Once more I made the mistake of waiting too long before reviewing and now I find myself with little to say. However, My Antonia is on my Classics Club reading list and thus must be reviewed. Perhaps I can use the classical homework trick of trying to distract you from my shallow writing by showing pictures of cute animals? Just look at those adorable sheep! I’m almost certain that there were some sheep in the novel somewhere…
It is unfortunate that I will have to do such a poor job reviewing this novel as it was one of my favourite reads this summer. The descriptions were beautiful, but without bogging down the text, and the characters felt alive and well worth knowing. I also really liked how the novel focused on the immigrant experience. As Sweden had a very high US emigration per capita I have heard much about the emigration from a Swedish perspective and really enjoyed seeing it from the US side. After having read O Pioneers! last summer and My Antonia this summer, Willa Cather is quickly becoming one of my favourite classical US authors.
Map showing the author’s country of birth for all books I have read so far in 2019. (Instructions for how I make these maps can be found here.)
August is at its end which I guess is a perfect time for me to look back at what I have read in 2019. So far I have read 81 books, by 35 women and 36 men (and ten by multiple authors). I have read books from 16 decades and by authors from 14 countries and I have read them in four different languages (which sounds really impressive unless I accidentally tell you that three of those languages are Scandinavian).
Some reading highligts
- My Antonia by Willa Cather
- Moominpappa at Sea by Tove Jansson
- Kolarhistorier (Charcoal burner’s tales) by Dan Andersson
- Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag
- Rereadings by Anne Fadiman (ed)
- The Gentle Art of Tramping by Stephen Graham
- My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
Reading challenges in 2019
For the Classics club my ambition was to read and review 12 books from my list. So far I have only reviewed four, so I am falling a bit behind on this challenge but I have a few more in the pipe-line so I shouldn’t do too badly.
Read and reviewed in 2019
Read but not reviewed
- My Antonia by Willa Cather
- The Pillow Book
- Fredmans epistlar
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Keep reading books by African, Asian and South American authors
I am not doing too well on this ambition. Africa and South America are once again blank spots on my reading map and although I am doing slightly better with Asia and the Middle East, most of my reading comes from UK, US or one of the Nordic countries. With only a few exceptions I am afraid that I have stayed quite firmly within my reading comfort zone this year. Hopefully the autumn will be calmer and leave me with more energy to be brave in my reading.
Best read in this category: Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag.
My book buying ambition this year was to spend less on books than I did last year. I am doing well so far, I have only spend 72% of what I did the first eight months of 2018, so I am optimistic.
How is your 2019 reading going? Any recommendations on South American or African books? Recommendations on short, easy, but good, fiction from these continents are particularly welcome.
The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Well, that was one of the longest 250 pages novels I have ever read. And yet it all started so promising. An interesting premise, an atmospheric setting and then, just when I thought that the stage was set and the story would begin in earnest, Hawthorne instead choose to continue setting the scenes. Everything was described for pages upon pages, every plot twist foreshadowed to the point where I was bored by it before it even happened. Perhaps it would have been more rewarding to a closer reading but as I am not a very close reader at the best of times and even less so when I’m deeply bored (of fiction that is, I’m happy to dissect non-fiction when needed). I would have given it up halfway if I had not included it on my Classics club reading list.
Silas Marner by George Eliot
I read Middlemarch by George Eliot last summer and was deeply impressed, so naturally I had high expectations on Silas Marner. Especially as it features one of my favourite tropes, that of the grumpy old man, in this case the miserly weaver Silas Marner, who opens up when he comes to care for a child (Goodnight Mr Tom is my favourite version of that trope). Perhaps my expectations were too high, at least I couldn’t help being slightly disappointed. Not that it wasn’t good, it was, but while the plot in Middlemarch seemed to flow naturally with only the slightest nudges from the author needed to put everyone were they should be, the plot in Silas Marner felt heavier and more contrived. As if the characters actions were done to ensure their just end, rather than stemming naturally from their characters. Of course it was still good, with excellent writing, but I expected more.
Both Silas Marner and The House of the Seven Gables are on my Classics club reading list. Both are available for free from Project Gutenberg.
Moominpappa at sea by Tove Jansson is the second to last Moomin novel and takes place at the same time as Moominvalley in November.
It starts as the Moominpappa is going through a bit of a life-crisis. Things are getting a bit too comfortable and he starts to suspect that his family doesn’t really need him anymore. The solution is obviously for the family to leave their comfortable home and move to an isolated lighthouse where the father can prove his pioneer spirit (I want to blame Moominpappa for this but while it may have been his dream it was actually Moominmamma who decided it).
The result is a melancholy story about a family growing apart from each other, carried by Jansson’s amazing ability to write characters and scenes that feel absolutely true, although centred around a family of Moomintrolls.
While all Moomin novels have a touch of melancholy it is more dominant in the two last ones. In some ways I feel that the earlier Moomin novels are children’s novels that can be read by adults, while these last two are adult’s novels that can be read by children.
Moominpappa at Sea is part of my classics club reading challenge. As it was first published in 1965 I also want to use it for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge. However, I’m not sure whether to use it as my Classic Comic Novel or my Classic Tragic Novel, as common in Nordic literature it includes quite a bit of both.
Kallocain is a dystopian novel by Karin Boye, a Swedish author otherwise best known for her poetry. First published in 1941 it drew inspiration from Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We and the political situations in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union at the time. However, it carefully avoids too close resemblance to either country, partly to avoid the censure which was active in Sweden during WW2.
As in Zamyatin’s We and Orwell’s 1984, which it pre-dates with eight years, it takes place in an dystopian future where an authoritarian state sees and controls everything. The protagonist, Leo Kall, is a chemist who invents a truth serum, Kallocain, which will make anyone reveal their deepest thoughts. Such a serum is of course a valuable weapon to a state which wants to control every aspect of the lives of its subjects, but the truth also has some unexpected side-effect, including in Leo Kall’s own life.
I read Kallocain for the first time in high-school but included it on my Classics Club reading list as I wanted to revisit it as an adult. However, I’m not really sure why I keep reading these classical dystopias as I don’t really enjoy them. Of course they explore interesting topics, but I prefer to connect with the characters in a novel and the extreme brainwashing generally suffered by the characters in these novels makes that very hard. I did like this one a bit better than 1984 though, so I would recommend it to anyone who do enjoy dystopias.
As it is a Swedish classic I count it as my Classic From a Place You’ve Lived for my Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.
New year, new reading ambitions. In 2019 I want to read books that challenge me, and books that don’t but which are exciting or fun or just pleasant reads. I hope to find new favourites and revisit old, and I want to keep having great discussions about books with all my blogging friends.
The Classics Club is my favourite reading challenge and I still have many unread books on my classics list. I hope that I will be able to read at least twelve of them during 2019.
The Back to the classics reading challenge is also fun. There the goal is to read and blog about twelve books that fit particular categories and which are at least 50 years old. I am not too focused on actually finishing this challenge but I like the way it encourage me to actually review the books I read and therefore want to join again.
Keep reading books by African, Asian and South American authors
During the last two years my reading comfort zone has greatly expanded and I now get inspired rather than scared when a book is written by an author from a country I normally don’t read from. As I don’t want too many reading challenges this year I am hoping that this will remain true even without making a challenge out of it. However, I will keep tracking the author’s country of origin of all the books I am reading, and if I find that I have stopped reading books by authors from outside of Europe and North America, I may make a challenge out of it later in the year.
For the last two years I have attempted to not buy more books than the number of unread books I read from my bookshelf. Although I failed both years it did help me restrict my book buying. Unfortunately it also had some negative side-effects. I found that this book-buying challenge actually discouraged me from using the library or rereading my own books, as books I read from these sources did not count against my book-buying. As I love the library and rereading I will not attempt this challenge this year. However, I still do need to keep some constraints on my book-buying and therefore have decided that I can buy as many books as I want, but that the total cost of them may not be more than what I paid for books in 2018. Second-hand book-stores here I come!
In October I finished another novel from my Classics club reading list, Moominvalley in November by Tove Jansson. All I had left to do was to write a review, ideally post it during November considering its theme, and go on to other novels. Unfortunately I got stuck, November is already gone, and I still haven’t written that review.
It was not really writing the review that was the problem, I just had too much other things going on, but by now I think that the wisest course of action is to write something, anything, and move on.
So what can I say about it? Well, it was good, melancholy and beautiful, like Jansson almost always is. It is the last books about the Moomins and the Moomin family is not at home. Instead we meet some of the supporting cast from the other books, people who have all come to depend on the Moomin family’s presence and struggle to fill the void on their own.
All the Moomin books can be enjoyed by both adults and children but this one may be especially relevant for adults. I really liked it and do recommend it, but only if you have read most of the other Moomin books first, as it also act as a farewell to Moomin valley.