Friday 31 May 2013

Book Quotes of the Week

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"Books are the compasses and telescopes and sextants and charts which other men have prepared to help us navigate the dangerous seas of human life." Jesse Lee Bennett

"Reading is a gift. It's something you can do almost anytime and anywhere. It can be a tremendous way to learn, relax, and even escape." Richard Carlson

"Thus I rediscovered what writers have always known (and have told us again and again): books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told." Umberto Eco

"As a rule reading fiction is as hard to me as trying to hit a target by hurling feathers at it. I need resistance to celebrate!" William James

"Our society accepts the book as a given, but the act of reading - once considered useful and important, as well as potentially dangerous and subversive - is now condescendingly accepted as a pastime, a slow pastime that lacks efficiency and does not contribute to the common good."  Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night

"Medicine for the soul." Inscription over the door of the Library at Thebes

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday 30 May 2013

Pamuk, Orhan "The Museum of Innocence"

Pamuk, Orhan "The Museum of Innocence" (Turkish: Masumiyet Müzesi) - 2008

Until now, I have loved every single book I read by Orhan Pamuk. That hasn't changed after reading this piece of art. The author has a wonderful eye for detail, he manages to describe anything in a way that you imagine having it in front of your eyes, feeling the sentiments the characters feel. You rejoice with them and mourn with them. A wonderful author who will hopefully write many many more books.

In this story, shortly before marrying, a guy falls in love with another girl. He becomes totally obsessed with her, his whole life changes, he becomes one of those creepy guys who follow a girl around without ever having a chance of going out with her. Still, the years pass and so does his relationship with the world in general and the girl in particular. The protagonist collects all sorts of stuff that reminds him of the girl and the relationship and puts it together in an apartment and eventually starts a museum with his collection. All this is described in a unique way, you feel the years passing along, they seem to go slow and fast at the same time, just as in real life.

This book reads almost like a biography and I had the feeling that the author passed on parts of himself. He actually appears in the book under his real name which is quite funny. And the novel doesn't miss out on humour, either, it is both sad and funny at the same time. We also follow the protagonist, not just on his visits into life but also into his soul. There is 1uite a philosophical approach at times. This book leaves you quite breathless for a while. It is magnificent. I love the author.

After the success of the book, Orhan Pamuk has established an actual "Museum of Innocence". (Unfortunately, the website I found is only in Turkish: Museum of Innocence/Masumiyet Müzesi but there is a gallery in English in the Guardian)

From the back cover:

"The Museum of Innocence - set in Istanbul between 1975 and today - tells the story of Kemal, the son of one of Istanbul's richest families, and of his obsessive love for a poor and distant relation, the beautiful Füsün, who is a shop-girl in a small boutique. The novel depicts a panoramic view of life in Istanbul as it chronicles this long, obsessive, love affair between Kemal and Füsün; and Pamuk beautifully captures the identity crisis experienced by Istanbul's upper classes who find themselves caught between traditional and westernised ways of being. For the past ten years, Pamuk has been setting up a museum in the house in which his hero's fictional family lived, to display Kemal's strange collection of objects associated with Füsün and their relationship. The museum will be called The Museum of Innocence and it opens in 2010."

Orhan Pamuk "who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006.

Orhan Pamuk received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis) in 2005.

I contribute to this page: Read the Nobels and you can find all my blogs about Nobel Prize winning authors and their books here.

Monday 27 May 2013

Segal, Erich "Love Story"

Segal, Erich "Love Story" - 1970

A beautiful story, one of the greatest love stories ever told. I teaches us that love is possible even if the circumstances don't seem to allow it. That love is without end even though the circumstances try to show us that is. That love can be beautiful, even if everything around us is ugly and terrible.

I am sure everyone has heard about this story, if not of the book then certainly of the movie. Also, a lot of little girls were called Jennfier and boys called Oliver when the movie came out, they owe their name to this story. Funny, how certain books influence lives of people who might not even have heard about it.

In any case, this is both the most wonderful love story as well as one of the saddest stories ever written. The language is beautiful, as well. So, definitely worth reading.

This wonderful books also contains one of the best quotes ever: "Love means never having to say you're sorry."

From the back cover:

"This is a love story you won't forget. Oliver Barrett meets Jenny Cavilleri. He plays sports, she plays music. He's rich, and she's poor. They argue, and they fight, and they fall in love. So they get married, and make a home together. They work hard, they enjoy life, they make plans for the future. Then they learn that they don't have much time left. Their story has made people laugh, and cry, all over the world."

Friday 24 May 2013

Book Quotes of the Week

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"A book that is shut is but a block." Thomas Fuller

"If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it." Toni Morrison

"Reading means borrowing." Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Aphorisms

"I’ve never known any trouble that an hour’s reading didn’t assuage." Charles de Secondat, Baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu, Pensées Diverses

"For friends ... do but look upon good Books: they are true friends, that will neither flatter nor dissemble." Francis Bacon

"Reading. That place where you're by yourself but you're never alone." N.N.

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday 23 May 2013

Murphy, Jill "Five Minutes Peace"

Murphy, Jill "Five Minutes Peace" - 1986

The Large family consists of Mrs. Large, Mr. Large, Lester, Laura, Luke and baby Lucy (although she is only added in one of the later books). They are a family like yours and mine, only they are elephants. But Mama and Papa have to go through all the troubles human parents have to go through, as well.

In this book, Mrs. Large wants to take a bath and just wants five minutes peace. Does she get them? I don't think I spoil the pleasure of reading the book too much if I mention that she does not.

I have often asked myself whether the authors of children's books write for the parents or the children.  The stories of the Large family are just as funny for both. Children of all ages will enjoy these as well as mum and dad. They belonged to the favourite ones in our family when our boys were little. This is my personal favourite.

Other titles in this series:
Five Minutes' Peace
All in One Piece
A Piece of Cake
A Quiet Night In
Mr. Large in Charge
Laura Bakes a Cake
Luke Tidies Up
Lester Learns a Lesson
Lucy Meets Mr Chilly
Grandpa In Trouble
Sebastian's Sleepover

From the back cover:

"All Mrs. Large wants is five minutes' peace from her energetic children, so she heads to the bathtub for some well-deserved quiet time. But the kids want Mom to join in their fun, so they follow her wherever she goes! With a relatable dilemma and hilarious art, Five Minutes' Peace is a favourite among moms."

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Cervantes, Miguel de "Don Quixote"

Cervantes, Miguel de "Don Quixote, vols. 1 and 2" (Spanish: El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha) - 1605/1615

Even if people haven't read Don Quixote, they know about his horse Rocinante, his faithful servant Sancho Panza and his beloved Dulcinea, his fight with the windmills and several other of his stories.

When reading any classic story, one has to consider the time it was written, the language used at the time. When reading the translation of a classic story, one has to think about that, as well. So, I wasn't too surprised when the language didn't flow as well as if I read a novel by Charles Dickens or Jane Austen, for example.

A lot of short stories are told, almost like in "The Decameron" which is about 300 years older. Still, you can tell the medieval character.

This might be one of the reasons why I enjoyed the second part more than the first, I had made my way through all those little stories and the whole thing came together more and more and developed into a large book rather than just little short stories.

Don Quixote lives in a world of his own which makes the story at times almost fantasy-like. However, this is always accompanied with a twinkle in the author's eye so we can all have a good laugh together. We fear with Don Quixote for the outcome of his next task, with Sancho for the outcome of the whole adventure. Will he ever return home to wife and children?

I was I had an edition that was parted in two halves, even they were very heavy. In cases like this I can understand that people tend toward an eReader, even though I normally don't like that at all (see here).

So, if you do like classic books, or large books, you should definitely put this on your reading list. And remember, especially when reading Don Quixote "Things are not always what they may seem."

From the back cover:

"Cervantes' tale of the deranged gentleman who turns knight-errant, tilts at windmills and battles with sheep in the service of the lady of his dreams, Dulcinea del Toboso, has fascinated generations of readers, and inspired other creative artists such as Flaubert, Picasso and Richard Strauss. The tall, thin knight and his short, fat squire, Sancho Panza, have found their way into films, cartoons and even computer games. Supposedly intended as a parody of the most popular escapist fiction of the day, the 'books of chivalry', this precursor of the modern novel broadened and deepened into a sophisticated, comic account of the contradictions of human nature. Cervantes' greatest work can be enjoyed on many levels, all suffused with a subtle irony that reaches out to encompass the reader."

Friday 17 May 2013

Book Quotes of the Week

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"Reading furnishes the mind with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours." John Locke

“Read, read, read. Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window.” William Faulkner

“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.” George Orwell

"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they really happened and after you are finished reading one you feel that it all happened to you and after which it all belongs to you." Ernest Hemingway

"Books and movies are like apples and oranges. They both are fruit, but taste completely different". Stephen King

Find more quotes here.

Thursday 16 May 2013

Modern Library 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century

You probably all know by now that I love lists. So, I was very happy when I found this list of the supposedly 100 best novels by Modern Library.

So far, I have read only a few of them but there are quite a few on my TBR pile.

1. Ulysses - James Joyce
2. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce
4. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
5. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
6. The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner
7. Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
8. Darkness at Noon - Arthur Koestler
9. Sons and Lovers - D.H. Lawrence
10. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
11. Under the Volcano - Malcolm Lowry
12. The Way of All Flesh - Samuel Butler
13. 1984 - George Orwell
14. I, Claudius - Robert Graves
15. To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf
16. An American Tragedy - Theodore Dreiser
17. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - Carson McCullers
18. Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut
19. Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
20. Native Son - Richard Wright
21. Henderson the Rain King - Saul Bellow
22. Appointment in Samarra - John O'Hara
23. U.S.A. (trilogy) - John Dos Passos
     -- The 42nd Parallel
     -- 1919
     -- The Big Money
24. Winesburg, Ohio - Sherwood Anderson
25. A Passage to India - E.M. Forster
26. The Wings of the Dove - Henry James
27. The Ambassadors - Henry James
28. Tender Is the Night - F. Scott Fitzgerald
29. The Studs Lonigan Trilogy - James T. Farrell
     -- Young Lonigan
     -- The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan
     -- Judgment Day
30. The Good Solider - Ford Maddox Ford
31. Animal Farm - George Orwell
32. The Golden Bowl - Henry James
33. Sister Carrie - Theodore Dreiser
34. A Handful of Dust - Evelyn Waugh
35. As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner
36. All the King's Men - Robert Penn Warren
37. The Bridge of San Luis Rey - Thornton Wilder
38. Howard's End - E.M. Forster
39. Go Tell It on the Mountain - James Baldwin
40. The Heart of the Matter - Graham Greene
41. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
42. Deliverance - James Dickey
43. A Dance to the Music of Time (series) - Anthony Powell
     -- A Question of Upbringing
     -- A Buyer's Market
     -- The Acceptance World
     -- At Lady Molly's
     -- Casanova's Chinese Restaurant
     -- The Kindly Ones
     -- The Valley of Bones
     -- The Soldier's Art
     -- The Military Philosophers
     -- Books Do Furnish a Room
     -- Temporary Kings
     -- Hearing Secret Harmonies
44. Point Counter Point - Aldous Huxley
45. The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
46. The Secret Agent - Joseph Conrad
47. Nostromo - Joseph Conrad
48. The Rainbow - D.H. Lawrence
49. Women in Love - D.H. Lawrence
50. Tropic of Cancer - Henry Miller
51. The Naked and the Dead - Norman Mailer
52. Portnoy's Complaint - Philip Roth
53. Pale Fire - Vladimir Nabokov
54. Light in August - William Faulkner
55. On the Road - Jack Kerouac
56. The Maltese Falcon - Dashiell Hammett
57. Parade's End - Ford Maddox Ford
58. The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton
59. Zuleika Dobson - Max Beerbohm
60. The Moviegoer - Walker Percy
61. Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather
62. From Here to Eternity - James Jones
63. The Wapshot Chronicles - John Cheever
64. The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
65. A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
66. Of Human Bondage - W. Somerset Maugham
67. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
68. Main Street - Sinclair Lewis
69. The House of Mirth - Edith Wharton
70. The Alexandria Quartet - Lawrence Durrell
     -- Justine
     -- Balthazar
     -- Mountolive
     -- Clea
71. A High Wind in Jamaica - Richard Hughes
72. A House for Mr. Biswas - V.S. Naipaul
73. The Day of the Locust - Nathanael West
74. A Farewell to Arms - Ernest Hemingway
75. Scoop - Evelyn Waugh
76. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark
77. Finnegans Wake - James Joyce
78. Kim - Rudyard Kipling
79. A Room With a View - E.M. Forster
80. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
81. The Adventures of Augie March - Saul Bellow
82. Angle of Repose - Wallace Stegner
83. A Bend in the River - V.S. Naipaul
84. The Death of the Heart - Elizabeth Bowen
85. Lord Jim - Joseph Conrad
86. Ragtime - E.L. Doctorow
87. The Old Wives' Tale - Arnold Bennett
88. The Call of the Wild - Jack London
89. Loving - Henry Green
90. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
91. Tobacco Road - Erskine Caldwell
92. Ironweed - William Kennedy
93. The Magus - John Fowles
94. Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys
95. Under the Net - Iris Murdoch
96. Sophie's Choice - William Styron
97. The Sheltering Sky - Paul Bowles
98. The Postman Always Rings Twice - James M. Cain
99. The Ginger Man - J.P. Donleavy
100. The Magnificent Ambersons - Booth Tarkington

I agree with Thomas from the blog "My Porch" who mentioned in his list that the list is very white and very male. Maybe we will have to come up with a best list for all women.

So far, I read only 27 of these but it looks like a great challenge.

Wednesday 15 May 2013

Three Early Modern Utopias: Utopia, New Atlantis and The Isle of Pines

I bought these three books in one edition: "Three Early Modern Utopias: Utopia, New Atlantis and The Isle of Pines", and two of them are really very short, so I will also review them in one post.
I love dystopian novels (see here) but had never really read a utopian one.


More, Thomas "Utopia" - 1516

Utopia: Less a novel than a "little red book" that states rules for a dream country. Of course, the rules very much apply to the age in which it was written but even then I cannot believe they would have worked. It's like communism, the world could be so wonderful if it worked but there are people who have to live like that and people are not like that. So, I was curious as to what the next book had to tell me, it was written a couple of years later.

Bacon, Francis "New Atlantis" (Latin: Nova Atlantis) - 1624 

The New Atlantis: Again, a dream of the perfect world that will never really exist. However, at least in this book we get introduced into a society that works like that, an island West of America hat hadn't been discovered but was populated by a model society.

Neville, Henry "The Isle of Pines" - 1668

Isle of Pines: The author pretends to have found a new island somewhere in the Southern hemisphere (before Australia was discovered) and writes letters about it to Europe. Again, a lot of "phantastic" fiction, something that is never going to happen.
Of course, that's what a Utopian novel describes.

I liked the idea of putting these three books in one edition in order to see the development of the beliefs in Utopia. However, I think by now we have realized that we will never get there. Maybe on a different planet with a different species ... but they'd have to be selfish to begin with in order to survive and then that wouldn't work either. Still, a good introduction into philosophy.

I do prefer dystopian novels, even if they will not happen exactly as the author describes, it highlights the fears of a generation. And if we look at 1984, don't we all have a "telescreen" in our houses? We call it computer. And Big Brother is the internet, even though we think that we can give it as much or as little information about us as we want. Dream on!

From the back cover:

"First published in 1516, Saint Thomas More's Utopia is one of the most important works of European humanism. Through the voice of the mysterious traveler Raphael Hythloday, More describes a pagan, communist city-state governed by reason. Addressing such issues as religious pluralism, women's rights, state-sponsored education, colonialism, and justified warfare, Utopia seems remarkably contemporary nearly five centuries after it was written, and it remains a foundational text in philosophy and political theory. Preeminent More scholar Clarence H. Miller does justice to the full range of More's rhetoric in this new translation. Professor Miller includes a helpful introduction that outlines some of the important problems and issues that Utopia raises, and also provides informative commentary to assist the reader throughout this challenging and rewarding exploration of the meaning of political community.

The New Atlantis by Sir Francis Bacon is a utopian novel written in the early 17th century. This classic book depicts the mythical land, Bensalem, believed to be located off the western coast of the continent of America. Bacon recounts the description of a wise man on the details of their system of experimentation and method of recognition of inventions and their inventors. This is key work on the idea of an Atlantis and is a popular work by one of the most important English writers. This title should be read by those interested in beliefs of Atlantis, and those who are fans of the writings of Francis Bacon.

The Isle of Pines: The Isle of Pines is a book by Henry Neville published in 1668. An example of Arcadian fiction, the book presents its story through an Epistolary frame: a "Letter to a friend in London, declaring the truth of his Voyage to the East Indies" written by a fictional Dutchman "Henry Cornelius Van Sloetten," concerning the discovery of an island in the southern hemisphere, populated with the descendants of a small group of castaways."

Monday 13 May 2013

Shriver, Lionel "We need to talk about Kevin"

Shriver, Lionel "We need to talk about Kevin" - 2003

What is going through the mind of a mass murderer? What is going through the mind of his mother? This book is trying to answer that question.

Eva is writing letters. Letters trying to explain to her husband how she never got close to their son. An interesting approach to the problem.

Being the mother of two sons myself, it was very hard for me to read this book and, yet, I couldn't put it down. Personally, I never met a child like that. I can hardly believe they exist. And, if he was really, how come she didn't get any help at all, nobody noticed that she couldn't do it on her own?

The marriage between the two seemed doomed from the beginning. And we all know that it is the worst idea to have a child in such a circumstance. A child, any child, will change the life of their parents, and they need to stick together in order to get through this. Even an uncomplicated child has sleepless nights, even the slowest child will try to "train" their parents and if they don't have a common rule, the child notices that straight away and will play the two against each other.

I don't think it's Eva's fault that her son turned out the way he turned out. I also don't think it's the father's fault but if he had been a little more understanding, things might have gone a different way. Of course, he probably sees it completely different and we would learn more if he had been able to tell his part of the story, as well.

Anyway, Lionel Shriver managed to get under the skin of both the mother and the son. I can't believe she has no children of her own, she described everything so well.

Even though the book itself was a shocker already, the end is even more shocking. I won't spoil it here for anyone who hasn't read the book, yet, but I did not think this was going to happen. And, yet, despite everything that has happened, it is very hopeful that Eva visits Kevin in prison and even wants him to come back to her after he has done his sentence.

Definitely a book everyone should read.

From the back cover:

"The gripping international bestseller about motherhood gone awry 

Eva never really wanted to be a mother - and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin’s horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklin. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.

Friday 10 May 2013

Book Quotes of the Week

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"That I can read and be happy while I am reading, is a great blessing." Anthony Trollope

"Books are keys to wisdom's treasure. Books are gates to lands of pleasure. Books are paths that upward lead, Books are friends: come let us read." Emilie Poulsson 

"Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one's own self." Franz Kafka 

"It's better to have your nose in a book than in someone else's business." Adam Stanley

"Books are the carriers of civilization ... They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print." Barbara W. Tuchman

"A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few sources of information left that is served up without the silent black noise of a headline, the doomy hullabaloo of a commercial. It is one of the few havens remaining where a person's mind can get both provocation and privacy." - Edward P. Morgan

Find more quotes here.

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Hanff, Helene "84 Charing Cross Road" and "The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street"

Hanff, Helene "84 Charing Cross Road" - 1970
and "The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street" - 1973

Even though "84 Charing Cross Road" and "The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street" are officially two different books, I bought them in one cover, read them back to back and will deal with them here as if they were one.

The first part, "84 Charing Cross Road", consists completely of letters, the second part, "The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street", is written in diary form.

What a lovely book. A writer who loves reading and orders used books from a bookstore across the sea at a time where it wasn't that easy to order anything "online". Helene Hanff orders books from this small bookshop, "Marks & Co." in London, and starts a lovely correspondence not just with one of the salespeople but with almost the whole shop.

I loved everything about this book. Not only was it more or less entirely on the subject of reading, it recommended a lot of interesting literature, it was also beautifully written. It is both funny as well as loving and caring. The author doesn't just exchange letters, she also sends food and other necessities to her new friends in post-war London who still have to live very restricted.

I knew I had found the right book when I stumbled upon her first P.S. on page 3: "I hope 'madam' doesn't mean over there what it does here." It was just such a reminder about the good old saying "The English and the Americans are two peoples divided by a common language." This is an experience certainly everyone agrees with who has dealt with people from the two nations at the same time.

I could relate to her "education through books", especially when she started telling about how she owed her literature studies to Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s lectures on English literature. She describes on page 142: "Q was lecturing to young men educated at Eton and Harrow. He therefore assumed that his students--including me--had read Paradise Lost as a matter of course and would understand his analysis of the 'Invocation to Light' in Book 9. So I said, 'Wait here,' and went down to the library and got Paradise Lost and took it home and started reading it and got to page 3, when I hit a snag:
Milton assumed I'd read the Christian version of Isaiah and the New Testament and had learned all about Lucifer and the War in Heaven, and since I'd been reared in Judaism I hadn't. So I said, 'Wait here,' and borrowed a Christian Bible..." Isn't that the best way to learn something? I have always enjoyed "reading" an encyclopedia, jumping from one entry to the next, I can just see her doing that with the books.

A great example of her art of observation is also shown on page 172: "The Hilton has several dining rooms, he took me into the largest. It was crowded with sleek, well-groomed men and beautifully dressed women; nobody looked dowdy the way they do at the Kenilworth. And the strawberries were huge and the cream was thick and the rolls were hot and the butter was cold and the chicken livers were done to perfection.
But at the Kenilworth, nobody sends the eggs back. Nobody talks to the waiters with the casual rudeness that says, 'I am better than you are because I am richer.' And the waiters don't answer with that studied blend of contempt and servility, and none are obsequious - my God, Alvaro couldn't even pronounce it. And nobody at a Kenilworth breakfast table looks bitter or discontented, no men at the Kenilworth moodily drink their lunch, no women with hard-painted faces keep a sharp eye on their handbags.
You look at the faces in the Hilton dining room and first you want to smack them and then you just feel sorry for them, not a soul in the room looked happy."
This is funny and deep at the same time. If you enjoy this part, you will certainly enjoy the rest of the book. It is far too short with its 240 pages.

From the back cover:

"Your ad in the Saturday Review of Literature says that you specialize in out-of-print books. The phrase 'antiquarian bookseller' scares me somewhat as I equate ‘antique’ with expensive. I am a poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books and all the things I want are impossible to get over here except in very expensive rare editions, or in Barnes & Noble's grimy, marked -up schoolboy copies.

So begins the delightfully reticent love affair between Miss Helene Hanff of New York and Messrs Marks and Co, sellers of rare and secondhand books, at 84 Charing Cross Road, London. For twenty years this outspoken New York writer and Frank Doel, a rather more restrained London bookseller, carry on an increasingly touching correspondence to the point where, in early December, 1949, Helene is suddenly worried that the six-pound ham she's sent off to augment British rations will arrive in a kosher office.

Soon they are sharing more personal news about Frank's family and Hanff's career. No doubt their letters would have continued, but in 1969 the firm's secretary informed Helene that Frank Doel had died. In the collection's penultimate entry, Helene Hanff urges a tourist friend, 'If you happen to pass by 84 Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me. I owe it so much.'"

Some of the books she mentioned: Pride & Prejudice (Jane Austen), Tristram Shandy (Laurence Sterne), Common Reader (Virginia Woolf), Canterbury Tales (Geoffrey Chaucer)

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Ung, Loung "First they killed my father"

Ung, Loung "First they killed my father. A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers" - 2000

The book was recommended to one of our members by a friend. We appreciated the information about the Khmer Rouge. It was so long ago. Reading this, we remember history better than with dry articles. As the memoir was written through the eyes of a five year old, it was sometimes a little naïve and black & white, her father was her hero though being part of the former government, he also must have made mistakes.

The story was not just depressing, we knew she survived. We did learn that there is no simple solution, that democracy is also dangerous. This book shows how terribly cruel people can be, how you can make some believe in something that allows them to treat other people in the most inhuman way. Sometimes it's good to read about the event a long time after the event has taken place. Also, Sihanouk, Pol Pot, Khmer Rouge, Cambodia, these words all mean more to us now. This should be on the reading list of secondary schools.

I am really glad we read this book, especially after none of us was very happy with the North Korean book we had read ("Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home" by Laura and Lisa Ling).

I liked the way Loung Ung told the story from her perspective as a child and how she changed during that time. How much she had to go through, the death of her beloved sister, then her father, her mother and baby sister. How can anyone that little endure all those terrible and cruel deaths, she knew what they might have done to any of them, especially her father. I felt especially sorry for her when she had to be in the training camp and pretend she was someone else.

All I learned from this book, something I already knew: War is terrible, whether civil or otherwise. And anyone who contributes to that thought by their writing, is doing a great job. Those who are the most vulnerable suffer the most.

I would love to read her second book: "Lucky Child: A Daughter of Cambodia Reunites with the Sister She Left Behind".

We discussed this in our book club in April 2013.

From the back cover:

"Until the age of five, Loung Ung lived in Phnom Penh, one of seven children of a high-ranking government official. She was a precocious child who loved the open city markets, fried crickets, chicken fights and being cheeky to her parents.

When Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge army stormed into Phnom Penh in April 1975, Loung's family fled their home and were eventually forced to disperse to survive. Loung was trained as a child soldier while her brothers and sisters were sent to labour camps. The surviving siblings were only finally reunited after the Vietnamese penetrated Cambodia and started to destroy the Khmer Rouge.

Bolstered by the bravery of one brother, the vision of the others and the gentle kindness of her sister, Loung forged on to create for herself a courageous new life.

First They Killed My Father' is an unforgettable book told through the voice of the young and fearless Loung. It is a shocking and tragic tale of a girl who was determined to survive despite the odds."

Friday 3 May 2013

Book Quotes of the Week

Word cloud made with WordItOut
"I do not read for I have renounced mylife, I read because one life is just not enough for me." Abbas Al-Akkad

“If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” Oscar Wilde

"No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting. She will not want new fashions, nor expensive diversions, or variety of company, if she can be amused by an author." Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

"There are many little ways to enlarge yoru child's world. Love of books is the best of all." Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

"We should read to give our souls a chance to luxuriate." Henry Miller

"If you don't read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed." Mark Twain

Find more quotes here.

Thursday 2 May 2013

Ahlberg, Janet & Allan "The Jolly Postman or Other People's Letters"

Ahlberg, Janet & Allan "The Jolly Postman or Other People's Letters" - 1986

One of the favourite activity books my boys ever had. "The Jolly Postman" is full of letters and cards, letters from fairy ale and nursery rhyme characters. You can take the letters out of the envelopes and read them, they are all pretty funny and all of them nicely illustrated, as anything written by the couple. This book means hours and hours of fun with your children. When my boys sorted their books a couple of years ago between those to keep and those to give away, this was definitely a keeper.

The book is also a great way of introducing real letters to children, show them how you can write to a friend or relative far away and how happy they will be to receive your post.

From the back cover:

"The Jolly Postman delivers cards and letters to various fairy-tale characters. He has a letter of apology for the three bears from Goldilocks, a postcard from Jack for the giant, a solicitor's letter on behalf of Little Red Riding-Hood for the wolf who ate grandma, and so on. There are six envelopes in the book, each containing letters, cards, etc."

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Boccaccio, Giovanni "The Decameron"

Boccaccio, Giovanni "The Decameron" (Italian: Il Decameron, cognominato Prencipe Galeotto) - 1350

I found the title of this book in Jane Smiley's "13 Ways of Looking at the Novel". It was one of the first books she quoted (since it is one of the oldest) and it sounded quite interesting. So, I had to read it.

I didn't regret my decision. It's amazing how many modern day or later stories seem to be based on "The Decameron", authors have always borrowed from each other, or so it seems.

It hasn't survived almost 700 years for no reason at all. It is still regarded as the masterpiece of storytelling.

Whether you prefer short stories or (like me) really big books, this is a book for everyone. Ten stories each told for ten days make up for 100 stories on a thousand pages.

The great thing about this book, it's a historical novel written at the time that history took place. You can more or less look into the mind of the people living at the time. And that's quite interesting, it is rather racy. But you don't just learn about their love life, you also learn about their culture, their laws, their habits, all first hand. Maybe kids would get more interested in history if they had to read these kind of stories in school (although I think some parents would then complain about the kind of literature they give their kids to read).

In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

From the back cover:

"In the summer of 1348, as the Black Death ravages their city, ten young Florentines take refuge in the countryside. They amuse themselves by each telling a story a day for the ten days they are destined to remain there - a hundred stories of love, adventure and surprising twists of fate. Less preoccupied with abstract concepts of morality or religion than with earthly values, the tales range from the bawdy Peronella hiding her lover in a tub to Ser Cepperello, who, despite his unholy effrontery, becomes a Saint. The result is a towering monument of European literature and a masterpiece of imaginative narrative."