Bored of sitting at home all the time? Perhaps you want to visit my favourite market? Jokkmokk’s winter market is held in northern Sweden every February. It is famous for the cultural events, with skilled artisans and interesting concerts, and it is especially interesting if you are interested in Sami artists and artisans.
Karen and Lizzy are currently hosting Reading Independent Publishers Month, which seems like a good excuse to continue my Focus on the indies series, this time featuring Folio Society.
If the content of a book is the only thing of importance to you this publisher have little to offer. Almost all it publishes is readily available elsewhere and for less cost. It is also a rather conservative publisher, focused primarily on well-known classics and somewhat more modern books with a strong following, so not a great place to start if you want to expand your reading. However, outside of the exclusive private presses, few publishers care more about books as physical objects than Folio Society do. With interesting designs, great illustrations, sewn binding, quality papers and carefully selected fonts, their books are a treat to handle and read. I probably rate any book I read in a Folio edition slightly higher than I otherwise would, just because they are so pleasant to handle.
I first found Folio Society a few years ago when I was looking for a good replacement of a favourite book of mine, Fermat’s Last Theorem, which was falling apart. Since then I have gotten myself a bit of a collection, mostly of titles I expect to read again and again. With book illustration otherwise mostly kept for children’s books and many publishers cutting corners on binding and paper quality, I do appreciate that there are some who take quality seriously. I must admit that I have almost stopped buying normal hardcover books as they are still rather expensive but without the quality to match. If I really want a nice edition of a book I will rather pay for one that will last. (Fortunately for my book budget I still happily buy normal softcover books and tattered second hand volumes, as for them the lack of physical quality is properly reflected in the price).
Pros: Beautiful design, usually illustrated (thus supporting interesting book illustrators), high quality. A pleasure to read.
Cons: Usually (much) more expensive and space demanding (thicker paper, larger fonts, slipcases…) than alternative editions. Can be addictive and highly damaging to book budgets.
Recent reviews of books published by Folio Society
I was in the mood for some classical crime and as I had none unread I went for a reread of Dorothy Sayers’ Strong Poison. The mystery was of course still good, I find that Sayers’ novels work well also on a reread, but what struck me particularly this time was the sweet omelette eaten in one of the scenes. A sweet omelette with jam, is that really a thing? All the omelettes I have had up to now have been salt and savoury.
This called for an experiment. Unfortunately the description in the book was not really a enough for a recipe, so I picked the easiest one I could find online instead. In it 1 egg, 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 table spoon of flour was beaten together in a cup, fried in butter and served directly with berries or jam. Definitely tasty!
I am sure the more advanced recipes I found would have made it even better, but it was good enough to convince me that sweet omelettes are a thing, and that they make for a very nice snack. Thank you Dorothy Sayers!
Peirene Press is one of my favourite publishers. They specializes in high quality, short format (less than 200 pages), translated fiction, mostly from Europe. More importantly, I have found almost all of the ones I have read to be really good. They can be bleak, and frequently pushes me a bit outside of my reading comfort zone, but, thanks to their short lengths, it never gets too daunting.
Their latest title, The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili, is no exception. It centres around the children in the Residential School for Intellectually Disabled Children, basically an orphanage in the outskirts of Tbilisi. The main character is 18-year-old Lela who have stayed on after finishing the school and who acts kind of as a big sister to all the younger kids. While parts of the story are rather bleak, there is also a warmth in the relations between the children which lend some hope to it, and the writing is of the high quality I expect from a Peirene Press novel. Overall a good read, and probably my first one from Georgia.
Thank you Karen and Lizzy for hosting Reading Independent Publishers Month!
Being stuck in one place has at least been good for my reading. Not since I started keeping track, have I ever read so much in a January as I did this year. Twenty-two books so far, by authors born in twelve countries, and I may very well read more this weekend. Perhaps I even read too much, I’m sure that several of the books I read deserved a more careful read than they got, but my mind has recently been more suited for fast, frantic, reads, than for slow and careful ones.
Progress on my reading challenges
I just finished Ariel by Sylvia Plath from my Classics club reading list. I ought to review it properly for the challenge, but as I read it I realized that I’m not yet a good enough poetry reader to really understand it, so this short note will have to do. I can not say I really liked it, I kept feeling that there was a point but that I missed it, but I was at least intrigued enough to feel that I should try a reread in the future.
My latest read is Pennskaftet by Elin Wägner, a novel about the Swedish suffragette movement, written by one of the actual key suffragettes. First published in 1910 the novel was written as the fight for equal voting rights was still being fought. It would take until 1919 before Swedish women got the full right to vote, and until 1921 before the first election in which they could use it. This of course makes the novel particularly interesting to read as a time document. Although fictionalized it gives an interesting insider view into the movement. Also interesting were the portraits of some of the different types of women drawn to the movement, often from the growing group of educated self-supporting women.
The novel is occasionally distracted by arguing the cause, but it still works well as a novel. The focus is clearly on the movement but it included some excellent portrayals of women friendship and a sweet romance, which gave it balance. It also has some for the time rather daring opinions on sexual morals, which I found uplifting. All in all I really enjoyed it. It has been published in English as Penwoman.
It is, finally, a New Year, and thus time for my final reading statistics post of 2020. All in all it has at least been a good reading year, in total I finished 141 books in 2020 (123 in 2019, 118 in 2018 and 99 in 2017), 63 by a woman, 76 by a man and 2 by multiple authors. Although the increase in books read may be partly due to a tendency to select less challenging reads and a higher proportion of comfort reads.
I may not have travelled very far physically in 2020, but fortunately my reading had no such problems. As in the previous years books by authors from UK (47), US (43) and Sweden (18) dominated my reading, but I have managed to read books written by authors from 23 countries (22 in 2019, 27 in 2018 and 21 in 2017), which I am fairly happy with.
The thing around your neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Even though I haven’t been very active this year, writing only 19 blog posts, book blogging remains my primary place for bookish discussions, so I am very happy for all of you who keep visiting and commenting, thank you!
Last year I began placing bookplates in my favourite books, creating a sort of core library with the books I treasure the most, the ones I believe I will keep forever. These books of course included my best reads, but also books cherished because they were gifts or particularly beautiful (and good, beauty alone is not enough to earn an Ex Libris in my library). I also keep a record of the selected titles, why they were selected, and make a note anytime I reread them. I have found it to be a good way to take the time to consider my books and what they mean to me.
Last year, the first year I had my own Ex Libris, I added it to sixty books, this year I have added it to another eight.
The first one I added was Howl’s moving castle by Diana Wynne Jones. This is a book I loved as a kid and still enjoyed when I reread it January. Books that are equally good on a reread are always good candidates for a bookplate, and this was also a particularly beautiful edition.
Trollkarlens hatt (Finn Family Moomin) by Tove Jansson was my second addition. All Moomin books are per definitions suitable for my Ex libris collection, but last year I did not have a good edition of this novel and now I do. This one is perhaps the most cheerful of the Moomin novels and was thus a perfect reread during a dreary March.
A woman in the polar night by Christiane Ritter. Well written arctic memoirs will always find a home on my bookshelves. This was a first time read, but one I had been longing to read ever since I discovered it in German in Longyearbyen. Finally it is available in English again.
My father has a copy of Asken Yggdrasil, a retelling of Norse myths by Alf Henriksson, and his copy was probably* my first real exposure to Norse mythology. This year I finally got my own copy and found it to still be a very good read.
Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (The wonderful adventures of Nils) by Selma Lagerlöf. Another book I read in my childhood and reread this year. Although physical travels have been difficult this year, this book allowed me to travel with the geese all over Sweden.
My family and other animals is Gerald Durrell’s entertaining memoir of his Corfu childhood. I read this one last year and loved it then and, as it turned out to be equally fun on a reread, it was an obvious choice for my Ex Libris collection.
Black hole survival guide by Janna Levin was a Christmas gift. As a teenager I read plenty of popular science but since I became a scientist I find that much of it, even when related to fields I haven’t studied, to be either adapted for readers without a science background, and therefore often too simplified for me, or too technical to be read for pure entertainment. Janna Levin is an exception. She avoids most of the standard features of popular science astronomy books and goes directly for the more intriguing and abstract concepts and ideas, and does so without being particularly technical. It doesn’t hurt either that she is also a very good writer.
*My local library had the Danish Valhalla comics so it is possible that I read them first
Agatha Christie sometimes have plots were the solution hinges on an objective look on the more immutable facts without all the distractions. Who died? Who gained? By keeping our intentions elsewhere, on alibis and presumed motives etc., she can distract us from those most basic questions until the final reveal. Only then does she change our perspective so that the new, often simpler, pattern of the crime emerges.
Reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier I was reminded of those kinds of perspective changes. Although a different type of storyteller, Daphne du Maurier too excels at shifting the perspective along the way, honestly giving hints to the objective facts of the plot, but making sure that the reader has their attention focused elsewhere at the time. As the story twists and turns so does the readers perspective.
I read Rebecca for the first time a few weeks back, but still find myself thinking back on it and looking forward to a reread when all the major plot points will be known by me and I can observe the author working behind the scenes to set it all up. While the perspective changes was what made me most impressed it was also a satisfying books in other ways, entertaining and easily read, with descriptions lush enough to enchant even a mostly non-visual reader as myself, and an intriguing plot. I will certainly read more books by Daphne du Maurier.
I have been reading quite a lot lately, but seem to have no energy left to write down my thoughts. The weather is not helping, it seems to have been dark and wet and dreary for a long time now, but awhile back we did have one or two days with the most gorgeous hoar frost. I walked through a nearby forest then, transformed into a fairy land for the day, and took lots of photos. If I can’t get snow for Christmas I wouldn’t mind another round of this…