Classics Club Spin

I’m finally joining my first Classics Club spin. In it I trust random chance to provide me with my next reading for the Classics Club. Or, perhaps not my next one, I already have a few I’m reading, but at least a book which I need to read before April 30th 2018. The rules were simple, make a numbered list of twenty books from my Classics Club reading list and on the 9th of March the Classics Club will provide me with the number drawn and thus tell me which of my books I should read.

The books I selected are:

  1. de Beauvoir, Simone: The Second Sex
  2. Boye, Karin: Kallocain
  3. Carter, Angela: Night at the Circus
  4. Fitzgerald, F. Scott: The Great Gatsby
  5. Fogelström, Per Anders: Mina drömmars stad (City of My Dreams)
  6. Ibsen, Henrik: Peer Gynt
  7. Lie, Jonas: Fortellinger i utvalg (Selected stories)
  8. Linna, Väinö: Okänd soldat (The Unknown Soldier)
  9. Mansfield, Katherine: Short story collection
  10. Moberg, Vilhelm: Din stund på jorden (A Time on Earth)
  11. Morrison, Toni: Beloved
  12. Plath, Sylvia: Ariel
  13. Rhys, Jean: Wide Sargasso Sea
  14. Rushdie, Salman: Midnight’s Children
  15. Scott, Robert Falcon: Scott’s last expedition
  16. Sturlasson, Snorre: Heimskringla
  17. Tikkanen, Märta: Arnaía kastad i havet
  18. Tolstoy, Leo: Anna Karenina
  19. Undset, Sigrid: Kransen (The Wreath, Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, part one)
  20. Walker, Alice: The Color Purple

To make it easy for myself most of the books I selected I already own. A few of them I’m really longing to read (2, 3, 17) whereas others I fear would be heavier reads (8, 19). One of them, Heimskringla at number 16, I dread.

Wish me luck!

Edit 17.03.2018: And the lucky number is 3! It looks like the well-wishes worked, I’m really eager to read Angela Carter’s Night at the Circus!

 

 

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La Vita Nuova

Flowers

The latest classic from my classic club reading list was La Vita Nuova by Dante Alighieri.

I really got myself into deep water with this book. It felt a bit like watching a game where you know none of the rules. One reason for my struggles was the disadvantage of reading it in translation which is always difficult with poetry. However, I believe the greatest barrier was the cultural one. I’m so used to texts were the plot and/or character development are central that I’m apparently lost without them. I eventually found some rhythm in the narration and enjoyed the ending much more than the beginning but it was a challenging read.

La Vita Nuova was first published in 1295, which probably explains my cultural chock. It is centred around the narrator’s impossible love for Beatrice and consists of a series of poems prizing her and describing her influence on the narrator and others. These poems are divided by texts describing the context of the poems and explanations of their structure. Little happens and Beatrice never really takes shape, she remains an idea, a living angel. Instead I felt that Love, both as a concept and its influence on those it touches, was the real focus.

In many ways it reminded me of The Sorrows of Young Werther which I read last year.  In it the story is also centred around an impossible love and I got the impression that the main goal of the text was that it should be beautiful. As in La Vita Nuova the love described in The Sorrows of Young Werther was an idealized romantic love which appeared more like an idea than an actual human emotion.

So did I enjoy it? Not really but I’m glad I have read it. It was different from almost anything else I have read and I could see glimpses of the beauty in it. It was also a rather short read, although it still took me surprisingly long to finish, and it may help me to better understand references to Dante in later works. However, to really appreciate it I would have needed a much better understanding of the context and preferably to be able to read it in its original Italian.

I read it in a translation by Mark Musa but an earlier translation by Dante Gabriel Rossetti is available for free from Project Gutenberg.

La Vita Nuova is on my reading list for the Classics club and I also count it as my “Classic by an author that’s new to you” for the Back to the classics reading challenge. It also means that I can add another country, Italy, to my 30-20-20-10 reading challenge, only eight more to go.

 

 

 

The Dark is Rising

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The Dark is Rising in Susan Cooper’s classical fantasy series and the only thing that can stop it are the combined forces of a group of modern children (well 1960s children) and the heroes of Arthurian legends.

I have recently spent some enjoyable days with Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series (well, four out of five books in it, I somehow missed the first one at the library). There are some parts that felt a little dated but overall this is a classic series that have stood the test of time very well, I’m sure I would have loved it as a child. As an adult I greatly enjoyed the first book I read in the series (Over Sea Under Stone) but lost interest a bit when it came to the sequels. I don’t think they are actually worse in any way but to me the real draw was the world-building and the mixture of modern children and Arthurian legends. This theme runs through the entire series but in the sequels it was no longer new and therefore less exciting.

As these are children’s books they are not too heavy on the darkness which I’m sure was a good choice for the intended audience. Personally I would have preferred them to be somewhat more nerve-racking. Nevertheless these are well-written and fun books with a good concept which worked reasonably well as a light read also for an adult reader.

What the series also did succeed in was to convince me that I want to learn more about the Arthurian legends (sometime, eventually). I’m not British and my knowledge of these legends can basically be summarized as a bunch of names and a sword in a stone which is somehow important.

I count Over Sea Under Stone (published in 1965) as my children’s classic in the 2018 back to the classics challenge.

Wind, sand and stars

Footsteps in sand with wind ripples

I may have been somewhat unconvinced of the greatness of The Little Prince but Wind, sand and stars, also by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, more than made up for it.

The author was a pilot in the early days of air traffic and the memoir contains thrilling descriptions of these pioneering aviators and the dangers facing them. I would have loved this book for the flight scenes alone but it contains much more. Written as a collection of loosely connected essays it is partly a memoir of the early days of flying, partly a celebration of life and humanity.  In the end there is also a chapter about a visit in Spain during the civil war. It should feel disjointed but somehow the language and the love of life ties it together.

In the memoir he carefully describes the pilots, their air-crafts and the lofty world they inhabit. I especially enjoyed his description of the world below, written at a time when few people had been in a plane I imagine it must have sounded a bit like the astronauts’ descriptions of the world from space does to us.

It was written during the 1930s and his descriptions of the people he met during his time in Sahara are sometimes uncomfortable. However, unlike many of his contemporaries he had the advantage of writing about people he had interacted with and to some degree clearly respected. The result may not be a fair description of the people of Sahara but it’s probably a true portrait of how they would have appeared to a Frenchman at the time. As such I found it very interesting. I also appreciated his obvious love for Sahara, where he lived a few years, and which I felt resembled my own love for the Arctic.

All in all I greatly enjoyed this memoir and found it both thought-provoking and beautiful. I may not agree with all of his views but I found it a very worth-while read and am glad that the Classics club challenge made me discover it.

The full list of classics I have read or plan to read in the Classics Club challenge can be found here. In addition I count it as my 20th century classic for the Back to the classics reading challenge. Two other reviews of this book can be found here and here.

 

 

It is the season for lists

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In which I make various lists of my favourite 2017 reads.

A great thing about late December is looking back on the year and consider memorable events, or in the case of a book blog, reads.

Another great thing is how easy it makes it to find a topic for a blog post.

I thus here present the mandatory “best reads of the year” lists. Only one of the books is actually published in 2017 but all of them are great.

20-21th century novels

  • The Love Story of the Century (Århundradets kärlekssaga) by Märta Tikkanen. Why haven’t I read Märta Tikkanen before? I knew it was a Finnish classic (written in Swedish) about a passionate but deeply dysfunctional marriage but I somehow never got around to read it before now. It is both beautiful and thought-provoking and makes some very sharp observations about love and relationships. It’s written as poetry so I’m not sure if there is an English translation that does it justice but it’s probably the best book I read in 2017.
  • Berlin Poplars (Berlinerpoplene) by Anne Ragde. Anne Ragde is another new author for me and another instant favorite. This novel about a dysfunctional Norwegian family was a best-seller upon publication but for some reason I never got around to read it before now. It was great! The characters are slightly cliched but given sufficient depth and written with a warmth and a humor which made them very memorable. It has been translated into English and I really recommend it!
  • Cold Welcome by Elizabeth Moon. Elizabeth Moon is my go-to author when I want a well-written SF page-turner with interesting characters that actually evolve through the series. Perhaps not as memorable as the previous ones on the list but it’s what I read when I don’t want a challenge, just something entertaining and good. This one is her latest novel and build upon events in her Vatta’s War series.

Pre-20th century

I’ve read some great pre-20th century classics this year, partly though the Classics Club reading challenge. The four I list here were by far my favorite ones. They have all been discussed previously on this blog.

  • The Queen of Spades and other stories by Alexander Pushkin. Pushkin is competing with Tolstoy for the spot as my favorite Russian author and this collection included his best known short stories. A great read!
  • The Poetic Edda. The Poetic Edda is a collection of epic poems about Norse gods and heroes. Being Swedish I sort of knew many of the legends before but this was the first time I read any of the source material (except small excerpts). It was a lot more readable than I had thought and I expect to re-read at last parts of it.
  • Gösta Berling’s saga by Selma Lagerlöf. A Swedish classic centered around a community in Värmland (west Sweden) during the 1820s. Each chapter is a partly independent story, covering various people and episodes. Taken separately they are the kind of half-mythical stories I could picture being told in 19th century Värmland  but Selma Lagerlöf brilliantly weaves them together into a rich portrait of the region.
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I hadn’t planned to read Moby Dick but I happened to get plenty of reading time and limited reading options. I’m glad I did, I really enjoyed it. Reading it just after finishing “Twenty thousand leagues under the sea” also provided some interesting contrast.

Best non-fiction

I didn’t read very much non-fiction in 2017 but much of what I did read was excellent.

  • Country Boy by Richard Hillyer. A quiet memoir of the childhood of a boy in an English farm-labor family and his longing for reading and learning. Lory at The Emerald City Book Review made a great review of it.
  • Skating to Antarctica by Jenny Diski. I hadn’t read anything by Jenny Diski before but I certainly plan to now. It is partly a memoir of a terrible childhood but Jenny Diski is far too good an author to make it the normal cliched type of memoir.
  • Signatur about Olaf Storø. A personal portrait of my favorite artist of course I loved it!

Best re-reads

And finally honorable mentions of my best re-reads in 2017.

  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • The Summer Book (Sommarboken) by Tove Jansson
  • Fermat’s Last Theorem by Simon Singh

Have you read any of the books on these list? What did you think?

Reading challenges -status report and plans for 2018

bumble-bee

During 2017 I attempted to follow the 30-20-20-10 reading challenge, that is, to read books from 30 countries, by 20 male and 20 female authors and from 10 decades. The decades proved to be the easiest part of the challenge, I finished them already in January and by now I’ve read books from 20 decades. Reading books by 20 men and 20 women also happened without any real effort, I was finished with this part of the challenge in August without really trying. So in the end it was only the 30 countries that actually worked as a challenge but there I struggled. With a few days left of 2017 I’ve only read books from 21 countries. The challenge still worked in that it made me read a lot more broadly than I normally would but I will need to use 2018 too to finish it.

The other challenge I started in 2017, the classics club, has also been a real treat. Here the challenge is to read and blog about at least 50 classics within 5 years. As I started my list on October 22nd and have already finished my first 5 books on my list I believe I’m well on my way. This challenge has been a lot of fun and also comes with a great community so I look forward to continuing with it during 2018.

Challenges for 2018

  • Finish the 30-20-20-10 challenge (read 9 books from countries I didn’t read any book from in 2017).
  • Read 12 books from countries I rarely read from (countries I read no more than 1 book from in 2017, this mini-challenge will naturally overlap substantially with the 30-20-20-10 challenge).
  • Read and blog about at least 12 books from my Classics club reading list.
  • Read at least as many of my unread books (including new books) as I buy in 2018. (I may have cheated and just bought eight new books with a January delivery which won’t count so I will have a head-start on this one).
  • Join the Back to the classics reading challenge which should overlap nicely with my reading for the classics club and provide even more great discussion on the classics. Considering my other challenges I don’t want to put too much pressure on this one but I want to finish at least 6 of the 12 categories and hope to do most of them.

 

 

Gösta Berling’s Saga

Forest around lake

I guess all lovers of used bookstores know that feeling of suddenly stumbling upon a real treasure. A few years ago I visited a Norwegian used bookstore and looked through their tiny shelf of Swedish books and there it was, a large book, with gold coloured lettering, a map in relief on the cover and plenty of illustrations inside. That book was the 1903 edition of Gösta Berling’s saga (making it one of the oldest books I own) by Swedish Nobel laureate Selma Lagerlöf. It’s not particularly valuable but it is the most beautiful book I own. However, the size and fragility of the book meant that it has been lingering unread in my bookshelf for far too long.

Gösta Berlings saga

The story of Gösta Berling was Selma Lagerlöf’s first published novel (in 1891) and consists of a series of loosely connected stories set in Värmland (west Sweden) during the 1820s. Following a pact with the devil a group of lazy upper-class drunkards, including the charming title character Gösta Berling, take control of an estate which they promptly mismanage causing disturbances (and multiple broken hearts) throughout the region. However, I found the main plot to be secondary, the real interest for me lay in the rich tapestry of stories of the lives affected during this year of disturbances. Together the stories created a loving portrait of the region. Each chapter is a partly independent story, covering various people and episodes and sometimes including supernatural elements from the local folklore. And what a story-teller Selma Lagerlöf is!

This is another book from my Classics Club list. I read it in Swedish but an English translation is available from Project Gutenberg.