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.
I’m having an anniversary! It is one year (and two days) since I joined The Classics Club and claimed that I would read the 50 classics on my list within five years.
Since then I have read 14 of the 50 books on my list and found some new favourites. The Classics Club is also a great community and I have encountered several interesting blogs and had many interesting discussions thanks to it, so if you enjoy classics I recommend it. You choose your list yourself so the only demand is that you should list at least 50 classics and aim to finish them in maximum five years.
I have enjoyed most of the fourteen books I have read from the list so far, but three of them stand out from the rest. As an anniversary is a perfect excuse to highlight some favourites, that’s what I’m going to do.
Perhaps the most surprising book to me on my “top three most memorable classics club reads so far”-list, was Wind, sand and stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I was not at all convinced by his much more famous novel, The Little Prince, but I loved this memoir, which perfectly captures the beauty and danger of the early days of air traffic.
The second one on my list was also unexpected. I knew that I wanted to have read The Poetic Edda, but did not expect to enjoy actually reading it as much as I did. It was a lot more readable than I had expected and includes some great stories, many of which I recognized.
The last one on my list was not unexpected at all. I added The Brothers Lionheart to my list because I already knew that I loved it, and wanted to reread it, and get an excuse to tell everyone else of its greatness…
All the books read for the Classics Club
Carter, Angela: Night at the Circus
Alighieri, Dante: Vita nuova
Eliot, George: Middlemarch
Fitzgerald, F. Scott: The Great Gatsby
Kafka, Franz: Metamorphosis and other stories
Lagerlöf, Selma: Gösta Berlings saga (Gösta Berling’s Saga)
Lindgren, Astrid: Bröderna Lejonhjärta (The Brothers Lionheart)
Moberg, Vilhelm: Din stund på jorden (A Time on Earth)
Pushkin, Alexander: The Queen of Spades and other stories
Rushdie, Salman: Midnight’s Children
de Saint-Exupéry, Antoine: The Little Prince
de Saint-Exupéry, Antoine: Wind, Sand and Stars
Thoreau, Henry David: Walden
Den Poetiska Eddan (Poetic Edda)
The year is 1962 and the Cuban Missile Crisis casts its shadow over the world. In California the ageing Swedish-American Albert Carlson feels death approaching. The time has come for him to look back on his life and reflect on what he did with his one time on earth.
A Time on Earth (Din stund på jorden) by Vilhelm Moberg is a story about death and about living. About Albert who abandoned his dreams, and about his brother Sigfrid who died young and never got the chance to fulfil his. It is a melancholic story, filled with regrets over two lives which never became what they ought, but it is written with a compassion for the characters which prevents it from being too bleak.
Albert Carlson has lived his whole adult life in the USA but never managed to make it his home. Now he spends his days in a lonely hotel room with his memories. He suffers from the common emigrant curse of longing for a country which no longer exists, the Sweden he knew has moved on without him (as an emigrant myself this is something I fear). The story moves back and forth from Albert’s life in California to his childhood in rural Sweden, both beautifully portrayed in the novel.
A Time on Earth is a beautiful book, which kept me captivated from the beginning, but it is not a very cheerful read. I believe I should find something a bit lighter for my next read.
This book was on my Classics Club reading list. I read it in Swedish but an English translation exists.
I have a hard time reviewing Middlemarch by George Eliot, the latest book from my Classics Club reading list. I feel that I have only scratched the surface of this classic novel with my first read. Thus I am not yet ready to analyse it but I can share a few first impressions.
The first time I read something most of my focus is on the plot, which in this case starts slow and for a long time seems to meander aimlessly. It was excellently written and still enjoyable, but if I had not trusted the author I would have questioned the length of the novel. She did have a plan though. Behind the scenes she was carefully placing her characters, nudging them in the right direction, never going against their natures but still getting everyone exactly into the right places for the final resolution. It was masterful plotting and I look forward to re-reading it so I can better notice how she was doing it.
The other thing that really struck me on this first read was the interesting and realistic characters. They are all flawed, yet most of them memorable and easy to like. I found myself cheering for them and hoping that they all, well almost all, would have happy endings. I believe they will stay with me for a long time.
The only thing I did not like in the novel are a few rather ugly antisemitic comments made by characters. I do believe they were meant to be read as prejudiced rather then reflecting the author’s own opinion (unless I lost track of the family relations the characters targeted were not Jewish), but they are jarring. Apart from that I found that the text has stood the test of time very well and I really enjoyed it.
The time has come for me to review one of my absolute favourite books. A book I added to my Classic Club reading list just to get an excuse to re-read it (again) and review it. I’m talking about The Brothers Lionheart (Bröderna Lejonhjärta) by Astrid Lindgren.
The Brothers Lionheart is primarily a children’s book, aimed at rather young children, but it has plenty to offer older readers. Indeed it is a highly unusual and brave novel. The main-character and narrator is ten-year-old Karl Lionheart and already on the very first page we are told that he is about to die. The story is however not as bleak as it may sound. For children this is primarily a fantasy adventure which deals with sibling love, death and the nature of courage in a way no other children’s books do. It has some really dark parts but it doesn’t stay in the darkness and, as all is told from a child’s perspective, it never really scared me as a kid.
In many ways this novel is more melancholic when read as an adult. Lindgren lets us read between the lines and glimpse a sadder, but equally beautiful, story. She wrote this novel at a time when her favourite brother was seriously ill and a note of love and grief runs through the text. It may look like a children’s novel but it is not afraid to take on the big questions. The result is sad and wise and comforting.
I don’t want to spoil the plot for those of you who have yet to read it, just tell you that you should. I can’t guarantee that you will like it, it is not for everyone, but if you do it is something really special.
If you don’t mind spoilers read this excellent review, but beware, it does give away much of the plot including the ending.
I need to discuss this book with everyone and that can’t be done properly without spoilers so spoilers are welcome in the comment section for this review. If you have not read it yet, avoid the comments and go and read it instead (and do come back to let me know what you thought).
TW: Death, ableism.
Ever dreamt of withdrawing to an isolated cabin to get undisturbed reading time? That’s how I spent much of my vacation and fittingly one of the books I read, Walden by Henry David Thoreau, is probably the best known move-into-a-cabin-in-the-woods book there is. In it Thoreau describes his experience of living two years (1845-1847) in a simple cabin he had built himself by Walden Pond.
I happened to read this book in parallel with Sapiens (by Yuval Noah Harari). In Sapiens, Harari discusses (among many other things) the reduction in free-time which followed with the agricultural revolution and the cultural myths that make (most of) us live our lives more or less like our neighbours. It was interesting to see how Thoreau challenged these myths and found a new freedom by scaling down his possessions and reduce his needs. Although it was hardly a very remote wilderness he settled in it was still a pronounced deviation from the normal way of life at the time (or today).
As a nature-lover myself I do believe that we are happier when we are living closer to nature (or at least that I am) and thus found myself favourably inclined to Thoreau’s cabin experiment. I also liked the way that he identified and differentiated between his actual needs, such as food and shelter, and stuff he just wanted. As a well-connected young and healthy man he found that he could quite easily earn enough for his actual needs and choose increased freedom rather than trying to earn more. Even if I have no real plans of moving into the woods (for more than vacations), I believe he has a point with this distinction and that a better awareness of the difference between needs and wants could be helpful also in other instances when we need to decide how to spend our life or money.
One of the real treats in the book is his descriptions of the nature around him which are often evocative and beautiful. Otherwise his prose can be preachy and long-winded. Even when I agreed with his point I frequently found him obnoxious and sometimes condescending. His descriptions of other nationalities and ethnicities, especially Native Americans, are also badly outdated, but as Thoreau was an abolitionist and seems to have been genuinely interested in other cultures I suspect that he was still ahead of his time in this aspect.
This book was on my Classics Club reading list. I also count it as my Classic with a single-word title for the Back to the classics reading challenge.