish literature. Most of the stuff I like isn’t translated into english, the stream flows the other way, but a few things have gotten through. This is not all of it but a few books in no particular order.

1. The gravity of love by Sara Stridsberg. Stridsberg has a sharp pen, she didn’t get ask to join the Swedish academy for nothing. In this she manages to tell the story of a father who never was just that, but one who spends time in a mental institution and about a child, who like all children, accepts and interprets anything as love. Heartbreaking but also warm and understanding.

2.Bret Easton Ellis and the other dog by Lina Wolff. Full disclosure: I have not read this book. I have read anther of hers and people tell me this is also good. If nothing else Bret Easton Ellis and other dogs is a smashing title.

3. Blackwater by Kerstin Ekman. This novel still brings it. It’s a crime novel that is also the story of a small village in transition. About who belongs and who doesn’t and about trust. I don’t know about the translation but the Swedish original is written in a beautiful language.

4. The Expedition by Bea Uusma. I’m so happy that this books has been translated as it is one I really love. In her twenties Uusma read a book about the Andrée expedition to try to reach the North pole, an expedition that ended in the death of all members for reasons that have never been properly explained. After many years of thinking and reading about it she decided to investigate full time and find out the truth. A book about obsession and the power of hope. This is non-fiction and award winning at that.

5. The summer book by Tove Jansson. I’ve recommended this book many times, and bought copies for friends abroad. Jansson is close to my heart because of Moomin but also this which I reread every year. As a child I didn’t see the darkness in it, at this point in life I think I see nothing but. Small scenes that together paint the picture of a summer and a life.

6. The visit of the royal physician. Elegant and intimate this historical drama from the Danish court in the 18th century  tells the story of a king that may or may not have lost his marbles, a doctor that is supposed to help him but ends up taking his job and his wife and a woman that finds love and freedom in the most unexpected place.

7. The price of water in Finisterre. The much missed, but utterly unique, voice of Malmsteen comes through loud and clear in this her first book about her life in France. One day she had had enough of Sweden and decided to up sticks and move. Her life in Bretagne didn’t end up like she expected but she wrote about it lovingly. It became a blogg and then several books that became collected musings on life,culture and getting older. This first book was more prosaic in a very good way. She did became all of Sweden’s favorite ex-pat I think. Some went on pilgrimage to where she lived.

-Suss

 

 

Midweek & more suggestions for your TBR.

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You probably have a big stack of unread books beside you. And possibly a list, mentally or on paper, about the books you want to buy in the future. Let me add to that.

I’m always on the look out for good suggestions and in the bookstagram-community we encourage and enable each other, in the best possible way of course. Here are some of the lists and round-ups I’ve seen around that you might want to look at for inspiration for further reading.

1. My own summer reading list published a while back: Not obvious choices for summer reading but good books all of them and stuff that doesn’t get much attention. I stand by it. Find the full list here.

2. Life in a cold climate’s fiction list: A few of these books I have already read, in fact I recommended one of them. In addition a someof them have gotten a vote of confidence from people who’s taste is equal to mine notably @biblibimbo and @anicegreenleaf so I will make an effort. I have zero interest in that Carver though, don’t know why. Read the full list here.

3. Life in a cold Climate’s non-fiction list: non-fiction is close to my heart so I made several notes when reading this one. I understand the arguments for not reading Sapiens, I really do,  but I will probably read it just because it is, and I’m paraphrasing, a broad strokes, bombastic macho thing that ignores everything that doesn’t agree with it. I like to make up my own mind despite having all of the confidence in Kate. And unlike Annikky and Kate I cannot apply eyeshadow at all. You can read the whole list here.

4. The booksatchel list of best reads so far in 2017: of the books mentioned in this post The bear and the nightingale is the one I’m most curious about but it will have to wait until winter because anything remotely related to Russia is better read when there is snow on the ground. You can find the list here.

5. Tea with Darcy round up of best reads: Landfalls is high on my list. This vlog-post was the final nudge I needed to start the process of getting my hands on a copy. See it here.

6. The Jen Campbell round-up of best books so far; I don’t watch a lot of booktubers and but Jen is one of them and she has a lot of good suggestions. Mostly her poetry picks intrigue me and then Girls will be girls because feminism is everything. See the video here.

7. Not an actual list; @theartfulelle posted a pic of her TBR-pile(or some of it) and everything in it seems like something I want to read, or rather I few things already are and so I made a note of the rest as our tastes often coincide. See it here.

-Suss

 

Arty Farty

As I was reading The improbability of love by Hanna Rotschild I had many thoughts. I found myself trying to describe the books a retelling of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt imagined as a feel good novel, complete with shady Russians, art work by an old master and thwarted love. But that description is very generous and should be taken more and an indication of plot more then quality.

Our protagonist Annie buys a painting in a junk shop. It turns out that it might be a valuable masterpiece. The painting has her own voice in this book which is a nice touch. Then there is a chase because everyone wants to get their hands on it. That’s The Goldfinch part(but not as good). Annie is a good cook, and wants to be a professional one. Much space is devoted to her cooking which is fun to read for a while.

I thought it enjoyable to read but in the end Rotschild tries to add a little bit of everything and the book is bursting at the seams, and she is in an awful rush to tie up all the end. I gave it a 3 of 5 on Goodreads, because in the end I did get a kick out of reading about all those laces in London that I know and having a giggle at “Barty” as I know my gossip column and have a good guess who he is based on . On the downside there is an awful lot of stereotyping going on and at some point it bored me to be honest. I started to wonder if it was supposed to be satire?

What Rotschild seem to be very serious about is art; both old masters and new. And she is on such solid ground as far as that topic is concerned that she doesn’t have a problem being a bit disrespectful. Although I do get the sense that she hopes to convey knowledge about art like little nuggets in her novel, she does make a case of art for art’s sake and does so well, in very broads strokes obviously but still.

Me? I’m already a convert to the cause. I don’t agree with her on Damien Hirst(or rather the opinions of the character in her book) but I agree with what another one says, about  hoe our tastes in art change over time, to suit our needs I think. Except Cy Twombly, he is forever in my heart.

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If you want to learn more? I have read more then one book that I could recommend.

Still Life- adventures in Taxidermy by Melissa Milgrom has a chapter about the woman who makes many of Hirst’s ideas come to life, or rather be dead in a lifelike way. A very talented taxidermist. Part of why I’m not that impressed by Hirst is probably because he works on an industrial scale, and does very little himself. An artist like Polly Morgon actually does her own taxidermy for her art works and only uses animals that have died naturally which feels better. Hirst has an army of assistants.

Seven days in the Art world by Sarah Thornton is a book I think I have recommended before. It’s got a few years on it but is a well-written,informed and entertaining look into how the world of contemporary art works.

On the other end of the spectrum are books about auction houses. I remember reading Sotheby’s: the portrait of an auction house by Frank Herrman which obviously was a very kind view, and an outdated on. It was written in the 80’s and it was famously a different art world then.

Killer stuff and tons of money by Maureen Stanton is about flea markets in America, and the search for lost gems, and even though it is not geographically relevant, it is so mentally. Just look at an episode of Antiques Roadshow( I can watch all the episodes of Antiques roadshow. It’s the best show). And yes, I have harped on about this book before.

The best thing to get in the mood for this book however, or rather savor it, is to go to a museum and have a look at some art. And bloody well leave a few coins in the donation box. All art institutions are having a hard time getting donators to pay for something as prosaic as conservation. Everyone wants to donate money for wing or a painting. No-one wants to pay to reline a canvas or figure out how to save the elephant dung that Chris Ofili used for an art piece, for posterity.

-Suss

A study in Scarlet

This past weekend I conducted an experiment; I started at the top and worked my way through my books, turning books by male authors, so that spines only on books written by women( or in two cases by a man and a woman) were visible.

I got the idea for this from @curledpages on Instagram, who in turn got it from @athousandbooks, and he in turn got it from a bookstore. Meanwhile @2manybeaytifulbooks did it too a while back, inspired by an article in The Guardian(about a bookstore. Possibly the same one as mentioned above). It’s in the air.

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I forgot two books that should have been tuned but the general impression was still one of shelves that were fairly balanced. And this wasn’t exactly a surprise; currently my shelves are very curated. In two waves, for different reasons, I’ve had to go through all my books and decide what I want to keep, and also what to buy as I have limited space.

Buy a new edition of a book that I have read and is written by a dead man? Probably not. I’ll get that from the library instead and give space and money to a living female author. And I feel the need to point this out again; I’m not saying that the gender says anything about the quality of the writing, I am saying that women still have a harder time in publishing and that they were almost entirely excluded for millennia. There are exceptions of course but few seen to the fact that women make up almost half the worlds population.

However, when I posted on IG a few people commented on the fact that so many of the pink books still had there spines out, the hashtag #spinesoutexperiment tag was born and someone was offended naturally( that person later removed their comment). The case of the pink spines made me take a closer look. It should be explained that my shelves are organized according to colour, more or less. As there is a predominance of books with black or white spines I’ve had to wrap a few books in paper of another colour to find place for them, and a few books are in bad condition and need that additional protective sleeve.

In the end it turns out it’s mostly an optical illusion; the bright light and a little bit of filter makes books that are red appear more on the pink side.

IMG_2702 (1)When looking at it as it normally is, and closer up, it doesn’t feel as pink and a few heavy hitters like Bulgakov and Wondrich have lovely pink covers. In the end I don’t have that many pink books, and a fair few are by men. It’s more that it sticks out the bookcase is a rainbow of sorts. My sleuthing revealed nothing interesting; the Sherlock Holmes fan girl in me is a tad bit disappointed of not finding the indication of a huge conspiracy on my shelves, the economist in me knows well that not finding something is a valid result and very often the only result.

It’s worth mentioning however that books about feminism often have pink covers in Sweden, just because. Fanny Ambjörnsson wrote the brilliant book Pink-the dangerous colour where she points out the very short history of pink as a “girly” colour and also point out that it isn’t always the case, The Financial Times are printed on pink paper and that’s not a exactly a weak and emotional paper( except possibly Sir David Tang in the Agony uncle-column, but polemic is the whole point of it, and  mostly for comic effect). Even before that book there had been several feminist classics in pink covers, a case of reclaiming the colour I guess. I love pink and there is no contradiction between that and being a feminist( to claim so is utterly 2007. Just stop).

So the next step would naturally be to turn my books so that only spines on books written by people of colour would show. There eI’m afraid the result would not be as balanced. We’ll see if I get around to that.

-Suss

Things related to this post;

That article in The Guardian

Another article, also from the Guardian, about gender imbalance in reviews and publicity

 

 

7 Thoughts I had when reading The daylight gate

Welcome, welcome to the inside of my head. Where thoughts whirl around like leaves in the autumn breeze and the most unlikely connections are made. As I read The daylight gate by Jeannette Winterson I had several ideas of potential blogpost. We’ll see if any of them will be written, I’m just giving you a tiny glimpse of my creative process here (I’m in a period of reading books about creativity and that is also an influence).

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1. I went from the ashes into the fire; the similarities between this and Mary by Aris Fioretos

I started this to give me a break from the beautiful, but utterly heart breaking, book Mary which is about a student involved in the uprisings in Greece in the 70’s. She is accused of being a communist and then sent, without a trial, to an island where she is tortured as to confess her actual name and her co-conspiritors. To lessen the burden on my heart I decide to read a book about witch trials? Not my smartest decision especially since both of them devote plenty of pages to detailed descriptions of the toture. Even though both these books are fiction they have roots in reality. Gutted.

2. The idea to read Shakespeare’s The tempest

In this Shakespeare makes an appearance, when two of the characters travel to see the play The Tempest. The bard himself is visiting to with his new work and changes words with our leading witch.  I’m back in the drama reading mood so it wouldn’t be a bad idea.

3. That I should read A winter’s tale and Winterson’s rewriting of it.

Oh, this might be an even better idea as A winter’s tale is mentioned too in this book and Winterson did a reprint of this for the Hogarth series to commemorate the 400 year anniversary since his death. But not really the time for it? Or is it? Reading about winter in summer?

4. It’s time to bring back the cocktail I made named after John Dee.

Queen Elizabeth’s astrologer (and at one point the owner of the biggest library in England) John Dee is cast a role in this piece of fiction as mentor of  Alice Nutter. The Virgin queen  referred to Dee as “My Nobel Intelligencer” and reading about him in another book inspired me to make a cocktail with that very name. In fact I reread that post and, spelling error aside, it’s isn’t all bad. Might translate.

5. I should write a list of books about Witches.

I have read a few in my time. But honestly it will have to wait until I’m done with Witches by Stacey Schiff which I’m also reading.

6. “It is the elixir that I have instructed you to wipe over your entire body once a month at the new moon”. So something about skin care?

So this elixir is supposedly a mix of mercury and magick(ye old spelling) that keeps Alice Nutter looking far younger then her years. One should put no such things on the skin in real life. A nice retinol however? I do not know much about skin care but I have a fair few empty bottles at the moment and maybe it’s time to report on that. The short version would be that the argan oil from The ordinary may be cheap but the scent is off putting.

7. “She was dressed in magenta”. I should be too.

Supposedly Nutter’s wealth comes from her invention of a magenta dye that so impressed Queen Elizabeth I that she got a royal warrant. Nutter wears the colour often in the book, Winterson points it out. And magenta feels like a nice colour right now, isn’t everyone kind of over hot pink? It should be noted that when I did research the inter webs claimed that fuchsia and magenta are the same colour but the difference in name is due to process. Magenta is a synthetic dye imitating fuchsia as I understand it. And as the plants they imitate have several colors there seems to be a certain disagreement of definition.

In the end I think this book is a horror story, which doesn’t appeal to me as much. Although the writing is nice, Winterson put it to better use in the other books I’ve read by her.

Things mentioned in this post;

My cocktails inspired by John Dee (in Swedish)

Magenta

-Suss

Schiaparelli & sound advice?

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The other week I read Shocking life-the autobiography of Elsa Schiaparelli, and I’d like to return to it once more. As I noted on Instagram I felt there was some great stories in this book but the designer’s instance of referring to herself in the third person made it a less then thrilling read. I wish an editor had stepped in at some point.

On the next to last page there is a list of The twelve commandments for women. This does ring a bell, I vaguely remember a Swedish magazine or possibly a radioshow bringing them up at some point, but then again as they are well known what I have to say about them is probably old hat, but here they are. These commandments were written in the 50’s and based on her experiences as a couturier but how do they hold up?

1. Since most women don’t know themselves they should try to do so.

Agreed. Knowing yourself, what suits you and what you need are probably vital for putting together a useful closet.

2. A woman who buys an expensive dress and changes it,often with disastrous results, is extravagant and foolish.

This is still good advice. But there is a certain pleasure in being extravagant and foolish, and buying an expensive dress might get you qualified as that to begin with.

3. Most women (and men) are color-blind. They should ask for suggestions.

I don’t think she means actually color-blind but rather bad a knowing what colours suit them and which go well with one another. Asking for advice is a good strategy.

4. Remember-twenty per cent of women have inferiority complexes. Seventy per cent have illusions.

Really? I would say nowadays the numbers are reversed.

5. Ninety per cent are afraid of being conspicuous and of what people will say. So they buy a grey suit. They should dare to be different.

Supposedly by following commandment three that should be sorted. And a grey suit can be a good base for some wonderful accessories. I wouldn’t mind having a grey suit actually, mixing it up with some chartreuse blouses or a raspberry red t-shirt(long sleeves).

6. Women should listen and ask for competent criticism and advice.

This list isn’t well-written, this should come before number three and then the piece of advice after that should specify  “in particular when it comes to colour”. It’s all very anti-Chanel who’s palette was very much about neutrals. They were enemies of course, Coco once(allegedly) put Elsa in the pathway of a burning candle and she caught fire.

7. They should choose their clothes alone or in the company of a man.

I prefer shopping alone as if I’m out with someone else I will spend more time on helping them then looking for myself. And if women should ask for competent advice, can staff be trusted? Not everywhere, a well-chosen friend is probably better. Personal shoppers can be hired, might not be a bad idea for some.

8. They should never shop with another woman, who sometimes consciously and often unconsciously is apt to be jealous.

Disagree. I’m an excellent shopping partner, and I know other women who are as well. And the women you can’t shop with because of jealousy will probably be like that in other areas of your life too, and maybe that’s not a relationship to invest in or maybe have an honest talk.

9. They should buy little, and only of the best or the cheapest.

This actually sounds rather cool. Still valid. But remember that “fast-fashion” is cheap because the price doesn’t reflect the use of common resources and sub-standard working conditions and is in reality very costly for the environment. Go vintage or second-hand. Swap with friends.

10. Never fit the dress to the body, but train the body to fit the dress.

I’m all for women making time to exercise as it’s vital for a good health but don’t do it to fit into a dress. And in this day and age of prêt-a-porter the clothes are made for theoretical body types. I still have to get stuff fitted for a nice silhouette as I’m between sizes and losing more wight would not be the solution.

11. A woman should buy mostly in one place where she is known and respected, ad not rush around trying every fad.

This is good advice. Establishing a personal connection with sales staff with get you better service and advice.

12. And she should pay her bills.

Schiaparelli herself obviously had a problem because her customers didn’t always pay for the clothes in time and despite being a huge commercial success she wasn’t so financially. But always pay your bills, late fees is a waste of money.

-Suss