Ex Libris

Book pile

When I first started out planning which books I would use my ex libris for, I assumed that it would more or less be a list of my favourite books. However, when I actually started to consider which of my books I really wanted my ex libris in, it became more complicated. Instead of asking myself if a particular text was a favourite of mine, I found myself thinking more about the physical book and whether or not I would want to hang on to that particular edition forever. Some of my favourite books are almost falling apart and will eventually have to be replaced so those hardly make sense to label. Others I have in more than one edition and deciding which edition to label is not trivial. Take the Narnia books for example, should I place my ex libris in the Swedish edition which I read again and again as a child but which is now brown or fragile, or in my quality English edition, which I have no personal history with, but which I most likely would choose for a reread?

For now I have deferred any difficult decisions and only placed them in books I plan to keep through good times and bad.

These were the first ten I selected:

Sommarboken (The Summer Book) by Tove Jansson

A favourite book by a favourite author, an easy choice.

Nordisk fjällflora (Field Guide to Nordic Mountain Flowers) by Örjan Nilsson

I’m not much of an amateur botanist but my grandmother was and this field guide is full of her notes on flowers she has seen. As I spend much time in the Swedish mountains I got it as a gift from her. The fact that it already contained her ex libris made it extra special.

Kastanjeallén by Dea Trier Mørch

My mother has selected a small book canon which all her children are getting, and out of those this one is probably my favourite. The way it describes life from a child’s point of view is not unlike Jansson’s The Summer Book.

Bröderna Lejonhjärta (Brothers Lionheart) by Astrid Lindgren

Death, courage and love. This is one of the bravest children’s book I know.

Visor och ballader by Dan Andersson

Poetry by Dan Andersson, one of my favourite poets.

The hunting of the snark by Lewis Carroll

I’m not sure why I love this nonsense poem so much but I do, especially the description of the sea chart without the least vestige of land. My edition has Tove Jansson’s illustrations in it which of course makes it particularly good.

Århundradets kärlekshistoria (Love story of a century) by Märta Tikkanen

Memoir of a dysfunctional marriage in lyrical form, this one is a classic.

Fermat’s Last Theorem by Simon Singh

I have read this one so many times that I had to replace my original softcover edition which was falling apart. Admittedly a slightly weird book for a teenage obsession but a perfect antidote to all the math hating protagonists in children’s and YA literature. (Why do authors keep using this trope? No wonder that children conclude that math ability is something you are born with rather than something you learn).

Antarktisboken ( The White Desert: The official account of the Norwegian–British–Swedish Antarctic Expedition) by John Giæver and others

I love the Arctic and the Antarctic but have always been more interested in the science part than in the patriotic flag-planting adventures. This account from a Norwegian-British-Swedish research expedition to Queen Maud Land in 1949-1952 is thus perfect.

How the universe got its spots

Well-written memoir/diary with interesting musings on cosmology. I got it as a gift from a friend at my dissertation which makes it extra special.

 

 

 

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Rereadings

bookshelfI love rereading, the comfortable security in revisiting a book I know is good and the excitement of finding new details or perspectives in a favourite book, always mingled with the fear that what once was brilliant might magically have turned unreadable. In Rereadings  17 writers reread books they have read in childhood or youth and write personal essays around them. It is not reviews but rather personal reflections on the role a beloved book have had in their lives and how their relation to it have changed over time. The result are essays full of the love of books and reading and as a book-lover I found it a fascinating read. I especially enjoyed Barbara Sjoholm’s chapter on The Snow Queen and the one by Diana Kappel Smith on A Field Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and North-Central North America.

The essays, which were originally published in The American Scholar, have been selected by Anne Fadiman who is also author of my favourite book about books, Ex Libris. Recommended!

On a different topic I am happy to find that I finally feel inspired to step outside of my reading comfort zone again, after months of primarily reading British Library Crime Classics and similar. I am currently reading Khirbet Khizah by S. Yizhar (so far I find it well-written, interesting, and deeply disturbing) and have three books in the Penguin European Writers series heading my way.

Kallocain

tiles

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.

 

Spring reading and Ex libris

old oak tree

Spring is well on its way (although we did have an unexpected snowfall yesterday) and it’s once again time to look back on my reading. Overall this has been a rather disappointing spring for reading. I have been tired and overworked, and as a consequence have reverted back to safe and easy reads, such as the British Library Crime Classics. Many of these have been great fun but I miss having the energy and courage to explore new authors and literary traditions.

In total I have read 21 books by authors from seven countries, which sounds quite good but a closer look at the data reveals that all but one, The three-body problem by Cixin Liu, came from the Anglosphere or a Nordic country.

The best read so far has been Durrell’s My family and other animals but I also really liked Napier’s A late beginner, Cixin Liu’s The three-body problem and some of the British Library Crime Classics.

Reading challenges

Reading classics

So far I have read, but not reviewed, one novel from my Classics club reading list, Kallocain by Karin Boye. I have not yet reviewed any books for the Back to the classics reading challenge, although some of the books I have read could count toward the challenge.

Keep reading books by African, Asian and South American authors

Here too I am struggling, although The three-body problem gives me one author from China. Technically I could also count Gerald Durrell for India, as he was born there (I have found country of birth to be a somewhat less confusing way to organize the authors than nationality), but that feels like cheating.

Book buying

I decided not to limit the number of books I bought this year, as long as the total cost was no more than what I spent last year. So far that seems to have worked, I have spent slightly less than I did the first four months last year, finally a challenge I am managing!

Other bookish news: Bookplates

I come from a bookplate using family, both my parents and my grandmother have their own ex libris labels and I have long longed for one of my own. Frequent visits to second-hand book shops have however taught me that this is very far from the norm. Despite the fact that a substantial proportion of my books are bought second-hand, I don’t think I own any with a bookplate not from my own family. I have a suspicion that bookplates may have enjoyed a brief popularity thirty years ago, at the time when my parents got theirs, but have been out of fashion ever since.

Fortunately being out of fashion has never really bothered me, but it has made it hard to find a good-looking high-quality bookplate to use. In the end I found that Slightly Foxed had a small but beautiful selection and choose one of them, and now I am eagerly awaiting their arrival and contemplating which of my books that would benefit from an ex libris. I don’t plan to use it on all my books, just the ones closest to my heart which I expect to keep through any future moves or book culls. Right now I take great pleasure in considering which these books are.

How about you? How’s your spring reading going? Anyone else using bookplates or am I entirely out of fashion there?

 

 

Crime novels for Easter

Photo of a yellow tulip

As I mentioned in my previous post Norway has an excellent tradition of reading crime novels during Easter and, as I have read little but cosy crime lately, I thought I should do my part to support the tradition by highlighting my favourite recent reads. All from the excellent British Library Crime Classics series.

Murder by Matchlight by E.C.R. Lorac was the first crime novel I read this year, thanks to a recommendation by Kaggsy. The mystery itself is good but fairly standard, the real treat is instead the atmosphere of war time London. First published in 1945 it must have been written during or directly after WW2 and it really shows.

Having read this one I immediately got the two other novels by E.C.R. Lorac currently in print, Bats in the Belfry (1937) and Fire in the Thatch (1946). They were both good mysteries, especially Fire in the Thatch, but they lacked that special setting that made Murder by Matchlight stand out.

The Division Bell Mystery, first published in 1932, is set in the British parliament. It was written by the Labour politician Ellen Wilkinson, who give us an inside view on the life in parliament, together with a neat locked-room mystery. Although the mystery was rather standard the inside-view of the political life in the 1930s was not, and I really enjoyed it. This one was also recommended by Kaggsy, who clearly have great taste in crime novels.

My third new BLCC favourite, Death in Captivity by Michael Gilbert, is set in a prisoner-of-war camp in Italy during late WW2, a setting the author knew from personal experience. Many of the characters are rather flat and easy to mix-up and the mystery is fine but nothing special, however the setting is unique and claustrophobic. Although I may not have cared too much about who the murderer was, I really wanted to know who would escape and how. All in all it was probably the most thrilling BLCC I have read, and offered an interesting glimpse of life in a POW camp. Really recommended!

What all three books had in common was that they offered something more than just a decent mystery. They showed me glimpses of interesting worlds I can never visit, war time London, the British parliament during the 1930s, a POW-camp in Italy, all places that the authors knew well (I guess, I haven’t confirmed whether or not Lorac was in London during WW2). Only books can bring me to those places.

 

Which British Library Crime Classics should I read during Easter?

HookEaster time is the time to read crime novels in Norway (påskekrim) and as I pretend to be a well-integrated foreigner I will of course join in. I’m really looking forward to it too as I have a major work-deadline right before Easter which is currently eating most of my reading and blogging time.

However, I need some help, I don’t know what to read. I love classic crime so I’m thinking a nice pile of 3-4 British Library Crime Classics or similar would be perfect but I don’t know which ones to choose. Anyone have any favourites to recommend? I like both the classic locked room mysteries and the more adventurous varieties. I would love to have some great cosy reads to look forward to while I work…

A Late Beginner

desiccation cracks

I recently treated myself by ordering three of Slightly Foxed’s paperback memoirs as my first book order for the year.  Two of them, Frances Wood’s Hand-grenade Practice in Peking and Dodie Smith’s Look Back with Love are still in my TBR-pile, but I just finished the third one, Priscilla Napier’s A Late Beginner.

In A Late Beginner Priscilla Napier looks back on her childhood in Egypt during the early 20th century. We follow her from a very young age and until she leaves Egypt in 1921, aged twelve, to go to school in the UK. The first world war and the early steps toward Egypt independence occur in the fringes of her consciousness, mingled with all the normal interests of a young child. Although largely written from a child’s perspective, Napier still manages to give a lively image of the Egypt she knew.

I really like memoirs that place you in the middle of important historical events. Of course the format is a limitation in that you only get one, usually not very objective, perspective on events, but what you gain is the impressions and feelings of someone who was actually there. It is the closest thing I know to time-travel. This one was a really good example.