Friday 31 August 2018

Book Quotes of the Week

"Reading is a gymnasium for the imagination where people can work out, get ready for the shocks of existence." Robert Hass

"What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure." Samuel Johnson

"The crime of book purging is that it involves a rejection of the word. For the word is never absolute truth, but only man’s frail and human effort to approach the truth. To reject the word is to reject the human search." Max Lerner

"I read old books because I would rather learn from those who built civilization than those who tore it down." 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 30 August 2018

Fontane, Theodor "Frau Jenny Treibel"

Fontane, Theodor "Frau Jenny Treibel" (German: Frau Jenny Treibel oder 'Wo sich Herz zum Herzen find't') - 1892

Theodor Fontane is one of the German writers from the 19th century. His most famous novel is "Effi Briest" which I have reviewed earlier.

Same as in that novel, this tells us the story of a young woman. She is a teacher's daughter who is in love with the son of a rich industrialist "Kommerzienrat" (financial counsellor). Capitalism gained power and money made the world go around. So, the guy's parents were not really very happy, even the mother, who herself came from a simpler background.

Whilst the story itself is quite clear and held pretty simple, the description of German society at the end of the 19th century is the main story of this novel.

The language is quite satirical, and the characters could still be alive today, nothing seems to change that quickly.

Description (translated):

"In his satirically humorous society novel "Frau Jenny Treibel", which was published in 1892, Fontane unmasked the main characters in their selfish intrigues clearly enough as sentimental, conceited or downright pragmatic. Nevertheless, one can smirk and develop sympathy for the characters who come to such refreshing conclusions as: 'Money is nonsense, science is nonsense, everything is nonsense. Professor too'. If you deny it, be an ox."

Wednesday 29 August 2018

Lamb, Wally "Wishin' and Hopin'"

Lamb, Wally "Wishin' and Hopin': A Christmas Story" - 2009

Another one of my favourite authors, Wally Lamb. I came across this short novel (just a couple of pages too long for a novella) in my library and since I hadn't read it, yet (in fact, I hadn't even heard about it), I borrowed it. And loved it.

Such a cute story about kids growing up, their dilemmas at school and at home, their frustration with other students and their teachers, all bundled into a story about a Christmas play. Not since "The Best Christmas Pageant" by Barbara Robinson have I had such a good laugh about a Christmas story.

I was a kid myself in the sixties, so I can relate to a lot of the parts that might not sound as "normal" to contemporary children. I found it hilarious. I also liked how he gives "biographies" at the end about most of the characters so we can see what happened to them later.

Lovely story. I didn't know they made a movie out of it. This is one of the few books I read where I think I might like to watch the movie.

From the back cover:

"LBJ and Lady Bird are in the White House, Meet the Beatles is on everyone's turntable, and Felix Funicello (distant cousin of the iconic Annette!) is doing his best to navigate fifth grade - easier said than done when scary movies still give you nightmares and you bear a striking resemblance to a certain adorable cartoon boy.

Back in his beloved fictional town of Three Rivers, Connecticut, with a new cast of endearing characters, Wally Lamb takes his readers straight into the halls of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial School - where Mother Filomina's word is law and goody-two-shoes Rosalie Twerski is sure to be minding everyone's business. But grammar and arithmetic move to the back burner this holiday season with the sudden arrivals of substitute teacher Madame Frechette, straight from Québec, and feisty Russian student Zhenya Kabakova. While Felix learns the meaning of French kissing, cultural misunderstanding, and tableaux vivants, Wishin' and Hopin' barrels toward one outrageous Christmas.

From the Funicello family's bus-station lunch counter to the elementary school playground (with an uproarious stop at the Pillsbury Bake-Off), Wishin' and Hopin' is a vivid slice of 1960s life, a wise and witty holiday tale that celebrates where we've been - and how far we've come."

Friday 17 August 2018

Book Quotes of the Week

"The fluent reader sounds good, is easy to listen to, and reads with enough expression to help the listener understand and enjoy the material." Charles Clark

"When you read a book, and who you are when you read it, makes it matter or not." Ann Hood

"How do you explain to somebody who doesn't understand that you don't build a library to read. A library is a resource. Something you go to, for reference, as and when. But also something you simply look at, because it gives you succour, answers to some idea of who you are or, more to the point, who you would like to be, who you will be once you own every book you need to own." Howard Jacobsen

"You should never read just for 'enjoyment'. Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends' insane behavior, or better yet, your own. Pick 'hard books'. Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for god’s sake, don't let me ever hear you say, 'I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.' Fiction is the truth, fool! Ever hear of 'literature'? That means fiction, too, stupid." John Waters

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday 16 August 2018

Oates, Joyce Carol "Jack of Spades"

Oates, Joyce Carol "Jack of Spades. A Tale of Suspense" - 2015

Joyce Carol Oates is definitely one of my favourite authors. Her novels are always full of suspense, full of psychological meanings, full of interpersonal relationships. This is all of that and still quite different from her other novels. I doubt I would have read this kind of book had it been by any other author, I doubt I would have been drawn to it.

This novel is clever as always. It seems kind of short and I'm not usually a fan of short stories but this one was just the right size. The story is twisted and you can't wait for it to come all together, can't wait for the end.

I really did enjoy it, Joyce Carol Oates is just a fantastic writer. As mentioned in a New York Times Book Review on another of her novels: "After all these years, JCO can still give me the creeps." Well said.

From the back cover:

"From one of the most highly regarded writers working today, Jack of Spades is an exquisite, psychologically complex thriller about the opposing forces within the mind of one ambitious writer, and the delicate line between genius and madness.

Andrew J. Rush has achieved the kind of critical and commercial success most authors only dream about: he has a top agent and publisher in New York, and his twenty-eight mystery novels have sold millions of copies around the world. He also has a loving wife and three grown children and is highly respected as a philanthropist in his small New Jersey town. Only Stephen King, one of the few mystery writers whose fame exceeds his own, is capable of inspiring a twinge of envy in Rush.

But unbeknownst to anyone, even in his own family, Rush is hiding a dark secret. Under the pseudonym 'Jack of Spades', he pens another string of novels - dark potboilers that are violent, lurid, even masochistic. These are novels that the refined, upstanding Andrew Rush wouldn’t be caught reading, let alone writing. When his daughter comes across a Jack of Spades novel he has carelessly left out, she insists on reading it and begins to ask questions. Meanwhile, Rush receives a court summons in the mail explaining that a local woman has accused him of plagiarizing her own self-published fiction. Before long, Rush’s reputation, career, and family life all come under threat - and in his mind he begins to hear the taunting voice of Jack of Spades.

Tunneling into the most fraught corners of an immensely creative mind, Jack of Spades is a startling, fascinating novel by a masterly writer."

Monday 13 August 2018

Domínguez, Carlos María "The House of Paper"

Domínguez, Carlos María "The House of Paper" (Spanish: La Casa del Papel) - 2007

An interesting book about a woman who dies reading, a man who builds a house out of books and another guy who tries to find the link between them. Too short for my liking (only 96 pages), one doesn't get to meet the characters very long, you just get started and the story is over.

But it was a pleasant enough read. And as a bonus, there's a lovely map in the front of the book showing the route of the protagonist to South America. It looks like those old maps that were printed on parchment, a detail every book lover must also love. A lovely little story about people who love books.

From the back cover:

"Bluma Lennon, distinguished professor of Latin American literature at Cambridge, is hit by a car while crossing the street, immersed in a volume of Emily Dickinson's poems. Several months after her untimely demise, a package arrives for her from Argentina-a copy of a Conrad novel, encrusted in cement and inscribed with a mysterious dedication. Bluma's successor in the department (and a former lover) travels to Buenos Aires to track down the sender, one Carlos Brauer, who turns out to have disappeared.

The last thing known is that he moved to a remote stretch of the Uruguayan coastline and built himself a house out of his enormous and valuable library. How he got there, and why, is the subject of this seductive novel-part mystery, part social comedy, and part examination of all the many forms of bibliomania.

Charmingly illustrated by Peter Sís, The House of Paper is a tribute to the strange and passionate relationship between people and their books."

There are a lot of books mentioned in this novel. The main one is
"The Shadow-Line" by Joseph Conrad.

Burckhardt, Jacob "The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy" (GE: Die Cultur der Renaissance in Italien)
Cervantes, Miguel de "Don Quixote" (E: El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha)
Dickinson, Emily "Poems"
Dostoevsky, Fyodor "The Brothers Karamazov" (RUS: Братья Карамазовы/Brat'ya Karamazovy)
Faulkner, William "Absalom! Absalom!"
Hesse, Hermann "Siddhartha: An Indian Poem" (GE: Siddhartha)
García Márquez, Gabriel "One Hundred Years of Solitude" (E: Cien años de soledad)
Hemingway, Ernest "A Farewell to Arms"
Salgari, Emilio "The Tigers of Malaysia" (IT: Tigre della Malesia)

Wednesday 8 August 2018

Carle, Eric "The Very Hungry Caterpillar"

Carle, Eric "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" - 1969

"The Very Hungry Caterpillar" is a lovely picture book that every child should have. It is such a lovely story but it is so beautifully illustrated and the children can "work" their way through the story.

My son's teacher did an art project with the kids, they had to do their very own Eric Carle picture, the children really enjoyed doing this and it was great for those kids that believe they "can't do art".

Besides enjoying a cute story, kids can learn a lot from this book, for example that eating too much can make you sick. But also the circle of life, a caterpillar doesn't stay a caterpillar all his life but has to eat and grow in order to become a beautiful butterfly.

All in all, a very educational book with a charming little story.

From the back cover:

"One sunny Sunday, the little caterpillar was hatched out of a tiny egg. He was very hungry. On Monday, he ate through one apple; on Tuesday, he ate through two pears; on Wednesday, he ate through three plums--and he was still hungry. Strikingly bold, colorful pictures and a simple text in large, clear type tell the story of the hungry little caterpillar's progress through an amazing variety and quantity of foods. Full at last, he made a cocoon around around himself and went to sleep, to wake up a few weeks later wonderfully transformed into a butterfly!

Brilliantly innovative designer and artist Eric Carle has dramatized the story of one of Nature's commonest yet loveliest marvels, the metamorphosis of the butterfly, in a picture book to delight as well as instruct the very youngest reader or listener."

According to Wikipedia, "in a 2012 survey of School Library Journal readers, 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' was voted the number two children's picture book behind 'Where the Wild Things Are'."

Tuesday 7 August 2018

Rutherfurd, Edward "Russka. The Novel of Russia"

Rutherfurd, Edward "Russka. The Novel of Russia" - 1991

I have read Edward Rutherfurd's various epic historical stories about Britain, Ireland, Paris, I'm looking forward to all his other books and now it was Russia's turn.

What a book. Like in his other novels, the author did a lot of research which resulted in a superb telling of one country's life and history.

As usual, he describes the lives of four different families and their descendants, beginning in the year 180 and ending almost 2 millennia later in 1992 and thereby telling us the story of this great and vast land that has influenced world history for so long but also was influenced by it. The families include various ethnic, they belong to the serfs and the nobility, so you can have a good look into all kinds of lives. As we get to know the characters, we can get a better understanding about Russian history and politics, going from Genghis Khan over Ivan the Terrible to Peter and Catherine, both the Great, until Lenin and Stalin during the revolution in the 20th century. But we also hear about Russian art, literature, music, everything this country has to offer. I have recently learned that you call these kind of stories "multi-generational sagas". In any case, such an easy way to learn about history. And that is getting more and more important.

It is, of course, also a very chunky book, like all his other novels, 945 pages, wonderfully written, brilliantly composed. There is so much information on those pages, I can't believe he actually finished before reaching 1,000.

Now I need to read "Sarum" and "New York" (and then "China" at the end of the year) after having read all his other novels (see here).

From the back cover:

"The author of the phenomenally successful Sarum: The Novel of England now turns his remarkably vast talents to an even larger canvas.

Spanning 1800 years of Russia's history, people, politics, and culture, this grand saga is as multifaceted as the country itself: harsh yet exotic, proud yet fearful of enemies, steeped in ancient superstitions but always seeking to make its mark on the emerging world.

In Russka, Edward Rutherfurd transforms the epic history of a great civilization into a human story of flesh and blood, boldness and action, chronicling the lives of four families who are divided by ethnicity but united in shaping the destiny of their land."

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

Monday 6 August 2018

Jason, David "Only Fools and Stories"

Jason, David "Only Fools and Stories: From Del Boy to Granville, Pop Larkin to Frost" - 2017

If you have never seen David Jason in one of his great roles, you have missed out. If you have seen him, you've probably seen them all. To know him is to love him. He has given us so many hours of fun. Here we can look behind the scenes of our favourite characters, be it Del Boy in "Only Fools and Horses", Granville in "Open All Hours" or any of his other hilarious roles.

The nice thing about this book is, you think David is sitting opposite you and you can hear his voice with every word he has written. He sounds just like you imagine him to be, a lovely, caring character who wants to do everything to perfection.

I also found out, that he has already written another autobiography, "My Life" (which he remarks in a typically David-Jason-like manner several times, another fact that shows you how funny this guy is). I will certainly add that to my wishlist.

And now I'm off to watch some David Jason!

From the back cover:

"From Del Boy to Granville, Pop Larkin to Frost, David Jason has lived many lives over the years. Now, Britain's favourite actor takes us behind the scenes and under the skins of some of the best loved acts of his career.

With his typical charm and wit, David relives his favourite moments from the sets of
Only Fools and Horses, A Touch of Frost and Open All Hours, among many others, and shares his most memorable off-screen capers with cast mates, crew members and friends.

Funny and poignant, honest and heart-warming, this is the story how David brought his characters to life - and how they change his life too.

Friday 3 August 2018

Book Quotes of the Week

 "The act of reading makes it appear to us for the time that we have lived another life - that we have had a miraculous enlargement of experience." Henry James

"Books … the smell, the feel, the words, the weigh, the progression of turned pages, the portability, the immersion, the knowledge, the adventure, the addiction!" Mimi

"Reading is an act of civilization; it’s one of the greatest acts of civilization because it takes the free raw material of the mind and builds castles of possibilities." Ben Okri

"Life is like a book. Some chapters are sad, some are happy, and some are exciting. But if you never turn the page… you will never know what the next chapter holds." 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 2 August 2018

Carey, Peter "A Long Way From Home"

Carey, Peter "A Long Way From Home" - 2017

This is my third book by Peter Carey. While I really liked "True Story of the Kelly Gang" and absolutely loved "Oscar and Lucinda", it took me a while to get into this novel. I thought the topic was interesting and the story itself could have been fascinating. It wasn't even written badly. I just couldn't warm to any of the characters, the story jumped back and forth and sometimes I didn't even care who was telling their part of the story (which could have been marked a little better, e.g. by using different fonts for different narrators). The race could not have been less interesting to me - even though I usually quite like motor racing - and the story about the aboriginals didn't really find any compassion with me, either. I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven't read it but I'm sure those who have will understand my point - even if they liked the book.

But having read two good books by this author, I'm sure I won't mind reading another one of his, if someone can recommend it to me. Please?

From the back cover:

"Irene Bobs loves fast driving. Her husband is the best car salesman in rural south eastern Australia. Together with Willie, their lanky navigator, they embark upon the Redex Trial, a brutal race around the continent, over roads no car will ever quite survive.

A Long Way from Home is Peter Carey's late style masterpiece; a thrilling high speed story that starts in one way, then takes you to another place altogether. Set in the 1950s in the embers of the British Empire, painting a picture of Queen and subject, black, white and those in-between, this brilliantly vivid novel illustrates how the possession of an ancient culture spirals through history - and the love made and hurt caused along the way."

Wednesday 1 August 2018

Happy August!

Happy August to all my friends and readers

New Calendar picture with this
beautiful watercolour painting by Hanka Koebsch

"Summer Messengers" 

August is usually the hottest month of the year. I hope this year it will only be the second hottest one, July was more than hot enough. Good thing the holidays are still on in most areas. 

One of the birthstone of this month is the peridot. The main thing I know about it is that it's green, my favourite colour. One of the gemstones where we don't really know how it got its name. We do know, however, that it was mined already in the 4th century. They used to call it topazios back then.

Researching for the birthstone, I learned that it is a "green semi-precious mineral, a variety of olivine". Because of its colour, it's often confused with emeralds. In popular culture, they attribute healing powers to the stone, as well as the power to drive away evil spirits. 

Even though we don't really need any messengers to tell us it's summer, enjoy this month with this beautiful watercolour painting by Hanka Koebsch.

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