Thursday 30 November 2017

Young European Collective "Who, if not us?"

Young European Collective (Vincent-Immanuel Herr, Martin Speer, Katharina Moser, Krzysztof Ignaciuk, Liza Noteris, Zlatin Georgiev, Thomas Goujat-Gouttequillet, Stylia Kampani, Zara Kitson, Nini Tsiklauri, Giulia Zeni, Phelan Chatterjee) "Who, if not us?" (Wer, wenn nicht wir?: Vier Dinge, die wir jetzt für Europa tun können) - 2017

More a book for the next generation but highly interesting. What does Europe have in store for us and what can we do for our future? A few young people got together and worked on a plan how to improve all our lives, get recommendations on what each one of us can do in order to have a better future.

Quite a short book (less than 100 pages) that anyone can read in a couple of minutes but with a text so interesting and meaningful that it will stay with us forever. Check out their website, you can even read the book there.

From their website:
"European youth is hit by a whole series of challenges these days. From our travels and first-hand encounters we can say that this is true. Large scale unemployment, raising levels of xenophobia, tensions between countries who were once friendly neighbors, and a resurge of nationalism. Either something will be done to fix all of this, or our continent will break apart under the stress. Obviously, nobody in their right mind wants the latter. But what needs to be done? What our continent needs most is fresh inspiration, new ideas, and creative ways of tackling difficulties. Or, to put it differently: our continent needs us, Europe’s youth. Our generation has all of the skills and tools necessary to pull Europe and ourselves out of this mess and begin a new era of life as Europeans."

Read more here: Who if not us?

Wednesday 29 November 2017

Pamuk, Orhan "A Strangeness in my Mind"

Pamuk, Orhan "A Strangeness in my Mind" (Kafamda Bir Tuhaflık) - 2014

Orhan Pamuk is definitely one of my favourite authors. I love reading Nobel Prize winners and he won the Nobel Prize. I love reading the winners of the German Peace Prize and he won the German Peace Prize (before winning the Nobel Prize). I love reading Turkish books and he writes Turkish books. So, what's not to love?

In this novel, he describes the life of a Turkish guy who marries the sister of the girl he has fallen in love with. The characters are about my age which makes it even more interesting, comparing my life with that of similar people in Turkey. You get to know the protagonist and his family and friends very well and you get to like them, no matter what.

What I also like about his books is that he doesn't shy away from talking about political problems in the country. How do poor people move up on the social ladder? They don't. What about women's rights? There hardly are any. How do they treat minorities (like the Kurds)? Not good.

As always, the author's home city Istanbul plays a major part in this novel. You can see in his portrayal that he loves his city but that he also sees the negative parts of it.

A great account of ordinary people, a lovely tale that starts good but grows on you with every page you turn.

From the back cover:
"A Strangeness In My Mind is a novel Orhan Pamuk has worked on for six years. It is the story of boza seller Mevlut, the woman to whom he wrote three years' worth of love letters, and their life in Istanbul.

In the four decades between 1969 and 2012, Mevlut works a number of different jobs on the streets of Istanbul, from selling yoghurt and cooked rice, to guarding a car park. He observes many different kinds of people thronging the streets, he watches most of the city get demolished and re-built, and he sees migrants from Anatolia making a fortune; at the same time, he witnesses all of the transformative moments, political clashes, and military coups that shape the country. He always wonders what it is that separates him from everyone else - the source of that strangeness in his mind. But he never stops selling boza during winter evenings and trying to understand who his beloved really is.

What matters more in love: what we wish for, or what our fate has in store? Do our choices dictate whether we will be happy or not, or are these things determined by forces beyond our control?

A Strangeness In My Mind tries to answer these questions while portraying the tensions between urban life and family life, and the fury and helplessness of women inside their homes."

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.

You can read more about the books I read by one of my favourite authors 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.

Tuesday 28 November 2017

Defoe, Daniel "A Journal of the Plague Year

Defoe, Daniel "A Journal of the Plague Year" - 1722

What a story! Daniel Defoe shows us how it was to live at the time of the plague, how people coped (or didn't) with the death threat hanging over all of them.

I have read many books that take place during various plagues at various places but this was the most informative, the most vivid one. There are many different figures about how many people actually died but the fact is that this caused more deaths than any other natural catastrophe in England. People always talk about the Great Fire of London ten years later but only very few people were lost there.

Daniel Defoe makes this visible, we can feel like almost having been there. That is great writing. However, it is not an easy read, it is more like an article than a novel. And we have to appreciate when this was written, novels like we are used to nowadays were just being invented, i.a. by Daniel Defoe whose biggest novel "Robinson Crusoe" belongs to one of the earliest ones. But I am glad I read this.

From the back cover:
"The haunting cry of "Bring out your dead!" by a bell-ringing collector of 17th-century plague victims has filled readers across the centuries with cold terror. The chilling cry survives in historical consciousness largely as a result of this classic 1722 account of the epidemic of bubonic plague - known as the Black Death - that ravaged England in 1664-1665.

Actually written nearly 60 years later by Daniel Defoe, the Journal is narrated by a Londoner named 'H. F.', who allegedly lived through the devastating effects of the pestilence and produced this eye witness account. Drawing on his considerable talents as both journalist and novelist, Defoe reconstructed events both historically and fictionally, incorporating realistic, memorable details that enable the novel to surpass even firsthand accounts in its air of authenticity. This verisimilitude is all the more remarkable since Defoe was only five years old when the actual events took place."

And another one that describes this book just as well:
"In 1665, the Great Plague swept through London, claiming nearly 100,000 lives. In A Journal of the Plague Year, Defoe vividly chronicles the progress of the epidemic. We follow his fictional narrator through a city transformed-the streets and alleyways deserted, the houses of death with crosses daubed on their doors, the dead-carts on their way to the pits-and encounter the horrified citizens of the city, as fear, isolation, and hysteria take hold. The shocking immediacy of Defoe's description of plague-racked London makes this one of the most convincing accounts of the Great Plague ever written."

Monday 27 November 2017

Cogman, Genevieve "The Invisible Library"

Cogman, Genevieve "The Invisible Library" - 2015

I found this book because of its title. I knew right away that it wasn't really my kind of literature, it's about spies etc. However, I realized soon enough, that it was even worse, it's more a fantasy/science fiction type of book. And a very easy read, very easy indeed. So, if you like that kind of genre, this might be the book for you. It wasn't one for me and I am not going to read the next titles from the series.

I try to be objective if a book is not my genre but I doubt that this is one of the greatest books ever written even if you like this genre. The story does not really flow, facts are just mentioned in between without any connection to the story, I would have expected more about books and libraries in a book where the title says just that. In my opinion, too many dragons, not enough books ...

Lesson learned, the next time I find the word "mysterious" on a book, I have to check whether it is a book for me. The answer is probably NO.

From the book cover:
"Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she's posted to an alternative London. Their mission - to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it's already been stolen. London's underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.

Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested - the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene's new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.

Soon, she's up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option - the nature of reality itself is at stake."

Monday 20 November 2017

Jones, Edward P. "The Known World"

Jones, Edward P. "The Known World" - 2004

The story about a black farmer and slave owner at the time of the civil war.

One of the few Pulitzer Prize winning books that I didn't enjoy very much. Not because I dislike the subject in general, on the contrary, I believe we need to know about it as much as possible. I have read many books about slaves and slave owners etc. and most of them were highly interesting. But this book is not a novel but it also isn't non-fiction, it is blobs of non-fiction - and nothing new really - thrown together in order to look like a novel.

It reads more like a history book where you have to learn a lot of dates that are not related to each other.

I would certainly not recommend it to anyone who wants an "easy read".

Honestly, I have no idea why this book received the Pulitzer Prize. Maybe a black author was "due" again and so they chose this one. If you want a good and unique book about slavery, read last year's Pulitzer Prize winner, Colson Whitehead. "Underground Railroad" is certainly better. A lot better.

From the back cover:
"In one of the most acclaimed novels in recent memory, Edward P. Jones, two-time National Book Award finalist, tells the story of Henry Townsend, a black farmer and former slave who falls under the tutelage of William Robbins, the most powerful man in Manchester County, Virginia. Making certain he never circumvents the law, Townsend runs his affairs with unusual discipline. But when death takes him unexpectedly, his widow, Caldonia, can't uphold the estate's order and chaos ensues. In a daring and ambitious novel, Jones has woven a footnote of history into an epic that takes an unflinching look at slavery in all of its moral complexities."

Edward P. Jones received the Pulitzer Prize for "The Known World" in 2004.

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Koch, Herman "The Dinner"

Koch, Herman "The Dinner" (Dutch: Het Diner) - 2009

Our latest book club read, a story about two couples going for dinner but everything seems to go wrong.

While this is a good book to discuss, I didn't actually enjoy it a lot. I didn't like any of the characters, well, I felt a little sorry for the wives but no, I really didn't like any of them. They were not just shallow, they were calculating, only out for their own gain. Another member said she got so angry but we did agree that it was a good book to talk about.

I enjoyed the description of the waiter, of the whole "star restaurant". I have been to a few restaurants like that myself where you seem to pay for the whole plate and therefore don't get much on it ... but everything is somehow "special". I rather go to a nice little restaurant that still cooks everything from fresh ingredients but also makes sure their customers don't leave their place with a hollow stomach.

I found the characters racist or fascist or whatever you might call people who just dislike someone for having less money than they do, Just the type of people I would not want to call my friends. Whatever happens, I don't want to spoil it for anyone like this, I would not do "anything" for my children out of love, I would like to keep them out of trouble before something happens.

The question is, do we want to live in a society determined by these kind of people?

The book has been made into a movie. I'm not sure whether I want to watch it.

We discussed this in our book club in November 2017.

From the back cover:

"A summer's evening in Amsterdam and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant. Between mouthfuls of food and over the delicate scraping of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of politeness - the banality of work, the triviality of holidays.

But the empty words hide a terrible conflict and, with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened... Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. Together, the boys have committed a horrifying act, caught on camera, and their grainy images have been beamed into living rooms across the nation; despite a police manhunt, the boys remain unidentified - by everyone except their parents.

As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children and, as civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple shows just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love."

Friday 10 November 2017

Book Quotes of the Week

"What I like about black-and-white photographs is that they're more like reading the book than seeing the movie." Robert Heinecken

"It is both relaxing and invigorating to occasionally set aside the worries of life, seek the company of a friendly book … from the reading of 'good books' there comes a richness of life that can be obtained in no other way." Gordon B. Hinckley

"There's nothing wrong with reading a book you love over and over. When you do, the words get inside you, become a part of you, in a way that words in a book you’ve read only once can’t." Gail Carson Levine

"Books are like friends to me. Words come alive on the page." Beverly Lewis

"Books give me an escape from reality even if it’s only for a few minutes.” N.N. [If anyone can tell me the originator of this quote, I'd be very thankful and would happily include the name.

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday 9 November 2017

Scott, Mary "Days that have been"

Scott, Mary "Days that have been" - 1966

A reread of Mary Scott's auto-biography. She has written many funny stories about her life in New Zealand on a remote farm about a hundred years ago.

I have loved all her stories and red every single one that I could get my hands on but this is probably my favourite. Not as funny as the other ones but you can see where she gets her humour. A lovely account of a woman who had to endure many hardships, who lived a life long forgotten, at least in our part of the world. Born in 1888, she was a little older than my grandmothers but I know from their stories (and those of my parents) that times were about the same, no electricity, no technology, no cars etc. And since none of them has written a book, this is also a sort of getting together with those from my family who have been gone for a long time now. One of my favourite books by one of my favourite authors.

Unfortunately, Mary Scott's books are out of print and only available second hand. I have heard in the meantime, that you can buy some of them as eBooks.

I have not read any of her crime stories or her early and later books "Barbara Bakes", "The Prisoner Escaped" and "The Unwritten Book" and would be grateful if anyone could let me know how I could obtain a copy.

From the back cover: (translated)
"Mary Scott, the farmer's wife and best-selling author from New Zealand, has retold her own life in this book - from her childhood, from her school and university days, from her honeymoon 'on horseback' to living on a farm in the New Zealand bush, isolated and far away from culture and civilization.
As Mary Scott, an almost perfect countrywoman and mother of four children, begins to write between cooking, sewing and milking (for chronic money shortage, by the way) and comes to world fame with her optimistic novels - that itself reads like a cheery novel. Only this time he is not invented by Mary Scott, but experienced."

Wednesday 8 November 2017

Guo, Xiaolu (郭小橹) "Language"

Guo, Xiaolu (郭小橹) "Language" - 2017

The story of a Chinese girl who moves to England.

I found this little book at the till when paying for another book (or two or three ...) and it sounded interesting. It really is only an extract from another book, "A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers" which certainly must be interesting, as well. Anyway, our Chinese girl has learned some English but she really doesn't know much when she first comes to England. It must be quite daunting living in another country and not knowing the language, especially if you are from a completely different culture. I have lived in several countries in my life but always knew the language and the cultures between some Western European countries are not all that different.

The book is written like a diary of the young girl who comes to England and at first, her English is rather limited. But you can tell by the time you get to the end that she gets better all the time. I quite liked that.

Anyway, I have learned more about the Chinese customs in this book than about the English language and that is exactly what I like. Nice short read.

From the back cover:

"Have you ever tried to learn another language? When Zhuang first comes to London from China she feels like she is among an alien species. The city is disorientating, the people unfriendly, the language a muddle of dominant personal pronouns and moody verbs. But with increasing fluency in English surviving turns to living. And they say that the best way to learn a language is to fall in love with a native speaker…

Selected from the book A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo"

Friday 3 November 2017

Book Quotes of the Week

How to Read More:
1. Throw your phone in the ocean (or keep it in airplane mode).
2. Carry a book at all times.
3. Have another book ready before you finish the one you're reading) make a stack of books to-read or load up your e-reader).
4. If you aren't enjoying a book, stop reading it immediately (flinging it across the room helps provide closure).
5. Schedule one hour a day for reading on your calendar like you would an important meeting (try commutes, lunch breaks, or getting into bed an hour early).
6. Keep a reading log and share it (people will send you even more good books to read).
Austin Kleon
Most of them work for me, especially #s 2, 3 and 6.
"The books that help you the most are those which make you think the most." Theodore Parker

"There’s no book that absolutely everyone loves." Carolyn Parkhurst

"It is when we are faced with death that we turn most bookish." Jules Renard

"Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all." Henry David Thoreau

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday 2 November 2017

Fforde, Jasper "Shades of Grey. The Road to High Saffron"

Fforde, Jasper "Shades of Grey. The Road to High Saffron" - 2009

A dystopian novel about a future where colour perception rules the world. I like colours, I like Jasper Fforde's style I read a few of his "Thursday Next" books (The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book), so I couldn't resist when I saw this book even though the title surprised me a little. When my son saw it on my reading pile, he looked at it curiously and I said "It's not 50 Shades of Grey", and he laughed and said "I wouldn't think you'd step that low". Oh, my kids know me so well. ;)

Anyway, I think dystopian novels (or "disturbian" as my husband likes to call them) are great. They show our society in a different way. What kind of fears are there, how do we imagine the world would look like if some of them came true. Or something else happened that made us give up the ways we live now.

In this case, Something (always capitalized) happens and the world changes, the people change. Everyone is only able to see certain kinds of colour and even there is a difference in how well they perceive "their" colour. Families even have their last names showing what colour they can see, like our hero Eddie Russett, who - obviously - belongs to the Reds. Then there are the deMauves, the Ochres, the Magnetas, Mr. Yewberry, Mrs. Lapis-Lazuli, etc. The Greys don't see any colours and are therefore just given a number.

But here's the thing, people manage to get racism even into this, you are not judged by the colour of your skin but by the colour you can see. The ultra-violets are the highest, the Reds come second last, just above the Greys.

What I liked about this novel is not just the author's style, he does write interestingly and his novels always contain a lot of humour, but the way it makes you think about how we really perceive this world. That is my favourite part not just about this novel but of any dystopian one.

From the back cover:

"Hundreds of years in the future, after the Something that Happened, the world is an alarmingly different place. Life is lived according to The Rulebook and social hierarchy is determined by your perception of colour.
Eddie Russett is an above average Red who dreams of moving up the ladder by marriage to Constance Oxblood. Until he is sent to the Outer Fringes where he meets Jane - a lowly Grey with an uncontrollable temper and a desire to see him killed.
For Eddie, it's love at first sight. But his infatuation will lead him to discover that all is not as it seems in a world where everything that looks black and white is really shades of grey . . .
If George Orwell had tripped over a paint pot or Douglas Adams favoured colour swatches instead of towels . . . neither of them would have come up with anything as eccentrically brilliant as Shades of Grey."

According to Wikipedia: "Fforde's books contain a profusion of literary allusions and wordplay, tightly scripted plots, and playfulness with the conventions of traditional genres. His works usually contain elements of metafiction, parody, and fantasy."

Wednesday 1 November 2017

Happy November!

Happy November to all my friends and readers

New Calendar picture with this
beautiful watercolour painting by Hanka Koebsch


November is the "ninth" month in the old calendar, the last of the four months with 30 days and the days are getting shorter and greyer. I have always liked November, definitely no more hot days but usually not too cold, either, at least in our area. In the Christian religion, we remember the dead mostly. I guess this is because we see the year running out as our lives do. And we celebrate the end of WWI. Enjoy this month with the beautiful watercolour painting by Hanka Koebsch. Isn't the little squirrel just too cute?

You can find many more wonderful pictures on their website here.