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

 

 

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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

Friday&Final thoughts

I finished Tale of Genji last night, I have read all 1320 pages of it. Admittedly it took me two months, but I have read other things too (quite a lot actually) so I still feel I have accomplished something. And the fact that it weighs 1.6 kilograms makes it impossible to put in my handbag and read on the commute which should be taken into consideration. And yeah; I did hurt my hand a third time whilst reading it. Damn it’s tricky to balanced that beast in the beginning and the end, it’s a trade paper back that I have, so the cover provided no stability. Other than that? A list of my final thoughts can be found below but beware; Spoilers ahead!!

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  1. The term “f&%kboy” can be applied to our dear protagonist. In one Swedish translation the title was something like “A Japanese Don Juan” and really, Genji comes to the realization that he is spreading himself too thin with love affairs all over town and his solution is buying a house and invite all of his mistresses to move in? They all do, and get along, but this is fiction after all. He broke a woman’s heart so badly she became a nun, and after a few years he was like ” I should send a message, just to see what is up”. He loves them, and never leaves them alone after that.
  2. The fact that the protagonist dies at page 900-ish of 1300 is bad editing. I did read the last chapters but my heart wasn’t in it. Was Shikibu pressured to write more? Was she trying to cash in?
  3. I need to get back on the calligraphy exercises. In this book nice handwriting will get people’s knickers in a twist, and fast. Somebody sends a note and it’s all like “That calligraphy is so elegant, I’m all about that “. It is not what you say, the haiku can be half ass it seems, but nice paper and command of the ink and brush and all the lovers will get in line. This makes me think that the reason why my love life is non-existent is because of my bad handwriting. Sure, it could be my unappealing personality, but who doesn’t like an easy scapegoat?
  4. Beauty is everything. I will carry the descriptions of clothes worn and interiors visited in this book, throughout life. Right now I’m really into a look that Ukifune has with grey and a pale orange-brown, but the blue brocade, combinations of lavender and scarlet, to say nothing of dramatic sleeves, are calling my name.
  5. I’m thankful for big books. Yes, I have complained about the weight but there is something very different about engaging with a book this big, it takes time and effort but also gives back because it becomes part of routine and everyday life. I have wanted to read this for so long, and even though I feel a tad bit empty right now, there is also the bigger sensation of having ticked of a major reading goal.
  6. It is surprisingly modern. Sure, in our time we do not get attacked by malignant spirits or have directional taboos. But we have to live in a world where Trump is President and roads are frequently impossible to use due to repairs and accidents which I guess amounts to much the same. Many of the dramas that play out in this book; infidelity, uncertain paternity, striving for power and glory, money problems, the difference between being poor and having no money, those all ring true even in our time. Some of that has to do with the translation obviously but even so. Humans; idiots since the beginning of time.
  7. I really loved it but not sure it that’s the writing or having been just a tiny bit brainwashed after two months. I realize that this book is not for everyone. I think so many people could get something out of The pillow book of Sei Shōnagon or The world of the shining prince by Ivan Morris (the fomer was a contemprary and the latter a proffesor writing about that time) but The tale of Genji is not for the faint hearted. It is elite reading; you must have stamina and a motivation. But for those that go down that road, I don’t think there are any regrets.

-Suss

Weekend & Wrap-up

So let’s get this summary of the month out of the way, and just ignore the fact that October isn’t over yet.

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Books read; Ten. The eight in the pic plus Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and The Sign of four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Rereads? One. The Sign of four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A phrase in it inspired a cocktail, not the first time that has happens.

Best book? The bear and the nightingale by Katherine Arden probably. I do want to read the follow-up now (more a symbolic statement that something on the to do list. I have commitment issues with series apparently). The Kwan books are not far behind though (and it is a testament to how much I have liked them that I have read all three books in the trilogy. Sure, it took me two years from the first to the second but it happened!).

Worst? I had very few nice things to say about either Ferguson or Hållander.

Worth mentioning? Conversations with friends by Sally Rooney is much hyped, I’ve seen it around IG and it’s recently been translated into Swedish. I had gotten the image that it was more sarcastic and funny, in fact it was raw but strangely readable. In a review that flashed before my eyes someone made comparisons with both Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler and The idiot by Elif Batuman. There is a commonality; all books are stories about women with literary ambitions that over think everything as they try their place in the world. I like it more than the former but not nearly as much as the latter. That said it did draw me in, and I was hooked. The end broke my heart a little bit.

Scent; Accord oud by Byredo all day every day. I’ve gotten used to it and don’t find it strong any more. It also smells “less” as I’m wrapped in layers of wool, and the staying power isn’t what I thought it would be (or maybe I’ve just gotten really used to it). The Overrose candle was a disappointment and I’m trying something new now.

Meditation game; Average. It’s the 28th and I’ve used the Mindfulness app 16 times. That’s roughly half of the days. And I can feel the effect of it, on the days I do it. Huge improvement from last month.

Clothes made? A dress, seen yesterday. Halfway through a few projects, need to go buy zippers, thread and more elbow patches.

So, bring on November. It’s gonna be an intense month with The August prize coming up, the H&MXErdem collar hitting stores, some epical bad weather ( as is tradition) and looming deadlines. Let’s get ready to rumble!!

-Suss

 

Thursday&Trend alert!

I’m gonna bring up The bear and the nightingale one last time and then I’ll stop. But this cover, which is from the hardback that came last year, must have been on the tables of many creative spirits because a quick browse in the shops (when I was looking for jeans and a shirt of the sustainable kind) was like seeing this cover all over.

These are some of the items I found that would make excellent camouflage, and that’s not bringing up all the items that could match it “in spirit” if not outright; I’m talking about blue brocade, Russian style coats, plenty of fur (fake of course but still glamorous). Dressing trendy this season means pretending you are a woman traveling on the Tran-sibirian Railway between Moscow and Beijing as it would be if Chanel made a commercial of it (and pretended that it was the 20s). I also went by a shopwindow and saw children clothes that would also have looked good next to this cover, although I don’t think they should read the book.

This is making me want to shop floral dresses something awful, which obviously is the last thing I need right now. I should however buy my own copy of this book as I will probably want to read it again and again, and look at the cover for inspiration.

-Suss

 

Tuesday&The Man Booker prize

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So the winner of the Man Booker prize is announced today. I haven’t read more than two of the books shortlisted, but then again I rarely do.

The first one was Autumn på Ali Smith that was one of the first books I read this year. I loved it and vowed to read more by Smith. I’ve yet to make good on that promise but it will happen, if nothing else because she has released the second part in her quartet; Winter. The fact that both Smith and Knausgaard have started to write series that are made up of four installments and named after the different seasons is a funny little coincidence. But I digress.

The other Man Booker nominee that I have read is Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. I do remember liking The Reluctant fundamentalist, also by him, but I can’t recollect more of it right now than the scene where the man goes to a friend’s or a girlfriend’s house, to meet the parents, and decided to wear a “kurta” a special kind of shirt, pointing out that when flummoxed by dress codes or lack of such, one can always go with the ethnic card. I don’t know why I that passage has stayed with me, but it has.

In any case Exit West is both a very different novel, and somewhat the same. For better or for worse it has the same detached quality. This one is narrated, and there is very little dialogue, the thoughts and actions are attributed to Nadia and Saeed. I felt very little connection to them actually.

What the novel does have a rather genius twist or maybe it’s a plot device; magical doors that open and close and through which people can travel freely. At least to begin with, some doors become heavily guarded quickly. But in the aftermath of the whole discussion we have had in Europe about boarder control, this brings thing to a head; what if we couldn’t keep refugees out? What then?

I’m obviously not saying we should keep refugees out, people are fleeing the most horrible situations and if we call ourselves humanitarians we cannot let them die or rot in refugee camps. And as is always the case; if the burden was shared then there would be less of a problem. Some nations just are not remembering what other nations did for them in troubled times. So maybe the book isn’t about Nadia and Saeed, maybe the doors are the protagonists, or hope. What I did love about this book, that I in general only liked, was the short interludes about what happened with other people thanks to the doors; friendships, reconnected family and love. Those little glimpses gave me more than the rest.

In the end; well worth reading I thought, I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5 to give some indication but those kind of measurements don’t say much.

It did remind me a bit of Rushdie, The Satanic verses in particular, but that’s the magical realism, the detached storytelling and ,mostly, people flying through time and space. In my head I also started to compile a list of “7 books where they travel though doors and other ordinary objects”. Reaching Naria through the back of the closet comes to mind, and the going from fireplace to fireplace in Harry Potter and, of course, Jonathan Strange  travels through mirrors. Hamid has been inspired by english literature (maybe).

-Suss

Friday&Feelgood

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I do not read a lot of “feel good”-novels. If I want that sort of lighter entertainment, which at times can be much-needed, I usually go for a memoir or a biography centered around someone in the fashion industry or a non-fiction book about something related, like that book about colours. Or you know what, I reread. That is often my solution; all the joy of reading but none of the concern of new information.

However this week I went out of my comfort zone.  I hope that everyone understands what I mean by “feel good-books”, but as much as I can rattle of authors in that genre I have read very few and liked even fewer. Some of them are poorly written there is no getting around that, and I have found myself being bored by the plot. As a voracious reader I am used to some of the best literature and it has made me picky.

Enter Kevin Kwan. I told you of how much I liked China Rich girlfriend the other day, and having finished Rich people problems too there is more to gush about. The writing is very good, some of the characters are insipid but then that’s the case in real life too. These books would be as funny without say an Eddie or a Colette.

I think I respond well to the fact that there seems to be a literary underpinning here, that Kwan is well-read and loves books to begin with. And even if it’s only a bit noticeable in things like that list of books to read to be cultured or a few names that turn up, in many ways I think it’s like smiling when you are on the phone; the other person cannot see it but they can absolutely hear it. And it makes all the difference. And at a later point I will write about the similarities in Rich people problems and Tale of Genji. Plus ça change and all that.,

And then the food references you guys; if I’m gonna read this genre I must at some point start to drool, if there isn’t talk of eating and good food I lose attention and go off to read a cookbook (also a great substitute for feel good).

It is true, the main characters remain a tad bit underdeveloped as they all the other personages flit by in quick procession; Nicholas and Rachel are a vehicle more than the focus but I’m fine with that. It’s like being at a party and not having much of a conversation with the host and hostess because of talking to everyone else there. Not polite but a very good time nonetheless.

-Suss