Saturday 31 August 2013

Defoe, Daniel "Robinson Crusoe"

Defoe, Daniel "Robinson Crusoe" - 1719

"Robinson Crusoe" "is often credited as marking the beginning of realistic fiction as a literary genre" and "one of the most widely published books in history".

Classic novels are always interesting. We can "visit" a time long past and see what someone who lived at the time thought about his contemporaries, the political, economical, or social situation.

"Robinson Crusoe", okay, said to be one of the first or maybe even the first fictional novel that could be called "realistic". Possible, I have read a few older novels but they did not ring the same tone.

"One of the most widely published books in history". Well, if they say so, I am sure they are right.

I can imagine why this book is still read three hundred years after its first publication. It is an interesting story. Even today, we cannot imagine how it would be to spend a year on an uninhabited island, let alone twenty-eight. That's longer than most people get for a life-sentence in prison.

Apparently, the author based the story loosely on the life of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor who was cast on an island in the Caribbean where he had to spend four years in the early 1700s, so just a few years before Daniel Defoe wrote his famous story.

The novel gives us a lot of insights into the politics and economics of the time. But most of all, it poses a lot of moral issues. "When confronted with the cannibals, Crusoe wrestles with the problem of cultural relativism. Despite his disgust, he feels unjustified in holding the natives morally responsible for a practice so deeply ingrained in their culture." Nothing has changed. We still live in a time where we have discussions about how much of our culture and moral understanding to impose of people with another background. As such, Robinson Crusoe is a great opportunity to think about this problem in a different setting and maybe get an idea on how to solve those problems nowadays.

I have no idea on how many school curricula we can still find this novel but I think it should be there. Just for the reason I gave right now.

There is probably another reason why this book is still passed on to new readers. The language is pretty simple, the story is told in chronological order, it is a pretty easy read. Tedious at times, especially if you read a lot but it offers a captivating story as well as understandable English at the same time, that must be a bonus for many people.

This was discussed in our online book club in March 2019.

From the back cover:

"Robinson Crusoe has captured the imagination of countless readers with its vivid evocation of one man's survival on a remote island, far from the civilization he knows.

Thought to be one of the first English novels,
Robinson Crusoe is the timeless story of a merchant's trading voyages and adventures at sea, his shipwreck and subsequent life marooned alone. Based on the life of Alexander Selkirk, it is fascinating in its descriptions of Crusoe's ingenuity and inventiveness, his ability to make and use tools, his discovery of man Friday and his treatment of him.

In addition to this,
Robinson Crusoe is also an exploration of the ways in which a man who had made his fortune in trade is able to survive in reasonable comfort, thanks to his resourcefulness, when goods and money can no longer be of any value to him."

We discussed this book in our international online book club in March 2019.

Friday 30 August 2013

Book Quotes of the Week

"You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax, all you need is a book." Dr. Seuss

"Books are embalmed minds." Christian Nevell Bovee

"The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, And all the sweet serenity of books." Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"Bread of flour is good; but there is bread, sweet as honey, if we would eat it, in a good book." John Ruskin

"He who lends a book is an idiot. He who returns the book is more of an idiot." Arabic Proverb (I don't really agree with this, I lend my books to my friends all the time.)

"I love to lose myself in other men's minds.... Books think for me." Charles Lamb

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday 29 August 2013

Alexievich, Svetlana "Voices from Chernobyl"

Alexievich, Svetlana "Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster" (Russian: Чернобыльская молитва/Černobylskaja molitva) - 2006

I knew about Chernobyl. We all do. We have all heard of the nuclear disaster in 1986. We have all heard about the dangers we all have been put in by nuclear power plants. And not just since Fukushima 2011. For us Europeans, it started a lot earlier.

We also knew that the Russians tried to hide the fact of the accident to the foreigners for as long as possible. What we only knew from hearsay was the fact that they even hid it from their own people, that they sent their own people into harm's way. Firefighters and other "volunteers" who were sent into the danger zone to clean up. And not just for a couple of minutes. Most of them are dead now and if it hadn't been for Svetlana Alexievich and a lot of heroic people telling their stories, we still wouldn't know what exactly happened in Chernobyl and its surroundings.

If you are at all interested in the future of our planet, in the environment, you should read this harrowing account of what money can do to people. Because that's what it's all about: money and power. Every war is fought over it and every decision in business is made over it. And who pays the price? We, the "little people".

A very powerful story that everyone should read, especially those who still think that nuclear power is the "cheapest" and "best" form of energy.

This book is a strong reminder of the quote "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children" (probably by Moses Henry Cass - according to Quote Investigator but attributed to many other wise folks and people).

From the back cover:

"'Voices from Chernobyl' is the first book to present personal accounts of what happened on April 26, 1986, when the worst nuclear reactor accident in history contaminated as much as three quarters of Europe. Svetlana Alexievich a journalist who now suffers from an immune deficiency developed while researching this book interviewed hundreds of people affected by the meltdown. Their narratives form a crucial document revealing how the government masked the event with deception and denial. Harrowing and unforgettable, 'Voices from Chernobyl' bears witness to a tragedy and its aftermath in a book that is as unforgettable as it is essential."

Svetlana Alexievich received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015 "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time" and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis) in 2013. 

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

Friday 23 August 2013

Book Quotes of the Week

“A book: just a pile of dead letters? No, a bag full of seeds.” André Gide

"Tell me what you read and I'll tell you who you are' is true enough, but I'd know you better if you told me what you reread." François Mauriac

“If you have not done things worthy of being written about, at least write things worthy of being read.” Giacomo Casanova

“Maybe this is why we read, and why in moments of darkness we return to books: to find words for what we already know.” Alberto Manguel

"I divide all readers into two classes; those who read to remember and those who read to forget." William Lyon Phelps

“The paradoxical virtue of reading lies in distancing ourselves from the world so that we may make sense of it.”  Daniel Pennac

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday 22 August 2013

Hislop, Victoria "The Thread"

Hislop, Victoria "The Thread" - 2011

This is my third book by Victoria Hislop and it is not going to be the last. I have loved every single line of this.

While a young man visits his grandparents in Greece, they tell him the story of their life and at the same time the story of their town and country. Thessaloniki has gone through a lot of turmoil and so have its inhabitants.

We get to know successful men and unhappy women, determined men who want to save their country as well as people who have given up all hope. We go through the German occupation and follow the resistance fighters into the mountains. We meet a young seamstress who is determined to work hard to get through life. Her love to the man she shouldn't fall in love with has to overcome many obstacles but since we meet them as the grandparents of the young man at the beginning, we already know that they will finally have a happy end.

This is a story about love and a story about survival. How do people, especially women, get through tumultuous times. Even in wartime, some people seem to try to hold up a class system whereas for others it just seems to became unimportant. We learn how families react differently in difficult situations as well as how relationships are formed - or not - and how different marriages function - or not.

There is so much history in this book, so many details that make history interesting even to people who are not interested in history at all. Victoria Hislop has earned her place on my list of favourite authors. She usually starts with a prologue taking place today and then goes back into the history when finally coming back to modern times in her epilogue. I especially loved the title of this book, a light allusion to the job of a seamstress as well as to all the different people in the story whose lives are linked together.

From the back cover:

"Thessaloniki, 1917. As Dimitri Komninos is born, a devastating fire sweeps through the thriving Greek city where Christians, Jews and Muslims live side by side. Five years later, Katerina Sarafoglou's home in Asia Minor is destroyed by the Turkish army. Losing her mother in the chaos, she flees across the sea to an unknown destination in Greece. Soon her life will become entwined with Dimitri's, and with the story of the city itself, as war, fear and persecution begin to divide its people.

Thessaloniki, 2007. A young Anglo-Greek hears his grandparents' life story for the first time and realises he has a decision to make. For many decades, they have looked after the memories and treasures of the people who were forced to leave. Should he become their next custodian and make this city his home?

Find the other Victoria Hislop books I read here.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Hargreaves, Roger "Mr. Men"

Hargreaves, Roger "Mr. Men" - 1971ff.

Roger Hargreaves wrote 48 Mr. Men books. Books about all sorts of traits a person can have, always concentrated in one person. There is Mr. Bump who always bumps into everything, one of my boys' favourites. Then there is Mr. Rush who is always rushing somewhere. Mr. Happy is happy, Mr. Silly is silly, Mr. Small is small and Mr. Tall is tall. Well, it goes on like that. My kids also loved Mr. Grumpy because he made funny faces. The absolute favourite in our family was Mr. Tickle. His arms were so long, they could come from anywhere and tickle you. All children like that.

Every single Mr. Men is lovely illustrated, kids can recognize them instantly.

Whether you just read a few or all of the little stories, they are lovely goodnight stories for little children and good books for beginner readers.

Here is a list of all the little Mr. Men books:

Mr. Tickle - 1971
Mr. Greedy - 1971
Mr. Happy - 1971
Mr. Nosey - 1971
Mr. Sneeze - 1971
Mr. Bump - 1971
Mr. Snow - 1972
Mr. Messy - 1972
Mr. Topsy-Turvy - 1972
Mr. Silly - 1972
Mr. Uppity - 1972
Mr. Small - 1972
Mr. Daydream - 1972
Mr. Forgetful - 1976
Mr. Jelly (or Mr. Nervous) - 1976
Mr. Noisy - 1976

Mr. Lazy - 1976
Mr. Funny - 1976
Mr. Mean (or Mr. Stingy) - 1976
Mr. Chatterbox - 1976
Mr. Fussy - 1976
Mr. Bounce - 1976
Mr. Muddle - 1976
Mr. Dizzy - 1976
Mr. Impossible - 1976
Mr. Strong - 1976
Mr. Grumpy - 1978
Mr. Clumsy - 1978
Mr. Quiet - 1978
Mr. Rush - 1978
Mr. Tall - 1978
Mr. Worry - 1978
Mr. Nonsense - 1978
Mr. Wrong - 1978
Mr. Skinny - 1978
Mr. Mischief - 1978
Mr. Clever - 1978
Mr. Busy - 1978
Mr. Slow - 1978
Mr. Brave - 1990
Mr. Grumble - 1990
Mr. Perfect - 1990
Mr. Cheerful - 1990
Mr. Cool - 2003
Mr. Rude - 2003
Mr. Good - 2003
Mr. Nobody - 1985/2010

If you have the complete collection, you can actually read "My Mr. Men Library" in the Mr. Men font on the spine. Looks nice on the bookshelf but we never managed to get all of them.

From the back cover:

"The lasting appeal of these classic books will ensure this collection takes pride of place on any child's nursery bookshelf. The Mr. Men have been delighting children for generations with their charming and funny antics."

Monday 19 August 2013

Steinbeck, John "The Pearl"

Steinbeck, John "The Pearl" - 1947

I absolutely love John Steinbeck. Whether it is a large saga or a short story, he manages to describe the characters so well, to let them come alive, to give you the feeling you are there. I have never lived in the United States, I have actually never been to the United States but the way he describes it, it makes me feel like I have. Well, at least during his times. And he also describes the landscape so vividly, it feels almost like looking at a painting only someone is explaining it to you.

The story is a sad tragedy, telling of the problems of the indigenous inhabitants of Mexico, how they have to struggle through their daily lives and yet never can hope to get anywhere. Even when they seem to find a treasure, others manage to ruin it for them. Another story about how the invaders exploited the natives. Apparently an old Mexican folktale, the story rings true to your mind.

This story is a parable, full of symbolism. We have the pearl fisher and his family, we have the evil that threatens them in many forms, we have the richness that is about to come to them but taken away. We have the pearl telling its own story. It changes its music that you can almost hear, it changes its soul the same way as the story takes its path from the beginning to the end. The characters change throughout the book as well as the relationship between the characters develop, an interesting view into the lives of this culture.

A very powerful story, as anything by this fabulous author who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception". Well deserved.

From the back cover:

"In the town they tell the story of the great pearl - how it was found and how it was lost again. They tell of Kino, the fisherman, and of his wife, Juana, and of the baby, Coyotito. And because the story has been told so often, it has taken root in every man's mind."

Find the other John Steinbeck books I read here.

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

Saturday 17 August 2013

Book Quotes of the Week

"What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?" Anthony Trollope

"Books have been my classroom and my conficant. Books have widened my horizons. Books have comforted me in my hardest times. Books have changed my life." Po Bronson"

"I never understood people who don't have bookshelves." George Plimpton

“Read in order to live.” Gustave Flaubert

"A house without books is a poor house, even if beautiful rugs are covering its floors and precious wallpapers and pictures cover its walls". Hermann ‎Hesse‬

"Reading ... is an act of resistance in a landscape of distraction." David L. Ulin in "The Lost Art of Reading"

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday 15 August 2013

Cabré, Jaume "Confessions"

Cabré, Jaume "Confessions" (Catalan: Jo Confesso) - 2011

After reading "Les veus del Pamano" by the same author, I was eagerly awaiting his next book. I thought it was completely different form the first one. Not worse, not better, just extremely different. This book always plays on different levels, different times and stories run alongise each other. The life of a Nazi henchman is interwoven with that of a Spanish inquisitor from the Middle Ages. And that way you find a lot of similarities. Not a bad thought. But also not an easy book to read, he jumps from one thought to the next, from the third person to the first and back again within one sentence and talking about the same person. He jumps between centuries and locations, you really have to pay attention to his train of thoughts. His style is unique.

This novel is as well the story of Adrià Ardèvol and his tumultous life, starting with his earliest memories as a boy until his memories vanish in old age as well as that of a violin whose life is even more exciting.

Apparently, the novel makes reference to Emile Zola's famous "J'accuse" which I haven't read, yet. Should probably go on my wishlist.

From the back cover:

"Jaume Cabré is currently the Catalan author par excellence for reasons of prizes, number of readers, and international impact.

An instant bestseller in nine languages, Confessions is an astonishing story of one man's life, interwoven with a narrative that stretches across centuries to create an addictive and unforgettable literary symphony. At 60 and with a diagnosis of early Alzheimer's, Adrià Ardèvol re-examines his life before his memory is systematically deleted. He recalls a loveless childhood where the family antique business and his father s study become the centre of his world; where a treasured Storioni violin retains the shadows of a crime committed many years earlier. His mother, a cold, distant and pragmatic woman leaves him to his solitary games, full of unwanted questions. An accident ends the life of his enigmatic father, filling Adrià s world with guilt, secrets and deeply troubling mysteries that take him years to uncover. Ambitious, powerful and deeply moving, with an overwhelming theme of guilt and redemption, Confessions is a consummate masterpiece in any language, with an ending that will not just leave you thinking, but probably change the way you think forever."

Tuesday 13 August 2013

Rutherfurd, Edward "Paris"

Rutherfurd, Edward "Paris" - 2013

Paris, one of my favourite cities in the world. And Edward Rutherfurd is a wonderful writer of history related to places.

A story which unfolds around the construction of the Eiffel Tower and the changes it brings to the city. The book builds the history of Paris while its most famous icon rises.

Contrary to most of his other books, this one is not written in chronological order. Therefore, I found it a little more difficult to follow the historyof the various families and also some surprises taken away from us.

But it was still a great book, really deserves to be named alongside Edward Rutherfurd's other books.

As in his other stories, we meet all sorts of families through the ages from all sorts of backgrounds, nobility as well as the common man, rich and poor, Christians and Jews who intermingle in the various generations. Through these families we can see how people lived in this famous city and how the history of this town and its country unfolds. There is a lot to learn about the French and Edward Rutherfurd makes it easy for us.

A big book, 1,360 pages where we can delve into the City of Love.

I am looking forward to reading more of his books, I still have "Sarum", "Russka" and "New York" on my list.

From the back cover:

"City of love. City of splendour. City of terror. City of dreams.

Inspired by the haunting, passionate story of the city of lights, this epic novel weaves a gripping tale of four families across the centuries: from the lies that spawn the noble line of de Cygne to the revolutionary Le Sourds who seek their destruction; from the Blanchards whose bourgeois respectability offers scant protection against scandal to the hard-working Gascons and their soaring ambitions.

Over hundreds of years, these four families are bound by forbidden loves and marriages of convenience; dogged by vengeance and murderous secrets; torn apart by the irreconcilable differences of birth and faith, and brought together by the tumultuous history of their city.

Paris bursts to life in the intrigue, corruption and glory of its people. Beloved author of Sarum, London and New York, Edward Rutherfurd illuminates Paris as only he can: capturing the romance and everyday drama of the men and women who, in two thousand years, transformed a humble trading post on the muddy banks of the Seine into the most celebrated city in the world."

Find a link to all my reviews on his other novels here.

Sunday 11 August 2013

Book Quotes of the Week

"At one magical instant in your early childhood, the page of a book - that string of confused, alien ciphers - shivered into meaning. Words spoke to you, gave up their secrets; at that moment, whole universes opened. You became, irrevocably, a reader." Alberto Manguel

"The library is the temple of learning and learning has liberated more people than all the wars in history." Carl T. Rowan

"There are worse crimes than burning books.  One of them is not reading them." Joseph Brodsky

“Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book.” Jane Smiley

"It’s us the readers who bring the text to life with our viewpoint." N.N.

"I always read. You know how sharks have to keep swimming or they die? I'm like that. If I stop reading, I die." Patrick Rothfuss

Find more book quotes here.

Wednesday 7 August 2013

Bryson, Bill "Icons of England"

Bryson, Bill "Icons of England" - 2008

A book about English Icons written by a true British Icon ... ehm fan. Besides me, he is probably the biggest fan of this beautiful island, only that he knows how to write about it so much better than I do.

Well, this book wasn't really written by Bill Bryson, he is just the editor. But he loves England so much that he thought of this brilliant idea to ask British writers and other celebrities to write about THEIR British Icon, the part of Britain they thought was most British. And that way, we get a collection of all things British and Beautiful, from the red postbox to cathedrals, magical and modern places, typically British animals, food, various different landscapes, forests, beaches, sports, art and history, and - of course - the most important topic of conversation: the weather. Everything together adds up to the wonderful country we all know and love.

And another fan of Rural Britain has written the foreword: HRH The Prince of Wales himself, if that isn't a recommendation, I don't know what is.

My favourite quote by the author himself: "There are particular places in England that come as close to perfection as you're ever likely to find on this planet."

If you want to read more by this fabulous author, I have an extra page for him, check here: Bill Bryson – Funniest Author Ever

If you are more interested in just Britain, I recommend you start with these two books: "Notes from a Small Island" and "At Home".

See more comments on my ThrowbackThursday post in 2023.

From the back cover:

"Bill Bryson invited over ninety of our best-loved writers, broadcasters and commentators to pick their 'icons of England'. The resulting celebration of the English countryside is an idiosyncratic and personal collection that ranges across landscape, history, cherished memories and that most English of subjects, the weather.

Contributions from, among others:
Antony Beevor * Alan Titchmarsh * Sebastian Faulks * Michael Palin * Andrew Marr * Rick Stein * Jo Brand * Sister Wendy Beckett * Jonathan Dimbleby * Wendy Cope * Joan Bakewell * Dick Francis * Robert Macfarlane * Melvyn Bragg * Eric Clapton * John Sergeant * Kevin Spacey * Kate Adie * Simon Jenkins * Simon Barnes * Zac Goldsmith * Ronald Blythe * Libby Purves

Monday 5 August 2013

Kerouac, Jack "On the Road"

Kerouac, Jack "On the Road" - 1951 

Years ago I read "The Catcher in the Rye" and didn't like it. I thought that was because I might have been too young to truly understand.

Why do I start a review about a book by talking about another one? Well, this book reminded me of J. D. Salinger in many ways. To cut it in short, I didn't like it, either.

This is a book with the ramblings of not even a spoiled brat but someone who would like to be a spoiled brat. Someone who thinks the world is his oyster but not in the way what it can offer you when you only work hard enough but what it can offer you when you don't work at all. It is all Sex, Drugs and Rock'n Roll without the fun of it. This book is so dreary, so boring, you would like to take Sal and his friends and hit their heads together. Whoever took them as an example is at best living on minimum wage nowadays but more probably ended up in prison.

This is a very self-centered story, it didn't catch me at any point, the writing style is monotonous and repetitive. The characters are so flawed, you hope they don't exist in real life.

Yes, certainly the worst book I read for ages. Why it is on so many "must have read" lists is a total mystery to me.

From the back cover:

"Sal Paradise, young and innocent, joins the slightly crazed Dean Moriarty on a breathless, exuberant ride back and forth across the United States. Their hedonistic search for release or fulfillment through drink, sex, drugs and jazz becomes an exploration of personal freedom, a test of the limits of the American dream.

A brilliant blend of fiction and autobiography, Jack Kerouac's exhilarating novel defined the new 'beat' generation. It had tremendous impact on both sides of the Atlantic and made him famous overnight.

Map of Kerouac's 1947-48 cross country journey in the Kerouac ROMnibus found here.

Saturday 3 August 2013

Book Quotes of the Week

“If there are no books, there is no civilization.” Thomas Cahill

"A library is a hospital for the mind." Alvin Toffler

"There is no friend as loyal as a book." Ernest Hemingway

"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." Walt Disney

"Let every man, if possible, gather some good books under his roof." Wiliam Ellery Channing

"The greatest gift is the passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind, it is a moral illumination." Elizabeth Hardwick

"Re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul." Walt Whitman

Find more book quotes here.