The Wonderful Adventures of Nils

In 1906-1907 Selma Lagerlöf published The Wonderful Adventures of Nils (orig. Nils Holgerssons underbara resa), a book she had been commissioned to write as a geography textbook for Swedish school children. Rather than writing a normal, boring, textbook she wanted it to be exciting and interesting, while still being educational. The result was the story about Nils Holgersson, who angered the local tomte on his family farm in southern Sweden, and as a punishment got shrunk until he too was small as a tomte. In this new miniaturized state, he travelled with the wild geese all the way from his family home in the far south, to the mountains in northernmost Sweden and back, visiting all the Swedish regions along the way.

While the plot itself is simple, shaped like a classical morality tale, what stands out is Lagerlöf’s storyteller abilities and the way she makes the landscapes come to life. In a time when few children would have travelled much farther than the next village, it must have been especially fascinating to follow Nils’ travels (and by air no less!). Lagerlöf gives all Swedish regions memorable and accurate descriptions (Skåne seen from above is e.g. described like a chequered cloth, with fields and pastures forming the squares) and tell not only of Nils’ many adventures along the way but also retells old myths and stories from each region. The result is a novel which has not only been used in Swedish schools but which has been reprinted again and again, translated into 40 languages, listed on Le Monde’s list of 100 books of the century, and filmed multiple times. It is very far from your ordinary geography textbook. In 1909 Selma Lagerlöf was the first woman to be awarded the Noble Prize in Literature (although not primarily for Nils Holgersson).

I had read about Nils, adventures as a child, but unfortunately not in school where we instead read a bland story about a boy and his cat travelling through Sweden, clearly inspired by Lagerlöf but with none of her genius. However, I wanted to reread it as an adult and therefore added it to my Classics club reading list. This summer, when I was finally able to return to Sweden for vacation after months of closed borders, it was lovely to imagine travelling freely with the geese. It ended up being one of my favourite reads this summer.

Lappland

Personal book canon – a self portrait in books

Glacier

The classics club asks for our personal book canons, which is a topic I love to discuss. I have previously written a bit about my personal book canon and about some of the books that are especially important to me. This time I want to focus not on the best books I have read, but on the ones that I feel have had the greatest influence on me.

These are the books I believe shaped me

Childhood

Growing up in Sweden it is very hard not to be heavily influenced by Astrid Lindgren. If you haven’t read the books yourself, chances are that someone read them for you, or you watched the TV-series or went to Astrid Lindgrens värld, the nice family park dedicated to her characters. In my case it was all of the above. Somewhat later I discovered the Narnia books, which I read and reread until I almost knew them by heart.

  • Findus and the fox (Rävjakten), picture book by Sven Nordqvist.
  • Who will comfort Toffle? (Vem ska trösta knyttet?) picture book by Tove Jansson.
  • All of Astrid Lindgren’s more famous works but especially Brothers Lionheart and Ronia the Robber’s Daughter.
  • Island of the blue dolphins by Scott O’Dell, the first chapter book I read on my own.
  • The Moomin series by Tove Jansson.
  • The chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
  • Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
  • Momo by Michael Ende

Teenager

I read lots of Fantasy as a teenager, but little of it has stayed with me. The Harry Potter books came when I was already a teenager, so they had less influence on me than they might have had, but I still remember them fondly.

What did stay with me though was Simon Singh’s Fermat’s Last Theorem, which I was a bit obsessed with. I also read all the Arctic and Antarctic literature in the local library, which certainly influenced me.

  • Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
  • Fermat’s Last Theorem by Simon Singh
  • Shackleton’s incredible voyage by Alfred Lansing
  • Antarktisboken describing the Norwegian–British–Swedish Antarctic Expedition 1949–1952, main author John Giæver
  • Mot 90 grader syd by Monica Kristensen
  • Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman
  • 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
  • City of My Dreams by Per Anders Fogelström
  • Kastanjeallén by Dea Trier Mørch
  • Gaudy night by Dorothy Sayers

Student

As a student my hobby reading was mostly crime fiction, much of it enjoyable but little of it memorable. I did however learn more about glaciers, sang a lot of Bellman songs, and discovered both The Summer Book and Jane Austen. Oh, and I wrote a thesis, I guess that technically counts as a book too.

More recent additions

With more recent reads it is more difficult to identify the ones that made a lasting impact and it was very tempting to just list excellent books I have recently read. However, I have tried to stick to books which I believe have influenced me more than others.

Fredman’s epistles

wall paintingI have just spent time in some 18th century Stockholm bars. The drinking was heavy, the clientele disreputable and death only a short step away from the party, as I was reading, listening and singing through the songs of Swedish poet and musician Carl Michael Bellman (1740-1795). His songs move quickly from high to low, from romantic or sacral themes and straight into the gutters (much like the man himself), painting a striking and entertaining picture of 18th century Stockholm along the way.

Fredman’s epistles (1790), which I read, is the first of two collections of Bellman’s songs. Bellman is a central figure in Swedish song tradition, and provided plenty of high-class dinner/drinking songs for my student choir, so I was already familiar with his more popular works, but this was the first time I explored some of his less famous songs. It has been a very interesting experience, as it was a song collection I was not satisfied by just reading them but had to listen to as many of them as possible, and occasionally sing along, which allowed me to experience his work on many levels. As many of his characters are recurring the lesser known song also added to my appreciation of his better known works. However, what I really started to appreciate as I read, apart from his musical abilities, was his skill in setting the scenes, allowing me to experience 18th century Stockholm through his texts.

Fredman’s epistles is part of my Classics club reading challenge. Bellman has also been translated into English by Paul Britten Austin, but as I read them in Swedish I can’t vouch for the translation.

 

 

In which I report the progress on all my reading challenges…

DSC_0188It is the last day of the year and although the full reading report will have to wait until the new year (in case I finish any more books today), I believe it is time to report my progress on the various reading challenges I undertook this year.

Classics club

This year I managed only five of the books on my Classics club reading list. I even failed on the latest spin I participated in, despite getting an easy one, so I am definitely falling behind here…

Back to the classics reading challenge

In The Back to the classics reading challenge the goal is to read and blog about twelve books that fit particular categories and which are at least 50 years old. This year I managed to read and review books from eight of the twelve categories (re-using some of the books from the classics club reading challenge).

1. 19th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1800 and 1899. The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
2. 20th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1900 and 1969.
My Ántonia by Willa Cather
3. Classic by a Woman Author. Silas Marner by George Eliot
4. Classic in Translation. Any classic originally written in a novel other than your native language. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell.
5. Classic Comic Novel.
6. Classic Tragic Novel.
7. Very Long Classic. Any classic single work 500 pages or longer, not including introductions or end notes.
8. Classic Novella. Any work of narrative fiction shorter than 250 pages.
Moominpappa at Sea by Tove Jansson
9. Classic From the Americas (includes the Caribbean).
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
10. Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia).
The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon
11. Classic From a Place You’ve Lived. Read locally! Any classic set in a city, county, state or country in which you’ve lived, or by a local author. Kallocain by Karin Boye
12. Classic Play. Any play written or performed at least 50 years ago. Plays are eligible for this category only.

Keep reading books by African, Asian and South American authors

I  will post some more statistics later but I did manage to read books by authors from Argentina, Colombia, Nigeria, Israel, India, China, Japan and South Korea.

Decrease my book budget from last year’s

Success! Not to hard considering that last year’s budget was very generous, but I am still proud.

I wish you all a Happy New Year!

Classics club, two years in

bumble-beeToday marks the end of my second year in the Classics club, and although I occasionally regret my decision to sign-up (mostly when I have to write a review and don’t know what to say), overall I must say that I am very happy that I joined! I really appreciate the community around this reading challenge, and the way that it pushes me to finally read those books that I have always thought that I should read…

Highlights so far

So far I have read 21 out of the 50 books on my list, so finishing in three years time should be realistic.

Complete reading list (hyperlinks marks the ones I have read and reviewed)
1 de Beauvoir, Simone: The Second Sex
2 Bellman, Carl Michael: Fredmans epistlar (Fredman’s epistles)
3 Boye, Karin: Kallocain
4 Bulgakov, Mikhail: The Master and Margarita
5 Carter, Angela: Night at the Circus
6 Cather, Willa: My Antonia
7 Alighieri, Dante: Vita nuova
8 Eliot, George: Silas Marner
9 Eliot, George: Middlemarch
10 Fitzgerald, F. Scott: The Great Gatsby
11 Fogelström, Per Anders: Mina drömmars stad (City of My Dreams)
12 von Goethe, Johann Wolfgang: Faust
13 Hawthorne, Nathaniel: The House of the Seven Gables
14 Ibsen, Henrik: Peer Gynt
15 Jansson, Tove: Sent i november (Moominvalley in November)
16 Jansson, Tove: Pappan och Havet (Moominpappa at Sea)
17 Kushner, Tony: Angels in America
18 Lagerlöf, Selma: Gösta Berlings saga (Gösta Berling’s Saga)
19 Lagerlöf, Selma: Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (The Wonderful Adventures of Nils)
20 Lindgren, Astrid: Bröderna Lejonhjärta (The Brothers Lionheart)
21 Linna, Väinö: Okänd soldat (The Unknown Soldier)
22 Lönnrot, Elias: Kalevala
23 Moberg, Vilhelm: Utvandrarna (The Emigrants)
24 Moberg, Vilhelm: Din stund på jorden (A Time on Earth)
25 Morrison, Toni: Beloved
26 Plath, Sylvia: Ariel
27 Plath, Sylvia: The Bell Jar
28 Rhys, Jean: Wide Sargasso Sea
29 Rushdie, Salman: Midnight’s Children
30 de Saint-Exupéry, Antoine: The Little Prince
31 de Saint-Exupéry, Antoine: Wind, Sand and Stars
32 Sayers, Dorothy: Gaudy Night
33 Scott, Robert Falcon: Scott’s last expedition
34 Sei Shōnagon: The Pillow Book
35 Shakespeare, William: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
36 Sturlasson, Snorre: Heimskringla
37 Thoreau, Henry David: Walden
38 Thorvall, Kerstin: Det mest förbjudna
39 Tikkanen, Märta: Arnaía kastad i havet
40 Tolstoy, Leo: Anna Karenina
41 Tunström, Göran: Juloratoriet (The Christmas Oratorio )
42 Undset, Sigrid: Kransen (The Wreath, Kristin Lavransdatter triology, part one)
43 Walker, Alice: The Color Purple
44 Den poetiska Eddan (Poetic Edda)

Anthologies etc.
45 Kafka, Franz: Metamorphosis and other stories
46 Lie, Jonas: Fortellinger i utvalg (Selected stories)
47 Mansfield, Katherine: Short story collection
48 Pushkin, Alexander: The Queen of spades and other stories
49 Rumi: Selected poems
50 Selected Bible books: Psalms, Revelation

 

The pillow book

DSC_0372

On the day after a fierce autumn wind*

On the day after a fierce autumn wind I was looking through my bookshelves, trying to decide on my next read, when my eyes fell on The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon. Sei Shōnagon was a lady in waiting at the court of Heian Japan, and The Pillow Book gives an intriguing view into her life. It is structures as a series of short musings about her life, people she like and dislike, lists of  various things, fashion comments, all in all not unlike a modern blog, if it weren’t for the very high quality of the writing and the largely alien world she describes (it was finished in the year 1002).

Boring things

While it is amusing to see that the temptation to make lists was known already in Heian Japan I must admit that I found some of Sei Shōnagon’s lists boring. I suppose they made sense when they were written, and perhaps they still do if read in Japanese or with a deeper understanding of the context, but when I read a list of e.g. bridges, all I see is a list of names. Fortunately only a small portion of the text is comprised by this type of lists.

How delightful everything is!

Sei Shōnagon has a very keen eye for beauty which makes her descriptions delightful to read. The life she describes is also fascinating, perhaps especially the very high status that poetry had in court life. For example I really enjoyed learning that visiting lovers were supposed to send a poem on the morning after a visit.

Things that are unpleasant to hear

Delightful as the book is in many ways, there is no way around the fact that Sei Shōnagon is a snob. This fact is sometimes amusing, sometimes annoying, and occasionally, when she writes about someone from the lower classes, it can make the text rather unpleasant.

Embarrassing things

There is no doubt that I miss a lot of the allusions and poetry, both by having to read it in translation, and by my near complete ignorance of Heian Japan. However, the introduction by Robin Duke and the excellent footnotes by the translator Ivan Morris in my copy helped make it enjoyable, even though much of the text still clearly went above my head.

*All the headlines have been borrowed directly from chapter headings in The Pillow Book.

I reread The Pillow Book as part of my classics club reading challenge.

Time for a spin

DSC_0221.JPGIt is time for another Classics Club spin! In it I trust random chance to decide which book I need to read before October 31th 2019. The rules are simple, I have to make a numbered list of twenty books from my Classics Club reading list and on the 23th of September the Classics Club will draw a number and thus tell me which of my books I should read.

The books I selected are:

  1. de Beauvoir, Simone: The Second Sex
  2. Bulgakov, Mikhail: The Master and Margarita
  3. Fogelström, Per Anders: Mina drömmars stad (City of My Dreams)
  4. von Goethe, Johann Wolfgang: Faust
  5. Ibsen, Henrik: Peer Gynt (winner)
  6. Kushner, Tony: Angels in America
  7. Lie, Jonas: Fortellinger i utvalg (Selected stories)
  8. Linna, Väinö: Okänd soldat (The Unknown Soldier)
  9. Mansfield, Katherine: Short story collection
  10. Morrison, Toni: Beloved
  11. Plath, Sylvia: Ariel
  12. Rhys, Jean: Wide Sargasso Sea
  13. Scott, Robert Falcon: Scott’s last expedition
  14. Shakespeare, William: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  15. Sturlasson, Snorre: Heimskringla
  16. Thorvall, Kerstin: Det mest förbjudna
  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

I’m hoping for 3, 5, 8 or 14 and fear 15 and 18.

Wish me luck!

Edit: And the winner is Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen, one of the books I wished for!

 

My Antonia

A group of sheep resting under a tree

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.

 

 

Progress report

read_aug_2019

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

Reading classics

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

Currently reading

  • 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.

Book buying

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Micro reviews of some of my summer reading

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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.