Water, ice and stone

I had planned to take a very active part in the ReadIndies month, but life got in the way and I have only now finished my first (only?) read for the challenge. Fortunately I have really enjoyed the book I have read; Water, ice and stone by Bill Green is a science memoir by a geochemist working on the lakes in the Dry Valleys in Antarctica. I don’t read very much popular science, as a scientist myself I have a hard time finding books, even from other fields, that are on an appropriate level, but I do love a good science memoir, and if it is set on Antarctica, a region I have always wanted to work in, well, that is even better.

Unfortunately a busy month meant that I read it in bits and pieces, loosing track of some of the people and some of the lakes along the way. However, this didn’t do much to detract from my enjoyment of the book. What I’m primarily looking for in a science memoir is an infectious love and fascination for science and an ability to move effortlessly between science, art and life, showing the broader picture of why we do science, and I certainly got that. Not being a great fan of lab work I have tended to think of geochemistry as an important but somewhat boring branch of geoscience. However, the way Bill Green tells the story is absolutely fascinating and I’m grateful for the opportunity to see geochemistry through his eyes!

Not surprisingly it was published by Bellevue Literary Press, a really interesting publisher focused on the intersection between art and science. During last year’s ReadIndies challenge I read A Matematician’s Lament and later in the year A Wilder Time, which was another memoir, written by a geologist working in Greenland. I never got around to reviewing A Wilder Time, but it was probably my favorite of the three.

Independent publishers on my bookshelves

To finish the Read Indies month I thought I’d present some of the indie publishers on my bookshelves, together with some recommendations from each of them.

Favourite indie publishers

Slightly Foxed

Excellent memoirs in a beautiful format, the Slightly Foxed Editions are very easy to love. I have


Peirene Press

Sharp, short and hard-hitting translated fiction, Peirene Press is one of my favourite publishers. I have liked almost all of the Peirene Press books I have read so far but The Last Summer is my favourite.


Folio Society

Beautiful, illustrated editions of well-known works. If you are looking for a luxury edition of a favourite book, a special gift, or just really love interesting illustrations and book designs, Folio Society is a good place to start. Expensive though, although they sometimes have sales.


Some other independent publishers on my shelves

Photo of wild flowers by a river

Notting Hill Editions

Notting Hill Editions is close to becoming another favourite publisher of mine. They publish small cloth covered collections of essays and similar texts. The format is rather similar to the Slightly Foxed editions, but with a more modern look. My favourite so far has been Deborah Levy’s short memoir “Things I don’t want to know”, but most of them seems interesting.

Pushkin Press

I haven’t read much from Pushkin press but they did publish A woman in the polar night, one of my favourite reads last year.

And Other Stories

And Other Stories publishes a substantial proportion of translated fiction, which I like, but so far I have only bought two novels by from them, both by César Aira. I liked The Lime Tree but the other, The Seamstress And The Wind, was too weird for me.


Is another interesting publisher, focused on African and Carribean literature, but another one I am not yet very familiar with. For my first read from them I decided to start with African Love Stories, an anthology. I am only halfway through it, but am enjoying it so far, and have been introduced to several interesting authors that were new to me.


Indiebooks have republished the first three books about Worrals. I was not too impressed by the design but they were quite fun to read, especially the first one.

Baen books

Baen publishes Fantasy and Science Fiction, including a few of Elizabeth Moon’s titles, which are always good fun. Their ebooks are DRM free and not region locked, which I really appreciate, and they make a yearly free short story bundle which is a great way to test their authors. That’s a good thing because not all of their authors are worth reading.

A few Swedish independent publishers

Yellow roses on blue sky

Bakhåll förlag (Swedish)

Bakhåll förlag has recently published some excellent memoirs, including A maid among maids by Ester Blenda Nordström and Every Friday by the gate by Wanda Heger, both of which I have reviewed in this blog.

Atlantis (Swedish)

Atlantis focuses on classic literature in Swedish, including The Poetic Edda and Pennskaftet (Penwoman) by Elin Wägner.

A Mathematician’s Lament

My next book for my Read Indies month is A Mathematician’s Lament by Paul Lockhart, published by Bellevue Literary Press. A book I was fortunate to stumble upon at a local mini library/book swap.

The author is a research mathematician who began teaching in schools, and his lament centres on how mathematics education is focused on boring, repetitive, technical exercises, rather than seeing mathematics as an art form.

A good rant by someone who is passionate and knowledgable about a topic is usually fun to read, and this short book is no exception. While he discusses the problems in the US education system, it is recognizable to all of us who have wondered how the creative and beautiful subject that is mathematics, can be taught in such a boring way in schools. His solutions may be somewhat extreme, but that makes it a great starting point for discussions. All in all I found it both interesting and thought-provoking.

The publisher also seems promising, focused as they are on books at the intersection between arts and science. Having enjoyed this book I went to their website and immediately added three more titles to my wish-list.

Every Friday by the gate

For my next indie read I selected a WW2 memoir, Varje fredag framför porten (Every Friday by the gate) by Wanda Heger.

The memoir begins during the German occupation of Norway during WW2, when Wanda Heger’s father was arrested and sent to Germany. Thanks to his family connections he was eventually released, but only under the condition that he and his family stayed in Germany. Frustrated by the forced exile Wanda Heger and her siblings began visiting Norwegian prisoners, eventually locating the Sachenhausen concentration camp. At this time official humanitarian organizations were barred access to the camp, but a young Norwegian woman bringing food packages to her countrymen must have seemed fairly harmless, and she managed to get into the outer part of the camp where she became a weekly visitor. While there she could find out names and prisoner numbers of the Norwegian prisoners and have some careful secret communication with them.

From this rather simple beginning the organization gradually grew and Norwegian prisoners were traced also to other concentration camps. The prisoner lists created from the information made it possible to send some food and medicine to the camps and were also important for the Swedish-Danish White Buses rescue mission during late WW2, a rescue mission in which Wanda Heger and the group around her also took active part.

I found this an unusually inspiring WW2 memoir, perhaps because it focused on aid rather than death, and because they were so successful. I would really recommend it but unfortunately it has not been translated into English (but to French and German).

The memoir was published by Bakhåll förlag, one of my favourite Swedish indie publishers. Bakhåll förlag has also published A Maid Among Maids, which I have previously reviewed.

Miss Pettigrew lives for a day

I have long wished that I loved Persephone books. The ambition of publishing lost books, mostly by women writing in the first half of the 20th century, is great, and the books are published as attractive soft cover volumes. The quality is a bit variable but that is not the main problem either, I gladly read books by much worse authors if the plot includes a murder. Instead I fear that it is a matter of taste, having previously tried four of them I found three rather boring. The fourth, Miss Buncle’s book, was a lightweight comfort read, but really rather sweet. That was the only one I kept.

However, it being Read Independent Publishers Month, I thought I would give them one final chance, this time with Miss Pettigrew lives for a day, their bestseller. The story is a classical Cinderella story about poor and jobless Miss Pettigrew who accidentally ends up in a world of glitz and glamour. Hardly an original story, but the Cinderella trope is popular for a reason, and the result is rather charming and uplifting. A lightweight read, with a few casually racist remarks of the kind common in books from the 1930s, but other than that I did enjoy it.

While I am still not really a converted Persephone fan, they do have many loyal followers, so if you do enjoy early 20th century fiction you might want to give them a try. They have a clear publishing profile so if you like one of them there is a good chance that you will like several other.

Focus on the indies – Folio Society

Karen and Lizzy are currently hosting Reading Independent Publishers Month, which seems like a good excuse to continue my Focus on the indies series, this time featuring Folio Society.

If the content of a book is the only thing of importance to you this publisher have little to offer. Almost all it publishes is readily available elsewhere and for less cost. It is also a rather conservative publisher, focused primarily on well-known classics and somewhat more modern books with a strong following, so not a great place to start if you want to expand your reading. However, outside of the exclusive private presses, few publishers care more about books as physical objects than Folio Society do. With interesting designs, great illustrations, sewn binding, quality papers and carefully selected fonts, their books are a treat to handle and read. I probably rate any book I read in a Folio edition slightly higher than I otherwise would, just because they are so pleasant to handle.

I first found Folio Society a few years ago when I was looking for a good replacement of a favourite book of mine, Fermat’s Last Theorem, which was falling apart. Since then I have gotten myself a bit of a collection, mostly of titles I expect to read again and again. With book illustration otherwise mostly kept for children’s books and many publishers cutting corners on binding and paper quality, I do appreciate that there are some who take quality seriously. I must admit that I have almost stopped buying normal hardcover books as they are still rather expensive but without the quality to match. If I really want a nice edition of a book I will rather pay for one that will last. (Fortunately for my book budget I still happily buy normal softcover books and tattered second hand volumes, as for them the lack of physical quality is properly reflected in the price).

Pros: Beautiful design, usually illustrated (thus supporting interesting book illustrators), high quality. A pleasure to read.

Cons: Usually (much) more expensive and space demanding (thicker paper, larger fonts, slipcases…) than alternative editions. Can be addictive and highly damaging to book budgets.

Recent reviews of books published by Folio Society

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Previous posts in this series

Focus on the indies – Peirene Press

Focus on the indies – Slightly Foxed

The Pear Field – mini review

Peirene Press is one of my favourite publishers. They specializes in high quality, short format (less than 200 pages), translated fiction, mostly from Europe. More importantly, I have found almost all of the ones I have read to be really good. They can be bleak, and frequently pushes me a bit outside of my reading comfort zone, but, thanks to their short lengths, it never gets too daunting.

Their latest title, The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili, is no exception. It centres around the children in the Residential School for Intellectually Disabled Children, basically an orphanage in the outskirts of Tbilisi. The main character is 18-year-old Lela who have stayed on after finishing the school and who acts kind of as a big sister to all the younger kids. While parts of the story are rather bleak, there is also a warmth in the relations between the children which lend some hope to it, and the writing is of the high quality I expect from a Peirene Press novel. Overall a good read, and probably my first one from Georgia.

Thank you Karen and Lizzy for hosting Reading Independent Publishers Month!

Bookshelf travelling

While physical travelling is difficult this year bookshelf travelling is still perfectly possible, hence the meme Bookshelf travelling in insane times, which was started by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness and is now hosted by Katrina at Pining for the West. As I love spying on other people’s bookshelf I have long followed the posts, but this is the first time I am joining myself, starting off with what is perhaps my most far reaching shelf. This is a bit of an odd shelf, featuring my books from three quality publishers, Peirene press, Bakhåll förlag (Swedish) and Virago, as well as books of similar type and literary quality from other publishers.

Browsing it takes me from 19th Century Russia (The Boarding-School Girl and City folk and country folk), through the Russian revolution (When Miss Emmie was in Russia) and all the way to modern Russia (Other Russias). Peirene press, one of my favorite publishers, bring me all over Europe and also for a short trip to Libya (Under the Tripoli Sky). North Africa, in this case Morocco, is also featured in Abdellah Taïa’s An Arab Melancholia, whereas Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus brings me to Nigeria.

I have only a single stop in Asia on this shelf, Hiromi Kawakami’s Strange weather in Tokyo, before taking off to south America where César Aira (The Lime Tree and The Seamstress and the Wind) and Gabriel Garcia Marquez (The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor) awaits. There I also meet Antoine de Saint-Exupéry who is hanging out in Argentina in his novel Night Flight.

Farther north the US is represented by Anne Fadiman, Maya Angelou and Truman Capote, while Tanya Tagaq brings me to Canada. From there I return to Sweden where I encounter Elin Wägner and Ester Blenda Nordström (e.g. A maid among maids)

Finally I make it back to Europe again where I meet-up with Virginia Woolf, Muriel Spark, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Edith Olivier, Elizabeth Taylor and Winifred Holtby in the UK, and with Kate O’Brien and Molly Keane in Ireland.

All in all this is one of my favorite shelves, full of excellent reading destinations

Summer reading

Swedish mountain

The summer vacation is unfortunately already over, but despite the odds I did get my usual mountain summer filled with hiking and reading. It is always a bit hard to return home, although I have to admit that it is lovely to again have access to hot showers…

This year I have read more than usual, a total of 101 books since January. This is probably largely due to a stronger than usual inclination to go for easy reads, many of them unmemorable, but I have had some real reading highlights during the summer. I have been thrilled by Doctor Glas, Hjalmar Söderberg’s tale about the morality of murder, read creepy ghost stories by Dan Andersson in Det kallas vidskepelse and travelled through Sweden in Selma Lagelöf’s The wonderful adventures of Nils, the latter particularly relevant in a time when travel is again difficult. I have also read two excellent, but rather different, short story collections, The thing around your neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Jag ser allt du gör (I see all you do) by Annika Norlin. All of these are highly recommended. In addition my recent discovery of the high quality publisher Archipelago Books, helped me ensure that not everything I read came from European or North American authors.

While my weeks outside internet coverage have been wonderfully restful, they have also meant that I am hopelessly behind on everyone’s blogs. So if any of you have read anything you particularly want to recommend this summer, I would be happy to hear about it in the comments…

Map showing the author’s country of origin for all my 2020 reads


Going Solo

greenland (1040)

I have a soft spot for stories about early aviation (fact or fiction) and another one for the memoirs from Slightly Foxed, so when they recently published Going Solo, Roald Dahl’s memoir about his time working for Shell in East Africa in the 1930s and flying for RAF during WWII, I was a very early customer.

As a memoir it is a bit of a failure as it is hard to know which parts that are true and which that are not. Roald Dahl clearly doesn’t let pesky things such as accuracy get in the way of a good story and I am thus not sure how much I really learned about his life. However, I’ don’t really mind because even if he tells tall stories, they are great tall stories told by a fabulous story teller and that is an art form I admire.

I had promised myself to savour it for a bit and not finish it in one evening, as I did with his childhood memoir Boy, but it is a page-turner. I liked it even better than Boy.