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

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

Monday&Mustard&Oxblood&Jade

Fashion inspiration comes from all over in my case but as I’ve mentioned many times before, books more often than almost anything else. It’s a cover, a description or a phrase.

The colours are ones she has never been in the habit of wearing-oxblood, mustard, jade- and Mrs Chappell thinks she cannot quote like it, what with such hectic colour in the girl’s cheeks and lips, such spark in her eyes; everything about her seems brighter, sharper, fuller.

The quote is from The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock that I read (and blogged about) the other week. It has stayed with me as I often say of books i.e. I have thought about it, drawn inspiration from it, gone back and looked at the pages. In this case I had underlined the words in my first reading so had no trouble finding it.

This isn’t about inspiration to try something new for me but rather a coming together of some of my favorite shades (some of which are trendy this season) that I already wanted to wear. In some cases all at once.

This skirt in raw silk (or possibly silk-cotton blend) with embroidery in mustard and oxblood is in my top ten fave skirts. I wear it all year round, with a white blouse and sandals  in summer and darker colours in winter. Just shimmery enough to work day or night. The fabric was a gift from India and it has made me so happy.

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When people think “jade” they often limit the colour to one pale green shade, which I guess is correct in a “colour code” kind of way. However in reality jade is the word used for both “jadeite” and “nephrite”, minerals that exist in a variety of shades in mostly green but also shades of purple. I tend to think of it as either that intense green of this skirt or that lovely pale version , very art deco related, which is a hairsbreadth away from Eau de Nil or mint (love all those shades actually).
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My beloved jacket also qualifies as jade if I’m generous. My nails are in the shade Bordeaux which is pretty much oxblood and they will be so for many weeks to come; I go through one bottle of polish at a time usually. The skirt is part Lacroix fabric that was left over from when a friend reupholstered a few chairs (I helped and considered the scraps  payment, after all “it’s Lacroix sweetie“) and then trimmed with a bit of leather from when I helped another friend shorten a skirt. Waste not, want not. This does look much nicer with a heel but for running errands I put those in the bag and wore my sneaks. There is a bit of yellow in this skirt and looking at what I’ve been wearing lately, and all the lovely mustard coats in the shops, I’m tempted to buy one. For now though I have a few projects lined up as I went through my closet this weekend, trying to organize, see what needs mending and figure out what of to wear.

-Suss

7 things for the gift drawer

The gift drawer is a clever invention. I cannot credit who came up with the idea or how I came to have one. But I do, and I went through it yesterday to see what I had and what I needed to restock.

What is it then? Exactly what it sounds like. A drawer (or in my case, a box) full of little things that make good gifts, the kind of thing it’s good to have around when you forget birthdays until the same day, someone gets a promotion, name days (a certain easter influence in my life and to some select people this matters) and something to give to the host and hostess if should, against all odds, be invited to dine at someone else’s house. Nothing very personal or grand but just thoughtful knick-knacks. Some are better at the art of the gift drawer then I but these are the kind of things I try to keep on hand.

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  1. Hand creams. Look at any gift guide around Christmas and invariably hand creams are included as “stocking-stuffers” or for cases of secret Santa, and with good reason. They are useful and nowadays there are many that smell rather unisex so they can be given to men to. They need them just as much. I like the ones from Other Stories, especially the one called “Moroccan tea”. The scent is a hit with pretty much everyone.
  2. Fans. I’ve spoken about these before (in fact I may have written this whole post before). Usually found in Asian supermarkets but is also a great thing to stock up on trips. Such a good thing to in the handbag but people rarely think about them, until I give them one and totally change their lives.
  3. Books, poetry in particular. I no longer lend books because I’ve lost a few ones I really loved and having to nag to get them back is the worst. And it’s always the books I love and get excited about that I loose. So inspired by my friend Van I now by nice copies of books I love plus Penguin little black classics so that I have a few things to give away if I want people to read it. There has to be a certain trade-off between how likely it is that they have read it already and if they want to. But lucky for me I love non-fiction on diverse subjects and many of those are suitable for a surprising amount of people. I will start buying A time of gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor in bulk as it is a brilliant book that touches on many subjects and thus makes a great gift. Little books of poetry are also great gifts as it is the kind of thing that people don’t often buy for themselves and it takes up no room if they don’t read it.
  4. Notebooks. And pens. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that everyone loves notebooks. Moleskins can even get men excited. Not everyone uses them but they love them. Lacroix makes ridiculous notebooks that I think that everyone should have, this is something I picked up I don’t know where. But it says “Kitchen notes” on it so I might give it to someone who likes to cook. This is also a good thing to stock up on when traveling. IMG_4189
  5. Nice bags for toiletries, shoes etc. There are so many tote bags with funny things printed on the side that I don’t know where to start. And we should all reduce our use of plastic bags so give someone the gift of helping them reduce environmental degradation, and be organized when doing it.
  6. Stirring glasses. As I’ve mentioned before I buy nice stirring glasses when I find them in antique shops and at flea markets. They make excellent gifts and can in addition be used as decoration or vases.
  7. A nice set of playing cards. Or a Yatzy. Or the classic Swedish game “Throw the pig”. Cheap and fun. Everyone loves to have one of these around.

What gifts do you find yourself buying over and over again for people?

-Suss

Monday&Monster&Mint

I did some gardening yesterday. Yeah, I know; not my forte. But I have managed to keep a few well-chosen things alive over the years.

Herbs was my entry and the reason is very simple; I like to have fresh herbs around and thus I have an incentive to remember to water them. And it has worked. During summer I sort of cheat and plant them on masse in my window boxes which;

a) looks very nice and verdant (as I’ve pointed out before. Herbs are the lazy gardeners friend, some more than others)

b) means that they take care of themselves a bit as rain is a frequent occurrence in these parts all year around. And should they dry up they are still kind of useable in the kitchen for a while and besides, I haven’t spent a fortune on them to begin with. Valar morgulis or whatever.

From herbs I graduated to pelargoniums, orchids and of late a monstera. Pelargoniums are fairly easy to manage actually. They don’t need water that often and if they dry up that’s in fact a good thing, you are supposed to let them “rest” for a few months every year. I don’t always time it right, but mostly I manage. They come out when the balcony furniture gets taken out of the basement and go back there with them. Which is what I did yesterday. And as the night will soon be cold I repotted some of the herbs from the window box into pots that are now standing on the living room window sill. Hopefully they will let me pinch a few leaves for a few weeks more.

As I was at it I repotted my monstera. I wasn’t aware that it needed to be done just yet. But when I took it out of the samovar that I have been letting the pot rest in, there was a nest of roots that had grown through the small holes in the bottom. Looked like tentacles. A bit scary actually but I sorted it out. The new pot is to big for the samovar but hopefully the plant will have some space to grow.

The samovar, or broken samovar I should say, has been repurposed as a very show-y pot for an orchid. I don’t buy orchids, I get old ones that have bloomed out (or whatever it’s called) and only the leaves and the odd sad stalk remain. I have quite a few around the house now, slowly but surely gaining a reputation as a crazy orchid lady. I think, and I very alone in this, that they look rather nice and sculptural even when it’s just a few leaves. They are also able to draw moisture from the air so the ones in the bathroom and kitchen don’t even need to be watered. And probably because I neglect them, am not overly impressed by their blooms and don’t rate them as more elegant then my pelargoniums they are pissed of on occasion and decided to show me who is boss by blooming again something fierce. I game the hell out of orchids. However, I really wish people would stop it with those sticks to keep the stalk straight, it looks so sad. Especially when the stick is still there post-blooming.

I also just remembered that I have an aloe standing on one of the kitchen shelves. I had completely forgotten about it and I am happy to tell you that it has never looked better. Will thus continue to ignore it as that seems to be a winning strategy.

-Suss

Friday&Feed&phone

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In my search for serenity one of the biggest distraction and time-thieves needed to be addressed; my phone and all that is in it. These are the seven steps I took in order to organize all the digital clutter.

  1. Make sure that pics from phone are on my computer. Then deleted a lot of them. I take photos of everything and the person how showed me how to screen grab back in the day did me a disservice. Not really obviously, but it adds up quickly. So there was a purge, a creation of specific albums for certain things (pic of the hoover, the coffee filter packaging etc. so I know what to buy as I cannot remember all the specifics and I need it on hand) or pics that I want to show certain friends. Things that I want to keep has been downloaded to a USB-stick and I will have them developed. I actually do this from time to time and enjoy putting them into my photo album on a rainy night.
  2. Un-subscribe. I went through my mail and un-subscribed to a lot of things, mostly companies and such. Less mail means less to manage. I wasn’t sure why I was on all those lists to begin with.
  3. Un-followed. I went through the accounts I follow on Instagram and removed a few. Mostly they are accounts that are not related to books, and a few rude people, so that when I go on there it’s a joy to see what people are reading and partaking in that discussion. I might seem harsh but most things I un-followed are big corporations or big accounts that I don’t interact with anyways. I won’t be missed is what I’m saying.
  4. Created folders for apps and made sure the desktop in my phone is functional and rather clean. I’ve hidden apps that I don’t use that often, I’ve deleted a few (must not have Tetris on my phone if I want to get anything done). Should have done this ages ago. I’ve also put the Mindfulness-app front and center.
  5. Made a choice regarding podcasts. I have subscribed to a lot of podcasts over the year but I realized that there are only a handful that I really listen to. The rest mostly give me a guilty conscience (because everything does). So I sorted that out.
  6. Changed the background picture on my phone. New season, new me. I want my mind-palace to look like the cosy library on photo*, not like an episode from “Hoarders”, and it’s on my phone now as a gentle reminder. That pic puts me in a good mood really.
  7. Bought a new case for it. My old one was knackered and so I decided my phone needed new clothes for the season. I does make it easier to find in my bag. I could also do with a new protective screen as the current one is getting frayed at the edges. Considering how I treat my phone (dropped on stone floors, being thrown in my bag, used with greasy fingers) those extra glasses that you put on really are a necessity. Best 200 SEK I’ve spent probably. It’s saved me from having to, at a very high price, change the screen on my Iphone several times (again, dropped it on stone floors more then once because clumsy AF).

* I don’t know who to credit with this photo, found it in my phone. Probably a screen grab that I’ve edited. Lovely library.

-Suss