Thursday, 29 November 2012

Bach, Richard „Jonathan Livingston Seagull“

Bach, Richard „Jonathan Livingston Seagull“ - 1970

"This is a story for people who follow their hearts and make their own rules...people who get special pleasure out of doing something well, even if only for themselves...people who know there's more to this living than meets the eye: they'll be right there with Jonathan, flying higher and faster than ever they dreamed."

This book was published more than 40 years ago and I remember reading it almost immediately. I was a teenager at the time and was very interested in everything spiritual, anything that contributed to world and inner peace. This book was just the right one. Jonathan Livingston is a seagull who is not happy with his life, with all the other seagulls always fighting. He tries to do something better, he wants to be the best flying seagull. Then he meets two other seagulls who want to take him to a higher place, a kind of paradise. He learns a lot about the meaning of life which he teaches to his fellow seagulls when he returns.

I loved this book. I loved it even more when Neil Diamond wrote a soundtrack to the movie they made from this story. I don't remember the movie all that well but as a huge Neil Diamond fan, I do remember his music. Very well. It might have to do with the fact that I bought the CD (well, first the vinyl, later the CD) but I doubt it, his music is just fantastic.

The novel is very positive yet very thought-provoking. And it's still very meaningful today. It advises us not to put people in a box, to keep an open mind.

From the back cover: "This is a story for people who follow their hearts and make their own rules...people who get special pleasure out of doing something well, even if only for themselves...people who know there's more to this living than meets the eye: they'll be right there with Jonathan, flying higher and faster than ever they dreamed."

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Shakespeare, William “Romeo and Juliet”

Shakespeare, William “Romeo and Juliet” - 1597

It's always weird reading a well-known classic for the first time. I had this experience with "Romeo and Juliet". We all grow up with the story, it is retold again and again in other books, other plays and movies. And since I don't particularly like reading plays which I think should be performed rather than read, I had never read the whole story.

So, the other day, I picked it up. 126 pages, not a biggie, can be read in a day or two, so even if I don't like the book, no harm done.

Was it worth the effort? Totally. Shakespeare's writing makes it worth reading his plays, even if it's not always easy to understand those old English words. Oh, to be able to write like that! How wonderful would that be. But reading him is the next best thing.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Roy, Arundhati „The God of Small Things“


Roy, Arundhati "The God of Small Things" – 1997

A tragedy, full of neglect, abuse, deceit, an almost poetic narrative. Sounds interesting.

However, I have quite an ambivalent relationship with Booker prize winners, I either love them or loathe them. Some of them I dislike so much, you will find them among the worst books I ever read.

This novel had a strange effect on me. I love reading about India and have read and really enjoyed quite a few of their literature (see here). So, I always wanted to know how the story goes on, what happens to the characters, that was the good side of this book.

But the characters, there wasn't a single one I liked, well, maybe one but he didn't fare very well in the novel. The story jumps back and forth, I suppose the author wanted to build anticipation. Usually, I quite like that style, here, it was just annoying. A very bleak and hopeless story.

Arundhati Roy won the Booker Prize for "The God of Small Things" in 1997.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

When I close a book ...

I read this little quote the other day: "Stories never really end". I agree wholeheartedly. If a story is written well, you get attached to the characters, you get to know them, you get to feel with them, fear for them, love them, hate them, they are almost like real people to you. Well, they are almost like real people to me.
So, when the book ends, when there are no more pages on which my friends live, it is more an "Au Revoir" or an "Auf Wiedersehen" than a "Good-bye". First of all, I can go back and re-read the book. But in the meantime, I can think about them the same way I think about friends who just go on a long holiday. Or who move away. I can imagine what happens to them in the meantime, if they are still alive at the end of the book, that is.


Every novel has a story that starts long before the first page of the book, sometimes we are lucky and get told a big part of their history, sometimes just a little , but we always can imagine our heroes and heroines as little children. Have they been naughty or nice? Have they been rich or poor? In any case, as we can imagine their lives before the book, we can also remember their lives after the book. We can try to imagine whether that happy end really is a happy end. Or how the open end works out.


That is one of the main reasons I don't really like sequels that have been written by another person. I don't want to read what another person thinks what happened to my friends, I want to imagine it myself. If the author didn't write a sequel, she or he must have had a reason for it. And if the author died before finishing the novel, I don't want to know what someone else thinks should have happened, I will have to rely on my own imagination. Which is the best in any case.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Jonasson, Jonas "The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared"

Jonasson, Jonas " The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared" (Swedish: Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann) - 2009

Translated into 35 languages, the biggest success, except for his native Sweden, was in Germany where he sold over a million copies. And that's where I found this gem of a book. This story contains everything, crime, murder mystery, historical fiction, alternate fiction, love, drama, and a huge sense of humour. It is so hilarious, and exciting. The story is told in two parts, the life of Allan Karlsson until he turns 100 and after he turns 100. And both parts are full of adventures.

This is an easy read novel that is still full of information and philosophy. A nice story about a man who does not want to fit in, who does not want to give up.

On Jonas Jonasson's website, you can find all the countries he travelled to and the people he met during his life. He travelled from Sweden to Moscow, Stalingrad (Volgograd), Gulag camps, Vladivostok, Los Alamos, The White House, Washington, China, Himalaya, Tibet, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Bali, Paris and met Tsar Nicolas (well, that was his father), Gustav Fabergé (his father, as well), Vladimir Lenin, Miguel Primo de Rivera, Francisco Franco, Robert Oppenheimer, Harry S Truman, Soong May-ling, Eleonor Roosevelt, Jiang Ping, Winston Churchill, Tage Erlander, Joseph Stalin, Kim II Sung, Kim Jong II, Kirill Meretskov, Mao Tse Tung, Charles de Gaulle, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon.

Apparently, the author is presently writing his second novel. I know exactly who is going to read it once it's out.

From the back cover: "It all starts on the one-hundredth birthday of Allan Karlsson. Sitting quietly in his room in an old people's home, he is waiting for the party he-never-wanted-anyway to begin. The mayor is going to be there. The press is going to be there. But, as it turns out, Allan is not...Slowly but surely Allan climbs out of his bedroom window, into the flowerbed (in his slippers) and makes his getaway. And so begins his picaresque and unlikely journey involving criminals, several murders, a suitcase full of cash, and incompetent police. As his escapades unfold, we learn something of Allan's earlier life in which - remarkably - he helped to make the atom bomb, became friends with American presidents, Russian tyrants, and Chinese leaders, and was a participant behind the scenes in many key events of the twentieth century. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is a fun, feel-good book for all ages."

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Lukefahr, Oscar, C.M. “We Worship"

Lukefahr, Oscar, C.M. “We Worship: A Guide to the Catholic Mass” - 2004

Oscar Lukefahr is a well known Catholic priest and theologian in the United States. He has written several books about the Catholic faith, including "We Believe... A Survey of the Catholic Faith". In this book, he doesn't just explain how a Mass is set up but also what it means and why every Catholic should attend it. He answers a lot of questions people have about the set-up of Mass and also its spiritual meaning. It can also be used for teaching anyone who wants to know more about the Catholic Mass.

Lukefahr, Oscar, C.M. “We Believe"

Lukefahr, Oscar, C.M. “We Believe... A Survey of the Catholic Faith” – 1995

Oscar Lukefahr is a Catholic priest and a very well known theologian in the United States. In this book, he gives a good overview about what Catholicism means, a good information for Catholics and non-Catholics who want to know more about the belief. He refers to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and gives on overview about the Bible, the history of Catholicism and how it can be incorporated into modern day life.

A very helpful book, 200 pages of theology for lay people. Easy to understand, it answers a lot of questions you always had about "God, the Bible, the life and teaching of Jesus, the Church, Mary, the saints, life after death, the Sacraments, moral living, and Catholic prayer".

The author has also written a good book about the Catholic Mass "We Worship: A Guide to the Catholic Mass".

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Buck, Pearl S. "Peony"

Buck, Pearl S. "Peony" - 1948

This book is the reason why I fell in love with Pearl S. Buck. It must have been one of the first "adult" books I read and still, I remember it as if it had been yesterday.

Peony is a young servant (almost a slave) in a rich Chinese Jewish household. Her love to the son of the family cannot result in anything as traditional rules don't allow a marriage between them.

While we learn about Chinese traditions, the author also tells us about the life of the Kaifeng Jews of which I had nothing heard before (or after). We can again dive into the sea of knowledge Pearl S. Buck acquired about Chinese life when she spent most of her life there, starting when her missionary parents took her there at a very young age. I have loved reading about China ever since, both historical and present day novels as well as non-fiction. I would love to visit this highly interesting country one day.

However, other than a lot of her other novels, she tries to incorporate the multi-cultural theme into this one, the trial of assimilation. How far does an immigrant want to become like the people in his host nation. A wonderful account of two worlds colliding.

From the back cover: "In 1850s China, a young girl, Peony, is sold to work as a bondmaid for a rich Jewish family in Kaifeng. Jews have lived for centuries in this region of the country, but by the mid-nineteenth century, assimilation has begun taking its toll on their small enclave. When Peony and the family’s son, David, grow up and fall in love with one another, they face strong opposition from every side. Tradition forbids the marriage, and the family already has a rabbi’s daughter in mind for David.
Long celebrated for its subtle and even-handed treatment of colliding traditions, Peony is an engaging coming-of-age story about love, identity, and the tragedy and beauty found at the intersection of two disparate cultures.
"

Find other books by Pearl S. Book that I read here.

Pearl S. Buck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938 "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces".

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Ling, Laura & Lisa "Somewhere Inside"

Ling, Laura & Ling, Lisa "Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home" - 2010

In our international book club, we always try to read books from different parts of this world and usually quite enjoy discussing novels or non-fiction literature about parts of this world we haven't visited. This was the reason, we picked up this story. A journalist, Laura Ling, gets captured in North Korea and gets sentenced to twelve years of hard labour. Meanwhile, her sister Lisa, also a journalist in the States, tries to get her released. The book tells both sides, inside and outside of North Korea.

We expected to have more background information about North Korea, but too much name-dropping was going on, we had the feeling they wanted to show the world how important they are.

The whole team had been visiting China with a tourist visa, we thought they  acted very irresponsible, naïve, the guide was crooked, they should have seen it, and one of their colleagues just disappeared and left them alone. During the whole time, they came up with excuses. There should have been fines placed on them when they returned. Many reporters are imprisoned who stick to the rules, they can't call on former presidents to get them out of their predicament.

We want to find a book by a North Korean defector.

Most of us had been excited about the topic but were hugely disappointed, we didn't learn anything new, had hoped for more insight.

The whole story, the whole recollection was very repetitive. Laura did not seem emotional enough about her captivity, she seemed very detached from the story, we would have thought that a journalist could write better and are of the opinion that they only wrote the book to make money. We missed dates, at times you were not sure who was where at what time, dates would have helped.

We were also shocked that journalists couldn't write a book that takes you in, especially on a subject like this and that you could get more information. And what about the people left behind? Names of the guards were mentioned, for example. Do they realize the consequences they will face? The question came up what the US had to pay or promise North Korea for their release. We also imagined that they would have been humble after such an experience and just shut up.

The only good part was that some of us said this is an opportunity to get more interested in stories about North Korea. E.g., the question was raised whether it is good to trade with nations who don't obey human rights. Of course, that is always a tough question, it has its pros and cons.

Our final impression was that here were two spoilt young Americans who have everything put in front of them on a silver platter. They can do whatever they want and God and the president will help. No realistic view of the world. If you don't respect the law, the law doesn't protect you anymore.

We discussed this in our book club in October 2012.

Monday, 12 November 2012

McGarry Morris, Mary “Songs in Ordinary Time”

McGarry Morris, Mary “Songs in Ordinary Time” - 1995

I chose this book because it is on the Oprah list, and have I loved all the novels on that list but one and that was by the only author who declined to be on the list in the first place.

Anyway, an American town in 1960, a time I remember a little. Almost anyone in this novel is poor but that's not all. My family was poor when I grew up but there is a huge difference, we had a family. It looks like there is not one normal functioning family or relationship in this whole book. Everyone has huge problems, starting with alcoholism and ending with murder. There is not a single person in the whole story that looks at life realistically, the most sensitive people are probably the 12 to 17 year old children but, having said that, they don't come across as the brightest ones, either. Life in Atkinson, Vermont was not just hard, it was depressing. The setting somehow reminded me of John Steinbeck's books, one of our book club members asked why all his books have to be so depressing.

Having said that, the book is well written, it builds anticipation, you hold on, you hope for something good to happen to the characters, you feel for them. You don't really expect a happy ending but a glimmer of hope. And this is what happens, in the end, not everything is alright but the outlook is not too bad. And, it is a long book. I like big books, 740 pages of stories, enough time to get to know everyone well. The characters are so well describes, and also the situations,

Still, I hope this is not normal life in America, or at least was not, and that there were ordinary families with a mother and a father who work together for the welfare of their children, who allow them to get a decent education, who converse with their neighbours and relatives.

All in all, I am glad I read this book and I can see why it is on the Oprah list. Not necessarily my favourite of her list, I would have liked to see at least some "normal" people, but a good read. I'm surprised it hasn't been turned into a movie, yet, it would be a great subject.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Different Countries - Different Covers

I have been a member of an international book club for more than a decade now. During that time, we often get to see several different copies of our books, the English versions from the UK, US, and Canada, mostly, sometimes even more than one from each country if some have a hardback and other a paperback copy, then translations (or originals) in other languages. It is highly interesting to see the different covers, to compare which one is best, to discuss why the designs vary so drastically in a lot of cases. With classics, you can sometimes get a dozen different covers, just have a look at one of the internet bookshops.

Sometimes one nation has the best cover, the next time another one. But in general, I think there is a reason for these different covers, the editors know what their readers like best, or at least they try to capture the prospective reader with a picture or a design they might like better than that from the other country.


As I have already mentioned in my post "Never judge a book by its cover?", the publishers know why they choose a certain cover, and they try to capture their audience with what they hope they will like best.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Dickens, Charles "A Tale of Two Cities"

Dickens, Charles "A Tale of Two Cities" - 1859

Two of the most famous quotes in one book, how often do you get that? But is the rest of the book as good as the beginning and the end? It is. Whatever you look for in a book, "A Tale of Two Cities" has it, history, politics, revolution, love, drama, intrigue, revenge, forgiveness, sacrifice, you name it, it's in it. How often can you say that about a novel?

Even though Dickens didn't live during the French Revolution, he captures the spirit of the time, he portrays his characters as lively as posible and he manages to bring in everything that was important so people born a hundred years later could imagine living during that time and even today, another 150 years after it was written and while the world has changed even more, we can imagine the same.

Oh, and if you wonder about the beginning and the end, it starts with "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ..." and ends with "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known." That is good writing and I'm not surprised Mr. Dickens has been so well-known and admired for centuries. His stories just don't get old.

In any case, if you didn't guess it, yet, I loved this book.

Other Dickens novels I read: "A Christmas Carol", "Great Expectations". See more here.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Larsen Line, Joanne/Loving Tubesing, Nancy "Quilts From The Quiltmaker's Gift"

Larsen Line, Joanne/Loving Tubesing, Nancy "Quilts From The Quiltmaker's Gift" - 2000

A great sewing book accompanying "The Quiltmaker's Gift" by Jeff Brumbeau and Gail de Marcken, 20 patterns taken from the beautiful drawings in the picture book, each one embellished with extra drawings and ideas. Even if you don't sew and just like quilts, this is a beatiful book to look at.

Brumbeau, Jeff/de Marcken, Gail “The Quiltmaker’s Gift”

Brumbeau, Jeff/de Marcken, Gail “The Quiltmaker’s Gift” - 2001

Beautiful book with great illustrations about the most beautiful quilts ever. I bought this book for my children who were not as interested in it than I was, after all, they are boys. However, they did like the story of the king who ahd everything but the one thing he really wanted. A quilt from the quiltmaker who would only donate one of the most beautiful quilts you have ever seen to people who have nothing. This puts the king in quite a dilemma and we can follow him as he changes his heart by admiring all the beautiful quilts the quiltmaker makes.

There is also a book with quilts that were made after the illustrations in this book "Quilts From The Quiltmaker's Gift" by Joanne Larsen Line and Nancy Loving Tubesing.

Whether you have children or not, you might want to have a look at either of these books if you love quilts.

From the back cover: "When a generous quiltmaker finally agrees to make a quilt for a greedy king but only under certain conditions, she causes him to undergo a change of heart."

Monday, 5 November 2012

Bradley, Alan “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie”

Bradley, Alan “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” (Flavia De Luce Mystery)  – 2009

England 1950. A little girl lives with her father and sisters in an English village. When a body turns up in their garden, she starts exploring.

I am not a big fan of crime stories. I am an even smaller fan of stories where little children are the big heroes by screwing up everything and then in the end everything is fine. I never really liked the "Famous Five" because of that when I was a child and I dislike these kind of stories even more now than I did then.

In any case, you can guess, I did not like the "Flavia De Luce Mystery" No. 1 very much, so I'm not going to even try reading any of the following ones. I can see how someone who likes these kind of stories likes this one, the surroundings are nice but I prefer to read about England and its countryside and village life through Jane Austen, Charles Dickens or, if you look for more contemporary authors, Bill Bryson has written wonderful books about Britain, for example, something more substantial.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Huxley, Aldous "Brave New World"

Huxley, Aldous "Brave New World" - 1931

I have read several dystopian novels. And there is some truth in all of them. If we consider when the book was written and what was the greatest fear of the time, we recognize the foundation of their subject. And the more time has passed, the better we can judge whether the author was right or not.

Interestingly enough, here we are, eighty years later, and we still talk about the same subject, gene manipulation. This book is so up-to-date, it might as well have been written yesterday. That's how great it is, you can tell good writing.

There are a lot more ideas Huxley was afraid of, e.g. the "hypnopaedic process" where children are inundated with hypnotic messages, where they get "pre-conditioned" for the life they are destined to lead. Other processes makes them not like flowers and books, for example. Of course, you can use those findings in a positive way, e.g. take your baby on your lap while reading to them. And would I want to choose to have my migraine gene removed from my children. Definitely!

But on the whole, I am more than glad not having to live in this "Brave New World", having the choice of what I want to be, who I want to be with. As in most dystopian novels, there is always a kernel of truth in them. We need to read them in order to know what to do to avoid these theories becoming reality.