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.
Most of the year I prefer paper books to ebooks, but for my summer travels I fill my trusted ereader with everything that catches my eye on Project Gutenberg, to ensure that I will always have access to something to read. A title that naturally caught my interest in this process was The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley.
The story itself turned out to be a wildly improbable tale centred around a second-hand bookstore in Brooklyn shortly after the end of the first world war. However, it wasn’t the plot that made it worth reading but the way it was brimming with the love of books and filled by quotations from books and musings on books and bookstores. Unfortunately I didn’t have access to any of the books recommended in it.
However, in addition to all the recommended reading it also repeatedly ranted against bad literature. Shallow but entertaining books that people read instead of the much better books the author believed they ought to read. In the novel the book that more than anyone else symbolized this tendency was Tarzan of the Apes, which I imagine must have been a Da Vinci code of the early 20th century. As I did have access to Tarzan I decided to take the risk, ignore the warnings, and see what it was all about.
Having read it I can certainly see both why it was so popular and why it made more critical readers despair. The plot is of course improbable but fast-paced and reasonably captivating (and not much worse than the plot of The Haunted Bookshop). The writing is nothing special but unobtrusive. The greatest flaw is instead the characters who, all but Tarzan himself, are paper thin tropes. This is most disturbing for the African characters who tend to be based on racist tropes, but the European and American characters are only slightly less cliched, take e.g. the distracted professor who gets lost trying to find a post office in the middle of the jungle… I did like Tarzan though. His transitions from life as an ape and as a man is perhaps not great literature but it is fun and gives him enough internal conflict to make him stand out from the average pulp fiction character of the time.
I count Tarzan of the Apes as my classic from the Americas for my Back to the Classics reading challenge.
I am trying to keep my summer internet free, so I won’t write, read blog posts or comment for the next month. I do plan to read plenty of books though, which I am sure I will want to discuss with you all in August. I hope you all will have great summers!
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.
I come from a family where reading is valued and books abundant, something which has undoubtedly shaped my taste (and given me an academic advantage). Books matter to me, not just as vessels for text, but as objects. The first thing I do when I spend more than one night in a new place is to place all the books I brought or bought somewhere where I can see them. In my eyes a shelf of books will always make a home more inviting, something I believe most book-lovers would agree on (and most real estate agents would question). Books may not be all I need to make a place a home but they are a good start.
After spending a few days handling my books as I selected which ones to place an ex libris in and carefully glued it on, I have started to think deeper about books as objects. Vessel of information/entertainment, object of beauty, identity marker, status symbol, paperweight, memorabilia and link to previous readers, there are so many roles a book can potentially fill. Of course in most cases the text is what is important, in which case the best answer to the eternal paper book vs ebook question is probably whatever is most convenient. However, the last few days have reminded me of just how full of memories some of my books are. Memories of past reads, of the person who gave the book to me or of the time I bought them. For some books those memories are more important to me than the actual texts.
I have really enjoyed spending some time with my books and rediscovering those memories. As of now 34 of my books have gotten bookplates, which feels like a good starting point. I also have a notebook where I write a few notes on each book I label, to remind myself why they are important to me. So those books are properly catalogued, even though none of my other books are.
I have found the whole process to be a good reminder of just why I like to surround myself with physical books, something I didn’t expect when I first decided that I wanted my own bookplates. I guess rearranging my bookshelves might have fulfilled the same purpose of spending time with my books, but this was more fun.
What about you, which roles do your books fill?